The Military Skull Art Inspired by The Punisher

Deuce Four Picture
The “Deuce Four Skull” – clearly inspired by The Punisher’s skull symbol.

Marvel Comics character The Punisher first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man #129 (cover-dated February 1974).  Created by writer Gerry Conway (with input from publisher Stan Lee, who suggested the character’s name) and artists John Romita, Sr. (who tweaked Conway’s design for the character, specifically putting a large skull symbol on the character’s chest) and Ross Andru (who first drew the character for publication), The Punisher was initially an antagonist to Spider-Man; as a vigilante, The Punisher is relentless in killing criminals, which puts him at odds with Spider-Man and other Marvel superheroes.  However, over the years, the character evolved into a sympathetic antihero that remains popular with many comics fans.  It appears that some of those fans are in the United States Armed Forces.

Punisher Skull
Both The Punisher and his skull symbol are frightening to evildoers.

The Punisher is Frank Castle, a Marine Corp veteran with Special Forces training; his family – after they witness a Mafia execution in New York City’s Central Park – is killed by mobsters.  To avenge his family, Castle becomes a vigilante who kills criminals; he wears a black costume with a large white skull symbol emblazoned on his chest.  Unlike other costumed comics characters with superpowers or specialized non-lethal weapons, The Punisher uses handguns, sniper rifles, grenades, knives, and sometimes his bare hands to stop criminals – permanently.

The Punisher is one of Marvel’s most popular characters.  In the 1990s, The Punisher starred in three ongoing comic book titles (The Punisher, Punisher War Journal, and Punisher War Zone); it’s rare for a character to headline multiple, concurrent ongoing titles, with Superman, Batman, and Spider-Man as examples of the few other popular comics characters to do so.  The Punisher is also the protagonist of multiple films – The Punisher (1989), The Punisher (2004), Punisher: War Zone (2008), and the fan film Dirty Laundry (2012).

Deuce Four Tatoo
A serviceman’s “Deuce Four Skull” tattoo.

The Punisher’s popularity among United States military personnel is evidenced by the incorporation of the character’s distinctive skull symbol into artwork generated within the military, most notably by the United States Navy’s Sea, Air, Land Teams (“Navy SEALs”) and the United States Army’s 24th Infantry Regiment.  There is a long tradition – dating back to colonial times – of American military personnel using skull imagery in officially unauthorized-but-allowed insignia artwork.  The Punisher’s fans in the military continue this tradition with the creation of unit insignia based on the character’s skull symbol.

Deuce Four Marking
Note the “Deuce Four Skull” painted on the wall in the bottom right corner of the picture.

The 24th Infantry Regiment’s “Deuce Four Skull” insignia is clearly based on The Punisher’s skull symbol.  The 24th Infantry regiment was deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2004, and the “Deuce Four Skull” was painted on the walls of buildings where the regiment killed enemy combatants; the symbol became a fearsome calling card for the regiment.

Seal Team Punisher Emblem
Military tactical gear with The Punisher’s skull symbol painted on the back.

The Navy’s SEAL Team 3 paints The Punisher’s skull symbol on its military gear. Reporting on former SEAL Team 3 sniper Chris Kyle (who claimed to have made 255 kills, which would make him the most lethal U.S. sniper in history), the Daily Mail notes that for SEAL Team 3 the “action was enough that the members of the unit adopted the white skull of the gun-wielding comic book vigilante The Punisher.  They painted the symbol on their body armor, their vehicles and even their weapons.”  The New Yorker, reporting on Kyle’s death, also notes the use of The Punisher’s skull symbol by SEAL Team 3:  “Kyle seemed to consider himself a cross between a lawman and an executioner. His platoon had spray-painted the image of the Punisher—a Marvel Comics character who wages ‘a one-man war upon crime’—on their flak jackets and helmets.”  Kyle liked the skull symbol so much that he incorporated it into the logo of his company Craft International, which provides tactical training for military and law enforcement personnel.

Chris Kyle Punisher Logo
Craft International tactical gear – note the skull symbol painted on the helmet and emblazoned on the uniform patch.

