Conan the Barbarian 17
"The Gods of Bal-Sagoth Part One"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Ralph Reese
Even though they fight back savagely, Conan and the crew of a Turanian galley are overwhelmed by a fierce band of pirates from the Inland Sea. Tied to the ship’s mast, Conan recognizes one of the pirates as Fafnir from Vanir (issue #6). Suddenly, the boat is capsized by a jagged reef and only the Cimmerian and the Vanirman make it to the shores of a distant island. On the beach they spot a raven-haired woman named Kyrie being chased by a long-necked reptilian monster. After Fafnir strangles the creature, the imperious beauty tells the muscular men-for-hire that they are on the island of Bal-Sagoth and that the natives used to mistakenly worship her as the sea-goddess Aala until she was recently overthrown by the high priest Gothan and the new ruler Ska. Claiming that Conan and Fafnir resemble two figures of legend that came from the sea to conquer Bal-Sagoth, Kyrie convinces the warriors to help her regain the false crown of Aala. The trio enters the city of Bal-Sagoth and Kyrie tries to once again convince the citizens that she is the sea-goddess and has brought the two men of legend to level the kingdom. Gothan summons the huge armored titan Vertorix, the defender of King Ska, to battle the intruders. The Cimmerian beheads the metallic giant but it battles on, being a magicked suit of empty armor controlled by Gothen. When Kyrie distracts the priest and breaks the spell, Vertorix collapses. Gothan and Ska make their escape as Kyrie again ascends to her deceitful throne as Aala sea-goddess of Bal-Sagoth. -Thomas Flynn
Tom Flynn: OK, I think I’ve been clear that I consider Barry “Soon to be Windsor” Smith the greatest of all Conan artists — even though I’d wager that most Marvelers (Marvelites?) would give Big John Buscema the credit for creating the most iconic comic interpretation of the character. With that said, Gil Kane was a spot on choice to replace Smith, for this two-parter at least. His loose-limbed style perfectly meshes with the savage action demanded by Conan the Barbarian. And I’ll say that nobody draws cooler arm muscles than the Gil-man. By Crom, picture them wielding swords, axes, and maces and you’re cooking with gas. I will admit that the efforts put into backgrounds are minimal. The return of Fafnir is a treat: Kane draws him like a hulking Norseman. Conan at first clashes with Fafnir since the Vanir were the people who slaughtered every Cimmerian except himself, but the two forge a fun friendship. I don’t know much about inker Ralph Reese, but it seems he had a limited but varied body of Marvel work. “The God’s of Bal-Sagoth” marks another Thomas tale based on a Turlogh Dubh O'Brien story by Robert E. Howard, first appearing in the October 1931 issue of Weird Tales. It’s also the first time we find a sequence of Marvel’s Conan set on the sea. My man John Costa/ Costanza is back as letterer and the Kane cover is inked by Frank Brunner, who I will be spending some time with in the upcoming MU years.
Mark Barsotti: From the opening sword fight on the high seas, ensuing shipwreck and shark stabbing, to Conan duel's with red beard frenemy Fafnir and their subsequent tag-team takedown of a "writhing, reptilian" dino, and on through exiled faux goddess Kyrie's (rescued from the after-mentioned dino) flashback tale of palace politics at Bal-Sagoth and the trio's entrance to said ancient city and our hero's epic battle with Vertorix, an empty suit of armor, animated by evil Priest Gothan, this Roy Thomas yarn is a terrific page-turner from start to finish. Pant, pant. I winded myself just describing it.
Scott McIntyre: Gil Kane can't draw Conan. What is it with everyone else but Barry Smith? Can't they fathom a lanky, lithe figure instead of the usual muscle bound barbarians? I can't even tell you if this issue is any good, the art turned me off so badly. I'm sad that Smith's return will be such a short one, I'll miss this title.
Mark: Even Gil Kane (ably assisted by unknown inker – at least to me- Ralph Reese) brings his A game to the party. Yes, we get the requisite up-the-nose camera angles and a few panels where Conan looks awful, but the seascapes pulse with aquatic energy, Gothan exudes brooding menace, the action scenes fairly hum with blade-flashing daring-do, so ole Sugar Lips does one sweet job here, cementing Conan's status as Marvel's best book of 1972.
The Power of... Warlock 1
"The Day of the Prophet"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton
The High Evolutionary causes Counter-Earth to vibrate a microsecond out of synch with Earth, temporarily sparing each planet the culture shock of knowing the other exists, and reaffirms his vow not to destroy his flawed creation. The youngsters agree to accompany Adam to the city in search of the Man-Beast, on trust alone, and when he senses danger, they see a man known as the Prophet attacked by the Man-Beast’s evil New-Men, Haukk and Pih-Junn, who are driven off. The Prophet tells Adam of the voices that foretold his coming, and agrees to lead him to the Man-Beast’s subterranean lair—leaving the youngsters in the care of his sister—but the figure on the throne is revealed to be a mannequin, while the Prophet unmasks as the Man-Beast. -Matthew Bradley
Matthew Bradley: As in Avengers #99, Sutton zigs from penciler of the Beast to inker, but Thomas and Kane stick around to usher Adam into his own book, and the transition from Adkins is relatively smooth, preserving the cosmic feel that makes this strip such a marked contrast to most other Marvel fare of the period. The Biblical parallels are more overt than ever, which in the era of Jesus Christ Superstar (a huge favorite of this writer, I might add) must not have seemed out of place, and frankly don’t bother me. The lame, literally monochromatic secondary villains are this issue’s biggest disappointment; why—out of the entire aerie of avian adversaries Roy could have chosen to pair with the New-Man evolved from a hawk—he selected a pigeon is completely beyond me.
Peter Enfantino: I'm new to this series, never read a single page but, of course, as a Marvel Zombie I owned every issue of every incarnation. Not coincidentally, it was the same with Captain Marvel: these cosmic heroes just don't get me off. This installment didn't change my mind but I can see why the title became almost a cult favorite. Its multi-layered story line, its adult (read: religious) themes, its gorgeous Kane art, and its introduction of Counter-Earth make so many of the other titles Marvel was publishing at the time seem juvenile. Roy's imagination was working overtime. This thing's so different and risky (sales-wise) you can almost predict "Next Issue: The Amazing Spider-Man on Counter-Earth!" right around the corner. I'd swear Tom Sutton was out of the office that week -- no sign of him anywhere here. Just compare this inking job to some of the other work Sutton had been doing at the time where his exaggerated style takes over and threatens to stifle the pencils (such as the aforementioned Avengers #99) and you wonder how Gil Kane escaped unscathed. One thing that's got to go is the requisite "teen brigade" supporting cast, a crew of non-characters who finish each other's sentences and collectively strive to be this generation's Rick Jones. That's something we don't need. I'll put this one on probation.
