Wednesday, August 14, 2013

March 1972: And Now For Something Completely Different... A Marvel Team-Up?

Special Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Iron Man #45’s lettercol addresses the new “framed” covers:  “We made the change for several good reasons, knowing as we did so that we were perhaps locking ourselves into a restrictive format…But, we thought these reasons outweighed that problem:  (1) the new design makes Marvels look different from any other company’s books (the full page design has been around for over thirty years, after all, but everybody else still uses it); (2) it emphasizes the words ‘Marvel Comics Group,’ again to set us off; and (3) it takes copy out of the drawing, which, as you probably know, has been a bone of contention with readers since FF #1.”  Oddly, I’ve seen no mention of the fact that post-shakeup, the average Marvel story has gone from 19 to 21 pages.

And now... March 1972!

The Mighty Thor 197
"The Well at the Edge of the World!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta

The Mighty Thor, aided by the Warriors Three, have been sent by Odin to seek the waters at the Twilight Well, in the realm known as the World’s Edge. They finally arrive at its bank, where Kartag the Keeper guards it, and brings death to all its visitors. Thor takes up the battle to reach the well, while Satrina, the Keeper’s ladylove, keeps his friends at bay. When Thor and Kartag fall into the well, the Thunder God hears in his brain voices that make the purpose of their mission clear. When Kartag emerges from the water, carrying Thor, the worst is feared. Then the true masters of the scene appear, the Norn Fates, cloaked and haunting. It was all a test, to see if Asgard was worth saving; the courage displayed by Thor and company say that, yes, it was! The reason for the quest is likewise clear: the waters of the Twilight Well, when combined with Odin’s Cosmic one, may provide what’s needed to win the day against… Mangog. The purpose of another quest, that of Sif and Hildegarde on Blackworld, is still murky. After dispatching a demon, the appearance of a steamship is yet more befuddling, as is that of a lone human named Silas Grant, who rows them to his ship, promising a chilling mystery. When Thor and company, Kartag too, arrive back at the Rainbow Bridge, it appears it is too late. Asgard, and the bridge to its gates, have vanished. They surmise that the powers of the water they’ve brought from World’s End, added to Mjolnir’s might, may take them to Asgard. Odin has moved it to another dimension, in hopes of limiting the spread of carnage to another dimension. The city itself is in a bad way; Mangog’s goal of destruction is almost reached. He reveals that although Odin released the billion billion beings that embody him, somehow, their hatred has allowed him to survive. The final knife in the back is the sight of Odin, hanging lifeless (?) from the monster’s clutches.
-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: After a little slowdown last issue, things get back up to speed here. More of the style of Gerry Conway, that made the unlikely happenings in his issues seem more believable than some of Stan’s more far-fetched works, is arriving. For example, the steamship that rolls into Blackworld with an apparent lone human aboard is a nicely bizarre touch, as is the moving of Asgard to another dimension. It certainly makes sense that Mangog wasn’t finished at last issue's slightly confusing conclusion. Making Kartag, after all his buildup as such a powerful villain, an aid to Asgard in this battle, makes me withdraw my judgment that Conway wasn’t giving Mangog his due respect. The Norn Fates are eerie, even if the question of them testing Thor and friends is a little unfair. The apparent death of Odin might just happen, after all that’s surprised us so far. Who knows what this Conway dude might do? Just ask a certain webslinger.

Mathew Bradley: Maybe I’m mellowing as I begin my second half-century on the day I write this, but I didn’t mind this issue as much as some of its predecessors, although many of the things that bothered me haven’t changed.  Even the iron prison of Colletta’s inks seems to have allowed the odd glimpse of Buscema’s grandeur to peek through, while the stark simplicity and power of the Romita/Simek cover are very effective (didn’t know Artie was a cover artist as well as a letterer).  I have no recollection of where this discursive saga is headed, yet having resigned myself to the unexplained nature of Mangog’s return—which Gerry at least has the decency to acknowledge in the story itself—I’ll admit he’s always an awesome villain, and there’s plenty of drama going on.

Peter Enfantino: There's a heck of a lot going on in this issue and not a lot of time to tell it and yet... the tale just drags. Looking back now, I can't recall just when this monstrous epic began. Was it four issues ago... eight... twenty? The high point, obviously, is the battle between Kartag and Thor, a tussle that ends up at the bottom of the nightblack pool. Nice touch having Kartag carry the unconscious Thunder God from the water. Which brings up a nagging question... since The Mighty Thor can traverse whole galaxies with nary an oxygen tank, can he hold his breath under water forever? Does he breathe oxygen like mere mortals? Professor Matthew might be forgiving of Vinnie Colletta's inks here but I think they stink. And that's coming from a guy who doesn't give much attention to inkers. Colletta reduces the great John Buscema to a Kirby-wannabe in lots of spots. Yeeeechhh.

Scott McIntyre: Now that was pretty damned amazing. After months of bland fighting and arbitrary false mystery, this issue delivers the goods. It's a grand opera filled with battles, yes, but also moments of pause as characters become not what they initially appear and perceived foes become allies. Even the short time on Blackworld is gripping as another story unfolds. The ladies have their share of action, but also some nice twists as strange imagery and new characters propel us forward. While we all thought Mangog was easily dispatched last issue, he - and Asgard - were simply swept to another realm and the real battle takes place here and next issue. We end with Odin at his weakest and seconds from death. What happens next will make your senses reel! This is a bright spot after months of leftover soup. Hopefully this isn't just a brief respite from crap.

Marvel Team-Up 1
Spider-Man and The Human Torch in
"Have Yourself a Sandman Little Christmas!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru

Covering a Christmas-Eve Polar Bear Clan outing for the Bugle, Peter sees the Sandman appear on the beach, changes into Spider-Man, and skirmishes with the villain, who flees.  Feeling that he is their problem, Spidey tries to alert the FF, but at the Baxter Building he finds only the Torch, mooning over “girl problems,” and they reluctantly join forces, foiling a mugging and stopping an out-of-control truck along the way.  Based on clues from their previous encounters, they trace the Sandman to New Jersey, where he knocks out both heroes and traps them in a water-tank; because he provided a hint that lets them escape, they agree to allow the Sandman’s annual visit with his sick mother, which he naturally takes advantage of to slip away. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: One of the hallmarks of the Bronze Age is the team-up books, which paired characters from Marvel’s two flagship titles with rotating guest stars, this one lasting 150 issues, until February 1985, while its sister series featuring the Thing, Marvel Two-in-One, racked up a respectable 100 between January 1974 and June 1983.  Each inevitably had its ups and downs, as well as its supporters and detractors, but at their best, they offered interesting chemistry; fruitful runs by the likes of John Byrne, Chris Claremont, and Steve Gerber; a place to tie up the dangling plot threads from cancelled strips; and, most of all, just plain fun.  The format was presumably inspired, at least in part, by DC’s long-running Batman team-up feature, The Brave and the Bold.

Scott:  I read this in some collection a long time ago. It's an okay, if sappy holiday issue. Not what I would consider the strongest kick-off of all time. There will be some great stories in the months ahead, but this one is just kind of middling. Ross Andru is on too many of these new mags for my taste. This title will go on for a nice long time and it would prove to be one of the more fun team-up titles. Spider-Man is a great character to mix things up with and would prove a good boost for some second (or eighth) stringers.

Joe Tura: Joe Tura: Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes! Easily my second favorite Marvel comic ever, MTU gave my beloved Spidey another issue to shine each month. Didn't matter who he teamed up with, I was there! This first issue was a fun romp that I enjoyed immensely back in the day. Looking forward to reliving each one here at the U! (Well, except for the non-Spidey issues, I'll play hooky for those classes....)

