Wednesday, April 29, 2015

January 1976 Part Two: The Battle of the Century? Possibly! It's Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man!

Superman vs. The Amazing Spider-Man
Published by DC and Marvel
"The Battle of the Century!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Ross Andru, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, John Romita, Bob Wiacek, and Terry Austin
Colors by Jerry Serpe
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Carmine Infantino, Ross Andru, Neal Adams, Dick Giordano, and Terry Austin

Prologue 1: Superman comes up against a giant robot in Metropolis, who knocks the Man of Steel for a loop and robs a small device from S.T.A.R. Labs. Superman shoves it into the ground, but the head flies off—a decoy so Lex Luthor can escape. Changing into Clark Kent at the Galaxy Communications Building, the Kryptonian thwarts a Steve Lombard practical joke and hears it from Morgan Edge for missing out on the giant robot story, which resulted in the theft of a programming circuit used to direct satellites in orbit. Heading to Metropolis Bay, Superman is brought on board an undersea ship by Luthor, who uses high-intensity red sun lasers to try and trap him, but Superman is too fast, melting the wall so water rushes in and he captures Luthor, but not before the bald baddie sends the circuit to a safe place.

Prologue 2: Spider-Man spots some crooks robbing the Metropolitan Museum, sets up the automatic camera and takes care of the goons, but is attacked by their boss, Doctor Octopus, who's brought along The Flying Octopus! Ock manages to knock Spidey out, and the wall-crawler is able to elude the cops despite running out of web fluid. Back to the Daily Bugle, Peter Parker gives his pics to a giddy J. Jonah Jameson, who flips out when the front-page pic turns out to be awful! Peter and Mary Jane take a stroll, but when his spider-sense starts tingling, Peter dashes into the Empire State Building to "get some water." Changing into Spidey on the way up, he runs to the top and skydives onto a nearby blimp—which turns out to be cover for the Flying Octopus! Turns out Spidey planted a tracer on Ock, and he ends the skirmish quickly, leaving the mad scientist for the cops to corral.

Prologue 3: Lex Luthor and Doc Ock are both in a New Mexico Maximum Security Prison, and Luthor uses an escape kit hidden under some false skin to set off a sonic disruptor, freeing Ock also, and the two new pals lope off to cause mischief.

Chapter 1: "Duel of Titans" starts at New York's World News Conference, and Peter tells off JJJ when the publisher tries to insult his photography skills, getting accolades from MJ. In another hallway, Clark and Lois are looking at Comlab One, an orbiting communications lab, when he's told by Edge that he's going to be replaced with a bigger name when the National Convention starts, much to Lois' chagrin. The annoyed Miss Lane climbs up a scaffold, slips and is saved by Peter, when suddenly Superman appears, zapping Lois and MJ away! Peter does a quick change, sending us to…

Chapter 2: "When Heroes Clash", and clash they do! Superman thinks Spidey might be involved with the phony Supes, but before he can set the record straight, Luthor (who was the fake Superman, of course) and Ock zap the Web-Head with a red sun radiation device, giving him increased power that puts him even with Superman! The two battle until Superman pulls his most powerful punch, the windblast sending Spidey reeling, and the angry hero swings back just in time for the powers to wear off! Spidey nearly breaks his hands punching Supes, and then the two finally break the ice and team up for…

Chapter 3: "The Call of Battle", and a trip to the Penn Central Railroad Yard, the HQ of Luthor and Ock, who are holding the two women as bait. The baddies send a hologram to further annoy the two heroes, who escape the computer booby-trap and learn the signal came from Mt. Kilimanjaro. A Masai tribe helps Superman and Spider-Man out, leading them to a boulder where a tribesman jumps out, powered by red sun radiation, but is beaten by a combo of heat vision and webbing.

Chapter 4: "The Doomsday Decision" finds Luthor and Ock at the satellite HQ of the Injustice Gang, where Lois and MJ are being held. Quick aside back to NY, where Edge and JJJ compare notes, then spot footage of the communications tower launch, which Luthor uses the programming circuit to sabotage! As a laser probe hits Earth, causing weather wackiness, Spidey in a space shuttle and Superman in flight are captured by the evil duo, who are asking for ten billion dollars. As the heroes attack, Luthor turns off the artificial gravity, causing a melee in the air that goes back and forth, until Superman is trapped in an airlock, but quickly escapes and heads toward Earth. Spidey convinces Ock that Luthor is going to destroy the planet, so the six-armed scientist destroys the programming module and Luthor's control of the probe. Superman uses his speed to halt the giant tidal wave with a wall of sound, just as Spidey mops up in space, and the two heroes part as friends with the villains vanquished. In our quick epilogue, Kent and Parker both deliver exclusives to their respective bosses, who treat their employees to dinner, which they take together with their best ladies. --Joe Tura

Joe: "The Greatest Superhero Team-Up of All Time" and "The Battle of the Century" exclaims the cover of a special edition, oversized comic that flew off the stands at Grand Candy in Maspeth, NY, one of which ended up in my 9-year-old hands. I mean, how freakin' excited were you about this one? Spidey teaming up with Superman? Against Luthor and Doc Ock? Holy crow! I wasn't the biggest Superman fan back then, but geez, this has to be incredible, no? Well….

Andru and Giordano make a solid team, even though you can find rumors online of others pitching in, from Neal Adams to John Romita to Terry Austin. Depends on who you believe, I guess, but it sure looks like Ross to me on the pencils, and the solid ink work of Giordano finishes it off brilliantly. Conway, who was one of the few to write both Spidey and Supes at the time, comes up with a whiz-bang of a plot that's slightly over-ambitious yet fun at the same time. The fight between souped-up Spidey and Superman is great to see, with my hero whacking the cowlick guy around a little, and his reaction after the power wears off is typical Web-Head ala Gerry. A solid issue that holds up after all this time, although maybe the computer screen doesn't quite do the excitement of the format justice.

But what impact did this colossal crossover have on Marvel? Well, according to Sean Howe's oft-quoted tome, Len Wein was so p-o'd that Ross was taken off ASM without him being asked, he eventually stepped down from his editor-in-chief position to only write and edit his own titles. A couple of months later, not to spoil anything, Conway returned as EIC, causing a bunch of defections and resignations (sure to upset Prof. Matthew) before quitting himself after less than a month at the top. Crazy stuff, but more on that in the months to come, class!

Fave sound effect (of course I have one) is on page 50: "KAPOW" as red sun-enhanced Spider-Man blasts the Man of Steel for a loop. Yeah, get him, Spidey!!

Matthew Bradley: Befitting its historic status as the first official DC/Marvel crossover (after the Rutland round-robin of ’72), everything about this is big, from its treasury-edition trim size to its whopping page count (92) and price ($2.00).  The key creators all worked for both companies at one time or another; Conway—best known for his and Andru’s stint on Spidey—had just left Marvel for DC, with which Giordano was closely associated, later serving as executive editor.  I think even back then my overriding concern was what handicap they’d have to give Supes so that he and Spidey could square off in any meaningful way, but despite its length it’s a breezy, fun read (presumably not in continuity), and the oversize format does allow for eye-popping visuals.

The Incredible Hulk 195
"Warfare in Wonderland"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita and Mike Esposito

A young boy named Ricky has run away from his orphanage and has hopped aboard a freight train to Florida.  It just so happens that he gets on the same boxcar that the Hulk has been stowing away on.  Ricky soon realizes that the Hulk means him no harm, and they become friends.  When some railworkers try to rough up the Hulkster, he tosses them around with ease.  The two new friends end up sneaking into an amusement park to enjoy the rides and games.  The fun doesn't last long as the Abomination arrives to bring the Hulk back to General Ross so that Bruce Banner can fix Major Talbot's brain.  With a bomb implanted in his head (by Doc Samson) that will explode if he fails, the desperate Abomination attacks the Hulk.  The two Gamma brutes fight all around the amusement park, punching the daylights out of each other.  They brawl inside a funhouse and also atop rides.  When one of the Hulk's punches seems to stop the ticking bomb inside the Abomination's head, the villain asks the Hulk to form an alliance.  Ricky takes a cop's gun to shoot the Abomination, but the scaly fiend uses the situation to his advantage by pounding on the ground and causing Ricky to shoot the Hulk accidentally.  The story ends with Jade Jaws feeling betrayed and joining the Abomination. -Tom McMillion

Matthew: This follows next month’s conclusion of Greenskin’s two-part Fantastic Four appearance, although you’d never know it because, unlike Roy, Len makes no mention of the continuity, an especially curious omission since it juxtaposes his alliances with longtime foes the Thing and the Abomination.  This doesn’t quite seem to live up to its nice Ed Hannigan cover (which always reminds me of a kaijū eiga), with its refreshingly white background.  I guess after last issue’s full-page cliffhanger of “Big-Ears,” I expected a little bit more spectacle; not that I have a serious complaint about Sal’s artwork, but Staton’s inks are undesirably heavy this time, and the plot device of little Ricky—as it were—feels old hat, especially with its contrived finale.

