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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Jeff of Earth-J said:

SPIDER-MAN #201-202:

I don’t remember why I decided to buy this particular issue of Spider-Man.

Maybe it was that well-designed Romita cover?

I know there are fans of Ross Andru's Spidey here, but for me, he was a real come-down after years of John Romita Sr. I just love Romita's Spider-Man. He was the first to have the webbing contour to Spidey's face, hands and body. He originated most of the Spidey poses still in use, at least as many as Ditko. His women were gorgeous, his world was organic and everything was romance-comics beautiful.

Again, no offense to Andru fans. That's what you grew up with, and that's "your" Spider-Man. But Romita's version is "my" Spider-Man, even more than Ditko (who I also grew up with). Ditko's art was impactful and his Spidey appropriately off-putting, but often his work was kinda ugly (especially his women). Romita was like a cold drink of water on a hot day.

While I like Andru on lots of things, he's not my Spidey artist. I prefer Ditko to Romita, but no question Romita brought the sexy (a lot more besides that, of course).

Fraser

Captain Comics said:



Jeff of Earth-J said:

SPIDER-MAN #201-202:

I don’t remember why I decided to buy this particular issue of Spider-Man.

Maybe it was that well-designed Romita cover?

I know there are fans of Ross Andru's Spidey here, but for me, he was a real come-down after years of John Romita Sr. I just love Romita's Spider-Man. He was the first to have the webbing contour to Spidey's face, hands and body. He originated most of the Spidey poses still in use, at least as many as Ditko. His women were gorgeous, his world was organic and everything was romance-comics beautiful.

Again, no offense to Andru fans. That's what you grew up with, and that's "your" Spider-Man. But Romita's version is "my" Spider-Man, even more than Ditko (who I also grew up with). Ditko's art was impactful and his Spidey appropriately off-putting, but often his work was kinda ugly (especially his women). Romita was like a cold drink of water on a hot day.

When I started reading comics in earnest, Ross Andru was the artist on Amazing Spider-Man and Sal Buscema was on Marvel Team-Up. They are, at best, competent draftsmen. Steve Diko was before my time, and I think of him as a horror artist, thanks to all those disposable monster stories in those old Timely/Atlas/Marvel horror books. I never took to his Spider-Man work.

But John Romita? His work was fabulous in every respect. He's definitely "my" Spider-Man artist. 

I would definitely rate Andru above mere competence. Rereading Superman vs. Spider-Man I was struck by how much he took advantages of the expanded size of the tabloid (to give one example).

Fraser

ClarkKent_DC said:

When I started reading comics in earnest, Ross Andru was the artist on Amazing Spider-Man and Sal Buscema was on Marvel Team-Up. They are, at best, competent draftsmen. Steve Diko was before my time, and I think of him as a horror artist, thanks to all those disposable monster stories in those old Timely/Atlas/Marvel horror books. I never took to his Spider-Man work.

But John Romita? His work was fabulous in every respect. He's definitely "my" Spider-Man artist. 

Fraser Sherman said:

I would definitely rate Andru above mere competence. Rereading Superman vs. Spider-Man I was struck by how much he took advantages of the expanded size of the tabloid (to give one example).

You are aware that book had a lot of uncredited art assists by Neal Adams (on the Superman figures) and by John Romita, yes?

I'll admit Ross Andru's not one of my favorites. I see him as a journeyman cranking stuff out, which I don't mean as a knock on his ability. Some journeymen I like, such as Irv Novick and Bob Brown. Some I don't, like Dick Dillin and Don Heck. Some I learned to like, like Frank Robbins. 

Ross Andru just doesn't do it for me. 

I'm one of those guys who Ross Andru is "my" Spider-Man artist though I recognize the importance of Ditko and his offbeat design and Romita and his draftsmanship and artistry. They along with Gil Kane and Sal Buscema drove Spidey to prominence for fifteen years!

And...to me, Dick Dillin will always be "my" JLA artist for the Bronze Age! You just can't argue against that!

No, wasn't aware of the assistants. A fair point.

I'm a Romita man, but I gained a true appreciation for Andru from Gerry Conway via his introduction to one of the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man volumes.

