Friday, February 3, 2017

Soldier Of Misfortune


Name This Marvel Villain??

We have the Harlem crime lord, Morgan, to thank for setting the wheels in motion for meeting our mystery villain. Morgan, who was looking to expand his operations into Manhattan to take advantage of the current power vacuum left by the absence of the Kingpin and Hammerhead in the city's criminal hierarchy, had discovered that the Vulture was feathering his nest in his neck of the woods and was keen on making the winged criminal his ally. Unfortunately, it becomes painfully clear to Morgan that the Vulture flies alone.

Given what Morgan has learned from the Vulture's raging words concerning Spider-Man, he decides that the way to get even with the Vulture is to take out Spider-Man before the Vulture can do so. And so he decides to hire a hit man to do the job, an A-lister whose reputation in the underworld syndicate precedes him. Biding his time, Morgan waits for his opportunity, which comes when the Vulture attempts to bait Spider-Man into a confrontation by taking hostages--and we discover that the identity of Morgan's hired gun and the man's profession are one and the same.

The Hitman might appear as little more than a well-armed mercenary, but we'll see that there's a little more to his background than simply being a killer-for-hire.

To accomplish his mission the way Morgan has specified, the Hitman must wait for the moment (assuming it comes) when the Vulture has Spider-Man at his mercy and is about to deliver the killing blow--a moment which finally arrives when Spidey attempts to exploit a vulnerability in the Vulture, one which his foe has learned to compensate for and even depend upon to gain his advantage.

A dramatic entrance by the Hitman, to be sure--but one the Vulture has no intention of seeing the intruder capitalize on. And though weakened, Spider-Man also tries to continue the fight, though he finds the Hitman's training to be as formidable as his weaponry.

The Vulture flees in pain, while Spider-Man decides to abstain from further pursuit in order to recover. Morgan, of course, makes his disappointment known to the Hitman in no uncertain terms--but the Hitman remains confident that he can finish the job to Morgan's satisfaction.

With the aid of hidden trackers on both the Vulture and Spider-Man, the Hitman lures the Vulture to Spider-Man's location and again waits for the proper moment to deprive the Vulture of his kill. But it turns out that Spider-Man has a plan of his own.

With the Vulture dealt with, Spider-Man immediately pivots to going after the Hitman--but after firing off shots to gain time, the Hitman escapes to take aim another day, while the Vulture is taken into police custody.

We catch up with the Hitman just a few months later when he takes a gig with the People's Liberation Front, a terrorist group that's been written up in scathing editorials by J. Jonah Jameson. The Hitman's assignment is to kidnap Jameson, who will be taken by the PLF to the Statue of Liberty and forced to stand helplessly on its head while the PLF detonates the entire statue.

The Hitman is nothing if not confident--and so, instead of crafting some elaborate plan to intercept Jameson somewhere, the Hitman goes straight to the source and plants himself in Jameson's office at the Daily Bugle, where, as it happens, Jameson is touring the premises with his new lady-friend, Dr. Marla Madison.

Fortunately, Peter Parker is present while all of this is going down, and makes a discrete exit in order to change to Spider-Man and wall-crawl his way to Jameson's office window. But another has also trailed the Hitman to the Bugle--the Punisher, who has his own business with the Hitman and who makes his entrance at the same time as Spider-Man. And when the Bugle's security men reach the office, the Hitman's plans are thrown into chaos. But chaos and disarray are things that the Hitman can apparently turn to his advantage with practiced ease.

The Hitman makes it to the roof with Jameson, where the mercenary's custom 'copter is waiting. In order to prevent the Hitman's escape, the Punisher begins firing on the airborne craft, forcing Spider-Man to disarm him for fear of a stray shot hitting Jameson--which gives the Hitman the chance he needs to escape, while Spidey and the Punisher find themselves having to deal with the security men who have rushed after them.

But Spider-Man has managed to attach one of his tracers to the 'copter, which allows himself and the Punisher to track the Hitman's movements. As they close in, the Punisher clues in Spider-Man on not only the Hitman's origin, but also why the Punisher is searching for him--a man he's sure was the soldier who rescued him when his unit was ambushed in Viet Nam during the war.

Meanwhile, the PLF has made it to Liberty Island--and while the soldiers secure the site, the group's leader and the Hitman take Jameson to the top of the Statue of Liberty. But before the explosives are rigged, Spider-Man and the Punisher arrive and begin their assault, taking out the PLF forces without much trouble and then closing in on Jameson's location. The Hitman, seeing the situation beginning to unravel, decides to part company with the PLF leader (by gunning him down)--but with Spider-Man's arrival, the Hitman secures the one man available who can yet turn things around for him.

The Hitman's ultimatum places the Punisher in an impossible situation. But before the Hitman can take advantage of it, Spider-Man, not so dead after all, makes his move--and eventually, the ball is thrown into the Punisher's court as to who lives, and who dies.

It's hard to buy Spider-Man's assessment of the Hitman wanting to meet his end, given how Kenyon was pleading with the Punisher to save him--even calling in the marker on how the Punisher owed him for his own life. It's more reasonable to instead go with the Punisher's thoughts on the subject--that the Hitman could have been using his resources to fight the same low-lifes that the Punisher and Spider-Man fought against, but instead offered his killing talents to anyone willing to meet his price and asking no questions. Perhaps the fact that even Jameson has nothing to add about the Hitman's end would make as fitting an epitaph for this man as any.


Anonymous said...

It is funny how some comics are really encapsulated memories of one's childhood. I was about six of seven when I bought that two-parter from Amazing that culminated on top of the Statue of Liberty. I still have them, ratty and well-read as they may be. The drama in those scenes just gripped me and I can still remember the shock at the fate of the Hitman, and young me pondering the guilt the Punisher must have felt for not saving the man who had saved his life. It is sad to see how deranged the character became by the time I quit reading comics some years back.

And Ross Andru defines the Spidey of my youth. What a wonderful artist he was.

Comicsfan said...

I think your point is well-taken, Anon, about how the Punisher's frame of mind changed from how it was first presented in ASM. Originally the Punisher simply appeared to be more driven (and, at times, ruthless) in his one-man crusade against criminals, but was given considerably more edge as a character once he segued to his own book(s), perhaps in order to justify his preference for and use of high-caliber weaponry. The Punisher we see here doesn't seem like the type to be mentally girded for all-out war that's designed to wipe out the criminal element and avenge his family's death; in fact his manner and choices at times seem in contrast with how heavily he arms himself. One presumably doesn't carry that kind of firepower without meaning to use it at every opportunity, and with extreme prejudice. But stay tuned, because we're about to see a little more of what makes the Punisher tick.

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