This month’s Bullpen page confirms what had seemed apparent since December: “At the last minute we discovered that, for economic reasons far too complicated to go into…our own purposes—and therefore yours, in the long run—would be much better served by a regular-sized mag, priced at 20¢. After a long, drawn-out period of careful deliberation, we then proceeded to make this sudden shift in size and price virtually overnight—so swiftly, in fact, that last month’s issues were able to make no mention whatever of the change, while most of our extra-length stories had to be cut in two and completed this time around. But this month, as we wrap up all loose ends and begin new storylines and new directions, we’re back on the track again,” it states.
At best self-deprecating, and at worst disingenuous, that item calls the change “a mistake,” and cites “business details which would probably bore you as much as they do us.” Another proffers news of typically varied accuracy: “The size-change hasn’t affected all of our much-lauded mags. Our three new trial-balloon titles (Marvel Feature, Marvel Spotlight, and the forthcoming Marvel Premiere) are still slated to be giant 48-pagers, with mostly new material [no longer true by the time Premiere debuted in April]….In addition to that, we’ve decided to turn both Astonishing Tales and Amazing Adventures into full-length epics starring, respectively, Ka-Zar and the incomparable Inhumans,” an announcement ironically found in the Inhumans’ last issue.
And now... January 1972!
The Invincible Iron Man 44
"Weep for a Lost Nightmare"
Plot by Gerry Conway
Story by Robert Kanigher
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
"Armageddon on Avenue 'A'"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
1) The armored Kevin—now “O’Brien”—brings the fallen Iron Man to Avengers Mansion, where he battles Captain America in a MARMIS and then repairs Tony’s pacemaker. Later, a delirious Tony faces the Night Phantom, apparently killed in #14, and after suiting up narrowly defeats him, but the foe, his dangling innards revealing him as one of Kline’s androids, rises to menace Iron Man and Marianne. 2) Flying by on Spa Fon, Ant-Man is drawn by strange signals to a candy store in which the Scarlet Beetle (from Tales to Astonish #39) is again trying to unleash an insect army; torching the store for the insurance, hapless Wilbur Grabowski unwittingly saves the world by dropping a kerosene can on the Beetle…but is caught red-handed. -Matthew Bradley
Matthew: Another hybrid, but with a twist: unlike the previous Henry Pym back-up, this is a new Ant-Man story by Thomas, Andru, and Esposito, six months before his Bronze-Age strip debuts in Marvel Feature #4. Meanwhile, racking up his sole Marvel credit—which appears to be just as well—DC legend and Sgt. Rock creator Robert Kanigher does a surprisingly abysmal job of scripting Gerry’s Shellhead plot, and with one of my bêtes noires, Vince Colletta, doing the inks, Tuska’s art won’t win him any friends. “Reports of the death of Iron Man’s own comic now prove to be somewhat exaggerated, as the bullet-headed Avenger is back on a bimonthly frequency, with plans to ease into monthly publication again as soon as possible,” as stated in a Bullpen Bulletin.
|Genius... billionaire... weenie|
|Making some professors pine for the "good old days" of Tales to Astonish|
Scott: "Armageddon on Avenue A" was actually better. That's right, Ant-Man was a better reading experience - even with Ross Andru penciling it. It was a nice throwback to the 60's and his Tales to Astonish run. It still wasn't all that great and naming the ants is just ridiculous (Spa-Fon? Please), but there was something fun about the return of the Scarlet Beetle and the fact that he was so easily squished.
The Amazing Spider-Man 104
"The Beauty and the Brute"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
Stuck in quicksand, Spider-Man snags a branch to pull himself out, but the branch snaps and jams his web-shooter, until Ka-Zar plays jungle-lord-on-the-spot and pulls him out. Kraven explains to Gwen how he tracked KZ to the Savage Land and discovered a crashed spaceship with a tiny Gog as the only survivor, and as the alien grew the Hunter became his adopted father—at the same time Kraven’s urge to rule the Savage Land grew! Out of the trees, Spidey distracts Gog while KZ attacks Kraven, with the two trading blows and WWE-esque boasts, until the blonde knocks the brunette over a cliff. Meantime, Gog is in brutish pursuit of Spidey, until a dino pops up! The mega-alien battles the saurian, finally snapping its neck and heading off towards the web-swinger again…until Gog lands in the bog that almost put Spidey in a permanent fog! KZ and Gwen end up back in camp, where JJJ tells Ms. Stacy that Peter is lost, until the shambled shutterbug shows up safe and sound, with secret identity intact. -- Joe Tura
Joe: Lots going on in this fast-paced ish, dedicated by Roy to the memory of Carl Dehnam, which the faculty all picked up on last week (except for me, who simply forgot….), so let’s just relay some random ruminations…. Great Kane art as usual, backed by a solid Thomas script that adds up to the best Savage Land saga since the days of the Neal Adams X-Men. Yet, the whole Gog idea is so out of this world that it’s just… strange. Nice action all around, from Kraven vs. Ka-Zar III to Gog vs. Alien-looking Dino to JJJ vs his conscience. Seeing Ka-Zar’s hairdo on page 8, no doubt courtesy of the Savage Land Salon, I do believe I’ve discovered Farrah Fawcett stole the style for her famous locks when Charlie’s Angels started up! Love Spidey’s shout-out to the legendary Willis O’Brien. Gog’s alien language, is that Klingon? KZ’s greeting to JJJ and Calkin is hysterical: “Ho, the camp!” Come on, how wacky is that loincloth-wearing lummox? Love the double take by JJJ when he thinks he sees Spidey in the distance, which is the one panel that I vividly remembered from my 6-year old days. Guess what—cliff dive or not, I’ll bet Kraven is OK! Love The Spider’s Web contributor Larry J. Weir of St. Louis, MO, who thinks Spidey’s extra arms are a great addition since it would give him an advantage as a crime fighter, especially against Doc Ock. Um, what?
