Wednesday, July 27, 2016

September 1978 Part Two: KISS Makes a Return Appearance. No Blood This Time!




The Invincible Iron Man 114
"The Menace of... Arsenal!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Diana Albers
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Dan Green


As they attempt to aid the dying Unicorn, Yellowjacket expresses perplexity that Iron Man wants him to help his enemies as well as the friends they’d restored from Midas’s golden touch.  Wonder Man remarks that Avengers’ (sic) Mansion has “become a nursing home for ailing super-villains,” including a superannuated Count Nefaria and Eternity Man popsicle Jason Beere, who, as the Beast points out, might attack them once cured.  It’s funny you should say that, Hank, because no sooner have they exited stage left to avoid the high radiation levels as the Revitalizer stabilizes the Unicorn’s erratic life-signs—Shellhead being determined to find out who directed his “mindless kamikaze attack” on S.I.—than he is, um, revitalized and bursts free.

Quick cameo by Whitney, entering Tony’s Manhattan townhouse, then back to business as IM at last finds time to address the matter of Uni’s control beam, which he helpfully duplicates on his helmet radio for his teammates.  Just then (whether causally or coincidentally is unclear), “The Other” senses that Uni is awake and directs him to renew his attack, but his wildly firing power horn weakens the structure, plunging him into the lowest sub-level.  There, he reels in confusion and pain, static blocking his master’s repeated attempts to guide him, “and the screaming signal has an effect that neither could have anticipated!” as a panel slides up to release a hulking robot that identifies itself as Arsenal and—absent incoming programming—prepares for the “enemy.”

The Other’s control gizmo craps out with a delightful “Sproing!!” as the Assemblers descend to prevent Uni’s escape via their river access, only to have the Vision, Beast, YJ and Wondy taken out in quick succession by the “mystery guest’s” inexhaustible, er, arsenal; meanwhile, at S.I., the mole continues gathering data to use against Tony.  Returning from dinner (in costume, for some reason) to utter chaos, Captain America and the Scarlet Witch fare little better after the foe freezes IM’s armor.  While he plans to “analyze the the [sic] opposition—and then annihilate them!,” Shellhead strikes back, thawed out by his thermal units; his vital functions disrupted, Arsenal inexplicably vanishes without a trace, and IM proposes to put Uni on life-support at S.I. -Matthew Bradley


Matthew Bradley: I don’t know if the fact that this is Bill’s penultimate issue is relevant—or he even knew it—but this seems like a somewhat unsatisfactory stew that is heavier on questions than answers, maybe more than the legitimate demands of suspense might justify.  However, I won’t bother dwelling on the mysteries raised by Arsenal, since he “will return in an upcoming issue of Avengers” (in actuality, next year’s Annual #9).  Guest-penciler “Giffin,” who must get really “sic” of people misspelling his name, and inker “Bruce D.”—evidently Patterson—ably illustrate this combat-heavy entry, with a climactic full-pager on 30 that nicely emphasizes both Shellhead’s strength and his adversary’s heft, although their face-work is not as sure-handed, and varies considerably.

Chris Blake: All-out action, with two nigh-unstoppable super-foes!  The Avengers rarely appear in IM’s own mag, so it’s a bonus to have them along, even though Yellowjacket is the only one to get appreciable screen-time (as Vision, Beast, and Wonder Man all are taken out as soon as they’re in close proximity to Arsenal).  It’s hardly a fill-in, though, as Mantlo continues to play up the intrigue involving the power behind the Unicorn, plus we’re reminded there’s some sort of spy within the ranks of Stark International (p 22, first three panels).  Whitney Frost’s appearance is curious, little more than a walk-on, as she’s required to do nothing other than let herself into Tony’s midtown penthouse after a shopping trip (p 7).  


Giffen, with his skill for team books and high-octane action, is a fitting choice as guest artist.  I’m reminded of my wish that Giffen could’ve signed on to pencil a few regular issues of Avengers, or perhaps an annual; instead, this is one of Giffen’s final appearances with Marvel during the age of Bronze.  Highlights include: the crazy assortment of inexplicable machinery, Beast comfortably seated above (p 1); the Unicorn busts thru (p 10); IM, Vision, and Beast proceed carefully into the shadowy sub-basement (p 16, pnl 3); Cap and Wanda are laid out, in a debris-strewn space, as Arsenal moves purposefully forward (p 27, 1st pnl).  Shellhead’s full-page sock-it to Arsenal is noteworthy, as Giffen & Patterson deliver the Big Moment.  






 John Carter, Warlord of Mars Annual 2
"The Headmen of Mars"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Ernie Chan
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

Falling betwixt the Wolfman and Claremont regimes, Bill Mantlo’s “The Headmen of Mars” does not adapt per se, but draws heavily upon, the fifth and sixth books, The Chessmen… and …Master Mind of Mars.  The former details the courtship of Tara of Helium and Gahan of Gathol, the parents of Llana of Gathol, and introduces symbiotic species that—as unforgettably depicted on Gino D’Achille’s cover—made it my favorite in the series, along with Princess.  Incarnating ERB’s theme of the mind/body balance, rykors are perfect but headless humanoids, and kaldanes little more than brains with spider-like legs, which mount and rely on rykors for locomotion (anticipating the Faceless One in Astonishing Tales #3).

Published in its entirety in Amazing Stories Annual (July 15, 1927), Master Mind departed from the prior books, all of which were serialized in various incarnations of All-Story magazine—as Chessmen was in February-March 1922—and focused on Carter’s bloodline.  Maimed on a WW I battlefield, fellow Earthman Ulysses Paxton is similarly transported to Barsoom and becomes the assistant to titular scientist Ras Thavas, who transplants the brains of wealthy clients like hideous crone Jeddara Xaxa of Phundahl into young bodies like that of Princess Valla Dia of Duhor.  Dubbed Vad Varo by Ras Thavas (who returns to create the Synthetic Men of Mars in book nine), Paxton predictably falls for Valla Dia, and spends the novel trying to reassemble her.

Drawn by Ernie Chan—whose self-inked art not surprisingly resembles what he embellished for Sal Buscema in the first annual—“Headmen” opens with a sequence straight out of Chessmen as our hero, while rescuing a crew member, is swept from an airship that has been cut loose from its mooring lines in a violent gale, in order to avoid its being dashed to pieces.  In this case, Carter subs for Gahan, and the vessel is the new flagship of Dejah’s father (inexcusably misidentified as Tardos Mors, her grandfather, rather than Mors Kajak), from which she and Tars Tarkas watch his apparently fatal plunge with horror.  But the net result is the same:  Carter miraculously, if implausibly, survives, and then finds himself in Bantoom, the country of the rykors and kaldanes.

After watching them and a pair of apparently normal red Martians from afar, Carter saves a Barsoomian running from a banth, and in so doing falls in with two bizarre figures whose intertwined tales of woe synthesize elements from both books.  The figure fleeing atop his rykor is Aard, a kaldane banished by their king, Taak, for developing emotions and falling in love with another of his race, Saar.  “Yes, Aard was the first [kaldane to feel emotions like love, loyalty, and friendship]—but as my yet unborn daughter, Tara of Helium, would one day tell me—there would be others in Bantoom to also feel as Aard once did,” Carter’s narration tells us, in a continuity-muddling reference to Ghek, the kaldane who befriended her and Gahan in Chessmen.

The other is one of the fearsome, four-armed white apes who has been given the brain of a human, Tal Tarag, making him roughly analogous to the character of Hovan Du in Master Mind.  He explains that Taak, wishing to send spies among the red men, decided to kill multiple birds with the help of Ras Thavas, now inexplicably a superannuated kaldane.  The brain of Taak’s unnamed ambassador is placed into the body of Tal Tarag, a lowly soldier of fortune who loved Toonolian noblewoman Vala (sic; she is also referred to at one point as “Valia”) Dia; Saar’s brain is placed into the body of Vala Dia, likewise “kidnapped and sold—to the body banks of Ras Thavas!” by her jilted royal suitor; and Vala Dia’s is…in a bowl, stolen by the escaping ape.

Carter naturally tries to help these tragic figures to right the respective wrongs done to them, yet those expecting the traditional Burroughsian happy ending and tidy tying up of loose ends will be surprised by the downbeat concluding bloodbath.  After taking hostage the would-be spies (the handsome couple Carter had glimpsed earlier), the trio faces the mental powers of Taak, an unusually large and hideous kaldane, who quickly fries Aard.  He then gloatingly reveals to Tal Tarag that the spies have mutated into human/kaldane hybrids, which Carter slays with his sword; Vala Dia lost to him forever, Tal Tarag breaks Taak’s mental hold and engages him in a mutually destructive death-grip, and Jan in the Pan—er, Vala in the Bowl—is heard of no more... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Taken on its own merits, this is probably a pretty good yarn, although in my case, rereading it with both books (neither of which is acknowledged anywhere by a credit or footnote) so fresh in mind probably did it a disservice, so strongly did it emphasize the Mixmaster nature of Bill’s script.  Similarly, while I have no particular complaints about Ernie’s artwork, his kaldanes strike me as pretty feeble next to the impression burned into my youthful brain by Gino.  In fairness, though, this certainly contains more material taken directly from Burroughs—however uncredited and recombined though it may be—than much of the Marvel series, and the full-pager on 19 depicting “three of the strangest companions Barsoom is ever likely to see” is impressive.

Chris: It’s an ideal sort of story to feature in an annual.  Start with a handful of characters we don’t know from Carter’s regular title, then add their various relationships, and top it with people now inhabiting different bodies – would you want to recap all that in the first 2-3 pages of the next issue?  No, not when you can plug it into the longer-format annual, wind it up, and let it run.  

The symbiotic relationship of the Kaldane and Rykor is unique, but Ernie Chan’s depiction of these races takes them beyond the alien, into the realm of the hideous.  Chan helps Bill Mantlo bring the whole story to a head (so to speak) in the reversal presented by his ghastly illustration on p 44, as we see the Red Martian bodies now self-converted to a Kaldane/Rykor arrangement.  And you heard Carter observe that both Toonolians wore bejeweled collars, and figured that was simply a cultural affectation, right?  Little did you know this simple detail would turn out to be a significant plot point.  Nice job all around by Mantlo & Chan.  







 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 16
"The Master Assassin of Mars, Chapter 1:
John Carter is Dead!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Ernie Colón and Rudy Nebres
Color by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Colón and Rudy Nebres


 “The Master Assassin of Mars” begins with Carter poisoned while toasting Dejah on their second wedding anniversary, apparently dead from what Kantos Kan recognizes as the effects of D’ath spider venom in wine served by Daria.  The shapely slave is from the Guild of Assassins, and Mordin’s “favored one” cuts a bloody swath through guards ordered to take her alive, yet when faced with the enraged princess, she resorts to dishonoring the warrior codes by trying to hold her hostage with a radium pistol.  Disarmed by Tars Tarkas with a well-aimed dagger, she silences herself by plunging from a palace window, and Dejah swears to avenge her chieftain, whose cortege processes down the Avenue of the Ancestors the next day.

