Wednesday, September 4, 2013

June 1972: A Whole Lot of Assemblin' Goin' On!

Special Introduction By Professor Matthew Bradley

Big news on the Bullpen Page this month, starting with Stan’s Soapbox:  “we have a zillion ideas for new mags and new heroes, but we never seemed to have enough time, or a large enough staff to grind ’em out….But now it’s a different ball game!  We’ve been working like mad to corral some of the best new artists and writers to come down the pike—and we’ve finally swung it!  That means we’re about to take all those zingy ideas we’ve been keeping the lid on and bring them to life for you at last!  So hang loose, heroes, and watch our smoke!  Marvel’s set to bust loose now, and that means the wondrous world of fantasy won’t ever be the same!”  I’d be more reluctant to reproduce this breathless hyperbole if that weren’t precisely what happened, by gum.

A Bulletin notes that joining Editor and Art Director Stan, Associate Editor Roy, and Production Manager John Verpoorten on Marvel’s editorial staff is “a trio of awesome Assistant Editors”:  Steve Englehart; Gerry Conway, “who helps out as needed in addition to his scripting chores; and last but not least, there’s the newest addition to our harried little staff, Melancholy Mike [no relation to Gary] Friedrich.  Mike’s a recent college grad from Santa Clara, California…[and his] first task for Marvel…was to pen a bunch of all-new western epics for our great Outlaw Kid mag.  If you wanna see what might’ve happened to the ever-amazing Spider-Man if he’d been born about a century earlier—well, just pick up O.K. and see what we mean, huh?”  You decide.

And, as if that weren’t enough, boasts another Bulletin, “Lots of special issues this time, people!  Roy and Bashful Barry Smith really went all-out on Avengers #100, which features every Marvel hero who’s ever been an Avenger—and that’s a long, long list!  •  Here’s a nostalgic note:  Wild Bill Everett, who created the Sub-Mariner many moons ago, has both written and drawn the fabulous 50th issue of Namor’s own mag, now on sale!  •  Even ol’ Stan got into the act, writing most of the current 200th ish of Thor.  Sure, we know the first 82 issues were named Journey into Mystery and didn’t really feature our awesome Thunder God—but an anniversary is an anniversary!”  Interestingly, in spite of such logic, no mention is made of Captain America #150.

And Now... June 1972!

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire 1
"Out of Hell -- A Hero!"
Story by Archie Goodwin, Roy Thomas, and John Romita
Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham

Deep inside the confines of prison sits a man named Luke Cage. Sadistic guards torment and beat him while Cage doesn't seem to get along a whole lot with his fellow black prisoners. After an altercation with a militant convict, Cage is sent back into the hole by the head prison guard. It looks like certain doom for him as another guard beats him in his cell for no other reason than to fill his sadistic needs. However, a new warden arrives, cleaning up the corruption. He fires the guard who was beating Luke and then demotes the head guard. A doctor who treats Cage for his injuries hears his story about how he was framed and sent to jail. Back in the day, Luke Cage and his best friend in the ghetto, Willis Stryker, were a rough pair that looked out for each other. Willis was a master at throwing knifes while Cage was handy with his fists. A woman named Reva came between them after she first fell for Willis. It wasn't until an attempt on Willis's life drove her away into Cage's arms. Even though it was because he was trying to muscle in on the Syndicate's rackets that got him hurt, Willis blamed Cage for Reva leaving him. To get him out of the picture, Willis had his gang plant drugs in Cage's home, then ratted him out to the cops sending him to prison. Tragically, Reva would later be killed by gunfire meant for Willis after she went back to him during Cage's incarceration. Believing that he is a good specimen because of his youth and strength, the doctor makes Cage an offer to volunteer for a government sponsored experiment. It consists of Cage being subjected to a chemical machine that will hopefully give him regenerating cells. If it works, he should gain added strength along with the possibility of slowing down his age progression. If successful, he gets released from jail. While locked inside the machine, the demoted prison guard sneaks in and tampers with it, causing the machine to blow apart. Cage arises from the wreckage a new man with super human strength and durability. Not knowing the full scope of his powers, he slaps the crooked guard aside, accidentally knocking him out cold and maybe even killing him. Not wanting to wait around to get charged for murder, Cage punches his way out through the prison wall and escapes to New York. After stopping a robber, Cage gets a cool cash reward. This gives him the idea of selling his new powers to protect others. After buying himself a costume, he beats up some Syndicate goons that are shaking down store owners. He leaves his business cards before leaving that announces that he is a 'Hero for Hire.' The story ends as we see Willis Stryker, whom is now a big pinwheel with the Syndicate, having his own crime territory that Cage has been stomping on. Now calling himself Diamondback, the villain has no idea that Luke Cage, his former friend, is back in town looking for vengeance. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: I was expecting the worst and what I got instead was a pretty good origin story. What I always liked about the future Power Man was that he wasn't given strength of mythic proportions like the Hulk or Thor. While bullets may not penetrate his skin or kill him, they would slow him down. This keeps the stories a little more slightly grounded as Cage goes on to fight street crime.

Matthew Bradley: I never read this mag until it became a shotgun marriage with Iron Fist (a move that enrages and bewilders me to this day, as a fan of the latter’s solo title, cut down in its Claremont/Byrne prime), but I was much more familiar with the Cage character via outside appearances than I was with many of the Marvel monster titles.  It reunites Archie Goodwin with longtime Iron Man artist George Tuska—inked by future Jungle Action legend Billy Graham—and adds “the considerable creative contributions of Roy Thomas and John Romita.”  Shorn of its blaxploitation and super-hero elements, the story would not seem out of place in a late-’30s Warner Brothers prison picture, but the racial milieu was new to Marvel in 1972 and it all works.

Scott McIntyre: Not a bad origin to Mr. Cage, one I've never read before. Very interesting and quite dark. The guy's a fugitive, something that breaks away from the traditional Marvel hero. The only thing holding this tale back is the truly godawful Tuska art. It's easily his worst work to date. The man has no concept of how people run and move. The faces are more cartoonish than ever. A shame; under the pencils of a good artist, this could have been amazing.

Peter Enfantino: Thankfully devoid of the “Yo, whitey” dialogue that cramped the Lee and Friedrich Captain America and The Falcon, the premiere issue of LCHfH is an enjoyable slice of early 1970s blaxploitation that even a Caucasian comic lover like me can eat up (even if the chains around Cage were to remind us young folks why African-Americans hated us so much). No surprise really since it’s written by one of the best comic scribes going at the time. This strip had a real edge and bite to it (save the goofy “all of a sudden, Willis Stryker is the super-villain yin to Cage’s hero yang” finale) and I’ve added it to my “must comment on each issue” pile. I’ll ignore the obligatory “trip to the costume shop for a hero uni” but, really, do we need a metal band around Cage’s head? I’m interested to see if we get back to kindly Warden Stuart and Stark Enterprise-entrusted Dr. Burstein any time soon and, having never read any of issues of this series, I'm wondering how long Cage remains a wanted man.

