Wednesday, September 25, 2013

September 1972 Part One: The Wild and Crazy Return of The Real Captain America and Bucky!

Special Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

If the Bronze Age started with Kirby’s defection, it begins its apotheosis with the “super-special announcement” in Stan’s Soapbox, which but for the checklist takes up an entire page.  I’ll boil it down, because by his own admission he’s “the kinda guy who can’t say ‘hello’ without making it a speech.”  He enumerates Marvel’s prior innovations (“heroes with human hang-ups,” guest-star appearances, continued stories, the Bullpen page, crediting the creators), then drops the bomb:  “Like a fella named Milhous [that’s Nixon for all of you whippersnappers] recently said, Phase One has just about had it—and it’s time for Phase Two to begin.  No man, no group of men [more on the gender gap coming in November], no publishing company can rest on its laurels…”

Stan announces the promotion of Roy Thomas to Editor (now referred to as Editor in Chief), in which capacity he will oversee such writers as Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Steve Englehart, and the unrelated Mike and Gary Friedrich.  Frank Giacoia becomes Assistant Art Director, while Smiley himself—now “unleashed”—will be free to tackle all sorts of new projects and directions, plus “doing my bit to spread the gospel according to Marvel” via the lecture circuit.  He notes that they are in the process of launching a whole new line of titles, some of which you are already seeing, and in a serendipitous coincidence, your forward-looking faculty had long since determined, starting now, to devote two posts to each month to do justice to this expansion.

And now on to (Part One of) September 1972!

Amazing Adventures 14
The Beast in
"The Vampire Machine"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Tom Sutton and Jim Mooney

The Beast leaps into action (literally!) to chat with Iron Man in the middle of missile agility training, where he’s shot by a cop and called a “man” twice by Shell-head. Rushing back to his apartment, he’s mooning over Linda when she suddenly rings the bell. With only a partially torn mask to use for a disguise, Hank bundles up, pretending to be sick, until she leaves. Hank then angrily smashes a table and heads out the window, missing the mystery woman coming to his door. Heading back to Brand, he evades some soldiers, smashes into the lab and dons the human Hank disguise. But as he’s questioned by Buzz Baxter, Hank looks more and more suspicious—until the Beast is spotted on the other side of the plant! A puzzled Hank trades “I love yous” with Linda, then later hits the lab, until he sees “the beast”—actually Quasimodo, The Living Computer! Claiming he needs the Beast’s metabolism to continue living, making him more like a “vampire machine”, Quasimodo battles Hank through the lab and outside on some girders, until Hank is shot by a nail gun—that surprisingly penetrates his skin! Quasimodo starts to drain Hank’s life force, but the mutant fights back, even without his powers! Suddenly, after realizing he can never fully be human, the computerized hunchback sacrifices himself, in an act of digital derring-do. –Joe Tura

Matthew Bradley: Quasimodo is pretty low on my list of villains, yet while Englehart hasn’t exactly changed my mind about him, he was introduced mercifully late in the story, and his debate with Hank about the nature of humanity is thematically appropriate.  I’m thrilled at the cordial resolution of the recent MARMIS with Iron Man, and it’s fascinating in retrospect to see that Patsy, another future fellow Avenger (although I doubt Stainlesss was thinking that many moves head), is favorably disposed toward Hank.  Not that this issue is without its flaws:  Sutton and Mooney—his fourth inker in as many issues, so you know that’s not good—make the robed Hank look like Sydney Greenstreet, and the sooner we get shut of this mask nonsense, the better.

Peter Enfantino: Couldn't agree more -- about the mask situation. Every time Hank puts that silly rubber thing on for his girl friend, I think some girlfriend! Yeah, I know she's evil incarnate or somesuch but she can't be very observant (or maybe she just needs glasses?). As for the Sutton/Mooney combo: yeah, it's rough in spots (Sutton always was, even when he inked himself) but his Quasimodo is Quasi-cool, a very evil looking dude. As for the story, hey, Englehart is the man (forget Stan, boys and girls) but this series seems to be lacking any forward motion. How long can Hank duck the world? Buzz Baxter telling wife Patsy to "Shut Up!" moves this from a C+ to a solid B- in my book.

Joe Tura: I love that Englehart is starting to let Hank McCoy’s personality come through more, as his mind begins to accept his bestial body. Just on page three, with Beast calling Iron Man “I.M.” and referring to his “manic metabolism”. Plus, at the end, Hank is left seemingly powerless but pondering his fate much more in tune with the scientific McCoy mind than the creature cranium he’s been dealing with the past couple of issues. The story zips along, with tons going on. We’re left with a couple of interesting cliffhangers and the promise of the Angel next issue, but you’ll have to wait four weeks to find out what happens, sorry!

Scott McIntyre: A packed issue without a clear focus. I thoroughly enjoy Hank's turmoil and adjustment to his fate, but the whole latex body mask thing always bugged me. I hate being led to believe his disguise is so perfect, not even his girlfriend can see through it. His new friendship with Iron Man paves the way to the Beast's future Avengers membership. Quasimodo comes out of nowhere and dies quickly. I hardly see the point. Very cluttered story with only serviceable art.

