Wednesday, March 11, 2015

October 1975 Part One: The Champions and The Inhumans Rent Space on an Already Crowded Newsstand!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Marv is listed as editor in many a mag this month, suggesting that he may already have replaced Len as EIC and the Bullpen Page—dominated by Kirby’s return—hasn’t caught up.  Confused enough as it is, they urge us to run out and buy Howard the Duck and the Guardians mag, which we might…if those weren’t three and four months away, respectively!  In the B&W line, they announce the deaths of Savage TalesDracula Lives, and Vampire Tales and the births of Star-Lord, Sherlock Holmes (both of which wound up in Marvel Preview), The Legion of MonstersMarvel Movie PremiereMarvel Super Action (all ultimately one-shots), and Masters of Terror.  The all-reprint GS books are now in full swing, with the FF joined by Dr. Strange and Iron Man.

Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story enumerates Len’s challenges, e.g., “the constant cycle of cancellations and launches ordered by Lee and [Marvel president Al] Landau….‘You’d go into the office one day,’ said one assistant, ‘and the thirty books you’d edited last week would all be cancelled, and even though they were in various stages of production, none of them was published yet, and thirty new books would be there for you to work on.’”  He also cites Stan’s random meddling, epitomized by Iron Man’s notorious nose; the increasing complexity of the Marvel Universe, requiring an upgrade from Roy’s index cards to a database to try to keep track of it all and maintain inter-title continuity; and turf battles over characters used in multiple series.

And now... October 1975!

The Avengers 140
"A Journey to the Center of the Ant"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Charlotte Jetter
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

At the end of last issue, Yellowjacket had been saved by the Beast from a crushing blow by Whirlwind. Now he collapses and starts growing at an enormous rate, eventually to more than a hundred feet. The Beast, working with Thor to develop an enzyme to bring Hank back down to normal size, breaks into the Brand Corporation to retrieve an experimental enzyme he had developed when he was employed there. After successfully stealing the enzyme, he makes his way back to the Manhattan street where YJ is still growing.

Meanwhile, the Vision and Scarlet Witch are returning from their honeymoon in an Avengers Quinjet when Vision spies Yellowjacket. He descends and Thor gives him the details. Wanda tries her hex power to reduce his size but to no avail. Beast discovers that he needs some of Janet’s blood, infected with the same microbe that is in Hank, to help Hank with his growing issue. The doctor in charge of Jan’s care refuses to allow Hank to draw Jan’s blood, but then Thor takes on his Donald Blake identity to vouch for Beast. Beast works on the formula.

The scene shifts to Iron Man and Moondragon, who are still in oddly-deserted Latveria searching for Hawkeye. They suspect a trap, but we’re only given barely a half page before going back to the Beast and his formula; by then YJ has grown to 150 feet tall. The Vision takes the formula and enters Hank, “injecting” the serum into Hank’s system, and YJ is saved. YJ goes back to normal size and is revived. When he goes to see Janet, she has miraculously recovered and the issue ends on an upbeat note. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: This is a decent issue and we’re finally given some insight into the Beast, who has something to do in this issue. Not a lot of action here, but we have some flashbacks into when the Beast, as Hank McCoy, worked for the Brand Corporation. The serum he developed back then, of course, belongs to Brand now. Is there some commentary here about Marvel and its artists? We all know that Brand is sinister, but their contract with McCoy, and ownership of his work, seems to be a pretty common work-for-hire standard agreement. Anyway, George Tuska seems to like lingering on Spielberg-like crowd reactions to YJ’s predicament and they all seem pretty cornball. It’s nice to see the Vision and the Scarlet Witch back, but it seems like these last few issues are mostly marking time for some bigger battle down the road. Hawkeye’s been gone for so long, does any reader really even care whether he makes it back or not?

Scott McIntyre: Thanks to the ineptitude of George Tuska, I can’t tell if Thor is happy or enraged in the final panel. Obviously, he should be happy, but it looks ridiculous. Hank McCoy proves himself a genuine asset to the team, but I wonder if there will be any repercussions for his theft of the Brand Corporation. Anyway, next issue Cap returns and we get a “new artist.” Thank Zod!

Matthew Bradley:  As I will address down the road in my coverage of Marvel Team-Up #41, Englehart has made a significant flub here:  the castle containing Doom’s time platform is located in upstate New York, not Latveria.

Acquiring #137-40 out of sequence, I never thought of them as a single arc, but since the Pyms’ medical problems spring directly from the “recruiting drive,” it’s pretty organic.  Unity is also provided by the largely unpopular Tuska; the lettercol states that “he never quite got the feel of this title,” and will be replaced by George Perez next issue, although in fairness, one correspondent points out that Tuska “never, I repeat NEVER, gets a strong inker on his work,” as exemplified here by Colletta.  Love the focus on the Beast, for whom Stainless naturally displays a proprietary fondness, and with my pro-Pym bias, I especially enjoyed #139-40, in particular the overt symmetry between the Pym/Vision rescue missions in this and “the truly landmark…#93.”

Chris Blake: The moment that made me laugh out loud was the semi-goggled look on Wanda’s face on p 22, first panel; the subtly skewed facial features lead me to suspect that it might’ve been done by Picasso (post-cubist period).  My intention as I considered my comments for this issue was to be really snide and mention only the meager instances of art-bits that I did like, and I see no reason not to do this, so I’ll say that the Fantastic Voyage pages toward the end were okay.  Otherwise, once again, Tuska/Colletta find a way for the Beast (who figures in over 75% of the story) to look different in every single panel.  Tuska isn’t keeping track of YJ’s size, so he’s varying from gargantuan (observe the ant-sized people standing next to him on p 15, pnl 3) to simply oversized (next page, p 16 – YJ’s maybe, what down to 20 feet tall, perhaps?).  I got another laugh from the euro-art-film extras standing around, all facing in different directions, on p 16, last panel.  It’s simply terrible, pitifully awful.  

It doesn’t help that we have yet another story that requires most of the team to stand around and do next to nothing while the proceedings revolve around 1-2 others.  We get a quick update with Iron Man and Moondragon regarding Hawkeye’s disappearance, but couldn’t we see more than three panels here?  Lastly, are we supposed to figure out for ourselves how Hank’s (Mc Coy) eight ounces of serum will reverse Hank’s (Pym) growth?  Never mind.  Hey kids, it’s “Earth’s Mediocre-est Comic Magazine!”

The Amazing Spider-Man 149
"Even If I Live, I Die!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

The smarmy Jackal, aka Professor Miles Warren, has Spider-Man tied up in an abandoned tenement but our hero is able to break free easily. But the surprisingly agile villain slashes the bejeesus out of Spidey until he collapses. This gives Jackal time to let us know his "origin": Having always admired Gwen Stacy and mourned her death, he arranged to have partner Anthony Serba clone Gwen, but when Serba discovered the samples were human, Warren accidentally killed the scientist. Warren determined "The Jackal" killed Serba, not himself, fashioned a costume and trained, all the while growing the Gwen clone and using hypnosis to bring out her memory. Then he skulks off, telling Spidey to meet him in Shea Stadium at midnight for their "final contest between you and your hidden self!" At the Daily Bugle offices, Mary Jane calms a worried-about-Ned Betty, and when Peter comes in, JJJ is angry that he had no idea Ned was missing. Midnight comes, and arriving at Shea, Spidey is clawed and drugged by the devious Jackal, and awakes to a mirror image of himself! Warren also made a clone of Peter Parker! And which one will save Ned Leeds from the bomb set to go off in a little more than a minute? The two Spideys battle to a standstill as time ticks away, until the Gwen clone gets upset, unmasks the Jackal and declares her hate for the "murderer". This makes Warren snap, realizing he is a murderer, so he saves Ned and is seemingly killed when the bomb blows! The Spidey clone is also killed by the rubble…or is the Spidey that survived the clone? Epilogue One sees Gwen Clone say goodbye to Peter at real Gwen's grave in Queens, while Epilogue Two has Peter back in his apartment, where MJ awaits. -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: As much as I love this issue, there are some lingering questions that bug me. For instance, why would Peter go to the Bugle hoping to see Mary Jane alone? Wouldn't she be more likely to be home or something like that? And doesn't he know how many others would be around? Why wouldn’t the slimy Jackal just off Spidey instead of setting up the clone thingie? Oh, right. He's an egomaniacal villain who thinks a simple death is too easy. Of course, I'm glad but at the same time as an old man I'm baffled by any villain who "talks too much" instead of acting. Tuco was right: "When you have to shoot, shoot. Don't talk." But then again, it's Amazing Spider-Man, not Annoying Jackal. Also, seeing as how the Yankees and Mets were both playing in Shea Stadium in 1975, after it blows up, where the heck will they play? Oh wait, it's October and both teams finished out of the playoffs. Never mind….And the most important question, why did reading this again for the first time in 40 years (or more like 30-35) make me look up the stories and fates and false deaths of Joyce Delaney and Miles Warren and Ben Reilly and Kaine and Spider-Verse and kill a half hour of my valuable time? Oh, I don't know….