Matthew: The lettercol boasts that, “Over the past decade or so, certain mags from Marvel have burst with bomblike brilliance upon the comix scene—and resulted in our being inundated by a literal tidal wave of mail and missives! First came The Fantastic Four—then Spider-Man—still later, The Silver Surfer, and, more recently still, Conan the Barbarian. The first issue of [this strip]…seems to have exploded with similar impact upon Marveldom Assembled. And so, to give as many-sided a view as possible (from a mailbag which contains hundreds of letters, more than 90% of which are wildly favorable), we’re dispensing with our own capricious comments…” Correspondents include future Marvel scripters Marc DeMatteis, Richard Pini, and Steven Grant.
Luke Cage, Hero for Hire 2
"Vengeance is Mine!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham
Accosted by street thugs, Luke Cage teaches them a lesson when he gives them a brutal beat down. A doctor, Claire Temple, happening to be passing by, offers to give Cage treatment since he was shot by one of them. She takes him back to her clinic which has just been broken into and ransacked. Amidst the debris lies her partner, Dr. Noah Burnstein, the same man who ran the experiment that gave Cage his powers. Burnstein plays it off like he doesn't recognize Cage, so the hero goes on his way. A flashback is shown as to how Luke Cage turned from being a ghetto convict into the powerful crime fighter that he is today. His costume once belonged to a failed escape artist. Cage's former friend, now a big time criminal named Diamondback, has been feeling the pressure from the Syndicate to get rid of Cage since he is ruining their operations. Diamondback's henchman has created some dangerous new knives with cartridges in the handles for him to use. They can emit a high powered noise that can destroy a person's brain, a poisonous gas, or even an explosive. Some of his gang members spy that Cage has been protecting Dr. Temple's clinic. They kidnap her to use as bait to lure him out. At Dr. Burstein's urging, Cage looks at this as the big chance to save her and get his revenge for Diamondback being responsible for the death of his former love Reva. Cage gets sneak attacked by the bad guys in an alleyway. After he dispatches Diamondback's gang, Cage is able to defeat him. The villain accidently kills himself when his exploding knife detonates right next to him after he falls through a roof. The story ends with Dr. Burnstein arrivng with the cops, and Cage wondering if he is going to rat him out to them since he is still a wanted man.
Tom McMillion: Like a hard edged Fat Albert and the Gang, the adventures of Luke Cage keep on trucking along nicely. The artwork probably helps elevate this title more then anything. For a blaxploitation comic from the 1970's, Hero for Hire has aged pretty well, making it an interesting time capsule and a pretty exciting yarn.
Scott: A better second issue than the first, but Tuska is still coming out with some hideous body movements and faces. A few of the racial depictions are downright insulting and I wonder if maybe some of these older artists needed some new reference materials. I don't think Tuska ever met a real black person. The origin is expanded upon and it's a decent read. Nice to see Luke being friendly with his white landlord. After months of Marvel titles packed with race hatred, this is a relief.
Peter: I would usually object to the three-page origin retelling in the second issue, but this one's done with a little more filler in the cracks (and, thanks to a Captain Marvel uniform sight gag, a lot more humor) and so doesn't come off like a deadline doom padding. Nice to see that a cooler head (Archie Goodwin) prevailed when casting for a black chick went out and Angela Davis' sister was out of town. Claire Temple, at least in her first appearance, comes off like an intelligent person rather than a cliche. I didn't expect it but I'm diggin' the freak outta Diamondback (and I'm hoping he ain't actually dead). Basically The Penguin with knives rather than umbrellas, this cat's cooler than Frosty the Snowdude (despite his bad dance moves in the climax). What ain't cool, dig, is the really bad art by George and Billy (after being molested by a special sonic wave blade, the syndicate lawyer looks like Lindsay Lohan at 2 in the morning). Unfortunately, the pair will be around (in one incarnation or another) for several more issues. Just enjoy the story, I says.
The Invincible Iron Man 49
"And in the Shadows There Lurks the Adaptoid!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
While Tony is reviewing his plans to diversify S.I. beyond munitions, Marianne bursts in with a precognitive vision of a strange robotic figure, and of Iron Man falling from a catwalk into a vat of acid despite her efforts to save him. An ESP flash then alerts him to danger at Avengers Mansion, where Tony—in untested armor replacing the suit melted by Firebrand—fights a furious battle with Captain America’s enemy, the Adaptoid, who has absorbed the power of four of their teammates. A visiting Pepper Hogan urges Marianne to join Tony, but when she finds Iron Man desperately in need of a recharge after battling his foe to a standstill, she flees, consumed with the fear that she will bring about her vision, and leaves Tony seconds from death. -Matthew Bradley
Matthew: It appears that Colletta will be paired with Tuska on and off here for the next four years, much of them written by sophomore Shellhead scribe Mike Friedrich, and that’s not such a bad thing despite my reflexive aversion to Vince, whose crude style probably lends itself best to a meat-and-potatoes penciler like George. They’re not gonna keep Buscema and Sinnott up at night, but I’ll cast my usual vote of confidence for Tuska’s handling of the action scenes in his signature book. As for Melancholy Mike, this reader is never gonna complain when part of a new writer’s establishing himself involves bringing back a villain like the Adaptoid, who seems well suited to Shellhead; I also salute La Potts’s return, although she looks a tad demented in page 13, panel 6 (left).
Scott: Fun issue, light on plot, heavy on action. Plus the return of Pepper, which is welcome. Marianne's powers are getting a little annoying, but since Tuska and Coletta do such a great job on her (sometimes), I don't care. It just seems like there's a lot of stalling going on here, with the very long battle leading to a cliffhanger. Colletta's inks work well with Tuska's simplistic pencils and the faces look better (Tony looks great). Even though the story is thin, it's still a better ride than what we've seen in recent months.
The Defenders 1
"I Slay by the Stars!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
One mild evening in New Jersey, the Hulk wanders through the darkness—when the Sub-Mariner falls from the sky in front of him, unconscious and surrounded by a barrier Hulk can’t breach. Remembering him as a friend from before, the Hulk thinks of one who also helped Namor in the past: Dr. Strange. Although in doing so, the magician turned others against the Hulk, the behemoth decides helping his friend is more important. Thus he heads to New York, and the Greenwich Village home of Dr. Strange. Hulk explains the situation and the two head by mystic powers back to Namor in a hurry. When they arrive, the one who orchestrated the gathering appears: Necrodamus, whose power is granted to him by those who call themselves The Undying Ones, whom the three of them defeated once before, as the Defenders. Their defeat may have staved off the conquest of our cosmos, but a chance of some kind of revenge (empowering Necrodamus to kill Sub-Mariner when the stars align, in exactly an hour) is not beyond their reach. Green skin’s strength and the doctor’s magic are unable to pierce the force field, and close to the hours passing, Namor vanishes. Dr. Strange reasons the adjacent entrance to an underground cavern is where the evil deed will occur, and they head underground. They arrive in time, and see the shadow of the Nameless One hovering over Namor and Necrodamus. As the time draws near, the latter’s crippled form changes into a deadly one, and it is all Strange and the Hulk can do to hold him off. Seeing that Namor is breathing, the magician uses his magic to turn Namor’s air to water. The ocean king awakes, and frees himself from the weaker inside of the force field. This unexpected advantage, and ironically the Hulk’s change to Bruce Banner, delay Necrodamus the precious few seconds until the star’s alignment has passed, thus the power he, and his evil masters have, fades for the nonce. The battle is won, but a new mystery arises…it was the Silver Surfer who threw Namor from the heavens, but why?
