Wednesday, January 22, 2014

May 1973 Part One: Who is the Mysterious Woman at Lost Souls Asylum?

The Amazing Spider-Man 120
"The Fight and the Fury!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane, Paul Reinman, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro

While underwater, Hulk hurls a rock at Spider-Man, which the wall-crawler uses to hitch a ride to the surface! Then the gargantuan greenskin, tired of water and soldiers, causes a tidal wave and decides to “go home now”. General Ross heads back to Montreal, and Spidey goes along on the bottom of a copter. After a quick phone call to Gwen, who’s worried about the relapsing Harry, a guilty Mssr. Parker heads towards lawyer Rimbaud’s office, but is being tailed by a thug! Quick change into Spidey and he learns the thug is one of Octopus’ goons, but General Ross shows up looking for the Hulk before our hero can learn anything else. Spidey zips off and as Peter, learns from Rimbaud’s assistant Delon that they are to meet at the old Expo 67 fair grounds. On the way, they’re not only tailed by the sleazy thug, but the Hulk is standing in their way! Annoyed by the headlights, the big galoot rips up the road and sends the car flipping, which gives Peter a chance to change into Spidey. He manages to distract Hulk enough that the monster keeps after our hero, destroying stuff along the way and getting even madder! Rimbaud shows, noting he has something “of the utmost importance” to tell Parker. And when General Ross’ “cavalry” appears, he gets his chance since Hulk jumps off and Peter comes back—but the smarmy thug shoots Rimbaud dead from the shadows! Later, a weary and confused Peter flies home, with promises of The Green Goblin for next issue! --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A slew of little moments give this ish its backbone. The “Marvel Madness Quiz” on the splash page is quite the throwback to the Golden Age, and however unnecessary, it’s still fun. Funny how Spidey wonders if battling the Hulk will kill him, which was the dialogue from last month’s cover! With Kane taking over the pencils, Hulk’s hair suddenly grew a couple of inches. Or did Montreal just get windier at night? Nice little mention of Clark Kent. Nice little aside to The Good, The Bad and The Ugly when Hulk says “If you want to fight—then fight!” Well, it's a stretch, but still reminded me of Tuco, so there. A bit melodramatic, the lawyer getting shot just as he’s about the spill the beans. And the quick two-panel wrap up is almost hilarious in its brevity. Interesting Mary Jane letter in The Spider’s Web from one Lindy Marie Caulty, F.C.S—which in her words stands for “Female Chauvinist Sow”.

Mark Barsotti: Any cliffhanger "will Spidey drown?" worries are assuaged  early, as the Hulkster flings our arachnid-hero from the freezing waters, atop a boulder, in the second panel. There's the standard dose of pigheaded buster by tin-star Thunderbolt Ross, having his troops open fire on Webhead, convinced he's in cahoots with Mean Green, last month's contrary evidence notwithstanding. The SM-Hulk tiff, with Peter goading the Gamma-Goliath while trying to stay out of haymaker range, accomplishes little save trashing the Expo '67 site, before Hulk leaps off back into his own mag. Effective enough, if all fairly paint-by-number.

Matthew Bradley:  As is too common, the reprint of this two-parter omits the transition between issues and some of the credits, which here—per the MCDb—should include Mortellaro (reportedly unbilled on #119), Romita, and Paul Reinman as the inkers, while Kane replaced Romita as penciler in the interim.  On the eve of next issue’s seismic shift, this is a surprisingly lightweight opus, both Spidey’s on-again, off-again tussle with Greenskin and Peter’s quest for the secret of the mysterious telegram being left without satisfactory resolution.  Gerry’s handling of the Hulk is okay, but he never really seems to develop an interesting dynamic between the two of them, and as a result the story, satisfactorily illustrated though it is, doesn’t actually catch fire.

Scott MacIntyre: The second part of the Spidey in Canada story and Gil Kane disappointingly takes on the art chores. It's also the final issue before everything changes in Peter's life. The Hulk looks more like a huge, green rock star than a rampaging brute. There are hints of Romita in the inks, but not nearly enough for me. The mystery of the doctor's death will go unresolved for a good amount of time and when it does come, it's too wild and wacky to be satisfying. Knowing what's coming next issue, the last panel seems just so cold and gives no indication of how much Peter Parker's world is going to be shaken up. "Next: The Green Goblin." You can say that again!

Peter Enfantino: It's a satisfactory finish to the two issue Hulk arc and, in some ways, the end of The Amazing Spider-Man Chapter One. Nothing really happens in this story but that's okay -- sometimes we can put up with brainless fare, especially when we know the heavy duty stuff is on the way. I've a feeling the next time we'll see light and airy is when it's attached to the Spider-Mobile. Kane (with support from half the Marvel bullpen it seems) ain't Herb Trimpe but at least his Hulk isn't the unrecognizable clod on display over at The Defenders.

Joe: This month’s favorite sound effect: “FOOM!”, as Hulk throws our beloved web-head into a wall, unknowingly giving a free plug to the new Marvel Mag. Yeah, unknowingly. Sure…It’s easy to see that Sugar Lips doesn’t quite have the penchant for creative sound effects like the Jazzy One. Then again, who does!

Mark: Gil Kane's back behind the pencil, but Romita's (and Tony Mortellaro's) inks highlight the Sugary-One's strengths, Jazzercise his nasal-gazing weakness. Ock's assassin takes out Jean Pierre Rimbaud before the lawyer can bean-spill about Aunt May's mysterious telegram. Knowledge of Gwen coming bad luck with bridges gives her appearance added poignancy; pity then that Gerry Conway's one clunker moment has her spouting bad Dragnet dialogue about Harry "back-flashing to that bad trip." Sheesh. It's called a flashback, Ger. Take two hits of blotter and call us in the morning. Two days from now.

