Wednesday, July 9, 2014

May 1974 Part One: The "Four Comics For a Buck" Era Begins!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley!

This month sees the advent of both the giant-size books and the 25¢ price on the regular ones, although you’d never know it from Roy’s Rostrum as the “33-year-old and aging boy editor” (or so he styles himself in Giant-Size Super-Stars #1) subs for a globe-trotting Smiley to enumerate the editorial staff. Associate Editor Marv Wolfman handles the B&W mags, while the color line is “mostly proofread and pondered over by [Assistant Editors] Dutiful Don McGregor and our newest nabob, Devil-May-Care Doug Moench...Carla Joseph…doubles as my secretary and as proofreader of our letters pages and reprints, [while] our hard-working writers [Conway, Gerber, Wein, Isabella, Englehart and Mike Friedrich] receive billing as Contributing Editors, as well…”

And Now May 1974!

Captain Marvel 32
"Thanos the Insane God!"
Story by Mike Friedrich and Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Dan Green
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Jim Starlin and Klaus Janson

As Drax launches a crazed attack on Thanos that destroys the observatory, Moondragon is hit by debris, forcing Mentor to care for her and send the others on to the Hall of Science, but a shortcut through the Eternity Tree leaves Eros caught in its limbs, so only Iron Man and Mar-Vell reach their goal. Mar-Vell observes that Thanos’s insanity and unfamiliarity with godhood have left him incapable of handling multiple situations at once, and reveals that he palmed the seemingly drained Cube when Thanos discarded it. Toying with his captives instead of killing them, flaunting his fleet, and boasting of Kronos’s capture convinced Mar-Vell that the Titan’s ego is his weakness (“What fun is there in becoming God if there is no one to watch?”).

The duo is beset, and Iron Man knocked out, by demons created from the floor itself; meanwhile, a renewed attack prompts Thanos to torment Drax by revealing his origin as realtor Art Douglas, slain with his wife in the Nevada desert for possibly seeing Thanos’s scout ship. His soul was intercepted by Mentor and Kronos, to be merged with an earthen-formed body, but his daughter, Heather, survived to become Moondragon, and the truth serves only to strengthen Drax. As the Avengers set out to repel the fleet spotted by Starcore, a hologram of Isaac appears and informs Mar-Vell that the demons will attack as long as he exists in this world, so he changes into Rick, who is teleported back to Earth by “Zack,” and taunts Thanos into returning to his physical body. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: This is Green’s last issue, back to sole inker, while except for the lettering and editing, Starlin handles “the rest of the mess,” with a final “writing assist” by the returning Mike Friedrich. Per the lettercol, “he’s throwing himself so completely into his art and plotting (not to mention coloring) that he’s decided he can’t spend the time on the actual scripting that he feels CM demands—so he’s asked his old buddy Steve Englehart to do that job for him beginning next ish. Steve, of course, has been chronicling his own cosmic-minded characters in Dr. Strange and Master of Kung Fu [the latter co-created with Starlin], so you know Jim and he will understand what they’re about.” Ensuring continuity, the story continues in Englehart’s own Avengers #125.

Steve told Alter Ego that Jim “had started off working with [Mike], then decided he wanted to write it himself. Everything in the book at the time I took it over had been brought in by Jim…except for [Mar-Vell] himself….Jim and I were good friends. We were young creative guys together in New York and we liked each other. We hung out together [as memorably recounted by author Sean Howe]. At some point—and I’ve always admired Jim for this; he was writing the book and the book was doing well—but he didn’t feel that he was doing as good a job of writing it as he might. So he came to me and said, ‘You’re my friend. You’re a writer. Would you write the dialogue…and let me step back and see what you’re doing?’ I said sure.”

Meanwhile, back on Titan, the climactic confrontation with Thanos begins, and it’s a corker by any standard, Exhibit A being that mind-blowing spread on pages 16-17 (above), the original of which I would kill to have framed on my wall. Drax’s origin not only sheds new light on Moondragon’s but also, after eight months, finally reveals the significance of some of the images in the amazing montage from #28, showing us just how many moves ahead Jim is thinking. He’s clearly turned the drama quotient up to 11, and I find the story conceptually as strong as the artwork—which is saying a lot—with its intriguing ideas about how “to fight the unbeatable foe,” not to mention an almost direct response to those who wondered why Thanos did not simply obliterate his enemies.

Mark Barsotti: In August 1953, Elvis Presley paid to record a two-sided 45 at Sun Records in Memphis as a gift to his momma. He wouldn't set foot in a recording studio again until January, 1954. Yet in our tale, the soon-to-be-murdered-by-Thanos-&-resurrected-by-Mentor-as-Drax-the-Destroyer Art Douglas "had gone to the International Hotel in Las Vegas to see...Elvis Presley..." in 1953.

I mention this factual faux pas because it's the single misstep in the otherwise masterful "Thanos the Insane God," which finds Gentleman Jim now firing full throttle on all cylinders with white hot intensity.

Chris Blake: A jam-packed action issue, without anything feeling forced or rushed. There’s so much going on, I wondered for a moment whether there might be extra pages. Along the way, we get a quick mobilization of Avengers, a mercifully brief check-in with Lou-Ann, and Drax’s origin too (!) without losing the story’s momentum. I get a sense of how carefully Starlin must have thought all of this through from the start – he certainly doesn’t seem to be winging any of it. I do wish we could have done without the “Go on without me!” moments, which we’ve seen many times before; plus, I have a hard time believing that Eros could be done-in by a few tree branches. It’s a small point, and didn’t take away from my overall enjoyment. 

Chris: Marv answers the Big Question: if Thanos has assumed a sort of Godliness (and we know Thanos is well short of Cleanliness), why not simply twitch his right eyelid and wink those offensive hero-beings out of existence? Rick picks up on the idea of ego-as-weakness, as he goads Thanos into re-incorporating himself, which might give our heroes a fighting chance against him – stay tuned!

The art continues to be great – if anything, the action sequences look better now than when this run started. Green’s inks are far above his standard. How about the sequence when Isaac generates a 3-D hologram of himself, which is happening in slim little panels while Mar-vell battles the floor-demons? And excuse me if I seem to be overstating, but the depiction of Madame Death on a rock column, with planets swirling behind her, reminds me not of Ditko, but Dali.

Scott McIntyre: Jim Starlin continues to cook with gas on this title, providing a fascinating origin for the Destroyer while upping the stakes for our heroes considerably. The art is cosmically delicious and the story is epic. Totally digging this.

Mark: The art, which was already among the best in the biz, is even better, and I don't know whether that's due to new inker Dan Green or Starlin still evolving toward the peak of his considerable powers. Either way the graphics - be they the jammed-packed twelve panel pages or the two page in space spread of Drax firing an energy bolt at Thanos - are stunning throughout.

This being the penultimate episode of the "Thanos War," the action is unrelenting as we race now toward the finish line. My favorite sequence is CM and Shellhead (before Tony is battered into unconsciousness) battling the goblin-like demons Thanny calls into existence, killing machines that can only be stopped by the ole bracelet-clanging switcheroo, since they're not programmed to target Rick Jones.

The story's so good that even Slick Rick's appearance doesn't elicit the normal groans, as the self-described "boy psychologist" comes up with the idea to goad Thanos into resuming physical form for next issue's climactic stellar set-to with Mar-Vell.

