Wednesday, October 15, 2014

December 1974 Part One: The Nomad... Blink and You'll Miss Him

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

The end of the year sees an unusual amount of musical chairs, some of which will be discussed further below, but it seems worth quoting at length this overview from the lettercol of Fear #25; if you disagree, why, feel free to skip ahead.  “Steve Gerber plotted this issue…just before it was decided that he would be taking over the Defenders mag.  Now, that in itself was no problem, except that our third Giant-Size Defenders ish had to be scripted at exactly the same time Fear was approaching its dreaded deadline doom.  So Doug Moench, who will be scripting both the color and black-and-white Morbius strips [ha ha?] from now on, stepped in to script this issue.  And, as a result, he got stuck with the task of plotting the wind-up of the year-long saga, too!...

“Craig Russell was called away to do, of all things, [Killraven], and so we found, of all people, Frank Robbins to do this issue and the next of Fear.  From what we understand, though, Frank will be moving on shortly to (are you ready?) Captain America, and Fear #27 will feature the color comics debut of a new and hopefully permanent penciller for the Morbius series.  [In the event, it did not.]  Now, wait—we’ve only begun to confuse you!  If Frank is taking over Cap’s mag, what about Sal Buscema?  Well, in addition to his regular chores on the Defenders, Sal will be returning to Marvel Two-in-One with ish #7.  He’ll also be doing layouts on The Avengers. And (surprise!) he’ll be taking over the Son of Satan strip beginning with Marvel Spotlight #20.

“But, if Sal’s doing Son of Satan…what about Gene Colan?!  Another surprise.  Gene will be returning to a mag he’s always enjoyed, one he penciled some years back and which gained him almost as wide a following as Daredevil.  Gene will be handling the art on none other than Dr. Strange!  Uh.  Wait a minute.  Speaking of Daredevil…if Steve’s going to be writing Defenders, he can’t handle DD’s mag, too, can he?  So Tony Isabella will be scripting Daredevil, as well as Iron Fist, which Doug had to abandon in order to do Morbius.  And you people have the gall to wonder why we seem so confused?!?”  Tony’s predicted takeover of Hornhead proved to be accurate, after a one-issue Conway resurgence, yet contradicts this month’s Bullpen Bonus Page.

And now... December 1974 Part One!

The Avengers 130
"The Reality Problem"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

The team bids farewell to the Swordsman, who lies in state. Hawkeye, having helped Captain America rediscover his purpose as Nomad (in Cap’s own book) is welcomed back into the fold. Mantis, feeling great guilt over the shoddy way she treated Swordsman, wishes to bury him in Viet Nam, a place she feels he felt most happy with her. She then announces her intention to leave the team. Everyone agrees to Swordsman’s burial details, but not to the idea of Mantis’ departure. They convince her to stay with them after the ceremony. Scarlet Witch must stay behind to work on her new powers with Agatha Harkness and hopes the Vision will remain as well. He agrees that’s a good idea in light of his recent series of bad decisions, but the rest of the team convinces him to go, to Wanda’s disappointment. Meanwhile, in Viet Nam, an American villain in diamond-sharp armor named the Slasher, perpetrates a diamond theft, viciously slashing a guard in the process. Later, the Avengers arrive at the Temple of the Priests of Pama where the Swordsman is buried, but they are interrupted by a running man, fleeing from The Titanic Three: the Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man and the Radioactive Man. They witnessed the man striking and killing his own wife and mete out non-lethal, but still brutal, justice. Iron Man, still seeking his own justice for the death of Janice Cord at the hands of the two armored villains, flies into a rage when the Avengers are told they have no authority and must leave the country. Thor realizes they have no right to refuse, but Iron Man sees differently. They come to blows, but before long, Shellhead listens to reason and the team leaves. Mantis, still confused about her past and the whole Celestial Madonna affair, wishes to find answers. Since the Kree were involved in the temple, they try to find Rick Jones, whom they know is also Captain Marvel, but they cannot get in contact. Mantis seems to remember a former home, but once she is brought there, the current owners claim they themselves built the house only two years earlier. As Mantis and the team search for clues to her past, Slasher, waiting for his fence to arrive so he can palm off his stolen jewels, sees the Avengers and mistakenly believes they are on his tail. He then spots the Titanic Three and dupes them into attacking the Avengers. During the battle, a mysterious hooded figure enters the fray long enough to knock down Titanium Man, but then steals off into the night. When Vision drops the Slasher, the diamonds he stole are revealed, as is his deception of innocence. Realizing their mistake, the Titanic Three depart, leaving the defeated Slasher to the Avengers.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: It’s nice to see Steve Englehart take so much time with Swordsman’s interment. Often these things are left to a few introductory panels before we move onto the next crisis. In this case, it forms the foundation of everything to follow, making the rather pathetic character more important. Sadly, he could never know how his death impacted those left behind. The Slasher is nothing special, however he isn’t meant to be more than a cipher.  What this issue does is lay the groundwork for the Titanic Three, introduced as villains, but then flipped to establish them as heroes in their own adopted land. It’s an interesting twist that I hope we see developed. They are acting honorably, something that works against Iron Man’s desire to see Janice Cord’s death avenged (try suicide, Stark, since you did nothing to save her and are just as responsible).

The Mantis Mystery chugs along and is fairly fascinating. It’s also good to see Hawkeye back in the group, and obviously a changed man after the lessons learned during his time on his own. Wanda is still grappling with her jealousy, which is tiresome, but at least she doesn’t make a stink when Vision goes with the rest of the team. The art is excellent; Buscema and Staton mesh well with Englehart’s prose. The art and story feel right and this book just might be back on track at last. Dare I hope?

Chris Blake: Steve takes the pace down a bit, which allows for a moment of silence in respect for the Swordsman.  It struck me that the splash page would’ve been just as fitting if it had appeared as the last page of GS Avengers #2, since that story wrapped up rather abruptly.  The stillness of p 10 was handled quite well.  

This issue’s featured attraction, the clash with the Titanic Three, might’ve been better if it hadn’t been broken into two halves.  Interesting how the potential beef with our heroes winds up being settled diplomatically; plus, I’m grateful that the dust-up between Thor and Iron Man was kept short.  There might not be honor among thieves, but I can respect the way the TT turned the Slasher aside once they learned that he had lied to them about stealing the diamonds.  
There’s a lot less to complain about with this title than there had been only a few months ago.  Writers to the letters page share my relief at the improvement in the art.  Solid effort from Sal & Joe this time as well, although lacking as many highlights as recent issues.  
Matthew Bradley: As noted, Sal is credited only with layouts, on which he does a characteristically fine job, but the intermittently goofy finished art endears Staton to me no further.  This is one of several interesting December issues, as Steve at once advances the Celestial Madonna saga by continuing to probe the origin of Mantis, yet pauses it for an ultimately pointless diversion with the Titanic Three.  I like the idea of a Communist counterpart to the Assemblers, and although the Slasher (erroneously referred to as Buzzsaw in page 6, panel 3) is disposable, he probably wasn’t intended to be more than that; I never thought much of Radioactive Man, but the two Russians were always formidable foes, so it’s just as well that their battle royale was unresolved.

