Wednesday, January 29, 2014

May 1973 Part Two: Dracula Lives! Let the Marvel Magazine Flood Begin!

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire 9
"Where Angels Fear to Tread!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham

The Fantastic Four are surprised when Luke Cage barges into their Baxter Building headquarters. Reed Richards is able to maintain order until the Thing and Luke start going at it. Cage wants to borrow their ship so he can go to Latervia to get the money that Dr. Doom stiffed him on last issue. Admiring Cage's spunk, Reed agrees and helps him by setting the ships coordinates so that it takes him directly to Latervia. Once he reaches the country, a force field prevents Cage from traveling any further. A group of Doom's soldiers attack him but they find out that Cage isn't just some run of the mill human being. As he thrashes the troops, a group of robots come running in with guns blazing. Doom's soldiers retreat and Cage recognizes the androids as the same model type that he encountered in New York while working for Doom. The robots invite Cage to go back with them to their hideout. When they get there, an alien known as the Faceless One reveals himself to be the leader of the robot army. The Faceless One makes Cage an offer to join their revolution, which he excepts, figuring it's the best way to get inside Doom's fortress. Eventually the android army attacks and gains entry into the palace. As Doom's soldiers fight with the robots, Cage goes off on his own. When he encounters Dr. Doom, Cage demands the money that is owed to him. Incredulous that someone would travel all the way to his country from America for a paltry $200, Doom dismisses the hero and then attacks him when Cage will not go away. Since Doom underestimates Cage's power, he loses the battle after Luke busts up his armor with his mighty punches. The Faceless One appears on top of a balcony as the evil Latverian monarch is down for the count. Not wanting Doom to be executed by the alien, Cage jumps up on top of the balcony and tears it down. The Faceless One detaches himself from his human body to scurry off to fight another day. Impressed with Luke's honor, Doom pays him the money he owes, then directs him to an escape path just as the robot horde comes crashing in. The story ends with Cage returning to the Baxter Building where the worried Fantastic Four bombard him with questions about what happened. A tired Cage doesn't answer as he leaves for home. The cover of that morning's newspaper shows that Dr. Doom was triumphant over the robotic rebels. -Tom McMillion

Not your grandfather's Ben Grimm

Tom McMillion: The fun plot from last issue continues into this one and it gets even better. Doctor Doom's pompous dialogue is priceless and reminded me of Mr. Burns from The Simpsons. Unfortunately this story is a sad one in the history of the Marvel Universe. For whatever reason, which I suspect has to do with racism, backroom politics, and a sex scandal, this was the Faceless One's last shot in the big leagues. He would never go on to reach the heights that he once had. What started off as a once promising career in the world of super-villain skullduggery would turn into a sick joke as his only other appearance after this issue would be in Ms. Marvel #23. If anyone has any doubts about just how advanced this alien was, then look no further then his meeting with Luke Cage. The Faceless One was able to decipher his ghetto dialect and communicate with Cage better then most normal people could. Hopefully one day Marvel will realize just what a big mistake it was to neglect this awesome villain and give him the exposure he deserves. Maybe a Wolverine Versus Faceless One mini-series? I guarantee that if they did it right, I could see a potential franchise spawning Faceless One action figures, video games, and even a blockbuster movie.

Scott MacIntyre: Not the best art in the world, with Billy Graham and George Tuska sharing the duties. It comes off fairly muddy in spots. There’s energy and, of course, the “Tuska Teeth” syndrome that normally plagues his pencils. Engelhart’s dialog among the FF in the beginning is quite good, mostly right on character (Medusa’s comment about Cage’s “spunk” notwithstanding), and pretty amusing at the same time. The epilogue is less comfortable. Having Doom come out and call Cage crazy didn’t quite fit either, but this entire issue is fairly loopy. Cage vs Doom seems pretty nuts on its own. Cage is an ill fit for this sort of story; battling Doom, robots and/or aliens, rather than tackling inner city thugs just seems off. Also actually getting Doom to admit things like possible defeat, respect and even paying what he owes Cage is left of center as well. Then again, I never thought Doom would welch on the deal last issue either. I guess I’m trying to say that this one is a lot of fun, but mostly just weird. Perhaps they go hand in hand.

Peter Enfantino: Cage gets his rocket pretty quickly after the typical Marvel Method of Asking: break into the Fantastic Four's headquarters, fight with them, and then tell them what you're there for. Once Luke gets to Latveria though, the fun begins. Doom is very un-Doom-ian here ("Hahahaha! You are the ultimate, Cage!" aren't words I'd expect from the big armored guy) but that's in keeping with the semi-satirical vibe I get from this strip (the same kind of vibe I'll receive from Gerber's Howard the Duck down the road). I can never imagine Stainless with a serious face while typing dialogue like "Those metal mothers got to be some funky fighters!" Did Steve perhaps draw inspiration from Richard Stark's The Hunter when dreaming up Luke Cage's unstoppable trek to attain a small debt? As much as I like the story, it's tough to look at the pitchers that go with the words. Billy can't dump enough ink barrels on the page to disguise the fact that it's still George Tuska underneath. I'm hoping resident Marvel expert Professor Matthew can warn me in advance if I'm about to step in some Fantastic Four penciled by Tuska. Yeccch!

