Punisher War Journal #6: Punisher versus Wolverine. It was the first comic book I remember owning.
Instantly both The Punisher and Wolverine became my favorite Superheroes. Both men were tenacious, brutal, but true to their cause. Protect the innocent by attacking the villains.
Superheroes were the people who filled the gap. They took on the things the police couldn’t handle, they come when all hope is lost, and they turn the tides of destruction. These men and woman were society’s way of subtly confessing that things were unwell. There is corruption, there are innocents hurt, and there is a crippled legal system. It was a comforting idea as a child. I was smart enough to know that all laws could be circumvented and all policing evaded. That meant safety was an illusion.
It’s funny to look back and recall watching TV shows where people are framed or falsely accused. The police officers always say that you should have nothing to worry about if you’re innocent. Just answer some questions, there’s nothing to worry about if you’re innocent. Can I look in here? Don’t worry if you’re innocent. They lie to get what they want, threaten and intimidate by false logic: You couldn’t possibly get in trouble if you’re innocent. They intentionally distort your rights.
Batman may not give you rights, but he never interrogates someone who hasn’t done something. He watches, researches and examines. He is one person with too much power who carries out justice. But at least he’s educated. The police who hold our lives and fate in our hands could possibly have no more than a high school education.
We were never asked a single question in regards to the crime. The detective in charge, using information given to her by our accuser, made her decision. Based on the profile, we were guilty and she would be handing over the file to the DA.
Our accusers, wealthy men heavily involved with the largest church in the area, friends with the DA, white, charming family men. Who were we? A young married couple with no children, living in an apartment and getting by.
The defining line between heroes and villains; good and evil, is jagged and broken.
A selfish choice by one may appear to them as a survival decision. Those you trusted to be there can fail you. The safety you believed existed was not what it appeared to be.
There is no Lex Luthor. Big evils begin as small slights. A selfish man decides he’ll do anything to make more money. He lies to a man who is willing to believe him despite himself. Then one lie is backed by two. A friend lends a hand, putting pressure on an underling to fix the problem. Some poor nobody gets a call and a lecture. No big deal, she thinks, it’s not the police’s problem to convict. All she has to do is gather a reasonable amount of evidence to pass it off her desk.
One person with too much power who carries out justice, or at least the appearance of it, for an underpaid overworked job requiring too much responsibility.
After the accusation neither us could work anymore. We had no source of income. We burned through our savings to pay rent and bills. Then we sold everything we owned to retain a lawyer. Even that was barely enough– the most he was he could do for us was field phone calls and monitor arrest warrants. When the money was gone, we broke lease and lived in cheap motels for a while. At times, we lived out of our car eating a single meal for the day.
There is no righteous individual who will swoop down and make everything better.
There is no superhero to grab the super-villain and force him to acquiesce.
No one will come to your rescue, even those who are charged with those duties.
At times we thought about ending it all. Everything would be so much easier if we walked into a police station and confessed to something we didn’t do. Did it matter either way? We were sick and hungry. There was the very real threat of death from disease or exposure.
We were in that scene– the origin story of a comic book. For a moment this character could go either way, vowing to kill the corrupt or declaring to protect the innocent victims. Standing, battered and brutalized, they imagine the future.
I did. I thought about walking up to these people and killing them. It was more than a piece of fantasy or a therapeutic outlet for pain. Why shouldn’t I? I had lost everything, possibly even my life and they should, too. It wouldn’t fix anything, but at least I could have some modicum of control over my life. I would also fantasize about waging a war against them, slowing but surely taking everything they had. First their money, then their family and then their lives. For the first time ever I understood the path of villainy. We believe that because police or superheroes are sitting in their towers that they are the end-all be-all of everything. That because they are there, nothing bad could happen and when it does, it’s easier to pretend it didn’t so that we can pretend we’re safe. It’s so much simpler to imagine that our legal system works for us. People say, why not sue them; ignorant of the cost of a lawyer or the inevitable counter suit. People say call police, unaware that the police cannot and will not do anything unless they are provided with hard evidence of a crime. People say, if they’re innocent then the jury will clear their name, they have no idea of the costs of legal representation over the length of a trial, the time you have to take from your life and job or the possibility that you could be held in jail for the time. Pay bail, they say, but who has several tens of thousands of disposable dollars?
People like to ignore the fallacies and broken fixtures in their reality. Those that fall into the cracks are made to fend for themselves.
I would not go quietly.
But I was better than the villains– big, small, real or fictitious.
Like those superheroes I had been changed forever.
Once upon a time I had four computers, two TV’s, rack of video game and DVD players, a wall filled with books, another wall filled with movies, I owned a store, I sat at home all day free to create art on my own time, I donated to several charities, I thought I was righteous, I had long conversations about TV shows, ate dinner out every night and indulged in hobbies and novelties.
But I am stronger now, much more than I ever imagined.
Sick, hungry and homeless I wrote a novel; one that I hope will change the face of my career. Poor, cold and depressed, my wife and I did our best to keep each other afloat. Betrayed, stricken with post-traumatic stress and angry; it doesn’t matter because I’m more important than any injury. My success, life and happiness cannot be achieved by a vow of vengeance. I cannot protect the weak by being weak, by hiding in the shadows or being only one of many.
I am not a hero, superhero, villain or victim.
I am just a new person with a path. Along this path I will not falter. I will not destroy for the sake of destruction. I will not turn a blind eye to the truth. And for everything I want I will always have to work and defend. I will not pretend that what I have can’t be taken or will be easily granted.
Today I live in a two room apartment with roommates. They are college kids but they’re good people who I get along with. I live with my wife and my two cats, whom I thought I might once lose. We have a floppy futon, a desk with an old laptop and a closet full of clothes that barely fit us. Sometimes I think we should get a TV, maybe a new computer or some fancy cookware– replace all those expensive things we had. In the last 15 days, I’ve painted 15 new paintings. My new book is ready to go out, my old book is ready to be reprinted and I’m spewing over with new ideas.
Two years ago I had none of that. I had gadgets and technology that were supposed to make my life easier, but I accomplished eight times more while scribbling on paper inside a freezing car that I had been sleeping in.
This not a reboot or a retcon because I’ve learned from the past.
This is starting over.
Originally posted in January 2013.