Wednesday, July 23, 2014

June 1974 Part One: The Giant-Size Craze Kicks Into High Gear

The Amazing Spider-Man 133
"The Molten Man Breaks Out!"
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

Molten Man bursts into the hospital looking for Ned Leeds, which saves a passed-out Peter from having a medical intern discover his secret when he loosens his shirt. Changing into Spidey, he squirts Moltie in the hall with a fire hose to get him away from Ned’s room, but the hot mess burns through the wall and escapes. Spidey swings away from the cops, checks on Ned and spies on MJ and Liz, who recounts the steamy story of Mark Raxton, aka Our Man Moltie, then pops in to MJ’s. Sent by JJJ to photograph a warehouse robbery, Peter learns about stolen isotopes from Ned, then explores the construction site as Spidey. He ambushes the volcanic villain [you were all waiting for that one, weren’t you!], but MM is able to hotfoot it away to the subway with a Raxton mask on and the isotopes in a satchel. Melting right through that, he ends up battling Spidey on a nearby bridge, deteriorating the whole time, until our hero webs the isotopes into the frigid river, leaving the melting madman to jump in after them, ending his tragically torrid life.--Joe Tura

Hey! Parker! That's Liz Allan!

Joe Tura: Without a doubt, this is one of the most iconic Romita Spidey covers of the decade to me. Then again, I seem to say that a lot, don’t I….The splash page calls this story “one of the most sensational Spidey-epics of all-time” and while I think it’s great fun, I also think Mr. Conway is in full Stan-perbole mode with that statement. That said, Andru is in fine form here, well-inked, and Gerry’s script is OK if not a tad wordy for an issue of ASM. Kinda feel sorry for poor Moltie, but not too much as he’s a nasty one. I guess it’s easy to feel bad for poor Liz Allan (that’s for you, Prof. Bradley), who is drawn quite nicely by Ross may I add. A good two-parter all around, bad inks last ish withstanding.

Scott McIntyre: Ross Andru is back. It was a nice break, if a little too short for me. Mark Raxton is Liz Allan's step brother, eh? Okay. And she "took a job as a nurse" to be near him in the hospital? Did they just happen to have an opening? No years of tests? No NCLEX exam? Molty's fate seems pretty conclusive, but he'll be back. They all come back. An okay story, but the art…oh the art….

Mark Barsotti: The Big Reveal: Liz Allan is Molty's step-sister, so credit Ger for connecting dots we didn't know existed, almost a decade after either character graced the pages of ASM. Beyond that, there ain't much for even Prof Joe to cheer about this month. Since Molty thinks an "organic meteor" (as opposed to factory made?) can cure his internal combustion, it's a wonder Kid Conway didn't decide to shoehorn Meteor Man into the proceedings...

G.C. musta flunked science, since he has Spidey think "...guess the radiation from my previous bout with the Molten Man hasn't fully faded," as if exposure to the Hot Stuff goes away after a good nap, kinda like your glow in the dark watch won't fade out unless exposed to light. Ask Marie Curie and a couple hundred thousand Japanese how that theory worked out, Ger.

Joe: Favorite sound effect: I’m going to go with page 22’s “SPAT!” which seems a bit tame for a foot making contact with a jaw, but after all, Spidey and Moltie are having a type of “spat”. Sigh…I cant resist, can I…A close second would be, if this counts as a sound effect, the next to last panel where the burning baddie yells “DOOMED” as he falls to his fate with a hiss of steam.

By the way, I loved seeing the word “monotonous” here (page 15), which actually won me my fifth grade class spelling bee, but I’ll have to give that credit to The Thing, not Peter Parker, since I had just read it in an FF book the week before the bee.

Matthew Bradley: Things are a bit better now that we’ve stopped pussyfooting around about who the villain is—although in this case it would be more of a hotfoot—and the change in artists from Romita to Andru between installments isn’t too jarring, but I still have some complaints about Conway. The minor one is that offhand, he seems somewhat sloppy about the effects of MM’s radiation on others; the major one is that he still seems clueless about how Peter’s Spider-Sense differs from, say, Daredevil’s enhanced other senses, even referring to them as “Spider-Senses” (plural) back in #114. The story actually leaves me surprisingly sympathetic to our Mr. Raxton, and feeling that he should at least have been given the chance to cure himself.

Mark: We get one doggy-ripped pants gag that's almost smile-worthy and two panels of JJ screaming for photos; beyond that there's zero sub-plot development that's always been one of the book's strengths. It's chase/fight/repeat between Webs and MM, who goes to his (apparent) death, neither missed nor mourned. Bring on that psycho South American, the Tarantula! And can the Jackal be far behind?

Hope not.

Giant-Size Superheroes
Featuring Spider-Man 1
"Man-Wolf at Midnight!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

John Jameson, enjoying a lovely high-rise dinner, sees Spidey swing by, drops fiancée Kristine in a cab, and starts feeling pain, even without the moon-stone! The web-swinger stops a robbery, then heads to the Bugle where Joe Robertson tells him of a series of attacks, and the appearance of Michael Morbius, and most shockingly—JJJ is being nice because Peter’s been nominated for photographer of the year!!! John goes into a nearby diner, where he changes into the Man-Wolf, then flees to a warehouse, where Morbius is waiting for him! Chapter 2, “Duel of the Demon Duo!” sees Morbius place the moon-stone back on MW’s neck, then bites him when he resists, with an evil plan in place. Turns out, the vamp found the moon-stone in the East River, to enslave the Man-Wolf and save Morbius’ life. Chapter 3, “When Strikes the Vampire!” finds the creatures heading to Peter’s college campus, where he spots them, changes into Spidey and gets into a donnybrook! He manages to snare MW in a web momentarily, and visits blood research Prof Ward, who get a visit from cure-seeking Morbius, with Spidey lying in wait! The equipment gets destroyed, Morbius angrily flies off, and Spidey visits JJJ to warn him about Man-Wolf…with his son in the next room sleeping. P.S. Peter finds out he didn’t win the award, but keeps a stiff upper lip, on the surface at least.--Joe Tura

Joe: Is this the one Giant-Size issue I remember the most? You bet your sweet bippy! I loved the Thing/Hulk clash from last month, but this one is my beloved Spidey! Kinda cool to see Kane back at the wall-crawler’s drawing board. But…building 666? Yeesh. Although I work very close to one in scenic Carle Place, NY, not the swanky streets of Manhattan, it’s kinda obviously ominous. And call me crazy, but why is moon-stone hyphenated? Boy, that’s hard to type, but for Prof. Bradley, I’ll do it, by gum! Sooooo many coincidences here, like Peter just happening to be around when the deadly duo zip by, that it’s almost hard to handle. I mean, it’s a good comic, but come on, Gerry! Nice action, nice art, a decent story, and great fun for the most part. Wheeee!

