Wednesday, April 16, 2014

November 1973 Part One: Captain America Puts Down the Yellow Claw!


The Amazing Spider-Man 126
"The Kangaroo Bounces Back!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney

“Web-slinging” to his morning classes, Spider-Man is shouted down by Lombardo and Carter, two advertising hucksters who want him to build a Spider-Mobile for their clients, Corona Motors. But our hero turns down the “dumb” idea and swings off, just as old foe The Kangaroo watches from an alley below! The audacious Aussie is accosted by creepy Jonas Harrow, who has an “interesting proposal” for him. Arriving on campus, Peter Parker gets a talking to from Prof. Warren and gives Mary Jane the cold shoulder, only to arrive back at his pad to a “rent due” notice. In Harrow’s lab, the wild-eyed weirdo experiments on the Kangaroo, attaching wires to his nerve endings and steel apparatus on his hands and feet. With increased strength and leaping ability, the jumping joey takes off after Spider-Man, who’s fresh from a meeting with Carter and Lombardo where he changes his mind for a thousand dollar advance. Spidey and Kangaroo battle on a rooftop until the blonde buffoon’s head starts telling him to leap off. A puzzled Spidey visits the Human Torch to offer a partnership with building the Spider-Mobile, while the Kangaroo is sent by Harrow to steal a radioactive isotope. Spidey rushes to the scene after hearing a news bulletin, and during the battle, the door to the room with the isotopes is smashed! Warning the Down-Under dunce of the dangerous radiation within, Spidey watches as the Kangaroo is fried, leaving Jonas Harrow to try again. In our Epilogue, MJ gets ignored when she visits Harry, who’s behind the door…holding The Green Goblin costume! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Frankenstein Monster? Werewolf By Night? Man-Thing? Nah, hands down the scariest character of 1973 is The Kangaroo. Scary because there’s no good reason to bring the bouncing baddie back, yet they did it anyway. And gave him super powers to boot! Sigh…Well, I guess that’s one reason to bring him back, as a somewhat disposable C-level villain that Jonas Harrow can tinker with, and when he’s gone no one will miss him. But in retrospect, much worse Spidey villains are yet to come in a couple of years, that’s for sure, so maybe ol’ Crocodile Dumb-dee wasn’t so bad after all. Wait, yes he was.

Matthew Bradley: The artwork remains in transition:  save for the occasional pencils (#132) or inks (#146, 151), Romita’s classic run is over, and Mooney will not become Andru’s regular embellisher until #173, although Giacoia and Hunt bring some stability starting next month.  I have less to say about Gerry’s story, for while the Kangaroo was goofy fun back in #81, his souped-up resurgence here is far less interesting, and the two-word reason why is Jonas Harrow, latest in a line of crackpot scientists who have inexplicably endured while populating this book with bottom-tier villains.  The start of the Spider-Mobile subplot brings a simultaneous smile and shudder to a seasoned reader, but the developments with Harry are clearly noteworthy.





Scott McIntyre: Oh dear Zod, could this issue be any more ridiculous? The Kangaroo? The Spider-Mobile? Kill me now. Surprisingly, the only thing that didn't make me cringe was the art. Jim Mooney is a perfect fit with Ross Andru. He gives Jonas Harrow such a sinister feel, with the shadows and his Coke bottle glasses; it really helps sell the nastiness of what he does. Had he stuck with the book, the next few years would be much more enjoyable for me. Sadly, Mike Esposito would take over and I've realized that he is the main reason why I don't enjoy Andru's work. As usual, the inker can make or break a penciller. While I never liked Andru’s layouts, his work with Mooney is among what I feel to be his best. Only John Romita compliments Ross as much. I promise, fellow faculty, that I won’t continue my Andru rants throughout his tenure (okay "promise" may be too strong a word), but I do reserve the right to carp when something really bugs me. Fret not, it won’t be too long a wait.   

Peter Enfantino: Funny how much can change in just forty years. Flash's invitation for Pete to join him and MJ for "some coke" must have seemed so innocent back then. We know better now though. I've suspended disbelief on several occasions for this title, and many more, but Reed's "situational alarm," which sifts through police transmissions and determines what's world domination and what's vagrancy is a little hard to swallow. How would that work anyway? What if Farmer John told the cops he was only shooting at a mole? Would the Three+One show up in the Fantasti-Car? I do like that Conway hasn't forgotten John Jameson, even if it's just a cameo. Incidents in the past should keep infringing on the present, I sez.


Mark Barsotti: With no more Romita to jazz up the art, we get full-frontal Ross (unobtrusively inked by Jim Mooney). Let's settle the Andru Review now and forever by unequivocally declaring that among the trio of long-tenured artists who defined Spidey's first fifteen years... Ross was one of them.

The best comes early, with Andru depicting the auto execs as Stan Lee and Roy Thomas, while G. Conway adds Marvel's 575 Madison Ave address on their business card: innocent in-joke or a critique of upper management? Peter recruiting Johnny Storm to help built the Spider-Mobile is a obvious get, granting Webhead and Torchie some hang-time without the Rube Goldberg machinations of Team-Up. Professor Warren makes an appearance; something about that guy gets my, ah, hackles up. Pete continues being douchey (a tip of the Vagisil bottle to a certain prof) to M.J., while a sweaty Harry Osborn is revealed as the one who de-Goblined his dead dad and proclaims himself heir to the pumpkin bombs. Can't put the new green genie back in the bottle, but it's been a mere four months since Norman's dirt nap. Too soon, Ger, too soon.



Peter: I'm with Professor Mark about Gerry dropping the ball in his need to find a Green Goblin in record time. For some reason, my nostalgic brain remembered that it was quite a few more issues before Harry took over the family business but there he is, in blazing color on the final page, all sweaty and Osborn-ish. The memory may have played tricks with the timing but there's no way the next couple years worth of ASM will be a disappointment. Right? Right?


Scott: Peter gives Flash and MJ the brush, which is fitting considering Flash's insensitivity and MJ's recent bitchiness. I appreciate how Peter is being permitted his grief and isn't letting it go too quickly. That is about the only thing worth complimenting here, story wise. Even a lame villain like Kangaroo would be halfway tolerable without the whole Spider-Mobile thing. It smells like a plug for a Mattel toy, the kind they used to advertise the same way they pushed Hostess Snack Cakes in the back of the books. Spidey agrees to do all the development and building of the car for a ridiculously tiny amount of money (this is rectified later). And would Corona Motors really leave everything to the guy they signed to do endorsements? It seems more like they'd have the car designed and get Spider-Man to sign off and do the publicity spots. Also, he has a point: he’s wanted in connection to Norman Osborn’s death. Why would you ask a guy like this to shill your product? At least going to Johnny Storm for help is a logical move, but splitting the paltry thousand bucks 50/50 will be cutting back on the rent payments. All of this leads up to the most interesting page of the issue: the finale with Harry now truly around the bend. From here the story arc will begin to build momentum, but it’s a shame Jim Mooney's fine work was wasted on this dog of an issue.




