Wednesday, June 4, 2014

February 1974 Part Two: Once a Hero For Hire... Now He's Got Power Man!

The Invincible Iron Man 66
"Battle Royal!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Thor fells Krimonn, who is still trying to master Iron Man’s armor, and reacts with shock after unmasking him; flashbacks reveal that Happy donned a set of spare armor and flew to help, over Pepper’s objections. Brought too close to the prism, the captured Spectrum reclaims it, and as a second Iron Man arrives to meet and defeat the renewed threat—crushing the prism and apprehending Obatu—he tells Thor to aid the first, which the latter does as Dr. Donald Blake. In a final revelation, the fallen “Iron Man” is shown to be not Happy, who had acceded to Pepper’s wishes in order to mend fences between them, but Eddie March, who had “a memento uniform” with him, entering the fray while Tony called Jarvis and repaired his armor. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: I’d like to believe that any issue featuring a Thor/Shellhead smackdown could not be a total loss, and indeed, one criticism that surely cannot be leveled against this one is that there isn’t enough going on here. In addition to the aforementioned intra-Avengers imbroglio, which is saved from the annoyance of being a MARMIS by the fact that Iron Man is possessed by Krimonn, we get a possible rapprochement between the Hogans, and not one but three Iron Men, whose identities are kept a somewhat needlessly convoluted mystery until the very end. Those who also consider it a blessing that we have reached the end of Friedrich’s protracted Dr. Spectrum saga will get no argument from me, while Tuska and Esposito keep on doing their thing…and I’m okay with that.

Scott McIntyre: Considering the last half dozen issues, this one wasn't bad at all. An all-out action epic with a few twists that weren't telegraphed as obviously as they might have otherwise been. Still, I find it odd that Thor's first concern after dropping "Iron Man" is to determine his identity. Also disappointing is the serious lack of balls in the handling of Eddie March. He's a minor character at best (and that's being charitable), yet they refuse to kill him off. Then again, Tony has so few friends and they keep dying, so maybe he deserves a break now and then. While I'm never going to be Tuska's biggest supporter, the full page panel on 18 (below) is pretty damned amazing.

Kull the Destroyer 12
“Moon of Blood!”
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Michael Ploog and Sal Buscema
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Mike Ploog and John Romita

Ardyon the First — aka Thulsa Doom — orders Kull beheaded at the “settling” of the moon. Harda, a royal concubine, rides to her village to ask for help from its chieftain, Kargan. He gives her a protective amulet to put around the neck of Kull. Back at Valusia, Harda makes her way through the crowd waiting to witness the execution and slips the talisman around the former king’s battered and bleeding head. As the time for the beheading arrives, Brule the Pict emerges from the bloodthirsty throng to save Kull. But he is too late: the executioner’s blade swings down. However, the amulet’s magic takes hold and the axe turns into a huge cobra that kills the headsman. Kull, Brule and Harda escape in the confusion and ride towards the woman’s village. Kargan welcomes the trio into his throne room for food and drink. Soon, a wandering Pict falsely accused of thievery is brought before the chieftain and casually condemned to death by the claws of a man-eating tiger. When Brule objects to the savagery, Kull sides with Kargan and his loyal friend is beaten. However, the barbarian monarch comes to realize that the magicked amulet is bending his will to Kargan’s. He removes the jewel and comes to Brule’s defense, killing the tiger, Kargan and his henchmen. When the villagers ask Kull to stay and rule their humble home, the Atlantean refuses, vowing to regain the throne he has lost. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Darn it, a major step backwards from the ray of hope offered last issue. Englehart’s first take on Kull doesn’t distinguish itself from the usual mediocrity plotted by Thomas, Wein and Conway. Plus, Ploog’s artwork is a complete disappointment. Not sure that it can be blamed on his new inkers, since we are talking about the reliable talents of Sal Buscema and an uncredited John Romita on the last five pages. It’s way too cartoonish, seriously lacking in interesting details. This issue also marks the disheartening start of “bonus” reprint stories, as “The Stoneman,” a Steve Ditko short from Journey Into Mystery #70 (July 1961), is included. A sickly old man prays to the statue of an ancient warrior named Dralla, asking for help against the drought that is destroying his village. After the old man slips into a coma, his fellow citizens begin to discover nuggets of gold, saving their parched farms. However, when the old man revives, the villagers refuse to share their good fortune. The Dralla statue springs to life, reclaims his golden gifts and flies off with the old man to a heavenly paradise. Grumble, grumble, grumble. Heck, Ditko can’t even get the name of the warrior straight, calling him both Dralla and Drallas.

The Man-Thing 2
"Nowhere to Go But Down!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik and Sal Trapani
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Jean Izzo
Cover by Jim Starlin, Frank Giacoia, and Marie Severin

Richard Rory, a self-made loser in life, sits by a campfire in the swamp when a spill of hot coffee makes him toss his cup on a nearby alligator, which attacks in anger. The Man-Thing is close at hand, and finishes the gator by tossing it against a tree. Rory slips into unconsciousness, the swamp beast being the last thing he sees. When he awakens, it is to the form of a lovely girl who introduces herself as Ruth Hart. Ruth found him while on the run herself, and bandaged his wounds—although it appears the Man-Thing may have saved Richard's life by covering his wounds in a crude wrap of leaves. Ruth was the girlfriend of the leader—Snake—of a bike gang called the Skull-Crushers. Now they’re after her; she saw Snake had stolen $1000 from the gang’s cache, and now plans to “off her.” Meanwhile, in Miami, F.A. Schist, the developer who wants to drain the swamp and build an airport, tries to buy the genius of a group of scientists to kill the Man-Thing, who stands in the way of his plans. The scientists leave disgusted, but one man, Hargood Wickham, remains. He has invented a method known as the Slaughter Room, which he convinces Schist will be able to kill the Man-Thing. Back at the swamp, while Ruth and Rory learn each other's stories, the Skull-Crushers are close by, and encounter the swamp creature themselves, which they are unable to harm. Manny makes off with Snake’s chain still in him. The setup for the “Slaughter Room” proceeds, a shack that has mirrors and amplimodes that will strike the Man-Thing with enough voltage to fry him. The bait? A transmitter emitting sounds on a frequency we can’t hear, but Manny can, and it will drive him nuts until he finds the source and destroys it—in the shack, triggering the electricity. The Skull-Crushers find Ruth and Rory. She runs off, but Rory tells the gang what Snake has done, for which the latter attacks the former. Meanwhile the Man-Thing finds the transmitter in the shack and destroys it, which triggers the electric bolts. Before he fries, he instinctively uses Snake’s chain to swing and smash the equipment that attacks him. Upon being freed, he sees the struggle with the biker gang—who found Snake’s stash of heroin from the cash he stole—and finishes their leader with his own chain. Schist and company leave, bikers too, leaving Ruth and Rory to start a new and better chapter in their lives.-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The Man-Thing’s mag is a useful vessel for its many guest stars to fight the demons that have brought them down to the lowest point of their lives, and perhaps rise from the ashes. It seems that Manny himself always plays a key part in this, yet sadly doesn’t really know of the salvation he brings to others. If the swamp is a Nexus of sorts, it seems to give people what they deserve, good and bad. Man-Thing walks off at the end, kind of like Bill Bixby’s version of the Incredible Hulk. Ruth and Rory aren’t bad people, just caught in bad circumstances. Even Schist seems to feel some remorse at the end, although I suspect he’ll forget by next month.

