Wednesday, November 5, 2014

January 1975 Part Two: The Return of Nurse Jane Foster!

Giant-Size Werewolf 3
"Castle Curse!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin and Sal Trapani
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Jean Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

First Night and Werewolf prowls the murky city, where a billboard changes into a visage of Topaz, who's being held captive in the Russell ancestral home. Werewolf swims to the island, entering the castle and getting trapped behind bars. In the basement, he spies Topaz, but falls into a hole, is attacked by a silver spiked creature, fought to the point of death, then… Jack wakes up from his nightmare! Going downstairs in the Westwood home, he learns stepfather Philip visited the Transylvania castle to find it ransacked, but stuck around to see it fixed and to hear the gypsies captured a blonde girl. Jack knows the blonde is Topaz, and heads overseas with Lissa and Buck. Once there, they spy a mob of rabble-rousers planning to march on Russoff Manor, but Jack gets there first and changes with the full moon! The villagers corner the beast, but he's able to escape, leaving the head villager to tell Buck and Lissa of the evil gypsies who have been murdering townspeople. Werewolf walks through the forest, finding the gypsy caravan…and the captive Topaz! Even in her weakened state, the sultry savant is able to will Werewolf to try and free her, but the gypsy mistress spots him and lets a giant bear loose to kill him! Topaz faints as the two creatures tussle, with the grizzly gaining the upper paw until the woozy Werewolf is able to push it into a campfire! The lead gypsy orders her trio of zombies to kill Werewolf, but a freed Topaz (courtesy of Buck and Lissa) uses a mind-link to tell her Jack is not the enemy and the old one jumps in front of a silver knife meant for Werewolf! The zombies crumble, Jack returns with the sunrise and the old gypsy reveals she's Jack's grandmother! Via Topaz, we are told she was cast out by the villagers, rescued by gypsies and driven mad with revenge after they were slaughtered. The head villager hears this tale and vows to give the former Baroness a proper burial, but to Jack this is too little, too late.  –Joe Tura

Joe Tura : You can't make this stuff up! (Well, somebody did…) Silver spiked creatures, bears who kill on command, gypsy zombies, the return of Topaz, angry villagers a little too used to attacking monsters, the old gypsy woman who turns out to be Jack's grandmother like something out of General Hospital…and we get 30 pages of it! Moench does the usual OK job on the script, handling all this like he's creating it in one long take. Perlin's art looks slightly different due to the different inker, and it's hard to tell if it's really an improvement over our regular WBN tales. Topaz looks great, but certainly doesn't have that Ploog hourglass figure we're used to. Still great to see her back, one of the more interesting recurring characters in this title. All in all, a decent giant-size tale, if a bit long. Next up—Morbius!

Our semi-interesting reprinted tales, I mean "more macabre tales in the mighty Marvel manner" start with "The Visitor", originally pubbed, as were the rest, in Adventures Into Terror #13 (December 1952). Here a strange mist travels through a town, appearing to various people who see different people in the vapors, until it visits John, who thinks there are creatures among us and the mist drives him mad! Hilarity ensues!

Next we get "The Man Who Went Back", about old Jeff Martin, who jumps into the sea but ends up being carried back to shore—and it's ten years earlier! Through his recollection of stocks he makes a fortune, but decides to go back further for love and finds two men following him. Coming back 25 years later, he becomes younger and gets richer, but those same men are following him! He travels back again and again, finally shooting at his stalkers, who kill him and reveal they're after him for income tax evasion, but he was free since there was no income tax in 1899! Lesson: don't trust the IRS!

Joe: In "The Man Who Talked to Rats", passer-by Paul Crandall spots a creepy dude talking to rats, but before they can kill him he cuts a deal with the old man, telling him about his rich uncle and that he stands to inherit all his money. The rats swarm in and kill the uncle, but after Paul inherits the 3 millions bucks, the rat-talker comes for his fee—food for his pets! Zoinks!

Joe: Finally (thankfully), "The Hands of Death" tells of a strangler who murdered the wife of a laborer. Traveling through the night, reporter Sandra tries to hide out in an old woman's house after warnings from the radio. But why does the old woman have the arms of a man? Could she/he be the strangler? Sandra's screams bring in a TV repairman to the rescue—but it turns out he's the killer! The old woman reveals herself to be the laborer, who gets revenge by strangling the strangler! Huzzah!

Chris Blake: This issue, despite its flaws, was better than I remembered.  The mysterious method of Topaz’s communication – thru a billboard, in a dream – was odd, but at least it set the tone.  Inexplicable killings (by whom?!)!  Ransacking of the Russoff castle (for what?!)!  Topaz imperiled (again, by whom?!)!  Yes, the basic premise of the storyline caught my attention, more than any recent issue of WbN.  

Chris: And now, on to some of the faults.  The idea that it might be possible to fly from LAX to eastern Europe in one day (ie flying into the sun, thereby reducing your daytime as you go) is a strrreeeeetch worthy of Dr Richards.  I can understand why Maria would enact vengeance on the villagers by sending zombified gypsies to commit the murders (sort of twisted justice to that, right?), but would she really outfit a bear with silver claws and a spiked silver collar, in case a werewolf showed up?  Wouldn’t a pistol loaded with silver bullets be less costly to feed?  I’d be willing to overlook quirks like these, if not for the strained similes and overall jokiness that Doug drops into the captions – it hampers the heavier mood he might’ve been able to achieve, if he had played up the gypsy-vengeance theme.  “How can you be facetious, Buck?” Lissa asks him – yes Doug, why did you think that’d be a good idea?
Sal Trapani (him again! – this is a very busy period for Sal in his Marvel career) proves yet again that 1) Don Perlin requires an inker, other than Don Perlin, and 2) Vince Colletta should not be that inker.  When I look at results like these, all I can say is that it’s kind of a shame that Perlin was not paired with a capable inker on the monthly WbN title.  The art is not stellar, but it’s clearer; the Werewolf looks less like he’s wearing a cheap costume, Topaz looks . . . well, pretty good, not Ploog good, but good.  Solid choice by all concerned to keep the villagers in the shadows, and keep us guessing, until the very end.  

The Incredible Hulk 183
"Fury at 50,000 Volts!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Herb Trimpe

After punching out a train that almost accidentally ran him over, the Hulk makes his way to the city of Chicago. Falling asleep in an alley, he turns back into Bruce Banner. Realizing that he needs money, Banner takes a job as a janitor at a research facility where three scientists are working on a device that will absorb electrical brain waves released into the air. Two of the male scientists, Mark and Stan, are in love with their colleague, Alexandra. With Banner's aid, they test out their contraption, which unfortunately absorbs and brings back to life the energy monster known as Zzzax. Needing a human body and mind to gain life sustenance, Zzzax moves in on a weakened Alexandra to absorb her energy essence. Stan saves her but is rewarded by having the monster suck up his energy instead, killing him. Not only does the creature absorb Stan's energy, he also has the same passion that Stan had for Alexandra, and Zzzax wants her at all costs. All of this commotion causes Banner to revert back into the Hulk. With the strong desire to protect his new friends, the Hulkster fights it out with the living energy beast. When the brawl doesn't go in its favor, Zzzax hightails it out of the facility. With Alexandra as his captive, the creature makes its way to the top of the John Hancock building where the Hulk follows and they continue to brawl. In a desperate attempt to destroy the beast, Mark flies a helicopter into the sky above them, and lowers a metal wire into Zzzax's body. When the helicopter is struck by lightning, it causes the energy to be taken away from Zzzax, and it disappears. Mark falls from the sky after the helicopter is struck by the lightning, but the Hulk catches and saves him from being squashed. The story ends with Mark and Alexandra holding each other, while the lonely Hulk walks off into the sunset. -Tom McMillion

Matthew Bradley: The second of this month’s four cluster issues is your basic King Kong-paraphrasing guilty pleasure, with the essential silliness of Zzzax—whom the Hulk doesn’t particularly seem to remember—offset by 40 years’ worth of nostalgia.  I vividly recall the detail of Stan dying because he’d nobly secured Alexandra’s helmet rather than his own, which I’m sure was in the back of my mind during every single airline oxygen-mask tutorial; nowadays, I also think of Hammer’s Four Sided Triangle (1953) and its two scientists in love with the same woman.  Once again, Herb’s self-inked art is at its eccentric peak, the guest-stars looking especially unnatural in page 7, panel 2, but Zzzax looks just fine, and this one is 100% pure fun.

Scott McIntyre: It’s nice to have Bruce Banner back after a long absence from these pages. He gets a janitorial job in the scientific facility ridiculously easy. Was he wearing anything more than his usually torn trousers? And jeez, he even wears purple coveralls. Zzzax is little more than an electric King Kong and it’s nearly as interesting. Trimpe inks his own work and it’s passable, if bizarre. His humans remain ugly, but he is a master at depicting equipment and buildings. A fun, if forgettable, issue.

Chris: A satisfyingly-complete one-off with zesty Zzzax, the Bundle of Raw Energy that Walks Like a Man.  I’m still not completely sure what Zzzax is – he appears to be a concentrated ball of electricity, but he can abduct women, and climb buildings, and be flipped onto his back, so the energy is able to assume some mass somehow; it occurs to me that energy and mass must have some relative connection, but that’s a whole other thing.   

Any reason why Zzzax would climb to the top of the second-tallest building in the city?  He seems to think it’s a place where he and Alex could get away from it all, you know, put up some wallpaper, subscribe to the Tribune, maybe start a family. The timing of this story is curious, since this same month, Gerry has a story in Thor about a man possessed by a spirit, who abducts a women for whom he carries a torch, and carries her off to a high point overlooking the city. As EIC, you’d think that Len would be aware of the similarities between these stories, and re-schedule one of them for a different month.

Chris: I think I like Herb’s Hulk art best when it’s self-inked.  Page 23 panel 2 is a classic “puny humans” moment.  Herb also does a solid job of packing-in all the activity that this rapid story required; there are many pages featuring small, narrow panels to compress the action, but it doesn’t come off as too tight.  I think pages 16-17 are the best example, with Zzzax’s exit (p 17 pnl 5) being the only art-moment that comes off as too small for the action depicted.  

