Wednesday, October 22, 2014

December 1974 Part Two: Wen-Di-Go So-Lo!

Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu 2
"The Devil-Doctor's Triumph"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Jack Abel
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Al Milgrom

Shang-Chi meets a female kung fu instructor, Sandy, who is intrigued by our young warrior.  They share dinner, and a quiet moment in Central Park.  The romantic possibilities of the evening are lost in the stealthy approach of Si-Fan assassins.  Shang-Chi is impressed by Sandy’s able dispatch of their opponents, but is concerned about how enthusiastically she seeks to punish them.  Sir Denis arrives to recruit S-C for an urgent mission to China; Sandy wishes S-C good night, and promises to meet him again.  S-C battles more agents of Fu Manchu on the plane, and then on the streets of Peking, until he meets Sir Denis’ contact in the city, who proves to be – Sandy herself!  S-C is entrusted with the safety of Sandy’s father, a respected scientist, until her father can safely defect to the West, and bring the secrets of his research project with him.  Fu manages to capture Sandy; next, S-C is distracted long enough to find the father dead of a self-inflicted wound, presumably to avoid abduction; S-C then is subdued by Fu’s agents.  S-C finds himself trapped in Fu’s Chinese stronghold.  Fu has reason to believe that the father confided the secret to S-C, and now Fu is determined to extract the scientist’s secret from his son.  S-C resists his father’s hallucinogenic truth serum – his battles with more Si-Fan provide sufficient exertion to allow his system to purge itself of the chemical’s influence.  In the process, S-C strikes back against skeletons – one of them, for only a moment, appears to be Sandy.  Convinced that the sight is a lie, S-C takes out the seeming vision with a direct blow to the head.  Sir Denis’ commandos join the fight, and rout Fu’s forces.  S-C asks after Sandy’s welfare, but Sir Denis regretfully informs him that she is dead.  S-C, in shock, quietly walks away. -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: The second installment of S-C’s giant-sizer is handled in a completely different manner from the first one.  Rather than one 24-page story and two 8-pagers, this time we have one new 40-page story providing all the original content.  Doug and Paul pull out all the usual stops: creeping attacks by Si-Fan, a secret mission from Sir D, death traps from Fu – it’s all here.  It would be easy to complain that this title is becoming formulaic, but the love interest involving Sandy is a new angle.  In a way, it’s a little surprising that S-C chose to trust her from the start – my first impulse was to call out from my seat in the theater, and shout at the screen: “Yo, Shang!  Don’t trust her, man!  She’s, like, a Fu-girl!  She’s gotta be!”  Instead, S-C finds himself uncharacteristically preoccupied at times by thoughts of Sandy, and doesn’t chastise himself for his momentary lack of focus.  Maybe, having another person to think about would be a good thing. 

Mark Barsotti: I settle in, sip my drink, and decide before cracking the cover, "No Paul Gulacy, this class is over." 

Perish forbid. Gulacy (impeccably inked by Jack Abel) serves up a forty page epic, excusing his absence from MOKF #23 ('cause nobody is Kirby-fast except Kirby) and not for the prestigious quantity, but the quality of the gorgeous graphics. This is Gulacy's first "post-Steranko" work. Jim's influence remains apparent, but aping the master is no longer an end itself; Steranko now serves as a springboard for Paul's maturing cinematic vision. The fight scenes are bodies-in-motion ballet. The romantic lead, Sandy, is so vivid and vivacious, she often seems like a 3-D pop-up, and every page is a delight, both serving the globe-trotting story and providing ample evidence of a first-rate talent taking his game to a whole different level.

Quite simply, it's breathtaking. 

Chris: The art is very close to its usual standard, only slightly short due to a few weak spots.  Gulacy’s hand had to be aching from laying-out twice as many MoKF pages this month than in a typical period (of course, the regular title suffers, as Diverse Hands will pencil S-C’s monthly mag for Jan ’75).  Overall, the inks are better than I usually expect from Abel, whose work can tend to the thin side.  Pages 10, 14, 18, 35, and of course 44 (left) turned out particularly well.  Although, I do feel duty-bound to point out an odd Escher-esque moment on p 32, pnl 2 (above) when it appears that the extended left leg of one Si-Fan somehow has reached around S-C’s right arm, even though the attacker is still about 10-12 feet behind S-C.  How the hell did that happen?  

Mark: An exciting if ultimately downbeat adventure, Doug Moench's story ultimately suffers in comparison to the art. Martial arts trainer Sandy, in addition to getting a rise out of Shang's staff, is revealed as both Sir Denis' agent and the daughter of a scientist Team Smith is trying to extract from Red China.

Of course Father Fu is also after Sandy's dad, who exits our tale mid-point, via Seppuku, and the climax finds our hero kung fu fighting his way through a maze full of assassins, hopped up on truth serum.

The heart-rending climax of the story, Shang inadvertently killing his new-found lady love, is not only given short-shrift emotionally, but fails on other levels. Since when does truth serum cause hallucinations? And even if Shang saw her as a death-head's demon, why was Sandy, amour and ally, "lunging forward to strike" in the middle of the maze?

And – perhaps best for his sanity – it's unclear at tale's end if Shang is even aware that Sandy's blood is on his and, more aptly, his father's, deadly hands.

Like he needs another reason to hate the evil bastard. 

Chris: The reprints are well-chosen, as we have two chapters of Yellow Claw (from issue #1, October 1956) with illustrations by Joe Maneely.  The Claw is devious, a scheming Fu Manchu in everything but name, and free of disagreeable rights-payment to the Rohmer estate.  Jimmy Woo’s crime-fighting affiliation is changed from FBI to SHIELD in these pages; I had forgotten that Steranko brought this character back again for his SHIELD stories, and that this same Agent Woo appears in other SHIELD-related stories soon after in the Bronze Age.

The Incredible Hulk 182
"Between Hammer and Anvil!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe

Wolverine has failed to capture the Hulk within the time frame that the Canadian government has allowed him. Much to the future X-Man's disappointment, the Canadian military swoops in on a carrier and scoops up the Hulk after bombarding him with knockout gas. As they fly above the wilderness, the Hulk wakes up and is not too happy with his current situation so he punches his way out of the carrier and lands in the woods. After wandering around, he stumbles upon a homeless man named Crackajack Jackson. Crackajack has been a traveling hobo for a long time so he welcomes the Hulk by his campfire. The Hulk is hesitant at first, but all it takes is the offering of some beans to make the two friends. Crackajack even teaches the Hulk to write his own name, much to the monster's delight. Meanwhile, two thugs have escaped from a prison chain gang, chained together by the wrists. One is named Hammer, and he hates all white people. The other is called Anvil, and he hates all blacks. These two convicts come upon an injured alien being whose ship had crashed. Hammer shoots the alien in a panic but the metal bullets have a reverse effect on the creature, enabling him to recover from his injuries. To show his gratitude, the alien rewards the salt and pepper duo by turning their connecting shackle into a powerful material made from his planet. Angry at first that the alien has permanently joined them together, the two jailbirds later rejoice when they discover that their new shackle gives them great strength and power. Seeking revenge against their prison captors, Hammer and Anvil head back to the penitentiary to get some revenge. In a strange coincidence, Crackajack
was traveling to the very same jail; his son is Hammer. The Hulk obliges to take him there. After busting through a police roadblock, the Hulk leaps over the prison walls into the yard, with Crackajack in his arms. Hammer and Anvil have been beating everyone in their sight. When Hammer sees his own father, he blames him for all the misery in his life, accusing him of never being around while he was growing up. Crackajack attempts to stop his son from walking away from him by grabbing the alien shackle, but the old tramp dies after receiving an energy burst. Filled with rage now that his new best friend is dead, the Hulkster attacks Hammer and Anvil. Even though it's two against one, the Hulk has the upper hand until the duo wraps the shackle around his neck. As he is about to choke to death, the Hulk is able to break the shackle in half. Since they now have some psychic bond together because of the alien technology, the two convicts scream out in a world of mental pain. The Hulk scoops up Crackajack's carcass, and leaps away. The story ends with the Hulk burying his old friend in the woods. The Hulk uses his new writing ability to scrawl out a makeshift grave honoring the poor bum. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: Hammer and Anvil have always interested me as villains. Their weapon is pretty unconventional, even for the Marvel Universe. This would be a typical Hulk story except Wolverine's brief third appearance makes it one of the more rare sought after issues. Too bad Crackajack met such an untimely demise. I'll take a black hobo, even one who looks like he walked out of a Disney cartoon, any day over Rick Jones.

Matthew Bradley: This is the mirror image of #180, with Wolverine appearing only on the first page, which presumably inflated whatever I paid for it as a back issue to many multiples of its 25¢ cover price.  I find it faintly hilarious that Len and Herb follow their creation of a Marvel superstar with that of such duds as Hammer; his uneasy ally, Anvil (who barely looks human at times); and his estranged father, Crackajack.  The Defiant Ones rip-off is flagrant, Greenskin’s literacy is a convenient device that will probably soon be forgotten, and the story is soggy with coincidences, e.g., the bullet-absorbing alien happens to have technology that turns H&A’s chain into a weapon, the object of the hobo’s quest happens to be said newly minted super-villain, etc.

