Wednesday, May 7, 2014

December 1973 Part Two: Ladies and Gentlemen, Please Welcome the Son of Fu Manchu!

Luke Cage, Hero for Hire 16
"Shake Hands with Stiletto"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Billy Graham and Frank McLaughlin

Luke Cage is led to a meeting with Camanche and Shades by his snitch Flea. The duo offer him a deal to join up with them and tell Cage that it was the ex-prison guard named Rackham that killed Phil Fox. Flea also reveals that he has the information Fox stole from Dr. Berstein. Cage goes along with the crew as they track down Rackham and the kidnapped Ms. Jenks at a secluded house. During this time, a vigilante named Stiletto has been stalking Cage and his friends. Armed with a large array of small shooting knives, he plans on bringing the criminals to justice. While Cage and company confront Rackham inside the house, Stiletto causes the place to collapse. Cage is able to save his friends but Rackham shoots Ms. Jenks as she tries to escape. While Stiletto and Cage fight it out, Rackham runs away but is accidentally killed by a speeding ambulance. Stiletto realizes he is outmatched so he takes off to fight another day. Cage's lawyer, Big Ben Donovan, lets Cage know that before she died in the ambulance, Ms. Jenks lied and confessed to killing reporter Phil Fox. She did this so that Cage's girlfriend, Ms. Temple, would be released from jail. The story ends with Cage and Temple sharing an embrace outside the police station. -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: Cosmic justice and good conscience keeps Cage out of Seagate and his girlfriend out of a life in prison as well. It's exciting and fun, with some really interesting twists early on, but it's a bit too easy a wrap up. Too many balls fall into the right holes. Cage didn't even really beat Stiletto. This is Cage's title, but thank God for everyone else, because he would have been cooked. This feels more like a "let's just tie all this up already" than anything organic. At least Rackham and his Tuska Teeth are finally gone.

The Tomb of Dracula 15
"Fear is the Name of the Game!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

As he sits at home recovering from his latest adventure, Dracula writes about some of the encounters that he has had over the years in his diary. In the first story, Dracula is flying around as a bat when he is shot down by a hunter. Enraged, Drac summons the rats and wolves that live in the forest to chase the hunter down and kill him. In the second story, a woman is pushed off a cliff by her husband because she is planning to divorce him and he wants her money. Dracula drinks from the woman's neck and she turns into a vampire. She later goes on to kill the husband that betrayed her. In the next tale, Dracula is summoned by an old man thousands of years old. He relates to Dracula that when he was in the Roman army he stumbled upon a secretly hidden pool of blood that gave him immortality. He makes a deal with the Count that if Dracula will take him to the pool, he will have an unlimited supply for the vampire to drink and not have to hunt humans anymore. The old man decides against immortality and destroys the pool of blood with an ancient locket. The resulting destruction of the blood pool causes the old man to perish while almost vanquishing the Count himself. The final story involves a Scotsman seeking revenge against Dracula for killing his son. Trained in fighting by Quincy Harker, the Scotsman is able to drive a stake through Dracula's heart. The vampire kills the Scotsman by throwing him into a bottomless pit. The story ends with Dracula dying as he lays down inside his coffin. This was the event that happened to him just before Clifton Graves pulled the stake from his chest a few years later (in issue #1). -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: One of the biggest crimes I have ever committed in my life was not reading this awesome series years ago. Just when I think that it can't get any better, along comes an anthology issue. Like most short stories, not all of them are great, but at least the variety makes for something different. My favorite one would have to be the last one as Dracula fights a Highlander-type of hero. The ending gives a nice supplemental story to the series as we find out just who put that stake in Drac's heart .

Mark Barsotti: A gorgeous Gene Colan/Tom Palmer (providing inks and colors) gothic splash page: Drac's vulpine visage, eyes shinning with malevolent amusement, fills a blood red sky as bats flap from an ancient clock tower. Turn the page and settle in for the original Vampire Diaries: deep in a rat-infested catacomb, the Count puts quill to parchment and "though the very precepts of truth-telling sickens me...there's no place for lies here in my personal ledger." His recent death (via Blade's blade) prompts Drac to go Teen Girl Confidential, high body count edition.

