Wednesday, May 15, 2013

February 1971: ... And The Falcon!!!

Conan the Barbarian 3
"The Twilight of the Grim Grey God!"
Story by Robert E. Howard
Adapted by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

Encumbered by wrist shackles on the Hyperborean highlands, Conan spies a grey haired warrior staring into the night skies in the distance. He cautiously approaches, and the imposing figure, who somehow knows the barbarian’s name, informs the Cimmerian that a war between Hyperborea and Brythunia is imminent. Suddenly the sky is filled with winged horses ridden by ghostly women named “The Choosers of the Slain.” Conan flees and soon encounters a lone Brythunian soldier. Conan tells the Brythunian that his chains were put on by Hyperborean slave traders and that he will join the soldier’s army to get his revenge. When the two armies face off on the battlefield, the Hyperboreans scream the name of their war god, Borri, while charging. As the tide of battle turns towards the raging Hyperboreans, Conan rushes off to get help from Malachi, the commander of the Brythunian cavalry. But Malachi is a traitor and refuses to enter the fray. In a berserker rage, Conan plunges back in the bloody melee and soon, the Brythunian forces triumph. With many dead, including the Brythunian and Hyperborean kings, “The Choosers of the Slain” appear and collect the fallen. The grey warrior also returns: he is the Hyperborean war god Borri. -TF

TF: For the second straight issue, Roy opens the tale immediately after the events of some unseen conflict. Last issue, Conan stood over a vanquished yeti on the splash page. Here, Conan is struggling with shackles slapped on by your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine. However this time, unlike the yeti encounter, the opening is eventually explained. The splash page also notes that Conan’s third Marvel adventure is “freely adapted” from Robert E. Howard’s “The Grey God Passes.” Also known as “The Twilight of the Grey Gods” —first published posthumously in 1972 — the short story is not a Conan tale, instead featuring Howard’s Celtic hero, Turlogh Dubh O’Brien. I’m completely unfamiliar with the source work, but this is a more layered outing than the first two issues and features a larger cast of characters. I should seek out the original story because I’m curious to know if the line “For this is the day the ravens drink blood!” is Roy’s or Robert’s. For the second straight issue, Sal Buscema provides the embellishments to Barry Smith’s pencils, and the results are terrific. The angular action poses still resemble Kirby, but Smith is quickly developing his own dramatic and distinctive style. Michael Jordan, from Saginaw, Michigan, raves about Conan #1 on “The Hyborian Page.” I assume this is not the same guy with the line of sneakers named after him. By the way, is “The Hyborian Page” the coolest moniker for a current letters page? Could be, by Crom.

SM: The first "freely adapted" story originally written by Robert E.
Howard and it's a brutal, exciting adventure. Lots of death, betrayal and dishonor. I'm truly enjoying this book, which is a real surprise. Barry Smith's art is continuing to evolve while Conan continues his road show. Barry is growing with every panel, now even farther away from the Kirby pastiche he started with. At times, his characters have a manga sort of style to them. Conan desperately needs some supporting characters, as his friends keep getting killed the same issue he meets them. This is a very dense issue, with lots of story and dialog crammed into 20 pages. This title needs to be longer or start bringing multi-part tales. Excellent story, fine art, really smashing issue.

Astonishing Tales 4

Ka-Zar in
"The Sun God!"
Story by Gerard Conway
Art by Barry Smith & Sam Grainger

As Zaladane, Queen-priestess of the Sun-Empire, attacks the city of the Vala-Kuri in the name of the Sun God, Ka-Zar hops a unicorn (“the swiftest of beasts”) to try and stop her, plus Tongah leaves The Petrified Man behind as he heads off to help. Zaladane presses her attack, Ka-Zar helps battle back, and the ancient rocky one discovers he can yield the power of the Sun God! Tongah helps out with his trusty ax, but Sun God Garokk insists on peace. But good ol’ Zaladane wants no part of that, and uses her sky-beast to grab Ka-Zar and fly off! - JT

JT: Lots of hyperbole from young Mr. Conway this month, channeling the heyday of Stan and the grandiose statements of Roy. And, well, it’s all fairly mediocre this time around. Not horrendous, just OK. Nice Smith pencils, the usual crappy Grainger inks. I do love that unicorn though. And maybe Tongah should get his own book, he’s a hoot!

SM: At ten pages, you'd think this would be painless for me to get through, but Ka-Zar is the most deadly dull of the Marvel characters. Try as I might, I just can't get into this title, it bores the hell out of me. Great art, though. I'm really liking Barry Smith's work more every new issue.

Doctor Doom in
"The Invaders"
Story by Larry Leiber
Art by Wally Wood

Dr. Doom revels in his victory as only he can, by ordering his “loyal” subjects to rebuild his beloved
castle and immediately heading off on holiday! But that leaves The Red Skull to invade the unsuspecting Latveria, with The Exiles in tow. As they take the country by storm, Doom invades a Riviera hotel, where he’s attacked by thieves that he dispatches much too easily. After he’s insulted (his words, not mine) at the hotel casino, Doom trashes the place and heads back home—but little does he know the Red Skull has already taken over the country! - JT

JT: Boy, Doom is a nasty piece of work. No time to see the peasants rebuild the castle. No patience for sniveling hotel desk clerks. No need for masked intruders interrupting his shut-eye (that’s two Doom issues in a row I used that one!). And most depressing, no tolerance for nervous casino hosts. Should be interesting when he gets back home and sees the Red Skull sitting in his favorite chair! Nice Wally Wood art this month, very old school drawings of Red and the good Doctor. By the way, it’s hard not to laugh at Cadvius, Monarch of the Murder Chair—not for his handicap of course, but for the ridiculousness of his chair. Yeesh. Also can’t help but chuckle at why The Red Skull would decide to invade Latveria with Doom on “vacation”. Was there just nothing else to do? Did he not realize Cap was back from his motorcycle trip/mid-life crisis?