We also get a Rogue’s Gallery of “Spider-Man’s Most Fiendish Foes!” from Spider-Man Annual #1 in 1964, from “The Burglar” to Sandman, all beautifully drawn by Steve Ditko. Plus, more from SM Ann #1, “How Stan and Steve Created Spider-Man” which is a whimsical little tale that I always found pretty amusing.

Favorite sound effect: I love “ARRAR?” when Man-Wolf is puzzled by Morbius biting him. That’s some Giant-Size laughs, that one!

Matthew: In GS Super-Stars #1, Roy called this “the tag-team match that’s been planned ever since Gerry, John Romita, and I first dreamed up the concept of John Jameson, boy werewolf…” Rehashing the why-am-I-Spidey routine seems like a way to fill 24 pages, and Pete telling Flash he has to attend “Professor Thompson’s class” a slip of the brain, yet it’s a good story, and I enjoy seeing Morbius reunited with co-creator Kane, here inked by Esposito. Man-Wolf’s series debuts in next month’s Creatures on the Loose, but since Morby’s (in Fear) has him in another dimension, these can’t be taking place concurrently; the issue is rounded out with a rogues’ gallery and a humorous featurette from Spidey’s first annual.

Marvel is mixing its signals: the Bullpen Page is still pushing the rotating format, asserting that Giant-Size Chillers Featuring the Curse of Dracula #1 will alternate with Werewolf by Night and Man-Thing. Yet in “An Awesome Apologia from Our Erudite Editor,” Roy reveals that per a hasty confab with publisher Stan and the circulation director, “In order to keep each of our 35¢ mags on sale as long as humanly possible, it would be better if we made them three titles instead, on a quarterly frequency,” hence this debut. They will reset the clock yet again with GS Spider-Man #1 next month, while Roy announces that Conan will join “our brand new line of 60¢, one-hundred-page extravaganzas,” but they were not to be; his GS book finally appears in September.

Chris Blake: A reasonably okay Spidey story, with solid action from Kane. For these oversized titles, I like the idea of giving a different artist (ie not the current penciller of the regular title) a chance to portray the lead character, and I always enjoy a chance to see Kane’s take on the web-head. Man-Wolf is sufficiently ferocious (p 25, panel 4), and perhaps just as importantly, clearly distinct from our friend Werewolf (by Night). Morbius looks great too, with plenty of snarly faces (p 30, panel 1; p 31, panel 2).

From Morbius’ first lines, I missed the shadings to his character – the reluctant vampire – that Steve Gerber has brought out in the recent Fear stories; Gerry’s character is more of a moustache-twirling one-note. There are numerous unanswered questions here: how does John change to M-W without the moonstone? How does Morbius draw M-W to the warehouse? What is Morbius doing while Spidey is fighting M-W – wasn’t that the whole point, to keep Spidey busy while Morbius sought out Ward? How does JJJ find John, and carry him back to his office? I mean, it doesn’t take much for me to suspend disbelief in these funny books, but I need something to work with, Gerry.

Oh, one more thing – as much as I’ve disparaged the over-reliance on reprints, the Stan & Steve creative process bit continues to be a classic, with Stan willing to have a few laffs at his own expense (in a sort-of apology to Ditko, I suppose, for all those late-night “cheery” calls).

Giant-Size Chillers
Featuring The Curse of Dracula 1
"Night of the She-Demon"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

In England, a young couple are involved in a domestic dispute with the woman's father, who beats her when he finds out that she is pregnant without being married. When her boyfriend tries to defend her, the father punches him so hard that he falls back and cracks his head. As the woman cries over the loss of her lover, a mysterious ghost rises from the graveyard nearby. It takes possession of the woman and turns her into Dracula's long dead vampire daughter, Lilith! She drinks the blood of the father, then flies away as a bat. Lilith was slain years ago by a young Quincy Harker so she seeks revenge. Acting as a woman in need of help, she is able to bite Quincy and drink his blood while he is home alone. Luckily for him, Inspector Chelms arrives after Lilith leaves. He calls for a paramedic who takes Quincy to a hospital, miraculously saving his life. After later feasting on a drunk from a pub that tries to bed her, Lilith lures her father Dracula to a meet at a soccer game. The two discuss their past together as it turns out that the very same gypsy that cursed Dracula, and turned him into a vampire, is also the one that cursed Lilith and sealed her doom. Lilith's mother was married to Dracula in a prearranged ceremony, ordered by the Count's father for bureaucratic reasons. Once Drac's dad died, he cast out Lilith and her mother. After Lilith gave her daughter to a gypsy for safe keeping, she stabbed herself to death. When Dracula went on his rampage of revenge against the gypsies for putting a curse on him, the old gypsy lady turned Lilith into a vampire. Even though Lilith wants to team up with Dracula so that they can rule the vampire world, Drac wants nothing to do with her, and flies away.

Besides getting surprised by his daughter's reappearance, the Count has been busy on his own, wheeling and dealing. He seeks out a politician, Lord Henry, one of Dracula's secret possessed slaves. Not only does Dracula want Henry to get parliament to give him diplomatic immunity, he also requests his help in acquiring a Castle located just outside of London. The woman that owns the castle is named Sheila Whittier. Since she lives by herself, Drac drops by for a visit to persuade her to move on. Sheila piques Drac's curiosity as she seeks shelter in his arms, claiming to be tormented by some unknown person. Drac decides to make Sheila his new personal lackey. When he sees the scars on her back, Dracula leaves her be, but returns to the castle later. Much to his surprise, the man torturing Sheila is none other then Lord Henry. Somehow, Henry is able to fight off Drac's spell over him, but only temporarily. He hits Drac in the chest with a stake but misses his heart. As Drac is about to terminate his rebellious underling, Henry pulls out a gun and blows his own brains out.-Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: I can't complain when my favorite series (so far), pumps out a big issue of fun, basically a double-sized issue, even with the reprinted Marvel horror stories added to it. While the story dealing with Dracula's politician slave was a little lacking, the introduction of Lilith makes for an interesting addition to the cast. Will daddy and daughter vampire be able to co-exist, or will their fangs be at each others throats? Regardless, at least things are left up in the air for now instead of having the two hit it off and joining forces right off the bat.

