Wednesday, September 3, 2014

September 1974 Part One: The Green Goblin (sorta kinda) Lives Again!

Amazing Adventures 26
Killraven/War of the Worlds in
"Something Worth Dying For!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Gene Colan and Dan Adkins
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Romita

In scenic Battle Creek, MI, Killraven tries to tame a wild, mutated serpent stallion as his friends watch from the Dyna-Glider. Nighttime brings more pondering, plus a half naked Carmilla bathing in a stream when a group of drones sneaks up on her, but trusty Grok is there to protect her, then the Freemen attack! Taking one drone as prisoner, they learn about a “treasure” and Killraven and M’Shulla head out in the morning to find it. They meet Pstun-Rage the Vigilant, scythe-wielding guardian of the treasure, and of course they battle! But it’s short-lived, as KR knocks P-R on top of his fallen scythe and the pair of Freemen ride off, leaving the guardian to crawl back to the treasure: boxes of cereal and the prizes that were inside. - Joe Tura

Joe Tura: I’m convinced Don McGregor got paid by the word. At least I hope so for his sake. Or at least he bought dinner for overworked letterer Kawecki. So many panels, all packed with narration and dialogue, all the way to the final Outer Limits twist at the end. There’s not much room for Colan’s art to breathe, and the book suffers a little for it. Nice to see some movement in the pencils after Trimpe, however squeezed in. All in all, just OK, but could have been much worse, that’s for sure. The big battle at the end lasts about as long as a WBN fight, which is not really a good sign.

This month’s lame filler is “The World of Flame!” by C.F. Miller, which originally appeared in Astonishing #52 in October 1956. And I’m not sure why this is here. A giant wave sends a ship toward the sun, where the crew thinks it’s a dream, but they’re told they are in the “world of flame”. A whirlpool sends them back down, and they’re all sunburned, with “the mark of the world of flame” on their faces. Hurray.

Mark Barsotti: "Snap, crackle and pop!" The sound of my professorial ruler rapping writerly knuckles, for in "Something Worth Dying For!" another one 'n' done installment of Killraven and krew trekking across post-Martian invasion America, Don "On the Nose" McGregor ruins his own good idea with foreshadowing as heavy-handed as a squad of Red Planet tripods crashing to earth.

Say "Cheese!"

Mark: Before deconstructing our tale, props to Dean Gene Colan's art. Even on pure work-for-hire pinch hitting, Colan's incapable of a bad effort. He even throws in a bit of Carmilla Frost topless cheesecake to spice things up, and the red "serpent stallion" hybrid that Killy breaks for his steed is all fluid four-hoofed fury.

The plot turns on mustachioed and red-caped Pestun-Rage the Vigilant guarding a treasure in Battle Creek, Michigan, said riches being a warehouse full of breakfast cereal. The idea could have been rich in irony (and vitamin fortified!), had not McGregor nattered on, page upon page, about advertising slogans so that only the dimmest Brand Ecch bulb couldn't see the by-then soggy Big Reveal coming long before getting out of bed for Saturday morning cartoons.

Donny and his sore knuckles needs to learn some new Trix.

Chris Blake: McGregor once again fits a neat, compact story into his limited pages.  I wasn’t at all sure where he was going with all the advertising remarks, until we got the Twilight Zone-ish reveal at the end.  Killraven discloses more of his purpose behind the journey to Yellow Stone, but also circumvents it (again!) in pursuit of an immediate adventure.  It almost has the feel of a Conan-type story, doesn’t it, with the premise of “Aha, so there’s a treasure over there?  Well, let’s go see what it is, and take it if we want it.”  Does Killraven want to distract himself from the highly-charged nature of his quest for family – or, does he seek to delay the process, due to his fear that he will not find the brother he had lost, even if they succeed in reaching Yellow Stone?

If fans of Amazing Adventures were getting impatient over the lack of a regular penciller, at least they have Colan to follow Buckler – Colan really can do just about anything in a four-color comic, can’t he?  You’d think, in his depiction of the characters, that Gentleman Gene had been working on this title all along.  Colan doesn’t show us the many dramatic moods of Killraven (as opposed to Buckler, last issue), but then again, the intensity isn’t as high this time, and there really isn’t anything at stake – not even revenge – for Killraven this time out.

The Amazing Spider-Man 136
"The Green Goblin Lives Again!"
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

After a pleasant Sunday afternoon together, Peter and Mary Jane head back to his place to listen to the new Ella Fitzgerald album [really, Peter? What a square!], but as self-proclaimed female chauvinist MJ goes to turn the key, Peter’s spider-sense kicks in—and the apartment explodes!! Finding a detonating fuse in the demolished domicile, Peter hears police sirens approaching and quickly ditches his spare Spidey suit on a nearby roof. Slightly concussed, Peter thinks he sees Gwen as MJ is lying in a hospital bed, then thinks about the Green Goblin and Gwen’s death. Thinking maybe the Goblin is alive, Spidey swings to an old warehouse of Norman Osborn’s, where it’s still covered in dust…until he tastes the dust and realizes it’s fake! Hiding out in a web hammock for hours, he finds his hunch paying off when the Green Goblin, aka Harry Osborn, flies in! The two ex-friends battle each other, with Peter trying to talk sense while Harry talks revenge, until the exhaust from the Goblin flier knocks Spidey out! But luckily for our hero, the power in Gobby’s gloves was used up and he jets off, promising the end of Spider-Man! In a quick Postscript, Peter storms out of JJJ’s office, having asked for a leave of absence, and when he’s turned down, he quits! - Joe Tura

Joe: The splash page proclaims “Surely the most important comic story you’ll read this year!” and “This is the one you’ve been waiting for!” Heck yes! A terrific cover, a terrific splash page, nice script and art working together flawlessly…a terrific ish of ASM all around! I mean, the Green Goblin is back, what’s not to like? Great psychological goings-on, from the Gwen hallucinations to the need for revenge by Harry. And Peter getting all snippy with poor Betty Brant was near heartbreaking, but can you blame the guy? His ex-best friend went nuts, his best female friend nearly got blown up and he can’t get a stinkin’ week off without a problem! What’s a guy to do other than be fairly pissed at life?

Favorite sound effect: Has to be “KARA-BOOM!” as the door to Peter’s pad is pulverized by the bomb Harry set. A shocking moment gets an earth-shattering accompaniment. Second would be the nasty-sounding “BRUMP!” as our hero is smashed against a crate by the giggling Goblin. Ouch!

Matthew Bradley: Since we had this one off the rack, it might actually have been my very first exposure to the Green Goblin, although Gerry’s script—and especially the beautiful montage of Gwen’s death—made it quite clear he was not the original.  I’m sure that bothered me not a whit, just turning 11 the month this would have appeared, while that two-page spread of Gobby roaring back into action certainly didn’t leave me feeling cheated.  For me, this was a foundational issue, one that I dearly love and think holds up beautifully to this day, which helped to establish both Ross (inked here by Giacoia and Hunt) as Spidey’s artist and M.J. as Peter’s love interest, funky Seventies platform shoes and all, in my impressionable young mind...

