Wednesday, March 26, 2014

September 1973 Part Two: Brother Who?

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire 13
"The Claws of Lionfang"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Billy Graham

An accountant for the city of New York is attacked and killed by a tiger while working in his office. The mayor hires Cage to find out why this crime took place. As he is out investigating, Cage is attacked by a tiger, a panther, and a lion. The three feline beasts are able to talk and communicate with each other as they try to tear our hero to shreds. The cats flee but Cage is badly hurt and, while having his wounds are treated, learns that the feline's claws were poisoned. Cage does some sleuthing and finds out that the slain accountant cut the budget for some schools, which leads him to the home of a teacher named Alejandro Cortez. Alejandro's wife informs Luke that her husband was devastated by the budget cut which ended an experiment of his. Cage goes to Madison Square Garden where the circus is in town and there encounters Alejandro, now calling himself Lionfang. The villain had created a device that would let his students absorb the thoughts of their professors. When his funding was cut, Lionfang used the experimental helmet he created to communicate with the circus cats. In a brutal confrontation, Cage is able to defeat the cats. Lionfang tries to use the circus trapezes to escape but Cage knocks down one of the poles and the villain plunges to his death.  -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: Billy Graham gets a “complete art” credit this issue, as if making absolutely sure everyone knows there wasn’t an assist by Tuska or anyone else. The results are really nice; there’s a lot of energy and excitement in the pencils. This issue reinforces why Cage really has to charge for his services – the guy goes through more outfits than Bruce Banner; once again his clothing is in tatters. Not saying a tussle with tigers isn’t justification enough and he ruins not one but two ensembles this time out. He gets a hell of a beating as well, carrying nasty lacerations throughout.  That’s some realistic stuff for a guy who is virtually indestructible. Steve Engelhart and Graham conjure up a dark and uncompromising climax, with Cage (SPOILERS) accidentally killing his enemy. Assuming the man would fall straight down doesn’t give Luke much credit in the “covering all the basis” part of the job but he was under a lot of stress.  I can’t pretend I’d do any better.

The Tomb of Dracula 12
"Night of the Screaming House!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

The vampire hunters stop Dracula just as he is about to dine on his latest female victim. Dracula escapes, but not before he takes Quincy Harker's daughter Edith as hostage. The vampire team consisting of Quincy, Frank Drake, Taj, and Rachel Van Helsing are given directions to an old haunted mansion by Dracula so that he can have a final showdown with them using Edith as bait. Blade also gets an invitation by Dracula to show up at the mansion and accepts. The vampire hunting crew deals with bats along with poisonous spiders before they are able to take down Dracula. Blade uses one of his specially carved stakes to slash the Count's face and the vampire flies away from the haunted house in retreat. Tragically, Edith has been turned into a hideous vampire. With no other course of action to take, Quincy kills his own daughter with a hidden stake from his cane. The furious vampire hunters vow to destroy Dracula for his cruelty... no matter the cost.  -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: This issue had a more simple, straightforward plot than in previous tales. It worked well in my humble opinion, focusing more on atmosphere then wall-to-wall action. Edith's departure, if actually permanent, keeps this series on a more intense path then other titles at the time. It makes a reader wonder just who is safe in these stories?

Mark Barsotti: The dark and somber, "Night of the Screaming House!" demonstrates that when your protagonist is a five hundred year old blood-sucker, things seldom go well for the good guys. Harker and company save a girl from a Drac attack on the splash page, so the crimson-eyed count flaps away with Harker's daughter Edith in tow, setting in motion a showdown the following night at a rain-lashed old mansion called Whispering Hell!

Scott: This title continues to impress. A very well done, suspenseful story with an ending so damned grim, I never thought Marvel would have the stones to let it go through. Only in the horror titles would it be acceptable, and I guess I’m still a little new to the genre. A smashing issue from start to finish, with Blade returning and striking a very decisive blow against Drac. With Frank Drake being a fairly spineless braggart, Blade is poised to become the true (anti) hero of the book. He’s also more interesting a character than anyone other than The Lord of the Vampires himself. But, is his name actually Blade? Because he uses a wooden knife? Or does he have another name? Gene Colan compliments Marv Wolfman’s prose and this is easily one of the best titles in the line this month. Solid.

Mark: Despite a title that sounds like Z grade Roger Corman and Drac laughing manically a bit much, Marv Wolfman delivers the chills, abetted by perfect spookhouse art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Brother Blade rejoins the vamp-hunters, summoned via phone (causing romantic interruptus) by the Dark Lord himself, Drac planning to slay all his tormentors at one go. Blade and crew manage to drive off ole red eyes after a fierce battle, only to learn that Edith's already been turned into a fanger, leaving Harker with no choice but to stake his own daughter. Dark doings, well-done.

Werewolf by Night 9
"Terror Beneath the Earth!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Tom Sutton

First night, and the Werewolf stalks the rainy streets of L.A. looking for the forest, when a mysterious caped figure emerges from the sewers to attack him. Werewolf manages to escape his grasp, and the man goes back to his master Sarnak, as a piercing ultrasonic blast knocks out our hairy hero. Jack Russell wakes up in police custody, questioned by Lt. Lou Hackett, the detective who’s been tracking him. Sweet sister Lissa and arrogant stepfather Philip Russell show up to take Jack home, but when night falls, Sarnak’s minions invade! The full moon transforms Jack into the Werewolf and he lashes out at the invaders, until the high-pitched wail returns to knock him out. They take Werewolf into the sewers, throwing him into a pit where Sarnak gloats over his prisoner and uses an ultra-sonic flute to control the beast. With Werewolf and the rest of his “dregs” by his side, Sarnak starts terrorizing Century City, ordered by “The Committee”. But soon they come up across Lissa, who is also captured by Sarnak. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: The cover boasts “Possibly—the year’s most frightening thriller!” and while that’s clearly a case of Marvel hyperbole, it’s still a decent issue packed with some creepiness. Not a big fan of the Tom Sutton artwork, especially the shots of Philip Russell in the car, where he looks like a funhouse mirror version of Hugh Hefner. But happily we get another two-parter, which has me optimistic for the finale. Which of course, always worries me about WWBN. One nice touch: the sound effect of “SSCCRAAAPPE” when the manhole cover is being scraped against the pavement. One semi-false note: Jack Russell gets a splash page credit as “Narrator.” Hardy har har.

