Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Marvel University Christmas Special: Peter Parker, Rock Gawd!

Happy Holidays from the Professors at Marvel University. 
Being the thoughtful souls we are, we'd like to present a very special Christmas present to all our students...

Best Present Ever. ‘Nuff Said.
By Joe Tura

Sometime in 1972, a record album was released that changed a young boy's life. Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones? Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust? Foxtrot by Genesis? Nah, it was Spider-Man: From Beyond The Grave: A Rockcomic, released by Buddah Records. It might have been a birthday present, maybe a Christmas present. Not exactly sure having a December birthday, and after all, it was 41 years ago. Either way, it remains one of my all-time Top 10 favorite albums to this day! I even displayed the awesome John Romita album cover poster included with the record on my bedroom wall for nearly 20 years. (Alas, without tearing apart my garage, it seems to have vanished, which is quite sad….)

Part of Marvel and Steve Lemberg’s attempt to branch out into every possible walk of life, it sold over 150,000 copies in the first three weeks. According to Sean Howe’s fascinating Marvel Comics: The Untold Story: “There was talk of a Thor radio series, to run in sixty-five, five-minute installments, a $2.5 million arena-rock show based on various characters, and a Silver Surfer film starring Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. [Really????] But all of this went on the back burner while Lemberg put together a rock musical LP called Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave, featuring the former lead singer of the Archies. Marvel’s world domination would have to wait a little longer.” Which was fine with me!

The beauty of this album is it was like having a Spider-Man annual come to life—with songs! That's right, it really is a full-blown rock and roll extravaganza, which was followed a couple of years later by the awesome Power Records adventures that featured truncated actual comic books, or new stories with super lame villains like "The Conquistador" or "The Dragon Men"—both featured on 1974's 5-story Spider-Man LP. It also had to be an inspiration for the late '70s Spider-Man TV show starring the legendary Nicholas Hammond, as well as the slightly infamous musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. How could it not be? There are terrific voiceover performances led by Rene Auberjonois (the uptight Governor's aide from Benson and star of The Feud) as Peter Parker, Thayer David (Journey to the Center of the Earth) as a nasty Kingpin and more that I can’t remember because I can’t find the poster that had the cast list on the back. And who could forget the super-catchy songs from The Webspinners, who was actually Ron Dante, the man behind The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”, co-producer of Barry Manilow’s first nine albums (he sang backup on “Mandy”!) and former neighbor of George Plimpton.

Ah, but is it a good story, you ask? Heck, yes! Written by Lemberg, it’s tailor-made for a young Spidey fan (or any age of Spidey fan), borrowing nicely from both Amazing Spider-Man #100 (the Nightmare sequence) and ASM #95 (the origin sequence), but adding its own twists by pairing Spidey with Dr. Strange and adding an Aunt May kidnapping. From Beyond The Grave even features brand-new, wordless but wonderful Romita-drawn panels inside that give you a dynamic look at the action as if unfolds on the turntable. But you know what? Enough of my yakkin', let's spin the tale, shall we!

Episode 1: Peter's Nightmare
We open on a plethora of police whistles, with Spider-Man hearing a strange voice calling him. (“Spider-Maaaaannn…Spiiiiderrr-Maaaannn”) Going towards the voice, he’s met by The Vulture, who says, “Spider-Man only harms those he loves”, then The Lizard, who calls Spidey “nuttier than a fruitcake”, and finally The Green Goblin, who basically calls him “a loser”. All this is a nightmare in the mind of Peter Parker, who’s awoken by a phone call—from The Kingpin! The corpulent crook is holding Aunt May hostage so Peter will use a “special camera” to kill Spider-Man—and he only has 24 hours to comply and save Aunt May’s life!

Favorite line: “The Vulture perches where he pleases!”

“Theme from Spider-Man”
Our first song, a radio hit if you believe the press, is bouncy and carefree, complete with non-stop funky wah-wah pedals that would make Eric Clapton proud. You'll be tapping your web-footed toes all day! One thing that always bothered me though is calling Spidey a "sex machine" that "makes all the little girls sigh". What the heck does that mean to a 6 year old? We also get the obligatory Stan Lee cameo in one of the lyrics “Stan Lee’s Spider-Man”—maybe the first Stan cameo ever?

Favorite lyric: The often-quoted (by myself and Prof. Tom Flynn) “A product of the American dream/See him glide, see him fly/No one lady’s sex machine/He makes all the little girls sigh”

Episode 2: Spider-Man Remembers
The Kingpin is planning the “biggest crime wave in history”, especially with Spider-Man out of the way thanks to the kidnapping of Aunt May. To help him are two bumbling crooks that can’t tell time and are around seemingly only to hear Kingpin’s vain rants. Peter Parker thinks back to “that fateful day at Midtown High” and the radioactive spider bite at a science lecture that gave him his powers. Accosted by two “a couple local creeps”, he snaps a lamppost (CLANG-UNG!) and takes off up a wall. He realizes what happens, dreams up his famous webshooters (SHHHI-KUH, SHHHI-KUH—no, not the THWIP of the comics) and designed a costume, meaning “Spider-Man was born”, heading towards fame and fortune—or so he hoped!

Favorite line: So many! Let’s pick three: “Carlo, what time is it?” “Uh, the big hand is on the three, and the little hand is on the six. Uh, that’s 36, boss.”
“You’re lucky I don’t break you in half—but I’m feeling generous.”
“Let’s get out of here, that cat’s a tiger!”

“Such A Groove To Be Free”
The ballad of the album, and the easiest to ridicule, this one talks of how Peter feels “free”. Free from the constraints of being held down by his peers and how groovy it is to “leave my teenaged troubles behind”. How discovering his powers and new Spidey costume makes Peter feel like “the man of the hour”. But will this power go to his head? Will he truly discover fame? Well, we all know what happens next…
Favorite lyric: “I never dreamed/it could happen to me/To be free of the cloud/that was holding me down painfully”

Episode 3: Spider-Man's Dilemma
Spidey becomes a celebrity on a “coast to coast” TV show, but fails to stop a burglar in the studio. He arrives home to find out Uncle Ben has been killed and takes off after the killer. Tracking him to a warehouse, he realizes the killer is the burglar he failed to stop—it was his fault! At the funeral, Peter vows to always use his spider powers for justice, and to make up for his Uncle’s death! And Side 1 ends on a tragic note…

Favorite line: “I know that old warehouse. It’s been deserted for years. They can hold off an army in that moldy dump, but he won’t hold off Spider-Man!” (MMUUUU-UHHHHHHH)

Episode 4: A Strange Ally
Spider-Man hears the strange voice calling him again, and realizing it was Uncle Ben’s voice, he remembers the words of his father figure, using them to fuel his search for Aunt May and to stop the Kingpin once and for all! 

