Wednesday, August 21, 2013

April 1972: The Tomb of Dracula! The Power of Warlock!

Tomb of Dracula 1
Story by Gerry Conway
Plot by Roy Thomas
Art by Gene Colan

Three weary travelers, drive through the Transylvania countryside, in order to get to a remote castle. When they accidentally crash into a ditch, the trio makes their way back into town to seek refuge in a tavern. In the bar, they are introduced as Frank Drake, Clifton, and a woman named Jeanie. At one time she was romantically linked to Clifton, but Jeanie left him for Frank. The patrons at the drinking establishment are scared when they learn that Drake, whom changed his last name, is the descendent of Dracula. Frank pays a gentleman to take them by carriage to the dark castle. On the journey there, Frank reminisces how he squandered his father's inheritance and had no friends that would lend him money. Clifton talks him into converting the castle that was left to him into a tourist attraction. While searching through the old castle, Clifton plans on killing Frank Drake so he can have Jeanie once again along with taking over the tourist idea. After falling through some old floorboards, Clifton comes across a tomb with a majestic coffin. He finds a skeleton inside with a stake shoved into it. Clifton foolishly removes the stake which causes the ghostly form of Dracula to rematerialize from amidst the skeletal remains. Dracula throws Clifton down a trap door as he then attempts to suck Jeanie's blood. Drake is able to drive him off with a silver compact so Dracula flies off to find a barmaid that he kills for his thirst. Once back at the castle, Dracula is successful at biting Jeanie's neck even though Frank Drake tries his best to stop him. Once the villagers find the dead barmaid with holes in her neck they storm off to the castle with torches and start to set the evil fortress on fire. The story ends with Jeanie turning into a vampire, then flying away as a bat while a horrified Frank looks on.

Tom: This was a pretty impressive debut. Tomb of Dracula was one of the few titles from the 1970's that I never bothered to read. That may have been a mistake since this was Marvel's longest running horror title, still highly regarded to this day. The artwork left me a bit cold at first, looking somewhat sloppy, but it grew on me as the story unfolded.

Scott: Hell of a good kickoff to this long running series, with a nice leisurely build up to Dracula's return from the dead. Clifton is annoying as hell and Frank could be less of a weenie, but Drac himself is perfect. Based on Jack Palance, he is a definitive version of the character. Gene Colan is the perfect man for this title and the only artist to work on the series, in spite of the high turnover of writers. I'm not thrilled with the references to Dracula in the movies and would rather they just treat him as the films themselves did - a legendary figure of hell on Earth.

Matthew:  Easily the most successful of Marvel’s early-’70s monster strips, this ran for 70 issues, every blessed one of them penciled by Gene Colan—well inked here by himself, but usually by Tom Palmer—and all but the first six (on which Conway was briefly followed by Archie Goodwin and Gardner Fox) written by Marv Wolfman.  In a rare crossover of my obsessions, Gene modeled the Count after Jack Palance, who would soon play him in Richard Matheson’s adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel; the series also spun off the vampire-hunter Blade, who got his own film franchise.  Since I was not a TOD reader, I can’t comment on where things go from here, but I will compliment Gerry’s script, from Roy and Stan’s uncredited plot.

Peter: Like Professor Matthew, I was never a reader of TOD but I've heard all the legends ("greatest horror series of all time" is one of the chants heard most) and I'm itchin' to dig in based on my enjoyment of the initial installment. Wow! Who authorized an extra four pages of art? Seems risky but it pays off, with characterization, in spades. I've always been a Christopher Lee man myself but Colan's Dracula (via Palance) is an ominous presence. Extra points for the downbeat ending (where the heck could this go from here?) and the cameos by Karen Black (as Jeanie) and Barbara Steele (as the bar wench). This could very well live up to all the hype. (Don't forget the guy from Frankenstein whose daughter got tossed in the lake - Prof. John).

Scott: Gene is already making his mark here, so to speak, as his women exude sex and his men are less so to give Drac the edge in that arena. While the first batch of issues will be uneven, eventually this series will become something pretty great.

John: Gene's art is an acquired taste, ranging from very atmospheric to somewhat sloppy, but with a strong story behind it I can see getting caught up in the continuing adventures of the big D.

Marvel Premiere 1
Warlock in
"And Men Shall Call Him... Warlock!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Having returned to his “metal shell” after Tales to Astonish #96, the High Evolutionary plans Project Alpha from his base inside an asteroid and, orbiting his homeworld, retrieves a cocoon from space before moving to the far side of the sun.  Detecting Him inside, the H.E. senses the perfection he has sought and shares his plan to use a ball of rock from Earth to form its mirror-image, free from the taint of evil, but the exiled Man-Beast watches his “father” collapse from the effort of populating the planet.  When he kills the loyal Sir Raam and corrupts Counter-Earth, Him emerges to save the H.E., who agrees not to destroy his flawed creation and gives Him—now dubbed Warlock—an emerald to protect him as he tracks down the Man-Beast. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The most enduring and prestigious of Marvel’s major “trial-balloon titles,” this spun off three of the best Bronze-Age series—Warlock, the revived Dr. Strange, and Iron Fist—then featured various characters in stints of no more than four issues until August 1981.  These ranged from solo appearances by established supporting players (Hercules, the Falcon, Wonder Man, Jack of Hearts) and those with cancelled strips (Tigra, Man-Wolf, Black Panther) to newbies (the Liberty Legion, Woodgod, 3-D Man, the second Ant-Man), oddities (Alice Cooper?!), and imports (Dr. Who).  Premiere skipped the oversized quarterly format of its sister titles, Spotlight and Feature, but its recurrence in May was an anomaly as it would be a bimonthly for most of its 61-issue run.

Scott: Dull with a capital D. The Christ Analogy is laid on far too thick and will continue thusly for some time to come. I never knew the origin of counter-Earth before, so that's something I guess. Not sure how duplicates of people on Real Earth made it there, but maybe I skipped the explanation as I was dozing. Still waiting for the 70's to get better.