Mark: Nice Gil Kane cover (hate the new art-chopping borders that thankfully didn't last much longer than New Coke), behind which Roy Thomas ends his short run on the book (not surprising since Mr. T told Comic Con audiences last weekend that he loved the character but hated writing "all the teenaged drama stuff") with a Kraven-mashing, Gog-suffocating bang. Minor questions: How deep was the not very wide quicksand pit that swallowed three story tall star child Gog? Where'd Kraven get his Page 6 rocket ship; A.I.M. hold a clearance sale? Page 14: after fake surrendering to Ka-zar, the feline-fashion sensed villain says, "I do not believe in honor...only in expediency." An original distinguishing trait about Kraven was his sense of honor, of prevailing in a righteous, unrigged hunt. Guess eight years of ass-whippin's caused a deep re-think of his existential values. But in a sweet touch I enjoyed, Krav gets an SCPA award for the "unaccustomed tenderness" he shows baby Gog and his dead sister.
Peter: If you want wall-to-wall action and little else, look no further. This one's a fun little package. Spidey lets slip to Ka-Zar that Gwen is his girl (did I miss something in a previous meeting between the wall-crawler and the Savagelander?) and that could have gotten hairy later on if Ka-Zar had happened to mention to Gwen that her web-slinging boyfriend was very worried about her. Further in the "whoops" department, Ka-Zar does tell Gwen that Spidey's in town but later she seems oblivious to the fact and Ka-Zar skirts the issue. The Rascally One appropriately dedicates the arc to Carl Denham.
Joe: Speaking of hairy, who does the faculty think spends more time under the hair dryer, Gwen or Ka-Zar? And don't settle for that "there's no electricity in the Savage Land" argument!
Scott: Not much to this concluding second chapter and there's very little I can add to what I wrote last time. Nothing's changed; the story is weak, the art underwhelming and Jameson is again out of character. Weeping over Peter's alleged death? This is the same guy who said "Oh yeah, the KID! I forgot!" when he had to be reminded the Prowler "pushed" Parker out a window? The best thing I can say about this story is that it's over.
Mark: We get the brutal K vs. K smackdown I was hoping for and a cool tip 'o the King Kong hat in the death duel between a hungry T-Rex and Gog, who, like Professor Mathew, I was sorry to see swallowed by quicksand we know was at least three stories plus one inch deep. J.J. sheds a tear over presumed dead PP, softening me up enough to almost not mention the obvious oops of Ka-zar telling Gwen that Spidey was in the Savage Land before backpedaling a couple pages later ("Spider-Man? No, I said, ah, it was an animal, yeah, that's it, an animal. You obviously have trauma-induced audio distortion, blonde one."). It's fun to nit-riff, but all told, Roy's short run on Spidey was fun and exciting. And, teen drama aside, he didn't name-check Clearasil once.
The Mighty Thor 195
"In the Shadow of Man-Gog!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Vince Colletta
A round of merry-making in Asgard is once again cut short by a grim announcement from Odin. Thor, Hogun, Fandrall and Volstagg are to go on a quest. Destination: World’s End, there to seek Kartag the Keeper who guards the Twilight Well. But there’s more to it than that. The All-Father has another mission, this one for a grieving Lady Sif, and the new tough god-chick on the block, Hildegard—go to a place called Blackworld, where Odin has briefed the new girl on what to do. Thor and fellows arrive at World’s End, where a mantis-like creature greets them, then an avalanche of trolls. Once they’re dispatched, our group finds a “good troll” drowning in quicksand. When they rescue him—Kygar—he agrees to help them find Kartag. Meanwhile Loki, knowing his place of banishment is where Mangog has been imprisoned, frees the monster. Expecting gratitude, the God of Evil gets imprisoned in a block of amber instead. The evil of Mangog’s race, which Odin had separated into the billion, billion beings that composed it, had enough impetus of it’s own to reform. Odin calls upon his fellow elder gods to assist in the coming battle. The beast heads for Asgard, where he attacks, and rather quickly makes his way to the city walls. -Jim Barwise
Matthew: Given Vince Colletta’s long and [insert heavy, grudging sigh] distinguished history on this book, I have less of a leg to stand on in kvetching over his return, but when it comes to inking John Buscema, I consider him a definite step down from Joe Sinnott, or even his recent successors (e.g., Our Pal Sal). The truth is that there is a dishearteningly low ratio of panels in this issue where any style other than Colletta’s is discernible, so wasting Buscema’s pencils on it is, as I believe I once put it, like making a sloppy joe out of filet mignon. Conway’s run on this book was a long one, and I remember liking some of the later issues, so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say he hasn’t got the hang of it yet, with problems in both plotting and dialogue.
Jim: It’s funny, Professor Matthew. When I was reading this one, I was thinking, Vince is back! Although I have to agree that having seen Joe Sinnott on both Thor (lately) and Fantastic Four (forever), Joe definitely was the more consistent guy. When Colletta wasn’t skimping or overdoing it, his scratchy style defined the look of the best Thors for me. We’ll see how he does this time around. With Gerry Conway, it feels to me almost like a fresh point for him here. He had to finish up Stan Lee’s tale with Loki et al, now he gets a chance to do his own thing. Now tackling Mangog, which even the lukewarm Thor fans amongst us agreed was a pretty outstanding peak in the Thor title’s run, might not be the easiest place to start. Some of the panels where Loki first frees him look almost directly lifted from Mangog’s prior appearance, but no matter. The rather quick way he makes it to Asgard is too rushed, so we’re left to more enjoy the dual quests happening at our leisure. Hildegarde promises to be an interesting character; finally a gal for Sif to hang around with. The hint of a relationship of sorts with Hogun the Grim is another curious development. Finally, we get a glimpse at some fellow elder gods, a reveal that makes sense, since Odin can’t have been the only one around way back when (where were they hiding?). I like the Yrrl-Beasts they hitch a ride on.