The Invincible Iron Man 72
"Convention of Fear!"
Story by Barry Alfonso and Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Unsuccessfully fired upon with a thermal intensifier by three villains who escape unseen, Tony was brought to San Diego by a business emergency resolved before he arrived, but while getting feedback at S.I.’s assembly plant, he is attacked by “possessed” workers.  Seeking a diversion before returning to Saigon, he goes to a “comics fan convention” at the El Cortez Hotel, along with Messrs. Brunner, Orzechowski, and Thomas.  Posing as costumed revelers, the Melter, Whiplash, and Man-Bull had met by coincidence and joined forces to destroy Iron Man; the Black Lama appears, offering his golden globe and revealing that the real IM is right under their noses, yet as dissension in the ranks allows Iron Man to defeat the others, he teleports away. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Mike Friedrich scripts organizer Barry Alfonso’s “story plot” about a comic-book hero visiting an early Comic-Con attended by Mike Friedrich and colleagues.  This is one issue I wish I had gotten back in the day, because it’s difficult to assess in retrospect; forty years ago, such a metafictional outing probably seemed fresh and fun, but reading it now, albeit not for the first time, I find the Bullpen cameos no more effective than those in the Conway/Englehart/Wein Halloween Marvel/DC crossover of 1972.  The in-jokes (e.g., regarding Shellhead’s notorious nose) feel forced, as does the shoehorning of these three random—and minor—heavies into the War of the Super-Villains, while the Tuskolletta art is, if anything, more perfunctory than usual.

In #74, con patron Michael Macrone critiqued the caricatures:  “Brunner has brown hair (which is really blondish) and is wearing Mike’s shirt; Jan could’ve been drawn better; Orz is taller than pictured and has longer hair; the people in the pic are clothed too formally.  Other than that, the drawing was pretty good, with a perfect representation of Roy.  Mike is good, except for the hair, and Orz’s personality is captured to a ‘T.’  The tags the people are wearing aren’t authentic, but I realize what a problem it would be to faithfully reproduce them.”  All of them “were illustrated by ‘guest artists’ such as Neal Adams (Mike and Roy), Frank Brunner (himself and Jan) and Alan Kupperberg (Orz), all personal friends of the pictured people,” according to Marvel’s reply.

Scott: About as good as I expected… Meaning “not so good.” However, just following the 2014 New York Comic Con, this issue is weirdly appropriate in a way. The Melter and his cronies are at this convention to pull off a minor heist and to attract IM’s attention. What are they trying to steal? A mint copy of Marvel Comics #1? Aren’t there other ways of getting Shell-Head’s attention that would actually guarantee Iron Man himself would be the one to show? And did these guys pay admission? Why am I wasting time on this crap? At least someone mentioned how stupid his nose looks…

Jungle Action 13
The Black Panther in
"The God Killer"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Billy Graham and Craig Russell
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

The Panther has been alone in the frozen mountains all night, and finally has traced his path back to Resurrection Altar.  He subdues the Killmonger loyalists guarding the site, but neither can tell him where his adversary has gone.  Intrigued by oversized prints in the snow, T’Challa tracks them, until he finds himself overlooking an awesome site: a conclave of legendary white gorillas, overseen by Sombre, the mysterious keeper of Resurrection Altar!  Meanwhile – Killmonger has descended into Serpent Valley, hidden below a dense forest, in search of “mammoth” creatures (seen only by Sombre) that Killmonger intends to employ on his raid into Central Wakanda.  T’Challa then finds himself set-upon by the monstrous, immense god of the white gorillas, who looks on T’Challa as a sacrifice offered by Sombre.  The Panther is hopelessly overmatched, and can only save his ribs and organs from being crushed and pierced thru by reaching up to gouge the gorilla’s eyes.  T’Challa presses his advantage, and casts the giant over the ice-cliff edge, where he is impaled on the carcass bones below.  In the slow light of dawn, T’Challa contemplates the agony of having met – and slain – a god.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Don maintains the intensity level, even during quieter moments when he expounds on T’Challa’s miseries and suffering.  Through it all, T’Challa retains shreds of his grace, along with his keen focus.  The first line of the issue describes his panther costume as matted with blood.  His lips are blistered and split from the prolonged exposure to the cold, and his efforts to speak cause him to taste blood anew.  T’Challa’s wounds on his back from the wolf-fight are re-opened by the “jagged bolts” of a “mace-nunchaku;” still, he despairs over the ingenuity employed to “devise another method of killing,” rather than express fears for his own well-being.
I’ve mentioned before that this storyline has featured its share of Wild Kingdom moments, but at least this time, the gorilla battle resonates for T’Challa, as he recalls his time as a seven year-old prince, listening raptly while the white gorilla legends were recounted around a campfire.  The reality he now faces, of having to kill a myth, tells T’Challa that “he has lost part of his past, without anything to replace it.”  So add that to the tally of wrongs endured by T’Challa due to Killmonger’s insurrection.  Gonna make for a hell of a reckoning.  

Graham’s art gets a different spin from Russell, who ably contributes to the mood, just as Janson had done all along.  There isn’t any point (during the time spent with T’Challa, that is) when the art isn’t effective.  Page 14 (reprinted below), as T’Challa is drawn swiftly (despite his pain and exhaustion) toward a sort of borealis, and then shadowed by the moon, is particularly impressive.  
Two wasted pages at the end, with a reprint of old art from Avengers #73, and a Buckler-drawn Venomm pin-up (it’s hinted this villain might return next ish).  The letters (spread over 2 ½ pages) are encouraging and insightful, and the responses are unusually inspired and clever, but I’d still prefer a full-length story – and in JA #14 (finally!), we’ll get one!

Matthew:  Attributing Janson’s absence to “other commitments,” the lettercol adds that, “Fortunately, Craig Russell (with whom Don has been working closely on War of the Worlds) had just finished coloring Killraven’s latest epic and had a few spare nights to battle the deadline doom…”  His inks mesh well with the “McGraham” team to keep “Panther’s Rage” percolating along at its usual level of excellence, adding a slightly more outré flavor that is not at all out of place in this month’s simian saga, while the misty establishing shot of Serpent Valley in page 10, panel 1, dwarfing Tayete and Kazibe on the periphery, is most impressive.  This issue’s “Black Panther Artistry” comprises Giacoia/Grainger panels from Avengers #73 plus a Venomm pin-up.

The Man-Thing 13
"Red Sails at 40,000 Feet!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by John Buscema and Tom Sutton
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Trying to run from the malaise that has plagued him at the swamp lately, the Man-Thing has wandered to where the swamp meets the sea, Port Everglades. He heads to a dock, where a large cargo ship, the Marietta, is anchored. Slipping between the crates that await loading, he hears an argument between two men. The ship's captain James Matson objects to taking on board a scientific crew that want to explore the Bermuda Triangle. The other man is the owner of the ship, who is paying them double for taking on passengers rather than just cargo this time. Head of the scientific crew is Dr. Maura Spinner, eager to research the mysteries of the triangle. The cargo is loaded aboard and the surprised Man-Thing finds himself caught in the net, and put down inside the ship with the crates! He is weakened by being away from the swamp and does not have the strength to break free. Later, when Maura comes down to look at the equipment, the Man-Thing grabs her ankle in a desperate effort to communicate. Her screams bring the others running, and they pull her from Manny's weakened grasp. They lift him in the net to toss overboard when Maura calms down enough to see he's no danger and demands he be put back on board for study; the reluctant captain agrees. Both think he is dead. To take bizarre one step further, they soon enter the Bermuda Triangle, and out from the stormy sky comes a pirate ship, flying down to just above them, its crew floating down to the Marietta's deck! They take Dr. Spinner - claiming she is their 180 year-old queen - and the Man-Thing as well! Then they float back to their pirate ship and fly up into space. The magic of the craft allows the Man-Thing to regain some strength and he fights what he senses is the evil of the pirate crew. He tosses some overboard, but they can return, protected by the magic of someone they refer to as Khordes. The crew in mass forces Manny back until he falls overboard, and, not protected by any magic, he begins to freeze as he falls to Earth below. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Steve Gerber has come up with something of a pirate's treasure of a story here. First off, seeing Ted Sallis away from the swamp is adventure enough, stowed away aboard a ship at sea. Then the mysterious pirate ship flies down from the skies! Interesting characters abound; the female Dr. Spinner, the skeptical, protective sea captain, not to mention the pirates themselves. Who is this Khordes the pirates speak of; their leader or arch foe perhaps? Somehow the Man-Thing doesn't seem out of place in an environment where a lesser writer might lose the effectiveness of the story. Can't wait for more!

Scott: Interesting set up. Great art. Fairly well thought out characters. The first half has a pleasantly updated King Kong-type feel to it, with the mysterious ocean voyage and crusty ship’s captain with a softer center (like a Charms Blow Pop). The latter half is creepy, but not as spooky as Ploog would have made it. Still, it’s better work than Val M. or Bob Brown would have done.

Mark: Venturing far from his swampy stomping grounds to Port Everglades, Manny inadvertently stows away on a freighter bound - over the objections of its Captain – for two week's research in the Bermuda Triangle! Writer Steve Gerber ventures away from his recent focus on unlovable losers and narcissistic nincompoops to serve up more straightforward  fantasy - salty seadogs, sexy female scientists, and ghost ships whose journey to the Other Side hasn't slaked their crews' appetite for briny deep buccaneering. John Buscema's ghostly brigands looked like they stepped out of Conan, but Tom Sutton's inks lend the proceedings an odd, ethereal feel that suits the subject matter. With Gerber at the wheel – and Manny in the hold – all compasses point to Weirdsville.    

Chris: Imagine being an 8 yr-old kid, reading your first Man-Thing, and then comparing notes with older, seasoned comics readers.  “Man-Thing fights pirates in space,” you’d say.  “What?  He fights demons in the swamp, you knucklehead,” comes one reply, with another stating “No, no, he’s fighting against that construction guy, who wants to build an airport, right?” and another “You’re crazy – Man-Thing is wandering the streets of New York – someone took him there to show him off.”  Your bewildered 8 yr-old self wouldn’t realize that all of you would be right, that the mad imagination of Steve Gerber was capable of taking this character, and this title, literally anywhere.  

