Astonishing Tales 10
"To End in Flame"
Story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema
Ka-Zar and Paul are attacked by an undersea creature, but the jungle lord and his faithful Zabu are able to fight off the ichthyosaur. However, KZ is captured by the Germans as Zabu and Paul end up with the British. Accused as a spy, KZ battles a brigade of beefy blonde men until he meets one-eyed oberlieutenant Heinrich Draco, who tells that his u-boat was sunk 30 years ago—and they’re still battling the “hated English”! KZ meets the mysterious Heida, who tests his peaceful nature. Later that night, KZ spies Draco meeting with British leader Christopher, until they capture our hirsute hero and put him in a cage next to a giant ape-like thing. As the Germans head toward “New Britannia” across the Lost Lake, KZ summons every ounce of savage strength to break the cage! The battle rages on, KZ arrives and he gets the soldiers to stop fighting, but they realize the two leaders have plotted to blow up the volcano—and the very Savage Land itself! KZ and Zabu head to the top, where Zabu leaps at the two lying leaders and knocks them into the raging lava, saving the day and bringing peace to the jungle…for now. –Joe Tura
|Lines Dean Peter has used to no avail|
Scott McIntyre: Although Barry Smith is listed first, Sal Buscema has a lot of influence over his pencils. Many panels often felt like Sal's work alone. The result is a strange mix of styles which only distracted me from the story. Okay, the fact that it was Ka-Zar didn't help (and that he sometimes looked like two different people), but I feel like I'm repeating myself too often when it comes to certain titles. Anyway, thanks to Ka-Zar, I now know that peace is the only answer to man's survival. Yawn.
The Mighty Thor 196
"Within the Realm of Kartag!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta
In the realm known as World’s End, Thor and the Warriors Three seek the Twilight Well. They met a woman called Satrina; at first friendly, she shows her true colours quickly when she renders them unconscious with a vapor called the Crimson Mist. Thor awakens to find his friends making merriment with some some beautiful women. All appears well, until their troll guide warns Thor it is a deception—and is killed by Satrina before he can say anymore. The shock has awoken Thor from his trance. The “women” are in fact monsters, and Thor alerts his companions. The truth revealed, a mocking Satrina vanishes as they continue their journey. Back in Asgard, Mangog continues his destruction of the city. The death of Odin’s eldest friend Khan enrages him, and he strikes with a renewed fury. The concurrent quest of Sif and Hildegarde in the place known as Blackworld continues; they meet and dispatch some attacking horsemen, witnessing the battle in Asgard as a distant nova. The struggle continues for Thor and company, but after they defeat a dragon named Redguard, Satrina agrees to take them to meet Kartag, the keeper of the well. He is a giant in warrior garb, who resides in a black cave, and he greets Thor with a promise of death. -Jim Barwise
Jim Barwise: The biggest problem I have with this issue isn’t with the triple plot going on per se, it’s the reason for Mangog’s return. It seems to be pointless, almost engineered to keep Odin busy while Thor and company are on their quest. This might be okay for a lesser villain, but Mangog was one of the best, and considering how well his original invasion was staged as near-undefeatable, the ease of his routing (is he defeated?) is insulting here. On the other hand, the advent of Satrina is interesting and fun, especially when they turn out to be monsters (nice panel)! I don’t know if Kartag will live up to all the hype; I can’t recall. Blackworld looks like it holds promise.
Scott: Vince Coletta's inks are a little more sparse than usual (which is saying a lot, actually) and some panels look weird because of it. The second panel of page 2, for example: Satrina is so lacking in facial detail she looks like a mannequin. The first panel on page 11 gave me a chuckle as Odin channels William Shatner. It's nice to see Sif give a good accounting of herself after her descent into "weeping girlfriend" status of late.
Matthew Bradley: Different month, same depressing spectacle. Buscema turns in what I can only imagine are his usual outstanding pencils, only to have them ruthlessly embellished beyond recognition by the dreaded Colletta; why they wasted Big John’s time and talent rather than simply turning the whole thing over to Tuska is beyond me. Meanwhile, Conway Mark I churns out another convoluted extravaganza, obviously hoping that if he moves enough characters around in enough locations, and throws enough forgettable new elements into the mix (Satrina! Kartag! Redguard! Him Who Sleeps!), it will paper over the story’s deficiencies, e.g., the fact that the reason for Mangog’s inexplicable return apparently boils down to…well, “Just because.”
Peter Enfantino: There are so many new characters introduced I'm having a hard time keeping Satrina from blending in my mind with Karnilla (who I keep wanting to call Carmilla, after the lusty vampire) and Mangog resurfacing so quickly after Gog (in Amazing Spider-Man) doesn't help either. Yep, there are way too many things going on here for one "epic" but this issue commits the Cardinal Comic Book Sin: it's boring. Whereas, in past epics, there was a sense that we were traveling down a road to a preconceived destination, here I get the feeling Gerry's making it up as he goes along. There's no outline. But I trust Conway's writing abilities enough to see what he's got cooking.
Scott: So, Odin just swept Mangog and his threat away? He is the master of his domain (heh), etc, and has this power? So why go through all this crap? What we have is an issue containing three separate, continuing battles and after dozens of issues at this pace, I'm tired. Constant action is not exciting. Yet, there is no respite.