SM: Oh man, this one started out so well. It really felt like this was going to be a really good issue. Dr. Doom vs the Red Skull is a natural and the lead up to their confrontation should have been amazing. I can see Doom leaving the country as his subjects rebuild his castle, but I figured he'd go to his embassy. He takes off and then we meet the Skull, who has reunited with his Exiles. All is well, then suddenly, the Skull's goons, with their cheesy weapons and powers demonstrate their abilities and take over. That would be easy enough to take on its own, but then Doom decides to stroll around the Riviera! In full armor! I hope that thing has built-in a/c. And he sleeps in his full outfit! He tears up a roulette table, calling himself the Master of Menace before deciding he'd rather sit outside and bask in his subjects' terrified "loyalty" than lounge around the rich and shameless. The only thing that works is the final panel, with the Skull in charge of Latveria and Nazis doing the goose step. Chilling! But why does the Skull want to take over Latveria again?

MB: It’s probably just the reproduction quality of my reprint from Super-Villain Team-Up #15 (following a 1977 Doom/Skull rematch in that late, lamented book), but Wood’s swan song on this short-lived strip looks pretty sketchy, with Doom unsurprisingly coming off best. Likewise, although the idea of a face-off between two of Marvel’s greatest bad guys is an inspired one, Lieber’s script is all set-up and no pay-off, so the jury is basically still out in that respect.  I haven’t grown any fonder of the Exiles than I was when Captain America turned Sam Wilson into the Falcon to battle them; unfortunately, much of this entry is devoted to those losers, and how the Skull survived Captain America #129 to reassert his control over them.

Captain America and The Falcon 134
"They Call Him -- Stone-Face"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gene Colan and Dick Ayers

Cap and the Falcon are fighting the men of Stone Face while looking for this master criminal. We are introduced to Jody Casper, nephew of The Falcon, who is one of Stone Face's gang. He goes to his Uncle Sam who knows Jody is a numbers runner for Stone Face. He tries to talk sense into  him, but loses his temper and Jody takes off, bumping into Steve Rogers on the way and snapping off a racial insult for good measure (ironic for a kid named Casper). Jody is nabbed by the cops during his collection but is let off when Sam Wilson and Cap stick up for him. Stone Face never sent a lawyer to spring Jody, so Stoney assumed Jody spilled the beans and puts a hit out on him. The goons beat up Jody and shoot his mother, Sam's sister, which sends the Falcon in a rage. He and Cap bust Stone Face in short order. Jody learns his lesson, his mom gets off the hook with a flesh wound and Cap and Falc dedicate themselves to their fight to stop this from happening to others. -SM

SM: Well, I'll be damned. A good issue! The Falcon is now a full time partner and earns his place in the title. There are some quick intros to Sam Wilson and his social worker status and off we go. Cap himself feels more comfortable in this environment and it's great to have him doing his thing without all the whining and self pity.

MB: For the next 89 issues, this mag will be officially known as Captain America and the Falcon, formalizing everybody’s favorite salt-and-pepper super-team.  At least initially, this injection of new blood proves to be a good thing on several levels, e.g., Colan’s artwork (inked here by Dick Ayers at the end of his current run) seems much better suited to the gritty Harlem milieu of Stone-Face than to the more straightforward super-heroics that made me lament his presence on the book.  It also enables Stan to give Cap—who, wonder of wonders, actually makes a joke about breaking in new partners—a renewed optimism and purpose, instead of constantly moping about Bucky, his situation with Sharon and/or his role in the modern world.

SM: With the Falcon comes social relevance and one's tolerance for anti-white rhetoric will be tested in the months to come. Luckily, it's just one viewpoint that Sam Wilson doesn't usually share, but it will make him single minded in the future. Dick Ayers ruins Gene Colan's pencils yet again. Stone Face looks like a guy who had a stroke and his "thumbs down" gesture on page 9 adds to that. That doesn't even look like a hand. Aside from the art, this is a good, refreshing change from the recent batch of crappy issues.

PE: The cherry has been laid upon the top. Just say it a few times slowly: Captain America and the Falcon! It has a ring to it, as if it was always meant to be. Must have been jarring though in 1971. Out of the blue, as in "What the hell is Stan thinking?" Resurrect Bucky forty times in the six years Cap has had a slot in this magazine and then turn over the co-star role to a newbie. Of course, it makes great business sense (the urban demographic) but, as events develop, you'll see that, grand scheme or no, the change will bring about better storylines. This title became my favorite comic book of the 1970s. Granted, most of the love is showered on one particular arc, but the rest of it ain't too bad either once we get some new writers on board. My fear, of course, is that it's all nostalgia clouding my brain. I haven't read most of these issues in 40 years so I'm a bit nervous that what I remember ain't necessarily so.

