Wednesday, July 17, 2013

November 1971: 25 cents??? What are they? Nuts?

Special Introduction by Professor Matthew: 

As I touched on in last year’s Sunday Special post “Cluster’s Last Stand,” the covers of Marvel Comics dated November 1971 bore three distinct changes:  one cosmetic; one aesthetic and fairly controversial; and one financial, whose greater significance was not immediately clear.  The first moved the phrase “Marvel Comics Group” from the upper left corner (in a box that retained the price, issue number, and month above the character logo) to a band across the top, which stayed in place until September of 1983, thus making these “solid Bronze” issues instantly recognizable.  The second placed the cover art inside a love-it-or-hate-it, solid-colored “frame,” which in many cases persisted through 1972 before fading out in ’73, and has been the subject of lively debate.

The third was a price increase from 15¢ to 25¢ (with a concomitant change in format to 52-page “giants”), the opening move in a gambit by publisher Martin Goodman that finally made Marvel the industry leader.  As I’ve learned from our very own Glenn and others since writing “Cluster’s Last Stand,” Goodman had a handshake agreement with his colleague from DC, the late Carmine Infantino, to make their inevitable price changes in tandem, but unlike DC, Marvel used mostly new material to fill those extra pages.  One month later, Marvel returned to the classic 36 pages (including covers) at a new 20¢ price, and with DC locked into a long-term printing arrangement for its own reprint-heavy format, Marvel utilized the lower prices to dominate the market at last.

And now... November 1971!

Conan The Barbarian 11

"Rogues in the House"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

Drugging his wine, the pretty prostitute Jenna betrays Conan and he is arrested by Corinthian soldiers for the murder of a Priest of Anu (issue 10). Chained in a dark dungeon, the heroic heathen is approached by a young nobleman named Murilo who promises freedom if the barbarian slays Nabonidus, the Red Priest that rules the city. Freed, Conan pays a visit to Jenna before he attempts to uphold his end of the bargain. Instead of killing his beauteous betrayer, the Cimmerian hurls her into one of the fetid, open sewers that mark the back alleys of the city. The bemused barbarian then makes his way inside the Red Priest’s home and comes across Murilo who had decided to kill Nabonidus himself. The nobleman warns the Cimmerian that a huge Ape-Beast is loose in the dwelling. Soon, the pair encounter the Red Priest, who tells the intruders that the hairy horror is Thax, a monstrous mountain-dweller he raised from a cub, but now gone rogue. Before the mismatched trio can escape, they are attacked by the rampaging Thax. Even after inflicting enough damage to kill a dozen men, Conan is overpowered by the hairy brute — but a well placed sword stroke by Murilo finally fells the powerful predator. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The cover promises “The Longest, Greatest Conan Epic Ever!!” Longest, yes. Greatest, nah. But heck, Roy’s prose and Smith’s pencils would save the day even if it was a story about Conan battling the Big Wheel. There’s a prodigious amount of padding to reach the expanded, 34-page conclusion — trust me, I left out a lot. And not sure what happened on the final page: the art takes a dramatic downturn. It looks like everyone hit the bong for a few hours, suddenly remembered that they were one page short, and stumbled back to the Bullpen to bang it out. I don’t even think it’s Sal’s inks. Hopefully this is the end of Jenna. As Sergio Leone, the world’s greatest filmmaker, once said, “Women get in the way of the action.” Fine, call me a sexist, but she was up to no good since first introduced in issue #6. And please remember, I signed up for Red Sonja and my favorite bass player is Tina Weymouth. Besides, I was once called a big goon so whatever. “Rogues in the House” was the Robert E’s seventh published Conan tale, first appearing in the January 1934 issue of Weird Tales.

Mark Barsotti: "Rouges in the House" opens with Conan chained in a cell, taunted by oafish jailer Ch'unda and slated for the gallows at dawn. In flashback we see the Cimmerian drugged and betrayed to the City Guard by the fetching, nearly-naked Jenna, who indeed fell for apprentice thief Igon (the romance helped along by the big bounty on Conan's head; a girl must eat after all), as hinted at last issue. While brooding over the treacherous blonde, Conan is visited by young nobleman Murilo, who offers to free our hero if he'll assassinate Nabonidus, the Red Priest who's the real power in the city. With 34 pages to fill, we get an extraneous subplot about Murilo's inside man at the jail being arrested (for tax evasion no less) before he could spring Conan, prompting the red-haired noble to try his own hand at a little wet work. The still-jailed but now unchained Conan takes out Ch'unda by – I kid thee not – whacking him with a beef rib and makes his escape to take revenge on scheming tart Jenna. All-'round asshat Igon gets a sword through the chest; Jenna fares better, is left alive to mutter curses after being unceremoniously flung into a open sewer, prompting a rare belly laugh from Conan, a "moment of unshackled joy" before he sets off on the grimmer business of whacking Nabonidus.

Scott McIntyre: The extra pages are used to very good effect. This story is fantastic! While allowing the usual brisk pace, there is still plenty of room for development of the characters and extra details as Conan and his two "rogues in arms" search and fight their way from the priest's house. The extra space adds more time and detail to Conan's battle with the ape, which I found extremely exciting. Even the Roy Thomas Flashback, used twice, didn't bother me. They were short and didn't grind the story to a halt.

Mark: Invading the Red Priest's digs via underground tunnel, Conan stumbles upon Murilo, who's given up his hit-man ambitions after running into man-ape Thak, decked out in priestly robes, in Nabonidus' inner sanctum. They soon find the Red Priest himself, unconscious after being bonked on the head by his uppity simian servant, now aspiring to higher rungs on the evolutionary ladder. The trio of rogues witness Thak disposing of Nab's pet black leopard in a fierce two page-plus battle, gorgeously depicted by Barry Smith, but also evidence of the plot padding Professor Tom carps about. There are a couple more pages of hide and seek before an epic struggle and it's finally Bedtime for Bonzo. The dying Thak expresses "a grim, a terrible pathos," prompting Conan to say, "I have slain a man...not a beast. I will count him – among the chiefs whose souls I have sent to the dark." The poignant moment of cross-species admiration doesn't last as Nabonidus quickly turns on his now disposable allies with the old flame jets from the floor trick, but Conan's well-thrown dagger sends Nab to some well-deserved hell. I'm not sure what about the last page confused Prof Tom; I found it non-baffling but rushed as if the CTB team, having giving us long unnecessary sub-plots, were surprised to suddenly find themselves on the final page. I also disagree with my esteemed colleague's opinion that the art took a "dramatic downturn" but, panel by panel, it wasn't up to Smith's previous (admittedly sky high) standards. My biggest gripe concerns Tark's motivation: why carry Murilo down to the sub-cellar after he fainted, then do the same with Nabonidus after clubbing him unconscious? Was Mr. Shaggy planning something that Roy ran out of room to include? Crom only knows. This is hardly the "greatest Conan epic ever," but let's be thankful that the artistic bar's been set so damn high.

Scott: Jenna is finally dealt with, and after the slaying of Igon, I expected her to become a large, blonde pancake. But Conan is a just person, not a bloodthirsty one, and his amusement at her plight had me smiling as well. Of course, we get 15 extra pages of Barry Smith's fantastic pencils. This is one of the few expanded issues that didn't feel like they couldn't figure out what to do with the extra room. Plus, an ally survives until the end. Murilo is a fine character and someone I wouldn't mind travelling with our favorite Cimmerian. Full marks, the best issue of the month. Wonderful!

