Remember Gerry Conway? He was the man chosen to succeed Stan Lee as writer of the Amazing Spider-Man starting back with issue #111, August 1972. For the next three years, Gerry was in charge of the web-slinger's fate, bringing about the death of Gwen Stacy, (And still taking the heat for it! In a recent interview in the December 27, 2001 edition of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Stan referred to Gerry as "this guy" and called him "bloodthirsty"), the creation of the Jackal and the very first Clone Saga. Then, he was gone... off to DC comics where he co-created Firestorm the Nuclear Man and worked as the writer of Superman.
But a dozen or so years later, Gerry was back as one of the writers of the web-spinner. He began with Web of Spider-Man #35 (February 1988). By February 1989, he was the regular writer for both Web of Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man. Over the succeeding two years, Gerry created the complicated gang war storyline that interwove plots featuring the Chameleon, Hammerhead, the Kingpin, the Arranger, and Joe Robertson, and introduced Tombstone, the Persuader, and the Lobo Brothers, in a succession of issues that still stand out as a high point in the last twenty years of Spider-Man. It is difficult to separate the combined threads of one set of characters from the grand scheme of the gang war but I'm going to try to do something of the sort as Looking Back focuses its nostalgic lens on the mysterious Lobo Brothers.
We should point out that this issue contains an effective overlap between two different story arcs. This review effectively concludes the first Tombstone arc which we began back in our review of Spectacular Spider-Man #139, and begins the massive SEVENTEEN part "Lobo Brothers Gang War" arc. Hang on tight, folks, we're in for a heck of a ride!
|Cover Art:||Sal Buscema|
Two thugs with guns are on the deck of the Punisher's boat "Golden Girl" one evening when they are attacked by a leaping Spider-Man, yelling, "Where is he?" He has been checking the boat for a week, looking for clues to Frank Castle's disappearance and has finally struck paydirt with these characters. But it turns out these two hoods are simply burglars looking to rob an abandoned boat, so, Spidey is back to square one. "Something happened", thinks the wall-crawler, "but what?"
The "what" is a bit complicated but the "where is he?" is simple. At that very moment, the Punisher is walking through Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport. His costume is concealed by a brown trench coat and he is accompanied by two men. One is Roland Rayburn, the Persuader, dressed in civilian clothes. The other is a wide-body Kingpin goon in white suit, shoes, and tie. It's all supposed to be very inconspicuous except that security guard Mel Zimmerman is very good with faces. He recognizes the Punisher from an F.B.I. circular he saw and he moves in to stop the vigilante. (And his approach is observed by a woman in purple suit and wire-rim glasses.) Before Mel can do more than halt the trio, Roland Rayburn steps in. "You don't want this man.", he tells the guard and Mel, persuaded by the mutant power, agrees. But the observing woman, a news reporter preparing for vacation, is intrigued by the guard's easy acquiesence. She decides to skip her holiday and follow the three men for a story.
The trio pass a newstand, where the headline of the Dallas Times Herald proclaims, "Lobo Brothers Freed in Mistrial" with accompanying photo of identical twins with wolfish features and grey streaks in their hair. Again, the Punisher says, "Just tell me who you want me to kill."
In New York, the Arranger is having a meeting with the Kingpin. He recaps the events of the last few issues for those of us who did not read them (only he refers to the Persuader as "Roland Raymond". Think Gerry still had Firestorm on the brain?) and tells his boss that the Punisher is in Dallas to assassinate the Lobo Brothers. The Kingpin is uninterested in such details. "My concerns lie with Daredevil", he says, "Engineering his eventual destruction is my one source of satisfaction in an otherwise dispiriting existence."
At a station on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, the Gwen Stacy clone boards a bus bound for New York. It has taken her a week to get this far (From Lansing? She must have crawled on her hands and knees.) and she is just starting to feel secure when the bus is attacked by another one of those High Evolutionary hover cars. The two attackers talk about the fate of the previous duo who failed to capture the target. ("Devolution isn't pretty", says one.) They are determined not to share their fate. But somehow, as the stunned passengers stumble off the disabled bus, the Evolutionary's men lose track of Gwen. "Her genetic pattern won't stay locked. There's some kind of double pattern." (This is, I think, an early clue to the eventual revelation that Gwen was, in fact, Joyce Delaney, restructured. At least, she was, as of 1988.) The henchmen fail in locating her and fly off to meet their grisly fate. ("Nice knowing you, Dave", says one.) Gwen sets out on foot, into the Ohio night.
Back in New York, a harried Peter Parker is 30 minutes late for his dinner date with MJ at a joint called "Mike's Place". Inside, MJ is in her element, fending off Wall Street wheeler-dealers who are trying to impress the beautiful red head in the mini-skirt. Pete apologises for his lateness and tells his wife that he is so tired, he could "spend the next month in bed". This gives Mary Jane ideas. She suggests passing on dinner, grabbing some sushi on the way home and snuggling up. But she is not even able to finish the thought when Peter is distracted by a report on the TV above the bar. It is our friend, the bespectaculed reporter from the airport, revealing that the Punisher has been spotted in Dallas. Upon hearing the news, Peter pulls away from MJ and heads for the door. He tells her he'll call her from the airport. The Wall Street studs return but Mary Jane frostily blows them off. She sits alone telling herself she's fine, she's not angry.... "much".
