Wednesday, June 11, 2014

March 1974 Part One: Wedding Bells for an Ock-togenarian!

Amazing Adventures 23
Killraven/War of the Worlds in
"The Legend Assassins!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Herb Trimpe and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe

A defiant Killraven is carried off in a tripod, while his Krew fights on and escapes, vowing to get their leader back and earning foe Sabre’s respect. KR is taken to the White House, where the High Overlord of the Martians vows to torture him and the rodent-like Rattack, changed by the gases, lies in wait. At the Pentagon, the Freemen and Freewomen plot their rescue mission, while the Overlord wants to broadcast KR’s death to diminish hope around the planet. Then the rats strike, clawing at our hero as the band of Freemen ride Dyna Gliders in hopes of saving Killraven. Somehow, the rats’ teeth loosen KR’ s bonds and he’s able to strike back at his toothy tormentors, causing Rattack to retreat, and Killraven to vow vengeance, just as his Krew arrives to save him. - Joe Tura

Joe: The word of the day: wordy. Boy, McGregor loves to pontificate. I certainly hope Prof. Flynn fave John Costanza got paid by the word for lettering this one! And some details are lacking, like Killraven dripped with gore, but looking like a 50s western with no blood whatsoever. Prof. Gilbert needs his gore quota!

Not much going on really, but what does moves quick. What is up with Rattack? Bad name, generic design, but nasty character for sure. Scurries off quite well, too! Overall, this one was OK at best, although I do like the wacky painted face on the High Overlord. Is it true that Killraven has the right idea when he asks the High Overlord “Is it by boredom you intend my death”? Maybe, you wacky Freeman, maybe…

This month’s filler is “Face of Fear” by Tom Cooke, originally published in Marvel Tales #128 in Nov 1954. For his whole life, a “walking horror” of a man has been shunned for looking different his whole life, and vows to never let anyone see him again. But time causes his to go mad, and when he dies in a fire, it’s revealed he was normal by our standards, and the rest of the town was hideous! Twilight Zone, anyone?

Calling All Armageddon-era Chiropractors!

Mark Barsotti: Another short installment (15 pgs + '50's horror reprint) and more spotty Herb Trimpe art (the splash is drunk uncle awful), but Don McGregor's SF/horror mash-up rivets our attention anyway. The captured Killraven is delivered to the High Overlord (a giant Magna-Samurai robot) and sentenced to be trundled off to the catacombs beneath the White House, there delivered to mutated ex-human Rattack (new villain name of the year!) and his hungry rodent horde. If that weren't horrid enough, his death will be broadcast via "mural phonics," a "pyschosensory" internet, with the value-added feature that viewers can "smell your fear."

While the Overlord prepares to serve Killy up as rat salad (extra credit for students who grok the Zappa reference) Old Skull, M'Shulla & Carmilla Frost trek to Mint Julep's base in the Pentagon and ready a rescue mission. But our nibbled and gnawed hero manages to grab a torch, then his sword (left within easy reach to taunt him) and sets about his rat exterminating business.

While the text tells us Killy's "body drips with dark gore," there's not a drop of blood in sight; no doubt the Comics Code protecting the kiddies from the icky-sticky. Rattack flees. The would-be rescuers arrive to witness Killraven's stirring speech, webcast to the resistance, courtesy of the Overlord.

Fast-paced, compelling stuff. Once Craig Russell arrives to upgrade the art, I suspect Killy & crew will really give the "Masters" hell! 

The Avengers 121
"Houses Divided Cannot Stand!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by John Buscema and Don Heck
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Mantis is down and Taurus demands the Avengers admit defeat or her life is forfeit. However, the Avengers don't bargain and the battle resumes. The team is losing ground when suddenly Captain America arrives to lend a hand. His weapon destroyed, Taurus pitches Mantis over the side of the building, but the Vision leaps after. She regains consciousness in time for the android to save her, but the building is badly damaged in the process. The Avengers abandon the fight to save the skyscraper, allowing Zodiac to escape. Mantis was injured in the rescue, but back at the mansion, she heals herself as the Swordsman relates how they both met months earlier. The Black Panther arrives to help the team find Zodiac. Meanwhile, Aries and Taurus fight for control of Zodiac. Aries loses, but shortly thereafter, he rallies the rest of the group to support him in opposition of their leader. The Avengers close in on their HQ and find that Taurus is really Cornelius Van Lunt, and the structure is actually a spacecraft as it launches from Earth. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: That was actually a lot of fun. Vision's rescue of Mantis is very well done and the entire first half of the issue is excellently paced. Cap's appearance is a nice touch and a welcome brush with continuity. Same with The Black Panther, who returns from Wakanda just in the nick. The identity of Taurus was a surprise simply because I a) never cared who was behind the mask and 2) totally forgot about Van Lunt. Don Heck's inks take the Buscema out of John B's pencils and the climax feels like "mostly Heck." It could be worse, I guess.