Marvel Spotlight 1
Red Wolf in
"Red Wolf"
Story by Gardner Fox
Art by Syd Shores and Wally Wood

Red Wolf heads across the prairie on horseback with a sacred white-buffalo hide. A trio of Indians tries to stop him, but Red Wolf and his coup stick win that swift battle. Then he’s held at gunpoint by two outlaws, and on the edge of a cliff! Flashback to his origin as a young and talented tribe member, and how the old shaman would share tales of the legendary Red Wolf. Pony soldiers kill the young brave’s parents, and they give him to the white Wakelys to raise as their own. Now Johnny Wakely, he learns the peaceful ways of chores, reading, and of course perfecting his war skills. Renegade Indians kill Johnny’s white parents, and later crooked businessmen burn down the home he would not sell to them. With nowhere to turn, Johnny rides to Fort Rango and volunteers to be an Army Scout. After allowing a bully to beat him out for the job, he tries to prove himself by recovering a sacred buffalo hide stolen from the Cheyenne. Coming up on the tribes’ war dance, he learns their plan and is discovered, only to end up in the tomb of the first Red Wolf! He finds a wounded wolf, then strange smoke fumes appear and the mighty spirit Owayodata appears to him, urging Johnny to take up his headdress and ancient coup stick. Proving himself to the Cheyenne, he finds the hide and heads off…Back to the present, where Lobo, the wounded wolf attacks the outlaws and saves Red Wolf. The warrior heads back to the fort, where they Cheyenne are poised to attack! He rides up with the buffalo hide, and the truth that the Cheyenne’s leader was in cahoots with the outlaws. Now there is peace in the land, and with trusty Lobo by his side, Johnny stands tall as the new Red Wolf! –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: This was the first #1 issue I ever owned. I think partly because it was a #1—which was the big reason my Dad talked me into getting this issue—and partly because it had a cool cover, which I just found out was drawn by Neal Adams. A fun and informational story by Gardner Fox, with great attention to detail. Lots of name dropping, talk of sky spirits and ancient tales, and plenty of “Ayeeaaa”s peppered among Red Wolf’s conversations.  Lots of talk about Indians and white men, their differences, their similarities and their ongoing battles here in the Old West. I really liked this one as a kid, and reading it again after a billion years, it’s still an enjoyable romp, with nice Syd Shores art well inked by the great Wally Wood. My Dad was right!

Matthew Bradley: This anthology title begat a profusion of spin-offs (e.g., Ghost Rider, Son of Satan); in later years, it was also a refuge for characters with strips at the opposite end of the life cycle.  Per a Bullpen Bulletin, “Because of the sudden increase in the volume of pages zooming out from 625 Madison Ave., our panic-stricken printer told us we’d have to shave off a title or two till he got it all together.  So we’ve had to delay for the nonce [i.e., until April] our breathlessly-awaited Dracula book, as well as Marvel Premiere #1, which was to be the third of our new quarterly try-out comics [following December’s Marvel Feature].  But…wait’ll you see the frantic new feature [Werewolf by Night] we’ll be tossin’ your way…in Marvel Spotlight #2.”

Scott: We're introduced to Red Wolf, apparently an earlier version of the character introduced in the Avengers a few issues back. Thanks to the expansion of some titles, this new book is extra long. It was also extra dull. Warring Indian tales are fine in their own right and having an Indian hero is all well and good, but it just feels so pointless. "Peace with the white man" will last only as long as history allows. These are empty victories. I can't fault Syd Shore's excellent art, and Gardner Fox does what he can, but this sort of feature has a tinge of sadness about it.

Matthew: No offense to Professor Joe, but I wouldn’t be reviewing either of these first two issues had they not appeared in my trusty Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 1, since the monster and Western books were not my style.  Although William Talltrees, the Red Wolf introduced in Avengers #80, was a contemporary character, the adventures of this incarnation, Johnny Wakeley—whose short-lived solo title debuts in May—are strictly period pieces.  Per the MCDb, this is Gardner F. Fox’s first credit during his brief post-DC stint, and it would be a full year before the next, his tenure on the Dr. Strange series in Marvel Premiere; his story is standard fare for both a Western and a comic-book origin, while the art by Syd Shores, even with Wally Wood’s inks, is equally workmanlike.

Joe: No offense taken!

Amazing Adventures 9
The Inhumans in
"...And the Madness of Magneto!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Bill Everett

Medusa, Gorgon, and Karnak are in hiding, unable to find Black Bolt, when they see the Trikon, a glowing signal in the sky, and are forced to subdue a mutant squad led by the clairvoyant Mooneye, in whose unconscious brain Medusa sees a vision of Black Bolt and destruction.  The amnesiac object of the exercise is captured, and his pal Joey left behind, by more mutants, awakening back in his costume as a prisoner of Magneto, who saw Black Bolt on the news, thinks him a potential mutant ally, and explains his escape after Fantastic Four #104.  Karnak forces the captive Mooneye to lead them to Magneto’s lair in the sewers, where the sight of Medusa restores Black Bolt’s memory, but he was merely bait and the Inhumans are captured. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: An exception amid the November titles, this issue bypassed the whole double-whammy pricing structure and went straight to a standard-size mag (now shorn of its distaff co-star) at 20¢.  In a just world, the Inhumans finally getting an entire book of their own—even at the cost of the Widow’s ailing strip—would be cause for celebration, but despite the presence of Magneto, there is very little to celebrate here and, in retrospect, no time to rectify things.  The artwork by DC mainstay Mike Sekowsky, inked by fellow Timely vet Bill Everett, is so cartoony that I’d prefer even a Silver/Bronze-Age second-stringer like Heck, Trimpe, or Tuska, while Conway, having just gone the parade-of-freaks route in Sub-Mariner, does so again, with Magneto’s mutant army.

Scott: This wasn't very good at all, was it? We see Magneto without his helmet and he looks nothing like the guy we saw unmasked in the final few issues ofThe X-Men. The explanation of his escape after being captured by the Fantastic Four is wasted in a book no one was reading. Things get worse as we go along. Black Bolt never had a hot drink in his life? He couldn't feel the cup was hot or at least see the steam? It's enough to make him run like Scooby-Doo from a ghost (ZOINKS!). Nothing interesting happening here. This is a pretty meandering, who cares story that isn't even assisted by good art. Mike Sekowsky was a Timely artist before moving to DC in 1965, returning to Marvel to do this stuff until 1975. I hear he was a nice guy.

Peter Enfantino: So, would this be the only month in Marvel history to have titles with 15 cent (Marvel Spotlight #1), 20 cent (Amazing #9) and 25 cent cover prices  (all the rest) on the stands at the same time?

The Mighty Thor 193
"What Power Unleashed?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Sal Buscema

Balder’s attempts to summon help for Thor in battling Durok the Demolisher have been successful in the form of the Silver Surfer. The majestic being is unconvinced he should help, having been slapped in the face every time he has offered help to humanity. What convinces him is how Karnilla, in her anger at Balder for his loyalty to Thor, lashes out at Balder, almost killing him. The Surfer restores his energy, and agrees to go to Thor’s aid. He finds the two in a raging battle, now having fallen into the sewers of the city, where Durok has grabbed a live electric cable and putting it in the water, all but electrocutes Thor. In Asgard, Loki enjoys a feast with his “friends”. He tells Sif she has no choice in the matter-- she will be his bride. Suddenly noticing the absence of Karnilla and Balder, Loki flies into a rage, feeling betrayed. He soon locates them on Earth, and brings them back forthwith. No time is wasted teaching Balder a lesson, as he transforms his face into a hideous one, although in a curious show of compassion he restores the brave one to normal, perhaps to convince Sif he has a lighter side. Back on Earth the Surfer uses his cosmic energy to revive Thor, Durok being held at bay by his board. They agree that the Thunder God hasten to Asgard to take up the fight with Loki, while the Surfer will keep the Demolisher from further harming humanity. Neither task is an easy one. Thor finds his fellow Asgardians, even loyal Heimdall, are obliged by law to try and stop him. Eventually he gets past trolls and giants alike, bursting into the throne room to see: his beloved Sif in wedding garb, about to marry his evil brother. The Surfer has to use all his powers to hold his own against Durok, the latter appearing to achieve victory, even snapping the Silver one’s board in pieces. Cosmic energy puts it back together, and using it’s incredible speed to break the time barrier—Durok in tow—reaches a far distant future where the Demolisher will have only ruins for company. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Gerry Conway takes up the pages of Thor this month, and manages to tie up all the loose ends of Stan’s storyline neatly. I found the transition to be pretty smooth for me, as if it was Conway’s ideas all along. Or did John Buscema have more to do with the storyline than he gets credit for? A number of characters are pushed to the edge. Heimdall, forced to take up arms against Thor, Loki showing an unusual (and brief) moment of compassion for Balder, Karnilla having a moment of remorse for harming Balder. The story could have been told in a single issue, but the extra length allows for a less rushed pace. Perhaps not a great issue, as it gave promise of, but entertaining, and with more to come from the Conway/Buscema team.

