Wednesday, February 25, 2015

September 1975 Part One: Two Things are Better Than One? And The Jackal Is....!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

No, I did not buy all the comics I am reviewing for this month (during which I turned 12 in real time) off the rack, but I do know that among them are the earliest issues I remember specifically as a buyer.  It would be more than a year before I hit on the innovation of actually subscribing to the damned things, during which time I waged a ceaseless battle at my local sales outlets to maintain continuity; I vividly recall manhandling those drugstore three-mag bags to see if the issue sandwiched in the middle was one I had missed.  Sometime in ’76 I started to keep a diary, and since 13-year-old boys don’t do too much—or at least this one didn’t—those early entries focus disproportionately on recent acquisitions…but in the meanwhile, welcome to my Phase II!

This month’s Bullpen Bulletins include an obituary for Artie Simek (who died on February 20) and a mix of outdated old news and only semi-accurate new news.  The short-staffed Bullpen has “had to put aside some of our new 50¢ Giant-Size titles...[but] you can bet your bottom shekel that you haven’t seen the last of such stunning strips as The InvadersSuper-Villain Team-Up, [and] the all-new, all-improved X-Men…” Appearing a month after the “spanking-new 25¢ versions of these same monumental mags,” that surely surprised no one.  We’re told that Roy has just taken over Thor—true, but only for two issues—and that Len will tackle not only Amazing Spider-Man (with #151) but also MTU, on which Conway will actually be succeeded by Mantlo.

And now... September 1975!

Fantastic Four 162
"The Shape of Things to Come!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Buckler and Sinnott

Titanic Twin Things cover and the punny title kick – might as well go with the flow - "things" off as Rocky Reed from Alt-Earth breaks free for all of two panels before Arkon zaps him, then tunes into the Torch (via "3D Scopitron"), leading an army from "Earth of the Fifth Dimension." Rich then serves up two panels of expository diagrams to hip us to Roy's wheels within wheels, careening-towards-the-guardrail plot.

The U.S. Army wants to go shock & awe on 5-D, who they blame for a new ice age. 5-D's energy infrastructure is under attack from Alt-Earth andrones, created by Rocky Reed, even as Alt-E is assaulted by Nazis, Romans, and Neanderthals, pouring from Doc Doom's time machine, which our Reed sold to Arkon's businessman cat's paw, DeVoor, several months back.

Confused? Buckle up, we're just getting started. Cavemen attack our Baxter B even though, one page previous, they were assailing Alt-E. No matter. Rocky Reed uses the unguarded Scopitron to message his counterpart, clues him to Alt-Earth and DeVoor's sign-over-your-inventions, three world trifecta.  

As the Richardses confront flop-sweating DeVoor, Alt-E Thing, up-powered by the Reedx2 mind-melt, breaks free, learns - from a conveniently underfoot newspaper – that our Thing is being held mere blocks away. The Brickhouse Brothers are soon on the loose, to be confronted by alt-Thunderbolt Ross. And look, the Torch leading 5-D troops through "some kind'a hole in space!" A couple panels of socko then a quick truce has the 5-Ders marching home. A flame wall keeps T-bolt (who's an a-hole, apparently, on all worlds) at bay as our heroes prattle plot points. We're treated to another pie-chart.

Reed (ours, in case yer still keeping score), delivers "skate-like devices" (looking nothing like skates) to the Three T's (Thing/Torch/Thing) so they can dimension hop, two to Arkon's world, Ben to the Nexus point between the Earths Three...

But before ole blue eyes can arrive, he's body-checked in space by a goon named Gaard, wearing ice skates (looking exactly like ice skates), goalie mask, and carrying a big stick!

Holy Gordie Howe, Batman! Is it possible that Arkon is really from...Ottawa? -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Hopes were high & fingers crossed for the sprawling and ambitious "Worlds War III" saga, but any time a funnybook writer rolls out the pie charts on page 3, duck and cover, kids. Amid the multi-world multi-tracking, Thomas occasionally stumbles, as with the Flintstones attacking the wrong earth. And "smartest man in the world" Reed Richard turns over a Doc Doom approved time machine to any cigar-chomping tycoon shows up at the Baxter Building with a few bucks? Nukes laying waste to three worlds would put Laser-Rock to shame, but the only thing Arkon could suck through his Nexus hole would be fireballs & fallout.

Yet all that could perhaps be overlooked, but a freaking hockey goalie? I know, Roy musta been thinking, Jack Kirby put a silver dude on a surfboard so...

That Kirby was genius enough to pull off a dopey idea doesn't make the idea less dopey. Or suggest you should try it. I doubt Roy can save this now, short of bringing in the Hanson brothers...

Matthew Bradley: Profesor Mark, you've just unwittingly endeared yourself to a sizable number of your faculty brethren.

Scott McIntyre: Ugh, did Reed really “combine wills” with the other Reed over dimensional space to give him more strength? Jeez. Also, Arkon is far from my favorite villain. I have an aversion toward barbarian style characters, but they keep popping up in these titles. Makes this a chore for me to get through. It really feels like we’re in a bit of a rut here as this title stumbles around looking for something good to show us. This storyline isn’t it.

Chris Blake: At least Roy has the courtesy to acknowledge that it’s a thoroughly convoluted story.  I for one will admit that it helped to see the diagrams on page 3, because when a part of my brain tried to reason how this all was supposed to work, a different part spoke up and said “It’s a comic book – you know, comics story? – don’t worry about it – onward!”  I’ll give Roy plenty of credit for dreaming up such an audacious tale, and for trying his best to make it seem like it might make sense.  I’m glad we got to see Arkon again (since I’m pretty sure he wasn’t on stage at all last ish), and of course it is the right decision to have Reed-Thing around to explain Arkon’s Armageddon-fuel scheme.  I’m also grateful that we don’t have a Thing-vs-Thing brick-off, and that the Torch’s needless attack of his teammates (in a manner of speaking) is brief.  

