Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #175

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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...

We conclude our two-part review of the second Hitman storyline, as we began in our looking back on Amazing Spider-Man #174.

In Detail...

"Big Apple Battleground!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #175
Dec 1977 : SMURF 175.500 : SM Title
Summary: Hitman, Punisher
Arc: Part 2 of "The Hitman's Back in Town!"
Editor:  Len Wein
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Jim Mooney
Cover Art:  Ross Andru
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Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Essential Punisher #1
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #217 (Story 1)
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #8
Articles: Glory Grant, Green Goblin III (Dr. Hamilton), Hitman, Jameson, J. Jonah, The Punisher, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"

It may be the next issue but no time has passed since the end of the last one. The copter is still just lifting off the roof and the Punisher and Hitman are still firing their guns at each other. Spidey is even still yelling that a stray shot could hit JJJ. The Hitman finds irony in the situation. He is only being paid to abduct Jonah and here the publisher might be killed by his "own friends". One of the Punisher's shots hits the underside of the helicopter, sending out smoke but he never gets a chance to follow up that shot because Spidey, now standing, shoots out his webbing, snags the Punisher's gun, and ruins his aim. Too late, the Punisher tells Spidey that he would never have hit Jonah Jameson because he was aiming for the engine. So, Spidey must act fast. He pulls out a spider-tracer and throws it at the fleeing copter. The pain flares up in his shoulder as he throws, which ruins his aim but the tracer still makes it, clinging to one of the helicopter's wheels. The Punisher is not impressed. He tells Spidey that the Hitman is "an electronics wizard in his own right" who will "render [the tracer] useless" if he spots it. Far better, according to the Punisher, to "follow while we still can". (And what has become of the webline that was attached to Punny's rifle? It's just flat-out gone.) But the two men have forgotten about the building security guards.

Now, presumably this is not Benny and his friend unless they are possessed of some mutant healing factor that allows them to recover from gunshot wounds and tear gas. No, this is a whole other batch entirely. Two of them jump on the back of the Punisher and two more try to tackle the webhead. Neither hero is very gentle with them. Punny clocks one in the snoot with his rifle while punching the other one in the face. Spidey kicks one in the jaw while throwing the other one down so that his head smacks the roof with a "whudd!" But then four more guards show up and proceed to draw their guns. So, Spidey shoots two weblines, hands one to the Punisher and, with the guards shooting at them from the roof, the unlikely allies both web-swing away.

Much later, after the guards have all given up (and with a big old full moon in the sky), Gloria Grant and Robbie Robertson try to cheer up Dr. Marla Madison in J. Jonah Jameson's office. (Welcome to the wonderful world of Merry Marvel awesome alliteration!) Marla is stretched out on the couch and she apologizes to Robbie for crying. Robbie tells her she "wouldn't be human if [she] didn't experience some sort of reaction" and before you know it, the two are on a first name basis. Glory offers Marla some hot tea, telling her not to worry because "JJJ can take care of himself" and before you know it these two are also on a first-name basis. They all end up sitting on the couch. Robbie assures Marla that Jonah "was kidnapped for a reason" and that the Bugle will "do whatever we have to do without hesitation to get the boss back safe and sound". Marla notes that Robbie really does care about JJ and Robbie confesses that he does. "Don't let it embarrass you, Robbie" Marla says, "So do I!"

In the meanwhile, Spidey and the Punisher have carefully doubled back to the Bugle building and picked up the Punisher's War Wagon (which is just a big minivan filled with all sorts of gadgets). The Punisher drives out of Manhattan while Spidey rides shotgun (you should pardon the expression) following the trail of his spider-tracer. He tells the Punisher to "hang a left at the next corner" then notes that it looked to him as if Punny and the Hitman knew each other. The Punisher admits that the Hitman saved his life once and, with only the slightest prompting from Spider-Man, launches into the tale.

It seems that the Punisher served as a Sergeant in the army in Viet Nam. (Or at least he did at the time of this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if, all these years later, that fact has been retconned out of the Punisher's history, since he would have to be about fifty years old by now.) Anyway, one day he is out on patrol "seeking out Viet Cong infiltrators" when his squad is caught in an ambush. The VC rise up out of the grass and attack. Punny's men are getting shot down all around him. He orders them to fall back and find some cover but when he tries to follow them, he is caught in an explosion. "A grenade... a mine... I never knew which." Whatever has hit him, the Punisher lies on the jungle floor, his clothes in tatters (looking very Sgt. Fury-like), as the Cong come out of the smoke and prepare to finish him. But before they do, another gun barks out from within the jungle and the VC are either shot down or run for their lives. The rescuer comes out of the jungle, grabs the Punisher by his backpack and drags him "into the bush as if [he] were a child". When the weakened Punisher asks how he can ever repay him, the soldier replies, "Just remember that you owe me a life." That soldier was Lieutenant Burt Kenyon who, "two months later... was declared mentally unfit and discharged from the service". And, though he always suspected, it wasn't until the moment on the roof when they met face-to-face that the Punisher was certain that Burt Kenyon and the Hitman are once and the same.

