Wednesday, November 19, 2014

February 1975 Part Two: Starlin's Warlock!







The Incredible Hulk 184
"Shadow on the Land"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Herb Trimpe

The Hulk hitches a ride with a military truck carrying toxic chemicals. When the drivers find the monstrous stowaway, the Hulk trashes them and their trucks, getting toxic chemicals all over himself. An alien, observing from its spacecraft, decides that the Hulk will make the perfect specimen to begin his invasion of earth. Meanwhile at the Hulkbuster Base, a scientist is getting the results from a cellular scan he did on Major Talbot at the request of Colonel Armbruster. When he gets the results, the shocked scientist is shot and killed by an unseen assassin. The murderer hides the scientist's body in a storage room and then destroys the scan paperwork. As the Hulk sulks about the desert, his shadow begins to miraculously attack him. The shadow reveals itself to be an alien named Warlord Kaa, once part of an alien invasion from many years ago. Kaa's desire is to take over the earth once again. The Hulk can do nothing against a foe that has no solid form but Kaa grows frustrated with the Hulk's uncanny durability and refusal to be beaten. Eventually, Kaa runs out of time and dissipates after the sun goes down and spotlights vanquish his form. When the Hulk turns back into Banner, he decides to turn himself in at the nearby Hulkbuster Base. The story ends with Colonel Armbruster shooting him and claiming to have done it for the good of America. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: I'm all for blasts from the past, of different creatures from such titles as Where Monsters Dwell, which is where Warlord Kaa made his first appearance, but the constant alien arrivals in this series have gotten way beyond tedious at this point. An evil alien Hulk shadow did look kind of cool though, even if it was easily defeated.

Matthew Bradley: Here, we can see the seeds of next year’s resurgent annual being planted as Greenskin goes up against a monosyllabically named monster from Marvel’s pre-super-hero era—one who, believe it or not, would be back again, exactly two years later, in Champions #11.  As with December’s return of It! The Living Colossus in Astonishing Tales #21, Roy’s footnote directs us to the recent reprint of Kaa’s first outing from Where Monsters Dwell #31 (October 1974), rather than to the Lee/Kirby original in Strange Tales #79 (December 1960).  And, except for some more of the increasingly convoluted Hulkbuster-related doings…that’s about it; clearly, neither Len nor Herbie worked himself into a state of nervous exhaustion whipping out this baby.

Scott McIntyre: Another really fun issue that I always enjoyed. The art is still “shiny and metallic” with a lot of scratch lines, the type that Steve Ditko used, only to different effect. It adds a layer of that shine (I wish I could explain it better) but also brings out a more artificial feel. The alien is interesting and it’s always cool to revisit the monster mags. Seeing Ross in cowboy garb was a little incongruous, but it’s nice to see old T-Bolt relax for a little while. Next issue, everything hits the fan again.  










The Man-Thing 14
"Tower of the Satyr"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Marcos Pelayo
Cover by Gil Kane, Tom Palmer, and John Romita

The Man-Thing, cast off the space-faring pirate ship, falls towards the Earth, first freezing then thawing as he heats up in the Earth's atmosphere. What's left of him lands in the swamp. Said ghost ship has Maura Spinner captive. Captain Fate says she is their queen, and has dressed her as such. She's angry at being held and is able to fight off the pirates with the ease of someone who might be one. The captain tells her the story she can't recall. Years ago they found an island with a tower that had to be climbed to reach the entrance. Maura did, the other pirates followed.  There they encountered the half-man half-goat, Khordes, who said the treasure was theirs for the taking as long as Maura remained as his mate. She refused, but the pirates had abandoned her already. Khordes put a curse on her: three times would she live and die until she could learn the meaning of love. The tower sinks into the sea. Its magic was what was needed to bring the Man-Thing back to life. Manny then sees the skeleton of Khordes on the ocean floor and, touching him, brings the goat-man back too. The tower rises from the sea, Manny and Khordes on top. The pirate ship approaches and they land on the tower. The pirates prove no match for them. The crew of the Marietta is close and on hand too. Khordes explains he is a satyr, an ancient mythological creature. His only wish now is to save Maura from the pirates who would have killed her. She realizes that his heart is pure, and decides to stay with Khordes. The Man-Thing returns to the sea. -Jim Barwise



Jim Barwise: An interesting mix of myth and magic. The imagery by Alfredo Alcala is dream-like at
times. Khordes, proving to be a mythological creature who's real, is fascinating stuff. Is this the answer to the Bermuda Triangle? Maura's choice to stay with Khordes, while not surprising in the story context, is interesting. Where will they go now? What kind of life will they have?

Scott: This story would have made a better Pirates of the Caribbean movie than the four they made.  Man-Thing is, for all intents and purposes, an anthology, with Manny acting as a silent Rod Serling or Crypt Keeper. He usually just stands around, tries to fathom the events going on around him and throws someone around, or burns them for good measure. Actually, most of these stories would work just as well without him. That doesn’t say much about him as a character.

Chris Blake: Imagine a role-playing game that, on a certain roll of a multi-sided die, produces an outcome like this: “Your body is released into space, where all your fluid stuff freezes, until about 90% of you burns up on re-entry, and then the bit that’s left crashes and sinks to the ocean floor.”  Well, it’s only a minor setback if your character happens to be a mostly mindless muck-monster.  And Steve is about the only writer who would deliberately mistreat his lead character as badly as a spoiled 4 yr-old would manhandle an unloved toy.  


It’s interesting and fun as always, although I will say that Manny was a little too far removed to the periphery this time (I’ll admit that the frames of him tossing the pirates around were fun), and that I prefer my inexplicable Man-Thing tales to stick more closely to the wondrous, fantastical swamp.  My other criticism is that we really aren’t provided with an adequate reason for Maura to choose to forgo her hard-won self-respect as a research scientist so that she can hang out with a withered, if well-meaning, old man-goat.  And now, watch this space for glowing commentary from Dean Peter about the Alcala art.  



Peter Enfantino: I'm afraid I've used up all my adjectives on Alcala's DC horror stories (over at the bare bones website) but I will say that The Master always looks better when he inks himself (as he does here). How this man didn't become more well-known and studied, I'll never know. Meanwhile, I'll shake my head at the funny book artists that did become icons.



Matthew:  Alcala’s self-inked art is interesting:  I don’t think his rendition of Man-Thing equals that of a Mayerik, or even a Ploog, but this is attractive and certainly different from what we have seen before.  What most struck me, though—and I don’t mean this as a knock—was that some of it looked like it came out of one of those 1950s reprints you find taking up space in the back of Fear et al.  I read this one in an understandable hurry while waiting for Mrs. Professor Matthew to join me in the boudoir, so I can perhaps be forgiven for missing a few nuances of the story, but it didn’t seem to matter, and again, I don’t mean that in a negative way; Steve clearly brought the saga to a satisfactory close, and with Manny back “home,” all’s right with the world. 

Mark Barsotti: So a scientist, a satyr, and a muck-monster walk into a bar...


...after the scientist (a red-headed hottie) is revealed as a reincarnated pirate queen, the satyr is restored from skeleton-at-the-bottom-of-the-sea status by healing muck-monster touch, immediately after Manny (ah, you guessed it!), was pushed out of a ghost ship in space and boiled down to a "handful of flaming muck" re-entering the atmosphere.

So a scientist, a satyr, and a muck-monster belly up to the bar and exclaim as one, "We'll have whatever Steve Gerber's having!"









Marvel Team-Up 30
Spider-Man and The Falcon in
"All That Glitters is Not Gold!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Mooney and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Spidey helps Peter’s neighbor, Gloria Grant, subdue three crazed teens, then brings them to her apartment instead of the police; her cousin Ramôn recalls nothing since they were sprayed with a drug at a disco by a gold-suited man who “wants to wipe out all the blacks living in Manhattan.”  She calls Sam Wilson, who (as the Falcon) reaches the Hot Spot at the same time, yet although Midas escapes, they learn that the owner is liberal philanthropist Harrison J. Merriwell.  Crashing a party at his estate, they are captured and placed in a freezer to die, but Spidey’s webbing expands upon freezing, breaking the lock; freed by the guests, they unmask Midas as Malcolm Merriwell, who thought his brother was being tricked by his charities.
-Matthew Bradley




Matthew: The initial optimism generated by the appearance of Glory (whom Gerry introduced last month in Amazing #140), clearly a stab at that hoped-for inter-title consistency, is quickly dissipated by a stinker of a story, while the Mooney/Colletta pairing practically guarantees that the art will be aggressively average.  Random queries:  Does Spidey stand around sans mask because he wants to blow his secret i.d.?  Is it reverse racism that the Falcon can only guest-star when black people are threatened?  Why no mention of their prior meeting?  Did Marvel really need another villain named Midas, and a totally forgettable one at that?  What happened to Peter’s Spider-Sense in the Merriwell digs?  Could he really predict when his webbing would freeze down to the second?

