Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #19

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Matthew Bradley

You’ve heard the old expression about getting worse before it gets better?  That perfectly sums up the situation when our undergraduate curriculum ended with Defenders #78, as Ed “Kudzu” Hannigan—who poked his first tendril into this mag as penciler of #58, and has been strangling it as a writer and/or artist ever since—began his longest stint as scripter.  “Better” is defined here as his successor, J.M. DeMatteis, the only new writing talent by whom I readily recall being impressed in my waning Marvel days, with Chris Claremont remaining the late-Bronze standard-bearer; “worse” is Ed’s last 13 issues, and while too anal-retentive to skip them outright, I will, as an academic completist, fast-forward through these five as quickly and succinctly as possible.

Aptly, Defenders #79 (January 1980) finds invasive species Hannigan both writing and sharing penciling duties with Herb Trimpe, who since #68 has consistently proven himself a poor match with this series.  The lettercol provides us with some context, enumerating horrors past, present, and future:  “Ed is back, love it or like it, and he’d like to take this opportunity to thank fellow stalwart Steven Grant for the fantastic job he did wrapping up the Omega storyline….[Dave] the Dude was up from Georgia recently, and Ye Olde Scripter and he had a few chances to go out and…hammer out a plot idea or two!  [They share plotting credit on #89]…For a while [the book is] gonna be like two comics in one as we flash back and forth between Earth and Tunnelworld.”

The latter nonsense, which drags on until #83, finds wing-headed Aeroika guiding Doc, Hulk, and Namor to slumber safely in a valley protected by benevolent spirits, the Nya; “is there no end to this aimless tramping about?” asks an oddly self-aware Subby.  “Dreamspeech” fosters four ponderous pages of exposition, three devoted to local lore—“the narrative, the dream, and the prophecy”—about the slave-built citadel Ogeon and vulture-headed villain Ytitnedion (as usual, read ’em backwards), and one to explaining who the hell these original Defenders are.  Enslaved like the Sputs and Ixhoohxi, the flightless winged ones were created by Ytitnedion, the Nilffim-King and servant of the Unnamed, as “a symbol of good to degrade, freedom to cage…”

So it’s something of a relief to turn from this sub-Tolkien tedium to the Colorado town where Hellcat, Valkyrie, and Defender du jour Wasp try to free Jan’s hubby from the Women Warriors, who raided a nearby airbase, and their ever-dull male colleagues, the Mutant Force.  But they soon join Hank in captivity, with Val hampered by her Enchantress-imposed prohibition against fighting women, and outraged by the betrayal of Omega-refugees Ruth, Amber, and Dian, which is easily explained.  In case anybody was actually paying attention, I’d observed of #78 that “the match-up between the Distaff-enders and the ‘surprise villain’ is way too coincidental,” because this, shall we say, all-girl action is in opposition to—the Mandrill, whom “all women must love.”

Yep, he’s back, female-enslaving pheromones and all, ready to recoup his losses from Daredevil #112 with financing from the “gold raid”; it’s implied that the WW keep Burner, Slither, Peeper, Shocker, and Lifter—who at least warrant an expository footnote now—in line with more than just grapes and fawning.  But a pubescent Dian, immune to the Mandrill’s irresistible musk, has protected Jan from its effect by blocking the airholes in her jar, so they recapture the Quinjet and flee, calling Kyle for help.  As he prepares to defy the I.R.S. and S.E.C.’s court order by going back into action with Nighthawk’s “new aggressive weapons package,” the Mandrill realizes that the escapees’ destination must be the base and launches another raid, this time led by…Valkyrie.

A holdover from #78, Esposito epitomizes the ruin’s—er, run’s—musical inkers, none exceeding two consecutive issues until #88; ever the pro, Espo gives the proceedings a fairly uniform look among the fantasy folderol, while the Mandrill’s dramatic full-page reveal is perhaps better than the relatively minor villain deserves.  Mighty Mike is followed by Dan Green on #80 (February 1980), with Herb back to soloing on pencils, since it appears Ed handled the Tunnelworld jazz last time.  Alas, even Dan can’t keep Kyle’s new and improved duds, with laser cannon making him “the most heavily armed super hero around—with the possible exception of Iron Man,” from looking anything but stupid, yet at least this Mandrill arc is resolved, so there are compensations.

As Val, Hellcat, and the WW/MF box up the Las Animus contingent in a hangar—sealed off by Shocker with an electric field—and Mandy taunts his prisoner, a bored Clea takes Aragorn for a joyride back in New York.  Following a limited test flight over southwestern Kansas, Kyle wings to the rescue; quickly deducing the source of the field, he drops Val and Patsy into it, knocking it out while shocking them to their senses.  His forces routed, the Mandrill heads for his “Central American enclave,” diverting attention with an escape rocket that proves to contain a chained YJ, after which the reunited Pyms, Defenders, and Omega women head for home in the Quinjet, and hope to honor Amber’s request:  “Uh—could we not stop to fight anyone else on the way back?”

Meanwhile, back in Tunnelworld (Sigh™), Aeroika is puzzled when a dozing Hulk awakens as Banner—less so than the latter, whose memory is unusually clear due to the Dreamspeech—and posits that something is blocking his mind-meld.  Bruce wonders if Greenskin’s encounter with a Shmoo, er, “silvery glob” in #76 may be involved, but their discussion is tabled as a member of Ytitnedion’s vulture-headed royal family leads his archers in an attack on the “protected” valley.  “Hulk smash” is the order of the day, yet while he scatters the opposition, Ytitnedion gloats that, “though they fight the Unnameable, the dreaded Name is implanted in the brutish one’s brain—and only I…have the power to bring it to the fore—when the time is right!”  Bwuhahahahahaha!

Longtime Trimpe-inker Jack Abel draws the short straw in #81 (March 1980), and their reunion with the Hulk dominates the issue, excepting a two-page interlude where Kyle’s immediate arrest by the F.B.I. for “contempt of court and interstate flight [har] to avoid prosecution” mars the NYC homecoming.  The other 15 are devoted to the assault on Ogeon by “the four Defenders” (Aeroika evidently having become a non-teammate), who enter via the time-honored method of hiding in the back of a merchants’ wagon.  They see a captive ally, the wizard Xhoohx, paraded through the streets with his Orb of Ommennon, but their cover is blown and their planned rescue postponed when soldiers spot escaped slave Aeroika and a typically hotheaded Subby runs amok.