JT: 89 issues! Had no idea the partnership in the title lasted that long. But heck, I loved it back in the day! Well, the good issues at least....

Daredevil 73
"Behold... The Brotherhood!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Syd Shores

In the dimension of Ankh, beings known as the Brotherhood hold the Zodiac Key, a tool of sorts that in their world channels the power to maintain the balance between good and evil.  It does, but needs conflict to maintain its energy. Thus the high priests of Ankh have sought to create a purpose for the Key: a battle amongst some conflicting people of…Earth. On the “good side” are Nick Fury, Iron Man, Daredevil, a costumed lady called Madame Masque, and a man named Kevin O’Brien. On the “bad”… the company called the Zodiac:  Spymaster, Capricorn, Aquarius and Sagittarius. Obliged to fight (in the Ankh dimension), our heroes hold their own until the priests of Ankh realize that the balance they seek to reach is not being served by this battle, and they send them all back to Earth. -JB

JB: Having started in Iron Man #35, and swinging back to said title for its conclusion, I found being
tossed into this issue a bit hard to follow. Probably the story would make more sense if I’d read part one, but it still seemed a little out of place for DD’s more down-to-Earth struggles.

SM: This story picks up from Iron Man 35 which isn't covered  until next "month." The cover months are all the same, but for some reason, this story appeared a month early. Honestly, because of this discrepancy, I couldn't get into this issue and I sort of stopped reading. At this juncture, all I can say is "good art." I'll read this in the proper order for next time, but that won't help the review process here, sadly.

MB: My first thought when I opened this issue was that ironically, despite being one of the definitive artists for both DD and Iron Man, Gene Colan was resolutely the wrong man for a S.H.I.E.L.D./Zodiac wingding like this crossover.  That’s after Don Heck set the bar pretty low with part one, which (due to the Marvel Publication Paradox) appears in next month’s Iron Man, also scripted by newcomer Gerry Conway from Allyn Brodsky’s plot.  Where this whole shindig winds up, I can’t recall, and we won’t find out together until the April issue of Shellhead’s book, but let’s just say that when I saw what a weird, fantasy-oriented left turn the story took—and, in my view, made the whole less than the sum of its parts—Colan seemed, well, a little less wrong.

JT: This was one of the few early Daredevils I owned, mostly for the cool cover. The story was a bit confusing as I remember, but the way Prof. Matthew explains it, now I see why!

Fantastic Four 107
"And Now -- The Thing!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Back at the Baxter Building, Reed gets Johnny to melt the ice around Ben that held his experiment in stasis. The final stage proceeds—with success! Ben Grimm can now become the Thing, and vice-versa, anytime he wishes, just by willing it. Ben surprises Alicia with the news when she drops by, and they go out to celebrate. Ben has a few laughs transforming back and forth, but Alicia finds that Ben seems a little out of control, angrier than normal. Everyone is acting oddly. Johnny flies off in a huff, missing Crystal. Reed gives Sue a rude send-off to go see their son Franklin who’s with Agatha Harkness. Someone Reed knows who he calls Janus convinces Reed to let him into the building. Janus is desperate for Reed to let him enter the Negative Zone, but Reed says no way. Janus of course, has a concealed weapon, an energy ray. He stuns Reed, and gets past the point of no return before the leader of the F.F. can stop him. Next stop, what? -JB.

JB: The trend of average stories continues. Ben’s transformation at will back and forth gives some fun moments. I can’t say as I remember who this Janus guy is, or why he is so intent on his mission. A clue that young Franklin has a super-power-something of his own is given when the young boy senses Sue’s approach.

SM: I really dislike like Ben Grimm. Don't get me wrong, I love The Thing, he's one of Marvel's best characters. But when he has a chance to be Ben again, I lose interest. Ben is a blow hard, a braggart and actually never looks the same any time we see him. This time, however, his change is extremely effective as the cure begins to cloud his moral judgment, making Ben cruel and fierce. The curing sequence is well paced and depicted, even though Ben never seems tired or put out when he changes. He just stands there holding his trunks. His effort to become the Thing on page 5 is fantastic. Very dramatic and filled with intensity. The art is top grade and really gives this scene gravitas.

MB:  Let’s get this out of the way right up front:  incoming penciler Buscema will now be inked by Sinnott—my favorite art team—both here and, at least for several of the next few months, in Thor.  Can you say, “All’s right with the world”?  Heretical though it sounds to some, I think this begins the apogee of Marvel’s flagship title; without taking anything away from Kirby’s historic hundred issues, it’s no secret that I’ve always preferred Big John, and may consider his almost-unbroken three-year run the definitive rendition of the FF.  Amusingly, it’s like this issue was meant to put the new guy through his paces (“Hey, let’s make him draw some freaky Negative Zone critters.  Wait—we’ll have him draw Ben in various transitional stages!”).

SM: The only real sour note about this period of the book is Johnny's constant whining and tantrums about Crystal. The damned kid never gives Reed a break. Stretch hasn't had a spare second since Crystal left to focus on her problem with living in our germ-filled air. The kid just takes off and sucks any sympathy I may have had for him right out the window. He gripes about everyone treating him like a child, but that's how he acts. Of course, to be fair, Reed is a douche this issue, sticking his nose back in his test tubes and giving Sue the brush.