Scott: There isn’t a lot going for this issue. Boring layouts, a bland story, sketchy inks resulting in a really bland comic. At least we finally see Sam Wilson doing his job as a social worker for a change. The guy is a total non-entity out of costume. Thankfully, we didn’t have to deal with an appearance by Leila and her jive talkin’ “I hate whitey” crap.

Joe Tura: Definitely remember this cover, but the tale inside, actually not so much, so let's go total random. Were people really clamoring for a Spidey-Falcon team-up? Really? No, really? Anyway...It seems odd for Spider-Man to think he has to pull his punches so as to not murder the protestors--that's a bit of an exaggeration, methinks. Nice to get some Gloria Grant lead time, I always liked her. But not nice to get lots of panels of Mooney-era Spidey looking like the 60's animated show. Love Spidey thinking when someone flies by it's Thor or Sub-Mariner, but then doesn't seem to care. A Kojak shout-out! Spidey's webbing expands in extreme cold--who knew? Midas is a pretty lame villain overall, and this issue is just average for a Team-Up




Luke Cage, Power Man 23
"Welcome to Security City"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Ron Wilson and Dave Hunt
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Ron Wilson

Power Man and his buddy D.W. are on a quest to track down Cage's old flame Claire Temple in Los Angeles. When their bus breaks down, they hitch a ride on the next one to come along, empty except for the driver. In the desolate countryside, the bus gets ambushed by militia and the bus driver is killed. Power Man has no problem dispatching them. Afterwards, he and D.W. come across Security City, a gated community off by itself. Once inside, the two are surprised to find that everyone in the town is armed to the teeth. Caught by the police, Power Man is brought to the leader and creator of Security City, his old nemesis Gideon Mace. Being the braggart that he is, Mace relates to Cage that everyone in the town was purposely selected because they are easy to control. The quick-thinking D.W. turns on the speaker system during Mace's self-aggrandizing tirade, and when the townsfolk hear what their leader is saying about them, they begin to riot. The story ends with Power Man and D.W. making their escape while everyone fights around them. -Tom McMillion

Chris: A compact little narrative, with themes that still resonate today about the need among some people to section themselves off from other segments of society, either due to either their perceived superiority or their unrecognized paranoia (or a bit of both).  The promo film is downright creepy, and reflects the attitude of safety and belonging that also contributed to the rise of cults around this period in our nation.  Luke and D.W. keep their heads in this peculiar environment, and their moments of levity (such as p 15, reprinted below) not only are effective, but also illustrate the friendship shared by these two.  Still, I’m glad Cage was able to bust them out, so that we didn’t have to carry over this Mace storyline into the next issue.  


Dave Hunt, as far as I know, doesn’t get proper credit for his capable contribution to Marvel, especially as he spent so much time in the background (well, inking backgrounds, that is, for ASM).  This issue is a solid example of how Hunt could finish the pencil lines clearly and cleanly, without imposing his own style on Wilson’s competent pencils.  






Supernatural Thrillers 11
The Living Mummy in
"The Asp's Big Score!"
Story by Tony Isabella and Val Mayerik
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Alan Kupperberg
Cover by Frank Brunner

The Asp and his companion, Olddan, are reveling in the beauty that is the Scarlet Scarab when N'Kantu, The Living Mummy, busts through the door in an attempt to regain possession of the artifact. Olddan hurls his lantern at the mummy and the creature is engulfed in flames. When N'Kantu passes out from the pain, the duo hoof it to Dr. Skarab's joint in order to sell the Scarab. Meanwhile, Zephyr has been sent to Cairo to regain control of both N'Kantu and the Scarab. She stumbles upon the mummy, still reeling from his burns, and heals him with her otherworldly powers. She and N'Kantu then head to Skarab's to find The Asp and Olddan. By this time, Zephyr has had a change of heart and wishes to bat for the good team, leaving behind her former colleagues, the evil Elementals, but the trio will have none of that. They deliver their ultimatum directly to The Asp, Dr. Skarab, and The Mummy: hand over the jewel or Zephyr and Olddan die. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: While it's still not all I'd like it to be, there did seem to be a notion in Tony Isabella's mind that the events in each issue must somehow propel this story arc (effectively the only story arc that The Living Mummy series will see) rather than the sort of endless meandering that sunk It! and The Golem. Of course, looking back forty years in the future, nothing was going to keep this title afloat; chances are, it was already doomed. Kudos for the scene where Zephyr is passing a group of beggars in the square and transforms them (if only in their minds) into sultans. This scene lends credence to the fact that she's softening and growing apart from her maniacal partners. Too bad I have to subtract one star for the idiotic two-page prose "origin of The Asp and Olddan." Who thought it would be a great idea to stop the action for a long expository (suppository)?

Chris: We rejoin the primary storyline, after N’Kantu’s brief exposure (courtesy of guest scripter Len Wein) to the Israeli-Arab conflict of the early 1970s.  The action moves along well enough, once we get past Tony’s overlong tell (ie we’re told, not shown) of the Asp’s backstory.  Zephyr’s capacity for compassion is unexpected, especially as it allows for dissention in the ranks of the Elementals.  N’Kantu’s meeting with Dr Skarab, and the civil conversation that ensues following the Mummy’s violent action, is a highlight, especially as it features some of the best art in the issue.  Mayerik’s self-inked art is intense, and expressive, and atmospheric – easily among his best efforts during the Bronze Age.


There’s a part of me that wishes the series were ending in another issue or two, before the story loses its footing – at this point, I’m enjoying it too much to watch it shamble away.
Peter: Tom Sutton's classic mini-mini-horror, "Contact" (originally from Tower of Shadows #6, July 1970) is just as hilariously sick as it was the first time I read it. Oh, if I only had time to devote to an overview of Sutton's mid-1970s horror work at Marvel, Charlton, and Warren. Good stuff!



The Tomb of Dracula 29
"'Vengeance is Mine!' Sayeth the Vampire!"
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

Furious over being spurned by his former thrall Shiela Whittier, Dracula attacks a woman and feeds on her, but not before he demolishes a group of men that try to stop him. Shiela seeks comfort in the arms of David Eschol. After their conversation, David realizes that he must kill Dracula, otherwise the two of them will never be safe from his wrath. In India, Taj and his wife reconcile. It is revealed, through flashbacks, that Dracula and a crew of his vampires attacked them in their village some time ago. During this encounter, Taj's son became a vampire after being bitten. Taj himself was bitten in the throat by Drac, leaving him unable to speak. Fortunately, Rachel Van Helsing was hunting the vampire lord and she was able to drive him off before he was done with Taj. In England, David has gone back to Shiela's old mansion to drive a stake through Drac's heart but the vampire is too powerful and David is killed. The Count brings David's corpse to display to Shiela. Unable to cope, the girl commits suicide by jumping to the street below and Dracula can do nothing but watch helplessly. -Tom McMillion



Tom McMillion: This issue has the series returning to true form with a good, dark tale fitting for a
horror comic. David and Shiela's deaths were necessary as a way of thinning the herd, since this series was starting to become cluttered with too many heroes. We finally learn why that big mope Taj never talks at all.

Chris: Another stunner from the Undead Three of Wolfman, Colan & Palmer.  In case you thought you might have some compassion for Vlad and his empty, solitary, inhuman unlife, Wolfman allows us only contempt and pity.  As we know, Drac’s used to getting his way, so once crossed, he promises vengeance.  David never has a prayer, as he’s hopelessly overmatched in his ill-advised sneak attack on Vlad.  Drac’s not content to kill David – no, he has to torment Shiela as well, as he brandishes David’s beaten, bloodless body to her.  


Then, Marv gives us two unexpected turns at the end: first, Shiela (perhaps having found, in her brief time with David, some sense of herself) does not crawl back to Drac; next, Drac expresses that he cares for Shiela – which we might be tempted to dismiss as manipulation, if it weren’t for his whispered “I didn’t mean . . .” as he loses Shiela forever.  The dialogue on p 30, with Drac scrambling for control, and barely getting a word in toward the end, is chillingly balanced out by the nearly wordless panels on p 31 (reprinted far below), as Shiela plunges past our readers’ eyes, and into eternity.  
This issue is loaded with art highlights, with Palmer’s colors (absent for the past two issues) contributing to the effect.  I’ll limit myself to a few moments: David’s doomed approach to Vlad’s casket (p 17); David’s gruesome corpse (p 26, reprinted below); Shiela reaching for release (p 31, pnl 1, far below), the eerily empty look on her face (pnl 2), and her single tear (last panels).