Kull the Conqueror 8
May 1973
Story by Len Wein
Art by Marie & John Severin

Pursuing Lemurian pirates, King Kull’s warship is beached on an uncharted island. The monarch sends out a scouting party led by Brule the Pict. Soon, savages dressed in leopard skins, their teeth sharpened to points, ambush the party. An arrow fells Brule but a huge warrior suddenly leaps out of the brush and frightens off the leopard cultists. Kull arrives at the scene of the carnage and his men’s savior, Demontur, tells the king that Brule can find aid at the castle of Dom Vinsala, the slave-trader that rules the island. The pompous Dom Vinsala welcomes Kull and his army, promising to repair their ship. That night, Vinsala’s daughter Marcina is wounded by a bloodthirsty werewolf. Kull pursues the beast and manages to apply a mighty chokehold: the werewolf collapses and transforms into Demontur. Owing the cursed man the lives of his soldiers, Kull hides Demontur in Dom Vinsala’s dungeon. Outside of the palace, the citizens revolt, enflamed by rabblerousers from the Cult of the Leopard who demand the return of their leader, currently enslaved by the Dom. The brazen Dom refuses, defiantly dangling the cult leader from the castle’s high walls. Demontur escapes from his cell, changes into the werewolf and hurls Vinsala to his death, mortally wounded by the slaver’s war chief in the process. In thanks, the cultists repair Kull’s boat and the Valusians sail off for home. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Following Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway, Len Wein takes over the writing chores for Robert E. Howard’s royal hero. Wein doesn’t distinguish himself from his predecessors, as this issue offers the usual lackluster results. “Wolfshead” features many of the same plot points as this month’s Conan the Barbarian — an island, a siege, a, well, barbarian — but none of the visceral thrills. I think Len might have been trying to make a comment on the evils of slavery but that’s not exactly going out on a limb. And Demontur is a dumb name. Perhaps the most entertaining moment in this issue happens on the letters page, “The Thurian Chronicles.” One Mr. Harold W. Kull from Pearl River, New York, writes in, curious to know why Marvel publishes a comic that uses his surname. The reply informs the common Kull about the character’s literary history and adds that, besides, it’s a better name than “Smilin’ Stan the Conqueror.” I’d probably rather read that.

The Tomb of Dracula 8
"The Hell-Crawlers"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Ernie Chua

The vampire hunters desperately try to escape from an old mansion, where a pack of children, hypnotized by Dracula, are coming to kill them with knives. Rachel Van Helsing is able to escape from a window and opens up the front way so that her comrades can escape. When the vampire hunters get inside their car to leave it won't start. The crazed children pile upon the car to get inside. Quincy Harker radios to his niece Edith for backup. Edith and the unknown member of the crew swoop down in a helicopter equipped with bright lights, that render the children unconscious and rescue the vampire hunters. Meanwhile, Dracula is reeling from the effects of the poison dart fired from Quincy Harker's motorized wheelchair. The vampire bat crashes through the window of a doctor Mortte, a vampire leading a double life. Mortte met Dracula one fateful night, long ago, when Dracula killed his wife and turned him into a vampire. Since then he has continued his life as a doctor, getting his unwitting patients to donate blood he later feeds on. Dracula blackmails Mortte into performing a blood transfusion to stop the poison, under the threat of telling his daughter, Adrian, that her father is really a vampire. Even though the procedure is a success, Dracula is not done with his old friend. The two vampires fly off to an old mausoleum, wherein Mortte has stashed a projector of his own invention. Adrian, in the cemetery praying at her mother's grave, comes upon the two. Much to Mortte's horror, Dracula starts up the projector and it causes the buried corpses to become reanimated vampire zombies. Mortte wants nothing to do with Dracula's plan of world domination so he turns into a bat and takes the projector away. The two bats fight each other to the death, with Drac winning. Before Mortte dies he drops the projector. The destruction of the camera causes the vampire zombies to cease existence just before they attack Adrian. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Any horror comic that features two bats in a brawl to the death and evil kids with knives is okay in my book. It's too bad that modern day horror movies aren't this entertaining.

Scott: I’m usually a fan of Ernie Chan/Chua’s inks, but in this case, he doesn’t really add anything positive to Gene’s pencils. A good story, Marv Wolfman (the most appropriate name for a horror writer ever) does right by the title. The battle of the bats and the cruel, nasty outcome hits just the right notes. The narrative picks up steam and you can just feel the world-building going on here.

Werewolf By Night 5
"A Life for a Death!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Mike Ploog

