Wednesday, February 11, 2015

August 1975 Part One: Hey Gerry! Whattya Mean Gwen Stacy is a Clown?

Astonishing Tales 31
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"Twice Removed From Yesterday..."
Story by Rich Buckler and Doug Moench
Art by Rich Buckler, Keith Pollard, and Klaus Janson
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Janice Chiang
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Bernie Wrightson

After defeating the robo-tank, Deathlok complains the human-less hunk of metal with "nothing but the urge to kill" is just like him. Then he hears someone sneaking up on him—it's Mike Travers, who admits he and Luther Manning's ex-wife Janice are an item, so Deathlok cold-cocks him. Talked out of killing Mike by his inner computer, Deathlok ends their friendship and walks away. A chopper landing on a nearby building catches the Demolisher's eye, where he learns of the cyborg surgeon and witnesses a killing by a quartet of goons. Much to Deathlok's chagrin, the laser rifle he's been carrying doesn’t work, so the machine-man uses old-fashioned fisticuffs and force to take out one gunman, tossing him into another and off the roof. The third one he takes out with a regular gun, but the last escapes on the helicopter with the briefcase, leaving Deathlok angry and with no answers. (Kind of like the reader?) -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: I wonder…Why does every Deathlok title (and the dialogue on nearly every page) have an ellipsis? Those crazy 70s grammar show-offs! A truncated tale this month that only has Deathlok Daddy Buckler pencils, shared with Pollard, yet keeps the story and the mystery moving along. Deathlok shows a little mercy for Mike, yet because of his betrayal, basically calls Travers "scum" and dismisses him forever. Little mercy is shown, however, for the hoodlums on the rooftop, three of whom our hero kills fairly spectacularly, most notably the one he shoots on page 17. That's fun stuff for the kiddies to read!

Filler! Tsk tsk. Too much FF for Buckler? "Why Won't They Believe Me?", originally an Outer Limits-type filler in Silver Surfer #3 (Dec 1968) was actually re-created by Stan Lee and Gene Colan from a tale told in Amazing Adult Fantasy #7 (Dec 1961 by Lee-Ditko). A guy walking in the woods happens upon a crashed space ship and finds the ship's log, which tells how an alien was sent to impersonate an earthling so his planet can attack. But since there's no body, he must have survived the crash! No one will believe the man's story, so he goes to the space agency to show Prof. Carter the log…but the scientist pulls a gun! Is he the creature? Nope, it's actually the man who wrote the log in "unearthly scrawl"—the same one who found it, and he transforms back to his alien form, having lost his memory in the crash! What a revoltin' development!

Matthew Bradley:  Okay, two reprints in three issues is not a good sign, yet even if Stan’s out-of-left-field “Tale of the Watcher” from Silver Surfer #3 is not a whit less predictable than the moldier oldies they usually dredge up on such occasions, at least Gene the Dean kicks it up a notch.  This is the first time Rich has had no writing credit, while Moench has room amid the requisite action to do little more than establish Mike’s “betrayal” and dangle the possibility of finding the doctor who created Deathlok.  Striving, as always, to be scrupulously fair, I’ll allow that Janson’s inks not only are suited to the strip, but also smooth over the differences between Buckler and Pollard to the extent that the results appear relatively seamless to my untrained eyes.

Chris Blake: Ack!  I forgot this one is a half-issue.  Even so, it’s the best Deathlok story we’ve had in a while.  The reversal with Mike is an inspired idea – after searching for his pal, and trying to restore himself so he can return to his family, Deathlok now learns that Mike and his wife have already (in a way) found each other.  It fits the character that we see nothing but an unreasoning, rage-filled response to this development.  What does Deathlok hope to gain now, if his previous life is even further away?

Deathlok’s chance discovery of the group who supposedly know the location of the cyborg surgeon is wildly coincidental, well beyond Travers’ uncanny ability to locate Deathlok in the great expanse of Manhattan.  I would’ve preferred if Rich & Doug could’ve devised something, any credible plot device that would’ve led Deathlok to the rooftop transaction.  

The art has returned to its previous high standard.  Even though Pollard is credited as penciling Buckler’s layouts, the look of the issue is all Buckler.  Janson’s inks keep the mood dark and gritty.  The rooftop gun battle on p 14-15 is furiously good (especially the Hulk-inspired punch to the wall to take down an opponent).  But how about the grim humor when Deathlok refers to himself as “twinkle toes,” and Buckler depicts him poised on the balls of his feet, grinning (p 10)?  Great stuff.

We’re beginning to see more covers from Ed Hannigan around this time in Marvel history; this one is pretty strong, isn’t it?  I couldn’t tell who had provided the inks – all I could make out was a “B,” so my first thought was that it might’ve been Buckler itself, but no it’s – Bernie Wrightson!  Hey Len – maybe next time you need a fill-in, you could call these guys for the art! Speaking of which: the Grand Comics Database tells us that the Stan & Gene reprint was, in fact, a re-work of a story that originally had run in 1961!  So we got a reprint of a re-work.  Well, it’s still a good choice, if only for the spacy art by Gene, especially page 22.  

Mark Barsotti: Killer cover. Quintessential Buckler, you think, before a squint at the signatures reveal it's actually Ed Hannigan and Bernie Wrightson. Inside, both story and art are an upgrade over last ish...but major points off for a full ten pages of reprint padding (and the Tales of the Watcher O. Henry saga is itself a straight rewrite of the Lee-Ditko original from Amazing Adult Fantasy #7).

So ten pages of 'Lok, in which the ex-Luther learns bosom buddy Mike has been banging his "widow." The Demolisher is sorely tempted to do just that, "bust (Mike's) skull into eggshell," but even in a jealous rage, he groks the murky ethics involved, given that he's been "dead" for five years and all. So he lets Travers live, but they don't kiss & make-up. After another high body count shoot-out, Deathlok is hot on the trail of the "cyborg-doc" who created him, about to leap after a departing helicopter and...

Sorry, your ten pages are up. Please deposit another twenty-five cents next month and maybe you'll get lucky, kid.

Peter Enfantino: I'm pleased to see a nod to Robin Trower's classic debut disc (the cynic in me says it would have to be Buckler who copped the title since Moench was still thinking it hip to steal from CSN&Y) here and hoping next issue the duo can work in a "Bridge of Sighs."

The Amazing Spider-Man 147
"The Tarantula is a Very Deadly Beast!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Stan Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita

After his madcap misadventures with the Man-Thing, Peter returns to the Bugle with no pics, angering boss JJJ, then gets some news from Ned. But first, ferry hijacker Tarantula, locked up in the federal pen, uses the prison shoe-shop to recreate his "special shoes" and quickly takes out the guards, burns through the window and goes over the wall—where The Jackal awaits in a truck! Aunt May is released from the hospital, and has a heart-to-heart with a disappointed MJ, where she tells the redhead not to give up the ship with Peter. Spidey swings around, having read the lab report, and it turns out Gwen is a clone! Landing in front of a mirror shop, he imagines Gwen is there and smashes through the glass, catching the attention of the cops—and the Tarantula! The dishonest hombre battles Spider-Man, leading him in circles then onto a bus, where the driver seems a bit too calm…because he's the creepy Jackal! The bus stops and Clone Gwen gets on, then they drive to the Brooklyn Bridge. Tarantula nails Spidey with his drugged spikes and the web-head awakes chained on top of the bridge, as Jackal reveals he gave Gwen life, just as he also vows to kill Spidey the same way she died two years ago—and orders Tarantula to push our hero off the bridge! -Joe Tura        

Joe: Another fabuloso Romita cover, which is always welcome, must have had this one leaping off the shelves. Well, it is the Tarantula, so who knows about all that. A very good issue that had me interested all the way, with Gerry and Ross firing on all cylinders. Some stuff of note: Was no one watching Tarantula as he made his pointy shoes in the prison shop? I mean, really. I don't think he'd be able to hide those so easily…I love that May says the hospital feels like her "home away from home" to the nurse. And to the readers for sure!...Loved MJ's super-mad face, Peter sorta deserves it even though he's all messed up in the love department…There are so many little humorous asides with the citizens as Spidey and Tarantula battle that it almost seems like too many, but the VW one actually made me smile it was so absurd. But how the heck does a car's battery die just because it stopped in the middle of the street?...Mike Esposito, yay!...And have I ever mentioned how much I hate the slimy, no-good low-down dirty-bird, poopie-head Jackal?