"The Andromeda Swarm!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and Tom Palmer
The Avengers are given fancy new spacecraft from SHIELD to go rescue Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and Captain Marvel. On the way they intercept the Skrull armada. After a fierce battle, the Avengers gain the upper hand and demand the Skrull's turn back or face the wrath of the heroes. However, the Skrull king responds by threatening them with the Omni-Wave, showing video of Mar-vell working on the deadly ray while Wanda and Pietro are captives. When the King orders his lackey on the Avenger's captured ship to activate Plan Delta, the Vision goes batshit crazy, demanding the alien give up the Plan's intel. He refuses under fear of death, but the Vision responds with pounding, deadly force, reining blows upon him. He is stopped short of actually killing the Skrull, who spills what he knows. In SHIELD ship outside, Goliath, who had destroyed the last of the growing serum, is ordered to stop the Skrull vessel heading for Earth, even at the cost of his life. Meanwhile, Rick is taken to Ronan. Rick stands up to the Kree, who smacks him away and sends him into a room with the Intelligence Supreme, who in turn sends Rick to the Negative Zone, hinting that Rick will decide the fate of "worlds without end." That is, if he can survive an encounter with the approaching Annihilus! -Scott McIntyre
Scott: We're really cooking with gas here as we hit the final lap of the Kree/Skrull War arc. After a lot of padding and tangents, it actually feels like we're rushing (never am I satisfied - ever) and that this epic could have been three issues shorter. Rick is amusing as he keeps trying to provoke Ronan, who just WHAPS the kid against the wall and then into another room.
Matthew: Yes, I know with 20/20 hindsight that they’re not gonna kill off Clint, even if his Goliath days are over, but if they planned to, this would be the perfect set-up, and I’ll leave it to regular readers to speculate on the size of the lump left in the Maudlin Man’s throat by the exchange ending with his succinct, “I read ya, Cap.” In fact, the drama and heroism displayed throughout this penultimate entry in the Kree-Skrull War, aptly read on Memorial Day weekend, moved me considerably. Much as I may deride Gerry’s early efforts at narrative captions, they are an effective device in the right hands, and as far as I’m concerned, Roy uses them to their full advantage here; it probably goes without saying that the Adams/Palmer artwork is utterly on par.
Mark: More fab still-talked-about-forty-years-later art by Neil, more ratchet-up-the-stakes storytelling from Roy as Marvel's first Great Galactic War nears its end. Fury lets our boys hot-wire SHEILD's prototype interstellar "Bogey-Baby" spacecraft (poor NASA, left to inch-worm toward the moon in an Edsel) to go battle the Skrull armada. Mar-vell cons his captors and frees Wanda and Pietro, while love-sick Vis goes gangsta on a random Spock-eared Greenie. Powerless Clint is sent on a suicide mission to save earth from the Mother of All Nukes. Rick Jones trades quips with Ronan before getting tossed into detention with the Intelligence Supreme, who hips the teen that the floating-head Machiavellian (is it just me or is the IS a dead-ringer for a green, snake-haired Rush Limbaugh?) has been pulling unseen strings all along before dumping RJ back in the Negative Zone and the tender embrace of Annihilus! Fingers crossed that next month's big climax lives up to its happy ending reputation.
Scott: The art is beautiful and, sadly, this is Neal Adams' final work on the book. He wasn't able to
finish the epic he had an important part in making better than it could have been. Not much to say on this penultimate chapter other than it's no-nonsense and exciting. One of the better comics this month.
Peter: While I've been dying to finally read this mega-arc to see what all the fuss is about (not having done so through the "formative years of my life"), I must say it's been an up and down hill experience. Unfortunately, this issue sees one of the downs for me. Way too much expository for my little brain. I appreciate the denseness of it all, it really is like some huge science fiction novel and if I liked huge science fiction novels I'm sure this would garner raves from me. Alas. Too many threads here and then The Rascally One throws in the proverbial kitchen sink (in the guise of one of my favorite baddies, Annihilus). Is this really supposed to end next issue? I was overjoyed to learn that even the Skrulls have a Plan D(elta). Roy's title is a riff on Michael Crichton's The Andromeda Strain, the film adaptation of which had just hit screens a few months before this issue hit the stands.
"Even the Noble Die"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito
Namor confronts Llyra and Tiger Shark as they hold his father hostage aboard Llyra's underwater ship. Tiger Shark tries to beat Namor into submission but has a hard time doing it since his powers have faded over time. As the two brawl out into the sea, Namor almost defeats the Shark. Llyra uses some shock rays from her ship that incapacitates them both. As the villains get ready to strap Namor onto a machine that will transfer some of his power to Tiger Shark, Subby's father finally recognizes him. The experiment is a success and Namor along with his father are put into a holding cell for the time being. Luckily for them, the Stingray comes to the recue. As Stingray fights it out with the Tiger Shark, Subby and his father attempt to escape. Unfortunately, the ensuing brawl causes the ship to have holes in it which causes a flood. Tiger Shark throws a metal pipe furiously to the back of Namor's father's head, causing him to die. As Namor holds him, his father's last words relate that he is glad to trade his life for his son's. In shock, Namor let's the bad guys escape as he and Stingray leave the imploding ship.
Tom McMillion: Despite the unnecessary and misleading cover for this issue, advertising the Sting Ray
being responsible for Namor's father's death with the hero looking like he is about ready to attack him, this was one of the best stories to come out of this series in a long time. Namor has definitely had more tragedy then the typical super hero. I said it before and I'll say it again, Stingray is an underrated super-hero. He's so geeky that he's cool. Kind of like us staff members here at Marvel U.
