Wednesday, April 30, 2014

December 1973 Part One: Reed Richards for Father of the Year?

The Amazing Spider-Man 127
"The Dark Wings of Death"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt

Spider-Man comes across a dead woman right outside of Mary Jane’s apartment building, and as Peter Parker tries to comfort MJ, then gets annoyed that she won’t call the police. Swinging off, he’s attacked by the Vulture, who admits he killed the girl and manages to defeat Spidey, who wakes up a little later and goes to the Baxter Building to help the Human Torch work on the Spider-Mobile. Back in his apartment, Peter argues with Harry, then heads to campus to apologize to MJ, where the two drive off in Flash’s new wheels before the Vulture strikes again—and carries MJ away! Flash crashes the car and Peter runs off to change into Spidey, but not before creepy Prof. Warren confronts him about missing class. Catching up to the Vulture, he sees the felonious flier drop MJ from the sky, but Spidey saves her before she can meet the same fate as Gwen. He trails the Vulture to the Biology Lab and saves a lab assistant from the villain’s claws—which are now actually claws!—but she mysteriously doesn’t run for help. Taking the fight outside, Spidey webs the bald baddie’s eyes, but that doesn’t stop him from carrying the web-slinger off (much to the delight of onlooker Harry). When the Vulture finally tears the webbing off, he proceeds to drop our hero, who’s too high up to web any nearby building! --Joe Tura

Matthew: Stability breaks out as Giacoia becomes Andru’s regular inker for the remainder of Conway’s run (joined here and periodically through #134 by Dave Hunt), the chief debit being the overly maniacal-looking Harry Osborn. I’d love to give newcomer Tom Orzechowski—who went on to become my favorite letterer—the benefit of the doubt and blame it on the Marvel Tales reprint somehow, but failing that, his work is so uniformly awful in this issue that it actually distracted me from the first installment of Gerry’s rather unusual two-parter. Peter’s post-Gwen relationship with MJ remains a work in progress, which is presumably as it should be, and you don’t see the whole murder mystery/reluctant witness bit in comics too often.

Joe Tura: A grand, yet slightly imperfect cover by Romita starts things off, but the insides see Andru’s pencils get the heavy-duty ink treatment from Giacoia and Hunt, and in certain places make the characters’ expressions look as puzzled as we are. Sometimes they have a Don Heck feel to them, which is sorta frightening. The story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but we’re told on the splash page that this is a two-parter, so the heck with filling in the blanks! The Gwen flashback when Vulture drops MJ is a bit derivative reading it 40 years after the fact, and I’m still not sure if it’s necessary. Also, I’m with Prof. Matthew on Tom Orzechowski. Later on, his X-Men work becomes the pinnacle, and while this isn’t the worst lettering, it’s far from the standards set by Artie Simek!

Favorite sound effect: “RUMP!”, as Spidey is knocked out by the Vulture and lands on his…back, not his backside which would have made much more sense. A missed opportunity for sure!

Love the letter from Canada’s Jane Starr of Edmonton, Alberta, an obvious Gwen fan that reacts to the blonde’s death by writing: “Dear CRUDS!!! You evil-eyed-blackhanded-bow-legged-flint-hearted-claw-fingered-foul-bellied-bloodthirsty ORCS!!!!!” Decaf, Jane. Decaf.

Scott McIntyre: Typically, Spidey's spider sense warns him of danger, yes? Here, as it has a few times in the past, it comes across as a kind of telepathy. His spider sense tells him that MJ saw the man who killed the dude lying dead at the foot of her apartment building. Yeah, it was all for the sake of plot expediency, but it's too lazy a shortcut for my taste. Following this, Peter muses that MJ has been watching over him since Gwen died. The way I see it, she's tried pestering Peter to go get sodas and whatnot, while crabbing at him for being in mourning. Not my idea of being looked after or even a decent support system. The way Peter uses reverse psychology on MJ, I'm not surprised he never took up a career in therapy. Getting her angry enough at him to take action after being in the room for, what, a minute? He doesn’t even bother to listen to her side of the story, or try to get to the bottom of it. He merely leaps into his angry bit and slams the door on his way out. Doesn't anyone know how to write realistic personal situations here? Oh, the melodrama!

Peter: Professor Matthew tells no lies -- Harry looks close to becoming a regular in Tex Avery's carnival of pop-eyed freaks. Be that as it may, I found no problem focusing on the story at hand, which I found to be quite absorbing. Could Gerry be Goblin-izing the Rogues' Gallery? I remember The Vulture being an old bird who'd fly in now and then and give Spidey a few problems while robbing jewelry stores and other geriatric pastimes. Murdering women was never his bag. I like the change. The only major problem I had with the story was its huge leap off the logic cliff when Spidey pauses his murder investigation (pert near mid-battle) to help the Torch work on the Spidey-mobile. The quicker this silly sub-plot is laid to rest the better. After all, we need to get to more important things like (SPOILER) Aunt May's wedding to Doc Ock!

Mark Barsotti: The Vulture's back, apparently killing a woman right outside eyewitness MJ's apartment. Peter tries "to look after her – if she'll take my help" by calling Mary Jane a coward for being scared to go to the cops and storming out, apparently thinking acting the asshat will prompt Red to report the murder out of "spite." Yeah, that Parker always had a knack with the ladies.

Scott: Harry's blow up at Peter is honestly the best part of the issue. We know now that he's going to take his father's place as the Goblin eventually, but Peter's rationalization over Harry's attitude is hysterical. He thinks Harry's peeved because Pete doesn't "go along" with the notion that Spidey killed Norman. When did they have this conversation? During the weeks Harry wasn't there to pay the rent? Or was it the day Harry glared at him silently? I get that Pete is trying to salvage his relationship with his former best friend, and I know there were months separating this issue from the last time these two fellas were in the same room, but it feels like they’re making this stuff up as they go. The battle with the Vulture is pretty standard, but, again, the highlight is Harry grinning over what could wind up being Spider-Man's doom. I like how gradually the Osborn transformation is playing out. It will be a little while before Harry dons the costume and rides the glider but it'll be worth the wait.

Mark: I've always liked Vulchy and Russ Andru's cartoony style makes for a creepy eagle-beaked avian adversary, with Brezhnev eyebrows, ruined tombstone teeth, breath like carrion...

Elsewhere, PP gets more academic scolding from Professor Warren, another all-night Spidey-Mobile assembly session with Johnny Storm, and a hostile brush-off from a clearly unhinged Harry O, who, watching the Vulch soar high with Spidey at story's end, Andru depicts with the obsessive, glassy-eyed joy of a pedophile huffing paint in the front row of the JonBenét Ramsey Memorial Beauty Pageant.

Having begun to wonder if the Gwen & GG death saga wasn't a one-off masterpiece (notice how Ger goes right back to the falling female card), I don't expect much from next month's Conway Conclusion, but what do I know?

I picked the Broncos against their avian adversaries in the Super Bowl.

Astonishing Tales 21
IT! the Living Colossus in
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Dick Ayers

The Colossus lays dormant, defeated by a plan from Bob O’ Brien, top special effects man on “Star Lords”. Arrogant actor Grant Marshall is jealous of Dorian Delazny’s decision to give Bob second billing behind O’Brien’s fiancée/leading lady Diane Cummings. Marshall makes equipment fall from the rafters, and O’Brien pushes Diane out of the way, only to be crushed himself! Resigned to the fact he’ll never walk again, Bob is able to transfer his consciousness into the Colossus when he spots someone trying to steal it. But diabolical Dr. Vault zaps the creature with nerve gas and carts him away, with plans to shrink the giant and use the huge body to replace his “frail mortal form”. But Bob is able to wake Colossus up, escape being sealed in a cavern, and fly after Vault, whose car crashes and sets a resort on fire! IT saves some kids then barely gets away before Bob loses control—possibly due to a time limit. Meantime, a gargoyle flies off to warn its master about the creature.  —Joe Tura

Joe: I’ll leave the scholarship and history of IT to Prof. Matthew, especially since this is the first time I’ve ever read a single page of the Colossus Collection. Right away, I’m a bit skeptical as the cover boasts “Greater than Godzilla! Mightier than King Kong!” Oh, we’ll just see about that, young man. There’s a reason the Big G is called the “King of the Monsters”! All in all, a decent book, with old-school Ayers art and throwback story by Isabella. The O’Brien transfer thingamajig was interesting if not terribly original, and I liked how Colossus was just lying around on a studio lot, waiting for…well, I don’t know! I guess I shouldn’t be too upset after all those Ka-Zar tales, but let’s hope the next three issues are better than this average one.

We also get some filler, courtesy of “The Man Who Captured Death!” by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. A lonely old man invents a machine that enables him to capture Death. But the world suffers when nothing dies—not beetles, vermin or even germs—and the old man realizes his folly, releases Death and accepts his own. Sound the Twilight Zone horn!

Matthew: Isabella launched several short-lived strips (e.g., Tigra, Black Goliath, the Champions); this one revives a pre-super-hero character whose two 1961 Tales of Suspense appearances had just been reprinted in Monsters on the Prowl #17 and 25. Incredible Hulk #244 (February 1980) would briefly drag It out of obscurity again after this four-issue run, of which I have only his—Its?—15-page debut in my trusty Marvel Firsts, omitting the Lee/Ditko do-over “The Man Who Captured Death” from Amazing Adult Fantasy #9 (February 1962). Dick Ayers has been off my radar for many moons while beavering away on war and Western comics, but his self-inked pencils, which look strangely unfinished, do nothing to enhance Tony’s outré plot.

Peter: This is a tough one for me. I love the idea: giant monsters escape from Where Monsters Dwell-ville and squish cities while thousands flee! Problem is, Marvel ain't gonna give such a project to Stainless and Big John, a duo that could do the scenario justice. Instead we get Tony Isabella's cliche-ridden dialogue and Dick Ayers' retro-primitive-styleless-bland scratches ("In a world where every man has his mouth wide open or grits his teeth..."), a recipe for dullsaster. That final bit, with Granitor, father of fellow vintage Marvel Monster Gorgolla, gives me hope that I'll enjoy this short-lived series despite the major drawbacks. I know I really dug IT back when I had no responsibilities and comic books were all I lived for (oh wait, that's me right now!) but any issue of Monsters on the Prowl or Crypt of Shadows would have done that for me. The reprint, "The Man Who Captured Death," was one of the best fantasy tales Marvel ran in their pre-hero takeover days.

