Wednesday, November 20, 2013

January 1973 Part One: The Monster Is Frankenstein!

The Amazing Spider-Man 116
"Suddenly... The Smasher!"
Story by Stan Lee and Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita, Jim Mooney, and Tony Mortellaro

Spider-Man idly swings by a pair of painters working on a Richard Raleigh for Mayor billboard when suddenly a giant fist smashes through it (“SKRAKKK!”), followed by the super-sized Smasher! Spidey relocates the painters and proceeds to tackle the two-ton titan. After a boisterous battle that finds our hero impressed with the Smasher’s speed, strength and agility, Spidey has to save the painters from falling off the building and the mysterious man-mountain disappears. After a quick trip to the Bugle to (finally) retrieve his original mask from JJJ’s office with a nifty web line, Spidey changes into his civvies and meets Harry and MJ, who invite them to a Raleigh rally [I’ve been dying to use that one!]. Back to the Bugle where JJJ turns down Peter’s pics of Ock and Hammerhead, yelling for Smasher snapshots instead. Next we see candidate Richard Raleigh on TV where he vows to crush organized crime, even intimidating a low-grade hood/producer/something. Swinging by Gwen’s place, Peter’s reassured that there’s nothing between her and Flash, then the couple head to the Raleigh dinner at an East Side hotel. MJ tells them they just missed his speech, and after they get settled in at a table, Peter’s spider-sense goes haywire—a fixture above them is starting to crumble! Ripping out a power panel to cut the lights, Peter crawls up the wall and tries to use his webbing to secure the ceiling before he’s both discovered by anyone and the rubble crushes Gwen and the rest of the crowd!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Another classic Romita cover kicks off an action-packed trilogy. Well, at least that’s how I remembered it one month into my sixth year on Earth. According to the “SPECIAL NOTE FROM THE BULLPEN DEPARTMENT OF CREATIVE CONFUSION”, it’s a reprint of a Lee-Romita story that first appeared in black and white in The Spectacular Spider-Man mag “back in the last major election year”, updated slightly by Conway to bring the continuity up to date and with some art touch-ups by JR. Honestly, I had no idea about this reprint thing, or don’t remember, but no matter. It’s a rip-roaring part one packed with lots of talk about the move toward younger people getting involved in politics, lots of action and suspense, lots of obvious clues towards what’s going to happen the next two issues, a good cliffhanger and lots of overall Amazing-ness.

Matthew Bradley: No, Stan hasn’t reclaimed Spidey again; this is the start of a trilogy cannibalized and colorized from the Lee/Romita epic in the B&W first issue of the Spectacular Spider-Man magazine in ’68.  It also presents an insoluble continuity problem:  since it basically retells the same story, with reference to recent events in Amazing, the original version, per the MCDb, “can be presumed to be retconned out of continuity.  Sounds good, since most people have forgotten the failed experiment of Spectacular, if they even knew it existed…yet candidate Raleigh was not only featured but also seen dead—under mysterious circumstances—in the four-color, contemporaneous, and presumably in-continuity Daredevil #42, so what’s canonical here?

Mark Barsotti: Professor Matthew has already delineated the Smasher's somewhat dubious lineage. This is a reprint plus, but since I didn't get within fifty miles of Spidey's abortive black and white mag as a kid, it was all new to me. And it's pretty darn effective, given its cut 'n' paste birth and pedestrian villain. Those students in Advanced Spidey Studies, take notes, as the differences between ASM #116 and The Spectacular Spider-Man #1 will be on the semester final. The political reference on P. 2 has been updated to Presidential candidate George McGovern from the original shout-out to Everett Dirksen, begging the question of why Stan thought kids in 1968 would now who the hell that was.

Scott McIntyre:  I've read this story dozens of times before, but only recently did I discover it was originally from the Spectacular Spider-Man black and white magazine. With Gerry Conway bringing the continuity up to date, it fits in pretty flawlessly, since I never noticed the seams. The art is to die for, really the best, most detailed work for the title I've seen to date. It was a good story in Spectacular and it's a dandy now, even though Raleigh's manner of speech is a tad overcooked and stilted (don't miss you, Stan). At the same time, it's pretty clear he's fricking nuts.

Peter Enfantino: Though the voice behind the letters page trumpets that this was the perfect story to be trotted out for election season, I ain't buyin' it. Yeah, Gerry and John have to do some minor tinkering but this buys them three full issues of deadline doom avoidance. Considering what Conway comes up with a few months after this fill-in arc (and his gigantic load involving other titles), I can excuse him a few months off here. 

Joe: The panel on the lower half of page 6 with Spidey looking up at the Smasher about to toss the billboard on him is a stunning piece of art by the Jazzy one. Incredible perspective, great detail, and an impending sense of doom that makes me nervous to turn the page! Hands down the best panel of the ish, maybe the best of the whole Marvel month! And as a new AMS feature by yours truly, this month’s fave sound effect: “SPTANG!”—because that’s exactly how a steel billboard smashing against the street would sound, no doubt.

Peter: I remember (or I think I remember) that "SPTANG" was the exact sound effect that Sergio Leone used whenever Clint would spit out some chaw. A very good analogy for a retread like this issue. No? Let me spell it out... Clint (Marvel)... Ground (the paying reader).