Joe: The Kangaroo aside, this is still an issue packed with a little bit of everything. Some short action, some creepy mad scientist-ness, some intrigue and suspense, some soap opera sappiness and another crazy day in the life of Peter Parker. Andru and Mooney do a decent job with Conway’s script, and Spidey fans rejoice. This month’s favorite sound effect: “SOCKO!”, the middle one of a trio that includes “WOK!” and the ever-popular “BUNT!”, all during the initial dustup between Spidey and the leaping lummox (That one’s for you, Prof. Flynn!).

Mark: The less said the better about Kangaroo round two and the baleful ministrations of Dr. X-Ray Specs, Jonas Harrow, who just happens upon the aggrieved, dreaming-of-revenge K-roo at the exact moment Spidey swings by. Dr. X's master plan culminates with Hoppy charging into a room of deadly, unshielded nuclear isotopes, and then he blames the bungler from down under for his own death! It was fun seeing K-roo disintegrate, and if we've suffered the last of him then slogging through this ish was worth it.

Alas, he'll no doubt one day return as Ollie the Atomic-Aussie.

Amazing Adventures 21
Killraven/War of the Worlds in
"The Mutant Slayers!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Herb Trimpe and Yolande Pijcke

We open on Killraven fighting for his life against the Warlord’s slaves, with the arrogant villain and the sultry Carmilla Frost looking on. Even Carmilla’s troops are no match for the flame-haired Freeman leader—until the Warlord strikes with his deadly metal arm! The plan is to use Killraven as a guinea pig for some genetic experiments, but a skeptical Carmilla instead finds her pet, Grok, a strong mutant with suction cup fingers, and frees M’Shalla and friends. KR nearly breaks loose, but Warlord smashes him again and proceeds with the experiment—until KR’s gang breaks in and attacks the evil minions! Carmilla leads the band of brothers to a time-ravaged Yankee Stadium, where a crab-like, acid-spewing monstrosity lumbers into view, and soon after a parade of putrid creatures follows. The Freemen and Grok are able to hold their own when suddenly the Warlord attacks KR, who flips him into a pool of acid and melts his computerized arm! The Freeman escape, vowing to return when things are as they once were. - Joe Tura


Joe: Lesson of the day: Don’t read Killraven late on a Monday that was a long frustrating day, while fighting a cold and fighting to stay awake. Lesson 2: Don’t underestimate the issue you read under such conditions. While it ain’t exactly Shakespeare, it’s better than expected after looking at the sloppy, wordy splash page featuring Killraven’s best Dancing With The Stars impression. McGregor adds some fun dialogue, especially from the supporting cast, and while Trimpe’s non-Banner humans leave something to be desired, few can draw monsters and mutants like ol’ Herb can. And Artie Simek shows again he’s one of the best letterers around. Seeing Yankee Stadium—the original stadium, which ironically in Nov 73 was starting to undergo major renovations and closure for two years—brings back great memories, and Babe Ruth even gets a mention. But the one thing that perplexes me the most: who the heck is Yolande Pijcke??

Mark: The art remains spotty at best (squat cyborg the Warlord remains Herb Trimpe's best contribution, Killraven varies panel to panel, and supposed hottie Carmilla Frost - more like Cruella de Ville -  is outright hideous, although dressing a molecular biologist in a bikini bottom never hurts), but new writer Don McGregor arrives and starts to give shape to the series.

Scott: Another writer who appears to be paid by the word, Don McGregor packs every panel with text, while Herb Trimpe treats us to another issue filled with his mechanical pencils. The whole affair feels overdone when a little more simplicity would have gone a long way. Marvel was never shy about having chatty characters, but these guys won't stop yammering long enough to let their punches land. It takes away from what could be a thrilling and tough story of escape and torture. Trimpe doesn’t help. His vanilla art doesn’t let the torture register and what could be harrowing is just kind of there. The dialog is a little too 70's for a tale taking place so far into the future. Can we ever have a black character speak in something other than jive? And "m'man Killraven" is either “this close” to defeat or impossible to hurt. The Warlord is played up as an amazingly strong villain, battering Killraven with his bionic fist, but there is little consequence to the beatings. I wonder if Yankee Stadium and its history would have been as revered if this magazine were published out of Nashville instead of New York.




Mark: Warlord's plan for the captive Killraven involves a laser show, but, alas, no Pink Floyd or Panama Red. Presumptive fellow villain Carmilla (she ain't bad; Trimpe just draws her that way) sees Killy as more than dissection table fodder, and she and her mutated-clone monkey Grok (Heinlein reference bonus points) release the other Freemen and Big Red, setting up a giant crab attack + Killraven v. Warlord showdown in ex-Yankee Stadium, where Killy makes good use of Crabby's acid-like excretions to melt WL's bionic arm. The pace never lags, the prison break/battle scenes build momentum, and we're left pondering the mystery of why Ms. Frost turned on the keepers.

If Killy (and we) can survive Herb (without herb) until Craig Russell arrives, the Freemen have a fighting chance.



The Avengers 117
"Holocaust"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown, Mike Esposito, and Frank McLaughlin

Dormammu is furious the Avengers know of the Defenders' quest, while Loki deflects suspicion of his involvement while he remains blinded. Dormammu refuses to restore the errant god's sight until all the battles have concluded. Meanwhile, the Swordsman reaches an old Nazi castle in Bolivia, but his ship is attacked by Valkyrie, who then sneaks off, allowing him to land. He enters the dwelling thanks to the caretaker, who explains the original Nazi owner was captured following the war. The Swordsman finds Val upstairs and a battle ensues. The Swordsman is betrayed by the owner of the castle, who shoots him to keep the secret of the castle’s hidden treasure. Val takes the prize from the fallen Swordsman and leaves him in the caring hands of the authorities. At the same time, in Osaka, Japan, Captain America and Namor face off. In the midst of their battle, Sunfire intervenes and takes the Evil Eye from both of them. Namor explains the need to recover all the pieces to save the Black Knight, but Cap finds it hard to believe considering what the Avengers were told by Loki. Namor then goes after Sunfire and in their tussle, the Eye is dropped right into Cap's waiting glove. When Namor confronts him, Cap decides to trust the Sub-Mariner and see if they're being duped. Finally, a small alliance is formed. To Be Continued in Defenders #10. On Sale Now!! -Scott McIntyre



Scott: In a battle between the Swordsman and Valkyrie, the winner is going to be fairly easy to predict, but I give them credit for making it a close match. These two are lower tier heroes at best, so my involvement in their well-being is minimal. It's nice to see the Swordsman is truly turning over a new leaf and that his and Mantis' membership isn't simply a ruse to get inside Avengers security. It's a fun battle and a nice twist to pit a man of chivalry against a feminist. The Nazi castle doesn't amount to much beyond being an interesting set piece and I still find the Loki/Dormammu pairing more interesting than these two upstarts fighting it out.



Matthew: With the Avengers/Defenders Contretemps in full swing, Sunfire’s fly-on seems like overkill, but what the hell; interesting that while Cap and Subby allude to WW II, there’s no suggestion of the close collaboration Roy would retroactively chronicle in The Invaders.  I think Brown is well-matched with Esposito and steadily improving—Cap looks conspicuously fine in page 18, panel 5—despite some more uneven face work in Chapter 8, which, per the MCDb, was actually inked by an uncredited McLaughlin instead.  Steve’s handling of the Swordsman [insert obligatory Avengers Special #1 nod], if at times prolix, is effective, particularly as the reformed villain takes one for the team, earning Valkyrie’s highest praise:  “I salute you as a gallant foe.”



