Wednesday, April 2, 2014

October 1973 Part One: Werewolves... Werewolves Everywhere!

The Amazing Spider-Man 125
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro

Man-Wolf attacks Spider-Man on a rooftop and the two tussle in the rain until the moon begins to set and the lupine lopes off. A weary Peter heads back to his apartment, bandages his wound from last ish and passes out pondering who the werewolf really is. Mary Jane, Flash and Randy spot Harry in a coffee shop near campus, but the sober son-of-Norm wants nothing to do with the redhead. J. Jonah Jameson heads to his son John’s apartment and once he sees him in the yellow track suit, realizes his fears. John tells the origin of how he found the lunar rock during a secret space mission to the moon, and during the next full moon, he turned into a werewolf, and not even the radiation suit he made can stop the transformations—because the pendant has grafted itself to his skin! A mostly recovered Peter changes into Spidey and swings to Robbie’s office at the Bugle, where he’s met by cops shooting tear gas! He woozily heads to MJ’s pad, but she tosses him out, remembering Harry’s anger. John’s finance Kristine shows up at his place (wearing a dress similar to his suit…huh?) just as he transforms, leaves the apartment, attacks a nearby junkie and goes after her. But Spidey is webhead-on-the-spot, back for round three and our hero saves the day by tearing the pendant from the creature’s neck! John changes back and Spidey walks off, annoyed at JJJ for caring more about the publicity this might cause then anyone who may have been hurt by his son. --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Ross Andru takes over for the next five years and 60 or so issues, and he’s the artist a lot of us 40-something Spidey-loving faculty members remember from our youth, some fondly, some not so much. This professor remembers Andru’s work fondly, although I’ve been way too spoiled by Romita since joining MU. Luckily, the Jazzy One is around to do another awesome cover and inks to help loyal Web-Headers with the transition. Or something like that. I definitely had the Marvel Tales of this one, which I used to buy to fill out the holes in my collection, and helped me have a nice run of Amazings.

Scott McIntyre: The cover is a riot, with Spidey freaking out that the girl could die "just like Gwen!" I don't remember Gwen being killed by a werewolf, but hey, I'll roll with it. He's still in mourning and death is death, right? Ross Andru arrives, but the John Romita hand is obvious in the inking. MJ looks like her usual lovely self. The story is great and the resolution is good and logical. No complaints here, other than the visit by our supporting cast. The scene where Flash reacts to the ongoing mourning by both Peter and Harry is insensitive in the extreme. While I realize Flash was always a class-A jackass, hehad softened over the years and, if I remember correctly, he also had quite a thing for young Gwendy. He was broken up over her death as well. Yet, now he's all "grief only gets you so far, then it becomes self-pity." How long has Gwen been dead? A week? Norman, too. So how fricking fast are Peter and Harry supposed to bounce back? Both of the dead were "murdered." What a douche.

Matthew: Of course, I had no way of knowing when brother Steve picked it up in our latest cluster, but this kicked off a rarely interrupted five-year run by penciler Ross Andru (here inked by Romita, who also drew the stunning cover, and the ever-playful Mortellaro).  His reign spanned my glory days with Marvel, which to a degree—Ditko, Romita, and his detractors notwithstanding—makes him “the guy” in my eyes, and I know I’m not alone.  Already firing on all cylinders as they finish the two-parter introducing Man-Wolf, the Conway/Andru team worked its magic on this title for two years, although in this case the inks seem to predominate and the results, gorgeous though they may be, look more representative of Romita than of Andru.

Joe: All in all, Ross does a fine job the first time around, having cut his Spidey teeth on MTU, and aided by the house ink team for now. Maybe a bit too many sharp elbows and knees if I would find any quibbles. Conway also adds another cracker-jack script packed with intrigue, drama, action and pathos (yeah, I’m talkin’ to you, John Jameson). But the revelation this month for me is realizing not enough time is not spent extolling the virtues of one Artie Simek, who not only sports a fabulous name that sounds like a memorable Odd Couple guest star, but does a fantastic job as ASM letterer month after month after month.

Boy, that sure looks like Tom Sutton...

Mark: Ross Andru arrives (for good or ill) but the results are still more Romita, thanks to Jazzy's iconic inks. The shaggy astronaut saga ends without generating much bark or bite in dreaded Part Two, effective only at showcasing J. Jonah's softer side and the continuing fallout from Gwen's death. A screw-loose Harry O. is mean to Mary Jane; M.J. is mean to Pete; angst for the memories.

Peter Enfantino: I've read this arc many times over the last forty years but, for some reason, never realized how close to Universal's The Wolf Man this tale is. Go ahead and laugh. Yeah, I know it's about a young man who turns into a werewolf but there's all the underlying stuff about an overpowering father as well. The soap opera sub-plots of Flash, Harry, and MJ are all handled just as deviously as I remember. Gerry's a master of the slow cooker style of story telling (in this title at least) and all these nuances will gradually grow into one huge ball of explosive material very soon.  I do think it's funny (and it's not the first time) that JJJ says something along the lines of "Heaven help me, my son has become a Man-Wolf!" and the moniker sticks no matter who's doing the identifying. Could be soldiers in another state or warriors on another planet; this character is a Man-Wolf! "Good gracious, my youngest has transformed into a werewolf!" rolls off the tongue a little easier but there you go. You gotta feel bad for Spidey: "Hang on, is this a Man-Wolf I'm fighting or a Werewolf by Night? And Cap called me the other night to tell me he'd fought a whole bunch of werewolves! It was so much easier in the days I was battling Electro and Doc Ock." 