Scott McIntyre: I’m of two minds on this issue. On one hand, it’s ridiculous that these two “Defiant Ones” wannabes just happen to run into an alien, who just happens to get life from hot lead and who just happens to have magical powers to reward these guys, and then promptly vanishes, never to be seen again, is just too contrived for words. Where is this being from? Why is he here? Where did he go? Who cares, right? As long as we get to the pounding. On the other hand, the relationship between Crakajack and Hulk is very sweet. Sure, it’s a 70’s version of the Bride of Frankenstein sequence with the blind hermet, but it works. And yep, once Hulk makes a friend, especially one who is referenced maybe once in the future, we know he won’t last the length of the story. I wonder if Hulk’s rudimentary writing ability will remain with him or if it’s a one-shot like the alien?

The Wolverine’s exit is hysterical. The notion of him being 19 years old at this point at least gives a reason for his mini-tantrum at having been recalled so suddenly. The Hulk breaks out of his cage and leaves a swath of fallen forest in his wake and the Canadian military doesn’t try to track him. So, jeez, put Wolvie back out on his tail. Nope, off to the cheesy adventure. It’s interesting to note that Crackajack tells Hulk they’re all out of beans, but a few panels later, with no indication they stopped at a King Kullen, they have more beans. Finally, if the Hulk is having fun and is at peace, shouldn’t he be reverting to Bruce Banner?  Points for the relationship, but deduct a few stars for the rest of this mess.

Master of Kung Fu 23
"River of Death!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by John Costanza and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Al Milgrom

Sir Denis recruits Shang-Chi to join him and Black Jack for a Fu-foiling mission to the Amazon.  Sir Denis has reason to believe that Nazi fugitive Wilhelm Bucher is alive and hiding out in the jungle.  Bucher is suspected to be in possession of plans for a secret weapon; Sir Denis’ concern is that Fu Manchu might be forming an alliance with Bucher in order to construct the weapon.  Sir Denis’ Amazon guide, Raymond Strawn, is outraged that Sir Denis intends to bring Shang-Chi – the son of Fu himself! – on this mission.  S-C’s only response is to vanish into the underbrush.  Strawn’s boat is attacked by Si-Fan assassins, who Strawn guns down mercilessly.  Sir Denis is knocked overboard, and is rescued from an alligator by S-C, who had been following the boat all along from shore.  When Strawn sights Fu’s paddleboat further downriver, S-C dives into the water and swims for it, battling Fu’s warriors once on board.  S-C learns that Fu is not on the boat, while Strawn (now alongside, in his own craft) reveals himself to be Bucher.  Bucher accuses S-C of having tipped off Fu (it turns out that Bucher’s too much of a master-racist to have ever seriously considered a partnership with an Oriental).  Bucher clips S-C with a bullet, and Sir Denis and Black Jack watch helplessly as S-C disappears under the water. -Chris Blake
Chris: The basic premise is a bit of a stretch – Bucher disguised himself as Strawn (complete with MI-style tear-off latex face!), so that he could help Sir Denis locate himself (ie Bucher), and prevent Bucher (ie Strawn –no, wait a second) from allying with Fu, with whom he had no intention of collaborating – and, as it turns out, neither did Fu!  Still good fun – I’m not complaining.  One of the strengths of this title is the lack of reliance on a particular setting – since Fu is a multi-national chaos-bringer, S-C’s gotta make sure his passport is up-to-date (hey wait – S-C doesn’t even have a library card!).
You can’t judge a comic by its credit line.  When I first read that the art was Milgrom/Janson, my next thought was, “Okay, who’s on the art for the next issue?”  But I’m glad I didn’t give in to an anti-Al bias, because the art is surprisingly good (am I saying that because I went in with such low expectations?  Could be).  Clearly, Al attended to the look that already had defined this young series: coherent fight sequences, action compressed by small panels, close-ups when you need ‘em, etc.  Pages 14-15 are notably effective, as the inter-cutting allows different aspects of the action to advance simultaneously.  Janson’s inks are uncharacteristically clear, providing texture (and facial details!) without lapsing into murk.  If you’d given me twenty guesses, I doubt I’d have successfully identified either artist on this issue – a pleasant surprise.  
The two-page spread has been proven to be less-effective for this title than others, but I like how Al (on p 26-27, reprinted far below) brings a little of the rooftop crane-shot from You Only Live Twice (you know, when the camera’s leading Bond as he’s bowling over a succession of assailants).  

Mark: Oh, for Forbush Man's sake, Gulacy's gone again?

Yep, but Al Milgrom (inked by Klaus J) is a more talented Shang-sub than hapless Ron Wilson, so while the art's better than merely serviceable, what garners "River of Death!" a three shuriken grade is Doug Moench finally nudging the storyline beyond the stagnant Fu's-assassins-try-to-kill-his-son rinse/repeat cycle that I carped about last ish.

Nothing revolutionary, mind you, still just the core cast of Shang, Sir Denis, Black Jack, and Father Fu. But this time the Asian depot's focus isn't filicide but securing Nazi-era wonder weapons from hiding-in-South-America Hitlerite, Wilhelm Bucher. If Shang happens to bite it, well, that would merely be a collateral damage bonus for FMC.

New Sir Denis recruit Raymond Strawn has their boat ready to chase Fu up the Amazon, but Strawn's trigger-happy hatred of all Asians doesn't bode well for the mission, and Sir D knows (and the alert reader suspects) that Strawn is Bucher in a Mission Impossible rubber face mask all along.

Points off for Shang battling an alligator just two tales removed from mixing it up with Jaws. Consider yourself warned, Moench, any squids show up in the next year and you're on double-secret probation!

But the Third Reich's wonder weapons are still out there, moss-covered but still potent, somewhere in the eternal rain forest, and with the proper meditative vibe (no, I'm not peeking ahead), Mr. Gulacy may grace us with his presence next month.

The Man-Thing 12
"Song-Cry... of the Living Dead Man!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

The Man-Thing is drawn to an abandoned asylum at the edge of the swamp by negative emotion that causes him great pain. Brian Lazarus, a man who's been living in the abandoned building for several days, is the source of those emotions. He witnesses Brian attacked by his own personal demons, which seem real until the Man-Thing jumps to Brian's defence, and watches them vanish. Brian is able to leave, and find his way to the Kozy Korner Motel, where he meets Sybil Mills. He relates his descent into madness and despair, feeling that all others have turned against him. It strikes a note of camaraderie between them. When Brian's visions return, the Man-Thing is close by, and in his efforts to help, Sybil is struck by mistake. The shock that Brian is able to care for her dispels the demons for good, as the two humans find their humanity again. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I'm not quite sure what Brian actually saw; his ghosts or demons were real enough for the Man-Thing and Sybil to see, so they can't be completely imaginary. The cause of his madness is unclear as well, but both these aspects are irrelevant to the lesson learned by the two at the end. Satisfying, if not a great tale to remember. The stormy weather and clarity of the visions are good for some visual chills.

Mark: On his signature title (at least until Howard debuts), Steve Gerber perplexes and occasionally vexes, neither of which is necessarily a bad thing.

Under the loosey-goosey editorial hand of Roy Thomas (who deserves major props for granting "his" bullpen carte blanche to let their freak flags fly), Steve is now marching Manny into any dysfunctional social/psychological nooks and cranial crannies he wants to explore – a swamp being the perfect metaphorical location for Gerber's journeys into various hearts of darkness - and 30-plus years of funnybook conventions be damned.

Wherever their exotic elements, the other "cutting-edge" books of the day, from Starlin, TOD, Deathlok, MOKF (and the less successful Killraven, WBN, etc.) still feature hero/anti-heroes who plot and plan to embrace their destinies, or escape them. 

The Man-Thing can't think, let alone plot or plan. Only capable of observing the world around him, he's the ultimate voyeur, and with the amplified feelings of those he encounters replacing thought, he's the ultimate empath. Manny experiences all emotions, but only fear brings forth the cleansing/killing fire. 

It doesn't take a dime store diploma in psychology to see Manny as a fictionalized, funhouse mirror version of the writer. Creative types oft observe humanity with heightened X-ray vision because they're incapable of action. They feel pain, their own and the world's, more keenly than their more socially skilled peers. And they're often paralyzed by fear – of girls, bullies, all the disappointments and compromises of approaching adulthood, feeling if they could only somehow burn all the crippling terror from their sensitive soul, then every hope and dream - maybe even the cheerleader -  would be within reach.  

Thus, the Man-Thing, shambling through the murky swamp of eternal adolescence, feeling all the pain without a thought in his head, far removed from the funnybook adventures of saving Gotham City or diving under the covers so Aunt May doesn't glimpse your Spidey suit.

Matthew:  They say Buscema—who resumed his Man-Thing career with last month’s GS #2, and with these layouts begins a brief stint on the monthly book—hated drawing super-heroes.  Whether he liked drawing muck-monsters any better, I don’t know, but if Manny is going to be turned over to a more traditional artist than Ploog or (my preference) Mayerik, they don’t get any better than Big John; likewise, if Klaus must be allowed near pen or brush, let it be on a strip such as this that suits his style. Steve is back in form, his “Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man” at once showing us the terrible road not taken by Sheldon Goldenberg in Marvel Two-in-One #6 and anticipating his notorious text pages in Howard the Duck #16, although for different reasons.