Scott: Cap vs Namor is a little more interesting, mostly because of their World War II history and the fact that they are Marvel’s oldest signature characters. Cap is still patriotic and corny, and while Namor uses the familiar "Cap," he's a great opposite number. He does loudly talk about the Defenders as a team when they really kind of aren't. I also thought they were supposed to sort of be a secret group, but since they're in Japan, maybe nobody understood a word they were saying. Or maybe it’s not a secret; they just don’t advertise and have movie night at the mansion like some super groups. Sunfire shows up with his usual attitude and is easily bested by Subby. I found Cap's decision to trust him to be a great step toward resolution and totally in character. When Cap whacks Namor with his shield, we get my favorite sound effect of the month: CLAM! An in joke, surely. Still not sold on the art, but the saga is still enjoyable, albeit a little long in the tooth.





Captain Marvel 29
"Metamorphosis!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom


Eon relates how Uranus was defeated by younger Titans led by Chronos, who sired many children, including Zeus and A’lars, and became one with the universe after his cosmic-energy experiments caused an explosion; banished when Zeus took control of Olympus, A’lars revived Saturn’s largest moon and, as Mentor, fathered Thanos and Eros by the sole survivor of the civilization that had ravaged Titan.  Eight billion years ago, Chronos foresaw Thanos’s coming and created Eon to give Mar-Vell the skill that might defeat his raw power, requiring a protector, not a warrior.  Choosing to change, Mar-Vell becomes cosmically aware, his appearance slightly altered, and after defeating his inner demons, he rescues the trapped Rick. -Matthew Bradley


Matthew: Starting here, Starlin spreads his wings as a solo writer and Detroit pal Milgrom comes on board as embellisher; I’ve long considered Al at best average in any capacity, but this supports my growing conviction that Jim’s pencils are to a degree inker-proof.  Contrast this with the current Sub-Mariner as that rare case where “new and improved” really leads to better things…not that what Jim has been laying down needed improvement.  Lots going on, between the origin of Titan (so Mentor is Chronos’s son and Zeus’s brother, making Thanos and Hercules first cousins?) and Mar-Vell’s achieving enlightenment, a tale that is thought-provoking, brilliantly told—while whetting our appetite for further action—and, I have to believe, largely unprecedented in comics.



Thomas Flynn: This might get my vote for greatest comic cover of all time. Hot damn. Yeah, you have to go with the flow with all the metaphysical what’s-that-now, but Starlin puts on quite a show. The pages are packed with beautifully crafted panels bursting with ideas. 


Matthew: The Thanos War bled into several other books, not in a cynical, Secret Wars-type way, but in an organic fashion that made its scope and stakes seem even greater, as something truly affecting the fate of the world, or even the universe.  The indigenous Titans were introduced in the Mike Friedrich-scripted Iron Man, as was Moondragon before them; at what point it was decided to tie “Madame MacEvil” in with Titan, I don’t know, but this month alone, the link is formalized with a Starlin-drawn segment in Daredevil, while Iron Man battles the Blood Brothers again (with the Thing) in the Friedrich/Starlin Marvel Feature.  Over the next two months, Mar-Vell will join Spidey and Mr. Fantastic for Marvel Team-Up #16-17 and meet Moondragon in Daredevil #107.

Chris: Interesting choice by Starlin to devote an entire issue to Eon’s transformation of Mar-vell to the Kosmic Kree.   I like the idea that Marv has to renounce part of himself, and to accept the change, before Eon will enact it.  Eon’s logic gets a bit tortured, though – Mar-vell has to recognize that his past warlike actions have been fruitless (?), so that he can acquire the skill to become a more effective warrior?  Also, the supposed re-animation of Una is little more than a cruel trick – what was the point of that?  The art continues to impress – Starlin’s pencils are strong enough to withstand moments of Milgrom’s flat inking.  Marv’s battle with his inner demon is particularly effective, especially as Starlin employs a surprisingly brighter palette for these two pages.  And now, readers will have to hang on for two  months for a resumption of the Thanos War – what effect will Mar-vell’s new cosmic awareness have on the next stage of the conflict?  Will it be enough to withstand the power of the Cosmic Cube . . .?


Mark: MARVELous cover (but hardly the greatest ever, Prof Tom; Spidey #33, Avengers #4 & #57, Cap #113, X-Men #57, FF #39 & #81, Iron-Man #1, Conan #24, and S.H.I.E.L.D. #6 spring instantly to mind as being superior. But touting CM #29 wouldn't get you hissed out of the treehouse) and the interior art is even better; if you subbed in an Archie script, this ish would still rock. Fortunately, Jim Starlin's occasional prolix verbosity is still in the future (by at least one month), and we needn't hit the Visine bottle to make it to the bottom of the page. Instead we get the re-education of CM (and a dye job), courtesy of Eon, a curly-haired Man-Thingesque cosmic sentinel who's waited, ah, eons  for Cap's arrival.




Scott: The cover is outstanding in its simplicity and iconic nature. I'd be proud to display a poster sized print of this on my wall, since I’m married and won’t be scaring away chicks with this dorky poster hanging in the den. This story is a dramatic transition from Captain Marvel the warrior to Captain Marvel the protector. The imagination shown here by Starlin is simply incredible in both plot and illustration. I never would have thought such a lukewarm title begun years earlier by Stan and Gene Colan, as a way of keeping the rights to the character’s name, would eventually morph into a grand cosmic space opera with mind-bending art overflowing with grandeur. The war takes a break while we go through this transformation with Mar-Vell. We get a long flashback origin, which in itself is fascinating, followed by a soul searching session for the hero. It's a gripping interlude and had me turning pages like no other recent comic. This lame duck character has become one of Marvel's best. I did, however, kind of expect Marvel and Rick to finally separate once Mar-Vell was repurposed. The Billy Batson “Shazam!” imitation is the last remaining lameness of this title.




Mark: In a fortune cookie paradox (meant in a good way), Marv must transcend his identity as a Kree warrior to kick ass on Thanos, and that he does (the transcending part; whuppin' Big T is still to come) besting an "inner demon" version of himself with enough "PLU-TOW's! and "KER-TOOM's!" to send Prof Joe into orgiastic sound effect ecstasy. The cover ain't the greatest ever, but the issue as a stand-alone whole? I ain't saying so, but the petition wouldn't get thrown out of comic court...



