You couldn’t ask for a better snapshot than this of the new directions that characterized the start of Phase Two. Within a month or so in either direction, the writing duties were shifting over to Gerry Conway on Amazing Spider-Man, Roy Thomas on Fantastic Four, and Steve Englehart on Captain America, Avengers and, soon after, Incredible Hulk; new strips debuted starring Ghost Rider (in Marvel Spotlight) and Man-Thing (in Fear); and Marvel was launching a barrage of decidedly diverse new books such as Defenders, Doc Savage, Gunhawks, Spoof, Warlock, and Werewolf by Night. A few of these changes were transitory, but many had a long-standing, far-reaching and/or game-changing impact on the Bronze Age, the company—and even the medium.
This month the Bullpen welcomes, among other new artists and writers, “Far-Out Frank Brunner, who teamed up with (ahem!) oldtimer Barry Smith on a recent Dr. Strange mini-saga” in Marvel Premiere #4; “the Irreverent Billy Graham, who’s polishing the pencils on the latest Luke Cage landmark,” later celebrated for his work on the Black Panther’s series in Jungle Action; “‘Duke’ Wayne Boring, one of comicdom’s potent pioneers, whose recent Captain Marvel return [in #22] marks his first (but hopefully not his last) outing for the House of Ideas”; and George Alec Effinger, “an old crony and colleague of none other than Merry Gerry Conway,” who wrote him into Daredevil #78-79. SF author Effinger would pen scripts for Creatures on the Loose #18-25.
And now... October 1972 (Part One)!
Conan the Barbarian 19
“Hawks From the Sea”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Dan Adkins
On the warship of Yezdigerd, Prince of all Turan, Conan scoffs at a wooden idol of Tarim, Keeper of the Way. Enraged at the Cimmerian soldier-of-fortune’s blasphemy, a Turian soldier attacks: he is quickly overmatched, thrown overboard, and narrowly rescued before savaged by the man-eating sharks that prowl the Vilayet Sea. After tempers cool, Prince Yezdigerd tells Conan and Fafnir of his quest: they sail to the walled city of Makkalet to rescue the living descendant of Tarim, recently dethroned in a coup. If Conan and Fafnir join the Turian invaders, the Prince promises all the loot they can carry. When the Turan siege-fleet reaches Makkalet, volleys of flaming arrows begin to rain down from the city walls. Undaunted, Conan, Fafnir, and the rest of Yezdigerd’s army make the shore. But Kharam-Akkad, the wizard-priest of Makkalet’s king, summons nine identical and armored titans to destroy the Turians. The powerful brutes begin to lay waste to the army — Fafnir is apparently lost in the slaughter. But when Conan slays the middle of the nine titans with a mighty mace blow, the rest disappear in violent bursts of fire and smoke. The Turians gather their plentiful dead and make plans for another siege on Makkalet. -Tom Flynn
Tom Flynn: After an absence of two issues, Barry Smith returns, and by Crom, he must have put in some practice hours during his sabbatical. Even though my digital copy of this issue is rather murky, the art is simply awesome, Smith’s finest effort to date. He puts dynamic detail into the rather Islamic arms and armor of the Turians and the panel that reveals the city of Makkalet on page 15 is simply remarkable. It’s unclear if Fafnir is actually killed. I’ve mentioned that Smith draws the mirthful and mighty Fafnir in a rather Norse manner so it might be nice to see the Englishman’s take on the Thor universe. While Roy’s original story takes its time unfolding towards the to-be-continued conclusion, there is savage swordplay on nearly every page. Tough spelling on this one, and, for some reason, the Makkalet king is never given a name. I’d go with Lord Percival Simperfoot. The Hyborian Page reveals that Adkins was only able to ink half the issue — the rest were unadulterated Barry Smith pencils. I didn’t notice on the first read, but with a second look, perhaps that explains my reprint’s murkiness. Not that I’m complaining. I have a happy feeling that we are just starting a superior stretch of Conan the Barbarian. And of MU-era Marvel for that matter.
Mark Barsotti: Yes, it's great to have Barry Smith back on his signature title, but I was annoyed by all the panels in the second half that seemed incomplete or washed out. I blame the crude printing of the day, incapable of reproducing all of Smith's feather-light inking. The art we can see is sublime. I'll take washed out Smith over vivid Gil Kane any day.
Scott McIntyre: Barry Smith returns and he's even better than ever. Roy Thomas is also at the top of his game with this exceptional tale about the cost of war, the reasons we fight and the losses we sustain. Mostly because of Smith, this is the best issue in months. This return will be a short one, but for the nonce, I am content. Fafnir fell to the moat without Conan's knowledge and the Cimmerian refers to him at the end. Is his friend still alive? We'll find out next time.
Mark: Roy Thomas delivers another intense tale. Unlike Prof Tom, I'm pretty sure Fafnir's dead but, looking again, I see the flaming arrow only hit his arm, but the long tumble off the wall didn't increase his odds. The attack on Makkalet and its defense by a spectral home guard is a grand clash of arms, but between the tiny panels (32 panels, P's 26-28) and poor reproduction, the effect is a lot like watching a Nature Channel insect swarm on a phone-size screen: you know an epic battle's underway, but you can barely see it. It's not often you dock a book for technical difficulties, but the above limitations hindered my enjoyment, leaving me more annoyed than satisfied.
