Wednesday, October 29, 2014

January 1975 Part One: The Amazing Spider-Man Meets Doc Savage (well, sorta)

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Although it was not until the fall that I became a full-fledged Marvel Maniac (I don’t believe the term “Marvel Zombie” existed back then), 1975 was when it really came together for me.  So I regard the year with special affection, and am moved to examine the state of play as it begins, through my usual writer-centric eyes and without anticipating o’ermuch.  One of the things that most differentiates the Bronze Age from the Silver is its multiplicity of voices, now that Stan Lee and/or Roy Thomas no longer scripts the lion’s share of Marvel’s four-color output, currently dominated by four worthies in particular:  Gerry Conway and Len Wein, both of whom will be among Roy’s successors as editor in chief, and my beloved “Two Steves,” Englehart and Gerber.

While Roy did more editing than non-Hyborian writing—a situation about to change—Gerry had become the de facto old guard with such tentpole titles as Amazing Spider-ManFantastic Four (shortly reclaimed by Roy), and Thor, plus Ka-Zar.  Len, fresh from moderate runs on Defenders (in between the Steves) and Marvel Team-Up (in between stints by Gerry), had foreshadowed greatness by introducing Wolverine after he took over Incredible Hulk.  Stainless spins his sagas in AvengersCaptain America, and Dr. Strange while following the world’s toughest act, Jim Starlin’s Captain Marvel, and Gerber dispenses his wonderful weirdness with Daredevil (soon swapped for Defenders), Man-ThingMarvel Two-in-One, and Son of Satan in Marvel Spotlight.

Among the second string are Mike Friedrich (Iron Man), Don McGregor (Amazing Adventures and Jungle Action, starring Killraven and the Black Panther, respectively), and Doug Moench (Deathlok in Astonishing Tales, Morbius in FearMaster of Kung Fu).  Marvel’s most enduring monster titles are now firmly in the claws—er, hands—of those who will dominate and close out their runs, Marv Wolfman (Tomb of Dracula) and Moench (Werewolf by Night).  Utility player Tony Isabella briefly follows Doug on the respective Man-Wolf and Iron Fist strips from Creatures on the Loose and Marvel Premiere, succeeds Gerber on DD before Marv takes charge, and writes Ghost RiderPower Man, and N’Kantu the Living Mummy in Supernatural Thrillers. 

The giant-size engine is firing on all cylinders, with nine first-run titles in three quarterly groups (DefendersSpider-ManWerewolfAvengersFantastic FourMan-Thing; ConanDraculaMOKF), and Kid Colt kicking off the reprints that would squeeze them out by year’s end.  Also displaying a lack of anxiety over four-color market saturation, characters such as Spidey, Cap, Doc, Benjy, Greenskin, Shellhead, and Goldilocks are appearing at least periodically in team or team-up mags in addition to their own titles.  The stage is set for an annus mirabilis that sees the debuts of ChampionsInhumansInvadersSuper-Villain Team-Up, the solo Iron Fist and Son of Satan books, the “all-new, all-different X-Men,” and a resurgent Starlin’s revived Warlock strip.

Yet first, in a portent of things to come, they welcome Wein anew, although “it’s true you’ve been thrilling in recent months to his much-acclaimed scripting on The Hulk and other Marvel biggies, and that he’s currently beginning a stint on no less than the Fantastic Four itself.  But now, due to the press of editorial work, Stan and Roy have hired him to become Associate Editor of our whole color-comics line as well—because Len’s already known and respected as one of the foremost writers in the field—because he’s a sterling fellow and a hard worker—and mainly because he’s darn near the only guy this side of Irv Forbush who knows the hectic history of all our far-out super-stars backward, forwards, and then some!,” per this month’s Bullpen Bulletins.

And now... January 1975!

Amazing Adventures 28
Killraven/War of the Worlds in
"The Death Merchant"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell
Colors by Craig Russell
Letters by Roger Slifer
Cover by Craig Russell

Doing some light fishing at a Chicago airfield, M'Shulla gets a bite—a massive mutated salmon which chomps his arm before Killraven can launch a futile attack against it. Luckily, the mysterious Volcana Ash blasts the giant fish and the Freeman limps off to be healed by Carmilla. Meantime, Volcana tells KR her origin as a victim of the Martians at Death-Birth. Cut to Adam and Eve 3031 and their unborn child, captives of the Martians, where Adam's assault on evil Atalon gets him sent to the Death Breeders for execution and Eve taken to the gross Banquet Hall. In Battle Creek, MI, Skar kills a human while searching for Killraven and shuffles off in his tripod. Back to our heroes: Killraven and the Freemen battle the Death Breeders, save Adam, see a vision and invade the chambers of the Sacrificer. Every blow sees Killraven reeling telepathically, yet they defeat Atalon, Adam and Eve are reunited and KR flirts with Volcana as the tale ends. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: First off, it's easy to see Russell's artwork has upped the sci-fi game in this title. Yes, his faces are a bit crude and cartoonish to be honest, especially the profiles, but overall still an improvement, with lots of white backgrounds throughout. McGregor is less wordy, but that's like saying rain is less wet. Perhaps a little confusing, this issue gets the story moving and gives us more of the Martians' evilness, balanced out by non-stop derring-do from the Freemen. But the creative staff is getting desperate, as evidenced by the special announcement in the "War of the Words" letters page, which is calling for fan feedback to help with recent sagging sales. And the hype-meter is on max the rest of the way. Will the book survive? I'll let you know in a couple of weeks.

Filler! Tony DiPreta's "Escape From Nowhere", first published in World of Suspense #7 (April 1957), finds Myron the escape artist (no doubt the perfect name for such a profession!) hit by a truck, but shadowy figures save him from death, which makes Myron think "I've already made my greatest escape today!" And the reader is perplexed at both the story and why it's even here.

Chris Blake: Russell’s art – self-inked, and self-colored this time – shows noticeable improvement over last issue, with the highlights surpassing the better moments from AA #27.  Here are a select few: on page 6 (bottom), Volcana recollects her past with her sister, as the memory then broadens out, with a picture frame from the wall expanding and becoming a frame itself for the explosion as the tripod blasts into the house; on p 15, pnl 1, the distant view of Death-Birth in the clear early-morning light, as the Freemen pick their way thru the rubble; also p 15, last pnl (reprinted above), the choreography as Killraven flings himself into the fight, with one of the Deathbreeders trapped beneath Killraven (his head is obscured), and another already falling off the trestle (his right hand is gripping the metal as his feet are in the air); p16 (bottom), Killraven’s clairsentient view of the operating room, as several indistinct b&w images coalesce into the final panel (viewed from the Martians’ perspective, overhead); p 17, bottom, another Conan-esque classic heroic stance.  

Don tells a compelling story, as he continues to maintain characterization within the storyline: M’Shulla sparring with Killraven; Carmilla’s concern for the possibly mortally-wounded Grok; Adam & Eve’s desperate need to survive (I thought Eve 3031 might’ve turned out to be Volcana’s sister Melonie); Atalon’s inhumanity; Skar’s determined hunt for the Freemen.  Criticism where it’s due, however, to Don for his overwritten opening page, which describes Killraven as “rebel incarnate,” and a “galactic warrior” (come again?  He’s never left the surface of the earth), for whom the Martians have offered a “cosmic bounty” (so, it’s immeasurable?  It’s constantly expanding -?).  