Conan the Barbarian 45 
“The Last Ballad of Laza-Lanti”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and The Crusty Bunkers
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Neal Adams

Conan is in a Shadizar tavern, enjoying the music of a minstrel named Laza-Lanti. When a rowdy group of patrons drowns out the singing, the barbarian protests and a fight breaks out — Laza-Lanti helps the Cimmerian by killing one of the locals and they both wind up in jail. However, the singer has a dagger stashed in his lute and an escape is made. Laza-Lanti tells Conan that he is heading to the Dark Valley, an area near the Zamorian border that is terrorized by a creature that just might be his actual father. The warrior agrees to accompany the minstrel on his quest. When they arrive, they spot a gorgeous woman sacrificing two cattle to a quivering, tentacled monster. Fearing that she will be devoured next, Conan and Laza-Lanti attack. The Cimmerian is soon in the grasp of the hideous horror. But just before Conan is forced into the nightmare’s gaping maw, Laza-Lanti severs the bulbous antennas on top of the creature’s head and it dies. Instead of being grateful, the woman, Timara, bursts into tears and ages before the warriors’ eyes. Not only was she the monster’s lover, she is Laza-Lanti’s mother. Heartbroken, Timara commits suicide: grief stricken, Laza-Lanti does the same. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: This issue is the perfect summation of why Conan the Barbarian has been so consistently enjoyable over the past few years: excellent art and writing, a cool monster, and a gorgeous woman, all presented in a mature manner. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise when The Hyborian Page exclaims that, at the time, Conan was Marvel’s fifth bestselling book after The Amazing Spider-ManThe Fantastic FourThe Mighty Thor and Marvel Team-Up. (Notice that Big John is the illustrator on two of the five.) Roy should be particularly praised: he continues to offer prose of the highest quality. When Laza-Lanti tells Conan the story of the Dark Valley, it is done in song and — if you like this kind of thing — it’s terrific. The Rascally One must have spent considerable time making sure everything rhymed in just the right way. The monster is straight out of Lovecraft and we have The Crusty Bunkers back on board as inkers. As always, it’s a special treat when you spot Neal Adams shining through.

Captain America and the Falcon 180
"The Coming of the Nomad!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

As Steve contemplates his next move as an all new super-hero, the Viper is being transported to the state pen by the FBI. Their car is attacked by Madame Hydra and the agents brutally killed. She reveals her intention to take the name Viper and kills the original Viper and removes his costume. Later, Princess Python breaks Cobra and Eel from prison. The Serpent Squad is reformed under the new Viper’s leadership. When the Eel asks for his brother, the new Viper lies, saying he was killed fighting the forces of order, but vows to allow Eel his vengeance. Cobra doesn’t take well to the new leadership, but Viper proves her superiority and he falls in line. Meanwhile, Steve formally resigns from the police force and tells Sharon the “good news” of his intention to form a new identity. She doesn’t take it well and when Steve suggests going to her parents’ home in Virginia to work on the concept, she stays behind. After much soul searching and brainstorming, Steve Rogers designs a new costume with a cape (because capes are neat-o) and takes on the identity of The Nomad. In Harlem, Roscoe, the kid who works at Steve’s gym, approaches the Falcon about being the new Captain America. When Falc rebuffs him, Roscoe vows to do it with or without his help. Shortly thereafter, the Serpent Squad kidnaps a corporate exec from a movie theater, but Nomad arrives to thwart the plan. To Steve’s chagrin, he trips on his own cape and falls on his well-sculpted chin, allowing the Squad to escape with their prey. Back at the Squad’s hideout, the villains gloat over their victory. They have kidnapped the president of the Roxxon Oil Corporation in order to take whatever knowledge he has. At that moment, to explain how, Warlord Krang enters holding the seven-headed serpent crown of lost Lemuria. He aims to achieve his “most stunning triumph!” -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Solid! Steve finally makes his decision and acts on it, going through the steps to figure out a new identity and costume. It’s a frankly ridiculous outfit. I can see him kind of making the body suit and the cape himself, but the mask is absurdly complicated. Still, it’s all worth it to see him fall flat on his face when he trips over his cape, pointing up just how few Marvel heroes actually have one (Thor…anyone else?). The Roscoe storyline is okay, and would be better if the kid did talk like one of the Bowery Boys. What happens to him later on, though, will make it worthwhile.

The breaking out of the villains is excellently done and very cold, shockingly so for this title. No stun bolts or mercy bullets here. The agents and the Viper himself are brutally murdered. However, these sequences are undercut by the sheer ridiculousness of the fact that they are all incarcerated in their costumes. Why is it so important for the new Viper to wear the sweaty costume of the old? She can’t afford her own? I get it, these guys don’t have memorable or recognizable identities, but neither do Leapfrog or Stilt Man, but we saw them in more realistic similar circumstances in the pages of Daredevil.

It’s nice to see Krang back, which means Namor can’t be too far behind. Could we be seeing a resolution to Subby’s own comic in these pages? Good fun, well paced, Engelhart does fine work. The art is nice, too, and when Steve is mistakenly identified as Robert Redford, it’s a great laugh considering how similar they look in these pages.     

Mark Barsotti: After taking months to build up the emergence of Nomad, Steve Englehart delivers...a great cape joke.

Not having read this before, my jaw dropped at Steve's (Rogers, not Englehart) comment that, " thing I always did want on my costume was a cape!" While I don't buy that for a second, the judges will allow it in service of Steve (Englehart, not Rogers) setting up one of the great sight gags of all-time: Mr. Rogers stepping on his own opera-wear and going chin first into the floor, allowing the Serpent Squad to make their getaway. Although how they didn't collapse in laughter, I'll never know.

Otherwise, Nomad's outfit is straight outta dullsville (no points for Mr. Rogers' sudden wizardry with needle and thread – what Ditko pulled off in Spidey falls flat here – and "It's time to pick up my boots and gloves...," no doubt from the Heroes 'R Us bootery, is also a groaner) but rather than impugn Sal's design sense, let's assume he came up with generic threads knowing full-well the Nommy persona was a temporary gimmick.

Matthew: As Stainless wrote on his website, “Steve Rogers decides he should still fight crime—just not as a symbol of America.  He takes the name of ‘Nomad’—the man without a country.  The name, in real life, was suggested by my then-girlfriend, Martha Dukeshire,” and seems to me an inspired choice.  Obviously, the creation of Cap’s new i.d. forced Englehart to defer much of the action until next time, yet I welcome an appearance by this latest incarnation of the Serpent Squad, and the bit with the cape was fun.  I hope Gerber didn’t mind seeing his ad-man villain wiped out, although it was totally in character to have the erstwhile Madame Hydra not only kill the original Viper so cold-bloodedly, but also use his death to suit her own twisted ends.

Mark: While I disagree with our esteemed Dean that Englehart is the greatest writer in the history of funnybooks, he is a first ballot Hall of Famer, and as such I just don't get his ongoing fascination for the lame-o slither squad. Yeah, Madame Hydra's murderous new leadership is a much-needed upgrade (ditto the addition of Princess Python) but, "Well, they're better than Batroc," is the most enthusiasm I can muster.

The same goes for the last page reveal of Krang. Not Kang, students, Krang.

Half the class looks puzzled, the others are frowning. Just focus your open-topic essay question on capes and chin-plants, kids, and you'll be fine.