Amazing Adventures 18
"The War of the Worlds!"
Story by Roy Thomas, Neal Adams, and Gerry Conway
Art by Neal Adams and Howard Chaykin

In 2018 A.D., a “crimson-haired demon named Killraven” battles a slew of men and a couple of mutants to reach The Keeper, in what was once Grand Central Station. Finally blasting his way in, Killraven launches a metal projectile at the old man, who then thanks him! Turns out the Keeper is now “free to speak” of the War of the Worlds that began in 1901 London, when Mars invaded Earth! But as their metal machines nearly conquered the planet, they were killed by bacteria—only to return 100 years later! The Martians ended up destroying every atomic weapon on Earth, and developed immunity against biological weapons, so they were winning big time. One day, a refugee boy named Jonathan Raven was saved by his Mom and a Dr. Carver, hiding for two weeks until The Keeper took the boy for The Masters, killing the adults and Jonathan’s baby brother. The Martian Master made the boy a gladiator, teaching him how to fight and earning him the name “Killraven”! He eventually escaped, hiding out in “Queens” and learning about life before the war, and the evil sirens who can lure men to their doom. After killing a man, Killraven rafts to “the island called Staten” and stays six years with a band of freemen, becoming their leader. Back to the present and The Keeper dies, telling Killraven he is “special” and can “destroy them” with his power. The perplexed Killraven fights off another mutant, then spots a trio of seductive sirens! -- Joe Tura

Joe: We begin a new chapter of Amazing Adventures with a series conceived and edited by Roy Thomas, inspired by the H.G. Wells novel. Make that, according to the cover, “the prophetic novel”. It’s also “The power-packed premiere of a startling new series!” And Killraven’s laughable WWE costume on the Romita/Esposito cover would have turned me off immediately back in 1973. So obviously this was my first read of this one. It’s set in 2018, only four years from now—we might be in trouble! Oh wait, it’s not our earth according to the Marvel Wiki. Whew! All in all, a wordy, action and exposition packed set-up issue with decent Adams and Chaykin art that didn’t hurt my head to read. We end on a nice cliffhanger after the flashbacks finally end, so there’s hopefully something worth catching next month.

Mark: I'm looking forward to War of the Worlds, a series I only dipped a toe in back in the day, so let's unload the snark early. Halfway through Jonathan (Kill)Raven's backstory, we see him, newly escaped from Martian gladiator school, dressed sensibly in what looks like Dan'l Boone buckskins and animal fur. Yet before the next panel Killy must have hit the nearest Dominatrix-R-Us because he's suddenly wearing skimpy, Neal Adams created Magic-Mike-in-a-leather-bar gear that don't seem the most protective attire for waging guerrilla war against alien overlords. Neal had depths we'd hardly imagined.

Matthew: Yet another debut conceived by Roy and scripted by Gerry, this grew into a succès d’estime that ran for 22 issues, with the inevitable MTU guest shot for its hero, Killraven, and a 21st-century afterlife.  The first half was penciled by uncredited co-plotter Adams, and the second by Chaykin, with inks by Chiaramonte; Jungle Action’s Don McGregor and Ant-Man refugee P. Craig Russell later became the predominant creative team. “Inspired by” H.G. Wells, it’s a sequel to rather than an adaptation of The War of the Worlds, positing that the Martians returned a century after being laid low by our germs, and although the whole freedom-fighters-vs.-alien-invaders thing has since been done to death, it’s adroitly handled here.

Mark: What Adams didn't have was time to finish the book; the second-half was drawn by Howard Chaykin, the over-all result being more-than-serviceable, less than spectacular. Roy Thomas, who conceived the H.G. Wells adaptation, handed off the writing to busy bee Gerry Conway, who effectively merges two long flashbacks to world-build Martian-occupied earth, circa 2017. The body count's much higher than in the super-heroic Marvel U, the stakes compelling, and it's fun to start a dark, "adult" title about which I have virtually no preconceptions. If it lives up to it promise, I may just have found next year's Halloween costume. 

Peter: A fabulous concept, this story is so dense and elaborate it feels as though we've wandered in mid-series or we're getting one of those obligatory "What Spidey's been up to the last six issues" three-page recap. The art by Adams and Chaykin, which should be glorious, looks a bit rushed to me but the art takes a back seat to the concepts and characters introduced. I'm not a big fan of science fiction (which is why I skipped this as a kid) but this issue has me hooked. Roy and Gerry done good.

Scott: The presence of Neal Adams alone is enough for me to give this book a try, something I wouldn't ordinarily do based on the cover of this thing; another warrior in an unlikely outfit in a different time or planet fighting outside the Marvel Continuity. I've already had a belly full of John Carter, Gullivar Jones and King Kull. I was going to avoid this like a case of syphilis, but sometimes you just have to pay if you're gonna get any action at all, ya know? Not too shabby, all things considered. The art is, of course, great and the story was interesting enough. It's a more logical continuation of the accepted version of the Martian invasion than I expected. We'll see how long it maintains my interest, but thus far it's pretty good stuff.

