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...


  1. Reading Man Thing 2012 or 11 for the first time in its Essential collection I couldn't help thinking how broad the elements are. From the ridiculous hippies to the unsubtle fantasy parody of muscles, swords and sorcerers with silly hats.

    I guess this is a matter of taste; but then I never was that big of a fan of Gerber the marjority of Marvel fans of this era seems to be. Even if I like the mean streak his stuff often displays.

    I also never got why Howard the Duck is supposed to be so great and still didn't after reading his first appereances in this pages.I never enjoyed the character.

    On the other hand the WTF moments are great. The book is a strange combination of the far out, which Marvel did so well, and the too broad strokes. Of course the well done artwork helps. Mayerik should be higher regarded.

    Roy Thomas must be the king of the adaption. He must be the Comic writer who did most of them in his career. I am a big fan of Norvell Page's Spider, but not especially of his two fantasy novellas. Still, Thomas had a good eye for the scenes that worked well in it, as the cover of this month Conan is proof.

  2. Scott - You hit it on the nail when you said that Sue never seems to function at all on her own!