Scott: Vince Colletta's inks give the book a classic feel, one I found very easy to enjoy. I always felt he was a good fit on Thor, more than any other title he worked on. His inks on page 12 made Mangog look a lot like Kirby's work. This made it easier to swallow the rest of this story. As usual, Odin makes some decisions without explaining why he's doing these thing, demanding only immediate obedience. These are false mysteries that grate rather than entertain. He doesn't tell Thor and the others why they have to find this Secret of the Twilight Well, they just do because "I'm your all-father." He doesn't explain why Sif is being sent to Blackworld, he just has her taken by Hildegard (a welcome addition to our cast of Opera singers). Nothing is gained by this mystery and explaining the reasons for these actions would give the resulting battles and drama more weight. Instead we'll get a handful of issues brimming with action all explained away in a single panel at the end. Thor has fallen into such a rut and a tiresome rut it is. At least the first few pages gave everyone a break, a chance to relax and party. Still, I'm bummed that Sif has become such a weeper. Once a formidable warrior, she seems more like Jane Foster. And couldn't Odin have sent her to Blackworld in suitable clothing instead of her skimpy little skirt and crappy shoes?
Peter: "Odin's features are so grim... his eyes so shadowed by unseemly worry. 'Tis not my father's way to sit so darkly." Excuse me, God of Thunder? When did I miss your pop's revelry? The guy's always as dour as one of those guys in the park with a "The End is Near" placard. And, when Thor asks his dad what the problem is, Odin gives off the usual "I'm really sorry to do this but I have to send you on yet another road trip. Don't ask why or where." Worst... father... ever! I can see Odin heading back to his office after his son zips off, crossing yet another menace off his huge chalkboard. "Galactus. Check... Mephisto. Check... Loki. Check... Ragnarok... Hmmm, better leave that unchecked." Professor Jim makes such a good point about Gerry being saddled with so many unfinished story lines and jumping into his own with Mangog, that I now feel like extending a three or four issue grace period to Conway. Gerry owes Professor Jim big time. Seeing Thor make aural love to Sif once again brings up the fact that, when I got into Thor in 1974, Nurse Jane Foster was back on the scene. This is one of the developments over the next few years (issues that I've never read before) I'll be monitoring with a skeptical eye. Introducing Asgardian Uber-Swordswoman Hildegarde! Now we know where Marvel Comics fan George R. R. Martin got his inspiration for Brienne of Tarth. I liked this one quite a bit. Yeah, it's got the same set-up as every one of the mega-arcs we've read in this title in the last few years:
1/Odin is grim
2/Odin sets forth a quest
3/Thor leaves Asgard
4/Some big menace attacks Asgard
which leaves 5/ Thor returns to Asgard to defeat said big menace for next issue. Count me in.
Joe: Dean Pete, Ragnarok, or some offshoot of it, gets checked every three or four years, no?
Peter: Yeah, I'm afraid it's the "Spidey Quits!" or "Reed Finds the Cure for Ben!" of The Mighty Thor.
"And Fire Stalks the Skies"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Marie Severin and Jim Mooney
The Human Torch and Diane Arliss set off to look for the Sub-Mariner, knowing that he is at a low point in his life. Llyra uses her ship to send a signal in the air to lure Subby so that she and Tiger Shark can capture him. Namor is out for revenge as he attacks their ship. Believing that there must be a better way, the Torch stops Subby from destroying the vessel. This causes a brief fight between the two that Namor easily wins. While the heroes were fighting, Llyra is able to kidnap Diane Arliss who reveals Namor's dad's location. The villains send Diane back to Namor with a drawing made by his father as proof that they have him aboard their underwater ship. The story ends with Namor about to confront Llyra and Tiger Shark as his father seems to be in the background. -Tom McMillion
Tom McMillion: I just hope after all of this that Namor finally gets to meet his dad and it doesn't turn out to be a robot or clone of some type.
Scott: The file copy I have has the old 50's adventure shoved in between pages 2 and 3. I can't imagine the actual issue was laid out this way, because it makes no sense and has no bearing on the story. Also the page numbering of the reprint stars from 1. Weird. Namor is pretty intolerant of betrayal even under coercion and torture. This is the dickish Namor I know, not the all to friendly guy we've been seeing in The Defenders and other magazines. However, proving I'm never satisfied, he's a little too dickish. Marie Severin and Jim Mooney make a great team. Her work never looked so good. The reprint is fun. Too bad Namor doesn't shout "Sufferin' Shad" anymore.
Matthew: Based on the Bullpen Bulletin quoted earlier, the reprints padding out both this issue (“Sufferin’ shad!”) and last month’s Thor likely compensated for 34-page stories that were abruptly cannibalized in the “new” 20¢ format. Therefore, much of what I said last time is equally applicable here; as for the uncredited “fabulous 50’s [sic] featurette,” the MCDb tells us that it’s a 1955 Bill Everett yarn from Sub-Mariner Comics #42. Back in the Bronze Age, Mirthful Marie and Madman Mooney usher us in with a splash (ha ha) and two-page spread that don’t really advance the story, but sure look nice, while Johnny—whose “shaving” of the clerk in the prior entry echoed his rediscovery of Namor—is again reminded that he needs to grow up.
