Wednesday, December 10, 2014

April 1975 Part One: Captain America is Back!

The Avengers 134
"The Times That Bind!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Joe Sinnott

The Synchro-Staff guides Thor, Iron Man, Hawkeye and Mantis through time and space to uncover the origin of Mantis. They pause to see more of the Kree and the Cotati’s evolving history. The destroyed tree beings ejected seed pods upon their death and used the eons to evolve into unmoving, telepathic forms, eventually looking to form an alliance with the pacifist members of the Kree race. The pacifists are exiled from the telepathic Cotati. The Cotati sent a dinosaur-like Star Stalker to go on a rampage while the exiled Kree priests bargained with the Supreme Intelligence for their freedom; the Intelligence protects the Kree and the Priests protect everyone else from the Stalker. This bargain is made and the Priests are freed and two, a man and a woman, bring a Cotati to Earth. They land in the very place the Avengers buried the Swordsman. While all of this is happening, the Vision sees the last days of the Human Torch as he goes nova in 1955 and how he was revived years later by the Mad Thinker. More on his origin next issue. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This is endless and so incredibly complex that I had to fight to stay awake and focused throughout. Never has an origin been so uselessly convoluted, but to give us two in this fashion is the epitome of bad storytelling. So far, while waiting to hear the origin of Mantis, we’ve mostly been told of the Kree. I don’t know about you, but I honestly don’t care. Mantis is also too new a character to warrant such an epic backstory. The Vision, on the other hand, deserves more than the “oh by the way” chapters sprinkled throughout. This is the longest ride ever and it would have driven me away long ago, but I’m responsible for writing up this book because, apparently, I'm an idiot.

Chris Blake: I’m glad Steve knows what he’s doing, otherwise the length of this ongoing story would reduce it to another “Tunnelworld” (gasp -! The unholy word is spoken aloud!).  As it is, he keeps things moving along well – and now, I remember why the previous chapter wasn’t presented as a giant-sizer, since its total length takes us thru last issue, this one, another regular issue, and then finally finishes up in GS Avengers #4 (crikey – so much for the well-bemoaned paper shortage!).  In the latter days of the Bronze Age, a story of this scope would probably be presented in toto as a graphic novel, or perhaps a limited series.  I hadn’t reflected on it before, but the remarkable thing about the story (well, one of the remarkable things, I should say) is the way Steve is able to incorporate so much of his new material into the existing Marvel mythos, when it might have been easier to clear-cut all that had gone before and present the new story as the as-yet undiscovered truth about the character.
It was a sound idea to provide updates for Moondragon and the Scarlet Witch, especially since Wanda’s storyline promises to develop further and provide a new area of interest for this title once the Celestial Madonna is wrapped up.  Sal & Joe continue to do solid work, and I liked the hypnotized look they brought to Wanda (above right).  The completely bogus cover is a bit embarrassing.  

Matthew Bradley: I do wish they’d entrusted such a seminal storyline to a better embellisher than Staton, especially with Buscema contributing only layouts; sadder still, now that Steve and Sal are respectively creating Captain America and Defenders with other partners, I believe this is it for the legendary team.  Yet Stainless is more than capable of smoothing out any Staton-induced irregularities while he resumes interweaving strands of vintage Marveliana (and even Timeliana) with his own plot threads into the twin tapestries of these parallel origin stories.  Since this is but the continuation of what we might call the “Synchro-Staff Trilogy,” I don’t have a lot of fresh observations to make about the events unfolding, so I’ll just say, “Keep up the good work, men!”

Ex post facto addendum:  Little did I dream when writing my comments for this arc months ago that I would be alone in my enthusiasm.  Especially after seeing the scathing consensus on last month's beloved #133, I was tempted to interject a haughty "Pearls before swine,"  but in a somewhat more reflective mood this morning, I'll simply point out that I consider such diversity of opinion one of this blog's greatest strengths.

Astonishing Tales 29
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Earth Shall Overcome"
original title: "Guardians of the Galaxy!"
(a reprint - missing 4 pages - from Marvel Super-Heroes #18, January 1969)




Conan the Barbarian 49 
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Dick Giordano
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Neal Adams

Tied to stakes with a water jug just out of reach, Conan is set upon by starving, biting rats. One of the vicious vermin accidentally shatters the jug: the Cimmerian manages to grab a shard and cuts his bonds. After washing his many wounds in a cold lake, the barbarian is cornered by a pack of snarling wolves — but the legendary and lovely Lupalina, the Wolf Mistress, calls them off. Conan tells the woman that he is out for revenge on Torkal Moh of Ravengard, the robber baron who made off with Stefyana and the amber cube he was paid to deliver to Themas Herklar of Phalkar. Lupalina agrees to help since she knows Stefyana and was also once friendly with Thalkalides and Elviriom, the wizards threatening Herklar, until they betrayed her. Conan, Lupalina, and her wolf pack attack a squad of Torkal Moh’s horsesoldiers as they are escorting newly captured slaves to Ravengard. After the slaughter, the Cimmerian, Lupalina, and a few of the peasants disguise themselves as the Baron’s men and lead the rest of the slaves into Ravengard unnoticed. Conan storms the armory, kills all inside, and arms the peasants: they angrily attack the guards along with the Wolf Mistress and her deadly sling. The bloodthirsty barbarian finds Torkal Moh and maims the baron. Screaming in pain, Moh tells Conan that Stefyana and the cube are in the garden of the Gifting Tree. Conan threatens a serving wench named Gwineer to guide him to the garden. Inside the treasure-strewn oasis, toothy plant tendrils strike but are no match for Conan’s blade. Soon, he finds both the unconscious Stefyana and the amber cube — but suddenly, Pthassiass, a huge, one-eyed root monster with a gaping maw of tusk-like teeth, rises from a dark pool. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: After the herky-jerky rhythm of the last two “half” issues, the adaptation of Gardner Fox’s 1970 novel Kothar and the Conjurer’s Curse starts to pick up some serious steam. Sure, the rats didn’t really pose much of a threat. And the same could be said for Lupalina’s wolves. Plus, there’s a page of the dreaded recap. But when Ravengard is reached, things kick into high gear. Conan is an absolute beast, laying low dozens of men in a relentless fury. This is brutal action at its best. He does leave Torkal Moh alive with a serious leg wound, but methinks the villain will be in even worse shape when the tale is finally told. Conan spends a fornication-free night in Lupalina’s sod hut: he dreams of Ursula the Bear-Woman who tells him that she and Lupalina are Which is appreciated since I assumed the Ursula sequence from last issue was a mere throwaway. The Buscema/Giordano art is a step up from #48, but still not as impressive a team as one would hope. At this point, I think Big John is better served by the multitude of painterly Filipino artists employed by Marvel at the time. I guess we can’t risk any more pages lost in the mail.

