Wednesday, July 30, 2014

June 1974 Part Two: The Golem Walks! The Mummy Returns! Sanity Vacations!

Strange Tales 174
The Golem in
"There Walks the Golem!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Deep in the desert, an excavation party headed by Dr. Abraham Adamson (and featuring his nephew, Jason, his niece, Rebecca, and her fiancé, Wayne) hope to find the legendary Golem far beneath the desert sands. Their digging proves fruitful and the giant stone figure is brought up in one piece. Professor Adamson relates the tale of the Golem: created by a wise man "through supernatural means," the statue ended war in all lands and then drifted out into the desert to become buried under hundreds of years of sand. That night, soldiers enter the Adamson camp and attempt to take provisions by force. In the struggle, Dr. Adamson is mortally wounded. Believing the professor dead, the soldiers take the rest of the Americans captive. The dying professor reads the incantation to bring life to the Golem and, in his last act, sheds tears on the feet of the giant. Sensing an injustice has been done, the newly revived monster catches up with the soldiers and makes quick work of them. As Rebecca looks into the creature's eyes, she sees someone familiar...-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: An enjoyable first chapter in a series that will only survive three issues (#175 was a Deadline-Doom inducing all-reprint issue), probably because of the plethora of monster series Marvel was pumping out at the time. The Golem, as a character, has too much in common with The Frankenstein Monster, the newly-revived Living Mummy, and perhaps most of all, It! The Living Colossus. That final panel, in particular, seems to be heading us into It! territory. Stan and Roy, as is their wont, roll out the hyperbole and trumpet that... "Marvel was the first among comic publishers to feature black superheroes - and villains. Marvel was first to recognize the women's movement in comics with characters like The Black Widow. And now, in this issue of Strange Tales, we're proud to introduce the comics' first Jewish monster-hero." If they're so proud, why can't I find the word "Jewish" anywhere in the story?

Matthew Bradley: Odd that Marvel’s version of the Hebrew legend coincided with that other living colossus over in Astonishing Tales, but here he is, courtesy of Lively Len, Big John, and the Madman, which sounds like a morning-drive radio show. Aptly, Wein tells the tale in a totally traditional fashion, while the artwork is a simple yet pleasant mix that reflects well on Buscema and Mooney. “Foolproof!,” a Mike Sekowsky reprint from Mystery Tales #44 (August 1956), backed up this 15-page debut, which I have in Marvel Firsts, but I can’t comment on the two-issue Mike Friedrich/Tony DeZuniga continuation—following an all-reprint #175—that was wrapped up in Marvel Two-in-One #11 (September 1975) after Warlock had replaced the Golem.

“Deadline hassles caused us to miss one issue, forcing us to replace it with reprints, disrupting the story continuity, and causing no little loss of morale and inspiration on the part of our creative team. Then, too, we never quite found ourselves able to decide on a direction for the strip. Was it a human-interest book like Man-Thing? A smasho-whammo-destructo book like the Hulk? A supernatural mystery thriller like Werewolf by Night? We just couldn’t make up our mind. Thus, even with an open-ended plotline and too much left unexplained, we’ve decided to call things to a halt. We goofed. It’s not the first time. It won’t be the last. (But it may be the only time we’re so shamefacedly candid about it…!),” as SuperMegaMonkey quotes from #177.

Chris Blake: A very human story, with themes of hatred and oppression that still resonate today. Abe’s dedication to his heritage, love for his family, and painful sense of failure, give us a clear understanding of and appreciation for this character, in a few brief pages. The reveal of Abe’s spirit within the Golem – topped off by Rebecca’s stunned reaction – makes for a memorable finish.

Strange Tales is a perfect venue to serve as a try-out for the Golem. The recap of the Golem’s legend, and the explanation of how he wound up in a middle-Eastern desert, both work well. It’s difficult for me to imagine what Roy and Len had planned for this character – I can see him having Man-Thing type encounters, meting out justice to evil doers unfortunate enough to cross his path. Other than that, I wonder what else they expected him to do; I guess I have the next two issues to find out. Mooney’s inks work surprisingly well with Buscema’s pencils, as the Golem has palpable bulk and an imposing presence.

Peter: The obligatory reprint, "Foolproof" (from Marvel Tales #110, December 1952) has the greedy landlord plotting to burn down his own building. He plans everything to a tee, calculating how long the fire department will get there, then goes back to the apartment, sets it afire, and heads to the top floor to call the police, only to discover a pay phone. He's all out of coins! I think we can all agree the punchline is a bit far-fetched but, who cares?, it's illustrated by the master, Russ Heath.

Kull the Destroyer 14
“The Black Belfry!”
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Michael Ploog and Jack Abel
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Jim Starlin

Hoping to build an army to march on Thulsa Doom, Kull and his companions Brule the Pict and Ridondo the Minstrel seek out the mountain hideaway of the hill rebels the fallen monarch once ruled. On the way they meet Santha, the former lover of the rebel’s current leader Sarkoz. The brawny beauty tells Kull that she was banished when Sarkoz and his men suddenly found religion. When the trio finally arrives at the hideaway, they find that the rebels are indeed now monks and they have built a towering black monument in the middle of the village. Realizing that no help lies with these supposedly pious men, Kull decides to spend the night before leaving empty handed in the morning. As night falls, a hideous winged dragon attacks the former king — he is borne aloft by a powerful claw but a well-placed sword blow loosens the creatures grip and Kull falls to the ground. The dazed barbarian finds Brule: the Pict was also wounded by the dragon, informing Kull that the scaly beast flew off with Ridondo’s bloody corpse. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: It’s not a stretch to say that the Jim Starlin cover is the best thing about this issue, the penultimate before Kull the Destroyer is put on mothballs for two years. Ploog’s undeniable talent is barely discernible through Abel’s muddy inks — though Mike might not have had his heart in the proceedings. The dragon is kinda cool but somehow resembles the title monster from the hilariously awful The Giant Claw. While the story is somewhat of a mess, Englehart does manage to work a bit of subversion into his script: when Santha tells how Sarkoz spurned her, Ridondo exclaims “The man forsook love for religion! AMAZING!” while Brule adds “I should like to meet this fool.” The Thurian Chronicle letters page actually reveals that next issue will be the last for Kull, blaming poor sales and a paper shortage. The lousy sales I believe, but I’m not convinced about the paper problems since just about every Marvel editorial these days is promoting the ever-expanding line of the tree-devouring black-and-white magazines and the Giant-Size comics to come. There’s crummy filler included, Stan Lee and Joe Maneely’s “My Name is Death,” reprinted from Adventures into Terror #16, 1951. During the Spanish Inquisition, Sigmund Graasp creates a woman who delivers the kiss of death. After three pages of histrionics, the woman is revealed to be an iron maiden. Ker-plunk.