Mark: Payback's a bitch.

Whatever inexplicable alignment of cosmic bodies allowed Shiela Whittaker to ignore Drac's hoodoo-hypno commands while simultaneously sinking the Count into a moment of reflective, self-pitying inaction has passed. Sun emerges from moon shadow; comet blazes by; Vlad the Bad is back, thirsting for revenge. He fangs a bad babysitter, slays her would-be rescuers, but "only the blood of that cursed female traitor" will do. Rabbinical student David Eshcol, too slow to drive the stake while dusk falls, dies first, his abused corpse presented as a dark "F you!" trophy at Shiela's door. Yet Drac still has feelings for her, fumbles for  some romantic rapprochement between living and undead. Shiela spurns him. Second story leaps into the embrace of sweet oblivion, waiting below, leaving a sorrowful Count to flap away into the inky, unforgiving night.
      







The Mighty Thor 232
"Lo, the Raging Battle!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Tom Palmer

In his travels exploring the Earth, Firelord (the former herald of Galactus) has found, in the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, a mysterious cube that glows with power. He can pass through it and, curious, does. He finds himself in a bizarre dimension where he meets...Loki. The God of Evil, who has absorbed the powers of Dormammu, has plans for him. Meanwhile, even some rare medicines Thor has found fail to revive Jane Foster. Sif, who has vowed to help Thor's mortal love, is on a mission to find the Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn, which holds the power of life and death; she recruits Hercules for aid. Firelord returns to Earth and warns Thor and the Avengers; apparently Loki's intent. A call from Tom Fagan, a friend of the Avengers, confirms Loki is not in Rutland, Vermont, where he had been held, or so they thought. 
-Jim Barwise



Jim: There's a lot to recommend this issue, a large cast of characters who are taking part on various missions for starters. The Runestaff of Kamo Tharnn is an interesting development in the making. I'm curious why Don Blake doesn't operate on Jane Foster himself, as he had back in issues 153-4.  Loki having Dormammu's power is going to make him even more deadly--love the full-page panel when Firelord enters Loki's dimension. (reprinted left) The cover, while inaccurate in its depiction of events, is nice. Again, good to have Buscema back.

Chris: Wait – so, why were Firelord and Thor hurling buildings at each other?  During the battle, both parties accuse the other of initiating aggression.   Later, Firelord states only that he was sent to announce Loki’s return and convey his threat to the Avengers (ye can’t keep a good villain down for long, can ya now?).  I have a feeling that, next ish, we’ll get some explanation of Loki’s Escape from Rutland (coming soon from John Carpenter), but I hope Gerry also fills us in about how our heroes wound up pitted against each other.  The Incredible Missing Odin storyline is being pushed aside in favor of The Quest for Jane’s Cure, so hopefully next month also will provide an update on Odin’s whereabouts (after all, it’s usually not until months from now that he usually heads to Daytona). 


Chris: I was a bit put-off by Giordano’s inks in the early going, until I realized that he must have been  deliberately making Firelord look somewhat indistinct, so that he might appear, well, flamier (for lack of a better term).  Overall, Giordano’s look incorporates some of Esposito’s texture and Sinnott’s clarity; it’s even better than last issue, so it’s too bad Buscema/Giordano don’t have further opportunities to collaborate on this title.  Thor’s expressions are genuine throughout, especially in his moments of care and concern for Jane (p 10).  And how about the moment when Firelord is riding on his staff (reprinted far below)?  It should go without saying that page 3 is suitable for framing, but there – I hadda say it anyway.   




Scott: Considering the unique shape of the headgear, it was pretty obvious the “mysterious silhouette” was Loki. The Big Reveal is anything but, however I do have to admit, it’s great to have him back. Not only back, but with Dormammu’s powers as well. “I am literally power!” is a great line, one of Loki’s best. Dick Giordano’s superb inks mesh beautifully with John Buscema’s pencils. They lend gravitas to Thor’s heartache over Jean Foster’s condition. With Thor’s fickle heart back over to his former lady love, Sif proves to be the Best Girlfriend Ever by backing him and doing what she can to make Jane gets whatever assistance she needs. I don’t think my wife would take it as well.

This issue answers the burning question of what Avengers do during their downtime. Apparently, not much. Iron Man is seen with his hands behind his head, lounging with feet up on the table. Nothing on TV, eh? No crimes being committed? The usual “fight with the guest hero until you both pause to actually listen to each other” trope gets yet another airing in the first half. It’s pretty moldy by now, but for some reason, it’s an essential ingredient of the typical Marvel story.  




Matthew: Reuniting Buscema and Giordano, the artwork seems to me the most interesting aspect of this issue; some panels have a rough-hewn Colletta look to them, while the positively phantasmagorical page 3 reminds me of nothing so much as Ditko, about as far from what you’d expect Big John to turn out as possible.  Since we appear to be starting a new plotline (although with this mag, it’s often difficult to tell where one ends and another begins), I don’t want to make any snap judgments about the story, but Firelord certainly seems to be worth exploring in greater detail, and we certainly weren’t dumb enough to believe that Loki would stay infantilized up in Rutland forever.  So I think it’s best just to go along for the ride and enjoy the scenery en route...




Werewolf by Night 26
"A Crusade of Murder"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin 
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Karen Pocock
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

The ever-pontificating Hangman swings Werewolf from his noose, but the beast is able to escape, leaving the vigilante to explain out loud how he seeks justice against the evil DePrayve. At the hospital, Hangman smacks a nurse and abducts Redditch, taking him to the place where he grew up and learned about truth—the Bijou movie theatre. Werewolf collapses in a ditch and turns back into Jack, who is awakened by Buck, drinks Redditch's "good" serum, and waits for the full moon. At first Jack doesn't turn, but his euphoria is short-lived when Werewolf arrives, then lopes off, tracking the scents of Hangman and Redditch to the Bijou, where he interrupts Hangman as he's about to use his scythe on the scientist. When Werewolf attacks, Redditch turns into DePrayve and a full donnybrook erupts! Werewolf gashes DePrayve's face and the evil one runs, with his two combatants in hot pursuit. But patrolling police nab Hangman, DePrayve turns back to Redditch and swears off his serum, and Werewolf waits for the dawn.--Joe Tura

Joe: Boy, the Hangman sure can prattle on! And so sanctimonious! But he's more fun than the usual villain-of-the-month that faithful readers of WBN (all six of them!) are used to getting. A long-winded script meshes with the normal Perlinesque average art, but all in all this was a comic book not worthy of hanging out to dry. It zips along, even in the pages with "screaming loonie" Hangman going on and on and on and on about his beliefs to either no one or a knocked-out Redditch, so there's a whole vigilante stream-of-consciousness thing happening. Funny he gets arrested at the end, calling the cops "milksop liberals" as he gets an answer of "In the car, Charlie—before you make my finger twitch". Hilarity! A shame Jack finds no answer in the "good" serum, but really, did you expect any other result? And dig that crazy pompadour in the last panel (reprinted far below)! Now that's a way to end a mediocre book right!




Chris: This ish, overall, marks an improvement over the past 6-7 months' worth.  I wasn’t thrilled to see the Hangman back – I feel like we got our money’s worth last time around – but he provided some self-righteous good-and-crazy fun this time.  The Werewolf escapes hanging in a similar way as he had before – i.e., grabbing the rope to spare himself choking – so it was a sound idea by Doug to have this sequence end differently, as both parties wind up unexpectedly hitting the ground.  The bit with the serum is well-handled, as Doug refrains from jokiness, and instead introduces some gravity, as both Jack and Buck proceed with hope, only to have their hearts broken when the full moon pulls its usual trick.  





Chris: Perlin’s art contributes to my impression of WbN as improved; either that, or I’ve come to accept Don’s “amazingly adequate” (to quote a lettercol entry) approach to this title.  Perlin doesn’t quite convey the Hangman’s lunacy – in fact, he looks a bit bored on p 2, pnl 1; De Prayve is done far better (p 27, last pnl).  The action in the six-handed battle (p 26-30) is done well.  Passing grades all around.  
Here’s a suggestion: Jack always comes thru the transformation with his pants intact – so, why not tuck a bus pass in his back pocket, so he can make his way back to town from the woods in the morning -?