Favorite line: “Petey, never forget. The stronger the man, the heavier the load. With great power comes great responsibility.” Yeah!
Close second: “Sane, insane…Loved, hated. It doesn’t matter! A man might quit, but Spider-Man is more than a man. I’m a superhero!”

“Stronger The Man”
A slight Grand Funk Railroad vibe drives this number, inspired by Uncle Ben's classic words, but embellished by a motivational mix of smooth horns, a groovy sax solo and Steve Cropper-esque guitars. You’ll want to fight The Kingpin yourself!

Favorite lyric: "For the hero of the story/Can't find any glory/Any other way" 
Close second is the baffling “The greater the power/the heavier the responsibility/Moses walked his people/right into the sea” Huh?

Episode 4: A Strange Ally (cont'd)
Spidey’s spider-sense starts tingling, but there’s no one there (OOOEEEEEOOOWWWW)—wait, it’s Dr. Strange in his astral form! (A Strange Ally—get it, Dr. Strange…becomes Spidey’s ally…oh, let’s move on.) Guided to Strange’s Sanctum Santorum, he’s helped by the Sorcerer who shows him, via the Eye of Agamotto, Aunt May’s current condition, which is taking no guff from Kingpin’s henchman but still in trouble. Name-dropping every mystical morsel in the building, Strange volunteers to help Spidey take down Kingpin’s deadly scheme, and the unlikely pair “head cross town” to do battle!

Favorite line: “There is much you must know, and little time to tell it.”

“Goin' Cross Town”
The best! From the jazzy New Orleans-style horns to the ridiculously memorable lyrics, this one will have you singing all year! It must be heard to be believed, but check out some of these couplets: “Teach a bad dude the lesson/That he better stop messin/With the likes/Of me and you”; “Cause we got the power to turn wrong right/if we get together and stand up and fight”; “Bring a little action/to the criminal faction/Show ‘em what a good man can do”; “They’ve been lookin’ for trouble/Now it’s comin’ on the double/A lesson in black and blue”

Favorite lyric (as if you could pick just one!): “We don't need no blackjack/we don't need no guns/we’ll whack ‘em on the fanny/and watch ‘em run.”

Episode 5: From Beyond The Grave
They track the Kingpin’s secret lair to an abandoned sewer line directly beneath Times Square, which Spidey calls “The perfect hideout for the Kingpin—right under our noses.” Huh? Dr. Strange weaves a spell that makes Aunt May fall asleep so she’s not shocked when the duo breaks in to save her—which they do! (KERR-ANNNGGG!) Strange gets May out of there, making the henchmen’s guns vanish and leaving Spidey to battle the Kingpin one on one! The massive Maggia head uses all his tricks, stun blaster in the cane (ZZZYYYKKK! ZZZYYYKK!), gas charge in the tie pin (FFFFFSSSSSSSS!), but Spidey has him on the run—until Dr. Strange returns, casting a spell that sends the Kingpin away in mystical flames! Spidey questions Strange’s tactics, but the Sorcerer explains it was only an illusion. Seems he received “a silent call from beyond the grave” to help Spider-Man with his dilemma, and asks the wall-crawler to tell his friend Peter Parker “his Uncle Ben is very proud of him today.” And Strange exits with the words “Enough said.” (Seriously!)

Favorite line: “Can the small talk, fat man, and let’s get it on! Maestro, if you will…”

The “long day” over and Aunt May safe, Spidey sighs and heads home as music from “Such A Groove To Be Free” swells…The End!

Favorite line: "Strange man, that doctor."

Now that's some quality entertainment! If you don’t own a copy (and why don’t you?), information on From Beyond The Grave is hard to come by unless you scour the blogosophere for fans of the album, but I hope I’ve managed to spin a bit of a web girdle for all of you. Copies of the original LP can be found for sale online on eBay and other outlets. For you young'uns that don't have a turntable ("Dad, what's a turntable? Is that like a big iPod?"), you can check it out for free on Grooveshark, as well as on YouTube (Thanks to Prof. Flynn for the heads up on that!), and is well worth checking out in any form. You might even want to give it as a holiday present! “Enough said!”

All lyrics by Stephen Lemberg and performed by The Webspinners.

Special thanks for Prof Flynn for his assistance with this article. When I first met the mighty Cimmerian summarizer, the topic of this album came up within a day or two of us working together, and we bonded instantly! When we moved locations and shared cubicle space, we would actually sometimes play the tape and crack up all day, singing along with the songs. To this day, he’s the only other person I’ve ever met who owns a copy of this invaluable piece of music history.

The author, at age 6, with his brand new obsession

Next Wednesday, New Year's Day, we return to our regularly scheduled programming with March 1973, Part Two!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

March 1973 Part One: The Return of the Manly Hawkeye While Barry Smith Takes a Bow!

A Purely Personal Introduction by Professor Matthew

One of the things that several of us faculty members have tried to do here at MU is not only to assess the comics as we respond to them now, in the fullness of alleged maturity, but also to give some sense of the impact they had on us when we first encountered them.  In my case, the vast majority of those we have covered so far came to me in the form of either Marvel’s ubiquitous ’70s reprints or back issues purchased years after the fact, but that changes this month, as I noted in my Sunday Special “Cluster’s Last Stand.”  The next two and a half years will be punctuated by periodic “clusters” of seemingly random issues, presumably bought by brother Stephen, and I have a visceral reaction to them that is way more powerful than to any of the surrounding books.

And now on to March 1973 (Part One)!

The Amazing Spider-Man 118
"Countdown to Chaos!"
Story by Stan Lee and Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita, Jim Mooney, and Tony Mortellaro

The Smasher smashes into Joe Robertson’s Daily Bugle office to nab him for The Disruptor but Spider-Man swings in to stop the mind-controlled menace, planting a Spider Tracer on him. Meeting Gwen, MJ and Harry at a last-minute Raleigh rally [that never gets old!], the gang heads off in a van to do some loudspeaker electioneering, until The Smasher trashes the vehicle! Peter changes back into Spidey and tails the two-ton terror back to his boss’ lair, where the diabolical Disruptor ends up overloading the gizmo that controls Smasher’s mind! Seething from the pain, The Smasher strikes the defiant Distruptor and causes the celiing and walls to crumble! Spidey and the big behemoth begin to battle, which ends when the wall-crawler realizes he has to damage the mind control implant in The Smasher’s head. Then our hero unmasks The Disruptor—who turns out to be (not a huge surprise) Richard Raleigh! J. Jonah Jameson comes in with the police and vows to write the greatest editorial of his career in the fallen politician’s honor, just as Spidey burns the Disruptor costume and swings off.  --Joe Tura

Joe: An action-packed end to the trilogy features a near-epic fight between Spidey and The Smasher and some nice touches throughout. I love the ticker tape running through some of the pages near the end with updates on the poll results, pointing to a Raleigh win. I also love that we never get the expected “big reveal” with The Disruptor’s identity until after he’s fallen. I could swear I remembered that Raleigh unmasks himself and figuratively twirls his mustache before he’s, um, smashed, but was surprised this was not the case. Only a few unexpected narrative techniques happen in Amazing Spider-Man, but this was a welcome one. Nicely done all around—art, script, captions…A fitting end to a rousing trilogy and well-adapted to fit Spidey’s continuity. Fave sound effect: the life-changing “BUH-TOOM!” on page 19, which literally ends The Disruptor’s dastardly deeds as Spidey stands in the distance shocked!