Conan the Barbarian 33
“Death and 7 Wizards”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

After emerging from the pool of Tsien Hui, Conan slips into unconsciousness — but he awakes with a jolt just before he is pick pocketed by a monkey-like thief named Bourtai. Begging forgiveness, Bourtai takes Conan to a rundown den of thieves, informing the Cimmerian that thievery is nigh impossible since the all-seeing Seven Wizards took over the city of Wan Tengri, disintegrating the former ruler, Won Shi. Bourtai also informs the barbarian that Kassar, the sheepherder that smuggled him into the city, has been arrested and taken to the Flame Tower, the wizards’ arrow-shaped temple. Conan demands that Bourtai guide him to the Tower so that Kassar can be rescued. When they arrive at their destination, the lights go out: when they come back on, Bourtai is gone and Conan is standing in the middle of a huge indoor arena, the Seven Wizards and their separate groups of followers in the audience. The disembodied voice of the Flame Tower itself warns the warrior that he must face three battles to win honor or death. The first is a massive Siberian tiger, which the Cimmerian slays. The next are seven mighty samurai, representing the different colors of each wizard. Standing behind them is a masked woman who promises herself to Conan if he defeats them all. After he manages to kill the samurai, the victorious barbarian snatches the mask off the woman’s face, revealing a skull. The skeletal vixen reminds Conan that the Flame Tower promised honor or death, and that she is Death. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: The adaptation of Norvell Page’s “Flame Winds” continues. For the first five pages, Conan runs around with bloody, circular wounds, the result of the tentacled woman from the previous comic. But after a nap in the den, he awakes completely healed. Not sure if something will come of that, but it’s abrupt enough to surely smell fishy. The artwork shows improvement from last issue, much more cleaner and exciting. Buscema also increases the amount of panels he uses, as many as eight on some pages. There is a nice two-page spread though: as Bourtai guides Conan through underground passages to the Flame Tower, the barbarian moans that much of his life has been made up of wizards and towers. On the next spread, Big John illustrates a variety of action-packed scenes from previous tower-related adventures featuring Yag-Kosha (issue #4), the Bat God (issue #6), and other classic creatures. It’s a cool piece. Bourtai come across like Smigel, even calling himself by his own name. “The Hyborian Page” features a letter from Ralph Macchio. No, not the Karate Kid, the future Marvel writer/editor. It’s really amazing how many times you come across such familiar names on these letter pages.

Scott: Another beautifully rendered issue. The art is perfect and the story well paced. Ernie Chan's inks really make a huge difference paired with the John Buscema art. They provide a gorgeous two-page flashback spread that's to die for. The sound effect-free action on page 30 is really nicely done while the final panel cliffhanger (below) is chilling. Very nice all around.

Mark: Great cover.

The "apish gargoyle" approaching our unconscious hero at the end of last ish turns out to be pickpocket Bourtai (the sensitive Cimmerian nicknames him "Monkey-Face"), who, after failing to rob Conan, leads him to safety from the pursuing guardsman. Said sanctuary is a catacomb of thieves, where the Big C learns more of the Seven Wizards who recently muscled in on the city of Wan Tengri, enforcing their will with a sinister flame tower, "whose far-darting fires fall with lethal fury on any caught outside the gates after nightfall."

When Mom says be home by curfew, she ain't kidding!

Mark: Big John serves up a lovely two page spread, recapping Conan's earlier encounters with "wizards and towers," prompted by the news that the sheep herder who smuggled him into the city has fallen afoul of the wizards. Off to the tower on a rescue mission he goes – "No man dies in the place of Conan!" – but, alas, the baah-baah boy has already been put to the sword, his capture a mere goad to compel Conan's attendance. He must face three battles and so takes out a tiger, top warriors from each wiz, but just when he thinks he's won and pulls the diaphanous veil from a buxom babe, Conan's confronted with the grinning face of death!

Me thinks his first thought ain't, "Gimmee some skull..."  

The Avengers 118
"To the Death!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia

The Avengers and the Defenders, now fully teamed up, prepare for their final battle against Dormammu as the world begins to go mad. They leave mutated humanity in the hands of conveniently arrived SHIELD as the super-teams enter the mystic dimension. Dormammu realized Loki betrayed him before and imprisons the god of Evil while still withholding his sight. The Watcher then appears to observe the events as Dormammu's influence is felt across the globe and even counter-Earth. The two teams battle their way through the realm until Dormammu separates them from their powers. However, since the Scarlet Witch is a mutant, and born with hers, she cannot be depowered by his spells. Still, Dormammu turns on her and as his attention is taken, Loki attacks form behind, releasing Wanda. She then shoots her full power at them, causing the demon to be absorbed into the evil eye. The free floating eye then blasts Dormammu's power back out onto Loki's face, restoring his sight, but driving him totally insane. With these actions, Dormammu's attack against Earth ends. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The issue starts with a congratulatory blurb for Bob Brown's art. Ironically, it is over a pretty poor splash page. Aside from that, this penultimate chapter in the Evil Eye saga is fairly satisfying. It resolves the Dormammu and Loki situation well, considering how repetitive their scenes had become. The Watcher is fairly pointless here, but what else is new?  He doesn't really do much to influence the outcome, which is probably one of the first times he was hauled out and actually stayed true to his oath of non-interference. Like Captain Kirk, he usually only mentions his oath seconds before he violates it. He’s here primarily to reverse the exposure of Thor and Iron Man’s secret identities (as if Thor even uses his anymore). Giving Wanda the job of saving humanity was a nice bit of business for this otherwise wishy-washy character.

Loki gets his just desserts, which will naturally prove to be a temporary situation. It’s too bad this had to happen in The Avengers rather than in Thor’s own mag, since that title needs the boost Loki’s fate would have given it. A decent epic, if a bit long. It’s still better than Secret Wars.

Matthew: The Avengers/Defenders Spat climaxes as they unite against the common foes, yet what should be a fanboy’s wet dream to some degree sinks under its own weight—proving the wisdom of the episodic format used until now—with few of the fourteen heroes given any substantive amount of screen time, especially within the confines of a regulation-sized issue. That same sense of overreaching makes me wish I could more readily second the splash page’s “Heartfelt thanks to blown-away Bob Brown, for knocking himself out on the artwork [inked by Esposito and Giacoia]! Very well done, Bob!” It’s a shame Subby departed just before the S.H.I.E.L.D. hit the fan, depriving us of his spit-take at Val becoming Virago’s equally evil twin.

Captain America and the Falcon 168
"And a Phoenix Shall Arise!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Tony Isabella
Art by Sal Buscema, John Tartaglione, and George Roussos

Cap and the Falcon are on night patrol discussing Cap being a man out of his time when they are attacked by a new costumed foe named The Phoenix, who swears revenge on Cap. The fight ends suddenly when Phoenix's weapon runs out of ammo and he exercises the better part of valor. Once he's gone, Cap tries to figure out who this guy is and why he wants revenge. He finally decides to take action, first by verbally abusing the Falcon to get him out of harm's way. Before he can do anything else, Cap is himself fooled by Phoenix and is captured by the villain. Bound and suspended over a boiling vat of Adhesive X, Phoenix reveals himself to be the son of the late Baron Zemo. Falcon, who didn't buy Cap's act for a moment, bursts in. Cap uses his mega strength to break free and, during the battle, Phoenix gabs Cap's shield. When he tries to use it against him, Cap ducks and the shield swings back and clocks Phoenix at full force, knocking him into the boiling vat of Adhesive X. We leave the shell shocked Avenger in the dumps again over the war taking one more life.
 -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Now this is a special issue for me, another one of the Power Records presentations and my favorite: “Power Records Presents Captain America and the Falcon in….And a Phoenix Shall Arise!”. The recording was amazingly over the top with the hero and villain voices and whenever I read this story, I hear them. It's a great yarn nevertheless and a really nice standalone issue. We get a cool look back into Cap's past, as well as a belated, detailed origin for the late, lamented Baron Zemo. It’s a great little tale, and I can see why it was picked to represent Cap by Power Records. The story is contained in a single issue and manages to not only bring the readers up to speed on the character's past, but also give a good rundown of some of his more recent nemeses. The friendship between our two heroes is also well represented, especially after Cap tries to give the Falcon the brush and he sees right through it, but plays along because he trusts Cap and knows he's just trying to keep his partner safe. Not for anything, but Cap’s insulting brush off is hilarious. He’s so square, it’s a wonder Falcon didn’t bust a gut laughing.

One thing that's missing in the recording are the racial slurs The Phoenix tosses out there during the battles. I can see that being something you may not want to have the younger set exposed to. The art is as good as usual, with some dynamic action shots, but Steve Rogers doesn’t look quite right. Aside from a minor quibble here and there, this is  a hugely enjoyable story in either form.

Matthew: I was fine with the whole second-generation Zemo bit, and the only sour note for me was the final one, with Cap’s needlessly self-critical “he’s just misguided” shtick, better suited to—and better done in—the false-Cap arc. Buscema gives his usual solid support to newbie Isabella (according to whom plotter Thomas wrote the first six pages, per the MCDb), and is well served by inkers “Tartag” and Roussos. Tony had tested the four-color waters with Chamber of Chills #5, Creatures on the Loose #25, Doc Savage #7-8, and Hero for Hire #15, but along with the current Astonishing Tales, this is his earliest credit that I have seen; only Roy was named when last issue’s lettercol called it “a story he’s been itching to do for several years now.

Peter: I thought the whole thing rushed (the art, however, is just fine), reeking of Deadline Doom. I didn't buy Zemo's kid for a moment and I thought we were past The Falcon's self-deprecating remarks. No problem though. The Master will be back in no time (if only to provide plots for the next few issues) and then we'll get into one of the best arcs of the 1970s.