Captain America and The Falcon 184
"Cap's Back!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Cap, enraged over the beating of the Falcon and the death of Roscoe at the hands of the Red Skull, goes to the place where his friends were tortured to find it deserted, save for a trained raven that presses a button, activating a recorded message from the Skull. His plan is to destroy the United States on the 30th anniversary of Hitler’s suicide. Cap goes to Sam’s place and sees Leila tending him, now well aware of Sam’s dual identity. Sam agrees to partner up again, now that Cap is back, sure that Steve simply “came to his senses.” Later, as Cap greets the public happy with his return, The Red Skull arrives via jet pack to kill an elected official. He escapes, leaving the “Honorable Phillip Glass” dead of the Crimson Dust. After the Skull escapes, Cap goes to see Sharon at her parents’ home, but she is furious about his return to action. Cap and Falcon, along with Gabe Jones and Peggy Carter, meet at the lighthouse home of G. Lawton Sargent, the next projected victim of the Skull. The Skull attacks and traps the heroes in a room, shutting the lights and lighting a small candle. When the lights go up, Sargent is dead... and nobody knows just how The Skull did it… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A placeholder issue while we take a break from Frank Robbins. It’s hard to decide who draws uglier women: Robbins or Herb Trimpe. Both give Steve Ditko a run for his money. I find it amusing that the Skull’s face and voice appear on a monitor and starts telling Cap about his plan, during which Cap promises to stop him. The Skull then advises Cap not to waste his breath on threats, followed immediately by the Skull saying this is a recording! The Red Skull knows his adversary extremely well if he can predict exactly when Cap will interrupt with a threat! Sam tells Leila his secret “off screen,” cheating us of a really good dramatic moment. Sharon is in super bitch mode and will remain there for the foreseeable future. It’s all a bunch of running around, but the Skull hasn’t been this deadly in decades. Robbins returns next issue and things start getting really crazy. Like it or not, it will at least be interesting.

Peter: Well, I'll just speak for myself when I say I'll take Dan Adkins inked by Dick Ayers over Frank Robbins any day. Robbins' superheroes remind me of that classic Far Side cartoon of the "boneless chicken farm."

Matthew: Per Englehart’s site, “Steve Rogers realizes that Captain America will exist in men’s minds no matter what he does, and men will die trying to take his place….[so Cap] returnsnow determined to be the symbol of American ideals that the government no longer is.  I’ll say this for Robbins:  he really makes me appreciate a guy like Trimpe, especially when inked—as while subbing here—by Giacoia and Esposito.  It must’ve been fun to reunite these Hulk-meisters, if only for a single issue, yet ironically, one reason page 23, panel 6 (above) struck such a sour note for me was that it evoked the Herb-drawn Betty Ross who is perhaps that book’s most annoying feature; the other is how far Sharon has fallen from her heroic S.H.I.E.L.D. stint.

Mark Barsotti: “The man makes speeches. He can’t help it,” says Englehart about Cap, but one of the oddities of S.E’s long and storied stewardship of the title is that the would-be patriotic fist-pumpers he puts in Rogers’ mouth are mostly wooden platitudes. Thankfully, we get the star-spangled boilerplate out of the way early, and the rest of “Cap’s Back!” is a high octane page-turner. Hard to go wrong with the Red Skull - rendered in full King Kirby mode by Herb Trimpe - and the “dust of death” (although copped from the Golden Age Joker) is a macabre touch, to say nothing of the Skull committing murder in a room full of heroes, atop a lighthouse!  

Matthew:  I didn't comment on it at the time, because I thought it might be addressed later in the storyline, but tellingly, it is not.  The obvious implication of the locked-room mystery in the lighthouse is that Sam killed Sargent under the Skull's control.  This was conveniently overlooked during the subsequent "Trial of the Falcon."

Daredevil 120
"...And a HYDRA New Year!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Bob Brown and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

In the romance department, things have definitely been sunnier for Daredevil and the Black Widow so Matt decides to engage in a little trickery. He fools Natasha into accompanying him to a New Year's Eve party given by her arch-enemy, Foggy Nelson (who put her on trial as a spy way back in #81), but forgets that there's always someone out there ready to spoil a good time. Just as Foggy is about to make peace with 'tasha (under a mistletoe no less -- obviously not the only horned dog in this title), the armed militants known as HYDRA storm through the balcony doors. Matt makes himself scarce long enough to change into his work uniform and then must face the awesomely garbed menace known as El Jaguar! A free-for-all ensues, punch bowls are turned over, and SHIELD arrives. DD heads after a fleeing Jaguar but is stopped short by a concerned Nick Fury, who doesn't want DD to become a victim of friendly fire. El Jaguar makes good his escape but the real surprise is when Fury reveals the reason why HYDRA crashed the party in the first place: Nick wants "Tubby" to join SHIELD! Are there no physicals to pass? -Paste-Pot Pete

Chris: First a quibble for Tony, then some credit: first, Tony, why would hijackers be trying to grab an “incoming flight” – do you mean they’re going to abduct the plane and its crew from the baggage claim area?  “Take this plane to the taxi stand!”  Second, credit where it’s due, as Tony (in a few short panels on p 6-7) provides the Widow with a credible reason for feeling unsure of herself – but, her reaching-out is quickly dismissed as Matt proceeds to duck her concerns by darting away and into the brownstone (curious choice), telling her to look nice for the party, then sticking her in Foggy’s company for the evening.  Nice goin’, Matt.

The art is very ordinary, as the rumble with Jaguar looks like a meeting of Mego action figures.  An opportunity to introduce some atmosphere is squandered, as DD flicks off the lights to confuse his foe – but, three panels later (on p 26), the place is lit-up like the set for a daytime soap opera.  Did Brown forget that he’d drawn DD turning off the lights on the previous page?  I will say that the depiction of the stunned Natasha on p 22 (left) is quite nice, and the tiny glimpse of her surreptitiously removing her stingers from her purse (on p 17 panel 6) is cleverly done.  

Scott: Crummy art, but an amusing story. That’s something I guess. But does everyone call Fury the “ramrod” of SHIELD? Apparently Tony Isabella does. He had Reed Richards use the exact same phrase in a recent issue of FF.

Peter Enfantino: I thought the art was excellent... Well, let me clarify...  It didn't smell like Frank Robbins' three-day old art boards and that surprised the heck out of me since I was expecting the worst after I saw the two words that can make a comic fan run very quickly for the exits: Bob Brown. Obviously, Vince Colletta has proof he's the greatest inker in the world (with apologies to Joe Sinnott). The story wasn't too bad either, considering I hadn't picked up a DD issue in years (literally, years) before reading this one. Is that a good thing that I can just ease into a funny book series without being lost after a long absence or does that signal that nothing really happens in this title? And why the heck did they take "The Black Widow" off the masthead again? Bring back 'tasha's monthly shower, I says. Hey, who designs these bad guy outfits? Do you really want to run around town with Elvis' "Hawaii" belt buckle digging into your midsection? 

Matthew:  It’s here that Isabella begins his ambitious “Hydra File” two-part text piece in the lettercol, synthesizing Hydra’s history from its origins to the present and coinciding with its resurgence in this current arc.  As usual, Vinnie’s inks do no favors for Bob’s pencils, even if the Widow somehow manages to remain attractive, and yet I can’t honestly say that Tony’s script is especially edifying, either.  You can give him all of the full-page reveals you want, but El Jaguar seems both boring and overly familiar, like the unholy offspring of a three-way with Kraven, El Condor, and Tagak (how’s that for a visual you’ll never get out of your head?), all of whom Hornhead has faced before, and the last two epitomizing the bad old days of the Conway DD era.

