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CSBG Archive

Comic Book Legends Revealed #567

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Welcome to the five hundred and sixty-seventh in a series of examinations of comic book legends and whether they are true or false. Click here for an archive of the first five hundred (I actually haven’t been able to update it in a while). This week, in honor of the Punisher’s TV debut this week on Netflix’s Daredevil series, I thought we’d take a look at both the origin of the Punisher and one of his oddest moments of all-time. Who was the inspiration for the Punisher? Was Mike Baron forced to write the “Punisher becomes a black guy” storyline? And did Marvel have a special “black dialogue” writer on the storyline?

Let’s begin!

NOTE: The column is on three pages, a page for each legend. There’s a little “next” button on the top of the page and the bottom of the page to take you to the next page (and you can navigate between each page by just clicking on the little 1, 2 and 3 on the top and the bottom, as well).

COMIC LEGEND: The Punisher was inspired by Death Wish.

STATUS: False

COMIC LEGEND: The Punisher was inspired by The Executioner book series.

STATUS: True

As you all may have noticed by now, when it comes to “Character X was based on ____” legends, I take a pretty hard line on proof. Simply “they’re similar!” isn’t enough for me (so long as said similarities couldn’t reasonably be explained any other way). And thus, for years, I have remained fairly agnostic when it came to whether the Punisher was based on Don Pendleton’s The Executioner.

This first came up on the site a few years back when I did an Easter Eggs column where Erik Larsen drew a character that looked like Charles Bronson as a villain in a Spider-Man comic guest-starring the Punisher. Commenter Sean said in response to my point that it was odd to see Bronson there, “Wasn’t The Punisher himself based on ‘Death Wish’? That would seem to be the connection.”

Another commenter, Antonio, suggested I do a legends on it, and Antonio also pointed out the main point I would use to show that Death Wish was an unlikely inspiration for the Punisher. The original Death Wish novel was released in 1972, but it was not very popular. It was when it was made into a film in 1974 that it exploded in popularity. The movie, however, came out eight months after the Punisher’s debut in Amazing Spider-Man #129…

asm129

So I think it is clear that Death Wish wasn’t an influence.

Trickier, though, was Don Pendleton’s Mack Bolan, star of the Executioner series of novels, about a Vietnam War veteran who fights a war on crime after his family is killed. This book series, which began in the late 1960s, WAS popular at the time.

0-12 Don Pendleton The Exectioner Bee-Line Pinnacle 069

It certainly SEEMED to be an influence.

And as the Punisher kept appearing early on, Conway clearly DID adapt elements of the Executioner, like in Giant-Size Spider-Man #4 (Punisher’s fourth appearance – art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito), Conway adopted Mack Bolan’s “Battle Van” and his war journal style of exposition…

punishergs1

punishergs2

But while Conway obviously adapted the character to match the Executioner in some ways, it doesn’t mean he was CREATED with the Executioner in mind. It doesn’t mean he wasn’t, either, but I’m not going to make a “ruling” unless I have something else to go on, as “War vet fights crime” is such a generic baseline that I don’t think it would be outside the realm of realistic possiblity that Conway came up with the idea independently and then just added in the Bolan influences later.

The problem for me is that while I have read many, many, many Conway interviews about the creation of the Punisher, I never came across him actually referencing Don Pendleton. But then, just this week, a reader named Jim S. filled me in on two good sources.

In 1987’s Comics Interview #75, Conway spoke to Lou Mougin about the Punisher’s inspiration:

I was fascinated by the Don Pendelton Executioner character, which was fairly popular at the time, and I wanted to do something that was inspired by that, although not to my mind a copy of it. And while I was doing the Jackal storyline, the opportunity came for a character who would be used by the Jackal to make Spider-Man’s life miserable. The Punisher seemed to fit.

Story continues below

And then in 1997’s Marvel Vision #15, in an article about the Punisher by Pat Jankiewicz, Conway noted:

I liked the idea of the Punisher, a loner, operating on the outside of the law and society, in a war to destroy all crime. I thought it would be interesting to have him go after Spider-Man, because the Daily Bugle had been calling him a criminal. The Punisher was a tough, unpredictable character. My inspiration was “The Executioner” series…the paperback books by Don Pendldeton. They’re modern equivalent of the pulps. That’s what gave me the idea for the lone, slightly psychotic avenger. he’s a character lik the classic pulp heroes. There’s even a little of the Shadow in the Punisher.