Scott: Richard Rory and Ruth Hart join Man-Thing's entourage in this otherwise cluttered and poorly- drawn issue. Val Mayerik is no Mike Ploog by a long shot and a series this young needs all the help it can get to stay afloat. Ploog will be back and not soon enough. Rory looks like a 45 year-old accountant on the splash page and then a Scooby-Doo reject afterward. The story is okay, but the usual biker gang doesn't help and Schist is still an annoying villain.

Matthew: One of this strip’s greatest strengths has always been its variety: although it has recurring characters, settings, and plot elements—epitomized by Schist’s construction site—the absence of a strong through line for its “protagonist” allows Gerber to experiment with its tone, subject matter, and supporting cast. So now we meet perennial loser Richard Rory (reportedly based loosely on Steve himself), who later bonded with another Gerber creation, Omega the Unknown co-star James-Michael Starling, in Defenders before befriending the She-Hulk. Strong but unusual artwork is another hallmark, and while I wouldn’t want Mayerik and Trapani illustrating, say, Avengers, their atmospheric style is eminently suited to this particular character.

Mark Barsotti: The theme for this month's oozing, off-kilter tale is "There are winners... There are losers. And there are losers." VW micro-bus driving, lost-in-a-swamp sadsack Richard Rory (whose hot coffee spill gets him attacked by a gator, prompting Manny to the rescue), is inspired to claw his way up to regular loser status by red-haired Ruth, a biker-chick on the run from ex-boyfriend Snake, the heroin-dealing, chain-wielding leader of the Soul Crushers.

Having established MT as Marvel's weirdest, most off-the-wall title, Steve Gerber throws us a curve by deploying clich├ęd plot device #22: construction magnate F.A. Schist channels his inner J. Jonah Jameson and hires mad scientist Professor Wickham (inventor of cutting edge capitol punishment gizmo the "slaughter room") to take down Manny, who's impeding airport construction.

Wickham doesn't deploy a "Man-Thing Slayer," just a Tuff-Shed tricked out with high frequency mirrors, delivered to the swamp via hydrofoil. The climax finds Rory sacking up to defend Ruth from her ex and Snake's chain helping Manny escape the slaughter room. Rory and Ruth's tender final panel embrace, with Manny shambling away in the foreground, is the "happiest ending" I've seen since hopping on the book five or six issues ago. But Gerber ain't going soft: the hippie hug comes a mere four panels after Snake gets his brains bashed out with his own chain.

Which - just as it should be - is about as warm and fuzzy as Man-Thing ever gets.

Marvel Team-Up 18
The Human Torch and The Incredible Hulk in
"Where Bursts the Bomb!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gil Kane, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jean Izzo
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

After the Torch and Wyatt Wingfoot mitigate the explosion of a crashed truck, an alarm in the sky-cycle signals the return of an old foe. Seeking revenge on Ferguson Blaine, who stole his design for a Fully-Automated Unit of Structual [sic] Technology (FAUST), Professor Paxton Pentecost obtains and revives the inert Blastaar with gamma radiation, having taken the precaution of implanting a control device, and orders him to destroy the factory, built of an adamantium alloy. Blown half a mile away in their initial skirmish, Johnny is caught by the Hulk, who seeks the cause of a buzzing in his head and is told by the Torch—with unwitting honesty—that it is Blastaar; they prevent Pentecost, an old friend of Reed’s, from killing Blaine. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Once again, we have artwork that is recognizably that of Kane, yet still doesn’t resemble what I know and love; it’s happening so consistently of late that I’m starting to wonder if my reflexively blaming the inkers—in this case, usually reliable old hands Giacoia and Esposito—is misguided, although if I’m not mistaken, Gil has been turning out a ton of cool covers at the same time. Len tries to mix things up a bit by giving Spidey a breather in favor of his inaugural co-star, yet even a return appearance by Blastaar, whom I’ve always liked, can’t raise this above average. It’s not too surprising that the Torch/Hulk “team” is nominal at best, but at least they don’t square off against each other (as that spectacularly erroneous Kane/Giacoia cover would lead us to believe).

Joe Tura: No Spidey? I'll give you one guess if this one was in my collection. I don't think I've ever actually read it until tonight but I now know why I didn't bother with the non-Spidey MTUs. It's just not very good, even though it's not horrendous. First of all, Kane draws a pretty bad Wyatt Wingfoot, my Marvel man-crush, which right there has me skeptical after one page. Next, there's a special FF alarm just for Blastaar? Really? He's the big threat? Yeesh. I mean, he could kick my butt with one burst, but "one of the most dangerous menaces" in the world? Nah. Hulk dispatches him a bit too easily to be called that, as ingenious as the adamantium ball might have been. Funniest line by far: "Hulk does not like to itch." Although a close second is "Bah! Is not enemy after all--is only dumb Torch. Wasted Hulk's time." I feel your pain, big guy. I feel your pain.

Scott: From the splash page, I knew we were in trouble. Gil Kane has his strengths, but the FF is not one of them. Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot are unrecognizable. Kane is good with Spider-Man who, ironically, is not in this issue (one of the few). The Hulk ain't lookin' so hot either. Johnny tells Wyatt he loves camping but it's just not the same without Reed and Ben. I must have missed all those outings in previous issues.

Luke Cage, Power Man 17
"Rich Man: Iron Man, Power Man: Thief"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Tuska and Billy Graham
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Billy Graham

As he sits at his desk, with his morning paper, Luke Cage is overcome with anger when he reads about all the publicity that other super-heroes are garnering while he doesn't get so much as a blurb. Cage decides that he needs a new moniker with pizzazz in order to get any recognition. A fellow named Orville Smythe visits the hero in order to offer him a job. Orville claims to work for Stark Industries and he hires Cage to test the security at the building. Cage's task is to try to break in and steal a newly created spacesuit made of armor. While on his mission, Cage decides to christen himself 'Power Man,' and his new super-hero name is born. After being able to get past most of the security with no problem, Cage is confronted by Iron Man and the two do battle. During the fight, Iron Man informs Cage that Orville doesn't work for Stark Industries and Orville's hiring of Cage was all a ruse so that he could steal the armor for himself. Using a ship, Orville takes off. When Cage follows him and confronts him, Orville is accidentally knocked off the ship and falls to his death. The story ends with Cage returning the ship to Iron Man, telling him to refer to Cage as Power Man from here on out. -Tom McMillion

Scott: The first and greatest Black super-hero, as the cover says. Did someone tell the Falcon and the Black Panther about this? Well, now Luke has an official super-hero type name…and it's pretty bland. Power Man? Why not Strong Dude? Tuska is back, but his art does provide character continuity. Iron Man is a douche for offering to pay Luke and then deducting the damage costs from said check. Stark's a "zillionaire." He doesn't plan for these things? Have insurance? Can't afford it? Yikes.