Any comic that can transform Ricky from grating annoyance to vital plot cog gets an A+.

The Frankenstein Monster 10
"The Last Frankenstein"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by John Buscema, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Just as he's killed the gypsy girl (transformed into a vampire in #9), The Frankenstein Monster is startled by the arrival of Vincent Frankenstein, the great-great nephew of his creator. Vincent tries to explain to the monster that he's here to help him and that he should trust him but to no avail. The creature attacks Vincent, attempting to throttle him, but he's stopped in his act of vengeance by Frankenstein's servant, Ivan, a giant hunchback whose power exceeds even the monster's. Once bested, the monster decides to go along with the duo but first insists they bury the gypsy girl. Afterwards, the trio hop on a boat and head for London, where Vincent, also a mad scientist, intends to carry on his uncle's work. When the monster realizes what's to happen, he goes berserk and again attempts to strangle the scientist but can't go through with it. With the help of Ivan, Vincent sedates the monster and prepares for brain surgery. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: What a mess this has become. Once one of the best titles in the Marvel stall, now a fumbling, bumbling patchwork of dead ends and bad ideas. At no point in this story does anything of substance happen. Halfway through the story, the required hunchback (every horror title has one these days), for some unknown reason, begins calling the monster his "friend." Is there a director's cut of this issue somewhere that has the excised panels that show the two breaking bread? The Monster can't make up his mind whether to throttle Frankenstein and we're the worse for the indecision. Gary Friedrich, who once had such a handle on this strip, is now feeling his way through a blind alley. My dislike of Buscema's Monster continues but I'll probably miss him very quickly when Bob Brown and Vince Colletta take over the chores next issue. Our reprint this issue is "The Face in the Glass," not one of the better horror stories of the 1950s (originally from World of Fantasy #12, June 1958), with art by John Forte.

Chris: Words, words, words – a glance at any page, and the first aspect I notice is not the art, but the clutter of captions and word balloons. Gary’s need to over-write doesn’t completely compromise the action, but it noticeably slows the pacing. Does he feel the need to compensate for Buscema’s approach to the monster, which has been less expressive than Ploog’s? While there are a few moments when Big John is able to portray the monster’s emotions, his value to the strip right now is about his able depiction of slugfesting. The shortened story is another cheat – we’ve had a few dust-ups with Ivan (I nearly typed “Igor”), and the monster got his passport stamped, but otherwise we know nothing about what Frankenstein has planned for the monster – how risky will this mind-transfer be? Frankenstein doesn’t appear to be evil (except for the maniacal-looking final panel) – but clearly, he’s aware that the procedure could fail. These unexplored questions create confusion, but not cliff-hanging. 

Chris: Boffo movie-poster cover by Kane & Romita – obviously, nothing about it presages a single event in the issue. Is this a desperate ploy to draw casual readers, or did Friedrich really not have a plot-outline ready in time, which resulted in a sort of generic monster-amok-themed image being commissioned? Seems like the same team could’ve come up with an equally engaging monster vs monster (ie Ivan) cover (I peeked ahead – this is in the works for the cover of MoF #11).

The letters page echoes a number of my recent concerns: the loss of the monster’s ability to express himself diminishes the unique quality of this title; the monster looks more interesting with colored shading to his flesh tone; Ploog’s absence is sorely felt. Roy burns up an entire column as he outlines a merry-go-round of inter-title penciller-changes, but the bottom line is: Ploog’s continued presence on this title would have made comics history – instead, the title is drawing closer to becoming history.

Peter: On the Monsters Mail Box page, letter hack Brian Earl Brown asks about the rumors he's heard about the monster losing his voice. The nameless correspondence opener has this to say: "The rumors you may have heard concerning our depriving the Monster of his vocal prowess were unfounded. It's true we had considered this possibility, but we chose to incorporate it into our present-day Monster series in Monsters Unleashed, rather than The Frankenstein Monster color comic" If this guy/gal bothered to read this comic book, it'd be quite evident that the monster had his voice box damaged by Dracula last issue and can not speak!

Amazing Adventures 24
Killraven/War of the Worlds in
"For He's a Jolly Dead Rebel!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

As the year heads towards 2019, Killraven and the Freeman battle giant mutant bats in hellish Washington, as the High Overlord orders Abraxas and Sabre to capture the rebel leader. KR discovers reel-to-reel tapes while Rattack orders his rodent army to cause KR’s death! Sabre bursts into a Freemen meeting and nabs our heroes, but Rattack attacks at the Lincoln Memorial, causing bedlam and a frenetic battle that results in the building collapsing, causing the deaths of Rattack and Abraxas and the first graffiti by Killraven! -- Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Probably Herb’s best issue yet of this series, to be honest, but maybe not McGregor’s. It’s not horrible all in all, but just not very exciting unless you like Trimpe-creatures. I do like the “Killraven Was Here” twist at the end, showing a little sense of humor in a normally humorless title. The battle scenes are OK, but not much really happens in the way of furthering our hero’s story other than dispatching some creepy bad guys. Hurray!

This month’s back-up story is “The Painting”, a Steve Ditko tale first seen in Journey Into Mystery #71 published August 1961. A greedy art dealer tries to buy a painting from a mysterious gypsy and when he’s turned down, tries to steal the work—but ends up trapped in the enchanted masterpiece! Hurray!

Mark: Still not full-length, but McGregor and Trimpe pack a lot into fifteen busy pages of Washington D.C. showdown, with Killraven & Krew against Magna-Man, Abraxas and cheese-loving Rattack. Killy finding Watergate tapes works in context while reminding us this is 2018, by way of 1974. Jack Abel's inks upgrade Herb's art a full letter grade. A ton of action, competently executed, but I'm interested to see what's next.

A nifty Steve Ditko turn-of-fate reprint rounds out the page count. 

The Avengers 123
"Vengeance in Viet Nam!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Don heck
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and John Romita

Libra is Mantis' father, once a German mercenary soldier fighting with the French in Viet Nam in 1953. He met a local girl, fell in love and, after they married, had a daughter. His wife's brother, known as Monsieur Khruul, disapproved of the marriage and hired assassins with flame throwers to hunt them down. The soldier was blinded, the mother killed, while the baby survived. He stumbled onto a temple of priests who trained the soldier to hone his other senses and, after years, he discovered his grown daughter was being taught every martial art they knew. Unable to communicate with her, the solider left. The girl grew to be Mantis. She doesn't accept this story and tries to attack him, brushing aside every Avenger who tries to stop her. Only Lira, who was trained by the same priests, is able to subdue her. The Swordsman, having heard the story, commandeers the Quinjet and goes off to avenge Mantis' mother's death. While the Avengers bicker over how best to follow the Swordsman, the dude in question reaches Khruul's lair and is defeated in his still battle-weakened state. When the team arrives, they find the tortured Swordsman, who admits he cracked and told Khruul all about Mantis' parentage. The Avengers hear the tortured screams of Khruul and then discover his ruined body, with a giant dragon waiting for them. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This is Mantis' origin? This could have been one of Flash Thompson's Viet Nam flashbacks. There's nothing overly interesting about it and certainly doesn't live up to the intrigue and mystery built into the character. It all lurches from one story point to the next. The Avengers bicker, with Mantis beating all of them herself. I can see giving Wanda and maybe the Black Panther a run for their money, but Thor? And Iron Man? Why, because they vowed never to hurt a woman or something? Ridiculous.