Matthew: In case you’ve ever wondered what it would look like if Don Heck inked John Buscema, it looks like, uh, Heck, which makes you wonder why they bothered having Big John as a “guest artist” when this is fairly indistinguishable from the recent issues penciled by Don himself. For me, good writing and problematic art will always trump the reverse, so I consider this a solid entry in the final analysis. I liked Steve’s use of the Zodiac, especially his mastery of both inter- and intra-group dynamics; the intriguing undercurrents involving the Vision/Wanda and Swordsman/Mantis relationships; the continuity with Cap’s current crisis; the revelation that van Lunt is Taurus; and the nuance of Thor and Iron Man knowing each other’s secret identities.

Chris Blake: I’ve had some unsupportive things to say about the last few issues, so I should acknowledge that this ish was more to my liking, due to: slightly more Avengers vs Zodiac battling; Cap’s cameo; Vision’s clever, exciting rescue of Mantis (consistent with Vision’s mass-altering powers, which would have precluded him from swooping in and picking Mantis up); a snippet of Mantis’ origin (Roy even admits, on the letters page, that Steve wants to dole out the details of her story slowly, over time); intra-group conflict among Zodiac (which seems to be par for the course with this gang). This also serves as the beginning of the oft-convoluted quadrangle, as Vision-Mantis-Swordsman-Scarlet Witch play Fleetwood Mac for the next few months; I can’t say I’m as excited about that, as I was for the other stuff.

Van Lunt’s double-role as Taurus is a bit clumsily handled – are we supposed to believe that, within 30 mins of his tete-a-tete (so to speak) with Aries, Van Lunt has zipped over to his office, because he anticipated that Aries would call to request his help in the coup? Big John’s pencils are difficult to distinguish, with occasional glimpses perceptible through the dense overbrush of Heck’s inks. As I asked last time – were there truly no other inkers, living or dead, available for this assignment? Is this really the look you want for one of your (supposedly) signature mags . . ? I say: shift Starlin over to this title, and temporarily re-name it as The Avengers, featuring Captain Marvel!

Captain Marvel 31
"The Beginning of the End!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin, Dan Green, and Al Milgrom
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jom Stralin, John Romita, and Al Milgrom

Moondragon accompanies Mar-Vell to meet the Avengers, who mistook the visiting Drax for an enemy; Mar-Vell ends the melee, requests their aid, and is briefing them when he, Iron Man, Drax, and Moondragon are transported by Thanos to Titan and imprisoned in a bio-electric field with Mentor and Eros. With the Cube and his fleet of space raiders, Thanos plans to offer Earth as a token of love for his cloaked companion, the personification of Death, dashing our heroes’ hopes at the sight of Kronos “shackled by planet-large energy spheres.” Mar-Vell changes, disrupting the field, and Mentor sends Titan off course by stopping its gyro, but although separated briefly from the Cube, Thanos finally succeeds in ascending to godhood. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: More Motown madness as the Detroit Gang throws Green (back from #28) into the mix to join Milgrom on inks, and while I have no idea who did what, I have no complaints about the art, to say the least. One of the big-picture lessons I’m taking away from revisiting the Marvel oeuvre is that all full-page shots are not created equal, much as the ten-year-old in me wants to ooh and ah over them, and I even took the seemingly unthinkable step of criticizing Starlin’s own use of them last issue, but that carping does not apply here. The shots of Mentor’s father—whose name varies between “Chronos” and “Kronos” over the course of the arc, in case anyone notices the discrepancy—chained and of the now-deified Thanos on the view screen hit like hammer-blows.

A common rap on Steranko is that his writing doesn’t live up to his art; an issue such as this one demonstrates why, if forced to choose between my revered “Two Jims,” I would unhesitatingly pick Starlin. The third act of the Thanos War kicks off with a bang as the good guys align their forces, with Mar-Vell finally meeting Drax, before learning the true scope of the threat opposing them. For decades, I have had the phrase “I stand chastised” in my memory banks—although Mrs. Professor Matthew doesn’t remember my using it—and I was shocked to discover that Moondragon (last seen in Daredevil #108) was my apparent source in this, the last of my cluster issues from the arc, which shows you how genetically encoded within me some of this stuff was.

It’s been argued, with some justification, that Thanos coulda woulda shoulda used the Cube simply to zap his foes—and I love how he cherry-picks just four of them as worthy of notice—out of existence, as he apparently did with the Controller and the Blood Brothers. But he did use it to turn himself into a freakin’ god, which is thinking a heck of a lot bigger than the Red Skull, and I give Starlin lots of credit for covering Conway’s ass by explaining the anomaly in Sub-Mariner #49 as a “destructive force the Cube had developed due to mineral mutation.” For me, page 16 (“Gone now is the hope that there would be someone to carry on the fight if they were to fail!”) epitomizes what sets this arc above all others in its disorienting, Escher-like glory.

“Strive on, Titans!”

Mark: After last month's less than stellar Controller comeuppance (grading on a curve here & Starlin's set the bar Wilt-the-Stilt high; had, say, Tony Isabella or Len Wein scripted last ish, I'd be singing their career-best praises), Jaunty Jim ups the amps to eleven as Thanos: (a) launches a star fleet crewed by the Galaxy's Most Wanted against earth; (b) displays to Marv & allies Titan's Ultimate Fighter, Kronos, bound by "planet-large energy spheres" in an effort to break their will; and (C) nails the trifecta by using the Cosmic Cube to transcend the flesh and become a disembodied demi-god, ready to rewrite the cosmic map in his own dead-eyed image.