Joe: I’m not sure about this Quasimodo fella. Sure, his sacrifice is as noble as the well-known Victor Hugo character that shares his name, but he’s a bit conceited. First of all, he calls himself “The Living Computer”. Is this to make sure Beast doesn’t confuse him with the Notre Dame Quasimodo? Or Quasimodo, the Master Sandwich Maker? He also claims to have rebuilt himself, which is even more vain. Then, he relies way too much on his Destruct-Eye, which I will admit is kinda cool. Plus, he definitely needs a new barber. Of course, the best Quasimodo/Hunchback is yet to come—in the pages of Werewolf By Night #15! Don’t worry, Dean Pete, it’s like a year away…

Peter: I'm counting the days until that issue... (sarcasm).

The Avengers 103
"The Sentinels are Alive and Well!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

The Avengers are stymied in their attempts to learn more about the Sentinels while Quicksilver has gone out on his own to try to save his sister, the Scarlet Witch. He arrives at the installation where he was captured by Sentinels months earlier, but the entire lab has been stripped bare. After combing his memory of that event, Pietro realizes he needs to find Larry Trask, son of the inventor of the Sentinels, finding and taking him from the Long Island home of Judge Chalmers. Meanwhile, after getting nowhere with SHIELD, Dr. Corbeau from Starcore One reports a giant solar flare heading for Earth, which was induced by a beam coming from Australia. The Avengers make for a new ship which can harness the power of Thor's hammer (blowing off Rick Jones who came to help). As they take off, Quicksilver tries to get info from Larry Trask who says Wanda is being held in the Outback, where the beam is coming from. Trask has visions of the very near future, where he sees the Avengers blasted to atoms and the Earth destroyed by the flare.  -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Not bad, but not very involving either. Lost more build up after last month's build up. I'd sure like to get to the destination here. The art is great, I love what Rich Buckler is doing. The dialog between the Avengers is getting a little thick for me. Lots of references to then-current TV series, followed by meta-style banter that wears pretty thin. Everyone keeps snapping at everyone else. Rick Jones appears out of nowhere and there's a "who's the biggest douche" contest as Rick and Hawkeye try to out a-hole the other.

Matthew: This issue is okay, but with Thomas, Sinnott, and the Sentinels on hand, I really wanted to like it more.  The artwork is credited to the same Buckler/Sinnott team (which would do such solid work on the FF down the road) as last month, and no newcomer could ask for a better inker than Joltin’ Joe, but it looks demonstrably different, with some of the faces—notably those of Pietro and Larry, on whom the story centers—too long and skinny; in cinematic terms, it’s as though they were projected with the wrong lens.  Likewise, the character interaction feels wrong, and although you could make allowances for the fact that they fear the end of the world is coming, it doesn’t seem like the work of a guy like Roy who’s been writing this book since 1966.

Peter: Once again, Professor Matthew, we are in agreement. This has all the elements of something good so why does it just sit there? The Avengers have faced earth-shattering calamities before so it comes as a surprise to me when Iron Man shrieks out something along the lines of "Don't look now but I think the world... is... in... danger!!!" Other than Quicksilver (whose apparent aging process I mentioned in this space last week), I think Buckler is fabulous. And, I've only been saying this for the last 103 issues: that forced bickering has got to go.

Mark Barsotti: I don't remember the Sentinels having Adaptoid powers, but since Roy wrote the issues of X-Men where the Sents last appeared (and I don't feel like digging 'em out to check) I'll accept that as given. Overall, a middlin' middle-chapter, too Pietro-centric for my taste, but that's appropriate as Quickie searches for his missing sis, first kidnapping amnesiac Larry Trask, then commandeering a jumbo jet and heading for the Aussie Outback, where his teammates are locked in combat with an anthill (looks more like a volcano) full of Trask's robotic offspring. Excellent Buckler/Sinnott art, save for the long, Silly Puddy-stretched faces noted by Prof Matthew.

Scott: It seems weird to me that SHIELD has no idea who or what the Sentinels are. That's some bad intel you got there, Nicky. Not too much soul searching by the Vision this time, but the inter-Avengers sarcasm meter is off the charts.

Captain Marvel 22
"To Live Again!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Wayne Boring and Frank Giacoia

Leaving the mansion after arguing with Cap in Avengers #103, Rick is startled by an image of Mar-Vell, who has survived dormant inside him since using his life-force to save Rick in #97; ignoring him, Rick is introduced by Mordecai to young singer Lou-Ann.  Visiting his brother-in-law, Jules Carter, in a Bowery hotel, Raymond Osworth sees that a hydrogen blast months ago has turned this sole survivor of an Arctic team experimenting with fusion energy into Megaton, the Nuclear Man.  The combined life-force inside him building to lethal levels, Rick collapses, and when Lou-Ann’s uncle, Professor Benjamin Savannah, treats him with a photon-ray, he becomes Mar-Vell, who departs for a chance encounter with Megaton. -Matthew Bradley

Peter: It was just about the time of Rick Jones' descent into Mar-Vell's chromosomes that I had decided to start playing hop-scotch around Rick's panels. I can take only so much whining from the former Avenger and Captain America mascot and it has reached a fever pitch. Poor Gerry is saddled with this reality show reject and does the only thing sensible: disappear him! Why Roy Thomas seemed to think we ten year-old comic book readers needed a cross-pollination of David Cassidy and Paul Simon, I have no idea (but with the addition of pop sensation Lou-Ann, maybe I should be thinking more along the lines of Sonny Bono?). The most startling fact I learned this issue is that you can melt wood. Didn't know that until Megaton melted the floorboards under his landlord's feet.