Matthew: Man, it’s not safe to be close to this Namor dude; first his beloved bride and then his estranged father are taken from him within the space of a mere ten issues, both directly or indirectly through the actions of Llyra, whose punishment could scarcely equal her crimes. This being a typical Early Conway Ramble, we don’t get to know MacKenzie (sic) well enough to care, so the dramatic potential there is largely squandered. Having lost the woman beside whom he hoped to rule Atlantis, and the object of the desultory “quest” that provided the raison d’être for his return to the human half of his roots, Subby is truly a man without a country, and although I forget where we go from here, I suspect this title’s glory days died with Roy’s tenure.
Scott: Way to blow the ending right on the cover. It's one thing to put this sort of scenario up as a tease, but when it is literally the climax of the issue, it makes me not want to bother reading it. We're treated to an issue filled with fisticuffs, but nothing of substance devoted to Namor and his father. This quest has gone on for months, taken pointless side trips and caused lots of property damage and bodily harm, but in the end, it's all for naught. Another loved one is killed by a villain in a final gambit before escaping, leaving Namor to take off with no pause for grief. I felt cheated. I hope all of this tragedy is going to amount to something eventually.
"The Spider Slayer"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
Back in NYC, Spider-Man does some swinging around and comes up on a group (that includes Randy Robertson) picketing the Bugle for their unfairness towards minorities. Good ol’ J Jonah Jameson drives up, indignant as always, until Spidey swoops him to save him from the increasingly angry mob—which ends with JJJ even more annoyed. Spidey takes off to a party at his pad for roomie Harry, returning from the hospital, complete with goodies by Aunt May and an appearance from Flash Thompson. Meantime, JJJ is off to a secret meeting with Spencer Smythe, who has built a spider-shaped Spider-Slayer complete with webbing, speed and climbing ability—and JJJ gets to control the robot! Catching up with Spidey the next day, the robot strikes, as the wall-crawler notices some odd “rooftop gizmos”. The armored arachnid is relentless, even though it doesn’t respond to every JJJ command, until it knocks Spidey into a research hall—where it bests our hero and grabs a “master unit”—as directed by Prof. Smythe! The part is what the dastardly doc needs to help his strategically planted video scanners work to track Spidey—and we end on Smythe seeing the wall-crawler unmask!-- Joe Tura
Scott: Stan is back and he brought Smythe and the Spider Slayer with him. I was never fond of Smythe and his invention, mainly because his motivation is actually supplied by JJJ. Jameson's hatred of Spider-Man has recently been tempered by his demonstrations of high ethical standards. It's becoming clear that his attitude toward Spider-Man, or super heroes in general, is his weakness. He's firmly on the side of equal rights for all except the title character of the book. However, it's hard to get behind these plots to bankroll Spidey's capture since they are always borderline illegal, if not flat out a violation of the same rights Jameson now professes to champion.
Mark Barsotti: Stan the Man returns, bringing Professor Smythe and Spider Slayer 3.0 with him, demonstrating yet again that Stan never met an idea he didn't Xerox for all it was worth. We get another "torn from the headlines" protest – "Up the Bugle, Soul Brother! – but any picket line ending with "head honky" J. Jonah dangling from a flagpole works for me. Harry returns from rehab, Flash from the unpleasantness overseas, and dialogue like "Forget it, Liver-Lips! No overgrown tin cootie is gonna beat me!" from Marvel's Hair-Club-Member-in-Chief.
Joe Tura: Now, Ka-Zar can be blamed for a lot of things in the Marvel Universe. Boredom, bad dialogue, unwashed loincloths, hair that even Medusa would be jealous of…but a reason for a demonstration against the Bugle for ignoring minorities and running a story about the whitest of white jungle lords? Nah…OK, maybe a little too much blonde-bashing, as he gets a one word balloon mention from Randy Robertson, but the whole idea of the demonstration struck me as a false note. The only purpose it served was to help give JJJ another reason to hate Spidey, as if he needed it! Hey, that’s called “plot points” in the biz, as only Stan the Man can write them, as he returns from the movie thing that never panned out to my knowledge to re-take the reins on Spidey. A solid issue all around, with lots of nuggets such as Robbie Robertson being the best guy ever, Flash Thompson showing up looming “ominous” to Peter, JJJ having a blast playing with the Spider-Slayer and getting p-o’d when it doesn’t work right—like the batteries on the wireless remote went bad.
Scott: Harry Osborn is back and looking pretty weird. When he can't think of anything to say to his friends, Parker tosses in a joke about Jameson that I can't imagine any of his friends give a crap about. I don't know why, but I was hoping someone from the party would shout something like "nobody really cares about your boss, Parker." The final panel is a cool cliffhanger, although conveniently timed after Jameson loses video. Just goes to prove that taking off your mask in public, during the day, on a city rooftop is pretty fricking stupid. Yes, I'm looking at you, movie Spider-Man.