Facing the Crusher, a gigantic war machine, the Hulk is felled and captured, his subconscious knowledge having been activated, while Aeroika foments rebellion among his race.  Ytitnedion intends to dangle the possibility that the prophecy is coming true, as it appears to be when the winged slave wields a weapon, and then cruelly snatch it away, killing Xhoohx and shattering the orb.  The covers (like this one by Buckler/Milgrom) continue to be intensely forgettable, with the interior artwork a mixed bag—we rarely get a good look at Doc, and when we do in page 14, panel 1, he seems to be impersonated by Ronald Colman; Namor looks like he fell off Mount Rushmore in page 2, panel 1, yet is portrayed in realistic and excellent detail in page 22, panel 6.

In #82 (April 1980), Ghost Rider limpet Don Perlin succeeds Herb with a rarely interrupted run of nearly five years, his layout here and in #83 finished by my all-time favorite, Joe Sinnott, who will return in #93. So if we must endure two more issues of Tunnelworld—this one lacking even an Earth Interlude (EI)—at least the visuals take a quantum leap, with a Buckler/Milgrom cover that is, dare I say it, Brunneresque.  As a teen, less sensitive to the intricate dance between artist and inker, I had a favorably skewed impression of Don that I now attribute to the Perlin/Sinnott Defenders, especially with J.M. at the typewriter; Joltin’ Joe has been known to obscure as much as enhance a penciler’s style, yet while no great loss, Don is vastly more suitable here than Herb.

With its storybook-style border, the splash bodes well, surrounding Ytitnedion’s captives with all manner of lackeys and odd critters; in his gloat/recap, “Yt” complains that Xhoohx’s “pattern of speech is near incomprehensible,” yet tempting as it is to blame Yoda, The Empire Strikes Back won’t be released for four more months.  Having transferred most of his power into the orb, and used the rest to stave off hearing the Name, Big X has some invisible Nya goad the Hulk awake, but Yt sees through and squelches this attempted disruption.  Now enthralled, Greenskin is slated to crush Aeroika’s rebellion, although I feel compelled to ask—as I do whenever I watch Fritz Lang’s Metropolis—whether it’s really in Yt’s best interest to wipe out his own labor/slave class.

As the Hulk is decked out in Nilffim-Rider regalia recalling his days on K’ai, Yt turns to the orb, discovering by chance that it was shielded from magical but not physical attack, and shatters it.  Namor, Aeroika et alia hit sewer tunnels leading to the Citadel so that Doc, rightly suspicious of being manipulated, can do astral-form recon with his physical body safe; Subby spots a “wretch” who, despite the language barrier, clearly bears Yt a grudge, guiding them in via the dungeon.  Yt busts in on Doc and Xhoohx, fulfilling his threat to slay Big X for unleashing the Nya again, yet Doc, vexingly visible to the bird-borne Nillfim he seeks to outmaneuver, uses Xhoohx’s spell to re-form the orb, trapping the Hulk inside, and a slave knocks out Yt with the flat of his sword.

Making up for lost time, the EI in #83 (May 1980) comprises three subplots in as many pages:  in California, the Feds offer the MF a break in return for unspecified services; in New York, Patsy reflexively foils a bank robbery with Val while in her civvies, realizing that her abilities do not in fact depend on her costume; and Kyle’s counsel wonders if the media blackout re: the gold theft suggests a desire for secrecy sufficient for the S.E.C./I.R.S./F.B.I to let him off.  As for the main event, two things on the splash page instill confidence, the first being “At last: the cataclysmic conclusion of the Tunnelworld saga!”  The second is the sure and steady hand of Joe Sinnott as Strange reunites his astral and physical forms amid web-footed, multi-tailed, red-eyed sewer rats.

Doc rejoins Namor and Aeroika, bearing Xhoohx’s body, and they report the wizard’s death to a populace singularly unmoved by news of Yt’s downfall, fearing that the winged ones may only supplant the buzzard king as their oppressor.  Strange is forced to agree that victory remains elusive with the Unnameable still threatening multiple worlds, including our own; I was going to give Ed grudging points for the smoothly expository dialogue of the opening scenes when he bludgeoned me with this:  Ytitnedion “had no identity [Get it?  GET IT?] of his own, therefore, it did little good to defeat him!”  So it’s off to “the end of the world,” as the tunnel tapers to the unknown, to bury Xhoohx in the frozen wasteland and confront the foe where he is the strongest.

After a sudden blizzard helps the captive Yt break free, Strange shelters them from the storm by expanding the orb to encompass them all, completing the prophecy as Aeroika discovers he can fly.  The Unnameable draws all his power inside, creating a huge visage of the Hulk—who has flown Yt to safety—so Doc, Subby, and Winghead make an ocular ingress to his consciousness, battling “memory-images” of his foes (e.g., Rhino, Absorbing Man, Harpie [sic]), Leader).  Doc sweeps away the “hoarde” with a deluge and, as they face Greenskin and Yt directly, realizes that Namor was on the right track when asking, “If we are inside the Hulk’s consciousness, how can the Hulk himself be present?”; they must “see things as they are, deny the faulty premise!”

The bad news is that the strobe-light effect used in Doc’s mystic battle is applied to the lettering, which gave me, as Professor Tom would say, a headache in my eyes.  The good news (other than “Finis”) is that it’s a rare case where he combines his sorcerous and surgical skills, locating and sealing off the exact portion of the Hulk’s memory that contains the Name, withdrawn from the minds of all other victims in a last-ditch tactic.  Although Strange passes out from exhaustion, his unconscious mind conveniently supplies the spell to bring them out of Greenskin’s gray matter and shatter the orb again; unable to call on the now-forgotten Name, Yt plunges off the edge into the vacuum, so, quoth Subby, “The tyranny is ended, and the time for new dreams has arrived!”

Unsurprisingly, Joltin’ Joe helps Don wind this up on a visually respectable note; a nice touch is the contrast between Doc in the first panels of pages 26 (above), typically well-coiffed, and 27 (right), tousled after the battle, while the people of Ogeon on page 6 are a Mos Eisley-style mélange of shapes and hues.  And that’s it from Tunnelworld, bringing blessed closure to one of the most overlong and unlamented arcs in Marvel history, in which sentiment I know I am far from alone.  At the moment, my seemingly endless sojourn in Relocation Hell, as Mrs. Professor Matthew and I struggle to transition between our houses in Bethel and Newtown, makes the likelihood of any future post-graduate studies from this quarter uncertain, but maybe someday, if the stars realign...