A wounded and exhausted Jack Russell heads to Joshua Kane’s place to find Lissa, but instead finds smarmy brother Luther Kane and his huge henchman Desmond. Kane promises a cure for Lissa’s lycanthropy, but will help Jack’s sister only if the Werewolf kills reclusive billionaire Judson Hemp for him. After the full moon rises and Jack changes, the beast sneaks into the seemingly impenetrable Hemp fortress, ripping apart some guard dogs and escaping armed guards to find Hemp. But before he can strike, the calming codger soothes the Werewolf, then the creature changes back into Jack due to the eclipse that Hemp was waiting to see! When a guard comes in to check on the senile tycoon, Jack strikes and ends up escaping on a motorcycle! Back at the Kane house, Jack bursts in demanding the cure, but Desmond gets him in a bear hug—but the eclipse ends, Jack changes back into the Werewolf, and breaks Desmond’s back! Then Kane collapses from a heart attack! The Werewolf frees Lissa and lopes off to find the forest. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Len Wein takes over the scripting from Gerry Conway and keeps to the “weirdo of the month” formula but takes it to a new level with THREE weirdos. Luther Kane is a cross between Mastermind and Snidely Whiplash; Desmond a mix of Luca Brasi and Bud Spencer; and Hemp like a Doc Brown meets Vincent “The Chin” Gigante. Ploog inks his own pencils and it’s the best art of the series so far, a robust 5 issues in. The usual odd layouts with arrows to guide you, and he draws the weirdos so well you almost don’t mind the bizarreness of it all. But it’s all brought back down to earth with the usual too-fast wrapup, and all the bad guys get knocked off, which again sticks to the formula we all love sooooo much. Arrrrooooooooooo!

Scott: Can’t say I enjoyed this one overly much. Jack Russell is still too chatty and the art makes this look more and more like a Scooby Doo episode each month. Luther has “Dick Dasterdly” written all over him. There are really 38 more issues left to go?

Chris Blake: Interesting moment when the werewolf - due in part to Jack's influence - hesitates, rather than kill the old man as expected.  The werewolf is still a new-enough character that the reader doesn't necessarily know how he will behave.  The suspense is intensified by Ploog's savage depiction of the werewolf, filling the top half of the same page.  We've seen some solid inkers for Ploog on this series, but his self-inked art here stands out - it's that close to being Frankenstein-worthy.  Jack's concern for Lissa is a running theme (with good reason, as we'll see in later issues), and I particularly liked Ploog's articulation of that fear on pg 7.

The Incredible Hulk 163
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sal Trapani

While General Ross and his fighter pilots try to capture the Hulk, the green-skinned goliath falls through some ice into a cavernous city below. This secret Russian underground headquarters is being run by the Gremlin, the son of the Hulk's long dead enemy, the Gargoyle. Bearing an uncanny resemblance to his mutated father, the Gremlin has been monitoring the Hulk's movements for some time. Working with the Russian military, the Gremlin has created exoskeletons that give the army personnel who wear them extra strength, flight, and powerful weapons attached to the armor. Seeing the Hulk as the perfect way to test his new armor, the Gremlin orders his men to attack. Even with their powerful suits, the Hulk is able to hold his own against the troops. The Russians eventually use gas to knock out the green monster and capture him. General Ross himself is taken by the super troopers and held prisoner. The Hulk is used as a guinea pig by the rotten Gremlin who subjects the hero to various tests in different strenuous conditions. After some time, the exhausted Hulk transforms back into Bruce Banner. Tucked away in a cell, Banner gets a note thrown to him by General Ross. The letter encourages him to become the Hulk once again so that they can escape. When he is taken out for further testing, Banner starts a fight with the Gremlin that unleashes his monstrous alter-ego. It's not much of a contest as the men wearing the exoskeleton gear aren't able to stop the rampaging Hulk. As he sees his men are no match in combat for the Hulk, the Gremlin orders them to pour the gas on him. The Hulk doesn't want to be captured a second time so he busts out of the underground lair into freedom, leaving Ross behind. The story ends with Betty and Talbot arriving home from their honeymoon and reading about what has transpired in the newspapers.
-Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: This wasn't the worst Hulk story I ever read. My main problem is with the Gremlin as a villain. I'm a fan of creepy ugly dwarfs as bad guys, but against the Hulk you know the Gremlin can't do much in a fight. Maybe another intellectual evildoer like the Leader can't brawl either, but at least he seems to have better strategies than just using the Hulk as a lab rat. The Russians with the sub par battle gear were nothing to get excited about either.

Scott: The Gremlin at last! One of my favorite Hulk villains, one who will be around for some time, finally makes his debut. The son of the long forgotten Gargoyle from issue #1 makes the scene. He’s repulsive and sadistic, and one of the best Hulk villains since the Abomination. Some of Trimpe’s character designs tend to fall short, but he created a real, literal monster here and his image sticks in the brain. Coupled with Steve Engelhart’s storymind, there’s magic here. Ross is captured and shows his lack of cognitive prowess by thinking a deal struck with Bruce Banner would remain in the Hulk’s mind upon transformation. Come on, T-Bolt, you just meet him?

Matthew Bradley:  I created a character called the Gremlin,” as Stainless related on his site, “who was the son of the Gargoyle who worked for the Kremlin.  That same month, Steve Gerber introduced a character [in Sub-Mariner] called the Gremlin, whose name he arrived at some other way.  Mind-boggling coincidence.”  Something about thatif you’ll pardon the puncool splash page, with its forced perspective and Arctic setting, epitomizes Englehart’s run on this book for me, perhaps because the Gremlin sets such a pivotal subplot in motion.  My only grouse about the artwork is that the depiction of his subterranean city on page 6, which could charitably be described as “stylized,” looks like a little kid did it with colored pencils in about five minutes.

Scott: Betty, eager to “set up housekeeping,” and Glenn return from their honeymoon to the news of Ross’ capture and she begins to crack. Her mental deterioration will continue in the months to come. Betty was never a great character, but I give Stainless Steve credit for trying to make her interesting. Solid issue.

