Wednesday, August 6, 2014

July 1974 Part One: The Collapse of the Secret Empire!

Amazing Adventures 25
"The Devil's Marauder"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane

Killraven attacks a new tripod called The Devil’s Marauder, piloted by one-eyed baddie Skar, who makes the surface blistering hot so KR falls off  and Skar rides off.  KR sees “mind-visions” (huh???) and talks gibberish with his Freemen friends around a campfire, where Carmilla accuses him of being selfish and uncaring about others, and M’Shulla sticks up for her by smacking his buddy. Trekking to the Indianapolis 500 raceway, the Krew spots the terrible tripods and vengeance-driven Killraven spots slave-tricahnic Hobie, who leads KR to a tripod so he can battle Skar. But when he fells the mutant and the devil ship, innocent Hobie is caught in the wreckage and killed, leading Killraven to ponder why. -- Joe Tura    

Joe Tura: When I was a much younger fellow, I watched the Indy 500 every year, and even had a favorite driver, Johnny Rutherford, who won twice I believe, both in the early 70s. Watching guys drive in a big circle for hours was much more enjoyable than this comic book. Just soooo many words to read. And the Buckler/Janson art certainly has great panel layouts, with a very sci-fi feel, but is ultimately just OK. There’s some guilt from Killraven when poor Hobie is killed, and a couple of decent, yet super short battles, but mostly talking and pondering.

Mark Barsotti: We get an art upgrade, with Rick Buckler (inked by Klaus Janson) taking over from harried Herb Trimpe but, as is often the case, when the comic universe giveth with one hand, it taketh away with the other, and so Don McGregor delivers an over-written, unfocused, and largely nonsensical tale. "The Devil's Marauder" is yellow-skinned, apparently genetically-engineered Skar (called "one-eyed," when he actually has one empty eye socket), whose job is "testing new tripods that will play on the human psyche."

The Martian killing machines have already largely conquered the planet, so why the invaders feel the need to have their human lab rats tinker with the design, let alone have them battle their test-pods around the old Indy 500 race track is anybody's (even McGregor's) guess.

Elsewhere, Dashing Don gives us laundry lists of 1974's problems ("paper shortages (huh?), political deceits, media bombardment, commercialization..."), pointless bickering among the rebel band, and off-point philosophical conundrums ("So the mighty warrior subverts his cause again," Camilla Frost taunts K.R., "in the name of vengeance. Don't you ever ask why?"

We're left to ask how this unholy mess ever got the green light from editor Roy Thomas.      

Chris Blake: I’ve been looking forward to joining in on the Killraven konversation.  My introduction to the character came from issue #38, which I picked up at a flea market, probably for 25 cents.  #25 is a pretty good immediate retribution story, which fits neatly into the 15 pages McGregor has to work with.  Of course, in the end, Killraven hasn’t accomplished much – granted, he’s probably wrecked the Marauder (not easy to get replacement parts, I’m guessing, especially with the lack of a secondary market), but Skar is barely taught a lesson.  At least Killry didn’t get any of his group killed; since this is a McGregor story, we have some pointed discussion among his followers about his capacity to lead, and that KR should stay focused on the larger goal of mankind’s freedom.

The Buckler/Janson art is solid, if sometimes inconsistent; Janson has a way of leaving details unfinished, which is more noticeable with facial features.  Killraven himself usually comes off well, as strong and determined (almost Conan-esque, p 10, last panel).  And hey, in sequences like p 16, panels 4-6, doesn’t it remind you of Frank Miller, when he (with the same Klaus Janson) assumes pencils for Daredevil, a few years hence?  Yes – very similar.

Scott McIntyre: Maybe it’s Klaus Janson’s inks, or perhaps Rich Buckler is a master at mimicry (he did ape Jack Kirby’s style in last month’s FF), but the splash page really had me fooled; I honestly thought Neal Adams took up the art for this title (I also thought Aquaman was being hunted by the tripod). As soon as I turned the page, it all changed. Did Adams do an uncredited bit? Whichever, Janson is the perfect inker for Buckler’s dramatic pencils. He adds a layer of realism and it’s all very lovely. Interesting that a tale so abbreviated should be split into chapters. I drift into this title from time to time, but usually don’t feel moved enough to comment. The characters are still a little too “super-heroish” for me to take seriously in the situation, but the art is lovely and much more interesting than Herb Trimpe’s contributions.

Joe: We get a short reprint, “Are You Ready for the …Impossible” from Journey Into UnknownWorlds #56, April 1957, which has the usual Twilight Zone-esque ending. There are SOS signals coming from somewhere in town, until the signal is tracked to the Minister of Enlightenment’s home, where he and a cop pull a ship in a bottle out of water and the signals stop. As he explains the story, we pan back to reveal…they’re talking out of a ship in a bottle! Ay-mazzzzzzing.

In the letters page, “War of the Words!” (cue rimshot!), there’s a missive from one Ralph Macchio of Creskill, NJ, the future Marvel scribe, who sings this comic’s praises in a big way. Silly Ralph, Killraven’s for kids!

The Avengers 125
"The Power of Babel!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by John Buscema and Dave Cockrum
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Ron Wilson and John Romita

The arrivals of a vindicated Cap and Rick’s girlfriend, Lou-Ann, follow Libra’s arrest, prompting a recap of the Avengers’ role in Captain Marvel #25-32. The septet blasts off to oppose the invaders, with the Panther piloting the rebuilt Zodiac Star-Cruiser and the others in a redesigned quinjet; while Thor attacks the Thanos-thralls’ flagship, T’Challa discovers a black force field, so Cap sends Vision, Wanda, Mantis, and Swordsman—embroiled in interpersonal conflict—to investigate. Wanda’s hex penetrates the field, and the ship hidden inside contains a Universal Language Equalizer, whose destruction leaves Thanos’s polyglot minions unable to communicate and ripe for defeat...but Thanos lurks nearby. (Concluded in Captain Marvel #33.) -Matthew Bradley (Guest Host)

Scott: The Thanos War spills over into The Avengers and, somehow, it's less good here. Neal Adams made the Kree-Skrull war seem epic, but not these guys. A lot of tap dancing in the space of a full page illo brings Captain Marvel's continuity in line, explaining how Iron Man could be involved in an epic struggle in that title and this one at the same time. I suppose it will also be addressed in his own monthly, but I haven't looked ahead yet. Steve Englehart, John Buscema and Dave Cockrum just don't do the same cosmic justice to this epic that Jim Starlin does. This is something of a letdown, especially when we get to the cheesy soap opera. About The Swordsman: to paraphrase Chandler Bing from Friends, could he be more useless? All he does is angrily accuse The Vision of having the bionic hots for Mantis, who is getting annoying with "this one" this and "this one" that. I'm losing enthusiasm at a fantastic rate here. However, I think Iron Man’s single-mindedness is hilarious. Cap has something to get off his chest, Iron Man says “that’s what I’m here for, buddy” and then launches into how awesome Mantis is, totally ignoring his friend’s needs. What a douche…

Chris Blake: OK, so what you’re telling us is that the Zodiac conflict took place a few weeks ago, and now (thanks to a one-page recap) we’re caught up to Marvel continuity.  Well, if (for some unknown reason) I were not a Captain Marvel reader in those days, I’d still be very thoroughly confused.  When you think about it, Starlin probably could’ve run thru the entire Thanos War without requiring Englehart’s chapter in the Avengers’ own mag.   The space battle is fun enough, even though Thor is the only one to get in some licks.  The universal translator ship is a neat idea, and Thanos’ declaration that he didn’t even need the invasion fleet to further his ends shouldn’t come as a big surprise – that Thanos guy knows how to plan ahead.  It’s kind of a tease for Avengers readers, though, to feature Thanos so prominently on the cover, and then have him appear in only four panels in the whole mag.

