Wednesday, February 18, 2015

August 1975 Part Two: X-Men 94. Get 'em While You Can Slab 'em!

X-Men 94
"The Doomsmith Scenario!"
Story by Len Wein and Chris Claremont
Art  by Dave Cockrum and Bob McLeod
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

The new X-Men take shape, as Sunfire announces his departure, and Storm and Wolverine decide to stay; Banshee accepts the challenge of working with a team whose members are all significantly younger than he.   Professor Xavier is surprised when Warren states that the remaining members of the original team are all leaving; Jean explains that they now are older, no longer the uncertain children whom Xavier had taken in years earlier, and have to start living their own lives.  Scott spends the night thinking things through, and decides his place is with the team, even if it means separation from Jean.  Cyclops immerses himself in training the new heroes, to hone their skills and forge them into a working team.  He pushes everyone past the point of exhaustion, until finally Thunderbird suffers a minor injury.  

Meanwhile, buried deep within Colorado’s Valhalla mountain is the NORAD base.  A miniature transporter slips past security, and once it’s unwittingly activated, the Ani-Men burst through the portal and assume control of the war room, exactly as planned by – Count Nefaria.  Nefaria threatens to unleash the nuclear arsenal unless every nation on earth meets his terms.  The Beast contacts Xavier to enlist help from the X-Men, and in minutes, they are jetting west.  The supersonic blackbird is detected by Nefaria, who revels in the opportunity to attack his old adversaries.  The plane takes a hit from a SAM, but Cyclops has enough time to eject the cabin safely from the disintegrating blackbird.  Nefaria’s next assault is via sonic disruptors, which dissolve the cabin, and leave the X-Men unprotected, in free-fall! -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: The old order changeth – oh wait, that’s a different team.  I guess we’ll never know what Xavier’s plan for the new team might’ve been, since he’s interrupted by those who already know they’re headed out.  Scott’s dark night is a bit overblown, as he laments being “the one X-Man who can’t hide what he is;” well, Scotty, Warren might have something to say about that – and besides, it seems though the red sunglasses (which, now that I think about it, must be made of titanium, or maybe adamantium, if they can contain the power of the optic blast) have allowed you plenty of reasonably comfortable moments outside, in the unsuspecting world at large.  It would be more true to Scott’s character if his motivation is due to his sense of responsibility to the team, which is a more noble impulse than simple fear.  Plus, there really should’ve been a quiet, private moment between Scott and Jean, instead of a brief good-bye in the front doorway.  Lastly, I think it’s a mistake for Havok and Polaris to go, since neither character has been thoroughly utilized yet; I admit that this last observation has more to do with my interest in both characters, and disappointment that two powerful figures like these wound up shelved. 

These are not stern criticisms, I hope – in fairness, this is Claremont’s first issue (scripting Len’s plot), and over the next 16 years or so, we’ll see that his choices tend to be the right ones.  Case in point: a one-panel exchange between Wolverine and Banshee, when Sean asks (with slightly increasing trepidation) whether Wolverine is serious about his threat to cut Nefaria into “very …tiny…pieces” (p 26, 1st panel).  Also, I’m pretty sure this is the first issue when we hear Wolverine utter his signature “bub.”

Chris: It’s a safe bet that I’m going to like Cockrum’s art, but you might be surprised to hear that I don’t think McLeod’s inks complement the pencils as well as I’d hoped.  The finished product is a bit too clean and shiny for me, without enough of the shading Cockrum had brought to his art for G-S X-M #1.  The training montage is an easy choice for a highlight (p 11), so I’ll also point out the moment when Nefaria is so enraged that he pops his trademark monocle (p 31, pnl 5), while Dragonfly looks on, concerned.

Can I say that I’ve always been drawn to the corner logo, with the heads-cluster looking out at us?  I realize the Defenders have this too, but those heads are always a bit mismatched (all seemingly lifted from different illustrations by different artists), while the X-cover illustration looks like Cockrum had prepared it specially; in its way, the heads’ uniformity suggests team coherence to me.  Cockrum’s heads replace an image of the Angel flying by, and will remain until Byrne’s own version of the team faces appears on the cover of X-M #123.  Strangely, Phoenix is never included among them.

Scott McIntyre: Chris Claremont takes over the scripting chores and once he reaches his stride, he’ll bring the X-Men to rarified peaks. Until then, we get stepping stone tales like this. It’s not bad, but still less than what the title will bring. The team is still embryonic, with personalities rough and squabbling at a fever pitch. Dave Cockrum likes to draw people screaming or otherwise clenched. Sunfire takes off, unwilling to help; Thunderbird won’t drop the chip on his shoulder; Wolverine is simply obnoxious. At least their first villain is a lesser light. Count Nefaria and his wacky cronies aren’t the biggest threat ever, but a challenge for this rough group. Since I’ll assume the Marvel Method dictated Cockrum drawing the issue first, I’ll assign him responsibility or blame for the first of his many sudden cliffhanger endings. If the X-Men aren’t falling from a destroyed lifting body, they’re being blown out of airlocks into space or burning up on re-entry. His stay won’t be a long one, but it will be dramatic.

We’ll see Jean return before long and alter the course of a number of lives dramatically, and the Beast also will figure prominently for a number of issues without rejoining the team on a permanent basis. For now, let’s continue to get to know the new members. Aside from a few fill-in issues, get ready for one huge, exciting epic. 

John Scoleri: I've been gone for almost as long as our Mutant pals, but had to pop back in to talk about the first regular issue of the new, improved X-Men. While I have a fondness for Cockrum's art, I can't deny that the arrival of Byrne would establish my ideal look for the team that holds true to this day.  As for the story, it would be a few more issues before I truly felt Claremont hit his stride, but the mix of characters on the new team  make these early tales worth reading.

Matthew Bradley: Plotted by EIC Len, the revamped mutant team’s sophomore effort was scripted by his new associate editor.  “Shortly after the [GS] issue was finished, it became clear that Wein’s workload would force him to abandon the title—not that the decision caused him much distress.  ‘It was just another book,’ he said.  ‘It was no different to me than “Brother Voodoo” or a couple of other new series that I was involved in.’  But for Chris Claremont, who’d been listening in on story meetings from his desk outside Wein’s office and chiming in with ideas, it was a golden opportunity.  He eagerly volunteered to take over the writing.  ‘I said, “Shit, yes!”  But it was a mid-list title—we figured six issues, and out.’  Instead, it would change his life,” per Sean Howe.

My anticipation of this issue cooled dramatically, if unfairly, when I pieced together that five extra pages had been seamlessly interpolated into the 1986 Classic X-Men reprint by Claremont (who also teamed with John Bolton on “First Friends,” a new 10-page story recounting an early encounter between Ororo and Jean) and Cockrum.  I may seem churlish for not celebrating what some would consider more of a good thing, yet the purist in me bristles that this “classic” is not presented in its unadulterated form.  Most galling is the fact that—as with the cuts made to the Silver-Age reprints proliferating in Marvel Double Feature/Spectacular/Tales the very month it was first published—the reader is left none the wiser concerning these Procrustean machinations.

SuperMegaMonkey offers an interesting analysis of the effects on the story of these changes, which he aptly likens to a Star Wars “special edition,” but my foreknowledge enabled me to read chapter one twice, first without and then with the additives.  It annoys me that these retroactively introduce characters (Moira MacTaggert, Rahne Sinclair) and concepts (the fastball special, here called “maneuver seven,” and Logan’s unbreakable skeleton) we shouldn’t meet for up to seven years.  Yet the original version is solid storytelling, natch, confirming that they’ll be well rid of both Sunfire and Thunderbird, by whatever means necessary; right out of the gate, Claremont’s command of the characters is impressive, although even as a Cockrum fan, I find this art uneven.

Ka-Zar 10
"Beyond the Vale of Savage Time"
Story by Gerry Conway and Doug Moench
Art by John Buscema and Fred Kida
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane

Zabu is tussling with a giant ape, and Ka-Zar leaps to the rescue, but the ape hurls him into a tree, leaving Zabu alone to be bested by the beast. KZ recovers, manages to break the ape's neck, but collapses in pain and exhaustion. He wakes with bruised ribs, on a mastodon headed to Tordon-Na with the woman Illyana. There he is greeted by high priest Sanda and his son Durnon, who show KZ and Zabu hospitality in their temple. Getting a tour the next day from Durnon, they spy ambitious and vulture-like Sylitha, a minor priest of the god Ilak-Aron, whom KZ manages to mildly insult. At nightfall, he slumbers and is attacked by four armored men! Man and beast take out the attackers, but Sylitha orders them to be arrested for attacking four kindly citizens. Sanda enters and has KZ brought to judgment before Ilak-Aron, who grants a blameless KZ life but, for letting a stranger enter the temple, orders Durnon to be a blood sacrifice! – Joe Tura

Joe Tura: It's a hard thing to read an issue of Ka-Zar any day, but the day after your favorite team wins the Super Bowl (GO PATS!!) it's nigh impossible to get through. And this one doesn't disappoint. Meaning it's a doozy. Moench takes over for the departed Gerry and his influence is felt immediately via the endlessly long captions on the first couple of pages, and it doesn't stop there. Who else would use the term "greasy darkness" but good ol' Doug. Page 15 is super-hard to fathom, as every blink of an eye is described. Although having KZ call Sylitha a "spindly, weasel-faced man" actually made me chuckle. Then the next page he says Ilak-Aron is "fat" and "bald." Don Rickles, watch out! Buscema does a cool job as expected, with Atlas Comics vet Kida, who I had never heard of even though he drew the Spidey newspaper strip, at the inkwell. (Although I do love his cover for Willie the Wiseguy #1 from Sept 1957.) Still just an OK issue, a bit wordy and slightly slow, but setting us up for next month of course. And it wouldn't be a Marvel Comic without a letter from Ralph Macchio, who prattles on about how good this book was, how good it is, and how "spectacular" it will be. What a brown nose!