So there you go, Conway is pretty explicit about it all.

Thanks to Sean, Antonio, Jim, commenter PB210 (who brought this up a number of times over the years, as only he could) and, of course, Lou Mougin, Pat Jankiewicz and Gerry Conway for the information!

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
Check out some recent entertainment and sports legends from Legends Revealed:

Did Playboy Cancel a Nude Spread for Phyllis Diller Because it Was “Too Sexy”?

Was TaleSpin Sued Over the Voice of King Louie?

How Close Did the Famous March Madness Montage Song “One Shining Moment” Come to Becoming a Football Song?

Did Sergeant York Have a Condition That He Would Only Approve a Film About His Life if Gary Cooper Played Him?

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

On the next page, whose idea was it to make the Punisher turn into a black guy?

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71 Comments

I never knew Marcus McLaurin was black. That explains why he was so good at writing black diction. Most comic writers back then tended to be very bad at that.

The colorist for the Punisher / Luke Cage scenes apparently couldn’t tell them apart. Luke’s wearing red and black, but the colorist gives him the Punisher’s yellow and grey when the cop breaks a baton over his head. Also…

Luke Cage: No killing!
Frank: Didn’t you just kick a cop off of a four story overpass? Do you think he’s walking it off?

This story was odd at the time, but has just gotten worse over time. I think it was partly intended to launch a Luke Cage revival that didn’t take.

RE: The Punisher/Executioner. Is “inspired by” what we’re calling a hand over fist ripoff now?

Melsner, I could be wrong but I think the Cage revival had already started (but barely) when this issue hit. Again, it’s been decades so I could be wrong here, but that’s how I remember it.

No, it did work as a direct lead-in to the Cage series.

“Farshlngrbstfrkn” looks like something from a Volkswagen ad.

I want to say McLaurin had a mini profile on a Bullpen Bulletin page one month.
That was back when Marvel encouraged it’s editing staff to have some writing credits under their belt so they knew how to think like a writer. Times have changed.

A bigger question id why Pendleton, or more specifically, his publisher, didn’t sue. I guarantee you, had the roles been reversed, and The P unisher been first, Marvel would’ve handed them cease and desist. Incredibly, Pendleton’s interviewed in The Punisher Mag without addressing it.
He seemed to be “Live and let live” about it. Ironic, considering his character.

“He is driving erratically due to still being doped up on pain meds.”

“Some state troopers feel that he is violating the law against driving while black…”

Curious competing explanations for the traffic stop there, Cronin.

Would it have been worth suing Marvel back when The Punisher started? He was a guest star who showed up a couple times a year while there were a ton of Executioner knock off novels (many of whom were published by the same company that did The Executioner to begin with) that would seem like a bigger problem. By the time The Punisher had a series of his own in the 80’s a publishing company called Gold Eagle bought the rights to The Executioner. I’m not sure why Gold Eagle didn’t sue. Maybe it was because the original creator didn’t seem interested in suing or because under Gold Eagle he became more of a secret agent/counter terrorist rather than a mafia hating vigilante.

@Carl.

Not really competing explanations. Driving erratically can get you noticed. But the cops here are clearly depicted as being racist. It seems pretty clear that they wouldn’t be reacting the same to a white driver.

I’m pretty sure I’ve gotten off with warnings during routine stops when others might not have.

Len Wein, who wrote some of the early Punisher stories, also saw a clear connection Executioner stories. Be interesting to know if Conway and he had talked, or if he just independently saw the connection….

@Melsner and Carl

And remember this is 1991, when police racism towards African-Americans was a huge hot button topic after the Rodney King video.

Punisher 60 is cover dated Feb ’92, Cage #1 is cover dated Apr ’92, but I also remember Cage #1 first. I’m not sure whether it’s because the Punisher book was running late or just that it sold out and I didn’t see it until after Cage #1, but I do remember that specifically because I had no idea who Luke Cage was, but bought that Punisher because Cage #1 was out and I had seen it.

I agree “veteran who fights crime” is generic—it goes back as far as Bulldog Drummond and Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence. But “veteran who executes criminals outside the law because the Mafia destroyed his family” is a little more of a match. I’d alwaysas assumed he was a Mack Bolan riff–but I appreciate you’re getting the confirmation Brian.

lil –

Sadly, it’s still a hot button topic today.