Matthew: As Stainless sagely observes on his site, “The cover says ‘The Origin of Mantis’ but the story inside says ‘An Origin for Mantis.’ We were a long way from finding out the truth about her.” These Priests of Pama intrigue me, because per the MCDb, Pama—invoked as far back as Captain Marvel #8—is the star system containing the Kree headquarters planet of Hala. Again, we see that Don inking Bob is only incrementally better than Heck’s own pencils (I love the unmistakably Brownian outflung hand in page 22, panel 3, but Thor looks like he’s just been goosed on the splash), yet in another inversion of The Conway Syndrome, Steve makes up for it, ratcheting up the abuses heaped on the poor Swordsman and offering ample inter-title continuity.

Chris: Overall, a much better issue than the recent Zodiac run-in.  Maybe Steve is warming to the material, as he introduces the Celestial Madonna storyline.  It’s always interesting to see another side of a villain, even a 3rd-tier guy like Libra; he makes a good point that his forgoing of balance to aid the team (last issue) should remove doubts of his desire to help.  The origin story’s tie-in to the Swordsman’s dalliance in Viet Nam was cleverly done; although, I think we’ve had our share of isolated monasteries providing superhuman training, haven’t we?  Did Mantis’ school have the option of a semester-offplanet at Moondragon’s – or maybe, an inter-planetary exchange program?

The art looks far more tolerable this time out – the larger panels bring extra spark to the action, particularly on pg 18 (ptam!).  And the Star-stalker – whatever it is, and whatever it might have to do with the story – comes off well, as Brown makes best use of the two-page spread.  I’d be willing to bet that Brown filled in as much of the pencils as he could before handing the pages over to Heck, so that there’d be less for him to scratch up.  Either way, it’s not nearly as hard to look at this time.  And next time: Buscema/Cockrum -!

Creatures on the Loose 29
Thongor in
"Lord of Chaos!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Vicente Alcazar
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Gil Kane

A mother grakk drops Thongor off in its nest as food for her young. There a bladeless Thongor battles grakklets using the jagged bone remains of their earlier meals to tear and slash lizard-chick throat and hide. Before the mother lizard-hawk can return, Thongor dares to descend the 500-foot-tall rocky pinnacle…

Having bathed the Starsword in the magic lightnings of the Mountain of Thunder, Sharajsha descends to Karm Karvus and Princess Sumia (previously referred to as “queen”). With “the Hour of Conjuration…near,” “when the Dragon Kings…summon forth the Lord of Chaos --,” the mage steers the Nemedis westward, despite Sumia’s tears for the missing Thongor.

Reaching the Four Dragon Isles, they anchor under cover of fog near the misty Castle of the Dragon Kings. Sharajsha passes a portal first, but loses the Starsword upon passing through a mist-veiled gateway seething with concealed “sinister life.” The trio is taken prisoner by the Dragon Kings, and their high priest Sssaaa makes preparations to sacrifice them so their “life-energies” feed the journey of the “Lords of Darkness…Bringers of Ruin” across “the intercosmic gulfs to Earth!”

On foot, Thongor follows a mystic river that empties near the Dragon Isles. As a charging dinosaur chases him into a cave, Thongor himself admits that “monsters always seem to be picking my options these days!” He plunges deeper into the tunnel and emerges at…the Dragon Isles! There he finds the Starsword that Sharajsha dropped when captured and swims to the gloomy fortress that holds his comrades.

Manacled to the Altar of the Monoliths, the three human offerings await their fate at the hands of Sssaaa’s “baleful blade.” The Dragon Kings’ “hissing chant” summons the evil faces of “the Lords [sic] of Chaos,” and before the dragon priest’s “three-pronged sword of sacrifice” plunges into Sumia’s “fearfully pounding heart!,” the Starsword “cleaves it in twain!” and “guides Thongor’s hand as its icy flame tears asunder the monoliths and their masters!” – “Even Father Gorm himself, the All-Hallowed Lord of Light, strikes from the heavens -- ”

With “...naught but ashes” left and “wickedness...purged --!,” the reunited quartet flies off into the sunset as Thongor sings the Song of Diombar – “The Age of Dragons ended then, and the seas with scarlet ran…The price of glory paid in blood as the Age of Men began!” FIN. -Gilbert Colon

Gilbert Colon: Finally, after eight issues of WHERE BE DRAGONS?, here be Dragon Kings! It is in their evil altar chamber that Lin Carter, as scripted by Steve Gerber, captures some of the Howardian horror that distinguished Two-Gun Bob’s fantasy from typical mythological themes normally dealing with everyday dragons or giants. The “priest of dragons!” invokes “Iao-Thamungazoth!,” one of the Lords of Chaos, and Vicente Alcazar’s art depicting faces peeking through the veil of darkness is effectively eerie.

Sumia, though on the way to human sacrifice, cannot help marveling at the Dragon Kings’ science as she passes through the castle’s council chamber, “…and even the cynical Karm Karvus gasps in wonder…” The old Arthur C. Clarke aphorism applies here: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” (In past issues, even the Nemedis is mistaken to be made from magic, even though it is clearly a gizmo flying machine.) Coincidentally enough, after exemplifying Clarke’s epigram, the trio is led to the Altar of the…Monoliths. If these monoliths, from a technologically-advanced race, are found in Carter’s 1965 source novel (revised in 1969), they predate the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, though the 1974 Marvel adaptation comes six years later. Oddly enough, any signs of monoliths in Alcazar’s art, atmospheric though it is, are not especially evident (though Val Mayerik and Wayne Howard, in issue #26, gave us a glimpse of their “monolithic cities of black stone”).

Since Marvel adapted the entire Thongor series from the Carter stories, it is worth noting that one letter writer in #28 (who enthusiastically requests “please change the name of the letters page…maybe to ‘The Lemurian Chronicles’”!) congratulates Creatures on the Loose for “following Lin Carter’s books very closely, and I hope you continue to do so.” Continue being the key word. “Is This -- Thongor’s FINAL BATTLE?” Gil Kane and Ralph Reese’s cover asks. The letters page says possibly, but historically the answer turns out to be yes. (One tell-tale sign of Marvel’s seriousness that this is indeed the finale is the absence of a reprint.) 

A letter writer in COTL #30 says about Thongor, “…there is no doubt this book will challenge Conan and Kull for the title of Biggest Barbarian Bargain on a Bi-monthly Basis,” but it was not to be. This issue ends with Marvel’s typical plea to “WRITE!!,” and even hints at future black-and-white forays a la Gullivar, but Thongor was as doomed as Lost Lemuria, not to mention Carter’s series of books which ended in 1970 with the sixth novel Thongor Fights the Pirates of Tarakus (followed by scattered short stories, the last appearing in 1976).

Marvel, however, does not miss a beat. “A SPECIAL MESSAGE FROM THE BULLPEN” reminds “those who…mourn [Thongor’s] passing into limbo [and] have not yet discovered our other sword-and-sorcery mags – we want to mention that we’ve got two other excellent titles in the same vein: Conan the Barbarian and Kull the Destroyer. You won’t want to miss an issue of either one once you’ve sampled them.” It would be interesting to learn if there really were any Thongor readers unaware of Conan and Kull, or who passed on Robert E. Howard’s heroes in favor of Carter’s.