Matthew: Authoring no fewer than five super-hero books this month (admittedly only two of which featured oversized new stories), Conway really hits the big time when he relieves Stan of his Thunder God duties, with the Silver Surfer as his guest star and the Brothers Buscema as his partners in crime.  I’ll be damned if Gerry doesn’t turn in a creditable job…albeit with presumed input from outgoing scriptwriter Stan, who inaugurated this storyline several issues ago.  And as Durok the Personality-Free goes to his richly deserved obscurity, there is also a nice symmetry to be seen with the artwork here, since Big John is known to have preferred brother Sal’s inks over those of Joltin’ Joe Sinnott when drawing the Surfer’s own late, if only partially lamented, book.

Peter: Just when I thought this arc had gone on a few issues too many, comes the longest chapter of all and, surprise surprise surprise, I'm interested again. Gerry Conway indeed does a nice job aping The Man. If not for those credits I'd have sworn Stan was still behind the controls. And for a brief moment there, on that full pager of the Storm Giants, you could almost close one eye and imagine The King was still on the strip as well. Loki has never been more evil than in this issue and Sif (God help me for ogling a funny book character) never more stunning than in her Vegas showgirl costume. Gerry's smart enough to use one of Stan's favorite devices to great effect as well: The Surfer strands Durok and then takes his leave, out the door, no bye-bye. I'm putting tradition on hold and heading right to #194 now. That's the biggest compliment I can give a Marvel comic book. The future looks bright for 19-year old Gerry Conway, who begins his epic run on the Thunder God's title (at least, I'd classify 46 issues as an "epic run"). It's going to get positively blazing when he takes over The Amazing Spider-Man in mid-1972. He'll then (in my opinion) give Steve Englehart a run for the Best Marvel Writer trophy.

"Five nights weekly at The Sands..."

Scott: And it's still not over? Yikes. Another wall to wall action issue with little development. Yet, I did find it entertaining. Still, in a title where everyone speaks in the same stilted manner, it does get a little tiring. Thor, Balder, Loki and the Surfer all sound alike. This, plus the usual fight-threaten-fight, makes this nothing more than page filler. How much more interesting would this have been had Loki, having obtained what he always desired, turned out to be a just and fair ruler? Imagine, with nothing more to strive for, he could institute changes that are different from Odin's laws, but still add to the glory of Asgard. Suddenly, Loki would have the adulation of the people, something he never possessed or knew he wanted before. How more interesting would it have been for his only crime to be the illegal possession of the Odin Ring? A battle to regain the crown could be fought, only to have Asgardians support Loki. He would learn that fear drives men to rebel, but love is the basis of loyalty and support. This would be something I would enjoy more, and would be a harder moral battle for Thor and his homies. Something like this could easily be sustained over a long period without the usual runaround and look-alike, sound-alike battles. It would be a fascinating look into what drives Loki and interesting to see himself coming up short when the time comes that the realm needs a leader who is also a warrior. Having him relinquish the throne on his own, for the good of Asgard, possibly even learning something, would be a way of allowing Odin and Thor to forgive Loki and putting him back in the royal family's good graces. This would put him in a position to fall from grace later. However, I'm not writing comics, so we have what we have.  Of course, if one of you Marvel Experts know if this story has been done, point me to it.

Sub-Mariner 43
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito

Namor comes across an old man in a lighthouse who pleads with him to stop some bad guys that are planning on ruining the ocean by dumping radioactive waste.  Subby pretty much destroys the ship before any damage can be done.  The old man seems to slip into a state of delirium when he jumps off the lighthouse, proclaiming his allegiance to Tuval.  Namor catches him but the old man turns into a  pile of dust.  Meanwhile, in the basement of an abandoned old tenement, Tuval has recruited a group of elderly followers.  As they willingly give up their mental states to him, Tuval drinks a fiery concoction that transforms him into a much younger, stronger version of himself with powerful psychic powers.  Subby comes across a bunch of hippies in the park jamming to some music and decides to hang out with them for a bit.  Tuval and his followers are out looking for revenge against the human race because he misses his original people from the Black Sea he was originally part of.  They also come across the youth movement in the park and Tuval attacks them with his mind blasts.  Subby fights and defeats him, leaving the followers free from Tuval's mind control.  The geriatric crew go their own ways while, unbeknownst to Namor, his father and Sara were part of the group.  The Story ends with Tiger Shark forming an alliance with Llyra as they plan on killing Subby once and for all.
-Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  A muddled, confusing, and poorly executed story that keeps Namor's title on a losing streak.  Between Llyra, the people of the Black Sea, Tuval's previous appearances and turning into a bad guy,  Tiger Shark, Sting Ray falling in love with Diane Arliss, quests for a long lost father, one dimensional bad guys out trying to destroy the ocean, hippies, Namor's mood swings, and the advertisement of the Human Torch making a guest appearance next issue....I'm beginning to feel like I need a freakin' scorecard to keep track of everything going on in this floundering series.  Jesus Christ, just stick Namor back into the ocean already!!!

Matthew: Having been spared the necessity of writing 34-pagers for November’s Iron Man, Daredevil, or Inhumans yarns, Gerry takes a story that might have been thin (and, as usual, semi-coherent) at 20 pages and s-t-r-e-t-c-h-e-s it to the snapping point.  It’s not so much that it’s padded out per se as that every scene, every caption, every piece of dialogue just goes on a little longer than it needs to, which seems to have had an enervating effect on longtime Subby penciler Gene Colan and inker Mike Esposito as well.  This matter of Stephen Tuval, rather than keeping us intrigued, is well past its shelf life, and I’m not sold on turning him into a geriatric version of the Controller to spark an age war, but I did get a laugh out of “like a sculpture by Rodan [sic].”

Iron Man 43
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Tuska and Jim Mooney

As Mikas informs Iron Man that his alter-ego is Kline’s true target, Kevin picks up danger signals from Tony, dons a new suit of armor they’d developed, and heads to D.C. to save him.  Iron Man drains much of his energy escaping from a fiery chasm (well illustrated by Tuska and Mooney), and after Kline takes Mikas to task for disobeying his orders to keep Tony alive until instructed, the enthralled Marianne’s insistence that she dimly remembers loving him leads Mikas to strike her, which shocks her out of his control.  Revealing himself as an android, Kline tells Mikas it is now time to kill Tony, but Iron Man blasts him with the last of his power, and as Kevin arrives, Mikas’s “hell garden” is revealed as a mere set, peopled with robotic foes. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As with the contemporaneous Daredevil, a normal-sized story is rounded out with a Silver-Age reprint, the Giant-Man/Wasp episode from Tales to Astonish #52.  Curiously, a Bullpen Bulletin states that Shell- and Hornhead “will be combining into one bombshell title starting next month, to make room for new ideas and new concepts”; Iron Man does slip to bimonthly status for the next three issues (for which stories like this one provide possible justification), but both retained their independent status.  Mikas, the supposed mutant, is revealed to be an android, just like his master, Mr. Kline, yet since he’s an annoying cipher, we don’t care, while the only noteworthy event, the debut of the as-yet-unnamed Guardsman, is downplayed practically out of existence.

Peter: On that proposed combination of Daredevil and Iron Man into one "bombshell": I'd love to know which title would have been absorbed and which would have keep its numbering. Man, these guys were sure screwed up for a couple months. Or was it all a grand scheme to sink the competition as it has been hypothesized and written about? Whether it was or not, it worked. Soon after sliding back to two dimes (and leaving DC stranded at a quarter), Marvel ascended to first place in sales and never looked back.

