Wednesday, July 24, 2013

December 1971: They Don't Avenge, They Defend!

Conan the Barbarian 12
“The Dweller in the Dark”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith

Captured for drinking from the royal springs of Zahmahn, Conan is brought before Queen Fatima. Instead of punishing the Cimmerian for his insolence, the randy ruler makes him her new captain and lover. But when the barbarian is caught in an amorous embrace with Yaila, the queen’s chambermaiden, the two are chained in the castle’s dank dungeon to be devoured by the Dweller in the Dark. After a mighty effort, Conan breaks their chains. While wandering the dungeon’s half-submerged corridors, the duo encounters the dreaded Dweller, an obscenely grotesque octopus. With the quivering hellspawn hot on their heels, Conan and Yaila escape to the throne room. The Cimmerian hurls Queen Fatima at the hungry Dweller: satisfied with his meal, the tentacled terror returns to the dark depths. The loyal subjects hail Conan as their new king — the black-haired brute names Yaila his queen and strides away, leaving the former slavegirl to rule a kingdom. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: As reported in the May 1971 post by Professor Pete, this tale was originally slated for the much-delayed second issue of Savage Tales. And yes, you perceptive paste pot you, Barry Smith’s original Savage Tales artwork was obviously toned down to meet the Comics Code. It’s basically the breasts: you can tell where the deep cleavage was erased and when the ample sideboob was dressed. But there’s still an elevated sense of sex. And since it was a Savage Tale story, Smith inks himself, the best display of his artistic brilliance — no offense to Our Sal Pal, still his finest collaborator. The action-packed, yet totally unrelated cover is by the artist of the blah back-up story, Gil Kane, with inks by everyone’s favorite, Vince Coletta.

Mark Barsotti: Question: since Barry has long since added his mom's name to his moniker should we honor his wishes and call him Barry Windsor-Smith? It is much more tea and crumpets; if only the Queen would knight him as Artist of the Empire to settle the issue. I thought after last month's 34 page epic, BWS ran up hard against the dread Deadline Doom, prompting a shorter story, but thanks to Prof Tom I learned this ish was plugged in from the delayed Savage Tales #2. Only 16 pages but "The Dweller in the Dark" delivers quality over quantity, especially art-wise, with Barry inking his own pencils (alas, the extra-murky printing obliterates lots of his OCD detail). The watering hole fight was an exciting opening except that I was distracted wondering why Conan's wearing a really odd fringed-blue-leather thingie that looks likes a sliced-up shower curtain by way of Woodstock-era Roger Daltrey. Luckily for captive Conan, raven-haired & barely dressed (that's not a complaint) Queen Fatima appreciates a sharp-tongued barbarian so, rather than ordering him flayed, she invites him to her bedchamber. Conan continues to get more on-screen, ah, horizontal refreshment than the rest of the MU heroes combined. But his Captain's title's hollow, he's a kept boy-toy, and when he dares touch slave-girl Yaila in the royal baths it's off to the dungeon for both, would-be chow for the titular dark dweller. Before dueling the Beastie-of-the-Month, Conan struggles mightily to rip new chains from old wall-links, which leaves his wrists abused and bleeding. Great stuff, but why is Yaila suddenly free as well, not just from the wall but from the chain-bracelets Conan sports for the remaining pages? Little could Roy and Barry have imagined such over-looked details would become fodder for nit-picking blog-geeks four decades hence.

Scott McIntyre: A brutal story, darker than most of what we've seen prior. Conan is beaten and torn during his escape and battle with a really creepy looking squid creature. It's pretty straightforward, no real twists, but it does distinguish itself with the sheer mercilessness demonstrated. Conan again differs from the mainstream Marvel characters in how he deals with Fatima. Unlike Jenna, who got tossed into the mud, Fatima is hurled to her death even after giving a quick hint that he might spare her. I found that curiously refreshing. Any other hero in the Marvel Universe at this point would have bent over backward to stay clean, but Conan gives the finger to Marvel tradition. Barry Smith again makes magic, but he still has a little trouble with making his women pretty. The second story, "Blood of the Dragon," is a page-filler and it shows. The framing device is all sorts of timeworn and really needed to be retired. Eh, nothing to write a blog about.

Mark: Ye Beastie-of-the-Month was once a man, transformed into "an eternally writhing, obscenely gurgling monstrosity," i.e. Octopus-Man, complete with pink Bazooka Joe coloring. OM's tentacles enwrap Conan and comely Yaila, but a sword to the eye frees them to scramble up the droptube to the throne room where Conan quickly dispatches the queen's watchdog eunuch, then delivers Fatima to the hungry Double-Bubble-hued beast below. The late-queen's court hails Conan as their deliverer but since "Zahmahn has only queens – never a king," our hero appoints Yaila to the throne and heads off into the night toward his next adventure, hopefully after stopping at Ye Ole Apothecary to score some Bactine for his bloody back wounds. The book finishes with a storytelling device I love: creators Roy Thomas and Gil Kane appearing to bookend "The Blood of the Dragon," a decent Hyborian tale of a scheming social climber getting a well-deserved turn-into-a-dragon comeuppance. I'd rather seven more pages of Conan, sure, but the one-off tale was more flavorful than most filler so, all tolled, the title's hot streak rolls on.    

“The Blood of the Dragon”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane, Diverse Hands

After winning a joust, Kalligor, a scheming Poitain nobleman, returns to the castle to find the throneroom in uproar: the Hydragon is once again terrorizing the kingdom’s frontier. The king’s brave son volunteers to ride out and kill the beast — but news of his death soon make it’s way back to the kingdom. Kalligor, in a play for power, agrees to try his swordhand at the dangerous task. Kalligor tracks down the Hydragon, a Tyrannosaurus with numerous serpents sprouting from its scaly head. The Poitainian hurls a poisoned sword into the ravenous reptile’s mouth, killing the monster. When it falls, the Hydragon transforms into the prince. Kalligor accidentally touches the prince’s blood and transforms into the Hydragon himself: it seems that whoever slays the beast becomes the Hydragon in turn. -TF

TF: A rather goofy story framed by a dumb device: Roy and Gil are discussing Conan’s coolness but wonder if there are other “Tales of the Hyborian Age” to be told. Hence this short seven-pager introducing the original character Kalligor. One would assume that it’s the last we’ll see of this obnoxious weasel since he’s transformed into the Hydragon at the end. Which is a good thing, if totally ridiculous. Can’t complain about the Gil Kane art though. By the way, the Diverse Hands are Kane himself, Tom Palmer and Berni Wrightson.

