|Cover Art:||Sal Buscema|
Atlanta, Georgia. (Huh? OK, OK, don't panic, Gerry will bring us back to the story again.) Spidey swings through the city clutching Joe Robertson's tape. "Tonight, Tombstone", he thinks, "Tonight, one way or another, we finish it." And he thinks back to the moment when he ran to emergency, fearful of what Tombstone had done to Mary Jane.
He scans the crowded room until he finds her sitting off to the side. MJ's wrist is bandaged but she is otherwise unharmed. Relieved beyond words, Peter takes his wife in his arms while she tells him how she ended up there. (Only problem is... in the flashback Tombstone grabs and hurts her wrist, rather than yanking her by the hair and the question he asks is if she'll relay the message to her husband that he wants Robbie's tape... but, hey, thirty days had gone by and we're not supposed to remember the specifics.) She tells Peter that Tombstone brought her to the hospital, which means he must still be nearby. At that moment, an orderly tells Peter he has a phone call. "Hey, Peter", the raspy whisper on the other end says, "How's the wife?"
Tombstone tells Peter he wants a meeting... "you and me and the Robertson tape". He says he wants to meet away from Peter's turf and is willing to meet away from his own. He has heard that Peter is doing a book signing tomorrow (remember that plot device?) at Mitchell Books in Atlanta. That's where the meeting will take place.
Now, in Atlanta, Spidey informs us that there was a message waiting for him at the bookstore when he showed up to sign. The message read, "Bring the tape and a recorder to Tara Square. Tenth floor. Sundown." Spidey further informs us that he tried to contact the Punisher about the Atlanta meeting but was unable to track him down. Why? Because Frank Castle is back in New York, strapped into a chair and screaming his lungs out as he tries to combat the powers of the Persuader.
It is a secret room filled with lab technicians fiddling with unspecified machinery. The Arranger is there overseeing the operation and he is becoming quite discouraged with the Persuader who has not been able to break the Punisher, even after ten hours of trying. ("This guy's got a will like alloy steel.") Using the added "oomph" of his costume, which enhances and focuses his talents, the Persuader emits a powerful glow in his last concentrated effort, then collapses from the strain. A disdainful Arranger is not at all pleased. As far as he can tell, his pawn has failed utterly. But the Persuader tells him to take a closer look. And, sure enough, the Punisher is now sweating, wide-eyed, and unblinking. "Welcome aboard, Punisher", says the smug Arranger, "How nice to have you on the Kingpin's team."
At Midtown General Hospital, Robbie Robertson resists his physical therapy, claiming that Tombstone has broken his back. The therapist tells him that his spine was merely traumatized; that his spinal cord was bruised and compressed. He wheels Robbie's chair to the parallel bars to begin his walking therapy. Robbie's son Randy is there to cheer him on but Robbie is like a "broken old man". He has no desire, no fight. Nothing but fear.
But just when Robbie is ready to give up, he hallucinates a vision of Tombstone. The vision is standing at the end of the parallel bars and it taunts him and tells him he should have stayed quiet, that he should go back to his bed and give up. But instead of succumbing, this taunting only serves to enrage Robbie. He charges the vision, his legs momentarily working fine. Tombstone dissipates like a ghost as Robbie runs through him and tumbles to the floor. Randy, concerned, runs over to help. But Robbie needs no help. For the first time in weeks, he feels strong. Having conquered his fear, he is ready to give J. Jonah Jameson a story for page one of the next edition.
In Lansing, Michigan, of all places, at Baxter High School, a young and pretty blonde history teacher, who has stayed late grading papers, returns to her car (and inexplicably unlocks the door on the passenger side... must be a clone thing). "These days", Gerry says, "she's happy". But not for long, as her car is zapped by a vicious-looking laser beam coming from the air. She looks up to see a fast-moving hover car, manned by two figures in armoured suits. "Idiot", says one, "you almost hit her! The High Evolutionary wants her intact." The terrified young woman takes off running, right toward a high fence. Another laser strikes, conveniently creating a hole in the fence for the woman to pass through. She escapes by slipping into a drainage pipe, thinking, "Peter will save her. Peter." Why these thoughts of Peter? Because she's the Gwen Stacy clone. But you all knew that already, didn't you?