Daredevil 116
"Two Flew Over the Owl's Nest!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

After battling the Death Stalker, Daredevil returns to the hotel where Foggy Nelson and his sister Candace are staying. He changes to Matt first, pretending he'd been mugged, and begins to tell them he's destroyed the papers Ted Sallis (aka Man-Thing) had written on changing humans into creatures capable of surviving in a polluted world. A call from the Black Widow interrupts them, and  after convincing the authorities to drop the charges against Candace, he heads to San Francisco to find Natasha. He discovers she is homeless now, and finds her when he interrupts a robbery. Enter the Owl, who overpowers the duo, and plans to make a bundle off them in his latest plan. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The Owl is one of those classic DD villains I always welcome back. In this case his part in the issue is somewhat minor, but looks interesting next time. Matt and Natasha don't get much chance to talk, but clearly they have some unfinished business. So too does Matt; his moral dilemma of having destroyed the Sallis papers --what's right versus what's legal, often not the same thing.  

Scott: Oooo, Gene Colan is back and he brought the Owl with him. Until Frank Miller’s run in the 80’s, Colan was DD’s signature artist and it’s always good to have him around. I’m also happy he brought Hornhead back to Frisco. Just as long as Mike Murdock stays dead, I’m happy as a pig bathing in his own filth. Natasha is nice to see again, penciled by the man who always gets her looking amazing. Not a hell of a lot happening here, but still fun and fast-paced. We’ll see where it goes.  

Matthew: Since it’s already known that Gerber will be leaving the book soon (Claremont scripts his plot as a one-off next issue), there is a sense of getting his and Hornhead’s affairs in order before departing, bringing him back to San Francisco to resolve his relationship with the Black Widow.  As with this month’s Captain America, that forces the bulk of the fisticuffs into the cliffhanger, but I’d rather carry them over than rush a return appearance by the Owl, one of my favorite DD villains.  I love how Steve builds on The Cat #2 (only obliquely alluded to) as the repeatedly relocated Owl laments, “wherever I go—New York, Chicago, and now here—no matter  how carefully I plan—some costumed fool always appears from nowhere to intervene.”

This and the concurrent Marvel Spotlight give us a double-dose of the Gerber/Colan team that will come to define Howard the Duck a year and a half from now.  “Although Gene…has been kind enough to handle the Daredevil mag on those occasions when Bob Brown simply can’t (as with this issue), his commitments on Tomb of Dracula prohibit his return on a regular basis….[But] don’t miss this month’s Son of Satan, on which he and Steve G. managed to get together on a decidedly different tale of demonic possession.  Meanwhile, though, we hardly think anyone will exactly mind Bob…remaining on the strip—particularly in view of the masterful jobs he turned in on the recent Death-Stalker series of stories,” per the issue’s lettercol.

Chris: The Widow’s return is always welcome, especially when Gene’s on the art.  Very effective depiction of DD’s radar sense throughout, as this distinctive feature of DD seems to be appearing with greater frequency – another welcome development. The Owl always struck me as little more than a Batman villain, but something tells me he’s up to something more than a simple jewel heist.  I would’ve liked to see DD struggle more with the rope-and-hook system, after so many years of relying on the trusty billy club.  I thoroughly enjoyed DD’s embarrassment and confusion when he arrived in Tasha’s old bedroom.  A solid transition-chapter as Steve kicks off a new storyline.  

On the other side – barely tolerable inks by Colletta, who manages to make panels look both sketchy and murky.  Even if you can’t get Giacoia, who had done well by both Gene and Bob Brown on this title, then call Palmer, or even Adkins or Janson, for God’s sake, before you pair Colletta with Colan.  
An irate letter-writer accuses Shanna of being a “nymphomaniac,” due to her, um, flattering attire, but Ye Editor prefers to characterize her as “exhibitionistic.”  Right on!  And ten bonus points for the (unclipped) Mole Man stamp!
One question: if Natasha and Ivan have been “living in the Rolls” for the past week, then where was she when she called Matt yesterday, while she was lounging (indoors, and in costume –pg 7, pnl 4 –  above - go back and check it out again if you doubt me) -?  Give that man a no-prize!  

The Defenders 18
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Dan Green
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

The Defenders have discovered who's been destroying buildings in town: the self-titled Wrecking Crew: The Wrecker, Pile-Driver, Thunderball and Bulldozer. They're looking for something in the rubble, but right now are more concerned about wrecking the Defenders. The battle is pretty even; despite the absence of the Hulk and the Valkyrie, the latter of whom is off seeking her origins in Cobbler's Roost, Vermont. The former eventually makes the scene, wanting to help his teammates. His entry is a boon, although he breaks through the barrier Dr. Strange had put up, which puts Stephen temporarily out of commission. Thunderball finds the canister the Crew has been looking for, but it's empty. Empty of what? -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise:  Even with such a dull bunch as the Wrecking Crew, this issue moves right along with its hefty action sequences. Luke Cage proves to be a worthy temp for the team. We get a taste of the mystery that Val is facing. Hulk is always a charmer as written in this title, and I love seeing him back in action. Curious what this mystery is going to be.

Chris: This could’ve been a fairly standard rock-‘em slugfest, but Len cleverly works in two reversals: first, as Doc seeks to strip the Wrecking Crew of their magic-infused powers; then, when Greenskin unwittingly undermines Doc’s effort as he sunders the protective shield, knocking Doc out and restoring the Crew’s crunch-abilities! Nice job also by Len to present the Crew origin as a flashback, instead of the typical battle-pause story-time: “But wait!  Before we kill you, let us tell you how we got here!  It’ll be worth it, I promise!” The Valkyrie aside provides a brief break, coming early enough in the issue that it doesn’t completely derail the action.  The Buscema/Green art is up to standard, no fine detail or mood lighting required for the issue-length outdoor basher.  Hey, Luke Cage made it thru the whole fight without losing another silk shirt!

Matthew:  While sowing some seeds for Steve to harvest on the subject of Val’s past, lame-duck Len (see below) really milks this arc for all it’s worth, although the Wrecking Crew’s origin seems a little too facile; suddenly, the Wrecker has sufficient Asgardian mojo to power up four—count ’em, four—super-villains?  That’s just one of this issue’s curious aspects, e.g., the Hulk’s almost perfunctory return from his lesson in friendship in last month’s Marvel Team-Up, or the fact that without so much as a by-your-leave, Luke Cage is referred to as a full-fledged Defender…although I suppose it’s difficult to contest one’s “membership” in a non-team!  The Buscema/Green pair remains solid, and there’s certainly no shortage of action for them to depict.

“Ever wonder why one writer or artist gives up a feature to another?” Roy asks on this month’s Bullpen Bonus Page.  “Well, here’s a case in point:  At almost the same time recently that Steve (Baby) Gerber got an overwhelming urge to write our Defenders spectacular, it seems that Live-it-up Len Wein got a similar itch to script a lone-wolf superhero like Daredevil.  The first Ye Editor knew of it was when the pair marched into my office in tandem and said they’d like to trade books for a while; I figured each of ’em would bring a new and infectious enthusiasm to already-popular mags, so I okayed the deal.”  Steve duly takes over Defenders in February, but Len scripts only a single Daredevil (in August, yet), presumably due to the press of other events.

Scott: Not really much going on here other than a long, chaotic battle. On that level it’s a lot of fun, but there’s a distinct lack of import here. I’m hoping the mystery they are setting up pays off in higher dividends than it seems now. I like the Wrecking Crew as a villainous group; they’re brutal and savage, but this issue feels a little too mindless.

