Sunday, January 25, 2015

Marvel Collectors Item Classics #31: Marvel Preview #1 June 1975






By Professor Joe Tura



Marvel Preview was yet another black-and-white mag that hit the spinner rack/newsstand in 1975, promising "ALL NEW Illustrated Stories" and an eerie first cover by none other than Neal Adams. The usual editorial explaining what the heck this is all about is non-existent, but each issue of the what ended up being 24 seemed to feature a sci-fi story, Marvel hero or sword-and-sorcery character, until the winter of 1980, when the title changed to Bizarre Adventures (for some bizarre reason) and lasted another 10 issues. Issue #1 blasts off with two otherworldly tales and long articles on Erich von Däniken, the controversial Swiss author of Chariots of the Gods? among other books that explored extraterrestrials.

Our first story is "Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars", by the increasingly-prolific Doug Moench and Alex Nino (another one of Marvel's Filipino artist corps, also known for his work on the b&w mags), which posits whether or not "our planet was visited in eons past, by aliens from outer space" and if this was "one way in might have happened". And just reading the first page, I know I'm in for a long night, as there are about 5,000 words to try and get through. (Sigh…) Traveling on the Starcraft Nexus, Recorder Heralx,  Commander Raaman and aide Norg are among the crew who visit an oxygen-rich planet whose primitive inhabitants think they are gods from the sun. An interlude cuts to Peru in January 1975, and a pair of archeologists learn of a Peruvian legend similar to what we just witnessed. The shaman of the tribe is skeptical, thinking the visitors have come for their food, but the chief wins out and the visitors fly off to help find a more fertile region, a scene discovered on a cave painting in 1975 by the two explorers.

Examining the land with chest-lights, the visitors are found by the tribe, who offer them a sacrifice, but are terrified when Norg shines the light on them. But Raaman orders his away, earning the gratitude of the tribe, which is further mesmerized when a sabretooth attacks Raaman but can't penetrate his shield. The beast is enraged and attacks the tribe! A saddened Heralx and the visitors are not allowed to interfere—until Raaman shoots the creature with his blaster, saving a woman whom he orders taken to the shuttlecraft, against the protests of aide Norg. They take her to the Surgery Chamber, where she's probed, but soon released by Raaman, who accompanies her off the ship and makes love to her. The shaman of the tribe is chucked out, goes to "exorcise" the shuttlecraft and is told the truth, that the visitors are not gods, just men sent to observe their world, and he's given a device that his ancestors may understand one day (and is discovered in 1975 by the archeologists). Meanwhile, power-hungry Norg demands at gunpoint that he be allowed to walk among the primitives, where he shows off his "god-like" power, demands women and food, and slays the returning shaman with a blaster—which in turn causes the tribe to kill Norg! Finally, Raaman tells a sympathetic Heralx that the woman is with child.



Man, that's a long summary, but that's a long tale that was told. Some fabulously drawn panels by Nino (especially page 31) and an ambitious story that starts off slow, picks up a little steam and threatens to go into full cliché mode. It's generally OK, holds the interest for sure thanks to the interesting artwork, but it's hard to root for anyone, even the supposedly heroic Commander who really goes against the directive, interfering and seducing the tribeswoman. I wonder how he would have made out on the Enterprise

Next up is a short bio of Erich von Däniken, followed by Ed Summer's "book-length bonus section" exploring the "Theory of Extraterrestrialism" from Chariots of the Gods? and man, was I bored. Then Summer presents a "handy review" of related books in case you need to either tickle your fancy or cure your insomnia. (Sorry, this stuff is not in my wheelhouse.)

Our second tale, "Good Lord!", asks the question "what will happen when man himself takes another giant step into the black void, to walk as a god among the stars?" Marv Wolfman teams with Dave Cockrum and the Crusty Bunkers for this one, which also starts with a super-long caption that has me reaching for a cup of tea.

Turns out it's an Outer Limits-esque tale of five humans traveling the galaxy led by Dr. Archer Wilson, assistant Joan Carlin, pilot Bob King, navigator Jeff Chambers and co-pilot Colin Greene. They land on Altair IV and are attacked by a huge alien creature that kills and eats Greene and is finally brought down by a quartet of blasters and they fly away. Wilson is leading this expedition in search of proving the ancient concept of a supreme being, a god who created the universe. Landing on another planet, one that seems "too perfect", Joan is instantly nabbed by a gross-looking flying sting ray, that's killed by Bob, even though Dr. Wilson is hesitant due to "divine right of murder". Spotting a city, the group starts rafting towards it when Jeff is grabbed by a giant tentacle creature and ripped in half (literally!). They swim across to the gorgeous city and as they enter the palace, Joan is grabbed by a mutated jellyfish and quickly eaten (ewwwww…), and an angry Bob destroys the creature. Wilson and King enter a giant hall filled with many statues of gods, some familiar: Ra, Odin, Buddha, Moses, Jesus. Suddenly, a creature slithers from the shadows and is killed by Bob. Then, a black liquid oozes from it, which is the embodiment of death! It destroys Wilson's hand then starts to destroy the universe—they've killed God…



Wow, that was deep. And so freakin' depressing. Marv really goes for it, doesn't he, crafting a morality tale that's meant to leave you thinking. But along the way, we're left mostly with the cool artwork to be honest. Cockrum draws some super slimy creatures straight from Where Monsters Dwell, and some gruesome, cartoonishly gory deaths that would have Prof. Gilbert jumping up and down in excitement. A decent end to a very long mag that had me sympathizing with Prof. Tom and Dean Pete for their coverage of the endless (pun intended) monster and vampire mags. Now excuse me, as I look out the window to make sure no spaceships are landing in the courtyard…. – Joe Tura



Wednesday, January 21, 2015

June 1975 Part Two: Sif Gives Her Life?



The Incredible Hulk 188
"Mind Over Mayhem!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Herb Trimpe

The Hulk, S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Quartermain, General Ross, and a handful of soldiers are being held captive by the Gremlin inside of his secret headquarters in Siberia.  The ugly Russian dwarf shows off his newest mind-switching invention which he used to swap Major Talbot's mind (with that of an assassin) in a failed attempt to kill the President of the United States.  Talbot's mind is now wiped blank.  Inside their cell, Quartermain reveals to Ross that they have less then an hour to escape because the U.S., aware of the Russian's powerful new weapon, are going to use a satellite to blow up the Gremlin's base. Using a mini-explosive hidden underneath his fingernail, Quartermain blows their way to freedom.  Ross is able to convince the Hulk to join their side for Betty's sake.  The Gremlin has a dangerous creature that he orders attack The Hulk. The distraction gives Ross and the others enough time to escape to their invisible ship.  The satellite does its job and blows up the Siberian base.  The story ends with Ross worrying about how he is going to tell Betty that the Hulk is dead and that Talbot is basically a vegetable. -Tom McMillion



Chris Blake: We all know the Droogi-dog’s sole purpose here is to provide a sparring partner for the Hulk, right?  Odd choice by Len to make the dog so eloquent, especially considering the Gremlin’s limited vocabulary.  Touches of humanity: for the Hulk, in his selfless concern for Betty’s welfare, as he’s even willing to put old animosities aside – a bit of executive function at work for the Hulkster there, eh Len?  And, from battlin' T-Ross, who expresses genuine remorse that Greenskin (and with him, Dr Banner) might’ve bit it for their sake, when a lesser writer might’ve assumed that Ross would consider himself lucky to finally be rid of the Hulk menace.  


Herb’s art continues to suit the subject; I particularly enjoyed his little tableau of Bitterfrost’s blowin-up-real-good moment, especially the gaping crater that’s left behind (the Hulk might survive, but how could the Gremlin walk away from this one -?)
Scott McIntyre: Another fun, solid issue. The rescue mission doesn’t go as planned, and Talbot’s body is deprived of its mind. The Gaffer is an annoying dude. Every other word is “boychick” and “Nicky.” Add him to Clay Quartermain’s BS and you have the most grating staff Nick Fury ever put together. The art is fun and the Hulk cooperating with Ross is a nice touch. I always liked The Gremlin, but Droog – and his damned rhyming – was as annoying as Gaffer and Clay. Good stuff, but some of these character choices are questionable.

Matthew Bradley:  For just such occasions was the phrase “mixed bag” coined:  Staton has apparently found his niche inking Trimpe, which suggests that last issue was no fluke, whereas Wein’s script leads one to the opposite conclusion, e.g., the careless confusion in page 15, panel 5 over who is supposedly helping whom.  I guess Droogi is a case where either you like it or you don’t, and I don’t; having him be “tangerine-hued” and a genetically engineered triceratops/dog and a poet is just one weirdness too many.  But I reserve my special scorn this issue for letterer Simek, because even if we assume that spelling his own first name “Arty” on the splash page was a joke, there’s no excuse for ping-ponging relentlessly between “Psi-Clone” and “Psi-Phon.”