From COTL #27’s “Creature Features” page, it sounds like there were unrealized plans in the works to explore the Thurian and Hyborian landscapes of Kull and Conan. In answer to a reader question regarding Thongor crossovers with Michael Moorcock’s Elric or REH’s Conan, Kull, or Bran Mak Morn: “Without giving away too much of what we have in mind for the future, we think it’s safe to say that in other similarly isolated parts of the planet, a civilization or two may have sprung up at that time. Just keep reading, okay?” Easier said than done, under the circumstances.

Thongor has fulfilled his destiny and Lemuria is saved, at least for the present. Really it is only a brief reprieve considering the continent is destined to drown as soothsaid by Sharajsha in issue #25, just not now. (In REH’s “Hyborian Age” essay, Lemuria is swallowed by the sea, with Atlantis soon to follow: “Then the Cataclysm rocked the world. Atlantis and Lemuria sank…Many Lemurians escaped to the eastern coast of the Thurian Continent, which was comparatively untouched. There they were enslaved by the ancient race which already dwelt there, and their history, for thousands of years, is a history of brutal servitude.”) At least Thuria and Hyboria are safe from the Dragon Lord menace, though they do have the Serpent Men to contend with.

Amidst the cataclysmic devastation glimpsed in Sharajsha’s magic mirror, Thongor also saw himself slain, a prophecy unfulfilled by the close of this adapted series that suggests the Night of Doom comes to pass within the Valkarthan’s lifetime. Short of anything else Carter’s original novels and short stories contain, this remains the best guess as to his barbarian’s ultimate fate.

Chris: Farewell, Thongor -- we hardly knew ye. On the letters page, Roy speaks generally about the process that results in certain titles being cancelled. He leaves the door open, suggesting that Marvelites write in to express their likes - and dislikes - for this series. I think the fact that they didn't print any fan letters says it all -- who knows whether there had been any to print. Sword-and-sorcery fans might have been satisfied with the ample supply of Conan content (and, to some extent, Kull), so that there wasn't enough interest left over for Thongor.

Yeoman's work on the script by Steve G. Vicente Alcazar proves that he was the right choice to succeed Mayerik on this title. The art is especially atmospheric at times, particularly as we reach the Dragon's Kings' stronghold. Special thanks to Prof Gil for doing the legwork, and providing the context from the source materials for this series.

Captain America and the Falcon 173
"The Sins of the Secret Empire!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vinnie Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Frank Giacoia

Cap and the Falcon's meeting with the X-Men is interrupted by the appearance of Nick Fury and his SHIELD boys, who have "the luck" in finding the fugitive heroes. The Falcon and the mutants vow to help Cap, so they team up to fight SHIELD. After stopping them in their tracks, the heroes flee to regroup and formulate a plan to solve their mutual problem: namely the actions of The Secret Empire, who seem to be kidnapping mutants, like the Beast, Angel and Iceman for their own nefarious reasons. The Secret Empire seeks to dominate the world covertly. They have been scheming in one form or another for years, troubling the Hulk and Sub-Mariner previously. After being smashed by Namor, they have regrouped under stronger leadership. The Beast's girlfriend, Linda Donaldson, has aroused the suspicions of Professor X. Cap and Falc agree to be part of a scam to get them into the confidence of Linda and then the Empire, by pretending to protect her (in their civilian identities) against an attack by Cyclops. After convincing her, they are visited by a hooded representative of the Empire and tasked with stealing an "electro-gyro" from the Brand Corporation. If they succeed, the Empire will reward them. They do the job in their costumes for weirdly convoluted reasons, leaving the factory boss, Mr. Black, a note telling him they needed to take the machine. He believes them and has his guards let them go. When Steve and Sam deliver their prize, they are invited to the Empire's lair, where, Professor X says, they may never leave alive!-Scott McIntyre

Scott: This is an excellent and complex issue, interweaving Cap's story with the X-Men's, giving us all sorts of reasons why our Merry Band of Mutants has been spotted so infrequently. Since the Beast's feature ended, leaving certain threads unresolved, it's nice to see the return of Linda Donaldson and the Brand Corporation. If I have any nit to pick, it's the whole "lets get into costume to pull off the robbery" thing. Fine, I guess we have to see Cap in costume, but it just seems weird that they would go to the trouble of going undercover with false names and disguises, only to slip into their costumes and effectively blow their cover. Didn't they think someone from the Empire would be monitoring them in some fashion? Wouldn't this smell like a set up to the group? Such a weird decision. Why would Cap need to leave a note at all if nobody knew he was "Roger Stevens?" Oh, speaking of which, if Cap and the Falcon are going to be on the run, they really need to get better at the aliases.

Mark: Be it known that your humble Prof has taken a certain amount of guff (believe me, class, the smiley-face propaganda of "one for all" clubby cordiality isn't limited to the Marvel Bullpen, it applies into the very halls of this esteemed institution, though if the Dean asks, I'll deny having said so) at faculty functions for having called Sal Buscema "a top flight second-tier artist." While I stand by that assessment, Sal's work this ish – inked by Vince Colletta - can stand cheek-to-cowl with his big brother's; its effortless, smooth, dynamic, and Secret Empire operative Linda Donaldson is a hubba-hubba hottie. "Meat and potatoes?" Sure, but whipped up by a master chef.

So save those water balloons for Freshmen Rush Week, shall we, esteemed colleagues?

Matthew: More than most, this feels like what it is, i.e., a segment of a larger tale, but what Stainless is doing with that tale—especially in his use of the X-Men (“still guest stars without a book of their own,” as he calls them on his site)—is excellent. This “war on mutants” serves several functions: it gives us a Marvel-Universe-spanning subplot that’s been bubbling up in various mags of late; it picks up the loose ends dangling from the orphaned Beast’s strip; and it helps explain why we’ve seen so little of Charles’s students while they’re between books. In the meantime, let the record show that I have praised Vinnie for some recent issues, but here, his detail-free style makes the oversized panels on pages 16-17, in particular, look off-puttingly bare.

Mark: After a run-in with SHIELD, Cap and Falc get the mutant-napping Secret Empire backstory from Charles Xavier and make common cause with the X-Folk. There's some in-disguise shenanigans with the aforementioned Ms. Donaldson (ex-gal pal of Hank McCoy), after which the silver-haired vixen recruits Steve and Sam. The SE pitchman shows up at their flophouse wearing a black executioner's cowl, 'cause, you know, he doesn't want to stand out as he tasks the dynamic duo (that ain't trademarked, right?) with stealing some electronic whirligig that Donaldson couldn't five-finger. Cap decides they should pull the job in uniform so if they get caught, "I...pray it's by someone who still believes in Captain America."

Guess what? They do get caught but – what are the odds, Stainless? – it's by someone who still believes in the old shield slinger and takes Cap's "please let us borrow the whirligig" note on faith. God bless America.

Englehart musta figured, in for a penny (dreadful), in for a pound, 'cause he give us an underground desert compound, accessed with that old fave, the fake, tilting cactus and ends with Professor X's last panel huff 'n' puff melodramatics, "Because Captain American and the Falcon may never come of there...alive!"

Corny as Iowa at harvest time? You bet ya, but via some unknown alchemy, "The Sins of the Secret Empire!" still manages to be a pulse-pounding page-turner.