Chris Blake: I don’t envy the guys who have to write these jungle stories.  Once you have the obligatory scrap with the unwitting oversized instinct-following creature, you’ve got to figure out what else your loin-clothed hero is going to do to pass the time until sundown.  The Savage Land turns out to be a pretty big place, doesn’t it?  There seem to be all sorts of little corners that Ka-Zar never has encountered before.  I like the twist of having the god-statue speak, and appear to move; Ka-Zar will have his work cut out for him, in order to determine what force might be behind Ilak-Aron, although my first impression is that this undertaking might require more than the contents of Ka-Zar’s skill-set. 

This is proving to be another bi-monthly title that can’t maintain the same art team for consecutive issues, although I’m glad Big John is still on the pencils (somehow – where does he find the time?).  Veteran Fred Kida shows up from time to time, and provides some solid work for Marvel during the Bronze Era, but I don’t find that Buscema’s pencils shine well enough thru Kida’s inks. 

The Man-Thing 20

“The Nightmare Box”
Story by Steve Gerber 
Art Jim Mooney
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by June Braverman
Cover by John Romita

After being burned by Man-Thing, the Scavenger flies off vowing to take his revenge. The hotel manager demands that Richard Rory, Carol Selby and the muck monster leave the premises. They drive away in Rory’s van but soon have a head-on collision with a sports car driving the wrong way on an exit ramp. Man-Thing drags the humans from the wreckage: Rory is bruised but Carol is seriously injured. Rory checks on the wrong-way driver: it is a strange alien who speaks of a box that they must get to a courier — after the car explodes, the deejay finds the mysterious object. Rory gives the box to Man-Thing and tells him to leave: he’ll wait for the ambulance for Carol even though it means he will be arrested for kidnapping. In Atlanta, artist Paul Jennings is painting a picture of Man-Thing for the local paper, using Sage, a beautiful blond woman, as his model. When Jennings drops the finished piece off at the Journal, he spots his photo editor, Dani, shooting strange beams from her eyes into a box just like the one Rory found: it grows larger and she seems to relax. When Dani sees him watching, she angrily throws him out of her office. Outside, Jennings is knocked off his feet by an exploding water main, unharmed but shaken. Meanwhile, Man-Thing shambles through Atlanta’s back alleys, still clutching the box. When he is confronted by Rory, Selby, the young sorceress Jennifer Kale and Korrek, the barbarian prince, the monster turns away. But Spider-Man, Shang-Chi, the Thing and Daredevil also appear: the heroes attack but Man-Thing fights them off. Suddenly, they all transform into their true forms, reptilian aliens, and swarm the swamp creature. When an unseen figure picks up the dropped box, the aliens retreat and give chase. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: First of all, why did Jennings use a hot young blonde as the basis for his Man-Thing painting? Gerber being Gerber? Sage blabs on about auras and yoga so maybe Steve was trying to work in his hipster quota. And did anyone think that those other Marvel heroes on the cover would actually appear on the inside pages? You knew they would be imposters, right? Still, nice to see Romita draw Spider-Man again. I dunno, I just found this issue very convoluted and not very engaging. Mooney continues with his mediocre art: it’s just good enough not to be a distraction. He flubs the head-on collision: it took me a bit to realize that it wasn’t Rory driving the wrong way. We were promised some clues about the Scavenger’s origins last issue but none were offered here. I’m sure my fellow Professors have much more positive and insightful things to say, so I’ll turn it over to them…

Matthew: I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to inaccurate covers, yet this one abuses the privilege:  not only does Manny NOT really battle the four heroes shown (whose encounters with him in their own books are not cited), but their simulacra appear for a grand total of six panels.  After promising more of the Scavenger, Steve shifts gears pretty abruptly to this “Nightmare Box” plotline, while the self-inked Madman offers an especially effective layout for the “Dani’s Eyes!” segment.  In light of the story’s disjointed nature, and the lettercol’s ominous promise of “a monumental turning point in the murk-dweller’s eerie existence” next month—usually a bad sign—it may be no coincidence that, as we now know, there are only two issues left in the series.

John: Fifteen pages into the story and we reach the climactic showdown teased on the cover, only to find out it was all a ruse. But by this time, I should have known better. 
Chris: The issue feels disjointed, as the characters and circumstances from M-T #19 (including the enigmatic Scavenger) disappear, to be replaced by two unknown people, and then Man-Thing again, beset by demons from parts unknown.  I was surprised that Steve G showed his hand early on, and revealed that some alien had been carrying the Box – ordinarily, I’d expect him to keep us guessing a while longer.   The purpose of this middle chapter is the hardest to figure out, since all Steve G seems to accomplish is to demonstrate the apparent workings of the Box.  Obviously, it’s a middle chapter, but it’s still a bit off-putting, since Steve typically has given us one- or two-part stories for this title.  Once again, I will trust in Steve to put things right in the next installment.

At this point in our lives, I’m sure we all recognized the possibility that the cover would serve as little more than a cheap come-on; still, it was a bit sad to look at it and say, “Yeah, those four would-be guest stars have nothing to do with this story.”  It’s uncharacteristic for a cover on this title to stray so far from the heart of the story.  Was Len trying to expand M-T’s readership?

Mooney’s art continues to exceed his usual standard.  I particularly liked the rectangular panels that showcased Dani’s eyes, which helped to underscore artist Paul’s fascination with said eyes.  Toward the end, the look of the fight sequence improved once the demons turned into snakes (p 30).

Mark: For all its iconoclastic charms and occasional top flight storytelling, it's hard to get worked up over miry Manny's upcoming demise. Never read M-T as a kid, but have certainly enjoyed the book in my dotage, even as its flaws and limitations became apparent. We know a more viable, wise-quacking mouthpiece for Steve Gerber's often bleak, gonzo-absurdism is about to waddle on-stage. Manny never had a voice at all.

So I can enjoy all the jumbled, unresolved plotlines and revolving door cast in "The Nightmare Box," no longer expecting rapidly-riffing Steve to know where the story's going, or particularly care, as the loathsome Scavenger flies off, burned but unhealed, Carol the kid gets packed back to Podunk, then its the Eyes of Dani Mars, hypnotic brain-zap boxes and demons morphing into Marvel Super-Heroes, pimped on cover.

It'll all add up to very little, one suspects, but its a glorious mess.

Chris: The issue feels disjointed, as the characters and circumstances from M-T #19 (including the enigmatic Scavenger) disappear, to be replaced by two unknown people, and then Man-Thing again, beset by demons from parts unknown.  I was surprised that Steve G showed his hand early on, and revealed that some alien had been carrying the Box – ordinarily, I’d expect him to keep us guessing a while longer.   The purpose of this middle chapter is the hardest to figure out, since all Steve G seems to accomplish is to demonstrate the apparent workings of the Box.  Obviously, it’s a middle chapter, but it’s still a bit off-putting, since Steve typically has given us one- or two-part stories for this title.  Once again, I will trust in Steve to put things right in the next installment.

At this point in our lives, I’m sure we all recognized the possibility that the cover would serve as little more than a cheap come-on; still, it was a bit sad to look at it and say, “Yeah, those four would-be guest stars have nothing to do with this story.”  It’s uncharacteristic for a cover on this title to stray so far from the heart of the story.  Was Len trying to expand M-T’s readership?
Mooney’s art continues to exceed his usual standard.  I particularly liked the rectangular panels that showcased Dani’s eyes, which helped to underscore artist Paul’s fascination with said eyes.  Toward the end, the look of the fight sequence improved once the demons turned into snakes (p 30).

Marvel Premiere 
Featuring Iron Fist 23
“The Name Is…Warhawk” 
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Pat Broderick, Bob McLeod
Colors by Michele W.
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane, Bob McLeod

Accompanied by Colleen Wing, Danny Rand walks through Central Park pondering his future: he refused to take revenge on Harold Meachum and now he can’t even return to K’un-Lun for nine years. As Colleen is mentioning that at least he will be inheriting millions from his father’s estate, shots ring out and multiple people are killed. Rand spots the sniper across the street and charges, encountering Warhawk, a super-strong Vietnam vet with steel skin and a serious case of post-traumatic stress disorder. Danny is severely beaten and the assassin makes off with Colleen. Rand awakes in a hospital, Professor Wing and NYPD Lieutenant Rafael Scarfe standing over his bed. Scarfe tells him that Warhawk’s name is Mitchell Tanner and he was created by the American government. Now, he has freaked out and thinks that everyone in the city is actually Viet Cong. Even though badly wounded, Rand dons his Iron Fist costume and tracks Warhawk to an abandoned warehouse on the Brooklyn waterfront. Colleen is there as well, dressed as Warhawk’s wife Liu Thanh. The Living Weapon attacks and is nearly defeated until he powers his Iron Fist and sends Warhawk flying into the water: refusing to be saved by what he thinks are enemy soldiers, the assassin is dragged under the water by the weight of his steel skin. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: While far from a bona fide classic, this marks a substantial improvement over what we’ve had to endure in previous issues. Broderick and McLeod’s art alone is better than anything Arvell Jones could muster. Though I did find myself distracted by how Broderick draws Iron Fist’s feet: they seem very dainty and squared-toed. The young Claremont is obviously finding his sea legs, and while Warhawk — co-created with Gil Kane — isn’t quite a homerun, I believe he’s still kicking around. The villain throws out plenty of racial slurs, calling Iron Fist dink and bo’. The latter is a new one on me. Lieutenant Scarfe will stick around as well, so another prop to Claremont. There’s a flashback to K’un-Lun before Rand heads off to the warehouse: a few jealous classmates stole a locket containing a picture of his mother. To get it back, he would have had to battle them all. Instead, Rand outmaneuvered them, scaling a sheer mountainside in the frigid cold to get the treasure back. I guess it shows that Iron Fist would rather risk his own life than take those of others. Fine. This does harken back to early flash-back filled issues of Marvel Premiere so perhaps a tip of the hat?