Mark: Here's relief from MCD: a decent one 'n' done tale, which opens with Cap moping about his decades on ice and the hag Peggy/hot Sharon conundrum, but then a laser slices through the navel gazing and we're off and running. New villain Phoenix may look like a new X-Men reject, but his raging "hate-on" for Mr. Rogers dates back to the Big One! After a sneaky robot-double gas attack, 'Nix unmasks as the son of dead at Cap's hand Baron Zemo, out to settle all family business, just like Michael Corleone. The Cap-suspended-over-boiling-vat bit smacks of Adam West, but we need it for Z the Younger's final swan dive into said boiling vat of adhesive X. A hoary cliché, but damn if it doesn't still work.

Even with Cap's getting all angsty again by the final panel, Sal and Stainless deliver a solid double. Doff your caps, boy. We'll take it.

Matthew: “If you’ll remember back about two years, [we] announced Roy would be doing regular writing for CA&F. Well, the ebb and flow of his editing chores aborted that plan at the last minute, but Roy had already worked up a story—and when Stainless Steve got bogged down developing a new series that will debut next month, our boy editor saw his chance to do his thing….Oh—and about that new series: featuring the Son of Fu-Manchu. Steve is co-creating it with Marvel’s newest fan favorite, Jim Starlin. Describing this one is a bit difficult, but let’s just say that it’s the mystique [sic] Fu-Manchu—done in a totally new and different way. No matter where your head is at, you’ll get behind our new Fu-Manchu mag” (eventually entitled Master of Kung Fu).

Daredevil and the Black Widow 106
"Life Be Not Proud!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck and Sal Trapani

Daredevil finds the man who has shot Moon Dragon is none other than Matt Murdock’s senior law partner Kerwin Broderick. He used the knowledge and technology that she showed him to break her trust and gain absolute control of San Francisco. He has command of a creature named Terrex, who can control life and death. Not to mention the lesser but still considerable forces of Angar the Screamer, Ramrod, and the Dark Messiah too. Kerwin wants to rule San Fran like a monarch, and has placed a force field around the city. When he stuns DD with a blast, he leaves to find Terrex. It turns out Moon Dragon is still clinging to life, and she tells DD how to save her with the “Regenesis treatment.” She gives Matt back his sight in order to accomplish the task, but although grateful, his other senses have been lost to him. This becomes apparent when they join the Black Widow and the police back in the city. His slower skills make it hard to fight Ramrod and the Dark Messiah, although Moon Dragon, having created the latter, returns him to the human boy he came from. DD asks Moon Dragon to restore his blindness, the lesser of two evils being to have his other powers—and having seen Natasha, something he could never have done before. Terrex then appears, gigantic now, with Broderick on his shoulder. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Interesting to see how Matt felt when his vision was actually restored. His affection for Natasha is validated when he gets to really see her. Terrex takes the stage as the main villain, other than Broderick himself, and the others barely have a supporting role. The death of Commissioner O’Hara’s brother is an interesting subplot, as is the hint of emotions between DD and Moon Dragon. The character exchanges are perhaps more interesting than the action.

Matthew: I never found the retroactive explanation of Moondragon’s actions and attitudes in Iron Man #54 satisfying, and the reasons behind last issue’s piecemeal nature may help to explain those internal tensions. This arc adds to the sense of Thanos as an omnipresent menace threatening the whole world, as does his one-panel cameo in the current Avengers, yet despite Starlin’s Titan sequence in #105, it has yet to come off as anything but the poorest of relations to the Thanos War proper. Tonally, it’s at odds with what Jim is doing over in Captain Marvel, especially the substandard artwork—Heck’s penultimate issue (he returns for #118) is Trapani’s last—and the idea of a DD/Moon/Widow triangle, however briefly floated, is equally discordant.

Scott: So, hey, all Daredevil had to do in order to see again was to remove the material covering his eyeholes? Because as soon as he can see again, his eyes are visible. And as soon as he’s blinded again, the hole covers come back. Events like sight restoration and the sacrifice of same should have made this issue great. With another artist it just might have been. However, Don Heck once again….ah skip it. Just read what I wrote last time.

The Defenders 11
"A Dark and Stormy Knight"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Rolle

The Evil Eye is back in the hands of the Defenders, the menace of Dormammu is ended, and Dr. Strange spearheads the mission they finally have the means to accomplish: restore the Black Knight’s spirit to his body. Stephen finds, however, that Dane Whitman’s spirit isn’t where it should be…Suddenly the lot of them are whisked away to the 12th century, where they find the Knight--fighting the Mohammedans who serve a resurrected Mordred, the evil one who has aided Prince John in taking over the rule of his brother King Richard. When a giant gnome named Temax seems impervious to muscle or magic, they use Strange’s magic to gain some distance and plan the next step. They masquerade as priests, wearing cloaks to gain entrance to the castle to free Richard. More gnomes appear and knock out our team, except for Namor and Dr. Strange who have found Mordred. They also find more gnomes, but before they meet the same fate as their fellows, Namor discovers accidentally that water dissolves the creatures. He takes command of his element and melts the rest, and awakens the others. Prestor John then appears, the man Richard had assigned to take care of the Evil Eye, and he reclaims the weapon he had been searching for. The Black Knight elects to remain in this time, and John sends the Defenders back to the present time. All except the Valkyrie and Dr. Strange depart to follow their own path, leaving a question mark for the future. -Jim Barwise

Jim: In wrapping up the Black Knight saga, we get one of the tidiest endings one could ask for. The Hulk, Namor, Hawkeye and the Silver Surfer all reach a kind of clarity of purpose, while leaving things fully open for future endeavors. Even details like the memory cleansing of humanity and the “drying up” of Val’s feelings toward Dane are attended to. It’s a worthwhile and welcome resolution to have Prestor John, a rather odd hero, return from way back in Fantastic Four #54 (when it was pretty fantastic) to reclaim the Evil Eye. I like the comedic touch of our team walking around in cloaks, and the menace of the Giant Gnomes is belied by their almost cutely silly look.

Matthew: Touted as “the 12th and final chapter of the greatest super-epic ever told,” Steve’s Defenders swan song is more of an epilogue to the Avengers/Defenders Altercation, with the Assemblers making a mere two-page cameo. Qualified Brown-booster though I may be, I’ll admit that Buscema’s work here, ably inked by Bolle, blows away what Battlin’ Bob did this month on the other side of the street, and that it’s a damned shame Sal couldn’t have handled that extravaganza himself. To me, this issue is most notable for resolving the Black Knight plotline (up to a point, anyway) and for whittling our “Expanded Heads” non-team from six down to two, although the Hulk always manages to come back, and a replacement is waiting in the, um, wings.

Scott: And so it ends; the longest team-up to date and it was resolved in a fairly interesting, yet still overly coincidental fashion. It feels like once the battles were out of the way, it was suddenly remembered they had loose ends to tie up. Is it me, or do the members of the Defenders actually get along better than the folks currently in the Avengers? At least Dr. Strange wiped out the public's memory of the existence of The Defenders, excluding the aforementioned Avengers. Poor Nick Fury never catches a break. It seems a little easy, though, for Strange to just "repair Dormammu's damage" with the wave of his hand and an incantation. If he can do that, why bother worrying about would-be conquerors? Kind of a let down for a story of this size.

Fantastic Four 141
"The End of the Fantastic Four!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

 Annihilus has rendered the FF unconscious, and he draws into his lair, allowing them to recover, to hear his plans. He shows them Sue, Franklin and Agatha Harkness (who he brought to the Negative Zone and forced her to help him), behind a transparent barrier. In order to recover the immortality he once had, he is going to use the power inherent in Reed and Sue’s son, and drain him in the process. They can’t really match his powers, and he contains them in an unbreakable prison, but not one that Medusa’s hair can’t get them down from! They have learnt from some local alien’s telepathic powers that Annihilus has been losing power since they last were here. They find him again, and take him by surprise. Not having yet absorbed Franklin’s powers, Annihilus is soon overcome. Agatha Harkness sends them back to the Baxter Building, as Franklin ‘s energy seems to be building to a critical mass within him. Reed, aware that this could mean the end of life in the Solar System, uses a ray blast to shut down Franklin’s mind. What this means to his son for the long run is unclear, but for now, he seems to be a vegetable. The rest of the team walks out in disgust, proclaiming the end of the Fantastic Four. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Times are not great for the Fantastic Four these days. The mystery of Franklin is solved, but in a way that leaves him as... what? I don’t know If Agatha Harkness would have been so powerless so as to have to help Annihilus, or not to stand against him. And his defeat seemed pretty easy after their earlier encounter. Still, the moral dilemma Reed faces is a huge one, from which perhaps there is no turning back.

Matthew: Apt that a story billed as “The End of the Fantastic Four” (punctuated with a question mark on the cover and an exclamation point on the splash page, interestingly) should mark the end of Big John Buscema’s rarely interrupted three-year run on the book; the first of his sporadic remaining Bronze issues will be #160. Gerry’s obviously going for a game-changer on the order of his killing off Gwen Stacy, but while I’ll allow how hard the outcome was on all of the characters, their treatment of Reed has always pissed me off. If he was right that the world was truly endangered—and we have no reason to doubt that a scientist of his caliber would be too far off the mark—then he obviously had no choice, and castigating him for that is unjustified.

Mark: Danger, danger, Will Robinson! FF #141 has a massive, herpes-scare case of MCD. For you new transfer students, that's shorthand for Marvel Climaxius Disappointius, a malady suffered by an increasing number of multi-part Bullpen offerings that bolt strong from the gate, plot-tease with a mirage-like promise of gripping Graphic Literature...only to then belly-flop down ye old porcelain convenience. "The End of the Fantastic Four" is a prime example, a noxious stinkbomb of epic suckitude.

Joe: This issue was near the middle of a long run of FFs/Marvel's Greatest Comics that was part of my long-gone collection, mostly because Fantastic Four was my second favorite comic growing up. I loved the family dynamic and the give-and-take between the team members, and this is one of those issues that really tugged at the old manipulated heartstrings. I'm going by memory instead of re-reading it, but any FF with Wyatt Wingfoot was a plus, and the shocking ending threw me for a loop. Probably better off not reading it again, aren't I....

Peter: I come to a fork in the road. The road to the left is known as "ReadIt Avenue" and the one on the right is "LeaveItToMemory Court." Like Professor Joe, I have a very strong memory of reading this in 1973 and having it wallop me one right in the kisser. Having now read all 140 issues of the FF's title (and having endured approximately 26 break-ups of the group), I'm assuming the impact may be a bit lighter. My colleagues seem to be all over the map with this one, but there's no denying that the very idea of Reed shutting Franklin down for fear the universe would cease to exist is a powerful concept. What the hell, I'm aiming my 'vette to the left. Wish me the best.