The Mighty Thor 194
"The Fatal Fury!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John and Sal Buscema

With Loki in possession of the Odin-Ring, and the All-Father himself in Odin dreamland, only Thor dares to stand against his evil brother. He narrowly escapes death at the hands of some Storm Giants when—minus his hammer for sixty seconds—he reverts to Don Blake. But a dive for Mjolnir restores him to his rightful self, and Loki’s giant minions are sent whirling away in a wind vortex. Trolls are dispatched quickly; by the time Thor gets to the Throne Room, the Lady Sif is moments away from becoming Mrs. Loki. An enraged Thor takes up the battle with his brother personally. What no one but Loki knows, is that the Ring has inexplicably been causing him more and more pain. The Warriors Three manage to break into the chamber where Odin is sleeping--and wake him up! What the furious Odin bellows is that events must take their course, and he won’t interfere. Of course only he knows that no one else can wear the ring for any length of time, as it takes strength from it’s wearer, not gives it. Loki finally has to tear it from his finger before it consumes him. A joyous feasting is cut short, as Vizier begs Odin’s attention. The reason? The world the All-Father has banished Loki to for punishment is one where a fearful enemy lies buried; how long until Loki finds him? -Jim Barwise

Matthew Bradley: Sometimes we (or at least I) fixate on a single aspect of an issue, to the exclusion of all else, and since the Buscema Brothers’ artwork occasions nothing but my standard rave, here goes.  It’s bad enough that Stan—and now, by extension, Gerry—could never keep straight the rules governing Odin’s spell on Mjolnir, and that their application in this story adds nothing to its dramatic quotient:  Thor drops hammer, Thor reverts to Blake, Blake retrieves hammer, Thor is back in business, or actually better off, having been freed from the grip of the Storm Giant.  But what really gets me is, are we supposed to believe that in Asgard, Thor changes whenever he sets it down for a minute?  Wouldn’t countless back issues contradict that?  What about his love life?

Jim: Although a conclusion of events from the last few issues, with the Surfer gone it feels a little more like a different tale. Some of the readers of the day must have called Marvel on the Dr. Blake/Thor identity. You’re absolutely right Professor Matthew, it was always clear in the earlier issues that this happened only on Earth (until issue #153), so what gives? And wasn’t it also clear that Odin could never safely be awakened from the Odin-Sleep without risking his life? In a way though, I admire the Warriors Three for doing just that; Odin’s missed more than a few calamities this way. And Sif’s wedding dress--phew! Now there’s a garment that’s going to come out on some future romantic nights! Speaking of romance, Balder’s resolve to fight his attraction for Karnilla continues to slip.

The rare unused cover for Our Asgardian Love #35

Peter Enfantino: Good points, Professor Matthew. I thought the same thing as Thor became Doc Blake and fell from the grasp of the Storm Giant (by the way, falling from a distance that would break the legs of an athlete, never mind a lame physician): all this build-up for him to turn to Blake and turn back to Thor. Wow! There's so much at risk! In the end, this is just another humility lesson doled out to the Thunder God from his pop (how many of those have we been witness to?), another banishment from Asgard for Loki (ditto), and Lady Sif spared an uncomfortable wedding night (well, at least that's a new angle). Despite the rote plot and developments, there are a couple things here I liked. Thor exclaims that he's killed all of his brother's troll guards. That's viciousness we haven't seen much of. He'll wield his hammer and call down for lightning and thunder but how many times have we seen our hero so filled with rage that he's killed? And that ending is a great cliffhanger, even if it leads to yet another overused plot. Time for Loki to take a vacation, methinks.

The one that got used

Scott: I understand that Thor has the Don Blake identity to teach the Thunder God humility and returns to the Blake form if he lets go of the hammer for more than 60 seconds. But why does this happen in Asgard? What's the point? Living among humans as a human makes sense, but considering Odin's complete disgust with having mortals in Asgard, why does Thor have to hang on to his hammer while at home? Does he have to hold it in the shower? When pinching a loaf? Even more perplexing, why does Don run so incredibly well when he has a bum leg? At this stage of the game, why does the Don Blake identity exist anymore? He's there for, what, three panels?

Peter: As noted in Professor Matthew's comments for Captain America and the Falcon this month, some of the titles were "thrown out of whack" by the return to standard size from last month's super-size-me experiment. Thor was one of those titles so here we get a paltry 15 pages of new content and a 5-page reprinting of a "Tale of Asgard" ("The Golden Apples", from JIM #114, March 1965). The boys will make up for it next month when we get a couple extra pages of story before settling in to the new standard, 21 pages, the following month.

Scott: Odin is roused from his nap and it is confirmed that he's not a morning person. Cranky beyond belief, he is untroubled over Loki being let loose with the Odin ring because he knew Loki would eventually toss it away. Oy, all that crap for nothing. The ring "takes power" and we see Odin zapping Loki away with a beam from the ring. Since when does Odin need his ring to do stuff? He's fricking Odin! Are we to believe that he needs the ring to focus the energy to perform his Odinly tasks? Does it draw power even when you're not doing anything with it? Like if you're watching a joust or eating flapjacks?  Not only that, he sent Loki away without giving any real thought to where he was going. Really? This of course leads us into another crisis without a break. When will an issue actually have a genuine conclusion?

Sub-Mariner 44
"Namor Betrayed"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Marie Severin and Jim Mooney

The President of the United States has declared the Sub-Mariner  a national threat so every law enforcement officer across the country is out to get him.  Namor sulks in a seedy hotel in Boston when he hears the news.  He ventures out for some air but it isn't long before the cops are chasing him.  Johnny Storm just happens to be in town for a vacation and when he sees Namor, he tries to help him out.  Mistaking the Torch for being on the law's side, Subby rebuffs him violently.  Meanwhile, the unholy team of Tiger Shark and Llyra have awakened the giant sea-beast, Krago, in an attempt to lure Namor out of hiding so that they can capture him for their own ulterior motives.  Things don't go too smoothly as Namor, with a little help from the Torch, is able to get Krago back to the bottom of the ocean.  Namor decides to go back into the sea himself.  The story ends with Stingray finding Namor's father and the Human Torch flying off with Diane Arliss so that they can find and help Namor. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  Nothing great here but at least this series is starting to head back into the right direction, namely into the ocean.  I look forward to seeing Namor having a showdown with two of his classic rogues.

Matthew:   Shortly after perusing Professor Peter’s review of Amazing Spider-Man #93, where he states that “MARMIS has never smelled so foul as in this adventure,” I encountered a Namor yarn that might outdo it.  Consider:  police misunderstand Namor’s intentions; Namor misunderstands Johnny’s approach; Navy misunderstands forces behind Krago; Johnny misunderstands Namor’s attempt to help; police misunderstand Johnny’s role (“So go the lines of misunderstanding,” Gerry helpfully adds), and then Diane’s. At least poor Subby is that much closer to a reunion with dear old Dad, while irregular inker Jim Mooney can add Marie Severin to the roster of pencilers whose work he has enhanced on this title—Sal Buscema, Andru, Tuska.

Peter: Wake me when Bill Everett shows up.

Astonishing Tales 9

Ka-Zar in
"The Legend of the Lizard Men!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema

Ka-Zar and Zabu come across the alluring Iranda, who shows them hospitality at her encampment. Seems KZ is seeking vengeance against the Lizard Men who carried off the females of a nearby village—but it turns out Iranda controls the Lizard Men! Claiming they are harmless, she takes KZ to her castle, where he ends up saving a reeling reptile on the way. But once they arrive, KZ spots the female villagers under Iranda’s spell, then escapes with her crown! The Lizard Men are in cold-blooded pursuit, tangling with the jungle lord—and losing—until he returns to the castle to learn the secret of the crown. After another battle, it’s revealed that the enchanted crown keeps Iranda beautiful, since she’s really a lizard-woman! She leaps at KZ and falls into flames—and with her death, the Lizard Men transform back into the hapless male villagers. The End. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: So, we interrupt our regularly scheduled programming “due to circumstances beyond our control” and get a surprise Ka-Zar tale from Stan Lee and John Buscema. And it may not be an improvement over the normal tales, but Stan might just write KZ’s dialogue better then anyone. And although far from his best, Big John is solid here. But all in all, it’s really nothing more than a fun aside, with some nice action and a great page of KZ dispatching a lizard dude. And the less said about the Lorna the Jungle Girl super-filler the better.