Chris Blake: I think many of us -- even faculty members who aren't into WWBN -- agree that Mike Ploog had done noteworthy work on this title, exceeded only by his art for Frankenstein.  So, as much as we might miss Ploog (for a little while -- he'll be back in a few issues, never fear), I find Sutton's self-inked art to be a worthy replacement.  Granted, this art works better for the Werewolf himself, whether battling Tatterdemalion in the murky rain, or against Sarnak's gruesome servants.  Sutton really gets how to employ darkness and shadows to create the mood of the story.  George Roussos' unconventional color selections (as he throws ya some reds and yellows when you don't expect 'em) contribute to the unsettling atmosphere.  Overall, a thoroughly spooky issue.

Peter Enfantino: Way back in The Scream Factory #15 (The Best of which will soon be available in hardcover!) I read the entire run of WWBN (along with all the Moon-Wolf stories as well) for an article on werewolves in the comics. Without spoiling anything or stepping on Professor Joe's toes, let me just say that 90% of WWBN was, in my humble opinion, rubbish. The huge exception was the storyline in issues #9 and 10. Here's what I said twenty-some odd years ago (WARNING!: SPOILERS AHEAD):

 In WWBN #9 and #10, Jack Russell is shadowed by a creepy misfit who doesn’t talk much other than to mutter "Sarnak orders it," or as Jack Russell describes him: "...a stinking mold of a man, encrusted with slime and moss, reeking of dried wine and fouler smells." We still have to wade through the endless flashbacks and recounting of "our story thus far,” but for half a storyline, we at least get something that dazzles, art-wise. That's thanks to artist Tom Sutton, who filled in on WWBN for two issues, and in that short time showed all who had come before him what a werewolf really looks like. Sutton's werewolf is a vicious beast (though still constrained by Marvel and the all-mighty code), one you wouldn't take to bed or feed a biscuit to. Now, if only Sutton had written the damn thing as well! Writer Gerry Conway comes up with an interesting hook in the creepy little monster stalking the wolf, but by the second issue, when we find out who Sarnak is, and why he wants the wolf, he's blown his golden opportunity. Would you believe that Sarnak works for a bunch of crooked billionaires and plans to use the wolf to scare the common man into buying more products and thus reinvigorate the economy? I didn't think you would. Still, compared to the earlier issues, this is Will Eisner material.

The Incredible Hulk 167
"To Destroy the Monster!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel

General Ross returns to the United States where he has to tell his daughter, Betty Ross, that her husband, Major Talbot, is dead. Betty reacts to the news in an angry fit and has a nervous breakdown. Jim Wilson finds the Hulk out sulking in the fog. He informs the green brute about Betty's recent woes. When the Hulk calms down he turns back into Bruce Banner and goes to the hospital to visit her. Betty attacks Bruce and he transforms back into the Hulk. A nurse at the hospital turns out to be a spy for the evil genius M.O.D.O.K., who plans to transform Betty into a gamma monster similar to the Hulk. The villain houses himself inside a giant android body and heads to the hospital to implement his plan. When the Hulk returns to the hospital with flowers for Betty, he sees M.O.D.O.K. whispering to her through a window. The Hulk and M.O.D.O.K. fight it out, with the Green Goliath destroying the android body parts. Once his android body is destroyed, M.O.D.O.K. flies away and escapes, vowing that the battle has only begun. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: M.O.D.O.K. is a little too smart for his own good. He admits to never even meeting the Hulk before but his logic reasons that once he rules the world, the Hulk is the only being powerful enough to take that away from him. Maybe he would have been better off avoiding the Hulk and working on a better plan instead of peering through Betty's hospital bed like some stalker, outfitted in a gigantic armored suit that even Ray Charles could see. While this story has plot holes and contrived coincidences, it wasn't too bad. M.O.D.O.K.'s pure freakish looking appearance always makes him a favorite villain of mine.

Matthew:  Jack Abel begins a 15-issue run as Trimpe’s inker with this entry, which I am reading for the first time courtesy of our august Dean Enfantino; my biggest complaint so far is that even allowing for her being in extremis, Betty looks abnormal…and that’s before she gets turned into the Harpy.  I usually welcome any appearances by A.I.M. and/or MODOK, and liked both that full-page shot and the logic behind MODOK finding a subject whose survival depended on a tolerance to gamma rays.  But while the idea of his building a robotic body commensurate with the size of his head is a cool one (which I recall was resurrected in Iron Man during the War of the Super-Villains), it was defeated way too easily, and his face looks like a mutant chipmunk.

Scott: Jack Abel has arrived! Finally! I’ve always loved his work with Trimpe on this title and he kicks off beautifully. The lines are smooth, almost shiny. Most everyone looks great – the only real exceptions being Betty during her freak out and Bruce, who now sports really shaggy black hair. Engelhart gives Betty some pretty dopey dialog as she reacts to Glenn’s reported demise, but nothing so bad as Armbruster’s “I’ll be double-dipped! She fainted!”  MODOK looks great also and all of this is revving up to one of the more fun Hulk arcs of the period. I’m not sure if Engelhart intended to stick in a public service announcement, but Hulk’s “friends don’t hit!” was pretty funny; at least to this 80’s teen who watched a lot of commercials where a kid smoking pot told his dad “I learned it from watching you!” And knowing is half the battle!