Fave sound effect this month: I was tempted to go with the evil laugh of the Jackal for sheer gutter-trash nastiness, or the sound the VW Bug made when it flitted around, but instead I think I'll go with "PONGG!" on page 27, the sound the Tarantula's spike makes when it gets Spidey in the back. A curious sound really, since that sounds more like something bouncing off something else, not a guy being jabbed in the back by a goofy shoe. Well, they can't all be winners.

Matthew: “Partners for Life” Andru and Esposito have drawn Spidey before, e.g., Marvel Team-Up #1, and the sometime Mickey Demeo (attention, Professor Joe) shares credit here with Hunt, but this marks the start of their long run on ASM; fans of a certain Freaks star will be gratified to know I’ve chosen “Rossito” as their collective name.  It’s a deliberately bizarre story as the Jackal—now his proper hue after last issue’s olive-drab-erration—pulls out all the stops to bemuse poor Peter, and we get the historic first use of the “C” word regarding the faux-Gwen.  I’ve always associated the Tarantula with ol’ Jackie and this arc, thus giving him a heft he might otherwise have lacked...although the Punisher wasn’t exactly low-profile company.

Mark: South American psycho the Tarantula is back and (after a nonsensical prison break) teamed up with the Jackal! Aunt May gets her Dear Abby groove on, telling MJ to fight for Peter if she loves him ("You gonna fade away, girl, just because Blondie is back from the dead?"*). Ned Leeds tells Pete said Blonde is a clone!

After he has a Gwen mirage freak-out in Mirrors 'r' Us,Spidey is attacked by Tranny in mid-town traffic, a crowded stage that allows Gerry Conway to serve up "humorous" comments from bystanders, including bus riding teens Hymie & Bernie (are they some in-joke I still don't get?). Once Tranny maneuvers Webs onto that bus, it's boarded by the Gwen clone - in zonked-out zombie mode – and the driver reveals himself as the string-pulling Jackal. Tranny drugs Spidey, via a spiky-boot kick in the back, and when he awakes in chains atop the Brooklyn Bridge, Jackie reveals his hatred of our hero began with the death of Gwen Stacy at this very spot! And now it's Spidey plummeting from the bridge...

Even the goofier elements can't derail the propulsive, page-turning energy the creative team brings to what would be Gerry Conway's web-spinning swan song. You will pay for the entire seat on that bus with Hymie & Bernie, but you'll only sit on the edge!

(*Not a direct quote)

Scott McIntyre: I get that Parker’s a bit upset over the treatment he gets from JJJ, but seriously, the guy has a point. He sent Peter down to Florida to get pictures and he comes back empty handed. Not for anything, but I’d be a little ticked off, too. But that doesn’t stop Parker from bitching to Ned Leeds about his treatment.

Aunt May seems a little blasé about Gwen being back from the dead when she talks MJ into fighting for the love of her nephew. How about what Peter wants? You know, it is possible that the returning love of his life might still be important to him. I don’t know, the characters seem all sorts of screwed up throughout the last few years. I’m really not sold on Gerry Conway’s handling of these people. Stan was never the best at the romance either, but there was some semblance of consistency. When you get right down to it, nobody is really all that likeable.

We learn, finally, that Gwen is a clone, which is a decent reveal but, I’m sure, disappointing to fans hoping Gwendy was actually coming back. The Tarantula feels like a villain too many, since the Jackal is an intriguing enough menace on his own. Again, though, we’re given the idiotic comedy as the bus careens through the city; the kids who don’t care about going to school and then the couple in the car who take their predicament with ZERO fear for their lives. It’s these little asides that not only cheapen the drama, but don’t land as jokes either. It’s the same kind of slapstick that marred Superman II when Richard Lester took over. 

The Avengers 138
"Stranger in a Strange Man!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

The Vision and Scarlet Witch are on their honeymoon, and the Wasp is in the hospital, having been seriously injured by the Stranger. The remaining Avengers regroup. After a mental blast from the Stranger assaults everyone in the room, Thor and Moondragon split off to find him, while Iron Man, Yellowjacket, and The Beast stay behind to track him down using Stark technology.

Thor and Moondragon battle the Stranger on an island in the Florida Keys. The other Avengers locate the source of the Stranger’s power beam, which is coming from a deserted Stark Industries spacecraft in the ionosphere. The group fly up; the Stranger appears and takes a personal interest in wiping out the Beast. Hank is able to escape and when the Stranger follows, he is greeted by Brother Orchid, whose sudden appearance shocks the Stranger into dropping the disguise and revealing that the Stranger has been Toad all along.

Toad is subdued and recounts how he worked with Magneto and harbored a secret love for the Scarlet Witch. Toad provides some comic relief but mostly bores the Avengers, who return back to earth.
In the last panel, we are given a shot of Wanda in a bikini, and the Vision, looking oddly monkish in a yellow shirt and shorts, enjoying the evening by the beach. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: The appearance of Toad is welcome here, as the Stranger, being oddly weak, needed some explanation. Toad is a comic villain, and the inability of Iron Man or Beast to take him seriously provides a little relief to an otherwise deadpan issue. Thor and Moondragon don’t create any sparks with their fight, and Yellowjacket’s craze about Jan’s health seems forced and unconvincing. Tuska’s art is straight on and uninspired. I’m still trying to figure out how Brother Orchid appeared, as he just comes from out of nowhere.

Matthew:   Welcome to the faculty, Jerad; nice to have you on board.  I can shed some light on "Brother Orchid."  That was just the Beast, demonstrating his love of old movies and mastery of disguise by impersonating Edward G. Robinson (a penchant that had, I believe, been established in the prior issue), knowing that the distraction would force the faux Stranger to drop his own disguise.  The name is a reference to the eponymous 1940 film, in which Robinson survives an attempted rub-out by rival gangster Humphrey Bogart and temporarily ends up growing flowers in a monastery, hence his new moniker.

Scott: The new team works pretty well. The Beast makes a mistake or two, but overall is vital to their success. The most interesting aspect of this issue is seeing Beast and Moondragon fit in and get to know their new partners. The reveal of Toad being the real villain of the piece is neither fish nor fowl. Tuska’s art is less offensive than usual. Overall, a bland, very vanilla issue.

Matthew:  I come neither to praise nor to bury this issue’s Tuskolletta artwork, which is admittedly far from exhilarating but, in my view, gets the job done, and I’m quite content to let Steve handle the heavy lifting.  Like it or not, it’s a really interesting and unusual story, one that digs deep into a decade’s worth of Marvel lore, back to X-Men #11, and at least explains why a guy like the Stranger would suddenly attack the Assemblers (answer:  he didn’t). Monday-morning quarterbacks and Shooter apologists would no doubt seize on this as evidence that Hank—Pym, that is, now that we have two—was an accident waiting to happen all along; I sincerely hope that’s not what Stainless intended, but this is the guy who gave us “Snap” Wilson.

As for our other Hank, i.e., McCoy, Sean Howe describes  him in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story as “the first Marvel weedhead.  ‘[He] was a product, in his second incarnation here, of my life in California,’ Englehart said.  ‘He got older, and he started listening to rock and roll, and—quite frankly—he started smoking dope, although we couldn’t say that in the books.’ What he did instead was show the Beast reading Carlos Castaneda and playing Stevie Wonder records, signifiers that ‘he was a young, intellectual guy who’d gotten hip.’”  It would take a few issues, but the Beast became a beloved longtime fixture among the Assemblers, aided immeasurably by the advent of penciler George Pérez, who seemed to capture the furry blue Hank like few others.

Chris Blake: I’m taking this issue and next issue off.  I’ll be counting on the insightful reporting and commentary of my esteemed colleagues to let me know whether I should reconsider and give these Tuska/Colletta things a chance.  Otherwise, let me know when Perez steps in – it’s coming really, really soon -!