It suddenly came to Rick Jones that he wasn't in Strawberry Fields anymore.

Matthew: After a major role in the Kree-Skrull War, Mar-Vell takes his next step toward Bronze glory with the revival of his own book, which will last for almost seven years.  The only constant through #24 is the pencils of the cruelly named ex-Superman mainstay Wayne Boring, whose other three Marvel credits span as many decades (1951-79); alas, even Giacoia can only do so much with his goofy style, especially on the unrecognizable Mordecai.  Like Archie Goodwin in #16, drive-by writer Gerry Conway has a single issue in which to recap the past and begin charting Mar-Vell’s new direction, but while the introduction of Lou-Ann and Professor Savannah will have serious ramifications in the days to come, Megaton seems unlikely to join the pantheon of super-villains.

Sadly, the career of Megaton came to an end after Simon Cowell gave him a thumbs-down

Peter: Wayne Boring's art is perfect... for those wonderful Hostess Ding-Dong ads they used to run in the funny books. I don't need wikipedia (or the encyclopedic brain of Professor Matthew) to tip me to Wayne's previous assignments as his "style" melds perfectly with the other DC "artists" who would craft such tales as "Jimmy Olsen, Ape Man!" and "Batman Junior, and Robin, Senior!" Obviously not my cup of tea, I find Wayne's art to be uninspired, dull, tedious and, well, boring. As for Megaton, bad art and bad costume mesh perfectly to create... The Ginger Gladiator? Seriously, what respectful super-villain (no matter what lower tier he belongs to) would be caught dead in those frilly coolots and go-go boots? Sure to inspire fear in Pat Robertson.

Joe: I seriously can't stop laughing at the Ding-Dong comment!! Checking out some panels online, I have to say you're on the money! Except that might be an insult to Ding-Dongs.

Scott: Mar-Vell is back. And is that really Wayne Boring? Wow, I had no idea he did work for Marvel. It's not that great, sadly, and the issue itself is only middling. Rick is back to being a self-pitying whiny prick, sort of like Anakin Skywalker without the sociopathic tendencies. His struggles aren't that fascinating and I can't read "Nuclear Man" without thinking of Superman IV: The Quest for Peace. This is not an exciting new entry on the list, let me tell you.

Conan the Barbarian 18
“The Thing in the Temple”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

After helping Kyrie regain her false crown as Aala the sea-goddess, Conan the Cimmerian and Fafnir of Vanaheim remain in the island city of Bal-Sagoth. Guarding the false queen’s bedchambers, the pair are attacked by a hulking black demon. After hacking the beast to death, Conan and Fafnir enter Kyrie’s chamber and discover that she is in the clutches of a huge werebat. Fafnir engages the beast, driving it back until it turns and flees. Abandoning the furious false deity, Conan runs off to help his friend. When Conan catches up to Fafnir, the Vanirman has already slain the creature, as well as its master, the wizard Gothan. Kyrie arrives with the palace guards and orders the men to kill the warriors — but an earthquake suddenly jolts Bal-Sagoth, and she is crushed by a huge stone idol. Conan and Fafnir fight their way through the crumbling city, pursued by the angry citizenry. Arriving at the make-shift raft they first used to sail to the now burning island, the exhausted duo head out to sea. Picked up by a passing Turanian warship, Conan and Fafnir promise their swordhands to the captain, Yezdigerd, Prince of all Turan, and his quest to conquer a far-off city-state. -Tom Flynn

Actually, barbarian, it's this month's Captain Marvel!
Tom Flynn: While Gil Kane does a fine job with this two-parter wrap-up, I can’t help but wonder what magic Barry Smith could have whipped up with this story. There are two monsters, and while Kane delivers the goods on their designs, Smith’s would have been undoubtedly far superior. Plus, there’s a lot of crumbling cityscapes, panicked crowds and other exciting elements that were right in Barry’s wheelhouse. Fafnir has quickly developed into Conan’s equal in battle, as they take turns dispatching the unholy horrors they encounter. Since I know that Mr. Smith will be back next issue, I couldn’t help to take a sneak peek at what’s to come. Roy picks the story up from the end of this one, so perhaps we are in for a more continuous narrative. And, by Crom, the art is glorious.

Mark: A bit of a come-down after last month's adrenaline-juiced epic, "The Thing in the Temple," really describes a couple different "gibbering, nameless thing(s)," neither very memorable, both quickly dispatched by Conan and Fafnir in turn. Likewise, evil priest Gothan, set up as the Big Boogeyman, is killed off-screen by one of his own monsters, draining away the expected show-down drama. Instead re-crowned Kyrie (playing the role of sea-goddess Aala, for the whooping Bal-Sagoth faithful) decides to put C&F to the sword even after they save her once again, for no reason but she's the only one left to play the heavy. With the story losing traction by the page, we're reminded that Gil Kane, better-than-servicable here, still ain't Barry Smith, and is it time for Breaking Bad yet?

Scott: It would help if I could accept anyone on this title other than Barry Smith. Or if I liked Gil Kane's pencils. But I can't get into this title if it's not Smith doing the honors. He comes a little closer to capturing the physique of Conan, but his face and hair are all wrong and look nothing like the young, handsome adventurer we've been following. I'm usually not so closed minded, but this was a character I never would have enjoyed because I'm not a fan of the loincloth heroes. But Smith's art made it work for me.

