Wednesday, July 3, 2013

September 1971: Six-Armed Freak!

Special Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Let us briefly examine the state of play—with the invaluable assistance of Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story—as we enter the critical final four months of 1971, during which I, for one, start to get the true retrospective Bronze feeling.  Having hobnobbed with famed foreign filmmakers Federico Fellini and Alain Resnais, Stan the Man decides to go the whole hog and collaborate with Frenchman Resnais (perhaps best known for 1961’s enigmatic but fascinating Last Year at Marienbad) on the sold but ultimately unproduced screenplay "The Monster Maker."  To that end, he takes the unprecedented step of a leave of absence from writing comics, for the first time turning over to others the keys of those four titles he had hitherto retained for himself.

In all but one case, his replacement was solid Silver, and in September alone, Stan finally ended his lengthy runs with Amazing Spider-Man #100 (succeeded by Roy Thomas), Captain America #141 (succeeded by Gary Friedrich), and Thor #192 (succeeded by wunderkind Gerry Conway).  Then, in October, he at last weaned himself off of Marvel’s flagship book, co-writing Fantastic Four #115 with his successor, Archie Goodwin.  After his four-month hiatus, Stan started return engagements of varying lengths with Amazing Spider-Man #105 (2/72) and Fantastic Four #120 (3/72), but for the other two titles it was the end of an era, with Conway supplanting Friedrich on Captain America #149-52 before Steve Englehart began his celebrated stint on the shield-slinger.

Stan suggested that in his absence, Roy et alia keep the home fires burning with anthology titles featuring new strips that could be spun off if they sold well, an effort also encompassing the two revived split books, each of which was taken over by one of its erstwhile co-stars.  In November, they launched Marvel Spotlight (postponed from its announced August appearance), which sired an impressive number of progeny, while Amazing Adventures jettisoned the Black Widow, with the Inhumans replaced after only two issues by the Beast and then Killraven. December saw the debut of the short-lived Marvel Feature, plus the absence of Dr. Doom from Astonishing Tales, wherein Ka-Zar settled for two more years; latecomer Marvel Premiere bowed in April of 1972.

The Bullpen pages offer their usual eclectic mix of what was and what might have been.  In one that appeared in both September and October issues—due to an anomaly in Marvel’s publication schedule that they would soon correct—the familiar yellow box is now “Roy’s Rostrum,” where he notes, “for this month only (hopefully for us all), Our Leader will be confining his comic-mag chores to finishing up the current Thor saga [in #192]—and to scribbling his usual comments and corrections with an editorial blue-pencil…Smiley’s even delegated to Yours Truly the task of penning this month’s Bulletin Page.  And so, switching into third-person speech and high-gear speed, awaaaaayy we go—!”  His first item concerns the reassignments…but therein lies the tale.

“Roy Thomas couldn’t resist trying his hand at both Spidey and Fantastic Four,” yet Roy did not relieve Archie on the FF until the final issue before Stan’s comeback.  “Gerry Conway pitched in to supply the dialogue for Gene Colan’s dynamic pencils on the landmark first issue of The Tomb of Dracula—a classic-in-the-making which Smiley had plotted and planned to script himself”; it did not appear until April, with Stan credited solely as editor.  In October, “several of our much-lauded mags are going double-size to a full, fabulous 52 pages—for a mere 25¢ [most of the rest followed suit in November]….[T]hat’s just what we’ve done to Marvel Feature #1—our newest quarterly book, which will present try-out stories for new series, new ideas,” albeit in December.

And now --- September 1971!

Conan the Barbarian 9
"The Garden of Fear"
Story by Roy Thomas
Based on the Story by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

After the events of last issue, Conan and Jenna travel across a mountain range on horseback. Suddenly, they are besieged by a pack of Neanderthals. Unarmed, the Cimmerian takes them on with his furious fists until the brutes are called off by their elderly leader, who offers a truce and an invitation to a feast. The next day, a winged blur flies off with Jenna and the barbarian sets off in pursuit. After a long trek through valleys inhabited by giant alligators and curious woolly mammoths, Conan comes across a tower that gleams like jade. At its peak, the young warrior spies a black and beastly half-man, half raven that threatens to toss Jenna into the carnivorous flowers below. The hesitant Cimmerian retreats, but, after causing the mammoths to stampede the tower, steals his way inside. After a harrowing battle, Conan slays the demon with its own sword -Tom Flynn.

Tom Flynn: It’s back to the Smith and Our Pal Sal show, and, at this point, I’ll take them over any current Marvel art team. I may be repeating myself, but the duo manages to create panels that are simultaneously muscular and moody, recalling such masters of The Golden Age of Illustration as Aubrey Beardsley and Harry Clarke. Roy adapts Robert E. Howard’s “The Garden of Fear,” originally published in, appropriately enough, Marvel Tales. It wasn’t a Conan story, instead featuring Hunwulf the Wanderer. Though I’m sure that Howard would have approved of Roy’s treatment. Boy, Robert E sure loved towers. On The Hyborian Page, Michael Barson of Brunswick, Maine, complains that the art took a step back in issue #5, blaming inker Frank Giacoia and asking for the return of Buscema. Which is probably true: however, the answer reveals that, for some reason, the first seven issues were not published in the order that Smith drew them. If Marvel followed the creation of Barry’s pencils, Conan would have been released as follows: #1, #2, #5, #4, #3, #7, and #6. My world will never be the same.

Mark Barsotti: Conan confessions: I've never read a word written by Robert E. Howard. I read CTB
regularly in the mid-'70's, during the John Buscema era, and only caught Barry Smith's art in the occasional reprint, but it wowed me enough to buy Conan #1 at the top of the market, for something like a hundred bucks (how I scraped up that much cash as a teenager is a forgotten mystery). When I started reading new comics again ten years ago, I also went wild buying Silver Age Marvels on eBay, including Smith's complete run on Conan. I ogled every panel, but only actually read a couple issues. So after whooping up Barry Smith for decades, I'm coming to most of these stories fresh, perhaps the longest period of Tantric delayed-gratification in fan boy history.  "The Garden of Fear" opens with still-on-the-run Conan and light-fingered blonde hottie Jenna attacked by primitive hill people before their chief Hilamar appears, quickly makes peace and invites our fun couple back to their village for steak tartare and some drum circle boogie. After Hilamar later presents Conan with parting gifts (rope, a knife and some flint), Jenna is abducted by flying demon Garakaa, an apparently familiar bane to the hill tribe, who slouches listlessly back to their camp to chant "the death-dirge of the hills," while Conan, tired of his own Tantric frustrations, is off to rescue his object amour.  Thomas' captions are poetic without being precious, and he renames things effectively, has Conan think of the alligators that infest the streams as "loathsome long snouts" and a herd of mammoths as "great tuskers." Smith breaks the pages into odd, oft-tiny panels, packed with delicate detail, the caption-less page 11 being a prime example. Ably inked by Sal Buscema, the art is gorgeous throughout, sensuous, seemingly effortless.

Scott McIntyre: A little continuity goes a long way as we pick up Conan and Jenna from the previous issue. It's also nice to see a friendly tribe for a change, adding more dimension to the world being built here. No red-haired warriors this time out and Conan has to think on his feet. The winged man is an interesting character and all the unanswered questions are great because they are asked and made clear to us that there are mysteries here that may not be answered. This is another story adaptation, and it's a good one. Jenna is still alive when it ends, giving us a serial feeling that is sorely needed. Barry Smith and Sal Buscema are a formidable team and Roy continues to rise to the challenge.