Sutton is an inspired choice to finish Buscema’s layouts.  The pirates’ faces are recognizably human, but twisted enough to seem unreal.  The grand entrance of the red-sailed buccaneer ship, bearing down from out of the sky, is impressively well done – the art allowed me to imagine what it might be like to witness such a sight.  High marks also for the spirited, chaotic on-board fight, and for Matson’s last view of Spinner, as she reaches desperately back toward her fading reality (reprinted right).  
“Hey Roy – for the next issue, I’ve decided to have Man-Thing abducted by space pirates, and then lost in the frozen void of space.  Sound good?  Gotta go!”  “Uh?  Yeah, uh, okay, I – hey wait a second, Steve?  Steve?  Where’d he go – did he say he was launching Man-Thing into space somehow?  Steve?!
Matthew:  I’ve had my quarrels with Sutton over the years, ironically most often as Big John’s inker, but must give credit where it’s due to the atmospheric finished art he provides here over Buscema’s layouts, which beautifully complement Steve’s spooky story.  Gerber takes yet another new tack, as it were, separating Manny from his swampy roots for a change, and while I can’t recall exactly where he’s headed with this I’m happy to go along for the, uh, voyage.  In the meantime, we’re promised that next month’s issue will see the debut of Enfantino-fave Alfredo Alcala as artist, while in GS #3 (which follows it chronologically), Steve and Frank Brunner—fresh off of Dr. Strange—will herald Howard the Duck’s long-awaited return with “Frog Death.”

Marvel Premiere 20
Iron Fist in
“Batroc and Other Assassins”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Arvell Jones, Dan Green
Colors by John Drake
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane, Joe Sinnott

After thwarting some Kara-Kai cultists in their attempt to assassinate Professor Wing, Iron Fist sneaks back into Meachum Tower to once again convince Joy Meachum that he didn’t kill her father. Joy’s uncle Ward appears and introduces the Living Weapon’s executioner: Batroc the Leaper. Iron Fist and Batroc trade kicks and chops until Rand summons his crackling Iron Fist power and lays the Frenchman low. The dazed Leaper calls for Batroc’s Brigade, dozens of armed assassins that burst into the room. While he battles bravely, the martial arts hero is soon overcome. However, the Ninja suddenly joins the fray and Batroc and his men are defeated, many cut down by the silent Ninja’s katana, much to Iron Fist’s dismay. The Ninja disappears in a cloud of smoke, materializing before the rare book the Cult of Kara-Kai seeks — and slowly transforms into Professor Wing.  -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: We have yet another complete creative team turnover during Iron Fist’s 11-issue Marvel Premiere run. Tony Isabella gets off on the right foot by bringing in one of Marvel’s most popular and exciting villains, Batroc. Hold on a second, where did I put that crack pipe? Cough. Ahhhh. Now what was I saying? While he had been kicking around the Bullpen for a bit, this is Arvell Jones’ first official assignment. Along with guys like Jim Starlin, Rich Buckler, and Keith Pollard, Jones was part of the wave of talent that came out of Detroit in the first half of the 70s. Well perhaps the word “talent” is a stretch, at least at this point. While he went on to a fairly lengthy career — mainly at DC — the young Arvell doesn’t show much flash in his debut. His art is on par with Hama’s mediocre work and he can’t draw Asian characters a lick: they all look like white people with migraine headaches. Isabella jams as many martial arts terms as he can in each caption: I have to assume that they are accurate since I don’t know a Boulder Block from Boulder Colorado. There’s too much action to call this issue a complete dud but it sure ain’t that good. While he continues Joy Meachum’s habit of calling our hero Mr. Flashy Iron Fist, Tony tweaks Iron Fist’s legend on the splash page. If you care:

You are DANIEL RAND — a man who, like every other man, was born of father and mother. But you are also a being who TRANSCENDS the fragile humanity of Daniel Rand, an indestructible BATTLER whose genesis was conceived in the DEATH of your father. You have undergone the rigors of TUTELAGE and TRAINING… the Challenge of the MANY and the Challenge of the ONE. And you are CHANGED.

An indestructible BATTLER? Where’s that crack pipe again?

Matthew: Moench “found himself buried under the martial arts books, what with the 75¢ Deadly Hands of Kung Fu going monthly, the Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu, the two regular Iron Fist and Shang-Chi comics—and now the upcoming bimonthly black-and-white Iron Fist magazine.  And we may have forgotten some, if that’s possible. Anyway, Doug decided—for the sake of his sanity—to stay with Shang-Chi, and Tony (The Tiger) Isabella opted to continue the steel-smashing exploits of the prodigy from K’un-Lun.  And by all that’s worthy, faithful one, don’t dare miss the dazzling first issue of that aforementioned 75¢ Iron Fist magazine, lest the irate iron fist of vengeance descend on you!,” commands this issue’s lettercol.

That B&W Iron Fist never materialized, although it’s so heavily touted here and on this month’s Bullpen Page that one has to wonder how close it got to completion, and what happened to its scheduled contents.  Meanwhile, at the risk of being an easy lay, I was charmed from Tony’s first words of his first issue, because he returned to the “You are Iron Fist…” and “…like unto a thing of iron!” locutions, which appealed to the traditionalist in me, as well as identifying the various martial-arts moves, most notably in the tour de force on page 17.  I’m less enamored of the many errors in Batroc’s French (distinct from his annoyingly accented English) and “just whelmed,” as Dad used to say, by the pencils of minor Marvel newcomer Jones, a Detroit pal of Buckler et al.


Scott: Everything takes a giant step down a notch or two with this issue: the art is far from the pretty awesome stuff we’ve had in the past, and the story…Batroc? Seriously? A trifle more tolerable here than in Captain America’s book, but still annoying and superfluous. Not much here to get my fingers typing, I’m afraid.

Chris: So Prof Wing has a secret, does he?  I had forgotten about this – I had thought Colleen was the ninja, but her concern about her father’s welfare dismissed that theory.  The bits of character development are the only noteworthy moments in this issue.  For starters, I’ve never found Batroc to be a villain I could take seriously.  Danny’s use of the iron fist to interrupt their battle makes sense, and I was interested to see how his efforts to reason with Batroc might turn out – and then, “Batroc’s brigade” pours in, and the battling begins to grow tedious.  Jones’ layouts, overall, are fairly well thought-out – obviously, there’s a great deal asked of him, since there are so many separate movements in the fighting.  But the art looks poor – amateurish, even, as bodies are out of proportion, faces flat and unfinished, etc.  Green’s long association with Iron Fist (all the way to PM/IF #50, if memory serves) begins here, and his presence doesn’t help.  We’ll see, over the next few years, that there is no comic whose look is improved by the addition of Dan Green.

I had a comment for MP #19 that I neglected to submit, so excuse me if I sneak it in now: The letters page recommends that Doug not follow the example of Luke Cage, whose early stories also were grounded in the lead character’s desire for revenge.  At this point in time, I don’t think anyone would’ve given even a flicker of credence to the possibility that Danny and Luke would one day be sharing an office.  

Marvel Team-Up 29
The Human Torch and Iron Man in
"Beware the Coming of... Infinitus!
or How Can You Stop The Reincarnated Man?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Jim Mooney and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

When only the Torch answers Tony Stark’s urgent summons to the FF for help with a rash of “techno-murders” in Detroit, Iron Man angers Johnny with his rudeness.  Saved by his assistant, Rodgers, from a vat of exploding chemicals, Tony armors up to confront the culprit, the self-styled “Infinitus—the reincarnated king of Egypt, Amenemhet III, lord of the 11th dynasty,” who escapes; he also eludes Johnny after the Torch foils a second attempt on Stark and Rodgers.  Goading the Torch to investigate on his own, Iron Man locates Infinitus with a tracking device but is felled by his heat ray, while Johnny’s research reveals him as Rodgers’ brother, who committed the other murders as a smokescreen for the fratricide that was his object. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Let’s see, it’s Giant-Size Spider-Man month, which means the Torch is due to star in MTU, this time with a monument to mediocrity whose Mooney/Colletta artwork is no better than average, but better than Conway’s every-which-way-but-lucid story, recalling the bad old days of his stint on IM’s own book.  The first of its two major problems is Shellhead’s inexplicable exercise in amateur “applied psychology,” which Gerry may have intended as a refreshing change from the standard-issue MARMIS, yet left this reader wondering why he didn’t simply say, “Yo, Johnny, a little help here?”  The other is its mercifully one-shot villain, who brings nothing to the table except, weirdly, the same last name as Tony’s institutionalized ex-squeeze (resurfacing in June).

Scott: So, let me get this straight: Iron Man is a complete dick to the Human Torch throughout the story because he’s using “applied psychology?” Why? To get Johnny to focus and hit the books? Seriously? I know Johnny is a d-bag, but he’s also a seasoned crime fighter on the greatest team in the Marvel Universe. He doesn’t need some dude in an iron costume to get him to focus. Frankly, it smacks of a cheap plot device to add tension unnecessarily.

Joe: Of course, I did not own this one given the two leads, so I'm reading it for the first time. Certain things I had forgotten about that I liked include Iron Man being Stark's "bodyguard" (yeah, I know I should pay attention to more of the faculty's lesson plans), Torch being able to flame on but not ignite his arms to carry Stark and the scientist, and how much I disliked Spidey-less issues of MTU. Johnny is such an impatient teenager here, he's worthy of Iron Man's barbs; as is Shell-head of Torch calling him an "animated garbage can". Both characters come off as annoying, although it was good to see Torch figure out the academics portion of the puzzle. Not enamored of the easily-dispatched villain, either. Get me to next issue, quick!

Marvel Two-In-One 7
The Thing and Valkyrie in
"Name That Doom!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita

Astride Aragorn, Val abducts Alvin from Central Park as Strange sends Ben to retrieve the harmonica from Cobbler’s Roost, Vermont, where Val seeks her true identity.  Stopping for directions, he is attacked by a gas station “attendant,” in reality the Executioner, and felled with a mystic bolt by the Enchantress, who posed as Val yet is prevented from killing Ben because he has a role to play in Denton’s destiny.  The immortals intend to use the harmonica to conquer Asgard, and entrapped Ben to prevent his interference, but the Enchantress realizes they cannot do so until destiny has run its course, so she cancels the spells with which she had created the illusion of the filling station and restrained Ben and Alvin (thus revealing Denton to Strange).

