Wednesday, August 28, 2013

May 1972: Super-Villains Team-Up!

A Purely Personal Introduction by Professor Matthew

I really feel like we’re on the cusp of greatness.  No, I’m not referring to the debut of Hero for Hire next month (as well as Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen, both of which I will be covering solely because they’re included in Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 1), but to the state of play in general:

*Englehart, who has officially “arrived” this month by taking over the Beast’s criminally short-lived strip in Amazing Adventures, is imminent on Incredible Hulk (which, I’m increasingly realizing, really wasn’t a very good strip most of the time), Captain America (two words: Gary Friedrich), and Avengers (you know how much I love Roy, but after the Kree-Skrull War and 70 issues, I’m sure he’ll be ready for a change of pace).

*Captain Marvel is poised to return, bringing with him my single favorite Marvel arc.

*Stan is about to hang it up, which—sad but true—is probably for the best at this point, allowing that sumptuous Buscema/Sinnott artwork in the FF to seek a worthy match in Roy.

*Gerry is, I hope, about to find his feet at last with Spidey in MTU and, soon after, Amazing.

*Daredevil has shucked that Page bimbo for good and relocated to Frisco with the Widow, paving the way for Gerber.

*Shellhead is about to trade a bad Friedrich (Gary) for a good one (Mike), indirectly making Starlin’s glory possible in the process.

*The Defenders are about to graduate to their own book and their first period of greatness under Stainless Steve (him again!).

*Warlock is up and running, about to get his own criminally short-lived mag, and also to make room in Premiere for the resurgence of my beloved Doc Strange.

So you can see why I’m getting a bit excited here...

And Now Here Comes May 1972!

Conan the Barbarian 15
“The Green Empress of Melnibone”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

On their quest to find the golden castle of Yagala, tomb of Terhali, the evil Green Empress of Melnibone, Conan, Elric, and Zephra are menaced by a host of demonic creatures: weremen, winged ghouls, and other horrors conjured by Xiobarg, Queen of the Chaos-Swords. Carving their way through the waves of evil nightmares, the warriors finally reach the shores of the Sighing Lake and view the castle: submerged in the middle of the lake, only its gold spires pierce the surface of the dark waters. Using a skeletal boat, the trio reach Yagala and discover that the wizard Kulan-Gath has beat them there and is attempting to summon Terhali. In a burst of fire and smoke, Prince Gaynor the Damned and the Chaos Pack of Xiobarg appear and attack Conan and Elric. Elric finally slays Gaynor, but during the pitched battle, Kulan-Gath completes his spell and Green Empress rises from the grave, threatening to enslave both Hyboria and Melnibone. Zephra calls on the help of Arkyn, the ruler of the Lords of Law, offering her body as the vessel to destroy Terhali: the deity complies, transforming Zephra into a blue-flamed avenger. After an explosive skirmish, Zephra disintegrates Terhali — at the cost of her own life. Conan and Elric ride off as Yagala sinks beneath the Sighing Lake. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Boy, it was tough reining myself in writing about this layered, Michael Moorcock-plotted two-parter. I probably downplayed the participation of both Xiobarg and Arkyn. It seems that Xiobarg welcomed the resurrection of Terhali: she hoped to absorb her powers and become the supreme ruler of all worlds. Arkyn was unseen so his motives are not as clear: yes, he became the savior of both Hyboria and Melnibone through Zephra’s transformation, but I suspect he’s ultimately not one to be trusted. I hope Conan and Elric meet again: the albino adds some color to the Hyborian Age. The inking duties are credited to both Our Pal and Barry Smith and you can see the differences. Oddly, the pages Smith drew and embellished seem rather sloppy. Speaking of Smith, “The Hyborian Page” starts off with the boxed-off and dire news that this is his last issue illustrating Conan the Barbarian. According to the bulletin, Mr. Smith requested a chance of pace and will move to The Avengers and other “mini-epics.” Starting next issue, we are told, the new artist will be the gregarious Gil Kane. Now this is the kinda stuff that makes writing for Marvel University such a joy. Sure, Kane will take over for a spell, but next issue will actually be a color reprint of the Roy/Barry Conan story from the first issue of “Savage Tales.” And Barry Smith will return, at the peak of his powers By Crom.

Mark Barsotti: Mixed emotions over this one. The story's an instant classic, but on the letters page I was horrified to learn that Barry (Windsor) Smith is leaving the book, to be replaced by Gil Kane, an over-rated legend whose best work at D.C. is years in the rearview, yet remains venerated by certain senior staffers here at ivy-covered Marvel U, who shun me in the cafeteria for my heresy. But I'll cry over the coming of Nostril-Vision later. Now, Barry goes out with a bang, ending the tale with not one but two gorgeous splash pages, the final image - Conan riding off beneath a bruised purple sky as the old wizard holds his dead daughter who they both loved – should be hanging in a museum.

Scott McIntyre: What was intended to be Barry Smith's final issue is a fine one. The action is swift, the story thick with what makes Conan great and he leaves our Cimmerian bitter and, once more, alone. So much of what made Conan great for me was in the imagery. Conan himself is a lean, cut, and very handsome young man, a lithe figure, who danced along the pages like a ballet swordsman. No other artists could capture Conan as well. Gil Kane's rendition will be bloody awful and then John Buscema will come in and turn Conan into the bog standard, muscle bound primitive he always draws. And when that happens, my interest in the series will evaporate. But, thankfully, this wasn't Smith's final issue. He would change his mind and give us a handful of more great art and plotting before finally moving on.    

Mark: The story almost keeps pace with the art. The raft of "monstrous bones" that Conan and companions use to row out to the sunken city is a small but brilliant detail. The Moorcock-Thomas collaboration builds to an epic battle, pitting the forces of Light against Darkness as embodied by two revved-up females, reducing Conan and Elric to spectator status. All very well done, but the real payoff comes afterward.  Zephra's death hurts, has Conan and the reader forgetting all about the glittering promise of gold. And the old wizard, Zukala, asking if his one-time enemy might now become a friend in grief, only to be rebuffed by Conan... it's meaty stuff, not often found in funny books. So I'll grumble about the Coming of Kane, but I'll keep reading what's rightly regarded as one of the best titles of any era. But Professor Tom, why are you predicting a reprint next month? Are you a...mutant?

The Tomb of Dracula 2
"The Fear Within"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Vince Colletta

Frank Drake returns to Dracula's burned-out castle to find and bring back the Count's coffin. Hearing screams from beneath a trapdoor, he rescues Clifton who had been down there for days with nothing but old skeletons to keep him company. They recover the coffin and, since Drake was able to sell the castle, they have more then enough money to travel to London. Meanwhile, Dracula has been busy. Besides killing a woman along the countryside, he tracks down a man was once his servant many years ago as a child. Now working as a doctor, Dracula's old friend helps him out by doing some medical procedures to improve on the Count's outwardly appearance, so he doesn't look so ghoulish. Dracula rewards the doctor for his help by killing him as part of payback for a past betrayal. In London, Jeanie the vampire shows up in Frank's and Clifton's hotel room. Frank is able to hold her at bay with a cross. Clifton still has the hots for her so he spikes Frank's coffee. Once Clifton is hypnotized, and under Jeanie's control, Dracula reattains his coffin along with a little revenge. As Frank Drake fights for his life against the unholy duo, he is able to pick up a stake-like piece from some shattered furniture which he uses to shove through Jeanie's heart before she can kill Clifton. As the sun rises, Dracula flies off while Jeanie perishes into dusty ashes. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: So far, so good with this series. This must have been a pretty edgy comic back in 1972 since it still holds up as pretty gruesome today. I can see that my concerns about Dracula being made into a wimpy, mediocre villain in his own title were unfounded. Drac's side-trip in London demonstrates his ruthlessness quite well as he punches out some big lout at a tavern and then proceeds to kill the guy's sweetheart in an alleyway. Like a deranged serial killer, Dracula's body count in just this one single issue stands at three, which is pretty high considering the book's story consisted of only 22 pages. Maybe I'm the deranged one since I am considering keeping a running total of Dracula's murders as this series moves bloodily along!