Mark: Conan's quest brings him to a green stone tower, set amid a field of flowers that reek of death and decay. Atop the tower stands Garakaa, "a black winged devil," whose task, our horrified Cimmerian discovers, is to not just air-nap humans on the hoof, but then feed them to the flesh-gobbling plants below. Off goes a member of the hill tribe to his death, but Garakaa merely taunts Conan by dangling Jenna over the side. Bad move, demon, for it allows our hero time to race back to the mammoths, start a fire with the flint Hilamar so helpfully provided, and set the tuskers stampeding toward the tower, flattening the carnivorous ancestors from Little Shoppe of Horrors. Scaling the tower, Conan prevails in a three page death struggle with Garakaa, beautifully choreographed by Smith, while narrator Thomas muses over the demon's linage, "what is it like, to be the lone survivor of a legend-birthing race...always, always, always alone." The writing's several cuts above, say, Rick Jones' Bowery Boys meets the counterculture monologue Roy scripted in this month's Avengers. The story ends with Conan and Jenna striding off toward their next adventure, leaving me sated with "first read" thrills and really happy that, for this issue anyway, the Thomas-Smith team lives up to their legendary hype.

Kull the Conqueror #2 
"The Shadow Kingdom"
Based on the Story by Robert E. Howard
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Marie Severin & John Severin

Attending the Pict feast that he was invited to by Brule the Spear-Slayer last issue, King Kull of Valusia is shown the stolen gem from the Temple of the Serpent by Ka-Nu, the wily and wizened leader of the savage tribe. Ka-Nu regales the mighty monarch with a tale from the age when the world was ruled by vicious Snake People. After they were overthrown by early man, the reptilian creatures took on human form and became priests of a new Serpent Cult. After Kull returns to his castle with Brule, the wary duo encounter the traitorous Chief Counselor Tu, who transforms into one of the Snake People after killed. Brule informs the bewildered King that the cold-blooded imposters cannot say the phrase “Ka Nama Kaa Lajerama,” which is the only way to reveal their ruse. After encountering and slaying numerous more disguised lizard priests, Kull and Brule make their way to council room and find a doppelganger of the king himself addressing the Lord Councilors. In a rage, the real ruler runs his replica through, reclaiming his kingdom. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Safe to say, this is the most ho-hum Marvel adaptation of a Robert E. Howard tale yet. “The Shadow Kingdom” is based on the story of the same name, originally appearing in the August 1929 issue of Weird Tales. It was Howard’s first Kull story, as well as the initial appearance of Brule, a major supporting character. Growing up, I thought that the Picts were an Irish tribe, but it appears that they were actually Scottish. According to wikipedia, the serpent men — while never used by Howard again — made their way into    H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Perhaps Professor Gilbert can verify. While the Severin siblings' art is professionally drawn and inked, it’s rather static and missing the grist and grandeur of the Ross Andru and Wally Wood effort from the first issue. I have been remiss to mention that Kull’s adventures are set in the Thurian Age, hence the name of the letters page, the rather unimaginative “The Thurian Chronicles.”

Scott: Kull is a more prose heavy title than Conan and that doesn't make the characters more interesting. Actually, I find Kull to be a bore. The writing has none of the magic or energy of CTB and the art by the Severins is lacking in excitement. Even the title character himself does nothing for me. It's hard to believe both Conan and Kull were created by the same writer and that Roy Thomas is the same dude doing amazing work on the former and lackluster overwriting on the latter. It's not a bad story, but it feels standard and Kull himself isn't different enough from the other monarchs in the Marvel Universe. Moving on….

Peter: A discussion of the roots of "The Shadow Kingdom" by Professor Gilbert Colon will appear this Sunday. Make sure to tune in!

Amazing Adventures #8 

The Inhumans in
"An Hour for Thunder!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and John Verpoorten

Viewing the San Francisco stand-off, the Avengers plan to intercede until Thor claims the right to do so alone, while Lionel Dibbs reveals his life-long mission to clean up the ghetto.  Medusa, Gorgon, and Karnak hope that seeing them will shock Black Bolt out of his amnesia, but are interrupted by the arrival of Thor, who announces that Dibbs is under his protection as young Joey escapes from his captivity, knocks out the guard, and espies his mysterious fellow prisoner.  Despite Don Blake’s efforts, Dibbs lost his hand to the cancer that will soon kill him, and got a replacement from Tony Stark; Thor is forced to knock him out, and Roscoe, who wears Black Bolt’s costume, dies when lightning strikes the antennae. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This marks both the final issue in which the Inhumans have to share real estate with the Widow, and the end of Neal Adams’s brief but welcome stint on the book, inked once again by John Verpoorten.  While Neal’s pencils are as impressive as ever, I’m still not sold on Jumbo John’s contribution, yet in answer to a correspondent who complained about them, the lettercol tells us, “nefarious Neal Adams, who’s even more sensitive about who inks his work, selected Mr. V. himself…”  The scripting duties have ping-ponged from Gerry back to Roy, and if the wrap-up seems (perhaps of necessity) a little abrupt, it at least answers many of the questions that have been dangling ever since Dibbs showed up, although Triton’s ongoing absence is not mentioned.

Scott: This feels more like an issue of the Avengers, as they (particularly Thor) figure pretty strongly. I assume Cap isn't keeping his Steve Rogers identity a secret from the team, since Thor outed him pretty handily by addressing him by first and last name. Good going, Don Blake. OOPS! A good wrap up to the Dibbs problem, with a nice tie to Thor's barely used human identity. Once again, though, this is another civil rights soapbox, albeit one that takes the time to explain the minority plight rather than just giving us an enraged people who want nothing more than to burn down their own homes and stick it to the white man. We always knew Black Bolt's costume had something to do with his power, especially the little tuning fork on his forehead. This is the first time I realized the elements recharge not only the costume, but the man inside. Too bad Roscoe didn't know it either. Neal Adams again makes this half of the book worth reading, although his depiction of the three Inhumans in their civvies still seems a little off. I'll blame Jon Verpoorten.

The Black Widow in 
"How Shall I Kill Thee? Let Me Count the Ways!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Plot by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Heck and Bill Everett

 After receiving his message containing only the phrase “Carlyle Hunting Lodge,” the Widow races to meet Ivan, yet upon arriving, she is felled by the Watchlord, who tricked Ivan into making the recording and now holds them both captive.  The Watchlord relates that when his German hometown was overrun by Russians, he was unwittingly hidden by a priest in a warehouse full of experimental radioactive isotopes abandoned by Nazis, and now seeks to direct his fanatical hatred to the Russian embassy’s nearby private lodge.  The Widow frees them, and they subdue the Watchlord’s henchmen, but the villain himself wounds Tasha as she avoids the boulder he launched at her, only to be killed by the avalanche he started. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Rascally returns to shut down Natasha’s first solo series, scripting Gerry’s plot, while Heck and Everett close up shop in the art department, but as enthusiastically as I championed its existence, the strip could hardly have ended with a whimper worse than this damp squib, making us feel, in the end, that its cancellation was a blessing.  The contrast between the self-assured Widow of the early issues and the sad sack on display here is depressing indeed, so we can only hope that when Gerry rehabilitates her with a co-starring role starting in the next issue of Daredevil, she has shed her obsessive and out-of-character self-pity.  The less said about this issue’s garishly colored and mercifully one-shot heavy, the better; clearly, there was very little to be done with this sow’s ear.

Scott: Her final appearance in this mag and, sorry Natasha, but good riddance. Bad art, a whining heroine and some weird storytelling choices have dogged this feature from day one. Okay, to be fair, the art was great until Don Heck took over (something not lost on writers in the letters page). Not nearly as bad as, say, Giant-Man or the Human Torch years earlier, but I'm not sorry to see her go. Did anyone else read the thrice repeated "Carlyle Hunting Lodge" and hear "Get your ass to Mars. Get your ass to Mars. Get your ass to Mars." No? Well, okay then. The Watchlord is your standard, garden variety "angry guy who got his powers through radiation." I really thought we were past that old chestnut. Between Don Heck and this outdated villain, who would be boring during Iron Man's first three adventures, this title is a musty, old fashioned snoozefest. See ya, Tasha!  