PE: So, the madder Ben Grimm gets, the easier it is for him to turn into The Thing? Where have I heard that before? And how is it that Reed is so darned sure that, not only did he cure Ben but he also equipped him with the power to "Thing Out?" If I was Reed, I'd have belted Johnny inn the kisser. Here's Stretch under lots of pressure, hoping his best bud will pull through, and all this spoiled teen can do is holler "You've failed him, Reed!" or "What have you done to Ben?" or, best of all "It will be just like you murdered him, Reed!" Supportive wife Sue nods off in the background. As far as the story goes, I'm rollin' with it. It's been way too long since we were exposed to the delights of The Negative Zone and I sure hope the Janus pay-off is worth the four issues this arc will take up. More hints dropped as to the true nature of Franklin Richards' powers -- or are they?

SM: The sequence where Ben flips out and tackles the gunmen is great stuff. It's awesome to see him let loose for a change. We close out the issue with a Dr. Janus arriving and causing all sorts of trouble with the negative zone as we make way for next month's issue and the final contribution by Jack Kirby in a heavily edited tale.

The Incredible Hulk 136
"Klaatu! The Behemoth from Beyond Space!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sal Buscema

Bruce Banner accidently stumbled upon some U.S. military personnel in Europe after his last adventure.  He was taken to General Ross who planned on getting him to help once they got back to Americas  As they fly above the Empire State building in New York, something triggers Banner to get excited and he becomes the Hulk again.  Ross and Talbot barely escape with their lives after the plane crashes due to the Hulk's recklessness.  Meanwhile, the city of New York has been experiencing power outages all over.  The reason for this (also the reason for Banner's freak out) is that a giant space monster, known as Klaatu, has been hiding out in the Empire State building's electrical system.  Klaatu is some type of energy alien so powerful, he is able to swat the Hulk away like a flea after absorbing  some of the Green Goliath's most powerful blows.  Things get even more chaotic when Xeron, an alien similar in size to the Hulk, shows up on a ship powered by several alien slaves.  This extraterrestrial tough guy has apparently been hunting Klaatu for some time.  After the Hulk chases off Klaatu, who disappears once again into some electrical wires, Xeron decides to recruit the Hulk as one of his crew.  The Hulk fights him off for a bit, but Xeron uses a type of energy harpoon to subdue the Hulkster.  The Hulk wakes up in the lower bowels of Xeron's ship surrounded by all manner of creatures, imprisoned to do the alien's bidding.  To make matters worse, the story ends with the reveal that the Abomination is the ship's second in command! -TM

TM:  Hopefully this story is more to my colleagues liking than last issue's strange time travel tale.  What's not to love?  Take the Hulk plus aliens, add two dashes of Where Monster's Dwell, a pinch of Moby Dick along with reintroducing a future classic villain, and you have a Marvel recipe for success.  Xeron is a decent villain, mainly because he is a tool that likes to talk out loud to himself about boring science jargon, comparing his technology to earth's.  Plus, he looks kind of stupid.  That combo alone will have anybody rooting for Jade Jaws to punch him out.  The artwork was up to par, though if I had to be picky I'd say that the Abomination looks a little strange... more so then usual anyway.  Still, count me in for next issue which I am excited about reading. Something that can't often be said for most of the Hulk's other two-part adventures.

MB: This story’s title suggests that we are in for either a bubbling stew of The Day the Earth Stood Still (why Roy appropriated the name of that classic’s noble alien, I have no idea ) and It! The Terror from Beyond Space, perhaps along the lines of Fantastic Four #97, or a regression to Marvel’s pre-super-hero monster tales.  I don’t think the results resembled either of those things, but in any case, I found them insufferably dull, especially the endless discussion of whether or not to give Banner another tranquilizer.  I won’t sweat the details of the plot, which I hope will become clearer next issue, but I will say this is a rare case when I actually prayed for it not to be a continued story, which even the appearance of the Abomination only partially offset.

SM: Klaatu! Barrata! Nikto! No wait, wrong Klaatu. Damn you, Roy Thomas and your love of classic sci-fi movies! Once again, the Army is populated by a squad of dolts as they hesitate in giving Banner another trank because he insists that he's having "dizzy spells" and not changing into the Hulk. You'd think he'd know what that felt like by now. The Hulk gets to do the King Kong bit on the Empire State Building and we get a weird alien for him to fight. I actually thought we were going to get something different at the start of the issue. Something better, to be honest. The surprise reveal of the Abomination is pretty cool, but too little too late at this point. Not the best issue ever, but an easy enough to read time passer. Trimpe's art is showing through Sal's inks this issue, which is a rarity.

The Invincible Iron Man 34
"Crisis -- and Calamity!!"
Story by Allyn Brodsky
Art by Don Heck and Joe Gaudioso

Coping with the bombing of S.I., Jasper is puzzled by the arrival of Tony and the abusivefaux Fury, while Kevin frees himself and seeks vengeance on the Espionage Elite, and a cat-and-mouse game ensues between the three men and the industrial spies.  Tony switches on a videotape that purports to show Iron Man arriving; Kevin sabotages an elevator, briefly trapping the Spymaster, but by the time Kevin reaches Tony’s office, London is now impersonating Stark, who slips out while O’Brian tackles the imposter.  Sitwell is taken hostage and Iron Man’s armor is damaged, yet the Avenger holds his own until the Spymaster elects to flee, seriously wounding Jasper when the latter tries to prevent his getaway, and leaves the Espionage Elite to be captured -MB.