The Invincible Iron Man 62
"Whiplash Returns!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Craig Russell, John Romita, 
Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia

Lying low since his defeat and injury by Iron Man in Suspense #99, Mark Scott (aka Whiplash) is now S.I.’s head of research in Cincinnati, where he is the assistant and fiancé of their first female plant manager, Vicki Snow.  When Tony brings Vicki a new micro-power cell to help build the Quantum IX manned orbiting laboratory, Mark’s expectation that he will take her job once they are married gives Tony and Pepper uncomfortable echoes of the Hogans’ situation.  The vengeful Whiplash steals the cell, knowing that Iron Man will be close by, and destroys both repulsor rays with his electrified whip, yet the tide turns after Iron Man attaches magnetic anti-gravity discs to his weapon; Whiplash escapes, but Vicki breaks their engagement. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: No, Whiplash is not a top-tier bad guy—especially by the standards of ferrophobes like Professor Flynn—but he is a pleasant reminder of the old Tales of Suspense days, and as such, I welcome him, yet while I wouldn’t necessarily have wanted this to be stretched into a two-parter, the story feels oddly rushed somehow.  Although the credits don’t differentiate the artists, the MCDb says this issue features pencils by Craig Russell (reunited with Ant-Man scribe Friedrich) and inks by Mike Esposito and Frank Giacoia, “with a thankful [sic] assist from J. Romita.”  With so many cooks involved, it’s obviously difficult to tell who contributed what; nevertheless, the broth is a tasty one, perhaps especially so for those who hate Tuska as much as they do his signature book.

Scott: Whiplash is back and the only thing keeping me from rolling my eyes is that the art is by neither George Tuska nor Don Heck. Actually, to be more accurate, the eye-rolling was merely delayed. Whiplash still looks a little goofy, something I didn’t get from Gene Colan’s original depiction of him back in Suspense. The feather duster at the top of his head is just a little too much. Even though it was always there, it just seemed less Swiffer when Gene drew it. We’re introduced to his secret identity for the first time and also to Vicki Snow, Tony Stark’s first female plant manager – as she so helpfully brags to us. Not only that, Whippy is engaged to this young lady, a plot development way out of nowhere. So much for foreshadowing and building up plots. This feels more like a lesson in male chauvinism than an entertaining super-hero saga, but that’s been the case since the Hogans returned to the storyline. I know Stan liked the soap opera, but this stuff is getting tedious. Happy’s missing and we only get a passing concern in the thought balloons. We get jackass Whiplash’s alter ego Mark Scott trying to get his fiancee’s job, as if a single conversation would convince Stark to promote him (then again, with Tony you never know). And we apparently get a new supporting cast member in Vicki Snow. Still a weak book, but not as hideous as previous issues.

Jungle Action 6
The Black Panther in
"Panther's Rage"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

T’Challa, the embodiment of the Panther spirit, has returned to Wakanda, to find his kingdom in strife.  He chases off two marauders who had been torturing an old man.  Before the man expires, T’Challa learns that the tormentors answer to Killmonger, who is a chieftain in a secluded Wakandan village.  T’Challa then visits a village that had been attacked by Killmonger’s warriors, as T’Challa’s advisers wonder aloud whether their prince is capable of drawing his nation back together.  The Wakandan security chief, W’Kabi, is most critical of T’Challa.  He has his doubts of the Panther’s chances of survival against Killmonger’s savagery: “He’ll break every bone in your body,” W’Kabi states, “just to enjoy hearing them snap.”  Regardless, when Killmonger is rumored to be spotted atop Warrior Falls, T’Challa does not hesitate to confront him.  Killmonger sics his white leopard, Preyy (why two “y”s?  don’t know), on the Panther, who succeeds in breaking the leopard’s jaws open.  Intent on vanquishing his foe, Killmonger hurls T’Challa from the top of the falls, to the rocks far below. -Chris Blake

Chris: This issue marks the first chapter of “Panther’s Rage,” which, rightfully so, has become the most celebrated Black Panther storyline of the Bronze Age.  Don McGregor is about to subject T’Challa to some of the most cruel punishment – both physical and psychological – of his life.  Time and again, T’Challa will prove himself equal to the challenge, as he wages a one-man defense against Killmonger’s affronts to the Wakandan people.  In the process, McGregor will re-establish T’Challa as a unique character in the Marvel pantheon.  Readers of recent issues of The Avengers might have noticed that there’s nothing in his words or actions to distinguish the Panther from his teammates (no offense to Stainless, but still . . .).  The T’Challa of Panther’s Rage will emerge as a figure of tireless perseverance, and thoughtful compassion.  -Chris Blake

Matthew: This issue marks both the start of Don McGregor’s “Panther’s Rage,” kicking off T’Challa’s solo series with penciler Rich Buckler, and the advent of one of my least-favorite inkers, Klaus Janson.  To be fair, I’m obliged to admit that Klaus’s work is a credit rather than a debit here, and although the strip’s future penciler, the “Irreverent” Billy Graham, receives the retroactive glory, Buckler gets it off to an extremely solid start as he and Dauntless Don provide a royal rehabilitation for an all-too-often-marginalized Avenger.  In retrospect, it’s a shock that à la Man-Thing in Fear, this legendary saga is initially forced to share space with one of the reprints that previously populated the book, Don Rico’s “Double Danger” from Lorna the Jungle Girl #6 (March 1954).

Chris: Due to Jungle Action’s bi-monthly schedule, it will take over two years to see this story to its conclusion, in JA #18.  This first chapter of "Panther’s Rage" presents several supporting characters who will figure prominently in the storyline: W’Kabi, defiant security chief; Taku, dutiful communications advisor; Monica, T’Challa’s love interest (who, as the only Westerner in the story, frequently finds herself at odds with the local populace, and the Wakandan court itself); Tayete and Kazibe, Killmonger minions (and Panther punching-bags); and Erik Killmonger himself, a literally larger-than-life figure, who has undertaken his remorseless pursuit of the Wakandan crown (and the priceless vibranium that would come with it).

