Wednesday, June 5, 2013

May 1971: Whatever Knows Fear...!

Conan the Barbarian 5
"Zukala's Daughter"
Story by Roy Thomas
Adapted from the poem by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith and Frank Giacoia

Conan strides into a remote Zamorian village. When the young warrior asks a shopkeeper why the citizens are so fearful, he is told that the yearly tax of forty gold pieces remains unpaid and punishment awaits. On cue, a golden tiger appears in the sky to threaten a comely young maiden. The barbarian leaps to the defense, but is soon helpless before the ferocious feline — however the beast retreats. The grateful villagers inform Conan that the tiger is actually Zephra, daughter of the sorcerer Zukala, he of the tyrannical taxes. For the price of a dragon-hilt blade, Conan agrees to kill Zukala. After a fierce battle with the masked wizard and his gargantuan demon Jaggta-Noga, Conan is subdued. But the powerful Zukala kills Jaggta-Noga instead: it seems that Zephra has fallen in love with the savage Cimmerian. Heartbroken, the forlorn wizard disappears with his daughter, vowing to exact his revenge. -TF

TF: As with issue three, this one is also based on a non-Conan Robert E. Howard work, a poem called
“Zukala’s Hour,” first written in the 1920s, but not published until 1970 in the verse collection “Singers in the Shadows.” Frank Giacoia takes over the inks for our previous pal Sal Buscema, and the results are a smidge more conventional. I noticed a few blank backgrounds which was not the norm. Was Giacoia a noted “eraser” like Colletta? But heck, it’s still pretty sweet. This issue is absolutely packed with action, with the final battle raging over seven pages. Zukala’s mask makes him look like a modern Marvel villain and Zephra smacks of Tigra. There’s a ton of Howard’s original poetry used throughout the issue, but my favorite line comes when Zukala materializes through a closed door to find Conan and his daughter in an amorous embrace: Conan exclaims “Crom’s devils! Do doors mean nothing in this place?” Surely a line that Rainer Wolfcastle could do proud.

SM: This one is inspired by a poem written by Robert E. Howard, which is an interesting twist.
Another gripping story as each issue builds on Conan's world very nicely. At last he meets someone, forges a connection, and she does not die. Apparently, we will see Zukala and Zephra again, which is something to look forward to. The villagers Conan makes his bargain with plot his death on the way back so as to not have to pay him. Unfortunately, the issue ends before we get to the resolution of that. Barry Smith again does great work, and Roy Thomas keeps raising the bar on well written tales. I like how the poem itself is worked into the narrative; it adds a lot of class and doesn't seem as pompous here in this over the top fantasy world as it did in certain issues of The Avengers.

PE: Good point there, Professor Scott. That may be because the Conan stories and the poem were written by the same hand, the same style. I think my favorite line this issue has to be, when Zukala's daughter moans to Conan, "I knew you were the man I must love..." the Barbarian exclaims "What? Whoa -- slow down, girl -- this all goes too fast for me." (By the way, the new "fewer exclamations" rule sometimes doesn't work -- Conan's rebuttal begs a !!) There's a Kull shout-out here as well. Having never read these adventures before, I'm enjoying them very much, especially Barry's ascendence to something almost supernatural. Having said that though, I can see when I'll tire of the "Fugitive" format, with Conan stumbling into another town and yet another horrifying menace each issue. What we need here are some arcs.

The Mighty Thor 188
"The End of Infinity!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney

Thor has returned to Asgard; now that Odin has become another of Infinity’s unquestioning slaves, he hopes to find a new perspective from his fellows.  He tells Sif why the battle is a hopeless one. While Odin had slept the Odinsleep, trapped (in a time capsule) in the Dimension of Death, he had been approached by Hela, Goddess of Death. Eager to take advantage of the chance to bring Odin to her realm, Hela tried to withdraw his spirit from its body, but the All-Father’s power was such that she couldn’t succeed…entirely. Instead, a part of his spirit was separated from his body, a part that served her purpose, to devour all life in it’s path, a part she called Infinity. With greater worries than the trolls and giants who hope to invade Asgard in its time of need, Thor uses his hammer’s power to sweep them away and see where Odin is. A new danger is apparent: should Infinity merge with Odin now, as he seeks to, all traces of the good Odin will be lost. Karnilla, Queen of the Norns, has sworn to help, and tries in vain to wake Odin from his trance, even with Loki’s help. The Vizier has a final hope; if Thor and all his companions can combine their power with Karnilla’s and send it forth, via Mjolnir’s, it may serve to awaken their leader. And…it does. Armed with the knowledge of who his opponent is, Odin dispels Infinity by returning him back from whence he came, inside himself. He then reverses the damage done throughout the cosmos, victory claimed… kind of. Hela will be angry at her failure, and if she can’t have Odin, she’ll want the next best thing, his son, Thor. -JB

MB: Like Sam Grainger in #185, Jim Mooney—a busy boy this month, also tackling Iron Man and The Avengers—gives Sinnott a time-out with this entry, before Joltin’ Joe winds up his current stint with #191, and although I don’t think the Madman worked with Big John too often, they make a very good team here.  It seemed pretty clear by the end of last issue that Infinity had to be some manifestation of Odin himself, which would be the only thing capable of so daunting the Asgardians (Big O included), so it was just a question of how and why.  Stan’s explanation is no more half-baked than any other, nor is his solution, so that en route we can stop and smell the roses, such as the enforced alliance between Loki and Karnilla, and Volstaag’s corpulent heroics.

SM: Five pages of BS pad this story before it even has a chance to get moving. There's a lot of tap dancing going on at Marvel, filling pages and bloating these stories into 5 part epics, or more. Single part stories weren't satisfying (even though they were in the early days), but these overstuffed sandwiches aren't any better. It's all melodrama; no time to slow down, to take a breath or just relieve some of the tension. The reveal of Odin himself being Infinity isn't all that satisfying, but I don't think anything would have lived up to the massive hype after all these issues. Still, the resolution is done well enough, but we still have to get a last second twist that tells us it ain't over yet. Whatever.

PE: Stan and Big John seem to ramp up the action this issue, with good effect. I must say I was surprised by the reveal but disappointed by the anti-climactic wrap-up (in fact, the arc should have been titled "Not With a Bang, But..."). There are a couple of high points here (Loki and Karnilla joining forces and Thor's recounting of how Infinity was birthed), but I'd argue (calmly) that Stan's solution is a cop-out. Before Odin waves his magic wand and reverses everything back and erases all memories of the holocaust, we're looking at damage unseen before in the Marvel Universe, damage that would take a bit of time to heal. Odin's rewind makes it all for nothing. In fact, we've seen his son already use the same tactic with his hammer. "Bring on another Ragnarok, I got a spinning Mjolnir!" I still want to know where all the rest of the Marvel heroes were during all this carnage.

JB: In defense of Odin (he rarely deserves it), I’m not sure that he reverses time here, or just repairs all the damage. Still far-fetched, but I’m impressed to see him take charge in a time of dire catastrophe, unlike the last two Ragnoraks. I’d forgotten that the trolls and giants were still around, nothing a sweep of Mjolnir, whose powers seem endless (admittedly a weak solution), can’t remedy. Even Loki lends a hand; pity he won’t learn from it. My favourite point of this series is that it gives a real storyline to Hela, whose power is undeniable, yet whose motives have more logic than, say, Loki’s do. She is after all only doing her job. The “twist” at the end, where she will seek Thor if she can’t have his dad, is an entirely plausible bridge to next issue. Forsooth base churls!