The Amazing Spider-Man 100
"The Spider or The Man?"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

After combing the city for hours, Spidey finally finds some action in the form of armed bank robbers, who he quickly dispatches, along with the getaway car that he traps in a giant web. Bemoaning his lack of public support and borderline boredom as he swings away, our hero ponders if he’s finally growing up. So he makes a grown-up decision to give up being Spider-Man in order to truly save his relationship with Gwen. Furiously finishing his work on a potion that he hasn’t tested yet, Peter drinks it, then becomes super woozy until he lies down gripped by delirium…and he dreams! From Uncle Ben to JJJ to Betty Brant to the Stacys, he’s haunted by images, until he hears a voice calling for help… just as the Vulture strikes, telling Peter he only harms his loved ones, before Spidey wins the short-lived battle. Suddenly, the Lizard strikes! Claiming Spidey has always been insane, he’s taken care of even faster. As the haunting voice grows louder, Spider-Man is attacked by the Green Goblin, who further mocks our hero by telling him he’s a loser, but is also defeated rapidly. As his side begins to cause him pain, Dream-Spidey is attacked by Doc Ock, who taunts him as a fraud and a glory hound, but Spidey chalks it all up to fate as he swiftly beats the tentacled terror. Next up, as the pain in his side worsens and the mysterious voice gets louder, is the Kingpin, who tells Spidey he’ll fail, which in turn forces him to fight back harder. Finally, he finds the source of the voice, and it’s Capt. Stacy! Even in a dream, the patriarch policeman is the voice of reason, which leads into Peter finally awaking, feeling even worse…until—in one of the most unexpected endings ever—he stunningly sprouts four extra arms!!!! --Joseph Tura

Joseph Tura: A fitting landmark issue in that Peter/Spidey spends the whole issue, whether web-swinging or web-dreaming, pondering his place in the universe and his role as Spider-Man and how it affects his Peter Parker life. And it works quite well. No overt hyperbole (amazingly), but nice meaningful battles with dream foes that speak to Peter’s feelings about his secret identity. All backed by sweet Gil Kane art, including his first takes on Vulture, Lizard and Kingpin. I will admit my personal copy of
ASM #100 (long sold to some schlub in Brooklyn) had no cover. Thusly I didn’t see the super cool mosaic illustration on the front until much later, which is a shame, because it’s a John Romita classic. This issue is also the inspiration (meaning Stan copied it from himself I guess) for the dream sequence in 1972’s all-time super-cool must-own classic LP, Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave, a Rockcomic. Oops, more on that another time, just wanted to whet your appetite a little…Heh heh heh….

Matthew:  I give Stan top marks for the conceptual boldness, internal logic, and shock value of that last page, but otherwise, we might fairly ask if he was on auto-pilot on the verge of his Hollywood adventure.  Exhibit A is the dream sequence, whereby most of the issue never really happens, which—like the lambasted FF #100 or Incredible Hulk #139—is just a device enabling Spidey to “fight” his major foes without actually doing so; at least it lets relative newcomer Kane brush up on his rogues’ gallery.  Like most pencilers, Gil is fortunate to be paired up with Giacoia, and he is particularly effective when depicting Peter’s development of the “potion” (a strange term for a scientist to use) that he, or rather Stan, pulls out of his butthole.

John: I recall enjoying this issue more the first time I read it, which I attribute to it featuring the entire rogue's gallery that Professor Matthew mentioned above. But this time, I have to admit, the whole, 'I've been working on this potion when you faithful readers weren't looking,' rubbed me the wrong way. So while it's nice to look at, it's short on substance, and when Peter's little experiment goes awry, I couldn't help but laugh. 

Mark:  I'm honored to join the MU staff on the august occasion of Spidey's 100th issue (What's that? El Presidente Enfantino informs me there'll be no key to the facility lounge until my 100th column. Oh, the tyranny of tenure!) which I remember extracting, folded in half from its brown subscription wrapper, as a ten year old on a hot summer day in rural Colorado. I prayed it wouldn't be a disappointing bust, like the FF's weak centennial offering. I needn't have worried. Stan and "Sugar Lips" Gil Kane deliver the anniversary goods, both effectively recapping the wall crawler's already weighty history and starting to blend Sixties super-heroics with the darker, marvelous monsters to come. Not that there aren't some nits to be picked. After foiling a bank robbery, Spidey broods over being bored with web-slinging. His hot-to-trot love for Gwen leads him to Renounce the Mask. Pete claims he's been working on a Bunsen burner potion to eliminate his powers for years (thanks for finally mentioning it, Stan). This is the fourth or fifth time we've seen this now tired trope, but it's pressed into effective service, the potion inducing fever dream flashbacks wherein our hero must battle (and catalog for new readers) his first tier rogue's gallery in pursuit of an unknown, siren song voice, all while commenting on a mystery pain in his torso. Fighting his way through the Vulture, Lizard, Goblin, Doc Ock, and Kingpin, Pete comes upon the revealed visage of (not sainted Uncle Ben, nice twist there, S the M) martyred Captain Stacy and then... Before addressing the Big Reveal, let's talk art. Having cut my kiddy teeth on giants Ditko (wish I'd been on staff earlier to tub-thump for the oft-maligned Sturdy Steve) and Romita, ten year old Mark hated Gil Kane. Having re-read the first couple hundred issues of ASM in the recent past, I've come to appreciate Kane much more, particularly when inked by Romita. Frank Giacoia's inks are serviceable at best. The battle scenes flow nicely, but we get six or seven of Kane's odious "up the nose" shots, two apiece on pages 10 and 27, and a circus tent-sized depiction of the Kingpin's butt on page 27. The B- art might keep Prez Pete from bestowing another landmark shield, for which I'd campaign only mildly.

Peter Enfantino: A better reason for Peter Parker to ingest a serum that will put an end to Spider-Man might have been his fear that any children sired with Gwen Stacy would be freaks or, at the very least, health-threatened. But, no, Stan falls back on the old "Spider-Man must die for no apparent reason" chestnut. Why the sudden impulse to get rid of super powers that may come in handy down the road when the wife asks you to move the furniture just a couple inches to the left? And what kind of Marvel 100th Anniversary would be complete without the obligatory "parade of imaginary super-foes"? At least we're spared The Puppet Master this time. Despite all the cliches and flashbacks, it's not a lousy issue (it's certainly better than the landfill known as Fantastic Four #100) and it's capped by a genuinely moving speech by imaginary Captain Stacy. He may be a hallucination but his imaginary heart is in the right place.

John: This issue features another pet peeve of mine, for which I blame the likes of Stan Lee and Forry Ackerman. The 100th issue of a periodical that is not produced annually is not the 100th Anniversary issue!

Joseph: Stan’s Soapbox pays tribute to ASM #100, rightly so for a character who is “undeniably the most popular single superhero character in all the world”. The Smilin’ One thanks publisher Marty Goodman, the artists & inkers, even the letterers, and doffs his proverbial hat to the readers “without whose support and enthusiasm it would all have been for naught.” Excelsior indeed.

