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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"On the #162 cover the bend in the cable from Nightcrawler's weight makes no sense: it can support a cable car! Also, how could it be tense one side of the car and slack the other?"

Ross Andru had just gotten his artistic license renewed.

Also, I just noticed that I mentioned the Punisher's name, Frank Castle, in my comments concerning Marvel Super Action. CLARIFICATION: At this point, the Punisher had not yet been given a civilian name.

Luke Blanchard said:

On the #162 cover the bend in the cable from Nightcrawler's weight makes no sense: it can support a cable car! Also, how could it be tense one side of the car and slack the other?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Ross Andru had just gotten his artistic license renewed.

I was going to chime in that I like the design of this cover. Nice balance of the figures of Spider-Man and Nightcrawler, both in their poses and in the color scheme. I'll (continue to) overlook the whole business about the cable.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

Also, I just noticed that I mentioned the Punisher's name, Frank Castle, in my comments concerning Marvel Super Action. CLARIFICATION: At this point, the Punisher had not yet been given a civilian name.

Right. That didn't happen until the classic Steven Grant/Mike Zeck four-issue/five-issue miniseries in 1986.

I guess I hadn't realized that. I was flipping through the end of the Punisher omnibus I am reading and, included among the extras are the Marvel Handbook pages from the original (with art by frank Miller) and the updated (with art by Mike Zeck) editions. I noted that his name was listed as "unknown" in the former and "frank castle" in the latter.

I dimly recall one story that declared "Frank Castle" is an Anglicized version of his full name, Francis Castiglione. And there's a graphic novel that indicates even that isn't his true name.

Fine by me; I liked it better when The Punisher and The Kingpin were known only by those titles. 

The bit about "Francis Castiglione" is mentioned in the Marverl Handbook Update, so if "Frank Castle" came from the Grant/Zeck mini-series, "Francis Castiglione" likely did, too, if it came from a story (and not the handbook itself). I'll keep an eye out for it as I read my way through.

Whoops. Almost forgot to post the next installment.

SPIDER-MAN #174-175:

We’re up to War Journal entry #414. As the story begins, the Punisher has tracked a half dozen masked terrorist from the “People’s Liberation Front” to the 34th Street Armory. He interrogates the sole survivor and learns that the PLF has hired a hit man, The Hitman, in fact, to abduct J. Jonah Jameson. By the time the Punisher arrives at the Daily Bugle, the Hitman is already holding J.J.J. hostage in his own office. The Punisher and Spider-Man break in through opposite windows simultaneously (see cover above). Building security arrives and a five-way melee ensues. In the confusion, the Hitman escapes with J.J.J. on his remote-control two-man helicopter. Spidey throws a tracer on it, and he and the Punisher escape building security together.

By the time they track the tracer to the helicopter, the Hitman has already transferred to a boat heading for Liberty Island. Spider-Man and the Punisher take the helicopter and fly off in pursuit. The Punisher informs Spider-Man that the Hitman, formerly Lt. Burt Kenyon, once saved the Punisher’s life in Viet Nam two days before being declared mentally unfit and being discharged. The last thing Kenyon told the Punisher was that he owes him a life. Arriving at the Statue of Liberty (see cover below), a four-page fight ensues.

Both the Hitman and Spider-Man (suffering an arm wound from the previous issue and holding Jameson in the other) find themselves hanging from the statue’s crown in danger of falling. The Punisher can save only one. He chooses Spider-Man. Just before falling to his death, the Hitman concedes the Punisher owed him a life, but he didn’t specify which one.

#174-175 was the first time that I fully saw the Punisher before all the ultra-violence and gore. I always thought of him as Spider-Man cast member, not a solo act.

The Hitman had appeared previously in Spectacular Spider-Man #4-5 (Ma-Ap'77) with no link to the Punisher. I received #4 in my Christmas stocking in 1976 and was sorry to see the Hitman plunge to his death. Maybe they could have set up a better rivalry with the Punisher!

He interrogates the sole survivor and learns that the PLF has hired a hit man, The Hitman, in fact, to abduct J. Jonah Jameson.

Why would this group hire a hitman to kidnap someone? Wouldn't you want Kidnap-Man?

The Punisher informs Spider-Man that the Hitman, formerly Lt. Burt Kenyon, once saved the Punisher’s life in Viet Nam two days before being declared mentally unfit and being discharged.

As was the fashion for many years: two Vietnam vets, both crazy.

Two quick things about the covers above,

1) - ASK #175 - If Frank had have held Spidey with his other hand his skull motif would have been visible giving his cover appearance more spotlight. ( I am always reminded of the cover composition notes of the Superman/Spider-Man Treasury where early drafts were rejected as a full costume figure for easy identification was achieve)

2) - Spectacular #5 - now that is a beautiful composition eh?

Boy, the Bugle must spend a fortune on windows.

"Why would this group hire a hitman to kidnap someone?"

The plan was to kidnap him in order to kill him in a more spectacular fashion: by blowing up the Statue of Liberty with J.J.J. on top.

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.”

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