Sub-Mariner 37
"The Way to Dusty Death!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Namor is furious after the evil Llyra has tricked him into marrying her.  She reveals that her spies have kidnapped lady Dorma and if he ever wants to see her again alive, Namor better do what she says.  Namor tries to catch Llyra but she evades him until Proteus reveals that, according to ancient texts of tradition, Llyra isn't his bride.  Lady Dorma was officially written on the scroll as his bride so it is she who is really Namor's new wife.  Llyra escapes to her island hideout.  Before Namor can go rescue Dorma he learns that his top scientist, Ikthon, has been secretly working with Attuma for many years, even creating weaponry and technology that the barbarian has used to attack Atlantis so many times.  Attuma takes advantage of the ongoing chaos to once again try to defeat Namor.  Even though he is piloting another Earth-Borer machine, Attuma is no match for Subby as he destroys the borer.  Leaving Attuma in the wreckage, Namor heads off to finally rescue Dorma.  Ikthon shows him the location of where she's at in return for Namor not killing him for his treachery.  On the way he has to fight off Llyra's henchmen, and a giant crab, before he is overwhelmed by thousands of leeches.  Dorma is able to hit Llyra from behind so it breaks her control of the leeches, saving Namor.  Subby eventually arrives to Llyra's headquarters where she escapes.  In the end Subby holds an apparently lifeless Dorma as he screams in anguish over her demise.  -TM

Tom:  Llyra isn't a big favorite of mine when it comes to antagonists.  I liked how Attuma was brought in but felt that the evil barbarian, along with the traitorous Ikthon deserved to have a full issue dedicated to their evil plans.  The artwork seemed a little choppy for my tastes.

SM: An issue filled with tragedy; Dorma's death, Namor's heart torn asunder, Ross Andru taking over the pencils. So what is it about his art I can't stand? Well, in the first place, I hate the melodramatic contortions he gives the human body. On the splash page, he has Llyra bending back as she gloats with gales of laughter like a villain out of Josie and the Pussycats. Later at the bottom of page nine, Namor looks like he's swimming while battling scoliosis. And finally, the very last panel, the man's lack of skill completely robs the final moments of any real strength. Namor's face could be showing any kind of non-happy emotion: rage, sadness, bad poops, whatever. In this issue, it's not all bad, but when he hits Spider-Man soon, it'll be a real chore. It's not like Mike Esposito's inks are doing anything to help. Page 18, final panel: "Starring Prince Namor as Spock."

MB: I’ve always been surprised that Dorma’s death didn’t cause an uproar like that of a certain other leading lady; the only explanation I can think of is that she was presumed dead once before, so maybe people are waiting for the other flipper to drop.  It’s interesting that Roy’s long stint on the book barely outlasts her, while Our Pal Sal Buscema has already decamped for the surface after his even dozen solid issues.  I’d have said that Ross Andru (who sticks around only as long as Roy does, until #39) was a suitable replacement, especially inked as he is here by longtime partner Mike Esposito, but Subby looks very uneven, sometimes literally, e.g., page 8, panel 3, in which his head appears to be too small for his body, so we’ll have to see how it goes.

PE: An obvious comedown from last issue but I was (pleasantly) surprised by the funereal climax. I never knew Dorma had exited stage right but then, as I've doubtless stated before, Sub-Mariner was not one of the books you discussed at recess. A bit short-sighted of Ikthon and Attuma to loudly recap their treacherous bond for all of Atlantis (and Namor) to hear. I guess Atlantis doesn't have dark alleys to convene in. According to wikipedia, Lady Dorma is one character that, unlike a certain blonde, seems to have stayed morte. For those interested, we're covering the 1950s DC war titles that Andru and Esposito worked on over at bare bones.

SM: Otherwise, the story continues on, with Llyra still denied her claim to the royal lineage and flying off in a rage. Namor pulls an "Iron Man" and, rather than searching the deep for his bride, goes back to the palace and waits, raging on his people, and waiting for Llyra to obey his threat and return Dorma. Really? Did he really think that would work? Jeez, dude, even Aquaman would hop on a sea horse and go looking for his chick. Tossing in Attuma makes this overly busy, when this issue should really have been "A Quest for Dorma." What could have been an effective, harrowing experience with the leeches is barely noteworthy thanks to the lack of detail in these cartoonish pencils. What could have been a nail biting issue was undone by poor plotting (this being the Marvel Method, I blame the artist, thank you). Dorma's death is sad and unexpected, but my God, this could have been so much more. While girlfriends start dropping like flies at Marvel in the 70's, Dorma's been around since Marvel Comics #1. Aside from some latter day alternate universe, House of M-style maneuvering, Dorma has remained dead since 1971. That shows remarkable restraint on Marvel's part. Either that or nobody really cares about Namor's personal life. It should be interesting to see where this takes Namor. I just hope Andru's tenure on the book is a short one.

The Invincible Iron Man 37
"In This Hour of Earthdoom!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Heck and Jim Mooney

While Ramrod continues readying a place for the Changers, the weakened Iron Man reaches his car and collapses, his body rejecting its artificial heart.  Flashbacks reveal that aliens whose sun was about to go nova, and required a world with a glass-slick surface, hired the planetary engineering corporation Worldform, Inc., to “return the blessing of sterility” to Earth; as their Foreman lands and sends the robotic Changers to the four corners of the world, preparing to flatten it, he spots Marianne, who reminds him of a lost love, and has Ramrod fetch her.  Tony finds Kevin, who helps him retrieve his spare armor from Avengers Mansion (thus revealing his identity), and with his heart stabilized, he is able to rescue Marianne and foil the Foreman’s plan. -MB

SM: Tony Stark's plight feels like a throwback to the glorious tales of yesteryear, back in Suspense, when Tony constantly needed an electrical outlet. Only now it's poorly drawn, missing interesting characters, and is twice as long. The alien building company is just too stupid to exist anyplace except the second season of Lost in Space. It's not as if the idea is bad. In fact, Douglas Adams used something like it to amazing comedic effect in  Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. But here, it's played straight and supposed to be serious and a real danger to humanity. But the presentation is so poor and sandwiched between what should be an important step in the Stark/O'Brien relationship that it only undercuts both. Granted, the revelation that humans are under the control of the dominator clears up a little, it's still too packed and poorly presented. The final panel, with Kevin O'Brien overacting to the knowledge that Stark is Iron Man is too soapy to land. Is it really that much of a burden?

MB: Allyn Brodsky, come back—all is forgiven!  Okay, I’m exaggerating slightly, but man, I had no 

 idea it took Conway so long to get his act together; in fairness, perhaps his nine-issue run on this title simply was not his métier, although he returned for another seven in 1976-77. This business with Ramrod and the Changers is strictly for the birds, popcorn sci-fi standing in for a real plot.  I would focus on the positive, but Don Heck—making his swan song in the original incarnation of the strip he’d co-created—is not going out on a very high note, even under the steady hand of inker Jim Mooney.  In page 3, panel 5, Tony looks like nothing so much as a Roz Chast cartoon, and as much as I adore Chast, that’s probably not the effect to be going for in a super-hero book.

Amazing Adventures 6

The Inhumans in
"Hell on Earth"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and John Verpoorten

Karnak, Gorgon, and Medusa have partial immunity to his newfound mental powers, but Maximus uses his brain-blasts to pit the other Inhumans, now his mindless slaves, against his royal cousins.  Meanwhile, in the City by the Bay (San Francisco), Roscoe awakens in time to observe as the amnesiac Black Bolt, urged by Joey to talk, creates a sonic boom that blasts a retired warship and unleashes a tidal wave, just by whispering “I.”  Returning to the Great Refuge from his diplomatic mission in Sub-Mariner#36, Triton rescues the threesome, but his overloaded skysled crashes into a cliff on the beach; as the police search the dock for the apparent saboteur, an armed, unseen figure gets the drop on Joey and Black Bolt. -MB

MB: It appears that reports of the death of John Verpoorten’s inking career were greatly exaggerated, as he here supplants Palmer for the remainder of Adams’s four-issue run on this strip, with lame duck Roy still at the typewriter, although “lame” hardly describes his effectiveness.  Reading this Thomas/Adams awesomeness makes me at once exhilarated and depressed—exhilarated because it shows the possibility of what an Inhumans book could be (even if, as half of a bimonthly, it is being doled out at the effective rate of three issues per year), and depressed because, like their X-Men, it didn’t last.  Worth the price of admission alone is the full-page shot of the unwitting Black Bolt destroying “a deserted juggernaut of the mothball fleet” with one whispered syllable.