The Invincible Iron Man 75
"Slave to the Power Imperious!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Arvell Jones and Chic Stone
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia


As the Thinker unleashes his android, Iron Man is freed by damaged machinery from his control, only to be felled by “psycho-feedback” from a link with the Black Lama, whose war is intended to find him a champion. MODOK deactivates the android, kills the Thinker, and asserts his own control over the unconscious Avenger, while the Lama’s visions of a mysterious woman affect Firebrand, as well.  The Black Lama teleports MODOK to China, where he pits his armored “weapon” against the Claw’s robot and mutant minions, yet the foe trapped between the two is an illusion, and the real Claw destroys them both; the Thinker faked his and Iron Man’s death with other androids, but Iron Man’s link with said woman frees him from renewed control. -Matthew Bradley



Matthew: Shellhead has now returned to monthly status, difficult to justify on the basis of an issue most of which he spends in the grip of one external force or another; meanwhile, astute readers will have guessed the identity of the blonde who calls him “Tony.”  With Jones flying solo as penciler, and the inks shifting from one old Silver-Age hand (Ayers) to another (Stone), the resultant clash of styles seems no less violent than the WSV itself…which is not the only visual problem.  Granted, the Thinker’s androids may have special properties, but when he pitted this one against the FF in #71 (fondly recalled from Marvel’s Greatest Comics back in January), it seemed only slightly taller than Ben, and thus should never stand eye to eye with MODOK’s economy-size robo-bod.

Scott: A weird story with strange art and a lot of “Iron Man but not Iron Man” battles going on. That's Marianne Rodgers contacting Shellhead, right? Maybe there was some method to the madness of having an older Beast/Iron Man story picked for the fill-in issue of The Avengers. It put her back on the radar. Clever, boys, very clever. Sadly, the rest of this story is a bit of a slog.



Ka-Zar 9
"The Man Who Hunted Dinosaur!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Marcos Pelayo
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Ka-Zar and Zabu come across an ankylosaur slain by a hunter's arrow, and KZ vows revenge when he discovers it was for sport. The same hunter is seen killing a young pterodactyl and cutting off a horn for his father. Zabu senses trouble, just in time to warn KZ of the "spike-tail's mate", which comes seeking vengeance, wounding Zabu before KZ can halt its rampage. The hunter, Tomas, returns to his village, visiting his sick father, the chief, who spurns the gift of the horn as he yearns for Tomas and brother Gregor to get along. Tomas is the final hunter in the village (the rest wiped out by a mammoth) while Gregor is the gatherer who harvests corn and wheat to feed his people. Ka-Zar restrains the angry ankylosaur and sets out to find the hunter, pausing only when he spots the dead pterodactyl. At dawn, Tomas wakes to see his father passing on his leadership to Gregor, which angers Tomas to the point that when Gregor tries to reason, Tomas stabs him and flees in horror! Later, Ka-Zar makes his way to the village during Gregor's funeral and is filled in by the old chief. Tomas stumbles into a familiar part of the jungle and is attacked by the angry ankylosaur, which breaks its bonds and kills the hunter, who doesn't even resist as KZ tries in vain to save him. - Joe Tura



Joe Tura: Full disclosure: my first read of this issue made me very sleepy. But it's not as horrible as all that. Of course, it's not exactly an Eisner winner. That said, it's been a while since we've had a "one and done" in this title. And this one is so tragic, it makes my teeth hurt. The cover features a protagonist that looks nothing like the one on the inside. And Ka-Zar, who looks more like Esther Williams than a Jungle Lord in the grasp of the savage elephant, is never hunted either. But a misleading cover is nothing new. Unlike the inker, Sonny Trinidad, another of the Filipino artists who started at DC and made his mark at Marvel on 70s horror titles such as Vampire Tales, The Son of Satan and Savage Sword of Conan. Personally, I've never heard of him until last night and he gives the classic Buscema pencils a rougher, creepier edge that render them nigh unrecognizable as Big John's work in some panels. Overall, the art is OK. It's the script that suffers a little. After all, how do you make Ka-Zar a supporting character in his own book? He's more like a narrator than the guy who makes things happen, even though he's responsible for binding the dinosaur that kills Tomas. But the point of this story is vengeance and "an eye for an eye" anyway. It's nearly a fill-in, something more suited for Savage Tales perhaps.





The Man-Thing 18
“School’s Out”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art Jim Mooney
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Ray Holloway

Led by Olivia Selby and the mad Viking, the enraged citizens of Citrusville storm the high school, bent on burning all books that promote subversion, godlessness and permissiveness. Alerted by Olivia’s ashamed daughter Carol, Principle Heller rushes out to meet them: the Viking pummels him and the citizens burst through the front doors. Back at the chemical plant, the Man-Thing’s melted remains pour out a drain pipe into Blackwater Creek, a dumping place for untreated industrial waste. His body begins to reform, not as a mossy monster, but as a bubbling mass of chemicals that melts everything it touches. Meanwhile, the Viking throws Mr. Edwards, a biology teacher, through a second-floor window: the man crunches to the concrete below, seriously injured. When the Viking’s granddaughter, Astrid Josefsen, tries to reason with him, he smacks her — she falls to the sidewalk, breaking her neck. The burbling Man-Thing arrives and grasps the Viking’s face: the chemicals transfer into the Norseman and he dissolves into a sudsy puddle as the swamp creature regains his true form. The Man-Thing, Richard Rory, and Carol Selby walk off, leaving Citrusville behind forever. -Thomas Flynn



Tom Flynn: While I had a hard time swallowing Gerber’s hamfistedness, this issue does pack high energy. Unbelievably, Gerber doesn’t have the rampaging citizens realize the errors of their ways even after the principle and biology teacher are injured and the Viking kills his own granddaughter: the book bonfire is set aflame seconds after Astrid Josefsen’s death. Please. They all transformed into raving lunatics after being prodded by an old biddy and a murderous wacko? Sorry, can’t buy it. Again, the best part about Mooney’s art is his depiction of the Man-Thing: he nails it. The monster’s bubbling, chemical form is pretty cool as well. Looks like this is the last we’ll see of Citrusville as the title of next issue is promised as “Scavenger of Atlanta.” Let’s hope that Manny doesn’t bump into the Real Housewives. Now that would be true terror.


Mark Barsotti: Gerber heads further into Whackville, with the disintegrated Manny returning as Mr. Bubble and the hateful, narrow-minded hicks of Steve's fever-dream small town Amerika descending into mob violence and murder. Believe me, Easy Rider is a valentine to rural Dixie compared to "School's Out!" And yeah, maybe it's an effective funnybook fable for young white mid-70's liberals who've never been further south than Jersey, but it's such an overly broad, torch-the-straw-man caricature that it's more screed than story, wallowing in the same shallow stereotypes and regional prejudice that Gerber wants to hold up to ridicule.    





Matthew: Even the self-inked Mooney, usually not the most auspicious prospect, remains a surprisingly good match with Manny as Gerber brings this saga—which encompasses both the regular and GS mags—to an aggressively downbeat yet dramatically satisfying ending.  In fact, along with his current Son of Satan yarn, it gives one the feeling that Steve is, for lack of a better phrase, putting his affairs in order, even though it will be another four issues before the imminent monster-pogrom claims this title.  Aptly, since our “startling slime [formerly swamp] creature” was created by a mix of magic and science, it will take more than science alone to destroy him completely; meanwhile, Citrusville is totally in the grasp of the most terrifying force imaginable.

Chris: The deluded group of the last issue gives way here to a full-blown mindless mob.  I had thought that people would begin to doubt their mission once the Viking threw the teacher out the window – but they continued on.  Then I thought that Astrid’s violent death at her grandfather’s hand would bring the mob up short, especially after her heartfelt “You brought me up to think for myself” speech, but no – Mrs Selby shouts “She deserved it!” – and the masses pour on the gasoline. 

