Wednesday, February 26, 2014

July 1973 Part Two: Blade, the Vampire-Slayer!

Werewolf By Night 7
"Ritual of Blood!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Mike Ploog and Jim Mooney

The Werewolf battles a pair of lions controlled by jealous dwarf Mige, until strongman Big Elmo steps in—then telepathic swami Rihva puts an end to it all by willing the big cats away. Werewolf curls up and sleeps in the cage and changes back to Jack the next day, where he learns from gentle Elmo that Rihva was a run-of-the-mill telepath until he came to a temple in the Himalayas and found the legendary mystical Bloodstone. But the gem requires a supernatural being to release its powers, which is why he captured the lycanthropic Jack. Lissa and Buck show up in search of Jack and are stalled, until they spot him—and are hypnotized by Rihva! After Werewolf is put on display again, he’s drugged and strapped by a table for the Bloodstone ritual. But before the swarthy Swami can kill the Werewolf at midnight, friendly Elmo intervenes! Mige shoots Elmo three times, but the big man is still able to crush the dwarf and accidentally start a fire! And angry Werewolf breaks free, eludes Rihva’s goons, and finds him holidng Lissa! But she scratches him and flees, but before Werewolf can leave, the telepath probes the creature’s mind, where the savagery inside is too much for the old one’s heart, and he perishes, dropping the Bloodstone to the ground and leaving Werewolf to lope off into the night.–Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Wait a minute…Jack Russell is 18? Have I not been paying attention? Did I forget this? I thought he was 35! Anyway, our now-monthly title by night sees the end of a two-parter that was better than expected but still lives up to some expectations, in that it was just merely OK all around. But as per usual, all the weirdo bad guys die and our conflicted creature escapes with more questions than answers, and with sister Lissa looking out for him all the way. Ploog and Mooney make a decent team, but the weirdness of the pencils are slightly muted by the workmanlike inks. The stinky Swami seems to lose weight with each page that passes, finally pooping out when he looks inside the creature’s mind—and sees he’ll probably be dinner! Or something like that. Len had to wrap it up quick, no trilogies allowed here!

Peter Enfantino: Great Caesar's Ghost! It says Ploog on the credits but I sure don't see Ploog in the finished product. Again, this just points out the necessity of a good inker.

The Tomb of Dracula 10
"His Name is... Blade!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Jack Abel

There is a new vampire hunter in town and his name is Blade. Using a teak-wood knife, Blade slays three vampires about to prey on an eloping couple.  Harker and his crew appear and the elderly vampire hunter chastises Blade for killing the undead monsters as they were a part of Dracula's legion that could have led the group back to their master. Blade is unimpressed with Harker's inability to kill Drac after all these years. On an expensive, luxurious freighter, several millionaires made up of Americans, actors, and foreign rulers enjoy the good life. Dracula, along with his lackey, Clifton Graves, makes an appearance as a sort of guest celebrity. He sells himself as a harmless man with a blood poisoning illness so that everyone is lured into feeling that he is no danger. After dining on a beautiful guest in his room, Count Dracula turns the captain of the freighter into one of his minions before he stops the ship completely. He announces to the guests that they will either do his bidding to further his cause, or become members of the undead themselves. All of the partygoers are stricken with fear except for one Arabic man that pulls out a cross. This startles the vampire long enough for everyone to attack him. While everyone piles upon Dracula, the deadly Blade swims aboard the ship. He fights with the Count in a flurry, but almost ends up getting killed himself when the Count is able to subdue him. Luckily for Blade, the woman whom Dracula had turned into a vampiress earlier interrupts him. The villainous vampire turns into a bat and flies away, but not before revealing to everyone that he had the captain place explosives all around the ship and they're set to detonate. Blade is able to get everyone into the ocean before the freighter explodes. Clifton Graves, still on the ship, begs Dracula to take him with him. The story ends with the bombs going off as Clifton Graves is apparently the only casualty while his old master Count Dracula laughs at him.
-Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Blade sure has come a long way from his first appearance into the modern times with the Wesley Snipes movies. I'm glad his ghetto dialogue wasn't layed on too thick like Luke Cage's is in his series. The annoying Clifton Graves will not be missed though I wouldn't be surprised if this wasn't the last we have seen of him.

Scott McIntyre: Blade finally arrives and he looks nothing like Wesley Snipes. He's actually a lot more talky and over the top, but also a lot more vicious. He has no qualms about killing teenage vampires, no inner turmoil over dispatching young innocents. This issue is primarily a showcase for this new character. I do notice there are some lengths Marv Wolfman goes to in order to keep Dracula from slaughtering dozens of people every month. The delaying tactics are obvious, but it hints at a larger plan. Blade is fun and looks to be a solid addition to the cast.

Peter: You'd never know, sitting in our Monday Morning Quarterback Chair, that Blade would end up being a popular character and, indeed, the star of a series of films. There's nothing to differentiate between him and the other vampire hunters other than the fact that he's African-American and a snazzier dresser. I never saw any of the Blade flicks so I don't know if Wesley Snipes ever mouthed the immortal line, "Scratch one big daddy vampire!." The scene where Drac is reassuring the cruise guests that he's harmless is hilarious, almost like a fourth-wall breaker. Jack Abel is a nice compliment to Gene's pencils. There's an immediate "spy-thriller" vibe invested in this series beginning here and now.


