Wednesday, January 8, 2014

April 1973 Part One: Big John Buscema Begins His Run on Conan!

The Amazing Spider-Man 119
"The Gentleman's Name is Hulk!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita

Spider-Man swings over the fence at Doc Ock’s Westchester home to deliver a telegram to Aunt May. But as he changes into Peter Parker garb, he hears an Ock thug talk about the telegram and decides to hold on to it. A quick visit with Aunt May, quick costume change, quick hop skip jump on top of a bus back to NYC, and Peter is back at his pad, discovering the telegram is from a mysterious Jean-Pierre Rimbaud in Montreal. Starting a walk, he sees roomie Harry getting out of a car and passing out, but dad Norman screams at Peter to leave him alone. Peter wonders if Osborn is starting to remember his Green Goblin identity, then spots a pic of the Hulk in Canada, which gives him the idea to hit up JJJ for an assignment in Montreal. At Rimbaud’s office, Peter finds the attorney is out of town, but spots Thunderbolt Ross at a press conference and uses his Bugle press pass to get in. Next he sneaks onto the press truck following Ross’ troops to the power station where Hulk has been spotted. Suddenly, his spider-sense starts tingling, but before the driver can stop, the Hulk tosses the truck! Skulking away, Peter changes into Spider-Man and tries to distract him. Just as he sets up the camera, the green giant spots Ross’ troops and attacks—luckily Spidey uses his webbing to halt a giant rock from squashing some soldiers! Hulk takes off to the Maskattawan Dam, where he starts smashing! Spidey follows and starts lessening the water pressure from the other side, but Hulk shatters the dam and it collapses, leaving Spidey trapped under water!  -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A solid if slightly uneven tale this month. Some highlights include Romita’s brilliance, (yet again) with Spidey’s trip to the bus done so well, it’s easy to be overlooked. We should all be able to travel that way! Nice action also with the Spidey-Hulk tussle, as well as some setup with the Osborn clan, JJJ ranting and Aunt May fussing. Some lower lights include Romita’s Hulk, which is drawn well as always but not super memorable to be honest and the clich├ęd Conway words for ol’ jade jaw—not that it’s bad, just not the usual ASM magnificence. Hey, I have to nitpick once in a while! I did like that Peter is coming around to accept his Aunt’s decision a little bit, yet rightly stays suspicious. His inner monologue: “I’ve always wondered why Ock’s interested in Aunt May—‘cause he never struck me as being the romantic type. Aunt May’s sweet…but she’s just not a leading lady…not that crooked ol’ Ock’s a middle-aged Steve McQueen!”

Matthew Bradley: This two-parter was recycled in Annual #12 in 1978 to cash in on the fact that Spidey and the Hulk both had shows airing on CBS at that time; unfortunately, to fit the format, reprint editor Jim Salicrup cut part one pretty brutally, sacrificing several pages of no-longer-topical subplots involving Aunt May and the Osborns.  Merry Gerry’s plot is broadly consistent with the Hulk’s current Canadian sojourn in his own Englehart-scripted mag, of which SuperMegaMonkey says this should follow #162, and I see no reason to doubt his word.  Inked by Mooney and Mortellaro, Romita’s Hulk is a surprise after the steady diet of Trimpe we’ve had for almost five years, but like most things Jazzy Johnny turned his hand to, it looks splendid.

Mark Barsotti: Fun and fast-paced enough to almost make one overlook a couple knucklehead moments. The first concerns Pete's visit to Aunt May, still housekeeping at Doc Ock's Westchester digs. Delivering an urgent telegram to Ole Pruneface is the reason for Pete's trip, but upon hearing one of Ock's gunsels mention a telegram, our hero decides to not only keep it from his aunt but not even read it himself until he's back in his apartment, when all he had do was ask to use the little nephew's room. No matter: one Jean Pierre Rimbaud requests May's presence in Montreal on a "matter too delicate for discussion here." So after a brief bit of foreshadowing - Norman Osborn starting to lose his green and gobliny marbles – Pete's off to the Bugle to manipulate Jolly J.J. into ponying up airfare to the Great White North. Our fave photog dangles pix of the Hulk (currently causing havoc because Margaret Trudeau won't return his phone calls) as story-bait, but then PP goes all knucklehead by promising shots of Greenskin "smashing Spidey into red and blue toothpaste." Peter Parker predicts Spider-Man traveling to another country. Huh. Nothing suspicious there.

Peter Enfantino: I'm not a fan of Jazzy's Hulk but then I've been spoiled by the current Trimpe art. Everything else here floats my boat though. As Matthew mentions, The Hulk is already in Canada so Spidey bumping into the Green Giant seems very organic as opposed to a whole lot of those Marvel Team-Ups. Knowing what we know now, that very brief bit with Norman Osborn is muy siniestra!

Mark: Once up north, Rimbaud's secretary hits on PP and General Ross thunders and fulminates about capturing the Hulk for the 972nd time. Spidey and ole Greenskin tangle, the military unleashes a lot of useless firepower, and the Jade Giant smashes holes in a dam for no particularly reason except it causes both our heroes to tumble into the icy waters, tons of rubble raining down after them. The self-inked Romita art is classic, and even with a couple bone-head moments the story, compared to most of this week's other offerings, might well be Shakespeare.

