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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True. Of course in the early days even the Hulk wasn't the mountain of muscle he became later — he's clearly big and strong but he's usually within the limits of human physique.

Jeff of Earth-J said:

"Was it just Jazzy John's taste in drawing, or something Lee always wanted to do that Ditko didn't?"

I have no idea, but big, bulky characters weren't exactly Ditko's forte.

ISSUE #2:

The Punisher attempts to kill the Kingpin, but walks into a trap. There is a dead man of girth similar to the Kingpin seated at the desk in the office, but there is also a bomb. The Punisher jumps to the window and survives the fall just barely. He’s rescued and seduced by Angela, a nurse of Chinese descent whose father and brothers were killed by the mob. The Punisher calls Alaric, his contact in The Trust, for help. It is obvious the Kingpin wants to remain “dead” because no correction has appeared in the paper. The Punisher calls the Daily Bugle and asks to speak to Ben Urich. The Punisher’s plan is to take credit for the “kill,” thereby setting the city’s criminals against each other to fill the power vacuum. His plan works… too well. Mob violence is out of control. Tony siciliano is tracking the Punisher the whole time.

Charlie Siciliano sets up a peace conference late at night at Grand Central Terminal. It is interrupted by a hit man from Detroit, Nolo Contende, who has been hired to wipe out the NYC bosses in one fell swoop. The Punisher pursues him into the subway and kills him. The Punisher is concerned for innocent victims who may be caught in the crossfire due to the situation he helped orchestrate. On his was back to his van, it explodes. He calls the trust, and the reader sees that Alaric and Angela are shacking up.

I forgot to mention last time, this series marks the first time I remember seeing airbrushed art on a comic book cover. (Now watch 10 people find earlier examples.)

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