Peter: Vivid memories of the purchase of this here comic book come flowing back to me. Stop 'N' Go where, in the pre-Comic Book Store Deluge of the early 1980s, you could find every single comic book imaginable (and most times you could still find last month's issues as well!) was the promised land. Ten years old, I laid my two dirty dimes down (earned, no doubt, from mowing lawns in the neighborhood), took this #1 back home, and read it to tatters (literally). I wasn't old enough to know that Team-Ups happened every month in Marvel so I just thought this was the coolest thing in America. Thinking about it now, this may have been the first #1 of a superhero comic I ever bought. So, 40 years on, what does this same person (a little older) think after his first re-read in umpteen years? Meh. A little too pedestrian. Sandman seems to have lost his edge and that may be because Roy and the boys were aiming for the Sesame Street crowd and Christmas story fanatics, I don't know. The interplay between Spidey and The Torch is way too cutesy pie for my tastes as well. Yeah, I know. Snarky and elitist.

Matthew: Both Conway, to whom Roy turned over the book after one issue, and Andru, who first drew Spidey way back in 1968 in Marvel Super-Heroes #14, could almost have been auditioning for their celebrated collaboration on Amazing Spider-Man #125-49.  To his credit, while many a MARMIS would give future stories a formulaic feel, Roy resists the temptation to use one in this latest meeting between the Marvel characters most deserving of the term “frenemy”; I believe the original intent was to use them in every issue, which would have been a mistake.  Unfortunately, the Sandman looks like he’s wearing his big brother’s costume (complete with Viagra button), while for trivia fans, the unidentified would-be muggee is a future Claremont fave, Misty Knight.

Sub-Mariner 47
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito

Mentally tortured to the point where he has lost his memory, Namor wanders about like a hobo after the death of his father.  Coming into conflict with ruffians and police, Namor has a mysterious cloaked benefactor watching over him.  While walking down an alley, an injured Namor pleads with a woman named Cindy Jones for help.  She brings him back to her apartment to try to nurse him back to health.  All of a sudden, there is a knock at her door.  When answered it is revealed that it is none other then Dr. Doom who has been following Namor.  Something in the back of his mind causes Subby to attack Doom and the two fight each other briefly.  Dr. Doom gets the upper hand as Namor isn't at his full powers.  When Cindy begs them to stop their quarrelling the two call a brief truce.  Doom only wanted to recruit Subby to become his ally.  As his memory starts slowly coming back to him he agrees to partner up with the Latverian monarch.  With Cindy in tow, the three set off in Doom's ship to explore abandoned A.I.M. laboratory bases.  Doom is in search of the Cosmic Cube, believing that the former A.I.M. creation M.O.D.O.K. is dead.  In the end, it is revealed that M.O.D.O.K. is still alive and well as he monitors their journey. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  Leave it to the good Dr. Doom to give this series a much needed shot in the arm.  I'm actually excited to see Namor and Doom come into conflict with M.O.D.O.K.

Scott:  When we last saw Subby, he took off after his father was killed. Now we pick up and he's a homeless dude with no memory. This has to be explained to us in an editor's note, which is pretty damned unsatisfying (it's almost as bad as telling us Mr. Kline's plots are pointless).  Now he's on the rampage again, throwing boxcars like they're paper. They can never get Namor's power consistent. Sometimes he's away from water for mere minutes before weakening, but here he's obviously been travelling a while - and dry - yet has more muscle power than the Hulk.

Matthew: Can’t help wondering if there’s a link between this tale, “Doomsmasque,” and “Shadowmasque,” the never-to-be-seen follow-up announced at the end of Gerry’s final entry in the Doom solo series.  In any case, this reunion of the sometime allies who met so memorably in #20 is a disappointment so far, however promising the coming Namor/Doom/MODOK/Cosmic Cube extravaganza may be.  Mike Esposito does a pretty good job inking Colan’s pencils, but an amnesiac Namor is something we’ve seen way too often; the Senator Winters subplot drags on while going nowhere; the humor of the Sidney and Elvira scene in page 14, panel 1 is misplaced; and Subby’s devotion to the parchment-thin Cindy happens with the abruptness of early Conway.

Joe: I was thinking the same thing when I saw that cover!

Amazing Adventures 11
The Beast in
"The Beast"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Tom Sutton and Syd Shores

A savage-looking beast tracks a shady security guard to a Genetic Research lab, and when the guard breaks in, the beast strikes! Fighting off point-blank shots, he soon witnesses the guard being killed. Entering the Maximum Security block, we learn he’s Hank McCoy, the mutant X-Man known as the Beast—and he’s arrived too late and now can never change back…from…Flashback to Hank leaving the X-Men for a position at The Brand Corporation to study genetic mutation. At the impressive facility, he meets sultry Linda, who he hits it off with instantly and surly Prof. Maddicks, who only wants to be left alone. Weeks later, Hank is able to isolate the hormonal extract that causes mutation, creating a solution that can turn any man into a mutant for a controlled period of time. But after overhearing Maddicks’ plans for an evil operation, he ingests the chemical as a means of stopping the evil educator, with every intention of using an antidote. Hank changes into a hirsute version of his superhero moniker, which is where we came in…Back to the present, and Hank is too late to change back to his normal self, and heads off enraged after Maddicks, easily defeating all the guards and nearly strangling the Van-Dyked villain! Upset with himself, Hank jumps out the window and flees, just as—in a shocking twist—undercover agent Linda shoots Maddicks! –Joe Tura

Joe: “A new era in graphic art history” (huh?) begins with some frenetic action right off the bat, as we get a glimpse of a “beast” that turns out to be “The Beast” from the pages of X-Men! I remember being kinda shocked at this one, mainly because I always liked Hank McCoy. At first I disliked the hairy hero, never being a fan of drastic change, but over the years I have to admit he became one of my favorite Marvel characters, especially after joining The Avengers. But hey, let’s not skip ahead! Some good action art by Sutton & Shores, along with a nice Conway script that delves deep into the man and the mutant. Along the way we get intrigue, suspense, a gratuitous Xavier sighting, some gyrating gymnastics both before and after transformation, Superman-esque survival from point-blank gunshots (which didn’t ring true to be honest) and a couple of cold-blooded evil-doer deaths in this solid start to a “new” character. PS to Prof Matthew: hirsute used correctly this time, just for you!

John: Did anyone else think that splash page was designed to remind us of the (short-lived) good ol' days when Neal Adams was drawing the X-Men? This isn't that good, but it beats last month's Werewolf By Night.

Matthew: I already loved the Beast, but this radical revamping—Roy’s idea—is a masterstroke, “creating” a character who would become one of Marvel’s most popular.  It’s ironic that next issue, his would become the first super-hero series assigned to Steve Englehart, because this is one of the earliest Conway scripts to earn my unwavering admiration; Gerry has Hank’s persona down pat, plants the seeds for several important plotlines, and even handles the narration well.  I’m not very familiar with Tom Sutton (whose first of several inkers on the strip is the indefatigable Syd Shores), but his work here is so far quite serviceable, with well-choreographed action, a good use of offbeat panel layouts, and a wee bit of EC-style atmosphere.

Scott: Awesome! This is an outstanding story, one I have never had the opportunity to read. In all the years of soaking up Marvels, all the time following the X-Men and the Avengers, I never really knew how or why Hank McCoy became a literal beast (strange how it wasn't recapped in an X-Men). After all those decades, this story did not disappoint. In one single stroke, Hank has gone from being a decent, if annoying, character to one of the greatest in the Marvel line. Once he accepts his fate (and goes from grey to blue), Hank will blossom into a top rung hero.

Peter: I'd never read this initial Beast offering (I think I've read some of the successive chapters) but I really enjoyed it. Why not mess with the languishing X-Men? I would, however, point out that Hank's taking that potion, untested, to change his mutant form, just so he could sneak up on Professor Maddick, is the dumbest decision since Peter Parker and his six-arm formula. I love Tom Sutton's art here (even Syd Shores can't mask Sutton's distinctively "shaggy" style) and it's good practice for the two-issue splash he'd make the following year on Werewolf By Night. No one (and I do mean no one) could draw Lovecraftian horror like Tom Sutton. Check out his work for the various Charlton horror titles (Creepy Things, Midnight Tales, Monster Hunters) of the 1970s for proof of that. Sutton also drew my all-time favorite Warren story, "The Disenfranchised" (Eerie #39), right about the time he did this Beast story. For those interested in reading up on the artist (who passed in 2002), look no further than the Sutton tribute issue of Charlton Spotlight (#3).