Bradley out.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #18

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
The Trail of...
¡C O N Á N  el  C I M E R I A N O!: 

An Interview with
Mexican Conan Comic Collector
and Savage Sword of Conan Contributor
by Professor Gilbert Colon

The Beginning of Happenings

In 1958, a dozen years before Marvel’s official foray into the Hyborian world of Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Cimmerian, and eight years before Lancer’s paperback editions, an unauthorized issue of a series called by Savage Sword of Conan “the Mexican Conan comics” hit stands in Mexico.  From south of the border it migrated northwards at least as far as Los Angeles, where it fell into the hands of Douglas Menville (a man seen briefly as a policeman in one scene of the 1958 cult film The Hideous Sun Demon, among his other varied movie credits).  The unofficial adaptation, La Reina de la Costa Negra (Queen of the Black Coast), was a 32-page four-color weekly “in the form of a long-running serial” that lasted till 1965, when a letter from L. Sprague de Camp, owner of the Conan rights, scared off the unlicensed publisher.  

The series’ title is taken directly from the May 1934 Weird Tales short story “Queen of the Black Coast,” but its “writers paid little attention to the original Howard material.”  This begs the amusing question, why rip off REH, only to not use REH?  (One notable difference, no doubt a selling point – several commentators have remarked how the Mexican adaptation is considerably bloodier than anything put out in the States.)  In Menville’s words, it had “primitive black-and-white artwork [and] a blond (!) Conan and his warrior-lady Belit, sporting what looks like a Spanish conquistador’s helmet!”

These seeming disparate elements are best embodied by the image of their fair-haired “conquistador Conan” wearing a horned Viking helmet, which makes its own kind of sense when one factors in Menville’s comparison of the art, all of it the work of one Salvador H. Lavelle, to the style of “Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant and Joe Kubert’s 1950’s comicbook Viking Prince.”  And as Marvel itself has pointed out, the visual comes directly from Howard’s own text in “Queen of the Black Coast”: “His horned helmet was such as was worn by the golden-haired Æsir of Nordheim.”  Irrespective of the blond hair, Viking helmet, and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Teutonic accent in Conan the Barbarian, it remains true that Conan was a black-maned Cimmerian, those ancient ancestors of the Celts.  But Aquilonia, Nemedia, Cimmerians, Picts – the Hyborian Age is hybrid history anyway.  Considering that Conan creator Howard hailed from Cross Plains, Texas, this so-named “Conan the Conquistador” could even be called a “Tex-Mex” concoction.  

“They had passed the southern borders…”

Around that time, Menville was in the editorial business of reviving neglected landmarks of genre fiction with fellow editor Robert Reginald, first through the magazine Forgotten Fantasy: Classics of Science Fiction, then through the publishing imprint Newcastle Forgotten Fantasy Library.  In possession of La Reina #2, he wrote to “The Hyborian Page,” a forum for reader mail, though the “letter was never printed [and Menville] assumed that La Reina was simply not of sufficient interest to anyone.”  Another reason for not pursuing the matter was presumably because he was busy with his own mainly nonfiction writing career, later in life venturing into fiction of his own with the novel Under Egypt from Wildside Press (publisher of many REH titles), which he co-authored with Rae Odell.     

Not long after Menville’s unpublished letter, Marvel’s resident REH scholar, Fred Blosser, independently brought the bootleg Conan in question to the attention of Savage Sword of Conan readers in his issue #26 article “The Other Queen of the Black Coast,” but there was even more to the story than that particular piece contained.  This motivated Menville, in issue #44, to expand upon Blosser’s research, turning in an extra definitive piece on the subject, “Conan the Conquistador.”  

In Professor Flynn’s coverage of Savage Sword of Conan #44, at Marvel University, he limited his “Conan the Conquistador” comments to this: “Now Mr. Menville has gone on to become quite the email pals with both Professor Matthew and Gilbert — so I’ll cut this short since I’m sure that the latter will chime in.”  Almost four decades later, Marvel University followed the not-quite-cold trail to the door of Mr. Menville – once extensively interviewed by Professor Matthew, in VideoScope #51 (Summer 2004) – in an attempt to get to the bottom of this Mexi-Conan mystery…

The Voice of the Man Who Almost Arrested the Hideous Sun Demon

It all began when Menville, browsing a downtown Los Angeles bookshop, pulled La Reina de la Costa Negra #2 from that long-gone rack or bin and plunked down coin for it.  What was the initial impulse that prompted him to pull it?  “I’m sure I bought the magazine because of my love of all things (well, most things) Howard, which began when I first discovered his work in the pulps, and also because it was such an oddity.  What?  A Conan comic book from Mexico?  You’re kidding!  I gotta have that!  That was pretty much my train of thought there, I believe.”  

Even the assembled sleuths did not have a complete run of La Reina.  “I remember finding #2 and #16 and eventually two or three others, but I don’t recall which ones,” Menville recounts.  “I found all of the issues I had in various used bookstores, most of which now no longer exist.  Roy Thomas lent me copies of #3 and #4.”  

Menville, in turn, lent his issues to Thomas…who apparently still has them!  “Roy never returned them, but he did pay me for the article.  He’s welcome to keep them, which is little enough thanks to a man who made a lifetime dream come true by reprinting in handsome hardcover volumes the entire run of my all-time favorite comic book, Planet Comics.”

Blosser himself only owned one issue at the time of his article (in which, according to Menville’s piece, he “made a few false assumptions”).  Asked if Blosser ever commented on his own more extensive follow-up work, Doug said, “No, I never heard anything from Fred.”

Also unclear, even today, is exactly how long La Reina lasted, with #16 being the last issue whose existence was substantiated by Team Menville.  “Since #2 was dated October 8, 1958, and the magazine was published weekly, I assumed that the first issue had to be dated October 1,” Doug reasoned. “I never made a special attempt to collect the whole run, but 1965 seems to be the last date any of us saw.  I don’t think anyone knows how many issues in total there were.”  (Glenn Lord, in his bibliographic The Last Celt, puts the number at 45 between the years 1965-66.)  [Dean's Note: The fabulously helpful GCD has cover scans for most of the 53 issues published between 1965-1966]

In his article, Menville wrote, “anyone with further information is encouraged to contact editor Roy Thomas or this writer…”  Alas, he recollects today, “No one ever contacted me about the comic; they may have contacted Roy.”  Thomas, in his “EDITOR’S NOTE,” also petitioned readers to provide the same information, expanding his plea for anything about “the 1950’s Avon creation ‘Crom the Barbarian’ which appeared in a couple of issues of a mag called Out of This World.”

