Once you remove the ongoing raging debate about gun control, and the glorification of violence on our television screens, it’s hard to find any real criticism about last year’s debut season of Marvel’s The Punisher. Absolutely saturated with deeply emotional storylines, engaging and layered character portrayals with eye-wincing action sequences, the show completely reinvigorated a Marvel/Netflix collaboration that was struggling to bounce back from a number of lackluster recent offerings.
The show-runners have immediately sought to capitalize on the much-needed success of the project, with early predictions of a 2019 release date for the second season confirmed by the news that shooting would commence at the end of this month. The explosive ending to the first series unleashed a rampant wave of fan speculation as to where the new season would take the Jon Bernthal incarnation of Frank Castle, with some recent casting announcements directing online news outlets in an intriguing direction.
Last month, it was revealed that Netflix were searching for a number of roles for the new show, including a female therapist and a street-smart young girl. Several of the big news sites immediately seized on the two characters seeming to demonstrate that the new series would be following the iconic Slavers storyline from the Punisher MAX comics. On the surface this seemed like a fair supposition, with a large chunk of season one’s material already having come from the same run. The problem is, we didn’t buy it, and further casting news that has come to light over the last two weeks has now completely blown that theory out of the water.
With one website having run with the Slavers theory, and the rest of them dutifully falling into line behind it, the idea quickly became gospel. We, however, were far from convinced. For starters, nowhere did the original casting announcement state that the show was looking to cast prostitutes, victims of people trafficking, or demented Eastern-European gangsters. The characters that were being banded around from The Slavers didn’t match up with what Marvel were auditioning for. The press release clearly stated that the show was looking for a therapist and a street kid, not a social worker and a migrant trafficking victim, which is what the news sites were running with.
Quite simply, the correct ingredients weren’t there, and the other character that the show were casting for merely undermined the theory further. Showrunners were looking for an actor to play a male detective from the Punisher Task Force. The Task Force does indeed feature in the MAX imprint, but not in The Slavers. A somewhat limited Punisher Task Force put together in Up Is Down/Black Is White, when gangster Nicky Cavella bullies the NYPD into going after Frank. It also appears in the ‘Welcome Back Frank’ imprint in the form of the beleaguered Detective Martin Soap, who also featured in the Punisher: War Zone movie.
Our skepticism on The Slavers angle has been borne out this week with two new casting announcements that Marvel have released about the show in the past weeks. First up, they have confirmed that Floriana Lima’s character of Krista Dumont is a psychotherapist, specializing in military veterans. Not a social worker. They have also confirmed that Giorgia Whigham is playing a street kid by the name of Amy Bendix. A character by the name of Amy Bendix did indeed feature in one of the older Punisher storylines names ‘Suicide Run’, and was the daughter of a small town Pennsylvania sheriff that Frank crossed paths with. Certainly nothing to do with a people trafficking ring.
It’s the announcement that actor Josh Stewart will be playing a character by the name of ‘John Pilgrim’ that completely annihilates the idea that season two will follow the story of The Slavers. With it’s religious surname, and a strapline that he ‘left behind a life of violence but will be forced to use his old skills to bring himself into Frank Castle’s world’, this character bears an uncanny resemblance to one from the final section of the MAX run, The Mennonite.
A former Mafia hitman, who renounced violence and turned to religion, the Mennonite responds to a call from The Kingpin when his loving and supportive wife passes away. Lacking any of the old tools of his trade, when he arrives back in New York he is initially forced to rely on his skills, strength and farm tools to attack Frank, which provide devastatingly brutal results.
Hot on the heels of the above casting announcements, it’s this week been revealed that the producers are now actively auditioning for the roles of a small town sheriff and a couple of deputies. Putting two and two together, that would likely be for Amy Bendix’s father and his team, which would mean the show would be looking to use elements of the ‘Suicide Run’ storyline. This could perhaps open the door to Frank hitting true road akin to the Bill Bixby version of The Incredible Hulk, tackling organised crime in different states and cities.
The presence of a number of very different characters and elements of both the MAX and mainstream 616 runs also suggests that the showrunners are looking to cherry pick elements of the bigger storylines, rather than the full stories themselves, choosing the parts they believe will work best in the Netflix corner of the MCU.
Given the established format of the show, this is undoubtedly the best way forward for the scriptwriters. Rather than being tied down to one storyline, desperately trying to pad it out to cover the 13 episodes they need to fill, they can run a number of stories at the same time. They also don’t have to try and crowbar or shoehorn in any of the existing characters like Billy Russo or Curtis Hoyle, who frankly would not work in The Slavers.
Continuing to pull material from the MAX imprint is a shrewd move, opening the doors to villains such as Cavella, Finn Cooley, Barracuda and General Zakharov. It also allows the introduction of allies such as Yorkie Mitchell and Kathryn O’Brien. Giving the enduring popularity of The Slavers story, it’s entirely possible we’ll see it crop up in a future series of the show. Just, not this one….