Astonishing Tales 14
"The Night of the Looter!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Buscema
(colored, partially redrawn and re-dialogued reprint from Savage Tales #1)
Ka-Zar stops a “long tail” from entering his forbidden cave and learns a swamp tank is the cause of the beast’s stampede. K-Z confronts Ralph and Carla, the greedy looters in the tank who are after his precious vibranium. Attacked by the swamp men aiding them, K-Z holds his own, protected by Zabu. Inside the tank, Carla puts off Ralph’s advances and later walks through the jungle, attacked by a snake and saved by K-Z and Zabu. The conniving Carla flirts with the jungle lord, who mocks civilization and starts to get interested in her, but the evil brunette drugs him! Carla replaces the bullets in Ralph’s gun with blanks, then the head off to the vibranium. Zabu revives K-Z, but when they find the bad guys, Zabu is held by the Swamp Men. To save his brother, K-Z opens the protected door to the vibranium—which melts the tank! The angry Swamp Men carry off Carla, and Ralph pursues, only to find his gun was useless and Carla was killed, but as Ka-Zar says “the jungle endures—forever.”—Joe Tura
Joe Tura: Didn’t know this was a reprint, but it makes sense. Meaning this is kinda lame and rushed and my digital copy has the art murky and unpolished. And it’s not related to anything that came before it. It’s also pretty dumb when Ka-Zar is saved by both water, which helps heal his wounds (his words, not mine), and Zabu, whose licking of the face wakes up a drugged K-Z. Yeesh. K-Z looks about as angry as we’ve ever see him which is fine, but it doesn’t save the mediocrity of this issue. The colorization looks a lot like when Ted Turner decided to colorize March of the Wooden Soldiers—unnecessary and unwatchable. Thankfully, this title is only published every other month! The backup feature, “Jann of the Jungle” isn’t worth writing about, so I’ll spare everyone. Although Jann does think awful quick on her feet.
The Amazing Spider-Man 113
"They Call the Doctor... Octopus!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita, Tony Mortellaro, and Jim Starlin
Doc Ock ambushes Spider-Man and knocks him off the building, where he drops the muscle-amplifying harness he’s holding. As the relentless Ock snares Spidey’s mask, the wall-crawler manages to web Ock’s glasses and the exhausted, stomach-cramping Spidey slips away. Randy Robertson finds the mask Ock tossed away and gives it to his Dad. At the former headquarters of the Kingpin, Ock gets info from henchman Bernie about a nightclub, then Bernie is killed by another hood who works for “Mister H”. Suddenly Doc Ock attacks the nightclub and quickly cleans house! Peter limps back to his apartment and passes out, waking to a worried Gwen and Harry, who called Doctor Bromwell to make a house call. The diagnosis: a cut nose and a possible ulcer, which would explain the stomach pains. But no rest for Mr. Parker, who develops some photos and heads to the Bugle to sell JJJ some pics of the battle with Ock, where he sees his mask hanging on a corkboard! Ned Leeds shares a lead with Peter about Aunt May, regarding a domestic employment agency, and Peter rushes off. Nabbing an imitation Spidey mask from a costume shop, he heads off to the agency, which is close to the gang battle he broke up last ish. As the stomach pains come back, Doc Ock strikes! A weakened Spidey manages to strikes back—wearing the power harness! With the last of his strength, Spidey smashes Ock, even though the harness ran out of power five minutes ago! But out of the shadows emerges Ock’s gang war rival—the flat-topped mobster Hammerhead! --Joe Tura
Joe: Love the Romita cover, a bit of a departure from the norm and with no “frame”, which foreshadows the Spidey mask hanging in JJJ’s office, with a Bugle clip that you know the old cigar-chompin’ crank would probably frame. Love the Romita splash page, an alternate camera angle to the epic final page of last issue, but it’s set two seconds later when Doc Ock’s tentacle bashes Spidey in the mush. Love that Doc Ock is insanely pissed and out of his mind with rage, probably more than ever. Love Ock’s insane vocabulary and endless insults, including “fool”, “unfortunate curiosity”, “my taciturn foe”, “unmerciful—uncompromising—and always—unrelenting!”, “unthinking infractions”, “meaningless prattle”, “cretinous clown” and “the most monstrous of idiots”. And that’s just the first five pages! Later Ock adds “costumed imbecile”, “uncannily fortunate imbecile”, “aggravating arachnid”, “dolt” (to a Hammerhead henchman), “hopelessly incompetent” (ditto), “fool”, “clown”, “clown”, “fool”, “total cretin”, “fool”. Nice guy, that Ock…and humble, too!
Scott: Holy Cow! It's Doc Ock! A very solid issue, with great pacing and dialog. Hardly a misstep this time around. Spidey losing his mask is an old chestnut but well done this time around. Very little is made of the moral implications of his stealing a new one. He's been doing some slipping recently and while it's no big deal in the overall scheme of things, it still adds something to the character. Sometimes the ends justify the means.
Peter Enfantino: I too have a soft spot for Hammerhead as he was one of the first Spidey villains I encountered upon my entrance into this strange world of comic fandom. Marvel always liked a big pop phenomenon (just ask Roy Thomas, who would slide in pop references constantly) so it was no surprise they'd "pay homage" to The Godfather by inventing a CCA-approved Corleone-type of their own. Of course, there's the "hard-as-a-rock head" gimmick to distance himself from Marlon (and, to be fair, Marvel already had a Godfather of their own in The Kingpin) but it's clear why the villain was thunk up. Whatever reason, he makes a perfect nemesis not for Spidey but for Ock. I'd be interested to hear the rest of what Ned Leeds had to say when he brought up domestic employment agencies when speaking to Peter about his loony MIA Auntie. Why would Ned think May would be off looking for a job at 91 years of age? That scene of Peter eyeing his own mask on the bulletin board of The Daily Bugle is a great one; I kept waiting for sharp-as-a-tack-or-maybe-not Robbie Robertson (who played a mean guitar during his night job, by the way) to notice the rip in the mask and the cut on Parker's nose and think "Hmmm. Could it be? Nahh!" Great art, great story, I love everything about this arc, save the May melodrama. Perhaps the best "Oh yeah" moment is when Spidey uses Doc's harness against him. I literally lunged off the couch, pumped my fists in the air and did my best Will Smith, "Yeah, baby, what I'm talkin' 'bout!". Then I sat down fast before my girlfriend could see me.
