Wednesday, November 13, 2013

December 1972 Part Two: Luke Cage Meets The Phantom!

Adventure Into Fear 11
Man-Thing in
"Night of the Nether-Spawn"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Rich Buckler and Jim Mooney

Jennifer and Andy, two young teenagers whose Grandpa knows something of the mystic arts, have “borrowed” one of his books that he has forbidden them to read. They set up a mystic circle by the nearby swamp (where else?), and Jennifer reads aloud a spell from the book. All the while, the former human known as Man-Thing watches, sensing the danger in what they are doing; yet feeling their curiosity and sensing a rare kind of beauty in Jennifer. It appears the spell has had no effect, yet as the two of them leave, they fail to notice a glowing “hole” has opened in the sky above them, and a beam of light comes forth, striking a passing dragonfly. It turns into a monstrous apparition, flying off in the direction the children have taken. The Man-Thing senses trouble, and ventures into the city (which he normally would not do) in pursuit of the winged hellion. The creature makes a dramatic entrance, bursting through a movie screen where Jennifer and Andy are taking in the latest horror flick. Man-Thing tackles the evil beast, who, not expecting such opposition, is faced with it’s own fear and crumbles in the swamp creatures hands. Problem is, it’s a temporary setback, and the monster reforms into a Lucifer-like man, who proceeds to attack the Man-Thing with beams of mystic force. Away from the swamp, Man-Thing loses his own power, and so makes his escape. The creature follows, and in a reverse scenario of before, arises with newfound strength from the murky waters. Jennifer and Andy, having witnessed how the Man-Thing saved them at the theatre, follow, and find the mystic book, which they burn up. The spell broken, the creature dissolves in the Man-Things hands, as it returns from whence it came. A thank you from the children touches the Man-Thing, who thought he cannot speak, feels something, perhaps love?
-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Sounds like I’m not the only one enjoying the Man-Things misadventures here, a first time go around for me on a title I was always curious about. Steve Gerber’s writing, with his thought point of view, is intriguing. The relationship between the children and Man-Thing is touching if obvious; I’m curious to see if they play a part in future issues. Rich Buckler, whose art I remember from (upcoming issues of) Thor, seems less Kirby-like here. I would have liked to see the main story extended to full-length, but the reprint tale, “The Spider Waits", is all fun.

Peter Enfantino: I bought and ate up all of Man-Thing's adventures into Fear when I was a wee MZ but I'll be doggoned if I can remember them. This support structure Professor Matthew speaks of, for instance, is completely lost on me. One thing's for sure, I'm looking forward to re-reading this saga in the coming years. Buckler's Manny is just as good as Morrow's but Rich's human characters have a ways to go to become competent. He'll find his way (or a good inker) soon enough.

Scott McIntyre:  Steve Gerber pretty much knocks it out of the park his first time out. This is a solid tale with a great villain and really nice action. I'm not overly familiar with the Man-Thing and his supporting cast, but these two kids are okay. There's something cheesy and old fashioned about the dialog and art (I haven't read a kid laughing "haw!" since the 1950's Batman run). As much as I like Rich Buckler, his pencils seem a little out of place here. I'm more used to the moody, spooky flair Mike Ploog brings to this world. Still and all, a very nice issue.

Matthew Bradley: With his first solo credit, Bronze bard Steve Gerber takes over the nascent series that will put him on the map, and considering its impact, I’m amazed in retrospect that they would waste a single panel on this 1952 reprint from Marvel Tales #105.  An entire support structure springs full-blown from Steve’s brow in 15 pages, complete with secondary characters (Jennifer and Andy Kale, the Nether-Spawn soon to be known as Thog), setting (the as-yet-unnamed Citrusville), tagline (“Whatever knows fear burns at the Man-Thing’s touch”), and perhaps Marvel’s first reference to a head shop?  Rich Buckler, who helped shepherd Manny into color in Astonishing Tales #13, supplants Gray Morrow, with Mooney inks; awesome Neal Adams cover.

Peter: The reprint, "The Spider Waits," is another one of those dopey but charming Atlas tales about just desserts (in this case, a guy who loves to kill spiders picks up a swell dame in a bar who just happens to be... a giant spider in disguise!), with art by Airboy embellisher Fred Kida. I recall, as a young MZ, buying any and all Marvel titles featuring horror reprints and loving even the dumbest of them. 

