Wednesday, November 25, 2015

April 1977 Part Two

Kull the Destroyer 20
“The Hell Beneath Atlantis!”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ed Hannigan and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Karin
Cover by Marie Severin

As Kull, Ridondo and the remaining Lorkas make their way down the stone steps leading to the hellish inferno below Atlantis, Sarna, once again in control over the body he shares with Kareesha, appears above and floats down after them. Kull spots the unmoving body of Shemenon, the God of Fire and Ice, at the other end of a rocky bridge; Khor-Nah lies dead beside the crystal creature, impaled by a sharp stalagmite, still clutching the powerful gemstone. Suddenly, a monstrous menagerie of creatures attacks the group from both sides. As many of the Lorkas are knocked into the huge fire pit, Kull battles his way across the bridge, finally grabbing the gemstone. But Sarna arrives and the stone flies into his mystical hands. The evil sorcerer reveals that he was the ancient mage of whom Kareesha told tales, the one responsible for releasing the demons from the hell-pit until finally plugging it with a mass of jewels. Shemenon, hearing Sarna’s admission, lurches to life, bent on revenge since the sorcerer was ultimately responsible for his transformation. But the wizard uses the gemstone to control the God of Fire and Ice, forcing him to attack Kull instead. When one of the Lorkas leaps on the back of the giant bejeweled skeleton, Kull uses the distraction to kick Sarna in the midsection, freeing Shemenon from the spell. The gleaming goliath clutches the sorcerer and they both plunge to their deaths in the pit of hell-fire. Kull decides to take Shemenon’s crystal axe as they head back to the surface. There, the Lorkas say their goodbyes 
— all except one who wants to return with Kull and Ridondo to the world of men. Kull decides to call him Lorkar. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The conclusion of this three-parter is certainly the high point as Moench decides to abandon his kitchen-sink approach and wrap things up with a fairly straightforward narrative. Moench does throw in a few panels spotlighting the cowardly Atlantean soldiers who abandoned Kull last issue: they arrive back in Atlantis and complain to King Om-Ra that Kull opened the gates to hell and must be executed. The weak-willed monarch seems to agree. It’s still not explained how or why Sarna and Kareesha share the same body: they were definitely two different people at one point. Shemenon is ultimately revealed to be a tragic character, haunted by the love for his long-dead wife Byrana — and of course his dramatic transformation. I’m not sure why he’s considered a god with a capital “G” though. I will say that he’s very well drawn by the team of Hannigan and Alcala: his skeletal interior really comes through clearly. Let’s see what comes of Kull now hefting his crystal axe. I’m also intrigued by the Lorka who decided to stick around and accompany his new friends back to Atlantis. Since Brule has been absent from Kull’s side since Kull and the Barbarians  #3 (September 1975), I hope he rounds into an enjoyable sidekick. But, of course, giving him the name Lorkar is pretty lazy. How about Jimmy? This is the last hurrah for the creative team of Moench, Hannigan and Alcala — Don Glut, Ernie Chan and a revolving crew of inkers take over in June.

Logan's Run 4
"Enter the Eternal Ice-World of Box!"
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by George Perez and Klaus Janson

Believing they have reached Sanctuary, Logan and Jessica stand face to face with the giant silver robot named Box. He welcomes them to his home in the ice cave and tells them to change from their freezing wet clothing into the warm furs he has provided. As he surveys their nude forms, he expresses his desire to sculpt them, admiring how they are the most perfect pair of humans he has met. He wants them to be part of his collection of art, made by his own hand. Logan and Jessica reluctantly agree to pose on the condition that Box first shows them the other runners. Box complies and brings them to their worst nightmare: every single runner dead, their bodies frozen in storage. Box calls it “standard procedure.” The way he would store the fish, plankton, greens and proteins from the sea. However, those foods stopped coming. When the runners began arriving, Box stored them instead. He completes the sculpture as Logan and Jessica contemplate their fate. As Box bathes in the beauty he has created, Logan and Jessica get dressed. Logan uses the distraction to dive for his gun. Just as Box fires his freeze ray, Logan lets loose a volley, hitting Box in the chest. While the robot catches the brunt of it, the rest of the energy discharge reflects off and upward to the ceiling. As all of the sculptures, indeed, even the roof itself, crumbles, Logan and Jessica run for their lives.

They make their way to the edge of the cave and, for the first time, see the outside world: an expansive mountain range with a giant, warm sun beating down on them. They explore this strange new world; all of the flora, fauna, wildlife, rivers and streams, and throughout, they finally embrace their own feelings. Love takes root, and as if to help usher in their new lives, Jessica and Logan realize their life clocks no longer function. They are truly free. However, their freedom may be short lived. Francis is not far behind, having found the dying Box among the wreckage of his home. Through him, Francis learns Logan and Jessica have escaped. Neither of them realize Francis could have survived the flood earlier and had climbed down the elevator shaft after them. With no purpose other than to find and kill the runners, Francis continues his quest.

Meanwhile, Logan and Jessica have reached the aged ruins of what was once Washington D.C. They stare up at the Lincoln Memorial, seeing the face of old age for the very first time. They walk to another large building, once the nation’s Capitol, and enter, wondering if this ruined, deserted structure is Sanctuary. They meet the only human inhabitant left; a gentle, if slightly off-center, old man. Jessica, mesmerized by the ancient man’s appearance, touches his wrinkled skin. The old man shows them around, while Jessica tries to come to terms with the possibility that Sanctuary is merely a myth. She walks off on her own as Logan looks at portraits of past presidents. Jessica is so lost in thought, she doesn’t notice the man behind her, who clamps a strong hand around her mouth before she can scream. Logan calls to her and what he sees sends an icy chill to his heart. Francis on the balcony, holding Jessica and pressing a gun to her temple. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: “Fish…and plankton. Seagreens and protein…from the sea!”

The penultimate chapter in the movie adaptation is a moving affair. Unlike previous chapters, there are no real deleted scenes in this issue, however certain bits are expanded upon. Box is less lyrical and makes a bit more sense here than in the film. It’s impossible for me to separate Box from the voice of the late, great Roscoe Lee Brown. His line of dialog, quoted above, has stuck in my head since the first time I saw the film. Box is a little less fun without his voice, but he’s fleshed out a tad. The stripping scene is much more discreet here, of course, and it was plenty innocent in the film as well, but for male fans of Jenny Agutter, still a thrill.
The scene where Logan and Jessica see the sun for the first time is relegated to a single panel here, which really downplays the enormity of that moment. The film treated this as almost a religious experience, with a wonderfully lush cue by composer Jerry Goldsmith. Thanks to that music, it’s my favorite scene in the film.  That cue was also used during the network run of the film before and after commercial breaks. The comic also cuts the exploration of outside down to a single page. It does condense the slowest moving scene of the film into a short space. So for pacing reasons, it’s a good choice. The adaptation was already an issue longer than originally planned, and the point is certainly made. However, they do lose an important bit where Jessica is scared by a lizard crawling up her skirt. It was a good indication that “outside” isn’t just a fun paradise with beautiful weather. It got cold at night and rainy during the day, so the film did try to balance it better than the comic. However, the adaptation does manage to convey Jessica’s loss of hope a lot more clearly than the film, leading to her wandering off.

Scott: Francis is given inner monologues that tend to ramble, but he’s a small part of this portion of the story and he does provide the best cliffhanger in the saga. Aside from the usual niggles such as over-writing the dialog, the script and art are still excellent. I’m actually sad there is only one more issue left in the film adaptation. The remaining two issues of the series, “beyond the book! Beyond the movie!” just don’t stack up.

Chris Blake: I’m sure it didn’t resonate for me at the time I first picked up this adaptation, but the images of Washington DC in ruins really struck me this time.  The fact is, there will be a time in this planet’s history when the achievements of figures even as great as Lincoln will be forgotten, and the significance of the DC monuments will carry no meaning.  To think that we could reach this point as soon as the 23rd century is a bit chilling; Dave’s text and George’s illustrations (particularly the overgrown Memorial, and the littered floor of the halls of Congress) make it possible to believe it.  On the life-affirming side, Janson’s use of pale yellow and orange helps to convey the feeling of a hot summer day, under the direct sunlight of the brave new outdoor world.

This issue also presents an interesting commentary on societal fabrications.  The powers that run the city under the dome would have you believe that redemption is possible thru Carousel, which of course it’s not; by the same token, the city’s runner subgroup insists in the promise of Sanctuary, which proves to be just as fanciful.  
Logan and Jessica bring a certain fascination to their first encounters with older people, which helps to make their experience all the more credible.  “Those cracks in your face,” Jess asks the Old Man; “do they hurt -

Master of Kung Fu 51
"Epilogue: Brass and Blackness (A DeathMove!)"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Paul Gulacy

 Shang-Chi and his comrades from Sir Denis’ MI-6 crew attend Larner’s funeral.  S-C notices that Leiko holds back her tears until the very end.  Sir Denis asks S-C to attend a meeting at Whitechapel that afternoon; S-C confuses his superior when he states that he already had intended to present himself at Sir Denis’ office.  S-C has not felt the need to sleep for six days, since he and Reston escaped from Fu Manchu’s lunar-orbiting station and returned to earth.  Reston commented at the time that Fu – who had been shot by S-C – seemed certain not to survive; S-C sagely responded by observing that he has known his father seemingly to have “'died’ many times” before.  At the MI-6 meeting, Sir Denis comments that Fu’s apparent demise – after a pursuit of more than forty years – has removed some of his sense of purpose.  Still, Sir Denis resolves to carry on in the service, and hopes his associates will elect to do the same.  S-C speaks first, and declares that he is finished with the espionage game; S-C comments specifically about the British intention to fire nuclear weapons across the Chinese nation if Fu had not been defeated, “in retaliation to the actions of one man!”  Sir Denis has only begun to respond when the window blows open, and the remaining Oriental Expediters burst in.  The team defeats the attackers, but SD’s secretary, Miss Greville, is gravely wounded, and has to be rushed to surgery.  Sir Denis asks aloud why S-C would not support him in opposition to deadly forces like this.  S-C describes SD’s dichotomy, as SD’s actions can be counter to the pursuit of honor and truth in life, but SD also is a good and noble man.  S-C resolves not to turn his back to SD, but rather to turn his face toward his future.  Leiko follows him out, followed by Reston.  SD expects Black Jack to stand by him, but Tarr delivers the final blow, as he states that he also will leave, to think things thru for himself.  The four adventurers stride out to the rainy London street, and into an uncertain future.  
-Chris Blake

Chris: It's an interesting choice to devote an entire issue to an "epilogue," but since the story has carried on for such a long stretch (with the mole-identity question first being raised as far back as MoKF #40), I suppose Doug felt the need to wrap everything up the right way (in later years, the whole story would probably fit neatly into a Double-Sized Anniversary Issue, but we haven't reached that point just yet).  Doug obviously thinks it’s expected of him to spice up the issue with our usual helping of battling, but Shang-Chi and Reston's efforts to bypass the already-defeated Manchu minions feels unnecessary; none of this activity tops the (apparent) defeat of Fu himself, at the climax of MoKF #50. The attack by the Expediters, as they scale the wall and boldly smash their way into Whitechapel, is completely out of left field; even Reston expresses confusion by the timing of the attack, and none of the assassins clue us in to why this is happening right now. The action-opportunity doesn't advance the story, unless Doug wants to use Ms Greville's wounding as a way to renew S-C's commitment to the defense of his colleagues.  S-C's rare speech, as he simultaneously supports Sir Denis' intentions and rejects his methods (yin and yang, anyone?), and brings the MI-6 chapter to a resounding close, should have provided enough of a dramatic moment without the additional gunplay and chop-socking.
Jim Craig has the unenviable job of succeeding Paul Gulacy as the semi-regular penciller until MoKF #66, with this being the first of ten issues featuring Criag’s work on this title.  Craig gamely maintains the standard of high-octane action, and also throws in a few Gulacian touches (such as depicting details in small panels over a larger one, both on p 3 [Larner’s funeral] and p 17 [the Expediters’ stealthy approach]).  Fans who read MoKF for the spirited kung-fuing probably wouldn't be troubled; Marcos' inks provide some continuity, as he had inked Gulacy in four of the previous six issues.  But, for those who appreciate Gulacy's cinematic touches and unorthodox visuals (and how about those scene-setting splash pages?), it's obvious that something will be missing.  We will get our share of impressive covers, like the one for this issue, so we'll have to be satisfied with that for our Gulacy fix.  Hey – would it help if we now thought of the splash page art being transferred forward to the cover?  I feel better already. 
Next time, we'll have a one-shot issue, followed by a rare reprint for MoKF #53, so it'll be awhile before we get a sense of what the new direction for these characters -- and for this title as a whole -- might entail. 