Matthew: In a revamping more radical than they did on Captain Marvel, whom Jim Starlin would also take to even greater heights, the mighty team of Roy Thomas, Gil Kane, and Dan Adkins converts a spoiled man-god-child into a noble, overtly Christ-like hero who literally makes it his mission to save a world.  Separately, Him and the High Evolutionary had already crossed paths with some of Marvel’s biggest guns (Thor, Hulk, FF), yet this inspired intermingling of their fates enables Roy to create a tabula rasa with Counter-Earth on which he can write whatever he wants.  I was afraid this wouldn’t live up to my expectations after so many years, but its scope is so epic, its conception so bold, and its visualization by Kane so spectacular that it has easily exceeded them.

Fantastic Four 121
"The Mysterious Mind-Blowing Secret of Gabriel!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Gabriel takes pleasure in displaying his power over humanity and the Fantastic Four. The people of New York, driven by fear, and baited by this “angel,” turn against the heroes they previously championed, hoping to spare their own lives. All over the world, people have given into despair, hopelessly awaiting Earth’s destruction. Reed and company refuse to go down without a fight, even when Gabriel uses an ocean tanker as a missile, chasing the Fantasti-Car until it crashes into the ocean. Salavation comes in the form of the Silver Surfer, who decides he can witness this madness no longer. Once a harbinger of mankind’s doom himself, he cannot let this crueler version of what he once was destroy humanity. Just when Gabriel seems to be the Surfer’s master, and smother him in his cape, the Surfer’s cosmic power frees him.  The angel’s cape is destroyed, and, it having been his secret source of power, Gabriel falls to Earth, smashing to pieces—a robot! The real menace reveals himself, as eager as his herald to end all life on Earth: Galactus… -Jim Barwise

Matthew: Since I read this tetralogy in a treasury edition that shows the cliffhanger at the end of part two on its cover, I have no idea how surprising the revelation that Galactus was behind it all might have been back in the day, but if nothing else, it shows how reliant Stan is on twin titans Buscema and Sinnott to do the heavy lifting.  I’d expected, or at least hoped, that he would return to writing comics reinvigorated, yet while we should be on the edge of our seats with the world in danger, and excited by the appearance of the Surfer, the storytelling somehow seems perfunctory to me.  Gabriel’s turning out to be a robot left me with a big “Meh,” as did his destruction; funny how Reed’s hair mysteriously rearranged itself after he came off the lamppost.

Mark: I'd hoped for thrilling, world-at-stake drama after Gabe blew his horn last ish, but the big reveal unmasks the Air Walker as mere Mcguffin, Stan squandering two issues on ill-conceived throat-clearing before we get to the return of the Purple Planet Eater, Galactus. The only good thing about this steaming pile of horseshi – um, miserable miscalculation, was the topnotch art by Buscema & Sinnott, from a great Kirby-like splash to the dramatic return of Big G, all wasted by the inanity of all else, which Stan must have scribbled while sleepwalking through his toup closet.

Scott:  Is this issue even necessary? All we get is a batch of stalling before Galactus arrives. What's the point of this subterfuge? All to show how badly we'd act if we knew the end of the world was at hand? Like this is the first time this has happened in the Marvel Universe? And, whew, what a relief Gabriel was only a robot and it's only Galactus we have to worry about. The citizens are ridiculous, turning on a dime against the FF and then just giving up en masse. People slumped in chairs, doing nothing, not even trying to get home to their families. 21 pages of this running in place makes me feel like I'm reading a recent Thor saga. I've said it before and I'll go to my grave saying it: oy!

Peter: "Shut up, Ben"  "How's about clammin up for once?"  "Quit yer complainin'" Aye yi yi, I've had it up to here with all the in-fighting. Is this what Stan learned from his hiatus hobnobbin' with Frenchies? Super groups tend to fight amongst themselves? The Man pert near invented the gimmick but can't he come up with a new hook after ten years of the same old thing? I'm wodering how Stan's going to get out of the corner he's backed himself into: why would the most powerful force in the galaxy resort to masquerade? Why not just eat the earth? And, last I can remember, Galactus had made a vow to leave us off his menu. As I mentioned last month, this was the first FF I bought new on the stands and it blew me away on its first read, even though I was much more sophisticated and intelligent at ten than at fifty-two.

Jim: Professor Pete: If this was your first new F.F. issue, I could see why to a ten year-old it would seem pretty awesome. If you hadn’t read the original appearance of Galactus, this one might seem pretty darn good. And maybe that’s where this issue is most interesting, is in how it compares to F.F.’s 48-50; sometimes a “remake” can be better. It isn’t even a question of that here, but the differences are worth noting. Gabriel is much more happy to exploit his power than the Surfer was, so it’s ironic that it’s him who defeats the “angel” (a little too easily). As much as his visual appeal, it’s the Surfer’s spark of humanity (once awakened) that always made him stand out. The original indifference of Galactus seems likewise much more suitable for a being of his magnitude than the anger he displays here. Maybe we’ll see a reason for it next month. And what’s the point of Gabriel first wanting the F.F. destroyed, and then saying it was the Silver Surfer’s destruction he really sought? The Buscema/Sinnott artwork is outstanding.

Mark: Let's conclude the autopsy with a round of Jeopardy. Why do the good folk of NYC, knowing the FF have saved their bacon on umpteen occasions, go all homicidal at the first rustle of Gabriel's skirt? Why do armies and industries shut down in despair, world-wide, within minutes of Gabe announcing Doomsday, like this was their first alien invasion? Since when does the Big G: (a) bother riffing on earthling theology; (b) harbor hatred toward the FF, let alone one so deep that Gabe's whole purpose was to inspire the populace to murder them; (c) create robots to do his bidding, or (d) bother with cat's paws at all? The answer, Alex, is: Why does none of this crap makes a lick of sense? I've always grooved on Galactus, but this God-awful set-up to whatever comes next hardly inspires confidence. Guess there's a reason I had no memory of this (mis)adventure. Amnesia is trauma's only mercy.