Even the FBI warned of inflltration of law enforcement services by white supremacist groups.

Most super-heroes even going back to the Golden Age are characters grabbed from pulp sci-fi and stuffed into a costume and given a secret identity. Conway swiping from men’s adventure novels, which were popular in the 70s, is just carrying on an industry tradition.

Frank Rook…interesting choice of alias.

It’s kind of clever, but in a way Frank probably shouldn’t be trying to be clever. (Assuming the bird even factored into the choice.)

I agree “veteran who fights crime” is generic—it goes back as far as Bulldog Drummond and Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence. But “veteran who executes criminals outside the law because the Mafia destroyed his family” is a little more of a match.

Oh, no doubt, Fraser, but the “mafia destroyed his family” angle didn’t come about until his fifth appearance, by which point Conway had already adopted the Executioner war journal and the Executioner Battle Van. In his first appearance, there’s much less of a connection.

Most super-heroes even going back to the Golden Age are characters grabbed from pulp sci-fi and stuffed into a costume and given a secret identity. Conway swiping from men’s adventure novels, which were popular in the 70s, is just carrying on an industry tradition.

I’m definitely not begrudging Conway. I absolutely agree with that notion, that so many characters are inspired by other characters. I have no problem with it. I mean, Batman took so much from the Shadow. But he’s still a cool character even with that in mind.

ASM #129: Punisher has Spidey’s heart in his crosshairs, but his bullets are only lethal to the wall. Stormtroopers would be proud! (His ankle’s toy gun is cute, too.)

GSSM #4: Punisher screams at the top of his lungs in the dead of the night, “WAR JOURNAL ENTRY NUMBER 342″! And one minute later, “JOURNAL ENTRY 342 CONTINUES!” (My ears burn!)

“This comes to a head in Punisher #59″ (I see what you did there!)

And because of his color, he becomes “Frank Rook” instead of “Frank Rambo”. (Another Frank wrote: “Rodney King! Rodney King! Rodney King!”)

I think the Punisher works in comic form because of the skull logo and the name. Punisher is a better name than Executioner and the skull fits perfectly. It seems more like how Batman was influenced by Zorro’s stuff than an all-out ripoff.

I think the Punisher is more of a direct copy from Mack Bolan than Batman, Superman, and other Golden Age heroes are from their influences. At least with Batman the influences are mixed a little (Zorro, The Shadow, Dracula, etc.).

Batman’s first appearance was literally a re-written Shadow story.

Brian –

Yeah, I’ve heard of that and it is shameless plagiarism. But I think Batman as a character is not as close a copy of the Shadow as the Punisher is of Mack Bolan. Though Batman in his first story was even more of a Shadow analogue – rich dude by day, spooky vigilante by night. But the characters became more distinguised as time went on, while with the Punisher more Mack Bolan elements were introduced.

ParanoidObsessive

March 18, 2016 at 3:45 pm

“By the time The Punisher had a series of his own in the 80’s a publishing company called Gold Eagle bought the rights to The Executioner. I’m not sure why Gold Eagle didn’t sue. Maybe it was because the original creator didn’t seem interested in suing or because under Gold Eagle he became more of a secret agent/counter terrorist rather than a mafia hating vigilante.”

Might have been because of how copyright law works. By that point the Marvel character had existed for years without being challenged, so they might have been afraid that a court would have found in Marvel’s favor by virtue of it not having been addressed earlier, especially when the original creator/rights holder clearly knew about the character.

I know there’s rules for copyright where if you don’t actively defend your copyright you can lose it, but I have no idea if that would apply in a case like this.

Of course, in 1973, Marvel already had a character called the Executioner, introduced nearly a decade earlier in Thor (or Journey Into Mystery to be a little more precise). My dad had a few of those Pendleton novels when I brought home ASM #129, but I hadn’t read them and didn’t realize that the Punisher was a knock-off, although I do vaguely recall reading a few entries in the letters pages making note of it. Rather curious that two of the most popular characters of the ’80s & ’90s, the Punisher & Wolverine, were introduced as deadly anti-heroes in the ’70s, with apparently little knowledge that they’d become the harbingers of a far darker age of superhero comics. But then, Sub-Mariner was there long before them, declaring war on the human race when the creators of the Punisher & Wolverine were still infants or had not even been born yet.