Fantastic Four 153
"Worlds in Collision!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Frank Giacoia

Held  captive in a statis cage that slows down their energy, Ben, Johnny and Reed realize if the Torch focuses heat on the link holding up the cage it will fall. It does and frees them. They find Mahkizmo on his throne, Thundra bound in chains, and soon the lot of them are tossed in the "arena" to be executed in battle. Though weakened by an unseen ray that saps their strength, they win their battles...then Mahkizmo jumps in. Re-enter Medusa, with the Femizons in tow. The renewed help allows the F.F. to realize a nearby tower is the energy source, and Johnny destroys it. Now that they are on even ground, Mahkizmo's release of nuclear energy sets in balance the mergence of Machus and the Femizons' world. The results return the people of both worlds to more healthy man/woman relationships, and send the F.F. and Thundra to Earth again. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The girls make the day here, Medusa's apparent betrayal bringing in the cavalry of the Femizons. Does their world have a name other than "the world of"? Thundra makes Benjy blush with a kiss at the finish. Pretty good action throughout, as our team has to use brains as much as brawn to win the day.

Chris: The only reason I’ve been sticking with this title is for the reliably high-level of action, and the medium-grade of characterization.  The storylines have not been strong – and more often than not, have stretched the limits of credibility – over the course of the past 8-10 issues.  The Mahkizmo story never should have carried on for three issues, right?  More than half of this issue is taken up with our heroes’ energy and will being sapped by Mahk’s energy/will-sapping ray.  The Reed Richards I know would’ve focused on neutralizing that, even if it required him to separate himself from the fray.  Instead, we get “Oh look – maybe it’s that glowing thing on the highest point in the palace!”  

Also, the resolution of the story is only going to be sold to me if there’s a wizard’s cape and magic wand involved.  I would’ve bought it if Reed had hypothesized that the so-called “nuclear power-punch” might produce sufficient energy for the FF to be whisked home again – to that end, the team would’ve deliberately provoked and then interrupted Mahk’s signature smite to achieve their ends, rather than have these events play out by accident.  These stories are more interesting when we have a balance of Reed’s cerebral cogs a-whirling, offset by a-clobberin’ and a-flamin’.  Well, we don’t have Gerry to kick around anymore, but I have a good feeling about this Len guy who’s coming in next.
Mark: The iconic, splash page of the Thing (above) signals the return of Joe Sinnott to the ink pot and, after last month's eyesore aberration,  FF looks great again.

Gerry Conway ends his undistinguished run on the title, leaving pinch-hitter Tony Isabella to sweep the Mahkizmo mess into the dustbin of history. While I know Isabella isn't held in high regard by most of the vaunted M.U. faculty, he mucks out the stables about as well as one can hope for. Sure, the first few pages are wasted, as Ben, Reed, and Johnny escape from a cage only to be ray-blasted back into unconsciousness in the next panel. Kiz then pits them and Thundra against some old school Atlas-style monsters, but the Fabs quickly put them to rout.

Too bad Kiz didn't have Fing Fang Foom's number.    

Scott: Is it me, or is The Thing taking a more dominant place in this book? Not just in the matter of plots requiring his strength, but in the illustrations. He is largest on the splash page, takes the center position when the team advances toward Mahkizmo and is generally the one doing most of the talking. I’ve always wondered if his character had a popularity boost in those days, as Reed seems to be taking a second banana position. As for the rest of this “saga,” thank Zod it’s over.

Mark: Besides being a sexist creep, we learn Kiz cheats like a WWF bad guy, his "Domina-Ray" suppressing his enemies' powers. But Johnny melts the ray, Medusa and the Femizons pop in through a dimensional door, and the rout is on. And what better end for Kid Conway's "Nuclear Man" (given absolutely zero backstory to justify his atom-spinning sobriquet) than having him blow up?

So Kiz and Kid Conway are gone at last. Tony the Tiger makes the best of a dirty job, Buckler gets Sinnott back, and Ben gets a smooch on the cheek from Thundra.  

Let's declare victory and catch the last chopper off the embassy roof.
Matthew:  Isabella gets the unenviable job of cleaning up Conway’s Mahkiz-mess, resolving the whole when-worlds-collide plotline and leaving Thundra on our Earth.  You know Tony’s not going to be entrusted with Marvel’s flagship title on a regular basis, yet as long as he’s here, he gives us the philosophy of clobberin’ time (“Ya can’t just say [it].  Ya gotta build up to the right philosophical moment!”) and Benjy plugs Where Monsters Dwell.  Wein begins a brief interregnum as FF writer next issue (itself a partial reprint), while Thomas is winding down his tenure as editor in chief, but their positions will soon be reversed; Len later brackets Roy’s second, longer and—arguably—better TOD here with a return engagement of his own in ’77-78.

The Amazing Spider-Man 139
"Day of the Grizzly!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Jan Brunner
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Spider-Man swings downtown to 12th Street, where Liz has found Peter a new apartment (after three weeks of crashing with Flash), and after checking out the less-than-stellar living quarters, he signs the lease for $110 a month (!). Arriving "Spidey-style" to the Bugle, where it seems he didn't quit after all, Peter sees the office invaded by The Grizzly, a giant villain in a bear suit who wreaks havoc! Robbie Robertson tells Peter to get out of there (conveniently for our hero so he can change), smashes Grizzly with a chair and gets knocked out for his troubles. JJJ hears the racket, angrily opens his office door, them slams it on the Grizzly, who bursts in and tosses the publisher out the window. Luckily, Spidey snares him in a web net, then swings in to battle the big bear, where he's unable to do much damage but manages to flick a spider tracer on him. After rescuing the ever-ungrateful JJJ, Spidey takes until after midnight to track the furry fiend to Washington Square. Changing into civvies, he innocently rings the bell, but it's a trap! Peter is knocked out by the slimy Jackal, who gloats that "wherever Peter Parker is—Spider-Man can't be far behind!"--Joe Tura

Joe: The Night of the Grizzly, starring the imposing Clint Walker, was released in 1966, the year I was born. Obviously inspired by the western film, in Dec 74, the month I turned 8, Gerry comes up with "Day of the Grizzly", and what a day it is! The lovable lug is like a bull in a china shop, wrecking everything in sight. I feel bad for J. Jonah, since he has to blow his budget on redecorating his office. Not entirely sure what to think of Ol' Grizz, but maybe we'll get more info next issue, especially with all the snarky asides from editor Roy alluding to that maybe happening. He's a strong one, that's for sure, but he's no Clint Walker!

The Jackal…hate that guy. But as he's gloating like a moron on the last page, why is Grizzly standing with hips slightly forward, like he's at a urinal?  (Or something a little more risqué—good thing Peter was unconscious!)

Favorite sound effect in an ish with some good ones: "BATHOOM", as The Grizzly blasts through the elevator doors, not waiting for them to open since I guess he wanted to really make an entrance. Seems like a waste, but just showing up in the suit, someone might have thought he was there for a birthday prank, maybe? A close second is "SPONNG!" when Grizz smashes Spidey into some file cabinets. Ouch.

Matthew:  I know of at least one faculty member who might characterize Gerry’s following the Mindworm with the Grizzly as a one-two punch straight to the reader’s solar plexus.  Since the Grizzly’s sophomore outing (in #140) is among my beloved “cluster issues,” my initial reaction was simply to recuse myself, but after re-reading his debut—which surprised me with the brevity of Peter’s sojourn in Far Rockaway—I’ll shift into full iconoclast-mode and say I like him.  Oh, I wouldn’t put him in any of the top tiers, and his dramatic possibilities are admittedly limited, but man, Ross & Co. sure make him look good (especially on pages 11, 17, and 23), while conceptually, he’s no goofier than the Gibbon or others of the Marvel menagerie.