I was very pleased with Steve, for not being afraid to push the story past the usual bounds, past the point when the “common decency” light suddenly pops on, and folks typically shout “What wuz I thinkin!!” and slug on back to work.  He dared to take the unassuming populace of Citrusville to a very, very dark place.  It reminds me of a Serling story about a tidy neighborhood that comes to pieces when faced by a common threat – in that case, the townspeople turn on each other instead of senselessly banding together, but either way, the observation about the tenuous nature of society is chillingly telling.  
There isn’t as much for Mooney to do this issue, as compared to M-T #17, but I will give him plenty of credit for a few things: 1) the weird and bizarre, but somehow not silly, appearance of the Foam-Thing; 2) a rare look at the world thru the crimson eyes of a Man-Thing (p 27, top); and 3) the dark, weighty atmosphere throughout, despite the fact that the events of the day begin in the afternoon (so credit also to Phil Rache for his fitting choice of the right mood-setting hues).  The menacing, spectral Man-Thing on the splash page also is very well done.  




Marvel Premiere 22
Iron Fist in
“Death is a Ninja” 
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Arvell Jones, A. Bradford
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane, Al Milgrom

Determined to kill Iron Fist, the man who represents all he hates about K’un-Lun, the Ninja attacks. The Living Weapon manages to avoid his furious sword thrusts until the New York City Police arrive in the subterranean Temple of Kali: they demand that everyone surrender, especially Iron Fist, still wanted for the murder of Harold Meachum. The Ninja boasts that he is the actual killer and transports himself and Iron Fist to another otherworldly universe so that they can finish their combat undisturbed. At first Rand is overwhelmed by the gravity-free realm but he soon finds his bearings and focuses his mighty Iron Fist powers: a devastating blow to the Ninja explodes the dark dimension. Iron Fist materializes in the underground Temple, the Ninja nowhere to be found. Colleen Wing informs him that her father is no longer possessed, the Living Goddesses have escaped, and the police have rounded up the remaining cultists. All murder charges have been dropped as well since the Ninja confessed. Danny Rand ponders his future now that the whole Meachum saga has ended. -Thomas Flynn



Tom Flynn: Well, thank Jebus that the Ninja/Death Cult arc is finally over. Isabella seemed to be going with a whole Starlinesque cosmic head trip with the other dimension jive but it mostly fell flat. Not that the awkward Arvell Jones had the talent to pull off the graphics. But at least Tony the Tiger had the chance to wrap the whole thing up before he was pulled for Chris Claremont, starting next issue. Again, thank Jebus. Much of the time spent in the other dimension was taken up with the Ninja relating his origin story. Not sure that was really necessary since we got the main gist last issue. He did reveal that he helped out Iron Fist from time to time since the Living Weapon was basically Professor Wing’s bodyguard and he didn’t want Rand to fail in his task of protecting his host. OK, I'll buy that but highly doubt that’s what Doug Moench had in mind when this all started back in Marvel Premiere #17. I think a fellow Professor mentioned this already, but first time I’ve noticed that every issue starts with a caption reading “You are Iron Fist,” something Claremont will continue. Mea culpa. It’s also becoming a trend that Iron Fist trades blows with a villain for a few pages and then just powers up his mighty mitts and delivers the coup de grace. That could become tiresome.



Matthew:  For next issue, the lettercol promises “an exciting new direction for Iron Fist!...Lots of words by Tony Isabella!  Lots of pictures by Arvell Jones!,” although in the event, this would be the third and final issue for that team. Doing nothing to help them go out on a high note is the at best indifferent and at worst shabby work of A[ubrey] Bradford, latest in a line of recent inkers who are—in this case justifiably—no more than minor footnotes in Marvel history.  You couldn’t ask for more effective closure than the tying up of so many plot threads, the origin of the Ninja, and our first look at “the face beneath the mask,” although Tony plants one last seed with nascent über-foe Master Khan, created by Steve Ditko in Strange Tales #77 (October 1960).




Chris: After months of buildup, the Ninja storyline rushes to a satisfying conclusion. Inspired thought by Tony to stage part of the battle in a different dimension -- it was refreshing to have an unanticipated turn in the story, especially after so many prior battles in mostly-recognizable settings. The Ninja's conversation with himself is interesting, although it goes long (I guess it gets lonely, when you're trapped in a book by yourself for decades at a time).

The Jones art is noticeably improved, which I'll attribute to: 1) less reliance this time on small, cramped panels to convey the action; 2) greater familiarity with the character and format; and 3) a different inker, Aubrey Bradford, who though largely unknown, is still better than Green or Colletta (Bradford inks one issue of Power Man, and a small handful of covers, and that’s about it). The dimensional excursion + Ninja flashback provide most of Jones’ best moments on this title.

It’s the right decision, after over a year’s worth of issues, to make a clean break from The Vengeance of Danny Rand storyline, and prepare to move this character in a new direction. Tony & Arvell both quit while they’re ahead, to be replaced next issue by Pat Broderick – and Chris Claremont.


Marvel Spotlight 22
The Son of Satan in
"Journey Into Himself!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Bob McLeod
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Vince Colletta

Daimon’s form lies inert in a police detective’s office, while his spirit finds itself being taunted, in an otherworldly dimension, by Madame Swabada.  Daimon attacks Swabada, then is counter-attacked by a horde of demons.  He falls thru a pit, and finds himself in his boyhood bedroom, with a child who is – Daimon himself, as a boy.  Daimon then appears to meet with, in rapid succession, his superior from the seminary, then Ikthalon, then Linda Littletree, then his deceased mother.  These encounters leave Daimon with enigmatic and conflicting messages; he is concerned that he might have died, and that he now is being subjected to hellish torment.  A satannish manifestation named Baphomet acknowledges that Daimon might have reason to doubt his existence, but still leads him on to meetings with Ghost Rider, and Swabada again – only this time, she assumes the form of Daimon’s estranged sister, Satana.  She calls forth Daimon’s soul – more accurately, the dark part of his soul that carries Satan’s mark, and his power.  Daimon discovers he is unable to command the soulfire, and now is faced with destruction by his darker side.  He speaks to the dark half of his soul, and convinces it that they should not work to destroy each other, but instead commit to coexistence.  As they re-merge, Daimon fires at Swabada and dispatches her spirit.  Daimon regains consciousness, and declares himself fit to continue to work to understand his demon-power as a creative force, as he undertakes “the fool’s journey toward enlightenment.” -Chris Blake





Chris: This might be the first time in the SoS run that I’ve had a reality-test moment, which I usually associate with Steve G’s work in Man-Thing – it’s the point I reach in the story when I’m no longer sure that I know what’s going on.  It appears that a part of Daimon’s mind, or perhaps his spirit, or some combination, was able to use markers from his past to lead him to the confrontation that allowed Daimon to re-integrate himself, and re-connect with reality.  I think.  
Daimon’s self-reconciliation clearly was an unexpected outcome of Madame Swabada’s head-messing of our hero.  But what prompted Swabada to go after Daimon (“For the last time, lady – who sent you?!” snarls the sweaty-faced interrogator, snapping ash from his last cigarette)?  We aren’t informed that it might have been, I don’t know . . . Satan?  (no Church Lady, not this time.)  Swabada might have twisted with Daimon simply For Badness, but that’s always an acceptable motivation around here.  
Sal continues to prove that, when it comes to Marvel stories, there isn’t anything he can’t do well.  The two-pager on 2-3 (above) masterfully establishes Daimon’s present fix, as he knows only that he’s somewhere else, and threat-beset in as many directions as he can see.  The demons are convincingly nasty-faced throughout.  Good call in Sal’s depiction of Daimon’s dark self (p 26, pal 5, below), as he’s still recognizably Daimon, but only differing from him by degree, instead of appearing as an exaggeratedly evil other-self (in other settings, a similarly understated approach has been employed with Spock, and with Cartman).  McLeod consistently complements the pencils, as he balances clarity with texture and atmosphere; I still feel that he’s one of Sal’s better inkers during the Bronze period.  



Joe: Now THAT was a rollickin' roller-coaster of a comic! Gerber is in full mind-blow mode, and Daimon takes a nasty trip through his psyche that's so frenetic, you don't get a second to stop and think about it, which probably adds to the fun. And with trusty Sal at the easel, a nod to Thor, a wacky GR cameo and much more, this is maybe my favorite Son of Satan issue yet. Well done.

Matthew:  Another winner from the Gerber/Buscema/McLeod trio (see this month’s Defenders), with that two-page tableau of Hell a real treat, and again, Bob’s inks show off Sal’s pencils to wonderful advantage for the most part, even if Daimon’s face is a little too angular in spots.  Although Steve has one issue to go, he could certainly declare victory and go home after this conclusion to the Madame Swabada tarot trilogy, leaving our, uh, hero in a better place, and Ghost Rider’s cameo gives it a nice old-home-week feeling.  Conversely, the encounter with sis Satana, who will rear her sexy but demonic head again two issues hence, shows that the Hellstrom clan’s unconventional idea of family values wasn’t limited to their father’s generation.