Conan the Barbarian 32
“Flame Winds of Lost Khitai!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

Conan is hired by Narim-Bey, a Turian captain with plunder on his mind, to scout the western Khitai city of Wan Tengri and return with news of its riches. The mercenary steals into the city and finds it illuminated by what the natives call the Flame Winds — he also learns that Wan Tengri is ruled by seven all-seeing wizards. After eluding the city guards, the Cimmerian finds himself in a harem. Surprisingly welcomed, the intrigued intruder is beckoned into a pool by a hypnotic beauty. The lustful barbarian dives in and finds the waters much deeper and murky than he assumed. The wench embraces Conan and her limbs suddenly turn into powerful tentacles that grow back whenever the warrior manages to hack one off. In a final, mighty effort before he drowns, Conan beheads the monster and surges to the surface. Emerging from an outer pool, the exhausted Cimmerian collapses, unaware that he is being slowly approached by the dark silhouette of an apish gargoyle. -Thomas Flynn




Thomas Flynn: While this issue has no apparent connection to last month’s, Roy continues his adaptation of Norvell Page’s “Flame Winds.” Wan Tengri is a decidedly Asian city, so at least that is more in the line with the source novel. The artwork seems a bit sloppy, as if Big John simply provided rough layouts. Not a bad issue, but to this Professor, “The Hyborian Page” is the most interesting aspect. Only one letter is printed, a rather negative rant by Paul Watson, a Perturbed Conan Reader, from Champaign, Illinois. Watson laments the departure of Barry Smith and is “very peeved at John Buscema’s awful art.” He suggests that Buscema be replaced by either a combination of Ross Andru and Tom Palmer or Jim Starlin and Dan Adkins so that “Mr. Buscema can be returned to THE SUB-Mariner where he belongs.” Roy’s answer is suitably combative at first, taking Watson to task with “Your comments, I think, are overly argumentative, posturing, and sometimes downright insulting to artists who are putting long hours of work in the field and who have both my respect and that of comic fans.” But the Rascally One seems to calm down a bit as his lengthy reply continues, actually detailing some of the reasons why Smith left Conan the Barbarian: the difficulty the artist had in producing 20 such superbly detailed pages a month; Barry’s desire to get his original artwork back even though it was inked by others; and more. Thomas also mentions that he’s done talking about the Smith controversy. Which I giggly know is untrue, since I’m a sneaky bastard and have been relishing future issues of Savage Tales — at least until Ka-Zar shows up. Roy’s editorial in Savage Tales #4 covers the same fertile ground but in a much more stupendously vicious manner. I dare say it deserves a Sunday Special. Professor Pete, you are on notice.

Mark: Traveling to the mysterious east on a recon mission for an unpronounceable king, Conan finds himself in a "heathen city beneath a sky aflame," where he quickly comes into conflict with the city guard (natch) after robbing a whoring-mongering wizard of precious jewels. Eluding the heat, he makes his way to local fence Tsien Hut, but the jewels vanish before our best bar can be paid. Seems anything stolen from a wiz in Wan Tengri magically returns to its owner. Or so says the fence, causing a skeptical Conan to draw his steel and shout the anachronistic, "Liar! Thief! Businessman!"


"Merchant!" would be more apt, since "businessman" only dates from around 1826 (per  Online Etymology Dictionary). I only point this out because it made me laugh and is a rare example of Roy Thomas' mastery of the S&S milieu failing him.




Scott: I haven't read Conan since Barry Smith left. I made no bones about my feelings over turning Conan from a lithe, lanky and handsome young man into the usual standard John Buscema savage. However, Spring is in the air, the windows are open and I gave this one a shot. The absolutely gorgeous splash page by John and Ernie just grabbed me. It’s truly stunning art, even with the overly bulky figure Conan had become.  How was I rewarded for my decision? Grandly. This "freely adapted" story is a winner on all counts. Great dialog, playing up Conan's code of honor, fantastic action and some truly beautiful art. I think I'll be giving this title another chance, and what a great place to restart.


Mark: The city guard sniffs out Conan's trail, but he dispatches a half-dozen of them, only to then be distracted by T. Hut's seraglio and the ladies of horizontal refreshment. In no mood for fun, our hero settles for replacement jewels and a watery escape route offered by a blond beauty. Alas, she transforms into a clingy were-octopus, who almost sucks the Cimmerian to death and not in a "what a way to go" fashion. He finally manages to lop off her pretty head, swim to the surface with lungs bursting, and collapse in an exhausted heap...


...unaware of "some apish gargoyle" shambling toward him. Conan rarely ends with cliffhangers, but "Flame Winds of Lost Khitai!" proves that Roy and John can leave readers clinging to the edge of their seats.



Creatures on the Loose 26
Thongor, Warrior of Lost Lemuria in
"Tower of the Serpent-Women!"
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Val Mayerik and Wayne Howard


Still Sharajsha’s guest, Thongor is served by Slissa, a servant maiden who catches his eyes.  Pacifying the barbarian’s dread at the mirror’s predictions, Sharajsha relates the history of Lemuria – about the “thousand year war” between the children of Father Gorm (i.e., Mankind) and a reptile race (the Dragon Kings).  To fight this war, in ancient times, the Valkarthan god Gorm the Father of Stars gave Thungarth “the Star Sword” which defeated the Dragon Kings at the Battle of Grimstrand Firth before breaking.  Sharajsha needs Thongor to forge another such sword from the Star Stone because “the heavens say that the time has come for the Dragon Kings[’]” return, but first they must wrest it from the Scarlet Tower of Tsargol, or “our world shall end.”  

Sharajsha repairs the floater, now christened the Nemedis (after man’s first city), and together they fly to the Scarlet Tower.  Once there, Thongor disembarks to fetch the Star Stone, but en route he encounters the slorgs, an abominable race of women-serpents.  Prepared to meet death, Thongor finds and manages to get the Star Stone aboard the Nemedis, but is afterwards captured and imprisoned by the ruling Sark and his Archdruid.  

In the pits, the savage befriends the disgraced palace guard Karm Kavus, once a prince and almost Sark himself.  Thrown into the arena, they face a monster-lizard called the zemadar and defeat it together, saving not only their own lives, but a girl from human sacrifice.  The Sark decrees Thongor’s death despite his gladiatorial victory, but unexpectedly Thongor hurls his blade and slays him instead.  -Gilbert Colon



Gilbert Colon: Gardner F. Fox, author of Conan-esque Kothar novels, is a logical choice to take over adapting Lin Carter’s novel from George Effinger and Tony Isabella.  Though Fox is far better known for his work at rival DC, fans of Marvel’s Fantastic Four, X-Men, and The Avengers may garner a better appreciation of his contributions knowing that his co-creation, Justice Society of America, was the comic industry’s very first superhero team.  Professor Matthew accuses Fox’s early Dr. Strange efforts of “purple prose,” which means he just might be the right man for this Thongor-sized epic!  

Again Thongor is employed to do another’s dirty work (Kaman Thuu in the first issue, now Sharajsha), and since Sharajsha is nowhere to be seen when Thongor loads the Star Stone onto the airship, it remains to be seen if the wizard is too good to be true.  After some wandering by Thongor in previous issues, a MacGuffin is introduced to the series, the aforementioned Star Stone, and a hitherto unknown enemy, the Dragon Kings, in flashbacks.  If the sentient Dragon Kings are meant to be distinct from dinosaurs, the panels do not make this sufficiently clear – the robed-and-hooded “scaly ones” on page 2 bear a striking resemblance to the beaked reptilian Skeksis from Jim Henson’s 1982 film The Dark Crystal, while the “giant reptiles” on page 3 and 7 are the terrible lizards of known prehistory.  

Their black stone monolithic cities suggest the eldritch evil of not only Howard, but H. P. Lovecraft.  With these overlord Dragon Kings, Carter has planted the seeds of an Edgar Rice Burroughs Pellucidar (John Romita and Tony Mortellaro’s cover proclaims “IN THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT!!!”) in a Howardian and Lovecraftian garden, even giving this garden its own Adam and Eve (Phondath and Evalla).  

