Wednesday, July 16, 2014

May 1974 Part Two: The Fury of Iron Fist!





The Incredible Hulk 175
"Man-Brute in the Hidden Land!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Herb Trimpe and John Romita


The Hulk is hurtling through the air after his battle with the Cobalt Man and heading straight for the hidden land of the Inhumans. Since the Hulk is on a trajectory path towards a special space ship the Inhumans have constructed, Black Bolt flies into the air and knocks him into a mountain to save the ship. Stuck inside the mountain, the green monster eventually turns back into Bruce Banner. The Inhumans welcome Banner into the fold and treat him like a guest. They explain to Banner that the ship they built is designed to be a 'Space Ark,' that they plan on using to take to another planet earth and start new lives. When Banner takes a stroll by himself around the city, a group of Inhuman mutants start to accost him. Prejudiced against humans, they kick Banner around for a bit until he turns into the Hulk. The berserk Hulkster goes on one of his rampages as the Inhumans try to stop him. He takes his turn with Gorgon, Quicksilver, Karnak, and Triton before Black Bolt steps in. Using his super-powered voice, Black Bolt is able to get the Hulk to pass out and collapse. With no other solution available to them, the Inhumans decide to put the Hulk in the 'Space Ark,' and blast him in to outer space so he doesn't destroy the whole city. -Tom McMillion


Scott McIntyre: "Within each of us, ofttimes, there dwells a mighty, raging fury." Credited as an "old Arabian proverb" on the splash page, this was paraphrased in the opening moments of the first Incredible Hulk TV movie - which was coincidentally my introduction to comic book readership. Oh, I was familiar with Batman and Superman and read my public library's hardback collections (Batman from the 30's to the 70's and so on), but I wasn't a spinner rack reader until Kenneth Johnson brought the Hulk to my living room. So, I suppose he gets the credit and blame.

Roy Thomas continues his annoying habit of addressing the reader directly, using slang and trying to be "hip" when simple, straightforward narration would suffice and be less distracting. Also, Banner is now a complete wise-ass. He's smart mouthing from the moment he crawls from the Hulk-made crater, dropping confusing references to the hideous Harlan Ellison created TV series The Starlost and generally annoying anyone within earshot. While I enjoy the art, as usual, the Inhumans outside of the royal family are blandly designed and unmemorable. The story itself is fine, and a decent way to begin the coming Counter-Earth saga.

Matthew Bradley: I first encountered this notable tetralogy in Marvel Treasury Edition #24 (1979), and since two other May issues I am reviewing—Defenders and Marvel Team-Up—are also represented in my collection in that cumbersome 10” x 14” tabloid format, it might be time for a quick overview. The formal series comprised 28 issues published sporadically from 1974 to 1981, plus a handful of variants such as Marvel Special Edition and Marvel Treasury Special. Coverage in our regular posts would be problematic, because almost all contain only reprints, which we usually do not review, and almost none have months attributed to them, but perhaps resident arachnophile Professor Joe will weigh in on #1, featuring the Amazing You-Know-Who.

However you feel about the format, which was devilishly hard to store and lost some definition with its blown-up artwork, MTE et alia seemed to be a godsend for us youthful enthusiasts, reprinting stories—often historically important arcs like this one—not readily available outside of expensive collectibles. Yet for major strips with their own reprint mags, Marvel often omitted the treasury stories from that continuity, which was anathema for those like myself facing apparent distribution problems that restricted access. Many is the treasury edition I would gladly have bought, off the rack or as a back issue, for its pre-Essentials/Masterworks contents, but since they also seem to be tough to find in comic-book shops, I often wound up buying originals.


Matthew: Alas, the format—to which at least one website (http://www.treasurycomics.com/index.htm) has been devoted—often cut those reprints, usually to eliminate transitions like splash pages from multi-part stories. Here, the individual page counts are, respectively, 18, 18, 17, and 19, and since 19 was then the standard, I suspect foul play; maybe they thought a bunch of kids wouldn’t care, but why not reprint the issues intact instead of including an irrelevant, albeit original, six-page Hercules story by Mary Jo Duffy and Ricardo Villamonte? Rare new content included two Spider-Man vs. Superman Marvel/DC crossovers, Howard the Duck encountering the Defenders, Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles, and Spider-Man vs. the Hulk at the Winter Olympics (!).

As for the issue itself, I hope that given my Starlin-centric perspective, I might be forgiven for focusing on the fact that it begins the connective tissue between incarnations of Warlock’s book; six months after this arc concludes in #178, Adam’s strip will be revived in—coincidentally—Strange Tales #178. So as much as I love the Inhumans, and wish they and the Hulk could have parted as friends again, I see this as but a means to an end, said end being to get Greenskin back to Counter-Earth, where Roy, Herb, and Steve Gerber took him so memorably in #158. We’re told he’s supposed to “hurtle thru [sic] empty space forever,” but while he fortunately doesn’t, it’s a nice echo of the first Gamera film, where he is lured into a rocket and launched into space.



Jungle Action 9
The Black Panther in
"But Now the Spears are Broken"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

T’Challa saves a small child from an attack by a rhino. He speaks briefly with the boy’s parents, Karota and M’Jumbak, whom the prince recalls from a previous meeting. T’Challa’s brief respite with Monica in the palace is interrupted by Karota’s arrival, to report M’Jumbak’s disappearance. T’Challa finds M’Jumbak’s still body by the burial site, and then is beset by Baron Macabre and his undead warriors. The Baron attacks with a scorching ray; the Panther fakes unconsciousness until he has another opportunity to resume the fight, and eventually breaks free from the Baron’s deathly grip. T’Challa returns to the palace, to find Monica in W’Kabi’s custody, as she is charged with Zatama’s murder. -Chris Blake


Chris Blake: It would be easy to accuse T’Challa of playing a Danish prince, rather than acting as a Wakandan one – why does he not seek out Killmonger, and challenge him for his offenses to his country? But it’s clear in these brief, compact pages that the Panther has his hands full with the vying personalities of his own court, as there are disputes over the proper response to Killmonger, and regarding the ongoing presence of Monica the out-worlder. It may be all T’Challa can manage for now if he can keep these factions in line. Killmonger appears to press the disjointed nature of the court to his advantage; Baron Macabre mentions allegiance to King Cadaver, not Killmonger, but it’s reasonable to expect that Killmonger might have pulled the strings of the zombie forces in order to draw the Panther away from the palace, so that one of his advisers could be killed, and T’Challa’s girlfriend framed in the process.

For once, we have a useful back-up feature, as frames from the previous three issues are linked up with new commentary in a four-page recap. Solid idea, since: 1) some readers might only be tuning in; 2) the story can be a bit involved, plus the prime opponent doesn’t even appear in JA #9; 3) it’s been a few months since the last issue, a delay which goes unacknowledged in the letters page; and 4) it sure beats another Lorna story, as Roy pokes some fun at the idea of running a “Lorna and her pet mongoose” feature.

The Kane/Janson art is suitable for framing, ably assisted by Glynis Wein’s colors; this is the only art Kane will provide for this series, which is too bad, although we’ll get a few covers from him. Billy Graham will maintain the high caliber of the art as a very-suitable permanent replacement, starting next issue, with Jansen providing continuity on the inks.


Matthew: T’Challa is back after a whopping four months between issues, and intra-title integrity is maintained with a four-page recap of the saga so far, instead of “this great story about Lorna and her pet mongoose.” As a kid, I was always fascinated with the goon squad that Don McGregor gives Killmonger (Venomm, Malice, Baron Macabre, King Cadaver), partly because they seem to be unique to this arc. I wouldn’t have picked Kane as the stopgap between Buckler and the strip’s definitive artist, the “Irreverent Billy Graham”—then best known for his work on Luke Cage—yet as a longtime Gil-fan, I’m not going to complain about the results, including the inks by Klaus Janson, which not only are suitably shadowy but also provide welcome continuity.




Ka-Zar 3
"Night of the Man-God"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Don Heck and Mike Royer
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

An injured Zabu is attacked by a deadly snake, but Ka-Zar saves him with trusty knife Blood-Tooth. Maa-Gor, the Man-Ape rises from the rubble of the Skull Island castle of the Red Wizard and stumbles into the Mystic Mists, where he is changed into an angry, emotionally cold, telekinetic Man-God! Stealing the consciousness of El Tigre from South America (???), they enter Ka-Zar’s “domain” and attack! A skeptical Ka-Zar fights back but is clocked on the noggin just as Zabu is taken over by the putrid pair. Bobbi Morse is Bobbi-on-the-spot and wakes up KZ, having trailed El Tigre to South America and the Savage Land. As the villains discover they can find oil, KZ battles them both, with Zabu forced to attack his master. But when Bobbi is knocked out, KZ and a recovered Zabu leap into action to try and make them pay! —Joe Tura 

 
Joe Tura: Some real average stuff this month. Sure, it’s easy to pick on Don Heck and Mike Friedrich, but they usually make it easier than this. It’s not horrible and held my interest, so they have that going for them. Did not know KZ had a name for his knife. I’m so excited! Still not sure about the whole Maa-Gor transformation. Seemed out of left field to me. Why El Tigre? Was he the only villain that wasn’t booked that day? Do we need a cliffhanger like this one? After all, it’s Ka-Zar. Does anybody have a No-Doz?