Scott: According to the blurb on the splash page, this is a fill-in issue, written by Stan no less, so it must have been in the closet for a little while. I guess Barry Smith couldn't avoid the Dreaded Deadline Doom. As such, it does the job and I've read worse. Ka-Zar is just not interesting enough for me and devoting a whole issue to him is torture. John Buscema does his usual "barbarian" drawings here, making Ka-Zar no different from any other long-haired, bare-chested savage he's done before or since. Aside from the blonde hair, when he takes over Conan after Smith leaves the Cimmerian will look just like this. The story is average, no surprises.

The Avengers 94
"More Than Inhuman!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and Tom Palmer

The Avengers have captured the three Skrulls while the Vision tackles Super Skrull to rescue Quicksilver, Scarlet Witch and Captain Marvel, as well as to prevent his destroying the Inhumans' Great Refuge. The Skrull is able to hit the deadly switch, but the Refuge's force bubble protects the city. Knowing he can't stop the Skrull without endangering the captives, the Vision leaves. The Skrull arrives at the homeworld, but the ruler fires on the ship, as he fears the Super Skrull intends to unseat the king and marry his daughter Annelle. The king's arsenal subdues the Super Skrull and the captives are taken to the palace. He puts Wanda and Pietro through a deadly trial that will take their lives, but offers to halt their doom if Mar-Vell produces the Omni-wave. The Omni-Wave is a method of interplanetary communications which will allow the Skrulls to send a death ray to the Kree. Mar-Vell holds his ground, but eventually caves to save his two friends at the cost of the Kree (gasp!). Meanwhile, on Earth, H. Warren Craddock is torturing the rescued scientists to make sure they're not aliens. While Goliath gives up his growth serum, Craddock sends Mandroids to Avengers Mansion to capture the heroes for defying the Commission. The fight does not go well and, as it reaches a fever pitch, the Inhuman known as Triton emerges, battered and exhausted, from a manhole. Will he be for the Avangers, or against? -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Mandroids! An interesting middle chapter as John Buscema and Neal Adams share pencil duties in alternate sections. With Tom Palmer inking both men's work, the differences aren't as major as they could have been. We get a little more humanity creeping into the Vision's programming while the Skrull section feels a lot like padding. Nick Fury's vague message is amusing as it was useless. It was so cryptic, the Avengers wasted their escape time trying to figure out what he was talking about.

Matthew:  This arc has far exceeded the expectations based on my first reading back in ’83; revisiting it in context, rather than spoiled by Starlin as I was then, just shows how completely it blows out of the water anything else even Marvel was doing at the time, so I imagine it had DC pooping its pants.  With Palmer providing consistency, the round-robin art isn’t as noticeable as you’d expect, yet whether it’s Neal or Big John pushing the pencil, the results are spectacular, and I consider that last panel of Triton climbing out of the manhole one of Marvel’s all-time great cliffhangers.  In retrospect, the most surprising thing about the war (which ends in #97) is that it wasn’t the run-up to a “very special” 100th-issue anniversary—how naïve they were then!

Scott: One would think that if Tony Stark designed the Mandroid suits, he would have some kind of override code to keep them from being used against him, yet Iron Man fights away. He'll exploit their weaknesses next issue (sorry...SPOILERS), but I can't imagine a guy like Stark neglecting to build in a fail safe. Triton pops in so suddenly, it's confusing, but there you go. Next issue, the Inhumans' storyline will have some conclusion here rather in their own feature.

Peter: It's all still a little confusing to me, all these scenes seem to be forming a whole but I'm not getting it. I will say the enormity of the arc is something I've never seen in a Marvel story line outside of those bloated "epics" of the 80s like Secret Wars. I love the language of the almost Marx Bros.-ish Skrulls. The Super Skrull screams out insults to The Vision as the he disappears into the floor: "Poltroon! Craven Recreant!" and delivers the best line in a Marvel Comic this month to his henchmen onboard his spaceship: "Well, swinish ones? You orbited in space, while I did all the work on the mudball called earth! Can you not bring me at least before the emperor without the ship's rocking so?" I assume the screenwriters of Flesh Gordon read this issue. And, yep, that last panel of Triton is a keeper.

Mark: The K-S epic continues to unfold at accelerating speed, so fast that John Buscema had to be brought in to pitch-hit for the middle third of the book, giving Neal time to reach for a sweat towel and his pencil sharpener. Two great artists (abetted by Tom Palmer's inks) so nary a beat is missed and, as the amphetamine-paced story is likewise now speeding along like a Japanese bullet train, I'll just offer up random thoughts. Great cover, but when did Marvel start with D.C.-like blurbs ("Mandroids – Execute the Death Sentence!") that falsely portray the story inside? Page 1: what about a struggling Skrull (who looks nothing like Gary Cooper) makes Cap call him Sgt. York? Killer depiction of a Skrull Destructo-Beam bouncing of the Great Refuge on page 5, but wasn't the invincible dome destroyed when the FF freed the Inhumans? In re: the title of Part Two, 1970: AAAAAAA SPACE ODYSSEY, who hired the Fonz to write captions? Loved the rapidly reproducing pink-Tribbles almost smothering Wanda and Quickie. Ditto Neal's bad acid trip splash page for Part Three. Leave it to Rascally Roy, he of the archival funny-book memory, to wheel out Iron-Man's rollers-skates, not to be seen again until the Roller-Disco arc of '78. And a great final panel with Triton emerging from the sewers... Man, this is good stuff and I hereby ask Dean Pete command any facility members who disagree be ordered to teach remedial Ant-Man next semester!

Peter: Uh-oh. Looks like I better bone up on my Ant-Man dissertations.

Captain America and the Falcon 144
"Hydra Over All"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Romita

"The Falcon Fights Alone"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Gray Morrow