Matthew:  The Claremont Era begins in earnest this month, as Chris assumes the scripting duties on the X-Men and takes over Iron Fist, whom he will make just as much his own over the next three years.  It’s a perfectly respectable, if not distinguished, first effort in which he introduces both Warhawk, a minor villain Chris will bring back in multiple books, and N.Y.P.D. Lieutenant Rafael Scarfe, who will be an important member of Danny’s supporting cast for almost a decade.  Since I’m not that familiar with Broderick’s work, it’s difficult for me to assess how well McLeod may have inked his pencils, but the artwork overall seems pretty functional, albeit variable, and colorist Michele Wolfman neglects to make Colleen’s hair its proper auburn.

Chris: Solid issue. I’ve noticed that this is a somewhat bloodthirsty period in Claremont’s career, as seemingly every issue he writes features innocent bystanders being needlessly killed.  Maybe Cheerful Chris thought of this as a way to raise the stakes, but at least I know he’s going to move to a period where the drama is more character-driven than steeljacket-propelled.  We get a hint of this next direction in the flashback sequence, as Danny endures considerable pain to preserve a connection to his family (and by extension, to himself), without being forced to fight his classmates.  

Young Broderick’s pencils are a bit stiff at times, but the clarity of McLeod’s inks help, and are suitable for the character and mood of the title.  I can’t help but think that the art on this series would’ve been better if McLeod had been the regular inker, especially for the Arvell Jones stories that had been inked by Green and Colletta (although I’ll give Colletta a chance to prove me wrong, next ish).  

Scott: It started strong, with the sniper attack and a high body count of innocents, but it all went south as soon as we see Warhawk; all blue with a corny costume. Sucked all the tension out immediately and never recovered. A shame, this could have been a great story. Next.

Marvel Spotlight 25
Featuring The Son of Satan in
"In This Light, Darkness!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mike Friedrich
Art by Sal Buscema and Dan Green
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Daimon returns to his St Louis lodgings, and is surprised to find himself accosted by an old man carrying a lantern, who calls himself Father Darklyte.  Darklyte’s speech is a conflicting riddle, until he uses his lantern to summon a caveman named Trog to attack Daimon; he strikes Trog with the butt of his trident, and both assailants seem to dissolve.  The next day, Daimon meets with Katherine and Byron to discuss this apparent latest threat from the nihilists, and resolves to confront them.  Darklyte appears again, as Daimon and his companions arrive at the nihilists’ mansion.  This time, Darklyte conjures a griffin, which mauls Katherine before Daimon can summon his hell-born powers.  The griffin then bears him aloft; Daimon gives in to his anger and frustration, as he employs the strength of demons to break the griffin’s neck.  Byron states that Katherine is dead.  Darklyte then generates ten identical, living forms of Katherine, and accuses Daimon of having committed a crime by denying Katherine the transcendental experience of death; Darklyte fades out again.  Daimon, still in the grip of his dark side, employs the trident to reveal which of Katherine’s forms contains her soul, and then proceeds to flash-fire the empty vessels, including the body that had died.  Katherine and Byron are shocked, but Daimon ignores them, and flies off.  The trident leads Daimon to a nihilist gathering, deep in a cavern. Daimon observes as Darklyte absorbs the life-energies of one of the cultists.  Daimon, still enraged, chastises the nihilists for blindly sacrificing their lives to sustain Darklyte, and then proceeds to battle them.  Darklyte laughs as Daimon tries to incinerate him with soulfire, stating that he “cannot kill nothing!” “Enough!” Daimon cries, as he lets the soulfire loose, to consume all the nihilists (save one, crouched behind him, who escapes), as he consigns their deluded souls to his father, in hell.  Daimon stands alone, speechless, as a line of tiny beetles creeps away from Darklyte’s shattered lantern. -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s rare that I can write a concise summary for a Steve G story; it’s kind of a shame that this is his final Son of Satan (co-written with Mike Friedrich – I can’t say who wrote what, but I’d be surprised if Steve hadn’t written Darklyte’s dumbfounding doubletalk).  Steve is one of a small number of writers who could make the most of Daimon’s potential.  This time, Steve turns our sight away from the heroic adventurer who had been featured in these last three issues.  As disturbing as it is, it’s probably best for Daimon’s development to have a story like this from time to time, if only to illustrate the difficulty for him to keep his dark side under control, and the destructive consequences when that control is lost. “O, what a rash and bloody deed is this!” 

I don’t recall how much attention John Warner will pay to Daimon’s duality, but we’ll see, starting with a 7-issue run when Son of Satan premieres December 1975. In the meantime, Chris Claremont (another worthy candidate to script an interesting character) will give us his only take on the SoS in his final Marvel Spotlight appearance, in two short months.

Chris: More solid art by Sal, of course.  Darklyte’s look is other-wordly, as Warfield’s grey skin tones invite questions of whether Daimon’s foe is living, or not.  I will say that the caveman is fairly ordinary, and the griffin isn’t particularly impressive, lacking in genuine menace somehow (although his moment of attack of Daimon, reprinted far above, is well done).  Good sequence of Daimon as he’s losing it (above), and two effective moments of Daimon wrathfully unleashing the soulfire (left and below).  Last one: Darklyte’s possession of his follower’s life-energies (far below).  Green’s inks are thin at times, but I’ll take that over his usual indistinct murkiness; the work is above his average.  Still, there’s no way in the world I would turn down McLeod’s return for next issue.  

Joe: I have to say, I'm so glad Prof. Chris is tackling Son of Satan in these Spotlights, because they mostly make me feel like I just ate a bag of 'shrooms. I mean, wacky and wild and crazy, yet also slightly fun and of course, there's the always awesome Sal B. I don't think I could do this run justice having never owned any of them. But these first reads, while they don't exactly have me on hellfire, certainly keep my attention. But is that 'cause I have no clue what the heck is going on? Griffins, Trogs, Multiple Kathys, Wizened Old Evil Sorcerer Dude. Quick, pass me another bag!

Matthew: Sharing a generic writing credit with Mike Friedrich, Gerber bids adieu to the character he shepherded through most of his Spotlight run, leaving the short-lived solo title to John Warner after next issue’s Claremont fill-in.  It’s a shame he didn’t go out with the Swabada trilogy; by no means an embarrassment, and displaying admirable continuity with Daimon’s recent Defenders guest-stint, Steve’s Hellstrom swan song is still a muddled and, to me, ultimately unsatisfying attempt to wrap up the Legion of Nihilists plotline.  Dan Green seems to be another subject on which Professor Chris and I must respectfully agree to disagree, because I think his solid if unspectacular work on this entry serves Sal in far better stead than many another inker’s.

Marvel Team-Up 36
Featuring Spider-Man and 
The Frankenstein Monster in
"Once Upon a Time in a Castle..."
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Sal Buscema and Vince Colletta
Colors by Al Wenzel
Letters by Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Mike Esposito

Struck down from behind while foiling a bank robbery, Spidey awakens in the Balkan lab of the self-styled Monster Maker, Baron Ludwig von Shtupf, bound beside the Frankenstein Monster.  Effecting their escape, he learns of the Monster’s history in his own title before they rescue a woman from the Baron’s men, and are promptly gassed by her.  After they revive, S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Judith Klemmer reveals the madman’s plan to combine their abilities into a “monster supreme,” creating an army of sub-humans to attain world domination, but as the Monster—left behind as too conspicuous—follows Spidey and Judith on their mission back into the castle, he sees that in their absence the Baron has captured a replacement subject:  Man-Wolf. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’d misremembered this two-parter as an early effort by Mantlo, when in fact it marks the end of Conway’s tenure on the book; Gerry had, of course, created next issue’s guest-star, Man-Wolf, two years earlier in Amazing Spider-Man #124.  With a not-too-shabby Colletta ink job, Sal once again proves he was made for this book, giving the Monster a welcome gravitas, but it was probably beyond the ability of any artist to ennoble Gerry’s shtup(f)ing around with this hackneyed heavy.  So Bill shouldn’t be disappointed that his résumé doesn’t include this one, which yet again proves that even the unlikeliest characters get their MTU shots, also enlightening us as to the definition of tsouris and the fact that Spidey’s webbing sticks to snow-covered trees.

Joe: Baron von Shtupf? Is this a Mel Brooks homage by Gerry? I think I didn't have this ish because of the guest star. I was choosy in the beginnings of my comic collecting, especially at age 8. Geez, when I hit my 20s, I bought 85% of the Marvels & DCs released every week, but I digress as usual. I still hate how Spidey's mask looks like the 60s TV show half the time (not that there's anything wrong with that), and I have to blame Colletta, because Sal can do no wrong. No wrong, I say! I love how Spidey can't quite believe the Monster even exists, almost as much as I love his kick to the Baron's solar plexus. (My Joshu would call that a perfect front kick!) All in all, a fun little part-one romp that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Master of Kung Fu 31
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Dan Adkins
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Shang-Chi, Tarr, and Reston have found themselves in Velcro’s subterranean arsenal, which includes a hidden cache of nuclear warheads!  S-C leads the other two into a fight with the guards; that completed, the three men ride a tank onto a freight elevator, and use it to take them back to the main level, where they proceed to blast their way forward.  Velcro sees his plans collapsing, but another operative of his, a woman named Pavane, promises to stop the interlopers.  S-C exits the tank (as usual, without first conferring with his companions before he takes off) so he can seek out Razor-Fist, whom he had left unconscious and pinned to a statue (last issue).  Pavane confronts S-C in a beautifully sculpted indoor garden; he provokes her into snapping her lash at him, which he proceeds to grab, so that he can yank her to him, and swat her down.  Razor-Fist arrives, having freed himself, but is cut down when Velcro’s troopers open fire.  A launch heavily-laden with high explosives, as ordered by Sir Denis from Marseilles, arrives outside the grotto.  Tarr and Reston plow the tank into the lagoon, and with S-C again alongside, they proceed to swim back thru the underwater tunnel that had originally gained them entrance to Velcro’s HQ.  S-C pilots the launch (despite the fact that Sir Denis has a remote control for it), and leaps free into the water before the launch explodes, destroying the supply of heroin above ground, and burying the nuclear weapons under tons of rubble. -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s breathless action from start to finish from credited producer/director team of Moench & Gulacy.  The only problem is that there isn’t a whole lot of kung-fuing for Shang-Chi to do; first, the title got away from his personal philosophy, and now with this issue, there aren’t very many moments for him to strut his stuff.  The fact that we don’t have a rematch with Razor-Fist, after their furious run-in last issue, is a little disappointing.  I suppose that, after so much Razor-Fist last time, Doug & Paul decided they couldn’t go that route again in the very next issue.  That leaves us with Pavane, but their fight involves more build-up than battle.  In fairness, Doug is trying out a new, Fu-free direction here, so I’m willing to be patient while he works this out.