MB: Brodsky here ends the five-issue run on this book that was the modest centerpiece of his sporadic stint as a Marvel writer (although he would return with a plot assist in #38), and by next month’s Bullpen page would be referred to as “our erudite editorial aide-de-camp.”  Just as I feared, after going to all the trouble of painstakingly providing each member of the so-called Espionage Elite with a moniker and background, “Amiable Allyn” uses them as a largely interchangeable bunch of yahoos who can’t even decide whether to refer to one another by number or name.  Sad to say, the largely undistinguished Heck/Gaudioso art doesn’t help, and it seems that I was wrong about O’Brian’s brogue settling down; I may have been thinking of his as-yet-unseen brother, Michael.

SM: Because of the DD discrepancy, this whole story is now screwed up. Jeez. If I wasn't reading these books for the blog, the cover of this issue wouldn't make me slobber with anticipation. It's too busy with no real focus. Inside, Don Heck's lackluster layouts and pencils rob the issue of excitement. Jasper takes one for the team and hovers between life and death in true Happy Hogan style. Not much going on here, but there's a lot of action and Die Hard style derring do from O'Brien and Sitwell to keep things humming. I don't know, it's not bad, it's not great. Very mediocre.

JS: The nicest thing I can say about this issue is it made me appreciate that the lackluster Iron Man 3 could have been much, much worse.

Sub-Mariner 34
"Titans Three!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney

For reasons that are never quite explained, Namor goes off and recruits the Hulk to help him fight off and capture a third world dictator.  During the melee the Silver Surfer also throws his hat into the ring to help out the two bruisers.  In the end, the three heroes capture an island after taking control of the dictator's military forces without as so much as breaking a sweat.  Even though they all seem to get along, tensions are just waiting to break out among these three rugged individuals who serve no one but themselves -TM.

TM:  The Defenders is one of the few titles I never read way back when I tried to read eveny Marvel comic I could get my hands on back in the 1970's.  While I'm not certain this coming saga is the way to go, I am happy to see these fellow outcasts mixed together to see what will happen next.

SM: This feels mostly like a build up of things to come. Much as it was cool to see the actual Hulk as a guest, as opposed to it being an android or a puppet, the whole "we must talk! No fight! No talk!" plotting is fast growing tiresome. The evil general is drawn as a caricature, it's impossible for me to take him seriously. It was nice to see Dorma happy, though. I try to enjoy the little things.

MB:  It’s fascinating to watch Roy forging these links in the chain leading up to the Defenders, first in the orphaned Dr. Strange’s enforced team-ups with Namor and the Hulk, and now with his proto-Defender “Titans Three.”  The Surfer seems to have mellowed out since the cancellation of his title (“I have foresworn my vow to revenge myself upon [the Earthmen] for their reckless attacks against me”), and there’s a nice symmetry in the fact that Sal, having inked that book and the Hulk’s, will become a longtime penciler of both Greenskin and the Defenders.  Although it’s a shame that the obligatory Marvel Misunderstanding delayed their alliance, it can perhaps be forgiven since the point of this prelude was to get them together—and free San Pablo!

JT: Another issue I remember having owned thanks to the super-cool cover. Plus, some power-packed guest stars! Wheee!

The Mighty Thor 185
"In the Grip of Infinity!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Sam Grainger

At the bidding of a ghostly image of Odin, Thor uses Mjolnir’s magic to follow his father to the World Beyond. It is a Netherworld-like domain of mists, rocks, and silence. The Guardian appears, a sentry of sorts to prevent anyone from intruding further. A four-armed giant, he gives Thor a run for his money, until the Thunder God demands to know who Infinity is. A voice from the very heavens around them booms, “Who mouthed my name?” The Guardian slumps, lifeless in the water where he stood, and Infinity shows Thor a vision of the giant black hand that engulfs planet after planet, leaving empty blackness in it’s wake. No sooner is he gone, than Thor spots the Silent One, the strange creature who had been in Asgard and followed Odin here. He shows Thor an image of what happens when Infinity is in town: the worlds he swallows are not destroyed, just absorbed into the World Beyond, their citizens now mindless slaves to him. As if on cue, Fandrall, Hogun and Volstagg venture forth from the mists, their faces blank. They attack Thor, who, not wishing to harm them, uses his hammer to send them in a vortex back to Asgard, where they remain zombies. On Earth, Infinity’s activities begin to take effect, as the weather goes wild. Odin, meanwhile, is alive, waging a battle with Infinity, who remains without visible form. Thor’s hammer takes too long to return; he reverts to the form of Don Blake. The Guardian is revived, his next victim: a certain humble physician. -JB

JB: No doubt, this month's cover is more on the mark, with the Silent One and Infinity greeting Thor in a mad blue world. The World Beyond reminds me of the Netherworld, complete with its Cerberus-like defender, the Guardian. While Stan is being deliberately vague about who or what Infinity is, the mystery works. The Silent One is again fascinating; what part does he play? John Buscema makes some amazing visuals to accompany things; I appreciate him more all the time. Maybe Stan thinks we’ve forgotten the bit about the Mjolnir/walking stick thing only changing while on Earth. Still I confess that the oddity of seeing Don Blake in a bizarre other world (as in issue #178 with the Stranger) is memorably stark.

