1994 Spider-Man #20-“Enter the Punisher” Review

In a world where the police use laser weapons and vampires suck plasma through their hands, one man rises from 1990s popularity to kick some serious butt.

Story By: John Semper and Carl Potts
Written By: Carl Potts
Music Composed By: Shuki Levy and Kussa Mahchi
Animation Services By: Toyko Movie Shinsha (TMS)

THE PLOT: After growing extra arms as a result of taking Dr. Crawford’s serum formula, Spider-Man tries his best to bring in Morbius. Thinking Spidey responsible for Morbius’ “kidnapping”, Frank Castle, a.k.a. The Punisher tries to bring Spidey to justice, Charles Bronsan style.

LONG STORY SHORT: Punisher knocks Spidey into a warehouse where the pain of the mutation disease gets to be too much for him. Spidey ends up turing into a giant man-spider creature and begins his attack!


MY THOUGHTS: In the past I’ve expressed disdain for this particular arc and season as a whole but it needs to be said right now that this episode is terrific. It is very well done in terms of writing, drama, action and all around entertainment, and I feel I need to eat some crow in how I rather bashed the season before watching it for the first time after several years. There’s some really good stuff found in this episode, and to be honest I had in my mind the transformation stuff happening much later than it does here. Oh well, that’s the trouble with nostalgia.

This is yet another episode that feels as though it was written comic book style, with the inciting force being shown at the very beginning while moving into the main plot in the second scene and so forth. This episode is very well paced in how it introduces the Punisher in one BA sequence of him taking down a gang of kidnappers, then shifting to Peter’s room immediately after the events of the last episode’s cliffhanger. It’s nice juxtaposition, and I really like how they worked in Peter’s love life with Mary Jane making a call-back to the Coney Island date and confronting Peter about avoiding her. This has been a subplot in every episode up to this one, but it doesn’t come off as forced whatsoever. It feels natural in how the main brunt of the season has been Spider-Man stuff, but Peter still has a life of his own when he takes the mask off. Now that the two personas have collided in his life, everything has become screwed up, and once again it’s not because Peter is a loser, it’s because his life as Spider-Man is what causes Peter’s personal life to just get shot to pieces. This is illustrated later in the episode where Jonah and Robbie are watching Spider-Man and the Punisher on television and they both wonder where Peter could possibly as they could not get in contact with him. Great stuff all around.

This is a fairly intense episode, and while not dark persay in it’s tone there’s very little room for comedic moments or scenes that require the characters to lighten up. Even still, this one does a great job with Spidey’s sense of humor and Peter’s inner monologue. The all time classic line will be referred to at the end, but some moments Spidey had with the Punisher were really good. Punisher threatening him with lethal force while being webbed to a brick wall prompted a nice sarcastic repsonse from Spidey, as well Spidey making fun of his appearance altogether. I also liked the quick scene with the police chasing the two and Terri Lee trying to describe the Punisher’s appearance, noting the skull on his chest was a design choice of his shirt, not a tattoo. That’s not really funny, but it’s amusing as an obervation gag, and realistic at the same time. It helped that the humor kept the show rolling and didn’t stop the episode dead for the sake of a throwaway gag. That’s the surefire sign of good writing, and it’s fitting since the writer of this episode, Carl Potts, has also written Punisher comics in the past.

What, you don’t drive around town watching television dressed like this?

Speaking of whom, let’s dig into Mr. Frank Castle. A notable translation from the comics to the cartoon, Punisher’s obviously a character who kind of forbids himself from ever appearing on a children’s cartoon. (Archie comics team-ups notwithstanding) If you can’t tell by the episode, or have somehow never heard of this character before, the Punisher kills people. A lot. A whole lot. The entire point of his character is to kill criminals until they can never live again. So naturally, for a show which can barely get away with Spider-Man kicking people let alone throwing a punch this posed a challenge. But first let’s hit up the design. A turquoise colored jumpsuit with the classic skull and a matching headband and beige trenchcoat. This probably upset a few nations of fans. Personally I can see how the design got there since in the comics at the time Frank was sporting a navy blue color swap of what you see here. The headband was not doubt from the Jim Lee era a few years prior to this, which was very popular.

In fact I’d be remiss in not metioning how INSANELY popular the Punisher was in the comics in the 80s and 90s. The easy answer to the question “Who’s the most popular character at Marvel” is typically Wolverine, but in the late 80s and early 90s it was the Punisher. This guy had about four ongoing monthly titles as well as a number of four issue miniseries  on top of all that. He guested in Daredevil and Amazing Spider-Man almost semi-regularly since the late seventies and early eighties, and most famously carried on a fifty-odd issue MAX series written by Garth Ennis. This is a character synonymous with the popularity of certain character overshadowing the reason that character should appear everywhere. So Punisher appearing in this cartoon really makes all the sense in the world considering the decade. That’s all besides the fact that the Punisher started out as a Spider-Man character created by Gerry Conway in the mid-seventies who would either mistake Spider-Man as a villain and go after him or team up with Spider-Man to battle Hitman and the Tarantula. What I’m getting at is that this is a well-trodded plot, Punisher chasing Spider-Man because the police are doing the same.