Mark Barsotti: Oh, sure, now we get a Gulacy cover, parting gift as Paul flees the work-for-hire plantation. The good news is the pleasant surprise of Jim Craig's art, obviously aping Gulacy (as Gulacy first aped Steranko, as Romita attempted to ape Ditko),with a strong assist from Pablo Marcos' inks and varying but overall satisfactory results, with flashes of a rough but promising style peeking out. 

A good teacher admits gaps in their own knowledge, class, and closing the cover on this one, I wondered if a middling-selling title somehow had lucked into top flight artists, back to back. I didn't know, having whittled my comic habit down to a title or two per month when this was published and was soon to forsake funnybooks for decades to come. So while I try to examine the books from a '70's perspective, as they were published, sometimes in 2015 the urge to summon info at a key stroke can't be resisted and...


Mark: Jim Craig doesn't even have a Wiki-entry, making him a virtual nonentity, and damn it, knowing that takes the edge off my buzz until I recognize this symptom of social media groupthink. It matters not a wit how many likes Craig's career garners today, only if he was an effective pinch hitter back in '77. And the kid hits a solid two-bagger, first time up.

Story-wise, we open with Larner's funeral, complete with clichéd rainstorm. What, do mourners break into song if the sun's out? Nine of the seventeen pages are action, as if to prove this art team could conjure the book's expected Gul-ranko-ie Super Spy meets Chop Fuey vibe, even at third hand. Doug Moench pumps plenty of soul-searching pathos into the reminder, what with Larner dead and Fu Man-Mastermind presumed so. Apparently offended by MI6's plans (in cahoots with Uncle Sam, natch) to carpet bomb China with nukes if our heroes' space mission had failed, Shang tells Sir Denis he's quitting, and that's before some of Fah Lo Suee's diehards attack our spies in their lair, grievously wounding the lovely Ms. Greville.

Leiko quits, too, running off after Shang and Cat (his cat).

Reston and even rock steady Black Jack Tarr decide, what the hell, they're up for leaves of absence, too, leaving Sir Denis, teeny-tiny in a shrunken panel, standing alone in a yellow pool of light.

After banishing Fu to space last time, Moench now effectively disperses our cast to the four winds, at least until the next Big Threat....  

Ms. Marvel 4
"Death is the Doomsday Man!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ed Hannigan and John Romita

Having escaped from A.I.M. and returned to the cave seeking the Kree weapons his sensors indicate, Korman watches the Doomsday Man ambush Ms. Marvel; meanwhile, Sal and David are asked to stop searching for Carol and investigate where the orbital bogies landed, little dreaming that one of them is Carol.  Ms. Marvel recalls that as the NASA security chief assigned to watchdog the project, Carol had warned Kronton the robot would be unstoppable if it went berserk, and now deduces that he must have installed a fail-safe control.  Combining her Kree skills with Carol’s knowledge, she spots a seam at the base of his skull that was not on the design specs, and finds inside a radio-operated device—frequency unknown—with manual back-up. 

Felled by pain, presumably from the combined effects of re-entry and battle, she is able to throw a rock and hit the button after being hurled away from the back-up by the Doomsday Man, but once he topples, she is again blasted by the Destructor.  Ignoring her warning, Korman opens the Kree machine’s power-source storage unit, whose unholy light destroys his senses, and as a maddened Destructor sweeps the cave with his tachyon beam, it begins to collapse just before the power stone reaches critical mass and blows.  In twin epilogues, Carol is found by Sal and David at the site of the explosion, which apparently buried the radiation source, and—three days later—is called by Barnett, who says he knows about Ms. Marvel, and wants to talk to her about it…soon. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Now flying solo, Claremont sees the book through to its untimely demise…and beyond, counting those abortive issues completed and published years after the fact in Marvel Super-Heroes Vol. 2 #10-11 (on which I am still trying to get my hands).  This is fascinating:  it seemed obvious that he was going for a Kiss Me Deadly vibe with his “Great Whatsit” in the cancelled Black Goliath, a dangling plot thread that Bill Mantlo is currently spinning into gold in Champions.  Now, Chris offers a new variation on the same theme with the box containing the Psyche-Magnitron’s power core, even echoing the film’s comparison with the Gorgon, and just for good measure, the vivid cover hyperbolically paraphrases the title of a more obscure SF flick, The Earth Dies Screaming.

His poker face is so good that he actually had me wondering whether Carol really appeared in Silver Surfer #13, having long since been introduced by then, but it appears he has convincingly retconned her into the flashback.  Regular readers know I’ve never ranked Mooney anywhere above average as a penciler, yet when he is paired with Sinnott, the very definition of a great inker, the results are topflight, so at least for the time being, Big John’s departure doesn’t have me reaching for the razor blades.  Kiss Me Deadly being one of my defining movies, I just love the stuff with Korman, and was delighted to see it chosen to grace the Hannigan/Giacoia cover; meanwhile, I honestly can’t recall where they are going with Barnett, who now sounds like a would-be blackmailer. 

Chris: I simply could not get into this fight with the Doomsday Man.  There’s plenty of smashing-and-bashing, sure, but the fight itself has no flow, and then is interrupted a few times.  Nice job by the big giant robot to “toy” with her and not blast her, and then to hold still and wait while Carol (who now has hyper-senses, in addition to the inadequately-explained “seventh sense,” which now seems like a Spidey-style warning-signal) opens up the back up his head to remove the cut-off device.   I also don’t quite get why Dr Korman’s view inside the power-source box should prove to be such a brain-broiling experience.  Hey, I wonder what happened to him?  Last we saw, he was blowing apart craggy rocky piles (a familiar sight in marshy, flat Florida, of course) with his runaway tachyon beam; careful with that ray, Eugene – we sure don’t want no one getting hurt now, do we?  

Carol and I share the same questions about how she could possibly have survived a 300-mile fall from space to the earth’s surface; if I had to put money on it, I would bet on only the Hulk and Thor, and possibly a diamond-hard Vision, to be capable of withstanding re-entry and impact.  Hopefully, as Claremont continues to develop this character, we’ll have some explanation.  

Marvel Premiere 35
The 3-D Man in
"The 3-D Man!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Jim Craig and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

3-D Man bursts into the lair of bad guy Diabolik, dispatching and lecturing the army of henchmen with "three times the strength, the speed, the stamina of a normal man!" But when he gets to the head honcho, he calls 3-D Man Chuck Chandler, knowing his identity, because….

First, we get the flashback to our red and green hero's story. College football hero Chuck Chandler became the second best test pilot in the country (next to "the fabled Ben Grimm"), with polio-crippled brother Hal always there to cheer him on. But one day, Chuck is set to test the new XF-13, and he's attacked by a group of Diabolik's nasties! They hightail it out of there, and the next morning a snazzily-clad Chuck flies off—meeting a flying saucer and a mysterious cloud! The saucer contains a band of Skrulls, looking to stop humans from reaching the stars, but before they can wipe Chuck's memory clean, the pilot bursts free, gets slightly radiated, crashes, reaches for little brother Hal—and disappears! Amazingly, he's been reduced to a pair of red and green images on Hal's glasses, and when the young man concentrates, the powerful 3-D Man emerges! Back to Diabolik—and he's a Skrull! Smashing the shape-changing creep, 3-D Man loses him in the crowd and goes back home—turns out he can only exist for 3 hours at a time. And as Hal sleeps, he wonders who's a Skrull and who's not! --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: After a two-issue sabbatical, I’m back on Premiere, teaching "The action-packed origin of the startling NEW super-hero from the fabulous 1950's!" Well, lucky me! I've read worse than this, but it seemed super long, almost as long as the decade itself. And 3-D Man is, while original, not a very exciting hero. Maybe part of that is the tepid art by Jim Craig, and another part the "Hey, kids—it's a new superhero!" script by Roy. Of course, that's because the ultimate fanboy's hero is an homage to Simon & Kirby's Captain 3-D, which lasted a whopping one issue. This story is mostly sci-fi, with those meddling Skrulls thrown in for good measure, and they try and give it the rollicking action of 1950s movies (3-D movies, of course!) but it's merely OK. The brothers are part boorish and part wishy-washy, but hopefully as a team of heroes they'll get more interesting. I will say, as someone who wears glasses, it might be cool to let someone else take over for three hours, especially during a boring work meeting.

Matthew: I know that culturally and mathematically speaking, we need the 1950s to get from my beloved ’30s and ’40s to my even more beloved ’60s and ’70s, yet of that half-century, with apologies to Red-smasher Gil, it’s the decade for which I have the least affinity.  Steeped as I then was in the exploits of Richie & Fonzie & Laverne & Shirley, I don’t remember that aspect of this trilogy bothering me back in the day, but now it just feels like I’m being bludgeoned with it by Roy.  On the other hand, we have Skrulls to compensate, and Hunt shows Craig’s work to better advantage than Marcos did in What If? #1; the 3-D Man’s later appearances come outside the blog’s and—with rare exceptions, e.g., Hulk #251-2—my purview.

Addendum: A belated resumption of re-reading my diaries from the period reveals that on January 7, I wrote, "Marvel Premiere starred 3-D Man, it's real neat.  I hope he gets his own mag"—take that, middle-aged future self!  It also points up a long-forgotten problem:  never knowing when the first issue of a subscription (I was then up to seven) would come, resulting in a nail-biting game of chicken to avoid either duplicating or missing an issue on the metaphoric newsstand.  Finally, I did a double-take when I read in my entry for February 24, "So far this month [i.e., May], 26 comics!  That must be some kind of a record," which echoes my 21st-century amazement as my MU curriculum keeps growing, and in addition to those I'll cover here includes my long-gone Logan's Run and several reprints.

Marvel Presents 10

The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Death-Bird Rising!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Al Milgrom, Jim Starlin, and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Al Milgrom

 In a battle made even more chaotic by a temporary loss of gravity due to a stray shot, the Guardians defeat Brutag and the others who boarded them, only to discover they are ancient androids.  As Starhawk hurtles “deep into the Arcturian system,” Ogord rails to his grandchildren against “the turncoat ‘son’ and daughter who delayed our destiny by a thousand years,” and flashbacks continue their story.  In the temple, with his genetically engineered mind, Stakar assembled components into a brain-wave helmet that could unlock the knowledge of the ancients, but when Ogord approached with an elite patrol of Reavers, Aleta knew they would be shipped off to the mines if found, and angrily hurled the helmet to the floor, despite Stakar's warning. 