At midnight, the warriors guarding his tomb see a scout flier fleeing Helium, but when Kantos inspects the tomb, he sees what appears to be a dead man walking, and the surgeons deduce that “somehow, his unique Jasoomian metabolism counteracted the poison” after leaving him aware yet helpless.  Sola reveals that Dejah took Daria’s effects and sought the guild, following a map hidden in her chambers, yet when Tardos Mors prepares to send the fleet after his granddaughter, Carter argues that a single warrior’s chances are better.  After the couple is reunited in his flier over unknown territory, hurricane winds spring up from the canyon below, crippling the ship, and they survive the crash but collapse while “tall, hunch-backed, amorphous shapes” approach. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Wolfman hands the book off to Claremont, who per the lettercol in #14 has “been dying to do a Burroughs mag since he was crawling around in Pampers,” and—excepting the final Peter Gillis one-off in #28—rounds out its run with this 12-part original.  The first half is penciled primarily by Warren alumnus Colón (whose accent comes and goes in the credits), with a series of inkers begun here by the departing Nebres, and the second by DC and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu vet Mike Vosburg.  Colónebres also provides this awesome cover, with its suitably somber color scheme and ingenious concept that our favorite four-armed Thark can simultaneously raise his hands to Issus while carrying Carter, reports of whose death are naturally somewhat exaggerated.

One reason I prefer the Barsoomian to the Tarzan novels is that absent the restrictions of his dubiously accurate African settings, or of making the marquee name his protagonist, Burroughs could give his imagination freer rein to create new geography, races, flora, fauna, etc.  After a four-book hiatus, Carter returned as the narrator of Swords of Mars, serialized in Blue Book (like its predecessor, A Fighting Man of Mars) from November 1934 to April 1935.  As ERB often noted, thievery is rare on Mars, but assassination is so common that its practitioners have formed guilds; an undercover mission to stamp out one of the largest, led by Ur Jan, brings Carter to Zodanga, a hotbed of unrest since its pillaging in Princess by his combined red and green forces.

There’s so little in this first installment about the guild itself that it’s too soon to say whether or not “Master Assassin” will have more than a basic thematic connection to Swords (which wildly veers off into a trip to the Martian moon of Thuria anyway).  But Chris seems to have a pretty good grasp of his Barsoomian basics, even if the notion of docking two fliers seems like a jarring anomaly, and setting aside the inevitable pretty-boy Rudification, Ernie’s unusual layouts and Heliumitic cityscape on page 23 are quite arresting.  Not that I’m complaining—you might say I’m enjoying the “Dejah view,” most notably page 11, panel 2—but Colón has so minimized our heroes’ already skimpy costumes that some of these images almost seem like anatomical studies.


Chris: Well, I guess Carter is only slightly dead.  In fact, he’s feeling much better; he thinks he’ll go for a walk at lunchtime.  Carter’s unique Jasoomian physiology has provided a handy explanation for many things he’s been able to accomplish on Barsoom, so it might as well bring him back from the dead, too.  Claremont does a nice job with the shocked, mournful atmosphere of Carter’s funeral (the use of the term “cortege” reminded me of coverage of JFK’s state funeral).  Still, I admit to being a bit distracted while reading this bit, since part of me was trying to anticipate how Claremont intended to rescue Carter from this certain-death, in-the-tomb situation.  Did Daria poison a stand-in for Carter (due to members of the jeddak’s inner circle having heard rumors of a possible assassination attempt -?), or was Carter already protected somehow against poison, so that he and Dejah could flush out the real criminals?  I certainly didn’t think he was really dead, but at least Claremont did manage to keep me guessing how his death would be reversed.  


The Colón/Nebres team does well in its first pairing.  A few highlights: Dejah in the foreground as she threatens Daria, who stands boldly before her princess, arms invitingly outstretched (p 6, last pnl); Kantos Kan stares down at his dead prince, as he recalls past triumphs (p 15, last pnl); overall, very effective use of shadows to contribute atmosphere to the tomb-scene (p 15-17).  Credit also to Francoise Mouly for her color-contribution to this portion of the issue, as she surrounds a pale-gold Carter with an assortment of bright blossoms (p 14, 1st pnl); also, contrast Dejah’s red, um, outfit, and light-red skin, against Carter’s bloodless flesh (p 11, 1st pnl).
The issue ends abruptly, without even a hype-box at the bottom of p 31; that always makes me question whether a story might’ve originally been slated for a longer-format setting (an annual would be the only other possibility).  I’m not worried about it, but since it looks odd, it sets me to wonderin’.  






 Master of Kung Fu 68
"Final Combats"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Simek
Cover by Mike Zeck


Kogar accepts Shang-Chi’s request to join his crew.  S-C anticipates the next development, as he is locked in a room with barred windows; he is willing to wait for Kogar’s next move.  Kogar’s hand is forced by the sudden arrival of Shen Kuei, who calls Kogar a “treacherous dog” for having attempted to steal the shipment.  Kogar accepts Shen Kuei’s challenge of single combat to settle their dispute, and calls on his champion: Shang-Chi.  Shen and Shang both have their reservations; SK states that honor prohibits him from killing S-C (at the end of their previous meeting, S-C had elected not to stab SK in the back when he had the chance), while S-C states he has no reason to fight SK.  Kogar challenges them both, first by threatening to kill Black Jack Tarr (though he still hides under the nom de guerre “Blue”), next by reminding SK that S-C had a role in SK’s brother’s death.  The battle begins, as Reston, Melissa, and Leiko watch from a hiding place above, unable to interfere.  S-C is concerned that Kogar’s lie about SK’s brother’s death might “darken the vision” of SK’s heart.  S-C takes solace, though, from his expectation that SK’s mastery of S-C in their previous fight might breed overconfidence, thereby stealing “the survival instinct called fear” from Shen Kuei ; “the truly fearless man,” concludes S-C, “always makes a mistake,” as S-C gains the upper hand.  
Kogar’s attempt to encourage Shen Kuei to continue proves to be the greater misstep, as he claims S-C had placed the X-marked box in the brother’s hands before it exploded; SK pauses then, asking Kogar how he had known the manner of the box’s marking.  Before Kogar can fashion a reply, Juliette arrives in her boat, still packed with the stolen cargo; she offers to exchange the shipment for the life of S-C.  Kogar is prepared to go one better – he will seize the cargo, and have Juliette killed!  S-C rushes forward to save Juliette, with Reston and Leiko provide covering fire, aided by Tarr as he abandons his shaky alias.  S-C, Juliette, and Tarr then climb up to Reston and Leiko; once he’s reached safety, Tarr joins those firing on Kogar’s pirates.  S-C asks aloud how all this violence could be due to “crates filled with drugs”; Tarr reveals each hashish brick hides a microdot that, when properly interpreted, will provide the plan for a neutron bomb, “the ultimate doomsday weapon, Chinaman.”  S-C breaks off from escape to run back to Kogar’s dock, as Tarr implores him not to go, since “Kogar’s whole stinkin’ army of thugs is --! Aw, what’s the use?  S-C fights his way to an open crate of grenades (which he’d previously put to use in MoKF #67), and finds Shen Kuei close by; the former adversaries each throw grenades onto Juliette’s boat, thereby destroying it and its deadly shipment, then proceed to blow up as much of Kogar’s HQ as possible.  They part on good terms, with SK directing S-C, “whatever your decision – treat Juliette well.”  -Chris Blake
Chris: So, yet another MoKF synopsis that turns out to be much longer than I’d anticipated.  Moench does a solid job wrapping up this multi-parter (which started when Skull-Crusher attacked S-C back in MoKF #61) without adding new complications; even the notion he had left us with last issue, as S-C tried to bluff his way into Kogar’s company, is dealt with quickly as S-C is required to face Shen Kuei.  It seems true to SK’s character that he would not allow past animosity toward S-C to cloud his present judgment; he’s ready to accept that the same man who had not stabbed him in the back also is not likely to be one who had killed his brother thru deceit.  
In the interest of time, I had to omit mention of Leiko’s discovery that S-C and Juliette now are an item.  Reston simultaneously sympathizes with Leiko and gets in a dig, as he states “I know how you feel.”  He also issues a challenge that resonates for him, as he states Leiko can “prove [her] love for Chi – by saving the woman he loves.”  Hard to get a bead on your opponents and shoot straight thru the tears, eh Leiko?  



Mike Zeck does well by the action, with the Shang-Chi vs Shen Kuei rematch a clear highlight (p 10-15); Zeck has a better sense of fight-choreography, as one action follows another, than we had seen with Jim Craig.  My only criticism is that – if you can believe this – the panels are larger than usual and conventionally laid-out, which has not been the look we’ve come to expect with this title; we’ll see if Zeck refines his style over time.  I’m a big fan of the clear inking of Bruce D. (Patterson), but the results this time are a bit too sterile for my liking.  
Mark Barsotti: This one's a bit of an odd duck: the conclusion of a multi-part tale that avoids soul-shriveling MCD*, while - a few tossed hand grenades notwithstanding - not really delivering grand finale fireworks that its eight-issue length practically demands.

While Doug Moench's script is somewhat muted, the drama drain blame (say that three times fast!) rests squarely with artist Mike Zeck, who oddly presents the finale action scenes in Squint-O-Vision. For the past several issues we've had occasion to ogle Kogar's hi-tech, hidden-behind-a-waterfall smuggler's cove inside a mountain, sometimes in two-page spreads, but check out the tiny horizontal panel Zeck serves up (p.30, below) when the whole shebang goes blooey. Prof Joe's backyard barbeques offer more pyrotechnics. The boat full of contraband gets hand-grenaded (p.27) in a tiny horizontal panel. I know Zeck's settling in for a long run on the book and will do just fine, but he sure thinks small here.

Moench aptly sets up Shang-Chi vs. Shen "the Cat" Kuei II: Smuggler's Smackdown, but rather than the likely duel to the death, they become allies when Kogar - who's shrunk in menacing stature and become more buffoonish since first introduced - inadvertently reveals that he, not S-C, blew up the Cat's brother. I appreciate the zig when we expected Doug to zag, but my big gripe is that, having masterfully shuffled together an intricate plot, Moench has no final trump card to turn over that further raises the stakes. Sorry, but after eight months of foreplay, neutron bomb schematics don't goose us over the finish line of gee-whiz! satisfaction.

Maybe we wouldn't have noticed if the explosions hadn't been on microdots...
  
