Costumed Vigilantes in the Real World

Badman and Robin

Last summer, 2012, was viewed as the “summer of the super hero”, due to the fact that blockbuster movies such as “The Avengers”, “Dark Knight Rises” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” were released, to great success.
We’re due for another wave this summer, as the new Superman epic, “Man of Steel” hits theaters, along with “Iron Man 3”, “The Wolverine” and, scheduled for November, “Thor: Dark Warrior”. I wonder what they’ll call “Man of Steel” in Russia?

After all, the nickname “man of steel” translates, in Russian, as “Stalin”. The Russian people will be going to the movies, expecting a completely different kind of story!

Long, have I pondered; How would a costumed vigilante/hero function, for real, in our society, and where might they stand, politically?

Now, “super” heroes like Superman, Spider-Man, The Flash, Green Lantern, Thor, The X-men, Captain America, etc., well, I’d think their colorful, over-the-top costumes would be pretty much laughed at by the criminal elements they’d face. This is also why film production teams will often mute the colors or somehow alter their costumes, for the movies; the colorful get-ups don’t translate well, from comic page to “real life” images.

So, yes; they would likely be laughed at on the mean streets. Until, that is, their powers were sufficiently viewed and understood, by their criminal foes. Then the laughter would fade, and quickly. However, since there are no “supers”, let’s just focus on the two most prominent, most bad-ass “non-super” super heroes: DC Comics’ “Batman” and Marvel’s “The Punisher”.

It’s always seemed to me that, if someone had the proper-if unlikely-combination of motivation, physical prowess and personal resources, that person could actually be The Batman; could be The Punisher.

Now, having said thus, I do understand that, in real life, said person’s career as a crime-fighter would likely be relatively short, and that they would more than likely end up in jail, the hospital or, most probably, the morgue, in little to no time at all.

But, I do believe that they could have some impact and perhaps even some effectiveness in their mission, if allowed enough time. Therefore, such things are, to my mind at least, possible. But anyway, that’s why I favor these two over the other, “super” heroes; they are…for want of a better term, “real”.

After all, Bruce Wayne is a billionaire, and billionaires do exist.
He’s vastly wealthy, and obsessively motivated; he used this wealth, and presumably the massive amounts of free time it lent him, to train himself, in myriad aspects, to be the “Dark Knight Detective”.

It’s unlikely, sure; after all, one would need not only the virtually-unlimited funds, but also the right convergence of extremely high intellect-along with an eidetic memory-and possess especially talented athletic ability (and those two things, right there, brains and brawn, rarely go hand-in-hand, in my experience; at least, not to that level) but it seems plausible enough, on its face.

To my mind, however, The Punisher clearly has much more real-world plausibility, than Batman.

Francis “Frank” Castle is a Special Forces veteran, accenting on anti-insurgency. He was an intelligent, proud, driven, hardcore Marine, trained in Special Warfare and guerilla tactics. He is of above-average intelligence and creativity, but not freakishly, nor unbelievably, so.
Castle has been described, by Marvels’ writers, as the type of man who, though at best clearly sociopathic in his psychological state, would nonetheless willingly run into a burning building, to save an innocent life.
As with Bruce Wayne’s fortune, such people do exist. There are, as I write this, many people in the world who, given the proper motivation, skill sets and talent, could actually be The Punisher: military special forces; Delta Force; SWAT team members; especially-skilled survivalists. All it would take is a nudge in the right (or wrong) direction.
Both heroes have similar origins, driving them to their obsessive lives of extreme vigilantism: both men lost their families to crime, in especially tragic fashions.

As we know, the 9-year-old Bruce Wayne’s parents were killed, in front of him, by a mugger named Joe Chill; Frank Castle’s beloved wife and children were brutally murdered by the Mafia, under orders of a Don named Bruno Costas, for witnessing an execution (in the first film, Castle’s entire family—including his parents, aunts, uncles and cousins, too-were slaughtered at a family gathering; revenge for his role in an undercover investigation which resulted in the unintentional death of the son of a local underworld figure).

However, the similarities stop there. Their individual philosophies are almost diametrically opposed; utterly divergent, one from the other.

Batman is more of a “law and order”-type vigilante; working with, if outside, the Gotham City Police Dept., taking criminals into custody and turning them over, if usually severely beaten, to the proper authorities.

The Punisher, however, simply kills the bad guys which, on the whole and though illegal and immoral, would nonetheless seem much a more efficient modus operandi. It also has the benefit of saving the taxpayer a lot of money.

Batman will kick your ass; the Punisher will blow it off with a fragmentation grenade, and then, just for good measure, cheerfully fill your violently-dismembered carcass with copious amounts of bullets.

Batman’s cool gadgetry and hi-tech, crime-fighting doodads are really awesome to see, but they’re likely expensive, even for a billionaire, and would seem rather difficult to actually produce. Unless, that is, utter suspension of disbelief permits that we’re willing to believe Bruce Wayne is an engineering, chemistry, information technology and metallurgical genius, as well as a world-class detective and expert martial artist, among many other things.
Which it does.

I guess, being unbelievably rich, he did have a whole lot of free time, though….

They do address this issue, however, and try making these details of the whole myth seem somewhat more conceivable, at least on the surface, by giving him an ally in the scientific arena, in the character of Wayne Enterprises president Lucius Fox, to help provide his more unlikely thingamabobs.

The Punisher, though, merciless in his mission, is eminently more practical; he simply takes what he needs from the bloody, bullet-ridden corpses of his criminal enemies; money, weapons….well, that’s about it, really.
Castle, also, has the benefit of not having to carefully maintain a “secret identity”, as does Bruce Wayne. Everyone knows who he is and, since he has no family or loved-ones left to protect with such a mechanism, he simply doesn’t care. He likes that his enemies know from where the hammer fell.