Joe: Favorite sound effect of the month: “THROD!” on page 18 when Hulk gets flipped by our hero. I have no clue what that word actually sound like, but maybe a Ben Burtt-type could figure it out. Close second is the return of faculty fave “BUNCH” on page 24 when Hulk starts smashing the dam into a “bunch” of rubble. See, that one makes sense!

Peter: I must say, Professor Joe, that the sound effect in question came off as more of a "THPOD" (with a sideways P). The evidence is shown below and we'll let readers decide whether you're wrong or I'm right.

Chris Blake: Spidey Annual #12 was one of the first I ever bought, and since the story was new to me, I didn't mind that it was a reprint.  Now it has more of a sentimental value.  Plenty of rock-em-sock-em action, as Spidey (most of the time) is bright enough to stay out of Hulk's reach, which to me is more satisfying (and somewhat truer to character) than the usual misunderstanding-driven superhero battle. 

Astonishing Tales 17
Ka-Zar in
"Target: Ka-Zar!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Dan Adkins and Frank Chiaramonte

Out at a fancy restaurant with Bobbi Morse, Ka-Zar ends up stopping three thugs from robbing the place, even though he feels constrained by the suit he’s wearing, then the two head to SHIELD headquarters. Cut to The Pusher in the slammer where we meet Josh Link, aka Gemini, who may have been behind the attempt to capture Dr. Calvin, who is trying to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum up in the helicarrier. Policeman Damien Link has his mind taken over by brother Josh and changes into Gemini, then attacks, swiping the serum! Not even Ka-Zar is a match for the twin-powered Gemini, but he presses on, forcing the plane Gemini takes off on to crash, until he’s met at the end by Lord Plunder and Gog! —Joe Tura

Joe: This one’s a bit all over the place, as expected. All in all, not so bad, just messy, in both script and art. KZ turns into a redhead in one panel on page 3, maybe from the anger of his rant against “city-rats”? At least we finally learn the only reason KZ remains in “this urban hellpit” is his attraction to Bobbie Morse. Who, by the way is sporting some snazzy specs this ish. We also get another look at the Brothers Link, from Astonishing #8 (but you all knew that), also known as Gemini (in case you didn’t see the cover), this time “Featuring and Introducing: The Amazing Hero-Villain Gemini!” Geez, considering his small role, this is a little hyberbole.

Peter: This issue seems to be overflowing with full- or near-full page panels, which only accentuates how bad Adkins' art is. Gemini will be used a bit more effectively in an upcoming arc over at The Avengers. Here he's wasted.

The Avengers 110
"...And Now Magneto!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Don Heck, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito

Finally, Pietro calls Avengers Mansion to tell them and his sister that he is alive and planning to marry the Inhuman Crystal. Wanda tells of her shared love with the Vision, which causes Pietro to wig out and demand she renounce her affections. When she refuses, her brother says to call him when she comes to her senses and hangs up, leaving the Avengers to ponder what to do about their thinning ranks now that Hawkeye bailed and T'challa is being called home. The communications screen comes back on and shows Xavier's Mansion as Professor X is shouting at an unseen enemy who has beaten him and the X-Men. The Avengers take off for the mansion and find the X-Men beaten. Iron Man brings the unconscious Angel to the Quinjet and the others engage in battle against all manner of objects being manipulated from afar, as well as a guy playing a flute which conjures up a bunch of prehistoric creatures. Wanda guesses the man behind the attack is Magneto and he appears wearing the Angel's costume, having fooled Iron Man into bringing him aboard the ship. Magneto takes Wanda, throws boulders at some Avengers and brings her to the jet, revealing his new mind control powers and he takes her, the X-Men, as well as Cap and Iron Man off to parts unknown. -Scott MacIntyre

Scott MacIntyre: Don Heck is back for a second consecutive issue, doing the title no favors. The art is frankly terrible and once more gives the book a not-very-pleasant retro feel. The story starts off well enough. Pietro states he wasn't able to call the Avengers until that point, which is a bold lie on his part. He simply chose not to, if we believe what we were told in the prior months' issues of Fantastic Four. Quicksilver's attitude toward his sister's romance will continue on over the months.

Matthew:  For me, this issue lacks the nostalgia of those flanking it, so I can objectively note that excepting a few highlights (e.g., page 11, panel 6; page 15, panel 5), and despite inks by old pros Giacoia and Esposito, Heck’s art is pretty rudimentary.  By rights, any story with the Avengers, the X-Men, and Magneto should have had me off the charts, although since Xavier’s students are comatose or offstage, their involvement is nominal.  I felt a stab of guilt when I realized I’d omitted this arc from my Sunday special following them between books—damn the message board where I got that list!—and since Beast-master Englehart used them here and in his upcoming Secret Empire saga, he did more for them than most during the mutant diaspora.