JB: If ever there was an odd team, the Defenders have got to be it. Few would have predicted their bonding, but the peculiar blend of powers they have is just odd enough to save the day. Necrodamus is a worthy villain even if the Nameless One, the Undying Ones ruler, provides his power. The setting is suitably creepy, and Sal Buscema’s art is a delight. I always enjoy the Hulk more when we get to see him forced to reason out his motives and actions. The bookmarked threat of the Omegatron sounds like a promising future storyline, and how does the Silver Surfer fit into this?
Matthew: The “non-team” gets both its own book and the first of its two great early writers in the form of the increasingly ubiquitous Englehart, with Sal Buscema elevated from its inker in Marvel Feature #2 to its longtime penciler, here embellished by Giacoia. Connections abound: Steve picks up two separate strands of Roy’s prior plotlines, and will later write (as he did) Doc’s and Hulk’s titles; Sal—the past and future artist on, respectively, Subby and Greenskin—is also paired with Fearless Frank in this month’s Captain America. He will later settle on a somewhat less bestial look for the Hulk, which I think is for the best, but his work here is characteristically solid, notably that full-page shot of the Nameless One and Namor’s close-up in page 16, panel 3.
Scott: Considering the quality of their first stories, I'm kind of surprised this non-team got their own book. However, it's already batter thanks to the art. But sometimes the humor is a tad forced. Every time someone in New York sees the Hulk, they fire off a smart remark. As soon as he shows up, we get three in a row: "We gotta start taking the Lincoln Tunnel," "He definitely has the right of way!" and "Just when I get used to rip-offs and muggers, I haveta run into this!" Come on, New Yorker's aren’t that blasé. It's still kind of weird the Hulk calls Namor a friend after all the times they've fought. Not a bad first issue, although it seems like every menace is a mystical one, made thus so Dr. Strange has a reason to be involved and assemble the others. Also a nice turn was having Bruce Banner save the day at the end. Good stuff.
The Amazing Spider-Man 111
"To Stalk a Spider!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro
Kraven the Hunter emerges from the shadows with an offer to train Martin Blank, The Gibbon. Having saved himself from the battle with Ka-Zar, the injured and angered Kraven has vowed to make Spider-Man pay for killing his otherworldly friend, Gog. Spidey swings to Aunt May’s house, feeling bad for how he treated Blank, and enters through a window to find a note for Peter—she’s gone away “for a while”. The cops burst in, thanks to a tip from a neighbor, but Spidey swings off, soon to be accused of kidnapping. Doubting his heroism, Spidey gives the note to Robbie Roberston, who convinces J.J.J. to not pursue the kidnapping angle. Meanwhile, at an underground Botanical Gardens hideaway, Kraven is brewing his cellular-transforming herb potion for the Gibbon, and the final dose unleashes the beast within the mild-mannered Martin! The animal rage leads to a battle with Kraven—until they somehow establish a telepathic link that gives Kraven control! Peter has a quick conversation with Gwen then heads out to search for Aunt May, until he’s attacked by the newly powerful Gibbon! With Kraven pulling the mental strings, the simian sap gets the best of Spidey, nearly choking him to death until his conscience takes over and he collapses, leaving Spidey wondering who is really behind this and Kraven tasting bitter defeat.--Joe Tura
Joe: The Bullpen Bulletin’s Mighty Marvel Checklist calls this one “A must!” And that’s no understatement! From start to finish, this one moves as fast as J.J.J. heading to write another Spidey-bashing headline! Great, although short action scenes, including a classic Kraven battle against the Gibbon that shows off the Hunter’s powers, as he’s still super fast even with one arm. Peter’s love for Aunt May, the little interlude with Gwen, the plight of poor Marty Blank, the reaction of the cops when Spidey swings away—it all adds up to a terrific debut on Amazing Spider-Man for young Mr. Conway. But…as great of an issue this one is, something seems a little off here. John Costanza pinch-hits for Artie Simek and his contrasting style changes the whole book. Of course, it helps to have a script as wordy as Conway’s where Costanza is working overtime. From the upper left captions on the splash page to the super-talky character dialogue througout, I’m thinking Gerry was paid by the word. Not that it’s bad, just lots o’ talkin’. And Romita inking Romita seems a bit rough around the edges here. Again, not in a bad way, since Romita is the Spider-master. Or maybe the color is a bit off, seemingly lighter and paler.
Scott: Minutes after Spider-Man is an insensitive a-hole to Martin Blank, the Gibbon is easy prey for Kraven's words of revenge. Kraven is another of those characters who just don't thrill me. Maybe it's the whole jungle thing, but he never seemed like a strong enough adversary for the wall crawler. The plot is still pretty interesting, even making Marty Blank someone to very nearly care about. He's just some poor sap with low self esteem and a gut ugly pan. I do like how Kraven is defeated without Spider-Man even knowing he was involved.
Peter: My respect level for the highly intelligent Joe Robertson takes a massive hit when the Bugle editor buys Spider-Man's story that Peter Parker asked the web-slinger to sneak out Aunt May's letter and swing it to him. Am I missing something? Why would Peter need to sneak anything out of his aunt's place? The off-again, off-again "relationship" of Pete and Gwen takes yet another hit as they trade "It's my fault"s on the phone. Reading this now is dulling the pain I'll feel in ten issues when our blonde babe takes a header off that bridge. The windshield has been wiped clean of debris and I can see clearly why Gerry Conway felt it time to lighten the supporting cast. I'm not sold on the idea that Kraven would seek out and control the mind of a newbie seventh-tier ex-carnival attraction when all that we've learned about him thus far tells us the man likes to do his own dirty work but I still enjoyed the issue overall. Great final panel to this one. Don't look now but the aforementioned "Don't worry about me, Peter, I'm strong as a horse and just need a little time to =ack!=" letter from May Parker will set up a three-issue arc that probably should have been saved for the first issue of What If?
Scott: The Aunt May situation is interesting (for now), but Spidey's bullshit story to Robertson, to cover his identity, is lacking logic that the newsman should have caught. Why would Peter Parker need to ask for Spider-Man's help to get a note from his own aunt? There weren't any police there until after the neighbor saw Spidey going into the window. And Peter wouldn't have a key to his own aunt's apartment? However, he apparently has special Spider BS powers to fool people with any crazy story he can concoct. I feel bad for Gwen; she meant well, but maybe, subconsciously, she wanted Peter to be as alone as she is. Now they only have each other. The art, again, makes me smile and helps in getting past some of the other plot holes.