The Invincible Iron Man 58
"Mandarin and the Unicorn: Double-Death!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia

His chestplate wrecked, Iron Man jets away and reaches Tony’s office, where Pepper plugs him into a socket, yet although his armor fails to recharge, he recovers and realizes his heart has healed.  As Marianne is treated at Connecticut’s Milford Sanitorium, the Mandarin recalls how the Unicorn sought help after his partnership with the Red Ghost (not Guardian), but only his physical deterioration could be reversed, leaving the vegetative Unicorn ripe for control by the Yin headband.  Tony mollifies a mob inflamed by the Mandarin’s agent, then seeks a lead at “Gene Kahn’s” office; when the villains attack, the Mandarin—dazed by Iron Man’s uni-beam—and the Unicorn accidentally blast each other, switching their brains, and retreat in disarray. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: So we transition back to the recently relocated Friedrich, who scripts Gerber’s plot for the finale of this two-parter, finally seeming to offer us a reprieve from Tony’s endless round of cardiac emergencies.  Esposito and Giacoia once again ink Tuska’s pencils, and the results are largely felicitous; once the Mandarin has mercifully changed from his unfortunate bare-chested togs into his traditional uniform, he looks deliciously villainous—especially in page 21, panel 4, which almost makes us forget Kirby’s rubber-faced buffoon in Amazing Adventures #3-4.  The ending is abrupt but inventive, and although we are deprived of a clear winner, it will be interesting to see how, when and where the Mandarin/Unicorn (Mandicorn?) gets his head back together again.

Scott: The Mandarin’s new outfit is just weird. No mask, bare chest, weird girdle. If not for his rings, he might as well be another character entirely. Still, he’s treated better here than in the godawful Iron Man 3. On the plus side, he reverts to his classic, traditional costume in short order. Makes one wonder why he took the time to change in the first place. Do I smell a cheesy love triangle in our future? The newly returned Pepper and now the reappearance of Marianne Rodgers do not bode well for those who hate crappy plot twists. Pepper is married, but if she finds out who is under the shell and that Happy always knew, well, that could mean trouble in paradise for the Hogan Family. And does Tony’s newly healed heart spell the end of “plug me into the socket” drama? Stay tuned!

Joe: I remember this one vividly, and was a big reason why I always liked the Mandarin. Fun stuff, with a strange but great cover.

Marvel Feature 9
The Astonishing Ant-Man in
"The Killer is My Wife"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Craig Russell and Frank Bolle

With Jan’s mutation in flux, Hank tries to survive long enough to counteract it; he receives one sting while retrieving his cybernetic helmet, lost since they were captured by Boswell, and only the intervention of some soldier ants saves his life.  Hank’s old colleague, Bill Foster, does not believe they are dead, even after Iron Man’s electro-scanner detects no trace of them in the ruins of Hank’s lab, and vows to stop the attempt by Charles and lawyer Blackburn to steal Jan’s estate.  Hank effects a temporary change, theorizing that the antidote reacted with Jan’s implanted wasp cells, but as they head for a nearby house trailer, she continues changing when battling with a kitten, and Hank sees their “rescuer” is the menacing figure of Dr. Nemesis. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Those who think me too much the apologist for Ant-Man in general, and this series in particular, may understand a bit better knowing that this issue is part of that second cluster, and thus has a, shall we say, cluster-luster only enhanced by the passage of time.  Yet I can’t help feeling that it marks a legitimate step up, with Russell (inked by the increasingly ubiquitous Frank Bolle) really getting a chance to shine, plus the long-overdue return of future Black Goliath Bill Foster and a cameo by Mike’s other regular star, Iron Man.  The current Captain Marvel promotes the Thing strip that will begin in #11, suggesting that this one’s death warrant is already signed, but oddly enough, the lettercol gives no hint of same; au contraire, it reflects an improved reader response.

Scott: You haven’t lived until you see Janet Pym socking an ant in the snout with a haymaker. This feature continues to trudge on and on and on. The art is weird, the storyline never-ending. Like watching 5 episodes of Land of the Giants in a row. Mind-numbing! The cliffhanger ending is laughable: Dr. Nemesis? Why not Professor Enemy? Or The Villain? Kill me.

Marvel Premiere 8
Doctor Strange in
"The Doom That Bloomed on Kathulos!"
Story by Gardner F. Fox
Art by Jim Starlin, Frank Giacoia, and David Hunt