Scott: Somehow, this wound up in my collection as a kid and I still have it. Probably part of a bulk trade to get a more desirable issue of something long forgotten. I was never a follower of Jungle Action, nor did I ever find the Black Panther interesting on his own, but it’s still better than Ka-Zar and Rich Buckler’s art here is excellent. For me, characters like the Panther, Sub-Mariner and Thor are more interesting outside of their royal kingdoms when interacting with the common folk. However, for a little insight into T’Challa, this isn’t such a bad read. What was it about again?   


Chris: Artist Rich Buckler sets the tone early, as he captures both T’Challa’s supple physicality and regal bearing.  We also see glimpses of T’Challa’s outrage at Killmonger’s atrocities – more of that to come, particularly as Billy Graham (who has spent the past few months smoothing out Tuska’s pencils in Hero for Hire) takes the penciller’s helm for JA #10-18.  Klaus Janson’s inks are well-suited to Buckler’s pencils here, particularly in places like page 5.

Oh, and there’s an uncredited 6-page filler from Jungle Girl #6 (March 1954), by Don Rico and Werner Roth (thanks to Grand Comics Database for the info), which seems wildly out-of-place when compared to the grim doings in the Panther story.  Greg takes Lorna to town so she can buy herself a dress and look nice for him (Lorna says, “I’ll do anything for you, Greg, as long as it makes you like me better!”), and also so she’ll leave jungle business to men.  Lorna gets bonked on the head by a shop girl, Grace, who dresses in Lorna’s jungle duds, and tricks Greg into divulging the location of their secret diamond mine.  Lorna comes to, and stops Grace from stealing the diamonds, but now Greg can’t tell Lorna from Grace.  Wow.

Kull the Conqueror 10
“Swords of the White Queen”
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Marie Severin & Frank Chiaramonte

King Kull suffers feverish visions of demons as his Valusian army prepares to battle Zarfhaanan invaders. The traitorous Baron Kannuub, the legal heir to the throne, sneaks off to the Zarfhaanan camp to meet with the White Queen Veria, seeking payment for poisoning Kull, the man the Amazonian ruler falsely thinks murdered her lover Zarkus. The next day the two armies meet and the Valusians quickly gain the upper hand. But Kull is overcome by Kannuub’s still potent poison and is captured by Zarfhaanan woman warriors. The White Queen forces Kull to face a ferocious man-ape, but the invincible monarch breaks the hairy brute’s neck. Veria then attacks on horseback, but again, Kull is the victor. As Brule the Pict and the rest of the Valusian army arrive to rescue the already triumphant monarch, Kull breaks the White Queen’s mighty sword but spares her lovely neck. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: It’s nice to see a bit of continuity creep into this mediocre series, as the stone-cold Zarkus from issue 6 drives the action from the grave. Well, “action” might be a bit too strong. The White Queen seems to be Kull’s version of Red Sonja as the king wonders if a potential love might have been “frustrated by mindless fate” on the final panel. For the first time in the series, Marie Severin is inked by someone other than her brother John, as frequent Mike Ploog collaborator Frank Chiaramonte steps in. Marie and John made a better team. It’s another humdrum issue only punctuated by the exciting editorial announcing that the black-and-white magazine Savage Tales is returning after a two year hiatus, featuring an all-new Conan story by Roy Thomas and Barry Smith. But that is an epic event to be relished next month. Or two weeks if you prefer real time.

Marvel Feature 11
The Thing and The Incredible Hulk in
"Cry Monster!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Jim Starlin and Joe Sinnott

Ben surprises Reed by wrecking a device intended to return him to normal, then reflects on his origin, unaware that his thoughts are being monitored by Kurrgo, driven from his people’s new world.  He sought to acquire Earth’s strongest being, the Hulk, for revenge, yet the paralyzed Leader—who wants the Hulk for himself—intervened, proposing that they use the Hulk and the Thing in a winner-take-all proxy battle.  Transported to a Western ghost town, Ben is told he must prevent Earth’s annihilation by an ultrex bomb, and (his power secretly bolstered by Kurrgo with cosmic radiation) battles the uncomprehending Hulk to reach it, but the bomb is revealed as a fake, and as the villains fall out, our heroes escape their craft before it is destroyed. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In a month full of debuts, from Ghost Rider’s solo book to strips featuring Brother Voodoo and the Black Panther, the Thing toplines this counterpart to Marvel Team-Up, which after one more issue morphs seamlessly—albeit with a different writer and penciler—into Marvel Two-in-One.  Starlin’s Thing may have looked a little wonky in Captain Marvel #26, but there’s nothing like the embellishment of FF legend Sinnott (who, as it happens, inked Jim’s cover on #25) to bring a little continuity to the party.  As Len channels Roy by bringing Kurrgo out of cold storage from FF #7, his endearingly loopy script proves that he has studied the nascent MTU model quite carefully…and what better way to launch the strip than with the umpteenth Thing/Hulk slugfest?

Chris: The Thing's two-issue try-out for Two-In-One goes well, especially with Starlin on board.  I've never been a big fan of the did-they-really-have-to superhero battle, but I'll admit that Thing-vs-Hulk is worth the price of admission (even without an undercard!).  The art is quite good, even though Sinnott is far more in evidence here than Starlin.  I can't argue with that, since Joe always realized the Thing so well.  I think we all liked the buildup when Hulk snuck up behind Ben (page 14), right?  Also, the bit when Ben is unable to reason with Hulk (page 22), resulting in an emphatic, but understated "No," is inspired. 