Mark: Much like Professor Matthew, I also enjoyed The Grizzly's first appearance much more than expected. Well, not him so much – a big mook dressed as Teddy the Terrible is strictly snoozeville, concept-wise – but Kid Conway's intriguing (and, as far as I know, unique) plot gimmick of having the ursine uggo declare, "The Grizzly is back in town!" and that "Jameson destroyed me," as if he's a well-known quantity, even as Ger tells us, "this is the first time we've ever seen the Grizzly."

Umpteen million comics had hit the spinner racks by '74, so its tough to come up with a new story-telling twist, and Conway gets high marks for this one. 

Scott: I was hoping to see more of Peter and Flash as roommates and all the difficulties that would entail for Peter and his secret. But there ya go. Instead, Mrs. Muggins joins the cast and she’ll be around for quite a while as Peter finds his ridiculously cheap Manhattan apartment that apparently nobody else tried to snap up. Looking at it with today’s eyes, hundreds of people would sell their grandmothers to get an apartment in the village with two and a half rooms for only $110 a month. That’s $550 in today’s money. In reality, an apartment that size would go for thousands today.

Scott: The Grizzly isn’t awful, at least not compared to the Mindworm, but really, the villains introduced in this phase of Spidey’s run just aren’t that impressive. And I get how much JJJ hates the wall crawler, but come on; Jameson was falling to his death and Spidey saved his damned life. Yet he still fires off his usual diatribes, even while hanging outside the building. This is what makes him a caricature rather than a character. Meanwhile, Joe Robertson is the polar opposite. He feels real.  Not that bad an issue and the Jackal’s return is welcome, even though I hate the body positions Andru puts him in.  

Mark: Pete gets a new suck-hole apartment in Chelsea. Sure, they had to get Spidey back in the city (no skyscrapers to swing from in Far Rockaway), but not somehow milking the Odd Couple possibilities inherent in Pete and Flash as bunkies for six issues or so seems a missed bet.

Ross Andru's art continues to mature, mostly little touches that capture the urban environment: soul brothers share a smoke as Spidey swings by in the background; kids play street ball next to overflowing trash cans; the Chrysler building at a slightly askew angle. For all his impressive gifts, Jazzy Johnny never made New York come alive. Andru does so in a manner that evokes classic Ditko.

There's a Greatest Hits quality to the Spidey-saves-J.-Jonah-from-a-Bugle-invading-baddie scenes: J.J. falling, the web-hammock save and verbal jousting before ole flattop gets his yapper webbed shut. It was innovative and exciting the first, oh, half-dozen times, certainly not now, and yet, like Mom's meatloaf, it's comfort food that continues to satisfy.

And the mostly satisfying thing about Griz is the last panel reveal that he's merely a cat's paw for the Jackal. My memory, the old liar, thought Jackie popped up everywhere between the Punisher intro and the Clone Alone finale. In truth, we haven't seen him in months, but he's finally back to bedevil Mr. Parker.

Astonishing Tales 27
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"Dead Reckoning!"
Story by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench
Art by Rich Buckler and Pablo Marcos
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Desmond Jones
Cover by Rich Buckler

Deathlok battles War-Wolf, with Ryker bragging he programmed the cyborg to anticipate Deathlok's every move and the former Luther Manning hesitating because he thinks the opponent is Mike Travers, one of his best war buddies. War-Wolf severs Deathlok's life line, but our anti-hero knocks him off Lady Liberty and demolishes him. We learn Ryker lied and still has Mike Travers, as well as his "dear Nina" in electro-sleep, as Deathlok escapes on the copter and flies to his wife Janice's house. He hears the son he's never met, but fearing the same rejection Janice showed, Deathlok walks off, unable to even kill himself since it violates his programming.—Joe Tura

Joe: Kind of a downbeat ending to an action-packed story. Wait, make that a seriously downbeat ending! Would not have expected Deathlok to try and end his life, but it appears after thinking he killed his best friend, and being rejected by his wife, and not being able to face the son he never had the chance to know would make him kinda depressed. A lot of this info comes out of nowhere, to be honest, as we're getting dribs and drabs of the backstory each issue. But Buckler & Moench do a nice job overall this month, in both script and art. Although some of the panels border on goofy, especially anything with Ryker, who looks positively insane.

Mark: This is the first and hopefully last time I take up class time talking about a letterer, but SITUATION REPORT: Desmond Jones' supposed-to-be futuristic lettering for the 'Puter sharing our anti-hero's consciousness is a junior high let's-put-out-a-newspaper disaster. The woozy results were a distraction every time 'Puter piped up, but that's my only complaint about the third installment of the Deathlok dystopia.

'Lok can't bring himself to go lethal in his fight with War-Wolf, until a gloating Col. Ryker reveals that his latest Frankenfighter really isn't/wasn't Luther Manning's old army buddy, Mike Travers. Upon learning that, Deathlok promptly laser blasts Wolfie into oblivion.

As a military man, Ryker should know that loose lips trip up megalomaniacal dips****.

Matthew:  Okay, I was wrong, we didn’t have this one off the rack; its cover and that of the current Avengers both look so damned familiar that I could’ve sworn we did, but the interiors simply don’t provoke those 40-year-old memories.  So when Luther (whom the flashbacks here confirm was Caucasian, something his gray cyborg pallor made ambiguous) observes, “I just noticed…that other voice in my head—it’s gone!,” that explains why I didn’t remember it from joining him late in the game, c. #33, and will also eliminate my single biggest beef with co-plotter Moench.  Inker “Maros” (sic), who ironically seems to have gotten the hang of things in his second and final outing, and writer-artist Buckler have rebounded from last issue.

Mark: More raves for the Rich Buckler art, including two top-flight interior splash pages (as a pedagogue, I could sniff that the Deathlok crucifixion pose is obvious, heavy-handed symbolism, but decided that for its intended adolescent audience it was probably subliminally effective).

After taking down War-Wolf, 'Lok flies off to see his wife (who happens to be African-American; a gutsy creative decision, given that interracial marriage was a Big Deal in 1974 America), and, as one might expect when a corpse-like cyborg shows up unannounced at the door, it doesn't go well.

Janice Manning is horrified, and the ex-Luther summons the good sense not to introduce himself to the son he's never met. In his anguish, Deathlok puts the laser to his own throat, but he can't even kill himself because suicide is "contrary to programming."  

My fellow faculty members will no doubt correct me if I'm wrong in stating that Deathlok is the first Marvel star who ever tried to off himself, but it reenforces the assertion in my lesson plan for Astonishing Tales #25: Deathlok is "the darkest, most nihilistic "hero" in the history of comics."

Chris: Strong work by Buckler and Moench, as their confidence with this character continues to grow.  In Deathlok’s brief history, we’ve come to expect him to be ruthlessly in-control of any confrontation, so it’s troubling to see him so badly beaten in the no-holds fight with War-Wolf.  When Deathlok seems finished, Ryker’s overconfidence gets the better of him – he’s so intent on manipulating Deathlok that he can’t help himself from getting in another dig, as he tells Deathlok that he held back for nothing.  (So Mike Travers is alive – somewhere.  Unless, of course, Ryker’s lying again.  It’s possible.)  