Supernatural Thrillers 7
The Living Mummy in
"The Return of the Living Mummy!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Linda Lessman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

After a short slumber of just over a year, N'Kantu, The Living Mummy rises from the crate that has held him in the back of a New York museum. Frightening off a guard, the mummy makes his way out into the streets and into Central Park, where he hears a woman scream. Investigating, he finds a girl being mugged by a gang of thugs. Having been raised a chivalrous Egyptian, N'Kantu roughs up the bad boys but is saddened by the fear in the girl's eyes. Realizing it must be the bandages, he begins to "disrobe," only to be shocked by the state of his condition. The police, having been alerted by the juvenile delinquents to the city's new resident, attempt to destroy the mummy but he manages to escape down a dark alleyway. When the police enter, they discover a dead end... and no mummy. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: After a 10-month hiatus, N'Kantu, the world's first black mummy returns to the Marvel Monster Rally. Perhaps remembering that AIP's Blacula hit screens a full year before the first adventure of The Living Mummy, Roy smartly avoids hanging the "World's First Black Monster" banner across the cover. Returning regular Dr. Skarab (what a coincidence that an archaeologist should be born with a name like that!) has severed his ties with L.A. Fitness and, I presume, undergone anger management since he was buff and, subtly, a bad dude when we were introduced to him way back in Supernatural Thrillers #5 (August 1973).  This entry adds nothing new to the series, there's a lengthy flashback, the Mummy does a bit of wandering, Skarab shows up for a couple panels to relate the looooong flashback and, in a tease of what we can expect next issue when Tony Isabella takes over writing chores, the bandaged beastie vanishes right under the noses of the fuzz. It's a nice change of pace to have a monster who can think rationally (outside of Dracula, that is) but Gerber's explanation of how N'Kantu went from bumbling dumbbell to Rhodes scholar is, to say the least, a bit far-fetched (yeah, I know I'm talking about a strip starring a 3000-year old mummy!) but maybe electrocution is the answer for our nation's failing schools. I love Val Mayerik's art; it's a bit Wrightson, a little bit Ingels, and a whole lot of wonky. How could any of his characters walk on legs so malformed? I don't remember in detail where this strip goes from here but I do remember that it gets batshit crazy. Perhaps it's a good thing that Gerber steps down after this chapter; writing intellectual scripts for both Man-Thing and The Living Mummy (two series that are quite similar) might have proven a bridge too far. Because I consider this job a very important one, I will continue to chronicle the adventures of The Living Mummy but, with the arrival of Tony Isabella, you best believe I'll have my waders on.

Chris: Steve takes his time, as N’Kantu works to acquaint himself to the location, and era, where he has awakened. By that, I mean that Steve spares us a far-fetched gimmick that allows N’K some instantaneous awareness and understanding of his new environment. All of this will take time, as it should. Our loss of Mayerik from Man-Thing proves the Living Mummy’s gain, as Mayerik’s self-inked art depicts a giant, shambling figure, widely peering out at the strange world with his left eye, otherwise surrounded with pitted, flopping bandages – a fittingly appalling figure. N’K’s long period encased in bandages proves double-edged – he finds he’s gained invulnerability from fast-moving little metal pellets, but the bandages will have to stay on – man, will they ever. N’Kantu’s moldering flesh provides a fitting moment of pathos regarding N’K’s present condition; not only is N’K not of this time and place – to what extent is he even human, anymore? There isn’t a whole lot of action, but Steve gives us a fair amount to think about in this reprint-shortened re-introductory chapter.

Peter: Rounding out the package is a bland-as-pablum reprint from the days when George Tuska could draw a character without gigantic dental work, "He Came  From Nowhere" (originally from Strange Tales #94, March 1962). The last line, when a disguised alien utters the line "I come from Uranus" probably brought quiet titters of laughter from the Comic Book gang I hung out with in the school library at lunchtime. We couldn't keep the girls off us.

Iron Man 68
"Night of the Rising Sun!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by June Braverman
Cover by Jim Starlin and Dave Cockrum

In Viet Cong-held territory, Iron Man finds the flaming ruins of An Thoc, the village he saved in Suspense #39, and when Roxie takes off to follow a lead on Marty’s location, he angers a truce observer by going after her alone. A visiting Sunfire seeks to advance Japan’s interests, so the Vietnamese major offers top priority in any reconstruction work if he eliminates Iron Man, but in mid-battle the mutant is teleported to the undersea fortress of the Mandarin, who needs power to reverse the process that switched his mind with that of the dying Unicorn. Sunfire is tricked into providing it as Iron Man follows the radiation trail; his mask is damaged by a torpedo, forcing him to retreat and redesign it before returning to face a restored Mandarin. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Whatever else you want to say about Friedrich’s new storyline, you can’t fault it for a lack of ambition, featuring as it does the insufferable Sunfire, the soon-sorted-out Mandicorn duo and—as we are promised next issue—that other Asian arch-fiend, the Yellow Claw, who has usurped Mandy. By now as well-oiled a machine as Shellhead’s tin tuxedo itself, the “Tuskosito” team keeps doing its thing, whether you like that or not. But the nose giving IM’s mask “a slightly modified appearance…to allow a bit more expression to show—and so perhaps increase the fearsome aspects of my character to those who oppose me,” is a clunker; according to Sean Howe, it was added on the orders of the increasingly detached Stan, who forgot that a year later.

Scott McIntyre: Yes, Sunfire is headstrong and chock full of national pride, but is he that much of an idiot to go ahead and attack Iron Man based on an unsubstantiated promise by an embittered major? Apparently so, as he zooms off after striking his "deal." Luckily, things heat up (heh heh) as Sunfire is soon captured and used to restore the Mandarin to his original body. A decent development in a so-so book. Tuska does his usual work, but it's not all as bad as the norm.