Scott: At least they stopped calling Mikas the Soulfather. Otherwise, I found this one kind of confusing. It felt as if Marianne was becoming aware of Tony Stark's dual identity. At the end, however, it's made clear she knows only that he's a "good man." Yet she proclaimed her love for the man in the armor and clearly realized that she knew him. This was after Iron Man's own words made it plain they had some sort of relationship. On a related note, O'Brian shows up in some weird "back up plan" armor (with matching rocketship no less) and he talks with his thick Irish brogue. Way to guard that identity, Kevin. Lots of jibber jabber and heart-achy prose that makes this seem like some kind of life or death desperate adventure, but falls flat. Will Tony Stark die? Um, I'd guess not. I was fully expecting Marianne to make the Iron Man/Stark connection and then be killed, as per the rules, but not even that. Also, if you weren't following Daredevil, the revelation of Mr. Kline was pretty damned disappointing.  Actually, the revelation in DD's mag isn't so amazing either.

The Avengers 93
"This Beachhead Earth"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and Tom Palmer

The Vision bursts in on Captain America, Thor, and Iron Man, who have called an emergency assembly of the original Avengers, and then falls "dead" to the floor. Ant Man arrives as invited and, having had some part in the creation of the android, ventures inside the body "Fantastic Voyage" style. He finds the loose connection responsible (as well as something mysterious we are not privy to), revives the Vision and splits the scene, resuming his retirement. The Vision then explains what's been going on as Iron Man produces a resignation letter from Jarvis, the faithful butler. It's revealed that the three original Avengers who disbanded the team last issue were actually the Skrulls that the Fantastic Four turned into cows at the end of their second issue. The fired Avengers, on the road, were attacked by those same Skrulls, who then captured everyone but the Vision and Goliath, who was reconnoitering on his own. Captain Marvel is also a captive of the Skrulls and seeks to escape with the help of who he believes is Carol Danvers, but is actually the Super Skrull. Cap, Thor, Iron Man and the Vision find Rick Jones and Goliath. They battle the Skrulls, which ends when the Super Skrull takes off with his captives, leaving the remaining Avengers bummed out in defeat. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Neal Adams arrives and suddenly this title is a hundred times better. It would be a great issue either way, with Henry Pym coming back and actually contributing in ways only he could. The plot truly thickens as ten years of Skrull adventures are tied together. The return of the original invasion force was a grand idea and adds greatly to the expanding Marvel Universe. Cap is funny, though, crowing about being right when he guessed the Vision's internal organs might be different. He's a fricking android, genius! Of course it's going to be different inside. Even Iron Man gets to play idiot, pronouncing the Vision dead because of a lack of heart beat. There will still be a few minor detours in this saga, but this issue is great, using the extra pages well. It's always amusing to see Avengers driving around the country in a regular car while still wearing their costumes. Did they need to wear them in order to use Wanda's credit card? The only thing that rings false is the sudden attitude Quicksilver has toward the Vision. Just the issue before, he was suggesting the android and Wanda go shopping together, which was after we, the readers, found out the Vision and Wanda had feelings for each other. There was nothing shown that would explain Pietro's sudden animosity. Weird. Other than that, great stuff.

Mark: The fifth installment of the Kree-Skull smackdown proves once again that Neil Adams art makes everything better. Roy Thomas has admitted to having no master plan for his long star-spanning saga, which explains the scatter shot quality and, at times, multiple plot threads dangling dangerously close to incoherence, but this issue gooses things along once you're done ogling the pretty pictures. We start with the in-distress Vision stumbling in on Cap, Ironman, and Thor at Avengers mansion, where they've summoned the original members after disbanding the current team last ish. No Hulk of course, but Hank Pym shows up as Ant-Man, supported by ant cavalry Crosby, Stills, and Nash (Young must have caught the same virus that kept Jan sick at home). The tiny quartet quickly go Fantastic Voyage down Vis' gullet and battle their way - or rather Hank does, for after one of his picnic-invading pals gets zapped, he hurdles the remaining pair back up and out of the unconscious synthezoid – past various internal defenses to the Vision's brain, there repairing a loose wire, as if Viz were a '57 Chevy. Adams' lush art (ably abetted by Tom Palmer's inks) masterfully mixes the supple, realistic anatomy of Pym with the hi-tech cum biological dreamscape of the Vision's innards, making all this go down smooth and sweet, even with all of Hank's yakety-yak dialogue.

Matthew: It still irks me that the Kree-Skrull War Special Edition merely summarized the first four entries and, after an admittedly well-done seven-page summary, only began reprinting the issues in their entirety with this one, in which Our Pal Sal is supplanted by the resurgent X-Men dream team of Thomas, Adams, and Palmer.  But clearly this is where things kick into high gear, with the chapter on the Vision—almost the length of a regular issue itself—a stand-out (is that the single biggest close-up of a Marvel character’s face ever?), and Clint’s attempts to bring down the Skrull ship with his bare hands not far behind.  I know Englehart explained Hank’s big surprise inside Vizh years later, but did Roy ever state just what he had in mind back in the day?

Peter: That 16-page prologue has a lot of great art by Mr. Adams but threatened to put me to sleep. Thankfully there was that remaining19-page act which, while not knocking my socks off, keeps my interest piqued. Most of Neal's work here is iconic (I say most, but have a look at that Jimmy Walker Skrull to my left). This all ties together, right? Why do I have a picture in my mind of The Rascally One in his Bullpen office throwing all his idea cards in the air and then picking them up at random? My biggest question this issue would have to be: why is Hank Pym naked on page three? Roy falls back on his "pop culture" crutch almost as much as his "great poets" crutch, here evoking Crosby, Stills, and Nash and James Taylor on the same page (as well as EC and DC Comics on another). The references work here about as well as in the Harlan Ellison Hulk story a few months ago, which means they don't. They just stick out like a sore thumb.

Mark: The revived Vision relates how he and the other dismissed Avengers had traveled to the farm where Mar-Vell and Carol were supposed to be hiding out. No sign of them, instead Earth's Ex-Mightiest were attacked and routed by the male members of the Fantastic Four (okay, Neil's depictions of Torch and Thing are pretty sucky, proving even masters have their limits). The founders plus Viz return to the farm, where Mar-Vell is being held by Skrulls, including the faux FF, revealed as the original shapeshifters who were tricked into thinking they were cows way, way back in FF #2. More fighting ensues, but the Super-Skrull escapes with prisoners Mar-vell, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch, leaving the remaining Avengers moaning about the bitter dregs of defeat or some such. All told, the 34 pages make great use of the longer 25 cent format and kick the novel length epic into another gear.    

Captain America and the Falcon 143
"Power to the People!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Romita 

Flush with pride over defeating the Grey Gargoyle, Cap, Falcon, Sharon and Fury make their way back to SHIELD's Manhattan HQ. After some "witty" banter, Cap and Falcon take off for home. Since their multi-issue battle wasn't strenuous enough, Cap and Falcon "work out" on their way home. Steve goes back to the police force and Sam hits the streets in his social worker day job. Officer Steve agrees to help out Reverend Garcia with his Boy's Club in Harlem, while Sam runs into Leila. She wants to talk Black Pride for a change, trying to get him to come to a rally that night, so Sam trades some snuggling for his attendance. Later, he goes with Leila and Rafe (another local brother who hates Sam) to the rally to dig what the masked leader is laying down. The Man, as he is called, stirs up their emotions, saying they have to destroy the new Boys Club. Sam, of course, is the only person clear-headed enough to see the danger and tries to warn people, but gets his ass kicked for his troubles. Meanwhile, Steve and Sharon walk though Harlem on their way to see Reverend Garcia when a speeding car comes by and tosses Sam out. Sam gives Steve the lowdown and Captain America makes the scene to save Garcia. While Cap does battle, Sam is recuperating in his office with Leila tending to him. Sharon is there, but since she's white, Leila hates her on the spot. She leaves and Sam wakes up, trying to convince Leila not to trust a guy whose face they've never seen. She gets explosively angry and leaves. The Man has convinced the residents to riot and the commissioner has told his men to hold the line, but do not fight the people. Cap and Falcon fight the masked bad guys, but when they rip the shirt of one henchman, his white skin is revealed. The Man unmasks himself as the Red Skull. He puts Cap and Falc in a death trap (the Reflaser) and makes his escape. Redwing arrives and, thanks to Falcon's urgent commands, saves Cap and the Falcon. Now that their leader is exposed, the residents stand down, but tell the commissioner that things have to change. Cap wonders what will make them blow up next time, something that Falcon takes totally the wrong way as a racial slur and leaves Cap to reevaluate their partnership. Cap sees Sam snogging Leila in his office. This sends a bolt of worry into the Shield Slinger. Is he losing another partner? -Scott McIntyre