The Defenders 22
"Fangs of Fire and Blood!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Valkyrie walks the streets of Lower Manhattan in human disguise, brooding about her circumstances, when she comes upon two men in the middle of a knife fight, and is forced to unleash Dragonfang in order to break it up. Now in full armor, she hears a scream from a nearby tenement, where a huge rat threatens a woman's baby. Val acts quickly, then takes the woman, Elena, with her to get her out of the deplorable living conditions. At an Upper East Side shindig, Kyle Richmond meets real estate mogul Harold Holliman, but with no interest in hearing his proposal, Kyle leaves for Dr. Strange's sanctum in the Village, chasing away a peeping tom when he arrives. The Defenders travel back to the tenement to get supplies for Elena's baby, only to find the building's been firebombed by the Sons of the Serpent!  The landlord—Holliman—gets there and starts throwing blame around, until the slimy slumlord is attacked by the building's residents, which brings the Sons out of hiding! Hulk, Val and Nighthawk start kicking snake butt until Dr. Strange brings a halt to the proceedings by animating fire hoses. But the Serpent Leader vows to return and make the "traitors" to their race pay! -- Joe Tura

Joe: I haven't been commenting on this title during my MU tenure, but I had a bunch of Defenders in my long-gone collection. The wackiness of Gerber, the magnificence of Sal B., the cool collection of lead characters…what's not to love? Well, the story gets a little heavy-handed, maybe that's one thing. Don't get me wrong—between the excellent captions and the sometimes-humorous dialogue, Gerber is firing on all cylinders. But even my 11-year-old daughter asked "why is this so racist?" Yes, I know it's his m.o. to be topical and controversial and get people talkin', but it seems a bit much for someone who hasn't Gerbered as much as others. The Sons of the Serpent are a bit annoying, but they're certainly villainous. Still, good stuff, even though there are lots of panels where Hulk, although drawn well, seems kinda little.

Scott: I must have had this issue as a kid, a lot of it is familiar to me. Val seeing the rat in the kid’s crib, the Hulk smiling at a baby (again a happy Hulk doesn’t become Bruce Banner) and the “wad of spittle”… I remember this clearly because it was the first time I ever read the word. I remember some of Avengers 134 as well, but I was sure I didn’t read comics in 1975. Unless I traded some back issues later on. I can barely remember what I had for lunch, so why am I giving this great thought now?

Matthew: It’s a relief to see Sal back where he belongs after this month’s GS Heckolletta hijinks, and although—as in the current Avengers—he provides layouts rather than full pencils, those seeking a study in contrasts need look no further than the solid support he gets from Mike’s finished art, right from the stark simplicity of the splash page (although boo to “Stan G.” for making Kyle a blond).  I’ve never been a big fan of the Serpents, who seem like a poor man’s racist Hydra, but it occurred to me while cracking open this issue how uniquely well-suited they are to Steve’s oddball humanism.  He doesn’t disappoint, building this first installment of the arc slowly and carefully to culminate in the classic line, “Hulk is not…white…”  Up next:  more YJ!

Fantastic Four 157
"And Now -- The End Game Cometh!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

"And Now...The Endgame Cometh" opens with the Thing lamenting that every time he "puts the kibosh" on Doc Doom, it turns out to be a robot. Ben speculates that the real Doom is probably watching them. Bingo. After re-capping the FF's capture by the Silver Surfer, the metal-clad monarch powers up Doomsman II, an android infused with all the Surfer's power cosmic, none of his scruples. Meanwhile, the brooding Skyrider visits with the presumptive-but-amnesic Shalla-Bal (his long lost love & Doom’s new – but unbedded - bride). While lamenting her memory loss, she spontaneously calls him by his pre-herald-for-Galactus name, Norrin Radd. He speculates her touching his shoulder sparked this memory. “Then how much more...memory shall be restored by this?” the maybe-Shalla asks, grabbing the Surfer for a soul kiss. Roaming Doom's castle, the FF are trapped by descending walls – impervious to Ben's blows and Johnny's flame – that start grinding forward, in penny dreadful, car-crusher fashion. Mr. Fantastic goes elastic and snakes through crevices in the wall, releasing our heroes, just in time for DM II's attack! Reed notes the fifteen foot tall yellow 'droid has the Surfer’s voice, but “far louder, more sinister!” And while the FF seem helpless before it... the cosmic kiss does restore more of the raven-haired beauty’s memory, but not in the way the Surfer had hoped. Helena, “a poor peasant girl of Latveria,” was selected by Doom for her Shalla-Bal doppelganger looks and brainwashed to believe she was a foggy-brained Shall, all to sucker Surfie into attacking the FF, two issues back. The pair are interrupted by one of Doom’s minions, hoping to curry favor by gunning down the Surfer. He’s quickly disposed of and SS, master of understatement observes, “I fear that, even now, the Fantastic Four may be encountering difficulties,” and flies off to join the fray. With his added firepower, DM II is quickly put to rout. Doom is prepared to fight on, but Helena arrives and beseeches them to stop, for all of Latveria’s cultural treasures, stored in the castle, are at risk. “Will you obliterate that heritage?” she asks, “Do any of you dare?” Reed offers to call it a stalemate. Doom accepts, and there one expects our tale to end. Instead we SMASH CUT TO: Mephisto, jawboning his sulfurous lackeys in the bowels of Hades. Harkening all the way back to Silver Surfer #17, ‘Phisto explains that the Helena persona was a second layer of false memory, unknown even to Doom, and the girl really is Shalla-Bal, her mention of Norrin Radd merely another twist of the knife to further torment the Surfer.  Give the devil, er, Mephisto, his due: he knows how to nurse one king-hell of a grudge. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: And give Roy Thomas his due. After a lackluster (at best) middle game last month, Roy closes the proceedings out on a high note (rendered in the expected slam-bang fashion by Buckler & Sinnott). Battling Doom to a draw on his home turf has been done before (FF #85-87), but the Mephisto epilogue was a masterful, never-saw-that-coming twist.

Scott: Some decent drama in this climactic chapter, but also something of an anti-climax as there’s too much effort put into getting it to end in a stalemate over art. Yeah, it’s in keeping with Doom’s personality, but after all they went through, it just sort of ends. Then we get pages of Mephisto’s gloating and the layer upon layer of deception. It’s all very complex and a bit much. Great art, though, and Rich Buckler mimics John Buscema as well as he does Kirby.  

Chris: The stalemate with Doom is a bit unsatisfying, but I admit that he’s hard to beat on his home turf.  Of course, you have to have the Surfer’s power to turn the tide against Doom’s latest ultrabot.  It’s a bit odd that the warring parties call off hostilities so that they won’t damage the artifacts; I don’t think that collateral damage has ever slowed down Doom before. Great twist to have Mephisto as the hidden hand – Doom is left with nothing but a sneaking suspicion that he’s been led around.  It is a bit much to expect that Mephisto pulled a double-screw on the Surfer – Shalla-Bal (the real one) thinks she’s Helena, who in turn thinks she’s Shalla-Bal.  Bottom line is that I’m slightly disappointed with parts of the final chapter of the story, but overall it’s still much improved over the previous 8-10 issues.  