Creatures on the Loose 19
Gullivar Jones, Warlord of Mars in
"The Long Road to Nowhere"
Story by George Alec Effinger
Art by Gil Kane (page 1), Wayne Boring and Jim Mooney

Gullivar and Chak, stranded in the icy wasteland at the mouth of Mars’ sacred river, scale the polar barrier in search of a way back to civilization.  Both being exiles – Gullivar from earth, Chak from his wingfolk world – their commiseration turns to camaraderie.  Flightless birdman Chak injures himself in a fall while climbing the icy ravines just as they are rushed by a ravenous pack of rabid raccoonish Parths living within a circle of the ice wall.  Though exhausted, Gullivar and Chak finish them off as a team.  Meanwhile, Heru is taken to the barbarian stronghold by the wing-men who first stole her from Gullivar.  They deliver her into the hands of Ar-Hap’s minister Jen-In who suffers Heru’s insolence only because she has been promised to his master.  Heru proudly proclaims herself “a Princess of the Golden Blood” and threatens, “Ar-Hap will never have me alive!”  Jen-In, unmoved, imprisons her with a young woman named Chea. As the Hithers’ past tribute to the Red Barbarians, Chea has lived as Ar-Hap’s slave for a year.  A single dagger is illuminated in the dark dungeon.  Chea explains to Heru that it is expected the Princess sacrifice her, or else be killed.  With no desire to live as Ar-Hap’s slave girl any longer, she invites the knife-thrust from Heru, or so it seems at first...  Meantime, Gullivar discovers that Lu-Pov’s amulet of understanding can heal wounds and fatigue, and has been translating every spoken word.  It also allows the wearer to see an invisible Red Barbarian outcast who has been attacking them, but they are at a disadvantage since only one can wear the mystic medallion at a given time.  With the amulet’s power, Gullivar involuntarily opens his eyes on another scene, the sight of Chea holding the sacrificial blade over Heru...  The giant barbarian brute snaps Gullivar back from his telepathic vision with a crushing face blow that lays him out cold, right next to Chak lying senseless next to him.  In the words of the next issue’s cover, “CAN THE WARRIOR OF MARS SAVE THE WOMAN HE LOVES BEFORE SHE BECOMES--THE BRIDE OF THE BARBARIAN?” -Gilbert Colon

Suddenly, Captain Marvel looks pretty good after all.
Gilbert Colon: It is hard to go wrong with any story that begins by quoting Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death!” speech.  From there, the polar wasteland where the River of the Dead ends –called “the Martian hell” in a previous issue – proves itself to be a literal Dantean ice circle, complete with “demon” Parths.  There are two storylines running concurrently here, cutting between Gullivar and Heru who have been separated since the first issue.  At times, however, the story is unclear about introducing new characters.  Heru and Chea quite clearly know each other, but we are never told how or who Chea is in relation to the Princess.  (Presumably she is a royal handmaid.)  Likewise, the giant “outcast” is identified as “Ra-Kar,” but only on the cover; never once is he named within the story. On the positive side, one line hints at the source material when, in a berserk rage, Chak shouts, “I’ll send you to Yang, vile spawn of an Ordlup!”  In Arnold’s novel, an old woodcutter warns Gullivar away from a ghost-haunted and forest-lost ancient city, its unholy temple and tomb a “shrine of Queen Yang, who, tradition says, killed herself and a thousand babies with her...” Marvel’s writers have been gradually building up a Martian mythos, but with only two issues left, they would be wise to get a move on making the most of what their creativity has thus far conjured. 

The Dean cries out for a little respect and receives ZIP!
Gilbert: Issue #21’s Bullpen page announces that George Alec Effinger and Gray Morrow will
wrap up their running serial as The Fugitive did when it left the airwaves, so it will be a shame if
all that imaginative material goes unused. This issue includes a pair of reprints.  In “The Creature from Krangro” (Tales of Suspense #30), the Krangro chief commander, after conquering all the galaxy except Earth, tries to save face with his king by capturing three human specimens.  It is difficult not to read into the story a political statement about stony U.S. resolve in the face of Far East aggression on the part of scripter Stan Lee, inker Jack Kirby, or both (especially considering last issue’s Steve Ditko-illustrated “What Lurks in the Mountain?”) – the alien general’s kuwagata samurai helmet is emblazoned with a White Sun-shaped symbol like a Maoist red star cap, as are Krangro’s war rockets, while the unblinking showdown with three historic Americans is a variant of the rock-hard superpatriotism of issue #17’s “The Things from Dimension X” flinty finale.  In Stan Lee’s “Going Down!” (Tales of Suspense #23), a mysterious passenger takes a nasty elevator manager on a ride down the shaft for a descent not unlike Harry Angel’s in the 1987 film Angel Heart.