Deathlok proves he has plenty of fight left in him, but his need to heal takes him in a direction we haven’t seen before: his home.   Deathlok survives the fight with War-Wolf, but for what?  He can’t connect with his former wife – Janice isn’t able to conceive that the “monster” in her home had once been her husband – and he fears what the sight of him would do to his unseen, unknown son.  The last page leaves Deathlok – and us, as readers – stunned, and empty.  
The art continues to deliver, although I thought the finished product last issue (also with Marcos) was stronger and a bit more effective.  Still, I’m hardly complaining.  Great sequence on p 22, as Deathlok gains the upper hand, then gives the weaponless War-Wolf a chilling dead-eye look (pnl 5) before blowing him away (pnl 6), with Roussos providing a signature arterial-blood-red explanation point.

Doctor Strange 5
"Cloak & Dagger"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Frank Brunner and Dick Giordano
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Frank Brunner

In escaping the limbo inside the Eye of Agamotto, Dr. Strange has died, or has he? It is a new state of reality, which he is unable to readily master. His astral form seeks his body, but in his confusion he enters the wax figure of himself that Silver Dagger formed. Said villain is holding Stephen's love and protégé Clea prisoner, hoping to convert her to his ways. A former member of the Vatican, he relates to her how he was passed over for the title of Pope, and how he locked himself in the Vatican library for seven days, reading every book on the dark arts he could, until at last he mastered the ways of magic. He travelled the world studying all of the dark faiths, and when he had learned what he needed, he sought out  the Ancient One. Finding Dr. Strange instead, he believed his mission was to destroy the magician. When the wax figure appears, Dagger doesn't realize it is Stephen. Clea does, and when the madman leaves on errands, Clea touches the mannequin, giving him the anchor to reality he needs, sharing her body until they find his. This increases her power as well, and they escape, returning to their home where Wong still has Stephen's body. The doctor enters it, and is alive once again. When Silver Dagger follows as expected, he is not prepared for their dual onslaught, and even the Eye of Agamotto that he stole isn't enough to win the day, as it turns against the evil man, drawing him into the unreality of the Orb as it had done to Stephen before. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I always look forward to reading a new issue of Dr. Strange. Steve Englehart always find a way out of the mess his magician is in, and does so believably. And the unique structure of Frank Brunner's art is more in tune with its subject than perhaps any other artist. The union of Clea and Stephen strengthens their bond while establishing her developing character. The language is delightful ("a clarity and thrill and hot singing sweetness"), and little details like having Lovecraft's Necronomicon as one of Silver Dagger's study books is fabulous. There's even some humour, as Silver Dagger has to endure the Caterpillar's company for eternity! 

Matthew: Here it is, the wind-up of both Brunner’s run and the Silver Dagger arc.  Marvel Comics: The Untold Story quotes Steve Englehart regarding his collaboration with the deadline-challenged artist:  “It was definitely an Oscar and Felix kind of relationship.  I smoked dope, and dropped acid, and ate mushrooms—and I made my deadlines.  Brunner was also into that stuff, and in the end couldn’t keep up.  He would be saying ‘We could do this, we could do that,’ and I would be saying, ‘Yeah, but we have to get it into seventeen pages.’”  Author Sean Howe adds, “Brunner had started to lose interest anyway—he was more excited about a new project he’d been working on with [Steve] Gerber, a short story that featured the return of Howard the Duck.”

It probably goes without saying that visually, the team goes out on, um, a high note, as Giordano stays the course with his impeccable inking, and although I’ll definitely miss Brunner more as an artist than as a co-plotter, I liked the story a little bit better this time.  Silver Dagger’s origin is fascinating, and I’m actually glad he’ll be brought back in a few years (in Marvel Team-Up #76-77), especially since it is left to a writer of Chris Claremont’s caliber to do it.  The enhancement of Clea’s powers is long overdue, so I hope it won’t simply fall by the wayside as time goes by, while her bond with Stephen is deepened immeasurably by the totality of their “reunion,” which allows an intimacy that would be otherwise impossible between lovers—or a master and disciple.

Mark: Frank Brunner's tenure as artist and co-plotter comes to an end after a mere twelve issues (really only ten, since two were mostly reprints). Quality over quantity, since his collaboration with Steve Englehart on Doc Strange is rightly regarded as a highlight of the era. "Cloak and Dagger," while not their finest hour (it's hard to top killing the Ancient One and meeting God), is still a worthy addition to the unabridged Eye of Agamotto canon.

That purloined amulet is currently wielded by ex-Cardinal Silver Dagger, who we learn wigged out on witchcraft when passed over for Pope, traveling the world to learn at the knee of various mystics, and then murdering them.

I wonder if they had to write a fake fan letter from a Priest after this one...

Chris: Well, they can’t all be jaw-dropping mind-blowers, can they?  Still, Steve & Frank (in their final pairing on this title!) hit all the right notes as Doc returns to good-ol’ reality.  It makes sense that he must follow a progression that leads back to his body, rather than have Doc pop from the Orb straight into his self (thanks for not having him embalmed yet, Wong!).  Also, it’s only natural that the power of the all-seeing Eye should be turned against Silver Dagger.  Nice touch that Clea is called to assist in dispatching her tormentor, instead of being consigned to the sideline.  

Chris: The only question I have is: how old is Silver Dagger, anyway?  We’re not supposed to think that he was passed over for Pope when Paul VI was appointed in the early 1960s –are we?  If SD has been studying the arcane arts for, say, the last hundred years or so, it would’ve been intriguing if Steve had indicated how SD achieved this longevity (leafy greens?  tai chi?  mud baths -?)
A perceptive letter from that precocious Ralph Macchio observes (correctly) that Brunner has graced us with a particularly beautiful depiction of Clea, especially in the way he conveys “those subtle emotional changes on her face,” ranging from exhaustion and resignation (p 2, pnl 2, reprinted far above) to release (p 23, pnl 2) and relief (p 23, pnl 4).  
Mark: While SD is regaling Clea with his blood-stained past, the Doc fights his way back from unreality, first mistakenly animating the Strange mannequin that was beheaded last ish and randomly booting the severed head like a soccer ball in a great, throwaway touch of macabre humor.

Having fought back from death and unreality, Strange is aided in his victory by Clea's burgeoning power. Returning her to the title, as romantic interest and disciple to the new Sorcerer Supreme, was another slam dunk move by Englehart and Brunner.

Leaving the anti-social Mr. Dragger stranded in unreality, dialoguing with a giant, dope-smoking caterpillar leaves a smile on my face as I close the cover.

Thanks for the thrill-ride, Frank.

And Doc Strange fans, rest easy. For summoned from the mystic mists of the batty Bullpen, comes Gene Colan.

Ghost Rider 9
"The Hell-Bound Hero!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Jim Mooney and Sal Trapani
Colors by Jan Brunner
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Johnny Blaze has his work cut out for him. The crowds of San Francisco thinking he's the cause of their fears; the demon Inferno moving the bad events along; and Satan himself trying to convince Rocky Simpson that she has to pick between her father's soul and her protection of Johnny. She reluctantly gives up her love's protection, only to find that Satan never had her father's soul. Johnny realizes that his powers are suddenly gone, and he's alone against a mad crowd. Satan brings him down below to face a different hell. Johnny resists, and overcomes Inferno--against all odds--in a hand to hand fight. Just when all seems lost, a bearded man appears, citing Johnny's good intentions and fighting spirit. He is a free man, as his mysterious benefactor departs. In the next few days Johnny and Rocky break up; she can't live with having turned him in. Satan transforms Inferno to mortal form and sends him up to us... to work on tempting Blaze's spirit into wrongdoing. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I don't know how much Ghost Rider is intended as allegory for the good and bad in the human spirit, or good clean fun. I would think more the latter. I like Johnny's self assessment, "I'm just a motorized cowboy trying to survive!" There are a lot of dilemmas going down. Rocky has to face the demons of her own heart. Johnny's fight with Inferno is a great moment of spirit, perhaps why the bearded benefactor points to freedom. I think we all know who he is. Satan is quite literally the Biblical vision visually. Good issue.  

