** Here there be BIG SPOILERS for Jessica Jones and Daredevil Season 1 **
When Netflix's Daredevil premiered to critical acclaim back in January we were blown away by the darker take on the universe and fantastic character development, whilst simultaneously wondering for a moment if the TV side of the [Marvel Cinematic Universe](tag:1096390) had peaked too early.
But then along came the fantastic Jessica Jones which blew any concerns we may have had about the continuing quality right out of the water. Clearly everything is just getting revved up now, and next up will be [Daredevil Season 2](tag:3487436), due to land on Netflix sometime in 2016.
Bad Guys Galore
One of the highlights of both Daredevil and Jessica Jones (and oh there were many) was the presentation of the main antagonists - Wilson Fisk / Kingpin (Vincent D'Onofrio) in Daredevil and Kilgrave / Purple Man (David Tennant) in Jessica Jones.
Sure, the Marvel films themselves have had some pretty good villains - most notably the reoccurring fan-favourite Loki (Tom Hiddleston) - but due to the more confined nature of the cinematic beast there isn't nearly as much scope afforded to villain's character development there. And the Netflix shows make up for this in abundance.
So next up on the villainous Marvel TV roster is Frank Castle / Punisher (Jon Bernthal), set to appear as a thorn in the side of Daredevil / Matt Murdock (Charlie Cox). But with such a high bar already set, how can Punisher measure up to the rest?
Kingpin VS Kilgrave VS Punisher - Place Your Bets!
Who would win in a fight? I want to say Kilgrave - mind control is so very useful - but I highly doubt that Punisher and Fisk would face off against someone like Kilgrave without doing their homework first. Besides that's all a bit redundant at this juncture, he's dead now. Fisk is in jail (though for how long remains to be seen). Punisher is already winning by default. Moving on.
Anyway, [Daredevil](tag:47230) Season 2 is set to bring anti-hero Punisher into alignment with Daredevil. Unsurprisingly the two don't get along, something to do with the minor ideological clash between Daredevil's "I don't kill people" and Punisher's "I use bad guys to paint my walls".
Show-runner Marco Ramirez has described the upcoming season as "Daredevil vs. the Punisher", so we're pretty sure that the Punisher is going to be the main big bad for Season 2. Daredevil and the Punisher have always had a very rocky relationship; two men set upon the same course of action but taking very different steps to succeed in their quest to clean up Hell's Kitchen.
The tension between them has been well-documented before, in the comic book run of Daredevil vs Punisher: Means and Ends as well as in other titles, but this is the first time we're going to see them go head to head on-screen as part of the MCU.
The Punisher as a character isn't necessarily a villain though, he's usually an anti-hero, so how they handle that balance will be very important when it comes to his success as an antagonist.
So how does he measure up?
Why Fisk / Kingpin Is A Great Villain
Fisk / Kingpin and Kilgrave worked so well as mould-breaking villains because they were incredibly well written and developed, whilst still distinct from each other. In Fisk we had a troubled man who, whilst his methods may have been unorthodox to say the least (we'll never look at a car door the same way again), truly believed that he was doing the right thing.
Fisk was a villain born from a childhood of trauma, cumulating in the death of his abusive father at his hands (and a hammer), which we experienced in vivid detail. Add to that the developing romance between Fisk and whipsmart art gallery owner Vanessa Marianna (Ayelet Zurer) and how this subplot humanises his character and you end up with one of the best developed villains in the MCU.
Trauma is as important in the development of the villain as it is an archetype in the formulation of the superhero character. Heroes and villains react to this fracturing event in different ways and so the alignment of their character is decided. For Fisk the only way to "save" Hell's Kitchen was to destroy it and rebuild from the ashes, leaving the weak to fend for themselves as he had to as a child.
Fisk is a great villain because we understand and emphasise with his aims and motivation, if not his methods. His shy and introverted personality helps to humanise him too, especially when it comes to his first meetings with Vanessa.
We see just as much of his insides as we do of Daredevil's through his relationship with Vanessa, friendship with James Wesley (Toby Leonard Moore) and the recurring theme of the white wall as a reflection of his psyche.