Long-unused contacts clicked into place, producing a ray that converted Aleta into pure radiant energy, which inhabited the gigantic metal figure of the hawk-god.  Near-mad from the power, she blasted out of the temple, demolishing the Arcturian air force, and cried out to Stakar for help, so he commandeered a flitter and piloted the small craft toward her as their minds touched.  A multinuclear explosion and implosion ensued, leaving a lone figure on a smooth plain of fused glass:  Starhawk, the embodiment of the power that was Arcturus, but when he refused to use it for conquest and departed, Ogord swore vengeance, a vow he now repeats as the radiation level suddenly soars, and the Arcturian scout ship Kammar notes that the Captain America is no more. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: How depressing is it that two of Marvel’s few remaining cosmic books, this and Inhumans, have only two issues left?  Not that I find this first entry of the post-Gerber era especially encouraging, since all of that hawk-god stuff by which we’re supposed to be so impressed—and we know this because of the spectacular two-page spread showing it trashing the “fledgling air force”—seems to me rather loopy.  Still, Sterno does his best to bring this baby home, incorporating enough promising elements into the remainder of the origin story that there is hope for interesting future plotlines, and although Wiacek is unable to raise Milgrom’s work much above average, it has its moments, e.g., the grim Yondu in page 2, panel 2 and the Starhawk-dominated layout of page 27.

Chris: We finally get the Starhawk origin we had been promised, but it requires so much space (including an admittedly-impressive two-page spread) that we’re left without much time to advance the Reavers of Arcturus story.  At least we know why the people of Arcturus – apparently, under the direction of Starhawk’s father – are out for vengeance against Starhawk.  This is a criticism I’ve raised with other bi-monthly mags: it’s imperative to work as efficiently as possible, and to continue to develop different story elements, so that readers are not left waiting another two whole months for progress.  In this case, once we’re thru with the Guardians’ fight with the force invading their ship (p 7), we hardly see the team again until the very last page (p 30).  Although, I don’t want to come down too hard on Sterno (graduating now from assistant editorship to scripting), since I’m sure it isn’t easy to assume the writing mantle from Steve G.  Stern will be a major contributor of Marvel-caliber quality storytelling in the months and years to come. 

I thought I was wrong about the Milgrom/Wiacek art, but this issue reminds me why I had expressed surprise at the appearance of the previous issue.  I can’t blame Milgrom, since many of the layouts are reasonably interesting, but Wiacek’s finishes, especially for the characters’ faces, are widely variable, as some look murky, some thin, some sketchy and unfinished.  

But wait – there’s more – since I originally had written my comments about the art, I’ve read that Jim Starlin is an uncredited layout artist for this issue, either providing layouts for pages 12-27, or possibly the entire issue (the Grand Comics Database presents both views; I wonder what Starlin himself would say about it. could someone get him on the phone, maybe?).  I had credited Milgrom for providing some “reasonably interesting” layouts (see previous paragraph), but I might have to retract that.  In other words, anything worth seeing, art-wise, might be due to the efforts of an uncredited source; the iffy final results can be attributed to the people identified on the first page.  

Marvel Spotlight 33
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"(Don't Fear) The Reaper!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Rich Buckler, Michael Nasser, Arvell Jones, and Klaus Janson
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Howard Bender and Beth Bleckley
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Picking up where Astonishing Tales #36 left off, the mysterious Godwulf sends Deathlok from 1990 to…

First we cut to July 1976, where Eric Simon Payne, aka Devil-Slayer lands at JFK Airport, wondering when The Cult will send demon assassins after him for dedicating his life to preventing the rebirth of the demon race. He's traced wife Cory to New York's New Grace Hospital…where Deathlok ends up, transported through time! The cyborg battles the caped "hero," with 'Puter trying to provide assistance all the way. Devil-Slayer uses his shadow-cloak to depart for the "other realm," admonishing the Demolisher to follow if he dares—but Deathlok runs into ex-wife Janice! But she's really Death-Slayer's wife Cory, and she quickly faints as he hits the streets, realizing "This is New York City BEFORE the Holocaust!" Quick aside to the horrible Hellinger, as the deadly cyborg tells no one in particular his plans to use an army of doomsday mechs, and get Deathlok back from the past to "prevail against Godwulf!" Back to Devil-Slayer, who uses his cloak to spy Deathlok holding Cory, then reaches across dimensions to drag him in! Grabbing an anti-matter mace from "beyond," he smashes Deathlok, who manages to talk some sense into Devil-Slayer, who sends both back to Earth just as Cory is being attacked by a horde of demons who were disguised as humans! D & D-S kick some demon tail, so the baddies leave through a path to the Other Realm, Eric/Devil-Slayer comforts his wife, thanking Deathlok, who begins to fade away—headed straight to Marvel Two-In-One #27 and Prof. Matthew's classroom!--Joe Tura

Matthew:  Professor Joe is correct that the closing footnote directs readers to MTIO #27, of which Deathlok is the official guest-star, but to be scrupulously accurate, he actually materializes on the last page of this month's #26.

Joe: My favorite line of the whole issue is 'Puter on page 23, when Deathlok is dragged into the other realm and says "Logic circuit overload exceeds capacity." I know how you feel! There's a lot of wackiness going on here, and it's more convoluted than Astonishing Tales ever was. Not that it's bad, of course, since there are some cool moments like the two tussles between Deathlok and Devil-Slayer, and the rollicking page 30 demon beat-down that's actually too short. But there's more mystery piled on, giving us more questions instead of answers. Like, what's Hellinger's next move? Where the heck is Deathlok going now and why? What is the deal with Godwulf and what did Deathlok do to cheese him off? Who is this Devil-Slayer character and why is he so freakin' powerful? Seriously, that cape is bad-ass! And why does Cory look just like Janice? Yeah, yeah, I know it's reincarnation, doppleganger, kismet, blah blah. It's really just slightly confusing. The artwork is mostly Buckler, and there are some nifty moments, just the script is a bit off, with too many ideas and not enough pages to get them all out.

That said, this is the final Marvel Spotlight lesson. It's like Deathlok was the Ted McGinley of comic books in the 70s! To review for the final, Spotlight was a book that mostly featured supernatural characters or hints of such, including our first issue, Red Wolf, then the introduction of the Mike Ploog-drawn Werewolf By Night, into Prof. Flynn's favorite Ghost Rider, then a looooooong Prof. Chris-led class on Son of Satan, into one of the worst comics of the 1970s on Sinbad. After the Scarecrow, Sub-Mariner, and Moon Knight, we were treated to the Warriors Three's excellent adventure, Nick Fury, Spider-Woman's debut, then Deathlok. Quite a mixed bag of ups and downs, with some smackdab-in-the-middles, too. Can't say I'm too sorry to see this class end, but we'll always have Ragland T. Peppermill!

Matthew:  Okay, I have yet again misremembered, since this does indeed tie in with the Godwulf plot threads left dangling when Astonishing Tales breathed its last back in July, and now Deathlok gets to usher another book out of existence, this being the last issue of Volume 1. It seems strange to see Luther’s creator, Buckler, credited merely as one of four “artists” (they’re not broken down, although the MCDb lists Janson as inker, with Rich joined by Jones and Marvel footnote Mike Nasser on pencils) and the Dude as “author.”  But this backstory has its origins in the brief threat of rival Atlas Comics, launched by Martin and Chip Goodman all the way back in the Len Wein EIC administration, as related by Sean Howe in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

“David Anthony Kraft, who’d left Marvel for a 50 percent pay hike writing at Atlas, rode cross-country on his motorcycle, with visions of writing issue after issue of Atlas’s Demon Hunter on the beach.  By the time he arrived on the West Coast, Atlas Comics had collapsed.  In the spring, [Marvel President] Al Landau had sent out a memo demanding that someone go through the Atlas comics and take notes on possible plagiarisms.  It was certainly moot now:  Atlas castoffs were simply absorbed into Marvel’s empire.  Kraft and Rich Buckler reworked ‘Demon Hunter’ as ‘Devil-Slayer,’ and wrote him into Astonishing Tales [sic].  Howard Chaykin walked directly from the Atlas offices and sold a reworked ‘Scorpion’ to Marvel as ‘Dominic Fortune,’” bowing in Marvel Preview #2.

A phoenix of sorts arises from these ashes when, a year from now, Devil-Slayer—again courtesy of Kraft—becomes a recurring presence in Defenders, where he was later the partial subject of my one-and-only LOC in #114, a historic issue this blog will sadly not have the honor of covering.  While we don’t learn much more about Godwulf here than we did before, this forms the connecting link with Deathlok’s abrupt appearance in the current Marvel Two-in-One, which (as with Black Goliath) will become a kind of second home for our orphaned hero.  Per Mark Drummond, “This was actually supposed to be Astonishing Tales #37, but the book got cancelled first.  The original cover is in [the Complete Collection book],” he notes on SuperMegaMonkey.

Chris: It shouldn’t be a reflection on the character, but the fact remains that Deathlok now has closed out two series: first Astonishing Tales, and now Marvel Spotlight (comics-publishing trivia-buffs – take note).  I think he winds up being disappeared following two separate appearances in Marvel Two-In-One (the first of which is scheduled for newsstands and spinner-racks next month), but that’s another story.  

I have to wonder at the conversation that resulted in this story seeing the light of day – after all, it’s been nine months since we all read (and carefully stored away) AT #36.  It’s hard to know what Marvel hoped to accomplish for this character at this late hour; unless, of course, the art already had been laid out, and the publishing powers didn’t want the work to go to waste -?  Speaking of which – credit to Janson for tying together the art, featuring layouts by Buckler and pencils by Nasser and Jones, so that it appears as a coherent whole.  
The story we get is a strange mix of plot elements for our steel-reinforced once-man, as we have a brief wrap of the Godwulf story-fragment that had appeared in AT #36, some further villainous scheming by Hellinger (what’s supposed to happen to him, now?), and a pretty good run-in with Devil-Slayer.  D-S is an intriguing choice as opponent-turned-ally (although I don’t expect his presence on the cover moved too many extra copies of the issue).  The MARMIS makes a bit of sense this time, as both characters are beset by threats, and are right to suspect each other at first.  D-S probably doesn’t encounter too many demons who happen to carry laser blasters, but I’m willing to overlook that; in his line of work, I can see that D-S wouldn’t take any chances.  

Mark: A final appearance (read by your humble Prof for the first time) of Rich Buckler's version of Deathlok is cause for celebration, albeit a very minor one, worthy of maybe cracking open a Schlitz, definitely not the Dom Perignon. 

About half the story focuses on the Devil-Slayer, on the run from demon horde The Cult, who gets into a MARMIS dust-up with 'Lok in the middle of a hospital. That Marvel maniacs have never heard of DS or The Cult before is reason enough for head-scratching confusion, but throw in brief, barely-explained appearances by Godwulf and Hellinger (characters from Deathlok's Astonishing Tales series, cancelled almost a year ago), and you have a muddled mess that can have you mourning a wasted can of beer.  

Prof Matthew's research detangles the threads, while making the end result no more laudatory. Devil-Slayer is a reworked Demon Hunter, imported practically whole cloth from Buckler and writer Kraft's abortive Atlas series. And this story was intended as the next installment of 'Lok's series, where, in continuity, it would have made a hell of a lot more sense.

That explains where the story came from. That Marvel chose to publish what was meant as an on-going installment of a title almost a year in the grave, with no plans to continue the story, is the worst sort of clean-out-the-inventory move that reminds us that comics in the late '70's were a marginally-profitable, shrinking audience biz, willing to sweep any discards up off the floor and feed them into the  sausage grinder.

So, yeah, still glad to see Buckler do his signature character one last time, even if this one leaves a taste like last night's Schlitz.

Marvel Team-Up 56
Spider-Man and Daredevil in
"Double Danger at the Daily Bugle!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Giacoia

Daredevil stumbles on Blizzard waylaying a shipment of the Bugle, but the frigid felon escapes by dousing DD with freezing water from a shattered hydrant, and after “reading” the headline, “Help Is on the Way, Black Says, but Mail Strike Continues,” he heads to the paper.  There, in need of the rent, Peter has ignored a call from Glory Grant, JJJ’s secretary, telling him not to come in on payday, and when thugs stop him from seeing Robbie (whose door is erroneously marked “R. Robertson,” rather than “J.”), he eavesdrops from the ceiling above the back door of JJJ’s office.  Demanding ransom from JJJ and rival Barney Bushkin, Electro and Blizzard have doped out the message hidden in Jonah’s bogus headline:  “Help Black Mail.” 