And if that ain't awesome enough, Rick Jones' appearance is limited to a couple quick panels!

Chris Blake: Now that the thralls and underlings have been summarily dismissed, we finally have Mar-vell confronting Thanos himself. It’s amusing how Starlin depicts Thanos effortlessly toying with his adversaries; Cap acknowledges that he and the Avengers will have to wait for Thanos to make the next move, and – as if on cue – the four of them are zapped straight into the Mad Titan’s clutches. Thanos one-ups the Kree warrior – he’s one with the universe, while Thanos now has become –what, the supreme power in the universe? The Universe itself? How can a handful of carbon-based superheroes hope to combat that?

The art only gets better. I can’t tell which bits are Milgrom and which are Green – everything looks great, and Starlin’s eye for color ably enhances the pencils and inks. I’d forgotten the reveal of Death as a spooky beauty – really neat sequence of her reaching out for him, as Thanos professes his love for her. One question: why would Gem –sorry, I mean Jim – depict Captain America and the Vision on the cover, when he knows they are not part of the group transported to Titan? Could Starlin have drawn the cover first, and then later changed his mind about which Avengers are seen later in the issue? 

Mark: If the CinemaScope space opera isn't enough to stir your blood, Starlin's art (allowing for an off panel or three) continues to dazzle. Check out the battle scenes pgs. 21-22. Mastered King Kirby's bodies in motion textbook, I see young Jim has. And the psychedelic mind war between Big T and Moon Dragon (above) could have been on a poster for the Fillmore.

And in an even-more-for-yer-money twist, we learn that Thanos doesn't lust after power or greed. Nope, just like the rest of us, the big purple softie pines for love. Some guys give diamonds. Thanos gives planets.

Scott: A very dense issue, packed with story. It's all very epic and galaxy spanning, but it's too heavy in the exposition department. It all does look very lovely, however. I just feel like so many ideas are being crammed into small panels, the art never has a chance to breathe. I want to like this more than I am.

Conan the Barbarian 36
"Beware the Hyrkanians Bearing Gifts"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Buscema, John Romita, and Ernie Chua

Returning to the Turian capital Aghraphur from a secret mission arranged by cavalry commander Narim-Bey, a bruised and exhausted Conan collapses at the feet of portly King Yildiz. Amytis, Narim-Bey’s gorgeous betrothed, volunteers to tend to the muscular barbarian’s wounds — at night her care becomes carnal. When healed, the Cimmerian is made one of the king’s personal bodyguards. Yildiz proudly shows Conan a headless stone idol of a giant, pillaged by his son Yezdigerd from the burned Hyrkanian city of Razadan. Even now, the prince is attacking Dimmorz, where the head of the huge statue resides: when reunited, all of Hyrkania will know Yildiz is the true and all-powerful Tarim. Days later, a eunuch priest from the now conquered Dimmorz presents the idol’s missing head to the triumphant king. When the two are joined, the granite golem lurches to life, knocking Narim-Bey unconscious and crushing all the guards save Conan. The Cimmerian’s sword and battle axe have no effect on the lumbering stone brute. Just before the golem can kill King Yildiz, Conan notices the Dimmorz priest performing incantations. The desperate barbarian hurtles his chipped axe at the priest, killing the gaunt man. Immediately the golem’s head tumbles from its shoulders. A shocked Yildiz wonders aloud if this was all an attempt on his life by his son Yezdigerd.-Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: Another solid if not remarkable issue. However, the extended Turian storyline has managed to keep my interest, and I’m eager to find out what happens when Yezdigerd finally returns to the capital. Even though he is far superior to the rest of the men, Conan is put through his paces when he joins the king’s bodyguards, professionally trained on the art of the bow, spear, bolo, and axe toss. I thought this was a well-written touch, as Rascally Roy shows how the barbarian became the master of many weapons. The raven-haired Amytis is certainly one of the finer Hyborian hotties and their affair is down and dirty — Conan the Barbarian easily remains the most sexually explicit comic of the era. Narim-Bey quickly becomes suspicious of Amytis’s betrayal and methinks the commander will do all he can to keep the barbarian in harm’s way moving forward. If you were wondering, the secret mission from the beginning is never explained. The two-page Bullpen Bulletin spread gives the first glimpse of Marvel’s “future super-star,” the unnamed Iron Fist, teasing us with a Romita headshot. Love stuff like that.

Creatures on the Loose 28
Thongor in
"Mountain Thunder!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Vicente Alcazar
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro

Thongor and Sharajsha, consigned to the Patangan dungeons for “sacrilegiously” forging a sword upon the devil-god Yamath’s flame, are awaiting their sentence of death. Imprisoned with them is Sumia Chond, the queen who spurned the archdruid’s hand in marriage after his Yellow Druids murdered her father and usurped the throne. The three are led out to Yamath’s altar of sacrifice when Thongor breaks free, seizes two confiscated blades, and blazes a path through the guards.