The Avengers 98
"Let Slip the Dogs of War!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

Clint Barton, Goliath, is missing! Thor and Iron Man leave to search Asgard and Tony Stark's resources, respectively, while Cap checks the TV for any hints ("Hey, Hogan's Heroes is on. That Shultz! He knows nothink!"). What he sees isn't Goliath, but trouble brewing. A "Mr. Tallon" of a group calling themselves the Warhawks is stirring up crowds into demonstrating for war against the Asian countries. People are now suddenly on the side of nuclear attack. Cap, Rick, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch take the Quinjet to the scene only to find themselves under the spell of trilling flute music. They, too, suddenly desire war and take up arms against "the commies!" Thor returns to Avengers mansion after being repulsed from Asgard by an unseen force. When the Vision calls Iron Man, the golden avenger is also under their spell. Thor then heads to the scene of the mob while the Vision goes to Stark's facility to stop his arsenal of weapons from falling into the hands of radicals. Vision and Iron Man's battle is brutal and short lived. Iron Man hurls the android at a "piper" whose music has been turning Iron Man's mind. The piper is killed, freeing Shellhead who now realizes what he's done to his fellow Avenger. They both take off toward the city as Thor recognizes "Mr. Tallon" as Ares, the Grecian God of War! The music begins again and Iron Man is back under the spell. All of the Avengers, sans the Vision, attack Thor. Wanda holds his hammer in a stasis field while the crowd and the changed heroes beat the Thunder God viscously. Out of nowhere, an arrow pierces Wanda's hex field and Thor has his hammer again. He tries to turn the crowd against Area, but the pipers keep people in thrall. Suddenly, the Vision arrives and subdues said pipers, releasing everyone from the spell. From the shadows, the originator of the arrow emerges: Clint Barton, now once again Hawkeye, with a new costume. And with him is an amnesiac Hercules, who comes with warnings of Earth's and Asgard's doom! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Mmmm, good stuff. I initially figured this for another cheesy Hate Monger type story, but this one turns the usual protestor stuff on its head. A lot of really great imagery as each of our heroes falls under the spell one by one. It's strange and unnerving to see Captain America shouting his support of war against the communists. Rick mentions being done with the super hero biz, which isn't dwelled upon, but I trust it will come back up soon enough.

Mark Barsotti; After the Kree-Skull epic we return to a smaller stage and refocus on Earth's Mightiest as they tackle another incarnation of one of this era's over-used clichés, the rabble-rousing baddie stirring up the populace behind a false identity. "Mr. Tallon's" Warhawks want the ever-malleable New York populace - on break from attacking the FF, just a few blocks away - to kill the Chinese delegates (unfortunately colored like its "Kill the Japs!" 1942) to the U.N, sparking nuclear war. The new hate-monger is ultimately unmasked as Ares, a decent tweak of the hidden villain trope which also explained the Pan-like Pipers, whose hypnotic trilling had Cap and others joining the murderous mob.

Scott: Barry Smith and Sal Buscema are the art team of the era, it seems. They do fine work here, giving the issue an interesting feel. However, Hawkeye's costume is pretty bad. All of the great, tough masculinity Neal Adams gave him is sucked into a black. I'm counting the minutes until he changes into something less "Village People." Nice to see Herc again, who brings us to the requisite cliffhanger. This was a very interesting set up to something I hope isn't a bummer.

Matthew: The Kree-Skrull War is obviously a tough act to follow, so I’ll try not to be too hard on this issue, especially marking as it does the return of my beloved Hawkeye, albeit in his laughable and mercifully short-lived “mod” threads.  I believe the postwar creative troika of Thomas, Smith, and Buscema is the same one that has (or had, depending on the Professor Matthew Time Paradox) been wowing readers in Conan the Barbarian, yet while Smith’s figure work is solid, the faces are extremely uneven here, distractingly so in my opinion.  And it is perhaps premature to say so with this many questions still unanswered, but Roy’s story seems both overly familiar in spots and poorly focused in general; hope he makes the most of Hercules.

Peter: This is a tough one. There are some parts here I really like (we're kept in the air all the way as to whether this barrier around Asgard is related to the events going on down on earth. I'm sure they are. It would be too radical of a departure if there were two catastrophes going on at the same time! My, how things have changed around the Marvel offices. A few years before this issue, it would have been Stan Lee, not Ares, shouting "Down with the commie scum!" Now we have a voice of reason (in The Rascally One) whispering "we should all just get along." Barry Smith's art is indeed spotty (his splash makes The Vision look like an ape and Cap has seen better days as well). There's one panel here that gave me goosebumps and that's the brain-washed Captain America screaming "All right, everybody--let's go tear up those commies!" Brilliant!

Mark: While not quite up to his Conan standards, Barry Smith's art is first rate (take another look at the splash, Dean Peter; there's never been an "ape" with nobler visage or more chiseled cheekbones)  the occasional clunker panels (e.g. Iron-Man's misshapen head, Page 10) look like more Sal than Barry. The last couple pages up the overall grade a notch, with the as yet unexplained return of Clint Barton, back to being Hawkeye, if clad in dubious, very '70's new duds, and an amnesic Hercules wandering out of the fog with a doomsday prophecy.