A meeting of Hydra is raided by Cap and a special team of SHIELD: Aero-Force One. They make short work of most of the enemy when it is revealed that this was an elaborate presentation for the President and his staff and that the Hydra men were merely L.M.D.'s. Nick Fury still has one more surprise to show the big wigs: the Femme Force! Commanded by Agent 13 herself, these spirited ladies impress the President and Nick gives Sharon a vacation. She and Cap look forward to leaving the next day. In a dream/flashback, Cap relives the resolution of his argument with Sam from last issue. Leila holds off Sam's lecherous advances, locking the box until he can stop being an Uncle Tom. After she leaves, Cap arrives to apologize for how his comments came across last issue, but Sam is having none of it. Ol' red whitey and blue doesn't get the black experience, so Sam breaks up the team, changes his costume and strikes out to help His People. After successfully saving a friend of his nephew from a pusher and nabbing the criminal, the Harlemites embrace the New Falcon, while Cap mulls over the loss of his partner. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This obnoxious issue is brought to you by "The 70's." The Femme Force? Look, I get it. The time period, Women's Lib, Civil Rights, etc. I can see how having strong women is "progressive" but it was handled so badly, segregating women rather than integrating. Couldn't Sharon and the other women just be important, vital parts of the whole? How is an all-woman attack force an advantage over having men and women working together on the same team? "Right on, sisters!" Really? While they are trying to prove their worth to the president, Fury is making sexist, belittling cracks. Everyone acts like they're humoring the women until they get over their itch to be "as valuable as the men" and get back to making uniforms and brownies. They're fighting for equality, but they're still "different." Imagine if SHIELD had a Black Brigade. How well would that have gone over? Sexism has always been laughed off, unlike racism. Both isms suck. Of course, Nixon is presented as unable to make any real decisions and for some reason, Spiro Agnew is drawn like someone offered him cake. I hate the Marvel depiction of the Nixon administration, honestly, and while I get Fury as a no nonsense, cigar chomping tough guy, he really deserves an official smack in the mouth for the crap he gives the President. How does a man get to be a Colonel in the Army without respecting authority? It must be interesting to fight against Cap. He shouts out his name to finish a sentence he was thinking, but nobody was privy to the preface, so he comes off like Hannah Barbera's Birdman ("Birrrrrrrrrrrd-MAN!").

Matthew: Apparently, certain books were thrown out of whack by the abrupt shift back to regulation-size issues, which might explain this one’s bifurcated nature, and yet despite containing two stories (both written by Gary Friedrich, which sets my expectations pretty low), it is so insubstantial that a stiff breeze would carry it away.  Historically, its most notable aspect is the debut of the Falcon’s new costume, designed by John Romita—whose work on the first story is impeccable, as always—even though the second half was drawn by Gray Morrow, whom I last saw introducing Man-Thing back in May.  The less said about the Femme Force the better, but is that supposed to be Nick Fury’s criminally underused gal pal, Val, whom we glimpse on page 7?

Peter: Fury notes to Tricky Dick that the economy's in the toilet so how many millions of dollars were blown on a useless display of power over a batch of robots? How many robots were in that room? Look at that splash page! The room is packed wall-to-wall with Hydra. Who's running the controls for each and every one of those Go-bots? And how about that amazing Femme Force? Called in after the action is over to clean up with a mop and they better look good doin' it. Even for a funny book, this nonsense strains the fibers of believability. Oh, and Professor Matthew and I rehearsed the Invasion   K-12 maneuver here in the halls of the Marvel University until the wee hours of the morning and it just doesn't work.

Scott: As for part 2, Gray Morrow does some fine, realistic work. I always enjoyed his pencils. The story itself, sadly, is just as insufferable as the previous ten pages. "I guess I deserved that," says Cap after Sam tells him off. "All whites deserve it." Um, what? Has Captain America suddenly become the apologist for White America? Maybe Gary Friedrich had some guilt to work out, but I don't. I can also think of a few Jewish members of my family who might have a few things to say about oppression, so let's ditch the White Guilt, m'kay? This isn't a forum for my personal beliefs, but this issue seriously ticked me off. How long has Falc been planning his defection, anyway? Long enough to make this costume. When was he planning on making the change? Apparently, he was waiting for Cap to make a comment that Sam could misinterpret as a racial crack. Worked out well, then.  The Falcon remains an ungrateful prick, while Cap is sexist and patronizing. Two very unappealing heroes for my taste.

Peter: Both layers of this crap cake are bad but the second, ludicrously so. Friedrich's story is non-existent and his dialogue is embarrassingly juvenile. There's a subtle gay vibe on the first two pages that would have twirled Wertham's office chair and had him reconvening the Senate if he hadn't already moved on to dissecting episodes of Room 222 for Commie messages. A sweating Steve Rogers dreams of Sam Wilson and his new squeeze, Foxy Brown Leila, and moans in his sleep, "I see them! He's with her again! If he's that close to her... then he can't be with me!" Maybe this is the real reason why Steve and Sharon took years to get it on! Later, Sam decides he's "gonna be proud, baby... proud to be black... and proud to be me!" For some reason, his old green costume is not black enough so he (I kid you not) enters his bathroom, tosses out the green and exits with his now-classic red and white costume, proclaiming that from now on he fights alone! Never mind where he got the new uni, how does he figure that changing from green to two-thirds of the colors his partner wears will make him his own man? And, seriously, could the "people of the neighborhood" really not tell The Falcon was black behind his green tights? To put the maggoty cherry on top of this really smelly cake, how about a "was it all a dream or wasn't it?" ending that makes no sense whatsoever? The pits.

Peter: Gray Morrow is a great artist (as we saw on that Man-Thing intro in Savage Tales) but Captain America and the Falcon is just not his bag, dig it? There's an almost primitively Golden Age look to his art in spots. Let's hope all will be back to normal next month... ulp... Friedrich's still on board. Never mind.

Finally, evidence that The Falcon leans to the right

Daredevil 82
"Now Send... The Scorpion!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane and Jack Abel

As Matt Murdock works on a new and better replacement for his billy club, the thought of the Black Widow ponders Daredevil. Her reverie is interrupted by a phone call from her assistant Ivan, warning her to “beware the sting,” and keep away. An obvious trap perhaps, but she goes to Ivan’s aid nonetheless, sharing a homing device between them. The cat in this mousetrap is none other than the Scorpion, the new hire by Mr. Kline to replace the Owl. He has the advantage of surprise, and knocks her unconscious; next step, bait for Daredevil. The message is delivered in the form of Ivan, unconscious beside a note for DD, in the upstairs apartment, drawing Matt to investigate by the noise he hears. The note invites him to rescue Miss Natasha, in Central Park, and they seem to know his secret identity. When he gets there, of course, the Scorpion greets him with his stinger. DD holds his own until Scorp goes into a kind of trance, and then flees (at the behest of Mr. Kline, aka the Assassin). Foggy Nelson soon pays Kline a visit; now so far into the blackmail, Foggy figures the only way out is to murder him. Mr. A. expected this, and informs Foggy that he’s now one of his agents. DD follows the Scorpion to the construction site of the World Trade Center, where he sees Natasha struggling with our antagonist. The two of them get the Scorpion under control, aided by his lack of Kline’s guidance (broken transmitter). When the foe falls unplanned to his death(?), a witness says he saw the Widow push Scorpion off with intent to kill. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The first thing that struck me here is that, hey, Matt isn’t wasting his time thinking of Karen, finally! I enjoyed Foggy’s visit (complete with Corvette) to Kline’s; funny how it rains there and not where DD and BW are! To me, the Scorpion is certainly a lesser villain than the Owl, so his lack of independent will didn’t surprise me.  The Widow teases us, as usual, in and out of that black suit. It’s hard to find much of anything about the World Trade Center these days that doesn’t focus on 9/11, so cool here to see them under construction. All the talk about Gil Kane; I didn’t enjoy his art much reading some of the Thors he worked on when I bought them back then (or shortly after this). Will my mind change over the next while?