Peter Enfantino: As is the norm with even the greatest of funny book stories, there are some sensibilities-stretching moments here. Why in the world would Peter leave that Goblin hideout stocked full of explosive pumpkins and Goblin paraphernalia? Why would Harry bother spreading soap all over everything in that hidey-hole to give it that lived-in look when he was all set to attack anyway? And it's a stretch that, coincidentally, Parker would immediately think of The Goblin when his door blows. Harry learning all his dad's secrets and basically receiving his Super-Villain Membership Card in a couple weeks time is, um... interesting. And, finally, Peter's verbal attack on poor Betty Brant Leeds (long ago relegated to "cameo" status) is as phony as a Michael Bay flick. We've seen it one time too many. Ok, tirade over. I loved this story forty years ago and I love it now. It was only natural for Crazy Harry to step into his equally-mad dad's slippers (although Gerry should have waited another year to give it a little more weight, I think), and with Ross's Gobby looking perfectly insane and dangerous, I'm getting goosebumps anticipating the tension-filled climax next issue. The next thirteen issues (and, yep, that includes Mindworm and The Grizzly) have a sacred place on a throne inside my comic book memories. Please be as good as I remember!

Mark: Unlike Mae West, who, "when she was good, she was very good, and when she was bad, she was even better," when Gerry Conway is bad, he's downright awful. Fortunately, Web-heads, Ger brings his A game here, from the sparks aflyin' flirting between Pete and MJ that opens the story (although Harry's apartment bomb preempts the more romantic explosions that might have occurred) on through the neo-classic Spidey-Goblin set-to, this ish is a suspenseful and satisfying page-turner.

Scott McIntyre: Finally, the Harry Osborn/Green Goblin story comes to a head and it's a damned good one. Again, Ross Andru gives us characters and food. Normally I wouldn't notice, but it's one of his things. Someone is usually eating at some point. The Romita cover is to die for, but the interior art is actually pretty damned great. Some of Andru's best work and it's a gripping first part to this epic battle. The build-up was long in coming, but it was well worth the wait. Peter's temper makes him something of a douche to Betty at the end, but he's in a tough spot. It's all wonderfully dramatic. Full marks. A note: this month begins the inclusion of the "origin" of the title characters at the top of splash pages. Not every book has it this month, but most do and soon every title will have these little standardized recaps.

Mark: Lest I be accused of going soft on Kid Conway, there are nits to be picked here. Mary Jane's aunt has known Peter for ten years, but she leaves the hospital after visiting MJ without so much as a cursory hello to the also injured nephew of best friend Aunt May?

More eye-rolling: while Harry's been going psycho-Sam ever since his dad took a glider in the guts, he only entered Norman's secret warehouse lair at the end of last ish, so when has he "been training" to the point that he's "perhaps faster... (than) the real Green Goblin?" And all without being powered-up by exploding Gobby juice like Stormin' Norm.*

But that's excusable comic shorthand. An inept Harry (maybe tripping again on Vitamin A) falling off the glider would have been a great chuckle, but not much in the way of spandex-fantastix. And Harry's Gobby-blast gloves losing power just as he's about to deliver the coup de Spidey is an ancient narrow escape trope, but noting it is only of academic interest because it's well-executed here, with Harry getting the better and very Gobliny idea to psychologically torture his old roomie for awhile, maybe reveal his secret identity.

The Postscript "Angry Peter" shtick at the Bugle is laid on with a heavy-handed trowel, but not remembering the story specifics after 40 years (don't do drugs, kids!), I'm anxious to see what Mr. Parker has in mind.   

* See ASM #40 – Meticulous Prof Mark

 The Avengers 127
"Bride and Doom!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Steve Englehart
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Mike Esposito

Just as The Avengers are about to sit down to a luscious dinner, Gorgon of the Inhumans arrives to escort them to the Hidden Land for the wedding of Quicksilver and Crystal. Pietro never told them about the upcoming ceremony, due to the mutant's disapproval of the romance between Wanda and the Vision. However, they all go to the Inhumans' realm and, with the Fantastic Four, help in the celebration. Unknown to any of them, renegade Alpha Primitives are planning a revolt. The giant-sized Omega comes to life and kidnaps Crystal. The revolt gains momentum and eventually the giant Omega is able to paralyze the heroes. Once he does, he reveals that he is in reality Ultron-7! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Sal Buscema and Joe Staton do outstanding work here, some of the best this title has seen in many months. It's an absolute pleasure to look at. It's nice to have a break from the artistic doldrums which have plagued The Avengers since…well, I don't even remember when I didn't have an issue with the art. Neal Adams, maybe? During the Kree-Skrull War? Damn. The conflict between Wanda and Pietro is well done, while the unrest stirred up in the Alpha Primitives echoes racial tensions across the world. It is still, sadly, a timely topic. Disguised as a kid's adventure, the point is made and the action carries the rest. It's all great fun under the soapbox and the climactic reveal is unexpected. Welcome back, Ultron. It's been too long.

Matthew: Best known for his later work at DC, inker Joe Staton makes an unimpressive start to his modest stint here, directly followed by 20-odd issues of Hulk; although spelled by Sinnott on #128, Staton will stick with Sal—returning as penciler after a three-year hiatus—on the book through #134.  Meanwhile, Steve doubles as colorist on this issue, which he describes on his website as “coordinated with Gerry Conway’s Fantastic Four #150.”  That’s one way of putting it, but despite the fact that Pietro is an ex-Assembler, and that groovy last-page reveal of Avengers über-villain Ultron (whom I can’t believe has been absent since my cherished #68), I consider this two-parter very much an FF story with Wanda et alia basically thrown into the mix.

Peter: Talk of iconic covers tends to be bandied about around here as often as "Best Tony Isabella Script I've Ever Read!" but this is an iconic cover, one of the best Avengers frontispieces of the 1970s. It was my fascination with crossovers such as this one that led to my zombification in those long-ago days of the early 1970s. Sheesh, I think I was picking up Kid Colt Outlaw and My Love just in case Johnny Storm showed up via time machine in the old west or Aunt May eloped. To be fair, DC did the crossover game now and then (especially once they noticed Marvel's escalating sales figures) but you never got the sense that anything stuck. The Flash would go bad and destroy Metropolis until Batman unmasked him and found Lex Luthor beneath and the next issue everything was back to normal (I call it the Beverly Hillbillies Syndrome). That's why all the DC dweebs in the school yard kept their Superman Family comics hidden under their PB&Js in their Brady Bunch lunchbox. Us Marvel Zombies always got the best seats in the library.

Chris: Too often, the cover hype that an issue “Has It All!” proves to be just that – a lot of bluster, without much substance.  In this case, though, the claim is true: three super-teams assembled; a shadowy, hooded figure; not one, but two street fights with the alpha primitives; mysterious mind-control of our heroes; deep thought by Black Bolt; a grown-up moment of best wishes from Johnny to Crystal; Crystal’s abduction by Omega (Crystal does have some super-power of her own, doesn’t she?); impetuous acting-out by Pietro; girly-man “We have to talk!” pleading from the increasingly useless Swordsman; followed by quick-thinking under fire by the same Swordsman; even a Jockjaw-entrance dinnertime interruption to start things off!  But to top everything – Ulton!  And he’s, like, fifty feet tall!  Wow – how will the paralyzed superteams battle back again a giant-size Ultron?!  And they’ve gotta work fast – Pietro and Crystal have a hefty deposit on the Refuge Reception hall, and it’s non-refundable!  

Our Pal Sal’s return to these pages is a very welcome development, as his pairing with Staton will usher in a period of stability, quality, and consistency that we haven’t seen in these pages since . . . since,    um -? . . . well, you get my meaning. Sal ably fits in all of Steve’s story points, using small panels when he has to, and knowing when to rely on a larger visual when he requires a greater effect.  I think that Staton’s inks are well-suited to Sal’s work on this title, much as Cockrum’s inks were for Big Brother John and Bob Brown.  I particularly enjoyed: Mantis’ impatient look when questioned by Swordsy (far above); Pietro’s sullen moods throughout, capped by his flash of anger (p 22, pnl 4), which is kind of a classic Sal look; Maximus’ sneaky squint, in a wordless panel (above left), and the shadows falling over the Vision (p 31, pnl 1).  