Chris: A somewhat momentous issue, as this title goes.  Johnny loses some of his powers, and his best gal; Johnny will regain the use of hellfire, but we’ll have to wait and see how he manages that.  Satan isn’t finished yet, although the letters page promises that we won’t be seeing as much of him as we have up til now.  With Rocky gone (well, for the moment), and less Satan (sorta), this title has a chance to move in a new direction (which will have to wait, thanks to – spoiler alert – the reprint next ish).  

Mooney makes up for his mostly-pedestrian depiction of Satan in GR #8, as we get a Goliath-sized, impolite-and-evil prince of lies this time. The Mooney/Trapani effort on the blazing skull is consistently bone-solid this time, too, as we get a few shocked and surprised expressions for Skullfireface in the mix as well.  Well-paced, sufficient action, credible story elements, moments of above-the-bar art – a satisfying issue all around.  

Matthew:  Individually, Mooney (as penciler) and Trapani are potentially problematic, but their pairing is fairly felicitous here, despite a glaring inconsistency when the script refers to Johnny riding his flame cycle and the artwork depicts a normal cycle.  Since the first three pages comprise a grand total of two images—even the splash being no more than a close-up of GR’s face—it’s clear they’re depending heavily on the visuals, and yet Isabella deserves credit for two things.  One is deciding to pull the strip from its rut of constant confrontations with Satan, and the other is giving the opposition equal time with the “Friend” who is clearly Jesus…at least, that was his intention until the dreaded Shooter lifted his leg on the storyline’s conclusion; stay tuned.

Adventure Into Fear 25
Morbius, the Living Vampire in
"And What of a Vampire's Blood...?"
Story by Steve Gerber and Doug Moench
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

As night falls, Michael Morbius, atop a city roof, is approached by the girl Tara, who wants him to accompany her to see the Caretakers. He agrees for his own reasons, but the two are attacked by masked killers in the service of the evil sorcerer Daemond, who's on the other side of the fence. Tara assumes her adult woman form in order to assist in battle. They win, but one of the attackers is Martine, Michael's lover, now brainwashed by Daemond. He cannot resist his vampire urge to drink her blood, but she is not seriously harmed. As the Caretakers send their army after Daemond, he first vaporizes Tara, then informs Morbius his death will ironically provide the energy to release the demons in Daemond's service upon our Earth.  -Jim Barwise

Jim: Another step in the Daemond/Caretaker struggle doesn't really move things along much. We do wonder about young Tara's purpose (having looked ahead, I know it) before she is mercilessly vaporized. Martine's background relationship with Morbius is shown briefly. There are some rather effective panels; the appearance of Daemond on the rooftop and the flashback pages for example. Something about the whole concept is interesting enough. 

Matthew: How apt that in this title, we encounter a name to strike fear into the heart of any true Bronze-Age fan, that of Frank Robbins, soon the scourge of Captain America in two separate strips, with whose cartoony pencils even Fearless (!) Frank Giacoia can only do so much.  Meanwhile, plotter Gerber passes this aforementioned “second-to-last chapter of the long-running Caretakers/Daemond serial” over to scripter Moench, who has reportedly promised to surprise us (and Steve) with “one of the most bizarre climaxes to any tale in a long, long while” next issue.  “The Faceless Ones” is a four-page reprint drawn by Myron Fass—later and better known as a prolific magazine publisher—from Adventures into Terror Vol. 2 #29 (March 1954).

Chris: “Now class – anyone caught passing notes will spend an hour looking at Frank Robbins’ art!”  That certainly was my first thought going in to this issue, and although too much of the art looked cartoonish and exaggerated, I thought Robbins did a fairly good job of realizing the ghastly look of Morbius himself.  The sequence when Morby succumbs to his thirst and preys on Martine was particularly effective, especially his (admittedly overdone) shock (p 15, last pnl), and remorse (top 16, first panel).  Giacoia provides his usually capable inks – a lesser inker would’ve undoubtedly made it much harder for me to say anything supportive about the art, so maybe I should award Frank G. some extra credit.  I wonder who’ll be on the art chores next issue?  After all, we don’t really want to introduce continuity at this late hour, do we?

It’s nice to have Martine back – I’m relieved to know that she was under Daemond’s thrall, and had not truly rejected Morbius.  Daemond has been left behind in this storyline, so I’ve lost sight of the nature of his misguided plan to save the world (not to be confused with the Caretakers’ harebrained scheme).  Speaking for myself, I think I’d rather preserve mankind thru genetic engineering, instead of subjecting humans to demon-rule.  Do we have a third option, maybe?
Last art point: we have yet another cover that has nearly nothing to do with the interior story.  Granted, it features Morbius menacing Tara and a sleeping Martine, which does involve characters who are featured in the story.  But why not have a cover depicting Morby battling a passel of demons?  Wouldn’t that be more intriguing, and more true to the story?  The cover, as it is, only serves to ghettoize Morbius as a “monster” comic, and fails to draw in fans looking for a “superhero” comic.
I didn’t realize Morbius won a Nobel Peace Prize (p 15) –oops.  

Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian 2
Cover by John Buscema

“Conan Bound”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by G. P. Lisa

“Zukala’s Daughter”
(reprinted from Conan the Barbarian #5, June 1971)

Thomas, Kane and Sutton continue the epic adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s novel The Hour of the Dragon with “Conan Bound.” As the vanquished Aquilonian army retreats to their capital city of Tarantia, Xaltotun takes the unconscious Conan to Tarascus’ castle in Belverus, the capital of Nemedia. There, the powerful sorcerer offers the fallen king a role in his conquest of all Hyboria. The Cimmerian refuses and is tossed in the dungeon. Soon, Zenobia, a lovely harem girl who has loved Conan from afar, approaches his cell and offers the keys to the lock and a dagger. While suspicious, the deposed monarch takes her offerings and frees himself. Escaping through the dungeon, Conan encounters and kills a bloodthirsty man-eating ape from the shores of the Sea of Vilayet. Continuing on, he comes across Tarascus’ chamber: he is telling a thief that he does not trust Xaltotun, worried why the sorcerer is keeping the news that Conan is still alive a secret from his co-conspirators Orastes and Valerius. Tarascus gives the man an accursed object that is one of the sources of Xaltotun powers and tells him to cast it into the sea. When the thief departs, the vengeful Conan attacks but Xaltotun is only slightly wounded and alerts the guards. The Cimmerian flees and finally makes his way outside the castle walls. A mile away, the barbarian rests at a ruined villa but is soon discovered by a roaming Nemedian adventurer. After a furious battle, Conan rides off, disguised in the armor of his fallen foe. -Thomas Flynn

Thomas Flynn: This seems like a transitional installment of The Hour of the Dragon adaptation. There’s certainly some action — a tussle with guards, the ape battle and the final swordfight — but there’s a three-page recap of previous events, loads of expository dialogue from Xaltotun and nothing that really matches the grand scope of the first issue. Conan is obviously doubtful of Zenobia’s intentions and I also smell something fishy. She seems to have materialized out of nowhere and is a bit too taken with the Cimmerian. Since I never read the original novel, guess we’ll have to see what happens regarding her. Maybe nothing. Roy is spot on as usual with his script but Gil doesn’t seem prepared for the heavy lifting. I’ve always been a fan of Kane but his artwork seems rushed. Everyone basically has the same facial features, which to me, resemble those of Michael Ironside. (“See you at the party Richter!”)