Scott: The writing is deadly serious and the art by Tom Sutton is very interesting to look at. He's not my favorite artist (his later sketchwork on DCs Star Trek was hideous), but he's extremely effective in this issue, thanks to Syd Shores' detailed and distinctive pencils. This is also Gerry Conway's best writing to date. An impressive debut for the new Beast. Linda Donaldson would prove to be quite an important figure down the road.

John: I'm curious how X-Fans felt about this radical return of one of their heroes. Having grown up with the new X-Men (a term that no longer means anything thanks to their evolving history with more teams and reboots than one can count),  I always preferred the blue haired Beast. Of course that was in his post-bullet proof period. Not sure what  Gerry was thinking there...

The Avengers 97
"Godhood's End"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer

Rick is floating in the negative zone as Annihilus approaches. He recognizes Rick from the last time he tried to cross over and as he attacks in vengeance, the teen projects a mental bolt against the creature, blasting him far away from Rick who has no idea where this sudden power came from. Meanwhile, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch are battling Skrulls when Captain Marvel finally destroys the Omni-Wave projector. In the Negative Zone, Rick uses the power of his mind to get back to Ronan's ship and the cell he shared with the Supreme Intelligence, who is responsible for Rick's mental powers. He tells the lad to think of all those super heroes he used to read about in old comics at the orphanage where he grew up. After much concentration, he brings them to life to battle Ronan and the Kree. As the battle goes on, he is instructed to concentrate and send out a mental bolt, freezing all of the Skrulls and the Kree in their tracks. Back on Earth, the bolt hits H. Warren Craddock, who is hate mongering to a crowd, telling them they have to weed out all aliens. The bolt suddenly exposes him as a Skrull who has been using verbal hypnosis to influence everyone. When the kill-crazy mob attacks him, he realizes he's lost his powers of metamorphosis and the furious mob beats the Skrull to death. The Intelligence reveals that he was too weak to influence the leaders of the Kree and Skrulls, but by having Mar-Vell activate the Omni Wave, he was able to awaken long dormant powers of Rick's human brain. However, this leads to a mental overload and Rick collapses. The Supereme Intelligence summons Mar-Vell and all the living Avengers back. Mar-Vell learns the only way to save Rick is to rejoin his life force and once again merges with the teen. The Intelligence then returns "all living Avengers" to Earth where Nick Fury reveals the real Craddock had been held captive and knows nothing of anything his Skrull double had done. Now they have a moment to realize all of the living Avengers have been returned….and Goliath is not among them. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Lo, There Shall Be An Ending! Neal Adams is gone, but John Buscema does a pretty fair imitation. There's still artistic continuity here but as the issue goes on, the attempt to keep it "Adams-like" is dropped and the issue ends with Buscema's style winning out. It's still great art and visually, this can't be beat. It's fun seeing all of the old heroes, especially Cap and Namor speaking as they used to back in the day (Buscema even left the stripes off Cap's back in a nice touch). Nick Fury shows up to drop some more exposition in this already exposition-heavy story, but seriously? The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers? Good gravy…

Mark Barsotti: The final chapter of the Kree-Skull smackdown gets a much bigger thumbs-up from me than pooh-poohing Prof. Peter and other harrumphing facility. Sure, the Rascally One's sprawling canvas, after umpteen issues spraying plot points and a gazillion characters around like Jackson Pollock, left him somewhat painted into a "what-now?" corner, but he still gets props for Going Big, swinging for the fences, and if "Godhood's End" wasn't a divine conclusion, it left me smiling and satisfied.

Matthew: One last spin of the Artist Wheel as the war reaches its armistice, yet since switching from Adams back to Buscema is like trading steak for lobster, I’m not complaining, and even Palmer’s inks are welcome after watching Colletta butcher Big John’s pencils over in Thor.  For my money, there’s a little too much going on for this to be a completely satisfying conclusion, with the Assemblers reduced to an afterthought in their own book, and the Supreme Intelligence’s wrap-up seeming like a bit of a deus ex machina.  But at least Rick gets to be an actual super-dude (albeit briefly, and I’m selfishly awaiting the resumption of his adventures with Mar-Vell), and Roy to indulge his fondness for the Golden-Age super-heroes of their youth.

Push, Rick... push!
Peter: Now that this epic is in my rearview, I must admit to being epicly disappointed. As Professor
Matthew says, there was way too much going on for this to work. Just in the final chapter alone there's too much to process. Why, other than to satisfy Roy's thirst for Golden Age heroes, would the original Invaders (+) show up for three pages, put up a half-assed fight, and then vanish in a poof? There's no way I'm going to criticize The Rascally One for this mega-arc (it shows so much more imagination than, say, the latest Daredevil) but I also can't say I'd ever read the thing again. As far as the art goes, coulda fooled me. I'd swear there's some Neal swirling around in there (check out that panel of Rick Jones having a bowel movement above, fer instance -- sure looks like vintage Adams to me).

Scott: All in all, though, this seems to be a little too quick a conclusion after all the months of build up and stalling. I mean, yay, Rick Jones save the universe! It's unclear whether the frozen aliens will stay that way or not. This doesn't seem like a victory for anyone, really, just a pause until they can all start moving again. It's not so much a resolution as a sudden stop. So that was the Kree-Skrull War. Honestly, while there are flashes of brilliance, it wasn't really all that and feels like it just ran out of steam.

Mark: Losing Neil Adams never helps, but behind an okay Gil Kane cover (Great design: the Invaders + (to quote the Dean) dramatically lunging toward the reader, yet it's drawn by the legendary but overrated nose-fetishist Gil), John Buscema delivers a pinch-hit homer. He gives great swirly-faced Skrull, and Marv shattering the Omni-Wave on page 6, palpable with destructive force, is great comic art (and if the grunting Rick-face panel already referenced and other bits (Mar-Vell, panel 2, page 13) aren't leftover Adams, Big John was channeling his predecessor). From mind-blasting Annihilus and conjuring up the Invaders + (and at risk of my just-awarded parking space at the stately MU campus, I disagree with Dean Peter. Three pages of the Timely heroes was exactly enough), to marbleizing the Skull hordes, Rick's scattershot power, unleashed by the Supreme Intelligence, wasn't a last minute fix, Professor Matthew, but a logical progression of the entire arc, with the Avengers' and earth's fate largely beyond their control.. The lost fourth Skull from FF #2 is finally accounted for, and we're left to ponder the disappearance of Cliff Barton. High-grade stuff, all tolled, even if I do have to go back to off-campus parking.

Peter: Professor Barsotti, please report to the Dean's office.

Joe: Up in the Poconos this past weekend, I spotted a hardcover of "The Kree-Skrull War" at a Barnes and Noble and was struck by the shift of art from Adams to Buscema. Normally, JB would be a welcome sight, but after the nifty Neal, it was a letdown to browse through, not to mention the waaaaay over-colored reprint pages that looked like a rainbow threw up.

Marvel Feature 2
The Defenders in 
"Nightmare on Bald Mountain!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru and Sal Buscema

There are some strange shenanigans going on atop Bald Mountain. A witches' sabbath brings forth the dread Dormammu, who demands a sacrifice. Only one goat will do: Doctor Stephen Strange! The aforementioned good Doctor is pondering life in his sanctum when he is visited by the spectral image of his teacher, The Ancient One, who beckons him to follow him into the night. Once there. Strange discovers the illusion was just... an illusion perpetrated by villains hoping to gain access to Strange's body while his spirit ventures forth. Too late, Strange discovers the men already making off with his human form, despite the best efforts of his butler, Wong. Worried about not hearing from the Doc, Clea shows up at the mansion and rouses the unconscious Wong. She sends out feelers for Strange, inadvertently arousing the interest of Sub-Mariner and The Hulk, who both set out for the Strange Mansion. Meanwhile, at the base of Bald Mountain, Roy Thomas and his wife Jeanie and friend Tom Fagan are discussing preparations for this year's Halloween parade, when Tom brings up the Satanic goings-on up on Bald Mountain. Clea and Wong finally meets up with the other two-thirds of the fledgling Defenders and they head to Bald Mountain. While there, we learn that Dr. Strange has been napping inside Wong's body and, once Dormammu materializes to claim the Doc's corporeal form, Strange enters his body and a battle semi-royale begins. Dormammu is sent back to his own dimension and the worshippers are all killed in a rock slide. The Defenders are left alone on the hill and we know that, wherever evil pops up, there will be super groups (mediocre or otherwise) to come to our rescue.   -Peter Enfantino

Peter: In all the demon worship movies I ever saw, the chicks danced naked around the flames. Here, Ross has them wearing way too many clothes. I'm sure that's what kept me from buying this issue way back when it popped up on the newsstands. I was very much surprised Roy didn't write poems into his own word balloons, you know, a little Frost or Eliot perhaps? Just to remind everyone, yet again, that he graduated from college. But no, he talks just like a comic geek would. Is it marginally egotistical to employ yourself as a character in one of your own funny books or is it just playfully toying with the fourth wall? Wouldn't be so bad if the adventure itself was any good but none of the plot threads introduced come to fruition (Roy and his pals even disappear half way through the story). Roy's buddy, Tom Fagan, is pictured in a full-page sequence telling a spooky story and smoking a cigarette. That got me thinking. CCA banned vampires but had no problems with coffin nails? Interesting. And why would an evil super-force like Dormammu wear spandex?