The Avengers 131
"A Quiet Half-Hour in Saigon!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito

While in South Viet Nam, the Avengers are attacked by a mugger, one whom Mantis beats down while she questions her own past. Shortly thereafter, Nomad (who was wrapping up his own case nearby) stops in to visit. All of the changes made in his absence cause Hawkeye to question his own place on the team. Meanwhile, Kang and Rama-Tut are locked in mortal combat in the vortex of time when they are snatched by Immortus, who imprisons Rama-Tut. His plan is to bring dead villains to life to fight the Avengers, teaming with Kang to do so. They pull the Frankenstein Monster, Wonder Man, the original Human Torch, Midnight, the Ghost and Baron Zemo from the past to form the Legion of the Unliving. Once this is done, Kang shows his true colors and imprisons Immortus. After Nomad leaves to pursue the Serpent Squad, the Avengers are pulled to Immortus’s lair by Kang and are faced with the villains from the past. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: There are some interesting bits with three characters grappling with feelings of self-doubt. Hawkeye doesn’t feel he fits in with the current crop of Avengers; Mantis is still wondering about her past, and the Vision can’t seem to grasp love and his “distracting” feelings for Mantis. The appearance of Nomad doesn’t really amount to much of anything other than to keep fans in the loop on the changes in Cap’s character.

The Kang/Rama-Tut story moves slowly along. It’s hard to believe Immortus is as gullible as he seems. Dredging up dead villains is okay I guess, but the Frankenstein Monster’s appearance is no more believable here than it was in The X-Men some years back (The Monster looks a lot like Sylvester Stallone on page 22). And are we to believe The Avengers moves in “real time?” Power Man is said to be from 1964. Was it really 10 years “Marvel Time” since the early days? Then it was 10 years for everyone, no?

The art is quite good and the story moves from beat to beat quickly enough.

Chris: A handy introduction to the final chapters of the Celestial Madonna storyline.  Nomad’s appearance doesn’t amount to much, does it, except to: 1) remind readers of new developments in Cap’s own mag, and 2) provide exposition as Avengers stand around and compare notes on other recent developments.  Cap shows up, waves and jumps down from a wall, and then takes off the same way once he knows he has to get back to the US – which, by the way, is across the largest ocean in the world.  I don’t think Cap’s travelling by motorbike these days, but who knows?  Anyway, all of the Nomad conversation (if it was necessary at all) could’ve been done via communicator.  

The sudden return of Kang and Rama-Tut is surprising, and the interplay between Kang and Immortus (complete with obligatory double-cross!) is well-done, as it points ahead to more trials for our team.  The Legion of the Unliving doesn’t amount to much, as I recall – maybe just another desperate attempt to drum up interest in the Monster of Frankenstein (prominently displayed as he is on the mag’s cover).  The presence of the 1940s-50s Torch will play into an examination of the Vision’s origin story.  But you knew that already, I bet.  
Two interplays between characters that were well done: Mantis expressing regret for her role in the quadrangle, Vision’s gracious acceptance, and Mantis’ concerns for further changes coming in her life (p 11); Iron Man’s discomfort as Vision tries to discuss affairs of the heart – genuinely amusing (p 23).

Matthew Bradley: This issue might be regarded as Steve and Sal’s  Avengers counterpart—and an effective one at that, with the inconstant Staton on one of his better days—to their “action-free” Captain America #176.  Stainless, via Kang, has clearly stacked the deck to weight the Legion of the Unliving in favor of figures with some sort of significance to the Assemblers in general and the Vision in particular (while, in a typical Professor Matthew Time Paradox, he’s only recently introduced us to Midnight in Special Marvel Edition #16 as of this writing).  But even aside from his imminent plans for the android Torch, he also unwittingly anticipates the more literal revival of Wonder Man effected by a resurgent Gerry Conway in #153 (November 1976), during one of my all-time favorite arcs.

Captain Marvel 36
"Watching and Waiting..."
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Jim Starlin and Co.
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom

"The Coming of Captain Marvel"

(reprinted from Marvel Super-Heroes #12, December 1967)

Matthew: The lettercol in #35 had thanked Friedrich and Alcala, “who stepped in to put this transition issue across under a monstrous Deadline Doom.”  And then, “in one of those foolish foul-ups Merry Marvel is famous for, the artwork for [#36] was sent to the wrong party (a totally nonplussed Don Perlin) and by the time a mailbox-watching Steve Englehart rang an alarm, it was too late to write and ink and color and edit and engrave and ship and…well, you get the idea.  But a retrospective on Mar-Vell’s life thus far isn’t a bad idea at this juncture in his career, and the framing sequence a bedazzled Bay Area Bullpen put together overnight might be more than mildly interesting, and next issue is a beautiful piece of work,” per this one’s lettercol.

Said retrospective comprises three pages “produced under pressure by S. Englehart, Starlin & Co.,” plus a truncated reprint of Mar-Vell’s debut from Marvel Super-Heroes #12, “but still the first chapter in Al [Milgrom]’s and my famous ‘Trial of the Watcher’ epic,” as Steve puts it on his website.  It depicts the Watcher reviewing Mar-Vell’s history and apostrophizing, “Within minutes now, [he] will have to see that the Lunatic Legion he opposes has its base here—on the moon—in [the Blue Area that is] the home of the Watcher!  He will come here to protect himself, and he will discover that I am the one who desires his demise.”  Starlin, meanwhile, is said to be “hard at work on the second issue of Warlock,” bowing in next month’s Strange Tales.

Scott: Coupled with the current issue of The Fantastic Four, this is a good month for missing deadlines. Another reprint issue, only this one doesn’t even try to make it a new story. Only the final panel (with new material) makes this worthwhile and hardly even that. Moving on…

Conan the Barbarian 46
"The Curse of the Conjurer"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and John Romita

Pursued by dark, demonic beings known as Yemli across a desolate wasteland, Conan comes upon the campsite of the magician Merdoramon. The jovial “philanthropist” offers the Cimmerian a satchel of gold coins if he will deliver a cube of transparent amber to Themas Herklar, the regent of Phalkar: the talisman is Herklar’s only protection against a pair of sorcerers. The barbarian agrees and heads off the next morning. Riding through the bordertown of Sfanol, Conan pauses as townsfolk prepare to burn a woman at the stake: her name Stefanya, reluctant familiar of the supposedly dead sorcerer Zoqquanor. The wanderer engages the rabble, easily killing a handful of men, and rides off with the woman. The seductive Stefanya tells the mercenary that Zoqquanor must still be alive since her life is bound to his.  They ride to Zoqquanor’s castle, now a smoldering ruin, only a stone roundhouse left standing. Conan and Stefanya climb up the crumbling tower but find the door to Zoqquanor’s inner chambers guarded by the huge Shokkoth, a shambling creature made of tiny pieces of colored glass. The Cimmerian’s broadsword proves useless against the mighty mosaic monster — however the warrior notices that the glass golem’s feet begin to shatter when it walks in puddles of liquid from vials spilled in the battle. Conan hurls one of the unbroken bottles: it breaks against Shokkoth’s head and the mirrored monstrosity collapses in a thousand pieces. Conan and Stefanya enter Zoqquanor’s chamber and find the wizard lying prone on a bed. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: It’s too bad that Professor Matthew’s curriculum is too heavy to include Conan the Barbarian, since he’d certainly smile to see the credits of both John Buscema and Joe Sinnott on the splash page. And perhaps he would notice that the book is easily one of Marvel’s most consistently entertaining series. There hasn’t been a stinker so far and this one is no exception. It’s nice to see the legendary team of John and Joe on this issue, but the artwork does lose some of Chua’s usual panache. Merdoramon, while a jolly fellow, freely admits that he used the creepy Yemli to guide the Cimmerian to his campsite, so he’s another in the long list of characters not to be trusted. Stefanya is a bit feistier than the usual wench but I think she belongs on that list as well. Shokkoth — marvelously revealed with a full-page illustration — is quite cool so it’s a bit of a disappointment that he was dispatched (disglassed?) in only a few panels. Roy masterfully adapts Gardner Fox’s 1970 novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse. Gardner, of course, had a long career at DC with some random Marvel stuff sprinkled in at the end. He was also the creator of a character named Crom the Barbarian. Yikes. That must have caused some serious spinning in Robert E. Howard’s grave.