Joe: "It's a tiger shark." "A whaaaaaaat?" "Tiger Shark!" Sorry, JAWS fans and foes, couldn't resist.....
|"...did someone say 'Bill Everett'?"|
"The End of Doc Samson!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin
"Heaven is a Very Small Place"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Severin
The Hulk arrives to the military base that the Leader has taken control over. Betty figures out that her father has been replaced by an android clone. The Hulk smashes the robot Thunderbolt Ross into pieces after escaping from a powerful ray gun that was temporarily incapacitating him. Summoning hundreds of his robots that meld together into a gigantic android beast, the Leader faces off against the Hulk and Doc Samson. When the Leader shoots powerful blasts from the giant robot he is controlling, Samson steps in and takes the blast instead of the Hulk. This also causes a backlash that knocks the Leader out in the control room that he is using to command the giant droid. The Hulk is able to make quick work of the robotic monster and he destroys it. Samson has now turned back into his normal self after taking such a powerful gamma blast. In the end, everyone escapes and the green giant leaps away.
In a backup story, the Hulk encounters a friendly town where no one is scared or tries to attack him. It all turns out to be a mirage in the desert. Once the Hulk realizes that his utopia is a sham, he hits the ground so hard that it causes an earthquake. -Tom McMillion
Tom McMillion: This was your typical Leader storyline which I always like. The giant robot monster was pretty cool and unique, which is saying a lot for all the other strange creatures that have come out of the Marvel factory. Though it was all pretty much a retelling of a Tales to Astonish Hulk story. As far as the backup tale is concerned, it was pretty pointless unless you like seeing the Hulk being psychologically tortured.
Matthew: As in last month’s Captain America, this has two separate stories, the first of them presumably intended as the end of #146. The unidentified perpetrator of Marvel Super-Heroes #96 (I’m putting out an APB on Danny Fingeroth) solved that “problem” by insouciantly eliminating the second story, Roy’s “Heaven Is a Very Small Place!,” which according to the MCDb was finally reprinted in the B&W The Hulk! #19. In the top half, also illustrated by Herb and John Severin—who provide excellent likenesses of then-President Richard Nixon and Vice President Spiro Agnew—Gerry decommissions Doc Samson, and it would be almost four years before Len Wein reintroduced him to the strip as a more successful supporting character in #192.
Scott: "Heaven is a Very Small Place" could have just been a few pages of filler, but instead, Roy crafted a touching little tale. It's a mini Twilight Zone adventure for the Hulk and it's a sad testament to his constant loneliness. It's simple, but very effective. Both parts make a fine whole and the most satisfying Hulk I've read in many a month.
Joe: "If America is to live"? Really? Man, what'll happen if Hulk survives????
"Thunder in the Ruins"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney
"What Mad World?"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney
Realizing that the battle beneath him is an unjust one, Johnny Storm melts the fighter planes attacking innocent people on the ground, in the country of Terra Verde. He spots Crystal amongst the peasants, and lands beside her. But still in a trance thanks to Diablo’s potions, Crystal thinks of herself as the goddess Ixchel, and Diablo as her priest. She is tolerant of him for helping “her people,” but tires quickly on his insistence that she is his favourite Inhuman. Drowning his flame with water grounds Johnny for a time, being while Diablo uses Lockjaw’s dimensional powers to take to General Robles. The alchemist tells Robles that his days as ruler of Terra Verde are over; Diablo now takes command. Outside the other members of the F.F. arrive, helping Johnny without harming Crystal. Diablos potions wear off, and Crystal and Lockjaw (fighting Ben in the Mayan temple that appears now as it truly is) regain their memory. Robles steals a moment and manages to smash Diablo’s potions, blowing up the temple. Ben…? No fear, his buddy Lockjaw transported him to another dimension, and back.
“What Mad World!”
Mad world indeed… Ben and Lockjaw, in their dimension-hopping adventure, see an alternate reality. In a place that looks like Jack the Ripper’s hometown, they’re shot at by Professor Moriarty! Ben clobbers him, finding he’s a robot, with the face of Reed Richards! Lockjaw has disappeared meanwhile, and Ben vows to tear up the town finding his canine buddy. First he has to get past more robot incarnations of Reed—knights of the round table, gunfight at the OK corral—before a trap door drops him onto the real culprit of this world: himself!? In this reality, it was only Ben and Reed who went into space. This time, Reed became the Thing (brains but no gal Alicia), and Ben Grimm was Mr. Fantastic (flame power too). After his gal Sue ran off with Ben (Mr. F.), Reed (aka alternate Ben) had to get his frustrations out somehow; thus the clobber-able Reed robots. Lockjaw and Ben get sent on their way, leaving the Thing to ponder upon his return, should I tell’em? -Jim Barwise
JB: This reminds me of the Marvels a decade back, with a main story and a “journey into mystery”-type back-up. Funny “Thing”, I liked the JIM here the best. Goofy little story, but I don’t mind an alternate reality now and then. It should give Ben something to think about next time he gets his hate-on for Reed. The main title rushes the wrap-up a bit. Robles and Diablo give a predictable outcome, but it’s alright. The Central American scenery is nice, but the highlight for me is seeing what Crystal can really do as a bad girl. Look out!
Scott: Diablo is not the FF's strongest villain, in strength or characterization. I find him rather tedious, actually, but allowing that, this is a decent conclusion to the forced two-parter begun last issue. I find it a little hard to believe that Johnny would just fly over jets firing on the ground because the cloud cover made him assume they were practicing war games. It would have made more sense if he took a second to drop low enough to investigate before going on his merry way. The result would have been the same and it would have rang true.
Matthew: It’s interesting to see the many ways in which Marvel handled the domino effect of November’s upheaval, in this case apparently concocting a Thing “special feature” by the same Goodwin/Buscema/Mooney creative team as the primary story to fill out the remainder of the issue. As might be expected, the Madman is an outstanding choice to ink Big John’s work, and it’s a shame that Archie’s promising plotline wasn’t afforded more room in which to play itself out. An otherwise frivolous romp, the back-up story is of historical importance for introducing the Earth of another dimension (known variously as “Earth-A” and “Earth-721”), which would figure so prominently in Roy’s memorable 1975 arc encompassing issues #160-62.