Blizzard relates that having rebuilt his costume with parts from the prison machine-shop, he was in need of an energy source when Electro fortuitously escaped, the blast fusing the circuitry to his body.  DD smashes in, announcing that the police are en route, which gives Peter a chance to change to Spidey, but as the villains flee and the newspapermen unite to safeguard their interests, Electro and Blizzard wind up cornered in the basement press room by mistake.  A botched attack leads to a strategic withdrawal by the journalists, while Spidey contrives a collision of electric and ice blasts that turns the latter into steam, freezing Blizzard solid, and our heroes unleash a one-two punch that caroms Electro into the printing press and, consequently, out of commission. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Aptly, Mantlo is reunited with Buscema for the end of his beloved run on this book, with Hunt—who also serves as colorist—once again knocking it out of the park with his steady inking.  To begin at the beginning, I sometimes feel that I don’t say enough about covers (although I’m sure there are those who feel that I say too much about everything), but I really dig this one by Romita and Giacoia.  The forced perspective makes it look like Electro dwarfs our heroes, who not only are longtime allies but also have him in common as a foe; the white background accentuates the nice color contrast between his green-and-yellow costume and our red-dominated co-stars; the word balloon is minimal; and the tagline keeps us in suspense, if not very long, about his partner.

Because there, on the splash page, is Blizzard, a fine choice, not coincidentally introduced—or, more properly, repurposed—by Bill in one of his first Iron Man stories.  Make no mistake, this comes nowhere near the dizzying heights he and Byrne ascended in the last three issues…nor does it need to, as a veritable model for a tidy, solidly drawn, MARMIS-free, implausible but entertaining done-in-one MTU.  It would have been nice to get a little more of Glory, but the JJJ stuff is great, and we’ll be seeing plenty in Spidey’s solo books of Daily Globe editor Bushkin, who won’t be the last character salvaged by Bill from the cancellation of Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, although actually created by Lee and Ditko back in Amazing Spider-Man #27 (August 1965). 

Joe: This is one of those issues that doesn't exactly set the world on fire, but still has flashes of electricity, and a couple of things that stand out noticeably. The "boring" headline on the splash page has to be a "fake" Bugle cover headline, so it works only because of that, and the illustration under it of Blizzard stopping a delivery truck cold. Lots of bumbling by the two publishers, and also by Spidey and Daredevil in a way; knocking into each other is uncharacteristic. And they later force the two villains into more bumbling, making each one miss in the close quarters The art is solid as always, except for a couple of instances where it's nearly unfinished, especially page 10 panel 1—not sure what happened to JJJ's neck there. And Sal ending the battle with both Spidey and DD bashing Electro evokes his Avengers panel of Vision and Wonder Man smashing Tyrak from a couple of months back, which is either lazy or inspired. Electro bouncing off the printing press and into a wall was kinda cool, though. I'm sure I liked it a lot more as a 10 year-old, though.

Matthew: I flashed on the Tyrak-smack too - great minds!

Marvel Two-In-One 26
The Thing and Nick Fury in
"The Fixer and Mentallo are Back 
and the World Will Never Be the Same!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Ben is summoned to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “pizza-parlor contact quarters” on the corner of 26th
 Street, whence Fury and Dugan fly him to the Helicarrier, show him footage of Mentallo (whose powers have been restored) and the Fixer, and reveal that they are after Ben for unknown reasons.  Acting on a vision Mentallo picked up from Spider-Man—who has forgotten the knowledge himself—they use the Fixer’s flying disks and thought-impulse detector to locate and board the Helicarrier.  No sooner has an air-leak betrayed their presence than they penetrate a lower level, and with the Fixer’s servo-pods, “an updated version of the electronic mask we once used on Fury himself,” they take mental control of a whole S.H.I.E.L.D. maintenance crew.

As Fury is knocked out by his own men, Ben is subdued with servo-pods, strapped to jet disks, and flown to the villains’ goal:  the Baxter Building, where his belt-control gets them through Reed’s alarms, brushing off a puzzled Willie Lumpkin.  Donning a helmet to block his thoughts from Mentallo, Fury follows using a radar-scanner he secretly attached to Ben, and busts in just as the Fixer activates the time machine according to Mentallo’s settings. The enthralled Thing is about to toss Fury out the window when Nick removes the servo-pod, but at that moment, the Fixer tells the reunited heroes, “Turn around and see the ally Doom’s time machine [actually, Reed’s duplicate] brought us!”…Deathlok, plucked right from the pages of the current Spotlight. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With nowhere to go but up, Wolfman & Co. soar to…well, average, and it’s sad that any issue featuring Fury, Mentallo and the Fixer (hereinafter M&F) can be so much less than the sum of its parts.  M&F are not awesome villains per se, especially individually, but they represent the classic S.H.I.E.L.D. era of Strange Tales; after tangling with Fury in #141-3, they were shown as division chiefs for reconnaissance and science, respectively, on the Hydra org chart in Daredevil #121, but—like Commander Kraken—the Fixer isn’t actually seen in that arc, so this one is probably only their second joint appearance.  I can’t swear to it now that the watered-down Cobra/Hyde dynamic Marv seems to be going for is new, but it doesn’t feel as though these guys go way back.

Which brings me to my other main complaint about the story:  we’ve long known that, like Reed and Cap, our co-stars are WW II vets, but Nick (or Marv) seems to feel it necessary to inform Ben (or us) of that fact in the opening scene.  I don’t specifically recall seeing them pal around before, but you almost have to assume they’ve done so offstage over the years, and that very lack of chemistry makes Nick’s “only ta have yer friend be the one to lay ya low” ring hollow.  The Wilson/Marcos art has, if anything, gotten worse, with Fury—cruelly represented in the cover logo by a Steranko image—looking in page 26, panel 1 as if he ran face-first into a wall…and, nostalgic though it may be, did anybody actually get excited over that “top-secret cross-section”?

Chris: Marv takes a while to get into the story, doesn’t he?  I mean, we don’t even get into the Baxter Building (now sporting a 6-story HQ for the FF – I give up …) until the bottom of page 26.  I can’t say it’d be much fun to work for Nick Fury, especially with his steady stream of admonishments about goldbrickin’ and lame-brainin’.  Fury’s constant put-downs are contrasted by the very civil exchanges between Mentallo and the Fixer, who set a standard of mutual appreciation for the business of super-villainy.  

I’m glad that Marcos continues to have time in his busy schedule to ink Wilson’s pencils for this title; without the fluidity he provides, I’m afraid that Wilson’s pencils might (at times) come off as too stiff.  Despite Marcos’ efforts, the Thing does not look his best on p30. 

Nova 8

"When Megaman Comes Calling -- Don't Answer!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Stranded aboard "his" ship, Nova finds Zorr's costume (the alien baddie from issue #1), then the ship's computer, PRIME starts talking, using holographic tape to let Nova know about the previous Centurion, and how the Condor and friends are invading the Sphinx's headquarters, and how his Dad is under a lot of pressure, and that Roger / Caps is in trouble underground! Nova asks PRIME to get him back to Earth pronto, via a shuttle cruiser, and he flies down to save Caps before he drowns, almost giving away his identity but changing to Richard in time to greet Caps at the door. When Bernie arrives, Caps tells his story—he and his uncle Nathan were on a camping trip and stumbled onto a cave with a strange pool of water. Caps accidentally knocks his uncle into the pool, which catches fire, sending Caps running, and Nathan down deep into the black lake…where he travels to another planet and meets a molecule creature, the "last essence of life" on the planet that "fixes" Nathan's burns by evolving him. Now he has no face, and strange powers, and is kept alive by his captor—a female creature that loved him—until Nathan traps it in a sphere and dives into the pool, coming out the other side back to our Earth. Wanting revenge against Caps, he leaves the boy for dead in the sewer until Nova saves him.

After some disbelief from Bernie, and some Ginger-Richard romance, a panicky Caps shows up the next morning—with uncle Nathan breaking through the door! Richard's Dad threatens Nathan with a gun that he knows is unloaded and Nathan zaps it out of his hand. Then, somehow Richard is able to slip away and change into Nova, but is forced through the ground by Nathan, who takes off with Caps and having been "reborn one million years in the future," insists on being called Megaman! Nova breaks through the ground, stopping Megaman momentarily, but when the faceless fiend zaps Richard's house, the teenaged hero must decide—save his best friend, or his family?—Joe Tura

Joe: The first words out of Nova's mouth are "Blue Blazes!", which does not seem like anything Richard Rider would say, and I don't remember him using that expression in the first seven episodes. Then he says it again three more times! Really, Marv? You're getting lazy and sloppy—unless he meant it as a substitute for "Holy S**t!" It sounds a bit too "Billy Batson"-like for a Marvel hero. Can "Gee willikers" be too far behind?

But that's just the tip of the iceberg in an issue that reeks of lazy. The big space adventure is cut super short when we're bored to tears by the ship basically saving Nova and sending him towards home, with not a lot of suspense. Even wondering if he'll make it in time to save Caps doesn't take a lot of guesswork. The villain is fairly dumb, with an uninventive name (like all of Nova's bad guys so far), and his origin story goes on about three pages too long. And we're stuck with him next issue also. I guess the only good things about this month's tale are the usual nice artwork from Sal, a resolution of sorts to the Caps mystery, a tongue-in-cheek title to the story, and a villain that's dumb but at least powerful and a match for Nova, who still doesn't know the limits of his powers. The one limit we do know is that of my patience for this comic book, which is getting very close to the end…Blue blazes!

"Nova Newsline!" features only one epic letter, from the long-winded future historian, who seems to write into every Marvel book, Columbia University's Peter Sanderson, where the young Marvel Zombie goes on and on and on, recounting Nova #5 and basically calling it the greatest comic book since sliced bread. And as if this wasn't unbelievable enough, all credibility is lost when he admits he liked It, The Living Colossus. Blue blazes!

Chris: Our reprieve from in-depth discussion of math tests and high school bullying continues (although, we do get ice cream sundaes), as Marv refrains from the “Gee whiz – I’m a superhero!” stuff.  Good choice for Nova still to be aware of his inexperience, as he chastises himself for not having his powers under better control when he and Caps are in a tight spot (p 10); that sort of approach to this character, I can live with.  Points also to Marv for electing not to have the Nova computer available to Rich whenever he has a thorny problem to figure out – you had me worried there for a moment, Marv.  Well, looks like you’re on your own, kid.

Marv put so much time and energy into Uncle Nat’s backstory that he had nothing left over for the new character’s name, or powers.  I mean, Megaman -?  And, he has powers that won’t be in existence until a million years into the future (give or take a few thousand years); that’s funny – they look like ordinary energy bolts to me.  Hey – I see that the battle with the Sphinx is happening on another channel (p 3) – does anyone know how we can tune-in to that, instead -?

Matthew:  Although I enjoy this arc, I rather liked SuperMegaMonkey’s description of it as “two story lines tied together in an attention deficit syndrome sort of way.”  Broadly speaking, both are science fiction, yet in tone and approach, they are totally different:  the Sphinx stuff is closer to hard SF, or at least space opera (paging Professor Gilbert!), aptly compared by Nova himself to Star Trek, while having Megaman be the object of a disembodied life-essence’s unrequited love veers toward fantasy, like an episode of the lower-tech Twilight Zone, and is almost poetic.  At the moment, it appears that the destruction of the shuttle cruiser and inability to contact PRIME strangle a promising plot development in its cradle...or, as Nova so succinctly puts it, “Well, that blows this gimmick.”

Addendum:   He also says "Blue blazes!" as early as #1, when he first spots Zorr (see the first panel of chapter 4 if you don't believe me), and after punching Diamondhead in #3, and after being hit by the possessed Thor in #4, and while trying to stop the runaway truck in #4, and...well, I think we can call it a well-established character trait.  Wouldn't want to be accused of laziness in my research.  Zing!