Creatures on the Loose 33
Story by David Kraft and Tony Isabella
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Klaus Janson

Simon Stroud is annoyed to see Man-Wolf lives and is responsible for a cop being maimed, but is promised another shot at him by his lieutenant. J. Jonah Jameson gets a letter saying John is being held captive, so he and Kristine go to him and are met by Kraven the Hunter, who tosses them a rifle and leaps away. Kraven unchains John and opens a panel to let the lunar rays in, which transforms the astronaut into his lupine alter-ego. Man-Wolf escapes through another opened panel and begins the hunt. When he attacks Kristine, JJJ takes a wild shot at his son, but is saved by Stroud just in the nick of time! As the two battle, Kraven jumps in since his plans were disrupted, and battles MW until Stroud throws a gas grenade that MW throws him into! Kraven is cuffed by Stroud as MW lopes off and changes back into John at sunrise—where he's arrested by Stroud for being AWOL! -–Joe Tura

Joe: In the mid-80s, a Perez-Janson collaboration would have been a Marvel Zombie's wet dream. Here, it's not bad, but you can tell Perez was just sharpening his pencil point, while Janson was just dipping into the inkwell. It's slightly better than Tuska/Colletta, yet still looks similar to the last art team to me. Newbie Kraft crafts (see what I did there!) a decent tale that draws a close to the Kraven story and sets up a new chapter of misery for John Jameson. Nice action scenes and snarling faces from Man-Wolf, Kraven and Stroud show off Perez' future magnificence a little, but maybe one too many "punches make people disappear"-type panels.

Lots of promises on the letters page, instead of letters. No more reprints, a whole new direction for the series, a new creative team and promises of greatness to come. Although this issue was a slight improvement, I'll believe it when I see it!

Matthew:  As co-plotter Isabella hands off to new writer David (Anthony) Kraft, either the combination or Kraft’s contribution raises the bar significantly his first time out, and I say that as no big DAK-fan.  At the same time, peeking out from under the encrustation of Janson’s inks is some of the earliest work by “guest artist” Pérez (credited sans accent), which even under such adverse conditions is a quantum leap beyond Tuska, with a nice tableau on page 16.  This may just be a product of my Matheson-centric worldview, but their “Most Dangerous Lycanthropic Game” storyline seems similar to that of his lesser TV-movie Scream of the Wolf, not to mention the lesser Amicus feature The Beast Must Die, both of which appeared earlier the year this issue hit the stands.

The lettercol having vanished at the eleventh hour, assistant editor and self-described “hairy North Dakotan” Kraft uses his full byline for “Of Man-Wolves and Men,” an essay in which he relates being given his first series by Roy.  “Shortly thereafter,” he writes in the third person, “Dave the Dude and George (Pacesetter) Perez met in the Bullpen and immediately hit it off well together.  So well, in fact, that it was arranged for George—who had intended only to do a single fill-in issue—to remain on the series, thus giving artist emeritus George Tuska more time for his much-needed work on the now-monthly $1 Planet of the Apes.”  He promises that “The Stooge,” a three-page groaner drawn by ’50s footnote Martin Thall (aka Rose) from Uncanny Tales #6 (March 1953), will be the last reprint.

Chris: Now then, class, back before we all had the internet (yes, there was such a time – a lesson for another day, perhaps), people like me would have to scour though reference materials (Comics Buyers’ Guides, I mean) in order to try to discover where we might find issues that featured artwork from our favored artists.  Having made such a discovery, after hours and days of fruitless searching, we would bolt up out of our seats and hurriedly scrawl down this information on a piece of graph paper, perhaps, in the hope that we might discover a copy of this heretofore-unheard-of gem  in the overfilled bins of a comic shop.  No class, we weren’t able to buy comics from the internet then, either, back before we had the internet.  Please do pay attention . . .

Seems like serendipity for Kraft & Perez –DAK’s text piece (to replace the lost, already-formatted letters page) suggests that Roy had no one else lined up to continue this title, so our new creative team was in the right place to take advantage of an opportunity to step right in.  A few issues hence, K&P will take advantage of the space-connection shared by John and the moonstone itself, and spin this character far away from the ranks of the monster titles.  

Joe: Filler! Set in a sideshow, "The Stooge", first seen (as Prof. Matthew reports) in Uncanny Tales #6 in March 1953, finds poor Willie being nagged constantly by wife Tina the Fat Lady. She even goes so far as to leave a list for the overworked stooge, until he snaps and kills her with an ax. After all, he couldn't keep up her demands—he only has six hands! Zoinks!

Captain America and the Falcon 181
"The Mark of Madness!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Nomad is lost in thought at the Lincoln Memorial when he is approached by an unrecognizing Namor who demands to know the whereabouts of Warlord Krang. When the Sub-Mariner lashes out in frustration, Nomad shares his secret of being the former Captain America. Meanwhile, Krang, having joined the Serpent Squad, is wielding the Seven Headed Serpent Crown of Lost Lemuria with which he will bend the will of the President of Roxxon Oil. He explains how, after his release from imprisonment, Krang left Atlantis and found the crown. Once putting it on his head, he heard the command of an alien voice which bade him to find Madame Hydra. They were directed to reform the Serpent Squad and carry out the crown’s plan. Back in Washington, while talking over their issues, Nomad and Namor hear a radio broadcast made by the enthralled Roxxon president asking all of his employees to not resist the Squad and to meet with them on a specific oil rig. Nomad gets info from SHIELD which tells him Roxxon has an oil rig not far from Lemuria. Nomad goes with Namor in his undersea craft. Meanwhile, the Falcon is screwing around with Redwing when Roscoe arrives dressed as Cap. He demonstrates rudimentary skill, but is far from being ready to take over. Suddenly, Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter arrive. Peggy goes ga-ga for Roscoe, who she thinks is Cap. Gabe isn’t fooled and Roscoe, spooked by the gooey rheumy eyes of the old lady, takes off. A little later, the Squad is at the Roxxon rig where they command the crew to raise the sunken continent of Lemuria. As the president begins the process, Nomad and Namor arrive and the battle kicks in. While the plan is thwarted, Krang tosses the Viper the crown and the rest of the Squad escapes. Roxxon security arrives and the team leader tells Nomad they didn’t need his help. For that he gets a clout in the jaw by Nomad who vows that he will continue the good fight. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Nomad don’t get no respect at all. With an outfit like that, I can see why (“hey, like my chest?”). Nobody ever likes a new guy. The dust up with Namor is fun and thankfully short-lived. Considering the “Roscoe as Cap” subplot takes up all of two pages, I’d say the cover is, at best, misleading. At worst, it’s a straight up lie. No mention of Krang, Sub-Mariner or Lemuria. Weird. Does a replacement Cap really sell more issues than the actual plot?