Ross and Mike are at the top of their game, and Gerry manages to juggle the clones nicely and present quite the conundrum for our hero, while also managing to get him some much-needed MJ action. And this being his last issue as Amazing scribe, he certainly goes out with a bang. Conway would later return to the wall-crawler in the late '80s on Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man and in March of 2015 he's the writer for a Spidey miniseries. I, for one, regard him as one of the best Spider-Man writers ever, and my recollection is the book starts to go down in quality for the rest of the decade, which was right around when the Claremont/Byrne X-Men became my favorite comic. But hey, that's why I'm re-reading these now, because ya never know, they might all hold up a lot better. At least until we get to Keith Pollard.

Favorite sound effect of this one is actually used twice: "BOMP" first appears on page 7 when diabolical Jackal smashes our beloved Spidey with a table, a muffled sound that seems like it hits the hero square on the back. We see it next on page 22, when one Spidey hits another against the Shea wall with a double front kick, right before delivering a super-haymaker!

Matthew Bradley: Per the lettercol, “We regret the fashion in which we depicted the Mindworm’s house…an actual residence located in the Rockaway section of Queens.”  WTF? Be that as it may, and despite the “clone wars” it ultimately unleashed, Gerry’s swan song is a story that, for me, holds up after 40 years; it was almost certainly the first reference I’d ever seen to cloning, which back then seemed pretty cool, and the Rossito team is now in sole command of the art.  I’ll second Howe’s emotion:  “Despite the silly contrivances, Conway and…Andru had produced a genuinely moving, thought-provoking story.  When Lee finally saw the story he’d forced Conway to write, he shrugged.  ‘This doesn’t really work, does it?’  Conway simmered.

“‘You’re going to have to take care of Gerry,’ Thomas had warned Lee, knowing that [he] felt he’d earned a heightened level of respect from the company.  But now…he was being treated as just another scribbler, answering to the indivisible team of LenMarv…When it was decided that Conway’s increasingly popular [creation] the Punisher would get a solo spotlight in [Marvel Super Action], Conway remembered that Thomas had promised him the opportunity to edit the book himself.  But the magazines were [Marv’s] kingdom now.  Conway would have to settle for just scripting, once again.  Incensed, he began taking freelance work from Martin and Chip Goodman’s [waning] Atlas Comics, and then took a staff job writing—and editing—for DC…”

Scott: The splash page is a textbook example of what I hate about Ross Andru. The Jackal looks ridiculous ripping his mask off and throwing his body out of whack doing it. Also lost on me was Peter telling everyone he hasn’t seen Ned Leeds in a week. It’s not like this is Clone Parker or that the Jackal gave him an amnesia scratch. I just don’t get it. Anyone? The art and story seem rushed at this point, but at least it’s kinda over. For now. Thankfully, we’re not going to be covering the '90s here.

Mark Barsotti: Let's touch only lightly on the ample absurdities – from Prof Warren's easiest-murder ever of the unfortunate Serba, to his amnestic transformation into clone-growing super villain  – before surrendering to the over the top bravado of what is the last Spidey story I actually remember from adolescence.

That Gerry Conway was strong-armed by Stan into returning Ms. Stacy to ASM, and was on his way out the door when he wrote it, makes his high wire finale all the more amazing. Warren gets a noble, redemptive death. "Gwen" gets an affecting, "don't look back" departure. And face it, Tiger, Pete, behind his clicking-shut apartment door with MJ, just hit the jackpot.

Oh, and someone named Ben Riley will hijack the book for a couple years, a decade or so down the road. 

Ya can't have everything.

Captain America and the Falcon 190
"Nightshade is Deadlier the Second Time Around!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

The Falcon is no longer in a trance, but he still apparently sports the “Snap” Wilson personality, while Nightshade has returned with a number of SHIELD agents under her control, including Deputy Director Cochren. Nightshade explains her survival from the dive she took into the rocks the last time we saw her (thanks to her fine planning and engineering skills). Unable to control Cap and the Falcon, she sics the entranced SHIELD agents on the pair. Although the Falcon is still “Snap,” he instinctively follows Cap’s direction to use their well-practiced maneuvers during the battle, something that astounds them both. Using the fight as a distraction, Val is able to break free and escape into the bowels of the complex while Nightshade activates “Wild Bill Robot” to attack the heroes. However, the mindlink between Falc and Redwing still exists, and the bird is able to short circuit the robot. During the prolonged battle with the agents, Falcon’s mind clears enough for him to realize he is really two men. Cap also notices that Falc is fighting more viciously than ever before, which concerns him. Val is able to send a quick message to Cap over the intercom, “come to the Solarium!” Cap and Falc battle their way to that location where Val, after reading the file on Nightshade, tells him that that the villainess’ control over men’s minds may not work in direct sunlight. As the pursuing agents reach the Solarium, Val opens the roof and her hunch is proven correct. The agents break the mental control and Nightshade is captured. However, one thing still remains: the fate of the Falcon. Falc confirms that the Red Skull wasn’t lying and that he is both Sam and “Snap” Wilson, and he remembers it all. If he stands trial, he may be sent to prison for life! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: All things considered, with what he had to work with, Tony Isabella did a pretty good job here. The Falcon’s personality is slowly being pieced together during the battle as he instinctively remembers maneuvers worked out with Cap over the last six years, as well as the mental rapport he has with Redwing. There’s not a lot of time to chat for the two men since it’s all pretty much wall to wall action. Nightshade is one of those villains I never needed to see again. Her original “death” was pretty grim and final at the time and the resolution is pretty out there. She was able to make an escape hatch made of rocks on a track (or whatever) that can be opened by touching a button on her tiara? It opened and closed fast enough to allow her to escape through the door, but slam shut so her followers could be pulped on the rocks? Bad enough she has such amazing engineering skills, but the Yellow Claw had no idea she was doing this under his nose? Where did she get the materials? Did she have a crew help her? Did she test it? Yikes. Frank Robbins still draws people like they’re having strokes. Anyway, it’s not bad, and is frequently exciting.

Matthew: As in Daredevil #121, Isabella digs deep into S.H.I.E.L.D.iana to dredge up—from Strange Tales #140 and 142, respectively—the Flying Wedge and Wild Bill robot; the latter’s disproportionate prominence on the Kane/Sinnott cover (vs. foxy mama Nightshade’s obscurity) should bother me, but I love the delirious colors so much that I’ll let it go.  In fact, those expecting a typical takedown of this “all-action issue,” something I usually like as little as overly busy covers, are doomed to disappointment, despite the gawky Robbins/Colletta scribbles.  The 12-year-old boy in me still enjoys the story, with Nightshade’s jolt to my emerging libido, and the Tiger is beginning to extricate himself from that corner into which Stainless painted him.

“As much as I enjoyed Englehart’s run, I absolutely hated the notion that the Falcon was actually a criminal.  In 1975, Marvel had five black headliners.  One was a [sic] African king, one was a mummy [whom Isabella wrote in Supernatural Thrillers #8-13] and one was a vampire slayer.  The only African-American super-heroes were Luke Cage and the Falcon.  Cage was an escaped convict living under an alias and the Falcon was a social worker.  Except now he wasn’t….Job one had to be resolving this storyline in a manner which would keep the Falcon as a super-hero….I thought I could get some dramatic mileage in future issues by portraying the Falcon’s natures at war with one another,” he wrote in a Tony’s Tips post on the Tales of Wonder website.

