Wednesday, August 20, 2014

August 1974 Part One: Captain America No More! Deathlok is a Demolisher!

Captain America and the Falcon 176
"Captain Amercia Must Die!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vinnie Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

After the events of the Secret Empire affair. Cap is struggling with whether or not to give up his identity, since the country had let him down so badly. One by one, each of his friends comes to convince him of the necessity of his role while Cap flashes back to the important points of his life. After much soul searching, Cap comes to his decision….Captain America must die! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: The synopsis is so slender because, really, that's all there is to this issue. It feels like one of those "Summing Up" album issues they would stick in the schedule when the Dreaded Deadline Doom forced them to drop in a filler. It's great to get non- readers up to speed, but for regulars, it's one big yawn.

Matthew Bradley: “An equally daring issue [as #175] in a different way,” as Stainless calls it on his site: “there was no action at all. Steve Rogers broods on the roof of Avengers Mansion and various heroes come talk to him about his decision. But the emotional content was intense.” Since Steve’s (Rogers, not Englehart) disillusionment and temporary abandonment of the Cap i.d. set in motion many a plotline to come, this must be considered at least as momentous as its predecessor. Looking at it now, I don’t find the extensive, uh, re-Cap all that different from your garden-variety anniversary issue, and Sal’s “timeline” two-page spread seems more like wasted space than the stunner it was obviously intended to be—yet again, this is undeniably a milestone.

Mark Barsotti: Never read this before, although I know the post-Secret Empire backstory of the self-doubting Steve Rogers giving up the wing-headed cowl. Credit is due Stainless Steve Englehart for channeling his (and our generation's) post-Watergate angst and disillusionment through a WW II long underwear hero, literally wrapped in the flag, and have it dramatically affect the direction of the book.

With all that said, this is still pretty much a crashing bore. Did we really need yet another four page recap of Cap's origin, or a Sal Buscema two page spread that's mostly blank white space? Englehart's website assertion that "there's no action at all," is flat-out wrong; it just that all the action replays the past, from the first burst of Super Soldier Vita-Rays, down through the '50's Cap confrontation, to a certain unnamed disgraced President putting a pistol to his head.

All this can be justified as palette-cleansing, deck-clearing for Steve Rogers' nomadic dark night of the soul ahead. Englehart has earned enough good will with his run on the title to warrant a month's patience as he shifts gears.

I hope the journey ahead is worth it.

Astonishing Tales 25
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"A Cold Knight's Frenzy"
Story by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench
Art by Rich Buckler, Klaus Janson, Al Milgrom, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

A cyborg assassin, with a computer running his every move, tracks down a mark in a futuristic New York subway, then liquidates another above ground. Flashback to Ryker, who orders a piece of brilliant military strategist Col. Manning’s brain preserved so that it can be implanted into a super-solider under Project: Alpha-Mech—the operation is a success, complete with metal grafts and a prosthetic arm, as Manning is turned into Deathlok. The cyborg returns from his successful mission, complete with attitude, and heads to his boss, Julian Biggs, thinking back to his training and sub-servience to computer-coded orders. He kills a bunch of goons, kicks down a wall, then remembers being captured by Ryker, who wants to know why Deathlok rebelled and didn’t complete a mission but the cyborg breaks free! Back to the present, and Deathlok meets up with Biggs, who doesn’t have money for him, so the cyborg smashes Biggs, finding out he’s a cyborg also! But all the while, Ryker is pulling the strings, but it’s discovered he too is a cyborg!—Joe Tura

Joe Tura: “Fearsome first issue!” “The steel-smashing origin of the world’s most offbeat superhero!” “Perhaps the greatest creation yet in the Marvel Age of Comics, Phase Two”! Can the insides live up to the incredible claims of the cover? Well….We kick off a new phase of Astonishing Tales, and it’s 10 times better than the IT! saga, which ain’t sayin’ much. According to the Bullpen Bulletin, Deathlok is “part cyborg, part superhero and maybe just a touch of monster, all rolled up into one pulsating package by Rich “Swash” Buckler, who conceived and drew the awesome origin tale, and Devil-May-Care Doug Moench, who supplied some of the most unique scripting we’ve seen in a month of Mondays!” I guess there isn’t much for me to add….Nah, of course there is. Decent Buckler art and not a bad origin tale. The switching back and forth between past and present got a little annoying, but hey, I can respect the decision. And having everyone be a cyborg is a bit kooky, too.

There’s a couple of pages of roundtable discussion about Deathlok, then a short, slightly humorous tale scripted by Moench and drawn by George Perez/Mike Esposito about the Deathlok creation. Hurray….

Mark: Ah, Deathlok. A truly historic character, although the short run (a mere twelve issues, ending in Marvel Spotlight nine months after 'Lok's last appearance in Astonishing) of Rich Buckler's signature creation has largely obscured its artistic significance.

More's the pity.

Five years before Frank Miller recast Daredevil as film noir, Buckler (aided by scripter Doug Moench) plunks the reader down into some future, undated Amerika, not exactly post-apocalyptic, but deep in urban jungle, rotten mid-70's Big Apple decline writ large, engaged in endless wars overseas and ruled with a militaristic heavy-hand.

And "the world's most offbeat superhero?" He's a murderous cyborg, the ex-Colonel Luther Manning having been resurrected in full Franken-mode by General Ryker to be a killing machine. Manning shares his head with "'puter'" programming, waging an internal war in his own skull as he wages war with Ryker and tries to regain what's left of his dead-on-the-battlefield humanity.

Finally, we see Rich Buckler drawing in his own top-flight style as he and Moench start us on the too short journey of perhaps the darkest, most nihilistic "hero" in the history of comics.

I can't understand why it didn't sell like hotcakes.

Chris Blake: If you like your nightmares best served cold -- then here comes Deathlok. The Roddenberry ideal is turned on its head by the notion that life-preserving surgery could be employed to create a mindless killing machine (it gets dark in Watergate-era America, doesn’t it?) – but wait – the “I’m not dead yet!” subject’s ego-identity is so strong, that he can overcome his programming! Buckler & Moench establish an awful lot in this premiere. The origin, inter-cut with the present-day story, is presented brilliantly; the action keeps pressing along – plus, it’s so much more interesting than the typical approach, which requires the hero’s eyesight to dim, as his thoughts carry him back to a time, not so long ago . . .

Buckler’s cinematic style contributes to the brisk pace. We gain some insight into his style, after so many previous examples when he has tried to recreate Kirby’s look for FF fans. Now that Buckler feels he can present his art his own way, this is the look he chooses; Janson (who is credited with an inking assist) might have had some influence on the heavy, moody style Buckler had first presented in mags like Jungle Action.