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire 4
"Cry Fear... Cry Phantom!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Billy Graham and Syd Shores

A mysterious phantom is stalking Times Square, frightening off all the customers that visit the area. The phantom even attacks Luke Cage one night in his room. Cage is shown a portrait by D.W. Griffith that he recognizes as the phantom except the creature had a charred face. D.W. Explains to him that the man in the portrait, named Adrian, once owned one of the theaters, but he died back in the 1940's in a fire. An old man, once partners with Adrian, hires Cage to track down the Phantom. After he fends off another attack from the fiend, Cage follows him into a secret tunnel connected to all the buildings along the street. Once he tackles the phantom, it is shown that the supposed ghost is made up of two people: a giant musclebound black man and a dwarf who stands atop his shoulders with a cloak over them. The midget escapes to confront the old man that hired Cage. Revealing that he was Adrian's son, the dwarf reveals that he concocted the entire phantom charade to get revenge against the old man for causing his father to lose his business and his life. Cage arrives to witness the dwarf attack the old man as they both topple out a window into the streets below to their deaths. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: This is a hard issue to judge. At first I felt like it was a bad Scooby-Doo ripoff that revealed its plot twist way too early. In retrospect the story wasn't that bad, mainly because it did have a decent horror element to it. The artwork definitely helped give it a creepy vibe. Perhaps it would have been better minus Luke Cage and on its own as a separate horror tale ala Tales From the Crypt?

Scott: Luke is wearing a completely different outfit on the cover of this issue, which is reflected in the interior art itself for the first half of the issue. Just an observation, but it threw me off because I have ADD about certain things - hey, look a chicken! Again, the jive talk is a little weird here. "Sweet sister!" Billy Graham's art is miles ahead of the stuff we've gotten from Tuska and his pencils add a real edge to the story. I actually like the idea of Luke slipping on a different shirt. It gives a little more visual versatility by changing things up a bit. A cool, nightmarish story that I enjoyed quite a bit. Probably the first time I liked a Luke Cage this much.

Peter: Seems as though Archie is pulling our collective leg this issue, throwing in strands copped from Vincent Price flicks, Grand Guignol, and Scooby-Doo episodes. There's more purple prose here than in a dozen pulp novels. The reveal, that Armand is actually two people dressed as one, is a hoot but an expected hoot whereas the downbeat ending was, for me, right out of left field. I'd have loved to be on 42nd Street when The Gem was playing a double bill of Ride Lonesome (one of my all-time favorite Randolph Scott/Budd Boetticher westerns) and The Left-Handed Gun. Ah, the seventies! How the hell does that fifty-pound chain not get in Luke's way when he's fighting? He ain't Elvis, you know.

The Incredible Hulk 158
"Frenzy on a Far-Away World!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Steve Gerber
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sal Trapani

Trapped aboard the Leader's ship, the Hulk and the Rhino hurl through space as the Leader watches them from his headquarters. The Rhino is confused by what is going on since the Leader had previously transported his own mind into the Rhino's body to fight the Hulk. They crash land on Counter-Earth (created by the High Evolutionary) and each of them hooks up with different warring sides of the New-Men. The powerful ship is retrieved by the military and studied by Counter-Earth's Bruce Banner. The New-Men want the ship so they arrive to take it. When the Hulk sees Bruce Banner he almost destroys him in a fit of rage. It isn't until Bruce's 7 year old son confronts him that the Hulk begins to understand this isn't the same earth he called home. After he defeats the Rhino, the Hulk carries him aboard the ship and they fly off back into space before the Leader can will the ship to explode and strand them. The story ends with Betty and Major Talbot getting married back on our earth. -Tom McMillion

Matthew: Steve “Baby” Gerber explodes onto the scene, described in a Bulletin as “an old confidant and correspondent of Roy’s, whom he brought east to help himself and Steve Englehart with the editorial efforts on our ever-expanding comix line!”  In his first month, he scripts Roy’s plot here, provides additional dialogue for a certain She-Devil’s debut, and succeeds Gerry on the Man-Thing strip.  Given his historically poor memory, the Hulk can be forgiven for forgetting his prior encounter with the New-Men; this one is certainly memorable, chockablock with cool stuff going on—some of which I’m surprised to see depicted outside of Warlock’s own mag—while Trapani (later reunited with Steve on Man-Thing) sets the standard as Herb’s inker.