The Invincible Iron Man 60
"Cry Marauder!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

The Masked Marauder, Steele, and Hacker break into S.I.’s Aerospace Division to steal “the first operational space shuttle,” Star Reach I, as a hospitalized Roxanne rebuffs Iron Man in both of his identities, and Happy broods over his marriage.  Tony’s nightcap with Pepper is interrupted by news of the theft, while the Marauder reveals to his henchmen that the supposed disintegration shield he fell into in Daredevil #27 was really a teleportation device.  Steele dons a suit of copycat armor and fastens an instrument to Iron Man’s chestplate to drain his power, but although Tony overcomes the device and shreds Steele’s armor, knocking him out, the Marauder proves more formidable; blinded by an opti-blast, Iron Man himself is soon kayoed and captured. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Oh, George.  Esposito seems to have gone easy on his excesses (that evil nurse in page 7, panel 2 is practically a poster child for Tuskaphobia), but giving credit where it’s due, the two-pager of MM gloating over the shuttle—which S.I. apparently developed eight years before NASA—is so vivid, I felt like I was up on the catwalk with him.  Another busy month for Mike, as he winds up Ant-Man’s abortive adventures in Marvel Feature and continues contributing to the Thanos War, all the while holding down the fort here.  This is a middling issue, roughly equal parts action and soap opera, bringing back the Marauder from his apparent death with an uninspiring new color-scheme and armored henchman, and continuing to display a very unattractive new side of Happy.

Scott: Unlike Hero for Hire, the Tuska Teeth are all over this issue. It's also disconcerting to see a smallish splash panel followed by a larger two page spread. It sets things off on an off kilter note for me. The nurse on page 7 is too ridiculous for words. I've bitched about Tuska's cartoony art before, but this woman is literally more appropriate for Hong Kong Phooey or Yogi's Gang. Bloody awful. Marie Severin would have done a better job. Granted, it's a sequence played for humor, but it oversells the joke.

More annoying are the marital woes of the Hogans. It's hard to care when Happy is such a jackass. At least Pepper isn't partying down when she goes for the drink with Tony, but I really hope this doesn't take up too much more of the storyline. Reed and Sue's troubles are annoying enough and their marriage was at the center of the Fantastic Four. The Hogans are barely a blip on the old radar.

The spectre of Archie Andrew rears its ugly head in the MU once more!

Kull the Conqueror 9
“The Scorpion God”
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Marie & John Severin

In throne room of Valusia, King Kull attends to various royal duties: denying the marriage of the beautiful Nalissa to the dashing Dalgar because of her father’s objections and signing a harbor document prepared by the studious Dondal, nephew of his Chief Councilor, Tu. Later that night, Kull receives a letter from Tu, asking the king to meet him in the accursed garden that surrounds the ancient altar of the Scorpion God. But it is a trap, and the Atlantean barbarian is captured and bound by Verulian bandits led by the masked man known as The Scorpion. The Verulians also kidnap Nalissa when she arrives at the gardens for a secret rendezvous with her lover, Dalgar. Nalissa manages to loosen Kull’s bonds and the enraged king attacks his captors. Looking for his beloved, Dalgar appears and rushes to Kull’s side. Together, the two Valusians cut a swath through the Verulians but the kidnappers superior forces slowly turn the tide of battle. However, Brule rides to the rescue with a savage squad of Pict warriors and the Verulians are routed. The Scorpion flees with Kull in determined pursuit. However Kull falls into a pit prepared by the conspirator, who removes his mask to reveal himself as Dondal, Tu’s nephew. Just before Dondal can deliver the deathblow, he is stung by a scorpion and dies. Back at his castle, Kull approves the marriage between Nalissa and Dalgar and, hoping to soothe the sorrow of his loyal Chief Councilor, tells Tu that Dondal was actually a hero.
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: This issue is a Thurian sack of hot air. The endlessly wordy story opens up during the aftermath of the drama, with different characters relating their version of what happened. You know what that helps with? Padding. “No, no, good sirs, let me tell my side of the tale!” Supposedly using Robert E. Howard’s Kull story “Swords of the Purple Kingdom” as a base, Gerry even devotes two pages to recap Kull’s origin, making this one more padded than a Wonderbra. The young lovers Nalissa and Dalgar add an unwanted dose of soap opera theatrics. Dalgar is first used as a red herring, but when he proves his heroism, it immediately becomes obvious that villain will be Dondal, the only other supporting character given a name. Plus, much is made that Dondal was killed by a scorpion, an arthropod not seen in Valusia for centuries, but there’s no payoff. And the last panel, of course, is a major broodfest. I didn’t mention it in my Conan write-up for this month, but there’s some Mighty Marvel Marketing afoot — literally. Footnotes promote the month’s other comics, from “He’s back from the dead! The Masked Marauder lives in Iron Man #60!” and “Red Wolf, now set in the holocaust of today! Miss it not!” The holocaust of today? I know that 1973 tragically witnessed the very first KISS concert, but things weren’t that bad. The most amusing aspect of this issue is that my cat Buchanan kept walking across my keyboard as I typed. Blame her for any typos. Heck, I take that back: you can’t blame her for anything but being beautiful.

Joe: Is this our first mention of KISS? In a Kull write-up, of all things? Good girl, that Buchanan. But does she side with the Valusians or Verulians?

