Monday, September 23, 2013

Just a Sociopath and His Little Green Dog: Amazing Spider-Man 129

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!

Karen: The Jackal has "electro-prods" in his claws, whatever those are, so there's a reason Spidey goes staggering over the side of the roof. But here's villain trope #5 for you: they don't check to be sure he's dead after he falls! Oh well. The dialog here clues us in on the true natures of both the Punisher and the Jackal -Punisher upset about killing Spider-Man in such an "unjust" way, and Jackal having no problem with it.

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.


Fred W. Hill said...

I got this little gem on the newstand when it came out for 21 cents. Had no idea it might be a valuable collectors' item decades later! Anyhow, I was always curious about why the Jackal was green too, but then the Jackal was strange in many ways. Reading back from issue #148, I didn't see anything in previous issues that gave any real sense that Conway planned for the Jackal to be Professor Warren all along, which brings up the question as to whether Conway had other plans that he had to adjust when he was required to "bring back Gwen". Of course, the Jackal does bear some superficial resemblence to the Green Goblin of the Ditko era and I doubt that's a coincidence.
That bit with Peter repairing his costume with needle & thread is also reminiscent of some Ditko fare. Hmm, does Pete have special sewing powers? Spidey's costume would be particularly difficult to keep in good repair, especially without even the benefit of a sewing machine!
Oh, and the Punisher was certainly an interesting addition to Spidey's cast of antagonists, but in the long-standing Marvel tradition of characters who had both good & bad traits, going all the way back to Sub-Mariner in Marvel Comics #1 in 1939!

Anonymous said...

Karen, the Punisher certainly hasn't risen to the"upper levels of popularity" as far as the movies are concerned! He's still on Marvel's Z list.

Doc Savage said...

Why was the Jackal green indeed! I never bought him as a credible Spidey villain. And I never bought that Prof. Warren was always the Jackal. The Gwen fixation could have used some more build-up if that were really the case. Maybe I missed something.

Karen said...

Hey Colin, that's why I put that notation of "at times" in my comment. In the 90s, the Punisher was certainly one of the most popular characters in comics. In fact, he and Wolverine are probably the only two Marvel characters created after the original wave of 1960s characters that have had any lasting popularity (I'd almost throw Ghost Rider in there but he hasn't fared too well in the 2000s). I'm talking only about characters who can support their own titles here -obviously there are other heroes created in the 70s who are still around (Luke Cage, Iron Fist, etc) but they seem to have difficulty maintaining solo books, and also don't support marketing into other areas (t-shirts, toys, film, etc). And maybe the Punisher films have not done very well, but at least he's been popular enough that they've made three films based on the character. Although I have to admit, I've never seen any of them!

Anonymous said...

Classic Issue!

Thanks for the recap.

Anonymous said...

Great review guys and this was "my" Spiderman too. Conway/Andru, from the Gwen/Goblin death issues to the end of the first clone saga, I couldn't wait for the next issue. The issues were not all masterpieces (many far from it), it was just "my" time.


Doug said...

Thanks for the kudos, all! Fun issues are a breeze to write about.

Now, our Superman review coming up on Friday might be another story. Could that possibly have been written by this same Gerry Conway? We shall see (he said cryptically)...


Edo Bosnar said...

Nice rundown. I also liked this issue; I started reading the reprints in Marvel Tales with the death of Gwen story, and by this point was really hooked into reading Spidey's (to me) 'prehistory.'
A few thoughts: I liked Punisher the way he's portrayed here, i.e., as a driven vigilante who can be as bad as he can be good. I recall that when I read these as a kid, I pretty much considered him a straight-up bad guy.
Doug, I like the original clone saga, too, so you're not alone on that mark (and I think I like the second clone saga, the Carrion story in Spectacular SM, even better).

Doug said...

Edo --

Great mention of those Peter Parker issues! Those may best be dubbed the "forgotten" clone stories, as A) I'd forgotten them, and B) it seems like most folks call the "Ben Reilly" years the "second clone saga".

I wish I still had my Peter Parkers, but alas they were sold long ago when I was trying to pull together my complete run of Avengers.


Anonymous said...

Fair enough! I didn't realise he was that popular in the '90s!

Doc Savage said...

Man, I wish I still had my Spider-Man & Peter Parker comics. Readin the Essentials is pretty good, though. I keep going back to the beginning an reading thru to around 1980 or so. Good stuff, even Mindworm compares favorably to what I see these days.

Anonymous said...

My impression was that the Punisher began as "a straight-up bad guy," and that Marvel later got the idea to use him as a hero (or anti-hero). In the 1970's, there were a lot of paperback book series about vigilante action heroes (Executioner, Destroyer, Butcher, Death Merchant), and Marvel probably wanted to tap into that market. The Punisher starred in Marvel Preview #2 and Marvel Super Action #1 (1975-76), but, apparently, sales were not enough to justify a regular series. The character went back to being a recurring antagonist for Spider-Man and other heroes (Captain America #241, Daredevil #183) until the mid-1980's. Then the popularity of tough-guy action movies (Rambo, Commando) encouraged Marvel to try it again. The character never made it in the movies, but was popular enough to support a self-titled solo comic (and spin-offs) for several years). It may be that the movies were just not done well. Also, a character like the Punisher may have been different and unconventional in the comics medium back then, but such characters were already common in movies.

david_b said...