Ben agrees to take Alvin to Vermont, where Denton senses danger to his daughter; en route he relates how his successful life fell apart when a car crash killed his wife, and Barbara vanished after she and her fiancé, Jack, fell in with occultists.  Alvin identifies Val as Barbara, whereupon the Asgardians appear and the Enchantress reverts Val to the madwoman used to create her, but Alvin blows the harmonica, believing it will cure her.  The five see the world destroyed and Ben fights to retrieve the harmonica dropped by Alvin, knowing that whoever blows it will control how the world is re-formed, yet although he succeeds and the Asgardians are defeated, Denton dies of a heart attack, leaving the restored Val’s past unrevealed.  (Continued in Defenders #20.) -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Gerber established a beachhead in his takeover of Defenders with the trilogy resumed here, as Buscema (grandly inked by Esposito) triumphantly takes the reins from Tuska for the remainder; aptly, both January titles are among the early credits as a colorist of future writing mainstay Bill Mantlo.  I revisit cluster issues with trepidation, fearing they won’t live up to my memories, but this one holds up as solidly as Ben’s rocky orange hide, and although Steve’s MTIO tenure lasts for two more issues, I consider this its high-water mark. Ben’s observations and interactions are hilarious, the ill-fated Denton “reunion” is poignant, the epic climax moves me in mysterious ways, Sal’s depiction of all hell breaking loose is unforgettable, and Val’s backstory is expanded.

Scott: Val’s search for herself is a nice story, but I would rather it not be wasted in the pages of a crappy, third tier team-up title. At least it’s continued in The Defenders where it belongs (a less crappy second tier team-up title). The art is passable. Sal is not nearly the talent that brother John is, but he’ll be around for a long, long time.

The Mighty Thor 231
"A Spectre From the Past"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Thor and Hercules have returned to the Earth's surface after battling the "fear" creature and fill the hole that led to its underground domain. Police Sergeant Blumkenn tells Thor that a woman who had been afflicted with the madness associated with the creature had been asking for him. She's in the hospital, and her name is Jane Foster!! The memory of his former love, partially hidden from him by a spell of forgetfulness cast by Odin, returns, and he tears off to the hospital to be by her unconscious side. Elsewhere, a séance is being conducted by a fraudulent mother/son team, but this time a real spirit comes forward, entering the body of the son Arnold. He takes a neanderthal-like form, calling himself Armak, the "first man." He grabs a young girl who had been part of the attending family and takes off, wreaking havoc in the street. Hercules is first on the scene, and Thor soon arrives. He is fueled by his fury to have had to leave Jane Foster's side. The battle takes them up a skyscraper construction elevator. When Arnold/Armak hears his mother's call from the streets below, he pauses long enough for Thor to strike, and the" first man" plummets to his death below. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The story of Armak is interesting, perhaps it would have been moreso had it been given more depth, but the real news of the issue is the return of Thor's earlier love, the human Jane Foster. I can hear the collective groan of the faculty, but the new Jane Foster, the seventies version, is a more developed character who takes part in adventures more, and watches from the sidelines less. Very little is seen of her here, so it remains a mystery at this point. Sif is already faced with a dilemma she will struggle with for some time. The mystery continues as to Odin's whereabouts.

Matthew: The lettercol informs us that with Buckler focusing on the FF and Deathlok, “John Buscema should be back on the book, doing the layouts at least.”  He and Giordano are credited simply as “artists extraordinair [sic],” but while Dick isn’t going to make me forget about Joe Sinnott, and some of his work has the unfinished look that characterized his efforts on Iron Fist, he does a generally commendable job.  Right from its effective Kane cover, and despite some oddities (e.g., Sif calling her brother Heimdal [sic] “friend”; the apparent lipstick applied to Thor by Petra in page 7, panel 1), this month’s final cluster issue shows Gerry on a roll, and although I can’t say I’m a big fan of Jane Foster’s, bringing her back does show that old Conway Chutzpah.

Chris: I didn’t realize Jane Foster had been written out of Thor’s title as far back as #136 – it’s an eternity in comics years.  Very mature of Sif to think only of Thor’s feelings for Jane, rather than view her as a competitor for Goldy’s affections.  Armak (whose name is almost the same name as that of a professional services company) isn’t much of an opponent, although I can’t help but share Herc’s curiosity regarding Armak’s origin.  Strange choice by Gerry to have Herc standing by when Armak plunges from the construction site, when it seems obvious that Herc should’ve been close enough to save him.  Was Gerry going for a Kong allegory here (“Twas beauty killed the beast.”)?

Buscema’s return is welcome, and although I prefer inks by Sinnott or even Chic Stone for this title, I don’t mind Giordano’s finishes.  The results tend to be less distinct, but I appreciate the texture and shadows we get in place of strict clarity.  The art looks like Janson on his best day, which I don’t mind.  It’s far better than the murky style DeZuniga will employ with Buscema when he comes on board, in another 16-18 issues.  
Can we all agree that pages 27 and 30 are out of sequence?  Look again – at the bottom of p26, the combatants rise up in a lift, in a close grapple, toward the top of the framework of construction site.  On p27, Armak lifts a car over his head – wait, a car? how could a car wind up there? – and we can see the chunks of rubble at his feet.  On p30, Thor (dramatically – nice job, John & Dick) smashes the flung car.  By p31, they’re back on the lift, in close-quarters fighting again.  Well, at least the cover accurately depicts an imperiled woman, as opposed to the numerous occasions (in other titles, mostly) when the pretty girl clearly only has been there to draw the adolescent male gaze (and, it worked, didn’t it?).

The Tomb of Dracula 28
"Madness in the Mind!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Taj makes up with his estranged wife and the two kiss before she begs him to help the son they have together, a boy who has been transformed into a vampire. With their son tied to his bed, Taj's wife begs him not to let the villagers take him away. Dracula, Shiela, and David Eschol awaken as Dr. Sun's prisoners inside Dunwick Castle. Surrounded by Sun's agent Mae Li and soldiers, the three are tortured by the Chimera's power. David sees visions of his father, telling him that God does not exist, and that the Devil is supreme over all. Shiela hallucinates that Dracula is going to bite her neck. Dracula sees visions of the vampire hunters, killing him over and over again. Tired of what he knows to be false images, Dracula is able to break the spell and then uses his mind control powers to force Mae Li to commit suicide. Sickened by the whole ordeal, Shiela goes against Dracula's commands and destroys a piece of the Chimera statue. No longer under the Count's spell, she and David leave while Dracula appears to be greatly disturbed that his one-time lackey has spurned him.
-Tom McMillion

Tom: As long as the whole Chimera angle has been dropped, I'm satisfied with this issue. It's always nice to be reminded that not only is Dracula tough physically, he is also tough-minded.

Scott: Are we supposed to like Taj or not? Not too long ago, he cracked his wheelchair bound wife in the jaw, making him the leading candidate for the “total monstrous dick” award of the new year. Now, he’s suddenly overcome with lost love for this woman. We finally see the reveal we’ve yawned for… I mean yearned for. Their son is a vampire. That’s pretty creepy, especially rendered by Colan and Palmer. They portray the ghostly action well. Drac is defeated nicely as his own servant leaves against the vampire’s most fervent commands. A nice, sober ending.

Chris: The chimera story ends with not one bang, but two: first, Shiela dashes the chimera to pieces, so that neither Drac nor David might use it to fulfill their wishes; second, Shiela turns her pretty head and walks away from her would-be master.  It’s strange for Drac to be left with a mouthful of ash, isn’t it?  We still don’t know who had been Drac’s competitor for the chimera (I’m hearing among the faculty that it was Dr Sun, but I don’t remember that being stated outright), or why he chose to use the artifact to torment his captives – unless, of course, he used it For Badness, which is a sufficient explanation for some villains.  

After a lengthy absence from these pages, Taj’s tragic storyline is coming to its proverbial head.  Taj’s long-suffering wife explains that the villagers are calling for their son’s life, so she asks Taj to protect his life – when our expectations might’ve been that she would ask Taj to finish him, so that the villagers don’t employ their own means to do it.  Clearly, this situation is going to get a whole lot worse – isn’t it?  
Mark: I've carped about the scattershot, overstuffed aspects of Wolfman's ambitious but uneven Chimera saga, but instead of limping across the finish line, Marv serves up a rare treat: MCT - Marvel Climaxius Triumphant, an uneven arc that so sticks the landing even the Russian judges give it a 9.9. Open with mute, lately mean-spirited Taj, transformed into a sympathetic, poignant figure before his wronged wife and doomed child. Then the Chimera, potent mystic totem/plot-MacGuffin, now whole and weaving nightmares. David's dead Rabbi father mocks Jehovah. A promised-love Sheila is rudely betrayed by a cackling, deaths-head Drac. The Count, taunted and staked by Harker's Fearless Vampire Hunters before his indomitable will shatters the illusions spun by off-screen Dr. Sun. Sheila then shatters the Chimera, robbing her master of his presumptive victory. After this revolt, she's suddenly impervious to the Count's commands. It makes no logical sense but Marv's artistic sleight of hand proves as powerful as the broken totem, because somehow it all just works. Sheila's arm around Davy, the couple exit stage left, leaving Dracula alone, humbled, almost sympathetic. 

Any tale that leaves you feeling the blood-sucking Lord of the Damned needs a hug gets an A+.

Werewolf by Night 25
"An Eclipse of Evil"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Linda Lessmann
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Lt. Northrup gloats over the trapped Werewolf, but our hairy hero grabs the policeman's ankle, tangling him up in the net! A shot rings out, hitting Werewolf before he rips free, leaving a trail of blood as he escapes. Mrs. Redditch helps nurse Buck back to health, not knowing what her husband's truly been turned into—the evil DePrayve, who Werewolf finds breaking up a lover's tryst. The two begin to tussle, when suddenly a drunk driver crashes in (HUH?). The drunk takes off as DePrayve changes back into Redditch, but an uncaring Werewolf mauls the baffled scientist and runs off. Northrup shows up and they take Redditch to the hospital, then Jack shows up injured at the Russell home. A month later, Jack and Buck visit Redditch to go over what happened, trying to get him to use the serum to help cure a "friend" of theirs. Northrup accosts the pair on the steps, but Jack runs off, since the moon is rising! Jack changes and runs towards the freedom of the forest…but is yanked from the street by the noose of The Hangman!  –Joe Tura

Joe: So…the Hangman survived being trapped under all that rubble in issue #12. Go figure! Nobody ever survives in this book! This has to be a first as far as I can remember. And are we excited? Hmmm…talk to me next month. As for this issue, Don Perlin gets to ink his own pencils and the result is, well, not much different. There is slightly more of a throwback feel to the artwork, especially in the battle scenes with Werewolf & DePrayve and the transformation scenes, but overall it’s the usual OK. A decent script this time out, with lots of story instead of one and done filler, and I can say I'm interested to see where next issue will take us, for one of the few times.