Chris: Marv plays into the “chiller” title, and lays on the creepies throughout the story (as the drafty, gloomy castle sighs and moans – oooooooo). Lilith wreaks her share of havoc, mounting a body count to rival her dad’s on his best night. I thought it was a bit of a cop-out that Lilith would be able to surprise Harker, but somehow leave without finishing him off. Wouldn’t it have made sense instead for Chelm to have interrupted Lilith, before she could blood-let Harker completely? The father-daughter visit to the midnight football match (wha -?) is – to say the least – an odd choice of venue.

Best moment, of course, is Drac’s unexpected move to protect Sheila, when nearly everything Marv has shown us and told us should prepare us for Drac simply to drain her, and then leave her for dead, or reduce her to becoming another useful slave. Instead, Drac seems to have some other motive for keeping her among the living. As Marv presents another aspect of Drac’s unpredictable character, he opens an interesting new chapter for Vlad & Co.

The art is very good – a bit short of the usual Colan/Palmer standard, I admit, but Chiaramonte is on a short list of inkers who would be fitting to handle this title (Trapani, Janson, are among the others). My nest thought is: if you aren’t able to carry over the Colan/Palmer team to these pages, why not assign a different artist, and allow the story to take on a slightly different appearance? Dream choice for one-time gig would be Frank Brunner/Crusty Bunkers – hmm? Now how would that be -?

Marv goes to some length to describe how he’s trying to provide continuity for Drac’s incarnations between ToD and the b&w mag. The reader-screwing reprint stories here are hardly such stuff as nightmares are made on; instead, why not reprint a more recent story from the magazine (cleared of its PG-13 content, and colorized, natch), so that ToD fans might get a taste of some of these other New Adventures of the Vampire?

Mark: When is more less?

We enter Chillers #1 into evidence, class. Cut from month-to-month continuity, "Night of the She-Demon!" is a decent enough fang bang, and Lilith's back story (aggrieved gypsy woman turns innocent kiddo into one of the undead) is poignant, but I don't buy wheel-chair bound Quincy Harker surviving her neck-tapping simply because he's a tough old bird, nor does Drac's in-thrall minion Lord Henry going rogue and terrorizing Sheila Whittier pass the credibility smell test. Gene's pencils are fine, if a bit rushed (he and we miss Tom Palmer's simpatico inks).

Judged by the high quality of TOD, this one stakes by with a gentleman's C, but I'm guessing the extra Bullpen workload was a big factor in driving a killing stake through the heart of the Giant-Sized experiment: yeah, Marvel can print more books, but will they be good enough to justify our thirty-five coppers?

Peter Enfantino: For the record (and the completists), those reprints are: Stan Lee and John Romita's "Have You Ever Seen a Huge, Black Vampire" (from Mystic #25, December 1953) and, from Adventures Into Weird Worlds #4 (Spring 1952), "The Village Graveyard" by Russ Heath.

Ghost Rider 6
"Zodiac II"
Story by Gary Friedrich and Tony Isabella
Art by Jim Mooney and Sal Trapani
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

The gang known as Zodiac has recently been put in jail by the Avengers. Why is it then, that it’s members appear to have escaped, and are doing whatever they can to keep their leader “Taurus” Van Lunt away for life? Leo steals the money for his defense fund; Leo and Gemini take papers that might help his case. In Las Vegas, Attorney-General Barnett and his former F.B.I. son Dave are willing to drop all charges against Johnny Blaze if he will help them bring Zodiac down. Johnny doesn’t like being told what to do, and leaves with his girlfriend Rocky. Dave, previously captured and tortured by Zodiac, has lost all good sense, and won’t take no for an answer. He threatens to kill Rocky if Johnny doesn’t help. Johnny, as Ghost Rider now that night has come, handles Dave, and when he sees Rocky is unharmed, agrees to help. Taurus steals some bank vault documents that should incriminate …himself? Blaze shows up at this moment. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A curious mystery of why Zodiac members would want to keep “themselves” in jail is the main interest in this issue. Some angst between Johnny and Rocky about his fate to remain the Ghost Rider gives their relationship some grit. And we get a decent “repackaging” of Johnny Blaze’s story thus far explaining that fate. Still, not as interesting in my take as some recent issues, although leaving us with a good cliffhanger.

Matthew: After this issue, Friedrich the Lesser leaves not only the strip for which he is perhaps best known but also, for the most part, my radar screen, with only a couple of random super-hero credits (e.g., Iron Man #70, Marvel Team-Up #73) remaining in the Bronze Age on this side of the Pond, although he worked extensively on Captain Britain. I wish I could say that rereading his work in context gave me a greater appreciation for “Groovy Gary,” but the reverse is sadly true, and I think his failure to become friend and fellow Missourian Roy’s natural successor is richly deserved. For what it’s worth, this also begins Tony Isabella’s longest single run, which lasted until #19, interrupted only by a reprint for #10 and a Bill Mantlo fill-in for #16.

For the record, Isabella is credited as “writer” and Friedrich with the “concept,” which I presume refers primarily to the idea of a second Zodiac seemingly working tirelessly to keep van Lunt behind bars as long as possible. I have no recollection of where Tony takes this, so the jury must be considered as out, but I will say that unlike some (e.g., SuperMegaMonkey and, I believe, a few of our own faculty), I am favorably disposed toward the Zodiac, probably due largely to Englehart. In general, and the Omega Man allusion notwithstanding, this issue marks a not-very-auspicious GR debut for Isabella; the Mooney/Trapani artwork is by the numbers at best, and the whole business with Barnette père et fils feels as far-fetched as it does impossibly melodramatic.

Chris: The stupid near fist-fight in the AG’s office made me very impatient, as I felt myself being hauled back to Friedrichville. The nearly two-page recap of “our series so far” also wasn’t necessary, was it? Then we get young Dave threatening to strangle Rocky if GR won’t help him, which also was a stupid Friedrichian moment. As I turned to pg 23, and saw the vast tracts of text, I sighed aloud, and considered flipping ahead toward the end. GR snarls at the AG, and demands that he get Rocky back safely – well wait, wasn’t she just here two panels ago? Why were you listening to Barnett’s story (which, finally, provides a tiny bit of insight into Dave’s preoccupation with the Zodiac) when you should’ve kept your fiery eye-sockets on Rocky? The premise that gets GR to agree to ersatz Zodiac-tracking is thinner than the paper it’s printed on. Similarly, the goodwill I had carried with me from the very satisfying GR #5 is evaporating quickly, very quickly. Tedious .