The “actual plot” is okay, but it’s hard to care really. “Mr. Executive” doesn’t seem to have a name, which is, I assume, some sort of message. This is the last Buscema/Coletta issue. Next issue we get - oh boy, this is gonna be fun - Frank Robbins. You guys will be missing Coletta by the time you see the splash page.

Matthew: Tough times are ahead for this book, in more ways than one, so enjoy The Steve & Sal Show while you can, although if the truth be told, there is much to enjoy here, despite the wildly inaccurate (albeit handsome) Kane/Sinnott cover.  Linking the Serpent Squad and long-lost Serpent Crown is inspired, and the introduction of Roxxon President Hugh Jones lays the groundwork for so much wonderment to come.  The squad “represented the Symbionese Liberation Army, a domestic revolutionary group of the time.  I was excited about writing an ongoing journal of contemporary American realitybut soon realized that as immediate as comics were, they weren’t immediate enough to stay up with current events,” as Stainless remarked on his website.

The character stuff is good, and it’s nice to get a glimpse of Namor, following his departure from the Defenders and the downfall of his own book, while Our Pal turns in his usual solid work; even Colletta, ever the wild card, could sign his name to this one with pride.  Sadly, “This issue marks Sal Buscema’s last outing on CA&F for the present.  After three years of penciling some of the finest superheroes ever to grace Mighty Marvel’s portals, he’s decided he needs some new worlds to conquer, and he’ll soon be lending his excellent sense of comics to Son of Satan and Marvel Two-in-One…That’s in addition, now, to his continuing on The Avengers and The Defenders.  Boy, talk about your workhorses—!” relates the lettercol’s “special announcement.”

His replacement “is sure to come as a surprise [except to readers of last month’s Fear], both because his style is quite different…and because he’s a newcomer to Marvel’s ranks, but the job is in as we write this (’way past deadline) and it’s beautiful….[W]e’ll let you wait till next month to find out just who the man might be (heh heh heh).”  Coincidentally, this month’s Bullpen Page asks, “You know one of the hardest tasks around Marvel these days?  It’s finding just the right artist (with the right amount of time) to do Marvel Two-in-One!  Reason:  Not everybody can draw the ever-lovin’, blue-eyed Thing just the way that nature (and Stan Lee) intended!”  Truer words were ne’er spoken—and Sal eventually fit relatively few issues of MTIO into his schedule.

Mark: CLL(Convenient Logic Leap): Namor not only knows about nobody Nomad (the cape-tripping disaster was all over Twitter?), but that he'll be soaking up wisdom at the Lincoln Memorial. Still, groovy seeing the ex-Invaders battling again side by side...except they don't. Subby sits (soaks) out the oil rig ruckus, so why is he here? Blue-skin B-lister Krang stumbles upon ye fabled Serpent Crown (the Atlantic sea bottom, so tiny), which Match.coms him with the ex-Madame Hydra. Sinister & sexy, she holds our interest during Krang's Doctor Evil raise-Lemuria scheme. Not so "Des" and "Dos" Dead End Kid & would-be new Cap Roscoe. Back to the Bowery with him, Englehart, chop, chop. Sam & Redwing share psychic bonding. Sharon Carter re-bonds with the family butler, fumes over Steve "gone out crime-fighting!" 

I fight ennui & hope for an up-tick in the proceedings, but with Frank Robbins on-deck...

Daredevil 117
"Mind Tap!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Chris Claremont
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by David Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Tony Mortellaro

As the Owl sets out to activate his brain-draining machine on an unconscious Daredevil, Natasha focuses all her strength to break her bonds, using her widow sting to disable his machine and then his henchmen. The Owl has a gun at Matt's head however, and he bribes her: DD's life for an "errand." Said errand is to kidnap Shanna the She-Devil and bring her to the Owl, another brain-drain victim. Shanna is an even match for the Widow, so they plan a ruse. Natasha brings an " unconscious" victim to the Owl,  and when he breaks his promise as expected, Shanna comes to life. The girls free DD, who follows the fleeing Owl while the girls make mincemeat of his boys. Without his billy club, it's a challenge for him to negotiate the rooftops, but DD rises to the occasion and downs the bird. Reunited with the girls, DD bids Natasha farewell as he returns to New York --with a new billy-club from  Ivan. Neither is quite willing to make the sacrifices to make their love complete. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I find I can't go too wrong with the Owl, and this action-packer is no exception. Actually it's about half the girls' tale, the duo being a good team. Imagine seeing those two swinging by! DD then gets a personal challenge, only his muscle against the Owl in flight. Odd that Matt and Natasha are so willing to let go; perhaps they both know it's time. Bob Brown's pencils mix with Vince Colletta quite well, especially in the action sequences.

Scott: It was nice to have Gene Colan back for one issue, at least. Bob Brown takes over this month and it’s something of a drop in quality. Some minor (unintentional) yuks for Dukes of Hazzard fans ensue when the Owl barks orders to “Roscoe” who in turn calls him “Boss.” Sadly, Roscoe doesn’t refer to him as his “little fat buddy.” It’s a fun issue, all told, and, thanks to the old school layouts, feels refreshingly retro. This issue could fit comfortably in the first few years of the title. The Owl, however, is a bit of an idiot for not even considering Shanna might be playing possum. Fun as this is, Daredevil is still a lower tier character and book.

Matthew: Claremont was represented consistently in Marvel’s B&W line in ’74; his four-color ubiquity begins as he scripts the last issues of Daredevil and Defenders plotted respectively by Gerber and Wein before their abortive swap.  Amusingly, Steve’s first Defenders credit—the current GS #3—not only was plotted with Len, but also guest-stars You-Know-Who!  While the Owl doesn’t look so hot with Bob back on pencils, the Widow does (although arty, her bedroom brawl with Shanna being silhouetted was a blow to cheesecake fans) and, more important, Steve goes out on a high note, giving Hornhead a literal takedown of a vintage villain and achieving partial closure with the Mattasha relationship, yet leaving the door open for future developments.

Just imagine if Gentleman Gene was handling this art!