Luke Cage, Power Man 42
"Gold! Gold! Who's Got the Gold?"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Lee Elias and Alex Nino
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

The chips look cashed in for Luke Cage, Power Man for Hire and his new best bud, Thunderbolt, when the cops like Cage for a gold robbery (seen last issue) and come a'callin'. Only some fancy talk by Luke keeps the wolves at bay and the dynamic duo are soon plotting their counter-strike against the real heist-master, Goldbug. While the two are chillin', 'bolt recalls how he became a quasi-superhero. While a big-shot D.A.'s assistant, Bill Carver watches as his kid brother, Lonnie, takes a bullet meant for Bill. At the funeral, Carver spots his brother's assassin and gives chase. A struggle ensues and the men are struck by lightning. The killer dies and Bill is saved by doctors using an experimental procedure utilizing radiation treatments. Something goes wrong and Bill Carver is left with superpowers. Good. Now we're up to speed, where was I? Oh yes... Cage and 'bolt track Goldbug to his secret lair but just as they're about to get their mitts on the baddie, they're trapped in a rocket that explodes soon after take-off. Next month: The New Power Man!

Cut to: Goldbug hopping into his golden hovercraft and heading for his other secret lair in Brooklyn. But, much to his (and our) surprise, Luke Cage and Thunderbolt greet the 'bug as he exits his craft. Luke reveals that they smashed their way out of the rocket before it went blooey and nothing will keep the men from beating 'bug within an inch of his life. Goldbug restarts his Goldjet and takes off but our heroes manage to climb aboard before it does so. A fierce battle ensues and the controls are destroyed. Revealing that he was smart enough to sew a parachute into his costume, Goldbug says "Sayonara" and leaps to safety, leaving Luke and 'bolt hurtling towards Times Square.
Next month: The New Power-Man!
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: A semi-ho-hum issue, lacking all the little nuances that made this such a fun series. Marv seems to have lost his funny bone in the last couple issues and I, for one, hope he finds it amidst all the scripts he was pumping out at the time. I'm a big fan of Alex Nino's solo work but not so much the job he does inking Lee Elias' pencils. Together they somehow create an ugly art job that could be confused for one scribbled out by Frank Robbins. Still, for all its faults, I can still find some stuff in here that makes me smile. The Goldbug craft, for instance, which will remind one more of an early-1960s DC concoction than anything else. I'm convinced Alan Moore got a gander at this wonderful vehicle and paid homage with the "owl-ship" in Watchmen.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 5
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Before Hitman can shoot Spidey, Vulture attacks him, allowing Spidey to land a couple of blows and escape, while Hitman gasses Vulture and plants a tracer on him and Spidey, while reporting back to Mr. Morgan and promising better results. While Flash and Mary Jane look for Sha Shan in everyone's new favorite restaurant, not knowing she's held prisoner in an upstairs room, Spidey discovers his web pack was under a leaky pipe that froze his duds but good. Back at his pad, with no clean clothes to wear (who has time to do laundry?), he decides to soak the clothes in boiling water to thaw them—just as MJ and Flash arrive! Grabbing a sheet, he hides his costume, but his clothes are shot. An hour later, Hitman attacks Vulture and the two have a nasty battle that Spidey soon joins As the fight takes to the air and heads uptown to a construction site in Central Park, Hitman fires from below, seemingly hitting Spidey! Breaking his fall with a web-line, our hero dangles from a girder…but wakes up in time to grab an approaching Vulture with his legs and make Hitman's next shot shatter his power pack! Vulture falls through some planking, while Hitman vamooses, leading Spidey to think about giving the tracer to Punisher to examine—and how he's going to explain to Flash and MJ how a "clothesless Peter Parker can be out roaming the New York streets!" -Joe Tura

Joe: Let's start with the bleak Dave Cockrum cover. If you asked me who drew it (if Dave didn't sign it that is), I would have said My Pal Sal for sure, or maybe Romita, especially when looking at the Vulture. Love how Spidey's arm interrupts the masthead, with the webbing attached to his arm, bleeding off the page. But wait, would our hero have spun such a web to his own arm? And of course, it's quite the exaggeration of the insides. Oh well, can't make everyone happy! Speaking of the insides, there's action a-plenty, makeshift laundry skills (or lack thereof), more Sha Shan shenanigans, way too many mentions of The Punisher as if we have to be reminded Hitman is a "peer," another classic Spidey villain defeated, and the frozen clothes in the web pack gag on page 11 (amazing it doesn't happen more). All in all, a quick read with solid art that seems to skimp on backgrounds, distracting lettering, and a zippy script that really needs to stop and take a breath once in a while.

My vote for most honest caption ever has to be page 2, when Archie tells us "See? Our bad guys are such blabbermouths," while the most unnecessary caption ever is four pages later when we're told "The Punisher is a full-time vigilante and a sometime ally of Spidey." Really, Arch? Come on, even my dogs knew who the Punisher was in 1977!

This month's letters page is rife with fans writing in with their suggestions for a new moniker for the page. Frankly, I didn't like any of them, but then again it's a couple years too late for my vote.

Favorite sound effect is the final page top panel, as Spidey deftly dodges dastardly gunfire from Hitman and we hear a unique "VRIIP!" But I'm not sure if that was the bullets flying through the air, or Spidey's costume ripping.

Chris: Overall, the story has become much more satisfying that the forced pairing of Namor with von Doom.  The only constancy involves the shifting and drifting of alliances and loyalties.  The Skull manages to alienate all possible suitors; it’s satisfying to see Doom oppose the Skull at every opportunity.  The Shroud tries to fight both Doom and the Skull, so he’s not prepared for Cap’s pragmatic approach to a temporary siding with Doom.  And by the way, could someone get Rudolfo a chair, or something?  He’s been there on the floor, wearing Doom’s (now damaged) reserve armor for an entire issue now.  

The Mighty Thor 258
"If the Stars Be Made of Stone!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby, John Verpoorten, and John Romita

A huge spacecraft known as the Bird of Prey is manned by a crew of intelligent humanoid animals, and captained by none other than Thor's old nemesis, the Grey Gargoyle. Their mission: enslave or kill those they encounter. Without realizing the Starjammer, which swiftly approaches, houses our Asgardian friends, they attack. The warriors find the humanoids to be fairly easy to hold off, until their leader appears. Other than Thor, they don't know of the Gargoyle's power to turn others to stone, thus...

Knowing Thor is a greater threat, the villain threatens to smash Sif's rock form into rubble; what else can a Thunder God do but surrender? When the one hour stone spell lifts, our friends find themselves shackled with neck braces that smite them at any sign of resistance, so it's off to the furnaces they go. The Asgardians meet some of the many other slaves, and one of them, Gormok, once a chairman on planet Centuri-Six, tells them of the brutal capture of his people, a fate similar to many of the others here. Back in Asgard, Balder leads a lengthy war council, as he and his men prepare for the eventual attack of the silent army that waits outside the city gates. The leaders of the army finally show themselves, smashing the gates to the city open: the Enchantress and the Executioner! Back on the Bird of Prey, the Recorder has analyzed  the neck shackles and found a way to remove them. He promptly does so with his fellows, just in time for the Gargoyle to appear. Mutiny they call it! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I had my reservations about the Grey Gargoyle's appearance at the end of last issue, but it was quickly dispelled by the next chapter in this mini-epic Odin-quest. As yet we don't have the whole picture of why and how the Gargoyle has become the latest world enslaver to travel space, but it's intriguing enough to satisfy for now. The Bird of Prey seems to be somewhat larger than when it first appeared, with a resemblance to a troll cavern at its core. I like the Recorder's silence motto, when we realize he's actually been at work finding a way to free them from the electric shackles. Perhaps most exciting are the going-ons in Asgard, as the cold tension of the silent army is finally broken. And who better than the Enchantress and the Executioner to be a perfect matchup for Balder and Karnilla. I'd almost forgotten that Odin's absence is the reason all those events are taking place!

Chris: The Buscema + DeZuniga art looks much better to me; either I’ve simply grow accustomed to the style, or it truly has improved over the course of recent issues.  Thor’s uncharacteristic surrender is an obvious choice for a highlight (p 11), as is the large-panel view of the cosmic furnace (p 17), so allow me to present two other character-moments: Volstagg’s disdainful reaction to the possibility of engaging in “menial labor” (p 19, first pnl); Hogun’s stare-down of a bullying overseer (p 22, pnl 5), a moment of defiance that helps to spark de rev-ah-loo-shan, mon.  

The Recorder’s analytical announcement that he’s determined how to free himself from the control collar might provide the best overall moment in the story; after hours of scheming and plotting by the Asgardians, it turns out – once again – that the simplest solution is the best one. 

Matthew: Since last issue, I’d been pondering the apparent anomaly of the Gargoyle tooling around the cosmos when the penny suddenly dropped, and I remembered him being fired off into space at the end of my beloved MTU #13 (September 1973).  “Holy cats,” says I, “can it really be that long since we saw him?,” and without peeking ahead to #259 for the explanation, I have confirmed that it was indeed his most recent appearance—which, come to think of it, was also written by a certain Mr. Wein!  The DeZunigization bothers me less on these Animal Planet refugees and other aliens, of whom I have no preconceived notions; with the Buscema grandeur more in evidence overall, and the Executioner and Enchantress on tap, all is right with the world.

The Tomb of Dracula 55
"Requiem for a Vampire!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

The chess match between Anton Lupeski and Count Dracula continues, both moving pieces into place for the inevitable confrontation. Dracula reveals to Lupeski that he is a vampire, not Satan (little knowing that Anton is well aware of the Count's deceit), and that he is ready to transform the followers into an army that will help him rule the world. For his part, Lupeski has thirty silver bullets manufactured and will be handing them over to the vampire hunters, using the group to move Dracula out of the picture and ensuring that he, himself, will become the Grand Poobah. Dracula's son is brought before the followers and Lupeski announces that the baby's name is Janus and that the tyke will soon become "the new messiah" for the church. In private, Domini relates to Dracula the events that brought her to the church and the abuses she had to put up with once she was accepted. Meanwhile, Dracula's slave overhears Lupeski's plot and wings to his master to inform him. Since Drac is out, Domini receives the message and bundles up her new baby, heading out into the snowstorm to Anton's lair, where she tells Lupeski that she has some very "interesting" things to discuss with him. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Lately, it seems that this series is always one installment away from spilling the beans. The last pages leave you wanting more and believing you'll get it if you're just a little patient with Marv. I'm hoping the pay-off is coming quickly because, although the whole arc is fascinating, I'm more interested in where the Count goes from here. No matter what, his "life" has been altered and thrust down a one-way street. Domini's background scene is riveting but it's a tad too wordy, as if we've suddenly been teleported into one of those expository scenes in The Guiding Light. Two bits of dialogue made me laugh: one, the awkwardly worded "Lupeski -- who truly believes that I don't know he realizes I am not Satan -- but a vampire" reads like an outtake from an Abbott and Costello skit and the Count's admission, "Questions, always questions plague me," had me spouting "Amen to dat, brudda!" out loud.

Mark: Nothing wrong with this one, but Marv definitely gears down here after the big events of the last two installments. More quiet and contemplative, with nary a drop of blood shed/fed, but the Count's domestic tranquility still threatened by Lupeski's treachery, now revolving around Drac and Domini's baby boy, whose alien, John Boehner complexion our wise old bat has realized resembles the "angel" he killed, couple months back.

We get more of Domini's tortured-by-Satan-cult past, while strict loyalty to her hubby again comes into question. Howard H. displays minor heroics, without his trademark sarcastic patter. 

And we end with the Count, basking in wife and new child, thinking he may have finally found peace, proving such delusions extend to the undead. 