Scott:  With Gene Colan once more drawing the Black Widow, he brings sexy back. And Gerry Conway writes and writes and writes. The sea of dialog is thick as Matt Murdock has to narrate every move he makes, which really brings down an otherwise good story. It's both interesting and sad to see the not-yet-completed World Trade Center. Knowing that a fall from such a height is certain death, I'll be interested to read how he eventually comes back. I'm assuming Mr. Kline gave Scorpy the information about DD's identity, but so little is made out of it, I wonder why they bothered. Well, let's see how it plays out next issue. Karen remains a two-timing slut who so loves Matt while she shacks up with her agent. Ugh.

Mark: Had to start scribbling Horn-head comments, largely because I loves me some Gene Colan. The art (even with sub-par Jack Abel inks) soars, the story by teen-aged Mr. Conway mostly snores. We do get more 'Tasha side-boob before the unchivalrous Scorp arrives to whack the Widow senseless. Boo-hooing Karen gets over Matty plenty quick by diving into the arms of her agent for some tonsil-hockey, complete with extra soapy dialogue ("...never let me go! Never! Never!"). When did Scorp ever pack a rod, ditto the suddenly murder-minded Foggy Nelson? Fog quickly falls under the spell of evil mastermind the Assassin, who can crush a revolver underfoot while puffing a smoke through a jaunty FDR-era holder. The cheap metal motif continues as the suddenly-nervous Scorpion goes all Charles Atlas and inadvertently shatters his own transmitter before swan-diving off a skyscraper right before a random civilian arrives to accuse the Widow of murder! After this muddled mess, it's hard to work up a sweat over 'Tasha's impending legal jeopardy, but in Gerry's defense, he did crank this one out on a school night.

Matthew: This being one of the elusive issues I only received from Dean Enfantino, I don’t think I ever knew DD fought the Scorpion before, although there’s every indication that he didn’t actually do so here, either; strange that when Hornhead started to get suspicious, he didn’t use his enhanced hearing to confirm the absence of a heartbeat.  Again inked by Abel, Colan does a little better on Scorpy than he did in Captain America #122, and Gerry’s game seems to be improving a bit, too, even if there is a curious contrast between Kline’s m.o. in Iron Man, where he creates forgettable new bad guys, and here, where he uses classic ones, or reasonable facsimiles thereof.  For one who was in Manhattan on 9/11, the World Trade Center setting adds retroactive gravitas.

The Incredible Hulk 146
"And the Measure of a Man is... Death!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin

A military base built with the sole purpose of catching the Hulk is up and fully operational.  Dubbed 'Project Greenskin,' it's run by General Thunderbolt Ross, who gives Doc Samson and daughter Betty a guided tour.  Jim Wilson, also there notices, after Thunderbolt orders one of the troops to give him a ride home, that the General was acting strange.  On the way back home, the military officer that was driving Jim pulls a gun on him and threatens his life.  Jim is able to escape after causing the car and driver to go over a cliff.  When he tries to save the driver from the burning wreck he discovers that he's an android.  Running back to the base, Wilson finds android clones of the President and Vice President.  He goes to tell Major Talbot and finds out that he along with everyone else is a droid clone.  Wilson gets thrown into a cell where all the original military personnel, including Thunderbolt and Talbot are being kept.  The villainous Leader reveals himself to be behind the takeover. He used a mysterious gas to freeze everyone so he could make the switch.  It appears that Doc Samson and Betty were the only ones not cloned as they were sent on their way after the Leader's process was done.  During all this the Hulk gets into a brief fight with the Israel army in the desert before making his way to the military base. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  White writers seemed to have a bit of trouble writing realistic dialogue for black characters back then.  Not only is Jim Wilson's dialogue horrid but the artwork makes him look very strange.  The Hulk took a backseat in his own title while the grand stage was set for the next issue's main plot conclusion.  At least I'm interested in what happens next, which is rare for this series.  The best part of the whole story was when the android version of Thunderbolt yelled at and pretty much punked out Doc Samson.

Matthew:  Due to the domino effect from last month, this issue’s reprint is broken up between Marvel Super-Heroes #95 and 96, which—along with Gerry’s relentless cross-cutting—just adds to its disjointed feel.  Of course, there’s an intertextual irony, probably coincidental, in seeing Nixon and Agnew appear in the current Captain America story about LMDs (life model decoys), while also showing up here as android duplicates themselves.  But for sheer bizarrerie, it’s tough to beat the panel in which Jim Wilson, while doing his patented “skulk around the Air Force base” routine, is shown climbing out of a basement window, when the context of both the artwork and the dialogue in the surrounding panels demands that he be crawling into it instead…

Scott: Project Greenskin, later known as Hulkbuster Base, is introduced in this interesting issue. It's a very well told story, with Jim Wilson's situation alternating pages with the Hulk's troubles. The later reprints split this story up because of the page count atrocity, putting General Ross's attitude change and the explanation of same in two separate issues. Actually, I think it works a little better that way, or maybe I'm just used to it. It must have been some great immobilizing gas the Leader used; nobody fell over and they snapped out of it just in time for the Ross Robot to start his rant. While the Hulk's desert battles don't do much other than fill pages, the Leader's return and his plot are nicely presented. Doc Samson is still hanging around Betty. I wonder if Glenn Talbot has anything to say about that. He was always crabbing about her love for Banner, I can imagine this new competition isn't setting well with him.

Fantastic Four 117
"The Flame and the Quest!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Johnny, searching for Crystal, has found the Great Refuge. He’s greeted by less-than-friendly Inhumans who inform him not only that Maximus has regained rule, but that Crystal and Lockjaw never arrived. The Torch figures that the one person who may be able to help him find her is Agatha Harkness, whose home is where the rest of the F.F. are currently vacationing. Miss Harkness looks in her “Crystal” ball, and thought the effort exhausts her, she sees Crystal and Lockjaw, together…where? The where is actually a when, the future of Earth, where an old foe of the F.F. has been banished—Diablo (by another villain, Dr. Doom). Alchemy is his game, and he renders them unconscious with a noxious vapor, until he can learn the secret of their powers, and thus control them. Unable to sleep that night, Johnny takes a peek into the crystal himself, and gets a glimpse of what appears to be a Mayan pyramid, complete with his girlfriend and dog. He heads out impulsively in that direction. What the ball has shown, is the country of Terra Verde, which is ruled by a dictator named Robles. Diablo, keeping Crystal and Lockjaw drugged to control them, convinces  the oppressed people that Crystal is the goddess Ixchell, and he, her humble priest, who have come to help bring them freedom by overthrowing the dictator’s rule. What he really wants is to rule the country—rich in resources for his alchemy. A little demonstration of her elemental powers is all they need to convince them to revolt. Robles sends aircraft to take down the “peasants,” and when the Torch fly’s by overhead, he deigns to “do as Reed would want,” and but out of what appears to be a civil war (no Crystal in sight). -Jim Barwise 

Jim: The cover may be one that promises something not exactly happening (yet), but the story is no disappointment. When Agatha Harkness first appeared, she seemed like an odd choice for a caregiver, but now approaching her kind of cult status, her home makes a fun choice for a holiday. A tough guy like Ben, scared of a black cat...! I like Alicia’s respectably sexy seventies look.  A further storyline is setup with Maximus apparently in command of the Great Refuge, but thankfully not explored here. 