Peter: Gerber hits a triple his first time at bat with this extremely entertaining What If? story. I've always been a sucker for alternate realities and this one is wacky and well thought out, never straying into the bizarro stupidity that doomed similar stories over at DC. Counter-Earth is a stroke of genius but I can see it becoming a weapon of evil in the hands of the wrong writer. There but for the Grace of God goes Marvel the DC route. Betty Ross completes comicdom's fastest widow-to-bride courtship. I can't, for the life of me, remember how Betty gets out of her marriage to Talbot but I'm all eyes.

Scott:  I enjoy stories that pull the Hulk out of the regular Marvel universe and into other Earths or planets. It gives him something new to deal with rather than the same old villains and Army scuffles. I'm not a huge fan of Counter-Earth or Warlock, but this side trip (which will lead to a longer visit later) is fun and a nice look into how Hulk deals with an Earth without super heroes and a Bruce Banner who was never hit with Gamma Rays. Rick Jones isn't even mentioned by name, he's almost totally forgotten; a minor footnote in Bruce's past, a reminder of what might have been. It's also a little weird for the Hulk to recognize what a good dad should be, but this would also strangely tie into later stories of Banner's crappy childhood. The art is okay, but I'm still not sold on the inks. Sal Trapani does well, but I'm still a bigger fan of later inkers like Jack Abel who would really give Trimpe's pencils a great polish.

Matthew: This issue represents the harvest of a seed that was sown two months ago in the letter column of Warlock #2:  “we intend to try keeping the Warlock world largely separate from the rest of the Marvel universe, so that it can develop on its own for a while.  Just one exception:  Since Roy may be too busy in the future to continue as scripter [and in fact turned those duties over to Mike Friedrich in that very issue, “under his careful editorial jurisdiction”], he’s plotted a single-issue meeting of one of our longtime super-doers with Counter-Earth, if not with wondrous Warlock himself.  Nope, we won’t tell you which mag it’ll be in (except that it won’t be Conan the Barbarian!), but it’ll be thooming [methinks a relatively obvious clue] your way in just a couple of months…”

The Invincible Iron Man 53
"The Black Lama!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska, Jim Starlin, and Vince Colletta

Iron Man blasts out of Raga’s trap, creates an avalanche to divert the lava flow threatening a nearby community, and flies off in search of his foe.  The Black Lama appears and recalls how he channeled the rage Raga felt after following a woman who did not return his love to India, and Raga joined his “world-wide web of pupils…set to act all at one time…”  As Raga begins punishing Cynthia to make amends for jumping the gun, Iron Man flies to her rescue once again, but is thwarted by the Lama’s mystic spells; the battle is interrupted by the arrival of her beau, MacKenzie Davies, whose selfless sacrifice in attacking Raga inspires Iron Man to victory, whereupon the Lama leaves his pupil to face his karma—death in a self-created mini-earthquake. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Fresh from his “art assists” on the last two issues of Amazing Spider-Man, newcomer Jim Starlin is upgraded to “additional pencils” here (bolstering mainstay Tuska, although under Colletta’s inks, I’m damned if I can differentiate them), teamed on Shellhead for the first time with then-roomie Mike Friedrich, a collaboration that will begin bearing unimaginably tasty fruit two months hence.  The debut of his shadowy master, the Black Lama, has indeed made Raga more interesting, albeit with the inevitable side-effect of recalling all those Blackglama ads I saw as a kid.  Now that we’re past the foolish late-Silver-Age prohibition against continued stories, a two-parter like this does seem ideal for all but the most ambitious sagas and tightly knit done-in-ones.

Peter: Friedrich's confusing storyline and goofball dialogue ("That piece of filth! That freakin' filth!") almost make this an alternative enjoyment, an issue so bad it's good. Unfortunately, it's so bad it stays bad. Then there's George "The Tusk" Tuska... (take a deep breath). Where the heck is Starlin in this mess? On the letters page, correspondent John Anderson writes: "Sometimes I buy two of your same mags and rip the cover off to use for a book cover in school." It can now be revealed that the final line of John's exclamation ("... and I use the interior pages for the crapper.") was edited due to "space constraints." 

Scott: The Tuska art is sort of salvaged by Coletta's pencils, but the faces still rankle. Adding the crappy nemesis of Raga and the Black Lama and you have a reader wondering how this book stayed afloat and eventually became the basis of the most successful of the Marvel film series. There's little in these pages to point to any greatness, it's mostly a tedious mishmash.