Chris Blake: It’s a bold play by the Abomination: “let’s see if the Hulk will stop, and listen to reason.”  Sure, Abominy really doesn’t have anything to lose by trying it – the fight with the Hulk would simply go on, and on, if Abominy hadn’t taken advantage of the moment when he tricked Hulk into thinking that Ricky had shot at him.  Of course, you and I know that Ricky would never have a reason to shoot ol' Greenskin deliberately, but since Hulk has become so inured to random acts of violence at his expense, he’s not going to take time to think it thru.  

Still, it’s some day for Ricky, isn’t it – he gets to see his sought-for Wonderland, and he’s able to enjoy it for all of about 15 seconds, before hell begins to break loose.  I’m glad Len doesn’t keep Ricky at the forefront of the entire story – under the wrong circumstances, Ricky could’ve become an insufferable Japanese schoolchild.  Instead, in our brief time with Ricky, Len finds a way to quietly make an observation about connection with others – or lack thereof – without striking us with a blunt instrument.  Len shows us how Ricky and Hulk share a deeper connection than Abomination and Hulk ever could, but since he’s careful not to hammer home the point, we have an opportunity to identify with Ricky, and appreciate how very alone he is (again) at the end.
 I’ve enjoyed Buscema/Staton so far.  I figured the solid effort they’d established from their pairing at Avengers would’ve easily carried over to these pages, but the results this time are a bit too loose and un-defined for my liking.   

Scott McIntyre: “Holy Jumpin’ Criminey!” I was a kid at the same time little Ricky was and never did I hear anyone my age (or any age for that matter) say anything resembling this.  Everything about this issue shouts “middle of the road.” The battle is long and meandering, but fairly well drawn. The ending, though, is sadly satisfying, giving the childlike Hulk an excuse to team up for the downbeat cliffhanger. I don’t know if we see Ricky again, but it’s a bummer to leave him on such a note.

The Invincible Iron Man 82
"Plunder of the Apes!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin, and Jack Abel
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

 Returning to S.I., Iron Man thwarts four uniformed men stealing the plans for his experimental cosmitronic cannon; finds the Hogans living there in case he needs help; and meets his old engineering professor, the recently released Abraham Klein, hiring him on the spot.  Tony hosts a charity event at his apartment, where he updates Roxie on Firebrand and reminds her that the Iron Man Foundation has been aiding ghetto children for years, but the party is crashed first by Michael O’Brien, who blames Tony for his brother Kevin’s death, and then by three apes with mysterious powers.  Impersonating I.M., Happy plunges from the roof while trying to stop them from kidnapping Tony, whose captor is the translucent Red Ghost—now apparently a real ghost. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With his first words (“The threat of the Black Lama has been ended forever”), Wein decisively closes the door on the Friedrich Era, and while his tenure will last but four issues, he clearly has big plans in this enjoyable changing-of-the-guard ish, introducing Abe and Michael and bringing back Kragoff.  If I may pick a nit, though, Tony should have recognized the apes from #15-16, even if he did think ol’ Ivan was deceased.  Trimpe, Severin, and Abel are collectively billed as “illustrators extraordinaire,” the MCDb confirming Herb as penciler and the others as inkers; it’s definitely a different look, and I don’t mind it, but whether those who have long kvetched about George Tuska (returning to the fold in #86) will consider it any improvement remains to be seen.

Scott: Most anyone who has spent more than a slender amount of time reading Marvel Comics won’t be surprised by the reveal in the final panel. How many teams of super-powered apes are there, anyway? The Red Ghost was never my favorite villain, so I’m not exactly breathless with anticipation over his return. Herb Trimpe, Marie Severin and Jack Abel don’t completely butcher the art, but Trimpe doesn’t seem to be the best choice for this book. He was always great at the clean, solid lines of machinery; just not so great with people. Feels like Len Wein was playing catch up with the pages and pages of exposition, but I’ve read worse. Not the shot in the arm the title really needs, but maybe it will lead to something good. Maybe.

Jungle Action 19
The Black Panther in
"Blood and Sacrifices!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Billy Graham and Bob McLeod
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

From the vantage point of a tree branch, the Panther observes the approach of four hooded figures.  He and Monica Lynne have returned to Monica’s childhood home in Georgia, due to the sudden death of her sister, Angela.  Shortly after their arrival at the gravesite, the Panther noted furtive sounds in the cemetery; now, as the figures prepare to ambush Monica, the Panther strikes from above, and routs the attackers.  He has help from a reporter named Kevin Trublood, who shares intel with Monica about Angela possibly being caught up with corrupt politicians, who were involved with a local real estate company, which in turn may have ties to the Klan.  T’Challa observes one problem: among the four assailants is one member who is black.  These men carry Klan propaganda, and wear Klan symbols, but apparently are not KKK – T’Challa identifies them as belonging to a group calling itself the Dragon’s Circle.  As he discusses Angela’s death with Monica’s parents at the family home, T’Challa is not aware that there are members of both the Dragon’s Circle and the Klan who are descending on the house, until his eye catches the sight of a lighted Molotov cocktail arcing toward the window.  The Panther plunges thru the window, grabs the flaming explosive, and hurls it back whence it came; the fireburst startles Klansmen and their mounts.  The Panther then bowls thru a second group that is trying to reach the house; he succeeds in taking two of them prisoner, as both groups of attackers sprint off into the night.  Monica’s father speculates that their troubles have only begun. -Chris Blake
Chris: I guess any storyline might seem a bit conventional after “Panther’s Rage;” after all, once you’ve spent a year (that is, in Marvel time) defending your homeland against a heavily-armed (and dino-powered!) insurrection, what sort of story could provide the proper follow-up?
At least Don has the presence of mind to do two things: 1) avoid the setting that typifies T’Challa’s non-kingly appearances, namely the big-old city of New York; and 2) introduce some mystery to the tale of Angela’s death in a small southern town.  We’ve seen that T’Challa is both tenacious and unflappable, but how well might he fare in this unfamiliar environment, unaided by allies he would trust with his life?  Should prove to be quite a challenge.  
I still like Graham & McLeod on the art, although it doesn’t look as textured and nuanced this time.  All of the action takes place at night, with most of the best parts in a shadowy, moonlit cemetery, but it doesn’t come off as moodily atmospheric as it might have.  I suppose it’s possible that the artists wanted to go with a slightly different look, rather than pretend that the whole world looks like Wakanda.  Well, I’m not wowed by it, but these two have done well enough by me this far, so I’ll patiently wait for greater moments to come again in our next installment.  

Matthew:  “Dear Don,” asks Stan Timmons in the lettercol, “Okay but what do you do for an encore?”  Well, if you’re McGregor, you embark on an ambitious new extended storyline that, in my view, maintains the same high standards in a vastly different milieu.  Ironically, it not only makes meaningless the book’s title but also outlives it, being belatedly picked up in Marvel Premiere #51 three years after cancellation, following the disappointing divergence of the Kirby-kreated eponymous Panther mag.  As for the artwork, McLeod goes from strength to strength as he offers Graham solid support, with the obvious standouts being the graveyard tableau on page 3 (far above), the “scales of justice” symbolism spanning pages 16-17 (above), and the fiery Klan konflict on page 27 (below).