SM: Great Neal Adams art elevates this tale, although I still don't like his portrayal of Maximus. He wears an outfit we've never seen before and he's much thinner than usual. If he didn't say his own name so often, I wouldn't recognize him. Black Bolt still wanders the city in civvies. I wish they would have spent more time on his end of the plot, it's more interesting than the usual "kingless kingdom being overthrown" plot used so often in books like Sub-Mariner. I noticed that most Inhumans outside the royal family look like aliens rather than some human-offshoot. The single page panel of the ship being accidentally blown up by BB is breathtaking.

The Black Widow in
"Blood Will Tell!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Don Heck and Sal Buscema

Natasha and Ivan have a contretemps with the police at City Hospital, where Capt. Lumas’s men are guarding the O-negative blood, and she is unable to identify either her attacker or her savior (for whose deaths she blames herself).  The Astrologer’s youth gang attains ingress in search of a new star-inspired goal—a research scientist working on a possible blood-substitute—but the Widow’s instincts tip her off to the incognito gang, and she and Ivan attack.  Chloroformed and thrown through a high window, Tasha revives in time to save herself, yet after the gang steals the hospital’s helicopter for its getaway, the guilt-ridden Widow deliberately misses a lad hanging from the landing gear with her “bite,” fearing he will be killed. -MB

MB: The tag-team nature of this book’s creators
continues as Roy remains in place for one more issue while Colan and Everett are replaced by Don Heck and Sal Buscema, respectively. Before all of you Heck-lers get hoarse lamenting his arrival (Gene can admittedly be a tough act to follow), I will just remind you that he co-created the Widow, back in Tales of Suspense #52, and with Sal’s steady hand on the pen, Natasha, at least, looks terrific, even if her male counterparts are rather more sketchy.  We are once again spared the pajamas the villains were sporting on the cover of last issue, but I for one was a little bit perplexed as to how their target shifted abruptly from the supply of type O-negative blood to a scientist experimenting with “fluorocarbons and polyols.”

SM: Don Heck takes over for Gene Colan and all the sex appeal from last issue evaporates. As she changes into her jumpsuit, she - for the second time - tells Ivan not to look. Is this for our benefit, to keep us from thinking something funny is going on? She obviously went into another room; I don't see the point in the dialog. How modest is a woman who goes out in public wearing a unitard without underwear? I don't know what happened to Don Heck, but the quality of his work dropped dramatically since the mid-60. He somehow made Natasha ugly. That bastard!

The Avengers 88
"The Summons of Psyklop"
Story by Harlan Ellison (plot) and Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney

The Hulk has been captured! Deep in the heart of Boulder Dam, he is trapped by magneto-powered poles. The plan is to douse him in coma-gas and put him in a break proof crypt. While Reed Richards, Professor X and General Ross try to contain ol' Greenskin, the Avengers are on a nameless atoll searching for what is behind the cryptic message given to Falcon and Cap by Falcon's missing friend Ralph. Ralph was involved with a group of crazy natives and when they find him, he's muttering weird coordinates. The Avengers go to the site, the aforementioned nameless atoll, and find weird, giant creatures. Meanwhile, the trap for the Hulk goes wrong and the creature is seemingly disintegrated. However, he was snatched via transporter by the one-eyed being named Psyklop(!), who happens to be on the same nameless atoll as The Avengers. The Avengers wind up fighting Psyklop(!), who apparently, and accidentally, sends the Hulk into another dimension, then transports The Avengers back to New York. But what of the Hulk? What of the Hulk? To be continued in Hulk #140 - now on sale! Well, not really, that's next month's issue. -SM

The Avengers break the fourth wall and react to Professor John in his Star Wars pajamas

SM: What the hell was that? This is a needlessly complicated story, beginning mid-action before going into yet another tiresome flashback. The plot was supplied by Harlan Ellison, although I'm not sure exactly what he contributed. The flashback? Ralph? The hideously named Psyklop (as bad as Cybor)? It takes a lot to get from point B to point A and then over to C & D, and I don’t think it was worth the trip. The end result isn't all that exciting and it sent the Hulk off into something more interesting in his own mag. Roy's prose is overbaked again, yet he did directly swipe the "mouth / scream" from Ellison.

General reaction to the latest issue of  Captain America 
MB: Can we agree that this story and the conclusion in next month’s Incredible Hulk #140 are landmark issues, if only because SF/fantasy legend Harlan Ellison plotted them?  Okay, then, how about because, Ellison or no, it’s a cracking good yarn?  So much to mention!  Good:  HPL name-check/plot point (Dark Gods); Ellison self-reference (or by scripter Roy); Goliath’s offhand answer to the size-changing question that has long bugged me; full-page statue shot; multi-POV Fly homage.  Bad:  the Sal/Mooney Richards, and especially Xavier, look a little off in spots; the misspelled Howard “Hawkes”; Cap and Falcon (did Sam really grow up in New Orleans?) using their civilian names publicly; Cap calling Falcon “sidekick” instead of “partner.”

SM: As Cap and the Falcon attack the voodoo guys in the flashback, they refer to each other by their actual names. I guess since the voodoo cult members were in a trance it doesn't matter, but still… The voodoo thing goes nowhere, with no explanation as to what Falcon's friend Ralph was doing there. Hopefully this will be resolved next issue. The Captain Marvel reference was cute, but this was just a mish-mash of concepts rather than a proper story. T'Challa takes a powder from the title in a very understated fashion, which is a surprise considering how overly dramatic everyone normally is in these parts. The team splits up again, I think for the third time since The Vision was worried such a thing would cause problems. As much as the android posing philosophical questions at the end of issues is interesting, they don't mean much if they are never followed up on.

PE: I'll give you that Ellison is a legend thus this issue stands out in the run so why does it leave me cold? I'm not sure I understood much of the plot nor the plot by Psyklop but what I did understand just made me scratch my head. There's voodoo shenanigans, Lovecraft quotes, and some nefarious scheme involving the Hulk. For me, it didn't tie together into a story though. Ellison would say that's because I'm an idiot. I'll grant him that! I'd never read this intro chapter but I must say this 51-year old MZ is just as bored as the 10-year old would have been. The only real positive I take from this disappointment is that this sets up one of the best and most resonant Hulk arcs of all time and the beginning of my mid-70s obsession with that title. Reading through that infamous Ellison interview in The Comics Journal #53 (Winter 1980), trying to cull info on this storyline but finding nary a mention, I get the feeling that Ellison got the gig not only for his writing prowess, but because Stan Lee really liked the guy. The feeling was mutual. In fact, Stan was about the only human being to come out of that interview unscathed.

SM: Sal Buscema provides some nice art, but Reed Richard and Professor X look wrong, somehow. The Hulk looks a little funny too. And for all the hype, Psyklop doesn't show up until the halfway point, where he gives his full backstory to the snoozing Hulk, a guy who wouldn't give a crap about it even if he were awake. The Avengers section in this just sort of ends after Psyklop gets pissed they distracted him while shrinking the Hulk, causing him to vanish. Kind of wish I could make this issue vanish. Maybe next time we'll find out why all of this actually happened. Something really screwed up the Avengers publication schedule. This clogged up the Zodiac/Daredevil crossover as well. Didn't anyone notice back then?