The building known as Witch House, where Dr. Strange and friends are trapped, is itself possessed by evil forces that attack them. They manage to break out, and Stephen calls upon the forces of good to help him destroy it. They succeed. Strange then bids Clea, Wong, Blondine and Henry goodbye, recalling that the map he wrested from N’Gabthoth directed him to go to Stonehenge. There is the portal where Shuma- Gorath, the sleeping evil behind all others, awaits. Arriving there, it is not long before winged demons attack. After their defeat, their source soon appears: a living star known as Kathulos. It sends its beam unerringly at Dr. Strange, transporting him through bizarre dimensions to its world. He confronts the embodiment of Kathulos: a head floating inside the mouth of a giant sinister plant. It strikes Dr. Strange with a beam that nullifies his powers here, and then captures him in a hypnotic spell, seeking to absorb him. Stephen’s only has one chance, and he takes it: in the moment when he almost becomes one with Kathulos, he gains knowledge of it’s evil powers, and turns them against it. In destroying Kathulos, however, he strands himself upon its now dead world, unable to return to Earth, or do anything to stop the awakening of Shuma-Gorath! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: If you don’t get tongue-tied with the steady stream of names thrown at you, you’ll marvel at the endless enemies, each seemingly stronger and smarter than the last, which are hurled at Dr. Strange. The art by Jim Starlin is beautifully suited to the bizarre dimensions of the script, including some fine full (and nearly full) pages. Speaking of which, it’s often these are used as filler to “get the job done” more quickly, here they take you by storm, as they should. The layout of the panels varies enough to keep things visually stimulating throughout. Gardner Fox’s script cleverly puts Dr. Strange in a situation that traps him at a time when Earth needs him most. Stonehenge, of course, lends itself well to any tale of magic; lucky no tourists are walking by at this time! I’m not quite sure if the Ancient One, Strange’s teacher and friend, has actually died, or if he might be up for rescue, as the location where he was taken, is hinted at as the stage for next issue.

Mark Barsotti: Prolix, paid-by-the-word writer Garner F. Fox forgets the name of Blondine's boyfriend, even though he was the viewpoint character for half of last ish. Well, I forgot it too, Gar, and that's not a sign of memorable characterization. If you can't bother to look it up, neither can I. Witch House destroyed by lightning is described as being "sharded," (a non-word according to my Random House Unabridged Dictionary), and later Fox apparently tires of invoking the "hoary hosts of Hagar" and the "mystical Mork from Ork", and so has Doc dabble in verse: "Around and about me let it whip, gathering matter in it's grip! Stab out, spiral! Lash out, force! Now shall these energies take their course!" Gives ya a lump in the throat, don't it?

Matthew:  If it weren’t for the credits, I’d never have guessed this cluster issue was Fox’s last, with a script that is stirring and know, all those things his work hasn’t been so far.  It doesn’t hurt that before Brunner—supposedly and understandably having been alienated by his writing—returns for his legendary collaboration with Englehart, the strip’s final drive-by penciler was Starlin (who also did the awesome cover), and if I had to script that incredible artwork, inked by Giacoia and Hunt, I’d be inspired, too.  I don’t need four decades of accumulated affection to tell me this is extraordinary; Doc looks as good as I’ve ever seen him, with certain panels positively Ditko-worthy, plus he is back to his old capable, in-command self.

Mark: Despite the Fox droppings, this ish is still major upgrade, thanks to Jim Starlin's input. In the book's occult setting, he conjures up skulls, the Doc backlit by a giant moon, and tilted perspectives, all in two early pages (8-9, digital copy). We must be seeing the Marvel Method taking hold here, where the finished art dictates the action and Starlin takes over the story. His flying golden demons are welcome relief from the string of aquatic fright-mask monsters  that have cluttered up the book of late. No more underwater fistfights with Black Lagoon (c) knocks-offs; Starlin's Strange unleashes crackling bolts of energy while soaring in the heavens. And, Lord, on P. 14 there's honest-to-Ancient-One Diktoesque dimensions, long the title's visual highlight, which I'd almost forgotten ever existed. Shuma-Gorath has fogged my memory!

Scott: Jim Starlin’s art is fascinating and appropriately weird, but the story is wordy and dull as dirt. I maintain that Dr. Strange’s tales were most effective in the split books. These are just too long to sustain the interest. There’s only so much weird crap I can sit through in one sitting and Luke Cage took up a lot of that stamina.

Mark: By story's end, the Doc has defeated Kathulos, a giant Kabuki-faced Praying Mantis that's the living personification of a planet, and finds himself far from earth beneath an alien sky. This is Starlin's bag, baby.  Ole Gardner's just along for the ride.  

Chris: Really nice early Starlin art. Images like the deaths' heads (p 10), the demon attack (p 12), and the bizarre appearance of Kathulos (p 21) point to a bright future for our rising star.  Fox's story barely goes anywhere - plus, Strange's continuous running commentary throughout the issue drastically slows down the action.  The climactic battle with Kathulos amounts to very little, as the would-be all-powerful planet-creature cries "Do over!" after one cyttorak snap.  Nice cliffhanger as Strange is marooned by his opponent's demise.  Not to worry -- one of Doc's all-time greatest creative teams - due to arrive next issue - is sure to see him through.

Marvel Team-Up 9
The Amazing Spider-Man and The Invincible Iron Man in
"The Tomorrow War"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Bolle

Unable to penetrate a force field around the inexplicably shaking Avengers Mansion, Iron Man is joined by Spidey (after Peter’s tiff with Harry), and when a hole opens up in the field they plunge in, finding themselves in a limbo watching spaceships battle.  One ship contains Zarrko, who takes them to his own 23rd century, where weapons have been outlawed, and an army from an even more distant future has kidnapped the Avengers.  The Tomorrow Man sought their aid, and now persuades our heroes to penetrate the invader’s citadel, but once they do so, Iron Man’s armor is damaged by a robot, and both are paralyzed by Kang; Zarrko holds Kang at gunpoint, intending to “make the 23rd century a beach-head by which to attack 1973.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It’s fascinating to revisit these clusters and say, “Hey, this was my first Dr. Strange comic, and my first MTU,” yet they are a study in contrasts; although Spoof would probably look good after the last two fiascos, and I do love that cover, this issue  falls far short of my memories, pounding another nail into the coffin of Conway’s credibility.  Here, he replaces the MARMIS with the literary device technically known as “characters being jerks,” but at least in the case of Spidey, who actually hurls the J-Word at Shellhead, we get enough backstory to explain it.  When Zarrko is the most likable character, you know you’re in trouble, while Andru and Bolle will win no new admirers with an Iron Man who at best is inconsistent and, at worst… just looks plain wrong.