The Swordsman’s jealousy kick (p 17) – in the heat of battle, no less – is so unbelievably ill-timed that it’s laughable; Steve has the good sense to assign this observation to the Vision on p 18.  Readers seem divided on the four-way, with some intrigued by its possibilities, and one other stating simply to let the previous pairings stand where they were.  I think it’s a needless distraction.

Matthew Bradley: If anyone besides Starlin is going to add an entry to a Starlin saga, you couldn’t do better than to team Englehart and Cockrum—who both contributed to said saga in Captain Marvel—with the mighty pencil of John Buscema. This issue was obviously never meant to be read in isolation, yet even if one takes it solely on its own merits, there’s just so much to like here, including the Buscema/Cockrum artwork, which proves that last month’s visual glory was no fluke. My only real complaint is its brevity, especially when it wears so many hats, e.g., wrapping up Libra’s plotline and maintaining inter-title continuity for Captain America (who appears to have cycled from the White House disaster directly to Avengers Mansion!) before Thanos is even mentioned.

Chris: Two letters share my previously-expressed disparagement of Heck’s recent inking efforts; Roy uses this opportunity to employ a Deadline Doom excuse for Heck’s deadly work. The Buscema/Cockrum pairing, on the other hand, is even better this time than in the last issue (which one of them, do you suppose, decided to put “Deep Throat” on the marquee on p 16, last panel? Scamps!). Buscema’s confident layouts, with Cockrum’s strong, clear finishes, hearken ahead to the unbeatable Bronze team of Perez/Marcos, coming to this title in – well, not nearly soon enough – it’ll be a few more years. The next art team to look for will be Sal Buscema/Joe Staton; you won’t be disappointed.

Matthew: It’s a damn shame that Giant-Size Avengers, which would have been the perfect vehicle, doesn’t debut until August. One or more Assemblers have, in fact, been integral to this epic since before Mar-Vell joined the fray, so a summary of their involvement for the benefit of the unenlightened who don’t read Captain Marvel, starting with an instant replay of Lou-Ann’s arrival from #27, seems fair. Don’t know whose idea it was to make the ULE the key to the Avengers’ victory—Jim has no writing credit on this issue, but he did plot the entire saga—yet in retrospect it’s been eminently logical ever since we first saw Thanos’s army of “interstellar malcontents”; I also love the subtle irony of Thanos echoing the immortal “Strive on, Titans!” (from Captain Marvel #31).

Captain Marvel 33
"The God Himself!"
Story by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart
Art by Jim Starlin and Klaus Janson
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin

Back in his physical body, Thanos departs after trouncing Mar-Vell, whom Isaac tells, “only cosmic awareness may counter the Cosmic Cube”; as Mentor and Moondragon free the 17 surviving Titans, Mantis uses her “perfect control of mind and body” to warn Mar-Vell that Thanos neutralized the Avengers by placing Earth in a different time phase during their battle in space. While Thanos is distracted by Drax, Mar-Vell theorizes with Mantis and Isaac that because Thanos exists without worshippers, he must still be drawing power from the Cube, and discarded it as a diversion. Despite Thanos warping reality and aging Mar-Vell near death, the Kree shatters the Cube, and Thanos’s “dark-robed companion,” Death, claims another victim. -Matthew Bradley

Mark: The original Thanos epic, begun in Iron Man #55 (Feb '73 issue, and nobody, (s) save maybe Starlin himself, had any idea what was coming) and unfolding across nine up-the-ante issues of CM (with minor developments in other titles) is a milestone achievement in space opera that set the standard for all the "cosmic" comics that have followed. As artist, plotter, primary scripter & occasional colorist, Jaunty Jim delivered an individual tour de force (i) that's seldom been attempted in the medium (in the Silver/Bronze eras, his only contemporaries are Jim Steranko on SHIELD (i) and Jack Kirby's Fourth World).

Along with Professor Matthew (and many other folk), this is one of my favorite arcs, not just of the early "Bronze" Age, but in the history of of the medium. Starlin's multi-panel, two page summary of "the story so far" is a master class in compression; a reader hopping on the title for the first time, while mourning all they've missed, would be brought up to speed adequately enough to enjoy the pulse-pounding majesty of "The God Himself!"

Matthew: It’s a bittersweet feeling (accent on “bitter” in the inking department, with Klaus slinging his mud; I wouldn’t care so much if he didn’t make our hero look ugly) as my favorite arc ends…but my God, what a way to go. Cleverly credited with “plot, pencils, pigments” and teamed up with scripter/successor Steve, Jim gives us a resolution that is mature, assured, logical, satisfying, and true to all that has gone before. Even the three-page recap is welcome, not only because the saga is so complicated but also because it’s so well-written and -drawn; throw in a thought-provoking Stainless script, complemented by stunning visuals—including two spectacular full-page shots—that are often virtually wordless, and you really learn what the comic-book medium is capable of.

Chris: Whew! I certainly enjoyed the Thanos War more this time than I did the first time around, when I read it in reprints over 25 yrs ago. Marvel’s decision to reissue the complete story in a five-volume set (hoping to capitalize on the resurgence of interest in Mar-vell following his best-selling graphic novel death) was a huge advantage for me, since even back then, the cost of the back issues was prohibitive.

The solution to Thanos’ defeat is satisfying – he needs a flow of power, and if that’s not provided by worshippers (freely or via coercion), then the Cube has to continue to be the conduit (and let’s face it – Thanos isn’t lovable as a person, let alone as a deity). I guess I have to be satisfied that Thanos’ ego is the only factor preventing him from simply winking his foes out of existence; Mar-vell also has helpfully suggested that Thanos, still adjusting to godhoodedness, isn’t quite able yet to manage the many demands on his attention. Mar-vell’s indefatigable determination comes to define his character, typically at the expense of any further development, as other writers assume this title.

How about that crazy slim panel of Thanos on the roof, facing Cap and Drax on either side? The odd perspective foretells Thanos’ reality-twisting tricks toward the end. I expect that some of my esteemed colleagues won’t be impressed with Janson’s inks here, but I like the texture he brings to Starlin’s pencils, more so than what we saw from Dan Green last time. Most of the action takes place at night, so Janson’s lack of fine detail doesn’t present a problem. Starlin’s eye for color continues to serve him well, especially with the unusual choices of red and green hues during the recap sequence.

Stay, Jim, stay! One more issue? Well – okay.

Matthew: The end is worth quoting in full: “One among the silent throng [i.e., Mantis] somehow senses that no one worshipped Thanos, not even Thanos himself…for he worshipped Death. And for that reason, Death could not worship him. Another knows the universe to be the poorer for the loss of a life…and knows himself to be the poorer for having caused that loss. But yet another [Drax] feels a deep and desperate ache within his brain. His life is purposeless now…yet he still lives. And Captain Marvel caused that, too. With each victory, there is loss. With each relief, there is regret. Only a few can understand…and to understand is to choose a life with no simple choices—the life of Captain Marvel!” Pretty profound for a so-called “funny book.”

Mark: While one could sling superlatives Starlin's way from now until Drax comes home, an honest reviewer is also compelled to point out shortcomings, even the minor nits to be picked from this abundance of riches. Back in physical form, Thanos makes quick work of Mar-Vel and leaves him beaten, bloodied, but alive. This variation of the age-old comic cliché' – "I could kill you now, Lantern-Jawed Hero, but first it pleases me to tell you all my plans" – could have been avoided by a single line, implied perhaps but unspoken, that Thanos wanted his vanquished foe alive to witness his ultimate victory, and thus despair. Somewhat more problematic – and again, I'm rooting deep for flaws – is the notion that Thanos still needed the cosmic cube but, "He threw it aside, as if valueless! What better means to divert our attention from it." If Thanny truly needed the cube it would have been a simply matter, with his God-like powers, to either contain it within his non-corporeal form, or wink it away into the middle of a sun, galaxies away, far beyond the reach of his over-matched foes. Similarly, rather than distorting Mar-Vell's senses or aging him at the climax, Thanos could have simply willed the Captain instantly out of existence.

