With the release of Netflix’s The Punisher season 2, we’ve been granted an even deeper look in the twisted and deranged mind of Frank Castle’s greatest enemy, Billy Russo AKA “Jigsaw”. While there are many things that the team over at Netflix decided to change about who Billy Russo is, what he means to Frank and his family, and why Frank is so upset with him, there are also quite a few things that the team decided to keep the same. Let’s jump in and investigate some of the changes the Netflix team decided to make to Billy’s character, the things they kept the same, and why.
Whether it’s in the comic books, the Punisher: War Zone movie or the series on Netflix, Billy’s beautiful mug is always a key aspect of his character and who he is prior to Frank Castle introducing him to the jagged edges of a mirror (or window if you’re reading the comics). It’s an important aspect of his character that really goes to show just what the Punisher has taken away from Billy. It seems like whether he’s looking good or like he just lost a fight with the business end of a cheese grater, Billy just can’t separate his identity from his looks.
Jigsaw, as he’s known in the comics, is who Billy becomes after his run-in with Frank Castle leaves him looking like he tried to stop a garbage disposal with his face. In the Netflix series, however, we don’t really get a full dive into Billy’s sinister alter ego. Instead what we get is a more subtle statement on what living through that kind of ultra-violent trauma can do to the brain of someone as tough as Billy. “Jigsaw”, in the series, becomes much more a description of the fractured state of his mind rather than the overall Picasso-inspired nature of her face.
One of the main changes to Billy Russo’s character in the Netflix series comes in the form of his new background story. In the comics, Billy is a hitman that picks up an unlucky contract that just so happens to have Frank Castle’s name on it. Frank quickly deals with Russo by introduced him the business end of a bulletproof window (that he then shatters with Billy’s face). In the series, however, Billy Russo’s character and therefore his betrayal of Frank are much closer to home. In Netflix’s series, Billy serves with Frank in Afganistan and Iraq, which leads to a powerful bond between the two. A bond that only serves to further break Frank’s heart when he learns of his involvement with the deaths of the Castle family.
While it may be for a completely different reason, in both the comics and the Netflix original series, Frank Castle, for better or worse, decides to leave Billy “The Beaut” Russo alive in the aftermath of what he’s done to Billy’s face. In the series, he makes it clear that he wants Billy to live with how he betrayed the Castle family. Frank wants him to look in the mirror every day and remember the crimes he committed against the Castles. In the comics, however, Frank simply leaves Billy alive to be a messenger to the Costa crime family. A message that says the Punisher is coming for you next. Not quite as poetic, but definitely still gets the message across.
In the Netflix series, Billy Russo is a former Marine operating a Blackwater-esque private military contracting company. He’s suave, successful, beautiful, and corrupt before it all comes crashing down on him with the help of Frank Castle and a merry-go-round mirror. This backstory and career, however, is a noticeable departure from his story in the comics. The Billy Russo of the comics is a made man. A hitman who spent many of his early years working for the Italian crime families. After a face-splitting altercation with Frank Castle, however, Billy decides that make a career as a supervillain is more in the cards than he had previously imagined.
It’s not just the shattered face that’s tough to look at that makes Jigsaw such a great adversary to Frank. In both the comics and the Netflix series, Jigsaw is a brilliant strategist that’s always keeping Frank on his toes. In the series, we see this in the way that Billy manipulates nearly everyone in his life, constantly playing games on both sides of the moral spectrum just to see what happens. Yes, he does secretly work to get Frank’s whole entire family killed. But he also breaks Frank free to finish the job with Agent Orange. In the comics, Jigsaw is just as manipulative when we see him brainwash a young new york officer into becoming a new and twisted version of the Punisher in Punisher: War Journal.
Masks play a huge role in the second season of Netflix’s The Punisher. After the events of the first season’s finale, Billy has a hard time facing the facts. His psychiatrist Dr. Dumont suggests that he draw on his blank mask to show the world what he wishes them to see. His best face, if you will. In the comics, however, Billy has absolutely no problem showing his gruesome mug to the world. The Jigsaw of the comics has no qualms showing his face to the world while forcing Punisher to confront his past.
Can you really blame the guy for being so incredibly consumed by his quest for revenge against the man that destroyed his reputation as “The Beaut”? In the series, it’s quite a bit tamer, as Billy doesn’t remember Frank as anything but a friend and brother for most of the second season, but when it finally comes back to him, you can bet he started plotting his revenge. Much like in the comics, Billy has his crew beat and bloody up Frank, before doing his best to break the Punisher. Billy from the Netflix series is more obsessed with breaking Frank mentally while his comic book counterpart is concerned mostly with slicing up Frank’s already tough-to-look-at mug.
Through all the changes that took place during Billy Russo’s move to Netflix, perhaps the most important, to Billy at least, is that Netflix has a spectacular medical plan. Billy was able to get some of the greatest plastic and facial reconstructive surgeons around and comes out the side of Frank’s devastating broken-glass barbershop shave looking like he just happened to visit a friend with a cat. The mental scars are what Netflix really pushed for in their take on his character, while the comics almost double-down on the mangled topography of Jigsaw’s visage.
The series makes it a point of showing just how badly Frank screwed up by letting Billy live. Firstly, Billy doesn’t even remember what he did to Frank or his family for the better part of the second season. And secondly, Billy being left alive only goes to torment the victims he’s left in his wake, like Madani and Curtis. Frank solves that issue relatively quickly by pumping a few bullets into a broken Billy. In the comics, however, while Billy is killed several times and brought back (because comics) it’s usually not Frank that doing the killing, oddly.