Master of Kung Fu 25
"Rites of Courage, Fists of Death!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Sal Trapani
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott


After the battle with the forces of Fu Manchu and fugitive Nazi Wilhelm Bucher, Shang-Chi follows a trail thru the Amazon jungle (together with Sir Denis and Black Jack) toward a rendezvous at a remote airstrip.  S-C leaves the trail to investigate a peculiar sound, and discovers a small native infant, alone and crying, about to be attacked by a jaguar.  S-C propels himself toward the predator, and succeeds in forcing it away.  S-C and the child then are beset by a group of tribesmen – their only effective communication is by employing their spears to direct S-C toward their camp.  In the center of the camp is a captured Si-Fan assassin, separated earlier from his group (the Si-Fan had been selected for the Amazon assignment due to his familiarity with native Amazon languages).  He explains that the infant is marked for death, and had been left as a sacrifice to the jaguar, due to his being born on a moonless night – superstition requires appeasement of the gods to ensure the moon’s return.  S-C’s disruption of tribal custom plays into pre-existing dissent, and he now is required to pass tests to prove himself as an emissary of the gods.  S-C completes the challenges, but the results are for naught, as the leader of the rival faction unceremoniously impales the chief, and turns on S-C.  S-C expertly fights off the entirety of the tribesmen; his uncanny skill convinces them that S-C is a god himself, as the tribe bows to him.  S-C orders the infant’s life to be spared, and the Si-Fan to be released.  S-C then prepares to leave, stopping only to dispatch the Si-Fan (off the side of a cliff), who proves to prefer to follow the deadly orders of Fu Manchu, rather than live in gratitude to Fu’s son.  -Chris Blake



Chris: A thoroughly satisfying issue, which illustrates (more effectively than the swamp-bound story of MoKF #19) that the character of S-C – and the action that inevitably follows him – does not require a traditional comic-story setting (or the immediate presence of Fu) in order to be entertaining.  Doug includes two clever reversals, first the abrupt execution of the chief – which undermines S-C’s success in the challenges – then, the assassin’s turn (admittedly, not completely unexpected) on his liberator at the end.  
Special thanks to Doug for avoiding this cliché: small native child: “Hello sir!” Shang-Chi: “Hello – how is it you are able to speak English?” child: “I met with a missionary once for 20 minutes, and he taught me every syllable of the language!  Would you like for me to speak to the chief for you?”  S-C: “Why yes – thank you!”  The fact that S-C is unable to speak directly with the natives helps us to identify with him in the story, and contributes tension as S-C oftentimes is unsure of what to do, or how to react. 



I’ll admit that I was not enthusiastic about the idea of pairing Trapani with Gulacy, but it turns out to have been an inspired choice, since Sal T brings an earthiness to the pencils that works well in this setting; Adkins or Milgrom might not have done as well to achieve this effect.  Gulacy masterfully choreographs the battling, as I could imagine S-C’s flips, spins, and chops as he glides from panel to panel.  Pages 22-23 are particularly solid – how about S-C biting a hunk out of the Bronze-era machete (I’ll bet that got the tribesman’s attention)!  The one-man palace revolt on p 17 (above) conveys the sudden savagery of the chief’s undoing.  The omission of S-C’s fight with the Si-Fan at the end (p 31), briefly showing only the results, was cleverly done.  
Mark: Father Fu replaced (his malignant presence lingers, like cheap cigar smoke at an off-track betting parlor) this month by plot trope #241: Infant in Danger. Shang-Chi saves bawling babe from a Jaguar, then the Amazonian tribesmen who set the kid out as tabby treat to appease their Moon god. Big cat & headhunters are fine foils for high-energy KF action, thankfully served up once again by Paul Gulacy, even if Trapani's uneven inks water down the results. A captured Si-Fan explains tribal politics & the rituals Shang must face (hot-coal walking, gauntlet-running) before a spear in the back deposes the reasonable chief, sparking mayhem. Shang prevails, saving both babe and his father's henchman. The Si-Fan can't resist taking a crack at our hero, gets cliff-tossed for his troubles. Fu gets his money's worth. Shang flies home with Sir Denis and Black Jack to next face...his sister?







Marvel Spotlight 20
The Son of Satan in
"The Fool's Path"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Al McWilliams
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito

Daimon and Dr Katherine Reynolds accompany one of her students to a free tarot reading by Madame Swabada.  The elderly medium acknowledges Daimon as if she knows him, although he is certain they’ve never met.  Madame S. deals out cards for Daimon, and foretells a long period of “strife and struggle,” which ultimately will prove fruitless for him.  Daimon angrily rejects the medium’s reading, and accuses her of deliberately setting the cards.  His ire leads to the release of his Son of Satan persona; Daimon burns the medium’s table, then briefly passes out.  Katherine and her student help him out to the street, where he is attacked by a wolf; SoS impales the wolf on his trident, and the animal is burned to ash.  Daimon turns to face Madame S. anew, only to find her parlor . . . completely vacant.  Katherine wonders whether some power might be forcing Daimon to enact the predictions of the tarot, when they are beset by a horned demon, who carries Katherine to a rooftop, then continues on, and drops Daimon thru a skylight at a country estate.  The home happens to be run by the group of nihilists SoS had encountered when Kometes had made his inexplicable appearance weeks before in the night sky (in MS #16).  Daimon fights off a group of the sword-wielding nihilists, then collapses in exhaustion, unwittingly mirroring the posture depicted on the tarot’s Four of Swords.  -Chris Blake


Chris: This is the first Son of Satan story that I ever acquired (I bought it as a back issue about 10 yrs ago), and I still remember how intrigued I was by the unusual subject matter.  Just as with MS #18-19, this is the sort of “mystery” material that should be featured with this character.  I recall people dabbling in things like tarot back in the ‘70s, but I’ve never known enough about it to speak to the accuracy of Steve G.’s depiction of the workings of the cards – I’m sure there will be plenty of letters nit-picking minor details here and there.  That’s not terribly important to me – the significance of the story comes, yet again, from Steve’s willingness (daring, even) to stretch the boundaries of fair-game material that can be presented in a funny-book story.
We really shouldn’t be surprised by Sal Buscema’s art by now.  He’s developed over the preceding 5-7 years into one of those artists who can capably manage any subject or title produced by merry Marvel.  In fairness, I don’t think his art is better than Colan’s over the past two issues, but Sal’s average clearly ranks with Jim Mooney’s best.  Look at how Sal takes the text-heavy two-page spread, and makes it interesting: the expressive faces, the details on the cards, and even the layout of the cards themselves, as they seem to reach higher and further away, toward the top of the page.  No surprise, either, that Sal realizes the characters and creatures well, with the flaming demon (below) – ably aided by Roussos’ colors – an obvious highlight.


Joe: My Pal Sal, yes!! Even the never-heard-of-him Al McWilliams can't ruin my fave's pencils in this typical weirdo tale with many grimacing faces and lots and lots of lots of words from Mr. Gerber. I will say, I'm glad Prof. Blake is handling lead on these Son of Satan books instead of me because I think I would need the same hallucinogens as Gerber to do these issues due diligence. Or to fully understand them! By the way, how cliché is it to have a Mephisto Marvel Value Stamp in this title?

Matthew: This is the first in a handful of Marvel inking credits, all 1975, for 40-year industry vet Al McWilliams, a native of God’s Country (i.e., Connecticut) perhaps best known for his work on newspaper strips.  It’s also another issue I’m reading for the first time courtesy of our august Dean Enfantino—although for all I remember of the rest, they may as well be new to me, too—so I was surprised by the spectacular spread pairing Steve’s ubiquitous text page with Sal’s symbolic tarot tableau.  Trust Gerber to give us a tutorial with our kaboom, but it all works, with Al & Sal making beautiful music together; in the lettercol, future Marvel scribe Jo Duffy eerily echoes my own remarks (“Somewhere between issues #17 and #18…[Daimon] grew up”).