Marvel Team-Up 34
Spider-Man and Valkyrie in
"Beware the Death Crusade!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia


As a balloon-borne Meteor Man trounces Spidey and drops him into the East River, Nighthawk relates their skirmish to Valkyrie, who upbraids him for shirking his duty.  That night, two cops stumble upon Jeremiah leading an unholy rite in an abandoned church and are reduced to ash; meanwhile, Spidey and Val converge at an antique shop, where the Meteor Man escapes after stealing a figurine sculpted from the remains of a meteor.  Spidey realizes that Fester is trying to increase his meteor-spawned powers, and they give chase astride Val’s winged horse, Aragornthe villain surviving a long plunge after Val pierces his balloon with her sword, Dragonfang—but seeing Val, Jeremiah decides she could be an even better sacrifice than Spidey. -Matthew Bradley


Matthew: This is a middling issue in every sense, as the center of a trilogy with a different Defender guest-starring each month; Vinnie’s finished art is a pleasant surprise, and Sal’s layoutshighlighted by that atmospheric splash page (right)provide welcome continuity with our non-team’s own book.  Gerry’s script is flawed (e.g., you’d think Peter’s Spider-Sense would warn him more than 0.3 seconds before he gets decked), but not terrible, with some nice character stuff here and there. Unfortunately, it seems to be over before you know it, and although this sadly disjointed arc has one final entry to go, it looks like the conclusion, with Spider-Man ceding the spotlight to the Torch, will take it in a sufficiently different direction as to constitute almost an entirely new tale.

Joe: Oh, Vince Colletta, why must you ink my beloved Sal B...Sigh...Anyway, here's another Defenders team-up with "web-slinging sad sack" Spidey, and it's born out of honor. Or so Gerry would have us think. Seemed kinda tag-teamish to me. Name-dropping Roger Moore? OK, why not. What makes Valkyrie a doctor, knowing MM will "be in the hospital for many months"? Yes, I'm sure she's right, but for someone still learning the ways of mortals, it's a bit of a false note if I may nitpick. And how is mega-brows Jeremiah at the scene in the last panel? Sure, he's watching our hero nearby with evil in his heart during the ruckus, but even for MTU, this is a little too Snidely Whiplash methinks. Still, a decent tale overall, with 1960s cartoon Spidey leading the way.





Master of Kung Fu 29
"The Crystal Connection"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom


Shang-Chi meets with Sir Denis at his westside brownstone, and is recruited to take down a notorious heroin dealer, Carlton Velcro. Sir Denis’ team already has helped Reston establish his bona fides as a reputed English heroin buyer known as Mr Blue.  Reston, as Mr Blue, arrives in France at Velcro's seaside villa (“The Grotto”), and delivers him a briefcase full of cash, while S-C and Black Jack don scuba gear and prepare to infiltrate the compound via an underwater tunnel.  Reston shakes off his armed minders (with the help of a gas capsule sequestered in a hollow tooth); he then proceeds down the exterior of the building, locates the heroin stash, and begins to ruin it with a fire extinguisher.  S-C fights his way past several of Velcro's bodyguards, but at nearly the same time that Velcro catches up with Reston in the heroin-storage area, S-C finds himself confronted by Razor-Fist, who has swords mounted where his hands should be. -Chris Blake



Chris: Doug employs a brief but effective exchange between S-C and SD to illustrate the difficulty for S-C to maintain his principles, when confronted by The Way Things Are. S-C asks why the proper authorities have not been employed against Velcro (and I'm sorry Doug, but what were you thinking with that name -?). Dr Petrie and Black Jack reply that this person has managed to place himself outside the reach of the law, which requires SD and his forces to use similar "dirty" tactics to fight him. SC asks if there might not be a third course, a path for him to follow that would not taint him in his effort to bring a wrong doer to justice.  In order to convince him of the importance of taking action, SD brings S-C to a rehab center, so that he can see first-hand the damage done to people by dealers like Velcro.  Of course, this has the desired effect, as S-C willingly signs on for the mission.  In this manner, the dialog and thought processes of the characters – rather than simply filling pages with battle-action for its own sake – continue to be a factor that establishes MoKF as something unique.



Chris: Gulacy is the reason I became interested in MoKF in the first place. #29 marks his first self-inked art for this title, and if the art would always look this good (as I would fully expect it to), that alone would be reason enough for this title to be bi-monthly, simply so Gulacy would have ample time to continue to deliver to this standard.  And now, some of the highlights: Sir Denis’ roomy, but atmospheric study (p 2, 6); Velcro’s Kubla-Khanish coastal hangout (above); Jack and Chi surface by moonlight (left); a “fwak!” to the face (p 27); and the very last panel (p 31), which promises that the showdown that’s featured on the cover of #29 will be pretty likely to kick off right at the start of our very next issue.  (Ah, what’s another month to wait, right?  It’ll be here before you know it.)

And finally – the change that loyal readers have been waiting for, as voiced in the LOCs – we have a story that doesn’t involve Fu Manchu.  No, I’m serious – no Fu, no one else in Shang-Chi’s family, no Si-Fan, none of Fu’s heavy-duty henchmen.  This issue is certified Fu-Free.  



Mark: With the Giant-Sized titles going blooey, Paul Gulacy settles in on the monthly MOKF for most of the next two years. While the Kane/Milgrom cover is fine, you have to believe the book would have sold better (and been more iconic today) if Gulacy had contributed cover art to his signature work for Marvel. Ah, well, the goodies await inside, from an iconic splash and Velcro's spa of babes (right) to the hungry black leopards and S-C being confronted by Razor-Fist in the last panel. Gulacy's self-inked art is now fully on par with  - perhaps even transcends - that of his inspirational model, Jim Steranko.

Mark: In addition to the gorgeous graphics, Doug Moench delivers the first story in the series that doesn't pit Shang-Chi against Father Fu, his minions, or relatives. Instead, Shang and allies tackle international heroin kingpin, Carlton Velcro, with his fortress wonderland guarded by a neo-nazi goon squad, the above mentioned hungry leopards, and the surgically altered assassin, Razor-Fist. It's a high-octane international crime caper that would do Clive Reston's purported uncle, James Bond, proud. 




Luke Cage, Power Man 25
"Crime and Circuses"
Story by Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo
Art by Ron Wilson and Fred Kida
Colors by Petra Goldeberg
Letters by Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Power Man and Goliath are both held in a captive trance by the Ringmaster and his little circus of thugs. When Claire Temple tries to help out, she is subdued, but is later able to escape and use the Snake Woman's weapon against the gang. Eventually, Power Man and Goliath come to their senses, and brawl with the Circus of Crime. The acrobat brothers thwart an attempt by the Ringmaster to hypnotize Goliath and have him attack Power Man. They do this to pay back the debt they owe Power Man for saving the life of one of the brothers. The two brothers then rejoin the Circus but are stopped by Goliath. The story ends with the heroes victorious, and Goliath admitting that he no longer has a relationship with Claire Temple. -Tom McMillion


Matthew:  On his way out the door, Tony Isabella plots the conclusion of Black Goliath’s debutalthough “Black” was an afterthoughtwith a script by up-and-coming Bill Mantlo, pencils by the returning Ron Wilson, and inks by Fred Kida, whose byline I remember solely for drawing the Amazing Spider-Man newspaper strip during my college days.  Perhaps this issue’s limitations (e.g., mediocre art, a plethora of plot summary) can be blamed on disarray caused by such creative turnover.  But what really strikes me is the lack of commitment to Goliath, who spends more than half the story standing around in the Ringmaster’s hypnotic trance, is nowhere to be seen on the cover and, in the ultimate indignity, is misidentified throughout as Bill Temple.

Scott: The Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime does nothing for me, so this epic started with a huge strike against it. The interpersonal stuff was nice, with Claire telling Bill Foster her feelings and finally Luke gets the girl. But I feel rotten for Bill because he’s a decent guy. The art isn’t bad, just kind of there. I’ve read worse.



Chris: A by-the-numbers clock-puncher with the useless Circus of Crime.  There isn’t a single interesting member of the whole bunch; we might’ve seen what Princess Python could’ve brought to the proceedings, if she hadn’t been clonked by Claire while offstage.  It’s comical how the Princess needlessly wanders back onto the set for two panels at the end of the story, only to get zapped by the hysterical hypnotical hat.  Cage doesn’t even have an opportunity to foil a scheme; the only thing he has to do is fight his way to freedom, and then (literally) walk off with his best gal into the sunset.  Bill Foster is such an afterthought that Tony can’t even get his name right – Goliath is referred to as “Bill Temple” twice on p 27; Len, who is on hand to chime in with footnotes throughout, never catches the error.  