The most important new layer to Carter’s mythmaking comes with the Star Stone.  Paul Sammon, in Conan the Phenomenon, details a storyline from the juvenile 1994 animated series Conan and the Young Warriors: “...the…sage…Epimetrius...tells the Cimmerian that a Zamoran sorceress named Sulinara...has focused her evil attention on three ‘Chosen Ones’...who all possess magical ‘Starstones,’ objects that will someday give them the power to rule Hyboria (‘Starstones,’ it transpires, are made of the same ‘star metal’ composing Conan’s sword, [a] holdover from [the 1992 animated series] Conan the Adventurer) … Sulinara plans to kill them and steal their Starstones, before the Chosen Ones’ destinies can be realized” (pp. 121-122).  Either the idea of a blade of destiny forged of meteor metal is a fantasy genre convention, or the Conan cartoon creators borrowed from Carter’s Conan carbon copy instead of their own licensed Howard material for a story element.  


Heroic prose (“my blade drinks deep of their blood”) rests uncomfortably next to low colloquial (“hot on my heels”), a problem plaguing George Lucas’ Star Wars films at times.  There are, however, such bursts of prose ferocity as “The great blade Sarkozan cleaves...and slashes through reptilian scales and flesh...” and “Fetid slime oozes from ragged cuts!”  Inexplicably, Thongor swears for the first time by Conan’s god “Crom!” twice, after having in the past exclaimed by his own world’s “Father Gorm,” “Valkh!,” “by the Nineteen Gods!” and “by the Seven Gods of Zangabal!”  (Did someone forget they were writing Thongor and not Conan?)  Since Lemuria exists in the same literary universe as Thuria and Hyboria, it is not impossible to think Crom-worship does too, but it seems not to be from Carter and remains a jarringly abrupt and arbitrary addition.  A more significant connection to Howard is the cover where it reads “serpent gods.”  If these “serpent gods” are related in any way to the issue’s Dragon Kings that, we are told on page 7, “long lay hidden,” then their reemergence is reminiscent of what happens in REH’s Kull tale “The Shadow Kingdom.”  

In “The Eyes of Mala-Tor” (reprinted from Astonishing #59), a young diamond-hunter discovers that a man really does reap what he sows when he helps a desperate African tribe whose gift of gratitude, a deceptively worthless statue, yields him unexpected lifelong protection.  

Chris: Thank God Gilbert is here to provide us with background into this character's source material.  I own about half of Thongor's saga strictly by accident -- they were included with some Man-Wolf issues I bought a few years ago.  I enjoy Mayerick's art on this run -- the head-hacking battle with the slorg is pretty good.  Howard's inks on this issue are okay, but -- am I really going to say this? -- I think Coletta's inks on the previous issues were better.  Credit where it's due.



Captain America and the Falcon 167
"Ashes to Ashes"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Cap and the Falcon are battling the Yellow Claw's undead goons as the villain imbues his grandniece, Suwan, the mummy's "lust for conquest." The mummies cannot be killed and pound cap and Falc into unconsciousness. Before the Claw leaves to conquer the world, he has them tied to an idol while poison tipped arrows wait to be fired into their hearts by strategically placed crossbows. This, certainly, is a more efficient method of killing enemies than, say, just shooting them while they are unconscious. Anywho, back at The Hospital, a nearly comatose Fury is muttering cryptically. While Val tries to decipher his meaning, she sees a disguised assassin enter and try to snuff out the SHIELD ramrod’s life (note to security - you're fired). A fierce battle ends in the assassin's suicide. Meanwhile, Cap and Falc finally wake up and escape their fiendish death trap after the Claw had gone. They make their way back Harlem to regroup only to be confronted by Peggy who wants to fight against evil with Cap. He dissuades her by saying the villains of today are worse than ever and the Nazi's were obviously just amateurs. Later, Fury blurts out that the Claw is planning to steal the heli-carrier. Cap and Falc, along with SHIELD, have a final fight with the Claw. Suwan is sacrificed by the Claw, who decides he needs eternal life more than she does. Worst. Uncle. Ever. Seriously, Luke Skywalker’s Uncle Owen was less of a douche. Of course, the Claw escapes, but vows to return.
-Scott McIntyre


"Never mind the Glock!"
Scott: In spite of the ridiculous and stereotypical “evil villain” plotting and the stupidity of leaving the fate of your enemies to a complex game of Mousetrap, this is a really exciting wrap up to the Yellow Claw saga and very satisfying for the most part. The Claw's penchant for elaborate death traps would give the writers of the Batman TV series morning wood. Aside from that plateful of sweet corn, or perhaps because of it, this is a lot of fun. Val's attitude still grates and Fury's little Band-Aid is adorable. Dum Dum is still open minded about what happened between Cap and Fury and even Val admits the Claw is capable of clouding men's minds. However she still holds onto her grudge to a ridiculous degree. Seriously, Val still crabs to Cap for beating Fury to a pulp, but has nothing to say to whoever is in charge of Fury's bedside security?

Matthew: I won’t say Frank Giacoia never had an off day, but I will say that Our Pal Sal couldn’t have asked for a better inker on this issue, which recalled the great job he did on Cap for so long over Kirby’s pencils back in Tales of Suspense.  With these pretty pictures, it’s a more than satisfactory wind-up to the current Claw saga, and whether Stainless did it deliberately or not, his final “rest assured that the Yellow Claw shall return!” reminded me of Christopher Lee’s sign-off in his Fu Manchu films, “The world shall hear from me again.”  The Claw’s desire to determine and exact vengeance upon the designer of his robot simulacrum is intriguing, even if I can’t recall how—or if—it pays off; conversely, the Peggy Problem is long past its shelf-life.

Mark: Let's see if we've got this straight, Englehart: at the end of "Ashes to Ashes," the concluding episode of the Yellow Claw opus, the Oriental Arch-Fiend, having already given a nerve gas antidote to Cap and crew to help him take down his treacherous grand-niece Suwan (after she ray-gunned YC for all the years he kept her in suspended animation while they were stealing LMDs of the Claw from SHIELD's heli-carrier; do try to keep up!), chants magic mumbo-jumbo to banish the spirit of the mummy he'd downloaded into Sleeping Beauty (if urine colored) Suwan last ish. We track all that, but why, O Stainless One, does the young, vital Suwan then crumble to dust? She wasn't a centuries old mummy, merely possessed by the soul of one. Yeah, it ties into the title but doesn't make a lick of sense.


Just the latest teeth-grinding example of MCD: Marvel Climaxius Disappointius.   



Scott: Peggy rears her matronly head as she tries vainly to be Cap's squeeze. I really wish he'd hurry up and give her the straight skinny already. It's annoying and unfair to her. Besides, the image of wrinkly old Peggy trying to get under Cap's shield sends a chill up my spine the Yellow Claw could never hope to provide on his most sadistic day (“not the Craw. The Craw!”). On a more serious note, the Claw's cruel disposal of Suwan is very well depicted. It gives the story a twinge of horror, fitting in well with how the monster line was working out at the time.  This is all well supported by the good, but not great, "bread and butter" Buscema art. I can’t imagine the retro feel of this tale, as lightly as I’ve taken it, was unintentional. It’s the stuff of the old cliffhanger serials and tremendous fun. Isn’t fun what comics were all about? This is solid Cap; Englehart is firing on all cylinders here.