The Defenders 19
Story by Chris Claremont and Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

The battle between the Defenders and the Wrecking Crew has paused; as the casing holding the gamma bomb is empty! Thunderball, formerly a scientist named Franklin who developed a smaller and stronger gamma bomb than Bruce Banner, became enraged when his invention was stolen by the company he worked for--so he stole it back. As he tried to escape, the bomb was dropped in a vat of molten steel; thus the recent destruction of many city buildings to find where the bomb had been placed. The Wrecking Crew use the moment to mount a surprise attack, which buys them the time to escape. When our heroes come to, they follow the trail left by the Wrecker's crowbar, and with a call for help from a boy on the street, they find their foes at a Harlem boys' club, looking for the bomb. This time the Defenders triumph, Dr. Strange using his power to wrest the Wrecker's crowbar from him and send it to another dimension. The bomb has been mistaken for a ball by the boy who led them there, and Stephen is able to effect a change on the Hulk, bringing Bruce Banner back long enough to deactivate it. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Again I had to look past the rather uninteresting Wrecking Crew to find a pretty entertaining
issue. Gamma radiation ( the most important stimulus in comicdom?) is the catalyst once again, and suitably it is the Hulk --as that human guy-- who saves the day. With a little help from a magician...Not quite sure how Dr. Franklin escaped after he lost the bomb originally, or became Thunderball; another time. Nice touch for Dr. Strange to feed the man on the street with a full course meal! More on Val's quest next month!

Matthew: Kermit the Frog tells us “it’s not easy being green,” yet it’s even harder seeing Green turn the pen back over to Janson; sadly, that’s not the only literal or figurative black mark against Wein’s swan song.  Sal soldiers on, but even Claremont’s scripting abilities are defeated by a plot asking us to accept that the future Thunderball could create a gamma bomb more powerful than Banner’s as a private-sector enterprise, without General Ross et alia crawling all over him, or that the Wrecking Crew, powerful as they are, could take out the Defenders in ten seconds.  So let’s remember Len’s tenure not for this fiasco, but for the indelible stamp he placed on our non-team by creating its core (notwithstanding Val’s leave of absence) for years to come.

Scott: The splash page is hilarious. Have you ever seen so many grimaces in a single illustration? I can hear the cracking enamel from here. Thunderball being called “the Black Bruce Banner” is amusingly racist. His whole “work for hire” situation is a pretty obvious commentary on the plight of comic book artists and whether or not they own the characters they helped create for the company. It’s amazing how the Hulk, who can survive a plunge through the atmosphere and come out of the resulting crater awake and pissed, can be knocked out by The Wrecker’s crowbar. Speaking of Bruce Banner, it’s nice to finally see him again. He’s been too long absent from even his own book, regardless of his being used as a deus ex machina here. A shame Luke Cage didn’t join up more permanently, though. However, two super strong members would be redundant. In spite of the preponderance of grimacing, I love the art. Buscema and Janson make a formidable team and the illustrations are dynamic.

Chris: A damn-fine bust-em-up conclusion to the Wrecking Crew story.  The Defenders will come to be defined by occult and oddball stories (especially with Steve G. taking over the title), so a straightforward streetfight is fun in itself with this group – sorry, I meant non-group.  I figured that Len & Chris would solve the gamma-bomb problem by simply asking the Hulk to fling it into orbit; the idea of recruiting Banner to defuse the bomb is much more satisfying, especially since he has to struggle to figure it out (rather than recognizing automatically that he had to clip the red wire, instead of the green wire, or something), while simultaneously struggling, thru pure force of will, to hold off the stress-induced change to the Hulk until the job is done.  I also enjoyed Doc’s remedy to prevent future Wrecking Crew encounters, as he zaps the mystical bar into another dimension – it should be safer there than some locker at Riker’s Island.  

Art highlight is Hulk vs Thunderball (hey – that name’d be a great title for a movie – you know, maybe a spy movie, or an action movie, or perhaps one that could incorporate both themes . . .) on p 16-17, as Hulk slowly crunches up the wrecking ball, offset by images of T-ball’s reactions.  

Fantastic Four 154
"The Man in the Mystery Mask"
Story by Len Wein and Stan Lee
Art by Bob Brown, Dick Ayers, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, and Paul Reinman
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane

As Reed, Ben and Johnny are flying in the Fantasti-Car, they are struck by a ray from a masked man in a flying craft, who reminds them of "the man in the mystery mask." This recalls a time when Reed and Ben were racing Johnny and the latter miscalculated and burnt out his flame. Johnny and Ben had walked away from the team, tired of being ordered around by Reed. Shortly, the two are invited to partake in a jet-powered race in the desert. When they accept, they are the only two there (?) and the cars are out of their control. The orchestrator of the event, a masked man, mocks their best efforts to get even with him. It turns out to be Reed, teaching them a lesson. Back to the present, but who is this masked man? After they fight off a series of weapons they find they've been test subjects for SHIELD's experiments! -Jim Barwise

Jim: Despite the retread of the events from Strange Tales #127, this issue has its share of fun. Sometimes a filler is just what you need. Reed's version of the surprise test was more original than Nick Fury's. Not having read the original Strange Tales, I don't know if the Ayers/Brown art team are reproducing the ST panels or if it's a straight reprint, but the contrast is interesting.

Chris: Stupid, fill-in rip-off, with pretty lousy art and a ridiculous premise for the framing sequence.  This is the second time in less than six issues that we’ve had a battle staged by a would-be ally, with widespread damage and needless risk of life as a result.  Embarrassing. Poor showing by Len in his debut – let’s hope he’ll do better by the Silver Surfer, next ish.  

I was in such a hurry to get rid of this crappy excuse for a world’s-greatest-birdcage-liner that I forgot to read the letters page, which (in a big yellow box) offers profuse apologies for the DDD-induced circumstances that resulted in this lousy issue.  “And to you, Marvelite,” states Ye Editor, “our apologies – it won’t happen again.”  Well, isn’t it pretty to think so, but the Deadline Doom will rise up to bite this title again – just wait and see.
Scott: Dreaded Deadline Doom or not, this is a pretty awful issue. The comic book equivalent of a “clip show,” and not even a great story to revisit either. It is a reminder of how much Dick Ayers sucked, making even Bob Brown look good. Forgettable. 

Matthew: The lettercol explains, “the Dreaded Deadline Doom…caught artist Rich Buckler by the tail (until then, we didn’t even realize Rich had a tail!) and made it impossible for him to finish this issue on time.  Luckily, F.F. neo-scripter Len Wein was able to corral the not-unimpressive talents of Daredevil’s favorite pencil-pusher, Bob Brown, and a couple of fair-to-middling inkers named Frank Giacoia and Mike Esposito in time to create a framing sequence—seven pages of new material—[for “The Mystery Villain,” an episode of the oft-lambasted Human Torch/Thing series from Strange Tales #127 (December 1964) by Stan Lee, Dick Ayers, and Paul Reinman], or, for the first time, we might actually have missed a month on our fabulous foursome’s schedule.”

At 12 pages, the relative brevity of the reprint (which includes Dean Enfantino’s nicknamesake of Paste-Pot Pete among Johnny’s rogues’ gallery) allows the framing sequence to be a more substantial story in its own right than most, with a denouement not much farther-fetched than that of the original, and Brown offers a surprisingly creditable Thing, especially compared to the late Mr. Ayers’s rendition in page 7, panel 3.  “Next issue marks the start of a massive three-part epic starring the Silver Surfer!!  Originally planned for an issue of our Giant-Size F.F. mag, the saga began growing to such plot-proportions that we soon realized a mere thirty pages wouldn’t suffice for its proper presentation.  So, you’ll be seeing it here, in the regular monthly [comic]...”

Bizarro world sleeper cell invades Bullpen, eviscerates FF! 