*Marvel Climaxius Disappointus  








 Marvel Team-Up 73
Spider-Man and Daredevil in
"A Fluttering of Wings Most Foul!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Kerry Gammill and Don Perlin
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob McLeod


 Peter is seeking the free legal services of the Storefront, “about providing for Aunt May in case something should ever happen,” when Murdock—who has recognized his new client as Spidey from his heartbeat, yet didn’t catch his name—is distracted by the sound of the Owl’s helicopter and gives him the bum’s rush.  In his Jersey Palisades lair, the Owl recalls how his men, summoned by his signal, pulled him from the river after he plunged through the ice to his “death” in Daredevil #145, then kidnapped our old pal Professor Kerwin (again!) to repair the damage from the oxygen-loss.  He sends them to pull a high-profile diamond heist, hoping to flush out his nemesis, but gets more than he bargained for:  two super-heroes for the price of one.

Exacerbating an uncharacteristic squabble (see below), DD forces Spidey to let the goons get away, so they can lead him to the Owl, then gets into a pissing match over who can swing faster across the GWB in pursuit.  They infiltrate his new cliff-top aerie, surviving an electric booby-trap and 3-D projections lost on the blind DD, and the Owl sends his swiftly defeated men to wear them down, saving Kerwin as his trump card.  DD argues that the “hostage” who saved the Owl’s life is no better than he, and as Kerwin, catching on, avers that he was a willing partner, the agitated avian collapses, clutching his cranium; “he finally became over-excited, and it caused the neurological pacemaker to short circuit—leaving him a vegetable,” Kerwin reveals. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I haven’t seen Friedrich the Lesser’s byline since Ghost Rider #6 (June 1974), and as longtime readers may imagine, I haven’t missed it, but you’ll have to take my word for it that I really was trying to give him the benefit of the doubt until I got to page 11, panel 2:  “Daredevil!  Who invited you?  I don’t remember sending out any distress signals!”  It has long been an article of faith on MU’s Bethel campus that of all the Marvel heroes who team up without being actual teammates, Spidey and DD probably have the most harmonious relationship—y’know, just like the Avengers often did before the Embarrassment-in-Chief barged in.  And I consider it no coincidence that each had a guest-shot as early as #16 of the other’s book back in the mid-1960s.

I belabor this not to demonize the erstwhile “Groovy Gary”—well, not only to do that—but to make the larger point that if you don’t have a halfway-decent grasp of the characters, you shouldn’t be writing the mag.  Even aside from that sadly pervasive failing, as they constantly try to one-up each other, it’s just a crappy story, poorly paced and plotted, the last panel crammed with expository dialogue to tell us what we just saw.  The artwork is about what you’d expect when, first, it’s inked by Perlin and, second, they misspell future Power Man and Iron Fist toiler Kerry’s name (“Gammil”) in his Marvel debut; I see from the ol’ CBDB that I won’t encounter him again within the purview of this blog, although my Savage Sword of Conan colleagues shall.

Chris: Has MTU finally found a way to skip the MARMIS, and move on to the story proper without needless hero-battling?  It certainly is more enjoyable to have our principals sparring verbally, without being reduced to fisticuffs to settle the question of who might have the right to chase the Owl.  Gary Friedrich does a thorough job of employing Daredevil’s hypersenses, as DD follows the sound of the Owlcopter to the villain’s new HQ, and pretends to see the entrance opening when he relies on vibrations to tell him that the doors have reopened.   



As for the Owl, it’s rare to see such an elaborate explanation for a villain’s narrow escape from seemingly certain death.  I guess it was good planning by the Owl to keep a “twenty-four hour rescue unit” on full-time stand-by; good planning also to have learned to hold his breath in freezing water while patiently awaiting their arrival – you never know, right?  Maybe Friedrich forgot to tell us the rescue squad is always flying in a secondary copter, right next to the ordinary Owlcopter -?  


Chris: The Owl also goes to careful lengths to ensure Daredevil finds his new lair, but his advance planning doesn’t seem to extend to a sure-fire method of disposing of DD.  The 3D owl-ograms are supposed to reduce his opponents to madness – uh, they are?  And when that doesn’t work (and how could that not work -?!), then mighty Owl henchmen are supposed to beat up our heroes.  So, that’s the plan?  Maybe the Owl should employ a 24-hr stand-by hero-disposal team instead -?  Merely a suggestion.  
The Gammill/Perlin artwork is thoroughly acceptable, as both leads look as they should.  I did a double take when I saw the George Washington Bridge now has four towers, twice as many as any suspension bridge might require.  Another unintentionally funny moment as DD needlessly points out the Owlcopter, patiently hovering outside the HQ entrance, about fifteen feet from where he’s standing; something tells me Spidey was likely to have heard the rotors running from that distance.  Missed opportunity by Phil Rachelson, who offers nothing but pale blue and tepid yellow as sky-colors, even though the issue supposedly is taking place during evening rush hour.  

Joe: Everything here is about convenience and coincidence. The entire floundering Friedrich plot hinges on it, from Peter Parker meeting Matt Murdock for a legal question, to Murdock remembering he didn't get Parker's name (on page 2, which is about as convenient as it gets), to Peter wondering how Murdock can "split so fast without falling all over everything in sight" [no pun intended, Mr. Parker?], and Matt even notices that Peter noticed. Then we have the explanation of Owl's frozen escape, and subsequent easy recovery. And Spidey's talking instead of acting, then trusting DD a bit too readily—but then again, Horn-Head seems to out-agile him. DD not picking up 3D, but no one really takes notice is also a bit convenient—the Owl assumes Daredevil knows how to outsmart him…did he not read What If #8? Even Owl's downfall is way too convenient and abrupt, like the whole book is stuck in the 60s. And the pop- culture references and one-liners are a bit too corny, whether it's Arthur Murray, Charlie's Angels, or the goofiest one from Spidey: "Like the fella in the bathroom cabinet says—HI GUYS!" Um..huh? The art, by Kerry Gammill and Don Perlin is a little uneven, with some odd shots like Daredevil's pose in page 2, last panel (above), like he's "workin' the corner" instead of starting his search for The Owl. And Spidey's head placements are a bit off throughout, most notably pages 10-11. Not a very good comic, this one.

Matthew: "Hi, guy!" is from an annoying Right Guard commercial of our misspent youth.







 Marvel Two-In-One 43
The Thing and Man-Thing in
"The Day the World Winds Down"
Story by Ralph Macchio
Art by John Byrne and "Friends"
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by John Byrne and Walt Simonson


Victorius relates how he survived S.H.I.E.L.D.’s destruction of his lab by taking the Super-Soldier Serum he had recreated for A.I.M.; defeated by Ka-Zar, he stumbled on the Entropists’ writings, embraced the “goal of universal decay,” regrouped the cult, and used the Cube to reform Yagzan’s remains into Jude, the Entropic Man, the “herald” who immediately turned two lovers into dust.  Outraged by their murder, Ben leaps at Victorius, only to be quickly slapped down, which prompts Cap to challenge the “second-rate carbon copy” to single combat sans cosmic handicaps.  Suspending the Cube in mid-air, Victorius accepts while, unnoticed, the Man-Thing—himself a result of Super-Soldier research—is “drawn by the released emotions...”

The Thing watches as the Man-Thing instinctively grasps the Cube, and Victorius agrees to let Jude end the inconclusive battle; after Ben hurls a hypnotized Cap to safety and is enveloped in “the embrace of entropy,” Jude is confused when he turns human.  Our heroes’ defense of “the spirit of life” begin to sway him, so Victorius tries to reclaim the Cube, but its powers combine with the effects of his fear when Jude—having decided his coming was premature—touches him.  The explosion turns the foes into “radiant crystal” that stimulates plant growth, and Ben back into the Thing, yet as he and Cap depart with the seemingly powerless Cube, Man-Thing arises, his hand reverting to that of Ted Sallis as he reaches for the crystal...then wanders mindlessly off.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Even with the artwork chores having shifted to Byrne and unspecified “Friends,” I found the conclusion to Macchio’s two-parter slightly disappointing, although the opener was admittedly a tough act to follow.  And as much as I appreciate seeing the co-stars of #1 reunited at last, I have a hunch that cruel tease of an ending actually echoes one Gerber did in Manny’s own strip but, as usual, haven’t time to unearth it.  At least we get a satisfactory explanation of last issue’s “I—of all people” line, due to the erstwhile Victor Conrad’s first-hand experience with the formula in Mike Friedrich’s Ka-Zar arc; I note with amusement that in Astonishing Tales #19, he says he “rose to fill the leadership-vacuum of A.I.M.,” since that’s exactly what he did with the cultists.

My rule of thumb is to try to avoid criticizing things for what they aren’t, rather than what they are, but I must say, last issue’s high-tech Project Pegasus/Cosmic Cube kickoff led me to expect a somewhat grander payoff than one that is literally stuck in the mud.  We don’t learn enough about Jude to make him, as it were, fully fleshed out, and yet again, the possibilities of the Cube seem to be largely ignored, with Victorius foolishly leaving it unattended.  On the plus side, John et al. make Jude a visual triumph, always looking like he’s being blown away by the breeze, and the close-up in page 23, panel 4 is chill-inducing; Ralph’s take on Cap is also inspiring, with his opposition to the cult and the misuse of the serum in marked contrast to his sometime self-doubt.


Chris: It’s always an interesting twist whenever the baddie’s #2 guy decides he has his own agenda, and undermines the grand scheme of #1 baddie.  It helps when #2 recognizes how the action required by #1 isn’t true to #2’s self-concept.  In this case, Jude the (non-obscure) Entropist hears both Ben Grimm and Steve Rogers; rather than insist on the rightness of his position, Jude backs off, and asks himself whether he has been wrong, before he seeks to bestow the gift of the great decay on Victorius alone (and Victorius is neither ready, nor victorious).  In this way, Ralph Macchio demonstrates facility with the multiple-dance-partners format of MTIO/MTU, as he keeps all five principal and supporting characters actively involved in the developing plotline.  


More points to Macchio as he shows Man-Thing attracted to the unusual emanations of the Cube, when M-T ordinarily is drawn by the heightened emotions of a fight.  Intriguing moment as Manny handles the wish-fulfilling power of the Cube, and feels its energies, but does not realize it could contain the potential to free him from eternal muck-ness, and restore him to humanity (p16).  True to form, Man-Thing is in the background most of the time, but still plays a prominent role in the story’s resolution; M-T certainly would have some stories to tell, if he only had a memory, and a mouth.  
I wonder how John Byrne drew this assignment; we’ll see Byrne a few more times in the pages of MTIO, as Ben Grimm returns to Project Pegasus.  I’ve always been intrigued by the credit “John Byrne and Friends, artists”; Byrne’s hand on pencils and inks is apparent on every page, but I really don’t recognize the style of any of the contributing inkers.  Grand Comics Database punts, as they list the credit as written, without providing any information about the other hands involved; SuperMegaMonkey also has no insight to the possible participants.  
Well, whomever Byrne’s friends might be, the results hold up fairly well, with plenty of highlights: Jude’s gooey formation (p 6), and his dissolution of the unsuspecting couple (p 7); Cap is pulled in to Jude’s call (p 17); Victorius splashes thru the muck to reclaim the Cube (p 23, pnl 5), and is possessed by fear at exactly the worst possible time (p 26); I also like the fanciful flora, transformed by proximity to the crystalline forms (p 30, 1st pnl).