Matthew: Stan is back after his four-month screenwriting sojourn, although frankly I miss Roy, especially since a new Spider-Slayer story is rarely cause for celebration in my book. To his credit, Smiley tries to mix things up this time around with the rather transparent mystery of who is actually controlling the robot, plus the interesting—and prescient—plot device of the Big Brother-style scanners, but since we now have another villain who (à la Norman Osborn) knows Spidey’s secret identity, that will have to be resolved. While I hold Fearless Frank in high esteem among Marvel’s inkers, further exposure is increasing my skepticism of the Kane/Giacoia team; I don’t like the smirk they sometimes give to Peter, e.g., on this splash page.
Mark: The new, eight-legged Slayer shows Smythe learns from past defeats, but how did designing vigilante robots land him a sweet contract as NYC's "scientific adviser?" Mayor Lindsay's mad scientist out-reach program? The rooftop surveillance cams predict our ever-expanding National Snooper State, and Smythe stealing the master-unit to play peeping tom while blaming Spidey and playing J.J. for a fool proves that the Doc Doom "Rule the World" correspondence course was money well-spent. Pete stands unmasked and on-camera in the last, cliffhanger panel, proving that Stan can still teach an old Smythe new tricks.
Peter: Well, the unwelcome return of two elements -- the Spider-Slayer and Stan Lee -- should have had me raising the white flag by page three but, happily, I really dug this issue. Both action and soap opera are at the top of the game here. Yeah, Smythe seems to have developed extra-criminally active genes since the last time we saw him (and, equally, I question why, when the smoke clears after these Spidey-Slayer installments, Jameson isn't a JJJJailbird) but I do like the new design of the Slayer. And how about the backstory? The Man opens a heck of a lot of doors for our supporting characters: Harry don't look so good; Norman doesn't usually frequent heavily-attended teen functions and that could cause problems; why does Mary Jane have to be such a whore?; what's the sinister secret Flash is hiding? My most important question would have to be: is there enough amnesia left to go around in the Marvel Universe? Professor Smythe better hope so because there's only one other alternative that I can see when you discover a superhero's alter ego. Those four months of hobnobbing with the French may have done Stan some good after all.
Joe: Interesting answer to a letter in The Spider’s Web, where it’s revealed that not only is Stan back, but John Romita will be back next issue, with Roy and Gil heading over to Captain America. Yes, interesting indeed…..
"Night of the Assassin"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Syd Shores
A brooding DD is interrupted by a jewelry heist – and by thoughts of lovely Natasha. After catching the thieves, he runs into Foggy who comes clean about his brush with the blackmailing Mr. Kline. Right at that time, the Black Widow skis down the Swiss Alps to divert her own thoughts. When she arrives at the lodge, there is a note asking her to meet Emil Borgdsky, a fellow ex-pat, for dinner. She accepts and soon finds out that he is a Dr. working on a breakthrough cure for blindness. After dinner Natasha phones Matt and asks him to head to Switzerland no questions asked. When he arrives she introduces him to his possible healer, Dr. Borgdsky. But, surprise, surprise, it was a trap and DD ends out in a room with Mr. Kline who is -- an android from the future taking orders from the last man on earth (Baal) after humanity’s self-destruction. Mr. Kline . . . or the Assassin . . . with his android replica villains, are there to prevent Baal’s isolated demise from happening. A battle between the Assassin’s robot laser eyes and DD leaves our hero in the dust . . . until the Black Widow appears. However, they are still on the losing side when a few shiny silver executioners from even further in the future neutralize the Assassin and save DD and his new gal Natasha.
NC: Wow! That’s a lot to pack into one little issue! Maybe a little bit too much? The plot is a bit crazy – android from the future taking orders to change the future for a solitary man but is stopped by two executioners from way, way in the future?????? I do like, yet again, Gene Colan’s work. Also, I must admit I am very happy about the DD/Black Widow romance – much less depressing than the last chick.
Matthew: Okay, I get the basics: android Kline, aka the Assassin, was sent back from the distant future to stop…something or other from happening, and ultimately destroyed by the Sons of Man, who were sent back from an even more distant future (and shoehorned shamelessly into Sub-Mariner #42) to stop…something or other from happening. But after all of these months of noodling around, Gerry brings this inter-book saga to a distressingly abrupt and characteristically murky conclusion; worse yet, Iron Man’s current bimonthly status means his own last entry in the story will not appear until next month. Syd Shores begins a two-issue return as Colan’s inker on this title, and while I feel the team is far from ideal, I mind it less than some of my colleagues.
Scott: All wrapped up in a neat little bow, the long, dull mystery of Mr. Kline is revealed quickly and unsatisfactorily. Daredevil is one of those titles that works better when the adversaries are of a certain type: criminals, gang bosses; villains with a little tech to give them an edge, but nothing crazy. Androids and time travel feel out of place here, belonging more in titles such as FF and Iron Man. The art is nice, and we can't let an issue go by without Natasha stripping, right? At least Foggy had a chance to explain his actions of late, which will go a ways in repairing the friendship between him and Matt.