Ka-Zar finally gets around to reading his reviews


The Man-Thing 5
"Night of the Laughing Dead"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Mike Ploog and John Romita

As the Man-Thing wanders through the swamp, he hears the sound of a shotgun. He finds a dead man; a clown, with a mysterious suicide note that he cannot read. Nevertheless, the custom of a burial is rooted in Man-Thing’s psyche, and he carries off the body to do just that. Nearby Richard Rory and Ruth Hart try to find a room for the night. They witness in the adjacent setup for a carnival act, a man hitting a woman and come to Richard comes to her defense. Her name is Ayla and she is worried about the missing clown. Garvey is the name of the circus leader, and her abuser. The appearance of Tragg, the circus strongman, prevents any further action, so R and R leave, with Ayla along. They find Darrel—the clown—by the swamp, or so it seems. He, or rather his ghost, is performing an act for nobody, in a spotlight from, where? Garvey and Tragg follow in pursuit, not willing to let Ayla go, but when they see Darrel in the middle of the road, they swerve and crash. Tragg emerges from the wreck, angry. They flee, following the sudden appearance of the Man-Thing carrying Darrel, whom Richard assures Ayla is no danger. They see where he sets down Darrel’s body in a spot for his final resting place. Ayla mistakenly thinks the Man-Thing did this, until they realize Darrel has been shot. Tragg catches up to them, and when Manny sees him strike Rory, he comes to the group’s defense. Tragg cannot match the creature’s strength, but the action is halted when the ghost of Darrel rises from his body, speaking to them. He tells them that they are all going to play out the actions of his life and death, right here in the swamp. -Jim Barwise

Mark Barsotti: We open with the suicide of a sad clown, which I take to mean Steve Gerber won't be going light and fluffy this month. Drawn to the sound of the gunshot, Manny finds the fresh remains of Weeping Willie (actually Darrel, a moniker better-suited to a mime), his enigmatic suicide note ("Laughter is dead. Futility. Blame Ergon."), and a flicker of memory in his mossy brain reminds him that humans bury their dead: "...you must dig a hole...and drop him in."

Cut to counterculture couple Rory and Ruth, checking into a motel in some tiny swamp-side hamlet. A carnival's in town, and R&R interject themselves into a conflict between Ayla, who recently spurned and is now searching for Darrel the dead Clown, Carnie owner Mr. Garvey and his strongman, Ichabod Crane-look-alike, Tragg.

Chris: The swamp didn’t influence events in the last two issues – it simply happened that the action was taking place there. I’ll always have a preference for this type of story, where the swamp works its inexplicable hoodoo over those who dare to wander within. Two notable decisions by Steve: Darrel’s suicide happens so early in the story that we don’t even know his name, which contributes to the senseless nature of the suicide; and, Steve and Mike set us up beautifully at the end – just when we are led to expect a peaceful resolution, as Darrel’s spirit seems to ascend to eternity, the spirit instead turns on the assembled and pronounces that they will be required to perform for him.

Ploog’s arrival is bittersweet, as he will bring an inspired effort and a fresh look to this title (as murk maxes its muckiest), but still, we know that these will be among his final works for Marvel in the Bronze era. For now, I’m going to enjoy: the soggy, drippy way he draws Manny, contrasted by the sharp, thorny look to his claws; the little grace notes, such as the bird perched on Manny’s head (pg 10, panel 2); and the way Ploog fills in the background so that the swamp consistently has a dark and deep look. After this M-T run, we’ll see Ploog illustrate a handful of stories here and there, but following a fallout over a 60-page Weirdworld story, Ploog refused to sign a work-for-hire contract and disappeared completely from Marvel. Our loss.

 
Matthew: “We kinda think you’ll dig the new penciller,” predicts a Bullpen Page Marvel Mini-Item, “a fella name of Mike Ploog, who’s drawn every Marvel monster from Werewolf to Frankenstein and back again! Keep it up, Michael, and maybe one of these days we’ll see if you still remember how to draw a human being!” They have a point, since a lot of the people in this issue look awfully, um, stylized, but with an artist like Ploog—the co-creator of Ghost Rider, on whom he was occasionally inked by Chiaramonte as well—and a strip like Manny’s, that’s not merely acceptable but perhaps desirable. Love those shots with various swamp critters perched on him; meanwhile, the story is another heaping helping of Gerber weirdness, which is a good thing.

Scott McIntyre: I always loved this story from the day I first heard it in a Power Records presentation. Very spooky and rough, but beautifully drawn. The splash page alone is wonderful, a perfect start to Ploog's time on the title. Nobody captured the horror titles like Ploog, with the possible exception of Gene Colan on Dracula. Steve Gerber's prose is beautiful and so nice to read as he describes the clown's final moments. It's almost too good for a comic, honestly. Tragg, the "world's strongest man," something Richard Rory knows about. Would someone of that "stature" be in some fleabag carnival? The Power Records version put a definitive button on the ending, but here it is set up for a chilling "trial" of the living. Rory is more likable here, less self pitying and more prone to action. Everything works in this issue, easily the best I've read so far. There's a reason why it was chosen to showcase the character on record; it explains a lot about Manny and is also a crackling good story that gives genuine chills. Wonderful stuff.

Mark: Off in the micro-bus, the three kooky kids spy Darrel's disembodied spirit, who then appears before in-pursuit Garvey and Tragg, causing them to crash their pick-up. The enraged Tragg follows Darrel through the swamp, and all parties soon converge on Manny, preparing to lay the clown's body to rest. Tragg and Manny go sluggo before Darrel's spirit rises before them and, channeling Andy Hardy, says, "Hey, kids, we're gonna put on a show!"

All told, another intriguing, gonzo offering from Steve Gerber's fevered imagination. Mike Ploog's art is a good fit for swampy surrealism, while on the letters page the fans are beating the drum for the return of Howard the Duck.

Jim Barwise: This is another wonderful story by Steve Gerber. The clown Darrel’s mysterious life and death initially is a little confusing until the ghost realization becomes obvious. The Man-Thing's psychic abilities are fascinating. He can’t read (the clown’s note, who is Ergon?) yet the deep instinct of a burial is clear to him. I like how the swamp’s wildlife has none of the fear that humans have of him. Tragg is an interesting one, too brutish to feel fear, or even think the Man-Thing is all that strange a sight. I second Professor Scott’s thought on Rory’s character, more developed than before. I could see him fitting in this world for some time. Mike Ploog’s art is entirely fitting for this dark environment.



Marvel Spotlight 15
The Son of Satan in
"Black Sabbath!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Daimon is subjected to numerous perils in a disturbing dream; he finds himself rejected by a priest, tempted by greed, attacked by a giant serpent, and finally touched by the hand of Satan himself. Daimon wakes to find that his star birthmark has been inverted, and now represents the sign of Baphomet. Satan appears (in Daimon’s reflection!) to declare that his contact has resulted in a merging of his son’s two natures. Daimon agrees to Dr Reynolds’ request that he expunge a Satanist cult from Gateway U’s student body. They observe a Candlemas ritual being conducted that evening, and find that the proceedings aren’t as amateurish as they expected. In time, Satan (in his incarnation as Baphomet) reveals himself to be present. Daimon takes advantage of Satan’s decision to appear in physical form, first by drawing him to the top of the Gateway Arch, then casting him off to the streets below – Satan is not destroyed, but is forced back into hell. Satan’s son muses that he will need time to understand how he might be affected by a possible continuous influence of evil. -Chris Blake


Chris: After only one issue, Steve already has devised a more interesting approach to the character, removing the fairly routine “nighttime transformation” to SoS, in favor of an ongoing duality, with Daimon now able to access his powers any time, but forced to work to balance both of his natures at all times. Daimon describes his power as “soulfire,” which sounds benign, but there will be moments (in upcoming issues) when he will reach deeper into his powers, which will leave him more vulnerable to Satan’s influence.