Mark: The "new politics" of the Marvel U, circa '72, comes a cropper as a"reform" candidate is revealed again as a would-be Fuhrer, with mad scientist & monster on the dirty tricks payroll. "Meet the new cliché," Pete Townshend might have said, "Same as the old cliché," which begs the question: has there ever been an office-seeker in Marveldom that didn't  have a cape or cowl (or actual skeletons) in their closet? Extra credit, students, for the best list of pure-hearted pols.

Scott: I really liked this trilogy. The writing was sharp, the characters enjoyable and the art sublime. It
probably has to do with the fact that it originally came from a period where the title was really firing on all cylinders. Because of the expanded length, there are a lot of scenes with Peter and his friends, which is always nice to see. Too often we've had wall-to-wall crawling. On page 9, panel 3 (right), Harry looks a lot like Aunt May for some reason. Maybe in addition to shagging Gwen, Norman Osborn did the serious with Peter's aunt years earlier. Ewwwwww.

Matthew: Per Mark Drummond’s comment on the SuperMegaMonkey site, “Information about this [three-part] semi-reprint is extremely confusing—some interviews state that Stan was involved, others state this was done to give newly-appointed Marvel art director John Romita some catch-up time, but Gerry Conway claims that art revisions were so extensive that Romita got no relief at all.”  The conclusion being part of the original “cluster,” my nine-year-old self knew none of that, and probably wasn’t sophisticated enough to consider the revelation of the Disruptor’s identity as obvious (especially without the benefit of the two prior entries), so all I saw was a cool story with some cracking good Romita art, which was sufficient.

Scott: I love the juxtaposition of the ongoing election results in the center of the multiple pages. They're easy to miss if you're a "skimmer," but they're a great way of keeping the information flowing in an unobtrusive manner. The revelation of the Disruptor being Raleigh doesn't seem to bear close scrutiny and no real reason is given for his wacky plan to assassinate himself. Aside from the oblique and flaccid wrap up, this was a solid yarn, the last really good Spidey story before everything changes three issues hence. It's just a shame it all apparently happened for no reason.

"Meet the new boss..."

"...kinda same as the old boss!"

Mark: This is part three of The Spectacular Spider-Man Redux, so no need to further delineate the changes (slackers can crib the answers from recent posts), which are again well-nigh seamless. The story's fast-paced, the re-tooled Jazzy Johnny art web-spinning poetry, and since it was "all new" to the vast majority of readers (including, I believe, the entire esteemed faculty), it's hard to slag the Bullpen Brain-Trust for milking the same (cash) cow twice. One discordant note: Gerry Conway cops the ending almost directly from Spidey #40, where our hero strips Goblin duds off defeated Norman Osborne and drops them in an incinerator. Then it was to protect Harry, which made sense, here it's to protect the Raleigh myth, which doesn't. The early '70's were all about smashing down walls of Official Truth to reveal the ugly reality within, as a purgative to cover-up and corruption. Peter (and Gerry) miss that bet here, offering a denouement oddly out of step with the times. Meet the old boss.

Joe: Nice Spidey-related item in this month’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletin. Turns out The Monster Times, one of my favorite mags growing up, “devoted an entire issue to our web-spinning wonder” including a spread on Romita. Why don’t I remember that one? Also The New Yorker “has just featured a full-length piece” on Gerry Conway, which leads our editor to crack that only Ladies Home Journal is left to conquer!

Amazing Adventures 17
The Beast in
"Birth of the Beast!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Jim Starlin and Mike Esposito

The Beast delays the new Amazing Adventures feature by one issue to tell us his origin. That’s pretty much it.

Oh, all right….

The Beast is leaving the pages ofsAmazing Adventures, but not without first recounting his long journey from bouncing baby boy to blue-furred beast. Norton McCoy and wife Edna move to a small town, where Norton takes a job at an atomic energy plant. He saves the plant during an accident but is exposed to radiation that later causes a mutation in his son, Hank. Freshman Hank ends up starring on the high school football team and thwarts a robbery with his athletic prowess. The Conquistador nabs Hank with an electric sword, but Prof. X sends his three young X-Men after McCoy. Holding Hank’s parents as bait, the golden-garbed villain forces the young mutant to steal an experimental nuclear reactor. The two battle, until the X-Men burst in! When the Conquistador tries to unleash the power of the reactor, Prof. X alters the circuits and Hank escapes with his parents, where he agrees to become the fourth X-Man. Cut to the Beast walking off, out of this title and on to bigger things. —Joe Tura

Joe: Basically a reprint of the Beast’s turn in Origins of the X-Men, reprinted from X-Men #49-53. There’s a short framing sequence where the Beast speaks to the audience that’s drawn by Jim Starling, whoever he is. (yeah, I know it’s a typo by Marvel), which is the most interesting part of this issue to be honest. I guess if you never read Hank’s origin before, you’d be OK, but I was kinda bored. I do like the last words of the Beast: “But I’ll be back when you least expect me. So long, folks, it’s been fun!” And the next time we see him he becomes one of my favorite all-time Avengers…

Scott: The last minute reprint fill-in of the Beast's origin, lifted from old X-Men comics wasn't all that interesting when we read it the first time. The art is workmanlike, the writing so-so. The X-Men origin shorts were never that fascinating to me. But they had to fill the issue with something, I guess. Lots of deadline mishaps during this period. Maybe they should have had fewer titles to worry about and instead concentrated on quality? Naaaaah.

Matthew: “The series was actually shut down with #16,” Steve Englehart wrote on his website, “but its replacement...was late so I whipped out a mostly-reprint issue, stringing together the Beast’s origin [distilled from the backup feature in X-Men #49-53] with some new bridging material,” drawn by Starlin.  Part of that historic first “cluster,” the copy bought by my brother didn’t survive until today—probably falling victim to Dad’s transient “buy one, toss one” policy—yet despite the utter forgettability of the Conquistador, images of the atomic plant where McCoy père worked are etched on my mind’s eye, along with that cool cover.  Hank would not have another regular venue until Stainless rehabilitated him at last in Avengers #137 (July 1975).