Marvel Team-Up 22
The Amazing Spider-Man and Hawkeye in
"The Messiah Machine!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, and David Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by David Hunt
Cover by John Romita

Attracting Spidey’s attention with his arrows, Hawkeye relates how he hitched a ride on an electronics supply truck stolen by a gang of identical bald robots, infiltrating a Westchester mansion from which he barely escaped. He returns, reinforced by Spidey, yet they are quickly captured by Quasimodo, the living computer, who plans to activate a mechanism that will give him control of all the world’s computers. Our heroes survive his attempt to dispose of them via pneumatic pressure tubes, and Hawkeye electrocutes the robots with a wire and a steel-tipped arrow shot into a bank of high-powered circuitry; he is about to confront Quasimodo in his command chair when Spidey realizes that the short-circuit has disintegrated his mind, as well. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Since I love Hawkeye in general, and Sal’s rendition in particular, I had high hopes for this issue despite the presence of one of Marvel’s most boring and ineffectual villains, feeling that Spidey and Clint were a match made in Heaven. It’s not a disaster, but it is aggressively average—in fact, I’d call it a prototypical MTU in many ways—and Len sadly minimizes the opportunity for fun chemistry between our two co-stars with the lengthy flashback, related by Hawkeye after the standard opening gambit of a (mercifully brief) MARMIS, rather than simply yelling, “Yo, Spider-Man!” At least we’re spared the hostile inkers Buscema has endured elsewhere of late in favor of Giacoia, yet even that attention-grabbing double-pager somehow seemed a little lacking.

Scott: The Romita cover alone is drool-worthy. Sal Buscema is no slouch himself, so the interior art is also a pleasure to behold. Would Liz Allan re-entering Peter's life really screw with his head so thoroughly? He had a crush on her for a little while, but he fell for Betty Brant and she fell for Peter, while he never noticed. What's the big deal, Parker? Granted, I’m making a lot out of a throwaway continuity bone, but Quasimodo is dull as church. While the “Quasi Motivational Destruct Organ” was never going to be my favorite villain, the teaming of Hawkeye and Spidey is a pretty natural one, but one would think a hero as douchy as Clint Barton would butt heads with Spidey more. I guess they’re kindred spirits, The story itself is merely okay; fun but forgettable.

Joe Tura: A fun little time-killer, this one. And with My Pal Sal at the helm, it's even better than expected because on paper Hawkeye and Spidey make a strange team, with the bowman having more of a New Yawk accent here than native Queens kid Peter Parker. But it works because the script makes them both kinda likable. The battle against Quasimodo ends pretty quick, and I always loved that final arrow Hawkeye shoots which zaps all the robots, and remember constantly trying to figure out how he hit all the proper angles in one electrifying shot. Good stuff, Hilts!

The Incredible Hulk 176
"Crisis on Counter-Earth!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Herb Trimpe and John Romita

The Hulk is in for a wild adventure once the spaceship he is flying in lands on Counter-Earth. Military troops are quickly aware of the ship after it crashes in the ocean. They find Banner asleep inside and take him to a hospital. Since, on this planet, Banner is a government agent, off on a mission, the military bosses believe that this Banner is a fake. In this world, Adam Warlock is being held captive and imprisoned by the government for being a rebel. When a general shows Banner a picture of Adam Warlock during an interrogation, Bruce freaks out and turns in to the Hulk. After escaping the hospital, the Hulkster hides out at the Washington Monument. The president of Counter-Earth is the Man-Beast. He wants the Hulk taken captured alive so he dispatches a pack of New-Men to bring the monster in. When the New-Men attack him he handles them pretty easily until they are able to put a mask on him that knocks him out and turns him back into Banner. Back on regular planet earth, Glen Talbot is able to escape the prison he was being detained at in Siberia, though it looks like his captors might have let him go intentionally. The story ends with an agent of the High Evolutionary, the Recorder, sneaking in to the prison area where Adam Warlock is being held captive. The agent knocks out the guard and sets Warlock free. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Personally, I am not a big fan of any of the happenings that go on over at Counter-Earth. However, I do like the High Evolutionary and believe that he is an underrated villain in the Marvel Universe. I hope he does make an appearance, otherwise this is going to be a long story arc.

Matthew: Editor Roy is widely credited with plotting this issue (which would make perfect sense, given his long history with Warlock)…except in the treasury-edition reprint, once again demonstrating the limitations of that form. Be that as it may, my only real reservation is a totally biased impatience to get Adam out of that damned stasis-cylinder, which isn’t really a failing of Conway’s script, and since he seems to be on a roll at the moment—between this and Giant-Size Super-Heroes—I’ll let the dog have his day. This being Counter-Earth lets Gerry finger the Prexy as the Big Bad even more explicitly than Stainless can in Captain America, make the renegade New-Men caricatures of Nixon’s cabinet, and demolish the Washington Monument.

Scott: All five fans of Warlock's previous title were probably happy to finally see the saga picked up here. I caught this in the Treasury Edition and was kind of lost at the time. It's still a good batch of issues, more enjoyable for me than Warlock's own book. Banner is appropriately panicky, thankfully devoid of the rampant smart-assery he was spouting all the previous issue. The art is full of smooth lines, but missing something that I enjoyed from Jack Abel's inks. I'm not sure what it is, but it's all a little mechanical this time out. It's fun to see this play out slowly and in detail, with a few Washington Landmarks being destroyed without causing any continuity gaffes in the Marvel Universe. Counter-Earth is a fun place to visit.

Master of Kung Fu 18
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Paul Gulacy and Al Milgrom
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Shang-Chi attempts to sneak in to Fu Manchu’s Manhattan headquarters, and is set upon by a dacoit who has lain in wait for nearly two days. S-C defeats his opponent, and resolves to think better of a frontal assault in the future. S-C meets with Sir Denis and Black Jack; they agree to a partnership against the evil designs of Fu. Sir Denis offers a lead to foil Fu’s latest scheme; S-C declines Sir Denis’ offer of transportation, and instead stows away on a jetliner to Florida. S-C discovers drums filled with gasoline on his father’s freighter, then realizes that he missed another scent: mimosa. S-C passes out from the hallucinogen, and wakes to find himself confronted by Fu; Fu reveals his plan to induce confusion among the American populace, as mimosa-laced gasoline would be introduced to the atmosphere. Fu then poisons the disgraced dacoit; the deadly solution jacks him up to three times normal speed for the nine minutes of life left to him. The pain in the dacoit’s rapidly dying body overwhelms him, and he uses a torch to set himself aflame. S-C kicks the torch onto the freighter, causing the volatile cargo to explode. S-C plunges into the sea to escape, with Fu’s assassins in close pursuit. -Chris Blake

Chris: Now that Steve has established the character, and now that S-C has developed a connection with Sir Denis, MoKF will begin to take on elements of Bondesque adventure that, when combined with S-C’s unique persona, help to make MoKF one of the most unusual and consistently entertaining titles in the Marvel pantheon. Gulacy is no Starlin, but he is about as fitting a replacement as you could ask for. Gulacy will continue Starlin’s reliance on small panels to compress the action, and will incorporate intense close-ups and peculiar angles that are reminiscent of Steranko.

