Last year I bought the Swamp Thing Omnibus and the Punisher Omnibus on the same day. Although I chose to read the Swamp Thing Omnibus first, it had been my intention to read the two back to back, but when I finished the Swamp Thing one I decided to move directly to the Alan Moore material. I got as far as “American Gothic” when my interest shifted, and I never did get back to the Punisher one. Until now. I’ve never been a huge fan of the character, but I thought I’d take a look at the early stories in an effort to discover the reason for his popularity.

SPIDER-MAN #129:

The Punisher enters the story quite abruptly, shooting a plaster statue of Spider-Man on the splash page while his ally, the Jackal, looks on. The Daily Bugle has reported that Spider-Man killed Norman Osborn, and that’s enough proof for the Punisher. While out web-swinging, Spider-Man’s “spider-sense” begins to tingle and he narrowly manages to avoid being taken out by a concussion grenade. Spidey confronts the Punisher on a rooftop, but is bound by a weapon which fires cables. The Punisher is about to execute him when Spider-Man breaks his bonds and turns the tables. The Jackal, hiding nearby, attacks Spider-Man from behind and he falls off the roof, apparently to his death the Punisher and the Jackal assume.

By the time Spider-Man regains his senses and returns to the roof, the Punisher and the Jackal are gone, but he finds a clue leading to the Punisher’s arms dealer. Back in the Jackal’s lair, an argument ensues. Whereas the Punisher was willing to kill Spider-Man, it goes against his “code” to allow him to die by accident. He leaves with the issue unresolved in order to get a new gun from his dealer. When he arrives he finds Spider-Man waiting for him. He also learns that it was the Jackal who left the incriminating evidence behind. Spidey knocks the Punisher out and leaves. The only thing we learn about the Punisher’s background in this initial outing is that he was a Marine for three years. Beyond that, he is clearly a villain,

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CAPTAIN AMERICA #241:

This is my first Punisher story.

Captain America was one of the three titles I collected via subscription for three years during my semi-hiatus from comics, and it is one of the first three series for which I filled the entire run (from Tales of Suspense #59 on). By the time I got to college, I decided to cull a few… like almost half. I came to regret getting rid of many of the ones I did, but lately I’ve been re-filling these holes via Marvel Masterworks. I got 15 cents in trade for various issues between #120 and #246, which I put toward Kirby comics of the ‘70s, which were selling for 25 cents apiece at the time. I specifically remember my reasons for get rid of #241 at the time. Punisher was “hot” at the time, and I got rid of it to “prove” (to myself, I guess) that I wasn’t a sheep blindly following what was popular. (By this same reasoning, I got rid of my original copy of Giant-Size X-Men #1 when Marvel reprinted it in the X-Men Special Edition one-shot in 1983, but that’s another story.)

Captain America #241 is by Mike Barr, Frank Springer and Pablo Marcos. Cap and the Punisher fight together briefly against mobsters. When the Punisher has the opportunity to blow them up, he doesn’t because Cap would have been caught in the blast. The body guard of the head mobster is an undercover federal agent. The Punisher surrenders, but then sets off the explosion he had set up earlier and escapes in the confusion. Captain America vows, “He’s got to be stopped if we should meet again.”

SPIDER-MAN #201-202:

This is my second Punisher (and only my third new issue of Spider-Man’s regular title, following #137 and #150). I don’t remember why I decided to buy this particular issue of Spider-Man. Was it because I had issues #100 and #150 and only missed #200 by one? Was it because I was already familiar with the Punisher? I honestly have no idea. It could have been either of these reasons, or both, or neither. This story introduces “mercy bullets.” When Spider-Man and the Punisher meet this issue, it’s almost as if for the first time. The Punisher breaks up a nest of criminals. Spider-Man interferes. Later, the Globe runs an article about the incident along with an eye-witness photo by Peter Parker, when (the Punisher knows) no photographers were present.

This leads the Punisher to search Peter’s apartment, where he finds a spider tracer and more incriminating photos. When Peter returns home he finds the Punisher there waiting. The Punisher drops the following bombshell: “I’ve learned your secret!!” It would be several more years before I started filling in backissues of Spider-Man and read the resolution, but I’m not going to keep you waiting that long is you haven’t read #202.

The Punisher has leapt to an erroneous conclusion: that Peter Parker was one of the gangsters. Peter tells him of his “deal” with spider-Man and, having found a tracer earlier, believes him. Then they team-up to capture the drug dealers.

The cover of 202 reminds me of the phrase "circular firing squad."

SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #15:

It’s a slow news day at the Daily Bugle. J. Jonah Jameson is preparing another one of his anti-Spider-Man screeds: “SPIDER-MAN: THREAT OR MENACE?” City editor Joe Robertson cautions him against it, because every time he does the circulation dips below 5,000,000. The joke of the issue is that the headline keeps changing as the day progresses. Reporter Ben Urich and photographer Peter Parker attend a lecture which changes the headline to “GURU SHOT!” After that it becomes “PUNISHER HITS NYC – Steals Body from Morgue,” then “FIVE MILLION WILL DIE – Doctor Octopus threatens city with Mass Murder” followed by PUBLISHER SAVES CITY – Poison Ink Menace Halted by Bugle Chief” before ultimately resolving to the original headline.

Spider-Man deduces that Doc Ock’s plan was to poison the Daily Bugle’s ink; five million readers = five million deaths. When J.J.J. tries to take credit, Robertson points out that many people will fear the ink is poisoned and circulation will plummet. (It ends up taking a hit, anyway, due to the anti-Spiderman editorial.)

Most people think of Peter Parker #27-28 as being Frank Miller’s “tryout” for Daredevil, but it gave him some practice on Spider-Man as well if this issue is any indication. Spider-Man looks great (including a couple nice shots of his belt light in use), plus it’s probably the best color Punisher story so far. Significantly, the Punisher is captured this issue. He had run out of mercy bullets and refused to shoot real bullets at the police so he surrendered. He’s looking forward to spending some time in prison because that’s “where the criminals are.”

Also, don’t miss the cameo appearance by “Jimmy Olson” (not named, but it’s pretty obvious).

The 5,000,000 estimate is apparently of readers rather than copies, but the implied circulation might still be implausibly high. Jameson must have been rolling in advertising money.

I assume the Daily Globe ran the story.

Luke Blanchard said:

The 5,000,000 estimate is apparently of readers rather than copies, but the implied circulation might still be implausibly high. Jameson must have been rolling in advertising money.

Yeah ... I never gave that figure much thought (before now) but even back then (1981), 5 million would likely be more than the circulation of the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, the Daily Bugle AND the Daily Globe combined.

Luke Blanchard said:

I assume the Daily Globe ran the story.

Sure. Could Barney Bushkin pass up such a fat chance to stick it to J. Jonah Jameson?

DAREDEVIL #182-184:

The Punisher “settles in” to life in prison. One day, an agent from an unnamed government agency visits and arranges for his escape so he can break up a narcotics ring. The escape goes off without a hitch, but the agent double crosses him and the Punisher turns the tables. One of the ring was just a kid, and the Punisher sets out on their trail. He runs into Daredevil, who is also after the same gang, and introduces himself. Their first meeting is interrupted when a sniper takes out John “Flapper” Phillips, one of the gang. Daredevil goes after the sniper and finds a kid, Billy O’Koren, who was seeking revenge for the death of his sister. Evidence points to Peter “Hogman” Grunter as being the real killer, though, and Matt Murdock agrees to defend young Billy in court.

Later, while questioning a junkie, the Punisher meets Daredevil again. This time they fight. The Punisher proposes they team-up, but daredevil refuses. The Punisher shoots Daredevil with a tranquilizer dart and leaves.

Days later, the Punisher hears that Matt Murdock has cleared Billy and is now defending Hogman. The Punisher attempts a sniping and is foiled by Daredevil, but the Pujnhisher gets away. Matt Murdock gets Hogman off, but then discovers he’s guilty after all. Billy confronts Hogman on the street with is father’s gun, but the Punisher stops him. Then Daredevil interferes, but he knows the Punisher won’t hurt him because he’s a good guy. A standoff. The Punisher starts to walk away to get Hogman at a later time, but Daredevil picks up Billy’s gun and shoots the Punisher in the shoulder. Billy then picks up the Punisher’s gun and holds it to Hogman’s head, but Daredevil convinces him to let the law handle it and Hogman is later indicted.

Punisher’s freedom didn’t last long, and he is back in prison by the end of the story.

Wait, what?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

The Punisher starts to walk away to get Hogman at a later time, but Daredevil picks up Billy’s gun and shoots the Punisher in the shoulder. 

Yup. You read that right.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

The Punisher starts to walk away to get Hogman at a later time, but Daredevil picks up Billy’s gun and shoots the Punisher in the shoulder. 

The Baron said:

Wait, what?

See here: Daredevil #184, page 20

By the way, how Daredevil performs CPR in the previous issue is all sorts of wrong. Once that poor guy got to the hospital, he'd have a dozen cracked ribs. 

"See here: Daredevil #184, page 20."

Nice link. Go back to page 19 to see the set-up, too.

Oh, the Hitman. Even back then, when I was hardly a critical reader, I wondered someone would call himself by a generic name like that.

Punisher works for me as an occasional guest-star antihero. I have never gotten into him as one of the good guys.

However he did inspire Steve Gerber's parody, the Spanker, so that's something.

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