If I were Medusa’s agent, I’d be on the phone every day to Len, and Roy, and Stan, threatening to have her walk out on her contract; maybe I’d arrange for Medusa to have lunch with Julie Schwartz and Dick Giordano at a very public place, just to plant a seed that my client could take her talents elsewhere, barring some immediate changes.  There simply isn’t anything less for her to do in this comic; Shalla-Bal, in her villager persona, has more influence over the outcome of the story than poor Medusa.  Once again, I went back and counted, and came up with three lines of dialogue – that’s it.  Buckler doesn’t know what to do with her, either – she’s always trailing the play, like the kid who doesn’t want to be on the playing field, and simply follows the other kids.  So bring back Sue, already – what could they be waiting for?  

Matthew:  “Now, at last, I feel cheated, somehow—used—”  Is it Professor Matthew lamenting the end of this trilogy, earning Len an “unindicted co-conspirator” credit for those old enough to appreciate the allusion?  No, it’s just Dr. Doom whining over his latest reversal.  Even allowing for the cluster-effect that made the middle entry my personal highlight, it’s a letdown, with Roy succumbing to a case of Cute-Caption Syndrome (“Look it up.  —Rascally”); I don’t want my comics dumbed down, yet I don’t want to need a dictionary nearby, either.  Although Doomsman II looks like a Nuklo knockoff, Buckler and Sinnott rock, especially on Mephisto, and the Shalla-Bal sting in the tail is interesting, but spare me the Monuments Men “stalemate…”

The Amazing Spider-Man 143
"...And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Jan Cohen
Letters by Artie Simek
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

On a rainy late December morning, Spider-Man catches a glimpse again of what he thinks might be Gwen, but realizes he's seeing things. Swinging to the Bugle, he finds JJJ's office (and in-box) empty, but a quick change into Peter gets him info from the blushing Betty that the publisher is in Europe and Joe Robertson is in charge. Robbie invites Peter to lunch [mmm…wonton soup] and shows him a telegram from JJJ to bring a million dollars to Paris. Robbie asks Peter to go with him, and the shutterbug asks Prof. Warren for a granted leave of absence. At the airport, Peter and MJ share a va-va-voom kiss goodbye [finally!] that could change everything about their relationship. In Paris, Spidey swings around following Robbie and snapping pics, eventually battling a trio of costumed criminals, then quickly flashing back to Robbie getting a phone call from the kidnappers and taking a tour of the city's landmarks. Spidey chops Robbie before he can wake up and spot him, since that would be a bit too coincidental, but suddenly he's thrown into a wall by spinning scoundrel Cyclone! The French fiend knocks a wall on top of our hero and revolves off, vowing to kill both JJJ and Robbie unless he gets his million bucks! –Joe Tura

Joe: It's Spidey as travel agent this month, especially on page 27 where he details every swing of the web and every landmark he passes, all while giving Robbie a chance to come to, then is ambushed by Cyclone. And while it's depressing ever to see my beloved Spidey defeated, it's cool that he's beaten to keep him honest. I mean, we need a little reality in our comic books, no? Andru and inkers have really hit their stride, teaming with Conway in a very very very nice issue, blatant Paris loving notwithstanding. The pages with Peter saying bon voyage to MJ at the airport are truly fantastic in both character development and art, especially page 15. Seriously great stuff, although the faculty knows I am certainly biased when it comes to Spidey curriculum. Why the heck is Spidey in Paris anyway? Does he really need to go save JJJ, other than for Conway to introduce another new villain? Would an 8-year old Prof. Joe care? Heck no! So that's good enough for this nearly 48-year old!

Fave sound effect this month is the top of page 15, as the plane takes off for Paris and we get the combo of "SCCHEECH! CREEEECH!", "THOM THUM" and "SWOOSH!" followed a couple of panels later by MJ's tiny-lettered "Far….Freakin'…Out." That's awesome story-telling, True Believers!

Chris: For some reason, I took my time before I re-read this issue; I might’ve had reservations about the setting, and the characters we would find there.  Fortunatement, le Cyclone does not bear ennui-inducing powers that we associate with la Leapaire.  The circumstances of Jonah’s abduction are unknown, but the greater mystery is why Robertson wants Peter along to find him – I realize, as a plot device, that it delivers Spidey to Paris, but my question is: what purpose is Peter supposed to serve?  Does Robbie think that Jonah’s rescue could be a font-page exclusive, and he wants snappy photos -?  Jonah’s gonna be steamed when he finds out Robbie paid for Peter’s airfare.  

Matthew:  Never thought of this before, but since it's long been speculated that (a la Captain Stacy) Robbie knew Peter's secret i.d. but never said anything, perhaps he invited Pete along to facilitate Spidey's rescue of JJJ?

Chris: I realize Andru has his non-fans – and his downright detractors – but I’m another Marvelite who grew up during his Spidey tenure, so I’m not bothered by his style.  But even a non-Andruphile has got to look at Peter and MJ’s farewell (p 11-15) and appreciate it as pure cinema.  First off, The Kiss is such a Moment that both Peter’s head and MJ’s right boot are broaching the bonds of the frame (p 11) – dig Robbie’s knowing smile, while you’re at it.  MJ feels the loss of Peter the very second that he turns the corner to board (p 14, last two panels).  Then, look at the wordless sequence on p 15, as Peter’s plane takes him further away, but Andru draws us back in, toward the empty terminal, and MJ absorbs the enormity of The Moment alone (with Simek providing a trademark fittingly-breathless word balloon).  Far out indeed!

Mark: By rote On The Road Spidey hijinks: fearing exposure after faux Mysterio’s arrest (why ole Flattop thought sponsoring a super-villain would get him in dutch this time is anyone’s guess), J.J.J. fled to Paris, is promptly kidnapped and wires the Bugle for ransom, to be delivered by jet-setting Joe Robertson and tag-along Peter Parker. Webs is soon mixing it up with PepĂ© Le Pew & the Baguette Boys (nah, but they’d have been more memorable than Mr. Twister), and part one ends with our breath thoroughly unbated. 
The one memorable, indeed historic, scene: Pete and M.J. get down to some serious tonsil-hockey for the first time, the post-smooch impact wonderfully captured by a mostly wordless page by Ross Andru: Pete jetting off across the pond and Mary Jane leaving the terminal in the snow before finally whispering, “Far freakin' out.”
You said it, Red.

Scott: Just a few scant pages after Spidey talks about Gwen being dead and his having to accept it, Peter jokingly tells Betty that she’s the only girl he’s ever loved. No wonder she’s blushing; that’s nothing if not awkward. And why do they keep playing this up like some mystery? Nobody else fits the bill as being female, important to Peter and recently dead. Also wearing boots. Just say it’s Gwen already. I also don’t get Peter’s friends. He invites Liz and Flash for coffee the following Monday and Flash wonders “what’s with him?” because he’s in a rush? I get the effort to approximate real life, but a lot of these little asides just don’t translate. Remember when Spider-Man would panic because he couldn’t be seen in England the same time as Parker because it would be too tough to explain? You might remember, but apparently he doesn’t…

Matthew:  Except for The Big Kiss, this issue—which follows the current GS story, for all of my fellow continuity-freaks—gets a resounding “meh” from me.  A case in point:  why make Peter’s arrival in Paris a flashback, thus stopping the action dead in its tracks once we finally get to it, except maybe to ensure that the French sequence starts with the clichĂ© of Spidey swinging near the Eiffel Tower?  And with karate-choppin’ friends like these, Robbie doesn’t need enemies, especially since Spider-Man’s presence in Paris would be hard to keep a secret. Spidey’s description of the Cyclone as “a living whirlwind” just hammers home the fact that the Gallic goofball is no more than a Euro-version of Whirlwind, himself the rebranded Human Top.