Daredevil 88
"Call Him Killgrave!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

While the Black Widow tries to catch the man from her past named Danny French (via racing through the streets), Daredevil pays a visit to the police station. He tries to come to some sort of terms with police commissioner “Ironguts” O’Hara, but the copper views San Francisco as his town, and he doesn’t need any superhero help. DD leaves unsatisfied, and returns home to the pad he shares with Natasha and Ivan. Ivan relates his first meeting with the fiery girl: Stalingrad, 1942, World War Two. The German forces attacked their city, eventually destroying it. A woman crying for help drew Ivan’s attention, and he caught a young girl tossed from a balcony into his arms, then watched the building blow up. He raised her as his daughter, and she excelled in school in every way, later joining the Russian forces as a spy. She married a man and left; he didn’t see her for three years. Those years, and Danny French, are a mystery. The Widow heads out to try and find French again –alone she insists. As Matt follows of course, he is dutifully drawn off course by a crime. A bank robbery, but no ordinary one; DD’s old pal Kilgrave the Purple Man is behind it. It turns out he escaped from prison when the chemical vapor that kept his will—and powers of persuasion—weak caused a mechanical breakdown and no longer kept him in check. He exerted his emotional control over the guards to let him out, and fled. He relates this tale to Daredevil as he comes to (not being prepared for the gas attack that Kilgrave had waiting for him at the robbery). The Purple Man had made the Bay City his home, and had seen Daredevil’s recent arrival. Another unexpected angle saves the day, that of Ivan rushing the scene with a tear gas grenade, and he whisks DD away while Purple’s boys are gasping. Matt sees himself as having blown it—a failure. Natasha meanwhile, has found her man. She and Danny walk around talking about a mystery known as Project Four. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: This is a pretty good month from my perch. I kind of liked the Purple dude back in DD #4, and his return here is more welcome than some recent villains. Yet he isn’t the main thrust of the story. The secrets of Natasha’s past are coming forth, and I suspect it’s more than just an old romance that has her tackling Danny French. The relationship between her and Ivan is given some enlightening background, and the relationships continue to grow all around. The Widow is a worthy foil for DD (I hope this carries for a while), and the slowly developing respect between he and Ivan helps this peculiar “family” take shape.

"Someone find me a shower QUICK!"

Mark Barsotti: The opening car chase sequence of “Call Him Killgrave,” is one of the few tasty bits here; sure, it’s a direct lift from the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt, but “Detroitian” (to quote an inelegant Gerry Conway coinage) steel roaring over the roller coaster hills of San Francisco always works. After that, the menu runs to second-rate flub-dub, as when one of the speed racers, Danny French, mystery man from Natasha’s past, seems not to know she was the one chasing him. How many other girls, long red hair flowing like skeins of spun copper in the open cockpit of an XKE, have you contacted in the last 24 hours, Danny? DD’s confrontation with police commissioner O’Hara was pointless, save to remind readers “Ironguts” exists and doesn’t like “some nut in his underwear,” muscling in on the cop’s turf. Oh, and FYI, Ger, O’Hara would have been drummed off the force for calling his hometown “’Frisco,” a worse insult to locals than proclaiming the ‘49ers can’t carry the Raiders’ jocks.

Scott:  Killgrave, the Purple Man. He was a lousy character when he was introduced and he's no better now. Soon as I saw him on the cover, I knew this would be a rough ride. However, it was great to finally get the Ivan/Tasha backstory, and it's not bad. I just didn't think Ivan was that much older than she is. All the stuff he went through for her and she still won't let him see her naked? What a ripoff. And is this really the first time Daredevil has ever failed? I could swear he's screwed up someplace down the line. Ah well. Great art by Colan as usual.

Matthew: They say a change is as good as a rest, and San Francisco, true to its laid-back rep, certainly seems to find Gerry and Gene—and, yes, Tom—rested and relaxed; it’s amazing to see what a different venue can do.  Not that this is an outstanding issue in itself, or that I would ever call Killgrave a first- or even second-tier villain, but I remember this run, and how its whole storytelling sensibility was somehow different from the usual madcap Marvel Manhattan milieu.  We’re (or at least I’m) a little more patient about allowing Gerry to introduce his new characters and subplots, with the firm of Roderick, Sloan, and Cranston ringing a very definite bell, and it’s nice that the pace allows us to brush up a bit on the history of Madame Natasha and her pal Ivan.

Mark: The biggest question is why bring back a bozo-baddie like Killgrave at all? There’s a reason the master of the purple mist has been on ice since DD #4; he wouldn’t have made the cut in a late-‘50’s issue of Detective Comics, with even Bat-Dog holding his nose. And Ger had to be back on the whacky-tobaccy to have penned dialogue (P. 14) like, “Move those arms. . .move them!” when what he meant was, “Hit him. . . hit him!” Matt’s hair is flame red on P. 11: a dye job to be simpatico his new gal pal, or a simple printer’s error? Only his hairdresser knows for sure. But I’ll stop moving my arms at Gerry now and end on an up-tick. This original version of the Window’s past as WW II orphan, raised by Ivan, works well, and I’m intrigued by Danny French’s hold on ‘Tasha, so I’ll give our Teen Titan a gentlemen’s C on this one and hope to hell the mysterious Project Four don’t involve diamond-faced villains from the future.

The Invincible Iron Man 47
"Why Must There Be An Iron Man?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Jim Mooney

Kevin’s funeral is attended by his father and by Iron Man, sent by Tony as his “proxy” despite Marianne’s warning of danger, which manifests itself when he is forced to flee the policemen trying to bring him in for questioning regarding Kevin’s death.  After Gilbert blames him and Marianne asks, “Why must there be an Iron Man?,” he recalls his origin (retold, in somewhat greater detail, from Tales of Suspense #39), and in particular the death of fellow prisoner Professor Yinsen, with whom Tony developed his original armor to save him from the shrapnel approaching his heart.  Remembering the elderly scientist’s noble self-sacrifice, which enabled him to defeat Southeast Asian guerilla tyrant Wong-Chu, gives him the will to carry on. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Roy returns to the star of his first Marvel super-hero script (back in Tales of Suspense #73) to retell Shellhead’s origin with one-time penciler Barry Smith, who bookends it with scrumptious full-page shots of Shellhead in flight.  Proving once again what a difference an inker makes, Jim Mooney’s embellishment has me vastly preferring this artwork to the Smith effort on display in the current Avengers, with Simon Gilbert looking like a human being rather than (forgive me, George) a roly-poly Tuska caricature.  I usually find such recaps tiresome, but this one is well timed after the death of the Guardsman and, per the lettercol, constitutes “a culmination and a reaffirmation of all that truly is Iron Man,” while next month we kick off the Mike Friedrich Era.

Scott: This is a glorified reprint issue, with so many pages given to the, admittedly well-done, origin. Nothing new is added, so it's just "look at the art" sort of enjoyment. Barry Smith and Jim Mooney make an excellent team, and it's a nice break from George Tuska. However, since Kevin was a friend and employee of Stark, why did he show up as Iron Man instead of himself?