Marvel Premiere 10
Doctor Strange in
"Finally, Shuma-Gorath!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner
Art by Frank Brunner and 
"The Singing Sons of the Crusty Bunkers"

Having finally found Shuma-Gorath, the source of all the evil he has recently faced, Dr. Strange is also faced with a shocker: it is his mentor the Ancient One who has unwittingly provided this evil being with not only a pathway to our Universe, but the source of his power too. In sheer force even Stephen cannot match Shuma-Gorath, so he uses his Eye of Agamotto to enter the Ancient One’s mind, and fight his foe at the source. Strange merges with the Ancient One’s perception of him in hope of finding some answers. He encounters past villains from his mentor’s memories, and realizes the master of evil is just toying with him. Then Dr. Strange realizes what he must do—and it breaks his heart: kill the Ancient One. Only by destroying the source of Shuma-Gorath’s power can he end its life. It works, but at what cost? Strange must accept that he has murdered his mentor and closest friend… or has he? A visage appears before Dr. Strange; it is the Ancient One, now in a higher, different state of being, where he explains he truly understands—in a way we cannot—how everything in the Universe is truly a part of everything else, all is one. The Ancient One has transferred his powers to Stephen Strange, and now departs for his new existence, never to be seen again. -Jim Barwise

Jim: If, at the end of the 1970’s, this epic tale of Shuma-Gorath doesn’t appear in my Top Ten storylines of the decade, I will be very surprised. It was hard to imagine, after going from one high to the next, how this tale could resolve itself. Yet it does. Having the very source of good be the source of power for evil is brilliant, as is the horrible decision Strange must make for the sake of that good. Steve Englehart’s script is crisp, and Frank Brunner’s art is textured and lovely (inks by the “singing sons of the crusty bunkers”?). It’s obvious these guys were in close sync in the planning of this comic. The unusual structure of the panels emphasizes the magic happenings nicely.  What can we expect after this?

Matthew: Inks are credited to “The Singing Sons of the Crusty Bunkers.”  Per the MCDb, “Crusty Bunkers was a collective pseudonym for several artists (inkers) from Neal Adams’ Continuity Studios during the 1970s.  The group consisted of anyone who happened to showed [sic] up at the offices at the right time,” e.g., Brunner, Englehart (an artist himself, lest we forget), Abel, Austin, Chaykin, Cockrum, Milgrom, Simonson, Starlin.  Curiously, the title “Finally, Shuma-Gorath!” has stayed with me more than the story since I got this in the treasury edition; back in 1975, it was probably just over my head, especially with only #8 in hand.  The Ancient One’s death, and Doc’s ascension to Sorcerer Supreme, assuredly merit landmark status. 

Mark: Englehart and Brunner hit their full-throttle stride with "Finally, Shuma Gorath!" a slice of supreme sorcery par excellence, equal parts spell-casting, dimension-spanning action and spiritual musings, brought to life by an intelligent script and vivid, leap off the page-graphics. Even with the warm fog of nostalgia inherent in revisiting characters we love, your humble Marvel U staff pours over mediocre dross and worse every week, so it's always exciting when the top-shelf stuff cycles into the rotation, those rare arcs that elevated comics to art, even if we didn't know it, back in the Stone Age Seventies.  

Chris: A truly sensational conclusion to the Shuma-Gorath storyline.  It's not often you can count on a multi-issue story reaching a thoroughly satisfying resolution.  I can't even say what I liked best about it.  Let's focus on great work by Brunner, with trusty inks from the Crustys (consistently done -- it hardly looks like the work of 4-5 individuals, except for a few times when Adams' style stands out).  Best example?  I'll pick the illustration on page 24.  Page 11 is pretty cool too.  OK, instead, pick a page where you don't think the art is so hot, and we'll debate it, okay?  Nice in-character moment at the end when Strange turns his back on the Crypt of Kaa-u, and - lost in thought - completely tunes it out as the crypt crumbles around him. 

Matthew: A “behind-the-scenes postscript” sheds new light on the conclusion of the Howard-inspired arc (which I, for one, wish had gone on longer):  “when Steve and Frank took over Marvel Premiere with #9, they had no idea of what Shuma-Gorath was supposed to be, and so created their own ending for the series, as you saw.  In point of fact, Roy and Gardner’s plan was for S-G to be a hidden city buried under Manhattan—as our men found out later—yet Steve and Frank were able to take the clues that had been sprinkled in the previous issues pointing toward the city, along with Stan’s clues [from #3], which were written without any final concept in mind…and make it seem as if the cosmic S-G had been planned from the beginning,” as recounted in #13’s lettercol.

Mark: Shuma Gorath is "the negative image of the Ancient One," evil incarnate from another universe who gains access to ours as the wizened old master lies near death. SG invades Strange's consciousness, conjuring up Dormannu and Nightmare to bedevil the Doc as disgustoid the Living Buddha roots on his dark master. Shuma Gorath's "true form" is a Lovecraftian horror, a multi-tentacled space-faring Cyclops, and the only way Strange can stop it is to enter the Ancient's One's mind and kill him before Shuma's manifestation into our time/space continuum is complete.

After sacrificing his mentor, Strange is racked with guilt until the Ancient One reappears, having transcended his corporal form to "become one with the universe." It's heavy, heady stuff, but Englehart and Brunner mix this metaphysical cocktail to near perfection.