Wilson makes the same mistake as Tuska had last month, as Foster grows to twice his supposed 15 feet – big enough to carry an entire person (or two) in his six-foot-high hands!  By the end of the mag (p 31), Foster has grown to Godzilla-like proportions, where his head alone is 15 feet tall!  O monstrous!  




Strange Tales 180
Warlock in
"The Judgement!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Alan Weiss
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

On Homeworld, in the constellation Hercules, Adam must defend Pip from a group of Black Knightstrolls being condemned for their “degenerate ways”and prevent the Gem from stealing their souls; its alien intelligence has gradually absorbed his own, so he can no longer live without it. Leaving Pip for the troll's own protection Adam infiltrates the palace to seek knowledge of the Gem, and the Matriarch reveals, “the Magus is not part of you…he is you…the you of the future!”  As Pip meets an emerald woman in a tavern, Adam is found guilty of “high church crimes” by a kangaroo court, but after he lets the Gem steal Grand Inquisitor Kray-Tor’s soul, he realizes the judge only did what he believed just, and Adam collapses, at the Matriarch’s mercy... -Matthew Bradley



Matthew: Using his usual byline for the art, Starlin playfully credits himself with the anagrams Sam Jiltirn (story), J.L. Minirats (inks, assisted by Al Weiss), and Ms. Natjiril (colors), once again excelling in every department.  My fears that this saga could not live up to my beloved Thanos War were misplaced, because despite springing from the same brilliant creative mind—even sharing some characters—its tone and style differ enough to be virtually apples and oranges.  Jim has no peer with this unique and heady brew of cosmic spectacle, social satire (“Never have I seen evil wear such sanctimonious robes!”), and existential crisis; the trial is a tour de force featuring a public defender without a mouth, a prosecutor who is little more than two giant lips, and a faceless jury.


Starlin only increases his impressive visual stamp on this strip with the “slight alterations…made on Adam’s costume for sake of anonymity,” and noted that “I got rid of Warlock’s lightning bolt because…it was a real pain to draw.  Didn’t think about it when I brought the Magus back, and so I had to learn to draw that damn lightning bolt in a ¾ shot or a profile again.  The change is definitely for the better, and although the cape can be a handicap if you’re, say, the Nomad, Warlock 2.0 looks less like he’s going out for track and more like the “destroyer of false gods.”  As for the Magus, the inspiration for his hair “was actually Angela Davis, a black militant of that time.  I just saw a picture of her in a magazine and went, ‘I want that hair,’” Jim told Zack Smith.



Matthew: There are enough Professor Matthew Time Paradoxes here to rival the Magus Saga itself.  No sooner had the ill-gotten gains of Hollywood’s Guardians of the Galaxy travesty (which you may rest assured I will not increase with my hard-earned dollars) coincided with our first coverage of the true Guardians’ long-overdue return than I, working my usual 10 Marvel months ahead, read the debut of a second Starlin character appropriated by those pretenders to the name, the so-called Drax being the first.  I refer, of course, to Gamora, who “came about because I needed a henchman for Thanos, because Thanos wasn’t going to enter the story for at least another issue, and I wanted a character who would be like a herald for this bigger character’s grand entrance.

Mark: Another (inter)stellar installment from Starlin, with Adam facing a show trial before Grand Inquisitor Kray-Tor, a six-limbed, reptilian-insect monstrosity that proves, as reported, Jim was indeed gobbling his share of really good (or really bad) acid. From the (literally) Big Mouth prosecutor and Sleepy Eve public defender to the jury of faceless mannequins, "The Judgment!" is a trip to the cutting edge of comic storytelling, circa '75, that loses none of it punch or power, four decades on.



Chris: It’s a quandary for both sides: Warlock can’t kill the Magus without destroying himself, while the Matriarch can’t eliminate Warlock without removing the potential development of the Magus (and her present-day rule over 1000 planets). She can, however, make things awfully unpleasant for him. It’s darkly amusing to hear Kray-tor’s bold-faced description of the rigged nature of the trial, and the prosecutor’s observations of how an edited version of the proceedings still could work to their twisted purpose. It’s true to character for Warlock to hang back and spar with his adversaries, and learn from them, before he brings the wallop. But these characters aren’t truly evil – they believe in the righteousness of their actions. If anything, Warlock learns not to trust the soul gem (fascinating bit when we overhear its tempting whisper, as it convinces Warlock to let it slip free and absorb Kray-tor). But how long can Warlock expect to be able to control the gem – and is the gem’s coming dominance part of the mechanism for his transformation to the Magus -?

The art is worth poring over, as countless panels draw you in with their fine details and clever touches. I especially liked how both the bailiffs and jury were essentially the same faceless, non-sentient beings, which only helped to underscore the idea that these automatons were acting out programmed roles, and not expected to truly aspire toward a just outcome.

Supernatural Thrillers 13
The Living Mummy in
"A Separate War"
Story by Tony Isabella and Val Mayerik
Art by Val Mayerik and Dan Green
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

The Elementals continue to hold the city of Cairo under an impervious dome. Within that dome, factions on both sides (pro- and anti-Elementals) war in the streets while N'Kantu, the Living Mummy and his band of warriors search for the Scarlet Scarab. Meanwhile, The Asp, Olddan, and Zephyr are to be publicly executed to show rebels what they'll get if they keep acting up. The Mummy and Ron are able to distract Hydron long enough to free their friends and they all escape. Hydron vows that each member of the group will die a slow, nasty death.
-Peter Enfantino




Peter Enfantino: While it might not seem, from the paltry plot synopsis above, that very much goes on in this chapter of "The War That Shook the World," there's actually quite a bit going on. Enough good stuff to make me wobble in my anti-Tony stance. And while I'm not big on mixing politics with funny books, I must admit that Isabella (with help from co-plotter Mayerik) deftly mixes living mummies, domed cities, Israeli troops, and 1970s hotbeds (although, isn't it amazing how "the more times change..."?) into a satisfying concoction. Just as I'm thinking, "Why not ship in the Fantastic Four?", the Tiger rationalizes that aspect with "Though UN forces -- plus super-powered groups such as the Avengers -- have been mobilized, there's a great deal of hesitation about utilizing them. No one wants to interfere in the politically-tense Middle East situation without consulting all the governments involved..." Good thinking and a way to remind us Marvel Zombies that, though this is a fantasy world filled with living mummies and talking ducks, our world is the backdrop of the Marvel Universe and our troubles are theirs. The only false note, for me, is the pretentious gimmick of having a rat narrate part of the opening sequence.

Chris: Maybe next issue, we’ll hear something from Dr Skarab about how the ruby scarab could undo the Elementals’ plans, instead of having to slog thru nearly an entire issue of pointless street fighting.  The editor in me looks at this issue, and wants to open with Hydron holding court (“Chapter 3,” as Tony tells us); maybe some of the exposition – which is told to us as a news broadcast, inexplicably available in a pre-CNN world to both an Egyptian and American viewing audience – could’ve been worked in after the escape of Hydron’s prisoners, and before some meaty info about a plan to use the scarab against the Elementals.  It’s safe to say that the opening bit, which features commentary from a rat’s perspective, would’ve been cut by me from the script, balled up, and then set on fire.  Tony – listen to me: this comic comes out six times a year; you have to work more story development into these brief opportunities, not pad it out.


Mayerik’s art continues gamely on, without too much harm done by Green.  Obvious highlight is page 6, with Ron’s anguish, and N’Kantu’s care for him after Ron has unwittingly killed his opponent.  If this character-moment was so important to Tony & Val, then it could’ve been worked in later, during the retreat after N’Kantu and Ron spring their friends from Hydron (see? Not too much of a stretch for me to position myself as a comics editor, right?).  
Last thought: for no good reason, we’ve returned to the practice of presenting a cover that depicts nothing at all that takes place in the issue; at best, it’s misleading, if not downright deceptive.   





The Mighty Thor 236
"One Life to Give!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Having absorbed the power of Thor's Uru hammer, Crusher Creel has fought Thor to a standstill. A well-timed hit from his ball and chain renders Thor unconscious. In a coastal California town the old man known as Orrin waits while the lady named Judith does some grocery shopping. A few local troublemakers pick a fight, calling him a "dirty old man." They end up being tossed like potatoes; no one is more astonished than Orrin himself! Thor comes to, and tries a different approach. He leads Creel into a toy store, and when Crusher grabs what he thinks is Thor's hammer, he becomes a cardboard man, like the toy he mistook for the real thing. A cardboard box courtesy of the police may be just what is needed to contain the villain. A drama of a different type concludes as well, as Sif, Vizier and Hercules use the runestaff of Kamo Tharnn to revive Jane Foster--by joining life forces with Sif, inside Jane's body! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: An interesting triple storyline. Though I love the Absorbing Man, his story might be the least of the three. Orrin, who of course is Odin, is on what must be a fascinating adventure for him; no memory of who he is, yet possessing this great strength. Lastly, an unusual and inventive way to keep Jane alive, joining the two women Thor loves together. A great sacrifice for Sif, I think... or is she "aware" inside Jane's body?