Scott: Magneto is poorly represented here, not even in his own outfit, badly filling out Angel's. If Magneto has new secret mind control powers, why bother with the costume gag? Who is this piper? Did I sleep through the explanation of him and his dinosaurs? That's always a possibility as this is one pretty dull story.

What the Heck? That looks like Tuska!

Peter: Suddenly there's a herd of rampaging dinosaurs and not one Avenger stops to ask where they came from or what they're doing here! Did I miss the issue where it was explained that Magneto has pet dinos?  Iron Man waxes poetic (while I shake my head and wonder what the hell he means): "Pepper, Janice, Meredith, Marianne... all the others... I've loved many a good woman in my time -- and they've loved me -- but I've never seen love like Wanda's and The Vision's. Maybe that's because his feelings are held in plastic -- and mine are encased in iron." Even if Stainless had lifted the dialogue above cornball, this issue was sunk by the dreadful art. The Mighty Thor looks like his Mego counterpart, with only four points of articulation.

Chris Blake: The latest in what's become a fairly ordinary run of Avengers issues.  The title has slipped steadily in the year since the heights of the Kree-Skrull War.  I can't blame it all on Heck's uninspiring art -- although it's a shame to think that we won't ever see Rich Buckler back with this title (I guess parenting took up more time than he expected).  Stainless seems to have handed off the writing chores for the last two issues to an intern, or something (I had forgotten until today that I had already read this issue a week or so ago -- not a good sign).  Magneto has to trick the Avengers by wearing the Angel's costume?  And . . . dinosaurs?  I wonder if DD #99 will shed any light on their inexplicable arrival.  Lastly, the intriguing idea of whether the Vision would ever want to trade-up to Full Human status is lost here in favor of a rejecting rant by the newly-rediscovered Quicksilver.  Good thing Lockjaw has a homing sense for critically injured speedy mutants, otherwise Pietro might've been left on the floor of the Sentinel base until X-Men #98.

The Cat 3
"From Far Beneath the Mirrors of the Moon!"
Story by Linda Fite
Art by Paty Greer and Bill Everett

In a speedboat on Lake Michigan, Greer is chased by a cabin cruiser and pulled from the water when she hits a rock; flashbacks reveal that while Tumolo was recovering from her minimal brain damage, Greer went scuba-diving with Ben, and her heightened perceptions detected the mysterious sonar-like signal she is now investigating.  She is taken to a dome under the lake, occupied by uniformed people who appear to be part of a secret government project and are invaded by high-tech pirate Commander Kraken.  Having survived the true Kraken in a one-man sub, he wants to use the dome to regroup, but after she helps her captors defeat the pirates and Kraken has escaped, Greer watches the “dome” take off as the cat-like aliens return to space. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew:  Delayed by a month from its usual bimonthly schedule (possibly due to writer Linda Fite’s marriage to Hulk artist Herb Trimpe), this issue furthers the goal of using distaff creators, e.g., penciler Paty Greer, who was frequently represented in lettercols over her first name only, and herself wed Marvel’s own Dave Cockrum in 1978.  The finished art so strongly bears the style of inker Everett that it’s a little difficult to evaluate her contribution, and apt that the fairly colorless villain, who is given little to do, had debuted opposite Wild Bill’s best-known creation in Sub-Mariner #27.  But the combination seems to be a harmonious one and, if I may say so, an excellent recipe for cheesecake, judging by the bikini-clad Ms. Nelson gracing page 8.

Peter: By this time, sans Bill Everett, this title should be sucking big time but still manages to entertain. There's that high cheesecake factor Professor Matthew mentions (The Cat is a Babe!) and the fabulous art of Greer/Everett, but I must say that, disposable as it may be, the story kept my interest all 20 pages. Can't say the same for much else this month. Can I mention again that The Cat is a babe without raising worry?

Conan the Barbarian 25
“The Mirrors of Kharam Akkad”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Sal Buscema and John Severin

The royal wizard Kharam Akkad orders Chumballa Rey, the Captain of the Makkalet guards, to bring him the Cimmerian soldier-of-fortune Conan. The living descendant of the god Tarim approaches and Kharam Akkad tells the silent figure of how King Kull of Valusia was once nearly killed by the mystical visions within the mirror of the sorcerer Tuzun Thune. Decades later, Akkad gained possession of the mirror and it is the source of his mighty powers — but now its silvery surface shows only the wizard’s death at the hands of Conan, images of a lion, eagle and snake floating above the barbarian’s head. In the streets below, Chumballa Rey and six soldiers confront the Cimmerian and, after a lengthy battle, subdue the fierce warrior. Outside the high walls of Makkalet, Prince Yezdigerd of Turan spies that the Pah-Dishah reinforcements have deserted the city and prepares for yet another assault to rescue the Tarim. Bound, Conan is brought before Kharam Akkad who shows him the image on the mirror, demanding to know the meaning behind the animals. As the confused barbarian stares at the unearthly vignette, the scene begins to swirl and forms into a tentacled monstrosity that reaches out of the mirror and attacks. Breaking free of his bounds, Conan grabs Chumballa Rey’s sword and hacks the squirming creature to death. Conan and Kharam Akkad face off, trading mighty blows, until the wizard realizes that the hilt of the savage’s blade is in the shape of an eagle. Horrified, Akkad then also notices that the shield he is using has straps of snakeskin. Driven to insanity, the wizard becomes easy prey for Conan’s merciless steel. -Thomas Flynn