 The Avengers 109
"The Measure of a Man!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Don Heck and Frank McLaughlin

Hawkeye is having trouble accepting that the Vision and Scarlet Witch love one another and tries to find away to keep his mind off it all. Meanwhile, a nine foot guy who calls himself "Champion," wearing a natty suit and goatee physically stops a departing jet and is allowed to board by the cops, who seem more than willing to suddenly do whatever he asks because he owns the airline (Champion Air?). Back at the mansion, Hawkeye mouths off to Wanda about how she seemingly is unconcerned with her missing brother now that she's getting some bionic bonin'. Finally, Hawkeye leaves and changes from his current, laughably fey costume back to his original threads. Once outside, Hawkeye runs into Champion who offers him a cool million to have Hawkeye teach him archery. Hawkeye agrees and they wing their way to Champion's California residence where his inner thoughts reveal this is an elaborate trap. After Hawkeye teaches Champion all he can, the giant dons a crappy costume and reveals his plan to dredge up an old sunken ship containing nerve gas by triggering the San Andreas fault and dropping the west coast into the sea. Result: new West Coast; Costa Del Lex; Luthorville. Otisberg……..Otisberg? (ahem sorry). Wanda deduces that the note Hawkeye sent to his teammates to keep them from worrying was a forgery and they go off the try to save him. The Avengers Assemble and beat Champion. However, Hawkeye is done. He leaves the team in order to make a rep for himself. _Scott MacIntyre

Scott: Don Heck's pencils look like it's 1967 all over again. His character design for Champion is unappealing. He looks like Count Nafaria on steroids. The development of the Vision/Scarlet Witch romance is well done, but Iron Man must tire of these shenangans quickly. At first he's Johnny Supportive, but then, when the Vision agrees with Wanda's assessment of the forgery of Haweye's note, Iron Man utters a cold "it figures." And since we're on the subject, why does Iron Man sleep in the mansion that Wanda had to drag him out of bed like the others. Or are we to infer that they called up Tony Stark at 3 am and asked him to get his bodyguard out in a hurry?

Matthew: I might call this one a poster child for the “clusters,” since I wish I had a poster of Big John’s sensational cover, among a Hawkeye fan’s all-time favorites; being a relative newbie, I hadn’t suffered through a year of Clint’s awful peplum threads.  As for the interior artwork, bear in mind that no later than November, when we got Marvel Triple Action #15, I was seeing Heck’s Silver-Age work on the Assemblers simultaneously, so this issue (inked by McLaughlin) didn’t seem anomalous.  Months ago, I stumbled on a 2006 review that does a hilarious job of skewering the silliness of Englehart’s story, but as should be clear by now, my nostalgic fondness makes it virtually critic-proof, and re-reading it, I still love it, silliness and all.

Peter Enfantino: Let me get this straight. Here's a villain who's developed a strength that can stand up to not one Avenger but all of them, and yet he has to come up with this Mickey Mouse scheme of detonating fault lines to get to some nerve gas so that he won't alert the Coast Guard? That's about the most convoluted, nutty scheme I've ever read. But, hey, if it gets Hawk out of his Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit, it'll work. The Don Heck art is a throwback to the mid-sixties and really drags this strip down after we've become spoiled by the likes of Buscema, Adams, and Buckler.

Scott: Not very interesting at all, really. The art is sub par, the story itself is dull, although I did get some mileage out of the plot which would later be co-opted by Lex Luthor in the 1978 Superman film.  As usual, Hawkeye is a little annoying. Not as bad as his early days with the team, but still not as cool as he'll eventually become. Right now, he's still a douche. The final panel is straight out of Tales of Suspense, with the speaker facing us, but talking to people behind him who don't seem to give a flying trapeze that they're losing a teammate. Thor actually looks pleased. What the Heck?

 Captain Marvel 25
"A Taste of Madness!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Jim Starlin and Chic Stone

An attack by three minions confirms to their “Masterlord” that Mar-Vell’s power has been halved by photon rays, yet when Rick reaches the Savannah home, he is arrested by a cop who has shot the professor, and framed by Lou-Ann.  At the station, after Rick changes and frees himself, Ronan, Megaton, Yon-Rogg, the Hulk, Zarek, the Metazoid, an Aakon, and Namor successively attack and vanish until Mar-Vell, faced with his dual selves, reverts to Rick and passes out.  Super-Skrull and Skragg, whose shape-shifting created the illusions, try to gain information about the Negative Zone for Masterlord, but Rick, alerted by small anomalies, easily shrugs off the psycho-probe helmet and changes again; both sides escape the battle-torn building’s collapse. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Anyone seeking objectivity may as well get the hell out of Dodge right now, because I consider the Thanos War that begins in this issue to be the pinnacle of Marvel’s achievement, and those who found me overly snarky on the subject of, say, Colletta or Gary Friedrich will now see the other side of the coin, as I swiftly exhaust my supply of superlatives.  Penciler/then-uncredited plotter Starlin and his pal, Mike “No Relation” Friedrich, take their football from one low-selling series (Iron Man) to another, with variable inker Chic Stone giving a good account of himself.  At the peak of the arc, Jim adds scripter and colorist to his portfolio to become the kind of one-man-band not seen since the other of the writer-artists I revere as “The Two Jims,” i.e., Steranko.

Mark: Following the "Starlin Saga" over to Captain Marvel, this is an upgrade over last "month's" opening chapter in Iron-Man. Mar-Vell is about to get a big time make-over, whereas Shellhead was almost a guest-star in his own mag, a mere launch pad for Starlin's (and scripter Mike Friedrich's) creative eruption (let's hope Dean Peter is reading along, since I've started a pool in the faculty lounge for how long he remains unimpressed. Since gambling is of course officially prohibited in these hallowed halls, tell head bartender Ivan "Mark of Satan" sent you. I will, of course, disavow any knowledge of your actions).

Peter: I'm ready to be dazzled but it ain't happenin' yet, Professors Matthew and Satan. I'm willing to ride this train to the end though and, hopefully, somewhere along the line it's going to hook me. Jim Starlin's art looks to be in its foundation years (Cap's butt cheeks look clenched enough to crush walnuts), with bits of brilliance shining through the clunkiness (Mar-Vell's climactic battle with the Super-Skrull, for example, is a winner). I'll never warm to Rick Jones as a character, no matter what title he infects.

Mark: The art is still hit and miss (two panels of Rick on P. 3 would make a Charlton editor blush), but the rotating villain smackdown, P.'s 11-15, displays a bodies-in-motion dynamism to do King Kirby proud. Can't wait until Rick Jones goes bye-bye and takes his "groovy" faux-'70's hipsterisms with him. Until then, it's a tribute to Starlin's burgeoning prowess that I haven't been reading the title, know zippo about back story or supporting cast, yet was completely swept up in the amphetamine-paced action. As Rick might say, "That funktastic dude-cat Jimbo Star-Child, like, totally pops the snaps of my stone-washed Levis, man!"