Art-wise, my two favorite pages are p 16, as S-C efficiently dispatches Pavane, and the wordless sequence on page 3 (above), as S-C swan-dives his way toward the armed goon; the image of him appearing from above in reflection on the guard’s Zippo is a classic – it epitomizes the combination of action and clever visual storytelling that piqued my interest in this title.  Shang-Chi’s moment of pensive readiness on p 15, 1st panel also is worth a second look.  

Mark: Behind a generically bland Gil Kane cover, Gulacy & Moench's "Snowbuster" wraps up the takedown trilogy of drug-kingpin-would-be-warlord Carlton Velcro in fine fashion, from the movie poster splash to Shang ruminating on heroin clinic casualties on the final page.

Highlights include whip-cracking hottie Pavane, a futuristic tank, hijacked by our heroes for their bulldozing excape, Velcro's exotic garden/bird sanctuary, and Razor-Fist served-up as tommy-gun fodder by his ungrateful employer.

Once again, Paul Gulacy's cinematic, fuel-injected art sets everything into overdrive, allowing the reader to overlook otherwise eyebrow-raising tropes like a character expertly piloting a vehicle at the first touch of the controls and executing a death-defying exit from said vehicle, which then sails on for a pinpoint landing with its big bang payload of explosives. Hollywood calls such stunts "high concept," and who am I to disagree?

John: I have to agree with Professor Mark. I don't think I would have given this book a second glance based on the lackluster cover. My initial exposure to the series came under the amazing Gene Day (still a few years down the MU road), but I did enjoy revisiting these early appearances of  Razor-Fist, particularly under the visual mastery of Paul Gulacy. And what's not to love about Pavane. I can't help but see a little Scarlett Johansson in that pose...

Luke Cage, Power Man 26
"The Night Shocker!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

As he settles back into his newly renovated office, Luke Cage is attacked by a ghostly white creature who seems to be a vampire.  After a brief battle, the supposed vampire runs away.  Luke finds a note scrawled in blood, written by his attacker, asking that Luke stop him before he kills more.  He leaves the name Travorik and a 100 dollar bill as payment.  Taking the case, Luke pounds the pavement and finds the room Travorik is staying at in a boarding house.  Inside, Luke finds strange old relics.   Luke seeks help from Martinson, a specialist and leader of an occultist group, who tells Luke that Travorik is a vampire.  Luke is once again attacked in an alleyway by the vampire-like antagonist and, once again, the creep runs off into the night after Luke beats on him.  It turns out that Martinson was in cahoots with Travorik's female landlord, trying to frame him in the hopes that Power Man would kill him so they could collect his inheritance. Martinson was the one dressing up as a vampire and accosting Luke all along.  Power Man figures out what the real deal is and he gives Martinson a beatdown.  The story ends with Martinson and the landlady being arrested, and Luke saving Travorik's life. -Tom McMillion

Scott: This was weirdly fun, if convoluted. I was gearing up for a legit vampire tale, and got this “Scooby-Doo” style scheme instead. On that level I found it enjoyable, but extremely lightweight.  A nice, affectionate nod to The Night Stalker and other famous vampire stories. Cute time passer.

Matthew: As Englehart noted on his blog, "While doing the regular book I did a fill-in, which was used ten issues after I officially left."

Strange Tales 181
Featuring Warlock
"1000 Clowns!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Al Milgrom
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin and Alan Weiss

Warlock awakens in a strange world where “head clown” Len Teans extols conformity, has Jan Hatroomi paint a clown face on Adam, and shows him a crucified renegade being pummeled with pies.  Meanwhile, trying to elicit Adam’s location from a royal guard, Pip realizes the Black Knight is terrified of his companion, who calls herself “Gamora, the deadliest woman in the whole galaxy!”  We learn that Professor Teans is using “will-numbing drugs and [a] sensory input helmet” to try to turn Adam’s “independent and criminal ways into a useful and socially acceptable life style,” but the strength of Warlock’s free will is distorting the programming, twisting it to his own viewpoint so he sees Teans and his two assistants as clowns.

Believing that if she enslaves Adam, she can control the Magus with the threat of nonexistence, the Matriarch suggests challenging him to join the church in its “galaxy-spanning projects [and struggle] against the cosmic giant anarchy!”  Teans tells Warlock that his only escape is through a door that releases the Madness Monster, which is unaffected by the Gem because it is “that black section of my soul that created the Magus!”  Through force of will, Adam shorts out the helmet as Pip and Gamora arrive to free him and explains that he is now insane, having risked surrendering to the madness to gain an understanding of the Magus, who abandons his “Wizard of Oz deception” and reveals his true self, telling Adam he can no longer change what will occur. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: After this, Adam—oft-resurrected himself—segues back into his briefly revived solo book while Strange Tales does an X-Men, reprinting its own Silver-Age Dr. Strange stories, two at a time, for seven more issues.  A lot going on right from the splash page, where except for Len’s editing, Milgrom’s better-than-usual inking, and Orz’s lettering (increasingly integral to the strip’s visual appeal), the only credit is to Starlin for “insanity.”  He dedicates this especially surrealistic issue to Ditko, “who gave us all a different reality,” yet Jim has also noted that Patrick McGoohan’s immortal series The Prisoner, “more than anything else, influenced Warlock, because it was very surreal, very absurd, but it tackled serious subjects,” as related in his interview with Newsarama.

Said subjects included blatant nips at the hand that fed him:  Len” and “Jan” are anagrams for Lee and Romita, while the questioning clown who “began to think people were more important than things” is a dead ringer for Roy.  I always liked Roy, and treated him with the most respect in that story, and of course he was the only one who really got upset about [it.  Len and Marv] loved it,” Jim told Zack Smith.  Happily, this can be savored purely as a delirious head-trip with no awareness of its metatextual bite, as when clowns build a tower of trash that soon collapses and Adam finds thyamite (a galactic diamond) in the rubble; “Oh, that stuff!  We just can’t seem to keep it out of our refuse!  Someone keeps putting it in while we’re not looking!,” says Teans.

Matthew: “For all of Gerber and Englehart’s subversive invention,” writes Sean Howe in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, “it was [Starlin’s] willful provocation...that tested the limits of Marvel’s corporate inattention to low-selling content….Warlock’s adventures were perfect vehicles for Starlin’s meditations on the price of power, and for the suspicions he harbored toward rigid institutionalism….[He was their] first auteur…since Steranko’s early carte blanche days.  But even the slightest editorial interferences set off Starlin’s inner rebel….At first there were sneaky little under-the-radar jokes…[like] altering the Comics Code seal to read as the ‘Cosmic Code’ …or having Pip walk into a bar and order a ‘merde stinger’…[and now] the stakes were raised.”

Mark: All of Starlin's bullpen bashing "Easter eggs" went over my head at 14 (odd, though, that the "Len Teans" - an anagram for Stan Lee - character is a clown, while the dead-ringer for Stan {albeit blue w/My Favorite Martian antenna} programmer goes unnamed). Sure, its great fun to decode Marvel's internal tensions, 40 years on, but it was also a dick move by Starlin to bite the hand that feeds. One imagines Jim felt his work was among the diamonds, hidden beneath Marvel's "giant tower of trash." Not that he's wrong, certainly, but a bit dickish nonetheless.

Chris: After having reached an accord with the Madness Monster, Adam states “Well, I’m now quite insane!”  I recall that statement had bothered me, but until now, I couldn’t have said exactly why.  Now, I realize – it’s because of Adam’s very next line, when he states that he’s achieved the ability to “see things as the Magus does, yet I’ve not abandoned my other views of reality as he’s done!”  And that’s the whole point – if it weren’t for his finely-honed ability to stay connected to his understanding of reality, Warlock would never have successfully withstood the Matriarch’s attempt to have him conditioned to serve her and the Magus’ church.  Warlock arranged his escape from the “land of clowns” when he willingly sought a different understanding of reality, namely, that of his own repressed dark viewpoint, which later achieves/achieved dominance as the Magus.  Warlock might be rightfully concerned that this incorporation of the Magus’ perspective could skew his own cognitive process, but that’s a long way from being “insane,” and having difficulty distinguishing reality-at-large from the little world tucked securely into your own head. 

Plenty of clever bits, as always, mixed in with the bigger picture: the Matriarch’s admiration for Warlock’s ability to cast her mental conditioner-beings as clowns; the Sisyphean garbage-pile, especially the frame when we see it coming apart, and helpless clowns spiraling to the ground below; Pip’s moment of surprise and annoyance when he snaps his blaster against the rock-hard midsection of the black knight (! –nice one, Jim); and lastly, is that Judo Jim himself who is pinned to a cross, and being pie-pelted? (if it’s not Starlin, I hope someone else on the faculty will be able to identify him for me.)

Matthew: It's Roy; see above.

Mark: The Steve Ditko dedication is more a letter of intent, so while Starlin effectively works in Pip, Gamora and the machinations of the Matriarch, shoving the plot, by the final page, into the presence of the Jewfroed Magus himself, Jim's real kick in creating alt-Bullpen Clowntown had to be letting his always apparent Ditko influence run riot, offering up a full palate of dimensional doorways, spatial displacement, the aura of otherworldliness conjured by Mr. D.