Scott: Reed does what he has to do in order to save the galaxy, but in so doing condemns his son to life as a mental vegetable. Damn, that's cold. It is, however, a really gripping issue, one of the best in a long time. Readers who really hated the marital trouble between Reed and Sue must have been aghast at this turn of events. Of course, we all know Franklin will be restored in time, but this ain’t gonna be resolved anytime soon. So now, the FF is splitting up. I give them credit for shaking up the title, but break-ups are so boringly temporary. None of these characters work as well on their own. They were created as a team, which is how they function best. Sue never seems to functions at all on her own. She’s always caring for Franklin or riding horses at Bob and Carol’s ranch (are Ted and Alice on vacation?).

Beginning next issue: Rich Buckler takes the pencils. Yay. Not that there’s anything wrong with Buscema and Sinnott. Quite the contrary, the art (with the exception of Sue’s hideously outdated, even for then, hairstyle) is exemplary. Rich “Swash” Buckler will give the series the same bristling energy in his own way. The writing may let us down from time to tome (this is the 70’s after all), but the art will be quite good.

Peter: Buckler on the FF! Note to self: renew subscription.

Chris: FF-philes were very troubled by Reed’s containment of Franklin’s powers. We’ve seen could-be FF breakup stories before, so I don’t expect readers (or MU faculty, for that matter) are too concerned that the team might disband. But concerning the apparent harm to Franklin, and its consequent damage to the already-teetering Reed-Sue relationship, lettercols for months afterward expressed dismay that there might be no remedy on either front. In the wake of the death of Gwen Stacy, Marvel readers were only beginning to realize the need to prepare themselves for other permanent changes involving their favorite characters.

Mark: There's no reason to delineate this disaster except I'm teaching a new course next semester, Four Color Calamities, and thanks to the fresh taste of bile, FF #141 may be first on the dissection table. The DO's/DON'T's of scripting in this case can be limited to the latter.
DON'T: Ignore common sense. Medusa's inhuman hair may be strong enough to hoist Reed, Johnny, and Ben from a high tower (the Rapunzel bit, p. 16), but what about her neck, Gerry? The Thing alone weighs a ton.

DON'T: Abandon characters far, far from home. After our heroes finally fly-strip Annihilus, Reed prompts a weakened Agatha Harkness to hex them back to B. Building. Leaving our fave old witch since Endora stranded in the Negative Zone.

DON'T: Have a character spout inappropriate one-liners. Conway'd already milked the Thing name-checks TV gag dry when, just back to earth, Ben cracks wise about Archie Bunker while Franklin's life's at stake. That's not characterization, its parody.

DON'T: Fit the villain with a dunce cap. Annihilus needs Frankie to extract the lad's cosmic ray-infused gene juice to become Evil Overlord of Everything, but the kid was in his clutches last ish! Did Bug-Boy zap Frankie with his "gene transmuter" and power up before confronting our heroes? Nah, he flits off to earth, kicks FF ass anyway, mules them to the N-Zone for another beatdown, then let's them escape into the wild. Why? Because Kid Conway says so, having skipped that lit class on "suspension of disbelief."

DON'T: Try drumming up "Disband the team!" drama with a dumb-ass idea. Sure, Reed ray-gunning his own son to "shut down his mind" seems harsh at first blush, but when the alternative was the starry-eyed tyke "kill(ing) every living creature in the solar system," there's no reason to stink-eye Stretch-o. He just saved the world.

But you've been exposed to MCD, kids.

Go take a shower.

Adventure Into Fear 19
Man-Thing in
"The Enchanter's Apprentice"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Sal Trapani

Ever since Jennifer Kale had her psychic connection with the Man-Thing broken, she has very vivid, frightening dreams, of other worlds, warriors and monsters. In one such dream she is a sorceress rescuing the Man-Thing from a Karthartan prince named Korrek. But when he appears in the real world, witnessed by her brother Andy and grandfather Joshua, she knows something is up. What is up, other than the floating wizard Dakimh the Enchanter, who appears out of nowhere, is a cosmic disruption. The work proceeding in the swamp is unknowingly damaging the nexus point of many parallel dimensions; thus the bizarre dreams which are in fact Jen’s trips to another dimension. That is how Korrek got here, as well as a talking duck that becomes his swamp searching friend. Dakimh offers Jennifer the chance to become his apprentice. She is eager, and Joshua consents reluctantly. Soon Jennifer’s lessons are interrupted by a bomb of sorts, Dakimh’s vanishing act, and capture by warriors in service of someone called the “Overmaster.” Many more bizarre creatures have entered our world through the swamp, seeking to destroy the Man-Thing, who they see as preventing them from invading our world. -Jim Barwise

Jim: A sillier roller coaster of crazy happenings might be hard to come up with! Jennifer’s dreams turn out to be no crazier than…reality. I wonder what people would have thought of a talking duck (named Howard) back in the day, let alone it allying itself with Korrek and the Man-Thing! I don’t know if Dakimh is playing Jennifer for a fool, but she clearly will become a player of more power.

Matthew: “Waugh!” Yes, I know, I’m getting ahead of myself, because Howard has yet to be named or utter his signature exclamation, and in fact his six-panel debut gives little hint of what is in the cards. Why a duck? I dunno, but younger readers cannot imagine the insanity that HTD unleashed, especially when he got his own book—the first issue of which set off the biggest collector’s frenzy of its day—in 1976 after several more appearances in this strip. Yet even without said avian advent, the Gerber/Mayerik/Trapani team is really cooking with gas, from that delirious splash page through the introduction of Korrek (presumably a pastiche, if not a parody, of Marvel’s Howardian barbarians) to the resurgent Jennifer’s new duties and eye-catching duds.

Mark: Now this is more like it. After last issue's somber, high body count slog, "The Enchanter's Apprentice!" is a mind-bending, magic realistic romp and, oh yeah, it also introduces the world to an acerbic, as-yet-unnamed cigar-chomping waterfowl!

Matthew: In Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, Sean Howe relates, “Just as the furor of Gwen Stacy was starting to die down, [EIC] Roy Thomas saw Howard…The book’s scary vibe, he thought, was compromised by the inclusion of a funny animal. ‘Get it out of there as fast as you can,’ he told Gerber. In his next appearance, Howard made a clumsy step off a rock and fell into oblivion. The fans reacted instantly. ‘The office was flooded with letters,’ Gerber recalled….‘Stan was being asked about it every place he went on the college circuit’ [but he] could only respond, ‘Howard the Who?’ This time, the fans were on the side of the writer. Marvel would bring Howard back,” his solo debut, “Frog Death,” appearing in Giant-Size Man-Thing #4 (May 1975).

Mark: The opening is pure Steve Gerber, plunking Manny down "on this blood-red plain," beneath a floating castle, bearing witness to a clash of mix 'n' match armies out of time: WW II-era G.I.'s and barbarian hoards, WW I bi-planes and rocket ships "even Hugo Gernsback would not believe...could fly." The WTF factor is off the charts, inducing a giddy anything-can-happen high that readies the reader for Jennifer Kale's (in her skimpy Atlantian princess outfit) descent from the castle on a beam of light. She retrieves Manny, but Korrek the Barbarian gives chase, following Jennifer back through her dream to our world, materializing out of a jar of peanut butter!

WTF indeed.

Dakimh the Enchanter (see ish #15) arrives to explain that the walls between "every possible permutation of reality" have been breeched, thanks to the F.S. Schist's construction crew mucking about with the "cosmic nexus point," in the very swamp Manny calls home. And where a hoard of Timely-era BEMs are now gathering...

And Marvel will never be the same...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

November 1973 Part Two: Introducing... The Savage Sub-Mariner!

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire 15
"Retribution Part II"
Story by Tony Isabella and Billy Graham
Art by Billy Graham

Luke Cage is stressed out, attempting to figure out how his lady friend, Claire Temple, got arrested for the murder of Phil Fox. The real murderer of Fox, of course, is the former prison guard, Rackham. With captive Mrs. Jenks, a nervous Rackham rationalizes that he still holds all the cards since he has Dr. Burnstein's journal, detailing his experiments and Cage's true identity. The two escaped convicts, Shades and Comanche, put their revenge plans against Rackham on hold as they shake down the owner of a string of liquor stores for protection money. Cage is able to sneak a visit to Claire where she relates to him all that has happened. When Luke visits his ghetto snitch Flea to get some information, the man leads him to a liquor store. Cage is soon reunited with his old prison chums as Shades and Comanche are hiding out inside. -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: Is Cage ever not pissed off about something? We're propelled into the second part of this tale, which is shorter than usual for whatever reason. Billy Graham gives us the full Tuska Teeth on Rackham and, with Graham also doing the scripting, we get some interesting narrative choices. He indulges in a little street slang more than once, making it a little confusing. Cage isn't narrating this; this is Graham going a little crazy. Lots of energy and action with a lovely full page spread of Cage falling from the side of the jail, but very little actual progress. Was there not enough material to fill an entire issue?

The Sub-Mariner reprint (which would have been more fitting in his own title since it was dedicated to Everett) was a butt load of chocolaty goodness. Such fun and beautifully drawn.

Peter Enfantino: "Invasion!" originally appeared in Sub-Mariner #35 (August 1954). Tony Isabella has some interesting things to say about Steve Englehart, Billy Graham, and the credits for Hero For Hire #15 and 16 at his Bloggy Thing.