@ParanoidObsessive: it’s actually trademarks that you can lose if you don’t actively defend them, not copyrights.

FOOTNOTE: Don Pendleton had sold the rights to The Executioner to Gold Eagle Books in 1980 well before The Punisher’s ascendancy.

By the time the Punisher’s star was rising in the mid-1980s Gold Eagle was in a lawsuit with Don Pendleton over whether his Ashton Ford, Psychic Detective at Warnerbooks violated a non-compete clause that he had signed with Gold Eagle. It’s possible neither really noticed tat that time to say anything, afterwards may have been too late to pursue it.

http://law.justia.com/cases/federal/district-courts/FSupp/639/1081/1745857/

@Kamino Neko

I doubt the name choice has anything to do with the bird rook. It is presumably chess-based, either due to the rook being one of the pieces involved in castling, or due to some people associating the rook (a tower) with being a castle piece, or possibly even the combination of both.

Gold Eagle was an imprint of Harlequin. I always chuckled when we got a shipment from them, with a lot of dreamy romance books and blood and guts Mack Bolan and colleague books.

The Executioner wasn’t anything particularly original, as said elsewhere. You can cite all kinds of pulps, westerns, detective/adventure stories and more. And, everyone jumped on the bandwagon. The character was distinct enough that it would have been a tough fight in court. The Battle Van had plenty of precedents, including the Batmobile, and the War Journal was also an old trope. I also think Pendleton and Pinnacle probably felt it wasn’t competition and probably helped bring in other readers. Given the interview in Marvel Preview, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marvel didn’t pony up a little money to prevent a lawsuit. I’ve never come across anything, one way or another, so, who knows?

For my money, the only decent Bolan rival/rip-off was The Destroyer. At least he got a movie (mostly decent one, too, which is also more than I can say about The Punisher films). Bolan was forever being optioned and developed; but, nothing ever came of it. Supposedly, it’s in development again, though the announcement was 2 years ago.

Innovation Comics finally gave us a Mack Bolan comic, just in time for the company to go under. They published 3 issues, but closed doors before the 4th issue was published. IDW later published a Bolan comic.

Francis Castiglione aka Frank Castle aka Johnny Tower aka Frank Rook. All chess analogies ;)

Billy and Da Chef,

Good points, but don’t you think that “Frank Rook” could still have been picked because of both the chess piece and the bird?

For instance, I can imagine Mike Baron coming up with several interesting surnames, including “Rook” from “Castle” and “chess”. And then, on reviewing them, I can imagine him thinking that a rook is also a “black” bird (like the Punisher’s skin, but also his costume), and decide that it’d make that one name more meaningful for this story than his other ideas.

Or maybe not, I’m not in Baron’s head. But doesn’t that seem plausible enough to realize it doesn’t have to be just one reason or the other?

Rene
March 18, 2016 at 2:58 pm

Brian –

Yeah, I’ve heard of that and it is shameless plagiarism. But I think Batman as a character is not as close a copy of the Shadow as the Punisher is of Mack Bolan. Though Batman in his first story was even more of a Shadow analogue – rich dude by day, spooky vigilante by night. But the characters became more distinguised as time went on, while with the Punisher more Mack Bolan elements were introduced.

____________________________________________

Besides the Shadow and Zorro influence, Batman was also influenced by the Phantom. And then there is the Black Bat, which some claim that Batman also ripped off. So Batman is what I like to cal an “amalgamated ripoff” character.

Good points, but don’t you think that “Frank Rook” could still have been picked because of both the chess piece and the bird?

The Punisher has a long history of using pseudonyms based on his last name (like “Johnny Tower”), so I think it’s a near certainty that the Rook usage was a reference to Castle, as well.

Oh, Rook is definitely a reference to Castle…just seemed an interesting time to break out that particular reference.

The thought process that Anonymous outlines is also the one I was thinking of. The cleverness only happens if it’s referencing both the chess piece and the bird.

If he just happened to choose a castle reference that had a secondarily on-point meaning in the context, without ever noticing the secondary meaning…well, then, so be it…it happens.

There’s an issue of Punisher War Journal (#6 or 7, I think) that’s from 1989 that he uses some variation of Frank Rook (or it might have been Chuck Fort). I always felt like the three issue story arc where Frank turns black was so disjointed. The whole story was like it was just thrown together at the last minute. The “Final Days” story arc was so good that the next three issues were very disappointing.