Special Marvel Edition 16
Master of Kung Fu in
"Midnight Brings Dark Death!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin
Art by Jin Starlin and Al Milgrom
Colors by Linda Lessman
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and June Braverman
Cover by Jim Starlin

Shang-Chi has left the home – and control – of his father, Fu Manchu. S-C seeks a night’s rest in one of the few green spaces in New York – Central Park. Instead, S-C is accosted by a gang, so he issues them a sound thrashing. As the fight concludes, S-C hears someone calling – he turns, as he recognizes the voice of his oldest friend, M’Nai, but he finds nothing but empty shadows. S-C recalls the day Fu had spared M’Nai’s life when he was found orphaned and scarred in the jungle, and the subsequent years of study and training shared by the young warriors. M’Nai returns to Fu’s headquarters, and resolves to follow orders, and eliminate Fu’s errant son. M’Nai reaches out to S-C, and they meet for battle in the streets of SoHo; S-C escapes from M’Nai several times, as the fight leads them to a construction site. When his opponent corners him on top of a crane, S-C disrupts M’Nai’s footing; S-C’s old friend falls, and is caught on a hook, which causes his neck to be fractured. S-C climbs down alone, and walks away. -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: For the first time, S-C must make choices for himself. He recognizes that M’Nai is still blindly allegiant to Fu, just as S-C himself had been for his entire life, up to this point. S-C also realizes that no argument will sway his friend to understand Fu’s true self, and worse, that their battle does not allow for any compromise – in the end, S-C must allow M’Nai to kill him, of M’Nai himself will have to die.

S-C already has had to grow far beyond the position he had occupied in our previous issue. At that time, S-C had killed Dr Petrie as ordered, without reservation; but now, S-C is beginning to appreciate that he has control over the consequences of his actions. In the process, Englehart and Starlin have laid important groundwork for the establishment of this character – not bad for his second appearance. And not at the expense of thoroughly satisfying action, I might add.

I don’t really need to go to any great lengths about Starlin’s art, do I? I would be more broken-up by his imminent departure (I’m pretty sure that #17 is his final work on the series) if Gulacy weren’t warming up in the ‘pen. Milgrom’s inks are acceptably clear, and work well with Starlin’s pencils here, as they serve to complement Starlin without compromising his efforts.

Strange Tales 172
Brother Voodoo in
"Fiend in the Fog"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Gene Colan and Dick Giordano
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Brother Voodoo saves a woman from drowning in the freezing waters of the Mississippi. When he's gotten her back to his pad to regain her composure, the girl reveals that she is the daughter of police chief Tate. Loralee relates how she got into her predicament in the first place. A messenger drops off a mysterious package and, despite some bad vibes, Loralee opens the parcel to discover a black roster and a vague, threatening note: "The dark lord has chosen you for his own." Shaken by the package and its contents, the girl goes for a drive, only to be assaulted by hooded figures. In an attempt to escape, she drives her car into the river. Just as Loralee is finishing her story, Voodoo must attend to a knock at the door. When he opens the door, he is attacked and overcome by the same hooded figures who attacked his guest only hours ago. The mysterious characters take Loralee to their lair where they prepare her to be sacrificed to the Dark Lord. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: Now this is more like it! Len goes back to re-read the fan mail, and realizes that he should place Jericho in the sort of black-magic-infused story that readers had requested. The actions of the black-robed men, and the power of the malevolent green vapor, are shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately, just when the story has gotten into third gear, we’re suddenly out of pages. Intriguing moment when BV walks thru the flames – since his voodoo-derived powers are still undefined, we don’t know where their limits might be. Len plays this to his advantage as he’s telling the story – as readers, we can be surprised at the same moment as the people who observe BV in action. Colan/Giordano presents an artistic upgrade over the previous issue; the details of the supporting characters can be a bit indistinct at times, but Jericho and especially Loralee come off particularly well.

Peter Enfantino: Professor Chris touches on the one aspect of this series that nags me the most: the supporting cast (or lack thereof). The secondary characters are so forgettable that, by the next installment, I've... forgotten them. I'd like Inspector Tate to become more than just the obligatory "nemesis" role. That cover is a keeper. If only Kane/Giacoia's demon had materialized within the story. Our main act is truncated by a reprint, also penciled by Gene Colan, "Voodoo" (from Astonishing #56, December 1956). The talky tale perfectly illustrates how the Comics Code sucked all the life out of and killed horror comics in the mid-1950s.

The Mighty Thor 220
"Behold! The Land of Doom!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Avalon, Thor and friends behold with their own eyes the giants who exist on the primary planet of the Black Stars. Thor flies and strikes the hand of Kragonn, the leader, and is brushed aside like a fly. Avalon catches him. Kragonn orders his fellow Dracus, creator of Avalon and his caretaker race, to study what he sees as a mere rebellion. Dracus has ruthless ambitions of his own, but investigates and finds the presence of “others”—Thor and his fellows, who turn back the attack of more robot protectors. Back in Asgard, Hildegarde seeks Odin’s help in locating her disappearing sister Krista, and in his crystal ball, the All-Father (not us) sees the shocking sight of her whereabouts. Back with Thor, it is the Rigelian mutants who use subterfuge to overhear Dracus and Kragonn talk. They believe no other life exists in the Universe, except possibly on their neighboring Black Star planets, and subject our friends to radiation against what they perceive as an invasion. Thor carries his friends in flight, Avalon and his people follow. More protectors are sent against them, until the mutant colonizers climb up Dracus’s body and apply pressure to a nerve, felling him temporarily. They then find a way to make Kragonn aware of their presence by a visi-screen, and convince him to see for himself if the other Black Stars they have been sending energy to (by destroying worlds in their path for energy) are still inhabited or not. In spacecraft they go, and find the companion planets dead—without the technology the lead world of Rhun (what Kragonn and people call themselves) had to survive. Faced with the knowledge of the existence of others, and his own ignorance at the fate of his brethren, Kragonn sets free Avalon and his people, no longer needing to fuel the other dead stars, and with a benevolent awareness from his newfound knowledge. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The cover of this issue is completely inaccurate, but that might be the only complaint about the finale of the Black Stars saga. The artwork portrays very well the scale of the giants of Rhun, who despite their size and power, were still ignorant of the existence of other life. While unlikely, this still gives a reasonable explanation for the rampant destruction Kragonn and people have been on, and frees Avalon and his people to form a life of their own. Odin must have an innate sense when his son will be able to prevail or not, for he certainly didn’t offer any help here (though not sleeping like he often is)! A nice touch that it is really the mutants who save the day by enlightening Kragonn, who to his credit, changed his destructive ways once made aware of them.