Sub-Mariner 48
"Twilight of the Hunted"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito

Still suffering from memory loss due to the trauma of witnessing his father's death, Namor, along with his new lady friend named Cindy Jones, wanders the swamps with Dr. Doom in search for clues that will lead them to the Cosmic Cube. When Doom insists that they leave Cindy behind, Namor whisks her off so they can be on their own. Cindy suggests that they go visit some friends that she used to live with. The lady that stays at her old place seems nice, but when her drug pushing, hippie friend named Johnnie shows up he tries to take Cindy hostage at gunpoint. Namor thwarts the psychotic hippie and the cops get involved. During the confusion, one of Doom's lackies kidnaps Cindy so that Namor will be forced to do Doom's bidding. Using Namor as a scout to swim ahead in the ocean, Dr. Doom follows him in his underwater ship. Namor is able to find the old A.I.M. Base. He destroys some weaponry that tries to prevent him from gaining entry. Once inside, Subby is confronted by M.O.D.O.K. and his android army. The story ends with them planning on taking Namor to the cosmic cube. -Tom McMillion

Scott: Lots of action for the amnesiac Namor as he does Doom's bidding. Why do I feel like they are just filling pages here? After all, they set up some huge quest to find Namor's pop, we meet the guy and he's killed in short order and then Namor has no memory and we're going around in circles. Cosmic cubes, Modok, AIM, SHIELD, Hydra, the Red Skull, every title seems to blend in with the other. This is not the best month of comics I've ever read.

Tom McMillion: Besides the bizarre Johnnie the nutty hippie side plot, I thought that this story moved along nicely. Of course, the success of the whole tale depends on next issue's conclusion. Poor Cindy Jones isn't a very lucky gal. Her lack of common sense almost gets her killed by some drug pushing wacko, then one of Dr. Doom's troops tries to rape her before the good Doctor intervenes to give the creep some just punishment. It's nice to see even a scumbag like Dr. Doom has some honor.

Matthew:  The expression “less than the sum of its parts” was coined for assemblies like this story, which somehow squanders such assets as Dr. Doom, MODOK, and—presumably next issue—the Cosmic Cube.  (Wonder if Gerry will remember that Namor possessed the Cube back in Avengers #40?)  Even little things rankle, like the throwaway and, as far as I know, completely implausible rationalization of the “gaping wound in the sea bottom” caused by Doom’s vessel, or the issue of why his skin, when seen through the eye-slits of his mask in page 10, panel 4, is the same metallic color.  How that schlepp Kenner got a berth among Doom’s hideously outfitted crew is also open to question, but clearly, this doesn’t stand up to any kind of a rigorous analysis.

Astonishing Tales 11
Ka-Zar in
"A Day of Tigers"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Trekking through the jungle, Barbara is attacked by a long-neck, but trusty Ka-Zar comes to the rescue and kills the sea monster. As the inquisitive Barbara and companion Paul slumber, the jungle lord thinks back to his origin. Lord Plunder, Ka-Zar’s father, parachuted into the Savage Land, dodging the primeval danger long enough to grab a mysterious medallion. Back in Britain, he learns of his wife’s death, and gives one half of the medallion, actually an “anti-metal” element, to each of his two sons, Kevin and Parnival. Threatened by some hoods, Lord Plunder flees with Kevin to the Savage Land, where they find the powerful “mound of anti-metal”—but almost immediately, Lord Plunder is felled by a spear from a group of brutish man-apes! Young Kevin is saved by a sabretooth tiger, earning the little lord the name Ka-Zar, or Son of the Tiger. But they flee into the Place of Mists, where the power of the mists help both lad and longtooth grow ever stronger! Years later, vengeance-seeking, one-eyed Maa-Gor, long ago injured by Zabu, and his man-apes bully the Savage Land citizens until finally finding Ka-Zar and attacking! The peace-seeking Plunder is forced to fight, especially after loyal Zabu is injured, and shoves a giant boulder on his foes, leaving only Maa-Gor alive! The two leaders engage in a fierce battle, until KZ stands triumphant, ending his waking dream. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: The first thing that strikes me about this issue is the cover. We get the promise of the origin of Ka-Zar and Zabu--Plus! We get Maa-Gor the Man-Ape—Big Minus, this isn’t Where Monsters Dwell! KZ shouting “Kill, Zabu! Kill! Kill!”—Minus, sounds misleading. Zabu in the background performing said killing—Plus! Get that Man-Ape sidekick, you crazy cat!! Inside, we get a super wordy but informative script from Roy, action-packed art by Gil and the usual average at best inks from Giacoia. What, no one else was available to ink Gil Kane? Is it a package deal? Oh, well…Nice to see KZ’s origin, but we still have no progress on what the heck this Barbara chick really wants from the blonde beefcake. And Parnival Plunder, KZ’s brother—that’s a real name? Who does that to a child?

Scott: The origin of Ka-Zar! The story I always wanted to read! And did, back when I read the Marvel Comics #1 reprint, but this one is more detailed and works in brother Parnival. Kevin and Parnival, the Fabulous Furry Freaky Plunder Brothers. It's not the most thrilling story ever, but still a little more interesting than most other Ka-Zar Adventures. There's no real explanation why young Kevin changes his pattern of speech to sound more "Asgardian" as he gets older or why he never fashions himself a pair of shoes, but there ya go. Gil Kane does the pictures and it's his usual.

Joe: On the Astonishing Mails letters page, we get our long-awaited answer to the Dr. Doom “Doomsmasque” dilemma. OK, maybe just Matthew and I were truly interested. Anyway, letter writer Lester G. Boutillier of New Orleans asks about, and raves about, Doom’s half of the book and is told “In fact, the team of Gerry Conway and Gene Colon had already plotted and penciled the ‘Doomsmasque’ sequence—and it became the basis for the current three-parter in SUB-MARINER, with those’Dr. Doom’ pages easily converted into a ‘Namor vs. Doc Doom vs. Modok’ tale.” Bob’s your uncle!