Scott: It's great to have the supporting cast back and Gwen and Peter together again, since their time is really short now (the final words of the issue are sadly prophetic). A lot of time is spent on Peter and his friends, which was always one of the stronger points of the title. For the past few issues, it's felt like Pete had gotten a little lost. This issue is a nice change and a harkening back to the golden age of the book. And, at last, Spidey ditches the stolen costume shop mask and gets his own back. All is right with the world.

Mark: The mask-retrieving Bugle scene is all new, as is the Aunt May and girl-trouble dialogue and the Pete/Gwen scene on P. 27. The Smasher never called himself that in the original; Spidery sorta adopted the "Man Monster" moniker from one of the rescued painters (thus the original "Lo, This Monster" title). The biggest change is in mayoral candidate Richard Raleigh. The crime boss who confronts him on P .21 was just a Raleigh lackey first time around, and the candidate's evil pol villainy was originally way more over the top. Gerry Conway's more muted tone here is an improvement. The Romita art has been re-inked, Jim Mooney adding background detail to the original, which oft looks unfinished. Some bad dance scenes at the rally have been deleted and the weakened roof wasn't a cliffhanger in the mag version. Overall Man Monster/Smasher 2.0 is an improvement. It'd be interesting to know exactly why the Marvel brain-trust decided to trot out then four year old material for their signature title, but so far the recycling works.

Captain America and the Falcon 157
"Veni, Vidi, Vici: Viper"
Story by Steve Englehart and Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and John Verpoorten

Cap is ambushed by toughs as he seeks to enter Police Headquarters by men working for The Cowled Commander. Beating his adversaries, Cap keeps his appointment with the commissioner, who needs Cap to crack the mystery behind this new menace. The commissions excuses himself to make a call and moments later, the building goes up in a huge explosion. Cap is killed and the book is cancelled. Nah, just kidding. Meanwhile Sam Wilson arrives at his office to be pestered by Leila, who is back to bitch mode. Getting into his Falcon duds, he swings by Morgan the Crime Boss' place, showing up just in time for Morgan to get a call about Cap and his plight. Falc meets Sharon at the wreckage and they think Cap may have been killed in the blast. Sam spots a glinting coming from a nearby rooftop and goes to check it out. He finds a new villain called The Viper, a former marketer of children's toys (seriously - he says this to Falcon before he attacks), who, on orders of the Cowled Commander, hits Falc with a venom tipped dart. At this moment, Cap arrives. It appears he lucked out and was blown through a window and decided to lie low to get to the bottom of it. After a fight, the Viper puts the antidote to the venom killing the Falcon on the ground then tags Cap with the same poison. Now both men are dying and out of reach of the poison as the Viper takes his leave. Will our heroes survive?! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Something of a comedown from the previous arc. Actually, it's not that good at all, except for the art. The Viper is ridiculous; he tells the Falcon everything but his identity and his social. He's a pointless blabbermouth, but the funny thing is he will be responsible, if indirectly, for one of the most earth-shaking Captain America plots to date, when the Secret Empire arc takes flight in a few months. The mystery of the poorly named Cowled Commander isn't all that interesting and the very obvious way the commish is set up makes it pretty clear he's not the villain. Leila is annoying again, giving Sam the business and being abrasive. It strikes me how odd it is when someone as close to the Falcon as Leila can't seem to put two and two together, but that's the comic book biz for ya. For someone who's supposed to be a fox, the center panel on page 7 (below) shows no evidence of this.

Matthew: On his website, Englehart explains this rare collaboration between what may be my two favorite Bronze-Age Marvel writers:  “Steve Gerber kindly scripted the second half…while I was attending a wedding in California.  He gave the Viper his ‘ad man’ persona.”  You would think that after knocking it out of the park with the two-Cap quartet his first time at bat, Stainless might kick back and rest on his laurels a little, but instead, he goes from strength to strength with this memorable new villain.  And while Our Pal Sal’s pencils are always overshadowed by those of big brother John, his biggest booster on the faculty, Professor Joe, will be glad to hear me say that when taken on their own merits, inked here by Verpoorten, they rock!

Scott: Muldoon still ceases to interest me, but his arc will come to a close before much more time goes by. Yeah, Dean Peter loves this dude, but not only don't I care about Muldy, the resolution will make no sense. I'll stop before we get to spoiler territory, but I'll say it won't be worth the trip. However, the developments in Cap's life will jump next issue and cause more tension between him and Falc. Ah well, I knew the good times wouldn't last.

Peter: Yep, I loves me my teeth-grittin'-Sgt. Fury-twin brother-separated at birth-Sgt. Muldoon! To be fair to Stainless (and guest speaker Gerber),after such an epic. it's only natural there should be a bit of a letdown here. It's not that this story doesn't have its merits, it does, but it's not the natural progression I'd hoped for. I felt that way forty years ago and I feel that way now. The Viper's a fifth-tier oddity in that he wears a mask but crows about his time with a top ad agency. Why would someone hoping to keep anonymity shout out details of his past life? Cockiness? Insanity? And, though it's only briefly touched on, do we need another bigoted villain this quickly? I can't wait to see how The Commissioner managed to survive that blast.