Scott: So, this is what all the build up and racial rhetoric has been working toward? Ugh. Could the Skull hide his German accent that well? Did he put on a "black voice?" The residents in Harlem look like complete idiots following a man whose face they never saw only because he's anti-white. They're setting their own case back by refusing to think past they own prejudices. So much hatred and tension in these pages. Sam fires off a jab at Cap for "forgetting the darkies," and then by accusing Cap of racism at the end. Falcon is coming off as an ungrateful prick, constantly breaking up the team and getting touchy whenever Cap opens his mouth. Every month it feels like we're reading about "Captain America and his Black Partner." Could we go a few issues without being hit over the head with this stuff?

"I'd call the pigs and have yo ass locked up for jumpin' my Jones, but they're all whiteys!"

Peter: I just wish this comic came with audio. What would (SPOILER ALERT!) The Skull (dressed like the Maytag repair man with a hood) sound like when speaking to the African-American crowd? Couldn't they tell a "whitey" from a mile off? I'd give my left nut to be in the room when The Skull got to the word "honkies" and the hipper brothers started smellin' somethin' fishy! I'm beginning to see why Leila (or "baby" as she's more widely known) is such a hard nut to crack. Here's she's ascending to the throne of "Marvel's answer to Angela Davis" and no one respects her. She wants to be taken seriously by Sam as a militant warrior and he just wants to get in her pants. I love his "Look, sweet honey momma, I'm a man, you're a chick. Put the 'Kill Whitey' stuff to the side for a jive-talkin' minute and give your man some sugar. Dig?" speech. This is a superhero one step away from statutory rape. When the woman says "I'm splittin', Uncle Tom" it means no! I've got a feeling Professor Scott will have something to say about this issue's obligatory "Let's burn our own houses to the ground! After all, we'll be better off" speech by (SPOILER ALERT!) The Red Skull. And obviously Gary Friedrich wasn't as hip as the dialogue he wrote or else he'd have used quotes from Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" rather than whiter-than-white John Lennon's "Power to the People."

Scott: This issue has extra pages, but it's padded with a very lengthy summation of the Gargoyle situation, which has no bearing on this issue at all.  At least Fury recognizes having the Gargoyle in orbit with Element X is a danger. Dum Dum Dugan is one of those characters who is included for continuity, but doesn't (as yet) have a solid reason to be here. His "wait'll I tell the gang about this" only reinforces my belief regarding SHIELD at that time. They come off as a bunch of schmucks trusted with the safety of the free world, barely professional and full of their own outdated prejudices (mostly sexism). Then there are more panels of Cap and the Falcon making with the witty comments as they leave the HQ. There are a solid eight pages wasted on catching us up on previous issues and the character's everyday lives that do nothing to move the plot forward. However, there is some amusement in Sgt. Muldoon chewing out Police Rookie Rogers (I keep looking for Gunther Toody to turn up to no avail). The flames behind Muldoon are worth a chuckle or two.

Peter: Gary manages to come up with some hilarious chapter titles: "Burn, Whitey, Burn" (even though it's advertised just one page before as "Holocaust in Harlem"!) and "Red Skull in the Morning -- Cap Take Warning!" The latter is particularly apt since it reminds one of the goofy titles given to the ABC-TV Batman series ("The Penguin Goes Straight/Not Yet He Ain't") and The Skull pulls one of those magical "I've waited forty years to kill you Captain America, but I must leave the room while the giant needle plunges into the huge quilt you're tied to!" tricks. I'm not sure how Captain America holds back from plunging  his shield down his partner's mouth after the following exchange:

Falcon: Who knows --- but there is something going on in Harlem --- that maybe we can end --- if we get going now!
Cap: You're right! I'd gotten so wrapped up in the Red Skull --- I'd forgotten about the racial crises at Rev. Garcia's!
Falcon: Think nothing of it! White men have been forgetting us darkies for centuries!

But, I save the best for last. My LOL of the issue comes when The Falcon commands Redwing to turn off the "Reflaser" controls and the bird does it! One huge stinker.

Scott: Leila returns to annoy, but Sam bothers me more. He's so fixated on this chick that he can't keep his hands off her. Regardless of her not giving him any signals other than disgust, he forces himself on her - and she relents! I've always been bad at interpreting signals, but I always thought "no" means "no," and that "I hate honkey loving Uncle Toms" means "I hate honkey loving Uncle Toms." The Red Skull is too easy to fall back on and this is one of the worst uses of the character. Still, I suppose he could have activated yet another Sleeper. Boy, I'm glad we'll never see that plot again! Right?

Matthew:  Proving that more isn’t always more, this just gives Gary Friedrich extra acreage for the annoying trends that, in his partial defense, he largely inherited from Stan, e.g., the rocky race relations now at the fore.  Rightly or wrongly, I recall Leila being mercifully less strident in later years, yet any legitimate beef she and her ilk supposedly embody is obscured by their being such credulous dolts, and who needs a partner like the Falcon (hilariously referred to both as an Uncle Tom and, by his nephew, as “Uncle Sam”), endlessly second-guessing Cap’s motives?  The “let’s burn down the ghetto”/masked-white-guy-foments-racial-disharmony wells are already dry, but although obvious from the cover, the Skull feels like an inappropriate villain.

Daredevil 81
"And Death is a Woman Called Widow"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Jack Abel

Battling the Owl on the bird’s helicopter, Daredevil plummets towards the Hudson River as the craft spins out of control. The Owl flies off, but DD can’t follow. He plunges into the river, losing consciousness as he settles on the muddy bottom. Luck, or fate, or whatever it is, has a rescuer witness his dive, none other than the Black Widow. She wastes no time moving from her parked Rolls-Royce into the icy waters, bringing Daredevil to the surface on the dock. He regains consciousness and departs, not knowing who rescued him. Natasha herself thinks him merely ungrateful. The strange Mr. Kline berates the reporting Owl for not taking Daredevil alive, dismissing him from any further partnership, much to the Owl’s pleasure. Owl’s next move—rob the city treasury. Karen Page, having witnessed DD’s fall on the news, assumes he didn’t make it, and buries her grief in the arms of her friend Phil. A communication between Mr. Kline (referred to as MK-9) and his boss, grants Kline a name upgrade to the Assassin, as they discuss the use of Foggy Nelson in their plans. The Owls heist on the treasury is interrupted by not only Black Widow, but DD himself. Still a bit weak, he nonetheless aids Natasha in foiling the Owl’s plan. Exhausted, he collapses; the Widow catches him, as she realizes DD didn’t know until now that she was the one who rescued him. -Jim Barwise

Jim: This story starts the interesting partnership between DD and the Black Widow. Certainly, Karen Page has become more and more of an anchor, for Matt and herself. I presume (don’t know yet, haven’t checked ahead) a Natasha/Matt romance might not be out of the question. The Owl’s always an interesting addition; his termination of the association with Kline, et al, might be lucky for both of them. Speaking of Kline, or MK-9, or the Assassin (?), the plot gets more muddled as we go. Who is his boss that’s even nastier than him? It’s fitting that Bill Everett does the pin-up of the Black Widow, as he of course pencilled issue # 1, back in 1964.