Creatures on the Loose 23
Thongor in
"Where Brood the Demon!
Story by George Alec Effinger
Art by Val Mayerik and Vince Colletta

In the shadowed vault of the depraved wizard Athmar Phong, Thongor’s sword – passed down from his warrior father – fails against the Demon of Zangabal’s steel-like body.  Only the Shield of Cathloda, the skull-faced priest Kaman Thuu’s talisman, can protect him against magic.  However, the demon wrests it away and, doing its wizard-master’s bidding, chains the defeated Thongor in the foulest cell.  Fettered next to him is one of the city-men, Ald Thurmis, who tells Thongor he is imprisoned because of an offer of gold to steal a certain mirror...  

Thongor breaks his Ptarthan steel bonds and frees Thurmis.  The Valkarthan savage refuses to leave without his father’s sword, so the indebted Thurmis decides to help.  Thurmis tells Thongor that trapped within the black mirror is a Demon Prince (Aqquoonkagua), and he intends to search for it because “nothing is forbidden him who holds it!”  Passing through a blasphemous breeding vat chamber, they enter the wizard’s throne room where broods the demon.  

Thongor reclaims the sword of Thumithar, and Thurmis his rapier.  With two against one, Thongor is also able to retake the Shield of Cathloda and send the fiend “shrieking back to hell!”  Before they can escape, Athmar Phong returns.  He delves into Thongor’s mind and, uncovering the plot of his evil employer, the priest Kaman Thuu, freezes the savage youth and Thurmis in place with a ray that slowly turns them to stone.  The false priest’s talisman protects the barbarian, while the gloating wizard unveils the mirror and reveals within its black glass “the substance of Aqquoonkagua, prince of hell!”  Thongor, fearing Thurmis to be growing colder by the moment, “pit[s] magic against magic!”  He hurls the talisman against the black glass prison.  The unleashed Aqquoonkagua takes his wizard captor to “the very pits of eternity!” before returning to “the ultracosmos.”  Thongor and Thurmis depart the terrors of the House of Athmar Phong, claiming only a few baubles.  Thongor takes a path “away from this accursed city,” telling Thurmis “something prods me onward, [for] I am truly not my own master!”  

In “The Coming of the Giants!” (a Tales of Suspense #34 reprint) Earth, at the height of its progress and hubris, is humbled by a highly-developed race of titans (memorably pencil-and-inked by Don Heck) who land without even noticing humanity’s tiny presence.  -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: Enjoyable though reprints are, two per issue were two too many.  Marvel wisely reduces the number to one, starting with their “Thongor, Warrior of Lost Lemuria!” series, thus giving more space to the original main feature.  “Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars!” was dealt a slim 10 pages, ridiculous when taking into account recaps, and this fact hurt the storytelling quality.  Gullivar was more imaginative, more original, than Thongor, but this “Thieves of Zangabal” adaptation proves author Lin Carter far more efficient at plot and narrative (even while this episode recalls Gullivar and Chak in Phra’s lab).  

Gilbert: Trying to deflect criticism of the Conan novels that came in the wake of Robert E. Howard’s death, author L. Sprague de Camp openly confesses in REH: Lone Star Fictioneer #4 (a Howard fan periodical) that “ some readers do not like Carter’s and my Conan stories nearly so well as Howard’s...”  Why?  Because, he answers, “we are not crazy the way he was, and hence we find his emotional intensity hard to imitate.”  Putting aside the backhanded compliment paid REH, this startlingly candid admission goes a long way to explaining why even non-Conan sword-and-sorcery pastiches like Carter’s Thongor stories fail to capture the hardcore Howard audience hungry for what fantasy author David Gemmell calls REH’s “broadsword writing that cut its way to the heart.”  

Gilbert: “Thieves” is not the first exploit in Thongor’s chronological career, but it is the first pairing of the Valkarthan barbarian and his constant comrade Ald Thurmis and was therefore deemed by Marvel to be a good beginning to the series.  Even when given the chance for solo adventures, Marvel tends to prefer duos – Gullivar and Chak, Kull and Brule, Conan and Prospero (and many others), and now Thongor and Ald Thurmis.  REH’s original Conan yarns jumped around his biographical timeline, so Marvel could always do likewise should they choose to vary things by presenting a lone Thongor tale or two.  This minor adventure – simple, straightforward, and familiar – is actually a good way to introduce both characters, and perhaps later issues will deliver on Marvel’s assessment of Thongor as more than a “poor man’s Conan” and promise to give fantasy readers “something completely unique” (Creatures on the Loose #25, letters page).    

The Monster of Frankenstein 3
"The Monster's Revenge!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog

After the ship he's been sailing on is destroyed during a storm, the Frankenstein Monster kills all aboard the lifeboat save three: the boy Sean, Captain Walton, and his servant, Canute. He saves only these three in order to hear the rest of the Captain's narrative (one told to him by his grandfather, also a ship's Captain), the story of how his creator destroyed the monster's bride and the subsequent trial for the murder of Frankenstein's friend, Henry (actually perpetrated by the monster). The scientist is cleared of charges and released but the monster vows to visit him on his wedding night and pay him back for his treachery. True to his word, the monster does pay the newlyweds a visit and leaves his creator a widower. Driven mad with grief, Frankenstein tracks his creation to the Antarctic but, in a freak accident, is thrown into the icy waters. He's picked up by a passing ship and relates his story to Captain Walton's grandfather before dying. The creature makes his way on board but, after hearing his creator is already dead, he jumps back into the icy waters. Back in the present day, just as Walton finishes relating his story, the beams in the shelter they've been holding up in give way and the four are buried under tons of rubble. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Gary and Mike wrap up their stellar adaptation of the Shelley classic and begin their own take on what came next. The art is top-notch, very Wrightson-esque, and the balloons and captions are so stuffed full of words, we forget we're not reading a novel. It's refreshing that this monster can speak (very eloquently), unlike most of the Hollywood incarnations, as that will come in handy down the road. I can't wait to see what the boys have up their sleeve next.