Steve also establishes a connection for Daimon at Gateway U, which allows for a supporting cast, and reduces the reliance on the gloomy mansion and hellsteed chariot that have been featured up to now. (Not that anyone asked, but I suspect that Gateway U is a stand-in for Jesuit-run St Louis University, since they would offer the appropriate courses for Byron, Dr Reynolds’ divinity-student friend; pretty sure they don’t offer parapsychology, though – better check with Drs. Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler at Columbia for that one.)


Mooney follows up his work in MS #14 with more surprisingly good art – self-inked, this time. (This is not the same guy who, five years or so from now, would begin churning out fairly pedestrian art for Spectacular Spider-Man, month after month – is it?) Did everyone enjoy the Sistine Chapel ceiling reference (“Creation of Adam”) on pg. 10 (top), presented as a negative image? Observe Daimon’s dramatically different moods – rage and resignation – both depicted on pg. 14. Mooney employs shadows to properly menacing effect at the ritual as well (pg. 17-18). The demonic army (pg. 23) is imaginatively done, but not fear-inducing – a bit silly-looking, in truth; and the Gateway Horseshoe – sorry, I meant Gateway Arch – isn’t right (the arch isn’t squared-off – it’s wider along the top than the bottom, plus you can’t drive under it), especially when Daimon is depicted somehow standing on the side of it (p. 30) – still, “B+” for effort.


Matthew: The lettercol relates that “from what…Gerber tells us, he and Jim are both really involved deeply with the strip, working to give it a flavor all its own, different from Ghost Rider, different from any of our other supernatural mags.” Steve’s certainly the one to do it, and they go on to enumerate some of the changes being made as he puts his, um, mark on the series, e.g., dropping the “Netheranium” name from Daimon’s trident and adding its “psycho-sensitive” properties, in addition to this issue’s developments regarding his birthmark and divided heritage. Mooney inking Mooney isn’t always cause for celebration, and expressing a preference for that over Trimpe’s erstwhile efforts is faint praise indeed, but I can’t really find fault with the team.




Marvel Team-Up 21
The Amazing Spider-Man and Doctor Strange in
"The Spider and the Sorcerer!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Spidey foils a mugging, only to be hypnotized by intended victim Xandu, who pits one of his arch-foes against the other to steal the Crystal of Kadavus from Dr. Strange’s sanctum sanctorum. Spidey subdues Strange, believing them to be enemies, and brings Xandu the gem, with which he regenerates the Wand of Watoomb; he hopes to release his fiancée, Melinda, from a death-like trance brought on by his stray mystic bolt years ago. When Strange tracks them down, Xandu transports the three to another dimension, returning Spidey to his senses, but after he ordains that in his world, they cannot use their powers against him, Strange turns the tables by switching their powers, then tells the heartbroken Xandu that Melinda is dead. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Perhaps there were those who had waited breathlessly since 1965, in real or Marvel time, for the return of Xandu (not to be confused, as Professor Emeritus Seabrook waggishly implied in our coverage of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, with Xanadu). I can’t claim I was one, especially since I don’t remember which reprint I read first—I have this issue in the 1979 treasury edition—but it’s always fun when somebody like Len drags somebody like Xandu out of obscurity. Also fun: the fact that he was hitherto opposed by the same pre-MTU allies; the green-tinted Arachno-Vision that lets us see Strange as the entranced Spidey does; the two-page spread showcasing the talents of Messrs. Buscema, Giacoia, and Hunt; and Doc’s ingenious power-exchanging solution.


Scott: Of all of the recent attempts to dredge up forgotten villains such as Mr. Gideon and The Miracle Man, Xandu's return was the most effective. It's a solid tale of revenge and love with a sad twist ending that stayed with me as a kid when I read the Treasury Edition reprint. I always enjoyed the original meeting of these three characters and the sequel was very well handled. The art is perfect and the personalities are spot on. This could have been a regular issue of Spider-Man rather than a Team-Up (which often feel different). It's nice to know there's one character in the MU that likes Spidey enough to always welcome him into his home unannounced. It's light reading, but great fun.

Joe: I always enjoyed this one. Loved the "bad Dr. Strange" in green that Spidey sees, with those ominous red peepers. Loved the power switching and the baseball throw. Loved the downbeat ending that made me feel sorry for wacky little Xandu. And of course My Pal Sal is at the drawing board, kicking ass and taking names. Nice script by Len, also. Well done if you ask me. Except for Spidey's waking up back to normal with no real explanation. Hey, nobody's perfect I guess.


Marvel Two-In-One 3
The Thing and Daredevil in
"Inside Black Spectre!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Reed learns that Wundarr is not “dumb,” but deprived of outside stimuli until recently, and is “a living sponge” for natural radiation that—if not expended as mechanical energy (i.e., strength)—bursts forth once his body exceeds its storage limit. As Daredevil swings by, one such blast nearly kills him, yet he is mollified when he learns the truth while he retrieves his billy club and Reed creates a costume to contain Wundarr’s power. After Shanna tells DD she believes the Mandrill killed her father and is funding Black Spectre, Matt and Candace attend a play whose hypnotized lead commits murder/suicide; attacked by the enthralled Widow, DD enters Black Spectre’s blimp with Ben, narrowly surviving defeat by Nekra and a hooded figure. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A couple of years ago (Marvel time), Ben was in a particularly morose phase, and I said how I longed for the days when he called himself “the idol o’ millions.” I flashed back on that when he uttered those magic words here, epitomizing how precisely Gerber has nailed the Thing I know and love, and with Sal penciling both team-up books for the first—but happily not the last—time, the artwork keeps apace under Sinnott’s sure hand. This issue’s only flaw is its brevity; the action is too little, too late, yet I wouldn’t give up one jot of the character stuff that precedes it: establishing Wundarr as a supporting player, acknowledging DD’s friendship with the FF, and avoiding a serious MARMIS with Ben, whose role in this story is not organic, yet still delightful.

“Hey Reed—? Howcum this needle’s way over in the red?” “Ba-doom!


Scott: A pretty good string of issues this month. Daredevil and the Thing team up well in this story which ties in directly with DD's own book. It's nice to see these team-up books fitting in well with the main continuity. Often they feel out on their own with no impact on the regular titles. This is a rough one, and I get the feeling Marvel was trying very hard to fit in with the movies and TV of the time, which graduated to a more brutal and stark view of humanity. Lots of suicides and graphic deaths in Marvel's pages these days. It lends weight to what could be a throwaway story. Ben Grimm and DD have a good rapport and their interaction is funny. I love how DD decides there's no time to explain why he's taking the Fantasticar so he hits Ben…who shrugs it off and forces him to explain anyway! Excellent way to subvert a Marvel cliché!



The Savage Sub-Mariner 70
"Namor Unchained!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

As his people lie at the bottom of the ocean floor in a comatose state from chemical exposure, Namor desperately seeks a cure. Croft, the head scientist of the Amphibians, tells Namor about a U.S. Government experiment that could help. Chemicals created by American scientists, but deemed too dangerous, were put on Navy ships used to experiment with nuclear bombs during WWII. The ships sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor where they have remained for years. Subby swims to the bottom of the depths where he finds the ships, but not without incident He has to battle and defeat a group of sharks. Then, someone launches a torpedo at him. Out of nowhere, a pack of hideous mutated fish humanoids tries to kill him. The story ends with Namor beating them, only to be confronted by their leader, Piranha. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: As this series winds down into its final issues, it's nice to see a more simplified story with Namor taking on a group of villains that aren't too over the top. The cliffhanger ending that promises a violent confrontation with Piranha doesn't exactly leave one shivering with anticipation. Still, at least we are ending Subby's run with a more toned down, straightforward story without any goofy sub-plots.

Matthew: Namor’s truculence here just makes me more confident than ever that I did the right thing by placing the yet-to-be-published-but-retroactively-set Giant-Size Super-Villain Team-Up #1 between Marvel Two-in-One #2 and this issue (pace SuperMegaMonkey). I won’t come down hard on Wolfman for floundering, if you’ll pardon the pun, on a doomed book that was just vacated by the mighty Gerber, especially since Marv is a relative newcomer to Marvel’s super-hero line. But I will say that very few were probably lining up for another look at the Men-Fish, who—as the script coyly points out—may or may not be kissin’ cousins to those first, and forgettably, shown in Marvel Team-Up #14, plus I don’t hold out high hopes for the Piranha.