"Len Wein" to "Roy Thomas": "Buckler's out, so my debut idea, reprint the worst Torch solo story ever!" 
"The Eel? The painter guy?"
"No, Johnny & Ben sass Reed, so he hoaxes them into a fake auto race after hollowing out a giant mesa out west while dressed as a super-villain."
"Yeah, that was the worst. But Strange Tales stories are too short."
"I'll bookend it with the same stupid gimmick: "Question Mark" Nick Fury shoots down the Fantasti-car, almost killing our heroes!"
"Boy, that stinks."
"Stinks? It'll be the worst FF of all time!"
"What about the art? It needs a consistent look."
"No sweat. I fed Bob Brown a bottle of NyQuil, so his pages are almost as bad as Dick Ayers'."
Thank God, only in Bizarro World. Our beloved Bullpen would never inflict such a fiasco on us.

The Frankenstein Monster 14
"Fury of the Night-Creature!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Dan Green
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Ron Wilson and Klaus Janson

The Frankenstein Monster and former street gang member Ralph Caccone have burst into the lab of Ralph's father, who has just been murdered by a monster created by Ralph's mother in a fit of jealousy. Got that? Said mother shows up to witness what her chemical experiments have wrought and very quickly becomes the second victim of the "Night-Creature" (so monikered because he's a creature and it's, um, nighttime). This throws Ralph into a funk just before the Night Creature throws Ralph into a wall. Creature and Monster have a tussle and Creature exits stage left. The police arrive so The Monster and Ralph (who has made a miraculous recovery despite having his head pulped) high tail it in Ralph's van. On the way out of the city, Ralph realizes they're being followed but before he can do anything about it, the tailing car is cut off by a vehicle full of henchmen. For some odd reason, Ralph volunteers the services of The Monster to help out the person he had just been trying to lose. The lugs are no match for Dr. Frankenstein's pride and joy and the stranger approaches to introduce himself: private investigator Eric Prawn. The dick reveals that he has been hired to locate The Monster and asks the pair to accompany him to his place for a nightcap and explanatory. Once they arrive, the trio discover the place has been ransacked and the ransacker is still on premises. He explains that his organization has also been searching for The Monster and that his bodyguard, Zandor, is going to do a number on Prawn before they finish their business. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Oh boy, is this getting bad. Now, we find that the last surviving member of the House of Frankenstein has hired a PI to track down The Monster so that he can "erase the blemish on his family name." Back in the previous century, we had one of the creator's kin track the monster through hearsay and rumors from barkeeps. In 1974, you need a PI to find a monster who must be making headlines by now? Can this series go any more far afield? Ralph must have the Marvel Universe's hardest head this side of The Rhino to have survived a direct hit to the wall with his cranium. In comparison, Ralph's psycho mom got a love tap and she was down for the count. Zandor, bodyguard to mysterious organization representative, is the latest in a line of interchangeable big, brawny, bald henchmen that inhabit the pages of The Frankenstein Monster and Werewolf by Night. And, not to be too much of a stickler for the detail, where is the copy of Shelley's Frankenstein that the monster had prominently on display throughout most of the last issue? Spin the inker wheel and it lands on BUST this time out. Whereas last issue's vet Jack Abel was able to show what a light touch could do, Dan Green does everything he can to ruin the creepiness found in Val Mayerik's pencils (and does a darn good job, I must say). The inker carousel will continue with three different embellishers over the remaining four issues. Cross your mutant fingers they're more adept than Green at highlighting Mayerik's good stuff. Doug Moench's pop-reference dialogue continues to make me groan. I'm assuming, though, that such funny-bone ticklers as Ralph referring to himself as Easy Rider and the Monster as "a lousy Dennis Hopper" are meant to have me rolling on the floor.

Chris: There still is the name “Frankenstein Monster” in the title of this mag, right?  Then how come all the Monster is asked to do this ish is: 1) fight the nightcreature, and 2) fight the thugs in the street.  And, oh yes, he’s asked to hide in the back of a van.  In other words, the creature has no opportunity to influence the events of the story – he’s here to stand around until things happen to him.  How about the way he’s planted there in the doorway for the first few pages, with that bemused look on his face, while Ralph laments the death of his parents?  The lack of sensible reaction during that opening sequence (“We have to do something!” Ralph shouts, as he remains rooted to the spot, and then allows his mom to run into the room past him – while the Monster stands still, and does absolutely nothing) was so ridiculous, that it almost made me laugh.  That’s sad.

I find myself completely in agreement with the sentiments expressed by letter-writer Bob Rodi, who observes that the Monster’s lack of a voice only deprives him of the ability to express himself, and prove himself “capable of humanity” – instead, Doug relies on lengthy captions to tell us about it (sorta like the blocks of type that slogged-down the fight with the nightcreature).  
And now we’re going back to Europe, for some reason?  That’s great.  Maybe the Monster can carry everyone’s luggage.  (Four issues left to go.)
Peter: Our obligatory reprint this issue is "They Don't Complain", a three-pager from Adventure Into Terror #17 (March 1953).

Giant-Size Defenders 3
"Games Godlings Play!"
Story by Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin, and Len Wein
Art by Jim Starlin, Dan Adkins, Don Newton,  and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

Daredevil's evening rooftop flight is interrupted by Nighthawk, whom DD recalls as a foe. But he is convinced of his sincerity when it is explained that DD's skills are needed to save the Earth. Next they find themselves in space, atop a giant chess board, in the company of the other Defenders. The being that brought them there, a galactic gambling junkie named the Grandmaster, has taken up the challenge of Doctor Doom's former robot servant the Prime Mover, who left the Earth out of boredom of a challenge to meet his abilities. The new one is to pit our heroes, in pairs of two, against aliens from other worlds, in an arena alien to all. The prize: Earth's freedom if they win, and its enslavement to the robot if they lose. All are whisked away to their battlefields. Valkyrie and Nighthawk defeat their flying demonic foes; DD and the Sub-Mariner die in their struggles. Thus it's down to the Hulk and Dr. Strange to win or lose the day. In the most closely matched of battles, The Defenders eke out a victory in the nick of time. Earth is saved, our fallen heroes come to life again, until the Grandmaster decides to keep Earth as a breeding ground for future pawns. DD throws him a double or nothing: a coin toss, which he can't resist. It goes our way, all are returned to Earth--only Matt Murdock knows that his hyper senses could calculate how the coin would land! -Jim Barwise

Jim: The Defenders come through once again, in an "Arena" style tale with  a few twists of its own. One of the most unusual page layouts thus far for Marvel, on pages 7 and 11, have half-comic book layouts and half text only. Was this a space-saving tactic perhaps? The death of DD and Namor doesn't strike too much fear; other than Gwen Stacy, not too many comic book deaths even have the fear of being a reality, and any arena settings dispel this even more ("Arena" or "Fun And Games" ring some bells). It almost doesn't matter who the foes are; they are interesting enough to make it a worthy contest.The midget Man-Slayer is a hoot, DD's slimy foe different enough, and Takkor catching his head and re-inserting it is a nice touch. The art takes advantage of the cosmic stage to give us lots of great visuals.