Matthew: First, let me state for the record that I really dig this Kane/Adkins cover, especially the yellow-on-green Marvel logo, but it’s curious that after the last one somewhat misleadingly showed an opponent who was almost an afterthought, this one depicts an apparent adversary who had already been revealed as an ally. To say that I have no complaints about the interior artwork would be a gross understatement, with Esposito again showing Buscema off to the best possible advantage. And even Gerry seems to have pulled his socks up a bit, ameliorating the recurring problem with the just-ended Conway/Buscema FF run of the words not living up to the pictures; while I might quibble with his scripting, that whole Russian-doll SF concept is an intriguing one.

Chris: I picked this up as a back issue because, based on the cover, I thought Thor was battling the Living Monolith, which hearkens forward to MTU #70 (a personal favorite). Instead, I’m only on board for the last chapter of this particular story, which left me feeling a bit lost – my fault, not fair to blame Gerry. 

Tomb of Dracula 17
"Death Rides the Rails!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Plamer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Dracula needs a long rest after his trip to Paris. He won't get it however, since the vampire hunter known as Blade has destroyed his coffin. Dracula fights Blade and bests him. leaving his adversary for dead. The Count then goes to an old farm, run by one of his possessed human underlings, for some sleep. Figuring that he needs to go back to Transylvania, Drac hitches a ride aboard a train. Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing are also on the train, waiting for the vampire to make his move. Beside the vampire hunters, a man named Gruber and his his bodyguard Granet, are also along for the ride. Granet tries to destroy Dracula with a gun, but is thrown from the train and killed. When Gruber is cornered by Dracula, he pleads that he has to keep his master's paperwork safe. Dracula laughs this off as something only mortals would care about. Once Gruber realizes that he is dealing with a vampire, he commits suicide by throwing himself through a window. It comes to light that Gruber was working for Dr. Sun when one of his agents recovers the case that he was protecting. The agents reports that the mission was successful. During this time, Lucas Brand defeats a bunch of Dr. Sun's goons, thereby earning himself a place in the mysterious organization. -Tom McMillion

Chris: Mr Drac’s Wild Ride! A mystery- and suspense-filled journey, with no M. Poirot in sight to sort things out in the third act. Handy explanation for Drake and Ms van Helsing to stay in the bar car – otherwise, you’d figure Drac would be easy to track down, regardless of the length of the train (which helps to explain why the Old Bat gives the porter the red eye, in order to ensure his privacy). Compelling moment of weakness, when Drac needlessly attacks the woman, which alerts the hunters to his presence. Nice choice, art-wise, as Tom gives the Count a greenish pallor when he’s confronted by Blade (left).

Scott: Solid action and terror on the train. Dracula does his thing in the moving confines of the railroad. A few grisly deaths, a quick death averted because Rachel can't shoot before speaking (thereby warning the vampire of her presence), and a mysterious shadow group makes this one fun. Blade's apparent death is somewhat interesting since we know he's not really going anywhere. Did his polluted bloodline save his life? Stay Tuned.

We’re left with a few intriguing questions: Drac leaves Blade on the ground, with tooth puncture-marks in his neck – is he dead? -could Drac have managed to eliminate one of his hunters? What’s in the carefully-protected, but ultimately-lost, briefcase? And why does Dr Sun want it – how does it fit into his (expectantly) devious plan? And who – or what – is Dr Sun??

Mark: Call this one "Vamps on a Train," as the Count heads home to Transylvania via Euro-rail after seemingly offing Blade (we trust in Wesley Snipes that he'll survive) in the Paris underground and retrieving one of his emergency coffins, stashed in the hayloft of an in-thrall minion. Marvelous Marv skips over the mechanics of transporting the oblong box from loft to extra-large choo-choo stateroom, but we take as a given that Drac has resources at his disposal.

Also riding the rails are Rachel Van Helsing and Frank Drake (tracking Drac), Jack Russell (teasing a Werewolf By Night crossover next ish), and the mysterious Monsieur Gruber, clutching a briefcase of important papers, and his hulking eye-patched henchman, Herr Granet. In less-nimble hands, the seams of such plot contrivances would call attention to themselves like a bad toup, but Wolfman renders them invisible, delivering the expected mayhem, yes, but also raising the storytelling bar with the twist of false assumptions. Gruber thinks both Drac and the Vamp Hunters are after him and his briefcase. The Count thinks Granet one of Harker's crew...and he gets braced by a kid with a cap gun!

Colan and Palmer use mostly small panels, action forced into the foreground, to conjure the claustrophobic space of the train, and the passengers ejected there from. In a sub-plot soon to come center stage, Doctor Sun's controlled fanger gets a rat-a-tat machine gun workout, and his hand (if not the good Dr. himself) is further revealed in the final panel, after Euro-trash Gruber flings himself from the train, red beret flying.

Masterful storytelling, again. Wolfman and Colan are the most reliable team in the Bullpen right now. They never come up toothless.

Werewolf by Night 14
"Lo, the Monster Strikes!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Mike Ploog

Werewolf battles the monster Algon, until he sees the visage of his stepfather, whose mind inhabits the creature, and turns back into Jack with the onset of sunlight. He grabs Topaz, who refuses Taboo’s order to kill Jack, so the seething sorcerer bans her from their home—somehow part of his master plan to give his son a normal body. Back in L.A., Philip’s mind is quiet as the gang plots to kill Algon. Jack and Topaz kiss (grroowwlll), then he heads back towards the mosque, with a pair of Committee goons in hot pursuit. Jack stops his car at a dead end to confront his followers, where it’s smashed and sent over a cliff, but Jack is able to escape and make his way on foot to the mosque. There Taboo casts a spell that finds the essence of Topaz melting into the Skull of Diamon, and the power of transmutation is transferred into Algon! Second Night begins as Jack transforms and battles Algon, whose very touch changes stuff into gold, delighting the greedy Taboo. But the golden statue of Buddha is too heavy for its base, thusly it collapses and crushes the malevolent magician! Werewolf shoves the distracted Algon into the fuming cauldron and he’s also killed. Jack awakes the next day and makes his way home, where Philip is back to normal and reveals Jack’s father was his brother (!) and after his death he married Jack’s mother Laura (!) but couldn’t save her from being killed by The Committee! After Jack and Philip reconcile once and for all, Jack and Topaz fly off to his homeland of Transylvania…and the pages of Tomb of Dracula! –Joe Tura

Joe: Boy, talk about an eventful ish! Not only do we get the crazy conclusion of a decent two-parter, complete with the cuckoo Taboo getting his well-deserved comeuppance, but also some answers about Philip Russell that are quite unexpected. I guess we couldn’t really think he was that nasty, right? Getting nabbed by The Committee and almost killed by a wacked-out wizard would make anyone turn over a new leaf. But he’s Jack’s uncle and stepfather? Call “General Hospital”! Some odd layouts in this issue also, mainly a three panel page 3 followed by a poster-worthy full panel page 4 (reprinted above), then insets, rectangles over squares and some guiding arrows, all of which help this one stand out a little from the crowd, on top of the decent Wolfman script. You really root for Taboo and Algon to meet their bitter ends! And that kiss between Jack and Topaz—will it go anywhere? Time will tell (no peeking ahead!).

