Amazing Spider-Man #129 (February 1974)
"The Punisher Strikes Twice!"
Gerry Conway-Ross Andru/Frank Giacoia/Dave Hunt
NOTE: Doug apologizes in advance for some of the distorted images. For whatever reason, when converting the .pdf files to .jpg files, the full pages always turn out boxy-looking.
Doug: After that somewhat-clunker of a tale last week, we're back in familiar territory. In case you missed it, we spent five weeks in August (and the first Monday in September) wall-crawlin' with Spidey. Here we find ourselves again, and in a significant issue no less! Our theme this month is "Invaders and Anti-Heroes", and today we feature a fellow who is perhaps Marvel's ultimate anti-hero. You want a vigilante? Frank Castle's your guy. Oh, and how about the other major introduction in this yarn, the Jackal? I know, I know -- many of you loathe the Spider-Clone storyline. I happen to like it. Someday, maybe, I'll twist my partner's arm into reviewing those issues.
Karen: Hey, you never know, if we do this long enough, we just might wind up reviewing those issues! But there's so many other books to do first. Like, nearly any others. That's a little joke... Anyway, let me say I really love this cover. It's certainly iconic now, being our introduction to one of the few characters created in the 70s that has managed to rise up (at times) to the upper levels of popularity. The Romita-designed costume is a beaut, and the layout, with the cross-hairs and upside down Spidey, is quite memorable.
Doug: The cover is attributed to John Romita and Gil Kane. My assumption is that Romita did the Punisher figure solo, and then inked Kane's pencils on the Spider-Man figure. Any thoughts or arguments?
Doug: Right from the splash page, there's just no doubt at all what we're dealing with here -- a couple of wingnuts. The Jackal sits cross-legged on some machinery while the Punisher takes dead aim at a statue of Spider-Man. The Jackal cackles as he goads the Punisher, telling our skull-chested warrior that he does like the killing. Right away we get a hint of the Punisher's twisted honor code: He doesn't enjoy killing, and kills only those who deserve it. Spider-Man is one such person.
Karen: Never understood why the Jackal was green. Just throwing that out there. I don't really feel that the Punisher is crazy though. Obsessed, sure, but a psycho, no. You do wonder why the Punisher would ally himself with such an obvious weirdo. Everything about the Jackal screams "madman" and even a guy like the Punisher, who may be a vigilante but not a nut, should be able to see that.
Doug: After only four panels we cut away to our star, spinning webs across the Manhattan skyline. Of course it's never boring when you're Spider-Man, and he soon spots a heist in progress. Mounting his camera, Spidey swoops down and smokes the gang. It's a scene full of typical Spidey bravado, and features some nice work by penciler Ross Andru. At the end we get the familiar neatly-webbed packages hanging from the lamp posts for the police. A quick scurry up the wall to retrieve his camera, and Spider-Man swings off toward the Daily Bugle. On the way, there's some nice plot recapping by scribe Gerry Conway, as Spidey meditates on his troubles in the wake of Norman Osborn's death, and the effect on his friend and Osborn's son Harry. As Spidey lands and changes clothes, we get a really odd Peter Parker panel. I get what Andru was going for, but it's just weird looking. Downstairs, we see the usual suspects in Betty Brant, Joe Robertson, and J. Jonah Jameson. It's a nice two pages of familiar characterization, and as I always say when we do an Amazing Spider-Man review it's a warm fuzzy to see the supporting cast. Of course Jonah has to berate Peter for bringing in photos of the botched robbery when the Punisher is waging a one-man war on the mob. Peter's curiosity is more than piqued.
Karen: Spidey makes quick work of the thugs, as he should, and I was struck with the feeling that this was a nice way for someone new to the character to see just what he could do. I thought Conway handled Peter's inner struggles well -he was not overly gloomy about Gwen's death but it was still hanging over him, impossible for him to forget. I know what you mean about that series of panels after Peter changes into his civvies -it seems like Andru was trying to show Pete 'putting on a happy face' but it comes across awkward. JJJ is appropriately over the top. He was fun. I much preferred him as a goofball than as a serious threat.