Mark: No surprise there's a drop off in quality after the "'50's Cap" epic, one of Marvel's signature storylines of the '70's. Steve Englehart, off on vacation after penning seven pages, hands the baton to Steve Gerber, whose quirky sensibility is unmistakable. The Viper's Mad Man gone bad persona ("I labored...selling other men's products...laying waste to the values and environment of a nation...") is pure Gerber. The Viper serves the Cowled Commander, whom I suspect is the police commissioner, given his timely exit right before the bomb blast that Cap survives through the "blind luck" of being blown out the window. Prof Matthew might consider such hoary hokum as Englehart going from "strength to strength." I consider it evidence Englehart needed that vacation.

Matthew: Even the letters page is a treasure trove, with three missives that praise Steve’s debut so highly, they might have been ghosted by a time-hopping Dean Enfantino.  One is from Marvel’s own Tom Orzechowski, later closely associated with Starlin and Claremont, who is probably the only guy ever to make me notice lettering for being anything other than terrible, and—aptly—comments on John Costanza’s work in #153.  Plus we get the lowdown on “The Two Steves”:  “Steve E. isn’t intending to give up CA&F (perish forfend!); it’s just that he’s about to take a long-overdue vacation, and needed a little help from his friends….[He] wrote 7½ pages of this month’s story—not necessarily in order.  Anybody wanna try to figure which ones?”  Not I, sir!

Mark: Gerber's absurdist humor is on full display when the Viper tells the Falcon he's "typical of your demographic segment," and "ring around the collar...means you're dying," but the problem is this ain't Howard the Duck, and lacking HTD's satirical setting the yuck-worthy lines ("...mouthing hyperbolic slogans by day – and developing my venoms by night!") create a jarring tone in a square-jawed title like Cap. The results aren't so much bad, just weird as hell. As a fan of weird, I enjoyed this in a disjointed, acid-flashback sort of way. But if Gerber's gone next ish, I expect the more straight-laced Englehart trying to make sense of all this might be a bummer, man.

Captain Marvel 24
"Death in High Places!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Wayne Boring and Ernie Chua

Aided by Madame Synn, Leonard Mynde covertly tests Mar-Vell by aiming a rocket sled at Rick, and when they meet socially at the home of his old colleague, Prof. Savannah, he invites the lad to his Virginia estate to correct the effects of the photon energy.  Overhearing his scheme to raid a Pentagon cache of weapons, Rick refuses to change and is captured by Mynde, who leaves his wheelchair to reveal that his head was transplanted from a radiation-poisoned body onto a steel one.  To save the captive Lou-Ann and Savannah, Rick feigns cooperation as Mynde uses his Avengers i.d. (discarded in #17) to enter the Pentagon, then changes; confused after killing Synn with a blast meant for Mar-Vell, Mynde slays himself. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The outgoing Wolfman/Boring team had already set the bar pretty damned low by the time John Buscema’s protégé and sometime Conan inker, the late Ernie Chua (aka Chan), drew the short straw to became Boring’s third and final embellisher on this title.  But by gum, they’ve managed to kick it down another notch, with grade-school art (Mynde looks especially amateurish) and a story whose litany of head-scratchers I won’t waste anybody’s time enumerating. Yet according to the MCDb, whose word I’ll have to take for it, Jim Starlin penciled the last page uncredited, so with Marv—the Kree, not the writer—having gotten his new Nega-Bands last issue, almost all of the pieces are in place as we wait in hushed anticipation for the biggest 180 in Marvel history.

Scott: Mr. Mynde? Prof. Savannah? Oy, who's next, Talky Tony? Is Marvel rubbing DC's noses in having the rights to the character's name or something? It sticks out like a sore thumb in this overall middling story. Rick is still a douche who abuses the hell out of Mar-Vell, not giving a flying crap if Marv is stuck in the negative Zone for weeks on end. Nope, as long as "Mrs. Jones' boy Rick" is out of there in 30 seconds. Wayne Boring's art is okay, but this is a dead end title.

Daredevil and the Black Widow 95
"Bullfight on the Bay!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

In a New York jail, the man named Bull Taurus, aka the Man-Bull when he gets the right formula, talks to his visiting buddy Itch, to plan his escape. That plan consists of a careful shot into Bull’s prison cell later that night, complete with the injection needed to make the half-man half-beast live once more. His plan, erase the person he blames for his imprisonment: Daredevil. Matt Murdock gets scarcely a moment in his new San Francisco law office before he has to change and stop a runaway car from killing someone. He does, directing it into the waters of San Francisco Bay, unwittingly confirming his presence to a watching Taurus and Itch. However it’s the Black Widow, driving with Ivan in his 'vette, who are the Bull’s first victims, running them off the road. Ivan handles Itch but gets hurt by the Bull, prompting Natasha to blast him with a surprise from her belt. She gets Ivan home to recover before she and DD head back into the fray. Matt gets knocked out, maybe for good, infuriating the Widow, who’s now out for blood. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Now, more than ever, Matt and Natasha function as true teammates, as much (treating each other like) equals as any two men would do. For such a basic brute, the Man-Bull isn’t too bad, but I think his main purpose is just to fuel the story along. I’m curious about the other female character coming on the scene: Lucretia Jones. The news reporter describes DD as a man “so much more.” Is that a hint at a past (or future) connection? I’m really enjoying DD in his San Fran home. There’s no doubt he’s much happier here (with a spider’s help no doubt) than in the soul drudgery that New York was for him.