Scott: The cover blurb is hysterical! "Who Stole My Coffin!" Like "Dude, Where's My Casket?" Otherwise, not a bad tale at all. The body count is, naturally, pretty high in a title like this, but it's a pretty involving story. Tragedy will follow Drake like a faithful dog. Some of the faces, like Jeanie on the 3rd panel of page 9 look like someone else's work. Gil Kane's maybe. A well paced and decent issue.

John: I thought it was interesting how Drac goes back to find his prior servant (as a boy), and after he gets the help he needs he kills him (for betraying him when his servant was just a boy). Plenty of action this issue. I'm interested to see where things will go from here.

Peter Enfantino: Did Gerry Conway have a plan of action or any sense of where this series was going to go? Hard to see any germ of a path here. There’s no plot, only incidents.

The Incredible Hulk 151
"When Monsters Meet!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin

Things take a turn for the worse for Bruce and Betty Banner's relationship as she runs into the arms of Major Talbot. The two passionately kiss as a confused Hulk spies on them. When he changes back into human form, Banner notices an ad in the newspaper for Henry Pym guest-lecturing at a college. Seeking Pym's help, Banner travels to the college only to find out that the lecture was canceled. After encountering a surly janitor who threatens to call the cops on him, Banner turns back into the Hulk. During this time Senator Clegstead, who has been sitting in on the Project Greenskin court investigation, sits at home with his personal doctor. It is revealed that Clegstead has cancer, and that he purposely got his doctor a job at Project Greenskin so that he could get blood samples of the Hulk while the monster was briefly kept there. As he is to die at any moment, Clegstead orders his doctor to give him an injection of the Hulk's blood in the hopes that it will magically cure him. Almost instantly, he feels much stronger than before. As the Hulk tears the college campus apart, the cops and military are called in to stop him. Witnessing the catastrophe on the news, Clegstead wants to take the opportunity to give a statement to the media. However, by the time he arrives, the Hulk's blood has caused him to mutate into a gigantic, acidic blob that will eat any living thing in its path. Even the Hulk seems outmatched as his punches only temporarily stop the creature, while his skin burns whenever the mutated blob touches him. Believing that the mutation will have a heart like anyone else, the Hulkster rips a flagpole from out of the ground and spears it. Having no organs, the blob monster just keeps on coming. In a huge stroke of luck, a thunderstorm breaks out. When lightning strikes the flagpole, Clegstead disintegrates, leaving the Hulk victorious by default. -Tom McMillion

Tom: This was one of the best issues of the Hulk in a long time because the protagonist was such a viable threat. It isn't often that you see the Hulk actually run away from someone that he is fighting with. Being a fan of the Blob movies, both the original and the remake, makes me a little biased. I've finally figured out why I liked this comic book series so much as a kid. When buying just back issues at random, one is usually treated to the Hulk battling some type of creature in an entertaining story. It's now that I realize that reading this title in consecutive order makes one aware of how horrid the relationship plot lines concerning Ross, Talbot, Betty and Bruce really are.

Scott: I'm fine with Bruce explaining Jarella to Betty and Betty being hurt after all these years of waiting. But, cripes, Talbot is a total sleaze, jamming his tongue down her throat on the way back to the base. There is never any reality to the romantic relationships in Marvel Comics, but these days it's just annoying. Betty, at least, will be shown as totally effing nuts in a few years. Honestly, I don't mind her falling for Talbot, and I know she's flighty, but with Doc Samson out of the picture, he could have taken his time. Eh, the fact that I'm spending this much time on this shows you how uninvolving this month's issues are. At least Ross gets to keep his base running. Yay for Thunderbolt.

Matthew: This macabre little offering feels as though Goodwin is harkening back to his Warren roots—Lathrop’s offstage death is nicely suggested—but since the radioactive blob into which Clegstead changes (echoing Quatermass and/or Caltiki?) has no personality, its final confrontation with the Hulk is wisely kept brief.  As always, the Trimpe/Severin art combination produces mixed results, with Bruce looking impossibly skinny on the splash page, and the pre-blob Clegstead resembling something from another distinguished horror line, that of EC Comics.  I had to laugh that Ant-Man was supposed to appear at George Washington University, where I’m proud to say my daughter will be starting grad school around the time this is actually posted.

Peter: This one is, indeed, a lot of fun but the showdown was a tad too short for me. The vibe I get is definitely The Quatermass Xperiment (aka The Creeping Unknown). That sub-title on the cover only cinches it. I wonder if real-life politicians go home and gloat about being, in reality, scumbags. These Marvel pols never seem to have a problem airing their own dirty laundry. Since the title's in a funk (how many small towns in America has Hulk not visited?), I'm glad to see we're working on getting our hero back to Jarella's world. That can only be a good thing.

Amazing Adventures 12
The Beast in
"Iron Man -- D.O.A."
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog

The Beast gets a mental probe from Prof. X and Jean Grey, but asks them to leave him alone to suffer. Needing to fit in, he breaks into a costume shop and heads back to his apartment to make a Hank McCoy latex mask and hands disguise, even forcing his body straight with a painful brace! Back at the lab, the newly short-tempered Hank gets a visit from Tony Stark and Marianne Rodgers, with Stark intrigued by his genetic research. Linda Donaldson walks in, inviting Hank to lunch, but the villainous vamp is intrigued by Stark. Hank storms off angrily to meet up with Linda, but realizes he can’t kiss her because of the mask. At night, The Beast prowls the grounds of Brand and is met by Iron Man! The two battle, and Shell-head comes out on top…until The Beast comes to and attacks! Security guards open fire, but the healing power of the hairy hero has him hopping mad! The bloodlust takes over, and he kills Iron Man then runs off, regretting losing control…but Iron Man is OK, saying The Beast went into a trance. Turns out the “killing” was brought on by the malevolent Mastermind, as he, The Blob and Unus hope to get The Beast to join the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants! –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Oh man, I remember this as one of the most memorable covers of the 70s! And the story inside is not an unbridled classic, but pretty damn good. I’ll let Prof. Matthew take the lead on crowing about Steve Englehart, but will admit he can tell a tale quite nicely without too much fluff. The tortured soul angle on McCoy is done quite well, ad the end leaves the reader wanting more for sure. The mostly nifty art features both Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog, which is a horror fan’s dream, except for the pages where it’s all humans, like page 7, where everyone looks like grinning fools with odd-colored hair. One thing: is this the first Marvel mag story title that doesn’t end with an exclamation point or question mark? Anudder thing: not having read any Iron Mans from this era in a looong time, was he always this jokcy? It works for Spidey, not so much for Stark I feel.