Conan the Barbarian 53 
“Brothers of the Blade”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Frank Springer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

When Conan, Captain Murilo and the rest of the Crimson Company arrive at Ronnoco, the Ophirean city that hired the mercenaries, they are fired upon. But it is all a mistake: since the Company arrived a day early, the guards thought they were an invading army. The Cimmerian, Murilo and the young female squire Tara are invited inside to meet their employer, Belzamo, ruler of the city. Belzamo informs them that Ronnoco is in a commercial rivalry with two other Ophirean cities, Carnolla and Pergona. Finding the Ring of the Black Shadow was the first step in his plan to emerge victorious. For the second part, the Crimson Company must kidnap Princess Yvonna of Pergona, who is now travelling to Carnolla to marry the son of that city’s ruler. However, Yvonna is being guarded by the deadly Brothers of the Blade, three men who have had body parts mystically replaced by metal weapons: Slicer, with a battle axe for a hand, Clawfoot, who has a sharp spike instead of toes, and Steel-Skull. The Crimson Company splits into two groups: Conan, Murilo, Tara and others head off for the princess, the rest travel back to the ruined mountain city with a special ark to bring back the powerful ring. Later, Conan, disguised as a beggar, and the acrobatic Tara approach the campsite of the Pergonian wedding party. When they get close enough, the barbarian takes on Slicer and Steel-Skull while Tara tangles with Clawfoot. When Clawfoot gets his spike stuck in a tree, Tara kills him with a dagger in the back. Conan, after a fierce battle with the other brothers, finally slays both. Murilo and other mercenaries, lying in wait, attack and kill the rest of the guards, capturing Princess Yvonna. Meanwhile, the other half of the Crimson Company arrive at the ring’s location to find the huge shadowy demon waiting: it devours both men and horses, growing even larger. The one survivor, Yusef, rides off with his life. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: There hasn’t been an outright bad issue of Conan the Barbarian so far — and while this is not the first, I have a few problems, particularly with the Brothers of the Blade. Three bad guys that replace body parts with steel weapons seems to be something out of a mainstream superhero comic. In a Hyborian adventure it comes across a bit gimmicky. And I’m not sure about the plan of having Conan and Tara approach the wedding party by themselves while the Company hangs back in the rear for mop up duty. Why didn’t they all attack en masse and simply overwhelm them with superior numbers? Plus, Clawfoot’s metal bootie is just ridiculous looking: he even mentions regretting ever having the thing installed. The hand-to-hand combat with the Brothers is very lengthy, spreading over seven savage pages. Getting a little anxious for the shadow demon to have more of an impact: Buscema’s depiction of the thing is ferocious. But get Frank Springer the heck outta here.

Captain America and the Falcon 188
Story by John Warner
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Cap is getting his butt kicked by the Alchemoid, creation of The Druid, who is watching this battle from the seats above the arena. Cap draws fire, making his opponent destroy various power feeds, so the Druid gives him more current.  The Alchemoid has the upper hand, but revels in his coming victory too long and it destroyed by an overload before making the final blow. Meanwhile, the Falcon is in a coma, his status undecided until it can be determined if he is still a puppet of the Red Skull. Leila is taken in for questioning while Gabe and Peggy are grilled by SHIELD co-director Jeff Cochren, who reveals they have found the location of Captain America. Cap is facing the angry Druid, who's sent his men to kill the hero. Cap emerges victorious, defeating the hoards and knocking their leader unconscious. The Druid is suddenly spirited away by a mysterious egg shaped craft, just as SHIELD arrives, willing and eager to take Cap to his partner. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: With nowhere to go for two issues, this tale does what it can to be interesting and exciting, but it’s really just a bunch of tap dancing until Tony Isabella comes in to tackle the “Snap” Wilson arc left unresolved by the departing Steve Englehart. For what it is, it’s fine, but you could skip this issue and miss nothing but the introduction of Jeff Cochren. At least the art is a nice break from Frank Robbins, who sadly returns next issue.

Matthew: Warner’s successor, Tony Isabella, stated that Englehart “left behind a major unfinished storyline in which readers learned the heroic personality of Sam Wilson—the Falcon—was a construct by the far-planning Red Skull, a false identity built on the mind of a criminal named ‘Snap’ Wilson.  Resolving that story was my contribution to the title….Warner had the unenviable task of coming up with a two-issue fill-in adventure while the editors were picking Cap’s new ‘regular’ writer.  With his starting point being the revelation of the Falcon’s true identity, Warner had to tread water for the two issues without advancing the story one inch.  Predictably, [they] are mediocre at best,” per his “Tony’s Tips” post on the Tales of Wonder site.

Matthew: Ironically, and faint praise though it may be, this conclusion is a definite step up, as Warner’s script reads a little less like he wrote it with a colossal hangover.  I can’t recall if the Alchemoid spoke much or at all in part one, but I was surprised to see him have an actual personality, such as it is, rather than just being another silent automaton—not, I hasten to add, that it made me any sorrier to see him destroyed, apparently once and for all, in this issue!  It goes without saying, naturlich, that the primary cause for any limited celebration is spelled S-A-L; this is the last break we’ll get from Robbins before the Kirby Resurgence, and the last we’ll see of Buscema until his lengthy stint starting in #218, so enjoy it while you can, Colletta’s inks notwithstanding.

Daredevil 124
"In the Coils of the Copperhead!"
Story by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Natasha and Matt discuss why they have to part; as much as they care for each other, Matt recognizes the truth – that the Widow has been in Daredevil’s shadow too long.  Matt drops by to see Foggy, and his old partner introduces Matt to a sortable database of “all worldwide habitual offenders.” As much as it should contribute to public safety, Foggy also hopes that it will give him a bump in his re-election campaign as D.A.; Foggy feels threatened by attractive challenger Blake Tower, a newcomer to the race.  A police officer runs in to inform Foggy of a vigilante, who has killed four “petty thieves” with snake venom, and placed pennies on their eyes.  Matt argues that this sort of case should be handled by the PD, but thinks to himself that Daredevil could lend a hand.  Matt recognizes a similarity between this vigilante and a 1930s crimefighter called Copperhead – the difference being that the pulp hero chased criminals, but didn’t kill them.  DD hits the streets, and happens upon an alley-brawl between numbers runners.  DD joins the fight, and is saved from a bullet in the back by – Copperhead!  DD states that Copperhead now is as guilty as the criminals he has killed.  Copperhead dismisses DD as a fool, and not a true opponent of evil, as he prepares to deliver a venom-infused dart to DD’s chest. -Chris Blake

Chris: Ah yes – Gentleman Gene!  If there’s any downside to Colan’s return, it’s that his work badly outclasses the art that’s become the norm in these pages over the past few months; Brown/Colletta might’ve been acceptable, until you see Colan again, and you exclaim “Whoa – what was I thinking -!” The above-par work by Janson, as he delivers both mood and detail this time, makes this art even more of a pleasure.  I find something to like on every page, but I’ll lend particular attention to our spooky first-look at the dead-metal face of Copperhead (left).  As always, I appreciate Gene’s depiction of DD’s lithe moves, despite the large frame and muscular build that we see in the last few pages.

Matt and Natasha’s break-up is presented with intelligence and maturity, isn’t it?  Great effort by Len to keep this moment true to its characters, and the strength of their relationship.  A lesser writer might’ve elected to play-up some false drama by having the civil, heartfelt discussion degrade into sniping and name-calling.  No need to end with a bang when the whisper-finish is more honest.

Now, as for Marv, I’m going to have issues with him throughout his tenure with this title.  Let’s start with his very first page (p 15), as Marv has a cop announce C’head’s deeds by stating: “No no!  I only wish it was that (ie Foggy possibly being double-parked).  That you could fix!  But no one … no one can fix murder!”  Verily, yon constable doth bemoan e’en now the affront, nay, the very debasement of the Creator’s canon ‘gainst crook-slaughter!  Th’ very stuff of life, the crimson stream, doth ebb as it drains to the earth itself, and is no more.  Fie on’t, I say!  E’en so, is man but a thing of copper, to dispense the justice of the almighty so?  Go to!  

The greater, more pervasive problem I’m going to have with Marv involves his dialog for DD.  The first concern is a carry-over from previous writers, as DD continues to bandy around cutsey names for the people he’s battling, you know, the “chuckles,” “bunkie,” “smiley,” and other things that, as we all know, are part of Spidey’s gig, and should remain that way.  I don’t mind repeating myself (so please bear with me) that DD’s in-fight conversation should be held to a minimum, so he won’t diminish his need for (and, in some cases, the advantage of) his radar sense, and its useful, potentially life-saving information.  

The other concern is a problem of Marv’s own making, as he clutters DD’s head with self-doubt, moments like “I wonder if other super-heroes have these problems, or am I the only one?”  Marv makes it worse when he throws in stupid self-talk phrases like “Anyone know why I got out of bed this morning?” Again, Marv, DD is not Spidey; he’s not a post-adolescent, full-time student, working freelance, trying to make his rent and support his frail old aunt.  Matt is an adult, who has had a very successful professional career.  Plus, he’s been in this game for many years now, hasn’t he?  Matt’s life experiences should preclude him from these lapses into uncertainty.  I don’t remember Matt being a morose character before, so I have no idea why Marv thought this mood-shading was necessary.  I’ll try not to harp on it too much (but I can’t promise!). 

Scott: Gene Colan is back, which is always a welcome sight. Klaus Janson may not be the very best choice to ink, but enough of Gene’s style comes through. Copperhead makes his debut, and he’s a fairly fascinating villain. I can’t really say the same about Foggy’s election woes, though. Political maneuvering is not what I pick up a comic for.

Matthew: Colan begins one of his periodic return visits to his alma mater, with typically gloomy Janson inks, while Wein’s long-planned takeover comprises a big 14 pages, after which he is succeeded by old friend Wolfman in a foreshadowing of the LenMarv EIC transition.  They have so much subplot-housekeeping to do that there really isn’t space to focus much on the Copperhead, so it’s just as well this is a two-parter, because our pulp-inspired villain is rather interesting (too bad Professor Gilbert isn’t reading along).  I really wanted Mattasha to work, yet with the writing clearly on the wall, Len frees up the Widow to co-found the Champions in two months; he’ll later bring back Armstrong Smith’s WHO computer in Amazing Spider-Man #155.

The Defenders 26
"Savage Time!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Despite Jack Norriss's best efforts, Valkyrie has no memory of her life as his wife Barbara nor any interest in being a part of that life. All around the world, natural disasters are increasing. The cause is the presence of the Guardians of the Galaxy in our time, specifically that their member Vance Astro now exists as an adult and child in the same space and time. With repairs and departure a priority, adult Vance has a chance to recount to his younger self (who is unaware of his identity) and the Defenders the history of Earth that led to the Badoon invasion in the year 3007 A.D. Once the Guardians' ship is ready to go, the Defenders accompany them to the future, there  hopefully to turn the tide of battle in the Earth/Badoon war.
-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: First thing I'll say is how Vince Colletta's inks really add to Sal Buscema's already excellent art. The highlight of the issue clearly is the telling of our future by the adult Vance Astro to his child self (only to be forgotten in his memory). Val's tiring of Jack Norriss and his pleas would seem to cement her own strength of identity. Stephen clearly is the team leader as he  moves the necessary events along in this well-told tale.

Matthew:  After a year of preliminaries, the true Guardians come into their own en route to their temporal home turf, reunited with their definitive artist, and if we have to endure Colletta’s inks, well, it coulda been Janson.  As in Gerber’s impressive Sons of the Serpent epic, the four-part structure lets him take his time and do it right with a detailed “future history” for the Guardians, and because this was an after-the-fact issue for me—my last—I’d forgotten he tied in Killraven.  So I don’t mind the absence of overt action, but do have two complaints:  the fact that the Hulk has a total of one line (more than Yondu, I think, but it’s not his book), and Doc’s nigh-omnipotence; since when was he able to transport the Captain America through time and space?

Chris: Steve G asks a lot of his readers’ patience as he relates over one thousand years of human history.  It’s taken all of Giant-Size Defenders #5, and now this issue, to set up the Badoon conflict (I’ll say again that Steve could’ve used his time more efficiently if he’d devoted more of the giant-sizer to his thorough exposition).  As usual, when it comes to Steve, I’m not complaining – call it constructive criticism.  When I read an older story like this, with its references to predicted events of the 1980s and 1990s, I find that I tend not to shake my head and scoff at some blindly optimistic, and other off-base, expectations; we go from one extreme of interstellar space-flight, to the other of planet-wide, riot-inducing food shortages.  If anything, I remember how far-off those years seemed, and in its way, how fun it was to wonder at what the future might hold.  (Now, we know – no Mars colonies, but hey, we got smart phones.  Wow.)

The fact that the Guardians didn’t take into account that Vance’s double-presence in the 20th century might cause problems leads me to question the acumen of their science officer (Martinex?  Could I see you in my office -?).  I’m willing to play along with Steve that Doc might somehow be able to ask the Vishanti to put a ship into orbit, but to carry it forward to the 31st century -?  Better watch your step, young Steve G.

Random thoughts: nice touch by Steve to work the Freemen into his history – I’m sure Don McGregor appreciated the thought (although, he might’ve felt cheated not to have the opportunity to add a few of his own paragraph-length captions -!); Jack Norriss is a pretty determined guy, isn’t he?  Doesn’t quite get the message – can’t say Val’s been inconsistent or misleading about it either; it’s rare that we see and hear so little of the Hulk in one issue.  

Sal + Vinnie continue to be surprisingly good-enough.  I’m convinced of the possibility that Sal’s pencils must’ve been fairly firm before they ever left his easel, so that Vinnie was not left with a whole lot to fill in.  Romita also might’ve taken away Vinnie’s eraser.  

Scott: I’m sure opinions on the recent Guardians of the Galaxy movie are divided among the faculty. I really enjoyed it, but then I had no connection at all to the original group in the comics. Actually, I was so unfamiliar with them, I initially thought they were a DC title. So, reading this story did nothing for me and I really didn’t even like these guys. I prefer Groot and Rocket Raccoon. However, I felt bad for Val and her, I suppose, ex-husband. Other than that, good art, but I’m kind of tuning out until these Guardians split the scene.

Doctor Strange 9
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Dormammu and his sister Umar walk the Earth. Thinking
Dr. Strange dead, they feel the battle won. Before Stephen and Clea return, Umar hatches her plan to steal her brother's power -successfully! Clea's father Orini arrives and pleads his case to Umar to let him join her in battle; their past history together having produced a daughter... Clea! She sees him only as a pawn and, when Clea and Stephen arrive, that is his battle role. But the link between the sorcerer supreme and his disciple is strong enough now that they handle Orini, then bluff Umar. Clea takes Stephen's power long enough to free Mother Earth. Umar is defeated, bringing Dormammu's return.  He does not count on the unified front of Strange, Clea and Mother Earth, bringing about his defeat. Orini leaves to rejoin his evil masters.
-Jim Barwise

Jim: Umar is Clea's mother; an interesting revelation. Small details fill out the main story: the adepts in Stephen's home, Genghis watching the game from afar, the junkie who is Mother Earth's son. The relationship between Clea and Stephen is afforded much more depth and time to grow than most comic book duos. The battle might have taken a different turn had Dormammu and Umar combined forces.

Mark: Solid stuff, but "Consummation" isn't the money shot mind-blower I was hoping for. The absence of Tom Palmer is partly to blame. Gene Colan's ethereal, light & shade pencils demand a simpatico, high end inker. Frank Chiarmonte is adequate, workman-like, but nothing more.

An 8000 foot tall Dormammu (actually, Steve, the Grand Canyon's deepest point is 6000 feet) sure looks cool, but why? And why is the Doc's best villain ushered offstage for most of our tale, supplanted by his treacherous sister, Umar? Sure, the revelation that sinister sis is actually Clea's mother was a clever, unexpected twist, but not worth having the Big D reduced to bit-part status after touting his return for months.

The Doctor Strange comic tie-in ended things on a high note. In lesser hands, this self-referential wink at the reader could have fallen flat, but Englehart pulls it off with aplomb enough to counterbalance his other, more questionable choices.  

Matthew:  Much as I adore his ongoing Avengers exploits, I was starting to wonder about Stainless after the trial of the Watcher and especially the “Snap” Wilson fiasco (nope, not letting that one go anytime soon), so it’s a relief to see his efforts undimmed as he winds up another solid quartet, throwing in the revelation of Clea’s ancestry.  However dopey the Zom arc from Strange Tales #156-9 was, having Clea invoke him in Stephen’s spell seems delightfully retro, while Doc has rarely looked so distinguished as he does in Colan’s pencils, well inked here by “Chiarmonte [sic].”  The meta-comic-book approach is interesting, and I love the “split-screen” parallel structure; you just know those references to the Aged Genghis are leading to something.

Chris: Steve E continues not to shy away from the big, big stories for Doc.  Dormammu emerges in the desert, towering in godlike stature and powers, so naturally it requires the collective energy of all the living beings in the world to send him back.  As outlandish as this notion might be, I give Steve credit for his daring, for finding a way to tie-in Mother Earth and the dying addict at the climax, and for not having Dormammu slink away because of some technicality (“Can this be?  Since I used the power of Mother Earth to emerge from the earth, she now is able to prevent me from conquering the earth?  Thousands and thousands of curses!”).  The double-crossing and critical over-reach between Umar and Dormy was nastily enjoyable (should make for some tension in the dread domain, come next Thanksgiving. . .).  

The icing, of course, came as we, the humble readers, are included as contributors to Mother Earth’s gambit.  I don’t know whether Steve asked Gene to include the cover of the comic itself, or if Gene came up with that on his own; either way, it’s an ingeniously clever device.  The insertion of the audience refers to two aspects of the comic-reading experience: first, as they’re always reminding us at mighty Marvel, they can’t tell the stories without readers; but second, we all know that, for many of these tales (well, maybe not those told by the two Steves), the reader’s participation is inherently transitory – with a short passage of time, we will forget.  