Doctor Strange 7
"The Demon Fever!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and John Romita
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Clea must do battle with Dread Dormammu while Stephen Strange confronts Dorm's sibling, Umar. While Clea seems to hold her own enough to put a burr under Dormammu's saddle, Stephen falls before the combined strength of Umar and her henchman, Orini. Clea arrives to aid but confesses to her lover that she cannot fight Orini as he is her father! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Holy Mackerel, was I lost. Steve Englehart is the greatest funny book writer of all time so I'm not above admitting that some stories can get a bit too dense for my tastes but it's refreshing to see a writer take chances with material designed to be played out before a young audience. This is the stuff great fantasy films are made of and, if Marvel has any sense, that big budget Doc Strange flick (now rumored to be headlined by, bless their souls, Benedict Cumberbatch) will "borrow" liberally from Steve's oeuvre. Though I'm a bit too thick-headed to understand the story line, my eyes can perfectly focus on the gloriousness that is Gene Colan. Frank who? Now, I'll step off the stage, get some Cheerios, put on Happy Days, and let the big brains tell you just what happened in Doctor Strange #7. Jim Barwise, we miss you!

Mark: Dense, wordy, and a bit of a muddle, as we plow through Dormammu's dark rebirth ("...for Dormammu is a concept, a shared belief...!"), his contentious relationship with sister Umar, who's trying not just to kill the Doc, but to "steal his knowledge and...will!" while plotting against her flamehead bro. Clea, meanwhile, escapes the "astral plane at the center of the earth," unsuccessfully seeks other masters to battle 'Mammu, and repels a junkie-led assault on Strange's Greenwich Village manse. To his credit, Englehart manages to weave the consult-your-program cast together, but it's hard to get much mystic plot mojo flowing amid the dense word-clouds of exposition. Gene Colan's art gets inked (first time ever?) by John Romita. The last page (all Romita) intros Clea's father as another of 'Mammu's minions and – hopefully – connects the final dot for a Big Finish.

Matthew:  Stainless elaborated on the change in artists on his site:  “Everybody knows the Englehart/Brunner run…but when Frank left, I got Gene Colan as the penciller, and [he] is not someone to be sneezed at….I’ve got no problems at all with the acclaim that the Brunner art era has received, but I do think that the Colan era tends to get overlooked, and it shouldn’t be.”  This could be Exhibit A, with Gene’s gloriously off-kilter artwork—so invisibly inked by a respectful Romita as to eschew the latter’s style completely—recalling the Thomas/Colan days.  Steve not only makes good use of Doc’s arch-foe, with a heaping helping of Marvel lore, but also explores Dark Dimensional family values in the Dormammu and Orini households; more on those later…

Chris: There were enough reversals in this issue that I had to read it a second time to be sure I got it all right.  A story like this can play out like a chess match, with Doc correctly interpreting that Umar was holding back when last they met, so that he could arrange to hold some of his power in reserve in case Umar was able to find a way to defeat him – in this case, with the unexpected aid of Orini.  I don’t fully grasp how Orini is able to turn Doc’s own power against him, but that’s all one.  Despite Doc’s preparation, he’s still stripped of his abilities, and now Clea arrives, even though she’d said she wouldn’t travel to the Dread Domain, and now Doc discovers why Clea’s life would be forfeit, due to her past treachery against Dormammu –and, against Orini, Clea’s father!  Whew – I might have to go back and read it a third time.  

A rare appearance by Romita as an inker produces some solid art, but I don’t love it as much as I might’ve expected.  Still, the notable moments come in both large and small sizes, whether we’re looking at Dormammu’s atmospheric emergence from the center of the earth (p 6-7), or at Umar’s quiet moment of triumph, as she realizes that Dr Strange is “Mine . . . !” (p 16, pnl 4), and we recognize her recollection of Dormammu’s promise (for whatever that might be worth) that Umar’s delivery of Strange to him would allow her to sit on the throne of the Dark Domain.  

Adventure Into Fear 27
Morbius, the Living Vampire in
"Night of the Vampire-Stalker"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Frank Robbins and Leonard Starr
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Martine rents a supposedly haunted mansion on the secluded outskirts of Boston so that Morbius can work to find his cure undisturbed. But he soon becomes overwhelmed by blood thirst and nearly bites her: controlling himself, the Living Vampire flies out the window and attacks a young woman on the street to satisfy his unholy appetite. Meanwhile, ex-CIA agent Simon Stroud arrives in town to investigate a series of murders, all bodies punctured and drained of blood. Through the realtor, Stroud tracks Morbius to the mansion and confronts the monster with a cross, which proves useless. Stroud then brandishes a stake but Morbius disarms him. Finally, a bullet to the belly slows the vampire down. When Martine intervenes, the wounded Morbius escapes by again flying out the window. On his car phone, Stroud is informed by the police that a female vampire has just been captured. Stroud assumes that she is one of Morbius’ victims but Martine urges that the Living Vampire doesn’t have the power to pass on his curse. -Thomas Flynn

"...and he finishes with a double cartwheel tummy tuck. Bravo! The judges give him..."

Tom Flynn: Did Frank Robbins have a perspiration problem? Just about every character he draws is sweating bullets even during a mundane act like speaking on the phone. Others far more talented than I have taken a shot at poor Frank’s artwork but at least it’s fairly frenetic. Still looks like something more in line with Mad Magazine than a Marvel comic. I’ve left out much of Stroud’s investigation. He visits the woman Morbius attacked on the street: she seems to have recovered by eating a lot of meat. He also checks out the death of multiple horses on a farm. And one of the bodies is unearthed and staked. So Stroud has plenty of face time in this issue, more than even Morbius. Methinks the whole point is that there is an actual unliving vampire running amok in Bawston. Let’s hope it runs into the Red Sox team bus.

Matthew: You can take Moench out of the Man-Wolf, but you can’t take the Stroud out of Moench…or something like that.  Hard to believe ol’ Simon Says was so popular that he had to metastasize into a second strip, although he certainly doesn’t need a copy of The Vampire: His Kith and Kin with that succinct analysis by Chris Claremont handy in Vampire Tales, and just to add insult to injury, I see that I’m missing—if that is the word—a piece in the form of Giant-Size Werewolf #4.  Per the MCDb, this is the sole Marvel credit for inker “D. Fraser,” aka Timely vet Leonard Starr, who successfully revived Little Orphan Annie in 1979; I’m not surprised he would use a pen name (ha ha) for the unenviable task of trying to make Frank’s pencils palatable.