The other sword he gives the queen while the wizard aids him with “magicks.” When Thongor comes to the archdruid, he hurls him at his druid horde, scattering them. At that moment, Karm Karvus crashes through with the Nemedis and whisks his friends away. Sumia, a queen without a country, pledges herself to her newfound companions’ cause to save humanity as they steer to “the unnamed mountainlands of Lemuria,” stopping at “the fog-shrouded peak of Sharimba, the Mountain of Thunder!” Once
landing on the precipice of the tallest of all Lemurian peaks, Sharasjsha scales it to bathe the Starsword in “holy lightnings” and imbue it with “its true mystic power.”

Then, a grakk attack! Thongor holds it off while Karm Karvus takes to the air with Suria. The lizard-hawk’s clawed foot catches Thongor’s plunging body, carrying him off to…? – “Next: The Dragon Lords!” -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: According to the credits – rendered in faux-Greek lettering meant to suggest either ancient Hellenic civilization or a Greek diner menu, take your pick – Steve Gerber is at the writer’s helm this outing, saying goodbye to Tony Isabella. This was announced in the “Creature Features” letters page of the previous issue: “[Gerber’s] been itching to do another sword and sorcery series ever since his much-acclaimed ‘Tales of Atlantis’ fell victim to the realities of Sub-Mariner’s bi-monthly publication schedule.”

On the art side, that same letters page also trumpeted Vicente Alcazar’s upcoming “handling [of] both pencils and inks,” promising readers, “...hoo boy, are you gonna be knocked out!” It is true that Alcazar’s grakk is completely reimagined, more monstrous “devil-beast” than the previous prehistoric pterodactyl interpretation. His newly-drawn Sharajsha, in appearance and demeanor, is subtly more suggestive of the kindly Gandalf the Grey than the sinister Saruman readers were led to believe he might turn out to be, at least so far. (Thongor of Valkarth, in issue #25, held the wizard in suspicion for hailing from “Zaar, the city of the Black Druids who worship the dark forces!”) More than before, the remodeled Nemedis resembles the Nautilus of Walt Disney gone airborne. Alcazar’s Nemedis – like all this issue’s elaborate art – is intricately detailed in a way its prior incarnation, impressive though it was, was not. The issue’s letter page anticipates fan fallout over all the redesign by admitting that Marvel “know[s] it can be confusing and frustrating to hang in there while a strip grows and takes shape” while promising that they are confident that “in the end you’ll find it worthwhile.” Extending an olive branch, they ask readers, “Are we forgiven?” One look at the new Nemedis and all is forgiven. Thongor and his companions set course in their sky-boat on a desperate mission to save the human race – Space Battleship Yamato? (The anime series debuted many months after this comic, and almost a decade after Lin Carter’s novel.) Holding a sword aloft like a lightning rod calls to mind the 1983 cartoon He-Man, the Marvel comic version of which, Masters of the Universe, boasted contributions from Savage Sword of Conan-artists Alfredo Alcala and Earl Norem. And then there was the star metal sword from the 1992 animated Conan the Adventurer, so perhaps the pastiche pen of Lin Carter inspired its own imitators in cartoon genre fiction, consciously or unconsciously. Incidentally, Carter himself was no stranger to the world of animation – he wrote extensively for the 1967 series Spider-Man.

The mystery of the Dragon Lords and their master plan continues to build, with the promise of an imminent appearance next issue. We are told, on page 18, of “…the evil Dragon Kings who ruled the Earth before the coming of man…and who have risen once again to reclaim the world.” Besides sounding like Robert E. Howard’s Serpent Men from “The Shadow Kingdom,” this development is positively Lovecraftian, at least by way of August Derleth (who may have been paraphrasing HPL): “All my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practicing black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth again.” Poised on the edge of man’s existence, they are an eldritch evil ready to pounce. Unfortunately there is only one issue left with which to explore this tantalizing concept – so much for “hang[ing] in there while a strip grows and takes shape.”

Gilbert: “…there [is] more to life than meets the eye” in “No Sign of Life” when an Earth star ship encounters, in a vast universe teeming with life, their first galaxy without so much as a detectable microbe. With help from penciler Steve Ditko’s truly alien landscapes, this Amazing Adult Fantasy #10 reprint explores Solaris and Olaf Stapleton notions of non-anthropomorphic sentience. 

Captain America and the Falcon 171
Story by Steve Englehart and Mike Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessman
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro

The Sanitation Unit, as they call themselves, tries to convince Cap to come with them as they break him out of jail. He refuses and when the guards try to stop the escape, Cap saves them from the Unit's tender mercies. However, the Unit gasses Cap and takes him away. He awakens, beats his captors senseless and makes his escape. Meanwhile, the Falcon and the Panther have tracked Stone Face and the captive Leila to a city in Africa. Panther attacks from the street while Falc uses his new wings to glide in through the window. However, Falc is unpracticed at his new wings and collies with the Panther, knocking them both out. Stone Face takes them to a cliff and tosses them off. Falcon gains enough control to catch the Panther and save them both. Then they swing back up, defeat Stone Face and save Leila. Later, they all return to New York where Falcon meets up with Cap and they're both attacked by Moonstone who defeats them in short order. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Quite a packed issue, showcasing Falcon's new wings and answering the burning question "whatever happened to Stone Face?" I'm sure we were all wondering about that guy. Feels more like a lot of running in place rather than forward motion. However, it's all well drawn and fast paced, thankfully never boring. There's just not a whole lot going on under the surface.