Joe: Two interesting revelations in this ish. In “The Spider’s Web”, the editors explain why Gwen died. Not only why they did it, which was basically her story was going nowheresville and the tale wrote itself, but also the how, which was Peter’s catching her with the web and causing the whiplash effect. Sigh….Also, the very last panel contains the scariest words in any Marvel mag published in 1973: “Next Issue: Where Stalks The Kangaroo!” Sigh….

Favorite sound effect: “PLAK!” when Spidey kicks Man-Wolf in the teeth, and since werewolves don’t normally brush, that’s what ends up on Spidey’s foot. Oh, I’m gonna lose my parking spot for that one, ain’t I…

Actually, Kristine, the funny thing is that you're dressed
just like your beau. And how did you bend your arm like that?

Mark: Center stage, John Jameson's moon mission is a howler, from being "top secret" so G. Conway doesn't have to dream up a rationale for it, to our intrepid astronaut having a NASA buddy five-finger a quarantined moon rock, since "one's pretty much the same as another." Except, John-boy, for this perfectly oval, ruby red one that - thanks to the Bullpen's current monster mania - emits werewolf rays! The results don't raise hackles of fear, just a wrinkle of the nose, as Man-Wolf piddles on the carpet.  

Thomas Flynn: I totally understand the eye rolling when I tell people that my favorite band is Motörhead and my favorite movie is The Good, The Bad and the Ugly instead of the more usual and “mature” choices like The Beatles and Citizen Kane. So I get that some will groan over the start of the Ross Andru run on The Amazing Spider-Man. But I don’t care. The team of Conway and Andru turned me from a casual comic buyer to an obsessive collector of all things Marvel. Sure, Andru’s characters might not have been anatomically correct, but they had a goofy charm that was totally distinctive. And sure, yet again, there were terrible characters to come like The Big Wheel and Rocket Racer, but we still joke about them today so they have some kind of enduring legacy. To me, Ross is the Spider-Man boss. Sue me. 

Peter: One last thought: what are the odds that Kristine would wear the same outfit as her Man-Wolf?

The Frankenstein Monster 6
"-- In Search of the Last Frankenstein!"
Story by Mike Ploog and Gary Friedrich
Art by Mike Ploog

Believing he's on the trail of the last descendant of his creator, the Frankenstein Monster enters a village for information only to be, yet again, set upon violently. Unknown to the monster, local vagrants have been disappearing at an alarming clip and the soldier confronting him is convinced this giant is to blame. The creature quickly dispatches the guard and heads to a castle on the hill. There he is attacked by a swarm of mindless creatures he assumes are further experiments of the Frankenstein family and nearly fed to a giant spider. Outnumbered, he is bound to the castle wall in chains where he soon meets the mastermind of this new race of servants. Not only is the madman before him not a Frankenstein but, he discovers, the last of the family, Jason Frankenstein,  left this castle 25 years before. Attempting to break his chains, the monster destroys the barrier between the wall and a lake located outside the castle. The resulting flood kills his captor but releases the giant spider from its pit. After a vicious battle, the monster is able to destroy the arachnid and his future is, yet again, to be decided on the road. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: If not as mesmerizing as its previous chapters (and its giant spider seems almost an attempt to squeeze in as many monsters as possible into this series), the locomotive story line and gorgeous art still provide a good thirty minutes of sheer entertainment. The obvious question becomes: how close is this to DC's Swamp Thing series (launched at just about the same time as this series)? Quoth Larry David: pretty... pretty... pretty close! The monster's almost Fugitive-like trek across Europe is tantamount to Swampy's road show of horror but they're equally enjoyable in my eyes. Ploog's art almost mirrors Wrightson's (and both mirror Graham Ingels) and accounts for about 75% of my sheer bliss. That bliss may just turn to rage beginning next issue when Ploog leaves the penciling chores to the decidedly un-monsterrific John Buscema and we begin a three-issue "crossover" with Tomb of Dracula. I'll leave that moan-fest until next time and thank our lucky stars we got the six incredibly illustrated issues we got.

Chris Blake: Mike Ploog's plot adds an imaginative new chapter to the Frankenstein family's history of crimes against nature.  Ploog's masterful hands infect the castle and its mindless drones with creepy atmosphere.  The battle with the spider is horrific.  Glynis Wein also deserves special credit for her mix of white and pale blue (with bits of pink and yellow) to capture the unreal hue of the Monster's flesh.

The Monster's singular purpose, in his search for revenge on the last Frankenstein, will waver over the next few issues, as Gary Friedrich begins to take the series in unexpected directions.  If this title had been considered in the 1980s, the storyline might have been better served as a self-contained limited series, with the Monster's quest fully thought-out from beginning to end.