Master of Kung Fu 36
"Cages of Myth, Menagerie of Mirrors!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Sal Trapani
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Shang-Chi replies to a request from a man named Moon Sun, who requests his help.  As S-C and Moon Sun are about to arrive at a “sanctuary” below street-level, they are attacked by a ninja squad.  S-C deftly defends himself, but Moon Sun apparently is killed by a knife to his back before he can answer any of S-C’s questions.  Once S-C is left to face the final ninja, he turns and finds all the other ninjas have vanished, and that Moon Sun is, in fact, alive!  Moon Sun now leads S-C downstairs, and directs him to address six separate hanging canvases.  S-C does as directed, and finds that each cover hides a cage that contains a wondrous creature: satyr, werewolf, angel-hawk, mermaid (a water-tank, in her case), unicorn, and two-headed giant serpent.  All the creatures are intelligent (and each possibly an adapted human), and capable of communicating with S-C, but their speeches tend to be in riddles.  After the introductions are completed, Moon Sun introduces his daughter, Tiko, and offers a brass tack: would S-C be willing to accompany the fabulous menagerie, as it travels to another city?  S-C feels compelled to agree, and meets the entire travelling circus at Penn Station the following morning.  He is hustled quickly onto a baggage car, where all the creatures are gathered together.  As the train pulls away from the city, ninjas assemble on the roof, professing that the circus – and Shang-Chi – must die. -Chris Blake

Chris: Wild issue.  Readers who might’ve grown accustomed to the high-adventure that has defined this title of late would have to have been very confused by developments in this issue.  Well, fans asked for stories that weren’t driven by confrontation with Fu Manchu, so no fair complaining if Doug goes far-off into other directions.  The one similarity readers would recognize from recent issues would be Doug’s way of taking up a considerable amount of space to set up the new storyline; this time, though, instead of a lengthy set-up, we have introductions with these unusual new creatures, which succeed in leaving us about as confused, but curious, as Shang-Chi must be.  The resolution of the early fight with the ninjas – which results in not only no one injured or dead, but also no property damage, as if there truly had been no one present for the furious battle of the previous few minutes – only contributes to the intrigue.  
The Pollard/Tripani team works well, although there isn’t much for Pollard to do in the bulk of the issue while S-C literally is standing in front of each of the creature cages, engaged in conversation with them.  The menagerie-members themselves are well-realized, if not terribly original or compelling on their own (except maybe for the two-headed serpent, which argues with itself).  Quite a few nifty highlights in the brisk fight sequence, especially on p 10, as S-C and one of his assailants spring to-and-from a high wire   

Mark: Freeing this ish from bag and board, I crack the cover and groan over the absence of Paul Gulacy, just like I did 40 years ago, buying MoKF off the rack. As much as I champion the Word above all in most story-telling arts, when it comes to comics, class, your aging Prof is an art-whore, first and foremost. There's a reason funnybooks aren't called literature graphic.  

Poor Keith Pollard, bless 'em, is perfectly competent here, but had he been the regular penciler 40 years ago, I'd never have become a fan of the title, and anything less than a Gulacy fix while revisiting the title now sends me in paroxysms of disappointed pique. Knowing Paul isn't likely to return for part two does nothing for my mood, so expect a pop-quiz or two this week; simple questions like name Jack Kirby's preferred cigar brand, or what's the square root of Jim Shooter's height x Gil Kane's average up-the-nose perspectives per issue...

Moench's extra-chatty script doesn't help. I dig the magical, disappearing ninjas. Moon Sun is like an Asian ancient one, complete with back-from-the-dead abilities, but his caged carney – voluptuous mermaid, unicorn-horseman, hissing snake siblings, et al., might be interesting if they did anything but talk S-C's ear off.

Moon Sun promises Shang "mysteries...delights...terror." While waiting for him to deliver, I'll be thinking up more questions for your pop-quiz.     

Marvel Feature 2
Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword in  
“Blood of the Hunter”
Story by Bruce Jones
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne
Cover by Frank Thorne and John Romita

Red Sonja comes across a large sleeping brigand: claiming it’s a poisonous Hyrkanian asp, she puts a harmless garter snake on his chest, warning him not to move. While she relives the man of his stolen loot, the brute demands that she leave behind an ornate golden key. Sonja refuses, instead tying his horse’s legs in a Hyrkanian knot, which takes three hours to untie. The haughty She-Devil rides off, stopping at a tavern where her old friend Katrin works as a serving wench — the woman claims that the key is cursed. After a time, the owner informs the winsome warrior that her horse has been stolen: Sonja procures another and gives chase. She soon catches up with the thief, who turns out to be a teenage cripple named Dunkin, his left leg replaced by a wooden peg. The Hyrkanian takes the defiant boy back to the tavern, only to discover that everyone has been slaughtered — Sonja deducts that it is the bloody work of the vengeful brigand. Red Sonja and Dunkin ride off to find the band of thieves lead by his father, Gromlic. They soon come across the men, in furious battle with rampaging Picts. Flashing steel, Sonja dives into the fray and the half-men eventually retreat. The next day, Dunkin translates the inscription carved into the glittering key — “Whosoever rules Balex … rules the world” — adding that an old mage named Neja might know the meaning. Returning to Gromlic’s camp, the woman and boy discover that, again, everyone has been brutally murdered. Leaving Dunkin behind, Sonja gallops off after the bloodthirsty brigand. Bedding down at nightfall, the heroine spies Dunkin walking towards her: he has been run through and dies in her arms. Continuing her pursuit, Sonja realizes that her prey has poisoned all available water supplies. She also comes across another massacre. Days later, her horse dies of thirst and the She-Devil eventually succumbs as well. Roused by a driving rain, Sonja finds a venomous coral snake on her taut belly: but the reptile seeks shelter from the storm in her saddlebag. The brigand, Rejak the Tracker, arrives, demanding the golden key. Sonja, too dehydrated to defend herself, mumbles that the treasure is in her saddlebag. Rejak reaches in and is bitten by the deadly striped snake. The outraged brigand falls and dies. Sonja quenches her thirst with his water sack and begins her search for Neja — and the secret of the cursed golden key. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Hot damn, this is a radical upgrade over the half-reprint premiere issue. Now I’ve only encountered Bruce Jones once before, as the writer/artist of the short “Sorcerer’s Summit” from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #8. That was fine for a back-up story in a black-and-white magazine, but he shows some true talent here. “Blood of the Hunter” is easily the best Red Sonja feature to date. A palpable sense of horror and dread permeates Jones’ story as Red Sonja comes across scores of dead bodies, all victims of the ghostly killer Rejak the Tracker. It’s nice to see that Jones will continue on for the next few issues. But the most notable credit on the splash page is obviously Frank Thorne. Many could argue that it’s either Barry Smith or John Buscema as ultimate Conan artist, but for Red Sonja, it’s Thorne hands down. I was surprised to find that Thorne got his start in the business in 1948, since his art seems so modern and surreal. And quite erotic. It no surprise that he went on to create “Moonshine McJuggs” for Playboy (below). Ample bosom swinging with the action, his Sonja is the ultimate Marvel sex bomb — but without any actual sex. Though Sonja and Dunkin do kiss at one point, rather a surprise considering the “no man” vow. Guess she prefers gimpy boy band types to brawny Cimmerians. Fightin’ Frank also deserves some props for drawing, inking, coloring, and lettering the whole shebang. By Crom, looking forward to next issue.

Marvel Team-Up 41
Spider-Man and The Scarlet Witch in
"A Witch in Time!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Ellen Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

A mysterious voice that calls to and periodically possesses her compels the Scarlet Witch to leave her husband and commandeer a Quinjet to Dr. Doom’s castle, felled by an unseen force as she releases her final hex, a fireball that travels to Manhattan and summons Spidey to her side.  Her foe identifies himself as Mather, attacks Spidey with a cross that shoots “the fire of the Lord,” and has the enthralled Wanda propel him into a pit before using Doom’s time platform to transport them both to 1692.  Barely escaping a cave-in, Spidey sees the setting on the controls, deduces that their opponent is Cotton Mather, and follows them back in time to Salem, Massachusetts, where—soon joined by the Vision—he finds Wanda amid the witch-riots. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This begins a beloved arc that, to me, is the hallmark of Mantlo’s stint on the book, yet reading it again, I am unnerved; continued stories are great, but not when padded out to achieve that status, and to be blunt, not a lot happens here, some of which is in sore need of clarification next time.  Worse, Bill perpetuates a conspicuous error that, I am sorry to say, was introduced by Stainless Steve Englehart in his concurrent Avengers time-travel storyline:  the “long-abandoned” castle containing Dr. Doom’s time platform is located in upstate New York (as correctly shown in Avengers #56), not in Latveria.  At least Our Pal Sal is on familiar ground with Wanda and her hubby, having drawn a score of Assemblers issues by now, and Esposito is his usual reliable self.