I’ve often thought, given enough time to make a reputation for themselves, darker-themed costumed vigilantes could actually function, and be feared and respected, in the real world. As long, that is, as they possessed the ability to actually earn, and maintain, that fear and respect. Costumed vigilantes could actually work, as I say, so long as they possessed the skills and knowledge to be ultimately effective in their efforts, and the deep, personal integrity to not be corrupted.

Batman’s costume would initially be laughed at, certainly; this was depicted in the 2005 film “Batman Begins”, as Police Commissioner Loeb initially dismisses him as “some asshole in a costume”.
However, as in the film, once word of his skills got around that this guy could seriously beat your ass-so you’d better be dialin’ it down there, Mugsy-he’d be someone to watch out for.

The Punisher’s costume is also more “real-world” in nature; he essentially wears body armor or a “flak jacket”, with a stylized skull on it, or even just a black, skull T-shirt and black or camouflage cargo pants; perhaps a jacket or overcoat, and work boots.

His particular methods would, naturally, generate some advanced levels of respect-and thus, likely a wide berth-to be granted, by the criminal element.

I also believe that the police, especially in higher-crime areas—and as was openly depicted in the Nolan film, “The Dark Knight” and in The Punisher comics and 2008′s “Punisher: War Zone” film-would in fact seriously do as little as possible, to actually capture such a person, only going through the merest motions of attempting investigation and apprehension.
After all, as long as they were proving to be a serious and useful deterrent to crime, and didn’t make too many waves, they’d be making the law enforcement representative’s jobs much easier, and the person would likely have their sympathies, as well.
Of course, making waves was what both Bruce Wayne and Frank Castle sought; it’s what they had in mind, as they each perceived the levels of corruption and apathetic ineffectuality of the municipal governments and law enforcement entities in their cities.
Therefore, blatantly adopting the unlawful stigma of vigilantism, they took the law into their own hands, in the effort to set things right; to fight for their own visions of justice, and in their own manner.
I’ve often thought that these two are among the most “conservative”-leaning of the comic book heroes. The Christopher Nolan trilogy of Batman films have, rightly, been hailed by conservative critics as hallmarks of conservative ideals.
Both heroes are, clearly and despite their outlaw, vigilante styles, “law and order” idealists.
How, then, might these two heroes view the struggle of ideals we face, today, in America?
Frank Castle is a truly self-reliant, motivated individualist. Though he does, occasionally, confront corrupt authority, he mostly focuses on the organized criminal element.
Castle was a patriotic man, however, and as a Marine and Special Forces operative (depending upon the era in which you’ve read the comics or seen the movies), has fought against Communist incursion in Vietnam, and against Saddam’s totalitarian regime in Iraq. I would be willing to bet that Castle would be a big proponent of the Second Amendment, and especially of the “Castle Doctrine”.
That was a joke.
Batman has, several times over the decades of his comics career, fought tyranny and totalitarianism in many forms. In the 1940s, he and Robin were called upon to fight the forces of Nazism and the worldwide Fascist element.
Not much later, he was fighting Communist spies and other Soviet agents seeking to undermine America’s freedom and sovereignty.
In 1986’s seminal graphic novel “Dark Knight Returns”, an aging Bruce Wayne, 10 years retired from his crime-fighting career, re-emerges as Batman, taking the necessary steps to free Gotham City from the grip of a terrorist gang and, confronting the criminals and corruption which had taken hold in his absence, again becomes the symbol of individuality, true leadership, hope and inspiration Gotham needed, and had lost.
He ended up fighting agents and troops sent in, by a corrupt US government, to end his career altogether. These agents eventually included Superman who, in the intervening years, had become a willing, docile pawn of the government.
Batman has even been called upon and taken into the dystopian future, to help undermine and combat authoritarian government. His spirit of resistance to the established order used to build morale among those in these societies, seeking to free themselves from the chains of tyranny.

How many of us perceive that same type of afore-mentioned corruption and apathetic ineffectuality, in our nation, today, and want to begin to “make waves”?

While the truly grassroots TEA Party movement was an effective and inspiring first step, changing the nature of the national debate and giving hope to millions, it seems to have settled into a typical rut, becoming, essentially, just another conservative PAC.

How soon might it be, until someone (or some ones), with the proper resources, feels the motivation to take direct action? To-metaphorically, of course-put on a cape and cowl, or to don a skull-bedecked suit of body armor and take up a lot of guns?

The sentiment is there; I know. And Jefferson himself understood, and approved of, the necessity of vigilance-and even open, aggressive revolt-in the face of governmental authority and its tendency to grow, bloating itself far beyond its rightful, carefully-delineated boundaries. A bloat we have sadly witnessed in America in the last century, rapidly-increasing since the 1960s.

This is why, despite the lies of the endless propaganda we endure, he and the other Founders gave us the Second Amendment; not simply to hunt game, but to enable us to protect ourselves and our freedoms from too much government.
I do seriously doubt, however, that the Batman’s much nobler, higher-minded, non-lethal method of action-essentially law-abiding, if overblown, and though properly inspiring-would be as effective against the corrupt monolith we face, as The Punisher’s mercilessly violent approach. It would take violence-especially now, today-to dislodge the regulated authoritarianism, corruption and apathy we face in our government; a government which would not look at itself, nod in shame at its sins against the American Constitution and its governed, and step aside willingly.

The Punisher’s violence would be the only way to free ourselves, and to reset the values and freedoms we hold dearest, above almost all else. Of course, as I’ve made clear throughout this overcooked dissertation, the Punisher is the much more realistic of the two. Therefore, if it were ever to come down to it, I would have to say this: Bruce Wayne, nobly inspire us; Frank Castle, aggressively lead us.

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