Brilliant stuff. If you had to pick a single issue to represent the best of Marvel's mid-70's "alternative" titles, it'd be hard to beat "1000 Clowns!" When you're this good, hell, inflate one of those thirty foot dicks from the Stones old stage show and we'll see if we can get Katy Perry to ride it!  

Supernatural Thrillers 14
Featuring The Living Mummy in
"All These Great Pawns"
Story by Val Mayerik and John Warner
Art by Val Mayerik and Al McWilliams
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

While N'Kantu, Zephyr, and The Asp are reunited with the other rebels, The Living Mummy takes time off for a power nap/flashback wherein we find out how our bandaged hero came to Egypt from Africa: captured with his entire village and shipped overseas to become slaves to the pharaoh. While the Mummy strolls down memory lane, The Asp finds a note from Dr. Skarab, detailing his whereabouts and his goings-on. Entrenched in a radiology clinic, the professor is running tests on the Scarlet Skarab, the amulet that The Elementals seek. After blasting the bauble with gamma rays, Skarab comes in contact with the red ruby and he gets a psychic message from his ancestor Dann, who tells him about the powers of the stone. Meanwhile, a group of thugs overpowers Ron, Olddan, and The Asp and discovers the secret hiding place of Skarab and the scarab. They arrive just as The Mummy and Zephyr enter and a full-blown battle erupts. Zephyr makes short work of the mob and the group of good guys go searching for their missing comrades. As they exit the clinic, they discover The Elementals in waiting. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Since this is the penultimate chapter of "The War That Shook the World," I'm expecting a whole heck of a lot of questions to be answered next issue but it would also be nice to  move this story along a bit. When all is said and done, this entire epic will run nine issues but, with what little has happened so far, it could just as well have been a two-parter. Someone in the MU staff has said disparaging things about John Warner's abilities to write a funny book and based on my first exposure, I'm not one to argue but this is a special case. The Living Mummy series has been nothing but a carousel of writers since it began and I'm not sure any of those scribes actually had a handle on where this thing was going. I wonder if Isabella had mapped out the remaining chapters before shoving off or if Warner had to come in cold and graft his ideas onto what already stood. What does appear is yet another example of spinning wheels; there's not much going on other than the revelation of the "talking scarab." Every issue, The Elementals show up, threaten violence and then disappear. Give me Action! Not words!

Chris: Thankfully, John & Val recognize that we need to do something with the scarab – remember the ruby scarab? – if this story is going to have any chance of getting on track.  Of course, as John turns his attention this way, he loses sight of the Elementals, who of course had set this whole “war” in motion.    At one point, this storyline did have the scarab as a focal point; to think that this title’s various writers could’ve kept their sights there, with numerous parties vying for it, imagining its potential powers and riches, instead of getting bogged-down in this impossible city-wide conflict.  How much better would these stories have been, if they’d chosen a direction like this?

Why would the Elementals have had any difficulty locating Dr Skarab, and if there had been some impediment, what caused it suddenly to clear so that they now can find him?  Since we aren’t told, I’m going out on a limb and guessing that it has something to do with Skarab (finally!) coming to an understanding of how to tap the scarab’s power.

I still like Mayerik’s art; sadly, this is his last Mummy.  There’s less for Val to do this time; John requires long speeches from most of the characters, which sticks Mayerik with a number of large headshot panels.  We’ve been lucky, in that most of the inker-pairings have worked.  McWilliams does a solid job, especially on the flashback sequence at the beginning, although the inks seem to thin out later in this issue. 

The Mighty Thor 238
"Night of the Troll!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita and Al Milgrom

Thor is obliged to follow Ulik and his supporters deep into the Earth. The reason: they have Jane Foster captive. While Orrin breaks up a rioting crowd above, Thor learns the reason for his abduction. Ulik seeks revenge on King Gierrodur, who had banished him to the furnaces for his prior uprising. Ulik escaped and found some new troll followers deeper below. He wants to tackle the troll king while Thor fights Zotarr, a new super troll. They find who they're looking for and Zotarr, who turns out to be a mechanical construct rather than a living creature. Considerable battle wins the day, including Jane holding Gierrodur at spearpoint!
-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Ulik provides fun as always; this time his wandering even deeper into the Earth than ever to find his new army. No real surprise Zotarr is a robot - why else would a troll hide in a suit of armor? As Thor himself says to Jane at the last, "Thou art a different woman these days Jane. Methinks...a more exciting one."

Matthew: The long goodbye begins as Conway fades out, book by book, over several months before decamping for DC (we’ll have more on that story as it develops).  He’s been on Thor the longest—since #193 in November 1971, to be precise—and although it’s obviously no reflection on Gerry himself, nothing could help him go out on a high note like artwork by a Buscema and Sinnott at the top of their game, which sadly cannot be said for whoever misspelled Blumkenn’s name.  Nobody draws trolls like Big John, and I’ll always welcome a visit by Ulik; while this story leaves some plot threads dangling, like the amnesiac Odin’s odyssey in California, at least Gerry doesn’t hit the bricks right in the middle of one of his lengthy, star-spanning cosmic epics.

Scott: The art in this issue is a true thing of beauty. The Buscema/Sinnott team works wonders on this tale, which is really most interesting in the “Odin/Orrin” story, as has been the case in the last few months. Still, there are obviously bits of Sif’s skill and bravado seeping into Jane’s personality. An interesting development that makes me smile, but not as much as it does Thor. He finds her more “exciting” now. He’s obviously thinking the ultimate threesome.

Matthew: You had to say that. How can I concentrate on my proofreading now?

The Tomb of Dracula 35
"Hell Hath No Fury..."
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane, John Romita, and Tom Palmer

Dracula is at his weakest when he makes a pact with a vengeful woman named Daphne Von Wilkinson. Thanks to his enemy Dr. Sun, the vampire lord has less then two weeks to live unless he can track him down. With the promise of blood, along with Dr. Sun's whereabouts, Dracula goes about hunting down the men twhohave screwed Daphne over during past business deals. While he feeds on the men, Dracula realizes just how weak he really is since Daphne is able to get him to do her bidding, and that he can't use his powers to locate Dr. Sun himself. After he accomplishes Daphne's hit list, she tells Dracula that one of her models blackmailed a Scotland Yard detective into giving her the information that Dr. Sun is hiding out in Boston. Dracula turns the tables on the controlling Daphne when he reveals that he changed the men into vampires, now under his control, and he has them kill her. In Brazil, Frank Drake gets saved by Brother Voodoo when zombies attack him. Using his special powers, Brother Voodoo easily destroys the zombies. -Tom McMillion

Tom McMillion: The cover for this issue was a little misleading since the Brother Voodoo and Frank Drake storyline doesn't take up much of the story. Dracula's plot runs its predictable course. Though it was entertaining, the ending and Daphne's demise became fairly obvious early on. I'm glad it was made clear that even Dracula was aware he shouldn't be manipulated so easily by some mere mortal woman, as I thought the same thing.

Chris: Nasty tale of vengeance and comeuppance.  At first, I was curious when Drac considered how  he could kill all of Daphne’s four adversaries on the same night – hey, what’s the big rush, man?  Well, I guess there is little that matters more to Drac than to cut a foolish mortal down to size.  That ol Doctor Sun, boy, he better watch out!

Nice idea by Marv to work the little-used (and soon-to-be mothballed) Brother Voodoo into the sub-plot.  Too bad we won’t see Jericho take on Count Sanguinarious himself. 

Chris: The only reservation I have about the issue involves the nature of Daphne’s four adversaries.  All four either acknowledge having done wrong by Daphne, or prove themselves simply to be loathsome people.  Wouldn’t it have been a little more interesting if we’d learned from one of these characters that he had not, in fact, screwed over Daphne; either she was wrong about him, or he was nothing more than a legitimate competitor?  Granted, Drac still might’ve gone ahead and drained the poor schlub anyway, but at least it might’ve made for an interesting conversation; Drac might’ve chosen instead to lie to Daphne about killing the innocent target, and sent the other victims to attack her in the last panel.  I have to expect that Drac, due to his intense desire for intel on Doctor Sun, and with his own twisted code, still would’ve gone ahead and killed the inoffensive non-offender.  Opinions, class -?

Mark: "Hell Hath No Fury..." like a ripped-off fashion designer. Turns out Daphne Von Wilkinson, who saved Vlad last ish, was done dirty by "damn men" who stole her best work, pushing her fledgling rags trade biz toward bankruptcy. If Drac puts the chomp on them, Daph will secure Scotland Yard's intel on Dr. Sun, so the Count can take the fight to his brain-in-a-box adversary.

John Cleese's ex-Parrot Monty Python sketch on the telly was a yelp-in-delight surprise, more than making up for the three page trip to Boringville with Frank Drake (I'm still rooting for the zombies).

Daphne proves herself a moral dead-zone, not just condemning those who'd wrong her, but casually offering up an innocent model as a Drac snack. For Daph's hit list, Marv crafts diverse characters – Python-loving fashion trade dropout, Casanova body-builder, ruthless tycoon – brought to vivid life (and death) by the Colan/Palmer juggernaut.

Ms. Von Wilkinson's comeuppance was foreshadowed and well-done, but Marv still missed a supporting cast bet here. A ruthless female ally to Drac, popping up every few issues, would have been a major upgrade over feckless Frank.

Alas, Daphne is an ex-fashion designer.

Scott: Nicely done story as we watch Dracula pick off his assigned victims one by one. I appreciated the ironic ending, something straight out of the horror mags of the 50s, right down to the horrible pun. Even the detour with Frank Drake alongside Brother Voodoo couldn’t take away from it. Great art as usual, there’s not a lot I can say other than it was hugely enjoyable.