Scott: What's the Sub-Mariner without a good quest? In search of the cure for the malady keeping his people in a near-death state, he goes, dogged at every step by an unknown adversary. It's not thrilling, but thanks to Vince Coletta's fine lines, George Tuska doesn't offend. I still miss the Disney-like cuteness the late Bill Everett gave Nita and the weird retro vibe he instilled. Namor on a vengeful tear is nothing new and it can't last. The Piranha is funny lookin', but not too ridiculous. That's about all I can ask for in The Savage Sub-Mariner.



The Mighty Thor 223
"Hellfire Across the World!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Thor and Hercules descend into Hades, home of Pluto. They seek to rescue Krista, the young goddess, sister of Hildegarde, kidnapped by the dark lord. Fighting off bat-demons and hell-serpents, they find Pluto’s lair—and he and Krista gone! Thor brings them back to Asgard, to seek Odin’s aid in finding Pluto’s whereabouts. He has gone to Earth, hoping to be fueled by the hatred of humans. Once the crusaders are there, the Nether-God paralyzes Hercules with a bolt of flame, but Thor’s hammer protects him from a similar fate. Pluto has a fire-sword, but it proves not enough to defeat Thor. The Thunder God knocks Pluto off a rooftop, where he disappears after connecting with a massive electric shock. It appears the battle is won, but Krista is in bad shape. The only hope of saving her is to bring on Thor’s old buddy, Dr. Don Blake. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Despite some shortcomings, this issue comes across well. However, as to those shortcomings, how is Pluto defeated so quickly once he actually takes up battle with Thor? He admits his plan to pit Asgard and Olympus against each other has failed, but his confidence suggests he has more up his sleeve. For a minute I thought Odin had returned to his crazy-dad ways, freaking out when Thor and Herc enter the throne room, but it passed in a panel. Some pretty decent panels in terms of art don’t hurt, and I’m not minding Dr. Blake’s return to the scene.

Matthew: Another Marvel Mini-Item congratulates “Gerard F. Conway on his newest SF opus, Mindship, due out as a paperback from DAW Books right about now! At age 21 and with two published books (plus a whole passel of short stories) to his credit, Ger’s the envy of the whole blamed Bullpen!” In the immortal words of Pigpen, “Sort of makes you want to treat me with more respect, doesn’t it?” Not much to disrespect here: although Esposito is no Sinnott, he does a largely excellent inking job that really lets Big John’s pencils shine through, and now that the true battle lines have been drawn among our Asgardian and Olympian combatants, “Gerard” lets loose with a straightforward mix of drama and action; sad that Hercules is so insulting to Asgard.



Scott: Either I'm in a really good mood today, or this has been a pretty successful month for comics. Even Thor, one of the most laborious and turgid titles in the pantheon, was pretty enjoyable this time around. The final battle between Thor and Pluto was really quite well done and satisfying. I'm not thrilled that we had to end on the cliffhanging note of Krista's fate, since she is a non-character. The art is still excellent, and Odin is easily convinced Herc was framed. The battles served a purpose rather than just merely there to pad out a slender plot. Pretty solid compared to the last few years.

Chris: The interplay between Thor and Hercules is deftly handled, particularly while they offhandedly dispatch underlings. Once we finally reach the showdown with Pluto, the battle proves to be brief and somewhat inconsequential. Any idea why Pluto went with the venue-change to New York? I don’t see where that made any sense. Esposito’s inks are workmanlike, at best – I have to squint at some of the panels, and try to imagine Sinnott’s inks there instead.



The Tomb of Dracula 20
"The Coming of Doctor Sun"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer


Dracula desperately wanders in the snow-covered mountains of Transylvania. Not only is he starving, but Rachel Van Helsing and Frank Drake are stalking him in a helicopter. Ducking inside a cavern, Dracula finds the dead bodies of two men, along with a huge amount of gold. He tries drinking from the cadaver but it doesn't give him the nourishment that he needs. When the wind slows down, Dracula tries to fly away but, in his weakened state, he falls and passes out. When Drac wakes up, he finds himself in one of the headquarters of Dr. Sun. One of Sun's top men, Professor Morgo greets him. Clifton Graves, long thought dead from an explosion, is also there to gloat at his old master. Graves reveals to Dracula how Dr. Sun's men found him floating in the ocean and saved his life. Now full of scars, Graves dumps a vial of blood in front of Dracula as a way of torturing him. Frank and Rachel find Dr. Sun's hidden mountain lair and are soon involved in a shoot-out with Sun's troops. Dracula is able to escape, draining the blood of Morgo in the process. A reinvigorated Dracula thrashes Clifton Graves. When Rachel tries to shoot the vampire with her crossbow, Drac uses Graves as a shield, killing the man. The story ends with Dr. Sun revealing himself to be a living brain, encased in a glass box, hooked up to machinery. He challenges Dracula to a duel to become lord of the vampires.-Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: As I've mentioned before, my favorite conflict in comic books and movies is when one evil villain fights another. Things are starting to get interesting and I suspect the vampire hunters will have to team up with their arch enemy Dracula in order to escape the wrath of Dr. Sun. I'm still undecided if I like the fact that Dr. Sun is nothing more then a living brain. It all depends on future issues and if he proves himself to be a worthy antagonist for the Prince of Darkness. Given how the creators have been giving us a great story so far, I have no doubt things will only get better.

Mark: We open with the Count on the run, close with a challenge from brain-in-a-jar Doctor Sun. In between is the gothic groovyness we've come to expect from Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan on Marvel's number one chiller.

The weakened, still lost in the snowy Alps Drac is sniped at with wooden bullets, fired by Rachel Van Helsing from a helicopter. The elusive dark lord slips into a cave, there to drink from a dead man (His blood is foul...bitter!"), while above in the whirlybird, Rachel tells Frank Drake how the Count murdered her grandfather, killed her parents in front of her when she was a girl, so her bloodlust equals Dracula's own, if for revenge rather than sustenance.

Chris: This title simply delivers, and delivers, issue after issue. So much happening this time around, as we have two unexpected developments: the reveal of who – or what – Dr Sun is; and the left-field return of Clifton Graves. Two questions, though – first, the small one: Drac is driven almost to delirium by blood loss, as he collapses on the treasure-pile (p 11) – when he next appears, he’s relieved to be rid of Drake and Van Helsing, and refreshed enough to be able to fly away – how was he restored? Did he take a nap, or something? Second, larger question: on the bottom of p 32, I hope that the image on the screen is a projection of Dr Sun, speaking to us from his headquarters in the north of Ireland; otherwise, we might be expected to think that he’s simultaneously in Ireland and somewhere in the Alps. I figure this will clarified in the next issue. Also, what else do you think might happen with that treasure-trove Drac found in the cave?

Art highlights from this issue: Drac’s advance alone against the winter storm, as a metaphor for his solitary walk through un-life (p 7, first panel); Drac’s revulsion by the bite (!) of tainted blood (p 11, first panel); consecutive panels on the bottom of p 23, as Graves savors his taunting of Drac, and Drac promises immediate revenge, highlighted by Glynis Wein’s choice of contrasting light blue and deep grey shading for the vampire’s face.

The first missive on the “Tomes to the Tomb!” page is addressed: “Tomb it may concern;” hah! – give that man a “garlic-drenched no-prize!”

Scott: A good follow up to last issue, Gene Colan can really do snowbound landscapes extremely well. One feels the blistering cold winds throughout. Some of the panels detailing Rachel's childhood were taken and edited into the Power Records presentation based on the previous issue. Doctor Sun's disembodied brain is very creepy and effective, as is the return of the "torn to shreds" Graves. Frank Drake is all bluster, but here he is mercilessly cutting down Sun's guards. The guy apparently has no qualms about taking human life. He's such a non-entity, though, I fail to care. 


Mark: Emerging from the cave, Drac find his airborne enemies gone, but collapses trying to fly off in the storm and wakes to find himself bound with a garlic-infused chain (new at Olive Garden!). His captor, a Dr. Sun functionary, relays how they've tracked Drac for years, recently aided by the stitched-up, re-animated corpse of Clifton Graves, last seen getting blown up at sea in TOD #10.

While the Count spars with his captors, on the hunt Rachel & Frank join the fracas, but they're all zapped with an immobility beam by a behind-the-curtain Dr. Sun, who apparently wants Drac to duel his own vamp-champ, Brand.

And did I mention the good Doctor is a brain in a jar? Well, if its good enough for Hitler...