Doug: As Peter exits the Bugle he heads back to the roof and switches back to his Spidey duds. While swinging through the city he's in the sight of a high-powered rifle... the same weapon we saw in the hands of the Punisher at the beginning of this story. His spider-sense goes off like church bells and the spider-agility kicks in just in time to avoid a massive concussion blast. Lighting on a nearby wall, Spidey locates his assailant and swings over to find that the Punisher was the shooter. Spider-Man attacks, but the Punisher evades the assault in a nifty bit of tumbling I didn't know he could pull off. Spider-Man attempts an interrogation, but Castle isn't much in the mood for talking. Instead, he vaults over to a chimney and pulls out another rifle. This one fires a wire that instantly encircles Spider-Man and pins his arms to his sides. The Punisher moves in closer, calling him a criminal and a parasite, and lamenting that he won't enjoy killing our hero. Well, if you thought a little titanium alloy wire was gonna hold May Parker's nephew, you'd have been mistaken. A burst of strength, a little incredulity from the Punisher, and ol' Frank's head smacks hard against the chimney.
Karen: I've never been a big Andru fan, but he pulls off some nice work here. The scene where Spidey evades the concussion blast, and especially the panel where he punches the Punisher into the chimney, are just fantastic. That punch looks so fluid, and Punisher's reaction is as if he were hit by a wrecking ball. Great stuff.
Doug: Even though the Punisher's noggin cracked some bricks, he's back on his feet and getting the business end of Spider-Man's fists (is there another end to a fist?). But, unbeknownst to the Wallcrawler, the Jackal is hiding in the chimney! With Spidey's back turned, the green-garbed villain rises from the shaft and uses his claws to rake the back of Spider-Man's head. Spider-Man staggers, grabbing his wound. He totters near the edge of the roof, and begins to topple! The Punisher remarks that he won't see his enemy die in this fashion; the Jackal calls him a fool. Spider-Man is able to fire off a web and make it across the street, but with his balance disrupted he goes right through a window, shattering glass among the startled office employees. Moments later, he's back on the roof to pay the debt. Of course by this time the Jackal and the Punisher are nowhere to be found. However, the rifle that had fired the wire still lays on the roof! Examining it, Spider-Man notices a label on the gun's butt. Bingo!
Doug: Back in his apartment, Peter uses two mirrors to inspect his head wound. His hair seems to cover it, but his Spidey mask is tattered. Peter thinks about how he was supposed to meet Johnny Storm to work on the Spider-Mobile, and about collecting rent from Harry. I was a bit confused by that last comment, as I was always under the impression that Norman Osborn had footed the bill for Harry's digs. Anyone? Peter, still wearing his Spider-socks, sits on his bed attempting to sew his mask, when we are taken to a view outside the apartment. Harry presses his ear to the door, and then worries that Peter is in there waiting to ambush him. He frets that Peter knows he is the "Green Goblin", and is now his enemy. Claiming to be all alone, Harry slinks away from the door and back down the stairs. Cut to the Empire State University campus, where Mary Jane Watson has been accosted on the sidewalk by Professor Miles Warren. Warren asks her if she's seen Peter -- Warren wants to apologize to Peter for misjudging him a few issues prior when the Vulture had shown up on campus. MJ says she'll pass the good word. As she departs, she thinks to herself about getting involved in Peter's life, and if she wants to deal with the baggage he's carrying from Gwen. She convinces herself that Peter's not much fun, but she's only concerned for fun herself. Except... she doesn't seem to do a very good job of convincing herself.
Karen: Regarding the rent comment, I assume Pete needs the money, however it gets paid. Man, that's just a bad room-mate situation! "My arch-enemy's son is my room-mate..." AND he's a pill-head! Oh boy! Loved seeing Petey trying to sew his suit. Can you imagine how ratty his costume would have looked after a few years of repairs like that? The Spider-Mobile -possibly the most ill-conceived thing to appear in a Marvel comic. Of course, Gerry Conway didn't come up with it, it was forced on him and he did what he could with it. Probably the best thing about it was it provided an excuse to have Spidey and the Torch hang out again.