Mark: Against the siege of Makkalet backdrop, "The Mirrors of Kharam Akkad" (which are really the mirrors of Tuzun Thune, but whatever) pits Conan against the purple-hued magician. After sub-plots involving court intrigue and two-pages of John Severin drawn King Kull flashback, the outcome comes down to swordplay, steel on steel, and in such a contest any suckers gonna bet on the necromancer? Roy Thomas delivers another first-rate script, deftly handling the large cast on his signature title. Thomas in harness with Buscema means Conan's in good hands for years to come.

Tom Flynn: The King is dead, long live the King. Considering this is the first issue following Barry Smith’s dour departure, it’s a somber day on the grounds of the Ozone Park branch of the MU campus. However be of good cheer, Big John Buscema is here. Sure, I would prefer if Smith had continued, but Buscema is eminently qualified to take control of Robert E. Howard’s hero. And I’ve mentioned before that I would bet most Marvelers consider him the iconic Conan artist. With good reason: John would eventually draw about 100 issues each of Conan the Barbarian and the black-and-white magazine Savage Sword of Conan, spending a total of 14 years with the character. His reign on the color comic lasted until #190, with only a handful of gaps. Again, since I’m reading these for the first time, I’m not sure if those gaps are reprints or if another artist handled the chores, but we’ll find out along the way. With all things considered, we are at the dawn of perhaps the most remarkable run in the history of Marvel. On a side note, I once actually learned at the burly feet of the Brooklyn-born Buscema. As a chubby 12-year-old, I dreamed of becoming a comicbook artist. One day, my ever-supportive dad came home with a copy of How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way and a ticket to a three-hour class that Buscema was giving at our local community center. When he came to pick me up at the end of this magical event, my thoughtful father, Crom bless him, took his shy son by the scruff and marched me right up to Big John. I mumbled something about wanting to grow up and draw Marvel comics and nervously handed my temporary teacher my copy of his and Stan Lee’s book to autograph — which he signed with a warm smile. Not sure if Buscema actually tussled my hair, but I’d like to think so. I wore out that immensely helpful book until it fell apart: if I knew what I know now, I would have at least saved the page that Buscema signed. But heck, I was on to other things before long. John and Roy Thomas continue the Makkalet arc, with this issue inspired by Howard’s early King Kull short story “The Mirrors of Tuzun Thune,” first published in Weird Tales in 1929. Inker credits include both Sal Buscema and John Severin, but I’m not sure Severin ever used a pen: the two pages that depict Kharam Akkad telling the story of Kull and the mirror are obviously drawn by Severin so I think those illustrations are his only contribution. Which is a nice touch, since Severin is the current Kull artist. Oh nearly forgot: the eagle and snake are obviously explained but Roy’s voiceover on the final page reveals that Conan will eventually be given the nickname of Amra, which means lion in the language of the Kush. I hear they have good weed.

Mark: John Buscema is no Barry Smith, but he's also no Gil Kane, so read on, Hyborian homies, all is not lost. Prof Tom has already delineated Big John's coming 14 year run on the book and, Barry-withdrawal aside, Buscema's debut effort delivers the goods. His Conan is stockier, facial features blunter and more savage than Smith's iconic version, but it captures our hero's physical prowess and never-say-die (except for his enemies) determination.

Captain America and the Falcon 160
"Enter: Solarr!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

Guys in an armored vehicle attack Cap and the Falcon. Cap, with his newfound super strength, defeats five while Falc only mops up one. Sam is feeling pretty inferior about it and takes off. He takes his attitude and swoops down on Leila and Rafe, stealing the young lady away for some Harlem Disco Dancin'. Or sex. This pisses off Rafe who swears the Falcon is "gonna pay!" Meanwhile, Solarr, a man with the power of the sun, waltzes into a bank, robs them blind and blithely murders people with his energy beams. Cap intercepts and beats the crap out of Solarr, and sees Falcon taking off without saying a word. Cap goes to follow and passes Sharon's apartment. He considers stopping off to make up with her over an earlier incident, but goes after Sam instead. Meanwhile, Sharon is leaving her apartment for the last time…
-Scott MacIntyre

Scott: A simple, straightforward story, introducing a new arch foe for Cap. Solarr is pretty brutal considering the constraints of the comics code of the day. Aside from his ability to "char" people, he's a fairly dull character and his defeat by Cap isn't the most gripping. Sam's turn is a little more dramatically interesting. The supporting cast is still a tad annoying, but not horribly so. The art is good, as it has been for some time. We leave on a new mystery involving Sharon, but it's not that gripping just yet.