“I had both issues of Out of This World Adventures (I think only two issues were published),” Doug notes, “and both had color comic inserts with two stories.  One was ‘Crom the Barbarian,’ with (I think) art by John Giunta, and the other was an SF tale called ‘Kenton of the Star Patrol,’ with art by Joe Kubert.  The Crom stories were standard sword-and-sorcery tales featuring a hero much like Conan, but further details escape me.  It was a daring attempt to attract younger readers to an otherwise average SF pulp, an echo of several pulps from the 1930s that ran comic inserts, although never in color.  Sadly, this experiment didn’t succeed.”

From the site, "An Age Undreamed Of"

Twilight of the Vikings and Conquistadors

Case closed.  Or is it?  Just as Menville built on Blosser’s initial research, others have built on Menville’s.  At the Cimmerian blog An Age Undreamed Of, Jeffrey Shanks (contributor to the McFarland book Conan Meets the Academy: Multidisciplinary Essays on the Enduring Barbarian) posted his own May 2013 follow-up, the Robert E. Howard Foundation’s nominee for Outstanding Achievement for Online Essay, “La Reina de la Costa Negra: The Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics.”  It was the third update of something he wrote for REHupa #237 (October 2012) and revised for Comic Book Quarterly #11 (Spring 2013), and in it he cited Menville in both the body of his article and its bibliography, as well as Paul Herman’s 2006 book The Neverending Hunt: A Bibliography of Robert E. Howard, in order to trace “La Reina de la Costa Negra” back even earlier to 1952 when it had an 18-issue run “as a feature in an anthology series called Cuentos de Abuelito (Grandpa’s Stories).”  

Hunting for issues of this time-lost comic from down Mexico way is nowadays either a costly prospect or a dead end.  However in his essay, Shanks offers glimpses of “Mexican Conan” artwork beyond what Savage Sword of Conan displayed, along with links to many more scans (from Jungle Frolics and CROM!) discovered and collected subsequent to Menville’s eye-opening article.  In addition, threads with images can be viewed at CGC and Comic Book Collecting Association.  There is also an issue-by-issue breakdown site called Conan [MEX] and even a Facebook page dedicated to “La Reina de la Costa Negra.”  The Swords of Robert E. Howard, another internet REH forum, posts scans not only of cover art, but both Blosser’s original article and Menville’s.  The actual issue of Foreign Comic Collector (Issue 2/Dec. 2002) reprinting Shanks’ article “The Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics” can be found online as a PDF.  

All of this owes a debt to Menville and his pioneering quest.  What began with Blosser almost ended with Blosser, had it not been for the dogged detective work of Doug Menville.  Thanks to his article, which built upon Blosser’s and took it to new heights, Menville laid a foundation that others have been building on to this present day.  In light of that fact, Shanks’ La Reina de la Costa Negra article could have arguably (and alliteratively) been subtitled “The Menville Mystery of the Mexican Conan Comics,” owing to the fact that “Conan the Conquistador” (Savage Sword of Conan #44) was the place where the first truly hands-on research and in-depth scholarship appeared 38 years ago.  


The Final Issue?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #17

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:
by Professor Tom Flynn

John Bolton

Confession: I probably should have called this post The Bizarre John Bolton, but, after all, I was the chair of Marvel University’s Hyborian Department. So, by Crom, when you side with a man, you stay with him.

Bizarre Adventures 26: Kull the Barbarian
May 1981
Cover Art by John Bolton

“Of Bolton and Barbarians”
Text by Ralph Macchio

“Demon in a Slivered Glass”
Script by Doug Moench
Art by John Bolton

If you didn’t live in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the 1980s, you were probably unaware of John Bolton. The supremely talented artist — who went to the same technical college as Barry Windsor-Smith, a very good sign — was mainly employed by such English magazines as The House of Hammer and Look-In. But lucky for us across the pond, some of John’s work was included in a 1981 issue of The Comics Journal. Former letter hack and current Bizarre Adventures editor Ralph Macchio saw the illustrations and absolutely flipped out: he contacted the Journal’s publisher, Gary “Jim Shooter Must Die” Groth, and managed to wrangle Bolton’s phone number. The Englishman jumped at the chance to work for Marvel, showing a particular interest in doing a Robert E. Howard character. So Macchio teamed him with Doug Moench — who, coincidentally, had already started a correspondence with Bolton — and turned them both loose on a story about King Kull. 

Moench, a prolific Marvel magazine veteran, came up with the 55-page “Demon in a Slivered Glass.” Now here will be my only gripe about Bizarre Adventures #26. While reading the magazine, the story seemed awfully familiar. Since it’s not mentioned anywhere, it took me a few pages to realize that Doug’s tale is an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune,” first published in Weird Tales during 1929. What’s worse, Roy Thomas and Mike Ploog had already offered their own take with an 11-page Kull backup in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #34 (October 1978), a short I couldn’t have been more impressed with. Now obviously, Moench’s much longer version is more grandiose and complete, but at least Roy and Mike were upfront that theirs wasn’t an original.

“Demon in a Slivered Glass” starts off as all of these extended Kull stories do: the king fidgeting on the topaz throne of Valusia as Tu, his chief advisor, drones on about the state of the Thurian nation. Just as Tu is about to relay the most important part of his update, the bored barbarian storms off to his bedchamber. On the balcony of his refuge, the grumpy Atlantean spies a lithe and lovely woman dancing in the moonlight below. He calls out for her and she clambers up the vines to his side. Elsewhere in the City of Wonders, two young lovers embrace in an ancient cemetery — suddenly, they are threatening by a shambling, dark figure. Back at the palace, Kull’s amorous encounter is defused as he catches his reflection in a large mirror: he becomes disgusted, convinced that he is merely a brute posing as a king. After chasing the willing woman away, the monarch smashes the glass in anger, causing his loyal friend and second-in-command Brule the Spear-Slayer to rush into the room. Tu joins them, finally getting the chance to finish his report: it seems that there are restless spirits roaming the graveyard near the royal crypts.

The king and Brule ride off to the cemetery and are shocked to see the rotting corpse of King Borna — the ruler that Kull killed to gain the crown of Valusia — emerging from the crypt. The Pict runs the undead creature through with his spear but it merely plucks out the shaft and swats him away. Kull rushes forward but his slashing sword also has no effect. But the barbarian manages to topple a tall tomb monument, crushing the reanimated Borna to rotten pulp. Later, the Red Slayers, Valusia’s elite guard, comb the crypts, discovering that every last royal sarcophagus is empty. Tu concludes that sorcery is to blame, adding that the only remaining wizard in the city is Sekhmet Tharn, but he has been entirely free of ambition since arriving years ago. Kull mounts his horse and gallops off to Tharn’s strange mansion, perched over the city’s harbor. Sekhmet welcomes the king warmly and, over goblets of potent wine, they discuss the nature of man and the dangers of self-deception. To the king’s surprise, the beautiful woman from the night before strides into the room: she is Jeesala, the sorcerer’s daughter. The temptress disrobes and they embrace, making love on the cold floor as Sekhmet watches approvingly.