Werewolf by Night 17
"The Behemoth!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Werewolf and Topaz try to escape the cathedral, but not until after Werewolf leaps at the Parisian police, then she calms him enough to change back into Jack Russell with the onset of morning. Back in LA, Jack worries about Lissa, who might have the family lycanthropy curse when she turns 18 in 6 months, at the same time he’s under watch from The Committee. We meet Baron Thunder, the ridiculously garbed head of said Committee, who has a new creation to stop Russell—The Behemoth, a large purple mountain of a synthetic man! Jack struggles to find a cure for the curse, even bothering touchy, odd neighbor Raymond Coker, then heads to a friends date with Clary looking for Joshua Kane. Then the sky begins to darken…and it’s First Night! Transforming, the Werewolf is stopped by a weakening Topaz, then attacked by the Behemoth! After ripping off its hands, Werewolf sees the creature leave to be regenerated, and he’s stalled by Topaz until morning comes, where a woozy Jack finds out Topaz is leaving to regain her strength. The next night, Lt. Hackett comes knocking, looking for a werewolf! –Joe Tura

Joe: Wait a second….No more Mike Ploog on this book? Ever? Ah geez… Now what? Now we get Don Perlin, that’s what. First of all, he draws Jack’s hair quite poorly. And his head. And his neighbor. And his werewolfy hands. Although the double panel transformation wasn’t too bad. Now to the script. Just when Mike F. impressed me last month, this time he’s back to his old tricks. “The weeks passed slow as cold molasses”; “That cat is decidedly anti-social!”; “A throated growl of pleasure escaped my parted fangs—" Geez, that’s laying it on thick, Mikey. And what’s with Baron Thunder? I guess The Committee should be run by a kook, but the sudden “look at me, I run the joint” appearance is a bit strange. At least we’re promised “Ma Mayhem” next issue—wait, that’s not a good thing!

Scott: How the mighty have fallen, from the amazing Ploog art to….this. A sad state of affairs which made it impossible for me to enjoy the issue. A shame, but I guess one dud in the mix was inevitable…. We say goodbye (?) to Topaz, and the Werewolf gets to go a little nuts but, otherwise, I couldn't find myself invested in it.

Which translates to "Don Perlin?"


Marvel Premiere 15
Iron Fist in
“The Fury of Iron Fist!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Dick Giordano
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Dick Giordano


Under the watchful eye of Yu-Ti, the August Personage in Jade, and the Lung-Wang, the four Dragon-Kings, Daniel Rand aka Iron Fist faces off against a group of heavily trained warriors. If the young martial artist passes the test, he can choose the fruit of immortality or the elixir of death. After defeating his skilled combatants, Iron Fist recalls how he got to this arena. A decade ago, nine-year-old Danny Rand was accompanying his father, Wendell, his mother Heather, and his father’s business partner Harold Meachum, on a quest through the snowy Himalayans to discover the mountain city of K’un-Lun, a magical Shangri-La. When Wendell slips on an icy precipice, Meachum causes him fall to his death. Leaving the young boy and his mother to freeze, Meachum marches off, gloating that he is now the lone head of the billion-dollar Rand & Meachum corporation. As his memories fade, Iron Fist turns to his next opponent, the huge Shu-Hu, the Silent Lightning. Iron Fist puts up a brave fight, but the invincible Shu-Hu is merciless. Bruised and beaten, Iron Fist’s thoughts return to the past. Hunted by a pack of hungry wolves, Heather Rand sacrifices her life so that her son might make an escape. After the wolves make short work of the woman, they turn on Daniel — but archers from K’un-Lun appear and kill the animals, welcoming Daniel to their hidden city. Back in the present, the costumed kung fu master fiercely concentrates until his hand becomes a thing of iron: he smashes Shu-Hu in the face and the silent one falls, revealed to have been a robot all along. Yu-Ti offers the victorious Iron Fist the choice of immortality or death. -Thomas Flynn


Thomas Flynn: While not a kung fu aficionado like Steve Englehart or Jim Starlin, the creators of Shang-Chi, Roy Thomas was suitably impressed by a viewing of The Five Fingers of Death, especially the “Ceremony of the Iron Fist” scene. So Thomas approached Stan Lee with the idea for another martial arts hero, this one named Iron Fist. Not concerned that the company already had an Iron Man on the roster, Stan green lighted the project — or perhaps green and yellow lighted. For his next move, Roy approached Gil Kane, an artist known for his sinewy and athletic characters. Together they whipped up a basic origin story and costume, and their new character debuted in the try-out mag Marvel Premiere. According to Roy, Gil was particularly inspired by Bill Everett’s Golden Age character Amazing-Man, and the series is dedicated to the late Everett on the last panel, calling him "a most amazing man." Surprisingly, the two creators only stuck around for one issue, handing over the reins to a revolving crew of writers and illustrators. A sense of continuity would only set in with the arrival of Chris Claremont on issue #23. In short time, John Byrne also made the scene, marking the first creative collaboration of perhaps Marvel’s top team of the late 1970s. This is a very loose origin story, only touching on the foundation of what made Iron Fist: we would have to wait a bit longer to discover how he gained the power of the iron fists and why he eventually left K’un-Lun. Roy and Gil rely on a prodigious use of flashbacks to tell the tale and this method would also play prominently in the work of writers to come. In all, a decent kickoff to the long-running character.


Chris: This is an origin story that stays with me. That’s due in part to the fact that Danny ruminates on it frequently, especially over the course of these early appearances in MP. The other reason is the horrific nature of Danny’s parents’ deaths, and the ice-cold cruelty of Harold Meachum. No wonder Danny is so committed to his studies over the ten-year period that precedes this issue. Roy makes the right choice by starting off the issue with action, and by saving the Iron Fist Reveal for the very end of the story.

On the letters page, Roy describes how Gil Kane contributed to the development of the character, with elements borrowed from a pre-war Bill Everett character called “The Amazing Man” (superheroes were more straightforward in the old days). Kane offers inspired art throughout the issue, with the action depicting high-octane contact in close quarters. On the other extreme, Kane’s expressions on the wounded face of traumatized 9 yr-old Danny are truly heartbreaking.

Matthew: The advent of Iron Fist has broader implications than another hop on the martial-arts bandwagon Marvel was riding with Master… and Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. He blossomed in a Claremont/Byrne collaboration that paralleled their legendary X-Men; that said, his creation by the Thomas/Kane team that made my beloved Mar-Vell and Warlock Starlin-ready is not to be sneezed at. I’ve always had a proprietary feeling toward IF, because while I didn’t get in on the ground floor with this story, I did do so while he was still in Premiere (in #21), bought every issue of his tragically short-lived solo book off the stands, and was outraged when he was shoehorned into that odd couple of sustained mediocrity, Power Man and Iron Fist.

Scott: A cracking good read. While parental death and treachery have been part of hero origins from day one, this time it's a bloody and violent story. It does not skimp on the horror as Gil Kane lingers on Danny's father's gruesome and shocking death. The ante is upped for his mother, who is torn to pieces by wolves just as they reach their refuge. It doesn't give us much by way of his personality, but it's still a gripping and well-drawn story. Kane and Giordano are a good team and the issue flew by. I wasn't all that impressed by the robot reveal, but once he started shooting daggers from his palms, I was a little suspicious. All around good stuff.

Matthew: This origin was revisited in such detail that I felt familiar with it, and quirks like the “You are Iron Fist…” narration—which I equate with the “this one” locution of Englehart’s Mantis—and the litany accompanying Danny’s power feel like old friends. The inks by Giordano, fresh from introducing the Sons of the Tiger in last month’s DHOKF, seem very light, giving the artwork an unfinished feeling, but they allow Kane to be Kane, and that full-page shot of Wendell falling to his death has a huge impact, as it were. The lettercol-to-be, “Iron Fistfuls,” explains the price hike, reveals IF as a tribute to Bill Everett’s c. 1939 character Amazing Man, and announces that next issue “we’re turning the reins…over to Len Wein and a talented newcomer, Larry Hama…”


Also This Month

Beware! #8
Chamber of Chills #10
<- Crazy #4
Crypt of Shadows #10
Kid Colt Outlaw #182
Marvel's Greatest Comics #49
Marvel Spectacular #7
Marvel Super-Heroes #43
Marvel Triple Action #18
Mighty Marvel Western #31
My Love #28
Rawhide Kid #120
Sgt. Fury #119
Where Monsters Dwell #28


THOSE MARVEL-OUS MAGAZINES!