Captain America and the Falcon 137
"To Stalk the Spider-Man"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gene Colan and Bill Everett

Cap and Falcon are returned to the surface by the Mole Man's "solidified levi-beam." Sharon is so happy to see Cap alive, she fricking faints and is taken to the first aid shack at the dig site. After being told by the Army that the dig will be cancelled, Cap gets mopey because Sharon "didn't care enough to wait." He doesn't care enough to ask around, so he and Falcon hop on Cap's bike and take off. Sharon awakes and is told her lover split and now she thinks he doesn't care (kill me). After getting back to the city, Cap's bad mood makes him treat Sam like a second class citizen. Cap takes off to sulk and Falcon goes out to make a name for himself. How? By tackling Spider-Man. After following the web-spinner, Falcon stops a mugging and runs into Cap who apologizes for being a prick and offers to split a pizza. The Falcon would rather have soul food and takes off. Redwing tracked Spidey to Peter Parker's Pad and Falcon goes there to confront him. Pete ran out for the evening paper, so Falcon sees Harry Orborn and leaps to the conclusion that Harry is Spidey, suddenly a lot skinnier. Peter sees Falcon taking Harry away, so he gets into his Spider-Duds and rescues his friend. He beats up Falcon without much trouble plants a Spidey Tracer on him and leaves. When Falcon comes to, Cap arrives, concerned. It's Sam's turn to be a bitch and Cap takes off just in time for Stone Face to arrive, swearing revenge!  Chills o'plenty! -SM

SM: I've really had it up to my nipples with Sharon and Cap's gripes and conclusion jumping. She
really had to faint? A SHIELD agent? Cap is always ready to assume the worst, because I swear to God, he wants to be miserable. He sulks instead of talking to his friend and partner just so he can wallow in crap. And then when he sees Sam in a funk, he is all "cheer up kiddo!" Cap really is a turd.

MB:  In general, Everett’s inks continue to reflect well on Colan’s pencils, but what’s with Sharon’s purple jumpsuit (Is that standard S.H.I.E.L.D. issue?), and especially with her apparently armor-plated breasts in page 2, panel 2?  Story-wise, however, this is a significant step back from the Gorbo two-parter—and when you start getting nostalgic for a guy who turns into a gorilla, you know something’s wrong.  The shadow of the MARMIS, as Dean Enfantino dubbed the Marvel Misunderstanding, hangs heavily over this entire issue, its tenebrous tentacles engulfing Steve and Sharon, with their latest ludicrous misconnection; Cap and Falc, seemingly ready to break up their nascent partnership; and Falc with both Spider-Man and roommate Harry.

PE: What a load of hooie! This entire issue presents the best evidence I've yet seen that Stan Lee needed to step aside. How about:

1/ After hearing that Mole Man doesn't want toxic sludge dumped at the earth's core, army brass says "Maybe it's time we stop messin' with Mother Nature!" Wow, the army turns on a dime?

2/ Sharon faints when she sees Cap has made it back up alive while Cap pouts because Sharon hasn't raised a "Welcome Back, Cap" banner over the big hole.

3/ This, of course, leads to Cap turning into an insulting asshole and offending The Falcon...

4/ Who, in turn, decides after being Cap's partner for about 8 Marvel hours, that maybe he should fly solo.

5/ So, naturally, the only way to prove your worth in the hero biz is to attack another hero without provocation. 

I'm not sure what's worse: Stan's expecting us to believe that Sam Wilson is so shallow that a bit of standing in the shadow of Captain America would lead him to become a thug, or that Stan's readers are so stupid they'd eat this crap up without pausing to wonder why. The only redeeming feature this installment presented was the sequence where The Falcon mistakes Harry for Spidey and kidnaps him (how about some jail time for that, Sam?). Unfortunately, that is truncated and not explored to its fullest. Well, there's always next issue but I'm not holding my breath. We've still got four more issues of Stan's reign.

SM: There's so little to this issue, it's stunning. Lots of soap opera whining and weird personality disorders. Everyone is a freaking emotional wreck. Falcon has to prove himself, which is fine, but this didn't have to drag out over two issues. Interesting how the first picture we see of Harry Osborn is drawn by John Romita (did he do it again on page 19?). Was it for a quick recognition or did Gene Colan suck at Harry? Stone Face comes back for the final panel. Did they ever explain this guy's face? Still looks like a stroke to me. This is Gene Colan's final issue and he's done amazing work here. I'll miss his pencils if not his plotting.

Daredevil 76
"The Deathmarch of El Condor!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Part two of the El Condor saga finds Bayard the diplomat being taken away and Chino, Bayard’s friend, left for dead.  DD hears uneven breathing, however, and when the coast is clear, attempts to get Chino to safety.  The diplomat’s buddy can’t walk and Daredevil finds him shelter (under an oxcart) because of a sudden lightning storm and heavy rain.  Unfortunately, when Chino feels well enough to move, a couple of El Condor’s goons attack.  DD manages to keep them occupied, until one of the villains pulls a gun on Chino . . . thereby making our horned hero helpless! Back in the capital, a young lad finds Foggy and helps him back to the embassy.  When Foggy and friend arrive they are accosted by Chino’s distressed wife – who tells them Bayard and Chino’s plan to stop El Condor.  Foggy joins up with the militia on its way to find the abducted diplomats. The captured DD gets put in a cavern with Bayard, Chino, Villiers, and the ambassador. El Condor boasts of his plan to take over Delvadia. The idea seems laughable until his armed helicopters are revealed!  Before El Condor and gang can leave, Daredevil breaks free and attempts to foil their flight.  El Condor jumps out of his helicopter (before it crashes) and combat begins.  The storm rages; shockingly, a lightning strike hits the famous statue of the original El Condor and knocks it over . . . right onto its imposter.  It seems like El Condor still protects the people of Delvadia.  Foggy and Matt are reunited, with the secret of DD’s involvement being kept by the diplomats. -JB & NC

NC:   I kept getting so confused about the weather – first there was a lightning storm, then it seemed like there were blue skies, then a lightning storm again . . . in each panel the weather seemed to change dramatically.  I guess the ghost of El Condor had power over the weather patterns!  

JB: Gerry Conway and Daredevil are wordy fellows, with the latter having the ability to think about something entirely different than his actions. An unusual setting, whose beauty is in sharp contrast to the violence all around.

SM: Not a bad wrap up, but there are a few annoying niggles. Foggy comes to and never once asks about Matt. They were walking together when Matt knocked him out. Did the tap give him amnesia or something? Bayard will "keep quiet" about DD's role in the proceedings, but that smacks more of plot convenience than something a person would normally do. How do you not mention Daredevil's critical part in the defeat of El Condor? While I appreciate the darker road Gerry Conway is leading DD down, the panel after panel self-pity our hero indulges in during the fight is a little tough to take. The art - yet again - is fabulous and there's a gritty edge to it all. A passable conclusion, which would have been much better without the overall sloppiness.

MB: Tom Palmer, who I reluctantly admit did a fine job inking Colan on Dr. Strange and the more recent Captain America #135, is again reunited with Gentleman Gene for the first of several stints on this book.  Although “Kid Conway” still has a ways to go to reach their lofty level, and this issue is still demonstrably overwritten—stuffed with introspection, narration, and dialogue—he does seem to be calming down and settling into the groove a little bit, but my main concern here is that if the rest of the story had been a little tighter, then the ending wouldn’t feel so rushed; they really wrap this up rather abruptly.  If the dialogue is supposedly translated for us from Spanish, then the periodic accents (“There is only one of heem”) are decidedly out of place.

The Incredible Hulk 139
"Many Foes Has the Hulk!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sam Grainger

The almighty Leader plots a strategy to take out the Hulk.  In order to do so he will need the technology of the U.S. government.  He suckers Major Talbot into making an alliance with  him, promising to kill the Hulk but no one else.  Talbot convinces Thunderbolt Ross that the plan will work, so the general calls President Nixon to get the go ahead.  The time finally arrives for the Leader's vengeance as he dons the Mentallo Projector.  The device allows him to project brain waves that only someone of his intellect can master.  The Hulk, wandering the countryside, begins to receive several cruel blasts from the past as old villains show up to give him a beat down.  One by one, former sparring partners such as the Rhino, Sandman, the Glob, the Missing Link, the Mandarin, the Sub-Mariner, Iron Man, and the Absorbing Man, along with others, fight the Hulk.  Every one of them is a realistic mirage conjured up by the Leader and his new helmet toy.  Even though the Hulk is able to defeat them, he begins to show heavy strain.  Talbot tries to stop the Leader after a change of conscious, but he and Ross both fall to the villain's powers.  The Hulk's rampage eventually leads him towards the hospital where a still- glassified Betty Ross is being kept.  The Leader's main goal is for the Hulk to inadvertently destroy her, then he will kill the Hulk.  Luckily,  Jim Wilson is on hand to help out his old buddy. Wilson rips apart wires connected to the helmet, causing the machine to backfire so that the Leader ends up seeing images of the Hulk in his mind.  In the end, the Leader collapses from fright while the various mental images of The Hulk's foes fade. -TM

Tom:  I have kind of mixed feelings about this one.  I remember being a young kid foolish enough to believe the advertising on the cover and thought that the Hulk was really going to fight all these villains.  I was a little disappointed to say the least when it turned out that they were all mental mirages.  This was back in the days when you never asked the comic book store owner if you could take the issue out of its plastic baggie for a quick browse.  This was a gamble that I lost on.  Reading it again, I appreciate the artwork more and the story is decent.  I still hate Jim Wilson though.  If the Leader was so smart then why didn't he just make one of those helmets himself instead of having to mooch the military?  