Giant-Size Man-Thing 3
"The Blood of Kings!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Marcos Pelayo
Cover by Gil Kane, Klaus Janson, and John Romita

The kingdom of Kartharta has been invaded and conquered by Klonus the wizard, with soldier Mortak and killer Tai at his side. The last survivor, prince and now king Korrek, is bound and about to be killed--until a beast called the Man-Thing comes to free him! Manny tosses Tai off the cliff, then is slowed by Klonus's spell, when the wizard and warrior depart at the approach of the deadly serpent hawks. Man-Thing frees Korrek, and they fight off some of the bats until the young warrior's prayers to free them are answered, by Dakimh the Enchanter and his Earthly apprentice Jennifer Kale, who had sent the swamp beast to his rescue. Korrek relates how he had returned to his kingdom to find it under the siege of Mortak and Klonus, and his father dead. He had been hit from behind and knocked out, to awake in the dungeon where he had been rescued. Dakimh does some research and finds the reason for the invasion of the seemingly useless kingdom to be that its heir (Korrek or a usurper) would obtain great power. Klonus is the power behind Mortak, and if the latter obtains this title, it would be a stepping stone to greater conquests. Klonus uses his sorcery to bring to life a stone idol of the dragon Zibarthu; then issues the challenge for Dakimh and company to fight them on Earth. The lives of innocents at stake, they cannot refuse. The battle is tight, and while our heroes win, Dakimh faces his time to die too, as he had predicted. Jenn is now the Enchantress (not the Asgardian one) and returns to her Earthly home, and Man-Thing to his swampy lair. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Man-Thing is a player in far more adventures than his lowly condition would lead one to expect. And while  Alfredo Alcala's art didn't succeed as well as it did on Manny's recent pirate ship adventure (imho), Steve Gerber script--as ususal--did. One sign of a great story is unnecessary but beneficial scenes like the Kathartan legend of Ipsis and Talita, I personally loved the return of Dakimh and Jennifer Kale, veterans of early Man-Thing tales, absent too long. The evenly matched battles, which are presented in a timely manner, were not really the focus of the story so much as tools to play out the growth of the characters, or in Dakimh's case, a sad demise. 





Matthew:  Looks like reports of “Frog Death” have been greatly exaggerated.  All that accompanies the main story is a boatload of reprints:  the Dr. Druid (aka Droom) outing “Krogg!” (Lee/ReinmanAmazing Adventures #6, November 1961), the hilariously titled “Save Me from the Weed!” (Kirby/AyersStrange Tales #94, March 1962), “Humans, Keep Out!” (Lee/HeckJourney into Mystery #86, November 1962), and “Blackmail!” (unattributed on the MCDbMystery Tales #11, May 1953).  “John Verpoorten, our peerless chief of [the production] department, is desperate to get the book out to the printer on time…and Howard the Duck is still in California, on the sun-splashed drawing board of Frank Brunner,” Steve writes in the lettercol.

So, we’re forced to bite the bullet and make do with…a pretty damned good issue, due not least to the return of Howard’s erstwhile colleagues Korrek, Jen (hubba hubba), and Dakimh.  Bitter experience has shown that properly pacing a 30-pager is easier said than done, yet Steve handles it splendidly, the story feeling substantive but not overly ambitious, neither rushed nor padded.  This and its monthly counterpart demonstrate that Alcala’s delicate style is better suited to these fantasy-oriented tales than to the grittiermilieu of the more, shall we say, realistic swamp-set entries; some of the panels, especially those apocalyptic vistas of Korrek’s people being massacred on page 16, look like old woodcuts—although I still don’t like Manny’s seaweed legs.


Scott: Really interesting art by Alfredo Alcala makes me feel like I picked up an issue of Conan by accident. The story, however, is uninvolving. As usual, these things tend to be about others, with Manny being a bystander in his own title. These Giant Size books are a conundrum. They either don’t have enough material to justify the size and pad with reprints, or the stories are too long and meandering to hold my interest.

Chris: This one’s more of a straight adventure story with fantasy elements, rather than a standard (which for this title, typically means “barely-explicable”) M-T story from the inexhaustible imagination of Steve G.  Readers had been asking for a return by Dakimh (whose name I just misspelled on my first two tries – sorry, wiz) & Jen, so here we are.  Jen’s inability to return to Dakimh’s realm means she’ll be bunking at her parents’ in Citrusville, so that’s promising for future issues.  



The only reservation I have involves the Man-Thing’s role – once he’s liberated Korrek, Manny’s given little to do for a while, and is left among the furniture (note the quiet way he rests his hands on the chair-back in chapter II).  Thankfully, Steve steers Manny around in time for the fight, so that he can behead the stone-dragon, and clonk Klonus, which neatly undermines Dakimh’s concern that the nexus of realities might’ve augmented Klonus’ powers – didn’t hear that squishing sound behind you, eh Klonus?  As always, I appreciate the moments of pathos when Steve reminds us of Manny’s tenuous grip on the reality he once knew; from p 23: ”that gnawing, nagging sense that he was once someone – something – else.”


Alcala’s self-inked art is outstanding; I remember reading this issue several years ago, and I couldn‘t help but wonder why Alcala hadn’t done more work for Marvel (I wasn’t aware at the time of the work he’d done on the b&w mags).  Manny’s back (p 2) is covered with roots, vines, and mucky lumps; his feet are indistinct, unfinished.  Though his eyes are vacant, he does seem to be looking intently at the shackled figure of Korrek (p 7, pnl 2); speaking of that frame, I can only guess at the time required to realize all the detail, in the rocks and all the little fissures, and also Korrek’s limbs (with Man-Thing’s shadow falling over the left foot, in the bottom of the frame).  The Bosch-like misery depicted on p 16 also is masterful.  (I hope Dean Peter can tell us why Alcala didn’t wind up as Manny’s regular artist, as had been hinted-at in letters pages around this time.)

Peter: Though I don't have the magic answer to Professor Chris' question as to the dearth of Alcala art at Marvel, I would venture a guess that, because of his uber-detailed work, Roy was worried about assigning Alfredo to Man-Thing full time. Then, also, AA was pumping out material for DC's mystery books and would soon find himself lots of work over at Warren as well. Oh, what I wouldn't have given for a four-color monthly Tales of the Zombie book written by Steve Gerber and illustrated by The Master.



Strange Tales 178
Warlock in
"Who is Adam Warlock?"
Story, Art, Inks and Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Annette Kawecki

 “Sphinxor from the star system Pegasus” provides a four-page recap (from Fantastic Four #66-7, Thor #165-6, Marvel Premiere #1-2, Warlock #1-8, and Incredible Hulk #176-8), after which “the stars beckoned like a former love and [Adam] answered the only way he could!”  On “an uncharted satellite in the star cluster Hercules,” a nameless girl has “crossed a dozen galaxies,” seeking his aid on behalf of “a thousand worlds, a billion people.”  He vows to protect her from a Roclite, Borgia, and two other Grand Inquisitors from the Universal Church of Truth, but is unable to prevent their terminating the “fugitive infidel” and teleporting away, so he uses a hitherto-untapped power of his Soul Gem to reanimate her long enough to question her.


She tells him of “a deity called the Magus, a powerful being that came from the stars nearly five thousand years ago and set himself up as a god,” and of the Matriarch, the temporal leader whose iron grip has made the church “the most powerful force in the galaxy.”  The Universalite doctrine cannot be questioned; heresy is punishable by death; conversions are made with torture; noncompliant worlds are purged of non-believers by the Purification Fleet.  Suddenly, the Magus appears, attacking Adam with “strange yet familiar demons,” and before vanishing he reveals his secret:  the creatures were Warlock’s own inner demons, and Adam cannot fight him because the Magus—“Latin for wise man…magicianwarlock!!”—and he “are...one and the same being!” 
-Matthew Bradley


Matthew: After confirming that “[l]ast issue was, indeed, Jim Starlin’s final effort on Captain Marvel,” the lettercol of #35 boasted, “Having finished off the Thanos-saga, with so many of the concepts and characters he’d created, Jim decided to turn his talents toward a new series, where he could work up a new galaxy of grandeur and wonderment—so at this very moment, he’s hard at work scripting, penciling, coloring—and now, inking—that series.  Its name:  Warlock!  That’s right—the same Adam Warlock whose first series just didn’t quite come off…but of course, with Starlin at the helm, it’s not really the same.  What can we tell you except that you’ll blow your mind all over again on this one—and you’ll have that privilege in just a few [three, in fact] short months!”


Starlin said, “I quite enjoyed the book when they started it.  I was still in the service at the time and was able to find copies, and was hoping to find more when I got out, but by that time, the book was canceled.  I thought they did a great job on that series, at first, but the premise sort of fizzled out, and with the different writers and artists, it lost focus quickly and was canceled….I’d taken Captain Marvel and turned him from a warrior to sort of a messiah character, or at least a mystical character with his cosmic awareness.  Warlock, he was already at about the same place I’d left Captain Marvel.  So where do you go from there?  Well, instead of a messiah, he becomes a suicidal paranoid schizophrenic,” as Jim told Newsarama (courtesy of Professor Joe).