John Scoleri: I can't say enough about Ploog's artwork. Like Wrightson, he can more than make up for any shortcomings in the script. Fortunately, here he doesn't need to. Thankfully we've got the creative team for three more issues. And his talent isn't limited to the creature and the gothic trappings of the tale. He does quite a job with the lovely Elizabeth, bride of Victor Frankenstein.

The Avengers 111
"With Two Beside Them!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Don Heck and Mike Esposito

Captured by Magneto, the Avengers stand trancelike and watch The Scarlet Witch dance (badly) under his control. Magneto has finally learned to control the metallic minerals in the blood in order to direct the flow in people by manipulating how much gets to the brain. While this is going on, the remaining Avengers team up with Daredevil and the Black Widow to try to free the others. All except for Hawkeye, who refuses to help because of his spurned love for Wanda drove him back to the Black Widow, who also rejected him. Magneto has his enthralled Avengers and X-Men attack a meeting of the Atomic Energy Commission, and after a battle with the other Avengers, manages to steal off with commission members. Magneto's plan is to get the commission to tell him where to access all the atomic radiation he needs to irradiate the Earth and kill most of the population, making the paltry number of survivors mutants. Thanks to the Vision's covert taking over of Magneto's assistant's mind, the Avengers and the X-Men defeat Magneto. The X-Men depart as friends, while the Avengers offer the Black Widow and Daredevil membership. Daredevil declines, but the Widow accepts.
-Scott MacIntyre

Scott: Well, that was terrible. Don Heck continues to assault the senses with his weak pencils (starting with the godawful splash) and the plot by Steve Engelhart is a mess. He was apparently doing this in his sleep, since he's proven his story mind is much better than this. Magneto continues to be misused and will be until Chris Claremont starts on the X-Men's revival book. This issue looks and reads poorly and I'm beginning to wonder if The Avengers was ever actually a good comic. There's little that can be done to truly affect the characters who have their own solo titles and the others are barely interesting enough as it is. Hopefully a "period of greatness" - much like the prior Kree-Skrull War (which was somewhat overrated truthfully) is on the horizon.

Matthew: This month we come to the second of my notorious “clusters,” and for once, brother Steve bought almost-consecutive issues of the same book (following #109), here winding up the trilogy after Daredevil #99.  Again, the Heck/Esposito art didn’t bother me at the tender age of nine, even if it looks a little rough and ready to me now, and in retrospect I can appreciate what a suitable choice Heck was as a veteran of both the Assemblers and the X-Men, although the involvement of the latter—minus the expatriate Beast and hors de combat Angel—is disappointingly minor.  As for Stainless, you know I’m going to love a story in which the Vision not only saves the day, but also does so with a nifty new manifestation of his cool powers.

Peter: Hard to believe this ugly mess was released in 1973 and not 1965. It would be easy to mistake by all the evidence: wretched art, bad one-liners, and silly props (Octofumes, anyone?). I'm not sure I caught the rules whereby "Maggie" (what super hero would nickname a guy who wants to take over the world "Maggie"?) can control the brains of The Avengers but only a few of them at a time. Cap's invite to Daredevil and The Black Widow to join The Assemblers is a bit presumptuous, isn't it. Did he turn around to his comrades and have a quick huddle and chin wag and then present the invitation? Hey, The X-Men helped just as much as Hornhead and The Babe so why not ask them as well? My initial obsession with this title began a few issues after this one (#116 to be exact) but if this had been my first, it would also have been my last. How can a human being (even Captain America) contort his body in such an... irregular fashion and not see a chiropractor daily (see below)?

Captain Marvel 26
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Jim Starlin and Dave Cockrum

Lou-Ann tells Mar-Vell that Thanos (see Iron Man #55) controls her and various world leaders with slave discs supplied by “an Earth outlaw,” but her “confession” and a challenge by Super-Skrull only lure Mar-Vell and the Thing, respectively, into a trap at a derelict midtown building. Skragg tries to trick the vengeful Mar-Vell—who assumes that Ben, rendered speechless by an alien device, is a disguised Skrull—into killing an innocent, yet after downing Ben with high voltage, Mar-Vell cannot kill his foe in cold blood, and his resolve is strengthened when the electric charge restores Ben’s voice.  Turning Skragg to stone, Thanos reveals that he has seized power on Titan, forces Mar-Vell to change, and disappears with his true target:  Rick. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Over the course of his run on Captain Marvel, plotter/penciler Starlin usually colored his own work (à la Steranko) and came to rely on my favorite letterer, Tom Orzechowski, best known for his long association with Chris Claremont; “Orz” had met Starlin, Rich Buckler, and Al Milgrom via a Detroit comics club.  When not scripting his own plots, Starlin collaborated with his old pal Mike Friedrich or Steve Englehart, who went on to succeed him and also handled the Avengers crossover in his capacity as that book’s regular writer.  So the biggest variable was the inkers, of whom Starlin had many—most often Milgrom and/or Dan Green, but also Chic Stone, Dave Cockrum, Pablo Marcos, Klaus Janson, or Jack Abel—with inevitably varied degrees of success.