SM: The Leader is still in his War of the Worlds ship, spying on the Hulk once again only inches from the back of his head. That's some stealth technology. I'm not sold on the premise of giving the Hulk a heart attack. It seems pretty out there and more difficult than tracking Banner and simply putting a bullet in the back of his head ("ah but so hollow a victory is unworthy of my intelligence!"). Talbot is, as always, an idiot for making yet another deal with The Leader and he should have been brought up on charges for deceiving General Ross. Richard Nixon makes yet another appearance, giving us yet another Spiro joke. Were these ever funny? Not too long ago, it seems, Marvel treated the president with reverence. Here, in the 70's when everyone hated The Establishment, Nixon is ripe for parody and poking. What a difference a decade made.

MB: Because of the Professor Matthew Time Paradox, I read this issue the day after our July 1970 post ran, with its largely negative reaction to FF #100 (which we now know, thanks to Glenn, had been severely truncated).  It has a remarkably similar premise—hero battles rapid-fire assaults by members of his rogues’ gallery, who turn out not to be the real McCoy, but ersatz villains created in turn by another villain—and, unfortunately, it suffers from many of the same problems.  As for Jim Wilson, I can’t decide which I deem less plausible:  that “the brass” would indeed share information with him about “hidden entrances…to top-secret underground silos,” or that his random wire-pulling would just happen to have precisely the desired outcome.

SM: The plot is really just a thin excuse for providing a bunch of action scenes, all well penciled by Trimpe and inked by Grainger. Again, this is one of my favorite periods, art wise, for The Hulk. None of it is particularly realistic, in fact it's all downright strange. The Leader has monogrammed collars on his tunic, which is hysterical and had me thinking "Laverne" before "Leader. Damn you, Penny Marshall!

Fantastic Four 110
"One From Four Leaves Three!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

As Sue, Ben and Johnny watch from the visi-screen in the Baxter Building lab, Reed is pulled ever closer to the center of the anti-matter zone, in the Negative Zone. It becomes apparent that Ben’s mind has indeed been affected by the experiment that allows him to transform back and forth between the Thing and his human form; he figures Reed knew the odds and has what’s coming to him. However, he pulls it together and helps the others to form a human chain. Ben is the anchor, holding Sue, who in turn holds Johnny, as he tosses a flame-shrouded gyro device into the Negative Zone for Reed to catch. Eventually he does, but he doesn’t want Annihilus to follow him back into our world, so is in effect, still trapped. Back at the Baxter Building, Agatha Harkness arrives with baby Franklin, and sees the dilemma the team faces. As some had suspected, she indeed has powers of her own—magic? She weaves a spell that creates the illusion of hundreds of Reed Richards. In the confusion, Reed returns to Earth via the chamber in the lab, leaving a confused Annihilus without the knowledge he wants. Ben’s had it now, storming out after telling an arriving Alicia that he doesn’t need her, or the team, anymore!  -JB

JB: I wonder what iceberg we’ve just seen the tip of with Agatha Harkness? Only Ben is unimpressed with us finding out her “witch” powers are real. In fact he’s not impressed with much; his departure at the end, following his ditching of girlfriend Alicia, tell us this transformation “just ain’t workin.’” I don’t know if I want to see another story where Ben turns against his teammates, but we’ll see how Stan handles this one. It’s odd to see Annihilus, so powerful, sitting watching for events to unfold.

SM: Now the negative aspect of Ben's control of his transformations begins to come to the surface. While Reed is careening to his death in the Negative Zone, Ben is dropping obnoxious, fatalistic comments and plotting to take over. When Sue slaps him and Ben transforms in a rage into the Thing, he's terrifying. His rage passes quickly, but it's a solid, memorable moment. When Ben finally flips out, we end on another cliffhanging plot not, but an effective one. John Buscema lacks some of the fine detail work of Jack Kirby, but his pencils are very dramatic and sell the emergency extremely well. He even slips in a classic Kirby Collage. I never liked these, but they were indicative of a better, more enjoyable time. It's a fun issue that closes out one story (Janus/The Negative Zone) while seamlessly continuing the other (Ben's personality transformation). They've been down this road before, but not for a long as Stan has in mind here.

MB: I don’t usually lean toward covers that are so busy but, as is often the case, the color scheme on this one (left largely intact on the 1980 Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint for a change) really grabbed me; there was also something totally cool about the flock of Reeds, and the Thing’s WTF? expression was simply priceless.  Speaking of whom, after that cover and the stunning Buscema/Sinnott splash page, I was so caught up in Reed’s dilemma that I was initially taken aback by Ben’s blasé reaction, until I remembered his personality change.  I enjoy the way Stan’s been handling that—it certainly wasn’t subtle when it first manifested itself, but he’s kept it on the back burner while it heated up, and it’s clearly going to boil over in next month’s issue.

PE: For me, the issue's prime plot point was the reveal of Agatha Harkness's powers. We've been given hints that the old lady may be a witch but nothing's been spelled out. Now, the cat's out of the proverbial bag since she unleashed the horde of Reeds right in front of the Thrilling Three. It'll be interesting to see how far Stan (and later Archie Godwin and The Rascally One) takes this. Snarky point, I know, this: I've always thought Annihilus with a paint-gun was a bit of overkill. This is one of the most fearsome looking foes in Marveldom and the guy's holding a weapon? He is a weapon! And why would you need a gun in The Negative Zone? Who manufactured it?  Imagine Cthulhu with a shotgun.

The Amazing Spider-Man 96
" -- And Now the Goblin!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gil Kane and Joh Romita

Peter flies back to NY, regretting not contacting Gwen but knowing he nabbed some great photos of Spidey in London, which Robbie Robertson buys, leaving Peter to wonder if the city editor knows more than he’s letting on. Peter runs into Harry at ESU, who tries to talk him into going to see Mary Jane’s off-Broadway debut. During some head-clearing web-swinging, Peter flashes back to his history with Harry’s dad Norman, aka The Green Goblin [for the three people in the world who didn’t know that!]. With Norman suffering from amnesia and not remembering he’s The Goblin, Peter ponders picking the position proffered to him by the businessman. A quick visit to Osborn’s office uncovers that he can’t get excited and he’s reminded of something when he sees Peter. Hoofing down the streets, Peter spots Aunt May on her way to see Hair (!) then changes into Spidey when he sees cop cars racing down the streets. Turns out there’s a stoner on the roof thinking he can walk on air, and when he tries, Spidey swoops in to save him! Arriving to Mary Jane’s musical, in a building owned by Norman Osborn, Peter is greeted by his pals and a confrontation between Randy Robertson and Norman about the drug scene. Mary Jane knocks ‘em dead in her show, but something’s off with Norman; Peter senses it’s a certain door in the theatre. After MJ and Harry go off to celebrate, Peter changes into Spider-Man just in time to see Norman robotically head back inside. Spidey barges in, but he’s too late! Osborn greets him in full Goblin costume, with his memories—and villainous rage—intact! -JT

MJ gets a little something slipped into her coffee
JT: This is it. The first of three straight Amazing Spider-Man issues that were NOT approved by 
Comics Code Authority. Now there’s no doubt my fellow faculty members will cover this Comics Code stuff better than I could, and with plenty of facts. So let me just say when I first read this as a pre-teen I had no clue about the Comics Code Authority. All I knew was it was Spider-Man and I loved it. Years later, I learned about how groundbreaking the issue was and I was actually surprised they picked Spidey to "break the code".  OK, enough editorializing…. Turns out (thanks to Sean Howe’s the Marvel Comics: The Untold Story for helping with the info), Stan Lee campaigned the CCA to allow depictions of narcotics use, which was voted down. But after receiving a letter from the Dept of Health, Education and Welfare asking him to address drug abuse in the comics, Stan convinced Marvel’s publisher Martin Goodman to go against the Code and publish a Spider-Man story that touched on drugs. Soon after, the CCA started to not only allow this type of story to be shown in comics, but unshackled some of its rules about horror content. Good thing, or the world would be without Werewolf By Night!