Scott:  Still not wowed by this title. So far nothing really special is working to bring these heroes together in their non-team and I'm not fan of Voodoo or Demon Worship stories (I kept looking for Roy Thinnes and William Shatner). The Hulk being hypnotized into Bruce Banner is amusing, but Ross Andru's art is distracting me. This Tom Fagan with the Thomas' thing is annoying to me as well. I was never a fan of the "Marvel Bullpen Guest Stars" bits, but I must be in the minority since it happens a hell of a lot. This book will get better, but the art will always be problematic for me. Especially when Herb Trimpe takes over.

Nope, no ego on display here

Matthew: In this sophomore Defenders outing, the artwork is mixed but has definitely taken a giant step up from Wild Bill’s shenanigans last issue, with Andru’s work now inked by Our Pal Sal, who went on to pencil their solo book in its glory days, through the end of the Gerber era.  Sadly, Roy has bollixed this fine premise, in part by interpolating himself and then-wife Jeanie into another Tom Fagan/Rutland Halloween Parade story, à la Avengers #83.  Along with Subby and Greenskin’s pointless adventures in the big city, that leaves insufficient room—even in the oversized quarterly format (rounded out with a reprint from Sub-Mariner Comics #36)—to do justice to Dormammu, a misstep quite unworthy of the erstwhile Dr. Strange scribe.

Joe: I've promised to try and find my daughter something with Dormammu on it when we visit the always enjoyable Marvel Super-Hero Island at Universal Islands of Adventure a week from now. He's her favorite villain, although I'm not sure why. I think because she can pronounce his name better than I ever could!

Peter: Maybe because Dormammu looks a lot like her dad after a few Stellas?

Fantastic Four 120
"The Horror That Walks On Air!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

An experiment in the Baxter Building is interrupted when a masked band of common—but armed and ruthless—thugs break in, intent on killing them and exploiting their scientific knowledge. The F.F. routes them easily, if taken aback by their evil intent. Warning of a far greater danger comes in the form of Agatha Harkness, who can use her powers of witchcraft to appear to them in non-corporeal form. She tells them of a strange and deadly being who is at this very moment arriving on Earth, a being who poses a danger to all mankind. Then she departs. Reed uses his Trans-Global Scanner to track any recently reported strange activity. Strange it is: all over the world, a brightly- garbed figure is seen walking on air, without expression, with no apparent desire to communicate and travelling at great speed. When he occasionally stops to observe his surroundings more intently, the F.F. use this as their cue to intercept him, this time on the coast of Maine. Even they don’t seem to attract much of his interest until they use Johnny’s flame to tempt him into following them back to the Baxter Building. The alien easily matches the display of powers that they show; he appears to have as much strength as Ben, and can exploit various bolts of force. When he finally deigns to speak to the masses, he announces that his name is Gabriel. He says that the end of the world is close at hand, and pulls a miniature horn from his belt, which grows to full size. He trumpets a powerful call, perhaps to send word of his judgment. -Jim Barwise

Jim: On one hand, not a lot happens in this issue. We get a rather long opening scene with masked gunmen breaking into the Baxter Building.  And why would yet another alien come to Earth to pronounce judgment? On the other hand, Gabriel is rather impressive looking, walking weightlessly through the air in his colorful garb. We’ve seen so many “all-powerful” figures in this title, I don’t know that he’d inspire more dread than Galactus, or more recently, the Overmind. Still, it’ll be interesting to see what is made of any biblical/historical connection and the “Gabriel and his horn” plotline.

Scott: Really? Some group of thugs actually thought it was a great plan to rush the FF on their own turf and start shooting? This is a well-laid plan? The Fantastic Four are the premier super-hero group who have kicked demi-god ass practically from day one, who possess all kinds of high tech security measures, and this batch of jackasses actually thinks they can beat the FF with guns and hand grenades. It boggles the mind. Of course, this situation only exists to fill pages, which just makes it worse. On the other hand, Ben's reading material "to broaden his mind" is hysterical (Stan was great with character humor). I also hate the whole "let's explain to each other what we're doing while we're doing it" stuff that helpfully fills US in, but makes no sense. These guys already discussed this when they hatched their amazing plan. Again, this is happening so six pages can be eaten up by something exciting and action packed. Instead, though, it's simply stupid. Another page gets filled by landlord Collins, a man I am rapidly getting tired of. Finally, on page 8, something resembling a story actually begins.

"Yep, that above!"
Matthew: Stan is back with another multi-parter, but while this one was reprinted in Marvel Treasury Edition #21 (from which I am working), making it seem like a big deal, part one left me “just whelmed,” as Dad used to say. I should qualify that by noting that my favorite art team is firing on all cylinders; it’s just the story that left me a little cold, feeling that the attack on the Baxter Building was unusually far-fetched, the stuff with Collins is getting old fast, and Gabriel, although visually dynamic, is not that compelling.  I also found unintentional humor in Reed’s refrain of, “We can’t be sure that this gigantic figure who has suddenly appeared walking on air at unimaginable speeds is the same menace about which Agatha Harkness had warned us!”

Peter: Well, to be fair, Professor Matthew, aren't there giant world-eating menaces hovering around the Baxter Building weekly? What's with that overly-melodramatic title?  If Gabriel is seen across all the continents at pretty much the same time, he has to be walking pretty fast (in fact Stan tells us Gabriel "can zoom through the sky faster than the eye can follow"), so how is it all these people across the world can actually see him? I'm not sure what's funnier this issue: that Agatha Harkness' crystal ball has a restriction on showing anything strange or alien, that the Fantastic Four have a "Plan T for Taunt" (could "Plan R for Run" be far behind?), or that the Thrilling Three have to resort to card tricks and celebrity impersonations to keep the interest of Gabriel while Reed fishes around in his lab for his Henny Youngman joke book. Yep, Stan is back! The credits page, by the way, lists one "John Sinnott" as inker this issue. I had a poster of this cover on my wall when I was a wee Marvel Zombie, courtesy of one of those Scholastic Bananas/Dynamite zines.

Scott: Agatha Harkness is pretty useless, giving a warning without knowing the specifics. Even worse, this Gabriel dude shows up and everyone on Earth starts yapping about miracles. This after YEARS of all sorts of super-powered, costumed beings flitting all around them. What makes Gabriel stand out as being an angel to them? Why not get the same feeling when Thor - an actual god - hits the streets? This is just more typical Stan Lee writing (welcome back Stan - yikes). Realistic human reactions go right out the window in service of the plot. A guy walking on air should just roll off people's backs after seeing Thor, the Hulk and others defying gravity. It'll get worse next issue, but really all of this action and posturing merely lead to another cliffhanger ending.