Blade X –

Yeah. Superman and Batman are more like a collection of influences. To me they feel less a rip-off than the Punisher.

Bill Oppenheim

March 19, 2016 at 7:08 am

Silly to justify The Punisher on the basis of “everybody does it” While the comics archetypes drew from elements of their pulp antecedants, Castle simply IS Bolan. And wouldn’t exist as he does otherwise. It’s Pendleton who coalesced factors from westerns, noirs, pulp fiction (esp Spillane). The Punisher simply scrapes off the serial numbers. It’s more blatant than a Shadow to Batman, or Doc Savage to Superman.

Instead of Batman and Superman, I would compare the Punisher to DC’s Captain Strong, or Marvel’s Squadron Supreme. Just like Captain Strong was the result of somebody saying “What if Superman met Popeye?”, the Punisher seems to be the result of “What if Spider-Man met Mack Bolan?”. So he IS Bolan, much more than Batman is the Shadow.

That also makes it easy to understand why Marvel was not sued. Like Annoyed Grunt said, the Punisher was, for many years, a guest star, little more than a gimmick.

Bill Oppenheim

March 19, 2016 at 1:23 pm

It really makes no difference HOW Castle was used initially. The fact that it’s an illegal appropriation of a revolutionary, influential character, cover featured left it wide open for a suit.

But Marvel was not sued. Nor was DC over Captain Strong, that also appeared in covers of Superman comics and was even more a copy of Popeye.

I suppose there is a sort of satirical aspect of taking a movie or book character, changing the name a little, and making an unofficial crossover with a funny book superhero like Spider-Man and Superman. It’s still Spidey and Supes carrying the comic. So I can see why another company would not worry too much about their characters being used as occasional gimmicks in a Spider-Man comic.

But it IS surprising that the Punisher ended up becoming popular enough to carry his own comics and movies, unlike most of these unnoficial crossovers characters, like the Shiar Imperial Guard.

“Simply “they’re similar!” isn’t enough for me (so long as said similarities couldn’t reasonably be explained any other way).”

I’m having a hard time reading that sentence… do you mean ‘unless said similarities couldn’t be explained…’?

Bolan and Castle are similar in that a myriad of similar characters, from things like Walking Tall to Death Wish to the Jack Reacher books, are similar. In his earliest appearances, sure, the Punisher is pretty much only distinguished from Bolan or Paul Kersey by having his own costume, but once creators actually came up with an origin for Castle things he clearly became his own character. From then on, outside of being Vietnam vets and killing criminals, he and Bolan weren’t much alike.

Bill Oppenheim

March 20, 2016 at 8:07 am

Again, you can draw a direct line from Bolan to Castle. Whatever Marvel did to him after the fact, doesn’t change that. He’s not a parody, like Capt Strong, or anything that would justify fair usage. And if anyone thinks an Executioner rip-off wouldn’t be successful, they don’t know of the pb revolution that character created.

Dunno why Marvel wasn’t sued. Maybe because of the different formats.

[…] Brian Cronin | March 18, 2016 @ 10:03 AM | 46 Comments | [embedded content] Tweet 1 2 3 « Previous Next […]

How did his whole body turn black from a face surgery?

Because he’s a costumed character in the Marvel Universe who was introduced as a criminal-hunting gun-for-hire. Beyond the Punisher’s use of a war journal, and the term itself, there’s too many aspects that show up with a variety of pop culture characters. The Punisher’s “Battlevan?” He exists in a genre where everyone from Batman to Spider-Man has had a gadget-packed vehicle. What’s left? Suing over them both being Vietnam vets? That they both kill criminals? That both had families that died (in completely different circumstances)? I have little doubt Conway was a fan of the Executioner books, but enough was changed that a lawsuit would have almost certainly been tossed out. There’s simply too many aspects of both characters that AREN’T unique to them.

Bill thats like i cant create race car drivers, or police officers, because someone already did,

Nobody has a copyright on vigilantes.

Hi Nick. Lot’s of people have copyrights of vigilantes. The Punisher is copyrighted and he is a vigilante. Batman is copyrighted and he is a vigilante and so forth.What they don’t have is ownership of the concept of a vigilante. Although that being said DC exclusively owns a character named The Vigilante.