Matthew: Unlike with the Thanos War, I experienced none of the Magus Saga back in the day, so I revisit it unbiased by the glowing nostalgia I feel for Captain Marvel. Murkily reproduced, and perhaps truncated, versions of Adam’s four-issue run in this title, plus part of the continuation that Starlin began in Warlock #9, were used to back up Silver Surfer reprints in Fantasy Masterpieces #8-14 (starting in July 1980), while in 1977, I had bought both his Marvel Team-Up appearance and Jim’s magisterial Avengers/Marvel Two-in-One Annuals.  But it wasn’t until December 1982, with the advent of the gorgeous six-part Warlock Special Edition from which I am working, that I saw his revived mag in all its glory, and I doubt I’d read any of his pre-Starlin strip then, either.


I’m going to keep my critique to a minimum until this arc picks up a little speed—not that there’s anything wrong with the first entry, but between summarizing the past and laying the expository groundwork for the future, its forward motion is necessarily limited.  As with Mar-Vell, Jim uses a hero he did not create (albeit came to define for many of us) while bringing almost everything else to the table himself, and apparently with greater confidence this time.  It’s worth noting that throughout the Thanos War, he relied on co-writers most of the time and dedicated inkers all of the time; here, he handles it on his own, and does so beautifully, yet at the risk of a visit from the Grand Inquisitors, I’ll commit the heresy of opining that Starlin might not be his own best inker.





Mark: A tale of two Jims: Starlin & Steranko. The latter was Marvel's first auteur, given control over a floundering spy strip in a backwater book and – whoda thunk it? - raised the creative bar for an entire industry. After a brilliant, guitar-smashing finale (Captain America #111-113), Steranko left super hero comics (save for a smattering of covers) forever, while inspiring Bronze Age heirs like Jim the former.

Starlin's second (and last) great auteural act begins. Warlock will riff on the Catholic Church, the duality of man, and - aiming ever higher - even the Marvel hierarchy itself! The art and creative panel designs are brilliant here, the story-telling first-rate, and (if memory serves) all will remain so throughout this run. And it's hard to fault Starlin for soon interjecting his one great character, Thanos, into the proceedings. He'd return to the Terrible Titan repeatedly over the years, if never again with the initial impact.  

Steranko and Starlin. The first made his mark and never looked back. The second picked up the do-it-all mantel and continues working to this day, when the mood strikes him, if never again reaching the epic heights about to unfold.




Chris: Starlin can’t do things the easy way, can he?  Warlock not only has to fight against an evil empire, but he has to fight against himself (or, some aspect of himself, perhaps?  Could you explain it again, Jim -?) at the same time.  In the process, Starlin will finally separate Warlock from the baggage of Christ-figure that has characterized his recent appearances (in the Counter-Earth based stories), and establish a new role for him as an interstellar force for good.  My only concern, as I’m re-reading Warlock for the first time in a decade or two, is that these stories will be suitably distinctive so that I won’t be mistaking them for additional chapters in the Mar-Vell vs Thanos storyline.


I can’t comment about a Starlin comic without looking at, and dwelling over, the art.  It’s everything that Starlin brought to the closing chapters of the Thanos War – moments like: the Great and Powerful Magus; Warlock seeing images of himself, Magus, and the death’s-head repeated in a series of reflections; Warlock seated on an outcropping of rock, with a withered tree behind him, as Magus confirms Warlock’s newfound suspicions of his duality.  All of the art effects are complemented again by Starlin’s choice of unusual colors, such as the reliance on red and yellow for the “infidel” girl’s explanation of the church’s methods; I also really dug Jim’s use of deep purple and bright orange as Warlock briefly revived the girl.  As a bonus, as Starlin’s art continues to develop, the alien creatures become more and more fantastic – we’ll be seeing plenty of them in the months to come. 


Also This Month

Arrgh! #2
Crazy #9
Dead of Night #8
Giant-Size Chillers #1 >
Journey Into Mystery #15
The Outlaw Kid #191
Marvel Double Feature #8
Marvel Tales #57
Mighty Marvel Western #37
Night Rider #3
Nostalgia Illustrated #2
Our Love Story #32
The Outlaw Kid #26
Spidey Super Stories #5
Two-Gun Kid #122
Uncanny Tales #8
Vault of Evil #17
War is Hell #11
Weird Wonder Tales #8
X-Men #92

Though Marvel had tried before to replicate the DC mystery line magic (most notably, Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness), it was with Giant-Size Chillers #1 that the powers-that-be decided to chuck the subterfuge and just plain rip DC off. GSC #1 not only features a horror host that looks uncannily like The House of Mystery's Cain but its lead story, "The Gravesend Gorgon," is the work of two of "DC's mystery bullpen" (as we like to refer to them over at the bare bones site), pulp writer Carl Wessler and artist extraordinaire Alfredo Alcala. It's too bad that "Gorgon" is the only highlight of the issue. The rest consists of boring gothic melodramas and moldy reprints (hmmm... just like the 100-page version of House of Mystery that was hitting stands at about this time). Giant-Size Chillers would last three quarterly issues before going the way of its Giant-Size brethren. The pre-code horror reprints are always fun but this could have been so much better.



THOSE MARVEL-OUS MAGAZINES




Monsters Unleashed 10
Cover by Jose Antonio Domingo

"The 11:10 to Murder"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik

"Beauty's Vengeance"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sanho Kim

"The Serenity Stealers"
Story by Tony Isabella and Chris Claremont
Art by Tony DeZuniga

The Frankenstein Monster finds himself on "The 11:10 to Murder," a train carrying a most unexpected rider: the President of the United States. But, being this a series starring Dr. Frankenstein's favorite son, trouble can't be too far away. Also riding this express train is a band of armed assassins trying to make their way through Secret Service agents to the POTUS's cabin. The only thing preventing a President Rockefeller is the monster and a female hobo. The duo fight their way forward through both assassins and SSAs until they are the only two standing in front of the POTUS's cabin. When the monster tears through the door, they find nothing but a dummy and realize that the entire trip was a ruse to mask the POTUS's real trip route. The girl urges the monster to jump ship before they pull into the next station since it would be hard to explain a legendary creature and several corpses on the POTUS's train. But the train doesn't stop and, unbeknownst to the monster, an assassin hurls a bomb into the car, destroying the train and killing the monster's new friend. A really good story is tough to find in this series and this one just manages to eke out that commendation. Of course, you must first dodge the flowery prose ("Softly, silent snow whispers to the ground, pieces of crystal cloud brushed from sky, sighing downward, breathing promises of virginity to a landscape raped by filth and soot...") and dialogue that no human being would actually speak, peppered with one-liners and pop references, that litter the landscape of a Doug Moench script. But despite the annoying inanities and exclamations (the hobo girl on her situation: "I had to choose The Parallax View over the re-release of Animal Crackers!"), it's an exciting and fun ride, a first for this series and the climax is actually poignant rather than soggy for once. But, seriously, Doug, when will you have the monster meet someone who doesn't compare their situation to a Beatles song or Bertolucci film? How about a supporting character that isn't young and culturally with-it? Mayerik's art, as usual, is stellar.


"The 11:10 to Murder"


A Japanese sailor happens upon a mermaid caught on some rocks and frees her. The fishy girl is thankful but the sailor tells her that's not good enough. He wants her as his own. She tells him to go home and come back in one year and if nothing has changed, she'll belong to him. He heads back home and waiting for him is a woman who asks if she can be his servant. He agrees, and soon she begins to have feelings for her master. For his part, he sees nothing but the image of the mermaid, ignoring the kindnesses the woman doles out to him on a daily basis. The year passes and he heads back to the sea, searching for the mermaid. She finds him and, when he tells her the new woman meant nothing to him, she tells him that is because he cannot see inner beauty and therefore is not man enough for her. She kills him and it's then revealed that the servant was the mermaid in disguise. As with his Frankenstein entry this issue, Doug Moench manages to rein in his poetic self and just let the events unfold. The twist in "Beauty's Vengeance" was not much of a surprise if you're paying attention but the message isn't laid on thick. It's as though someone told Doug that, sometimes, all you need to do is tell a good story. -Peter Enfantino


"Beauty's Vengeance"



Prowling the Chicago streets, Tigra sees devoted family man Richard Diaz inexplicably killed by visions of his loved ones, and a murine monster feed on his essence.  She loses him, learns from Joanne that this was but the latest in a series of murders, and follows “Ratso” into a sewer tunnel after “super-stud” Brock Hunter dies seeing himself changed into a woman.  In a cavernous throne room, Aeskla passes the life-force to his mistress, Surisha, who feeds on serenity and sends Aeskla for another victim, the just-downsized Lou Edwards; Tigra battles Surisha, drawing blood and instilling fear, so that when Aeskla is summoned back, he senses her vulnerability and kills her, thus destroying both halves of their symbiotic organism.