Scott: Yay, Zarrko’s back! Where did they pull this guy out of? Was there a clamoring among the fan population over bringing this guy back? Teaming Spidey and Iron Man is fine, but Ross Andru ruins yet another potentially great story. And what’s with Harry Osborn’s tantrum, anyway? I guess he could be a reaction to being back on acid or something, but it’s so weirdly out of context to have him snap on Peter like that (who looks to be just as much a jerk). Eh, I’ve already lost interest.

Joe: Another fun MTU that kickstarted the ol' memory banks. It was always a treat when Spidey teamed up with the big name heroes, and for once he gets a semi-normal reason to do so, with an actual setup. And Conway even has Harry Osborn acting odd and nasty, for some Amazing Spider-Man continuity. Of course, as a much older Marvelite, I'm finding Andru's art fairly mediocre here, and as Prof. Matthew pointed out, Iron Man looks kinda stinky, and Zarrko looks like Lex Luthor's heavyset older brother. Let's blame Frank Bolle for now and wait for the next ish to decide the cliffhanger!

Sub-Mariner 61
"The Price and the Pirate"
Story by Bill Everett and Steve Gerber
Art by Bill Everett, Win Mortimer, and Jim Mooney

The people of Atlantis celebrate as Namor once again becomes their ruler. Meanwhile, Namorita and Betty Dean take a plane ride to Florida. During the flight, a strangely costumed man pops out of the luggage area with a strange gizmo in his hand. Using the device, he renders everyone on board unconscious. The passengers awaken on a base above the ocean, surrounded by strange men with green skin and gills, and are confronted by a man calling himself Dr. Hydro. Boasting that he was once an ecology teacher, Dr. Hydro orders his goons to corral everyone inside of a tank that pours chemicals on everyone. Dr. Hydro believes that the only way the human race can survive is to adapt physically so that they can live in the water. Namorita tries to reach Subby with her ear ring but it won't work. Luckily for her, Namor goes to visit. It's all over the news that the plane has been delayed so Namor hitches a ride on the outside of a plane bound for Florida. Sure enough, the same thing that happened with Namorita's flight happens with this one also. When the plane lands on the hydro base, Namor is attacked by the thugs. They are no match for his strength until Namor realizes that the winds from the flight dehydrated him. He makes a mad dash for the ocean but is electrocuted by a booby trap set up to stop escapees. Imprisoned inside of a giant atom, Subby is forced to watch his home of Atlantis on a monitor. The story ends with Dr. Hydro telling him that instead of building a new world undersea, Hydro and his goons will just take over Atlantis instead! -Tom McMillion

One last time!

Matthew: Bill Everett died on February 27, 1973, presumably right around the time this issue was released; the lettercol reports that “the Wild One took ill” after drawing only three pages, so it was completed by his fellow Golden-Age vet, Night Nurse penciler and Spidey Super Stories mainstay Win(slow) Mortimer.  With a Gerber script and “Moony [sic]” inks, his swan song is historic in more ways than one, featuring the debuts of Dr. Hydro and, more important, Hydrobase, which would become a kind of floating H.Q. for Subby.  Presumably unintended poignancy abounds:  that third and—for Bill—final page begins with a montage of those Namor has lost, and ends with him wishing Vashti “Good sleep,” a sentiment we all echo for his creator.

Scott: Bill Everett’s final work before his death is thankfully preserved in this book. Although, it seems more like the first four pages are his rather than the three stated in the letters column. Either way, it’s done. The creator of Marvel’s first super hero left this mortal coil with a great legacy. The man died long before I knew he existed, but I became a huge fan of his detailed and distinct style. His goofy charm was infectious and his retro style of storytelling made this title a great deal of fun. His presence will be greatly missed.

The Mighty Thor 211
"The End of the Battle!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema, Don Perlin, and Vince Colletta

With less than sixty seconds remaining before he reverts to his human form of Don Blake, Thor dives headlong into the flaming pit where the trolls have tossed his Mjolnir. His cape shielding him, he reaches the floor, made of Uru metal like his hammer, and acting like a magnet. His desperation gives him the strength to wrest his mallet free, but when he climbs his way out of the pit, he finds the trolls gone. Ulla, the troll queen who had earlier aided Thor, tells him they are even now digging a tunnel to the Earth above. The troll king Gierrodur has had command usurped by Ulik in the previous struggle with Thor, and he now leads the legion of trolls. As Ulla questions her actions effects on her people, Thor eventually negotiates the tunnels to the surface, where the humans have been fighting valiantly but futilely. In the meantime, Hogun, Fandrall and Volstagg have taken up the battle, with the aid of Tana Nile and Silas Grant. The Thunder God turns the tide of battle, his might combined with Tana’s Rigelian stasis ray rendering Ulik unconscious. The trolls turn tail without their leader, and take Ulik, returning to face the wrath of King Gierrodur—who holds no ill will against his wife. Fandrall informs Thor that Balder has returned to them; he has, however, gone mad. -Jim Barwise

Hey Joe, how 'bout Chump! and Bakoom!?