Thunderbolt Ross' long-lost brother?
Chris: The look of the creature himself bears mention – extra points to Buckler for taking a chance on a Marvel protagonist that can be described as purposefully “repulsive?” It’s all in the face – the scarred, mottled skin, decomposed (or burned-off?) nose, and the bulging red electronic eye. Nasty.

I wonder how George Perez (here making his Marvel debut, which has served only to make high-quality copies of this issue even more expensive) was chosen for the jaunty creative-process piece at the end?

Think of all the unusual characters Marvel has unveiled in the early Bronze Age – what a superteam that would make: Shang-Chi! Ghost Rider! Mantis! Warlock! Man-Thing! Moondragon! Valkyrie! Son of Satan! and Deathlok! What would you even call such an assemblage -?

Peter Enfantino: Make no mistake, Doug Moench manages to evoke every pulp line ever written ("... spitting crimson shrieks of death..." and "flex-steel fingers vise-squeezing a streaking spurt of ripping searing boring light..." are just a couple examples) with his adjective-packed prose, but this is, easily, the most imaginative and original concept Marvel had introduced in years. Did I say original? Fair enough. Buckler's pitch at the "idea table" doubtless ran something like: "... so we take The Punisher and combine him with Steve Austin and we get..." (even though that bit was left out of the silly "How We Created Deathlok" feature) but who wouldn't be drawn deep into the fascinating backstory? Buckler reaches near-Adams levels with his art here (and it only got better, in my book). As Professor Mark sarcastically questioned above, how the hell was this not a hit? I loved it right off the rack in early Summer 1974 (bought at a 7-11 in Santa Cruz, Ca while on vacation --- I can still see that comic rack spinning) and, forty years later, it's still a fabulous read. 

Matthew: We had #27 off the rack, so I came to this party pretty early, always loved Deathlok, and feel he was ill-served both on and off the page, since to me he epitomized the boldness of the Bronze Age and merited a longer run. Conceived, plotted, and drawn by Buckler in full Starlin-mode—with uncredited inking assists here by Janson, Milgrom, and Esposito—the series is his only Marvel writing credit; not a big fan of initial scripter Moench, whose omniscient narration is muy purple, but as his contribution was said to be major, I’ll put it in his asset column. Deathlok’s genesis is chronicled in a reputed transcript of their confab with Roy, plus a two-page Moench/Esposito parody featuring the first work of penciler George Pérez.

Peter: According to a piece in FOOM #4 (Winter 1973), Deathlok was originally slotted for Worlds Unknown (under the title "Cyborg" which happens to be the title of the Martin Caidin novel that The Six Million Dollar Man was based on) but was apparently shuffled over to Astonishing when WU got the axe. The character gets a short-lived shelf life in Astonishing but continues to pop up here and there in the usual places (Team-Up, etc.). He'll get a second shot at fame when he gets resurrected during the "throw enough crap at the wall and something will stick" 1990s glut of variant covers and bagged refuse material (actually, when you think about it, the comic companies did the waste management industry a big favor by bagging these comics and saving later generations the trouble). The reboot lasted 34 issues.

The Amazing Spider-Man 135
"Shoot-Out in Central Park!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

The Punisher, with help from the crafty Tarantula, blames Spider-Man for the hijacking of the ship, but once he recovers, Spidey knocks the hitman down and talks some sense into him—as the slippery South American slithers away on a chopper. Punisher swims off, telling the wall-crawler to meet him at Fort Tryon at midnight, leaving the passengers to crowd the web-head ‘til he falls over the side. Flash Thompson recounts last issue after Mary Jane asks about Peter—who suddenly turns up overboard, having been “shoved over during the assault”. JJJ is ecstatic that he doesn’t have to pay the ransom, thanking the Punisher, of course. Meanwhile, a suspicious Harry goes through a showering Peter’s dresser, finding his carelessly-placed dirty costume! Spider-Man goes to meet Punisher and gets a look at the Tarantula’s origin. A sleazy, yet enthusiastic revolutionary named Anton Miguel Rodriguez, he was expelled from his band when he killed a bank guard and joined the dictatorship he was fighting against, becoming Tarantula. But when he killed a government guard, he left the country in a hurry and arrived in New York. The two sneak up on Tarantula’s lair, with Punisher taking out the ever-present purple clad goons and Spidey taking off after the big bad and tossing him into the lake after a short, yet frenetic and preachy battle. And we end on Harry discovering his father’s secret headquarters...Uh-oh…--Joe Tura

Mark: Having buried Kid Conway on this month's FF (deservedly so), let's now praise him. "Shoot-Out in Central Park!" is fun, first-rate Spidey. We get another appearance by the then mysterious Punisher - admittedly too ready to machine gun Webs at the opening, but two pages later they've joined forces against the psycho South American boatnapper. We get the Tarantula's backstory, nicely delivered in the form of black bordered newsreel footage, and a bracing chase & takedown of Tranny by both protagonists. Along the way there's a standard issue "Where's Pete during all the hub-bub?" mystery just barely finessed with an "I fell off the boat" explanation, a quick peak in at the Bugle gang, and – drum roll please - an unstable Harry Osborn finding PP's alter-ego duds and about to step into daddy's curled-toed Goblin booties as a last-panel steel door slides down behind him. And it's all presented in Ross Andru's slightly goofball but ever-more endearing style.

Joe: Guess what? This Romita classic is one of the most iconic covers of the year and one I remember vividly as a 7 year old! Haven’t heard that before, have ya…? I’ll probably like this issue more than most of the faculty, mostly because it’s my beloved Spidey. Decent action, strange expressions on Punisher, ultra-creepy expressions on an increasingly insane Harry, more arrogance than is needed from Tarantula, an unnecessary recap from Flash that seems more like time wasting than trying to get to the bottom of why Peter wasn’t there, and that epilogue…Oh, that epilogue! Get me to September, stat!

Lots of odd takes at humor here, more than usual for ASM. Spidey telling Punisher “Lead on, MacDuff” goes back to my Shakespeare-laden review from a couple of months ago. Coincidence? No way! Or Spidey asking Punisher if he’s showing his “very own slideshow of Disney World”. Or calling a thug “Bunkie”. Or to Tarantula: “Sorry, Charlie” and “twinkle-toes” and “old bean”. For that, our hero gets called “American pig”. No respect, I tells ya!

Scott: Some good stuff in here, from Harry finally making the connection, to the Tarantula's origin and then the Punisher realizing he was wrong about the wall crawler. The art is pretty good too, although the Punisher is deep into his ugly phase. Spidey gives off with a pretty good speech at the end. There's a strong hint that Flash doesn't buy Peter's excuse for falling overboard, but to my knowledge, the thread is not picked up later on.