Joe: This begins the time-travel Team-Up saga that really tugs at the ol' memory banks. Sal and Mike are at top form, and Bill chips in a cool script (time machine placement not withstanding, as relayed by Prof. Matthew above) that leaves a couple of questions to those who stop to think. Why does the big ball target Spidey? Or is he just the closest one to it at the time? Can the time machine also change cities like that, from Latveria to Salem? You mean it's not like the Back to the Future DeLorean? Does it seem strange that Spider-Man, one of the most "grounded in reality" of all Marvel heroes, is catapulted through time without batting an eyelash? Won't he miss Aunt May or worry about not getting back? Well, then it wouldn't be a wacky Team-Up issue, would it...

Marvel Two-In-One 13
The Thing and Power Man in
"I Created Braggadoom! 
The Mountain That Walked Like a Man!"
Story by Roger Slifer, Len Wein, and Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Geneticist Arnold Krank tells Power Man how he carelessly allowed an unidentified substance into his cellular tissue, creating a protoplasmic mass that absorbed his employer and an inquisitive reporter, grew into a giant humanoid figure, and fled.  Asked why he didn’t contact the Fantastic Four, Krank reveals that he did, and sought Cage’s help while Ben battled the creature in Central Park, where he is so amused by the sound of Ben crashing into the amphitheater that—as his mental processes catch up to his size—he calls himself “Braggadoom.”  His atomic structure is unstable, so Cage stops Ben from triggering critical mass with a punch, and their battle drains enough energy to shrink him to toy-size, allowing Krank to raise his “son.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This is abysmal.  The lesser evil is the artwork, which (except for Krank’s annoyingly cartoony eyes) is merely mediocre, reuniting Wilson with Cage—who, ironically, begins subbing for Ben in the FF two months hence—and, alas, Colletta.  The title augurs a guilty-pleasure pre-super-hero monster pastiche, but Mantlo’s burgeoning run is rudely interrupted with this dog scripted by Wein, who launched the strip in Marvel Feature #11, and the undistinguished Slifer, who will resurge in #38-41, from Wolfman’s plot.  Illogic abounds, the pseudo-science is off the charts, Krank’s stuttering narration grates, the squabbling “heroes” needlessly trade nearly as many blows with each other as they do with the monster, and letterer Rosen misspells “Adolph” Hitler.

Scott: Luke Cage and Ben Grimm are a natural for teaming up. Both have huge strength, but are more street level in their natures. Of course, Ben has to have the superiority complex that goes with being one of the first heroes of the MU. Their interplay is the highlight of an issue that just takes too damned long to get going. There’s not much here, otherwise, and the tacked-on downbeat ending is a token effort to add pathos to a monster mash. Why Krank isn’t held accountable for all of the destruction is lost on me.

Skull the Slayer 3
"Tumult in the Tower of Time"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Steve Gan and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Color by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

A dinosaur stampede leaves Skull and his band of castaways searching for answers. What frightens a T. Rex? An expedition leads them to a valley and an eerie sight: scores of dead men, human and otherwise, bound to stakes as if in warning to trespassers. Further on into the valley, the trek ends at a skyscraping temple, obviously of alien origin. Could this be the home of the ancient alien they discovered (last issue)? They ascend the tower and, once at the top, discover a startling secret: the land they have been transported to is but one of a series of time eras stacked upon one another. Before they can explore further, a robotic T. Rex attacks them. Scully uses his new super-powers (gained from the belt he stole from the dead alien last issue) to defeat the machine. Meanwhile, Corey has taken advantage of the distraction to do a little investigating on his own and becomes ensnared on the next level by a band of Egyptians. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: We never do find out what created the dino-stampede so I assume it was a plot device to get us to the tower. That's no problem really as, once we get there, Marv's hodgepodge of the last couple issues begins to take form and gel into a fascinating and befuddling little sci-fi opera. The "temple of time" (nicely depicted by Gan and Marcos in a two-page spread) is a fabulous mechanism, put in place by Marv, obviously, to open the title up a bit and create new possibilities for further plot lines. Dinosaurs and humans can be milked successfully only so many times (see DC's "The War That Time Forgot" series being discussed on bare bones) before the yawns begin. The issue's best sequence, the discovery of the valley of corpses, is perhaps glossed over a bit quickly (Ann's terror quickly turns into a woman's desire to wear new clothes) but I'm hoping new scribe Stainless (who steps in for a brief round of scripting next issue) can add some of his savvy to the proceedings before we're doubtless headed back into the Valley of Mediocrity when Angry Young Man-tlo guides us the rest of the way. Can't wait for the prehistoric milieu to be overrun with racist cavemen and trigger-happy "pigs." For now, though, enjoy a really fun story.

The Mighty Thor 243
"Turmoil in the Time Stream!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Their battle with the Servitor a mere prelude to the real story behind the scenes, Zarrko the Tomorrow Man wants the aid of Thor and company to defeat a future menace, the Time-Twisters, beings who move backwards through time on a spiral path that intersects with Earth every 30 centuries.  The cosmic energy of their passage will destroy the Earth, first in Zarrko's chosen time  (the 50th century ), guessed it. Thor agrees to help. Aong with the Warriors Three and Jane, they travel in Zarrko's time cube to the 50th century. While in Asgard,  the Vizier is unable to convince Odin to recant on the forsaking of his son. Thor and crew battle dinosaurs and warriors out of time,  a sign of the coming disturbance. Arriving in Zarrko's chosen home, Thor is disappointed that it is one of poverty not affluence. It seems Zarrko is happy to rule over others,  not help them.  Soon the conversation is academic --the Time-Twisters have arrived! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I said last month the issues of this era were pretty good; writer Len Wein is one of the reasons. We get the unusual cooperation between hero and villain here,  a recipe that can yield impressive results. Not surprisingly, Zarrko's nature is clearly unchanged as he is content to not help his subjects.  A bit odder is the fact that Odin cares so much about the Jane Foster thing and is furious with Thor about it.  Who cares, daddy? It seems his tenure on Earth didn't do much for his humility. Maybe there's more going on here. T-Rex and Mongolian warriors are a delightful distraction but the Time-Twisters themselves look worth the wait.

Scott: Oy vey! Odin and his “I have no son” schtick grows wearisome and it’s only just begun. We’ve been down this road so many times before I can recite it by heart. Zarrko’s return only makes this feel even more like a rerun. Only the art makes this one shine at all and, even so, Jane Foster still looks something like a throwback to the mid 60s with her clay helmet hairdo. Okay, when I’m commenting on hairstyles in a comic book, there’s definitely something amiss.

Matthew: Not that you’ll care, but I’m starting to realize that as regular a buyer as I may have become by this point, I still wasn’t picking up all of “my” titles consistently off the rack, because I have no recollection whatsoever of this one, even from when I presumably acquired it as a back issue; I might as well be reading it now for the first time, for all the memories it sparks.  None of which is any reflection on the book’s quality, and the Buscinnott artwork is naturally delectable, particularly the “widescreen close-up” of Odin in page 11, panel 5 (far above), which reminds me of nothing so much as a Sergio Leone movie.  As for Len’s script, ever the nitpicker, I would single out the line “thine is a most tarnished jewel indeed” (page 30, panel 5), since metals tarnish, not jewels.

Chris: I feel like we just had a story with the Army Across All Ages in Fantastic Four, but it’s fine – the action continues briskly along.  Len is paying early dividends as the new helmsman of the hammer-swinger.  

I created some problems for myself when I found this issue in a $1 bin somewhere, some time ago – who knows where or when anymore.  At that moment, the oldest issue of Thor I owned was in the #260s, and now curiosity had added this single chapter of a considerably-older story to my collection.  What to do?  I considered divesting this orphan, but instead, you know how I handled it – that’s right, thru comic shops and conventions and eBay, I not only filled in most of the issues in that 20+ issue gap, but (for some reason) I also picked up most of the ones going back as far as #220.  Such is life for the hopeless Marvel maniac.  