But of course any of the above would have denied us Mar-Vel's desperate cube-rending karate chop and our heroes' ultimate victory. So, class, with those very minor reservations, I doff my professor's cap and am once more just a fan.

The art, again, is magnificent, losing none of its dynamic punch after forty years. In its scope, ambition, and sheer storytelling virtuosity, Jim Starlin's initial explosion onto the comic scene remains a modern masterpiece.

Matthew: During my early-March gathering with Professors Flynn and Blake, centered on a rare screening of Hitchcock’s Waltzes from Vienna, Tom kindly let me peruse his Marvel Masterworks edition of Captain Marvel, Volume 3, my first close look at the format. Although I own originals of all the issues (plus the five-part Life of Captain Marvel special edition, whose covers they reproduce as a nice bonus), I treated myself to this one before re-reading the Avengers crossover, and it was a suitably mind-blowing experience. The book is sensational, a handsome full-color hardcover with a substantial introduction by Roy—who puts its abysmal Wayne Boring issues in the proper historical context—and creator biographies in which I spotted only one conspicuous factual goof.

Scott: Four page recap? Damn, that’s gotta be pushing it. However, this continues to be properly epic. Thanos is hugely powerful now and while they go to great lengths to justify why someone so omnipotent has to battle our heroes on their level, he still can’t hear Mar-Vell firing off plans to his friends before he goes off somewhere. “Distract him and I’ll be back!” “Ha HA, Mar-Vell has deserted you!” Really? Pretty lame for a god. And so is his all-too-swift departure. Really, after all of these months…that’s it? I don’t even know if I even get it. It’s very unsatisfying to see confusing visuals which need to be backed up by an explanation the next page over. All of this great end of the world style battling, doing better than any issue of Thor in recent years, and it’s wrapped up that quickly. The huge recap and the too-quick ending smells like an edit to finish it all up swiftly. A bit of a bummer, if you ask me.

The Amazing Spider-Man 134
"Danger is a Man Named... Tarantula"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

Spidey swings to the docks and changes into Peter to catch a boat with MJ, Liz and Flash for some R&R. But of course, a fight breaks out as the boat is being hijacked by The Tarantula, aided by his henchmen Hildago and Juan. A quick change back into Spidey might help, but first he has to save a sailor knocked over the deck by Tarantula, then runs out of webbing so he can’t make it back to the boat! Spidey makes his way back to his apartment for some web cartridges, not knowing roomie Harry was watching him and now knows for sure Peter is Spider-Man! JJJ gets a call from the Mayor asking to put up the one million dollars for the hijackers. Meantime, Flash tries to play hero and gets knocked out, as Spidey swings back on board to take out Juan, but Hildago holds him as he stings Spidey in the thigh. Blocking Flash from another attack, Spidey is hit in the wrist by the drugged Tarantula sting. Reeling from the pain, Spidey manages to through it, but is met on our final panel at gunpoint—by The Punisher!.--Joe Tura

Joe: A decent issue that zips by quickly. I like The Tarantula but understand why people wouldn’t. For now, he’s kinda one-note, even with those crazy stinger shoes. Why does MJ seem so excited about being hijacked? She looks downright Harry-esque on page 7. Why does Flash only now wonder about the Peter and Spider-Man connection? Because he’s a big dumb jock? Why is Liz even on board? Well, the gal needs to get away I suppose, although this doesn’t seem like any fun. Was Circle Line sold out?

Favorite sound effect: I’m going to go with “FRIPP BRIPP WHAP!” as Spidey webs Juan’s hands so his deadly bola wraps around him instead of our hero.

Did Ralph Macchio write in to every mag this month? Here in “The Spider’s Web”, he raves about ish #130, and Ross Andru, and the Spider-Mobile too! Busy kid, that Ralphie. That’s at least three books this month!

Scott: Page 2, bottom panel (above). While waiting for the perennially late Peter Parker, Liz Allan, MJ and Flash dance the latest disco moves. At least, that what it looks like Andru was trying to convey here. Either that, or they’re hurling obscenities at him, because if they’re not dancing then they look furious. Beyond that, we are introduced to the Tarantula, the new major heavy for Spidey who will be around on and off for some time. He’s one of Andru’s best creations, with his spider-styled costume and venom-tipped boots. Since Peter assumed Spider-Man was taking the day off while they took the Circle Line, it’s damned lucky he still wore his costume. However, it didn’t stop him from being careless enough to neglect checking his web supply. More developments as Harry Osborn finally puts the pieces together, which will lead to a pretty decent arc in an issue or two. And as hard as I am on Anrdu, the full page spread on 30 is pretty sweet.

Mark: Kid Conway earns his pay with this one, delivering: (A) an exciting, coherent story, (B) lots of Peter & pals interaction that also serves the plot, and (C) a new villain worthy of inclusion in the Webhead rouge's gallery. Add Ross' groovy if slightly-goofy art (love the p. 30 splash of our hero getting a big time thigh-owie), and this is the best start-to-finish Spidey in months.

Peter's last-second cruise ship arrival is pure Parker, although one wonders why M.J. appears to be wearing a men's dress shirt, high heels, and nothing else (not that I'm complaining, mind you). And, sure, with eight million people in the Naked City, the odds of Spidey and friends being on the ship hijacked by the Tarantula are long, but without a coincidence, we wouldn't have a story, would we?

Matthew: I didn’t see this back in the day, and the reprint in Marvel Tales—on which I will mercifully have to rely only a little longer—seems to be shorn its usual couple of pages, yet the advent of the Tarantula brings us closer to the Conway/Andru era I knew and loved firsthand. Ross, once again inked by the reliable Giacoia/Hunt team, really seems to have found his groove drawing Peter and the supporting cast, while his action scenes are always lively. It seems a tad far-fetched that even in the heat of the moment, Spidey would so quickly forget the lack of web-fluid on which lives literally depended, but it will be fun to see how he extricates himself from the corner in which Gerry painted him, especially with the Punisher back.

Peter Enfantino: There are quite a few far-fetched notions in this chapter. Peter Parker, once again in the heat of what's going down, manages to slip away to change into something more comfortable without raising eyebrows (aside from that one-and-done panel of Flash scratching his head). Flash's yo-yo regard/disregard of his ol' high school punching bag begs a book-length psych study. I'd love to see how Tarantula, in his long-stinger Keds, manages to hightail it without tripping up. And how these super-villains always manage to sneak into the action in the last panel without the gathered masses yelling "Hey, check it out, it's The Punisher!" is beyond me. Nits aside though, this is just as exciting as I remember and that bodes well for the upcoming events.

Mark: Ross the Boss' costume design for the Tarantula is first rate; ditto the boot stingers. They're dirty pool, but Tranny's a baddie, so don't expect Marquess of Queensberry rules.

Unlike esteemed Prof. Matthew, I had no problem with Pete spacing out about the empty web cartridge in the heat of battle. Enjoyed Flash's half-second consideration that puny Parker vanishing right when Spidey appears might mean something before dismissing the thought with, "Nah. Not a chance." The only groan-worthy moment was NY mayor Abe Beame extorting the million dollar ransom Tranny demands from Jolly Jonah. While watching JJ sweat is always enjoyable, newspapers don't need a charter from the city council in order to publish (just the First Amendment, Ger), plus a mayor shaking down the press would be a page one scandal.

Not having read this in years, I expected a last page Jackal reveal, and so was surprised by the sub-machine toting Punisher. Final panel extra credit for Tranny nursing his just-socked jaw and Mary Jane showing a lot-o-leg in her man shirt.