The Avengers 100
"Whatever Gods There Be"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith, Joe Sinnott, and Syd Shores

The Black Knight is in dire straits and has asked Cap to summon every single Avenger, which includes the Hulk, who decides to listen before going away or smashing. The Black Knight fills everyone in, telling of how long ago, Ares found the ebony blade in Olympus and shortly thereafter runs into the Enchantress. The go to the city where Hercules is jousting to entertain Zeus. As Areas destroys the Promethian Flame, Phoebus, with whom Herc was fighting, turns to crystal as Hercules' blow smashes him to pieces. Herc is aghast at killing his friend, even as he sees that everyone has become crystal as well. At that moment, the Yellow Chested Titans appear to back Ares who bests Herc and sends him to Earth, causing him to lose his memory in transit. Ares has now come to Earth to conquer it has he did Olympus. As the story ends, the Swordsman, who was an Avenger for like, a minute, comes to answer the call. Accepting him, the team goes forth. Thor takes the Black Knight, the Hulk, Vision and Iron Man to Olympus where Iron Man is felled by a laser shooting Centaur. Hercules is there, imprisoned and with restored memory, and the Avengers fight the Enchantress and her cronies. Meanwhile, back on Earth, the rest of the team fight the invading half-god hordes of Olympus. They battle; Ares and the Enchantress are defeated while Herc and Thor close the portal to Olympus. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: I would have thought the 100th issue would be a little more "special," but this isn't bad. Just nothing really all that amazing. The art is weird, Barry Smith excelled at Conan, but doesn't quite have the touch with the mainstream characters. The Enchantress is pretty ugly here considering she is supposed to be the most amazingly gorgeous woman in the universe. A lot of flashback and exposition leading to a drawn out fight that just isn’t all that exciting. Why the Black Knight needed every single Avenger for this, other than to cram them into the 100th issue, is not satisfactorily explained.

Matthew: As hundredth-issue gimmicks go, assembling all Avengers past and present is a natural, but so much space is devoted to watching them do so that once we’ve learned how Ares spent his summer vacation and it’s time for the team to bust heads, Roy and Barry haven’t room to do it justice, especially in a story only two pages longer than the now-standard 21. Some, like the Panther, are barely glimpsed, while Iron Man, one of the original and most powerful, may as well not have bothered to show up.  Ares extinguishing the Promethean flame rehashes the prior multiple-of-fifty issue (with annoyingly inconsistent results), underlining that despite having Joe Sinnott join Syd Shores and Smith amongst the inkers, I wish Big John had stuck around for this.

You're so right, Professor Mark, assign this Smith guy to Captain America!

Peter: Nice idea to try to pack every single Avenger, past and present, into one story, but then it becomes a bit cramped, no? At one point, Iron Man just seems to disappear. At least we didn’t find that they were all Puppet Master robots at the climax. Anyone out there think, as I did, that there were a hell of a lot more Avengers than eleven? A really confusing story and, in the end, isn’t it just a Loki story minus the God of Giggles? Barry’s human faces look primitive again and thank God he never got assigned to The Incredible Hulk or Captain America.

Ok, we'll give you this one!
Mark: After the Kirby's-out-the-door disaster of FF #100 and the odd, uneven Spidey centennial (six arms don't equal three times the fun), the House of Ideas final bakes a tasty birthday cake. Senior staff can pick nits, I'm gonna smear frosting on my face and spike the punch. Start with the stunning Barry (Windsor) Smith art (inked by the Limey genius, Joe Sinnott and Syd Shores), from the fine filigree of Aragorn's wing on the slash page, through the pages 5-6 Avengers Assembled pin-up, the hubba-hottie depiction of Enchantress, and on the fine art flows. Trust me, any bitching about this beauty comes from folks who'd complain that the Mona Lisa's eyes are too close together.

Peter: And anyone falling over themselves with praise for this nothing more than average funny book may find himself sitting in a corner, on a stack of Essential Ant-Man, rather than on the plush Asgardian thrones the rest of us have in the treehouse. The probation continues!

Mark: Yeah, some team members don't get much on-camera time, an unavoidable by-product of all-star extravaganzas. The large flashback serving of Ares Olympus takeover may stick in some gullets; I found it tasty and it allowed Roy to indulge his knack for Shakespearian patios. Another writer would have told a different tale, cast Ultron or the Masters of Evil as the birthday baddies, but it's unfair to stone the Rascally One because you might have liked the story he didn't tell better. So make like the Hulk: enjoy some flute music, ogle the Enchantress' cleavage, and have another slice o' cake.  

Sub-Mariner 50
"Who Am I?"
Story and Art by Bill Everett

Namor swims off into the ocean, hoping to regain the memory he lost. He finds a woman floating towards the bottom of the sea that he believes is a person committing suicide. Back on shore, he tries to give her mouth to mouth resuscitation only to have the woman spring back to life and reward him with a slap. She accuses Namor of trying to get fresh with her before she goes back into the ocean and swims away. Next, Namor stumbles upon his people's former city underwater. It's desolate except for some crab humanoids that attack him. He fights them off, then is confronted by a giant crab creature calling himself Salamar. This hideous creature shows Namor the body of his dead cousin that is encased in glass. Salamar boasts that her daughter, Namorita, a half breed like Namor, is currently searching the surface world for him. The creature threatens to kill her once she comes back if Namor doesn't help rebuild the city. After a while Subby figures out that Salamar is nothing more then a droid mouthpiece. It is soon revealed that Byyrah is the one behind the charade. Byyrah drags out Namorita, whom was the girl that Namor had come across earlier that he thought was drowning. Fighting Byyrah to save Namorita, Subby ends up having the deck stacked even more against him when Llyra reveals herself and attacks. The sight of the evil sea witch that was responsible for the death of his wife is enough to jog Namor's memory back into place. In the end, Llyra gets knocked into an oil pit while Namor and Namorita swim away to regroup.  -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Is there a reason why Byyrah is now a green looking guppy as opposed to the blue skinned bad guy that I remember him from before? Other then that, this issue was fairly decent with some 'okay' looking crab monsters. I would have preferred Salamar being a real protagonist instead of some fancy communication device since he reminded me of a cross between Jabba the Hut and a Red Lobster mascot gone amok.

Scott: Bill Everett returns to his greatest creation and the book improves by a tremendous leap! As a rabid fan of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, I got a real charge when I saw the talking crab people. It was that kind of show and their inclusion bought immediate goodwill from me. While this is a fun tale, I still wonder why the water didn't revive his memory as it did when Johnny Storm dropped Subby into the sea back in FF 4. Still, finally Namor's memory has returned and, at last, he has his revenge on Lyrra. A damned good read and well worth the trouble it took to finally get here.

Matthew: We get a double dose of Everett’s Namor this month, because in addition to creating this issue, he also inks Subby as a Defender in Marvel Feature, albeit with no continuity whatsoever between the two.  Anybody who loves Attack of the Crab Monsters and Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster as much as I do isn’t going to kvetch at his battling giant crustaceans, and I love the detail of Subby supporting himself on the edge of the panel on page 8, although I’ve never been a big Byrrah fan.  It’s a relief to have his memory restored yet again, while this rather odd story begins Wild Bill’s final run on Namor, cut short by his death in 1973; marks a rare Bronze-Age appearance by Namora, or rather her corpse; and introduces her daughter, Namorita (“Nita”).