The Tomb of Dracula 40
"Nightmares of a Living Deadman!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Frank Giacoia

The vampire hunters, along with hack writer Harold H. Harold, and secretary Aurora, hide out with a U.S. miltary platoon.  Aurora has been having nightmares about Dracula's recent death.  Rachel Van Helsing soothes her, telling her she understands what Aurora is going through.  Rachel talks about how Dracula had once seduced her, when she was sixteen years old, even though she witnessed him kill her parents when she was a small child.  When the military moves out to eliminate Dr. Sun, the evil brain puts his plan into motion and hypnotizes them, using the powers he siphoned off  Dracula.  Dr. Sun leaves the vampire crew, and their two friends, unmolested as a way of toying with them.  They all escape after the mind-controlled army troops try to capture them.  As they recoup, Quincy Harker comes to the realization that they need to bring Dracula back to life, as only the Count can defeat the powerful Dr. Sun.  Frank, Rachel, and Harold sneak into Sun's hideout to steal Dracula's urn and Rachel kills the monstrous henchman Juno with her crossbow.  With their mission accomplished, the story ends with the trio bringing the Count's ashes back to Quincy Harker. -Tom McMillion

Mark: Somewhat schizo, this one. Marv and Gene/Tom continue ratcheting up the tension as they build toward the Dr. Sun dénouement. It's – mostly - a gripping, four-fang gothic, but with some missteps along the way. 

The biggest stumble concerns the Woody Allen of bad horror lit, Harold H. Harold. Unlike some of my esteemed colleagues, I like Harold, but he's not a candidate for a creepy-crawl commando raid on Sun's HQ, as Marv must know. Nonetheless, Harold goes hand-over-hand on a rope between buildings for the sole purpose of delivering his neurotic, self-deprecating schtick, not because it makes a lick of sense. Earlier, HHH stole a car so our heroes could escape the hypnotized military, now serving as Sun's Praetorian guard. Harold would have an asthma attack just considering crossing against the light, but Marv would have us believe he's hot-wiring hot rods now?

Scott: Good God, enough with Harold and his constant “comedy.” Even though he proved accidentally useful in the end, why even bring this guy along on so dangerous a mission? Also, since Dr. Sun can control people’s minds, why couldn’t he stop them from taking Dracula’s ashes? And if they couldn’t be stopped, why didn’t they just smash Dr. Sun’s container and squish him under a shoe or something? The flashbacks were interesting and a way to involve the momentarily deceased Dracula, but I knew they wouldn’t even try to keep him dead for long. It’s just a disappointment that the story was so slipshod. 

Chris: Marv allows his characters an opportunity to discuss carefully whether they are prepared to accept the possibility of reviving Dracula.  I appreciate that Marv keeps the discussion civil; there’s a part of me that would’ve liked to have seen Rachel raise an objection, especially after Dracula had sent two servants to her home to threaten her, to provide an escape option from Quincy’s traps (as seen in ToD #32).  The group understands that, in the struggle to destroy Dracula, Quincy has had a higher price to pay than any of the others, which gives him the right – and the onerous duty – of making the decision for them.  Wise choice by Marv to spare us from Harold-interjections during most of the discussion, and to keep the Harold-business close to a minimum for most of the issue. 

Mark: The other issues – how does Sun's hypno-ray know not to work on Harker's Fearless Fanger Squad, and the Powers That Be do nothing after a unit of the US Army turns rogue in Beantown? – are minor compared to Marv's now overboard infatuation with Harold. A dollop of comic relief in a horror mag was a nice wrinkle, but Harold's expanding role is a greater threat to TOD than our brain-box Doc.

As we wait for Wolfman to resolve his self-inflicted dilemma, continue to revel in the Colan/Palmer graphics and trust that the Lord of the Damned will triumph over the four-eyed threat of open mike night at the Comedy Crypt. 

Werewolf by Night 36
"Marcosa in Death"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Don Perlin

A desperate and angry Jack climbs up to Marcosa, who vanishes when Jack reaches for him, leaving Buck to fall to the floor, breaking his leg. Skeptical Jack, not thinking Buck is real, turns into the Werewolf with the moon only a quarter full, but still has Jack's thoughts. Buck convinces Jack-Wolf he's real, and when JW leaps down to help, the dead Topaz awakes as a ghoul! JW soon puts her down, but when he and Buck enter the dining hall they find the real Topaz, who via the skull found in the gargoyle learns there are "sympathetic presences" in the house that can help them defeat Marcosa. They take a newly collapsed Buck upstairs and Elaine bursts through the door, stabbing Topaz in the shoulder! JW smacks her in the jaw, then Lissa shows up and JW and the women reunite in the dining hall. Suddenly, Marcosa and the peasant are battling, and the peasant throws a fireball that sends the quartet into the cellar, where Topaz puts the skull with the headless skeleton in the wall—and it releases the peasant, actually the spirit of Gideon Blaine, theatrical magician and hypnotist (not too suspicious, that!) whose wife was killed by Marcosa, who then beheaded Blaine and walled him up. They break through the wall to find the spirits of Marcosa's other victims, who will sacrifice one of their own to save Buck. Opening another door to try and destroy Marcosa's remains, the quartet is attacked by hellish tentacles! The spirits all disappear, Jack-Wolf fights back the tentacles, and suddenly they hear police sirens. But it turns out they're zombie cops! And Buck awakes to reveal he's really Marcosa, setting up what's billed as the "FINAL ENDING!"—Joe Tura

Joe: Amazingly enough, WWBN gets a mention in this month's Bullpen Bulletins, explaining that the book, when it was just actually getting good for the first time since it was de-Plooged, is going bi-monthly. "At the same time, the terrific team of Devil-May-Care DOUG MOENCH and Dutiful DON PERLIN discussed their newest plans for everyone's favorite shaggy-star himself, WEREWOLF BY NIGHT. Yeah, you heard it here first! Contrary to all rumors, Jack Russell's favorite alter-ego has not gone the way of all out-of-work monsters. Instead, his book will continue coming at ya as always, only now on a bi-monthly basis. The two D's have a few special ideas that they've worked out together, and they just can't wait to hear your reactions. So, if you're a regular reader of WEREWOLF, or you're just someone looking for something a wee bit different, be sure to pick up our favorite lycanthrope on your way back from work or school. We've got a hunch that he won't let ya down."

On the letters page, we get even more info on the bi-monthly thing, partly so Doug and Don can work on their Moon Knight tale for Marvel Premiere, billed here as a "STUNNINGLY SPECTACULAR SUPER-SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT" which is Stan-level hyperbole for sure. Editor Marv Wolfman goes on to explain that WWBN is not being cancelled, but actually was, with issue #37 slated to be the last one. But the slipping sales did not slip "as severely as was first thought" so it was reinstated and will continue as a bimonthly unless sales "sufficiently rise" to return it to monthly status. Also, the creators are "even now working on a way of converting the Werewolf into a more interesting and 'viable' character" which could be good, could be bad. Time will tell, I guess!

Joe: As far as this issue, we get more and more answers as well as more and more questions, and it's hard to keep up with the breathtaking pace of switcheroos. Of course, we know Buck isn't really Buck, but he almost makes us believe so, only to turn out to be Marcosa the evil annoying one. Lots of wackiness is put on the page by Doug, from Topaz with teeth to the fireball-throwing peasant, to Gideon Blaine who comes and goes but leaves a whole backstory, to the promised end of this tale, which as confusing fun as it can be at times, is probably well overdue since there's only so many times Elaine can stab Topaz before it actually happens for real. Don does a nice job art-wise, except for some "smiling Jack-Wolf" close ups that are in-between smiling and grimacing. Kinda like me trying to make full sense of all the shenanigans in this issue!

Chris: “The Mummy is down!  Frankenstein’s Monster is finished!  And now, now Morbius, the Living Vampire, is out, too!  And so, standing alone at the center ring, arms raised over his head in triumph, is the master of them all, Count Vlad, Dracula himself!  Look at him shake his fists, and snarl at the crowd!  But wait – stirring from the corner – I thought he was done!  How about this, Howard – crawling back to the center of the ring – it’s Werewolf by Night!”

“Never, in my career in broadcasting, have I ever, ever witnessed, such a remarkable, such an unbelievable show of courage, of determination!  It is, truly, out-standing.  I have never seen such a dramatic moment like this, ever before, anywhere!” 
“Yeah, great Howard – but wait – I’ve just heard – Werewolf  has been bumped down to bi-monthly -!”
But seriously folks – did anyone really think this title would hang around this long, especially after issues #17-24 -?  

