The Punisher Season 2 vs Titans: The Limits to Violence

Punisher (s2) VS Titans (s1)

I recently wrote a reaction piece of the first season of Titans. In it, my central complaint surrounded the use of extreme violence by the protagonists. Essentially, the show completely undermined the heroism of the Titans by (repeatedly) depicting them attacking and brutally murdering police officers, security guards, etc., for no moral reason other than they were impeding the character’s intentions. This major flaw removes Titans from the category of heroic fantasy, and also even out of the popular antihero category, because antiheroes, while often found outside the law and even working against the law sometimes, still have an underlying heroic morality or code of ethics that allows us to identify them as “the good guys”.

I want to contrast them now with another ultraviolent antihero – Frank Castle, the Punisher. With Netflix Canada releasing season 2 of the series within weeks of Titans, it makes the comparison easy. Warning: there will be spoilers, so stop reading here if you don’t want them.

Copyright Netflix and Marvel, in case you were wondering.

With Castle, we have what I think the showrunners of Titans were aiming for – rugged, dark, ends-justifies-the-means characters, beaten down by circumstance. But they neglected the code component. In season 2 of the Punisher, this code comes up several times. A central subplot was that of agent Madani and her attempts to cover for/make excuses for Castle to the police. She brings up a main difference between Castle and his gangland adversaries is that he (Castle) has a “code”. He has lines he won’t cross. In fact, this turns out to be a plot hinge, as Russo entraps Castle and then frames him for the murder of three “innocent” women. He even fools Frank into believing that he has crossed his own line of only punishing the “guilty”.

Copyright DC. Used without permission, but I hope they are ok with free publicity.

This whole question of ethics, morals, personal responsibility is only lightly touched on in Titans. There, Dick Grayson is burdened by his years working with Batman and the shady ethical choices he was led into. But the difference here isn’t that Dick feels guilty about them – in fact, strangely, even though he left Batman because of this, he finds himself doing even more ghastly things on his own, and in his own words “liking it”. He never really wrestles with his actions or the actions of any other Titans when they engage in… well… the slaughter of law enforcement members who are not shown to be corrupt or “bad” in any way – except in respect to their opposition to the Titans’ attempts to investigate or engage the real bad guys of the story.

Maybe this is just personal preference, but I don’t find Titans to be as entertaining or enjoyable to watch as the Punisher. Because as dark and violent as the Punisher is, he is trying to be a good man, defending the weak, and punishing only the guilty. Whereas the Titans will stop at nothing to strike down those they find to be “bad”, and their definition of “bad” includes anyone who stands in their way. That’s not admirable or justifiable. Or entertaining.

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