Matthew: The lettercol explains Steve’s decision to wrap up the saga sooner than planned: “I wanted to do a story about Cap’s being attacked by certain unscrupulous politicians—men who hated this powerful symbol’s not being under their control….[T]his was [c. Christmas 1972], before most of the country had recognized the significance of the Watergate scandal. Thus, in those more trusting times, it was eventually decided that Cap’s enemies could not be government officials—and they became advertising men….[A]fter I locked myself into this plotline and began work on it, Watergate [broke] wide open, and each day’s new revelations have slowly but surely changed America’s understanding of itself….[making] the underlying assumptions of my plot obsolete.”

Daredevil 109
"Dying for Dollar$!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Bob Brown and Don Heck
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Having been “ambushed” by members of the gang Called Black Spectre, Daredevil and the Beetle, who had been fighting each other, are left without what was the prize the latter was trying to steal: the government plates to print cash. The Beetle manages to escape. Now as Matt Murdock, DD visits Foggy Nelson, recovering in hospital. They discuss some photos showing popular public landmarks that have been defaced by marks indicating Black Spectre’s presence. Foggy’s nurse tells them of another incident happening on Wall Street now, and as Matt makes his exit he gets a date with Candace, Nelson’s sister coming for a visit. The incident in question is members of Black Spectre tossing piles of money from a rooftop down to the streets below, causing chaos. While DD tackles the gang members to stop the source of the trouble, an unexpected ally in the form of the Beetle shows up, with a personal grudge against Black Spectre for taking the government plates from him. Against the two of them, the gang members retreat, but any thoughts DD might have of the Beetle as an ally are short-lived, as his old foe wallops him and takes off again. DD awakes to find San Fran’s Commissioner O’Hara, back from Africa and here in New York to help. The dramatic entrance of his niece Shanna O’Hara, aka Shanna the She-Devil takes renders them speechless. What no one else yet knows is that the Black Widow has been taken prisoner by Black Spectre, personally kidnapped by a deadly woman named Nekra, Priestess of Darkness. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I don’t know how interesting Black Spectre’s going to be when we get to the bottom of them, but in the meantime there’s a lot of new developments this issue that are. Being back in New York for DD is the start; his breakup with Natasha is still up in the air I’d say. Enter Foggy’s mystery sister Candace, whose presence might just send the Widow to the dark side if Matt and Candace start dating. And Nekra is a scary character when Natasha’s best efforts don’t even faze her. Shanna’s entrance is a fitting ending, promising more action for next time.

Cheesecake, albeit badly drawn cheesecake,
returns at last to Marvel University!

Matthew: The whole Dark Messiah/Angar/Ramrod/Kraven/Broderick/Terrex sequence is really one big story that was begun by Conway, commingled with Englehart’s Avengers, and contained a healthy dose of Starlin, so although Steve has been writing Hornhead for a year, he seems only now to be emerging from their shadows. But nothing makes the book feel more Gerberized than this month’s crossover with the fledgling Marvel Two-in-One, which in turn picks up the pieces of the orphaned Shanna’s mag that Steve took over at the end. According to the MTIO lettercol, Steve wrote that entry specifically to draw people to this book (whose shift in focus away from overt SF elements has already enabled it to return to monthly status next issue).

The Defenders 13
"For Sale: One Planet--Slightly Used!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Nighthawk comes to the sanctum sanctorum of Doctor Strange with a troubling story: his Squadron Sinister mates, Dr. Spectrum, The Whizzer, and Hyperion have all escaped the bonds that had long been holding them prisoner with the aid of an extraterrestrial named Nebulon (subtitled The Celestial Man). IN exchange for their freedom, the Squadron has agreed to deliver the earth to the alien by melting the polar icecaps and drowning all life. Enlisting the aid of the Sub-Mariner, The Hulk, and Valkyrie, Dr. Strange heads to the Arctic in an attempt to thwart the Squad's evil plans. After a vicious battle, the Defenders have the high hand until Nebulon appears and encases the quartet in an "energy-globe." -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Wow! I never read this title when I was a kid as I didn't like the art and the line-up never floated my boat. I was a lot smarter than I give myself credit for sometimes. A boring, cliched story with sketchy, ugly visuals (no matter how many times I see Sal's version of The Hulk, I'll never get used to it), this one seems to exist only to fill the pages of a monthly title. Nighthawk needs desperately to talk rationally to The Defenders so, in Mighty Marvel Manner, he destroys the front door (later giving a really lame excuse for his actions). Dr. Strange has to plead to Namor to join their merry band for (what issue number are we on?) the thirteenth time and I'm sure Subby will ditch the gang once this forgettable adventure is wrapped up. The global destruction scenario brings up the old problem we always had with these dramas: where are The Avengers, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man? Yes, I know Nighthawk is incapable of contacting The Avengers because of some invisible shield created by Nebulon but Strange can pick up a phone. Imagine you're Peter Parker or Reed Richards, having a beer and watching All in the Family when a giant wave comes down Broadway. You're gonna be pissed you weren't invited to the hoedown. By the way, was Nighthawk's real power making his foes laugh themselves to death when they saw his beak? Len Wein was better than this in the mid-70s.

Matthew: Perhaps the most notable aspect of Wein’s tenure on the book—inevitably overshadowed by Englehart and Gerber on either side—is his use of personnel. On the one hand, Len pushes the “non-team” envelope by having them fight alongside the likes of future regular Daimon Hellstrom (whose own strip was, ironically, then being written by Gerber) and Luke Cage; on the other, he finally completes the core quartet with reformed villain Nighthawk, whose rehabilitation began anonymously last issue. Jungle Action notwithstanding, I’m reminded of why I have such a Pavlovian antipathy toward Janson, who here defaces poor Sal’s pencils on the title for the first time, and whose besmirchment of Dr. Strange is always especially egregious.

Chris: A number of firsts this time, as Nighthawk arrives (don’t worry, he’ll soon be trading in the Most Terrible Color-Combo Costume for a more agreeable-looking model).  Len hits a lot of the right notes from the start: the Hulk’s concern for Val; Val’s berating of Nighthawk for his needlessly showy entrance; Doc’s desire to conclude the fight quickly – not only because he doesn’t want his house trashed, but because he perceives Nighthawk’s cause as legitimate.  Len also does a nimble job of anticipating readers’ questions, particularly why the Squad Sin need Nighthawk, why Nighthawk seeks out the Defenders for help, and why Nebulon requires a task from the Squad (first appearance also for Nebulon, who causes his share of problems for the Defenders over the next year or two).

The Squadron is always a welcome opponent; they aren’t overused, plus they’re powerful enough to match-up well against other teams.  (A personal bonus: we’re drawing ever closer to the Squad’s next appearance in the Avengers, which coincides with the GPE [George Perez Era] on that title).  I didn’t realize until fairly recently that the SquaSis were designed as a knock on the Justice League, and I can see that: Mr Incredible Everything, Capt Handtool, Superfastguy, Cape and Cowl Character (was there a female member that I have since forgotten -?).  Since there has always been so much “borrowing” of supertypes between Marvel and DC, I didn’t really note the reference in this instance.

The last first in Def #13 is Klaus Jansen’s addition to the rotating inker ranks.  Klaus has his detractors (and I am among them, in other instances), but I feel that his work with Sal (and later, Keith Giffen) on Defenders ranks up there with his best work for Marvel.  The heavier shadings work well for all the characters, particularly Hulk and Doc.

