Wednesday, March 5, 2014

August 1973 Part One: Introducing Mantis!

The Amazing Spider-Man 123
"Just a Man Called Cage!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane, John Romita and Tony Mortellaro

J. Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson watch as the deceased Norman Osborn is carted off, and of course JJJ blames Spider-Man for the death. Meanwhile, the shadowy figure who witnessed the Goblin’s death watches from a nearby rooftop, with the costume he took off of Osborn in hand. JJJ gets a brainstorm when he sees the cover of the Bugle focusing on Luke Cage, Hero for Hire, but first we cut to Gwen Stacy’s funeral. The somber event sees Aunt May remorseful, Flash Thompson apologetic and Robbie making excuses for Jameson, as Mary Jane loyally sticks by Peter’s side. JJJ is instead visiting Luke Cage’s apartment, where he hires him to take down Spider-Man “Dead or Alive!” As Spidey is doing some head-clearing web swinging, Luke Cage tackles him! An increasingly angry Spidey gets the better of the muscled mercenary, as both wax philosophical during their first confrontation. Spidey swings back to the apartment he shares with Harry Osborn, and his mourning roomie only has glares for Peter instead of words (Hmmmm…). At a school concert later that day, Cage breaks in looking for Spidey, and Peter is able to sneak off to change—and round two ensues! Spidey is once again able to gain the edge, and he webs Cage’s hands down so he can educate him on one JJJ—which leads Cage to return the publisher’s money by stuffing it in his mouth! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Another great Romita cover, an event that seems beautifully redundant by now. If only he could still be doing Spidey covers today…. But what’s actually more important to note is the fact that I’ve never read this issue before, having obviously missed it upon first release and the Marvel Tales reprint. The sight of old Normie being carried off on the splash page (what, they didn’t cover the entire corpse in 1973?) is striking and tragic and would be so much more potent if I wasn’t aware that he’s been running around for the past decade in the present Marvel Universe causing problems. I guess you can’t keep a good evil character down, no matter how much you should.

Matthew Bradley: The “Big 100th Issue!” of Marvel Tales warms over the old “Secrets of Spider-Man” featurette from Annual #1 and, inexplicably, throws in a tale by Scott Edelman, Mike Nasser, and Terry Austin that pits Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid against Daredevil foe Killgrave…but if they think that makes up for past indignities, they’ve got another think comin’.  Romita is doing double duty as both penciler and inker, teamed up with Kane and Mortellaro, respectively, so naturally the artwork is top-drawer, although somehow Luke doesn’t look totally Cage-like to me—not that I’m any authority on the character.  Conway’s story is an interesting character study, a good opportunity for Spidey’s self-examination in the wake of Gwen’s death.

Joe: Does Robbie need to stick up for JJJ twice? Does JJJ need to always be such a jackass? No matter, because after the past two issues, this is sure to be a letdown—but turns out to be not so. Cage and Spidey have a couple of evenly-matched tussles, and even a real-life conversation, where the veteran wall-crawler shows the less-experienced hero for hire what it’s all about. Nice fight scenes, solid dialogue, intrigue, suspense, foreshadowing, tragedy, comedy…this one has a little bit of everything, all brilliantly drawn and nicely written.

Scott McIntyre: While no story following the previous two-part masterpiece would live up to expectations, I still found this issue to be a bit of a bummer. I know, it's a super hero comic and fighting super powered dues is the order of business, but I felt getting right back into the thick of things was disappointing. It's not a cheesy super villain, but the usual Marvel Misunderstanding. This time, however, it's more understandable since Peter is in mourning and completely frayed. Once he gets to thinking about it, they come to a meeting of the minds, so to speak. All of this seems to just be a way of getting Cage some spotlight time for his own book.

The more interesting bits involve Peter coping with Gwen's death and his seeing Harry for the first time since Norman was killed. Harry's face is an incredible picture of hatred, which I assume at this point is over Peter's rough dismissal during Harry's acid trip. It's a great scene, very short, but powerful. Speaking of power, Gwen's funeral is a sad and somewhat depressing affair, and rightly so. All the right things were said, and Peter's bitterness toward JJJ is very real. The art by Kane and Romita is top grade. A shame they couldn't stay on the book.

Mark Barsotti: A nice "one 'n' done" tale, "...Just A Man Called Cage!" helps settle the dust after the deaths of Gwen and the Goblin and tweaks the old trope of J. Jonah hiring a mercenary to take down the Web-Head. The death of friend and fellow businessman, Norman Osborn, gives Jameson a better than usual reason to launch an anti-Spidey Jihad, but rather than create a new super-villain (the Scorpion) or have a mad scientist build robots (Spider-Slayers I,II, & III), the dyspeptic publisher hires good guy Luke Cage. The bright bulb idea gets our heroes slugging it out sans formulaic Marvel Mix-up and  promotes another title - that's Gerry Conway really earning his paycheck.

Peter Enfantino: This may be the first issue of Spidey I bought off a newsstand (the 7-11 store on Almaden Expressway, under the church on the hill, for all my old San Jose pals). Imagine how lost I was, coming in right after the one-two punch and not knowing anything about it. Funny how little we 11-year olds knew back then. I guess it must have hooked me though as I bought every issue thereafter until #151 (December 1975) when I took my first sabbatical from comics. Reading this now, I can see why I was so hooked by the title. The story's a winner. You're just waiting for Peter to pop his top; you can almost feel the simmer. I won't even let the standard MARMIS detract from my enjoyment, especially since this MARMIS, unlike a lot of other MARMISes, is a very natural one. Luke's a bad mofo who exists for the dollar (or so everyone thinks) so naturally he'd take the bucks and head after our hero. JJJ with a piehole stuffed full of greenbacks is a treasure. This title is now the best monthly Marvel book and, as I recall, with only a couple hiccups on the horizon, it'll stay that way for a couple of years.