Werewolf by Night 32
"The Stalker Called Moon Knight"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin and Howie Perlin
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Werewolf battles a white-clad, hooded and caped man named Moon Knight, and with a broken hand plus getting pummeled by silver boots, gloves and throwing crescents, the beast is losing! Flashback to the night before, with Jack awakening and getting his clothes, but not finding Buck, who was rushed to the hospital after his battle with the Werewolf. Jack makes his way home, learns from stepfather Philip that Buck was mauled and he takes full responsibility for his friend being in a coma. After smashing his hand on a wall, an angry Jack heads home with a half hour until dark—where he's met by the mysterious Moon Knight! MN is Marc Spector [here spelled "Mark"], a soldier of fortune and mercenary hired by The Committee (they're back!) to capture the Werewolf, for a cool 10 grand. Philip holds him back so Jack can escape, but outside he turns into the Werewolf! Moon Knight's copter pilot pal Frenchie helps him reach the beast and, back to the present, we get quick glimpses of Lt. Northrup headed to Haiti to kill Raymond Coker, who speaks to Jeesala of a zuvembie. As the battle rages on, Frenchie kidnaps Topaz and Lissa, getting to the fight site just as Moon Knight takes Werewolf down for the count with his silver truncheon. 
-Joe Tura

Joe: Meet Moon Knight, who will become one of those Marvel heroes that never is the most popular, but always manages to entertain. When he gets his own book, we'll get the whole back story and multiple identities and much more fun, but for now, he's a mysterious mercenary whose face we don't see except in shadow, and he's also a bit of a jerk. But there's more to come and maybe some answers, like how The Committee is still up and running (those slimy cockroaches), and what the heck is Raymond Coker up to, and why is Lt. Northrup so obsessed with him? No clue who inker Howie Perlin is (I assume he's related to Don) but the art looks the same as always. Good fight action, though, as usual described to the very last drop. Let's just hope Buck pulls through, as he's one of the more likeable of the gang.

Chris: I can understand why Doug would choose (and in fact, I approve) to open with the Moon Knight fight, so that he can interrupt it later and fill in the details of how Werewolf got himself in this fix.  But – I don’t know why he thought it was necessary to cut away from the alley-brawl a second time to tell us that Northrup is flying to Haiti, and that Coker is already there.  It’s like those times when you happen to be on the last page of a long chapter, and the wife walks in and just starts talking to you about something Sandra said to Paula for some reason, and why Andrea was so upset by it, so that by the time you finally get back to the book, you have to take a moment to recollect what the hell you were reading just a moment or two ago.

Matthew: For ten bucks, I won't show this to Mrs. Professor Chris.

Chris: We get plenty of the Mark/Marc Spector back story (mercenary, martial-artist, Frenchie) in his very first appearance; at this moment, there’s none of the heroic persona we’ll see once Moon Knight gets his own Doug-scripted mag a few years hence (along with a nifty crescent-copter, not the traffic-watch model he has now).  I’m curious to know why the Committee wants MK to wear the silver suit; they could’ve given him a weapons belt sans cowl and cape, oui?  Are they keen to know how far he will go for a payday (or, “bread,” as hipster Doug suggests)?  “Hey Spector – pay ya fifty bucks if ya bark like a dog for five minutes.  Fifty – whadda ya say, huh?”” 

The hospital histrionics are pure Hollywood; if you happen to be in an ER, and hear the staff carrying on this way when faced with a trauma victim, then quick-limp your way outta there and get to a place of safety.  Lastly: would you pay someone the Dr Evil-inspired sum of ten - thousand - dollars to deliver a living werewolf to your door?  Well, hell yeah – that’d be something to see, wouldn’t it -?

Skull the Slayer 1
"The Coming of Skull the Slayer!!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Steve Gan
Colors by Marv Wolfman
Letters by Marcos Pelayo
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

In Bermuda, a military transport plane lifts off, carrying within its bowels a group of disparate passengers: Dr. Raymond Corey, a hip physicist on his way to unlimited research and a big payday; his hip assistants, Ann and Jeff; and a group of not-so-hip soldiers. The GIs are in charge of  bringing back former soldier, the swinging Jim Scully, now extradited for murdering his own brother. Scully has history with one of the soldiers, Freddy Lancer, and things get heated but before anyone can get hurt, the plane is hurtled through a space/time vortex (similar to the one Professor Matthew lives in, I believe) and ends up in a Gold Key dinosaur splash page. The warp has damaged the aircraft and it bursts into flames, eventually breaking in half and crashing. Scully wakes to find himself alone in The Land Unkown and sets out, exploring. Meanwhile, on another part of The Land That Time Forgot, the trio of Dr. Corey, Ann, and Jeff face a similar scenario upon wake-up but, luckily, not one of them has a scratch on them (and Ann's hair is simply perfect). Corey hypothesizes that when the plane flew through The Bermuda Triangle, some force propelled them back into The Lost World. Quicker than you can say "Frank Frazetta," Scully has his shirt off and is hunting dinosaurs for food but one in particular, the T-Rex has something else to say about that. Back at Pellucidar West, the trio has discovered that they are not the only humans on the island when they find caveman bones; they set off to find living proof. After besting the Rex, Scully beats his chest in victory and then gets whomped on the head by the living proof. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Marv relates, on a page called "Old Funny Animals" how Skull started its life four years before, when Wolfman was an assistant editor at DC. The original idea was: "thrust an entire mid-town Manhattan office building into a prehistoric setting... inhabited by dinosaurs, and observe how us sedentary modern-types would cope on a totally alien, yet familiar, world." Sounds good, so far? Yep! But DC said no (Marv muses on several possible reasons but zeroes in on the fact that the fabulously original concept "broke away from a rigid thinking that went on there at the time") and the idea languished in idea limbo. Turn the clock forward and Marv is now at Marvel; he sells Roy on the concept but Roy doesn't like the building idea... that's gotta go. Then Roy decides you gotta have a central hero so the big cast is jettisoned as well. Before you know it, we've got a title character who's bound to wind up in cape and spandex and monikered with some kick-ass name. Well, Marv's a great writer and he can pat himself on the back for several accomplishments (Tomb of Dracula and Night Force come immediately to my mind) but, once you discard the really intriguing premise of Wolfman's original idea, all you're left with is yet another lousy Irwin Allen TV show.

Adding to my misery, I'm pretty sure Wolfman didn't even polish the original script's dialogue; hip 1960s lingo is thrown around so much, I'm surprised the cast isn't wearing peace sign chains (Scully's brother, in particular, sounds like he's been stuck in a shack listening to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young for the last five years). Steve Gan knows his way around a dinosaur (or at least Steve had a nice big stack of Turok, Son of Stone to peruse for inspiration) and I'll give him points for exciting choreography but, aside from his consistently red mane, Scully looks different in just about every panel. But, hey, it's got dinosaurs and the germ of a seed of an interesting premise, and the whole thing will only last eight issues, so I'll try to keep an empty mind.

Matthew:  In the soon-to-be lettercol, creator/writer/colorist Wolfman relates the strip’s four-year evolution, dating back to his days at “Marvel’s Declining Competition,” and raves over Gan, per the MCDb “a naturalised [sic] Filipino of Chinese origin.”  I can count on the fingers of one hand—sans thumb—how many times his work as an inker is represented in my collection, and this is the only one he has penciled as well, so I don’t have a big frame of reference for him.  But I have no complaints with what’s here, which is highlighted by the full-page reveal of the “lost world” and the T. rex’s death-plunge, enlivening a premise that, while admittedly durable, is indebted to everything from ERB and Conan Doyle to The Twilight Zone and Land of the Lost.

For reasons I have long since forgotten, I actually bought #6, but ol’ Scully was otherwise off my radar, except for his inevitable tying-up-of-loose-ends appearances in Marvel Two-in-One #35-6 (this debut is in my trusty Marvel Firsts, natch), so I’ll take the opportunity to recommend an overview from Diversions of the Groovy Kind.  And, while I won’t be reviewing it when the time comes, it seems worth noting that on his site, Steve Englehart said this about #4:  I used to call this the job I least liked doing, because I never felt any empathy with the character….I forget how I got the assignment, but it was expected to be an ongoing one.  However, after this one issue, Super-Villain Team-Up came available and I was able to shift over—a step up, to be sure!

Super-Villain Team-Up 1
Namor, the Sub-Mariner
and Doctor Doom in
"Slayers from the Sea!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by George Tuska, Bill Everett, Fred Kida, 
Frank Springer,  and George Evans
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Namor and Doom part angrily after stopping Andro, yet reviewing his past defeats, Doom accepts his need for an ally and monitors Namor with an underwater spy device, awaiting an opportunity to aid the Atlantean.  Arriving at Hydrobase, Namor is weakened by its automatic defenses and greeted by Dr. Jennings, whose explanation is interrupted by Saru-San, Kor-Konn, et alia.  Subduing Attuma’s lackies, Namor learns that Jenningsprotected by a radiation suit from the ionic ray that knocked out the amphibianshas eluded the Octo-Meks, but Tiger Shark attacks; seeking weapons and allies, Attuma rescued Tiger Shark and Dr. Dorcas from the explosion in Marvel Team-Up #14, and Dorcas fells Namor with an electrical charge… 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The titles launched from the GS platform between March and June (thisX-Men, and Invaders) suddenly synch up in August as standard-size bimonthlies, in which form I first encountered them one or—as with Invaders—two issues later.  Absent a lettercol, we have no explanation of why a long-dead Everett shares the art credit with Tuska on chapter one, which is inked by Kida; the MCDb says only that George did the first three pages and Bill the next, and even the usually well-informed Mark Drummond confesses his perplexity in a comment on SuperMegaMonkey.  Chapter two, inked by the dire Springer, is among a handful of Marvel credits for EC vet Evans, who drew the comic strip Secret Agent Corrigan from 1980 until his, and its, retirement in 1996.