Chris: My first exposure to this title came from this little issue, #36, which I picked up thirty-five years ago at a flea market – might’ve paid 25 cents for a VG copy; who knows, maybe they were three for a dollar -?  Anyway – I don’t have any idea what drew me to this title.  It might’ve had something to do with the fact that I’d never heard of this werewolf before (he apparently wasn’t the same one from the Lon Chaney movies), so I figured I’d take a chance on a Marvel Blast from the Recent Past.  
It’s always a little strange when the only chapter you have available to read is the penultimate segment of a long story, especially when it’s a tale as bizarre as this one.  Doug sets us up beautifully; he’s already made it clear that nothing is as it seems, and that danger lurks in every shadow, but we’re duped right along with Jack & Co when we reach the reveal at the end, and see that Marcosa has been masquerading as Buck.  But wait – is this another illusion, or has he possessed the corporal form of the real Buck?  It’s quite a whirlwind.  
Since, for many years, this was the only issue I owned, I’m sure I didn’t get the significance of Jack changing to lupine form, and still retaining his own personality.  The letters page hints at changes-to-come in Werewolf, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see if this is a part of that.  For now, how about the really peculiar image of Jack-as-Werewolf, smiling as he’s chatting with Lissa (p 16)?  Odd, but clever, ya know? 

The Invaders 4
"U-Man Must Be Stopped"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

As Cap and the Torches commandeer a Douglas “Dauntless” dive-bomber from an irate General C.B. Slinkard’s airbase, hoping to stop Churchill in the flying boat Berwick, Namor tells Bucky how, as acting emperor, he’d exiled Meranno—who gained super-powers through his “perversions of science”—for approaching the Nazis.  Now a war correspondent, Betty Dean is covering Churchill’s arrival when U-Man appears, and radios the Berwick to veer off, but U-Man grabs a pontoon that skims the water.  The Invaders arrive, and while Cap fights Meranno’s men, Namor drives him off, getting the upper hand with his amphibious ability, then helps the Torches pull the Berwick out of the vortex (in which Churchill sees a dinosaur) that sucks up the U-boats. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A funny thing happened on the way to monthly status:  after one issue, it was tabled for almost a year (when it finally stuck), so for now we’re back to pasting the Axis only every 60 days, except for the Marvel Premiere crossover.  In my opinion, this book peaked early, and it’s these single-digit issues that I remember most fondly, notwithstanding the Robbins/Colletta artwork to which I have become fully resigned as appropriate for the subject matter.  Not sure that at age 12 I quite connected the dots between the babelicious Betty seen here and the modern-day matron Isabella just killed off in SVTU, but at any rate, I really like the rogues’ gallery Roy is establishing for the team, and although I was not a regular Skull reader, I’ll always welcome a little cross-pollination.

Chris: I give Bronze-era readers plenty of credit for wanting this new title to be just as thought-provoking as so many other Marvel offerings of this period.  At the same time, I completely agree with Roy’s position here: The Invaders should reflect its time, and be entertainment for its own sake, even at the cost of the depth of storytelling and characterization that has come to define the Marvel Age of Comics.  There are a few Marvel titles that I always have accepted as good clean fun, without asking anything more from them, and The Invaders has been on that list.  

Robbins + Colletta is markedly acceptable.  This is Colletta on a good day, when he’s able to apply shading that’s mostly free of scraping and scratching.  As for Robbins, we get a few laughably exaggerated expressions (the general’s great-horny-toads look on p6 pnl3 is especially hilarious), and one traction-inducing move by Namor (p27, pnl2), but otherwise, it’s quite okay, as the art helps the story maintain its high-spirited pace.  

Scott: More slam-bang, two-fisted fun as we get away from the cheesy demi-Gods and back to good old-fashioned super-powered fisticuffs and Nazis. Much as Frank Robbins’ style grates on my eyes, he’s still a perfect fit for this title. He actually feels more like a 50s throwback, like Sheldon Moldoff, who did all those crazy issues of Batman. The Torch’s hair is a little too long for the era but, all in all, a wacky good time.

Mark: Time for a fun book, and there's nothing quite like a nostalgic, world-aflame romp through WWII. The greatest catastrophe in human history was great story fodder even while it was happening, and Timely's Big Three were in combat a year before the country was. War-baby (November, 1940) Roy's abiding love of the Golden Age and Robbins' cartoony, rubber-limbed renderings are a perfect match to evoke that era.

Behind a dynamic, fireballs-ablazin' Kirby cover, "U-Man..." offers adrenalized action on every page. So what that the Dauntless dive-bomber Cap hijacks from a D.C. air base is a carrier plane, only deployed in the Pacific? It's a hoot to see the Torch and Toro serving as on-the-wing afterburners as our heroes close in on U-Man, even as the aquatic quisling closes in on Churchill.   

Namor gets first licks at his fellow fishman, but all the guys – and intrepid reporter Betty Dean – join the fray. Yeah, the ships-and-planes-drawn-toward-a-mysterious-vortex ending (that's only explained, apparently, in Skull the Slayer) is a bit of a cheat, but like the shagged-out Torch, we're too exhausted from the pell-mell pace to sweat the small stuff.

Have a Lucky Strike and enjoy today's victory. Tomorrow, on to Berlin and Tokyo...

Also This Month

Chamber of Chills #20
Crazy #15
Kid Colt Outlaw #202
Marvel's Greatest Comics #61
Marvel Classics Comics #1 >
Marvel Super-Heroes #55
Marvel Tales #64
Marvel Triple Action #27
My Love #38
Rawhide Kid #131
Ringo Kid #25
Sgt Fury #131
Strange Tales #183
Tomb of Darkness #18

Those Marvel-ous Magazines

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 20
Cover by Ken Barr

Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rudy Nebres

"The Beginning"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Jack Abel

Iron Fist continues his battle, in the Land of the Dead, against evil menace Dhasha Khan. Danny has been blinded by his enemy and yet fights on, vanquishing all takers. Soon, only Khan stands and, revealing he has other plans for Iron Fist, the ruler of the dead transports Danny into another part of the Land, a place that resembles New York. A variety of menaces (including Danny's own mother) try to erode the hero's resolve but he proves to be too powerful for them all. In the end, IF is faced with death himself who informs the young hero that the Soul-Slayer is here to take Jade's soul. A bright light... then armageddon. Danny and Jade pull themselves from the wreckage, Danny believing the duo have survived the worst. But when Jade rises and shows Danny her blank eyes, he realizes her soul has been taken.

The Temptations wrote a song about funny book stories like this one: "Ball of Confusion." I struggled to make heads or tails of the script (half of my synopsis is total bullshit -- you figure out which half), one that sees Claremont mixing in heaping helpings of the supernatural into a strip that should probably stay grounded (other than things like fists that glow, that is) into the real world. Now, having said that, I should state that I liked the pacing and the action (which is virtually wall-to-wall) and the plot when I could understand it. Rudy Nebres is back to doing weird things with his full page art , with one panel oozing across borders and one character's feet becoming another's forehead (I'm reminded of that great scene in John Carpenter's The Thing when the men are faced with a jumbled carcass of several different beings). It's tough, at times, to figure out just what's going on but the plot line still holds my fascination and I trust Chris Claremont to tell me when to put my tray up and my seat in its full upright position for the descent into awareness sure to come soon.

Street gang The Nomads are about to off a white pig when the latest kung fu superhero, The White Tiger, puts an end to the festivities. When he's put the dogs in the dirt, he turns to find a very young boy, a Nomad recruit, pulling down on him. Before the lad can fire, the cop bashes his skull in and smiles. White Tiger loses it and beats the man and leaves the scene. During the gang takedown, The Tiger is shot and injured. Losing consciousness, the Tiger suddenly turns back to his alter ego, hispanic youth Hector Ayala. Hector has inherited the powers of the Sons of the Tiger after fishing out their discarded medallions from a dumpster. Meanwhile, the Sons all go their separate ways after calling it a day in the superhero world but Abe can't seem to elude trouble when a beautiful girl switches suitcases with him at the airport. Back at Hector's apartment, the police arrive to question him about a gang-related homicide.