Matthew: Rare among the November issues, this contains a regulation-length story, with a Torch/Thing entry from Strange Tales #132 to pad it out.  Jack Abel is a name I haven’t seen in a while, but the lettercol helpfully reminds us that as “Gary Michaels,” he inked Colan’s Iron Man years ago; Gene himself provides some continuity, having drawn several issues of the Widow’s recently cancelled Amazing Adventures strip.  She’s still spouting off about her alleged curse, so we hope Gerry will quickly tire of that—as I did—but meanwhile, we learn that Mister Kline, an apparently metallic android designated MK-9 by his unseen master (evoking Iron Man’s MK-5 Mechanoid), is rewarded for his efforts against Nelson and Murdock with a codename, Assassin.

Peter: Jack Abel is a name we're becoming familiar with over at the bare bones website as he penciled and inked quite a few DC war tales in the 1950s.

Scott: SM: "Eyes front, Ivan!" With the return of the Black Widow, we get the weird reminders that she's getting nekkid inches away from her assistant. Another self doubting hero, making two in the same title. She's also a bitch. Maybe Daredevil would have stuck around to thank you if you weren't hiding around a corner. It's awesome to have Gene Colan drawing her again, I can only hope she's a less sucky character here than she was in her own title. In other news, Karen and Phil make the beast with two backs. Jeez, Karen. I know you think Matt just died, but let the body get cold before giving up the goods to your agent. It's been, what, a few minutes? Looks like we're being prepped for a change in love interest. As long as we lose the damned bellyaching. Oh, and Mr. Kline is an android. Boy. Big deal. Who's pulling the strings?

The Incredible Hulk 145
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin

The Hulk tears his way through Europe, trying to find his way back home.  After destroying a Russian submarine and causing a title wave that wrecks a small village, the Hulkster ends up in the Sahara desert where a movie is being filmed.  When the Hulk ruins an expensive take, the lead female actress coerces him into staying so that the filmmakers can exploit him by using him in their movie.  When he changes back into Bruce Banner, he accidentally stumbles across some pharaoh-like statues that turn out to be aliens in hiding.  They reveal to Banner that they long ago planted creatures that lied dormant, back during the earth's earliest years, with the purpose being used to fight in combat since they no longer used wars to settle disputes.  Fearing that the two huge combatants will destroy a large chunk of the planet, Banner shoots one of the aliens with his own ray gun and then dons the helmet the creature was using to monitor the battle.  The ancient sphinx turns out to be one of the monster fighters but Banner is able to use the helmet to keep it dormant.  Since their little game has been ruined, the aliens high tail it off the planet.  Unfortunately, the remaining monster pugilist, named Colossus,  was activated and spoiling for a brawl.  Banner turns back into the Hulk and after a long, tenuous fight, he destroys the giant statue by ripping it into pieces and burying it underground.  Meanwhile,  Thunderbolt Ross reveals plans for a new military base in New Mexico that's built solely for the purpose of catching and killing the Hulk. - Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  The only thing about this issue that's memorable to me is the Hulk wrecking the sub and causing the tidal wave that hits the village.  How many innocent people have been killed by the Hulk's stupidity?  I forgot that The Chariots of the Gods was big back then.  It's easy to see that the bullpen borrowed a little bit from it for the plotline.    

Matthew:  “Giant-size November” unfortunately wreaked havoc with the Hulkster’s reprints; it triggered an annoying chain reaction in which several stories were broken up between issues of Marvel Super-Heroes.  Newbie Len Wein does not show the same facility for the form displayed elsewhere this month by Roy—whose “basic plotline” he scripts—as demonstrated by the utterly pointless umpteenth retelling of the Hulk’s origin that gets shoehorned in for no good reason.  The story just kind of galumphs along, with no particular point or logic, as Hulk stories of this era are inclined to do, and neither the rough-hewn artwork, with John Severin inking the returning Herb Trimpe, nor the introduction of Project Greenskin particularly helps put it across.

Scott: SM: Padding ahoy! You'd be forgiven for thinking the guy running on the cover was Rick Jones. In the original issue, he wears the same colors Rick had been assigned at this point, pretty much what he was wearing in the Avengers. While I'm thrilled Trimpe is back, this issue is a perfect example of not having any idea what to put in the extra pages. Need four pages to burn through? Well. that's what origin recaps are for, right? The only thing positive I got out of this issue was the answer to a mystery plaguing me for decades. As a lad, I caught up on a lot of Hulk history via the Marvel Super-Heroes reprints. Because the original, longer issue had to be chopped up and spread out over a few months, it was done unevenly. This story picked up at page 22 and filled in the back half of the issue with the first 8 or so pages of the next story. Needless to say, it was a confusing jumble and I never knew how the story began. Until now. It wasn't worth the wait.

Fantastic Four 116
"The Alien, The Ally, and -- Armageddon!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

With Reed controlled by the Over-Mind, it’s up to the trio of Ben, Sue and Johnny to come up with a plan. The Torch figures that the radiation Reed was exposed to before he escaped may leave a trail for them to follow. It works, and in fact was partly Reed’s plan, to distract the Over-Mind enough with his own mental energy that the last of the Eternals would forget about what other threats might be posed against him. Sue, who had stayed back at the Baxter Building, watches and realizes that her teammates need help. She seeks the aid of everyone she can think of who might aid them; the Avengers, the Mighty Thor, the Silver Surfer, etc., are involved in crisis of their own. It is the spectral form of Agatha Harkness who advises Sue of whose help she must seek: Dr. Doom! Finding him at the Latverian Embassy, her arch-foe is initially unmoved, but doubts about his own courage convince him. Ben and Johnny agree to co-operate with Doom as their leader—for now. Doom modifies a device of Reed’s, a Psionic Refractor, that can turn the mental force bolts of the Over-Mind back at him; all this while Reed is being forced to be the villains lackey, first mission: kill his wife! The Psionic device works to a point, the others attacking with the advantage of surprise. There’s only so much it can take however, and soon disintegrates. When all seems lost, salvation comes in an unexpected form—the Stranger. Drawn by the mental energy of the conflict, the mighty being reveals that as the Over-Mind was the sum of the Eternals, he was likewise created by their archrivals from Gigantus, for when this time came to pass. The Stranger banishes his foe (his powers still not fully awoken) to indeed rule a universe, that within a mote of dust. The conflict suddenly ended, the F.F. feel a little used, but the Watcher appears before them to explain that it was the mental energy of the conflict that made the Stranger aware of the Over-Mind, thus able to vanquish him. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I don’t know that all of the faculty will agree, but I found the finale of the Over-Mind saga a fully satisfying one, for a few reasons. The often--ignored question of “where are all the other superheroes in town” is addressed, and even if it’s rather convenient that they’re all busy, it still imparts the sense of urgency needed to make the sense of danger believable. The Stranger, rather than saving the day just to help us, is revealed to be what’s left of Gigantus. Perhaps this shouldn’t have surprised me, but it did, and gave both an explanation for the Stranger’s origin, and a tribute to that extinct race. The team up with Dr. Doom, the F.F.’s perennial foe, had sweet irony to it; there’s nothing like survival to motivate one. The team really came together under stress; Johnny can be forgiven for losing his cool after the fact. Reed’s struggle against the superior mental forces of the Over-Mind is commendable. John Buscema continues to draw his way into comic history with many great panels and full-pagers.

Matthew: The then-current (January 1981) issue size of the final Marvel’s Greatest Comics reprint allowed for 23 story pages, but by the time Danny “Give ’Em the” Fingeroth was done with it, 11 were still missing from this month’s conclusion to the Overmess—er, Overmind saga, which ought to be labeled, “Warning: Savagely Mutilated!”  Shame on them.  Even Archie Goodwin, charged with winding up Stan’s ball of yarn, might be glad to see the back of this alien Mangog, yet despite a deus ex machina that I doubt Stan intended when he created the Stranger, Archie’s script crackles at times (“Is that a name—or do you pretend to pronounce my fate?”), and these butchered remains still rise to glory, due to the handling of Doom and robust artwork.