Despite Doom’s dominance (har) of chapter one, incorporating pages Everett drew for God only knows what purpose, this is essentially Subby’s show, and the title’s short-term mandate as Sub-Mariner 2.0 is emphasized by the plethora of footnotes to Namor’s cancelled book.  Setting aside its patchwork nature, I’d say Isabella gets the normal-sized series off to a good start with plenty of action and an effective cliffhanger, kicking off an arc that will rack up a surprisingly high body count.  If you’re going to resuscitate Subby’s career, you could do a lot worse than teaming up three of his most persistent foes—some of whom have the blood of his loved ones on their hands already—and for what it’s worth, I think this is a big improvement on his own final issues.

Late-breaking addendum!  Mark Drummond’s recent follow-up cites this from Tony’s blog:  Evans “drew a bunch of pages in [this] issue…which was so late by the time I got the assignment that we had to split [it] up…between a few different artists and use some inventory pages by…Everett from some unpublished Doctor Doom story [presumably intended for Astonishing Tales #9].  Outside of [those], I wrote a full script…Evans was typical of the artists who came into comics well before my time.  He was friendly and gentlemanly….I wish I could have done more comics with him, but, by that time, with Roy Thomas having stepped down from the editor-in-chief position, I had little to no say over what assignments I would get and who I would work with,” he related.

Scott: Why is Namor considered a villain? He’s pretty much an honorable dude who fights alongside the Hulk, Doc Strange and the others in the Defenders. He’s pretty much not picking fights against humanity anymore and even helped Reed and Sue Richards reunite. Wouldn’t the Red Skull or someone be a better fit?

Also This Month

Crazy #12
Dead of Night #11 (final issue) >
Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #15 (all-reprint Super Annual)
Giant-Size Chillers #3 (final issue)
Gothic Tales of Love #3 (final issue)
Journey into Mystery #18
Kid Colt Outlaw #197
Marvel Double Feature #11
Marvel Spectacular #16
Marvel Tales #60
Mighty Marvel Western #40
Monsters of the Movies #8
Monsters Unleashed Annual #1 (all-reprint; final issue)
Night Rider #6 (final issue)
Nostalgia Illustrated #8 (final issue)
Our Love Story #35
Outlaw Kid #29
Spidey Super Stories #11
Tales of the Zombie Annual #1 (all-reprint; final issue)
Two-Gun Kid #125
Uncanny Tales From the Grave #11
Vault of Evil #20 
War is Hell #14
Weird Wonder Tales #11

The spirit of Kalumai, a goat-headed demon, has been trapped for centuries in a painting, covered over by the image of a scarecrow.  Two followers of the cult of Kalumai attempt to steal the painting, and have little time to realize that the Scarecrow has come to life, before it kills them both with its own hands.  The cultists finally wrest the painting from its owner, and prepare a human sacrifice to coincide with the demon’s return to our plane of reality; the Scarecrow bursts in, frees the potential victim, and has the would-be sacrificer trapped within and crushed by the branches of a tree.  The owner recovers the painting, which still features the grinning Scarecrow, as if he (it?) had never left the canvas.

It’s hard to know what Marvel intended to do with this character, especially with their mystery titles on the wane.  It’s not as if a non-speaking spirit-being could work as a typical crime-fighting superhero.  My guess is that this story originally had been slated for one of the since-folded B&W magazines (Dean Peter might know for sure).  Rival’s art works well for the character, especially the sinister look he brings to those blood-red eyes. -Chris Blake


Marvel Preview 2
Cover by Gray Morrow

"Death Sentence"

Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Tony DeZuniga

"The Executioner Speaks Out!"

Text by David Anthony Kraft

"The Power Broker Resolution!"

Story by Len Wein
Art by Howard Chaykin

Oooohhhh…now this one I remember quite well! I mean, look at that awesome, violent cover! Yeah! Just what a pre-teen needs to own! OK, I only splurged for a buck (at the time that was big) because of the Spidey connection, but hey my parents let me buy it so, kudos to them.

After our inaugural letters page, with lots of opinions and advice from the fans, "America's Greatest Crime Destroyer!" aka The Punisher, natch, gets the spotlight, I mean the "Preview", and it's a doozy of a tale from Conway and DeZuniga. Gerry is in fine form and it's here you realize how he set the tone for all future Punisher incarnations. DeZuniga also does the vigilante justice, his art quite suited to the black-and-white format. Good stuff overall, although clichéd looking back at it, but who cares. The bad guys get what's coming to them and the Punisher is super-cool!

Our story kicks off with Frank Castle, the Punisher, stopping a Wall Street political assassination attempt, and it turns out he knows the shooter, Mike Hauley, from his Vietnam days. Mike talks of other guys who just want to make money, before he's killed by a bomb from a nearby helicopter. Fed Dave Hamilton is on the scene, and recounts to his partner Andy Morganstern two other similar crimes by ex-GIs, one in Miami and one in LA, and vows to find out why. Punisher drives to Chicago and pays a visit to flunky Grundy to get info, then he's shot at! Outsmarting the sniper, the skull-clad anti-hero gets the drop on him, but before he can get any answers, the sniper touches his watch and burns up! Plus, Grundy was accidentally killed so Punisher is left with no info at all. The two feds are on a flight to ChiTown and between them and Castle, we get the famous origin of the Punisher. Walking in the park one day, Castle and his family stumbled upon a mob hit, and since there can't be witnesses…the mobsters gunned down Frank's family, unknowingly leaving him alive to go mad and start his war against crime.

"Death Sentence"

Punisher visits Mike Hauley's wife and kids, explaining what really happened with the unwitting Mike, when a fireball is thrown through the window, engulfing the house in flames! Punisher gets the kids and wife to safety, then gets a name: Christanson. Skulking to Christanson's compound, Punisher takes out a guard and goes undercover to a meeting of rich jerks developing nasty weapons in hopes of overthrowing the government—then he's spotted! Mark Twain look-alike Christanson has a force-field that protects him from Castle's bullets, so the vigilante battles a bunch of guards, then blows up the compound's power source—and the compound with it, leaving Hamilton to pick up the pieces and vow to catch the Punisher no matter what.

Next up is a long, long, long David Anthony Kraft interview with Don Pendleton, creator of The Executioner, Mack Bolan, who is certainly the mold for the Punisher. I've never read any Pendleton, but the interview is a decent read, conducted by an obvious fan, Kraft having worked at the same publishing company as the author.

"Dominic Fortune"
Our mag ends with Howard Chaykin's original Dominic Fortune story, inspired by the Scorpion character he created for Atlas Comics. This is a character Chaykin would revisit for years to come, including issues of Marvel Team-Up (Aug 1982), Web of Spider-Man (Jan 1986), Iron Man (1986), his own limited series in the 2000s, a digital comic, and the miniseries Avengers 1959 in 2011, among other appearances. I think I've said this before, but I became a huge Chaykin fan in later years, from the interesting American Flagg to the great reboot of Blackhawk to the controversial vampire tale Black Kiss. Not for the kiddies, but really good stuff if you ask me.

This first Fortune story begins with the adventurer/gambler/man about town taking a job from Carol Einhorn, who wants Fortune to kidnap her husband Jacob and collect a quarter of a million dollars in back alimony, for a 10% stipend. Fortune flies to Einhorn's Skycliff "fortress" then literally drops in, having to take out a couple of bloodthirsty Japanese guards before he can break in. Einhorn is in cahoots with some villainous Asians, desiring control of Texas and Mexico while Japan takes the rest of North America, perhaps setting off another World War! Fortune sends a car through the protective minefield, dispatches more guards with some derring-do, then flies off with Einhorn in tow. But the land baron's partners kill him, leaving Fortune to shoot some explosives he planted and blow up Skycliff! But first he nabbed an expensive necklace to give to the now-widow Einhorn to take care of the debt owed her.

A pretty nifty adventure that gives Chaykin some air to let his pencil do the talking. Sure the words are cool too, but there's also the cool layouts, exciting fight scenes, period setting and a ruthless, cocky hero that will become Chaykin trademarks. PS That full-page ad promising Thor next issue? Don't hold your breath, he won't show up until issue #10! -- Joe Tura

Planet of the Apes 11
Cover by Gray Morrow

"When the Lawgiver Returns"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog

"Beneath the Planet of the Apes
VI: The Hell of Holocaust"
Story Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

We kick off with the return of our rollickin' regularly scheduled programming, "Terror on the Planet of the Apes", with the ominous title "When the Lawgiver Returns…" And man, is it ever wordy, packed with politics, anger and fractured friendships. Just the way to get Apes readers excited!

Xavier, head of Ape City, complains to scribe Phaiton about the growing unrest in the city between humans and apes, and soon after is attacked by a band of hooded gorillas, including the nasty Brutus, who kills Xavier with a crossbow and puts his body on display in the square so the humans will get blamed. Steely Dan, Gunpowder Julius and Trippo drop Jason, Alexander, Malagueña and the Lawgiver on shore, just in time to see humans leaving in fear for their lives. But the Lawgiver convinces them to go back, and they walk into the middle of a conflict, which the orating orangutan quiets with his powerful words. Jason and Alex get into an argument that starts to show cracks in their tight relationship. With humans and apes slightly divided, the Lawgiver delivers his speech to peace, but is interrupted by Brutus. Much shouting ensues, then Brutus orders his goons to attack! The Lawgiver is shot with an arrow and Jason accosts Brutus, beating him mercilessly, but is stopped by Alex and others. Much to his chagrin, The Lawgiver banishes Brutus from the city, although Jason knows he'll be back so, fed up, he punches his best friend and heads off to end Brutus once and for all.

A very well-remembered chapter that leaves us wanting more yet still delivers the goods between non-stop loud speeches to quick donnybrooks to drama between the two best buds. Ploog is excellent, of course and Moench drives the story with more words than three chapters can hold. Next up is the long-awaited (not by me, though) POTA chronology, which is better than you would think, encompassing all the films, the TV series, and the first 10 issues of this mag. Starting in 1972 with the flight of Taylor, Dodge, Stewart and Landon it ends in 3976 with the conclusion of Beneath, which we get with a simple turn of the page.

