Wednesday, March 19, 2014

September 1973 Part One: The Avengers/Defenders War Begins!

The Amazing Spider-Man 124
"The Mark of the Man-Wolf"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro

On a rainy night in Manhattan, Spider-Man stops to read the headlines about him, especially the hateful Daily Bugle. At said Bugle, publisher J. Jonah Jameson is spewing venom about Spidey to Joe Robertson when his retired astronaut son John enters for a visit, wanting to introduce dad to fiancée Kristine Saunders, but seems a bit ill when the pendant around his neck glows slightly. Spidey changes into civvies and heads to class to try and restore some normalcy to his life, but the scar of losing Gwen is too fresh and he heads out, stressed, with Mary Jane following and Flash confronting him about Harry, both of which make Peter angrier. Cut to John Jameson, stumbling out of his brownstone and changing into a Man-Wolf! The wolf heads off across the rooftops in search of someone…which turns out to be JJJ, and the leaping lupine smashes through the office window! Rewind to an agitated Peter, who spies another Bugle headline and has had enough! Changing to Spidey, he swings to confront JJJ, just in time to save his nemesis from Man-Wolf! Cracking wise all the way, Spidey holds his own for a while, but is knocked out by the stronger beast, who turns to face JJJ and the two connect somehow—especially when Jameson spots the pendant his son was wearing earlier! Man-Wolf springs away, and JJJ asks Spidey not to pursue him. Hours later, the creature creeps up on and lunges at his new quarry—a rooftop-sitting Spider-Man! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Yes, it’s another nice, if not slightly busy Romita cover, so we get off on the usual good foot. And we get to learn a little, as I honestly don’t ever remember hearing the word “astronautics” before. Plus, we get the first appearance of Man-Wolf, who I always liked. It gave John Jameson something to do other than look pretty—I mean check out those lustrous locks—especially now that he’s retired. Although, will his hot fiancé think he’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing? Hahahaha….ugh….

Peter Enfantino: Hold on a sec, Profesor Joe! No comment on the fact that Marvel can actually pump out a good werewolf tale after botching it for so many months? I think it would have been so interesting if Sam Raimi had continued directing the initial Spider-Man series. I think we definitely would have seen John Jameson (who was introduced as Mary Jane's love interest in Spider-Man 2) in all his lupine glory. 

Mark Barsotti: Not a big fan of the burgeoning crop of Marvel monsters invading the "mainstream" titles, but with that caveat this is pretty entertaining. And given that astronaut John Jameson (why does he suddenly have grey hair?) "was one of the last men to make a moon walk," the Luna + lupine = werewolf equation was no doubt irresistible. John's "special outfit" (a yellow track team uni) is supposed to somehow prevent him from going all fang & claw, which suggests NASA knows about his Larry Talbot problem but doesn't bother to, oh, maybe place him in quarantine. When John goes full-Fido he instinctively tracks down papa JJ to rip his throat out (classic Oedipus-Alpo complex), but enough of the man emerges to save Jonah's hide and spare us another Conway causality. 

Joe: All in all, another solid issue of ASM, with a very nice script from Conway, who just keeps knocking it out of the park with my favorite mag, in another issue that I never remember reading before, although I may have had the Marvel Tales. For once, I’m not sure about the material for this month’s lesson…The normal very good art, although at times Man-Wolf looks a little too shaggy. Maybe it’s the Seattle-like rain? Which by the way, the precipitation adds a sense of dreariness to this ish, adding to Peter’s general ill temper and grief. Some excellent moments include Peter snapping his pencil in class out of anger, Peter ripping apart a newspaper stand and costing JJJ some pennies, Jameson’s expressions when Man-Wolf strikes—and at the moment of clarity when he sees his son’s pendant.

Scott McIntyre: I first ran into this story as part of the Power Records line, which heavily edited the tale to fit both parts and remove the references to Peter's newly dead lady love. Naturally, the original issue plays out much more strongly and more of a cohesive story. Peter is still dealing with the fallout of Gwen's death and very realistically so, particularly for a company that handles these things only long enough to drive the next plot. Super-hero fantasy or not, Spider-Man is still Marvel's more grounded and realistic character. Peter Parker is still very much on edge and quite tightly wound. His brain going a mile a minute and his friends apparently ready to move on. Next issue has a scene that is very insensitive in that regard, which I'll hopefully remember to cover then. 

Mark: Pete is exhibiting full-blown PTSD in the wake of Gwen's death, which explains him being an a-hole to MJ and Flash and wondering why he can't get on with his life, 'cause, you know, it's been a whole ten days since his girlfriend was murdered. I don't know remember how the plot plays out, but the last panel portends more fur aflyin'.

Peter: Amazing to me, re-reading this forty years later, and thinking how absolutely rare it was for a hero to be in this situation. Was it the first time someone so close to the main character was killed? These days it happens all the time, comes with the territory, but back then it just didn't happen. And now that it's been done, this kid has to live with it. Love him or hate him for dropping Gwen from the bridge but give him credit for having two huge balls of steel. And pats on the back to the art squad for showing us how much pressure this poor Parker kid is under, one panel absorbed in pain and the next reassuring himself (because no one else is around to) that he will live on. 

Joe: Favorite sound effect, in an issue where there aren’t many creative ones: KRAK! Which is the sound of Peter snapping his pencil in class, stressed over memories of Gwen, thinking everyone is judging him, and just too grief-stricken to return to any kind of normal civilian life. A well-written stretch by Conway, and a serious furrowed brow drawn by Kane/Romita.

Matthew Bradley: We got the conclusion to this two-parter back in the day, which probably helps to explain my fondness for Man-Wolf, and for once, the part I didn’t see until later—1979, to be precise—seems to hold up just as well.  The artwork by Kane, Romita, and “Mortellero” (per Marvel Tales, which never fails to disappoint) is solid, and Gerry’s script so far supports my growing suspicion that I prefer the post-Gwen issues.  Spidey must still have been cleaning the fur off his costume from his encounter with Werewolf by Night in San Francisco when he met Man-Wolf, who later gets his own series in Creatures on the Loose; of course, he had already fought John III, under vastly different circumstances, in the landmark #42.