Scott: Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog are not the best artists in the business, but together they create a very interesting new look. The story is okay, but the latex mask thing is so worn out and far fetched. Why are so many characters experts at making 100% lifelike facemasks? They fit over misshapen heads and cowls and nobody can tell the difference, even up close. And, of course, nobody is unbearably hot and sweaty in them. It's like having a second skin. While Hank is, thankfully, nervous about having someone touch him or be too close, Linda Donaldson kisses him and never makes a comment. I do like what his transformation is doing to Hank's mind; he's totally wigging out and losing control, which is a more realistic development, and shocking considering his long standing in the MU. He still has the healing factor later given to Wolverine. I wonder how long that will last? Hey, does the beast have fleas? Does he require a dip to get rid of them? That would make a fun story.

Matthew: A Bronze-Age bellwether, the remainder of this strip is the first super-hero assignment for “Stainless Steve” Englehart, who notes on his blog, “Over the next year I wrote the only X-Men there was”; he later incorporated the Beast into his celebrated run on The Avengers, immediately after this issue was reprinted (minus mutant cameos and flashbacks, alas) in #136.  The standard complaint about implausibly realistic face masks is valid, but right off the bat, Steve seems to have a good handle on Hank and Shellhead, whose encounter felt less forced to me than many of its kind.  Inker #2 is Mike Ploog, whose style often overshadows Sutton’s pencils, and whose own are currently displayed on another hirsute hero over in Marvel Spotlight.

Peter: Tom Sutton and Mike Ploog provided me with hundreds of hours of enjoyment in the 1970s but I'm not sure they join together here for an altogether seamless symmetry. At times the human Hank looks boxy and the beastly Beast looks unbeastly (is Hank equipped with fangs or not?). Professor X's strategy of avoiding mutant-haters by hiding sounds decidedly unheroic; keeping The X-Men on ice and avoiding all the menaces they'd normally be fighting just so his X-Kids can avoid danger is simply selfish. Imagine Magneto waking up in the morning and thinking "I'll just have to create some kind of stir near The Hulk or The Fantastic Four this week since my regular nemeses are retired!" It is nice to see that Tony Stark has grown up a tad since the mid-1960s when he'd walk into a room and make every woman his own. The fact that he manages to meet Linda without proposing to her ten minutes later shows a great deal of maturity. Not sure which direction Stainless is veering this title but right now it's a little too close to Green Goliath territory for my tastes. And that's a really dumb "it was all in his head" finale, by the way.

Marvel Premiere 2
Warlock in
"The Hounds of Helios"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Crashing to Counter-Earth, an amnesiac Warlock is befriended by SoCal runaways David Carter, Jason Grey, Eddie Roberts, and his twin sister, Ellie, who gives Warlock the first name Adam.  To aid his conquest, the Man-Beast prevented super-heroes and -villains; Reed Richards and Victor von Doom are selfless scientists, and Bruce Banner never became the Hulk.  The Man-Beast’s minions, the murine New-Man Rhodan and his Hounds of Helios, arrive just after the children’s fathers, whom Adam must protect; the shock of killing a hound restores his memory, and he uses his gem to revert Rhodan and the other hound to, respectively, a rat and “random solar impulses” before forcing the fathers—who then depart—to face their consciences. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Adam’s saga begins in earnest in his second and final issue of Premiere; oddly, the closing credit (“Finis?”)—followed by a four-page 1950s Yellow Claw reprint—gives no hint that his solo mag will debut in three months.  Between the Claw and a surprisingly long recap after only a month, there isn’t room for Roy to do a whole lot here, although he does supply Adam with a new name, a supporting cast, and a setting, as well as deepening our understanding of both his powers and the world he has chosen to save.  The stuff with the sins of the fathers (Colonel Barney Roberts, Senator Nathan Carter, and black capitalist Josiah Grey) is a tad trite, but it bespeaks both the era and the space limitations…though Roy should be bitch-slapped for naming his evil p.i. Marlowe!

The Invincible Iron Man 46
"Menace at Large"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and John Verpoorten

 Siding with the students, Jonah’s Bugle editorial inflames the public against the Guardsman, sparking an attack on the plant to which Marianne’s ESP powers alert Tony.  Kevin rebels against the board until seeing Marianne with Tony sets off another jealous rage, so Iron Man intervenes to prevent the Guardsman from unleashing his full power against the rioters, but Kevin attacks Iron Man instead, hoping to prove his superiority to Marianne, and commandeers an untested aero-tank equipped with a laser cannon.  As the protestors realize that Iron Man tried to buy time for them to clear out, Tony is forced to aim for a built-in weak spot, intending to foul the steering mechanism, yet his repulsors break through to the fuel tank and the blast kills Kevin. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The mystery of the Long Island Four continues:  Gary seems to have settled on a number, but as Stan takes pains to inform us that they “were merely wounded, not slain,” why is Kevin referred to repeatedly as a “killer”?  Whom did he kill?  Gilbert stating that “I spent months convincing Tony Stark to make me chairman of the board” just flaunts the fact that he was introduced with insufficient (read:  no) buildup.  And did Bob Fosse choreograph Tony’s moves in page 10, panel 3?  I’ve always liked the Guardsman armor, which I first saw sported by Kevin’s hitherto-unseen brother, Michael, and which looks great on the cover, unlike that round-eyed Iron Man impostor.  But Brodsky, an unseasoned Conway, Kanigher, and Friedrich have left Kevin quite expendable.

Scott: Well, more proof that Marvel still lacked balls as they backpedaled to let us know the four students thought killed last issue were merely stunned. Ugh. What could have been a really devastating story is now the usual run of the mill whitewash. Oh look, Marianne's "esper powers are tingling!" How much worse is this gonna get? Plenty. Simon Gilbert: "Har! Har Har!" Guy's an a-hole, thank you very much.  Ah, and Kevin O'Brien. We hardly knew ye. From close friend to dangerous psychopath with hardly a decent explanation. This title is almost as bad as Captain America. Why must there be an Iron Man? Find out next issue.

The Avengers 99
"They First Make Mad"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Windsor-Smith and Tom Sutton