While flying home after his idiot preacher resurrection, the Count was shot at by a hunter. Pretending to be hit, he crashes to earth, solely to muck with poor hunter Vinnie, who's chased by Drac-summoned rats, then rent by wolves. Even while "thirsting," Drac passes on a meal to indulge his more elevated appetite for torment.


Chris Blake: A brief respite from the chessmatch against Harker’s cohort also serves as a character study. Dracula describes for us his appreciation for his own weaknesses, his bloodthirsty sense of justice, and his raw determination to overcome all obstacles, even death. Marv hits some very insightful notes on pg 2-3, as Drac reflects on the exhilaration of flight, and “the serenity of being an undead.” Lastly, the vampiric claw Colan & Palmer pictured on pg 6, panel 3 (left), gave me an evil grin of my own.

Scott: A fairly interesting, if somewhat long, history of Dracula with a few modern day adventures thrown in. The narrative jumps all over the place and while the blood pool sequence was intriguing, it amounted to little. Not one of the better issues in this normally strong series.

Peter Enfantino: Another issue that reeks of Deadline Doom (these have been popping up more frequently as the main writers' load gets heavier), our story comes off as a series of vignettes a la anthology films like Tales from the Crypt. There's no real plot line to speak of. Having said that, it's still an enjoyable read, certainly better than the other half-dozen titles I read this month (with the exception of Master of Kung Fu).

Mark: Pining for his dead wife leads the Count to recall a messy love triangle he untangled by gifting the murdered wife with the pointy-toothed capacity to take a bite out of crime. Fangs for the memories.

We learn of Orphelus, a 1700 year old Roman kept alive by a pool of blood "of all those who had ever died in the history of the world." Or at least the history of hyperbole. Why ancient Orph needed Drac's help to destroy the eternal life plasma pool (after deciding immortality is a sin) is unclear, but seeing the Count caught in the explosion of "vomited boiling scarlet death" is worth a head-scratch.

Finally, Drac revisits his last death at the hands of a vengeful Scotsman (undone, I assume, in TOD #1). The art is stellar throughout, the day-in-the-death vignettes dramatic, but one suspects writer Wolfman was squeezing the juice out of discarded plot ideas. If so, it's high level housekeeping, a primer for new readers to sink their teeth into the title.

Werewolf by Night 12
"Cry Werewolf!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Don Perlin

With Lissa and Buck watching from the ground, Werewolf is able to bite through The Hangman’s noose, vowing to never again be captured! Before the defiant Hangman can do anything, the police arrive and everyone scatters. After 12 hours passed out in an alley, a battered Jack limps home, spies one neighbor burning incense, and is met in his pad by his two hot female neighbors. Meantime, the Hangman gives an epic speech about justice to his hostage and the world outside. Jack’s swimming fun with the hotties is interrupted by a call from Lissa about missing stepfather Philip—then he’s ambushed by two creeps from the Committee! They knock Jack out and take him away—but it’s Third Night and after he changes, the car crashes, killing the thugs and leaving our hairy hero to spot the Hangman patrolling the streets. Leaping into action, Werewolf sees the Hangman elude the police, preaching all the way, and tails the sanctimonious scythe-wielder to his secret lair. A growling Werewolf attacks, breaking the scythe, but pauses before going in for the kill, which allows the Hangman to noose him again. But Werewolf throws the Hangman into a pillar, causing the ceiling to come crashing down! As his hostages escape, Hangman pleads for an honorable death, but Werewolf lopes off, leaving the hooded anti-hero trapped under the rubble. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Two things strike me about this issue right away. There’s the first-person narration by Jack/Werewolf that we get every month, but for some reason, this time it’s a standout thanks to the fine script by Marv. Then we get The Hangman’s constant preaching and holier-than-thou attitude and clichés and villain posturing… and it’s so cheesy you can’t help but root for him to get his comeuppance immediately!

Gil Kane’s faces don’t look very Kane-esque when inked by Don Perlin, but the body movements are pure Sugar, and overall the art isn’t bad. Lots of interesting angles and POVs and panel layouts, all of which help the story move a little, not a normal concept for WWBN. Some decent action, snarling faces (both hairy and human), damsels in distress, rooftop chases, scythe swinging, bumbling policemen and more mystery to be explored next month. Can I say this has been a good two-parter with a straight face? Not completely, but it’s getting there.