Chris: Still, there are plenty of little moments that aren’t adequately explained, when I simply had to go-with-it, such as: how does the Reed-Thing figure out how to turn the “scopitron” into a communicator; how does Johnny’s dimension-breaching invasion force arrive on the same street corner as both Things; how, in turn, does Reed communicate back across dimensions to the alternate earth – did he manage to build his own scopitron, and figure out how to use it as a transmitter -?  Lastly, in near-seriousness, is Sue in this issue, or is she off having lunch with Medusa somewhere?

Chris: The cover is all-time great, and the interior art maintains its usual high standard, except – except! – another mystery-inker sighting, this time on page 30 (above).  Look at the Thing – his skin is no longer a cohesive whole of close-fitting segments; he looks like he’s made up of glued-together fragments of space shuttle heat-shielding.  I don’t know who inked this page (and neither, apparently, does the Grand Comics Database), but it is not Joe Sinnott.  I’d bet my faculty parking space on it.  (note: after I’d finished writing all this, I found on the letters pages for FF #166 that Dan Adkins inked both pages #30-31 as a last-minute overnight assignment – and so, the mystery is solve-ed!)

Matthew: This one took a pretty heavy drubbing on Bronze Age Babies for its lapses in logic, and while I won’t say they aren’t there, it will be interesting to see what my fellow faculty members think, because my reaction—having joined the current tetralogy here in midstream back in the day—can be summed up as follows:  Oh joy, oh rapture.  Reading an issue like this, I savor every second and remember details as specific as the way Reed grasps the doorknob in page 15, panel 5.  Although complex, Roy’s plot hangs together well, building on his old Avengers stories about Arkon trying to destroy other worlds to power his own; Buckler and Sinnott are absolutely at the top of their game, nailing the Things as well as anyone ever has.

The Amazing Spider-Man 148
"Jackal, Jackal... Who's Got the Jackal?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Jackal and Tarantula toss a bound Spider-Man off the bridge but, almost at the river, Spidey manages to snare a web line. Trying to slow his inertia, he slams into a wall and knocks himself out. The baddies escape the cops via a concealed portable jet pack hidden in Gwen's coat (no, really, a portable jet pack hidden in Gwen's coat…) and fuel capsules in her purse, but they nap the sluggish Spidey, who wakes up when they take off his chains and swims away. An hour later, Peter slumps back to his apartment with an angry Mary Jane waiting. A confused Peter blows her off, then realizes his stupidity, but she's already gone. A refreshing bath is interrupted by a visit from Ned Leeds, who throws out the idea that Gwen is a clone and Peter and Spider-Man are in danger, which triggers Peter's memory of an assistant taking cell samples in Prof. Warren's Biology class. On campus, they learn from Warren that his assistant Anthony Serba took the specimens, but when Spidey swings over to Serba's dark apartment, Tarantula is waiting! Taking the fight outside, Spidey squashes the villain, but suddenly he's zapped from behind by the Jackal (with Ned and Gwen in tow), who reveals himself to be none other than Prof. Warren!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: OK, raise your hand if you didn't remember Prof. Warren was the Jackal. OK, now raise your hand if you were reading this in 1975 and guessed it…Yep, not too many hands that time. Yeah, it's a bit of a surprise but makes a lot of sense when you get the explanation in next month's conclusion. Not that you'd want to miss it anyway…The Jackal's machinations are starting to take form, and even when a foolproof plan like tossing a chained Spidey from the bridge doesn't work, he digs up something else from the worm-infested dirt he belongs in. And the reader is the winner! By the way, the Arbunkle vs. Arbuckle cop name mix-up is a bad error, but maybe the commissioner just didn't know his name? It's Gerry's little attempt at humor this month so maybe we can forgive the error. Otherwise, nice action, nifty art (with a very Gene Colan-esque page 22) and a razzle-dazzle story make this an enjoyable ish that certainly has us waiting at the comic shop for the conclusion.

Fave sound effect is the all-important "SAZK" on the final page when the slimy Jackal sneaks up on Spidey (since his spider-sense doesn't warn him about "friends" like Warren), drugging him before the big reveal and setting us up for an epic end to this 6-parter.

Matthew: A hitherto irregular reader, I was not unacquainted with the Jackal (see #140), yet neither was I fully invested in the mystery of his i.d.—ditto the romantic quasi-quadrangle involving Peter, MJ, and two Gwens—so its revelation did not have the same impact on me.  But my 40-year-old affection for this issue is undimmed, and my aforementioned soft spot for the Tarantula owes a lot to the sequence on pages 22-26, in which the red tinting and the limited visibility make for an extremely effective use of the oft-neglected Spider-Signal.  I also love the Q-worthy jet pack concealed in Gwen’s coat and handbag, while my few complaints include the inconsistently spelled last name and goofy appearance of the cop in page 11, panel 4.

Mark: Let's get the professorial pooh-poohing out of the way: Gerry Conway plays fast & loose with Webs' spider sense at whim, ignoring its very existence during the dark warehouse tussle with Tarantula (" playing football with a blindfold on!"), then conveniently calibrates the arachnid antenna at the end, so that it knows Prof Warren is beneath the Jackal mask (which it wouldn't), and because Warren is a "friend," it doesn't alert Spidey of an attack (which it would). Kid Conway gets double secret probation for jerking around with fifteen years of canonical lore in service of one story. But then I muss the li'l shaver's hair and slip him ten bucks to go play pinball, because the story's such a corker.