Matthew:  The Marvel Database is equally unhelpful, crediting Byrne only as penciler and no inker.





 Nova 21
"Is the World Ready for the Shocking Secret of Nova"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema, Bob McLeod, and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin

Bobbie thinks Nova has killed his Dad, but Nova/Richard knows Charles is OK, so he tells his brother to call the hospital and he bowls over the Inner Circle goons to discover their leader—The Corruptor! More evil and powerful than before (see Nova #4), as well as confident and arrogant, he blasts Nova then shows off one of his many Computech labs ("Not bad, Corry, get this outta a Cracker-Jack box?"), which he will use to take over New York City, then the country, with his power to control minds and cause wanton destruction. Corruptor vanishes in a puff of smoke, Nova takes out more goons, and wrecks the computer consoles. Then he zips back to Charles Rider, flying him and Bobbie to the hospital (while robot Sherlock is ordered to meet them at home), then jets off to meet with Shuffles again, where he learns Corruptor has "activated his mindless legion" with his chemical touch, and they're starting to destroy Broadway. But the fast-thinking hero spies a convenient Russian fishing boat, grabs the fishing net and "catches" the corrupted crowd. Meantime, MIA Mike Burley, hiding out in plain sight in the Bowery, finds a dazed man in an alley, muttering that he's "Comet," and takes him to the same hospital where Nova rockets in, going to his Dad's room where he reveals to his Dad, Mom, and brother that he's Nova! And instead of being upset, his family is happy, since Nova just saved Charles' life. But, one floor down, the dazed man is delirious until the doctors use x-rays, which cause mysterious powers to start forming!—Joe Tura




Joe: There's one thing that really bothers me about this issue: what's with Nova calling The Corruptor "Corry?" You would think Marv could have figured out some nicknames just don't work, but he did it anyway. And it's dumb. Almost as dumb as Nova name-dropping Cracker Jack and Charlie the Tuna. The Corruptor is back, and no one was asking for him, but maybe Marv sees something in giving him double the power than before. Or he thought we were no longer paying attention to this book?  Which is pretty ballsy of him since it was most likely true!

Richard's big reveal is handled well. It seemingly comes out of nowhere, but it's probably only a matter of time before genius little brother Bobbie figured his identity out. And it's crazy that there's nary a "Blue Blazes" to be found, not when Nova discovers Corruptor, not when the mindless legion is starting their mindless march, not when he reveals his identity to the family. What's a professor to do if there are no Blue Blazes to count?

But, there is something positive here, and that's the return of Big John Buscema to these pages, for the first time since ish #2. The characters look more classic-comic-book, the action is solidly spun, and everyone is standing upright. Mind you, it's only for one measly issue, as Infantino will return to the easel in two months, but hey, we take what we can get with this title.




Matthew: Now with real art!  If you’re among those who felt this book adhered too slavishly to its Amazing Spider-Man model, here’s your chance to stand up and cheer, because by, uh, outing himself to his loved ones, Richard Rider does something Peter Parker never has.  It won’t stave off cancellation, but is probably long overdue in some Marvel mag…after all, how long can you lead a double life under the same roof with your family?  Not so overdue is the return of the Corruptor (the winner, you’ll recall, of that month’s Worst Origin Ever Award), whose “random dotting of scarlet” —reputedly displayed on his electronic map—was nowhere to be seen in my copy, or, worse, Shuffles; if he fears reprisals, does he really think “Corry” will let it go just because of the lame-o Zombies on Broadway clue he provides instead of telling Nova outright?








Red Sonja 11 
“Sightless in a Strange Land”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto

Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne

Cover by Frank Thorne

The mammoth peacock flies upwards over the sprawling tree palace of Apah Allah and gently deposits the blind Red Sonja and Suumaro on the balcony of one of its ornate balconies. Below, a bald Amazonian named Narca bellows that the big bird will pay for carrying off anyone from the palace: she shoots the roc-like fowl with her crossbow and it plunges to its death. The woman summons her ape-like minions who drag the carcass to a large vat of red liquid and dump it in. Another of the prehistoric peacocks flies overhead and it gets the same grisly treatment. When Narca trains her bow on Sonja and the warrior-prince, the intelligent gargoyle Vasso swoops down and flies them to another area of the structure — the creature’s master, the untrustworthy thief Marmo, approaches, now dressed in elaborate silken robes. When Suumaro puts his blade to the man’s neck, Vasso attacks and the sightless She-Devil is forced to kill the beast. Other gargoyles fly down and restrain the 
Hyrkanian and her companion. 


Narca strides on to the scene and orders Fidi, one of her ape-men, to fill his pipe with the bloody fluid from the vat: it blows a glass-like, floating bubble that entraps Sonja. When the red-headed warrior begins to run out of air, Suumaro goes wild, beating Marmo and demanding that Narca release his friend: the woman protests that while she can conjure the sphere, she does not have to power to dispel it. But, from the shadows, a scaly hand motions and Red Sonja is released. Once again, another of the tremendous birds flies overhead and Narca shoots it in the heart with an arrow. Blood pours down and covers Sonja’s face — she mysteriously regains her sight. The enraged Amazonian begins firing her crossbow wildly at the She-Devil and Suumaro but the now seeing swordswoman turns the tables and runs her through. Marmo congratulates Sonja for the bloody deed and states that the Secret One requires their services: a monstrous, reptilian and winged giant appears and states that he needs them to find “the emblem.” When they do, all we be free of the curse of Apah Allah and richer than Turanian kings. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well there we have it folks, part two of the “Red Lace” arc marks Freaky Frank Thorne’s last issue — and it’s as bonkers as all the rest. Strange and random things happen with no rhyme or reason. What’s up with 
Narca? She doesn’t seem to serve much purpose besides slaughtering the peacocks. And getting killed I guess. Why are the birds dragged into the bloody vat? And why is Marmo — a slovenly mess last issue — now dressed in finery? As usual, everyone and everything is grotesque — except, of course, for the sexy Sonja and hunky Suumaro. Wish I knew why Thorne left the series because I find it very odd that he walked away in the middle of a storyline. Seems suspiciously abrupt. With Big John Buscema climbing aboard next issue, it will be interesting to see if the weirdo vibe of this series will continue. Obviously, Thorne’s druggy abstractions will dissipate but will this have a major impact on the stories? Will they become more straightforward? We’ll have to wait and see since I haven’t peeked ahead. 

Fortunately, Roy, Noto and Buscema still have to wrap up “Red Lace” so the answer should be obvious. Looks like Frank departs Marvel for good, taking his oddball talents to PlayboyNational Lampoon and Fantagraphics. Now last issue ended with the peacock flying off with Sonja in a talon and Suumaro in its beak, but this one kicks off with both in the bird’s giant claws. Whatever. Just roll with it. Or roll one up. Sonja’s blindness doesn’t have much of an impact: sure she’s a lot less dangerous but she still manages to kill poor Vasso. I’ll miss Thorne bigtime. Sure, I loves me some Big John, but Frank made this one of the most unusual Marvel series of the 1970s. And easily the most unusual Marvel series supposedly based on a Robert E. Howard character.

Chris: There’s plenty of fevered activity, but no real direction as Red and Suumaro are rescued (as it turns out) by the giant bird, only to have the bird and two others like it killed by Narca, who apparently doesn’t think anyone should have the opportunity to leave the castle.  Vasso then arrives, and delivers the two adventurers to Marmo, so they threaten him and then kill Vasso, until Narca re-appears and places Sonja in a red sphere, until she is helped by the Secret One.  Narca then decides to kill Red and Suumaro, and Marmo too, until Red saves him and kills her.  Any questions?  I’m sure Prof Tom has plenty more details in his synopsis, but I’m sorry – to me, this doesn’t add up to much.  



On the plus side, Frank Thorne continues to deliver plenty of fantastic visuals; his attention to faces is lacking at times, though, unless of course one of the characters is incensed about something.  Due credit to Thorne for his depiction of Sonja’s blissful relief as she recovers her eyesight (p 23, last pnl).  




 The Spider-Woman 6
"End of a Nightmare!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Rick Bryant
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Steve Leialoha


Morgan Le Fay sends her demon warriors to attack Spider-Woman; since Morgan and Magnus are evenly-matched, she hopes to strike at him thru a “third party.”  S-W is unable to fight back, as her venom blasts cause them no harm.  Magnus calls out to Morgan to stop – he agrees to send S-W to bring “the book” to her.  Under Magnus’ guidance, S-W finds herself at the apartment of Jack Russell.  As the full moon is about to rise, Jack has taken precautions by shackling himself to a wall.  Ignoring Jack’s pleas to her to leave, S-W tears his chains free; a moment later, Jack transforms to Werewolf by Night (much to the surprise of S-W).  They battle briefly, then Jack climbs over the balcony, to escape to a wooded area.  S-W catches the Werewolf, subdues him with a venom blast, then glides with him back to Morgan and Magnus.  Morgan is dubious; she wants the book, and instead, here is a werewolf?  Magnus claims Jack has read the book; Morgan states she will “remove his mind, … and leave him an empty husk,” prompting Magnus to release an astral form to battle Morgan.  Jerry Hunt arrives, summoned by Magnus; he reports having searched “for weeks” to find Jessica, which leaves her confused.  Morgan reduces Magnus’ physical form to ash, then does the same to Jerry.  Morgan opens a portal to her unconscious physical form, and is prepared to awaken it, until S-W lashes out and destroys the body with a venom blast; Morgan’s spirit form is pulled away by the “rip in time.”  Jessica is left in a field with the sleeping form of the Werewolf, and is met by Magnus and Jerry.  Magnus states that he had allowed Morgan to think she had destroyed them, and credits S-W for defeating Morgan.  And, Jessica falls for Jerry – hard. -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s quite a disjointed story, with a series of separate clashes, all of which tend to be a bit brief.  The action never achieves a flow, as S-W moves from Morgan’s minions, to the Werewolf, then to Morgan herself; Magnus and Morgan spar a bit too.  Without venom blasts, S-W isn’t able to achieve anything in the story.  We haven’t yet established that a venom blast (depending on its intensity) can be draining to Jessica; in future issues, she’ll have to choose when to blast something, as she knows she’ll then have to wait until she’s built up enough of a charge to blast again.  
Can anyone tell me what the Werewolf is doing in this story?  He contains knowledge of “the book”, but otherwise, he really contributes very little to the story, as a single venom blast leaves him unconscious for over half the issue.  Also, how does writer/editor Wolfman not know that Jack has control over the transformation, and that his personality no longer is subsumed under that of the feral beast?  Wolfman’s depiction of the Werewolf is like, so 1975.  
The Jerry Hunt subplot has been a curious distraction; I’ve purposely downplayed his role in previous synopses.  For some reason, he’s been fascinated with Jessica since he first saw her in London.  After he arrives at the Morgan vs Magnus prizefight, Jerry professes he feels he knows Jessica somehow, and loves her.  Jessica’s reaction is incredulous surprise (understandably so), but by the end of the issue, she’s in a serious clinch with Jerry.  Now, I realize Jessica has been trying to make a connection with the world at large, but there’s no reason to expect her to be this desperate for affection.
We have our first change in the creative crew, as Rick Bryant makes his only appearance as inker for this title.  Bryant has a more even-handed approach to texture than Tony DeZuniga.  Bryant also complements Infantino’s pencils more effectively, which isn’t necessarily a good thing; De Zuniga’s embellishments at times helped to obscure some of the broad contortions Infantino can stretch his characters into.  
Matthew: Two bondage covers in three issues—do these guys have a fetish or what?  This is a one-off by desultory Bullpenner Rick Bryant, reportedly one of the “Diverse Hands” who inked Avengers #173 and here, by some means that this layman cannot quantify, actually manages to make Infantino’s artwork look even worse than it usually does, e.g., the grotesquely misproportioned Jessica in page 10, panel 2 (left).  And dragging things right down to their level is Marv, who not only fails to explicate the history between the Hangman and Werewolf by Night, but also drops the former like a hot rock without explanation, then drags in the latter, apparently by a total coincidence, and makes the whole thing pointless by doing virtually nothing with him.