"Mission: Destroy the Femme Force!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten
Cap goes WILD! With Sharon dead, he wigs out on the Hydra goon who shot her. Val can't bring him to his senses, so she executes Maneuver 22 - slapping him in the face. Now back to normal, Cap battles his way to the cockpit where ex-Howler Eric Koenig is trying to pull the plummeting plane up. As he takes the ship to Nellis Air Force Base, Val realizes Sharon is alive, but in need of quick medical attention. Cap strong-arms his way past the officer in charge to get his gal to the hospital while the Hydra agents are taken into custody. Meanwhile, the Supreme Hydra reports his failure as well as a new plan to his unseen superior. Over at SHIELD HQ, Fury is showing the Falcon films of Cap in action, because apparently the Falcon has never seen Captain America in action up close. Fury tells Falc that Cap's in a jam, but Falcon decides his old friend who made him who he is can handle himself and goes back to helping "his people." Apparently the "jam" Fury says Cap is in involves dinner with Val. While Steve and Val are dining, Steve gets a call from the hospital - Hydra has taken Sharon. As Cap he arrives at the hospital and gets the note left behind. He follows the instructions to go to Hydra HQ and his taken into a Hydra saucer. The Femme Force arrives and, using surprise, they infiltrate the ship and a battle begins. None of them are aware of the mysterious leader watching from a secure location, who hits the ships remote destruct button. -Scott McIntyre
Scott: Maneuver 22 is "slap hysterical Super Hero in the face?" They actually have a designation for slapping a guy? I would love to read the SHIELD Maneuver Manual. "Maneuver 14 - Removal of underwear from asscrack." Not nearly as bad as the previous issue with little of the rampant sexism from Captain America or Fury, thankfully. The Femme Force is actually pretty effective in the battle toward the end of the issue. So, Fury invites the Falcon over for a chat and takes the time to set up a 16mm projector and runs films of Cap beating up the Red Skull. For what purpose? So Sam can "feast his eyes" on Cap's battle prowess? Who knows that better than the Falcon? "Hold on while I thread this film, Falcon. Give me a minute, I gotta do this by hand. It'll be totally worth it. Okay, you ready? Dum dumm, hit the lights. Yer gonna love this, Falcon! Crap, the film broke. Hold on, I just gotta get some tape…"
Matthew: The good news: Sal Buscema now begins his almost-unbroken three-year stint as penciler (inked here by John Verpoorten), his first of two long runs on this title. The bad news: we’re still stuck with Gary Friedrich scripts until #148, and he hasn’t shaken Stan’s obsession with sundry maneuvers; this issue is more risible than most, suggesting that the time-honored practice of slapping someone across the face to bring them back to their senses requires a dedicated “tactic.” Skipping as fast as possible over the Falcon’s incredibly short-sighted and partisan failure to aid Cap—an offensive example of what we might call reverse racism today—we note that another ex-Howler, Eric Koenig, has joined S.H.I.E.L.D. to be Fury’s personal pilot.
Peter: Considering how long the three of us have been reading this crap, I'm sure the other professors won't mind if Matthew, Scott, and I put in for paid sabbaticals. Talk about deflating suspense -- in the same panel we're told Sharon is dead, we're told she's mortally wounded. You can't believe anyone anymore... even if it's the same guy! We get Maneuver 22 ("tactic for handling shock victims" aka a slap in the face) and a Maneuver 6 (ducking when two bad guys are behind you). Brilliant! Coincidentally, while Gary was plotting out all the maneuvers he was also laying out the manure (aka "the rubbish known as a story"). Why is it that when we're promised, in the next issue blurb, "the most senses-stunning guest-villain of all," I naturally suspect it'll be The Red Skull? The countdown to quality begins... T-minus 6 issues and counting...
Scott: Harold Howard is, duh, a thinly veiled take on Howard Hughes and the two nameless people introduced here are given two full panels. Yet, we'll never see them again. Worse, this Harold Howard thing won't amount to much. See the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever for a big budget take on this concept. The Falcon again proves to be a selfish prick and Fury calls him on it with a parting shot that actually made me smile. Weirdly, when Fury says Cap is in a jam, Steve Rogers is having dinner. The timing is off here, I would think this should have started the issue, but I can see why Cap choking a Hydra guy over Sharon's bogus death would be more exciting. I guess.
Fantastic Four 119
"Three Stood Together!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
A casual remark about his girlfriend Crystal was the wrong thing for Ben to have said, and now the two of them are brawling up a storm. That is, until Reed and Sue stop them with rather more important news from the Wakanda tribe, the home of the Black Panther. It seems their leader has vanished in the neighboring country of Rudyarda, where black and white people are segregated in the extreme. His reason for going: a few days past, two survivors from a plane crash in Wakanda had in fact staged the accident for the purpose of stealing T’Challa’s latest invention—a Vibrotron. This device increases the range and power of Wakanda’s already highly valuable natural resource, the metal Vibranium, such that it could be used to destroy any metal at which it was aimed. Reed sends Ben and Johnny off to help, staying behind to secretly work on a way to allow Crystal to be able to safely live among humans again. Off to Rudyarda, where they free the Black…Leopard, a name he has adopted for himself since “panther” may draw some political criticism. It turns out that the two who stole the Vibrotron were working for Klaw, the master of sound who is the Leopard’s sworn enemy. But with the Thing and Torch by his side, T’Challa manages to defeat Klaw, hopefully opening some eyes to the peoples of Rudyarda that colour is just that, not a wall to judge and separate others. -Jim Barwise
|And we ask: "Has the shark been jumped?"|
Scott: Rudyarda? Oy. Still, a decent one shot, but really just another anti-racism yarn. The Black Panther adopts a name change to keep him separate from The Black Panthers, but the Black Leopard just didn't roll off the tongue as smoothly. The airline hijacking is another of those amazing Marvel Coincidences, made wackier because Ben and Johnny bothered to take public transportation instead of the pogo plane or something. The plot is okay and we get the message (Racism Sucks), but it's not that interesting otherwise. On the bright side, it is a single issue story, not the first in a huge multi-part epic (that's next month). Makes me wonder if the Wakandans called the Avengers first, since he was officially part of that team. The Avengers are In Space, so it makes sense the FF would have gotten the call eventually.