Doc Savage 7
"Brand of the Werewolf"
Story by Gardner Fox and Tony Isabella
Adapted from the novel by Kenneth Robeson
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Springer

Alex Savage, in possession of a strange ivory cube marked with a wolf’s head, is found murdered by a beast that the townspeople claim is a werewolf.  Soon after, his niece Pat Savage’s cabin is ransacked, so she calls her cousin Doc Savage and his friends for help.  

Doc mobilizes his adventurers to the out-of-the-way Canadian estate by autogyro and transcontinental rail.  While Doc inspects the train’s passengers, his acute ears overhear a Spanish-speaking party (father and daughter Señor and Señorita Ovejas, and El Rabanos) – they whisper their recognition of him along with fear that our hero may be a Jack the Ripper killer! 

Someone tries to gas Monk on the train and almost succeeds, then tries the same stunt on the Ovejas.  Both times there is only one clue – a weird werewolf brand.  Rabanos and the Ovejas jump the train, someone having stopped it by piling logs across the tracks.  

Pat, at the family homestead, guards her father’s mysterious archaeological find, but Boatface, husband of her housekeeper Tiny, spies the cube’s hiding place.  He steals it to sell to Alex Savage’s murderer, but is killed by the werewolf when he holds out for more money.  Pat and Tiny hear the howl and bravely go out to track “that thing!,” but the werewolf and his men take them captive.  

Doc and his aides follow Rabanos and the Ovejas to an airfield where the trio run over their own prop man in their escape plane.  The injured man’s last gasp is of a hidden fortune, a marble cube, and the name “Alex Savage,” providing “a fistful of clues.”  Doc and his helpers swiftly fly another plane to the Savage estate.  

At the cabin grounds, the grave of Doc’s uncle is “cold water to their spirits,” and “as they stand there, adventure seems to have lost its heady tang.” “You were a good man, Uncle Alex!,” Doc mourns, swearing at the makeshift graveside cross “that your killer shall not go unpunished...!”  The Savage house is empty, but Doc trails Pat and Tiny to the werewolf’s camp outside a great waterfall.  He tightrope-walks across the wind-whipped canyon when midway a secret sniper shoots the mighty Man of Bronze, toppling him from his wire to the mist-clouded falls below!  -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: Tony Isabella replaces Gardner F. Fox in adapting the 1934 Doc Savage Magazine adventure Brand of the Werewolf, but the transition turns out to be a smooth one.  (Ross Andru continues the artwork, with Frank Springer taking on the inking duties this time around.)  The story’s Black Bird-ish MacGuffin, an ivory cube with an historical backstory, gives weight to the connection fantasy author Michael Moorcock makes in Death Is No Obstacle that “Lester Dent was...credited by both Hammett and Chandler with being the first of the hardboiled detective writers...”  This is Dent taking his own “Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot” advice (a 1936 article he published in Writer’s Digest Yearbook) to provide a “different thing for the villain to be after...other than jewels, the stolen bank loot, the pearls, or some other old ones.”  On the other side is “The hero [who] tries to fathom the mystery [and] his fistful of trouble.” 

Monk’s infamous pet pig from the novels is humorously alluded to on page 18 – Doc disdainfully remarks to a pair of cheap hoods, “Even Habeas Corpus could have figured that out...!” – though we have never been treated to even a cameo.  There had been an ongoing debate in the letters pages since issue #3 over whether or not to include Habeas Corpus and Ham’s ape Chemistry, with Marvel opening it up to a readers “do you want ’em or don’t you?” poll.  One letter-writer in issue #5 voted in favor, declaiming that “Taking Habeas and Chemistry from Monk and Ham would be like taking Salem out of the country.”  Marvel’s response was that “ running about even at the moment...” 

As a consolation prize, Doc’s mercy bullets make their debut, at least by name, yet one more superscientific innovation from Doc’s lab.  Also the second appearance of Bronze Beauty Patricia Savage, an “intelligent [and] capable young woman [who] combines stunning good looks with well-developed muscle,” and this time we see her in action as she chooses not to wait for Doc Savage’s to-the-rescue arrival.  (Super-attributes apparently run in this family.)  If Doc is “America’s first superhero,” is Pat then America’s first super heroine?  

The series ends without ever showing the mascots, with one more reader writing in issue #7 that his “vote is for ‘The Pig And The Monkey.’  Habeus [sic] Corpus is essential to Monk...”  Marvel again waffles, this time with an elaboration: “No decision yet on Habeus [sic] Corpus and Chemistry, we’re afraid.  We’re still racking our brains trying to figure out how to maintain that ‘awe’ and ‘mystique’ you crave while depicting in a visual medium five grown men who have a monkey and a pig as pets.  You gotta admit, it is a problem!”  It is true that the comedic relief likely would have detracted from the high-minded heroics of the Bronze Man and his men of iron more so in a 20 or so page comic than in the more expansive pages of a novel, but with only one more issue to go in the Doc Savage series, the matter was moot at this point.