The contradiction between Jack’s repeated insistence that “most of what happened to me is unclear” and his painstakingly detailed narration, including both other characters’ unspoken thoughts and events that took place outside his presence, is grating, scarcely mitigated by his (or is it the other Wolfman’s?) plea that we “don’t ask how I know,” yet the worst is the Arthurian crap.  Clearly, the Darkhold that is the object of the exercise here is the same one that loomed large in the legend of Modred, Jessica’s sometime mentor from MTIO #33.  She is portrayed as such a naïf that I can almost forgive her not figuring it out, but why is nobody—not Magnus, not Morgan, not Marv—connecting the dots; again, are we supposed to buy it as simple coincidence?






 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 22
"By the Light of the Silvery Moon Knight!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Mike Zeck and Bruce D. Patterson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Bruce D. Patterson
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein

Caped crescent-thrower Moon Knight crashes a gangland slaying in a garage, but is unable to save informant Lindy from the Maggia goons—not before learning the mob may know of Moon Knight's cabbie identity. Spider-Man swings back to Peter Parker's pad and takes a much-needed shower, admiring his replastering job on the ceiling, when Betty Brant comes calling. After the ceiling collapses again (woe is Peter…) and Mrs. Muggins is appeased, Peter and Betty go to a Chaplin Festival. After quick asides to Flash and Sha Shan being romantic and Hector Ayala feeling sorry for himself, we see Spidey get some web-slinging in to clear his head from the silent movies, as Jake Lockley (Moon Knight's cabbie alias) spies buddies Gena and Crawley being held at gunpoint in the diner. Lockley bursts in, as does a nearby Spider-Man. Jake was hoping a thug would take him to "Big M," so quickly changes into Moon Knight and accosts a runaway rogue. But Spidey stops MK, since he also wants Maggia news, and allows the thug to head to the phone to call Big M. Then, out of nowhere, a wind appears, bringing with it a "Maggia higher-up"—the deadly Cyclone, the self-proclaimed "greatest villain on zee continent"! -Joe Tura




Joe: Mike Zeck sure draws some odd facial expressions, but maybe we blame inker Patterson? (who, by the way, I don't remember at all, although it seems he was fairly prolific for Marvel) Check out the Charles Laughton as Quasimodo homage on page 2 panel 2; or the spittle of a goon smashed by Moon Knight on page 3 panel 1; Peter's uncomfortable wink to Betty on page 14 panel 2; or Flash's smarmy look to Sha Shan on the next page. Maybe some of these are angles, but still, very cartoonish faces. And the action is OK, with some quite nice work like page 26 last panel. But not to worry, Zeck's work will get much better in the 80s and 90s.


As far as the story, it's a pretty good Moon Knight tale, with some Spidey supporting cast stuff thrown in super quickly. When the two meet, it feels more like a Marvel Team-Up issue, even down to the B-list villain reveal. The Cyclone? Yikes, how did that guy get a visa to come to New York? The minor characters get moments in the sun—meaning moon really, since everything takes place at night—and for the most part they're unmemorable, yet important to the story at the same time, if that makes sense. Would be nice to see the Maggia (and that long-winded Cyclone) get what's coming to them next ish.

For the fave sound effect, I was tempted to go with pg 27's "SNIKT!" as MK's crescent stops the hood from continuing his call. Or an earlier throw that resulted in a "SCHUNK!" Or possibly the order up for a "SPLANG!" when Gena smashes a goon with a frying pan ("Chops an' peas an' gunsels fried, Mr. Hero-Man!" Huh?). But I'm going to go with page 11, when Peter steps out of the shower after Betty shows up for their movie "date," and says "HMMM!". Or is that the sound his hair makes when brushed? Or is he humming a tune in anticipation of seeing a flick? I'm really not sure!


Matthew: Zeck renders Flash as a total goober, and again, those multiple editors don’t prevent pervasive sloppiness:  the “H. Hyde” chemistry textbook author in the sight gag should be either H. Jekyll or E. Hyde; The Great Dictator is Chaplin, but not silent; and I presume Spidey was supposed to think, “When am I gonna learn NOT to punch before I ask questions?”  They can’t seem to decide if M.J. broke up with Peter or simply declined his proposal in favor of the status quo, which makes the Betty thing even more annoying.  Although it’s nice that Bill followed up on his MTU Maggia story, “annoying” is also the word for both Cyclone and the feeble MARMIS—Spidey’s heard of Moony, yet has no idea who he’s fighting?

Chris: Jeffrey L. of Scranton PA writes in to observe that “Spidey has been deluged with a flotilla of … guest stars,” and I take his point.  We have one page of updates involving our supporting cast (as Hector bitches about how super-heroing cost him a chance with Holly, and Flash and Sha Shan take a study break …), but otherwise, this story could comfortably serve as an MTU.   Is Marvel concerned this title might not stand on its own, and that Spidey alone (+ Peter’s student life) wouldn’t be able to sell it?  


The story itself is okay, as casual readers are introduced to Moon Knight’s convoluted world.  Nice moment as, mid-MARMIS, Spidey suddenly realizes he’s been fighting Moon Knight; that bodes well for them working together against Le Cyclone – once they’re both able to get back on their feet, that is.  
We also see Zeck & Patterson paired this month on Master of Kung Fu #68.  This outing yields a stronger result, if only because we get some interesting lighting and shading (e.g.: the headlights shining on doomed Lindy, with Moon Knight in the shadows, p 6 1st pnl; Moon Knight cradling Lindy, the headlights now facing him, p 7 pnl 4; moonlight shining on Spidey as he prepares to enter thru the window, p 10 pnl 3).  The artists realize Spidey well, particularly in his nimble jump-flip on p 26, last pnl.






 Star Wars 15
"Star Duel!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin

Crimson Jack’s freighter is now free of the tractor beam, thanks to the efforts of Han, Luke and Leia on the surface of the water planet. Jack is determined to find Han and exact his revenge. Sure enough, he sends a fighter down to sink the Falcon and obliterate Han. The smuggler and his friends make a swim for the ship. They are able to blast off quickly enough, but have a fight on their hands. Jolli leads the wing against the Falcon, aching to prove herself worthy of respect, something which had been denied her all her life. Sadly, Jack disregards her when her ship is damaged, questioning whether she is “good enough.” The battle takes out the Falcon’s Gyro Module Control, and even though he’s outgunned, Han holds the high cards: he had Chewie wipe Jack’s navigation tapes when he was plotting a course to Drexel days earlier. Han makes a deal with Jack; they will meet outside armed only with breathers, to exchange a spare module control for Jack’s navigation tapes. Jack agrees, but he’s planning a double-cross. Once outside, both men carry the guns they agreed to leave inside. Jack, however, also has his men backing him up. However, the spurned Jolli swoops in, killing Jack’s men and colliding with his ship, killing herself. Han gets the jump on Jack and takes him out with his blaster. Now free, Han takes a moment to mourn the death of the girl who couldn’t admit her own feelings. -Scott McIntyre



Scott: McIntyre: A fast-paced, mostly all-out action issue. Not a bad conclusion to both the Drexel and Crimson Jack arcs. It’s fun to see the gang all together again and Jolli, who was sketchily drawn out, is given some depth. Her death is actually touching and it’s a shame they didn’t keep her around a little while longer. In a great touch, Luke, being from a desert planet, can’t swim.  The art is still a little freaky. Nobody looks like who they’re supposed to. I can’t deal with Han’s chin, honestly… ->

Matthew:  Okay, so now we finally get Jolli’s backstory, which explains/justifies her hatred of men, especially if we infer some ill-treatment of the orphan at the hands of the opposite sex as she matured, which hardly seems like a big stretch.  Yet at the risk of being oversensitive to such things, as Mrs. Professor Matthew maintains that I am, I’m still a little queasy about how Archie links her redemptive moment (with her conversion brought about only by Crimson Jack throwing her under the Y-wing fighter, er, bus) and the “first—and last—kiss” she receives from “a man she has come to have decidedly confused feelings about.”  So sue me.  At least it provides a break from my relentless complaining about the Austino artwork, and that’s something, right…?

Chris: My son and I watched every episode of the terrific animated Clone Wars; one of the series’ strengths is its pacing, as some present a self-contained story in a little over twenty minutes.  Archie understands this approach, as he spins our heroes into a hasty escape from planetside and a dogfight in orbit – complete with a damaging mid-air collision.  Archie scales back the pace as we move to a bit of deceit, followed by cautious horse-trading, which sets up the confrontation at the conclusion.  Han expects Jack to cross him, but neither party is ready for Jolli’s wild-card influence on the issue’s decisive moments.  In all, Archie neatly replicates the experience of a solid Star Wars story.  


Carmine Infantino presents plenty of action.  He might know what the various spacecraft are supposed to look like, but somehow his depictions never resemble more than a grouping of lines; I had a similar reaction to Al Milgrom’s vehicles for Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy.  Clearly, these are meant to be multi-ton but maneuverable machinery, and while we get the motion, I don’t get any sense of the substance, the scale of these crafts.  The crystal-clear finishes of Terry Austin are not as ill-suited to Infantino’s pencils as I remember; if anything, Austin cleans up details and pulls some of the loosely-defined faces together.  






Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 16
"Treachery!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Bob McLeod


Concealed in a tree, Tarzan overhears the mercenaries’ true plans, and learning that Simon is stalking Tantor, he races to the rescue, arrives to find Tantor dead beside two Mangani witnesses, and recruits the third, Dak-Lat, to avenge their friends.  Frazier and Simon begin a glider assault on the Arabs, but before Barrett and Pierre can take flight, they are bound and replaced by Tarzan and Dak-Lat.  As the ape’s craft crashes, crippled by Frazier, Abdul Alhazred completes the ritual opening a portal to Pellucidar (the strange world at the Earth's core) in the cavern, through which pass Ayesha, whom he has entranced; Frazier, swerving his glider to avoid a stalagmite; his captured fellows, eager to join the Mad Arab after he beheads Dak-Lat; Abdul Alhazred; and Tarzan, left for dead. -Matthew Bradley




Matthew: Janson seems to have toned down his destructive tendencies slightly, so my biggest beef is with the plausibility of Kraft’s gliders, however great Buscema makes them look, especially on that striking cover (inked by McLeod, who I wish had done the interiors).  It’s implied that Santiago, at least, has had little if any training on them, and Tarzan, resourceful though he is, has certainly had none, yet they’re able to execute a complex “aerial ballet.”  Moreover, I don’t claim to be on speaking terms with any apes, but having read all of ERB’s Tarzan books at one time or another, and four of them—so far—again recently for this project, I think the ape-man would’ve been more likely to get Tantor to dance the Hokey Pokey than to get a Mangani to take flight on one...







 The Mighty Thor 275
"A Balance is Struck!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Ben Sean
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

The mistletoe that has laid low Balder has brought Asgard to the brink of Ragnarok but Odin sees a slim chance of delaying it. He sends Hermod the Swift on his horse Sleipnir to Hela's realm, there to strike a deal with Hela-- if all things will weep for Balder, then his life force will return. All the while Harris Hobbs and company keep the camera rolling. Loki's wife Sygn agrees to be the eyes for Hoder in the upcoming battle, the blind god feeling responsible for Balder's demise. Loki has departed for Jotunheim, there to rally the forces of evil. Thor follows, and although the God of Evil has cast a spell to weaken Thor, the Thunder God calls upon his rarely-worn magic belt to restore his strength. After a victory (for now), Thor returns to Asgard, handing his magic belt to the human cameraman Red to hold for safekeeping until he needs it again. Odin uses a portion of his power to surround Balder's form to keep him temporarily safe. -Jim Barwise



Jim Barwise: Roy Thomas continues his fine writing, introducing three more cast members: Sygn, wife of Loki (who knew?), Hermod the Swift, and Thokk the Giantess. The latter appears cleverly only in Harris Hobbs's discussion of what he foresees, perhaps Loki in disguise after all. Thor's magic belt, not seen since Journey Into Mystery #91, is another string to attach the Marvel and mythical. Thor may not think much of giving it to Red to safe keep, but if he had seen the latter making a play for Sif... More trouble from Red is on the way.

Matthew: For my fellow continuity freaks, the framing sequence from the upcoming annual, which largely comprises flashbacks, actually takes place during this issue (see page 17, panel 4).  The sad thing is that as much as I revere Buscema, I might prefer the Simonson/Chan art there to seeing his work besmirched with the Pal-merde here; Big John prevails on the Ragnarok-solid page 3, but Loki looks like his face is melting in page 2, panel 3.  We can clearly see where they’re headed with “Better Dead Than” Red and Thor’s Belt of Strength—that’s Megingjord to you, per the Marvel Database—which at once explains why archaeologist Roy excavates it after a mere 184 issues, and confirms it as a lame contrivance that was better off left in the Silver Age.




Chris: Roy keeps everyone busy as the doom-clouds gather.  Harris Hobbs and crew continue to be involved, without distracting from the proceedings; interesting observation by the sound guy, Joey, who comments on how all the Asgardians are well-versed in the Ragnarok prophecies, and seem to be acting out roles assigned to them.  Nice bit of intrigue from Loki (who else -?) as he recognizes Red’s weakness for Sif (may as well shoot for the moon, right Red -?), and is primed to take advantage of it.  And now Thor has handed Red his belt of strength (recovered from the back of the closet by Archivist Roy); if I didn’t know better, I’d be willing to bet an unconscious Loki somehow brought Red and that powerful belt together.  Loki’s going to have to find allies somewhere, since the trolls and dwarfs (before Thor scattered them, that is) already have told the Trickster to cool his jets, and even his “true wife” Sigyn says she’ll guide blind Hoder’s hand, if his “bow-hand be turned to Loki himself!”  Ouch -!


Great art from Buscema & Palmer – of course.  Highlights abound: Loki paints the unholy picture of the gods’ twilight, as Hela leads the nasty trolls to Asgard (p 3); Thor and Loki square off (p 22, pnl 3), and Thor drops the hammer – and how! (p 23, pnl 2); aided by the belt, Thor puts Loki down, then flattens the assembled trolls – terrific action! (p 27).  








 Tomb of Dracula 66
"Showdown in Greenwich Village!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan, Marie Severin, and Tom Palmer

Being human is a drag; seems Dracula had forgotten that fact. Now, in New York, attempting to find his daughter, Lilith, Dracula also finds out how perilous it is to be just another guy when he comes in contact with several shady characters. Amidst the detritus, the Count befriends Ann Keats, a gabby divorcee he meets in a disco (seriously!). Keats just wants a one-night stand with this tall, dark, and strange fella but she quickly learns that being near Dracula can get you killed. On Dracula's tail is (Bad Bad) Francis Leroy Brown, a vigilante who's sworn to kill Dracula for the murder of Mary Jo Bently (who was murdered back in #64 but not by the hand of the Lord of Vampires). Drac and Leroy have a major tussle atop Ann's roof; the Count is wounded and the vigilante tossed to the street below. Ann calls a paramedic to help the seriously wounded Count. The next morning, across town, Lilith smiles when she sees her pop's pic in the paper. -Peter Enfantino




Peter Enfantino: Even though it's carrying through many of the plot elements from previous issues, this sure feels like a fill-in to me. The blathering nobody known as Ann Keats becomes good friends with the vampire but, next issue, she'll be completely forgotten. Ann's Looking for Mr. Goodbar (Keats/Keaton... very subtle, Marv) come-on was already a cliche by the late 1970s and her stream of consciousness dialogue is (unintentionally) laughable. The Man Who Would Be Jim Croce's Greatest Hit is a puzzle, one whose exploits I would have gladly followed for a couple more issues, but Marv seems hell-bound to dispatch of him as quickly as possible. Leroy's ultimate fate, to give up on life after he realizes this ex-vampire is a lot harder to kill than he figured, is a cop-out and a good example of lazy writing. Though Wolfman looks back on this title with fond memories (as do most fans), it seems more to me that he'd tired of the dying title he'd invested so much in and just wanted to put it to rest.


Chris: Drac’s long night of humanity grinds on.  Marv doesn’t miss an opportunity to illustrate Drac’s discomfort, as he now feels cold, hunger, pain, need – vulnerabilities and weaknesses (by his estimation) he’s been spared for centuries.  Strangest of all might be Drac’s acceptance of companionship, as divorcée Ann Keats sits down and finds her Mr Goodbar; although, now that Drac has a connection with Domini, maybe I shouldn’t be too surprised that he tolerates the attentions of Ms Keats.  


The business with Francis “Not-So-Bad” Leroy Brown comes off as a bit of empty action (Brown’s a pretty rotten shot, to boot, even from close range), until his attack sparks Drac’s will to survive, and dominate.  Great moment of ToD lore as Brown finds himself face to face with the ancient veteran killer, and Vlad’s “deep-set ruby eyes,” which tell him “somehow, he knows he cannot kill this fiend …”.  Brown’s empty end is captured masterfully by Gene & Tom, as his hopeless form appears limp and lifeless as it drifts into the open air, seconds before “his body crushes to the ground”  (p 30, last pnl).  

Mark: As the fatal stake of slumping sales (acknowledged on the letters page) slowly zeros in on TOD's dark heart, it would be unfair to say Marv Wolfman is losing interest, but it sure seems his attention's started to wander. It's natural to wonder if Marv knew the book was heading for the chopping block - since we do - but probably not at this point, eight months from cancellation, although he certainly knew the book wasn't flying off the racks. It's more likely that having "inherited" Spidey and the FF upon Len Wein's departure, Wolfman's naturally focused (in addition to his other titles) on what were then still Marvel's top two superhero books. Whatever the reason, a sense of lost opportunities and haphazard carelessness has crept into his storytelling here.

Drac turned human by a vengeful Satan and forced to contend with the "garish sun" (as well as money, hunger, street mimes) is a crackerjack idea, but what Marv's done with it thus far is no prize.

Exhibit A: 'Tis only a flesh wound

For the second consecutive ish, Dracula gets shot. Both times at close range in a small apartment, both times by a revolver, both times in the arm. Everyone remembers this except, apparently, Wolfman. Last time, Drac merely expressed distaste with the experience and was fine two panels later when the cops charged in. This time, he turns cry baby bleeder, whimpering, "The pain is overwhelming...I...I can't take it any more," before passing out. This latter reaction is of course the appropriate one for an ex-vampire, but Marv the Editor allowing Marv the Writer to use the identical plot point twice in a row because he inexplicably forgot all about it the first time reveals the sort of lax grip on the reins that gave rise to Jim Shooter.  

Exhibit B: The lady is a tramp   

Much like last issue's junkie-streetwalker, who became kinda cute and bubbly after shooting up (one of heroin's lesser-known effects), disco-hopping divorcee Ann Keats is looking for some action. Unlike our esteemed Dean, I'm not tut-tutting Ann's casual promiscuity, still very much in 1978 vogue, but that she's detoured from her squeaky-bed springs goal (in confusion over Drac's search for his daughter; the exchange does prompt the best line in the book. When asked where Lilith lives, Drac says, "She doesn't...rather, I don't know.") to drag the Count into some runaway kids' social program that's conveniently open during disco hours. And absolutely nothing happens there; it's just a wasted page and a half that could have been better spent developing...

Exhibit C: Bad, Bad Leroy Brown*

The two gun cowboy's been lurking around the fringes since TOD #64. Not just a vigilante, he's a paid killer who specializes in monster hunting. That's an intriguing, Hannibal King-like premise, and with his Elliot-Gould/Kaiser Wilhelm mustache, ranch hand dialect, and big six-shooters, our homicidal hayseed seems primed for some revelatory backstory, maybe a horrific flashback to whatever set him on his ghoul-busting path, but - after filling TOD with rich, almost-instant characterization of bit-players for years - Marv can no longer be bothered. All he serves up is the over-the-head-of-most-readers implication that Francis Leroy is a self-loathing homosexual who hates his "pansy" name, and as long as he can kill, "...the cowboy's no pansy."

Ugh. That kind of thoughtful psychological insight would do Doc Wertham proud. Marv, not so much. 

Matthew: Should we introduce Leroy to Jolli?  

*The Jim Croce reference gleefully pinched from Dean Peter. 