Captain America and the Falcon 153
"Captain America -- Hero or Hoax?"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney

Nick Fury waits in Cap's apartment for a confrontation. He's wearing a SHIELD Action Suit with solid steel arm. He and Cap duke it out, settling their problems (Nick is all cranky over being old while Cap is still young). Sharon quits SHIELD even though Fury puts her on extended leave with pay so she and Cap can take a vacation. As they go off to Moca Cay, Falcon is waylaid by a pair of men who look and sound exactly like Captain America and Bucky! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Welcome Stainless Steve Englehart!  For his first issue, he gives us a simple and super easy to summarize issue. Nick is an a-hole for beating on his buddy and Cap is the usual "it's ALL forgotten!" sort of dude. It's a half issue of kind of iffy over-drama making way for the real story to come: the "other Cap and Bucky" story which is my favorite arc of Englehart's run. He starts off with his best foot forward. We also learn that Sharon mysteriously has a lot of money and that in Harlem, Leila is "makin' it" with the militant Rafe Michel. It's a grand issue, with lots of action and a compelling philosophical thrust as Cap reveals his agony over being frozen alive. Was he conscious? This would be a retcon, but a chilling one (see what I did there?). All in all, a nice start to Steve's reign. Nick Fury is a jackass and his lady problems are not even remotely interesting, so it's nice to see that wrapped up for now.

Peter: How to whittle down the thousands of words of praise I've showered on Steve Englehart and this arc in the past forty years? "The Other Cap" literally changed my life (sad, no?) and set the bar very early in my funny book-reading career. No other Marvel (nor DC nor Charlton nor Pacific nor etc.) story affected me quite the same. Even as a ten year-old lad, I knew there was something different here. I may be wrong but didn't the final shocking panel here set up what would become a Marvel institution: the full-page twist reveal? How many issues of The Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four would have a similar climax, one that left us MZs gasping for breath and hoping the next thirty days would fly by like Quicksilver. It's very much Englehart's finished product but I didn't need an admission to know it was Roy Thomas' idea. Roy's stamp is all over this, his love for the Golden Age characters and jones for intricate plot twists. 

John: Long before he was Dean of Students here at Marvel University, Peter convinced me that I had to read this Captain America arc. While I'm not of the opinion that this is the greatest story ever told (allow me to point out that Professor Pete has not read Richard Matheson's I Am Legend), it remains one of my favorite Cap tales.

Matthew: Continuing to consolidate his position as perhaps my favorite Marvel writer of the era, Englehart gets rock-solid support here and in The Defenders from Old Reliable himself, Sal Buscema, well paired with Mooney.  Incredibly, right out of the gate—after digging himself out of the Cap/Fury hole bequeathed to him—he began an arc that some (ahem) consider a Bronze-Age masterpiece.  Roy “had been thinking about the Captain America who appeared in Timely (Marvel) books in the 1950s.  Marvel’s Cap was supposed to have been frozen in ice during that time, so who was that man in the flag suit?  He asked me that question as he handed me the book, and I ran with it for my four-issue initial story,” as Stainless related on his website.

Peter: A few thoughts after my umpteenth rereading this evening: Catch that panel on page 18 where the dowdy white woman is recoiling in shock at Sharon Carter planting one on Sam (never noticed that one before) -- subtle message on the times from Sal or Steve? Did Leila ever really become Sam's girl? He acts as though she's his property but I don't remember anything but a few late night meetings inside the swanky office of Mr. Wilson (and we know how well those went down). Nick's meltdown and eventual turnabout is, yep, way too quick and schmaltzy (I'd have been a bit peeved as well but probably at Val) but let's give Stainless some props for disposing of it so's we can get down to bidness. The continuing saga of Sgt. Muldoon hits all the right notes for me despite what younger staff members might say. The abandoned uni and Steve's partner's suspicions nicely add to the mystery of the set up. Or is Muldoon being set up? The "other Cap" uses derogatory slang such as "boy" (and he'll use worse in the coming issues) because, much like the "real Cap," he's a man from another time. But I'm getting ahead of myself. I envy those of you who haven't read this masterpiece. It's one of a kind.

Joe: I remember this arc, and it was a classic! A great beginning to a great idea. Plus, the always awesome Sal B.! Oh yeah, this is the good stuff...

Daredevil 91
"Fear is the Key!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

As Daredevil falls from the rooftop, a victim of the fear that unexpectedly has gripped him and the Black Widow recently, the latter tosses his billy club line to him, and holds on tightly enough to absorb the force of him catching it. When DD makes it back up, the fear again gone, it is the personal stress between them that causes Natasha to storm off.  She finds the trail of Danny French again, and it takes her to a basement building, where he is concluding a deal with someone. She misjudges that the box he hands over to the other man contains the mysterious glowing “ball of force” that Danny still has from Project Four years ago. It turns out to hold a pile of papers, totally unrelated, actually a money making scheme by French himself. Matt Murdoch meanwhile, heads to an appointment at the law firm of Larry Cranston, his old law school peer, where he gets the pep talk from Cranston’s glory-seeking partner Larry Sloan. During their discussion, the pieces fall in place in Matt’s head. After he leaves, he sets out to make himself visible to the villain he suspects to be behind it all: Mr. Fear. DD has guessed correctly, and another attack of terror hits, except this time he’s prepared, so when said villain appears, he’s ready for a fair fight. This time it’s not Zoltan Drago, the original bearer of the name Mr. Fear, but someone who had witnessed his predecessor’s death, and managed to find the information he needed to assume his identity before he passed away. That someone, when Matt gets the second to unmask him, is Larry Cranston, whose resentment of Matt’s (and others) success has given him a lifelong vendetta of revenge. Larry Sloan unexpectedly shows up on the rooftop battlefield, another planned victim of Fear. DD puts Sloan to sleep for a while, before Cranston can blurt out his secret identity. In the final struggle, this Mr. Fear too meets his death, jumping from a rooftop without his flight rockets to enable his getaway. When Matt calls home, he gets Ivan, who has a new bomb to drop. He thinks the Widow has flown the coop for good this time. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: This issue feels like it’s bridging a gap until we find out what’s going on with the whole
Project Four/Danny French storyline (which hopefully will be worth the wait). Mr. Fear, Larry Cranston-style, doesn’t have much time to build up much suspense before his departure, and somehow doesn’t evoke the response that he, by rights, should, although he looks rather terrifying on the more promising cover.