Astonishing Tales 20
Ka-Zar in
"The Final Battle!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Marie Severin, Werner Roth, and Frank Giacoia

Ka-Zar ducks the ax blow of Victorius and seems to get the upper hand, until the super-soldier serum-aided villain knocks a shield onto the jungle lord’s head. The boastful A.I.M. baddie tells his story to no one: the former Prof. Conrad researched the serum for years, while trying to stay fit, until he drank it when a SHIELD agent bombed his lab, turning him into “the perfect human specimen” who is determined to stage a coup against MODOK. But before he kills K-Z, he must fight Bobbie Morse—who recovers the lost vial of serum outside the castle by accosting a pair of A.I.M. guards, then meets up with trusty Zabu. The blonde and the beast enter in search of K-Z, with Zabu knocking out Lord Plunder, Gemini hightailing it out of there, and Victorius felling mighty Zabu with knockout gas. Bobbi is able to toss an awakening Ka-Zar the vial to use—but he refuses, tossing it into a fire! The relentless K-Z alley-oops Victorius out a window, then Gemini returns to his life as the two Link brothers, and Dr. Carter tells Nick Fury she will cease work on replicating the serum. And we end on Ka-Zar and Bobbie Morse locking lips, with a puzzled Nick Fury looking on. —Joe Tura

Joe: A decent wrap-up to the whole super-soldier serum saga that has saddled up for what seems like 200 issues. Victorius is an OK bad guy, but not so memorable. My favorite moment is when Ka-Zar names an entire zoo when letting Victorius know which animals he’s channeling as he pummels the fifty-something fiend. A gazelle, a monkey, a panther…good thing he doesn’t smell the same! OK art by Severin and Roth. In fact it’s better than I would have thought. The script rambles a bit, but ultimately produces the goods. And next issue, we’re finally back in the Savage Land so it’s promised. I wonder if Gog will be there!

The Avengers 116
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Mike Esposito

The Avengers arrive at the Sanctum Sanctorum of Doctor Strange in search of the Black Knight and bully their way past Strange's servant Wong, but are repelled by magic. While the Avengers believe Strange and the Defenders are keeping the Knight entombed in stone, they are, in fact, seeking to free him. However, all are being deceived by the Dread Dormammu and the blinded Loki, who hopes his deal with the Dreaded One will restore his sight. They have sent the Defenders on a quest to find the pieces of Pester John's device the Human  Torch disposed of back in FF #56. It had broken into six similar parts and scattered across the globe. The Defenders and Hawkeye split up to find them all in the hopes the assembled device will free the Black Knight. Loki realizes Dormammu will actually use the power of the device to conquer Asgard once Earth is secured. Loki seeks out Thor to help prevent this because, in his mind, only he is destined to take power from Odin. Loki manages to convince then that the Defenders are to be hunted and stopped. The Vision and Scarlet Witch intercept the Silver Surfer as he searches an active volcano. After seeing the Surfer best Wanda, the Vision wigs and attacks with fiery passion.  Natives take the unconscious Witch and place her in the path of a lava flow to appease their gods. The Vision sees this and abandons the fight to save her life and the Surfer collects the first part of the weapon. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This part of the saga gets off to a decent running start, with the MARMIS in full effect as the villains manipulate things behind the scenes. This kind of reminds me of the Contest of Champions trilogy from the 80's, as various heroes went on quests and fought each other for what felt like large stakes, but were really nothing too crazy. The only real lapse  in this issue is how easily the Avengers believe Loki's BS story. I get that they were already of the mind the Defenders were up to no good, but they seem to trust the God of Evil very quickly. That doesn't give them much by way of smarts in this tale. The art is again mediocre; everyone is drawn well enough except possibly the Surfer. "Hey, Norrin. Spider-Man called, he wants his eye pieces back."

Matthew: The Avengers/Defenders Disagreement shifts into high gear; these first issues devoted fully to the conflict are, coincidentally, from a rare consecutive cluster, and boast terrific covers.  Brown and Esposito have their critics on the faculty, but for my money they are making beautiful music together here, and Englehart’s lyrics match their score note for note, with Loki’s self-serving warning to the Assemblers containing just enough truth to sound plausible.  I love the chapter format, which MU vets will not be surprised to learn brings back pleasant memories of Avengers Special #1, and I thought the, um, three-way between the Surfer and our lovers was well-conceived and -executed (most notably the Vision’s rage when he saw Wanda endangered).