Scott: Bull Taurus. God, how did I miss that the first time we saw Man-Bull? I'm glad I did, I guess. Oy. Moving on. Nice to see Matt in a new job in Frisco, but it stuns me how few people are going to miss the Murdock/Daredevil connection. It's also interesting to finally pin down how long it takes for him to change into his crime fighting duds. Five seconds! Damn, that's good. It takes me longer to yank my underpants from my crack on a hot summer day. All the fighting and drama is almost worth it for the amazing full page panel on page 22 (below). Very nicely done! As is the final panel of the enraged Widow. All in all, a lot of noise and flash for little, but it's nice to have an uncomplicated yarn for a change.

Matthew: Just as in last month’s Thor, when I welcomed an Absorbing Man story after a convoluted Conway arc, I’m delighted to see the Man-Bull—for whom I have a previously noted soft spot—make a return appearance.  Another nice change of pace is seeing Natasha active, in command of herself, holding her own against a formidable foe and, finally, vengeful; likewise, Gene and Tom are in fine form, including that totally gratuitous but admittedly fun full-pager on 22.  Curiously, to me, the last shot of the Widow looked less like the work of Colan than it did that of Bob Brown, who would not succeed him for another year…and why on earth would the New York Daily News, rather than the Bugle, be put out by the “Jameson Publishing Company”?

Mark: Oh boy, oh boy, the Man-Bull is back! We're all psyched, right, fellahs? Well, Prof Matthew likes him... The subtly named Bull Taurus, freed from jail with help from his flunky Itch (who shoots a syringe of transformative Bull-serum into Taurus's cell; talk about your "Magic Bullets."), head to San Francisco to take revenge on DD. After using a driverless speeding car to flush out Hornhead, apparently to make certain he's the genuine article, MB decides to attack the Widow first. Itch sideswipes Natasha and Ivan's 'Vette (mistakenly called a Mustang) with a big truck, while his bovine boss – I kid you not – chows down on a turkey leg. The Widow escapes the ambush with an injured Ivan, then our heroes swing into action before DD is apparently shot from behind by Itch while focused on Beastie Boy. It's a decent enough yarn, given the third-rate barnyard baddie, but even Mean Gene Colan seems distracted, delivering a final panel (above) that makes Natasha look like the Puppet Master in drag.

Fantastic Four 130
"Battleground: The Baxter Building!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Having defeated the Thing and Medusa for the nonce, the Frightful Four (with Thundra in the lady’s spot) set to head for the Baxter Building to steal Reed Richards scientific secrets. Thundra has been partially deceived by her teammates; they have given her the impression no fatalities are intended, and in exchange for her battle with the Thing, she is to help them with the theft. Unaware of all that’s happening to his teammates, the Human Torch has found Crystal in the Great Refuge, who is “hiding” up in a nearby tower. He won’t let her fellow Inhumans explain why he should listen before he leaps, and so by the time he gets to his girlfriend, he sees why caution would have been a good idea. Back at the Baxter Building, Reed is taken unaware by the bad F.F.’s surprise attack, and subdued. They do indeed find his lab, but get more than they bargained for. The Invisible Girl is back, and attacking them. But the threat of harm to her son Franklin has her surrender. The young boy’s as yet unclear powers help to awaken the Thing, and this, combined with Thundra’s growing awareness of her teammates intentions, allow time for the good guys to stand up and be counted again. The bad guys make good their getaway, but tempers all around have Sue (taking Franklin) heading out the door for good.
-Jim Barwise

Matthew:  Well, we don’t come any closer to learning Thundra’s origins just yet, but she does display a little more dimension this time around, and may ultimately win me over, making this the issue I have probably enjoyed the most so far since Roy took over.  At least that helps offset the sad—if perhaps inevitable and certainly impermanent—split between Reed and Sue, on top of Johnny’s defection, and of course I loved Stretcho’s stirring last-panel vow.  Although some of the facial expressions really seem a bit over the top, Buscema and Sinnott have plenty on which to go to town, with both the Fantastic and Frightful Fours, plus a certain scarlet-tressed Inhuman whose close connection with the latter FF I have never fully understood.

Scott: Another action packed, if hyper-dramatic, FF adventure. I'm with Professor Matthew, the facial expressions are over the top as per usual for John Buscema. I can't imagine the Wizard and the Sandman not going to bed with severe facial cramps and back pain. Thundra is a little on the annoying side, but her sense of honor is a nice counterpoint. She's got some promise, but she'll never be amazing. Unlike some of the other faculty, I've read ahead and do know her origin. Unfortunately, with that story will come the most ridiculous menace the FF will have faced up to that point. Yeah, when we get there, remember I said that.

