Best of Frenemies: Daredevil and Punisher

It would be wrong to argue that Daredevil and Punisher are Marvel’s equivalent to DC’s World’s Finest. They lack that certain iconic history, that light and dark chemistry, that make Batman and Superman’s decades long association so vibrant and fruitful.

Nonetheless, the two largely street-level vigilantes do share an undeniable bond that is marked by a strange kind of sense of camaraderie, feelings of disappointment and even “there but for the grace of God go I” ruminations.

For Daredevil, his repulsion from Punisher is clear. Punisher goes too far, Punisher does not merely push the law, he shatters it. In the Marvel Universe, a vigilante who subdues the criminal element with his or her fists is not a criminal they are the norm. Yes, Daredevil might need to do a bit of mental gymnastics to overcome the cognitive that he is an attorney doing such things, but he is legally more or less in the clear. Killing, however, is a bridge too far, an unrationalizeable action that can only leave you a criminal yourself and it is the whole of Punisher’s approach to fighting crime.

But Matt is also a bleeding heart. He knows Punisher’s tragic story and cannot help but empathize with a life derailed by violence, a family eliminated by crime. So he “gets” why Punisher would feel the need to take the law into his own hands even if he cannot approve of the lengths that Frank goes.

For Punisher, on the other hand, Daredevil is but a band aid when the world needs a full tourniquet. As he notes in the trailer for Season 2, the Man Without Fear is a half measure in the “war” the Frank now dedicates himself to and for that he can never fully ally himself with DD.

Frank nonetheless respects Matt though. He may not like the principles, might find them naïve or silly, but he recognizes Daredevil’s commitment to them and how that commitment holds back the gallons of rage pumping through Murdock’s veins. Castle could not, would not, go that route, but he can at least understand what it means to Hornhead.

Still, they are simply too volatile to play well together and most of their interactions inevitably end with one battling the other over their “ideals.” Here are some of my favorite of those encounters.

Noteworthy Daredevil and Punisher Encounters

 (image from berkleyplaceblog.com)

(image from berkleyplaceblog.com)

DAREDEVIL #183-184

In this two-parter, Daredevil and Punisher tangle for the first time against the backdrop of drugs in school. With Miller’s noir writing and his still great art style (not quite at its peek, but nowhere near the complete unraveling), the battle lines are quickly established and we know the principles and ideal involved right off the bat. DD’s way is clearly favored but the book is not reductive about Punisher’s viewpoint or unsympathetic to the man possessing it. Also nicely demonstrates how Hornhead can be just as “hardcore” as Skullshirt without being willing to kill, something a lot of writers (and fans) struggle with.

 

 (image from theweeklycrisis.com)

(image from theweeklycrisis.com)

DAREDEVIL #257 and PUNISHER #10

A man has been poisoning aspirin and both Daredevil and Punisher want him out of commission. As typical though, DD wants him in cuffs and Punny wants him in the ground. The same story told from two different perspectives with each installment reflecting the writer’s approach and, perhaps less on purpose, the character’s mentality.

To wit, PUNISHER #10 is brutal and straightforward with very little unusual about the fight choreography and entirely from Punisher’s relative unimpassioned view. DAREDEVIL #257, on the other hand, is acrobatic and creative in its layout and humanistic in its viewpoint, taking the narrative viewpoint off of Daredevil

Plotwise, neither issue sets the world on fire, but it is entirely worth it for the dual perspective approach.

 

 (image from goodcomics.comicbookresources.com)

(image from goodcomics.comicbookresources.com)

DAREDEVIL #292-293

Daredevil and Punisher get swept up in a sick game between Taskmaster and Tombstone to see who the best killer for hire is. Arguably the most conventional of the storylines I highlight here, what I love about it comes from the two villains and their cruel contest that seems like something super villains would absolutely do if they existed. Instead of the driving force, DD and Punny are reduced to reacting, often desperately, to the whirlwind they have found themselves sucked into. An interesting demonstration of how their philosophical differences can derail the most important part of the mission, saving others, as Taskmaster and Tombstone get away with a lot more because of the heroes in-fighting.

 

 (image from comicartsfan.com)

(image from comicartsfan.com)

DAREDEVIL #307-309, NOMAD #4-6, PUNISHER WAR JOURNAL #45-47

Ahh, “Dead Man’s Hand,” a big dumb crossover in the grand tradition of early 90’s Marvel crossovers. If you grew up with that era of comics, you’ll probably love it. If you were from a previous or later “generation” of comic fandom, chances are good you won’t enjoy.

Personally, I have nostalgic appreciation for it that I recognize is mostly nostalgic.

The reason it makes my list here is a moment in DAREDEVIL #309 where Daredevil saves a criminal from Punisher’s blade and has a in his head soliloquy about the nature of their antagonism. It’s not a moment of shocking insight, per se, but it hint as a Hornhead who has gotten angrier and more cynical in the years since he and Skullshirt first started their conflict of views. It’s about three caption boxes but it speaks volumes about the characters’ histories and how things are getting worse, not better.

Also, Nomad is there. If that’s your thing.

 

 (image from comicvine.com)

(image from comicvine.com)

PUNISHER (MARVEL KNIGHTS) #3

Truth? I actually kind of hate this issue. It’s reductive and part of Ennis’s suite of comics in which Punisher is so cool and those squares (Daredevil here, Spider-Man and Wolverine as well, in later issues) are stupid or worse.

But, it’s clear from the trailers to Season 2 that the key moment in this issue will be recreated in some way in the show. And other people, not me, but other people who often have interesting and smart things to say about comics, love it.

Not me though. I don’t like it one bit.

Anyway, in short, Punisher and Daredevil fight. Frank gets the upper hand. Matt is forced into a position of having to choose between two bad options. In the abstract, it sounds cool, but it is not.

My last word on it: DD has shot Punny before. During their first storyline, in fact. So…yeah. Dumb.

Sorry to be that guy, but…yeah. Just the way I feel.

PUNISHER KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE

Also an Ennis book, but one that seems to have a bit less dim view of Daredevil. In fact, in a book that casts Punisher in the role of a kind of sympathetic monster, Matt is arguably the only “true” hero in the book.

It’s an ugly nasty piece of alternate universe work that sees Frank killing his way through the heroes and villains alike, increasingly improbably so. It is cynical in a way that might get under your skin. I know it did a bit for me.

But, having said that, the depiction of the relationship of Murdock and Castle out of costume—Murdock is Castle’s attorney and trying to pull him back from the brink—and the duo’s brief costumed skirmish provide the book’s most human and humane moments.

 

 (image from fuckyeahfratt.tumblr.com)

(image from fuckyeahfratt.tumblr.com)

DAREDEVIL (Vol 2) #82-87

In contrast to the anger of “Dead’s Man Hand” this arc highlights the way in which Hornhead and Skullface have developed a somewhat improbable respect for one another. With Murdock behind bars, ostensibly for his costumed activities, he looks as vulnerable as he’s ever been. With most of his friends working on the outside to find a way to get him out legally, Punisher goes a different route.

Killing a criminal in full view of an officer and then turning himself in without a right, Castle ensures that he ends up right alongside his frenemy behind bars. It’s weirdly touching and possibly the only way Punny has of showing love these days. In the end, he also provides the key to Murdock’s release from prison, gladly playing a reckless crazed version of himself to distract from any questions that might be raised.