Matthew: One of the interesting things about these clusters is their random quality; some were separated by gaps of as long as 4-5 months (especially during the underrepresented year of 1974), leading to a paucity of consecutive issues and an abundance of cliffhangers whose resolutions I didn’t see for years.  Stephen seems to have picked up whatever caught his eye that day, instead of following any strips consistently, although he’s a big SF fan, and bought a disproportionately large number of Captain Marvels.  Still more serendipitous is the fact that by the purest chance, issues like this one got me in on the ground floor of several historic storylines—e.g., the Avengers/Defenders War—that remain among my favorites, even though we had only selected issues back in the day.

Scott:  Jim Starlin's art is kind of weird here. The body positions are more over the top than usual with muscles bulging out like tumors (considering the Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel in the future, maybe I'm not joking). The word balloons get odd also when Rick is returned from the negative zone. For the entirety of page 6, he screams every single word. Still, as odd as it looks, the art is very dynamic and the story is well paced, if a little on the "run of the mill" side. Someone uses some means to toss every major foe, alive or dead, at the hero; The Fantastic Four, the Hulk, Spider-Man, Iron Man had all done this story by this time. There's not a lot new brought to the table here.

 Conan the Barbarian 24
“The Song of Red Sonja”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith

Inside the embattled city of Makkalet, Red Sonja convinces Conan to join her and scale the high walls of the royal palace. Gaining entry, they come across piles of untold riches, but Sonja has only one goal in mind: to steal a serpent tiara, the dowry of Queen Melissandra, and return it to her father, King Ghannif of Pah-Dishah. When she finds the jewel encrusted crown, it transformed into a huge golden serpent. Conan and Red Sonja bravely battle the powerful reptile until the Cimmerian gains a high perch and leaps upon the creature, buying his sword to the hilt. As the serpent dies, it transforms back into the priceless dowry. With King Ghannif’s treasure gained, Red Sonja rides off to Pah-Dishah, leaving Conan to quench his thirst — and his lust for the red-haired vixen — in the raucous taverns of the besieged yet defiant Makkalet. -Tom Flynn

Scott: Sadness colors my appreciation of this issue, Barry Smith's last hurrah. For realz this time. He does wonderful work for his swan song, giving us art to drool over while we revel in the charismatic relationship of Conan and Sonja. She's not drawn as pretty as people in this universe seem to find her, which is Barry Smith's one weak point. However, she's still a fantastic character and her teasing manipulations give the Cimmerian a severe case of blue balls. There's one laugh out loud, really crappy line of dialog as Conan insists Sonja repay him for her mistreatment with "kisses a-plenty." Such a charmer is Horny O'Conan. The "worthless wank" line is funny, but the guy adding "wank, did you say now?" is simply hysterical.

Tom Flynn: Break out the hankies and lower the Union Jacks to half mast: this is Barry Smith’s last issue of Conan the Barbarian. In fact, he abandons the comics industry for good, though he will return for sporadic Marvel work in 1983. Barry did leave behind a few inventory fill-ins and we’ll get to those in a few MU years. Supposedly, like Jack Kirby and others before him, Smith became disenfranchised with Marvel’s “work for hire” policy. Plus, he also turned his limey nose up at non-Conan assignments, in particular The Avengers, as he complained of drawing “all those bloody characters that I didn't give tuppence about.” I’d also venture that the deadlines had an effect as well, something Smith denies. However, I think there’s quite a bit of evidence considering all the reprints and the rush of revolving inkers during his Conan run. But whatever, I absolutely loved his work on the book and he will be sorely missed. By the way, Barry Smith is his given name: after he left Marvel to try his luck in the fine art field, he added the Windsor, his mother’s surname. Perhaps it sounded more artsy fartsy. Luckily, Barry inks himself — since that is always the best presentation of his beautiful talent, it’s a fine way to exit stage left. I’ve read that Barry’s art was altered, against his approval, on page 8, as Conan and Red Sonja do a little skinny dipping. The story itself is fairly straightforward but it cements much of Red Sonja’s character foundation. Throughout, Conan is driven by his horny Cimmerian short sword but Sonja vows that the only man to take her will be the one that defeats her in battle. A four-page tavern brawl starts off the issue and it doesn’t amount to much. But at one point in the sequence, Roy has a soldier call another a “worthless wank.” Really? That one slipped by the Comics Code? Or perhaps it’s just my dirty mind at work. And yes, the Makkalet siege continues next issue as we settle in for Big John Buscema’s epic run on the series.

Mark: Barry Windsor-Smith leaves Conan and (for the most part) comics behind with a stone, self-inked classic. "The Song of Red Sonja" opens with the crimson-haired firebrand doing a table dance for an appreciative tavern audience, somewhere in the winesinks of Makkalet. Wounded warrior Jax (part of his scalp cleaved away) gets too handsie; Conan objects and a bar brawl ensues, as does several pages of delightful, incredibly detailed carnage. Pausing to look at it again now makes me smile, then sigh over Smith's exit. I love John Buscema, who will go on to provide yeoman service, but there's simply no replacing Barry, whose signature work defines one of the great comics of the era.

Scott: So we bid goodnight and goodbye to Barry Smith, the real reason I stuck with this book for 24 issues. His stunning, ever-evolving work made this one of the most beautiful titles to read. I doubt I will follow the series after this. Perhaps I'll check in to see what's up, but none of the other loincloth heroes interested me aside from Conan and that was mostly because of the art. Thongor isn't going to fill in that gap, sadly. It's been a great run, Barry.

Mark: Roy Thomas had a little something to do with Conan's quality, of course, and he's got our titular heroes on a quest: Sonya to score a golden serpent-tiara, Conan to score some Sonja. She skillfully leads him around by his little Cimmerian, tricks him twice between them battling the tiara become Giant Snake (natch), and ultimately leaves Conan dangling from the end of his (burning) rope, with burning unslaked loins. Outsmarting him at ever turn, his equal in battle, Sonja radiates charisma as a smart, tough, sexy heroine, unlike other Bullpen efforts at Girl Power. I don't know how much is Thomas, how much Howard, so give them both credit for Red Sonya, fierce feminist warrior and unattainable sword-tease. A great story, coupled with Smith's gorgeous, final valentine art, makes this one a true Marvel Masterpiece.