Even using all the mystical and technological tools at their command, the Avengers cannot restore memory to Hercules. Hawkeye tells how he and Herc hooked up. Earlier, he was unable to bluff his way to victory aboard the Skrull ship and they guessed Clint no longer had any super powers. Running, he is able to fashion a makeshift bow and arrow and go to town on the aliens. His arrow hits a main control panel and causes a chain reaction. Taking a shuttle, the newly rechristened Hawkeye escapes seconds before the Skrull ship explodes. He crash lands on Earth in a strange country and takes up with a travelling family. During a terrible storm, the wagon Hawkeye is in dangles over a ravine, but he is saved by the costumed, amnesiac Hercules, whom the family found wrecking ruins in Greece. Finding a pay phone at a rest stop, Clint calls Stark International and gets a ride for he and Herc back to the states. After telling the tale, the search for a cure for Herc's amnesia continues with no luck from Hank Pym or T'Challa. Hawkeye tells the Scarlet Witch that he's in love with her and to expect "wedding bells" soon. The Vision overhears, which upsets Wanda, who walks off and into the same room as Quicksilver. He insists she tell him if she loves the Vision. She admits she does, but before Pietro can react, Cap gives the alarm. Two warriors of Ares have arrived to take Hercules. The fight is long and brutal as each Avenger is brought low. Wanda is badly stunned ad Hercules is taken away. The Vision refuses to aid Hawkeye, choosing to stay behind with Wanda. After threatening the android with severe bodily harm, Hawkeye takes off but is thrown back, past the single minded Vision and into Thor's arms. The villains make their escape while Hawkeye wants something done about the Vision's lack of action. He is backed up by Quicksilver and even Rick Jones confirms his inaction. The matter is tabled for now as Thor announces they are going to invade Olympus! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Can't say this is bad, but I'm not over the moon either. There's a lot of flashback stuff to fill in where Clint had been all this time, but it feels like his adventure took more time for him than anyone else. I never got the impression he was missing for any real length of time, but he was able to have some epic twisting mission. He is suddenly in love with Wanda, and rather than take her out on a date or find out if she even has the slightest romantic feeling toward him, he blurts out his feelings and intention to marry her very soon. Once again, no one dates in the Marvel Universe. Maybe it's his jealousy that makes him an emotional idiot this time out. He completely freaks when the Vision stays behind to help Wanda, literally split seconds after the Vision finishes his sentence. The art is weird. I love Barry Smith, but his work here just makes everyone look odd. The epic is slow in really getting started, but it holds the possibility of being interesting.

Matthew: Okay, I’m sorry, I know [Windsor-] Smith is supposed to be hot stuff, but I just don’t like this art; I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume he’s simply mismatched with Tom Sutton, who takes a break from penciling the Beast in Amazing Adventures to ink Barry’s work here.  Clearly, the odds of ex-carny Clint crash-landing his Skrull ship right near a traveling carnival and finding a fellow Avenger in their midst are astonomical, when one or the other would be a pretty honking coincidence.  I’m always saddened by discord among characters I like—in this case, Hawkeye, the Vision, and Wanda—and by Clint being a bit of a jerk, but since he’s going through a lot right now, maybe I’ll have to give him the benefit of the doubt as well…

Mark: Prof. Matthew rightly ridicules the lotto-winning odds of Clint Barton crash-landing in the path of a carnival caravan, who just happen to include an amnesic Avenger in their troupe, but, hey, it ain't the first time we've witnessed the Inscrutable Law of Comic Book Coincidence, nor will it be  the last. At least we now know to blame Yugoslav fashion sense for Clint's purple mini-skirt. Otherwise, Roy delivers a solid set-up for Avengers #100 as Olympian demi-gods make off with Herc, partially due to inaction by the Vision. That fuels team tension as the romantic yearning between Scarlet Witch and the Vis, on a low simmer for months, finally boils to the surface. The art, while hardly Barry (Windsor) Smith's best, is more than serviceable, and the A-team gearing up to storm Olympus has me licking my chops in hopes of a slam-bang Centennial.

The Mighty Thor 199
"If This Be Death...!"
Stiory by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta

Mangog having been defeated, Kartag the Keeper of the Twilight Well asks Thor’s permission to return to his home world, and is granted thus. More’s the pity, as no sooner does Thor talk to the Vizier, than Hela the Death Goddess appears. She means to claim Odin, but the state of suspended time/space Mjolnir has placed Asgard in to prevent Odin’s final death, puts a limit on her powers as well. Bearing no ill will, merely fulfilling her fate, Hela is quite willing to take up arms with Thor against a new approaching menace: Pluto, Lord of the Netherworld, also seeking Odin’s soul. Unable to truly harm Hela, Pluto is nonetheless possessing renewed power, and seems to gain the upper hand, despite the decimation of his troops. Balder even breaks his pledge to serve Karnilla to take up arms with his fellows. As Thor appears in imminent danger of demise, things get even stranger on Blackworld. Sif, Hildegarde, Silas Grant and Tana Nile finally see who “he” is: Ego Prime, a being formed from a tiny piece of the same-named living planet. It appears everything he touches changes rapidly, thus explaining the constant changes this planet is seeing. But when it catches up to Earth in the present day, will it affect us? -Jim Barwise

Jim: It’s almost as if Gerry Conway thought he had only a short time to work on the Thor title, and wanted to cram in every major villain of the title’s history in a few months. Loki, Hela, Mangog, Pluto, Ego just to start. If one could sometimes say Stan Lee would rather abruptly change his plot focus, Conway seems to blend them all together, like a stream of consciousness dream. Whether or not his style works out we’ll have to wait and see. Balder picks a funny time to break his word, after Karnilla saves him. The final panel of page seventeen, when Thor says “The God of Thunder dares” is reminiscent verbally and visually of his vow to save Hercules at the cliffhanger connecting issues 129 to 130. Too bad Kartag couldn’t hang around a little longer. The team of Vince Colletta and John Buscema seems to be on again this issue, with some rather sharp and stunning panels.

Scott:  The battle for Odin continues. Another "epic" where battle follows battle. Pluto returns and he's not nearly as eerie or frightening as when Hercules was suckered into signing that contract to take Pluto's place. Blackworld is alternately cheesy and interesting, but I'm exhausted with all this running around. There's so little actual content, I can't latch onto anything to really care about.

Matthew: This is like watching one of those post-Shōwa Toho movies where the plot makes no sense whatsoever, and you’re ultimately reduced to sitting there saying, “Okay, sure, stomp on buildings, whatever.”  You must wonder if Gerry’s intentions verge on parodic when he slips in dialogue like, “You question the meaning…?  Know then:  there is no meaning,” and narration like, “’tis but a continuance of his war with Mangog—but another skirmish in the nightmare Asgard’s world seems to have become…”  I like a good Thor/Hercules smackdown as much as the next guy, but have always found the idea that the Greco-Roman and Norse gods co-exist and even interact to be problematic, so for Pluto to demand Odin’s soul strikes me as taking it too far.

Peter: One of my colleagues (I think it was Professor Scott) recently pointed out that the "thees" and "thous" were getting out of hand. Guy's got a point. I could have read a novel written in French faster than this issue. That might be because we've seen neither hide nor hair of earth in what seems to be years and the landscape is littered with Asgardians. How many more times do we have to see Karnilla play the scorned female ("Oh all right, go out and play football, but see if I make you fried chicken tonight!")? Hela taking up a sword and fighting alongside the Thunder God kinda takes most of the ominisity (yep, that's what I said) and dread out of her character, no? When all is said and done, this arc-within-an-arc-within-an-arc may be the longest ongoing storyline that isn't really a storyline in the MU history. Had this been 1968, that would have been a good thing.