Matthew: Per the “ridiculously complicated” credits, “Steve Gerber, Jim Starlin and Len Wein plotted this tale together.  Then Jim did the layouts, Steve wrote the script, and Dan Adkins, Don Newton and Jim Mooney finished the art.”  Such a stew is often a recipe for disaster, yet this ambitious, unusual torch-passing issue works, fusing Jim’s vivid imagination—the multiple-worlds settings reminding me of Dune—Steve’s experimentation with text pages (see Man-Thing #12), and a solid grounding in Marvel lore that, for example, makes Daredevil’s enlistment eminently logical.  For the record, this marks Korvac’s debut; filling out the book are a reprint from Sub-Mariner Comics #38 (February 1955) and Doc’s half of Strange Tales #120 (May 1964).

Chris: Steve G., in this, his first of roughly two-dozen Defenders tales, takes full advantage of the non-team arrangement to allow Grandmaster to draft Daredevil to participate in the proceedings.  Steve might’ve approached this as you would plot a detective story: first, determine how you want to resolve the issue at hand, and then go back and assemble the story elements so that they lead neatly to your conclusion.  Steve’s familiarity with Daredevil’s unique skill set might’ve prompted him to propose to Len and Jim, “Hey guys – I can think of a way for Daredevil to best the Grandmaster in a side-bet at the end, if you want.”  It certainly makes for a memorable conclusion.  

I enjoyed the introductory sequence, as Daredevil has to employ available sensory information to work out who his teammates might be.  It’s hard to believe that he had never seen the Hulk in person, and had only known of Doctor Strange thru anecdotal reporting.  Bold choice by Steve to have two of the Defenders “killed” in the contest – it brought some tension to Doc’s and Hulk’s segment, since there was more at stake for them to break the tie.  
Excuse my ignorance, but is this the first appearance of Korvac?  If so, who would guess from this cameo that he’d eventually play a much larger role in the history of the Bronze Age?  (My money would’ve been on Grott, the Man-Slayer.)
There isn’t much evidence of Starlin’s art here, unfortunately.  The figures themselves are nice to look at – the opponents in particular all are well done – and there are some details and backgrounds, but this is well short of the all-out effort we’ve come to expect from Starlin’s work in Captain Marvel (and which we’ll see next month, as Warlock returns in Strange Tales [plug! plug!]).  Adkins probably does the best job of finishing the layouts (featured in the Subby + Daredevil sequence); Newton’s work is fluid and textured, but I think his style is too different from Starlin’s to be a good fit (Val + Nighthawk, Doc + Hulk sequences); Mooney’s inks manage to remove nearly any indication that Starlin had been anywhere near this project.  
How about the moment when the Prime Mover, once it realizes it has lost, flips the chessboard over, like a petulant nine yr-old who just landed on Boardwalk (reprinted below)! 

The Amazing Spider-Man 140
"And One Will Fall!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Jackal takes Peter into his secret lab for a mysterious "operation", then he and Grizzly dump him (unseen) at the Bugle, where he's found by Ned and Betty. The trio go for a cup of coffee, where Peter finds something's wrong with his arm. Rushing to the bathroom, he discovers a harness attached to his forearm that Jackal's recorded voice tells him is a tracking device to lead the slime-master to Spider-Man—and it'll destroy Peter's arm if tampered with! A few hours later, with help from Flash, Peter moves into his apartment, meeting leggy and friendly model neighbor Gloria Grant, who catches Flash's eye. When it's nearly midnight, Peter goes to the college chem lab, using an acetylene torch to fry the harness and cut it off with no ill effects. He swings to the Bugle as Spidey, wakes a napping JJJ and gets info from him on the Grizzly, who 11 years ago was a violent professional wrestler named Maxwell Markham until Jameson's editorials got him banned. Heading to the Jackal's hideout, Spidey finds it abandoned, so he visits a nearby gym to find out where Markham used to train. Getting there just as Grizzly does, Spidey rips off the bear suit piece by piece with his webbing, exposing the exo-skeleton underneath, which is destroyed when he removes the mask, and he webs the former wrestler to the wall, vowing to one day take care of the Jackal also. -Joe Tura

Joe: I can't remember a comic book with so many insults! Grizzly's "Creep"; slimy Jackal's "my neanderthalic comrade" and "my teenage tool"; Peter playfully calling Flash a "reprobate"; JJJ alliteratively dubbing Spidey a "miserable miscreant" [love it!!] and "costumed creep"; and finally Spidey himself calling Grizzly a "flabby has-been", "shlump", "chump" and "my fat friend", all in the matter of eight panels. Can't anyone get along in 1975? Do we blame Gerald Ford for this?

A great issue revs along at a breakneck pace, filled with suspense, laughs, supporting cast members, upside-down Spidey, a crushed cigar, a villain defeated to the point of embarrassment and Spidey being mistaken for the Masked Marvel. The only false note might be Spidey arriving at the gym right when Grizzly does. Just a bit too much of a coink-a-dink, but hey, it's a comic book. And have I said lately how much I love Artie Simek? Only Artie (in my humble opinion) can do the "tiny letter" thing in a word balloon to designate someone speaking under their breath. Even though he uses it three times here, it hits the nail on the head in every one. The best use is when JJJ throws his shoe at Spidey, then launches into a typical tirade. Part of the reason I love Amazing Spider-Man so much are these little touches of humor and sarcastic asides that probably influenced my own personality way too much as a kid—and as an adult! Zing!

Favorite sound effect: "SPANG!" as Peter tosses the removed harness to the floor, arm intact. Whew….

Matthew: With 1974 such a lean year, it’s been a while since my last “cluster” of issues bought back in the day, but what better way to kick off this month’s four-pack than with that socko splash page and its low-angle shot of the leering Jackal on all fours?  Having admitted to my affection for the Grizzly last time out, I’ll also allow that it was only fitting for him to be disposed of with relative ease, while the scene of Spidey interrogating JJ regarding his past was classic.  The ticking bomb is always an effective way to generate suspense (although surprisingly underdeveloped by Gerry here), and despite Spider-Man’s prevailing over both the Jackal’s bear claw—er, cat’s paw—and his alleged booby trap, you know we haven’t seen the last of that guy.

Scott: Not a bad wrap up to a so-so story. In the real world, Jameson would have been brought up on charges a dozen times by now. This guy is a bigger menace than any of the heroes he rails against. I get that he’s the all-purpose, blustering antagonist, but he’s really far too over the top to be believable. I also find it interesting that Peter can walk around with a mechanical harness on his arm and not even feel it until it activates. I go nuts when a stray hair lands on my arm. Happily, we are introduced to Glory Grant, a long term supporting cast member going forward. She’ll wind up at the Bugle eventually.  

Mark: The Good: Sexy new neighbor Glory Grant & Pete's ice water in the veins dismantling of the Jackal's tracking device. J.J. foot follies – a nap-ending hot foot and the enraged publisher chucking an expensive shoe out his office window at the departing Spidey. The Bland: after an intriguing intro, Grizz is revealed as a disgraced pro wrestler, amped-up by a "power-boosting exo-skeleton." Simonex-snooze time. The Ludicrous: Sure, I can see Jonah trotting out his classic MENACE OR THREAT? headline over a beer-guzzlin' blue collar "sport" just to sell papers, but in what fairyland is there a "wrestling commission" empowered to revoke "licenses?" What's next, Ger, telling us the U.S. government has been tasked to watchdog Wall Street?