 Creatures on the Loose 22
Thongor in
"Thongor, Warrior of Lost Lemuria"
Story by George Alec Effinger
Art by Val Mayerik and Vince Colletta

Thongor outfights and outruns guards of the Great City of Zangabal pursuing him for stealing food.  The entire cut-purse kingdom is ruled by the mighty Thieves’ Guild, so he ducks into an ungodly minareted temple, brought there by a dark destiny.  
In the shadows lurks Kaman Thuu, a priest of the Seven Gods of Zangabal, who beckons him to follow.  In exchange for sanctuary, the priestling offers 20 pieces of gold to thieve the mirror of black glass, which even the Thieves’ Guild will not steal.  The mirror’s owner, the cruel magician Athmar Phong, is away “revel[ing] in his brotherhood’s vile rites.”  Thongor conjectures that a demon guards this wizard’s treasure in his absence, but accepts Kaman Thuu’s bargain since the gold will buy his way into the Guild.  The Zangabali priest gives Thongor the Shield of Cathloda, a crystal talisman that protects against most magical attacks, and shows him a hidden route beneath Athmar Phong’s house.  Urging Thongor to follow the yellow symbols to the wizard, he warns “do not stray from the path.”  
Thongor, sole survivor of the slaughter of his people, reflects on his fugitive life of the past nine years – the tribal war in his homeland of Valkarth and how he became an assassin, wanderer, and thief in the lush cities of the south before his capture as a galley slave on the ships of Snembis,  and how fate steered him to lead a mutiny and join the pirates of Tarakus, claiming power and treasure, only to run afoul after slaying their pirate king.  
At the sorcerer’s warehouse he wonders at all the priceless treasures.  After exploring the corridors and chambers, he finds the wizard’s slave woman.  Her seeming irresistible beauty lulls him into a sense of false security, and as they embrace, she takes his protective talisman from him and transforms into the Demon of Zangabal.  “Blasphemous devil!” spits Thongor as they lunge towards each other, sword against sorcery...  -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: This begins an adaptation of author Lin Carter’s “Thieves of Zangabal,” which first appeared in The Mighty Barbarians: Great Sword and Sorcery Heroes, the 1969 fantasy anthology that featured Thongor alongside Henry Kuttner’s Elak of Atlantis, Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Robert E. Howard’s Conan.  That paperback featured cover art by Jim Steranko, as does this issue, which—as if to deflect accusations of derivativeness—fesses up front: “New New NEW! -- From the HOUSE of IDEAS that gave you CONAN and KULL!”  If “New New NEW!” Thongor the Lemurian looks, walks, and talks like “Old Old OLD!” Conan the Cimmerian, you now know why (not to mention the fact that Carter would controversially go on to pen continuing Conan adventures).  Page 12’s montage, chronicling Thongor’s past, borrows from the backstories of Conan and Kull, its presentation by freshman artist Val Mayerik modestly anticipating the epic spread detailing Conan’s career and exploits from “Phoenix on the Sword” (Conan the Barbarian Annual Vol 1 #2 June 1976).  

Gilbert: Carrying over from the Gullivar Jones series is veteran Creatures writer George Alec Effinger.  The writing here, presumably faithful to the source story considering editor Roy Thomas’ track record with adaptations, shows Carter’s prose to be a notch beneath Howard’s, but to be fair, REH had the soul of a warrior-poet who knew how to make his prose and verse sing and soar.  Thongor, however prosaic in comparison, proves nonetheless divertingly enjoyable – imaginative but second-tier adventure fiction, nothing more but nothing less.  

Gilbert: One legendary anecdote recounting the Lemurian barbarian’s delayed Marvel debut is that Thomas sought out rights to Carter’s character because “Thongor” matched Lee’s well-established taste for names such as “Kragoom” and “Bruttu.”  When Thomas learned that he could acquire the better-known Conan for only slightly more, he seized the opportunity.  Luckily for Lee, he would get his wish three years later starting with this issue.  It is amusing to think that on two occasions, Carter’s Thongor almost beat Conan out, even though created 34 years after – first in the comic medium (which eventually came to fruition), then as the 1979 feature film Thongor in the Valley of Demons (which never made it to the screen).  

Gilbert: Those who did not get their fill of swords, pirates, and mutiny will enjoy “Gundar!” (a Tales of Suspense #39 reprint).  With Steve Ditko art and a Stan Lee script, it is the sea tale of a castaway who finds an island of Vikings waiting to be released from their curse by their old captain, Gundar, the very ship master who cruelly ran his galley like the tyrannical pirate king of Tarakus.

 Captain America and the Falcon 159
"Turning Point"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten

Steve comes out of his nightmare ridden mini-coma to face Muldoon and "Bob" who have tied him up. They try to get him to confess to being the Cowled Commander, but leave the room to let Steve worry about how badly they're going to torture him. Of course, they have no idea who they're dealing with and with his new super strength, Steve easily breaks his ropes and changes into his costume and leaves via the window. There he faces a group of criminals working for the Commander: Plant Man, Porcupine, The Scarecrow and the Eel. Not exactly heavy hitters, but they still give Cap and the on the scene Falcon a run for their money. When Falcon clobbers Plantman, the Eel wigs out and we learn they're brothers. Before Falc can process this, he's zapped off the roof, but caught by Cap. Then, just as they're giving chase. The police commissioner picks that moment to do a poorly timed maneuver and cuts Cap off from the criminals. Cap is suspicious. Is the commissioner the Commander? After all, he did conveniently leave the office two issues back just before the bomb went off. Hmmm. They finally find the Commander and his cronies and beat them in a final battle. The Commander is finally revealed to be Muldoon! He created this whole set up, but when things got tight, he tried to frame Steve Rogers. Now caught and disgraced, Muldoon is taken away. -Scott MacIntyre

Scott: Finally, Muldoon's arc is over. That went on a good six issues too long and the wrap up is hardly satisfying. We see Bob at the end, but there's no mention of his facing charges for aiding and abetting kidnapping and threats of bodily harm.  Also no explanations are ever given for the commissioner leaving just before the bomb nearly killed Cap issues ago, nor for his blatant stupidity in obstructing Cap's pursuit. Are we to believe these are coincidences? Apparently so since they never come up again.

Matthew: “For months now,” notes a Bulletin, Steve and Sal “have been laying the groundwork for some far-out and far-reaching new developments in [Cap’s] life...And this is the month when it all comes home to roost!”  Stainless explained on his website, “Much like the idea of turning the Beast’s fur darker, Marvel decided Cap should become stronger.  I did it but stopped talking about it after a while, and the whole concept simply faded away over time.”  Just as well, since it belies Cap’s core characterization as “merely” a superb athlete and fighter, and anything else could be attributed to the Super-Soldier Serum; meanwhile, these teams of third-tier villains are usually less than the sum of their parts—but always fun, especially drawn by Sal.

Peter: Here's one of those enigmas that just suddenly dawn on you while re-reading a comic for the umpteenth time: How could The Falcon hold Captain America in one hand and swing on his grappling hook with the other (as seen below)? At some point he has to use that other hand to shoot off the hook again, right? The unmasking of The Caped Commander as Lt. Muldoon is one of the dopiest reveals in the history of Marvel Comics, one that I'd thankfully shut out of my memory until this week when re-reading it. If I had the energy to re-read the past dozen or so issues, I could provide you with proof why it couldn't possibly be Muldoon but... oh, wait, I have to read Fantastic Four now. Oh, and five fifth-tier villains don't add up to one first-tier.

Mark: I mocked the Cowled Commander's dream team ('cause they put you to sleep), revealed at the end of last ish as Plant-Man, the Porcupine, the Eel, and The Scarecrow as "bottom barrel sad-sacks," but I was wrong. They'd need a hydraulic lift to make it into the barrel. Even Cowly admits his Feckless Four are "milksops," before being revealed as a gone rogue Sgt. Muldoon. "Stainless" Steve Englehart will go on to write some great stories. This is not one of them.