Mark: 9-27-13. Haven't cracked the cover yet, not even withdrawn ASM #113 from bag & board. Instead I simply stare at John Romita's textbook example of a perfectly composed cover: the b&w Bugle photo (credit Peter Parker), pinned to Spidey's mask, pinned to a bulletin board in what we assume is J.J.'s office. We already grok the interior tale, and the long form can only suffer compared to Jazzy Johnny's brilliance.
Scott: The good Doc is as menacing and ego-driven as ever. There's almost no wasted space here. Even Peter's ulcer, which could have been something of a letdown, is actually a natural development considering all the stress Parker is under. Peter Parker was always Stan's "everyman" character, and while the lad has gotten hip and more handsome since the early days, he still has to deal with the same BS as the rest of us. All around, a hell of a good issue, leaving us hanging with the first appearance of Hammerhead. Not my favorite character, but his intro is very well done.
Joe: Let’s face it. I love just about everything about this issue. This is vintage Amazing Spider-Man from start to finish, with classic art, boffo action scenes, a very Stan-esque script complete with super-long captions from Gerry, some personal drama for Peter with both the mask and the health issues and a new adversary to handle with the fun Hammerhead. It’s not perfect, but man, it’s damn good. And Prof. Matthew is spot on about the “Chocko!” sound f/x.
Peter: Yeah, but don't forget "Bok-O!" There's a missive on the letters page from future fantasy novelist, J. Michael Reaves.
Joe: Best letter in this month’s The Spider’s Web: “Dear Stan and John, To all ye Romita nay-sayers, I say thee FOOEY!!!” – Odin, Asgard, New York. And I take umbrage to J. Michael Reaves saying “Romita can’t draw Spider-Man”. What??? I say thee FOOEY to you, Mr. Reaves!!!
Mark: Good News: the story doesn't suffer much when we crack the cover. Unlike Profs Peter and Matthew, I never cared much for Flathead, but there's great bits here I'd long forgotten: Peter's ulcer ("Must strain harder, must reach...the Milk of Magnesia!"), the cheap "borrowed" from the costume shop mask that shows Spidey's eyes, even last-issue's maligned power harness coming into play for the final Ock smackdown. This one left me smiling, so maybe Hammerhead will prove more compelling than I remember (but come on: a guy bitten by a radioactive shark...).
The Avengers 104
"With a Bang-- And a Whimper!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Quicksilver is zipping through Australia with Larry Trask hanging onto his waist for dear life as they go in search of Wanda. Meanwhile, the rest of the Avengers are at the same mountain location Quicksilver is heading, battling Sentinels. After getting through their outer defenses, the team goes deeper as the Scarlet Witch is told that the Sentinels are going to harness her mutant powers to adjust the approaching solar flares to make the world just hot enough to render humans sterile. Then, the Sentinels will genetically create a new, more awesome race, without mutants. Quicksilver arrives with Trask, who is still having visions of death and destruction. After more fightin', Trask switches on a machine which causes all the mutants in the room to glow…including the lead Sentinel. The other Sentinels kill him and the giant husk falls on Trask, smashing him to pancake batter. The Avengers take Wanda and go home. All except for Pietro, who was last shown aghast at seeing something horrible appear before him… -Scott McIntyre
Scott: A pretty decent conclusion and Roy's final issue, according to the letter column. It's an action packed wrap up, but still feels a little padded as we follow the Avengers' journey to the center of the mountain base. As much as I've enjoyed Rich Buckler's work the last couple of issues, he comes up a shade short this time around. Something about his pencils make the characters seem a bit off model, Quicksilver and Wanda in particular.
Mark: Roy's Sentinel sign-off after his long tenure on the Avengers is a decent enough yarn, but his vision peaked with the Kree-Skull war, and we've kinda been treading water since (leaving the Grim Reaper sub-plot unresolved signals Roy's flagging interest), save for nudging the shimmering hormones between Vis and Wanda a bit further down the track.
Matthew: The aptly titled “With a Bang—and a Whimper!” ends Roy’s historic run of 70 oft-impressive issues, but as before, I sadly feel that the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The Buckler/Sinnott artwork remains uneven, and while it’s a clever resolution, I’m not sure I buy the idea that Master Mold’s successor, Number Two, can be a mutant. Roy lists his reasons for leaving in the lettercol: his new duties as EIC and Fantastic Four writer, a desire to spend more time with his wife, “and maybe, just maybe, a hint of a feeling that it was time for a change anyway—that perhaps a new and fresher hand at the helm of The Avengers might be interesting both to the readers—and to myself!” he concludes, thus displaying commendable self-awareness.
Peter: Pretty goofy that The Sentinels can't locate Marvel Girl (neither can the comic-reading public, for that matter) so they capture The Scarlet Witch because her "whereabouts are better known." I thought these Sentinels were equipped with some form of "mutant radar." I'm all for catchy villain handles, but I think the unfortunately monickered "Number Two" might just be the worst name a bad guy could have. So, for his last hurrah, The Rascally One decides to prose his fans to death. This just seems to go on and on without actually going anywhere. I'm reminded of the great Jim Steinman lyric: "There's nothing wrong with going nowhere, baby, but we should be going nowhere fast." I must say though, under different circumstances (say, the title was being handed over to Larry Leiber) I'd be crying in my granola over Roy leaving the title he was born to write. Based on my memories, I think we'll be okay.