Matthew:  Okay, Solarr never became a top-tier (or even upper-middle) villain, and his origin is frankly ludicrous, unless he’s later revealed to be some kind of mutant, I can’t recall.  But since it’s served up by the Englehart/Buscema/McLaughlin triumvirate of chefswhose fare is also on the menu in this month’s Defendersthat part of the stew goes down fairly easily, and while I won’t say I enjoyed his murderous rampage, it certainly seems unusual for a Marvel Comic of this vintage.  Far less flavorful is the fact that Cap’s newfound super-strength seems, either directly or indirectly, to have frayed his recently mended relationships with both Sam and Sharon, thus making me fear that Steve is backsliding; must try to have faith.

Mark: Cap gives a shout-out to All in the Family on P. 2, so we've already cleared the snake-belly low bar set last ish. The shield-slinger's new super-strength makes the Falc feel inferior, has Sam "pouring out my heart to a bird." Some gen-u-wine Marvel angst is an upgrade, ditto Sam swinging down to beat Rafe's time with Leila. So things are looking good, right?

Peter: The Falcon must be the most sensitive superhero in the Marvel Universe. Didn't we just come out of a "The Falcon Feels Useless" phase? All this self-pity doesn't become a guy who rebuts Rafe's "Uncle Tom" jive with "You stupid bigot! You're as blind behind those fancy shades and that 'in' rhetoric as the fake Captain America was behind his patriotic cowl." True dat. It's a pretty lean story this (I mean, just look at that snazzy origin), but I'd have trimmed a heap of the "My God, Cap's never been strong enough to hit three of us at the same time with a haymaker!" talk. Not only does it get monotonous, but it's just darn silly for ordinary bad guys to say that. To them, Cap's always been mega-strong. Cap says Solarr's power is "the worst he's ever seen" and then puts him in the dirt a few panels later with a bucket of paint. Oh, but permit me to bump my rating up an entire star just for the gleam in Steve Englehart's eye when he typed the words: "Where once stood humans now lies a funeral pyre and it's his fault!" Very potent.

Mark: New villain Solarr is a bad dude, melting civilians into piles of goo, but the story's momentum ends abruptly with Little Mr. Sunshine's backstory. Hippie Silas King's VW bus breaks down in the Nevada desert. Does he wait for help or start walking down the highway? Nope. Instead the counter-culture cretin wanders off into the freaking desert, where he somehow not only survives for days but also absorbs the power of the sun! Stainless Steve can't even bestir himself to have Silas drink from a radioactive pond or encounter an Indian Sun God as a rationale for his powers. Solarr's paint-covered defeat (Sherman-Williams to the rescue!) is only marginally better. Sam and Sharon Carter both bail on Cap by story's end, but its hard to care about character development in a story this stupid. As Archie Bunker might say, file this one under Meathead

Daredevil and the Black Widow 98
"Let There Be -- Death!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Ernie Chua

Having pierced the vortex that surrounded Golden Gate Park, DD faces the transformed human boy who has been changed from Mordecai Jones to the Dark Messiah. Not to mention the three humans the Messiah has transformed into three disciples, Josiah, Macabee and Uriah. After a demonstration of power, they vanish, along with the vortex, to fulfill their game plan to take over San Francisco, for starters. DD heads to the office where he finds his boss has issued the surprising news that the three kids who have become said disciples (whom he was supposed to defend) are pleading guilty. Back home with Natasha later they head out to find the Messiah, instead meeting up with his three pawns, whom despite their powers, have no great human strength. The two defeat the three before Mordecai reappears, having dissolved the powers of his followers. It seems DD (the Widow unable to help due to still unhealed injuries) is yesterday’s toast until he makes the Messiah aware that he is really just Mordecai Jones. Surprisingly, this proves Mordecai’s undoing, and apparent demise in an explosion.
-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: An entertaining issue even if ultimately irrelevant. Still we have yet to see who gave Mordecai his powers. It makes sense that, with their seeming invincibility, the evil disciples are largely fueled by illusion, giving our hero team the chance to defeat them. And, while not surprising, the knowledge of who he is proving to be Mordecai’s undoing is a believable end for him. The Matt/Natasha romance, largely in the background, continues to give us more hints of the love no doubt going on behind the scenes.

If Gerry, Steve and Ernie give you lemons, make lemonade.

Mark: This fast-paced psychedelic classic amps up the excitement leading toward DD's centennial celebration! All of Marveldom Assembled waits with baited, blind lawyer breath, gathering around spinner racks at Rexalls and U-Totems coast to coast...
Just kidding. Its wreckage, an Edsel-New Coke level botch, starting with the suddenly decaying art, long the book's chief attraction. Ernie Chua inking Gene Colan is like unleashing a kid with a crayon on the Mona Lisa. Here Chua eases off the thick lines that smothered much of Gene's magic last month, but the lighter touch just makes the art look unfinished, not atmospheric, and even Dean Gene seems half-interested this time around. Four panels of Natasha in a negligee are the only highlight.