Scott: I was never a fan of "summing up" issues and this one does nothing to change my perception. It's twenty pages of backstory that we've all read time and again, interspersed with battles that aren't real. There is no excitement or suspense in dream state action sequences and Gil Kane's art isn't good enough to carry me along. He works best with a top notch inker and he doesn't have one here. Again, Parker can't seem to remember why he committed himself to a life of crime fighting and the lack of Uncle Ben in his dream doesn't serve up any reminders, either. I know Captain Stacey died more recently, but he wasn't really that pivotal a figure in his life. What Parker keeps forgetting is that he's not doing it for kicks or excitement. He has also long forgotten, every single time, he swore never to bitch about his spider-powers. Now, it's revealed, he always had been working on a serum to remove those powers. A shame he didn't remember this in the first ASM annual, when he thought he lost them. Why can't he just stop being Spider-Man if he marries Gwen? Why does he have to lose the powers? Either way, he's skipping out on his oath. The final twist, the extra arms, is simply laughable. The ugly pencils don't help and this is my least favorite storyline of the period. The next couple of issues are going to be a real chore for me. Coming off the drug arc, this issue is a crushing disappointment.

Mark: So the shock ending: after the sun-burst image of Captain Stacy informs Peter that, blessing and curse, he will be Spider-Man for life, the last panel (we'll ignore PP's disappearing pants), reveals our hero having sprouted four freakin' extra arms, synching with his arachnid namesake. And, deftly reversing field from last paragraph, I believe the landmark shield is entirely warranted here, not for any long-term impact on the title, but for delivering one of the truly jaw-dropping WTF moments in comic history. My ten year old mind was well and truly blown.  And how often does a comic do that?  

Fantastic Four 114
"But Who Shall Stop the Over-Mind?"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

It takes twenty thousand of Reed’s personal cash stash to do it, but the F.F. are out on bail. Johnny uses his flame to create a smokescreen so they can escape from the crowds. When Reed stretches up to the roof to activate the controls of the Pogo Plane and bring it down so they can get it, it attracts the attention of the being called the Over-Mind. Curious about the powers they have—that no other humans do—he confronts the team, facing and defeating each of their powers in turn. Then, convinced they are no threat to him, he reverts to the appearance of a human guise and walks on, erasing the memory of the encounter from their minds. His ship still hidden amongst a sea of cars at a local junkyard, the Over-Mind records what has transpired for the Eternals, the beings who have decreed he shall “crush the Universe”. The F.F. brainstorm, and decide that since both the Watcher and Agatha Harkness first warned them of the danger at hand, they ask her assistance in communicating with him. Using energy from Johnny and Ben, combined with her own powers, she succeeds. Even the mighty observer can only say to her ethereal energy form, that nothing can stop the deadly course of events. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Stan Lee came up with a lot of  “omnipotent” characters in his time. It remains to be seen if the Over-Mind is going to be a successful one, or just a silly looking giant. That the Watcher takes him seriously is cause for a little hope, but why would a being of such power want to waste his time crushing the Universe? Wouldn’t he want to create one or something? Interesting, his reference to the Eternals as the ones who prophesized his destiny; any connection to the Eternals of years later? We’ll see. Great to see the landlord Collins get kicked out on his butt!

Scott: An interesting hodge podge of an issue, still leading up to a larger confrontation. The Over-Mind is an interesting beast, who stands out in his weird space armor, but people ignore him dressed as seven foot tall, 500 pound hippie. You can always tell when Stan is stalling; instead of moving the story forward, he gives us pages of fighting which is then removed from the team's memory (I assume the pain Ben felt from his fight was also erased); we get another blustering confrontation with Collins, the landlord; then a parcel from the Yancy Street Gang. None of these events propel the plot, they just eat up pages. John Buscema plots his FF like he does Thor; lots of posturing, drama, action and shouting, but little story progress. The Eternals will prove to be pretty interesting. I just wish this didn't feel like a two issue idea stretched out to four.

Matthew: Stan lays another egg on his way out the door to La-La Land (or wherever he and Resnais wrote that script), and it’s just a shame that Big John and Fearless Frank are left trying to whip it into a soufflé.  If we knew more about this Over-Mind ass-clown, then we might give a crap about him, but as it is, we know only that he’s a big, dorky-looking galoot with mind-control powers from Out There Somewhere who threatens the entire planet—hey, that’s original.  Danny Fingeroth, reprint editor of the soon-to-be-cancelled Marvel’s Greatest Comics, obviously moonlights as “The No-Mind,” because he omits two pages from this issue…while still padding the book out with the first six pages of a “tale to astonish” from the often-mocked Ant-Man strip.

Peter: Deadly dull and boring, this one was work, my friends. The only bright spot being the ludicrous 1970s garb that Over-Mind "dons" to blend in with the rest of the leftover 60s hippies crowding the streets of New York (how many years before publication did Stan write these things?). Johnny Storm seems to be over his hatred for everything Reed Richards already and the word Crystal isn't uttered from his mouth once. This could be the most bi-polar character in the MU. Stan. We loved ya. Now retire.

Joseph: Boring or not, it's part of a mega-FF run I had in my long-gone collection, which included Marvel's Greatest Comics also (just talking story lines), and I liked it back in the day. Always liked the Reed stretching to control the jet thingy. Hey, I was easily impressed back then, what can I say.

The Incredible Hulk 143
Story by Roy Thomas
With Story Title Inspiration provided by William Faulkner
Art by Dick Ayers and John Severin

While evading police officers out to capture him, Banner is aided by a mysterious benefactor.  He gets offered a ride and the driver takes him to Dr. Doom's palace in New York.  Thunderbolt Ross, Betty, and Major Talbot head over to the embassy with military troops.  Doc Samson even comes along to lend his support while revealing that his strength is related to how long his hair is.  Dr. Doom sends a robot Hulk to confront the military.  During a brief battle the Hulk robot is destroyed.  Everyone mourns and looks back on how the Hulk and Banner have affected their lives.  When Banner realizes that Dr. Doom is planning on using him for his own purposes, he tries to turn into the Hulk to escape.  Doom uses the weaponry in his armor to sedate him before he can turn into the monster.  The story ends with Dr. Doom taking Banner back to Latveria as his prisoner. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: This was leaps and bounds better than last issue.  I'll withhold my full judgment until next issue wraps up this two-part story.

Scott: Considering Dick Ayers did the pencils, this could have come off a lot worse, but since John Severin "embellished" them, the art isn't the usual stiff and amateurish Ayers work. The reference art he copied from isn't as obvious here as it would be in a few issues from now, but it's there if you know where to look. Severin is still too sketchy for me, but he knows how to draw, unlike Dick, so it's not that bad. It's not good, either, but it is readable. Why Roy has to add "with apologies to William Faulkner" for using the title "Sanctuary" escapes me. Why not also apologize to William F. Nolan and George Clayton Johnson as well? Or anyone who used it in a literary work? Sometimes, Roy's "education" comes off as a trifle pretentious. All this for a story about Doctor Doom seeking to control the Hulk so he can control the world. If you're going to aim high, Roy, try better plots and let the words worry about themselves.

Matthew: The peripatetic Dr. Doom, who visited Thor’s book less than a year ago, and more recently made a sojourn to T’Challa’s African kingdom in his own lame-duck Astonishing Tales strip, now makes a courtesy call on the Hulkster.  Although many a brickbat has been launched at penciler Dick Ayers by the MU faculty, I find his work with the late John Severin on this issue not unpleasing to the eye, and it should be noted that said team had a celebrated run on Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (which can only enhance their depiction of Ross, Talbot, et alia).  Roy, of course, has a long history with Doom, so he handles the character well, and it’s refreshing that unlike, say, the Mandarin, he values Banner’s brain as much as the Hulk’s brawn.

Four Hundred boxes of Quisp later, Doctor Doom had men in uniform.