Later, Kull jerks awake alone and quickly dresses. He soon comes across the sorcerer and is shown strange visions in an ornate mirror: dinosaurs, mammoths and early men. Then, the mirror clears and displays the barbarian’s image — it slowly transforms into a hulking, beast-like version of the king. Jeesala joins them and her father offers her to the confused monarch. Over the coming days, Kull proudly parades his mysterious new mistress before Valusia’s grumbling citizens, and begins to demand crippling taxes, dealing painful punishments to those that protest. The Red Slayers take notice of the king’s nasty change of attitude and begin a drunken reign of terror, looting and raping. One night, Brule confronts his friend about his uncharacteristic behavior: the loyal Pict is beaten for his insolence. In short time, the abused people of Valusia rebel and march on the palace, hurling flaming torches into the king’s chambers. Sekhmet Tharn gloats in his mansion — the image of Kull frozen in his mirror has changed into the angry man-brute shown earlier. 

The king, oblivious to his newfound greed and hatred, stands before the wall mirror Jeesala recently installed in his chambers, one that matches her father’s: his animalistic form snarls back at him. The beast reaches out and begins to drag him inside — luckily, Brule arrives and shatters the glass, freeing his king. Awakened from his curse, Kull accuses Jeesala of treachery. She reveals herself to be one of the ancient Serpent People, her head turning into that of a venomous viper. She taunts the two warriors, boasting that her father belongs to the same dreaded race and is behind the disappearance of the royal corpses: he has reanimated the dead kings and they are now sailing on Valusia. Kull grabs Brule’s spear and runs it through her black heart, killing the demoness. He then strides to the balcony and confronts the angry mob surrounding the castle, vowing that he is free from the spell that had infected him. Kull leaps down with Brule and they mount horses, riding to the nearest tavern to rally the Red Slayers. Realizing that their true king has returned, the men cheer and follow their leader to the harbor — the former rebels soon join them. 

The undead army pours off their long ships and a raging battle breaks out. While the ghastly attackers are impossible to kill, the Valusians furiously hack away at their arms and legs, finally rendering them all immobile. But Sekhmet Tharn is not done with his plot to overthrow Kull: he summons a tremendous kraken that begins to thrash the pier. The minstrel Ridondo is grasped by one of the monstrosity’s tentacles — before he is crushed, the king splices through the slimy appendage and the singer is freed. The barbarian realizes that the kraken is too powerful and rushes off to slay its master, the sorcerer Tharn. At the wizard’s mansion, he encounters his bestial self, freed from Sekhmet’s mirror. The ape-like terror’s baser instincts prove more than a match for Kull and he is nearly overcome. But the king summons his tiger totem and his ferocious strength is renewed: he cleaves his deformed mirror image with his axe and it falls dead to the waters below. Turning, he flings the weapon at Tharn — it not only decapitates the serpent sorcerer, it smashes his evil mirror. Instantaneously, the sea becomes a razor-sharp tumult of shattered glass and the kraken is sliced to pieces. The Valusian citizens — who had witnessed Kull’s fight with his twisted double — hail the royal barbarian with chants of “Long Live the King!”

Again, the positioning that “Demon in a Slivered Glass” is an original story is a bit galling but Doug Moench comports himself quite well — and this is coming from someone who usually dreads his black-and-white output. Doug’s wordy, often pretentious style actually works in this instance and he captures the cadence of Robert E. Howard’s rich dialogue. We do have a few pages recapping Kull’s “origin.” Just like the oft-repeated opening scene of the character throwing a hissy fit on the throne, how the barbarian became king has been recounted numerous times in both his color and magazine titles. Enough, we get it — and the tale is not very earth shattering anyway. But obviously, the star of the show is the brilliant John Bolton. I’ve seen Bolton compared to Neal Adams and Bernie Wrightson, but I’m not sure about that. John is a much more classically inclined artist and he somehow seems to paint with his pencil and inks. His nearly photorealistic style is simply gorgeous and he has a masterful grasp of action, perhaps shown best in the sword-and-sorcery genre. But heck, you don’t need me to tell you how great Bolton is: just look at all the pretty pictures included in this post. I looked high and low for the two-page spread that reveals the kraken but, disappointedly, I couldn’t find the entire image on the interwebs. A shame. It’s simply spectacular. Plus, while letterers are rarely credited in Marvel’s black-and-white magazines, it’s easy to spot that the great Tom Orzechowski is part of the creative team as well. 

Sadly, Bolton didn’t produce a major body of work for The House of Ideas. With Chris Claremont, he co-created Marada the She-Wolf in Epic Illustrated #10 (February 1982). That story was originally written for Red Sonja, but legal issues around the then-in-production Brigitte Nielsen movie scuttled that plan. He also worked with Claremont on the backup stories in the reprint title, Classic X-Men. Beyond that, there’s not much. But, lucky for this Post Graduate series, his marvelous art does grace another issue of Bizarre Adventures

Bizarre Adventures 32: Gods
August 1982
Cover Art by Joe Jusko

“Sea of Destiny”
Script by Alan Zelenetz
Art by John Bolton

Rowdy Asgardians are enjoying drunken revelry in the throne room of Odin — but one deity is conspicuously absent: Thor. For this date marks the anniversary of a painful chapter in the thunder god’s life and he is paying penance at the Twilight Well …

Years earlier, during another rollicking celebration, Thor hears the prayer of a Norseman named Runolf, the only survivor of Earl Harald Bloodax’s fearsome raiding party. Bloodax’s men were double-crossed and Runolf finds himself alone on their long ship, buffeted by a raging storm. The warrior pleads for the god’s help to survive the deadly waves so that he can avenge his master.  Thor excuses himself to answer the call, but Odin urges him to stay: the fates have already spoken and the man is doomed to die. But the proud and strong-headed son ignores his father’s sage advice and takes the Rainbow Bridge to Midgard.