Joe: This month’s favorite sound effect: “KLOUT!”, when Spidey clouts (ahem…) Cage into a chimney. Geez, after all the roofs Doc Ock and Spidey smashed, in another year there won’t be any chimneys left in Manhattan if ASM has its way! Honorable mention to “SPOCK!” Because it’s only logical (ahem…) that Cage would get to land at least one big bad mutha of a punch.

Mark: The Kane-Romita art remains mostly top notch. Sub-plots aplenty as we attend Gwen's funeral, get another peek at the mystery man who removed the Goblin duds to keep dead Norman from being outed as a baddie, check in on sullen & silent Harry (if your "best friend" had ignored your pleas for help while tripping your brains out, you'd be sullen, too), and M.J. continuing to buck up Peter in his grief, all worked in between two short but effective good guy punch-ups. Sure, Conway cheats a little by leaving out what Spidey told Luke, but I'll let that slide for the image of Jolly Jonah with his mouth stuffed with cash.


Astonishing Tales 19
Ka-Zar in
"... And Men Shall Name Him -- Victorius!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Dan Adkins, Jim Starlin, and Jack Abel

Zabu playfully wakes Ka-Zar in time for him to get a phone call from Bobbi Morse about his departure—but then she’s attacked, and the Jungle Lord races to her side! Turns out crusty old Prof. Conrad, having taken the super-solider serum, is now the ax-wielding Victorius! Ka-Zar arrives a couple of minutes too late to stop Victorius and Gemini from taking Bobbi, so he heads to Nick Fury, learning Agent Morse has a transmitter through which S.H.I.E.L.D. can track her. Complete with super-solider serum, K-Z parachutes down to the villains’ castle lair—but throws the serum away, wanting to rely on his own strength. After some silly posturing and bragging by the bad guys, Lord Plunder is met by brother Ka-Zar and knocked out. Then, K-Z takes out Gemini before dealing with Victorius, who almost bests him. As Bobbi runs off to nab the serum K-Z tossed away, Victorius lurks behind the Jungle Lord with ax in hand! —Joe Tura

Joe: Is it odd that I found this issue, although overwritten and slightly messy, one of the best Ka-Zar tales yet? We start with a decent Romita cover, but with completely different colors for the Victorius costume then on the inside. Then we get a whole lot of K-Z blathering for no reason other than to hear himself talk—even inner dialogue with dozens of captions at once. But I didn’t mind for once. And I’m not sure why! Decent action, decent suspense, some playful K-Z teasing of Zabu, and a dumb but nasty villain in Victorius.

My favorite K-Z dialogue has to be the way he tells Zabu that “It’s early”, but the Jungle Lord’s way to do it is “Morning’s sun has barely filtered through the man-made fog that shrouds the sky!” Hilarious! And the Adkins-Abel art is OK. Nothing Savage Land-shattering, but still OK. And Prof. Matthew will be stoked to know Jim Starlin penciled the last four pages, “stepping in on a crisis”.

Doc Savage 6
"Where Giants Walk!"
Story by Gardner F. Fox
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia

 A monstrous hand crunches Doc’s plane mid-flight, and the Savage gang narrowly evade the infernal giants lurking in the lake.  On foot they investigate the scene of the original crime, the trapper’s cabin, when a huntsman opens fire at them.  A pursuing Doc “swing[s] from branch to branch,” but quicksand claims his quarry – it is the hired slayer who gunned down the trapper’s friend outside Doc’s doorway.  A clue in the corpse’s wallet leads Doc to a mill where the killer was next headed.  There he finds railroad magnate Griswold Rock, lured there by a faked telegram purporting to be from Doc.  

Doc and his party piece the puzzle together.  This monster gang murdered the trapper when he stumbled on the giants’ lair, then too his friend before warning anybody.  A bio-chemical genius, Pere Teston, invented a growth formula that, instead of raising massive food crops and farm animals to end world hunger, was given to released criminals to turn them into nightmarish giants.  Once Rock’s employee, Teston now threatens America’s cities with “destruction by monster!” if they refuse to pay him off.  

With his mighty crew, Doc takes to the skies in the autogyro, only to crash-dive into the lake after tangling with the gang’s fighter-plane.  From the downed fighter they rescue Jean Morris – the lion-tamer held captive to train monsters – but are quickly surrounded by armored giants who imprison them in a pit at a hidden island stronghold.  Doc sows dissent in the gang’s ranks, shouting from the hole that “there’s no antidote for that human growth formula,” “your criminal friends [will] remain monsters...forever!,” “Your boss ... used you for his own ends!,” and “Are you going to let him get away with that?”  Enraged monsters battle mobsters without noticing the escapees, and one falling “big boy” crashes into a chlorine gas tank, unleashing deadly vapor shortly after Doc’s party swims to safety.  Once ashore, Doc pronounces “the danger’s over!  Everyone on that island is dead!