Conan the Barbarian 31
"The Shadow in the Tomb!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua

Mercenary-for-hire Conan and a Turian scouting party are chased into a cave by a superior force of rebellious Hill-Men. The leader of the savages threatens to starve them out unless they send a champion to battle their hairy giant Toruk at sundown — if the Turian wins, they will all be free to go. Even though he knows he is hopelessly outmanned, the noble Captain Malthuz agrees to face the massive brute. Waiting for the fight, Conan ponders of a time from his youth in Cimmeria, when he was trapped in another cave. After scratching together a meager campfire, the teenager came across an ancient sword: when Conan removed the blade from its altar, he was attacked by his own shadow. But when the brash barbarian stoked the flames of his fire, the sinister silhouette disappeared into the light. Disgusted, the youngster tossed the accursed sword away. When sundown arrives, Conan knocks out Captain Malthuz and strides down to face Toruk himself. During the vicious fight, the Cimmerian manages to topple precariously perched boulders, crushing Toruk to death. The Hill-Men keep their word and let the Turians and their proud champion leave unharmed. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: The flashback to Conan’s youth takes up a hefty nine pages of this middle-of-the-road issue. In that segment, it’s a nice touch that Big John draws the teenaged character in the garb of the Barry Smith era, including the horned helmet and leather-strap sandals instead of the Captain America boots he currently wears. Toruk is a menacing foe, sporting a spit-flecked maw of mangled teeth. The letters page mentions that this is the first of a three-part story, based on the Conanesque novel Flame Winds, written by Norvell W. Page in the 1930s. Page is most famous for creating The Spider, a knock-off of The Shadow. Professor Gil: supposedly one of Page’s stories about this character inspired your fave Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. If you blink, you might miss that the sword in the dead Toruk’s hands is the one that young Conan tossed away in the flashback. Do do do do do do do do, you are about the enter The Hyborian Zone. The art remains top-notch and the Romita cover is pretty sweet. Not sure I’ve ever seen the Jazzy One draw the Cimmerian.

Mark: Returning to the Hyborian Age after a several month absence, I'm shocked to discover that an old prof, if incapable of new tricks, can still stumble upon a heretofore unknown (at least to me) nugget of insight, to wit: how much John Buscema's art oft resembles that of Joe Kubert. Scope the contorted, screaming face of a Hill-Man, bottom right of the splash page. Give 'em a haircut and a Schmeisser and he's ready for Sgt. Rock! Others must have commented on the stylistic similarities between these two titans; as for me, it only took four decades to spot the obvious.

It's not shocking to find Thomas and Buscema chugging along in top form, delivering an untold tale from Conan's helmet-wearing youth, with bear-battles, a tumble into a subterranean chamber and a Sword in the Stone riff that finds Conan encountering "this magic thing called writing" and battling his own Super-Sized shadow. And all that's flashbacked into a cave-siege standoff that's settled with mano a mano combat between Conan and the very large and very Kubertesque Toruk. Rousing stuff, ending with an unexpected callback that demands a tip o' the death's head sword to Roy Thomas.

Captain America and the Falcon 166
"Night of the Lurking Dead
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

The Yellow Claw as fooled Captain America into thinking Nick Fury was the villain and he unwitting pummeled his old friend to the point of death. Yet, a "spark of life" remains in the director of SHIELD and so Cap struggles against the Claw's obstacles to get Fury out and into the hands of doctors. Eventually he gets Fury to SHIELD HQ and their doctors. And while acting director Dum-Dum Dugan doesn't hold Cap responsible, Val does and spits all sorts of nastiness at him. Cap returns to his apartment and discovers it has been re-rented and his belongings sold. He calls Sharon for some cheering up only to be told that Peggy has disappeared. She turns up at the Falcon's place in Harlem just as Steve arrives. After hearing a news report of the Claw at the Museum of Natural History, Cap and the Falcon take off only to battle living mummies. Then, the Claw succeeds in reviving his grand-niece, vowing they will rule the world! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Things start to heat up for Cap now, as his rep continues to take a hit, Fury hovers near death, and the Yellow Claw's plan goes into action. Val's reaction toward Cap is somewhat over the top and will continue this way for a little while. She truly is an annoying character. The subplot with Peggy is also annoying as this elderly woman keeps pining away for Cap. And we bid a fond farewell to Trimble the landlord. He was never much of a character, but his annoying d-bag routine was grating. Now we may suffer no longer.

Mark: Monster Mania rolls on (Roy and/or publisher Stan surely believed horror was the new gold rush) as the Yellow Claw's giant insects are followed by mummies, just two issues removed from our sentence in werewolf penitentiary (this the same month Man-Wolf spreads fleas in Spidey. Coming soon: the zombie of Dr. Franklin Storm courts Agatha Harkness and "Battling" Kid Murdock's poltergeist starts a fight club; doesn't talk about it).

Matthew: This is the first time I’ve really been pissed off at Stainless, because having revived the exasperating Cap/Fury spat, he now brings back Val, only to drag the poor girl through the mud again.  Not only is her anger at Cap for injuring Nick completely unjustified under the circumstances, but also she conveniently forgets that the last time they came to blows, it was due to her foolish romantic manipulations; way to grind a once-awesome character into the dirt, Steve.  Buscema and McLaughlin once more hold up their end seemingly effortlessly, depicting the Claw’s supernatural villainy (loved his offhand order to minion Chi Foh to dispose of himself for his failure) with abundant atmosphere, and handling a large cast of characters well.