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But what of the translation of personalities? Was Castle’s true motives kept in tact? Honestly, I think so. There wasn’t ever a scene in the episode where he didn’t want to kill a crook, and he tries to several times. The opening scene where he silently walks towards the surrendering kidnapper, slowly pulling a gun out of his coat pocket and explaining why it makes no sense to let the guy live was pretty amazing. It was done in a way that wasn’t over the top and wouldn’t have the mothers of America calling the Broadcast Standards and Practices Psyche Ward. At the same time it kept the character the same by only seeking to complete termination of all criminals. His voice was pretty cool too, as he sounded on edge and even a slight, slight bit crazy in how cold and meticulous he could become.

To the people who thought this was one of the characters the series “butchered”, it really needs to be put into perspective. I don’t care what station it’s on, unless it’s Adult Swim you are not going to see a Marvel Comics character blatently mow down dozens and dozens of criminals with his dozens and dozens of guns and have it marketed towards children. You just aren’t. It’s like with Carnage in the next season, you’re not going to see the Carnage depicted in the miniseries “Carnage: Mind Bomb” shown in the cartoon rated TV-Y. (Y for “web-swinging fun for all ages” apparently) To the people who say that Punisher should just not have appeared on the cartoon in the first place…that’s a much better arguement, but with the level of great storytelling shown here, this episode proved that you can have the Punisher in an all-ages cartoon without 100% neutering him. Plus, it’s going back to a classic Marvel Team-Up. Punisher tends to deal with street characters like Spidey and Daredevil all the time, so it was only natural he’d make his way in here somehow. And it works well for the story.

Unfortunately that serves as an appropriate segue for what did not work well for the story, and my main negatives coming away from this one. Even then, they really aren’t all that important. The first one is actually kind of funny, the Punisher is fitted like the next GI JOE action figure to be sold as Toys-R-Us. I can buy him having a ton of weapons, and the Battle Van is right out the comics, but him having a ready-to-go jetpack and flying around the city cracked me up because it looked ridiculous. My main Punisher reading stems from the Conway stuff and the Ennis run, so I personally cannot account for this guy who’s virtually a comic book version of Charles Bronsan from Death Wish flying high in the sky. Just imagine Paul Kersey with his floppy hair, moustache and sixty plus years of life flying around in a jetpack like it’s nothing. That was funny, but ultimately stupid.  Another aspect about the Punisher that annoyed me was the portrayal of his 90s partner Microchip, or Micro, or Chip depending on if you’re a reader or watcher. This guy obviously has his head on screwed better than Castle does, but his constant plead to the Punisher to refrain from using lethal force got really annoying very quickly. It served as a point to illustrate how dangerous the Punisher was, but at the same time you get the impression that the two men have worked together for a long time. If Microchip has any sort of problem with Frank killing people, he’s sharing the rent with the wrong guy. I can understand him trying to coax Frank into just giving up crooks to the cops once and a while, but it really did come off as a bit too much.

I also didn’t like how the world pointed to Spider-Man and said “Get ‘im!” especially considering the fact that it obviously was Morbius and not Spider-Man they were seeing. That was borderline moronic, especially considering how the “Alien Costume pt.3” set up the fact that the “zoom” button on cameras do in fact exist. But what kept ticking me off about it was that everyone from Jameson to Felicia, to the reporters repeatedly said “That’s Spider-Man! Clearly! No one else could be him!” when Morbius has a completley different appearance. It was almost so bad it was funny, but it was just bad. And Felicia confirmed that she had zero reasons to blame Spider-Man for Morbius’ disappearance, but still very much hated him after he saved her life twice. Ugh.

Animation wise, this episode was a pleasant surprise. I don’t remember this episode being so slick with it’s detail and there was very little repeated animation, so that bumped the episode’s stock up IMO.

But the real beauty of the episode was once again the spectacular cliffhanger ending with the Punisher ending up face-to-face with the monster Man-Spider Spider-Man. For one, even though it was almost completely unecessary, I liked how they did the Uncle Ben/Powers flashback to have Peter re-determined in fighting until the bitter end. Things were getting pretty hot for him, but what made it even better was that even after the flashback the situation just kept getting worse and worse and worse. It’s why I like the scene in Spider-Man 2 where Peter remember’s the “Great Power” speech but chooses to ignore it anyway. It’s confronting a very obvious shtick in the Spider-Man mythos and choosing to meet it at face value. It’s quite different here where Spider-Man is left crawling on the floor writhing in pain and barely getting the words out “No…can’t..let it…end this way..!” while the Punisher is slowly coming to shoot him. What would Peter have done in that situation otherwise? And the transformation sequence was really very creepy as it was another unexpected turn of events. It ends the episode with the audience meant to feel worried for the Punisher, when ten seconds prior we were worried about Spider-Man. Really, really great stuff.

City of New York stupidity notwithstanding, this was a great episode. Can’t wait to get to the next one.

4.5/5 “MARY JAAANE!!!”s

In case you thought I was joking about the Archie/Punisher crossover

Best Quote Contender-

Spider-Man: *after seeing Punisher for the first time* “Hmm, let’s see..the outfit, the skull, the cliche, your name must be Bonehead!”

All images taken from Marvel.toonzone.com