The only thing lacking here, sorry to say, is in the art, as Chiaramonte’s inks are the weakest – too thin and indistinct – we’ve had for Gene since his return in DS #6.  It’s too bad, as you can tell that Gene brought his usual A-game to the visuals, particularly in moments like when Umar is reveling in her power (p 23), and then oh-so-quickly feeling it stripped away (p 26).
The letters page was fortunate enough to have perceptive, intelligent missives from both Dean Mullaney and Peter Sanderson.  Hey, I wonder if these guys might want to join our esteemed faculty -!

Fantastic Four 161
"All the World Wars at Once!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler, Joe Sinnott, and John Romita

After testing himself in the FF's equivalent of the Danger Room, Reed fears, "I'm losing my elasticity..." Sue wanders in and Reed, natch, doesn't share, instead saying he's worried about Johnny, who'd stormed out after Reed sold FF Inc. to a tech company. The temperamental Torch realizes Stretch ain't his problem so much as a long lack of soft & curvy companionship. Off to Long Island, he's through the Fifth Dimensional door to woo Valeria and promptly attacked by the local constabulary, who think he's an android. Val and her dad Phineas arrive before the "blood-crazed mob" can disassemble Johnny, but with the news that 5-D is at war with...Reed Richards!

Old Fin explains that moments after the FF departed (after taking down Xemu), the 5-Ders were attacked by androids (called andrones because, why not?) from Alt-Earth, where Nelson Rockefeller is the President and the 'droids were designed by the Reed who became the Thing (defeated by Arkon last ish and, yes, a scorecard helps). On cue, andrones attack and are given the hot foot by Torchie, who signs on for the duration because he hates "sneak attacks." Val has nothing to do with it. Pinky (wink) swear.

Meanwhile on Alt-Earth, our Thing, with his unrocky counterpart and Sue, hit NYC, under attack by a T-Rex. After cold-cocking Rexy, Ben is transfixed by Prez Rocky on the tube and never sees the knockout gas delivered by Ben II on orders from the military, who want a hostage "from that world that's attacking us."

Which is our Earth, where Sue and Reed watch TV coverage of a sudden onset ice age ("crushing small cities in northern Canada"), caused by "strange radiation" perhaps emanating, the reporters speculate - entirely unprompted by writer Roy (wink)- "from some unguessed Fifth Dimension...!"

Reed then clicks on his new 5-D Dimension monitor ("...a surprise for Johnny.") to see Phineas at the head of an army "poised to strike Earth..." with "...the Human Torch...on their side!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Let's dispense with the by now ho-hum art rave: Buckler and Sinnott rock.

Roy has more balls in the air here than our Dean's beloved "Deflategate" Pats, but will they be spiked in end zone celebration or thud to earth as MCD* incompletions? The latter, honestly, seems more likely, but props to Thomas for swinging for the fences (mixed metaphors are appropriate, given the jumble of worlds). Roy's long admitted that he was loath to create characters at Marvel he wouldn't own (even his signature creation, the Vision, was retooled from the '40's Simon/Kirby original), and with his deep knowledge of Marvel/Atlas/Timely lore, he didn't have to. Here he's juggling Archie Goodwin's Alt-Earth FF (at a time when Marvel didn't Xerox their core characters willy-nilly; I'm looking at you, 600 current versions of Spidey and a rainbow of Hulks), Stan's Strange Tales Fifth Dimension (but with the good guys now in charge, much more interesting than Z-grade Xemu), and the 616 Marvel U, all seemingly manipulated into conflict by three variations of the same high tech corporation, pursing an unknown agenda.

Good stuff so far. Let's hope Roy doesn't run out of air.

Matthew:  Four seems to be the magic number lately, and I’m not referring to the FF; impressive tetralogies—which I joined in midstream back in the day—are underway here and in Defenders, the latter Gerber’s second in a row.  Talk about your mixed messages, though:  the lettercol suggests that Marvel avoids criticizing the competition, yet Roy not only has Ben note that Earth-A’s New York is called “nuthin’ phony like Bigville or Cosmopolis,” but also slips in the caption, “While, back on Earth-I (Ooops!  Wrong comic-mag!),” both thinly veiled digs at DC.  Giving full credit to Sinnott’s contribution, and taking none away from those of Buckler’s illustrious predecessors, I will state that the artwork is about as good as any I’ve seen in this title.

Scott: Johnny’s forlorn and pathetic wailing about his lovelife does little to stir my interest. Reed’s gradual loss of power would play out over time. This issue is packed with plots, subplots, action and adventure, culminating in a cliffhanger that feels more corny than shocking. Obviously, Johnny’s betrayal is not going to be what it seems. The art is okay, but unspectacular. Rich Buckler runs hot and cold and this issue is on the cold side. Not bad, but in comparison to some of his other issues, just a tad average and slightly overdramatic. Joe Sinnott’s inks, as always, add a lot.

Chris: Roy lays out a healthy slice of high adventure, and seasons it with fantasy and mystery.  Alternate earths! Meddling conglomerates! Unseen warmongers! Non-rocky Ben Grimms! Stretch-fading Reed Richards! Rocky Reed Richards (in the wings, ready to re-take the stage next ish)! Rockefeller in the White House! So what else ya want, huh?

From what I remember, the Ben/Thing vs Reed/Thing will be pretty good. I can’t recall how well this story holds together.  I will say that, in Roy’s first few issues back, he’s already done quite a lot to help me stow the Kid Conway stories deep into the back corner of the closet, where they belong.

I have to properly acknowledge several laughs I had along with Grimm, on p 22-23, starting from when Ben can’t think of what to call the attacking flying dinosaur, to when he offers to go best two-outta-three falls with the T-rex, as he admits to himself that he’d rather “rassle a Dagwood sandwich”!  Great stuff.  And to top it all, Buckler sets Ben in a cocky pose 
(p 23, last panel), as he plants his left fist on the T-rex’s head and casually crosses his feet.  

Adventure Into Fear 29
Morbius, The Living Vampire in
“Through a Helleyes Darkly!”
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Don Heck and Bob McLeod
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

After being banished to one of Helleyes’ thousand hells, Morbius awakes in an ocean of blood. He satisfies his thirst and makes it to shore. Simon Stroud waits on the beach having followed the Living Vampire and encountering Helleyes himself. They struggle but are interrupted by a cast of crabs singing a song from The Wizard of Oz, twisting the words to “We’re off to see old Helleyes, the wonderful Helleyes of Id.” Morbius and Stroud follow and soon discover an Incan-like city with a huge statue of Helleyes sitting on top of an ancient temple. Suddenly a human-sized Helleyes calls out from a tree branch above: Simon shoots and the demon falls dead to the ground. But another small version of Helleyes appears before his statue and mocks them. Morbius rushes forward and they battle — Stroud once again kills the multi-eyed monster with his pistol. But the huge statue comes to life. The Living Vampire notices his reflection in one of the creature’s many eyes: he decides that the one “eye” he must destroy is actually “I,” and tears at the orb’s membrane with his fangs. The eye explodes and Morbius and Stroud are returned to the haunted mansion, freed from Helleyes’ hell. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: OK, I think I finally figured out the deal with the last wackadoodle issue: Doug Moench hated Bill Mantlo’s guts. When Doug heard that Bill was going to replace him as the writer of Fear, he tried to give Mantlo the royal screwing by writing the most batshit crazy story he could imagine and leave it dangling at the end. “See what you can do with that you dirty bastard. Bwhaahaahaa!” Or not. Poor Bill had a huge hole to dig out of and while I’m not sure he was successful, it was probably an impossible task. One of the decisions he made was to turn Helleyes from a bellowing messenger of death to a goofy wisecracker spouting such lines as “Yoo hoo, boys!” Not sure that was the right move. Morbius became pissed every time Stroud shot Helleyes, worrying that they’d be trapped in their hell forever. Not that their hell seemed that bad: plenty of blood to drink, talking animals to eat, and lush vegetation to make those palm-leaf hats Robinson Crusoe enjoyed. Kinda like Staten Island. I’m usually in hell myself when it comes to Don Heck’s pencils but Bob McLeod made him a bit more palatable. But enough, this train wreck plotline is hopefully over. 

Chris: Helleyes taunts Morbius and Stroud.  Stroud shoots Helleyes.  Morbius threatens Stroud.  Stroud beats Morbius back.  Helleyes taunts Morbius and Stroud.  Around and around.  “Not again!” sayeth Stroud.  I don’t think I ever agreed with anything Stroud said before.  Tedious and pointless.