Savage Tales 4
Cover by Neal Adams
“Night of the Dark God”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane, Neal Adams & Diverse Hands

“Star-Crossed Swords”
Text by Roy Thomas

“Jason and His Electric Argonauts”
Text by Erwin Stevenson

“The Crusader”
Story by Stan Lee
Art by Joe Maneely
(reprinted from Black Night #2, July 1955)

“The Hour of the Gnome”
Text by Roy Thomas

“Dweller in the Dark”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith
(reprinted from Conan the Barbarian #12, Dec 1971)

What do you do when perhaps the greatest Conan artist of all time jumps ship? You call perhaps the greatest comic book artist of all time to come on board! Neal Adams answered Roy’s SOS and his supreme artistic fingerprints are all over this issue. It starts with the cover as Adams paints the enraged Conan rearing back his battle axe, preparing to lop the head off an enemy — the suggested violence is awesome. The piece will be reprinted a few times down the road. Neal also provides the excellent TOC illustration. And while not bad, it's unfortunate that Adams didn’t do the Craig Russell pin-up printed on the inside covers.


Along with Diverse Hands Pablo Marcos, Frank McLaughlin, and Vince Colletta, Adams also inks the lead story “Night of the Dark God.” A weary, homesick Conan returns to Cimmeria to find that his village has been pillaged by Vanaheim raiders and that his childhood sweetheart, Mala, has been kidnapped. Stealing a boat, the warrior sails to the bandits home, the Isle of Swords on the Vilayet Sea. Before Conan arrives, Mala commits suicide instead of being forced to marry the Vanir leader, Thorfel. With the help of a band of Picts who are on the island looking for their stolen statue of Brule the Spear-Slayer, the berserk barbarian slaughters the bandits. While others were involved in the inking, Adams masterful style shines throughout and he raises the level of Gil Kane’s pencils to new heights. It’s based on “The Dark Man,” Howard’s Turlough O’ Brien story that originally appeared in the December 1931 issue of Weird Tales. In Roy’s hands, it’s an early Conan adventure because the character is not the last-surviving Cimmerian we have come to know and love as his countrymen have not yet been totally wiped out by the Vanir.


In this issue’s drab Crusader installment, the Saracen discovers that he actually has English blood so he sets out to join the army of King Richard. The magazine also includes a final shout-out to Barry Smith, reprinting the 16-page Conan the Barbarian #12. This story was originally scheduled for Savage Tales #2 before the magazine was cancelled the first time. The art was altered a bit to meet the Comics Code for the color series, so this is the unaltered version. As always, Barry’s fabulous illustrations are well served by the black-and-white format.

"The Crusader"

On the editorial side, “Jason and His Electric Argonauts” is the first in a continuing series called “Heroic Fantasy in Film.” Focusing on the movie “Jason and the Argonauts” and filled with cool stills, the article details the movie’s background and Ray Harryhausen’s Dynamation effects. A nice piece but not as enlightening as Roy Thomas’ “The Hour of the Gnome,” which covers the history of The Gnome Press, the house that first began packaging Howard’s Conan stories from Weird Tales. It will be continued in Savage Tales #5. But the true stand-out is “Star-Crossed Swords.” Totally fired up, Roy takes on the supposed controversies surrounding Barry Smith’s departure and the delay in publishing the fourth issue of Savage Tales. Some choice excerpts: “Disappointingly to me personally, the mouthings of the comic-book fan press were hardly more prescient than the scrawled crayon-markings of the youngest devotee, and considerably less defensible on the grounds of innocence.” “Still, I’d like to see Barry do another tale or twain as well as anybody else. It’s just that, in all honesty, I’m tired of wading thru piles of mail asking me to do something I can’t: namely, get another Conan adventure out of someone who said he’d rather not.” “For the next few weeks, each and every letter received here at the Bullpen and addressed to Mr. Barry Smith c/o Marvel Comics, will be forwarded to him, unopened, immediately— so that Barry will be able to see them, weigh them, and make his own decision. That’ll save a lot of wear and/or tear on us both, okay? Cursing, cajoling, or castigation of Marvel in general and Ye Editor in particular will do little good, and such ink or typewriter ribbons can be used for writing letters more likely to do some good, like asking the President to resign, a Congressional Committee to disband, or the sun to stand still.” You tell ’em Roy! -Thomas Flynn

Somebody, or somebodies, at Marvel loves Ray Harryhausen (and rightly so) -- they just paid him tribute in Monsters Unleashed #4 with Tony Isabella's glowing review (along with a career overview) of Harryhausen’s own Film Fantasy Scrapbook.  It is gratifying to see, this time around, yet another nod to the legendary "Monster Master" in the form of six photo-packed pages devoted to him and his work on Jason and the Argonauts, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, and other films.  Erwin Stevenson, in his Foreword to "Jason and His Electric Argonauts," correctly connects the dots between the Gilgamesh Epic, Homeric Epics and Greek mythology, Virgil's Aeneid, etc. up to and including, most recently, Robert E. Howard and Harryhausen ("literature's twentieth-century successors [in] modern-day media").  Stevenson ends with a hint to Hollywood, and maybe Harryhausen, not to forget "a certain brawling barbarian who's been knocking around since the early 30's."  (Maybe future Conan the Barbarian executive producer Edward R. Pressman and director John Milius were listening?)  Overall, a fitting article for Savage Tales.

While there is no direct connection to anything in this issue, Robert E. Howard or otherwise, Stan Lee and Roy Thomas' affection for Joe Maneely's medieval material (covered issue #2) offers possible clues as to why they were so receptive to fantasy (Conan, Kull, Thongor, etc.) in a mostly superhero medium. Though presented in bold black-and-white, "Crusader" is a throwback to the glorious old Technicolor costume epics like Ivanhoe, The Adventures of Robin Hood, and King Richard and the Crusaders. Its ingenuous tone has more in common with the Romantic era novels of Sir Walter Scott than director Ridley Scott and his self-flagellating films Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood, exalting the chivalric ideal as a divine ethos common to all men, Christian or Saracen. Here chivalry and rivalry mingle ​as believer battles infidel -- El Alemain, joining forces with King Richard the Lionheart, faces off with Saladin himself on the field of honor where both come to respect one another as worthy foes. In fact, Maneely admirably treats King Richard I and the sultan with equal generosity, as much fairness in the case of Saladin as Ridley Scott's portrayal in Kingdom of Heaven, and far more than Scott's lopsided Robin Hood film ​drearily depicted the Lion-hearted King and the Crusader forces fighting to protect pilgrims from Moslem conquest and occupation of the Holy Land. As a result, "Crusader" is proof that filmmaker Scott should have taken a page or two from Maneely. ​-Gilbert Colon

That two-page rant by Roy Thomas is vintage Rascally. Reminds me of the long letters he used to write to The Comics Journal. If you're not familiar with TCJ, and you should be, it was a fabulous fanzine in the 1970s and early 1980s that featured lots and lots of interviews with comics artists and writers. A large percentage of these interviews was given over to top Marvel talent. Somewhere around 1980 or so, Roy became everyone's favorite target. "Roy made me change the princess' outfit in X-Men #123, so I quit. Screw Roy!", "My version of Daredevil would have been great but Roy said no seeing eye dogs! To hell with Roy." Invariably, these guys would start mouthing off because they were being goaded by TCJ publisher and chief interview poobah, Gary Groth, a guy who, inexplicably, published a magazine about comic books but really hated the medium, it seems. So Roy would read another nasty grenade thrown his way and write in to TCJ to tell them he wasn't wasting his time anymore writing into a fanzine because, after all, he's a professional. Then, two issues later, Harlan Ellison would say something and Roy would write in to tell everyone he wasn't wasting his time anymore... I thought "Star-Crossed Swords" so essential, I've reprinted it far below. Enjoy!

-Peter Enfantino

Tales of the Zombie 5
Cover by Earl Norem


“The Palace of Black Magic”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Pablo Marcos

“Mails to the Zombie”

“Faithful Unto Death: White Zombie”
Text by Doug Moench

“Who Walks with a Zombie”
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath
(reprinted from Mystic #27, 1951)

“With the Death Comes Dawn”
Fiction by Chris Claremont

“Brother Voodoo Lives Again”
Text by Doug Moench

“Voodoo War”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Syd Shores and Dick Ayers

“Death’s Bleak Birth”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Frank Springer

To thank him for his hellspawn help from last issue, Phillip Bliss buries the Zombie, hoping to give the creature the eternal rest it deserves. Later that evening, Bliss and his two college-aged acquaintances Steve and Gene are attacked by three masked muggers who make off with the Amulet of Damballah. The goons deliver the necklace to Mr. Six, the New Orleans crimelord. Six, in turn, delivers the Amulet to his master, Pappa Shorty, the legless, levitating High Priest of Voodoo. Vowing to rule the city through the black arts, Pappa Shorty summons the Zombie from his freshly dug grave. Before it arrives to answer the call, the Zombie makes a memory-filled pit stop at Garwood Industries, the coffee manufacturer he once lorded over as Simon Garth. Knowing that his ex-wife also follows the floating priest, Bliss and his two young friends also head towards Pappa’s temptation-filled temple. When the trio arrives, Pappa orders the Zombie to kill Bliss: a brutal bash to the head quickly dispatches the undead monster’s former master. Cackling with evil glee, Pappa accidentally drop the amulet, breaking his hold over the living corpse. The Zombie, enraged that he was forced to kill Bliss, grabs Pappa by his stumps and brains the priest against a statue of a snake, toppling a flaming brazier in the process. Steve and Gene, along with the rest of Pappa Shorty’s followers, flee from the growing inferno. The Zombie lurches away to the unknown that awaits.