The art’s back to being lacking this time out, especially when compared with the fun and inspired work we saw with Mooney/Trapani one issue ago (I can’t even blame Colletta this time). No need to go thru the whole thing, but check out how strange Johnny looks on p 6, last panel: he seems to have shrunk somewhat – look how much smaller he is than his chopper – he can’t even reach the seat back. The frequency of his change to GR, or the plethora of injuries he’s suffered in his mortal form, might have permanently compressed some of his vertebrae! Alas, there may be no easy answers here.

Adventure Into Fear 22
Morbius in
"--This Vampire Must Die!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Rich Buckler and Luis Dominguez
Colors by Michelle Brand
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Morbius, sent to end the threat of the priest Daemond, is confronted with a worse horror than Balkatar, the cat demon summoned forth to fight him: the sight of his love Martine, brainwashed into siding with the priest. The battle is fairly even, until Morbius and Balkatar are summoned back to his world, the Land Within, by the cat creatures own master, King Gerark. Morbius is brought along, at Gerark’s wishes. While Balkatar is set to die for disrupting the rules of summoning, the reason for Morbius’ arrival is explained. A sorcerer named Ebrok transformed once common housecats into cat-humanoid creatures; he created a number for his fellows for amusement. The cats, though, still produced in litters, and their numbers became a threat when they wanted their freedom. Ebrok and the others sent the creatures to the Land Within, where they flourished and became successful. However they have one problem: no population control. Gerark wants Morbius to prey upon them, reducing their numbers! He refuses and flees, but his hunger overpowers him, and the first murder takes place. Before Gerark can stop his citizens, they attack Morbius and toss him into the river that leads nowhere, except an escape, to where? -Jim Barwise

Jim: I was just praising Rich Buckler’s art over at Fantastic Four; as the layout credit here for L. Dominguez, the look here is quite different, if occasionally stunning, than the two-page look at the Land Within. The story took some unexpected turns, the realization that Balkatar and his people are not mindless killers prime among them. I suspect Martine’s faith in Daemond is a little less after he failed to overcome Morbius with Balkatar, whom I’m sure we’ll see more of too.

Matthew: Over layouts by Buckler, L[uis] Dominguez—an Argentine who apparently did several covers for the B&W line, although I see no record on the MCDb of other interior or four-color work—becomes our third artist in as many issues. Gerber sticks around for the foreseeable future to provide some continuity (impressive, when the lettercol points out he’s also working on five other mags), which is great, not only because I loves me my Steves, but also because I want him to have the opportunity to develop this intriguing and characteristically bizarre SF storyline. Fortunately, “Willie Brown Is out to Get Me!,” the Stan Lee/Al Luster reprint from Journey into Mystery #8 (May 1953), eats up only three precious pages, albeit probably more than it deserves.

Chris: Another issue, another origin story, another group recruiting Morbius for a task – and in this case, a fairly grisly one, strangely suited to Morbius’ unique, um, skill set. At least Steve keeps it interesting. I enjoyed the way Daemond found himself foiled (“Follow them – where? how?”), but I’m sorry that we’ll have to wait until we learn about Martine’s deal with him. At least Steve allows her to seem a bit ambivalent about seeing Morbius again; we don’t glean very much from her dialogue (she only has three lines in the whole issue – yes, I went back and counted them), so fortunately, Buckler helps us with his portrayal of her, as Martine appears to be feeling some concern. That’s right, the merry-go-round of artists has stopped on Buckler this time, prior to moving on to Craig Russell next time. I think this issue includes a few average-looking layouts by Buckler, but Dominguez’s vague finishes leave me with more questions than answers.

Fantastic Four 147
"The Sub-Mariner Strikes!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Medusa, Ben and Johnny return to the Baxter Building to find Reed in a terrible state—clutching the divorce papers she sent him! Medusa stays with Reed to try and calm him, while the Thing and Torch set out to find Sue and confront her. While flying over Pennsylvania, the unexpected form of Sub-Mariner leaps from the waters, attacking with a clear message: Sue Richards is his, so keep away! The battle is short, and Ben and Johnny pay a visit to Bob and Carol Linders, where Sue was staying. They recount how Namor had appeared and whisked Sue away. They return to tell Reed the news. Quickly the leader springs into action, tracing Subby’s whereabouts by the suit he designed. They then head in the Fantasti-Car to make the long journey to the Atlantic off the coast of Africa. With special Oxi-pills to breath under water and a special suit for Johnny to wear so he can flame on in water, they find their prey. He is by a fortress of sorts, and the fight ensues in earnest. But even prepared as they are, the team’s inability to speak under water lessons their effectiveness. Ben finds Sue inside the fortress and brings her out. She makes a stunning announcement: she is staying with the Sub-Mariner by choice; she loves him. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The first thing that strikes me about this issue is how great the art is. I used to think Rich Buckler was amazing (despite his direct imitation of many of Kirby’s panels; i.e. Reed on the last panel of page 17, reprinted at right), but some of his work thus far had disappointed me. Perhaps he’s rounding into form, or Joe Sinnott’s inks are the icing, I’m not sure, but it comes together here. The F.F., despite the loss of Sue, show here what a great team they are, working seamlessly together. The climax isn’t really a surprise, but somehow it comes off well. Some interesting stuff ahead for sure.

Scott: The splash page is like an awesome revisit to the latter third of the Lee/Kirby run of the book, with Joltin' Joe Sinnott complimenting the retro style Buckler art. It's a wonderful sight to behold. Only the Torch's red costume pulls us out of the illusion that this might be a reprint of some sort. Buckler's interior art shows the same dynamic character layouts that were a Kirby hallmark. The final panel on page 17 is classic Jack and I forgot how much I missed the man, at least at that point in the run, when his powers were unbeatable. It's funny how Namor's attitude toward humans is more peaceful when he guest stars than in his own book where humans are routinely responsible for making the lives of his people miserable. Sue is being annoying as all get out here, but at least the Richards' marital woes are finally reaching a peak. It won't be too much longer before all of this is resolved.

Mark Barsotti: Like a battered wife who doesn't know if man or monster is coming home after a few beers, I now reflexively wince when cracking the cover of the FF. Happy to report no pummeling this month, but like the relieved wife wondering if the brute's mended his ways or just anxious to flip on ESPN, I'm unsure if Kid Conway has delivered a good yarn or if, braced for more of the expected suckage, mere mediocrity seems a blessing. Let us probe deeper, class...

The Buckler/Sinnott art is as close to the return of the King as the Fab Four will ever get (save for an issue of What If...), and while other artists have aped Kirby over the years (at Marvel and elsewhere, with varying degrees of success), Rick Buckler is better than any at rendering the craggy, cantankerous visage of Benjamin J. Grimm in the canonical Jolly Jack manner.