The Tomb of Dracula 14
"Dracula is Dead!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

The vampire hunters are somewhat shocked that Blade was able to kill Dracula during their previous battle in an old mansion. Before they get a chance to seal Drac's fate by cutting off his head, an army of townsfolk, under Dracula's command, breaks inside the mansion and takes the vampire lord away. As they carry the Count into the countryside, his corpse mummifies. This causes the spell held over the villagers to dissipate and they run off, leaving his body behind. Nearby, a disillusioned preacher named Josiah Dawn sees a bright shining light that leads him to the vampire's cadaver. Josiah rejoices as he believes this is a sign from God that will guide him and his followers to an enlightened path. The next day, Frank Drake informs his fellow vampire hunters that he has found fliers plastered up all over town, illustrated with a picture of Dracula's corpse, advertising that Josiah will resurrect the dead. The hunters arrive to confront the congregation but are too late to stop Josiah as he pulls the stake from Dracula's heart. As the prince of darkness regains his demonic form, Josiah and his followers reveal that they are ready for him by displaying crosses. This was all part of Josiah's strange plan to banish Dracula and to prove that the power of God is stronger than his evil. Even though he is caught off-guard, Dracula's power is far greater than they could have imagined as he summons a lightning storm, killing Josiah. The story ends with Drac turning into a bat and flying off as the vampire hunters look on helplessly. As this adventure takes place, Doctor Sun's agents continue their mysterious plans as they inspect a vampire stolen from a morgue.  -Tom McMillion

Mark Barsotti: Like Gwen Stacy, Dracula is really dead, having been staked by Blade last ish. But unlike the unfortunate Ms. Stacy, death isn't necessarily an insurmountable problem to our five hundred year old connoisseur of the rich red. A mob of possessed villagers descends on our hearty band of vamp hunters before they can decapitate the count, almost trample Harker and company, and make off with Vlad's rapidly decomposing body. The dead fanger's hypnotic hold on the mob suddenly evaporates. They drop his coffin and flee, and there Drac (and the book) might have ended forever, save for traveling Chautauqua tent preacher Josiah Dawn and his really fu**ed-up relationship with the Lord.

Tom McMillion: There is some deep underlying message in this story regarding religion and faith I can only speculate the meaning of. I guess it would make sense that some religious fanatic would be dumb enough to resurrect a vampire only to try to kill it again to prove a point. Not the best story in the series so far but interesting nonetheless. I'm intrigued by the slowly developing side plot involving the mysterious agents that work for the still unseen Doctor Sun. Are we going to have a Dracula versus Fu Manchu-type story later down the road?

Chris Blake: Marv Wolfman understands that the conflict with Harper's Hunters is made more compelling if the undead vampire can find ways to undo their victory over him.  Dracula's ability to dupe the well-meaning Preacher Dawn into restoring him suggests that Drac’s power isn't even extinguished in death – a formidable and, ultimately, possibly an unbeatable foe.  Dawn has moments of inspiring courage in the face of an opponent who clearly overmatches him.  The lightning-strike to Dawn’s cross is an ingenious move by the ever-resourceful bloodsucker.

Mark: The preach knows a PR opportunity when he stumbles upon a coffin full of it, and so Quincy & crew see a poster promising to resurrect the Count. Come one, Come all! Balloons for the kids! It's hard to follow preacher Dawn's twisted, connect-the-dots theology, but, hey, bringing the Lord of the Undead back to life (by simply removing Blade's wooden dagger) so you can off him again while the crowd roars, "We're killing Satan's Demon, Lord!" is sure to fill the collection plates.

Things naturally go off-script. Drac summons lightning (part-Asgardian? Who knew?), preacher Josh's ornate crucifix gets zapped, and the revived Count flaps away into the night. Another dark delight from Wolfman and Colan.

Scott: It seems as if John Romita did the majority of this month's covers. The interior is pure Colan as Drac is eventually revived by a religious zealot. Was it established that Drac could summon lightning? It's a nice, crispy death for our guest character. All good fun, but a bit of a comedown from the last few issues.

Peter: Like Dr. Strange, I'm coming to this title fresh. I never bought into the Count on screen or in the comics until I was quite older (and then, only in moderation). Reading this now, I'm struck by just how adult the themes and dialogue are, as though Marv was writing for those college students who used to eat up Amazing Spider-Man on campus and take in Stan Lee lectures. Those kids have grown up by 1973 and sold all their Spideys and FFs to the shady character down at the comic shop, so Marv has his work cut out for him, attempting to build an audience out of 12 year-olds who only want to ogle Sue Storm in a bikini and watch The Hulk beat Thor senseless. Those kids didn't want to read about deep subjects like religion and faith (I sure didn't) so my hats off to Wolfman and Colan for not bowing to pop culture (Drac hasn't called anyone "meathead" yet, has he?) and telling the story they want to tell. I haven't read the entire series up to this point so I'll have to take Professor Tom at his word that this one isn't the best but, judging by the quality here, it's high time I backtracked. This one's pretty damned good. Extra points for Marv's full-bodied preacher, who at no time resembles the cliched snake charmer we've all come to know and know and know...

Werewolf by Night 11
"Comes the Hangman"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton

Philip Russell is being tortured by The Committee, who want Jack, but Philip won’t give his stepson up. Jack himself moves into a new apartment (finally!) in “singles hang out” Colden Springs, where Tina Sands, aka Sandy, knocks into mysterious Mr. Coker, who’s carrying supernatural tomes. Cut to a mugger who is slain by The Hangman, who not only carries out his own brand of justice, but takes the mugging victim with him to protect her and to have someone to share his origin story. Jack senses the moonlight and strolls the beach where it becomes Second Night and he changes—but suddenly a bevy of body-builder buffoons accost the Werewolf! At The Hangman’s lair, he recounts his love of justice and eventual transformation into the anti-hero he perceives himself to be. Meantime, Werewolf fights off the swimsuit-clad simpletons and heads for the city, where he runs into Buck and Lissa—but the Hangman thinks he’s attacking! When he pushes Lissa, the Werewolf goes hairy and attacks! After a fairly even battle, Werewolf is distracted by police sirens and the Hangman is able to noose him…Will he survive? –Joe Tura

Joe: “At last—Werewolf—Written by a Wolfman—“ Yep, the splash page went there, as Marv Wolfman debuts on WWBN. First, he throws in the usual “weirdo of the week” but manages to actually kick things off with a two-parter of all things, as well as laying down lots of groundwork, like the mysterious Mr. Coker (you had to know there was a reason I put that in the summary; well, at least I hope it goes somewhere since he was carrying a “Supernatural” book and “Werewolf Blood”), Sandy and the two hotties in Jack’s building. Anyone who reads this book knows not to trust anyone or anything.

The Kane/Sutton team is subpar, to be honest. Either one or the other might have been a much better idea. Only the first and final pages truly stand out, even though it looks like Werewolf has way too much mascara on. Plenty of nostril shots to appease the faculty, and lots of flowing hair, even on Jack. Does anyone draw 70s hair the way Kane does? Finally, no mention is made of a letterer, but maybe because it seems as if there are five different ones in the issue!

Chris: At first glance, there isn’t much to the Hangman that we haven’t seen and heard before from other vigilantes.  I appreciated the progression into his mindset as chronicled in the Hangman’s back story, but I especially enjoyed the self-serving nature of his tortured logic, as he justifies locking up women for their protection.  We also have a glimpse into Phillip Russell, who we’ve been led to believe is one of the villains in Jack’s story – if Phillip isn’t willing to hand over his step-son, does it mean that Jack might have been wrong about him?  Stay tuned . . .

Gil Kane serves as a fitting replacement for Sutton, especially with Sutton himself providing the inks.  There are a number of very effective moments in the art, especially the haunted look on the captive girl’s face (p. 14), the intense expression on the Hangman’s scarred face (above), and Jack’s transformation (below), the depiction of which can make-or-break any issue of WbN.  The colors are more effectively unusual here than they had been in WbN #10, and my first thought was that George Roussos had returned, but the colorist credit says only “Stan G.”

The Incredible Hulk 169
"Calamity in the Clouds!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel

General Ross sits aghast as the television screams that his daughter, Betty, is now a mutated monster called the Harpy.  Even though she is out of her mind, the Harpy somewhat recognizes her father when he shows up in a taxi. She whisks the Hulk away into the air just as a strange tornado appears out of nowhere. Sucked into the deadly vortex, the two green freaks wind up in a city in the clouds where they are met by the monstrous Bi-Beast, a creature that informs them they are his prisoners. The Hulk and the Harpy briefly team up to fight the Bi-Beast until the lack of oxygen in the air causes the Hulk to turn back into Bruce Banner. After the Bi-Beast defeats the Harpy, he informs Banner that he was created long ago by the Bird People. When Bruce tells the monster that he is a scientist, the Bi-Beast puts him to work to fix the machines breaking down that give the city its oxygen. Banner agrees to help as long as the Harpy will be released under his care. The Bi-Beast gives the Harpy over to Banner, unaware that Bruce isn't trying to fix the machines, but using them instead to cure Betty of her Gamma ray mutation. M.O.D.O.K. and his crew track down the Harpy. Once the Bi-Beast informs him that Banner is working on their machines, M.O.D.O.K. freaks out, worried that Banner is going to use the technology to destroy them all. When the villains confront Banner, he turns into the Hulk again and fights with the Bi-Beast. A double cross comes in to play as M.O.D.O.K. claims the city for himself; he has his guards shoot and mortally wound the Bi-Beast. Not wanting his precious city to fall into someone else's hands, the Bi-Beast activates a lever that causes his whole world to collapse. M.O.D.O.K. and company make their escape while Banner and a newly cured Betty fall into a deep crevice as the city crumbles to pieces.-Tom McMillion

Scott: This was my first exposure to MODOK as a kid, having picked up this issue at "110 Bargain Books" in the late 70s in the back issue bin with my allowance ($3 a week and that was after I got a raise – miss ya, Mom!). It's a lovely issue, beautifully drawn and perfectly inked. The illustrations are crisp and clean, the colors vibrant. This issue pops. I actually hauled out the copy I still have (poly-bagged but still dog eared) and the smell of the ink and paper hit me and dragged me back in time. This is the Trimpe/Abel team at its finest. Englehart is also on his game here, introducing us to the Bi-Beast up in Cloud City. A decent concept, but it strains credibility that no one ever discovered this hidden city in the clouds. Hasn't there ever been a cloudless day in the Marvel Universe? Would no one in the air or on the ground spot this lonely billowing mass above? Satellites never caught it? Nick Fury never smacked into this thing with the Heli-Carrier? Reed Richards never picked it up out of the corner of his eye? With all of the advanced tech in the MU? But, meh, let's go with it, because if we don't, we lose this grand adventure.