Mark: I raced through the non-stop action of "Battleground: The Baxter Building" like the eleven year old who first read it, back in the Paleozoic, and that was an unexpected treat. From the Frightful Four bickering over an unconscious Ben Grimm, to the Torch (who continues to be unduly slagged by certain misguided senior facility) literally burning his way toward beloved Crystal in the Inhumans' Great Refuge, to John Buscema's Kirby-like machine porn splash (P. 15) and on to the marital strife conclusion, this ish was fun, fun, fun ('til Quicksilver takes the exquisite elemental away)!

Peter: Unlike Professor Matthew, I welcome the disharmony between Reed and Sue as I remember this leading down some interesting paths (one of which, Medusa becoming an honorary member, should be just up ahead), at least if my nostalgia isn't playing tricks on me. I do agree with my esteemed colleague that this was the best Roy Thomas issue yet and gives me hope that his remaining batch of issues could be quite entertaining. Of course, I could do without (yawn) the neverending hissy fits of one Johnny Storm but the little teases Roy gives us, of Franklin's power and of Crystal's secret, have got me heading for my copy of #131 right after I finish typing this!

Scott: The split of Reed and Sue polarizes fandom and this faculty. I'm of two minds: I don't mind introducing friction into the marriage, but the speed in which things went south was a little hard to take. It's only been a few issues since we started seeing signs and now it's a full blown split. Reed's an ass and nobody's even making an effort. Some longer build up would have been nice. Add to that is another Human Torch hissy fit, as Dean Peter calls it. Johnny will continue to annoy and suck monkey stuff for the foreseeable future. How many times can he blow his stack, race to the great refuge and have it turn out the same way? Nobody stops to talk, it's annoying. And why is Crystal wearing an FF uniform? She's not on the team anymore and she's home. She must have an outfit somewhere. Next issue, Ross Andru will step in on pencils and I'll fight to keep my lunch down.

Jim: A worthy follow-up to the promise of last month. Thundra is no one’s fool, and is playing the Frightful’s game for her own benefit as much as theirs. A somewhat realistic view on the differences between Reed and Sue add a touch of toughness to the story, leaving us really up in the air for next month. I’m with you Pete; what’s so wrong with Crystal that we have to wait until next month (for more on Thundra too) to find the answer?

Mark: One could ask why Thundra (Amazonian defender of the weaker sex, i.e. men) appears to be wearing a bandolier of bullets, or what the hell is the "Wheat Chex Express" (in re: Sandman's question to Reed, "Where do you get all that snappy dialogue, anyhow – off the Wheat Chex Express?"), but I won't because they didn't occur to me while deep in the fictive dream, and that's the larger point. I was so wrapped-up in the story that my critical facilities not once offered up a snarky comment or noted a clumsy plot point, and I think the esteemed MU staff will agree that's a rare occurrence. To be unexpectedly plugged back into childhood for fifteen minutes of excitement and adventure. I doubt the spell will continue next ish, but however they did it, big props to Roy, John and Joe for this one. A+.    

Beware! The Claws of the Cat 2
"The Owl and the Pussycat"
Story by Linda Fite
Art by Marie Severin and Jim Mooney

Tumolo survived, and her telepathic impulses summon Greer to a hospital, where the Cat foils an attempted break-in by minions of the Owl, and from which his henchman Broussard—posing as Tumolo’s nephew—removes her just as her attorney, Ben Richards, tells Greer she was named her beneficiary.  Following, Greer is captured and learns that the Owl plans to drain the contents of Tumolo’s memory cells, adding her wisdom to a taped collection that will make him incredibly powerful. Donning her Cat outfit, Greer escapes and skirmishes with the Owl while freeing the brain-damaged Tumolo; Broussard tries to steal the information for himself, and the Owl escapes after Broussard’s wild shot overloads the machine, frying his brain. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Call me an easy lay, but I think the idea of pitting Greer against everyone’s favorite avian adversary, setting up the whole cat/bird dynamic, and then actually calling the story “The Owl and the Pussycat” is brilliant.  It’s too bad Wally Wood, the first of our little feline team to defect, didn’t stick around to ink the Owl, a fellow Daredevil alumnus, but Jim Mooney is well teamed with penciler/colorist Marie Severin, making it all the more frustrating that 20% of this story’s pages are squandered on retelling events of just one issue ago, a problem I have seen in many a mag of late.  That said, so far this series deserves better than its quick death, and as with DD himself, it’s nice to see a hero based somewhere other than New York (in this case Chicago).

Scott: Not as bad as I expected, honestly. Marie Severin and Jim Mooney make a crackerjack team. I never liked Marie's work much, but Jim really makes the difference. They make the character realistic and not over the top or "Marvel Style." Their depiction of the Owl is most satisfying. The script isn't bad, but Linda Fite isn't the strongest writer ever. I still don't see the advantage of having a woman specifically write for a female character. Greer isn't any more or less independent or brave than any other super hero woman at Marvel at the time.

Peter: Wally Wood may have defected but his inspiration is all over this strip, especially in the almost loving way Severin delivers the cheesecake. The art is perfect, as is the villain, and I can't help but feel delivered back to the Golden Age of Atlas, but the story's a bit weak. Who cares when you can feast your eyes on the best retro artwork this side of Bill Everett? Nice of the Owl's goons to leave The Cat with her handbag (she is a lady after all).