Conan the Barbarian 40
“The Fiend from the Forgotten City”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chua
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chua

Crossing the harsh desert between Turan and the Hyborian kingdoms, Conan comes across a near-dead man named Libro who talks of a lost citadel called Ababenzzar and the treasures within. Sharing the Cimmerian’s mount, the duo discovers the ruined city after three days ride. Leaving Libro to mind the horse, the barbarian enters the crumbling city. Soon Conan comes across bandits arguing over a huge diamond and other jewels. When the thieves hear him, they chase the barbarian who stumbles across a beautiful woman named Alonia. Together, they duck into a crumbling stable and find Libro tending to the horse. Conan sneaks back to where the bandits left their treasure, pocketing the diamond. But the angry mob arrives and a vicious battle breaks out. Libro appears and conjures a tremendous devil monster that massacres the bandits and grabs the Cimmerian in its massive clawed hand. Libro boasts that he has been searching for the diamond all along. However, one of the dying bandits kills the wizard with a well-placed dagger throw. Alonia rushes forward and casts a spell that shatters the demon into a million shards. Gleefully, she picks up the diamond and proclaims that it was a lifestone, used by Libro to entrap her, for she is actually Ishtar, Goddess of Fire and Flesh. Freed, Ishtar disappears leaving Conan as the last living soul in the cursed city of Ababenzzar. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: We get another of our sporadic Big John breaks, as Rich “Swash” Buckler takes over for this one. With the help of regular inker Ernie Chua, the artwork retains a strong Buscema look, though it is a tad sloppy. Roy adapts the story from a plot by Michael Resnick, the author of Goddess of Ganymede — I never heard of the guy before. The story is packed with plenty of fire and brimstone but it really doesn’t amount to much. A middling issue. There’s a creaky reprint included, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko’s “The Changeling,” from Journey Into Mystery #86, November, 1962. A disfigured king searches for wizards that can transform him into the most handsome male in the world. Yes, “male.” So the tyrannical ruler ends up turned into a lovely swan. Beweep bowoop.

Mark: A bit of Deadline Doom, but not much gloom: John Buscema, after drawing and inking the last two issues, takes a well-deserved month off, so Rollicking Rich Buckler pitch-hits for the fifteen page "The Fiend From the Forgotten City," proving that R.B. can ape Big John (no doubt aided by Ernie Chua's inks) on our fave barbarian almost as well as he channels King Kirby on the FF (look for Buckler doing Buckler on the soon-to-come Deathlok).

Adapting a story from Michael Resnick, Roy serves up a spicy, if familiar, stew: Conan rescues a desert traveler, with tales of a lost city and untold riches. They both exist, of course, along with a cut-throat band after the loot, a gorgeous, mysterious woman, and wizened traveler Libro not being what he seems. Is there a monster? Sure. Betrayal? You bet, along with Conan, having seen many a greedy companion perish, exits the city sans riches, but with his life.

This is S&S fast food – tasty enough, but nothing memorable. The book's rounded out with a nifty Ditko/Lee four pager from Journey into Mystery #86 and, judged as D. Doom filler, it's more than adequate.

Scott: Maybe I was right; perhaps Buckler is a master of mimicry. If I didn’t check the credits, I would assume Buscema was the man holding the pencil. Ernie Chua’s superlative inks help, but also mask Buckler’s own style (does he have one?). Buckler is also all over the Marvel line this month. Good for him, it’s all fine work.

Creatures on the Loose 30
Man-Wolf in 
"Full Moon, Dark Fear"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors and Letters Uncredited
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

John Jameson is at his Dad’s office, bemoaning the fact that the moon-stone is once again grafted to his skin, and when he gets home, the moon changes him into Man-Wolf! Destroying nearly the whole apartment, MW smashes through the window, into a parked car and runs off towards the moon. Hotshot detective Simon Stroud is tasked with finding the creature, with millions of clues that point to him as John Jameson. MW attacks two thugs when Stroud appears and shoots him to no avail. MW leaps to a ferry, with Stroud in pursuit up to the Statue of Liberty’s spikes! MW leaps at Stroud, but misses and goes into the icy river below! –Joe Tura

Joe: The problem with George Tuska…Ok, one of the that his characters look the same. Simon Stroud looks a lot like his John Jameson, except with blonder hair, which has nothing to do with Georgie. Sigh….Not the artist I would have expected for a Man-Wolf comic. Script? OK I guess, lots of inner monologue with Man-Wolf which was decent. JJJ is not well written here though. And Stroud is kinda grating, but at least he’s determined. An average start at best.

Matthew: Man-Wolf springs straight from Giant-Size Super-Heroes into his own series, yet while Warren vet and B&W Marvel mainstay Moench contributes just two issues—starting next month, the lupine scribe will close out the run of Werewolf by Night—the annoying Simon Stroud not only sticks around here but also metastasizes into Fear to harass Morbius. The Tuskolletta team hardly distinguishes itself, with John bearing no resemblance to Romita’s Amazing Spider-Man version; ironically, this strip will soon feature some of the earliest work of the great George Pérez (with whom I share a birthday). No doubt the faculty will share a laugh over the title of the dopey Bill Walton two-pager taken from Uncanny Tales #11 (August 1953): “Joe’s Weak Spot.”

As for our deposed Lemurian, I am amused to see that in the lettercol, future Marvel scribe Ralph Macchio echoes some of the same sentiments as our very own Professor Gilbert: “When Thongor first appeared, I felt he would go the same road as had Gullivar Jones—starting off as good, then gradually becoming more and more complex and confusing, losing both writers’ and readers’ interest. I began to think I was right, what with the incredibly confusing place-names, and less-than-pleasing art. Now, everything has reversed itself in the space of two issues. It’s kinda like what happened to Dr. Strange when Englehart and Brunner took over.” His endorsement of the Gerber/Alcazar team is obviously moot, since our lycanthropic pal will round out the book’s 37-issue lifespan.

Joe: Another filler, this time two rip-roaring pages of “Joe’s Weak Spot”, originally from Uncanny Tales in August 1953. The only thing funny about this one is the fact that it takes itself so seriously. A boxer runs around town looking to get a fight, but he has a weak spot that no one wants to deal with. So he takes a bunch of pills and commits suicide…because of his glass jaw! Like, literally a glass jaw—made out of glass! Are you kidding me? Yeesh….

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Captain America and The Falcon 175
"... Before the Dawn!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vinnie Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Sal Buscema and John Romita

The Secret Empire's Number One gloats over his defeat of Captain America and the Falcon, who seemingly lie dead at his feet. Member number 68 is personally congratulated by Number One for firing the ray that killed the heroes. When the bodies are taken away, Cap suddenly comes to and is faced by his cloaked assassins who unmask. Goodness, it’s SHIELD agent Gabe Jones, along with Peggy Carter, who set the ray to a weaker setting, knocking Cap and Falc out. Gabe fills in the gaps about the Secret Empire and their storied history throughout the years. Meanwhile, the Secret Empire, using the Electron Gyro and the powers of the captured mutants, take a large ship to the nation's capitol, where Moonstone and Quentin Harderman await. Number One gives his ultimatum, demanding the government's immediate surrender. Needless to say, nobody listens. Moonstone attacks the Warrior Squad within the ship and is defeated, but it's all a ruse to fool the public into acquiescing. Cap, Falcon and the X-Men reach master control and free the mutants and Cap launches his attack at Number One. Then he jumps Moonstone and their brutal fight ends with Moonstone spilling the beans of the whole sham about CRAP, Harderman, The Tumbler and the Secret Empire. Nearly forgotten, Number One makes a run for the White House. Cap follows, there's a (between panel) chase through the corridors and Cap tackles him inside the oval office. Number One is unmasked. The face we never see is one of a man of very high political office. Knowing the game is up, he pulls a gun and blows his own brains out. Cap, now cleared, walks from the White House, his spirit defeated. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: And there it is: the end of the Secret Empire saga. All sorts of reasons made Englehart end this story sooner than he expected, and it does feel a bit rushed, but it's a really solid conclusion to this ongoing epic. Since we're not told who he is specifically, we're probably expected to believe the identity of Number One could be the President. But this guy is written so over-the-top and in such a melodramatic fashion, I can't believe he's based on anyone other than Lex Luthor. If it is the President, then how would they keep his identity a secret from the public? How could they explain his sudden death without people putting it all together? And how could the President, the most heavily guarded man in the country, be out of sight of the Secret Service for the long stretches necessary to accomplish all of his plans, make his speeches? Not to mention being on hand to "kill" Cap at the end of last issue. None of it holds up under scrutiny, he couldn't be someone that high up and be able to do half of what he did. Leaving it a mystery is not very satisfying.