 Captain Marvel 34
"Blown Away!"
Story by Jim Starlin and Steve Englehart
Art by Jim Starlin and Jack Abel
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin

Informed by Mentor that Moondragon has “returned to the Shao-Lin [sicmonastery for a period of contemplation” as Titan is rebuilt, Mar-Vell reminds Rick about his meeting with Mordecai, who forces a partner, Rachel Dandridge, on him for his 14-city tour.  He bids goodbye to Lou-Ann before they depart for Denver; outside Gary, Indiana, they run afoul of Nitro (aka Robert Hunter), who can explode and re-form, and has just stolen Compound Thirteen from a U.S.A.F. base for the Lunatic Legion, despite security chief Carol Danvers (who has not seen Mar-Vell since #18).  Mar-Vell prevails by having Rick slam the Nega-Bands together just as Nitro detonates, but he is overcome by the nerve gas after sealing the battle-damaged canister. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Per the backwards-written road sign in page 10, panel 6, “this issue is the end,” the outgoing Starlin credited with “everything…except” the dialogue (Englehart), inking (Abel), and lettering (Orzechowski, MIA on #32); prophetically, Nitro is billed on the cover as “The Man Who Killed Captain Marvel!”  Nothing much wrong here—I’m not crazy about Abel, but by definition he’s a giant step up from Janson—yet Thanos is such a tough act to follow that I almost wish Jim had left it at that.  While exiting, he gives Lou-Ann the bum’s rush, and also plants a lot of seeds (e.g., introducing Dandy and the Lunatic Legion, keeping Carol briefly in play), although I can’t remember just how successor Stainless will cultivate them, so I’ll just run with it for the moment.

In his Alter Ego interview, Englehart recounted that shortly after he’d begun scripting Starlin’s plots, Jim “started thinking about Warlock and dropped off the team for Captain Marvel.  I became the full writer and Al Milgrom, who’s been a good friend of mine, became the artist.  It was an easy handoff to send it over to Al, because he’d worked with Jim a lot.  Al and I did Captain Marvel after that….[Jim] irradiated [sic] him [in #34], and that final scene was what led to Captain Marvel’s cancer and eventual death in [the pathbreaking 1982 graphic novel—their first—The Death of Captain Marvel], but the actual death was years later.  He wasn’t dead when I got him, although he’d been damaged.  But, being an alien and all that, he seemed to recover.”

Chris: It’s curious to me that Starlin would elect to complete the Thanos storyline, and then return for one more issue, only to leave on a cliffhanger.  I could understand if he wanted to send Marv to Titan to address some unfinished business, or something, but instead Mentor takes care of all of that with one phone call.  Well, anyway, it’s a pretty good issue, with plenty of action, and one guy who’s blown up real good.  

The return of the Rick “Boy Rock Star” Jones business is unwelcome, but at least Jim & Steve figure out a way (later in the issue) to weave in a useful purpose for Rick’s presence.  I have a better appreciation for Rick later on, when he’s a part of the supporting cast, rather than requiring supporting characters of his own.  I like the lily pad Marv has set up for sitting and meditation while he’s stashed in the NZ.  Looks like there isn’t even anything to read there, huh – that truly would be a Negative experience.  It’s nice to see Carol Danvers again, although we’ll only have passing glances until she is issued her own mask.

Mark: Science tells us that memory serves up as much wish fulfillment as actual "truth." Case in point: I would have sworn on a stack of Origins of Marvel Comics that among the other delights of Jim Starlin's historic remake of Captain Marvel, he wrote the once-engaging-but-now-gnat-swarm annoyance Rick Jones out of the book.


R.J. gets mucho page time as Col. Parker wannabe Mordecai P. Boggs teams Slick Rick with tart-tongued Rachel Dandridge and sends "Rich 'n' Dandy" off as the opening act as on a fourteen city multi-band package tour. Watch your backs, Captain and Tennille!

Scott: Rick gains a new cast member in Dandy Dandridge and she starts out annoying. The rest of the issue is pretty good, but it seems odd that Mentor would just dial Rick up to see how he's doing these days. The art is the usual Starlin excellence. This Nitro is presumably not the same mutant character of the same name to come along a little later in The X-Men. However, if I'm wrong, my fellow faculty will no doubt correct me.

Mark: Jaunty Jim's art still packs the now-expected punch, but Nitro the Exploding Man (no, that last part isn't on his Villain Union Card, but it should be) is a B-Lister at best, even if Starlin tries gilding the Lily by calling him "the most dangerous foe of (Mar-Vell's) life."  Um, aren't we just one ish removed from demigod and Hall of Infamy inductee Thanos, or did I miss Nitro's appearance in Guardians of the Galaxy?

Compared to its spinner rack competition, second-rate Starlin is still well-worth the read. And in a few years, I'll likely "remember" to forget Jim's broken wing swan song ever even existed.

Peter: I just had to jump in real quick to note that this issue holds the record for most FOOMs!

Creatures on the Loose 31
Man-Wolf in
"The Beast Within"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Michelle Brand
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia

Man-Wolf plunges off the Statue of Liberty and into the Hudson River, with Simon Stroud assuming he’s dead. But the creature washes up on shore, changes back into John Jameson and takes his wounded shoulder to the Daily Bugle and father J. Jonah Jameson’s office. Turns out John is AWOL from NASA, and flips when JJJ tells him he called a doctor. After getting a change of clothes at his wrecked apartment, he heads to Kristine’s place, where he says he has to leave her (to protect her, natch), and then the cops show up! John goes peacefully, with no words for Kristine, but on the ride to the station, the moon’s rays causes the pendant to flare, and Man-Wolf reappears, smashes out of the car, causing it to crash as he bays on a rooftop.  -Joe Tura

Joe: I actually owned this comic! And I don’t know why. I mean, it’s not bad, just can’t remember why it was in my collection. Maybe it was part of the “root canal” trio? Hmm…anyway… Decent script, decent art, nice lettering and more pathos from JJJ, angling for Father of the Year, no doubt. I kinda feel sorry for John. His romance is nearly over because of the pendant. His career is suffering. His Dad is showing some heart. And worst of all, his wardrobe is dwindling fast! Next issue promises Kraven the Hunter, which hopefully means some action instead of the pretty good, drama-filled ish we get here.

Filler…always filler…This time it’s “The Walking Dead”, from Astonishing #10, March 1952. Smarmy scientist Dr. Leon Drago figures out a way to reanimate the dead, but his peers convince him it was wrong, so he takes his mindless creation back to the lab and blows it up, and himself. Hurray.

Matthew: With three of your precious (?) bimonthly pages already devoted to Al Eadeh’s mini-morality play “The Walking Dead!”, do you really want to waste two more recapping this character’s wafer-thin résumé?  I know Professor Gilbert’s answer, but at least that edges out Stroud as Moench does his best impression of a duck, furiously treading water—with even the “new” material endlessly rehashing what went beforeand laying an egg on the doorstep on his way out.  If possible, Jameson père et fils look even less like themselves, and while the fact that young John’s hair is now as gray as the Man-Wolf’s pelt must be laid at the door of colorist Michelle Brand, it still leaves Tuskolletta with plenty to answer for.