Matthew: This concludes the transitional two-parter in which Gerber, who will stay on the book until #117, scripts a plot by Conway, here ending his decidedly uneven two-year run.  Unfortunately, the Colan/Chua art now makes Hornhead look like a rubber-faced goon, the steroidal villains still evoke an equally oversized yawn (worse yet, the supposedly destroyed Mordecai will be back in #105), Natasha is reduced to helpless-female mode in a single panel, and even Steve can’t put enough lipstick on Gerry’s pig.  If you’re making Last Year at Marienbad, ambiguity can be deliberate and delightful, but sometimes it’s just sloppy writing, and the dung-heap of this issue’s illogic and unanswered questions is particularly tall and smelly.

Mark: Mediocre as it is, the art's like full-on Steranko or Barry Smith inking Kirby in Cap's Bicentennial Battles compared to the story. Plotter Conway, writer Gerber, both equally guilty. Rather than bothering to savage the gospel of Mordecai Dark Messiah Jones, his Flunkies Three and nonsensical go-Boom! ending, let's simply say that the best Messrs Conway and Gerber can hope for is that this one is expunged from their records. When the best thing - other than negligee 'Tasha – is the bad joke on P. 21: "DD collapses on Uriah's heaped form" - we might wish this abortion be wiped from the memory of all mankind.

The Defenders 5
"World Without End?"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

The Valkyrie walks through New York near the home of Dr. Strange where she is staying, pondering her purpose. Is she real, or just a spell that will fade if Barbara, the girl from whom she was formed, comes back to life? Her musings are cut short when some masked enemies of Dr. Strange attack her. She quickly dispels them, with the help of her host, who encourages her to seek the other members of the Defenders, Namor and the Hulk, giving her some ruby crystals to point the way. Friends not battle, he feels, are the most important things for her right now to give her purpose. Mounting her horse Aragorn, she finds the Sub-Mariner first, who desires no more human contact than necessary. At this point he vanishes in a flash of light, and Valkyrie (and Namorita, the sea king’s cousin) uses the crystal to follow him. First they find the Hulk, who reacts angrily to being sought as a member of this “non-team.” He likewise disappears in a flash, and the ruby Crystals point the ladies in the same direction for both of their vanished companions. They are led to a deserted lighthouse, surrounded by a force field, which the Valkyrie shatters with her sword. Inside they find the giant computer known as the Omegatron, built by Yandroth to destroy the Earth when the computer screams it’s maker’s name. Dr. Strange had stopped it with a time freezing spell, but a subsequent similar spell had unknowingly weakened the first, leaving the Omegatron to slowly come back to life. In the moments they have left to stop it, the computer distracts them with images of multiple Hulks and Namors. Aragorn is able to show them who the real two are, but this doesn’t make their task much easier. The battle has allowed Strange’s spell to completely end, and the Omegatron changes into a giant humanoid form, at which time the Hulk and Namor are free of the temporary hypnosis they were under. The two occupy the giant long enough for Valkyrie to slice off his head before he can yell Yandroth’s name and doom our world. The battle won, the Hulk leaves, but Namor has a change of heart. He feels the Valkyrie would be a welcome addition to spend time with. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The fascinating development continues of this non-team. Instead of a normal super-group wrought by egos and angst, the Defenders are simply resistant to the good that their unlikely combination can bring. The Valkyrie wrestles some very real doubts of who or what she is. How volatile is her existence? She doesn’t know yet -- and neither do we. The breaking of Dr. Strange’s spell on the Omegatron, glimpsed in the previous issues, come to fruition, and serves to prove the value unlikely friendships can bring. Steve Englehart’s script feels fresh, and Sal Buscema proves to be an artist whose work can stand on its own.

Matthew: Of course, we’ve been waiting for this confrontation ever since Stainless dropped the initial shoe in the very first issue, harkening back even further to our fractious non-team’s official debut in Marvel Feature #1.  If the truth be told, I’ve never found the Omegatron terribly interesting (and I’ll bet they got a ton of letters about this, but shouldn’t its speaking Yandroth’s name in page 18, panel 1 have destroyed the world already?), so it was a relief that the star of this yarn is really Valkyrie, with Dr. Strange’s “screen time” outweighed by that of Nita, of all people.  It’s nice that Val has a chance to settle in a bit before the balloon goes up in #8, and since Our Pal Sal draws her first almost-40 issues, he can truly be called THE artist for Valkyrie.

Doc Savage, Man of Bronze 4
"The Hell-Diver"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Ross Andru and Tom Palmer

Following up on the Indian Head Club clue, Doc Savage bursts into the establishment with McCoy and Pace to rescue Monk, Ham, and Long Tom.  He unchains them, with only a bulletproof vest to save him from a roomful of Death’s-Heads.  

The Death’s-Heads escape, but not before leaving behind footprints visible to Doc’s portable ultra-violet lantern.  The prints lead them to a map of the Death’s-Heads’ targets along the harbor.  Targeted next is Doc’s Brooklyn warehouse of the Hidalgo Trading Company which stores the fabulous machines he has invented, including his submarine, the Helldiver [hyphenated only in the title].  From this the Man of Bronze pieces together clues that lead him to believe that the Death’s-Heads have been raiding waterfront targets and using a getaway submersible craft to evade police.  