Chris: A strangely quiet, contemplative issue.  We’ve heard so little from the all-important, life-giving Domini, that I’ve had little choice but to be suspicious of her, sitting there with her Mona Lisa smile – what’s she up to?  And then, with this issue, she shares her gratitude and devotion with Drac (sheesh – once you get her started talking, I guess it’s hard for her to stop, hmm?).  So no, I don’t know what to think – there are plenty of forces now on the march against Drac, but Domini doesn’t seem to number among them.  So, that’s proof, I suppose, that after all this time with this character and this title, Marv still knows how to play with our expectations, and surprise us.  

Matthew: If anyone cares, Requiem for a Vampire was a 1971 film by the inimitable Jean Rollin.

What If? 2
"What If the Hulk Had Always Had Bruce Banner's Brain?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe and Tom Sutton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and Joe Rosen
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Joe Sinnott

Hulk gets away from a riot squad and leaps off to be alone, watched by The Watcher, who recounts Hulk's gamma bomb-induced origin and ponders what would have happened if the brutish creature had retained the brain of his human form. The now-intelligent being and sidekick Rick Jones scare off soldiers, stop spy Igor from stealing the gamma formula and, just as Betty Ross arrives on the scene, are met by Russian baddie The Gargoyle. But when the diminutive one's weapon has no effect on Bruce-Hulk, the gentle green giant talks him into going home and working towards peace. The sun rises, bringing a change back to Bruce Banner, and soon he and Betty fall somewhat instantly in love. Changing into the Hulk at night, they meet up with Betty's father General Thunderbolt Ross, whose anger quickly turns into admiration and acceptance. Bruce and Betty marry, building a Hulk-proof home and living a blissful life in the Southwest desert, when one day Bruce gets a call from Reed Richards. Leaping to New York, he learns the Fantastic Four is in need of his brains to help cure Ben Grimm of being The Thing, using gamma radiation—and it works causing the breakup of the FF! On the way home, evil god Loki tries to trick the green creature into causing destruction, but his gentleness not only saves lives, but causes the non-formation of the Avengers.

Not long after, Reed asks Bruce to move to the Baxter Building in New York for a joint research project, and soon Dr. Charles Xavier also joins them, creating the top-secret Psychotron, as well as a version of Xavier's Cerebro that detects all super-powered beings. Suddenly Cerebro overloads—because the mightiest of all, Galactus, has arrived on Earth, having ironically felt the "powerful emanations of [their] power-seeking apparatus." Tossing aside the powerful Hulk, as well as Reed and Charles, Galactus stands defiant (with hands on hips too!). The three brilliant men attach themselves to the Psychotron, three years in the making, and when they activate it, it creates a large yellow being who calls himself The X-Man! This super-powered entity smashes the curious Ben Grimm, then heads up to the roof to mentally battle Galactus to a standstill, saving the Earth without The Watcher having to intervene. The X-Man topples, leaving behind "three mortal champions," all now without any powers! To make matters worse, Ben has changed back into The Thing, stronger than ever, and he leaps off with hostility worthy of the real Hulk, and Thunderbolt Ross has found his nemesis. As the Watcher says, the "Cosmic Scale" must remain balanced. --Joe Tura

Joe: With Bruce Banner's brain, Hulk has a power he's never had in all these years—the power of the handshake! Gargoyle, General Ross, Thing—they all fall prey to this deadly power! And he passes it on to Reed Richards and Charles Xavier! Is there no end to the danger this handshake thing can infect the world with???  I almost expected the X-Man to shake Galactus' hand and make nice-nice instead of driving him away with mental powers. Why is my lesson starting off so silly? This whole book is ridiculous! Of course, 10-year-old Prof. Joe thought it was cool, but Old Man Prof. Joe spent most of the rediscovering of What If? #2 shaking his head in disbelief. I almost feel like Hulk on page 7 when he says "It makes Hulk's head hurt—worse than when a whole building falls on it!"

Seriously, it's as if Roy is messing with us, doing a Not Brand Echh version of Hulk, but at least he was smart enough to get one of the most classic Hulk artists to draw his bruce-foolery with Trimpe. So many goofy ideas, each one raising the bar higher with every page. It's believable that Bruce-Hulk would be smarter and "gentler," and possibly even that Gen. Ross would accept his future son-in-law. And, yes the Hulk-proof house looks cool, but once Betty says "Here you are, dear…your favorite…Mixed Greens!," I was out. From then on we get a huge Hulk-proof phone; the Fantastic Four breaking up; the non-creation of The Avengers because Hulk deftly lands on train tracks; Sue telling Betty, "Bloomingdale's give a special discount to superheroes' wives!"; Reed still wearing his FF duds without the 4 and it looks sorta dumb; Charles Xavier showing up to join in secretive work instead of forming his school for mutants; Ben and Alicia making a cameo to drop baby news with Betty lurking like a snooper; Galactus letting us know he didn't need the Silver Surfer because of the powerful gizmo the three scientists built; and the sheer stupidity of the X-Man. And once Thing leaps off in Hulk-like fashion, we realize half of the Marvel Universe has been decimated in this alternate reality, including the famous Ultimate Nullifier, because who needs that when you have the X-Man. Even the very end, with Watcher pontificating "For every gain, there must be a loss, blah blah" is borderline comical. Did Roy dream this one up as a five year old? Maybe I shouldn't be re-reading these; it's going to ruin one of my favorite titles… What If…Prof. Joe actually did not like a book he loved as a kid? Now that's a story for the ages!

Funny to see the letters page, "Why Not?" contain so many suggestions from fans on what stories to run—and how many actually graced the pages of this title. One submission is from Mark Gruenwald of New York, NY, who later becomes editor, writer and fill-in artist on What If?, among a zillion other Marvel titles, most notably Spider-Woman, Marvel Two-In-One, Quasar and Squadron Supreme, before tragically succumbing to a heart attack in 1996 at the way-too-young age of 43.

Matthew: This feels redundant after the “What if?” time-travel story six months ago in Hulk #204, drawn and plotted by Trimpe; further undercutting its inventiveness, we’ve had countless stories in his own mag where he had Bruce’s brain, and the new stuff doesn’t kick in until page 14.  When it does, we’re on the Cheeseball Express, the speed and sappiness with which “Brulk” goes the hearts-and-flowers route with the Gargoyle and Rosses being downright embarrassing, as is the breezy way Roy “uncreates” the Avengers and X-Men.  Desirable though it might seem to have such a story done by one of the protag’s signature artists, in this case that means Herb—done no huge favors by Sutton—with all that it entails, e.g., his utter inability to draw a proper Thing.

Scott: Actually, I always liked the early issues of What If? It was fun seeing alternative histories of some of my favorite characters. However, after a time, the title got a little weird and went off the rails. This is one of the better issues, if for no other reason than it being written and drawn by a relative A-Team. Later issues would be done by second and third stringers and become more abstract. This issue follows a lot of the Hulk's first issue faithfully in dialog and then goes off on its own. It's a fun issue, if not very deep, with Trimpe putting in some wacky pencils. He had a habit of making the Hulk "wink," or at least close one eye. I never understood that. It's also hard to believe there would never be an Avengers and that the Gargoyle would be so easily swayed. And, I agree with Prof. Matthew, Trimpe can't draw the Thing worth a damn...

Mark: Roy the Boy serves up a second alt-world toy (not an "imaginary tale," for those into hair-splitting terminological debates over a distinction without a difference), to wit, "What If the Hulk Had Always Had Bruce Banner's Brain (or, "...Had the Brain of Bruce Banner," if you prefer the cover's version. Two! Two! Two Titles in One! Who says this ain't the Marvel Age of Double Value?).

Well, our own Professor Matthew for one, who complains, "..we've had countless stories in (the Hulk's) own mag where he had Bruce's brain..." Perhaps, but not everyone reads the Jade Giant religiously, my esteemed colleague, and even a non-Hulkophile such as myself feels safe in asserting - sans any rigorous research - that Mean Green has never always had Banner's brain.    

More hair-splitting? Sure, but the larger point is that in a fictive universe with an ever-burgeoning history, expecting any new version of old stories to be 99 and 44/100% pure of "re-told tale taint" may well be an impossibly high standard.

On to our story, where the template of faithfully recreating an origin story for a couple of pages is tweaked only slightly, here with minor variations in dialogue. Rick is rescued, Gamma bomb goes boom, Bruce Hulks out, the Watcher appears to lay out the book's multiverse premise, and we're off and running. Check the synopsis for all the details.

As to the detours that follow, first, I must again disagree with the meritorious Prof Matthew. The "...speed and sappiness with which 'Brulk' goes the hearts-and-flowers route with the Gargoyle and Rosses..." wasn't "downright embarrassing," but, rather, Roy efficiently clearing the decks for the tale he wanted to tell, a Mensa team-up trio of Banner, Reed Richards, and Professor X, on hand to battle Galactus as the fused-into-one "X-Man." Their combined brain power sends Big G packing, with the ironic twist that the previously cured Ben Grimm takes the collateral damage hit, turning back into the Thing, now sporting our Hulk's bad brain, thus making life worth living for monster hunting Thunderbolt Ross. 

My complaint with the story, minor though it may be, is in the end result: subbing in one misunderstood monster for another. But this is a matter of taste, not an auctorial fail, and it's understandable that, on a newly launched title, Roy and the on-deck writers would at first stick fairly close to stone tablet Marvel mythology.

Herb Trimpe was the obvious artist for this one (offering up a great two page spread, after the splash), but - and on this me and Matthew agree - not only can't Herb draw the Thing, but the rest of the Fabs are unrecognizably awful as well.

So while What If's second installment isn't a masterpiece, it is an entertaining romp and, to nick a line from The Rutles, a legend that will last a lunchtime.  

Matthew: I hope I at least get some points for "Brulk"...

Chris: I realize Roy’s trying out a new thing here, so I’m going to make an extra effort to avoid needless criticism; all I’ll say is that Roy takes awhile to get to the speculative part, as first we have the Hulk bashing around the LAPD before he retreats to the desert, followed by a thorough recounting of the gamma bomb test that started it all, when I think a few carefully-selected panels would’ve been sufficient – I mean, how many times do we have to recreate Banner’s fateful exchange with Rick as he’s parked his jalopy in the blast-zone site?  

Roy then goes in directions that I don’t think any us might’ve anticipated, as the Hulk’s retention of Banner’s personality results in the breakup of one established team, followed by the prevention of two other (highly lucrative franchise) teams from ever coming together.  Isn’t it strange that Reed continues to wear his team uniform, only with the “4” removed – did he not possess any other molecularly-unstable attire?  Very clever, also, to weave in the landscape-altering first appearance of Galactus.  I’m not sure about the resolution, though – instead of stripping Banner of his powers, wouldn’t it have been interesting, instead, to have a maddened Thing face off against a rational Hulk?  
The pairing of Trimpe with Sutton is an odd choice.  The results have their high points (such as the emergence of the triple-brained X-Man, p 39), and I like how they depict the facial expressions of a rationally-minded Hulk (e.g. a surreal moment of the Hulk chatting on the phone, p 26 pnl 2), but there also are numerous moments when faces turn out too cartoony-looking (e.g. poor Thing, p 27 pnl 4).  