Peter: Repeat after me – Bill… Everett! A slightly confusing story but then that could be because I couldn’t force myself to read this title the last twenty or so issues, as dire as it’s been. Unfortunately, as we know now, Bill’s tenure on Subby was tragically short but for the few issues we have to look forward to, I’ll bask in the grace and beauty of his art (if not his writing). It reads exactly as though it was pulled from a 1950s issue of Sub-Mariner Comics, thankfully absent of the 1972 politics that some of the new writers (them that just got out of community college) polluted their funny book writing with. Just think of the delights we’d have been privy to had Bill Everett lived to illustrate The Invaders.

 Captain America and the Falcon 150
"Mirror, Mirror"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Sal Buscema, John Verpoorten, and Tony Mortellaro

The Stranger arrives and puts Cap, Falcon and Batroc into a frozen stasis. He then reveals himself to be a different "stranger" named Jakar from a parallel dimension. He is taking youngsters to save his planet form the ravages of a plague. He vanishes with his hostages while freeing the trio. Cap takes hi anger out on Batroc, who makes his escape. Batroc is in possession of a homing device from Jakar and is able to track his location while Redwing follows. Meanwhile, at SHIELD HQ, Sharon is working out when Val approaches and tells her that she meant to make Nick Fury jealous by paying attention to Cap, but has fallen in love with the Star-Spangled Avenger. Cap and Falcon follow Redwing to Jakar's mountain base and find the captured Batroc. Jakar then captures the heroes as well. Falcon engineers their escape, they fight Jakar. By using images of his loved ones, guilt him into giving up his plan and leaving. Cap and Falc take Batroc into custody and Cap goes home to find Sharon tearfully telling him about Val. Meanwhile a shadowy, villainous pair waits outside… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Batroc continues to annoy, but at least he's captured and this plot is finally over. So he's outta here. The plot is needlessly complex. Jakar resorts to a lot of assumption to get Cap, Falcon and Batroc to become his prisoners. They're so insistent on catching him, all Jakar had to do is invite them over for booze and broads and they'd come running to tackle him anyway.

Matthew: Now that I’ve read this, it’s easy to see why Marvel didn’t make a big deal about trumpeting it as a special anniversary issue, and while I’m obliged to admit that Our Pal Sal and Jumbo John provide us with a spectacular splash page, it’s unfortunately somewhat downhill from there on.  Of course the artwork is solid, even if Cap’s expressions of surprise are a bit exaggerated at times, and despite my aversion to the character of Batroc, Sal quite nicely visualizes his agility, most notably in his getaway on page 7.  Yet having Jakar (who, if you can believe it, was brought back in the ’90s) be an alternate-universe Stranger makes no sense; some say Gerry’s script altered him from the actual Stranger to cover up coloring errors in the artwork.

Scott: Val's "problem" is laughable. Sharon is all understanding when she should be pissed and telling her to walk it off, grow a pair and stop trying to get into everyone's personal lives. I'm just a tad tired of the soap opera. What a craptacular 150th issue.

Peter: Again, I’ll cut the writer some slack here as he’s mopping up the outhouse that Friedrich left but The Stranger/Jakar storyline is definitely WTF. There must have been a better way of getting out of last issue’s Stranger revelation than revealing him to be an alien, one who thought it a good idea to impersonate a fifth-tier villain. Next issue: The Scorpion to the rescue! T-minus three and counting.

Astonishing Tales 12
Ka-Zar in
"Terror Stalks the Everglades!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Len Wein
Art by John Buscema, Neal Adams, John Romita, and Dan Adkins

A mysterious plane lands in Miami, and a cage containing Zabu falls and breaks open! Police race to corral the beast, but Ka-Zar is there to subdue his longtooth brother and escape the law to head off in a copter with Paul and Barbara, who we (finally!) learn are scientists working at a secret lab in the Everglades and looking for missing colleague Prof. Ted Sallis. Agents of AIM, who are also seeking Sallis, shoot down the copter and Ka-Zar and Zabu fend off some hungry crocs. At the complex, we learn the secret of the “Man-Thing”: Scientist Ted Sallis crashed his car, after injecting a sample of the Ultimate Solider formula into his bloodstream, which combined with the primal ooze to turn him into Man-Thing. The polluted professor shambles back to the laboratory and finds old friend Dr. Calvin in trouble with the locals, so he violently dispatches with them, all to the horror of Barbara and Paul—until Dr. Calvin is shot and put in a coma! As the flashback ends, Ka-Zar hears (and smells) Man-Thing, who’s trapped in a pit by the AIM agents but saved by the Jungle Lord. A fearful agent of AIM gets to know the Man-Thing’s deadly touch, then Ka-Zar is knocked into the pit—will he be destroyed by the gloomy gargantuan –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: I’m sorry, but this one is right out of throw-it-at-the-dart-board-and-see-what-sticks plot school. AIM shows up out of the bee-keeping blue? Ted Sallis, aka Man-Thing is worked into a Ka-Zar story? Ka-Zar can dig up a nice white shirt and Banner-style purple pants but can’t find comfortable shoes for the flight to Florida? Did he leave them at the security check-in maybe? Confounding though it may be, thankfully this issue answers the year-long saga of Ms. Morse’s mysterious mission…and it’s met with both a big yawn and a big “Huh?” Even the normally solid John Buscema can’t get worked up here, whether it’s the heavy Dan Adkins inks or the atmospheric Neal Adams Man-Thing pages that fit in less than Zabu in a Miami petting zoo. Seriously, the pus-filled, gruesome Man-Thing and the prissy-haired, abs of steel Ka-Zar don’t make the best couple for a comic book. It’s like they ran out of Ka-Zar nonsense and threw in a reprint of something else to kill some time while Thomas and Buscema took a nap. Which is almost what I felt like doing.

Scott: Another Buscema production. Put a helmet on Ka-Zar and he's Thor. It's cool to see Man-Thing again, I always enjoyed him more than DC's Swamp Thing. Thank the Power Records Book and Record Set for that, I guess. Even in monochrome pencils, Neal Adams' work livens up this otherwise "same as always" story.

