Every hero has to come from somewhere. Some are entirely new characters, other long-term supporting characters, and a few heroes are actually old heroes taking on a whole new identity. (Looking at you, Hank Pym!)
But a few special heroes started out as super-villains, and you’re about to meet their king. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Amazing Spider-Man #129 awaits!
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #129
Writer: Gerry Conway
Penciler: Ross Andru
Inker: Frank Giacoia/Dave Hunt
Colorist: Dave Hunt
Letterer: John Costanza
Editor: Roy Thomas
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 20 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $1,300.00
Previously in Amazing Spider-Man: Bitten by a radioactive arachnid, teenager Peter Parker put on a costume first for fame and glory, and then out of penance for what he believes to be his own complicity in his uncle’s death. Forging a life for himself, he took a job at the Daily Bugle, selling pictures of himself as Spider-Man to a man who uses them to paint him as a menace and a criminal, and faced a number of dangerous foes. Most recently, a clash with the most dangerous of those led to the death of his girlfriend Gwen, and was prepared to kill The Green Goblin himself, before the villain caused his own demise with a damaged goblin-glider. Now, Peter Parker is awash in grief, and his costumed alter-ego is wanted for questioning in the matter of the death of noted industrialist Norman Osborn (who was secretly the aforementioned Green Goblin), while forces conspire to bring Spider-Man down.
The man in green is The Jackal, secretly Peter Parker’s biology professor at Empire State University, a man who loved Gwen Stacy, and wants Spider-Man dead for his role in Gwen’s death. The other fellow is probably familiar to anyone who has read even a few comic books, a man who at one point held down six different monthly titles, and has had no less than three movies of his adventures, as well as a role in the upcoming Daredevil Season 2: The Punisher! While these two stone-cold murderers prepare to shoot him dead, Spider-Man has once again returned to the Daily Bugle in his Peter Parker guise, bearing photos of his costumed activities…
I am a fan of much of Ross Andru’s work, but I’ve never really felt anything special in his Spider-Man work, and the Peter Parker face in panel one is actually pretty frightening. If you look closely at many of Spidey’s poses during this issue, there are a number that aren’t quite right, something that gets more and more noticeable as his five-year run on the book ends. Swinging off into the city to find the mysterious Punisher, Spider-Man barely dodges a shot from a concussion rifle, leading to a historic confrontation…
Later portrayals of The Punisher will show us that Frank Castle is a masterful tactician and battle strategist. This time around, though, he falls prey to the oldest weakness in the super-villain book: Monologuing!
First Match: Spider-Man! Spidey quickly gains the upper hand, pummeling his beskulled foe, and only the interference of the Jackal (slashing Spidey with his electrified neuro-claws) allows The Punisher to avoid capture and incarceration. Spider-Man nearly falls to his doom, the villains get away, but our hero finds an important clue: An engraving on Punisher’s shattered weapon that identifies the armorer. Even though he’s clearly nutsy cuckoo and the villain of the piece, The Punisher already has his legendary (albeit flexible) moral code, even in this first appearance, leading him to express his displeasure to his uneasy Jackal ally…
Spider-Man stakes out the armorers, but sees no activity, and uses his powers to slip inside, where he finds Mr. Reiss, the gunsmith, murdered in cold blood.
He also finds an ambush…
Second Match: Punisher! Witness the panel one Spidey for an example of wild Andru anatomy in its native habitat, as well. Punisher presses his attack, while Spider-Man points out the important clue: Reiss was killed by a clawed attacker, claws that bear a striking resemblance to the ones The Jackal used to slash him earlier in the issue, but our pal Frank isn’t in the mood to listen. Fortunately, Peter Parker knows a way to make someone listen: Swift and blinding violence!
Punisher realizes he’s been had, and prepares to wash his hands of the whole affair, but Spider-Man stops him, asking why a former Marine would get his hands in such a dirty business as teaming up with the murderous Jackal… Mister Castle’s response?
Most readers are aware of what becomes of The Jackal’s quest to destroy Spider-Man, even if we may not realize it: He is the man who created clones of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy, setting off the mess that is The Clone Saga, and ruining the Spider-Man franchise a full twenty years AFTER his death. Let’s see Doctor Octopus or the Vulture pull THAT one off! Still, even during a time where the metaphorical ‘early installment weirdness’ is in full effect, The Punisher seen here is mostly analogous to the one we know today, and it wouldn’t be long until he received his own solo appearance in the second issue of Marvel Preview, one of Marvel’s black-and-white magazines, targeted at older readers. His use of firearms and violence (as well as the wholesale theft of Mack Bolan, The Executioner’s origins) is seen in that issue, continuing his inexorable transition to full-fledged superhero, as long as you don’t mind a little mass-murder here and there. Still, Amazing Spider-Man #129 comes at a weird point in both Spidey history and comics history, appearing in the midst of Marvel’s 70s doldrums, with art that’s only so-so art (Andru’s art is much more polished with long-term inker Mike Esposito working in concert) and a story that doesn’t quite have the room it needs to give the characters their due, earning a still-above-average 3 out of 5 stars overall.