Marvel Feature 10
The Astonishing Ant-Man in
"Ant-Man No More"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Craig Russell and Frank Chiaramonte

After a day of experimentation, Nemesis reveals that he has cured Hank (aware of his condition as a member of M. Tête’s gang), but has an ulterior motive:  he demands access to Avengers H.Q., blackmailing Hank by withholding the cure without which Jan will die.  Having duplicated his helmet’s capabilities, Nemesis can shrink as well, and takes Hank through a pneumatic tube constructed by A.I.M. from a location near Hank’s lab to beneath the mansion.  Hank tricks Nemesis into dropping his protective shield to breach their defenses, and beats him in a battle of size-changing adversaries; hearing the struggle, the Avengers are delighted to find Hank still alive, although for now, he and the cured Jan decline their invitation to rejoin the group. 
                                                        -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “And just like that, it’s all over,” as SuperMegaMonkey succinctly puts it, with this last hurrah curtailed by not one but two moldy reprints, from Mystic #35 (January 1955) and #14 (November 1952).  Having only 11 pages in which to wrap it up, Friedrich, Russell, and inker du jour Frank Chiaramonte seem almost to be falling over themselves in their race to the finish line, and even pack in a recap of the brief series, so I won’t enumerate the casualties inflicted on the plotting in their haste.  But aside from the obvious (the Pyms cured and no longer presumed dead), there are some other felicities, e.g., the shot of the jubilant Hank in page 3, panel 9, and the last scene, with the amorous bandinage that reminds me why I liked the super-hero couple in the first place.

Scott: "The End of Ant-Man!" refers to the end of Ant-Man as a feature in Marvel…uh…Feature and also Henry Pym being stuck at ant size. It was a good try to make this guy interesting, but ultimately, there's little use for a hero who can shrink to insect size. This issue wraps up in too perfunctory a fashion as we say goodbye to the Pyms for now. Dr. Nemesis is as bland as the hero and twice as forgettable. I think. I really don't remember.

Marvel Premiere 9
Dr. Strange in
"The Crypts of Kaa-U!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner
Art by Frank Brunner and Ernie Chua

Dr. Strange has been lured to the living planet Kathulos by Shuma-Gorath, the ancient being who plans to destroy all life in the Universe. Stephen has had to destroy the planet to defeat it, but now he is stranded on a dead world, isolated from Earth. He meditates, and the eye from his amulet joins his forehead. Then his spiritual form leaves his body, and he goes deep within the planet to find it’s weakest point, using his power to make it explode. He barely returns to his body and escapes in a force bubble in time. Next a flurry of coloured elliptical lights causes him to lose awareness briefly, but he recovers in time to see a monster he defeated in the past, then an image of himself, both of which disappear unexpectedly. Finally the words of Shuma-Gorath are heard, warning him of the evil forthcoming, even as the being remains unseen. Strange’s Eye of Agamotto eventually leads him back to Earth; he goes to the Crypts of Kaa-U where the Ancient One has been taken. Clea and Wong, Stephen’s friends, wait at Stonehenge, realizing that they are not going to be of much help in the battle ahead, and return home. Dr. Strange is greeted by the Living Buddha, who directs him to the Ancient One, who tells him the Crypts are a sect for their kind, when death comes for them. At this time, the Buddha unleashes an onslaught of demons called Shadowmen. It is however, a kind of trick, for in feeling compelled to use his power to save his pupil, the Ancient One releases Shuma-Gorath, who is a creation of his own mind!! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Each issue I think "it can’t get much better", but this one is the best Marvel Premiere yet. Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner do a fine job of building the mystery right to the last, with the bizarre twist of Shuma-Gorath being from the Ancient One’s mind. The art is rich, with detail in every panel.

Matthew: Stainless woke up one morning and said, “I’m only writing the Avengers, Defenders, Cap, Hulk, and Luke Cage—what’ll I do in my spare time?” Certain collaborations (e.g., the Thomas/Adams X-Men) are spoken of in hushed, reverent tones, and the funny thing is, they clearly knew this would be one of them, because the credits on the we-ain’t-kiddin’ splash page read, “Now, Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner announce the reaffirmation of comics’ most extraordinary series!  You are cordially invited to attend!  (In other words, folks:  the password has just become ‘kosmic’!).”  They and inker Ernie Chua have created a feast for eye and intellect; my small nitpicks are that it’s a little text-heavy, with mage and mentor a bit off model. 

Peter: I'm not sure I understood anything that happened in this issue nor will I until the medicinal marijuana shows up. Can't fault the pictures though. Absolutely gorgeous. I never followed Dr. Strange as a Marvel lad but I was familiar with Brunner through his incredible work over at Warren (in particular the mind-blowing "What Rough Beast" in Creepy #45). After the seesaw ride we've been on, I'm ready to settle in and devour this title.

Matthew: Per Steve’s website, “the first half [of my run] was done in close collaboration with…Brunner [who] gave Dr. Strange a unique look and feel.  When I’d first encountered Stephen Strange in The Defenders, I’d written him basically as a superhero who shot rays out of his palms.  When I took on his solo series, I decided I should learn a little about actual magick—and it led to a continuing interest in the subject.  Frank and I each had ideas for what we wanted to do with this series, so we’d get together at my place or his, lay out our respective interests, and spend the evening—often a long evening—in the extremely fun process of merging the two.  In the end we always had more than the sum of our parts, and it led to some very advanced storylines,” he said.

Mark: Fanfare please: Englehart and Brunner arrive, a true dynamic duo, with a story I've never read before, but then the unexpected happens: after the huzzahs die down, I soon find myself checking my watch. It's not the fault of "The Crypts of Kaa-u," a perfectly serviceable tale. I'm just panting in anticipation of the arc to come, a synapse-searing work of blasphemous genius, perhaps the most jaw-dropping Mind-Fuck in the history of comics. 