Matthew:  Is Conway really getting quantitatively better, now that he’s about to exit stage left, or am I just getting sentimental because I know it’s going to happen? Either way, he’s been on a roll here of late, and for me to say that about Thor, which over the long haul is rarely a title that generates excessive enthusiasm in this quarter, he really must be doing something right.  I have learned from bitter experience that the mere presence of my favorite art team is no guarantee of overall quality, especially on this book, but Buscema and Sinnott are once again firing on all cylinders to give him the best possible support, and the decision to subsume Sif into Jane to save the latter’s life, which I’m sure will be controversial, is another major milestone for Mr. Conway.




Scott: That was…lovely. A gripping issue, exceptionally paced, impeccably drawn, and with a sweet but heartbreaking conclusion. Thor’s defeat of the Absorbing Man was fun and the method used to imprison him is brilliant. The Odin storyline is really very interesting, so much that I wanted to read more of it. Finally, the saving of Jane Foster’s life was so wonderfully done and Sif’s sacrifice such a powerful expression of love, my only disappointment is that we don’t see Thor’s actual reaction to the news. Sure, he’s happy Jane has been saved, but what of Sif? What of his feelings for her? It is hinted he’s affected by it, but it’s a little vague. However, it still carries a lot of weight and the implications are pretty heavy. Is any of Sif’s personality within Jane? Or just her life force? Four out of four stars this month. Thor’s been on a winning streak recently.



Chris: Gerry takes a life, so that he can restore a life.  It’s an interesting story idea, but I don’t think enough weight is applied to Sif’s selfless sacrifice (and now try saying that five times fast).  It’s also not even remotely clear to me why Herc is required to hang back in the hospital room while Sif is reciting the incantation.  Herc (correctly) observes that Thor requires his help against Creel, but while Sif insists that she needs his assistance, Herc doesn’t have anything to do but stand around and exchange observations with the Grand Viz.  Obvious missed opportunity – Herc should’ve leapt into the fray, tag-team style, the moment Thor hit the mat.  


Thor’s ploy to undo Creel is clever – I’ll admit that I had to wonder how Creel was able to lift Mjolnir from Thor’s grasp and fling it away.  My first thought was that his absorption of the uru properties somehow allowed him to manipulate the hammer, but when Thor revealed it was fake, I thought, “Okay, it’s not the real hammer, but if it’s cardboard, wouldn’t Creel have noticed that it’s many, many, many countless times lighter than he might’ve expected it to be?”  Also, where had Thor stowed the real Mjolnir when he brandished the fake (Big John could’ve shown Thor concealing it under his cape, right)?  
This maneuver also raises a question about Creel’s absorption powers – he obviously doesn’t absorb each new item he touches, otherwise his form would’ve turned to plain ol’ US steel when he picked up and threw the car.  Why would he consciously want to absorb the uru metal a second time, when he already had assumed that form?  Couldn’t he have shut off the “absorb” switch in his head, and then not fallen for the Japanese cardboard hammer?  I’m not faulting Gerry, but I guess I’m saying that I’d like to know more about how Creel is able to determine when to change form, or not adopt a new one.  



The Tomb of Dracula 33
"Blood on My Hands!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer


Quincy Harker has a serious dilemma on his hands. He has Dracula on the verge of death, an arrow in his heart. However, Rachel Van Helsing is being held captive by two of Drac's female vampires and they will kill her if Qunicy doesn't let the fiend live. This causes Quincy to reflect back to the time he first encountered Dracula when he attacked him and his wife while they were in a theater balcony watching a show. Dracula bit Quincy's wife's neck and when Quincy attempted to stop him, Drac threw him off the balcony (which led to Quincy's paralysis). His wife was never quite the same after the attack and she committed suicide five years later. Remembering the loss of his wife and daughter at the Count's hands, Quincy pulls out the arrow and Rachel Van Helsing is released. Quincy reveals to Dracula that all he knows about the vampire's predicted death is that some enemy has it out for him, and that Dracula has only two weeks to live. Drac spares Harker, but destroys his daughter's urn before promising to come back and kill him at a later date. Drac comes to the conclusion that the only enemy powerful enough to have the capabilities to extinguish him is the nefarious Dr. Sun. Flying into the night, Dracula orders one of his secret politician vampires to retrieve a file for him. While getting the file, the politician vampire shoots and kills a cop who stumbles upon him. Dracula meets up with his minion to receive the file, unaware that Inspector Chelm has spotted them and is about to shoot Dracula with a gun using bullets that have silver crosses carved in them. Meanwhile, Taj and his wife bury their vampire son, killed by the villagers. Taj decides to stay in his native India hoping to have a happier life once again with his wife. -Tom McMillion



Tom McMillion: Good stuff all around; this issue has a little bit of everything, including a flashback, some action, and the looming conflict of Dracula taking on the bizarre Dr. Sun. Drac's always at his best, in my opinion, when he is mixing it up with other bad guys.




Mark: We open with Drac in literal melt-down mode: having been pierced by multiple arrows in Harker's office, Quincy watches "his flesh decay, his maggot-infested body shrivel." But captive Rachel Van Helsing's life is tied to the Count's and Harker, after re-living the three decades of death and suffering Vlad has inflicted on his family, can't offer up Rachel as a final casualty. 

So the old man saves the foe it's been his life's work to destroy, informs Drac that the papers he's after report the Count is losing his powers, and is rewarded by Drac scattering Edith's cremation ashes across Quincy's office and exiting with a demonic cackle.

Scott: Nothing depresses me like Tomb of Dracula. Another excellent issue. My only complaint is that it comes off as disjointed and episodic. Too many threads being tied, untied and woven together. There is a lot of story packed into these pages, a lot of history and a lot of groundwork being laid for the future. However, Marv and Gene handle it all expertly and keep all the balls in the air. Harker feels like a real person, finally, with actual feelings and regrets. It’s nice to see the collateral damage of Dracula’s rampage and Harker’s obsessed quest.

Chris: So close – so close!  This might not have been Harker’s best chance to destroy Dracula, but now it sounds like it might be his last chance. Harker already has a lifetime of painful memories due to his pursuit of the vampire, but Drac’s cool confidence, derived from having survived centuries-worth of adversaries like Harker, seemed to get under Harker’s skin this time. Drac’s desecration of Edith’s remains, an immeasurable act of Real Total Badness, might’ve been a final straw.  Now that Taj appears to be retired, and with Drake wrapped into some serious trouble in Brazil (no update this issue), could this mean that Rachel might have to pursue Drac . . . alone?

Mark: The rest of the issue is given over to housecleaning – the burial of Taj's son, Drac finally realizing what the regular reader has suspected for months, that Dr. Sun is the one plotting against him – but the opening scene, pitting Harker's humanity against Dracula's cruel desecration of the dead, is memorable and haunting. 




Werewolf by Night 30
"Red Slash Across Midnight"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane

Second Night and Lissa thinks her transformation was only a dream, while Jack slaps the captive Glitternight around to try and help her. Thinking the blindfold will hamper his powers, the good guys go back upstairs, then the smarmy sorcerer uses his light powers to escape. The simulacrum of Taboo is weak, as is Jack from lack of sleep, and after a nasty nightmare, he wakes to find Glitternight left behind a facsimile—and is now forcing Lissa to change by bathing her in black light again! Jack also changes with the full moon and instinctively finds them on the rooftop, Lissa's soul now controlled by Glitternight via a "leash of light". Brother and sister werewolves engage in a nasty battle, until Topaz uses psychic energy funneled through the last sliver of Taboo to turn Lissa human again. A galled Glitternight soars off over the ocean, but Werewolf claws on to him, and when the angry alchemist uses his beam on our hero, the beast slashes his chest, explosively releasing his soul and killing the diabolical doctor! Buck and Topaz care for Lissa as the Werewolf washes ashore, loping off in search of freedom. -Joe Tura



Joe: It's the fourth and final month of the Glitternight saga, and does it still glitter? Well, maybe a little, but this is what passes for an epic tale in these parts. It's good to see Glitternight get his just desserts, but you can't help thinking he'll be back some day, somehow (no, I'm not going to skip ahead!). I feel for poor Lissa to be honest. Especially since she's the oldest looking 18-year old ever. All in all, this month we get a tale that's like an hour and half TV-movie, packed with sorcery, violence, pathos, anger, bad dialogue, insults like "scum-licking" and no comedy at all. Perlin puts in the usual Perlin-ness, meaning decent art for this title. He certainly draws Lissa well (ahem…). Moench is well, what he is. This must have been a fun book for him to work on, and it shows sometimes. I just wish he would tone down the "detective story" nonsense. Ah, who am I kidding, what would I have to complain about then?