Mark: Between the giant scorpion opening and a mummy princess' spirit downloaded into Claw's niece Suwan at the Night in the Museum conclusion, Stainless piles on the subplots: SHIELD working to save Fury as La Contessa Val Too-Many-Names gets snarky with Steve, who elsewhere learns his cue-ball landlord has evicted him and sees the opening "Cap's a Creep" PR blitz in the papers; Sam battles hoods in Harlem before Peggy Carter shows up at his door, mooning for her pre-Popsicle Soldier Boy. None are particularly memorable, but they blur by so fast that the inanities (e.g., "They're using telepathy!" Sam says of the attacking bandage brigade. "They gotta be talkin' Egyptian. But I understand 'em – in my mind!") barely register. Credit Englehart for – if not much else – keeping so many balls in the air, and Sal B for another helping of simple but satisfying meat 'n' potatoes art.

Daredevil and the Black Widow 104
"Prey of the Hunter!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Don Heck and Sal Trapani

While Matt and Natasha work out in their private gym, the criminal mastermind known as “the Man” has found a new pawn to do his bidding: Kraven the Hunter. The mission is simple—permanently keep Daredevil out of commission. Matt holds his position that the kids his law partner wants him to prosecute are innocent, and he plans to play it that way. When he returns home he finds the place ransacked, and Ivan tied up. Kraven had paid them a visit, kidnapping Natasha. The Hunter claimed he wouldn’t harm her if Daredevil shows up at the zoo. DD does, and finds his prey. The Widow is bound in the elephant cage, but he manages to free her, only for Kraven to escape. He shows up again later when Matt and Natasha are out on the town at a party. The fight moves outside when DD and BW appear; Matt looks to be a goner when he loses consciousness and Kraven gets ready to toss him in the water. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Not a lot seems to happen in this tale, in terms of new ground; still, it’s nice to see Matt and Natasha having some fun together. He and Karen never seemed to. Kraven is a decent foe, on loan from Spiderman. Feels like it should have been a single-issue tale.

Matthew:  I’m mischievously compelled to ask if the loathing some of my colleagues have for Heck will make them welcome his replacement by Brown in #107, as I will, not that I am reflexively anti-Heck.  Say whatever you want to about Don, and as always this is far from a blanket defense, but his recent work here and in Avengers—succeeded on both books by Battlin’ Bob—has received what appears to be only the most perfunctory inking, in this case by Hulk vet Trapani, which certainly doesn’t enhance his rep, such as it is.  Gerber makes a shrewd choice in borrowing Kraven from Spidey, and even the Hunter himself observes what an interesting pair of opponents they are, although it’s a bit sad, except for bondage freaks, to see Natasha so completely helpless.

Scott: This would be a pretty good issue with someone else at the pencils. Don Heck again underwhelms and the inking is pretty primitive. Sal Trapani did much better on the Hulk. The story is otherwise fine, if unspectacular, running through the same motions as Kraven's debut in Spider-Man, testing DD's prowess before starting on the kill hunt. The trial subplot is more interesting, but unresolved, since super-hero comics are about the fights, not courtroom drama.

The Defenders 9
"Divide... and Conquer"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank McLaughlin

The Silver Surfer arrives at the home of Dr. Strange. He warns him: the Avengers are out stop them from breaking the spell that has turned the Black Knight to stone. In probing, Strange finds that Loki has influenced them to believe the Defenders are planning to use the Evil Eye to conquer the Universe. The Surfer guards the Knight’s body while Dr. Strange goes to warn their other teammates and to recover his section of the Eye. Hawkeye seeks his part in Monterrey, Mexico, after the Valkyrie drops him there and heads to Bolivia to find hers. Soon Iron Man arrives in the town to get the section of the Evil Eye before Hawkeye (although each Defender/Avenger doesn’t know which of their rivals they will face). Iron Man finds it at the local university, being researched by Professor Figueras. A “stray” arrow soon retrieves the Eyepiece into Hawkeye’s hands, but not before a battle takes place. A similar scenario, albeit with a magic touch, takes place in the cornfields of Indiana, where Dr. Strange pushes back the double challenge of the Black Panther and Mantis. With Valkyrie/Swordsman, Hulk/Thor and Captain America/Sub-Mariner clashes still in the offing, the score rests at 2-0 for the Defenders for now. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Straightforward battle sequences can be plenty of fun if done with not too heavy a hand, and such is the case here, even if the motives for both Avengers and Defenders are misguided. I agree Sal Buscema’s artwork is great, similar to brother John, but different enough to be distinct. Personally I can’t wait for the Hulk/Thor clash. 

Matthew: This is my last cluster issue from the Avengers/Defenders Difference of Opinion, so I’ll be looking at the remainder of the arc through a different lens, but it seems as good a time as any to salute the care with which Stainless made his match-ups:  Hawkeye was originally an Iron Man villain, Mantis and Doc both have mystical and martial-arts aspects, Valkyrie shares the Swordsman’s weapon of choice, Cap and Namor were allies in WW II, and the “Who is stronger?” debate concerning the Hulk and Thor has obsessed Marveldom since the Silver Age.  Mention must also be made of Sal’s superb art, both inside (inked by McLaughlin) and out, especially the socko splash page, while his rendition of Hawkeye is among the finest I have seen.