He alights on the mast of Runolf’s battered boat and commands the elemental forces to cease their heavenly warfare: the skies clear and the ocean calms. But suddenly, a huge sea stallion rears its equine head from the now placid waters. Thor hurls Mjolnir, but the beast shrugs off the thunderous impact. He then launches himself forward to press the attack but soon becomes entwined by the horrifying horse’s massive tail fin and is dragged below the surface. Painfully constricted and losing his breath, the thunder god strikes with one last desperate bolt of lightning: it cracks the stallion in the head and kills the creature immediately. It crashes below the waves and sinks down the dark depths. The mighty one flies to the surface and is shocked to see that Runolf’s ship was swamped when the monster fell — the man floats dead amidst the wreckage. Humbled, he returns to Asgard. Odin admonishes his disobedient son, proclaiming that each year on this day, Thor must journey to the Twilight Wells and relive the event. 

Brief but beguiling, this 14-pager is my first MU encounter with Alan Zelenetz — looks like he came on the scene in the early 80s. He has a strong Hyborian resume, writing a lengthy run of Conan the King, a few issues of Savage Sword and was the main man behind The Official Handbook of the Conan Universe. He also has credits on Moon Knight, the Epic Comics series Alien Legion and other books. His script for “Sea of Destiny” is pretty awesome, full of the pompous, high falutin’ speech you’d except from a bunch of godly Asgardians. The ending is quite somber, though you’d have to figure that Thor would get his comeuppance after ignoring Odin’s advice. At least he wasn’t banished from Asgard for the umpteenth time. Once again, Bolton dazzles the eyes. The sea stallion looks fantastic. The panel where it looks down upon the drowning thunder god from the surface is a high point in the history of comic book art. Too bad he didn’t do the cover as well. But you are always in good hands with Joe Jusko. John’s art for both Kull and Thor is probably the pinnacle for both characters — well, I know it is for barbarian at least. 

The rest of Bizarre Adventures #32 offers nothing else of note. The majority of the stories are comedic — groan — and feature such staffers as Larry Hama, Tom DeFalco, Steve Smallwood, Val Mayerik and Al Milgrom. I actually winced when I spotted the name Greg LaRocque on the Table of Contents page. His name is misspelled as LaRoque, about what he deserves. Ask Professor Joe how I feel about that stiff. What the heck, let’s throw in one more page of Bolton brilliance to tie a ribbon on this Post Graduate.

In Two Weeks!
The Mystery of the Mexican Conan
by Professor Gilbert Colon

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Post-Graduate Studies #16

The MU campus is mostly unused right now but
from time to time, our Professors will drop in for Summer courses.
This Week:

by Professor Tom Flynn

Debuting in February 1975 — and admirably covered by the esteemed Professor Joe Tura — Marvel Preview magazine was the oversized, black-and-white brother of such color “try out” comics as Marvel Spotlight.  Originally priced at $1.00 and packed with a big 84 pages, each issue offered a main story on a character not quite popular enough for their own series: the Punisher, Blade, Satana and others, though mainstream regulars Thor and Robert E. Howard’s King Kull were also featured. For some reason, Star-Lord was a big favorite with the editorial staff and he was given five separate appearances, including the very first collaboration of Chris Claremont, John Byrne and Terry Austin in #11. 

The final issue covered by Professor Joe in the magazine wing of Marvel University was #19 (November 1979) starring the aforementioned Kull. Well, that’s not exactly true. As chair of the Hyborian Department, I stole that one off his already full plate. When MU switched to Post Graduate mode after wrapping up Marvel’s output for December 1979, Marvel Preview ran for five more issues, finally giving up the ghost with #24 in February 1981. I actually covered one of these extracurricular magazines in the very first Post Graduate, a mediocre piece on Moon Knight’s last two black-and-white adventures, which included issue #21 (May 1990). But Marvel Preview wasn’t exactly dead yet.  A year later, in May of 1981, the series was rebranded as Bizarre Adventures, continuing Preview’s numbering with #25. Why Marvel didn’t just start with #1 is beyond me. The publisher did this on quite a few occasions, opting to miss the golden opportunity to have a blaring “Fantastic 1st Issue” burst on the cover of a premiere issue. Wouldn’t that attract collectors and the curious? It’s not like they weren’t justified to start the revamped publication from the beginning. Unlike Marvel Preview, Bizarre Adventures — a pretty creaky title by the way, recalling such Silver Agers as Journey Into Mystery and Tales to Astonish — featured three or four shorter stories starring much more established characters such as the Black Widow, Howard the Duck, Elektra and, the subjects of this Post Graduate, the X-Men. 

Now, my original plan was to cover every issue of Bizarre Adventures. There were only ten, as the magazine was once again cancelled with #34 (February 1983) — this time for good. But when the honorable Dean Pete supplied me with the run, that goal was quickly scuttled. It’s not that Bizarre Adventures was a complete dud. But taken as a whole, the series was fairly uninspiring. However, there are plenty of noteworthy parts to cherry pick for a limited number of Post Graduates. Throughout the 10-issue run, some of the top artists of the day are on display, from Frank Miller and Marshall Rogers to Michael Golden, Bill Sienkiewicz, John Byrne and Paul Smith. Plus, since I’m a Robert E. Howard completist, I am compelled to cover #26, another magazine featuring his thick-headed Atlantean monarch, Kull. That one was a rare Marvel job by the great John Bolton: he also illustrated the Thor tale in #32, so I’ll also tackle that one down the line. But let’s start with #27, featuring current and former members from the most popular Marvel comic of the day, The Uncanny X-Men.

Bizarre Adventures #27: Secret Lives of the X-Men
July 1981
Cover Art by Paul Gulacy

Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson

“Winter Carnival”
Story by Mary Jo Duffy
Art by George Perez and Alfredo Alcala

“Show Me the Way to Go Home”
Story by Mary Jo Duffy
Art by Dave Cockrum and Ricardo Villamonte

We kick off with the 18-page “Phoenix,” as Sara Grey stands over the tombstone of her younger sister Jean, aka Phoenix, in a Dutchess County, New York, cemetery. Now Jean’s body is not actually contained in the grave: it’s mostly symbolic since she was obliterated on the moon. Tearfully, Sara begins to remember an incident from two years earlier …

Planning on meeting their significant others afterwards — boyfriend Scott Summers for Jean and husband Paul Bailey for Sara — the two sisters head off for a day of sailing the Long Island Sound. As they enjoy a picnic lunch on board, Sara, a normal human, confesses that she is worried that her children might share Jean’s mutant genes, cursing them as misfits and outcasts. Soon, the siblings sail into a thick fog bank: both are surprised since the forecast called for crystal clear weather. Sara is overwhelmed and falls unconscious. Jean soon succumbs as well as and slides over the side. As she sinks through the chilly waters and darkness begins to overcome her, Jean recalls how her telekinesis was triggered by the tragic death of a childhood friend and how her sympathetic parents sent her away to Charles Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters when she struggled to control her new powers — and how, years later, she was reborn as the all-powerful Phoenix. 