The Punisher has many fans, but given the incorporation of his skull symbol into military artwork, it’s unlikely that the character is appreciated by America’s enemies.

Seal Team 6 Punisher
A military unit patch with a skull symbol inspired by The Punisher.

NOTES AND FURTHER READING:  The website has an excellent article on the history and traditions of skull art in the U.S. military, which can be found here.

Information about Chris Kyle and the use of The Punisher’s symbol by SEAL Team 3 and Craft International can be found here.

More information about Chris Kyle and his experiences as a sniper are detailed in Kyle’s book American Sniper:  The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.  Kyle was killed at a shooting range on February 2, 2013, apparently by a Marine Corp veteran suffering from post traumatic stress disorder, whom Kyle was attempting to help.

The images above are the property of their respective owner(s), and are presented for educational purposes only under the fair use doctrine of the copyright laws of the United States of America.



45 thoughts on “The Military Skull Art Inspired by The Punisher”

  1. I think they should have gone with a Mickey Mouse instead of a Punisher Skull; easier to win the hearts and minds with that. I suppose it is appropriate on the SEALS but not so much with the Infantry. Also, isn’t the skull kind of a bullseye (the human eye/brain looks for patterns and eye shapes in particular).

    I heard that Jessie Ventura is suing Chis Kyle’s family over an allegation that Kyle made (before he was killed) that Ventura is saying has damaged his career. Kyle supposedly states in his book that Ventura was talking down about SEALS (which is odd because Ventura is a former SEAL). I have heard Ventura make fun of Force Recon Marines in comparison to SEALS but I don’t know why he would disparage his own people.

    Another SEAL making fun of Marines. Very funny,

    1. My understanding is that the Deuce Four Skull was only painted on buildings where enemy combatants were killed, and was meant to send a message to enemy forces. The symbol wasn’t painted or displayed on the regiment’s vehicles or uniforms, and would likely not be associated with the regiment troops in normal interactions with Iraqi civilians.

      The SEALs do paint the symbol on their uniform and vehicles, although my understanding is that the symbol is usually painted black, rather than bright white, so that it is less of a noticeable target.

      Ventura is suing Kyle’s estate. I leave it to the courts to determine the truth of his allegations (that Chris Kyle falsely wrote in his book that he punched Ventura for insulting the Navy SEALs). However, my understanding is that Ventura, as a public entertainment and political figure, will have to not only prove that Kyle lied, but that he did so with malice, to prevail in his lawsuit. (To protect fee speech rights, public figures in America have a higher burden to prove slander or libel, to prevent them from using lawsuits to silence criticism.)

      1. sorry to disappoint you. but my unit duece four had it in their vehicles and gear. before leaving to iraq alpha co. needed something to find our gear faster inside of the metal containers from other companies so we started painting the punisher when we got to iraq the battallion commander saw it and he order all strykers to be painted with the punisher we also had a patch by the way a painting of mickey mouse? go to disneyland and see who is shooting at you?no one complain when they came to our country to blow us out remember 9/11 well , we made friend with who wanted to be friend and enemies to who wanted to be a enemy

        1. There were no Iraqis on any of the planes during the 9/11 attack and pretty much the entire world was extremely sympathetic over the 9/11 attack so saying “no one complained” is just wrong also. And yes I believe Mickey Mouse is a better representation of the greatness of the United States of America than the Punisher ever will be and I’m a big Punisher fan myself. The love that most of the world feels for the United States comes from things like Mickey Mouse, Spiderman, Superman etc.

            1. “How old are you 8” Barbara types not realizing that the syntax of her very simple sentence structure and grammar is far below that of your average 8 year old.
              Also, if you weren’t in the military and you rock the Punisher gear because of Chris Kyle, you’re a poser straight up.
              PS: Mickey Mouse owns The Punisher skull anyway bahahahahaha

            2. Wow, the thread that will never die. Hey Barbara, you are a fool that has most likely never left the country. Or maybe you have been to Mexico or Canada or maybe even Iraq; which still basically means that you have no idea how the rest of the world views us. Most people around the world know little or nothing about the United States and are pretty much the same as you; very ignorant. I’m in my mid 30s with an advanced degree in one of the sciences (not “liberal arts”) and while I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed, I’m no fool. Explain this to me. If most people around the world have never been to America much less lived here, how would they know about “America’s freedoms”. The answer is that they have no concept of America’s freedoms but they may know something about American pop culture. If not Mickey Mouse then Captain America. Captain America is a better ambassador for American culture than the Punisher is. Anything is better, Mickey, Cap, McDonalds, Apple products, whatever. Regardless I doubt you know anything about the Punisher either as I doubt that most people that use that Punisher patch know much either. I’ve been a Punisher fan for two decades; you may as well call me an expert.