Chris: A strange mid-issue flashback (which chronicles events of the same issue) interrupts the werewolf’s lunge toward the Hangman, but otherwise there are some effective moments of suspense as Jack’s alter ego stalks his prey, in his effort to track down Lissa. Kane again provides a credible werewolf, especially his dead-eyed intensity during the fight on pages 30-31. We rarely have kind things to say on these posts about Perlin, but his inks are fine here, nearly on par with the standard set by Sutton on issue #11.

Ghost Rider 3
"Wheels on Fire"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Jim Mooney and John Tartaglione

The Son of Satan has rescued Johnny Blaze and Linda Littletree (aka Ghost Rider and Witch Woman) from his father’s grasp, and returns them to the middle of the desert. Apparently doomed to die to lack of food and water, Linda convinces Johnny that he still has his powers, even if she doesn’t after returning to the surface world. He does, and creates a motorcycle of fire that he rides off on to find a town and send help. Meanwhile, not far away, Roxanne Simpson, Blaze’s girlfriend, runs from biker Big Daddy Dawson who had kidnapped her. He finds her again, and recaptures her, planning on using her as bait for ransom money. As dawn approaches, Ghost Rider reverts to Johnny’s human self, and his injuries return. He collapses, and later awakes in the hospital. That night he returns to the form of Ghost Rider, and escapes to find and free Roxanne from Dawson’s grasp. He succeeds, but Big Daddy is struck in a vehicle accident. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A rather quick-paced issue sees the return of Blaze to his freedom. Linda, likewise, is free of her demonic possession. Johnny doesn’t have a lot of time to send help back to Linda, being obliged to return to hospital during the day, but he does seem to forget about her. He frees his girlfriend from Dawson’s grasp, but has to question what good he can do if it means the likely death of others, even a vile fellow like Daddy Dawson. Some nice artwork, including the ghost towns and cemeteries Johnny passes en route to town.

Matthew Bradley: That monthly dose of GR we got from Marvel Spotlight #11 to Ghost Rider #2 was an anomaly; starting now, the book will be bimonthly until December 1979, coincidentally the end of this blog’s formal mandate, which alas is probably just as well. Now that he and the Son of Satan are temporarily uncoupled, with Daimon having ridden off into the, uh, moonrise and left Johnny and Linda Littletree in the lurch, I think I’m ready for the two characters to start blazing (ha ha) their own trails. Because I hadn’t read the issue at hand since its 1993 Original [sic] Ghost Rider reprint, I’d forgotten that the erstwhile Witch-Woman, after castigating Johnny for not exploring his powers, is the one who schools him in forming his trademark flaming cycle.

Chris: A few issues back, Linda Littletree had suggested that there would be a way for GR to hone his powers, and now we see how that might work. The flame-cycle’s emergence is truly significant, as the sight of it contributes mightily to GR’s fearsome mystique, which Big Daddy learns the hard way this issue (and we have the “where’d-he-come-from?!” moment, appearing for the first time in GR on the last page). Fortunately, wiser heads must have prevailed around the editorial offices, since (as far as I know) GR is never known for using hellfire to construct any other three-dimensional objects. Otherwise, GR might’ve turned into a skull-headed Green Lantern, and fought off opponents with flaming fly-swatters and such. It’s also noteworthy that GR employs hellfire as an offensive weapon, not simply as a defensive or distracting fire screen, as he has up to now. After melting the policeman’s sidearm, GR reminds himself to use his “ghostly voice,” which means that the GR persona, as an entity separate from Johnny, still is a long ways off from asserting itself.

The art is a bit rough – Tartaglione’s inks don’t seem well-suited to some decent pencils by Mooney here. I’ve had some good things to say about Roussos’s inks in Werewolf by Night, so I’ll extend the same compliment here, as he contributes to the gloomy mood.

The Incredible Hulk 170
"Death From On High!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Chris Claremeont
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel

Betty Ross and the Hulk land on a strange island after falling from the city in the sky. It isn't long before a giant monster tries to attack Betty but the Hulkster is able to fight the creature off and it retreats. Betty is not too thrilled to be stuck on an island with the Hulk but she tries to make the best of it as the green brute tries to take care of her. After a day or two, three giant monsters again move in on the couple. The Hulk uses his might and is once again able to drive them off. The story ends with Betty getting rescued by a military plane. Unbeknownst to Betty and the military personnel, the Hulk travels with them as he holds on underneath the plane as it leaves. -Tom McMillion

Tom: Yawn. Pretty uneventful story with action that wasn't very exciting. Not much else to say about this one.