Conan the Barbarian 55 
“A Shadow on the Land!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

After consulting the oracle, Conan, Tara and Yusef ride back to Ronnoco and deliver his prophecy to King Belzamo: “When the shadow stalks the gate, when the city fears its fate, that which held the god in thrall, but restore, and vanquish all.” The Cimmerian finally solves the mystery of the saying and rides off to the ruined mountain city where the Ring of the Black Shadow was discovered, barely surviving an encounter with the ever-growing shadow demon along the way — the dark creature continues its relentless march of death and destruction towards Ronnoco. When the barbarian arrives at the ruins, he plunges his sword into the head of the golden scorpion idol he killed only a few days ago. The arthropod guardian springs back to life and scuttles off towards Ronnoco. Back at the besieged city, the shadow demon bellows at the gates. The terrified citizens feed the ravenous black monster livestock — it continues to grow larger until all the animals are devoured. Belzamo’s son Vanni suggests that they send either Captain Murilo’s Crimson Company or peasants outside the city walls to satisfy the demon’s relentless hunger. When the outraged king refuses, Vanni flees Ronnoco using the kidnapped Princess Yvonna of Pergona as a shield. When all seems lost, the huge scorpion arrives and attacks the shadow demon: its darting sting strikes again and again until the black monster is all but a wisp of smoke. Vanni, with Yvonna in tow, comes across Conan: the Cimmerian buries his blade into the cowardly prince’s chest. The warrior and the princess ride back to Ronnoco to discover that the scorpion has become an immobile statue once again. Suddenly, forces from Carnolla and Pergona ride up to rescue Yvonna. The woman walks out to the armies' leaders and, after some discussion, war is averted. Yvonna returns to Pergona while Conan, Tara and Yusef leave Ronnoco behind, riding off together towards Argos. -Thomas Flynn

Matthew:  Ronnoco, the birthplace of Ron Popeil?  Did Roy think that one through? 

Tom Flynn: Roy finishes this four-issue arc in superb style, perfectly tying up everything that began way back in July 1975. The ever-growing shadow demon is a crackerjack creation, wonderfully realized by Big John and Tom Palmer. While it seemed unstoppable, feeding on everything in its path — people, horses, pigs — the black beast was rather defenseless against the scorpion, going down without much of a fight. Speaking of Palmer, his inks look more sloppy than usual. I am a bit alarmed that the young lovers Tara and Yusef tagged along at the end as Conan rode off towards further adventures. Let’s hope that they don’t muck things up. Belzamo, who first came across as a scurrilous bastard, somewhat redeems himself when he disavows his cowardly son Vanni. The oracle’s prophecy stumped me at first as well: I put two and two together about the same time that Conan did. Either he’s not as dumb as he seems or I am. A funny letter is to be found on The Hyborian Page. Michael G. Pahl writes in that when his copy of Conan the Barbarian #51 was delivered, he was surprised to discover that the interior pages were actually from the latest issue of Archie at Riverdale — talk about opposite ends of the spectrum! The answer chalks it up to goof at the Sparta, Illinois, printing plant: the interiors of each comic were accidentally switched. Wonder what the kids who subscribed to Archie thought.

Daredevil 126
"Flight of the Torpedo!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Matt is preparing for bed, when he hears a news report about a break-in at a bank in the financial district; the theft is noteworthy due to the significant damage to the building itself, but also since the only items missing were a few documents – various valuable gems and securities were left in their safe-deposit boxes.  Matt is prepared to leave the matter ‘til the morning, when a deafening crash below convinces him that Daredevil should investigate.  DD finds a wrecked police cruiser in the street, and barely has a moment before its destroyer, a blue-clad fast-moving figure, zooms in for another pass.  DD jumps on the character’s back, and they begin to tussle, finally crashing into the lobby of an office tower.  Far above (on the 67th floor), former NFL star Brock Jones feels the building shake, and rides down on the elevator to check out the commotion.  In the lobby, DD’s assailant has declared himself to be the Torpedo (admittedly, not the same one who had battled DD a few years before); the Torpedo declares himself to be duty-bound to carry out a certain mission, and he can’t allow anyone – not the police, and certainly not Daredevil – to get in his way.  Torpedo is about to deliver a jet-powered blow to DD’s head, when the elevator doors open – Torpedo is distracted by the appearance of this innocent citizen, but is able to re-direct his punch to the nearby wall.  In the resulting building collapse, Torpedo suffers internal injuries, and in his dying moments, imparts his mission and his high-powered costume to Brock.  DD awakes, and declares to arriving police that the man now wearing the Torpedo costume is a murderer. -Chris Blake

Chris: In the interest of space, here are a few needless details from the story that I left out: Foggy is getting paranoid about people interfering with his campaign; Foggy wants Matt to help run the campaign; Brock feels miserably sorry for himself for having a high-paying regular-guy job, since he no longer is breathing the rarefied air of the sports celebrity; DD saves a child from a rushing car, effectively brushing Brock aside as he does so; Matt is surprised in his apartment when a woman named Heather bounces in, stating that she’s looking for her ex-boyfriend, who had given her a spare key months ago.  See, you didn’t really need to know any of that, did you?  
Here’s something else you never knew: a well-placed punch in the lobby of an office building can bring the whole thing crashing down as rubble.  It’s true!  Marv told us so right here in this comic book.  And then, after the building has fallen on you, all you do is pull yourself out and brush yourself off – like Jake and Elwood – and you’re fine!
I’m going to keep trying not to clutter up the blog by complaining about the distracting banter during the fight scenes, but Marv, you’re killing me.  I might just have to hum the sound “bzzzzz” in my head while I’m looking at the words, so that I won’t really process them, and thereby protect myself against their insipid nature.  
I still like the art, and I hope you do too, although I admit that the results tend to the murkier side this time around.  I especially enjoyed the bits when Torpedo is zipping along the empty late-evening streets alone (far above); that’s probably as accurate a depiction then as today – the downtown financial district really does empty out at night.  Next issue, I hope we’ll get some explanation as to how Torpedo is able to plunge hands-first thru walls, without breaking said hands off at his wrists.  We’ll see.
Scott: Excellent first half of a classic two-parter introducing the Torpedo and Brock Jones. We also meet Heather, who will return in a big way. A solid, exciting tale, well written and drawn. Bob Brown and Klaus Janson’s art never looked better and without the Black Widow adding unnecessary angst, this title is a lot more fun. Great work all around. My only gripe is Brock Jones’ opening soliloquy. Holy Exposition!

Matthew: Of the 23 (!) titles I’m reviewing this month, I had at least half of them off the rack—which doesn’t even include reprints—so my conversion proceeds apace, and it’s here that I joined DD full-time.  Naturally, that gives me a fondness for the Torpedo, who will be reunited with Wolfman and Brown two years hence for a shot in Marvel Premiere #39-40, and much later becomes a regular in Rom.  Setting aside the ink-spraying of Human Squid Janson, which as usual compromises Battlin’ Bob’s best efforts, Marv’s first full-fledged solo story (after the tag-team Copperhead saga) shows he has a good handle on Hornhead, setting a tone that I find very satisfactory and, for good measure, introducing a major character in the person of Heather Glenn.

The Defenders 28
"My Mother, the Badoon!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia,  and John Tartaglione
Colors by Al Wenzel
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

The Badoon Elite Guard has invaded the Guardians' ship. Martinex, Charlie-27 and Nighthawk put up a fight; Dr. Strange being psychically otherwise involved in a joining to the ship's computer. When Nighthawk is injured, the Zoms (humans made mindless slaves) overcome him and, at gunpoint, force the others to surrender. The Badoon guard leader mistakes the entranced Dr. Strange for dead, and takes the others to the planet below. Stephen's astral form has been busy and has found the Valkyrie and Vance Astro in the Capella star system. He witnesses the being known as Starhawk explain a bizarre story to them: the world of the Sisterhood of the Badoon, Venesia, where the females of the bizarre race live. They are not savages at all, but highly advanced. In the unusual evolution of their race, the sexes of the Badoon hate each another, and have essentially developed separate worlds to live on, the males only returning to procreate when the cyclic urges demand it. The Sisterhood was, until now, unaware of the plundering ways of their brothers. Meanwhile the Hulk and Yondu are on the world of the Goozotians, being groomed to fight in the Roman-style Death Games. Yondu wins his match in impressive style. Stephen returns Val and Astro to Earth, just in time to witness the upcoming execution of their fellows. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: An interesting take on the super-race the Badoon: males and females living on completely separate worlds, unaware and uninterested in each other but for mating. How...primitive. If flaws are one's undoing, the seeds for this are planted here. Now aware of their male counterparts' lifestyle, no doubt Queen Tolaria will lead her fellow sisters to rebel. and the Goozotian women are already fascinated by the strength that our Defenders show, unlike their own men of weakness. The Badoon somehow mistaking Dr. Strange for dead may be their undoing, and the likely saviour of the day ahead. Starhawk's mystery is as yet unexplained, the cover promising something different than what the story delivers--though we hardly suffer for that. Steve Gerber seldom lets us down!