Chris: Sue Richards’ return is welcome, even if it’s only for a few panels, and even if it doesn’t make sense that she happened to be hanging around the Linders’ house with her FF duds on (“I don’t know – say that it’s for old time’s sake, I suppose . . .,” Sue muses, wistfully . . .). With Sue back, we finally can cobble the FF back together again – uh, that is, once we figure out why Sue would say she’s got seaweed fever alluva sudden (“Somehow … I knew it all along,” Sue sighs, lightly caressing her needlework).

I appreciated the trouble Gerry went to, as he put Reed to work to devise a credible plan to locate the S-M, instead of the usual, instantaneous “He could only be in one place! Follow me!” manner in which these world-searches tend to happen. Subby’s undersea bug-eyed HQ looks cool, but why did he go to the trouble? Is all the closet space filled at Hydrobase already? The usual kudos to Buckler/Sinnott, especially for all the brawling, but I did find that the Thing’s look wasn’t consistent – his head seemed to be goin’ thru some changes, and sometimes looked too small (mebbe his fedora’s jammed down too tight on his rocky noggin, or sumpin’).

“Honey – uh, where’s Franklin?” “Franklin -?”

Matthew: Ironically, despite the apparent worsening of the Richardses’ marital status (although I know where Gerry is headed), I enjoyed this far more than any issue for quite a while, but would somebody please explain to Artie Simek that the possessive of “Richards” is not “Richard’s,” for God’s sake? Sinnott was born to ink the FF, and while Buckler is not their definitive penciler—multiple colossi have already slung graphite at the group—his tenure is most distinguished. For a guy whose own book is on its last legs, Subby seems to be popping up all over the place, e.g., Marvel Two-in-One #2, which is totally fine by me; with Sue estranged from Reed, nothing could be more natural than to rekindle that periodic spark between her and Namor.

Mark: Namor is far superior than any of Conway's forgettable (the sooner, the better) new foes, although why/how Subby was posed and waiting for an FF flyover in some lake in Pennsylvania is anybody's guess. Still, given Ger's recent lamentable offerings, one (albeit large) unexplained plot coincidence seems like a masterwork.

Sue filing for divorce is the next logical step in the disintegration of the Richards' marriage, and an unshaven, fighting mad Reed is a rare and welcome occurrence, and all this Conway handles nimbly enough. Yet Sue's presumptive kidnapping, sparking a top notch FF-Namor brawl, is undercut by her last panel declaration that she went with Subby willingly "...and I'm going to stay with him...forever!"

Sure, there'll be some fast-talking explanation for the kidnapping-or-not contradiction next ish, and I don't expect to buy it but "The Sub-Mariner Strikes!" is still a major upgrade from the offal Kid Conway's been serving up lately.

So, like the battered wife, grateful for a peck on the cheek instead of a knuckle sandwich, I'll take any relief I can get.

Dr. Strange 1
"Through an Orb Darkly"
Story by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner
Art by Frank Brunner and Dick Giordano
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Frank Brunner

Dr. Strange sits at home, meditating on the unknown dangers “out there.” He spends some quality time with his beloved Clea, and then goes to rest. While he sleeps, danger from outside strikes in the form of Silver Dagger, who steals the Eye of Agamotto and kidnaps Clea! Wong tries unsuccessfully to stop him, and when he comes to he finds his master Stephen Strange has been stabbed, and is near death. Strange’s cape and the Orb of Agamotto bring him back, but when he sees Clea in the Orb, Silver Dagger likewise sees him, and draws him inside. “Inside” means inside the Orb itself, where Strange meets a caterpillar-like creature, who tells him he is neither dead nor alive, merely trapped. Stephen refuses to accept this, and vows to break out somehow, much to the creature’s amusement.-Jim Barwise

Jim: Englehart and Brunner might well be the Kirby/Lee of the ‘70’s. The unity between the two is seamless, making for a truly wild ride. Silver Dagger seems to have done what Shuma-Gorath or Cagliostro couldn’t: trap the good doctor! It is early days yet though. The love Clea and Stephen share is obvious, and it drives him to go to any lengths to try to free her. The unconventional panel layout showcases Brunner’s art to the max. I would love to see that Dr. Strange TV movie, Professor Matthew!

Mark: If moving from Marvel Premiere into his own mag isn't thanks enough for our Sorcerer Supreme after saving all of creation from Sise-Neg, Englehart and Brunner further reward the Doc with a between the sheets romp with the lovely Clea. While Marvel's creators have creatively alluded to sex before (Steranko's Nick Fury gun-into-holster imagery springs to mind), Englehart's caption, "...Clea sinks to the floor, still warmed by the afterglow of love," has to be one of comics' first explicit acknowledgments that – to further Steranko's firearms metaphor – some gen-u-wine bang-bang has taken place.

After which, Strange promptly takes a nap. Talk about comics soaring (snoozing) to new heights of realism...

Matthew: Inked throughout by Giordano, and handsomely re-presented in a 1983 special edition, the Silver Dagger saga is the capstone to the Englehart/Brunner Dr. Strange, whose nine-issue run (not counting the framing sequences from Marvel Premiere #11 and Dr. Strange #3) is inversely proportional to its reputation. As both an incurable romantic and a guy who still chases his wife around the kitchen table after 25 years of marriage, I love how unequivocal Steve is about Doc and Clea getting it on. That and the bit with the rabbit are a nice prelude to the ensuing action, and when Frank puts the pedal to the metal, precisely paralleling his outstanding cover—which, sadly, is downsized in the reprint—his imaginative layouts are a wonder to behold.

Per Englehart’s website, “The comics series that Frank…and I co-plotted had become a hit and Hollywood was inspired to base [the 1978 pilot Dr. Strange] on the story in [#1-5], overlaid with elements from the entire run. This was an odd film. The plot and spirit were very close to what made the comic work, but then that got overlaid with Hollywood’s refusal at the time to actually do comics. So Dr. Strange is a psychiatrist (he’s familiar with the, you know, mind)—Clea ‘Lake’ is his patient—the Ancient One, played by the great John Mills, is a guy named ‘Lindmer’—and Wong wears a three-piece suit. But it’s a good made-for-TV movie, and would have made a good TV series. It’s just not—quite—Dr. Strange. Frank did [the] storyboards…”

Mark: Have to mention Frank Brunner's stunning, poster-worthy cover, and his work inside is just as good. The interior splash of the Doc tumbling into a black and white death's head is downright...I was about to say "Sterankoesque," but that's cheap shorthand, even if it makes the point. Ditto my previous comparisons between Brunner and Neal Adams. Not that I think Frank would feel slighted by such company, but he stands on his own as one of the best artists of this era, proof of which explodes off every vibrant page.

