Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #174

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This story is part of an Arc: "The Hitman's Back in Town!"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 2002.

Background...

So, there's still that dangling plot thread... that business of the Hitman having escaped from his battle with Spidey and the Vulture back in Spectacular Spider-Man #5. Does anyone care? Len Wein cares! And he chooses to do something about it during his time on the Amazing Spider-Man.

In Detail...

"The Hitman's Back in Town!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #174
Nov 1977 : SMURF 174.500 : SM Title
Summary: Hitman, Punisher
Arc: Part 1 of "The Hitman's Back in Town!"
Editor:  Len Wein
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Jim Mooney, Tony DeZuniga
Cover Art:  Ross Andru
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 Reprinted In: Essential Punisher #1
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #216 (Story 1)
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #8
Articles: Flash Thompson, Glory Grant, Green Goblin III (Dr. Hamilton), Hitman, Jameson, J. Jonah, The Punisher, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"

The Punisher has been following a trail of terrorists (a group called the "People's Liberation Front") and it leads him right to the 34th Street Armory in New York City just in time to encounter a half-dozen heavily-armed bad guys with stockings covering their faces who are sneaking out carrying some very big purloined weapons. The Punisher comes swinging down from above on a rope attached to a grappling hook (doing his best Spidey impression) but the terrorists spot him. One turns his immense machine gun on the vigilante and starts shooting. But the Punisher comes in shooting as well. His shots hit the machine gunner who ends up firing wildly as he falls. Those stray shots take out another of the terrorists. A third member of the group leaps at the Punisher, grabbing him by the leg. The Punisher gets back on his rope and swings the leg-hugger into a fourth member of the squad, knocking them both out. The last two bad guys load up a bazooka. The Punisher has a perfect shot at both of them but his gun comes up empty, leaving him a sitting duck for the bazooka shot. He only has a second before the weapon is fired. Swiftly, he shakes the grappling hook free from the railing to which it is attached, swings it down, and uses it to yank the bazooka up in the air. The bazooka shot goes straight up, hitting the catwalk and bringing down a rain of debris. When everything settles, only one man is left standing (and you can guess who it is).

The Punisher surveys the damage and discovers that one of the terrorists is still alive. He removes the stocking from the terrorist's head and discovers that the survivor is a woman. She comes to, sees the Punisher standing above her, pulls out a knife and tries to "cut out [his] heart!" But the Punisher is a tough nut and he easily holds off the knife thrust by grabbing the woman by the wrist. He wants information about the People's Liberation Front. When the terrorist refuses to tell him, the Punisher twists her wrist hard, forcing her to cry out in pain and drop the knife. The Punisher is quite confident that, by the time he is done, the information about the terrorist group will be his.

Elsewhere, the Amazing Spider-Man returns home after a grueling battle with the Molten Man (in ASM #173, October 1977). He scales the wall of his apartment building in a small alley that conceals his presence. He gets to his window and, suddenly, his spider-sense starts tingling. Someone is inside his apartment and opening the window! Next thing he knows, he gets a bucketful of "filthy ammonia water" right in the face. The culprit is his landlady, Mrs. Muggins, who is making the rounds on her cleaning day. Spidey is just glad she is done with her work and is leaving the apartment without noticing him.

As soon as Mrs. Muggins is gone, Spidey enters through the window and pulls off his mask. When he pulls off his shirt, the ammonia gets into the bullet wound on his shoulder (received when a hospital security guard got trigger-happy back in ASM #173) and stings like crazy. Pete just is thankful that the bullet only caused a flesh wound. "The way my luck usually runs", he says, "it could have been fatal!"

And, in a vacant lot in Brooklyn, two men are having a meeting. One is dressed in a blue suit with a red tie. The other one is the Hitman. Blue Suit tells the Hitman that he represents the People's Liberation Front. Over the last few weeks, the PLF has been concerned by a series of newspaper editorials that they feel "are damaging to our image". They want the writer of these editorials kidnapped by the Hitman and brought to them. They want this done within forty-eight hours. Blue Suit has a photo of the victim that he shows to the Hitman. It is a bright-eyed, smiling photo of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson.