MB: Sam Grainger, who did such a great job inking Sal Buscema’s early Avengers issues, now teams up with his big brother and Assemblers predecessor, John, giving Joltin’ Joe Sinnott a breather, and Sam’s style must be especially Buscema-friendly, judging by the results.  I am once again less sanguine on the story side of things, e.g., the fact that Ragnarok appears to be looming a lot lately, first with Mangog, then with Surtur, and now with Infinity; while it always provides ample drama, we seem to risk a boy-who-cried-wolf syndrome here.  Also, after only two issues, we have further confusion regarding Mjolnir’s enchantment: isn’t the spell that turns Thor back to Blake after 60 seconds supposed to function only on Earth, or does it just not work in Asgard?

PE: Though the familiar territory (The Marvel Situation Spinnin' Wheel lands on... Mjolnir Takes a Powder!) and bombastic dialogue ("It means a mad, monstrous mind-boggling cataclysm -- so unimaginably powerful that it has pierced the veil of time and space!") threaten to stall the engine on the way to nirvana, I'm still enjoying this arc. Hell, I'd prefer Sif and Jane Foster having tea and knitting at the Gates of Asgard over The Ringmaster and His Circus of Crime so maybe I should say I'm thrilled by the latest developments. I thought it a nice touch that the events happening in another part of the galaxy are noticed on earth. I do wish that The Thunder God would comment on the rather... um, obvious monikers attached to the characters he's meeting along the way:

The Guardian: I am he who is named...
Thor: (as he looks around and notices the big creature is on guard) Let me guess...

Don't any of these all-seeing beings name their underlings Bob or Joe anymore?

SM: This issue is packed with action, but it feels like we're running in place, stalling in order to come up with enough to fill in the 20 pages and then get to another cliffhanger. Somewhere along the way I was asking aloud, "when will get to the fireworks factory..?!" Nice art, outstanding use of color, but no real progress.

The Amazing Spider-Man 93
"The Lady and -- The Prowler!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita

A grieving Gwen gets a phone call from her English uncle asking her to visit her family overseas, but first she tries to no avail to get a conflicted Peter to ask her to stay. Frustrated by his inability to completely commit to Gwen due to his secret identity, Peter changes into Spider-Man for some much-needed, head-clearing web-swinging. Meanwhile, Hobie Brown, aka The Prowler, wonders why Spidey asked him to help with the Stacys (back in ish #87) and somehow George is soon dead, with Spider-Man to blame. A confident Hobie suits up to try and bring Spider-Man to justice and heads to the Stacys’ apartment. Turns out Spidey is headed there also, as Peter decides to level with Gwen once and for all, but The Prowler attacks, setting off a fast-paced battle that ends with the Prowler falling down an elevator shaft. Spidey takes the ailing Hobie to the hospital, and then heads back to Gwen, where he’s shocked to learn she’s taken off for the airport! But he gets there too late, just as her plane takes off to England and our hero is left with the heartache that his spider power has cost him the girl he loves. - JT

JT: Jazzy John is flying solo this month, and no knock on Gil Kane, but the art is vintage beauty. I love how the panels are cramped when they’re mostly about story, but when the action starts between Spidey and The Prowler, they open up to show off the Romita magnificence. Really great story-telling there. And it’s a heartbreaking episode in Peter’s life. Nothing compared to future issues, but still, at the time I’m sure there were many Spidey fans wringing their hands in frustration over Gwen’s heading off to England. Especially since she was able to get someone to move in to her apartment in no time flat—was Craig’s List around back then? All in all a solid issue in my eyes, especially after the 2-part “saga” of Sam Bullit. And I had forgotten how much I liked The Prowler as a kid. Not the greatest or the coolest superhero, but he’s one of those guys you wanna root for, which is probably why Spidey gets along so well with him, as they share that similarity. Hell, I’ll root for Spider-Man to the grave! Or from beyond the grave! (Dean Pete—how’s that for a teaser for a 1972 Sunday Special!)

SM: This issue picks up right after Captain Stacy's death, completely ignoring the "Sam Bullitt Saga" (thankfully). John Romita is back on his own and Sweet Muscular Jesus, this issue is gorgeous. This is really his best title, it's his home, and I really wish Stan would have just kept him here. Gwen never looked lovelier. Stan lets us down a little, though. He has Peter refusing to give up being Spidey for Gwen's sake because he needs "the excitement--and the action--and the danger." No mention of Uncle Ben and his oath, which would be a stronger, more identifiable reason. It's less selfish than "I need thrills." Waking up next to Gwendy every morning should be thrilling enough. He also lets us down by making Hobie totally disregard his debt to Spidey by going after him after reading the Daily Bugle's assassination articles about how "Spider-Man killed" Stacy. Ungrateful git. Hey, Hobie, you still remember the last time you dressed up as Spidey - did you piece together his identity yet? Obviously, he's not the driest martini in the bar.