Matthew: Again scripted by Friedrich from Englehart’s “story idea,” this cluster entry was my first exposure to the Secret Empire epic, and I’m damned if I don’t have to admit that Vinnie did an excellent job with Sal’s pencils, as Mike did with Steve’s plot. Said plot being in its early stages, there’s room for the Falcon literally to spread his new wings, with fully half the issue devoted to his African sojourn, and the presence of the Panther (is it a coincidence that his Series “A” Marvel Value Stamp appears here?)—on whom Buscema really shines—only sweetens an already appetizing pot. This is solid Bronze, with Stainless, in absentia, carefully constructing one of his signature sagas, taking the time to do it right, plus a socko Romita cover.

Mark: The Secret Empire is back on character-assassinating, Constitution-shredding track (thankfully, since I recently touted it as Cap's Greatest 70's Saga, a superlative called into serious question last ish). Cap quickly sniffs out that his would-be jailbreak rescuers are just another page in Harderman's Deep Smear playbook and puts them to rout. The Falcon pays back the Panther for his new jet-powered glider wings by saving them both from Stoneface's intended cliff drop send-off. And even Leila (channeled by scribe Mike Friedrich) dials down the jive talkin' enough to come across as more than a minstrel show cartoon.

Mark: The Sal/Vinny art is momma's home cookin' tasty, and if Moonstone remains a fifth-tier felon, with boring powder-blue duds and hokey moon rock-induced powers, well, you sometimes wage four color conflict with the villains you have, not the Red Skull-level foes you might hope for. And if it's good enough for Donny Rumsfeld...

Now he'd make a first-rate menace: Cap vs. the Fatuous Beltway Bureaucrat! Get me Steve Englehart! And 1974! 

Daredevil 108
"Cry... Beetle!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Bob Brown, John Romita and Paul Gulacy
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover (believed to be) by John Romita and Gil Kane

As DD and the Black Widow swing over San Francisco streets, they interrupt a mugging. In ending the threat, Matt has to sop Natasha from pummeling one of the thugs to death. Her anger is very clear, and she storms off. He finds her back at home, but while calmer, the fury in her remains. It doesn’t help that Matt can’t clarify whether he has feelings for her—or Moon Dragon. They hear on the news that Foggy Nelson, Matt’s oldest friend and colleague, has been shot and is in critical condition in New York. He asks Natasha to come with him, but she refuses, recalling how Foggy drove her from New York with a fake murder charge. Instead Moon Dragon comes with him. Matt finds Foggy in the hospital with his parents and girlfriend Debbie Harris. Foggy tells him it is the work of the criminal organization Black Spectre before he loses consciousness. In searching through town, DD is attacked by his old nemesis the Beetle, whom he assumes is in cahoots with the criminal gang, but he finds it isn’t so. As DD overcomes the Beetle, masked members of Black Spectre appear, and drop tear gas on he and the Beetle, with a stern warning that they’ve let him live, but should he interfere again…-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Matt’s uncertainty about his feelings for Natasha seem not only ridiculous after all this time, but hard to believe. It was quite clear before he was crazy about her. The return to New York is interesting, but I still remember how refreshing it was to get away from there for DD before. Black Spectre’s debut is effective; they seem to have little trouble handling DD and the Beetle before exiting in a cloud of mystery.

Women... Can't live with 'em, can't put 'em in a paper bag
Matthew: The book herewith shifts to bimonthly status for all of two issues, and drops the Widow from its formal title—reportedly for cosmetic reasons—even as she remains a regular costar, with her image still seen in the logo through #124. This one’s literally all over the place with its journey back east, suborbital hop, and returning villain thrown in for good measure, while Gulacy, who penciled the debut of the four-color Morbius strip (ha ha) in last month’s Fear, does an interesting job inking Brown’s sophomore effort, although frankly the men come off better than the women. Speaking of whom, Moondragon can’t exit fast enough; she belongs in Starlin’s cosmic milieu, and that dalliance with DD was just all kinds of wrong, in my opinion.

Chris: I’m sure we all could use a break from the DD-BW tie-up, so the multiple moves and changes in this issue are welcome developments. It’s hard to blame Natasha for being frustrated with Matt – after all this time, he can’t say how he feels about her? But, while her enraged assault of the mugger is wildly out of character, her sense of being insulted by Matt is wholly justified.

Steve and Bob make solid use of DD’s hypersenses – nifty how DD hears the Beetle as he’s drifting towards him on the rooftop. The Beetle is one of those nutty villains that I like to see from time to time – always best in a single-issue shot. The Brown/Gulacy pairing does a terrific job throughout, but sadly, I’m reasonably sure this is their only work together (and you’re telling me that Gulacy wasn’t available to ink Brown in The Avengers in the last few issues?! Okay, okay – I’ll stop now).