SM: Here is the famous trilogy, the "Harry drops acid" storyline that the Comics Code Authority didn't approve. So Stan went ahead and published it without the CCA stamp, the first Marvel Comic to do so. It's an outstanding achievement for the era and some of Stan's best, most hard hitting prose. Gil Kane is back and he and Romita shine. This issue begins one of the best ASM stories to date.

MB: We begin the ascent of another peak in the Marvel topography with the first of the legendary drug issues, written by Stan at the behest of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare and leading to the loosening of the Comics Code Authority’s iron grip (ironically, their seal of approval is on the Marvel Tales reprint).  This is another of those issues where overt action takes a back seat to Spidey’s supporting cast and subplots, not to mention the anti-drug message, but I, for one, don’t mind, especially since the returning Gil Kane so nicely visualizes the suspense involving Norman Osborn.  And even though we know damn well how the issue will—must—end, that final full-page shot really packs a punch; it almost feels like 3-D.

JS: I'm jumping in on this, having had the pleasure of reading this by way of the IDW Artist's Edition, which presents the story at the full size of the original art. If you think it looks nice in print, I think it's even more impressive when you can see the blue lines, brush strokes, white out, and notes in the margins. These oversized editions are not inexpensive, but this volume in particular, collecting Gil Kane's work in ASM 96-102 (plus 121 and a number of other pages and covers) is well worth it.  It's worth noting that the original cover art HAS the original Comics Code Authority stamp!

SM: Peter reads into Robbie's comment about Pete being lucky Spider-Man was in London. Once again, not-so-swift Mr. Parker forgot all about the people he was getting pictures for. As I said last time, Gwen would have been easy to deflect, Robbie not so much. Yet, Robbie doesn't push it, leaving the reader to wonder along. Does Robbie suspect? He's nobody's fool.

PE: I've a feeling I'm going to be in for a rude awakening when Gil Kane leaves the strip and Ross Andru jumps on board. Why, in the world, do I not remember how awesome this guy was on this title? I can remember all those great covers he was in on and I'm recalling some stellar work on Gullivar Jones, but there's not a trace in my brain of Kane's Spidey. Simply jaw-droppingly good! Even if the build-up was lackluster (which it ain't), even if the art was less than stellar (which it ain't), even if we had to sift through a lot of Stan's "I'm a hip white guy" jive-talk (which we do), it all pays off with one single panel. I love that catty MJ and her oh-so-unhip dance routine. Nice of Bobby Sherman to loan Peter his yellow peacenik vest for this issue. And is this the first Betty Brant sighting we've had in years? Even if it's just the back of her head, this reminds me: when does Nurse Jane Foster make her comeback. Ulp, I'm off track. This is the best story in any Marvel Comic, hands down, so far in 1971, and the arc only gets better. That title should be "-- And Next The Goblin!" since we only get one panel here of the best Marvel villain of all time.

And starring Shaun Cassidy as Peter Parker
JT: The splash page promises “Drama! Action! Shock! This one’s a Knockout!” And with Stan, Gil and John at the helm it’s not far from the truth. Which is probably why my summary is longer than the actual comic! There’s a feeling of suspense throughout the entire story, from Peter suspecting Robbie of suspecting something is um, suspect with his “relationship” to Spidey, to the entire “will Norman Osborn regain his evil memories” question. Of course, you know what the end result will be, but it’s great storytelling nonetheless. Maybe not the most original content, and certainly predictable, but it’s great I tell ya!

SM: Harry and the gang are back, finally. MJ is a bitch, which is going to set off the sub-plot next issue. Norman's back and formerly offers Peter a job. The shocking part of it is that Parker actually considers it. He knows being around Norman causes Osborn's mental anxiety, yet he's willing to work with the guy? Well, he'll never have the chance to do the job considering how this all turns out. Randy Robertson is Stan's mouthpiece this issue, smarting off to Norman, stopping short of calling him a racist ("greedy bastard" is about as far as the insults go - and not in those words). This all leads up to Norman's final break and the awesome, dramatic cliffhanger - a full page beauty shot of the Goblin, back and more vengeful than before. Classic! Great all around.


Savage Tales 1

Conan the Barbarian in “The Frost Giant’s Daughter”

Writer: Roy Thomas; Artist: Barry Smith
Our Story

Fighting for the Aesir, Conan the Cimmerian is the lone survivor of a mighty battle with the Vanir. Succumbing to the frigid weather, Conan is approached by a woman with skin like ivory, naked except for a gossamer veil. She runs, daring the barbarian to follow —but it is a trap and Conan is led to a pair of hungry Frost Giants. Enraged at being duped, the young warrior slays the colossal duo. When he grabs the woman to take his prize, she screams for her father, Ymir the god of ice and snow, and disappears. -TF

TF: Following the failed two-issue run of The Spectacular Spider-Man in 1968, here is Marvel’s second attempt to crack the black-and-white magazine field dominated by Creepy, Eerie, and other Warren publications. Stan was gung-ho on the idea, but publisher Martin Goodman was wary of releasing mature material that didn’t include the Comics Code stamp on the cover. So, Goodman pulled the plug on Savage Tales after only one issue. However, after Goodman left the company, the title was resurrected in October 1973. There’s a ton of talent on display in the magazine, but to me, only the Conan and Man-Thing stories live up to the potential. I will say that if you were a horny young boy looking for a Playboy substitute, the Femizon feature might do the trick.

PE: I'm amazed at how far Barry Smith had come in just a few months, from the adequate art of Conan #1 to this masterpiece. If there's a drawback, it's the story, which is little more than a fragment. There seems to be a grander scheme at work here with the giants and their purty sister but the ending comes too quickly and all were left with is a cliched ending. This bodes well for the Savage Sword of Conan title coming up in a couple years.

TF: The Conan story was produced at the same time as issue #5 of his solo comic. What immediately stands out, by Crom, is that Barry Smith should start inking himself and ditch the color. Wow, this is some epic art. Fine details everywhere. However, I still can’t understand how Conan can survive in the snow with just furry shorts and a horned helmet. Yes, “The Frost Giant's Daughter,” is based on a Robert E. Howard original and a famous one at that. Luckily for me, Conan #16 reprints the tale with the lone addition of another splash page, so I plan on slacking off on that one.

PE: I'm going to hazard a guess that the splash page isn't the only addition. Ten bucks says the giant's daughter has a few more strands wrapped around her icy attributes when we get to the color reprint.

SM: The black and white magazine format is perfect for the more brutal and adult tales of Conan. Although, take away a graphic impaling and some nipples and you could run this story in the regular mag. This is a fun, middling story, kind of Twilight Zone-ish, that doesn't really do much to expand Conan as a character. The art is classy as hell, but I guess I was expecting a little more for the older readers. I found myself wondering why Conan is so clean shaven. Does he really tend to his beard that religiously? And, from the glimpses we're given, the girl is "clean shaven" as well. In the early 70s, this would have been most out of the ordinary. Though, honestly, even considering the older audience, I could hardly expect Marvel to allow pubes.