Chris: Another solid issue of WbN – no, I really mean it!  Doug avoids witticisms and overwrought-isms, and simply tells a decent story.  Nice touch as Glitternight – in true sneaky-villain fashion – escapes his bonds and leaves a shadow-double behind.  Lissa’s original transformation to werebeast seems to have come about due to an unintended confluence of factors in WbN #28, but now, Glitternight is deliberately causing the change, but it’s not clear why – does he truly feel he requires the beast’s assistance to destroy Taboo – why can’t Glitternight simply do it himself?  I know, I know, then we wouldn’t have an opportunity to employ Taboo’s spirit to cleanse Lissa of lycanthropy.  Satisfying moment as the Werewolf tears open Glitternight’s chest and releases his spirit form, destroying him.  


Perlin does his part with an above-par contribution, featuring special effects (Glitternight’s escape, page 7; the Lissabeast’s absorption of Taboo’s sprit, p 23), and some capable intra-familial werewolf battling throughout (particularly the Werewolf’s “ready” position on p 17, left).  Very nice highlight on p 27 panel 4, as we get a close-up of werewolvian savagery paired with a glimpse of trepidation from Glitternight.



Also This Month

Crazy #11

Crazy Super Special #1 >
Dead of Night #10
FOOM #10
Gothic Tales of Love #2
Journey Into Mystery #17
Kid Colt Outlaw #195
Marvel Double Feature #10
Marvel Spectacular #15
Marvel Tales #59
Mighty Marvel Western #39
Monsters of the Movies #7
Night Rider #5
Nostalgia Illustrated #6
Our Love Story #34
Outlaw Kid #28
Spidey Super Stories #9
Two-Gun Kid #124
Uncanny Tales #10
Vault of Evil #19
War is Hell #13
Weird Wonder Tales #10



THOSE MARVEL-OUS MAGAZINES


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 13
Cover by Luis Dominguez

"The Dragon Dies at Midnight"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Death is My Co-Star!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Jack Abel

Assisting Shareen in her quest to reacquire the relic known as The Golden Dragon, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu must battle a seemingly-endless army of assassins before help arrives in the unlikely form of Shareen's former partner, Cho Lee. Before we can hand out a Good Samaritan award to Cho, we find out that his presence is actually for a selfish reason: he hopes to follow Shareen and Shang to The Golden Dragon. Despite this knowledge, Shareen is convinced she and Shang can get to the relic before Cho so they head to the apartment where she's hidden the statue. Cho proves to be a very cunning adversary, jumping from the high rise window of the apartment into a waiting helicopter. Shang and Shareen follow the copter to a vast, hidden estate, where The Kung Fu Master is once again set upon by assassins. Once he dispatches Cho's henchmen, he searches for Shareen and finally finds her... hanging below a ceiling full of deadly spikes. Cho cheerfully explains to Shang that if Shareen's bonds are cut, the ceiling will fall on her and, to add insult to injury, he releases poisonous snakes into the room to distract the young warrior. Decisions, decisions.


Shang actually hasn't even noticed the deadly ceiling yet!

I've gotta say that I've been very impressed with Doug Moench's B&W output this month (this story along with the Vampire Tale); "The Dragon Dies at Midnight" lacks anything approaching the nauseatingly pretentious dialogue and word balloons that have weighed down The Moenchster's prose since he began writing for these big-size funny books. There's a genuinely interesting trek here, capped by a riotous Batman-inspired death trap. I've gotta tip my hat to Rudy Nebres as well for the cheesecake on display. Shareen, bless her heart, has taken advantage of the hot summer days by wearing next to nothing through this and the previous installment. Looks like Archie Goodwin's experiment (detailed last issue) is paying off; perhaps all Doug needed was, ironically, more pages to tell his story. I've felt that The Master of Kung Fu strip (despite its pulpy trappings and occasional Marvel hero guest stars) has always been set in the "real world" but Shang's Daredevil-esque leap from a tall building to a waiting flag pole adds a bit of unwelcome super heroism to the proceedings. Oh, and that exciting high wire scene on the cover? Never happens.


Marvel's Newest Fighting Team! The Losers!

Bob Diamond's been shooting a film about Prohibition violence but the real violence has been happening on-set. Several dead bodies have been found and the crew is understandably concerned about who might be next. Thank goodness there's a Son of the Tiger in the cast. Once Bob gets a little help from martial arts squeeze, Lotus, the bad guys are sniffed out and done away with. This could very well be the worst story I've read in the black and white zines (I've probably said that every month, haven't I?), a script so full of blueberry muffins and embarrassingly bad dialogue that it actually defies description. Once again, Bill Mantlo's obvious hatred of "the fuzz" shines through every panel crack; last issue's racist officer gives way to this issue's "Shoot 'em all and then sort 'em out later" beat cop ("Name's D'Angleo... Sergeant D'Angelo! Chinatown's my beat!" and "It's Chinatown, pretty boy! Believe me, I know! It strips people raw, till all they can do is react..."). Perez' art, always this strip's focal point, takes a few steps back (one of the gang boys who attacks Bob and Lotus has somehow acquired Mister Fantastic's stretch ability in his left arm, see above) to fanzine quality. I know someday George is going to be a superstar but you wouldn't be able to tell from "Death is My Co-Star!" After two lousy solo stories, I'd cut my losses and go back to superhero exploits if I was Archie. Oh, and I'd find a decent writer as well. -Peter Enfantino



Planet of the Apes 9
Cover by Ron Wilson, Greg Theakston, and John Romita

"Kingdom on an Island of Apes"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rico Rival

"The Horror Inquisition"
Beneath the Planet of the Apes Chapter Four
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

New editor Archie Goodwin kicks things off with "Adrift on the Planet of the Apes", his sorta enjoyable missive where he explains the special tale we are about to read. Originally written for a planned POTA Annual, "Kingdom on an Island of the Apes" is a Doug Moench "novel", drawn by Rico Rival and broken into two parts to give the magnificent Mike Ploog a breather from the "Terror" deadlines. Rival is a Filipino artist who also worked on Man-Thing, Prisoner of Zenda (Marvel Classics #29), Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction and most notably Dead of Night, where he co-created The Scarecrow.


"Kingdom" tells of Derek Zane, inventor of a time machine, torn between his love for ritzy Michelle and his dreams of selling his invention to NASA, finding Taylor and the missing astronauts lost in time in the future. But the skepticism he's met with leads Derek to use the time machine himself, and the hellish trip to the year 3975 ends in a wreck. After exploring the new world, he wakes to a band of primitive humans—then a band of talking apes on horseback with rifles! Heading back to get his backpack and supplies, Derek comes across the incredible sight of Ape City!

The first part of "Kingdom" is mostly set-up, and certainly takes the novel approach of filling in lots and lots of details in a short space. Which is what we expect from Moench. Nice art by Rival, with smooth lines and expressive backgrounds that give us hope for next month. But first we are treated to an "On Location" look at Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (my favorite Apes Week 4:30 movie), which features a plethora of pictures and dense details that I skipped over rather quickly.

We end on Part IV of the Beneath adaptation, "The Horror Inquisition" and boy is it ever the right title. Brent gets raked over the mental coals by his human captors, from discovering his background, to forcing him to harm Nova, to getting info about the apes marching on their underground city. All the while, they use a mix of pain and reason, never seeming to care about anything except their unholy agenda of praying to "the divine bomb". Ursus and Zaius are seen making their way on horseback while, during a "prayer service", the humans reveal their inner selves to their God—they're mutant children of the bomb! Another fine chapter that makes me want to watch this film again, since there's so much I don't remember about it. Alcala is in fine form with a bevy of closeups, including the mutated faces of the final three panels, as Moench keeps the long captions to a minimum. Which is the biggest shocker of the whole issue! –Joe Tura




The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 6
Cover Art by Alex Nino & Frank Magsino

“The Sleeper Beneath the Sands”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sonny Trinidad

“Gods of the Hyborian Age, Part One: The Homes of the Gods”
Text by Robert L. Yaple
   
“Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Cimmeria?”
Text by Lin Carter

“People of the Dark”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Alex Nino

“Swords and Scrolls”

"Sleeper"
A thoroughly enjoyable issue. John Buscema takes this one off and we have two of the Fab Filipinos pinch hitting: Sonny Trinidad and Alex Niño. While Sonny tries his best to ape Big John’s style, Niño offers what is easily the most experimental artwork that has ever graced a Conan adventure — weird as it may be.