Chris: This one’s a stunner.  Steve tricks us into thinking that Brian might be a former asylum inmate  He’s come unhinged, yes, but it’s not due to some intolerable trauma – Brian’s loss of connection with reality stems from accumulated damage wrought by years of pointless existence, with nothing but empty demands on his time, and the need to generate and pay out money, without any sense of meaningful purpose or accomplishment.   Brian’s distress is so palpable to him, that (perhaps due to the influence of the supernatural swamp) his preoccupying oppression assumes a three-dimensional manifestation!  The song-cry manifesto is an inspired bit of free association, with a madman’s take on both “A Day in the Life” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” (also including a clever reference, in “orange clockwork,” to Anthony Burgess’ devastating, disturbing take on the corrosive effect of societal programming).  Another nifty trick by Steve toward the end, as we’re led to expect that Manny is terrifying Brian and Sybil (p 23, last panel), until the page-turn reveals Brian’s tormentors, whom Brian has never been able to dismiss for long.  Maybe Sybil will be of help to Brian, finally, to be rid of his demons.  

This is the same Buscema/Janson team who provided somewhat uneven art for G-S M-T #2; this time, the results are far superior.  The mood (aided by Wein’s colors) is dark and oppressive throughout, most notably on p 11 (reprinted far above).  We get consistently expressive faces from the characters (better than usual, since Janson typically doesn’t finish faces as completely as I feel he should), and the appearance of the marauding mob (p 26-27, reprinted below) is exaggerated and unreal, without being absurd (the accusatory piece of paper, with “LIES” printed down its front, is more clever than silly to me).  
Lenny, from Brooklyn, sends a letter with a short critique of each of the first eight issues of the series.  He requests that Schist be revived as an “arch-enemy type” character, that the stories include “a little more action,” and that Steve “stick to stories that can be believed.”  Lenny also asks if Manny could battle the Hulk.  The Superman comics are over there, in the rack to your left, Lenny.  Stick with what works for you.  

Scott: Well, the previous issue was Ploog’s last, so this is already a strike against. However, there’s something about Buscema and Janson’s art that is really very lovely. I think I’ll put my Ploog bias away and see what happens. (pause…) Okay. I’m back. It was…interesting although the page of text, Brian’s rambling prose, wasn’t gripping enough to keep me reading it. The rest was just a bunch of metaphysical claptrap. For these two uninteresting people, Rich Rory is shoved aside? As much as I enjoyed the art, there’s something missing. Ploog’s work was eerie, creepy and otherworldly. That is sorely lacking from this issue. It’s a huge loss, actually, and sad to see.

Mark: Which brings us to "Song-Cry...of the Living Dead Man," bringing Manny to the window of institutionalized ex-(M)ad man Brian Lazarus, beset by demons largely of his own creation. Writing copy for wrinkle cream led to Brian no longer being able to listen to the Beatles, and his psychosis mushroomed from there. Gerber obviously sees Lazarus as a sympathetic figure, but no super villain forced him to whore his talents to jingle-writing. And the demons that assault him in the loony-bin – cops, butchers, landlords – don't want to steal Brian's soul. They just want him to pay his bills. A real world pain in the ass, no doubt, but hardly fodder for psychic terror.

Like many of Gerber's characters, Lazarus' troubles are common-place and of his own making. Does Steve really see these unholy fools as put-upon and oppressed victims, worthy of rooting for? Or is he subtly satirizing the navel-gazing neurosis and sense of entitlement of the coming-of-age Me Generation?

At question isn't the story mechanics of how last issue's Missy the dancer and Manny's unthinking involvement birth new hope for Mr. Lazarus. It's rather, does Lazarus deserve a second chance and does the reader really care for his fate, one way or the other?

What's the verdict on a comic that regularly deconstructs the genre so completely that some see it as unabashed masterpiece, while others can make the case – with arguments perhaps as strong – that the book often fails to fulfill its artistic mandate, both within its genre and as stand alone "literature?"


Marvel Spotlight 19
The Son of Satan in
"Demon, Demon -- Who's Got the Demon?"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Daimon battles Allatou, a social-climbing menial in Satan’s court, who hopes to curry favor by killing Daimon and bearing his soul back to hell.  Allatou’s ability to rapidly switch to a new host pits Daimon against different members of Melissa Manners’ family.  Daimon, exhausted and frustrated, finally backs out of Melissa’s bedroom, and traps Allatou within by burning an ankh into the doorway.  Katherine Reynolds and reporter Dan Crandall trace Daimon to the Manners’ home.  Daimon resumes the fight with Allatou, who surprises Daimon with another quick host-hop – as Daimon loses his grip on his trident, a stray burst of soulfire removes the ankh and allows Allatou to run rampant in the house.  Reynolds and Crandall observe the bizarre battle from outside, until Allatou claims Crandall as host.  Daimon takes advantage of a clear shot and sears Crandall’s form with soulfire, fixing Allatou in place.  Daimon succeeds in expelling Allatou, as he inflicts “Satan’s own punishment for recalcitrant demons: that they should live out their lives . . . as humans.” -Chris Blake

Chris: Allatou poses a genuine threat to Daimon, as his unpreparedness for her unique ability puts him at a clear disadvantage.  A demon-fight is the right kind of story for this title; I much prefer it to the big-stretch time-travel bit Steve threw at us in MS #16-17.  
The battle is nasty-fun, as Allatou clearly enjoys inflicting harm – but, as the switches continue, it gets a bit monotonous.  The fight might’ve had more drama if we had an idea of what Daimon hoped to accomplish if he were to strike Allatou with soulfire; that way, each missed opportunity to burn her would carry a bit more weight.  I was surprised there was no mention about physical harm to Allatou’s hosts – Daimon bangs them all around pretty furiously, and Allatou suggests that the people she possesses would, in fact, experience pain.  You’d think that Daimon either would have to push past his concern for the Manners’ well-being so that he could squash the demon within, or that he would dismiss Allatou’s claims as lies; in fact, there’s no mention of whether or not Daimon should legitimately be concerned.  
My first thought, as I looked at the indistinct rendering of Reynolds and Crandall on the first three pages, was that Esposito was among the absolute worst choices to ink Colan on this title.  Fortunately, my initial concerns were not borne out, as the art improves noticeably as we get into the battle.  It still is uneven at times, and not as solid as it had looked with Chiaramonte’s inks in MS #18, but good enough overall.  I like what Gene & Mike were able to do with Allatou’s many ghastly faces while in host-mode, and Daimon’s controlled fury-release (p 27, panels 2-4, left) was effectively done as well.  Roussos, as usual, contributes some dark hues, as well as some striking reds at times, to contribute to the mood.
Matthew: This is another example of why I’m glad I backtracked to catch up on some of these supernatural strips I never followed as a kid, a happy marriage of word and image with enough nuances to transcend what could have been a mere Exorcist rip-off.  When well matched with subject matter and inker (in this case, the omnipresent Esposito), as he is here in both respects, Gentleman Gene has no peer, while Steve’s story is solid in its own right and also as another step in the development of Daimon, Katherine, and their friendship.  It’s a shame that we apparently won’t be seeing any more of reporter Dan Crandall, because although somewhat annoying, he is obviously meant to be:  a good supporting character and a nice foil for Katherine.

Marvel Team-Up 28
The Amazing Spider-Man and Hercules in
"The City Stealers!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Mooney and Vince Colletta
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Dick Giordano

After an earthquake, despite the city’s being built on solid bedrock, Peter learns from ESU seismologist Professor Aldritch that it had two focal points, at opposite ends of Manhattan.  Meanwhile, Hercules traces the southern tremors to Wall Street, where beneath the pavement he sees an earth-digging machine being operated by a giant robot, whose twin subdues Spidey just south of the Bronx.  The robots have severed the island’s interior foundation so that a nuclear sub can haul it out of New York Bay and hold it for a $2 billion ransom; our heroes free themselves and disable the robots—inhabited by humans in thrall to They—but the sub escapes as Hercules drags the island back into its place, leaving untold damage to its bridges and tunnels. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Gerry reclaims MTU from Len, and while trading it for the FF may seem like a comedown from “the world’s greatest comic magazine,” there is an unassailable logic in having the same guy handle both that and Amazing Spider-Man, which Conway will write until he decamps for DC in the fall.  Ironically, he begins his second stint with this notorious talewith its two-page spread of Hercules—whom he has featured in Thor of late—towing Manhattan Island.  This steaming pile of B.S. ends with Roy furiously backpedaling (“So that’s exactly the way that Merry Gerry told it to us, friend!  And, quite frankly, we’re not sure if we believe it, either!”); it might have been better to frame it as, say, an Olympian bedtime story than to try to have their cake and eat it, too.

Joe: I feel the same way about this one as I did when it first came out. Meh. I mean, I liked the juxtaposed story lines that eventually meet up, but the villains are lame, the big reveal is so-so, and Hercules is made out to be a bit too strong, even though he's Hercules. The mayor running in to complain about the damage to the bridges and tunnels is good because it's so realistic, but Spidey just tossing off "Oh, Reed Richards can fix it" is a lot of pressure. Doesn't that poor slob have enough to deal with?