Marvel Spotlight 7
The Ghost Rider in
"Die, Die, My Daughter!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank (Chiara)Monte

Curly prepares to sacrifice Roxanne, and calls on Satan to fulfill his end of their bargain.  Satan interrupts Curly, and commands that the sacrifice must be carried out at his infernal temple.  Curly does as instructed, as he hides Roxanne in a barrel and wheels her out of Madison Square Garden.  Ghost Rider idly speeds along the Long Island Expressway, unaware of Roxanne’s peril, and he draws the attention of a patrol car.  GR has to jump over a damaged bridge in order to escape the police, then falls into an exhausted sleep in a graveyard.  Johnny wakes in mid-morning, now transformed by the daylight back to himself.  Johnny races back to the city to prepare for the afternoon show.  He hears from the tour’s road manager Slade (a new character in the storyline) that Rocky has disappeared.  A brief aside informs us that Slade has his own designs on Rocky.  After the show, Slade informs Johnny that a curly-haired man was seen leaving the backstage area last night.  Johnny decides to wait until after nightfall to confront Curly’s crew at their hideout, so that he can use the powers of Ghost Rider to his advantage.  GR forces the location of Curly’s temple from the crew, and – just in time – arrives to interrupt the sacrificial rite.  Curly announces that he might provide Satan with the souls of both Roxanne and GR.  To provide his champion with an advantage, Satan succeeds in shocking GR as Curly is transformed back into Crash Simpson, Johnny’s surrogate father, now returned from the dead.  Crash takes up Satan’s flaming sword, and prepares to battle Ghost Rider to the death, as Roxanne screams at GR not to harm her father.  -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Starting off – a basic continuity problem repeats itself.  Once again, Johnny returns to work the show – that makes two issues in a row when Johnny said he was leaving, only to blink back in again next issue, as if nothing was wrong with his being there.  Then, there are a few questionable details in the story: Curly/Crash is charged .50 by a cabbie to heft a 100lb barrel into the trunk (in fairness, this might not be that unrealistic for early-70s NY --both the ready availability of body disposal, and the low cost); GR is shown driving on a deserted LIE (granted, it’s nighttime, so I suppose it could be possible, but still . . .); it gets better – as soon as he’s off the highway, the cops observe that GR’s headin for the old mill road – “and I’m bettin he’s got no idea that the bridge is washed out!”  (Quick – call Lassie!).  That’s one fast bike, though – one minute he’s in Nausau County NY (one of the most densely populated places in the world), next minute GR appears to be in rural Arkansas, complete with ravines and pine-dotted mountainsides!  Where’s Vince Colletta to erase a few background details when you really need him? I can’t help but think that, even though Roy is credited as editor, he must have trusted the actual duties to a smaller, slower-moving armadillo.

Matthew:  I had to try to stay open-minded toward a story that misquoted “American Pie” on the splash page (“I saw Satan smiling [sic] with delight”), and Rocky was lucky to get to Bleecker Street alive after being sealed in a barrel that had contained “cleaning compound.”  But overall, every dog has his day—or, as I like to put it, every Godard has his Alphaville—and for what it’s worth, I’d say this series has the highest average level of quality I’ve seen from Gary.  While I wouldn’t want Ploog and “Monte” drawing, say, The Avengers, the duo is obviously well suited to the supernatural stuff; GR himself looks pretty consistently excellent, and that goes double for the “disrobed” Roxanne, proving that Ploog can excel at something besides monsters.

Chris: In terms of the character, I think it’s important to note that – at this moment in his existence – GR is nothing more than Johnny Blaze with a flaming skull.  Johnny is in complete control – the GR persona, the self-proclaimed spirit of vengeance, has yet to assert itself.  We do see a new manifestation of GR’s powers, as GR is able to withstand a bullet to the head without harm.  Ploog’s art continues to maintain the standard set on the two previous issues.  The scenes at the satanic temple have some nice atmospheric moments (although the place, overall, appears better-lit than I would have expected).  There’s a particularly effective close-up of the burning skull on page 27, panel 1, as the skull, colored blood-red, seems to crackle with eldritch energy.

Joe Tura: The melodramatic first page sets this one off on the wrong foot. A quote from Don McLean's "American Pie"? Really? With, as Prof. Matthew said, a misquote of the lyrics to boot. A seriously wordy comic book, from the captions to the long inner dialogues. Decent art helps a little, but just so much to get though here in a story that doesn't have that much to it when you boil it down. A couple of things to note, both good and bad. I'm with Prof. Chris in loving that the cab driver charges Curly an extra 50 cents for the barrel holding Roxanne -- what a bargain! I love that Ghost Rider says "Thank the Lord"--which lord would that be, now, you cursed flaming skull guy? I love the little story-guiding arrows in some of Ploog's layouts. I love the abs on Curly--geez, he is ripped, that Satan-loving ginger! At least we end on a mild cliffhanger with promise of a decent fight. Hopefully....