Matthew: The death of Gwen Stacy threatens to overshadow another seminal contribution Conway made during his run, i.e., introducing Marvel’s answer to Mack Bolan, who later approached rock-star status. It’s interesting how quickly the Punisher has moved into the role of an uneasy ally, and having his base be located in the Cloisters provides a pleasant echo of the first Clint Eastwood/Don Siegel collaboration, Coogan’s Bluff (1968). Not sure we needed quite so many pages on the Tarantula’s origin, but my only real criticism is that Andru, inked here by Tura-target Giacoia, is still drawing Harry (whose last name is misspelled “Osborne” on the cover—idiots!) as more of a caricature than a character; overall, though, this one’s the goods.

Peter: The second part of the Tarantula/Punisher saga is nothing more than filler until we get to that final six panels. Over at the bare bones blog, Jack Seabrook and I have been moaning and groaning about Ross Andru and Mike Esposito and their awful art on the "War That Time Forgot" series. Andru displays the same kind of rubbery human features and bugged-out eyes in his caricature of Harry Osborn (the "e" is silent, Professor Matthew) as in his dinosaur-fighting GIs. Hilarious that The Punisher sets up a slide show presentation of Tarantula's origin for Spidey when a simple "He's a ca-razy rebel, Web-Crawler. All you need to know" would have sufficed, and equally hilarious that this ex-Che would be outfitted with stinger boots when a machine gun works much more efficiently.

Joe: Favorite sound effect: Spidey smacks The Punisher on page 3 to the sound of “SPAM!” Now, this either means the creative team members were big Monty Python fans, or they realized this issue is as much filler as our illustrious Dean believes. Or they were running out of ideas for punch sound effects. But then they go and repeat it on page 26 when Punisher slams Hildago and Juan against the wall! Tsk, tsk.

Chris: There’s a mean-spirited part of me that wants to say that the best part of this comic is its cover. But when a cover is as iconically-great as this one, maybe it has nothing to do with meanness on my part (personal note: I picked up a VG copy for a dollar or so at a flea market approx 35 yrs ago – it’s the oldest ASM in my collection). Fortunately, the standoff with the Punisher is resolved after a little over two pages, so we can get on with the story. I wasn’t expecting such an in-depth history of the Tarantula.

Decent action from Andru/Giacoia as we get to the last few pages. Curious – but strangely effective – choice by Andru to have Harry look directly at us, the readers, when he discovers the laxly left-out Spidey costume. It’s as if he’s reaching thru the fourth wall to us. Now, it’s possible that Andru got an advance look at Romita’s (unbeatable) cover, and found a way to incorporate the image in the issue itself; if that’s the case, then Romita would have to be the principal creditee for this visual.

The Avengers 126
"All the Sounds and Sights of Death!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Bob Brown and Dave Cockrum
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Trouble in the mansion as the apparent affection between Mantis and the Vision causes tension for the Swordsman and the Scarlet Witch. Meanwhile, Cap is on edge and bitchy over his own indecision over whether to quit being Captain America. To top it off, the Black Panther agonizes over being needed in his homeland. At that moment, Ronald Pershing, ambassador to the white supremacist nation of Rudyardia arrives asking for help. Each member of the embassy has been threatened and the gardener was found burned to death. Wanda, Vision, Swordsman, the Panther and Mantis leave to investigate while Cap, Iron Man and Thor remain behind. The sound of an energy discharge gets their attention and, rushing outside, they see a giant image of Klaw, Master Of Sound and Solarr, who have taken the other Avengers as hostages. They demand the Panther surrender his throne to Klaw or the captured heroes will be killed one by one. Pershing is attacked and nearly killed by Solarr, however Wanda revives him. The Panther is given an hour to relinquish his throne before the women are attacked. The Panther figures Klaw would have to be within a mile radius and sends Cap, Iron Man and Thor on the search, using one of Tony Stark's miracle machines. While the countdown comes closer to the end, Wanda tries to get the Vision to admit his feelings, but ain't nobody got time for 'dat. When the trio return in failure, the Panther deduces Pershing is Klaw in disguise, his plan to avenge his treatment in Rudyardia using Wakanda as a base. The jig is up and the Avengers beat them silly. T'Challa realizes he needs to concentrate on his homeland and takes a leave of absence just as Cap realizes he has to do the same. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A pretty annoying issue, packed with crabby women and insecure men. The Swordsman is defined by his angst, really serving no purpose other than to worry about and try to impress Mantis. Why she is even with this dude is anybody's guess. He's nothing more than a fifth tier hero who is barely competent enough to be an Avenger. On second thought, ever since the original team gave way to Cap's Kooky Quartet, membership is pretty lax. The teaming of Klaw and Solarr is a natural, but nothing interesting is done with it. The art is middling and overall, the title continues to just putter along. I honestly don't care about the soap opera, it merely grates rather than involves.

Matthew: As a booster of both artists, I’ll opine that Cockrum not only displays his own considerable talent once again, but also demonstrates Brown’s effectiveness in the hands of the right inker, although I’ll admit there’s an uneven feel to the results. It’s a curious issue all-round, as Stainless is apparently too concerned with continuing his romantic quadrangle, and paving the way for the exit of Cap and T’Challa, even to explain how his two B-list (at best) villains hooked up in the first place. I rolled my eyes at his “We’ll leave it up to you!” m.o., and can’t recall how that worked out—no, I’m not going to look ahead at the moment—yet there’s enough good stuff here to put me in a forgiving mood, e.g., the nifty two-page spread and Vision/Wanda exchange.

Chris: The giant-size craze carries over to the comics themselves, as Klaw and Solarr – appearing to be many times their usual size – loom threateningly over Avengers Mansion! So – they’re ready to strike! But first, a few pages of brooding and sulking! Indecision, bordering on self-doubt! And then, a diplomatic conversation! Then, a brief confab with fellow teammates, followed by a walk outside! All of this takes six pages, which I admit isn’t a terribly long time, and I can acknowledge that Steve might’ve wanted to build-up toward the reveal of our super-sized super-foe, but thrills and excitement it ain’t.

The mid-battle-wha?! moment this issue comes from Wanda, who corners Vision with a “We need to talk” when she might be eight minutes from execution. Now, I realize that Steve has told us that these characters have these concerns, but come on – they’re professionals, and the pros know how to block out these thoughts in the moment when there are graver concerns at work. Wouldn’t you rather spend your last eight minutes trying to find a way to ensure that you have more than eight minutes to live? The Vision (once again) is required to be the rational being who has to argue for shelving the exchange until later. The Swordsman contributes nothing this issue – he’s become the Medusa of this team. The fight with the sound-panthers is superfluous. At the end, what are the other team members doing when T’Challa takes out both opponents – did they all go for coffee, or something? I mean, they could’ve at least offered to pick up something for him. Common courtesy.