Scott: Good teamwork between Cap and Falc. Leila has a quick cameo and she's not as abrasive as usual. All in all, a necessary issue, but not a great one. The 8th tier villains don't do much to excite.

Daredevil and the Black Widow 97
"He Who Saves"
Story by Steve Gerber and Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Ernie Chua

Daredevil watches from above as a young man named Mordecai Jones shows off his gymnastic skills to a crowd of people. When a dog attacks Jones, the young man is taken to hospital. After initial treatment, his hospital bed is wheeled off to a hidden room, where he becomes the subject of an experiment. Meanwhile, Matt Murdoch is hire to defend some thugs that DD ironically stopped the previous day. Heading down to police headquarters, Matt encounters a muscular, costumed man exuding vibes of tremendous power. Turns out its Mordecai Jones, transformed into the self proclaimed Dark Messiah. DD soon appears, but finds the Messiah to have various super abilities—such as freeing other convicts to be his disciples or holding DD against the wall with force beams. Jones has taken his crew to Golden Gate Park and put up a force barrier around them. When police commissioner O’Hara and officer Carson ask DD for help, our masked hero finds he can enter the force field from an apex at the top, with the help of a fire ladder. Once inside, the Dark Messiah proclaims Daredevil to be a satanic enemy and attacks. Matt ends up on his back, not seeing that some of the former convicts are now likewise transformed into “super-beings.”
-Jim Barwise

Jim: I’m not sure if the Dark Messiah is satisfying enough thus far to justify the questions his origin raises. Who is his benefactor? How did the others transform into similar beings? And for what purpose? I found the interactions between Matt and Natasha, and the interplay wherein “Ironguts” O’Hara grudgingly admits he needs DD’s help, to be more enjoyable.

Mark: Grim pickings this month. Ernie Chua over-inks Gene Colan, obliterating much of the Dean's fluid, atmospheric pencils that Tom Palmer always complimented. Still looks good 'cause it's Colan, but also much more conventional under Chua's heavy hand. The Conway to Gerber writing transition is also tough duty. "He Who Saves" is street acrobat Mordecai Jones – "as good as I am," says DD – who inexplicitly falls down and goes boom when rushed by a dog, is taken to hospital where he lingers unattended for hours before being hustled by an unseen villain to a tiny secret lab, "perhaps once a broom closet," to be zapped with high voltage and emerge spouting dialogue like, "Yea, back, ye multitudes, or face the wrath of...the Dark Messiah!" And yep, it's as bad as it sounds.

Scott: If I saw this issue on the rack, based on the cover alone, I would not pick it up. It screams "Daredevil vs Super Porn Star!" What's funny is the character inside looks completely different, with only the basic costume design being similar. It takes forever for Mordachai Jones to make the scene as Dark Messiah. Until he came out in that crummy outfit, this story was quite good; a nice lesson about how marginalized citizens can get lost in the system. Instead, we get another wacky villain with strange powers. The final panel is chuckle worthy as three disciples of the Dark Messiah stand over DD. Gene Colan is an amazing artist, but his character designs are often ludicrous.

Matthew: Over the next several months, the Bullpen avoids abrupt shifts in writers with a number of transitional collaborations, as Gerber succeeds Conway on Hornhead, and Conway in turn succeeds Thomas on the FF.  Gerber’s arrival usually kicks things up a notch (or at least sideways; see the current Iron Man), and this issue, in which he scripts Gerry’s typically bizarre plot, not surprisingly demonstrates the principle that in the hands of a good wordsmith, a story can be made interesting even if the villains aren’t particularly.  Meanwhile, in the art department, inker Ernie Chua—as he was then credited—continues to provide a breath of fresh air, giving Colan’s pencils a zing that is hard to quantify but nonetheless welcome; Tash looks muy caliente.

Scott: Nice interplay between Matt and Tasha as well as DD with the police and the commissioner. Those bits are more interesting than the hero vs villain stuff. Ernie Chua/Chan again elevates Gene's pencils with his fantastic inks. At least this issue looks amazing.

Mark: Messiah Jones, now sporting orange skin and power-bolt shooting eyes, frees young thugs to be his disciples, all in service of – I'm taking a flyer here – a sinister plan hatched by the mystery miscreant who birthed MJ, back in the broom closet. Gerber would later skewer this sort of unholy hokum to great satiric effect in Howard the Duck, but here, unfortunately, it's played straight and the laughs are unintentional. Add the utter stupidity of Mattasha letting the still-unconscious Ivan slumber away (slip deeper into coma?) two days after being cold-cocked by the Man-Bull without seeing a sawbones, and this edition of The Man Without Fear prompts only a sneer.

 Fantastic Four 132
"Omega the Ultimate Enemy"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

The Human Torch and Quicksilver have found Crystal, kidnapped by the Alpha-Primitives. At the threat of her demise they have agreed to help the Alphas take over the world of the Inhumans above—with the aid of a giant known as Omega. They manage to free Crystal from his grasp, but find he seems to grow stronger when struck by any Inhumans (but why not Johnny?). Above the Great Refuge, Reed, Ben and Medusa make a safe crash landing, where Black Bolt’s fellows bring them up to date. Soon Omega breaks out from the Alpha’s catacombs below, leading his fellows to battle. The giant boasts that they will never defeat him, for they don’t know the secret of his power. Reed overhears the imprisoned Maximus boast to himself; his innocent perpetual motion machine isn’t so harmless, it’s the means by which Omega is being fed his power-- but how? The Torch and Quicksilver stop the FF from destroying the machine; until Crystal can tell the entire secret she has learned. It is the Inhumans own guilt at enslaving the Alpha-Primitives that feeds Omega, and only by facing up to it can they stop his attack, and drain his strength. The realization frees them, but should their darker emotions come forth, Omega will rise again. The Alphas, free at last, return to their underground kingdom. Crystal chooses between Quicksilver and Johnny, and not in the Torch’s favour. Johnny feigns “no big deal,” making it easier for his ladylove, who fails to see the tears in his eyes as the team (with Medusa it’s new temporary member) departs. -Jim Barwise

Scott: John Buscema and Joe Sinnott whip up an incredible looking issue, totally making up for last month's Ross Andru-athon. A good action tale with a fine moral. What really stands out is the totally groan worthy Johnny Storm. This fricking guy is insufferable. We're introduced to his (thankfully) short- lived red costume and his confession of his "love" of the original Human Torch comics, theorizing that selfsame love is why the cosmic rays made him a new version of the character. Holy crap, really kid? Even Reed doesn't give it much credence. The red costume looks awful and never felt right. Johnny's declaration that they finally look like a team again makes no sense. They never stopped wearing their outfits and, until now, Reed and Johnny had identical costumes. With Medusa now part of the team and wearing a totally different outfit, they look less like a team than before. God, I hate this guy.