Matthew Bradley:  Seemingly determined to go out with a bang as his tenure on this book— which at the moment could be retitled Hulk on Acid—winds down (the next three issues will be scripted by others from his plots), Stainless takes an already offbeat storyline and kicks it up yet another notch…eight miles up, to be precise, with a Red Raven tie-in beyond Rascally’s wildest nightmares and the granddaddy of all cliffhanger endings.  Since Steve gave us the double-no-wait-triple-decker Nameless One in Defenders #3, I wonder if he was going for a variation on a theme when he and Herb, still saddled with Abel’s sub-Trapani inks, created the Bi-Beast. But with MODOK et al. back in the mix, it’s probably best to check your brain at the door and enjoy.

Scott: Sadly, the Harpy is cured very quickly, before she could really be a menace or a solid adversary. She had real potential and at least another issue in her before getting pushed out. At least Bruce finally gets to see her naked. Making that sexier is the fact she’s now married at this point. Woo-hoo, go Marvel. The Bi-Beast apparently dies here but (SPOILER) will return eventually. Is this the first issue where it is specifically stated Banner's eyes change from brown to green when he becomes the Hulk? I remember as a kid being confused since I was introduced to the Hulk via his TV series. I was all "but his eyes are white!" Aside from that childhood confusion, this was a great early read for me that still holds up well today.

Peter: I'm with Professor Scott when he rhapsodizes about a third part to this arc, a storyline I really dug. Despite the ascendancy of Stainless to the writing mantle for this title, I thought the last batch of issues had a drag to them, they weren't all that much fun. This two-parter hit all the right notes. That full-pager (above) of the Bi-Beast claiming pure power, The Harpy showing shock, and our green hero piping up with a "Huh?" is priceless. So The Harpy cries green tears? I wonder if all of her bodily fluids run emerald. Does the same happen with our titular hero? I liked the shout-out to Red Raven, an arc from way back that I really enjoyed. The Bi-Beast's suicide/genocide scene is right out of Beneath the Planet of the Apes. And, all together with MODOK one more time: "Fates preserve me!"

The Invincible Iron Man 64
"Rokk Cometh!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

Promoting urban renewal, Iron Man demolishes a condemned Detroit slum, but just as he finishes demonstrating S.I.’s new prefab modular-construction materials, Dr. Spectrum returns to destroy the building, although the rebellion of his prism results in his being driven off by an ultra-violet ray.  Learning that Tony no longer needs his chestplate to stay alive, Happy attacks, interrupted by the arrivals of Pepper, who tries to talk some sense into him; Eddie and Obatu, who seeks to hire Tony’s bodyguard; and Rokk, a giant energy-being who captures Obatu on behalf of his creator. Rokk’s mind-probe reveals that Roxie can be used against Tony, so he tries to kill her, yet in the midst of their fight, Rokk fades away, revealed as Spectrum’s creation.-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I doubt it will swell the ranks of the Tuska Fan Club, but I do think attention must be paid to that unusual series of full-page montages, leaving us without a standard panel layout until page 10.  Otherwise, it’s one of those issues that makes me throw up my hands and say “nolo contendere” to the ferrophobes; it’s not terrible, but doesn’t exactly get your pulse racing, either, and as Mark Drummond comments on SuperMegaMonkey, “Pepper is constantly drawn to look like her eyes are on the verge of popping out of her head.”  The imaginatively named Rokk (presumably as hard as…?) is what Dad used to call “a big nothing,” and the whole Obatu/Rokk/Spectrum/prism shtick is so convoluted that Mike Friedrich almost seems to be channeling his dreaded namesake.

Scott: While Tony is right to shoulder some of the blame for ruining Happy and Pepper's marriage, calling it "wonderful" when it clearly wasn't kind of jumped out at me. They've obviously been unhappy for a while and Pepper did put the moves on Tony. Everyone is guilty here, but Tony was just following his tongue. At least his true feelings are revealed, but all it did was produce a fairly long yawn. Roxy is just another dame in the long chain of chicks Stark will chase from now to whenever. Otherwise, not the worst issue of the month. A decent dust up, but I'm wearying of this Dr. Spectrum dude.

Jungle Action 7
The Black Panther in
"Death Regiments Beneath Wakanda!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

The Black Panther plummets from the top of Warrior Falls to the rocks far below.  Killmonger stalks away, certain of T’Challa’s death.  The Panther keeps calm, and remembers his father’s instruction not to fear the Falls.  T’Challa uses the outcropping rocks to slow his descent, so that he splashes down, battered and bruised, but alive.  Monica finds his limp form adrift in the river, and helps bear T’Challa home, where he spends the next week recovering. T’Challa reflects on his past history with Killmonger, whom he once knew as N’Jadaka.  The Panther had helped N’Jadaka return to Wakanda after N’Jadaka had been taken captive by the Klaw and forced to steal vibranium; N’Jadaka then had “vanished into the wilderness” following his return to the homeland.  Taku informs his prince of a report of “death legions” converging on Warrior Falls, so T’Challa (despite not having fully recovered from his injuries) springs into action.  The Panther discovers a huge mining operation, positioned directly below the vibranium lode – Killmonger’s forces are digging the precious ore out from under the Wakandan miners!  T’Challa then is attacked by Killmonger’s serpent-handling ally, who calls himself Venomm (why two M’s?  couldn’t say).  T’Challa defeats his challenger, and vows to end Killmonger’s campaign against Wakanda. -Chris Blake

Chris: Since JA #6 required McGregor to establish so many facets of the storyline, there doesn’t appear to be as much happening in this second chapter.  It’s interesting to know that the Panther and his rival have some past history, but T’Challa doesn’t reflect on whether he sees N’Jadaka as capable of leadership, or ambition, or cruelty, or anything else, observing only that he cannot guess how Killmonger “has become so powerful in so few years.”  McGregor presents more palace discontent, as Tanzika is aloof towards Monica, and Zatama is outright disrespectful towards his prince (more on those fronts to come in later issues).  Venomm doesn’t put up much of a fight, but he’ll have another chance.  Tayete and Kazibe are perfunctorily clobbered.  The Buckler-Janson art overall is lacking something, when compared to the  solid work of JA #6, but the impressive two-page spread on pg 2-3 (above) more than makes up for any murky or unfinished-looking panels elsewhere in the issue.

Since there are no fan letters yet, the letter-col features a piece by Steve Gerber, who describes the close collaboration between McGregor and Buckler.  Gerber states that Roy Thomas initially had selected him to pen the Panther’s Rage storyline, and doesn’t explain how the writing chores were switched instead to McGregor.  Gerber accurately describes the story as “precedent-shattering,” in that it relates an African-based tale that centers on “the first jungle hero who’s not a foreign import.”  Yes, in an era so soon after many African nations had established independence from European colonizers, it was ambitious for Marvel to select this as a setting for comics storytelling.

Fortunately, we are spared a Lorna of the Jungle back-up reprint (which would have been even more incongruous, when paired with Gerber’s comments), and instead get a benign Don Rico-Syd Shores story about elephant jousting from a 1956 issue of Lorna the Jungle Girl.  This, thankfully, is the final reprint, as future filler pieces will be pin-ups, maps, a synopsis, and other materials that tie-in to the storyline.

Matthew: Steve Gerber, in another “special message” (see Sub-Mariner), writes about the strip’s genesis, “precedent-shattering” nature, and future.  In a bimonthly book, with four pages expropriated for an admittedly unusual reprint—“The Fury of the Tusk” from Lorna the Jungle Girl #22 (December 1956)—it’s clearly being doled out sparingly, yet the evident care that Messrs. McGregor, Buckler and, yes, Janson are putting into it means we are unquestionably getting quality if not quantity.  The 90°-rotated spread on pages 2-3 is a tour de force, with the atmospheric page 11 (above) not far behind, and Don skillfully interpolates Killmonger into T’Challa’s history, going back to Fantastic Four #53, while building his world and supporting cast of today.

Kull the Destroyer 11
“King Kull Must Die!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Michael Ploog

In a secluded cabin, Count Ducalon, Baron Kaanuub, Commander Enaros, the rabblerousing singer Ridondo, and other Valusian conspirators await the arrival of a mysterious stranger named Ardyon. When he arrives, Ardyon promises they will overthrow King Kull by midnight, claiming that the royal guards will be asleep at their posts. On the way to the capital, the group is joined by a squad of traitorous Black Legionnaires. When they arrive at the palace, the guards are indeed disabled, so the intruders easily enter Kull’s bedchambers. Unlike his men, the defiant monarch stands ready for the fight, killing Enaros with the first vicious axe blow. Many others also fall, including Ridondo. But when Kull faces Ardyon, his strength suddenly fails and he collapses. In a demonic flourish, Ardyon reveals that he is actually Thulsa Doom. Taking the crown off Kull’s unconscious head, Dooms places it on his own, and the golden band transforms into a serpent crest. Thulsa Doom proclaims himself the new King of Valusia as Kull is dragged off to the dungeons. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: The splash page boasts “Beginning: a new and startling chapter in the life of Kull of Valusia, Atlantean-born monarch of the topaz throne!” Now the new part can’t be Roy Thomas, since he’s a returning veteran of the series. So I must assume that we’re talking about the Kull debut of Michael Ploog. Ploog’s work here is a revelation, head and shoulders above what I’ve seen so far on the MU posts. Like Barry Smith, he’s a natural for the sword-and-sorcery category. Just check out the cover, aforementioned splash, and page 27: squint and you might discern some of that Smith style. But while Barry was much more classical in his sensibilities, Ploog’s artwork has a loose, druggy vibe that’s definitely rooted in the ’70s. I’m psyched to see that Mike will remain for the next four issues, as he single-handedly raises the usually mediocre bar. Another change is the title itself: Kull the Conqueror is now Kull the Destroyer. I would imagine that “destroyer” would test better among the S&S crowd than “conqueror.” Though Kull the Conquering Destroyer is not half bad. Roy is pretty faithful to the source work, “By This Axe, I Rule,” the last of Robert E. Howard’s Kull stories. Thomas also utilized this one as a basis for the very first issue back in June 1971.