Jean bolts awake in a well-appointed bedchamber underwater, shocked to find that her skin has turned blue and that she can still breathe. Alerted by a scream, she swims off to find a panicked Sara in the same strange condition. Armed guards soon appear — their skin blue as well — and take the shaken sisters to their lord, Attuma, scourge of the seven seas. The damp despot boasts that he has developed a genetic virus that can transform surface-dwelling female mutants into water-breathers: they will then be used as breeding stock to create a race of super-beings he will use to finally conquer Namor the Sub-Mariner along with the entire planet. Attuma also informs Jean that a score of psychic dampers are focused on her — if she tries to resist their effect, she will become a mindless vegetable.

Jean, realizing that the dampers were merely designed to contain Marvel Girl, transforms into the far more threatening Phoenix. She blasts Attuma and his heavily armed guards with tremendous telekinetic force bolts and rushes off with her sister in tow. But Attuma recovers and corners the women, huge sword in hand. However, once again, he proves no match for the mighty mutant. The Greys finally make their escape and swim to freedom. When Sara breaks the surface, she is unable to breathe air — clutching her throat, she slips below the waves. Using all of her immense power, Phoenix corrects every single one of the trillion cells in her sister’s body, removing Attuma’s genetic virus and transforming her body back to normal. Exhausted, Jean blacks out. But Sara, with the help of a school of dolphins, is able to drag her to the shore above. When Jean recovers, she removes the memory of the entire stressful event from her sister’s memory.

Back in present time at the cemetery, Sara reveals that she regained the memory of the encounter with Attuma after her sister’s death. 

First of all, this story is referenced as “The Brides of Attuma” by various sources, but the Table of Contents and the splash page clearly indicate that it’s simply called “Phoenix.” Regardless of the name, there is something not quite right with the proceedings — which is odd considering the talent involved. While Chris Claremont did not create Jean Grey/Marvel Girl, he was perhaps the most talented writer to handle the character and fleshed her out more than any other before him. And obviously, he did give life to Phoenix. So while he is true to Grey’s personality, the whole situation he places her in is a headscratcher. Phoenix, an immensely powerful and often cosmic being, becomes the kidnapping victim of Attuma and finds herself swimming to and fro? Not a plot that leaps to mind. Perhaps Claremont thought he needed to “ground” the story since her nervous sister Sara was involved. But still, couldn’t Chris have had Galactus kidnap the pair, wanting Phoenix for his next herald or something else a bit more grandiose? Phoenix seems shoehorned into a plot meant for a much more minor hero. And did we really need a school of friendly dolphins to help save the day at the end? Plus, is Claremont’s take on how Marvel Girl’s mutant abilities were triggered a new wrinkle? Can’t remember if the topic was breeched before.

Attuma’s whole plan is a bit of a stretch as well and he clearly thinks that Sara is a mutant. Not that Jean or Sara argues the point. Though, after a bit of poking around the interwebs, it is claimed that she does possess some sort of latent mental power. If true, it’s not referenced in any way at all here. And let’s remember that the story is a flashback by Sara so it’s supposed to be told through her eyes. Yet Jean has a flashback of her own and is given plenty of thought balloons throughout, inner dialogues her sister would obviously not have access to. So not sure why Chris decided to give the story that format at all. Perhaps he thought that the framing pages in the cemetery would add gravitas? I hate to lay any negatives at the feet of my main man John Buscema, but the art is rather weak and sloppy. It’s obvious that Big John only provided rough layouts. As much as I admire his work in other instances, Klaus Janson is not the man to tighten or focus loose illustrations. He’s all mood and shadows.

In the 16-page “Winter Carnival,” visiting sophomore Bobby Drake is at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, to attend the title event. When he notices that the carnival’s theme is superheroes and that the university’s grounds are littered with ice sculptures of Angel, Captain America and other heroes, he forms one of his alter ego, Iceman. When some of Bobby’s friends appear, a snowball fight breaks out, Drake surreptitiously forming a steady stream of ammunition behind his back. Suddenly, the festivities are interrupted by an alarm: three ski-masked men have been caught trying to steal components of Dartmouth’s new computer system, blasting anyone in their way with high-tech stun guns while trying to escape. Ducking behind a tree, Drake transforms into Iceman and easily puts them in deep freeze. After the police drag the would-be thieves away, the icy X-Man entertains the students with a display of his frosty powers.
Later, Iceman and his new pals are doffing a few beers in the campus rathskeller when they are approached by Lieutenant Jimmy D’Angelo, the officer investigating the thwarted robbery. He informs the students that the thieves were attempting to steal large crates containing a new computer system donated by Dr. Henry Pym, aka Yellowjacket. When D’Angelo asks who sounded the alarm, Drake’s boozy friend Bubba states that it was a new math professor — yet no one knows his name or has attended any of his courses. Back at the computer lab, the thieves have returned, led by the mysterious academic, a man named Thatcher. It seems that the earlier robbery was a ruse: when the computer crates were returned, an extra one was mixed in containing one of the robbers. When everything quieted down, he simply slipped out of the box and unlocked the door to the lab. But Iceman, suspicious of the phantom mathematician, returns to the lab during the shenanigans. After a brief firefight, the X-Man ices the gang until Thatcher is the only one left standing. But the elderly mastermind has a trick up his sleeve, a more lethal version of the stun guns concealed in his cane — Iceman is brought to his knees by a direct hit as Thatcher flees with the blueprint to Pym’s invention.

The mutant manages to shake off the blast and gives chase, ultimately cornering the faux professor using ice skis and poles. But Bubba and the rest of the rowdy students stumble on to the scene. Thatcher sets off a chain reaction in his cane, claiming it will cause a massive explosion that will kill them all. But Iceman surrounds the weapon in a ball of snow and forces it skyward with thin columns of ice from his fingertips — it detonates harmlessly in the atmosphere. Thatcher is carted off by Lieutenant D’Angelo and the X-Man strides away proudly, relishing the opportunity to win the day without the help of teammates. 

Let’s start off with the art. My second main man Alfredo Alcala is on hand and the inks provide the lush textures and masterfully gradated shades we have come to expect from his gorgeous black-and-white work. But if you are looking for the unmistakable style of the non-accented George Perez in the layouts and figures, you’ll have to look somewhere else. Not sure if Perez merely provided roughs — like John Buscema in the Phoenix story — but you can only spot him in a series of thin, vertical panels that spread across the top of pages 34 and 35: Thatcher and his goons are walking past the ice sculptures of the heroes until, of course, they pass the real Iceman who leaps into action. Seriously, without the Table of Contents page, George’s mamacita would be hard pressed to tell if he was involved. Which is a shame, even with Alfredo’s outstanding inks.