What the warehouse scene lacked in (Spidey) sense, it makes up for with Andru's groovy, Spidey-signal lit battle. Jet packs in clone-Gwen's coat and NYC cops (ain't too smart) trying to machine gun an unarmed (if escaping) super hero. Pete's zombie-like zone-out during MJ's "declaration of war (love)" and greeting Ned at the door in bathrobe and bubbles. The Blatz Beer Billboard takedown of needle-booted Tranny, complete with punctured water tower contents cascading through the top of the Blatz can (sight-gag of the year!), proving the South American psycho is all wet!

Man, this one makes me as giddy as my esteemed associate, Professor Tura. And as all true arachnophiles know, it don't get any better than that. 

Scott: Did anyone out there laugh at the bit with Sgt. Arbuckle? Anyone? Jeez, another idiotic “comedy” sketch in the middle of a tense situation. Not to mention the whole “Peter is so zoned out he doesn’t really hear MJ ranting in his ear at high volumes.” It’s all so frustratingly stupid. The reveal at the end; I have no idea if it was shocking or not to readers of the day. The man looks silly, with his 60 year old face and 20 year old jacked up physique. At least he’s not wearing glasses under the mask…

The Avengers 139
"Prescription: Violence!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane

Yellowjacket, Beast, Iron Man, and Thor visit Jan in the hospital after apprehending Toad (at the end of the previous issue). After some bickering between YJ and Iron Man, Whirlwind appears and makes his way past Beast, Iron Man, and Thor before getting into Jan’s room. YJ attempts to sneak up on him but Whirlwind lays him flat with a punch. Before he can hurt Jan, Whirlwind is stunned by a mindblast from Moondragon, but escapes before being captured. Iron Man and Moondragon go off to look for the still missing Hawkeye. Thor is angry about IM’s assumption of Avengers chairperson.

Back at home, YJ is visited, rather suddenly, by Whirlwind again, although it’s unclear at first whether this is the present or part of a flashback. Meanwhile, never missing an opportunity to make a play, Iron Man hits on Moondragon before he is rebuffed.

At the end of the issue, YJ and Whirlwind square off. Whirlwind clearly has the upper hand, forcing YJ to attain Giant-Man size. YJ goes back to Ant Man-size and latches onto Whirlwind, giving him a minor heart attack with his stingers. Nevertheless, he is almost squashed until Beast comes in and saves the day. YJ is not too happy about it, more concerned about his teammate finding out about his continuing pain rather than being embarrassed by having Beast save him at the last second.
-Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters:  Is it just me, or is this issue a marked improvement over the last issue? The art seems a little more inspired, and the battle between YJ and Whirlwind is pretty intense. In addition, we have Vision and the Scarlet Witch wondering about how their marriage will affect humanity, and we’re even given a racist cop, on page 2, who refers to Toad as “mutie.” Which begs the question: how does an ordinary civilian know the difference between a mutant, a superhero who accidentally gained powers, such as Spider-Man, an ordinary human with special apparatus, such as Iron Man, and a full-fledged god, like Thor?

Scott: Can Henry Pym get more annoying? Maybe, but I hope I’m not around to see it. The guy won’t stop crabbing at people. Whirlwind, formerly the Human Top, may be his greatest arch nemesis, but he’s a pretty crappy villain and the goofy costume doesn’t do a damned thing to change that. The Beast is pretty funny, the way he keeps saying “the super biz is like that, though” when Pym and Thor wig out over nothing. He’s one of the few positive things about this book. The art sure isn’t one of them.

Matthew: Even more so than with the ex post facto issues immediately preceding this, the Tuskolletta artwork—likely to produce some complaints—did not detract from my enjoyment of Englehart’s script.  And I’m sure that as a lad, I attributed Hank Pym’s erratic behavior not to a personality deemed dangerously unstable by later writers, but to his concern over Jan (which, as a happily married man, I would now share) and the strain of his size-changing.  Probably the one time in my life when I’ll agree with Whirlwind is to share his astonishment that the Pyms were so blind as to miss his being right under their noses, so I’m glad we won’t have to try to suspend our disbelief over that any more, and of course, I’m always a sucker for a “floating-heads” cover.

Chris: The lettercol for Av #144 will include a right-on missive from a certain Peter B. Gillis, who unequivocally states: “never has the art looked worse.  To put it bluntly, you have got to get George Tuska off of The Avengers. … His artwork, while it has its virtues, is crude, and Vince Colletta’s inking does not soften that crudity any.”  Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr Gillis – perhaps you should look into becoming a professional writer yourself, some sunny day . . .

Captain America and the Falcon 189
"Arena for a Fallen Hero"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Dianne Buscema
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Having defeated the Druid and wanting to see the mind-jumbled Falcon, Cap marches into SHIELD headquarters like a man possessed. He is stopped by Val and Koenig and told he’s not on the approved list of visitors. Co-director Jeff Cochren introduces himself to Cap, saying he can best help the Falcon by fighting him to the death, as a kind of “shock therapy.” Cochren badgers Cap into fighting, and the hero agrees, but he begins to see the Falcon as the Red Skull, whaling on him and seeing him as the Falcon again when the vision of the Skull hits the floor. Val is suspicious of the entire proceeding since no psych people are supervising the session. She and Koenig protest, but Cochren pulls rank and continues the session. Cap starts to believe he’s being influenced by Dr. Faustus as he hallucinates the Falcon becoming a giant spider and sends Falc sailing into the wall. Suddenly, Cap sees the Masters of Evil arrive and attack as the Falcon begins to come out of his trancelike state, but not as Sam Wilson; the “Snap” Wilson personality comes to the forefront. Cap is still convinced Faustus is behind this as he believes he sees the Enchantress appear, backing up his theory by saying Faustus is attacking disguised as Baron Zemo. Cap lashes out, but it’s the Falcon again, who instinctively calls upon Redwing to attack. Cap, hoping to earn Falc’s trust, stands still as Redwing approaches. Falc takes a chance and calls off the attack. Cap explains everything to “Snap,” just as Nightshade arrives, flanked by Cochren and others…. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: A confusing jumble and a sad alternative follow up to the wonderful “Snap Wilson” story. One can only imagine what Steve Englehart had in mind for these issues. Tony Isabella does his best, but he’s still just a guy following up on another writer’s idea. The final panel, if we can believe it, shows us the true villain of the piece, but throughout, it’s hard to settle in and enjoy.  Who is this Cochren guy and why is he such a d-bag? Frank Robbins gives us his standard wackadoo pencils.

