The Secret Empire is planning to build an army of cyborg enhanced super-beings to keep up with rivals, such as A.I.M. and Hydra, and combat the ever growing number of superheroes. Their top agent, Jeff Wilde (aka Midnight), has already secured the services of Eliot Franklin (aka Thunderball) to continue research and development and is in the process of securing their first super agent in Nova. On his tail is a growing band of superheroes that have found themselves thrown together against the Empire for various reasons. Spider- Man, Moon Knight, and Night Thrasher are after Nova while the Punisher attempts to infiltrate the Empire on his own.
This is part three of the six part 'Round Robin' saga.
Part three of the 'Round Robin' saga picks up with Spider-Man, Moon Knight, and Night Thrasher tailing Midnight in the moon copter. Midnight beats them to one of the Secret Empire's seemingly endless supply of safe houses which gives them time to prepare for the heroes arrival. The Punisher is already there, having staked out the safe house beforehand, and isn't too happy that the team's appearance has just blown his cover. Before they realize it, a small army of heavily-armed Empire soldiers are on them.
Despite being greatly outnumbered, this fight is still lopsided in the heroes favor and is over just as soon as it started. However, it is mentioned (through dialogue) that Night Thrasher has some common ground with Punisher who is killing the soldiers rather than just incapacitating them. Spider-Man isn't happy about it and even warns him that one day "there'll be a reckoning between the two of us".
Midnight reappears and immediately attacks his former partner, Moon Knight. The two exchange words as well as blows and Jeff's distorted view of Moon Knight's betrayal is explained. With Moon Knight on the ropes, Night Thrasher intervenes and wants to know where they are keeping his New Warriors partner, Nova. Before he can get any answers, Thrasher is taken out by a particle gauntlet from Grasp.
"Scorecards, get yer scorecards! Can't tell the players without a scorecard!" Spidey calls out (funny and very true at this point).
The Seekers; Chain, Sonic and Grasp, are a group of heavily-armored mercenaries (think Iron Man on 'roids) who have been hired by the Secret Empire. In quick order, Punisher is taken out by an energy leech from Sonic, Moon Knight is tossed into a wall by Midnight, and Spider-Man is taken out by Grasp as he's trying to rescue Night Thrasher. After two pages the Seekers are already gone having bought enough time for the Secret Empire's safe house to rocketship into the sky while taking out the moon copter.
Once again, the team is just able to watch as the Secret Empire and Midnight takes off. This time with a kidnapped Nova and a near death Punisher left behind. Safe from the heroes, for now, Midnight wonders why they were able to tail him so easily and discovers Spider-Man's tracer. Sensing that his tracer has been destroyed, Spider-Man tries to decide the team's next move.
There is an interesting scene where the Punisher hallucinating and dreaming while passed out rehashes his origin. The heroes now know what drives him. Spidey and Night Thrasher think of the similarities between Frank's start and their own.
Meanwhile, the elite of the Secret Empire, Midnight, and Eliot Franklin are discussing the possibilities with Nova. Franklin advises against enhancements to Nova and Midnight becomes obviously disgusted with the notion that the Empire needs him. It was assumed, at least by Midnight, that this army was to be built with him at the helm and not just one of the grunts. He begins to get violent when Number Seven reminds him of the pain inducer that had been planted in his spine.
Also, we discover that the Empire's leader, Number One, was murdered in prison (during Moon Knight #24) and that there is now a power vacuum at the top. Dissension in the ranks is shown and Midnight sees his opportunity.
The issue ends with Midnight getting some new enhancements in the operating room from Franklin. His nurse, Lynn, can't bear to watch and runs from the room. She finds a technician and, by showing him something on her face, convinces him to place a device in Midnight's spine during the surgery.
Another solid issue in this storyline. Spider-Man, Moon Knight, Night Thrasher and the Punisher make a solid team and the dialogue (although very campy at times) between the characters is great. You can sense that they've just been thrown together in this mess and wouldn't be cooperating otherwise.
The Secret Empire is also becoming a worthy adversary and a very good character in itself. It has a good supporting cast in Midnight, Eliot Franklin, and the ruling elite. Not to mention intrigue with the dissension at the top.
This is shaping up to be a small war between the Secret Empire and Spider- Man's band of heroes. The art is great and the characters have been interestingly teamed up together. Only flaw is the campy dialogue by Milgrom. Just too many bad puns.
Since his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #129 the Punisher has been a recurring guest-star throughout the Spider-Man titles. There has always been tension between Frank and Peter because of the extremely different ways they approach crime-fighting, but their reason for doing so is very similar. It's interesting to see how different writers have approached their relationship.
More often than not, Spider-Man is written to have complete contempt for the Punisher and it's always been suggested that some day soon, Spidey will have to be the one to stop him. At other times, it seems that although he won't ever agree with Frank's methods circumstance causes him to tolerate the vigilante. As though he knows Frank is doing what is necessary, and what Peter could never do himself.
Milgrom's take in this series seems to be a combination of the two. Spider- Man calls Frank out for killing Secret Empire soldiers, but only threatens verbally. The shear odds they are up against together, as well as their present company (the morally lax heroes Moon Knight and Night Thrasher), forces him to let the vigilante act. It would be interesting if someone (Bendis?, Straczynski?) tackled the idea of why Peter never comes through on his promise to stop the Punisher once and for all.