There’s a simply hilarious letter that suggests Fu employ “huge quantities of Jello” to defeat Shang-Chi. S-C might “split the glob in two,” but it still would dull his sense and mess up his clothes. You have to read it yourself to believe it.

Mark Barsotti: Artist Paul Gulacy arrives and, even with his style still evolving, immediately owns the title, Jim Starlin's tasty original offerings notwithstanding. Starlin could certain do kung fu, but his heart was in the cosmos with Mar-Vell & Warlock. Gulacy's was in MOKF, and the stunning, Steranko-inspired splash on P. 22 trumpets his ambition.

As Paul settles in, Steve Englehart gets ready to head out the door. His penultimate issue finds Shang-Chi making common cause with Sir Denis Nayland Smith against Fu Manchu, although Shang tells Sir Denis that, as he refused to be his father's weapon, "I shall not be yours."

Mark: The story opens and closes with Shang battling a dacoit (member of an Indian/Burmese criminal class) in Fu's service. Besting the assassin at his dad's New York headquarters, our high-kicking hero leaves his opponent hanging upside down, adorned with a mocking note, Spidey-style, before heading to Florida, where Sir Denis' intel suggests Fu is smuggling in unknown cargo.

Fu's scheme, in league with "the president of an international oil combine," is to lace cheaply-priced gasoline with the will-sapping drug Mimosa so that in three months "all of America will be (Fu's) to command." After explaining all this to his captive son, the would-be tyrant doses the disgraced dacoit with a fatal drug, but in the nine minutes preceding his death, the assassin is imbued with super speed. He begins pummeling Shang, but then, to escape his mounting agony, the dacoit ignites his hair with a conveniently placed torch and flings himself into a dynamite shack. The resulting explosion allows Shang to dive off a cliff into the sea, while kicking the torch into an open hatch on Fu's oil tanker.

It's a pulpy, timed-to-the-second conclusion, brilliantly executed in a manner Sax Rohmer himself would have approved. And who's up next for Englehart's swansong, the Man-Thing?

Can't wait for the weirdest team-up ever!

The Man-Thing 6
"And When I Died...!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Mike Ploog

The Man-Thing, Richard Rory, Ruth Hart, Tragg and Ayla witness the ghost of Darrel the clown make a bizarre announcement: they are to play the parts in his life story! It is to be before three hooded figures, who will judge the fate of his soul based on the performance! Manny is the inner demon that drove Darrell to his fate. Darrel nabs Garvey the carnival owner nearby to play his father. They review his childhood, where the clown’s father was obsessed only with making money. The play continues, reviewing his father’s death. They finish with his days in the circus, from when he was hired; to the time he felt Isla had betrayed him. The three “fates,” agents of Heaven, Hell, and In Between feel that Darrel’s life didn’t offer enough of value to keep him from oblivion. The Man-Thing comes to his defense instinctively, fighting the trio for an injustice done. But it is Ayla’s pleas, her guilt for driving Darrel to his suicide, that gives the figures pause, and they leave silently. The others observe a smile on the face of the clown’s still face. -Jim Barwise

Chris: Step right up, folks, for Man-Thing Nightmare Theater! Tonight, One Night Only, the Tragedy of Darrel Daniel, the Suicidal Clown! See how the love of one woman – whom Darrel thought was untrue to him – helped to save his soul from final dissolution! You’ll gasp “Oh my!”, you’ll wipe a tear from your eye, but forget? No, don’t even try. You’ll remember the lonely clown’s story as the years roll by.

The reenactment of some of Darrel’s worst moments isn’t done to fulfill a dying man’s wish, but a dead man’s. Steve wisely dispenses with an explanation for how Darrel’s spirit has this power, and holds back on the pivotal role of the “critics,” until Man-Thing can be employed to take an active stance in Darrel’s defense. Ploog’s art expertly plays up the weirdness throughout, and Petra Goldberg’s choice of brighter colors for the play (as compared with darker hues for the surrounding “normal” swamp) help to play up the contrast between the silly appearance of the play, and its weightier subject matter. I didn’t even mind that Steve gave it a happy ending.

Mark: In which Darryl the dead clown's ghost stages scenes from his life before three black-robed "critics," with Richard Rory, Ruth Hart, and assorted carnies cast as his family and others from his past. Manny's along as well, of course, tabbed to channel Darryl's "inner demon."

Before getting to the story, class, a quick diversion to give two thumbs up (and go see the new Robert Ebert documentary; it's excellent) to Mike Ploog, whose work sautés a dash of Will Eisner, a pinch of Bernie Wrightson, and a soupcon of Jack Davis, into his own tasty and evocative, if slightly "cartoony," style. Darryl's ghost, an almost fleshless death's-head with bright red clown makeup, is particularly creepy.

Scott: The cover does nothing to convey the awesomeness of the concluding part of the "Dead Clown" saga. Magnificent and spooky, this is a really chilling story. Darrell's life is a wasted one, a man who never had the maturity or upbringing to handle real life and the rejection we all have to face one way or another. You can only blame your parents for so much before you take responsibility for your own life and Darrell played that blame game. When called on it, he is doomed. Only Ayla's love and sacrifice saves his soul. She's is the one who truly loses here; she pays the price by having to live with the guilt of driving Darrell to suicide. Steve Gerber weaves a fine tale and Ploog's art is - again - incredible. His humans are wonky, but in a coldly detached way that adds to the creepiness. This is one of my favorite arcs in the Marvel "chiller" line.

Matthew: In this case, Gerber seems to be taking the phrase “morality play” somewhat more literally than usual, as our suicidal clown unfolds his life and death on a “stage” consisting of the Man-Thing’s swamp outside of Citrusville. The spectral appearance of the death’s-head Darrel is chilling, and it’s an interesting idea in theory, yet in practice I don’t find this one of Steve’s more effective efforts on the strip, with Manny seeming especially marginalized. Maybe it’s me, but I don’t think the supposed one-to-one correspondence between Gerber’s characters and Darrel’s adds much to it, and although I’ll still give the Ploog/Chiaramonte team top marks for their rendition of muck-monsters and demons, their humans really are pretty sketchy-looking.

Mark: After the acts of Darryl's life unfold – unhappy childhood, businessman father's funeral, time on a shrink's couch, and becoming a clown in Garvey's backwoods circus while hooking up with tightrope walker Ayla - the black robed "critics" are revealed "as agents of heaven, hell, and the realm between." They judge Darryl to have wasted his life and so sentence "your soul to total death. Oblivion."

Manny, taking exception, gives battle to the three "ethereal bureaucrats," until the despairing Ayla, who really loved Darryl, offers her soul in place of his. The "critics," convinced by her self-sacrifice, vanish, and a smile appears on the dead clown's lips. Manny slinks away into the swamp as we're left to ponder Ayla's question: "Do you suppose they finally understood...that a man who can inspire laughter and joy is the holiest man of all?"