Scott: Bob Brown's layouts are about as exciting as Dick Ayers' but, as an artist, at least he's not at that level. Only a notch or two higher, going by this issue. Remember when Natasha was pretty? Is this the end for DD and his Russian lady love? As I stifle a yawn, I ponder the answer.

Fantastic Four 144
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Ben, Reed, Medusa and their newfound ally Darkoth try to find their way out of Dr. Doom’s lair via the maze of sewer tunnels. A new menace bursts through the wall, an android calling himself the Seeker—another of Doom’s weapons against them. They take a few punches before they stun the creature enough to take it with them, hoping to analyze once back at the Baxter Building. They make it out…too late. Doom has fired the rocket that contains his Vibro Bomb, designed to make slaves of all mankind. Victor’s escape craft; part of his building, then takes off as a rocket, heading into space. The Seeker appears to have turned on his master, freeing Johnny and Wyatt Wingfoot. He then heads for Doom, but it is Darkoth in disguise. Their struggle culminates in the crashing of Doom’s building into the Vibro Bomb, ending the threat, and perhaps Darkoth and Doom too.-Jim Barwise

Jim: Joe Sinnott turns Rich Buckler’s art from good to outstanding in a number of panels. That’s the best thing about a far-from-best Dr. Doom plot. What else? Medusa’s role as an honorary member of the FF continues to gain substance. Is the janitor’s “collision course with destiny” his chance meeting with the FF, or something more next month?

Matthew: Okay, here’s the good news: Sinnott is back, and, uh…well, so much for the good news! I know I sound like both a broken record and a killjoy, so it will be interesting to see what my colleagues have to say, yet I am simply left cold by this arc, wondering if I might like it better as just the sumptuous artwork by a Buckler who is clearly in there punching, including another neat-o two-page spread, but without any words. Although this is hardly a make-or-break point, the Snoozer—er, Seeker—joins the recent trend of villains who are prominently featured on covers but turn out to be either virtually incidental to the story (the Protector in Thor #219, the Beetle in Daredevil #108) or no villains at all (Avalon in Thor #220).

Scott: For the third time, the FF face an adversary named "The Seeker." The first was an Inhuman, the other a tool of Galactus. Now Doc Doom appropriates the name. Is this bland nom de moniker as well worn around Marvel as "The Wrecker?" Darkoth lumbers around doing very little after last issue's protracted gab fest, but he does finally resolve the conflict by "Dooming" the good Doctor (yeah, right). Ben gets to have a few tantrums that earn him the stink eye from Reed more than once. Honestly, some of this feels like remote control plotting, ticking off each characteristic without actually adding much. Medusa is pretty useless and Sue being missing from the team isn't adding anything to the proceedings. When someone says "the 70's were blah for Marvel," this is exactly the run of issues that comes to my mind. Boring. The art, however, is excellent. We can thank Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott for not making this a complete waste.

Mark: Joltin' Joe Sinnott returns to the ink pot and we and Rich Buckler are the better for it, but beyond the groovy graphics (sweet splash of Reed rubber-banding toward the reader; elsewhere R.B. unleashes some electric Kirby krackle) the Doc Doom denouement has little to recommend it. Gerry Conway plays the Thing pity-party card at the completely wrong time; Ben never reaches for a hankie mid-fight, never EVER with Alicia in danger. Kid Conway has absorbed the FF character tropes, but none of the context in which they're effective.

Likewise Conway's Doom is all madman bluster, with none of the wounded nobility or twisted genius grandiosity that makes VVD a great character. And the less said about the rocket disguised as skyscraper the better. Darkoth looks cool thanks to Buckler, but remains a cipher.

The FF was (along with Spidey) my fave title growing up. I take zero pleasure in trashing the title almost every month, but at this point looking forward to Buckler channeling Jack Kirby is the only thing keeping the title in the curriculum.

Chris: Solid issue, as a seeming throwaway device like the Seeker (he’s been searching low and hi-igh) provides a plot device toward Doom’s latest downfall. Doom’s seeming retreat in the rocket makes sense, as he plans to link-up with the satellite, until Darkoth pulls a Kato-style sneak attack (“Not now, Darkoth, you silly purple fool!”). Not sure how Doom managed to escape an explosion 2200 miles above the earth’s surface, but any totalitarian dictator worth his cape knows how to get out of tough spots. There isn’t really a whole lot for Medusa to do here, is there?

The previous four panels are dedicated to Professor Joe
Chris: The art continues to measure up to FF standards, with the exception of Darkoth’s tiny head on pg 27 (last panel), and the last page, which appears to have been inked by somebody other than Joltin’ Joe – I’d be willing to bet my MU faculty parking space on it. I can’t back this up with any independent research (GCDB credits no other inker), but it simply doesn’t bear recognition to Sinnott’s usual style.

If anyone saw the cover blurb, and honestly expected that this issue would depict a “final conflict” with Dr Doom, please see me after class – it’s obvious that you’ve been missing something thru this course of study. Might I recommend the air conditioning and refrigeration certification, instead? 