Peter: I thought exactly the same thing, Professor Matthew. Here we have a great writer punching out two very disparate stories, both very enjoyable but too brief. Our main course is finished up nicely regardless. I don't even have a problem with the sappy finale if it'll keep The Torch quiet for a bit. And the dessert (with its deeelightful MAD Magazine-influenced splash page) is a fun (and funny) vignette with a snappy twist ending. Please don't go, Archie!
Mark: "Thunder in the Ruins" opens with Torchie taking out Terra Verde government jets, busy massacring marching peasants below (certain down-trodden Muslin masses can only dream of a flaming hero to protect them from an unnamed imperial power's killer robots in the sky) before the mind-controlled Crys finishes the job. Johnny flies down for a kiss, gets slapped, then whacked with an ice-fist, but we've all had tough dates, right? Women: what do they want? Always the fashion plate, Diablo, even in mid-coup plotting, found time to add stylish red jewels to Crystal weird hair-thingamabob. Dior? No, it's Diablo, only $499 at better boutiques everywhere! The arch alchemist is already on the run when the rest of the FF arrive to turn up the heat. Our villain's showy effects fade faster – if less nosily - than Transformers 3's plot before Dab and evil General Robles go boom (or rather "F-TOOM!" If only they'd taken a young Michael Bay with them) destroying a sacred, centuries old pyramid. Hey, collateral damage, what can ya do? Blue-eyed Benjy and ever-loveable Lockjaw pop back in through the out-dimensional door (setting up our back-up feature) safe and sound, Johnny and Crys share an in-silhouette smooch before the orange-haired babe gets written out of the book again (No!!) to go battle Maximus with her fellow Inhumans, and the good people of Terra Verde can return to setting up a model Jeffersonian democracy, an example for all of Central America to follow. Who says this ain't the Marvel Age of Happy Endings?
Scott: It's nice to have Crystal back, even if this is the last time she and Johnny have any real hint of a relationship. What goes unexplained is why she's alive at all. She was forced to leave the group because she could no longer live in our germ-filled air, yet she has been doing Diablo's bidding for months. He didn't give her anything to counter the effects, yet she shows no reaction to our atmosphere.
Mark: "What Mad World" was obviously a fill-job, needed in the last spin of Marvel's game of changing pricing/page size roulette, but it's terrific. Archie Goodwin never made an impression on me as a kid, but better late than never props, Arch! The whole robot-Reed motif starts out like standard alt-world yadda-yadda, then turns unexpectedly poignant with its portrait of a lonely, Alicia-less Reed Richards/Thing getting the only emotional payback he can, playing out "sad, bitter charades" on a solitary island, his only companions Westworld-like robots that both celebrate and mock his once upon a time former life. A minor masterpiece.
|Best Splash of the Year?|
Scott: Ben's little tacked-on jaunt was a lot of fun and very melancholy. I too appreciated the old style MAD magazine art at the beginning and it's interesting to see how Reed might have fared if fate were as cruel to him as it was to Ben. He creates his own little "Westworld," hidden from humanity and doing nothing to help humanity. I guess it's easy to be high and mighty when you're not hundreds of pounds of rock.
"The Widow Accused!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Alan Weiss and Bill Everett
In the last issue, Black Widow attempted to save the villainous Scorpion from falling, but bystanders claim that she actually pushed him off the World Trade Center. Policemen standing by try to grab her, but she skedaddles... with DD on her trail. Daredevil attempts to convince the frightened Natasha to give herself up, but she will have none of it. A skirmish ensues: DD disarms her and brings her to justice, promising it will all be okay. The ambulance transporting the Scorpion’s body is hijacked by . . . Mr. Hyde . . . who is also working for The Assassin. Matt’s homecoming is interrupted by Ivan, Natasha’s driver, who is very angry that his boss is in jail. The next day in the law office, blackmailed Foggy is determined to prosecute the Black Widow but Matt surprises him by defending her. Meanwhile Karen and her new beau Phil are both thinking of Matt! In court, Foggy has stacked the cards against Natasha and Matt feels suspicious! On a hunch he heads to the morgue to take a look at Scorpion. He gets ambushed by Mr. Hyde who has been ordered to keep DD away from the Scorpion’s body????!!!!! Hyde sets off explosions to stop DD – Daredevil escapes but Scorpion’s body is gone. This takes evidence from Foggy’s case against Natasha so it’s dropped. The budding romance between ‘Tasha and DD is halted when Natasha decides she needs time for contemplation. -Noel Cavanaugh
Noel: Wow – that is one amazing cover! Colourful . . . detailed . . . and the angle makes me feel a bit woozy from the heights. I sure love Romita! Alan Weiss’ art seems a bit inconsistent and a little too busy for me. Also, Everett’s inking seems a bit sketchy. Gerry Conway is definitely winning me over with this story-line. Good job DD for getting past Karen and onto a new and more spicy chick.
Scott: DD goes swinging after the Widow when she takes off, promising the cop that he'll bring her back. "See that you do, handsome," responds the male officer. Marvel's first gay policeman? The Widow freaks out and pretty much acts like a lunatic, which is isn't all that interesting, but at least they aren't trying to pass off the Scorpion as having "survived the fall." Something strange is afoot and I appreciate the air of mystery. Of course, the real question might be why the Scorpion's corpse isn't a mass of unrecognizable destroyed flesh from a fall that high, but I don't think that's going to be asked.