“The Fury of the Femizons”
Writer: Stan Lee; Artist: John Romita Sr.
Our Story

In the 23rd century, the New U.S.A. is ruled by “vicious voluptuaries” known as Femizons. After a duel to the death with another Femizon, the victorious Princess Lyra claims her prize, a male slave. When they arrive at her chambers, the slave overcomes Lyra and forces the princess to watch brain tapes that tell the tale of how women took power by abandoning male babies in the woods — however some survived. The slave, Mogon of the Hills, convinces Lyra to join the male revolution and restore the “balance.” She agrees, but when they are both found out, Lyra is forced to run her lover through to prove she is not a traitor. -TF

TF: The Femizons tale made me cringe with the whole “a princess is not complete without a prince” vibe, but Jazzy John knocks it out of the park. Romita’s background in cheesy romance comics pays off big time. And he adds charcoal to his artwork — the results are terrific. The story? Not so much.

MB: Reading this 10-page curiosity in The Superhero Women, I suspect that its female-dominated alternate-future premise was already old hat by 1971.  But as Stan the Man writes, “John (Ring-a-Ding) Romita and I were really bustin’ to do a story for the first [and, for a long time, only] issue of an entirely new type of publication for us.…a selection of stories, done in black-and-white, slanted for the more mature science-fiction and adventure reader.”  We will never know whether these particular Femizons would have had, uhm, legs, because “Jazzy Johnny and I knew neither of us would have the time to do a sequel…”  However, in Fantastic Four #129 (December 1972), Roy and John Buscema introduced Thundra, from a similar 23rd-century Femizonia, who—to make matters more confusing—later had a daughter named Lyra.

PE: The story itself isn't bad, it's just horribly dated (the same problem, obviously, applies to "Black Brother), but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall during the production meeting when Stan was pitching his Femizons tale:

Stan: Now, look guys, I've wanted to tell the untold story of how man is keeping woman down. There is too much inequality in today's world. Women find themselves harassed at work, they don't get paid as much as their male colleagues, and they have so many stereotypes to contend with. I feel it's my place to educate today's funny book readers to the plight of the American woman. And I've always wanted to work big boobies into a Marvel story and there was that time I was scripting SHIELD and I tried to use sperm vials as a plot point and the dagnabbed CCA shot me down...

SM: I first read this as a teen, when it was reprinted in The Superhero Women collection. It was coldly depressing then and hasn't changed much now that I'm older. Women's lib is never fodder for a good time and this is some pretty heavy-handed stuff. The art is typical Romita, which means it's great - but nothing better than what he did for Spider-Man. After a while, his people start looking the same. I liked the downbeat ending; brutal, yet hopeful. Another sign they were aiming a little older. 

Writers: Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway; Artist: Gray Morrow
Our Story

Half-man, half-swamp, a mossy monster rises from the murky depths to kill an alligator. Trudging off, it remembers the days when he was a human named Ted Sallis, working in the everglades on a secret government chemical weapon program. When his girlfriend Ellen betrays him, Ted is subdued by a pair of spies. But Ted escapes with the deadly chemical, only to crash his car into the swamp: the fetid waters and the unstable chemical transform him into the fearsome Man-Thing. He shambles off to exact revenge on the trio of thieves with his brute force and burning touch. -TF

MB:  Neither S&S nor the B&W mags are on my beat, but I acquired this story in Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 1, and I couldn’t resist Manny’s first appearance; his second, due to the 29-month gap between issues, was finally shoehorned into the Ka-Zar strip in Astonishing Tales #12.  This 11-page tale really doesn’t allow enough room for Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway to do more than tell his origin, which—as is often and rightly pointed out—bears a striking resemblance to that written shortly afterward by future Marvel mainstay Len Wein for DC’s Swamp Thing.  The artwork, by aptly named Warren veteran Gray Morrow, is impressively atmospheric, and although I rarely say this, I found the absence of color bothering me very little.

PE: I'm of the mind that, rather than the theory put forth by the "Mannys," the appearance of the two swamp titans within months of each other is purely coincidental. I have a hard time seeing Joe Orlando (who was editing House of Secrets, where Swamp Thing made his first appearance) running through the halls of National, waving a copy of Savage Tales #1, and screaming madly: "That's it! Swamp monsters are the next big thing!" What a lot of folks forget (or aren't old enough to know) is that there were actually three swamp muck monsters on the stands at the same time. In an interview in Alter Ego #81 (October 2008), Roy Thomas reveals that he convinced Skywald co-founder (and former Marvel production manager) Sol Brodsky to run new adventures of the oldest walking garbage pile, adding "We have the Man-Thing, you ought to get someone to  revive The Heap." Roy's dates are a bit off though since the first installment of The New Heap appeared two months prior to the publishing of Savage Tales in Psycho #2 (cover dated March 1971). In another Skywald/Marvel-related note, that first strip was drawn by future Amazing Spider-Man art duo Ross Andru and Mike Esposito. Those who thought some of the Ant-Man and Torch strips were pushing the boundaries of awful funny books to a new level should check out some of the Skywald magazines. 

TF: My favorite artwork in the inaugural issue of Savage Tales is the Prologue that spreads across the first three pages of the Man-Thing story. Holey moley. I’ll admit I’m not that familiar with Gray Morrow, but my limited research revealed that he illustrated the Classics Illustrated adaptation of my favorite novel, “The Octopus” by Frank Norris. Which is now mine thanks to eBay and 14 bucks.

PE: Forty years on, this is still a dynamite story with truly creepy artwork. Yep, there were sludge monsters before and after but Man-Thing was the best "Thing", for my money. It's that whole "Whatever knows fear burns at the touch..." mantra. Here, in the initial installment, it's also the creeping feeling we're inside a low-budget Eddie Romero flick, with all the trappings that entails (the self-sacrificing hero, the bitchy back-stabbing female, and the really gruesome eight foot-tall slime monster). It'll be a full year before we see the follow-up (in Astonishing #12) and that's when the character starts developing, thanks mostly to writer Steve Gerber (but that's another story for another week). Man-Thing (and the easing of the Code) would help open the gates to the cemetery, previously holding back the multitude of monster heroes.

JS: Absolutely love the Gray Morrow art, which fits the adult sensibilities of the B&W magazines. Man Thing was always a favorite of mine growing up, whereas Swamp Thing never did anything for me. I think it's because of the bizarre, inexplicable Man Thing face—the three segmented tubes that dangle to nowhere. And while I've never understood why MT's face is the way it is, it's clearly what sets him apart from the crowd.

SM: Is this Gray Morrow's first work for Marvel? He'd do the b&w Space: 1999 magazine for Carleton. He tried to keep it real whenever he could. Sometimes he'd be great, other times (and in the same issue) his work looks sketchy. Ted Sallis could have smashed the vial and dumped the chemicals instead of injecting himself but, because he needs to transform, "he has no other choice." Meh. I liked the crappy Dick Durock Swamp Thing movie better. I noticed that "going adult" to Marvel meant "more boobs." The stories aren't any better or more challenging than in the four color comics. Well, maybe these are more of a challenge to get through.

“Black Brother”
Writer: Sergius O’Shaughnessy (Denny O’Neil); Artists: Gene Colan, Tom Palmer
Our Story

In the progressive but poor African province of Potonga, Joshua, the young and principled governor, trashes a pair of would-be rapists working for the corrupt central government. When he arrives home, Joshua is unknowingly betrayed by his beloved governess and a photo is taken that falsely portrays him in a romantic embrace with a white woman he was actually trying to help. The people revolt, and the innocent governor is forced to flee his suite. After a failed assassination attempt in the streets by a government agent, Joshua finally realizes he has been sold-out by the woman he loves. -TF

SM: Well, that was awful! Another "lover betrayal" just like the previous story; more boobs; lots of racial fights; really stilted and pompous dialog. I can't imagine where this series would have gone and I'm pretty happy to not have to find out. This Joshua guy was no Shaft.  

TF: I can’t blame Denny O’Neil for using a pseudonym as ridiculous as Sergius O’Shaughnessy. Yikes.