Matthew: As Professor Matthew enters full-time Marvel Maniac status, who’s that holding down the fort over at Captain America—why yes, it’s Tony Isabella!  Bwuhahahahahah!  But wait, there’s more, because I can annoy Professor Flynn in addition to Dean Enfantino with a reference to SuperMegaMonkey, where a comment from—wait for it—Mark Drummond cites an article in FOOM #9 as evidence that the whole Englehart→Warner→Isabella→Kirby transition was, to put it mildly, a confused mess.  Steve originally intended to return after a holding action by Warner, while Isabella planned a raft of plotlines that reportedly (and horrifyingly) included a Sixth Sleeper; he provided this account in a “Tony’s Tips” post on the Tales of Wonder website:

“I came on…having been booted from Daredevil, which I quite enjoyed writing, because [Len] wanted to write DD himself.  Captain America seemed like a decent replacement when I got the assignment because I figured I could do an extended story leading up to America’s bicentennial.  What I didn’t know until I was two issues into my run was that Jack Kirby’s return to Captain America was already contracted….I was sore displeased when I learned of the shafting I was receiving, but, even back then, I felt that if anyone had a right to push me off Captain America, it was Jack...[I] would have sent [Cap] chasing the Red Skull through America’s past.  The Skull wanted to undo key events that had made America such a fierce foe of Hitler and the Nazis….”

“An Adios from Stainless Steve” in the lettercol makes his, uh, non-return official, enumerating “a plethora of new projects” keeping him away, at least some of which never eventuated (e.g., a Fu Manchu series).  Even my Rose-Colored Nostalgia-Vision glasses won’t stop me from saying that the artwork is atrocious, with “Chiarmonte” (sic)—probably sulking over his name being misspelled yet again—doing nothing to lift That Other Frank’s pencils out of the mire; it’s not very flattering to anybody, but if I were a guy named Wilson, I’d be contacting the NAACP.  I will, however, confess an Enfantino-confounding fondness for the story, which after the Warner train-wreck of #187 seems a model of coherence, and shows Tony starting to grapple with Snap.

Conan the Barbarian 54 
“The Oracle of Ophir”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

The Crimson Company returns to Ronnoco, the kidnapped Princess Yvonna of Pergona in tow. Belzamo, the ruler of the city, informs the princess that she will marry his only son, Vanni, forming an allegiance between Ronnoco and Pergona. Soon, Yusef, the sole survivor of the Crimson mercenaries who went to retrieve the Ring of the Black Shadow, arrives, warning all about the devouring dark demon. Belzamo orders Conan, Tara and Yusef to seek out the Ophirean oracle to find out information about the shadow-fiend. When they arrive at the oracle’s mountain cave, they are barred entrance by Mustapho, a huge warrior: only the sacrifice of Conan’s right arm will gain them an audience. The Cimmerian refuses, killing the massive man and taking his sword, an upgrade over his own. The barbarian makes his way through the claustrophobic tunnel that leads to the oracle’s cave — unaware that he is being watched by a strange hunchback named Renquis. Inside, the oracle is revealed to be a robed skeleton sitting on a throne. It offers Conan two prophecies. The first, “when the shadow stalks the gate, when the city fears its fate, that which held the god in thrall, but restore, and vanquish all.” The second warns the Cimmerian that he must “give once more to the one who stood before.” Back outside, Conan finds that he is bound to the entrance of the cave, unable to move — he realizes that he is now supposed to replace Mustapho. Struggling mightily, he finally breaks the spell. But suddenly, an exact duplicate of Conan appears and they battle, too evenly matched for either to gain the advantage. On a hunch based on the second prophecy, the true barbarian puts Mustapho’s sword back in his dead hand: the giant springs to life and slays the copycat Cimmerian. Conan, Tara and Yusef ride off, back to Ronnoco. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: After the gimmicky Brothers of the Blade from last issue, we turn back to true Hyborian form. It seems like the skeleton in the cave was just that: unless I’m reading this wrong, the hunchback Renquis is the true oracle. I thought that the doppelgänger Conan was a nice idea: having the second prophecy save the Cimmerian’s skin was another. A nice bit of writing from Roy when Conan makes his way through the tight space to reach the cave — you could really feel the barbarian’s anxiety. The return of inker Tom Palmer is trumpeted on the splash page: “Welcome back Tom Palmer, embellisher, fresh from his bout with a bad back.” Guess Roy felt an explanation was necessary since issue #52 announced that he was going to be the resident inker and Frank Springer turned up in #53 instead. Haven’t really commented on this yet, but many of the letter writers on The Hyborian Page come across like Trekkers who pepper cast members with questions about minute details concerning the show. (“Get a life, will you people!”) This issue, James Bain of Fairport, New York, takes Roy to task for not including the name of the Zamorian City of Thieves on a map of Hyboria: in the paperback Conan of Cimmerian, it is called Arenjun. Roy answers that Howard never named the city, it was L. Sprague deCamp. So, since deCamp refuses to give Marvel the permission to use his Conan tales, it shall remain nameless. You tell ’em Roy!

Matthew: Professor Flynn, how are you coming with your sequel, "The Oracle of Ofah"?

