The Punisher first appeared in The Amazing Spider-Man # 129 (Feb 1974) and was created by Gerry Conway and John Romita, Sr., who was the art director at Marvel then, though Ross Andru drew the actual comic and Stan Lee believes he came up with the name. The Punisher is a ruthless vigilante who acts as judge, jury and executioner and kills bad guys with impunity. This kind of anti-hero was unknown to comics of the Silver Age but I suppose they eventually had to emulate the movies where films like ‘Dirty Harry’ (1971) popularised a tougher approach to criminality.
In his first appearance, the Punisher is out to kill Spider-Man as part of his fight against crime, convinced by the Jackal that Spidey murdered Norman Osborn. Having proved popular, he came back in The Amazing Spider-Man # 134-135 to fight with the eponymous hero eventually against Tarantula, a spikey-shoed refugee from some dodgy South American dictatorship. He next appeared in Giant-Sized Spider-Man # 4 and finally had a couple of solo shots in Marvel Preview # 2 and Marvel Super-Action # 1. These were both black and white titles, the latter a one shot. The Punisher was not yet popular enough to succeed in a mainstream comic and so resumed guest appearances in other Marvel titles, notably Daredevil # 182-184, an excellent story from the Frank Miller era of that title. Most often, though, he appeared in the various ‘Spider-Man’ comic books of the era where the contrast between his ruthless methods and Peter Parker’s less self-righteous approach to crime fighting worked well. Actually, the Punisher was not so murderous as he later became, often using mercy bullets which don’t kill on the lesser hoodlums.
The 1980s saw the coming of the mini-series to the comic book industry and this gave an opportunity for longer stories about characters who might not carry off an on-going comic book. The Punisher was ideal for this kind of thing, so writer Steven Grant and artist Mike Zeck teamed up to do a complicated five-part story in which our hero ‘kills’ the Kingpin and unleashes a gang war as everyone else tries to take the large man’s place as top crime lord. Grant’s script is great and Zeck’s art is excellent. Part five is scripted by Jo Duffy and drawn by Mike Vosburg and John Beatty, who do a perfectly fine job.
As extreme violence and a more hard-nosed crime-fighting approach took hold in the 80s, the Punisher became more popular. There are three films about him!
This is an entertaining collection of early stories which showcases a wide variety of talent. The only drawback, from a reader’s point of view, is that you are left wanting to carry on reading ‘Spider-Man’ and ‘Daredevil’ to find out what happens next to them. From a publisher’s point of view, this is wonderful and, indeed, the whole point of crossovers. Happily, the various ‘Essential Spider-Man’ collections are up to date with what’s shown here. The ‘Essential Daredevils’ are still a few years short of the great Frank Miller years, so you’ll have to wait for them. On the other hand, there are, to date, four volumes of ‘Essential Punisher’ into which your teeth, bullets, hand grenades or machetes can now be sunk. Enjoy!
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/