Matthew:  In the third quarter, just when you thought things couldn’t get any better, Coach Marv—or whoever makes these decisions—benches Colletta (just for this ish, alas) and sends in Giacoia & Tartag.  The art thus ennobled, Steve and Sal give the real Guardians a commendable amount of face time, also affording us our first full look at future member Starhawk and whetting our appetite for their forthcoming solo series.  The line between homage and rip-off can be a fine one, yet I find the echoes of pon farr in the Badoons’ backstory an enjoyable allusion, while in the opposite chronal direction, The Running Man is but the most obvious of later works to tread the Goozotian pathways, perhaps pioneered by Robert Sheckley in his 1953 story “Seventh Victim.”

Chris: Two wise decisions by Steve G, as he explains a key element of Badoon life (where Valentine’s Day isn’t quite as big a deal), but chooses not to reveal too much about Starhawk – not yet.  Steve establishes that he has unusual powers, and that he can be trusted as “one who knows,” but otherwise, the details are yet to come. We get some involvement from most of the featured characters, which helps to keep the various segments of the story moving smoothly, but from the Hulk, once again we barely see or hear him, which is odd.  I have to wonder whether Steve had a scene idea and had to leave it on the cutting room floor, or whether he had to put it off to the next issue.

The art dips from “good” to “adequate” this time.  I have no choice but to acknowledge that I prefer Colletta’s recent inks (which, I think, proves that I might have overeaten) to this almost-certain last-minute job by Giacoia and Tartaglione, who were probably in the middle of their lunch (and might not’ve had enough time to eat) when Verpoorten ran in with page proofs; on plenty of past occasions, I’ve seen better inking for Sal by both of these old pros. 

Doctor Strange 10
"Alone Against Eternity..."
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Al Wenzel
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Stephen Strange broods in his Greenwich Village home; he senses the nearness of an unknown danger. A scream from upstairs leads him to the room where he has contained his mad former foe Baron Mordo, in hopes of returning him to sanity. Upon entering the room, Stephen is drawn into the madness of Mordo's mind, where he sees another foe, Nightmare. Then he is back in reality. Even Clea's charms cannot soften his mood, and with good reason. The sky seems to literally fall in on them, and the form of one of Strange's deadliest foes stands as a cosmic silhouette against the black sky. They cannot communicate with him, but can keep the rest of humanity from seeing him Mordo meanwhile, flees madly and aimlessly from Stephen's home, as the former seeks the consult of the Aged Ghengis. He too seems mad. Finally, Stephen uses the Eye of Agamotto to tune in to Eternity, who bears grim news. The end of the world approaches, as mankind's own passion and desire will destroy the very cooperation and kindness that bind them together. Strange argues it is not yet time, but Eternity points out the very contradictions within Strange's own soul--then deposits him, where? -Jim Barwise

Jim: A real visual stunner, even by this mag's standards. Some of Eternity's visuals would make very frameable stuff. The next most interesting aspect of this issue is that there's no real combat that takes place. And this with Eternity, Nightmare and Mordo all in residence-- that's quite something. Something as in a real captivating mystery being penciled in. That's not an easy task as a writer, but Englehart pulls it off; and I'm starting to wonder if Gene Colan's work here might surpass his DD catalogue!

Matthew: knew that Aged Genghis stuff was important!  Doc’s Bronze-Age renaissance continues, with Chiaramonte proving an able complement to Gentleman Gene’s spectacle and distinctive layouts, Stainless embarking upon an intriguing new storyline while bringing back welcome faces like Mordo and Eternity, and Orzechowski’s finely tuned lettering adding its own special touch.  Through the mouth of Eternity, Englehart’s dialogue seems positively prescient regarding the Internet (“Communication:  that is what has undone you!”), politics (“The mere mention of compromise—cooperation—sounds of wretched weakness!”), and even the Bronze era (“All periods of expansion must reach an ending, so a period of contraction may follow!”).

Mark: For devotees of the good Doctor, the title alone gets the mystic mojo flowing. We learn vegetive Mordo has been cared for, deep in the bowels of the Doc's Greenwich Village manse, since the Baron went buggy watching Sise-Neg Big Bang the cosmos (Marvel Premier #14 ). Now Mordo wakes up and pulls Strange into his fever dream featuring, aptly enough, Nightmare, the Doc's first way back foe from Strange Tales #110. The dark-rider of dreamland has been playing in the bigs lately, with the like of Eternity, who soon enough goes all Galactus, filling the New York sky and interrupting Doc & Clea, just starting to make out. Strange calms the crowds, then astral travels to the Aged Genghis, finding the, ah, ancient one as vegged-out as Mordo, and likewise he tries sucking Strange into his psychosis, but is easily given a nap, and the Doc is Eternity-bound. 

We close with six gorgeous pages of Gene Colan, unbound in the cosmos. Depicting Strange himself filled with stars and planets is a new visual twist, as Englehart has the Doc in lofty debate with Eternity, who presciently predicts modern talk radio and bilious Twitter trolls. TMI has blown our minds and the "final war" will surely follow.

The Doc disagrees. The Big E tasks Strange with "overcoming" early versions of himself. Then, maybe, we'll talk. But back in the Village, Mordo has flown the coop. And Nightmare's out there, just behind your eyelids, thundering forward on his dark steed.

Chris: Brain . . . too small . . . to read . . . Doctor Strange.  Neural . . . connections . . . not long . . . or densely- . . . packed . . . enough . . . to grasp . . . concepts.  

Understand … pictures.  Pictures very . . . nice.  Quite grand at times.  Mmmmm.  Despite Chairamonte not being best inker for Colan on title, pictures … still very impressive.  

Fantastic Four 163
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler, John Romita, and Joe Sinnott

"Finale!" opens with Ben in hyperspace - now with Breathable Atmosphere! - getting his rocky rump handed to him in a hockey shootout against Nexus-netkeeper Gaard. {For causal FF readers, no doubt doing a "Wha? Patrick Roy?" double-take, a rubber science re-cap: Benjy's trying to put Reed's destruct-o-biscuit in the basket, ka-booming the Nexus time/space portal, through which Conan the B-exile Arkon (our mastermind) plans to channel the nuclear energy unleashed by three worlds gone full Strangelove: earth, alt-earth, and the 5th Dimension. Up, up and away, ICBMs! And the Arkon-ians get 29 cent a gallon gas. Now yer caught up.}

Five pages of space hockey: Gaard schooling Ben in battle, scolding in a tone  – "Return this to your miserable masters, whoever they may be – and bid them save their time and energy!" - that sounds more like a hammer-wielding Asgardian than any other random blond Marvel hero. 

Reed pops in, via Dimenso-Vision, to pep talk the Thing, then cut to the B. Building for a plot re-cap with Reed, Sue, and wound-in-Reed's-arm businessman DeVoor, who, fronting for Ark, bought up gizmos from the greatest inventors on three worlds. 

A dynamic interior splash, complete with '61 throw-back title boxes – "Part Two: Arkon at Bay!" - as the Torch and Rocky Reed go on the offensive on alt-E, taking out ground troops before Johnny flies off, guessing Ark's digs be atop the tallest skyscraper. He's right, but flies right into an ambush! Torchie's down but RR crashes through the wall (How'd he get there so fast? Shut up, kid, waddaya want for a quarter?) and the double-teamed Ark is soon sent crashing into machinery with a satisfying "Grakk! (sound effect shout-out to Prof Joe)" Rocky Reed laments that alt-E's Johnny Storm "was blown to pieces in Viet Nam last year," while he was making "war-androids."

Johnny dials up Sue on Dimenso-Vision, gets the bad news hockey score. (Our) Reed gets an idea and grabs a gizmo, then its back to Hockey Night in Hyper Space. A second Thing appears, giving lie to Arkon's promise to Gaard that he'd only battle one foe at a time. Gaard throws his stick, er, scepter, at the newly-arrived Thing, who disappears... was only a projection! Ben uses the distraction to deliver a clobberin-time haymaker, scores on the empty net, and the Nexus poofs away into nothingness. 