Fantastic Four 139
"Target: Tomorrow"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Falling down a bottomless crevice in the Earth, it is up to Johnny to use to flame to slow their fall (the FF, Wyatt Wingfoot and his people) with thermal heat, then essentially melt a floor for them to land on. Eventually, they manage to carve a path through the rock that the Miracle Man had melted above them. They find he has used his command of the powers of nature to create a city out of the sand and rock. When an army of created creatures fails to stop the Fantastic Three (Ben, the Torch and Medusa), the Miracle Man summons a wind vortex to carry the lot of them some miles off. Wyatt identifies a river that carries them back to the scene of battle. Meanwhile the Miracle Man is causing the nature of the world’s atomic energy to be less stable all the time—only hours remain until it will reach critical mass. Reed Richards, at home conducting experiments as a way to keep his mind off his wife and son’s departure, doesn’t realize he has affected the entrance to the Negative Zone in an as yet unknown way.  Ben, Johnny and Medusa have their hands full meanwhile, holding their own but not really winning their battle. Then, inexplicably, the Miracle Man disappears. The ghost-like forms of the Cheemuzwa Indians appear, explaining to the awestruck others that as they had taught him his power, they will take the Miracle Man to their place of existence, hopefully to teach him a better way.
-Jim Barwise 

Jim: A reasonably entertaining tale, but like many recent exploits of the supposed best comic magazine in the world, not breaking any new ground. Perhaps the Cheemuzwa appearing to take the Miracle man away was the best resolution one could have expected. Now who will venture forth from the Negative Zone?

Matthew: Conway’s retroactive rep takes another very palpable hit.  Too bad the Miracle Man’s new powers didn’t include the ability to make himself more interesting; even his outfit is dull, and no matter how much beautiful Buscinnott artwork you throw at us, his Snidely Whiplash appearance is still more suited to his Silver-Age roots.  If a Heck or a Tuska had illustrated this story, it would have been laughed off the newsstands, so it seems a little unfair to expect John and Joe to bear the brunt all the time.  Gerry earns himself an unprecedented Left Field/Weird Science/Deus ex Machina Special Jury Prize for the abrupt introduction, loopy explanation, and eye-roller resolution of “Mr. Mustache’s” nuclear peril.  I do love that Medusa, though.

Mark: Much like the Miracle Man's powers, proved illusory at the end of FF #3, the hope of rebooting such a sad sack Z-grader, kindled last ish, fizzles out like a wet Black Cat on a rainy Fourth of July. Yes, class, this is another prime example of CD (Climaxius Disappointius), a scourge of many a Marvel tale, circa '73. MM's spiffy new duds and upgraded, learned-at-Medicine-Men-knee powers can only take Senor Mustache Wax so far before his lame-o pedigree (or Gerry Conway's swing 'n' a miss script) bring him – and this month's FF – crashing back to earth like a burning wood & fabric monster, crudely rendered by Jack Kirby.

Scott: An okay wrap up to a middling arc. The Miracle Man is still a flimsy villain, no more threatening than the average adversary. His jet black tights hugging his buff physique doesn't take away from the fact tat he looks a lot like the Ringmaster without a hat. We see glimpses of Reed and Sue separately, and we get really nice art, but all of this just fills the pages of a pretty forgettable story. I question the purpose of even bringing this guy back at all.

Adventure into Fear 17
Man-Thing in 
"It Came Out of the Sky!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Sal Trapani

A silver metal craft has landed in the swamp, perhaps ages ago. When the Man-Thing finds it, he is curious and uproots it, waiting to see if something will happen. Eventually it does after he tosses it. A longhaired, powerful being emerges. Twenty-Four years ago, on the distant planet Dakamm, scientists Hektu and Soja realized their sun was going to go nova. They had tried to convince their authorities of this, but were laughed at. Hektu constructed a craft in which he and Soja could flee into space with their son Wundarr. The authorities know of his plan, and break in, shooting both of them, but not before Soja manages to send Wundarr off in the craft into space—where it landed on Earth, in the swamp. Thus the youth before the Man-Thing believes the former to be his mother! Wundarr explores, unintentionally causing some damage in the town, and engaging in some conflict with his “mother.” Wundarr eventually realizes this is not his place and departs to find his own destiny.
-Jim Barwise

Jim: I have to say this Man-Thing tale is less engaging for me than previous issues, perhaps because Wundarr takes the spotlight. The Man-Thing’s initial curiosity promises more, but from Wundarr’s point of view, the valuable lesson of independence is successfully taught by his “mother.”

Matthew: This strip is like Cracker Jacks, with a toy in every box; October’s toy, now that we’ll have a consistent Gerber/Mayerik/Trapani creative team in place for six months, is Wundarr.  It isn’t hard to see why he reportedly made Marvel’s lawyers nervous, because his origin is a dead-on pastiche of Superman’s, but he grew beyond this seemingly one-note status to become a recurring character in Marvel Two in-One—in the first issue of which Manny will meet Ben Grimm three months hence—and later assumed a more sophisticated identity, Aquarian.  He also closely echoes the titular man-child in Charles Eric Maine’s 1961 novel The Mind of Mr. Soames (filmed by Amicus with Terence Stamp in 1970), an adult male awakening from a lifelong coma.