The segment that features the Zombie stopping by his old workplace takes up four pages of Gerber’s 22-page story. The creature even sits in Simon Garth’s executive chair, recalling the “King of the castle, King of the castle” scene from Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. (Just had to include that subtitle.) I thought this whole bit was a cheesy attempt at pathos, something that I’m personally not looking for in my tales of the undead. However Pappa Shorty is a neat character, floating around the room with two stumps a’ dangling. I’m actually sorry to see him killed off so quickly. Philip Bliss remains an unlikable mess, though he does show some actual sympathy for the Zombie. But let’s not forget, Bliss used the creature to attack a courthouse filled with lawyers last issue. And why two college kids would follow this homeless nutjob is beyond me. But there’s a scent of sex, some blood and guts, and, of course, the crazed Pappa, so not a complete waste of time.

"Voodoo War"
After last issue’s all original lineup, reprints creep back into Tales of the Zombie with “Who Walks with a Zombie.” A man named Hardin arrives in Haiti, looking for his missing wife who visited the island for inspiration about the novel she was writing about a young woman who is transformed into a zombie. When the novel becomes an actuality, the evil doctor that turned her shows up looking for the incriminating evidence. As with most of these shorts, the villain gets his just deserts by the rotting hands of the undead he created. DC and Little Annie Fanny artist Russ Heath provides the moody but mediocre art but the writer remains uncredited. While new, “Voodoo War” certainly smells like a dusty reprint. In the Old West, two rival ranchers turn to voodoo in attempts to steal each other’s land. Things escalate wildly, and soon everyone they love is dead and both ranches lay in ruin. It seems that an effort has been made to set these backup stories in unexpected environments, but this one is too clumsy to work, even at 8 pages. “Death’s Bleak Birth” is the best of the lot, but still not much to write home about. Two dim bulb burglars break into the home of Wade Cochran, a professor who has discovered the secret of eternal life. Searching for his discovery, they accidentally kill Cochran —and then also accidentally kill the professor’s wife. When they eventually stumble across a voodoo incantation, one of the killers reads it over Cochran’s body. Yes, we all saw this coming: the secret to eternal life is zombification. Since the name Frank Springer usually makes me think of the dreaded Frank Robbins, I was a bit surprised that I enjoyed his artwork. There’s a loosey goosey quality and Springer draws a nicely vile zombie. Pablo Marcos provides a decent pinup on the inside front cover: of course he includes an undulating voodoo chick in tiny bra and panties that look to fly off at any second.

"Death's Bleak Birth"
“With the Death Comes Dawn” is part two of Chris Claremont’s prose story that began in issue #3. The unleashed Bakulu-baka, The Dark One, wrecks havoc throughout Haiti, until finally destroyed by Police Chief Dureaux with a cache of high-tech weaponry. The story is obtuse to say the least. It’s not like the writing is bad, but I read it twice and was still confused. A few hastily added characters show up for the final battle, including a CIA agent. But let’s not be too tough on the young Claremont and move on. In “Faithful Unto Death: White Zombie,” Doug Moench piles prodigious praise on the 1932 Bela Lugosi flick. Even though I love zombie and horror movies in general, I’ve never seen White Zombie, perhaps because of my aversion for movies made before 1960. Moench must really love this one, proclaiming that “a greater injustice in the spotty annals of film criticism has never been perpetrated” as the one that was heaped on this poorly reviewed film. Poppycock. As some Professors know, Duke Mitchell’s sublime The Executioner has that honor wrapped up with a bow on top. Even though the “Mails to the Zombie” letter page states that Marvel is “a bit leery” of featuring Brother Voodoo and other “superhero guest-stars in this magazine,” “Brother Voodoo Lives Again” is the second consecutive article about Jericho Drumm. It’s not much different than the promotional piece from last issue, but, at the end, we are told that the Brother Voodoo trilogy started in Strange Tales #172 and #173 with be continued in the next issue of Tales of the Zombie. What was that thing about being leery again? -Thomas Flynn



Dracula Lives 6
Cover by Luis Dominguez

"A Death in the Chapel"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Ernie Chua

"Yes, Virginia, There Is a Real Dracula"
Text by Doug Moench

"The Mark of a Vampire!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Mac Pakula
(reprinted from Spellbound #22, May 1954)

"Blood Moon"
Text Story by Thompson O'Rourke
Art by Ernie Chua

"Shadow Over Versailles"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos

"Dracula Has Risen From the Grave"
Review by Tony Isabella

"Dracula Chapter Two - Into the Spider's Web"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
From the Novel by Bram Stoker
Art by Dick Giordano

Count Dracula comes to Rome to find a powerful Vatican priest, Father Montesi, who holds the only copy of the Darkhold incantation, words that could destroy the entire vampire race. Since the father lives within the Vatican, Dracula must take the guise of a fellow priest and try to make his way through a maze of religion without being reduced to dust. The vampire finds Montesi and burns the Darkhold but, just before he dies, the priest tells Dracula he's sent the incantation to Quincy Harker. "A Death in the Chapel" is a solid Dracula entry, continuing events from the four-color title (mention is made of Dracula's battle with the Werewolf by Night) and climaxing with a solid twist. Chua perfectly compliments Colan's pencils here, doing just as good a job as Tomb inker Tom Palmer in allowing Colan's art to breathe. Steve Gerber shows he has just as steady a grasp on the Lord of Vampires as our preferred writer, Marv Wolfman. All around, one of the best Dracula tales I've read in a Marvel mag.


Frank becomes convinced his brother, Rudolph, is a "filthy vampire" as his arrival in town coincides with a rash of blood-drained corpses littering the village. When he finds a dresser drawer full of graveyard soil, his suspicions are confirmed and he stakes his brother. Just before Rudolph goes to vampire heaven, he bites his brother so that their family legacy will not die. A really bad pre-code horror story, "The Mark of the Vampire" is made even worse by the fact that it's been shorn of three pages. Hold on! Did I say an awful story was made worse by its brevity? <delete key>

"Shadow Over Versailles"

"Shadow Over Versailles" continues the 18th Century Dracula series, previously written by Marv Wolfman and Gerry Conway and here adopted by Tony Isabella. The clash between the Counts Dracula and Cagliostro escalates and involves Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette as well. I thought Isabella did a great job of weaving historical facts in with guys who can turn into bats, keeping my interest right up to the twisty final panel. Good job, Mr. Isabella!

"Into the Spider's Web"

The second chapter of Roy Thomas and Dick Giordano's adaptation of the Bram Stoker novel, "Into the Spider's Web," is as drawn-out and ponderous as the first, perhaps because the source novel is just as drawn-out and ponderous. How did these guys ever think they'd finish this epic before DL! was cancelled?

If only the rest of us had such minor problems
As a rule, I ignore the text stories. I did it when they were one page long in the old Atlas comics and I do it now when they've bloated up to five pages, as here with Thompson O'Rourke's "Blood Moon," a poorly written Dracula story about the count haunting a hospital for its blood supply. When it comes to Marvel University, I've become a hopeless completist so I'll admit I began the tale, fully planning to finish it for the sake of mankind (if I become the first person to actually finish "Blood Moon," imagine the lives that will be spared) but I just couldn't do it. What I did read has me convinced this was something sent in to Roy Thomas by a fan and The Rascally One, sly devil he be, thought he could slip some cheap thrills in without anyone the wiser. I'm on to him. Strange as it may seem, this was O'Rourke's only credit with Mighty Marvel. Imagine what future gems might have flown from the inkwell of the writer who penned:

The man put his hand over her mouth, and leaned down to kiss her neck. Jennifer relaxed with a sigh. He was only going to rape her.

Doug Moench takes a look at the real Dracula in "Yes, Virginia..." Tony Isabella injects his unique brand of humor (well, "unique" if you've never read Forry Ackerman's stuff) into what is basically another Marvel version of a Famous Monsters filmbook. What is Tony's ultimate take on the third in the Christopher Lee/Hammer/Dracula series? I don't really know as he never really comes out and tells us. Perhaps there wasn't space after spending four pages rehashing the synopsis.