The art is quite good and things are tied up pretty well. The story gains its status by having the implication of the villain's identity be The President. However, without it, it would just be another long story with a quick ending. Overall, a good saga, but in the end, it doesn't make much sense. It does, however, provide a jumping off point for the next phase of Cap's career. For good or bad…

Mark: All empires fall, even the secret kind, and so this long, ambitious, and uneven arc comes to an end, even as the fallout will send the title in a radical new direction next month. Strictly as a fan, the Secret Empire has long been a personal favorite, but, frankly, class, having read this epic for the first time with a professorial eye, it leaves me with mixed emotions.

Its historic relevance is unquestioned, and we'll address that presently. First, let's examine the SE saga purely as a comic adventure. As such, it's a great read, but hardly ground-breaking. A hero demonized by the press is nothing new; poor Spider-Man has suffered J. Jonah Jameson's slander ever since he rescued J.J.'s astronaut son in ASM #1. Steve Englehart compressed and amped-up the P.R. offensive by having Harderman and company launch a multi-media campaign, while simultaneously framing Cap for murder and offering the bogus hero Moonstone to replace the shield slinger in the public consciousness. Englehart served all that up with an expert hand, building the pressure month-to-month. Sal Buscema's art was rock solid throughout, if never spectacular.

Matthew: One month, three notable issues concluding two legendary epics, yet even given my pro-Starlin bias, I find this the least successful, despite some redemptive Colletta inks and that cathartic “last lie” full-pager. Much as I normally love it when Steve or Roy pulls a golden oldie out of Marvel’s past, I never considered the Secret Empire much of a threat (they let themselves be infiltrated, not once but twice, by the same high-profile agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.), so perhaps Stainless should have created a new shadowy cabal for his plotline. The X-Men barely register, but bounce back rapidly in the current Marvel Team-Up; meanwhile, though, I resolutely take nothing away from Steve and Sal for this tale’s audacity, topicality, or historic significance.

Englehart discussed the arc’s famous climax on his website: “I was writing a man who believed in America’s highest ideals at a time when America’s President was a crook. I could not ignore that. And so, in the Marvel Universe, which so closely resembled our own, Cap followed a criminal conspiracy into the White House and saw the President commit suicide….People often ask if Marvel hassled me for the political vibe in this series and others, and the honest answer is that they almost never did. It was a wonderful place to be creative. Here, I intended to say the President was Nixon, but wasn’t sure if Marvel would allow it and so censored myself—probably unnecessarily.” He has certainly made no secret, as it were, of his intentions since then.

Mark: The last few issues, as Steve and Sam bored deeper into the Empire's dark, conspiratorial heart, the story became more pulpy and fantastic, less grounded in reality. There's nothing wrong with that in comics, indeed "transcending" reality via the heroic exploits for colorful, super-powered heroes is the "funny books" very mission statement. But with every layer of the Empire revealed - secret desert bases accessed by tilting fake cacti, black robed assassin wielding "atomic annihilators," this issue's flying saucer landing on the White House lawn – the story moved deeper into four color fantasy, further from the daily, storm cloud headlines that inspired it.

All of which, as we circle back to the question of historical relevance, bring us to the Big Reveal. This issue is JULY cover dated, meaning it hit the stands approximately five months before Richard Nixon resigned in August, 1974. Stainless Steve didn't need to be a seer to see how the tide was running, and I applaud his audacity to strongly suggest (without saying so out loud) that Number One, who commits suicide in the White House, was in fact the sitting and soon to be disgraced President of the United States, Tricky Dick.

It's a great story, no doubt, but did events here ever impact the broader Marvel Universe? I don't think it was every addressed in the mags, but since Marvel's Major Conceit was that their stories take place in the real world, are we to conclude that the Nixon who resigned was what, a SHIELD life model decoy perhaps, saving the public from the knowledge that the Dickster attempted a coup and then capped himself in the Oval Office? I'd buy that.

To the larger point of mixed emotions: take away the Nixon angle and we're left with a first rate Cap adventure, but nothing more, certainly nothing "historic." Englehart mined an on-going national nightmare and Constitutional crisis for fictive gold, but I'm left with the queasy feeling that there's something, not exploitative, but trivializing about fitting the Nixon Administration's long list of high crimes and misdemeanors into the belly of a flying saucer.

Peter: I love the balls Englehart showed by involving a national scandal in his comic book (while DC was still trying to find productive ways to involve Krypto in their adventures) but, if we're to assume this is the Richard Nixon rather than an "alternate Marvel reality" Richard Nixon, the throwaway comment from Harderman about Watergate really makes no sense. Are we to believe the Watergate investigation is going on in the Marvel Universe while this president is running around Washington, ostensibly giving the Secret Service the slip, firing off death rays and negotiating with aliens?

Daredevil 111
"Sword of the Samurai!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Bob Brown and Jim Mooney
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Daredevil explains to Shanna O’Hara and police chief Robert O’Hara about how Mandrill spilled the beans to him on Black Spectre’s origin. When DD heads home to get some rest, he is attacked by a large, masked, sword-wielding madman who calls himself the Silver Samurai. When Shanna and her cats come to help, the scratched and outnumbered warrior flees. In a meeting with the three of them and Foggy Nelson, Shanna tells them more. When she had learned that Mandrill had had her father murdered, and Nekra had murdered a game warden friend of hers, she had vowed revenge. Mandrill, who had been captured by Shield, had escaped when his prison cell had been literally sliced open. Voila, it must have been the Silver Samurai! Black Spectre members crash their meeting, kidnapping Shanna and giving DD a nap from a blow to the neck by none other than Nekra. While Matt bumps into Candace, Foggy’s sister and has coffee, Shanna is now a prisoner of Back Spectre; Mandrill wants to experiment on her to find out how she can resist his hypnotic charms. DD finds Black Spectre’s flying hideout above the Empire State Building. Investigating he overhears they plan to topple the TV tower and disrupt communications. He tries to stop them, en route to grabbing the rope ladder of the hovering criminal headquarters. -Jim Barwise

Scott: This story has everything. The Silver Samauri, Shanna the She-Devil, a panel showing us Ka-Zar (because Marvel insists we can never get enough of him), fallout from Black Widow’s betrayal and a villain who knows Daredevil’s identity. Yup, true believers, this one has it all…except good art and a compelling story. Maybe next time.

Jim Barwise: There’s a lot to keep us entertained here, even if the issue comes off as average. Having the focus on Shanna is nice, and let’s not omit the visual aspect. The Silver Samurai himself isn’t the best foe this mag has ever seen, but one of the strengths of DD’s mag has always been to make middling villains seem better by virtue of an intriguing storyline. And it’s good to see Matt get really ticked off at being pushed around, vowing serious war at the end.

Matthew: Like Paul Gulacy in #108, the Madman reminds us what a difference an inker makes, especially on Battlin’ Bob’s pencils; the art here isn’t perfect, yet Mooney is vastly preferable to the latter-day Heck who has sadly blighted this mag and Avengers of late. Similarly, Steve is in fine form as he reaches the climax of the storyline woven out of threads he had to leave dangling when Shanna’s mag was cancelled, and you’ll notice that for this issue only, the guest-starring She-Devil actually replaces the effectively hors de combat Widow in the title logo. Can’t remember exactly where Gerber goes with this, but I’ll gladly take the ride (and am intrigued to see that The Two Steves both wind up their multi-issue arcs at the White House).