I'm actually out in DC this week attending some IT training.., but this is indeed a landmark issue.

Agreeing with you both, Andru isn't 'quite' MY Spidey artist, having come in with ish 122 and the end of Romita, but these issues were indeed outstanding. My original Spidey collecting stint was ish 122 to 144 or so, but I really loved him the best up to the Molten Man ending in issue 134.

I didn't think much of the Punisher the first few times I saw him, in fact I was quite amazed when I came back into casual collecting in the '80s to see just how popular he had become... With the X-Men, him, Wolverine, 'Nam and a few other titles, Marvel had some good cashflow coming in for a spell.

I mentioned this a few years ago, but I actually sold this issue, originally picked up on the newstands when it came out, a few years back to some guy who was getting it autographed... I got a hundred for it, figuring at the time it would mean much more to another collector having it framed somewhere, autographed.., than it just sitting in my basement for another decade or so. I find myself regretting that decision only when I ponder about it, not thinking it's value would rival the monumental 121-122 story just a few issues before. But someone's who's probably a HUGE Punisher fan's still enjoying it more than I would.

As for the issue itself..? AWESOME cover, it does actually grow on you, probably one of the Top 5 best Bronze Age Spidey covers, and the story flows very well. Action from start to finish, yet Conway slips wonderful emotional nuggets in from Peter's attempt to self-cheer to Harry's paranoia to the Jackel mystery.

I for one was VERY disappointed with the entire 'clone' concept in ASM, probably as much as Warren being the Jackel. Just a contrived 'bridge too far' for believability in the pages of ASM for me. Gwen should have stayed dead. Period.

But, at this juncture, Spidey STILL rocked my socks off each and every month. At least initially, the mystery about both the Jackel and the Punisher were there and it was pretty cool.

david_b said...

Sorry, just realised the Molty story concluded in ish 133.

Apologies, to all true believers.. My bad.

Anonymous said...

Ladies and gentlemen introducing the Punisher!

OK first off yes that is an iconic cover. Doug, the Spidey figure looks to be all Gil Kane to me. I dunno, he probably did the pencils and then Jazzy John inked it.

I agree that Conway had a good blend of action and plotting, giving the readers just enough to satisfy them but yet leaving room to develop the Jackal's story in later issues. Some storylines are too plodding or else guilty of trying to cram too much into a few issues. You could tell Conway really put some effort into trying to pace the development of the Jackal.

While Andru isn't my favourite Spidey artist (that honour goes to Jazzy John and Steve Ditko) he's always delivered solid artwork on our favourite webhead. No complaints here.

One thing that's always bugged me about Spidey and his encounters with villains both human and superpowered is how easy it was to hit him - didn't his spider-sense warn him when the Jackal was sneaking up behind him? Or how come the Punisher connected with a kick to Spidey's noggin so easily? Someone with the proportionate speed and reflexes of a spider should be able to dodge those blows easily or at least see them coming a mile away! Yes, yes I know he has to be vulnerable otherwise there'd be no story, but somehow I think his spider powers (apart from his spider-strength) have been depicted inconsistently over the years.

All in all this was another great issue; can't wait for the rest!

- Mike 'until they make a Punisher/Lobo teamup' from Trinidad & Tobago.

B Smith said...

"...didn't his spider-sense warn him when the Jackal was sneaking up behind him"

Wasn't it explained in #149 that since the Jackal was really Professor Warren, and since S-M's spider sense warns him only of imminent violence by enemy types, he somehow didn't see it coming...

Doc Savage said...

Spidey's powers have been so variable, who can say what they are for sure? And lazy writer's ignore or forget his Spider-sense or, worst of all, have him for no reason at all assume the power that has saved him hundreds of times "must be going haywire!" and then ignore the warning. Drives me nuts!

redartz said...

Truly an "Amazing" cover. You often hear of great artistic combinations such as Buscema/Palmer, Kirby/Sinnott, and just about anybody with Terry Austin. I think the team of Kane and Romita is underrated, and responsible for many classic images.

As for the issue, this is indeed a milestone. I just missed it originally; when I started comics my first issue was ASM 130. Didn't realize at the time what I'd missed.Now at least, with the reprint of issue 129, the story in 130 makes more sense...

Jack Alberti said...

Ross Andru was and still remains my definitive Peter Parker/Spider-Man. May he R.I.P.

Conway's work is classic - the fact that Gerry was only between 18- 21 years of agr during his Spider-Man is, well, Amazing!

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