The Frankenstein Monster 9
"The Vampire Killers!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Buscema and John Verpoorten
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Tom Palmer

A maddened crowd momentarily abandons the Frankenstein monster as he burns at the stake when they hear the screams of a victim being drained by Dracula. The crowd arrive just as the vampire is finishing his supper but they are unable to corner the Count. Hearing the woman's screams and deciding the world needs him for just a bit longer, the monster escapes his bondage rather than allow the flames to consume him. The mob attacks him but he easily cuts a wedge through them and heads for Dracula's lair. Waiting for him there is the beautiful gypsy girl he befriended earlier (last issue) but his mood turns to sorrow as he realizes she's become a vampire and the monster is forced to kill her. Dracula arrives and a battle royale ensues. The Frankenstein monster overcomes The Prince of Darkness by dragging him out into the morning light. Dracula is reduced to ashes just as a man arrives on the scene and introduces himself as Vincent Frankenstein. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: This is about as close as we get to a return to form for this title, in the absence of Sr Ploog. The encounter with Carmen is a highlight, as the monster’s hope for contact curdles (once again) to heartbreak. The decision to render the monster voiceless is curious, if not questionable, and hinders this title to its finish. Did Marvel feel pressure to deviate from Shelley’s monster, in favor of the more-familiar Whale version of the character?

Buscema’s art is particularly strong this time, especially in his depiction of the many moods of the monster. Other art moments of note: Dracula’s stealthy attack on pg 2; the monster’s pain-wracked escape from the fire (pg 3, last two panels); Carmen’s striking reveal as a savage vampire (pg 14, last two panels); the monster’s hate-filled expression (from Dracula’s POV, pg 19). I would have liked a darker look to some of these pages, especially in Dracula’s cave, which appears to be lit like a late-1950’s studio set. Verpoorten’s inks and Glynis Wein’s colors both might’ve contributed more effectively to the mood; you have to wonder what Tom Palmer (or even Klaus Jansen) might have brought to these images.

Scott: Fun is the word here. The conclusion of this old style monster mash is long on excitement and short on substance (and page count). It's a satisfying end, one that makes me wonder if the monster's now-mute status will be permanent. The art takes an upward swing and it ends on a nice cliffhanger, reuniting monster and creator. Not a bad read.

Peter Enfantino: No, it's not a bad issue but it seems awfully rushed and patched together. It's nothing we haven't seen before (and we'll see it again), as Gary Friedrich seems happy enough to pattern his small arcs on the Universal monster films of the 1940s without adding anything resembling a spark of originality. The monster's sudden loss of voice (due to a vampiric bite on the neck) is a bit much for me to ... um, swallow, but not as much as the "Oh, hi, I heard there was a monster looking for me. I'm a Frankenstein. Am I in the right place" final panel. I can see the real honest-to-goodness fersure last son of Frankenstein stopping in a pub in Romania, presenting his American Express, and the bartender exclaiming, "You know what? There was a really big guy in here last week looking for a Victor Frankenstein! He told me he'd be up in the Carpathians if you stopped in!" The story is truncated, making way for a reprint of "Seeing Eye" (from Uncanny Tales #22, July 1954), an Uncannily stupid hairy dog story about a ruffian with a plan to rob a blind man of his guide dog and then ransom the pooch for big bucks. Being this is a horror strip, we're expecting something out of the ordinary but not a punchline like this:

The Amazing Spider-Man 130
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro

An insomniac Spidey happens upon a gang of thieves planning to hit a skyscraper, and wise-cracking all the way, knocks them all out, except for one whose skull burns out when he starts to say the boss’ name! Said boss is mobster Hammerhead, who meets with the manipulative Jackal. Spidey swings to the Baxter Building, where the Human Torch unveils the Spider-Mobile, which goes through a dangerous first test drive on the snowy streets with a driving-challenged Web-Head behind the wheel…and a newly free Doctor Octopus watching from the shadows! Back at his apartment, Peter gets a call from Aunt May [cue foreshadowing police!] and a visit from Mary Jane, who gets him to go to class. Three days later, on Christmas Eve, Hammerhead’s goons try another robbery, but the Spider-Mobile is on the scene, shooting webs and nabbing bad guys until Hammerhead attacks and knocks Spidey out! Our hero comes to later, grabs the Mobile before the cops send it to the dump, and finds a letter from Aunt May—not knowing it was planted by the putrid Jackal! At Ned & Betty’s party, Peter is hit on by MJ and offered a cigar by JJJ as a Christmas bonus, before he slips away to read the note from Aunt May. What’s inside sends him immediately towards Westchester, where, incredibly, Aunt May is marrying Doc Ock!!! -Joe Tura

That's not all that Professor Warren is mad about! Hee hee hee!