Scott: Ah, Diablo. Nobody ever gives him any real respect and this issue doesn't do much to elevate him from his third tier status. Still, it is interesting to finally see what became of Crystal after she left the FF those issues ago. Since she wasn't even mentioned in the Inhumans' own series, her absence was something of a plot hole that readers of the day noticed and brought up in the letter column. This issue just ends at page 21. It was originally written to conform to the new, expanded length, which was suddenly pulled back, so they had to split these stories up, which meant short fill-in stories taking up the remaining pages next month. A lot of shouting and action, but I found it hard to really care about Diablo, his plans, Johnny or Crystal.

Matthew:  Following the Torch’s two-part guest spot in Sub-Mariner (which concludes in January), Archie gets to write an original FF tale, rather than tying up Stan’s plotline, but since the gig ends next issue, he really doesn’t have much chance to leave his mark on the book, the way Roy did by introducing Morbius in Amazing Spider-Man.  It’s too bad, because this is a solid issue displaying the seasoned utility player’s skills to good advantage, not to mention sumptuous Buscema/Sinnott visuals.  He has an excellent grasp of the characters, and even made me interested in Diablo (also earning points by harkening back to Dr. Doom’s first solo outing); my only potential beef is that I’m not sure Lockjaw travels in time as well as space.

Mark: Crystal Blue Obsession: when I was a young kid, eight to eleven or so, I had, ah, this friend whose first worship-from-afar celebrity crush was on Johnny Storm's girlfriend, Crystal. Her only competition was Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., but how often did that air, and besides in my, er, my friend's eyes, Crys was pretty much a dead ringer for Ms. Welch anyway and the most gorgeous woman King Kirby ever depicted. Those lips, those hips, that funky black double-helix hula-hoop thing she always wore in her hair. Those preteen "funny feelings" inspired by the exquisite elemental still cloud my critical judgment regarding this era of the F.F. You've been warned.

Peter: You're right on the nose, Professor Matthew. Archie delivers a crackling script full of interesting subplots, fascinating characters, and a fourth-tier villain who may just get an upgrade thanks to this appearance. Hard to imagine Goodwin's intricate weavings of civil war, apocalyptic future worlds, and (God help me) The Torch's love for Crystal could all be resolved in just two issues. We're about to head into the era I became a Fantastic Four fan (in about four issues) so we'll see if the fond memories I have of this series are just that. I've never had the chance to read this one 'til now but it's a barnburner, easily the best FF in years and in the running for Best Comic Story of 1971. Nice to catch a rare glimpse of Reed Richards in civvies, albeit the clothes of a man who's obviously more comfortable in spandex than off the rack at Macy's.

Mark: After Johnny learns his heartthrob never returned to the Great Refuge, we get some relaxing family time for his teammates at Whisper Hill before Reed and Ben have to play catch the falling Torch. Agatha Harkness conveniently leaves her crystal ball plugged in so, after the kindly old witch goes down with the vapors, Johnny returns to discover his orange-haired cutie is somewhere in Central America and in thrall to Diablo, a second-rate baddie who could have made millions playing Vegas. The mustachioed miscreant is pimping Crys out as a goddess to the peasants in a scheme to ferment "revolucion" and topple the ruling junta who, if for no other reason, deserves to be disposed for their god-awful bright red uniforms (why did Stalin never think of that?). As the evil general launches air strikes on the rebels, Johnny hits Terra Verde airspace but plans to ignore the battle below since Archie hasn't yet hipped our lovesick firebrand he's hit girlfriend-hunting pay dirt, first country out of the box. My "friend" began counting the days until next issue, one that could only end with Crys and Johnny reaffirming their love forever, right?

The Amazing Spider-Man 103
"Walk the Savage Land!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Normal-armed Spidey dispatches some thugs while pondering life, then swings by the Daily Bugle, where JJJ is having a meeting about the dire straits of the paper, blaming the popularity of television. His solution: send a team to the Savage Land for an expose and “Monster Hunt”, including photographer Peter Parker! But tired of rocking the relationship boat with Gwen, Peter brings her to the Bugle to vent, when JJJ gets the idea to send Gwen on the trip also! After a long journey by land, sea and air, led by Captain Calkin, the party arrives in Antarctica’s Savage Land, where Gwen changes into a bikini for some cheesecake shots (???). Then JJJ starts banging a gong under a prehistoric lizard-idol, which brings on a gang of savages—and the gigantic monster Gog! The colossal creature grabs Gwen, then knocks Peter over a cliff and into a river…which allows him to change into Spidey, just as Gog brings Gwen back to his “friend”, Kraven the Hunter! Calkin and JJJ track Gog, but come face to face with Ka-Zar and Zabu, who rushes to help in order to get the infidels to leave his land. Meanwhile, Spidey is in pursuit, and battles a serpent before using a branch to cross a river…which lands him in quicksand! -- Joe Tura

Joe: Just from the cover, this is an odd one. “All New…And All Great!!” Then “Guest-Starring: Ka-Zar and Zabu the Sabretooth!” Well, those two bursts add up to one big oxymoron if you ask me! Plus, look what else unfolds here. JJJ spending money? Peter shooting a gun? The inexplicable trip to the Savage Land to I guess pump up sales of Astonishing Tales? A refugee from Creatures on the Loose named Gog? Kraven showing up to renew his Live Magazine subscription? I had the Marvel Tales of this one, and found it strange back then, reading it a couple of years after the fact. Even some odd panels by the dependable Gil Kane, especially that one where JJJ is gritting his teeth as they clench a cigar and looks positively skeletal. But hey, it’s Spidey, so of course it’s still terrific.

Scott: Wow. Another shockingly poor issue, from the obvious King Kong "inspired" story all the way to the less than great Gil Kane art. Gwen never looked worse, in personality or form, and sounds more like Mary Jane than Gwen with the "A-OK, Mr. J" and the bikini modeling. Meanwhile, Jameson is way off character. I liked his more serious concern for the paper, but as soon as he takes on the Carl Denham role, I'm done. The idea that the Bugle is losing readers to the TV news is fine (if he thinks his sales figures are bad now, wait until Al Gore invents the internet), but the Savage Land story (look Ka-Zar - ooooooo!) is dull as dirt. Ka-Zar is constantly foisted on us, as if we can be forced into thinking he's the greatest character ever. Every time his name pops up, I check out. After three issues of the wackadoo "six arms" situation, sliding over to another off-format story is risky. I don't think the end result was worth it. Sadly, this is a two-parter, so no end to the suffering just yet.

Mark: "WALK IN THE SAVAGE LAND" is such a marvelous mixed-up mess that your on-probation junior Prof doesn't know exactly where to insert the dissection scalpel. First, a shout-out to Mr. Eddie Tajti, who originally owned this copy of ASM back in Nixionian 1971 and neatly printed his name atop the splash page. Eddie, may your web-shooters never THIWP! empty. On to the bucket brigade, starting with the aforementioned splash page, greeting us with Gil Kane's trademark Nostril-Vision view up a random thug's schnoz. I'd always thought ole Sugar Lips must have been of hobbitesque height (either that or the olfactory organ activated the Pinocchio effect in other ways. And yeah, I plan to beat-up on Kane's nasal-fetish with the same regularity many of my senior colleagues unjustly hammered upon the Great Steve Ditko) and thus viewed people from an up-nose prospective. I quizzed Roy Thomas about this last Friday at Comic Con. Roy informed me that Kane was quite tall, so why, I asked, all the nasal gazing? Roy smiled and said, "That was from looking in the mirror all the time."