The 25-page “The Sleeper Beneath the Sands” picks up after last issue, with Olgerd Vladislav, deposed by Conan as the Chief of the Desert Outlaws, crawling over endless sand, near death. However he is rescued by kindly Ahmed Mullah and his rough-and-tumble daughter Dhira and taken to their bustling camp. While recovering, Vladislav constantly mumbles Conan’s name until his fever breaks. The vengeful Vladislav lies to his rescuers, telling them that his name is Yffan and that he is a friend of the Cimmerian, the new ruler of the Desert Outlaws. Mullah informs “Yffan” that they are headed to the temple of The One Who Sleeps Beneath the Sands and that Conan is also travelling that way to meet his second-in-command. The Sleeping One is from an ancient race of great reptiles and every 50 years a ceremony must be performed to keep the monster slumbering. After the Mullah’s party arrives at the temple, Djebal, Conan’s lieutenant, rides up as well. Enraged, Vladislav reveals himself, kills both Djebal and Ahmed Mullah, and takes Dhira hostage. Conan himself soon appears and Vladislav orders Ahmed’s men to capture the barbarian and tie him to the temple’s pillars. As Vladislav begins to carve the Cimmerian’s chest with a dagger, the temple starts to shake: the ceremony has been too long delayed and the Sleeper has started to rouse. Resembling a huge, furry octopus with barbs instead of suckers, the Sleeper bursts from underneath the temple, freeing Conan from the toppling pillars. After squeezing the life out of Vladislav, it begins to slaughter Ahmed’s men: but Dhira approaches, repeating the sacred incantation. The Sleeper slowly returns to its slumber, dragging Dhira beneath the sands with it.


"Sleeper"

Even though he was a rather minor character in last issue’s monumental “A Witch Shall Be Born,” it was a clever idea by Roy to basically make Olgerd Vladislav the driving force of this original story. As I already mentioned, if you squint the right way, Sonny Trinidad’s art looks just like John Buscema’s, not a bad thing. In all, a fine potboiler that would make an average issue of Conan the Barbarian.


"People of the Dark"
At 30-pages, “People of the Dark” is a real treat. It’s based on Robert E. Howard’s tale of the same name, first published in the June 1932 issue of Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror. It’s considered a “remembrance story,” as the protagonist recalls his past life as a black-haired barbarian named Conan. Now this was not exactly the Cimmerian we have come to learn and love, but an earlier, one-shot character. Guess Howard liked the name. Anyways, Roy’s adaptation has Jim O’Brien planning to murder Richard Dent, his rival for the hand of Eleanor Rand. As O’Brien waits for Dent in the haunted Dragon’s Cave, he slips and falls, knocking himself unconscious. When he awakes, he is Conan, a young barbarian from ancient times. A mighty battle has just finished with Conan and his Cimmerian brothers defeating an army of Aquilonian and Gundermen soldiers. The randy warrior spies a beautiful Aquilonian woman named Tamera and gives chase: her beloved, a Gunderman named Gaeric, comes to the rescue. But Conan is too fierce, and the young lovers retreat to a cavern. The Cimmerian follows and soon all three are terrorized by subterranean reptile-men. Conan and Gaeric join forces but the cave creatures are too many and only the Cimmerian survives. Jim O’Brien comes to just as Richard Dent arrives to explore the Dragon’s Cave: he has brought Eleanor Rand along. O’Brien stalks the lovers and soon raises his pistol. But when a giant, dragon-like centipede threatens Dent and Rand, O’Brien has a change of heart and sacrifices his life to kill the monster.

Nino!
OK, a fairly goofy story, an odd mix of Twilight Zone fantasy and sword and sorcery action. But Alex Niño’s art is a joy to behold. While he mostly uses standard panels, much of the illustrations combine to make one- and two-page spreads. A few of these pages must have impressed Niño  himself because he felt moved to sign them. Super detailed work with amazing use of blacks and shading. The artwork recalls Joe Kubert but much more stylized. There’s some Ploog in there as well, especially with the incredibly creepy creatures. I really hope that Roy continues to call on Active Alex. Though Amazing Alex is much more appropriate.

The two text pieces are also well worth reading. In “Gods of the Hyborian Age, Part One: The Homes of the Gods,” Robert L. Yaple details all the various deities and demons worshipped during the Hyborian age. After writing about King Kull in issue #3, Lin Carter returns to discuss the literary history of Conan in “Can Any Good Thing Come Out of Cimmeria?” For someone who made bones with “posthumous collaborations” with Robert E. Howard, he’s fairly snarky, taking potshots at Conan’s name for example. Even the title of the piece is condescending. Biting the hand that feeds you huh Mr. Carter? For shame! -Thomas Flynn



Vampire Tales 11
Cover by Richard Hescox

"Death Kiss"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"Hobo's Lullaby"

Story by John Warner
Art by Yong Montano

Stowing away on a cruise liner, Michael Morbius immediately finds himself in all kinds of trouble. His bloodlust leads him to drain a crew member and he knows it's only a matter of time before the rest of the crew will know something is up. Looking for a hideaway, Michael bumps into the lovely Morgana St. Clair, who reveals to him that she's a vampire hunter. Morgana tells Michael he's safe though because she only hunts the "undead" and proceeds to tell him all about "The Brotherhood of Judas," a secret faction of vampires attempting to take over Britain and, eventually, the world. Michael agrees to help Morgana in her bid to save the planet but then must abandon ship after the captain comes a'calling with crucifix and wooden stake in hand. After three days adrift, Morbius washes ashore in England and heads for the only safe haven he knows: the estate of his colleague and friend, Dr. Samuel Harkins, a specialist in rare blood disorders. Coincidentally, the recently-vampirized Harkins is holding a secret meeting of "The Brotherhood of Judas" when Michael knocks at the door. Knowing Morbius is a vampire and would make a great quarterback, Harkins tries to sell The Living Vampire on joining the team. Morbius refuses and the cult attempts to kill him but he escapes. He heads to Morgana's posh Kensington flat and tells her the story. She talks Morbius into infiltrating the sect in disguise and they head back to a local cathedral, just in time to watch the men exsanguinate a priest and drink his blood. Just as Michael is about to bust up the party, Morgana St. Clair reveals she's one of the "Brotherhood" (even though she's more of a "sister") and rats Morbius out to the band of blood drinkers. Michael saves the day by dumping a fountain of holy water on the group, burning them all to ashes. As he is leaving, the dying priest begs Michael to finish him off before he becomes a vampire. 





Vampire Tail
Not a bad way to usher out Vampire Tales, a super-jumbo giant-size Michael Morbius story that doesn't make you chuckle (very much). I don't see much logic in a vampire stowing away aboard a cruise liner and the coincidence of Michael learning about the "Brotherhood" and then finding his old friend is the new ringleader is almost satisfactorily explained away (almost!). We learn that the sun light won't kill Michael (it will make him weak) and it seems pretty strange that it took this long to learn that important deviation from the legends (I'm not going to go back through all the Morbius stories to find out if The Moenchster has contradicted that which has come before so I'll just say "Hmmm"). So, a pretty good story (albeit one with a really dumb title) and one filled with enough Moench-isms to make me smile (these things wouldn't be half as much fun without dialogue like "Get back, scum!! Get back before I rip you apart with the last shred of disgust I command!!"). Dougie's consecutive string of stories filled with the word "filth" now stands at forty-three.



The Last Hurrah of Vampire Tales is the disjointed "Hobo's Lullaby" wherein a vampire hobo travels the rails and builds an army of (you guessed it) vampire hoboes. There's a subplot about the vampire also traveling around killing vampire hoboes but, by that time, I'd switched off trying to figure the whole mess out. Other than as a gimmick for a funny book story, why would a vampire (a creature who can have anything he wants as far as wealth goes) live in the squalor and filth of a hobo? Let's just say John Warner is no Doug Moench and leave it at that. RIP VT -Peter Enfantino



Don't even joke about another issue!


This Sunday! Professor Joe Tura will be in lecture hall 4A to address the pros and cons of The Man-Gods From Beyond the Stars! Be there or be someplace else!