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Punisher Skull is a white-and-black skull motif used by the Marvel comic book character Frank Castle, aka The Punisher. In the 2010s, the motif was appropriated by the U.S. military, police forces and some right-wing groups. First mentioned in the autobiographical book American Sniper, the appropriation of the logo, particularly by U.S. police forces as part of the Blue Lives Matter movement in the second half of the 2010s, became a subject of controversies and viral discussions online.
The Punisher skull is a skull motif recognized by the absence of the jaw bone and elongated top teeth. The symbol, worn by the Punisher on his clothing, first appears together with the original appearance of the character in the February 1974 issue of The Amazing Spider-man (panels shown below, left; two versions of the design shown below, center and right).
In the Marvel Comics series, Frank Castle, aka the Punisher, is a former United States Marine who turned vigilante after the brutal murder of his family. Written as an antihero, Castle strives to clean up New York City of all crime by any means necessary.
The appropriation of the design by the U.S. military is first mentioned in American Sniper, an autobiographical book by United States Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who did four tours of duty in Iraq during his 1999-2009 military career.
We all thought what the Punisher did was cool: He righted wrongs. So we adopted his symbol -- a skull -- and made it our own. We wanted people to know, "We’re here, and we want to fuck with you."
On April 8th, 2015, Italian journalist Daniele Raineri posted a tweeted of five photographs of the Iraqi security forces and Shi’ite militia bearing the logo on their uniforms and vehicles in Iraq (photographs shown below). On April 13th, 2015, TIME reported on the photographs.
The popularization of the Punisher Skull as a symbol for police started with the Blue Lives Matter movement in 2015. Starting in May 2015, the movement's Facebook page posted artworks of Punisher and Punisher Skull in Thin Blue Line color scheme (black, white and blue), also posting similarly styled artworks of other comic book heroes such as the Spartans from 300, Batman  and the Justice League. On June 14th, 2015, the page posted the first Thin Blue Line-styled Punisher artwork that gained over 690 reactions and 480 shares in roughly seven years (shown below, left). More Punisher artworks in this color scheme were posted by the page on June 15th, July 13th, August 16th, October 6th and November 19th that year (examples shown below).
The use of the Punisher Skull by the police forces and supporters of the Blue Lives Matter movement drew widespread attention in February 2017, when a story of the Cattlesburg Police Chief Cameron Logan installing Punisher Skull decals on the police cars went viral (photograph shown below, left), causing a controversy. The department ultimately removed the decals after getting calls from people concerned that "the Punisher logon meant they were out to kill people." On February 24th, 2017, Facebook page Socialist Meme Caucus posted the earliest known meme about U.S. Police using the Punisher Skull logo, an Are We the Baddies? meme that gained over 1,100 reactions and 500 shares in five years (shown below, right).
The use of the logo by the police again drew attention in July 2019 after the St. Louis Police Officers Association set a Thin Blue Line Punisher Skull as a profile picture on their social media accounts. Several officers were put under IAD investigation for posting the image, with the association condemning the decision in a social media statement.
In the following years, more social media posts about U.S. police officers using the Punisher Skull stickers, getting tattoos of the logo or displaying it in other ways went viral on social media (examples shown below).
Use by Other Groups
In addition to the police, the Punisher Skull logo has been used by various right-wing groups. On January 12th, 2020, Twitter user @travis_view shared a recruitment leaflet from a QAnon rally in Tampa that used the Punisher Skull imagery (shown below, left). During the January 6th, 2021, storming of the United States Capitol, a rioter wearing a Punisher Skull patch was filmed (shown below, right) The symbol was also associated with the far-right organization Proud Boys.
Uvalde Shooting Footage
On July 12th, 2022, the Uvalde Shooting footage was leaked. In the footage, a police officer can be seen looking at his phone, which had a U.S. Flag version of the Punisher Skull set as a lock screen image, in the school hallway. The image of the officer looking at the logo went viral and was used in posts condemning the actions of the police, who failed to prevent the loss of life, and to negatively comment on the police in the United States in general (several viral tweets shown below).
The officer in the footage was later revealed to be Ruben Ruiz, the husband of Eva Mireles, a teacher who was murdered in the shooting. Ruiz attempted to enter the classroom where his wife was shot, before reportedly being detained and disarmed by his fellow officers.
Gerry Conway's Reaction to Logo Appropriation
The Punisher creator Gerry Conway has on multiple occasions condemned the use of the appropriation of the logo by the U.S. police and by other groups and made attempts to reclaim it. On January 11th, 2019, SYFY published an interview with Conway in which he commented on the issue.
The vigilante anti-hero is fundamentally a critique of the justice system, an example of social failure, so when cops put Punisher skulls on their cars or members of the military wear Punisher skull patches, they're basically sides with an enemy of the system. They are embracing an outlaw mentality. Whether you think the Punisher is justified or not, whether you admire his code of ethics, he is an outlaw. He is a criminal. Police should not be embracing a criminal as their symbol. In a way, it's as offensive as putting a Confederate flag on a government building.
In Punisher #13 comic issue, published on July 10th, 2019, Frank Castle confronts two police officers who use the skull logo, ripping a sticker from the car and threatening them (panels shown below).
In November 2015, Marvel Comics sued gun-related goods manufacturer Molon Labe over the use of the design on their products. In December 2017, Marvel Comics sued motorcycle parts distributor HTT Group and sleeve holder producer Loyalty Bound LLC over the use of the logo, including a U.S. Flag color scheme version, on their products. In October 2018, Marvel Comics filed a lawsuit against There Percent Nation LLC for using the logo.
Starting in 2020, both Marvel and Disney were actively urged by users on social media to enforce their copyright to prevent the use of the Punisher skull logo by the police and other groups (viral examples shown below).
Skull Logo Replacement
On December 20th, 2021, Marvel Entertainment announced a new Punisher series by Jason Aaron, Jesus Saiz and Paul Azaceta set to launch in March 2022.  The preview panels revealed a new design of the Skull logo, inspired by oni from Japanese folklore (shown below, left and right).
 Bleeding Cool – Marvel Vs. Molon Labe Over Punisher Skull Trademark
 Riverfront Times – St. Louis Police Union Loves 'the Punisher.' But the Punisher Isn't On Board
 Bleeding Cool – The Punisher Has Words For Police Who Use His Skull Logo
 Bleeding Cool – Marvel Comics Take Further Legal Action Over Skull Use
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