PE: I didn't find this as offensive as my colleagues. First off, Denny O'Neil sidesteps the usual potholes Stan drives his caddy over: that blackboard-scratching "black man jive" that permeated Marvel in the 1970s. Second, the story is actually engaging, cliched betrayal notwithstanding, and I found myself wanting to see a follow-up. What that would have been is anyone's guess since this is about the most mainstream strip Marvel ever published. No tights, no giant monsters, no solar ray weapons. Extra credit for that husband-wife showdown finale where Belle laughs at her husband and brings him down a couple notches while he points a revolver at her:

Joshua: Damn you! I ought to kill you!
Belle: Perhaps you should -- but you won't! Because for all your muscle, you're weak. Admit it, Joshua, inside -- you're mush!

Surprising that American-International Pictures didn't option this.  Woulda made a good 85-minute Jim Brown vehicle (with Pam Grier, naturally, as the cheatin' ho wife) co-billed with Slaughter's Big Rip-Off.

Ka-Zar in
“The Night of the Looter”
Writer: Stan Lee; Artist: John Buscema
Our Story

When stampeding dinosaurs threaten to crush through the door of his forbidden cave, the hiding place of the mystic Vibranium, the jungle lord Ka-Zar and his ferocious saber-toothed companion, Zabu, leap into action and force the rampaging reptiles to change direction. Then, a Jungle Tank rumbles forward, manned by bickering newlyweds and protected by savage gorilla-men. After Ka-Zar and Zabu beat back the brutish beasts, the new bride Carla decides to use her feminine wiles to seduce Ka-Zar and steal the Vibranium. But Carla’s plan backfires: the Vibranium melts the tank and her jilted husband shoots her in the back. -TF

TF: The best thing I can point out about the Ka-Zar installment is the splash page. Big John draws Ka-Zar and Zabu on a ridge above the stampeding dinosaurs. The deadly sabretooth’s instincts are to leap and kill against all odds but Ka-Zar restrains his furious friend, locking his left arm around the giant cat’s neck and grabbing the scruff of its neck with his right. Somehow, with this incredible image, Buscema makes Ka-Zar look even more ferocious then Zabu but thoughtful and protective at the same time. It’s a magnificent illustration, probably the best thing ever associated with the lame Ka-Zar. Unfortunately, the rest of the story is a tiresome but well-drawn Tarzan knock-off.

PE: It's lost on many of us what a huge gamble this project was. A violent, unCoded black and white magazine that wouldn't have been racked near the four color Marvels. In an interview with RBCC (#81, 1971) Jack Kirby, who'd recently jumped ship from Marvel to DC, had this to say about Savage Tales: "I think it could hurt the industry, and I think it was a mistake. I think these comics are vulnerable to all the people who make a point of knocking comics, like the people who've done it in the past who've had an axe to grind, or someone with a book to write. Comics have been a victim of that sort of thing. I feel the code is its own protection, and tampering with it is very foolish in that respect. I would never do it." Ironically, Kirby did participate in an unCoded, thinly-veiled attack on Marvel a decade later, Steve Gerber's Destroyer Duck.

PE: In an interview in Alter Ego #83 (January 2009), Conan writer Roy Thomas revealed that "The Dweller in the Dark," a story that eventually saw light of day in Conan the Barbarian #12 (December 1971) was first slated to appear in the aborted Savage Tales #2 (which was to be published sometime in late 1971). The Femizons would pop up again (sans naked breasts) in Fantastic Four #151. The second chapter of Black Brother was never published.

SM: Stan keeps insisting that Ka-Zar is a great character, but you couldn't prove that by me. Dull with a capital Dull. Oh look, Mary Jane Watson changed her name to Carla and went to the jungle. Well, nice to know the Savage Land has a Valley of Naked Chicks. There's more skin in this than all the other stories combined. It smacks of desperation in a story that isn't very good. Nice art, but none of this was worth the extra cost. The failure of this magazine was no loss.  

Also this Month

Creatures on the Loose #11 -> 
Mighty Marvel Western #13
My Love #11
Rawhide Kid #87
The Ringo Kid #9
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #87
Two-Gun Kid #98
Where Creatures Roam #6
Where Monsters Dwell #9

Creatures on the Loose 11
"The Underground Gambit"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe

Every now and then, Marvel would pepper their monster reprint titles with original stories, probably shelved from unrealized issues of Tower of Shadows or Chamber of Darkness, or perhaps "try-out" stories. So it is that, with Creatures on the Loose #11, we not only get "The Unbelievable Menace of Moomba" (an old Tales to Astonish story from the triumvirate of Lee/Kirby/Ayers) but also the (not so) original terror of "The Underground Gambit." One side of Roger Krass is the stiff, boring everyman, but the other is Roger Krass, underground artist (complete with wig and medallion necklace). Respected for his edgy cartoons about "Peter of the People," Roger dons guise and presses flesh with the little people in the Village, all the while hating this side of his life. One day, returning home to his apartment, he finds a smell like that of "burning mattresses" and a guest waiting for him in his living room: Mr. Herbert T. Brimstone (Herbert T = Herb Trimpe. Get it?), a publisher offering Klass a high-paying job at his newspaper, a paper that "tells how it really is underground..."). The starving artist takes the job in a jiffy and next day he finds himself at his new place of employment, a building with a descending staircase that seems to "lead downward -- ever downward!"). When Roger Krass finally faces an office door, he opens it to find himself (to his shock as well as ours!) in hell! I'm pretty sure that, even in the dark ages of 1971, the "deal with the devil" story had been done to death. This one adds nothing remarkable to the genre but keep an eye on this Wein kid: I think he may be a contenda. -PE


  1. An Eddie Romero shoutout by Professor Pete! God bless ya!

    1. Your comment must have appeared while I was writing mine, so I didn't see it until I had posted my own. Great minds...

  2. "Jaggta-Noga"? The Lovecraft influence so ably elucidated in Professor Gilbert's inaugural Sunday Special continues. "Crom's devils!"

    I'm with Professor Scott on the oddness of the Widow's "Eyes front, Ivan," of which I think we will actually get a third helping before this deteriorating strip limps over the finish line.

    From my March '72 vantage point, I am saddened to tell you that the so-called "partnership" between Captain America and the Falcon, despite being reflected in the magazine's title, is in for an even more brutal beating as time goes by.

    That one FF panel makes our villain look like Edward G. Robinsannihilus! "Okay, you mugs..."

    Extra credit to Paste-Pot for invoking Eddie R.

  3. Where's the Landmark Issue seal for Spidey #96? And don't say it's missing as a homage to the lack of Comic Code approval, although that would be a very Stan-like excuse (g).

  4. When I bought the Essential Iron Man to read those old issues - I used to be a big Iron Man fan till Marvel helped me kick the habit - I was very disappointed. The stories of these years are mindnumbingly boring crap, and the art is so weak and uninspired. As if the book was the assignment nobody wanted. For years.

    I love b/w Marvel. I never realized that they started at the same time when Spider-Man ditched the Code for a short time. The artwork was amazing. I don't want to call it adult, because let's face it, it's adultness was basically not more then a bit gore, a bit more realistic violence and some glimpses of nudity. Still, compared to the color stuff it was a revelation. What Smith, Buscema and Colan could do without the usual restrictions was more influential IMHO then the Warren books. With Warren you expected this, but at Marvel it came at first as a real surprise.

    I have a real soft spot for magazines like Dracula Lives or Vampire Tales which had some terrific stories. And of course the early Howard comics. Still re-read them occasionally.

  5. Mark: I never suspected anyone would get my in-joke but you did! Congrats! No? Not buying it? Well, in your honor I've taken the "landmark" icon out of the mothballs and bestowed it upon Spidey 96. Have another look.

    Andy: I love the b&ws as well and we'll be covering most of them when the time comes.

  6. Please excuse me--after reading this post I need to take a cold shower. Kind of reminds me of the days of poring over "The Brunner Mystique" up in the attic.

  7. Alert! Alert! Dean Peter has graciously allowed me to add my 2 cents to Savage Tales. Read and weep, as Alexander wept when his wife got the kingdom in the divorce settlement.

  8. Peter,

    Cool that you dusted off ye old Landmark shield at my gentle prompting. It's not a no-prize but 'twil serve...

    1. It deserves it, this was a major turning point in the industry as well as being a damned good trilogy in all respects.