X-Men 113
"Showdown"
Story by John Byrne and Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Byrne and Bob Layton

While he has the X-Men captured, Magneto is laying waste to research complexes and facilities throughout the world. No military might can stand up to his mutant power. While Magneto conducts his raids, the X-Men are rendered unable to move by the neural inhibitors they all wear while the robot named “Nanny” dotes on them with a syrupy voice, one that threatens to drive them mad. Storm, however, has been able to gain slight motor control over the hours. She is able to dislodge her headdress which contains some of her lock-picking tools. With careful positioning, she is able to grab one with her tongue and begins to work the lock on one of her shackles. However, she drops it just as Nanny returns and the android replaces Storm’s headdress. Later, after Magneto returns, he spots a malfunction warning in the complex where he is holding the X-Men. When he arrives, he sees Nanny on the fritz, running in circles. Before he can act, he is attacked from all sides by the X-Men, who were freed by Storm’s second attempt to escape. Cyclops is able to get them to focus a coordinated effort instead of fighting as individuals. Wolverine cuts Magneto badly before being brushed away while Jean lets loose her Phoenix force, blasting the main control console, and Storm raises the temperature in the underground complex. Finally, Colossus begins to pummel the Master of Magnetism mercilessly. Nightcrawler removes Magneto’s helmet, allowing Colossus to deliver a devastating punch. All of this combines to cause the shields to buckle and allow the lava from the volcano above them to flow in, separating Hank and Jean from the rest of the group. The roof caves in, but Magneto is able to push his way free using his power. He escapes as his complex is destroyed, lamenting the loss of all of his research and work, but secure in the belief his enemies are finally dead. It will take months for him to heal and rebuild, but now he has that time. Or so he believes: Jean is able to blast herself and Hank to the surface. Apparently they are the only two survivors. But for how long? Jean collapses under the strain of using her Phoenix force, leaving the Beast and an unconscious girl alone in the frozen wastes of Antarctica. -Scott McIntyre



Scott: A truly epic battle between the X-Men and their most powerful foe. In a satisfying twist, we see Magneto escape, but the heroes are given a “death” to close out the encounter. Claremont and Byrne’s reversal on the standard “villain dies to fight another day” trope is well done. In the midst of all of the action and adventure, we get a really nice flashback into Ororo’s early life in Kenya. Her lock-picking skills aren’t used very often, but it’s a good reason to have that odd headdress. The struggle they all have with their inhibitors is sickening (in a good way) and Nanny’s attentions make it truly a living hell. The battle is amazing and extremely exciting. Wolverine finally gets to slice into a baddie and everyone gets a moment. The art, as usual, is fantastic. Byrne has such a solid handle on each one of them. Claremont is the X-Men’s premier scribe and this issue is one of the best so far.


Matthew: I could hardly bear to turn that gorgeous cover (while chuckling due to Byrne’s anti-Layton screed last week)—we’re so used to them dominated by huge, in-your-face figures that I love the novelty of seeing one more like an oversized panel, the combatants exquisitely rendered while the eye-catching colors emphasize their peril.  Evidently, “raconteurs” is to be interpreted as the start of John’s co-plotting credit, so as seminal as the collaboration is, I just say, “You go, boy!”  The X-Men’s predicament is no less ingenious than the mechanics of their escape; the jump ahead to Magneto’s arrival amps up the suspense; Scott’s leadership challenges enthrall; and the artwork is uniformly terrific, especially the mutant montage in page 16, panel 3.

Chris: Chris & John take best advantage of numerous opportunities to create tension.  First, we’re witness to the team’s helpless struggling, as they’re confined to their stasis chairs; Magneto has allowed them to see one another, but they can’t even speak (cruel – seriously twisted, Mags).  Ororo knows she can free the team, and is visibly perspiring from the effort required to access her lockpicks and try to manipulate one.  True to Claremont’s capacity to create human characters, Ororo – despite her determination – fails on her first try; Nanny’s observation that she’ll have to fix the headdress securely tells us Ororo might not have a second chance – which means, the team as a whole might have just run out of time.  



The next dramatic opportunity involves Magneto’s arrival at his Antarctic base.  He can’t determine whether or not the X-team is free; we the readers don’t know either, since we just witnessed Ororo’s setback, not her success.  As a result, we can be as surprised (in a good way) as Magneto is, by the team’s coordinated attack (a bad surprise for Magnus).
Third instance involves the climactic collapse of the Antarctic base.  As he sees the lava beginning to seep in, Nightcrawler calls on Cyclops for direction; the stunned Cyclops can manage only “I… I…,” when the readers at home all are expecting to hear him formulate a plan, and set it into action!  Beast and Phoenix are separated from the team, and we are too; from p 27 panel 3 onward, we’re given no indication that the X-team could have found a way to preserve themselves against perishing.  We don’t know!  It’s great!  
I try to control myself regarding art highlights, but it’s really too hard.  I mean, Byrne & Austin?  Come on.  Start with the splash page, as we see mighty Magneto from an ant’s eye view, as he bears down on us.  Great views of Ororo’s deliberate process and intense concentration (p 7).  Incredible sequence of Magneto’s no-sweat, been-there descent from earth orbit in a force bubble, so he can check on the base (p 14).  Colossus in close-quarter battling with Mags, as his right fist breaks some of Mags’ ribs (p 22, pnl 4), and practically snaps his jaw (p 23, pnl 3); clever bit as Nightcrawler snatches his helmet (p 23).  The artists set the right atmosphere on the last page, as Hank and Jean are left with little chance of survival.  
Mark: Another rousing blast of taut, turbo-charged mutant mayhem. As a late-comer and well-schooled skeptic, I know two issues is way too small of a sample size to start turning hand-springs, but so far the new X-Men is living up to its considerable rep. Chris Claremont convincingly flips the script from Magneto unbound to beaten, thanks to Storm's sneaky dehydration ploy and a whole lot o' teamwork, and we're left with two cliffhangers: the Beast and Jean unconscious in a blizzard, and how'd the other X-ers survive the exploding volcano? 

Along the way we check in with Professor X in his Mediterranean love shack, nibble our fingernails over what has to be the most suspenseful failed lock-picking in comic history, and are treated to weird touches like Nanny's paternal, Mary Poppins-meets-Nurse-Ratched ministrations ("Bath and message for you today, Cyclops." No word on the happy ending) and Storm, in-flashback, learning safe-cracking with her feet.

The slick, vibrant Byrne & Austin graphics are showroom fresh, from the earned emotion of Storm's frustrated tears, to the power lines radiating from Colossus' rib-busting blow on p.22. Magneto's blacked-out face, lost in the shadows of his helmet, is used several times to edgy, sinister effect. 

Lest this become a complete gush, Claremont could do better by Nightcrawler than recycled Sgt. Fury "Wah-hoo!" war cries. And since 'crawler can teleport at will, why does Beast have to fling him by the tail, like a cat that shat in your house slippers? Still, Claremont's willing to buck the SPCA... 

And who doesn't love a rebel?






Also This Month

Crazy 41
Crazy Super Special 42
Devil Dinosaur 6
Dynomutt 6 (Final Issue)
FOOM 22
Human Fly 13
Machine Man 6 >
Marvel's Greatest Comics 79
Marvel Classics Comics 33
Marvel Super-Heroes 74
Marvel Tales 95
Rawhide Kid 147
Sgt Fury 148
Spidey Super Stories 36
Yogi Bear 6


In Machine Man #6, Kirby serves up an exciting finish to the Autocron invasion story, with plenty of energy-bursts and piles of Kirbydebris™.  Aaron Stack pushes aside his search for a place in the world, as he laments the invasion’s inevitability, and the human preference to hound him rather than recognize the impending threat from beyond.  Ten-For’s arrogance gets the better of him, as he boasts of the task force coming to conquer Earth.  Machine Man has a (conveniently timed) conversation with a cab driver, which convinces him that his anger at the military’s harassment doesn’t permit him to stand aside and allow the Autocrons to take over, which would subject the “little guys” of the world to a worse fate.  Machine Man discerns Ten-For’s power is derived from a fission device, so once he’s disabled his foe thru electronic hypnosis, MM rigs up T-F to build toward critical mass, then transports him to the coordinates of the Autocron fleet, which already has reached as far as Jupiter’s orbit.  The Autocrons realize – too late! – that one of their own carries the key to their destruction.  It’s rare to see an artist other than Kirby provide cover art for one of his titles, so bonus points to Walt Simonson for pulling this gig, as he delivers a boffo illustration.  -Chris Blake

THOSE MARVEL-OUS MAGAZINES



The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 33
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Curse of the Monolith”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Gene Colan and Pablo Marcos

“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian Age: Part III”
Text by Lee Falconer

“The Tribes from Time’s Abyss”
Text by Fred Blosser

“Blades of the Brotherhood”
Script by Don Glut
Art by David Wenzel and Duffy Vohland
    
“Swords and Scrolls”

With this magazine and September 1978’s companion color comic, Marvel announced that a major development had unfolded in their Hyborian universe. The publisher had finally secured the rights to Conan stories by the literary heirs of Robert E. Howard: L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter and Bjorn Nyberg. So that opens up the pool for The Rascally One in a big way. “The Curse of the Monolith” is one of these, originally written by de Camp and Carter and published as “Conan and the Cenotaph” in Worlds of Fantasy magazine in 1968.

As I mentioned last time, Big John Buscema takes a bit of a sabbatical from Savage Sword, so for this and next issue we have two fill-in artists, both a bit unexpected: here, Mean Gene Colan, and next, [Crappy?] Carmine Infantino. Now “The Curse of the Monolith” is more horror than sword-and-sorcery, so Gene actually makes it work. 

The story is set after the events of Conan the Barbarian 36 and 37, as the Cimmerian is a captain in the army of King Yildiz of Turan. Yildiz has sent the barbarian — along with a brigade of 40 soldiers — on a quest to deliver a document to King Shu, monarch of faraway Kushan, a minor province in Western Khitai: the Turanian monarch seeks to open a trade agreement with the Orient.
After the long march, the kindly Shu agrees to Yildiz’s treaty and Conan and his men are furnished with exotic food, wine and women. The next day, when the Turanian contingent prepares to depart with the signed scroll, Shu offers them a guide to the Khitai border: Duke Feng, a foppish nobleman. Conan takes an immediate dislike to the overly mannered man. 

That night as the barbarian stands guard, Feng approaches and weaves an intriguing tale: eons ago, King Hsia of Kushan was buried nearby with a fortune in gold and gems — and only the nobleman knows that exact location. While wary, Conan agrees to help Feng unearth the treasure. Traveling through the dark countryside, they finally reach their destination, a towering mist-shrouded monolith that supposedly stands atop Hsia’s tomb. As Conan approaches, he is pulled by a powerful magnetic force and becomes stuck three feet up the structure’s side by his metal armor and wristbands — a pile of bones beckon from below his dangling feet. Feng cackles and reveals that he is a patriot of the Golden Pheasant, a group that fears the contamination of their culture by outside forces. In secret, they are working to overthrow the liberal Shu and do not want the treaty returned to Turan. So while his soldiers will most likely be slaughtered at dawn by the headhunting tribe that roams the area, Conan will meet his death here and now.