Scott: It's good to see John Jameson again, looking pretty different with his mod long hair. Man-Wolf is yet another werewolf character at a point when the titles were overrun with them. Captain America just dealt with them the previous month, as did Spidey in Marvel Team Up. Still, the poor sap being John Jameson makes it personal and it's all very well done. Jonah is in top form here, his hatred for Spider-Man and love for his son coloring his every decision. The art remains great, resulting in an all round top notch issue.

Amazing Adventures 20
Killraven (War of the Worlds) in
"The Warlord Strikes!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Herb Trimpe and Frank Giacoia

Killraven and M’Shulla are in the midst of a battle against The Keepers’ men, but when their energy guns run dry, they hightail it into a nearby museum, filled with ancient weapons! With slaves in pursuit, M’Shulla uses an old crossbow to take one down, then Killraven saves him by throwing a ninja star at another. Armed with a new sword and new warrior duds, the red-haired rascal and his friend take an old truck to Staten Island, where a tripod attacks! Blasting the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge into pieces, the freemen duo hit the water, then manage to loosen some rocks and topple the tripod with a SPLAM! Cut to The Warlord, an angry one-armed, one-eyed villain seeking revenge against Killraven. Then back to KR and MS, ready to invade the Masters’ weapons stash at LaGuardia Airport, but they’re only bait for The Warlord and his troops to ambush them! Killraven has the upper hand at first, but The Warlord’s increased strength is too much, and he defeats our hero, and threatens to place him and his men in the Arena of Mutants! - Joe Tura

Mark: Killraven gets out of his bondage gear and into some pants (from a museum, no less), then he, M'Shulla, and their Freemen crew raid an arms depot at old LaGudia (I think they mean Laguardia) Airport. But - surprise! – it's a trap baited by the gladiator trainer Killy crippled when he escaped back in his debut. After getting the full Six Million Dollar Man re-furb from the Masters, the newly-christened Warlord is out for Killy's blood, and it looks like he's going to get it!

Joe: Without a giant green Hulk, it’s hard to tell this is Herb Trimpe, except for a few panels where we get close ups of Killraven’s suddenly square head. Can I blame Giacoia, one of my least favorite inkers, Nice Trimpe cover, though. Some questions. Is this really “Based on concepts created in the novel by H.G. Wells” as the cover says, or is that just an excuse to use the title and take it in a wacky direction? Are we supposed to believe the truck starts up right away? At least we get a moment of levity when Killraven backs it into a tree. Is it wrong that I’m excited the freemen are in New York so I kinda know what’s going on? Is it good that the battle at the end is pretty cool, especially that Killraven loses and makes the story more interesting? Let’s hope so for next ish. Although a quick glance does not look promising….

Mark: Marv Wolfman serves up non-stop action, most effective, some way over the top, like Killy and M'Shulla being blasted off the Brooklyn Bridge, then "for long minutes held their breath" underwater until they find a random girder and use it to topple a Martian tripod. Some lungs; musta been an Atlantian in the wood pile.

The Trimpe art is decent, workmanlike. We're spared full Hulked-out Herb, which only worked for Greenskin anyway. Warlord, a squat, powerful cyborg, is as close as we come; he'd look at home beside a ranting Thunderbolt Ross. The signature Killraven krew, Don McGregor and Craig Russell, are still a few months away, but this third installment regains lost momentum.

The Avengers 115
"Below Us the Battle!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Mike Esposito

The Avengers travel to England to investigate the prolonged silence of the Black Knight when a UK arm of SHIELD intercepts the Quinjet to bar them from entry. The Swordsman was banished from England, but some quick discussion allows them entry for the time being. Upon landing at the Black Knight's residence, the Avengers are attacked by troglodytes. These men are the product of inbreeding to the point of monstrous savagery. The king wants to know why the Black Knight was taken away and his castle sealed off. With no answers, the Avengers are attacked and a large battle ensues. They emerge victorious and have the English government take charge of the creatures to help them return to a semblance of normal life. However, none of this explains what happened to the missing Avenger. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A barely tolerable issue. The story lacks interest and the art is hardly worth making it to the next page. Nothing to see here.

Matthew: John Kowalski notwithstanding, war is Heaven!  The Thanos War underway in Captain Marvel and the Avengers/Defenders War (or “Clash,” as Generalissimo Englehart dubbed it) set in motion here are among my all-time favorite arcs.  The first four installments were part of rare back-to-back “clusters” of issues bought off the rack by my brother, and having just turned 10, I was the most receptive audience imaginable for this epic saga of 14 super-doers slugging it out.  The Brown/Esposito team, in place on the Assemblers throughout, finally clicks; the Panther is for once well used, just as his solo series starts in Jungle Action; Mantis begins her notorious “this one” locution; and the epi-/prologue promises much, although overlooking that Loki knows Doc.

Peter:  I vaguely remember the whole "Evil Eye" kerfuffle but, as I recall, I only read half the battle. I was not a Defenders fan and couldn't be bothered to pick up even the crossovers.  Oh, for those days when I was not a completist. Life was so much easier. What I take away from this second installment of the "War Saga" is that it's awfully easy to fool Doc Strange.

Matthew: As Stainless tells the tale on his website, “Having been a Marvel reader before I was a Marvel writer, I had always enjoyed the Double-Sized Annuals that appeared every summer—but here, my first year [sic] at Marvel, they decided not to do Annuals [and, I believe, did only reprint annuals from 1969 to ’75].  So I figured I’d do something ‘Annual-like’ on my own, and conceived of meshing the storylines of my two team books.  When I proposed the idea to editor Roy Thomas, he had just one concern:  if I screwed this up I’d throw both books off-schedule.  I assured him I wouldn’t, and that was that.  (It would never happen that easily now!)  Roy later called this the first ‘bi-weekly comic,’” Defenders being upgraded to a monthly for the duration.