Marvel Team-Up 13
The Amazing Spider-Man and Captain America in
"The Granite Sky!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and David Hunt

Back in town, still brooding over Gwen, Peter extricates himself from a lecture by drunken wharf rat Nathaniel, who sees a “sky-stone” fall into the river and is petrified when he offers the emerging Grey Gargoyle a hand.  Spidey stumbles into Cap’s running battle with A.I.M., after which the victorious heroes are transported up to the Helicarrier, only to learn that another cell stole a vital guided-missile telemetry system.  A homing device leads them to A.I.M.’s H.Q. beneath the Science Pavilion from the 1964 World’s Fair in Queens; captured and chained to the missile that will launch a satellite enabling the Gargoyle to threaten entire cities, they somehow overcome his stone-touch, and in the brawl, the Gargoyle himself gets borne aloft. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I was inexpressibly relieved to see that this held up far better than my first cluster issue (#9); Len’s initial solo MTU outing is a satisfying, briskly paced done-in-one with solid Kane/Giacoia artwork.  Spidey and Cap are a well-matched pair, and when you throw in the Gargoyle, Fury, A.I.M., and S.H.I.E.L.D., plus a great title (“The Granite Sky!”), I don’t know how much else a person could ask for.  As usual, it’s the little things that stick in my mind:  I would never have focused on the Torch’s encounter with “ol’ Nat” in #2—which I read long after the fact—if not for his appearance here, while Peter’s “Stinking arachnid!” exclamation bolstered my youthful vocabulary and, in retrospect, offset years of various careless references to Spidey as an “insect.”

Joe: I'm really enjoying re-reading these early Marvel Team-Ups, which aren't the best comics, to be honest, but man are they as fun as I remember. This one sees Spidey team up with Captain America himself, and they make a darn good team. But I can't help but think it could have been a longer tale, as the end is rushed faster than that old boozer turns to stone. Maybe it's because Grey Gargoyle is a bit of an arrogant knucklehead, way too easily duped every time. Decent art and script, too.

Scott: Another story I first read in a Treasury Edition and another early note to this young Marvel Maniac that Gwen was killed. The problem with a lot of these “team-ups” is that there is a good deal of set up to put the guest character and Spidey together. It takes the majority of the issue to get the plot in motion after Spider-Man sets up why he’s in Frisco, showing the Grey Gargoyle’s return (welcome back!) , meeting Captain America and then Nick Fury, who plays Basil Exposition to get us all up to speed.  All so we can see the Gargoyle strap our turned-to-stone heroes to a rocket. Holy Adam West, Batman! Why not just turn them to stone and hit them in the head with a mallet? Nope, instead the heroes escape their elaborate death trap, the day is saved and this story fades from memory like the bad Chinese food I had for dinner.

Strange Tales 169
Brother Voodoo in
"Brother Voodoo"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gene Colan and Dan Adkins

Sent by the United Nations to do work in Haiti, clinical pathologist Dr. Maitland is attacked at the airport by sinister forces. Just in the nick of time, a cloud forms nearby and out of that cloud emerges an ominous form, that of local legend, Brother Voodoo. The fancy-dressed houngan foils the kidnapping plot and sends the good doctor on to his important work in Port-Au-Prince. The battle leaves Brother Voodoo pondering how he became the hero of his people. In a flashback we discover that the legend was once just a man named Jericho Drumm, noted psychologist, who returned to his home land to look after his twin brother, Daniel, a houngan who has run afoul of the evil Damballah, the Serpent-God. After a fist fight that left him humiliated, Damballah curses Daniel to a slow death but just before he succumbs, his brother makes Jericho promise he will go see Papa Jambo, a medicine man hidden away deep in the jungle. Once Daniel dies, Jericho lugs his corpse into the jungle and confronts Papa Jambo. The old man refuses to come back to the village but promises he will teach Jericho Drumm the ways of the houngan so that a new force for good will protect the people. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: So begins a five-issue stint for Brother Voodoo in Strange Tales (he'll also enjoy a couple appearances in Tales of the Zombie and the requisite cameos in Marvel Team-Up and various other titles), a result of the popularity in both voodoo and black superheroes in the early 1970s. The story's a bit sketchy (we never do find out why it's important for Dr. Maitland to arrive in Haiti nor why it's imperative that Damballah get rid of him), but it's exciting enough and Gene Colan was the obvious choice for this sort of material. Another riddle I'm not sure gets solved but I'll stick around to hopefully see get worked out: who is the second figure who materializes with Voodoo at the airport? Is it supposed to be a younger version of Jambo? Odd that there's no explanation. Damballah's a formidable foe, a good thing to have when you're introducing a brand-new character. I've got fond memories of wasting Sunday afternoons with Jericho and I'm ready to do it all again.

Matthew: And you thought Savage Tales had a long hiatus?  Ignoring its 15-issue title change to Dr. Strange back in ’68, this mag resumes after a mere 64 months, and briefly hosts an eclectic mix of characters before lapsing into reprints of, you guessed it, Dr. Strange.  Diversity seems to be on the upswing at Marvel, and all concerned turn in solid work that deserved better than a five-issue run:  Wein’s script evokes the Haitian patois without seeming parodic, while Colan—ably inked by Adkins—as usual excels at depicting people of color with dignity.  Aptly, Drumm’s inevitable guest appearances in both the color and B&W lines include not only Marvel Team-Up but also its sister title, Marvel Two-in-One (another strip launched by Len this month).

The Savage Sub-Mariner 65
"The Cry of the She-Beast!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck and Don Perlin

Tales of Atlantis

"The Lurker in the Ruins!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Chiaramonte

Namor fights in an arena, gladiator style, against the evil queen of Zephyrland. Before the battle, the Queen boasts that, after she kills Namor, she will take over Atlantis. The Queen prays to her gods and transforms into a gigantic, powerful She-Beast! As Subby takes a beating at the She-Beast's hands, the four captured rebels that brought Namor to their world escape the dungeon that holds them. They subdue a bunch of guards and reach the arena in an attempt to help Namor. They are too late as Namor has been knocked unconscious by the She-Beast. The monstrous queen orders two of her soldiers to load Subby onto a golden submarine so she can take him back to Atlantis and kill him in front of his subjects. Namor overpowers the two soldiers the sub travels out of the strange dimension to Atlantis.
-Tom McMillion