Mark: Teamed with Jazzy Johnny's poetry in pencil, Gerry Conway slips into Stan's Big Chair on Marvel's flagship title and the transition is well-nigh seamless as Kraven recounts his near-death Savage Land cliff dive before plying Martin Blank with will-sapping, aggression-amping home voodoo brew and sending Marty out to slay a spider. Absent a couple quick sub-plot diversions about on the road Aunt May (check the penny slots at Atlantic City, Pete) this ish is all action as the Gibbon pummels Spidey senseless before, in the best Smiley tradition, Martin's basic humanity overcomes Kraven's homicidal mind-meld, leaving the bewhiskered baddie sitting alone with naught but "the taste of ashes." Delivering a "good Stan Lee story" gets Gerry's run on the title off to an impressive start.
Matthew: Merry Gerry begins the Bronze-Age run for which he is best known, but Jazzy Johnny gets top billing in this “John Romita/Gerry Conway co-production,” so he may have been more heavily involved with the plotting than usual. Clearly, if you’re going to team the Gibbon (inspired, we are told in a Bullpen Bulletin, by Stan’s recent visit to the Puget Sound zoo) with an established member of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery, then Kraven the Hunter is the man for the task. The interaction between the well-intentioned Martin and the still-healing Kraven is, perhaps inevitably, of greater interest than the climactic slugfest, whose outcome is a foregone conclusion, so we don’t mind that a suitably disproportionate number of pages is allotted to each.
Joe: “The Spider’s Web” answers a personal mystery for me. Letter writer Stan Luksenburg from Silver Spring, MD says he’s been noticing parts of a name or phrase in the background of some issues that led him to believe the letters add up to BACKGROUNDS BY MORTELLARO, which tells me how Dean Pete always knows when Tony Mortellaro is aiding Jazzy JR with the art and adds it to the issue credits. I mean, obviously our esteemed leader figured that out also, right? (Yes, I’m angling for a closer parking spot in the faculty lot…)
Peter: What can I say? Picture The Leader with a bigger brain but less hair.
The Incredible Hulk 154
"Hell is a Very Small Hulk!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin
Betty has decided to leave Talbot and her father behind as she goes off on her own to clear her head and work out her feelings regarding her husband Bruce Banner. Somewhere in his bestial brain, the Hulk guides himself to the laboratory of Dr. Pym, otherwise known as Ant-Man. Seeking to go back into Jarella's micro-world, the Hulk drinks down a potion that will shrink him to molecule size. Because it was an old serum concoction with some kinks in it, it burns going down, the potion's effects are delayed and the Hulk is shrunk down to the size of a gerbil. The villainous Chameleon happens to come upon the rogue hero as he was stealing top secret files belonging to Pym. He kidnaps the pint-sized Hulk and takes him back to the headquarters of his employer Hydra. Once there, the tiny Hulk is able to scurry away but the Hydra goons sick some experimentally enhanced rats after him. The Hulk is able to fight them off before he gets squashed under the machinery on a conveyor belt. When all looks bleak, Ant-Man flies in to save the day (he was smart enough to hide a tracking device inside of his files), setting chemical drums on fire. Knowing that the Hulk will eventually shrink down until he is in the molecule world, Ant-Man tries to persuade him to let him. It's too late though as the potion begins to shrink him again. As he turns back into Banner, the Chameleon seems to step on him. Ant-Man is able to trip the Chameleon with a power cord, causing him to fall over and knock himself out. -Tom McMillion
Tom McMillion: Good creativity is the reason as to why this issue was a success imho. Not only do you have the Hulk teaming up with Ant-Man, but you also get mutant rats along with a classic Spider-Man villain, the Chameleon. I'm no fan of Ant-Man, and even though I like The Chameleon, he doesn't come to mind as a worthy Hulk foe since all he can really do is wear disguises and be a sneaky slimeball. Some things just gel well together though.
Scott: The Incredible Shrinking Hulk. Okay, I guess, but Ant-Man continues to annoy and Spa-Fon the ant grates simply because he has a name. Hydra and the Chameleon are back and it's amusing the master of disguise is defeated by tripping over a power cord and cracking his head against the wall. They don't make master spies like they used to. Chameleon's non-face was creepier when Steve Ditko first drew the character in The Amazing Spider-Man #1.
Matthew: Archie’s back in harness through #157, with further continuity provided by the familiar if problematic Trimpe/Severin art team, and speaking of continuity, they’ve done a commendable job of slotting this story carefully in between Hydra’s Las Vegas fiasco in Captain America and Ant-Man’s recent resurgence (also drawn by Herb) in Marvel Feature #4. They say all things come to those who wait, and I’ve been patiently awaiting a reunion between these two founding Avengers since Bruce narrowly missed attending Hank’s lecture in #151. I didn’t realize that Greenskin and the Chameleon—unlikely opponents, to say the very least—had tangled before, because Tales to Astonish #62 was not among the scattered reprints of my youth.
Astonishing Tales 13
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler, John Buscema, and Dan Adkins
Trapped in the pit by Man-Thing, Ka-Zar survives the creature’s touch and the two battle! Man-Thing gains the advantage, until he’s shot by an AIM laser beam. Zabu comes to Ka-Zar’s rescue, as does Barbara Morse and fiancé Paul Allen. Ka-Zar drags the unconscious Man-Thing out of the pit, and as they all plan to head to New York, Dr. Wendell emerges from the jungle and dies, right after telling them Dr. Calvin and Paul were taken by AIM. Ka-Zar uses Zabu to get a captured agent to spill the beans, as Man-Thing stirs and slips out of his cage. K-Z breaks a vent, causing the AIMsters to come out of their hidden lair and K-Z and Zabu defeat them handily. K-Z and Barbara rush into the AIM inner sanctum and find Dr. Calvin. Shockingly, Paul reveals himself to be the AIM Group Leader and threatens to kill Calvin—until the Man-Thing bursts through the wall and a fearful Paul feels the burn of the Man-Thing’s touch! The creature motions the good guys towards the lair’s exit, and trips the self-destruct switch! And we end on K-Z saying he will return to the civilized world with Barbara. –Joe Tura
Joe: Buscema and Buckler team up for similar-looking pages in this actually not-too-shabby ish. Roy neatly wraps up all the loose ends, with a completely out-of-nowhere reveal that Paul Allen is a turncoat. But it’s cool, since he gets a nice comeuppance. Ka-Zar is noble yet brutish, boasting like Muhammad Ali, and Zabu gets to permanently dispatch a couple of AIM agents. Nothing wrong with that either! My favorite scene when is five lab guys try to drag Man-Thing out of the pit and Ka-Zar pushes them aside and does it himself, which leads to bigger and better boasting! Next would be when Man-Thing literally slips out of an iron cage, merely seeping through with the power of the swamp! Yep, that’s right. Some cool moments in a Ka-Zar book, go figure.