It turns out the organization’s leader was not Teston but Rock, the monsters wholly his brainstorm.  Standing above Rock’s lifeless body, Doc pronounces him “a greedy man who used his wealth...not to help his fellow man...but to rob and steal...even making monsters out of men that he might grow richer.  Now he has paid the penalty for his insatiable greed.”  He turns to the innocent Teston and declares, “I will personally finance your growth experiments -- for your formula might one day end all starvation -- and yield gigantic harvests that will...atone for the evil unleashed here today!”  
-Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: At times the storyline here becomes a little convoluted, even disjointed, probably one of the inevitable hazards of compressing a 138-page novel into a mere two issues, especially a densely-plotted mystery adventure.  Things also begin to feel a bit familiar, even overly repetitious in two instances.  The lab, the massive monster’s deadly crash onto dangerous equipment, the swim marathon escape – this action sequence just appeared in the “Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars” storyline in Creatures on the Loose #18.  Then there is the nefarious transportation tycoon with a secret mastermind identity, his mansion just outside Manhattan, as well as his own crime cabal, three elements found in the previous Death in Silver adaptation.  

In better news, Doc Savage swings from tree to tree with his “mightily muscled arms,” explicitly illustrating Lester Dent’s own words that he “took...Tarzan of the Apes’ towering physique and muscular ability” for one of the many superhuman attributes of his Man of Bronze.  Adapter Gardner F. Fox (along with artists Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia) plays this up in the woodlands chase panels, and all that is missing is the king-of-the-jungle holler.  Fox makes a particularly good fit for Doc Savage, thanks to his being a pulpateer contemporary of Dent’s.  He also does a fine job emphatically contrasting Doc’s noble stewardship of his fortune (funding super-science for the benefit of mankind) with Rock’s base methods of acquisition (murder, extortion, and greed as its own end) and inhuman application of wealth and science (genetic engineering).  

Andru and Giacoia never do finally resolve their spatial inconsistencies from last issue – the giants are described as having “hands the size of automobiles,” but yet one fits into a truck?  Artistic liberty, or does “Time and Relative Dimension in Space” technology render it bigger on the inside than out?  What the art does have going for it, however, is Doc’s eccentric “autogyro” (last presented by Andru and Jim Mooney in issue #1), a brilliantly-rendered whirlybird gizmo that could easily have emerged from the same factory as Thongor’s Nemedis airship in Creatures on the Loose #24.  Les Daniels, in his comprehensive Batman: The Complete History (a gift from Professor Bradley), credits Fox with providing Batman his Batgyro in Detective Comics #31 (September 1939).  Additionally, Daniels writes that “...Fox seems to have started the concept of Batman’s ever expanding arsenal,” sending Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s comic-book Caped Crusader to follow in the footsteps of pulp crime-fighting gadgeteer Clark Savage, Jr.  

From his Weird Tales and Marvel Science Stories fiction to his Batman and Sandman tales, Marvel’s choice of Fox for their Doc Savage adaptations is inspired tribute to the Golden Age of both pulp and comics.  

The Avengers 114
"The Night of the Swordsman!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Mike Esposito

The Scarlet With continues to seethe over the public's reaction toward her romance with the android Vision, as well as the rejection by her own brother, Quicksilver. After Cap and Iron Man test the Vision's recovery in mock combat, their referral to him as an android just makes her flip out further, so Wanda goes out for some fresh air. This proves to be an unfortunate decision, as she runs into horny construction workers who say the wrong thing about her love life. She floors the guy with her hex power, but he slaps her silly and knocks her to the ground. Suddenly, Mantis appears and kicks the crap out of the guy. Afterward, Mantis escorts Wanda to the mansion, which gets everyone's back up. For good reason, as just behind them is the Sowrdsman, who has been hanging with Mantis, who has convinced him to attempt to rejoin the team. Cap is adamant his request be rejected, but logically, everyone else points out the team has a few ex-criminals in their ranks. So, grudgingly, Cap goes with the majority and Swordsman is on probationary status. Mantis wishes to remain at his side without membership and with everyone's agreement, gives them all sweet kisses. In the days that follow, Swordsman proves himself an able and trustworthy member of the team. Just as this happens, word leaks that Hawkeye is back in town and Swordsman is cranky about it. Shortly, however, a plot emerges: Mantis and Swordsman have done all of this in order to gain enough trust to launch a sneak attack, bringing the revived Lion God into the mansion and helping him attack the team. Or are they? Apparently, this was all a clever ruse to get the Lion God into the mansion so the team could defeat him. With this done, the Avengers show their gratitude, but Cap is still wary. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A lot of twisting and turning to try to get us off guard, and for the most part it works pretty well. I admit to being fooled into thinking this was all a trap and was actually disappointed to see Mantis and Swordsman bringing the lackluster Lion God into the mansion to do bad things to good people. It also felt like a lot of effort to convince us they were trustworthy only to switch it up so suddenly. However, like Cap, I am wary. I was convinced Mantis' kisses were some type of "Poison Ivy" spell casting, but apparently not. Also, were Mantis and Swordsy behind the construction worker attack, or did they just happen to luck into an opportunity to save Wanda? And since when can an Avenger be nearly defeated by some dude off the street? I guess she's "only a girl." I'm not as well versed in Avengers lore, so I'll see how this all plays out as it happens. However, for the second time, Cap is on hand for the Avengers, but in his own book is on his cycle driving across the country. So much for Marvel Continuity.

Matthew: While almost nobody was less eager than I to see the Lion God return, for the purposes of this particular story, noteworthy as our first full introduction to Mantis, it was probably handy to have a villain who could be polished off in a couple of pages.  I’m a little surprised that Englehart, to say nothing of the Swordsman himself, wasn’t afraid of an inverted boy-who-cried-lion—er, wolf effect regarding Swordy’s intentions.  Always liked that cover, with the symbolic disparity in the size of the characters, although I’ve just noticed Mantis’s preposterously narrow waist; as for the Esposito-embellished interior art, the faces remain uneven, but the quality (or at least the suitability) of Brown’s inkers seems to be on the upswing.