The next morning, college student Peter Parker steps out of his apartment on his way to school. He is preoccupied with his failing grades, fearing they will keep him from graduating with his class, and he considers talking to the Dean about them. But before he even leaves his doorstep, Harry Osborn and Flash Thompson approach, telling him they are glad they caught him before he left. They need to talk because Harry's fiancé, Liz Allen, who has moved out of her apartment without telling Harry, leaving no forwarding address. (This is also a result of the previous issue's battle with the Molten Man. Molty is Liz Allen's stepbrother and when he appears to die at the end of the issue, Liz blames herself. She runs off screaming, "I'm the one who killed him, Harry, just as I seem to destroy everything I care for... Everything!!") Flash, sticking up for Harry, tells Pete that "Liz didn't care enough for Harry to stand by him" and that "maybe Harry's better off without her". But Harry doesn't think so. Just hearing this sends him into a rage. He leaps at Flash and starts to strangle him, telling him to "take that back... or I'll kill you!!" Flash is too stunned to defend himself. Pete steps in and tries to pull Harry away but the pain flares up in his shoulder wound and he doesn't accomplish much. But then Flash apologizes for his statement and Pete assures Harry that "all either of us wants to do, pal, is help". Harry buries his face in his hands, ready to crack. "No one can help me now", he whimpers, "No one except Liz." Flash and Peter realize that Harry is too heartbroken for them to be much help. They feel the only person who can help is Harry's psychiatrist, Dr. Barton Hamilton. So, they hail a cab and accompany Harry to "a plush clinic on Manhattan's Upper East Side".

At the clinic, Dr. Hamilton puts Harry on the couch and administers a sedative. As Harry sleeps, Hamilton asks the two men for information on this latest crisis. Peter tells him about Liz and the Molten Man. Hamilton tells Pete and Flash that Harry's "mental stability is still very precarious". He's afraid that a trauma like this could set Harry back months. So, Hamilton ushers the two men to the door, promising to do his best for Harry. He shakes hands with Pete, and then smokes his pipe as he watches Pete and Flash through his office window. "So that's Peter Parker, eh?" he thinks, "He doesn't look a bit like I imagined he would. Not a bit!"

Flash and Pete separate, with Pete going to Empire State University, even as J. Jonah Jameson and Dr. Marla Madison get out of a cab at the Daily Bugle. The two have started dating after collaborating on a Spider-Slayer that took on the webhead in ASM #167-168 (April-May 1977). Jonah brings Marla up to his office. He tells his secretary Gloria Grant that he is taking Dr. Madison on a tour of the building. "You sure you know your way around?" Gloria asks him. Jonah puts on his best face to impress Marla. "Other publishers would happily fire her for a remark like that" he says, "but not J. Jonah Jameson". A smiling Marla notes, "You do seem to have an exceptional rapport with your employees, Jonah."

The couple enter Jonah's office with JJJ gassing on about making employees feel "that his office is their home away from home" but his attitude changes in a hurry when he sees that someone is sitting in his chair with their feet propped up on a window sill. He rushes into the fray, bellowing, "If you don't get your brassy butt out of my chair, I'm going to..." only to be interrupted by a nasty-looking pistol pointed right at his gut. The man in the chair is the Hitman and he tells the publisher "You, Mr. Jameson, are about to be kidnapped!"

Jameson raises his hands high in the air and sweat immediately breaks out on his forehead. He starts babbling, wondering, "Why would anyone want me? I mean, I don't even like me all that much!" and offering alternate kidnap victims ("How about Bushkin over at the Globe... I doubt anyone would ever even miss him!") In contrast, Marla Madison is cool as ice. While Jonah keeps the Hitman occupied, Marla slides over and flips the "on" switch on the intercom. Outside the office, Gloria Grant, Joe Robertson, and other staffers overhear the whole thing.

But the intercom also gives off an echo and the Hitman notices it. In one swift motion, he fires a bullet into the intercom, grabs Jameson by his tie, throws the publisher to the ground and stick a foot in his chest. In the City Room, Glory calls security. And who should be just getting off the elevator (after having gotten no help from the Dean and realizing he'll "have to take make-up courses)? Why, it's none other than Peter Parker!

Robbie tells Pete that "an armed gunman [is] holding Jonah hostage in his office" and by the time Pete realizes it isn't a joke, the security guards arrive. Glory happens to mention that the gunman is called "the Hitman" (which is not a glitch, by the way. Glory knows his name because Jonah uses it when they are listening on the intercom. I just chose not to mention it.). Hearing that, Pete makes his excuses ("I'll only be in the way around here.") because he knows he must sneak off and become Spider-Man!

Back in the office, the Hitman holds Jonah to the ground while he trains his pistol on Marla (who has her hands clasped on top of her head). The assassin tells Marla that her little stunt with the intercom has made things "very difficult". He tells her, "If anything terminal happens to Jameson now, it will be your fault!"

In a storage room, Pete changes into his Spidey outfit. He knows there is no way into Jonah's office from the inside (aside from the door) so he chooses to wall-crawl on the outside. At the same time, the Punisher uses his grappling hook and rope to scale down the wall from the Daily Bugle roof. He has finally gotten information from his PLF hostage. She has told him that the PLF's next victim will be JJJ but she doesn't know when the hit will take place. The Punisher has been watching Jameson's office but somehow the Hitman has snuck in without him noticing. But, now alerted to the danger, the Punisher positions himself outside Jonah's window, even as Spidey climbs out of a vent leading outside and runs along the wall on an adjacent side of the building.