Heck’s utter lack of imagination renders this would-be prison to appear as a tropical paradise.  Whose vision of hell features sandy beaches and palm trees?  How would Morbius’s hell include a plentiful source of flowing blood, readily available to slake his thirst?  Heck’s inability to score the big visual strikes again when Morby and Stroud observe Helleyes’ “city,” which, as seen from the cliff above, resembles nothing more than a few kid’s toys left out in the yard.  Helleyes himself looks like a green potato, neither menacing nor wondrous.  At least McLeod’s inks add some fluidity to the pencils, but otherwise there’s little silk Bob can make of this sow’s ear.  

There’s a very funny moment on the letters page when Erik K. from da Bronx suggests to Frank Robbins that he “slow down and start looking at what he draws for a second.”  Couldna said it better myself.  There’s also a headscratcher from otherwise insightful Ralph Macchio, who has high praise for the Daemond-Caretakers serial, a storyline that, to Ralph’s mind, “won’t be forgotten.”  Well Ralph, if you really try, with a little bit of time, trust me – it can be done.  One day at a time.  
Pointless and tedious.  Two issues to go.

Matthew: And you thought Gerber left Moench in the lurch wrapping up the Caretakers saga; now, newbie Mantlo has nothing to fear but Fear itself as Doug, in turn, hands him the biggest possible lemon.  Because Bill will soon start turning out work that I recall with great fondness, I won’t hold this against him, but the best you can say about his debut here is that it extricates Morbius and Stroud—whom I find as insufferable as Michael does—from the Helleyes fiasco, leaving them approximately where they were two issues ago.  The artwork is every bit as bizarre as the story, with McLeod’s inks completely camouflaging Heck’s style, and while some may consider that no loss, it’s a marked contrast to Bob’s recent respectful treatment of Sal Buscema.

Ghost Rider 13
“You’ve Got a Second Chance Johnny Blaze!”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Under the cover of dark, Hermann von Reitberger’s grandson Joel and Ghost Rider watch the Phantom Eagle's plane fly off to the horizon. When Joel notices the hellish hero’s appearance, he panics. But Blaze quickly turns back to human form — even though it’s night. As Joel rushes off to call the fire department, Johnny ponders how he can now control his transformation. He deduces that since he has recently committed three good acts, he is finally free from Satan. Blaze hops on his bike and zooms towards Hollywood to take up the Stunt-Master’s offer of a job. When he arrives at the soundstage, the Stunt-Master hires him as a trick rider on his TV show. Suddenly, flying on the Wizard’s anti-gravity disc, the Trapster swoops down and kidnaps the show’s co-star, Karen Page, Matt Murdock’s old flame, demanding a million dollar ransom. Johnny fires up and tears out after them. The Rider manages to survive the sticky supervillain’s many weapons — explosive mini-generators, sonic smasher, gravity intensifier — until he explodes the Trapster’s anti-gravity disc with hellfire, causing the gluey goon to tumble away helplessly through the sky into the hands of police. The Ghost Rider transforms back to Blaze and he and Karen kiss. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: It’s been noted that Tony Isabella wanted to move away from the supernatural and make Ghost Rider a bona fide superhero. Looks like he’s accomplished that here, with Blaze now fully in control of his powers and using them to help others. And I think the big, and highly unlikely, smooch in the final panel seals the deal. Isabella’s writing comes across like a 16-year-old fanboy, all gee whiz and golly gee. He peppers his script with lame name-dropping — Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., Tammy Grimes — that must have been already dated in 1975. Tony also uses terms that I assume he thought were hip but instead come across like grammatical errors. At one point, Blaze thinks that he owes Rocky the chance to “hassle out her own problems.” Um, did he mean “hash out?” I would think that a problem would only get worse if you hassle it. Plus, Isabella  seems to enjoy matching his heroes up against the lowest dregs of Marvel bad guys, the Trapster here, Batroc against Iron Fist in the pages of Marvel Premiere. Maybe Tony should pick better villains: he needs all the help he can get. Don’t know much about Karen Page as a Daredevil character but she’s a dim bulb here. At the end she asks Johnny how he changed from the Ghost Rider and he replies “mirrors.” Pretty implausible but she starts to suck face just the same. And since they’ve only known each other for about an hour, Blaze a demon for half of that, I guess you can say that she’s a bit easy as well. Now the names George Tuska and Vince Colletta on the splash page usually signal bad news, but they’re perfectly fine. Besides, as the long time penciller of Iron Man, good ole George is used to drawing crappy villains. Whack! By the way, the cover is actually accurate: Ghost Rider and the Trapster spend some time battling among replicas of the St. Louis Arch and other national landmarks on the Hollywood lot.

Chris: Three cheers for Tony Isabella!  I have never said that before in my entire life!  If there ever was an issue of Ghost Rider that warranted a nifty “Landmark Issue” shield, it would be this one because Tony – thanks be to Crom – figured out a way for Blaze’s switch to Ghost Rider to be freed from environmental influences.  Johnny is left thinking that the switch now will be triggered by a present need for his powers (and for their use for good, no less), which is definitely a step in the right direction.  The other outcome of this change is that the role of Satan moves further into the background, and GR becomes more of a superhero mag, and less of a mystery title.  And not a moment too soon, as nearly all of those – except for Tomb of Dracula – are about to blur into mist and be carried off on an evening breeze. 

I didn’t even mind the cycle-business stuff!  Johnny’s entrance to the studio lot was somewhat clever (I coulda done without the Tammy Grimes bit with the guard, though).  I didn’t mind the third-tier villain either, although it helped that GR was able to put a lid on the Trapster within the half-issue, without this story carrying over to our next installment.  

Two and a half cheers for George Tuska!  Never thought of saying that either!  Why?  Tuska’s not Frank Robbins, that’s why!  Do I have any art highlights -?  Good question . . . let me see . . . well, I will say that George consistently brings a craggy and rough-hewn look to GR’s head, which is good.  I also like the view of his neck vertebrae on p 17, panel 2 (left), which I don’t remember seeing any other artist depicting before.  How’s that?  And you say that Tuska will be back next ish, in place of Robbins?  Well then, three cheers for George Tuska!  Okay, make it four cheers, if he really needs them!

Matthew:  Johnny’s proclivity for helping others established, his changes are triggered by the presence of evil now, rather than by the more familiar nightfall.  “It allowed for more story structure options, which is why I made the change,” Isabella told Jon B. Knutson.  “My intention was that he would eventually have complete control over his transformations.”  He also relocates GR to the Hollywood milieu he had explored in Astonishing Tales.  “It was always in the back of my mind [to bring back those characters], but I knew it wouldn’t happen any time soon.  The ‘It’ series was considered a joke among many of my editor and writer peers and, given its poor sales performance, I was loathe [sic] to use [them] in Ghost Rider until I had built up that title’s sales.”

Matthew: The new setting provides a supporting cast, and although neither Karen nor the Stunt-Master is a big favorite of mine, they work well here.  “Since it had been established—in Daredevilthat Karen was working as an actress in Hollywood and on the Stunt-Master’s show, it made sense to use her in my stories.  I’m of the school that says, ‘Why create a new character when an existing character would fill the role just as well?’”  Tuskolletta makes her look pretty good, while Tony notes that the Trapster “captured my youthful imagination when he was first introduced as Paste-Pot Pete in…Strange Tales and, even more so, when he…helped the Avengers find a way [in ish #6] to dissolve Baron Zemo’s Adhesive X in exchange for a good word with the parole board…”

The Incredible Hulk 190
"The Man Who Came Down on a Rainbow"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe

The Hulk is still lost in the Russian wilderness as he evades capture by the military. In the woods, he mixes it up with a mommy Bear, protecting the infant cub that Hulk wanted to make his friend.  Out of nowhere, the being known as Glorian pays the Hulkster a visit.  He takes the suspicious Hulk to a distant planet where his dreams come true. On this beautiful, peaceful paradise, the Hulk is reunited with his deceased friend, Crackajack, and his love Jarella.  When Glorian checks in with his master, The Shaper of Worlds, it is revealed that the Shaper arranged for the Hulk to have this fantasy life come true as a gift.  The Hulk's peaceful new life doesn't last long though. Alien toads attack him and his friends, seeking to use them as slaves on their planet.  While the Hulk is able to keep the toads at bay, their powerful ray guns eventually incapacitate him.  The aliens take the Hulk, Jarella, and Crackajack aboard their ship and fly off the planet. Meanwhile back on earth, Betty is in tears when she finds out that Major Talbot is now a mindless goon but General Ross vows to make him normal again.
-Tom McMillion

Matthew: Len doubles down with a second consecutive tearjerker, and darned if he doesn’t pull it off, making me welcome a return appearance by the tiresome Crackajack Jackson, if only for the Hulk’s (temporary) benefit.  Sparingly used, the visually impressive Shaper is an interesting character, although Wein wisely leavens the poignancy with action—dig that crazy splash, with ol’ Greenskin virtually bursting off the page!—while also servicing the Ross/Talbot contingent.  Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Mirthful Marie not only returns to the book after an absence of exactly seven years, but also serves so well as Happy Herb’s inker, albeit with a heavier hand than a Trapani or Abel, giving this issue a unique look to match its unusual plot line.