Chris: There isn’t a whole lot happening in this issue, is there?  I didn’t know JJJ had a lounge next to his office – has anyone told Gerry Conway – or Stan, for that matter?  The care and concern Jonah has for his son, throughout these Man-Wolf stories, effectively creates a new facet for JJJ’s character.   John’s fear of possibly hurting Kristine is – well, heroic.  Hopefully we’ll have some story next time, too.

Al Eadah illustrates the real reason
zombies are so dangerous.
I find it strange that Doug tells us that John falls from the Statue straight into Hudson Bay (I guess Liberty Island had been sent out for cleaning, or something), since said water-body is over 1000 miles away to the north in Canada.  I wouldn’t bother with these geographical quibbles, if it weren’t for the fact that the Marvel offices are less than five miles away from New York Harbor.  I can’t expect Doug to get it all right, but I do expect an editor to catch it – if said editor is paying attention, that is.

The Tuska/Colletta art is better than I would’ve expected, especially the transformation on p 23.  The artists ably contribute to our appreciation for Jonah’s concern (p 10).  Kristine is dreamy.  But – can anyone tell me why the NYPD patrol car is colored antifreeze-green?  Odd, and distracting, choice by colorist Brand.

My opinion of Colletta has been largely shaped by his later Marvel work, which tends to be spare and scratchy.  From what I’ve seen, here in the Bronze-rising era, is that at times, Colletta certainly had some decent work in him (I will be prepared to retract that statement once we reach Daredevil #121).
The reprint story almost comes down to a Pythonesque matter of semantics: “It’s not that we said you couldn’t revive the dead, dear boy, it’s that you shouldn’t, you see.” “Oh – right then – yes, quite right.  Well, best that I blow myself up then, isn’t it?”

 Captain America and the Falcon 177
"Lucifer Be Thy Name"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

The Falcon is jarred awake after a nightmare involving he and Cap being obliterated by an exploding bomb. He convinces himself that he can stop Steve Rogers from quitting as Captain America, but Steve is adamant, so the Falcon goes full bitch mode and heads out solo. Meanwhile. Lucifer has obtained the Casadrax Mineral to power his dimensional transmitter with which he returns to Earth. He appears in Harlem and recruits a few gangsta folk, including Rafe Michel, to help him rob a place. When the Falcon appears, Lucifer absorbs Rafe's body as his own and leaves. He later absorbs Ares from the Zodiac gang as Rafe's body begins to burn out, now becoming two beings. They both battle and defeat Falc and escape. Steve arrives to say "aw shucks" and Morgan the crime boss makes a deal with the Lucifers to kill the Falcon. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: An issue sans Captain America and it's, frankly, not terribly exciting. The Falcon isn't nearly as interesting on his own and for the most part, he's cranky about being ditched by his former partner. Lucifer is a yawner of a villain, but the art is satisfying. I'm not as bothered by Vince Colletta as some of my fellow faculty are. I enjoy his fine lines. This is still a transition issue as Cap gets closer to figuring out what his next move is. I wish they'd get to it already.

Matthew: Stainless continues to explore new directions as the book’s co-star goes it alone, but the vehicle he uses is, to be blunt, an Edsel, with a crappy Colletta paint job, to boot.  One of the “emperor’s new clothes” truths this blog has brought home to me is that the course of the Cap/Falc partnership ran no smoother than that of the Peter/Gwen romance, and while Falc doesn’t seem especially supportive of Cap’s decision, you kinda can’t blame him for being pissed when Steve shows up after his fight to say, in effect, “Hey, how’s it goin’?”  But by far the worst aspect is the incredibly convoluted business with Lucifer, a nothing villain whose sole claim to infamy is crippling Professor Xavier; casadrax and salirann and mishegoss, oh my!

Matthew: On his website, Englehart wrote, “A Captain America series with no Captain America.  This was way out in uncharted territory, and remains one of the most honored sequences in comics’ history.  Meanwhile, the guy with second billing—the black guy—was the star of the show.  This was also new ground for the time.  But Sam…had established his own storyline in the book and carried on without missing a beat.  [W]e all knew Cap would be back someday—but it’s an interesting preview of Green Lantern, where a very similar situation was in play when I took over, and I came up with a completely different outcome.  The renewed relevance of [this Cap] run led to my presenting a paper on [it] at the Convention of the Modern Language Association.”

Mark: X-Men & Iron Man baddie Lucifer, back on earth from banishment in a "nameless nether-realm," immediately heads for a deli to indulge his taste for candy bars, which almost proves his undoing. On the verge of fading back to netherland as the result of a blood sugar spike, he "fuses his essence" with jive-talking Harlem hood & Falc foil Rafe Michel, then with fellow D-Lister Aries "of the infamous villian-league known as Zodiac," thus becoming the first (and likely only) bad guy morphed into two African-American versions of the pasty-white original.

This landmark in comic cultural diversity is the most significant event in this month's offering. That it's also the most entertaining is all you need to know about the rest of this Cap-less (save for a dream sequence) snoozefest.

Daredevil 113
"When Strikes the Gladiator!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by John Romita

Daredevil sits in the pouring rain, remembering recent events: the defeat of Mandrill, the last moment he shared with the Black Widow…with no real answers. He returns to his hotel, just missing a call from Candace Nelson, Foggy’s sister, who is being arrested by the F.B.I. The Gladiator smashes through a window and nabs her (and the files that got her in trouble). The next day Matt and Foggy talk about the news, and the former heads out to the University, where he recalls Candace saying she’d had some struggles. He talks to Dr. Charles Liang, Candace’s advisor, who tells Matt that in her investigation of the Campus’s relation to the military, she found a file on Project Sulfur. Though abandoned, it had been led by Dr. Ted Sallis, who eventually disappeared in the Florida Everglades. The project involved turning humans into “monsters” who could survive in a future where pollution would be rampant, and resources exhausted. Matt follows his hunch to Citrusville, Florida, where Sallis had last been seen. Reporter Richard Rory guides him to the “shack in the swamp” that Sallis rented before he disappeared.  Enter the Gladiator, now hiding out there with the kidnapped Miss Nelson, who knocks down Rory, giving DD a chance to appear. The bad guy wins this one, knocking DD out with a tree branch. The real force behind Gladdy’s actions appears, a masked man named the Death Stalker, who orders the Gladiator to finish the job. -Jim Barwise

Readers muse that sometimes there are
advantages to being blind when considering
1970s fashion
Jim Barwise: The Gladiator may be a classic DD foe, but he’s really just here to lead us to the Death-Stalker, another power-behind-the-power pairing that seems to work in this title. We get some interesting background on Candace Nelson, and the connection to Ted Sallis and the Man-Thing looks really promising. Actually the various human touches (like those two scenes) such as Natasha saying goodbye to Matt, or especially DD pondering his life from the rooftop in the pouring rain are the best things in this issue. I like Man-Thing sneaking in in the last panel!

Scott: The cover has far too much dialog, which is pretty common of the era. The image would be more than enough to sell the issue. This one isn't too bad. Colletta and Bob Brown make for an interesting artistic team and Steve Gerber provides an exciting and layered tale. It's good to see Richard Rory doing a guest spot and it's nice to have a few of the less mainstream titles tied into the continuity. It's fun and moves quickly, even if Matt Murdock has a bit of a large 'fro in some panels.