Scott: A letdown after the really great issue #169. Betty, previously nude, is now strangely wearing a large towel or something. This was addressed in a later letters page since this sort of thing is hard to hide. Betty is the prettiest we've seen her in, well, ever. Herb and Abel do a fine job here, but the story is just filling pages between the covers. Marvel is filled with weird islands populated by aliens or strange creatures. This one is no more or less interesting than any of the others.

Matthew: According to the lettercol, “Due to a personal crisis (yes, comic book people have them, too), Steve was unable to script both this month’s and next month’s Hulks after plotting them with Happy Herb, so [Chris Claremont] stepped in for a try this go-round. Next time, Gerry Conway makes a one-ish return—but Steve will be back in #172 and thereafter.” In the event, #172 concluded the transition to the post-Englehart era, with Tony Isabella the third consecutive writer to script his plot (credited, per his website, to Roy), although Trimpe and Abel maintain visual continuity. Not sure if this is intentional, but those aliens look as if they are speaking the same language as the ill-fated Gog from Amazing Spider-Man #103-4.

The Invincible Iron Man 65
"The Cutting Edge of Death!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

Failing to divert Dr. Spectrum from trying to kill Iron Man with a giant scimitar, Roxie encounters Eddie while racing to summon the Avengers; meanwhile, Happy reveals Tony’s secret i.d. to resolve Pepper’s conflicted feelings, and Luke Cage receives a request to become Obatu’s bodyguard, but lacks funds to get to Detroit. The prism relates its history as Krimonn, a Skrull punished by being changed into crystalline form for challenging the emperor, intercepted by the Gamesmaster (sic) and guided to aspiring African dictator Obatu to become a member of the Squadron Sinister. Revealing his agenda, Krimonn abandons Spectrum for a more powerful host, Iron Man, but as the possessed Avenger wreaks havoc, Thor answers the summons for help. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Marvel simultaneously expands and contracts, not for the last time, as they launch new titles (Ghost Rider, next month’s Ka-Zar and Man-Thing), cancel some struggling ones (Warlock), and ratchet others down to bimonthly status (Sub-Mariner); after this issue, Shellhead will be in that last category, with a single anomaly, until #75. Meanwhile, usual suspects Friedrich, Tuska, and Esposito just keep on keepin’ on, stretching this Spectrum thing out over God knows how many months, and slipping in a pre-plug for Shellhead’s guest shot in the Tuska-penciled Power Man #17. One big fat demerit to editor Roy, who co-created the Grandmaster in Avengers #69, but somehow allows him to be inexplicably referred to as the “Gamesmaster” throughout this outing.

Scott: Not a bad installment, but this feels like it's dragging on a bit too long. Having Shellhead possessed by the Skrull isn't a bad idea, but it's been done to death. At least Happy finally told Pepper the truth, but she seems to be handling it like Betty Ross. Will she believe it? I mean, Tony Stark designed the armor, everyone knows that. So why wouldn't he have it in his private office? All Happy did was show her an empty case. Hardly conclusive proof at this point. That revelation is actually the most interesting piece of the saga this month.

Marvel Team-Up 16
The Amazing Spider-Man
and Captain Marvel in
"Beware the Basilisk, My Son!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gil Kane, Jim Mooney, and David Hunt

En route to a menace sensed in San Francisco, Captain Marvel detects an even greater threat in New York, unleashed when Basil Elks is caught stealing a huge emerald that is shattered by a stray shot, turning him into the Basilisk. Passerby Peter sees him fleeing the museum in search of a second gem, and Mar-Vell arrives just in time to save Spidey from his lethal eye-beams, a compliment returned as the departing Basilisk solidifies the air around Mar-Vell in mid-flight. The gem and its ruby counterpart, the deadly Alpha- and Omega-Stones, fell to Earth after an attempt by the Kree to destroy them; the allies trail the Basilisk to a construction site where Mar-Vell digs up the ruby, which draws power from and envelops him, then vanishes.-Matthew Bradley
Matthew: I’ve grown so protective of even Starlin’s adopted characters that I am reflexively cautious when other writers “borrow” them, as Wein and Gerber do with Mar-Vell here and in Daredevil #107, respectively, but this makes Len 3 for 4 since he became the book’s solo writer. I love the origin and the look of the Basilisk (a really cool villain), the handling of Mar-Vell, and his respectful interplay with Spider-Man. The artwork isn’t bad per se, yet if you’re going to reunite recurring penciler Kane—here beginning a quartet of issues—with my beloved Kree, whom he revamped in Captain Marvel #17 with Thomas and Adkins, you need an inker able to show that happy pairing to its finest advantage, which sadly cannot be said of the otherwise capable Jim Mooney.