The Mighty Thor 200
"Beware! If This Be... Ragnarok!"
Story by Stan Lee and Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and John Verpoorten

The three Norn fates that orchestrated the current Mangog/Pluto version of Ragnarok watch, as Pluto is about to make prime cuts out of our Thunder God with his axe. Knowing it is not Thor’s time, they send a bolt of force to shatter the weapon of the Netherworld’s ruler, thus saving the Thunder God to live out his destiny as ordained. The sisters in the Twilight Well witness said destiny: Odin calls all his best forth, to witness the telling by Volla the Prophetess of a far distant day. It is Ragnarok no less, the time when all the forces of evil gather under the evil Loki, who is set to betray his brethren. Foolishly thinking he will rule at it’s climax, Loki eventually realizes that the end is the end for all, as even Odin and Thor cannot defeat the Midgard Serpent and Surtur the Fire Demon. After eons of time the world cools from the battle, and a new Asgard is formed. Odin informs his people however, that only those deemed worthy will return, giving food for thought for all to ponder. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I always found it a bit out of sync with the anniversary issues of Thor. Journey Into Mystery #100 was scarcely the beginning; now here we are at #200 (issue #300, which we won’t get to in this study, was the culmination of a great arc that attempted to tie a great deal of the Thor mythology together with the more current cosmic Celestials). It always made Thor seem like he’d been around longer than he had. And in true Marvel fashion, we’re offered a break from the continuing storyline, to take a look at one of the storylines that was of the most essence in the Thunder God’s vocabulary: Ragnorak. Somewhat cleverly, we borrow from Stan’s old telling and get a Buscema update. It’s the classic version, complete with Midgard Serpent and Surtur the Fire Demon, not the “modern” Marvel version of Mangog. Like a movie that uses good editing (brings a few Outer Limits to mind) to tell a story we already know, we get a pretty satisfying telling here. The Norn Fates give us just a little originality that ties us to present times. Now, back to that present…

Joe: Every time Thor did Ragnarok, I paid attention, having borrowed D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths from the library dozens of times in my slightly nerdy youth. Of course, this one was a little before my library time, but I think I saw a reprint sometime down the line somewhere. Ragnarok! Yay!

Scott: Ragnarok. Again? Did they actually commit the 200th issue to a side trip to Ragnarok so we an see Odin tell his people that only the faithful get let into the Kingdom of God or whatever? It was interesting to see the proposed final battles, but it just came out of nowhere and feels meaningless in the middle of a totally different story. They covered all this in Tales of Asgard long ago. It's a great story, but it could have waited. Was this some kind of fill in issue? Very disappointing.

Matthew: Kinda cool to see how each of this month’s anniversary issues handles the occasion (even if I can’t comment on Rawhide Kid #100!).  This one’s a hybrid, with a main story by Stan, a prologue and epilogue by Gerry, and pencils throughout by Big John; that structure, and the way it’s shoehorned into the current plotline, would otherwise suggest some sort of an inventory story or fill-in, but I gather Stan just wanted to be part of this historic milestone.  Of course, he’s retelling the “Tales of Asgard” depiction of Ragnarok he and Jack Kirby did years ago, yet with inks by Verpoorten—whom I’ll certainly take over Colletta any day, if I can’t have Sinnott—the artwork measures up to the standards set by the King, and Stan’s script is satisfyingly dramatic.

Peter: A weird one this one, foretelling Ragnarok as told in a flashforward (young Lost writers were taking note, no doubt) by Volla, the Prophetess, all being told as a cautionary tale by three hags, debating the merits of saving The Thunder God from Pluto. The never-ending buffet of world-ending cataclysms served up by Stan Lee is starting to taste like day-old mashed potatoes but this issue ain’t so bad. Besides, if we’re to read The Mighty Thor each and every month, we better get used to Armageddon, right? Considering the alternative would be The Wrangling Ringmaster and His Circus of Grime, I'll be patient. This could be the precursor to What If?

The Incredible Hulk 152
"But Who Will Judge The Hulk?"
Story by Gary Friedrich and Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dick Ayers

Military planes attack the Hulk in the desert once again, as General Ross commands them. Joined by both Captain America and Nick Fury, Thunderbolt Ross has a grand new scheme in capturing the Hulk. Using a powerful net that lets off electricity, the planes are able to incapacitate the Hulk. Once under military custody, it is revealed that the Hulk will stand trial for conspiracy to destroy. As the super-hero community reacts to the news, Matt Murdock agrees to represent the Hulk at his trial, while Reed Richards, aka Mister Fantastic, feels that it is the right thing to do to speak up in Banner's defense. Back in his human form, Banner is aboard a military plane that is taking him to New York where the trial will take place. So he doesn't turn back into the Hulk, Banner is under heavy sedatives. This makes it very difficult for him to confer with Murdock about setting up his defense. Threatening that a mistrial will be ruled if Banner is unable to get a fair defense, Murdock is able to talk Ross into giving Bruce a stimulant so he is more coherent. Once back to normal, Banner turns into the Hulk. Everyone is afraid that he will destroy the plane before it will land, but Murdock is able to soothe him until they reach New York. After the plane lands, the suspicious Hulk starts to go berserk. The Fantastic Four, whom have been waiting, prepare to stop him. -Tom McMillion

50,000,000 Ayers fans can't be wrong
Tom McMillion: For an issue boasting so many guest stars, this was just boring. It's hard to suspend
belief when characters act so stupidly. Thunderbolt Ross allows Murdock to talk him into giving Banner a little pick-me-up injection aboard the plane with nothing to contain him should he turn into the Hulk. Even though he is a hero, Daredevil shows that he has no problem acting like a scumbag lawyer when he needs to.

Matthew: This is one of Englehart’s early, uncredited collaborations with Hulk vet Gary Friedrich, who gives Goodwin (replaced by Stainless Steve in January) a two-issue breather while Archie introduces Luke Cage.  Here, Gary is teamed for the second time this month with penciler and fellow MU punchline Dick Ayers, and while it’s damning with faint praise to say that the results outshine their work on Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen, Greenskin looks surprisingly good, which I am happy to attribute to Frank Giacoia’s inks.  At the risk of being too partisan, I am equally willing to give credit to Steve’s influence on the script, which makes a commendable effort to tie in with the current continuity of both Captain America and Daredevil.

Scott:  This is an interesting idea, but the execution is lacking. Dick Ayers returns to bedevil fans with his hideous pencils. The reference material is more obvious than ever as he traces over Jack Kirby's earlier drawings of the green goliath. His Banner looks even worse. The credits say the art was "aided" by Herb Trimpe and "practically the whole bullpen." Well, Ayers needed the help. Why does the Hulk have one eye closed so damned often? The writing isn't much better, with Ben Grim conveniently forgetting the good will between him and Banner not long ago. There's bull-headed and then there's just fitting the needs of the plot. Murdock is an idiot, he certainly should have known better than to get Banner into a position where he could Hulk Out. Why couldn't this be done after the plane landed? Ross is a bigger schmuck, making the Hulk think it was a trick because he can't use his indoor voice. This is the same Ross who tried this identical tactic to calm the Hulk, and had it ruined by his "trigger happy fools" in the air. Yes, a great idea, but an impossibly stupid issue.

