Sadly for Spider-Man, being framed for crimes he didn't commit is an all-too-common experience. In the Vengeance storyline, which ran from Spider-Man #32 to Spider-Man #34, the web-slinger once again had to stop an imposter from landing him in serious trouble with the law. However, unlike some of the previous instances, this imposter was framing Spidey for murder!
In the first two installments of this three issue arc it was uncovered that Dwight Faron, calling himself the Master of Vengeance, was behind the plot to frame Spider-Man. Luckily, or unluckily depending upon how you want to look at it, the Punisher had intervened and lent a helping hand (equipped with gun!) to Spidey in order to take down Faron and clear his name.
Continuing the action from Spider-Man #33, Spider-Man finds himself under attack by the Master of Vengeance. Spidey had just prevented the Punisher from killing Faron in cold blood by webbing him and his gun against the wall. With Castle neutralized, the Master of Vengeance was able to take out his...vengeance...against Spider-Man. Faron's electrostatic blasts and super-powered punches prove to be quite the handful for Spider-Man to evade. The villain is consumed with his hate of Spider-Man as he begins frothing from the mouth. Eventually Faron connects with his electro-blasts and sends Spidey flying out of the window.
Spider-Man uses that opportunity to hide from the Master of Vengeance, who then leaves his hideout to go find the web-slinger. Spidey manages to catch Faron off guard as he kicks him down from the side of the building and on to a car parked on the streets below. The two then begin fighting in the New York City streets, with innocent bystanders all around them. When Spidey attempts to escape the Master of Vengeance's attack, the villain looks to kill some of the onlookers to provoke Spider-Man. This forces the web-slinger to engage Faron directly in hand-to-hand combat. Faron claims that Spider-Man is a killer just like him, since Spider-Man 'killed' him when he had him arrested in the past. Faron had lost his life and his family because of that event. Spider-Man does not seem to remember this past interaction with Faron. Meanwhile, the Punisher breaks himself free from his web-restraints.
Down on the streets below, Faron attacks a news reporter who is attempting to capture this fight on camera. Spider-Man is forced to save her after Faron tosses her 30 yards in the air. Realizing his power is dwindling (the Master of Vengeance requires a serum he concocted to give him his super strength), Faron returns to his hideout to recharge. Once there, Frank Castle is waiting for him with his machine gun in one hand and Faron's formula in the other. Just as Castle is about to fire, Spidey fires a web-line to move his gun off-target of Faron. This gives the Master of Vengeance the opportunity to knock out Castle and take back his formula.
With his strength now maxed-out, Faron goes after Spider-Man but all his electro-blasts miss the web-slinger. Instead of killing Spidey, Faron's blasts take out the load-bearing walls, causing the ceiling to collapse on top of him. The debris does not neutralize Faron though, and he manages to continue firing his blasts at Spider-Man. Eventually Castle comes to and fires a shot at the gloves Faron uses to fire his electro-blasts. This causes his gloves to destabilize and explode, which in turn leads to the entire building detonating like a bomb went off. Castle saves Spider-Man from the blast, after knocking him unconscious of course. With the entire building collapsed, they both assume Faron is dead...but that is not the case!
Faron emerges, once again, from the rubble and latches on to Spider-Man. In a bit of unprecedented (more like poorly plotted) speed, Frank Castle goes from the street to the roof of nearby building and fires a sniper shot at Faron. It was meant as a kill shot but Spidey was able to move Faron out of the way just enough so that the bullet glanced his head and only knocked him unconscious. Spider-Man does not chase Castle because he does not want Faron to find a way to escape. The web-slinger unmasks Faron and confirms that he has no recollection as to who he is or why he would hold such a grudge against him.
Later that night in his home, with MJ by his side, Spider-Man swears that the next time he confronts the Punisher, he is going to end his vigilante career.
What do you get when you mix a muscle-bound poorly fleshed out antagonist, little to no character development for Spider-Man and the Punisher blasting high powered ammunition at you? The answer: a comic from the 1990s.
In general, I usually find myself defending this much-maligned era of Spider-Man comics. But this is one of those storylines that is really hard to defend. If you've read as many comics from the 90s that feature Spider-Man as I have, you'll know that the Punisher suffered the same fate as the web-slinger...that is, Frank Castle seemed to everywhere in the Marvel Universe. Aside from the obvious character dilution that occurs when a character is overused, there is another major detriment...redundant plot devices. In this case, it is the tension between Spider-Man and the Punisher. More specifically, Spider-Man wanting to bring the Punisher to justice, but being unable to do so because he must stop a bigger threat. A very similar premise had just occurred when Spider-Man and the Punisher guest starred in the Secret Empire storyline from Marc Spector Moon Knight #19 to Marc Spector Moon Knight #21.
So when you read those Spidey/Punisher interactions during this time it seems to be the same old beat. Spider-Man is in a bind and is forced to work with the Punisher, he does so reluctantly because he does not agree with Castle's style of justice (ie, killing people), the two of them stop the bad guy, and then Spidey swears he take down Punisher next time. It's a rinse, wash, repeat cycle that operated constantly throughout this decade (and beyond to be honest). This story follows the exact same pattern, so from an originality standpoint it scores poorly.
This issue, which was the conclusion to the story arc, was meant to be an action-packed finale and for all intents and purposes, it was. The flip side of that style is that you get very little of Peter Parker or any other supporting cast member. I'm well aware that at this point in Spider-history he had four ongoing core titles (and countless mini-series and one-shots), so there's bound to be some non-character-developing filler every now again. Nevertheless for this particular story you get very little beyond punching and fighting.
Moreover, if you do the math on Spidey's dialogue in this story, 95% of what he says is some sort of cheeky banter. I'm not going to argue that it is out of character for Spider-Man to make jokes toward his opposition, but it got to the point that it was difficult to read the story because every line was the same sort of sarcastic drivel. Some of it was out of place too. When the Master of Vengeance and Spidey were battling on the streets and innocent bystanders were in the crossfire, Spidey was depicted as simply cracking poorly-timed jokes (below).
A thought bubble or two demonstrating that Spidey was concerned for their safety would have helped a lot. Now he eventually saves the bystanders, but they could have done a little more justice to Spidey's process had they dialed back on the jokes a bit.
The net result of all these aspects of the story is that you end up with superficial, hollow, junky product...and that is basically what this one is.
It is disappointing because the idea of vengeful character from Spider-Man's past could be pretty interesting, even if it is not necessarily original. But instead of weaving Faron's past into Spider-Man's with more concrete information, highlighting specifically how Spider-Man's "catching" of him in the past led to this state, it is really difficult to empathize with Faron. The comic could have benefited from a little less punching and a little more connecting of Faron and Spider-Man.
This was a 90s Spider-Man comic through and through, so there's not a very high ceiling there. Even by 90s comic standards it is difficult to give this anything other than a below average grade. 2 Webs.