Scott: Marie Severin does this issue no favors in the least. I was never a fan of her sketchy style, feeling she was more appropriate for the humor books. However, all the pictures of the Shaper look like Trimpe going solo. I found it odd that Hulk was so enraptured over the idea of finding a “home” when he left just such a place willingly last issue. However, it was nice to see Jarella and Crackajack again. The Toad Men Return! That alone is worth the 25 cents. I’ve missed them, they were fun adversaries back in issue 2. And next issue we get to see Toad World! Come on, who wouldn’t be excited for that?!

Chris: An oddly peace-filled story for our monstrous green goliath.  I must have expected that it couldn’t possibly last, but while it did, I enjoyed the childlike simplicity of the Hulk’s ideal world.  I did find it odd that the toad-brothers could show up on the Shaper’s world without him being aware of it.  The Shaper’s discussion with Glorian was charming, without being sappy – I appreciate the way Len found a way to change the nature of the Shaper, as Glorian’s kindness inspires the Shaper to employ his powers in a way that proves more rewarding for him.  

I wasn’t sure how I was going to like Severin’s inks with Trimpe’s pencils, but the results proved to be just right for this story, as Marie rounded out some of Herb’s typical hard edges.  The range of emotion on the Hulk’s face is highlight enough, from wonder (far above) and contentment (p 11, last panel), to surprise (p 15, pnl 3), and finally, of course, rage (above right) and uncomprehending disappointment (p 31, last panel).  

The Invincible Iron Man 77
"I Cry: Revenge!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by Arvell Jones and Chic Stone
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Dave Hunt and John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

 A vengeful Iron Man prevails over the Thinker’s android and ionic dissembler as the Lama prepares to teleport the Claw to his final battle, with the survivor to be his champion, and Firebrand returns to where he and the Thinker parted company, seeking a way to trace I.M.  He finds the Thinker’s secret lab, observing unseen as the Claw arrives to face an unexpected foe now that the Thinker is defeated, but the Claw’s exo-skeleton is no match for Iron Man’s armor, so he quits the field.  The ever-opportunistic Firebrand downs the exhausted Avenger, surprised to have won a war he knew nothing about, yet upon accepting the golden globe, he is unwillingly transported to the Lama’s world, and Iron Man follows them before the dimensional warp closes. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: We now return you to your regularly scheduled WSV, which technically ends here, although   the actual storyline limps along for two more entries following back-to-back fill-ins (yes, you read that right), arguably a step up from last issue’s reprint of #9.  So it was all over bar the shouting when I became a regular reader with #78, and because the aftermath was all I saw first-hand, I’m about ready to cave in and join the chorus of disapproval for the arc that brought Friedrich’s tenure on this book to its ignominious end.  Jones and Stone seem, if anything, more mismatched than ever, resulting in art that makes me pine for Tuskolletta, while Englehart’s wisdom in taking no credit for co-plotting this mess, with Firebrand the unlikeliest of victors, is increasingly clear.

Scott: Oh. So that’s what The Thinker’s crotch looks like.

Arvell Jones and Chic Stone make for an interesting art team, but their work is oddly distancing. The story isn’t overly involving and the Yellow Claw barely resembles himself. I found little to hold my interest here, sadly. Time to hook the jumper cables to this book already. 

The Invaders 1
"The Ring of the Nebulas!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Late December, 1941:  still squabbling as they approach London in Namor’s flying flagship, the newly minted Invaders help the R.A.F. repel a wave of bombers taking advantage of the defenses lowered to let them in.  Amid the resultant fires, Cap rescues an amnesiac golden-eyed girl, retrieving the glowing ring she dropped; because Hilda recognizes the name when their British contact mentions the elusive Brain Drain, she is brought into the operations room, where she tentatively identifies a location deep inside the Reich.  Leaving Bucky behind as liaison, the others bring her along to investigate, but as they fly near a giant crater, the ship is forced down by a glowing war-axe, and they are confronted with self-proclaimed gods Froh, Donar, and Loga. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Sticklers like myself may note that the team’s battle cry is punctuated one way (“Okay, Axis—here we come!!”) on the eye-catching Romita cover and another, with a comma instead of the dash, as the title of the lettercol, which absent any feedback on their debut features more of Roy’s “Random Ramblings.”  He explains that, as was briefly par for the course, this two-parter was intended as a 35-page epic for the abortive GS #2, with a few new pages added to the second half to bring it up to regulation length.  Roy also discusses its inspiration in Wagner’s Ring Cycle (reportedly Hitler’s favorite music), which in 1975 was performed in its entirety by New York’s Metropolitan Opera for the first time in 13 years…with a certain Mr. and Mrs. Thomas attending.

Robbins is now doing double duty on Cap, and while I won’t retract my frequent criticisms of both, he and Colletta are well-matched here; if Frank’s pencils look as primitive as ever, Vince’s inks seem to rein in a little of the goofiness that plagues his work in Cap’s own book.  Increasing his suitability for this strip, “fightin’ Frank R. is chafing at the bit to make use of all the World War II legend and lore he’s stored up over his years as a first-rate cartoonist,” e.g., the German bombers he identifies as Junkers Ju.86K’s in page 6, panel 5.  Once again, word and image have a palpably different feel than that of the contemporary-set Bronze-Age titles, so “Fightin’ Frank” should probably stick to his guns, as it were, in this most appropriate of Marvel contexts for him.

Scott: Fun! I think I said this last time, but even Frank Robbins’ art doesn’t take away from the sheer exuberance of this title. His style is actually pretty well suited for it. A blood and guts wartime adventure with squabbling heroes fighting the evil Axis powers. Sometimes the squabbling gets a little thick as does the dialog, but overall, this is just a “go with it” adventure title. The personalities are spot on. I’m a little put off by the weird, “God of Raging Thunder” and his two pals in the final panel, though. I am more interested in seeing these guys fight Nazis and the like. Your mileage may vary.

Peter: I concur with my two intelligent comrades. This is 20 pages of well-researched fun, marred only by the incongruous appearance of Gene, Paul, and Ace in our final panel. The in-fighting becomes tedious (and will become even more tedious in issues to come) and head-scratchingly random at times (Namor will call Torch a fire-headed buffoon in one panel and laud him in the next); the days when in-group fighting was edgy were now 14 years in the rear-view and yet Roy seems to feel the need to fill the need. Having said that, a dynamic that always intrigued me (even as a young-teen Marvel Zombie) was the savagery of Namor and the "let's try to talk it over" coolness of Cap. Namor thinks nothing of ripping two Ratzis out of their cockpit and tossing them out into the blue (one of those pilots, as you'll see above, is about to be pureed by a prop). Vince Colletta easily wins the Pete-Pot trophy for Best Inker of 1975 for reining in the natural disaster that was Frank "Rubber" Robbins. Somehow Vinnie managed to keep Cap's legs from bending back behind his ears. Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I bitch too much. 

"We will... pomp... you op!"

Giant-Size Man-Thing 5
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

“Fear Times Three”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Ed Hannigan and Dan Adkins
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino

“There's a Party in 6G”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art & Letters by Tom Sutton
Colors by Glynis Wein

“The Sins of the Fathers”
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Frank Springer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen

Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ed Hannigan and Tom Sutton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Karen Mantlo

Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Frank Brunner and Tom Palmer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Annette Kawecki

“A Sight for Sore Eyes”
Art by Don Perlin and Abe Simon
(reprinted from Marvel Tales #109, October 1952)

A three-page frame for the three Man-Thing stories included, “Fear Times Three” features a pre-Man-Thinged Ted Sallis and his eventual betrayer, girlfriend Ellen, visiting the creepy fortune teller Madame Swabada: she weaves three tales of Ted’s terrifying future. 