Peter: Unlike, say, his last 300 appearances, I had no problem with Dick Ayers' art this issue, probably thanks mostly to John Severin's dominant inks. It's not really an Ayers job then, is it? I would point out that Ayers' Bruce Banner is so dissimilar to any gone before that it begs the question: did Ayers know what strip he was working on? Well, there is the big green guy. College pretension once more weighs down Roy "Yep, did two years at Southeast Miss and dazzled my English teacher" Thomas. Did we really need a nod to William Faulkner when titling your funny book story, "Sanctuary"? I often wonder why villains don't overlap. That is, did Viktor VD wait until Valkyrie was done tossing The Green Behemoth off the Empire State last issue before entering the scene or is it all one huge coincidence? If Reed Richards was at the newsstand when Vik was cruising in his limo, would Stretch have engaged in combat and made this adventure moot? Do super villains have an unspoken pact not to butt in? A union perhaps? I wanna know what Betsy Ross claims as employment on her taxes every year. Does she do anything but show up to Hulk-sites on her dad's arm? 

Scott: Doc Sampson's hair cut, and its reason, is unintentionally hysterical. Really, the secret to his strength is in his hair? Like the legendary Sampson? It's really too much and, thankfully, not really dwelled upon later (his hair remains long afterward). What a turd of a character. What kind of super-hero cuts back his own power because he can't handle it yet? Now he's almost totally useless. Oh wait, he always was.

Peter: The high point of camp this issue has to be the "Parade of Memories" segment (which threatens to burst out of just about every Marvel Comic these days), arriving after The Hulk is "blown to atoms." The supporting cast gather 'round to remember Greenskin's "gentler moments" and "the man within the monster." All that's missing is a few lines from Keats' "On Leaving Some Friends At An Early Hour." Even Doc Samson gets in the act (with his new Lord Fauntleroy 'do), fondly recalling the three hours he knew Bruce/Hulk. All the while I thought, as remnants of purple pants litter the sky, when the smoke clears they'll all see The Hulk's green ass in mid-leap. Of course, it's all just another Doom robot (his storage room of replicas of every character in the MU must be massive) so my dream went unrealized. One last observation: Doctor Doom can bring any nation to its knees but he uniforms his henchmen like action figures and crowns them all with colanders?

Daredevil 80
"In the Eyes of the Owl"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Walking alone on a quiet, windy evening, Matt Murdock, for a change, feels free. He wonders if, perhaps, his love for Karen Page will finally leave him alone. He switches to his Daredevil duds and sets out to enjoy a bit of nighttime city acrobatics. From a nearby building window, the one soon to prove his undoing witnesses his fun: the sinister villain known as Owl. Freed from prison by the mysterious Mr. Kline, the Owl’s obligation in exchange is to bring DD to Kline, who in turn reports to his unseen master. A maudlin Karen Page seems to be on track for more movie roles, despite almost ruining the chance for an agent that her potential new boyfriend, Phil Hichok has arranged. DD’s evening takes a serious turn when the Owl’s helicopter lands nearby, and his men draw him into their plan of capture with a department store robbery—a setup. The men escape back to the helicopter; DD manages to hitch a ride on the getaway rope ladder. All part of the Owl’s plan, and when he and DD fight, the crafts controls are set to jam, and the helicopter, to crash. The two jump off before it does, but it appears that Matt may have fought his last battle. -Noel Cavanaugh and Jim Barwise

Noel Cavanaugh: Karen’s crying drove me nuts, but it was great to see Matt feel free of her, even for a short time. The Owl’s craft was totally cool!

Jim: I like some of Gene Colan’s visuals. The title set up like two eyes on the splash page; the concept of Karen’s mental soundtrack becoming reality as she watches it on the news, for example. Mr. Kline and his boss had better be quite something to be a step above the Owl.

Scott: The art is amazing, better than I've seen in a few issues at least. Tom Palmer and Gene Colan work extremely well together here. This is an intense story, with Matt a mass of conflicting emotions, but mostly anger and drive. However, Gerry Conway goes a little crazy in his narration. I was struck by how over-written this all is when a little restraint would have worked better. It still amounts to a ton of soap opera. I really hope this Matt mooning over Karen and vice versa phase comes to an end soon. I said a few issues back that I appreciate the effort to darken the character somewhat, but Marvel Romances are always a strain on my tolerance. The characters are forced to be stupid for the sake of drama.

Mr. Karloff, we presume?
Matthew:  I had hoped that the presence of the Owl, an early member of Hornhead’s long-neglected rogues’ gallery (such as it is), would mark a tipping point when Conway came into his own on the strip, and although nobody draws him like co-creator Joe Orlando, I found Colan’s full-page reveal here encouraging.  Sadly, we learn almost immediately that is he now a flunky for newbie mystery-villain Mr. Kline, who in turn is answerable to someone else, and while he didn’t invent DD’s soliloquizing, Gerry’s issues also remain way too caption-heavy.  I peeked ahead and learned that he wove Kline into his other monthly titles, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner, which seems ambitious, but the fact that Kline evaporated from my memory doesn’t bode well.

Scott: We get a little more of Mr. Kline, if not any real information, but seeing the Owl again is always cool. He's used to great advantage here and there's an excellent style in the last few pages, as we see what Karen sees on the TV screen. Again, the constant, thick narration pulled me out of it, but it otherwise worked well. I read this issue years ago, but never read the follow up. Looking forward to seeing what comes next, because for the first time in weeks, I enjoyed a Daredevil. Woo hoo.

Captain America and the Falcon 141
"The Unholy Alliance!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Joe Sinnott

Cap is released from the SHIELD heli-carrier to go after the Grey Gargoyle. He runs into the Falcon, still under the Gargoyle's spell. They have a quick scuffle, but the Falcon can't bring himself to fight his best friend, so he waffles (mmmmm, waffles….). Cap takes Falc back to SHIELD to have their doctors try to help him. When he's brought aboard, Sharon insists that it's a bad idea to have Sam on the heli-carrier. Nobody listens, which means she's right. The Falcon was feigning confusion in order to get on board and turn the crew to stone, making it easier for the Gargoyle to infiltrate. Chaos ensues. During the fight, Sharon arms the carrier's self destruct as Fury orders an emergency evacuation. Once started, the destruct procedure can't be stopped. However, things get dicey when Sharon and Fury are turned to stone as the carrier approaches SHIELD HQ. Cap won't leave them, so he manages to trick the Gargoyle into touching the destruct panel and turning it to stone. This shorts out the mechanism and halts the countdown. However, as the carrier reaches headquarters, the defense network fires at them after failed attempts to get security clearance. Cap gets Sharon and Fury onto a lifecraft, followed by Sam who attacks, but can't make himself hurt Cap - for real this time, and he finally reverts to normal flesh and blood. As they make tracks from the carrier, Cap sees his nemesis glide off the carrier before it is finally blown to bits. The Gargoyle manages to fly into HQ just as the mammoth doors close. Now, the Grey Gargoyle is free inside the stronghold containing Element X! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Wow, now this is some good, action-packed stuff! Stan, John Romita and Joe Sinnott crank out one of the best Cap issues in a really long time as things heat up. The Grey Gargoyle has never been a big time menace, but here he's great and a genuine threat. Cap gets to fight his partner and the Gargoyle while his old friend and the girl he loves turn to stone. One action scene after another, this is the type of Captain America saga I can sink my teeth into. I am assuming the stoned crew was pulled off the carrier by evacuees, none of whom we saw. Otherwise, they were blown to bits with the ship.

Matthew:  In this installment of the Gargoyle arc, my customary reservations about all-action issues are largely offset by the presence of one of my favorite villains, and the luscious artwork by Romita and Sinnott, a powerhouse pairing I don’t recall seeing before.  Yet by his final issue, Stan was clearly going through the motions, and the folks at Bronze Age Babies do an excellent job of enumerating the story’s manifold idiocies.  These include, but are not limited to, Element X; Cap’s bone-headed refusal even to consider the “Trojan Falcon” (which, I might add, he aggravates with his sexist dismissal of Sharon’s concern); her don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it expertise in “metaphysical psychology”; aerodynamic stone; and, gulp, totaling the Helicarrier.