Feng walks a distance away and begins to play a strange flute. As the Cimmerian struggles in vain to free himself, the mist disperses and a quivering, amorphous mass of semi-translucent jelly is revealed at the top of the monolith — slowly it begins to ooze towards the trapped barbarian. Panicking, Conan furiously struggles against his right wristband and manages to grasp the handle of a rusty dagger stuck to the stone a few inches away. When he pulls at the weapon with all his mighty muscle, it breaks free, leaving the old blade splintered. As the gelatinous mass slowly slides closer, the barbarian forces the broken dagger to the back of his neck, and starts cutting the leather strap that binds his armor together. When it slices, he falls free to the ground.





Feng, still playing his mystical instrument, is oblivious as Conan rises to his feet. The Cimmerian pounces on the man and drags him screaming towards the monolith. He tosses the nobleman into the monstrous mass: Feng’s flesh quickly dissolves and his bones tumble to the ground below. Conan returns to his men and they ride out before the dawn — and the impending attack of the headhunters.
Now let’s face facts: Gene Colan doesn’t come to mind when you think of Conan the Barbarian. He’s way too stylized and shadowy for the flesh-and-blood brawn that’s usually required — the weirdness of stuff like Doctor Strange and Howard the Duck are much more of a match. But, as I’ve already mentioned, something clicks here. The horror aspect of the story helps a great deal and so does the nighttime setting. And the scenes in Kushan — an Asian city — look terrific. The jelly monster is a doozy, totally grotesque. Pablo Marcos adds more facial details than you usually see with Colan’s work and he doesn’t skip on the washes, one of Gene’s trademarks. A quick 27-page read, entertaining and atmospheric but easily forgotten. It was a bright idea to team Gene with someone who is an old hand at Conan and his environment. Carmine gets the same treatment next issue. But even more so. Wheeeeee!

We haven’t had a Solomon Kane backup for quite some time but the somber swordsman returns with the 15-page “Blades of the Brotherhood,” by the usual creative team of Don Glut and David Wenzel with inks by Duffy Vohland. It’s based on the Kane story by Robert E. Howard, first published in the 1968 Donald M. Grant collection Red Shadows, after it was rejected by Weird Tales in 1929 — it was, um, not weird enough for the magazine.

On the English coast, young Jack Hollister and Sir George Banway engage in a duel — the older man insulted Hollister’s lover, Mary Garvin. When Jack slightly wounds Banway on the arm, the local magistrate calls an end to the conflict. Hollister storms off, not satisfied that he had gotten his rightful revenge. He soon encounters Solomon Kane, who motions to a ship anchored off shore: the Puritan believes it belongs to Jonas Hardraker, the bloodthirsty pirate known as the Fishhawk.

That night, a stranger steals into Hollister’s bedroom: he claims that Sir George has kidnapped Mary. Jack follows the man, but it is a trap — he is knocked unconscious and wakes at the feet of Banway, Hardraker and three men from his crew. Mary is also in the room, bound in the corner. Banway boasts that the girl will be his plaything for two months: the Fishhawk can have her when he is done. Suddenly, the door to the cabin bursts open and Kane strides into the room. He has been tracking Hardraker for two years after the buccaneer killed the daughter of his good friend. Solomon and the Fishhawk face off in a knife fight: the Puritan emerges the victor. When the dead pirate’s crewmembers open fire with muskets, Hollister is wounded and Banway makes off with Mary. Kane and Jack rush to the beach — the pirates are rowing away towards their ship, but Banway and the girl were left behind. After nearly killing Hollister, Sir George is dispatched by Solomon.


"Blades"


I can see why Weird Tales had little interest in Howard’s original: not really sure how to categorize this story. Pirate adventure? Historical fiction? Swashbuckling romance? Either way — at least how Glut handled it — not much really happens. There’s a rather bloodless duel, Solomon Kane shows up, the bad guys get what’s coming. The end. Haven’t read the source material, but I’m going to guess that Glut lifted a lot of Howard’s dialogue. Kane has quite a few lengthy speeches, all fire and brimstone that ring more of the Robert E. quality than the Don. 

We did have a little twist along the way:  Banway was wearing steel mesh under his shirt, so one of Kane’s bullets bounces off harmlessly. And it’s not really shown clearly, but Solomon kills Sir George by driving his rapier through the man’s eye. So much for body armor. I have been unimpressed so far by the Solomon Kane shorts: this one doesn’t change my mind. Perhaps Professor Gilbert will have something positive to add.

We have two text pieces as well. There’s Part III of Lee Falconer’s “A Gazetteer of the Hyborian Age of Conan Including the World of Kull and An Ethnogeographical Dictionary.” Whew. At 5-pages, this one goes from G to H, encompassing Galparan to Hyrkanian Steppe. Lastly, the always reliable Fred Blosser chips in with “The Tribes from Time’s Abyss,” a 5-page history of Howard’s Picts. If you’ve ever had a question about this ancient race of savages, you’ll find your answer here. Good stuff. 
-Tom Flynn





Marvel Comics Super Special 5: Kiss
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“Kiss”
Story by Alan Weiss and Ralph Macchio
Art by John Romita, Jr. and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irving Watanabe
    
“Kiss Off! An Editorial”
Text by Rick Marschall

“Bios”

“Kiss Talk About Their First Movie”
Text by Toby Goldstein


After Kiss took over Marvel Super Special #1 — which, according to Rick Marschall’s editorial “sold more copies than almost any comic in the history of Marvel (and therefore any comics publisher)” — the New York rockers are back for another super-sized spectacular. Yippee. Now if the class remembers, I thought the first Super Special was dreadfully stoopid. I laid most of the blame at the feet of my nemesis Steve Gerber but he wasn’t helped by the lazy art. Well, I’m happy to report that take two is somewhat better. It’s still a drag but, as always, we takes what we can gets.

Alan Weiss — who supplied some of the sub par pencils for the first Kiss go around — teams with newbie and prolific letter writer Ralph Macchio on a story that tries to capture the pretentious weirdness of Gerber, as they litter the proceedings with a homicidal leprechaun and characters named Saurian Holmes and Professor Maharishi. Another newcomer, the talented but raw John Romita, Jr. — who will start a lengthy run on Iron Man
 next month — handles the pencils this time with the support of Tony DeZuniga. They make a solid team. The art is more than adequate but lacks substantial background details. Fortunately, Glamorous Glynis Wein was on her game: she makes up for the deficiencies with bold and bright blocks of color that fill in the empty spaces. Online sources claim that the 42-page story is titled “The Land of Khyscz” but I’m not buying it: that’s just a burst of exposition on the first page. Don’t think it actually has a title above and beyond “Kiss.”


Things start out in the hidden Himalayan country of Khyscz, a magical land of love. Well, except for the darklord Khalis-Wu. The evil wizard is seeking to tap into an unlimited energy potential, human emotion, for the power to rule the world. After years of searching, he has finally found the source he needs: rock concerts.

Meanwhile, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Ace Frehley, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley and Peter Criss — Kiss! — are suddenly transported to the apartment of Dizzy the Hun, the bald, short-shorts-wearing mystic who gave them the speaker-shaking powers of Space Ace! Demon! Starchild!  and Cat! He tells the wisecracking youths of Khalis-Wu’s plan to absorb audience emotions during history’s most famous rock concerts. After they transform into their awesome alter egos, Space Ace blinks the team to a Bill Haley and the Comets show in the 1950s. There, they battle the sorcerer and his hellish gang of flame-headed motorcyclists. The bikers are defeated but Khalis-Wu escapes.

Frehley once again commands the cosmic waves and Kiss blink into Woodstock. There, the wizard gets the drop on the leathered lads, banishing them to the Land of Leftovers, a druggy wonderland where “the symbolic figures of the 1960s live out all eternity.” After Space Ace realizes that he has suddenly lost his powers and they are stranded there, Kiss encounter a gun-toting leprechaun who directs them to Saurian Holmes — perhaps he can help them return to their own dimension. The lizard-like detective deduces that his rival Professor Maharishi is behind the mystery and they all rush to his house, a building made entirely of playing cards. Saurian and the Professor do battle and bring the, yeah, house of cards down around them, crushing both. Space Ace’s mojo returns and the band materialize in a modern-day disco.



They encounter Khalis-Wu once again, now at the peak of his powers. Starchild blasts the wizard with an eye beam but he simply absorbs the Khyscz-born energy. The Demon tries brute force and flaming breath but he is brushed aside — as is the high-kicking Cat. Finally, Starchild switches tactics and fires a beam of pure hate. Khalis-Wu, unable to handle an infusion of any more power, explodes. The day is saved.

And there we have it. The whole “absorbing energy from rock concerts” theme is fairly dopey but it does place Kiss in their appropriate environment. I’m not sure what Weiss and Macchio were aiming for in the Land of Leftovers sequence. Saurian Holmes didn’t fit in because he relied on reason: Professor Maharishi spreads a hippy-dippy philosophy. So they were natural enemies. But what did that have to do with anything? My guess is that it was all just a stab at Gerberesque weirdness. And why was Maharishi the source of Space Ace’s power malfunction? He never makes that claim and you’d think he'd boast about it. Whatever. Though without those pages we wouldn’t have the immortal line “Gimme a toke on the smoke, bloke.” The fight scene with the evilfied 50s bikers goes on for a whole ten pages. It could have been tedious, but the young Romita already shows a good grasp of action scenes so it works somehow. 

While the comic bits might be a platform shoe up from the first issue, the bonus peices are a definite platform shoe down. Rick Marschall’s “Kiss Off! An Editorial” offers little. We already got the whole “Kiss are real life superheroes” jive last time. At one point, he basically admits that the band’s return to Marvel was an attempt to cash in on the premier of the atrocious NBC Movie of the Week, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park
, and something he calls Kiss II. I’m no Kisstorian, but what the heck is Kiss II? Did the band ever have a release with that name? Did he mean Alive II? That one doesn’t make sense either, since that live album was released almost a year earlier, October 1977. Oh, who cares. 


Now I lost a few minutes of my life reading “Kiss Talk About Their First Movie,” but there’s no way that I’m commenting on a piece that puts a positive twist on Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park.  That unentertaining travesty makes The Paul Lynde Halloween Special look like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. Trust me, I own The Paul Lynde Halloween Special. For Paul Lynde of course, not lousy Kiss. Supposedly, no one on the Kiss crew were permitted to mention the movie for years after its broadcast. So why should I? Finally, we have the usual “Bios” of Macchio, Romita, Marschall and Jim Shooter. Man, Shooter was always a scary looking dude. Looks like he’s ready to choke a guy.
The Super Special will be back in December to bite us on the ass with Jaws 2 by Marschall, Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Along with this month’s Savage Sword, looks like Marvel was throwing Mean Gene some magazine money at the end of 1978. Good for them. -Tom Flynn


For Tom




This Sunday! A Special Solomon Kane Report from Professor Gilbert. Don't Miss It!