Peter: What a monstrous waste of time. Could this "epic" have been more boring? Vik Von Doom is sadly underutilized and the uniqueness of fighting alongside someone who's tried to kill you umpteen times is swept under the rug. I'm not saying that stopping the action long enough to ponder good vs. evil and good + evil would have saved this huge dead horse from being flogged one more time but it couldn't have hurt things. This goes to show that, even though he was saddled with three-quarters of the slop to begin with, even a great writer like Archie Goodwin can stumble now and then. I'll bet Archie threw in that Torch tantrum at the climax as an homage to the departed Stan Lee. All we needed, to wrap a bow on this mess, was for Reed to exclaim "Well, we were beaten by The Over-Mind but, while I was a mental prisoner, I devised a new way to change The Thing back to Ben Grimm!"

Scott: Doom sure is bow-legged. It must have been tough to fashion armor to fit his weird leg shape. Actually, John Buscema draws everyone that way, making me wonder about his vision of the Marvel Universe and what the characters do in their spare time.

Mark: Dean Peter is the wet blanket at this beach party, 'cause I'm also enjoying the ride here, from the Buscema/Sinnott art team upping their already impressive game (loved the King-Klone depiction of Benjy on page 2 because drawing Aunt Petunia's fave nephew like Jack Kirby is always a good thing), to old school FF schtick like Torchie dispersing the mob of anti-hero protestors - on-call for any Marvel title of the era - outside the Baxter Building with a flame-wall before Ben hangs their landlord (sporting a waxed penny dreadful mustache in a nice comic touch by Buscema) from a bent lamp post before they descend into the sewers, on the Overmind's radioactive trail.

Scott: A packed issue and, like Conan, not as padded as some of the others. There's plenty of time to build up to Sue's desperate choice. At least there's an attempt to explain why none of the other heroes are on hand to tackle the Over-Mind. I guess a riot in Harlem is more pressing for Cap than the destruction of the entire planet. Anyway, Sue's appeal to Doom's vanity and honor was a masterstroke on her part and this is one of the few recent depictions of Doom that really does the character justice. He's royalty, even if it is over a tiny, backwater country, and his ego is fittingly large. I love how easily we takes charge of the FF, with no hesitation, barking orders and formulating plans. Over-Mind's power as demonstrated is pretty weak considering his origin and that he has the combined brain power of a billion brains. Anyone with the total power of all the Eternals would hardly need to engage in a brawl. He doesn't need to waste time with humans at all with that much power. Reed's plan does make some sense out of the conclusion of last issue and it's well played here. While the Stranger does smack of a classic deus ex machina, it's hard to defeat a villain so built up in power by means other than Reed "whipping up a do-dad" in his lab. So, I buy it, especially since Johnny felt the same way. Maybe I'm in a good mood today, but this is a fine conclusion to an otherwise middling arc. Archie Goodwin's scripting is very well done and close to what Stan was doing in better days.

Mark: Reed battles bravely, if with buckets o'sweat, against OM's tortures before ultimately succumbing. Sue seeks help for the down-sized/outclassed FF, but every other hero is apparently booked for Comic Con. The astral-traveling Agatha Harkness suggests Doc Doom(minor nit: what could have been a Big Reveal was given away on the cover)to the rescue! Quickly internalizing the enemy-of-my-enemy-is-my-friend logic, Sue crashes the Latverian Embassy and brings Doom on-board by questioning his manhood. A "psionic-refractor," whipped up by ole Metal-Face from Reed's early design (their patent lawsuit is still in the courts), levels the playing field for awhile by turning the Overmind's own "mind-bolts" against him. After an action-packed six page battle, Evil Reed attacks Sue, forcing her to withdraw her force field from Doom and the refractor-thingie goes blooey. As the exultant OM takes a victory lap, the Stranger (his first appearance, I believe, since Silver Surfer #15) rockets to earth and reveals himself as the living embodiment of the "billion, billion brains" of Gigantus, just as OM wields the combined might of the Eternals. Okay, you could cry copout over the deus ex machina arrival of a new character to save the day on the final page, but I loved seeing a swaggering bully like the Over-Mind reduced to ruling a dust mote. And given OM's power-set, logic requires another Cosmic Gunslinger to take him down. Sure, the whole arc didn't deliver shock of the new thrills like the best of Kirby & Lee's run on the title but yer only a virgin once, folks.

The Amazing Spider-Man 102
"Vampire at Large!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Morbius and The Lizard battle over a groggy Spider-Man, which ends when the reptilian rascal is thrown into a machine and zapped. Morbius swoops in for a bite, but after the recovered Spidey stops him, the vampire flies off into the moonlight. Lizard turns halfway back into Connors, then back into Lizard with Connor’s thoughts. Connors-Lizard surmises Morbius has an enzyme inside of him that’s a catalyst and causes change in other substances, so they head off in search of the pale flier.
Part Two: “…The Way It Began” gives us the origin of Morbius through his dreams. European scientist and Nobel Prize winner Michael Morbius charters a yacht to England, with faithful aide Nikos and his love Martine, as well as his research into vampire bats to help combat the rare disease dissolving his blood cells. Using shock treatment to try and create the cells electrically, something goes wrong, and Morbius is turned into a vampire! He accidentally kills Nikos, then flees the ship before he attacks Martine. Diving overboard, Morbius tries to drown himself before he reneges and lands on a passing ship. Waking after sunset, he attacks a hobo who walks in on him resting.
Part Three: “The Curse and the Cure” begins with Spidey and Lizard swinging across town in search of Morbius, with the reptile’s brain teetering from Connors to crazed. Quick cut to Gwen pining for Peter, and checking with Aunt May on his whereabouts only upsets her more. Quick cut to JJJ and Robbie, where Jameson lets on that the Daily Bugle is in dire financial trouble. Back to action, with the odd couple catching up with Morbius and attacking! Connors/Lizard adds some of the vamp’s blood to his serum then injects himself, which turns him human nearly instantly. But Morbius strikes back, and escapes with the rest of the serum! But an introspective Spidey is hot in pursuit, and snags Morbius with webbing, until the vampire crashes into a bridge! Morbius plummets into the water as Spidey lands on a garbage scow. With one last web shot, he tries to save Morbius, but grabs the serum. A quick injection and Spidey’s four extra arms vanish, with the wall-crawler and Dr. Connors left to ponder Morbius’ fate. -- Joe Tura

Joe: This king-sized epic is written in three parts, each with its own killer Kane splash page. Yet, am I crazy that the ends seems rushed? Those extra arms just vanish that quick thanks to the miracle Morbius cure? I guess the four bonus limbs were just not that popular back in 1971. Then again, I’m not sure they’re all that popular in 2013. Now, the faculty knows I love my sound effects, and the sound effects meter is on overload during the Lizard-Morbius battle, from THRUMP! & BTOK! to SPLUNG! & my favorite WHUMFF! Solid! Overall, well-drawn battle scenes and a nice script by Roy Thomas, but Roy does like to lay it on thick in his narrative, with a near-Shakespearean twang: “Free: he soars on seaborn winds, gentle zephyrs which lightly brush the ocean’s upturned face…” Wow, cue John Gielgud! And Morbius doth appear to verily channel the Bard himself oft, like most good vampires.

Scott: Thankfully, this thing with the arms finally comes to an end. Before we get to that hasty conclusion, we're treated to a fairly interesting "Lizard with Connors' brain" thing. A staple of the Hulk series, I'm surprised it took until this point to get to it with the Lizard. It's astonishing that Connors is able to fend off the final change for so many hours and that it took that long for the combined brainpower of these two scientists to hit upon the enzyme. To be fair, Connors is fighting off Lizard Stupidity (that's really a thing) and Spider-Man has Extra-Arms Dumbness (also a thing).

John:  I for one thought it was a nice changed to have a more eloquent lizard (even if he does get his lizard-as handed to him. You won't hear me complaining about my two favorite Spidey-villains sharking some air time.