The Helldiver puts to sea.  Ham radios Doc to tip him off that Gardner’s last three corporate mergers, all initiated under suspicious circumstances, made him a millionaire.  Monk believes him to be the unknown leader of the Silver Death’s-Heads.  Doc suspects Winthrop was building their sub at his plant before getting cold feet and getting himself killed.  Doc has taken to below the waves to root out their submarine.  The Death’s-Head sub detects them first, overtaking and boarding Doc’s Helldiver.  

The hull breached and taking water, Doc and his outnumbered crew gear up for a vicious two-against one battle.  Doc’s men go for the air supplies of the Death’s-Heads, forcing them to the surface.  Doc tails two escapees to a boathouse, identifying only their top lieutenant Ull.  Inside, the secret ringleader explains that his goal was financing the Death’s-Heads “to kill my business rivals” and so achieve “mergers [that] have netted me a billion dollars,” but scolds Ull for a crime rampage that caused a police crackdown and caught the Bronze Man’s attention.  At that moment, Doc crashes through the window, tackles Ull, and with a single punch fells the mastermind, unmasking him as – Bedford Burgess Gardner.  But, under a wig and false beard – Hugh McCoy!  A disguise under a disguise!  

At Pat Savage’s salon, Doc explains the rest of McCoy’s master plan: invent a non-existent man, Gardner, so if his scheme fell apart, the police would forever be looking for a phantom.  Pace and Miss Zane “look nice and cozy,” with Pace grateful to Doc for giving him the chance to grow in bravery and impress Lorna.  -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: Pat Savage, a pulp heroine whose “features were as perfect as though a magazine-cover artist had designed them,” does not return from issue #3 except as a mention, having been merely introduced to further the plot.  Marvel’s letters page “What’s Up, Doc?” (in issue #4), responding to the adaptation of The Man of Bronze (in #1 and #2), stated that in the future “the two-comics-per-novel formula is not ironclad,” and the inability to fit Savage’s cousin into the storyline could be one reason why.  A reader writing  in #3 about The Man of Bronze adaptation feared Marvel would repeat “the mistake that Gold Key did in ’66 by trying to put a whole paperback in one comic, but I should have known Marvel is smarter than that.”  Even smarter if they are willing to eventually expand their two-part formula should Lester Dent’s novels warrant fuller treatment.  

Gilbert: One issue #4 letter-writer comments that “There’s one nice thing about a Jim Steranko cover.  It’s so beautiful that no one dares to put a word balloon on it.”  He was commenting on issue #2, so one wonders his thoughts on #4 after turning to page 24 and seeing Ross Andru and Tom Palmer’s dynamic full-page undersea fight panel interrupted by not one, but two “special thanks” captions from scripter Steve Englehart pausing the scene to applaud the pair’s art.  It not only stops the action dead in the water, but takes us entirely out of the “NON-STOP ACTION!” Gil Kane and Palmer promise on their cover.  

Gilbert: The novel Death in Silver, adapted in two parts by Englehart in this issue and the last, was planned to form the basis of Doc Savage: The Arch Enemy of Evil, George Pal's follow-up film announced before the credits of his 1975 feature Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze.  (A “What’s Up, Doc?” letter-writer to issue #4 reports “Pal recently bought the rights to Doc Savage and plans on filming material from his first six books.”)  Mercifully the threatened sequels never materialized, probably sparing us Silver Death's-Heads scored to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” 

Gilbert: Minor quibbles aside, editor Roy Thomas and Englehart’s commendable condensing keeps things moving briskly along while, most importantly, the “M-men” creative team does its best, even when not to everyone’s satisfaction, to honor Dent’s original material.   

Fantastic Four 133
"Thundra at Dawn"
Story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway
Art by Ramona Fradon and Joe Sinnott

Reed, Johnny, Medusa, Ben and Alicia wander thought the New York crowds on New Year’s Eve, not feeling especially joyous about the coming 1973. The blur of activity is given sharp focus when Thundra, the powerhouse gal who is the Frightful Four’s newest recruit, stops the clock in Times Square just short of midnight to offer a challenge: she wants to fight the Thing in three days in Shea Stadium for the whole world to see! Our anxious heroes impatience gets the better of them as the Torch ignites to give Thundra a piece of his mind. She wants to stick to her game plan however, and nabs Alicia as collateral to keep the battle on her terms, flying away on one of the Wizard’s discs. The media hype builds as crowds fill Shea Stadium three days hence to witness the “battle of the century.” In the fight that ensues, Ben realizes this isn’t the girl next door, as she surprises him by tossing him out of the park! The Thing’s hesitation at going all out in gives Thundra an advantage, and she seems to have the winning way. Reed saves the day by using a ray that can temporarily revert Ben back to his human form long enough for Thundra to feel cheated and storm off. Nonetheless she has the honour to force her frightful fellows into releasing Alicia. -Jim Barwise

Jim: This reminds me of one of those Marvels of yore where the Thing battles the Hulk, or Thor fights the Hulk, etc. But hold on! It’s not of the caliber of those battles, in part because the fight never really gets a chance to play out. Entertaining anyway, as we try to figure Thundra’s motives. Certainly she’s an interesting character who I’d like to learn more of, with enough morals to release Alicia unharmed. And New Year’s Eve is relatively timely for this post.