Mark: Poignant, moving stuff, and Gerber's storytelling skills are all the more impressive when, upon reflection, we realize that Darryl was a whinny little dick. What, your rich daddy never showed you much affection and you got picked on as a kid? Oh, the humanity! You had the bankroll to fund your Emmett Kelly dreams and score a hot babe. Upon overhearing Garvey's assertion that Ayla was playing you for your long green, you didn't have the stones to confront her and find out if that was true. Instead, boo-hooing, you ran off and put a gun to your head.

By any rational accounting, Darryl, you did waste your life, deserving neither Ayla's love, nor Manny's defense of your soul. That Gerber brings a lump to the reader's throat over your pointless suicide is a tribute to his talent. As for me and Mr. Ebert: Darryl, thumbs down.

Jim Barwise: Talk about a truly unconventional tale, this would have made a nifty play on a stage anywhere. You could picture a high school group trying to pull something like this off! The Man-Thing doesn’t question his role, almost like he’s been called for a murky jury duty and has no choice. He is certain later an injustice has been done, so what does his defense of Darrel say about the demon in the clown’s soul? Or Ayla’s love of him, if one’s worth is judged more by how others loved you? I have to agree with my fellows that Steve Gerber and Mike Ploog brought this suspension of reality off beautifully. Now I have to wonder, if it was my life, who’d play the parts, and what would be the verdict?!

Power Man 19
"Call Him Cottonmouth!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Power Man arrives at his office to find a mysterious package waiting for him. Inside, two poisonous snakes. Two goons named Mike and Ike visit Luke and try to muscle him. The hero uses the snakes to find out that the henchmen were sent by a villain named Cottonmouth. It is Cottonmouth that rules the heroin trade in New York. Feeling that he and Power Man might be on the same side, he sent his two leg-breakers along with the snakes to test the hero. After meeting the villain, Cage decides to play along since the heroin that Cottonmouth is trafficking is from the same source that was used to set Cage up and send him to prison before he became a hero. Hoping to find evidence to clear his name, Cage joins up with the Cottonmouth organization as a double agent. His first mission is to get back the shipment of drugs stolen by the opposing Morgan Mob. Power Man invades their headquarters and recovers the dope from a safe after fighting off a bunch of gang members. The story ends with head mob boss Morgan aiming a bazooka at Cage. -Tom McMillion

I Feel Good... I Knew that I Would...
Scott: Before he was merely The First, but now they are touting Power Man as "America's First Black Super-Hero." Is this a way of acknowledging that The Black Panther isn't an American? That’s great, but The Falcon was still here first and he was always portrayed as from the US of A. The two guys Cottonmouth sends to Cage: Mike and Ike? The damned candy? Wow. When are Bert and Ernie going to put in an appearance? Or Babe and Ruth? And speaking of Cottonmouth…did anyone else burst out laughing at the way over the top reveal of this guy whose name is actually Cornell Cottonmouth? With his white uni-brow and hideous wardrobe, this guy screams “pointless excess.” Tuska must have been on some serious meds. Vince Colletta's inks mesh well with Tuska, but the layouts and body contortions are the usual. 

The Mighty Thor 224
"No One Can Stop... The Destroyer!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Having rescued the young goddess Krista from the clutches of Pluto with the aid of Hercules, Thor realizes that it is the skill of Dr. Don Blake that will save her. While he performs surgery, Hercules wanders about town, eventually finding a rather fancy restaurant in which to make merry. Elsewhere in Manhattan, begruntled scientist Clement Holmes, seeking to regain his respect in his community, uncovers what he has taken from South America and kept secret: the sleeping form of the Destroyer! He uses a laser to awaken it, which is what he hoped, except he didn’t know his spirit would enter the creature. Recalling its battle with Thor when last it woke, the Destroyer searches for him. En route it finds Hercules, who tries to halt its progress. Thor comes soon after, and holds the creature at bay while Hercules searches for the body animating it. When the creature takes his Mjolnir from Thor, he realizes only sixty seconds remain until Don Blake returns! -Jim Barwise

Jim: How can any appearance of the Destroyer be bad, and this issue is no exception. Hercules parties and fights like usual, and it’s kind of a nice break seeing Don Blake again. It gives Thor a chance to contemplate his purpose as a doctor/god, and which might be more important. We’re going to see more of Earth in the upcoming issues, but that poses no limitations on the villains therein.

Matthew: Okay, we’ve got Hercules, who gives very little evidence of having lived on Earth during his tenure with the Avengers back in the day; the “original” Destroyer, who I can’t believe has been absent from these pages for six long years; and properly inked Buscema art, so you can guess I’m keeping my supply of brickbats in reserve. The lettercol—in which future Thor scribe Ralph Macchio is represented yet again—sums up the debate over Midgardian vs. cosmic settings, and I for one welcome an Earthbound adventure, although the Asgardian heavy allows Gerry to hedge his bets. Minor quibbles: the unfinished look of the oversized artwork on those full- and two-page spreads, plus I could’ve sworn Hercules knew Thor’s secret i.d. already.

MU once again shamelessly panders to those of us who have
never seen a girl in a skimpy outfit 

Scott: Finally! Something interesting! The whole identity crisis Don Blake goes through is wonderful; a very nice turn of events that addresses an issue I’ve had for months. Don Blake vanishes for huge gaps of time to the point where he is a non-entity. He lost his purpose when Jane Foster left the story line and is only called back to do emergency surgery on whatever character needs it. Now, at least, he's questioning whether he does more harm than good by not being available all those times his services were needed, instead out saving a world that has its share of protectors. It's a wonderful arc to pursue and I hope it's not dropped. The Destroyer grabs Thor's hammer, but is that possible? It's not an insanely heavy hammer; it's enchanted and can only be picked up by those deemed worthy. The Hulk couldn't budge it. Will this be addressed next issue? Let's find out together…