Game over, there's no fight left in racked-with-failure Gaard or the pensive Thing, ruminating that, somehow, Gaard's origin "would've mattered." Turn the page and the goalie mask comes off, revealing alt-E Johnny Storm, scooped up by Arkon while dying in Nam and rebuilt as the Ultimate Goalie. He skates off into space, head bowed in dejected, woe-is-me Norrin Radd fashion.

Ben blips back to the Baxter, right after Johnny (his blue-skinned inamorata, Valeria, apparently forgotten in 5th D). But romance is still in the air, for Alicia arrives and, after handing off baby Franklin, is swept off her feet – and right out of her shoes – by her orange-cobbled Galahad.
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Not only is the pop quiz cancelled, class, but grumpy Professor Mark concedes it is possible that one old man (in red) burgles the house every December, bearing gifts, and another old man (in orange) can lead my Broncos to glory. 

Why the smiles and sunbeams? Because Roy "Wonderboy" Thomas beat every bookie in Vegas, salvaging Worlds War Three from the depths of MCDdespair, a convoluted hellhole so deep after part three than even the Mole Man couldn't find it. Sure, the Arkon/DeVoor flashback panels underscore the absurdity of a near-naked demi-god, lightning bolts in a quiver on his back, plotting corporate raids with a bald, cigar-chomping businessman, who can't even afford Trump hair. But the one page recap is the only misstep here, as Thomas delivers a rousing actioner (energetically illustrated by Buckler & Sinnott), elevated by the pleasures of the final two pages.

Rebuilt and brainwashed alt-Earth Johnny behind the goalie mask packs a poignant, unexpected punch that (almost) redeems hokey space hockey. And only Doc Doom wouldn't crack a smile over Alicia's last panel toe-wiggle.

Roy rescuing this one, that's the real miracle on ice.

Chris: Gaard?  Duumb.

Bottom line: it’s a solid final chapter to an enjoyable, if convoluted, storyline.  BUT – I might’ve come away with a better feeling if I hadn’t been so distracted by the sight of Ben having to battle an other-dimensional hockey goalie (complete with stick and glove).  If I remember right, Roy took some heat in the lettercols for this one – serves him right.  I would’ve much preferred if Roy had worked from his strength, and brought back a villain from the old-old days to serve as the nexus keeper, rather than see him fabricate this laughable character.  I wonder if Rich was tempted to sketch the goalie with an iconic red-winged wheel, a “B” with spokes, or an interlocking “C-H” on his chest.  It’s stupid – no, sorry, it’s duumb.
The art continues to be very good, with plenty of stirring action; the Thing looks consistently, solidly himself (ie no weird variations on his head this time).  Still – George Perez next issue?  Sign me up.  

Scott: All I can say is, I’m glad this epic is finally done. Arkon is not my cuppa Joe. Rich Buckler’s art isn’t quite as amazing as it once was to me. The title has hit a slump and a sameness has set in. The FF needs a shot in the arm. Fast.

Matthew: Okay, yes, Gaard (who will, incredibly, return 20 years later as Vangaard in Fantastic Force #11) is, if you’ll pardon the pun, hokey.  Get over it.  I think I even sensed that as an impressionable youth, but I like the sting in the tail of his identity, and there’s so much else to enjoy that he didn’t bother me.  With Buckler and Sinnott firing on all cylinders, I’ll come right out and call the art Buscema-worthy, especially those spectacular full-pagers on 14 and 23.  And I think Roy’s handling of Ben is superb, from his trademark “Wotta revoltin’ development this is!”—apparently borrowed from The Life of Riley, and wouldn’t William Bendix have made a swell Grimm?—to the honest-to-God romantic happy ending of that closing clinch with Alicia.

Addendum:  And, as I proof this post many moons after writing my comments, I'm feeling seriously out of step with my colleagues on several books, but our faculty motto—if we had one—might well be, "Vive la difference!"

Adventure Into Fear 30
Morbius, The Living Vampire in
“The Vampires of Mason Manor!”
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Evans and Frank Springer
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

After escaping from one of Helleyes’ thousand hells, Morbius and Simon Stroud find themselves back in the basement of the haunted Mason Manor — surrounded by vampires! Morbius is incredulous, still convinced that real vampires don’t exist and that they can only be created by some scientific accident or disease. The undead creatures swarm the former biochemist while Stroud looks for an exit: when the ex-CIA agent finds an old chair, he smashes it and joins the fray, using the shattered pieces as stakes. When the ghouls are killed, their bodies disintegrate. Meanwhile at police headquarters, the female vampire escapes her bonds and kills Chief Warner, turning towards Martine when done. Back at the mansion, the Living Vampire follows Stroud up a flight of stairs: when his bloodlust kicks in, he attacks the man and both tumble through a door into a huge ballroom — filled with even more vampires! Through a combination of an ornamental, decorative spear and the collapse of a huge crystal chandelier, all but one of the neckbiters are killed. Stroud interrogates the sickening survivor who says he was bitten three nights ago and drawn to the mansion along with his bloodsucking brethren. They all pile into Stroud’s sports car and head towards Boston. Arriving at police headquarters they find the building under siege by the female vampire. Morbius kills her with an ax and rushes off to find Martine — when he does, he is horrified to discover that she has been turned herself. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: With the inane Helleyes fiasco behind him, Mantlo offers a knockdown, drag out orgy of vampire action. Well he tried, but the bland pencils by oldtimer Evans can’t wring the horror out of the situation — it might well have been Heck or Tuska. (Huska?) Since I’m new to this whole Morbius thang, didn’t know that the character refused to believe in real vampires, only living ones like himself. This is far from a must-have but at least it’s head and fangs over the last few issues. The Mail it to Morbius letters page only has one bit of fan correspondence: the rest is used for a plea titled “HELP!!” Editor Marv Wolfman actually comes out and admits that Fear will be cancelled two issues from now due to poor sales so everyone should tell their friends about all the great stuff they are missing. Gee thanks Marv, lying is not a great way to keep or make new buddies. Plus, he got it wrong: next issue will be the last not the one after that.

Matthew: The lettercol of this issue, generously provided by our august dean, does something I don’t recall seeing elsewhere, warning that the strip will, er, bite the dust if sales do not improve, a threat they were obviously obliged to carry out at year’s end.  The sole letter printed (we’re told there were two) sparks a discussion of the difficulty in determining a direction for the book, although Mantlo’s script helps, being both more straightforward than the Helleyes mess he was handed, which admittedly isn’t saying much, and more overtly horrific.  The artwork reunites the Evans/Springer team from Super-Villain Team-Up #1, over which this is a slight improvement—again, faint praise—with the “monster mash” in page 15, panel 4 achieving an almost EC feeling.

Chris: I find this a somewhat incredible statement, but: this might be the best issue of Fear in some time.  Not due to the art, no – the pairing of EC veteran George Evans with usually suspect Frank Springer yields results that are, at best, uneven.  No, I’m giving most of the credit to Mantlo, who keeps the pace of the story going, as Morbius and Stroud are on the run from the inconceivable (well, from Morbius’ perspective, at least) cadre of vampires.  Mantlo doesn’t bother infecting the script with any other weird distractions, and also manages not to bog down the action with cluttering captions, so again, I will tip my hat to him for keeping this title alive.

There’s a pathetic bit of wheedling on the letters page as the unarmored armadillo asks readers to support the fading Fear.  It probably doesn’t help that the editor points out that there had been only two letters – two! – received for this lettercol; clearly, Morbius already is on life support, with a disinherited nephew’s finger poised by the plug, ready to tug.  How many letters would have helped kept Fear in production – twenty? ten? three -?  How many letters did they realistically expect to successfully solicit (are they counting on a “silent majority” of Mobius fans out there)?  More importantly, three other monster/mystery titles, all of which had shown more promise (at one time or another) than Morbius ever did, already have been unceremoniously cancelled – how did this title warrant a desperate plea to readers to help keep it afloat -?