So I'll keep this short, class. Keep reading.

Or you get a F.     

Marvel Team-Up 11
The Amazing Spider-Man and The Inhumans in
"The Doomsday Gambit!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Len Wein
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito

Flown to the Himalayas by a friendly ’copter pilot, Spidey is taken by the Great Refuge’s sentries yet given an audience with Black Bolt, and his mad-genius brother alters the “time-bomb” to take Spidey and the royal family to Zarrko’s era.  Arriving just before Spidey had left, they penetrate the citadel’s defenses and confront the astonished Kang as he gets the drop on Zarrko.  Black Bolt is forced to use his voice to stop Kang, after Spidey prevents him from killing the captive Avengers, who are freed by the impact; “Kang” is revealed to have been an empty costume, whose disembodied voice vows revenge, but Spidey apprehends Zarrko, and an “automatic recall gizmo” Maximus added sends the heroes to their respective starting points. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In the first of two transitional issues, Conway’s plot is scripted by future EIC and new-X-Men co-creator Len Wein, a young DC vet beginning his first regular super-hero gig for Marvel; Gerry followed Len with a second run (#28-37), yet this trilogy suggests I won’t miss him as it galumphs to a sloppy conclusion.  Incredibly, the cover’s hyperbole (“The Most Long-Awaited Battle in the History of Comicdom”—really?) and misdirection outdo even the last one, implying a Spidey/Inhumans bout.  The Mooney/Esposito artwork is basically serviceable, but Len does not escape unscathed, e.g., when Spidey starts his recap for Black Bolt & Co., the first few panels sound more like an omniscient narrator than someone, especially Spidey, actually talking.

Scott: The Tomorrow War concludes with little excitement, but lots of characters. Can't anyone just go to the Great Refuge and talk to the Inhumans? Nope, there has to be a reason why someone doesn't want to take three minutes to explain, instead wasting more time lying unconscious after being stunned by guards. Jim Mooney's art is serviceable without being exciting. He's a great inker, but as a penciller, he's a few notches lower. Nothing special here.

Joe: We certainly start off well, with a terrific Romita cover, ruined slightly by the aforementioned hyperbole. The rest is sorta by the numbers, with each Inhuman politely introducing himself to the goons they're smashing. And Black Bolt uses his opera vocal cords to smash glass which is not a surprise. And the wrap up comes almost as fast as an issue of Werewolf By Night, just with way less oddballs. Maybe why I always liked the first parts of Tomorrow better yesterday than I do today. 

Sub-Mariner 63
"... And the Seas Shall Explode!"
Story by Bill Everett and Steve Gerber
Art by Sam Kweskin

Atlantis is hit by a mysterious explosion When Namor goes investigates, he finds the source of this latest catastrophe to be emanating from a crater. Swimming inside the massive hole, Subby discovers that it is Dr. Hydro behind the explosion. Before he can get his hands on him, Dr. Hydro turns into a body of vapor. Heading back to Atlantis, the Sub-Mariner's trusted aid Vashti shows him on their radar that Hydro has created a valcano to destroy the city. Thinking quickly, Namor orders his troops to make some adjustments on their flying battle planes. Now running on vapor, the planes use the valcano to their advantage as they blast it to pieces. Namor is able to use his plane's engine to suck Hydro into a container. Making a hard decision, Subby orders the container carrying Hydro to be blasted back upon land. With no way to escape from his container prison, the vile villain will most likely starve to death .
-Tom McMillion

Tales of Atlantis
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Howard Chaykin and Joe Sinnott

As molten lava begins to destroy the above-water city of Atlantis, Kamuu and his longtime love, Zartra, share a loving embrace. Everyone else in the city either spends time with their loved ones, or resorts to animilistic behavior as the lava begins killing them all. An assassin stabs Zartara to death before he himself is killed by Kamuu's blade. Before she passes away, Zartara gives Kamuu a parting gift of a jewel that he puts in his sword. With nothing else left to do, Kamuu sits on his throne and waits for the inevitable. -Tom McMillion

Matthew: It would appear that although reports of Everett’s death were not exaggerated, he was a little more productive toward the end than I realized, because he receives story credit on this issue; just as Gerber fleshed that out with his dialogue, Syd Shores provided finished art over Kweskin’s layouts.  It’s a nifty little yarn, showing our reinstated monarch to good advantage, which just makes me resent the pages pilfered for the latest “Tales of Atlantis” entry even more.  If the Chaykin/Sinnott back-up feature—again scripted by Gerber—depicts Namor’s heritage, then I suppose it’s technically canonical, but unlike its Asgardian or X-Men counterparts, it has nothing to do with our star per se, so it doesn’t interest me, however pretty the pictures might be.

Scott: The "finished art" of Syd Shores really helps kick the issue off to a nice, retro start, invoking pleasant feelings of the late Bill Everett. It was also somewhat amusing to see Namor remove his protective suit simply by flexing his muscles. Was he really sucking in his gut the whole time? This conjures up images of Tarzan's New York Adventure, as Johnny Weissmuller's eponymous hero keeps bursting from sport coats because of his "massive musculature." Having Hydro defeated by an elaborate vacuum cleaner, I find it odd that Namor would seal the villain in a steel coffin and shoot him to the surface, acknowledging that he will be imprisoned for the rest of his life. Even one of Namor's goons says Hydro will soon starve. Namor knows this. He is willing to let this man die to save his realm, which is actually fine. But why go through the trouble of sealing him in and letting him starve or suffocate over the course of days? Why not just kill him? It works out the same, doesn’t it? To put Hydro on some sort of trial and execute him would be a form of Atlantean justice, not just Namor's cold hand of death. It's not very satisfying but, of course, leaves open the possibility of Hydro's return.