Matthew: I hope it is not merely nostalgia that makes me regard this issue (another from the original cluster) as a high point of Roy’s first run on the title, which will be drawing to a close surprisingly soon.  To me, the artwork represents the Buscema/Sinnott FF at its finest, with my only caveat being that it’s a shame the complexity of the story—otherwise satisfying in addressing the treatment of the Alpha Primitives—required so many smaller panels, crying out for a little more epic sweep.  Yet I think it was wise to wind up the main plotline a few pages early, giving Roy time to resolve the Johnny/Crystal/Pietro triangle while bringing the team back up to fighting strength with Medusa and, in some cases, nifty new uniforms; I love the last panel.

Mark: The only thing I remember about this issue, which I haven't re-read in four decades, was the Big Breakup. More on that presently. Last week I predicted "the uprising of the Alpha Primitives...will lead to a critique on the mortality of a "worker class" bred to serve the elite..." Spot on, but that hardly makes me Nostradamus since Roy Thomas wasn't likely to tub-thump for de facto slavery. Maximus inventing a perpetual motion machine that also "absorbed-harnessed" the Inhumans' "secret guilt" and manifested it as the "hulking grotesquerie Omega" is a real stretch, even given the liberal rubber-science of comics, but we'll give that a pass since it's utilized in service of a sobering Moral Lesson. The art is fab with Big John back, plus we get Johnny's new red uni and Medusa officially subbing in for the departed Sue. Thus Roy ends his short but eventful run by shaking up the status quo. For one change, Mr. Thomas remains unforgiven, even forty years on.

Jim: I think I have to agree with Professor Matthew on this one; the wrap-up of the story is satisfying enough. I even kind of bought the Inhumans realization of their own ignorance in enslaving the Alpha-Primitives. Medusa looks to be an exciting stand-in for Sue in the team for now. Clearly the highlight of the issue for me though, was the choice Crystal has to make between Johnny and Pietro. While the verdict shouldn’t really be a surprise (distance doesn’t always make the heart grow fonder), like any real life breakup, to see it happen hurts. Johnny shows some real maturity in how he takes it, choosing to spare Crystal’s feelings over his own. Love his new threads!

Peter: That last panel and the art are the only positives I draw from this, unfortunately. Maybe just the old cynic in me but I had lots of problems with this issue. First up, Roy brings out the old "let's fight instead of explain" cliche, done to death back in his younger day, now so dried up and haggard it could be Simon Garth. Lickety split, right in the middle of battle, Reed Richards suddenly says, "Hang on a minute, I know what's going on and why Johnny didn't explain the whole situation to me and instead turned on the fireworks!" The big cop out here is the usual "let's edjacate these eight year-olds to the evils of the world" mentality displayed by Roy "the lone voice crying out in the wilderness against all of life's inequalities and racial injustice" Thomas. Why would the Inhumans suddenly feel so ashamed of keeping the Alphas as slaves? Are you telling me they didn't realize, before Crystal's thought-provoking speech, that they were treating this race of people as something beneath them? And why the sudden epiphany on Crystal's part? Had Black Bolt and his boys just enslaved this race of alphas the week before? And it's a little presumptuous on Medusa's part to jump into the Sue Storm slot without asking permission first. Tell you what; first big fight in that new Cher-inspired costume and out come the headlights. Back to that final panel though -- I've never felt sympathy for Johnny Storm until that finale. Telling Crystal he's looking forward to being "on the prowl" again and then turning to face us, with tears in his eyes, is a heartbreaker. Almost worth wading through the first 20 pages of junk to get to.

Scott: Crystal is finally given her proper send off, dumping Johnny at last. He takes it well, finally, but he's so full of crap it practically rolls down his sleeves. He name drops Dorrie Evans for the first time in years and while it is sort of sad to see Crystal go with the equally unlikeable Quicksilver (call your sister, a-hole!), I feel nothing for Johnny, because he's such a douche. However, on the plus side, I got a nice laugh out of Reed's repaired costume being unchanged because he has no imagination. When Reed asks why they were asked to appear in "these torn uniforms," I had to marvel at the absurdity. Did they have non-torn uniforms with them? If not, what else would they be wearing?  

Mark: Johnny and Crys splitsville was traumatic for me, like the breakup of the Beatles or learning Nixon was a sociopath. I grew up with the exquisite elemental an integral part of the FF and the Torch's main squeeze, and those stories remain one of the few bright spots of Jack Kirby's last couple years. But even at twelve I could read the writing on the (wailing) wall when Johnny and Quicksilver collide and Crystal's only concern is Pietro. The ending is well-done – even as it tore my guts out- with Johnny taking the high road, lying about dating Dorrie Evans for Crys' benefit, but the last panel told the real story. Johnny was devastated. So was I, but unlike the Torch, I wasn't about to let Crys go without a fight. For more on my quixotic campaign to reunite my fave couple, tune in for the Sunday Special!

The Monster of Frankenstein 2
"Bride of the Monster"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog

The backstory of Frankenstein's Monster continues as the creature, now freed from his icy prison aboard Robert Walton's ship, is saved from the fearful crew by Walton himself. We learn of the Monster's trials and tribulations from killing and eating a bear to his all-too-brief friendship with the blind man. We learn how he reconnected with Victor, and convinced his creator to make him a mate. Unfortunately, no sooner than the blushing bride gets up and walks, Victor recognizes the error of his ways and kills her. The monster, after discovering the remains of his would-be mate, kills a friend of Victor's who stumbles across him, a murder for which Victor was held responsible and jailed. The story is interrupted when Walton's ship crashes into an iceberg! - John Scoleri

Peter: I read this series years ago when it was first published but I can't, for the life of me, remember which direction it heads in. Friedrich's wrapping up the concepts he's pulled from the original novel and is about to build on that foundation in a dazzling way. Mike Ploog's art is near-perfect (a few too many spittly-Wrightsonesque mouths maybe) and I can't help but be enthralled by the epic scope of the narrative. How long that enchantment holds is anyone's guess (after all, we're heading for a Tomb of Dracula crossover in a year or so) but for now this is the best monster strip the company has going.

John: More great art as the intriguing tale of Frankenstein continues. Based on the cover, you might reasonably expect the bride to play a larger role in the story, but she's relegated to just a few pages from creation to destruction. Still, it is a nice cover...

Scott: Another classy issue, most of which I followed through the Power Records adaptation. It follows the classic "Bride Of" story while being completely different. Mike Ploog is at his best here. Real art, peeps. It's what makes reading such a pleasure.

We, the generous Professors at MU have got a special Christmas Day surprise for you when Professor Joe takes a look at a rare slice of Marvel History. March 1973 (Part Two) will arrive on New Year's Day. Happy Holidays to all you Marvel Zombies out there!