Mark: Elsewhere Steve, the Star-Spangled Sentinel of Liberty, downsizes to a cot in Sam Wilson's rented room, but at least he gets some face-suck time with Sharon Carter. Skunk-haired Countess Val Too-Many-Names reveals the sharp, analytical skills required of SHIELD agents, shouting out one of the great ah-ha! Sherlockian deductions of all time, "Nurses don't wear black shoes!"

Sheesh. Can we get to the Secret Empire already?





Daredevil and the Black Widow 105
"Menace From the Moons of Saturn!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck, Jim Starlin, and Don Perlin

As Kraven the Hunter is ready to toss an unconscious Daredevil into the ocean, the Black Widow awakes from the potion that had put her out of action. She can’t get there in time to help her partner, but the rush of air as he falls to the water below awakens him enough to make a clean dive into the waves. The police show up, and with Natasha’s help, restrain Kraven enough to be taken into custody. DD awakes in a metallic corridor underwater somewhere. It leads to a beautiful chamber where he meets a stunning bald woman in a caped costume who introduces herself as Moondragon. Born on Earth in the 1950’s she survived a car accident that killed her parents. She was “rescued” by an alien being who brought her back to his home world of Titan where his family raised her. Training in a monastery named Shao-Lom, she developed her mental and physical powers. Unknown to her, outside the monastery, Thanos, the son of her benefacting family, had grown to be very powerful and taken over rule of the planet, destroying all who opposed him. Moondragon escaped and returned to Earth, where she found Thanos, wanting control of our world too, had servants, or “thralls” to help him accomplish this.  Mistaking Daredevil for one of them, she had brought him to her underwater base, where she had enlisted a human ally. She had created the trio of DD’s past foes—Angar the Screamer, the Dark Messiah, and Ramrod to help her in her task of “cleansing” San Francisco. He convinces her to use her mind powers to see that she is mistaken; he is indeed on the side of good. At this point, when her three creations are wreaking havoc anew above, her human ally proves to be far less scrupulous, as he shoots her. Her former ally is none other than Kerwin J. Broderick! At that moment a menace named Terrex rises from the ground above them… -Jim Barwise

Jim: This tale has a feel less like Daredevil and more like say, Captain Marvel, with all its otherworldly happenings. Moondragon is an interesting character; it’s surprising (with her mental and physical strengths) that she could be deceived by Kerwin Broderick, unless he is more than he seems to be? Perhaps this gives her a vulnerability that is admittedly appealing. Don Heck’s art seems quite good to me, reminding me of earlier Marvel comics. Now do we really have to deal with the trio of baddies we’ve already disposed of?



Matthew: Marking the first use of Moondragon’s customary moniker, the Titan sequence complements Captain Marvel #29, whose lettercol reveals it to be “a five-page chapter pencilled almost a year ago by [Starlin] for an issue of Iron Man he had planned to do with…Gerber.  But when Steve was moved over to DD’s mag, he determined that eventually this little yarn was gonna see publication there.”  Steve fills in Titan’s more recent history, and although he and Jim provide different names—Kazantra and Sui-San, respectively—for Thanos’s mother, A’lars became Mentor, so why not she?  The remainder is dwarfed in importance, its disjointed quality heightened by several coloring errors and not one, but two pairs of panels out of order on page 7.



Scott: Reading this right after Conan was a real hit to the family jewels. What a splash of cold water, going from nearly lifelike, perfectly rendered art to this mess of comparable stick figures. Don Hack (see what I did there?) had his time and it was long in the past at this point. What he's doing on a major title is beyond my comprehension. Unless DD was seriously hemorrhaging sales, in this case, I can see the better talent going to the more popular books. However, I would think putting someone who can draw on the title would help a little. Inker Don Perlin ruins Jim Starlin's contribution. Speaking of which, the inclusion of the Titan war into the storyline doesn’t seem right. Sci-fi was an ill fit for Daredevil. This was a massive disappointment among a group of better than average issues this month.




The Defenders 10
"Breakthrough!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle

The Defenders are still searching for pieces of the Evil Eye. Rogue member the Hulk finds his piece buried under the pavement in downtown Los Angeles, only to be interrupted by the Mighty Thor, the Avenger assigned to stop him. As expected, a battle most royal ensues, until the sight of their teams united shocks them into halting. In his battle with Captain America, Namor had time enough to discuss the situation, until they both realized their teams had been had been set up against each other by Loki and Dormmamu. The explanations succeed, but in that moment of distraction, the latter foe sends his servant Asti in the form of a flying mask to scoop up the pieces of the Evil Eye, returning them to it’s master. Dormammu now has the power in his possession to proceed with his plan to merge our world with his. -Jim Barwise



Jim: There’s a captivating flow to this issue that makes it a thrilling read. The cover promising a battle between Thor and the Hulk delivers in a way Journey Into Mystery #112 simply didn’t. Often the assemblage of so many characters diminishes the effectiveness of a story, but here (and in the pages of recent issues of both mags), we’ve had a chance to see most of our heroes have what they think is a genuine personal stake in this “war,” and it’s resolution is satisfying. Sal Buscema’s artwork is excellent, including two internal full-page dazzlers. Now can writer Steve Englehart keep the pace up in light (or shadow) of Dormammu’s invasion?


Matthew: Two full-pagers tell the tale as the Avengers/Defenders Imbroglio hits a turning point, the first of which (page 15) almost precisely mirrors the cover in the differing styles of the respective artists, Buscema and Romita.  One could slant a Thor/Hulk fight either way—in favor of Thor because he’s a god, or in favor of the Hulk because the madder Hulk gets, et cetera—but this fracas, which reminds us that Hawkeye is not the only ex-Assembler currently batting for the other team, is wisely left as a draw.  For me, though, page 23 is the money shot, an even dozen of Marvel’s finest finally united in common cause, which raises the rhetorical question of who but Sal (ably inked by Bolle) has drawn so many members of our little universe so consistently well?

Scott: The first panel of greenskin’s massive backside sent shivers down my spine, grateful we didn’t get a literal "splash page." Other than that grisly thought, this is another really fun game-changing chapter in the Avengers/Defenders saga. Thor and the Hulk are evenly matched, which is no surprise. The initial union of the two teams is funny in how they interact. Hawkeye and the Swordsman will always be schmucks. I still find it odd the Avengers believed Loki so easily rather than investigating his claims. Also, Dr. Strange seems a bit foolish to try to assemble the pieces out in the open. No protective spell? No "we're being manipulated, so maybe this isn't a great idea" rationalizing? You'd think some of these guys would be a little smarter. The art is the standard Sal Buscema stuff; not bad, just not special. Better than Heck or Tuska, certainly, but I’m not really a fan of the sharp lines in the facial features. The Hulk never looked all that great under his pencils and his depiction of children never changes. Even Dormammu should be a lot more frightening than the giant face we see at the climax. The guy he gives us should be on McDonald's Happy Meals (“Hi Grimace!”). The Romita cover, however, is very nice indeed.