Sub-Mariner 49
"The Dreamstone"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia

It's a battle royale as Dr. Doom goes aboard Modok's base to rescue Namor. Of course, the Cosmic Cube is what everyone is after. In Modok's possession, he plans to use the Cube to switch his mind into Namor's body. Doom and Modok briefly spar, using their laser beam blasts before Modok sicks his android henchmen on him. As the two villains go at each other, Subby is able to escape his confines after tricking one of the androids. Once free, he presses a button that releases the Cosmic Cube. After destroying the androids sent against him, Doom comes upon the Cube's glowing power. Kenner, a seemingly insane man who was part of Doom's crew, turns out to be a double agent, secretly put on Team-Doom as a spy. He sneaks up behind the ruler of Latervia and knocks him out with a lead pipe. Entranced by the Cube's power, it absorbs him. Luckily for Doom, Cindy Jones is able to escape her confines. She drags him away from the Cube just as Namor meets up with them. In the end, the three escape with Doom and Namor parting on good terms. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: This one had a lot of foolishness going on: Cindy Jones knocking out a grown man with her shoe; a loser like Kenner able to knock out Dr. Doom; and Namor pressing a big red button with 'Cosmic Cube,' written over the top of it. I guess Modok was worried he might get drunk or something and forget which button to press to release the most powerful object in the whole universe. All is forgiven though, because in the end, this was like a classic issue of Super-Villain Team-Up. While it didn't last nearly long enough for my liking, anytime you have Dr. Doom confronting a fellow evil genius like Modok, it's just plain awesome.

Scott: Packed with action and stuff, this isn't a bad issue, just nothing special. Seems weird some average wacko can knock doom out by hitting him with a stick, though. The guy was sucked into the cube…will he turn out to be the Beyonder? I did enjoy Doom's motivation, to heal himself and possibly live without the armor. Also having Doom depart as a friend was actually a very nice change of pace. Still, no memory for the Sub-Mariner, but since next issue is his 50th, I'm a-guessin' he'll get it back in time for cake and ice cream.

Matthew: This month marks Gerry’s last issues of both Tomb of Dracula and Subby, but in his apparent desire to go out with a bang here, he has entirely misread the nature of the Cosmic Cube, which he seems to think is akin to the “Great Whatsit” in Robert Aldrich’s sublime Kiss Me Deadly.  I have to ask if he really knows anything about the Cube at all, and as I pointed out last time, the irony is that Namor himself wielded it back in Avengers #40.  If you really wanted to, you could give Subby the benefit of the doubt due to his amnesia (although that seems to me not only a hideously overused plot device but also suspiciously selective), yet for Gerry to be ignorant of that fact, which is not even acknowledged with a footnote, is inexcusable.

Captain America and The Falcon 149
"All the Colors of Evil"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney

The Falcon spots someone being dragged into a mini bus, but he loses them when they are able to switch cars. Meanwhile, Cap is at SHIELD HQ farting around when Nick Fury asks him to join the organization permanently. When Cap refuses, Nick turns into a total a-hole and throws him out on his ear, ordering everyone (especially Sharon) to never help Cap again. Period. Full stop. Meanwhile, Steve Rogers is doing his policeman thing and sees someone familiar in the theater district. The man evades capture, but we learn that he is Batroc the Leaper, in town hooking up with a gang of toughs. In Harlem, the Falcon is deep into his own thing about young residents being kidnapped. When Cap comes to him for help, Falc has to beg off. Cap finds Batroc's Brigade who nearly beat him to a pulp. While this is going on, the Falcon's lead brings him to Cap's side as they are - wow - looking for the same people. It seems Batroc has been hired to collect young men from the ghetto for The Stranger!   -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Batroc sucks, but he won't go away. His annoying, over the top, accent makes it impossible for me to take him seriously. The Nick Fury Enraged plot is out of nowhere and equally annoying. I do like that Falc and Cap's leads bring them to each other's side again, but otherwise, this is another in a long line of crappily written comics. I really feel like I should be contributing more commentary, since this is one of my signature titles, but I've got nothing. Nice art, I guess.

Matthew:  Friedrich having been sensibly ousted after the Hydra fiasco, Gerry aims about as low as you can go with Batroc’s Brigade, beginning his four-issue holding action until the advent of Englehart.  The latter, reports a Bullpen Bulletin, has “just joined our harried little staff, where he’ll be doing proofreading, penciling, inking, scripting—and probably lettering, if somebody will lend him a spelling-book!”  Not surprisingly, there isn’t much Gerry can do with the Gallic Goofball and his insufferable Pepé Le Pew accent, but more important, the artwork of Sal Buscema, well matched here with Jim Mooney, is like comfort food—not spectacular, but solid and satisfying—and when he gets paired up with the right writer the results will be sublime.

Peter: Hindsight being what it is, we now know why Nick Fury, seemingly out of the blue, tosses Captain America out of the SHIELD treehouse but in the context of the issue it's certainly a WTF! As is the kidnappings, until we find out the true identity of the behind-the-scenes fifth-tier villain (certainly a step-up from Batroc and hees boolsheet). I'm giving Gerry a little extra rope, considering he basically was given the job of cleaning the septic tank with a spoon, but this title still isn't anywhere near the top of my "gotta read" pile. Gotta love that Cap sees a guy in a (admittedly gauche) suit walking down the street and thinks "In a crowd of thousands, something funny about that guy's outfit reminds me of Batroc Zee Leaper!"

Creatures on the Loose 17
Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars in
"River of the Dead"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Sam Grainger

Still flying swiftly down a river of no return, wave-tossed traveller Gullivar Jones dreams of the events that led him there.  On the funereal barge upon which the Hither Folk send their dead downstream, Heru’s cries for help from the shore wake him.  He plunders a sword from one of the barge’s fallen warriors and literally leaps into action.  On dry land he faces down a horde of ugly slugs surrounding Heru, one by one, “chop[ping] ’em practically in two!”  Their sheer numbers threaten to overwhelm him, so he carries the princess back to the boat in his arms.  Once on board, Heru changes before his eyes into one of the sea-slugs, “Monsters...that read your mind...make you see what you want to see...”  He kicks it off into the waters.  Further down the rushing river Gullivar encounters the Noltoi, sinister “pygmies...built like spiders--with heads like bats!” who make slaves of the living “and do nameless, obscene things to those already dead!”  The spider-swarm web-ropes him, but not before he puts up a good fight.  Finally the subdued Gullivar finds himself crucified next to a wing-man who awaits the same fate as him.  A monster rises from the depths – will Gullivar become food for Phra, dreaded Gatekeeper of the Martian hell?  -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: The only mention in Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation of “Phra,” a mythological Egyptian god, comes when Gullivar points to a page of hieroglyphs and asks, “Says this quaint dabbler in all knowledge anything of Isis, anything of Phra, of Ammon...?”  Is Marvel’s unrelated Martian monstrosity a tribute to another of Edwin L. Arnold’s novels, The Wonderful Adventures of Phra the Phoenician (1890)?  If scribe Roy Thomas intends an homage, it is one in name only – penciler Gil Kane’s Phra could be the Mars-red big brother to the Creature from the Black Lagoon, while Arnold’s “sleeping hero” is an ancient warrior awaking at key moments of Britain’s history.  Richard A. Lupoff, in his Ace edition intro to Gulliver of Mars, admits “the only major flaw in the comparison of...Jones with Burroughs’ Martian books, is the central character.  John immortal, daring, the greatest swordsman of two worlds.  Gully Jones is no John Carter.”  Lupoff’s answer?  “...Barsoom comes from one Arnold book [Gulliver]” while tracing Carter to “Arnold’s best-known work, Phra the Phoenician – Phra the Phoenician is John Carter...the internal evidence is massive.”  If so, then Marvel’s Gullivar may be more Phra as well, a clever end run around the John Carter licensing situation.  Whatever the case, Marvel’s mighty monster Phra, even if lacking in literary antecedent, may be the only interesting plot development in the entire issue.