Mark: For dramatically naming new baddies, "The Air-Walker" ain't a name that's gonna make  Forbush-Man quake in his booties, let alone the FF. I'm with Professor Scott, the opening assault by the Pillowcase-on-the-Head Gang was lame. Tommy guns against the Fab Four? Please. The thugs are quickly routed, but Ben tossing a couple tons o' machinery on them would result in body bags, no? I still enjoy their walrus-'stached landlord being put to rout, but old hag A. Harkness appearing in a puff of smoke with dire warnings is getting stale, and Sue's twice in one ish disappearing-limbs gambit was at least once too many. Gabe's world-wide, "Mama Mia!"-invoking appearance is a Xerox-ed callback to the coming of Galactus that can only pale in comparison, but the AW is nicely decked out in threads by Buscema. The Gabriel blow-your-horn ending has an ominous Biblical resonance that has me crossing my fingers in hopes of an engrossing apocalypse next month.

Joe: This is one FF villain that I thought was lame back in the 70s. No point in changing my opinion now!

Creatures on the Loose 16
Gullivar Jones, Warlord of Mars in
"Warrior of Mars"
Story by Roy Thomas
Adapted from the novel Lt. Gullivar Jones 
by Edwin A. Arnold
Art by Gil Kane and Bill Everett

War-weary Vietnam vet Gullivar Jones receives a visitation from Lu-Pov, a dying Martian who entrusts him with a mission to save Mars.  Once transported to the Red Planet, Gullivar witnesses red barbarian goliaths extorting tribute for their warlord Ar-Hap from Prince Hath, chief of the Hither people.  Included in this peace offering is Hath’s own betrothed, Princess Heru.  Gullivar, smitten by this green-haired goddess, leaps into action, not knowing his own increased strength on Mars: “I didn’t realize I could hit so hard.  I—think I broke his neck!  Well, I’ll worry about that later.”  Trying to rally the Hither folk, he finds them “scared gutless” and giddyups after the princess alone.  He rescues and kisses her, until their romantic interlude is interrupted by pterodactyl-like wing-men who swoop off with Heru!  Gullivar grabs a ride on one, but is kicked off and lands on a barge floating swiftly down a stream the Martians call...the River of the Dead!  -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: The original Edwin L. Arnold novel Lt. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation explicitly invokes Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, though the credit that states “freely adapted” proves an understatement.  Unlike with his Robert E. Howard adaptations, here Roy Thomas takes considerably more liberties with the source material, unwisely beginning in the Vietnam era rather than 1905 (for “social relevance”).  Fortunately, once Gullivar is whisked to Mars, this anachronistic alteration ceases to matter.  From there on in, the tale declares itself as timeless as mythology as two giants carry off a golden goddess as part of a pact, a scene mirroring Freia’s abduction in Wagner’s Ring.  The mythic echoes deepen as the story sets up a “Magnificent One” showdown, with the brash American outsider standing up against hostile forces for a passive people (High Noon, Shane).

Scott: I can see why Gil Kane was drawn to this; the set up is a lot like Green Lantern, when Abin Sur chose Hal Jordan to take the ring and defend space. I have no idea if the original story this was based upon began this way, so perhaps someone else can tell me which notion came first. For a series and concept, it's fun, but it just moves far too quickly. In the space of ten pages, Jones is discharged from the Corps, drafted by Lu-Pov, sent to Mars, saves the princess, learns the ways of the civilizations, and falls in love. I get it that there had to be some swiftness to establish the premise and hook readers, but Jones is a non-entity; a standard issue hero who leaps into action because it's his function in the story. He's too glib, too easily accepting of all the newness, he never stops to smell the conundrums.

Gilbert: The opening pages, with a dying alien bestowing a mystical medallion upon Gullivar, are bound to remind readers of Green Lantern.  Thomas dubs the alien “Lu-Pov” in honor of his Canaveral Press editor-in-chief friend Richard A. Lupoff, who rediscovered this lost classic of primitive science fiction and convinced Ace Books editor Donald A. Wollheim to publish it (with the 1965 American debut title Gulliver [sic] of Mars).  It was Lupoff who first argued that Arnold’s forgotten novel influenced Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom books, and indeed Arnold’s American military man leaps record distances in a single bound, rescues a Princess of Mars, and sails a river of death, among other similarities.

Scott: It's by the numbers action tailored to appeal to the fans of Conan and Kull. I could like this a lot, if Roy slowed down and let us get acclimated. This actually feels like the set up for the 1980 Flash Gordon movie (the hero played by Gullivar's cousin Sam J.). Since this is a Monster Reprint magazine, was anyone even aware of this new character?

Gilbert: Marvel’s inability to license John Carter led them to the very character who possibly inspired ERB, and they probably transformed him more into Carter than into Arnold’s hero.  (Marvel ultimately did secure those rights, adapting ERB’s stories in the 1977 series John Carter, Warlord of Mars)  Carter aside, artist Gil Kane’s Gullivar (after his hair turns fair) seems almost modeled on actor Buster Crabbe, maybe explaining why he says things like he’ll do “the Rogers bit...Roy, not Buck!,” “He’s halfway back to Ming the Merciless by now...,” and “Shades of Flash Gordon!”  However you paint it—Jones, Carter, Rogers, Gordon—and whatever you choose to call it—interplanetary romance, sword-and-planet, space opera, etc. —we are firmly in the age of very early science fiction as we know it today.

Gilbert: This issue also includes two reprinted adventure tales: “The Impossible Tunnel!” (Strange Tales #96), an “iron mole” story about “Chunnelers” discovering an undersea world, and “The Frightened Man!” (Tales to Astonish #33), in which a Cold War-era inventor takes a fantastic, frantic journey through time to escape Mutually Assured Destruction.

The Amazing Spider-Man 106
"Squash! Goes the Spider!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Spidey spots the NYPD video scanner on the roof that saw him unmasked and heads off to Doc Connors for help, where he creates a mold of his face. Cut to JJJ, who sees his Spider-Slayer remote go up in smoke, much to the daffy delight of slimy Prof. Smythe, who meets with the top four NY gang leaders to try and sell them on his scanner system. They spy Spidey on a rooftop, where he pulls off a mask that (wink-wink) proves he’s not who Smythe thinks he is…but no matter, Smythe has a much bigger Spider-Slayer lying in wait for the wall-crawler! Spidey spots JJJ leading a protest about the police’s use of the scanners, then heads to a date with Gwen. After a quick aside with Harry and MJ, Pete and Gwen visit Flash, who’s acting strangely, then have a dazzling date. But soon afterwards, Spidey is back on the prowl, only to be trapped by a giant web, spun by the new and improved Spider-Slayer that features Smythe himself in the cockpit! -- Joe Tura

Joe: John Romita is like a fluffy comforter, returning to the pages of ASM for the second part of the Spider-Slayer saga with bravura results. Well, that’s not a shock! No slight to the awesome Gil Kane of course, but Romita’s takes on JJJ, MJ, RR, PP and any non-abbreviated regular just really tickles my fancy and is as iconic as it gets for me. A fun issue all around, even though it’s light on the action, partly because of the art and partly because it’s a well-told tale. And perhaps most importantly for us old romantics, it’s so great to see our hero actually go on a bona fide date, consisting of movies, dinner and goodnight kiss! It’s about time! Not sure about that hat on Gwen, but hey, it’s 1972 after all. A couple of word choices really bothered me though if I may nitpick: Pete calling Gwen “voomy” which can’t possibly have ever been popular, and the constant use of “Gwendy”. Why do I hate that so? Oh, who am I kidding, Stan makes up for it if only by having Spidey call Smythe a “cackling cretin”! Hurray for alliteration!

Mark: We get an art upgrade with the welcome return of Jazzy Johnny, a cameo by Doc Connors (although how lab chemicals quickly become mask-making material, Stan only knows), Professor Smythe performing the ritual Gathering of the Crime Lords ("Once I defeat Spider-Man, I'm taking over the gangs, see!"), and Jolly Jonah leading yet another protest, this one over intrusive government snooping (this last made me wistful for the "Take to the Streets" '70s; all the recent NSA revelations prompted was blogger outrage. Of course, our more enlightened populace has learned, post 9/11, that Big Brother really does love us after all).