Scott: Coming off like an issue of Marvel Two-In-One (which this was apparently some sort of try-out for), Jim Starlin's art is hit or miss, but nobody - and I mean nobody - draws Thanos like this man. Granted, he created him, but still…  The Marvel Misunderstanding is in full effect. So is Rick's obnoxiousness and his grating war cry of "Faaaaan-tastic!" Not the greatest story ever, but as a warm up to a Titan war, this promises more excitement to come.

Mark Barsotti: The third helping of Jim Starlin's "cosmic comics" adds a top flight inker (Dave Cockrum) and a certain rocky, blue-eyed guest-star (The Thing) in "a saga of personal tragedy and cosmic consequence." Sure, that splash page come-on is pretentious, but to paraphrase Pete Townshend, "I like pretension. You have to pretend you're great before you can actually achieve it." I wouldn't call this story great (there's still too much cool-dude Rick Jones in the mix), but it's an exciting slugfest, as Skull scientist Skagg sets up a would-be death match between Mar-Vell and Mr. Grimm (the Thing was and remains one of the toughest Marvel characters to draw; Starlin gets a solid B) before Silvertop's warrior creed torpedoes the plan, costing Skagg his life. The art continues to improve rapidly, and it's fun trying to imagine what readers back in '73 thought of Thanos, a dude bad enough to have the Super-Skrull as his flunky.

Matthew: This time it’s Cockrum, who later enters the pantheon as the co-creator of the new X-Men, and had inked Starlin’s work when Jim subbed for Buckler back in Avengers #107. The last page promises, “Coming [in September]:  the Thing in his own mag!  Wein, script; Starlin, art!,” but while Jim and Mike don’t quite have Ben down, either visually or verbally, even Thanos—whose homeworld is misspelled “Titian”—still looks like a work in progress.  The takeaways here are his confirmation as the “Masterlord” behind it all; the introduction of his hooded consort; the revelation of the unidentified Controller (another link to Iron Man) as his terrestrial ally; and the first face-to-face betwixt our two interstellar adversaries, rendered in a spectacular full-page shot.

Conan the Barbarian 26
“The Hour of the Griffin”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

Prince Yezdigerd of Turan mounts an all-out assault on Makkalet, finally gaining entrance into the much-besieged city. As the Turanian army slaughters the panicked defenders, Yezdigerd sends a squad of soldiers to the temple of the wizard Kharam Akkad to regain control of the living descendant of the god Tarim. Inside the temple, the soldiers encounter Conan, the wounded Chumballa Rey, and the Makkalet queen, Melissandra. The Cimmerian orders the Makkaletians to escape through the catacombs beneath the city as he topples a massive stone altar, crushing many of the Turanians. Still outnumbered, the barbarian locks himself into the mirrored hall of the Tarim, discovering that the supposed living god is a drooling mongoloid, the result of centuries of inbreeding. The Turian soldiers splinter the door and unleash a volley of arrows. Conan emerges unscathed but multiple shafts strike the moronic Tarim, who collapses into a fire pit. Conan, Chumballa Rey, and Melissandra manage to escape as Makkalet is ruthlessly pillaged. Yezdigerd discovers the smoldering corpse of the Tarim: knowing that his bloodthirsty army would demand a victory procession, the prince dresses the skeletal body in a hooded cloak, lashes it to a wheeled dais, and triumphantly marches the lifeless “man-god” through his cheering ranks. -Thomas Flynn

Mark: The long and bloody siege of Makkalet comes to an end at last, with the city Conan defended being sacked, its meek & peaceful King Eannatum taking up the sword to die a valiant death, and babeilicious queen Melissandra revealed as not the duplicitous cu – er, schemer we were led to believe, five long months ago. Turns out Purple Man sorcerer Kharam-Akkad told Melis the amulet he had her give Conan (ish #21) would protect him, when its real purpose was to bulls-eye the barbarian for a huge, hungry Frog. It's a nice, long-simmering twist, indicative of the careful plotting Roy Thomas lavished on his favorite title.

Tom Flynn: The epic, seven-issue Makkalet saga finally comes to an end and the closing chapter is wall-to-wall frenzied action. This must be the bloodiest issue of “Conan the Barbarian” yet. Dozens of Makkalet citizens are slaughtered and Conan himself kills 18 Turian soldiers as well as the creepy, giant rat-mole that pounces in the catacombs. All in all, a very satisfying conclusion particularly the unexpected reveal of the lamebrained Tarim. Of course, I’d be a Vanirian mongrel if I didn’t comment on the early Ernie Chua credit. Ernesto would soon to be known by his real surname, Chan: it appears that Chua was mistakenly entered on his immigration documents when he migrated to the United States from the Philippines. Ernie trained under John Buscema and would ink the master’s pencils on the majority of Big John’s lengthy Conan run — though Chan would jump to DC for a considerable stretch. At the Distinguished Competition, Ernie made a name for himself as a long-term artist on “Batman.” When he returned to Marvel, Ernie would keep it in the family, teaming up with Sal Buscema on “The Incredible Hulk.” From everything I hear, Mr. Ernesto Chan was a true gentleman, gracious to every fan he encountered.

Mark: In his second issue, an obviously-enjoying himself John Buscema brings his A game, delivering a fierce (occasionally pensive) and powerful Conan, a gorgeous queen, and lavishly detailed battle scenes. The reveal, to Conan's horror, of the Living Tarim as a Mongoloid idiot in dozens of mirrors is brilliant. As much as I love him, it's time to stop boo-booing over Barry Smith, settle in, and watch Big John strut his stuff.