Gilbert: After a strong start in #16, this is barely more than a succession of strung-together action scenes that become increasingly monotonous.  The first issue served readers an intriguing set-up, introducing us to Mars’ geopolitical planetscape, as well as a later interlude where Heru further explained the Martian facts of life to Gullivar, but here Gullivar merely battles one monster after another.  The closest #17 comes to any exposition is six unnecessary panels recapping the previous issue, a redundancy compounded by the editor’s asterisked footnote: “* See last issue’s origin tale.--Stan.”   There are plenty of “Creatures on the Loose” in #17, perhaps too many (if such a thing can be said) for a mere ten pages – slugs, the Noltoi, wing-men, Phra – and not much more.  The final banner promises, “Next: The Mysteries of Mars Revealed!,” so hopefully future entries will return to the earlier mix of Martian mythology and adventure – to be continued...

Scott: Pretty much the same as the intro story last issue; we know little to nothing about Gullivar Jones. All we get are a ton of wise cracks and leaping into situations to prove to us he's some awesome hero. But he has no real personality, which makes all of this pointless. I really wish someone good would ink Gil Kane's pencils. When I was a kid, he was at the bottom of my list of favorite artists. Since then I've suffered through Dick Ayers, Ross Andru and Al Hartley, so Gil's not that far down anymore. Either that, or the hole got deeper.

Gilbert: Two reprints (from Strange Tales #80) are included in this issue.  “What? What? What was Gargantus?” answers its own question when a hydronaut unleashes an amphibian humanoid sea monster (not Phra) upon the surface world.  The ensuing havoc amounts to almost a kaiju eiga comic (or is it “Kaijin on the Loose”?) with a War of the Worlds wrap-up.  Gargantus later returned in the precisely titled “The Return of Gargantus!” (Strange Tales #85), while Iron Man battled an obscure alien robot of the same name in Tales of Suspense #40.  (Stan Lee, the creative force behind both Garganti, must have either run out of creature names, or fallen in love with this one so hard he could not resist reusing it.  That, or “Gargantus” is the “Joe” or “Tom” of names in the monster world.) In “The Things from Dimension X,” another man of science accidentally looses more unknown forces when he builds a machine that allows extradimensional beings – scaly demon-horned alphabet cereal ‘O’s from Don Heck’s pencil – to invade our world.  At first the story seems to be heading towards an ending along the lines of Richard Matheson’s Twilight Zone episode “The Invaders,” but the enjoyably unexpected and inexplicable conclusion veers into a patriotic plot twist that will delight anyone looking for good Independence Day summer vacation reading (maybe next time you are vacationing with Lieut. Gullivar on the beaches of Mars).

Marvel Spotlight 3
Werewolf by Night in
"Werewolf by Night"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Ploog

Werewolf By Night Jack Russell saves his sister Lissa from a band of bikers, runs off when the police show up and takes a slug in the leg! As his stepfather shows concern to the police, a mysterious man spots WWBN in the bushes, but clams up. The next morning, an exhausted Jack is picked up by the mysterious man, Nathan Timly, who takes Jack to his wife Andrea. Asking Jack about his father’s book, Andrea has an uncooperative Jack thrown in the dungeon, where he meets the henchman Kraig and his hooked metal hand. At night, Jack turns into WWBN, and almost kills Timly, but Kraig rushes in and subdues the fanged fiend. Continuing to be questioned about the book, Jack denies any knowledge of it, but the creepy couple is insistent, seeking the secrets of the Darkhold. Kraig lashes out and kills Nathan accidentally, then Jack escapes. Kraig meets up with WWBN, and is poised on victory until his metal hand is struck by lightning! In his dreams, Jack sees Andrea meeting her end without finding Darkhold, and ends up wandering the countryside.  –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Well, it’s not the worst book, but certainly not the best. The art is a little more uneven from WWBN’s debut, and the story is just as narrative-heavy, but both story and art have a decent amount of horrific tones to keep the pages turning. Lots of crazy characters showing up fast and furious, from nebbish-looking Timley to Bride of Frankenstein knockoff Andrea to icky Igor type Kraig, who’s just too weird and random to be honest. And why does Andrea turn into Agatha after page 14? Continuity asleep at the switch!

Scott: My first thought seeing the cover was "what's the Kingpin's wife doing in this magazine?" Alas, it's not Vanessa Fisk. Mike Ploog's art is very Golden Age Batman. I can see a lot of Jerry Robinson in his pencils. It's an interesting to look at book, even if the story isn't all that enthralling. The problem is, the whole "werewolf" thing was tackled by Marvel when they gave us The Hulk. This feels something like an issue out of the early Hulk run. Still, I like the feel, but the narration is tiresome. This is almost a good series.

Peter: Confusing in that the narrator is Jack Russell remembering what he’s done as a werewolf. Then why does he seem to be amnesiac when he transforms back to Russell from wolf? The wolf does seem to narrate eloquently in any case! I think we’re drifting too close into The Hulk territory here. Kraig (an obvious homage to Universal’s Ygor) and Andrea and Nathan Timly are the first in a series of wacky villainsWWBN will face in the years to come. This title perfectly embodies the lunacy of some of the secondary titles Marvel flooded the market with in the 1970s, series that seemingly just pop up with no game plan. There’s not much to the story, just Andrea/Agatha Timly threatening Jack and Jack turning into his alter ego ad infinitum. By the way, based on three of the first four regular Spotlight characters, this title could have just as well have been Marvel Spotlight On Young Men Who Get Cursed.

The Amazing Spider-Man 108
"Vengeance From Viet Nam!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro

The car holding Flash is ambushed, complete with smoke pellets, but Spidey swings in to battle the bad guys, including a giant chauffeur. After beating the baddies, Spidey takes off with Flash towards a nearby rooftop, where Thompson tells his tale. While in Vietnam, Flash was wounded and separated from his platoon, and came across a hidden temple, where he was nursed back to health. But when he returned to the base, Flash learned the temple’s land was going to be bombed, and begged them to leave, but to no avail, and he ended up blamed by the locals for the bombing. Spidey returns Flash to the feds, where he defends the web-slinger. Back at his pad, Peter finds Aunt May and Harry discovering a web fluid vial that had overturned, but quick thinking has them believing it’s a science experiment. Gwen bursts in, upset about Flash, and she and Peter head to the federal building. Peter sneaks off, but an explosion knocks out the lights! Peter uses the darkness to smash through a window and try and stop the baddies from taking Flash, but he’s beaten by the big bad driver, and the villains take off with Thompson. Gwen finds Peter, and won’t let him leave…will he reveal his secret identity so he can swing off and save his friend? -- Joe Tura

Joe Tura: You have to love Spidey’s constant gentle insults towards Flash, playing the glib wall-crawler…but you know the Peter Parker side of him enjoys needling Mr. Thompson any chance he can get! A super busy issue on the art side, with tons of stuff going on, on every page. Smoke, explosions, smoke, sticky web fluid, and more smoke. Did I mention smoke? Some classic Romita fight scenes lead the way here, with my favorite the one in the dark at the federal building. Great, great stuff with Peter actually losing a fight, but keeping tabs on his secret identity all the way, even telling Gwen after it’s all over that the explosion blew off the shoes he discarded before the fight. Wait…did no one hear that silly explanation in all the ruckus? Oh, no bother. Peter was quick-thinking all issue, except the end where he’s left baffled by Gwen’s reluctance to let him run off again. Hey, Lois never did that to Clark!

