|Cover Art:||Sal Buscema|
This issue features a terrific Sal Buscema cover of the Punisher fighting on top of a mountain of bad guys, with no Spider-Man in sight (unless you count the graphic up in the Marvel box in the upper left hand corner). Yes, the Punisher really was popular enough once to risk putting him solo on the cover of a Spidey book.
It is the hour before dawn at Manhattan's West Side Marina. Spider-Man is swinging along behind a black van, wondering why he is trusting a man who tried to kill him 45 minutes before. (Let's see now... hour before dawn, tried to kill 45 minutes ago, was supposed to meet him an hour after the phone call at the Bugle... does this mean Spidey and Ben were hanging out at work at 4 AM?)
According to Spidey, the Punisher claimed he got spooked at the rendezvous when he opened fire because he expected Peter Parker and got the web-spinner instead. (See? There's your explanation... such as it is.) Instead they have set up a meeting on the Punisher's boat "Golden Girl", just the two of them... to talk. The Punisher has a photo display on the wall. San Franciso, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, all with the same model in them... Tombstone. (I love the way Tombstone posed in front of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Gateway Arch for the Punisher.) "Pun", as Spidey calls him, wants to know why "the most vicious hit man west of Union City" is in New York. He has heard about the tape Robbie made and gave to Peter and, one way or another, he intends to get it.
Out on the docks, three of the Kingpin's goons sit, with Tombstone, in a black sedan, eyeing the Punisher's boat. Their plan involves someone called "Persuader" and will commence at dawn. They wait.
Back inside, Frank Castle, a.k.a. the Punisher, tells Spidey that a good friend of his from "the corps"... St. Louis Deputy District Attorney Harold Ullman was murdered recently. There was "no proof, no witnesses, no evidence" but Frank knows who killed him... Tombstone. (And if more of Sal's grotesque drawings of Tombstone snapping some guy's neck can be believed, Frank is exactly right.) After the murder, the Punisher hit the St. Louis dives to get information and found one man who, once beaten into submission, could tell him that Lonnie Lincoln was now in New York and could be found at Aggie's Pub. The Punisher showed up in New York and at Aggie's just in time to see Spider-Man busting heads there. He was the gunman who shot the guy dressed like the Ox and then eluded Spider-Man. (But you knew that already, didn't you?) He further goes on to describe how he heard Spidey mention Joe Robertson while fighting (Let's go back and check the previous issue... son of a gun, he did!), then traced Robbie to the hospital where he overheard Peter Parker talk about the tape. (But you knew that already, too, didn't you?) The Punisher wants that tape and, if necessary, plans to talk to Peter personally. But Spidey gets Frank to calm down (as much as he ever calms down, that is) and tells "Pun" he will ask Peter himself. Frank gives him until sundown. Spidey swings off into the sunrise.
Now, what I just neglected to mention is that the last part of this conversation took place out on the dock but, even so, Peter and Frank must have been yelling at each other because Tombstone could hear every word in his sedan. Now he knows about Robbie's tape, too. He instructs his goons to give the Punisher an hour to settle in before attacking. He's going to look up Parker and Robertson about the tape.
At the hospital, Ben Urich shows up to visit. In the room, he finds Robbie's son Randy visiting. Randy tells him that the doctors have learned there is no permanent damage to Robbie's spine. He should make a full recovery. Ben asks to be alone with Randy's dad and, when they are, he asks Robbie about the tape he gave to Peter. Robbie starts to deny the tape exists but Ben tells him to "save it". He lays all his facts and guesswork out for Joe and he has the story pretty well figured out. Still, Joe won't respond to anything Ben says. Telling Robbie, "you know where to reach me", Ben takes his leave.
9:07 AM at the Punisher's boat. Frank, recently showered, with a towel around his waist, is cooking up bacon and fried eggs. Two black-suited goons with automatic weapons try to sneak up on him. They fail. In a single, rapid movement, the Punisher turns and flings the food at them. The sizzling eggs strike one thug in the eyes. He stumbles backwards, his gun firing, falling into his partner. They lie in a heap. The one on top is grabbing at his eyes. The one undernearth is soon silenced by the cast-iron frying pan, thrown right at his head. Promising to get a doctor for the man's eyes if he talks, the Punisher asks him how many more men there are. "Two-on-deck", the wounded man replies. The Punisher takes one of the guns and fires through the ceiling. The two men above are gunned down. Their bodies fall into the water with a quiet "sptash".