The Mighty Thor 198
"-- and Odin Dies!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta

It initially appears that Odin, in Mangog’s clutches, is dead. With the Warriors Three to distract the beast, Thor saves Odin from finishing him. Laying his father where he can gain a few moments rest, Thor entrusts Volstagg (absent from the frontlines of course) to take the flask of water they brought from the well at World’s End to Vizier.  Task soon accomplished, the Vizier adds the water to that of Odin’s Cosmic Well, and awaits the result. Three of Asgard’s elder gods, some of his closest friends, find Odin and help to revive him. They set out on horseback to rejoin the battle. On the planet known as Blackworld, Sif and Hildegarde are shown by the human Silas Grant, how the mysterious being they ominously refer to as “him” can change the world about him at will. Where the Medieval village was hours before, a city out of Earth’s depression years has taken its place.  They find an ally in the form Rigelian Colonizer Tana Nile, who covers them in a force bubble as “his” shadow towers above them. Back in Asgard, the newly mixed waters of the wells bring about some cosmic changes. The realm begins its journey back to normal space/time, and Odin’s strength is rejuvenated. He isolates the hate from Mangog that has given the creature its power, and it begins to shrink–smaller and smaller, until it disappears from existence. Alas there is no time to celebrate; the effort has killed Odin. That is, his body is dead. His soul still remains, as long as Asgard has not returned to normal space and time. Thor uses Mjolnir to halt its return, hoping to buy some time to find a way to restore his father’s life.

Matthew: To paraphrase Apocalypse Now, “Colletta.  Shit.”  That’s all I’m going to say about the artwork.  As for the story, I don’t know which idea would bother me more, that Gerry just made this saga up as he went along, which is what it feels like, or that he planned it all out in advance…with results that felt made up as he went along.  The Blackworld stuff in particular has that ominous anything-goes feel to it, especially now that “the ubiquitous [?] Tana Nile” is back, and although I can’t remember who “He” (not to be confused with “Him”) is, I’m not getting my hopes up.  Interestingly, here and in the current Sub-Mariner, he depicts introspective moments of self-doubt that struck me as notably out of character for Volstagg and Dr. Doom, respectively.

Scott: This was a good issue, a final battle with Mangog that actually feels like there are consequences. Hogun has a point, Thor's not the only one who lost a father this day, but you can be damned sure he's the only kid going after his father in the dark realm. Odin's final effort was exceptionally well done, giving a great deal of weight to all of his blustering over the years. You can feel him as a force to be reckoned with and if this indeed does mean the end of the character (and of course it doesn't), what a way to go.

JB: After a few issues now, I wonder if there just may not be a good way to bring back Mangog. His initial appearance, back in issues 154 to 157, was so classic; perhaps it’s a tale that can only be told once. Much of the time it feels like the actions are just repeats of the first battle. Still, there are interesting things going on. Volstagg’s introspective moment, as you point out Professor Matthew, is a side we haven’t seen, but one that could do with more development. Maybe I’m alone in enjoying the business of Blackworld, although Conway does have to be careful not to stretch the boundaries so much that we won’t believe anything that’s going on. Now with Tana Nile on board, we have a truly odd team, but one that holds promise.

Peter: It's both amazing and depressing that, not long ago, this title was cruising through its run as Marvel's Best Title and now it's stepping up to the plate as Marvel's Hardest to Read (as opposed to Captain America which is Marvel's Stupidest). It's literally work to finish Gerry Conway's meandering homage to all those old Lee-Kirby epics he read when he was a tyke. Lord knows, Gerry's got all the huge menaces down (they're coming out of the woodwork, in fact) but now he needs to work on the little things like pacing, dialogue, and characterization. Do we even know why Man-Gog transformed into Man-Shrimp? Doesn't help that he's stuck with the worst Thor art ever (seriously, in some of the panels,  Odin looks like one of the rednecks on Duck Dynasty). Can anyone pull a trace of Buscema out of this muck? And, while I was napping, did Gerry ramp up the Thee's and Thou's? You shouldn't have to read the word balloons in a funny book several times just to get the gist but with dialogue like "--I'll cut thee from thy master's hate -- dooming thee to thyself -- and with the selfsame spell, send mine Odinsword winging to its sheath!", one issue could take you all day.

Scott: Not as thrilled this time with the subplots in Blackworld as the mysterious place seems less mysterious by virtue of having versions of Earthly cities and people in suits. And Tana Nile was never the most interesting of characters; however Kirby did make her weird enough to be visually interesting. She's lacking that strangeness now, which is a shame. I'll keep up hope that this all ties up interestingly. Am I setting myself up for a fall? I don't know, two good issues in a row is pretty rare in these parts.

Captain America and The Falcon 148
"The Big Sleep!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema and Johnny Romita

The Red Skull is the mysterious figure seen in the last page of the previous chapter, the reveal apparently happening between the issues. Worse, he is the head of Hydra, which all this time has been a decoy to keep people from discovering the Skull has been trying to create the Forth Reich! He has been using the Kingpin's son as a puppet to support the Skull's efforts, the creation of a Fifth and Final Sleeper! The Skull threatens to turn it loose to destroy the free world unless Cal surrenders at Las Vegas city limits. With the world at stake, and therefore his profits, the Kingpin allies himself with Cap and the Falcon. Falc gets in touch with Nick Fury who puts the Falcon in charge of operation until SHIELD can arrive. With Kingpin's help, Falc contacts the Femme Force at Hydra HQ. Kingpin then calls his Mafia goons to come en masse. Sharon bolts from her sick bed and takes back command of the Femme Force. Cap arrives at the feet of the huge Sleeper and before he can make a move, the Femme Force attacks. The Skull retaliates, driving the women off. The Kingpin's goons arrive in armored cars, but they also have no effect. The air force attacks with jets, but the Sleeper destroys them with ease. The Skull releases a deadly gas over Vegas, which either kills or simply paralyzes, nobody - not even the Skull - knows for sure. Cap sneaks into the sleeper, fights off the Skull's men and finally confronts the villain himself. Before he can execute Cap, Redwing takes the gun form his hand. Cap punches the Skull who falls ass-backward through a vertical slit and to his "death." Cap and Falc destroy the Sleeper and the Falcon goes back to Harlem to help his people. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Yet another sleeper. The idea nearly put me to sleep. The notion that the Skull is behind Hydra and that it is a cover for rising Nazism is weird. All of this time, the Skull has been launching these little plots and fighting with Cap and he was the guy behind Hydra? Talk about an absentee landlord. Does this make sense? (answer: no). I'm not even sure if we're supposed to believe the Skull has always been Hydra's brains behind the scene or if this were a more recent development. I would look into it, but already my mind is wandering.