Scott:  An interesting development in the life of Flash Thompson. There are some nice bits here; I especially liked Peter going into action without his costume, covered only by darkness. The backstory is pretty interesting and it's nice to see Flash get the spotlight. It does show just how much this character has changed since the beginning. Back when he was created, he was just Parker's worst high school nightmare. Now he's this hell of a nice guy, saving villagers and calling them "venerable one." I know combat changes a person, but this really doesn't seem like Flash at all, does it? The art is spectacular. Seriously, to die for.

Joe: The Spider’s Web features a letter by future Spidey scribe David Michelinie, who also penned two long, excellent Iron Man runs with Bob Layton and many Spidey spinoffs, among dozens of other Marvel mags. Here Michelinie bashes the recent price increase with a nearly scientific bent, then praises issue #103, in a well-written piece that’s shades of things to come for his Marvel career (in my opinion).

Mark: I'd have bought Dean Peter's "last gasp" thesis about Stan's diminishing scripting skills after the botched Spider-Slayer conclusion, but the Smiling One rights the ship with "Vengeance From Vietnam!" Prof. Matthew rightly pegs the more mature tone, as Flash's in-country flashback shows his wounds being tended to in a hidden Shangri-La - complete with old monk dispensing moral wisdom and sexual tension with a shy temple-dwelling hottie - before the holy site is accidentally shelled into rubble by the good ole US Army. Pretty subversive stuff for Nixonian 1972.

Matthew:  I dimly remembered this one from its 1977 Marvel Tales reprint as rather tiresome, probably because it lacked a super-villain, and found it a pleasant surprise on a more mature re-reading.  It’s certainly a change of pace, especially after the Spider-Slayer, and I’m glad we finally got a look at Flash’s experiences in Vietnam, with its devastating irony of his being blamed for targeting the temple when in fact he had tried to save its inhabitants (one of whom, as I had also forgotten, would play a major role in Flash’s future).  I liked the depiction of Spidey’s quandary during the melee in the street, not knowing which were the good guys and bad guys or who was doing what to whom, and Romita does a terrific job inking his own pencils.

Peter: Not a heck of a lot to like here. This comes off as the last gasp of a once great writer (well, we think he wrote all those great stories) trying to hit another home run. The art (I assume thanks to Mortellaro) is hit and miss, with war-ravaged Flash Thompson depicted as the love child of Johnny Storm and Nick Fury. This one was just a few issues before my debut as a Spidey-Zombie (my first newsstand buy being #112). There's a letter from future Spider-Man scribe David Michelinie on the Spider's Web page. Michelinie criticizes his future employer for their recent price hike ("When you stop to consider that your major competitor is giving the public half again as many pages for a mere nickel more one has to wonder at your economic policies.") and then goes on to say he was impressed with #103. Our letter opener ignores David's price slam and rattles on about #103-104 being "one of the most offbeat Spider-Man sagas of all."

Mark: Ring-a-Ding Romita inking himself is a joy, the darkened fight scene with Peter in street clothes is a textbook of four color story-telling. Gwen sounds like a real girl for once, and Aunt May got all sticky with web-fluid and didn't even swoon. Spidey's wise-cracks worked, ditto - as Prof. Joe pointed out - the undercurrent of tension between old high-school enemies Pete and Flash. Toss in a dynamic cover and I can only speculate that our Dean wrote his pan on a pub napkin after losing twenty quid on Manchester United during his recent sojourn across the pond.

Marvel Team-Up 2
Spider-Man and The Human Torch in
"And Spidey Makes Four!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney

Still pining for Crystal, Johnny encounters drunken sailor Nathaniel, who inspires him to seek a friend, yet his fiery approach to Spider-Man annoys the latter, who leaves in a huff.  Spidey shows up at the Baxter Building the next morning, apparently to apologize, but knocks out the Torch, having been entranced (offstage) by the Wizard to replace Medusa in the Frightful Four.  Awakening bound by a straitjacket and the Trapster’s paste, Johnny watches in horror as the Wizard, trying to tap the energy of the Negative Zone to power his cosmic device, attracts the attention of Annihilus; freeing himself, Johnny breaks the trance, so Spidey can pull the plug before Annihilus enters our world and help the Torch defeat the Sandman and his allies. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “Hey, classic-counter, didja notice that our newest fulltime scripter, Gerry Conway, authored six full comic-mags this go-round?” asks a Bullpen Bulletin.  “Welcome aboard, Ger—you’re now as inundated with work and wonderment as even Stan and Roy!”  New to his portfolio are MTU, where if memory serves me correctly he really starts to find his voice (let’s hope events prove me right), and—briefly—Captain America.  This is an imperfect but promising start, in which he seems to have the characters down pat, although the title is a bit of a misnomer, since our heroes don’t actually team up until four pages before the end.  As for the Andru/Mooney art, both the Sandman and the Trapster look a little off-model, but Spidey, not surprisingly, looks just terrific.

Scott:  So, are Spider-Man and the Human Torch enemies because of anything solid, or because they're both jackasses? There's no reason for Spidey to give the Torch the brush the way he does. It's not like Spider-Man is overflowing with friends. And even though Johnny remembers the last time they teamed up, the Sandman doesn't, since he has a "score to settle with that wise-crackin' punk." The same punk who was awesome on Christmas and let sandy go so he could hang out with his mom. So, the Frightful Four (uh Three) put Spidey in a trance and the best plan they have is "beat up the Torch?" Not "take off your mask?" The art is Andru Standard Hideous, the story is damned lame and it's a wonder this title lasted as long as it did.

Daredevil 87
"From Stage Left, Enter: Electro!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

To get a fresh start, Matt and Natasha have moved to San Francisco, where the Widow has bought them a year rental in a beautiful home. DD takes to the bridges and skies to explore the city that night. Little does he know, an old foe calls ‘Frisco his home too—Electro! Natasha heads out to meet Matt for dinner (spandex intact). While she’s gone a man drives by her gate and asks Ivan if this is the Widow’s haunt, somewhat evasively calling himself Danny French. Heading to dinner Matt and Natasha spot one of the city’s landmarks behaving badly: Telegraph Hill, glowing and pulsating with a brilliant light. A police commissioner named “Ironguts” O’Hara leads the investigating cops, and he tells our heroes to back off, which DD promptly doesn’t. Rather than send O’Hara’s men in, he moves ahead. The pulsations have a familiar pattern to them; Matt recognizes them. Electro, who had spotted DD earlier, awaits his coming. Natasha uses a little muscle to convince the cops to hold off, giving Daredevil a chance to put Electro (vowing his return) to flight. “Ironguts” grudgingly thanks the costumed crime fighters.  Back at the house, Foggy calls Matt to tell him that he’s not giving up being the D.A. just yet. Matt finds Natasha upset; apparently Danny French isn’t good news. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I’m looking forward to this locale change, however long it lasts. I know SF is prime real estate, but Natasha’s whole inheritance just to rent it for the year? This tale by Gerry Conway is more tightly written, satisfactorily wrapping things up while bringing some new characters to the fore. Myself I’ve yet to read the Frank Miller issues, but I have to think Professor Mark is right that Gene Colan is the “Kirby” of the DD world.