Scott: The Owl's henchmen look a lot like Nightowl from Watchmen, and why is it so many characters in the Marvel Universe can knock people out with the Vulcan Nerve Pinch? The Beast will do it when he appears in the Hulk shortly. I'm not sure I buy Greer's "Cat Sense." It's a little too Spider-Man for me.  However, it's interesting that Owl's goons are so damned polite at first. "You can't stick around!" Usually, they'd just shoot or knock her out, but these guys are all "you really ought to leave." I didn't need the super long origin recap either, but I guess they felt it necessary. It just could have been shorter.

Amazing Adventures 16
The Beast in
"... And the Juggernaut Will Get You
... If You Don't Watch Out!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Frank McLaughlin

On Halloween in Rutland, Vermont, The Beast stops an approaching car in its tracks then bounds off to change back into his human Hank McCoy costume and meet Vera (the mystery woman from the end of last ish) and get a lift from members of the Marvel Bullpen. As they drive away, the Juggernaut appears from a pink hole in the sky, only to be pulled right back to the cosmos. Hank and Vera decide to watch the Rutland Halloween parade, even though Vera reminds him they must get to Canada soon, where she needs his talents as a mutations scientist. As the parade begins, Juggernaut reappears, sensing the Beast, but again is drawn back in! Shedding the human costume, Beast heads for the forest, where Juggernaut reappears and the two old enemies battle! Taking off with the ruthless rampager in pursuit, Beast finally slips away when Jugs can’t climb up a hill easily. Beast makes it to Tom Fagan’s Halloween party, with costume back on, but the gargantuan galoot follows! A trapped Hank then rips off the McCoy mask and leaps at a stunned Juggernaut, ripping off his helmet, which saps Juggy’s mystical powers! As he smashes the armored agitator, Beast realizes Juggy is aging before his eyes—and is then swallowed by the pink cosmic hole once again, leaving the Beast to stand alone in the cold, dark forest. —Joe Tura

Joe Tura: As a middle-aged comic reader, I don’t really like the Marvel Bullpen appearances gimmick to be honest. But we’re stuck with it as soon as Rutland, Vermont is mentioned, with the crazy crossover as explained below by Prof. Matthew. Hurray. At least we get a mention of Night Nurse out of it! Overall, an OK way for The Beast’s Amazing Adventures run to end, which is happening due to “lack of sales” per the letters page. Which partly stinks because Englehart was doing a fine job with Hank McCoy, and they leave some stones unturned. I vaguely remembered this one until I saw the missing tooth old man Juggernaut, then realized it was part of my long-gone comic collection. Wish I would have remembered the constant changing back into the human Hank disguise, which is screwy in parts because he dons it nowhere near where he left it. Bob Brown’s art is decent, with some bad long shots of our furry friend, and a nifty Supergirl costume on Glynis Wein.

Matthew:  For a brief, heart-stopping period starting this month, Englehart was simultaneously writing Captain America, the Avengers, the Defenders, the Beast and, now, the Hulk; those last two barely overlapped, due to the cancellation of Hank’s low-selling strip, but because this was scheduled as the final Beast issue (more on that next time), the plotline actually concludes in Incredible Hulk #161.  Penciler Bob Brown, a polarizing figure making his Marvel Bronze-Age debut—and whose later work I consider underrated—is poorly served here by Frank McLaughlin’s inks.  This is the third consecutive year in which Marvel has set stories, following Avengers #83 and Marvel Feature #2, amid Tom Fagan’s Rutland, Vermont, Halloween Parade.

Scott: This is the final issue featuring the Beast, thanks to the low readership. Actually, if the stories were any good, it might have fared a better chance. This issue is no better and is actually worse than usual. Rather than giving us the tragedy-ridden angst of the previous tales, Steve Englehart bogs it all down with in-jokes about the Marvel Staff going to Tom Fagan's party. Did anyone really appreciate this stuff? I'm glad everyone on staff is having fun, but the involvement of the Weins, Englehart and Gerry Conway did nothing for the story, already made ridiculous by Hank McCoy's full body disguise and the out of character Juggernaut. Juggy is "stunned by the sight of the awful transformation" from Hank to his Beast face…which really only amounted to ripping off a latex mask (Juggy must have been terrified watching Mission: Impossible). And Juggernaut has already seen the furry version of the Beast. So, it's awful alright and hard to believe this is the same writer who is propelling Captain America to greater heights of glory. Bob Brown's art is mediocre, but Glynis Wein looks good. Was she this hot in real life? The Beast's Canadian Quest will be concluded in an upcoming Hulk. Stay tuned.

Matthew: This also begins the legendary three-part first Marvel/DC cross-over, as Stainless explains on his website.  “I was pals with Gerry Conway, who wrote Thor, and Len Wein, who wrote Justice League [of America], and somehow we decided to plot a story that ran through all three books—even though JLA wasn’t from Marvel, and even though their books were much bigger than mine.  Gerry, Len, Len’s then-wife Glynis [this issue’s colorist], and I [rendered by “caricaturist” Marie Severin] appear in all three plotlines, each of which stands on its own but also fits into one larger story.  (They came out at the same time but Marvel’s cover dates were a month ahead of DC’s.)”  The tale continues in JLA #103 and Thor #207, the ending of which will have epic ramifications.