Captain Marvel 28
"When Titans Collide!"
Story by Jim Starlin and Mike Friedrich
Art by Jim Starlin, John Roomita, and Dan Green

Back on Earth, Rick learns that the comatose Lou-Ann is being kept alive by Stark’s machinery; comparing notes with Mar-Vell, the Avengers are successively felled by a shadowy figure who slips past their security monitors and is revealed as Iron Man’s old foe, the Controller.  In Louisiana, Drax is unable to stop Thanos from retrieving the Cube, yet survives the reality-bending effects of his Time-Mind Sync-Warp.  Mar-Vell’s dual personality allows him to nullify the slave disc, but as the departing Controller buries him in wreckage, he is spirited away (leaving Rick trapped, inexplicably unable to make the switch) by Eon, a weird, two-faced entity he had earlier glimpsed in the Negative Zone, who declares that “Mar-Vell the soldier must die!” 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: After four inkers in as many issues, I can assert that although Starlin’s art has evolved since Iron Man #55, it varies less conspicuously by embellisher than I had expected; at any rate, incoming Dan Green will provide some continuity when he returns in #31-2.  This is my second “cluster” issue from the arc, and as such not only is etched on my brain as if with acid (pun intended), but also helped set my comic-book bar so high as to be unreachable, even by Starlin’s Magus follow-up.  Strengthening the link between Captain Marvel and the Assemblers—especially Shellhead—that culminates in an actual crossover, this entry (letterer Tom Orzechowski’s first) ups the ante in every conceivable way, its dramatic peaks matched by the soaring achievement of its artwork.

Tom Flynn: The abundance of major Marvel heroes drawn by Jim Starlin makes this one very special, but I hate to say that I’m pretty down on The Controller and his Incredible Slave Discs. To me, he’s the weak link of the whole Thanos saga. The concept of “slave discs” doesn’t seem very cosmic and I’m confused why Starlin gave him the same body type as Thanos. But heck, still pretty great in all.

Matthew: Which brings me to the Cosmic Cube, and while the Englehart/Brunner Dr. Strange may recently have laid claim to that adjective (“the password has just become ‘kosmic’!”), it might equally fairly be ceded to Judo Jim.  Mar-Vell’s saga will now become increasingly cosmic, in both the astronomical and spiritual senses, so it’s utterly apt that the Cosmic Cube finally lives up to its name as an integral part of it; Drax’s “trip” in Chapter II, Jim’s scripting debut, is like a sustained orgasm anyway, but that last panel should be in the Louvre.  Even the Cube’s creator—Stan, not A.I.M.—failed to see its full potential, as the Red Skull used it to redecorate his H.Q., and this epic is literally worlds apart from its last appearance in that miserable wet fart, Sub-Mariner #49.

Chris: Nice bit of Macbeth-worthy hubris from Thanos when he states to Drax that no woman-born man could destroy him.  We'll find out, Thanos -- won't we (wait til Starlin lays the Drax origin story on you!).

Scott: Even if the story itself was deadly dull, the Jim Starlin art is so arresting, it could carry us through alone. Luckily, the writing is fairly solid as Thanos gains the Cosmic Cube in a chapter written by Starlin himself. The twisty art is of the Ditko/Dan Adkins type and is visually satisfying. Starlin still over-muscles his characters, and the faces still tend to be on the weird side, but otherwise, the imagination practically spills off the page. It's all quite lovely. Thanos is an amazing creation. 

Chris: Professor Scott mentioned (in his comments for CM #27) that recent issues of CM have outshown The Avengers, and I couldn't agree more.  For a nihilist, Thanos can be awfully creative -- a "time-mind sync-warp" ?!  Right when we should see a knock-down drag-out battle, instead Thanos opts to send Drax on a serious head trip.  Starlin - thru Thanos - plays adeptly with our expectations; why destroy the Destroyer, when it's more fun for Thanos to mess with him?  My only quibble with the issue is the Warner Bros-style series of noggin-bonks that takes out the Avengers, one at a time,  The art is still outstanding, and not badly marred by Green's inks as I would have predicted (the quantum step-down from Marcos becomes an unavoidable let-down later in the Bronze era).  More thrills and excitement to come!

Mark: The Starlin Express rolls on! Less Rick Jones, more Time-Mind Sync-Warp!! The Controller (now a Thanos cat-paw) has never been more gruesome or powerful, picking off the Avengers one by one!!! Jim's art has never been more Owsley-fueled awesome!!!! Thanos intros his gal-pal Death and secures the Cosmic Cube!!!!! We end with a prologue, Mar-vell meeting a jumbo-mudslop/Man-Thing-cyclops-being who insists that to prevail over Thanny, "Mar-vell the soldier must die!!!!!!

Just read it, before the Controller takes over the exclamation key!!!!!!!!

Conan the Barbarian 30
"The Hand of Nergal!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

Wearing a mysterious amulet he found the day before, Conan and the Turian army of King Yildiz fight the legions of Munthassem Kahn, a rebellious satrap from the northern stronghold Yaralet. Suddenly, huge ghostly bats appear and rout the Turians: only Conan is spared as his amulet frightens off the winged beasts. The mercenary finds a survivor, Hildico, a beauteous slavegirl sent by the kindly Yaralet philosopher Atalis to find the Cimmerian. Promised a fortune in gold, Conan follows the girl to Yaralet to meet the philosopher. Atalis informs the barbarian that the once benevolent Munthassem Kahn has become a ruthless tyrant, turned evil by the Hand of Nergal, a cursed talisman. Conan steals into the satrap’s throneroom but the ghoulish governor lies in wait. When the Cimmerian quickly collapses before Munthassem Kahn’s immense powers, Hildico appears and throws the amulet at the Hand of Nergal. As the otherworldly items chatter to the floor, two astral monsters rise from each and engage in cosmic battle — when the amulet’s spirit wins, Munthassem Kahn is incinerated. Conan rides off with less gold than promised but with Hildico in exchange. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: A mainly mediocre issue inspired by the story of the same name, started by Howard in the 1930s and finished by Lin Carter in 1967. It seems to be fairly faithful. Colored blue-and-white and red-and-white to create cool negative effects, the two astral monsters remind me of John Carpenter’s boffo Big Trouble in Little China, as Egg Shen and Lo Pan conjured spirit samurai to battle in their places. Conan is merely an amazed spectator when Munthassem Kahn is defeated, but the crazed Cimmerian does single-handedly lay waste to nearly half the Yaralet army at the beginning. And yes, I had to look up the definition of “satrap.” The plot might be blah, but the script is nigh Shakespearean. “For an instant, they seem to Conan to be more shadow than substance — translucent to the sight, like wisps of noisome black vapor. Then, even as he watches, they fall upon the battle like vultures on a field of blood — fall — and slay!” Good stuff, Roy. As usual. (Italics and bolding by the great John Costanza.)