Matthew: The fact that Colan is resolutely the wrong man to draw Electro (who’s always in danger of looking ridiculous, and is pushed over the edge by Gentleman Gene’s ludicrous, Palmer-inked rendition of his ill-advised new headgear, not unlike a Belushi Killer Bee) merely underscores my longing for a breath of fresh air in the art department.  Fortunately, Gerry provides just such a breeze by taking the unprecedented step of relocating the strip to San Francisco, where at least for now Hornhead and his new partner can have the city all to themselves.  The same can be said for the introduction of Commissioner Robert “Ironguts” O’Hara—whose family will occupy a notable niche in Marvel lore—and Lieutenant Paul Carson.

Mark: It begins at last, the maturation of Gerry Conway. Our youthful scribe rapidly progresses in all areas - plot, characterization, dialogue - finally delivering a really good read as he delivers Matt and Natasha to their new home in San Francisco. From their rented three story townhouse (wonderfully rendered by Gene Colan), to DD atop the Golden Gate Bridge and the intro of gimpy-legged police commissioner "Ironguts" O'Hara, all the story elements click, breathing new life into a book that was flat-lining into "Brand Ecch" territory very recently.

Scott:  Interesting. Karen leaves Matt to go be a movie star in Los Angeles, so what is Matt's next move to begin his new life? Go out to live with Natasha in San Francisco, Just seems odd to follow Karen to California if he wants to forget her. Wow, Gene really can't draw Electro, can he? Oof, his mask is all wrong. Strange how Gerry Conway, over on the first panel of page 6, says Electro screams. Yet, there's "hahahahahahahaha" scrolling across the panel. Only six pages in and this book is already a mess. Still, I always enjoyed seeing DD in a different locale. While this issue is middling, the (temporary) change could do some good. I just wish Matt and Natasha would decide if they're friends or lovers, because this undecided crap is - as always - for the birds.

Mark: Okay, it's hard to swallow a superhero couple moving across country together without ever having shed their spandex, but let that go 'cause it creates separate bedrooms tension under Ivan's watchful eye. Electro's inferiority complex is a nice touch, even if his new headgear isn't (Prof. Matthew was right on calling out the badly re-jiggered lightning bolts, WRONG is calling for Colan's dismissal. Mean Gene is the quintessential DD artist, Frank Miller notwithstanding). Name-checking Coit Tower but subbing in a fictive version, complete with old electrical generators and glass cupola, is a minor gaff, but beat cops not thinking the hero's in cahoots with the bad guy is refreshing, and the mysterious Danny French from the Widow's past is an intriguing subplot that leads me to believe that Mr. (Kid no more) Conway is starting to hit his stride.

Fantastic Four 122
"Galactus Unleashed"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Galactus has returned to Earth, vowing to destroy all human life. Unless… He is willing to leave the planet unscathed—on one condition. The Silver Surfer, once his space/time herald, joins him again on his never-ending hunt for cosmic food. The Surfer refuses to be a slave, even for the freedom of the heavens. None of this stops Ben and Johnny from taking turns with their best shots at Galactus. It buys some time while the Silver one puts his plan in action. If he reaches Galactus’ ship, it will force the mighty one to follow. Sadly it is beyond the barrier that Galactus has set up to stop him. This gives Reed an idea. He and Sue head to the Baxter Building and launch their rocket into space. Maybe the Surfer can’t breach the barrier, but what if a human can? With the aid of Sue’s force field, Reed breaks through a force field around the ship itself, and manages to figure out how to work it. He pilots it to within Galactus’ sight, and tells him he’ll destroy the ship if Galactus won’t leave our world alone. -Jim Barwise

Jim: If Galactus wants to destroy the Earth, he’s sure wasting a lot of time. The indifference he displayed originally isn’t seen much here. In fact he’s flaunting more emotion than ever. Perhaps the most interesting development here is Reed gaining access to the ship in orbit. Could he really learn how to pilot it in mere moments? But this is Gerry Conway, and just like his work over in Thor, things happen differently.

Matthew:  I know I’m going to sound like the biggest killjoy around, but this arc is really pissing me off; Stan used the same shtick the last time he brought back Galactus in #74-78.  Breaking, or at least bending beyond recognition, his latest promise never, ever to do such a thing again (I almost laughed out loud at his sanctimonious line, “The word of Galactus is the spoken truth—as lasting as time itself!”), the Big G menaces Earth anew, which is really a ploy to force the FF to give up their old buddy Norrin.  Even in the hands of my favorite art team, Galactus lacks the gravitas of the original Kirby trilogy (#48-50), where the FF were almost literally beneath his notice, and seems more like a petulant lover, spurned by his little Surfer boy.

Mark: “Galactus Unleashed” is a laughably inaccurate title, since the Big G spends the entire ish on a self-imposed leash, checking his watch and swatting away the FF like flies while reminding them, "I have spared you thus far out of respect for your valor," as he waits for the Surfer to return to his service in exchange for sparing the earth. The FF attack. Galactus swats them down. Rinse, repeat, yawn.

Peter: Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with Professor Matthew. A Galactus-arc, back in the old days, would have my heart a-twitter. This is just forced and tired. Hard to believe that world-munching Gal would set up a barrier around his outer space fortress against the Surfer but no one else! We all know there's more than one outer space menace. What if the Skrulls, like hermit crabs, decided their spaceship wasn't big enough? It's also hard, for me, to believe I ate this crap up like candy when I was ten years old. I'd think it would have bored me out of my skull and put me off the FF rather than the opposite.

Mark: The been there-done-that plot is only redeemed by kinetic art from Buscema and Sinnott, who have great fun flinging our heroes - and the occasional Ferris wheel - around like rag dolls. Reed and Sue managed to breech the Big G's ship and retrieve the Ultimate Nullifier...oh wait, that was the original Lee/Kirby classic. Nothing classic about this hoary retread that has me rethinking Dean Peter's "last gasp" thesis and half-wishing Galactus would go ahead and destroy the earth, just to alleviate the tedium.

Scott: This feels like a rerun. The last two issues were pointless and now we're rehashing the whole Galactus wants the Surfer back story. The difference is here it’s an over the top waste of paper. At least Kirby could infuse an feeling of epic grandeur and make it feel important. Here it's just more of the same and feels like the FF, or just Stan, has run dry of originality. Pretty pictures, lots of shouting, and another cliffhanger. Yawn.


Fear #7
Kid Colt Outlaw #159
Li'l Kids #5
Marvel Tales #34
Marvel Triple Action #2
My Love #17
Rawhide Kid #99
Red Wolf #1
The Ringo Kid #14
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #98
Two-Gun Kid #104
Western Gunfighters #9
Where Monsters Dwell #15 ->

It's not earth-shattering but it is interesting that Where Monsters Dwell #15 features the only original story ever featured in the series, "Dead Ringer," written by Mimi Gold and illustrated by Rich Buckler. Why this story was popped in is open to speculation. Was it originally written for Chamber of Darkness or Tower of Shadows (now over a year in the rear view) before those titles were shot down? Gold also wrote the only original story to be published within the first ten issues of Fear (#11 kicked off the original stories featuring Man-Thing).