Fantastic Four 146
"Doomsday: 200 Degrees Below!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Ternak and his people--Abominable Snowmen, have captured the Human Torch and Medusa in the Himalayas. Just as they are about to be frozen by the Climate Cannon that Ternak plans to use to reduce the temperature of all of Earth to a freezing level, Johnny manages to flame on and save them. They handle most of the creatures, and Medusa tosses a boulder that damages the canon. The two then conceal themselves while more creatures look for them. Still lost in these underground caverns, the duo decide to trust a female creature that leads them through crystalline rock tunnels to a cavern that houses the ancient monk known as the Master. No longer truly alive, he had been taken by those of the creatures that believed in him and kept medically “alive” by their science. He provides them with a weapon that will enable them to defeat Ternak. In the meantime the creatures on the surface that are searching the remains of the Pogo Plane accidentally set off the F.F.’s emergency flare, which attracts the attention of the nearby Thing. He fights his way into the caverns below, where he and Johnny distract Ternak enough for Medusa to activate the device the Master gave them. It changes the Yeti creatures into humans, negating their need to freeze the Earth and their aggressive nature as well. -Jim Barwise

Jim: A nice wrap-up to Ternak and his plans. Somehow, with climate as complex and changing as it is, it’s hard to believe that a one-time canon could forever put the world in a deep freeze. That Yeti’s must be cold with no fur and only shorts on! The big surprise is the Master’s survival (I keep wanting to call him the Ancient One). While it doesn’t totally make sense, his humanity seems to have survived intact, and his musings about how our choices affect others parallels Johnny’s coming to terms with Reed’s actions about his son Franklin.

Matthew: It’s pretty depressing when the highlight of Gerry’s story might be Johnny admitting the possibility that he’s been, dare I say it, a douche regarding Reed’s actions, a conclusion he should have reached long ago, considering the probable alternative. Either Medusa’s done a quick costume-change offstage or her erstwhile bare legs have been recolored purple to persuade us that she was not, in fact, dressed for the beach when they began their Himalayan outing…or maybe it’s just hypothermia. Ternak wants to freeze the Earth, Nebulon wants to flood it over in Defenders this month, and the sorta-dead deus ex machina geezer basically says, “I coulda taken care of this a while ago but was kinda hoping I wouldn’t have to.”

Chris: An okay conclusion to the two-parter. At least we got the Thing back – although, why the shadowy secrecy when he (inexplicably) arrives to join the fight (how did he get there – Sherpa Express?)? We know it’s not Aunt Petunia throwing the snowmen around. The cooler cannon makes even less sense, once its function is described – pretty silly, really, the idea that a device the size of a small zamboni could instantaneously trigger a new ice age. I could’ve gone with the idea that a major city, say, could be dropped to -273° C (ie absolute zero) – that would be serious enough. Andru’s illustration of the coming anti-conflagration doesn’t help, as his handful of figures with an ice-coating is supposed to say it all. The depiction of a few cars with snow on them could’ve been from this past February – not a glimpse into the End of All Times (although, it was a pretty bitchin’-awful winter).

Mark: If Wikipedia can be trusted, Kid Conway's reign of terror on the FF ends with issue #152 and I don't care who's on deck in the Bullpen, it has to be an upgrade. From Medusa's spontaneously-generating tights, to Ben suddenly showing up in the Himalayas, with nary a word about how he tracked Red and Johnny or his mode of travel, to the Yetis being magically transmogrified into swimsuit-wearing humans, "Doomsday: 200 Degrees Below!" continues Conway's bulldozer deconstruction, reducing what was once truly "The World's Greatest Comic Magazine!" to a complete and utter horrorshow.

It's: asinine, batshit, childish, daft, empty, foolish, gangrenous, harebrained, insipid, jejune, knavish, laudanum-laced, moronic, noxious, odious, puke-inducing, quackery, rancid, stuporous, trite, unclean, vacuous, weak, xerodermic, yucky, and a big fat zero.

I peeked and Tony Isabella takes over on #153. Without a trace of irony, let me proclaim in a Black Bolt scream that I can't frickin' wait. 

Giant-Size Super-Stars 1
The Fantastic Four in
"The Mind of the Monster!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Exhausted and mentally beat, Bruce Banner arrives at The Baxter Building with the hope that Reed Richards can help banish the Hulk from his life forever. Unfortunately, he finds Reed out on an errand but, while speaking with Ben Grimm, discovers that Big Brain has just invented a Psi-Amplifier, the exact same gizmo Bruce had been envisioning could cure him! Thanking his lucky stars and convincing Ben that the machine could cure him as well, the duo hook themselves up but, just as the experiment gets underway, Banner transforms into the Hulk, destroying the machine in the process. When the dust clears, The Hulk's brain is in The Thing's body and vice versa. A whale of a battle ensues, culminating in two rounds in Madison Square Garden, when finally Reed, Johnny, and Medusa catch up to the fighting behemoths. Reed immediately figures out what's going on and injects the Hulk (in Grimm's body) with a tranquilizer, thus ending the mind switch. -Peter Enfantino

Sure looks like The King!
Peter: There are quite a few "Yeah, right"s we could discuss (Why would the tranqu send the minds back into the right bodies? Why would The Thing want to be Ben again when we all know the second he remembers Alicia likes him better as a big rock he'll want to be a monster again? What makes Bruce Banner suddenly decide, "right, I'm sick of being the Hulk!" after all these years? Why does Thundra always look like she's doing aerobics?) but, really, who cares? This is a fun romp, the kind comic books were made for. Buckler and Sinnott do a fabulous job making The Thing look like The Hulk. He's got a really mean, nasty face on throughout, a look befitting the greenskin goliath more than Ben Grimm. I can still remember where I bought this issue and the glory of lying on the living room rug, taking in its four-color fantasticalness. Forget about the supporting characters (Gerry sure did), this is The Thing and The Hulk in perhaps their greatest battle.

Matthew: The 20-month era of the giant-size books begins in its 48-page (sans covers), 35¢ format. The 24-page story is but the latest in a long line of let’s-cure-Ben-and/or-Bruce and Hulk-vs.-Thing yarns; since those two squared off less than a year ago in Marvel Feature #11, it’s to their credit that usual suspects Conway, Buckler, and Sinnott mix it up a little with the mind-switching, and by allowing Rich to “depict ol’ Greenskin more or less in the same style in which he appeared in the first few issues of his own mag, ’way back in 1962-63—hairy chest and all…” The issue is capped off with a rogues’ gallery from the FF’s first eight issues (best line, from the Miracle Man entry, reads, “Real Name: Who cares?”).

Chris: Not another Thing vs Hulk fight – we all know that the Hulk is stronger, because he can – uh, wait, hold on, Gerry’s finally come up with a variation on the same-old bust-up between the two fisticuffers. It doesn’t really have to make sense, does it? It’s good fun. I’m even willing to overlook the fact that a hypodermic needle intended for a human boxer couldn’t possibly pierce the missile-proof skin of the Hulk. Nice to see the return of Thundra, although we’re left wondering what her “mission” was about; she’s about to assume recurring-character status, so I figure we’ll find out soon enough. Medusa is left with nothing to do – again. The Buckler/Sinnott art is at its Kirbiest.

For Dean Pete's money, the best panel of the month!

Scott: For the first time, Rich Buckler disappoints with his art. His work on the Hulk relies far too heavily on Jack Kirby's prior work as reference. I haven't seen imitation this obvious on Greenskin since Dick Ayers penciled the Hulk's book a few years earlier. He also doesn't grasp the concept of Bruce Banner being a skinny "milksop." He's built like the average Marvel hero.