Chris: Good-enough first installment of a two-parter. I’m not sure where this MTU adventure would fit in the larger storyline of the Thanos War; I believe that Prof Matthew has intimated that all the pieces fit, but Mar-vell here seems further removed from his quest than when he appears (coming soon) in Daredevil’s mag. We’re running short of opportunities to see Kane’s take on Spidey, and even though I miss Romita’s inks this time, the art still is solid. One last thing: I always figured Cap was fast, but who knew he could move faster than 186,000 miles/second, as he spares Spidey from a Basilisk-blast before the beams can hit him (pg 15-16) – don’t tell Carl Sagan.

Joe: Now that was fun! Just as exciting as I remembered it, from the Romita cover to the odd but intelligent new villain with cool powers and a goofy reptilian costume, to the strange team-up of Spidey and Mar-vell that's completely out of left field but still hits a solid double in the gap, to the sci-fi nonsense that's so out there you just skip over it, to the cliffhanger ending that leaves us wanting more! It's issues like that that made Marvel Team-Up a must-read for me, besides the fact that Spidey was the star. What does it all mean? Don't know, don't care--give me more Team-Up!

Scott: Jim Mooney and Gil Kane make for a very effective team. The art is excellent, propping up a fairly standard story. There's not much here to really keep the attention, but at least Spidey and Mar-vell don't wind up in the usual MARMIS. Good, if not great. Fun, but forgettable.

Special Marvel Edition 15
Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in
"Shang Chi, Master of Kung Fu"
Story by Steve Englehart and Jim Stralin
Art by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom

Fu Manchu has overseen the training of his son, Shang-Chi, to be a master of martial and intellectual arts. As part of his training, Fu has instructed S-C of his vision for a peaceful world, and led his son to understand how his plans have been thwarted by enemies. Now, at age nineteen, S-C is sent into the world for the first time, on a deadly mission. S-C obediently carries out orders to kill the elderly Dr Petrie, then finds himself confronted by Sir Denis Nayland Smith, who reveals the truth of Fu’s evil to S-C. S-C breaks into Fu’s headquarters, and fights off numerous warriors, a sumo, and a gorilla, so that he can confront his father. (In the process, S-C discovers his father’s laboratory, and confirms his newfound suspicions of his father’s madness and cruelty.) Fu asserts his right to oppose and undermine the world powers to suit his purposes. S-C dismisses his father’s contentions, asserts his position as his father’s enemy, and stalks off alone – now, fatherless – into the streets of New York City. -Chris Blake

Chris: A compelling debut for a very different sort of Marvel character. For starters: how often do we see a Marvel character – and the hero, at that – deliberately kill someone? That must have been an interesting meeting with Roy. Another possible topic for contention with management might’ve been Shang-Chi’s role as a martial artist, without being a superhero; he has proficiency, but doesn’t have powers, something like the telepathic ability to anticipate the moves of his opponents, or some such. Starlin’s art proves once again that he isn’t a one-trick space cowboy. The fight sequences are exquisitely done, with inspired inking by Englehart himself.

The early-1970s fascination with kung fu is due to the influence of one figure above any other: Bruce Lee. Lee had come to the attention of American audiences in his role as Kato in the short-lived Green Hornet series of 1967. It wasn’t until Lee applied his high-energy, non-formalized style of Chinese martial arts to a feature-length setting that he achieved international stardom. The success of his Hong Kong-produced films was exceeded by his first Warner Bros release, Enter the Dragon, which premiered July 26, 1973, only six days following Lee’s sudden death at age 32 (due to cerebral swelling, most likely caused by allergic reaction to a sleep medication – although conspiracy theories abounded at the time). The lack of a clear successor to Lee allowed kung fu to fade from its peak popularity.