Scott: Good stuff here. Mike Ploog works his magic while Marv Wolfman ties up some loose ends and wraps up a saga that had been percolating since day one. It's pretty perfunctory the way we are info-dumped at the end, but it gives Jack an end to his bitterness and a new girlfriend in Topaz. Ploog really gives the book an otherworldly look and a distinctive identity, much like Barry Smith did for Conan. Similarly, the title loses something when he's not penciling.

Chris: Topaz seems to drastically overstate Taboo’s threat; granted, he might be evil, but does Jack truly need to “stop him … before he destroys the world – and everyone who lives.” -? Taboo acknowledges that he wants to use Algon’s transmutation ability to grant him wealth, which Taboo will employ to amass power, but that strikes me as far short of “destroying” everyone, am I right?

The Phillip-Russell-is-My-Enemy storyline is concluded, in a manner that points ahead to a new direction for this title. Fortunately, Marv was able to introduce the idea that Phillip might not be a Mom-Killing Bad Guy (as we saw Phillip captured and tortured by the Committee a few issues back), so that the reveal of Phillip as In Fact a Good Guy gave me more of a “Huh!” reaction, than a “Wha -?” I guess I’m willing to overlook the fact that someone might’ve, should’ve taken five minutes awhile ago to explain all this to poor confused Jack, rather than waiting all this time. I mean, on her deathbed, couldn’t Jack’s mom have said “Phillip is … your … uncle,” instead of “Don’t … hurt Phillip;” that would’ve cleared up most of the heavy stuff from the start, hmm? I can’t help but think Gerry originally had a different plan for Phillip, which then was re-examined along the way. Side note: I’m glad I’m not Jack’s car insurance rep – hasn’t he already wrecked a few other cars before the MG in this issue? That’s rough.

There isn’t much of the Werewolf himself to see, so I don’t have as much to say about Ploog’s depiction of him this time. Marv suggests that the Werewolf is hesitating to attack Algon, as he detects Phillip’s presence within his opponent, but there’s only one moment when I’m reading the slightest hint of uncertainty (pg 6, 1st panel). There are plenty of other things to enjoy about Ploog’s art, particularly Taboo’s conjuring of Topaz’s spirit (pg 22) and Phillip’s mind’s bad trip, while trapped in Algon’s skull (right).

Also This Month
Dead of Night #2
Journey Into Mystery #9
Kid Colt Outlaw #179
Marvel Double Feature #2
Marvel Tales #49
Our Love Story #27
Outlaw Kid #20
Two-Gun Kid #116
Uncanny Tales #2
Vault of Evil #9
Weird Wonder Tales #2
<- Worlds Unknown #5
X-Men #86


Monsters Unleashed 4
Cover by Frank Brunner

"The Classic Monster!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Buscema, Syd Shores, and Win Mortimer

"The Hands!"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Gene Colan
(reprinted from Adventures Into Terror #14, Winter 1952)

"Our Martian Heritage"
Non-Fiction by Chris Claremont

"Web of Hate"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Dave Cockrum

"A Monster Reborn"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Pablo Marcos

"The Monster Master"
book review by Tony Isabella

"The Killers"
Story Uncredited
Art by Bernie Krigstein
(reprinted from Adventures Into Weird Worlds #10, September 1952)

"To Love, Honor, Cherish...'Til Death!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Perlin

"In Memorium (sic): Lon Chaney, Jr."

Dean Enfantino projects his thoughts
into an issue of Monsters Unleashed
A nice Wolfman-inspired Frank Brunner painting graces the cover of the 4th Unleashing of the Monsters. The insides are another matter altogether. Gary Friedrich continues to undo all the good he did with the color Frankenstein title with the latest installment of Frankenstein 1973. After the calamity at the carnival which left his girl in the hospital, Dr. Derek McDowell (the world's youngest neurosurgeon) appeals to the local gendarmes to allow him to take possession of the Frankenstein Monster. After a few greenbacks have passed into the right hands, Derek brings the Monster back to his laboratory to attempt a resuscitation. There to help him is Vulture dead-ringer, Dr. Wallach. The older man at first attempts to dissuade his colleague's perverted experiments but eventually goes along with the scheme. The creature is resurrected and all that remains is to replace its criminal brain with that of a fresh, intelligent mind. For some reason (the influence of the 1970s, perhaps?) Derek decides the best choice would be a soft-core porn photographer. Alas, that idea ends in murder and a damaged brain when the monster goes berserk (or in the words of Derek McDowell: "Damn! He smashed the dude's skull!"). Back at the lab, a lightbulb goes on over Derek's head and he steals the brain of his partner, Dr. Wallach. Demonstrating that no good deed goes unpunished, the monster/Wallach awakens and throttles Derek, all the while laying out his plans for world domination. We waited two issues for this bilge? John Buscema's art is hidden under an ugly second skin of Syd Shores/Win Mortimer ink. Shores had died while working on this installment and Mortimer had to step in and finish it. Everything is wrong with this plot, from the with-it hippie brain surgeon who spouts "Dude!" to the wasted monster, now merely a secondary character. The final pages, in particular, have a slapdash look to them, as if they were headed to Skywald rather than Marvel. Speaking of Skywald, another publisher (like Warren and Eerie) that Marvel was attempting to overtake in the B&W race, it's interesting to note that Tom Sutton's Frankenstein series had been running in various Skywald titles (Nightmare, Psycho, and Scream) since 1970 and took the exact premise that Friedrich would employ. The initial chapters were a direct sequel to the Shelley novel and later installments found a resurrected monster in the present day. "Frankenstein 1973" appeared in Nightmare #13 four months after the appearance of MU #4 (ironically, an appreciation of Syd Shores appeared in that same issue of Nightmare). At a very early age, I discovered it was much more fun to read about Skywald magazines than to crack one open so I can't give the audience a learned opinion as to the merits of Skywald's Frankenstein versus Marvel's but, based on "The Classic Monster," we'll call it a draw.