Scott: Weirdly, the Vision seems to need to "recover" from wounds like a human, in the extent that he needs to be tested in battle. I guess this makes some sort of sense. More sense than having Cap and Iron Man punch each other in a boxing cross-fire. They're smarter than that, and wouldn't Cap have hurt his hand punching Iron Man in the steel jaw? The art is still a step up from Don Heck, so I'm digging it. However, he doesn't do Wanda any favors. She got hit with the ugly hex.

Conan the Barbarian 29
“Two Against Turan!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

Conan strides into Aghrapur, the capital of Turan. When the Cimmerian mocks a wooden idol of The Living God Tarim, he is attacked by a group of sword-wielding zealots. While he manages to slay most of them, the warrior is ultimately rescued by Ormraxes of Iranistan, who leads him to safety. As the duo catch their breaths, Turian guards looking for Ormraxes pounce: he is captured and Conan is knocked unconscious. When he awakes, Conan is under the care of a masked man who tells him that Ormraxes is held in the castle of King Yildiz. Owing the Iranistanian his life, the Cimmerian agrees to mount a rescue. Killing a platoon of guards, Conan frees and delivers Ormraxes to the masked man who reveals that he is the Iranistanian’s double. The doppelganger boasts that he is the wizard Eithriall and that Ormraxes is merely his astral body, sent to spy on Turan. When they reunite using the power of an occult gem, Eithriall will become invincible and destroy Turan — and the rest of the world soon to follow. But before the incantation is complete, Conan destroys the jewel, and Eithriall and his spiritual double are engulfed in flames. Turian soldiers burst into the room and offer the heroic barbarian a position in one of their special units. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Echoes from the epic siege of Makkalet (issues 19 to 26) reverberate throughout this issue, as Conan find himself in Aghrapur, the capital of Turan, home of Prince Yezdigerd. Plus, his distain of the Tarim gets him into a scrape once again. The bold barbarian agrees to join the Turan army at the end, even though a meeting with the vengeful Yezdigerd — still away attempting to plunder eastern lands — would seem likely. It’s a bit confusing why Eithriall’s spirit double would bother to help the Cimmerian in beginning, though Roy indicates that the astral being became “lost” after outside the wizard’s body for such an extended period of time, so perhaps that explains it. The comic is based on Robert E. Howard’s “Two Against Tyre,” an unfinished story featuring Eithriall the Gaul, first published in 1970. Judging by the art, I would guess that Big John only provided layouts because Chua’s style is strong. Or perhaps Buscema was merely slacking off considering that the story is not very inspiring. And it is highly doubtful that a comic could get away with using the term “slant-eyed wenches” in this day and age. On a side note, I never saw it coming that, one day, I would type the words “Ormraxes is held in the castle of King Yildiz.”

Incredible Hulk 166
"The Destroyer From the Dynamo!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Sal Trapani

In New York City, a group of radicals has blown up an electrical plant, inadvertently, creating a living monster composed of electricity. Calling itself Zzzax, the creature feeds off the energy of human brains. While Zzzax is rampaging throughout New York, the Hulk has just swam returned from the ocean. Passing out on the dock, he transforms back into Bruce Banner. The former Avenger named Hawkeye attempts to stop Zzzax to prove to the world that he can cut it as a solo hero. When Zzzax stumbles upon Banner, he tries to kill him, causing the panicked doctor to revert back into his monstrous alter ego. It's a three-way rumble as both the Hulk and Hawkeye try to stop the electrical beast. Hawkeye figures out a way to defeat the electrical beast by shooting him with a conductive arrow. Zzzax perishes as the wired arrow goes through him and lands in the water. Hawkeye's celebration is bittersweet since the citizens believe it was the Hulk that vanquished the monster. As all this is going on, a small team of clandestine soldiers, lead by Major Talbot and Colonel Armbruster, are able to free General Ross from his Russian prison. The mission doesn't go off flawlessly as Talbot is shot and taken prisoner while the rest of the gang flies back home. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: In the Hulk's large and ever-expanding rogues gallery, Zzzax would be a part of the B-team. The oddly looking creature will make several more appearances in the Marvel Universe over the years but never really caught on as a top villain. Part of that can be blamed on his lazy origin story which was pretty uncreative. Most of the Hulk's other enemies have had interesting stories to describe their background and how they came to be. Hawkeye was a welcome addition to this issue since the Hulk's dumb caveman personality can only carry a story for so long. I am a little surprised he wasn't advertised on the cover.

Matthew: Zzzax’s return (Spoiler Alert!) in #183—it’s pretty pathetic that I knew that number off the top of my head, isn’t it?—was one of the earliest issues I owned, yet while that was admittedly no masterpiece, I still found his first appearance here a bit of a retroactive disappointment, à la Nightshade in Captain America.  Yes, I love me my Hawkeye, but he’s still pretty much stuck in jerk-mode, so this is more like a three-way fight than a misplaced Marvel Team-Up, of which there is oddly not even a hint on the cover.  And newlywed Herb Trimpe’s rendition, which sadly marks inker Sal Trapani’s swan song on the book, isn’t about to make me forget Hawk’s co-creator, Don Heck, who in all fairness truly knew how to buckle Clint’s swash.