Matthew:  This is another one-step-forward-and-two-steps-back issue with regard to Danny French—we still don’t know, for example, why Tash assumed the fear attacks were his work—but it’s encouraging that DD finally got his (horn)head together enough to figure out that when you’re stricken with fear, the likely culprit is, uhm, Mr. Fear.  The underworld should probably take a warning from the fact that this is the third successive guy to assume his identity and then die; of course, knowing DD’s own secret i.d. pretty much sealed his death warrant in our eyes.  The Colan/Palmer team continues to deliver the goods on a regular basis, and although I’d prefer to see Matt and Natasha (today they’d be called Mattasha) happy, the tension is perhaps realistic.

Once again, all of fandom cries out for a shower scene and receives ZIP!

Mark: DD #91 boasts the title's first good cover since Mean Gene left the billboard art to lesser hands after #58. Once inside, its all downhill as Gerry Conway ladles out heaping servings of balder and dash until a noxious miasma, not of fear, but of idiot gas begins to rise from the pages, offending the higher functions and draining away any enjoyment otherwise obtainable from the stellar Colan/Palmer art or scenes that could, if cut away from the rotting beached whale of a plot, give pleasure. Romantic & team-up tension between Mattasha (copywrite Prof Matthew)? Check. The Steinem Seal of Approval from the women at Doyle Import prompting Natasha's first smile in days. Sweet. Nice tracking & takedown of shitheel Danny French by the Widow, even if we're no closer to the secret of Project Four (although after this horror show I expect it'll make the finale of Twin Peaks seem coherent). Some stage-managed misdirection points to Sloan as the new Mr. Fear before we learn...excuse me, I must scramble into my haz-mat suit before mucking about in the offal of the denouement.

Scott: I felt like Mr. Fear's unmasking was right out of Scooby-Doo. Lots of interpersonal conflict. Doesn't anyone discuss stuff in this title, or do they just let things fester until they explode? Natasha doesn't seem to want to solve the problems between her and Matt, she just wants a tantrum. Oy. I'm glad they didn't put her name on the title. I've read worse.

Mark: So envious Larry Cranston is mean old Mister Fear, eh? One supposes boots borrowed from Gene Simmons account for the height discrepancy between little Larry (shorter than Matt or Sloan last ish) and the towering Mr. Fear, but how does donning a costume give a milquetoast attorney the strength to outfight a skilled acrobat, trained since childhood? But that's small potatoes, and standard comic convention. What isn't is Conway's outright stupidity or, much more likely, his complete disregard of his audience's intelligence (too busy, perhaps, breaking in the Big Chair over on Spidey to care about whatever feckless feces he threw against the wall on the marginal title like Daredevil as he serves up three whoppers, each a rancid slice of quivering Moby Dunce blubber. 
(1) The fear attacks that opened & closed last ish happened while DD & BW swung among skyscrapers. So how was the panic-inducing Fear gas delivered? Ger could have tossed in a line about Cranston playing Lee Oswald from an open window or recruiting Hank Pym's out of work flying ants, but he didn't bestir himself with any explanation at all. 
(2) Where/how did lawyer-man Matt whip up a "handy antidote to your fear-inducing pellets?" He's suddenly a genius chemist? For Richards, Pym, Parker, Banner, Stark, this toss-off would be a credible explanation. For Murdock, no.
(3) Cranston claims he learned where the original Mr. F hid his costume and equipment from dying Zoltan Drago. Except that's impossible. Starr Saxon obviously got there first to become Mr. F Mach II (see DD #54-55), history Conway blithely disregards, even while crediting Saxon with Drago's murder! Enough. The prosecution rests and are the gallows erected yet? The first year MU student may wonder why this lengthy deconstruction of a 40 year old abortion? Because we care for the characters, and rallying a lynch mob is my only recompense for the time wasted on G.C.'s odious skid-mark of a story.

Fantastic Four 126
"The Way It Began!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Ben and Alicia walk in on Dr. Doom standing over a murdered Sue…except that it’s all part of an experiment. Reed is wearing his thought projector, and was envisioning the worst scene he could imagine; he turns it off when Ben walks in. When Sue and Johnny rush in hear what all the noise is about, it becomes apparent that everyone is still tired and stressed. Reed and Sue leave to go see Franklin, declaring they all need a holiday. Alicia likewise leaves, and a few hot words later, the Torch is gone too. Ben has time to reflect on his bad temper, and decides to try out Reed’s thought projector. He recalls their origin; except it is the way he remembers it, not exactly as it was. He revisits their very first super-villain too—the Mole Man. At the end of his reverie, he has a revelation. If the Mole Man could make them all blind and return their sight, as he did in their last encounter, maybe he do something for Alicia. Next stop, Subterrania, as Ben storms out the door. -Jim Barwise

Jim: It seems retellings of origins is fairly common in Marvel’s repertoire. I’m not sure why the time was especially relevant to have a 1972 version. I will say it’s interesting to see a John Buscema/Joe Sinnott visual version. Jack Kirby was not yet at his finest back in 1961, but a comparison shows how much the look of the title has changed. The possibilities of the thought projector are somewhat wasted on reviewing old times, we’ll see if it comes back later.