Scott: The art is outstanding and the full panel on page 19 is impressive. After all of the chaos and drama, we get a hell of a cliffhanger, one that feels natural and unforced. There are some quick, minor bits of soap opera, but they last mere seconds. The stress is on the action, where it belongs. This issue once again shows that Stan works best with certain artists, meaning the artists' plotting makes all the difference. Romita is apparently a much better storyteller than Gene Colan, since the book was never this good when Stan and Gene were running it. Solid!

In the confusion, Captain America
mistakes Maneuver B (lunch break) for Plan D
Peter: When, on our splash page, the Magna-Beam is operated and Cap is returned to terra firma, I suddenly wondered (after reading ten years worth of these things!) if Stan (and Roy and Gerry and...) kept a cork board with reminders of all the silly beams, contraptions, and maneuvers in the MU or if they would just wing it and think "Screw it, I ain't goin' back to check if the Magna-Beam actually converts pancakes to lead!" I'm similarly not motivated enough to check if the Magna-Beam has been used before (besides, that's what Professor Matthew is for) but from here on out, Stan's on notice. How crazy would it be in the real world to watch a guy riding down the street on a motorcycle talking out loud to himself, going over the last few days' activities. Never mind the guy's funny suit. Give Cap credit for finding the right chick. This one's got brains as well as a nice ass (well, I guess it depends who's drawing that caboose). She tells Cap it's not safe to bring The Falcon on board and when the Star-Spangled Avenger asks why, she tells him "I'm not sure! I've just got bad vibes! There's something wrong!" Could it be he's a different shade than he is normally? There are more loads of crap stacked like hay bales here than I can list but the big howler would have to be Nick's reveal that Sharon is head of the Psyche Squad, a division based on "hyped-up woman's intuition." That could be how she sensed something was wrong. Stan, we loved ya...

The Avengers 92
"All Things Must End!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and George Roussos

A peaceful summer day is shattered by reports in the paper and on the news; the scientists the Avengers saved from the Kree have blabbed the whole story, resulting in a government sanctioned witch hunt. Blustering, over-dramatic H. Warren Craddock has been appointed head of Alien Activities Commission. He intends to ferret out the aliens in our midst, even if the trail "leads to the Avengers themselves!" At that moment, Captain Marvel arrives with Rick, with Marvel intending to give himself up rather than have the Avengers take any heat. Shortly thereafter, Carol Danvers arrives, her ship out of control. Marvel saves her, and she claims to be there to help Marvel as repayment for saving her life multiple times in the past. She has a farm upstate where she offers to hide Marvel until the heat dies down. Danvers and Marvel take off in the Quinjet, while Nick Fury, who has been standing by and refuses to be part of the madness, let's them escape. The Avengers take the brunt of the negative feedback by the public and the Commission. They are also criticized during a hearing, becoming public pariahs. In the middle of the session, Rick remembers a dream he had of Marvel and Danvers being shot down and captured. He suddenly realizes it wasn't a dream, so he freaks out and splits from the courtroom. Craddock wants Rick captured and returned, but having gotten away, the session is adjourned. When the Avengers arrive at the mansion, it has been wrecked by protesters. As if things couldn't get worse, Captain America, Thor and Iron Man arrive and declare the hallowed name of the Avengers has been permanently besmirched. So, using their executive powers, they disband the team for all time. - Scott McIntyre

Scott: Now the story finally kicks into gear with this excellent ramp-up to the war, complete with Senator McCarthy style hearings and public backlash. It feels a lot like the kind of story that Chris Claremont would do for X-Men in the 80's. The introduction of Craddock is done very well and the story is told in a straightforward fashion, rather than the usual flashback approach (flashbacks are only used here to catch up readers who may have missed previous issues). Nick Fury makes an appearance and, true to form, has no stomach for bureaucrats. There's a feeling of something bigger than normal going on as more members of the Marvel Universe put in some cameos and guest shots. Ben Grimm's anti-Kree attitude is a little tough to take, but not altogether out of character, considering the history.

Mark: With the dread deadline doom rapidly approaching, what can a poor boy do but jump into the middle of the Kree-Skull war with some random observations. Lovely Neal Adams' cover, but I was disappointed to crack the cover and find, not Neal, but a Sal Buscema splash page, with Wanda decked out in clashing "threads", complete with yellow and red plaid mini-skirt and green gloves! Despite the fashion faux pas, Sal's art is solid throughout. Why is there a giant UFO in the sky behind junior Joe McCarthy, H. Warren Craddock, on page 3? Love how blowhard Craddock says he won't add to public hysteria by divulging classified info, then with his next breath reveals that evolution was almost turned back a billion years! Good thing he's not a fear-monger. The Shield jet on page 12 looks like a Korean War-era Russian MIG. Roy Thomas' replay of the Red Scare witch-hunt is a bit on the nose for me, but works in context as a cautionary tale for the comic reading kinder, while the warnings about invasive government surveillance are so contemporary that I scanned the crowd scenes for an Ed Snowden Easter egg.

Scott: Poor Jarvis, a pretty standard butler character at this point, but becoming more visible, gets to bookend the issue. He's no Alfred Pennyworth, but in time he'll grow to be a likeable, loyal character  (especially in Iron Man during the alcoholism storyline). It's interesting to see the team in civvies when the issue begins, particularly the Vision. I mean, he is an android, after all. Does he need to wear a turtleneck? The ending is very well done; shocking and final, even though we know the story is far from over

Matthew:  It’s “Déjà Vu All Over Again Day” at Avengers Mansion; can you say that?  The unwashed masses call for our heroes to “dis-assemble,” just as in last month’s Fantastic Four (I won’t elaborate due to spoilers), and George Roussos steps up to embellish the previously self-inked Sal, just as he did Romita in last month’s Captain America (albeit with somewhat less felicitous results).  Historian Roy evokes the McCarthy witch hunts—with Craddock’s “list of 153 ‘model citizens’” a pleasant reminder of The Manchurian Candidate—and the WW II internment of Japanese-Americans, although there is unintentional irony in Fury’s line, “Now let’s climb, and just keep an eye on ’em,” since someone has omitted his eye-patch in that panel!

Peter: This was actually the first chapter of the Kree/Skrull epic that held my interest. Up to now, it's been a big yawnfest but Roy finally gets the motor running here. I thought it nice that Nick Fury deliberately opens a hole in his security detail to allow Mar-Vell to escape and then allows that he didn't do it for the good Captain but "for -- America!" Not sure why Rick Jones suddenly recalls loving super heroes when he was a kid (with a panel full of Golden Age characters) except maybe to get those old heroes back into our minds for an issue down the road. The only thing surprising about that "shock" ending is how quickly Cap, Shellhead, and The Thunder God turn on their former partners and  disband the team "for all time" (whatever that means).. We've seen this kind of  nonsense before and I'm sure, once the tension is over, they'll be exchanging "I was a fool!"s with each other and chalking it all up to MARMIS. Not that it could have been a surprise since the climactic action is revealed on the cover!

Mark: Some of the "with it" dialogue works (Wanda name-checking the feminine mystique, some doesn't (Clint exclaiming, "Holy Joe!" and Rick Jones' "Super City, Marv!"). Rick's soliloquy on page 16 was particularly wince-inducing, from finding old comics in a barrel (obviously the pre-long box days) to era-hopping terms like "hang-ups" and "super-powered Joes" (some not just four color fictions, but "realies") crashing uncomfortably into each other. Just split for the Negative Zone, Rick. All that's not to bash Roy, who was saving the poetry for Conan while juggling a large cast and multiple plot points here. We get more hints of the budding Vision-Scarlet Witch romance, knee-jerk sexism from Quicksilver, and the sacking of Avengers mansion by a Craddock-inspired mob. And oh yeah, Cap, Shellhead, and Thor show up for three whole panels on the last page and disband the Avengers for sheltering the fugitive Mar-Vell. Minor flaws aside, this issue still pulses with break-neck action and proves that whatever Jarvis is getting paid, it ain't enough.