Marvel’s involvement began with their acquisition of the rights to David Carradine’s Kung Fu TV series, which first aired October 12, 1972 (side note: Lee had been considered for the lead role as Caine, and also claimed to have pitched the original idea for the series). On his website, Englehart tells us that “Jim Starlin and I loved the television show Kung Fu and wanted to play with its Eastern philosophy. Nobody else at Marvel believed in it, but we got a slot [in SME], and we co-created SHANG CHI. I meditated for a long time on the I Ching to create his name, which means "The Rising and Advancing of a Spirit," and I envisioned the title as a companion book to Dr Strange” (now wouldn’t that have been something!).

The key for Englehart and Starlin was that, a few years earlier, Marvel had acquired the rights to Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu (“the most famous fictional mastermind ever,” as Roy tells us; “the archetypal arch-fiend,” says Steve) and the supporting characters associated with his stories. Rather than adapt Kung Fu stories for comics, Englehart and Starlin elected to add a reflective, resourceful Caine-like character to the Fu Manchu mythos, with the diametrically-opposed characters providing “the perfect counter-point” to each other. The decision was inspired, since Kung Fu bowed in April 1975, while Shang-Chi’s title ran for the remainder of the Bronze era, with a total of 111 issues, plus a B&W magazine, four giant-sizers, and an annual. This is despite the fact that MoKF rarely featured guest-appearances and crossovers with other titles that you’d expect Shang-Chi might’ve required to maintain readership.
Clearly, the title could stand on its own merits. In the coming months, the original creators both will have to move on to other projects, but fear not – we’ll see how Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy will take Englehart & Starlin’s original concept –and run with it.

Mark: Marvel hops on the kung fu bandwagon in the best Martin Goodman make-a-buck tradition and manages to birth one of best series of the mid-70's. Oh, there's some rough patches ahead, but Englehart and Starlin get Shang-Chi off to a high flying, spin-kicking start.

Don't know the story of how Marvel obtained the rights to author Sax Rohmer's (the nom de plume of Arthur Henry Ward) oeuvre, but all power-mad Oriental despots in popular fiction (I'm lookin' at you, Yellow Claw) are knockoffs of Fu Manchu. Or as Shang calls him, Dad.

Peter: An engrossing tale from the get-go, Stainless cracks the code on how to do a motionless cartoon dealing with a very visual theme: you write a great story and the reader won't care about the moves. Can this guy do wrong? The use of Fu Manchu is nothing short of brilliant since it opens wide the future story spectrum -- you can go personal or you can go epic. This is the best art I've yet seen from Jim Starlin; it's near flawless. The biggest compliment I can pay to Master of Kung Fu is that this Marvel Zombie, who couldn't care less about Kung Phooey, can't wait to dig in to the next issue.

Mark: The book's premise is a high hurdle. The Most Evil Man in the World raises his son in isolation (preserving the Fu as force for good fiction; okay, that's fine), allows him a enlightenment education that includes respect for human life (just like Lil' Kim in N. Korea), then sends him out into the world as an assassin? Stay improbable, my friends.

Once past the eye-rolling incredulity of the Bad Dad/Good Son set-up, MOKF offers high-octane adventure. Shang does kill on command before being clued in to Daddy Dearest by Sir Denis Nayland Smith (Rohmer's long-time Fu foil) and set on the path of righteous redemption. Shang grills his mom ("I wanted a son who would be a king") then invades Fu's sanctum, ass-kicking a giant sumo and genetically-jiggered gorilla en route to the Oedipal showdown.

This being the opening installment, only harsh words are exchanged. Today, Fu lets his son leave "in peace and respect." Tomorrow he'll plot his doom. Jim Starlin proves capable of more than space opera, serving up kinetic fight scenes (love the two page Sumo slugfest, captioned by what I hope are genuine Chinese characters) and more moody earthbound atmospherics than on display in Captain Marvel.

Messrs. Englehart and Starlin, take a bow.