Fantastic Four 123
"This World Enslaved!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Reed Richards has hijacked Galactus’ ship from orbit while the god-like being was occupied on battling below. Having figured out it’s technology, he knows how to set the ships button to destruct—which is exactly what he threatens to do if Galactus doesn’t hightail his butt away from Earth forever. Even without any cards, Galactus isn’t easily swayed; without any joy at the destruction he wreaks, and hinting at a loneliness only he knows, he fears death not. He gives the Fantastic Four until sundown to come to his terms: the Silver Surfer as his slave, or the end of the world. During those precious few hours the military led by the infamous General Ross, attack, infuriating the mighty being. Meanwhile Reed talks to the President (Nixon) to try and convince him to hold off his forces until his plan can work. Reed returns the ship to its master, surrendering to his terms…or not. Having programmed the ship to enter the Negative Zone instead of our space, where there will be worlds without end for nourishment, Reed has in effect tricked Galactus. Thinking he must follow his former master as he did give his word, the Surfer doesn’t want to stop when Reed begs him to wait (not wanting him to be trapped in the Negative Zone too). The military shoots Reed for what they view as his betrayal. Mortally wounded, Reed is moments from death. Johnny and Ben fight back against the army, as the Surfer takes Reed to a quiet place where he can restore his fading life with cosmic energy. Passing by the home of Agatha Harkness, they ask her for help. She uses her magic powers to help Reed project his message throughout world: we’re safe! The President calls off the attack on Ben and Johnny, as the army gives a half-hearted apology. -Jim Barwise

Matthew: Due to cuts in the treasury edition, I’m not sure precisely where #122 ends and this begins, but it’s apparently somewhere in the midst of Reed’s hijacking Galactus’s ship (Taa II, as the MCDb helpfully tells us), which was the only plot element in this arc that really grabbed me.  In fact, now that I’ve heaped so much abuse on the resurgent Stan’s scripting of the tetralogy, I’ll give credit where it’s due and say that the conclusion redeemed much of what went before, with Reed’s solution to the Galactus threat ingenious, surprising and—natch—eminently logical.  Of course, the Buscema/Sinnott artwork was never less than spectacular, but here it’s transcendent, and with all due respect to Kirby, this to me is what the FF is supposed to look like.

Mark: Prof. Matthew nailed the headline: Stan flipped the script, delivering a decent finale after an extremely lame-o four issue set-up. Galactus' comeback to Reed's threat to destroy the Big G's ship was classic: "The conquest of life has afforded me no joy! What then shall I fear in my meeting with death?" Hard to blackmail a guy ready to fist-bump the Reaper. Enjoyed the Dick Nixon cameo but have to wonder if Stan's portrayal of the Trickster going all Munich-appeasement toward the Purple Planet Eater landed him on the White House Enemies List – "Listen Henry, we might have to destroy the earth in order to save it."

Peter: Just like the “good ol’ days” of the world misunderstanding The Four with this issue’s attack by the army. Involving Agatha Harkness seems like a stretch of Biblical proportions. Is she really so strong that she can project Reed’s message across the world? How many times do we have to witness Johnny spout such inanities as "No one threatens The Human Torch!" just before the villain extinguishes him and basically puts him out of action? Fire doesn't seem to harm many of these super-baddies, do it? I do like Stretch’s aside to The Surfer: “Oh, there’s Agatha’s place. She’s a witch and my son’s his nanny. We didn’t know she was a witch when we hired her but she’s come in handy!” How did Roy miss out on a Marvel Team-Up of Agatha and Doc Strange?

Scott: What a crappy cover. The Thing at gunpoint! Agatha Harkness with her hands in the air! Nixon Cranky! Wow. Let me buy five copies! This is another slender month when it comes to stories. Nixon again has a few panels and they just can't resist making a snide comment about "an election coming up." The Galactus story is the same old, same old. The only thing that's even close to clever is the resolution, where Reed tricks Galactus into going into the Negative Zone where there will be worlds aplenty. So, the lives in that dimension are less worthy of life as those in this universe? Wow, great thinking, Reed.

Mark: The Surfer stays in cue-the-halo sacrificial character, willing to return to Big G's service for the Greater Good, but SS healing Reed from a mortal gunshot wound is pushing the J.C. analogy to the heretical limit. What I didn't buy was the Army going all bang-bang on the FF, even under gung-ho Thunderbolt Ross. It ain't the Hulk yer troops are opening fire on, General. Nixon just busted you ta buck private. Likewise, Reed's setting the ship's controls for the Negative Zone without access to a dimensional door had me raising a skeptical eyebrow, but I'll let that slide 'cause who's not excited about the promised return next ish of the Creature from the Lost Lagoon? Ah, Stan, market research says not one fan is queuing up at the Rexall. Shit! Is it too late to book the Infant Terrible?

Jim: Agreed with my fellows that some of the elements are far-fetched: Agatha Harkness projecting Reed’s message throughout the world, Reed making quick work of figuring out Galactus’ technology for example. But when a great plot satisfies the motivational and character elements, it transcends certain technical absurdities every time (hmmm, Outer Limits keeps coming to mind this week).  I like how Galactus pulls a chance out of seeming defeat when he initially diffuses Reed’s plan, yet even the mouse (or ant) can outwit the cat if it has the element of surprise. Perhaps believable too, that for Galactus, mere survival alone can’t be all that fulfilling after millennia without change. And the Silver Surfer, trapped again…”born for the gods, and trapped among men.”

The Amazing Spider-Man #109
"Enter: Dr. Strange!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro

Quick-thinking Peter finds a way to take off after the abducted Flash by ducking into a washroom, changing into Spidey, zipping up a web dummy and faking a Parker-napping, which fools Gwen and the Feds. His spider-sense begins tingling soon after, but it’s from an appearance of Dr. Strange’s astral form, which forces our hero to follow it to Strange’s groovy Greenwich Village pad. The mystical maven updates Spidey on Flash’s situation, which reveals the High Priest from the Vietnam temple is entranced, not dead—but only Flash’s death can awaken him! As the web-swinger and the wizard head ‘cross town, the priest’s daughter Sha Shan seemingly tries to kill Flash, but is stopped by the ritual-loving bad guys. Gwen fusses over the missing Peter and apologetically tells off an understanding Aunt May. The sacrifice of Flash begins, but the odd couple of heroes barges in, with Doc Strange using his Mystic Arts and Spidey his Arachnid Arts to beat the goons and save the high priest from his protective trance.-- Joe Tura

Scott:  Again, I'm inclined to wonder why Peter just doesn't use his photographer job to get him out of sight. By running off to get "a better angle to take pictures" would save him this contrived storyline about not looking like a coward to Gwen or anyone else. Of course, Gwen could counter with "please don't put yourself in danger over silly pictures" and still leave him in the same situation, but he would look less stupid. Gwen's outburst toward Aunt May was a nice development, but man what a bitch! On the other hand, it's good to see Gwen give out some solid personality and put Peter in a tough spot, relationship wise. It's always fun to see Dr. Strange and I enjoy it when the heroes approach and serve as allies. No forced fighting here. Sha-Shan will return. The art, again, is to die for. A more mystical conclusion than I expected, but still well done. The title feels back on track for the moment.

Joe: Spidey Team Supreme Lee and Romita are in classic form for this issue, from the ridiculously wordy splash page to the neatly wrapped-up-but-still-leaving-room-for-Parker-angst ending. And my beloved web dummy returns, but is sadly left all alone on a rooftop to melt away—without ruining Peter’s snazzy yellow jacket, of course. Speaking of snazzy, I think Jazzy John draws a heck of a mean Doc Strange. The dialogue is straight out of the Sorcerer’s Cliché Manual, but he looks quite dashing here, except for the lack of dynamic Colon-style cape. Complete with foreign intrigue, a super-short Gwen vs. Aunt May tiff and the quickest dispatching of a bunch of thugs ever, the mildly soap opera-esque plot plays out nicely. Best of all, next issue promises The Gibbon! Yay! Wait, The Gibbon? Ugh.