In “There's a Party in 6G,” a grouped of masked cultists kidnap a baby in an Atlanta apartment building and head back towards their room — Man-Thing is drawn to the mix of emotions. Margaret, the cult leader, walks on a flaming brazier unharmed and conjures the demon Ehrthold: after the baby is sacrificed, she will become its bride. Man-Thing bursts into the room, knocking over the brazier, sending the demon back to its unholy dimension. The fire spreads through the room killing the cultists. Cradling the baby, Man-Thing leaps from the six-floor window — his muck protects the infant from any harm during the fall. Not bad for an 11-pager, but there’s always a bit of a rush from start to finish when it comes to shorter pieces. Gerber has the cultist learning all they need to summon Ehrthold from a $1.25 paperback, a bit of a stretch. Tom Sutton, who also provides the lettering, is a natural match for the macabre and does quite well here.

“The Sins of the Fathers” find teenage lovers Kip Powers and Tally Emmett pretending to run away to the swamp in a ploy to get their fathers, feuding ex-business partners, to reconcile. In tragic twists, Tally drowns in quicksand, Kip commits suicide and their fathers remain enemies — all watched by the Man-Thing. At 10 pages, this one is quite a step down, a mushy melodrama I found hard to swallow. After the sudden deaths of their children, the fathers keep raging against each other without taking a break to mourn? Sorry, Len, hard to believe that would happen. Good, solid pencils by a Man-Thing veteran.

And then there’s “Lifeline.” After having half his face burned to a crisp during an encounter with the muck monster, crazed millionaire Jackson Hunter hires a squad of heavily trained and specially armed mercenaries to kill Man-Thing. The attack goes well and Man-Thing seems on the brink of defeat. But one of the soldiers panics and accidentally releases the creature from an electric net: in an insane, last-ditch effort, Hunter launches missiles from his helicopter, killing all but one of his mercenaries. The last man blows up the copter in an act of revenge: he sinks to his knees, mind now gone, as Man-Thing shambles away. Some good action in this 11-page segment. Not sure where Hunter got the technology for all his weapons: jet packs, fire missiles, and whatnot. Those things weren’t readily available in 1975. Or even today. But it is a comic. There’s a dumb subplot as Manny runs back and forth between his attackers and a bear cub being threatened by anacondas. Not sure that I was much of a fan of Hannigan as time goes on, but I enjoyed his work here. I’d say that Sutton probably helped.

“Hellcow” continues from the last issue of Giant-Size Man-Thing as Howard the Duck cools his webbed heels in a Cleveland jail, falsely arrested after battling Garko, the Man-Frog. When Commissioner Gordonski realizes that Howard is a real duck, he sets him free, worried what would happen if the press got a hold of the story. After reading a headline about murders on local farms, the victims drained of blood, the duck decides to capture the killer, making himself a hero. The killer is actually a vampire-cow named Bessie, fed upon by Dracula 300 years ago, now seeking revenge on the count. Disguised as a man, Howard walks the street at night and Bessie attacks: they battle in an auto parts store until Bessie is entangled in used tires. The Duck stakes her just as the police arrive. Seeing that it’s the odd duck, they drive away. At 10 pages, this story offers Gerber, Brunner and Palmer a bit more space to work with. Listen, I enjoy Howard the Duck but have always been a bit confused by all the hype. It’s goofy fun but hardly transcendent. 

Lastly, the reprint “A Sight for Sore Eyes” finds a bumbling, nearsighted burglar killing two scientists for a formula that promises to cure his eyesight. However, the formula was developed for bats and he transforms into a vampire. Um, OK. Wait, a cure for nearsighted bats?!?! -Thomas Flynn

Matthew: I believe this to be Marvel’s final first-run GS issue; the remainder represent a brief orgy of ostensibly annual reprint-fests, replaced in ’76 by the return of all-new annuals after eight years.  The line goes out in a blaze of glory with 45 pages of original material:  no fewer than four Man-Thing tales by an impressive mix-and-match assortment of artists and writers, the second solo HTD outing and, just for good measure, a reprint of Don Perlin’s “A Sight for Sore Eyes” from Marvel Tales #109 (October 1952).  Drawn by Hannigan and Adkins, Gerber’s framing sequence brings back Madame Swabada, last seen in Marvel Spotlight #20-22, and before you carp that she is deceased, remember that this is a prequel to Manny’s origin story.

Matthew: Should I give Marvel the benefit of the doubt, and assume they knew that the cover’s “Three Faces of Fear” tagline was the title (I Tre Volti della Paura) of the Mario Bava anthology film released Stateside as Black Sabbath?  In any event, the lettercol reveals that the book will be replaced by Steve’s new Guardians of the Galaxy strip, prematurely promised for November, and attributes its cancellation to the same deadline pressures that led to this issue’s unusual structure and the participation of LenMarv.  Wein—who, it should be noted, co-created Manny’s virtually simultaneous DC counterpart, Swamp Thing, back in ’71—and Wolfman “reminded [Steve] that both he and they had always been curious to see how other writers might handle [the character].”

Matthew: Illustrated by the good news/bad news pairing of Buscema and Springer, Len’s “one-act tragedy” is the most contrived and conventional of the segments, a dour, swamp-set Romeo and Juliet.  In fact, neither he nor Marv offers what I consider an especially innovative take, although Hannigan and Sutton serve Wolfman’s more action-packed episode well.  Steve teams with artist/letterer Sutton on his own effective Man-Thing entry—note the Garvey’s Carnival in-joke on the splash page—and with Brunner on “another excursion into basic weirdness,” the sublime “Hellcow!,” while the lettercol asks what should be next for Howard:  “A magazine of his own?  A back-up strip in one of our other 50¢ books?  A spot in Crazy?”  Good thing they went with Option A.  

Chris: The giant-size line closes out well for Man-Thing.  I like the anthology approach, since it allows for other approaches to employing Manny in a story.  The unstated part of the announcement on the letters page is that the regular Man-Thing itself is about to close down; I don’t know whether that decision was due to slackening sales, or because Steve G had had enough, and no other writer wanted to continue the series.  (Perhaps the letters page for M-T #22 will shed light on that question.)

I wasn’t sure what the two-page introduction sequence was supposed to do.  I expected there to be comments throughout from pre-muckman Ted in response to each of Swabada’s seemingly outlandish stories; instead, we only experience Ted’s outrage at the very end of the last Manny story; this one reaction doesn’t say a whole lot, so I’m not sure why Steve elected to insert these three pages (well, yes – it beats having another reprint).  

The stories are mixed, but again, that’s the fun of an anthology.  Man-Thing riding an elevator, and then plunging from a sixth story window – while cradling a baby – are suitably crazy Steve-ideas.  The “star-crossed lovers” story doesn’t work so well – as soon as both parents arrive bearing firearms, it’s a safe bet for a violent finish; still, Len does a very thorough job of keeping Manny in the story, as the shifting tides of emotion affect his involvement with the conflict.  Marv decides instead to tell us of Manny’s painful experience, while Ed Hannigan’s pencils depict M-T’s determination to save the cub, and convey the loneliness he feels (however briefly) as he cradles its body (p 44, pnl 4); plus, it’s a nifty twist by Marv to have Hunter taken down by his own last operative, who appears to have been overcome by the chaos of his swamp-feverish Manny encounter.  

Chris: I’m glad we had a chance for a Manny story with pencil + ink art from Sutton; his muck-man is particularly sloppy, as if he were some processed food freshly slid from its can, especially when he splotches back to the ground (p 17, pnl 4).  I still think that Springer is a suitable inker for Manny stories – his and Big John’s depiction of an inert, thoughtless Man-Thing on the second story’s splash page (p 18; featuring a coiled snake sliding up his left side, ready to strike the small birds, portending the violence to come) is framing-worthy.

What can I say about the Howard vs Hellcow story?  Nearly every panel includes something to grin about, whether it concerns the difficulty of getting past feathers to find fingerprints, “HAHAHAMOOO” as the bat-winged cow flies away, Howard’s mistrust of chickens, a cow’s head rising undead from under the ground, Steve’s description of the hellcow as a “recreant ruminant” with a “cold, unmilkable udder,” and finally, Howard brushing off his fedora before waddling off, alone, into the night.  Great stuff (hey, maybe Howard should have his own mag, right?  Nah – I guess not – that’d be way too crazy).

1 comment:

  1. Love that Sutton art in GS MAN-THING 5. Though I do love the fast-and-loose stuff he was banging out for Charlton around the same time, it seems to me that on those rare occasions that he did stuff for Marvel or DC , he seemed to spend a lot more time and effort on the work. Presumably they had a substantially higher page-rate than Charlton, so maybe he felt honor-bound to give them their money's worth?
    -- b.t.