Scott: Hawkeye is my least favorite Avenger at this point. He's annoying as all hell and hasn't been particularly interesting even when he was Goliath. He doesn't win any points here and Zzax isn't all that much fun either. More gripping is the subplot to rescue General Ross from Russia, as Armbruster and Talbot lead the team. Armbruster is a bit of a nut, and Talbot gets to do some decent soldiering for a change. I'm assuming the Hulk proclaimed he was home because he reached the states and not New York. And does he really consider anyplace "home?" He's always hunted and hounded and whatever. Nice to see he hates bad smells. Again, another step in the childlike direction he will take even more over the months and years ahead. Laughs at Hawkeye's expense for not getting the recognition he feels he deserves. The guy is such a tool. I mistakenly believed Jack Abel was starting this issue, but he arrives next time. Huzzah! Still, Sam T did good work and it was appreciated.

Adventure Into Fear 15
The Man-Thing in
"From Here to Infinity!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Frank McLaughlin

Madness has possessed the peoples of Earth--man fighting man over imagined wrongs. Only the Florida town where Joshua Kale lives with his grandchildren Jennifer and Andy seems immune, until they hear word that the Man-Thing has gone berserk in the streets! They head to aid him, but the Man-Thing mysteriously dies. While Jennifer goes to the swamp to mourn the loss of her friend, Joshua calls together the members of the Cult of Zhered-Na. They meditate back on the history of their late leaders fate. Zhered-Na was once a sorceress in Atlantis, and for preaching that it would one day sink beneath the sea, she was exiled, sent out to sea. Her boat miraculously reached land, where she found an outlying Atlantean colony and sought to form a group who shared her beliefs. Though successful, she was blamed for an earthquake, and an opposing group killed her and many of her disciples. A few escaped, and from their beliefs eventually came the Tome, recently missing from Joshua Kale’s cult, and now stolen by demons. The last of Zhered-Na’s disciples, the wizard Dakimh appears to Jennifer. The Man-Thing isn’t really dead; he just made it appear that way so the three of them could save their strength to fight the coming demon invasion. They go to a far-off land, where they find the Tome, guarded by a fire creature. While the Man-Thing fights it, Jennifer grabs the Tome, which returns them to our world. Here the Man-Thing has the upper hand, and wins. Sadly, the psychic link between Jennifer and the Man-Thing is also broken; having been forged by the now departed forces that had lain in the swamp. -Jim Barwise

Jim: This is another fine issue. We cleverly get to witness the origin of Zhered-Na, thus understanding Joshua and his present day cult. Dakimh the Enchanter is seen to have a real purpose. Sadly the Man-Thing and Jennifer lose their psychic link, but I doubt the connection will be gone forever. Could she be Zhered-Na’s reincarnation? And the drawing of a few of the short-lived Convair B-58 Hustlers on the opening page add a little aviation history to the mix.

Peter: I'm not on board just yet thanks to all the inter-dimensional mumbo-jumbo but I'll hang in there cuz it's getting close to the station where I first boarded this title. I remember there's some very interesting stuff coming up but, as of yet, Steve hasn't given me anything to sink my teeth into.

Matthew: With this issue, Fear not only drops the horror reprints to give rising star Man-Thing the entire book but also goes monthly, although when Manny graduates to his own mag and is replaced by Morbius in #20, it reverts to a bimonthly.  Gerber, Mayerik, and inker du jour Frank McLaughlin rise to the occasion, while Manny himself ironically takes a back seat to the history of Atlantean sorceress Zhered-Na and her infamous tome.  Now that I’ve repeatedly complained about how the Gerber-scripted “Tales of Atlantis” back-up feature in Sub-Mariner has nothing to do with the rest of the Marvel Universe, who should pop up (sans footnote) but Emperor Kamuu, dismissing Zhered-Na’s Cassandra-like warnings that the continent will sink beneath the waves?

Mark: I own one issue of Giant-Size Man-Thing, bought off the rack for the Howard the Duck back-up feature, but a semi-sentient, shambling Mud-Thing was too esoteric and off-the-wall for me back in the day. Now, appreciating Steve Gerber as perhaps the loosest cannon in the '70's Marvel Bullpen, I'm ready to wade into the swamp.

The topsy-turvy world in conflict opening - national guard troops firing on White House protesters demanding the Prez resume the war – sets a through the looking glass darkly tone before we meet Joshua Kale and his grandkids. Andy looks a lot like Jimmy Olsen (must be the freckles), while Jennifer rocks the barely-dressed Atlantian princess look when she and Manny do the time-warp again, off to the Dark Domain, courtesy of enchanter Dakimn. There's crucifixion imagery, hellfire, and Manny battling a molten rock creature. But his victory breaks the psychic link between him and Jennifer, and for all I know this is her last appearance. Fun so far, jumping into a forty year old title, completely in the dark.

In Gerber we trust.

Fantastic Four 137
"Rumble on Planet 3"
Story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

The being known as the Shaper has created a world from the mind of Slugger Johnson—a 1950’s variation where “youthies” ride flying bikes and the “patriots” fire blasters. The Torch and Medusa have been brainwashed into thinking Ben and Reed are their enemies, as both search for the “Brain;” who has a perceived weapon that each side seeks. While the latter team members waste time fighting the misled former, Slugger Johnson tells the Shaper he isn’t happy with the form his vision has taken. The Shaper reluctantly obliges his wish to pull out all the stops—in the form of a giant known as the Warhead, who walks right out of a drive-in movie screen! The common enemy jolts Johnny and Medusa back to themselves, as everyone joins to fight the common enemy. They drive the warhead back into the movie screen, which dissolves into nothing. The black members of the Patriots see themselves as the conscience of both sides, who also all dissolve. The Shaper apologizes to the FF; he didn’t realize that Slugger Johnson (who he has placed in a world where he can’t harm anyone) wasn’t worthy of having his dreams made real. Instead he sends the FF back to the Fantasti-Car, where all this started. He will provide Gregory Gideon’s son Thomas with freedom from his disease, and make his dreams real for a time. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Part two of the Shaper tale is as confusing as last month's. I can’t help but think that if Thomas Gideon had had his dreams made real for the story it would have been much more interesting, although maybe they wouldn’t have the conflict that Johnson’s dreams provide. The Warhead is almost incidental, but ultimately resolves the conflict by uniting everyone.