Ghost Rider 1
"A Woman Possessed!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Tom Sutton and Syd Shores

Johnny Blaze, the world-renowned stunt driver who at night becomes the Ghost Rider, flees from police. His goal: reach his hospitalized girlfriend Roxanne Simpson who had been bitten by a snake in a ritual by an Indian witch doctor named Snake-Dance. A roadblock and a gunshot wound send Blaze to the hospital, critically injured. Meantime, a girl named Linda Littletree, daughter of the former witch doctor, lays still, eyes wide, unblinking and motionless. While her father watches helplessly, her boyfriend Sam searches for another solution. He calls Daimon Hellstrom--a man who can expel demons—to come and help. Daimon agrees, but before he can get there, the Devil, who has possessed Linda, rises and takes over her body to find and destroy Johnny Blaze! Roxanne, recovering in the hospital, is paid a visit by Blaze’s road manager and aspiring stuntman Bart Slade, who feels he may be forced to take on Johnny’s role in the show if Blaze continues to be a no-show. In fact a huge jump is coming up, and Bart readies himself to do it; Roxanne is well enough to be released and watch. Meantime Johnny, in hospital and slowly recovering, finds that even serious injuries don’t stop him from becoming the Ghost Rider each and every night. Bart Slade attempts the jump and all but makes it until a gust of wind blows him off course into the canyon wall. Blaze arrives too late to stop the jump, but manages to grab Roxanne and take off in someone’s truck. Daimon Hellstrom arrives at the humble home of Snake-Dance; although Linda is gone, he advises her father it is still not too late to save her. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: As my introduction to Ghost Rider, I find this one another example of the diversity of the Marvel of the Seventies. One can almost wonder at the line of who serves the side of good and who represents evil. Daimon Hellstrom gives a hint of future mystery in referring to the “woman possessed” who had something to do with his mother’s own death. His very reason for taking on the challenge of fighting demon possession is interesting, given the opposing birthmark on his chest. Johnny Blaze, is perhaps more of an anti-hero than your traditional super. The reference to Snake-Dance as the “former” name of Linda’s father makes me wonder why he gave up his former role. Of course these questions have some answers in prior Ghost Rider adventures in Marvel Spotlight.

Chris Blake: Hopeful readers might have thought that GR's title debut would have coincided with a new storyline but, no, we aren't through with Snake Dance Family yet.  The idea is sorta clever: that Witch-woman might've been some sort of astral being, in combat with GR while Linda Littletree's body lay entranced at home.  But wait - didn't Linda sprint off in her charged-up stunt bike in MS #11 - how did her body return from the city?  Another as-glaring continuity gaffe: Satan appears to Linda and states, "I told you you would have a second chance to serve me," as Roy chimes in "*It happened last ish!"  Did it?  "Surely you realize by now that I do not grant second chances!" Satan declares in MS #11, which resulted in Witch-woman's self-sacrifice.  This is not the first reset-button moment we've seen between issues.  A few times now, I've suspected that one of Roy's interns was editing this title.  I now will require proof that this was not the case. 

Matthew: I love the cheekiness of the fact that although this is the inaugural issue of GR’s own book, the first character we see is actually the one who replaces him in Spotlight starting next month, Daimon Hellstrom, which shows how tight-knit Friedrich the Lesser naturally made his Satanic strips at the outset.  With its Sutton/Shores artwork and interminable Apache plotline, this feels more like same old same old than something new, but at least the 1993 reprint in the misnamed Original Ghost Rider #8 seems to be complete.  It even continues an apparently new serial featuring the literal, at least for Marvel, original Ghost Rider, whose first Blaze-inspired name change—to the Night (now Phantom) Rider—was short-lived, due to its KKK associations.

Chris: I skimmed most of the wordy second half of the issue.  I will fully admit that I did not read a single word of the page that features nothing but Johnny fretting in a hospital bed.  (Once again I ask -- where is Roy through all of this?)  The only redeeming features of this issue: the GR nightfall transformation heals Johnny of his injuries; Johnny legitimately worrys that the injuries could return once he switches back at dawn; and the Fr Karras-like introduction of Daimon Hellstrom, seen only in shadows and from behind (we aren't even shown his face!), which at least allows for some suspense (and fading hope?) to carry us to the next ish. 