Matthew:  In a fun way, this looks both backward, by reviving a classic DD villain, and forward, by introducing Death-Stalker (created, per Steve, by Brooklyn friend and fan Anthony Pezzella, although his true identity and nature are not revealed for some time), who will appear with clocklike regularity every ten issues from #128 to 158.  Then, just because it’s Gerber, we get the Man-Thing thrown in for good measure, including some fresh insights into the early days of Dr. Ted Sallis, before the ironically named Project Gladiator.  While not sold on Vince as the perfect inker for Bob, as the lettercol would have us believe, I’m obliged to admit that judging by this, the Brown/Colletta duo is more felicitous than some pairings each has had with other artists.

Peter: Of course, a lot of fans will remember Death-Stalker for his role in the first Frank Miller-illustrated issue of DD, #158. Most of Miller's run falls out of MU's scope, unfortunately, but I've a feeling Frank's merits and place in the Marvel Hall of Fame will be debated by the staff in the years to come.

 The Defenders 15
"Panic Beneath the Earth!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Sal Buscema, John Romita, Frank Giacoia, 
and Mike Esposito

Just as the Valkyrie explains that she plans to quit the Defenders to learn more about Barbara, the girl whose body she inhabits, a new mission appears to delay her departure. Professor Xavier, the leader of the X-Men, appears in psychic form to ask the assistance of The Defenders in the absence of his students to stop Magneto and his Brotherhood of Evil Mutants from completing their plan to take over Earth. Said mission is to be accomplished by using knowledge Magneto had discovered beneath the Earth. Using the secrets of an ancient dead civilization he has adopted their superior technology to create a giant super-mutant that will act as his ultimate weapon. While the Defenders do eventually triumph, Magneto has had the chance to activate the super-mutant: Alpha! -Jim Barwise

Jim: The battle with the evil mutants may not live up to its promise, but lots of fun here nonetheless. The tour of Dr. Strange’s home at the beginning is interesting, although I don’t like the sound of Val’s imminent departure. I’d like to know more about this ancient civilization-- not a new concept, but an intriguing one.

Matthew: The book went monthly for the duration of the Avengers war, and now, as if to compensate for missing an extra month twixt #12 and 13—or perhaps for Janson’s grotty inks—that status is made permanent.  We see the core of the non-team solidifying before our eyes with Nighthawk’s new outfit, baptism of fire, and actual personality, while Wein gives new meaning to “team player” between this and Marvel Team-Up, where we first saw mention of the X-Men’s “secret mission.”  Per Walter Lawson’s comments re: MTU #23 on SuperMegaMonkey, there are apparently some continuity problems with taking it as an unconfirmed fact that it’s the same one depicted in Giant-Size X-Men #1, but since Len wrote all three stories, that does seem reasonable.

Doctor Strange 3
"Amidst the Madness"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Frank Brunner and Alan Weiss
Colors by Jan Brunner
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Frank Brunner

On the mission to rescue his beloved Clea from the clutches of Silver Dagger, Doctor Strange's mind drifts back to when he first met her. His mentor, the Ancient One, had called on him to go forth to the dimension of the Dread Dormammu to keep him from invading our world. Clea had been one of his subjects, and though she didn’t relish her master’s evil ways, she feared for her people if Dormammu was ever defeated, and the mindless evil ones would be free to attack them. Dormammu considers her talks to Dr. Strange a betrayal, but when Stephen assists him in holding off the mindless ones from attacking them, Dormammu is honor-bound to neither harm Clea, nor invade Earth. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Quite a contrast, the classic work of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko compared to the modern day (‘70’s) vision of Englehart and Brunner. I’d almost forgotten how excellent the original work was, but how different! Interesting to review Clea’s origin, and to see the beginnings of her relationship with Stephen.

Matthew: As I have mentioned elsewhere, the “cluster issues” that my brother bought in 1974 were few and far between, but they include this and the current Amazing Spider-Man, both of which demonstrate the growing trend of running a capsule description of the hero at the top of the splash page.  Not for nostalgia value alone, however, do I urge you to refrain from dismissing this too quickly, despite its consisting mainly of Doc’s unforgettable encounter with Dormammu from the Lee/Ditko Strange Tales #126-127.  The format is identical to that of Marvel Premiere #11, with the reprints bookended by a modicum of new Englehart/Brunner material (inked by Alan Weiss, unlike the rest of the current Silver Dagger arc) that is both lovely and in continuity.

Mark: Deadline Doom summons rerun Dormammu, and while I'd normally just bark snark rather than rereading stories almost as old as me, classic Ditko/Lee Doc Strange is a different amulet all together.

Behind a new Frank Brunner splash, we get the liltingly alliterative tales, "The Domain of the Dread Dormammu!" and "Duel With the Dread Dormammu!". Twenty pages are trimmed to sixteen & a third. We lose two iconic Ditko splash pages, outros, and a couple dozen additions panels, but it's all seamlessly cut together by Roy Thomas like a master film editor. Ditko's inter-dimensional graphics are as mind-meltingly trippy as ever, so its still hard to believe he wasn't on the Merry Prankster bus, gobbling acid with Ken Kesey.

Historical note (and expect this on the semester final, class): in these first two Dormammu appearances, the Bullpen was still playing with the palette: in #126 his flaming head was blue; in #127 it was green.

And for those who think Steve Ditko couldn't draw women, Clea is a babe from her first panel.

 Fantastic Four 150
"Ultron-7: He'll Rule the World!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

The Fantastic Four, the Avengers and the Inhumans are confronted by the creature known as Ultron who, despite his eagerness to destroy them all,  can’t resist relating his origin! Maximus had found his lifeless “brain box” which he brought to the Great Refuge with a tractor beam, there reviving it and attaching it to the lifeless body of Omega, creating a new super-being. As he prepares to blast their brains from within, salvation comes from a most unlikely source. Reed and Sue’s son Franklin, in a coma for months, is revived by the psychic energy. He returns the creature's blasts to him, destroying it with the magnitude of its own energy. This done, the reason for the visit to the Great Refuge can take place: the wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver. Even Johnny, encouraged by Medusa to be present, is able to find some peace from all the joy. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Brevity might be the word that comes to mind for both the major events in this issue. Ultron, despite being able to hold three super groups at bay, is destroyed in one scene. And not much time is spent on the actual wedding itself either. Both however, are justifiable. The awakening of Franklin is a major event, which also signals the complete reunion of Reed and Sue. Like any real wedding, no one wants it to drag on too long, and the flash and ceremony ends with everyone finding at least for the moment, a little hope. We see Johnny isn’t alone in his sorrow; other heroes have their crosses to bear. So, for all the fantasy, a few undertones of real life echo through. Not to mention the Kirby-like quality of the Buckler/Sinnott art team.

Mark: I missed the set-up over in Avengers #127 (due to our exalted Dean's globetrotting), but discovering a giant Ultron-7 has crashed the Great Refuge nuptials not only gets the aging fan boy juices flowing for next summer's big screen Avengers blowout but also lends the FF's #150th issue anniversary the appropriate gravitas. Having Mad Max(imus) responsible for Jumbo-'Tron is a natural, so we'll overlook how Max might have (a) lopped the head off Omega and then (b) blown up Ultron's head to IMAX size (to say nothing of finding a costume company to make the giant Omega mask).

Given some of the abortions Kid Conway has wrought on Marvel's first family, I'm pretty pleased with this all-star extravaganza. Not only is it powered by dynamic Buckler/Sinnott art, but having little Franklin take down Jumbo-'Tron and return from the vegetable bin to the loving embrace of Reed and Sue is doubtless the emotional high point of Conway's run.