Peter: More on that cover: We're told, in a special intro to the letters page that cover artist Neal Adams included Thor, Iron Man, and Captain America in his cover illo because "when Neal Adams drew the cover, the interior art was not yet finished - and, as it turned out, there were so many loose ends to be tied up that artist Sal Buscema ended up having only a handful of panels to devote to the cover scene." I'll take that misrepresentation if it's handled by Neal Adams any day!

Sub-Mariner 41
"Whom the Sky Would Destroy!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Tuska and Sam Grainger

While flying on his way to New England to learn more about his father, Namor is struck down by a mysterious woman with witch-like powers.  A young woman named Lucile comes to his aid.  She reveals that it was her Aunt Serr that caused Namor's journey to be interrupted.  It turns out that her aunt controls the small town that she inhabits after she was given her powers long ago during an accident while working as a scientist at an atomic plant.  That accident caused Aunt Serr to lose her husband.  She then gave birth to her son Karl.  Because of the atomic accident he was turned into a rock humanoid with strong powers.  Aunt Serr and the Rock plan on making Namor their accomplice as they set out to rule the world.  Subby wants nothing to do with that so he fights them.  Just when it seems that he has the battle won, Aunt Serr causes Lucile to morph into a being with power of her own.  Now under Serr's command, she incapacitates Namor with a powerful blast. -Tom McMillion

Tom:  While I am always a fan of monsters in comic book stories, I can't help but feel like this story is
just an unnecessary side trip that delays Namor's quest to find his father,  It kind of makes me wonder if the bullpen came up with the idea for the quest, and then weren't sure how to write what would happen.

Scott: George Tuska's work here is less intrusive than in Iron Man, but the Karl Monster lacks reality. Namor doesn't look quite "right" in a few places, and for the first time I wonder if we weren't better off with Ross Andru, at least partnered with John Severin. There are some interesting plot seeds here, with Diane Arliss trying to salvage Namor's reputation, but I really didn't feel the girl in the mansion story needed to be a multi-parter. It already feels padded and I'm more interested in Namor's quest than this side trip to Witch Mountain.

Matthew: As part of the ever-growing unity among Conway’s titles, Gerry is teamed up now with George Tuska both here, inked by utility player Sam Grainger, and in Iron Man.  When I saw the cover of this issue, I thought maybe it was a joke, because it sounds like one of the pre-super-hero issues of Strange Tales, as its generic Thing wannabe urges Namor to “fall before the full fury of—the ROCK that walks like a man!”  I guess his partial fury just wouldn’t do the job.  Oddly enough, his name is not Goom or Groot or Xemnu, but…Karl.  Not surprisingly, George seems a little less sure of himself on Subby than he does on his signature strip, yet while Gerry’s main story is the usual SF-infused gobbledygook, the Winters and Tuval subplots show promise.

The Mighty Thor 192
Story by Stan Lee
Art y John Buscema and Sam Grainger

While Loki enjoys lording over his fellow Asgardians, Durok the Demolisher arrives on Earth amidst a Mardi Gras, and wastes no time wreaking havoc. Thor joins the battle soon after, and uses the power of Mjolnir to whisk the humans away to a place of safety. Not satisfied with proceedings, Loki moves Durok to a different location to keep his brother guessing. While the Warriors Three distract Loki, Balder asks Karnilla to follow him to Earth, where he swears to find a way to aid Thor without lifting a finger in battle. Curious, she agrees to follow. Loki again moves Durok from his battle with the Thunder God. His astral figure taunts Thor by telling him that whatever happens with Durok, he plans on making Sif his bride! Balder and Karnilla are now atop Mt. Everest, where the brave one’s second attempt succeeds to the surprise of the Norn Queen. The one being who may be able to help Thor has heard Balder’s call. On his magic board, the Silver Surfer arrives. -Jim Barwise

F***ing Commies!
Jim: Might as well start at the finish and say, what an awesome choice to aid Thor, and brilliant of Balder (underrated as always) to conceive of the idea. It’s pleasing to see Karnilla at Balder’s beck and call for a change. Durok somehow looks cool enough to make up for his total lack of personality, although it’s not the first time in Marvel history where an “undefeatable” villain is created out of nowhere, and we’re supposed to believe it. John Buscema, Thor and the Silver Surfer together again harkens back to Silver Surfer #4, a near miss in my top ten Thor issues of the sixties. It’s early days yet, but so far the seventies don’t come close for me. 

Scott: Loki's face must be mighty sore by the end of the day. He grimaces so hard and for so long, he must be popping Excedrin pretty steadily. Someone really ought to just stamp "EVIL" on his forehead, because no guy with that face could ever be anything but. God forbid John Buscema drew him as handsome or subtle. This story has gone on for two solid issues and already I'm done. There's so little to be gained here since the status quo will be restored before long, probably right after Odin wakes up from his Odin-nap.

Matthew: Stan ends his long tenure on this strip by turning out another so-so swan song (as in Captain America), whose greatest value is probably the last-page surprise he bequeathed to his successor (as in Amazing Spider-Man).  Even though they parted on good terms after their Loki-created MARMIS in Silver Surfer #4, recruiting Norrin to help Thor was ingenious, and Balder’s solution certainly tops the WTF idea of the Warriors Three:  “If we hit Loki hard enough, maybe the ring will fall off!”  I consider any inker a step down from Sinnott, so it’s no particular dig to say that Sam Grainger did less well on Big John’s pencils, yet Stan appears to have made up the story as he went along, and as I feared, Durok has no particular personality or interesting powers.

Thor reveals the shocking secret of New Orleans:
No toilets!
Peter: Seems a bit of a bother for The Mighty Thor to move an entire building because he's being crowded by Mardi Gras celebrants and can't spin Mjolnir. Perhaps a quick walk down the street? I remember the long discussions we'd have at Marvel University luncheons about the problems inherent in picking up buildings but this particular structure seems to be a big cardboard box with no plumbing, foundation, or basement stairwells, so no harm done. Not a bad yarn this one. The action is evenly distributed amongst the supporting cast and the God of Thunder. This always seemed to be the jewel in Stan's funny book crown (not, as the experts will tell you, the FF) so it only makes sense he'd pump out a winner for his swan song. I love how, as he's heading out the door for Hollywood, he manages to get in one last dig (unless there are more digs to come when he makes return visits) at the (COMMIE ALERT) countries who would keep their people down. I still can't tell a Demolisher from a Destroyer.

Scott: Thor does little to take the lead in any of this; he's always at someone's mercy, doing someone's bidding or falling for another's treachery. He's not initiating any stories or actions, he's reacting. Maybe this is true of comic heroes in general, since they have to respond to outside threats, but for some reason, I notice this in Thor more than the others. Thor goes to Earth while everyone on Asgard does all the fighting there. All we seem to get these days are petty squabbles and inter-family tussles. The characters are not given any quiet moments to relieve the constant tension. One crisis ends and suddenly another begins with no peace to separate the issues. When was the last time we saw Thor hunting for sport, or jousting for fun? Or Don Blake on a date? Not since Jack Kirby was here, at least. When I was doing a play two years ago, the director gave me an amazing bit of advice that could be applied to writing as well as acting; "if everything is important, then nothing is important." We become desensitized to constant urgency. This is Thor at this point: all end of the world, mouths agape, swords raised, over the top operatic and very, very dull. John Buscema, a person I once considered a "better" artist than Kirby, is a one trick pony. Swap this month's FF with Thor and you'd barely notice the change.  