Matthew: As if Gary Friedrich doesn’t have enough to answer for, this story arrogantly asserts that everything we’ve read about Hydra since Strange Tales #135 is a lie, although at least now we know where the group’s moniker comes from:  Hitler Youth Didn’t Really Acquiesce.  (Yes, that’s a joke.)  So I guess Hydra was just a little sideline for the Skull, when he wasn’t working on the third and final—er, fourth and final…excuse me, fifth and final Sleeper.  This is such a bizarre mash-up that it’s like watching a little kid dump the dinosaurs, Hot Wheels®, and soldiers out of his toy box and weave them all into one insane, kitchen-sink narrative.  Nice art, though, with Sal drawing a mean Skull, but why is inker Romita uncredited?

Peter: Hard to believe this became one of the best Marvel titles of the 1970s once the ship got righted. At the moment it's The Poseidon Adventure. I love the line The Skull throws at Kingpin when the big guy tells him he's in for a whale of a whippin': "Wrong, my obese though unwitting cohort..." What does that even mean? If, and I'm just saying if, there was a fifth sleeper (for some whacky reason lying under the Las Vegas desert floor), why would The Skull wait four years to bring him out of hiding? You'd think he might bring him out right after Cap had put the kibosh on #4, right? Or, better yet, bring out #5 (which is supposed to be the most powerful one of them all) first! Wouldn't that cut down on expenditures?  I'm going to drag the maggot-ridden carcass of the long-dead horse out of the MU barn once again and beat it severely when I say even Stan Lee, ferchrissakes, wrote better "black man lingo" than Gary ("My best friends are black and they talk like this") Friedrich. Samples? "The Man ain't jivin' you, Jack! What's your pitch?" and "All this praise jive's makin' me itchy...". If I was a young black male in 1972, I'd have had the same attitude as Leila. I'd have marched to the Marvel offices and burned the honky-ass bullpen to the ground!

Matthew: “This story literally angered Marvel fans like they’d never been angered before,” commented Mark Drummond on SuperMegaMonkey’s Marvel Comics Chronology.  “There was yet another return of the Red Skull (dangerously skirting diminishing threat territory), the unnecessary snarling of Hydra continuity (which required Tony Isabella to go to such lengths as an unusual text page in Daredevil [#120-21] to resolve), and the Fifth Sleeper, which immediately became known as the epitome of plot recycling.  Sales plummeted...and it took Steve Englehart to rescue the book from cancellation.  Gary Friedrich from this point on...was [largely] restricted to books which had no (or, as in Ghost Rider [later that year], minimal) ties to the main Marvel Universe.”

Scott: The Falcon amuses with the repeated overtures to calm Cap down. Twice he has to tell him the Skull's "not jivin'," or something. There is thankfully less of the Femme Force infighting and only the barest mention of the Falcon's single-mindedness when it comes to his people. The art is okay, but the Skull does not look his best here. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the ineffectiveness of not actually giving the Skull a proper reveal either this issue or at the end of the previous. No "unmasking," he's just there. Very much a bummer.

The Incredible Hulk 150
"Cry Hulk! Cry Havok!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin

Making the most out of the chaotic battle that happened previously, the Hulk escapes the military base that he was being held captured at. Thunderbolt Ross and his troops pursue the Hulk into the desert but have to abandon their quarry when they are called in to testify why things have been failing so miserably for them. The Hulk ends up coming across the green haired mutant, Lorna Dane, as she is being chased by some wretched bikers. Believing that she is Jarella, the Hulk knocks the bikers away. When Lorna reaches her destination point, a small shelter, it is revealed that the X-Men member known as Havok has been staying there. She tries to talk him into going back to the X-Men mansion and rejoining the team after he had a fight with Iceman. When he rejects her offers, Lorna runs away. Thinking that Havok is out to hurt her, the Hulk attacks him. During the battle, Havok is able to master his strong powers and defeat the Hulk. Lorna and Havok leave together as Talbot and Betty come across Banner back in human form. The story ends with Banner whispering his love for Jarella into a shocked Betty's ear. -Tom McMillion

Scott: You'd think the 150th issue would be something of a milestone, but whatever. I love how the Hulk has "no time" to crush General Ross' head like an egg shell. How long could it possibly take him? I'd say just as long as it takes to toss him aside. More soap opera, but it's a nice touch to have the Hulk confused by the green hair of Lorna Doone - Dane, sorry. Havoc was always an also-ran, but this is actually the first story I ever saw him in when I was younger. I read this in an oversized Treasury Edition and it took me a long time to really catch up on this character later. At least Betty finally learns about Jarella, setting in motion her eventual marriage when the sleazy Talbot moves in at her most vulnerable next issue.

Matthew: This is another of those entries (enumerated in my Sunday Special “The X-iles”) that kept the mutant pot boiling while the X-Men were between incarnations.  It’s odd to see Archie, who had not written a word of their original book, borrowing two of the characters for this issue, not to mention a pretty big coincidence for a girl with green hair to appear on the Hulk’s radar while he’s still pining for Jarella—who, for the record, was a blonde.  They might just be wearing me down, but the Trimpe/Severin team bothered me a little less than usual, even if Betty and Lorna do look pretty interchangeable except for the hue of their locks, and if I had a main beef, it’s that almost half of the story is routine business before Havok and Polaris show up.