Matthew:  Despite the best efforts of the G.C.A.J.T.A. (I’m awed by Professor Mark’s ambitious enterprise, far beyond my youthful ingenuity), the ship has sailed on the Johnny/Crystal romance, so we may as well marry her off.  That will sideline Pietro, now that he’s defined by his ironic bigotry toward the Wanda/Vision relationship; is there one panel in this two-parter, outside of the actual ceremony, of him not being a dick?  I’d forgotten about Franklin’s restoration, but it’s a letdown to see the imposing UltrOmega disposed of so abruptly, especially when I feel that all the hoopla over said nuptials, or the contemplative coda depicting them, was not properly “earned” by a detailed portrayal of their courtship, as with Reed and Sue.

Chris: OK, so I’ve had some time to dread the arrival of this somewhat-landmark issue, and some time to weigh my comments.  Now that I’ve re-read it, I find this issue isn’t as bad as I remember, but that’s probably because I already was prepared for the sudden, drastically anti-climactic resolution of this non-battle with a seemingly unstoppable foe.  The build-up in Avengers #127 remains many times more compelling than its conclusion.  

All we get here is some bluster from Ultron (it’s hard to believe that he’s been on the shelf since Avengers #68 -?!), including some story-telling, then some lashing out, followed by back-lashing from the emergent brain of Little Franklin (I’m relieved he turned up again, after disappearing sometime around FF #148), and we’re done.  There’s even time for Reed to stand there and ponder (“That seems to settle that . . .”).  Ben calls for a-clobberin’, and I second that emoting.  

Believe me, I’m glad that Gerry was able to find a way to resolve the shut-down of Franklin, and I’m glad the Richards family will be made whole again; still, there should have been a way to draw out the action for another 2-3 pages before going to Franklin as the key to victory.  I mean, Ultron made a point of zapping Maximus, right?  So maybe Max could’ve turned on Ultron, and suggested a tactic for the united FF, Avengers, and Inhumans to employ, and see fail, so that Franklin’s defeat of the Great Big U might’ve packed some punch at the climax.  Was Gerry really not interested in taking advantage of the too-rare opportunity to mash all three of these teams together in a battle royale?  Against a mammoth Ultron, no less?  

As for the marriage of Crystal and Pietro (and where did Omega-Ultron take Crystal, anyway?  Scene missing -?), does anyone really care?  This pairing has meant nothing but emotional torment for both the FF and the Avengers, with Johnny the only one to make (some) peace from it (he also had a moment in Av #127, in case you missed it).  You know that, if I were Roy, I would have wadded up 2-3 of the wedding preparation pages, and insisted that Gerry and Rich go back and bulk up the battle instead, right?  It goes without saying that I would – I hope I’m speaking for many of you, too.  Turn the calendar ahead to 1979, and this would’ve been double-sized dynamite, with plenty of Kirbyesque rubble.  

Scott: A decent, if ordinary, resolution to the Ultron story. It's more effective in bringing young Franklin Richards back to the land of the thinking. None of this erases what Reed has done, but all is seemingly forgiven now that the boy is healed. It's all done quickly, ending about two thirds of the way through to leave room for Crystal's wedding to Quicksilver. It's kind of funny when Iron Man tells Thor that they should be "getting ready" for the ceremony. Doesn't "getting ready" mean getting into a tux or something? Not for these guys. They show up in the same costumes they always wear. As usual for a super-hero wedding, only the bride wears anything special. Crystal is in a wedding dress while Pietro wears his usual crappy costume. Same with the members of the wedding party. At the end, Johnny finally grows up just enough to be happy for his ex. I still hate the punk, though.

Mark: No huzzahs for part two, "The Wedding of Crystal and Quicksilver" (new students can click here and here for my two part Sunday Special celebrating Johnny and Crys' relationship), except to admit – while still mourning love lost – that it was well-executed, and Johnny's feelings, surprisingly, were given due respect.

I'll take what I can get.

Giant-Size Dracula 2
"Call Them Triad... Call Them Death!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Heck and Frank McLaughlin
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Pablo Marcos

A sickening evil has taken over the town of Rutherton, mysteriously leaving many bodies drained of blood. Inspector Chelms is on the case because he believes that the murders are caused by Dracula. He brings along Katherine Fraser, a special investigator with the power to tell who has previously held an object, just by touching it. They visit the morgue where Katherine picks up a strange necklace that was found with one of the victims. Her power takes her on a strange path as she envisions a world where an ancient cult of evil are sacrificing women, under the command of a sorcerer named Y'Garon. Further investigation of more of the victims leads Katherine and Chelms to the creepy mansion of Lord D'Aire. Polite at first, D'Aire becomes agitated when Katherine messes with an ancient Rune board and orders them to leave. D'Aire is secretly a servant for Y'Garon, himself disguised as old Amos, the town mortician. Y'Garon has many of the townsfolk under his spell. He plans to sacrifice Katherine so that his cult of followers can leave their dimension and come to earth to rule it. Dracula is the fly in the ointment for the evil sorcerer's plans once the vampire heads to Rutherton . When he first encounters Katherine, Dracula is about to feast on her but he stops because she looks a lot like his long dead wife. The two have to join forces so that they can invade the army of townspeople that are under Y'Garon's control. When Katherine eventually gets captured, it's up to Dracula to save her and the world. The Count kills Lord D'Aire by throwing a spear through him then battles Y'Garon while Katherine is hung above a portal decorated with the tentacles of an ancient God. Whipped into a maniacal state, Drac defeats Y'Garon, thereby closing off the portal through which the evil Gods were trying to transport. The story ends with Dracula brainwashing Katherine so that she doesn't remember the adventures  they had together. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Writer Chris Claremont and artist Don Heck definitely didn't bring their A-game for this comic. This should have been at the least, a two issue story. Too much bizarre goings on for one single issue, Giant-sized and all. I'm not a big Heck fan to begin with, but his rendition of Dracula was horrid. The issue wasn't a complete bomb as it had its moments. It was nice to see Dracula become a hero of sorts, even though he killed a few people during his quest to vanquish the evil cult. Pretty gruesome stuff when he splattered a villager's head by throwing him through a brick wall.

Chris: I know we all enjoy Claremont, but to me, this story never quite finds its footing; too many vaguely-connected moments as we lurch thru the story, plus some needlessly overwritten passages, such as the preponderance of action-impeding captions on p 31 and p 35. 
The previously unheard-of Kate Fraser exhibits an interesting ability, but further exploration of this is lost as soon as Drac casts his beady red eye on her – from that point on, the story is concerned only for Kate’s supposed resemblance to Maria.  Kate, as a consequence, is reduced to a tool, instead of a character with an active role in trying to identify the force behind the rash of killings.  

Speaking of which, why does Y’Garon send Kate to woodspike Drac, when he already knows where Bat-breath is sleeping?  What purpose is served here?  Claremont tells us that Kate “must do his killing for him” – maybe so, but why?  Drac poses the question to Y’Garon toward the end, “Why do you fear us?”  Instead of an answer, or even a hint, Y’Garon rants on about how long he’s been on the block.  Some understanding of the significance of these details would have contributed to the strength of the story, but instead, Claremont simply glosses over them.  The battle with Y’Garon also is unsatisfying, as Drac is shown to “lose it” over the prospect of “Maria” dying again; this idea is completely out of character for Drac, whom we’ve seen in countless issues of ToD to be mercilessly in control of himself, just as he tends to control nearly every situation he finds himself in.  

I’m not going to say I dislike Heck’s art here (see that – I can surprise you).  I would’ve enjoyed the art better if he and McLaughlin had been able to achieve a look for Drac like p 31, pnl 3 with greater consistency.  