Ghost Rider 14
“A Specter Stalks the Soundstage”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

As Johnny Blaze prepares for his first stunt for the Stunt-Master’s TV show — riding his motorcycle up the ladder of a fire truck and rescuing Karen Page stand-in Katy Milner from a burning building — Delazny Studios accountant Cosgrove rushes on the set and puts a halt to the proceedings. The studio suit chastises director Coot Collier for using a non-Union stuntman and the filming is delayed. Suddenly, a tour group goes berserk and begins to attack the Stunt-Master. When his mentor is injured, Johnny transforms into the Ghost Rider and protects him in a ring of hellfire. A vision of the supposedly dead Orb appears and orders the hypnotized tour members to walk through the flames — but Karen Page turns on a fire hose and the spell is broken. The ghostly Orb disappears. After Karen Page gives him the cold shoulder, Johnny takes Katy up on her offer to show him around the studio. She introduces him to Richard and Wendy Pini, respectively Delazny’s special effects chief and costume designer, who might have a spare room to rent. But yet another of the Orb’s hypnotized pawns attempts to run Blaze over with a forklift. After turning into the Ghost Rider, he blasts the machine to bits with hellfire, stunning the man. Blaze returns to the set and prepares for the stunt once again — this time, per Cosgrove’s insistence, using a fire slide instead of a ladder. As he rides up the slide, Karen Page, under the spell of the Orb, aims a laser gun at the supernatural hero. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: While no one in their right mind would call Ghost Rider a superior comic, it does have a certain goofy charm. Tony Isabella continues to write like a giddy teenage fanboy, throwing adolescent ideas, mostly dumb adolescent ideas, mind you, at the wall. What sticks is dubious at best. His dialogue is filled with supposedly hip terms that are just confusing: for example, one character says that motorcycles give them “the whim-whams,” whatever that means. And only a true comic geek would name two characters after the creators of the Elfquest series. Though, Richard and Wendy Pini wouldn’t create that cult hit until 1978 so not sure how Isabella knew of them in 1975. And what’s with Blaze’s leather suit? It becomes seriously torn in the beginning but looks fine only a few panels later. Does he have a few stashed in his gas tank? Isabella has settled on having Johnny transform into the Ghost Rider whenever there’s danger — works for me. There’s a panel before Blaze attempts the stunt a second time that says he is in despair over events that happened in the same month’s The Champions #1. Haven’t read it so have no idea what the problem is: it doesn’t seem to have much impact anyways. And did Johnny get his Union card before his second attempt? It’s not mentioned, so not sure why Cosgrove would let him try again, fire slide or not. The art is just what you’d expect from Tuskolletta: big chompers, few backgrounds.

Chris: I’m not sure what to say, so let’s try this: it’s a weird issue, filled with more than its share of “wha -?” moments.  The first “wha -?” follows the Orb’s assault by a hypnotized tour group; once it’s over, does Johnny start turning over boxes and looking under tarps to see where on the set the Orb might be hiding?  Why no – it’s time to take the pretty stunt-double for a ride on his bike.  The strangest “wha -?” is the inexplicable aside/shameless plug, as Tony completely subverts the flow of the issue so he can tell us that Johnny left the story for awhile, so that he could join a team, and suffer some unrelated defeat, which stays with him, for some reason (during this time, is the Orb simply sitting around the TV set, waiting for Johnny to return?  I guess he is.  I hope he brought the latest Omni to help pass the time).  But by far, the funniest “wha -?” is the Orb’s – no wait – the Orb’s – hold on -! – the Orb’s “inescapable death trap” (I’m still laughing!), which is a board and a box, with a forklift by it.  No, I’m serious!  That’s what he (either Tony or the Orb – take your pick) called it!  Unreal.  

Once again, Tuska/Colletta drives me crazy.  Why couldn’t they have brought an average effort like this one to their recent sludgy-looking Avengers issues?  I like the transformation (bottom of p 10), as Johnny looks a bit surprised that it’s happening right now; still getting used to the “as-needed” appearance of the Ghost Rider.  I hafta ask, though – since when is GR’s hellfire powerful enough to destroy a forklift (p 27); isn’t that a noteworthy development of his powers, and if so, wouldn’t it make sense for Johnny to make some observation or comment about it -?
Matthew:  “Although George penciled two issues in a row [plus #16], he wasn’t the book’s regular artist.  However, he was great to work with:  he drew well and he knew how to tell the story.  I always enjoyed scripting from his pencils,” Isabella told Jon B. Knutson.  For me, the biggest visual problem is not Tuskolletta but the fact that GR’s neck is colored flesh-tone, as if he really is wearing a mask; I believe he should be all-skeleton under his leathers, yet don’t know if they’d settled on that yet, or thus whether to blame Rachelson.  While the Orb seems almost an afterthought amid the supporting cast (e.g., the Elfquest-creating real-life Pinis) and subplots, plus context for Champions #1-2, I think Tony strikes a good balance among them.

The Incredible Hulk 192
"The Lurker Beneath Loch Fear!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Frank Giacoia

The Hulk finds himself smack dab in the waters off the coast of Scotland after his last adventure.  A fisherman named Angus pulls him out of the deep with a fishing net.  While he initially feels threatened by the Hulkster, the Scottish fisherman realizes that this green guy is a gentle giant, and brings him home for dinner and to meet his wife. Angus has his own underlying motives for befriending the Hulk as he hopes to use him in his quest to destroy the Loch Fear Beast.  The humongous sea creature has haunted his family for years, and if Angus doesn't destroy it, his family bloodline will end.  While asleep in the guest room, the Hulk turns back into Bruce Banner.  Before he realizes what is going on, both Banner and Angus are kidnapped in the middle of the night by armed men.  Taken to an old Castle, the two find out that they are being held prisoner by a powerful man named Black Jaimie.  The rich Black Jaimie wants to prevent Angus from destroying the Loch monster because it will end tourism.  Chained to a wall, Angus and Banner are subjected to paralyzing rays and the Hulk is unleashed!  The Hulkster trashes Black Jaimie's goons and his castle, allowing Angus to escape back to his boat, to finish his family duty.  Armed with a dynamite-strapped harpoon, and joined by the Green Goliath, Angus faces down the titanic beast as it rises from the murky depths of the Loch.  While the Hulk pummels away at the monstrosity, Angus sticks in the harpoon. Black Jaimie arrives in a desperate attempt to stop them. Swimming back to safety, Angus leaves the Hulk behind to prevent Jaimie from taking the harpoon out.  When the dynamite goes off, the Hulk turns back into Banner and he rejoins Angus.  The two see the remarkable sight of the the Loch Beast and Black Jaimie both turned to stone, due to a combination of the Hulk's gamma radiation and the chemicals from the explosives. Meanwhile, General Ross takes the brain dead Major Talbot to see Doc Samson in the hopes that the Doc can cure him.  Samson tells Ross that he will need Bruce Banner's help for such a difficult task.  -Tom McMillion

Matthew: Hoot mon!  That may be the only Scottish cliché not invoked, yet my inexplicable, uninformed affinity for the Scots endears this issue to me despite its spectacularly far-fetched ending; ditto another factor besides the ongoing happy marriage of Trimpe and Seabrook-fave Staton.  Doubtless the nautical milieu cemented this memory, but I believe I acquired it at one of our ports of call on a five-day cruise with my parents and hitherto Marvel-enabling brother Stephen on the Mystic Whaler.  It might well have been Martha’s Vineyard, the location for a little picture called Jaws…which, coincidentally, opened that year, although I did not see it then (engendering much chagrin during my sole summer at sleepaway Camp Hi-Rock).

Scott: As Herb Trimpe starts to wind down, the art gets sloppier and the story lacks interest. The only thing worth paying attention to is the return of Leonard Samson. “Doc” will return tomorrow and become a regular member of the ensemble. We’re just spinning wheels until we get to the 200th issue.

Chris: I think the point is getting muddled here. Len positions MacAwber as the bad guy -- when you send a group of Scotsmen thru the window with automatic weapons, it's hard not to have this impression (plus, Len has gone so far as to name him “Black Jaimie”).  But MacAwber seems to have a viable plan to save the town's tourist attraction; Len might've thought to make this a twist, if he saved this bit of news about the chemical restraints for the end.  I would've preferred more of an even-handed debate between Angus ("Too dangerous") and MacAwber ("Too valuable"), with both presenting seemingly-coherent arguments, making it difficult for the reader (and especially, for Hulk) to determine who might be right.  Angus then could reveal himself to be the unreasonable nut-job at the end; it might be enough of a twist for Len to show us that Angus has a weapon prepared so he can destroy the creature, regardless of MacAwber’s rational solution. The final image of the frozen beastie then could include both Angus and MacAwber, as representing the contrary positions.  My two cents for our 25-cent comic.

The quest for the restoration of Glenn Talbot will carry on right up to #200, if memory serves.  I don't know how Doc Samson could possibly think that Dr Banner might even remotely contribute to Talbot's cure – he's a research scientist, not a bricklayer, for God's sake!  Or something like that – well, it's all part of the ongoing effort to keep Hulkbuster Base in the storyline, isn't it? "As the Hulkbuster Turns," I suppose.