A letter from Ralph Macchio observes that the Avengers would be near-perfect “if something can be done about the inks.” I hope you’re all enjoying Cockrum’s finishes as much as I am. Remember, this is the same Bob Brown who got Heck-splotched all those times earlier this year. Now, as an example, take a look at the clarity of the facial expressions for Wanda (p 3, p 27), and even the Vision (p 26, 27), and compare to a few issues ago. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Giant-Size Avengers 1
"Nuklo-the Invader That Time Forgot!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

The Avengers are shocked to see an intruder in the mansion trying to steal the "Time Capsule." The disguised man seems to recognize Captain America, but then realizes it is not the Cap he knew. Turns out the intruder is The Whizzer, a hero from the All-Winners Squad in the late 1940's, a group with a replacement Cap whom The Whizzer remembers. He tells the tale of their battle with the Future Man and his time capsule, and how they defeated him. Later, as the years passed, Whizzer married fellow teammate Miss America and became government agents, guarding a secret atomic experiment when it suddenly goes awry. They attempt to stop it and are hit with the radiation. He skips ahead to his hearing about a collapsed building and how the Avengers found and confiscated the time capsule. A capsule which suddenly now glows and explodes, releasing Nuklo, a radioactive man and Whizzer's son. Because of the radiation Miss America absorbed, their baby came out deformed and emitting deadly radiation. He was placed into the capsule in suspended animation for 25 years until the radiation subsided. Later, Miss America was once again pregnant and, while travelling in Europe, they happened upon Wundagore and the High Evolutionary. She gave birth to twins: Pietro and Wanda! Having heard the story, Wanda joins the team battling Nuklo and because they are siblings, she has the power to fell him. They place him back in the capsule and Wanda gets to know her father…

This story is followed by two reprints, one of an old Human Torch story and the other a Wasp solo feature. Knock yourselves out, but I skipped them… -Scott McIntyre

Nope, it only looks like his art
Scott: A pretty decent retro adventure, with Rich Buckler again channeling Kirby. It's fun and actually has some weight. The reveal of the Whizzer being the father of Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch is pretty cool, something which will be reversed in later years and the relation turns out to be not what was revealed here. The Whizzer and Nuklo will return.

Matthew: The cover blurb touting “the startling reappearance of the fabled—All-Winners Squad!” is a bit of a cheat, since the squad is seen only in flashback, yet the Whizzer’s modern-day scenes plant seeds that will blossom in one of my favorite arcs. Reunited with Rich—inked by Adkins, from whom I’ve seen little of late—and the Assemblers, Roy is clearly in his element, positing Bob and Madeline (née Joyce) Frank as the parents of not only Nuklo but also Wanda and Pietro, although a complicated retcon later establishes Magneto as their father. Completing this Gold, Silver, and Bronze trifecta are Mike Sekowsky’s “The Ray of Madness!” (Human Torch Comics #33, November 1948) and a Lieber Frères Wasp yarn from Astonish #58.

Per Roy’s editorial, “I simply had to jump back in, if only for one brief moment, and get a story off my chest. A story bridging the gap, perhaps, between The Avengers, which had been my favorite superhero comic of all to write, and the heroes of my late-1940’s youth, when Captain America (in one incarnation or another), the original Human Torch, and the ever-sensational Sub-Mariner were still stomping around in the pages of mags with titles like Marvel Mystery Comics….Then, because the resulting story grew too long [34 pages vs. the now-standard 30] for re-presentation of an entire Avengers tale to round out the issue…I tossed in…one of the first team-ups I remember from Timely Comics,” featuring the Torch, Cap, and the also-ran Sun Girl.

Chris: A fairly okay intro for Nuklo, who will pop up every now and then and give us all a good glowing. Nuklo could blow up the city, if he weren’t so easily herded back toward Avengers Mansion, and if Wanda’s hex sphere weren’t able to dissipate Nuklo’s reality-annihilating power in two minutes or so. At least, this time, there was a reason (story-advancing-wise) for giving Wanda such a limited role in the action, so that she could stay by Bob Frank’s bedside. Obviously, this issue is significant only as it provides new info on Wanda and Pietro’s origin (I had forgotten that Bova the new-man midwife originally had appeared so far ahead of Avengers #185).

I can’t say that my overall interest in the story ever completely recovered from the utterly pointless – annoying, even – MARMIS, which goes so far as to suggest that Bob Frank would K.O. poor Jarvis. Hey Bob – ya ever hear of knocking on the front door, maybe? Fortunately, the Whizzer’s occasional future visits to his daughter will not have to be supervised by Child Protective Services.

Rich Buckler’s back, and there’s plenty of action to spare. The pairing with Adkins on inks only serves to make Buckler’s art even Kirbier than usual. I skimmed the reprints – I remember the one about the Torch flying to Jupiter as being particularly hilarious, and while I’m sure I read the Wasp story, I can’t say I recall anything about it. Roy (who, on the editorial page, relates some of the enjoyment he derived from his stint as Avengers scripter), on the bottom of the very last page, promises “two full-length Avengers epics!” for the next issue. Well, Roy, if you want my four bits, you better deliver.

Peter: Unlike my esteemed colleagues, I found this to be a whole heapin' helpin' of hokum. There are just way too many "Aw, c'mon!" moments here: The Whizzer's obligatory "I have no time to explain why I broke into the mansion and knocked your butler out but can we be allies?" speech; the Golden Boy's sudden total knowledge of the "other Cap"; the lightbulb that comes on over Scarlet Witch's head ("You had a nuclear kid? Hey, did you ever vacation in Europe?"); the government backing a time capsule for little Nuklo. It all adds up to sub-standard fare in a sub-genre where Roy Thomas had no competition. It's okay though, Rascally is allowed a Lucky Town now and then.

Conan the Barbarian 41
“The Garden of Life and Death”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chua
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chua