Peter: The Giant-sized package is rounded off with five reprints (all but one from the Golden Age of pre-code horror): "The Girl in the Black Hood" from Tales to Astonish #32 (June 1962) by Larry Lieber and Don Heck; "On With the Dance", a beautifully-illustrated tale of witches and curses from the master Russ Heath (Menace #2, April 1953); the Stan Lee-penned "Sweet Old Ladies" and "Vampires at the Window", both from Astonishing #18 (October 1952); and "Drive of Death" from Astonishing #17 (September 1952).  I was 12 years old when I bought Giant-Size Dracula #2 and devoured these old stories. I was too young to know Stan, Roy and the boys were taking advantage of me (and the old artists and writers) by stocking their Giant-Size Extravaganzas with old material. All I knew was that I suddenly had a stack of "new" horror comics to enjoy. Good enough.


Conan the Barbarian 42 

“Night of the Gargoyle”
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

In Zamora, Baron Takkim is blackmailing Arlinna, accusing her of murdering a Khitan ambassador. Even though the raven-haired beauty professes her innocence, Takkim demands that she steal the priceless Dragon-Head of Koblar-Zann from a merchant named Lun-Faar or he will turn her in to the authorities. On the way to Lun-Faar’s relic shop, Arlinna meets and is sidetracked by a randy Conan the Barbarian. Only after knocking the Cimmerian unconscious with a vase can she finally continue on to her destination. Arlinna poses as the wealthy Lady Asqueth but the shopkeeper sees through her ruse and beats the would-be thief. Lun-Faar realizes that there must be a man behind Arlinna’s shenanigans and brings a stone statue of a four-armed, winged gargoyle to life to track down the culprit. When Conan revives, he spots the suicidal Arlinna about to throw herself off a roof. The Cimmerian stops her and pledges to deal with both Takkim and Lun-Faar himself. The barbarian and Arlinna arrive at Takkim’s home at the same time as the many-taloned gargoyle: the creature quickly kills Takkim and applies a vicious bear hug to Conan. But Conan puts up a mighty struggle and Lun-Faar, controlling the creature, soon becomes exhausted. When the wizard’s strength fails, the gargoyle is released from the spell. Angered that it was controlled by another, the demon flies off to take bloody revenge on its former master. -Thomas Flynn

Mark: In "Night of the Gargoyle" our Hyborian hero finally meets a wine-sink wench with her heart (and everything else) in the right place. Sure, Arlinna cold-cocks him with a jug of wine when they repair to his room for some horizontal refreshment, but it's not to steal his treasure, nor betray Conan to his enemies, but simply to be about her own business – stealing a dragon-headed treasure at the behest of scheming Baron Takkim, lest he narc her off to the Zamorian heat for a murder she may not have even committed.

Who says the last nice girl went down with Atlantis?

Thomas Flynn: Conan is almost a guest star in this rollicking episode, as Arlinna takes centerstage. It looks like she will return next issue and it remains to be seen if she is as innocent as she proclaims. She isn’t that much different than any of Roy’s other Hyborian temptresses so not sure I’m that intrigued. I enjoyed the sequence when the especially horny Conan basically shanghais Arlinna and drags her along for a fun-filled day in the Zamora bazaar. Fun, in Cimmerian terminology, means lots of brawling and boozing. Roy freely adapted the Robert E. Howard story “The Purple Heart of Erlik,” first published in the November 1936 issue of Spicy-Adventure Stories, a publication deemed pornographic by New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia and other upstanding citizens. Never read it but I have seen the tantalizing cover for that particular pulp on many occasions. I can’t imagine how much Thomas drew from the story, because it stars Wild Bill Clanton, “sailor, gun-runner, blackbirder, pearl-poacher, and fighting man deluxe.” The Clanton stories were pretty, um, spicy, so Howard hid behind the pseudonym Sam Walser. 

Mark: That John Buscema draws one wicked gargoyle, but I can't decide if Tavashtri's most winsome feature is the mouthful of razor sharp teeth or his extra set of long, scaly arms. The green 'goyle is a statue brought to life, and all the expected Baron-slaying, Conan-fighting, getting revenge on the back street wizard who held Tavashtri in thrall as a hit-monster bits of business are conducted in the expected high fashion by Big John and Roy Thomas.

Even more satisfying, we finally get a happy ending as Conan carries Arlinna back to his room for more romantic swordplay. And she likes our broad-backed barbarian so much that she might even tell him her real name, come morning.

Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian 1
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

“The Hour of the Dragon”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by L. P. Gregory

“Acheron: A Revisionary Theory”
Text by Robert Yaple

“Conan the Unconquered”
Text by Roy Thomas

“The Twilight of the Grim Grey God”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema
Colors by Barry Smith
Letters by Sam Rosen
(reprinted from Conan the Barbarian #3, February 1971)

Even though it seems that Marvel was on a sinister mission to rid the planet of all tree life with their extensive Conan publishing program — 194 total pages over August and September 1974 alone — Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian began with a noble cause: adapt Robert E. Howard’s The Hour of the Dragon, the author’s only full-length Conan novel. It was first serialized in Weird Tales, running over the five issues published between December 1935 and April 1936. Gnome Press released the first collected hardcover edition in 1950 under the title Conan the Conqueror. Roy and Kane’s adaptation will cover the first four issues of Giant-Size and even spill over to the black-and-white magazine The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. The story is set outside the time frame of the two other current Conan series, as the Cimmerian is in his middle 40s and rules Aquilonia after killing the former king, Numedides.

Using the all-powerful Heart of Ahriman, an exiled priest of Mitra named Orastes resurrects the mighty sorcerer Xaltotun of Acheron, an ancient land of arcane evils. Orastes asks Xaltotun to unleash a plague that will kill the royal family of Nemedia so that his co-conspirator Tarascus will inherit the throne. In turn, Tarascus will use Nemedia’s mighty army to conqueror Aquilonia so that Valerius, another conspirator, will gain King Conan’s crown. If the plan succeeds, all of Hyboria will be under their control. When the first half of the plot succeeds, Tarascus marches on Aquilonia. The night before the battle, Xaltotun materializes in Conan’s royal tent, paralyzing the muscular monarch. Realizing that the Aquilonian troops would be lost without the inspiration of their helpless leader, General Pallantides recommends that Valannus, the mighty captain of the Pellian spearmen, wear Conan’s armor and helmet to disguise himself as the king during the battle. The ruse appears to work, as the Valannus-led army turns back the Nemedians and chases them into a rocky valley. However, the cliff walls crumble and the entire Aquilonia army is buried. As the victorious Tarascus arrives at Conan’s tent, the former barbarian struggles to his feet. But before the Nemedian king can bring down his sword, Xaltotun appears and casts a spell that knocks Conan unconscious. Xaltotun warns Tarascus not to tell Orastes and Valerius that Conan still lives, instead that the Cimmerian was killed in the rockslide caused by the wizard’s evil magic. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: At 26 pages, the first installment of “The Hour of the Dragon,” broken into three chapters, basically lays the groundwork for the epic adventure that lay on the horizon. The 68-page Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian is only published every three months so this will obviously take some time. It’s been decades since I read the novel, so not sure how closely Roy’s prose follows Howard’s, but it’s of the usual high quality. Of course, Gil Kane is an old hand at Conan, penciling issues 17 and 18 of the flagship series, Conan the Barbarian. He does a fine job, but I will point out that Gil’s 45-year-old Conan looks just like his younger version — except sporting a tidier Kull bowl cut. It also seems odd that there’s no mention at the beginning of the book that this story is set further in Conan’s life. Regular readers might be confused with the whole king thing. But in all, a nice start.