Matthew: So we conclude this two-parter “conceived and edited” by outgoing (for now) writer Roy and scripted by successor Gerry, but once again, despite the cool  “Buscinnott” artwork, especially that dazzling splash page and the awesome shot of the Shaper on page 10, the whole thing leaves me pretty cold.  Hate to tell you this, guys, but the ’50s were the sixth decade of the twentieth century, not the fifth.  Ben is certainly far from off-base when he describes Warhead as looking “like a cross between Sputnik an’ King Kong,” although I’ve always found him (it?) more reminiscent of the immortal Ro-Man from that 1953 masterpiece of Bad Cinema, Robot Monster, a temporal reference that would hardly be out of place in this story’s time period.

Mark: "Rumble on Planet 3" is better than remembered, if not the epic it might have been. The Fifties mash-up remains entertaining enough thanks to the Shaper fast-shuffling reality, morphing Slugger Johnson from Brandoesque Biker Wildman to The Brain (Einstein in a high castle) to B.E.M the Warhead, emerging from a drive-in screen, that you might not notice the big stakes raised last ish come to little.

Scott: A fun wrap up to the Shaper trilogy, with some moral lessons thrown in for good measure. Thomas' inclusion at the end seems more like a side note than anything servicing the character, but it's nice to know he'll be okay. The homage to Robot Monster is hysterical and well played. A pleasantly drawn issue, with lots of action. A good, but not great, ending to a good, but not great, arc. I'm tired of Johnny's red costume, though.

Mark: America recast as Lords of Flatbush Greaser culture vs. Senator McHammer's (McCarthy)'s Patriots is a great-set. Mix in an almost invisible black underclass, and Gerry Conway could have riffed for another issue or two on the gestating late Fifties Generation Gap, authority vs. rebellion, all underscored with the original sin of American apartheid, with a divided FF caught in the middle! Instead, Gerry plays small ball with plotter Roy Thomas' world, quickly bringing punks and squares together to defeat the Warhead. Then the brothers show up to announce the Sixties. The end, save for a coda where the Sharper exiles Slugger to some netherworld and vanishes with Thomas Gideon, to cure the boy's cancer and sup on his more-noble (one hopes) dreams. Decent enough stuff as far as it goes, and I liked the downbeat final panel, but this was rich soil, largely wasted.

The Defenders 7
"War Below the Waves!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Bolle

Namor and the Valkyrie, en route to the house of Dr. Strange, find the Hulk tossing around a mouthy Hawkeye, former Avenger. A few fists and words later, they get the story: the bowman was curious about Hulk’s affiliation with the wizard. They invite him along, finding Stephen Strange absent. Wong and Clea, though busy on their own, invite them in. Hawkeye is brought up to speed on the Defenders, as a knock at the door reveals one of Namor’s fellow Atlanteans. He warns them that Attuma, Subby’s archenemy, is close to invading the surface world in Atlantic City. The team heads that way, getting to the beach just as Attuma’s hordes attack. He has somehow gained control over sea creatures like dolphins, which strike Namor in a spot that renders him helpless and temporarily vulnerable. Attuma puts him in specially designed shackles, forcing the other Defenders to surrender (except Hulk who has fled in disgust). Aboard his craft, they are taken to Attuma’s new castle.  Attuma has also captured marine biologist Dr. Jennings, who, along with his new partner the Red Ghost (!!) will enable him to create a dolphin army to gain control of Atlantis first, then the surface world. Val and Hawkeye break out of their cells, nab Jennings, and soon find Namor. He is, however, now a mindless slave of Attuma and the Ghost, ready to do battle. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Hawkeye has always been one of my least favourite Avengers, but he and the Hulk provide some humour to start us off. Attuma is likewise not especially interesting, but the plot (another variation on "kidnap a leading scientist and use his knowledge"), while none too original, provides enough changes of scene to be interesting. The cast remains different enough to be fresh.

"O, Professor Wertham,
Where art Thou?"
Scott: The Hulk calls Hawkeye "purple man" even though he's mostly blue. Then again, Jade Jaws has
a purple fixation. The Hulk is hysterical in this issue. Laughing at the spectacle of Hawkeye fighting Namor and Valkyrie and then taking off simply because he didn't like the last time he was on a "water ship." Attuma and The Red Ghost are a mismatched pair and lower tier villains if there ever were any. A fun issue, if nothing else.

Matthew: Hawkeye’s peregrinations exemplify Englehart’s commendable continuity: first he was the catalyst for the Avengers/Daredevil crossover, and now his stint here directly follows his guest-shot in this month’s Hulk—Steve even cites his latest series to explain Doc’s absence, and he’s just getting warmed up!  Our Pal Sal is certainly no stranger to Clint, so it’s a relief to see Hawk looking like himself, and his brief tenure as a Defender inaugurates the effective use of the non-team’s loose “membership.”  Speaking of peregrinations, Wein increases his ubiquity by scripting the second half of Steve’s plot, but despite some decent inks from Frank Bolle and the presence of ol’ fave Attuma, something indefinable about this promising issue did not gel for me.