Scott: So super heat will make humanity sterile? Really? Without cooking us all first? A tenuous plan at best and I can't imagine this is sound science, but there you have it. The story is okay, I guess, but a little on the overcooked side. Maybe Roy was hit by some solar flares while writing.
Matthew: “I don’t leave the strip without regret, though….For one thing, with Stan recently ceasing to write Spider-Man and the F.F., The Avengers had become the longest-running superhero title currently being written by the same author. And…I’ve been amazed and flattered to see the Vision grow slowly and maybe not too surely from just another pretty android into a hero nominated in a recent fandom poll as one of the most popular comix characters of 1971…[But] my hand-picked replacement, Steve Englehart, [is] one of the few comix scripters I know who’s as nutty over superhero groups as yours truly!” Proving that point as dramatically as can be, he inherited both The Avengers and The Defenders from Roy…and then had the two teams face off.
Mark: For R.T's swansong we get lots of Sentinel destruction, nicely rendered by first chop Buckler/Sinnott art, and Larry Trask's death lends the proceedings some weight (but while Earth's Mightiest briefly mourn Trask, they apparently also bury him in the anthill, laying crushed beneath a Sentinel) but it's hard to swallow the payoff. The notion that sweaty old Number 2 somehow transmogrified into both a human and a mutant by passing close to the sun is just pulling an ending out...see this month's FF review. Even with that groaner, it was satisfying to see Number 2 blasted into transistors by his fellow Sents. So as the Avenger's fly off into new hands, I offer an official Marvel U toast to Rascally Roy's tenure. No, every ish wasn't a classic, but his battling average gets him into the Hall of Fame.
Captain America and the Falcon 154
"The Falcon Fights Alone"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten
An imposter team of Cap and Bucky is beating the crap out of the Falcon while the real Captain America and Sharon Carter are on vacation in Mosca Cay, throwing muscle beach rejects named "Arnold" around. Fake Cap and Bucky take the Falcon and torture him in a Harlem warehouse to find out where the real (to them, the "new") Captain America is. Thanks to Jody Casper seeing the attack, a group of Harlemites (some grudgingly) go rescue their Hero. During the fight, Falcon notices the detail that proves this Captain America is a phony and that he and Bucky are out of time racists. Falcon gets to Avengers Mansion to warn them about the fake Cap, but it's too late. Not only has he already been there, he has discovered the location of the real Cap! -Scott McIntyre
Scott: Another solid chapter in this epic, setting into motion the long arc which will chip away at Cap's very ideals. Uncomplicated, fast moving, timely and fun, Steve Engelhart shows his stuff once again, bringing the Falcon to the forefront and even giving most of the dudes in Harlem an identity. Leila is there, but less annoying and more supportive. Rafe Michel remains belligerent, but not annoyingly so. He's pretty much forced into the group that saves Sam. Even Morgan the mob boss turns up.
Mark: Having heard senior staff at august Marvel U wax rhapsodic about Steve Englehart’s run on Cap (which has been a dead zone since the Red Skull-cosmic cube epic a few years back) like giddy schoolgirls, it seemed a good time to pick up the title, if for no other reason than to reign in the hosannas, to deflate the aura of triumphalism before we're ordered to bend the knee and bare witness to Mr. Englehart's coronation as Comics' sur-genius storyteller. First dart in the puffed-up PR balloon:
Englehart's faux Shaft street dialogue can suck as hard as any Marvel scribe of the era: (Rafe on P. 6) "If that Uncle Tom's got his hash in a sling you think I'm gonna give a good lump? Who needs that bootlickin' jiver." A crisp sawbuck to anyone who can find the phrases, "...got his hash in a sling," "give a good lump," or "bootlickin' jiver" in the urban lexicon. Dart #2: WTF caption writing, as the bros batter Bucky on P. 15, "The Blue and Red form begins to collapse, to grab its lucid weariness and drop to the cool, grey concrete.” To grab its lucid weariness? (i) What does that even mean? P. 28: "So now all the players stand poised upon this stage we call a world." Yes, Shakespeare weeps.
Matthew: Obviously, the bulk of last issue was devoted, if I may mix metaphors, to Englehart’s clearing the decks for action and setting the stage for the drama to follow, so the story effectively begins in earnest here, with the false Cap solidifying Falc’s commitment to the real one and nifty art by Sal and inker du jour Verpoorten (last seen in #150). Roy’s planting the seed for this arc in Steve’s head, and selecting him to take over The Avengers, suggests a fruitful relationship between the new writer and the newly promoted Editor in Chief. Interestingly, the two-Caps plotline serves a dual purpose: it enables Stainless to answer a question that has been dangling ever since ’64, and ties in thematically with his long-term focus on Cap’s very identity.
Peter: If I'd not read this arc dozens of times in the past forty years, I'd be wondering exactly how Steve Englehart will unpaint himself out of the corner he's composed. Has to be one of SHIELD's never ending cyborg-whatchamacallits or The Red Skull dressed as his arch-enemy, right? It's all a dream devised by Mysterio while in town to rob a bank? Not even close. Though Part Two tips the scales towards near perfection, I wouldn't be Dean Pete if I didn't get snarky even when dealing with The Greatest Comic Book Story of All Time. It borders on idiotic that The Falcon brushes off contacting Fury because ol' Nick been going through hard times with his girl. Really? Two nuts are out to kill Captain America and we're worried about whether the flowers and candy did the trick?
John: You're just not as sensitive as The Falcon, Professor Pete.