Daredevil 125
"Vengeance is the Copperhead!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Copperhead covers Daredevil’s closed eyes with pennies and stalks off, convinced that DD is dead.  Once he’s left, DD exhales and reflects on how he was surreptitiously able to position his billy club so it could block Copperhead’s poison darts.  Copperhead’s next victim is Milton Wexler, who had profited from Copperhead pulps.  DD scans the apartment after the detectives have left, and discovers a hidden wall safe; the safe contains a diary, which gives DD a lead.  DD catches up with Copperhead at the midtown office of Martin Foster, and prevents Copperhead from killing Foster.  DD does not fare any better against Copperhead’s armor than he had last time; Copperhead hurls DD thru a 25th-story window, and then slams DD’s hand to cause him to release his grip on the window ledge.  DD’s radar sense guides him to a rain-slicked flagpole mounted on the side of the building, above the pitiless pavement.  DD next finds Copperhead standing in the rain, by the gravesite of a man named Chesney.  DD tries to reason with Copperhead, as he determines that Copperhead must be Chesney’s son.  Chesney had been an artist’s model who had posed for cover art that appeared on the early Copperhead pulps; Chesney then continued to serve this role for artists for another twenty years.  Wexler’s diary revealed that Chesney spent so much time in the role, that he convinced himself that he truly was a costumed crimefighter; Chesney then threatened to kill Wexler for profiting from the Copperhead’s fame.  Chesney fils will not listen, but before he can fire a shot at DD, he and his copper armor are  struck by a bolt of lightning.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Decent story, and a sort-of commentary from Marv about the desperation for fame that torments some people; Marv gives us too little about Chesney for me to say much more about it.  Marv holds back most of the nuggets from the diary until the final page, which should give the ending a little more pop, but also results in the effect of being a bit cramped and rushed.  It’s almost like the Inspector Mongoose of the Yard moment, as he walks around the room and patiently explains how everyone – yes, even quiet little Auntie Millicent! – was complicit in the crime, with everything neatly tied up at the very end; except, in this case, we only have a few word-balloon-crammed panels to squeeze in all the “Here’s how it happened!” stuff.
It’s another chatty issue, which I already commented on for DD #124.  This one even gets self-chatty at times.  After DD succeeds in sparing himself from the poison darts, what is his next move?  Does he set out in pursuit of Copperhead, since he’s obviously a deadly psychopath?  Well, Matt does take a moment to scan around his immediate surroundings, and resolves to give it “one more go-round,” but then “pack it in,” because, after all, he needs his rest in order to go job-hunting in the morning.  Pretty blithe attitude for a guy who was just left for dead on the ground a few minutes ago.  “Copperhead’s not here?  Ah well – I’ll get him later.  Whew, I’m bushed!”  I wouldn’t mind this passage so much, if it weren’t for clutter like “That and thirty-five cents may just about buy me a subway ride these days.”  
The chattiness can be more problematic when things need to be happening fast (and Marv isn’t the only writer who is guilty of this – I realize that).  Case in point: on p 27 pnl 1, DD has just been thrown thru a window.  He now has three word balloons to inform himself of the desperate situation he is in, and his need to react quickly – 28 words in total.  This is one instance when I’d prefer a (brief) caption, if we really need any words at all – after all, if you’re going to spare yourself a deadly plunge, your only chance would be to react instantly, instinctively, right?
There’s another dud moment when DD offers his help to the PD when they show up to investigate Wexler’s killing.  The cops rebuff DD, who replies, “I think I’ll go home and shoot myself – seeing as I’m no longer needed.”  Really necessary, Marv?  Not really, no – no call for DD to be this petulant and sarcastic.  Marv does it better later, when DD returns alone to the crime scene, and offers some hope that the homicide detectives haven’t disturbed any clues he might discover – now that is clever, and more in tune with the way I want to see Matt thinking.  
I’ve tried to hold out a lifeline for Colletta-sufferers, and offered as encouragement the eventual arrival of Janson to help out Bob Brown.  Well, I hope you agree that my optimism was warranted.  Instead of seeing DD pictured with scratches across his chest, we get shading that helps to define his musculature.  How about that?  Don’t pages 3 and 6 give you a sense that better art-days have finally arrived?

Matthew: Marv is now flying solo on this title, where he will remain for more than a year, and since I read neither the monster titles nor the B&W mags, that’s the earliest sustained effort I have seen from the future EIC.  It’s also another entry right on the cusp of my full-time status, which begins next issue, but even without that going for it, I always enjoy stories in which DD is as much a detective as a super-hero (not for nothing did Frank Miller eventually do both Batman and Daredevil), a role for which he seems far better suited than many other Marvel characters.  Battlin’ Bob’s pencils are occasionally able to penetrate the thick cloud of Klaus’s ink; love the head shot in page 3, panel 5 (below), and of course we get a trademark outflung hand in page 27, panel 6.

Scott: Good, solid adventure from my childhood. I was in fifth grade, trading comics with Glenn Williams and I wound up with this issue and a few others of the period. I remember the “Foggy Pie in the Face” bit very well and the Copperhead is a spooky villain whose face we don’t get to see. Marv Wolfman pulls it off with style, as do Bob Brown and Klaus Janson, a really effective team. This feels a lot like the Frank Miller era and a nice boost to a rather moribund title.