Tales of Atlantis
Our Story

Kamuu, the son of a former king, is sent out on a mission to explore old ruins, by his uncle who wants him dead. While exploring, Kamuu encounters a zombie guarding an ancient temple. The inexperienced Kamuu is no match for the skilled zombie. After being disarmed, Kamuu flees. The story ends with Kamuu trying to reach a mystical sword as the zombie warrior moves in for the kill.
-Tom McMillion

Matthew: The Bullpen Page announces Everett’s death and refers readers to this issue, whose last page “sums up our own sense of loss more eloquently than any words we could say,” depicting a somber Namor—the Atlanteans massed behind him—standing over Everett’s grave, with Neptune’s Trident topping his headstone.  The remainder is, alas, but a pale shadow of that “final and well-earned tribute,” with the Two Dons, Heck and Perlin, doing nothing to uplift Steve’s script, and Subby’s “malformed buffoon” of an opponent looking like a Russian peasant woman.  Although Gerber is still writing the back-up feature as well, plotter/penciler Chaykin has apparently moved on, leaving the artwork securely in the hands of Mooney and Chiaramonte. -Tom McMillion

Scott: Fights to the death between the title character of a comic and anyone else just aren’t all that interesting. There is never any real doubt as to the outcome. And fights to the death drawn by Don Heck are even less interesting. I miss Bill Everett with each new issue.

The Mighty Thor 215
"The God in the Jewel"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney

Thor, Odin, and their fellow companions have joined forces in the Dark Nebula to fight a common foe: the bizarre jewel god. Mercurio needs the jewels power to save his world, Thor to free Sif and Karnilla who are imprisoned within it. The jewel is draining the goddess’ life energies to strengthen it, and not tolerating any interference, it sends the others back inside the asteroids shell. It then deigns to tell its story to the two women. Six million years prior, their race was an advanced and mighty one, a world called Xorr, which gave birth to all humanoid species in the Universe. When their sun went nova, they protected their world with a shield of nuclear power. It saved them, but sent their world hurtling through space, where one million years ago it crashed into this asteroid. Now, it is close to returning to its former power, and using the craft the Nebula’s miners have constructed to carry it, the jewel blasts off. Our friends follow in the Starjammer, and overtake the jewel-craft. They easily overcome the miners, but as the creature takes on a giant humanoid form, it informs them that Sif and Karnilla are now a part of it, and any action against it will destroy them as well. -Jim Barwise

Jim: In many ways this issue showcases the good and bad elements of the Thor title in the seventies. On the con side, we hear about yet another super race that spawned all “lesser” ones and who, despite their power, want no more than to rule the Universe at the expense of all others. It may make for an exciting story, but how many such races can there be in one Universe? On the pro side, we do get a number of stories where some grand quest takes the whole “crew” (Thor and friends, and whatever allies they have at the time) on some great mission full of adventures, some mediocre, some rather excellent (the Odin quest coming up in issues #255-263 for example). The full page panels we get treated to in this issue showcase some nice John Buscema artwork; another plus.

Matthew: As I told the faculty when I finished re-reading this (two weeks before Thanksgiving), my gut reaction was either to say nothing—unthinkable—or to write a two-word review:  “Who cares?”   Granted, I didn’t read it in the most receptive frame of mind, forced to stay home and reassure the animals amid the cacophony of having our roof redone, but while I think Gerry’s work on Spidey has actually improved post-Gwen, I think I’m suffering from Conway-Overload on this title…and he has two more years to go!  At least Big John seems to be doing full pencils again, inked by Mooney as his brother was last month, yet for all of its interstellar spectacle and full- or multi-page shots, the story seemed sadly like one of today’s empty Hollywood CGI-fests.

Scott: “By the eyes of Dis! What fancy is this?!” SPRAK! WOK! Excerpts from Thor: The Musical. My favorite sound effect this issue, however, has to be WHANG! Just because. Anyway, Jim Mooney’s inks make a world of difference. Not that I had a problem with Vince Colletta, mind you. His sparse lines were a pleasant reminder of the glory days of this title. Days which feel so far removed from the recent issues. However, Mooney adds a lot of dimension to the pictures, and great reality. That alone makes the book a little more enjoyable. The story is no great shakes; all the same over the top, universe ending style stuff this book has been stuck in for far too long. Someone is always near their doom and someone else is always waxing Shakespearean over it. As this point, Silas grant and Tana Nile are so negligible to the story, I don’t know why they’re still here.


Monsters Unleashed 2

"Frankenstein 1973"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Buscema and Syd Shores

"Karloff: The Man, The Monster, The
Book review by Tony Isabella

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jesus Blasco

"The Madman"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Bill Everett
(reprinted from Menace #4, June 1953)

"The World's Most Wanted Monster"
text by Martin Pasko

"Sword of Dragonus"
Story by Frank Brunner and Chuck Robinson
Art by Frank Brunner
(reprinted from Phase #1, 1971)

"The Roaches"
Story by Gerry Conway
Adapted from the story by Thomas M. Disch
Art by Ralph Reese

Effective this issue, Monsters Unleashed becomes a Marvel Monster Vehicle, spotlighting a different MM each issue. This time out we get the Frankenstein Monster, magically transported to 1973. Boy wonder neuro-surgeon Derek McDowell has discovered that the sideshow freak floating in a tank of water is none other than the genuine Frankenstein's Monster. Derek decides he really must have the monster to experiment on but his gorgeous fiancé,  has other ideas. Believing the creature to be a rubber fake and not wanting it to come between her and her beau, she sets fire to the tent holding the monster's tank. Her plan goes awry when she, herself, is set ablaze and the monster is unleashed on the carnival grounds, killing scores until an army bazooka puts things right. Those, like me, who've been spoiled by the A+ job Gary Friedrich and Mike Ploog have been doing with The Monster over on the four-color title may find this contemporary version a bit jarring. John Buscema's one of Marvel's top artists but I'm not sure he belongs on this strip. There's a blandness to most of John's pencils here that you won't find on Conan or Fantastic Four. The story, nothing more than an incident, goes nowhere. McDowell's hippy slang feels forced and there's a not so subtle hint of misogyny (Derek backhands his fiancé and constantly berates her) that feels like it might be there just to take advantage of the "PG-13 rating" afforded the B&Ws. The flashback of the monster's history covers only the first four issues so it's up in the air as to whether events that happen post-Monster of Frankenstein #4  will jibe with what's going on here or whether we'll ever get an explanation as to how the monster ended up in the carnival in the first place. Another Ajax bomb to throw into the discussion is the fact that, eventually, events in the four-color title will take place in our present as well. Alternate Frankenstein Monster Universes? We'll see.