Scott: What the hell was that all about? Can I even comment on the stupidity of this story when even Roy Thomas mentions how little it makes sense in the final panel? I guess not. Except that there has to have been some loss of life in the flooded tunnels, no? At any rate, even though Jim Mooney isn’t the most dynamic artist in the bullpen, there is something pleasantly retro about his work. Other than that, this was a bit of a time waster.

Luke Cage, Power Man 22
"The Broadway Mayhem of 1974"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Ron Wilson and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Power Man and D.W. look over the damage at the movie theater caused by the hero's last tussle with a super-villain. Power Man tells D.W. about how he heard through Doc Burstein that his old flame Claire is living in Los Angeles. Cage plans on visiting her, but when he goes up to his office he's ambushed by Stiletto and a new villain named Discus. These two bad guys are like a force of nature as they bombard Power Man with heavy weaponry as well as their fists. The brawl takes to the streets of the city as Cage has a hard time beating the two. Just when it seems like he has the battle won, the villains mount a comeback. Eventually, Cage is able to defeat them both. Out of the shadows appears Tyler Stuart, a former warden at the prison that Power Man had once spent time at, and who was fired after Cage escaped. He pleads with Power Man to let the bad guys go because they are his sons. Since Tyler was the only prison warden to treat Cage fairly, he does him a solid and turns his two goofy sons over to him. The story ends with Cage, accompanied by D.W., getting on a bus to go visit Claire in California. -Tom McMillion

Take note, Professor Joe

Scott: Action-packed and brutal, but also somewhat tedious. The reveal of the warden and his sons was anticlimactic. I was more interested in Cage’s decision to go to California to find Claire and the distraction was frustrating. Note to Stiletto; if you want to safeguard your “secret identity,” consider wearing a mask. The art isn’t as competent as it was last issue. Ron Wilson does better work than this and some of his pencils reminded me a little of Tuska’s. An okay time-passer, interesting in how eager these kids were to kill but, overall, nothing special.

Strange Tales 177
The Golem in
"There Comes Now Raging Fire!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Tony deZuniga
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Frank Brunner

Kaballa, the Demon Who Dressed Like a Dance Instructor, continues his plot against The Golem by unleashing more of his demonic thugs upon our big stone hero. The Golem spares no time showing Kaballa, the Demon Who Never Really Does Anything, that his horn-headed henchmen are no match for The Mound of Clay That Walks Like a Man. In the end, Kaballa, the Demon Who Executes the Same Plan Every Issue, decides it might be easier if he directs his attacks on Golem's human buddies. But that's a story for another time. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Obviously Friedrich and deZuniga had an inkling this series wasn't selling like hotcakes (or even as well as Kid Colt, I would imagine) but it's apparent they weren't told the axe was falling until they'd completed this job. As our unnamed editor rightly points out on the "Letters to the Golem" page, "we never quite found ourselves able to decide on a direction for the strip." That was evident throughout the short three-issue run. I have to ask: why are Kaballa's boys dressed in spandex and capes? In fact, why is their boss, a guy who's practically screaming to the world "I am the epitome of manliness!" wearing a discarded uni from the JLA? Friedrich's prose this time out sways from "Gosh Wow" to the academic. Oh, and that's a compliment. Despite Mike's plot-that-shall-go-nowhere, he writes some snappy dialogue and captions. I'll say what I didn't say about "IT!" when it went under: it's a shame this horror series wasn't given much of a chance as the germ of a really good idea was hidden beneath a lot of silliness.

Chris: “Well, we hope you enjoyed the story so far.  No, sorry, there is no fourth reel – the story ends here, you see.  Please file out by the door to your right.”  After a bit of business about having to prove to the blockheaded older faculty member (as we’re introduced, at this late hour, to new supporting characters) that the Golem is for real, he springs into action, and we have a brief battle with the fire demons, then we’re done.  So, after a 14-page chapter (which has to rate among the skimpiest original stories for a title that’s not a split-book), the Golem shuffles toward oblivion (I think the character has a sort-of wrap-up in MTIO, but Dean Peter could tell you that for sure).  

Matthew: Or see my review of the Golem's debut in Strange Tales #174 (June 1974).

Chris: DeZuniga’s art looks better here than in the last issue, although I’m not sure about the little dance step Kaballa is trying out on p 6 (reprinted far above).  There’s something strangely inconsistent about Steve (Six Million Dollar) Austin’s inks, which are solid for the first three pages, and good for the action sequence as well, but in between, the people tend to look unfinished.   Mantlo has provided some very effective colors in recent issues of  The Avengers, but here, I think the palette is much too bright, whether it’s for clothes (yellow, pink, red), bricks on the lab wall (bright red), smoke in the lab (lavender?),and especially for Kaballa’s lair, which looked more murkily menacing last ish.
And what’s with the full-page ad for the Hitler photo book?  Here, in a title about a legendary Yiddish hero -?!

Peter: The reprint, "The Girl Behind the Glass!" (from Astonishing #59, March 1957), is not bad at all. A deep-sea diver discovers a glass pane at the bottom of the ocean and when he clears away the muck, he finds he's looking down into Atlantis. A gorgeous blonde makes eyes at him and he finds he can't get her out of his dreams. When he goes back for a return visit, he finds a way in to the glass dome but now he sees the dame as she really is: eight feet tall, with gills and shark's teeth. Thinking the girls back home might be a better fit, he hightails it before he's served for dinner. The art is credited to Jay Scott Pike but I'd swear it was Don Heck.

Jay Scott Who? The Heck it is!

Supernatural Thrillers 10
"A Choice of Lions!"
Story by Tony Isabella, Val Mayerik, and Len Wein
Art by Val Mayerik and Dan Adkins
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Fearful she's losing the confidence of her Elemental allies, Zephyr travels to earth to regain control of The Living Mummy. N'Kantu is wandering the desert in search of the stolen ruby scarab and recalls a time when he fought and killed a lion to show his tribe he was worthy of being called a man. Hidden in an oasis, the pair of thieves known as Olddan and The Asp watch as the Mummy shambles by. The Asp reveals his plan to Olddan: he will sell the Red Scarab to Dr. Skarab and then steal it back from him. Meanwhile, the Mummy stumbles across a female soldier running from a tank. He offers her shelter from the hail of bullets and, in the end, they put the tank to rest. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: There's a lot going on here, several threads that, hopefully, will come together soon. All the threads are interesting; there's not much fat on these gauzed bones. Some may say that N'Kantu's flashback is coincidental since he runs into this girl who has to prove herself by destroying a tank but I can live with that. Refreshing to see a normal Joe adopting a monicker without donning tights (or will he be fitted soon?) or a silly cape and the brief subplot involving Zephyr and The Elementals reminds us where the series is really going. I wonder why this series lasted so much longer than the other fifth-tier Marvel monsters like IT! and The Golem since, at this early stage, it also resembles a strip in search of an identity. Love me my Mayerik monsters.

Chris: It’s especially difficult to have a fill-in issue for a bi-monthly mag, since you end up asking readers to go four whole months without any new content, or advancement of the ongoing storyline.  Now, this may not be a fill-in in the traditional sense – after all, Mayerik still is our artist, and is credited as co-plotter along with Isabella.  But, we have Len listed as “pinch-scripter,” which tells you that Tony was called away to cover something else (FF #153, I suppose), so the staffing merry-go-round lands on Len to keep the title afloat.  So we meet the Asp, and learn of his skeevy scheme, and that’s fine, but the important thing is how Len makes the most of this one-off assignment, as he provides an effective exploration of N’Kantu’s character; we see him seek to defend those in need, and to further another warrior’s rite of passage.  

I had expressed hope that Mayerik & Adkins would deliver a stronger effort than they had in ST #9, and they came thru.  The nearly faceless mummy continues to be able to convey some emotion (almost like a Man-Thing might, right Val?).  I especially enjoyed the close-ups of the Israeli soldier, Racha, and her looks of amazement when in the selfless mummy’s presence. 
Peter: Our brief shock story reprint this issue, "Flying Saucer" was pulled screaming from the pages of Adventures into Weird Worlds #16 March 1953.

The Mighty Thor 230
"The Sky Above... The Pits Below"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Thor takes an unconscious Hercules to see Iron Man (aka Tony Stark) to use his memory inducer so they can see what has driven the Olympian mad. Herc awakes, and thinks his friends are the demons that kidnapped him, and strikes out wildly. The goddess Krista is able to get through to him when they cannot, and Hercules regains his sanity. Meanwhile, in Asgard, Hildegarde finds that a scarce Odin has in fact disappeared, and even his Vizier doesn`t know where he is. Hercules leads Thor to the underground where he had been taken, and which his memory of is very unclear. They encounter demons as they go deeper, though they are different than before. Eventually they realize that the demons are the result of despair, and of fear, in themselves as well as externally. This knowledge frees them. -Jim Barwise

Jim: With its promising cover, this issue looks pretty good. It`s not bad; the lure of a great villain not quite living up to expectations, but providing a satisfactory ending. More intriguing is the question of Odin`s whereabouts, I seem to recall an interesting storyline involving this coming up.