Fantastic Four 148
"War on the Thirty-Sixth Floor!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Returning to the Baxter Building after fighting Namor, it doesn’t take long before they are attacked by some old friends: the Frightful Four. The Sandman leads off the battle, and then drifts as sand down the air vent. The F.F. are faced with the problem of not knowing where in the building their counterparts are. Soon the Trapster finds Johnny and temporarily douses his flame; Reed and Medusa find the Wizard, and Ben tackles the Sandman. Ironically, it is the return of Thundra who tips the scales for our heroes; still awaiting the day she can best the Thing in battle, and therefore helping out. They hold the evil F.F. under glass, but there’s no time for sleep yet. A look out the window reveals Sub-Mariner, with an army—and Sue—in tow, declaring war on the surface world. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Any issue with Rich Buckler’s art in as fine a form as this is off to a great start. Although the battle with the Frightful fellers doesn’t amount to much (except for some fine Thing/Sandman exchanges), we get Thundra back again. I’m guessing she’ll be on-board with our guys now that Namor has gone all-hostile. It must be funny for Medusa to be on the other side now.

Chris: An all-out fun battle with the Frightful Four, a group that’s reliable for a good brawl, and that (despite the Wizard’s self-confidence in his planning) rarely poses any serious threat.  Reed, and the rest of us, needed a break from the latest bit of Sue-drama.  We need a name for this villain group, though, at times like this when they only have three members.  Gerry’s script is overloaded with clichés, but I will say that Ben gave me a serious laugh when he gets spa-foomed into something that bursts with Kirbyenergy, and still has the presence of mind to dismiss the Sandman with “Aw, yer mother wears Army boots.”

We still don’t know why Thundra is here, do we, except to renew her open-ended threat to Ben, right?  Also, regarding the Wizard’s anti-grav discs, I didn’t realize that they also functioned as anti-hair-control and anti-stretching devices; wouldn’t the discs be easily countered if either Medusa or Reed used their powers to secure themselves to a wall, or floor, or something?  But, if that were to happen, then Medusa would be able to do something in the issue other than follow people around and ask questions, and we wouldn’t want that, now, would we?  Do you suppose Gerry would prefer to have Thundra in the mag, as Sue’s replacement?

Mark: This is a decent enough one 'n' done Frightful Four punch-up, sandwiched between chapters of the Namor-kidnapped-Sue-no-she-loves-Subby saga. This is two issues in a row that I wasn't tempted to feed into my shredder in teeth-grinding, epic fail agony.

Now before Gerry Conway gets a swelled head, let's point out there ain't much of a plot. How did the Frightful Four - actually our Wizard led miscreants are reduced to Three – subvert the Baxter Building's defenses and was there any particular reason for launching their attack now? If Ger knows he ain't telling. How did the evil FF's newest ex-member, the over-grown and ever delightful Thundra, cop to their plans and arrive at the exact moment to help bashful Benny in his tussle with the Sandman? Details, anyways the whining about details!

Scott: The Frightful Four is always pretty fun, especially when Medusa is in the mix. Rich Buckler does his usual great work with only a few Kirby callbacks this time. He handles everyone perfectly. Reed finally snaps back into action. Thundra’s return isn’t thrilling, though. She is such a product of the 70’s, it seriously dates the book, The final two page cliffhanger spread feels off, as if they ran short and needed to pad things out for a page or two. Also a miscalculation: since it’s Sue’s decision to be with Namor and Subby’s decision to invade based on that love, Reed should be much more prominent in the final panel. Instead, Buckler went with the crowd pleasers, Ben and Johnny. Granted, Stretcho was never that popular and would never have his own solo title, but he is the leader and Sue’s husband. He should really lodge a complaint; his series is being overshadowed by the others in the cast. Ah well, it all happened 40 years ago anyway.

Matthew: In a familiar refrain, I really should have liked this issue more, packed as it is with super-villains (including a Sandman whose original Spidey-approved togs have made a welcome return) and all of that high-protein Buckler/Sinnott artwork, yet lately I seem to read each one just waiting to see if, and how, Gerry is going to annoy me. I’m not sure if the running gag about the Frightful Four’s floating final member is actually supposed to be funny, but I’ve always found it rather tiresome, and using Thundra as the deus ex machina doesn’t help. We’ve danced around her true origin and intentions for a year and a half now, since her introduction in #129, and this “if anyone is to destroy [Grimm]—I will!” routine is really getting old, in my opinion.

Mark: Buckler and Sinnott deliver the sluggo action in fine King-Kirby fashion, and it's no surprise that the art is the high point here. We end with a two page spread of Namor, leading an army as he rides atop an aquatic beastie, declaring war on humanity. It could be FF Annual #1, save for Sue Richards, looking none too happy, monster-surfing right behind Subby. Will next month be an epic addition to the FF canon, or more MCD (Marvel Climaxius Disappointius)?

My fingers are crossed for the former, but the Vegas wise guys just read the abominable snowmen abomination and are going large on MCD.

The Frankenstein Monster 11
"And in the End--!"
Story by Gary Friedrich
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Romita

Still the prisoner of the only descendant of his creator, the monster of Frankenstein is about to undergo a brain transplant. The owner of the brain in question, the giant Ivan, balks at the scientist killing his friend and attacks Frankenstein in his laboratory. During the melee, the maid knocks at the door to tell her master that his wife is dying and that she needs him immediately. A truce is called and the scientist sees to his wife. While Frankenstein is stalling for time, Ivan attempts to free the monster from his bonds. Awakening just as Ivan lifts the knife, the monster misunderstands and attacks the giant. The two battle for a bit before they realize they're both on the same page and yet another truce is called. Just then, Frankenstein returns, shooting Ivan in the back, killing him. With his dying breath, the giant asks the monster for one more favor: kill Vincent Frankenstein! Before our heroic patchwork creature can accomplish that goal, Vincent puts two bullets in him. The maid returns to the laboratory and puts a couple into her master as well, cursing him for ignoring the needs of his now-dead wife. The monster, feeling frustrated he couldn't snuff out the last of the Frankensteins, shuffles out of the castle, mortally wounded. If he had but stayed a few more minutes, he would have heard an interesting sound, one that would change the course of his future: a baby crying. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Holy mackerel, what a mess. Assuming that a younger audience stops by this classroom now and then, I've avoided using profane language. Gary Friedrich was one cheeky monkey to use a line from one of the masterpieces of music to line his cat box with. This is just about the worst scripted and worst drawn abomination I've had the misfortune to read. There seems to be no continuity from Big John's art of the past few issues and Bob Brown's near-incomprehensible doodlings here. Ivan now seems to be about twenty feet tall, the castle maid veers from Audrey Hepburn to Bea Arthur on the same page, and Vincent looks nothing like the suave scientist we were introduced to last issue.  How many pages are wasted on the ol' Marvel Misunderstanding (the monster thinks Ivan's going to kill him so he lashes out until he realizes Ivan's his buddy so he tries to make Ivan realize he's onto him now but Ivan's going to kill the monster now and nothing will stop him until he realizes...)? The final panel comes as a big surprise because Gary cheated the entire issue by keeping it undercover (pun intended) so we'd have no idea Mrs. Frankenstein is suffering from anything but fever. And why can't a scientist deliver a baby, ferchrissakes? Believe me when I say the bottom of the barrel has been reached and there's nowhere to go but up from here. Hopefully, in the hands of Mssrs. Moench and Mayerik beginning next issue, we might be able to drag ourselves out of this overflowing sewer system.

Chris: I did enjoy the irony of having the maid kill Vincent – that was unexpected.  I guess it’s only fitting that the monster is denied his chance to kill the last Frankenstein, as the flung sword thunks, unacknowledged, into the oaken door.  But wait, thanks to a secret pregnancy, there is, in fact, Yet Another Last Frankenstein?  I’m speechless.