              Thanks Pat. It’s weird that this thread doesn’t die. “The Freedoms” sigh. How can someone comment on freedoms here when they haven’t been anywhere else. Have you heard of Holland Barb? Or Sweden? Or England? Germany maybe? No? You haven’t? Have you been to any of those places? No. I know you haven’t. I imagine that I could probably walk down a street in Canada and not be stopped by police one out of every five or six times. Free? Literally. I walk a lot and I’ve been stopped by police 10-15 times and questioned for no reason. If I was mentally disabled I probably would have been shot by now. My last conversation with police while walking on a side walk started like this. Me…”I’m just getting some exercise” Officer “what are you doing”. Me… “I’m just getting some exercise” Officer “what are you doing”. Me…. “I’m just getting some exercise” Officer “what are you doing”. Me… “Im just getting some exercise”. Literally the officer asked me that three or four times. Which implies that he thinks that I was lying. Which is disrespectful and unprofessional. In Germany Police get proper training and earn much more money. They need a 4 year degree before they can even apply, which is great for knowing when to not infringe on my mother fucking freedoms.

            3. Oh and by the way Barb. I must be a fucking Genius after all because I’m the only American Citizen I know that told numerous people that we should not invade Iraq during the Bush Administration and not leave Iraq during the Obama administration. Let me guess what side of those options you were on. I would bet my life that you wanted to go into Iraq and that you also wanted to pull out (and now claim that we shouldn’t have pulled out). Who’s going to clean up your mess Bard? How’s that for an 8 year old; hell, all it would take is an 8 year old’s knowledge because I thought those things based on fucking basic history class. Excuse me while I go finish reading “In the Garden of the Beasts”, soon to be coming to a town near you if Trump gets his way. Trump who by the way is on tape supporting the initial Iraq invasion and also later supporting a withdrawal but let’s not get RECORDED facts in the way of reality.

            4. Oh and Barb. Do you know where the intelligence came from for WMDs to justify the Iraq war invasion. It came from ONE man. ONE. Just ONE man. Just look it up on PBS. The whole Iraq invasion intelligence was based on one informant who actually used the plot of the Nick Cage movie “The Rock” to describe his fake WMDs. Weapons experts agreed that those weapons descriptions made no sense BECAUSE THEY WERE FAKE. This informant’s code name was “Curveball” and he is muslim by the way. So the whole invasion was based on this one guys lies. Congradufuckinglations. You didn’t know this did you. You fucking fool.

            5. Wow I just watched “Sausage Party” and it was an antidote to low information, taking things out of context, ignorant, mother fuckers like the woman above me. This is a comic site lady. Now go bury your head in the sand like you usually do. Oh I’m sorry, you can’t do that because your head is already stuck up your ass.

              Can everyone tell that I’m tired of this shit…

            6. Watch these two videos Barb.

              Trump being honest in 2007 calling “to get out of Iraq”, and calling it the biggest catastrophe in history and calling the Iraq war a big lie while Bush was still president. In 2002 Howard Stern interviewed him and asked him if he was for going into Iraq and Trump say “yes, I guess so”. Now he pretends to have the opposite stance on both questions just as so many others do. Most Americans wanted to go in and most wanted to get out so stop blaming Obama and start blaming yourself. Two videos in his own words. Not debatable.

                1. To clarify. I agree with almost everything Trump says in the W Blitzer interview, two videos above. However, I would have to be a nutcase if I agreed with everything anyone says especially if that “anyone” was Trump.