The supporting cast gets lots of play this issue, from the wisecracking Lt. Northrup ("I feel like a caterpillar with claustrophobia!") to the first appearance by reformed (in Jack's and the readers' minds) stepfather Philip in quite a while. Reading the paper and sipping coffee at home, all he's missing is the Mr. Rogers sweater and King Friday. Lissa looks more like Betty from the Archie comics for some reason, but isn't given much to do other than open the door for Jack. Oh well, maybe next time.

Chris: An improvement over several recent issues.  Once we overcome some silliness at the opening, with the Werewolf and Northrup tangled in the net, the story takes on some substance.  It’s about time the Werewolf’s nighttime rampage resulted in a serious outcome, as we have someone land in the hospital for a change.  The conversation with Redditch works well too, as both parties carefully look for opportunities to use the others to their own benefit.  I thought we had seen our share of the Hangman the last time out, so I’m not optimistic about this trend continuing.

Perlin’s self-inked art is far better than recent issues as well – either that, or I’ve grown accustomed to Perlin’s style, and I’m desperate for the art to be less bad.  I thought the transformation (p 30, top) was fairly convincingly done this time, with text to match.  I guess that’s all I have.  

Master of Kung Fu 24
"Massacre Along the Amazon!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Al Milgrom, Jim Starlin, Alan Weiss, Walt Simonson, and Sal Trapani
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane

Shang-Chi stalks a group of Si-Fan assassins from the jungle treetops, then leaps below to take out the last warrior of the group; S-C dons his togs and rejoins the marchers.  Bucher arrives at his camp moments after Fu Manchu had flown over in his helicopter – Bucher orders his men to prepare for attack on their base.  S-C’s group arrives at the camp; as S-C seeks to separate himself from the others, he is found out by one of the assassins, and the two join in battle just as combat is erupting nearby between the rival forces of Bucher and Fu.  S-C finally bests his opponent and sneaks into Bucher’s camp, and makes a disturbing discovery as he glances in one of the windows.  S-C is sickened by the senseless carnage of the battle, with countless warriors killed on both sides.  Bucher’s men manage to capture Fu, and tie him to a tree.  Bucher threatens to destroy Fu with a bazooka, but S-C leaps in and diverts the shot, which pierces the side of the building – the same one S-C had looked into earlier – to reveal a rocket, with a nuclear warhead at its peak.  Sir Denis and Black Jack emerge from the jungle to ambush Bucher’s remaining forces.  Bucher throws a knife into S-C’s chest, and runs into the building to fire the missile.  S-C informs the maddened Bucher that he has “deactivated” the missile.  Enraged by S-C’s interference (and the frustration of his belief in S-C’s “inferiority”), Bucher falls into the silo, and screams all the way to its bottom.  Meanwhile, Fu has escaped.  S-C acknowledges that Fu’s actions might warrant death, but states that Fu did not deserve “to die merely because he was born to his race.” -Chris Blake
Chris: A letter from future What If? writer Peter Gillis observes that, now that Moench has replaced Englehart, this title is based on action, not ideas.  I agree to an extent – but, as the final moment of the story proves, while action may be at the heart of MoKF, Moench has not lost sight of S-C as a man whose actions are dictated by his beliefs and values.  So, the unique aspects of S-C’s character have been incorporated into the stories, even if they are no longer at the forefront.  
There’s a significant continuity break between MoKF #23 and this one, since the story opens without any mention of how and when Shang-Chi emerged from the water and came ashore.  That’s not much of a problem in itself, except for the fact that when we had last seen S-C, he appeared to have been shot by Bucher as he dove into the water, leaving a visible spot of blood on the surface.  Sir Denis and Black Jack discuss their concerns for S-C’s fate (p 3), but there’s no other reference to the circumstances of his disappearance in the previous issue.  In the letters page of MoKF #27, the trained armadillo dances around the unresolved question of S-C being shot, and ultimately admits to not having a satisfactory answer.  
The other question regarding this issue is: can you guess the penciller?  There are four pencil artists listed in the credits, but no mention anywhere (neither in this issue, nor the letters page in MoKF #27 responding to comments for MoKF #24) of who-did-what.  The official Marvel database website lists the four pencillers, but provides no specifics, which is astounding to me (the listing for this issue on Super Mega Monkey admits to never having even heard of Alan Weiss, so their site is officially excused).  Grand Comics Database speculates that Starlin had penciled pages 6, 16, 17, 30, and 31; I disagree on p 16, and I’m not sold on p 17, but I can see the other three being Jim’s, especially p 6.  Extra credit to Trapani, who does a solid job of pulling the whole thing into a (mostly) coherent whole.
Mark: No Gulacy loses a letter grade. The quad-pod of pencillers looks mostly like Milgrom, solid & serviceable, with would-be Fourth Reich Fuhrer Bucher rendered as cartoon grotesquery. The plot set-piece: a villains v. villains showdown. Bucher's goose-steppers, on defense in their Amazonian Quonset hut compound, attacked by Fu's Si-Fan. The stakes: a souped-up V-2 (the pop-eyed Kraut got the nuke warhead at Oppie's Atomic Surplus?). Like the Allies cozying up to "Uncle Joe," ya gotta root for Fu against the Nazis. Platoon strength machine-gun mayhem ensues, with wildcards Shang lurking on one flank, Sir Denis and Black Jack, steaming upriver via paddleboat, approaching another. After much slaughter, Popeye the Hitler Man gets the bazooka jump on Fu. "Perhaps my father deserves to die," thinks a leaping-to-the-rescue Shang, "but not at the hands of a man like this." Our hero takes a knife in the shoulder for his trouble before a still-ranting Bucher tumbles to his death down the missile silo.  Auf Wiedersehen, a-hole. Fu escapes in the confusion. Duh.

Solid & serviceable, but still counting down to Gulacy's return.

Ka-Zar 7
"Revenge of the River Gods!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema, Bob McLeod, Joe Rubinstein, Klaus Janson, and Neal Adams
Colors by Bill Mantlo
Letters by David Hunt
Cover by John Buscema

Traveling to Tandarr-Kaa, home of Kem Horkus, he and Ka-Zar vow to repay the cowardly Ghakar, who left Kem's brother Bar to die last issue. They slip onto the tavern-barge and attack ("Ka-Zar calls you scum, river-man."), but Kem's capture distracts our blonde hero and he's knocked out, just as Zabu is speared by one of Ghakar's weasley underlings! Kem's cousin Jira visits the captives, distracting the guard enough for the pretending-to-sleep Ka-Zar to waylay him. Skulking away in disguise, they're spotted by Ghakar and captured again, left for "the purging" which means they're tied to a canoe and sent down the rainy river to die! Shifting their weight at the right time, K-Z and Kem are freed when the canoe breaks, and they return for K-Z to exact a bloody vengeance on the smarmy Ghakar! K-Z dives to find his brother Zabu and bury him. After hours of searching, he wearily finds the sabretooth's tracks down river. He's alive but wounded and Ka-Zar will find him! 
– Joe Tura

Joe: It must be too late at night, because this is one of the better Ka-Zar books I've read. Nice to see the Jungle Lord really cut loose and get super pissed to the point of killing someone who deserved it. (Curse you, traitorous Ghakar!) And even though I knew Zabu wasn't dead, I will admit to doing a double take when he got speared! Certainly not a big fan of Dave Hunt's lettering prowess. Makes sense for a book like Werewolf by Night to match the middling pencils of Perlin, but for some reason it doesn't fit with Big John's work. Then again, the McLeod inks are quite a step down from last issue's Alcala embellishments, so that isn't a plus either. Sure, just when the script is better than usual, the art makes up for it. That's Ka-Zar for ya!

Also This Month

Chamber of Chills #14
Comix Book #2
Crypt of Shadows #15
Giant-Size Kid Colt #1 >
Kid Colt Outlaw #190
Marvel's Greatest Comics #54
Marvel Spectacular #13
Marvel Super-Heroes #48
Marvel Triple Action #23
My Love #32
Nostalgia Illustrated #1
Rawhide Kid #124
Sgt. Fury #124
The Human Torch #3
Tomb of Darkness #12
Where Monsters Dwell #33

In the early, early days of MU, I had the naive notion that we could cover everything Marvel produced (well, we never tackled the romance titles -- we were grown men, after all) every month. Once the expanded line crashed into the limited number of hours in the day, we had to chop away at some bits. First went the sci-fi titles, then the westerns and, finally, we had to bid a sweet adieu to Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos. Well, nature adapts, we all know from Jurassic Park, and so too did the Marvel titles. The sci-fi anthologies quickly morphed into superhero showcases and Sgt. Fury eventually went the reprint route. Of the Marvels we had to drop, I regret omitting the westerns the most. You're right, they were probably the least popular genre we covered (I often pictured myself lecturing in front of an empty auditorium... and still being okay with that), but there was something very cool about the dorky characters and the two plot lines Stan and Larry (Lieber) used as the foundation. Fast forward to January 1975 and for some wild and wacky reason we get Giant-Size Kid Colt (which, amazingly, lasted three issues!), a title I just knew could not go by without fanfare. In "Meet the Manhunter!", the first new Kid Colt adventure since 1969, Larry Lieber is still up to his old tricks, merging a MARMIS with that old western chestnut, the innocent gunfighter, accused of wrongdoing, trying to regain his good name. For good measure, Larry has another Marvel gunfighter, The Rawhide Kid (who would, a few years later, join The Village People and, eventually, blaze the trail for gay gunfighters), step into a bar fight to aid Colt. The resulting fatalities leave the duo with a price on their heads. A retired Texas Ranger turned bounty hunter decides to show his son what manhood is all about by tracking down and capturing the two outlaws. Through several slights of hand, the hunter turns the boys against each other and throws a lasso around both. When an act of bravery by Colt saves the man's son, he releases the heroes and swears off his life of killing. Lieber's art is abysmal, resembling half finished sketches by Jack Kirby where misshapen heads appear on funky looking bodies. Every character in this story has the same jaw and the only thing that differentiates them from the other is the color of their gear (thank you, George Roussos). The story, on the other hand, is a good one, much better than something thrown out onto the stands, like this was, ought to be. There's a genuine pathos being delivered between the hunter and his boy, ignoring the usual stereotype of the tough guy's son who only wants to play the violin or grow flowers. This boy seems generally interested in catching bad guys with pop. Doug Moench could have learnt a thing or two from Lieber's spare dialogue. A whopping seven reprints round out this issue. The remaining two Giant-Size Kid Colts also featured twenty pages of new material, scripted by Gary Friedrich and pencilled by Dick Ayers (I'll pass, thank you). Giving a forgotten book like Kid Colt the prestige of a GIANT-SIZE seems like an odd choice until you take into account that there exists a Giant-Size Marvel Triple Action, a super-large packaging of reprints based on a reprint title. The Marvel Age of Ideas indeed! -Peter Enfantino