The Monster of Frankenstein 5
"The Monster Walks Among Us!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog and John Verpoorten

While sailing through Scandinavia, seeking the only known descendant of his creator, Frankenstein's Monster rescues a woman tied to the mast of a burning ship. Seeking medical aid, the monster takes the girl, Lenore, to a nearby village, only to discover that it was the villagers who lashed her to the mast in the belief it would cleanse her soul of the demon that possesses her. The girl awakens to explain to the monster that the villagers are under the spell of a "Demon in Black Robes" and that even her father wishes her dead. Finding it hard to believe a father could wish his own daughter harm, the monster takes the girl back to confront the man. What the creature finds is a crazed man spouting rubbish about his daughter already being dead. The two battle and the older man is killed. Suspecting that only more trouble will follow, the monster takes the girl far up into the hills and, eventually, discovers he's fallen in love with her. One morning, he awakens to find the girl gone, the only clues left behind are her torn dress and a wolf's carcass. The monster heads back to the village where he happens upon a werewolf tearing apart its latest victim. Assuming this is the creature that killed the woman he loved, the monster uses a handy silver-tipped sword to slay the werewolf only to find, once the savage beast has transformed back into its human form, that the villagers were right: Lenore was a demon. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: This was the beginning (if I recall correctly) of the near-monthly monster rallies that would populate the Marvel monster titles for years to come. Effectively creating their own cast of Universal monsters, the Marvel writers would concoct their own versions of House of Dracula, House of Frankenstein and, in this case, Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. It's an effective enough little chiller, thanks mostly to the creepily atmospheric art of Ploog and Verpoorten, and Friedrich continues to make you feel oodles of sympathy for this wretched creature. A couple nits to pick though: I'd have liked to know how Lenore was infected with lyncanthropy (are there more of her ilk running through the woods?) and, if silver was the only way to kill a werewolf, why tie her to the mast of the ship and take the chance she'd burn to death? I think the true identity of Lenore's alter ego might have been more of a surprise if Gary hadn't felt the need to show how hip he was on the splash page and quoted lyrics from "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence (I mean, J. C. Fogerty, really?). Still, this series is maintaining a very high level of story-telling in both departments for the time being.

Chris: Fate again has its way with our beleagured behemoth.  Gary lays out just enough clues that Lenore isn't what she appears to be -- the monster's desire for her is strong enough to lead readers off the trail, and to hope with him.  (Is this really the same writer who's been turning out uninspired Ghost Rider stories for the past few issues?  could there be a third Friedrich . . ?)  Plus, the way Ploog draws Lenore, sure, I'd give her the benefit of the doubt.  The art continues to be extraordinary throughout, particularly in Ploog's use of shadows as the monster skulks around the town.  I especially appreciated the peaceful arrival in the forest (p 15, panel 5), and the savagery of the battle with the wolf-demon (p 24-25).  The monster retreats from the town, aware that Lenore's death means the loss not only of love, and companionship, but also belonging, and acceptance.

Adventure Into Fear 16
Man-Thing in
"Cry of the Native!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Sal Trapani

The Man-Thing overhears the Indian natives who live in the swamp in an animated discussion. A development plan is underway to develop the swamp, led by a developer named Schist, and overseen by foreman Jake Simpson. The older natives caution the younger ones not to resort to violent means to protest. One youth, Black Eagle, silently rows off during the night to join some of his fellows. Their plan: light the construction site on fire. Gunfire is volleyed back at them, and Black Eagle is shot. The watching Man-Thing appears and frightens off the men, carrying Black Eagle to the doorstep of Dr. Warren Thompson, who may be able to help him. A rally the next day in the town for all to express their views turns into a violent free for all. Schist gets a court order to proceed. The next day, construction begins at the edge of the swamp. The Man-Thing, who depends on the swamp for life himself, appears, and is promptly attacked. Jake Simpson leads the assault, covering Manny in a mound of Earth and bulldozing over him. Soon however, the beast that was Ted Sallis rises from the dirt, and a mad Simpson charges forth on foot. His eventual fear proves his undoing, as he is blinded by the Man-Thing’s touch, then run over by the runaway bulldozer. The threat to the swamp remains real.

 -Jim Barwise

Jim: If you hadn’t read Man-Thing before, this one wouldn’t give you the whole story, but it would give you a pretty accurate feel for his instinct to sense danger, protect the innocent and zero tolerance for the evil in the hearts of men. You could imagine the politics—development vs. the natural world—happening in any era, including the present day. The Man-Thing comes off as curiously sane compared to some of the madness around him.

Matthew: Justifying the strip’s rise in popularity and enduring reputation, this exemplifies both its unique nature—with Man-Thing as often an observer or catalyst as he is a true protagonist—and the strength of the Gerber/Mayerik team at fusing word and image.  Amusingly, erstwhile Hulk inker Sal Trapani trades one behemoth for another as he begins his six-month stint here embellishing Val, with the melée on page 14 a particular highlight.  The masterfully juggling Gerber introduces F.A. Schist (gotta love it) and a new plotline, which he refrains from making totally one-sided, while still keeping the Kales in play, and even brings back Dr. Thompson, who predated Steve’s tenure and might be getting tired of having Manny dump strays on his doorstep.

Mark Barsotti: For those that seek cultural signposts in their funny books, "Cry of the Native!" is a veritable primer of the early '70's counter-culture politics. Steve Gerber serves up eco-friendly Native Americans vs. greedhead development, as embodied by (often shirtless) reactionary construction workers, foot soldiers in Dick Nixon's silent majority, who beat-up anti-war protestors for fun. Val Mayerik's art impresses for the first time; the quality varies from panel to panel, but he nails Manny's ethereal otherworldliness and the cover is a stone classic.

Chris: Overall, a fairly good issue.  Fair amount of groundwork for future swamp-related conflict, which I don't think is resolved until G-S M-T #5.  Not a whole lot of our titular character, and too much daytime activity for Mayerik's art to have a chance to shine -at least, until the fateful head-searing confrontation on p 27.  Particularly effective -Jake's fear (for future reference - try to curb the anxiety around the swamp monster, OK?) intensifies as M-T slunks nearer -as his shadow looms over the now-helpless former antagonist.  Trapani's inks are well-suited to the pencils and subject -a far better fit than McLaughlin, last issue. 

Mark: Gerber's ladles out the environmental agitprop with a heavy hand: young Black Eagle and his swamp-dwelling tribesmen are the very embodiment of "noble savages"; the hard hats will shoot you in the back and care for nothing but "tryin' to earn a dollar!" Yet it mostly works, thanks to our barely sentient "hero" delivering rough justice to the odious Jake Simpson. But the triumphant, Gerber makes clear, is fleeting. The bulldozers will be back.

But in the real world, and in the Man-Thing's sticky and fetid corner of the Marvel U, a victory over evil, if just for today, is the best we can hope for.