Scott: Thank Zod John Romita is back. Now everyone looks like they should; Harry, Gwendy, and Peter are all back to normal. The story, though, is laughable. "How Does Our Hero Get Out of This?" Infuriatingly. Spidey suddenly realizes the stupidity in unmasking on a rooftop in broad daylight. Worse, he all too quickly comes up with his way out: make a Peter Parker latex mask! Not only is he lucky Curt Connors has all the ingredients to make one, Peter is now suddenly a master makeup artist. Move over John Chambers, Peter Parker is on the scene. If he can make a lifelike mask look so perfect, WTF is he doing wasting his time trying to make money as a photographer for the cheapest newspaper editor on Earth? He could be working in Hollywood, for the government, SHIELD or even Ben Cooper. His masks would look better than the cheap crap I had to wear on Halloween.

Matthew: Much as I love Sugar-Lips, I’m never gonna grouse about Jazzy Johnny returning to the pencils on this mag, especially with Fearless Frank remaining on inks, and even now Jonah looks a little odd to me, as does Flash.  I see Stan is spinning the storyline out (as it were) for at least three issues, leaving this installment with that “middle-third” feeling, in which not a lot happens besides Spidey’s latest wacky solution to the secret-identity problem and the set-up for the concluding smackdown.  It’s a good thing Peter deserves his reputation for having a supporting cast and attendant subplots that are as interesting as the main event in most books, and even some of that soap-opera stuff was clumsily shorn from the Marvel Tales reprint.

Peter: If not for that "soap opera" stuff, this issue would sink under the weight of its dullness. Amazing that the wall-crawler's spider-sense doesn't go off until he's taken his mask off and then popped it back on for the delight of Professor Smythe. Never mind that he was up on a roof in broad daylight, why was he taking his mask off anyway? Breath of fresh air? About the soap subplots - it still amazes me that, knowing she's a total teasing slut, Parker would marry MJ years later. And what's with Flash Thompson? Post-war stress? Or will we find out he's moonlighting as a super villain? Give Stracynsnki another shot at the title and we'll find out Flash was putting it to Aunt May and he can't take the guilt whenever Peter's around.

Joe: No..... Stracynsnki....or wire hangers.....ever!!

Mark: Gwen sports some Va-va-voom hot pants, Flash shows symptoms of PTSD, Harry mopes over MJ, and Spidey ends up webbed-up, with Smythe gloating from the cockpit and yet another new model Slayer. The action and character bits rush forward like a freight train, so fast there's no time to bitch that the big "Peter's Face Revealed!" cover tease is disposed of by page 9. "Dull" and "not a lot happens?" Perish forbid! Me thinks Profs Peter and Matthew read Millie the Model by mistake, 'cause only grumpy ole Doc Wertham should whine about this one!

Scott: Of course, the one moment he picks to take off his fake Parker mask and wave it at a random camera is just when the right people are looking at it. So these guys believe Spider-Man was wearing his regular mask, over a fake Parker mask over another Spider-Man mask? I repeat: WTF? On top of that, it's blatantly obvious that Spider-Man is putting on a show, but why would he want to show them his bogus mask unless he was trying to prove that wasn't his face? Why would he bother unless it actually was his face? Why divulge to your enemies that the face they thought was his secret identity was just a disguise? In reality, it would be to Spider-Man's advantage for criminals to think he was someone other than Parker. And nobody thinks to ask why he would even wear a fake face under his mask and over his other mask. It's such a bald-face sham that nobody should be fooled. Yeah, sure, "he looks like any hundred guys," but Smythe knows Parker! They've met more than once before and he fails to recognize him. This steaming pile of nutty, runny feces is pretty damned insulting. If readers felt as cheated as I did when I first read this, the letters must have been pretty scathing. This is DC Comics level crap. Actually, having him produce a Robot double would have been easier to accept. Why did you come back, Stan? WHY?!

The Incredible Hulk 149
"...And Who Shall Claim This Earth His Own? The Inheritor"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin

Things are looking better then they have in the past at the military base where the Hulk is being held captive.  Attached to machines that suck the radiation from him, the Hulk is more docile.  Even when he escapes the contraptions he turns back into Banner so there is hope that he might be on his way to being cured.  A strange ship falls in the wilderness and a monstrous being emerges.  Calling himself the Inheritor, this creature has no problem killing poachers, military troops, or anything else in it's path.  The Inheritor has a hard time remembering just who he is until he gets a dose of radiation being carried in a military truck he destroys. The radiation makes him stronger and causes him to remember that he was created by the High Evolutionary.  Deemed to be a mistaken experiment by the High Evolutionary because of his ruthlessness, the Inheritor was banished into space on a ship until a meteor hit him and accidently sent him back to earth.  Craving more radiation, the Inheritor attacks the military base where the Hulk is being kept.  The monsters end up fighting it out until the Inheritor makes his way to where the supply of radiation is being held.  Unfortunately for him, the Inheritor comes across the machines that Banner had invented to siphon off the radiation from Hulk.  This causes the Inheritor to lose all of his powers until he reverts back into a cockroach, which was what he originally was when the High Evolutionary used him as a test subject. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion:  The Marvel Bullpen knocks it out of the park once again as they have created an interesting monster that could have had its own story.  The Inheritor was more entertaining then the Hulk.  The only drawback was the creature's design which resembled a cheap Japanese toy.  Too bad every issue can't be this good.

Scott:  Oh look, Betty is with her father and Talbot as they look at the captured Hulk and, what a shock, she bellyaches about Bruce Banner, "the man she loves" and stomps off. Seriously, Betty needs a job and a hobby. Hot on the heels of the last cure attempt, we get yet another. Dr. Corbeau is nowhere to be found, so I guess he's the one and done kind of scientist. "Ah well, I tried. Anyone want anything from Sonic?" The Inheritor is an adequate enough antagonist and a good match for the Hulk. But once the story is over, he fades quickly from memory. A pleasant enough time waster, but nothing special.

Matthew: This is an average issue, and when you consider some of the substandard work to have been on display recently in other titles, there’s no shame in that.  I wasn’t finding the Inheritor terribly interesting until we learned of his connection with the High Evolutionary (of course, cross-promoting this with Marvel Premiere #1 is like catnip for me), and that sting in the tail regarding his genetic origins—clues to which Artful Archie had scattered throughout the story—was fun.  I remain amazed at how much Herb’s artwork doesn’t look like Herb’s artwork under John Severin’s aggressive inking, with Greenskin at his most shockingly simian on the splash page, and even Betty Ross not looking quite herself, although Ross and Talbot seem okay.

Captain America and The Falcon 147
"And Behind the Hordes of Hydra..."
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten

As Cap and the Femme Force fight the hordes of Hydra, they are watched by the mysterious leader, whose face we have yet to see. He is about to blow up the headquarters when the Kingpin's wife (who we last saw in the Amazing Spider-Man #85) enters, asking someone she calls "my husband" to wait and keep watching before killing everyone. The fight continues and the Supreme Hydra tells Cap to surrender, or he will electrocute the captured Sharon Carter. Cap refuses and tosses his shield, but the Supreme Hydra hits the button and Sharon is fried! Her death sends Cap into a murderous rage (wait, is this a rerun?) and the Supreme Hydra is unmasked and revealed to be the Son of the Kingpin. Seconds later, we see the face of the mysterious leader! It is the Kingpin himself! Didn't see that coming. I mean, I didn't before Vanessa Fisk showed up and ruined the surprise. Anyway, Cap is about to pummel the lad when Val announces that Sharon isn't dead! The shock actually brought her out of her coma! (pause) Sweet Muscular Jesus, this is too hideous to spend any more time on, so let's just hit the highlights: the Kingpin's mind snapped when he discovered his son was the Schemer back in Spider-Man 85. He got better. Son had to prove himself to his father. Dad took over Hydra and took on the identity of Harold Howard in Vegas. Cap goes there to smash this plot, the Falcon changed his mind and went to go help Cap. They arrive, fight the Kingpin (whose son just sort of vanishes) and at the end, a disembodied voice says they're all doomed. I wonder who it could be? -Scott Mcintyre

Scott: What happened? For an issue or two, it looked like this title was pulling out of the crap pile, but then gleefully fell right back into it. This is just freaking awful. What's with this tendency to have a major villain of one hero have their situation resolved in some other character's book? Did readers of Captain America who didn't follow Spider-Man really care that much about The Schemer or the Kingpin? And what about fans of Spidey who didn't like Cap (there had to be at least one besides me)? They had no idea why the Kingpin returned hale and hearty later on.