Joe: What an up-and-down issue this one turned out to be. First we have a nice cover, but once Doc Ock comes back there’s the potential Spider-Man 3 tactic of “too many villains”. But since this came way before that messy movie, it works, with the rotten Jackal pulling the strings the whole time. (Hate that guy!) The Spider-Mobile is what it is to be honest. Forced to create it by Stan due to a toy licensing deal, Conway apparently thought the idea was “ridiculous”, which is certainly easy to tell with sarcastic captions like “and so a legend is born”. Peter leaving the party without even a “oh by the way I have a tummy ache” is a bit off to me. Doesn’t he worry that people will know he walked into that room? I mean, does he assume MJ will get so bombed on Shirley Temples and Grasshoppers that she’ll forget where he went? And speaking of MJ, what’s with that excited leer at JJJ’s “Christmas bonus” cigar? Girl, you better get yourself a man fast….And of course, the ending. Sigh. Doc Ock is marrying Aunt May. I’ll save the bulk of the caustic comments to my fellow faculty members, and simply say it didn’t bother me 40 years ago, but seems kinda stupid now.

Ok, some more ruminations about the Spider-Mobile, which I will admit I thought was cool at one point, certainly cooler than the disappointing Spider-Car by Mego, which was styled decently but the lame “WebTrap” on the back couldn’t hold Mego Green Goblin’s man purse. Did Spidey give the Torch his webbing formula or just some extra fluid for the “automatic webbing” gizmo? Didn’t look like he helped much at all, except for the funny line “Now I can catch crooks without giving up my parking space.” Peter Parker never learned how to drive? I guess that actually makes sense, you never see him in a car except as a passenger come to think of it. I love that the cops call the Mobile a “monstrosity” and say it “looks like a refugee from a kiddy TV show” which is spot on and hilarious, although the 7-year old in me wants to whine “Noooo, it’s nooooottt!” I love that Spidey is giddy about the camouflage feature, which makes a lot more sense than the Seat Ejector that “every hero’s car has to have” according to architect Mr. Storm.

Favorite sound effect: There are a handful of decent ones to choose from, from “SBLAK!” to “ZWITT!” to “WHUNK!”, but I’ll go with “THAROOM” when HH’s goons blow up “the room” while pulling off their second heist attempt. See what I did there?

Fonzie on a surfboard comes to mind
Matthew: I’d forgotten how many super-villains crossed paths with the Jackal, although it fits his √©minence verte m.o. to “pull ze strings” while somebody else does the heavy lifting; in addition to the Punisher and Hammerhead, he later appears with such fellow members of the Marvel menagerie as the Grizzly, the Scorpion, and the Tarantula. Nice to see MJ being more upfront regarding her intentions toward Peter, but even though he’s not ready to forget Gwen just yet, it’s probably time for the poor boy to pick up the pieces of his heart and move on. The (sh)Ock ending marks the culmination of a subplot I’ve never cared for, so I can’t get too excited over that, while this issue unveils that perennial faculty punchline, the Spider-Mobile.

Scott: The Spider-Mobile. Yay. I imagine the Baxter Building's security system is out of commission, since Spidey gets into Johnny Storm's bedroom pretty easily. Well, it's Christmas Eve, and I don’t know about you, but if it was the first holiday season after my girlfriend died, she'd get more than a passing mention. I'd actually be pretty consumed by it. That's okay, we need to spend more time watching Spider-Man drive his dune buggy in the snow, battle the returning Hammerhead and watch the series totally go around the bend as we wind up the issue in the middle of the wedding between Doc Ock and Aunt May. I don't know what these guys were snorting over at Marvel, but someone needed an intervention.

Mark: BULLPEN CONFIDENTIAL!!! In a throwaway line Marvel scribe Gerry Conway inadvertently reveals himself to be an alien (or, at the very least, Canadian) with this bit of exposition, pg. 14: "With a roar like a football fanatic discovering the Sunday game's been rained out..."

Every red-blooded American boy knows, before they're knee-high to Ant-Man, that football games NEVER GET RAINED OUT! Come to think of it, so do our neighbors up north...which only leaves the alien option.

Exotic genealogy aside, Kid Conway delivers a fun, action-packed ish that finds the Jackal manipulating Dick Tracy reject Hammerhead (his anvil-like dome more cartoony than ever thanks to Ross the Boss) Pete and MJ trading pithy quips, and J. Jonah proving his big-hearted generosity by Christmas-bonusing PP with a custom-blended cigar. Dune buggy from toy company tie-in hell, the Spider-Mobile, makes its debut, as does Spidey's virgin spin behind the wheel, both played for good comic effect. We get death-ray wielding goons in banana yellow jumpsuits and the return of a certain multi-armed, bowl-haircut super-villian, all leading to the Web-Slinger crashing Westchester's wedding of the season, and what the wha?

Aunt May is marrying Doc Ock? Even forty years later, I was still shocked by the Big Reveal. Prof Joe, I nominate the sound of our collective jaws dropping as your Spidey sound effect of the month.

Nah, think I'll just skip ahead to the Mindworm if that's all right with you.

Please do not try clipping this from your computer screen

1 comment:

  1. I definitely agree that Amytis makes a great femme fatale for Conan, almost more the soap opera kind of femme fatale than the sword and sorcery kind, but both. I can hardly wait till you get to # 38, where (without giving too much away) that idea is take a lot farther.