Just as the Punisher finishes his story, Spidey tells him to pull over. His spider-sense is tingling like crazy, which means that the tracer is very near. He finds it by the side of the road. It looks like it eventually fell off the helicopter after all. This disheartens Spidey but the Punisher points out that the nearby broken foliage shows that the mini-helicopter landed nearby. He points to a path leading to a farmhouse that serves as evidence that the copter was then dragged over to that farm. (But why not just land the mini-copter right next to the farmhouse and avoid leaving a path?)

Over on the Upper East Side, psychiatrist Barton Hamilton is having an evening session with his patient Harry Osborn. Barton asks Harry why he thinks Liz has left him. Harry replies that Liz "didn't think she was good enough for me". Bart thinks it may be "the other way around... that you thought perhaps you were too good for her". This comment, along with a mention of his "delusions of grandeur in the past" royally cheeses Harry off. Yelling that, "Nobody talks to Harry Osborn that way", he gets off the couch and approaches Hamilton's desk. Bart tries to tell Harry not to let his temper get the better of him but Harry isn't listening. "You arrogant fool!" he shouts, "You dared to insult me and the woman I love and now you are going to pay for it!" And saying this, he leaps right over the desk and goes for Hamilton's throat. His leap knocks the lamp off the desk and the office is plunged into darkness. (For no other reason than to deprive you, the reader, of a clear look.) Then two shadowy figures pound on each other behind the desk, "trading blows that would fell the strongest professional prizefighter". Finally, one figure lies unconscious on the floor while the other gloats above him. "It is over!" says the winner, "The only one who could possibly oppose me is finally beaten! Now, at last, the time has come for the Green Goblin to live again!"

At the farm, two goons have been given the task of fixing the Hitman's mini-copter. Morty (the white guy) and Ralph (the black guy) have the copter in a shed. Morty is whining about the job, thinking the Hitman should fix it himself. Ralph hears something and goes to check it out. A few minutes pass and Ralph does not come back so Morty takes an automatic rifle off a hook on the wall and goes to investigate. He finds Ralph strung up in the rafters by his wrists. The substance holding him up (and serving as a gag on his mouth) is Spider-Man's webbing. Before Morty can get over his surprise, two web streams grab him by the heels and he is yanked upside down. The Punisher and Spider-Man come out of hiding, then. The Punisher tells Morty they're "going to have a pleasant little chat". Morty is more than willing to give out information.

And at that same time, a "sleek speedboat" races underneath what writer Len Wein describes as the "wide-spread legs" of the Brooklyn Bridge. (Len! Tsk, tsk.) On the speedboat are the Hitman, J. Jonah Jameson and Blue Suit from the PLF (now dressed in a green turtleneck). Green Turtleneck mentions JJ's editorials opposing the PLF, informing the publisher, "they're about to be the death of you". Jonah, man of integrity that he is, offers to write a new set of editorials if he is released but Green Turtleneck tells him it is already too late. "I'm afraid your death is necessary," he says, "to serve as an example to others of your ilk!" Faced with certain death, Jonah gets tough, tells GT to do his worst and emphasizes that "every single word I wrote about the PLF is absolutely true". By then, the boat has reached its destination... the Statue of Liberty!

The boat (which is named "Kismet", by the way) pulls up just shy of the Liberty Island Pier and is immediately met by the island police. They shine flashlights into the boat. The Hitman hides in the shadows with JJJ, holding the publisher at gunpoint so that he won't cry out. Green Turtleneck hails the police and tells them that he has come to see the Statue of Liberty. The police tell him "the statue is closed for the night" and order him to shove off. Green Turtleneck appears to comply but, as he comes around, he and the Hitman toss bombs filled with "somna-gas" at the cops that "will keep those capitalist puppets out of our hair for several hours". As soon as the police are knocked out, GT, the Hitman, and a half-dozen soldiers pile out of the boat, dragging J. Jonah Jameson with them.