The Mighty MARMIS Western


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 8
Cover by Bob Larkin

"A Hatred for All Seasons"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Vosburg and Jack Abel

"Swords for Hire"
Text by John David Warner

"Kung Fu in the Paperbacks"
Text by David Anthony Kraft

"Storm of Vengeance"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Al Milgrom

Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu bumps into a homicidal maniac and tries to talk him into surrendering rather than taking any more innocent lives. Once a respected police officer, the man watched in horror as, in a tragic accident, his partner was shot by another cop. As it would with most people, this event transformed the cop into a knife-wielding serial killer. Shang has a way with even the nuttiest of folk though and he's able to convince the guy that the straight and narrow is a path less thorny (or something very Keats-ian like that) but the man is (irony of ironies!) gunned down in cold blood by a cop on the street. Shang is left to ponder whether the leaves turn brown because of the sun or because of the dying love of mankind. I'm beginning to sound like a broken record but this series is utter crap! I'll take a lousy Isabella script over this pretentious muck Moench was pumping out. In what world does a man watch, admittedly, a tragic accident and then decide the only solution is to murder women with a knife? And why does that slobbering maniac then take the time to listen to Shang's existential baloney ("You are filled with great pain. This I can see. But you cannot rid yourself of that pain by giving it to others. You cannot bring new life to your soul by killing. This you must see.") rather than shivving him like the dozen or so he'd already put in the ground? Doug Moench continues to run into the field and steal seeds after other writers have laid them down. He did it with The Exorcist in the Gabriel series and here he rips off Kung Fu (itself not the bastion of original thought - The Fugitive anyone?). The only thing that surprised me at all about this story is that Doug didn't fall back on the usual climax of Fu watching the whole thing on some sort of spy device (Fu Manchu invented CCTV) and cackling that he'd been behind the affair the whole time. Add in Mike Vosburg's primitive sketches and "A Hatred For All Seasons" is the worst strip of the new year.

Pretension, thy name is Moench

On a dark and stormy night, the Sons of the Tiger must fight their way through Manhattan after The Silent Ones dare the Tigers to meet them at Welfare Island. When they get there they must fight a giant sumo wrestler and a band of killer ninjas until only one assailant stands. The ninja drops his hood to reveal he is a she. The beautiful girl tells the Tigers she has a message from The Silent Ones and then blows the bridge they're all standing under. Wow! After all the limp noodles I've had to read in this wasteland of a comic book, I never saw this one coming. From panel one, "Storm of Vengeance" is a gripping, exciting and involving little story, so filled with wall-to-wall action you don't have time to stop and ask questions. It's almost like the funny book equivalent of Walter Hill's The Warriors (still four years in the future) in that a gauntlet is thrown down and the boys have to make their way through a battle zone to get to the answers they need. Kudos to Bill Mantlo for tossing so much more into the mix than just "The Tigers must fight the henchmen of The Silent Ones" again. If there's one nit to pick (and there's always at least one, right?), it's that the whole SHAZAM! aspect of The Sons of the Tigers remains vague. I get that they clang their bracelets together and hum "Instant Karma" but why don't they do that at the beginning of the story when they're in trouble rather than five or six panels before the climax. There should have been one of those Ultraman rules written into this series to explain why they don't Hulk out earlier: if they clang their jewelry, they have five minutes to bring it on or their souls are confined to the Astral Vortex for one week. Regardless, "Storms" is a classic, graced with a snappy script and dynamic layout, and easily the best Tiger Boys segment yet. Is it really me that can't wait to get to the next chapter?

David Anthony Kraft provides a useful guide to all the Kung Fu paperback series that had popped up on the scene by late 1974 and John Warner breaks down some foreign Chop Socky flick that had lots of roundhouse kicks and Hai-Yas.

On a side note, according to The Comic Reader #110 (September 1974), Frank Brunner and Steve Englehart were planning on adapting the Fu Manchu novels "for one of the black and white kung fu titles sometime (in 1975)." Since there was only one B&W chop socky zine, I'll assume the adapts were set to appear in Deadly Hands but then, bizarrely, in the following issue of TCR, it was announced those stories would run in the back of the B&W Doc Savage zine (which would appear in the Summer of '75 to coincide with George Pal's flick). Those adapts would have made for a nice change from the "wash, rinse, repeat" of Shang-Chi and the Tiger Kids. -Peter Enfantino

Dracula Lives! 10
Cover by Luis Dominguez

"The Pit of Death Part 1"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"Dracula AD 1972"
Review by Gary Gerani

"Dracula Chapter V: Ship of Death"
Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Dick Giordano

"The Blood Book"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Bob Brown and Crusty Bunkers

"A Vampire Stalks Melrose Abbey"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Win Mortimer

Lupescu desperately tries to convince his fellow villagers that there is a vampire amongst them, a bloodsucker named Dracula! The town mayor tells him he's insane, there is nothing to the vampire legend and if Lupescu believes such rot, then he is as blind as his wife. This doesn't sit well with Lupescu since his wife is blind. After beating the mayor to within an inch of his life, Lupescu returns home to make sure his wife is safe, only to find that she has become the latest victim of Dracula. Seeking revenge for his savage beating, the mayor sends a squad of police to find Lupescu and bring him in. They arrive at the man's house just in time to witness Lupescu drive a stake into his wife's heart. Lupescu is jailed but he escapes and finds his way to Dracula's castle, where the king of the vampires tosses him into the pit of death. There, at the bottom, reside a row of coffins. The lids open and out pop some very attractive nightmares, one of whom is very recognizable to Lupescu. Though the plot is nothing groundbreaking, "The Pit of Death" does mark an important milestone for writer Doug Moench. For the first time (that I'm aware of), Moench puts aside his ambition of being the first funny book Hemingway/Keats and simply tells a good story. Now, there's still the pesky second half to content with and Dougie may slip back into his pretentious ways but I've got my fingers crossed we'll see just as entertaining a second chapter as the first. The sightless vampire is a nice touch (and if Doug doesn't use the phrase "blind as a bat" in the sequel, I'll be very disappointed), as is the morally corrupt mayor. Or is he morally corrupt? Who would throw in with a madman shouting "vampire"? Tony DeZuniga's art is fabulous, very atmospheric. Over at the bare bones website, Jack Seabrook and I have been discussing DeZuniga's incredible work on the DC mystery books of the mid-1970s (plug! plug!), which seemingly gets better and better.

"The Pit of Death"

"Ship of Death" is the fifth chapter in Roy Thomas' and Dick Giordano's mammoth Dracula adaptation. By this time in the book, we're finally getting to the meat: Dracula in London. Thomas does a good job of using Stoker's dry prose (and mixing in some of his own, I assume) and Giordano continues to impress with his pencil work. Check out that eerie panel (reprinted below) of the Count aboard the doomed ship. They say a funny book panel is worth a thousand word balloons and this is the proof they're right.

Hanging out in a 1970s version of a beatnik coffee shop, Lilith, the daughter of Dracula, is grooving to the mellow sounds emanating from a fine piece of guitar-playing tail. The other patrons (who resemble vikings for some reason) are not so charitable about the squawkings of this Paullete Simon-wannabe. But... they agree she is a fine piece of tail. A hell of a brawl breaks out (as they often did back in Greenwich Village) and Lilith mops the floor with Sven, Ivan, and the rest of the mouthy critics. Having sated her thrust on the blood of one of the heathens, Lilith heads back home to the pad of her alter ego, sweet honey child Angel O'Hara. Having transformed back into Angel, the poor girl has to listen to her whiny old man, Martin, a failed writer, and his bad day shopping his wares on publishers' row. Declaring that tomorrow is another day and that, as God is her witness, the two of them will go hungry no more, Angel goads Martin into looking of ra job. The next day, the hapless hippie finds a job at a book store but, before too long, he's arrested in a police sting. Some of the books he's been selling are hollowed out and filled with heroin! Lilith makes herself visible once more and heads out to investigate just how Martin stumbled into a nest of vipers. The daughter of Dracula takes on a whole army of drug hoods and puts them all out of action, but is wounded in the process. Just before passing out, Lilith finds the head honcho and convinces him, via the "Dracula stare" to give himself up to the cops and clear Martin's name. Martin rushes to the hospital to see how Angel is doing and is given the good news by her physician: Angel is pregnant! As stupid as this series is (and it is muy estupido!), it's also so off the rails it's entertaining. Lilith's pop, the Big D, tends to stay to the shadows and on the down low. A pretty good idea when there seem to be vampire hunters lurking around every corner. Drac's pride and joy, however, hangs out at beat houses, dressed in black spandex (Gerber describes it as "velvet"), cape, and tiara (and just what the heck is holding that crown to her head?), just itching to kick biker ass. Ten bucks could buy you a heck of a lot of smack in the 1974 Marvel Universe, a whole hollowed out hardcover full as a matter of fact. The most intriguing aspect of "The Blood Book," of course, is the startling last-panel revelation that Lilith may have to get herself a maternity costume. Will the daughter of the king of the vampires actually show a bump or will the fetus disappear to that nether world Angel goes to when Lilith enters our plain? Do you think, while Angel is in that purgatory, Don Blake is her OB/GYN? Doesn't this make Dracula a grandfather? Will the tyke be immortal and eat his way out of the womb like in all those bad Hollywood horror movies? Oh, Steve Gerber, please don't drop the ball on this one!