Scott: So, what was all this about? Hercules and Thor versus fear? That’s it? Fear made tangible? Or is this continued in the next issue? I had to sit through page after page of Thor’s incessant, unremitting babbling for that? Look, so far every sentence I’ve written has been a question. I can’t wrap my brain around this one. I was at least expecting some kind of would-be terrifying beast, but then it dawned on me that Rich Buckler, as much of a Kirby-cat as he is, is not the King himself, Only Jack had the unerring capacity to draw terrifying creatures. So, I wasn’t about to get any real bang from the Buckler here. Instead, we get boasting, posturing, overdrama and stalling. The usual. I find it ridiculous that speaking the word “despair” is what triggers your downfall. You’d feel the emotion long before you give it a verbal definition. And what if you weren’t the type to have loud, endless monologues? Would this enemy never win? Easily one of the more idiotic and anticlimactic stories in recent memory.

Chris: Clever premise by Gerry, as he builds on the mystery he had established last ish, and then complements it with plenty of ack-shee-yon.  I was satisfied with Gerry’s choice to let Fear be Fear, and not have Fear be revealed as a force remotely manipulated by a foe to undermine our heroes (or something). Hercules’ let-the-sun-shine-in moment proves a fitting solution, and also makes for suitable-for-framing art.  Buckler’s layouts are in Buscema’s class this time out.  How about the tender moment shared by Krista and Hercules (reprinted far above)?  Herc’s steely-eyed determination (p 10, last pnl) is very cool too, and reminds me of Romita (did I tell you that I once owned a Hercules t-shirt, art by Romita?  I doubt it would fit today, but I still kinda wish I had it, you know?).  

Chris: Hey – have you seen Odin?  What the hell – where’s Odin?  Damnit, not again – and look, he left his pills.  That’s great – just great.  I told you not to leave the keys here.  Jeee-eezz . . . well, I’ll check the racetrack – you check the strip bar.  No – on second thought, why don’t you check the racetrack.  
Matthew:  I’ve knocked Thor often enough that I take genuine pleasure in giving unqualified praise to the latest entry, so much more satisfying than this month’s other trip made by Hercules into the bedrock beneath Manhattan (see Marvel Team-Up…if you must), although that is setting the bar pretty low.  The magic hands of Joltin’ Joe pull Riotous Rich right up there, with a full complement of spectacle and interesting layouts, while for a change Gerry goes for some clean, straightforward storytelling, with a satisfyingly ambiguous conclusion and a manageable single subplot that leaves us wanting more.  Although I’m unaware of any thematic connection, the title apparently riffs on that of the Oscar-winning 1961 documentary The Sky Above, the Mud Below.

The Tomb of Dracula 27
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

In his search for the pieces of the Chimera statue, Dracula finds himself trapped in a cellar by Dr. Sun. Holy water pours down from a vent that will surely extinguish the Count if he does not escape. Turning himself into mist form, he seeps out of an opening where the water is coming from. Slightly burned, Dracula passes out from the pain, but is free. Dr. Sun later suspects that one of his minions is not telling the truth about possessing only the head of the Chimera statue. Activating a moving floor that has a vat of acid beneath the lackey, Sun is able to get him to talk and reveal that another piece is stashed away in a safety deposit box. He lets the henchman die painfully in the acid before sending out a female Asian agent to retrieve the other Chimera piece. Shiela Whittier and David Eshcol are later stopped by Drac while they look for the rest of the statue. The Count uses his mind powers to get a reluctant David to hand over the tail piece of the Chimera. Demonstrating the statue's awesome power, Dracula causes a fiery Chimera apparition to form in the sky, which rains fire down onto the houses below. Even Taj, visiting his old home in India, sees the apparition. Content with the tail piece's display, Dracula pockets it and then uses his mighty powers to summon vampire zombies to rise from the dead in a nearby cemetery so that they can track down the other two Chimera pieces. Against Shiela's wishes, Drac is about to drink from David's throat but is stopped when the man pulls out a Star of David pendent he keeps around his neck. David places it against Drac's forehead, causing it to burn into his flesh. As Drac screams and falls to the ground in pain, two men with pistols order everyone to surrender. Meanwhile, Frank Drake  runs into an old business acquaintance of his in South America. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: This is the first story arc in this series that I can recall absolutely hating. The
Chimera statue is something better off used as a plot device in an Avengers yarn. David Eshcol is too much in the mold of the Frank Drake character, and one of him is more then enough. Here's hoping that this particular storyline gets wrapped up soon so we can move on to better things in this series.

Scott: This is a very wordy and overstuffed issue. Frank Drake’s old friend Danny returns and he’s as obnoxious as hell. I don’t remember him being quite so overbearing way back when, but there he is. As soon as he’s introduced, he’s gone. We then spend a page or so with Van Helsing and Rachel and then they leave the story. Finally, we meet a few new folks and the real plot takes over. David Eshcol is no more interesting than Drake. Definitely not anyone I’d be interested in following on any Drac-hunting stints. A lot of exposition and a sudden stop and I find myself not all that intrigued.

Chris: Last issue, I was under the impression that Vlad sought the chimera so he could gain control over his nightly bloodlust.  Now, he speaks of power, and his dream of conquest, involving all humans “eventually [bowing] before me.”  Does the as-yet unidentified competitor for the other pieces (the one who already owns the head, that is) share these same lofty aspirations?  

Marv reminds us why pathetic Shiela is a perfect foil for him – her desperation for Drac’s affection allows him complete control over her.  Gene & Tom offer an inspired depiction of a sneering Drac, slightly superimposed over Shiela’s peering eyes (left), complemented by a curiously effective blue hue from Lessman.  
The letters page features a request from a fan in upstate New York, who asks that the ToD storyline refrain from references and tie-ins to stories in the b&w mags, since those larger-format publications are not readily available in her neck of the woods; the fan doesn’t want to think that she’s missing part(s) of the ongoing story.  In response, Ye Editor encourages fans to look for upcoming appearances of Blade -- in Vampire Tales.  Oh well.  

Mark: Backtracking to Dean P's last TOD comments, I, too, "love that Marv continually drops in these interesting characters and incidents," but a crowded cast and multiple plot lines can lead to muddled confusion as well as first-rate frights. It's all about execution, and while "Night-Fire!" won't incite fantasies of marching Marv to the wall, it is that weird hybrid: a first-rate muddle. 

FIRST RATE: Vlad escaping a danger room filling with holy water by turning into "hellish mist" and drifting through "...the inch-high space between the conduit's roof and the flowing water's crest." He doesn't emerge unscathed and, dappled with holy dew, the Count collapses in agony.

MUDDLE: He next appears on a road outside of London, with no idea how he got there ("Then I've returned to London. But how, how?"). If his mode of travel is unknown, the destination is convenient: right in the path of Shiela Whittier's VW bug. By page 22 – the travel question discarded - the Count mentions that possessing the tail of the Chimera "has magnified my mysteriously waining (proper spelling: waning) powers." It is mysterious, given this is the first we've first heard of it. Forgetting little details like letting the reader know the title character is suffering a power brown-out is prima facie evidence that Marv has too many, er, bats in the air.

FIRST RATE: Davy Eshcol using a Star of David to ward off a Drac attack. "Symbols of all Gods repulse me," the Count sneers, then denigrates the Creator as a fool. But his flesh still burns at the Star's touch.

MUDDLE: Vlad uses the Chimera's tail to conjure fire from the sky. Very cool, but the fire-dragon also targets Taj in India? I doubt the Count gives a rip about a j.v. player on Team Harker, and if the totem's power can bedevil Drac's enemies everywhere, Quincy should top the charts, with Blade next on the magic-napalm hit list.

I'm playing devil's advocate, perhaps magnifying minor flaws, but they're irksome enough to distract from an engaging story. And as one of Marvel's best titles of this era, TOD can bloody-well expect to be held to a high standard.

Werewolf by Night 24
"The Dark Side of Evil"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin and Vince Colletta
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Jack wakes up in an alley after the battle with Atlas, stumbles home and gets evicted half-heartedly by luscious landlady Sandy for continually destroying his apartment. Off to Buck's he goes, and his writer bud has hope for a cure, in the form of brilliant behavioral psychologist/chemist Winston Reddich, who claims to be able to suppress the bestial portions of the brain. Lt. Northrup is brought the silver slug that killed Atlas and gets a brainstorm to requisition a heavy-duty net. Lissa stops by to see Jack before he takes off to Pasadena with Buck and he wants to get her a nice birthday present (before she turns 18 and the curse hits her, natch) by visiting Redditch. But the cooped-up scientist is buried in work, so doesn't notice his tidying-up wife accidentally switch the beakers of solution he's about to test on himself to see if evil can be subdued. When he drinks the wrong liquid, he's transformed into pure evil—DePrayve! He socks his wife, meets Buck and Jack at the door and knocks them out! When the moon rises, Jack transforms and sets out after DePrayve, battling him in a supermarket until Northrup shows up. DePrayve escapes, but as Werewolf runs out the back, he's trapped in a net by the cops!  –Joe Tura

Vic and Eddie wonder why Lt. Northrup's
right arm is so damn long
Joe: OK, I have to start with the "Prologue" that starts every splash page. The WBN one is the typical WBN Chandler-esque nonsense. I ask again, like every month, why on this book? It's not called "Werewolf Detective", is it? Here you go. Try to get past the first sentence: "The tag's RUSSELL, with a JACK in front of it. The kind of name that fits a normal 19-year-old-dude living out in L.A.—not the kind of name you'd expect to find slapped on a guy who sprouted fangs, pore-to-pore fur, and wolfish howls every time the moon ballooned full. Unless that guy happened to have a father who was cursed by an arcane book called DARKHOLD—and who inherited his father's curse on his 18th birthday." Alright, the "moon ballooned full" is sort of cool. But still…Sigh.