Daredevil 86
"Once Upon a Time -- The Ox!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Our Story:

Watching an entertainment news show about a shindig including all of the favourites (Matt Murdoch, Karen Page, Foggy and the Black Widow) is the Ox stuck in Dr. Stragg’s body.  Although he’s been released from jail because the radioactive isotopes that are in his body (thanks to the Dr.) mean his imminent death, the Ox is looking for revenge on the DA and the star prosecutor who put him in that jail cell with Stragg.  Those same isotopes have resulted in a body that grows in size and strength when angry!  The Ox heads to the party he saw on TV ready to fight. When he arrives, Matt changes to DD, but has a hard time tracking the villain because the radioactivity is acting as a shield.  Natasha had left the party with her head down, but now that DD is in danger, she wants to help.  She holds back, however, and Karen rushes to an injured Matt’s side.  When Karen sees Matt has somewhat recovered, she rushes off to boost her career.  DD’s still hurting, but he nonetheless heads out to stop the Ox, who he realizes can only get so big before completely falling apart. DD keeps him angry and fighting.  At the last minute when the Ox is losing his life (in an explosion), he thanks our hero for the chance at future peace.  When Karen arrives home, she and Matt realize they have been trying to rekindle the past and their lives are too different to make it work.  As Karen leaves she gives the waiting Natasha word of encouragement.  Matt and the Widow are an item again.

NC: Is this a comic or a soap opera? Although I’m glad to see Matt and Natasha have another chance. It was kind of a sad ending for the Ox. He was craving peace, yet he never seemed to want it before.

Mark: Behind a great Gene Colan splash page - DD swinging straight toward the reader on the screen of an ancient black and white TV – Gerry Conway brings back old school musclehead the Ox only to kill him off in a middlin’ tale that was actually...okay. After several issues awful enough that make a compelling case for illiteracy, inching above the Mendoza line into outright adequacy is a Great Leap Forward for Kid Conway. Nothing compelling though about the Ox-Stragg mind-meld, although Stragg’s dying address flirted with honest emotion, and Gerry’s page 15 six caption meditation on morning was well-wrought, even if it had nothing to do with the story.

Scott: Nice art, wacko story. I'm fine with the Ox being in Stragg's body and that could have been a really interesting thread to pull (ah who am I kidding?). The fact that someone in the Marvel Universe is actually dying of radiation is also something fairly novel at this point. But to have a guy whose body is a totally different genetic formation transform in to the physical double of the Ox - simply because his personality is there - kills it. Actually, all the cheesy Matt/Karen/Natrasha/Phil crapola (they're all at the same party? REALLY?) did the damage first. Everyone is annoying in this issue. Matt, Karen, the Widow, Ivan…. Oy. I want Frank Miller. So is Stragg dead or did he leave some of his personality behind? It feels like a juxtaposition of wills, but it's all so confusing. Maybe if I think about it some more I'll---ooo, a piece of candy!

Matthew: This one started out promisingly before going off the rails in a big way, and for once I’m going to lay some of the blame at the feet of Gene Colan, whose Tom Palmer-inked rendition of the Ox is ghastly in the extreme.  He is hardly helped by the inexplicable decision to color the Ox’s skin gray, without at least a line of dialogue explaining that this was a side-effect of the radiation (as I presume it must have been, since he was never anything other than flesh-toned in the past).  Although it could arguably be justified as a case of kill or be killed, Daredevil’s plan to effect critical mass in the Ox—which obviously could, and did, have fatal consequences—seems cold-blooded; don’t even talk to me about the bait and switch with Karen.

Mark: The fight scenes with the growing-but-why-is-he-gray-Ox worked well, but that's credited more to Colan’s dynamic art, DD's acrobatics given a fluid almost liquid grace, than to the exposition heavy dialogue ("Yeah, but that wuz years ago...before he met me, and tricked me under that crazy helmet of his! When I---when I went back to prison as Stragg – everybody thought I wuz him!" the Ox explains, mid-fight, and he’s just getting started. And lest Ger forget we’re grading on a curve, the soapy sub-plot fares worse. Natasha and Karen’s agent Nimrod, er, Phil, both just-jilted, show up at the same socialite shindig as the newly-engaged Matt and Karen. Teary-eyed soul-searching prompts 'Tasha to leave Matt alone to work things out, even though she knew at that moment it might well have meant him getting beaten to death by the Ox! Nor does the final spin of the As the Fiancée Turns merry-go-round ring true, but if it’s a final elbowing of ever-more-neurotic Karen out of the strip to make room for the Widow, I’m all for it. And I really dug the final "Aren’t we all…just a little blind" coda, so there's hope for Kid Conway yet.

The Amazing Spider-Man 107
"Spidey Smashes Thru!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Caught in the clutches of the Spider-Slayer, Spider-Man is forced to sit through Spencer Smythe’s rollicking recap of their history together, then is zapped with more gas for good measure and paraded in front of the sleazy gang leaders. Gwen chats with Randy, then meets with Flash, who apologizes for his odd behavior. Spidey takes advantage of Smythe plotting a bank robbery and twists out of the Slayer’s bonds, and soon after, out of Smythe’s lair. Thanks to a phone call from Spidey, the police start removing the video scanners in time to foil the big bank robbery, then Spidey cleans up by smashing a slew of thugs. Spidey heads back towards Smythe’s hideout and is ambushed by the Spider-Slayer, which he quickly dispatches thanks to some earlier control-rearranging, then visits JJJ to let him know he’s wise to his tricks. Next Spidey swings up on Gwen and Flash—until Flash is taken away by the police! -- Joe Tura

Joe: Is this the clunkiest splash page ever on the pages of ASM? An odd angle for Mr. Romita and lots of unnecessary busy-ness. But I nitpick…A decent issue, balanced by a nice end to the Spider-Slayer saga featuring quick Spidey wits and fun thug-trashing, along with high drama involving Flash Thompson and an always-worried Gwen, and scariest of all, JJJ thinking about running for mayor! After the splash, the rest of the book unfolds into textbook Romita brilliance—no one draws Spidey web-swinging like the Jazzy one! Script-wise, the hyperbole meter is way up there, as if Stan was making up for lost time when Roy was at the helm. “Spidey’s Greatest Triumph” promises the cover, but really what was the actual triumph, getting the police to listen to him about the scanners? I was impressed myself at Spidey’s escape, but to me the greater triumph was having Romita break the frame on the cover to have the wall-crawler’s legs hanging from the top of the book.