Chris: So now we have a title that thinks it might be Tomb of Dracula, except that the storytelling is right out of Werewolf by Night, and the art is from . . . from . . . I’m sorry, I really don’t know where.  Perfect examples of what I’m trying to say are conveniently positioned at the top of page 22.  I can’t decide which is funnier: Stroud’s awful, insensitive dialog (“I’ve seen cake…this frosts the icing.  These nags belong in a player piano!”), which even the poor farmer finds tedious (“I ain’t blind.”); or, Stroud’s “run” (why is he running?!), which looks more like, like – hold on (pause), okay, it looks, I’m sorry wait a minute -! (pause), it looks like he’s, what, like he’s delivering a left cross while he’s falling forward !!  okay, okay (catch breath), Robbins clearly delivers funnier material than Moench.  
I’ll admit that the whole affair becomes a lot less ridiculous once Stroud arrives at Castle Morbius and begins to tangle with our would-be hero. The improvement doesn’t hold, as Doug would have us believe that Stroud would shoot Martine in order to coerce cooperation from Morbius; the problem here has more to do with poor writing than any defects in Stroud’s character.  
Robbins continues to deliver a fittingly gruesome-faced living vampire, and I enjoyed a few of his moves during the tussle with Stroud.  The exhumations (so as to deliver coup-de-grace stakes) was a niftily nasty notion, but the moment carries virtually no atmosphere, at a time that truly calls out for it.  

Ghost Rider 11 
“The Desolation Run”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Sal Buscema, John Tartag and George Roussos
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Johnny Blaze enters the grueling Desert Marathon Survival Race, along with recently divorced stunt-riding couple Terry Fairbanks and Nora Joyce; embittered weakling Lemuel Driftwood; the race’s founder, Douglas Forester, a man still grieving the death of his family; and others. Taking the form of Ghost Rider, Inferno attacks the Hulk who is roaming the same desert, blasting the green goliath with hellfire and then vanishing. When the motorcycle marathon roars into nightfall, Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider but the other riders think it’s just a trick. Seeking revenge on “Skull-Face,” the Hulk suddenly lands in the middle of the race destroying Forester’s bike — Driftwood scoops him up before the mighty monster can actually do bodily harm. Ghost Rider swings around and blasts the Hulk but the flames have little effect. When the Hulk knocks Blaze off his bike with a boulder, Fairbanks and Joyce come to his rescue, circling their bikes around the ferocious brute. Ghost Rider mounts his bike and surrounds the Hulk with hell fire, burning up his oxygen supply until he finally collapses. One of the riders who didn’t help in the battle with the Hulk wins the marathon but Blaze claims that there were no losers in the race. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: After appearing on the cover for Ghost Rider #10 but not on the inside of that reprint issue, Ol' Greenskin finally makes his enormous presence felt. This one supposedly takes place between pages 6 and 10 of The Incredible Hulk #184. In what seems to be some type of human interest tale, all of the main cyclists find a bit of redemption, bravely working together against the Hulk — Fairbanks and Joyce even reconcile at the end. Ghost Rider gets his own as well stating that this is the first time he’s used his devilish powers for the benefit of others. A fairly quick read that doesn’t stay around long enough to wear out its welcome. The battle with the Hulk wraps up in fast fashion as well, not really generating much suspense. The art is all scratchy and sloppy but the reliable Sal offers his usual well-formed characters. Isabella dedicates the issue to Bill Finger, co-creator of both Batman and Green Lantern, who died in January 1974. Gee, thanks.

Chris: Johnny’s comment about having forgotten that the race takes place at night caused me to laugh out loud.  Come ON, Tony.  Johnny’s been transforming every night, not only when the moon is in a certain phase, so I think he’s gotten used to planning his time accordingly.  Granted, they’re called “funny books,” but we shouldn’t be laughing at them.

I expect that casual fans would’ve been put-off by the reprint last ish, which means that this young title missed a chance to pick up new followers.  I hope fans felt that the 4-month wait for the Hulk fight was worth it; it doesn’t amount to much, although perhaps it’s noteworthy that Johnny appreciates having used his powers to help others, rather than simply fend off opponents.  Also, the plan to employ bursts of hellfire to deprive the Hulk of oxygen was clever, and it indicates that GR is gaining finer control over his powers.  The ending was terribly sappy.  

Chris: Sal’s layouts continue to be solid, but please explain this to me: the bi-monthly issue is already two months late, and yet it still required a last-minute pick-up inking job (and boy does it look that way)?  Wouldn’t this be the first April ’75 title to be completed and ready for the printers?  I smell another one of those lost-in-the-mail-dog-ate-it stories.  One of the true highlights is a one-panel cartoon on the letters page, which shows the Hulk having a Yorick moment with the skull of GR, with a mangled bike in the background – I’m guessing we can thank Marie Severin for that little bit.  
I’m going to try to look at Robbins for issue #12 – yes, I’m going to try – but I might have to take a few issues off from this title until after he’s moved along.  

Matthew: Jon B. Knutson’s Tony Isabella interviewposted on his blog, Jon’s Random Acts of Geekery!picks up this story after the abortive attempt to have the penciled and lettered pages finished by Bill Draut:  If memory serves me correctly, Mike Esposito, Frank Giacoia, and John Tartaglione had to ink the issue [only “Tartag” and George Roussos are credited] from Xeroxes of Sal’s layouts and on vellum overlays.  The lettering had to be redone and pasted down onto the overlays.  What a nightmare.  We never heard from Draut, but the post office eventually returned one of the two packages of layouts he had been sent.  He had never picked them up.  Naturally, the package arrived weeks after we had sent Ghost Rider #11 to the printer.”

The lettercol depicts the Hulk holding GR’s smoking skull (drawn by Marie Severin to appease editor and Hulk-scribe Len, irate over Greenskin’s defeat), and reveals that Robbins will follow Sal as guest artist before Tuska takes over, now that Mooney has “become so valuable as the Bullpen troubleshooter that he had to leave this title in order to be of a greater service to the entire line.”  Sal seems a perfect choice for a Hulk guest shot, given their long association with and without the Defenders; the uneven results are doubtless due to this issue’s ill-starred history.  The “let’s trick Hulk into smashing [fill in the blank]” MARMIS is old hat, but the ending (“…it feels good!”) dovetails nicely with Marvel’s avowed intention to make GR more of a super-hero.

Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian 3
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

“To Tarantia and the Tower”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton
Colors by Paul Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza

“Devil-Wings Over Shadizar”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Barry Smith and Sal Buscema
Colors by Barry Smith
Letters by Mike Stevens
(reprinted from Conan the Barbarian #6, June 1971)