One of the soldiers rushes ahead and comes back to report that the statue is deserted. Now that they are ready to go, Green Turtleneck reveals the plan to Jonah. "We intend to plant high explosives throughout the statue," he says, "then we're going to destroy this symbol of the people's oppression with you [Jonah] standing squarely on top of it!" Green T. orders two soldiers (Frank and Milo) to stay below while the rest of the group goes into the statue.

So, Frank and Milo hang out below. Milo whines to Frank that they always draw guard duty. He wants to be in on the action. He's about to get his wish because Frank hears the sound of an engine, looks up in the sky and sees the Hitman's mini-copter flying across that big old full moon. Milo figures that Ralph and Morty must have fixed it and have decided to bring it over even though they were ordered to stay behind at the farm. Too late, Frank and Milo realize that the passengers are not Ralph and Morty, but the Punisher and Spider-Man. The Punisher guns the guards down before landing the copter, using his mercy-bullets (which incapacitate rather than kill), of course, at Spidey's insistence.

Meanwhile up in the statue's torch, the Hitman and Green Turtleneck see the helicopter's arrival. They have left Jonah Jameson sitting on the top of Lady Liberty's head with his hands tied behind his back and Jonah sees Spidey's arrival, too. He can't believe that the web-slinger has come to rescue him after everything he's ever done to him. (And, let's acknowledge JJ's calmness in the face of danger, here. The guy is sitting on top of the Statue of Liberty's head with nothing to keep him from slipping off. Do you have any idea how high that is? Do you have any idea what kinds of crosswinds can come whipping across that island? I nearly freaked out just standing at the top of the platform!)

Back at the entrance, Spidey webs up Frank and Milo. The Punisher decides to attack by going up inside the statue. Spidey will use his wall-crawling abilities to climb up the outside. The Punisher hits the button for the elevator, alerting the guards waiting above. Three men train their guns on the elevator, waiting for the car to arrive and the doors to open. As soon as that happens, they cut loose, spraying the car with bullets. But the elevator is empty. It has all been misdirection. While the guards waited for the elevator, the Punisher has come up the stairs (really fast and he's not even breathing hard!). Before the three soldiers know what has hit them, the Punisher guns them down from behind.

Outside, Spidey has gotten about halfway up, keeping beneath the torch so that the Hitman can't get a shot at him. Jonah sees the whole thing from the top of the statue's head and he can't understand why Spidey is risking his life. He actually wonders, "All these years, could I have been wrong about him?" Spidey is halfway wondering why he's doing this for JJJ, too. But he knows the reason. With great power comes great responsibility. "My own Uncle Ben died because I once stood by and did nothing" he thinks, "and I can never let anyone, not even Jameson, suffer for my indifference again!"

Up on the torch, the Hitman decides that the "entire operation has gone sour". His contract was to "deliver Jameson" and since he has done that, he decides to take his leave. He starts to summon his mini-copter by remote control but Green Turtleneck objects. He pulls a gun and points it at the Hitman. "Tonight the PLF strikes a symbolic blow against the people's oppression" he says, "and if we all must die so that our mission can succeed, then so be it!" (Getting a little too close to home, people? Tell me about it!) The Hitman doesn't take to this threat very well. Swiftly, he pulls his rifle, tells GT "If you're all that anxious to die, friend, I'm more than happy to oblige you" and blows the terrorist away!

The Hitman's mini-copter has almost reached the torch but so has Spider-Man. The Hitman is forced to leap over to his copter before it gets close enough for an easy boarding. He hangs from the side of it, holding on with both hands. Spidey, just reaching the summit, leaps too and grabs the Hitman by his left leg. This keeps the Hitman from pulling himself up into the copter. To make matters worse, Spidey's extra weight throws the copter off-balance. It tilts and tumbles. The Hitman yells at Spidey to let go but it is already too late. The copter falls and crashes on the crown on Lady Liberty's head. The two costumed foes also land on the head but while Spidey lands on his back, the Hitman lands on his feet. The assassin has one final card to play. He hoofs right over to J. Jonah Jameson and pulls the publisher up in front of him; using JJJ as a shield, threatening to "blow Jameson's head off" if the wall-crawler pulls anything.