Seven months after introducing Tigra in Giant-Size Creatures #1, Isabella plots her first solo story, "The Serenity Stealers," and a year later will inaugurate her short-lived four-color series in Marvel Chillers.  This is a deliberately nasty tail—er, tale—befitting the more mature B&W line; the art by Filipino DC vet DeZuniga (1932-2012), with whose work as a penciler I am largely unacquainted, is suitably dark in every sense of the word.  Claremont’s script can’t decide on the spelling of “Ratso’s” real name (Aeskla vs. Aesklos), but helps establish the new personality of Tigra—whose changeling status makes her immune to Sushira’s power—as “a joker, a wild card tossed out of a bummer hand—the fuzzy freak from the funny animal farm…‘mighty warrior from out of legend….’” 
-Matthew Bradley






The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 9
Cover by Earl Norem

"A Contest of Truth"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Vosburg, George Perez, and Jack Abel

"Kihon Kumite"
Text by Frank McLaughlin

"The Hidden Fist of David Brownridge"
Text by Dan Hagen

"The Oriental World of Self-Defense"
Text by Michele Wolfman

"Slaughter in Central Park!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Mike Esposito

Making his way through Golden Gate Park, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu witnesses the mugging of an old lady and comes to her aid. That act of kindness is in turn witnessed by two sets of eyes: a young boy who latches onto Shang as a role model and Johnny Chen, a nattily dressed man who fancies himself a martial arts master and Shang his nemesis. Chan challenges Shang to "A Contest of Truth," a battle to determine the rightful owner of the label "head honcho" in the martial arts world (or at least in Golden Gate Park). Shang at first refuses but, once the boy has painted a picture of Chan as a drug lord who holds the boy's sister as a prisoner, he realizes he must face the challenge. At the appointed time and place, Shang readies himself while the boy fesses up that he was telling a tall tale; Chen is simply a neighborhood bully who must be put in his place. Shang gives the boy the Spock nerve knockout so that he won't be witness to anything bad and proceeds to kick Chen's well-formed gluteus. When the boy comes to, Shang tells him that he was beaten by Chen, that fighting is not the answer, that the sun must rise on a peaceful day, and that love will conquer all. Blahblahblah. Devoid of the pretentious prose I've almost come to look forward to in Doug Moench's scripts, "A Contest of Truth" instead hammers home that oft-drilled lesson in life: a fist does not solve all your problems. The problem is that every Shang-Chi entry carries that message so a story built entirely around that moral has nothing else to offer. There's no real suspense here; we know Shang will win. The only real surprise is that Doug never compared the San Francisco dawn to a "crimson scar across the landscape" or a "twinkling bathysphere of normality." There's just "Dawn..." Kinda disappointing. Oh, and Chen looks a little too much like Bruce Lee.




Barely escaping the bridge that has exploded around them, The Sons of the Tiger make their way back to their base, young and beautiful TNT expert in tow. Finding himself attracted to the slim but troubled firecracker, Bob takes her on a walk through Central Park and manages to glean some much-needed info from her: her name is Lotus and her parents were killed by the evil force known as The Silent Ones. Bob immediately feels a kinship with Lotus, since his dojo, Master Kee, was also taken from him by The Silent Ones. Meanwhile, Abe and Lin are welcoming a new pet to their domicile in a rare moment of tranquility. That moment is fleeting however when a badly beaten Bob shows up sans pretty girl. Abe heads to the Park to find Lotus, and find her he does. Turns out the girl is actually controlled by The Silent Ones and has been sent to kill the Sons of the Tiger. Once she gets her pretty paws on Abe, there's a "Slaughter in Central Park!" Just in the nick of time, Lin shows up to put the girl down and, upon a bit of investigation, the two Sons discover Lotus has literally been wired for destruction. Shocked and horrified, Lin swears revenge upon The Silent Ones. 

There's no doubt in my mind, once reading the odiferous captions and purple dialogue, that Doug Moench left an impression on Bill Mantlo. If I didn't know better, in fact, I'd say this was actually written by Doug and gifted to Bill. Moench-errific prose abounds, such as when Abe (impossibly) saves Lotus from an impending crush of bridge: 


Camera speed 64 frames per second... time slows down granite and steel. Swan-dive like a pearl through oil... slowly. Same speed, many feet of film later, the granite pearl looms like The Sword of Damocles... time the slender thread on which the blade is hung!


Are you seriously going to tell me that dialogue like the following is not from the crimson-dipped quill of Doug Moench:


"Be still, girl! The time for talk has passed, blown like autumn leaves before the onslaught of the killing winter... As I love and desire peace of spirit... I will not rest until the dark hell that destroys that peace is wiped from the memory of man!"


George Perez obviously didn't see the note in the script margin that read "Have Lin holding a skull."  When Bob asks Lotus what's troubling her, she tells him her sad story and, without missing a beat, he exclaims: "Well... enough of such gloomy stuff!" So, it's for these little delights I can recommend "Slaughter in Central Park," merely as a light and frothy treat rather than the serious and well-written script that graced last issue's "Storm of Vengeance!" A steady diet of this junk may not be good for one's sanity though. -Peter Enfantino









Vampire Tales 9
Cover by Marti Ripoll

"Bloodmoon"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Chris Claremont
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Blood Lunge"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Russ Heath

"The Bleeding Time"
Story by Carla Conway and Gerry Conway
Art by Virgilio Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, and Tony DeZuniga

"Blood Stalker"
Story by Larry Lieber
Art by Jesus Blasco

"Shards of a Crystal Rainbow"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tony DeZuniga

There are all kinds of wrong going on here in issue number nine of Vampire Tales. Marv Wolfman's editorial tells us that the art for the Morbius story promised for this issue was "lost in the mail"! How many times have we heard that one? If we weren't constantly forking over hard-earned cash in 1975 for brand new covers that disguised partial reprints or, in the case of Ghost Rider #10, complete reprints because of the DDD, I'd have more of a sympathetic ear. I ain't buying it. 

The rest of the wrong boils down to what made it into these here pages. Five brand new vampire stories and only a few bits to crow about. "Bloodmoon," featuring the up and coming Marvel star Blade, the Vampire Hunter. is a lively page-turner that never outwears its welcome.  Blade must face the undead force known as Legion armed only with wooden stakes and his sharp wit. That only goes so far though and, in the end, he's left standing alone amidst the slaughtered remnants of his friends. No surprise Marv Wolfman invests this with all the excitement and twists found in his Tomb of Dracula series (Blade's launching pad, of course). Marv just seems to make writing horror so easy that I wish he'd have spent more time tutoring his bullpen. DeZuniga continues to be the second best horror artist the B&Ws employ (behind Alcala, naturally) and his undead women are alluring and dangerous at the same time (a feat also accomplished by Pablo Marcos on these female vampire strips). Now, if only this had been a 55-page Blade special.


An unfortunate occurrence during "The Bleeding Time"


"The Bleeding Time" is a time travel tale featuring a vampire and Jack the Ripper that is neither clever nor original. The three excellent artists all combine to produce so-so work. Maybe three good artists in one shot is too much? "Blood Lunge" suffers from Moench-adjectivitis but wins points for employing the ever-reliable DC war veteran Russ Heath and a very smart twist ending that will guarantee a reader's smile. Too bad the story is printed with its pages out of order.



The masterful Russ Heath in "Blood Lunge"


"The Blood-Stalker" is an awful story about a pimp waging war against a vampire who's infecting the man's "stock." Ironic that a pimp should espouse "love and goodness" while staking the "filth of the undead" and just sad that the fearsome vampire employs a slave to bring him victims because he's afraid of being caught. I don't think Dracula would have been such a sissy. I'm assuming this had been on a shelf for a while since, by this time, Larry Lieber had jumped ship and taken over editorial reins over at upstart Atlas/Seaboard. Shoulda... stayed... on the shelf, boys and girls.



The shy blood drinker of "The Blood-Stalker"


That leaves the Moench-fest known as "Shards of a Crystal Rainbow," wherein a young man fights a metaphysical battle against vampirism. No, wait, it's about the horrors of drug abuse. No, I think it's about both. Yeah, it's an analogy using vampires to illustrate the horrors of heroin addiction. Yep, that's it. I wish I'd been a fly on the wall when Moench and Wein and McGregor and all the other funny book rebels were in the Marvel lunch room (tables stacked high with donuts and other delights packed by mom), brainstorming titles for these things. Well, brainstorming's not the proper term for filling in Mad Libs:


Doug: Gimme an adjective, Don, any adjective... 