Giant-Size Spider-Man 3
"The Yesterday Connection!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Dan Crespi
Cover by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito

Spider-Man spots a light flickering in morse code coming from the demolition site of a landmark building, calling him to help "Desinna". She's an alien woman needing a "transsubstantiator" to understand our hero, then shows him a moment from the past.

Part 2 is Doc Savage in "The Secret Out of Time", starting with the Man of Bronze and his crew seeing the same building being dedicated in 1934. Doc saves Mayor LaGuardia from being shot, then the team heads back to their HQ where Doc runs tests on the strange paper they received that told them to get to the site that night.

Part 3 is Spidey in "Tomorrow is Too Late!" that sees the earth shake, Desinna faints and a giant phantom emerges from the building! Spidey is unable to do much damage until he notices the phantom is more like an electrical force-field, so disrupts the field with a handy jackhammer!

Desinna wakes up and moves us on to Part 4 and Doc Savage in "Other People Other Times!" Doc and team are at the site where he spots a blue light—it's Desinna, who explains she comes from a parallel dimension where scientist Tarros was working on a space-time device when he slipped into it and became an evil aura! She used the transsubstantiator to travel to Doc's world, where Tarros appears and the crew is unable to stop him!

Part 5, "The Future is Now!" begins with Johnny and Long Tom taking off on rocket sleds as the rest of the team is tossed around by Tarros, until Doc smashes the phantom with a steel girder. Then a missile arrives, sent from Johnny and Long Tom, that contains a special cadmium liquid that Doc turns on Tarros, damping his electron flow and trapping him in the dedication stone! Back to the present and Spidey uses the jackhammer to break the stone and set Tarros free! Turns out, Spidey read Tarros' tone as mad only at the trickster Desinna, who is drawn home to face the music as Spidey swings off with approval from Doc and his team across the decades. --Joe Tura 

Joe: Boy, what a complex tale this one is. Sorry for the long summary, but geez there's a lot going on. Gerry sorta makes the team-up work across the years, without the two heroes actually meeting and without any bogus time machine doohickey. Nice art from Ross the Boss, but not inked as well as the usual Amazing title. Some questions: Spidey can read morse code? Was it that easy to read Tarros' tone and figure out Desinna was behind everything? Can an electrical monster be solid? Why do they never tell us the name of the building? How freakin' cool was that radio-controlled rocket missile? 
Favorite sound effect in a book packed with them has to be "SPAZZZ-ZACK!" as Spidey tosses the jackhammer into the phantom-esque Tarros. Ouch!

For our reprint, we get another titanic team-up, courtesy of The Amazing Spider-Man #16 (September 1964), a bonafide Lee-Ditko classic featuring Spidey & Daredevil against the Ringmaster and the Circus of Crime. Man, they don't make 'em like this anymore.

Matthew: This is the first issue by the Conway/Andru Amazing team, as it were (inked here by Esposito), and it bears noting that Ross drew Savage’s short-lived four-color mag, on which Professor Gilbert held forth so learnedly.  I’ve read neither that nor the pulp originals, so I can’t comment on Gerry’s handling of Doc, but like many of my generation, I was visually inspired by the James Bama covers of the Bantam reprints in my youth.  The story itself is a farrago of contrivance and confusion, with the classic CYA line “perhaps the concept is too extraordinary for your Earthbound minds,” yet it’s fun for all readers willing to check their brains at the door, and the Spidey/DD proto-team-up against the Ringmaster from #16 tops it off.

Gilbert Colon: “We have to keep this creature from getting loose in the streets...,” says Doc Savage, sounding like a Creatures on the Loose story!  The cover reads “THE SUPERHERO OF THE '70'S!  THE MAN OF BRONZE FROM THE '30'S!” – in other words, Bronze Age meets Golden Age.  This tale-of-two-time-frames crossover between “America’s first superhero” (with his Fabulous Five) and Spider-Man is not necessarily a completely arbitrary team-up – Doc Savage, as (in Spider-Man’s words) “one of the original crime-fighters, back in the thirties,” could team with just about any next generation of superhero to pass the torch, especially to another fellow New Yorker, though “team” might be an overstatement since the two are physically separated by time.  

The year is 1974 (the issue 1975), and Spider-Man says he has heard of Doc (“I read about that guy”).  (Peter Parker is a college kid, so perhaps studies in Marvel University?)  In Doc Savage creator Lester Dent’s world, Clark Savage, Jr. was born in 1901, and the last Dent-Doc novel, Up From Earth’s Center, was published in 1949 (theoretically around the time of Parker’s birth).  Not knowing the date on Doc’s death certificate, the Man of Bronze could feasibly still be alive in Spider-Man’s own day and age, though the college-aged Parker speaks of Savage in so severe a past tense that it could mean the Bronze Giant, if among the living, either retired or relocated (or someone post-Lester Dent wrote a “Death of Doc” send-off novel; calling author Greg Cox?).  If 1949 was in fact Doc’s last official adventure, the boy Parker may well not have any firsthand knowledge of his exploits while growing up, though there were always home town newspapers such as the Daily Bugle for him to “read about that guy”…  

Science fiction and fantasy author Philip José Farmer constructed a “non-canon” chronology of Doc’s life (and wrote some Doc pastiche novels) presented in Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973), barely two years before Marvel’s publication of this issue, so perhaps an unofficial answer can be found there.  Even so, it is no easy feat when Marvel takes its brand characters, mixes them in with existing characters like Doc Savage or Dracula from other sources, then weaves them all together into the fabric of their Marvel universe (all while trying to maintain coherence and consistency).  This is one reason DC created its “Elseworlds” series, to emphasize that there are such things as stand-alone stories set apart from continuity and not part of any larger picture.  Under these circumstances, this particular generation gap story, by chance or design, holds together better than expected.  

The case can be argued that Marvel could have made life easier for itself by just setting “The Yesterday Connection!” in the 1970s of Doc Savage #1 and #2 before that series turned the clock back to the 1930s, though retaining the original period is always preferable.  Besides which, a decision like that would have excluded a particularly interesting line about why Spidey figured out female villainy where the gentleman Savage did not: 

SPIDER-MAN (to Desinna): ...Savage and I come from different eras--different backgrounds.  In his day, women were supposed to be demure little things--  But nowadays--  We don’t take anything for granted.”  

Whether or not women were any different forty years earlier, this sociologically rich remark speaks to the jadedness of the post-Kennedy age versus the early twentieth-century American optimism (embodied in Doc Savage) that won two World Wars and made postwar United States a world superpower.  Case in point – in the issue’s pulpishly titled second chapter, “Doc Savage in the Secret Out of Time!,” an Irish cop gives a rookie a primer on the Bronze Giant: “...a better friend than him, a policeman will never have!”  By the 1970s, law officers could have used all the friends they could get as youth culture lingo had branded them “pigs” and “blue meanies.”  Fortunately it is a safe bet that Spider-Man, however much jaded he is, holds men in blue in higher esteem than others in his age demographic (even if the feeling is not always a two-way street).  It is also gratifying that Spider-Man does not give in to the prevailing “wisdom” of his generation to “never trust anyone over 30” and instead respects and honors his elders…especially when those elders are Doc Savage and his Fabulous Five!