Chris: The curious case of two beings with somewhat unformed minds, and their struggle to achieve some understanding of each other.  I wonder (so to speak) whether Gerber intended this as a one-time appearance -- as Wundarr vaults from the swamp, it's unlikely that readers of Man-Thing might expect to see him again.  I can't help but speculate whether Gerber might have intended the Wundarr story to be a parodic look at a superhero character, as the story doesn't follow the typical route of showcasing his powers -- here, there's equal emphasis on the fact that this could-be "hero" doesn't know who he is, and literally doesn't know his own strength.  The Mayerick-Trapani art looks rushed this time, and is not as strong as the previous issue. 

Ghost Rider 2
"Shake Hands With Satan"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Jim Mooney and Syd Shores

Johnny Blaze, aka the Ghost Rider and his girlfriend Rocky Simpson under the cover of darkness, flee through the desert in a pickup truck from the pursuing police. With difficulty at maintaining control and with trouble around him, Johnny makes a choice—to stop and surrender his soul to Satan! He calls out to Satan to take his soul, against Rocky’s pleading. He figures he’s caused her enough harm. Soon, Witch-Woman, appears, sent to do the job for Satan. Oddly at that moment, the cruelest of bike gangs appears, the ruthless riders of Danny Dawson! Said leader challenges Blaze to show him what he’s got, and not daring to use his fire powers, the Ghost Rider appears yellow to the thug Danny. Witch-Woman doesn’t bide the interference, and she and Blaze disappear, leaving Rocky at the mercy of the bike gang. Meanwhile Daimon Hellstrom, the exorcist who has come to help former witch doctor Snake-Dance and his son Sam free Snake’s daughter Linda arrives at their reservation. He will try to help them, but insists that they bind his wrists in the Chain of Ankhs, lock him away, and don’t open the door until morning lest all be lost. They agree, but once darkness comes, Daimon yells for them to free him, fighting whatever evil within himself he is hoping to purge. Sam gives in, when Daimon calls that Linda’s life is at stake, but it is as Hellstrom warned them before: they should not have let him out. Whatever he has become now departs to do as it wishes. Ghost Rider, concurrently, has arrived in hell with Witch-Woman, who is but a form of sending his evil to do his bidding in our world. He plans to claim Johnny’s soul, but with Rocky’s goodness is his heart, Johnny finds the strength to fight the hordes of Satan…for a time. Finally overwhelmed, Johnny is about to have his soul lost forever, when a voice calls out to stop, leaving even Satan in shock. -Jim Barwise

Jim: This comic is full of darkness, from Johnny’s decision to surrender to Satan, to Daimon Hellstrom’s secret, to Danny Dawson’s dreaded bike gang. Why then is it so delightful? Perhaps because it illustrates how comics, when not taken too far, can have fun with bleaker topics than more “serious” literature.  Johnny’s dilemma is one I wouldn’t want to face. And what is Daimon’s secret? Is it he who appears at the end to startle even Satan? And what of poor Rocky, left to deal with the likes of Dawson? This isn’t any funny strip!

Matthew: Sutton has given up the ghost (rider), with Mooney succeeding him for eight issues; on a more serious note, the inks represent some of the last work by Golden-Age vet Shores, who died on June 3, 1973.  While I normally rate the Madman higher as an embellisher than as a penciler, he and Syd do quite a serviceable job, especially for a book that I suspect/recollect rarely, if ever, rose above average.  Friedrich the Lesser is certainly giving his new creation a big build-up with this peekaboo routine, highly reminiscent of Charles Beaumont’s classic short story and Twilight Zone episode “The Howling Man,” and it’s not too surprising that he is trying to parlay GR’s success into some reflected glory for the Son of Satan.

Chris Blake: A far more satisfying issue of GR this time around, easily the best all-around in the past 5-6 issues (going back to Marvel Spotlight).  Snazzy cover by Gil Kane sets the tone.  Jim Mooney delivers some inspired art as well -- Witch-woman really pops on pg 9, and pg 17 is well above Mooney's standard (dare I say, nearly on par with Buscema).  Gary Friedrich finally reins in the wordy captions and lets the action tell the story for us.  Johnny's desperation, after all he's been thru in the past few days, finally drives him to an uncharacteristic (but credible) break.  This issue's weird continuity breakdown happens on pg 13, when a rainy night suddenly becomes a sunny afternoon, with pale blue skies (although the bikers' headlights are still on).  The inexplicable arrival of the biker gang is brief enough that it doesn't derail the whole story - if anything, Rocky's abduction adds to the suspense, and anticipation for the next issue.  High marks for Friedrich and Mooney (with deserving points to Syd Shores for capable inking) for a solid effort.

Humorous editing quibble: on pg 7, the mysterious Hellstrom arrives to meet the "now-domicile witch doctor."  Does that mean Snake-dance has transmuted himself into a house?  I didn't know he could do that.

Coming Next Week!

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