Mark: "Three Stood Together" has clashing tones, mixing throw-back humor, social comment, and so much dense exposition/dialogue ya wonder if Roy was getting paid by the word. The would-be yucks come early, with Ben and Johnny's destructive bickering flashing back to the earliest days of the title (Benjy punches a big chunk of the B. Building into the Manhattan sky, forcing Torchie to melt it, then use fireballs to funnel the "rain of molten lava" into industrial chimneys in what I hope was an ironic nod to such bad old days Strange Tales nonsense) before Reed breaks things up and wheels out a new robot maid who won't make us forget Rosie from The Jetsons. The high word count on – to pick randomly - pages 5 & 6 would almost fill an contemporary comic, all back story about the Panther disappearing in white-ruled Rudyarda and an anguished Reed turning from failed experiments to cure the Thing to failed experiments to cure Crystal (focus on the latter Mr. Touch of Gray; me and Johnny are counting on you).
Matthew: Fresh from subbing for Stan on Amazing Spider-Man, Roy nips in with a single issue of the FF before Smiley’s return, yet unlike with Spidey, he would soon be back for not one but two long, enjoyable runs (#126-37, 157-81). Seeing the Terrific Two in action put me in mind of their old Strange Tales series…if one of those entries were twice as long, invested by Roy with social commentary, drawn by my favorite art team, and guest-starring The Monarch Most Often Known as the Black Panther (betwixt his Astonishing Tales brouhaha with Dr. Doom and his solo Jungle Action strip). Like me, many readers were probably way ahead of our heroes in sensing Klaw behind it all, but this long-standing comic-book convention didn’t hurt the story.
Peter: Let me start by saying this is the cover logo I grew up with, not that static font from the first 100+ issues (the first current FF I bought off a Stop 'N' Go comic rack was #121). This wasn't bad for a stand-alone but I assume Roy wanted to evenly distribute the wealth of whitey-bashing this month so he had The Torch and Ben discuss race relations while in Africa. Seems random since we've never seen any kind of race preaching in this title before but it doesn't overwhelm or hijack the story like the "soul brotha/whitey"nonsense over in Captain America and the Falcon.
Mark: The action picks up with Ben and Johnny foiling what was then called a skyjacking (no Che t-shirt on the "crazed fanatic"?), then the Terrific Two get an unpleasant taste of apartheid before freeing the re-branded Black Leopard - the name change T'Challa's temporary effort not to be confused with H. Rap Brown - from jail. Klaw shows up near the end to be quickly defeated before the Thing tears down the segregated prison entrance, a feel-good if obvious underlining of the "bigotry is bad" moral. All very After School Special, yes, teach the children well, I think, nodding off in the Laz-Boy.
Werewolf by Night in
"Werewolf by Night"
Plot by Roy and Jeanie Thomas
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Ploog
On his 18th birthday, Jack Russell awakens from a dream where he was a werewolf who killed a mugger and narrowly escaped a policeman. Jack’s family includes sister Lissa, mother Laura, stepfather Philip Russell and brutish chauffer Grant. During his birthday bash, Jack begins to get ants in the pants and runs off, where he spots Grant tinkering with a car, before changing into…a werewolf—the dreams were real! After roaming for hours, the werewolf battles a real wolf and wins by tossing the animal over a cliff. Found on the beach the next morning, Jack learns his mother was in a horrible accident and is in critical condition. He visits the hospital, and learns from her the story of his biological father—a Baltic Baron who passed on to Jack the evil curse of werewolf-ism! Jack soon turns into the hairy anti-hero himself, and filled with rage for his stepfather bursts out of the hospital room and to a warehouse. There, he battles diabolical driver Grant, and the two fight to a near standstill until the beefy bodyguard realizes he’s really fighting a werewolf! Turning to run, Grant is killed by the werewolf, then Philip shows up with payoff money, explaining that Laura has died! Turns out he’s the real culprit behind the accident, but Jack promised his mother he wouldn’t harm his stepfather, which means the helpless wolf is left to howl in bitter frustration! –Joe Tura
Joe: With this issue, we get our first Marvel look at fantasy artist Michael (Mike) Ploog, and he’s a keeper. Former artist at Warren doing black and white horror comics, he was called back by Marvel after sending in a western sample, and was put on Werewolf by Night, then later (if I may spoil) Ghost Rider, Monster of Frankenstein, Man-Thing, Kull and one of my all-time personal favorites, the black and white Planet of the Apes mag. But I never got to read the last couple of issues and find out what happened in the original Apes story! Arrggghhhh!