Fantastic Four 140
"Annihilus Revealed"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

As Reed Richards mulls over a failed experiment, Ben, Johnny and Medusa return to the Baxter Building. What they don’t know is that the entrance to the Negative Zone, or rather from it, has been breached by that world’s worst nightmare—Annihilus! After a long absence, Sue Richards calls Reed on the private monitor to tell him that Franklin has been acting strangely—then they are cut off. After a bit of panic they set out to find her in Pennsylvania, just as she heads home to the Baxter Building. Traces of a deadly radiation by Sue’s empty car give him the heads up of trouble ahead. Getting back they find Annihilus awaiting them, and he defeats them all rather easily. He then boasts to Wyatt Wingfoot, also present, of his origin. Once a powerless but sentient insect creature in a world of mindless monsters, he stumbled upon a crashed vessel, an alien ship. It’s inhabitants all dead, a bright helmet caught his attention, and he donned it. The knowledge of this race that was, from the world of Tyanna (who had seeded many worlds with life before crashing here and dying), gives him knowledge and power, and over a thousand years made him the thing he is today. He then tosses all five members into the Negative Zone and follows, vowing to return and conquer shortly.-Jim Barwise

Jim: The highlight, for me, this issue was simply an appearance by Agatha Harkness, one of the better characters in recent years for this mag. What connection does she have to this mystery? Or will she solve it? Annihilus is a pretty good villain too, and his origin isn’t bad as they go. Of course a super race had to be there somewhere. But why would a creature of his relative intelligence turn so wholeheartedly to evil? Just to get revenge on the mindless life forms that persecuted him? Still, I’m eager for whatever comes next.

Matthew: I read this under adverse conditions, broken up over two late nights, and its resultant choppy feel was not improved by the discovery that I had to stop in medias res and peruse Sub-Mariner #67 to maintain continuity.  That may help to explain why an issue in which we get a Buscinott-rendered Annihilus didn’t give me the enormous woody it should have; ditto the sorry spectacle of a completely out-of-character Medusa coldcocking Reed with a goddamn wrench.  This serves primarily as the warm-up to what we Monday-morning QBs know is next issue’s watershed, as Gerry tries to outdo his elimination of Gwen Stacy, but it’s just okay, even after too many months of JDs and the Miracle Man (plus I’m not in favor of multi-panel covers).

Mark: Better baddies don't always equal better comics, but Annihilus following in the mustache-wax wake of the Miracle Man makes a compelling case to go with A-Listers. As the boastful bug wings his way across the Negative Zone toward the Earth portal in the Baxter Building, Gerry Conway turns up the heat on percolating sub-plots – Reed and Sue's separation and baby Franklin's apparent powers – ready to boil over in some tie-in to the mandibled motor-mouth's revenge plot against Reed Richards!  


Can the FF stop Annihilus? Since he's beaten them unconscious in little more than two pages, my magic 8-Ball says outlook uncertain. The quick victory gives Big Bug a chance to share his origin with captive Wyatt Wingfoot: an intelligent outcast on his home world, Annie came upon an ancient spacecraft, donned a Rosetta Stone helmet within, and quicker that you can say Raid Xtra Strength, morphed into the Cosmic Control rod wielding menace we know and loathe today. After forty-one years, I have no memory how the story plays out (save if ain't good for little Frankie), but the opening chapter (enhanced as always by top shelf Buscema/Sinnott art) revs up a bit of the ole FF magic.

Chris: Annihilus was always one of my favorites – whenever he shows up, you can count on some baaaad trouble.  He’s not one of those baddies you could reason with, not like Doom or Big G.  His uniquely crazy look has a lot to do with his appeal, too.  Speaking of art, Buscema/Sinnott are especially strong this time out, particularly as they help to sell Annihilus’s origin story.  (It’s about time someone tackled that one, right?)  The powers-gained-thru-accidental-discovery-of-alien-technology is familiar, until you apply it to a thousand year-old other-dimensional arthropod.   Sue’s concerns for Franklin’s welfare point to a possible reconciliation with Reed – we’ll see . . .

Scott: Speaking of covers (I was just talking about the cover of Defenders #10 -- pay attention down in front!), this issue’s is fairly cruddy. It brings back memories of less than stellar Journey into Mystery Thor epics. Having Ben pop out a macho threat sort of takes away from the hook of showing the FF beaten. The focus on The Thing will continue in covers to come and, since I wasn't a comic reader at the time, I wonder if Ben Grimm had a surge in popularity. Can one of my fellow faculty shed some light on this? Beyond that, this is the standard template story of the era: action, overdrama and then a lengthy flashback with an epic alien race beginning something momentous, in this case, the origin of Annihilus. As origins go, it's nothing special or earth-shattering, nor was it truly necessary. I kind of thought he wore a helmet rather than that be his actual face, but I may be confusing a 1980's John Byrne retcon with what came before. Reed freaking out over losing contact with Sue was more classic over-the-top nonsense, but Medusa clocking him with a wrench was hysterical. I'm a little weary of the use of All in the Family catchphrases, but since Stan used Get Smart references in the 60's, I guess that's par for the course. Readers who were sick of the Richards' marital troubles ain't seen nothing yet. John and Joe save the day with brilliant art, but since the Marvel Method gives the artists the plotting chores, I blame the sameness of the flashback format on John Buscema. And the sooner Johnny gets back to his original colors, the better.



Adventure Into Fear 18
Man-Thing in
"A Question of Survival!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Sal Trapani

A road on the edge of the swamp is the scene of brutal car crash: bus vs. automobile. Five people survive; drunken car driver Ralph Sorrell, disillusioned punk Holden Crane, soldier Jim Arsdale, a young woman named Mary Brown, and a boy named Kevin Kennerman. The latter is seriously injured, and rescued from certain death by the observing Man-Thing. Mary has a slight connection to the creature, and thanks him before he disappears. The five of them trudge through the swamp to try and find the nearby town and thus get medical help. This unlikely combo of people stumble across a building that turns out to be the headquarters of the construction crew that is set to develop the swamp. At this point Sorrell pulls out his gun and starts shooting –he has no desire to go to jail for causing the accident. The Man-Thing appears and finishes off the killer. Only Mary and Kevin are left, and as help comes froth from the awakened construction crew, she watches the swamp creature disappear once again. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Rather interesting, actually, that it is fear and not evil that causes one to burn at the Man-Thing's touch, since he is driven unconsciously to help those threatened by the latter. The rather complex group that trudges through the swamp gets a fair bit of character development by writer Steve Gerber;  disappointing that many of their nuances will never be explored more. And lest we think Mary is set to replace Jennifer Kale as the resident psychic chick in residence, a promise of a mystery viewed by the latter is set up for next time. Manny’s own confusion at his purpose continues to make him intriguing.

Chris: It’s a good thing that Manny only burns creatures experiencing fear – if the same power took effect through anger, then our muck-monster might’ve been responsible for more than one of the casualties in this issue.  A pacifist who also is overbearingly judgmental, and a soldier who is prone to violence, but also a victim of cruel imprisonment – in 1973, Gerber brings complexity and depth to the characters, none of whom are easily reduced to simple good/bad labels that would have been acceptable only a few years previously.  We even have some shading to the driver’s character in his expression of sincere support for the soldier, before he finally degrades to murderous self-interest.  I hope the kid’s okay.