Bill Oppenheim

March 21, 2016 at 2:35 am

Castle is specifically a crime based vigilante coming out in the wake of Bolan’s success. He’s a version of THAT character, not a generic vigilante 567. His creator had admitted as such. George Lucas has sued, or threatened with same, what were perceived as Star Wars rip-offs. These were not seen as homages to old sci-fi serials, but openly copies of his work.

Harlan Ellison successfully sued James Cameron over THE PLOT of The Terminator. And had, according to Jim Shooter, equally strong case against Marvel re a Mantlo-written Hulk issue.

The plot of a movie is a very different thing than the broader ideas/stylistic choices/storytelling tropes in the movie. If Harlan Ellison was just suing over time travelling sentient robots, the suit wouldn’t have gone anywhere. If there was a Mack Bolan novel about him being a costumed mercenary hired by a costumed baddie named “The Rodent” to kill misunderstood costumed super-hero name “Tarantula-Dude,” then Marvel could have been sued over ripping off the plot. Instead they used common pop culture tropes (murdered family members, becoming a vigilante, killing criminals) and filtered it through their superhero universe. In short, it’s at least different enough that a lawsuit would have been fruitless since no specific story was ripped off. Conway took something he had read and liked, and changed it enough (argue only just enough if you want) to make it something new.

Look at it this way: if 5 years before Batman appeared there had been a character who was a millionaire who say his parents killed as a child, pledged to avenge their murders, and then spent years training to become a guy who just ran around in regular clothes beating up criminals in, say, Chicago, the company publishing that likely wouldn’t have had a case against Batman BECAUSE of the Batman aspect.

Kevin, I agree with you, but there have been cases of legal battles over stuff less derivative than Punisher-Bolan, like the Captain Marvel vs. Superman lawsuit (though that one was inconclusive). I do think, however, that the absence of a lawsuit was more due to the Punisher not being a big deal in the Marvel Universe for too many years.

Bill Oppenheim

March 21, 2016 at 8:01 am

None of these defenses seem conclusive. Castle is Bolan with a costume – that cosmetic addition does nothing to differentiate from what would be considered intellectual property. If there were a pre-Batman character that hewed that closely to Batman’s origin and motivation, that publisher would have a case also. Even in those less litigious times.

Also the absence of an immediate suit may have been simply that neither Pendelton nor his publisher even knew of Castle’s existence. Took Disney a couple of years to notice
Howard T. Duck.

Anonymous –
“How did his whole body turn black from a face surgery?”
Based on Linkara’s review, I believe the doctor tried an experimental melanin-based experiment on him.

Kevin –
“a costumed mercenary hired by a costumed baddie named “The Rodent” to kill misunderstood costumed super-hero”
Just being pedantic, but I’d have gone with “The Hyena” here. (Jackals aren’t rodents, not even close.)

Y’know, all this talk of vigilantes and similarity to others and such has brought up a point I’ve asked myself sometimes – which is, what’s the point of a Punisher movie? What makes such a thing different enough to, say, Death Wish to make it a Punisher movie rather than a generic vigilante movie?
The skull on the t-shirt? They haven’t even all had that. (Apparently when Dolph Lungren filmed it, the effects for a skull t-shirt were too expensive…)
I’ve thought, as a result, that a Punisher movie should probably have supers in it.
I mean, obviously the one that had Jigsaw as a villain at least tied in to him better than others, but the rest could be any character.

@Rene

Actually, i seem to recall this very column saying that in the Captain Marvel vs. Superman lawsuit some of the writers actually confessed that they where told to rip-off Superman stories…

random –

It looks damning, but I don’t think being told to copy something is any indication that actual plagiarism has happened. They may have been told to do something like Superman, but still changed enough so that the characters are sufficiently different.

Honestly, I think Captain Marvel was a very different character from Superman in the Golden Age. The facts that he is a child, magical, has a family of similarly powered characters (that Superman would only gain later), has goofiers adventures, etc.

I do think DC’s lawsuit is particularly unethical when you consider that DC later actually copied a lot of traits from Golden Age Captain Marvel when they developed Silver Age Superman, and hired a lot of the same people who had worked on Captain Marvel.

Charles Fort was an alias used by Frank.

Also the absence of an immediate suit may have been simply that neither Pendelton nor his publisher even knew of Castle’s existence. Took Disney a couple of years to notice
Howard T. Duck.