While I will never complain about a little dose of Barry Smith, it’s disappointing that we have yet another reprint of an old Conan the BarbarianThe Hour of the Dragon adaptation will go on for quite some time, so there was certainly enough material to fill each issue of Giant-Size Conan the BarbarianClick here if you want to read the original review of  “Zukala’s Daughter.” What stands out looking at the story — with five MU years of reviewing Conan and other assorted Robert E. Howard stuff under my belt — is how much Barry grew as an artist from his start on Conan the Barbarian to when he finally left. His early art is almost quaint, and so much less detailed. Still a treat though.

Giant-Size Dracula 3
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

"Slow Death on the Killing Ground"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Don Heck and Frank Springer
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Ray Holloway

On what should be a peaceful night in London, Quincy Harker attends a high class party at a rich estate. The good times are interrupted when a small army of terrorists invades and holds everyone hostage. Leader Elianne Turac demands that Quincy come with them as a hostage, otherwise everyone in attendance will be killed. The old vampire hunter complies, but so there are no witnesses, Turac orders everyone shot and killed, even the children. It is revealed that Turac is a centuries old woman. The daughter of the evil tyrant responsible for the death of Dracula's wife, she and her fiancé stumbled upon the carnage a vengeance- seeking Dracula wrought on her father and his men. After her fiancé was killed, Turac had to kill her own father, a vampiric victim of the Count. Seeking her own form of vengeance, Turac made a deal with the demon gods by sacrificing a small boy so that she would gain mystical powers and live forever. Feeling that her sacrifice was too unworthy, the demons granted her wish, but also punished her by making her blind. Using the profits that she made by selling heroin, she and her terrorist men operate out of an expensive plaza-like tower.

Turac reveals the reason she had Quincy kidnapped is that so he could give to her the secrets of the Montessi formula, so that she could use it to destroy all vampires. Turac's right-hand man, Stefan, takes some of the troops along for a car ride, with Quincy Harker, to investigate Dracula's latest murders. While two victims are being looked over by Inspector Chelms and Katherine Fraser, the old vampire hunter seizes the moment to commandeer the wheel, causing them to crash. As he crawls out of the wreckage, Quincy is approached by Dracula, who uses his mind-reading powers to find out the story behind Elianne Turoc. Realizing that she must be dealt with, Drac heads to her headquarters, but not before enslaving a woman with his bite so that she can travel ahead and run interference for him. At the tower, the Count sets off an alarm that alerts Turac to his presence. Her mad scientist lackey sets off all sorts of traps that Dracula must fight through, such as a garlic mist gas chamber, sonic beams, and laser attacks. Just when it looks like he is done for, his enslaved woman shuts off the power to the whole building. When Turac is able to get it back on, she finds that Dracula has killed her soldiers. Moving in for the attack, Drac kills the scientist by smashing him into a control panel and vanquishes Stefan by tossing him out a window. Armed with a sword, Elianne Turoc does her best to kill her hated enemy. It is all for naught, as Drac eventually bites her neck to make her one of his minions before he leaves. Chelms and Fraser arrive on the scene shortly after. When Fraser uses her powers to see the long miserable life that Turac has led, she kills the troubled, evil woman with a stake through the heart. -Tom McMillion

Chris: An improved effort from Mr Claremont, as he shows a much firmer grasp of Drac’s character this time out: Drac’s savoring of the upper-hand as he shakes-down Harker for information; Drac’s defiance when instructed by London PD to “stay;” Drac’s determination, and refusal to lie down and die, despite the physical trials Elianne puts him thru.  

Elianne is a formidable opponent, and nearly someone who could measure up against Drac – too bad we won’t be seeing any more of her (unless someone can sew her head back on, that is, and transfuse a few pints of type O). Pretty appalling body count in this issue, much more mayhem than in a typical ToD story.  Nice touch by Chris to give Elianne a moment’s insight into the evil in which she has embroiled herself, in her depthless quest to destroy the “Magyar.”  

Not much to say about the art – Springer’s inks often leave the panels looking unfinished, which sometimes works, but mostly doesn’t; overall, the art turned out better in the first chapter than the second.  Elianne has an effectively spooky look throughout.  I flipped thru the pages a few times to find a Drac highlight, so let’s go with p 18, pnls 3 and 4 (as Drac confronts the police, then gets all misty, reprinted above)
Peter Enfantino: The reprints this issue are: "The Man Who Changed" and "I Was a Vampire", with stunning Matt Fox art (both from Uncanny Tales #6, March 1953); "The Wedding Present" and "The Mark of the Vampire" (both from Spellbound #22, May 1954). All four from the glory days of pre-code horror!


  1. I missed getting Dr. Strange #5 when it was new in the racks for a quarter, but I'd rate that the artistic highlight for this batch. Of the rest, I enjoyed Englehart's mixture of humor and drama in this month's CA&TF -- aside from a flashback cameo in Avengers #108, this was my introduction to Madame Hydra, the new Viper, and she certainly came off as vicious -- seems Englehart wanted to make that clear from the get-go. Lovely yet lethal! And let's face it, Steve Rogers came up with about as good a costume in a short time as pretty much as most people would be able to do, maybe a bit better, with a very simple design and that infamous cape. About on the level of Daredevil's first costume. What's a bit difficult to believe is that 15 year old Peter Parker could design and produce his classic Spider-Man costume -- that would've taken a heck of a lot of work and he would have had to borrow Aunt May's sewing machine to do it and had a lot of luck that neither she nor Uncle Ben ever walked in on him while he was putting it together. A typical 15 year old kid's results would have looked sloppy as hell. Anyhow, I missed the next 3 issues of CA&TF and in the next issue I got, Rogers was back in his Cap gear and hunting for the Red Skull.

  2. Capes: well, Doc Strange, as seen here, and the Vision (who can at least become intangible)- and yep, that's it besides Thor. Capes just aren't acrobat wear- nobody tell Moon Knight when he shortly debuts!
    I appreciate the observation regarding Brunner's subtle facial expressions. It rings home a more sophisticated approach to interpreting a script. It's one reason Colan's the best available replacement.
    I'm back again to find one of the only discussions of Conan the Barbarian readily found on the 'Net. I had the urge to dig out what I have of the Thomas\Buscema run. For a guy with hairless eyebrows, Conan has perhaps the most consistent color title of the decade. I find its racial implications an interesting dimension: progressive in its day, but perhaps awkward today? This may be (along with the thud of the 2011 flick) one reason Howard's hero has largely vanished, despite Dark Horse's critically successful revival. It would be intriguing to see him return one day, but I can't help wondering if a new creation reflecting Howard's influence will not supplant it? My best friend from Sri Lanka introduced me to Conan in college- he was clear that Savage Sword was generally better yet! But I enjoy what I have, particularly the chronological structure Thomas depicted.
    This site's long been a favorite way to revisit these comics & decide what else I may wish to read or skip one day. My assignment for Back Issue telling the Marvel Con 75 story has put me in touch with fans, the photographer Sam Maronie, and Scott Edelman, so I have been reliving this era before my time on my podcast Creating Marvel if I might return the favor and entertain you gallant academia's. I am still collecting Marvel Con pics and stories if anyone reading this wants to play!