Matthew:  It’s exhilarating to watch Val flex his muscles, with layouts that could not at this late date be called revolutionary, but are imaginative and effective, as figures constantly burst over the borders.  I love the endless panels with Man-Thing lurking unnoticed in the background, and the juxtaposition of the “snapshots” with the “widescreen” spectacle on pages 2-3.  Given how deliciously what Steve is doing differs from the norm (and there’s nothing like finally reading these in context to appreciate that more than ever), I can forgive the fact that this story’s structure almost forces the characters and conflicts to be somewhat trite; we also get maintenance doses of the Kales and the Schist site—try saying that three times fast—before next issue’s game-changer.

Scott: A preachy, by the numbers tale. Everyone is a cliché, spouting philosophies and shouting as loudly as they can. It's a cold hearted story filled with casual brutality. The whole thing comes across as a Public Service Announcement, or possibly a platform for the people crafting this one. We have messages about the evils of alcohol, drinking and driving, the public’s attitude toward returning veterans, pollution, and so on. There is little action and too much pontificating. When there is some action, it’s savage and cold. Predictably, the girl and the child survive, but none of this is really entertaining. It's hard to enjoy characters this obnoxious.


Mark: Steve Gerber serves up another swampy mortality tale, but unlike the white hat/black hat ecology fable in #16, the lessons of "A Question of Survival!" are as murky and downbeat as our favorite shambling mud-pie and Nixon's America, circa '73. No good guys this round, just victims of boozy businessman Ralph Sorrell, who DUIs into a bus, sending both vehicles off a bridge and into a swamp at Manny's feet, killing most everyone aboard. Survivors: injured comma kid and feisty teen girl, check, and two philosophical combatants, Vietnam vet Jim Arsdale, just back from the Solzhenitsyn suite at the Hanoi Hilton, and Holden Crane, a long-hair college student whose nihilism makes Johnny Rotten seem like Shirley Temple.


Juicehead Ralph survives, too, and you'd think 46 deaths would be enough...

Mark: Manny rescues Coma Kid from the wrecked bus then, sensing evil, follows the survivors as they trudge through the swamp, bickering all the while over the fine points of geopolitics, in re: the efficacy and cost ratio analysis of propping up corrupt & oppressive dominoes in Indochina to stem the Red Tide, or Land War in Asia: What Could Possible Go Wrong?

Gerber subverts reader expectations by making the student such a whinny little skidmark ("Leave me alone! Let me die!" because, sniff (i), life is so unjust, man!) that he gives peace a bad name. The ontological yada-yada (i) between Soldier Boy and Holden Bawl(i)field is as contentious and vitriolic as the real Us vs. Them tenor of the times, and just as tiresome, so much so that its a relief when Boozer Ralph guns them both down to eliminate witnesses to his unintended mass murder. Manny, of course, intervenes in time to save Coma Kid and Feisty Mary, slinging Ralph onto a garbage heap to be impaled on a broken booze bottle.

What we're to make of all this bleakness and despair I have no idea, save that Steverino needed to get laid more.



The Frankenstein Monster 7
"The Fury of a Fiend!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Buscema and John Verpoorten

Still on his never-ending journey to find and kill the last Frankenstein, the monster comes across a beautiful gypsy girl being molested by a gruesome hunchback named Drako. The two exchange pleasantries and fisticuffs and the monster is forced to snuff out the life of Drako. The melee is witnessed by the gypsy girl's grandmother, Marguerita, who thanks the monster for coming to the girl's aid and invites him down to the gypsy camp. Once there, the creature is welcomed by the other gypsies and offered a job in their traveling show. The monster accepts, on the proviso that Marguerita look into her crystal ball and find his prey for him. She agrees and offers up that the last Frankenstein has died but she will take the monster to his tomb. The grave is high on a mountain in a cave sealed by a huge boulder. Frankenstein's creation dislodges the rock and enters the cave. When he opens the lid of the casket inside the cave, he is surprised to find a skeleton with a wooden stake between its ribs. When Marguerita pulls the stake from its resting place, Dracula Lives!-Peter Enfantino



Peter: Last issue we saw the finish of the well-written and beautifully-illustrated Frankenstein's Monster saga. What's left now resembles nothing so much as one of Universal's Monster Rallys from the 1940s, nothing original, nothing special. John Buscema knows his way around a pretty gypsy girl but his Monster is just a big pale sketch, lacking all the gorgeous "drippiness" Mike Ploog invested in his work. What we're left with is tantamount to one of George Romero's shambling zombies, no characteristics at all. Ditto the backgrounds, once a wondrous display of detail, which are now comprised of a tree and lots of blue or red. Dracula's appearance presents lots of continuity problems I'm sure will be addressed at some point. I haven't read all issues of Tomb of Dracula, which takes place in present day, but I'm pretty sure no mention was made that Frankenstein's Monster freed the King of the Vampires. Is this a Dracula of an alternate Marvel Universe or the same one who'll team up with Spider-Man at some point? I've got questions!



Chris: Buscema does a solid job, especially on the early pages as the monster wanders in the moonlit forest.  It almost seems unfair to compare his work to Ploog’s from the previous six issues, since those were (in my opinion) easily among the best work Ploog ever did for Marvel.  Buscema’s depiction of the monster doesn’t convey the range of emotion, especially hurt and sadness, that Ploog brought to the character.

Extra points to Roy for employing restraint and telling us about a “shock ending!” on the cover, without giving it away.  Although, Dracula’s guest spot does make me wonder whether there had been any discussion about Werewolf by Night appearing in this strip, and the Living Mummy visiting the pages of Tomb of Dracula, and on and on . . .


Scott: The splash gives art credit to John Buscema, but it rarely looks like his work. Whether he was having an off day or trying to imitate Mike Ploog, the result is somewhat underwhelming. Perhaps John Verpooten's inks are to blame, but it's all very distant. It's a good story, though, and it feels a lot like one of those classic Monster Mash programmers Universal put out in the 40's, complete with gypsy caravan, hunchbacks, and torch-bearing villagers. It ends with the cliffhanger revival of Dracula. Since we know the Master of the Undead lives on into the present day, the story to follow has a lot on its shoulders if it wishes to have suspense or surprises. I did enjoy the Monster's time with the gypsies and his sweet, intelligent nature. There is still some fine storytelling being done here as the poor creature is played for a patsy. The nostalgic tribute to a bygone era more than makes up for the dodgy art.

Peter: I'm not sure what Roy's excuse will be when he gets around to explaining the truncated page count this issue but at least we get a nicely illustrated (by an artist I'm not familiar with named Dunling, according to the GCD) pre-code horror story detailing the origin of the guillotine. "The Executioner" (from Adventures Into Terror #16, February 1953) reminds us there are still so many gems out there waiting to be mined. The reprints will continue until issue #16. On the Monsters Mail Box page, letter writer Jon Miles effectively argues that the black and white strip appearing in Monsters Unleashed starring the Frankenstein Monster kills all the suspense in the color title and suggests both series should be set in the same time period. Jon must have felt he'd waved his magic wand or  found the special Wonka chocolate bar when issue #11 rolled around and he got his wish.




And just one more time for Professor Scott!