Jim: If I recall correctly, when the trolls first appeared in Thor #137, their realm was beneath the surface of Asgard, not Earth. Is this some inter-dimensional connection between realms? In any case, it’s a fair battle. The more “human” side of Queen Ulla, and the subsequent forgiveness of King Gierrodur, is a nice twist. Ulik always did have the desire to take over, and I often wondered what the troll king had up his sleeve to keep the mightiest troll under control. Tana Nile’s stasis ray didn’t seem especially believable here as a force to halt Ulik, but again, back in Thor #131, its power was displayed more effectively. And now finally, Balder!

Scott: The longest sixty seconds in history ticks onward in the first page or two of this one. Usually I get a few pages in before rolling my eyes, but this cheap Republic serial cliffhanger stuff is grating. It took me over a minute just to read Thor’s endless prattling before he touched his hammer. My enthusiasm for post Lee/Kirby  Thor has diminished greatly. The ongoing battle scenes are becoming standard and the cliffhanger makes no sense. If we’re to be vested in Balder’s so-called “insanity,” wouldn’t it be more effective if we saw him? At least for one panel? And when did Ferndal and the others meet him? They left Avengers Mansion and joined Thor in battle. At no point did Balder enter into the story. Ugh. Next.

Matthew: Here’s a bizarre coincidence:  last month’s Warlock was written by Ron Goulart, one of the authors I publicized at St. Martin’s Press in 1989, and this issue contains a brief letter from another, future Monty Python historian Kim “Howard” Johnson, then 17.  Which has nothing whatsoever to do with Gerry’s conclusion to the latest Ulik epic, yet it does show a fascinating continuity in my life and so-called career.  Colletta seems, alas, to be the most prominent component of the resurgent Perlin Sandwich, and there are admittedly flaws (e.g., geographical) in the story for those who seek them, but I am disinclined to do so, and although we end with a Balder-related cliffhanger, the Ulik plotline is decisively resolved for the moment.


Dracula Lives 1

"A Poison of the Blood"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

"Suffer Not a Witch..."
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Alan Weiss and Dick Giordano

Story Uncredited
Art by Tony DiPreta
(reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #5, February 1953)

"Ghost of a Chance!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill LaCava
(reprinted from Adventures into Terror #8, February 1952, originally as "The Miracle")

"What Can You Say About a Five-Hundred-Year Old
Vampire Who Refuses to Die?"
Text by Marv Wolfman

Story by Stan Lee
Art by Russ Heath
(reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #5, February 1953)

"To Walk Again in Daylight!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Rich Buckler and Pablo Marcos

"Suffer Not a Witch..."

Forrest J. Ackerman, editor of Famous Monsters of Filmland, had several bullet points he'd hit in every interview he'd give. One of them was that his publisher, James Warren, had hung a sign in front of Forry's typewriter that read: "I am eleven and a half years old, Forry Ackerman, make me laugh!" Obviously, Roy Thomas took note when it came to formatting the new line of black and white magazines (which were designed to edge Warren out of the market). The jokey word balloons placed on stills of Christopher Lee and pun-filled non-fiction pieces are evidence of this. They are, unfortunately, just as unfunny as the one-liners you'll find in FM but, thankfully, it doesn't infest the entire magazine.

Since the name of the magazine is Dracula Lives, you'll not be surprised that the King of Vampires is the focal point, starring in three separate adventures. The first, Gerry Conway's "A Poison of the Blood!" finds Dracula traveling to New York to hunt down a man claiming to be the reincarnation of Cagliostro, an old adversary of the Count's. Once there, the vampire makes the mistake of lunching on a heroin addict and becomes a junkie himself, needing drug-laced blood now and then or breaking out into cold sweats. An interesting idea, but one whose implications are not explored past a handful of panels. The addiction is dropped routinely (Dracula must drain the blood of a non-addict to clean out his system) but the real question is: How could the Count not have known that if he drinks drugged blood, he's affected as well? If he drains an alcoholic, would he become a skid row bum as well? Pretty silly but at least Colan and Palmer (the same team who will, very soon, be responsible for the art chores on the four-color Dracula title) give us something gorgeous to look at. The chief attribute of Dracula Lives may just be seeing different artists (other than Colan) handling the Count. Artists such as Alan Weiss and Dick Giordano, whose work on "Suffer Not a Witch..." is nothing short of spectacular, as is Roy Thomas' story of Dracula in the 17th Century. Alone and seeking a mate, the vampire bonds psychically with one Charity Brown, a gorgeous youngster, trapped in the wrong village at the wrong time. Spurning the advances of a local religious zealot, Charity is labeled a witch and hung before Dracula can reach her. When he does arrive, he's none too happy. One of the best Marvel horror shorts I've read, presenting the Count in a sympathetic light. Yep, he's a monster but he's got feelings too. Giordano will be back soon to lend a helping hand to Roy's dream project... but you'll have to wait until #5 to find out about that. The last of the three new stories is Steve Gerber's "To Walk Again in Daylight!"in which Dracula seeks a cure for his vampirism from a shady character named Du Monte. The man tricks the Count into killing his rival and then attempts to dispatch him with a handy cross. Things don't go Du Monte's way. This wasn't the first, nor will it be the last, plot concerning a cure, and the whole thing seems rushed. The art, by Buckler and Marcos, is the weakest of the Dracula stories (even though I like both artists on other strips).