Seeking rest and carnal recreation in a desert village a week’s ride from Zamora, the City of Thieves, Conan rescues a woman named Zhadorr from bloodthirsty townsfolk who are convinced that she is a demon. The two ride out into the desert, the strangely silent girl guiding the barbarian to the Oasis of Shar-Al-Tjinn. On the way, Conan and Zhadorr are pursued by desert brigands who want to sell the pair into slavery. At the lush desert outpost, the bandits overcome and bind the brawny barbarian. With rape on his devious mind, the brigand leader Haak-Shi takes Zhadorr deeper into the oasis. Driven to save her, Conan slips his ropes and heads after them — when he comes across the scene, Haak-Shi is but a piles of blanched bones and Zhadorr falls dead in his arms. The befuddled barbarian returns to the brigand’s camp only to find a tremendous tree wrapping its timberous tendrils around the men and their mounts. Suddenly Conan himself is in the grasp of the vicious vegetation. But the Cimmerian manages to grab a burning branch from the campfire and flings it in the murderous maw of the tree and it bursts into flames. Exhausted, Conan collapses. When he awakes, the barbarian notices a large green pod hanging from the burnt-out bark of the tree-monster. The pod slowly opens to reveal an exact replica of Zhadorr who seductively calls out for him. The townsfolk were right: the girl is a demon. Horrified, Conan hacks the pod creature to pieces with his broadsword and rides away. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: I rather enjoyed this issue, but anyone surprised by the reveal at the end should stick to Archie comics. Though Principal Weatherbee does remind me of a pod person. Buscema and Chua’s art remains pitch perfect, and the two-page spread of the tree attacking the brigands and the horse is malevolently magnificent. The terrified look on the face of the steed is particularly upsetting. Luckily the ASPCA didn’t get a hold of this issue. Roy’s all-original plot is wonderfully written and I was particularly impressed by the line “Men make many decisions in their lives. Soon or late, one of them must be the last.” Some of the promotional footers made me chuckle. “If you like Hero for Hire, you’ll love Power Man! (Like same mag!)” If it’s “like same mag,” why would I love it more? “If you buy a humor mag and it’s dumb — that’s Crazy!” is pretty good as well. “Housing shortage got you down? Try The Tomb of Dracula!” not so much. The Hyborian Page is packed with praise for Neal Adams' awesome art in issue #37. Of course I agree, but was still heartened to see that the majority of the letters end with a form of “…but, of course, never replace Buscema.”

Daredevil 112
"Death of a Nation?"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Daredevil watches helplessly as the radio tower of the Empire State Building plummets to the streets below. Nekra, Black Spectre’s high priestess knocks DD off the ladder of the group's flying zeppelin, but he manages to swing around with his billy club and reach the craft’s entrance first. Mandrill awaits him and, between the two villains, they subdue him, where he awakes bound beside Shanna, and guarded by a hypnotized Black Widow. Leaving them with only a skeleton crew to man the ship, the Mandrill, Nekra and his followers land on the grounds of the White House, the U.S. military forces obliged to offer no resistance at threat of a bomb under Manhattan. DD and Shanna use the shock of a memory, yelled out, to break Natasha’s trance. She frees them, and uses her learned knowledge of Mandrill’s ship to gain them an advantage. Flown by rocket packs they break into the White House to surprise their foes. They win a hard fought victory, with the aid of a little luck, but somehow Mandrill, despite a great fall, seems to have slipped away. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The first thing that struck me about this issue is how good it looks. The action sequences and use of angles (like the opening page above the Empire State Building) are Gene Colan at his best, not to mention how good Natasha and Shanna look. Considering how quickly the tale is wrapped up, it seems believable, with a nice loose end of Mandrill’s escape. I wonder if there'll be any triangle with DD, Shanna and the Widow?

Matthew: I’ve never understood Professor Joe’s reflexive aversion to Giacoia, who to me is at worst inconsistent and at best highly talented, with a good example being this issue penciled by the difficult-to-ink Colan. This book floundered for such a long time, yet here, in my opinion, everything comes together in a way that makes me glad Gerber is going to stick around for a bit longer. His script and the art are both solid, highlighted respectively by DD’s characterization and that awesome two-page spread of the White House, and at the risk of being an iconoclast (so why stop now?), I found this somewhat more satisfying than that other, higher-profile Oval Office climax, which—by its own author’s admission—was wrapped up sooner than he intended.

Chris: A very satisfying issue all around. I enjoy these all-too-rare moments when Gentleman Gene drops by. Steve does all right, too. There are a number of nifty moments when DD is able to take his opponents by surprise – which should happen more often, given his powers and abilities. A clever moment in the DD-Widow relationship, as DD is able to use Natasha’s recollection of her outrage at muggers – and anger at Matt – to jog her out of her hypnotic state. One question: did Steve plant that emotional moment, back in #108, or was he simply clever enough by #112 to know how to use it? Extra credit also to Steve for describing how DD perceives Natasha’s change in heart rate and perspiration before she breaks back to the surface.

Steve works in some social commentary, as he demonstrates how Mandrill’s takeover derives from the villain’s rightfully cynical understanding of the tenuous nature of the fabric that binds together a society. And with how much glee – in 1974, no less – did Steve type the line, “the impeachment committee has come to call!”

Matthew: The abrupt disappearance of last month’s newly introduced villain between issues is addressed in “a funny aside with regard to ol’ Silver Sam: the reason he didn’t appear in ish #112 was a rather bizarre one. You see, Bob’s drawings for DD #111 were being inked at the time Gene Colan [currently alternating with Brown] had to start work on the next issue. And, as a result, we had no reference material on the Silver Samurai to send to Gene! After talking it all out, we decided that in view of the space limitations we were facing and the complexity of the scenes to follow, it was best just to strand the Samurai atop the Empire State Building and explain later how he made his escape. (Weird? You bet. But absolutely true),” explains the lettercol in #116.

Chris: There’s a very thoughtful letter from Anne G., who encourages Steve and Roy to apply more time and thought into exploring, and establishing DD as an individual character. He should be a loner, a night-stalker, with a bitter tone due to all he has “seen” in a dual life as superhero and attorney. Anne suggests that DD play up the radar sense, and DD’s other heightened senses (scent, touch). Lastly, downplay the soap opera. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Anne. Some of these suggestions will come to play over the next year or so, and then be lost for a time, before Roger McKenzie and Frank Miller (at the tail-end of the Bronze Age) finally make them stick.

As for Shanna, well, especially under Gene’s handling, she really – oh, hi Shanna! Say, you, uh, I mean, did you, eh, make your costume yourself, or did you, um, have it, I mean, did you buy it somewhere? Because it, it’s, um, I think it looks, I mean, you look – oh, uh, you do? Yeah okay, well good to see you –

Doctor Strange 2
"A Separate Reality"
Story by Steve Englehart and Frank Brunner
Art by Frank Brunner and Dick Giordano
Colors by Frank Brunner
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Frank Brunner

Silver Dagger, the evil madman responsible for Dr. Strange’s fate, has Clea prisoner, and vows to cleanse her of Stephen’s “evil influence.” He uses the Eye of Agamotto to look in on Strange; thinking him dead, Dagger is surprised to find him alive inside the Orb, although it is a life of unreality. A creature called the Soul Eater appears behind Strange, and sucks his astral form inside it. Dr. Strange disrupts the creature’s nervous system, freeing himself and the souls within. He then encounters a most bizarre version of unreality. All his teammates from the Defenders and other familiar heroes, the same except they don’t know him! They live in a castle, with the Valkyrie as their queen! A brief skirmish leads to an explanation and understanding—this unreality has only postponed death, unless he can find an escape. Clea meanwhile, still has to endure the Silver Dagger. -Jim Barwise

Jim: From the opening page, which shows Silver Dagger beheading the mannequin of Stephen, this issue packs a wallop. The world of unreality that Dr. Strange has to endure is truly confounding; I don’t think many readers could predict the direction that Englehart and Brunner were going. Silver Dagger thinks he’s above magic, yet he uses it; his self-appointed mission is not what he thinks it is. Having the Defenders appear here is a stroke of genius, without altering the unreality of the story, we combine two of the best titles going now.