Scott: Ka-Zar continues to bore, but AIM is always fun and the Man-Thing is good stuff. Sal B and Rich Buckler make another good team, but Buckler can do no wrong at this point. I'm looking forward to when he graduates to the good stuff instead of toiling on bottom of the pile dreck like Ka-Zar. I'm actually surprised he's on a flagship title like The Avengers, being so new.
Joe: We get the “SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT TO MAN-THING MANIACS!” on the “Astonishing Mails” letters page, in a bright yellow box with bold type. Turns out Marvel is “so pleased” with the past couple of issues that they’re giving Man-Thing “a series of his (its?) own!”, to be done by underworked [sarcasm!] Gerry Conway and the creepy Gray Morrow. Let’s hope those issues don’t burn at the touch!
John: Bring on the Man-Thing!
Marvel Spotlight 5
The Ghost Rider in
Story by Roy Thomas and Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog
Killers chase a witness to their crime. He speeds on a motorcycle through city streets in a gloomy rain. One criminal is apprehensive – the cyclist’s head appears to be . . . glowing. They realize too late that their prey is not a man, but a menacing skeleton aflame –he declares himself a servant of Satan. Despite being pinned in an alley, the rider vaults over his pursuers, and finds a place to hide. Night passes to day, the searing skull fades, flesh re-forms, and a man named Johnny Blaze stands alone.
His thoughts turn back to his father’s death in a fiery cycle wreck, and the encouragement from Crash Simpson and his daughter Roxanne to young Johnny that he continue to travel with their show. Johnny spends years learning to ride, until the day Roxanne’s mother is badly hurt in a bike explosion. As she dies, Johnny’s surrogate mother exacts a promise – that he would never become a stunt-biker.
Johnny continues to practice on his own, until Crash reveals he has a terminal illness. Johnny refuses to violate his oath, even if it means that no one would be able to carry on with the show. Desperate, Johnny calls upon Satan, and promises servitude if Crash can be cured. Crash fails in his attempt for a record jump, preferring to die with his “leathers on,” not realizing that Johnny’s bargain had spared him. Satan appears that night to claim Johnny’s soul as his due. Roxanne, as a person “pure in heart,” thwarts Satan, forcing him to withdraw. Roxanne reveals that she had prepared herself to repel the devil, since she knew Johnny had dabbled in satanic tomes. But the hand of the Evil One has left its mark – the following night, Johnny is painfully transformed – the face in the mirror becomes a flaming skull. Johnny keeps his fate a secret for three weeks, until he sees a Bugle report that police are seeking a “ghost rider,” described by the two criminals. Johnny resolves to escape the city, as the change once again engulfs him in hellfire. –Chris Blake
Chris Blake: An interesting take on the origin story. In true Marvel Fashion, we learn not only that Johnny Blaze has a job and friends – we are shown Blaze as a person, in his deep feelings for others, and his commitment to his word. Instead of the usual science-gone-wrong setting, we have a character who becomes empowered without seeking to be. As for GR’s powers – we see early on that he can “set the ground on fire just by pointin’ at it,” but otherwise, his super-abilities are left unstated. GR’s riding ability easily could be attributed to Johnny’s prowess, not to any super power. As GR speeds away (on a street bike, not a flame cycle), readers would have to be left wondering what this character might have to offer. Mike Ploog’s self-inked art is well-suited, whether depicting brimstone-infused Satan encounters, bike tricks, or a mournful family at Roxanne’s mother’s gravesite. Although, it might’ve been cool if Ploog had taken better advantage of rainy-night shadows to provide some buildup before his first reveal of the fiery skull and its blackened sockets.
Matthew: This Mike Ploog-drawn debut was reprinted—with the splash page rewritten and two more cut—in Ghost Rider #10, but luckily it’s complete in Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 1. The patrimony analyzed in Gary Friedrich’s controversial legal battle with Marvel gives him a “conceived & written by” credit, with “aid and abetment” by Roy; make of that what you will, although I gather the bone of contention is more his appearance (e.g., who dreamed up the flaming skull) than anything else. As for the story, every dog has his day, and I consider this a good origin for a good character, despite my generally low opinion of Gary—and of the increasingly mediocre title that followed, which I do not feel lived up to the promise shown here.
Peter: Marvel's plan to steal a chunk of Jim Warren's pie continues this month. Interestingly enough, according to a news bit in The Comic Reader #84 (April 1972), the company was about to launch a continuing Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde series (no artist or writer was announced). Since it was planned as a 10-page strip, I assume it would have been popped into one of the anthology books. Jekyll and Hyde finally appeared in Supernatural Thrillers #4 (June 1973) but it was a single-issue story and an adaptation at that.
Matthew: Notes a Bullpen Bulletin, “as anybody with 20-20 vision can plainly see [from the illustration, this Ghost Rider is] no blood relation to the western hero we sprung on you some time back. It’s by the titanic team of Groovy Gary Friedrich, who dreamed the whole thing up, and Madcap Mike Ploog, whose own ‘Werewolf by Night’ series is scheduled to gain its very own mag [next month]! Oh yes, and for those of you who’ve been writing in to comment on the uncanny resemblance between Mike’s artwork and that of the great Will Eisner, creator of the Spirit during the 1940’s—it’s no news either to us or to Mike, people, ’cause Mike was indeed Mr. E’s artistic assistant [where he started in 1967], just prior to his joining our beleaguered little crew!”
Fantastic Four 125
"The Monster's Secret!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Having unwittingly unleashed the flow of water that may be her undoing, Sue, in her attempt to get away from the so-called “Monster of the Lost Lagoon” uses her force field to create an air bubble. It works; luckily the monster spots her before the strain gets to be too much, and seals up the opening. Sue realizes at this point his intent may not be an evil one. Meanwhile Ben and Johnny, having identified Sue’s kidnapper with the aid of Reed’s computers, get some scuba gear and head to the park lake where his trail had run dry before. Mr. Fantastic himself struggles to overcome his fatigue and get his mind together to help his wife. He makes his escape despite the hospital staff’s attempts to stop him, and happens to see his teammates heading in a hurry—somewhere. That somewhere is the lake, and when Reed (as a human parachute) catches up to them, he loses his control again, panicking about Sue’s safety. Ben gently swats some sense into him, and he and Johnny tackle the monster once they find him. The Torch spots him when scuba diving, and heats the water to force him to the surface. The battle is fierce but short; Reed comes to and orders them to stop. He’s figured out the monster’s purpose, after all, the creature proved to be ultimately peaceful before, why not now? He reasons with the creature, which realizes that they understand and can help him. Diving back into the water, he emerges with his ship—and Sue and his own female mate! It turns out his partner had become ill with a virus picked up on Earth last time, and needed some Earth medicine (and a helpful human, who better than Sue?) to administer it. They part in peace and understanding. -Jim Barwise
Jim: Funny how Reed suddenly had his uniform on when he took off from the hospital. Clichéd ending of course, and how likely is it any old human would be able to help the monster give his wife (?) the medication she needed to be cured? Or that Reed, delirious on and off for most of the time, would suddenly figure out the monster’s purpose? But all these questions are irrelevant in a simple tale like this, which fittingly ends in some good old-fashioned human moral lessons.