Matthew: I enjoyed the conclusion of this yarn even more than part one, and the presence of the “surprise guest star”—who’s plastered all over the cover anyway—has everything to do with it.  Spidey’s reunion with Dr. Strange (after their initial encounter in the Ditko-fest Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2) is perfectly timed amid the latter’s big comeback, which Stan continues next month with his revived solo series in Marvel Premiere #3.  Romita’s self-inked rendition of Strange is among the best I’ve seen by a non-Doc artist, and the mutual respect between the two allies bespeaks the mage’s gravitas, as well as making a nice change of pace from the usual MARMIS…although I would have preferred a more otherworldly adventure.

Mark: I cracked the (Doc) Strange cover anxiously, braced for Stan to again blow the pay-off but fear not, True Believer, 'cause this time he sticks the landing, proving the Always Alliterative One ain't ready to be trundled off to the rest home just yet. A classic "web-dummy" diversion allows Pete to go after Flash without Gwen thinkin' her main squeeze yellow, and the good doctor's astral appearance (which first seems a LCC - Lucky Comic Coincidence - but is rationally explained by tale's end) inter-cuts plot exposition in a believable manner, justified by the Doc's All-Seeing amulet. Sha Shan pulling a knife on captive Flash is a nice bit of misdirection (she was going to cut him...loose) and Gwen snapping, in essence, "Back off, ya old bitty" at Aunt May shows the oft-passive blonde growing a spine. Both are Grade A stuff, old master Stan milking sub-plots for maximum effect.

Peter: Yes, Doctor Strange made a great "surprise" guest star and I thought the motivation (he hears the voice of the old man from the beyond reaching out to anyone who can hear) worked much better than the usual "I was in the neighborhood and here's The Amazing Spider-Man. I should fight him!" routine.  What doesn't work at all and is, in fact, grating is "the bi-monthly bad mood Gwen." The beautiful blonde needs to see her OBGYN quickly. I'd suspect that has to be behind her sudden, maniacal outburst directed at on-the-verge-of-a-heart-attack Aunt May. "He's not a boy! It's the man I love! Let go of him, you old crone!" Stan used to do this soap opera stuff so well. Flash's comment, while awaiting death, may be a spot of moralizing from The Man but I found it extremely effective. You won't find me admitting to that too much when discussing political issues in Marvel's funny books.

Mark: Another classic Jazzy Johnny tussle leads up to the happy ending, leavened by our hero's on-going romantic angst. Finally, Dean Peter might order me to come decked out as Ant-Man (or worse, Paste Pot Pete) at the upcoming annual Marvel U Cos-Play Kegger and Pageant Show if I failed my critical duties by not fingering this issue's one big boner: the notion that a monk, no matter how tuned-in to Celestial Cosmic Vibes, can survive an artillery barrage simply by going into a trance – "Hey, Sarge! This chunk o' monk has a real groovy aura!" Ha, no Paste Pot for me! You'd better be on your toes, Prof Joe!

Joe: In an editorial balloon, Stan says he can’t remember the last Spidey-Dr. Strange team-up. Well, 1972 brought one of the most memorable of them all, that I’m hoping to finish a Sunday Special on before the 1972 semester zips by. Sorry, Dean Pete, I’m trying to get my lesson plan in place as fast as I can!

Marvel Feature 3
The Defenders in 
"A Titan Walks Among Us!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru and Bill Everett

The space capsule CASTOR-AND-POLLUX I makes a rough re-entry after a strange encounter in space. Once downed in the sea, they find themselves at the mercy of a giant squid. To the rescue comes Namor, the Sub-Mariner and, before you can say MARMIS, the fish-man is threatened by the Navy, Army, and super-hip Hulk envoy Jim Wilson. To the surprise of all involved, the men of the capsule emerge and express their disdain for American space ingenuity, claiming they were railroaded into taking the mission. Bizarrely, new photographers snap photos but none of the images develop! In no time, the two astronauts have quit the space race and signed a TV contract. Quickly, their new show, The Astro-Nuts debuts and they and their co-star Xemnu (a giant Yeti with a steel yarmulke) are instant celebs. Alarmed by the effect the show is having on youngsters, Jim Wilson enlists the aid of Doctor Strange to find out what’s going on backstage. In an alarming bit of illusion, the Doc transforms himself into The Hulk and signs on as a guest star. There they discover that Xemnu is the same Xemnu who attempted to enslave earth a mere decade before and has come back to steal earth children in order to repopulate his planet. The combined strength of the returning Namor, Doctor Strange, and the authentic Hulk defeat the evil alien. Namor and The Huk are then attacked by the army and swear never to form as The Defenders again, come hell or high water. Stay tuned. -Peter Enfantino

Scott: Ross Andru strikes again. The splash page alone (above) took the wind out of this for me. Is the Hulk supposed to be dancing or doing his Donkey Kong impression? Bill Everett's inks are evident on the drawings of Namor's face and every time I see him, it makes the book better for a fleeting moment. Then it ends and I wonder if I'll ever enjoy this title.

At nearly seven feet tall, Thunderbolt Ross still struggled to
see over Jim Wilson's 'fro.
Peter: How many times can this trio be brought together artificially (while also realistically) to fight as a team only to be disbanded twenty pages later? The answer is once. You’ll note this is their third appaearance. How long until Jim Wilson, with his crazy wide eyes and freakishly high brow, is revealed to be Black Leader? Where’s Tony Isabella when a chance like this comes around? I love how Crazy-Eyes Jim takes a Defenders-tour of the city. "Hmmm, I'll walk down this street -- Hey, there's Namor! I'll stroll down this avenue <gulp> there's Doc Strange!" Presumably, all the other Marvel heroes were out of town that week. As Prof. Matthew notes below, the art is a biiiiig step up from the junk we were handed in the first issue, otherwise this is just good gawd awful in a Larry Buchanan Movie-of-the-Week way.

Yet another BBC television celeb
reaches out to his young audience
Matthew: After what happened in #1, I can’t believe they’ve allowed Wild Bill to ink Ross again, but he must have promised to behave himself, because this time, Andru’s work looks like, well, Andru, especially the faces of the astronauts on pages 2 and 3, while Namor comes off particularly well in page 4, panel 5.  I hate to say it, but although Roy created the Defenders, they will be handled better by Stainless Steve (who takes over to launch their solo mag in August), even if Roy gets points from me for name-checking The Andromeda Strain and Criswell.  Here, his penchant for trolling through Marvel’s history somewhat backfires as he resurrects the silly-looking Xemnu from the pages ofJourney into Mystery, at the insistence of absolutely nobody.

Peter: How would the people of earth forget the giant Jewish snowman that threatened enslavement of all? A bit short-sighted. Xem will return soon in The Defenders #12 and we'll have to monitor the public's memory at that time.