Matthew: Those with an aversion to broken records may wish to skip to the next comment.  Continuing to deny us any tying up of Val’s dangling threads is bad enough, but her devolution from Nick’s devoted squeeze to Laura Brown’s quasi-rival to infatuation with Cap is an insult; she should have stayed MIA.  This mag has been Captain America and the Falcon in name only for months, so why bother retitling it?  The revelation of Fisk père et fils as the forces behind Hydra is already far-fetched, but positing the Mystery Villain du Jour (hint: he calls Cap “swine”) as the man behind the man behind the curtain strains credulity to the snapping point. Too bad Sal’s nifty art, and that great Kane/Sinnott cover, were wasted on another Friedrich dud.

Peter: Oh my goodness! Where to start with the near-hilarious shenanigans going on here? I say near-hilarious despite the fact that what Friedrich was doing to my favorite comic book character is heinous. There's lots of dopiness here that aches to be pointed out:

-Why would The Kingpin, a man with an ego the size of his stomach, hide behind the Hydra name? When did his wife become supportive of the two criminal men in her life? I always thought Vanessa was a woman who wanted her husband to get out of the biz and wanted her son never to be involved in the first place. Here she's telling her son how proud pop will be when he finds out junior reined in Hydra all by his lonesome. And why, as a writer, would you bother hiding the big guy for several pages after showing his wife early on? Why not hide her in the shadows as well so there's a bit of suspense.
-We find out that not only is Cap a worry-wart but he's also a fatalist. This is the second consecutive issue he's declared Sharon Carter dead without even feeling for a pulse. Then when he learns she's okay (in fact, that electric shock brought her out of her coma!), he has to stop in the middle of apprehending The Schemer/Hydra Supreme to have a kiss and a cuddle.
-Val has become Captain America's answer to Mary Jane Watson. She knows damn well her buddy, Sharon, is Cap's squeeze (and we found out last issue that they're engaged!) but she turns on the charm and shakes her tightly-clad ass anyway, going so far as to call Cap "the man she loves!"
-I'm still trying to figure out why, if this Harold Howard guy is so end-of-the-world important, Nick Fury is sending Sam Wilson, ace social worker, to Vegas to save mankind. And where did he stash the bird on the plane? What airline would let you transport a falcon?
-When did Captain America become The Kingpin's "accursed enemy." Have they fought and I missed that issue?

And how about that last panel expository? The most wooden dialogue this side of Frank Robbins:

(SPOILER ALERT!!!) The Red Skull ("off camera"): Silence, swine... and all will be made clear! The Kingpin is not the head of Hydra... nor was his son... nor was any Supreme Hydra who ever supposedly was in charge! You disappoint me, Captain America, in that you were never able to realize the true force behind Hydra! You of all people should have guessed long ago!... But that is of little import... since, if you do not surrender at this very instant, the entire population of Las Vegas will be -- wiped out!!!

Evidently, poor Sal never got the note from Friedrich that read "last panel should be a shot of (SPOILER ALERT) The Red Skull, hands clenched in fists, legs stretched wide, white ascot fully in view." I'm just guessing the note got lost somewhere in the Marvel Cafeteria while Sal was having a Hogie, as I've never seen a reveal that actually didn't reveal. This could easily be the stupidest comic book of 1972.

Scott: Val is now head over heels in love with Cap. The previous issues hinted only at attraction, but now he's the man she loves? She suddenly forgot Nick Fury? And let's not forget the "Sharon is killed in front of Cap, so he freaks out, but then Val discovers she's really not dead" gambit used for two consecutive issues. All this noise and the final panel hints at a major reveal. Next month, the reveal is already done, cheating readers out of the "shock." This is bad storytelling from all sides. Tell you what, wake me when Engelhart arrives.

Daredevil 85
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Syd Shores

Matt, Natasha and Ivan are heading back on a plane from London. A man named Nathaniel Taggart joins invites himself to join them for conversation. Quite a bit worse is the hijacking that takes place next. The Black widow covers for Matt until DD can appear. The two would have had the upper hand no doubt, but for the hostage card the thugs pull. Some of them disappear upstairs on the 747, and when Taggart (who had escaped notice) unties Daredevil, our hero heads upstairs to find the villain behind it all—the Gladiator. The saw-wielder is viscous this time out, and even though DD holds his own, the Gladiator has a trump card, explosives attached to one of his men’s chest. For a time it seems as if everyone’s going to cooperate. DD too has a trump card, in the form of meddling salesman Taggart, who doubles in engineering, and thus deactivates the bombs. DD presses the advantage of surprise, and gets the upper hand. The plane makes a safe enough landing, and guess who just happens to be in the airport when Natasha and Matt are walking out together? Karen Page, and she and Matt rush into each other’s arms, leaving Ivan to escort a tearful Widow away. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I’m frankly having a hard time finding much good to say about this issue. Nathaniel Taggart is maybe the unsung hero, saving the day while promising to keep the secret he’s pretty sure is true (DD’s identity). Ivan’s keen interest in Natasha’s well-being sadly proved to be somewhat founded, when Matt rushes into Karen’s arms before anyone can say “No!” Who knows if the DD/Widow romance would have blossomed for long, but give it a chance. The Gladiator isn’t especially memorable either. His last visit was much more interesting.

As close to a shower scene as we get this issue
Scott: This would have been a fine issue if not for all the wacky wishy-washy romance. The whole Matt-Natasha-Karen-Phil…um, square, is annoying. Matt and Karen apparently have no regard for anyone else if they can wind up in a clinch in front of the other people they are having relations with. Way to screw with other people. And what's with Phil, anyway? As usual, nobody just dates in the Marvel Universe, everyone's gotta get married. Otherwise, this is a fun, exciting issue. The Gladiator is one of my favorite DD villains and Gene Colan once again works his magic on Natasha. Surprisingly, she's not shown disrobing this time. Damn it.

Matthew:  Legend has it that the near-cancellation, or at least consolidation, of this book and Iron Man was attributed directly to Conway’s haphazard android-fest, and rightly so, but with Gerry and Shellhead having parted ways, plus the return of the flesh-and-blood Gladiator here, we may be turning the corner.  I liked DD’s comments about how his foe had changed, reminding me of Gladdy’s code of honor back in #23.  I did NOT like Hornhead leaving Tash tied up during their grudge match, no matter how much he wanted Ivan on his side; even setting aside the romantic implications (and the less said about the resurgence of Karen Page, as well as DD’s aviation skills, the better), it’s bad strategy to render your ally hors de combat, just in case.

Joe: One of the few early Daredevil issues I owned, which was probably the reason I always liked The Gladiator as a villain, even though thinking about him again 40 years later, he's not exactly in the upper echelon, maybe not even in DD foes.

Mark: Thankfully we're spared the too-many-bong-hits time travel nonsense of last month, but young master Conway still manages to bollocks-up a classic baddie like the Gladiator. Even given the Laissez-faire air travel of the early -70's, a gang of black leather hoods would have prompted attention from security, and Glad's master plan was to sell a jumbo jet, with the genius fallback scheme of blowing himself to bits over the Atlantic? Gerry must have been sharing the Maui-Wowie. Add the additional nonsense of DD leaving Natasha tied-up because "I don't want her involved" (she already was, Matt), to the final panel's Worse Dating Choice Ever (nixing the Widow for sad sack Karen Page), and the old lady on the plane ain't the only one cringing in horror.