The Defenders 27
"Three Worlds to Conquer!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Al Wenzel
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Arriving in the future --3015 to be exact--the vessel Captain America, carrying the Defenders and the Guardians of the Galaxy, prepares to do battle with the Badoon race. Their teleport beams are intercepted by a similar one from the planet below. This sends Valkyrie and Astro to a swamp world where they are attacked by vicious female Badoon. They overcome, but not before Val endures injury. A being glowing with  light comes forth and cures her, putting them in his debt. Meanwhile, the Hulk and Yondu end up on a world involved in a bizarre frenzy of partying and violence. When they destroy some robots, they are taken before Goozot, the ruler of this world, who plans to put them in the "games" as a death sentence. Back on the Captain America, Dr. Strange joins his mystic energies with the ship's computer to create an energy that even the Badoon may not survive. To that end they transport their elite guard aboard the ship, as a do or die battle plan. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The cover places the incorrect characters together, but the worlds they visit are interestingly different. I rather like the primitive swamp world, where Val and Astro get too close a call. Yondu and Hulk are an odd match as they  experience an "Archon" like festival. The robot crying about her lost "babies" is a nice comic touch. The being of light who saves Val wants payback; you know that won't come easy! Dr. Strange joining with  a super computer--wouldn't have expected that one. Good tale all around.

Matthew: More than most, this issue epitomizes the beginning of “my” Marvel era, and as my first encounter with the real Guardians, it obviously made a big impression on me, right from that glorious Star Trek-worthy splash page of the Badoon.  Pairing our heroes up into well-chosen Defender/Guardian teams is a great way to get both the reader and our hosts acquainted with their futuristic guests, and the differing worlds in which they end up offer Sal the chance for some striking visuals, even if today I lament Vinnie’s inks.  Love the subtlety of the “nine life-forms” line, while in the lettercol we get a letter from J.M. DeMatteis, who will begin writing the book effective with #92 (February 1981), and an explanation of the variant spellings of Norris(s).

“In Defenders #20, page 27, first panel, you call her Barbara Denton Norris.  In issue #21, while she is looking through the photo album, it says she marries Jack Norris.  But on the splash page of issue #22 you say she is wed to Jack Norriss.  From then on, you call her Norriss.  Why?” asks understandably curious reader Ken Norris (sic) of Hebron, Indiana.  To which Marvel replies, “A completely ridiculous reason, Ken—and since so many other readers besides yourself inquired about it, we’ll fill you in.  With no disrespect intended toward your own very nice surname, Mr. Norris, Steve just felt the single-‘S’ spelling didn’t look right.  He added the extra ‘S’ for ‘symmetry’…or something equally obscure and esoteric.  (Didn’t we tell you it was ridiculous?)”

Chris: I’m looking forward to reading the LOC for these issues.  Even though this is a “War with the Badoon,” I don’t remember that it caused much of a stir among readers.  It could be that, thru two chapters plus prologue, there hasn’t been a whole lot that has happened yet.  Granted, we’ve learned about the Guardians and some of their history, but most of what we take away from this issue is: there is a group of Badoon who are separated from the green-hued ones we’ve seen so far; and, we now have a new guy on the scene named Starhawk, who appears to have some cosmic powers.  

Chris: It might’ve helped if these issues featured a tangible goal for our heroes to achieve (the lack of a clear military objective being a fairly common problem across the millennia, apparently).  It’s kind of a tall order to take down the whole Badoon in four issues; it might’ve made sense if they were on a mission to acquire, I don’t know . . . maybe, the plans for a small moon-sized structure, which really is a fully-operational battle station.  Now that might’ve made for a truly exciting, and memorable, storyline.
The art continues to surprise me.  I have little choice but to credit strong penciling by Sal.  The alternative would be for me to acknowledge that there may be a perfectly valid reason for fans to write in and request that Vinnie be assigned to ink their preferred penciller on their favorite title.  It could be that it’s possible that Vinnie really is capable of delivering very solid, enjoyable results.  That consideration, of course, creates its own problem; namely, whether I should concentrate my artist-dislike efforts toward those whose work is reliably unreliable (ie nearly always eye-soreing), or those who are inconsistent (ie who, as we can see, are capable of a better effort)? 

The Frankenstein Monster 18
"Lady of the House!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Val Mayerik and Bernie Wrightson

On their way to blissful awareness, The Frankenstein Monster and his new traveling ally, android Berserker, enter a beautiful but deadly forest populated by tiny creatures who work for a being known as Mother. The horde of monster munchkins tear Berserker to pieces and overwhelm The Monster with their numbers. They carry the patchwork creature back to their home base, a castle on the outskirts of the woods. There, The Monster comes face to face with the direct descendant of his creator, the gorgeous Baroness Victoria Von Frankenstein. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Well, at least we know now where new writer Bill Mantlo would have led us had The Frankenstein Monster not been cancelled after this issue (and the axe must have been a surprise as there's a "Next Issue" banner in the last panel). I won't tell you the path would have been bordered by luscious rose bushes and naked maidens but I've always been a "glass half full" type guy (and you have to be after enduring the twelve pap-filled issues immediately following the departure of Mike Ploog from this title) so I would only hope for the best. Having said that, the "glass half empty" half of me rises to the surface and argues with the little guy on my other shoulder that this issue looks suspiciously like territory already mined by Wein and Wrightson's Swamp Thing so maybe we wouldn't have gotten anything worth bothering with anyway. Mantlo definitely was trying to kill and bury the plot threads left dangling from Dougie's arc as quick as possible: Rainbow's thugs are blowed up real good in their endlessly hovering chopper (and we'll never find out what Rainbow's real identity was -- just as well -- it was probably Nick Fury); Berserker, who looked to be contending for a major co-starring role, is decommissioned for the third time in as many issues; and the 29th last descendant of Victor Von Frankenstein makes her grand entrance -- as mother of a thousand midget freaks. I wonder if Victoria knew about Veronica (cousins, maybe?). At least, in the last gasp, Val Mayerik was allowed to go out in his squishiest, goopiest style sans any eighty-year old inker guy. Bill even throws us a Moench-ism for old time's sake, when Ralph tells Veronica "Oh -- in case I forgot to tell you before, lady -- you're outtasight!"