The Invincible Iron Man 79
"Midnite on Murder Mountain!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Al Wenzel
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Returning from a meeting in Cleveland, Iron Man rescues Carrie and Keith from their storm-wrecked van in Pennsylvania and, as Tony, springs for lodging at Murder Mountain Lodge, where a scream awakens him.  He finds the couple prisoners of the owner, Prof. Kurarkill (get it?), whose brutish minion, Quasar, knocks him out; reviving, he learns how the geneticist mutated an ape into Quasar and turned a questioning assistant into another form, stealing her psychic energy.  Zero, a stray cat just adopted by the couple, frees IM by disrupting the electrical field holding them, enabling him to fell Quasar, then chews through wiring that lets “neo-apes” into the control room, and after they have torn Kurarkill to shreds, Zero emits an ominous meow. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “We admit it!” says the splash.  “Our continuity has been shot to pieces [again] by the Dreaded Deadline Doom!  We hate as much as you to break into our super-villain war just as it nears its dramatic conclusion [despite its being said to end two issues ago], but in this emergency we’ve brought up this special line-up of designated pinch-hitters”…which looks suspiciously like the starting line-up until recently.  The story is a standard-issue horror-movie plot, and Friedrich at least has some metatextual fun with Iron Man’s awareness that he’s in one; it’s also fairly brutal, with Kurarkill’s messy death making quite a strong impression on my 12-year-old self.  The tale contains so many grotesqueries that the Tuskolletta artwork seems a bit more suitable than usual. At least they spelled "Midnight" correctly on the cover...

Scott: Again the “Dreaded Deadline Doom” gives us another fill-in issue. Seriously, is this any way to run a comic book company? So many titles are missing deadlines at this point. This issue isn’t the worst of its kind, but since it’s just there to fill pages and not touch on the ongoing story, there’s no real motivation to read it. Marvel really needed CPR at this point. Happily, they wouldn’t stay in critical condition for all that much longer, but man what a slog the 70’s have been. 

Ka-Zar 11
"The Devil-God of Sylitha!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Heck and Frank Springer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Janice Chiang and John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

The stone statue of Ilak-Aron demands the sacrifice of the high priest's son Durnon, and against the protestations of fiancé Illyana, Sanda goes along as smarmy Sylitha insists it must happen. The always skeptical Ka-Zar blames Sylitha for being selfish, and he and Zabu clean house until Illyana helps them escape, through a corridor leading to the Hall of the Dead, where no one will pursue them. As Sylitha pushes Sanda to go through with the sacrifice, Ka-Zar and Illyana go from a river into a "brackish lagoon" then out of the "frothing foam", where they're attacked by giant snakes! K-Z's trusty knife slaughters some serpents, but one gets Zabu in a death grip, until his master throws the blade into its jaws, then the sabretooth is able to vanquish the last attacker. K-Z crafts a bow and arrows from some nearby saplings, and he and Illyana upset the sacrifice ritual by unleashing a herd of chained mastodons and some nifty archery, just as Sanda was about to plunge the dagger into his son. Ka-Zar and Zabu take out the "jackals" and our blonde hero makes a speech calling for Sylitha to be overthrown for using drugs and hypnosis to cloud the villagers' minds and making it seem Ilak-Aron was alive. The Van Dyked villain goes into the temple, where his own misty drugs cause a hallucination of the statue crushing him, and he is killed by "fear and evil." Ka-Zar is asked to stay in Tordon-Na by Sanda, but he declines saying "I could not stay in this place of madness…where men worship fat lumps of stone." –Joe Tura

Joe: A good thing has happened. We've passed the halfway point until this book is over! And with Don Heck and Frank Springer doing the art instead of Big John, well, that's another reason to be thankful there's only 9 issues left. The art here is not awful, but when you look at scenes like page 2 panel 6 and page 26 panel 1 (below) you realize it's not going to win any awards or make any friends or influence anyone except a preschooler. And good thing Doug Moench is on board by himself, because he needed a 16th book to script this month…

And the script is sorta all over the place, from Ka-Zar's constant insults to the Jungle Lord becoming MacGyver and forging a bow and arrow in 10 minutes from a couple of twigs—not that they said where the string came from—and the endless power-hungry whining of the vulture Sylitha, who's one of the most unlikable villains we've seen in these pages. Both he and K-Z spew a lot of political nonsense for some reason, and it's just a bit wordy. Speaking of nonsense, there are only two letters in "Comments to Ka-Zar" this month, one from Ralph Macchio of course (who must have used up all his allowance on comics and stamps), and the other written to Zabu from "Morris the Cat". Oy!

Chris: Ka-Zar situational phrase-association!  Ready?  Let’s begin: 1) trapped along a stone wall -? Open the secret passage!  2) the hidden river will lead to -? A waterfall!  3) will the giant stone idol stay in place, or -? It will topple onto the evil doer!  Hey, that was even easier than I expected; although, I will give Doug a few points for leading us to think that the statue had fallen, when in fact it was only the hallucinogenic incense that caused us to see that.  Now, how Sylitha was able to tailor the drugs so that it had a uniform effect on all people who entered the temple, is something that was not explained (because, well, it’s inexplicable).  

From now on, this sort of setting is probably best-suited for Heck (and best for us as well, as it will keep him away from other titles).  The action is laid-out well enough; plus, there are frequent brief asides in the story that allow us to witness Sylitha (Boo! Hissss!) taunting the meek Sanda — although, I don’t know whether Heck decided where to position those moments, or whether he might’ve been following cues from Moench.  The Springer-problem manifests itself most noticeably in Ka-Zar’s face, as the finished art leaves us with variations to the look of his brow and his jawline (fairly prominent features, you know) throughout the issue; a different inker might’ve cleaned up the pencils a little better, and not contributed his own complications along the way.   

The Champions 1
"The World Still Needs... the Champions!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Don Heck and Mike Esposito
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

At UCLA, five super-heroes confront mythological beings as they emerge from mysterious “holes” in mid-air:  Angel and Iceman, having declined to remain with the X-Men (in GS #1) and feeling out of place in college, combat harpies seeking Venus, a humanities professor in her mortal guise of Dr. Victoria Starr (last seen in Sub-Mariner #57).  The Black Widow, who split up with Daredevil (in #124), is waiting with Ivan to be interviewed by Starr as a prospective Russian teacher when they are beset by Amazons, and Starr flees with Natasha after securing the unconscious Ivan’s safety.  Johnny Blaze, on an unspecified errand (per #14), is transformed by approaching evil into the Ghost Rider and faces Cerberus, the shape-shifting guardian of Hades.

Cerberus’s quarry is Hercules, who has accepted an invitation to lecture on mythology (in Thor #239), and whose running battle with a group of mutates previously bested by the thunder god places him in GR’s path.  Eluding their pursuers on Johnny’s skull-cycle, they see the others on the run from harpies and Amazons, and join forces to battle their combined foes until Venus buys them a respite, immobilizing their enemies with the power of love.  But as they speculate about who is behind it all, they are felled by a blast from Pluto, who emerges from yet another mid-air portal to tell Hercules and Venus that they are ordered by Zeus to wed his companions—the Amazon queen Hippolyta and the war-god Ares—and that the universe will die if they resist. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This book that never took off about a super-hero group that never took off was one of my many underdog favorites, which says a lot about my tastes, but in retrospect, it also has a unique metatextual edge that I find curiously compelling.  Mind you, I’m quite sure Marvel hoped and intended that it would do well, but instead of being an unsuccessful series about a successful super-team, as you would expect, the storyline seems somehow to be about the strip’s own failure as much as anything else.  Of course, much of that may be traced back to—perhaps even inherent in—the widely documented shenanigans surrounding the team’s creation by Tony Isabella, as he recounted in an interview with Bradley Mason Hamlin for the Mystery Island site.

“I pitched a ‘buddies on the road’ series starring Iceman and the Angel.  Sort of Route 66 with super-heroes.  My original idea was trashed during a meeting with the editors that, in retrospect, was hilarious.  Imagine the then-writer of Fantastic FOUR [i.e., Len Wein, who was shortly to be succeeded by Roy] telling me that a super-hero team had to have FIVE members.  And then following that with equally insane proclamations like: every super-hero team needed a strong guy, every super-hero team needed a woman, and, finally, the utterly insane notion that every super-hero team needed one member who had his own title as well.  Given the editorial proclamations, I think I wrote some okay [stories].  But it was never the book I wanted it to be.