      2. Actually the Deuce Four skull was painted on vehicle and there were some patches but due to regulations they were not aloud to wear them. The skull was also painted on the main entrance gate in to the Deuce Four detention center.

        1. As I wrote in the comment, it was “my understanding” that the skull was only painted on the buildings, based on my – it appears incorrect – reading of the sources cited in the article. I have no direct knowledge of the practices of the 24th Infantry Regiment in Iraq, and I appreciate the clarification provided in the comments from people with more direct knowledge of what occurred.

    2. Ventura did sue Chris Kyles wife because he wrote about an incident where Chris decked him for bad mothing a dead Seal at the dead Seals funeral. Ventura was grandfathered into the Seals as he was a UDT member. Ventura is an ass and deserves all he gets.

      1. Get your facts right buddy. Jesse Ventura sued Chris Kyle in 2012. In 2013, Kyle was deceased. By law, the spouse or family member takes over the case which it leaves Kyle window take over his cased. People say that Ventura should have drop the charges but if he did, his reputation will still be affect & wanted to prove the world that Kyle was a liar which he was. Ventura proved that he wasn’t there at the bar & never met Chris Kyle. I can’t not see Ventura say that Kyle deserves to lose more men in Iraq since his father served WW2,his mother was a nurse in WW2, & both Jesse & his brother are Vietnam Veterans who served in Under Water Demolition Team aka Frogman’s. Which makes them both Navy SEALs since 1983. Kyle says that he saw cops arriving at the bar after sucking punching Jesse but there was no police reports of the battery assault. Do some research instead of watching Fox News.

        1. Jessie Ventura is a money grabbing idiot who will say anything for a buck. My friend was at the Hotel Coronado the night this took place. Chris out Jessie on his back. Personally, I wish Jessie would’ve swallowed some teeth. Jessie didn’t file charges but sued Chris’s wife. I refuse to recognize Ventura for nothing other than what he is: a limp noodle with a big mouth! Navy Seal? NEVER! Discrace to the trident? Damn right he is!!!!

  2. I’m by no means an advocate of war or world policing in general, but understand it’s a necessary or inevitable evil. It’s interesting to see our troops inspired by comic book characters, like in WWII when overseas troops bought or were provided metric shit tons of comic books.
    It’s also interesting to see the contrast of characters that appeal to each generation. Superman, Captain America and Wonder Woman were symbols of truth and Justice for the “greatest” generation whereas today’s boys & girls of the armed forces (at least the ones mentioned above) idolize a killing/war machine. Not judging, merely observing. 😉

    1. Your point about the popularity of The Punisher in this generation is well-taken; The Punisher is not just popular to military personnel, but many non-military comics fans. As I note in the article, The Punisher is one of the few characters in comics history to have multiple, concurrent ongoing monthly titles (Superman, Batman, Spider-Man… maybe Archie? Sound off, comics fans, if I’ve missed anyone); it’s interesting to consider why the character is so popular with modern comics readers, both military and non-military fans.

      Any ideas?

      1. Since the article’s focus was on the military, I was attempting to keep my comments within the contexts, but branching out to civilians such as myself, I LOVE the Punisher because because he kills the bad guys, the murderers, rapists, child molesters, terrorists who mean to do harm to innocent people, hardcore drug dealers (has the Punisher ever killed a simple drug addict who only harms themselves? I would be against that cuz I think of drug addicts as victims of disease). No life sentencing feeding the private prison system. No taxpayer money to feed/support monsters with life sentences.
        I also love Batman and Spider-Man, but I think their reasons for not executing mass murderers can be interpreted as selfish, if not outright self-righteous.

        1. I always found the character sympathetic (the military man who fought hard to protect his country, only to return home and be unable to protect his family from criminals); he also has a relentless focus on mission that I find admirable and fascinating.

          The character’s skill set and focus on his mission of justice is appealing. To hope that I would be able to take down a criminal or an enemy of the United States as effortlessly as Frank Castle is a comforting aspiration.