Matthew: Per the lettercol, “Roy—who had plotted [this] tale some weeks back—has found himself just too blamed busy with his ever-mounting editorial duties to continue as the fulltime scripter of the very mag he’d wanted to write ever since he first entered the comics field back in ’65!  So [he] decided reluctantly to write no regular monthly features except…Conan the Barbarian—and discussed the plans he had in mind with Gerry Conway, who has lusted after the F.F. scripting chores since he entered the field in ’69.  Then, since he and Ger were in virtually total agreement on the direction which the mag and the group should take, Roy uttered a last, long-suffering sigh—and handed this issue’s awesome art-job to our just-turned-twenty [!] titan.”

Mark: Good timing, since the story's set on New Year's Eve, with the FF (Medusa subbing for Sue), plus Alicia, moping around Times Square. Reed and Johnny are newly and involuntarily single, justifying their sour moods, and right when they resolve to cheer up, Amazonian Bad-Ass and Frightful Four hottie Thundra shows up on the side of a building to challenge Ben to a Battle of the Sexes Smackdown, three days hence in Shea Stadium. Thundra kidnaps Alicia to assure the Thing's appearance and zooms away on one of the Wizard's anti-gravity disks. No reason is given for the three day delay, but maybe it was a sop to Big Apple sports fans, since neither Jets nor Giants made the playoffs that year.

Peter: Poor Gerry Conway was handed a limp noodle his first time out and granted no veto power, it would seem. I like the Thundra character and I hope we'll see her in a substantial role and a better storyline in the future cuz this one's just silly. We never find out why she's chosen Ben as her ring mate when The Hulk is obviously the world's most powerful male or who exactly sold tickets to the match in Shea. As I recall, Gerry's got some interesting arcs up his sleeve so let's excuse the hands tied behind his back this issue and get on with the secrets of Agatha Harkness and Franklin Richards. As for the art.... not bad. Ramona Fradon (who subs for Big John this issue) handles the chores this issue surprisingly well with, I'm sure, a heaping helping from Joltin' Joe's inks.

Matthew: Roy would be back for a longer stint two years later, in his post-EIC period, but in the meantime, more transitory changes are also afoot, e.g., a rare Marvel credit for “woman-cartoonist Ramona Fradon” that seems fitting for our female foe.  One change was so ephemeral it never happened:  it was announced that Fradon (a semi-retired DC veteran who later admitted to being flummoxed by the Marvel Method) would become the permanent artist of The Cat, effective with #4, but that issue, which turned out to be the last, was penciled by Jim Starlin and Alan Weiss.  Speaking of our feline friend, as in her current outing, the strong hand of a veteran inker—in this case, Joe Sinnott—makes it a bit challenging to assess Fradon’s efforts but, as always, provides continuity.

Mark: DC artist Ramona Fradon appears in her only published work for Marvel, doing a passable John Buscema impersonation. The story was plotted by Roy Thomas, written by Gerry Conway. Neither earns a Gold Star. The Thundra-Thing battle being turned into a paid sporting event before a packed stadium is nonsensical, as is the Wizard's apparent plan to kill both combatants (and thousands of New Yorkers) by blowing up the stadium. We learn nothing more of Thundra's origin or backstory, and while Conway may score points with Ms. magazine by having the Feminist Firebrand handily defeat blue-eyed Benjy (who's only saved when turned back to human form by a ray-gun that Reed, apparently, just happened to bring along to the pre-fight tailgate party), I ain't buying. "No one makes fools of the Frightful Four," the Wizard harrumphs, but in his initial offering, Kid Conway plays FF fans for chumps.    


  1. What, no comments on that Avengers cover? That's as good as it gets, for me.

  2. That's how I feel about the previous one.

  3. Of this week's selections, the only ones I got off the rack when they were brand new were the FF & Ka-Zar, and as a Gemini, I found a character with that name, even a villain, rather interesting -- I'd missed the previous appearances of the original Zodiac gang, but I certainly got their next one. Also of note, it'd been almost 100 issues before since the Hulk last appeared in Amazing Spider-Man (not counting Annual #4), in the same issue that introduced the Green Goblin. And here we have the not so jolly green giant in purple pants tangling with Spidey just before the Goblin's most nefarious appearance. Pure coincidence, I'm sure -- or was it? A shame that Marvel's attempt at making mags that were supposed to appeal to more female readers didn't quite pan out, although perhaps they should have focused on better stories with good art. In this era it seemed Marvel was mainly in the mode of pumping out as much product as they could with too little regard for quality. There were still some gems, but mostly only average or below average comics. Of course as a 10/11 year old in 1973, I wasn't tooo discriminating, but even when comics were only 20 cents plus a penny tax each, I had to be a bit selective as my allowance wasn't enough for me to get everything that might have appealed to me.