The Mighty Thor 213
"The Demon Brigade!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Len Wein
Art by John Buscema, Don Perlin and Vince Colletta

The Mighty Thor and his companions prepare to do battle with the lizard beings of Golden Star, who seek to sell them all as slaves. Odin, previously kidnapped, mysteriously begs them not to take up the fight. This distraction allows the more numerous lizards to overcome the Asgardians, who awake to find themselves imprisoned in a dark dungeon. When Thor refuses food that the guard almost shoves in his face, he realizes the secret the reptiles hold: they maintain control by drugging the food supply. He breaks his bonds and escapes, finding a nearby cell housing Tana Nile and Hildegarde, who join him once free. In finding their way back up to the city, they are intercepted by a scavenging creature named Gregor who seeks their assistance. He leads them underground where a potpourri of aliens who call themselves the Resistance reside in poverty. They were once the rightful owners of Golden Star, a prosperous and peaceful civilization until the Vrellnexians and lizards invaded, turning it into the slave planet it has become. Thor vows to aid them. While Thor and company break into the throne room where Sssthgar sits, the natives of Golden Star make their way to the drug factories, which they set to blow up. Thor confronts the lizard king with the knowledge of his secret, and the reality that no longer will everyone live in his servitude. His bluff called, Sssthgar suddenly seems powerless, and the Asgardians set to depart in the Starjammer, having forced him to tell them of Sif and Karnilla’s whereabouts: the Dark Nebula! -Jim Barwise

Jim: The great thing about a comic like Thor is that the cosmic nature of it allows a relatively ordinary story to be colorful and entertaining. A kind of sub-genre amongst the Marvel comics world. Logically it isn’t completely believable that the lizards would lose complete control over the weaker natives of Golden Star just because they lost the control drug, but it’s a satisfying tale of rebellion and karma. Finally next month we get Sif back again, as well as a certain fourth dimensional man…

Scott: There isn't a whole lot to comment on here. It's a fairly standard story, familiar to anyone who's seen Star Trek, The Twilight Zone or other TV sci fi. Or even just read comics. They make a big deal out of the flashback, but how is it any different or special than any other story about alien invasion and conquering hoards? The "drug in the gruel" trick is old and obvious, and it speaks poorly of every one of the Asgardians who drank it. Is Odin really that stupid? Are the other warriors? I know it's his title, but Thor is the only one with half the smarts to piece it together? He never struck me as the realm's brain trust. There was a time when this was one of the top titles in the Marvel line. As it stands, it's just tiresome. The art is great, though. There's always that.

Matthew: Another Conway story scripted by his eventual successor, Len Wein, but unlike with Marvel Team-Up, Gerry won’t pass the torch on this series for two more years.  The same month’s Bullpen Bulletins Page heralds “Marvelous Marv” Wolfman, who would go on to serve as Editor in Chief in between Len and Gerry, as “our newest and major Assistant Editor,” also noting that Romita is now fulltime Art Director and Marie Severin will oversee all of the coloring.  I was half asleep when I read this, which perhaps helped soften the indignities to which ConWein and the increasingly ugly Buscema/Perlin/Colletta artistic ménage à trios subjected poor, emasculated Odin (who looked like little more than a moth-eaten walking beard).

Peter: I'm still in shock at how far this title has slid in the past two "years." This story line, I fear, will never end, gathering steam (and uninteresting characters) issue after issue. Were Gerry and Len the only ones reading this nonsense by that time? If there's Buscema and Colletta swimming in this muck somewhere, why is it I can only see Perlin? The Mighty Thor needs a really big kick in the ass.

Luke Cage. Hero for Hire 11
"Where There's Life!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham

The end of Luke Cage looks near as water rises up from inside the tunnel way where he is chained to the ground. Finding a weak, rusted link in the chain, Cage is able to break free. During this time Mister Death electrocutes and kills one of his gambling competitors. Cage seeks out his snitch, Flea, and tries to get info on Mr. Death's whereabouts but the sneaky snitch tips off the villain. Death pays Flea to tell Cage that he can find him at a specific building. Luke senses something is wrong when he walks in and finds the place desolate. His suspicions are confirmed when he is assaulted by gimmicky aerial weapons  (razor sharp playing cards and gigantic, heavy rolling dice). When Cage gets through his weapons assault, Mr. Death attempts to electrocute him. Even though he has a tough hide, Cage can only take so much punishment. As luck would have it, Cage takes off his chain belt and Death accidently touches it, sending an electrical backfire, burning him to a crisp. The story ends with Fox, the reporter, going through documents he stole from Dr. Burnstein's office, papers that reveal Cage's true identity.
-Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Whether you like the comic or not, Hero for Hire is at least a consistent series in its action and artwork. There is something about that combination that makes this title still hold up well all these years later. Mr. Death, you will be sorely missed by this professor.