Matthew: Stan Lee’s 11 years as a regular writer for modern-day Marvel end where they began, in the pages of the self-styled “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine,” as he concludes his protracted sequel to the “Lost Lagoon” classic from #97. Like a lot of sequels, this one was probably unnecessary, and stretched out over two issues, it would really wear out its welcome if it weren’t for another helping of that exquisite Buscema/Sinnott artwork. As it is, the story adds virtually nothing to the monster’s limited lore, and certainly doesn’t impress us with the mental acuity of our heroes, but it’s not terrible, so although I won’t say Stan goes out on a high note, neither does he embarrass himself, signing off with some trademark bromides about brotherhood.
Scott: Stan's final issue is a return to the past with the Lost Lagoon creature saga ending on a nice note. A little preachy, as is Stan's way, but still an overall good issue. Johnny still looks weird with his flamey hair, but there's so little of the fired up Torch, it's easy to swallow. Joe Sinnott's inks give the creature a little of that Kirby flavor. Reed spends a lot of time a fever-addled lunatic, but it's all good fun as Stan waves goodbye. Next issue things begin anew and a few times we'll wonder if we were better off with old Smiley at the helm after all.
Mark: From Reed's human sail escape from the hospital roof, to Ben thinking it's faster to shimmy down an elevator cable than wait five seconds for the car, to the creature demonstrating he "came in peace" by clobbering the Thing with to a tree and back to Mr. "Not So" Fantastic accidentally knocking himself out against Big Ben's hand, with the resulting concussion helping him solve the mystery of the Creature’s return to Earth (known in medical circles as Three Stooges' skillet-to-skull Cognitive Problem Solving), Stan's swansong is a slop-bucket feast of risible nonsense, capped off by the revelation that Sue's kidnapping was random (another LCC – Lucky Comic Coincidence), because while the star-faring Creature knew that he needed "earth medicine" to save his mate, apparently only human hands can work child-proof caps.
The Mighty Thor 202
"--And None Dare Stand 'gainst Ego-Prime!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta
Now united on Earth, Thor, Sif, Hildegarde, Silas Grant, Tana Nile, Balder and the Warriors Three face Ego-Prime, the giant formed from a sample of Ego the Living Planet. A blow from Thor’s hammer serves to speed up the metamorphosis of this creature, which now resembles a humanoid giant of his namesake. The purpose of his mission is revealed too, now that Ego-Prime is willing to speak: the absorption of all life on Earth, thus “cleansing” it of the “disease” that now plagues it. In Asgard, we become aware that all this has something to do with Odin, that he somehow has a hand in the unfolding events, unknown to his loyal followers on Earth. The Vizier knows, and makes Karnilla aware, but he is forbidden to interfere in this game. Another piece falls into place, as Heimdall and Kamoor round up a human named Jackson Kimball, apparently part of the All-Father’s plan. Even Thor has a hard time holding back the foe, which buries him in a mountain of rubble. -Jim Barwise
Jim: How Ego-Prime has become so different from his planetary counterpart I’m not sure, or why a universe turned bioverse will be a better place, but at least we understand what his motive is. The reveal that this is a plot that Odin somehow is manipulating, maybe at the cost of his son and friends, is only momentarily surprising; Odin has played games at the cost of others before. Again, some interesting tidbits arise: Volstagg having the courage to save a young girl, the whole bit with Heimdall on Earth, and the unlikely friendship between the Vizier and Karnilla. We’re starting to see some of the left-handed Thor that John Buscema often seemed to favour; a conscious choice?
Scott: Ego The Living Planet was always a little too much for me, so Ego Prime wasn't bound to thrill me either. As always, there's just a little too much going on in Thor, as if the mandate was "all out action every issue, they can take a break during the ads." The art is wonderful and the full page panel of Odin playing chess on page 12 is to die for. Otherwise, just too much constant pummeling.
Peter: Ego always reminded me of that scene in Georges Melies' A Trip to the Moon where the rocket ship lands in the eye of the moon to the consternation of the big fella himself. Yeah, it's a tangent but there's a point here. The creature was pretty unique (Melies notwithstanding) but now it just looks like a stock actor in a Steve Reeves Hercules flick. The art's nifty this time out, as Professor Matthew noted but the real question seems to be: can author Gerry keep up this insane pace? It's like jumping from speeding treadmill to speeding treadmill without a break. And will we ever find out why Odin seems so content in putting his favored son through all these trying events without the courtesy of an explanation?
Story by Bill Everett and Mike Friedrich
Art by Bill Everett
Namor and his cousin Namorita head off to New York City to get in touch with Namor's old girlfriend, Betty Dean. The plan is for Betty to help care for and school Namorita. An old lady at her apartment complex informs them that Betty has gone on a vacation to Krakinowa, a Japanese island. It is on this island that the mutant Sunfire is allied with Dragon-Lord, who plots to cause havoc and bring Japan back to its former glory. As Betty Dean enjoys the surf, a malnourished minion from Dragon-Lord's brigade stumbles upon her. Namor and Namorita fly by to witness the man latching on to Betty. Thinking that she is being attacked, Namor swoops in to punch the man away. Sunfire sees this as he has been searching for the deserter. He shoots Namor with some of his fire blasts and flies off with the lackey. Subby follows them back to Dragon-Lord's headquarters. It is there that Namor overhears their plan, with Dragon-Lord ordering Sunfire to capture a cargo ship carrying defoliants that is heading to Vietnam. Knowing that the defoliants could kill all the ocean's plankton, thereby destroying the entire seafood chain, Subby heads off to stop Sunfire. After a pitched battle, Sunfire knocks out the ship's gyroscope rudder control, and it drifts toward destruction on the reefs, which Namor narrowly helps it clear. Yet when he pulls Sunfire underwater, effectively defeating him, the villain blasts the ship out of sheer spite, breaching the chemical containers as well as the hull to spell certain doom for the crew--and perhaps the world. -Tom McMillion and Matthew Bradley
Matthew: Man, that Sunfire is such a pill that I have to keep reminding myself he later became a good guy of sorts, and Everett presumably isn’t winning many Asian readers over with his buck-toothed Japanese characters. Quibbles aside, I am continuing to enjoy the new direction for Namor, a far cry from the mopey Subby who lost his memory and/or a loved one seemingly every other issue, while the artwork is both lively and substantive. Since Friedrich is apparently just scripting Wild Bill’s plots, it’s difficult to assess how much of a contribution he is actually making, but I think the results speak for themselves; bringing back Betty Dean Prentiss is a good (and, for Golden-Ager Bill, appropriate) move, and the catastrophic cliffhanger is very powerful.