Scott: With the departure of Barry Smith, the book loses all allure for me. There's nothing technically wrong with the art, certainly. John Buscema and Ernie Chua (Chan) are an amazing team and their work is a joy to look at. But Buscema's vision of Conan is directly at odds with Smith's; where Barry created a lathe and handsome young man, Buscema cranks out his standard, muscle bound primitive. This figure has appeared in a dozen comics already and while his pencils are indeed dynamic, they are also "Marvel Standard." Visually, the title has lost a lot of the class which made it unique and will never get it back. With this in mind, I bid my final farewell to this title. So long, Conan. It was fun.

Captain America and the Falcon 161
"... If He Loseth His Soul!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Busema and John Verpoorten

Cap is reeling over Falcon's retreat from their partnership over jealousy and now Sharon is missing. He goes to SHIELD HQ, scuffles with two agents, and gets his motorcycle back. Falcon is attacked by Rafe and his guys, but kicks their asses in short order. Cap arrives and makes a rousing speech to smooth things over between them. Over Leila's objections, Cap convinces Sam to give their partnership another try and to find Sharon. Sharon, meanwhile, wakes up in a sanitarium run by Dr. Faustus. Cap and Falcon are captured by Faustus' goons and find themselves somehow in a simulation of World War 2! -Scott MacIntyre

Scott: Now this is the Steve Engelhart I know. A great start of an intriguing mystery and the introduction of a villain who will wind up a classic arch foe. Faustus is causing massive trouble for Cap and Sharon to this day. It's a great set up, with Sharon waking up in a gothic mansion, Cap giving Falcon a stirring, if slightly askew, speech about how differences bring us together. Falcon puts Leila in her place and Cap gets to fight two guys names Ham and Eggs, which is a quirky piece of oddball humor that really lightens the load.

Mark: Bouncing back from last month's Solarr stinker, Stainless and Sal deliver an intriguing Doctor Faustus mind-game, whose opening gambit is landing the just-broken-up-with-Cap Sharon Carter in the nuthouse, after an alleged auto accident she can't remember. A visit from her parents (!) clues Sharon that she's at Lost Souls Asylum, home to another resident known to ex-Agent 13, a veiled woman, seen only in shadow... During this Gaslighting, Cap finds the Dear John note pinned on her door, goes to the old SHIELD barbershop for info and has a set-to with agents named Eggs and Ham. Cap doesn't like them, Steve-I-am. He'll get his bike from Fury and go on the lam.

Matthew: While the involvement of Faustus is usually cause for concern (less so if not perpetrated by Frank Robbins, natch), I’m cutting this issue some slack, partly because he isn’t onstage much, but mostly because I know it heralds an important chapter in Cap’s mythos.  I applaud the positive developments in the Falcon’s respective relationships with his partner and sort-of squeeze; mending fences with Cap—whose speech is stirring, if a bit clunky—is certainly paramount, yet it’s about time he laid down the law to Leila.  To my mind, his disregard for the possibility that Rafe’s “rat-slicer” might have proven fatal to his “gang man” is rather alarming, but at least Cap’s high-handed entrance into S.H.I.E.L.D. didn’t provoke another feud with Fury.

Peter: Stainless proves he's at the top of his game by involving me in a story starring a sixth-tier villain like Dr. Faustus. Of course, Faustus is only a means to an end and I can't wait to find out what's going on with that veiled girl in the cell (well, if truth be told, I already know but I'm pretending I don't). Could you see visiting your relatives at the Lost Souls Asylum? Now if we could only find a way to dump Leila (is Englehart really trying to tell us this girl is only 23 years old?) and get The Falcon to address Sharon as... well, anything but "Mama." The Ham and Eggs duo comes off like a Diamonds Are Forever rip-off to me.

Mark: Dope urban patios from Leila like, "Hey, come on, Rafe, put down the rat-slicer!" as Sam faces off with Rafe's crew, the Silver Skulls. Cap happens upon the scene (duh), watching his now ex-partner go to work. The brutality Sal Buscema's packs into Sam's final teeth-crunching blow made me wince. It made Leila hot; she wanted to do it right there in the alley, atop a heap o' unconscious gangstas, but Cap ruins the fun with a pep-talk about how humans are all different, like snowflakes, "...Young/Old... Male/Female...And Strong/Less Strong..." Months back, I bemoaned Cap telling his life story to '50's Cap off-screen, but perhaps such eloquence afire is best doled out sparingly. No matter. By tale's end, Cap and Falc are bested by the Doc's security goons, drugged and plunked down with Sharon in a faux WW-II battleground on the asylum ground, about to be attacked by Faustus' flunkies, now "garbed in the uniform of the infamous Gestapo." Boy, Doc Faust plays a deep game. Bring on part two! This almost makes up for the Sun-sucking hippie.

Scott: The art is nice and solid, supporting a very good story. We're slowly arcing toward another peak for the book, and this is part of the foundation that will support the title in the long run and in good stead.

"On the other hand, I may just be an uptight honky..."