Scott: "Any way you slice it, Luke Cage is in trouble!" How's that for the most obvious and understated hyperbole ever to grace the cover of a Marvel comic. It's like saying "there are drawings inside!" On the splash, Luke is described as "Marvel's Most Acclaimed Hero." Was this anywhere close to being accurate? Sweet Sister! There's a clever juxtaposition of dialog at the bottom of page two, with the words waist and waste. That's something I usually see on TV, but it's a nice touch here. The welcome return of jive dialog makes this one fun: "Dig! If this dude has chilled cats like this before…" Nice! I have to admit, the entire sequence of Cage breaking free, while reminiscent of Spider-Man's famed water-logged escape years later, is thrilling. I was genuinely surprised at how effective it was. I also have to hand it to Englehart for keeping this title pretty dark. Having the villain barbecue some dude and then kick his remains to ashes is pretty striking. Shocking, actually, for a non-horror mag at Marvel. A solid win this time. Even the art, while iffy in spots, was fun and easy to tolerate. The real exception is the cheesy final panel, with Phil Fox looking like someone out of a 1950's Batman comic.


Dracula Lives 2

"That Dracula May Live Again!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Neal Adams

"Vampires Drink Deep"
Story Uncredited
Art by Joe Sinnott
(originally appeared as "Drink Deep, Vampire!", reprinted from Strange Tales #9, August 1952)

"Who Is Bram Stoker and Why Is He Saying Those
Terrible Things About Me?"
By Chris Claremont
(prose feature)

"The Terror That Stalked Castle Dracula!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Tony Isabella
Art by Jim Starlin and Syd Shores

"One Corpse... One Vote"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Fred Kida
(originally appeared as "The Dead Men," reprinted from Spellbound #13, March 1953)

"The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gene Colan and Dick Giordano

"That Dracula May Live Again"

"The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans"

Of the three original stories this issue, two feature Dracula and one centers around his castle. The best of the lot, "That Dracula May Live Again" is a compelling look at the origin of Dracula (this time out he's bitten by a gypsy vampiress), exploring his pre-vampiric days as Vlad the Impaler and the aftermath of the big bite. Grim and, at times, tragic. "That Dracula" manages to drum up sympathy for a man who practices genocide as a cure for boredom. Neal Adams absolutely nails the Count, making me wish he'd been the go-to guy for Roy's Stoker adaptation (beginning in a few issues hence). "The Terror That Stalked Castle Dracula" is a pretty standard Nazi horror story that's burdened by a real dopey punchline. The Germans have set up a base at Castle Dracula but the soldiers are being picked off one by one in "a mysterious way." In the end, it's revealed that the offending bloodsucker is not Dracula, as suspected, but the Nazi captain Kriss, under the spell of the Count himself. Not much Jim Starlin leaks through the heavy Syd Shores inking. "The Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" (as opposed to Simon Garth, the Coffee King of New Orleans, who makes a cameo appearance in a Mardi Gras scene) is a remarkably unspectacular sequel of sorts to last issue's "A Poison in the Blood." The King of the Vampires here is almost an afterthought to the tale of Madame Laveau, a witch who must drink the blood of a vampire in order to maintain her super model physique. Dick Giordano proves to be the perfect inker for Gene Colan in that all I can see is Colan.

The two reprints served up this issue remind us again how much fun the pre-code days were. "Vampires Drink Deep" (left) is a one-note joke stretched out to six pages but its goofy premise (a Hungarian grave digger delivers quarts of blood to a clan of vampires for lots of dough but the punchline is that he's draining their own blood while they sleep) and stark, heavily-inked artwork (by pre-Fantastic Four stalwart Joe Sinnott) will bring a smile to the face of the most jaded horror comics reader. This stuff is as addictive as the blood the monsters need to survive! For more on the first ten issues of Strange Tales, go here. "One Corpse... One Vote" tells the story of "Honest" Harry Snide, a savvy but shifty businessman who takes advantage of the obviously lax security measures surrounding 1950s elections to become his town's new mayor. Harry visits the cemetery and copies down thousands of names from tombstones and then has the local beggars and thieves vote several times under those names. In the end, the "graveyard society" shows their displeasure with Harry and makes him their newest member. "Vampires Drink Deep" almost works better sans the color of its original appearance but not so "One Corpse," which looks as though it was torn from the pages of one of the substandard pre-codes (the kind of tale that turned up, in radically altered shape, in the Eerie Publication titles of the 1970s). That's probably due to the ugly artwork by Fred Kida, an artist primarily known in the MU for his inking chores.

"The Terror That Stalked Castle Dracula"

"Who is Bram Stoker..." presents a manuscript found by two writers (on assignment for Vault of Terror Magazine), purportedly written by "the old Count himself!" As text goes, this is certainly more readable than "complete histories of vampire movies," and Chris Claremont is obviously a better writer than Tony Isabella (see below), but I'm not sure why Roy (or maybe Marv, by this point) insisted on peppering his B&Ws with this sort of thing. The kids couldn't be bothered and the older folks would see right through the amateurish Forrest J. Ackerman-esque puns. Unfortunately, they're going to continue for the foreseeable future. -Peter Enfantino

Tales of the Zombie 1

“Altar of the Damned”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer

Story by Stan Lee
Art by Bill Everett
(reprinted from Menace #5, July 1953)

“Iron Head”
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Dick Ayers
(reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #1, June 1952)

“The Sensuous Zombie”
By Tony Isabella
(prose feature)

“Back to Back and Belly to Belly at the Zombie Jamboree Ball!”
Editorial By Roy Thomas

“The Thing From the Bog!”
Story by Kit Pearson and Marv Wolfman
Art by Pablo Marcos

Story and Art by Tom Sutton
(reprinted from Chamber of Darkness #7, October 1970)

“Night of the Walking Dead”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by John Buscema and Syd Shores

While Marvel’s latest 76-page black-and-white magazine obviously tackles a dark and sinister subject, the editorial tone is curiously comical. And it starts right up front, as the Table of Contents credits the Haitian Junior Chamber of Commerce as Technical Advisors. Oh my aching sides! The Haiti reference also tips us off that we are not talking about George Romero’s shambling gutmunchers but the zombies of voodoo lore, poor undead souls controlled by malevolent masters. The magazine kicks off with a killer Boris Vallejo cover — alas the inside pages are somewhat underwhelming with too many cheap reprints included.