Matthew: On his website, Englehart noted, “This was the ’70s—prime anti-war years—and here was a guy with a flag on his chest who was supposed to represent what most people distrusted. No one knew what to do with him. Me, I had been honorably discharged from the Army two years earlier as a conscientious objector—but I was supposed to also be a writer. So I did something for the first time that marked everything I’ve written since. I said, ‘Okay, if this guy existed, who would he be?’ Not ‘Who am I?,’ but ‘Who is Captain America?’ Six months later, the wayward book slouching toward cancellation was Marvel’s Number One title, and I seemed to have found my career. I’d also found an artist…who could draw exactly what I envisioned…”
Peter: The title, "The Falcon Fights Alone," is right on the money. This is pretty much a solo outing and the only star-spangler on display is the faux version. Steve Englehart does something no other writer before him has been capable of: make racism in a Marvel comic book come off as serious rather than borderline parody. "The Other" Cap and Bucky are not only certifiably insane, they're also (SPOILER ALERT!) products of their generation, with a "different" attitude towards African-Americans. Hearing either one using the word "Coloreds" is chilling and, I'd suspect, the powers that be had to do a little sweet talking before the issue was passed through the CCA. The solidifying of the neighborhood army is handled better in the handful of panels it merits than any incident of integration ever pictured in this once-pathetic title. Fasten your recliner chair seat belt. It's about to get real good!
Scott: The only appearance of the real cap is played for laughs as he humiliates Arnold the Body Builder. Everything in this issue is just right, from the writing to the art. A thing of beauty, this title is back on solid ground and it will stay here for a good long while.
Peter: The art is flawless, with Sal out-Kirbying The King (but, to be fair, Sal was always my favorite Cap artist) at every turn. Bucky looks suitably 1940s-ish and the fake Cap looks just like... a fake Cap. I don't know how Buscema did it but I'd swear you can tell the difference. Yeah, I know it's only a comic book... well, no, it's not just a comic book. This is art. Classes should be taught using this story as example. I'll be buried not in a suit but in pages from these issues. Steve Englehart has taken out a restraining order on me.
Mark: Sal Buscema, always a dependable meat 'n' potatoes artist, does solid work here, but he hardly out-Kirbys the King, the Dean's at-the-laughing-gas-let's-put-Sal-in-the-Louvre exhortations aside. The real Cap gets eleven tiny panels in his own title. Quality over quantity perhaps? Nah, instead of a meaningful moment between Steve and Sharon we get a full page of Charles Atlas bully on the beach nonsense. The rest of the mag is the Falcon's show, and it is compelling stuff. Bad-Cap and Bucky as cold war relics and racist torturers? That's a great hook, dramatically played out as the hood rallies to save the Falcon, scenes that ring true once Englehart reins in the jive. There's too much lily-gilding later, with Sam constantly teasing that he knows Bad-Cap’s identity without ever revealing it, even to the Avengers, and the last panel ("If I lose, Cap Dies!") needlessly over-hypes the drama. It's another minor irritation, and there's too many here to proclaim this - outside the Enfantino household – "The Greatest Comic Book Story of All Time" with a straight face. Put down the giggle gas and settle for, simply, it's a great story.
Peter: Where the hell did that delete key go?
Daredevil and the Black Widow 92
"On the Eve of the Talon!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Matt Murdock is enraged at Natasha’s disappearing act, but her chauffeur Ivan convinces Matt to put his energies to better use. The two of them head out separately to find her, the former as Daredevil. DD breaks up a robbery, which is observed my criminal Damon Dran from his limousine. It is Dran who has captured Danny French and the Black Widow, knowing that French knows the whereabouts of the globe from Project Four that holds the key to atomic destruction. Danny won’t talk, but a new development arises: a San Francisco news reporter has surmised that Matt and DD are one and the same (citing their simultaneous arrival in San Fran). Damon plans to take care of DD with his super-assassin Yamura the Blue Talon, a martial arts expert. Daredevil indeed encounters the Talon, a tough opponent, until a strike to the ground causes a gas line to explode, killing Yamura. Matt Murdock has appeared to the press at the same time, showing that he and DD are different men. Actually it was a disguised Black Panther doing duty as Daredevil; nothing like helping a friend in need. -Jim Barwise
Jim: One thing you can say for a number of Daredevil issues: they have a lot of forgettable, short-lived villains. Another is that the stories often have interesting enough surprises to make them entertaining. The Black Panther here was one of those. Natasha didn’t have much of a story for her first shared title; what’s with the coma hint? I liked Matt naming Mike Murdock as the original DD.
|Spoiler Alert: This is the closest we get to a shower scene this issue|
Mark: Gerry Conway rebounds somewhat from the Mr. Fear fiasco, introducing munitions millionaire Damon Dran (who looks like the Owl) as the Evil Tycoon after the secret of Project Four (anyone care anymore?). Dran has a torture lab beneath his Berkley villa, but can't get the doors to open (not a guy I'm buying my napalm from), causing hired muscle the Blue Talon to come smashing through the wall when his master calls. BT has a glowering sense of menace, a great scar, and wicked wrist-band blades, and Conway can be credited with getting a jump on the coming Kung-Fu craze, but then wastes an intriguing baddy by apparently blowing BT to bits.
Scott: I was never a big fan of Ivan, feeling he's more of a proverbial Third Wheel (or is it Fifth?). But when he calls Matt on his tantrum, I suddenly liked him a lot more. The Marvel characters were always a little hyper emotional and having Matt called a "love sick punk" is delicious. Also satisfying was that someone finally made a connection to Matt and DD simply because Matt moved to the coast the same time Daredevil did. Normally, the Marvel citizenry isn't that swift, but maybe it's a comment about New York. Of course, they don't have the balls to totally out him yet (leave that to Frank Miller in the 80's). I expected Ivan to take the outfit and sub as DD while Matt makes a public appearance at the scene, but instead they hauled the Black Panther all the way in from Wakanda. Using Ivan would have made sense, but I can see the necessity of using someone with superior agility. Not great, but not too bad for a middle issue in a saga.