There are two articles included. “Acheron: A Revisionary Theory” by Robert Yaple is a piece about the turbulent empire that preceded Hyboria. It’s reprinted from Glenn Lord’s Howard Collector, so we can count on its scholarship. There’s a map of Acheron included and a caption recommends that you “please save for reference for the next several issues of Giant-Size Conan.”  Will do! “Conan the Unconquered” is basically a let’s-pat-ourselves-on-the-back editorial that tells how Giant-Size was originally planned as a 100-page Super-Giant Conan that would sell for 60¢. Apparently, Earth’s forests couldn’t support the extra 32 pages.

A reprint of the entire Conan the Barbarian #3 finishes off the inaugural issue of Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian. For some reason, Roy asked Barry Smith to go back and re-color the comic. Didn’t even know that the two were talking at the time. By Crom, you’d think Roy would ask for something a bit more exciting.

The Frankenstein Monster 12
"A Cold and Lasting Tomb!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Ernie Chua

Staggering away from Vincent Frankenstein's castle, the mortally wounded monster has accepted his fate and only seeks a peaceful site to die. He finds that atop a high glacier but, just as he's about to rest, the ice breaks and the figure plummets into the glacial waters. There, the Frankenstein Monster is frozen in suspended animation for nearly a century until, in present day, a passing oil freighter strikes the ice in which the monster is entombed. Discovering the body in ice, the men of the freighter haul it aboard, with the captain intending to turn it over to the authorities. A greedy seaman, however, has plans for the monster: his brother, a carnival owner, will pay handsomely for the creature to join his freak show. The monster escapes the carnival and is captured by a mad scientist but it's not long before he's walking the streets of modern-day New York. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Now that's more like it! Oh sure, I could complain about Doug Moench's flowery prose at times ("A livid streamer of liquid crimson scars the hard ground, one end of its ragged length leading from a congealing pool deep within the bowels of Castle Frankenstein...") but, with Gary Friedrich and Bob Brown safely in the rear view mirror, maybe this series can recapture a bit of that old magic. Moench does a good job tying in this four-color series with the black and white strip running in Monsters Unleashed (there's a brief recap of the events that transpired between our "hero" falling into that icy water and his eventual freedom at this issue's end). Mayerik (who also takes over The Monster's B&W strip over in MU) does such a great job illustrating the monster and the backgrounds (remember backgrounds in this title?) that any bitter taste left in my mouth by Big John and Bob Brown almost disappears immediately. Mayerik even reins in his customary use of floppy limbs. Put this one back atop the reading list for now.

Chris: Marvel lettercols are steadily supportive of fan input, as they unabashedly implore us to WRITE! and inform Ye Editors what we, the readers, want to see in the four-color chronicles of our heroes’ exploits.  The letters for The Frankenstein Monster have consistently supported two positions: 1) the art was better when Ploog was in town (hear hear); and 2) leave the Monster alone in his bygone 19th-century era.  So, Marvel listens carefully to one message, as Val Mayerik proves to be a capable choice to restore (some of) the quality of the art.  As for the other message, you know, the one about refraining from yanking the Monster to the modern era?  Well, Marvel blithely ignores the sound advice of its comics-buying public, and here we have the Monster, for some reason, shark-jumping into 1974 New York.

The excuse presented, in the lettercol, is that “readers simply couldn’t relate” to a comic with a late 19th century setting.  Why, then, has the editor run so many letters expressing that very relatedness – two of the four letters printed in this issue state that preference very plainly.  Ralph Macchio makes the case that retaining the 19th century setting for TFM would spare us all a Spidey/Monster team-up – “Blechh!” (I wonder how he felt, approx one year later, when MTU #36 hit his local newsstand -?)  Recent months have seen the emergence of a few new characters, such as Deathlok and Killraven, who are defined in part by the unique settings where their storylines are set.  Why not aspire to the same for TFM?  All it says is that the bullpen already had run out of ideas for this title.

The issue itself is good enough for awhile, due both to Doug’s inspired description of the Monster’s determination to live long enough to die on his own terms, and Val’s effective presentation of the Monster’s trudge to the mountaintop.  The art isn’t even hurt by Colletta’s handling, as figures and objects are given definition and shading, and backgrounds appear to be intact (ie un-erased).  But – could someone tell me please: what in the hell happens from p 23 to p 26?  Suddenly the cage bursts into flame, and we’re directed not to one, but to three different issues of the b&w mag, in order to understand what’s supposed to be happening – was there a purposeful effort here to create a greater inconvenience for a faithful reader of this title?  Any coherence to the story has been pitched off a cliff, as surely as the Monster himself did on p 11.  Maybe, now that this title has died, some mad genius will attempt to splice it back together somehow, and infuse it with life again.

Peter: This issue's reprint "Witch Hunt" (from Amazing Adult FantasyDecember 1961) is a three-page bit of silliness that reminds us how adept Steve Ditko was at pumping out those fantasy and science fiction tales at the dawn of the Marvel Age, mere months before creating a certain wall-crawler.

Dean Pete warns the rest of the boys
about the next issue of Monsters Unleashed!


  1. I never knew that there was yet another version of "Hour of the Dragon". Interesting.

    Maybe the comparison between Colan and Heck is a bit unfair, especially as Colan/Palmer defined Dracula. Still this Giant-size is terrible in every regard. But it is intriguing that Claremont back in 74 had the idea of Dracula meeting a woman who is a dead ringer of his wife. (Even if you miss this if you blink.) So Coppola was not the first who worked in this – imho misguided - direction. Weird.

    1. Actually, Andy, Richard Matheson and Dan Curtis did it even earlier in their TV-movie DRACULA, starring Jack Palance (said to have been Colan's model for the Count even before that), which had aired on February 8. Scheduled to air on October 12, 1973, it became a victim of history in the making when it was pre-empted by President Richard M. Nixon’s announcement of Vice President Spiro T. Agnew’s resignation. For further details, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN.

  2. Anyone think Starlin purposely set up that Captain Marvel story to be able to come back in a few years and make that typical hyperbolic cover blurb factual? It would have been very difficult for anyone to top the conclusion to the Thanos epic, but still CM #34 was a topnotch tale. Alas that it would be Starlin's last on the title, even if not his last on Mar-Vell.
    On Harry's first outing as the Green Goblin, it seemed to me his entrance into the warehouse the previous issue was ambiguous -- I don't recall it specifying that it was the first time he went inside so maybe he'd been practicing in his father's duds for months -- or ever since he took the costume off of his not quite dearly departed dad and re-dressed him in a proper business suit for the police to find. Thus we finally see fruit from one of the major strands Conway weaved following the murder of Gwen Stacy, leaving the mystery of the Jackal for the remainder of his run. And in the same month the final resolution of Franklin's mind-mush in the FF and Pietro & Crystal's wedding (roughly 9 years after Crystal was introduced as Johnny's hot new girlfriend with a very strange family).


    Prof. Matthew: thanks for the shout-out to the G.C.A.J.T.A. Shame I burned out my Grand Machiavellian Scheme gene at such a young age...

    So the no-Cap Cap run "remains one of the most honored sequences in comics history." At least Steve Englehart thinks so. Among his other gifts, we can add modesty.

    And Don Heck drew Giant-Sized Drac #2? While I think more of Dashing Don than most of our exulted facility, the mere thought of that sends a shudder down the spine.

    Glad a didn't pester Dean P in London to send me that exercise in true horror...