PE: That's one hell of a travel agent Gwen Stacy latched onto. From the time she rudely tells Peter to leave her place to hopping on a plane for sunny ol' London must have been, what, an hour or two? MARMIS has never smelled so foul as in this adventure. Let's get this straight: Hobie Brown owes everything to The Amazing Spider-Man, including his life as a free man. So, when Spidey is accused of murder, Hobie puts back on The Prowler suit because he's cocksure that web head, who could have turned him in to the cops, is guilty and, further, used him to set up the murder. Oh, irony, how wretched is thy sting? Not that I'm complaining but we haven't seen hide nor grey hair of ol' May Parker in some time. I hope she's not in the hospital again.

SM: So, how long was Spider-Man's battle with The Prowler, anyway? It starts at Gwen's place and she's looking out the window. It ends a few pages later and without skipping any time, Dean Peter points up the swiftness of Gwen getting a plane ticket, I'm more impressed by how quickly Gwen's apartment is packed up and re-rented. Spidey returns to the apartment and not only is Gwen not there, all her stuff is gone and a new tenant is unpacking! What was it, an hour? Two? That has to be the quickest move and re-rent in history.

MB: A Bullpen Bulletin about the latest “artistic musical chairs” notes that “Romita, who’s been pining for his favorite strip, will once again take over the artistic reins” on Spidey, leaving the FF in the hands of Big John, but “the adorable Avengers won’t be completely Buscema-less, ’cause John’s brother Sal Buscema will replace J.B. in drawing the most super-hero-filled spectaculars of all.”  I’ll miss Kane, yet I know he’ll be back, and while I believe a lot of web-fluid has gone under the bridge since Romita last inked his own work here, the extra experience shows.  Despite my lack of enthusiasm for a return appearance by the Prowler, I have to admit that Stan has concocted a quite plausible scenario to explain his going after Spider-Man.

SM: A middling issue, but the last page is worth it. Great, heartbreaking stuff.

The Avengers 85
"The World is Not for Burning"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Thor transports the Avengers, with mansion, from Arkon's realm and back to Earth. While Avengers mansion appears, only Thor and the Panther arrive, leading to a search which is cut short because they are committed to a Toys for Tots thing(!). Meanwhile, Goliath, the Vision, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver appear on an Earth apparently a few weeks into the future where the sun is much hotter and brighter, killing people around them. They reach a subtly different Avengers Mansion where they are confronted by The Squadron Sinister, who don't seem to know the Avengers - even though they've fought in the past. It seems these Avengers have appeared on a duplicate Earth and the Squadron Sinister is here the Squadron Supreme! There's a fight, of course, and finally one of the Squad, Nighthawk, believes the Avengers are out of their reality and they team up to defeat the rest of the squadron and stop the launch of a solar rocket which will case the destruction of this parallel Earth.

SM: Another packed issue and this one, thankfully, gets from the first page to the last without a damned flashback! Lots of characters, but pretty well balanced issue with action and mystery. I still had to laugh at Thor and the Panther putting the search for their missing comrades on hold so they can entertain kids during a Toys for Tots event! They even got Spider-Man involved. Don't know why the need was felt to boost Toys for Tots, but there ya go. An exciting issue with some beautiful art.

MB: Mercifully inked by Frank Giacoia, John Buscema goes out on a high note before handing the Assemblers off to brother Sal, ending his current run with a spectacular story featuring no fewer than seventeen super-doers.  Obviously, our first look at the Squadron Supreme’s world (which, according to the MCDb, is formally known as “Earth-712” or “Earth-S,” as opposed to our own humble little “Earth-616”) is a historic event, although whoever wrote the cover blurb about “the Sensational Return of the Squadron Sinister!” apparently didn’t read the story.  Man, what a difference the right pairing makes; “Fearless Frank” lets Buscema be Buscema, so the art is great, even if I’m less enamored of the Squadders with no Sinister analogs.

PE: Despite the fact that the plot and events are a wee bit confusing (so, why do some of The Avengers end up in Cosmopolis?), I loves me a good time travel yarn and I'm willing to stick around for this one. If I recall correctly, we're about to hit a long run of the good stuff on this title. I'm sure there's a grand scheme afoot and there's a reasoning behind the familiarity of the powers of the Squadron Supreme (Tom Thumb = Paste-Pot Pete; Lady Lark = Banshee, etc.) but I can't for the life of me remember what it is. That's a good thing.

Be sure to tune in Sunday for a Marvel Collectors Item Classic!

Also This Month

Daredevil King-Size Special #2 (all-reprint)
Kid Colt Outlaw #152
Millie the Model #188
Monsters on the Prowl #9 ->
Our Love Story #9
The Outlaw Kid #4
Rawhide Kid #84
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #84
Western Gunfighters #4
The X-Men #68 (reprint)

Since Chamber of Darkness and Tower of Shadows could not ignite a sales fire, Marvel did the only thing they could do: change the titles and stuff them full of reprints. Well, sorta. Chamber became Monsters on the Prowl with #9 and featured one new story and Golden Age reprints to fill the rest of the pages before going full reprint with #17. The title would last until #30 (October 1974). The retitling of Tower, Creatures on the Loose, went down a different path. We'll discuss that one next week. Not being savvy to the world of reprints in 1971, this nine-year old Marvel Zombie bought every single monster title and ate them up over and over again as if they were brand new stories. Now and then, I still thrill to the threat of Gorgilla, Gomdulla The Living Pharaoh, and the subway-stalking Tragg. A couple of landmarks within the run are new stories by Gerry Conway (#13's Kirby homage "In the Shadow of Tragg -- He Who Walks Beneath the Earth!") and the first comic story ever scripted by Steve Englehart, "Terror of the Pterodactyl" in #15.