"To Laugh, Snicker... and Otherwise Forget!"
Sara Conroy works in the D.A.'s office but her husband is the chief suspect in the Hanling murders, a series of vicious knifings that has New York paralyzed with fear. Trying to prove to her boss her job comes first, she searches for her husband. When she finds him, she discovers the killer is not her husband but her boss. Luckily, her husband, Eric, who happens to be a werewolf is in the neighborhood to save her but, sadly, dies in her arms. At story's end, we're left hoping Sara can cope with her promotion to D.A. but confident in the knowledge that her butcher's bill won't be so high from here on out. "To Love, Honor, Cherish... 'Til Death" is one really bad by-the-numbers potboiler capped with a laughable reveal and expository. Inexplicably, Roy Thomas must have looked upon Don Perlin's rendition of a werewolf and thought, "Right, here's the perfect runner-up for Ploog" as Perlin would take over Werewolf By Night three months later. That reign of terror would limp along right up until the title's final, dreadful issue.

"The Hands"

Our reprints this issue are a sad pair. The first, "The Hands," is a one-page joke drawn out to five about a man born with claw hands who desperately wants to be normal. He takes on a life of crime to achieve his end goal. It looks as though Gene Colan merely traced a batch of movie stills for his panels and the only moment of entertainment derived from this pre-coder is the sight of a man with lobster claws holding a pistol. "The Killers" has better art (by EC stalwart Bernie Krigstein) but is literally unreadable as the pages are presented out of order. When read in its intended incarnation, the pre-coder actually presents a novel concept for a 1950s horror story: there's a food chain for everything, including mankind.

Steve Gerber does his thing
The saving grace of the issue (at least for my part) is Steve Gerber's reimagining of the Golem legend, "A Monster Reborn." Intelligently written (in particular, the rabbi's soul-searching dialogue), nicely penciled, and topped with a certifiable twist ending, this is easily the best story this magazine has run in its initial four issues. Gerber's deeply moving script is completely out of place in a magazine populated by neurosurgeons with tie-dyed t-shirts who spout Kerouac-inspired exclamations and lawyers married to their job more than their werewolf husbands. Ironically, as the letters page reveals, the story was cooked up with Marv Wolfman "over lunch" when it was discovered the issue was five pages short in content. It's also revealed in the letters page that Frank Brunner's cover painting was initially set to run on the aborted third issue of The Haunt of Horror digest. The inside cover filler, "They Might Be Monsters," written by Tony Isabella and illustrated by Pablo Marcos, is a rip-off of Gardner Soule's classic The Maybe Monsters, a book I must have checked out of my library twenty times when I was a lad. -Peter Enfantino

In “The Monster Master: A Review of Ray Harryhausen’s Film Fantasy Scrapbook,” Tony Isabella examines the A. S. Barnes and Company coffee-table book and in the process gives a good overview of the career of Monsterdom’s Maestro (and heir to the “three dimensional animation” of Willis O’Brien, to whom the book is dedicated) from Mighty Joe Young to The Three Worlds of Gulliver (not to be confused with this issue’s Gullivar Jones) to The Valley of Gwangi. (It was reissued twice to include updated material on Harryhausen’s later projects and remains available through used book dealers at affordable collector’s prices.) If the scrapbook’s promise of “many drawings and photos from his early work, most of which have never been seen elsewhere” remains as true in 2014 as it did in 1972 when it was first published, this – along with the introduction penned by Harryhausen’s boyhood friend Ray Bradbury – sounds worth the price of admission. (For an even more excellent overview of Harryhausen’s career, go to Bradley on Film.

The Monsters Unleashed Feature Page, “Gullivar Jones: First Man on Mars,” touts itself, along with “Our Martian Heritage,” as a special “18-page section on the planet Mars” designed to trumpet the return of Gullivar Jones in “Web of Hate.” “The inside scoop of Gully Jones” it promises mostly requotes the Creatures on the Loose #16 mini-article about Edwin L. Arnold’s novel Lieut. Gullivar Jones: His Vacation, Dick Lupoff’s rediscovery of it, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas’ search for an “interplanetary s-f” Conan-style character, and this “one-shot” revival.

Chris Claremont frames his “Our Martian Heritage” as a “facts and fiction” mission-to-Mars short story, but the “special excursion into fantasy” is actually part personal essay, part overview of Martian stories, though at five short pages – each including generously-sized stills from Red Planet films like Robinson Crusoe on Mars, and much of the rest an exchange between the fictional ship Stranger and the Odyssey – its coverage is far from comprehensive. Whirlwind mention is also made of Rocketship X-M, The Outer Limits, The Angry Red Planet, Rocket to Mars, The War of the Worlds, and Red Planet Mars, as well as literature such as Arthur C. Clarke’s “Transit of Earth,” Robert A. Heinlein’s Red Planet, Double Star, Podkayne of Mars, Stranger in a Strange Land; Roger Zelazny’s “A Rose for Ecclesiastes”; Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Dark Intruder; and Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles, all heavily seasoned of course with a sprinkling of John Carter references. And others. As Claremont writes, “The list goes on forever,” and much of the time “Our Martian Heritage” does indeed feel like little more than a running list with a helping of embellishment.

“Web of Hate” begins with Gullivar, Chak, and Heru, last seen slaughtering the warlord Ar-Hap’s army with the wing-men in COTL #21, wandering the wilderness of Mars to reach Heru’s city of Seth. Unable to return to Earth, Gullivar hopes “to rediscover the ancient Martian science that brought [him] to the Red Planet.” But with Mars in the “hands of monsters and barbarians...and ruled by superstition,” it first “means bucking Ar-Hap’s barbarians and the Technics Guild,” something he can only do by “stuffing some backbone into a decidedly cowardly…populace.”

While the trio of exiles are encamped, one of the Noltoi (a “noxious race” of “spider-like ghouls”) hears Heru’s song and is instantly enchanted. Gullivar and Chak fail to stop the creature from hypnotizing and webbing her. Blinded by love-fueled rage against his princess’ captor, Gullivar fails to recognize this Noltoi as more human than spider, a mutant outcast from its people like Chak from his. This history it communicated to Heru telepathically, but despite her efforts she fails to stop Gullivar from slaying “the lonely creature [who] had sought [them] out, not as prey…but as companions.” Its dying eyes offer
forgiveness; Heru weeps; and a remorseful Gullivar “pray(s) to a God…much kinder than those on time...[he] would be wiser.”

Why did Gullivar’s run in Creatures on the Loose end? Marvel offered “some straight answers” in the letters page of COTL #23 – “…we’ve already come to think of it as a kind of mini-classic; a one-of-a-kind in comics [that] we’d…hate to tamper with…” The real Gully scoop (or so we think) comes in MU #8 with Tony Isabella’s candid admission, in his Editorial Epistle, that the “Warrior of Mars” series “Bombed,” a far cry from the official story at the time that all along Marvel was after a Fugitive-style finale. Gullivar’s final color outing in COTL #21 concluded
with yet one more bid to write and keep the series afloat, the previous unheeded pleas ultimately culminating in cancellation. That last appeal paid off because, come MU #4’s contents page: “By popular demand! Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars returns!”