Mark: The usual kudos for Gene Colan's art, highlighted this ish by his fine eye for automobiles: Ivan in a 'Vette, Dran tooling in a Rolls, 'Natsha and French crashing her sports car after a blow-out. Ivan gets extra screen time playing detective, but the big one-and-done gimmick of a Rona Barrett-like gossip columnist outing Matt Murdock as Daredevil is dropped in out of nowhere on P. 19, requiring T'Challa to fly in for a quick DD impersonation, complete with Anglo face mask. I applaud Conway's audacity for tossing a SII (Secret Identity Imperiled) grenade that late in the game, and more props for somehow making the substitute hero trope work (as well as it ever does) in minimal space and tying it to the larger plot, a bit of nimble footwork that – no doubt foolishly - raises my hope of a decent finale to the seemingly endless saga of Project Four.
The Defenders 2
"The Secret of the Silver Surfer!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten
Dr. Strange and Namor search for the Silver Surfer--after two months he finds them. Sub-Mariner attacks quickly, accusing him of being in cahoots with Necrodamus and trying to kill him recently. The Surfer denies this, and soon flies away to “his private valley” to spend the rest of his days in peace. The two return to Stephen Strange’s home, where the master of magic references the diary of his friend Kenneth Ward. Ward describes a hidden Himalayan valley where he found traces of the “undying ones,” i.e. Necrodamus. They go to the Himalayas; when they come across a village they land. The natives, initially frightened, soon offer them guides to help (after Dr. Strange creates the illusion of disguises and clears the memory of the first shock from the villagers memory). When night falls the group sleeps around a campfire, and the Defenders awake to find their guides gone! Following a trail of giant tracks, they soon encounter huge yeti-like creatures. The Silver Surfer appears as well, and gets a chance to tell his story. The creatures are friendly harmless beasts, and having found them he has taught them some of the rudiments of civilization. The only problem is, Namor clearly recalls the Surfer being at hand when Necrodamus was working his evil. The answer is forthcoming, as the creatures transform into their true selves. They are evil all, led by the wizard Calizuma! They had appeared as innocent savages to the Silver Surfer in order to find a way to control his mind without him knowing, thus able to make him do their bidding. In the ensuing battle they find only Calizuma has any real power, and attack him all at once, defeating him. The disappointed Surfer is given hope when Dr. Strange says he feels he can help the boarder find a way back to Zenn-La, and Shalla Bal! -Jim Barwise
Jim: This tale I found to be somewhat of disappointment, perhaps because of the promise raised by last issue. Calizuma is a rather weak villain; he scarcely appears before he is defeated. I enjoyed seeing more of Strange’s home, and the ascent up the Himalayas. The mission in the works intrigues me; how does Dr. Strange think they’ll be able to get past the barrier to Zenn-La? With the team now four (for now), we’ve got a real interesting group of unlikely heroes.
Matthew: The newly minted Englehart/Buscema/Verpoorten team from Captain America blew me out of the water, pardon the pun, with an opening two-page spread of the Surfer pulling Namor from the South Polar Seas as Doc’s astral form watches aghast. Alas, Stainless stumbles somewhat thereafter, with Calizuma a one-shot villain who is hastily introduced, poorly developed, and quickly dispatched. The fact that the Hulk had been hurt by Nicodemus and would want revenge is the reason for both Strange’s enlisting him and his eventual agreement, so why Doc opens with his ill-advised and poorly received “We need you—you must come” gambit is beyond me; when Subby handles Greenskin better than Doc does, you know you’re in trouble.
Peter: How did the story meetings for these go? "So, we've got to figure a way to get these three reunited for the fifth time in as many issues." If I was one of the mailroom guys or office janitors, I'd opine "Why don't you just keep the trio together at the end of each issue instead of blowing them apart?" Good question, Melvin. I guess Roy would say that to keep the team an actual team would play havoc with the characters' ongoing solo titles but starting each issue with "Hey, we've got to find The Hulk... Oh, here he is... and there's Sub-Mariner...!" is lame to the extreme. I never read this series when I was a kid so I don't know if they ever do become a solid unit but I gotta believe some shake-up occurs between here and #150. New tenth-tier villain (that's the lowest tier a Marvel Villain can achieve for those of you keeping score) Calizuma gets a cover and approximately a page and a half before Steve thought better of the idea. Not a very good issue.
Scott: An okay issue, nothing overly complex or demanding, but too much time is wasted on Namor's tantrum. Really kind of typical, but the art is nice, if standard. The Surfer is back and, gee, Dr. Strange might be able to reunite him with his lost love, Shalla-Bal. Are the Surfer's only story possibilities to be about finding his love, leaving Earth and always being shunned? No wonder I never found him interesting.