Matthew: Interesting credits here: Alan Weiss is listed as the artist, inked by Bill Everett, but the “designs,” which I presume are roughly equivalent to layouts, are credited to Barry Smith (“like, Gene Colan’s on vacation!”). Not surprisingly, the results are a bit of a mixed bag; Tasha looks like a million bucks, her athletic figure prominently displayed during her tussle with DD—who somehow seems more attractive out of uniform—yet Ivan is rather ghastly, and the presumably ersatz Mr. Hyde simply a mess. Not much to say about Gerry’s story, which feels as if he’s just running out the clock, accreting another layer onto the apparently aimless saga of Mr. Kline, who forces Foggy to prosecute this rather flimsy case against the “cursed” Black Widow.
|What? No Shower Scenes?|
Scott: Not enough is made out of Matt and Foggy's rivalry, and we see Karen only long enough to be reminded she's still out of her mind. Alan Weiss's art is actually pretty nice and he does a fine job with Natasha. It's actually much better than his one issue of Captain America we'll see in a few months. The splash page was funny, though, with the bystander channeling Rodney Dangerfield. "Yeah, it's true, I tell ya--" He don't get no respect at all. But what is this "Barry Smith - Designs" all about? Are they his layouts or something?
Captain America and the Falcon 145
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Gil Kane and John Romita
Hydra is monitoring Steve Rogers, who is still having a bad night's sleep. The leader, who cannot stop talking, tells of the plan for Hydra to take over the country. Not in detail, just that it's on the agenda. Steve and Sharon get summoned to SHIELD HQ, and Fury is peeved that the Femme Force takes 30 seconds too long to report. Val took command when Sharon failed to meet at the "tube entrance," but when Agent 13 does arrive seconds later, she accuses Val of lying and leaving 5 seconds too early. Fury freaks out, saying this bitching and rivalry is why he didn't want to make an All-Chick squad to begin with. Cap arrives and Fury lays it out: Hydra's back and since the All-Dude squads are busying doing other stuff, Fury gives the women the job - provided Cap leads them. This, apparently, was the Hydra leader's plan all along: bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha! He has a spy in the organization and is watching SHIELD's every move. The Femme Force takes off and on the way, Cap and Sharon exchanges some sweet talk and are about to smooch when Val walks up and puts the moves on Cap. Cap, who is apparently the only person with his mind on his work, notices the unfamiliar Agent 22 waiting by the outside hatch. When the ship is intercepted, she opens the door. Cap is prepared, but the women are caught flatfooted and don't have time to draw their weapons to stop the attack. Cap fights alone for a few minutes when Val finally realizes something's not kosher. All hell breaks loose as the women get in on the action, fighting the bad guys while exchanging come-ons with Cap. We switch to Harlem, where Sam Wilson - apparently repaying Steve for dreaming about the Falcon lat issue - wakes from a Cap related nightmare. At that moment, Fury coincidentally calls and asks the Falcon to come see him. Back on the SHIELD shuttle, a Hydra goon gets the drop on Cap and shoots, but Sharon intercepts and takes the bullet. She's so still…so quiet…but rather than check her pulse, Cap assumes Sharon's dead…and this goon's gonna pay! -Scott McIntyre
Scott: What crap. Do I have to elaborate? Okay, fine. According to Gary Friedrich, women can't keep their mind on their work, can't be trusted to handle a tough job without a male overseer, and can't stop making romantic overtures in the heat of battle. You know what? Val is an asshole. I don't normally say that about women, but really, she's fricking unprofessional and obnoxious. She can't stop making ridiculous flirtatious comments to Cap for a second (page 16 - she's useless) and is a complete liability. And what is Maneuver 33? "Raise your shield?" What are Maneuvers 1 - 32? If these are the best women Fury has under his command, I completely understand why he never wanted to Femme Force in the first place. SHIELD is apparently a fun boy's club with lots of toys and cigars. None of these schmucks should be trusted with the security of anything. I wouldn't let SHIELD guard my collection of Celebrity Toenail Clippings.
Matthew: I feel sorry for Kane and Romita, whose solid art is shackled to a Gary Friedrich script that, far from promoting feminism with the misbegotten “Femme Force,” just exploits a trend, making both him and his male characters seem like total chauvinist pigs, in the parlance of the day. For all of their professed confidence in the group, Nick and even Cap treat it with condescension at best and disdain at worst, while its members go out of their way to justify those attitudes with petty infighting. The worst sin is bringing back Val, one of Marvel’s most neglected creations, only to have her act totally out of character as an obnoxious man-stealer—and why the hell does Sharon risk her life to shield a guy whose shield is his defining accessory?
Peter: Looked at in another way though -- as a parody of male-infested superhero comics and chauvinistic tendencies, you could -- well, no, I guess it's still a load of crap. What a delightful coincidence that the hoary hosts of Hydra were not watching their television sets when all of America (and the world, I assume) was given selective amnesia and forgot that Steve Rogers was really Captain America. How else to explain the video cameras Hydra installs in Steve's apartment? Why in the world would Nick Fury, in a panic, call The Falcon for help? Could the unsuper-powered with-it black social worker who's a sex machine to all the chicks and his red bird slow the descent of a crashing plane? My first call's to Asgard, methinks. Love love love that panel of Val, amidst flying debris, loss of oxygen and cabin pressure, planting one on Cap's cheek. My kinda gal, Val. Look at it this way: as low as we've gone, there's nowhere to go but up. Right? Right?
Scott: Meanwhile, we have a few panels worth of the Falcon and even in that short time we have to sit through his "helping my people" fixation. This will only get worse next issue. He wonders why he should go when he could work 24/7 and not "put a dent" in the Harlem crime situation. Well, Sam, you answered your own question. Go accomplish something concrete for a minute. Obviously Harlem's problems will still be there whether or not you are. An awful, sexist and insulting issue all around. God, please, make it stop.