Matthew:  I recently read that Roy didn’t like to write Amazing, which helps explain why the next issue was his last, but you’d never know it from this story, where he’s obviously having fun with the echoes of King Kong and the Japanese kaiju eiga genre, fun that I found infectious despite my general coolness toward Ka-Zar.  Thomas and Kane continue to make a great team, although I’ll allow that the talented Mr. Giacoia is not as ideal an inker for Gil as, say, Adkins, with Jonah looking quite uneven.  Gwen, on the other hand, comes off very well, and I’m not referring only to her fetching bikini; she’s mature enough to accept Peter’s secrecy regarding his absence, and gutsy enough to take a journey that many men would decline.

Mark: Triple J's notion to save the Bugle with an exclusive monster-hunt to the Savage Land rings true; Peter's agreement to let main squeeze Gwen tag along, not so much. Sure it might bring them closer together, but a frail blonde off to Antarctica in pursuit of a three-story tall monster? What could possibly go wrong, Mr. Genius Parker? Once in the Great White South their helicopter deliberately flies past "its point-of-no-return." Another noggin scratcher, but I don't want Roy booking my next vacation. Gwen showing bikini-skin will move copies of the Bugle, sure, but where's Ring-a-Ding Romita when you need a hubba-hubba fix (although Jonah's page 12 leer is priceless)? JJ's dim-witted banging on a giant snake temple gong (paging Marc Bolan) 'cause he thinks a loin-clothed savage who rides a saber-tooth tiger moonlights as an architect can be entered into evidence as to why the Bugle's in fiscal straits. And without digging through back issues, does anyone know if Kraven ever previously met Ms. Stacy - who he obviously knows and drools over here - to say nothing of his inside knowledge of the Bugle's expedition and that Gwendy would be tagging along? For victuals, the Rascally One sure has our explorers packing plenty of baloney. But let's put down the crap-hammer to offer some bouquets. Despite all the nonsense the story races along with the giddy, goofy drive of an old-timey Hollywood serial. Kraven's a perfect foil for Ka-zar; let's hope they duke it out next ish. Pete being monster-whacked over a cliff provides the perfect opportunity to change into Spidey, but Lordy, how can his secret identity ever survive this? And Perils of Pauline quicksand in the final panel? Be still, my racing heart! Can this really be the end of the World's Most Popular Swinger? For answers to that and a zillion other (mostly best unasked) questions, just put all higher brain functions on pause, faithful one, and be here next ish! You dare not miss it!

PE: This one has a file story vibe to it but, since there's a Part Two, that's unlikely. Maybe it's because the Savage Land scenario always takes me out of the "real world" of the MU. Funny, I know, since we're dealing with teenagers bitten by radioactive spiders but it's like a Lee Child novel where, half way through, Jack Reacher is attacked by vampires. Anyway, I'm rambling on. With JJJ as Carl Denham (sans the bullhorn), this is obviously an updated version of
King Kong and The Rascally One, if nothing else, knows his pop references. Gog is the name of a fairly obscure 1950s science fiction film but I'm sure Roy is trying to evoke the glory days of "I Tracked Magoomba, The Leathery Dead Thing That Lived!" and does a great job of it. Ten years prior this would have fit nicely in an issue of Tales to Astonish (minus the super friends, of course) with pencils by The King.  Gil Kane's art is the gift that keeps on giving (especially when it comes to a certain doomed bikini-clad blonde) and the story, while not exactly original, keeps you turning them pages (24 in all, by the way!). Kraven's always worth waiting for.

Marvel Feature 1

The Defenders in 
"The Day of the Defenders!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru and Bill Everett

Doctor Strange is summoned psychically to a hospital bed where he finds his archenemy, Yandroth. As he grows nearer to death, the evil genius lays out his hideous plan: he has built the ultimate doomsday machine, The Omegatron and five hours after Yandroth's death the gizmo will explode every nuclear stockpile on earth. Knowing something must be done immediately, Strange wills several doctors to operate and save Yandroth's life but modern medical science fails us yet again and Strange is forced to float back to Yandroth's stronghold in an attempt to thwart the devious plan. On his way he meets up with Namor, the Sub-Mariner, out for a casual swim. The Doctor convinces Namor to join him in his quest and the Prince of Atlantis suggests they add The Hulk as a third party. Strange uses a bit of trickery to get The Hulk's interest but before too long they've forged an uneasy alliance. The trio travel to Point Promontory and an eerie lighthouse where Strange is sure they'll find The Omegatron. While Sub-Mariner and Hulk smash their way through deadly traps and devices, Strange astrally projects himself in to stand before the mighty machine. It's then that the full plot becomes apparent: the machine has been programmed to activate when Namor and Hulk smash their way in. Strange attempts to stop the dynamic duo but they're convinced he's not the real McCoy but something The Orgasmatron cooked up to fool them. In the end, Doctor Strange uses his mystic powers to slow time for the Omegatron and saves the earth. The trio separate, vowing they will never fight together again. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: A weird melange this one: some good, some bad, but not enough quality to build a series on. Amazing that they did it anyway and made it last over 14 years and 150 issues. Of course, by the last gasp, the team had been transformed into something completely different, made up of the by-products of other teams and decades (the final roster - re-dubbed The New Defenders - in case you needed to know was: Valkyrie, Moondragon, Andromeda, Gargoyle and three of the old X-Kids, The Beast, Iceman, and The Angel), a team whose exploits we thankfully will not have to delve into. This initial trio of Namor, Strange, and Hulk actually lasted through three issues of Marvel Feature and 14 issues of The Defenders before Nighthawk replaced Namor (curiously, Namor's face appeared in his little circle on the cover for several issues afterward) and the series became a regular revolving door for second- and third-tier superheroes. This issue's story is a little too chaotic for my tastes, jumping here and there and not bothering to stop for clarity (How does Yandroth know beforehand that Strange will enlist The Hulk and Namor?) or common sense (Dr. Strange decides the best way to get The Hulk to join up is to insult him and then magically it works!). If the story's a tad skewed, what can be said for artwork that looks as though it's yet to be inked? Bill Everett is one of my favorite Golden Age artists (and I can not wait for his return in a few "months" to Sub-Mariner) but what the hell has he done to Ross Andru? Anything? What it looks like in spots is that Andru submitted his pencils and the colorist took it from there. I've never seen anything in a Marvel Comic so "squiggly."

Matthew: This try-out book launched two long-running series, Defenders and Marvel Two-in-One, and gave a venerable Silver-Age hero another shot—not bad for a dozen issues.  In creating Marvel’s first Bronze-Age super-group, of which Namor was an irregular member, Roy mixed characters he knew well, having written all of Doc’s first solo title, innumerable issues of the Hulk, and the first 39 of Sub-Mariner, in which the others both guest-starred (although Stan initially forbade his use of the Surfer, the last of the “Titans Three”).  I admire Andru and Everett individually, but Wild Bill’s mischievous overkill, scratchily inking all of Ross’s out-of-control pencil lines, leaves little trace of the smooth craftsmanship the Boss will later display on Spidey.