Strange Tales 171
Brother Voodoo in
"March of the Dead"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia

Jericho Drumm, aka Brother Voodoo, is approached by two factory owners whose livelihood have been threatened by zuvembies - half alive, half dead soulless creatures who shamble around and make a general mess. Not one to ignore a challenge, Voodoo flies to Haiti to get to the bottom of the mystery and discovers the predators are at the beck and call of Baron Samedi, Lord of the Undead (a crazy, long-haired old man dressed in Paul's Sgt. Pepper uniform). After said predators overpower and take Brother Voodoo prisoner, he discovers the creatures are not actually zuvembies but poor locals who've been transformed by the devious science of A.I.M.! When Samedi attempts to control Jericho, he finds the Brother is made of sterner stuff and, very soon, the master plan of Samedi and A.I.M. are up in smoke.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: The sound you hear is my fingers digging rivets as I scratch my forehead in bewilderment at this mess. How did something that was turning out so right go so wrong? So we've finally gotten back to the first scene in the series, the appearance of Brother Voodoo at the airport, only to find that the events of the last two issues were all flashbacks! There are so many flashbacks within flashbacks this issue that I can't tell my right from my left. As if that weren't enough, halfway through the story we discover that - supreme WTF? - the zuvembies are not actually supernatural creatures but victims of a shock therapy invented by A.I.M.! BroVoo's explanation to Baron Samedi of how he managed to avoid zuvembiism (by mind-controlling a really big lizard to chew the wires!) is a real hoot, man, as is the idea that Baron Samedi would rise from the ground and a couple of A.I.M. henchmen would refill the hole with dirt and smooth it down so they could rerun the whole charade again the next night. Well, it's a hell of an entrance (or is it an exit?). And why, pray tell, would A.I.M. travel all the way to Haiti to control minds when they could do it back in Brooklyn?

Chris: Len follows the suggestions of Brother Voodoo’s inspired readers – up to a point. The lettercol offers four missives, all encouraging Len & Co to keep BV rooted in the “realm of voodoo.” So, we have a thoroughly creepy opening in a murky cemetery, with Jericho beset and overwhelmed by zombies, and then find him awakening in – an A.I.M. lab. The remainder of the story relies on some conventional tropes: hero fakes hypnosis to free himself; destroys the device, frees the enthralled; foe seemingly done-in by his own devious device. I was encouraged by the series’ possibilities by the Colan/Giacoia art, which is perfectly-suited to the graveyard sequence, but a bit spare in most of the rest of the issue.

The Mighty Thor 218
"Where Pass the Black Stars, There Also Passes... Death!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney

Odin has sent Thor, Sif, Balder, Tana Nile and Silas Grant on a mission: to go in the Starjammer to the world of the Rigelian Colonizers. At the same time, said Colonizers complete the evacuation into space of their home world. Also concurrently, the girl named Krista, Hildegarde’s sister, returns to her farm home near Asgard, not revealing to her parents the glowing gemstone she found on her night walk. Thor’s crew finds Tana Nile’s home abandoned, the evacuation complete—except that is for the underground mutant class of Rigel, who remain and attack. They come to an agreement, and Thor invites them to join their quest. Soon the Black Stars reaches Rigel, five giant “planets” with a raging sun inn their midst. They blast Rigel to bits and “vacuum up” the remains to convert to energy. The Starjammer catches up to the Rigelian fleet of evacuees and the Grand Commissioner (based on a recording they found) relates how the Black Stars first came to our galaxy, and destroyed overnight a great co-operative race known as the Ry-Leph. Now they have reached ours, and seek further destruction with no end in sight. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The very nature of Thor’s comic allows for endless cosmic “super beings” to become a new threat, each seemingly greater than the last. Enter the Black Stars! The Rigelian colonizers have always been a favourite of mine, so to see their world destroyed is a mite sad. The revealing of the underground mutant race is also not uncommon in this title, and as reasonable here as anywhere. Where, I wonder, is our friend the Robot Recorder? I wonder if Thor thinks it’s just another “end of the Universe” routine? All in all, pretty good tension, and the furthering of Krista’s story is promising.

Matthew: Mooney may be a step down from Our Pal Sal as Big John’s inker, yet he’s still an improvement over the erstwhile Perlin Sandwiches, and with Buscema back doing full pencils—at the cost of the FF, says the lettercol—more of his work shows through than we have seen in many a recent issue. He’s in full Kirby-Mode, with gigantic machines, exploding planets, and all sorts of cosmic craziness playing out in oversized panels and multi-page spreads. I’m so jaded from the steady diet of serial (in every sense) epics that Gerry has been feeding us in this title that my response is basically “here we go again,” but this one seems better focused than some, and the Colonizers are usually good value, so I’ll try to lie back and think of England, as it were.