A letter writer in COTL #23, in his solicited pitch to “keep Gullivar galavanting [sic]” (Gullivanting perhaps?), astutely observed that the last issue “ends happily with only an underlying sense of foreboding, albeit enough to keep the title going.” There certainly was enough unused material left over to set up future adventures. He goes on with the verdict, “By all means keep Gullivar going, hopefully in his own book with longer stories.”

Gullivar returned all right, however not in his own book and not with longer stories. In COTL #22, Marvel claims that one reason for ending Gullivar was that “The ten-page length was a hampering factor…so we decided to…halt to his adventures…till we get our bearings),” but the First Man on Mars’ triumphant return in MU #4 turns out to be only a page longer.

In fact, two-pages of recap eats into the 11-page story. Mostly these pages are a black-and-white montage of COTL #16-21 (redrawn by Dave Cockrum). About Cockrum’s tenure on Gullivar, the Bullpen remarks that “Dave figures it’s the closest thing to John Carter he’ll ever get to draw.” Fortunately for Cockrum, he got his chance at John Carter during Marvel's 1977-1979 run of that series. A satisfied “Gullyphile,” writing into MU #8’s Readers’ Forum, concludes that “The b&w format is perfect for Gullivar Jones,” and the absence of vibrant color fits the tale’s more somber mood. 

If the flashback, on page 31 (and the lower left panel of COTL #16, for that matter), of Gullivar’s travel to Mars surfing a shining nimbus seems like a concession to the Marvel brand, sneak a look at 1976’s Silver Surfer-ish cover of New English Library’s SF Master Series edition of the original novel on which a red-bodysuited Gullivar balances atop his magic carpet through space. In Arnold’s novel, by contrast, the rug wraps itself around Gullivar like a protective cocoon.

In spite of these small complaints, under Tony Isabella’s scripting, the “Gullivar Jones, Warrior of Mars” series takes a surprising turn from swashbuckling adventure into quasi-Greek tragedy with its uncharacteristic finale (a continuation of the “underlying sense of foreboding”?). In fact it almost brings to mind “The Tower of the Elephant (Conan the Barbarian #4 and Savage Sword of Conan #24) in which Robert E. Howard’s hardened Cimmerian thwarts expectation to become “Conan the Compassionate.” Gullivar’s hand-wringing over his Vietnam service is back and becomes overbearing, but at least this time the tone matches the story’s tragic payoff. The Bullpen notes that writer Isabella counts himself “one of Gully’s biggest fans.” 
The Feature Page ends with customary polling: “Whether or not our Warrior of Mars returns to these pages depends on your response to this issue’s story. So start sending those cards and letters in today.” Gullivar Jones came out “the winner – by a landslide” in MU #5’s Readers’ Poll, with “Our Martian Heritage” ranking fourth (and, incidentally, Isabella’s “Monster Maker” third). Feedback for more Gully ran high in that issue’s “Readers Unleashed” letters page, but minus any assurances or commitment for his return by Marvel who urged letter-writers to “cross [their] tentacles.” Nonetheless, the first Earthman on Mars did ultimately manage his second comeback in MU #8, so stay tuned... -Gilbert Colon

Vampire Tales 3
Cover by Luis Dominguez

"The Kiss of Death"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Esteban Maroto

"The Collection"
Story by Bhob Stewart
Art by Paul Reinman, Russ Jones, and Bhob Stewart

"Don't Try to Outsmart the Devil"
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Carmine Infantino
(reprinted from Adventures Into Terror #13, December 1952)

"Bat's Belfry"
Story by Don McGregor
Adapted from the short story by August Derleth
Story by Vicente Alcazar

"Vampires in Time and Space"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Pablo Marcos
"Demon Fire"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Arriving in Los Angeles (where there are more "kooks, characters, and cultists per square inch... than in any other city in the world") just in time for a Satan rally, the tall drink of water known as Satana, the Devil's Daughter makes a friend in Ruth Cummins. Believing Satan to be a kind, loving god, Ruth spends her time on street corners preaching her gospel, all the while attracting the ire of the would-be righteous. One of those who'd like to see Ruth and her new friend out of the way is flashy evangelist Harry Gotham and Harry has the money and connections to do something about it. The hit goes wrong and Ruth ends up dead, leaving a very angry Satana to mop up the henchmen and, later, Harry. If there was any doubt as to what Marvel was up to with their new black and white line, one had no further to look than Satana, the Devil's Daughter. Very obviously a riff on Warren's very popular Vampirella, Satana kept her good looks and clean skin through "The Kiss of Death," literally sucking the soul out of men and leaving aged husks. While definitely testing the limits of their newfound Code-freedom (Ruth's innocent/not so innocent invitation back to her place and Satana's oral copulation chief among the naughties) the boys in the bullpen don't quite reach the levels of erotic precociousness Warren's femme vamp would get down to every issue. Despite the tiredness of the plot (by now, Marvel writers were using religious zealots as bad guys approximately six times per month) and some standard Vampi pose swipes by Maroto, this is a visually exciting step forward for the B&Ws and a good read to boot. Maroto, by the way, was one of the most prolific artists at Vampirella (as well as at Eerie and Creepy). Perhaps realizing that the Devil's Daughter doesn't really belong in a vampire-themed zine, Satana's series was moved to The Haunt of Horror with its second issue (in July 1974). There's also an extremely silly piece by Carla Joseph on "the creation of Satana" that reads like a yearbook entry. At one point, the question of exactly who created the character and what inspired her comes up and I had to laugh out loud and shake my head when the answer is pert near everyone in the Marvel bullpen. Yeah, right. Nothing to do with Vampirella.

Chris Baker, who eats, drinks and sleeps old time Hollywood actress Millicent Mason, is shocked when his idol comes round to have some photos snapped amongst "The Collection" Chris has amassed. A week later, Mason invites her #1 fan around to her place and reveals to him how she's managed to stay looking so young: she's a vampire! Well, if that climax was a little too obvious, the behind-the-scenes drama described by writer Bhob Stewart on his blog may leave you shaking your head. If Stewart's original ending (Mason simply kept her biggest fans chained to a water cooler in her basement) had run, it would have been so much more effective but then why (and we've heard this before) would it run in a magazine titled Vampire Tales?