The blinded thug sings some more. He tells the Punisher that Tombstone was behind the attack but that the intent was not to kill. The thugs were supposed to give Castle a scare, then get him to follow them... to the Cloisters on the West Side. Frank decides he can get there without the chaperone.
Back at the upper West Side home of the Parkers, Peter plays Robbie's tape once again. He asks Mary Jane what to do with it but she, dressed for a modeling shoot, initially dodges the question. Pressed as to whether Pete should give the tape to the Punisher, Ben Urich or destroy it, she tells him she would "burn the tape and throw the ashes down the deepest hole you can find". It isn't that she doesn't care that a vicious killer is on the loose but that she can't handle the pressure of the decision. As Peter decides to give the tape to Robbie so that HE can make the decision (and leaves for the hospital), MJ reflects on being the wife of Spider-Man and admits to herself that "this life frightens me more than I ever guessed it would". Soon after Peter leaves, Tombstone shows up at the apartment building. He checks the mailboxes to confirm that the Parkers live in apartment 302.
Twenty minutes later, the Punisher is at the Cloisters, "a 12th century monastery brought from Europe by the Metropolitan museum". Usually it is open to visitors but closed on Mondays. "This", says Gerry, "is Monday". (Meaning not only that Ben and the gang were hanging out at the Bugle at about 4 AM last issue but that it was Sunday night to boot.) The Punisher checks out the two armed thugs at the gate through his binoculars. He sneaks up on the two, who are casually discussing the murder of a woman that one of them committed, (I assume that this nasty conversation is included so that we will feel no remorse when Frank "kacks" these guys but it still seems overly brutal and unnecessary) and kills them rather easily.
Frank Castle sneers at the "losers" that Tombstone has set up at the gate. But he's been up 36 straight hours and he is tired... too tired to realize that the losers were left there to lull the Punisher to sleep. As he recklessly changes the clip in his gun, he is ambushed by a half-dozen professionals.
And at the Parker residence, MJ sits at her make-up table applying lipstick and trying to talk herself out of her fear. She doesn't do a particularly good job of it... especially after Tombstone looms up behind her in her mirror. He grabs her by the hair and lifts her completely off the ground. Mary Jane gets a good kick into Tombstone's solar plexus but it doesn't faze him at all. He only has one question and he'll do whatever it takes to get that question answered... "Where's Parker?"
Returning again to the Cloisters, the six hired men pummel the Punisher to the ground. But they don't keep the upper hand for long. Castle cracks one on the jaw, unleashes a vicious karate chop to another's throat and uses an automatic weapon as a club to knock out three more. The last one faces the Punisher with a knife but he looks into the steely eyes of his opponent and opts for running away instead.
Thinking he has cornered Tombstone, the Punisher picks up a gun and throws open the door of a nearby parked black sedan. But the albino killer is not inside. It is occupied, instead, by the Arranger and Roland Rayburn, now known as the Persuader. (And he wears an all white costume with a spiral logo on his chest which makes him look like he decided to wear the Cyclone's costume, then washed it with too much bleach.) The Arranger apologises for the goon squad but tells Frank that the Persuader's powers are more effective when "his subject's adrenalin levels and pulse-rate are both elevated". And the Persuader's eyes begin to glow.
The Punisher tries to fight the persuasion. When Roland tells him to drop the gun, Frank shakily answers "no". But ultimately, the powers of persuasion are too much for the Punisher to handle. As Castle holds his head in agony, the Persuader says, "You're mine, Punisher. I suggest you crawl!"
It is 9:58 AM at the hospital and Peter tries to change Robbie's mind about destroying the tape. If you let Tombstone scare you, then he wins", Peter tells Joe. "So he stays loose and what about the next victim..." and Peter is interrupted by a nurse who tells him his wife has just been brought into the emergency ward. Peter runs off screaming, "Mary Jane!" and Joe Robertson is left behind to cry tears of fear and impotence.