The Avengers 95
"Something Inhuman This Way Comes"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and Tom Palmer
Triton the Inhuman emerges from the bay and fights his way across town, taking a bullet in the process, until he takes to the sewers. He pops up right smack in the middle of the Avengers' battle with Craddock's Mandroids. Iron Man finally exploits a weakness in the Tony Stark-created Mandroid Armor and shorts them out. They realize Triton is there and he explains that he was looking for the FF, but since that team is out of town, he's settling for the Avengers, who ignore the backhanded compliment. He needs help finding the amnesiac Black Bolt somewhere in San Francisco so they can take back their kingdom from Maximus. The Vision, however, would rather find the Skrulls who captured Wanda and Pietro, so the team splits up. Cap, Goliath and the always useful Rick go with Triton to Frisco, finding Black Bolt and rescuing him and Joey from a gang of toughs. They then accompany the Inhumans - and Joey - to the Great Refuge. En route, Black Bolt remembers the past, and we see that an early use of his uncontrolled power is what drove Maximus mad in the first place. Meanwhile, Iron Man and Thor finish off the last of the Mandroids.The Vision changes his mind and suggests they go support the rest of the team and zip by Thor's magic hammer wormhole vortex to the Great Refuge. It is surrounded by a force dome, which Black Bolt brings down with his dulcet tones. Maximus and his Kree partner are quickly defeated, but the Kree man takes Rick, Boy Hostage, into a ship and flies off. As Black Bolt leaves to retrieve his cousins who are still in America, Captain America waves a mighty fist at the sky, swearing deadly vengeance. -Scott McIntyre
Scott: Another detour which stops the Kree-Skrull War arc dead in its tracks. This is little more than an Amazing Adventures wrap up that does nothing for the ongoing Avengers saga. It's not a bad story and it fills in a lot of historical blanks regarding the Inhumans. It doesn't answer the question: what the hell is it doing here? Why is it in the Avengers title and why is it plopped in the center of this arc? Seriously, why they couldn't use this as the final Amazing Adventures story instead of the crap they printed is beyond me. The Avengers gleefully put their concern for their captured partners on hold so they can go and fight for someone else's cause. While all this is going on, apparently the Skrulls are content to wait for the Avengers' calendar to free up, since no real progress is seen on that front either.
Mark: "Something Inhuman This Way Comes" might be more aptly titled, "Wicked Coincidences Heaped On High," or "There's a Million Manholes in the Naked City and Triton Comes Crawling Out of Ours?" Yeah, we know that as an art form the far-out action tucked neatly into 20 comic book pages requires story-telling shorthand, lots of last second rescues, narrow escapes and almost blown secret identities, with oft-narrower margins of plausibility, all of which we accept in a genre of the fantastic in service of a SOCK! POW! BOOM! good time. But with that as a given, the Rascally One pushes the limits big time here, even with additional slack-cutting allowed for the large cast he has frantically flitting about the planet. From Triton randomly emerging among Earth's Mightiest, to Cap's team arriving on-scene in Cali for the last second rescue of a thug-threatened kid, to Black Bolt & Maximus' flashback adolescent showdown causing both Maxi's madness AND the death of their parents, to both teams arriving at the Great Refuge seconds apart, even though one team had to fly to the coast, rescue the aforementioned kid then circumnavigate three-quarters of the globe, while the team simply stepped through whirling Mjolnir's dimensional door. All this, when I can barely get to work on time.
Matthew: It should be noted that there are considerable inconsistencies between this and the last two issues of the Inhumans series in Amazing Adventures. Also, amid my usual praise for his work, I would like to single out Neal Adams for his depiction of one of my favorite characters, Nick Fury, whose indignities have included not only the cancellation of his own strip but also the most wildly divergent portrayals by a variety of artists. It bespeaks the kitchen-sink nature of this ambitious arc that they have shoehorned in a resolution to Maximus’s latest palace revolt, yet because the Kree were responsible for the creation of the Inhumans, its inclusion is not misplaced. I give Roy extra credit for the Vision’s noble volte-face and Cap’s inspiring vow.
Peter: Roy's wild ride seems to be stopping at lots of crossroads here. High point, for me, is the revelation that Black Bolt and Maximus were (indirectly) responsible for their parents' death. If this had been covered before in one of the Inhumans-related adventures, forgive my bad memory. It could also be that Neal Adams puts such a sheen on everything he does, it all seems so original. That splash of Triton is about as iconic as it gets. Only low point is the usual in-team bickering, which just gets sillier and sillier. Once again, the title should read The Fractious Avengers.
Scott: Where this succeeds is in the details. The art, duh, is orgasmic and Nick Fury is far better realized than he's been in Cap's book. While the art is beautiful, I have to say that, on page 11, panel 3, Black Bolt looks like he's choking on a chicken bone. Good news: this is the last of the interruptions and stalling. Next issue, the focus returns to its rightful place.
Mark: "The Case of Careening Coincidences" almost made my head explode until I just gave up, gave in, and enjoyed the ride. More great Neal Adams art, including, as Dean Peter noted, the great Triton-emerging-on-the-docks splash page, followed by an action-packed nearly wordless page 2, with more panels than any Marvel mag since Steve Ditko split the scene. Unlike the Dean, I like a bit of bickering to spice the story, and Roy, all my above carping aside, manages to keep multiple plot-balls in the air while tap-dancing faster than Fred Astaire on crank. Rick's added to the Kree hostage count, Maximus re-loses his marbles, and Cap leads the boys to a craggy hilltop for an oath of fist-shaking defiance. I give, I give! And, please, sir, may I have some more?
Joe: Man, I don't remember the Kree-Skrull war thing at all, except for a couple of panels to be honest. I'll start packing my locker immediately......