Mark: After Stan's dismal final run on the FF, I've no problem with Roy retelling the team's birth as a pallet cleanser. Enjoyed the panel of the original lumpy Thing (before the "thought projection helmet" synchs with contemporary imagery) and the Buscema/Sinnott splash page of the Fab Four charging into battle. This is a decent "place-holder" issue, nothing more, and Bashful Benjy thinking the Mole Man might be able to cure Alicia's blindness is a stretch, but gone are Johnny's flaming mop-top and, more importantly, Lee's lame-o last gasp embarrassments on his way out of the Baxter Building. As Ben might say: "I'll takes what I can get."

Matthew: The lettercol tells us that Roy had a missive printed way back in #5, and has “lusted after the scripting chores on the book for a long time now—he’s bursting with new, innovative, maybe even shocking ideas for the group….”  As with Daredevil #53, it’s interesting to have the characters’ origin re-envisioned by the artist whose rendition had then become, by some standards, definitive.  My visual memory of #1 is strong enough that even without putting it alongside this, I can see they’ve not only reworked the cover but also recreated many of the original panels, while Roy’s framing story, which leads into next issue, not only rationalizes any discrepancies from the Lee/Kirby version, but also makes this part of the title’s ongoing plotline.

Peter: Other than to give Roy, John, and Joe a break before they jump into the adventures of the new regime, I can't see any good reason for a re-telling of the team's origin. Before we walk down memory lane though, we're treated to a Greatest Hits of FF cliches: Johnny Storm as hothead, Ben Grimm as big mouth, Reed as dedicated scientist/forgetful father, team arguments, destruction of expensive equipment, coincidences (Reed brings up the spectre of Crystal just as Johnny tells Ben he's leaving to visit his girl). I'd like to believe that Roy was serving up a treat for younger fans who hadn't experienced that first adventure but the cynic in me can't help but believe that it serves a more devious purpose: to further distance Marvel from The King who, as co-creator, is mentioned exactly once (on the splash page) and completely ignored in the "Mind-Boggling Memorandum" on the letters page. After all, history has taught us that Marvel's characters weren't the only victims of revisionism by the company. The tenure of The Rascally One -- who has "lusted after the scripting chores on the book for a long time..." will be a whopping seven issues. So much for getting what you wished for.

Scott: This was my first Power Records Book and Record Set. Loved it to death all those years ago. Since a lot of the continuity and social comments were edited out of that version, reading the original issue was interesting. It sticks very closely to the original tale, only now, for whatever reason, pre-Thing Ben is a nasty racist: "Let 'em! It'll give us a head start cleanin' up Harlem and Watts." WTF does that even mean? Yeah, fine, present day Ben reacts in shock, but with good reason. He was never, ever presented as racist. Cranky, headstrong, idiotic at times, yes, but never racist. And it's never brought up again, so I can only assume Roy is making a statement. It's a suckily delivered one.

Peter: Interesting that Ben comments on his original "lumpy" appearance but then doesn't explain to us enquiring minds how he changed. Was it one too many visits to the Negative Zone? It's an odd bit that almost breaks the fourth wall, with Ben winking at the reader and saying "That Kirby guy sure improved over the years, didn't he?" Speaking of The Thing, he delivers the issue's one single moment of oomph! for this comic fan: lifting his landlord off the ground, he delivers a nasty growl, "Keep... out... of... my... way!" For that one panel, everything seems to be okay in the Marvel Universe. Scott: This is all simply made to start fresh after Stan's departure and kick off the Mole Man adventure. It's a glorified reprint in some respects, and a simple album issue in others. The art is fine and the narrative explanation for covering up John Buscema's refusal to put the character in their original forms in the flashbacks is fine and dandy. After this issue, new subplots created to shake things up will serve to annoy me, but for now, enjoy the trip to the past.

The Amazing Spider-Man 112
"Spidey Cops Out!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita  

Spider-Man drops Martin Blank off at a hospital, tells the puzzled nurse to burn the Gibbon costume, then swings off to search for Aunt May. After reminiscing about his life with her, Spidey spots a dust-up between some hoods, but takes off instead of getting involved. Next, his spider-sense alerts Spidey to another baddie harassing a “poor slob” in a nearby building, but again doesn’t get involved because of the Aunt May search. Swinging home for a quick change, Peter heads to the Bugle, where JJJ berates him for slacking off the past three weeks, and also missing out on pics of Spider-Man’s cowardice! A chat with Robbie confirms Aunt May’s letter is on the level, and another chat with Betty Brant confirms someone cares. Peter spots Mary Jane and Anna Watson outside, and they trade worrying about May. Spidey swings off and decides to shake down a thug who’s shaking someone down, gaining some intel about a gang war on the horizon. The search leads Spidey to the Williamsburg Bridge, where a group of gangsters attack a boarded-up warehouse, and defeat the wall-crawler—aided by power-pack harnesses! But the groggy hero soon learns the mastermind behind this side of the gang war is none other than Doc Ock!--Joe Tura