After a typical "Voice of the People" opening from Bill "Angry Young Man"-tlo, I settled in and expected to hate this initial offering in the White Tiger saga but found myself, miraculously, involved in the narrative. Oh, sure, it took some weaving and dodging all the deep insights about our crummy world and racial inequality but this White Tiger guy intrigues me. Does the hero vanish to a limbo or other dimension (ala Mar-Vell and The Mighty Thor) while Hector's got his civvies on? What's the story behind the illness that overcomes the Tiger after the gang melee? Why in the hell do we have to read first Spanish then English translation? Annoying to the Nth degree. Bill could have dazzled us with his bi-lingual prowess for one or two panels and then done a Hunt for Red October and assumed his audience was smart enough to know what language these guys were speaking. As it is, the format leads us to believe these Hispanics are speaking their native tongue and then following it up with a "Oh, hey gringo, this is what I said!" In any event, I'm hooked. The Hector/White Tiger character will go through some interesting changes in his time before crossing paths with Matt Murdock when Ayala is framed for murder. -Peter Enfantino

Marvel Preview 4
Cover by Gray Morrow

"Starlord First House: Earth!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Steve Gan and Bob McLeod

"The Sword in the Star! Slave 1: Alas, the Seeds of Man!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Ed Hannigan, P. Craig Russell, and Rick Bryant

We start with a moody Grey Morrow cover that has us intrigued. Then the guts kick off with an Archie Goodwin editorial where he basically says he doesn't like "space operas", instead is a fan of classic 50s sci-fi, and even though Starlord qualifies as a "space opera", he likes it anyway. So, there you go.

Then there's a one-page intro by Steven Englehart where he tells us how Starlord came to be, and quite honestly I read it twice and still can't figure out what happened other than Marv Wolfman called him with a character name and put the ball in Steve's court. And what did he come up with? "Heroic Fantasy in the Far-Flung Future", so sayeth the letterhead.

In 1962, Peter Quill is born to Meredith and Jack Quill in the Western United States, and father Jack flips out, thinking the child isn't his, taking the baby out to kill him, but a sudden heart attack takes care of that idea. Peter grows up well, fascinated by the stars, until one day in the Spring of 1971, during a walk, he sees a strange circle in a valley, which has him dreaming even more. Two years later, he sees an actual spaceship, drags Meredith to it, and the long-tailed aliens shoot and kill her! The local sheriff doesn't believe Peter's story, but the 11-year old vows revenge! Cut to 1987, and Peter is in the NASA training center, with an apartment packed with star charts, astronomy equipment, and an owl. He gets top scores on every test and training simulation, even saving fellow trainee Greg Harrelson from a runaway centrifuge. Two years go by, and Peter is passed over for the Mars probe, told he's not compatible with anyone, and he angrily trashes his home and gets blotto. Luckily, he gets a second chance and gets a gig at space station Eve.

1990, and a star-struck Peter is happy, until one day the station gets a message that a "terran of your selection shall be taken" when the lunar eclipse hits to "assume the Starlord's glorious destiny"! Peter volunteers, but is turned down and sent back to Earth, which left Harrelson to be sent to the strange being. But determined Peter steals a scout-ship and flies back to Eve, showing off his prowess with a laser rifle, knocking out Harrelson, and suddenly he disappears! He's taken to the God-like Master of the Sun, who outfits Peter as the Starlord, with powers of flight and an energy gun that shoots all four elements. Next he appears in outer space, meeting an alien ship filled with the same creatures that killed his mother. Starlord kills them all, and is back in front of the Master (did he ever leave?), free of his past life, having fulfilled his vow of vengeance, and his strange destiny has begun.

This, the first of five appearances of Starlord in this title, is a decent intro to the character. The art by Steve Gan is solid throughout, with some excellent violent full page panels like pages 29 and 39. Gan is another of Marvel's many Filipino artists who I was unaware of, and also worked on Skull the Slayer, Savage Tales and Savage Sword of Conan. Did not expect Englehart's take to be so angry and prone to physical outbursts, plus Quill being a major boozehound at one point. But hey, ya gotta start somewhere. Good stuff overall, if slightly uneven, that held my interest throughout.

Which is more than I can say for the intro to our second tale, which went on for two and half pages of
insomnia-curing words. The Sword In The Star was inspired by Homer's Odyssey is the gist of the article, but boy did it go on and on. And the story itself is sorta all over the place, although there's lots of action, death and intrigue. And it's OK at best, with average artwork and a melodramatic plot that leaves us hanging big time.

Ithacon Prince Wayfinder is told of the prophecy that he will not be King, even though his father dies on the battlefield. Led away by the wizard Delphos as the Black Ships of the Hammin attack his people and decimate them, the pair make it to Delphos' inner sanctum, packed with relics from a lost age, and Wayfinder is shown the star-spanning history of Man, then soon after, the Hammin locate the cavern! Aided by computer Alkinoos, Wizard and Prince take off on Delphos' ship, the Star-Seed, but as Delphos lies mortally wounded by an alien blast, he tells Wayfinder he should use his blazing sword to search the stars. -Joe Tura

So, this is supposed to be the dude who, as played by the doofus from Parks and Recreationwhich I otherwise lovetoplines the ersatz Tinseltown Guardians of the Galaxy?  Whatevs.  In a bitter irony, I discovered this in my trusty Marvel Firsts, where it appears directly adjacent to the debut of the actual Guardians’ own strip in Marvel Presents #3, so impartiality is clearly out of the question, but I’ll be as fair as I can.  Englehart, who created the character with another Steve, i.e., Skull the Slayer’s Gan, details the story’s roots in his interest in astrology in his reprinted introduction, and then offers another perspective, written almost forty years later, in the self-congratulatory afterglow of the film’s success, on his website.

"The Sword in the Star"
I conceived something very large. My hero would go from being a jerk to the most cosmic being in the universe...After his earthbound beginning, his mind would be opened step by step, with a fast-action story on Mercury, a love story on Venus, a war story on Mars, and so on out to the edge of the solar system, and then beyond.  Butafter I established him as a jerk, I left Marvel, so no one ever saw what he was to become.  The guys who followed me…settled for smoothing off his rough edges...So there sat Star-Lord, mostly ignored for many years, until Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning made him the leader of a small band of misfits called the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the rest is history.  Thank God he never got past his initial state,” notes Stainless.

My overwhelming impression of this story is that at 32 pages (even minus Steve’s text piece and two full-page illos), it’s very Very VERY long, and by that I do not mean that it’s boring or feels padded out in the strictest sense of having extraneous material added to up the page count.  But it is interesting to note how much incident he packed into, say, two of his Avengers Mantis/Vision origin issues with only slightly more space.  No doubt he welcomed the larger canvas, yet at the end of the day, the plot-to-page ratio is pretty low.  Well, it’s an interesting story, with nice art by Gan, and although I’ve never read a word of Perry Rhodan, I was exposed to enough of the Ace Books editions as a lad to smile at the reference, so I don’t consider this a waste of my time. -Matthew Bradley

Note to Prof. Matthew—Yes, this is the same character that appears in the GOTG movie, which you will probably and unfortunately never see. However, the character, as well as the roster, seems to have changed and evolved over time (much like the Avengers roster changed endlessly may I add) to the trench coat, gas mask-wearing, wise-cracking one that inspired the Chris Pratt Starlord, not exactly this one here in his first go-round. -Joe Tura

"The Sword in the Star"

Marvel Super Action 1
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Accounts Settled... Accounts Due!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Tony DeZuniga and Rico Rival

"Red-Eyed Jack is Wild!"
Story by Mike Friedrich
Art by George Evans and Frank Springer

"An Ugly Mirror on Weirdworld"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog

"The Messiah in the Saddle: Resolution"
Story and Art by Howard Chaykin

Here’s an oddball: a one-shot black-and-white magazine. In his editorial “Behind the Action,” Archie Goodwin tells the tale. With many of Marvel’s magazines dropping like flies, it was suggested that a new series, one in the vein of the popular “men’s adventure” pulps, would perhaps, uh, fly. The Punisher, aka Frank Castle, was tagged as the anchor character — he already had a successful spotlight in the second issue of Marvel Preview. In fact, a letters page is included here, the nicely named “Re: Action,” filled with positive reviews of that earlier magazine. Also appearing in Marvel Preview #2 was Dominic Fortune, so he was thrown in the mix as well. It was also decided to include The Huntress, formerly known as Bobbi Morse, Agent 19 of S.H.I.E.L.D. The Huntress, by the way, would have a name change to Mockingbird down the line. So things seemed set. However, Archie claims that the recession scared Marvel off and Marvel Super Action would not continue on as a series — is would simply be a one and done. Another change took place as the magazine would now be designated ad free. So, a Weirdworld story originally prepared for Monsters Unleashed would be included to pick up the slack of the missing ad pages. So there we have it.

