I binged Netflix’s Punisher series (which I enjoyed) over this past weekend and was thus inspired to write this post. At first it was going to be a simple, straightforward review of my first taste of the Punisher, but it quickly evolved into something a bit more than that, as you shall see.
WARNING: Some spoilers for the aforementioned Netflix series to follow.
Crime and Punishment
My first encounter with the Punisher was in a two-parter in Amazing Spider-Man that began with issue #161, “…And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling” (Oct. 1976), and concluded in Amazing Spider-Man #162, “Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!” (Nov. 1976). This was a bit of a complex storyline for my young self, as it featured two guest stars, Nightcrawler (who had only debuted as one of the new X-Men about a year earlier) and the Punisher, and introduced an all-new antagonist in the person of Jigsaw.
The story begins with a sniper terrorizing New York City. One of the sniper’s victims was an old friend of Nightcrawler’s, which is how he gets roped into the story. There’s also some speculation that the sniper is actually none other than the Punisher, which is how he gets involved. And where does our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man fit into all this? Well, he and MJ happen to be out on a double date with Harry Osborn and Liz Allen in Coney Island, where the sniper will strike next.
Fun Fact: If you want to see some great snapshots of New York City in the 1970s, the Ross Andru run on ASM is a tremendous resource. Andru actually went out and took photos of the city for reference for when he was drawing, so the city you see in his Spidey comics is pretty much the city as it existed back then. For example, this was Coney Island in 1976:
Historical Not-So-Fun Fact: The Son of Sam, aka the.44 Caliber Killer, began his own shooting spree in New York City right around the same time ASM #161 hit the stands. The notorious killer would not be caught until over a year later, in August of 1977.
The Punisher sticks to the background in this issue, with just a one-page appearance before popping back up at the end. It lent him some mystique, as even when you didn’t see him on the page, the other characters would talk about him (mostly as the potential sniper), making it feel as if he always lurking, just waiting to pounce.
Some of the plot here is predictable, but still fun. As it always seems to happen when superheroes first meet, there’s much confusion and infighting, and at various points everyone suspects everyone else of being the sniper. The issue ends on a sweet cliffhanger, with Spidey and Nightcrawler battling atop the Roosevelt Island Tramway when they’re suddenly interrupted by the Punisher in a cable car, pointing his gun at the two of them and threatening to kill them both.
Shortly after issue #162 opens, the real sniper starts shooting at all three from somewhere atop the 59th Street Bridge. At least this clears our three heroes of the crime, which allows them to begin working in concert.
While the sniper manages to escape, Spidey and the Punisher are able to do some digging and discover where he’s likely to strike next: a block party in a Lower East Side neighborhood. Working independently, Nightcrawler also susses this out and makes the scene. Before the sniper is found, the webhead winds up captured and is used as bait to lure the Punisher out into the open. It’s at this point that the sniper finally reveals himself as Jigsaw—a villain with a Dick Tracy-esque facial deformity that serves as the basis for his name.
Jigsaw immediately declares his motivations for the killings: revenge on the Punisher. “I was just a two-bit punk when you wiped out the gang I was workin’ with– an’ knocked me head first thru a plate glass window! But I’m not a punk no more, Punisher! These days they call me… Jigsaw! I’m the guy that’s going to KILL you!!”
The villain’s plan unravels quickly, of course, and he winds up defeated and captured. Lending some pathos is the Punisher’s final observation: “And the most disheartening part of it all, my friends, is that I don’t even remember him!”
Nobody knew it at the time, but the Punisher just got the first big-name adversary in his personal rouges gallery, as Jigsaw would pop up again and again to bedevil him—not just in the comics, but in movies and television as well. He winds up playing a big role in this new Netflix series (they alter his backstory from these original comics, giving him a much closer and more personal connection to Frank Castle/the Punisher), and we get to bear witness to the Punisher disfiguring him. (Be warned, folks: the series is pretty violent.)