Doug: Back in the very lab in which we began our reading, the Punisher backhands the Jackal up against the wall. Frank Castle is not at all pleased with the way things went down on the roof earlier. The Jackal tries to do some damage control, hoping to keep the Punisher convinced that Spider-Man is indeed a criminal. Castle gets his topcoat and storms out, saying he's going to the Mechanic to get his wire-gun replaced. The Jackal, feeling that his union with the Punisher has run its course, makes a snide remark about what a great team they are. A short time later we find Spider-Man landing at the Reiss Armory to inspect the lead he'd picked up back on the roof. And, guess who is arriving at the same time -- yup. Our guy in black. Spidey enters first, and calls for any sign of life once inside. What he finds, however, is a very dead Mr. Reiss, the proprietor. The Punisher bursts through a large window and gives Spidey a solid kick upside the chops. The battle is joined tooth-and-nail, with Spidey trying to talk some reason into a raging Punisher, who's just seen Reiss's corpse. Now nearly possessed with anger, Castle won't listen to Spider-Man's query about the marks on the back of Reiss's head -- marks Spider-Man felt earlier in the week! Spidey finally figures it's time to talk sense, so (in a nifty rendering by Andru) he launches his full weight into the Punisher's face, dropping him. Just a head-clearing moment later Castle awakens to find his hands bound and Spider-Man sitting next to him.
Karen: Really no reason Punisher couldn't have used the door, but breaking through the window looked cool. And speaking of cool, I agree with you about Spidey's very acrobatic moves to a three-point landing on Punisher's face.
Doug: Solving the crime, Spider-Man asks the Punisher if he left the tag on the wire-gun used the day before. Castle scoffs at the suggestion, and Spider-Man tells him that they need to start putting two and two together. Claw marks on the back of Reiss's head, a gun placed on the roof that the police would find, Reiss killed a short time before the Punisher would have arrived at the gun dealer, and Castle finishes it by saying that the Jackal had been out of sight for about an hour earlier that evening. The Punisher is furious that he's been used as a pawn and swears revenge on the Jackal. Earlier we'd learned that Frank Castle was a Marine; Spidey then asked him why he was Stateside. Castle said is was none of his business, and left to fight his "lonely war". With sirens approaching, Spidey exited the premises as well. But as he swung away, he passed a shadowy figure who had watched it all -- the Jackal. And the Jackal swore he'd get Spider-Man on his way to taking over the city.
Karen: I found this a satisfying read. The introduction of the Punisher just leaves us wanting more, which is a tribute to Conway's skills. You can feel a lot of threads being put in place for stories to come and you just know Harry's going to do something awful. The art was solid, even spectacular in a few places, which is saying something, as I'm not an Andru fan. All in all, time well spent.
Doug: I enjoyed this issue a lot, too. There was quite a bit of action and a ton of characterization crammed between the covers! As I've remarked several times in the past, Ross Andru isn't my favorite Spider-Man artist, but he's "my guy", on board when I began reading the character regularly. As you said, Gerry Conway does a nice job with laying some subplots in the Jackal storyline. I think we all know how this will turn out (I won't spoil it here for those who haven't read the succeeding 20 issues of ASM), but it's sure not evident here at the start. In fact, the line about the Jackal running the city seems a far cry from the resolution of his arc, doesn't it? And what of the Punisher? It's interesting to read this issue in such close proximity to our reviews of ASM #s 161-162 just a few weeks ago (which were around the 5th or 6th stories in the Punisher's development). The "war journal" hadn't been developed, and it's interesting that we're only dropped a single hint about his background. Overall, this issue was a nice piece of writing by Gerry Conway, who I generally regard as at the top of his game in this era of the magazine.