"Accounts Settled..."
In “Accounts Settled, Accounts Due,” Frank Castle is lounging in his rented suite when his escort for the evening, Audrey, appears at the door. She recognizes him as the Punisher — while the prostitute freshens up, Castle relates that when he was once a Marine captain, his wife, son, and daughter were slaughtered by members of the syndicate. Since the mobsters had political connections, the police were powerless to bring them in. So Castle deserted the corps and transformed himself into the Punisher to take matters into his own pistol-packing hands. However, his targets had holed up in a remote Florida fortress. But with the help of Mechanic, his wheel-chair bound Marine buddy, Castle stormed the hideaway and slaughtered them all — including one with the help of a shark he freed from a huge aquarium. Back in the present day, Frank also kills his escort Audrey, the mobs’ only female assassin.
This 20-page tale comes off as a total rehash since I’m pretty sure that we were already well familiar with the Punisher’s origin. Well maybe not the fact that he dispatched one of his family’s murderers with a shark. Castle comes across like Christopher Walken’s SNL character The Continental at the beginning, oozing slimy charm as he luxuriates in a bathrobe as the supposed prostitute Audrey flounces around. And who didn’t see that “twist” ending a mile away? Castle seemed way too revealing about his backstory not to knock her off at the end. We have some very solid art to look at so that helps.

"Accounts Due!"

In “Red-Eyed Jack is Wild,” Congressman Kirk convinces S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Bobbie Morse to help him uncover corruption within the organization. So she quits the agency, dons a skin-tight leather costume and becomes the Huntress. In her first adventure, she joins another rebellious agent named Scott to investigate the wrong-doings of Rico Santana, a Mexican S.H.I.E.L.D. informant who is actually using the money the agency is bestowing him to build an army and take over the oil-rich Persian Gulf. At the story’s end, Scott, Santana, his wife Angela, and the bodyguard Rojo-Jo Joaquin are all dead — Santana and Angela actually shooting each other in anger. Back at Scott’s apartment, Morse finds a telegram from Nick Fury warning the agent that the Huntress is “horning in on us.”
Snore. The only thing that stood out in this 20-pager is Friedrich’s groan-worthy dialogue. “I bet you could make reading the Farmer’s Almanac a sensual experience.” “Listen, I’ll put on a little reggae — never fails to perk up the mind.” “Actually, Jagger said it better ten years ago, Nick Fury: ‘don’t play with me, ’cuz you’re playin’ with fire.’” Oh Mike you’re such a hipster. Morse has been kicking around for a bit by now, mostly in the pages of Ka-Zar comics and magazines. Morse won’t appear again until Marvel Team-Up #95 (July, 1980) where she debuts as Mockingbird — the name change was necessary since DC had introduced their own character named the Huntress in the interim. There’s some uninspiring art as well so this one is a clunker on all levels. I will add that the whole “S.H.I.E.L.D. is compromised” theme is what is driving the modern day Captain America movies. So that’s something.

"Red-Eyed Jack is Wild!"

Next up is the Weirdworld debut, “An Ugly Mirror on Weirdworld.” Now I’ll be working on this series down the line in the pages of the Marvel Super Special magazine, so I’m a bit glad that I’ve encountered this one. A first glance looks promising since we have the outstanding art of the great Mike Ploog — Ploog’s falling out with Marvel actually took place over the Super Special issues. We are in serious J. R. R. Tolkien territory here as the story is set in a realm of magic and mystical creatures. A lonely elf outcast, Tyndall of Klarn, is sent on a quest to slay the Heart of Evil, the source of the huge bats that are terrifying the dwarfish residents of Weirdworld. Along the way, the plucky little warrior kills a variety of beasts: dragons, orcs, a werewolf, and more. When he finally reaches the Heart he discovers it is an egg: it cracks open and a female elf emerges. 
Huh? The Heart of Evil is another elf? I understand that Tyndall has finally found a suitable companion but what about the killer bats the Heart was supposedly dispatching? Just a ruse? Not only are we in Tolkien territory, we are in Moench land as well: the pages are loaded with packed word balloons compared to the rather sparse text in the other Marvel Super Action stories. At least we have Ploog’s pitch-perfect artwork.
The last story is Howard Chaykin’s 14-page Dominic Fortune adventure “The Messiah in the Saddle Resolution.” Set in the 1930s, the Fortune stories focus on a cheerful mercenary who has one thing on his mind: cold hard cash. In this one, Fortune is hired by a cabal of movie studio executives to take down Noble Flagg, a silent-era cowboy star who has returned to Hollywood as a fire-and-brimstone preacher — in actuality he is behind a criminal empire built on gambling and dope. To knock off his rivals, Flagg has an earthquake machine that destroys the city’s casinos, opium dens, and bordellos. Then, the actor quakes a residential neighborhood: as the police are distracted, Flagg and his minions rob various L.A. banks of ten million dollars. However, Fortune tracks the mastermind to his secret headquarters: Flagg is killed trying to escape with the loot when he crashes his gyrocopter into a skylight he forgot to open.

"Dominic Fortune"

A character like Dominic Fortune is right in Chaykin’s wheelhouse so it’s no surprise that he created the lovable rogue. The art here is rather good and Chaykin has a firm grasp on the era. However, the results are rather uninspiring. Like the Huntress/ Mockingbird, Dominic Fortune will pop up from time to time in the coming years. 
Finally, we have Dan Hagen’s text piece “Execution, Destruction, and Other Entertainments,” which focuses on the type of paperback series that, I suppose, would appeal to the Marvel Super Action audience: Don Pendleton’s The Executioner, Richard Sapir and Warren Murphy’s The Destroyer, and others.
So that’s the story folks. As Neil Young once said, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. Just wished that Marvel Super Action gave off even a little wisp of heat. 
A final footnote: Marvel would resurrect the series name Marvel Super Action in 1977 for its line of Captain America and Avengers reprints. -Thomas Flynn


Planet of the Apes 16
Cover by Ken Barr

"When the Calliope Cries Death"

"And Who Shall Inherit the Meek"
Parts Five and Six of
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Story Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Rico Rival

Ken Barr's haunting cover starts the "Book-Length Bonus" that give us the last two chapters in Escape From the Planet of the Apes. Chapter 5 begins with an angry Cornelius smashing a wiseacre orderly with a tray, then he and Zira escape, but she's in labor! A seething Hasslein vows to catch them, as a remorseful Cornelius finds Stevie, who takes them to the camp of circus owner Armando. Lewis meets them there, and in the circus maternity ward, Zira tries to get an ape baby to say "Ma-Ma", then gives birth herself, to a boy they name Milo. Back at the facility, Lewis tries to stall Hasslein, but he has his men search every circus in the city.

In Part 6, Cornelius and Zira leave Armando's circus with the police on the way to search the camp, but not before he gives baby Milo a St. Francis of Assisi medal and Zira says goodbye to fellow mother ape Heloise. Lewis and Stevie give the apes directions to a derelict ship they can hide out on for a while, with Lewis also giving Cornelius a gun. The cops search Armando's circus to no avail, as Zira leaves behind her suitcase, which as they make their way towards safe haven, the bag is found and Hasslein seems a bit too smug. On the oily ship, Cornelius looks for a cleaner place for the baby to eat, just as they're stalked by the even oilier Hasslein. A sleeping Zira is awakened by Hasslein kicking a can, and he begins shooting at mother and child! As helicopters and police, as well as Lewis and Stevie, arrive, a livid Hasslein shoots Zira and the baby, then is shot himself by Cornelius, who is killed by the police. Zira shoves the baby overboard as the married apes perish lying next to each other. Cut to Armando's circus, leaving for their winter quarters, and the baby chimpanzee is wearing the medal, saying the words "Ma-Ma, Ma-Ma!"

The adaptation ends in heartbreaking fashion with the deaths of Zira and Cornelius, two of the most likable characters in all the Apes films, even if the male of the pair doesn't seem as much in comic book form. But Moench and Rival make a good pair, from the angry diatribes of Hasslein to the wordless deaths on the ship. And of course, there's the famous final scene, Prof. Tom's favorite for sure. Well-done for the most part, as we await the beginning of Conquest next ish. -Joe Tura