Determined to regain his lost kingdom of Aquilonia, Conan rides towards the capitol city Tarantia, still disguised as a Nemedian adventurer — but a raven, under the spell of the evil priest Orastes, follows his every move. The fallen monarch comes across an old women being threatened by four Nemedian soldiers and attacks: he kills three, but the fourth knocks him dizzy with a heavy branch. But suddenly a wolf appears and devours the man. When the snarling animal turns on Conan, the woman commands the canine to heel and summons an eagle, which downs the avian spy circling above. The aged seer, named Zelata, reveals that only “the heart of his kingdom” will help him win back the crown. The thankful Cimmerian continues on to Tarantia, stopping at the home of his loyal subject Servius Galannus who tells his king that the gentle Countess Albiona is sentenced for beheading on this very night since she refused to become the mistress of Valerius, the new ruler of Aquilonia. Now dressed as a common traveler, Conan walks unnoticed into Tarantia and, using secret passages, makes his way to the dungeon inside the Iron Tower. He encounters and kills the Headsman, donning his mask and taking his axe. The warrior then slaughters the men guarding Albiona and races out of the Tower with the countess. But they are soon cornered by Nemedian guards, only saved by a group of hooded priests who usher them to the safety of the Temple of Asura. The priests proclaim their loyalty, since, when king of Aquilonia, Conan saved them from persecution. Their leader Hadrathus informs the barbarian that the sinister sorcerer Xaltotun of Python, dead for 3000 years but again walking the earth, is behind the conspiracy — the only thing that can destroy him is the Heart of Ahriman. Conan recalls that he saw Tarascus give a thief the Heart, commanding him to cast it into the sea. Before the determined warrior can start on his quest to find “the heart of his kingdom,” Hadrathus commands a stone statue of Yaamai, the two-headed, four-armed deity of Death and Sleep, to life. Conan’s sword is useless and Yaamai seems unstoppable, relentlessly driven by the beast-like head as the other seems to sleep calmly. In a last effort, the Cimmerian swings his blade at the tranquil of the two: it slices off and Yaamai retreats. Hadrathus tells Conan that it was all a test and that he has proven worthy of the Heart. Meanwhile, in Tarantia’s throne room, Valerius is told that Conan still lives: the current king of Aquilonia orders four foreboding mystics of Khitai to find and slay the former. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: The multi-part adaptation of Howard’s novel Hour of the Dragon continues with 30 more pages: wasn’t floored by this installment, but a bit of an upgrade from last issue. At this point, Conan has basically picked up and dusted off, and the quest for the Heart of Ahriman thusly begins. I need a scorecard to remember all the players, forced to reference previous write-ups to keep names straight. Yaamai, here and in the original, didn’t really seem necessary. The priests of Asura owed their prayer beads to the Cimmerian: those who followed the more popular Mitra started a rumor that they were cannibals. Conan saw through this ploy and let them worship in peace. So not sure why a “test” was needed, especially since Yaamai was so formidable. It seemed that the actual “test” was on which of the two heads to lop off: one was Death, so was it the raging “beast,” or the calm “sleeper?” In the safety of my living room, the one that looked more dead was the obvious choice. However, Conan first tried to behead the beast: when that didn’t work he swung at the sleeper. Basically, the Cimmerian didn’t actually make a choice, he just acted out of sheer desperation. The art is pretty decent if somewhat plain. Certainly a sub par cover though. If you wanted a Howard adaptation in April 1975, the best bet would have been to pony up the extra 50¢ for The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #5.

We close things with the usual early reprint, this time “Devil-Wings Over Shadizar” from Conan the Barbarian #6, June 1971. This accounts for the “Special Academy Award Issue” burst on the cover, since “Devil-Wings” won the Academy of Comic Book Arts award for Best Story in that year. Hooray!

Giant-Size Defenders 4
"Too Cold a Night For Dying!"
Story by Steve Gerber, Don McGregor, and Roger Slifer
Art by Don Heck and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

On a snowy night, Kyle Richmond and model girlfriend Trish Starr exit Lincoln Center to a plethora of press, then their car explodes! Dr. Strange and Valkyrie arrive at the hospital, and Strange is called to consult on Kyle's surgery by old colleague James Wynter. Hulk bursts through the wall to see his friend "Bird-Nose," having been unwittingly summoned by Strange during a strenuous moment in the O.R. Cut to Hank and Janet Pym in Southampton watching the news, where Hank hears about Trish, who "months back" saved him from her uncle, the nefarious Egghead. Cut to the bald baddie in the Bowery, where he's booted out of a flophouse on his butt after causing a brawl.

Chapter Two "Flight of the Yellowjacket!" is just that, as Pym suits up in black and gold for the first time in four years and swoops to the hospital in search of answers. Turning to insect size to dodge a nurse, he learns from Trish (whom he calls Trixie) that she might lose her left arm, as well as the whereabouts of Egghead. Kyle tells Dr. Strange he thinks Nighthawk's old pals The Squadron Sinister are to blame, but Yellowjacket learns the truth from a panicky Egghead, who stupidly only wanted to "maim" his niece. Pym then talks to Kyle, telling him about Egghead, so Richmond tells him the Defenders went to confront the Squadron. At their observatory hideout, Hyperion, Doctor Spectrum and Whizzer plot their revenge against the Defenders and Nighthawk—when Hulk bursts through the wall! Spectrum uses his power-absorbing weapon and Power Prism to overpower the trio quickly, leading us to Chapter Three, "Hearts in Darkness!"

Held captive in the basement, Strange releases his astral form to lead the arriving Yellowjacket downstairs, where his disruption gun causes Banner to turn into Hulk and free everyone. At nightfall, Kyle is rejuvenated, but a huge red hand smashes through and nabs him! But the Defenders arrive in the nick of time to dispatch the Sinisters quickly. In our Epilogue, Trish (now without her left arm) tells Kyle she is leaving New York since not only will he not marry her, but there's a part of her personality missing as well. -- Joe Tura

Joe: First off, I'll let the rest of the faculty have fun ripping the Heck-Colletta art, which to me is about as average as it gets. The fight scenes are OK, especially the "Hulk Clap" which ends the brawl with a mighty "KDUH-DUH-WHOM". But who's gonna fix the wall that crumbled because of that? Or poor Doc Spectrum's broken prism? Tsk tsk. All in all, a decent long tale by Gerber, featuring lots of compassion for fallen team members, incredible villains, a cracked Egghead (ho ho ho!), the return of Yellowjacket (which some may know ends up leading to bad news much later on), Hulk in a hat and trenchcoat, more hospital scenes than a soap opera and lots of New York snow.

For filler, we get a reprint of Bill Everett's classic Sub-Mariner from Human Torch #4, pubbed in April 1941(!), with more snow and ice than the lead story. Then a Lee-Ditko (and Art Simek!) Dr. Strange "sensation" from Strange Tales #121 (June 1964) titled "Witchcraft in the Wax Museum!", but alas, no sign of Vincent Price.

Matthew:  The lettercol calls this “one of the finest artistic efforts of Don Heck’s long and checkered Marvel career….complemented by an equally excellent inking job by Vince Colletta.  Steve Gerber, for one, was incredibly pleased.”  Personally, I think Vince dragged Don down to his level, and can’t imagine Steve was pleased with page 37, panel 3, in which Hyperion looks like a robotic gorilla, but despite the return of my beloved Yellowjacket, I wouldn’t give Gerber a rave, either; even aside from my sadness at seeing Trish maimed as soon as she reappears, the story strikes me as considerably less than the sum of its parts.  Subby’s and Doc’s adventures are reprinted from, respectively, Human Torch Comics #4 (Spring 1941) and Strange Tales #121.

Chris: This is easily the weakest installment of the Defenders giant-size series.  I understand that Steve G wanted to depict the characters’ caring for one another, but still, he could have established that without devoting so much time to hand-wringing in corridors and at bedsides.  Doc’s subconscious summoning of the team was a neat idea, especially since the team doesn’t have a signal flare, or a logo-spotlight, that can be employed to call them together.