Bob Brown carries off the action well.  His monster depiction is okay, except for when he draws the head in the style of Herman Munster (see p 10 if you don’t believe me).  Linda Lessmann restores some of the grey and pink hues that give a unique look to the monster’s skin.  Colletta’s inks aren’t particularly irritating; you could argue that their unfinished quality is suited to the rough-hewn setting of the lab, and the unearthly appearance of the two oversized monster-people.

Peter: Dr. Mark Ferris has a visitor one night, an older man who insists the doctor test his experimental suspended animation drug on a youth the man has carried in. At first, Ferris refuses but when the old man pulls a strange-looking weapon, the doctor agrees. As Mark does his best to save the boy, he notices that the stranger knows a lot about Mark's life. Of course, in the end, we discover that the man is actually Mark Ferris of the future come to save his son's life. This issue's reprint, "The Mad Scientist" (from World of Fantasy #11, April 1958), is the kind of story that EC used to do so much better. It's not a bad story (it's certainly, by default, the best thing about this issue) but it's not very original and the dialogue is laughable. Mark talks in short, clipped sentences: How did you get in here? The door's locked! It's raining out but you're not wet... and I didn't hear a sound! Who are you? What do you want? That's all in the intro word balloon! Artist Murphy Anderson is best known for his work at the Distinguished Competitor, in particular his run on Hawkman.

Giant-Size Creatures
Featuring Werewolf by Night 1
"Tigra the Were-woman!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Don Perlin and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Strolling the beach alone, Jack Russell sees a woman in a bikini running towards him, wearing a weird cats-head ring…then he’s smashed by a Hydra agent! The woman is Greer Nelson, and when the Hydra goons spot her ring, she changes into Tigra, a were-woman! After dispatching the bad guys, she goes to check on Jack, but he turns into the Werewolf and attacks! Their fight is cut short by a Hydra “Sonic Shatter Cone”, leaving Werewolf knocked out and Tigra in the hands of the enemy, who is waiting to find the “final secret”. Part 2 “A Warrior Reborn” sees Tigra spot Dr. Tumulo being held captive, and leads her to recount her origin. As the Cat, Greer was shot by an “Alpha Radiation pistol” and to save her, Tumulo brought her to the Cat People, where she’s told of the deadly weapon known as the “final secret” and given a ring, a chemical gas treatment and some TLC, transforming her into Tigra! Part 3 “Some Say the World Will Die…” begins on Second Night, and the Werewolf tracks Tigra to the Hydra base, just in time to save Tumulo and free Tigra! The women take off, so WW follows them, once again saving them from a Hydra goon, mainly because he might be in love with Tigra! But when more baddies appear, Tumolo unleashes The Final Secret—it’s The Black Plague! To fend off an increasingly affectionate Werewolf, Tigra switches back to Greer…for the last time, as she changes back for good, leaving Werewolf to howl alone on Third Night. –Joe Tura

Joe: I definitely had this one! One of the more exciting Werewolf by Night tales for sure, if not a bit overlong and clichéd in the hands of Tony Isabella. But still mostly fun. And you know it’s Tony Isabella when you’re told on the splash page. “Also Featuring: The World-Destroying Final Secret!” The Final Secret itself turns out to be nasty, but The Black Plague? Not sure where that came from. Decent Don Perlin art for once, also which I can’t believe I just said…..Nice to see Tigra, who will have a long history in Marvel, and I always thought she was a cool character to be honest. And kinda purty, too.

Matthew: The last of the, uh, small giant-size mags, this was announced as the second issue of GS Chillers, which will become GS Dracula in September; if that’s not confusing enough, this in turn will morph into GS Werewolf in October, effective with its own second issue. Writer Isabella was not normally associated with the parent title—whose genesis Roy recaps in a lengthy editorial—but artists Perlin and Colletta kick off a six-issue stint this very month, while Perlin will pencil and/or ink almost all of its remaining run. Aptly, “Where Walks the Werewolf!,” which teams Len Wein with EC legend Reed Crandall, was rapidly reprinted from Creatures on the Loose #13 (September 1971) to round out this issue.

Its biggest claim to fame is, of course, the transformation of Greer Nelson into a new kind of cat, who earns her solo debut in the B&W Monsters Unleashed #10 (February 1975) and a brief four-color strip in Marvel Chillers a year later. In a text piece, Tony the Tiger (coincidence?) reveals his distaste for loose ends, his disappointment at the cancellation of the distaff titles just after he joined Marvel, and his inspiration to try again by hybridizing Greer with the burgeoning monster line. Tigra’s working name was Hellcat—which Roy had considered for the Cat, and obviously did not go to waste—while Gil Kane’s original design, in a sketch reproduced here, was finalized with John Romita and Perlin; Tony credits Roy with Tigra’s eventual name and the use of Hydra.

Scott: Notable only for the introduction of Tigra who would eventually keep her feline form and become a really cool and sexy character. Don Perlin does her no favors, but Vince Coletta, for all his faults, knows how to detail a pretty face. Otherwise, a slog.

Joe: Our back-up story, “Where Walks the Werewolf!” by Len Wein and Reed Crandall, was originally published in Creatures on the Loose #13 way back in Sept 1971. And it’s not bad. Two scientists, one going blind, are hunting for a wolf, to get spinal fluid for a serum to help the one regain his sight. But it turns out they implanted the lenses of a werewolf! Blaming the other for stealing his woman and turning him into a werewolf on purpose, the beast confronts his friend, but the sun comes up, turning him human as he leaps…to his death over a cliff, having missed his prey.

As for the two-page filler essay by Roy Thomas called “Waiter, There’s a Werewolf in My Soup” (ugh), it’s fairly unnecessary but explains how they created WWBN. Not very thrilling, if slightly informative.

Giant-Size Defenders 1
"The Way They Were!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom
Colors by Jim Starlin and Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Frank Giacoia

In seeking to understand her own role in the Defenders, the Valkyrie asks Clea to relate to her the backgrounds of Dr. Strange, the Hulk, and Namor. The magician’s girlfriend obliges, using a spell to reveal the past. This causes a minor problem, bringing back some of their past troubles, but gives Val food for thought on her teammates and herself. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Like a collection of “greatest hits” this origin rerun, while entertaining, can’t help but be disappointing. With the huge potential created by such a diverse group, a giant-sized adventure could have been amazing.

Matthew: Roy’s “Editorial, More or Less” explains that this reprint-fest “was scheduled [and advertised as] Giant-Size Super-Teams Featuring the Defenders #1, a title which does not roll trippingly from the tongue. And it was to sell for 35¢ with 52 pages. Then, at the last moment (if not later), the decision was made to make all of our over-sized color mags one price (50¢) and one size (68 pages, from cover to cover)….[I]nstead of a 24-page original tale each issue in addition to the special features or reprinted classics, you’ll be getting some thirty pages of new story and art…Don’t go by this first issue, where all the scheduling and re-scheduling finally led us to decide to concentrate on some of Marvel’s finest twice-told tales…”

Written by Isabella, in for neo-scribe Wein, and drawn by Detroit pals Starlin and Milgrom, who seem ill-suited to the task, the nine-page framing sequence appeared concurrently with #14 of their regular title, but takes place in the aftermath of #12. The excuse for the flashbacks is Val’s curiosity about her pre-Nighthawk, er, non-team-mates Hulk (Incredible Hulk #3), Namor (Sub-Mariner Comics #41), and Dr. Strange (Strange Tales #145). Unknown to Clea, the spell from the Book of the Vishanti that she uses to show Val the past also has the effect of making it live again, spiriting the three of them away to face “rerun peril” and forcing Doc to set things right; as a bonus, the Silver Surfer’s “very first solo tale” is excavated from Fantastic Four Annual #5.