The X-Men 104
"The Gentleman's Name is Magneto"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by Dave Cockrum

The X-Men acquire a hovercraft to take them to Muir Island, off the northern Scottish coast.  Moira MacTaggert had left Jamie Madrox to monitor the island when she came to New York to assist Professor Xavier; now, she has not heard from him, and fears he might require assistance.  As they approach the island, the hovercraft abruptly flies apart.  Once the team reaches the shore, their stretch of beach tears up from the ground, and flies toward the outer wall of Moira’s lab!  The X-ers blast the wall (with sonic scream, lightning, steel fists, adamantium claws, and … well, Kurt kinda hangs back at this moment) and crash thru, confronted there by the magnetic mutant might of Magneto!  The arch-foe toys with the team, as he uses the metal in Wolverine’s body to dash him into a wall, the steel of Colossus’ skin to fling him into the sea, and a magnetic field to turn Storm’s lightning bolts back at her.  For Nightcrawler and Banshee, Magneto is more creative: he reads the fluctuations in magnetic force to judge where a teleporting Nightcrawler should reappear, and buries him under debris; then, he takes thousands of ferrous particles from the wreckage to encase Banshee.  Meanwhile, Scott and Moira have landed in the Blackbird; they locate and rouse an unconscious Jamie, who laments that Magneto is sure to kill the X-Men.  He (hurriedly) describes how Eric the Red (along with Havok and Polaris) had arrived on the island and restored Magneto to full adulthood; Magneto was enraged at having been reduced to a toddler state, and swore vengeance against Xavier.  Scott immediately concludes that Prof X is in danger, and that the team should abandon the fight and return to New York without delay.  Scott unleashes a full-force optic blast, which Magneto is barely able to repulse; while their enemy is on the defensive, Scott gathers the team and rushes them back to the Blackbird; his concern is that, while Magneto has kept all the X-Men occupied, Prof X has been left vulnerable to a possible attack by Eric the Red.  At Jean Grey’s Greenwich Village apartment, Jean (now home from the hospital) and Prof X are greeting Jean’s parents, while outside the window, Eric the Red is poised to strike.  -Chris Blake

Chris: I didn’t want to interfere with the brisk pace by cluttering up the synopsis, but now I can describe for you how Chris & Dave somehow wedged plot elements for three different (undoubtedly intertwined) storylines onto the last page, with all three potentially poised for resolution next issue.  In addition to Eric & Co getting into firing range, we also see Princess Lilandra arrive in earth orbit, while two previously-unseen characters aboard a “starjammer” discuss the “nine stars moving into alignment,” and the possibility of the emperor opening a dimensional gate, which (somehow) will mean “the end of everything.”  Sounds serious.  I for one would dearly like to know how Eric has secured control over Havok and Polaris – that’s a story in itself.  But the big payoff is bound to come from the connection Eric has to the Princess Lilandra, who’s trying to bring her ship thru earth’s atmosphere while avoiding photon torpedoes fired by a pursuing imperial cruiser (no easy task, that).  So, with all the great action (once again) in this issue, it seems like we’re just getting warmed up!
Speaking of Claremont planning ahead, we have tiny, fleeting references to two characters who have been contained  on Muir Island: Dragonfly, of Count Nefaria’s Ani-Men, who now has escaped (p 27, last panel), and, more ominously, a “Mutant X,” who is stirring behind a door that reads “Security Alert – Danger – Seal Broken” (p 30, last pnl).  I don’t know whether Claremont had immediate plans for Dragonfly; the GCD tells us that she had no subsequent appearances during the Bronze era.  As for Mutant X, well, Claremont says only “that’s a story for another time,” and he’s not kidding – we don’t revisit Mutant X until around X-M #125, toward the end of our tenure with MU.
You got that Cockrum’s cover is a reference to the historic X-Men #1, right?  Okay, that was easy.  Cockrum’s art continues to excel, both in the big spots (Nightcrawler buried under flying debris, p 22; Magneto resisting optic blasts, but still visible behind a wavy shield, p 26), and in small, character-defining spots (Colossus glares over the shoulder of the cheating hovercraft owner, p 2 pnl 2; Cyclops looks grimly ahead and tries to ignore Wolverine, who continues to protest about dodging a fight, p 30 pnl 4).  Cockrum’s dramatic, full-page reveal of Magneto on p 11 has additional personal significance, though, since our very own Prof Matthew once created a Xerox copy of the page to present to me; I still have it around here, somewhere.  
Matthew: I forget how—I suspect future Professor Chris was involved—but in a prior phase of my so-called career, I think I had a color copy of Magneto’s page-11 reveal displayed in my office.  Typically, it’s not only the stunning Cockrum/Grainger art that still endears it to me, but also Claremont’s pulse-raising dialogue, suggesting that although they’ve already faced Sentinel and Juggernaut, this is the new team’s true baptism of fire.  The battle is the usual perfect fusion of action, tension, and characterization; their strategic withdrawal is eminently logical but clearly galling, especially for Wolverine; the mystery of Eric the Red continues to intrigue us; and the seeds planted for future stories (e.g., Mutant X, the Starjammers, Lilandra) are promising indeed. 

Addendum:  Hah!  Typical of me to remember things all jumbled up; seems Professor Chris was involved, but as a recipient, not the giver.  I must've been working my way through re-reads at the time and been so impressed with that full-pager that I wanted to share it.  If nothing else, it proves that even twentysomething years ago—in the crucible of Penguin USA that brought me and Professors Tom, Joe, Gilbert, and Chris together—it was our destiny to work on this blog together!  Destiny I tells ya!

Also This Month

Crazy #24

Kid Colt Outlaw #217
Marvel Classics Comics #16
Marvel Double Feature #21 (Final Issue)
Marvel Tales #78
Spidey Super-Stories #22
< Two-Gun Kid #136 (Final Issue)


The Rampaging Hulk 2
Cover Art by Ken Barr

“And Then … The X-Men”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala
Letters by Irving Watanabe

“Scream, the Shrike”
Story by John Warner
Art by Bob Brown and Rudy Nebres
Letters by Jim Novak
Leaving Rick Jones and Bereet behind, a hungry Hulk leaps away from Rome and lands in the Swiss Alps in “And Then … The X-Men.” Suddenly, he is attacked by a giant robot that ultimately self-destructs — the green goliath transforms back into Bruce Banner who collapses from exhaustion. Back near the Vatican, Rick and his strange alien companion begin to attract a crowd. Bereet transforms into a nun to make herself less conspicuous.

Meanwhile, in New York’s Westchester County, the young X-Men — Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Marvel Girl and Iceman — are training in the Danger Room. While Iceman’s juvenile overconfidence nearly dooms the team, they manage to survive the exercise. Professor X telepathically calls them to his office and projects a mental image of a robot rampaging through Paris until it mysteriously explodes. The Professor explains that the being is not a true mutant but a mutated variation on whatever its natural species may be. But since the event is mutant-related, the telepath sends his young charges to France to investigate, giving Cyclops a device to help track the radio signals controlling the mechanical menaces.

Underneath the City of Lights, in a secret genetics research base, a pair of Krylorian scientists bemoans the fact that their robotic creations continue to self-destruct, concluding that the humans they are mutating into the metal giants are too weak for the process. They ultimately decide to use a member of the Krylorian race itself as their next subject. In Rome, Bereet uses a techno-art creation called the Organically Molecular Shutter-Shunter to transport themselves away and locate the Hulk.

After flying across the Atlantic in their private jet, the X-Men set down in Paris, splitting up to search the city for any mutations. The Angel soars over the countryside surrounding the city, spotting Bruce Banner. When the famished scientist collapses into a lake, the mutant soars down to rescue him, completely confused when he instead pulls the Hulk free from the water. Jade Jaws leaps away and lands in an outdoor market, shoving loaves of bread into his gaping mouth.

The X-Men soon arrive and try to draw the Hulk upwards and away from the panicked citizens: the Angel flies towards the Eiffel Tower and the angry monster bounds after the winged warrior. As the Hulk and the uncanny heroes battle on the top of the tower, Bereet and Rick materialize on the platform as well.

While Jones tries to defuse the situation, the latest Krylorian robot appears: the X-Men turn away from the Hulk to focus on the new threat. Jade Jaws refuses to join the battle until a fragment of stone clunks off his head. Enraged, he leaps at the alien automaton, which, even though created from supposedly sturdier stock, soon self-destructs like his bionic brothers. Cyclops uses the Professor’s tracking device to locate the source of the controlling signal. The Hulk smashes his way into the Krylorian’s research base — the installation collapses, killing all the aliens inside. The X-Men depart as Bereet transforms into the form of an earth woman and Rick helps Banner to his feet.

At 33-pages, this is a rather silly romp through Marvel’s untold past. I guess it’s supposed to be the first time that the original X-Men encountered the Hulk, but keep in mind that this relatively new series is basically revisionist history. In fact, while I didn’t mention it during my review of the premiere issue, Bereet herself claims that the stories in this magazine never really took place during her appearance in The Incredible Hulk #269 (March 1982), saying that they were simply “entertainments” for the people on her homeworld or some such nonsense.

It seems that Doug Moench is striving for a farcical tone, but most of the humor rests on the Hulk’s childlike violence so it falls a bit flat. The Krylorians are a bunch of bungling buffoons so it’s a wonder how they are so technologically advanced. Again, it you had a copyright on the word “smash,” Doug would have made you a millionaire. The art takes a bit of a step back from the first issue. Simonson’s cartoonish Hulk seems to change size and appearance from panel to panel while Alcala relies on brushes and washes instead of his usual crisp, black lines. It’s still rather enjoyable though.

“Scream, the Shrike” continues the confusing adventures of the immortal Ulysses Bloodstone. The 40-foot monster Goram trudges underwater with the fragment of the Bloodgem until he becomes transfixed by a mysterious light. A futuristic submarine appears and two divers make off with the gem. Meanwhile, Bloodstone, Brad Carter and Samantha Eden arrive on Bloodstone Island in the mercenary’s Sub-Skimmer only to discover that Goram is now there as well searching for more “glowing stones.” Ulysses activates one of the island’s defenses, metallic and electrified tentacles that wrap around the creature and begin to sap its strength. Suddenly, the Killer Shrike flies down and frees the reptilian behemoth. As Bloodstone and the Shrike begin to battle, Goram dives into the ocean and make his escape — Brad follows in the Sub-Skimmer. Meanwhile, over the Atlantic, a commercial airliner with Dr. Oliver Quinn on board, is attacked by a huge flying manta-ray. Back on the island, after a furious battle, Bloodstone manages to slam the Shrike’s talon bracelets together, overloading his powerpacks and knocking him unconscious. Miles away, the Sub-Skimmer is caught by a tractor beam and Brad finds himself in some kind of underwater city.

Bleech. Once again, John Warner writes as if he assumes everyone is completely familiar with Bloodstone’s backstory so I feel like I’ve walked into the middle of this story. Bloodstone has an island? And what’s with the Killer Shrike and The Conspiracy he keeps brattling on about? The Shrike doesn’t feel like an out-and-out villain at this point and he will actually kick around the Marvel universe for years to come, tangling with Spider-Man on more than one occasion.

I must apologize, since I recently realized that each issue of The Rampaging Hulk also came with a variety of text pieces 
— they are not included on my electronic editions. This one included “But Will It Thoom in Poughkeepsie...?” by John Warner, the 5-page “X-Men X-pose,” written by Ralph Macchio and illustrated by Dave Cockrum, as well as a one-page Bloodstone illustration by the great Marshall Rogers — would like to see what that one looked like. -Tom Flynn

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 18
Cover Art by Dan Adkins

“The Battle of the Towers”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“A Handbook Shall Be Born”
Text by Fred Blosser           
“Crimson Blades of Dark Vendhya”
Text by Fred Blosser     
“A Rattle of Bones”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin

“Swords and Scrolls”

Thomas, Buscema and Alcala pile 34 more pages on their adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle” with “The Battle of the Towers.” According to the Swords and Scrolls letters pages, the story was supposed to have been completely wrapped up here, but Alfredo — bogged down by his work on Kull the Destroyer — was unable to deliver the last 30 pages so things will instead conclude in issue 19.

Conan watches in amazement as the Black Seers whirl back to their stronghold in the accursed mountain called Yimsha, the devi Yasmina in tow. The Cimmerian mounts his horse and continues on his quest to find his Afghuli warriors — they will help with the rescue. When he spots his men in a valley below, he shouts a greeting. But his former tribesmen unleash a torrent of arrows, believing that Conan is a traitor, somehow responsible for the deaths of his seven sub-chiefs by the hands of the 
Khemsa. The barbarian rears away and races back towards Yimsha.