In Dallas, at the Herdling Refinery Company, the Punisher interrogates a man who admits the business is a front for the Lobo Brothers drug smuggling operations. The Persuader and his buddy wait in a nearby jeep. Suddenly, the Punisher is attacked with gunfire. It is another jeep, filled with the Lobos' goons. The Punisher retaliates by firing at the oil tanks at the refinery. He runs for his own jeep as the whole shebang goes up in a huge explosion.
At the Dallas airport (again) Peter has shown up. He has arranged this trip by agreeing to attend a convention and sign copies of his book "Webs" (even though the woman greeting him, Andrea, admits that the book is not selling very well in Texas). Using as pretext his interest in crime photography, Peter asks Andrea to tell him about the Lobo Brothers. She says that Eduardo and Carlos Lobo only became known a year and a half before, in south Texas. There had been some sort of gang war involving drugs and smuggling. "A lot of people were being killed. Then the Lobos came. Somehow they stopped the fighting." All of the gangs ended up joining together calling themselves "Los Hermanos de la Luna" (That's the "brothers of the moon" for all those of you who took French or Latin in college.) When it was all over, all the other gang leaders were gone "and the Lobos ruled south Texas". Six months ago, they moved to a mansion in Dallas. The police know they are criminals but have no proof of it. "Just the sort of untouchable scum the Punisher thrives on taking down", thinks Peter. So, why does he have such a bad feeling about it?
For the next few hours, Peter is occupied at a Dallas bookstore, signing copies of "Webs" as a prelude to a super-hero costume contest. All the people in line are buying hardcover copies of "New Universe" series... Justice, Starbrand, and D.P. 7 (Suckers!!!). Peter begs off for a two hour break. He goes into a back room, changes to Spidey, and walks out amongst the costumed contestants. ("Yo, dude, blastin' threads!", "Rad!", and "Too cool!", they all say when they see his duds.)
Thirty-eight minutes later, having hitched a ride on a passing oil tanker truck (Hey, it's Texas! They've got oil tankers everywhere... right?) Spidey arrives at the Lobos' mansion. The lock on the front gate is already broken and Spidey hears voices coming from the back. He leaps over the house and gets an eyeful of the scene down by the swimming pool. The Lobos are in their speedos. Three of their men are already gunned down. The Punisher and the Kingpin goon have guns pointed at them. The Persuader, in costume, stands nearby. The Punisher prepares to kill the Lobos but they refer to him as a stooge of the Kingpin and this confuses Frank just enough so that Spidey has time to snatch the rifle away with his webs.
The Persuader orders Castle to kill Spidey. Somehow Frank gets his gun back (and it has no webbing on it... neat trick) but Spidey moves in with a left to the jaw. The Punisher's gun goes off and the bullet creases Carlos Lobo's shoulder, but he shrugs it off with disdain and the brothers slip away from the fight.
Spidey and the Punisher end up in the swimming pool... with the Punisher's hands wrapped around Spidey's neck. And it looks like the webslinger is finished... passed out underwater. The excitement of the two bad guys at poolside over the apparent death of Spidey is tempered by their discovery that the Lobos have escaped. And Spidey's plan to play possum is not working out as planned since the Punisher refuses to loosen his grip.
So, Spidey breaks free. He has been taking it easy on the Punisher because he is suspicious of the way the vigilante is acting, but now all gloves are off. He gives the Punisher a "whump" in the solar plexus but, before he can follow up, the white-suited goon takes a shot at him. His spider-sense allows him to evade the shot but he isn't quite fast enough. The bullet creases his skull and he passes out, half in and half out of the water.
When Spidey comes to, the Punisher is standing over him, taking aim at the wall-crawler's head. The Persuader pushes him with his power, tells the Punisher to "do it" and "make it quick". And the Punisher does fire his weapon but not at Spidey... at the white-suited goon instead. The stunned Persuader can't understand what has happened but the Punisher tells him that "You never broke my will, you only bent it." All the things he has done in Dallas, from blasting the drug depot/oil refinery to going after the Lobos are actions he could have done on his own anyway but, "killing an innocent, even someone like Spider-Man, that's something I'd never do. That's murder." And, having said that, acting before Spidey can stop him, the Punisher guns down the Persuader.
Spidey is outraged and furious. He was hoping to use these men as witnesses against the Kingpin. And, of course, he has very strong feelings against killing. The Punisher brushes the wall-crawler's objections aside. He leaves the scene, leaves the dead Persuader floating in the pool. Spidey decides he'd better cut out, too. "Book tour or no book tour, this web-slinger is heading home." And after all are gone, the two Lobos return. They look at the carnage about them and vow that, someday soon, the Kingpin must pay for what he tried to do to them.
Hey - did you just read that whole story synopsis? For anyone who managed to make it through the whole thing, consider yourself No-Prized! (I suppose, technically, I have no authority to do that, but, hey, just this once, why not?) If this one hasn't scared you away for good, join us in the next PPP for another edition of "Looking Back". It'll be shorter. Promise.