Scott: Another very well-drawn issue, and again Jim Mooney shows he is an inker to be reckoned with. Everything looks lovely. It takes a little while for this tale to start bubbling, where we see the usual melodrama and grim posturing from those in Asgard. The Colonizers still figure prominently and Thor still drags along Silas Grant as if this old man is of any use. He may have been interesting when he was introduced (and I'm definitely stretching it), but now he's just someone to tag along and do little. Favorite sound effect: Frik! Frak! Zak! It's all very action packed and dramatic leading to the inevitable cliffhanger conclusion about the end of the Galaxy. And we readers yawn loud and long. 

Also This Month

Chili #26 (final issue)
Dead of Night #1
Journey Into Mystery #8
Millie the Model #207
Our Love Story #26
Outlaw Kid #19
Two-Gun Kid #115
Uncanny Tales #1
Vault of Evil #8
Weird Wonder Tales #1
X-Men #85

Simply not enough monster reprints on the stand so Roy/Stan/whoever decided to add an 8th, a 9th, and a 10th title to the already saturated comic racks. Of course, forty years on, we know this is going to come back and bite the company right on the huge backside eventually but, in late 1973, it was all guns a'blazin' (or all fangs a'flashin')! As a 12-year old Marvel Monster Comic Zombie, I bought all three right off the stands and devoured them. Uncanny Tales will be re-christened the much more imaginative Uncanny Tales From the Grave with its third issue and will run 12 total (until October 1975), packed with pre-code horror from the pages of Suspense, Mystic, Strange Tales and, of course, the first incarnation of Uncanny Tales. Weird Wonder Tales somehow managed to eke out 22 numbers (until May 1977), with a bit of a curveball thrown into its final era. Issues 19 through 22 reprinted four chapters of a series (created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby for the first Amazing Adventures back in 1961) starring a character originally named Doctor Droom. Not wanting to create any confusion with the good Dr. Victor Von, Droom was rechristened Druid and a bit of monkeying was done to the art by the likes of John Byrne to create the illusion that this was a new series. To show just how much attention was paid to these books, the stories were reprinted out of sequence! Of the three new horror books though, my favorite has to be Dead of Night, for the simple fact that the 11th, and final, issue (the only one containing new material) introduced the supremely creepy Scarecrow, a supernatural anti-hero who, sadly, only saw three appearances in the Marvel Universe (though he was rebooted in the 1990s). If I have my way, you'll hear more about this guy when the time comes.

There were no magazines published by Marvel in December 1973.

Make sure to tune in this Sunday for Professor Matthew Bradley's latest Micro-Snapshot. This time out, the Professor puts Tony Isabella in the petrie dish!


  1. This issue of Tomb of Dracula left a lasting impression on my young impressionable mind. As our translated Marvels had no ads there always was a random story from Journey into Mystery or Uncánny Tales to fill each issue. Not all the short stories in this issue were great, sure, but it made the series again different from the usual slugfests. For all his flowery speeches Dracula was a well-rounded character, and the book took its horror seriously.

    Master of Kung Fu is one of the few Marvel series I have complete. I started collecting it around issue 45 or so and bought the rest as back issues. I re-read it last year, as there sadly ever won't be a collection. At times it was one of the most sophisticated Marvel books on the stands. Moench took the concept and made this his book.

    But the groundwork done by Englehart and Starlin is inspired. They took an old pulp and transformed it into modern pulp. The idea to age Rohmer's heroes and develop Fu Manchu into a kind of immortal made the series a direct sequel to the novels instead of just another adaption.

  2. DICK AYERS 1924-2014
    Dick Ayers passed away on May 4th, a few days after his 90th birthday.

    Glenn :(

  3. Thanks Glenn,

    Here's a Washington Post piece on Mr. Ayers:

  4. As I note in an upcoming commentary for Dracula Lives #4, I thought Ayers' contributions to Eerie Publications (reprinted and redrawn from his 50s output) were a big bowl of yeccchhh but his pre-code Atlas stuff was pretty stylish. Check out "Doctor Molnar's Corpse" from Adventures Into Terror #21 (July 1953) for proof!