Peter: As cool as this character is, I've still not read anything of substance in the three issues this strip has existed. Ghost Rider bikes around town, getting up to harmless mischief, falls asleep, wakes up as Jack Russell Johnny Blaze, jumps some cars in a show, and fights Satan's servants. Wash, rinse, repeat.  Ploog's art is inconsistent (it'll get better, I know) and his human characters look right out of a Scooby-Doo cartoon. Friedrich gets points though for one of the best lines of the series: "Yes, you are indeed cursed... doomed to spend each night of your life with a glowing skull for a head!" I had one of those Evel Knievel stunt rider toys when I was a kid and I tricked it up to look like GR. My ma got real pissed when I burned the living room down.

Shanna the She-Devil 1
"Shanna, the She-Devil!"
Story by Carole Seuling and Steve Gerber
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta

Shanna, the jungle she-devil, has her hands full when Ivory Dan Drake decides the entire jungle is his playground and the tusks of the bull elephant are the only thing that will satisfy his bloodlust. The gorgeous vine swinger and her trusty leopard bodyguards, Ina and Biri, attempt to stop Dan's swath but, in the end, the jungle takes care of itself. Shanna is left to ponder the sense of it all... but she can see it makes no sense at all. -Peter Enfantino

Matthew: In The Superhero Women, Stan calls Shanna “but one of a long list of leotard-wearing lovelies who have been industriously attempting to tame the savage jungle since comicbooks were in their infancy.  The last one I can remember that was presented by our own little Bullpen was Jann of the Jungle, who [in Jungle Tales #1, 1954] burst like a meteor upon the consciousness of fandom—blazed with glory for a season or two—and then faded into eventual obscurity, possibly retiring to some hidden jungle princesses’ rest home deep in the wilds of Brooklyn….[J]ungle stories...never seem to become tremendously big sellers….[But we created this series] even knowing that the whole world wasn’t exactly…demanding [her] appearance…”

Peter: The rare exquisiteness of a flashback within a flashback assaults my senses! Disrobing panels tug at my eleven year-old libido! The obligatory full-page origin workout reminds me that George Tuska cannot draw worth a damn! Change the name and the clothes and it's pert near the exact workout page that appeared in the premiere of Luke Cage (not coincidentally, also drawn by Tuska). I guess we should just be thankful Shanna ain't got a mouth full of Tuska, right? Do Ina and Biri really appreciate that animal lover Shanna is wearing their mother's pelt (in order for them to recognize her scent!)? Like a vegetarian eating a Whopper with Cheese and offering up that the animal was already dead anyway. Ivory Dan's henchman, Zarg, seems to be on loan from Werewolf By Night. He's bald, shirtless, and impossibly large. Only difference is that he's got Tuska buckteeth. Most bizarre intro of the issue though has to be game warden Patrick, Shanna's Number One fan, appearing out of nowhere four panels to the climax, professing love for the jungle queen and lamenting her latest refusal to marry him! Almost as though we've popped in mid-series and these two have been courting for years.

Matthew: “Once more we sought a female scripter, hoping it would bring a new dimension of integrity to our story, and...succeeded in finding one in the person of Carole Seuling [the wife of convention/distribution legend Phil].  Though Carole had never written for us before [nor would post-Shanna], she came highly recommended and we gave her the assignment on the spot.”  Ironically, male co-writer Steve Gerber helped Shanna outlive her five-issue title; he returned to share credit with Seuling on #4 and succeed her in #5, introducing the evil Mandrill and Nekra, and used all three in his 1974 Daredevil/Marvel Two-in-One crossover.  Aptly, the heroine of this “ecological epic”—a theme with which I am in total sympathy—eventually married Ka-Zar.

