For years, Frank Castle was the comic book industry’s premiere anti-hero as the Punisher. He stood alone as the one character that fought the “good fight” but would do anything to win it. However, when Jason Todd was resurrected as the Red Hood, he raised the bar in the anti-hero game and put a new spin on cleaning the streets of organized crime and the tactics by which he achieved his goals.
The Punisher is known for the creative, yet blunt brutal force he uses to exact justice. He is empowered by the pain of losing his family and takes it out on anyone that stands in his way. Similarly, Jason Todd also has pain in his past. At first, that gave him a self-righteous sense of justice that ultimately just masked vengeance. However, their similarities are rooted in different ideals that differentiate the two anti-heroes drastically.
The Red Hood and Punisher Both Had Villainous Beginnings
Introduced in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (by Gerry Conway and John Romita Sr.), after losing his family to gang violence, the Punisher began targeting mafia members, killing them off one by one. Spider-Man (having a major problem with this) got in Castle’s way, making him the Punisher’s primary target. Ultimately, Castle realized the error in his ways when the Jackal, whom he was working with at the time, murdered people without honor. This began a new approach to fighting crime for the Punisher, as he started to consider the gray area between right and wrong. And though the Castle doesn’t often work with partners or on a team, over the years he has developed a respect for the purity and good-hearted nature that Spider-Man exuded all those years ago.
In contrast, Jason Todd had a far more tumultuous history that affected him directly before becoming the Red Hood. Jason Todd is the adopted son of Bruce Wayne, who served as the second Robin. Jason always had a chip on his shoulder that led to a predilection toward violence. As Robin, Jason was captured and beaten to death by the Joker. Years later he was re-introduced to the DC Universe in the story “Under the Hood” (by Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke) when he was resurrected by Talia Al Ghul. His anger with Bruce Wayne for allowing criminals like the Joker to continue to do to others what was done to him nearly drove Jason mad. He became the Red Hood and a regular thorn in Batman’s side as he littered the streets of Gotham with the bodies of any and all that he deemed criminal.
How The Punisher and Red Hood Have Changed Over the Years
The Marvel Universe is typically a more positive and forgiving place when compared to the DC Universe. The heroes of Gotham have it twice as hard when it comes to the feelings of hopelessness when seeing Batman’s rogues gallery continually back on the streets. For years this shaped Jason Todd’s approach to “crime-fighting” as the torment of seeing villain after villain go unpunished kept the anguish of his own tragedy in the forefront of his mind. This led to him nearly killing Batman during Battle for the Cowl just so that he could take Bruce’s place and use the mantle of the bat to exact his personal vendetta.
In contrast, the characters of the Marvel Universe tend to be pulled into major events with other heroes regardless of their own agendas. During Marvel’s Civil War, Castle pushed against the stigma of the “anti-hero” when he intervened and saved Peter Parker’s life, delivering him to the safety of Captain America’s team. This act alone was a huge step for Castle in redefining the dogmas by which he had lived his life to that point. By choosing a side and protecting Peter he demonstrated an openness to an agenda that wasn’t beholden to his own.
Recently, Jason Todd has also grown to accept a perspective that allows more nuance when dealing with villains. He’s come to terms with some of his contempt for Batman and has even led his own team of heroes with the Outlaws. However, Jason and Frank still have two distinctly different sets of ideals that stem from their fundamental moral foundations. Ultimately, the Punisher is out for justice, while Red Hood always comes back for vengeance. Thus, making the “hero” in Frank Castle better and more effective than the “anti-hero” the Red Hood will always be beholden to.