          1. Well quite simply every now and then the Punisher is bound to kill innocent people just like death row has done many times (almost 150 people have been exonerated and freed from death row since the 70s). If a judge and jury can get it wrong so can the Punisher (that is the flaw in his method). There is a middle ground though and Batman and Spiderman’s no kill clause exists probably mostly to sustain the medium itself as they would have both killed their most compelling villains years ago. In many ways the Punisher’s way of killing is the only way to survive as a vigilante as both Batman and Spiderman’s surviving enemies would have already killed them by now (because the villains don’t play by the same ridiculous rules). Certainly some people are too dangerous to be allowed to live; having said that, the Punisher indiscriminate spraying of bullets takes a crazy man (which is exactly what Castle is).

            1. Yeah, I can understand the odds and probabilities, what I’m wondering specifically is if there’s a story or incident where Castle inadvertently kills an innocent bystander or a nonviolent offender and if so, I’m curious to know how he dealt with it on a personal level. Did he coldly rationalize the situation or did it keep him awake at night? Little of both?

              1. You might recall that this site chose Punisher Vol.4 number 4 as the best Marvel Comic of the past 75 years, in which the Punisher punched a polar bear. The Punisher did not seem to give any thought as to whether that polar bear was innocent or not… 🙂

                Punisher accidentally shot Ultimate Universe Peter Parker, but did not kill him; nevetheless, he was very upset about shooting Spider-Man and demanded that the authorities “punish” him.

                I don’t know that he ever accidentally killed an innocent in the main Marvel Universe.

                1. C’mon, Reed. We all know bears are up to no good. No matter what color they are. Just ask Stephen Colbert. 🙂

                  1. My God! I had no idea that the bear menace was so huge. Now that I’ve seen the footage you provided, I realize that the polar bear had it coming. 🙂

                  2. Speaking from the experience of actually putting granola bars into the very gentle open jaws of 1 ton bears; that’s just Colbert claptrap. They are just like big teddy bears.

                    Teddy Ruxpin is evil though.

                2. Ha. Actually Frank thought that the Bear was a little too innocent and wanted to rough him up a bit so that the goombas that were following would become bear snacks (totally ridiculous but super funny nonetheless).

                  Ya I have no idea if any innocents have been killed in the cross fire although it’s quite possible that there have been one or two issues featuring mistakes like that (if there hasn’t; there will be eventually). Even if he hasn’t killed an innocent in the comics there were many Punisher comics that I read as a teen during which he lobs grenades and pumps thousands of rounds of ammunition into buildings and groups of bad guys (while I was cheering for him); but the fact of the matter is that one of these guys taking fire could easily be the bosses’ chef or maid or errand boy (none of which deserve a death sentence). It may be necessary work but it takes a bit of an asshole to get the job done and live with it.

                  On that note (If I had the skills) sign me up.

        2. Frank castle the punisher has never harmed addicts or prostitutes as he sees them as a victim of crime themselves.unless of course they let their addictions let them hurt others.

      2. Well the Punisher had his day similar to Ghost Rider in popularity for a few years and like Deadpool now (but these things don’t last though). They can never sustain the mass appeal that more positive characters have. The only reason that the Punisher is even still being published regularly is because Garth Ennis resurrected the character. That being said, I am a Punisher fan and was before Ennis’ multiple runs (and I’m also a Ghost RIder fan).

        As for why they have blips of strong fandom (and sales); that is hard to say. Crime is the lowest it’s been in the United States for hundreds of years but the reporting of crimes is way up (so peoples perception that they live in a dark and dangerous place is magnified when in reality they have much less to fear than every previous generation). The internet is also a place that largely sews fear, judgement and suspicion (when it is not teaching me how to fix my well pump). So in an era of people’s differences being magnified by the net maybe more aggressive characters will stay in the limelight. Certainly with military personnel Frank Castle’s method of heroism involves firearms so that is something that is tangible for soldiers to identify with (not to mention the character is also one of their own).

        My own taste touches bases on every genera and every type of character much like your own Reed but some people will be fascinated by darker heroes and will have little use for the rest. I used to say that when people watch Star Wars they could gravitate towards the underdog hero (Luke) or the villainous bully (Vader); there’s something about that power and confidence of characters like Vader that many people find compelling. I understood Vader but Luke was the draw for me (of course we need them both to make Star Wars memorable).

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