Scott: The fact that the hero of this tale has the same name as a breed of dog is slyly amusing. I give Gerry Conway credit for not playing that up. Granted, it's a smallish, cute, yappy breed that isn't very threatening, but still, props to you Gerry. I remember this from the Power Records Book and Record Set. It's decent, very dark, with some very interesting art by Mike Ploog. My nostalgia makes me like it more than I would otherwise though. It's overly talky and, while possessing a high body count, it's just a little distant for me. A series is coming, so we'll see how it fares. The fact that I remember the record so vividly ruins a portion of this story. Every time I listened to it, the phonograph needle got stuck in a groove, so when I read part of Jack's mother's backstory, I will always hear, "A man I met in a small Baltic State (pop) Baltic State (pop) Baltic State (pop) Baltic State…" Over on page 19, panel 1, Jack looks like one of those guys on the Funky Phantom. The cover, by the way, is terrible. The layout is awful and once the guy (who looks nothing like Jack inside) becomes the werewolf, none of the bystanders pictured seem to care. Nobody thought to draw people running in terror?
Joe: A fun origin story for Jack Russell, aka the Werewolf by Night. Which by the way, isn’t that a suitable name for every werewolf out there? Doesn’t the full moon only come out at night? See, I got it after all these years! Yay for me! A bit wordy overall, but that’s almost expected by now from young Mr. Conway, with echoes of classic monster literature throughout. Nice art from young Mr. Ploog also, maybe a little rough around the edges at times, but you can definitely see he cut his pencil on horror mags. A good start to a new “Marvel masterwork” quoth the credits.
Matthew: Despite November’s “grand alignment,” the Bullpen Bulletins are still out of synch with the initially quarterly anthology mags; the December page describes this as “now on sale,” adding that “we’re considering changing the name [Lupine Spotlight?]…this new series idea was so thrilling that half the Bullpen has been dying to have a hand in it.” In a soon-to-be-familiar pattern, Roy “conceived and plotted the first tale (with the advice and consent of his better half, Jeanie), then turned it over to Gerry Conway, who’s turned in one of his greatest, wildest scripts to date. As for the art—well, say hello to Madcap Mike Ploog (love that name!), who’s making his comic-mag debut…and who’s destined to become one of Marvel’s mightiest!”
Peter: Despite the loosening of the CCA noose, there's nary a drop of blood or the evisceration common when werewolves attack. Jack Russell also manages to have some kind of "good person radar" so that he doesn't take the life of an innocent. Hell, we should just be happy to have a werewolf in a Marvel comic book again, right?
|Proof that not all werwolves are neat and tidy|
Matthew: Regarding the story itself (backed up by a 1951 Bill Everett reprint from Venus #16), given the close connection between wolves and dogs, I find it hilarious that our lycanthropic hero has the same name as a breed of terrier, while Gerry offers an interesting hybrid of Universal-style Mitteleuropa and contempo L.A. The next two issues reteamed him with Ploog, whose heavily stylized work became synonymous with Marvel’s burgeoning monster line on Man-Thing and the debuts of Ghost Rider and Frankenstein’s Monster. Wishbone—er, Jack—then graduated to a solo title that ran for 43 regular and 5 giant-sized issues, spinning off second-generation series starring Moon Knight (featured in Spotlight #28-9) and, in the short-lived Marvel Chillers, Tigra.
John: While I think Ploog did fine work with Jack the Werewolf, I wasn't blown away by his work in the non-werewolf sequences. All in all, I can't quite understand how this led to such a long-running series. I've read (and enjoyed) Marvel's Frankenstein series, and I look forward to reading Tomb of Dracula, but if this is any indication of what's to come, I may only dip back into WWBN when Moon Knight shows up...
Peter: I'm surprised Universal Pictures didn't send their lawyers to the Marvel Bullpen when Gerry (or more likely, Roy) evoked the classic poem that begins "Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night...", and credited it as an "old folk poem" when, in fact, it was created by Curt Siodmak for his screenplay of The Wolfman (1941). Way back in 1994, I spent a very long weekend reading every single issue of Werewolf By Night for an article I wrote on werewolves in the comics (available on this blog in four days as a Sunday Special). I don't recommend this be done without medical supervision. To say it was a rocky road is an understatement. My exact words were "...aside from three or four issues, (the series) is close to unreadable." To be fair, I lay the blame squarely at the feet of creative turnover. The title was handled by eleven different crews in its first 21 issues! I can't say I'm looking forward to reliving that weekend but, who knows, maybe over a period of time, WWBN will prove to be like a fine wine.
Joe: In our backup story, the goddess Venus, written and drawn by Bill Everett, battles gargoyles and their evil self-proclaimed queen, on the non-existent 13th floor of the Graycar building in an unnamed city. Dean Pete, rejoice! Prof. Joe, not so much!
Peter: (in his best Hodor voice): Everett!