Pendleton was interviewed for Marvel Preview #2, starring the Punisher. So it seems unlikely that he was unaware of the Punisher (not impossible, of course, just unlikely).

As I said, Pendelton, nor his publisher may not have known of Castle when he was first introduced. Some people (GASP!) are barely aware of comics. Just as Disney would’ve slapped a cease and desist on Howard the Duck immediately had it known it existed from the start.

And I did mention the interview, which naturally contains no accusations.

Rene:

Personally, I think the end result of the DC vs. Fawcett cases was a huge mistake. I agree with you when you point out how different Captain Marvel and his world were from Superman; so much of the argument came down to comparing Superman’s feats with Cap’s, and one of the judge’s seeming to pretty dismissive of the whole “silly pictures” affair and wanting to get it over with. Couple that with how someone working for Fawcett reportedly admitted to being told to specifically copy Superman art (or some variation of this story; I’ve heard it repeated with different variations quite a few times without any one clear definitive version), and it really seems like Fawcett got the shaft. There were scores of characters similar to Superman after he become so popular, and some of them a helluva lot more of an obvious ripoff than Captain Marvel. This just seems like a case of DC desperate to take down the character who was actually outselling Superman.

“None of these defenses seem conclusive. Castle is Bolan with a costume – that cosmetic addition does nothing to differentiate from what would be considered intellectual property. If there were a pre-Batman character that hewed that closely to Batman’s origin and motivation, that publisher would have a case also. Even in those less litigious times.

Things like the costume are critical to what makes him different; he’s part of a world filled with costumed heroes and villains, and he’s one of them himself. Plus, again, when he first appeared he WASN’T Mack Bolan with a costume; he was a costumed gun for hire who could be bought to take out criminals. Basically the “battle van” and the “war journal” are the most damning bits of comparison, and the vehicle issue could be easily argued away by the Punisher existing in a genre where there’s “super vehicles” galore. Or the precedent of other characters like James Bond having his tricked out spy cars. The odds of them having won the lawsuit would have been a long shot, plus the Punisher ultimately developed into a very different character (and Bolan himself evolved into a VERY different character than what he started as). So Marvel wasn’t sued…so what? Both characters and publishers went on to succeed with the characters in very different worlds and stories.

Kevin, Batman’s origin wasn’t created until several issues after his first appearance. Just like Punisher’s origin wasn’t created until several issues after his first appearance. Plus, if the owners of The Shadow tried to sue National over Batman, they’d have an even stronger case than the hypothetical one against the Punisher, since Batman, in his first appearance, was quite literally just The Shadow under a different name, and only later had differentiating features added to him.

William: I know Batman wasn’t presented with his origin right away; I was just presenting a hypothetical situation that would be comparable to the publisher of Mack Bolan suing Marvel over the Punisher; that one character is a costumed hero IS a pretty huge difference.

A Shadow vs. Batman lawsuit would have been as asinine as the Superman vs. Captain Marvel one. Thankfully it never happened, given the thankfully non-precedent-setting decision of the latter case.

Kevin –

It figures that the judge was not a fan. :) Only a non-fan would have been taken by the rather superficial similarities between Superman and Captain Marvel. Anyone who reads the stories recognizes that they’re very different. Fawcett’s Captain Marvel was, by the way, different from anything else being published at the time. They pioneered the style that would later be the basis for the Silver Age.

When they speak of the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman, I marvel at how the true trinity in the Golden Age was Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, and the Spirit, if you take originality, quality and even commercial success.

Rene-

Completely agreed; it’s a real shame that Fawcett had the hammer dropped on them. If they had an editor or artist indeed copying DC art at times, alright, nobody’s excusing that, but the idea that the Big Red Cheese and his family and world were a ripoff of Superman is a Superman. They really did boil it down to silly things like both having bald scientist foes, or a cover of Marvel hurling a car or marching with US troops that were only thematically similar to Superman covers as “proof” they were the same. It really did shut down something fun and creative and more interesting than the Superman universe at the time.

Amazing Spider-Man #129 is cover dated February 1974, so it came out in November of 1973, long after the novel Death Wish was published in 1972. It does, however, predate the July 1974 release of the film.

Maybe Pendleton/publisher didn’t sue because they were flattered that someone liked their idea, changed it enough to be enough different. And then thought “hey, this might cause people to check out our stuff!” If Marvel started writing competing Punisher novels might have been a different story.

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