Sandy evicts Jack while wearing a halter top, which would distract the hell out of me. Except Jack has one eye closed from little ol' Atlas, and well, getting evicted sucks too. Sandy name-dropping Shanghai Lil (I had to look it up) is a reference that maybe three people would get in 1974, 2014, or maybe even in 1934! Some choice lines from Moench in this Jekyll & Hyde rip-off, I mean, Jekyll & Hyde-inspired tale include "I awoke at dawn with a head full of agony"; "All I could think about was a big fat juicy grinning moon"; "Buck was on ice that wouldn't melt for hours"; "We're gonna bag that hairy joker!" You get the idea. Art-wise we get the same old mediocrity, especially with any depiction of Redditch/DePrayve (which by the way is a cool name at the same time it's a stoopid name), but there are some interesting panel layouts, notably page 26, filled with flying groceries with no labels to be found. So much for product placement in '74!

The rest of the MU staff prepare to chip in for vacation time for
Professor Joe when they found out this page floated his boat

Sandy evicts Jack when she finds out he has better
breasts than she has
According to an answer to a letter in "Weremail By Night", the lovely Topaz will be back soon. Since there's always need for a dame who knows how to get things done in these pages, and can soothe the savage beast. 

Regarding the super-promotional full-page ad for the Fantastic Four MTE, it really makes me wish I still had all of mine, and had never sold my big box of hardcovers and trades also, for what amounted to a bag of peanuts and a packet of ketchup. Dammit, Spock!

Also This Month

Arrgh! #1 

Crazy #8
Dead of Night #7
Journey Into Mystery #14
Kid Colt Outlaw #189
Marvel Double Feature #7
Marvel Spectacular #12
Marvel Tales #56
Marvel Treasury Edition #2 >
Mighty Marvel Western #36
Night Rider #2
Nostalgia Illustrated #2
Our Love Story #31
Outlaw Kid #25
Photo News Feature #2 (Final Issue)
Spidey Super Stories #3
Two-Gun Kid #121
Uncanny Tales #7
Vault of Evil #16
War is Hell #10
Weird Wonder Tales #7
X-Men #91

Here they go again! This time, Marvel names their attempt at a humor book ARRGH!, also known as the sound any non Ka-Zar fan makes after reading a Ka-Zar comic. This go-round lasted all of 5 issues, mostly spinning towards horror humor, which everyone knows is a laff riot waiting to happen. Publication was spotty at best, and with good reason, ending in Sept 1975. Issue #1 starts off with "Fangs for the Memory" starring our pal Count Fangula (yikes), then we get a story called "Rat" which looks as creepy as it sounds. Plus we also get a reprint from the 1950's Crazy for good measure. Subsequent issues featured such horrifying hilarity as "Gerald's World", "Bugged!", "Frank N. Stein" (a Bill Everett Crazy reprint), "Beauty and the Bigfoot", "The Night Gawker", "The Some-Thing" and "The Invisible Mr. Mann". Can't you just feel your sides splitting from the titles along?
The comic as a whole seemed sorta unnecessary to me. The Marie Severin covers on the first two issues were nice, but the insides look like the same old, same old. Talent such as Don Glut, Russ Jones, Mike Esposito, Tom Sutton, Alfredo Alcala and Mike Sekowsky were on board, seemingly because they had nothing else to do. Not sure why Marvel kept trying the funny stuff, but at the time DC's PLOP! was much more entertaining. Probably why I didn't have any issues of ARRGH! Whew…Dodged it.--Joe Tura


Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 7
Cover by Earl Norem

"The Past-Assassins!"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Vosburg and Al Milgrom

"The Way of the Dragon vs. the Mass-Sell Menace!"

Text by Don McGregor

"The Basic Technique of Blocking"

Text by Frank McLaughlin

"Tigers in a Mind-Cage!"

Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Bob McLeod

After butting into the affairs of a small time mafia hood, Shang-Chi becomes the target of an assassin. When the chips are down and Shang faces extinction, salvation arrives in the most unexpected form: Fu Manchu! "The Past Assassins" follows the general outline of virtually every Master of Kung Fu story that's run in Deadly Hands (and, as Professor Mark laments, in the regular MOKF title as well) but this one's particularly annoying in no small part due to the awful art of Vosburg and Milgrom. Shang's facial features change from panel to panel and the supporting characters are barely one or two levels above stick figures. The mafia man is the quintessential mob boss (in fact, his name is Mr. Boss!), spouting such lines as "I rule this city and I rule it good... I ain't gonna have that rule threatened by some wet nosed punk! You're gonna kill him and you're gonna kill him fast..." and, gulp, calling Shang a "chink." If being a murdering swine wasn't bad enough, the guy's a racist too! 

"The Past Assassins"

"Tigers in a Mind-Cage"

"The Sons of the Tiger" are attacked by an obese man with an overcoat fitted with gas canisters. He gets the drop on the trio and the boys wake up as "Tigers in a Mind-Cage." Using the Sons' individual fears against them, The Silent Ones attempt to break the boys down mentally since they've failed in the past to put them down physically. The Sons of the Tiger prove to be too tough for The Silent Ones' mind games so out come the expensive toys: giant killer robots (think Sentinels). Once The Tigers band together, join their sacred keychains and recite their mantra, the robots become just so much discarded tin. Though the story is nothing more than a riff on a Batman episode, George Perez's art shows so much improvement over his debut last issue (no doubt due to a more competent inker this time around) that the entire package becomes almost bearable. The rest of the issue is given over to a discussion of Bruce Lee's finale, Return of the Dragon, and lots of lessons on how to bust your school locker open with your bare hands when you've forgotten the combo. -Peter Enfantino

The Dean works on defensive moves for
professors who want pay hikes

Monsters Unleashed 9
Cover by Earl Norem

"The Conscience of the Creature"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik

"The Jewel That Snarled at Slight Greed"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin

"Several Meaningless Deaths (Part Two)"

Text Story by Steve Gerber

"Snowbird in Hell"

Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Yong Montano

After saving Julie Winters from the parade of freaks (last issue), The Frankenstein Monster carries her unconscious form out of the hell house and into the pointed guns of the law. After the monster cuts a swath through the officers, the monster carries Julie into the city to find her home. Before they get there, they must traverse a seemingly unending series of obstacles, including released zoo animals and another squad of cops. Through all this, all the monster wants is a bit of love. When Julie awakens and sees her saviour, she gives him just the opposite, punctuated with a stone to the monster's kisser. Our hero is left pondering what is and what shall never be. As I've mentioned ad nauseam (I should just rerun my comments from the last several issues), the wheels are stuck in the mud and a'spinnin', the same fate that befell most of the other short-run horror series of the mid-1970s (the obvious exceptions being Man-Thing and Tomb of Dracula). Frankenstein 1974 is still searching for that elusive hook to hang a decent plot line on. Nothing happens in "The Conscience of the Creature" that would resonate in further adventures and all we're stuck with is more flowery prose from Doug "The Poet" Moench. Doug reminds me of the nerdy guy in seventh grade who'd suck up to the teacher by writing variations of The Scarlet Letter and Animal Farm ("Where gnarled tree limbs twist into a fiber of gloom and uncertainty, the monster finds solace and tranquility. Where shadows spurt from nighted despair, the monster shuffles through a fragrant landscape of hope"). Yeesh! Val's art (especially the monster's battle with a pair of escaped tigers at the zoo) remains just as consistently creepy and atmospheric.

Oh, he does prattle on

Much better is the fantasy tale "The Jewel that Snarled at Slight Greed" where two magical events collide: Doug finds a sense of humor and Don Perlin knocks out decent art. A troll steals the blood-jewel from a bitchy queen and pairs up with a centaur to fight a three-headed dragon released from the jewel by a sorcerer. This is the type of story Gil Kane would illustrate for DC Comics' mystery line in the late 1960s, a perfect combo of swords, sorcery, and silliness.

"The Jewel..."