Fantastic Four 138
"Madness is the Miracle Man"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

The Fantastic Four return home to find their old friend Wyatt Wingfoot waiting for them. It turns out he is about to graduate from Metro University. He wishes them not only to attend the ceremony, but also to afterward come with him to see his Keewazi people; his instincts tell him some trouble is up. All except Reed (hoping for Sue to return) agree. After the formal ceremony they are called away quicker than expected with an emergency call from Wyatt’s grandfather, Silent Fox. Joining his people in their mountain home, Silent Fox tells Wyatt and our heroes that a “demon” has invaded the area, driving other tribes to seek refuge with the Keewazi.  The mystery is soon solved in the form of the Miracle Man, one of the first foes way back when—the demon is a giant rock behemoth that he has brought to life from the very rock around them. As the creature attacks, the Miracle Man doesn’t mind telling them how he came by his new and improved powers. While in prison for many years, he studied many books about mental control, and came up with a goal for when he got out. He had leaned of a mythical ancient tribe called the Cheemuzwa, who supposedly knew the secrets of total mind over matter. Finding them, they agreed to teach him their knowledge and powers in exchange for learning of mankind. Too late they realized the Miracle Man had duped them, as he buried them in rock. Now seeking revenge, he’s started with other local tribes, including the Keewazi. A blast of force opens the Earth, and the FF and local people fall to their apparent demise. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The return of Wyatt Wingfoot harks back to some classic days, and while the Miracle Man isn’t the most original villain ever, neither are many others that have been back a lot more often. While the story of his newfound powers is unlikely, this is a comic book, and it succeeds in being believable enough. Alicia’s departure opens some questions, and the connection Coach Thorne brings up with Reed, when he talks to Johnny might mean something. Not too sure about that haircut…

Mark: The first two FF villains, Mole Man and the Skrulls, have been in Marvel's black hat rotation ever since, whereas the Miracle Man's been gathering dust since '62. FF #3 is memorable for first appearances (team unis, the Baxter Building & Fantasti-Car) and Johnny drawn with two left hands on the cover. It's not celebrated for having the Fabs go toe-to-wand with a stage magician, so credit Gerry Conway for digging all the way to the bottom of the toy chest and tarting up MM's hypno-shtick with (apparently) real powers, learned from the medicine men and mystics of Wyatt Wingfoot's Keewazi tribe.   

Matthew: No sooner has Len excavated Kurrgo, the Master of Planet X, from #7 to bedevil the Thing in this month’s Marvel Feature than Gerry outdoes him by four issues, with a low-rent villain mercifully unseen since March 1962.  He was such a lightweight, natch—as Ben and Johnny’s amused initial reaction reminds us—that doing so requires a lengthy expository flashback, which only partly recaps his prior appearance, and also enables this tale to expand to a two-parter.  Given added gravitas by the usual luscious Buscinnott artwork, “Mr. Mustache” will inexplicably become a recurring Bronze-Age bad guy, with manifestations in (aptly) Marvel Two-in-OneGhost Rider, and Defenders; meanwhile, it’s good to see Wyatt back and graduated.

Scott: Wow, the Miracle Man. Interesting dredging up this goon, but if it was good enough for Gregory Gideon, why not, right? No cheesy menace from the FF's past is off limits. Accept maybe the Enfant Terrible. This was one long trip into nostalgia land. Wyatt Wingfoot, Coach Thorne and the whole abandoned subplot of Johnny's college days is brought to a belated close. Also, this tale of Wyatt's people brought back memories, not altogether pleasant, of Tomazooma. Johnny changes his hair and for the life of me, I don't see what's so danged funny about how he styled it.

Mark: Good subplots: Alicia's mysterious maybe-never-see-Ben-again departure and Wyatt graduating from Metro U. The return of Torchie's old college roomie (MIA since #80) was certainly more welcome than the Miracle Man, but Buscema and Sinnott do their part, giving MM a nifty black skinsuit and capturing his maniacal glee with such relish you can almost hear the Ba-ha-ha's as he gloats over his (apparent) new powers. And that's almost enough to make you overlook his Snidely Whiplash 'stache. Johnny gets a new '70's 'do but Ger can't spring for a Schick for Manny? Still, this works a lot better than it should.

The Defenders 8
"If Atlantis Should Fall!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin


Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

The Red Ghost has used his ability to use radiation to control the mind of Sub-Mariner, who has now turned against Hawkeye and the Valkyrie. They are overcome, and as prisoners of the Red Ghost and Attuma, are bound for the same type of mind control. Two weeks later, Dr. Strange feels he has made enough progress in his efforts to break the spell that has turned the Black Night to stone that he mentally summons his partners to come witness the re-transformation. When only the Hulk and the Silver Surfer answer his call, he learns from a reluctant Hulk about struggle against Attuma, who plans to conquer Atlantis, and then invade the surface world. Strange and the Surfer find the battle in Atlantis, then use their powers to create a barrier to the radiation coming into the Earth’s atmosphere from space. The sea creatures the Red Ghost has enlisted to aid in the conquest—whales, dolphins, etc.—lose interest and swim off. The spell over the Defenders likewise is gone, and Attuma and the Red Ghost are routed quickly. Later, back at Dr. Strange’s pad, the reunited team witness the magician use his magic to contact the Black Knight’s spirit where the Enchantress had sent it from his body, in a desolate dimension. Dane Whitman (aka the Black Knight) does wish to be rescued, but as his spirit heads home, it passes in nameless space, Loki and Dormammu, two of the evilest souls around. They use their combined powers to alter Whitman’s message to Stephen Strange, which now comes across (without alerting the magician to interference) as requiring the Evil Eye as needed to break the spell. The Defenders plan a mission to find it, not knowing they will be helping Dormammu in his effort to conquer Earth.  -Jim Barwise