Matthew: Whole lotta editorializin’ goin’ on, as Roy reprints his Comicollector review of FF #1, written as a “spanking-new magna cum laude college grad,” and gives fascinating insight into the protean early days of the GS line. He states what I thought I recalled (but, as is my wont, did not jump ahead to confirm) when writing my Sunday Special: it was modeled on the rotating Four in One format that launched McCloud and morphed into The NBC Mystery Movie. This was planned as a monthly showcase for the FF, Spider-Man, and Conan, alternating quarterly, yet what was advertised as the second issue appears next month as GS Super-Heroes Featuring Spider-Man #1, with GS Chillers Featuring the Curse of Dracula as its “colorfully creepy companion mag.”

The Amazing Spider-Man 132
"The Master Plan of the Molten Man!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Romita, Paul Reinman, and Tony Mortellaro
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

A cold-ridden Spider-Man swings by the Museum of Natural History, where police are investigating stolen meteor remnants, surrounded by scorched metal and burnt-in footprints, giving Spidey an idea about the culprit. Heading to his pad, Peter is approached by none other than Liz Allen (from 100 plus issues ago!) at the same time angry Mr. Raxton is annoyed by the cleaning lady in his lower West Side apartment. A frightened and exhausted Liz passes out in Mary Jane’s apartment, while ace reporter Ned Leeds checks out a tip at a hotel room that blows up! Peter is asked to meet him as a shutterbug, but he changes into Spidey, who finds Neds passed out with burns on his neck—from The Molten Man, Raxton himself! The hot mess has evolved, so that his skin has changed and his body heat is over 300 degrees F. The two engage in a heated battle, until Molten Man trips and flies out of the wall, saved by a nearby hydrant. Spidey saves Ned, taking him to the hospital as Peter, but passes out in the hall due to radiation poisoning! --Joe Tura

Joe: Lo, the heavy inks that hath ruined my beloved Jazzy John’s perfect guest-star pencils doth make mine orbs burn like the footsteps of the man of moltenness. I mean, geez, so many dark panels, Peter has mud thrown in his face, the flashback pix look like blurry photos, and even my beloved hotsie-totsie redhead MJ looks like she smells something rancid throughout. Sigh…

However, we still get the trademark Romita action scenes and iconic Spidey poses, which are always a welcome sight, if even for one issue. Not that I’m minding Andru, but it’s Romita, man! Conway’s script is OK, bringing back a moldy-oldie (moltie-oldie?) villain and offering up Stan-esque theater-inspired captions that make him sound like he’s Derek Jacobi as the Chorus in Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V”. (How’s that for a pop culture reference no one will get!) And speaking of muses of fire (see Shakespeare’s first line, kids), I have no problem with Molten Man coming back. I mean, why the heck not? At the very least, Liz Allen is a nice blast from the past, although relegating the Harry subplot to the cutting room floor for a month. All in all, a decent first chapter that leaves us hanging big time.

Joe: Favorite sound effect: “SPUUSH!” as Moltie falls on his burning buttocks, right into a fire hydrant that lets off a burst of steam that allows him to escape. Yep, just like the sound Hamlet made when he first encountered Yorick’s skull.

By the way, I can’t believe my parents didn’t let me get the Spidey Marvel Medallion-coin! I mean geez, who wouldn’t want “The Invincible Spider-Man” on a solid-bronze collector’s item! Don’t worry, Prof. Flynn, you can still get the Conan one—only $2.50! Adjusted for inflation…$3.34!

Matthew: Okay, I was looking forward to a nice, straightforward Molten Man story, so I’m hoping I can blame my disappointment (none of which, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, is due to the art by Romita and Reinman, with an “assist” by Mortellaro) on cuts in the Marvel Tales reprint and give Gerry the benefit of the doubt. Based on the evidence at the museum, Spidey thinks he knows who the culprit is, and even heads over to the Bugle to test his theory, although he’s sidetracked by Robbie; of course we know from the cover, and the name of Raxton, that it’s Molty, but Pete’s a smart guy. So when they meet, he says, “No! Not you! It can’t be—,” which compels me to ask: if not Molty, then who the @*#&^% did he think it was?

Mark: No Jackal this ish (I miss the Machiavellian faux-Gobby little Munchkin), instead we get the Molten Man, a lesser Ditko villain but a shiny one. It's no surprise that go-for-baroque Kid Conway rewrites MM's history. "...have you forgotten I was once a scientist...a man unfamiliar with crime until the accident..."

Ah, not really, Ger. Molty was an on-the-make assistant to Spider-Slayer inventor Spencer Smythe (landing Smythe in the Mad Scientist Hall of Fame as the brains behind two separate & distinct Spidey villains), who got doused with Smythe's liquid metal while stealing it from his boss (see ASM #28 for details).

No matter. MM's back and so is Pete's Midtown High crush, Liz Allen, who collapses of exhaustion and is promptly deposited at MJ's for some much-needed R&R. Also returning is artist Johnny Romita, always a welcome Webhead sight, but colorist P. Goldberg gets the stinkeye for rendering Molty, not with a 24 karat sheen, but more like Dijon mustard that's been left in the back of the fridge, lid askew, for far too long.

Scott: Oh, thank Zod! John Romita instead of Ross Andru! Sweet Merciful Crap, what a lovely sight. It feels almost like stepping back in a time a year. And Liz Allen returns. Of course, anyone who has read this title for long knows Mary Jane didn't go to high school with Peter and shouldn't know who Liz Allen is in the slightest. In fact, Liz left the book before Romita took over the art chores, so they missed each other by miles. Other than that, a really nice issue. What a difference the art makes.

Mark: Gotta love (not) Spidey's tossed-off page 2 comment, "... I've put Doc Ock out of commission for good..." You'd think a sensitive soul like Peter Parker would be less blasé about, you know, having just been in the middle of a nuclear explosion. Speaking of matters atomic, both Ned Leeds and PP show signs of radiation poisoning, which, if memory serves, concerns MM somehow going all Oppenheimer (or some such nonsense) next ish. Never occurred to Kid Conway that Pete flying away from Aunt May's atomic island just ahead of the mushroom cloud might be what got the Geiger counters clicking.

I want Jac back!

Conan the Barbarian 38
“The Warrior and the Were-Woman”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Ernie Chan