The Inhumans in
"---In His Hand --- The World!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Sekowsky and Frank Giacoia
Having imprisoned the Inhumans with devices “designed to deal with [their] peculiar powers,” Magneto uses the Universe Machine to turn one of his mutants into a monster that drains the will of Black Bolt, whom he commands to help him attack a government research installation in Washington State and steal “a new source of cosmic energy.” Despite the “drug to melt [her] will,” Medusa orchestrates an escape from their magnetic cell, while in an unresolved vignette, young Joey is swallowed up by the Trikon. When Black Bolt learns that his cousins are free, he reveals that his thralldom was feigned; Magneto is apparently killed trying to escape, leaving the exiles to tackle Maximus (a story for which we are directed to Avengers #95). -Matthew Bradley
|"Paging Dick Ayers...|
|...Dick Ayers, please meet us in the Bullpen"|
Scott: This is some ugly art, the least appealing I've seen in a while. Over on page 6, Joey seems to have become 40 years old in the space of a few hours. If not for the captions, I would never have recognized him. Magneto is poorly used, as usual, and for some reason he keeps complimenting Black Bolt on how well he obeys orders. The story gets lost in the poor presentation: terrible layouts, poor pencils. Was Mike Sekowsky really Ross Andru and Dick Ayers' love child? As Black Bolt flies away, he "seems to sing." If one whispered syllable can bring down a negative zone force field, wouldn't a song rip the solar system to shreds or something? I will not miss this feature. Next month, though, will be good.
Conan the Barbarian 13
“Web of the Spider-God”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith, Sal Buscema
In a desert oasis somewhere east of Ophir, Conan is ambushed by a band of brigands. Left for dead in the sweltering heat, the feverish barbarian is found by the kindly nomad Thanix, who gives him food and water. The Cimmerian agrees to join Thanix on his quest to rescue his kidnapped daughter Lea from priests who serve Omm, the many-legged Spider-God. The determined duo track the craven clerics to their base of operation, the spired city of Yezud. Purposely causing a ruckus at the city’s imposing gates, Conan and Thanix are captured and thrown into the same crowded dungeon as Lea. Soon all three are brought before the gigantic Omm for sacrifice. Before he is tossed to the hairy beast, Conan manages to grab a guard’s sword. Plunging the blade into the hellish arachnid again and again, the barbarian drives the black terror into a bottomless pit. The city, built on a fault, begins to shake and crumble. The young warrior and Lea manage to escape alive and go their separate ways. -Tom Flynn
Tom Flynn: Since I am Future Professor Tom and writing these posts a few months ahead, I am not sure if Past Professor Scott is still commenting on Roy’s “one-and-done” issues, but here’s another. It’s an original, with “story plotting” by John Jakes, author of the “Brak, the Barbarian” stories. Yes, the “North and South” John Jakes. Now I guess that I am expected to do a bit of research on this Brax character, but since Jakes himself was too lazy to come up with another word besides “Barbarian,” I say goodnight to you sir. While plotting the story, Jakes was also too lackadaisical to be bothered that a spider menace was already used in issue #4. Granted, Omm is certainly much larger and more formidable. The art is as outstanding as usual, but I yearn, by Crom, for the times that Smith inks himself. Judging by The Hyborian Page, there are a few diehard fans begging for an issue without word balloons — it seems that some of Howard’s short stories did not feature a single line of dialogue. Geez, and I thought the absence of thought balloons was effort enough.
Mark: Conan #13 is another winner, although the thrill of "oh, wow" discovery begins to dim. "Web of the Spider-God" was plotted by future North and South novelist John Jakes, but he brings nothing new to the party. We again open with Conan under tag-team attack and close with another giant spider dispatched. If there's a creeping assembly line sameness to the plot details it's best to remember, say, how many times Doc Doom fell "to his death" in the FF and be content that the creative team is operating at a very high caliber level. We get several pages of our hero wandering the desert, and Barry's art makes you feel his sweaty exhaustion, Roy's script Conan's fierce, fighting spirit as he dispatches an over-anxious vulture, even on the verge of collapse. Rescued by a traveler with unsettled business, Conan and said traveler Thanix journey to Yezud, another dark city of exotic despair, where the old man's kidnapped daughter is on the menu as a spider snack. Another evil priest meets a well-deserved end as does the eight-legged monstrosity, another met-on-the fly ally gets the girl, corrupt Yezud collapses into good-riddance ruins, and our black-maned hero rides off alone in the twilight. The tropes, while not yet tired, are becoming apparent. Here's hoping the Thomas/Smith team have some new tricks up their sleeves next month.
Scott: I'm digging this series for the art and action, mostly. Some of the stories do start to blend together and this one is pretty familiar at this point. How many of these monsters based on animals and bugs will Conan fight before we run out of species to mutate? It's a good, fun issue, don't get me wrong, but there's nothing special about this one. Barry Smith makes it better than it should be, but I feel like I've read this before.
Joe: John Jakes? Really? Man, that's interesting!
Also this Month
Avengers Annual #5 (all-reprint)
Captain America Annual #2 (all-reprint)
Chamber of Darkness Special #1 (all-reprint)
Creatures on the Loose #15
Daredevil Annual #3 (all-reprint)
Incredible Hulk Special #4
Kid Colt Outlaw #157
Monster Madness #1 ->
My Love #15
Rawhide Kid #95
Sgt. Fury #94
Sub-Mariner Special #2 (all-reprint)
Two-Gun Kid 102
Western Gunfighters #7
Where Monsters Dwell #13
Monster Madness begins life this month as a fumetti (lots of pictures of vintage monster flicks with really bad one-liners attached), much like the dreadful Monsters to Laugh With!/Monsters Unlimited back in the mid-1960s, but by its third (and final) issue it will evolve into a proper monster movie magazine. Though Spectacular Spider-Man and Savage Tales preceded MM, it could be argued (by someone who cares, not me) that MM was Marvel's first real shot over the bow that was the black and white genre magazine newsstand. It opened the floodgates for Vampire Tales, Dracula Lives!, Monsters Unleashed, Tales of the Zombie, and the zine that would replace MM after its cancellation, Monsters of the Movies. As a monster movie magazine geek, I'll say that the first two issues of MM never held a very fond place in my heart (nor in my collection) but that final issue has enough quality material to keep one's interest. -Peter Enfantino
JS: Is it wrong that I still love Monster Madness, in all it's horrible one-liners glory?