The Tomb of Dracula 21
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Things are chaotic as Dracula, Frank Drake, and Rachel Van Helsing, are kept prisoners by the evil Dr. Sun and his minions. Inside his secret mountain headquarters, Dr. Sun plans to exploit Dracula's abilities. The vampire named Brand, a recently converted henchman of Sun's, gives the prisoners the origin story of his master. Dr. Sun was once a scientist for China, but instead of giving over his experimental work to his superiors, he meandered and sequestered his marvelous findings for himself. Eventually the general ordered him to be used as an experiment. Operated on by his own brother, Sun's brain was taken out of his skull and placed in an anti-matter container in order to siphon Dr. Sun's intelligence away from his brain. However, Sun's brain would take on a life of its own, as it absorbed the power being pumped into it, and he turned the tables on his captors. In order for Dr. Sun to survive, he must have blood fed into his machines, much like a vampire, which explains his reason for stalking Dracula. With the Count now in his clutches, he orders Brand to fight him as a final test to see if he is worthy. In a vicious fight, Brand slams a stake into Dracula's heart but before the vampire can succumb, he and Brand are hooked up to some machine designed to absorb Dracula's knowledge. Brand is also given Drac's brain information so that he can serve Sun and fetch blood for him. An invigorated Brand attacks Dracula once again, throwing him into some machinery, starting a fire. Sun doesn't like the way things are going so he orders Rachel and Frank to be set free so they can attack the vampires, causing a diversion and allowing Sun to escape. The only flaw in Sun's plan is that Brand gets ideas of his own when he acquires Dracula's advanced knowledge. Brand tries to attack Sun, but the living brain is prepared for such a problem. After zapping Brand with a mental mind bolt, Sun and his gang take off. Rachel and Frank escape by helicopter while Dracula turns into a bat and flies away. -Tom McMillion

Mark: Brain-in-a-box Dr. Sun is revealed to have been a Chinese scientist, executed during the Cultural Revolution for slow-walking his own Project: Mind. In true twist the knife Maoist fashion, Sun was put down by his own surgeon son ("Father, I still love you dearly."), but the Doc got the last laugh, for connecting his brain to "the most advanced computers in existence" powers him up and he promptly flash-fries his killers and is off on his quest for world domination.

Sun's powers aren't fully defined, but he can teleport and materialize objects at will, e.g., the stake and crossbow bolt he arms Frank and Rachel with later in our tale. His brain also needs to be nourished by blood, explaining his interest in fangers as food-givers (although why he can't will his liquid diet into existence, Marv only knows).

The fate of the Dean
after reading yet another
Monsters Unleashed.
Tom: You know, for an arch-villain that doesn't appear to be anything more then a human brain, Dr. Sun is a pretty damn formidable foe for both Dracula and the vampire hunters. It is a testament to how well this comic series is being written that a climactic showdown, in a secret lab, between two vampires and a living brain, doesn't turn in to campy silliness.

Chris: Marv admits, on the letters page, that he and Roy were trying to mix in a story with “superhero”-type action this time around. So Dr Sun wants to use an army of vampires to rule the world? Well yes, that is the type of idea we might encounter in nearly every other Marvel title. I don’t mind changing-up the style, but I did find that events in the story became disjointed. Dr Sun offers Rachel’s blood to Brand – Drac steps up to defend his property (“Hey – I saw her first,” he snarls) – Brand stakes Drac in the chest. Next, Drac is pinned to a Nefarious Device, as a little word balloon tells us that his stake-wound is “fully healed.” So – he’s not dead, then? And what happened to Rachel? Did Brand decide not to kill her? Later, Brand and Drac square off again – Drac breaks away to drain a henchman – and Brand does what? Stands by and waits to resume the fight? Drac and Brand both dissolve to mist, then inexplicably have re-corporealized on the following page – Brand shoves Drac into the Nefarious Device, and it shorts out and explodes (well then – I guess it really was made in China). Don’t get me wrong – I didn’t dislike the issue. But, Marv has set such a high standard for this title, that anytime the pieces don’t fit quite right, it stands out.

Scott: How times have changed. In an era past, so graphic a scene as Dr. Sun's brain removal would have sent people like Frederic Wertham into fits of hysterics (I can almost hear his woody smacking the table now). At this point, however, it was deemed suitable for the funny pages. This was, of course, the era of the G-rated Planet of the Apes movies, which were filled to the rafters with grim bloody action and death. We’re treated to a solid, brutal tale with lots of violence, with only a short respite as we look in on Blade just long enough to watch him decline Van Helsing's plea to stick around. After that, we're back to the brutality and we're once again left with Dracula's fate and uncertainty. Sure, as if his "death" was actually a possibility. Fun and not dull, Dr. Sun will bedevil us all again.

Mark: Having trained Brand as his presumptive new boss bloodsucker, Sun now proceeds to transfer all of Drac's knowledge and memories to his minion, the consciousness-zapping magnificently rendered in a two-page spread by Gene Colan. The Count and Brand then battle, with the upstart having the advantage, before turning on his creator: "I now know all I need to rule the world myself. I've no need of you, Sun..."

But the Doc had expected this and quickly dispatches his treacherous progeny, sets his caves in the Alps on self-destruct, and teleports away. Naturally, Drac, Rachel and Frank also escape the Big Bam-Boom as well, and the next issue teaser – "Behind the Iron Curtain!" – suggests we won't have to wait long for a rematch.

There are more holes in the plot than in a moth-eaten sweater, most notably Sun explaining that once Brand had downloaded all of Drac's memories, "...I knew that his arrogance would be yours as well – and that once you possessed it, you would refuse to work with me." But Brand leading the Doc's planned army of vamps was the point of the entire exercise, so if Sun knew it wouldn't work...

You get the point, class. This is a textbook example were the story doesn't bear close scrutiny but, thanks to the breathless pacing and excellent art, the reader enjoys the ride anyway.

But let's hope Wolfman doesn't make a habit of it. 

Werewolf by Night 18
"Murder by Moonlight!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Don Perlin and Mike Royer
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

We begin on a superfluous flashback to 1795, where a werewolf kills a woman in the forest, is hunted by the townspeople and changes back to human. It’s Baron Russoff, an ancestor of our hero Jack Russell, who finds himself accosted by Lt. Hackett, who is threatened by the new “cleaning lady”, Ma Mayhem (!!), who actually works for the Committee! The full moon rises, Jack changes and Ma blows silver dust into his face, and has a silver-coated whip, which throws Werewolf against the wall, which he smashes through and ruins Raymond Coker’s spell…then Coker turns into a werewolf also! (Whaaaa???) Their battle reaches the streets, where Ma Mayhem slips Lissa some sleeping gas, Lt. Hackett is knocked out by some civilians, and Coker runs off as the sun rises. Jack is left to wake up, then hitch a ride home to find the Committee has kidnapped Lissa—and he swears revenge once and for all! –Joe Tura

Joe: Sorry, Ron Wilson & Frank Giacoia, but no one can draw the damsel in distress cover like Mike Ploog…so why even try? And on a building instead of a damp sewer or dungeon? For shame! At least we have some nice lettering from Terrific Tom O in this ish. And it’s not a horrible issue overall. We get some story development, finally some answers (however goofy) about angry neighbor Coker, a bizarre new villain with some nifty silver weapons and more danger for poor sister Lissa. Plus finally Jack gets pissed, and not because there’s a big purple hand in his apartment. After all, that would pass as cool stuff in 1974. Nah, he’s sticking up for his sister, and through the mediocre Perlin art, we know he’s really peeved because he’s sorta grittin’ his teeth. Or had a really bad grilled cheese sandwich.