The Avengers 107
"The Master Plan of The Space Phantom"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Jim Starlin, George Tuska, and Dave Cockrum

The Space Phantom and The Grim Reaper have captured the Black Panther, Scarlet With, Iron Man and Hawkeye, who is still in his worst, most fey costume ever. Phantom and Reaper quibble over the plan, with Spacey agreeing not to kill the Vision in deference to Reapy. Of course, being a bad guy, nobody can trust the Space Phantom. Meanwhile, Captain America is still having visions of a Hydra battle that he finally discovers were mentally blocked, only to be released when Rick transformed into Captain Marvel in the previous issue. The Vision and the Reaper discuss the plan that led them all here. Long story short, the Phantom is behind it all and previously used his advanced technology to make the world forget Steve Rogers is Captain America, made Cap and Rick forget all this happened and set it up so the Grim Reaper could offer to transplant the Vision's brain in place of Cap's, giving the android a human body. Reaper asks the Vision to join him to complete this plan and the android…agrees! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This hideously complex story is a real bear to get through. There's too much continuity to tie in, stopping the story dead in order to lay it all on thick. Again, Englehart shows none of the deft, clean storytelling that is making Captain America's title so great. The only thing the issue has going for it is the amazing Jim Starlin-led art. Tuska and Cockrum, two of my least favorite Marvel artists, do great work in support and give the issue a fantastic look. The final panel on page seven is a nice Steranko Style illustration. Actually, the only real action comes from Cap's hidden memory battle. It's good stuff, but it's also a shame it's wasted on a plot so slow and labyrinthine. Until we see the identity of the unmasked Hydra guy, the convenient shrinking ray is pretty cheesy. I give Englehart credit for dealing with all this continuity, but there's just too much he's trying to tie together and smooth over. My brain hurts.

Matthew:  This is the same set-up as last time (Tuska pages from the abortive Captain America #114, interpolated by Englehart and inked by Cockrum), but with ubiquitous new kid Starlin subbing for Big Daddy Buckler.  Per the lettercol, “Carol B. got together with the stork a month earlier than expected, and presented slack-jawed Rich with a tiny fellow named Richard William on July 19th." Although a consistent style was probably the main goal, Cockrum sure makes Tuska look good, while Starlin more than holds his own; the Vision is as impressive in page 21, panel 6 as I have ever seen him.  I made the mistake of reading this insanely complex story in bed, and was soon quite overcome, so good luck to Stainless tying it up neatly next time.

Peter: Hard to know if this train wreck would have worked had it run when and where it belonged, way back in Captain America #114 or thereabouts. It's a patchwork of contemporary story and a batch of inventory pages and an order given to Stainless to "make it all flow." As it is, the narrative is so loony and filled with so much expository, it's like trying to walk through a bog. The Grim Reaper's "Hang on, let me tell you what's really going on" speech reminded me a lot of one of those Shudder Pulps where the ghoul who's been terrorizing New York turns out to be a costumed garbage man pissed off at the city. Well, minus the laffs. The only positive I can take from this forgettable arc is that The Space Phantom doesn't have Tuska teeth. How we avoided that I'm not sure.

The Monster of Frankenstein 1
"Mary Shelley's Frankenstein"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog 

Our story begins in 1898, as explorer Robert Walton IV leads a surly, rag-tag crew in search of Frankenstein's monster in the Arctic. While they successfully find the creature buried in ice on the splash page, several of the bitter crew die bringing it aboard their ship. Once aboard, Walton has the luxury of time to explain the reasoning behind his search. He begins his retelling of the Frankenstein legend, only to be interrupted by a storm at sea. A storm which knocks a lantern over near the block of ice encasing the monster. Which slowly begins to melt... -John Scoleri

Matthew:  The Friedrich/Ploog team reunites for something a little more literary, although you could argue that Ghost Rider is a kind of Dr. Faustus and Mr. Hyde mash-up.  Admittedly, this first part of their adaptation is well written and pretty faithful to Mary Shelley’s novel—certainly by Hollywood standards, which isn’t saying much—while Ploog is by now the go-to guy for such stuff, with a visual interpretation arguably close to the old Universal films.  The series lasted for 18 issues with post-Shelley adventures, creative turnover (e.g., Moench and Mayerik), and a pointless-seeming cover-title change from The Monster of Frankenstein to The Frankenstein Monster in #6...and yes, believe it or not, he eventually starred in Marvel Team-Up.

John Scoleri: This was likely one of the first Marvel comics I was exposed to (albeit in an abridged form of the first four issues in the Power Records Book & Record combo - of which I also owned the four Planet of the Apes adaptations and Spider-Man vs the Dragon Men). There was something about the depiction of the monster that resonated with me (Professor Peter will probably say it was his long hair). I'm sure I was bewildered by the fact that he didn't resemble the classic Universal Monster, but I thought he looked very cool (and this would have been long before I would see Wrightson's take on the classic creature). The art definitely still holds up, and the retelling of the story is handled as well as one could expect for such a series. I'm particularly looking forward to revisiting the issues after the adaptation, which I haven't read in years, although I'm already lamenting the early departure of Ploog after six issues. He was the perfect artist for the series.