Chris: The shame of it is (as we’ve been saying), this isn’t one of those series that started out uncertainly and struggled to find an audience, and then got canned before it could find its footing.  We all know how well this title started; in its history, Marvel may never have put out a mystery/horror series that had a stronger first six issues.  The closest comparison of course is Tomb of Dracula, but even then, you can’t tell me that its first year was better than the years that followed.

It’s like reading a novel that has an incredible first 115 pages, with unpredictable action, quiet observation, unforeseen reversal, and effective, credible character study mixed in; this section then is followed by a 538 page denouement that tells us only what the characters went on to eat, and how their work days were.  It’s a play with a gripping first act, followed by a 90-minute second act which features the players seated on stage, silently facing away from the audience.  It’s a symphony with a stirring allegro, followed by an hour of nothing but tuning instruments.  

Matthew: So you're saying it didn't live up to a promising start?

Captain Marvel 40
"Rocky Mountain 'Bye!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom and Al McWilliams
Colors by Al Wenzel
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom and Klaus Janson

Laid to rest on an asteroid near Mars in #11 and reanimated by Eon in #29, the mindless Una is possessed by a tentacled parasite, and flies off seeking Mar-Vell; two weeks later, Uatu returns him and Rick to the moon, and they merge one last time for the trip home.  Just in time for his Denver gig, Rick rejoins Dandy and Mordecai (who insists he stay in his space suit), but is laughed off the stage as hopelessly out of step.  Wishing to say farewell before leaving for Hala, Mar-Vell misses the Avengers and goes to the Cape, where memories of Una’s jealousy make her attack Carol; horrified at the desecration of his beloved, Mar-Vell battles and destroys the parasite, which thrived on pain, and Rick, equally out of place, asks to go with him. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This is definitely not among the issues I bought back in the day, so I have no built-in love for it, and remain perplexed that the combination of a favorite character and a favorite writer didn’t produce better results.  At least with the Englehart/Brunner Dr. Strange, Frank’s awesome art made up for the fact that I preferred solo Steve over their co-plotting, but Milgrom doesn’t bring much to the table in either capacity, and McWilliams offers little assistance with his goony face work.  Rick’s long-awaited comeback is a major fizzle, while Una’s resurrection—such as it is—seemed equally pointless at first, until I reread the denouement and caught the line, “from the day he landed here, their happiness was doomed!,” thus cementing Mar-Vell’s desire to leave Earth.

Amazing Adventures 32
"Only the Computer Shows Me Any Respect!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell and Dan Green
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Craig Russell

June, 2019 in Nashville, Tennessee: Killraven and crew stumble upon the Mural Phonics System, a popular 1990s spot, and use the "glass husk" as their haven for the night. M'Sulla thinks back to  the sadness of when the Martians declared war, then the gang walks into the Octo-Tympanum-Viewscope (after KR smashes the wooden door) and then the mind-fueled acid trip begins! Killraven is on an infinite plane, Old Skull chats with talking chipmunks and singing asparagus, Carmilla sees Grok's funeral, M'Shulla slaughters Martians, and Hawk stands where he did as a child. Cut to Skar at the scene of the slaughter at the monuments and he's ordered by the High Overlord to track down the Freemen. Then we get a flashback to Hawk's childhood in 1995, with his father obsessed by the computer, where the two are projected into the world of detective Hodiah Twist and his aide Conrad Jeavons, seeing their battle against a hell-hound. But who did Hawk save—his father or the fictional characters? As the gang ponders this, a pink dragon attacks, spewing flame at Old Skull until Killraven stabs it, then the dragon disappears, since M'Shulla hit the "off" button. – Joe Tura

Joe: First off, I'm scrambling to do this late Monday due to freelance assignments and training at Tiger Schulmann's and I'm already halted by the title. Pretty dumb. Then, we have inks by Dan Green, which could be hit or miss. Hmm…(OK, it's not that bad, but not as good as Russell inking himself) Then a looooong intro on the splash page. But that's just McGregor being McGregor; no cause for concern there. Then we get to the guts, which include a psychedelic trip that's Gerber times two, complete with talking chipmunks, opera terms, blatant flirting between Carmilla and M'Shulla that seems icky at times, odd flashbacks to Hawk's childhood, a Sherlock Holmes "homage" or something like that, and computerized dragons. Whew…I'm exhausted from trying to figure out what the heck was going on! And on a second read I’m still not sure. But at least McGregor had some fun, I guess.

Chris: Don felt he could go with a lighter mood for most of this issue; well, that’s fine – it makes for an unexpected change from the usual smiling-in-the-face-of-death that we typically see in Earth: 2019.  Instead, the vibe is very varied this time, so much so that it doesn’t quite hold together.  Don’s free-association text page that supposedly gives us an idea of what the mural phonics experience is like, instead reads as almost complete gibberish.  Then, we get some insights into Carmilla and M’Shulla’s mindsets, but only Old Skull’s softy side is unexpected; although, the fact that the realizations of Old Skull’s imaginations could be termed “childlike” certainly is in-character.  We get Hawk’s unsought tale of his father’s loss of self in the world of mural phonics, which fittingly is a downer.  Then, we get Killraven’s battle with the dragon from the left field of Old Skull’s mind, but the bit of heroic stuff seems gratuitous; open page – insert action! – stir characters – resolve.

Chris: I would’ve been just as happy to sit and look at the issue without reading a word.  Russell’s art takes several steps forward, as nearly every page features several panels that are worth a second – or third! – look.  Russell gives us two broad, mind-blowing pages (p 6-7), then breaks the next two (p 10-11) into many smaller, mostly quieter moments.  You have to slow down a little to take in all the fine details, like the rabbit playfully tugging Old Skull’s moustache (p 10, last panel) and Old Skull giving his new furry friends an enthusiastic good-bye wave (p 11, pnl 2).  
The results are even more impressive to me when I consider that the consistently-ordinary Dan Green served as inker; I’d almost be willing to see these artists paired again, just to be sure this wasn’t a fluke, but for some reason, this is the only time these two share credits on Killraven.  