Joe: Knowing what’s to come in an issue or two (well, remembering as I don’t usually skip ahead to peek), it’s not a giant shock that Doc Ock shows up at the end. In a freakin’ awesome second splash page I might add! But that’s all hindsight. This is a quite fine introspective issue for our hero, and being well-written by Conway, it’s fairly believable for me. Solid Romita art as always, with some fabulous layouts like the Aunt May story page with Spidey swinging down the middle, and the multiple Spidey heads representing actual head-spinning. I love the illustration that JJJ needed to get because Peter wasn’t around was signed J.R. Just goes to show you JJJ goes for the best! And speaking of artists….bully for me, I noticed BAC M on page 4, meaning Backgrounds by Mortellaro. Finally saw it! I’m smaht! Bonus observation: best sound effect of the month, when the gangsters fire on the warehouse: “RRRIPP! KTAKAKAT! KTOW!” That’s good stuff, Hilts!

Matthew: Despite its eventually heralding the return of Doc Ock, I doubt Gerry’s first issue in which he’s not concluding Stan’s plot would qualify for Landmark status, but in all fairness, whatever merits it has were subjected to more than their fair share of abuse in the ’78 Marvel Tales reprint.  The story cuts are more flagrant than usual, obscuring the fact that Jonah’s hate campaign du jour (and the misleading cover) is apparently based on Spidey giving various criminals a pass, of which we now see only a single example.  And with this slapdash reproduction, poor top-billed Romita’s art is so muddy that in the climactic battle with the hoods, you can barely make out what’s going on.  Marvel really screwed the pooch with this one, chaps.

Peter: Trust me, Professor Matthew, the director's cut ain't much better. This is one sub-par issue (save that dy-no-mite full page finale) and, if there were no credits here, I'd have guessed "The Man" had written it. It's got the same nonsensical plot motivations that scarred his late work; this may as well be the umpteenth revisiting of "Spidey Quits!" (albeit for a handful of pages) and his motivation for ignoring acts of violence make me scratch my head. He's swingin' right into the action ferchrissakes! How long would it take The Amazing Spider-Man to save someone from a robbery? Half a minute? That's some city our wall-crawler lives in. The poor guy just wants to find his sickly old Aunt May and there's a crime being committed on every corner. Good news is that when he changes his mind two pages later (for a paycheck) there's still just as much violence occurring! And I'd love to see the schematics on the harness Spidey rips from one of the goons he battles in the climax. How does a "amplifying power-pack" work exactly? And, yeah, Pete's a big brain, but how would he be able to diagnose said "amplifying power-pack" without taking it apart? Gerry will get better but it's going to take time and distance from The Legend.

Joe: You guys are crazy and are over-thinking this one. So there.

Peter: Actually, Professor Joe, you are under-thinking. Oh, and Mark's got your parking spot this week. So there.

Mark: While I hate disagreeing yet again with our esteemed dean (if for no other reason than I'll probably now have to park at the mini-mall a quarter mile from the palatial grounds of Marvel U; on the plus side, the mall does have a Hooters. I only go for the wings...), this isn't "the umpteenth revisiting of 'Spidey Quits!'" He doesn't quit, he "cops out" (too busy with grant requests to even read the title, E.D.?). There's no uni in the trash can moment (although Peter's wearing the same yellow jacket from ASM #50); Spidey's still patrolling NYC, but his quest for Aunt May is all-consuming. He's focused, so no he can't expend thirty precious seconds to save a life, not when his beloved Aunt might be running out of nickels in Atlantic City!

Peter: Looks like Joe and Mark are commuting this week.

Scott: Gerry Conway takes the pen and it's not a bad fit. A lot of incident and soul searching, with a high word count, but still a nicely done issue showing us a down and disgusted Spidey. When he turns his back on those who need his help, it's a tough pill to swallow, but it's a nice change. Harry again shows his lacking IQ rating when he stats he called for Peter twice about getting a burger, but there was no answer. His conclusion that Pete was concentrating is an eye-roller. Who concentrates that hard? Mary Jane is finally back for a few panels and Peter loses his staff job at the paper, sort of. All this change, but at least it's progress. Of course, the art is sublime.

Mark: As always, I choose to focus on the positive. We get MJ rocking a killer beret, which changes from green to yellow (I suspect the evil machinations of the dread Color-Clasher!). We get Pete demonstrating heretofore unknown powers of teleportation (P.'s 12-13), blipping from the sidewalk outside of the Bugle to the publisher's office as soon as Jonah barks out his name. As for our hero instantly recognizing "an amplifying power pack," pulled off a thug's back, it's merely the standard equation of Parker's scientific brilliance x Spidey-sense squared, carry the two and... Okay, Dean, my Dean, smoking your illegal JJJ Cubans behind your highly polished mahogany desk the size of a 1970's Cadillac, I admit it. Young Mr. Conway is still feeling his way here, with the occasional stumble. But compared to this month's Daredevil, "Spidey Cops Out," is fricking Shakespeare...

Peter: At last! They all agree I'm right!

Tune in next Wednesday to September 1972 (Part Two)!