The warrior soon comes across the crumbled body of Khemsa, unbelievably still clinging to life after his fall down the mountain. Before he finally expires, the bruised and bloodied sorcerer gives Conan his waistbelt, weaved by a Stygian priest, and tells him to follow the golden vein through the abyss and break the crystal globe with the four golden pomegranates. Continuing on, the Cimmerian then runs into Kerim Shah and his men: the Turian spy is also searching for Yasmina for his own gain. But instead of battling, they agree to join forces and save the devi together.

Inside Yimsha, Yasmina awakens on a velvet covered dais. Across the room sits the Master of the Black Seers, a solemn robed figure. When the devi demands to know why he killed her brother, Bhunda Chand, the king of Vendhya, the Master laughs, answering that a woman can hardly understand the motives of a seer. He then casts a spell, revealing to the devi all of her past lives. When Yasmina returns to the present, the Master approaches, his face now a hideous and decaying skull.

Outside, Conan and Kerim Shah’s troops approach the mountain, pausing before a tower held by the acolytes of the Black Seers. A snarling wolf suddenly appears, leaping and biting one of the men on the arm — the rabid beast is hacked to death. When they continue to move forward, a huge hawk swoops down, ripping open another’s jugular: Kerim kills it with an arrow. Then odd clouds appear, exploding one of the warriors when he touches it with his sword. However, volleys of arrows detonate the rest of the puffy death traps. An acolyte appears on the top of the tower and blows a large bronze horn that causes an earthquake — once again Kerim Shah ends the threat with a well-paced arrow. He does the same again when another black robed figure tries to pour a vat of molten lead down upon them.

Conan hacks down the door at the foot of the tower and spots the remaining acolytes in the distance after fleeing through the back exit. He gives chase but comes across a sheer chasm, a far drop to the valley below: he sees the dark priests running underneath a misty cloud. When one of Kerim Shah’s men accidentally falls into the mist, he spasms violently and dies. But the Cimmerian notices a golden vein running down through the haze — remembering Khemsa’s words, he safely climbs down following the vein’s path. Kerim and his followers do so as well. They soon catch up with the acolytes and a vicious swordfight ensues. At the end, only Conan, Kerim Shah and four of his men remain — it will be only six brave souls against the unholy powers of the Black Seers of Yimsha.

While I wouldn’t actually call this chapter action-packed, it certainly was violent. The gravely wounded wizard Khemsa is a horrific sight, bent and broken, his face pouring blood. The various attacks on Conan and the others when they reach the acolytes’ tower are pretty hair-raising, with the wolf being particularly nightmarish. And while the climatic fight with the acolytes only lasts one page, it is terrifically brutal. I’m not sure what point the Master of the Black Seers was making by having Yasmina relive her past lives, but it was a wonderfully illustrated three-page sequence — and we get a full-page reveal of the devi’s shapely derriere. Conan and crew have fought through many deadly labors to get this far and I’m looking forward to the conclusion next time.

Next up we have a quick, 11-page Solomon Kane tale, “A Rattle of Bones,” handled by the same creative duo that worked on Kane’s first color comic appearance in Marvel Premiere 33 and 34. Robert E. Howard’s original ran in the June 1929 issue of Weird Tales

Wandering through Germany’s Black Forest, the Puritan looks for shelter in a desolate tavern called the Cleft Skull — another traveler, a Frenchman named Gaston L’Armon is also eager for accommodations. After the strange proprietor shows them to their room, Kane and L’Armon notice that the door has a jamb but no bar. They look for one and come across a secret room that contains a skeleton chained to the wall: the Frenchman mocks the corpse and breaks the chain with his sword. When they return to their room, L’Armon draws his flintlock on Kane, revealing that he is the dreaded brigand, Gaston the Butcher. But before the Butcher can kill and rob the Puritan, the tavern owner sneaks up from behind and brains the brigand with a sword. The crazed German raises his pistol at Kane and reveals that the hidden skeleton is the remains of a sorcerer he waylaid — the Englishman will be next. But Solomon manages to push his would-be killer into the secret room and bolt the door. After muffled screaming subsides, Kane cautiously open the door: the proprietor is dead, the skeleton’s bony hands wrapped around his throat.

An effective little horror tale filled with nogoodnicks who get what they deserved, “A Rattle of Bones” is just what a backup story should be: an uncomplicated read that wraps things up in a minimum of pages. Howard Chaykin is a natural for someone like Solomon Kane since the artist relished drawing period characters. Never really looked into Chaykin’s background, so was a bit tickled to see that he got his start pasting up dialogue and adding Zip-a-Tone to Gil Kane’s Bantam graphic novel Blackmark, which was reprinted in the pages of, yes, The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian

Fred Blosser is also on hand for two different text pieces. In “A Handbook Shall Be Born,” he reviews The Annotated Guide to Robert E. Howard’s Sword & Sorcery

 by Robert Weinberg, published by Starmont House. It sounds like Weinberg gives the MU treatment to all of Howard’s stories about Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, Bran Mak Morn, Turlogh O’Brien, James Allison and Pyrrha the Argive, giving each a plot synopsis and then a critical commentary. In the article, Blosser also mentions another new book, The Marvel Comics Index: Conan and the Barbarians by George Olshevsky. Never knew these things existed: this was the second, the first covered Spider-Man and they were still being published in the 1980s. Blosser also delivers “Crimson Blades of Dark Vendhya,” another book review, this one covering Swords of Shahrazar by FAX Collector’s Editions. It gathers Howard’s three Kirby O’Donnell adventures, tales set in Central Asia a few years before World War I. Blosser claims that they are based on the writings of both Sir Richard Francis Burton and Talbot Mundy. -Tom Flynn

Fresh off of “The Mark of Kane!,” the two part “Red Shadows” adaptation for the color Marvel Premiere #33 and #34, Howard Chaykin once again illustrates Solomon Kane, this time in the black-and-white “Rattle of Bones” (listed as “A Rattle of Bones” in the Table of Contents).  

In Marvel Premiere #33, Roy Thomas wrote an INTRODUCTORY NOTE ON SOLOMON KANE that closes: “We hope you enjoyed Howie’s version—and next time, if you can get him to take typewriter in hand, we’ll ask him to explain why he sees Solomon Kane as he sees him, instead of how he’s been depicted before, both in Marvel comics and in other media.”  It does not look like this apologia, which would have made for interesting reading considering the reaction to his Kane depiction, ever came to pass.  

One irate (to put it mildly) “Swords and Scrolls” letter in Savage Sword of Conan #22 “express[es] sheer rage” at the “Rattle of Bones” art, asking, “Just where the hell did Howie Chaykin get the idea that Solomon Kane, my favorite hero and personal idol, looked like a geek from a freak show?”  Citing descriptive passages of Kane from Howard’s “Blades of the Brotherhood,” the letter-writer takes apart the “insipid” representation of Kane in a blow-by-blow paragraph: “[T]here was no mention of any gloves ... no outrageously sickening looking striped brown and blue t-shirt, no breeches with one leg cut off just below the leg in some stupid zig-zag design.  And most of all there was no mention of him walking around with one boot up halfway past the thigh while the other is rolled down below the knee.”  (Obviously these eccentric details are less noticeable and distracting in black-and-white than in color.)  

He then turns his attention to Chaykin’s artwork in Marvel Premiere , saying how “I could not help the feeling of hatred I felt for you when I first read the Marvel Premiere version of ‘Red Shadows.’  A feeling that was only augmented by this travesty.”  The letters page editors admit “you may well have a point; as stated elsewhere, even Roy disagrees with the striped sleeves, etc., though many other Howardophiles seem to have liked them more than thee or me.”  They are, however, a bit taken back by the letter-writer’s “rage” and “hatred,” particularly the fact that he outrageously addresses the Marvel staff “Dear Murderers.”  As this issue’s contents page says, “Letters, letters, and more letters – all etched in ivory and dipped in blood”!  

Thomas, again in Marvel Premiere #33 , provides the background about how this radical reinterpretation came about: “Howie...had a few reservations about the precious incarnations of Solomon Kane...  Our outspoken artist felt that a whole new visual concept was called for.  And, though I’ve enjoyed the versions of Messrs. Gan, Zeck, Weiss, Reese, et al. in their various ways, I agreed with him that [it] might just be the right time to experiment with him.”  This issue’s “Swords and Scrolls” page asserts how Chaykin’s “third rendering of the inimitable Solomon Kane...made such a hit in Marvel’s color mags a few months back,” but that did not save this third odd rendering from being Chaykin’s final.  

While not as epic as the “Red Shadows ” adaptation “The Mark of Kane!” in which the Puritan swashbuckler follows a “master brigand” to the ends of the earth – all the way to far-flung Africa – “Rattle of Bones” is a more minor and modest effort confined to the cramped quarters of a Schwarzwald inn to which “few come twice.”  

As in “Red Shadows” (and “The Mark of Kane!”), there is another treacherous Frenchman – Le Loup last time, this time “Gaston the Butcher!”  However it is not the same superstitious Gaston from that tale, the one Kane dumped half-dead at the door of Le Loup (“the Wolf”) to whom he uttered his last words: “He looked like--like—Satannnnn…”  

This butcher named Gaston – Gaston L’Armon – does describe himself “as a wolf in this Black Forest-- and my wolf brothers have feasted well on all who lay in my tavern,” making him sound like one who runs with Le Loup’s “gang of cutthroats.”  Either that, or a werewolf like in “The Silver Beast Beyond Torkertown” from Savage Sword of Conan #14.  (Then again, the tavern-keep in “The Right Hand of Doom,” in Savage Sword of Conan #13, describes Kane as “a man more dangerous than a wolf!”)  But this story’s Gaston is neither bandit nor wolf-man, and the more potent villain of the piece, locked away in an ossuary of a room at the Cleft Skull Tavern, is the remains of “a sorcerer ... a dead magician ... from Russia!”  

The Torkertown “wolf-demon” attacks in a tavern, and “The Right Hand of Doom” features a necromancer in a tavern – inns and watering holes are sinister places in the temperate Puritan’s world!  For what it is worth, a reader in Savage Sword of Conan #22 writes in the letters column that Kane “does virtually nothing but hang around while others act,” an accusation that echoes Professor Flynn’s observation about “The Right Hand of Doom” (in Savage Sword of Conan #13) when he comments, “Solomon Kane is always an interesting character — even if he is basically an observer in this case.”  Kane is no drunkard, but perhaps underlit public houses have a slightly sedative effect on the savage swordsman.  

Page 44 sets the stage with a portion of Fred Blosser’s biographical essay “The Trail of Solomon Kane,” here “freely adapted” and informing us that “Kane return[ed] to continental Europe [from Africa in ‘The Mark of Kane!’] on a Portuguese ship and travels for a time through Germany’s Black Forest.”  It seems Marvel is intent on connecting all the dots of Kane’s wanderings, though that did not stop them from violating continuity when adapting “The Hills of the Dead” before “Red Shadows,” Kane’s first published exploit which was supposed to be Kane’s first Africa adventure.  The effort seems hardly worth it – Howard, after all, leaped back and forth in Conan’s career as he wrote those famous yarns.  

Adapted from the short story of the same name which first saw publication in Weird Tales (June 1929), “Rattle of Bones” is definitively available today in Del Rey’s The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, a collection drawn from Howard’s original, untouched manuscripts.  Elsewhere, this Chaykin-Thomas adaptation has been reprinted by Dark Horse in The Saga of Solomon Kane.  

All in all, “Rattle of Bones” is a respectable little ghost story to be told at Halloween around a midnight campfire, one that will hold readers over until Marvel’s monumental three-part return to the Slave Coast, “Moon of Skulls,” starting in Savage Sword of Conan #34.  

But not before the next Black Forest story, the REH fragment adaptation “The Castle of the Devil”!  

—Professor Gilbert