The return of Yellowjacket is welcome, especially since we see the “heroic” side of Henry Pym, rather than the insecure, leave-me-alone-in-my-lab persona that’s imposed on him later in the Bronze Age.  There isn’t very much work for Pym to do in these pages, except spring the team from the dungeon prison.  The Squadron wouldn’t have had much success if they pursued a second career as jailers, would they?  A second grader would know that chains intended to hold Banner wouldn’t stand ½ of a chance once they were holding the Hulk – for once, puny Banner would welcome the change.  Since they had a supply of adamantium, wouldn’t it have made sense to restrain Banner with that, instead?  You know, to plan ahead for the inevitable?  Speaking of which – despite the fact the Hulk is the strongest one there is, he still shouldn’t be able to break Val out of her unbreakable adamantium bonds – how did he manage to do that?  That’s a scene I’d like to see, but which is conveniently omitted.
Do we ever find out how the Defenders located the Squadron, when they’d only been back on earth for an hour?  I continue to be just as mystified as Hyperion.  The text box expressing Hyperion’s surprise (p 27, top) appears to have been snuck onto the page at the last minute, but it seems apparent that no one could figure how to pencil in the team’s method of discovery, so they didn’t bother with that.
There’s a laughable bit of hype on the letters page, which claims Steve’s enthusiasm for the art; well, Steve is either the kindest man in the industry, or he never saw these pages, because the art (and I know, they tried, I’m sure they tried their best) is poor.  The ordinary people are recognizable, but once you put them in colorful suits, the figures are particularly stiff, which becomes more problematic during the action.  Yellowjacket appears to be tossing an inflatable Egghead into the air (p 24, pnl 4).  The Hulk’s appearance – both his size and his face – differs from one page to the next.  I will say that I enjoyed Hulk’s entrance to the hospital, in his inimitable style (p 8), and Hulk being assigned Aragorn-sitting duty (p 19).  

Scott: Notable for me mainly for Trish Starr, who would show up in later issues of Hulk. I never knew where she came from or how she lost her arm. Now, I know. Otherwise, nothing to go nuts over. Don Heck continued to get work. Somehow.

Giant-Size Spider-Man 4
"To Sow the Seeds of Death's Day!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Spider-Man's peaceful web-slinging is broken by three men accosting a nightie-clad woman, one of whom is dispatched by a nearby rifle shot, and Spidey swings off after handing the woman off to the cops. The Punisher was responsible for saving Spidey, and he's surprised by our hero in his Combat Van, Spidey is filled in by the vigilante about a man named Moses Magnum using toxic gas to kill people in South America. Part 2, "Attack of the War Machine" sees Punisher and Spidey stage an assault on Magnum's Deterrence Research Corporation offices on a snowy NYC night, with Spidey bursting in on Magnum but defeated as Punisher cuts the power, all according to plan. Part 3, "Death-Camp at the Edge of the World!" starts with Spidey dumped into Magnum's jungle POW camp, soon brought to the villain himself and unmasked…but it's not Peter Parker we see! Instead, it's Spidey in disguise, thanks to the Punisher's special plastic moldings, and soon the skull-clad anti-hero shows up to battle 200 goons with machine guns and gas and moxie. Spidey makes his way to Magnum's inner sanctum, and is almost losing when Punisher breaks in and shoots the toxic gas cylinder Magnum is holding, basically melting the evil-doer, with our two heroes escaping in the nick of time.  –Joe Tura

Joe: A vividly remembered cover for the 8-year old Joe who loved great covers starts us off in what is basically a glorified issue of ASM meets MTU. But oh, what fun it is to ride in a two-horse giant-sized tale! Action, intrigue, melting baddies, tactical assaults, and whatnot make this one of the better Giant-Sized Spideys so far. We start to get a good sense of how focused Punisher can be—and it only gets more focused in years to come, sometimes great fun to be honest. Nice work by the Conway-Andru regular team keeps the ASM faithful like myself happy also. But…

Joe: How the heck (thinking back to the Tarantula issues) does Punisher get all these films? Who's his crack A/V guy? And why does he start a War Journal entry right after helping out Spidey, then on the ride home start another? Was the previous one not going well? And where exactly does Spidey carry his comb? Seeing how on pg 26, he has one on the ready when wiping away the Punisher disguise. And why would he need to, since they gave him his mask back? I can see getting rid of the uncomfortable moldings, but combing your hair, only to get "mask-head" again? Yeesh, how vain!

Fave sound effect: I love the Punisher's assault and the awesome "BRATABRATA FHUMP! BRATABRATA FHUMP!" I mean, that's just perfect. Who hasn't done that same thing playing S.W.A.T. or Starsky and Hutch in their lifetime? Oh, that's just me, sorry…Although a close second is pg 17's "KLONG!" when Spidey knocks two metal-hooded baddies' heads together. But maybe a couple more "G"s at the end for echo effect might have vaulted that into first for the month. But really, the "WAGNR!" on pg 30 is so strange maybe that should be the winner? What the heck does that even sound like? Extra credit to anyone who can mimic that sound!

Joe: Our reprint-to-fill-the-rest-of-the-pages is from Dr. Strange #179 (April 1969), a reprint of ASM Annual #2 (October 1965), which makes it slightly confusing to scholars but the Lee-Ditko tale of Spidey and Doc Strange vs. Xandu is so much fun and so well done, casual readers won't care, even if they picked the book up today. For me, it's the first time I've read it in 40 years and I loved it.

Matthew:  It’s sadly symptomatic of the GS line that I don’t have much to say about this story, which seems like it could have been done in a monthly issue, and of course is from the same team; if it doesn’t feel epic, it also doesn’t feel padded per se, although the format does allow for a space-eating full-pager at the start of each chapter and there is some extraneous nonsense, like the failed attempt to develop those possum-hunters.  The Punisher is always welcome, and you’ve gotta give Gerry some points for creating a villain with ties to Il Duce, but the “certainty” of his death will be disproven in Power Man Annual #1.  An amusing bonus is the “original cover” for the re-do of  Dr. Strange #179…itself a reprint from Spidey’s second annual.


  1. Matthew says regarding Avengers 134: Ex post facto addendum: Little did I dream when writing my comments for this arc months ago that I would be alone in my enthusiasm. Especially after seeing the scathing consensus on last month's beloved #133, I was tempted to interject a haughty "Pearls before swine," but in a somewhat more reflective mood this morning, I'll simply point out that I consider such diversity of opinion one of this blog's greatest strengths."

    Every time I have to sit down and do one of these Avengers, I'm only millimeters away from writing "this sucks" and leaving it at that. But Dean Peter pays me by the word...

  2. Scott,

    Dean Peter PAYS you????


  3. Ah, the mighty "Peter / MJ's First Kiss" sequence. One of the great "moments" of the Bronze Age -- hell, in all of Marvel history. A couple years back, I dug thru my ESSENTIAL SPIDER-MANs, looking for a similar Peter / Gwen scene, and y'know, not only is their first kiss not documented, even their first DATE fell thru the cracks. Odd.

    Re: Frank Robbins -- seeing as how everyone here unanimously loathes his artwork, it would be pointless to try to persuade you all of his genius. I'll just say that in my Desert Island Long-box, there would be half-a-dozen Robbins comics -- no Neal Adams, no Sal Buscema.


    1. b.t.,

      While not a fan, I praised Robbins' first work on CAP, and will likely do so on The Invaders.

  4. Even if I like Fox' by-the-number fantasy, I think this is one of the weaker Kothar novels Thomas adapted here.Thomas wrote this kind of stuff better then so many fantasy novelists.

    I read the Celestial Madonna saga recently for the first time and I guess you had to be there to really appreciate it. Frankly I was a bit underwhelmed. With stronger art this could have been so much better.

    Like with so many books of this time one has the impression that editorial was very hands off. I guess with Englehart or Gerber this was mostly a good thing. With writers like McGregor or Isabella not so good.