Three of the stories revolve around the thing formerly known as Simon Garth, the obnoxious Coffee King of New Orleans. In the new “Altar of the Damned,” Garth is murdered by his resentful gardener Gyps and transformed into the undead with the help of Voodoo Queen Mamba Layla. Gyps can control the Zombie with a talisman, which matches the one hanging on the creature’s decaying neck. I know that Tom Palmer has some detractors among the staff, but his thick brush strokes work well in a spooky black-and-white setting.  The tale continues in “Zombie!” which is actually a reprint from Atlas Comic’s Menace #5, originally published in July 1953. Bill Everett’s excellent art was slightly altered to give the Zombie longer hair like in the Vallejo cover painting — which was commissioned before the magazine was even storyboarded — and a character appears that resembles Gyps so there is a type of weird continuity at work. The grimy gardener sends his decrepit pawn out to kidnap the object of his affection, a young woman who turns out to be the Zombie’s daughter from his past life. None too pleased, the monster returns and gives Gyps the business. In “Night of the Walking Dead,” the concluding contemporary segment, Garth’s daughter Donna identifies Gyps’ body at the morgue and is given the talisman by Detective Sam Jagger, unknowingly attracting the Zombie’s attention. On the way home, Donna is mugged by a murderous junkie who steals the amulet — which continues to call out for the vengeful Zombie. Business is again given. In all, an atmospheric three-parter and it was neat how a 20-year old story was used to create the Zombie’s mythology.

The rest of the Tales of the Zombie premiere is a mixed bag of editorials and short comics. “Iron Head,” reprinted from Journey into Mystery #1 (June 1952), tells the tale of Bronson, a villainous deep-sea diver who blows up his ship and walks away on the ocean floor with a chest of priceless black diamonds. When he makes his way to a tropical island, Bronson is hailed by cannibals as the water god Iron Head. If he removes his diving suit and helmet the ruse will be revealed, so the waterlogged weasel starves to death. Set in Denmark, “The Thing From the Bog!” is an original about young Thomas, the son of a wretched witch. After she passes away, the boy is adopted by an abusive peat-cutter. (I once visited a peat farm in Ireland. Geez that stuff stinks.) After Thomas mistakenly raises an army of undead bog men, his stepfather shoots and kills him before he can reverse the spell, dooming mankind. Pablo Marcos’ art is suitably gruesome. Reprinted from Chamber of Darkness #7 (October 1970) and featuring some nice artwork by Tom Sutton, “The Mastermind” is a two-page quickie about a mad scientist that patches together a Frankenstein’s monster. When the creature turns out to be more intelligent than his creator, it turns on the scientist snarling, “Who needs you, ‘Master?’”

Tony Isabella, who would soon become an editor of the black-and-white line, offers “The Sensuous Zombie,” a history of zombie cinema that spans from 1920’s Das Kabinett des Dr. Caligari to Romero’s 1969 masterpiece Night of the Living Dead. Tony provides a wealth of mostly unwelcomed wisecracks throughout, concluding with a “what’s next, Gilligan’s Zombie?” Groan. Finally, the editorial “Back to Back and Belly to Belly at the Zombie Jamboree Ball!” is a celebration of Bill Everett, who was knock knock knockin’ on heaven’s door at the time. Why such a thoughtful tribute would have such an obnoxious title is beyond me. -Thomas Flynn

Vampire Tales #1

Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Pablo Marcos

"To Kill a Werewolf"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bill Everett
(reprinted from Menace #9, January 1954)

"The Vampyre"
Story by Ron Goulart and Roy Thomas
Adapted from the story by John Polidori
Art by Win Mortimer

"Satan Can Wait"
Story Uncredited
Art by Paul Reinman
(reprinted from Journey Into Mystery #15, April 1954)