Matthew: So what is it?  Well, it’s a pretty undistinguished effort from Heck and Esposito, supporting the theory that launching new titles with second-rate artists means Marvel might be starting to spread itself a little bit too thin.  As for the group itself, it’s almost premature to say much about it, since the cliffhanger brings them together but without any formal alliance just yet.  However disparate the membership ultimately foisted on Tony may be, in Johnny and Tasha he at least gets to work with characters of whom he is or was the regular writer (he reportedly wanted to include one of his own creations, Black Goliath, rendered off-limits due to his upcoming short-lived solo book), and I do appreciate his rigorous attempt to maintain continuity with their current or former series.

Chris: I don’t know about you, but I was never completely happy with the lineup for this team.  I’ve felt for years that it should’ve been different, but I could never figure who to recommend as replacements, especially if my choices would be limited to a pool of West-coast-based characters.  Well anyway, here’s what I’ve decided: I’ve always liked Herc and the Widow for this group, so keep them; we need Angel, since he’s bankrolling the project (it’s his treehouse, right?), so keep him; I could do without Iceman, so I’d prefer to replace him with another mutant, maybe; Ghost Rider is a bit of a loner, and has had run-ins with the law, so despite Marvel’s interest in using this title to promote the character, GR is out. 

The first, obvious alternate choice for membership is someone we’ll see in the future as a guest-star, namely Black Goliath.  Marvel thought enough of him to give him his own title, so it should be easy to add him to the group.  As a clincher, Bill Foster is a West-coaster.  OK, that’s done.  The other prospective member is trickier, but I’ve finally decided that I would go with either Havok or Polaris (I realize I can’t have both, otherwise the team would be half-ex-X-Men).  I know, I know, they both left the team to pursue a private life, but I feel that both characters had been so thoroughly under-utilized to this point, couldn’t one of them serve as a charter member, at least to get the team started?  
So, that’s my Champions line-up: Herc, Widow, Angel, Goliath, Havok.  Iceman and Ghost Rider relegated to guest appearances, with contributions also by: Hawkeye, Polaris (see? I snuck her in anyway), Darkstar, and eventually Spider-Woman, assuming this team makes it past their 17th issue. 
Scott: Sad, really, how a comic with such a great cover is let down by crummy art and an uninspired writer. Do we need yet another super-hero team? This is not a long-lived book, so the answer from Marveldom Assembled will be a resounding no. In the mean time, I hope it gets better, because I barely made it through the premiere issue.

The Inhumans 1
"Spawn of Alien Heat"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Perez and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Diane Buscema
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Black Bolt silences Maximus’s ravings about a “Somnotherm” and “Kaptoroids,” granting his brother peace, and hears elderly Iridia’s petition for immersion in the Terrigen Mists to end her ugliness.  Meanwhile, freed from his adamantium prison (see Marvel Team-Up #18) by a comet plunging into the sea, Blastaar heads to Attilan on a mission for unknown “masters”:  to activate the Somnotherm and release the Kaptoroids.  Overruling Gorgon, Black Bolt grants the request, yet as the mists clear, revealing a strange, cocoon-like object in the Gene Chamber, a huge machine bursts through the floor; Black Bolt and Triton dive into the bottomless fountain to investigate, while Medusa, Gorgon, and Karnak crash their sky-sled into a wall battling Blastaar. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although short-lived, this title doubled the scope of the Inhumans’ series in Amazing Adventures (equivalent to six issues), giving them their single biggest shot at solo stardom in the Silver or Bronze Age.  It will be interesting to see how I respond to it in retrospect, this being among a curiously large number of titles I picked up with their second issues at that time. Credit or blame will lie primarily with the variable Moench, who wrote the entire run, working with three fine pencilers—Pérez, Kane, and Pollard—but rarely the same inker twice…which, in this case, may be just as well; I am insufficiently familiar with the Chiaramonte oeuvre to know if he’s poorly matched with George, still billed sans accent, or just having a bad day, but the results disappoint.

Matthew: Appearing almost four years after the Inhumans’ last strip folded, this debut is sandwiched neatly between the Pacesetter’s stints on Creatures on the Loose and Avengers, displaying his distinctive mix of spectacle and intimacy with a plethora of small panels.  I have to assume Doug did his homework by reviewing the old series, so is it a tribute or mere chutzpah that he uses exactly the same crashed-sky-sled cliffhanger ending as Roy did back in AA #6?  Either way, he seems to have a good grasp of the characters, inevitably not all of whom get a lot of time in the spotlight right out of the gate (e.g., perennial also-ran Karnak), especially with so much else going on, and despite the problem with the art, we seem to be off to a solid if unremarkable start.

Chris: I always liked the Inhumans; I really can't say why. Maybe it's the family element that contributes to their strong team concept; maybe it's the hidden city factor, and the group's role as outsiders, beyond the reach of the everyday Marvel universe (which, as an added bonus, means we won't see any issues featuring the Trapster, Stilt-Man, or the Circus of Crime). The downside to any Inhumans series is twofold: 1) Maximus always causes trouble, and 2) no one but Black Bolt can fix it. It would be like having every X-Men story feature a short-lived victory by Magneto, followed by Prof X saving the day. 

So, I guess it's promising that Doug already has started us off with a different, unexpected villain in Blastaar, and that he's introduced a few other questions to draw us in to the story, and for us to ponder as we look ahead to the next one.  I don’t remember much of anything that happens in this series (except that – spoiler alert – Black Bolt will be required to go to unusual lengths to save the day from Maximus), but for now, yes, it’s a promising start. 

I should mention that this was another "discovery" series for me, as it wasn't until years after this title had folded that I learned that Perez had pencilled five of the twelve issues.  If you had asked me, all those years ago, which team book had been first to appear with Pacesetting penciling, I'm sure I would've put my money on the Avengers, not the Inhumans (it’s one more month until George’s Assemblers debut). The first installment, with Chiaramonte on the inks, has its moments; I seem to recall that both pencils and inks show improvement over the series (that is, George continues to develop, plus the inker pairings turn out better for him).

Scott: I don’t have the faintest interest in the Inhumans, to be honest, but the George Perez art is lovely and reflects what he’ll bring to DC. In fact, this looks like a DC book. It’s almost dull enough to be one….

The Invaders 2
"Twilight of the Star-Gods!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Namor and the Torches battle Donar, Loga, and Froh (the gods of thunder, fire, and lightning) as Cap and Hilda are captured and taken inside the mountain where Brain Drain—aka Operative A.1416—oversees a power plant.  Werner Schmidt witnessed the crash of the nebula-cruiser Tekeli-Li, and was transformed by its crew into a brain and eyes floating in a bubble atop a metal body; his brain waves boosted by their energy source, he stole the ring and entranced the crew, renaming them after Teutonic gods and Wagner’s Brunnhilde.  Less susceptible, navigator MCM-XLI had fled, but now, her memory regained, she destroys the ring and plunges into the reactor, followed by the smitten Schmidt and her colleagues as the Invaders flee the atomic blast. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Reputedly a major hit, the book graduates immediately to monthly status, although however nifty the conceit of tying this in with “the favorite operas of our beloved Führer” might be, it seems a shame that writer/editor Roy didn’t have a little more time to polish his script. The most obvious questions, at least to me, are why these alien dudes were dressed up as Teutonic gods in the first place—being clearly shown to have had those personae before Brain Drain renamed them—and why they so self-defeatingly revamped Herr Schmidt.  But I look forward to the somewhat more down-to-earth stories I first encountered next issue, while the teaming of two of my least favorite artists, Robbins and Colletta, is again ironically more than the sum of its parts, if hardly brilliant.

Addendum:  Since nobody else rose to the bait, I'll identify Edgar Allan Poe's The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym as the source of the cry "Tekeli-li," subsequently borrowed (per The Yellow Site) by H.P. Lovecraft for "At the Mountains of Madness," and by August Derleth for "The Return of Hastur."

Scott: The promise of the first issues (#1 and the Giant Size) is squandered here. I was hoping for a jaunty lark, a patriotic throwback adventure pitting these guys against the Axis powers. Instead we get weird mythical people and brains on robot bodies. Creepy darkness is something we have enough of at this point. Where’s the fun?

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