What Billy Russo’s Comics History Reveals About The ‘Punisher’ Power Player
The Punisher may not feel like the Marvel series on Netflix that fans have come to expect. Nobody is vaguely mentioning "The Incident," Rosario Dawson is nowhere to be found, and there's just not a lot of supernatural going on. But there are suspicious characters. Is Billy Russo good in The Punisher? The comics are helping to expand this growing corner of the MCU, and this well-known Marvel character has a totally new backstory. Spoilers for The Punisher Episodes 1-5 ahead.
Russo is played by Ben Barnes, who you may recognize as Prince Caspian from the Narnia movies, Dorian Gray in Dorian Gray, and most recently as Logan, the only guest in Westworld who truly understood the point of the park. There were high suspicions cast on everyone in that HBO series, and his Punisher character is worth examining as well.
In Marvel comics, Billy Russo becomes a super villain known as Jigsaw. That's right. His name is Jigsaw. Not the guy who wants to play a game in the Saw movies, however. Billy “The Beaut” Russo in the comics was a mob assassin with a handsome face who Frank Castle threw through a window. Billy had been hired to kill Frank and failed, and so as The Punisher, Frank targeted him next and basically won.
Unfortunately, that defenestration damaged Billy's good looks and he renamed himself after a puzzle, thinking that's what he looked like. Considering Frank his nemesis, Jigsaw is always after revenge, and is pretty single-minded. For whatever reason, he has a fear of costumed heroes and once fainted at the sight of Spider-Man. So, don't expect too much crossover from this character.
In the Netflix series, Billy is introduced as one of Frank's military friends. He's just as rich and just as known for his physical appearance as he is in the comics, but his relationship to Frank starts in a very different place. Billy and Frank were in the same unit. Billy mourns Frank's alleged death. He really seems like a good guy, so knowing that he is fated to become a villain is tragic. He also runs a private military group called Anvil which can't be good. Nothing good can come from that, especially in the Marvel world. This fictional universe is chock full of stories about super-soldier programs gone wrong, from Captain America to Iron Man 3, and even the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Barnes, in an interview with Da Man Magazine, talked about playing opposite Jon Bernthal as Frank Castle. "When a character is compelling and violent and charismatic like [The Punisher]," he said, "the challenge is to find the qualities that will balance him out or complement him."
His character's journey, it seems, parallels Frank's in a way — until they ultimately diverge. Frank and Billy come home from a shared experience in Afghanistan to very different sets of circumstances and deal with it in different ways. "Our show is about men suffering tragedy and trauma," Barnes said in the same interview, "it’s about a very real topic set in a world of superheroes — but no character in our show has superpowers and that makes it feel unique in this universe."
So while Frank Castle may have sat out the vigilante team-up in The Defenders, characters like Billy Russo, Karen Page, and Micro remind fans that this is certainly a Marvel series. Even if Billy's face doesn't get messed up in The Punisher Season 1, we know what's coming. The Netflix realm of the MCU has always been good at throwing subtle nods to the comics that inspired these characters, and it'll be interesting to see what happens to Jigsaw.