Mark: In "Vampire at Large," Roy Thomas' second at-bat scripting the sensational Web-slinger, the spectacled straw-haired scribe dials down the pop references, dials up the drama and delivers a meaty denouement to Spidey's triangular tussle with the leathery Lizard and brooding blood-sucker Michael Morbius. Whew! Ruminating on First Decade Marvel always unconsciously activates the Stan Lee's Almanac of Ever-Ready Alliteration. But it's outta my system... for now. We open with still-groggy Spidey reduced to observer as Liz and Morbius tangle over kill rights to our hero. The more agile Morb belts the Lizard into a high voltage "far-out frammistat" and down goes Frazier, long enough for pasty-face to start neck-drillin' before Spidey intervenes and drives Morbius off in search of easier prey. The Lizard comes to, but now with Doc Connor's mind, by-product of an enzyme Morb's fangs injected into Liz. The Scaly One re-loses his arm while changing halfway back to Curt Connors so – eureka – said enzyme might also dispose of Spidey's excess limbs. They whip up a serum but, in a nice bit of role-reversal, they now need Morbius' blood to make it work. Off on the hunt go our uneasy allies, with the doc's anti-social alter-ego threatening to re-emerge at any moment.

Matthew: This makes me sorry that Roy wrote no more than the four issues of Amazing while Stan was on hiatus, especially since I can detect not an ounce of fat on it, even at 34 pages.  Here and in The Avengers—concurrent classics—he shows a real knack for long-form storytelling, at a time when Marvel was equidistant between its last crop of first-run annuals and the ubiquitous giant-size books of the mid-’70s.  The larger canvas allows him to unfold Michael Morbius’s tragic backstory in a fashion that is leisurely without being padded, and the three-way conflict with the Living Vampire and the Lizard, so beautifully visualized by Kane and Giacoia, also feels substantial in a way that a regulation-sized book might not; top marks all around, guys.

Peter: Well.... It's got a few ounces of fat on it, especially when the action slows down to make way for explanations. The Gwen sequence is all fatty tissue I'd love to shear from the bone, nothing that will reverberate down the line. Just one more Gwen Stacy tearfest over a misunderstanding and hurt feelings. It's almost laughable that 32 pages in, Curt Connors exclaims "Hold on a minute! This vampire we've been fighting named Morbius! I know this guy!" But, aside from those nits (and I'll sneak in a snicker about Spidey managing to snag that antidote from Morbius as he's sinking into the harbor) I thought this was a good read. Well, a couple more nits before I hide from my fellow professors (all, I'm sure, big fans of this issue): Isn't it ideal that, when he takes the antidote, four of Spidey's arms disappear (with no scar tissue, I should add)? How come The Lizard lost one and the potion just magically knew to remove four of the web-slinger's appendages? Logic says he should be swinging around with five arms the rest of his life. And what ever happened to The Lizard's hiss? Perfect diction coming out of a 6-foot tall lizard reminds me of Barnie.

Scott: Morbius' origin is actually pretty interesting, but I would have taken it a little more seriously without the skin tight sexy costume, complete with flared collar. He apparently put it on before he changed from his turtleneck into his helmet, coveralls and boots. Is that his regular long underwear or did he have a suspicion that he'd need some kind of stylish outfit? Does a vampire really need a costume? There's a set up for next issue, with Jameson clanging the klaxon of doom over the Daily Bugle. It sounds like an awesome, serious plot coming up, but don't count on it. Luckily, Spidey's extra arm predicament is just like Connors' problem and the arms vanish. They don't fall off, or rot away. They don't leave scars. They just vanish, like they were never there. I only wish I could do that to the last three issues.  And hey, check out those guys in the city manning the phones referring to Queens as…(wait for it)...Long Island.

Mark: Meanwhile Morb goes to ground in a dodgy Bowery Bum cellar to sleep away the day but is haunted by flashback nightmares of how a Nobel-Prize winning scientist, dying of a rare disease, attempts to cure himself by synthesizing vampire bat blood, then zapping himself with high voltage. Good news: the cure works. Bad News: he vants a drink! Before the final showdown, Roy delivers brief but effective sub-plots scenes: Gwen emotionally devastated after learning from Aunt May that Peter didn't leave town, as he fibbed to her last ish (and I must disagree with Dean Peter that Ms. Stacy's appearance is "fatty tissue;" it's nine small panels in a 35 page story. As for the Lizard's hiss-s-s-sing vocal delivery, absent here, I submit it's a product of the reptilian mind; with Doc Connors at the controls, Liz would speak normally. Send my No-Prize to...) and J. Jonah Hitler-'stache informs Robbie Robertson that the Daily Bugle, hemorrhaging money due to falling ad revenue, may go belly-up. Back at the main event, our heroes put Morb down long enough for extract some blood, mix with serum and, presto chango, Liz morphs back into Doc Connors. But before Spidey can take a swig, Morbius comes to, snatches the serum and flees, setting up a rooftop chases than ends with Morb slamming into a bridge and dropping into the river below. Spidey manages to web-snare the serum, but the hollow-boned Vamp is "caught in some kind of undertow" and vanishes beneath the waves. The serum of course works on Pete too and, once again appropriately limbed, he and the doc brood philosophic over the apparent death of Michael Morbius. There's no filler in the 35 pages, and after the clumsy stage-setting last ish Roy and Gil Kane (Morbius' up-turned pug nose even made all the nostril-gazing tolerable) deliver a satisfying conclusion to the saga of Six-Arm Spidey.

John: And not a moment too soon. I was NOT looking forward to that awkward date with Gwen and a six-armed Spidey.

Peter: Mark, you're going to learn sooner or later that the Professors don't question the Dean. It's fatty tissue and I want my hiss back.

Also this Month

Creatures on the Loose #14
Fear #5
Iron Man King-Size Special #2 (all-reprint)
Kid Colt Outlaw #156
Li'l Kids #3
Mad About Millie Queen-Size Special #1
Marvel Super-Heroes #31
Marvel Tales #32
The New Millie the Model Queen-Size Special #10
My Love #14
<-Rawhide Kid #93
The Ringo Kid #12
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #93
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos King-Size Special #7
Two-Gun Kid #101
The X-Men King-Size Special #2 (all-reprint)
Where Monsters Dwell #12

Professor Scott, set out on his stool in the hallway, punished for not reading Sub-Mariner this week ("Sadly, I can't open the file on this one, so I'm gonna have to skip Subby this time" is the paltry excuse he gives) promises to make amends by reading this month's Rawhide Kid:

Scott: Hey, this is just a reprint title! What the hell?

Peter: Consider yourself amended.


  1. Hey Mark: I only meant that the art took a dramatic downturn on the final page. For Smith at least. [Insert Don Heck crack.] Geez, this has got to be the longest MU post ever! Not that I complaining.

  2. If I needed another reason to love Tom Flynn, which I don't, a single paragraph invoking the Big Wheel, Sergio Leone, and Talking Head Tina Weymouth would do the trick. But is this the longest, GREATEST MU post ever?

    Professors, you may as well know now that Mr. Kline's--excuse me, The Assassin's--supposed role in bringing Daredevil and his soon-to-be love interest and co-star together is never explained. Just one of the many maddening aspects of the whole multi-title Kline fiasco.

  3. Prof Tom,

    My bad for misinterpretation. We agree that less than top-flight BWS is still a joy. Cheers.

  4. Looks like we're off and RUNNING!

  5. At this point in time, I hadn't read a comic book in 18 months. However, one Saturday morning, for some reason, I wandered down to the back of the local newsagent, and checked out the comic book rack. My first reaction was “Twenty-five cents for a comic book!!!!!???????” You've got to be kidding!!! I didn't pick up any of the books, and didn't notice they were double sized.

    The second reaction was how hideous the covers looked, with the artwork restricted to a six inch by six inch square. I shuddered to think what Captain America #113 or Fantastic Four #49 would've looked like had they been created in late 1971.

    The biggest shock was when I saw the cover of Spider-Man #102. Spidey had sprouted four extra arms. I shook my head in disbelief and mumbled something along the lines of “Did I ever read this garbage?”

    Then, I wandered to the front counter, bought a newspaper, and went home.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  6. A few of you were a little surprised at how relatively lightly the Jenna character gets off in Conan # 11 (although I have such a hang-up about "scatological" humor that I don't consider it getting off any too lightly!). But I'm sure you're getting to Conan # 12 soon, and (hopefully without making this too much of a spoiler), those of you who've never read it will be surprised at how a similar scenario with a treacherous female character plays out in that one.