Mark: Squandering an exciting set-up, the concluding chapter of the Spider Slayer rematch comes a cropper, more evidence perhaps, as my senior colleagues have suggested for the last couple "months," that Smilin' Stan was running on fumes (And Dean Peter, you're excused because of all your globetrotting, but this was a three-parter). From plot pratfalls, small (Spidey calling the Slayer's metal cables "ropes") and gargantuan (the NYPD dismantle their vaunted and very pricey rooftop spy cameras because of an anonymous phone tip???), to Gwen spouting insipid dialogue ("Why the mellow bellow, men?") and demeaning internal monologue ("Shame on you, Miss Stacy! How can such a pretty little creature feel so jealous?"), to the clueless cops still thinking the webbed-up gang lords were in cahoots with Spidey, this one stinks like a dead carp, five days in the sun. And while I'm in full Stan-bashing mode, this month's SOAPBOX about the Attica prison riot and subsequent police turkey-shoot was lame-o as well. At least Flash's last page Viet Nam-related arrest promises something new next month. I'm in 'cause, well, there's a sucker born every minute...    

Matthew: Although leaving us dangling with the Flash Thompson mystery, a resurgent Stan at least ends the current Spider-Slayer trilogy with a clean win for Spidey, and all things considered, it’s not a bad little arc.  Jazzy Johnny remains unsurpassed at depicting Spidey in action (again inked by Giacoia), with several panels in which the Wall-Crawler seems to be virtually leaping off the page, and his rendition of Gwendy leaves Peter’s devotion to her quite understandable.  Coincidentally, “Marvel’s moonstruck romance mags, My Love and Our Love Story, are featuring all-new art and stories again,” trumpets this month’s Bullpen Bulletins page, with “some mind-boggling artwork by talented titans like Colan, Romita, Buscema, and others.”

Scott: While I realize the possibility of Spider-Man actually being defeated is more than a longshot, having "Spidey's Greatest Triumph" plastered on the cover really doesn't engender a lot of suspense. Gwendy's headband is not the best look for her and now we begin the Flash Thompson subplot that is either good or whatever, depending on my mood. Jameson actually admits to to Spidey that he paid Smythe to trap him. That should be enough to put flat head behind bars, but nope. That's just ol' JJJ again, pissed at Spider-Man, so everything's a-okay. Puh-leeze. Of course, our cliffhanger is filled with hyperbole about how "nothing will ever be the same again!" Wanna bet? Only Gwen's ultimate fate is enough to change the series that drastically, but let's not expect Stan to be anything but over dramatic. The best thing about this issue is John Romita, who is back to the title he should never leave.

Peter: It seems there are almost as many Spidey Slayers as Sleepers in the Marvel Universe so I'm sure Smythe will return someday with the Honest-to-Gosh Final Slayer. At least Stan didn't try to stretch this one into three parts and, I suspect, next issue's Flash reveal will be ripped from 1972's headlines so I'll be watching with interest.

Monsters on the Prowl 16
King Kull in
"The Serpent-God of Lost Swamp!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Severin and Marie Severin

Riding towards the Temple of the Serpent, King Kull of Valusia, Brule the Pict and six Red Slayers are ambushed by Serpent Men. The warriors slay the ambushers but the young Slayer Duron is killed in the battle. The Valusians build a raft to forge the river that separates them from the Temple but are capsized by a huge swamp dragon: Kull and Brule manage to slay the scaly beast. On shore before the Temple, more Serpent Men attack, wounding a Slayer with a burning red acid that strangely has no effect on the barbarian king. After killing the attackers, Kull enters the temple: he finds no more of the reptile priests but instead a man of science who calls himself Thulsa Doom. Doom claims that he came from the far-distant Grondar to rescue his beloved from the Serpent Men but she was sacrificed before he arrived. Kull invites Thulsa Doom to ride back to Valusia with himself, Brule and the surviving Slayers. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Robert E. Howard’s barbarian king returns to Marvel for the first time since the September 1971 issue of Kull the Conqueror, the solo comic that will return in bi-monthly form in July 1972 and sputter along until September ’73. This is not a bad little tale, but as I’ve said before, Roy’s Kull stories are much more sober and grounded than the savage grandeur he achieves with Conan. Perhaps it’s because they are drawn by the Severin Siblings and not Barry Smith. Highly notable is the first appearance of one of Howard’s most legendary villains, Thulsa Doom, who the Severins draw as basically a fairly muscular, middle-aged man with silver hair. I assume that it’s an important plot point to come that Kull has one of the stolen and magical gems from the Temple of the Serpent while, unbeknownst to the king, Thulsa Doom has the other. Of course, Brule already smells something fishy.

Scott: Was King Kull truly brought back by popular demand? I just don't see the allure of this character. The art isn't exciting and the story isn't much fun either. Since Kull is relegated to the first half of an old monster reprint mag, I'm assuming the cover blurb was just hyperbole.


Millie the Model #195
Our Love Story #16 ->
Rawhide Kid #98
The Ringo Kid #13
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #97
Western Gunfighters #8
Western Kid #3
The X-Men #75

Tune in Sunday for a Special Micro-Snapshot from Professor Matthew Bradley!


  1. As one of the big Barry Smith boosters on this blog, a bit saddened that it seems his art was not up to snuff with this month's Avengers. I'll have to check out that issue one day and see for myself.

  2. Tomb of Dracula has a shaky start as nobody seemed to have a clear idea what to do with the Count. Thankfully Colan's art kept the series grounded in reality. How great Colan's contribution is is illustrated by the Giant-Size which are done by Don Heck. Awful stuff. Marv Wolfman made this his series and maintained a high quality for a long time, even if his Dracula spoke like Thor jr. which became tiresome fast.

    Why didn't Galactus shut up for once and just destroyed Earth without his games? Would have made his life easier.

  3. Marvel Premiere was one of the few 70s-era #1 issues I owned, and I distinctly remember thinking the Kane artwork was perfect for Warlock. Of course, one or two of the faculty may disagree....Maybe kinda cheap to put Hulk and Thor on the cover, but hey, ya gotta sell the cameos!