Spidey gets to his feet but his head is spinning and his injured shoulder is throbbing again. Trying not to reveal his sorry condition to the Hitman, Spidey raises a hand with the intent of shooting some webbing. He tells the Hitman he is calling the bluff. He doesn't believe the killer will knock off Jameson. "If he does, there'll be nothing standing between the Hitman and me!" The Hitman responds by firing his rifle at the web-spinner. Spidey's spider-sense tingles but he is slow to react. By all appearances, Spider-Man is shot, falling off the top of the Statue of Liberty.

Just then, the Punisher shinnies up from the crown's tourist lookout to the top of the head. (And there's no Marla Madison around to use as an excuse for his lateness this time!) He vows to avenge Spider-Man's death and trains his gun on the Hitman, who responds by training his gun on Jonah Jameson's head. The Hitman tries to talk the Punisher into teaming up with him but Punny will have none of it. "The discussion time is over, my friend," says the Hitman, "Put your weapon down now, Punisher, or Jameson is a dead man!"

The Punisher hates to comply but he sees no choice. He has "sworn no innocent would ever become a victim of my private war against the underworld even if it meant losing my own life instead", so he carefully sets his rifle down. But while the Hitman's attention is directed at the Punisher, Spider-Man leaps up from behind and pulls JJJ away from him. The Hitman is amazed that the web-spinner is still alive but he should know better. As Spidey puts it, "I back-flipped out of the way just as you pulled the trigger then used my trusty webbing to swing up behind you". Simple. The Hitman recovers quickly and starts shooting at Spidey and JJ. The web-slinger is forced to leap out to one of the spikes on the statue's crown but again he has neglected his bad shoulder. He ends up hanging onto Jameson by the collar of his jacket while hanging onto the spike with his bad arm... and the wound in his shoulder is making his whole arm go numb.

The Hitman plans to finish them but the Punisher has retrieved his rifle and he orders his old army comrade to quit. When the Hitman fails to comply, the Punisher shoots him with his mercy bullets. The shots knock the Hitman off the statue's head and he, too, winds up hanging onto a crown spike for dear life.

The Punisher looks from one helpless man to the other. The Hitman reminds him that he owes Lieutenant Burt Kenyon a life. Spidey yells out that he is starting to lose his grip. The Punisher knows he only has time to save one of them. The sweat breaks out on his brow as he makes his decision. Even as Spidey says, "Can't feel my fingers anymore, starting to slip..." the Punisher comes over and pulls the web-slinger and Jameson to safety. He tells Kenyon to hang on but the Hitman knows he won't last. "Besides" he says, "you've already made your choice! I told you you owed me a life, soldier... but I never said it had to be mine! (Huh?) Looks like... we're even." And so saying, the Hitman loses his grip and falls to his death on the platform below.

The three men look down at Kenyon's broken body. The Punisher thinks the whole thing "was all for nothing!" adding, "What a terrible waste!" But Spidey thinks, "Maybe this is what he really wanted all along. Maybe he's finally at peace!" The Punisher hopes Spidey is right. For the Hitman, "the war is finally over!" But the Punisher thinks, "my war, God help me, may go on forever!"

In General...

Jonah's new positive opinion of the wall-crawler only lasts until page 2 of the following issue (ASM #176, January 1978), when he says to Spidey, "For all I know you could have set up that whole thing, my kidnapping by the Hitman and the rest, just to make yourself look good." By page three, the wall-crawler has pushed JJJ into the chair behind his desk and spun it around hard. A dizzy Jonah barks threats out the window to a departing Spidey and all is well with the world once again.

On the page after that, Peter Parker wakes up in the morning to find that his shoulder has healed without even leaving a scar. "Guess all I needed was a good night's sleep so I could recuperate" he says, "Maybe there are some advantages to having spider-powers after all!"

The People's Liberation Front never appears again (as far as I can tell).

The man who won the fight in the office and declared himself to be the Green Goblin is revealed (in ASM #179-180, April-May 1978) to be Dr. Barton Hamilton. He ends up getting himself blown up.

And, as for Lieutenant Burt Kenyon... Let's face it. The Hitman got a raw deal. Not only is he dead after only four issue appearances (and not likely to be revived) but his finale is completely overshadowed by the subsequent five-issue return of the Green Goblin. Well, at least he finally got his own lookback, anyway. I've done what I can for you, man! Ah Burtie, we hardly knew ye.

Overall Rating...

Do you get the feeling that the sole reason this story was written was just to get rid of the Hitman? The most interesting parts of these issues are the Harry Osborn subplot leading up to the Green Goblin and the fact that Jonah Jameson can stand on the top of the head of the Statue of Liberty without even batting an eye. Two and a half webs again.