Then it all happens at once. The Punisher bursts through a window into Jameson's office. Spidey bursts in a window around the corner from the Punisher's entrance. Spidey tackles the Hitman who loses his hold on Jameson when Jonah's tie snaps off in his hand. The Punisher is ready to put an end to the Hitman but he doesn't dare fire with the wall-crawler in his line of fire. The Hitman pushes Spider-Man aside (injuring Spidey's shoulder again) which opens up the shot for the Punisher... except he runs right into Marla Madison who is suddenly in his way. Outside the office, the two security guards (one of whom is named "Benny"... I always like to give these minor characters their credits) hear the commotion and bust down the door. They see Spidey on top of the Hitman who is on top of JJJ's desk with Jonah cowering below them and all they know is that Spider-Man has a hand in all this. This distracts Spidey enough so that he takes his eyes off the Hitman, which allows the Hitman to punch him right in the jaw, then kick up his legs and vault Spidey into the two security men.

Sweating and wild-eyed, Jonah tries to take advantage of the confusion and slip away but he doesn't get far. Before he knows it, the Hitman has snagged him by the back of his suit jacket and pulled him into custody again. When Benny tells the Hitman to put up his hands, the Hitman tells him to put down his gun before he snaps Jonah's "scrawny neck like a twig!" (Okay, I don't know for sure if it's Benny since the two guys look alike. It could be Benny.) Jonah hurriedly tells Benny to do what the Hitman says. But the other guard has other ideas. He thinks he can take the Hitman so he tries to move in. Spidey punches the other guard out to keep him from endangering Jonah and ends up wrenching his injured shoulder again. The Hitman pulls Jonah up off the floor and fires off a shot, hitting Benny. (And what is the Punisher doing all this time? Looks like he's having a tango lesson with Marla.) Following up, the Hitman pulls out a tear gas canister and tosses it at Spidey, Marla, and the Punisher.

The Punisher is always prepared for such eventualities, of course, and he whips out a gas mask and squeezes his eyes shut tight. Spidey whips up a mask out of webbing. The lenses in his regular mask keep the gas from his eyes. When the smoke clears, Marla and the two guards are reeling from the gas attack. (And don't worry about Benny. According to the Punisher, "The wounded guard will live.") The Hitman and his captive are gone.

Somehow, Spidey and the Punisher seem to know that the Hitman has traveled up to the roof instead of down to the ground. (I see no evidence that suggests that they should know this. I also see no evidence as to how the Hitman carried JJJ up to the roof.) So, while the Punisher takes the stairs, the wall-crawler crawls the outside wall. He is still favoring his right shoulder though he notes that the wound is "improving". When Spidey gets to the roof, he finds the Hitman pushing Jonah toward a "miniature two-man helicopter" that he has summoned there by remote control. When the Hitman sees the web-slinger, he pulls out his pistol but Spidey clogs up the barrel with a precise webbing shot. The webhead follows up with a web shot right into the Hitman's goggles, blinding him. Jonah, deciding, "they're both crazy", tries to run away. He already has his hands tied behind his back by the Hitman making his wrists an easy target for Spider-Man, who snags JJJ there with some webbing and starts reeling him in. (Spidey claims he is doing this to save Jonah, but I don't know about that. Wouldn't he have served Jonah better by just letting him run to safety?) Jonah struggles against the webbing, so Spidey attaches another line to JJ's shirt. The web-spinner has noticed that the Hitman has cleaned the webbing off his goggles (How?) so time is of the essence. He rushes over to the terrified publisher and tries to scoop him up in his arms. Too late. The Hitman leaps on Spidey from behind, releasing the wall-crawler's hold on Jameson. Spidey turns and punches the Hitman in the jaw but the mercenary responds with a tough left hand punch that knocks Spidey backwards. He follows up with a two-handed crunch right on Spidey's spine that knocks our hero down to the ground. The wall-crawler blames his shoulder (which has thrown him off and "gave Hitman the edge") but, regardless of the reason, his head is spinning and he can't get to his feet. (Yes, the story requires it but no, I don't believe the normal-powered Hitman could stagger Spidey even if the wall-crawler is having problems with the injury to his shoulder.) While Spidey is floundering, the Hitman grabs Jonah and drags him to the mini-helicopter.

So, the copter takes off before Spidey can even get to his feet. Only then does the Punisher arrive by the stairway. (Where's he been? Down below still messing around with Marla Madison?) He yells at the Hitman to "bring that copter down" before he forces it down. "I've been waiting for this for a long, long time" adds the Punisher. This comment makes the Hitman realize that the Punisher recognizes who he is. So he pulls out his rifle and starts clicking off shots at the Punisher. The Punisher responds with automatic rifle fire of his own. Spidey still hasn't gotten to his feet but he yells at the Punisher to stop. It's not his own safety that concerns him. Rather, he knows that one stray bullet could accidentally kill J. Jonah Jameson!

Overall Rating...

The characterisations are not quite true, and the story seems full of frenetic energy but very little substance. Two and a half webs for this part.