Could there be a legitimate vampire problem at the English estate known to the locals as "Bat's Belfry"? Midnight visitations from shadowy figures, anemia outbreaks, and the sudden fleeing of his servants has Sir Harry worried that he'll have to break out the garlic and wooden stakes. In an effort to summon the vampires and kill them, Sir Harry reads from the Book of Thoth but then, tragically, forgets to draw a magic circle on the floor. As his life drains from his body, Sir Harry wonders if it might actually be fun to be a vampire. Rumor has it (though I could find no validation for said rumor in any of the readings I've done) that Marvel offered a MMMS membership kit to any reader who could prove he made it all the way through each and every boring page of "Bat's Belfry" without nodding off. No surprise there since it's based on a story by tedium king August Derleth, an author whose greatest successes came from riding on H.P. Lovecraft's moldy coattails. We know from the very start that this is a vampire story and Don McGregor (who, bless him, was saddled with adapting) injects nothing resembling suspense or surprise. "Bat's Belfry" is topped off with one of those climaxes you may have thought was merely an urban legend as Sir Harry ostensibly writes in his journal as the finale unveils: "A sharp stinging in my throat... My God!... It is..." I assume the vampires were patient as Harry dipped his quill.

Michael Morbius must save his friend Amanda Saint from the crazed Poisonlark and the cultists known as "Demon Fire." Amanda is set to be sacrificed to the cult's god, a giant spider, when Morbius throws himself into the web to shield the girl. The spider stings the vampire and the anti-bodies in Morbius' blood set off a violent chain reaction, leading to total destruction. I'm just winging it on that synopsis, folks, as I really have no idea what this story is about. I'm not alone though as I suspect writer Don McGregor was in the same boat. The second part of the Amanda Saint saga threatens to sink under the weight of its own pretensions and sheer word count. If a simple sentence could do, McGregor will use four (Endings! You've seen too many endings, Morbius... seen them in lover's parting gazes... glimpsed them in their last faltering touches...), as if to remind us 1973 kids that it will be comic book writers who show us the way in this crazy, messed-up world. A black character spouts dialogue like "I thought, like, man, you and Edgar were cool operators." And, of course, Demon-Fire's god is a giant spider simply because really big arachnids were the go-to creepy crawlys. Why, though, does the death of the spider initiate an explosion that brings down the cult's temple? McGregor saves the ultimate cliche for last though when he has a cop beat a man to death with his night stick. I get it. The color books display the police as we hope they are: donut-munching fat guys who stand on the corner and control crowds as Iron Man fights The Mandarin to the death. The cutting edge black and white line shows us how "the man" really is: bribe-takin', hippie-stompin', bloodthirsty, donut-chompin' maniacs. Stan would shut this crap down if he was still paying attention. And why do so many of these long-haired hippy characters look like Roy Thomas?

I couldn't have said it any better!
We also get Chris Claremont's continuing look at Montague Summers' The Vampire- His Kith and Kin (now officially longer than the book it examines), a one page Tony Isabella-scripted exploration of vampire legends, and a decent pre-code devil's bargain tale penciled by Carmine Infantino. The letters page gives us a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at how reprints are selected for the B&W line: "(T)he selection of reprint material is often a painful thing. Our proof files are grossly incomplete and some of the best stories are lost to us. We've been able to print high quality stories only because editor Roy (Thomas) found them in reprint editions of our 50s mystery tales prepared for Great Britain and Australia. Despite all the hardships, we feel we've done a pretty good job of bringing you the best of the 50s material." A mixed-bag issue, to be sure. The line was still trying to find its path, I think, but by the time that road was clear it was time to shut off the engine. See what I did there? I coulda written these things. -Peter Enfantino

Savage Tales 3
Cover by Pablo Marcos and John Romita

“The Lurker in the Catacombs”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith

“An Age Undreamed Of”
By Roy Thomas

“Red Sonja”
Text by Roy Thomas
Art by Esteban Maroto

“The Crimson Bell”
By Ray Capella

“The Fury of the Femizons”
Story by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita

“The Art of ‘Red Nails’”
By Roy Thomas

“The Once and Future Talon”
By Jim Steranko

Savage Tales Feature Pages”

"He Comes From the Dark"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith

While the epic, 37-page conclusion of Roy Thomas and Barry Smith’s “Red Nails” is obviously the main attraction here, let’s start with Thomas’s editorial, “An Age Undreamed Of.” While his editorial in issue #2 trumpeted the return of Savage Tales, this time Roy lets the air out of the balloon by announcing that this might be the last edition of the 74-page, black-and-white magazine. Seems like production costs — and the effort put into each issue — was too much of a drain and Marvel was taking a wait-and-see approach whether to proceed. And so shall we!

Continued and concluded in two separate parts — “The Lurker from the Catacombs” and “He Comes from the Dark” — “Red Nails” wraps up in magnificent fashion. Conan and Valeria assist the Tecuhltli in slaughtering their enemy, the Xotalanc, in a brutal, blood-splattered four-page sequence. But the intrigue continues: the rulers of the victorious cult, Prince Olmec and Princess Tascela, both desire Valeria, the prince for carnal pleasure, the princess as a means to regain her fading youth. Throw in a little naked girl-on-girl whipping and a zombie-like sorcerer who causes mass destruction at the end and you have a corker of a story. “Red Nails” was perhaps Robert E. Howard’s most famous Conan story and the Roy/Smith adaptation surely stands as theirs. I’ve run out of superlatives for this incredibly illustrated milestone.

“Red Sonja” isn’t much more than a two-page pinup, but Roy’s brief text promises future adventures for the fierce female and Esteban Maroto’s excellent art changes Barry Smith’s design from Conan the Barbarian #23, introducing the more familiar chainmail bikini. Sonja’s armor doesn’t protect much more than her naughty bits so now sure how effective it is. “The Crimson Bell” is an unpublished Arquel of Argos story by Ray Capella, the Puerto Rican sword-and-sorcery author. Set in the Hyborian Age, the six-page tale is a solid read that’s enhanced by illustrations by Al Williamson and Frank Brunner. Stan Lee and Jazzy John’s nondescript “The Story of the Femizons” can be officially labeled a dead horse since it was beaten on a regular occasion. It’s reprinted here from Savage Tales #1 and will again appear in the trade paperback “The Superhero Woman,” in 1977. Called “The Art of ‘Red Nails’” on the Table of Contents page but actually titled “‘Red Nails’ in the Sunset,” this piece spotlights some of the original art that accompanied “Red Nails” when it was first published in Weird Tales. A nice historical addition. “The Once and Future Talon” is a promotion for Jim Steranko’s new character Talon. Nothing much more became of this hero but he did inspire the name of Lee Horsley’s mercenary in the terrifically dumb 1982 flick “The Sword and the Sorcerer.” Steranko’s Talon doesn’t seem to wield Horsley’s awesome three-bladed projectile sword though. The bonus features wrap up with the “Savage Tales Feature Pages,” two brief biographies of Roy and Barry, amusing but basically page fillers. -Thomas Flynn

They're coming soon!
This Sunday!!! Don't miss an exclusive Sunday Special by Professor Thomas Flynn!!

Could it be a Chronology of Conan's babes?

A listing of decent artists who worked on Kull?

An expose on how Simon Garth avoids chafing?

We'll never tell. You gotta tune in!!!

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