"A Vampire Stalks Melrose Abbey" is a disposable little bit of historical fictional nonsense with awful art by DC veteran Win Mortimer. Gary Gerani gives not only a well-rounded summation of the execrable Dracula AD 1972, but of the entire Lee/Hammer/Dracula cycle as well. Gary had me at the words "Lugosi's hammy histrionics," but then went on to document the problems that befell Hammer's "product" after the initial wave of films in the late 1950s and early 60s. If you're a fan of Hammer (as I am), you'll nod your head in agreement at just about everything the writer has to say. No surprise, since Gary's been one of the genre's best writers over the last forty years. -Peter Enfantino

The Haunt of Horror 5
Cover by Dick Giordano

"The Possession of Jenny Christopher"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"Three Spiders on Gooseflesh"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Evans

"Destiny: Oblivion"
Story by David Kraft
Art by Paul Kirchner and Rudy Nebres

"If This Be Hell...?"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by George Evans

A black minister tells his wife to bring their unborn child up free from sin and then dies in a plane crash. The woman gives birth to a baby girl, who very quickly partakes in the usual anti-social behavior of a demon. Enter Gabriel, Demon-Hunter to exorcise said demon from the child and make Harlem a devil-free zone once more. Despite going on record (with a handful of other quasi-film critics back in HoH #2 and 3) as believing The Exorcist was over-rated, Doug Moench had bills to pay and so sucked it up and did as many riffs on the film as he could before the air went out of the exorcism fad. "The Possession of Jenny Christopher" is yet another take on possessed children who call their mothers "sow" and spit at preachers. Not only does Doug get to use another writer's ideas to get paid but he also gets to, once again, demonstrate what free thinkers funny book writers were back in 1974. The only way this little girl can be saved is for her black mother to forego her hatred for the whitey and kiss Gabriel. We can all get along! Once again, we get no sense of a story being told, only incidents. Why does the minister's plane go down? I suspect the demon had something to do with that but if its powers are so far-reaching and deadly, why does it waste its time preaching love and non-segregation in Harlem through the body of an infant? As with the previous installments of Gabriel, the simple outline is followed: 1/ there's an incident; 2/ someone is possessed; 3/ Gabriel comes in; 4/ he talks about how he lost his eye; 5/ and then he exorcises. The End. Nothing is presented to further Gabriel's own story. Sonny Trinidad's art is horrible, but it nearly saves this strip from the trash heap with knee-slapping depictions of the infant terrible, complete with serpent's tongue and eyes. How did newly-minted editor-in-chief Marv Wolfman keep a straight face when looking at the layouts for this disaster? 

When just one illo won't do!

I'm not sure if Moench's other entry this issue, "Three Spiders on Gooseflesh" is a good story but it's certainly award-worthy compared to the Gabriel fiasco. Tired of his wife's nutty satanism obsession, John tears apart her beautiful painting of demon Astaroth and then, to put a cherry on top, cleaves her skull with a poker. John comes to learn that satanism has become a very popular pastime in New York (he obviously never saw Rosemary's Baby) when the elevator man takes him to the basement and a meeting of a coven of witches. The harried man is a bit surprised to discover that his dead wife is still the ring leader of the worshippers and mortified when she relates her plan to possess his body. It's nice to see EC vet George Evans contribute solid work in the 1970s. I'm docking Moench half a star for the obvious giallo rip-off title, one which goes with this tale about as comfortably as "Pancakes with Extra Syrup."

"Three Mules for Sister Sara"

Labelled "Freak" his entire life and taken advantage of at every turn, hunchback Raymond Price is about at the end of his rope when he comes upon a commune in the hills where everyone treats him with respect. Suspicious that eventually he'll find it's all a trick, Raymond leaves the safe haven but bumps into a strange character on his way out. The man drugs Raymond and sends him back to the commune to retrieve a girl named Cynthia. When he returns with the terrified lass, the man (now joined by a group of robed figures) commands Raymond to stab her to death as a sacrifice. The killing brings him back to his senses and he goes berserk, murdering the entire group. Knowing he can't live with himself, Raymond walks into the sea. Again, we get no story at all, just a series of actions with no explanations. No backstory is forthcoming on the commune or the devil worshippers.  Inker Rudy Nebres (with an almost Rich Corben-esque style) would go on to do very good work years later for Warren. 

"Destiny: Oblivion"

Satana, the Devil's Daughter (36DD to her friends) continues to fight all who seek to overthrow her father in "If This Be Hell...?". There's a whole lot of complicated shenanigans and it turns out Satan himself is behind the attempted coup. He wanted to test Satana to determine whether she was really his daughter or some faux demon priestess from Brooklyn. I'd tell you more about the plot but, believe me, you'd lose interest just like I did. George Evans returns to put his spin on Satana and the contrast between Evans and the more stylized Esteban Maroto (who penciled the vixen's earlier adventures) is startling. I always liked Evans' work but the man couldn't draw sexy, vivacious hussies to save his ink well. Since this was the last issue of Haunt of Horror (a sixth issue was planned and blurbed - see ad below), the two resident series characters had to be shuttled to other parts. Satana next appeared in her first four-color solo strip in Marvel Premiere #27 (December 1975) and Gabriel would pop up in the final issue of Monsters Unleashed (#11, April 1975). If nothing else, the man knew how to kill a party. 
-Peter Enfantino

Planet of the Apes 4
Cover by Bob Larkin

"A Riverboat Named Simian"
"Gunpowder Julius"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog and Frank Chiaramonte

"A Half-Hour With Harper"
Interview with Ron Harper
Conducted by Chris Claremont

"Planet of the Apes: Fashions"
Text by Ed Lawrence

Planet of the Apes Chapter 4: Trial
Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito

POTA goes monthly, with Daniel Boone on the cover! OK, maybe not, but let's turn the page, shall we…. Escaping on a mutant skycraft, Jason swerves the ship to distract gorilla Warko, and it crashes! Ready to kill Warko, Jason is talked down by the Lawgiver, then they and Alexander head off…where they're attacked by a Great Death-beast and survive! Cut to Brutus at the cave of the Inheritors, who's taken to meet mutant Commander Be-One to speak of their agreement to stop the Lawgiver from returning. Back to our heroes at a river, where the injured Lawgiver is swept off by a current, so Jason and Alex dive in after him…and they're all (along with a good-natured creature they name Shaggy) led to a tunnel…that funnels out to a dangerous waterfall! They survive, and are being tracked by Brutus and his goons. The good guys raft up to a settlement where they meet the ornery riverboat runner Gunpowder Julius and his best bud Steely Dan…but Brutus and the mutants have found them! The riverboat rascals plan for the bad dudes' arrival in the form of deadly war machines! But the machines come up to a trench full of gunpowder that Julius explodes, then they send a keg full of powder that takes out more! During the close-up battle that ensues, Brutus kills Shaggy with a bullet meant for Jason and they bury the peaceful beast after our human hero vows even more vengeance. -Joe Tura

Joe: I just realized TOTPOTA is more like a Flash Gordon serial than a comic book. Such perils await our heroes at every turn, and it's great fun all the way! A bit wordy perhaps, but it's nice to see the Lawgiver is stronger than you would imagine and doesn't seem to mind mixing it up a little for survival. Gunpowder Julius is a colorful cuss, with a compatriot named after one of the best bands of the 70s. Shaggy doesn't last long and as likeable as he may be ("Urg?"), he's only around to be a sacrificial lamb. Another whiz-bang chapter, maybe the most exciting yet. Ploog!! 

Scott: With the word “fin,” we get a sort-of conclusion which ends this chapter on a sad note. Nothing is resolved, yet we’re not on a cliffhanger either. The pace is kept up beautifully and the art continues to satisfy. Perhaps the next chapter will give us something of a breather from the constant chase and battle. While this could fit well enough as a sixth movie in the Apes film series, it takes on the feel of the TV series with the constant action and pursuit. As cheesy as the concept of an ape frontier town might be, Gunpowder Julius is a great character. He adds a lot of energy and personality to the story. And we get to meet Steely Dan (live in concert!). His name alone made me smile. A slight detour next issue, but Alex, Jason and the gang will be back in issue #6. -Scott McIntyre

Joe: Next up is Chris Claremont's enjoyable "Half-Hour with Harper", an interview with POTA TV series star Ron Harper, who played astronaut Alan Virdon. Based on the length of this article, you would think Claremont spent half a year with Harper! After that is "Planet of the Apes: The Fashions" which is mercifully short, then an editorial by Marv Wolfman which is 100 times more readable than any Isabella missive.

Joe: Finally, our next chapter in the POTA movie adaptation, "Trial" replays the trial (natch) of Taylor, who is now in full voice. Once again, a famous quote is downplayed as "It's a madhouse—a madhouse!!" gets only one narrow panel. Wasted opportunity! But we do get lots of dialogue and back story and character development and dramatic Tuska panels of people pointing and the famous scene of Taylor seeing Landon, who the apes de-lobed. And let's not forget the see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil panel, which always elicits a chuckle. And the Taylor-Zaius one-on-one which includes violent spitting. Good stuff! 

Scott: The art seems to have taken a bold step backward this chapter. There’s little to say otherwise as there’s no improving on this classic film and George Tuska isn’t the right choice at all.

Joe: By the way, that awful ad on page 81 for the Mego Planet of the Apes action figures? Had most of them, including the plastic playset! Except the astronaut, actually. He was kinda boring. And I think I didn't have Zira either. She would have made Wonder Woman and Invisible Girl jealous. 

Savage Tales 8
Cover by Steve Fabian

“The Billion-Year War”
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema & Tony DeZuniga

“Of Savages and Kings”
Text by Gerry Conway
“The Unspeakable Shrine: Part Two”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Steve Gan

“Ka-Zar of the Pulps”
Text by Bob Weinberg

“Jann of the Jungle”
Story by Don Rico
Art by Al Williamson & Ralph Mayo
(reprinted from Jann of the Jungle #17, June 1957)

“Savage Mails”

Hailed as a “movie-length saga” — whatever that means — on the cover, “The Billion-Year War” starts with Ka-Zar and Zabu spying a tribe of Hill-People worshipping a rocket-like cylinder. When a lone guard attacks, the Jungle Lord is forced to kill the brute. Inconsolable, Ka-Zar retreats to the deepest part of the forest to brood. Days later, man and cat are approached by a native runner who informs Ka-Zar that a ship is docked on the shores of the Hidden Jungle. Investigating, the blonde savage discovers that the boat is a SHIELD I.R.O.V., an independent remote operations vessel, captained by agent Bobbi Morse — Shanna O’Hara, the She-Devil, is also onboard. Morse tells Ka-Zar that a duplicate of the Hill-People’s mysterious cylinder is burrowing through the earth towards the Hidden Jungle from Denmark: when the identical objects meet, a massive underwater tornado will flood the world. However, the attractive agent has a special device that will deactivate the capsule Ka-Zar saw earlier. Along with a few additional heavily-armed SHIELD sailors, they head out on their quest, encountering a deadly python along the way. When the party reaches the Hill-People’s encampment, a terrible battle takes place as the neanderthals fiercely defend their totem. Suddenly, the capsule explodes and a muscular, alien-like giant emerges. Tossing Zabu aside, the creature attacks Ka-Zar bellowing that he will end their billion-year war. The confused hero is no match for the powerful being and he leaps to the trees to swing away on vines — but Ka-Zar is not retreating, instead leading the otherworldly monster into a pit of quicksand. The enraged alien slowly sinks to its death. A few days afterwards, the SHIELD I.R.O.V. locates the other capsule, deactivated in the icy waters of Antarctica. When Morse forces it open she finds a man inside: a man that looks exactly like Ka-Zar.