Matthew: I keep looking for something wrong with this issue—no, not because I’m eager to find fault with anything Englehart did, but because I can’t understand why it didn’t jazz me up more, and I’m wondering if Brunner’s co-plotting may be a factor. I certainly have nothing bad to say about his pencils, or the Giordano inks that seem richer than his current efforts on Iron Fist, yet neither this nor the Sise-Neg saga sets my pulse racing like their conclusion of the Shuma-Gorath arc. Although I should be thrilled to see his fellow Defenders et al. (even Nick Fury, fergoshsakes) sharing space with our Sorcerer Supreme, I think the effect is not unlike that of What If?, where the knowledge that the story never “really” took place lessens my excitement.

Chris: The majestic madness continues, as Doc holds on to his wits and winds his way thru the orb’s innards. Steve & Frank seem to be having a ball with Doc’s wanderings thru unreality. The “tea party” is priceless – I wonder who decided to invite Ant-Man, and whose ringed-bearing white hand is trying to hold on to the edge of the table (next to Hawkeye)? Somehow, it’s easier to accept a MARMIS when it doesn’t involve real Doc’s teammates, but – what about when they’re possibly figments of his unconsciousness?

Steve ably addresses the question I posed last time about Silver Dagger’s use of magic – he tells us that he uses magic to fight against it. But clearly, SD gets off on magic a bit too, doesn’t he, as he takes a peek into the all-seeing Eye. Could SD’s double-standard lead to his downfall? Well, I guess I shouldn’t get ahead of myself, since Doc will have his work cut out for him if he wants to cheat Death.

Brunner’s masterful art speaks for itself. This is the only chapter in the SD storyline that features Brunner as colorist – I wonder why he chose to color this issue, and not the others? The grayish shadow for SD on p 2, panel 5 is particularly effective. I also like how the background for the orb’s “interior” shifts throughout the issue, from blue to green to violet and around again, which suggests the confusion inherent in that unfathomable environment.

Mark: Let us now gush over Frank Brunner's flat-out spectacular art (expertly inked by D.C. stalwart Dick Giordano): from his photo-realistic faces, icky soul-sucking monsters and tormented lost souls, to the varied and innovative page layouts, ethereal, otherworldly vistas, and double page spread of many Marvel Superheroes getting drunk at a tea party (!), almost every panel is a feast for the eye (okay, so one panel of the Silver Surfer (right), looks more like Deadman after eating some bad clams, but nobody's perfect).

It's not at all surprising that most of the best artists from the late Silver to mid-Bronze ages (Steranko, Barry Smith, Brunner, Paul Gulacy to name a handful) chose not to devote years and decades to the work-for-hire grind of monthly comics like their predecessors did. No, in retrospect, it's a wonder (and a gift to the fans) that they produced as much great work as they did before moving on to more lucrative pursuits.

And Steve Englehart's second Silver Dagger installment of the mortally wounded Doc Strange fighting for his life in the realm of "unreality" is not too shabby either.

Fantastic Four 149
"To Love, Honor, and Destroy!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Namor has his whole menagerie of sea monsters in tow, as he vows to invade the surface world and defeat the Fantastic Four. Sue stands beside him, thinking Reed never loved her. While Johnny, Ben and Reed head into battle, Medusa senses something a little off in the vicious way the Sub-Mariner is acting. Thundra fills in for Medusa for now, a worthy opponent in her own right. The battle is fairly even, until Sue starts to see the love behind the way Reed is defending her. She runs to Reed, saying how sorry she is, and Namor graciously backs away, respecting her decision. What the F.F. don’t see, is how this whole war was just a ruse to get Sue and Reed back together again, planned by the Inhumans and Namor! -Jim Barwise

Jim: I remember this issue well; much of the dialogue and art trigger some memories. Speaking of art, it’s tough not to love Rich Buckler when he’s on, despite his shameless duplicating of many Jack Kirby poses. I recognize a number of them here. Still, it moves along so smoothly, you hardly think about it. Having cited its familiarity, the ending still took me by surprise this time, pretty well done, albeit a bit corny.

Mark: Gob-smacked and flabbergasted. Bewitched, bewildered and almost stunned into a gibbering stupor – such is the power of the written word when wielded for nefarious, nausea-inducing purposes, such as Kid Conway inflicts on ever-lovin' F.F. fans in "To Love, Honor, and Destroy!"

Oh, Ger has laid stinkbombs before, but this may rank as his worst offense against Marveldom Assembled, 'cause this was a good yarn up until things go south at the calamitous conclusion, a textbook example of MCD, but one that K.C. no doubt thinks is cute and clever.

He is mistaken.

Chris: Let’s hope that Namor never goes into the marriage counseling business. “I’ll tell Sue I love her, then provoke Reed into fighting me, while I invade New York (again)! As long as no one gets killed, it should work like a charm!” Namor only risks showing his hand once (p 11, panel 4), which gave me reason to suspect, but still – Gerry’s suggestion that it’s all a bonny set-up doesn’t wash.

I might argue that the Richards reunification could have been accomplished with a slightly altered premise, but then we’d miss out on some dock-socking, fish-flinging action, wouldn’t we? The enraged Reed-Subby grapple is very good (p 6, panel 3), as is the Subby-Thundra throom on p 26. Best moment is when Ben plows into Namor (p 11, panel 2). That’s followed by a major continuity gaffe, as three panels after he’d leapt from the Fantasticar, Ben is now pictured falling from the totalled Fantasticar. Oops – action’s too fast to follow, eh Roy?

The teaser at the very end suggests that we’ve been “begging” to see the wedding of Crystal and Pietro – uh, we have -? Who has -? “Top fans.” “(leaning forward on the conference table)…Who -?” “Top . . . Fans.”

Matthew: We didn’t have this off the rack, but I believe it was one of the first back issues I ever obtained—from a female friend of my brother Stephen’s, if I recall correctly—thus giving it a pretty high nostalgia quotient. So although my quinquagenarian self can’t argue with SuperMegaMonkey’s outrage while enumerating what would realistically be the “ramifications of an Atlantean attack on the U.S.,” which had to be believably faked in order to ensure the success of “Project Revival” (alluded to by Medusa as early as #145), it did have an undeniable gee-whiz factor in my youth. I’ve always been partial to the Buckler/Sinnott team, and of course I’m a total sucker for a happy ending where both true love and the institution of marriage prevail.

Scott: Fun! A nice, if elaborate, plot to bring Reed and Sue back together, Namor is actually a hell of a nice guy apparently. However, I fail to see why it was necessary for Triton to be involved (unless it was his idea), as he doesn't really do much in his disguise. It does the job and begins our trek back to the status quo, which is great because the marital troubles of Marvel's First Couple had really gotten tiresome.