Chris: I gave this a quick flipping-thru prior to re-reading it, and my first impression was “Nuts! All reprints! Why bother with Starlin, when it’s only a 2-3 page intro?” But, in fact, it turns out to be a 9-page framing sequence, which is quite good, considering its space limitations; Jim turns the dials up to “11” for his last two pages (p 44-45), which only leaves me slavering for a genuine, full-length Defenders story from Starlin. But, in fairness, when could he possibly have had time to do that? I will be grateful for these nifty nine pages.

Two art highlights, both involving shoulders: Doc’s instinctive flinch, when the Hulk practically dislocates one of his (pg 2, last panel), and Subby’s sneaky hand, closing in on the Rasputin-spirit, as Rasputin glances back, too late (p 44, panel 3). Extra credit to Tony and Roy for finding a Doc oldie that they could employ for this new sequence; plus, it’s a fun little story on its own.

I also enjoyed the Surfer reprint (classic Kirby); I’ve always felt that the Surfer was under-utilized as a Defender. My appreciation is tempered (only slightly) by the realization that this reprint was included only because of the page (and price) increase.

Scott: The cover is mired by god-awful Gil Kane scribbles, but the Jim Starlin interior art is sweet (what little there is of it). The splash page alone is fantastic, with Jim giving the Hulk his most frightening look in years, reminiscent of the splash image way back in Hulk #2. This is appropriate since what follows is the most crass bait and switch in a long time. A giant-sized issue devoted to reprints rather than an epic original story? Why bother? Charging 50 cents for this when all the other titles have new stories in their Giant Sized mags is insulting to fans of The Defenders who were promised “senses shattering secrets.” Even the issue-concluding pin-up looks hastily drawn. Roy Thomas tries to explain it all in what would be the lettercol, saying the issue is still well worth our 50 shekels, but it’s all a wash. Pointless.

The Defenders 14
"And Who Shall Inherit the Earth?"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Dan Green
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Sal Buscema

Nebulon, who considers himself Earth’s new and rightful owner, holds the Defenders captive in a force bubble. Before he hastens their destruction, Hyperion demands they suffer instead as he did, cast into space to float perhaps endlessly. Nebulon had found and freed Hyperion previously, and the two had struck a bargain: an energy-filled world for Nebulon to give to his people, and vengeance for Hyperion. This appears to leave Nebulon and the Squadron Sinister and Hyperion free to hasten the demise of Earth, but they hadn’t counted on the Defenders resourcefulness; focusing all their energies on one spot, they shatter the force globe, and with the aid of Strange’s magic, they return to Midgard to defend their home world. Nebulon creates an ice giant to keep them busy, then he and his take up when the ice creature fails. When they focus their attack on Nebulon, it weakens them enough for his masquerade to fall away, and they see the giant hideous worm-like being he really is—the Celestial Man! Former Sinister member, now ally Nighthawk turns the villains laser canon against him, until his creation’s own power becomes too much to absorb, and he implodes along with the rest of the Squadron Sinister and Hyperion. Hurt seriously by the blast, Nighthawk is on death’s door, but the team focuses all their energy through Stephen Strange, returning Nighthawk to life with a little energy from all of them. He asks to join their team, and when Namor departs with no intent of return, they accept. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I’m going to venture a thumbs up for this baby, giving The Defenders a pretty good average. Sal Buscema’s art always differs enough from brother John to be distinct, good and occasionally amazing. I first remember Hyperion from a future Thor issue, so interesting to see his prior battle with the Asgardian explained. It looks like we might be left with a pretty good team (is Subby off to wage his own war against the surface world with Sue Richards?), as long as we keep the other three.

Chris: Nighthawk’s life is sustained by the combined life-forces of his teammates?  Well, that’s – somewhat profound.  We knew Nighthawk’s reservations about the planet-flooding plan in the first place, so his side-switching doesn’t come off as unexpected.  The surprising part is the idea that this peripheral character – arguably the least-interesting of the Squadron – could prove (in time) to be a significant contributor to the non-team.   I’m not sure why Nebulon was so concerned about maintaining his goldie form – did he think, if he looked hideous, that Hyperion would decline to betray a planet to him?  Buscema’s pencils are fine, but Green’s inks are pedestrian, which makes for few noteworthy art-spots.

Matthew: The 1978 treasury-edition reprint typically omits any transition between parts, yet the scans on SuperMegaMonkey and Bronze Age Babies reveal that they replaced Nebulon’s closer (“Then you leave me no other choice, you foolish humans—except to destroy you all!”) with the first part of his dialogue from page 2 of this issue. So we’ve lost a splash page but gained the final core member of our non-team, not to mention benefiting immeasurably with the shift in inkers from Janson to Green, even though Hyperion looks like an escapee from the psycho-ward. While I don’t dislike Len’s story, and can’t argue with that shot of Nebulon doing the Full Monty, it’s a bit frenetic, so I hope I can be forgiven if I consider this a means to an end.

Scott: And so Nighthawk officially joins the non-group. This “not a team” that Namor actually quits. So, are they a group or not? I like the idea of independent heroes who come together to fight a common foe, but since it’s always the same people, it doesn’t make sense for them to refuse to be a “team.” So what if they don’t spend every waking moment together? If they only join up in times of crisis, wouldn’t that pretty much make them the original conception of The Avengers? This is a weird title in that way. Fun art and a decent “rescue from death” for Nighthawk. Just wondering if the sustained life forces he got form the team would wear off eventually.


  1. Having started regularly collecting Marvel Comics just a few months after the end of the Kree-Skrull War, Starlin's Thanos War I was really the first great comics epic with both great story and art that I'd encountered. I also enjoyed the nearly concurrent epic in Captain America and Daredevil, but Starlin's art by far out-shined nearly every Marvel artist at the time, IMO. And Starlin's run on Warlock was even better, in both story and art.
    On the Avengers, yeah, even as a 12 year old I found the weird romantic square involving Wanda, Vizh, Mantis & Swordsman fascinating. Yeah, the Swordsman brought up his paranoid worries at a really bad time, but it added genuine human drama to the cosmic proceedings. To be honest, even back then I got bored with pure action all the time sort of stories, with no time given to the human foibles of the characters. If I'd been interested in perfect heroes who are always totally focused on the job at hand, I would ditched Marvel and stuck with DC long before this era.
    Finally on Defenders #14, good issue if not particularly outstanding, which was pretty typical of Len Wein's work in my estimation. It was Gerber who made both Nighthawk and Nebulon far more interesting characters. Speaking of Gerber's run, it seems a bit odd that aside from Giant-Size Defenders #3, his first Defenders story, co-plotted with Wein & Starlin, he never fit Namor into any of his Defenders stories -- I don't know if it was because he didn't like writing Subby or maybe it was at Roy's insistance as he was preparing to use Namor in both Super-Villain Team-Up and the Invaders. Didn't really miss Namor anyhow as he seems more suitable for guest-starring roles in a team book rather than permanent membership. Odder, tho', is that for the most part the various Defenders scribes managed to make the Hulk work as a regular member of the "non-group". Can't imagine Dr. Strange or anyone else telling Hulk, "you missed an official meeting without good cause, so you can't defend with us for one week!" as Thor essentially told Iron Man in a very early issue of the Avengers.

  2. I never could take Nighthawk seriously. Maybe because I always thought he looked like The Blue Falcon from the Dynomutt cartoons.

    On the other hand Sal Buscema 's work on the Defenders grew on me. I never read the book back then, so thanks for the Essential.

  3. I loved all the wonderful things I read about CM #33 and agree that the Captain Mar-vell/Thanos event is an epic masterpiece that set the model for all cosmic arcs to come after. CM #32 is what made me love the cosmic and want to draw. Starlin could have burned his pencils and retired after this arc (I'm glad he didn't). I also wish Marvel would draw recaps instead of a couple paragraphs. This comic should set the standard for that. Great blog!