Scott: I love Bill Everett and his very old fashioned style, but damn, his Japanese are straight out of the war comics. The buck teeth and misshapen faces are pretty insulting, I would imagine. The rest of the art is so lovely and I have a weird comic book crush on Namorita. She's so damned cute, even if she wants to shag her cousin. I guess that's okay in some states. Betty Dean/Prentiss is victim of the Marvel Coincidence. She happens to be on vacation on the same backwater part of Japan nobody ever heard of, but which happens to be the HQ of Sunfire and his criminal brethren. That's a little hard to swallow, but again, Bill Everett makes up for it. If only the Asians looked less like propaganda monsters.
The Avengers 102
"What to Do Until the Sentinels Come"
Story by Roy Thomas
From an Idea by Chris Claremont
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
The Vision responds to a summons from the villain The Grim Reaper, who has the preserved body of Winder Man - Simon Williams - on ice. The deal: help the Reaper destroy the Avengers and the Vision will have a human body at last. The Android refuses, but takes a communications amulet to contact the Reaper if the Vision changes his mind. Back at the mansion, Hawkeye makes another pass at the Scarlet Witch, but the Vision arrives as they kiss. He leaves before hearing Wanda confess to Clint that she loves The Vision. Dumbfounded at the admission, Hawkeye walks off. Meanwhile, in orbit, Starcore One discovers a group of Sentinels emerging from the sun and heading toward Earth. As the Avengers learn some covered up info from TV newscasts, Wanda goes for a walk. Shortly thereafter, the Vision sees a Sentinel descending from the sky and calls the team into action to meet at The Park, where said Sentinel lands and attacks Wanda. The Avengers arrive, but all of their might is for naught. The Sentinel was ordered to capture one mutant and now that he has her, he leaps into a space warp and is gone. Quicksilver, angered at how the Mighty Avengers could do nothing, vows to find Wanda himself and stop the sentinel. But even he knows it is an empty promise. -Scott McIntyre
Scott: Another solid issue with a compelling character arc for the Vision. Since he is the only character completely original to the title, this is the only place he has development. It's pretty obvious Roy Thomas was taken with the android and explores the nature of humanity whenever he gets a chance. While his continual walking in on Clint and Wanda gets a little annoying, it's still handled nicely. He always gets grouchy when it comes to Wanda, as if anger is the only emotion he can process since he won't allow himself love just yet.
Mark: The Sentinels return, and hardy indeed are Larry Trask's Mark II models, apparently capable of orbiting the sun for three years, with nary a scorch mark. What is scorching is the red miniskirt go-go boot combo Wanda slips into for a little innocent, er, street walking in nighttime Manhattan after Hawkeye's unwanted kiss is misinterpreted by the Vision. Oh, the heart-string vagaries of human-synthezoid love! Sentinel #5 strikes before the soap suds come to full froth, snatching Wanda and disappearing with an "ultra-linear leap" as Earth's Mightiest look on helplessly.
Matthew: There’s a retrospective sensation of a torch being passed here: Roy revives the Sentinels, with whom he and Adams had arguably taken the old X-Men to their greatest glory, yet the credits tell us this is “from an idea suggested by Chris Claremont,” who a couple of years hence will use them to such great effect in his own legendary X-stint. Interesting that the Vision (“X-ray visi-probe reveals three decades vintage”) and Quicksilver, so oft at odds over Wanda, both withhold vital information, although only Pietro, living down to his rep as a jerk, has the audacity to blame his teammates for a loss that his candor might have mitigated. The arrival of new penciler Buckler, who gets the benefit of venerated veteran Sinnott’s inks, is also addressed.
John: Thank you Professor Matthew for pointing out the Claremont connection. Knowing what is to come, the mere presence of Sentinels and a few of our favorite (formerly Evil) mutants is enough to get this X-Fan excited about the future.
Scott: The return of Simon Williams is a nice turn, not something I would have expected had I been a reader of the day. The character exists in the dim Marvel past and it will be interesting to see how this develops. It's hysterical how Cap is late to the meeting because of "traffic." He has a car? He took a cab? I ask because motorcyclists have a way of weaving through traffic. Unless Cap is so bound up in not being a traffic rule flouting slob that he actually sat in gridlock on his bike. Besides, doesn't he leap from flagpole to flagpole? Superheroes do not get stuck in traffic. Rich Bucker and Joe Sinnott are the team to beat right now. Very interesting how the titles and credits don't show up until fully halfway through the story. Awesome art and a strong script make this month's issue a winner. Could even Dean Peter be too cranky to enjoy it?
Peter: A lot of memories come flooding back reading this issue, the first Avengers I ever bought new on the stand. Despite the sometimes... um, flowery prose ("...we, who have never been so utterly alone, so unarguably one-of-a-kind as he -- we might wish to shout out loud to him -- implore him to follow the girl -- to crush her in his crimson arms..."), this is still a heck of a good story. Two stories actually, if you count the teaser that opens the issue. After reading so many issues that have been heralded as classics and being fairly underwhelmed, I'm ready for the great stuff at last. As for new artist Rich Buckler, call me a nut but this is my Avengers artist. The guy can even give Colan a run for his money with that cheesecake shot of Wanda post-shower.
Mark: Track back to the opening spadework, where the Vision refuses the Grim Reaper's offer to restore Viz's brain to the preserved body of Wonder Man Simon Williams, but leaves the human weed-whacker unmolested, and Roy's planting story seeds that I hope cross-pollinate to produce rich bounty. Thomas has earned the benefit of the doubt, so even if most of the pleasure here comes from Joe Sinnott's inks taking Rick Buckler's art to the next level, I'm ready to climb "The Hill" next ish.
Captain America and the Falcon 152
"Terror in the Night"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
The Falcon is hot on the trail of a chemical delivery. He beats the hell out of the drivers and gets the info on the man who ordered the chemicals: a Harlem crime boss named Morgan who gives Falc crucial info. Meanwhile, Cap agonizes of how he let Mr. Hyde and the Scropion capture Sharon, and Nick Fury remains a conflicted man over Cap and Val, who had previously fallen for the Star Spangled Avenger. Upon hearing her apology, Nick shouts her down and storms off. When Steve Rogers returns to his police officer identity, he learns Sgt. Muldoon was suspended on chargers of "no-goodery." A crestfallen Rogers goes on patrol with his partner when he sees Redwing. Steve leaves Officer Bob to follow the bird, who leads him to Falc, who can now track down Sharon and the two villains. After switching to cap and leaving with the Falcon, Officer Bob finds Steve's discarded uniform. They reach the villain's hiding place and beat the living snot out of them. Our story closes with Muldoon at home, telling his wife that things are really bad. -Scott McIntyre
Scott: Two for two! Englehart's not even here yet and the series is already back on track. Gerry Conway does right by Cap and his pals. The villains have real motivation and everyone seems to be, if not "normal," at least not totally out of control. No annoying whitey hate from anyone in Harlem, Nick (while still a turd) is properly confused by his own feelings, and Falcon again comes through like a real partner and friend. It's interesting to see Scorpion tell Sharon all about his origin. I don't suppose Jonah Jameson received a court summons after this, huh?