Also This Month

Dead of Night #4
Journey Into Mystery #11
Kid Colt Outlaw #183
Marvel Double Feature #4
Marvel Tales #51
Mighty Marvel Western #32
Monsters of the Movies #1 ->
Monsters on the Prowl #28
Our Love Story #28
Outlaw Kid #22
Two-Gun Kid #118
Uncanny Tales #4
Vault of Evil #11
War is Hell #7
Weird Wonder Tales #4
Worlds Unknown #7
X-Men #88

After ripping off Vampirella, Creepy, and Eerie, Marvel finally gets around to its own version of Warren's Famous Monsters of Filmland. Edited by Old Time Radio historian Jim Harmon, Monsters of the Movies #1 featured articles on King Kong, The Night Stalker, Boris Karloff, and Dracula imitations. As a kid, I never missed an issue of Famous Monsters or any of the various short-lived monster film magazines, so I was quite excited to come across MotM #1 on the rack. Some drawbacks include comic strips (no place for these in a film magazine), Carla Joseph's hopelessly outdated Monsterscope (featuring such "Currently Playing" favorites as The Lemon Grove Kids Meet the Monsters, released in 1965!), and those annoying Stan Lee fumettis featuring "hilarious" one-liners, obviously inspired by the puns that filled FM. Even as a 13 year-old monster and comic nut, I thought these dopey fumettis were a waste of space. MotM lasted eight issues (and one annual) and, I must admit, I shed a tear or two when I learned it was to be canceled. Good monster magazines are hard to come by... and Monsters of the Movies was pretty darned good. -Peter Enfantino


Vampire Tales 5
Cover by Esteban Maroto

Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chua

"Count Yorga - Vampire of the Year"
Film review by Donald F. Glut

"The Living Dead"
Adaptation by Roy Thomas
From a short story by Robert Bloch
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Dick Giordano

"Devil's Den"
News by Carla Joseph

"The Way It Began!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia
(reprinted from The Amazing Spider-Man #102, November 1971)

"The Vampire Wants Blood!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik

Morbius, the Living Vampire continues his battle with the occult worshippers known as Demon-Fire in the town of Malevolence. Michael gains help from his friend Amanda Saint (a girl whose quest for her missing father still remains a mystery to Michael) and two new recruits, Brock and Arlene. The quartet dodge death in a movie theater that doubles for a witch's den and then in a creepy lighthouse. It's at the lighthouse that the battle with the coven's leader, "Blood-Tide", finally comes to a close. But what does the future hold for Michael and Amanda? This series is getting tougher and tougher to wade through. Long and boring, this could have been the worst entry so far if not for a sudden burst of graphic violence at the climax when one character has his head blown off. Add to the confusion the similarity between the names Blood-Tide and Demon-Fire and you'll be scratching your head at least two times per page. It seems just as McGregor is injecting more supernatural into the script (which is as it should be in a magazine titled Vampire Tales) he gives it an equal dosage of superhero nonsense. Time to wrap up this Amanda Saint storyline and see if the character can be salvaged. This issue also sees a reprinting of Morbius' origin, originally from The Amazing Spider-Man #102. You can read our vintage coverage of that issue here. The reprinting omits all the non-Morbius material from that ASM.


Robert Bloch's short horror stories have made for great comic adaptations (and usually it's Roy working the words) and "The Living Dead" is no exception. That's probably because Bloch's fiction was very visual and usually ended with a snicker as well as a shudder. The Rascally One does a bang-up job condensing the original prose into a manageable 6-page strip but still retains the glory that was Bloch's dark humor. An actor named Barsac is hired by the Nazis to impersonate a vampire and keep the superstitious European villagers in line. Barsac does too good of a job and when the mob corners him with torches and stakes, they pay no attention to his protestations. The prose version of "The Living Dead" first appeared in the April 1967 Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.

"The Living Dead"

Don Glut, an author whose work I admire quite a bit (The Frankenstein Legend and The Dracula Book are not only essential but also very readable, a claim that can't always be made for horror film books) takes a look at Count Yorga, Vampire and its sequel. The piece, like Don's book-length studies, is very informative and written in a "friendly" style as if the two of you are discussing Yorga over a couple of beers. Thankfully, Glut will be on the staff of Marvel's Monsters of the Movies, which debuts this month.

"The Vampire Wants Blood!"

Two young American journalists visit the European village of Vlostag to investigate rumors of a vampire. When they get there, they learn from the local innkeeper that perhaps the reports were exaggerated by the local police commissioner, whose wife was having an affair with the man accused of vampirism. In fact, the innkeeper further postulates, the mob that eventually broke down the castle doors and staked Count Varma were incited by the cop. Meanwhile, to cover up any wrong doing, the commissioner dynamites the village dam, flooding the castle. Not a great idea, truth be told, since that  releases the stake in Varma's heart and now "The Vampire Wants Blood!" A good old-fashioned horror story with a nice twist ending, complete with nods to the Universal monster rallies. Mayerik's human characters are a bit shaky (he definitely works best with non-human creatures like The Mummy and Frankenstein's Monster) but his backgrounds are to die for.  -Peter Enfantino

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 2
Cover by Neal Adams

"Shang-Chi: Master of Kung Fu"
Story by Steve Englehart and Alan Weiss
Art by Alan Weiss and Al Milgrom

"The Shaolin Priest of Laurel Canyon"
David Carradine Profile by Lorraine Zenka Smith

"The Dragon's Vengeance"
Text by Tony Isabella

"What Makes the Martial Arts Work?"
Text by Frank McLaughlin

"Lee's Life"
Bruce Lee Profile by Wan Chang O'Shaugnessy

"The Dragon Has Entered!"
Text by Don McGregor

"The Origin of Shang-Chi"
Story by Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom

Mr. Man is all man
Between the toxic text pieces (how many different Kung Fu positions do we need to see?) and the reprinting of Shang-Chi's origin (which first appeared a whopping seven months before but Roy has the nerve to claim it "long-demanded" on the contents page!), Marvel was getting a lot of bang for three quarters but not delivering much. Or were they? The one original strip this issue is an untitled Master of Kung Fu story. Shang-Chi finds himself attacked by a gorgeous chick with an eyepatch and a gang of three badly-trained Kung Fu thugs. Shang takes about three minutes tops to put all three in the gutter but when Sexy One-Eye spills her guts, the Master is all ears. She takes Shang to a Karate parlor, a front for a band of rejects from Fu Manchu's laboratory. Now all deformed freaks, they long for revenge. When Shang wishes them well in their endeavors but explains that revenge is like eating a hot dog without mustard, their leader Mr. Man orders them to attack their guest. He ain't called the MoKF for nothing though and, one by one, the freaks go down. Apologizing just before his face is kicked in, Mr. Man (who definitely doesn't dress like a man) explains that they were afraid that Shang would rat them out to his dad. Tsk-tsk-ing them all the way out the door, Shang-Chi gets across the street before the parlor explodes. Thousands of miles away, Fu Manchu gloats. Wow! What a fabulous one-shot story this is, smartly written and sleekly illustrated. Mr. Man explains that he and his band of merry misfits have all been molded by Fu's experiments and I can only guess, by Man's stance and his cute little leather codpiece, what some of those experiments entailed. The literally explosive finale would certainly, as Fu eloquently puts it, give Shang "much to contemplate." Could revenge be a dish about to be served? Stainless hits the bullseye yet again! - Peter Enfantino

Monsters Unleashed 6
Cover by Boris Vallejo

"Always a Monster"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik

"Monsters in the Media"
News by Carla Joseph

"The Strange Children"
Story Uncredited
Art by Sam Kweskin
(Reprinted from
Adventures into Terror #19, May 1953)

"The Dinosaur Dictionary"
A review by Chris Claremont

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Carlo Freixas

"Panic by Moonlight"
Text by Gerry Conway
Art by Mike Ploog

"The Maggots!"
Story by Paul S. Newman
Art by Hy Rosen
(Reprinted from
Adventures into Terror #19, May 1953)

"The Scrimshaw Serpent"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Alfonso Font

This is complicated, so pay attention. I won't repeat myself. In our last thrilling episode of Frankenstein 1974, the Monster had had his brain replaced with that of a mouse (for the sake of my own narrative, let's refer to him as Fluffy), Dr. Wallach the mad scientist who performed the experiment (with his brilliant "Transposer") switched brains with a trapeze artist, and assistant Derek McDowell's brain now resides in a moldering, shambling corpse. Said assistant seems to be the least happiest of the quartet, (with Fluffy enjoying every minute of his newfound height -- he's hanging around in alleyways squishing brother and sister mice) and so heads out in search of the monster (he mistakenly thinks the doctor's brain is in the monster's body). When Derek gets back to the lab, he finds the trapeze artist's body and makes a switch so that he can wander the city unmolested (I would have sworn the trapeze guy was killed last issue but if you think I'm going back to check...). He grabs a rifle and finally catches up to our patchwork hero, shooting him with tranquilizer darts. Once back in the lab (here's the confusing part) he "transposes" the mouse's brain out of the monster and sends the monster's original brain back into his body. This displease Frankenstein's monster and he throws Derek against the wall, smashing his skull. As the brute is leaving the lab, the trapeze artist (now in the decaying corpse) awakens and, recognizing the murderer of his wife (which happened last issue), scolds him. The last panels reveal that someone else is watching the proceeding from afar, someone who claims to have orchestrated the entire drama. I've left so much out but, trust me, you don't want to know more. It would only spoil your enjoyment of this, the Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice of comic book brain transplants. If I was having a hard time keeping characters straight, how the hell was Moench doing it while he was creating the entire opera? I have no idea if Doug meant this to be chuckled at or if he was dead serious. You couldn't tell from the pretentious writing that opens the saga:

A diffuse curtain of languid fog shrouds the bleak stage: the squalid bank of the East River. Major prop: a bottle of dismal memories, from which long gulps of forgetfulness are taken by the supporting character: a seedy derelict with a one-way ticket to misery, his only possessions being wasted years and shattered dreams. The action: slow, sinister. A groping hand, bloated and corroded with decay, breaks the river's surface at the center of sad ripples... an ooze-crusted, stench-reeking hand of withering pestilence which belongs to the star: Derek McDowell.

Who does Moench think he is? Rod Serling? It goes on like that for a bit, the analogy to film, and then is just dropped randomly a couple pages in. There's a whole lot here to laugh at besides the self-loving prose. That ill-fated drunk at the beginning of the story, the one who watches McDowell's festering, pus-filled reanimated corpse rise form the river is the same derelict who watched Derek's clean-shaven, pimple-free body floating last issue! McDowell's corpse shouldn't really be moldering and rotting since, ostensibly, it had just been dumped in the river a few hours before. I'll buy the bloated part (even though Mayerik doesn't present the corpse as such) but not corroded and pestilent. And why the hell does the corpse rise in the first place? Should I be patient and all will be revealed next issue? When McDowell "transposes" the brain of the mouse from the monster, it's a really tiny brain. I assumed that it was the memories of the donors that were switched, not the actual grey matter itself. That panel of the pea-brain is a riot. After dozens of brain switches and pounded heads, we're right back to the beginning of the series, with nothing having been accomplished but wasted pages. I love Val Mayerik's art and it's a no-brainer that he should handle chores on this and the four-color The Frankenstein Monster but there's a danger that his work on this and The Living Mummy could become formulaic. Years ago, I read Steve Skeates massively enjoyable and massively kitschy "The Mummy Walks" series in Warren's Eerie and it had pretty much the same storyline as this. Only time will tell if Frankenstein 1974 will climb such lofty heights.

The other two new stories this issue are both readable. "Darkflame" is a genuine throwback to the Lee/Kirby giant monster days marred only by amateurish art by newcomer Carlo Freixas. There's nothing new to Gerry Conway's tale of a giant winged monster that rises from an erupted volcano but, sometimes, you don't need new. The same goes for "The Scrimshaw Serpent," a tale of revenge and sculpted demons, with an intelligent script by Doug Moench and sub-par art by another rookie, Alfonso Font. Both from Spain, Font and Freixas were riding in on the wave of foreign talent that invaded American comics in the early 1970s. This was Font's second, and final, contribution to the B&Ws (his first being "Shadow in the City of Light!" back in Dracula Lives #3) and Freixas would be back in MU #7..

The reprints, both from Adventures into Terror #19, showcase nasty little buggers. A curse on a small village turns all the children into cockroaches ("The Strange Children") and a scientist discovers that "The Maggots" are impatient little critters and don't necessarily wait until their host is dead to start munching. Neither story is worth reprinting. How hard would it have been to scour the pages of Atlas' horror titles to find quality stories? -Peter Enfantino