The biggest letdown this issue is "Snowbird in Hell," the cover story featuring The Wendigo. Picking up four months after the events of The Incredible Hulk #181, "Snowbird" is yet another variation on The Thing From Another World, with the big white snowy fanged guy picking off members of a group stuck in a remote snow-covered church. Since bullets won't kill the beast, one of the members gets the bright idea of luring the Wendigo in and burning down the church. That doesn't go as planned and the survivors are left to the elements. The Wendigo is a very cool creation and you'd expect, in the hands of future superstar Chris Claremont, a very cool eleven pages. Hints of greatness pop out here and there (when Wendigo grabs a female parishioner and takes her out for a quick bite) but only brief glimpses. Yong Montano's Wendigo is a pretty beast (with a pretty big booty, by the way), not the savage killer portrayed in Earl Norem's fabulous cover painting; his hair is parted, his nails are clipped, and there appear to be no spaces between his teeth. Claremont's script has the right skeleton but it's not filled in with the right meat. The aforementioned scene of the Wendigo dragging a screaming Madame Valery away while the others listen helplessly is very effective but what happens next? The plan to burn the church down goes awry but the survivors don't look particularly concerned when it all goes down, despite the fact that they're all going to be eaten or freeze to death within a matter of hours. This was one Marvel monster I would have liked to have seen more of.

The #10 that never was
In Tony Isabella's editorial this issue (his last before Don McGregor takes over next issue), The Tiger lets us in on the fact that "due to the unprecedented deluge of letters (he's) been receiving recently, (he's) pleased to announce that - starting next issue - Monsters Unleashed will be an all-series magazine." That's a practice that lasted... well, it actually never was initiated, ostensibly as a result of Isabella's ousting. I wonder what the "unprecedented" number of letter writers thought about their wishes being ignored? The roster of upcoming projects is mouth-watering: the introduction of new horror heroes known as The Scarecrow (a story which won't see newsprint until the final issue of the reprint title, Dead of Night, in August of '75) and The Manphibian (who saw his origin story shelved until The Legion of Monsters #1 in September 1975) ; a text story featuring Killraven (never happened); and new stories featuring The Golem and IT! (merciful heavens!)  The only promised attraction that saw fruition was the  first solo appearance of Tigra, which popped up in MU #10. Promises, promises. -Peter Enfantino

Planet of the Apes 3
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Spawn of the Mutant-Pits/The Abomination Arena"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte

"Journey to the Planet of the Apes"

Text by Chris Claremont

"McDowall: The Man Behind the Mask"

Text by Samuel James Maronie


Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

Another great cover finds Jason and Alexander (there's a Seinfeld joke waiting to be told, but I'll refrain) caught in an apes/mutant mosh and off we go! Of course, our two heroes are trapped in a tunnel, not the subway, but that's a small quibble, ain't it. 
In our main story, the ape and human best buds manage to pit apes vs. mutants and slip away with a "scorch-weapon". Retreating back into the tunnel, they're met by a mutant mélange, where they learn the little dudes are mostly "living machines". Next, they learn of a new prisoner and steal a ride on a mutant mobile to find an exit, but end up captured! A pissed-off Brutus gets permission from Xavier to enter the Forbidden Zone to arrest Jason and Alexander, but they're busy meeting the mutant commanders—five giant schizophrenic talking lumpy grey brains in fish bowls! [Ewwwww!] Our heroes are then forced, along with one of Brutus' gorilla goons, to fight mutated creatures in an amphitheater, which they dispatch and escape, running into a cell where the prisoner is being held—The Lawgiver! They jet away on a mutant flying machine, and the gorilla goon pulls a weapon on The Lawgiver and tells Alexander to head towards Brutus' camp! 

Very wordy captions, way too much dialogue and a super-bizarre story line threaten to derail this month's "Terror" tale, but Ploog saves it with some far-out pencils, plus we get some derring-do from the loincloth-clad Jason and lots of action to help make it more fun than folderol. -Joe Tura

The adventures of Jase and Alex as they battle mutants is exciting with a couple of good twists and a few shock reveals that fit in well with the quality of the better sequels in the film series. The giant brains are interesting, however the guy speaking like an Edward G. Robinson film reject is a tad annoying. Jason is also grating. It would be nice to see a less abrasive side to his personality. The surprise reveal of the mutants being cyborgs is well done. The only real dud in the final panels as the gorilla holding Jase, Alex and the Lawgiver at gunpoint is handled “off camera” with dialog over a drawing of the escaping ship. There’s no shock or suspense there, only anti-climax. Mike Ploog’s pencils are, as always, lovely. -Scott McIntyre

"Ape-Line" debuts, with a letter from Keith Helms, who also wrote in to Werewolf By Night this month, so he's stuck reading the same books as me. And we get a letter from Chula Vista, CA high school student and future Amazing Spider-Man destroyer J.M. Straczynski (just for the Stacy/Osborn children and "One More Day" story lines), who heaps praise on POTA #1 with pulpy prose that might have been his audition tape for Marvel.

Chris Claremont kicks in a veeeerrrrryyyy loooonnnnggggg prose piece about visiting the 20th Century Fox set of the underrated Planet of the Apes TV series, which I loved! Back in the mid-70s, my two friends, the Brothers Esposito, and I used to play "Planet of the Apes" where we would act out rollicking made-up adventures of Burke, Virdon and Galen. Now those were the days! Next we get a super-short photo interview with Roddy McDowall, who needs no introduction to anyone who knows anything about POTA. Duh.

Finally, our next chapter in the adaptation of the classic first film takes us through Taylor writing
things and making a paper airplane for Cornelius & Zira, to a nasty Dr. Zaius appearance (is there any other kind?), to Taylor escaping the prison and witnessing a funeral, to seeing Dodge's head in the ape museum, to being caught in a net and spewing the most quoted line in the whole movie: "Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!!!" Now, while the story zips along nicely again—this is a very well-done adaptation, even without any semblance of Chuck Heston to be found—the ending of this chapter seems much more muted and rushed than the actual film. Oh, well. —Joe Tura

One of the best sequences of the film is given the standard treatment in this chapter. The art is basic and blah, hitting all of the notes as if this were an issue of Iron Man. One interesting and shocking deviation from the film is the fate of poor Dodge. Instead of stuffing his body and putting it in a stand up display, here only his head is mounted on the wall. Grisly, but effective. The final moment where Taylor finally speaks his famous line is rendered less powerful by having one more panel, not of the crowd in shock as in the film, but of Zira commenting “he…spoke!” Well, thanks, Doc, but we were right there when it happened. -Scott McIntyre

Vampire Tales 8
Cover by Jose Antonio Domingo

"High Midnight"

Story by Don McGregor
Art by Mike Vosburg and Frank Chiaramonte

"The Vendetta"

Story by Carla Conway and Gerry Conway
Art by Joe Staton

"The Inheritance"

Story by Carla Conway and Gerry Conway
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"Beware the Legions"

Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Tony DeZuniga

The cover (a riff on Domingo's painting for VT #2) is an ominous sign of what's to come when you dare enter this issue. After their never-ending battle with Demon-Fire, Michael Morbius must escort Amanda Saint out of Gallows Bend before Apocalypse and his band of crazies eat their faces. "High Midnight" is the most annoying claptrap I've read in months (and I've read a lot of crap in that time, believe me). Don McGregor must have been having lunches with the other DM as this prose smells awfully rank and familiar ("Their confrontation claimed the mournful wind and their words sought the crevices and shallows of Gallows Bend.") Pop references abound and each and every supporting character sends slivers under your fingernails with their gawdawful dialogue. As with Moench's Frankenstein series, it's as if McGregor put pen to paper and just started writing, with no regard to plot or moving a story forward. It all feels ad-libbed. Amanda Saint watches her father die a horrible death, is bitten by Michael, and is chased all around the western amusement park known as Gallows Bend, yet manages to keep her hair silky smooth and shiny (if this were a couple years later, I'd suspect a Faux Farrah). Must be her conditioner. Gallows Bend creator Howie Rivers is attacked by a horde of Griffins (a gaggle?) and spouts one-liners about chewing gum commercials, Ralph Nader, and the evil of corporate America (puh-lease, Don, you're working for a corporation). Vosburg and Chiaramonte want nothing more than to be Tom Sutton and in a fifth-tier way, they succeed. The uglies are interchangeable, nothing distinct, with either furry faces, melting faces, or no faces at all. If this gargantuan (19 frickin' pages!) cow flop has only one positive it's that, cross your fingers, this Demon-Fire "epic" appears to have run its course.

"Oh, Howie, do you really think I look
like one of Charlie's Angels?"

Blade, the Vampire-Slayer joins the regular crew of Vampire Tales with "Beware the Legions." Billy-Blue, frequent guest of Blade's favorite bordello, Lady Vanity's is taken down by a plethora of the undead right in front of his regular girl, Neva. The terrified prostitute begs Blade to investigate and, when it comes to fanged felons, you don't have to ask this smooth brother twice. The vampire-slayer waits until Billy-Blue rises from the dead and then interrogates the living corpse. The stiff gives up the skinny and Blade discovers the troop of vampires holed up in the heart of London. Lickety-split, he's offing the badass mofos but he's made a miscalculation somewhere along the way as he's shy a few stakes. Chapter One finds him surrounded by fangs and nowhere to go. Not a great first entry in this new series but it's certainly more entertaining than most of the Marvel B&W series. It has a certain tongue-in-cheekiness to it (at least, I hope that's Marv's aim) that I admire and, thank the lord, Wolfman's trying to tell a tall tale rather than edjamacate us all to the sins of pollution, big business, television, or whatever the hell else is wrong with the world in late 1974. The two DMs could learn a lot from this Wolfman character.