The Haunt of Horror 1
Cover by Bob Larkin


"The Rats!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ralph Reese

"Heartstop"
Text Story by George Alec Effinger
Art by Walt Simonson

"The Last Man!"
Story Uncredited
Art by Russ Heath
(reprinted from Adventures Into Terror #24, October 1953)

"His Own Kind!"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
From a Story by Thomas M. Disch
Art by Val Mayerik and Mike Esposito

"The Nightmare Patrol"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ernie Chua

"In the Shadows of the City"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Vicente Alcazar

Johnny has come to love nature so much he won't eat meat, won't kill pests, won't wear wool, he won't do anything unless it's organic. That tends to rub the rougher guys in his tenement the wrong way and eventually it chases his girl, Chrissie, out the door too. The poor girl happens to leave at just the wrong moment: sick of being treated like second class citizens, the rats of the city have banded together and treat Chrissie just like the tasty treat she is. When Johnny tries to save her, he realizes the animals don't care as much for him as he does them. Doggone, a really wild and edgy tale, just the type of horror story we hoped for in the black and whites, stuffed with pretty girls in panties, abusive hippies, and chick-munching rodents. Who could ask for more? Not me. This is the real deal. Ralph Reese, who sometimes could come off as little more than a Wally Wood-wannabe (to me, at least) really nails the nastiness of urban life. Now, can someone please tell me why the hippies always look like Roy Thomas?


If I balked at reading a five-page Dracula text story, you really don't expect me to spend the time immersing myself in the 20-page novella by George Alec Effinger when there are Spider-Man comic books to read, do you? Thank you.

"The Last Man"

"The Last Man" is a derivative but clever tale of a bank robber who kills a guard and then waits after hours to kill the teller, the only one who saw his face. He shoots the teller but is then whacked on the back of the head by a cop. He comes to and finds the city deserted, a newspaper telling him that aliens had come and taken every one off to Mars and Saturn. Ironically, the only other soul left on earth is the teller, now dying from the gunshot wound. As the "last man on earth" cradles the dying man's head, we see that it's actually all in his head and he's being carted away by medics to a prison hospital. Fabulous art by DC war comics veteran (and EC staff artist) Russ Heath, a man who could make the worst script look good. We need a really good book-length study of Atlas' pre-hero horror titles.

"His Own Kind"

It may seem as though I'm beating a dead horse (and believe me, I feel I'm doing that at times) but the only reason Marvel got into the Black and White field is to hand Warren his ass. That's the facts, Jack. It didn't work, of course, and this giant-sized grand experiment, but for a cantankerous stray like Savage Sword of Conan, will be dead within a couple years. The reason I bring this up is because, until now, none of these Marvel Magazines felt like a Warren Magazine. The production wasn't as nice, the art not as spectacular, and the stories, most of all, not nearly as ground-breaking and memorable. Now, that's not to say I'm throwing Haunt of Horror #1 in the mix as "a magazine that stand toe-to-toe with Creepy," but it's the closest thing yet to a package that has the feel of a Warren. That could be as a result of the blissful absence of series characters (a treat that will end as of #2), but I think it's because Roy and Marv have deliberately driven this vehicle toward a darker, nastier alleyway. The final three original stories best exemplify the Faux-Warren vibe I get from this premiere. "His Own Kind" is a really nicely penciled tale of Ares, a werewolf bigamist (one wife is human, the other lupine), adapted from a short story by Thomas M. Disch. It's a bit on the pretentious side (ala a whole lot of Warren material) but its twist ending, where the human Ares must shoot his wolf mate or face the emasculating comments of his human wife and friends, is vicious and thought-provoking (ala lots of Warren material). A very mature change of pace for Marvel.

Christ, do me a favor and
just kill me already!
"The Nightmare Patrol," about an American platoon in Viet Nam that is being picked off, one by one, by a cannibal has some very Warren-ish art (by Conan regular Ernie Chua/Chan) and layouts. Even the B&W Marvels had shied away from Nam but, as the decade wears on, we'll see more and more tales set there. I couldn't help but think of the early issues of Creepy (in fact, it was jarring not to see Uncle Creepy dropping a one-liner after the final panel) where, it seems, every other story was about a ghoul. In 1966, "Nightmare Patrol" would have been penciled by Reed Crandall. And, finally, we have "In the Shadows of the City," a muddled, nonsensical bit of pap from then-Golden Boy Steve Gerber. There's this psycho with a Yankees hat who spends seven pages droning on that someone's going to die "in the shadows of the city" and does little else. Being a Diamondbacks fan, all I had to see was the NY cap to know the guy was a psycho but Gerber has to dig deeper into the man's psyche and, in the end, we're left with knowing nothing more than what we knew from the start... someone's going to die in.... Steve had probably been reading letters to Man-Thing proclaiming him the second coming of Steinbeck and actually gave the pomp some credence. Which nicely wraps up my comparisons to Warren. Many of the stars who frequented that company would pump out heavy material to remind readers they were more than comic strip writers but, invariably, they would return to what the boss was paying them for in the first place: to entertain, sometimes to educate, the reader. That's all I really wanted when I was thirteen and, judging by my recent reading of the Gerber story, it's all I want now. -Peter Enfantino

Val Mayerik's gorgeous splash for
"His Own Kind"



5 comments:

  1. Gotta say I must respectfully disagree with the contention that Gary Groth hated the medium of comics -- having been a regular reader of the Comics Journal for most of the 80s and well into the '90s, my assessment is that he loved the medium, but had such high standards that he hated most of the products of the biggest comics publishers, and let's be honest there was a lot of crap. So he lambasted what he hated but also pushed what he loved. At least throughout most of the 15 or so years I regularly read the Comics Journal he allowed for a variety of opinions, but the main thing is TCJ contained serious critiques about all sorts of comics and wasn't anything like a typical fan mag. Up until I started reading it, circa 1981, when I was 19, I'd been a Marvel zombie for about 10 years -- I don't think I had any comics by any other publishers (not counting Mad magazine) at the time. But TCJ helped broaden and refine my tastes. Of course, it helped having access to the comics stores where I bought TCJ and which had some of the alternative fare discussed therein. Anyhow, like him or loathe him, I don't think it's accurate or fair to accuse Groth of hating the medium of comics just because he does hate most mainstream comics.
    On another note, the only graphic magazine I bought in the '70s was Mad -- I thought that was worth the few extra sheckels I had to dole out, but I didn't put any of my spare allowance to any of Marvel's magazines.
    Of this week's batch, I only got 6 of them off the racks brand new -- Hulk, Ka-Zar, M. Team-Up, M. Two-In-One, Sub-Mariner & Thor. Of those, I'd rate Gerber's teaming of Ben Grimm & DD as the best. His characterizations of Ben & DD is just spot on and the mag tied in well with the ongoing Black Specter story in DD's own mag.
    In later years I also got the Black Panther, Man-Thing and Tomb of Dracula mags, all classics and better than most of what I did get off the racks for 25 cents a pop. Once more I give top marks to Gerber's Man-Thing, much abetted by Ploog's wonderful art. Of '70s comics horror artists, Ploog, Colan and Wrightson were the best, and each had a very distinct style and the talent to make for effectively creepy tales whatever the setting.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Fred!
      Thanks for taking the time to write in. We always appreciate feedback. I, too, loved The Comics Journal. I couldn't wait to get my hands on the newest issue to see who Groth would skewer. I love the fact that he'd whomp Marvel over and over but put Hulk, Spidey, Thor, and The X-Men (especially The X-Men) on the cover to sell copies! I bought sister zine Amazing Heroes as well but it just wasn't the same. TCJ Lite.

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    2. I only read a few issues of Amazing Heroes, Peter. Not sure if the comics shops I went to didn't carry it or what, but most of them did have the Comics Journal and I really dug that mag -- maybe more so because there were so many intense opinions about various comics and I learned a lot about the history of the medium therein too. Certainly in the late '70s & early '80s, Groth was canny enough to use mainstream comics biggest stars to help sell his own magazine even if he often criticized the mainstream. But then he'd also allow many of the mainstream artists & writers gush their own blood & thunder in those usually terrific interviews. Alas, I missed the issue with Harlan Elison's interview, which resulted in a lawsuit by Michael Fleisher (I've read several of his comics, some of which were good, others so so, but never read his book, "Chasing Hairy" and based on reviews I've read of it, I'm just as happy to have not had that experience).

      Delete
  2. This might sound like a lame remark, but I wonder if that line in THE LAST MAN - "I've killed the only man in the world who could keep me from loneliness!" - was ever picked on by the Frederick Werthams.

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