During the celebration of Princess Yolinda’s rescue in the feast hall of Narim-Bey, Conan is attacked by a wild-eyed wench who accidentally falls on her own knife. The disgusted barbarian retreats to his bedchamber where he suffers nightmares of a shaggy, fanged demon. Amytis, the adulterous fiancée of Narim-Bey, steals into the Cimmerian’s room and tells him that he has been cursed and is marked by Lilitu, the were-woman — his only hope to break the spell lies with Gimil-Ishbi, a nefarious sorcerer long banished from Aghrapur. Conan arrives at Gimil-Ishbi’s subterranean hideout and the wizened wizard gives the mercenary the ashes of a long-dead rival’s soul, the one thing that can break the curse. The price? “Blood! A life! Any life, fool!” Conan drives his sword through Gimil-Ishbi, paying the debt in full. Outside of Gimil-Ishbi’s cave-turned-tomb, the barbarian comes across ruins. Entering the sole standing structure, he sprinkles the ashes across the doorway and waits. Suddenly, a craven creature enters the room and begins to writhe in pain, bound by the ashes. However it is not Lilitu, but her inhuman mate Ardat Lili. Soon, the were-woman arrives, demanding the release of her hellish husband. Conan refuses, demanding that Lilitu reveals the name of the one that cursed him. When she does, he releases Ardat Lili. But instead of letting the Cimmerian go free as agreed, the demons attack. Conan flees and runs into Narim-Bey, the name that Lilitu gave him. He topples the Turian commander from his horse. Lilitu and Ardat Lili pounce on the soldier, tearing his flesh to pieces. Conan is released from his curse: one human sacrifice is as good as another. The warrior mounts Narim-Bey’s horse and, instead of returning to Turan, heads westwards to the more familiar Hyborian kingdoms. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: If we are to believe the ending and Conan has truly abandoned the empire of Turan, this ends a storyline that spanned from #18 to #26 and #29 to this one, an impressive total of 19 issues — well, actually 18 since #22 was a reprint. However, I doubt that the Cimmerian has seen the last of Prince Yezdigerd, since the son of King Yildiz, while absent from these pages for many months, has loomed large over the proceedings. But we’ll see. I really enjoyed this exciting and excellently plotted story, particularly Conan’s clever but cold-blooded murder of the Gimil-Ishbi. Heck, the guy did say any life. Buscema inks himself and it’s good stuff all around. Surprised to say, but Barry Smith continues to fade away in the rearview mirror. Roy bases his plot on “The House of Arabu,” one of Howard’s many horror stories, totally unrelated to Conan. (I could weave a tale of horror about a pitcher named Hideki Irabu, but let’s leave that for another time.) There’s a bit of Kullianesque™ court intrigue present, as a few red herrings are presented before Narim-Bey is revealed as the curse’s culprit. Call me crazy, but By Crom, I’m jacked up about the return to Hyboria.

Mark: As I've confessed to the Dean, I've been trying to drop Conan from my heavy class load, but the title's just too damn good (unlike some unnamed books, lately about as much fun as a root canal) to let go, and "The Warrior and the Were-Woman" won't make it any easier. Buscema inks himself to fine effect. Ghoulish Gimil-Ishbi looks imported from an E.C. horror comic, two-timing Amytis is hotter than anything in Little Orphan Fannie and let's not even get started on Lilitu, naked were-woman with the long purple hair. And yes, that's meant be to sung like a TV theme song.

It's all gorgeous, serving Roy's heady mix of romantic betrayal, dark magic and monsters. We get our quotient of swordplay, sex and spells in a good tale, well-told.

So for now, Conan, I can't quit you. 


  1. My comments about Conan issues have already harped on this, but I'm a huge fan of all-out femme fatale characters, and I might be the only one who finds TOO FEW of them in sword and sorcery (as opposed to just the right amount). And even though Amytis isn't BEHIND the plot, and even warns Conan about it, that leads to a great femme fatale moment, when she makes the mistake of putting CONDITIONS on her telling him the rest. She might not end up like Fatima in Conan # 12, but what DOES happen next is pretty ruthless.

    My one big problem with the opening scene is the moment (which seems right out of an I Love Lucy or a John Wayne comedy!) when Conan threatens to spank the homicidal dancing girl (!). That's a cliché I've never been fond of in comedies (and not even for pro-feminist reasons, I've just never liked it, period), so it's a real "WTF?" moment in a sword and sorcery story.

  2. Just for the record, Professor Scott, as the invaluable Mark Drummond points out in his comment on SuperMegaMonkey, “Liz Allan [note correct spelling, even though Marvel gets it wrong in this and many other issues] and Betty Brant actually met Mary Jane in ASM #25, but MJ’s face was hidden from the reader.” You can see the frame grabs (with the correct spelling of Liz’s name) here:

    1. OK, in my defense as the Spider-Scribe of the faculty, it's spelled Allen in this issue, and I wasn't around the last time Liz was haha.
      But thanks for always being a stickler, Prof. Bradley!

  3. Prof Chris,

    Been meaning to welcome you aboard. Enjoy your cogent, well-written comments, if (natch) not always agreeing with the content,

    Prof Scott,

    Buckler aping the King is always a GOOD thing. The Dean needs to take a look at your parking spot...

  4. In regard to the Captain Marvel "Elvis wasn't playing Las Vegas in 1953" matter - a letter appeared in a following issue pointing out this very conundrum, and the Powers-That-Be answering explained it thus: originally they were going to have it that Heather Douglas and her parents saw Elvis performing in Las Vegas in 1969; this would be backed up by the artwork showing her mother wearing very un-'53 clothes and hairstyle. It would be further explained that being whisked away to and trained on Titan would have some kind of speeding up of the ageing process, so that Moondragon would appear as she did in '74.

    Having set it all out, someone somewhere sat back, mulled over it, and decided that it was possibly one too many not-impossible-but-not-implausible things for the reader to accept; so it was decided that OK, wind back the clock to 1953 and have it thus. They must have been so close to the deadline that they hoped no-one would notice any artwork discrepancies, or perhaps thought that the idea of the typical 1973 Marvelite being a knowledgeable Elvis fan was one too many not-impossible-but-not-implausible things for the Powers-That-Be to accept.

    Hope this makes a barely important fuzzy area of Marvel history just that little bit clearer.

  5. Must respectfully disagree with Prof. Matthew re: DEFENDERS 13 -- I quite like Janson's inks over Our Pal Sal.

    As I mentioned last week, I was totally blown away by GS SUPER-STARS #1 forty years ago. Inspired by the recent discussion of the GS mags, I dug a bunch of 'em out of their respective long-boxes, and I have to say, nostalgia aside, GS S-S#1 still holds up as a rollicking good read. Great way to kick off the GS line.

    CREATURES ON THE LOOSE 29 was one of those comics that stayed in the over-stuffed Treasury spinner rack that summer, for months. I didn't immediately snap it up, as I didn't like Alcazar's work much back then -- thought it looked muddy and sloppy -- but I eventually bought it on one of those days when I was desperate for something new to read. Now, I think it's a shame Marvel didn't use him more on their sword and sorcery and monster books. His two issues are clearly the best of the short-lived Thongor run.

    CONAN #38 -- gotta hold back, I could rhapsodize about this lovely funnybook for hours. It's my favorite single issue of CTB, one of my favorite comics of all time, definitely on the short list of "desert island" titles. The story, the gorgeous,GORGEOUS art, the moody coloring -- it's comic book ambrosia! Love the sequence with Gimil Ishbi, love love love Conan's encounter with Lilitu and her mate, and jesus-fricking-christ, look at that artwork, those dark velvety inks. Ernie Chan / Chua is "okay" inking Big John, but after seeing CTB #38 and 39, one can only gnash their teeth thinking of the monthly magnificence that could have been if Buscema had been allowed to ink the book himself on a regular basis. I must own five or six copies each of 38 and 39 -- when I'm at a convention, digging through $1 boxes, if I find a copy in decent condition I can't help myself, I gotta have it. Okay, I'll stop now.


  6. Considering how sword and sorcery movies became all the rage in the wake of the fist Conan movie, I don't understand how there wasn't someone (either in a big budget way or otherwise) trying to make a Thongor "franchise," or at least a single film (like that one single Kull movie with Kevin Sorbo much later). Though I've heard that there WAS a Thongor movie, that was either unfinished or at least unreleased (I forget which).