Iron Man 41
"The Claws of the Slasher!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Tuska and Jim Mooney

In Washington, the precognitive Demetrius senses that the inhabitants of a plane, Tony and Marianne, threaten his and the metal-clawed Slasher’s mission for Mr. Kline to plant a transmitter that destroys the airport terminal.  After Iron Man saves the people, Tony and fellow businessman Ben Crandal are grilled by a Senate sub-committee, accused of a shoddy disregard for safety, but Tony’s rebuttal is interrupted by another attack, this time on the Capitol, targeted at Iron Man.  The nearby presence of Marianne, another powerful precog, turns Demetrius into a huge, tentacled creature, who battles Iron Man while Kline reports to his unseen superior, yet as she is drawn closer, Demetrius is revealed to be merely casting illusions, and they are defeated. -Matthew Bradley

Scott: Oh my God, Gerry Conway must have gotten paid by the word. The first two pages alone nearly lulled me to sleep. The front loaded narration on the splash and the huge amount of dialog on the next page, nearly crowding out the artwork, just stopped me short. Then, Tony Stark, on page three, gives us a play by play of what's going on inside his head as he stares at Marianne Rodgers on his plane. Kill me now. Weirdly, Iron Man is supposed to be in the rear section of the plane and Tony tells her Shellhead will be coming along later, deflecting the fact that he is Iron Man. So how did Tony manage to board the plane with Marianne and have Iron Man go in back? Did she just take Tony's word for it? Why was this bit necessary at all?

Matthew: Mr. Kline, the evil eminence grise whom Gerry recently introduced in Daredevil, metastasizes to another of Conway’s titles, where he will also be a fixture until #45; the overall arc ends, at least chronologically, in Daredevil #84.  Sadly, his flunkies du jour would prove almost as justifiably ephemeral as the other villains Conway has introduced to date, which seems to be a pattern with fledgling scriptwriters (paging Mr. Brodsky!).  Once again, Mooney brings out the best in Tuska, with Tony looking particularly debonair in page 3, panel 2 (above right), but Gerry—who seems fixated on the word “moist”—does not rise to the occasion, and his storytelling remains muddled, e.g., how can Marianne go from being Tony’s “ex-friend” in one issue to a candidate for his true love the next?

Scott: The giant brain guy looks ridiculous, thanks to the cartoony art of George Tuska. The rest of his work is fine, and I found a lot of it very pleasant to look at, but when Demetrius grew skull boobs and tentacles, I couldn't stop laughing. Probably not the response Tuska was going for, but damn, Iron Man has the worst villains. Senator Byrd is back and I didn't miss him. He suspects a conspiracy out of nowhere, and Mr. Kline is here as well. I wonder, will it be revealed here in Iron Man or over in Daredevil? Hey, has anyone heard from Jasper Sitwell? I wonder how he's doing.

Don't miss a Sunday Special on Kull the Conqueror and The Shadow Kingdom this Sunday!

Also this Month

Creatures on the Loose #13 ->
Kid Colt Outlaw #155
Marvel's Greatest Comics #32
Mighty Marvel Western #14
My Love #13
The Rawhide Kid King-Size Special #1
Rawhide Kid #91
The Ringo Kid #11
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #91
Special Marvel Edition #3
Two-Gun Kid #100
Western Gunfighters #6
Where Creatures Roam #8
Where Monsters Dwell #11

In our continuing look at those rare original stories hidden away in the nooks and crannies of the reprint titles, we come to Creatures on the Loose #13. Once we've escaped the Creature from Krogarr and survived a Midnight on Haunted Hill, we discover Len Wein's "Where Walks the Werewolf."Artist Martin Killian is going blind but his surgeon friend, Craig Wade, is convinced he can cure him once they steal the spinal fluid from a wolf (!). They kill a wolf in the forest and hurriedly get to work but weeks after the experiment, Martin is frustrated that his eyes aren't improving. Jettisoning his bandages, the artist discovers the duo had accidentally killed a werewolf and now Martin is infected. Enraged, but retaining his human brain, the werewolf heads for Craig's house to get even. Though the tale's a bit shaggy (I've always wanted to write that), Reed Crandall's art makes the strip a cut above the rest of these quickies.The fact that a werewolf story was okayed points to how relaxed the CCA had become in the wake of the Spidey drug issues.  There's actually a pretty gruesome segment when the beast comes across two hapless hunters and rips one across the chest. Sans the weak finale, this story could have fit in perfectly over at Warren, where Reed's work was welcomed with open arms by appreciative readers.

Poor Two-Gun Kid! How does he get to celebrate his 100th issue (a milestone indeed for a western series)? By fighting all the bad guys he'd previously dispatched, only to find they're really robots? By growing a couple extra limbs? Nope, our western do-gooder gets strapped in his saddle and weighed down by reprints! Time to get the hell out of Dodge! - Peter Enfantino


  1. Very nice intro, Prof Matthew! Thanks for the background of the era. I have been wanting to pick up that book for awhile, but maybe I should wait and see what else you give us. :)

    EDIT before publishing:
    Oh Gawd, I hate this Captcha stuff. I'm not a robot. I'm a Mandroid.

  2. Thanks, Prof. Scott! As I've been saying to Our Leader (Dean Enfantino, not Stan) and some of our colleagues, when there are developments that affect the entire line rather than a single title, a free-standing introduction is sometimes a better way to handle it than shoehorning the information into a specific review, so you're going to be seeing more of those in the future.

    From which vantage point, by the way, I'm obliged to admit that while I still consider Giacoia to be one of Marvel's best inkers, as the issues progressed it became clear that he was not the best match for the Kane Spider-Man I so love.

    "Mandroid" makes me laugh, simply because I now know that Roy loved the name so much, he filched it from his unseen Starhawk adventure (abruptly cancelled in MARVEL SUPER-HEROES) and used it in CAPTAIN MARVEL and THE AVENGERS.

    Prof. John, thank you for stating my long-unspoken peeve about supposed "100th-anniversary issues," which in this case would not actually appear until sometime in 2062. Am I the only one who remarked upon the conspicuous absence of a certain Mr. Ditko from Stan's thank-yous?

    Pre-emptive strike for Prof. Jim: these Eternals are no connection to the Kirby creations of years yet to come.

    May I offer a slight defense of the Doc Samson/haircut bit? So far, every Marvel character affected by gamma rays (Hulk, Leader, Abomination, Doc Samson) has been affected by them in different ways. The circumstances were also different, but it doesn't seem like too much of a stretch to assume that at least some of those effects are governed by the physical and/or mental qualities of the "subject." Leonard Samson having spent his entire life named after the biblical hero, is it then too much of a stretch to think that his exploits were firmly in Leonard's subconscious, and might've affected said change?

    "Besides, that's what Professor Matthew is for." Purpose!

    1. Prof Matthew, if you're talking about Stan thanking Ditko in his Soapbox, he mentioned him first actually. Did they edit it out in later editions maybe? That would be kinda petty.....

  3. We might disagree about Ross the Boss Professor Pete, but I wholeheartedly agree that Iron Man has the WORST villains.

  4. Well, turns out we disagree about both Andru and worst villains. In my long, arduous tenure as Dean here, I would have to say the worst villains belonged to Ant-Man, who also wins the Worst Strip of All Time trophy as well. That was Professor Scott who expressed disdain for Shellhead's Schmucks.

    1. Opps, my bad by Crom! You might be right about Ant-Man, but he didn't nearly have the run of Iron Man, so I'll stick with Shellhead percentage wise. I've enjoyed most of Edgar Wright's movies so maybe he can make something of Ant-Man.

    2. The Unicorn, Midas, The Controller, Demetrius and his Skull Boobs, Mr. Doll, Gigantus, pretty much everyone George Tuska draws.... I stand by my assertion. :-)

    3. Well, Professor Scott, you win by default because, after the weekend I just had, I can't stand.