Mark: "Only the Computer..." is a meandering meditation on the nature of reality, virtual and otherwise, as Killy & crew grab some r&r in a Tripatorium (after chewing his cud, McGregor coughs up "Octo-Typanum-Viewscope;" more proof he didn't miss any bets as Mad Man sloganeer) - Al Huxley's Brave New World Feelies, with a Day-Glo paint job and a Hendrix spaceman-shronk-on-the-upside-down-Strat soundtrack. 

Light on plot/Martians, heavy on characterization, we viddy Killy, soaring through a Owsley acid-scape while bludgeoned by text-blox, Hawk's Third Eye encounter with his VR rig-addled old man in a Holmes & Watson hell hound romp on the moors, and - my fave - Old Skull doing the happy dance with va-va-voomy broccoli stalks (I shit thee not) and sardonic squirrel, Walter J. Throgmoid (if only J. Throg had beaten Howard to the talking animal punch!).

All brought to throbbing, several tokes over the line life by deep in the grove Craig Russell, obviously having a blast here, as is our prolix wordsmith (hell, he's an entire foundry!), Dandy Don. It's groovy, babe. And I'm 12-Step-25-year-chip- come-to-Jesus serious. If yer freak flag ain't flapping in the psychedelic stratosphere after this one, then you are one serious grey flannel bummer, man.

No wonder your kids hate you.

Creatures on the Loose 37
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez and Fred Kida
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Garth is about to slice the moonstone from Man-Wolf's neck when E. Hammond Preiss, commander of the space station, enters with his men and chases the blonde alien warrior off. The men destroy an artificial gravity field, grab Man-Wolf and head up the ventilator shafts. Cut to Earth, and JJJ is annoyed that Kristine has been missing for three days, and coincidentally is accosted by a stranger on the elevator who will take him to Kristine. But it's evil Harrisyn Turk, who is chased off by Simon Stroud, who walks off with JJJ. Back to the moon, where Man-Wolf – stronger from the moon's rays – breaks free of his shackles and almost beats all of Preiss' men when the moon goes down and he starts to change back to John, which defeats him. Garth, Lambert and Gorjoon plot to grab the stone while the men track them, having abandoned their prisoner. Said prisoner is human again, but is broken out by Garth, while Gorjoon holds off the army, and they convince John to travel to the "Other Realm". But along the way, John is at the helm—until he changes! And we're left on the Space Wheel with the x-ray image of Man-Wolf that reveals the stone is symbiotic with John. – Joe Tura

Joe: And so we reach our last issue of COTL, reasons for which Prof. Matthew has outlined below so I won't be redundant and repeat his words. (See what I did there!) And just when it was getting sorta interesting! And we're left with a doozy of a cliffhanger, which Kraft tries to explain on the letters page, but only ends up confusing the heck out of the reader if you ask me. Along the way, we get some excellent Perez art, my favorite being the Man-Wolf closeup on page 30. On the other hand, the next page features an x-ray of the symbiotic relationship between John and the moonstone that looks more like Scratchy on the Simpsons when Itchy manages to skin him or turn his body inside out (which has happened umpteen times). I wonder why J. Jonah, who should know better, would just go along with the guy on the elevator so easily. How gullible! Turk is a nasty piece of work that deserves to get his, but soon. Let's hope we'll catch it for ourselves. See you in Marvel Premiere #45, Man-Wolf, old buddy—keep on howling!

Matthew:  Announcing the title’s cancellation in the lettercol, Kraft writes, “I’m told that—perhaps surprisingly—Creatures has been doing well on the newsstands…but not well enough.  Once a title has been established for, say, 37 issues, it’s next to impossible to get distributors to accept more than the usual allotment of copies.  One way around that would be to give Man-Wolf his own book, and to start with a larger print run.  That idea was given very serious consideration—but [ruled out due to] a plethora of new books and series…Had we known this several months ago, George and I would have arranged for the current storyline to end neatly with this issue.  Alas, we did not know.”  He then reveals some of what he and Perez had planned to do.

In fact, they would get a chance to continue the saga more than three years later, although it remains to be seen if what eventually materialized in Marvel Premiere #45-46 matched their announced intentions.  Inked now by Kida, the Pacesetter is starting to display his propensity for interesting layouts, with an obvious highlight being that stunning two-page spread, and will return triumphantly in two months as the new Avengers penciler.  As for the Dude’s story, well, let’s just say it’s fortunate he had “time enough to…tie up a few plot threads left unresolved at the end of this issue’s cliffhanger,” because otherwise the reader would not have the slightest idea what on Earth any of this talk of godstones and other realms is supposed to mean, so abruptly was the series deep-sixed.

Chris: There’s so much action packed in, and it all went by so quickly, that I almost would’ve believed that the story was only half of its actual length.  Perez’s early art continues to impress, even though I don’t think Kida is the best inker for him here.  Still, the impression of weightlessness is well-done (p 6, pnl 1; p 14, pnl 2), and I enjoy all the activity on display in the two-page spread (above).  The now-what moment in the last panel on p 30 (below) presents a classic look at a full-fury Man-Wolf. 

By some miracle (and please excuse me, Prof Joe, if you’ve already mentioned this), Kraft & Perez will present Man-Wolf in Marvel Premiere for a two-issue wrap-up of this storyline, the only problem being that these issues won’t run for about another three years.  Dave & George will be paired again for the Logan’s Run adaptation, coming soon to a newsstand near you.