  1. Bravo to the senior faculty for adding credits for each issue. I've long felt they should be included but was too distracted to mention it.

    As for lettercol names, way cool, although the bar is admittedly set pretty low in the era of "Let's Level with Daredevil," "Let's Rap with Cap," and Mrs. Professor Matthew's personal favorite, "Sock It to Shellhead."

    For the record, that's "Klaatu barada nikto."

    If the Bullpen Bulletins are to be believed (a dubious proposition, I grant you), at least Romita's subsequent jump from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN to CAPTAIN AMERICA was quite voluntary, as he wanted a "change of pace."

  2. :) Thanks, Matthew. I was too short on time to check the spelling of the Klaatu secret phrase. If that's the only thing I goofed up in my haste, then I'm lucky indeed!

  3. Scott's martini crack about Hobie Brown is a classic that I plan on stealing!

    And why are only two profs reviewing Conan, one of the great books of the early '70's?

    1. I'm strictly a super-hero man myself, so you'll find me largely silent on the subject of Marvel's various barbarians and monsters as the 1970s pick up steam. But having sponsored him for faculty membership, I am proud to say that you are in for some Conanalysis the likes of which you have never seen in two short weeks/months, when Professor Gilbert Colon begins his investigation into Marvel's adaptations of pulp stories by Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft and--if we're very lucky--others. He and our indefatigable friend and colleague, Professor Flynn, will bring a unique enthusiasm to everybody's favorite Cimmerian.

    2. A quick Behind the Curtain-

      I'd love for there to be at least three "voices" on each title and, in the "old days," I think we managed that. Unfortunately, with the major expansion we're beginning to see, that's just not possible. Now we'll hope to maintain at least two Profs on each title but I can foresee at least a couple times in the near future when there might be a solo stint.

      With my duties over at bare bones with Jack Seabrook, I read ten comics a week (five over there and five over here) and I'm about to start commenting on The Hulk and a couple more titles as well on MU. So time is short and it's tough sometimes to come up with interesting (or at least non-repetitive) things to say about the umpteenth battle between The Hulk and Sub-Mariner. At times, I read some of the comics and don't comment at all because my fellow professors have stolen all my best lines!

      But thanks for reading us every week, Mark, and letting us know what you think. I think I speak for all of the other unpaid professors around here when I say that feedback is manna.

    3. I'm giving it my best shot at reviewing every title Peter puts on the list. Let's see how far that gets when things explode, but I hope to continue at least giving cursory comments to everything. Some titles, though, I hate to admit, make it difficult to say more than "wow that stinks." This is a weird transitional period for Marvel.

    4. And yes, feedback is wonderful. I thank everyone for their info and kind words.

  4. "Twilight of the Grim Grey God" was my personal introduction to Barry Smith's Conan, (in Giant-Size Conan #1). My first issue of CTB was #25, Buscema's first, so I'd missed Smith by one month. But over a year later, the CTB lettercol was still abuzz with fans pining for Smith's return, so I was jazzed to see the reprint in GSC. I was (and remain to this day) a huge Buscema fan -- and I thought his Conan stuff was especially fine -- so how much "better" could Smith be?

    Turns out it was pretty great! His Conan was muscular but lean, maybe a shade too good-looking -- almost "pretty" -- but certainly appropos for a young barbarian barely out of his teens. His storytelling was crisp and vivid, his settings more detailed and picturesque than Buscema's. Overall I still preferred Buscema's rendition, but based on this one story, I became an Instant Smith Fan.

    The story itself is superb, one of Thomas' absolute best "free adaptations" of REH's non-Conan material. It's packed with somber grandeur, with an ending that's unforgettable. One of my all-time favorite Marvel Conans.

  5. Matthew,
    I dig but propose an experiment. Since you never dug Conan back in the Paleolithic, task yourself with reading at least one issue now as the book enters it's acknowledged full flowering. If you think it sucks and trash it, well, straight razor reviews make for good reedin'!
    Or you might grok to something you missed the first time around...
    Old dog, meet new trick.
    What do ya think?

  6. My apologies if I gave the mistaken impression that I'd sampled and rejected Conan back in the day. It was something I simply had no interest in picking up, thus any impressions I had now would be my first. So I respect the intent of your proposed experiment, but between the fact that I'd have to motivate myself to acquire some Cimmerian and the daunting reality that I already read and comment on almost every Marvel mag, I don't know where I'd find any more time.

    1. Just as long as you don't use the same excuse when we get to Night Nurse :>

    2. Well, I will be reviewing all four issues of THE CAT and (thanks to THE SUPERHERO WOMEN and MARVEL FIRSTS: THE 1970s) two of SHANNA THE SHE-DEVIL. NIGHT NURSE, presumably nobody's idea of a super-hero, not so much...