Englehart's story is fine's just hard to follow freaking GOD. Clea's rabbit from a hat demonstration of her mystic prowess is chuckle-worthy, and who doesn't love a widdle bunny grown large (and at large in Greenwich Village) and a smart-ass, hookah smoking caterpillar, lifted from Lewis Carroll? The new baddie, Silver Dagger, looks like a spell-spinning Red Ghost, but I'm intrigued by his claim that the Doc is a demon. Strange's escape into "unreality" to avoid death by stabbing opens another alt-dimensional toy box for Steve and Frank to dig through next ish. 

Chris: Now that Dr Strange has witnessed the Dawn (or perhaps the re-dawn) of Creation, what’s next? Well, he will meet Death, of course! But it could be that he’s fighting to stave off his own unreality! Either way, Doc finds himself trapped in a whole barrel of pickles as his new title kicks off. Steve masterfully explains how Silver Dagger is able to work his way past all of Stephen’s defenses. And who is Silver Dagger, anyway? Where has he taken Clea – why would he call on her to renounce magic, when clearly he has command of magic himself? Was SD able to draw Stephen into the Eye, somehow? Hoo boy!

If anything, the Brunner/Giordano art is even better this time than it was on Doc’s recent MP appearances. Giordano’s lines seem just a tad heavier, which gives the art more texture. I liked the way Doc’s descent into the Orb is mirrored so closely by the cover – since Brunner had to have created the cover first (so that it could be submitted in time for printing), he must’ve liked the image well enough (with a slight adjustment of perspective, so that we seem to see Doc from above him as he’s pulled down, instead of the side view we get on the cover) that he wanted to use it again in the issue. Do you suppose Brunner was thinking of Mothra when the caterpillar transformed? Just asking.

Daredevil 110
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

Returning with Ben Grimm (aka the Thing) from their unsuccessful attempt to take down Black Spectre, the mysterious criminal organization, DD sees a couple of members of said group in an alley. It appears to be staged; he manages to knock down the two and take them to police headquarters. Before anything can be drawn from the villains, they blow themselves up in their cell. As DD suspected, it was a ploy, for when he returns home, he finds the leader of the evil gang himself awaiting him (Matt’s identity having been drawn from the captive Natasha). He gives Matt his origin. When his parents had been exposed to a burst of radiation at one of America’s early nuclear plants, their child had been born mutated, brown and hairy like an ape, leading to his present day Mandrill-like state. This led to years of humiliation, concealing his great strength until finally his desperate parents abandoned him in the desert to die. He planned to trek back for revenge, but met a runaway girl who had likewise been affected by radiation, this time as a pale, fanged child. They immediately took a liking to one another, and lived a life of secretive adventure…until one day they were discovered. A group of frightened town people tried to shoot them down, and it was at this point they realized the girl’s—Nekra of course—power: when she felt hatred she achieved a near-invulnerable state. Mandrill’s, he later realized, was the ability to make all women trust and love him, with no effort. They killed the human attackers. Thus Nekra’s trust in him, and the Black Widow’s inability to resist, not to mention the army of women who make up his minions. Mandrill’s plan had been to take over a number of African countries and create a Utopia of sorts. When Shanna the She-Devil had foiled that plan, they created Black Spectre, to overthrow the U.S. government. A struggle ensues when DD refuses to join them, in which the powerful Mandrill escapes. -Jim Barwise

Return of the Master

Jim: A good origin tale, and interesting powers that Nekra and Mandrill were given, in addition to their great strength. I hadn’t heard of Mandrill before, so I was surprised by his appearance, despite the give-away clue of the giant statue. I missed Marvel-Two-In–One #3 as well, so I’m filling in the blanks as I go. Gene Colan remains the DD artist of choice for me, with his always-awesome action sequences. I don’t know why Mandrill needed to bring along a guard when he confronted Matt!

Matthew: DD mainstay Colan subs for a vacationing Brown, with unremarkable inks by Chiaramonte, and they wisely get the Thing (hardly the Dean’s strong suit, to say the least) offstage as fast as possible. The artwork displays a strange phenomenon seen in recent issues of Captain America, a two-page spread with oversized and curiously arid panels that serve no apparent purpose except perhaps as padding. Not a lot of forward motion in Gerber’s story, which except for the villains’ origin seems mostly to repeat or confirm things we’d already learned or suspected, e.g., the not-too-shocking revelation—pointlessly deferred from Marvel Two-in-One #3—that the “Master” is the Mandrill; the enthralled Widow is effectively sidelined.

Captain America and the Falcon 174
"It's Always Darkest...!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vinnie Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Still under cover, Cap and the Falcon are taken into the headquarters of The Secret Empire and meet the masked Number One as they deliver the Electron-Gyro. He reveals they are behind the efforts of C.R.A.P. to discredit Captain America and also gratefully acknowledge the Watergate Scandal for making Americans eager to see the government structure topple. With Cap no longer trusted, Moonstone is in place to take over as the hero of the people - under the control of the Secret Empire. As Steve and Sam are given quarters, they are locked in. Sam deduces it’s a trap and, after changing into their costumes, they escape just as they room is bombarded with lethal shots. They were brought in only so they could be killed by Number Thirteen, who is actually "Mr. Black," who "believed" Cap and let him escape with the Gyro. While the Falcon thinks he's coming up with "lucky hunches," in reality he is being assisted by Professor X, who is telepathically guiding him, since the Falcon apparently has a paranormal mind (which could explain his rapport with Redwing). After defeating a guard in a giant robot suit, Cap, Falc and the X-Men go find the captured mutants, strapped to a huge machine and drugged. They are quickly freed. However, the forces of the Empire arrive before the other mutants can fully recover and the battle is ended by Number One who uses the Atomic Annihilator - killing them all!!!! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The penultimate chapter in the Secret Empire Saga and it's a pretty good entry. The X-Men (part of them anyway) are well used, but our heroes take point. Things start to fall into place and we meet Number One, still shrouded. He is over the top, so I'm guessing he's really William Shatner. Nah, I know how it ends, but it's a fun journey getting to the finish line. The art is still solid and the characterizations spot on. As Cap finally "meets the enemy and fights back," he looks happiest he's been in months. Sneaking around and running is not his game. He was made to be a two-fisted defender of America, beating back all threats to democracy. Little did he realize who he would be fighting eventually.