As in Mike?
Jim: A well-plotted and entertaining issue make the Defenders run continue to be a highlight of the early Seventies. The personality clashes and quirks (the Hulk’s resistance to aid his teammates, the internal struggle of the women’s spirits in Val), along with the interesting combination of Dr. Strange and the Silver Surfer’s respective powers, are highlights. Sal Buscema’s art, if not brilliant here, is still distinctive, and the Red Ghost and Attuma aren’t bad opponents. Can’t wait for next issue…

Matthew:  Interesting that in both books this month, the Avengers/Defenders Tiff is slipped in almost as an afterthought, yet there’s something to be said for setting the stage so carefully for such momentous events.  I’m thinking about the impact these cluster comics had on my 10-year-old mind, and the window they opened on the Marvel Universe with not only the crossover itself, but also the wall-to-wall footnotes (one burned in my memory is Roy’s “A sideways reference to Daredevil #99”) citing past and concurrent issues.  Inker Frank McLaughlin’s Marvel oeuvre was limited before he became a DC stalwart, but of late he has seemed almost ubiquitous, giving solid support to his frequent collaborator, ol’ reliable Sal Buscema, here and in Captain America.

Peter: The Main Event here raised little interest but the epilogue, where we finally get to see what's become of Loki after he's blinded, definitely won me over. Loki and Dormammu together as allies? Sign me up!

Daredevil and the Black Widow 103
"... Then Came Ramrod!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck and Sal Trapani

Daredevil and the Black Widow return to their home with the briefcase of papers that they are safeguarding for the editor of Rolling Stone magazine.  Enter Peter Parker for an interview with our favourite couple. They hardly get a chance to start when the wall in front of them shatters. An egotistical brute calling himself Ramrod is the reason; his purpose: to steal the papers, then kill DD. Soon they realize Ramrod is covered at least partly in steel, making him hard to stop. When he escapes they follow, and so does Spiderman! The webslinger manages to lasso the briefcase and fly off, Ramrod tosses Natasha off the edge of the building on which they are fighting, leaving DD to rescue her, and sets after Spidey, who he eventually chases up a San Francisco skyscraper. When the other two catch up, they press the advantage that they found in battle: Ramrod’s face seems to be his weak spot. The villain accidentally falls to the ground below, putting him down for the count. Who shows up but Peter Parker to finish his interview … -Jim Barwise

Jim: More than some magazines, there’s enough human interest in Daredevil that you can overlook the fact that a lot of the villains are subpar, i.e. Ramrod. A man who gets steel replacements for crushed bones? He sure isn’t a Wolverine. The bit about the Peter Parker interview is a fun touch that is a far cry from Spidey’s recent experiences. But who is Ramrod’s mysterious benefactor?

Matthew: This concludes Spider-Man’s sojourn in San Francisco, begun in Marvel Team-Up #12, and although Gerber (back in place through #117) isn’t known as a Spidey writer, he has the wall-crawler down pat, including the topical circumstances of his trip—plus I see next issue’s villain, Kraven, is a charter member of Spidey’s rogues’ gallery.  Nice to see the united Mattasha front again, and while Ramrod is, in and of himself, a fairly dull villain, especially as portrayed on autopilot by Heck and Trapani, there are points of interest.  His origin makes him a prototype for Wolverine; his attempt to steal the Rolling Stone documents links him with Angar and their enigmatic boss; and Iron Man readers will recognize the shadowy figure of “Madame MacEvil.”

Scott: A fairly fun issue, but Don Heck does it no favors. He's another in the long line of artists who just can't draw Spider-Man. The Ramrod himself is barely interesting and I get the most enjoyment out of Peter Parker getting an interview with DD and Natasha. Funny how they remained in their costumes for so long after arriving home. Also amusing is how DD can't tell Peter Parker and Spider-Man aren't the same due to their heartbeats being identical.

Captain America and the Falcon 165
"The Yellow Claw Strikes"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

The Yellow Claw is back and Fury is pissed that Cap and Falcon's actions got in the way and allowed the villain to escape. The Falcon heads back to Harlem to establish his life and Cap returns Virginia to say goodbye to Peggy. Meanwhile, using his power of men's minds, the Claw kills the people who have held him in check for so long. Cap returns to New York to find giant spiders coming out form the sewers to menace the population. These are the work of the Claw who promises that this is "only the beginning." In Harlem, Falcon is asked to see mob boss Morgan who offers Falc a way to get super powers, but only if he agrees to join the gang. The Falcon violent refuses and he and Leila are allowed to leave with their lives. Cap finds the Claw in his secret lab and they have a vicious battle. Cap pummels the villain to bear oblivion when it is revealed that Cap was under the Claw's mind control and that the man he was fighting was the critically injured Nick Fury! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Nick thankfully changed to his normal outfit in the seconds between issues and looks a lot better. The guy still squints a lot. He also changed his attitude from one of cooperation to outright nastiness. He spews all sorts of negative rhetoric at Cap. Later, the Falcon goes to see Morgan who threatens his life if the Falcon turns him down another time. For a mob boss, Morgan isn't all that swift. The Falcon is a genuine threat. But Morgan has a room full of gunnies, why not grease him now? Cap beating the crap out of Fury will have repercussions. Not the greatest issue, but much better than the previous and there's a feeling of something larger going on.

Mark: The werewolf-inducing hallucinogens have worn off, and Englehart starts to find his groove again after a string of mediocre offerings since "Fifties Cap" wrapped, here launching a Yellow Claw saga and laying the spadework for the anti-Cap Mad Men ad blitz that will ultimately blaze a trail of corruption all the way to the Oval Office!

Matthew:  Once in a while, Marvel throws continuity out the window, like when Fury’s outré outfit from last issue magically turns into his usual duds as the same scene apparently continues on this month’s splash page.  No matter; that and the concomitant return of Our Pal Sal signify that things are back to normal, and I for one won’t complain.  Love the Yellow Claw, love giant spiders, but most definitely do NOT love the squabbling between old friends Cap and Fury—those two are natural and historic allies for all sorts of reasons, and to have them constantly at each other’s throats is a cheap dramatic device that should be beneath Stainless, who had only just extricated them from the previous such quagmire when he first came on board.