Dum dum dummm! OK, even at an impressive 30 pages, this is far from movie length — I should know, I’ve seen two or three. With that said, not a bad little tale, easily the best I’ve read of Ka-Zar so far. The science behind Bobbi Morse knowing that the two capsules will cause a catastrophe is nonexistent, but Gerry had to come up with something to reach the Twilight Zone twist at the end. Lots of clunky Ka-Zar dialogue during the fight with the alien: “Ka-Zar fights for no master! Ka-Zar is a man!” “Ka-Zar led you to a trap and Ka-Zar caught you!” The best part of the whole shebang is the Buscema/DeZuniga art. Tony has a light touch on the characters but plenty of darkness and detail for the backgrounds. And boy oh boy, Morse and Shanna are smoking hot.

"No, I said 'I am Grond' not 'I am Groot'!"

Part two of “The Unspeakable Shrine” finds Brak the Barbarian a prisoner along with Friar Jerome and the blind minstrel Tyresias: together they are the perfectly balanced sacrifice for the evil god Yob-Haggoth, a ritual that will be performed the next day by the mighty wizard Septegundus. During the night, Septegundus’ wicked daughter Ariane appears before Brak offering her love. When the warrior refuses, Ariane tells him that she will appear if he changes his mind and says her name. During the sacrifice, Brak breaks his bonds: Septegundus hurls a dagger but the barbarian calls for Ariane — she is impaled instead. The wizard disappears and vows revenge. Whew. I cut out a ton of mumbo jumbo in my synopsis: it would have been as hard to explain as it was to read. Needless to say, I fought my way through this relatively short 11-pager, not really enjoying a single step. Art is pretty good though.

"The Unspeakable Shrine"

Finally we have another creaky Jann of the Jungle reprint about an evil white man — is there any other kind in these things? — who is withholding water from an African village ravaged by drought. Yes, yes, the improbable jungle queen must rescue him from drowning when the reservoir is finally unleashed. At five pages, it’s too short to wear out its welcome. OK, maybe not.

Gerry Conway’s editorial “Of Savages and Kings” trumpets that this issue finally (supposedly?) gets it right. When Savage Tales switched Conan for Ka-Zar, the plan was to have a 30-page Hidden Jungle adventure each issue. I’ve already detailed how things were first bungled in my coverage of issue #6 so no need to recap. He does mention that this is the last we’ll see of Big John Buscema in these pages: Steve Gan will take over the lead story with next issue. Finally, in “Ka-Zar of the Pulps,” Bob Weinberg gives a two-page history of the characters that ripped-off Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan in the 1930s. Weinberg drew on his world-class collection of pulps to namecheck a wide assortment of jungle heroes, many who, for some reason, start with the letter “K”: there’s Ka-Zar of course as well as Kwa, Kroom, Kooga, and Ki-Gor. Surprisingly, no mention of Murray Krasnitz, accountant of the Lost Valley. -Thomas Flynn

Tales of the Zombie 9
Cover by Earl Norem

“Marvel Bullpen Page Goes Black & White & Read All Over”
Text by Marv Wolfman

“Part I: Simon Garth Lives Again”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Virgilio Redondo & Alfredo Alcala

“Mails to the Zombie”

“Part II: A Day in the Life of a Dead Man”
Story by Tony Isabella & Chris Claremont
Art by Yong Montano & Alfredo Alcala

“Part III: The Second Death Around”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Ron Wilson & Pablo Marcos

“Herbie the Liar Said It Wouldn’t Hurt”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Our lovable undead hero makes his last appearance in the black-and-white magazine that bears his name — not that there are many issues left of Tales of the Zombie. Number 10 will star Brother Voodoo while the final gasp is an annual offering nothing but reprints. I won’t bother to review that shameless cash grab. The Zombie will pop up now and then down the line, but here he is temporarily put to pasture in a three-part, 36-page story that features a different creative team for each chapter.

After viciously pummeling her under the control of sinister swingers, the Zombie takes the unconscious Layla to her father, Papa Doc Kabel, hoping the voodoo priest can save her life. But it is too late, nothing can be done. But before she dies, Layla tells the priest to perform a ritual that will turn the Zombie back into Simon Garth for 24 hours. The cost? Her very soul. The dark incantation works: Garth is transformed back to human form while the body of Layla disappears. Papa Doc tells the reborn man that he has a day to repair all the wrongs he has done before he becomes the Zombie once again — however the priest has a gris-gris that can grant the eternal rest he craves. First, Garth informs the New Orleans police that the voodoo cult that originally cursed him is performing a human sacrifice in the swamp. The authorities arrive and the cultists are apprehended after a furious gunfight. Then, the revived Coffee King returns home to repair the damaged relationship with his daughter Donna, who, it turns out, is getting married that very day. Simon’s abused ex-wife Miranda is also at his residence and they reconcile. After the wedding, Garth arrives at his coffee company, Garwood Industries, and tells his former Vice President, Brian Stockwood, to sell his shares in the company and set up trust funds for Donna, Miranda, and Teddy Masterson, the beast-child from issue #6. Afterwards, Garth travels to Café Six on Bourbon Street, and shoots both crime-kingpin Mr. Six and his henchmen Andre pointblank, killing them both. Fleeing the scene of the crime, Garth returns home and embraces Miranda — but his time is up and he starts to transform back into the Zombie. The creature lurches outside to find the police waiting. After a brutal battle, the creeping cadaver manages to drive off in a patrol car. When the Zombie arrives at Papa Doc’s home, the priest applies the gris-gris and Simon Garth finally gains the true burial he has sought for the past two years.

Like the Zombie’s forehead, this “conclusion” left me a bit cold — and I have no idea why Marvel would basically knock off the character and continue to stumble ahead with his magazine. It’s Tales of the Zombie not Tales of Zombies. Regardless, a pretty good idea of wrapping things up by having Garth try to repair the damage he has done to his family and friends, but rather clumsily handled. While Mr. Six got what was coming to him, never really pegged Garth as a cold-blooded killer, just a pompous asshole. But he didn’t really have anything to lose so what the heck. And no matter how you cut it, having the Zombie drive a car is flat-out ridiculous. I assume that the length of the story was the reason behind the three different creative teams. Pretty sure that this is the first time I’ve encountered both Virgilio Redondo and Yong Montano, two more of the seemingly endless Filipino artists Marvel employed on their black-and-white line. They show talent, especially with the painterly inks of Alfredo Alcala. Ron Wilson doesn’t fare as well in the last chapter, which was inked by main Tales of the Zombie artist Pablo Marcos. So there we go. Nice to know ya Mr. Zombie. I think.

Alcala is back, with Doug Moench, for the 7-page “Herbie the Liar Said It Wouldn’t Hurt.” Gregory, a grossly deformed mongoloid, is chopping wood with his handsome friend Herbie in the woods. Accidentally, the misshaped freak buries his ax in Herbie’s face, killing him instantly. Heartbroken, Gregory returns home and tells his haggard mother what happened. The old woman becomes furious, whips her sadsack son and forces him to sleep in the barn. During the night, the ghost of Herbie appears and tells Gregory not to worry: death is painless and peaceful. So taking the advice, Gregory stabs his mother with gardening shears. When she screams in agony, Gregory thinks he has been betrayed. He vows revenge, returns to the woods and starts hacking away at a log that he calls Herbie: his friend has been a figment of his imagination all along. Another pedestrian story with a twist ending you could see coming miles away. Alcala’s art is fantastic though. Gregory is quite grotesque and the bloody ax-in-the-face panel is terrifically graphic.


The only other piece in the issue is a short editorial by new Editor-in-Chief Marv Wolfman, who replaced Tony Isabella after only one issue. Nothing much, the usual “wait until you see what we have in store” — complete malarkey in hindsight — and a few lines about why the much-promised Iron Fist magazine was scrapped. Supposedly, no one in the Bullpen liked it after the story and art was finished. I doubt they ever got that far because at this point most of the black-and-white line was going belly up. Maybe people were getting tired of all the advertisements: 19 of the 68 pages are ads, most promoting other soon-to-be-cancelled magazines or stuff like Planet of the Apes belt buckles and bolo ties or Duraclean International dealerships. By the way, if I had plunked down $5 in January 1975 for a six-issue subscription to Tales of the Zombie, would I have been reimbursed?
-Thomas Flynn

"Now, hang on for one second there" we hear you saying, "Wasn't this the month that Marvel published the first issue of their ground-breaking all-science fiction black and white magazine, Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction?" Why, yes, it was. We must have forgotten... not! You are in for a treat this coming Sunday morning. Take your laptop (or desktop) out onto the patio, spread the cream cheese on the bagel, and pour yourself a cup of strong joe cuz we got a Sunday Special all lined up that will knock your transistors into the next space and time continuum! Be here or be... there.


  1. I don't know whether the story itself is good or not, but "Freak" has a pretty original idea by making the character getting the girl OUT OF the commune the villain of the story. Was that meant to be a twist on the whole "deprogrammer" idea?

  2. Both Satana and Lilith never worked as characters. They never could escape being Vampirella knock offs in the first place, and their storys went nowhere. Still, the b/w mags at least showed that their characters were not for kids only. Even if adult in this case only meant more gore and a few shy glimpses of nudity.

    As much as I love Doug Moench as a writer, he sure could write pretentious nonsense. His stories for Deadly Hands were terrible.

    This period of Marvel is a bit strange. You get truly mediocre books like Iron Man or Two-in-one, but you also get flights of fancy like Man-Thing or Tomb of Dracula which took its horror serious. A bit like a rollercoaster.