Daredevil and the Black Widow 102
"Stilt-Man Stalks the City!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Syd Shores and Frank Giacoia

While swinging through the city looking for Angar the Screamer, DD instead overhears a conversation instead between some thugs…and Wilbur Day, aka, the Stilt Man. The thugs have delivered some equipment to Day, and Matt breaks into their hideout, quickly handling the thugs, but Wilbur eludes him. Matt later brings Natasha up to speed on the Stilt Man, who has kidnapped William Klaxton and his daughter Barbara. Stilty needs Klaxton to modify the molecular condenser that he stole from William, to make it a weapon on a larger scale. DD and the Widow do an after-hours search in the library for any information that might help them, and they find it in the learning of the kidnapping. While Daredevil searches for Klaxton by heartbeat, Natasha finds and tackles the Stilt Man. She fares well (while Matt finds Klaxton), but is hurt by a blast as she hangs from her line. DD topples him just in time, and then saves the Widow. The two heroes head off to breakfast with Barbara and William.  -Jim Barwise

Jim: I found the slight style change in Claremont’s writing to be a welcome one. And surprise, Syd Shores’ art found me not missing Gene Colan (for the moment), reminding me of Johnny Romita at times. The relationship between Matt and Natasha seems almost ideal, yet something keeps it from igniting the way the sparks would indicate. Too bad the Widow didn’t finish off Stilty by herself.

Obligatory MU Headlights Shot #43
Matthew: This could give fill-ins a good name, marking the first solo credit for Chris Claremont, who even manages to slip in an obligatory reference to “Pete” Corbeau, although how DD knows him is anybody’s guess.  A Stilt-Man story seems a good testing ground for a fledgling writer; the actual battle—for once accurately depicted on the cover—is relatively brief, but Chris introduces enough elements to keep us interested, like reviving the Day/Klaxton rivalry (albeit renaming the latter from Carl to William), and brings back the Hornhead who can pick a single heartbeat out of an entire city.  On any given weekday, Giacoia remains one of Marvel's most reliable inkers, and here does right by the pencils of Syd Shores, who died on June 3, 1973.

Scott: Nothing special, the work by Syd Shores is competent without being memorable. Stilt-Man is an odd villain; weirdly iconic while ridiculous. I mean…Stilt-Man. A man on stilts. And it is stretching credibility that villains who busted DD's hump in New York would wind up doing the same thing in California. Also, Matt and Natasha's sniping is getting tiresome. I liked the change of locale when it happened, but there's little interesting happening here. Time to move back, DD. Foggy misses ya.

Captain America and the Falcon 164
"Queen of the Werewolves"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Alan Weiss and John Romita

Nightshade is directing a bunch of werewolves as they attack a guy in a Captain America costume. Meanwhile, Cap and the Falcon are motoring to Maryland to help Falcon's old friend Mel who put out a call for help. They get to Grimrock Prison, where Mel is incarcerated, and they are attacked by werewolves. Cap meets Nightshade, who is really more of a little girl playing games than some deadly villainess. However, she has captured the Falcon and given him a serum to turn him into a werewolf. As Cap and monstrous Sam fight, the Yellow Claw rears his ugly head as the man with the plan; he's looking for new allies and he determines Nightshade will not be once since these wolves cannot defeat Captain America. He leaves Nightshade to her own devices and escapes. SHIELD arrives to come to the rescue. Nightshade leads her minions to suicide as they leap off the tower to thud one by one against the rocks below. Sam returns to normal when the sun rises and reveals the guy killed in the Cap costume was Mel. Nick Fury begins to brief the guys on what the Yellow Claw has been doing.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: This is all worth it for the hysterical depiction of Nick Fury at the top of page 22. "All right you chicken-scratchin' yahoos!" In his furry combat gear and the godawful body positioning, I swear I literally and figuratively wet myself when I saw this the first time. He's got a little toy rifle that's not braced and a six-shooter pointing nowhere all while he looks like he's holding back a wave of violent diarrhea. WAH-HOO! The art by Alan Lee Weiss, who did decent work in Daredevil, is an abomination, some of the worst rendering I've seen since Al Hartley scratched out Journey into Mystery #90.

Peter: I actually didn't think the art was horrible (I mean, come on, Professor Scott, would you rather it was The Tusk?) but it had its share of inconsistencies. The faux Cap at the beginning of the story has a clean-shaven mug (check it out, I dare you) but then by page four we're told there's no way this could be the real Cap, after all, he's got stubble! As for the story, it's not Grade-A Englehart but Grade-B Stainless is better than most Marvel writers on their best days. I liked that the plot alternated between goofy and dead serious. Nightshade is a complex chick, part Lolita, part deadly diva. I would like to know what happened to the nattily-dressed Nick Furry (as in furry vest) after he hit the scene and promised to kick all kinds of werewolf behind. Evidently, the threat was enough for Nightshade and Nick took a nap under a tree for the rest of the story. And, not to beat a dead horse, what the hell was Weiss thinking when he portrayed Nick Fury impersonating George Michael dressing as Cher and channeling one of the Village People?

Mark: This is a weird one, so much so that I double-checked to make sure it was penned by Stainless. 'Tis true, so we can only speculate that one of the more adventurous Bullpeners like Starlin musta spiked Englehart's cocoa with something from Jerry Garcia's go-bag. You'd think the Falcon becoming a werewolf would be the strangest thing about it - Marvel's newfound freed-from-the-Comics-Code taste for monsters run amok like Frankie with a fresh 20,000 volts – but nope, Sam going full-tilt Larry Talbot (with nary a full moon in sight) is just the beginning.