"Beware the Legions"

Bernardo wishes he'd been written into
Nice Sister Tales
The two non-series stories are both entertaining but somewhat predictable, as are most stories falling under the umbrella known as Vampire Tales. "The Vendetta" finds Bernardo Latta, freshly released from ten years in an Italian prison, returning to his home village of Tamora, and searching for his sister, Sophia. Sis has been something of a loosey goosey since bro went up the river, especially with those notorious Cormone Brothers. Bernardo tracks the Bros. to a local pub and slaughters them all when they raise a toast to Sophia's all-natural assets. The barkeep tells Bern where Sophia's bound to be roosting (and he cuts her from stem to stern for good measure) so he climbs the hill to some ancient ruins where he discovers his sister has become a (gasp) vampire! "The Inheritance" offers up something I don't think I've seen before: a pedophilic vampire! Blood-sucker Martin Cunningham takes a shine to young preppie Jason Thornehill and adopts him when Jason's parents are killed. Ten years later, Jason runs across a ten-year old newspaper featuring his parents in the headlines. They'd been viciously murdered, a detail kept from the young Jason, and now he wants a bit of revenge. Tracking down the only eyewitness, Jason discovers the murderer was a (gasp) vampire! But (gasp!) it's also "Uncle Martin." A wooden stake delivered to the chest gives Jason the revenge he so desired. I gotta say that Martin Cunningham is not the brightest bat in the belfry, leaving not only a ten-year old newspaper lying around but also an eye-witness, and the dope gets what's coming to him. As I said, neither story holds much in the way of surprises but, if you can dismiss the (gasp!) reveals, both certainly rise above the swill that preceded them. And both feature nice art, especially (gasp!) that of The Master. -Peter Enfantino


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 3
Cover Art by Mike Kaluta

“At the Mountain of the Moon-God”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos

“Chronicles of the Sword Part II: The First Barbarian”
Text by Glenn Lord
“Blackmark Chapter III”
Story and Art by Gil Kane

“Kull of Atlantis”
Text by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith

“Demons of the Summit”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Tony DeZuniga

“At the Mountain of the Moon-God” picks up directly after last issue's “Black Colossus,” as Conan and Princess Yasmela continue their torrid affair. During a tryst, the lovers are interrupted by one of Yasmela’s minions who informs the princess that her brother, King Khossus, the true ruler of Khoraja, is in Ophir, held captive in the Mountain of the Moon-God. The slavegirl Vateesa, jealous of Yasmela’s relationship with Conan, overhears the news and rides out to inform King Strabonus of Koth where Khossus is located. If Strabonus gets to Khossus first, he can control neighboring Khoraja. The next day, Conan and two Khorajian soldiers set out on a rescue, coming across the Mountain a few days later. But Strabonus’ massive mercenary Sergius and three other rogues — along with their guide Vateesa — lay in wait, causing an avalanche: only Conan survives by leaping into a crevice. As the Cimmerian makes his way up the stone crack, Sergius and the others are captured by Ophir soldiers and locked in a cell next to King Khossus. Conan soon arrives on the scene and after battling through Ophirian soldiers, frees Khossus, dragging the traitorous Vateesa along. Working their way down the crevice Conan used previously, the three come across a huge egg that suddenly shatters: a full-sized pteranodon emerges and grabs both Khossus and Vateesa in its claws. The barbarian hurls himself on the back of the flying reptile, cracks its lower jaw and finally runs it through with his sword. Vateesa picks up the weapon and tries to kill Conan: but Khossus trips her and she is accidentally impaled. Back at Khoraja, Conan finds that Princess Yasmela has already found another lover, a former prince of Stygia.

"At the Mountain..."

A decent 23-page tale, that benefits greatly from the inks of Pablo Marcos. He brings a lot of detail to the party, laying on some heavy shading that works very well in the black-and-white format. Not sure why the pteranodon pops out of the egg at full size but I’ve always loved those things so no biggie. By the way, didn’t know that pteranodons are not considered dinosaurs. You live and you learn.

"Demons of the Summit"
Our favorite Cimmerian returns in “Demons of the Summit.” Conan and companion Jamal are being pursued by Khozgari soldiers when they come along the beautiful but wild Shanya, daughter of Shaf Karaz, chief of the men hunting them. They take her along as a hostage and decide to take a short cut across the Bhambar Pass. Shanya warns that demons live in the misty mountain way but Conan laughs her off. In the Pass, an avalanche kills Jamal and a rope drops and pulls Shanya upwards. Conan is also ensnared but he slays his potential captors, creatures resembling hairless apes. The barbarian discovers a citadel carved into the mountain and enters, killing a human guard with a transparent mask over his face. Taking the mask with him, the Cimmerian moves on and discovers Shanya tied to an altar, surrounded by priests. Suddenly a vapor spurts from the floor and blinds Conan: he instinctively puts the mask on and his sight returns. The warrior slaughters the priests but before the last one dies, he summons the Ancient One, a monstrous mix of a spider and a crab. Conan manages to kill the creature with a boulder and rides off with the now appreciative Shanya.

Based on a story by Swedish author Bjorn Nyberg, a writer who added a few tales to the Conan canon, this so-so adventure comes across like a rehash of the main story: same mountain setting, a reluctant female and a monster reveal at the end. There’s no explanation of who Jamal is or of his connection to Conan, but he doesn’t last long so it doesn’t matter much. He’s basically one of those red-shirted sacrificial lambs from Star Trek. What is most striking is the art of Tony DeZuniga, another of those Filipino illustrators that popped up at Marvel during this period. It’s great stuff, almost painterly in effect.

Exquisite Demons

Glenn Lord’s “Chronicles of the Sword Part II: The First Barbarian,” continues the author’s study of sword-and-sorcery literature, this installment focusing in on Robert E. Howard and the story “The Shadow Kingdom,” the Weird Tales debut of Kull.

The third chapter of “Blackmark” finds the hero grown into a man, now a slave forced to fight in King Kargon’s gladiator games. When he proves too rebellious, Blackmark is thrown into the arena with a fire-breathing dragon. Somehow, Blackmark triumphs. Again, I’m struggling with this series, having a hard time digesting each chapter. A major plot point seems to have been revealed: in the middle of King Kargon’s arena, either a spaceship or nuclear rocket is half buried. Kargon claims that whoever can free it shall become the king of New Earth. Guess we’ll see.

Finally, we come to “Kull of Atlantis,” a delicious discovery. According to the brief introduction, Roy Thomas and Barry Smith toyed with the idea of creating a paperback comicbook about Kull ala Kane’s Blackmark. The project was abandoned, but Smith apparently drew a few panels. They are presented here with actual excerpts from Howard’s story “Exile of Atlantis.” The 8-page piece features 16 panels, each a pleasure. However, a red flag went off in my head as Barry draws Kull with Conan’s famous horned helmet from early issues. What’s up with that?


Finally, didn’t know that talented cover artist Mike Kaluta had a connection with Barry Smith: they, along with Jeffrey Jones and Bernie Wrightson, formed an artists’ commune called The Studio in a Manhattan loft in 1975. What was that about living and learning? -Thomas Flynn



  1. I actually got that "greatest gift of the year" for Christmas in 1974, and I saw Stan Lee on tv for the first time just a couple of months earlier during my family's first night at the Navy Lodge in Treasure Island, San Francisco (we'd just arrived from Utah -- my dad was on recruiting duty at this point in his 27 year military career). Anyhow, my parents and my 2 younger brothers were all staying up late and caught the Creature Feature show and the tv premiere of Night of the Living Dead -- and somewhere in there host Bob Hoskin talked with Stan about the Origins of Marvel Comics. Fun childhood memories.
    Of the offerings discussed this week the only ones that made it into my collection that fall of 40 years past were the Hulk, MTU, Thor and Aargh!, the latter of which was amusing enough for my 12 year old tastes. Hulk and Thor were just average fare but, geez, that MTU yarn was one of the most ridiculous ever and was later ret-conned as one of Hercules' tall tales.
    Much later, Man-Thing #12 made it into my collection and I'd rate it as yet another typical Gerber offbeat classic. Not quite one of his best but for someone who already tuned in to Gerber's wavelength a fun trip into a disturbed psyche. Big J Buscema did some very fine work here -- a definite change of pace from his standard superhero/savage action fare. I'm not sure if my 12 year old self would have quite understood or liked this issue, but my 30+ years self did. And I'm so glad Marvel let stuff like this get through the gates despite all the Lennys who likely thought this was horrible and just wanted their mindless muck monster in more mindless cover to cover action, without stop for anything so boring as reflection.

  2. As much as I like all-out villainess characters in Conan stories, one repetitive thing is how indirectly they always seem to get killed - what I mean is, the stories seem pretty shy about "letting" HIM do it directly, even if he causes it INDIRECTLY, as in Conan # 2 and Savage Sword # 88 and a few others. And Vateesa in this story is evidently one more example. The only exceptions I can think of are his thoroughly ruthless handling of Fatima in Conan # 12 and his "off-camera" killing of the Antiva character in Conan the Savage # 2. My question is, are there any similar scenes to those two, where he puts a villainous FEMALE character out of the way very DIRECTLY? (It might be a strange question, but I'm always interested in those kinds of scenes, in and out of Conan stories.)