While I mainly recall Mary Jo Duffy as an editor, she did script single issues of both Daredevil and The Defenders in 1979 and began a pretty lengthy run on Power Man & Iron Fist the same year. However, this is the first time I’ve reviewed anything written by her for MU — and she’s pretty unimpressive. I would imagine that Duffy thought the whole “fake robbery to mask a real one” was a clever idea, but she glosses over so many details that “Winter Carnival” comes across as a surprisingly violent issue of Archie. She states that Bobby is a “visiting sophomore” but doesn’t bother to mention from where. How do the thieves manage to slip in a dummy crate after the first brouhaha with the campus crawling with police? No explanation. And head honcho Thatcher is given nothing but a last name and a professorial goatee. We are supposed to believe that he simply showed up on campus and hung around for a few days pretending to be part of the faculty? No one would ask him who the heck he was? And where did he get the stun guns and cane? Thatcher does mention that it would be quite difficult to steal Pym’s computer in New York City, so he waited until it was transferred to Dartmouth — which is reasonable, but just about the only thing remotely intelligent about the story. And speaking of the computer, there is no information whatsoever about what it does or what makes it so special. “Winter Carnival” left me completely cold. Sorry about that.

Nightcrawler takes center stage in the 18-page “Show Me the Way to Go Home.” As the X-Men are gathered around the TV watching Kurt’s favorite movie, 1940’s The Mark of Zorro, Cerebro sounds an alarm: it has sensed half a mutant in Poughkeepsie, New York. The team boards the Blackbird and jet upstate, spotting the Vanisher trapped in mid-teleportation, half of his body still in Darkstar’s darkforce after the villain’s encounter with the Champions. When Nightcrawler reaches out and touches the bald baddie, a tremendous “Bamf!” transports them both through a mind-bending dimension — they end up in different locations on a planet inhabited entirely by beautiful, scantily clad woman warriors. The lovelies tell the confused visitors that men are rare on their world and whenever one shows up, he is treated like a god. While Nightcrawler is more concerned with getting home, the Vanisher begins to relish the promise of a pampered life and other, more naughty, perks.

When Kurt asks about the prospects of returning home, he is guided to the Oracle, an old woman named Sehu who is displayed on a vintage television. The sarcastic soothsayer informs the mutant that there is a Well at the Center of Time nearby: all he needs to do is jump in with whatever he brought to this dimension. Realizing that he needs to bring the Vanisher along, Nightcrawler begins to search for his fellow teleporter. He quickly finds his prey hording a fortune of gems and other priceless treasures — not surprisingly, the Vanisher refuses to accompany Kurt to the Well. A running skirmish breaks out, with the Vanisher trying to fend off the lithe youngster with a rapier, a boiling cauldron and various darkforce generated weapons, including a giant black fist. But Nightcrawler overcomes all obstacles and his opponent eventually succumbs. On the way to the Well, a giant creature — a monstrous mixture of a chameleon, alligator and cat — gives chase. But the two mutants manage to hurl themselves into the time portal and are transported back to Poughkeepsie. The Vanisher, stripped of the darkforce, arrives naked and embarrassingly blinks away.

“Show Me the Way to Go Home” is played as a lark, but Duffy doesn't have the talent to deliver giggles, only groans. Before we get to some examples of her side-splitting zingers, let’s pause on the splash page as the X-Men are watching TV. Wolverine is of course complaining — “the hero acts like a wimp” — as a line of dialogue floats from the speakers: “His bath was tepid! Poor Lolita, I fear her wedded life will be the same!” Since Mary Jo doesn’t bother informing us what the mutants are watching, I lazily guessed Stanley Kubrick’s “Lolita,” a film I haven’t seen in my defense. But on the next page, Colossus starts talking about “this Zorro,” so a quick search revealed that the film was actually The Mark of Zorro. Why couldn’t Duffy just let us know in one of the many captions on the page? It’s not like zombies had computers those days. Plus, what is the motivation behind the women warriors treating the men like gods — and why have the few they’ve encountered disappeared? No clue since Mary Jo doesn’t provide any. They look like Amazons and are armed with swords, so you’d figure they’d have some man-hating tricks up their sleeves. But they are consistently helpful and subservient. And now for some “zany” bits. When the women take Nightcrawler to see the Oracle, there’s a glowing sign spelling out “Oracle” over the entrance to her odd cave. One of the women says, “It’s in there!” as Kurt replies, “I’d never have guessed.” Is the Oracle’s name, Sehu, supposed to be funny as well? See Who? See You? See me sigh. When the sword fight breaks out, the Vanisher shouts “En garde” as ’Crawler replies “Café au Lait!” Speaking of the Vanisher, I’m not familiar with him at all, but he comes across like a spineless dunce, hampered with such fey dialogue as “Hee hee, he’ll never catch me,” “Girls help, save me” and “I’m philosophically opposed to dying.” And the giant creature at the end bellows “Ooga! Ooga!” Bleech.

Now I am much more of an admirer of John Buscema and George Perez, but Dave Cockrum is easily the artistic star of Bizarre Adventures #27. Dave was back as penciller of The Uncanny X-Men at the time, so he obviously has a firm grasp of the characters. Not only that, his artwork — nicely embellished by the scattershot Ricardo Villamonte — is the cleanest and most energetic of the entire magazine. Too bad it was illustrating such a “comedic” waste of time. The two-page spread of Nightcrawler and the Vanisher plummeting through the dark dimension is very well done, as strange, altered images of the two are floating besides them. If you’ve ever wondered what Kurt would look like as a woman, here you go. 

Unlike most of the black-and-white magazines I’ve covered for MU, the issue doesn’t have any text pieces but there are a few bonuses. A frontispiece includes a nice illustrations of Phoenix by Frank Miller with what looks like inks from Janson, there’s a brief and breezy editorial by editor Dennis O’Neil and Cockrum provided an “X-Men Data Log” of each character to kick off their individual stories — check ’em out below. Paul Gulacy delivers an outstanding cover, but what’s with his take on Nightcrawler’s hair? Is that a perm? 

While I imagine that the fanatic legion of X-Men fans would have snatched this magazine up in July of 1981, it’s rather flat and could have easily been skipped. Which is a shame considering the creative teams involved. Bizarre Adventures #27 should have remained a secret — X-Men or not.

In Two Weeks...
Professor Tom Stays Bizarre!

Featuring the Art of John Bolton!