Matthew: My inexplicable soft spot for Nightshade dates to the 1975 interregnum between Englehart and Kirby, during which I began buying Marvels religiously; I guess I have nostalgic affection for almost anything from that period, even if it was drawn by Frank Robbins.  This beautiful, if largely inaccurate, Romita cover only increases my disappointment with the interior art, confirming that I am not a big fan of guest artist (and, per Steve’s website, co-plotter) Alan Lee Weiss.  The story is a haphazard assemblage of oddments—the Claw seems as likely to have bankrolled Woody Allen as he was Nightshade—but the true WTF moment occurs when Fury arrives, dressed like he’s auditioning for Karloff’s role in a remake of Son of Frankenstein.

No, really, this is what a super-spy would wear!

Scott: The story itself feels like a Werewolf By Night cast-off. Sam is reverted to normal thanks to the rising sun, but there's no worry that he'll transform again. Nightshade leads her followers to their death and it's made pretty clear she met the same fate. However, she'll be back. Cap makes a reference to Kung Fu while using Judo, so I can only assume it's more a reference to the popular TV series than the martial art itself. I could go on about how terrible this all is, but let's just say this issue is just a major cluster frack. Time to cut my losses, you chicken scratchin' yahoos.

Mark: Alan Weiss' art is uneven but on the whole excellent, particularly his depiction of the Yellow Claw and new bad girl Nightshade, who dresses like a stripper and packs a rod (holstered to her bikini bottom), neither of which explains her chemistry set chops at cooking up "werewolf serum." Despite her shaggy offspring having killed Sam's old friend convict Mel (while dressed as Cap) at a prison/spooky castle on a hill (don't ask), the real Cap, in thrall to his "little wing-head," thinks she's "like a little girl, posing, playing grown-up." And like any little girl, she starts bawling when YC abruptly withdraws his patronage when Cap prevails, then ascends to the highest turret (every prison has one) and throws herself off, ordering her pack of transformed cons to follow her to their ker-splat  deaths. Adding to the mondo-bizarreness, Weiss' wolfies are more comically absurd than scary, but the oddest thing is Nick Fury showing up, dressed like a refuge from Conan in sleeveless animal-skin top and thigh-high boots topped with a fur-fringe, wielding a sub-machine gun in one hand, ivory-handled six shooter in the other.

Proof that the Seventies were as weird as their rep.  


  1. Spidey's clash with Luke Cage can't really be chalked up as a "standard misunderstanding" in that for all Luke knew JJJ, a well-heeled newspaper publisher, was on the up and up and Spider-Man really did kill Norman Osborne (oh, and did Robertson keep quiet about Spider-Man asking him about warehouses owned by Osborne last ish? If as I've seen speculated previously, Robertson suspected that Spidey was really Peter Parker, I can see why he might keep the reason for Spidey's visit to himself). Anyhow, as far as Luke Cage was concerned he was taking on a legitimate job and Spidey was just another thug to take down. Putting it like that makes me realize this was just a preview of what would come 6 issues later.

  2. Back to the issues at hand here, ASM 123 was my introduction to Luke Cage -- I didn't start collecting his mag regularly until a couple of years later. Overall, a very good issue, dealing with some of the aftermath of the deaths of Gwen & Norman (before Marvel shifted to another reality in which the evil elder Osborne didn't really die after all). Flash's speech to Peter was rather touching -- a great example of how characters did not have to remain static at Marvel, as over in Marvel Tales we could see reprints from about 8 years before wherein Flash was still mostly an obnoxious lout, but even then no longer the big bully of a few years before that. Prior to leaving Spidey, Stan allowed Flash to grow into a more considerate, thoughtful human being,and it really shows here. I'd rate this mag the best of this week's bunch.
    Of the rest, I only got Ka-Zar, the FF, Avengers & Defenders, which were all entertaining enough if not particularly great. At this point, the Swordsman was entirely new to me and his arrival along with Mantis was an interesting development, as was Hawkeye's involvement with the Defenders. I liked it that while the Defenders had core recurring characters, others would also show up as needed or even just for the heck of it. Swordsman had to prove himself with the Avengers, naturally because he had been a villain who had tried to kill them several times before, but Hawkeye shows up in the Defenders simply because he's curious about what the Hulk has to do with Dr. Strange, and, hey, if you want to hang out or come along while we check out this latest threat, you're a Defender for as long as you want to be!

  3. Mr. Hill,

    Good comments; thanks for sharing. We agree on Luke Cage in Spidey (per my comments), it wasn't a "misunderstanding" at all. J.J. hired Cage to take down the Spider; it was a straight business deal and worked better than the standard "I thought you were a Skrull" bit.

  4. ASM 123 was the oldest issue of the series I owned. Didn't pick it up on the stands but scored a copy when I went through my mad dash to score back issues in about 1976 or so.

  5. I remember looking forward to reading CA #164 when I saw Alan Weiss' name - he'd done a pretty good job on that single issue of Daredevil - but having read it, decided that Bill Everett's inks must have had something to do with it. Weiss' figures have always had a slightly odd contorted look that made them look awkward (for some reason Howard Chaykin's work up till the late 70s had a similar look), something that's continued to this day.

    I always liked those two 50s-inspired issues of the Fantastic Four, too - seemed like an antidote to the 50s nostalgia that was doing the rounds back in the day (though many of the references went over my head till later years).