Mark: Let's tally up the carnage, shall we? FF #147: Namor attacks Ben in mid-air, destroying the air-bike, then battles the Thing and the Torch, leaving them stranded on a rock in a Pennsylvania lake. The FF later attack and badly damage what Ben calls Namor's "giant whatsiwhoises" fortress beneath the South Atlantic and engage in frenzied combat. In this installment, Namor and his aquatic creatures steam into New York harbor, screaming war and drawing heavy gunfire from the NYPD. There's more savage combat. Sue destroys the Fantasticar with her force field, plunging Reed and Ben into the water from a great height. The Thing battles a giant whale and Thundra and Subby clash violently.

In all of the above, any of our combatants could have been killed, maimed, paralyzed for life. And it's all just a ruse hatched by Namor and Triton to make Sue realize that she still loves Reed?

No, Ger. It's one thing for the writer of super-hero fiction to wink at the readers. You have the characters acting as if they know every one will be back, unhurt and intact, for next month's adventure, which only serves to undermine the fictive dream it's your job to conjure.

If I had a time machine, I'd be back in '74 right now, tying Kid Conway's shoe laces together. No harm intended as Gerry takes a pratfall down the stairs. It's just my clever scheme to try popping his head out of an unnamed orifice.

Giant-Size Fantastic Four 2
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Chic Stone
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Joe Sinnott

En route to Cape Canaveral after testing a new NASA aircraft, Reed, Ben, Johnny and Medusa experience a bright flash, after which a temporary blindness causes them to crash land somewhere in the Florida everglades. An attack by cavemen makes them think they’re back in time! The Watcher appears, and tells them it is instead an altered present they are in now, all because someone wandered into the Baxter Building and got zapped back in time via Dr. Doom’s time machine, altering history. Reed and Johnny go back to the time of George Washington, where they have to rescue him from some Redcoats who kidnapped him. Medusa and Ben head to the roaring twenties; each corrected piece of his history requiring another be fixed. Ben reverts to his human form and he and Medusa steal some clothes to look the part. They find the culprit who's caused all this: Willie Lumpkin the mailman! They nab him, not without some gunfire and a car chase, and as Ben returns to the form of the Thing, the second role is done. Instead of returning to our time, they end up in another dimensional plane where a giant ice-like being named Tempus rules, except he rules without change or end or meaning. It was he who lured old Willie to travel time, and thus create a series of events that would bring about the end of time, and Tempus’ torture. The F.F. must die too! They overcome him despite his considerable powers, and return safely to the present. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Later we’d get the What If? mag that did this type of thing every month and, here, like in those stories, we get some interesting alternate takes on reality. This one feels pretty light-hearted when you consider the seriousness of the situation. I liked seeing Ben in his human form again, and Medusa without her mask. The George Washington story was like something out of Star Trek, meaning, again, fun. Tempus was almost anti-climatic, except we did need the explanation.

Chris: Gerry serves up a story that Stan might’ve written, and I mean that in the best possible sense. If you’re telling me that Willie Lumpkin has been drawn into a permanent alteration of history, so that time itself might come to an end, then you will get a grin from me in return. Although, the abduction of Gen. Washington doesn’t really fit into the overall scheme of the story, does it? It’s not like a British victory over the colonists had any effect over the 1928-era Chicago visited by Ben and Medusa. It does strike me as the sort of premise that Stan might put out there, though, just for fun.

Chris: Medusa’s hunch that they visit a speak-easy is terribly brittle-thin, despite what she tells Ben about her Inhuman psychic senses – that’s funny, no mention of it at all, until this moment, as far as I know. At least Medusa is permitted to participate in the action this time, instead of simply following the others around as she has done for most of the past year’s worth of FF.

As I mentioned somewhere else, I enjoy these opportunities (in annuals and quarterlies and other oversized occasional mags) to see a different artist’s take on a title. Of course, in this case, Big John is no stranger to these characters, but it’s cool to see him back with them. FF purists will insist that Sinnott should finish the look with his trademark inks, but I think Stone is an adequate substitute – if anything, next time Joltin’ Joe wants to take some time off to spend with his grandkids, I’d rather have Stone than Giacoia (who we last saw inking Buckler’s pencils in FF #143).

Scott: Cool, if slight, time travel yarn. It was kind of quirky to have Willie Lumpkin as the source of the trouble. It was also quite nice to see General Washington accept Reed and Johnny with a minimum of slack jawed idiocy. Otherwise, though, this is really hardly worth a double-sized issue and the price tag associated with such an expansion.

Matthew: As SuperMegaMonkey correctly notes, “The problem with annuals and these giant-size issues is that either something important happens in them which annoys people who only read the main series, or they are largely filler. This one falls into the filler category…” Gerry’s story is surprisingly underdeveloped—e.g., the cleverness of making Willie the object of the exercise is undercut by doing so little with him—but it’s nice to see Big John back in the fold, inked by decade-long FF vet Stone. Johnny’s reference to the events of #148, which led directly into #149, means this must take place after Reed’s reconciliation with Sue, yet she is neither seen nor invoked; this issue is topped off with the Watcher’s debut from #13.

Adventure Into Fear 23
Morbius in
"Alone Against Arcturus!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Craig Russell and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

The river in which he dove to escape the cat demon creatures has led Morbius to a world clearly not of Earth. He has searched for ages, his hunger for blood growing stronger. He finds a pair of victims, a young warrior and his girlfriend. The man turns out to be an android, with no real blood, so he drinks of the girl. He wanders to a decaying city that was once proud, where he meets the people of Arcturus, mutants, the ancestors of the Caretakers Morbius met on Earth. After their departure, the people of Arcturus developed science of a level that they could control genetics and perfect their race, although this caused a massive civil war. The super race that did survive lacked one thing: the desire for self-preservation, and the likelihood is the Caretakers will bring about the same disaster on Earth in tying to help humanity. The Arcturans' solution: destroy the Caretakers, which Morbius reluctantly agrees with. -Jim Barwise

Jim: You never quite know which direction Morbius will find himself going in, and here we find the Caretakers in present day Earth are not helping humanity as they think they are. Somehow, the vampire always ends up being sought out for help to aid in a cause he really has no stake in. The Arcturan mutants are a sight, quite a contrast with the ruins of the city.

Matthew: Russell becomes Morby’s fourth penciler in as many issues, yet at least he and Gerber will stick together for the next entry; Don McGregor had succeeded Steve on his simultaneous B&W strip, which is outside my jurisdiction, in Vampire Tales #2. Ironically, Craig’s fine work has less to, uhm, fear from Colletta’s inks than from Steve’s script, which on some text-heavy pages bids fair to crowd it out, but is necessitated by the sophisticated storyline, encompassing reproductive controversies that remain relevant today and the anguish of a Nobel Prize-winning biophysicist forced to drink blood to survive. The back of the book is still hostage to reprints, in this case Gene Colan’s four-pager “The Last Stop” from World of Fantasy #10 (February 1958).