Daredevil and the Black Widow 99
"The Mark of Hawkeye!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sam Kweskin and Syd Shores

Returning home from defeating the Dark Messiah, Daredevil and the Black Widow are greeted by her old beau—and ex-Avenger—Hawkeye. The arrow slinger decides it’s time to reclaim Natasha as his love, but Matt isn’t stepping aside so easily. A tense conversation turns into (what else?) a jealous brawl between the two, Hawkeye appearing to win round one when DD has to feign temporary blindness from his opponent’s phosphorous arrow. Natasha doesn’t like being told what to do, and blasts Matt with her free will (to choose who she wants). Later DD finds Hawkeye again; this time giving the bumps to a gang called the Hellbirds. It takes a little more brawling before the two agree that the choice, if there is one, belongs to the lady. When they head back to her home, they find she has company: the Avengers. Hawkeye isn’t pleased and storms out, thinking it a setup. DD sticks around, and manages to be convinced (along with the Widow) to join the team for at least one mission, if only to repay the Black Panther for a past favour. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Even without Gene Colan on board, this issue doesn’t look bad. It’s another one of those superhero drag-outs that nicely showcases each of the two’s talents, and is pretty fun on that level. Natasha sure has a lot of wannabe beaus, but her independence still is her top priority. The Hellbirds provide some laughs, as does the Widow herself (“Not my beautiful bay window!”). I don’t know if DD would be a suitable Avenger, but the change of pace is interesting.

Mark: Hope rose when I saw Hawkeye on the cover of DD #99 this morning. The bow-slinger's always good for yucks; toss in  the soapy love triangle dramatics offered by Clint horn(head)ing in on Mattasha, and that's gotta be a winning formula, I thought, then wondered how Kid Conway would muck it up. But, hey, it's Gerber! Hope rekindles and is rewarded by an event almost as rare as the dodo: heroes battling heroes, not out of misunderstanding - no hypno-rays or thinking so-and-so's a Skrull or Doom-bot – but instead Matt and Clint have an old-fashioned dick-waving fight over a female. And they're both dicks to Natasha, treating her like a prize to be won at the state fair. And it's all great.

Chris Blake: A mostly pointless dust-up between DD and Hawkeye. It's interesting that - in the early 1970s - Matt understands that, in the end, Natasha will choose who she wants to be with (which helps to make this fight an even more of a needless distraction). I've always known Clint to be a fired-up guy, but the hot-headed would-be lover  (also featured in recent issues of The Avengers) ill becomes him. Maybe Hawk oughtta lose himself out in the Wild West to clear his head for a few months - oops, that's not for a while yet, isn't it? I know that people didn't care much for the Ernie Chua inks in recent issues, but the art by Kweskin/Shores this time around would make you even more nostalgic for Colan/Palmer.

Matthew: The middle of the arc that began in last month’s Avengers and ends in this month’s (the only installment I saw back in the day) is Gerber’s first solo gig on Hornhead, although the Two Steves must have coordinated their efforts closely.  The Unusual Credit Award for May goes to Sam Kweskin, listed as “designer,” with DD vet Syd Shores—who passed away soon afterward—as “embellisher,” but by any name, the results are pretty rudimentary.  This tale mirrors a recent trend in the lettercol whereby a reader bemoans characters’ bad behavior, e.g., DD’s sexism, only to have the editor virtually disclaim responsibility for their actions; much as I hate to see Clint be a jerk, people sometimes are, which doesn’t intrinsically make it a bad story.

Scott: Lackluster art doesn’t do this story any favors, but it's a dog no matter who did the pencils. Hawkeye travels cross country to tell the woman who dumped him he wants her back, while DD gets to play the jealous boyfriend. It's all pretty cheesy, annoying low level soap opera. The Avengers arrive to draft Hawkeye (who refuses) and DD and Tasha to help against Magneto. Wouldn't knocking on the FF's door simply be faster? This Avengers crossover is a waste of a team up.

"Give us a kiss!"

Mark: Hawkeye emerges as the biggest jerk, which I always enjoy. He initiates the fisticuffs and later storms out on the Avengers, a-hole charm intact. Matt doesn't win brownie points with the Widow, either, as Gerber delivers a believable good guy dust-up, advances the characters, and pulls of book from the muck of Conway's goofier plot excesses. Add some nice pinch-hit art from Timely vet/ad man Sam Kweskin, redeeming himself for some wretched scribbling on Doc Strange a few months ago, and this is the best DD in awhile. Fingers cross for the upcoming centennial.

Peter: Saw Kweskin and Syd Shores prove that Natasha can be unattractive.

Fantastic Four 134
"A Dragon Stalks the Skies!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

A call from Agatha Harkness brings the F.F. (minus Sue, plus Medusa) to Whisper Hill, where she had said it concerned Reed and Sue’s son Franklin. All that is visible however, is a gaping hole in the ground, sides as smooth as glass from great heat. No house, no people. The team turns to depart, but the Fantasti-Car is struck by a blast from an observing drone. Everyone is ok, but the watching eyes of their old foe Gregory Gideon reveal anger. His first plan—to render everyone unconscious and ripe for capture—having failed, he sets Plan B in effect: capture Sue Richards and Franklin. The two are visiting the Pennsylvania farm of Sue’s childhood friend Carol Landers and her husband Bob. An explosion, and the appearance of another old “foe” Dragon Man, whose love for Sue is well known, interrupt some joyful horseback riding. He grabs them and flies skyward, taking them to a complex of buildings near Long Island surrounded by armed guards who render the lot of them captives. Carol has phoned Reed to inform him of the danger, and with the help of military directions, he heads in Sue’s direction. Medusa and Ben follow (Johnny out looking up his old beau Dorrie Stevens). They find the complex, only to be blasted into unconsciousness; captured just like their fellows. -Jim Barwise

Matthew:  Even my favorite art team—that’s John Buscema and Joe Sinnott, for you latecomers—inevitably has its better and worse days, but I’m delighted to place this issue into the “better” column, with the FF looking quintessentially, I don’t know, FF-y.  Flying solo for the nonce, Gerry seems to have had his game pulled up by theirs, and although I’ve never found Gregory Gideon terribly interesting, the Dragon Man goes a long way toward offsetting that, especially with his dramatic eruption on the Landers farm.  Nothing against Sue (well, unless you count WALKING OUT ON HER GODDAMN HUSBAND), but Medusa is turning out to be a real asset to the group, arguably a better scrapper and more level-headed than Ms. Richards.