Marvel Feature 12
The Thing and Iron Man in
"The Bite of the Blood Brothers!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Jim Starlin and Joe Sinnott

Seeking a lead at the desert outpost where he encountered Thanos in #55 of his own mag, Iron Man flies over the Thing (plodding home from last issue), who is irate at being left in the dust and goes in hot pursuit.  Still lurking about, the Blood Brothers get the go-ahead from their Masterlord to kill Iron Man, yet when he realizes he is outgunned and flies off for “Avenger reinforcements,” he collides with Ben.  With a “glomp,” one of the fanged frères unsuccessfully tries to live up to his name by biting Ben, who battles them single-handed as Iron Man recuperates; the two join forces and prevail over the brothers, whom Thanos zaps away for their failure, but Iron Man is left with insufficient power to carry the chagrined Thing back East. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It didn’t take Starlin long to reunite with Friedrich (Shellhead’s regular writer, supplanting Wein after one issue) and tie this into their Thanos War in Captain Marvel; Iron Man doesn’t actually begin the journey that leads him here until CM #30, but I’m not gonna wait around.  It’s already a pretty honking coincidence that out of the whole Southwest, Shellhead just happens to fly over the spot where the Thing is schlepping home, and then to have Ben just happen to be another of the handful of people with prior knowledge of Thanos…but I quibble.  Aside from the friction between them, which I found overdone, it’s a nifty sophomore outing for the strip, soon to morph into Marvel Two-in-One, and FF veteran Sinnott certainly brings continuity to Ben’s appearance.

Chris: A rock-em sock-em run-in with the Blood Brothers.  A MARVIS moment--mercifully--is avoided. Missed opportunity: we're reminded that the Blood Brothers are space vampires (who knew?), but the one Brother's chomp to Ben's rocky neck could've at least been exploited to comedic effect (I mean, that's gotta hurt, right?).  And even though they're vampires, it doesn't appear that they can change form, or hypnotize people, or anything else.  Clever musical reference: Thanos issues an order, which the Brothers receive as their "satanic majesty's request" -- nice one, Mike. 

Overall, this chapter doesn't contribute much to the Thanos War storyline.  Fans who hadn't been keeping up with Captain Marvel might've been confused to see Mentor and Eros pinned to the wall like rare butterflies. Thanos packs up his toys and leaves in a huff when the Brothers appear to be losing the fight.  If anything, the removal of Thanos's minions serves to draw Thanos himself to direct involvement in the fight.  

Marvel Premiere 12
Dr. Strange in
"Portal to the Past!"
Story by Steve Englehart, Mike Friedrich, and Frank Brunner
Art by Frank Brunner and Crusty Bunkers

Clea and Wong find Dr. Strange in the desert, contemplating his new place as the premier magician in the cosmos. They return to his New York home, where he chooses Clea to be his disciple, just as he was to the Ancient One. While she starts her studies, he deems it worthwhile to seek out his foe and one time rival—Baron Mordo-- to try and make peace. In Transylvania he searches, and finds a lead in the members of a gypsy camp. Lilia, a gypsy witch, hypnotizes Stephen in order to aid her people. Mordo had feigned love for her in order to obtain the Book of Cagliostro, her people’s most treasured possession. They fly to Mordo’s castle, now levitating in the sky, and find the book seemingly unguarded and open. It is however, a trap, and a creature called the Living Gargoyle appears in Mordo’s absence. When Stephen cannot act quickly enough to defeat it, she frees him from her spell. Ironically, she is killed by the Gargoyle in doing this, but Dr. Strange is then able to defeat it. He absorbs the books secrets, finding that Mordo is planning to use its knowledge to warp time. Stephen follows the path through time Mordo has taken, in order to find and defeat him. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: It’s hard to know how the quality of this comic can stay so consistently high, yet that’s exactly what's happening. We have the new order of cosmic magic being established as Strange takes over from the Ancient One and takes on Clea to follow him (in more ways than one). The misguided gypsy woman Lilia proves to have nobility as well, and sadly dies for it. Baron Mordo manages to be an ominous presence without appearing in a single panel. Brilliant.

Matthew:  It apparently took a village to create this entry: on his website, Englehart notes that Mike Friedrich scripted the second half while Stainless was on vacation, and Frank Brunner’s customarily wondrous work was again inked by the collectively pseudonymous “C. Bunker,” but said village gives a good account of itself.  Now that Steve has wound up the REH run he inherited (which I for one consider underrated overall), it’s a natural move for Doc’s new scribe to get back to basics with Mordo, bringing him into the storyline in a logical way.  Like last issue’s framing sequence, this satisfyingly explores the aftermath of the Ancient One’s ascendancy, and I enjoyed the desert scene, plus Doc overlooking the quotidian detail of the jeep.

Chris: Solid-enough story as we begin a new storyline in search of the always-Moriartian Mordo.  I guess we don’t have as much of a story unless Strange is hypnotized, then released, so I won’t curse him for a novice for being so easily duped by the gypsy queen.  The desert meditation sequence serves as a fitting final chapter to the Shuma-Gorath epic.  Possible peyote influence for one of the Stevens (either Strange, or Englehart –or both?) contributing to the groovy one-with-cosmos musings. 

Art continues to be above-par – the story does not require Brunner & Co to be as far-out this time as in the previous issues.  I did want to point out that Alan Weiss, Rich Buckler, and Dave Cockrum also were among the Bunkers, since their art is likelier to be in evidence around this time than some of the other illustrators who had been mentioned in connection with MP #10. 

Peter: Strange is now the Great Grand PooBah of the Universe and yet he announces it to all in earshot not with braggadocio but with a sigh. He comes across as a guy who'd just rather sit at home with a beer and Kojak rather than the savior of the world. I think Brunner's perfect rendering of that weariness is what's hooking me. I wasn't a big fan of Strange when I was a 12 year-old MZ; I think it went right over my head and, besides, I could never get into the mystical arts jazz. Hell, this series may be going over my head now!

Mark: One of the classic arcs of the '70's begins in low-keyed fashion, with no hint of the Big Stakes ahead until the final page. We open with Clea and Wong finding the Doc in the Mexican desert, where he's been meditating for nine days, contemplating the Ancient One's death and transformation. Strange emerges feeling Om OK - You're OK; his consciousness has been raised, sure, but recruiting Clea as both disciple and main squeeze adds to the Doc's sunny disposition.

Mark: As the new Sorcerer Supreme, the Doc feels duty-bound to try making peace with the Ancient One's original disciple, Baron Mordo. Off to the Baron's ancestral village, "a haunted nest of death and deviltry" (tough duty on the tourist board!), Strange falls in with Lilia, a raven-haired gypsy vixen, then literally falls under her spell. Seems Mordo had recently romanced Lilia, but only to steal "our people's most treasured heritage," the mystic Book of Cagliostro, and she orders the bewitched Doc to retrieve it. Mordo's Living Gargoyle watchdog has other ideas, and the ensuing battle costs the gypsy her life, but not before she releases the Doc from her spell. He promptly shatters the Gargoyle like a glass goblin and discovers Mordo has used the Book of C to not only travel into the past but also acquired the power to change it, power that "could topple the pillars of our universe!"

Strange follows, of course, so buckle those Sacred Seatbelts of Satchmo, kids, 'cause your synapses are about to get royally rewired. If last month's Ditko/Lee reprints celebrated the past, Englehart & Brunner (w/Mike Friedrich pitching in on the script) are about to stake their own enduring claim to Eye of Agamotto greatness.

Marvel Team-Up 15
The Amazing Spider-Man and Ghost Rider in
"If An Eye Offend Thee..."
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Don Perlin

Peter and Mary Jane are watching Johnny Blaze and Roxanne Simpson in their extravaganza at Madison Square Garden when a motorcycle-riding villain, the Orb, disrupts the show, hypnotizing the crowd with his eyeball-helmet.  As Spidey helps Ghost Rider defeat the Orb’s men, he escapes with Rocky, to whom he reveals his mangled face and true identity of Drake Shannon, her father’s ex-partner, disfigured in a race to determine ownership of the show.  He now demands it as the price of Rocky’s life, having received his helmet from a mysterious “They,” but a Spidey-tracer brings the heroes to his lair; a three-way cycle chase through Grand Central into the subway leads to Rocky’s rescue and the Orb’s apparent demise via express train. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Len doesn’t seem to have gotten the memo about Peter brushing off MJ in Amazing #126, which we’re told this follows, yet he gives us a dose of MTU at its best, a MARMIS-free alliance that contributes to the guest-star’s mythos.  I got this in a treasury edition years after my first issue of Ghost Rider (#15, coincidentally also featuring the Orb), but reading it now, I admire the way it eases this supernatural strip into the Marvel mainstream, and as a bonus, the Orb’s Ringmaster routine forestalls any pesky “Where did Petey go?” moments.  This is also notable as the last issue by Spidey mainstay Andru—inked by Perlin once more—and, I believe, the first of Len’s recurring allusions to the shadowy “They,” not to be confused with Them of Strange Tales fame.

Scott: Another story I first read in a Treasury Edition, this one isn't bad. The most memorable image is of The Orb's unmasking. I wondered at the time why they could show this guy's horribly ruined face, but always keep Doctor Doom's disfigurement under wraps. It's a decent enough story, but The Orb is just a cycle-riding version of The Ringmaster. There is a cute bit where Spider-Man is under the impression Ghost Rider's flaming skull is actually some kind of elaborate mask. Entertaining and fun. A good team up.

Joe: I always loved this Gil Kane cover, with "modifications by John Romita" per the MCDB, and Spidey certainly does look more Jazzy than Sugary. But that has little to do with the insides. I don't like Perlin inking Andru, but I do find it cool that you could buy a Spidey balloon at Madison Square Garden during a stunt show. The Orb is a goofy villain, but nasty at the same time, and allows for Peter to change into hero garb so right there he's worth his weight in eye shadow. And he's about as gruesome looking as it comes without the helmet, thanks to a horrible accident that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. But why do so many people want to own the cycle show? I guess since it's always sold out it's a solid moneymaker? Revenge can't be the only factor, right?

Peter: The Orb is an obvious "nod" to The Eye, a character created by Grass Green in the mid-1960s. Written and drawn by Biljo White (the editor of the legendary fanzine, Batmania), the adventures of The Eye appeared in several comic fanzines in the mid-1960s (including Star-Studded Comics and Voice of Comicdom) and was collected in a very enjoyable trade paperback published by Hamster Press in 2002.