Peter: This one has the glorious smell of pulp paper all over it, from the "yellow peril" of The Yellow Claw to the shudder pulp standby, the giant spider. That's all right by me, but with last issue's werewolf war and next issue's mummy menace, I'd say Stainless needs to get Cap back on solidly "realistic" ground quickly. The best bit we get in this issue is the little teaser that someone's buying commercial time in order to smear the Captain's good name. I smell a real good epic on the way. We need to see the Peggy Carter soap opera wind down rather than meander. 

Mark: Englehart goes big with his Claw, he's "Yellow Peril" personified, exuding evil, from the metal skull plate, to toting around his comatose grand-niece in a glass-topped coffin and forcing his erstwhile commie allies to machine-gun each other so he can snag their sub. And, oh yeah, he unleashes a sewer full of giant spiders on the streets of New York then skywrites to brag about it.

Even the Mandarin never did that.

Creatures on the Loose 25
Thongor, Warrior of Lost Lemuria in
"The Wizard of Lemuria!"
Story by George Alec Effinger and Tony Isabella
Art by Val Mayerik and Vince Colletta

Thongor of Valkarth awakens to his floating boat capsized in the sky while hanging on for life between graak and dwark.  One graak is pierced by an unknown archer and falls, but a second knocks the airship and sends Thongor plummeting to the jungle below.  There he battles his way through blood-drinking slith plants and then the terror-lizard, who fells him.  The enchanter Sharajsha of Zaar comes to his aid and casts down the dwark with a handful of magic dust.  Sharajsha offers the suspicious Thongor his hospitality, and the two ride zamph-back across the plains to the mage’s home hewn from the Mountains of Mommur.  There they pass a wall of stone and bridge the “fires…below Lemuria” that, Sharajsha tells him, may “someday...devour our island continent.”  At the palace, “magic-spawned wraith[s]” wait upon Thongor whose apprehensions are only alleviated by sumptuous food and refreshing wine.  The man of magic explains that he is in need of a warrior and offers to help retrieve and repair Thongor’s strange flying craft, but the Valkarthan would first know the debt.  Sharajsha tells Thongor how he has watched him through his “mystic glass” since the savage fled the city of Thurdis, and has even seen “the end of the world!?  “Behold the fire and ruin that shall claim this petty universe,” the sorcerer soothsays, showing the barbarian what else “the FATES have writ--!” – a vision of Thongor slain... -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: It’s Zeppelin vs. Pterodactyls, to borrow the title of an unmade Hammer film, as Thongor and his flyer find themselves between a graak and hard place.  Penciler Val Mayerik and inker Vince Colletta’s panels of prehistoric jungles, a pterosaur, a T. rex, and a Victorian-styled flying machine are images just about lifted from the pages of Lin Carter’s hero Edgar Rice Burroughs, and we finally get to see those thirsty vampire flowers. 

Rather than feel like the story is over before it began, this issue does something refreshing – it is the second part of an adaptation of Lin Carter’s Thongor and the Wizard of Lemuria, but declines to wrap the novel up after only two issues.  This is especially satisfying since the tales in Creatures on the Loose are shorter due to the inclusion of reprints.  That said, the story is admittedly slight, at least in comparison to Robert E. Howard’s fiercer fare, but this fact does not diminish it as a diverting slice of imaginative entertainment. 

Marvel, in the “Creature Features” letters page of issue #27, writes that “...the Thongor series differs from both Conan and Kull in several ways.  First and foremost is its somewhat cosmic scope – which will become clearer in upcoming issues.  The impending “lost Lemuria” cataclysm, foreshadowed here, certainly raises the stakes.  Carter’s Lemuria inhabits the same universe as Howard’s, though in a different epoch (“Thongor’s adventures,” again #27’s letters page explains, “take place almost half a million years ago, eons before Conan or Kull, when Lemuria was the only continent on which modern man dwelt.”).  Just as Kull’s Pre-Cataclysmic Age and the submersion of Atlantis usher in Conan’s Hyborian Age, so Sharajsha of Zaar’s prophesied catastrophe will pave the way for REH’s yarns, making Carter’s fiction (and by extension, these Marvel adaptations) a sort of unofficial prequel to the worlds of Kull and Conan.

In “When the Eggs Hatch!,” a weighty “What the FATES have writ--!” philosophical prologue asks us to ponder “how much a part coincidence plays,” especially a “coincidence that had probably saved the human race from extinction!”  Really it masks an especially slight tale, even for a reprint (from Journey into Unknown Worlds #53).  Happenstance, in the form of a chance storm, forces shelter-seeking Bob Fry into a cave where he happens upon a disappeared scientist’s notes and accidentally discovers, just in the nick of time, plans for a worldwide alien invasion by an “egg-laying intelligent” dinosaur race.  Having fled the cave’s hatchery, he breathes a sigh of relief that, easy as pie, “...once I make that telephone call” and convince the authorities, “I’ll set off the Greatest Egg Hunt in the History of Man!”  Evidently this naive young man has never seen The Invasion of the Body Snatchers or The Invaders


  1. The cover of Fantastic Four #138 looks somewhat like the legendary cover of issue #1. The first issue had Susan Storm being held by a monster and here Medusa is in the grip of danger.

  2. Not that I'm trying to take such a slender story too seriously, but "When The Eggs Hatch" also forgets to explain how the man can be SURE it's an invasion, since (as far as I remember) it leaves out the famous tradition of the alien announcing his whole invasion plan. For all he knows, the creature could be just the opposite, in that "misunderstood space creature" category.

  3. One thing I always associate with Conan # 30 is the picture on Page 3 of him examining the amulet, because (even for a Conan comic) it's an obvious "beefcake" kind of picture.
    That's something I seldom hear about when it comes to sword and sorcery comics (as opposed to the movies, I guess) - how often have the comics made an actual point of trying to draw female readers with that kind of artwork? You hear countless times about MALE comic fans and FEMALE comic characters, but I've always heard a lot less about the flipside of that, and it seems like sword and sorcery is an obvious area to ask.