Gerry Conway addresses the best way to deal with a dame in 1973

Jesus Blasco successfully auditions for Warren

"Lifeboat" is nothing in the way of original, patched together from all sorts of horror stories, but it's the most obvious example yet of where Marvel wanted to steer their new line of B&Ws. The company must have believed that, with the addition of European artists such as Esteban Maroto, Pablo Marcos, Alfredo Alcala, and Jesus Blasco (whose "Lifeboat" would be his only Marvel work) and the easing of restrictions the new CCA-less magazine line brought, a plundering of Warren's market share was on the horizon. Indeed, Blasco's fine pencil work (which reminded me of Warren mainstay Jose Bea)  would have fit in rather well with Uncle Creepy and Cousin Eerie and the artist later found work at the competitor.

"Sword of Dragonus"

"The Madman" is a fun, if predictable, science fiction tale about a mental patient and the nurse sent to look after him. The nut screeches on about four-armed invaders from the core of the earth, never knowing his protector has been sent up to silence him. The best thing about these reprints, of course, is the vintage art and Bill Everett does not disappoint with his bug-eyed doctors and four-armed babes. For the first timeever (exclaims Roy Thomas in this issue's editorial), Marvel looked outside its own titles to cherry-pick "Sword of Dragonus," a sword and sorcery tale that appeared in a 1970 one-shot fanzine called Phase. I must admit to being astonished at the roll call of Phase's contributors: Dan Adkins, Berni(e) Wrightson, Murphy Anderson, Ken Barr, Rich Buckler, Marv Wolfman, Gray Morrow, and "Dragonus" artist/writer Frank Brunner. Of course, in those early days of fandom, it wasn't unheard of to find a new Jack Kirby illo on the cover of Rocket's Blast but a cursory scan of Phase shows why the starving artists contributed for nothing but comp copies: it was a testing ground that provided a portfolio for the big guys to check out your stuff. No need to hop a plane to Manhattan when The Rascally One was scouring the fan press for new talent. "Dragonus" is an unremarkable Conan knock-off with primitive but stylish art by Frank Brunner. Just a little more refinement and this guy would be ready for the big leagues.

Gerry Conway adapts Thomas M. (as opposed to the "young" Thomas A. that Roy trumpets on the editorial page) Disch's creepy crawly masterpiece, "The Roaches," a short story about a slightly-off young woman, Marcia, who finds she can control cockroaches. The pests of the title, we find, may not be the little bugs but rather the larger humanoid insects that live in the apartments around Marcia. Before anyone shouts out "Hey, haven't I seen that before?" I'll remind that "The Roaches" actually predates Ratman's Notebooks (Willard) by four years. This remains one of the highlights (for me) of the B&W era but I'd caution Gerry that using the same last line (or a variation of such) in two stories in the same issue can raise red flags.

Now if we could just get rid of the worthless pun-filled text pieces. Isabella's review of Denis Gifford's Karloff "bio" is informative (and would read much more scholarly minus the afore-mentioned puns) but Pasko's "examination" of the three Karloff/Universal Frankenstein films reads like a mini-Famous Monsters filmbook. There are no critical comments to speak of but then, considering Pasko sums up Son of Frankenstein with a dismissive "Son loses something of its predecessor's moody atmosphere...", I'd say we were spared an article full of ludicrous statements. This Universal fan wonders if Pasko had even seen Son, a dark, noirish classic dripping with atmosphere and gothic menace. The lack of real journalism in these non-fiction pieces doesn't bode well for a revisit of a childhood fave, Monster of the Movies, Marvel's inevitable answer to Famous Monsters of Filmland. -Peter Enfantino

Also This Month

Beware #4
Chamber of Chills #6
Crypt of Shadows #5
Kid Colt Outlaw #174
Marvel's Greatest Comics #44
Marvel Spectacular #2
Marvel Super-Heroes #38
Marvel Tales #45
Marvel Triple Action #13
Mighty Marvel Western #26
Millie the Model #204
Monsters on the Prowl #25
My Love #25
Rawhide Kid #115
Red Wolf #9 (final issue) ->
Two-Gun Kid #112
Vault of Evil #5
War is Hell #5
Western Gunfighters #17
Where Monsters Dwell #23
Worlds Unknown #3

After limping along for nine issues, the poor-selling Red Wolf is finally put down. The character will be rebooted throughout the years (what Marvel character won't be?) and teamed with Tigra in Marvel Chillers. Of the 22 titles listed above, 17 were composed entirely of reprints and 2 were 50/50 reprint/new material. That leaves three titles, the aforementioned axed Red Wolf, the promo-zine FOOM, and the science fiction anthology, Worlds Unknown (featuring, this month, a faithful adaptation of Harry Bates' "Farewell to the Master," the basis for the film The Day the Earth Stood Still). Incredibly, Larry Lieber was still pumping out original western tales for The Rawhide Kid in 1973. I picture Larry's office hidden away in a corner so the higher-ups won't be able to find and shut him down.
-Peter Enfantino