PETER PARKER THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #81-83:

"The Punisher’s freedom didn’t last long..."

The Punisher’s capture wasn’t to last long, either.

I started collecting Peter Parker with #64 (the first appearance of Cloak & Dagger) and dropped out with #100. That run (excluding the C&D appearances) is one of the few runs I have sold or traded over the vears, and one of the fewer still I have not later come to regret.

The issue begins with the Punisher back in prison. He uses Boomerang to help him escape, then double-crosses and abandons him to the authorities at the last minute. Spider-Man, cloak & Dagger and the Punisher are all after the same group of junkies: Spider-Man to capture them, Cloak and Dagger to cure them, the Punisher to kill them. The Punisher is losing it, becoming increasingly erratic. Ke shoots at a man and wife arguing, some litterbugs and a cab that runs a red light. He vows to kill the Kingpin and tracks him to his penthouse. Spider-Man is there and defends him. Cloak and dagger are also trying to kill the Kingpin. The Kingpin defeats the Punisher and he is captured.

In his pre-arraignment hearing, the Punishers mania escalates. His defense attorney pleads insanity and the judge agrees that he is not mentally capable of standing trail and is sentenced to a maximum security mental institution. When he hears the sentence, he flips out and breaks down. I didn’t like this ending when it was first published. I thought it was out of character, but it was, at least, an ending. At the time I blamed writer Bill Mantlo, but he is credited only with “script.” To me, that means the decision was made by one of the editors, Tom DeFalco, Danny Fingeroth or even Jim Shooter.

Marvel’s position is clear at this point: the Punisher is a criminal and he is crazy.

Rereading the first post-Ditko issues in Spider-Man Epic, one thing that struck me was that Romita does a great job making Kingpin freakishly big — his cigarette holder looks like a toy in his hands.

Does anyone know why the Romita/Lee team seemed so fond of big, hulking villains in those early issues? Rhino. John Jameson. Kingpin. Was it just Jazzy John's taste in drawing, or something Lee always wanted to do that Ditko didn't?

Jeff of Earth-J said:

I'm a Romita man, but I gained a true appreciation for Andru from Gerry Conway via his introduction to one of the Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man volumes.

"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.

PUNISHER (Limited Series) #1:

Issue #1 opens inside Ryker’s Island, not the “maximum security mental facility” the Punisher was sentenced to. His name, Frank Castle, is revealed for the first time. Writer Steven Grant quickly establishes that his madness from the Peter Parker issues was drug induced. The drugs had a cumulative effect and had been added to his food by the prison cook, Frisky, on orders from the Punisher’s old foe, Jigsaw. Jigsaw is out to kill the Punisher, but a con named Cevello is planning a mass escape and orders Jigsaw to lay low.

The Punisher offers to join Cevello in order to escape and proposes a truce. Cevello agrees, but double-crosses him on the night of the escape. Knowing the Punisher could stop a knife, one of Cevello’s men gets a gun from a crooked guard and makes a homemade silencer. The silencer reduces the gun’s power, and the Punisher is able to block the shot with a mattress. He could allow Cevello and his men to escape and track them down later, but he’s concerned about the innocents who might be killed in the meantime.

A crooked guard drugs an honest guard, and Cevello and Jigsaw separate from the other prisoners to kidnap the warden. (They had planned to sacrifice the others all along.) I’m not going to provide a play-by-play of the action (or I’d be here all day), but this is as violent as a code-approved comic can be, a true crime comic, despite the costumed main character. The warden, however, belongs to a group called “The Trust,” a group of “concerned citizens” who are willing to allow the Punisher to escape and even to supply him with weapons and equipment on the outside with no strings. The Punisher accepts.

Setting up the next issue, Charlie Siciiano coerces his nephew, Tony, into killing the Punisher in revenge for killing Charlie’s brother, Tony’s father. Tony is studying to be a doctor and is reluctant at first, but ultimately agrees.

Rather than wait until the end of issue #5, I’m just going to state up front what everyone reading this likely knows in the first place: it is this series which turned the Punisher from a two-bit guest villain into a superstar.

I would be remiss not to mention that penciler Mike Zeck is responsible in no small way for the limited series success.

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