Sub-Mariner 56
"Atlantis Mon Amour"
Story by Dan Adkins and Mike Friedrich
Art by Dan Adkins

As Namor tries to relax at the bottom of the sea, he comes to the aid of an Atlantean woman, surrounded by sharks. Her name is Coral and after he saves her she relates to Namor how a strange spaceship has landed near Atlantis. Since the Atlantis military is busy fighting off Attuma's army, there is no one to protect the city if the aliens turn out to be hostile. Namor reluctantly agrees to go along. The aliens end up being a peaceful race that left their hostile planet in search of a new home. They brought along a race of servant creatures that prove to be savage and of low intelligence. These monstrous beings, in search of food, crash through the wall surrounding the city. Namor finds them and brawls with the creatures. As this is going on, Coral meets the peaceful aliens that explain to her their story. They find Subby just as he is finishing up  the last of the servant monsters. After hearing their intentions, Namor gives the aliens his blessing and agrees to let them make the ocean their new home. All does not end well after he swims away from them as the returning Atlantean army comes across the new alien race. Still in a bloodlust after defeating Attuma's army, the Atlantean troops attack and kill the alien race and Coral. Namor returns too late to stop the bloodshed. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Rarely, once in a blue moon, a Sub-Mariner story actually impresses me. This issue would be one of those examples. Not only did it have an interesting plot, but the dark ending made it something unique compared to your typical Subby tale. That, and the amazing artwork, makes this issue one of my favorites in the series so far.

Scott: Dan Adkins returns and his art is pretty damned nice. Not the same comfy retro feel as Bill Everett, but very nice. I don't remember his art being this pleasing to the eye before, but I'm digging it. I'm not digging so much the corniness of the co-inky-dink of an undersea denizen named Coral. In spite of all that, and the constant yammering of Namor as he fights, this is a powerful story. It's entertaining and holds the interest on its own, yet the final twist leading to a very dark ending is hard hitting. It's been a while since a Namor comic was anywhere near relevant, but this one hits home. Very well done, indeed.

Matthew: Wild Bill is in absentia because, per last issue’s lettercol, “getting back into the swing of a monthly deadline is harder than you might imagine—but when we have a fill-in job by the likes of…[plotter and] old-time Subby artist Dan Adkins…(ably assisted by [scripter] Mike Friedrich on the typewriter), the Everett feel to the series will be there.”  Readers can judge for themselves, yet despite the controversy over his “swipes,” I’ve missed the late Dapper Dan, and Subby was always one of his strong suits, along with Dr. Strange. So, a Silver-and-Bronze team pinch-hits for a Golden-Age vet, sparing us another reprint, and almost every turn of the page, from the majestic splash onward, brings us a memorable image; tragic, top-drawer Namor.

Peter: Two Thumbs Up for that Splash! Even though Mike Friedrich peppers his underwater adventure with lyrical references to James Taylor and Kris Kristofferson (a trick he surely learned whilst kneeling at the feet of The Rascally One), he manages to avoid pretension throughout the rest of this action-filled saga. I hate like hell that we're coming to the end of the road for Wild Bill Everett but, by golly, if we need a fill-in artist please call Dan Adkins (and spare the guest inker). Who cares if we later find out the art in this issue actually was drawn by Bill Finger in 1947? Christ, I'll take anybody but Tuska at this point. And, my god, what a downer of an ending. Had Sub-Mariner been a cool enough title for me to read when I was 11 years old, it certainly would have had me coming back for more. Considering they were stepping in under the worst of circumstances, I say "Well done, Mike and Dan!"

The Mighty Thor 206
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta

Two boys fishing off the pier in Rutland Vermont, pining away over the ebbing summer, witness a shooting star. A crash landing, complete with an explosion that makes a crystalline formation from which steps forth a shadowy, ominous figure, sets the boys running. The figure sends a bolt of force far across the continent, where it smashes a mountain into a pile of rubble. From the chaos steps an ominous form—Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man. A voice in his head pounds painfully, demanding he find and kill Thor, God of Thunder! Said god returns to the Avengers mansion, where he laments the exile on Earth of himself and his fellows, Balder, the Warriors Three, Hildegarde, and his lady Sif, who spoke their mind against Odin’s recent actions, and now pay the price. In Asgard, the unlikely friendship between Vizier and the Norn Queen Karnilla have them pondering the seeming madness of the All-Father, while elsewhere on Earth a hapless man approaches a lonely mansion on a dark night, finding shelter from the owner within. Sif and Hildegarde are the first in New York to witness the arrival of the Absorbing Man, who wreaks havoc, demanding the appearance of Thor. The restless girls show ‘Sorby that they ain’t no damsels in distress, but they are no match for his power, and Thor shows up in the nick of time. Like previous battles, they are very evenly matched, neither seeming to gain an advantage. Suddenly the Absorbing Man is whisked away…to the mansion we saw earlier, where the “hapless” human is actually Creel’s rescuer: Loki, God of Evil. He welcomes Crusher with veiled threats, and bids him to join in the plans for the end of Thor—and the planet Earth!
-Jim Barwise