Marvel Spotlight 4
Werewolf By Night in
"Island of the Damned"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Ploog 

Jack Russell awakens to find writer Buck Cowan skulking around the house, researching a story. He tells Jack his stepfather sold the family castle to “some dude named Blackgar”, who had it shipped to Europe and rebuilt. Cowan shows up the next morning disguised as sailor Clancy, distracting Philip with a fake boat issue and fake heart attack long enough for Jack to head to the mariner and speed off on a boat in search of the castle and the Darkhold. A storm knocks Jack for a loop, where shady Garth finds him and brings him to Miles Blackgar’s island, where the mysterious Blackgar runs an “institution”. Bespectacled daughter Marlene warns Jack of the danger when he inquires about the Darkhold, but manages to spill the beans about its whereabouts. Jack spies on Blackgar’s experiments, then finds the Darkhold in the library—but suddenly transforms when the moon turns full! The beast wrecks the lab and frees Blackgar’s hideous experiments-gone-wrong before battling Garth (who throws a heck of a mean round kick, by the way) and leaving the henchman to the creatures to ravage. Marlene leads werewolf-Jack to her surprisingly strong father, and he ends up throwing the so-called scientist out a window. Marlene shows up again, but her cold touch makes the werewolf berserk! As she slaps her glasses off, he soon learns Marlene’s secret—because her gorgon-like gaze turns the werewolf into stone!!! –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: So Jack’s biological father was a well-known European warlock. Wait, wasn’t he a werewolf? Am I misremembering? Was he a warlock that could also change into a werewolf? Was he a warlock first, then was turned into a werewolf? Did he eat some wolfsbane? Did he not shave for a decade? Is young Mr. Conway misremembering his own creation? Am I spending way too much time on one word balloon on page 4 of this mess? Well, yes. So let’s move on.

Peter: Jack Russell's third adventure continues a downward spiral we're doomed to witness for a couple years to come. Really folks, we just report the news, we don't make it.

Joe: What’s with the Philip Marlowe-type dialogue in this issue? “You’ve got some fast explaining to do—before I introduce you to my fist!” “Easy, kid—please! These dentures cost money.” “He towered over Cowan like a bad dream.” “But even at thirty knots, the ship wasn’t moving as quickly as my mind!” “Take it nice and slow, like, ‘less you want a steel-jacket in your grimy guts.” At least periods are back instead of exclamation points after every sentence, or maybe I just noticed. Either way, that’s no reason to be excited unless you obsess about this like me. Otherwise, this one rates a 4 out of 5 on the “Yeesh” meter. Jack forgets that there’s a full moon until he actually changes into WWBN, which was annoying. Writer Buck Cowan is a walking cliché, although his disguise is so wacky I kinda hope he turns up again. The plot is a mish-mash of The Island of Dr. Moreau, a bad film noir and, well, Werewolf By Night. Easily the worst of the three Marvel Spotlights on WWBN so far, including the mostly mediocre Ploog art, (except for page 17, which is pretty damn good to be honest). A lot of times it seems like the heads were glued on to the bodies of characters, like cutting up Colorforms® (not that I ever did that as a kid….oh, no….). A bit of a letdown for me after two decent issues, but the end is so out of left field that I was momentarily intrigued. But there is good news! According to the “Spotlight Mail” letters page, which has three letters that overly praise the pretty good-at best Marvel Spotlight #2, this is the last WWBN in this book because “Gerry and Mike are gearing up for Werewolf By Night #1, on sale in just a few months.” I can hear the Dean raking his lupine-inspired nails on the blackboard already….


Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen #1 ->
Fear #8
Harvey #3
Li'l Kids #6
Marvel's Greatest Comics #35
Marvel Tales #35
Marvel Triple Action #3
Mighty Marvel Western #17
Millie the Model #196
Monsters on the Prowl #17
Our Love Story #17
<- Outlaw Kid #10 
Rawhide Kid #100
Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos #99
The Western Kid #4
The X-Men #76

In addition to being grindingly methodical, I read Combat Kelly and the Deadly Dozen #1 in Marvel Firsts: The 1970s Vol. 1 because I wanted to see their take on one of my all-time favorite films, The Dirty Dozen.  A veteran of Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos (where the Dozen debuted last month in #98, sans Kelly and under Cpl. Dum Dum Dugan’s leadership), Gary Friedrich remained on board with Dick Ayers for all nine issues; sadly, even Mooney’s inks cannot salvage this.  No surprise it didn’t hit double digits:  introducing 13 characters is doomed, their ethnic and gender diversity is unbelievable, the dialogue wall-to-wall clichés, and we’re asked to believe they go into battle brandishing a “brolly,” a bow and arrow…and a guitar!  As a lad, I saw the occasional Howlers yarn bought by brother Steve, but I am even less familiar with Marvel’s Westerns than with their war comics, and after reading The Outlaw Kid Vol. 2 #10 and Red Wolf’s bow in Marvel Spotlight #1, I suspect that’s not much of a loss.  You may well ask what #10 is doing in Marvel Firsts—or, in my case, “first and only”; the prior issues, reprinting ’50s material by artist Doug Wildey, sold well enough that Marvel created new stories, although the first of those merely retells his origin “in the style of a Western Spider-Man!”  Like Combat Kelly, it’s a Friedrich/Ayers production, yet since the Friedrich in question is Mike rather than Gary, the script is tolerable (if familiar to viewers of many a cinematic oater). -Matthew Bradley


  1. With all due respect to Professor Joe, I think the backstory of Man-Thing's reappearance in ASTONISHING TALES #12 merits some explanation. He had, of course, been introduced in the B&W SAVAGE TALES #1 back in May '71, but the second issue for which the monochrome Wein/Adams pages (which I believe were tinted yellow, although I have never actually laid eyes on this issue) were created never happened. So this was a way to make sure that story didn't go to waste, by incorporating it as a flashback in Ka-Zar's own strip, thereby providing Manny with his four-color debut. And as Dean Enfantino noted last week, he will soon get his own strip in FEAR.

    However, I can't criticize Professor Joe for writing "Colon" (as in Professor Gilbert) instead of "Colan" (as in Gene)...because I do the same thing all the damned time myself!

    1. Ah, thanks for the Man-thing math...and the correction of Colan.

  2. Professor Joe, I find it hard to believe that you had a nerdy youth considering you sported the Queens cool kid look of a leather vest and chain wallet.

    1. And don't think I missed the "head 'cross town" shout out! "You're a loser Parker, a loser!"

    2. Sorry one more thing: there's been a lot of Gil Kane bashing recently, but that cover for Marvel Feature 3 is a stunner.

    3. Leather vest was underutilized and never had a chain wallet. I think I was the only kid on the block who didn't have one!

      And the "head 'cross town" was planted just for you! "They can hold off an army in that moldy dump..."

  3. @Jim:
    I never read or collected Thor except the odd issue, but I stumbled accidently on this 300 saga, which was Thomas' last hurrah for Marvel at the time, if I remember correctly. The Celestials and Wagner's Ring, weird story. But very interesting.

    Combat Kelly, I never heard about. Strange that they thought a new WWII comic would sell in 72.