"Revenge of the Unliving"
Story by Gardner F. Fox
Art by Bernet

Did Marvel really need a second magazine spotlighting blood-drinkers? Time will tell but the first story in the first issue of Vampire Tales is an awful mess, a meandering hodgepodge that introduces plot elements and tosses them away with no explanation. Michael Morbius haunts the streets of Los Angeles, picking fine cuts of female to dine on and then whining about how monstrous he is. In an effort to find his old squeeze, Martine, Morbius takes on a disguise in order to blend in amongst the humans on the street (in other words, he wears an overcoat), and quickly makes friends with a hippie-chick named Carrie. The girl insists that the vampire's questions will be answered by a fortune teller named Madame Larea. When they go to see Laera, her crystal ball shows a murdered Martine in its mists and, enraged, Morbius, hurls the ball across the room. Up pops a demon named Nilrac (whose name, I assume, is some kind of in-joke between Steve Gerber and the weed he was smoking at the time) who talks in clipped phrases like "See only kill" and "Throw death at you!" Morbius quickly dispatches the demon and then drains Laera of her blood. Carrie, thinking the whole vampire vibe is hip and trippin', invites the monster back to her pad but Michael hoofs it, no doubt en route to another mindless adventure, alone again (naturally). Between appearances in Marvel Team-Up and his own four-color series in Fear, Roy no doubt thought it would be a cool idea to keep Morbius in the "public eye" and throw in some extra violence as well. Typically, every woman in the Pablo Marcos universe wears halter tops and spandex but Madame Laera's get-up is especially yuck-enducing (how would you sit down and not cut your abdomen to ribbons with those little horned ornaments attached to your panties?) and the ligament-tearing poses Morbius is forced to endure made me hold the comic sideways a few times. Then there's the nonsensical "story," filled with a lot of those eccentric touches that Steve Gerber brought to Man-Thing and Howard the Duck (the scene of Morbius attempting to suck the blood out of NARCIL) but, overall, it's inconsequential. Why would this airhead chick (four years removed from Woodstock, I'm constantly reminded) take up with a vampire and what's with her satanic cult ties? Don't ask me. How come we see Martine dead, blade between her breasts? Maybe we get an explanation later? Why did the demon burst from Laera's crystal ball? We learn nothing about him other than he talks silly. Why is he trapped in the crystal ball? Does Madame Laera know he's been in there? Is he some sort of bodyguard? If so, he's doing a lousy job if he can't handle one simple vampire.  In the end, it's just another of those "Marvel Monster Fugitive" stories: monster comes to town, meets strange residents, vanquishes opponent, and then leaves town having added nothing to the character's mythology.

"The Vampyre"

"The Vampyre" is a badly-truncated adaptation of the Polidori novella with by-the-numbers art by Win Mortimer. It's admirable of Roy (with help from Ron Goulart) to adapt a classic tale but didn't anyone tell him it might be advisable to add another page so that the original climax might be told? This adapt leaves off without resolution in order to provide a bit of a "shock" but, 150 years on, anyone reading this sort of story in a magazine called Vampire Tales is going to guess the vocation of Lord Ruthven within two or three panels. To properly illustrate a story with such atmosphere you'd employ a Tony De Zuniga or Neal Adams, not the guy who used to draw Superman newspaper strips. A good idea delivered half-assed then.

Fresh from his stint on Doctor Strange, Gardner Fox makes a "smooth" transition to horror stories with "Revenge of the Unliving" a pulp-filled story anchored by a rare American appearance by Torpedo artist Jordi Bernet. The immediate thought that strikes me while gazing at Bernet's stark and creepy art is "this is what Frank Robbins' art would have looked like had Robbins been an artist." His style is like nothing we've seen at Marvel before. It's a pity that this will be the only chance we'll have of seeing this artist's work. Never mind the word balloons (in fact, you're better off simply whiting them out), just enjoy the images.

Roy, in his editorial, states that "we felt that we should make a nod or twain in the direction of other emissaries of evil, just to round out the issue." What he doesn't say is that Atlas vampire tales from the pre-code era are pretty scarce and the well will soon run dry and that's the reason why we get reprints about werewolves and Satan rather than bloodsuckers. Neither of the tales is very good. The first is marred by a weak hook (kid who hates dogs is bitten by a were-dog and becomes one himself) and a rare bad outing by Bill Everett while "Satan Can Wait" is wordy and formulaic (though the final panel, where the protagonist is resigned to his fate, is very effective). 

More Bernet
Chris Claremont provides the first chapter in a massive in-depth critical dissection of Montague Summers' non-fiction study, Vampires: His Kith and Kin. When all is said and done, the essay will run five chapters and twenty-six pages, quite a long dissertation for a teenage audience. I wonder how many of us actually read the magnum opus or the Summers tome itself. Props to Claremont though for his patience and love for detail. The less said about Mark Evanier's "humor"-filled look at "The Worst (No Kiddin') Vampire Films Ever Made!", the better. Most of Evanier's selections are culled from similar lists served up through the years but, bafflingly, he includes the highly-respected horror-western, Curse of the Undead (1959). As with most of these text pieces, it's an utter waste of paper that could have been used for something much better (like Charles Atlas ads). -Peter Enfantino

Another opinion of the Morbius story:

Pablo Marcos, who also inks this month’s Captain Marvel, proves himself just as adept with a pencil as he is with a brush, single-handedly illustrating Steve Gerber’s 14-page story to kick off both the first Morbius solo series and yet another B&W horror mag.  Averse though I am to “monochr-omics,” at least here that’s as it should be, unlike in those maddening Essentials, and I’m obliged to say the art is exquisite, from the ferocious Morbius to the ample cheesecake.  Building a series around a vampire is tricky, and since this Marvel Firsts reprint is my only exposure, I have no idea where Gerber’s successor, Don McGregor, takes it; I note that the demon’s name is “Carlin” spelled backward but have no idea what that might mean. -Matthew Bradley

Also This Month

<-The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9
Beware #3
Chamber of Chills #5
Crypt of Shadows #4
Jungle Action #5
Kid Colt Outlaw #172
Marvel's Greatest Comics #43
Marvel Super-Heroes #37
Mighty Marvel Western #25
My Love #24
Rawhide Kid #113
Red Wolf #8
Ringo Kid #21
Sgt. Fury #112
Special Marvel Edition #11
Two-Gun Kid #111
War is Hell #4
Where Monsters Dwell #22
Worlds Unknown #2

Perfectly timed for "The Death of The Green Goblin" in The Amazing Spider-Man #122 is the reprinting of Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (from November 1968) in The Amazing Spider-Man Annual #9. Most un-Spectacular is the gutting of the 58-page epic, with 18 pages falling on the cutting room floor. Not a pretty sight.