Doc Savage, The Man of Bronze 1
"Doc Savage, the Man of Bronze!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Plot by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney
“At last! In comic-mag form! The Greatest pulp hero of all!” In his headquarters on the 86th floor of a New York skyscraper, Doc Savage and crew dodge an assassin’s bullet at the same time the Man of Bronze learns of his father’s death. Following the senior Savage’s last testament, Doc opens a hidden safe to find a sizeable inheritance of land in the Central American Republic of Hidalgo. Using “Sherlock Holmes’ ... deducting ability” (Doc Savage author Lester Dent’s own words), Doc sees all three of the day’s events as connected. By autogyro and then roadster, Doc and crew pinpoint and pursue the rooftop sniper to the neighboring Cranmoor Building construction site. Doc personally climbs the steel beams and, after some “physical conflict,” captures the murderous marksman. Using hypnosis, Doc interrogates the sniper - a Mayan-speaking Quetzalcoatl worshiper - who, rather than talk, hurls himself off the roof in the name of his pagan god. Waiting for them back at Doc’s HQ is a scrawled death threat from “the Red Death” that inspires the group to swear the oath of Doc’s fallen father: “I will travel the world--helping those who need help and punishing those who deserve it.” EPILOGUE: Another pagan fanatic, crouching in alley shadows, makes contact with his master to break the news of the failed assassination plot. The “Son of the Feathered Serpent” he speaks to swears his own oath – “Doc Savage and his men shall die!” – and, anticipating the Fabulous Five’s next mission, summons his servant back to Hidalgo for the next showdown. -Gilbert Colon
Gilbert Colon: Five years before there was a Man of Steel, there was a Man of Bronze named Clark – not Clark Kent, but Clark Savage, Jr., a.k.a. Doc Savage, who kept a secret Arctic Fortress of Solitude in accordance with his father’s wishes. (“...a man among men--a super-man--” reads one panel.) More like Batman than Superman, however, Doc was a mortal superhero with no superpowers other than the mental and physical abilities he self-developed to the utmost through sheer discipline and determination. This realism is reflected on the original Street & Smith pulp covers – a square-jawed adventurer attired like a fedora-less Indy Jones – but Ross Andru and Jim Mooney opt for the more famous and fantastical look of James Bama’s Bantam paperback reissue cover art circulating during Marvel’s run: a living bronze statue with a wolfish widow’s peak. The choice is less satisfying, especially the wardrobe change, yet understandable – Bama is to Doc Savage what Frank Frazetta is to Conan; both are artists who departed from original concept art yet popularized the character for a new generation. John Buscema, on the issue’s somewhat misleading cover, illustrates Doc as almost a muscular beast-man on a rampage, his animalistic rage perhaps meant to hook Hulk readers. Inside the characterization is truer to form, a Doc as stoic as stone (bronze?).
Peter: My first exposure to Marvel's Doc Savage was the final issue, #8, which adapted Brand of the Werewolf (the 11th novel in the pulp series the comic was based on), but I was an old pro when it came to the Bantam Doc paperbacks. I'd read perhaps a dozen of them by that time (The Squeaking Goblin thrilling me to my 11 year-old marrow) so I had a bit of a feel for how Doc should be portrayed. Sadly, this wasn't it. Take all the thrills, chills, excitement, and honest-to-gosh pulp wow and flush it right down the toilet and you have: Marvel's adaptation. Everything, it seems, is wrong here:
1/ The art is dreadful (based on this job, I can see why some of my colleagues would rather eat a live kitten than face an Andru-penciled comic). The guy's the freakin' Man of Bronze and I have not one iota of awe when I see what Andru and Mooney have done to him.
2/ The adaptation at times appears to be an automobile with no driver, careening here and there down the motorway with no direction or goal.
3/ The pacing makes no sense. The entire first issue is based on a very small portion of the book. Were these initially planned as mega-issue arcs but then cut back when sales figures showed up at the back door?
4/ The characters, so fleshed out in Kenneth Robeson's pulps, almost seem to be patterned after other Marvel heroes so that the kids will tune in (Monk could very well be The Beast or, now that I think about it, vice versa).
Gilbert: Plotter-editor Roy Thomas and scripter Steve Englehart have their hands full “freely adapting” The Man of Bronze (the first Savage novel, written in 1933 by Dent under the “house name” of Kenneth Robeson) in only two parts. With Doc’s crew of what can only be described as eccentrics, each with his own personality and special skills, it is no easy task introducing them all in a single issue while still getting the story rolling. True to the “Lester Dent Master Plot Formula” (Dent’s own legendary advice to fellow pulp writers), they start fast by swatting the Fabulous Five with a fistful of trouble, a feat that could not have been accomplished without the “ ... complete information on...Savage’s aides--in the special text feature on page 31...Roy & Steve” eight panels in. This handy character guide solution does not integrate with the plot, but credit Thomas and Englehart for making the most of the banter to sketch the band of brothers’ personalities in shorthand throughout the story. All in all, it feels fitting for Marvel to adapt the Man of Bronze stories during their Bronze Age, and they are off to a literally flying start.
Peter: I'm not asking for perfection in 21 pages of story and art but why is this story so uninvolving? Roy and Steve had sixteen years (181 issues) of the Doc pulp in which to draw their characterizations from and all that comes through is a Marvelization, almost a dumbing down of the team. The group gather at the end of the story to pledge war on crime. You mean they weren't already engaged in that endeavor? These super-minds and super-bodies just get together now and then to talk about what they've been up to? A big disappointment and, yeah, I'm Steve Englehart's biggest fan but I've got a feeling Stainless' God-like writing abilities were hampered by Roy Thomas' direction. Steve will hang in there for four issues (and an adaptation credit in #5) and then hand over the reins to the two titans of comic book quality, Gardner Fox and Tony Isabella.
Scott: You know you're in trouble with the hero is poorly drawn on the splash page. What's with Doc's arm? The art overall is bloody awful, which as you all know by now, sucks 90% of the interest from any comic as far as I'm concerned. Yes, I'd rather eat cat poop or whatever than suffer though the pencils of Ross Andru. A shame, I never got into Doc Savage's literary tales and hoped this would be a good intro for me. Nope.