Peter: A big deal is made about the cover on the "Let's Rap With Cap" letters page. Bizarrely, Roy (or whoever writes these things) apologizes for the fact that the cover scene doesn't actually take place. Hello? Has The Rascally One been paying attention the last twelve years? A lot of Marvel covers have nothing to do with the insides, let alone document a particular scene.
Scott: The only real thud is the "who gives a crap" cliffhanger focusing on Muldoon. He is a nothing character, yet he gets the last panel, as if his fate is driving this book. And it's not even a death trap sort of ending, simply a "I may lose my job and go to jail" ending for a character that only shows up to be abrasive. He will figure strongly in the issues ahead, but right now he's a fringe character, a 1970's replacement for Sgt. Duffy and nothing to really care about. The art is great, the writing in top form and with Steve Englehart coming in starting next issue (bringing with him one of my favorite Cap storylines), the worst of this title is finally over. These last two transitional issues have been great and Conway deserves props for taking the dregs of Marvel and giving it drive and focus. Welcome back, Cap!
Matthew: Gerry winds up his interim stint on Cap before handing him off to Steve Englehart, who will give the book the kind of stability it sorely needs as Frank Giacoia becomes Sal’s fifth inker in as many months—not that the combination leaves me with any complaints about the artwork whatsoever. On his way out the door, Gerry introduces Stoneface’s successor as Harlem mob boss, Morgan, but am I the only one who feels that his flunky “Smasher Kreel’s” moniker is needlessly close to that of the Absorbing Man’s civilian i.d.? Since Conway is a lame duck anyway, I won’t dwell on the story’s deficiencies, but instead will accentuate the positive, e.g., the fact that the Cap/Falcon partnership is finally back to being a fait accompli for a change.
Peter: In my haste to hasten the arrival of The Greatest Comic Book Story of All Time, I'd forgotten just how much fun this two-parter was. Gerry Conway seems so relaxed here (as opposed to the frantic pace set for him over at The Mighty Thor), moving the subplot chess men around the board and not making a single bad move (despite what cantankerous Professor Scott would have you believe). Gerry doesn't fall into the shuck 'n' jive talk for more than a few panels and that's a huge relief. The subplots are so well done in fact -- Muldoon's precinct troubles, Cap and Sharon foregoing their monthly misunderstandings (a change I'd welcome over at The Amazing Spider-Man), The Falcon finally coming into his own as more than just a sidekick -- you'd might forget the main attraction: The Scorpion and (the admittedly third-tier) Mr. Hyde. That finale - with Hyde's face stopping Cap's piledriver - is a corker. Even before the royalty arrives, this title has become Marvel's most improved comic book in just the space of two months.
"The Sinister Secret of Project Four!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Daredevil and his lady, the Black Widow, are practicing some rooftop acrobatics when Natasha is suddenly struck with an overwhelming fear that finds her falling to the pavement below. He manages to catch her, and they return to their San Francisco mansion. Ivan demands to know what’s going on, and seeing the tension both men feel, she begins to relate the story of Danny French, and… Project Four. It was many years before, her first spy mission to North America, and she greeted at the airport by the young Mr. French. They were heading to L.A. when a car from behind came after them, gunshots and all. Natasha fired a shot back at them, unintentionally sending them off the road to their deaths. Back to the present, a knock at the door turns out to be Larry Cranston, the lawyer who’s been wanting Matt to join his firm, along with partner Jason Sloan, who both Matt and Natasha sense is evil in the extreme. Later, both DD and the Widow have separate “fear” incidents, he while swinging through town (ending up through a broken window), she while trying to sell her fashion designs to a well-known magazine. The two of them discuss the past some more. Natasha and Danny French infiltrate a top-secret government compound, where they manage to steal a glowing ball that has some great power. Their superiors, it seems, had set both of them, up; the gas grenade they threw to make their escape did far worse than stun its victims. This was Project Four, and whatever the power that the glowing ball has, the Widow is certain that it’s power, and Danny French, who are causing the fear attacks. DD gets another one when moving between rooftops again, maybe his last, when he plummets to the ground helplessly out of Natasha’s reach. -Jim Barwise
Jim: Interesting to see the Man Without Fear facing just that, not to mention a girl with a name like the Black Widow. There’s lots of great action, in the sky and on the ground. Natasha’s refusal to discuss what’s going on is kind of annoying, but there’s obviously more going on than even she knows.
Matthew: When it comes to the drawn-out mystery of Danny French and Project Four, this entry raises as many questions as it answers, but since it does shed considerable light on the Widow’s past, I feel that definite progress is being made. My biggest beef is that despite having faced off against not one but two previous incarnations of Mr. Fear (which in itself proves that the identity can outlive the man who assumes it, be he Zoltan Drago, Starr Saxon, or whoever), DD doesn’t even suspect that his “fear-omone” was responsible for these bursts of anxiety. The new direction has also tempered my restlessness with the long-term Colan artwork; as usual, Tom Palmer is, in my opinion, best matched up with Gene, and their Widow is decidedly lovely.
Scott: Not too shabby. Some explanations for a change with a good, mysterious threat behind the scenes. Hard to keep coming up with ways of saying "great art," but it's Gene "The Dean" Colan and his work sings. Itis weird how Natasha would keep so deadly a threat a secret, but all the same, a good, well paced issue. The improved storytelling continues. At least I'm not depressed at the idiocy as much anymore.
Mark: Despite the title, we still don't know "The Sinister Secret of Project Four," except it involves a red globe alleged to be "stronger than a dozen H-bombs!" that Natasha and mystery man Danny French stole from a military outpost in the Nevada desert, manned by non-American troops. Sounds like a paranoid Alex Jones nightmare. I'm intrigued for now but hope Gerry Conway knows where he's going and the slowly unwinding plot doesn't devolve into another incoherent Mr. Kline/Assassin time travel cluster-suck. More classic Colan/Palmer art, and I suspect Prof Matthew is on the right bloodhound track, sniffing out a new incarnation of Mr. Fear.
ALSO THIS MONTH
Combat Kelly #2
Fear #9 ->
Kid Colt Outlaw #161
Li'l Kids #7
Marvel Tales #36
Marvel Triple Action #4
Millie the Model #197
Monsters on the Prowl #18
Our Love Story #18
Outlaw Kid #11
Rawhide Kid #102
Sgt. Fury #101
Western Kid #5
The X-Men #77
Beginning next week, we'll be expanding to two weeks per Marvel month due to the insanely escalated schedule the company adopted in the latter part of 1972 (not to mention the magazine line launched in '73). What does this mean for you, the true believers? Not much, other than it will take us twice as long to get through a Marvel month. The plus is that we'll probably also be doubling our word count. This may take a couple weeks to iron out the wrinkles but we believe the change is not only essential but also exciting. -Peter Enfantino