Jim: I found this tale of the Absorbing Man, one of the first of Thor’s truly classic foes, to be well-paced and suspenseful. The opening, with the boys dreading the end of summer, is a memory we can all relate to, and the return of Crusher Creel was quite effective. We knew Loki was behind it all, but his disguise as a weary drifter at a dark mansion was a cool touch. The bits in Asgard, and the uncertainty of Thor’s fellows on Earth, flesh out this issue. And much as I disagree with daddy Odin, I sure wouldn’t want his job. Now let’s see which direction Gerry takes us…

Scott: There's something about the splash page that feels like a 1980s comic. The art, the logo at the masthead, the general layout all feel a lot more modern. I had to double check to make sure I had the right file. I did indeed, so it was just a nice feeling.

Matthew: Already excited over the prospect of a nice, simple (and I mean that in the best possible sense of the word) Absorbing Man story, after all of that cosmic chaos, I saw this issue opened with the words “Rutland, Vermont,” and immediately knew two things:  first, that we were in for something different, and second—with 20/20 hindsight—that this story would be continued.  I thought Sif would have encountered ol’ Crusher before, or at the very least heard tell of him from her beau, but there seems to be no sign of recognition here, and I haven’t time to research it.  Tiresome as his periodic banishments are, I think I prefer Gerry’s Thor on Midgard; meanwhile, Colletta allows a little Buscema grandeur to slip through, especially on the last page.

Scott: Crusher Creel is back, and Thor's got him. But not until after Thor, with nothing much to do, spends the evening in front of the TV at Avengers Mansion. You know, a lot of people might find this sort of thing boring, but after months of non-stop overdrama and end-of-the-world posturing, this is a major breath of fresh air. Not every action leads to a more operatic reaction and it's really nice to see Thor wishing for something to do. It is weird that he considers Earth a "madman's world" after years of never being able to tear himself away. Then again, without the bland and annoying Jane Foster to tie him down, maybe he really doesn't have much use for us after all. He seems to have no place to hang his winged hat, but doesn't Don Blake have an apartment? Wouldn't he be just as brooding and lonely there? Or did he really stay to have his dinner served to him by Jarvis?

Peter: Wow! Professor Scott, you've hit on something that's nagged me since day one but I've never mentioned it before (read that as: I've stolen your thought and made it mine): where does Don Blake go when he's not mending broken bones or being flown to Florida to perform the first lactotolerectomy on a man with no head? I mean, not that he's seen a patient in years but does he own his own house or will he get home and find the bank's repossessed it? This silly inside joke known as Rutland has, I think, run its course. The funny thing, to me, is when I read old interviews with these Marvel guys (like Gerry and Roy), who talk about intricate plotting and writing and then foist this fanboy stuff on us. They're just like us after all! I think most of us knew pretty quickly who was behind Crusher Creel's headaches but that final panel, of Loki beckoning us all into the next issue, is worth wading through a sea of nothingness this issue. Well, I say nothingness, but Gerry Conway's reheated dialogue and meandering, meaningless narratives ("Divide an instant into its component parts: Action; reaction and one more -- observation. And of all the parts, this last is most passive -- and most frustrating -- there is no involvement -- only helpless perception-- and an agonizing awareness of one's utter unimportance in the eyes of blind destiny") stack up on themselves like a huge mountain of slop that threatens to rise like The Heap... (take another breath)

Scott: Once the Absorbing Man makes his pain wracked way into the city, Thor leaps into action - right through the plate glass window of the mansion. To quote Lex Luthor in Superman II, "when will these dummies learn to use a doorknob?" Another bill for Tony Stark to foot. The rest over, the battle begins anew and it's a dandy fight. Creel's pain and strange powers continue and it all leads to an outstanding full page cliffhanger, probably the best depiction of Loki seen in months.