"To Walk..."
Rounding out the package is a trio of reprints, the usual mixed-bag of Atlas pre-coders. "Zombie" (not be confused with the Bill Everett classic of the same name that appeared in Menace and became the inspiration for Simon Garth) is not very good at all, nor is the two-page "Ghost of a Chance." Heavy inking leaves Russ Heath almost unrecognizable but "Fright" is a satisfying "just desserts" tale in the EC tradition with a nice, nasty climax. I have no idea why Roy filled out this issue's fiction quota with non-vampiric stories. Marv Wolfman's necessarily rushed history of Dracula on film is a passable primer that touches on all the right milestones (Murnau's Nosferatu, Lugosi, the Hammer series, etc.). I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure that's not Lugosi pictured in a still from the non-existent The Curse of the Vampire on page 48 (see far below). Looks more like the Spanish actor Carlos Villarias to me.  A little rough around the edges but, overall, not too bad for a premiere.
-Peter Enfantino


Beware! #2
Chamber of Chills #4
Crypt of Shadows #3
Kid Colt Outlaw #170
Li'l Pals #5 (Final Issue)
Marvel's Greatest Comics #42
Marvel Super-Heroes #36
Mighty Marvel Western #24
My Love #23
Night Nurse #4 (Final Issue)
Rawhide Kid #111
Red Wolf #7
Ringo Kid #20
Sgt. Fury #110
Special Marvel Edition #10
Spoof #5 (Final Issue) ->
Tex Dawson #3
Two-Gun Kid #110
War is Hell #3
Western Gunfighters #15
Where Monsters Dwell #21
Worlds Unknown #1

Don’t goof—back SPOOF! Well, that’s what the Bullpen Bulletin wanted you to do back in 1973. Following in the much-maligned-in-these-blog-pages-but-highly-underrated-if-you-ask-me footsteps of Not Brand Ecch, Spoof was, when you get down to brass tacks, basically a ripoff of MAD, and quite honestly was not up to par. Heck, it wasn’t even as good as Cracked, but at least the parody comic was still funny enough for this 6 year old. After all, that’s about the maturity level they were aiming for. The epic (?) run of Spoof  lasted only five issues, and I was lucky (?) enough to own issues 3, 4 and 5. With topical sketches such as “F-F-Frogs”, “Blechhula”, “Maykus Welby, M.D.”, “Brawl in the Family”, “Darn Shadows”, “Clod Squad”, Rod Surly’s “Nut Gallery” and some celebrity “What Ifs”, it poked fun of all the pop culture of the day with mixed results. Let’s face it, a laff riot it was not….more like a chuckle-fest. Featuring such talents as Marie Severin, Herb Trimpe, Steve Gerber, Win Mortimer, Marv Wolfman and the immortal comedy stylings of Stu Schwartzberg, SPOOF seemed to exist purely so the Bullpen could stretch their comedic muscles—and their credibility. But hey, at least they tried!
–Joe Tura

<- Worlds Unknown was a fabulously risky experiment on Roy Thomas' part: could he get a couple hundred thousand nine-year olds to buy a title that didn't feature heroes or vampires, but rather extremely adult science fiction concepts and situations? On the maiden voyage, Gerry Conway tackles Frederik Pohl's "The Day After The Day The Martians Came," a very thinly-disguised racial allegory with art by the consistently interesting Ralph Reese (as a kid, I always thought Reese was Wally Wood rather than just a student), taken from Harlan Ellison's Dangerous Visions collection. For 1967, this was probably torrid stuff but now it's merely a relic. Gil Kane adapts (the uncredited!) Edmond Hamilton's "He That Hath Wings" (from the July 1938 issue of Weird Tales) and knocks one right out of the park. A contemporary take on the mythological story of Icarus, the story is deeply affecting and gorgeously drawn (with inks by Mike Esposito). It deeply affected me at least. This tale, along with Journey Into Mystery's "Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper", drove me to seek out more prose short stories and led to my life-long love of Weird Tales. Worlds Unknown lasted a mere eight issues (and the last couple were given over to a really bad adaptation of Ray Harryhausen's The Golden Voyage of Sinbad) but before the curtain fell, we were treated to such gems as Theodore Sturgeon's "Killdozer" (at the time, recently adapted for an ABC Movie of the Week), A.E. Van Vogt's "Black Destroyer (one of the many inspirations for Alien), and an adaptation of Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master!" (which became The Day the Earth Stood Still). A longer dissertation on Worlds Unknown and its magazine-sized reincarnation, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction (an even riskier experiment) would be welcome around these parts. Any takers? -Peter Enfantino

Lugosi or Villarias? You be the judge.