The Invincible Iron Man 45
"Beneath the Armor Beats a Heart"
Story by Gary Friedrich 
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta

Realizing that Marianne knows his secret identity, Iron Man risks rejection of his heart by using a new power booster to destroy the Night Phantom android without ever learning Kline’s secret, as we did in Daredevil #84.  Simon Gilbert attempts a takeover of S.I., despite Tony’s controlling interest, and finds an unlikely ally in Kevin, whose violent jealousy boils over when he overhears Tony proposing to Marianne.  After Kevin apparently kills several students demonstrating outside S.I. (the script can’t decide if it’s three or four), Iron Man deduces that the untested Guardsman armor is affecting his mind, and uses a fail-safe feature he had built in to stun Kevin, hoping to buy enough time to prevent all-out war between the protestors and police... -Matthew Bradley

Scott: The cover alleges another "Calamity on Campus" story. It's been a while since we had a Spider-
Man or Captain America college crisis story, so let's give one to Iron Man and see how that works out, right? Except that the cover it totally wrong. None of this takes place on a campus, the kids aren't protesting a war and this is actually a better story than the cover would have you believe. In fact, the "same old, same old" premise advertised works against what is a pretty tense and shocking issue. Instead of the usual mundane crap, we have an irrational and jealous Kevin O'Brien taking the Guardsman's armor, betraying Tony Stark and apparently killing four teenagers (or three, since the exec upstairs can't count). The kids don't come back to life or are "just stunned" at any point in the story, so as far as we know, Kevin murdered them. If Iron Man is right and the armor is making Kevin wacky, then that makes more sense than his jealousy warping his mind this badly. At last, Marianne puts 2 and 2 together, but I'm confused about Tony's heart problems. I know he can't risk undue stress and strain, but certainly he can survive without his chest plate if he's taking a shower, fapping or getting dinner. Anything but fighting crime and stuff. Yet now it seems like he's back to the "must have an electrical outlet nearby" Tony Stark of the old Tales of Suspense days.

Matthew: We go from an unseasoned Conway and the Kanigher drive-by to Friedrich (with unindicted co-conspirator Colletta); could this book be in any more trouble?  I can’t blame Gary for trying to extricate himself from Gerry’s mess with unseemly haste, but having Shellhead face Kline’s minions for so many months with no more payoff than a throwaway footnote adds insult to injury, and this issue’s choppy structure feels like further collateral damage from November’s big shakeup. That still leaves Gary room to screw the pooch on his own by committing what I consider a cardinal comic-book sin, introducing the culmination of a seemingly long-simmering threat—in this case, board chairman Gilbert’s bid to unseat Tony—with no build-up whatsoever.

Scott: The corporate takeover plot is pretty boring, but it works in getting Kevin into hot water. Of course, the print schedule is totally screwed now, so we're told Mr. Kline's plan is pointless because he dies the month before in Daredevil. Maybe they ought to skip the crossovers until they get their publication schedule back to something resembling sanity. This issue wouldn't be considered all that good but for the fact that the last few have been so crummy. The "cliffhanger" is pretty bad, though. The last image we see is an unintentionally hilarious shot of Iron Man getting bonked by a brick. D'OH!

Peter: The Grand Comic Database claims that Steve Englehart lent an uncredited hand to the script this issue. Great cover, by the way.

Conan the Barbarian 14
“A Sword Called Stormbringer”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema

On the grasslands of Koth, Conan spies an auburn-haired maiden being pursued by faceless men riding devilish mounts. Conan attempts to intervene, but a sudden dizzy spell knocks him off his horse — however, the magical appearance of giant white eagles chase the cowled horsemen away. When the Cimmerian regains his senses, he is surprised to find that the woman is Zephra, the shape-shifting daughter of the sorcerer Zukala (issue # 5). Zephra convinces the barbarian to visit her father, who sent the raptors and has lost most of his power after Conan rent his mage-mask. The weakened wizard offers the warrior-thief a castle made of gold if he agrees to ride out with Zephra and kill Kulan-Gath, a Stygian who nearly rivals the sinister Thoth-Amon. Conan agrees: before they leave, Zukala enchants the barbarian’s sword, making it nearly unbreakable. On their quest, Conan and Zephra encounter Elric, an albino sorcerer-king from a world called Melnibone. After a skirmish that ends in a tie, Elric informs the Cimmerian that he seeks the wizardess Terhali, who is entombed in Yagala, the same golden castle the barbarian craves. Suddenly, Conan, Elric, and Zephra are attacked by armored knights materialized by Xiobarg, Queen of the Chaos-Swords, and led by Prince Gaynor the Damned. A mighty battle ensues and while the Cimmerian and Melnibonian more than hold their own, the two tire: but Zephra enchants a rainstorm and the Chaos Pack begin to melt, all save Gaynor, who escapes. The trio mount and ride off together towards the priceless towers of Yagala, submerged under the Sighing Lake. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Due to lagging sales, Conan the Barbarian was temporarily published bi-monthly, so fans had to twiddle thumbs for two months after reading #13 — but the wait was well worth it. (I’ve read that Stan wanted to reassign the obviously talented Barry Smith to another more profitable title, but Roy Thomas intervened.) While the last story was plotted by hacky John Jakes, this one takes a decided leap upwards in talent, with plotting credited to James Cawthorne and, more importantly, Michael Moorcock. While author/illustrator Cawthorne is basically known for his collaborations with the later, Moorcock himself is a bonafide cult figure. While he has a highly diverse resume, including work with the band Hawkwind, Moorcock is still best know for creating Elric of Melnibone, the thin white duke, err, king who derives his otherworldly strength by both sorcery and his deadly obsidian sword, Stormbringer. Now it can be considered surprising that Moorcock agreed to lend his talents to Marvel’s Robert E. Howard adaptation since Elric was conceived as the antithesis of Conan — but he was famed for his anarchistic attitude, so it was probably a bit of a lark as well as a paycheck. “A Sword Called Stormbringer” is easily the most complex Conan issue yet, introducing a host of new worlds and wizards. It is also our first two-parter. The main creative team of Thomas, Smith, and Sal remain, with one notable change: super busy letterer Artie Simek is relieved by John Costa, aka John Costanza, my all-time favorite. By Crom true believers, that’s a huge milestone in my book.

Mark: British SF/Fantasy writer Michael Moorcock plotted "A Sword Called Stormbringer," bringing his most famous character, Elric of Melnibone, to Hyboria, with dazzling results. The comely lass Conan rescues from a demonic band proves to be Zephra, daughter of Zukala, the now largely de-powered and enfeebled sorcerer our black-maned hero defeated back in issue #5. Z&Z recruit Conan to rescue a Melnobonian sorceress, entombed then sunk in a golden city at the bottom of a lake. All that bullion overcomes the Cimmerian's aversion to magic, so off he and Zephra ride. They encounter Elric en route and swordplay ensues before Conan discovers the albino king isn't a thrall of evil (if hot) Xiombarg. They make common cause just in time battle X's Chaos Pack for several pages, brutally and dramatically rendered by Barry Smith, before Zephra summons a cleansing rain, beneath which all but Gaynor the Damned melt away like a late spring snow.

Scott: Another exciting and fairly interesting tale, plotted by the creator of Elric. It's sort of a weird concept, having a different literary character show up in Conan's magazine. Barry Smith and Sal Buscema still make a good team. The bottom of page 14, Sephera looks nothing like a Smith creation. Actually, she doesn't look much like a Sal Gal either, but she's prettiest in that last panel than anywhere else. Much as I love Barry's style, he has a habit of putting people's eyes too damned close together. Finally, Conan's companions survive the tale, probably because he never wanted their company to begin with. That always happens. Your best buddy always splits early, but Uncle Bob, the guy everyone tolerates, has nothing but time to sit around drinking your beer.

Mark: As Professor Tom noted, this is the title's first continued story, and as Conan, Elric, and Zephara ride on toward the golden towers of Yagala, I'm right there in the saddle with them. If Marvel U wasn't a progressive institution and actually handed out grades, Conan #14 would get an A+.

Joe: Coolest cover of the month!


Kid Colt Outlaw #158
Marvel's Greatest Comics #34 ->
Mighty Marvel Western #16
My Love #16
Rawhide Kid #97
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #96
Two-Gun Kid #103
Where Monsters Dwell #14

1 comment:

  1. For those of you curious about my "Viagra button" joke, at one point the Sandman says, "Nuthin's gonna stop me now...not since the Wizard helped me rig up these little buttons [on my costume]...which turn me hard faster'n you can say cement block!" I thought for sure the senior faculty would find reproducing that panel irresistible...but they're clearly classier than I am!