The Power of... Warlock 3
"The Apollo Eclipse"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton

En route to the launching of a weather satellite with his friends, at the invitation of Col. Roberts, Adam is summoned from a storm-bound speedboat off the Southern California coast by the High Evolutionary, who informs him of the recent visit by the Hulk and the Rhino, yet agrees again to abide by his vow.  When a whirlpool threatens them, Adam discovers that the source is a shark-like submarine, which fails to capture him with its metallic tentacles; Apollo, a follower of the Man-Beast, has underestimated his foe and flees.  The group is met by Roberts and Senator Carter, and sees Presidential candidate Rex Carpenter before Apollo destroys the rocket, but after reverting to his porcine New-Man form, Apollo takes Eddie and Ellen hostage… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although newly minted EIC Roy has passed the writing baton into the capable hands of Mike Friedrich, last issue’s “spiritual advisor,” Gil Kane, is back as a full-fledged artist, again inked by Tom Sutton; I warmly welcome Adam’s reunion with his other “parent,” plus careful continuity that places the current Hulk in between this issue and the last.  The Man-Beast may be gone for now (although his inevitable return, sans spoilers, may be closer than you think), but it makes sense that he would leave behind various acolytes for Adam to clean up in the meantime.  Glad to see a rapprochement between Adam’s friends and their fathers, so my only real beef with this issue is another “Better destroy Counter-Earth”/”No, you promised!”/”Yes, you’re right” rehash.

Peter: I've mentioned before my impatience with these "cosmic sagas" but they're getting easier to read... I think. This installment was six of one, half dozen of the other. Interesting to me is the various sub-plots but not so interesting (and where the series loses me) is the hard-core science fiction elements. Just too dang confusing for this little brain. I can appreciate the scope but it's not winning me over. This is the most reined in I've ever seen Tom Sutton. On a superhero title, that's a good thing.


Chili #20
Combat Kelly #4
Harvey #6
Journey Into Mystery #2
Jungle Action #2
Kid Colt Outlaw #165
Li'l Kids #9
Marvel Tales #40
Marvel Triple Action #8
Millie the Model #199
Monsters on the Prowl #20
My Love #20
The Outlaw Kid #13
Rawhide Kid #106
Sgt. Fury #105
Supernatural Thrillers #1 ->
The Gunhawks #2
Wyatt Earp #31
The X-Men 79

Initially tagged for "classic horror story" status, Supernatural Thrillers (nearly-nee Gothic Thrillers) actually featured four issues of such before succumbing to the regular adventures of "The Living Mummy!" The premiere issue, featuring Roy Thomas' dynamite adaptation of Theodore Sturgeon's "It!" is easily the best of the four. Obviously this would have been a perfect showcase for the talents of Bernie Wrightson, but Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia do an adequate job of conveying the creepiness of a walking garbage dump. There's a sweet irony in Roy adapting the classic story, first featured in the August 1940 issue of Unknown, since The Heap (who starred in Hillman's Airboy Comics in the mid-1940s) was surely a rip-off of Sturgeon's ecological nightmare and Roy, in turn, "paid homage" to The Heapster. The three adaptations to follow (H.G. Wells' The Invisible Man, Robert E. Howard's The Valley of the Worm, and Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) all lacked excitement and, in two of the three, suffered from overkill. The nadir was reached with Win Mortimer's amateurish art on Jekyll. I need no crystal ball to tell me that poor sales delivered the killing blow to ST's purging of the old volumes. We'll learn how a similar ransacking of science fiction classics worked in May 1973. No fair peeking! -Peter Enfantino

The second issue of Journey Into Mystery featured, for me, the best horror adaptation Marvel ever published: Robert Bloch's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper" (originally from the July, 1943 issue of Weird Tales). Arguably Bloch's greatest short story (I'm one who'll argue in favor of that point to the grave), "Yours Truly" finds present-day police detectives investigating murders committed in the style of jolly ol' Jack and comes equipped with one of the most effective twist endings ever laid down on paper. The story had already been tepidly adapted for Boris Karloff's Thriller TV show in 1961(the snooze quotient, to be fair, might have been advanced because of television censors) and could have been all but forgotten if not for Ron Goulart, who perfectly emphasizes the relationship between police veteran Sir Guy Hollis and psychiatrist John Carmody, lulls you into a sense of false security, and then lowers the boom on you in that finale. Gil Kane and Ralph Reese combine to deliver flawless artwork. Check out that last panel (reprinted below), with Carmody revealing his secret and breaking into an almost Joker-ish grin. This fabulous gem opened the door of horror fiction to me and I was soon hunting down anything by Bloch I could find. -Peter Enfantino

This Sunday!
Matthew Bradley enlightens and educates us about...
Oh, but that would be telling!

All New! No Reprints!

The Sunday Special

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