Joe: Power Records! Yeah!!!

Scott: Like Prof. John, I also first read this in the abridged Power Records adaptation. It was much less wordy, if I recall. But it's such a thick narrative here, with the usual Gary Friedrich word count. It's all well written, but this could have been spaced out over several issues. Did this have to be in flashback, establishing two totally different sets of character and eras? Still, it's very sophisticated storytelling.

Peter: The Monster also had a long-running series over in Monsters Unleashed. I read both titles when I was a kid and loved them both. At this time, I can't for the life of me remember if the two series crossed over so we'll have to discover that together in the next couple years. As for the premiere issue of The Monster of Frankenstein, I'd have to say it's the best stab at the supernatural Marvel has yet attempted, thanks to a very adult tone in Friedrich's writing (there's no talking down to the little MZs in this one) and the near flawless, horrorific (Wrightson-esque) penciling of Mike Ploog. Gone are the cartoony flourishes we see over in Ghost Rider. His human characters actually look like real people rather than caricatures and his backgrounds are lavish. I liked how the captain never got to finish the story he was telling to his cabin boy, an odd turn of events in a Marvel Universe saturated with overlong origin stories. 

Scott: The art is Ploog's best to date. The level of detail and skill is undeniable. Nobody looks like Scooby Doo cast offs and at no point am I looking at "drawings." It's art, pure and simple, and raises the bar. With such a classic story, one needed illustrations worthy of the source and Ploog brings his  A-Game. The atmosphere is fantastic and I love that this is not an updated contemporary version. By placing it in the 1800's, it gives it a Classics Illustrated feel. A very solid first issue!

Conan the Barbarian 22
“The Coming of Conan”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Dan Adkins

This is a reprint of “Conan the Barbarian” #1 — click here to read the original synopsis. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: While the tremendous cover makes this issue look like a continuation of the Makkalet saga, the inside pages tell a different story entirely — and it’s one we’ve read before. An Apologia added to the splash panel and the rather snarky “The Hyborian Page” tell the sorry tale: at the last minute, 13 pages of already-late Barry Smith artwork went missing in the mail so Marvel decided to reprint the first issue instead. It’s not a bad solution since I don’t think #1 had ever been reprinted at the time and it gave newer fans the chance to catch what they missed. But considering that Smith only has a handful of issues left, it still sucks Crom’s golden scepter. Why the new cover? “The Hyborian Page” explains that as well: on an earlier schedule because of the different printing processes, it was already finished. While many of Marvel’s letter page proclamations from the era should be taken with a fist-sized lump of salt, I actually buy this one. Working in the soul-sucking field of direct mail, I know that catalog covers and inside pages are usually on different production schedules. There is a never-before-published pin-up by Barry included but it’s really not that impressive. At least “Kull the Conqueror” is new this month. Oh joy.

Mark: The second reprint in six months. Conan #1. It's good.

In rerun protest let's segue to, of all things, Patsy Walker #20, published in late 1948. It's not Patsy & her gals-pals that are interesting, but an almost full-page editorial from the MARVEL COMIC GROUP, a name I wasn't aware they were using at the time. And Stan wasn't shilling "Blue-Yellow Unit" titles like (in addition to Cap & the Torch) Junior Miss, Gay Comics or Powerhouse Pepper. He had more important things on his mind.

     "Lately, lots of people have been criticizing comics. They have been saying that comics teach you youngsters things that are not good for you, things like violence, cruelty, immorality, etc."

     This is six years before Seduction of the Innocent was published, but Doc Wertham's nascent anti-comic crusade must have already been having an impact. Dig:

     "Some time back, we were fortunate in obtaining editorial advice from Dr. Jean Thompson, a psychiatrist in the Child Guidance Bureau of the New York City Board of Education. Dr. Thompson read our magazines, approved our stories generally...and agreed to serve as editorial consultant on all future magazines. She will insure the fact that our comics contain nothing that might meet with objections from your parents, teachers or friends."

And, indeed, Dr. Jean, M.D., Psychiatrist, gets a title page credit above Patsy herself. PR moves like in-house shrinks couldn't save the industry from the coming hysteria, but Stan and Marty Goodman obviously saw the storm clouds gathering on the horizon.

     This Conan-less foray into Marvel history has been sponsored by the good folks at Rerun Protest. Now back to your regularly scheduled Marvel U. -Mark Barsotti

Coming Sunday!

Everyone's heard of Spider-Man, The Hulk, and Captain America, right? We here at the Marvel University pride ourselves on knowing everything and anything about everything and anything, so imagine our surprise when we stumbled upon an extremely rare comic book that appeared on the fringe of the Marvel Universe back in the twilight years. A title so unique in its own uniqueness that there's nothing really like it (including itself).

Sunday... you'll jeer, you'll scratch your head, you'll wonder in amazement that something so... unique... ever got released! Tune in then... please?

1 comment:

  1. But why is Richard Raleigh swinging by Gwen's place?

    Professor Scott, you took the words right out of my mouth regarding Leila's obtuseness. Writing from the vantage point of October 1973, I can tell you she STILL hasn't figured out that Sam is the Falcon.