Chris: It’s funny – the splash page shows some influence (or possibly some touching-up?) by Romita, and I wondered how this first effort by Craig Russell might look. It doesn’t take long, though, before we see glimpses of Russell’s imaginative style that would establish his Marvel legacy on Killraven, both in the ruins of towering spires, and the faces of bizarre, genetically-altered creatures. I barely noticed that Colletta was the inker.

A contributor to the letters page opines that Fear is Steve’s best writing outside of Man-Thing. Steve’s writing for this mag has been at its best when he’s providing insight to Morbius’ dreadful, undeniable desire to feed. It would have been easy for this character to develop into a Vlad the Lighter, but Steve has the solid creative instinct to develop Morbius along distinctly different lines. I don’t find the plot development as strong here as in Man-Thing, however. It took me a few tries to grasp exactly why the Caretakers now are the bad guys – so, their advanced weaponry won the war on Arcturus, but exposure to radiation warped the people’s DNA – so now, despite the fact that the freakish Arcturans are highly intelligent and have centuries-long life-spans, the Caretakers consider them a failure, and somehow went back and turned off their self-preservation gene? Ahhh – ok, let’s see Morbius fight Blade, instead.

Ghost Rider 7
"...And Lose His Own Soul!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Jim Mooney and Jack Abel
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Alan Kupperberg
Cover by John Romita

As Taurus, the horned member of Zodiac flees a bank robbery by bike, Ghost Rider takes up the pursuit. Soon he is joined by hero/stuntman Stunt-Master, bored of signing autographs, and wanting to give back for the chance to redeem himself that Daredevil had given him. They catch Taurus, but he transforms into Scorpio, who knocks them out with the Zodiac Key. They come to, bound, to see Aquarius, another Zodiac member, in the company of a demon. The deal was, that when Zodiac had gone to jail, their leader Van Lunt had pleaded only for himself. Aquarius, angry, yelled out, and his cries were heard…by the demon known as Slifer! They struck a deal: Aquarius would have the ability to assume the shape and power of each of the Zodiac members to get revenge on Van Lunt, but at the end of that year, his soul was Satan’s. GR and SM get loose, but their foe, now Capricorn, makes an escape. Ghost Rider pursues him to the dock, plummeting in the water. The demon appears again, claiming Aquarius as his own, a “Zodiacal year” having passed! Next thing –Satan himself appears… -Jim Barwise

Jim: A clever answer to the mystery of the second Zodiac members makes this one pretty satisfying. It’s a quick-paced issue, over before you know it, partly due to the full-page artwork, which to me is pleasing enough. I don’t think it’ll create any lasting memories, but the ending, where Satan himself appears, looks promising.

Chris: You guys are going to have to excuse me if my harpings about this mag are becoming repetitious. But it seems that Tony has decided to adopt some of Gary’s bad habits with GR, namely: attention-diverting distractions during action sequences (this time, GR’s chase of Taurus – or, Scorpio – thru the city streets is interrupted not once, but twice); needless momentum-clotting dialogue or captions during action sequences; ludicrous situations (in this case, when GR chases Taurus – uh, maybe it’s Aquarius – right thru Stunt Master’s autograph session). The one consistent element that I do enjoy is the deceitfulness of Satan and his underlings – in this case, it’s Slifer’s observation that the one-man Zodiac has already taken himself thru an astrological year. The capacity for one being to assume the form of any member of the Zodiac is clever – I don’t think this concept was ever revisited in the Bronze Age, was it?

Mooney’s art is good-enough this time out, with Abel’s inks above his average, not as flat as they typically appear. The appearance of the flaming skull is inconsistent, rarely looking as creepy as it does on the last panel of p 27 (below).

Matthew: I could probably count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve used “anodyne” in my writing, yet it’s the adjective that first sprang to mind to describe this issue, despite the dreaded Stunt-Master’s return. That’s a step up from my reaction to many a Gary Friedrich-written mag, underscoring the fact that Isabella—however much our august Dean Enfantino may, uh, demonize him—is now flying comfortably solo. The artwork, too, is neither wonderful nor terrible, as Mooney’s pencils (inked by Abel) tend to be, and I love the climactic twist of the Zodiacal year; no surprise that Roger Slifer, who per the Comic Book Database first worked for Marvel this month as an editor on Monsters of the Movies #2, was an old Tony crony.


  1. Just to clarify my GHOST RIDER review: the aforementioned demon is named "Slifer," clearly Isabella's nod to his old pal and current colleague.

  2. Professor Chris, what a team indeed: I might call that group of nine names a nice basis for no less than three cycles of Defenders stories.

    I think, simply on the surface, the idea of writing those 70s characters together is my favorite one yet presented on this blog. Luke Cage, if not (what a story) Morbius, belongs with those characters. No complaint of what happened in the coming year's Defenders, mind you!

    So if they'd been the nexus of a group, the name would quite rely on their purpose. And speaking of a Nexus, the Man-Thing arcs would likely center around the Nexus of All Realities down in the Florida swamps. Brother Voodoo or Son Of Satan- or Satana!- might substitute for Dr. Strange. At the time these characters were all quite busy under the typewriters and pencils of their creators/ creative teams, but getting them together for a Giant-Size-only series of five? Oh, now you're talking mid-70s, man. Maybe they could've met Space Station Man-Wolf or fought Dracula in one of his Giant Size issues?
    Or, because of the overall darker tone: black and white magazines.

    1. I meant to say, this is where I'd have featured Natasha after her quick Avenger membership.

      I Marvel at what visiting Deathlok would've been like, and who would've been in that story. MIght have been a horrific setting in which to team up some of those heroes with Morbius? What a helluva world for a hungry vampire to end up in! I don't know who could've shared the Deathlok timeline story w/out distorting Buckler's intentions (get him to draw that one, though) or if we'd have a more interesting time dragging him to mid-70's present day NYC. If Starlin had put them up against Thanos, well Jim Dandy.

      Very fun to imagine one issue each of that Giant-Size Vanguardians, written by Gerber, Englehart, Starlin/Friedrich/Milgrom, Kraft, and Gerber again, with a couple of issues drawn by Adams. Have your own fun with it :-D

    2. ONe thing sticks out about those nine you mentioned, though:
      No one with a particularly jocular sense of humor in that group. Shang's for the quiet Zen laugh to one's self. Not that you couldn't include funny character-driven moments, but they all (including Morbius) lack a Stan Lee-sort of sense of humor. Overall grim batch of characters, and a time of rather grim superheroes, comparatively, you think?