"No More the Monster!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe
The base designed to capture the Hulk is back up and running. General Ross consults with a Dr. Carbeau, whom was a former friend of Bruce Banner's while in college, as to how they will change Banner back to normal. Dr. Carbeau's plan is to use a satellite in space to siphon energy from the sun and use it to send the Hulk's gamma radiation back at it. Some fighter planes capture the Hulk in the desert after shooting him with sedative tipped missiles. Once back in the laboratory, the experiment with the sun is a success. Banner may now be rid of the Hulk, but Carbeau notices that the sun is reacting strangely after it got the Hulk's radiation. Meanwhile, back in the micro universe that the Hulk and Banner once visited, Jarella is facing heavy opposition from an enemy army and wants to seek the Hulk for help. Using the powers of her sorcerers, she is transported back to earth where Banner is in a secluded beach house. He takes her back to the base where Dr. Carbeau announces that the sun is about to go nova and destroy everything. The reason being that besides absorbing the Hulk's energy, Jarella's simultaneous appearance caused some sort of rift that can only be fixed if she goes back to her world. Instead of forcing her to go, S.H.I.E.L.D. and the military whip up a life decoy robot of her to send instead so that she can stay. Trouble follows Jarella as her enemies have used magic to send an assassin, named Fialan, to kill her. Fialan lays waste to some military troops while hunting down his prey. Knowing he needs the Hulk back to protect her, Banner uses the technology to change himself into the green monster. During the battle against the Hulk, Fialan shoots his ray gun into a gas tank that explodes, seemingly killing Jarella. The enraged Hulk kills Fialan by throwing him into the fire. Luckily, it was only the decoy Jarella that was destroyed. With little time to waste, Jarella is sent back to her world along with Fialan's body to stop the sun from going nova. The Hulk is tranqualized before he can stop the troops from sending Jarella home. -Tom McMillion
Scott: Jarella returns (was her planet still on the Hulk's pant leg?) and Dr. Peter Corbeau is introduced and he's pretty funny lookin'. He'll play a more important part in the X-Men in a few years. Once again, in the original issue, the Hulk's pants go from purple to blue when he changes back to Banner. A decent story, but Archie Goodwin commits a pet peeve of mine by misusing the term "beg the question" when he meant "POSE the question." That drives me fricking nuts. Nothing makes a writer look more stupid than screwing up a Smart Guy phrase. I'm sure I do it, too, but nobody pays me to write gooder.
Tom: A pretty complicated plot for a Hulk comic. Unfortunately it was also a bit on the boring side. Nick Fury's cameo was a waste. I did like seeing the Hulk show his dark side by killing a protagonist for what I believe is the first time, at least intentionally, in this series.
Matthew: Supplanted by Roy as Stan’s pinch-hitter on the FF, Goodwin will largely hold the fort here until Englehart takes over in ’73, and while there’s a certain spaghetti-against-the-wall feeling to this story, it’s fun, and the Trimpe/John Severin art didn’t bother me much. Wasting no time, Archie not only brings back Greenskin’s tragic love interest, Jarella, but also introduces Bruce’s old college roomie, Peter Corbeau, and “his greatest triumph, Starcore One…the world’s first orbiting solar reactor” (next seen in Avengers #102-4). The MCDb states that Chris Claremont provided an uncredited plot assist, making it no surprise that Dr. Corbeau later became a recurring guest star in X-Men, most notably during the origin of Phoenix.
Scott: Is this the first time the Hulk actually, intentionally, killed someone? I like how he isn't happy it's done, but I'm a little disappointed nothing was ever made out of it. This should have been a big deal, but it's never mentioned again. An okay story, but I'm a little tired of the "cured/take it back" plots. At least Banner had a chance to hang around on the beach for a while. What a coincidence he didn't bring Betty. But she'll learn about Jarella in due time.
ALSO THIS MONTH
Li'l Kids #4
Marvel Tales #33
Marvel Triple Action #1 ->
Millie the Model #194
Monsters on the Prowl #15
Our Love Story #15
Rawhide Kid #96
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #95
Special Marvel Edition #4
Western Kid #2
The X-Men #74
Since Marvel only had 200 reprint titles clogging the newsstands in 1972 (and 200 more to come) Marvel Triple Action arrived like a breath of stale air. The title itself is idiotic, advertising triple action and delivering Fantastic Four reprints (the cover gasps "Doctor Doom! The Thing! The Silver Surfer!"). I don't have these issues so I'm not sure if the reprint office painstakingly went through the musty old art and whited out Sue, Johnny, and Reed to avoid cries of "False advertising!" but I somehow doubt it. I can see Stan and Roy pacing their spacious office (Roy's got the little fourth-grader's desk in the corner), brainstorming reprint titles:
Roy: "Marvel Spectacular!"The first four issues would see random selections from the FF vault and then the title would turned over to the Avengers ("The Mighty Thor! Captain America! Iron Man!"), again ignoring that the team was not a trio. Avengers it would stay until the dreaded cancellation axe fell following its 47th issue in April 1979.
Stan: No, not big enough
Roy: "Marvel Fanfare"
Stan: Not bombastic enough.
Roy: "Marvel Triple Action"
Stan: Hmmm. What does it mean?
Roy: Well, we could have three adventures by three different characters each issue.
Stan: We're getting rid of the jumbo titles, you dolt!
Roy: Then, we'll have three heroes in each issue.
Stan: Do you know the logistics of researching and digging up stories that feature only three heroes? Just slap the title on the magazine and don't explain it. These Marvel Zombies'll eat it up no matter what it is.
Oh, and before we forget. Please welcome Steve Englehart to the Marvel Bullpen with his contribution to Monsters on the Prowl #15, "Terror of the Pterodactyl." Stainless Steve proves he’s just as adept at stealing 1950s giant monster movie concepts as turning around failing hero titles. This is a goofy little homage to The Giant Claw, a nice little bonus for readers expecting nothing more than some charming Kirby/Lee sf reprints. I love that, when the diggers unearth the pteradactyly bone, it’s white as Julia Roberts’ teeth. And where did they find the pterry’s head (complete with flesh!)? Check your brain at the door. Someday, Marvel should put out a nice cheap trade paperback of the original stories that peppered the reprint titles.-Peter Enfantino
This Sunday: Don't miss a Special Marvel Collectors Item Classic Spotlight on Werewolf By Night!