Scott: The reappearance of a few characters who may or may not be worth a return visit adorn this issue. Gregory Gideon, a pretty pathetic and overbearing villain from the early years, turns up older, a widower and single father. He's still an over the top schmuck. Dorrie Evans, Johnny's one time girlfriend primarily from his Strange Tales solo strip, gets a revisit. Of course, it's all to show the passage of time and to reinforce what a total douche Johnny is. He looks up Dorrie on the alumni index, but doesn't call before coming over. So he's faced with a married, fatter, matronly Dorrie who has two kids. His attitude confronting this totally expected turn of events is pretty crappy. No wonder he has no friends outside of the FF. The third is Dragon Man, who is about as interesting as the Mad Thinker's not very awesome android. The art is fine, but until Sue and Johnny's blue costume return, the book just won’t feel right.

Just think, if Johnny hadn't been cool and played the field, he'd have ended up with this!

Peter: Art aside, I found this to be pretty lackadaisical. Gideon is hardly a stirring presence nor a classic villain so why all the dramatics? If Dragon Man is in love with Sue Storm and therefore extremely defensive, why would you take the chance of "hiring" him to kidnap her? I did like the scene with Franklin and the anthill. Gerry tantalizing us again. And can you find a better scene in all the Fantastic Fours we've slogged through so far that shows what a useless waste of space Johnny Storm is than the Dorrie reunion? Do you think that these writers even considered how bad this kid looked?

Jim: I have to agree with the general consensus that Gideon is a lame villain, one more power-mad egotist. Some minor touches are more interesting, like Franklin “controlling” the ants' motions, and not seeming too alarmed by their capture; or Thomas, Gideon’s son, pushed aside by his father’s ambitions. Perhaps one or both of these young men will hold the key to the resolution. Johnny could have showed more class in his dissing of old flame Dorrie Stevens; more growing up to be done. The mysterious opening with the total disappearance of Agatha Harkness and her home are memorable. 

Mark: Given that no one was panting for the return of Gregory Gideon, this came off pretty darn well. We get FF-style action from the jump: A hole where Agatha Harkness's house used to be, the FF blasted from the sky, the ever-rambunctious Dragon Man going King Kong after Sue and little Franklin (who may have powers!), and all this in the first 14 pages! Gerry Conway goes deep into the FF playbook (FF #34, I think) for creepy Father of the Year Gideon, who by tale's end is decked out in knock-off Iron Man armor, vowing to be "strongest of all!" Toss in Johnny discovering old flame Dorrie Evans is a matronly housefrau and the usual Buscema/Sinnott yummy goodness, and we are entertained.


  1. Great post this week! I really liked Killraven back when it first came out. I was also a member of FOOM. And I was at the first NY Marvel Convention, though I think that came a few years after this.

    1. You were at the first Marvel Convention?! Wow, that must make you the senior member of the staff!
      Do you have any memories of that Con? Was it exclusively Marvel or were the dealers selling DC and Warren as well?

  2. Of this week's selection, the ones I got off the the old spin racks were Spider-Man, DD & the FF. At this point, I only knew Dorrie from a Marvel's Greatest Comics reprinting FF # 44 & 45 and the Strange Tales yarn where Johnny & Ben sort of met the Beatles. I actually thought the mini reunion was amusing -- Johnny just can't get a break. Like Hawkeye this month, he's thinking with his dick rather than his brain, setting himself up for disappointment while behaving dickishly. As for Gideon, he was entirely new to me, as I'm sure he was to most kids who picked up ish 134 in 1973. Ok, so not a contender for best FF villain, but I still found the story compelling enough (and there is such a thing as comics creators overusing their best villains, as Stan & Jack certainly did with Dr. Doom in the early FF and with Magneto in the X-Men).
    BTW, although I missed this month's Captain Marvel, I did get the next issue where I first saw Thanos, and I was instantly hooked. By that issue, Starlin had Thanos' look down pat, and the "purple baboon" was gloriously terrifying. Yeah, by orders of editor Roy, Thanos took on much of Darkseid's looks, but I still find Thanos a much more compelling villain. As for Spider-Man, I somehow got a copy with two covers. Between them, the story & art were certainly fine -- plenty of action, drama and mystery. I certainly had no clue as to what was in store the next month.

  3. It is regrettable that Bary Smith did not finish this story. As much as I like Buscema on Conan, the sudden difference in the art is unfortunate. I wonder how sudden this must have appeared back then.

    Why didn't they put better art on Avengers? This could have been so much better.
    Do you plan to cover the b/w magazines like Dracula Lives too?

    1. You bet! Professor Pete is doing most of the heavy lifting but I'm handling Savage Tales and Tales of the Zombie. Hope that's OK! Both were before my time but I'm really enjoying working on them. Very impressed by the amount of effort put into the magazines.

  4. I've always been bad about coming in on the beginning of any comics character, and Thongor was my only (near-) exception, since CREATURES # 23 was my first issue. I've always been incredibly sentimental about it, for that reason and others.

  5. I so agree that Medusa is a real asset to the Fantastic Four. She has a better head on her shoulders than Sue and is more aggressive as well.