The Eye... The Orb... The Socket... The Pupil... The Iris...

The Savage Sub-Mariner 67
"Seawinds of Change!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck and Frank Bolle

Namor must make a hasty retreat as he is surrounded by killer whales under the command of Orka, allied with the She-Beast to overthrow Atlantis. Subby burrows underground but he does so at such a magnificent speed that, once he pops out at a different location, he is unable to stop. Unfortunately for him, a ship carrying canisters of potent nerve gas is floating in the area. Namor isn't able to halt his trajectory and he crashes into the ship's canisters, causing them to explode and the poisonous gases to be released. The Inhuman called Triton finds Namor and brings him to the Fantastic Four's headquarters so he can be helped. The aftereffects of the nerve gas have left Sub-Mariner in a state where he cannot live outside of water for very long. When Namor wakes up in a water container and is informed by Reed Richards of his predicament, he goes berserk, believing that the Fantastic Four are lying to him.  Reed makes Namor a special costume that will allow Subby to function outside of water as long as he wears it. Realizing that he was wrong, Namor thanks them for their help before he leaves to protect his city. In Atlantis, Orka and the She-Beast's victory is short-lived as the poison that was released earlier seeps into the city, causing everyone except Tamara to begin choking. -Tom McMillion

Tom: Subby's new costume is an improvement over his green speedo and it is still worn by him today in comics occasionally. Other then his new duds, along with an always welcome but too brief brawl with the Thing, there isn't much going on here that we haven't already seen in this series. Was Subby's new uniform a desperate attempt to give him a new look in the hopes that it would increase the comic's sales? Probably, except it was a little too late by this point.

Matthew: The deathwatch begins with the major life change, inevitable parade of sales-pandering high-profile guest stars, and ominous bimonthly status for the so-called “Savage Sub-Mariner” (not to be confused with the calm, placid Sub-Mariner we had in the past).  If I sound bitter, it’s because I am; Subby’s one of my favorite characters, and although the strip had its ups and downs even in the old Astonish days, Roy and Big John launched his solo title on the highest possible note.  I don’t prefer Namor’s Romita-designed duds to his old trunks, but I have always liked them, which is the only good thing I can say about the artwork as unindicted co-conspirator Bolle throws Heck under the bus.  Worst Thing Ever, outstripping even Kane’s MTU #6 disaster.

Scott: A pretty epic issue, with only the usual substandard Don Heck pencils bringing this down a bunch of notches. With more competent art, this could have been a real home run. John Romita provides the cover and the new costume, which is botched by Heck in the climactic reveal. It's much more impressive as done by Romita, but then again, what isn't? The upshot to all this is that Namor is on another "hate mankind" kick which will begin another series of battles against the surface men. While this issue is dedicated to the late Bill Everett, it doesn't come near the quality of his work. The reprint in Hero For Hire is many times more fun than what we get here.

Matthew: In a “special message,” lame-duck Gerber notes that the deadline-challenged Everett “maintained sort of an off-again, on-again relationship with his 1939 creation until illness overtook him…and during that limbo-like period, all of us (Bill included, we think) pretty much lost sight of what we were trying to accomplish with Sub-Mariner.  And yet, since none of us—least of all, Bill himself—knew exactly when or if he would be returning to the book (and if he did, which chores he would choose to undertake), it became impossible to take any bold, decisive steps in any direction.  [After he died], Roy and I were able to take a long hard look at Sub-Mariner.  And we saw immediately that something had to be done:  something new and innovative and different…”

The Mighty Thor 217
"All Swords Against Them!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Sal Buscema

The Starjammer returns to Asgard, expecting a royal welcome. Instead they find that impostors matching them are the center of attention for their fellow Asgardians! Odin bids the impostors begone; instead they behave as originals, and a battle begins. Not much light is shed on the mystery until Fandral bumps into Volstagg, who explains that he and Balder (who returned to the Golden Realm from Earth) were the first to face the impostors, and Balder, overcome, was tossed into the dungeons. They set out to free him. A girl named Krista, meanwhile, wanders just outside the city walls, and finds a glowing stone unlike any other. The Rigelian Colonizers continue to flee their world in anticipation of an approaching deadly mystery. Thor and Sif find (the false) Balder, who leads them into a trap before explaining who he really is: Igron, Loki’s former assistant. Sent as a slave by Loki for being rebellious, Igron developed his magic skills to a point where he not only escaped, but created these false gods in their absence. A timely bonk on the head by the real Balder knocks him out, and without his guidance, the false gods dissolve into nothingness. The light of victory is soon overshadowed by the news from Odin—a new menace of grave danger approaches from deep space! -Jim Barwise

Jim: Although this might fall into the category of a “filler” issue, it’s better than some recent issues. We get the rather entertaining face-off with their evil twins, not knowing who the heck they are. While this happens, a couple of mysteries develop. What is the mysterious stone the girl Krista finds? And what is the menace the Rigelians fear (not Xorr as I thought last time)?  Can’t say as I blame Igron for being grumpy under the circumstances.

Matthew:  Big John is known to have favored little brother Sal as his inker, so I’m sure I’m not alone in welcoming the sibling-power of this one-off with open arms.  I was also relieved to see that the cover did not actually portend another Thor/Odin rift, yet was not one of the outrageous “cheats” sometimes foisted upon us, but a deliberate misdirection that in its own way accurately depicted the contents within.  Merry Gerry is like a perpetual-motion machine in this issue:  he keeps various balls in the air with his frequent “and we’ll have more on that story as it develops” digressions, does a Half-Roy by picking up a minor plot thread from three years ago, and gives us one of the frying-pan-to-fire endings that have become virtually de rigueur for this crazy title.

Scott: A one-and-done story with impostors and clanging swords and flowery speeches. There is so little substance here, just pretty pictures and far too many characters milling about. Apparently Don Blake has been completely abandoned by this time. I guess his practice has shut down. It's amazing just how much of Thor's Earthbound identity was tied to Jane Foster. Once she was removed from the book, Don pretty much ceased to be. Unfortunately, the pageantry and jousting just isn't enough to support the title. Some new blood is needed. How long until Beta Ray Bill? Oh, 1983. Never mind…

Also This Month

Beware! #5
Chamber of Chills #7
Crypt of Shadows #7
Kid Colt Outlaw #176
Marvel's Greatest Comics #46
Marvel Spectacular #4
Marvel Super-Heroes #40
Marvel Tales #47
Marvel Triple Action #15
Mighty Marvel Western #28
Millie the Model #206
Monsters on the Prowl #27
My Love #26
Rawhide Kid #117
Ringo Kid #23
Sgt. Fury #116
Special Marvel Edition #14
<-Supernatural Thrillers #6 
Two-Gun Kid #114
Vault of Evil #7
War is Hell #6
Where Monsters Dwell #25
Worlds Unknown #4


Monsters Unleashed 3

Story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway
Art by Gray Morrow
(reprinted from Savage Tales #1, May 1971)

"The Cyclops"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Jack Davis
(reprinted from Journey Into Unknown Worlds #50, October 1956)

"Frankenstein: AK (After Karloff)"
Non-Fiction by Martin Pasko

"The Death-Dealing Mannikin"
Story by Kit Pearson and Tony Isabella
Art by Win Mortimer

Story and Art by Tom Sutton
(reprinted from Tower of Shadows #6, July 1970)

"Swamp Girl"
Story Uncredited
Art Uncredited
(reprinted from Mystic #19, April 1953)

"Preview: The Son of Satan"
Text by Carla Joseph

The Cold of the Uncaring Moon"
Story by Steve Skeates
Art by George Tuska and Klaus Janson

Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Crusty Bunkers

For a number of reasons, this third issue of Monsters Unleashed, a title I loved to death as a wee lad, is one gigantic disappointment. Now, I don't remember being all that disappointed with the finished product forty years ago, but then I really liked Charlie's Angels too and that just doesn't hold up these days either, does it? The Frankenstein Monster story promised on the cover doesn't show due to the death of Syd Shores. Roy Thomas lets us know on the debut letters page that the story will be finished and pop up in MU #5. The Son of Satan, also blurbed on the cover, turns out to be a text piece, no more than a glorified advertisement for Marvel's latest horror hero.

"Sleep-inducing Mannikin"

The reprints are a sorry bunch (do we really need another rerun of Man-Thing's origin?), taking up 22 pages, and the film history lesson is another of the ilk that makes you think Pasko read a whole bunch of Famous Monsters back issues to research his thesis. So what does that leave us? Three "original" stories.

In "The Death-Dealing Mannikin," Lucio, a gypsy's son who wears belted Levi's despite living in 1935 Austria, has had enough of the brutal treatment he and his family have suffered at the hands of Baron Krutze. Lucio seeks out the help of a witch, who transfers the man's soul into a clay figure and gives it the gift of movement. The dummy begins its campaign of revenge. Win Mortimer's art is abysmal, lacking anything resembling style or drama. Which is apt for the story, an unoriginal "blending" of Robert Bloch's "The Mannikin" and The Golem. Bottom of the barrel stuff.

But wait, there's more! "Cold of the Uncaring Moon"offers up a typical werewolf tale (tail?) with a nice twist ending but suffers, fatally, from Tuska-itis. Effectively served up as George's test run for his upcoming stint on the Man-Wolf series in Creatures on the Loose, it's obvious quite early that the only criteria Roy was looking for was that Tuska drew a better werewolf than he did. Rascally's the big-shot editor, not me, but I wouldn't have put this guy in charge of any title. There's nothing even remotely frightening about Tuska's lycanthrope. At least he didn't draw the thing with buckteeth. That first panel on page 52 (reprinted above) is a Frazetta steal. The original is shown below. Tsk, tsk, Tuska!

After the "Lastwar," two very well-developed specimens named Galt and Ayn frolic through the "lost Valley" and conquer all sorts of dreadful monsters before their handler, a robot, finds them and returns them to the breeding plant where they were born. "Birthright"isn't written by Robert E. Howard but most of it sure reads like it. What it resembles even more is the type of story Gil Kane was selling to DC's House of Mystery and House of Secrets in the late 60s and early 70s, pseudo-Sword and Sorcery. Overall, an extremely lackluster installment of MU. Let's put it in the rear view and hope for the better next time! -Peter Enfantino