A strange request, no?
Scott: I've always wanted to read these early issues, but never got around to picking up any of the Essentials or Masterworks. So, I gleefully opened up my file and got settled in and…Ross Andru. Damn it. Yet, the inks by Bill Everett give me hope, as the art is better than the later Spider-Man issues by Ross that I still don't enjoy. There is a sense of "Avengers" here as Dr. Strange begins assembling allies to save the world. Namor is reasonable, which is great, but he seems to be almost too nice these days. How long will his good nature last? I laughed out loud when the Surfer took himself out of the running because he bonked into Galactus' barrier. What the hell? Did he suddenly think Galactus changed his mind? Even though the art is kind of okay, the last panel on page 10 is hysterical as the Hulk "thudda's" after Dr. Strange uses reverse psychology. Although, they get the Hulk to come along with them a little too easily. What happened to the Hulk who distrusted humans? Who looked askance at those who attacked and then suddenly spoke of friendship? I know he's not smart, but he does remember being wronged and betrayed. A little too lazy of a shortcut for me. After all the assembling and travel, it seems a little too quick of a wrap up, but I found the "non team" aspect funny. "Hey, we should be a team…""Um, no. Bye!"  A decent, if not great, start.

Peter: With The Hulk exclaiming he ain't joining no super group no way no how and Namor spitting in the general direction of mankind, it will be interesting to see how The Rascally One manipulates the trio back into action in three "months" time.

Doctor Strange in
"The Return!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Don Heck and Frank Giacoia

Doctor Strange returns to his Greenwich Village sanctum to find it has been taken over by a counterfeit Doctor Strange! A battle between the two ensues and our hero gets the best of the phony, who is unmasked as Baron Mordo.-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Having not read any of the Doctor Strange stories from the 1960s (then or now), I was naturally a bit lost. Was the "black" Strange always Baron Mordo in disguise or just lately? What nudged Strange back to his mystic ways? Neither of those questions is answered here but, perhaps, they are question asked only by the totally ignorant. Guilty! Despite my total confusion (or maybe because of it) I enjoyed this little tale much more than the main course. It was good to see a nice Don Heck art job again but perhaps Frank Giacoia helped nudge Don in that direction (that splash looks torn from the pages of Strange Tales!). Boy, Don certainly could have used Frank's help when Heck tackled (and bungled) Batgirl over at DC's Detective Comics (that series ran the same time this strip finally popped up in Marvel Feature #1). There's also a Golden Age reprint featuring Namor, "The Sub-Mariner and the Icebergs" (from Sub-Mariner #40, June 1955), which helps get Bill Everett's name out there again before he takes over Sub-Mariner in June 1972.

Matthew: As far back as July 1970, a Bullpen Bulletin noted that Don Heck had “furnish[ed] us with the surprise of the season—a brand new version of Doc Strange! (Now, if only we can figure out where to put it!)”  They apparently searched for quite some time, and although presented here as a back-up feature, it actually forms the connective tissue between the main story and Incredible Hulk #126, in which Roy tied up the last loose ends from Dr. Strange.  With its 10-page length, earthbound art inked by Frank Giacoia, and resurgent but summarily defeated Baron Mordo, it strongly evokes one of the less phantasmagorical episodes of his original strip in Strange Tales, where the otherwise minor Yandroth debuted, and Roy wrote some of his earliest Marvel scripts.

Peter: What's fascinating (on a Marvel Zombie level, that is) is that the Mighty Marvel Checklist was listing Marvel Feature #1 on sale with the October books but, when it finally appeared, it had a December cover date. Fans of the day must have haunted their newsstands day and night, thinking they'd let the best team-up book of all time slip through their paws. This is one reason the internet was created.

Also this Month

The Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special #8 (all-reprint)
Chili Queen-Size Special #1 ->
Fantastic Four King-Size Special #9 (all-reprint)
Marvel's Greatest Comics #33
Mighty Marvel Western #15
The Mighty Thor King-Size Special #4
Millie the Model #193
Monsters on the Prowl #14
My Love Queen-Size Special #1
Our Love Story #14
The Outlaw Kid #9
Rawhide Kid #94
Tower of Shadows King-Size Special #1 (all-reprint)
The Western Kid #1
The X-Men #73

Coming this Sunday: Don't miss a Special "Micro-Snapshot" of "Stainless" Steve Englehart by Professor Matthew Bradley! 


  1. Mark, regarding your question about the D.C.-like blurbs that falsely portray the story inside: the Avengers have been doing it for awhile by this time and it was a huge bone of contention for me. They stopped for a ittle bit, but now this time they had a comeback, but not so bad that it bugged me this time.

    I thought the same thiong about the refuge dome, but I'm assuming it was set up as a defensive measure afterward. At least, that's what my "excuse happy" brain told me.

  2. We've all seen crappy art in comics, but the art in MARVEL FEATURE #1 is almost unique in being DELIBERATELY crappy.

    According to Roy Thomas, when Bill Everett picked up the assignment, he grumbled that Andru's pencils were too loose and sloppy. Then, in a possibly booze-fueled fit of spite, he proceeded to ink the pages exactly "as is" instead of smoothing them out / slicking them up as inkers are supposed to do. Roy was aghast when he saw the completed pages, and Stan was FURIOUS -- told Roy to never use Everett again. Somehow Roy must have calmed Stan down, and got him to rescind his edict, for which THIS Front-Facing True Believer is eternally grateful -- Everett's later short-ish run on SUB-MARINER (writing, pencilling and inking) is an oddball delight. IIRC, Everett even inked Andru again on the Defenders strip, with results that were much less scraggly.

  3. Scott,

    Thanks for your thoughts on the D.C. not-in-the-story-Avengers blubs; although in this case Adams' art eases the ick-factor of bogus word-balloonage.

    I "think" I bought Marvel Feature #1 but even reading the recap brings back no memory of it at all, so maybe it was the first Defenders in their own title (certainly the art on the lead story could give one nightmares, and thanks to Anonymous for posting the story of that miscarriage in comments. The backup feature looks more much promising. And Peter, you never read Ditko's Doc Strange? For shame, Dean, for shame! The U could lose it's grant for that! Forget the Ant-Man and strap on the amulet. You're missing a feast...

  4. Thanks to B.T. for amplifying the anecdote I'd alluded to in my Defenders review. And you're quite correct, believe it or not, Wild Bill was already back inking Andru in MARVEL FEATURE #3, but with the much more traditional Andru look.

  5. I'm coming to this page very late, but I have some definite opinions about Conan # 12, beyond the quality of it as a comic story. I've always had a real attachment for stories with ruthless hero (or anti-hero) characters and stories with hot villainess characters, but even stories with BOTH kinds have an infuriating habit of not making the most of them in relation to EACH OTHER. It sounds more misogynistic of me than it is, but I not only want to see (or at least know) that the dangerous hero "pleasures" the villainess at some point, but also see a showdown scene between them. And is spite of all the violence in Conan comics, it just isn't one of the places I'd have expected that. So as the review says, # 12 really pushes the envelope - Conan not only "pleasures" Fatima for who knows how many days, but gets rid of her in a way that isn't exactly unavoidable. And as you mention, the scene even has her trying to bargain with him after being thrown over his shoulder, then giving a drawn-out scream on the way down! So it's pretty "gutsy" all around.

  6. The whole faced Dr.strange was stupid