In Atlanta, Spider-Man has waited forty minutes for Tombstone. He is sitting on a girder at a construction site, flipping Robbie's tape up into the air. Spidey wonders if he has scared off the hitman, who is expecting Peter Parker rather than the wall-crawler. (Same as the Punisher last ish. Think these guys can put two and two together?) But it is at this moment that the elevator starts to come up. At first Spidey thinks Tombstone must be riding it but his spider-sense alerts him to a trap. The elevator is a ruse to distract him as a steel hook on a chain is tossed at him. Thanks to his superhuman reflexes, the hook doesn't come close... but Spidey drops the tape in the process. From one story above, Tombstone looks down at him, then fearlessly throws himself down at the webhead, carrying both of them off the safety of the building.
In New York, Robbie has collected JJJ, Kate Cushing, and Ben Urich in his room as he begins his story by admitting that all of his actions were motivated solely by fear.
In Atlanta, Tombstone seems so unconcerned by the fall that Spidey screams out "Are you crazy?" The wallcrawler manages to use his webbing to snag the building but Tombstone's recklessness has had its desired effect. Spidey is flustered, perhaps a little scared. Thus he is distracted enough to allow Tombstone to control the momentum of their swing. The villain uses it to smash Spidey up against the side of the girders. He follows that up by grabbing an iron pipe and smashing Spidey in the gut with a powerful swing. He smacks him again, entangling a dazed Spidey in the mesh of some fencing, set up around the elevator shaft.
As Robbie tells the story of his past with Tombstone, the mobster pounds away at a helpless Spidey with the iron pipe. As Robbie's confession continues (I love the slip-up of Robbie calline Tombstone "Thompson". I didn't know Flash was that tough.), Tombstone has pummeled Spidey through the fence. He places the pipe at the wallcrawler's neck, then swings it like a golf club, sending our hero flying into space. The victorious killer looks down and sees Robbie's tape sitting on the top of the elevator. But it's what he doesn't see that disturbs him. He doesn't see Spidey's body down there.
As he looks down, Spidey swings up from underneath the flooring and kicks Tombstone right in the chops. ("My turn!", he says.) He admits that Tombstone took him by surprise and got some good licks in but, in the end, Tombstone is just a man and Peter has the "proportional strength of a spider". He lands one haymaker after another, staggering and bloodying Lonnie Lincoln. Still, Tombstone has some fight left in him. He rises up and rushes Spidey but the wall-crawler sidesteps him easily and Tombstone strikes a girder with his head. Tombstone is reeling, nearly out on his feet. Before administering the coup de grace, Spidey asks one question. "Why didn't you kill Robbie Robertson when you had the chance?" Tombstone's surprising, almost touching answer is, "How could I kill him? Robbie's my friend."
Spidey clocks Lonnie with a big left-handed punch. This sends Tombstone off the building, seemingly falling to his death. His fall is halted by webbing. But once Spidey lines him up properly, he drops Tombstone into the bed of a dump truck. The truck is filled with concrete. (Ah! Symbolism! I get it!) Tombstone is stuck head-first in the muck, his legs flailing and Spidey tells him "you'll make lots of new pals in prison" but Spidey also knows that Robbie is the only witness against him. If Robbie won't talk, Tombstone will again go free.
But Robbie is talking. Back at the hospital, he tells his fellow reporters that he has contacted the Justice Department and will give them a deposition. He knows that legally he is an accessory to murder. "Naturally", he says, "I'll resign as the Bugle's editor-in-chief." But, Jonah turns down the resignation and gruffly, but lovingly, tells Robbie, "Monday morning, you're back in your office or I'm docking your pay."
And in the Kingpin's skyscraper, the Arranger watches footage of Tombstone being taken away by the police. He is sorry to lose his prize hitman but still, "Tombstone came to New York at our request to draw out the Punisher" and that he has certainly done. In fact, a mind-altered Punisher enters the Arranger's office soon after. "Just point me where you want me to go", Frank Castle says, "Just tell me who you want me to kill."
So, Tombstone has been defeated and taken off to jail but that was only the start of the story. In subsequent issues, Robbie Robertson was tried and went to jail for his involvement, only to have to defend himself against Tombstone behind bars. That story is far too long and involved to continue here. But, what about this whole Punisher and Persuader thing? Are we just going to leave that in the lurch and end here with the capture of Tombstone? Well, this segment of "Looking Back" is already shockingly long but, hey, I'm up for it if you are! Shall we get one more issue in? Great, then the story concludes in Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #143.