There are some hints that Sam Wilson may have mutant tendencies, a thread that won't be developed for a little while. It is good to see the X-Men in action a few months before the old team is supplanted by a newer, more disparate group. However, if the Secret Empire wanted the Electron-Gyro so badly, and Mr. Black is one of them, why didn't they just take it and put a bullet in Cap and Falcon's skulls as soon as they brought them in?

Matthew: I may be sensitized by knowing that Steve wrapped up this arc sooner than planned, but I now find the penultimate chapter rushed and rather haphazard. The hooded-menace thing smacks of a 1940s serial (sorry, Professor Gilbert), although my planned criticism of the Falcon’s “inexplicable instincts” was torpedoed when SuperMegaMonkey reminded me that Charles’s telepathic communiques were then largely restricted to other mutants. Colletta has burned off any goodwill he recently generated, and his indifference renders Buscema’s pencils sketchy and amateurish, even the heavily hyped reveal of the evil gadget on pages 22-23, which just looks goofy; between him and Janson on Defenders, poor Sal’s been getting it from all sides.

Mark: Oh, the tentacles of the Secret Empire run deep, extending to Brand Corp. manager Mr. Black, who "believed" in Cap last ish only to now set up our heroes to be turned into laser sushi, deep in the bowels of the SE's desert headquarters. Fortunately, Professor X's telepathic warning, picked up by possible mutant, Sam Wilson, staved off that slice & dice, but by tale's end Cap & Falc, along with the extended X-Family, have all been felled by the "atomic annihilator!"

Who's gonna ride to the rescue now? Woodward and Bernstein?

Conan the Barbarian 39
“The Dragon from the Inland Sea!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

Riding through a sweltering desert towards Zamora, the City of Thieves, Conan is accosted by bandits. While the Cimmerian kills all of the men, his horse is mortally wounded. Attempting to walk the rest of the way, Conan succumbs to the merciless heat and a snake bite only to wake in the tent of Ben-Hussal, former ruler of Keshaan. Ben-Hussal recently abandoned the city with his niece Rachalla after the crazed priest Ghul-Azalel chose her as the next sacrifice to the angry Sea-God from the Vilayet Sea. The mercenary agrees to help Ben-Hussal gain back the throne but they are all quickly captured when entering the city. Conan and Ben-Hussal are tied to posts and Rachalla is left on a rock at the water’s edge. The barbarian breaks his bonds and makes his way to Rachalla just as Ghul-Azalel summons the Sea-God, a huge alligator. Conan plunges a sword into the creature’s mouth and the enraged reptile chases the Cimmerian and Rachalla onto dry land. The Sea-God nearly levels Keshaan until Conan uses a sharpened fence post to turn back the beast. As the injured alligator returns to the Vilayet Sea, it drags Ghul-Azalel — ensnared in a fishing net wrapped around the creatures leg — to his watery death. After the dust settles, a disgusted Conan calls Ben-Hussal a coward, claiming that he should have just killed Ghul-Azalel himself in the first place. However, Rachalla reveals that the mad priest was not only her father but the king’s brother. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: An exciting Roy original with outstanding art by Big John who inks himself. The twist at the end was fine but didn’t really seem to be needed since Ghul-Azalel had turned the fearful populace of Keshaan against his brother Ben-Hussal. I was a bit disappointed by the Sea-God’s reveal as a giant alligator instead of some type of unique monster. It reminded me of something that cheapjack filmmaker Bert I. Gordon would do to keep his budget down: “Forget about an actual dinosaur model, just glue some spines on a gecko.” But heck, the thing was at least 80 feet long so it packed a sizable wallop. The Hyborian Page is free of letters, instead offering a rather unapologetic explanation for the cover price increase from 20¢ to 25¢ and an announcement that sword and sorcery fans can now not only look forward to the monthly Conan the Barbarian but a resurrected Savage Tales (75¢) and the upcoming 100-page Super-Giant Conan (60¢), which will be published four times a year. Super-Giant would never see the light of day but we will be getting Giant-Size Conan comics starting in September 1974. By Crom, I’ll have to call out the National Guard if all three hit on the same month.

Mark: "The Dragon From the Inland Sea!" boasts more masterful, self-inked art by John Buscema and another gripping tale from writer/editor Roy Thomas. Big John's a giant in the field, so when he takes the time to embellish his own pencils, the gorgeous results - arid desert wastes that make you pant, squinty, stubble-chinned brigands who almost reek of sweat and sour-wine breath, wise, old noblemen you'd trust to baby-sit, claustrophobic tumble-down cities, goggle-eyed villains, faces contorted with madness, comely damsels in distress (in various states of undress), who manage to ooze both sexuality and innocence, and Conan himself, big and broad, by turns angry, lustful, terrorized by supernatural horrors, battling with wanton bloodlust, but always the living embodiment of the "noble savage" – are exactly what we expect.

Roy Thomas, conversely, may get less credit than he deserves. Conan is clearly Thomas' passion project, but the level of excellence he maintains month after month is extraordinary, all the more so given the formulaic limits of the genre. I make no pretense to S&S scholarship (call in Profs Thomas and Gilbert for that), having read nary a page of Robert E. Howard and his ilk's prose. Thomas obviously relishes the form and has mastered its tricks and tropes.

"The Dragon..." serves up some old standards: Conan ambushed and outnumbered, but fighting on to victory. He's rescued from some misfortune (in this case, snakebite) and makes common cause with the good Samaritans (Ben-Hussal and his niece Rachalla), who are engaged in conflict with nefarious villains (Ghul-Azalel), who oft hold power by appeasing some supernatural monster (here an alligator the size of a city bus) with the sacrifice of innocents (comely babes, chained to off-shore rocks as gator snacks). Conan and allies battle long odds to overcome villain and monster, with varying degrees of collateral damage and moral compromise.

We've seen this formula unfold in probably half of the almost forty issue run, yet Thomas always manages to tweak the template just enough (here, Ghul-Azalel is revealed as Rachalla's father) and presents the sword slashing, monster-besting action with such auctorial dash and dexterity (augmented by top-flight art; no small matter in a visual medium) that the results remain vibrant and exciting.

How does Thomas pull off this magician's trick? Who knows, class, but my guess is a boatload of talent.