I really dug Jigsaw. As mentioned in previous posts, I like Dick Tracy-style villains, and Jigsaw had flair. That gruesome face atop that body armor to go along with a tough-guy attitude and verbiage made him a winner for me.
The Nightcrawler appearance also seemed to have the intended effect, as the following month I purchased my first X-Men comic, Uncanny X-Men #102 (Dec. 1976).
A Hot Start
Getting back to the Punisher: he had only been around a couple years when I first encountered him here in 1976, but he had already made a lot of appearances in that short span. After his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #129 (Feb. 1974), he’d return to the pages of ASM just a couple months later in issues 134-135 (Jul.-Aug. 1974), and then team with Spidey a third time in Giant Size Spider-Man #4 (Apr. 1975). The Punisher would then get his own B&W solo story in the magazine pages of Marvel Preview #2 (1975), followed by another B&W magazine appearance in Marvel Super Action #1 (Jan. 1976). Then, after this Jigsaw two-parter, he’d return to ASM just a year later in issues 174-175 (Nov.-Dec. 1977). The character was pretty hot, clearly, but his nature demanded more violent stories than Marvel seemed comfortable publishing in their regular comics back then (hence the magazine appearances, I’m guessing).
By the time the grim & gritty trend took hold in the 80s, the atmosphere was ripe for the Punisher to finally helm his own comic. His miniseries tryout and the regular series that followed circa ‘86/’87 were huge hits. The character’s day in the sun had finally arrived.
Note that the Punisher was originally the brainchild of Gerry Conway. John Romita designed his basic look and Ross Andru fleshed it out further when he drew him in his debut appearance in ASM. The character’s name came from Stan Lee, though it was actually a bit of a recycling job, as Lee had previously used the name for one of Galactus’s servants at the height of his Fantastic Four run with Kirby.
By Way of the UK
The second Punisher story I ever read came almost immediately after ASM 161-162, and it was his debut, “The Punisher Strikes Twice!” from ASM #129… though it came to me in a rather unlikely form.
Remember my sister’s high school boyfriend? The one that made fun of my pronunciation of “fury”? Well, teasing aside, he was a pretty cool guy. First of all, he gave me his old copy of Marvel Treasury Edition #1 (1974), “The Spectacular Spider-Man”—Marvel’s first foray into tabloid-sized treasuries and chock full of Spidey-related goodies. He also had family back in England, and after visiting them in the summer of ’76, he brought back a couple of British Spider-Man comics for me. These things were like no comics I had ever seen before.
The comics were Super Spider-Man with the Super-Heroes #178 (July 7, 1976) which reprinted the Punisher’s first appearance in ASM #129, and issue #179 (July 14, 1976), which reprinted ASM #130, containing the first appearance of the Spider-Mobile. What was so unusual about these comics? Oh… basically everything.
They were 36 pages, printed in B&W, with a horizontal/landscape format, and published weekly. They were reprints of American comics, with the original vertical pages shrunk down to fit two on each horizontal page. With the extra space this allowed, you also got bonus stories in addition to Spider-Man. As I recall, these particular issues had stories of Thor, Doctor Strange and, more specifically, a team-up of the Thing and the Son of Satan that was a reprinted from Marvel Two-in-One #14 (Mar. 1976).
Sadly, I lost these British comics a long ways back—as I recall it, my first dog Ginger peed on them and I had to throw them out. (I blame myself. I shouldn’t have left them lying on the floor in her room.) I tried to google some images, but all I could find of issue #178 was the cover (as seen above). I did manage to find images from a different issue, #181, which reprinted ASM #133 (June 1974). If nothing else, this should provide a decent glimpse of how the format worked:
I’m more of a reader than a collector, but honestly I wouldn’t mind owning a few copies of these reprints, just as a curiosity. For those interested in learning more about these old UK reprints, check out links here, here, and here.
…So there you have it—my earliest brush with the Punisher. Looking forward to his second season on Netflix, when we should expect to see Jigsaw in full flower.