We know we haven't seen the last of Fisk though, as Daredevil Season 1 ended with him staring at a blank wall as he awaits his trail in Ryker's Island, plotting his revenge against those who moved against him. It's highly likely that we'll see more of him in Daredevil Season 2 when it arrives next year. Fingers crossed.
Why Kilgrave / Purple Man Is A Great Villain
Kilgrave follows a similar pattern in terms of character development, but he's so effective because he's very subversive. There's a point about half way through Jessica Jones where he sidelines Jessica (Krysten Ritter)'s anger at him by waxing lyrical about his own traumatic childhood.
Though this serves to briefly humanise him for an episode or two we soon discover that, as those who are in a position of power are wont to do, he's effectively rewriting his own history to suit an agenda. His parents did perform traumatic experiments upon him but they did so to save his life, not because they regarded him as a freakish experiment as Kilgrave alludes to. They loved him deeply, only "abandoning" him after he forced his mother to inflict horrific scarring burns upon her face with an iron.
Kilgrave is an obsessive, spoiled, childish character, unable to achieve full emotional maturity because he's never been denied anything since he received the virus that triggered his powers as a child. This rings through in everything he does, from his callous treatment of everyone around him to his very mannerisms, he's the epitome of a "man-child".
Kilgrave is also so powerful because, in addition to the level of childish self-deception he employs, he accurately reflects contemporary issues around sexual assault. The confusion he displays when Jessica argues with him about the abuse she suffered whilst under his control perfectly underlines the muddled discourse that we're still struggling through right now when it comes to this issue.
Kilgrave: "What? Which part of staying in five-star hotels, eating in all the best places, doing whatever the hell you wanted, is rape?"
Jessica: "The part where I didn't want to do any of it! Not only did you physically rape me, but you violated every cell in my body and every thought in my goddamn head."
Kilgrave, short of apologising, insists that he never wanted to hurt Jessica, that he can't differentiate between using his powers and not, that he loves her, that he wants her to love him back. Any sympathy that may have built up for him dissolves when she again points out the childhood trauma split:
Kilgrave: "I didn't have this. A home, loving parents, a family."
Jessica: "You blame bad parenting? My parents died. You don't see me raping anyone."
Kilgrave: "I hate that word."
By refusing to even acknowledge "that word" Kilgrave displays yet another level of self-delusion, one often displayed by rape apologies and the like in modern discourse. He's a wonderful villain because he's a well developed, faux-sympathetic character who literally uses discourse to silence his victims; a powerful theme that rings strongly with the trauma Jessica experienced at his hands.
It was almost disappointing to see his death at the hands of Jessica during the series finale because it means that we wont get to see any more of him, but the vindication that came with it was more than worth it.
So Can The Punisher Measure Up?
Obviously the bar has been set pretty high as far as villains go, and the Marvel TV shows have hit on a pretty good formula so far - well developed, almost -sympathetic villains who often don't fully realise the immediate impact of their actions.
Given the incredibly nuanced handling of two characters from the comic books that typically embody evil, the Punisher is a very good choice to adapt next as he's one of the most shades of grey characters you can think of.
The Punisher's whole persona is built around taking bloody vengeance upon criminals, usually by shooting them full of holes. But he's not without his own baggage; a US military vet, he turns to the dark path of vigilante justice after his entire family (his wife and two young children) are caught in the crossfire of a mob shootout and slain.
This makes his character ripe for development, another man sent down another dark path by a traumatic event, though one perhaps even more sympathetic than those who have come before (certainly more so than Kilgrave).
It's hard to believe that he'll be left firmly in the antagonists role throughout Season 2 - certainly this would not wholly reflect the source material - so perhaps the Punisher will be the first Marvel villain to truly achieve redemption?
Whichever way it goes we can't wait to see how show-runners Doug Petrie and Marco Ramirez handle this one, and we're desperately holding out for that Daredevil Season 2 air date.
Who's YOUR favourite Marvel villain and why? Tell us in the comments below!