The Avengers 124
"Beware the Star-Stalker!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by John Buscema and Dave Cockrum
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

As the Avengers and Libra try to solve the puzzle of the dead crime boss, none of them notice the large dragon stalking them from above. They search the temple for the "Star Stalker" the dead man mentioned before expiring and find nothing. Mantis, however, seems to know the temple and finds a hidden doorway leading to the creature. They battle, with the creature overpowering Thor and absorbing the energy from Iron Man's mightiest repulsor rays. The monster recounts his origin, of how ages past he met some pacifist Kree and looked to take them over. They fought back and drove him off. The Kree established two person teams and sent them to each work as protection from the invading creature. They were known on Earth as the Priests of Pama, who were able to prevent the monster from attacking. When the now-dead crime boss killed the Priests, the creature was then freed to do his worst. The Black Panther hits on the idea to use Zodiac's own weapon against the monster and, after a hasty call to Van Lunt in prison, they learn how to use it. However, the creature destroys the Star Blaster before it can have any effect. As Thor and Iron Man are defeated, Mantis attacks and to her own surprise, feels no weakness in herself and realizes she knows the monster's secret: he is vulnerable to heat. With that, the Vision uses his light beams to fell the creature while Mantis fearfully realizes she knows things she cannot explain. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The "deepening mystery of Mantis" continues as they throw doubt into her parentage a mere month after introducing the twist of Libra being her father. She's interesting mostly because most of the rest of the team are not. The Vision's grappling with emotion and humanity can get a little old and the Swordsman's whining is already irritating. The monster is reminiscent of Fin Fang Foom in design and his origin is complex for a character so quickly defeated. Without checking ahead, I have no idea if he's coming back, but he's no more fascinating than anyone else in the book. Van Lunt is convinced to help far too easily, so quickly, my eyes nearly scraped the back of my skull, they rolled so hard. No major complaints about the art, however. John Buscema teams up with the middling Dave Cockrum, giving us something better than the previous batch of issues.

Chris: Star-stalker sez: “I will destroy you! But first, I will tell you a story! Now, go away and leave me alone for a few hours, while I rest here and prepare to assume my planet-absorbing form!” We see that the Stalker can be bubbling in a burning, searing repulsor ray blast, but then proceed to shrug it off and state that it’s only helping to replenish his energy. Then, a full-intensity shot from the Star-Blaster gives the Stalker a laugh, as he declares, “Star-energy cannot kill me!” And yet – a single blast from the Vision’s (solar-powered) optic rays, and the Stalker drops dead. No, sorry. Doesn’t work. The Stalker serves no purpose here, other than to provide a possible memory-jogging opportunity for Mantis.

Chris: The whole business with the Star-Blaster offers some curious amusement, first as Van Lunt changes his stripes (see that – because he’s wearing prison garb – hee hee) and gives up the weapon (what – no mouthpiece present to negotiate an early release -?), then when it’s completely destroyed by the Stalker after SHIELD has just jetted the thing in from the far side of the world. The Swordsman’s pity-party is decidedly unbefitting a mighty Avenger. I’d rather have a petrified Dane Whitman on my team.

Thank God for Buscema and Cockrum – I was really, really getting desperate. These are not the most dynamic layouts from Big John, but at least the art is clear and well-defined, and all the characters look right. And that’s the point that I’ve reached with the art for this title – if we can count on the illustrations to be reasonably non-scratchy, then I’m willing to continue to read it, and look at it.

Matthew: Stainless “proudly reunites with two of comics’ finest artists, John Buscema and Dave Cockrum,” and I’m sure he’s not the only one thrilled with the results, a felicitous blend bringing out the best in both men’s styles. That Star-Stalker is a fearsome beastie, especially on the awesome splash page, and I love how he bashes Thor and Iron together like a couple of Mego action figures, although his shocking secret might have been a little anticlimactic. Steve spins his web with consummate skill, parceling out more on Mantis and the men who admire her, and while there’s no direct connection as of yet, the juxtaposition between revealing more about the Kree here and crossing over with the climax of the Thanos War next issue is quite delightful.

Astonishing Tales 24
It, the Living Colossus in
"Five Claws of Death!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber, Jack Kirby,
Gil Kane, Vince Colletta, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by David Hunt
Cover by Larry Lieber and Frank Giacoia

The gargoyles are gone, but Fin Fang Foom, under the control of Dr. Vault, attacks the Colossus, until a distraction from arriving police lets our hero dive to the underwater sealock to Vault’s HQ. Meanwhile, Bob O’Bryan is rolled to the morgue, but suddenly awakes from his “deathlike coma”, fails to convince Diane to leave him, and relives the Colossus’ saga. A thug looks for TV mogul Dorian Delazny about some “important business”, then FFF shows up in downtown Los Angeles. The Colossus shows up to save the day, and as the two battle, electrical wires shock FFF into no longer being under Vault’s control! He draws Vault’s face for Colossus, but the diabolical doctor kills his cohort and vows to one day inhabit the body of Colossus!—Joe Tura

Joe: Gee, I’ll miss the Colossus. Um, not really, although I’ve read worse. According to the letters page (THEM! The Readers That Wrote!), this is it for the Colossus in AT, but there’s the hint that maybe he’ll be back in the future. Oh, boy who can wait? Some wackiness ensues here for sure. Like my favorite line “How do you fight a dragon-sized David Carradine?” And the cop who can’t believe “three rounds at point-blank range” doesn’t harm Fin Fang Foom. Are you kidding? Why bring up a full page on the Delazny subplot if you’re going to leave it alone? And what kind of ending is that, this isn’t the story of Dr. Vault, why does he get the final word? Does he deserve it? Heck, no!


  1. Having begun collecting Marvel Tales only when it was already about a year into reprinting Romita's run on Spidey, that issue of Giant-Size Super-Stars was my first exposure to Ditko's art. It would be several more years before I read any part of his run on Spider-Man. I'm pretty sure my dad bought that particular issue for me while we were travelling from Salt Lake City to Edgerton, Wyoming, to visit my grandfather.
    Anyhow, the artistic highlight of this month's offerings had to be Dr. Strange #1, with the usual stunning Brunner work and another great story co-plotted with Englehart. Otherwise, my favorite comics from the time were the ongoing sagas in DD & CA&TF, each closing in on dramatic closings at the White House. Yeah, it would have been highly amusing if Mandrill & the Secret Empire saucer had arrived there at the same time. Still, I really enjoyed those sagas as a kid.

  2. The marital troubles for Reed Richards and Susan Storm are reaching a peak. Strangely enough, the Fantastic Four have as much chemistry with Medusa on the team as they did with Sue. Maybe Reed Richards and Medusa should fall in love and break up the Mr. Fantastic-Invisible Girl marriage permanently? Wouldn't that make for one shocking story line!