Fantastic Four 127
"Where the Sun Dares Not Shine!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Seeking the Mole Man, whom he believes may be able to cure Alicia’s blindness, Ben heads to the last place they saw him. Uncovering the rubble over the house the villain had built as a passage to his underground world, Ben proceeds to climbs down the tunnel to…Meanwhile Johnny sits in Central Park, mulling over his life. Without Crystal he is lonely, but has his duty to the Fantastic Four. It is a trip to headquarters, and an encounter with their landlord Collins that tips the Torch that Ben has sought out the Mole Man. He deems it important enough to interrupt Reed and Sue’s holiday at Whisper Hill. Reed and Sue meet him at the sight of the mysterious house, and in the Fantasti-Car, they follow Ben’s trail below. The Thing has had adventures of his own. He fights off a giant worm-like creature, and meets Kala (a citizen of “Atlantis,” --no relation to Namor—a civilization that sunk deep into the Earth) who tells him that she is engaged to the Mole Man! She leads him, promising a peaceful resolution, but it is a trap. Ben is captured, and listens to the Mole Man’s plan to conquer the world. This makes Ben angry enough to escape, but the electrical energy of his aura has been altered enough to make him appear as a monster. Thus when the rest of the F.F. find him, they see him as a monster—and attack! -Jim Barwise
Jim: I probably said last time, and still do, that the Mole Man is not one of my faves, but the twist of the F.F seeking him out is interesting. Lots of inner conflicts for the main characters makes them seem realistic if not as heroic. Having Kala as Moley’s bride is rather funny considering his past experience with women; you’d think it might soften his anger a little. Let’s hope for a better approach next time.
Scott: The guard has officially changed. Last issue was sort of transitional, giving us the origin of the FF and setting up the new storyline in the last few pages. Now we're deep into it and Johnny gets a tad more mature, we see some nice homelife scenes at Whisper Hill and then, suddenly - out of nowhere- Sue and Reed are fighting. This storyline will go on for-EVUH. And none of it is any fun. The stuff introduced to eventually (SPOILERS!) split them up will grate as Sue leave the team. I'm not looking forward to these. I've read the arc fairly recently and I know it's not a case of "I remember it sucked." It actually sucked. But I'm getting way ahead of the game here. This issue is otherwise fine, but Johnny needs to stop moping.
Matthew: Well, it wouldn’t be the first time a new writer took a little time to find his feet on a book, but while there’s nothing egregiously wrong with this issue, it just didn’t jell for me. In Roy’s partial defense, the internal politics of Subterranea have always left me cold, yet the feud with landlord Collins, which had already worn out its welcome under Smiley, is getting increasingly annoying, especially since it will almost certainly come back and bite the FF in the ass. And although I will rarely say anything negative about a Buscema/Sinnott art job, some of the faces look really goofy, most notably Johnny’s in page 6, panel 6 (left); Big John has, however, by now gotten a rare handle on the Thing, perhaps the most difficult Marvel character of all to draw.
Mark: "Where the Sun Dares Not Shine" is a title begging for a punch line, but Roy didn't pull this one out of his nether regions. Behind weak cover art, Buscema /Sinnott deliver a classic splash of the Thing on the warpath, then Thomas serves up some classic FF, which doesn't mean simply trotting out old villains without a dog's idea of what to do with then (see Stan's dishwater weak Galactus & Black Lagoon last gasps). And the Mole Man is old FF villain #1, never a personal fave, but put to good service here. The plot posits Ben Grimm going after MM in the quixotic hope that the creep in the 3-D glasses can cure Alicia, and having the clobberin' time action spring from Ben's personal life gives the story emotional heft. And leave it to archivist Roy to unearth early Shell-Head villain Kala as Moley's evil paramour, whose treachery only highlights Bashful Benjy's heroic nature, from "saving" Kala from Super-Slug to breaking free from the electronic web after learning Moley's plans to lay waste the surface with "megatons of burning lava" as payback for always being the last kid picked in gym.
Peter: You could say Roy needs to warm up a bit before he gets a handle on this title but, as Monday-morning quarterbacks, we now know that Roy's tenure on FF wasn't very long. Whether he gets his act together, we'll see. I'll vomit the day we get Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young lyrics to describe what Johnny's going through emotionally or a Yeats poem to better clue us in to the Mole Man's psyche but, other than the really lazy set-up for yet another trip to the center of the earth (Ben thinks Moley will restore Alicia's eyesight or maybe even give her Daredevil-like sensory powers -- that'll happen!), it ain't awful. It is good luck that Ben goes on this journey just as Moley is about to light fire to the world. Coincidence? Maybe.
Scott: I never liked how John Buscema and later Rich Buckler drew Johnny Storm. He seems a little too old for these shenanigans. The final panel on page 6 is another poorly realized rendering of young Johnny; it looks as if he just got an anal probe from Ben's rocky index finger. At least his face is normal again when he flames on. Landlord Collins is being used far too often and, sadly, we won't see John Byrne dismissing him from the title in the early 80's. Kala comes from way back in Iron Man's history, Tales of Suspense #43 to be exact. It's always nice when a long forgotten villain is resurrected to decent effect and she's well used here. The Mole Man is, again, better used when they play upon his weaknesses, in this case a beautiful woman and the promise of companionship. Moley will have stories like this often and he's best when pitiful. Ben is also well used this time out, showing his grim (pun intended) determination, taking on immense suffering to escape his bonds and sufficiently weak to be defeated and possibly killed at the end. Once things get cooking down below (that's a loaded sentence), it's a solid, fun story.
Mark: Elsewhere we get an emotional growth spurt from Johnny Storm (unfairly maligned by an irrational anti-Torch clique among senior facility), Sue laying down the law when Reed tries sidelining her to play peek-a-boo with Franklin, and a great ending, thanks to the inspired nonsense of the "delayed-action" Creature Feature aura that make Ben's teammates see him as a shambling monster. I have no memory of this story, it may crater next ish, but even Yancy Streeters have faith, right? I'm all in.