Part Six begins with the apes invading the underground mutant city. Our astronaut heroes and Nova evade a grenade blast, but during a scuffle, Nova is shot and Taylor is left angrier than ever. Zaius destroys all the busts of the mutant leaders, then the ape army makes its way into the inner temple. They kill one mutant before he can activate his "god", then try to shoot the bomb down, not knowing what it is, obviously. Brent and Taylor try to stop them, but Brent is wounded then bitten by Ursus! Taylor threatens to blow the bomb, but Ursus shoots him five times…until the bloody and determined Taylor presses the button. And everything ends. Including our adaptation of Beneath, featuring quick storytelling and very good art, especially the bloody heroes. Next month: Escape! -Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 7
Cover Art by Boris Vallejo

“The Citadel at the Center of Time”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Gods of the Hyborian Age, Part Two: Crom and Mitra: Gods to Swear By”
Text by Robert L. Yaple
“Chronicles of the Sword Part IV: The King is Dead”
Text by Lin Carter

“Lines Written in the Realization That I Must Die”
Verse by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith

“The Hyborian Age”
Text by Roy Thomas
Art by Walt Simonson

“Swords and Scrolls”

In the 44-page “The Citadel at the Center of Time,” Conan and his army of Zuagirs attack and overwhelm an Akbitana caravan heading towards Hyboria: when one of the desert nomads opens a cage on the lone wagon, he is attacked and killed by a sabretooth tiger. The Cimmerian and his men kill the beast with volleys of arrows and spears. The caravan yields no treasure so Conan claims the beautiful, veiled woman amongst the defeated men. That night at camp, the woman tells Conan that because of his band of desert wolves, few dare travel north with anything of value — however, the big cat would have fetched money in the Nemedian arenas. The woman, who does not give her name, adds that the sabretooth came from a mysterious and massive ziggurat that appeared in Akbitana one day, destroying all buildings and people that used to occupy its space. She also talks of treasures that lay within the stepped tower. After a night of passion, Conan lets the woman leave in peace and heads out to Akbitana. Riding through the bustling city, the barbarian notices a huge crossbow in the city square — like the citadel it simply appeared one morning. Quenching his thirst in a tavern, the Cimmerian is approached by men who pay him a sack of gold to kill the wizard who lives within the ziggurat. Conan accepts and later chats up a gorgeous dancing girl named Alhambra. Unnoticed, she drugs his drink. The barbarian awakens inside the citadel, tightly bound, watched by Alhambra, who knows that he is the War-Chieftain of the Zuagirs. Shamash-Shum-Ukin, the wizard of the ziggurat and former king of Babylon, appears and thanks the woman for bringing him yet another fitting offering for the Pool-Dwellers. Shamash-Shum-Ukin leads the bound brute through the citadel, showing him many “treasures”: a ferocious man-ape, a frozen Egyptian prince, a titanic Tyrannosaurus Rex in a bone-filled stone pit and, finally, the ornate Well at the Center of Time. In the well is a pool full of stars, celestial lights from nine thousand years in the future. When the bucket is lowered within the water, amazing things are brought back — and this night, both Conan and Alhambra will be lowered for sacrifice. Conan bursts his bounds and Shamash summons a horde of growling cavemen who attack the warrior: he battles bravely but is soon knocked unconscious. The Cimmerian comes to bound in the bucket with the woman. But before the wizard lowers the container, he senses strangers in the citadel and leaves to investigate. Suspended above the magical waters, Conan has visions of Atlantis, dinosaurs, and other wonders. Again, the barbarian breaks his ties and helps the woman out of the pit. Shamash returns, pushed forward by the men who hired Conan in the tavern — they have found a way inside and are demanding treasure. The sorcerer slips away and throws a lever, releasing his menagerie of terrifying monsters. The thieves flee but are quickly picked off by the man-ape, cavemen and a pteranodon. Suddenly the ziggurat rumbles and the Tyrannosaurus bursts through an outer wall and into the city outside. Conan and Alhambra also make their way to the streets. As the dinosaur rampages, the Cimmerian positions the giant crossbow: his aim is true and the creature is killed. As the citadel collapses, Shamash-Shum-Ukin leaps into the Well at the Center of Time, hurtling towards futures unknown. Conan reveals Alhambra as a kidnapper and rides off.

OK, breathe. Whew, I really have to find a way to cut down my recaps of these extra-length tales. Ahh, Professor Gilbert’s probably the only one reading anyways, and even that is doubtful! Listen, if you can’t enjoy a well-drawn Conan story that features time travel, dinosaurs, a man-ape and cavemen, avoid this terrific issue and stick to the funny books featuring super-heroes running around in spandex. Buscema and Alcala make a crackerjack team, every panel filled with brawny action and outstanding detail. Obviously, with Buscema as a base, Alcala has gold to mold, but the Filipino adds tremendous layers of shade and depth. Just look at the folds in Shamash-Shum-Ukin’s wizard robe: you can almost feel the fabric. As usual, props to Roy who delivers an all-original epic that rivals anything that Howard himself could craft. Just great.

Some excellent text features are included as well. Continuing from last issue, Robert L. Yaple’s three-page “Gods of the Hyborian Age, Part Two: Crom and Mitra: Gods to Swear By” discusses Ymir, the ruler of Valhalla, the Cimmerian’s Crom, and Hyboria’s most popular deity, Mitra, a combination of Christ and Apollo. I love the title of this piece! Lin Carter’s two-page “Chronicles of the Sword Part IV: The King is Dead” explains how Howard created Conan from the ashes of King Kull and how the character quickly dominated Weird Tales. I never put two-and-two together to realize that Howard committed suicide only four years after the first Conan story was published. The prophetic “Lines Written in the Realization That I Must Die” is a one-page poem by Howard that features some early Barry Smith panels, from where I do not know. And finally there’s “The Hyborian Age,” Roy’s adaptation of a Howard essay about the world he created. This is Chapter 1 and deals with the earlier Thurian civilization, King Kull’s time. At six pages, it ends with the sinking of Atlantis. There’s fine accompanying art by Walt Simonson: I’d like to claim it as his first Marvel work but couldn’t find proof. First time I’ve encountered him at least. -Thomas Flynn

And... a special P.S. from our resident Scholar of Dusty Scrolls and Pulps...

“The Hyborian Age”
Adapted from the Essay by ROBERT E. HOWARD
[Note to Reader:  Punctuation of “B.C.” varies according to original sources.]

“Chapter I: The Pre-Cataclysmic Age, Circa 10,000 BC” – so it begins.  “10,000 B.C. is a changing of the guard.  Lumbering beasts incapable of change would no longer rule...  Human beings would take control of their own destiny, and the destiny of the world.”  So concludes the History Channel documentary Journey to 10,000 BC, establishing the tenth millennium B.C. as a pivotal year in the history of human development.  And the history of fantasy, too. 

Roland Emmerich stated at the time of his 2008 film 10,000 BC that it was less a prehistoric movie like One Million Years B.C. and closer to Robert E. Howard, an exaggerated statement, yet in some ways in keeping with this fictional history chronicle posthumously published in 1938.   

With “The Hyborian Age,” Howard sets the stage for fellow pulp scribes.  Clark Ashton Smith places his Hyperborean cycle stories in an undated prehistoric Ice Age era that may be Howard’s pre-Atlantis world, and decades later Lin Carter sets his Thongor of Lemuria character in a pre-Pre-Cataclysmic 500,000 B.C.  Then there are Philip José Farmer's later Khokarsa series of novels, set in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Opar of 10,000 B.C., and since Farmer tied his 1930s heroes into one overarching universe, it would not be a stretch to think they connect somehow to REH. 

Walt Simonson’s bold black-and-white art memorably fits the material well.  Though more refined than the pen-and-ink line drawings in Weird Tales, it retains that magazine’s rough quality, almost anticipating Gary Gianni and the other fine artists who illustrated the Del Rey reissues of Howard’s work.  A suitably ancient font creates a mood, and is even inviting, unlike (for instance) that used for the ambitious Blackmark republished by Marvel. 

“The Hyborian Age” begins, “These people spoke a similar language, arguing a common origin...,” thus bespeaking the Dawn of Man when “the world had only one way of speech, only one language.  ‘Here is a people all one, with a tongue common to all...’” (Gen. 11).  The end depicts Atlantis and Lemuria sinking beneath the waves, an event recorded in the fictional Nemedian Chronicles excerpted in the Conan yarn “The Phoenix on the Sword,” and paraphrased by Mako (“It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga”) in the beginning narration of John Milius’ 1982 film Conan the Barbarian:

“Know, oh prince, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of...” 
After six pages of Roy Thomas’ much-abbreviated adaptation, which opened with a sweeping full-page bird’s-eye-view map, Chapter I closes Kull’s Thurian Age and ends with the promise, “NEXT: THE RISE OF THE HYBORIANS.” 
–Professor Gilbert

Professor Gilbert's not done with his lecture, students. 
Please sit down and be patient. Coming Sunday:


  1. Well done as aways, guys!

    Starlin really exaggerated with his diamond remark. If you read this article there a lot of gems. But there was a hard divide between the really good and the truly mediocre. There are few middle-of-the-road books at this time.

    MoKF is a great book, for all his overwriting in other books Moench captured perfectly the action spy tale. This series is his constantly best work. But without Gulacy this would fall flat.

  2. Warlock & Master of Kung Fu are without question the artistic highlights of this batch, although the new X-Men isn't that far behind IMO. Starlin's digs at the hands that fed him went over my then 13 year old self as well but I loved the issue nevertheless and it was one of those few that I came to appreciate more as I got older. At least Wein and the upper management at Marvel allowed Starlin to get away with his digs. Shooter might not have been so accomodating, although he did help put together better deals for comics creators that led to the Epic line, including Starlin's Dreadstar.