Don: I love Crimson as an adjective; I've used it forty times in this heroin vampire story I'm writing.
Len: Your heroine is a vampiress?
Don: No, drugs, silly, I learnt all about them on Kojak last night. Nasty stuff.
Doug: Gimme a noun.
Steve Gerber: Tentacles.
Doug: another noun.
Steve Englehart: Freedom!
Doug: Perfect! My next Werewolf by Night tale is called "Crimson Tentacles of Freedom!"
Don: That's cool! Can I have another glazed?


"Frosted sparks of rainbow-blistered dew..." Say what?


After surviving Moench's latest diatribe against the evils of everything, I retract my statement made some long months ago when I was fresh and new to these black and whites. At that time, I must have said something foolish and naive like reprinting old vampire stories instead of giving us fresh material is a rip-off. I hereby retract that statement and would like the reprints back, thank you. 

-Peter Enfantino









Planet of the Apes 5
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Evolution's Nightmare"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney

"An Interview with Dan Striepeke"

Conducted by Samuel Maronie

"The Man Who Sold The Planet of the Apes!"

Text by Gary Gerani

"Into the Forbidden Zone"

Story Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito


New editor Don McGregor give us an "Editorial Nightmare" to start things off and I lost interest halfway through to be honest, but kept going to a couple of small yawns. And then we get a filler tale—ugh. Written by Doug Moench and drawn by Ed Hannigan and Jim Mooney, "Evolution's Nightmare" is a cross between Planet of the Apes and 300 and The Defiant Ones but with less CGI blood and less Tony Curtis. And man, is it ever bleak.



After a huge, super nasty battle between men and apes on the fringe of the Forbidden Zone, there are two survivors: a human with injured legs and an ape with injured arms. They call an uneasy truce to try and survive, with the human Jovan binding himself to the ape Solomon's back as they travel the land, meeting perils and learning to use each other to stay alive. Seeking shelter from a storm, they happen upon kindly hermit ape Mordecai, who helps nurse both back to health. But their hatred for each other's races leads to a brutal contest that ends up a draw, leaving the disappointed Mordecai to send them to the Forbidden Zone to learn the devastation of war. But as human and ape finally come to an understanding, human mutants and ape mutants knock the two out and begin to battle!

A heavy-handed message story that I didn't recognize until the shot of Jovan bound to Solomon's back on page 17. Yeah, it's a real Twilight Zone-esque tale and Rod Serling would be proud, but for a filler tale it's much better than expected in both script and the average art. But man, it's just so downbeat!

Next up we get the usual prose pieces, this time led by a decent interview with make-up artist Dan Striepeke, that for some bizarre reason has the questions in all capital letters, which is super distracting. After that, a long, picture-heavy article about producer Arthur P. Jacobs that's more of a press release to me than anything.



Finally, we end with "Into the Forbidden Zone", the next (and long) chapter in the POTA movie adaptation. Here we start with Zira's nephew Lucius helping spring Taylor from prison, through their slightly perilous journey into the Forbidden Zone, to Taylor shaving his beard to the cave scene where Zaius spots the human doll. A very wordy chapter and preachy too, as we head towards the end of the tale. But not before some Taylor speeches and Zaius ignorance. OK overall, but still necessary to move the story along. –Joe Tura







The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 4
Cover Art by Boris Vallejo

“Iron Shadows in the Moon”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“The Corben Conan Collection”
Art by Richard Corben
   
“Blackmark Chapter IV: Triumphant!”
Story and Art by Gil Kane

“Swords and Scrolls”

At 45 pages, “Iron Shadows in the Moon” is the longest Conan comic yet, and it’s a wonderfully written and illustrated adaptation of one of Robert E. Howard’s earliest stories, first published in the April 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It originally appeared as “Shadows in the Moonlight,” but Roy decided to use Howard’s original, preferred title. Regardless, it definitely didn’t include any illustration that could compare to the gorgeous Boris Vallejo painting on the cover. Yowsa!




Conan, scarred survivor of the massacre of 5,000 Kozaki “free companions” by 15,000 Akif soldiers, stumbles across Shah Amurath, leader of the victorious army, as he is about to rape a slave girl in a steamy swamp near the bloody battlefield. The crazed Cimmerian hacks the monarch to pieces. Knowing that she would be murdered if discovered by the Akifs, Conan takes the terrified girl with him and they set off in a stolen canoe across the Vilayet Sea. The young woman tells the barbarian that she is named Olivia, daughter of Amalrus, King of Ophir, who sold her to the Shah for political favors. The next day, they come across one of the many deserted islands that dot the surface of the sea and beach their boat. While searching for food and water, Conan feels the presence of something else on the seemingly uninhabited island. Soon, the castaways find a ruined temple filled with statues of dark demonic figures. Bedding down for the night, Olivia is tormented by a nightmare of the obsidian guardians coming to life. At dawn, a pirate ship is seen anchored off shore. A determined Conan goes down to greet them, challenging their chief to the death for the right to rule the motley crew. The leader pushes forward and it is the barbarian’s recent foe, Sergius of Khrosha (Savage Sword #3). They battle and Conan stands victorious — however, a Brythunian loyal to Sergius strikes the Cimmerian down with a slingshot. The pirates bind the warrior and take him along on their search of the island, which leads them to the ancient temple. They camp for the night, some sleeping outside, some inside, all drunk on ale. As they slumber, Olivia steals into the temple and frees Conan. Escaping through the jungle, they finally encounter the presence Conan sensed earlier: a mighty, bloodthirsty ape with huge tusk-like fangs. While the barbarian cuts off one of the beast’s arms, it still manages to grasp his skull with the other: but desperate sword strokes eventually kill the savage simian. Back at the temple, the black statues suddenly spring to life, slaying any pirate they grasp with long, clawed fingers — the rest flee back towards their ship. As they reach shore, Conan awaits on deck, claiming rightful rule. The swashbucklers decide to honor the Cimmerian’s well-earned captainship and set sail.

If you’re a Conan fan, nothing to complain about here. This is a very meaty and detailed story that checklists everything you’d want from something inspired by Robert E. The artwork is exquisite. There’s been some MU chatter about Alfredo Alcala recently, but I nominate him as the unsung inker of the 70s. Incredible details, with dense yet dancing blacks. [Side Note: my employer, Dover Publications, is in negotiations to reprint the late Alcala’s 1994 art instruction manual, Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: The Art of Alfredo Alcala. Introductions by both Roy Thomas and Gil Kane! Professor Matthew deserves a finder’s fee on that one.] At this point, The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian is easily the gold standard of Marvel’s black-and-white magazine line — which some might see as faint praise considering the slapdash affairs currently displayed in Savage Tales of the Zombie and whatever. Not me, by Crom!


"Triumphant!"

The reprints of Gil Kane’s graphic novel “Blackmark” wrap up with “Triumphant!” After slaying the fire-dragon, Blackmark demands the privilege of trying to move the silver spacecraft half-buried in the center of King Kargon’s gladiator arena — if he succeeds, the warrior will be named King of New Earth. Worried that his subjects will revolt if he denies the claim, Kargon grants pensive permission. Driven by subconscious memories, Blackmark finds his way into the rocket, ignites the engines and soars skyward. Blackmark also discovers a sonic-sword on the craft. When he guides the ship back to the surface, the citizens turn against their king, taking up arms against his army. In the horrific havoc, Blackmark kills both Kargon and his treacherous queen.

Corben!
I’ve cut out a ton of exposition with my “Blackmark” recaps, so I apologize to anyone looking for comprehensive coverage. But, as I’ve said before, not really enamored by Kane’s creation, so glad it’s over. The art on this one was energetic but still a chore to wade through. This installment is open ended so I guess more was planned — but this is it for Savage Sword. Mark me done!

We wrap up with a boffo extra, a selection of one-page Conan illustrations by living legend Richard Corben. Wow. Need more proof that The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian raised the bar? Let’s chalk it up to the name Roy Thomas on the masthead as Editor. Corben offers scenes from the Howard stories “The Scarlet Citadel,” “The Phoenix on the Sword,” “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “Queen of the Black Coast.” Hair raising stuff. By the way, the brilliant Corben earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the Kansas City Art Institute. Go Chiefs!

Lastly, the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page reveals an interesting note: Roy will stick to Howard adaptations only, since Sprague deCamp has refused any offers for the rights of the faux Conan books he wrote with Lin Carter. Bully for you sir! -Thomas Flynn