Phil Sheldon, a highly respected freelance photographer that takes news photos of the "Marvels" (the superheroes in the Marvel Universe) has retired. Combined with the royalties from his book of photos (titled "Marvels") he has a comfortable life.
He was in the process of making a sequel to "Marvels" when his doctor discovers that he has lung cancer due to his smoking habit.
After a bit of soul-searching and being rescued by our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, Phil has decided on the theme for his book. He will begin a crusade to remind people that the "Marvels" are not celebrities; they are heroes that deserve our respect.
Phil is booked on the NTN Newsbeat program to promote his upcoming book. This goes against his publisher's wishes, but he agrees to this. Anchor Sam Reuther compliments Phil on the quality of "Marvels" and asks if the next book will be on supervillains. Phil politely tells him no and wonders if he was told to ask that question. Phil then explains that his next book will highlight the good deeds that the heroes do rather than the less noble areas covered in the tabloids.
Reuther asks if there are any real heroes left. It seems that more and more vigilantes are appearing: Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine. He antagonizes Phil during the interview and tries to convince the audience that the line between hero and villain is blurring. Phil attempts to correct him but is cut off abruptly when they go to a commercial. As Phil leaves he learns from Marcia Hardesty that Reuther is bound for the networks and is trying to boost his Q-rating.
Later as Phil attends his next radiotherapy session, he can't help but find evidence of the public's obsession with the ups and (mostly) downs of the hero community. When he learns of positive developments for the Marvels, Phil wants to rub it in Reuther's face. The Avengers are holding tryouts at Yankee Stadium. Cap has been cleared of all murder charges. The original Fantastic Four are back together again. All of these events bring a smile to Phil's face. Dr. Geoffries notices the improvement in Phil's condition and encourages him to find something to stay moderately active.
Phil begins work for his new book by interviewing the "man on the street" about any encounters they may have had with the heroes. One enthusiastic man describes a battle between Iron Fist and a alien robot. Another woman lays flowers in front of Avengers' mansion for the recently injured Wasp. He then makes his way to City General Hospital where the Wasp is recovering to find Yellowjacket unconscious in the street. To make matters worse, he is still growing and unable to stop it. The combined efforts of the Beast and Vision restore Pym to his proper height.
Not all the eyewitness accounts are positive. One man remembers a battle between Daredevil and Torpedo that destroyed his house. They are currently living with his sister in their laundry room. He knows DD's actions were unintentional, but has little use for him or any other heroes.
Weeks later Phil witness the aftermath of the detonation of the MadBomb. While developing pictures from that event, he hears that the X-Men may have been involved in an explosion at JFK airport. The two mechanics he interviewed have differing opinions. One doesn't remember any of the events that happened. The other remembers everything because the metal plate in his head interfered with Jean Grey's telepathic suggestions to "forget the X-Men were here".
Later on he meets with Ben Urich at the Masthead Bar to compare notes. While they discuss recent events, they receive word that J. Jonah Jameson has been kidnapped from the Bugle. After extensive legwork they find Jonah, Spider-Man, and Hitman at the Statue of Liberty. They bribe the ferry operator to get them as close as possible.
As they near they watch in the spotlight as Spider-Man tries to protect Jonah as he dangles from the Statue's crown. Only the timely intervention of the Punisher saves them. Phil and Ben are both astounded that the X-Men would be involved in a cover-up and that Punisher would be saving lives.
While they try to comprehend what just happened, Phil collapses on the ferry. Ben orders the operator to turn the boat around and call a doctor immediately.
We are now at the halfway point in this limited series and quite frankly the story just keeps getting better. Instead of losing momentum, Busiek and Stern find a new angle to keep us interested.
Alleged "bad" guys doing good deeds; "good" guys performing questionable acts. Phil is now a bit confused. In contrast to the black-and-white costume he wears, Punisher has unintentionally added a few shades of gray to Phil's worldview. Even though it is one instance, Phil is beginning to see that many events are not as simple as he wants them to be.
While readers are aware that the Punisher only puts true criminals in his crosshairs, the "public" was not privy to that fact. If a gun-toting vigilante with a skull on his chest began a one-man war on crime in the real world, we'd all be scared stupid. The fear is that said vigilante might get caught up in their activities and stop discriminating between innocents and the guilty. It's a valid concern given the ever-increasing violence that is part of modern society.
4 webs. I am really enjoying this series. Great art, great story, great everything. Big bucks, no whammies.
Some of the easier references: