Wednesday, April 15, 2015

December 1975 Part Two: Warlock #10 Hits the Bullseye!

Ka-Zar 13
"The Skull of the Lizard-Man!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Larry Hama and Fred Kida
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters b y John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler, John Romita, and Klaus Janson

After a quick battle with the death demons, Ka-Zar slips behind Sheesa and holds a knife to her throat, then says he and the others will join the witch-woman's army! Her first mission for them is to attack Tongah's people, but first they are caged, along with cowardly wizard Zaurai. Zebra-Man Karanda is able to slip out of the cage like a shadow, then we learn Zaurai's origin. He was a lowly pencil-pusher who traveled to the Antarctic, found the Swamp Tribe, wowed them with parlor tricks, was made Shaman, then was played by Sheesa into creating the Lizard-Men army. He says they must destroy the skull to defeat Sheesa, but when morning breaks, the "new warriors" march on the Fall People—who are waiting for the attack! Ka-Zar and friends attack the confused Lizard-Men and death demons, with K-Z going after Sheesa. The witch uses the power of the skull to fry Zaurai, then runs from the Jungle Lord into the snowy wasteland of the "outside world", where a giant snow-worm grabs her in its jaws, killing the witch as Ka-Zar slays it. The death demons crumble, the Lizard-Men rejoin the Swamp Tribe, and all live happily ever after, with a weary K-Z and Zabu heading home. – Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Three months in a row of Ka-Zar? Either someone is toying with me, or the end of 1975 was Savage Land Mania! This is more torturous for the MU faculty and students than the Common Core state tests! Well, it's not horrendous, actually. A decent story, with OK art that doesn't take many chances. Sheesa was an evil one, that's for sure, and her life ends without redemption, which is odd for a Marvel funny book but not for these pages, which is one of the very few redeeming qualities of reading it. The first of a two-issue stint by youngster Hama, who tackled Iron Fist in '74's Marvel Premiere and will go on to great fame writing G.I. Joe from 1982-1994.

Chris Blake: I like how, when Ka-Zar says “I have a plan,” what he’s really saying is: “I hope someone comes up with a viable plan – I got nothin’.”  The utterly unexpected – and ultimately unforeshadowable – arrival of the snow-worm, right at the point when Sheesa was about to skull-blast you, was all part of your cunning plan, eh Kevin -?  Well, this moment might not make much sense in the story, but it does provide an art highlight, which isn’t saying much I’m afraid, since the inconsistent Hama/Kida art pales before the terrific job Heath had turned in for the first chapter.  

Master of Kung Fu 35
"Death Hand and the Sun of Mordillo"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Dan Adkins
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and John Romita

Mordillo is threatening to kill Reston with one of the gadgets on his deadly gauntlet.  Shang-Chi and Leiko already are imperiled, with S-C trapped in his seat by a metal bar as flames draw closer, and Leiko about to be suffocated by sand once it fills the bottom half of the giant-sized hourglass.  Mordillo is distracted by an energy bolt fired by a robot that closely resembles one that Mordillo had sent to attack Reston on a London city street (in MoKF #34).  S-C uses the moment to gather his strength and wrench himself free of the metal bar.  He lunges onto the stage and smashes the bar into the hourglass, freeing Leiko.  The robot pulls his own head off, revealing himself to be Black Jack Tarr, who has appropriated the exterior of a robot to attack Mordillo; in the confusion, a flustered Mordillo has fled the area.  He seeks out Pavane, who is hidden in a room in a tower; he asks her to take out Leiko, while he moves his solar-chute weapon to a more secure area.  S-C catches up to Mordillo, but cannot dissuade him from escaping with the weapon, which Mordillo intends to sell to the Red Chinese.  S-C leaps aboard the departing craft, and again calls for Mordillo’s peaceful surrender.  Mordillo states that, since he doesn’t have Leiko’s secret for the fine-tuned operation of the solar chute, he’ll use it on a wider setting to destroy the entire island, and Leiko with it.  Pavane and some goons prevent Leiko, Reston, and Tarr from escaping, so a second fighting front opens on the island surface.  The launching of the solar chute causes different sections of the island to be scorched; Reston observes its destructive power, and calls for friend and foe to flee to safety in a nearby tunnel.  Mordillo senses defeat at the hands of the unstoppable force of S-C, and dives off the chute’s platform, and into the path of a solar-energy beam.  S-C destroys the chute’s controls, and watches as it sinks into the sea. -Chris Blake
Chris: Plenty more action, as usual.  The difference this time is that we hear more from Shang-Chi, as he attempts to reason with Mordillo.  First, Mordillo taunts S-C, and states that Sir Denis would be as likely to use this device against Chinese targets – and shouldn’t that matter to S-C, since he is Chinese?  Shang-Chi takes the higher road, and states that he would fight Sir Denis to prevent the use of the chute against people, just as he is prepared to fight Mordillo now.  Next, S-C argues against the use of the life-giving sun “to commit murder.”  The notable aspect of this scene is that its intensity (as S-C maintains self-control in the face of Mordillo’s rageful behavior) allows for a break in the chop-socky and running-around, without feeling like the story’s suddenly ground to a halt.  This sort of balance, with a thoughtful moment from S-C worked in to the action, is the right ideal to shoot for in storytelling for MoKF.
The ending is interesting, as S-C indulges in the shine he had taken to Leiko; and, it looks like the admiration is reciprocated.  S-C takes this step, knowing full well that it comes at a cost to his ally, Reston.  This, of course, is paralleled in Brynocki’s pieta with Mordillo’s smoking bones.  “Love is strange . . .,” Doug tells us.  It’s a surprising, unexpected way to wrap up this three-parter.  

Chris: (I haven’t said much about Mordillo’s reliance on Brynocki, but at one point as he was calling for his automated assistant, I wondered why the moment felt familiar, and then I realized – the dynamic is similar to when Scorpio looks for his Nick Fury LMD in the “Whatever Happened to Scorpio?” storyline, coming soon in issues of Defenders leading up to #50 of that title.  Well, more about that later.) 
Hey, look – Pavane’s back.  And she’s saying something about having been a plant at Velcro’s place.  It sounds like she might’ve been in on Mordillo’s scheme to collect a cool million for taking out Velcro.  Let’s ask her – hey Pavane, you – oh wait – she’s getting hustled offstage.  Uh … hmmm.  Well, okay, maybe we’ll find out her deal some other time, when she can stay in the story past the time it takes for us to recognize her and hear her name, and see little else done with her character. 
I know you’re all going to think I’m crazy, but the Gulacy-Adkins team has gotten so good, there were times when I looked at the art, and I thought that the inks were on par with a mature Terry Austin.  No, not the whole issue – simply that there are panels here and there that offer the clarity and detail that I enjoy from Austin.  You can tell that Gulacy had fun with the Escher-like moment when Mordillo climbs the stairs to Pavane’s tower space, on p 11 (first panel) – I had to look twice to ensure that the sections of staircase linked up, and didn’t cross over each other. 
Mark Barsotti: Over the top in all the best ways, Moench and Gulacy serve-up a gonzo Enter the Dragon spy saga apocalypse, spiced with the return of gorgeous hench-babe Pavane (complete with leashed panther) and wacko genius Mordillo, proud owner of Warped-Walt Disney Island & an orbital Death-Ray. Luscious Leiko gloms onto Shang-Chi, who – screw Reston's hurt feelings - can't resist her charms. What elevates this to another level is the unexpected, last panel emotional punch of googly-eyed robot, Brynocki, cooing allegiance while cradling his dead creator's still-steaming skeleton.

Yes, Shang, love is strange.

Marvel Premiere 27
Satana, the Devil's Daughter in
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by The Tribe
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Marcos Pelayo
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

In a small coastal California town, Satana  bumps into a girl running from a maddened mob. They're bound and determined to catch the girl, Deborah Hirsch, and burn her at the stake as a witch. The devil's daughter steps in just as kindling is about to be lit but she gets the surprise of her life when it's revealed that Deborah is possessed by the evil entity known as Dansker. As Debsker lays waste to most of the entire crowd, Satana takes a few moments to remember that Dansker taught her everything she knows about survival. Now, wanting to be something more than just a minor demon, Dansker must slay an innocent young boy to walk the earth. Satana finds she must destroy Deborah to eliminate the threat of Dansker. -Peter Enfantino

Comment deleted on violations
of decency standards
Peter Enfantino: Nice to see Marvel take another stab at Satana, a character who made Haunt of Horror and Vampire Tales semi-bearable to wade through. Unfortunately, this slim (only 15 pages) entry adds nothing to the mythos of Daimon Hellstrom's kid sister. Is it just coincidence that the devil's daughter arrives in Chandler, California just as her old teacher is making a splash? Chris Claremont is not forthcoming. The big battle might have been easier on the eyes had Chris or "the tribe" decided to use Deb's head on her body rather than the bearded warrior's. A really goofy choice, that. Though the build-up is lacking in the excitement department, the downbeat ending, where the innocent Deborah is sacrificed in order to bar Dansker from our world, is a rare one in the four-color world. I'm still interested enough to give the girl another try. A four-page rejiggering of a Satana appearance from Vampire Tales #2 (written by Roy and drawn by The Jazzy One) rounds out this issue. GCD informs us that the story was "slightly re-drawn and re-scripted from its original publication to de-emphasize an attempted rape."

Chris: The reversal on p 10, as Deborah fails to contain the Dansker any longer, is a highlight, matched by the changing expressions on Deborah’s face (depicted for us by the mysterious Tribe) as the demon asserts control over her form.  Satana’s motivation is unclear throughout – Claremont tells us all about how she’s been drawn to Chandler, but we learn nothing about why she feels compelled to oppose the witch-burning, or inspired to save the 12 yr-old child (especially after she’s absorbed the soul of the child’s father).  Wouldn’t it have made sense for Satana to encourage the burning, since that would’ve successfully inhibited the Dansker’s progress to this plane?  I guess I’m saying that, since Satana would be unfamiliar to most readers, it might’ve been helpful to have a bit more background about her role, and insight to her purpose, instead of things like the flashback to a previous battle with her opponent.

I know we’ve come across the Tribe before, but my impression is that they typically are called on as inkers; this strikes me as a rare pencilling assignment (for a color comic, I mean – not a b&w mag).  The art is atmospheric, but mostly indistinct.  Satana’s efforts to weather Dansker’s output of power as he arrives (p 11) is a highlight, as is the skin-shriveling soul-sucking moment (p 17), which doesn’t advance the story, but does remind us to watch our backs. 

Marvel Spotlight 25
"The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad"
Adaptation by John Warner
Art by Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Prince Sinbad returns to Baghdad from a peace-keeping mission in Chandra, introducing his betrothed, Princess Parisa, to the Caliph. He's interrupted by a smarmy-looking Sokurah, but the Caliph blows him off to hear of Sinbad's voyage. A crippling storm led their ship to the strange isle of Collossa, where an angry Cyclops attacked the men. Sokurah was able to raise the Genie from the lamp and distract the monster long enough for the men to escape, yet the lamp was lost. Sokurah sees a prophecy of war between Baghdad and Chandra, then the upset Caliph banishes him from the kingdom. But the Snidely Whiplash of the story turns the Princess into doll size, a ploy to get Sinbad to sail back to Collossa and get the lamp. Sinbad assembles a crew and a crossbow cannon, and averts an "offscreen" mutiny when the sirens tempt turncoat Kharim, then they reach Collossa. After half a day's walk they reach a Cyclops' encampment, and the men are tempted by treasure, which gets them noticed by the Cyclops! The creature locks the men in a cage, but when it's distracted by Sokurah rummaging through the treasure also, a petite Parisa manages to unlatch the cage and free Sinbad's squadron. The Prince tricks the sore Cyclops into falling off a cliff, then they journey up the island's peaks for five days, where they spot a giant egg and they kill the bird inside for a feast. Parisa enters the lamp to try and persuade the Genie to release the secret words to summon him, and just as she returns, the mama bird shows up! Sokurah makes off with Parisa, and Sinbad follows with Barani the Genie. They evade a chained dragon and get to the castle of Sokurah, where Sinbad trades the lamp for a cured Parisa, then reneges which causes the evil wizard to summon a skeletal swordsman, whom the superior Sinbad defeats. He and Parisa toss the lamp into fiery lava to free the genie from his curse, then Sokurah releases the dragon from his chains! The beast attacks, but the handy crossbow cannon does its duty, slaying the dragon, who crushes Sokurah! The men leave the isle, with Barani on board as Sinbad's cabin boy—and he's brought along the Cyclops' treasure as a wedding gift!  –Joe Tura

Joe: Well, I'm back in the Spotlight lead after three and half years away, and the first one I get is a real doozy. Certainly not the issue I thought it was. See, I confused this one, when I heard it was Sinbad with the Golden Voyage of Sinbad adaptation (from Worlds Unknown 7 and 8, June and August 1974), which I loved and always reminded me of my beloved The 4:30 Movie. This one, not so much. It "freely" adapts The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad and not well. Trinidad's art seems muted at times, although he does get to play around a little and his action scenes are OK. Why do we need three—yes, three!—prose segments to move the story along. Not that I would have wanted more pages to read, but yeesh, that's some tiny print for my old eyes, progressive lenses or not. The script seems either to put in too many details (see prose segments) or to gloss over stuff quite rapidly, even though my summary is longer than the comic itself (sorry about that). Not a very good return to this title for sure. Kinda like teaching summer school….

Marvel Team-Up 40
Spider-Man and The Sons of the Tiger in
"Murder's Better the Second Time Around"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Sal Buscema

Captured as the two gangs join forces, Spidey and Johnny are freed when the Tiger-Sons and Lotus investigate the noise in the adjoining building, although the Crime-Master’s gas bomb lets the hoods escape, so the Torch bails for his date in FF #164.  Visiting Mosquito, Spidey sees the villains emerge from a man-hole in the alley below, and trails them to find that they have apprehended the Tigers.  The Crime-Master mortally wounds his rival, but Spidey—having released the Tigers and helped them defeat the Sandman and the Enforcers—unmasks them as Nick Lewis, Jr., and Janice Foswell, the son and daughter of the original Crime-Master and Big Man, who fell in love and unwittingly chose the same path of vengeance. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Mantlo and the Sons take a break from their monochrome duties in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, but with their late arrival on page 11 and so much else going on, they don’t get to make too much of an impression.  I’m old enough now to see some of the flaws in this fondly remembered story, yet can still enjoy the ever-reliable Buscemosito artwork, especially the spread on pages 2-3 that effectively supplants the splash.  My biggest beefs are the repetition (Torch under glass with too little air to fire up again?) and the “aw, come on” ending in which, despite knowing Janice’s lineage perfectly well, Nick is shocked—shocked!—that after they’d compared notes, she would come up with the same let’s-dress-up-like-Dad-and-get-revenge-on-that-damned-Spidey routine.

Scott: The double splash page is pretty damned awesome, if a little crowded with dialog. Like everyone has to have a chance to say something. Are they all under contract? Is there a minimum dialog clause? For the most part, this is a fun all-out action issue, but the wrap-up is so absurd and out of left field, my eyes nearly got stuck in my head, they rolled so hard. So if Freddie Foswell had a daughter, who’s the mother? Will she come back as another incarnation of The Big Man? And don’t get me started on how the Big Man’s daughter and the Crime Master’s son knew each other in school and came up with identical plans at the same time and executed them simultaneously without ever discussing it. Also, Sons of the Tiger….zzzzzzzzz.

Joe: Another fun-filled Team-Up, even though Torch leaves halfway through (but before that he didn't really do much, to be honest) and Mantlo has his little kung fu kitties as the co-stars. To me, this was when this title started hitting its stride, and made it one of my favorite comic books of the era. Lots of memorable stuff, from that awesome Sal B. 2-3 spread and the non-stop action to the silly "five flashing fists" that take down the Sandman to the Shakespearean tragedy at issue's end. It's good stuff, Hilts!

Luke Cage, Power Man 28
"The Man Who Killed Jiminy Cricket!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Luke Cage has been hired by the Adonis Chemicals corporation to find the man who has been stealing and selling information from them.  Luke finds the man, but he is executed by an ugly little creep called Cockroach. Armed with a six-barreled shotgun, Cockroach shoots and kills the chemical employee, then he blasts Power Man before escaping.  After explaining the situation to a detective, Power Man visits Noah so that the man can fix his dislocated shoulder.  Once he is back to good as new, Power Man visits the head honcho for Adonis Chemicals, Mr. Grundge.  Cage ends up punching out Grundge after they argue about the chemicals' safety. Turns out one of the items stolen was the map of the truck route the chemicals were being hauled on, a map now in the hands of Cockroach's mysterious boss.  Power Man beats up thugs down at the docks, trying to get information but is ambushed when Cockroach appears and shoots him with gas from his shotgun. Luke is tied up under a bridge, about to blow up, as a barge approaches.  -Tom McMillion

Chris: McGregor cleverly inserts us directly into the action, as we open immediately with the Luke vs Cockroach showdown.  I also give McGregor credit for catching us up as the story plays out, instead of bogging us down with a lengthy flashback; but, points deducted as McGregor distracts himself with the flashing lights and bright colors of the Times Square ads, and undercuts the drama we should see and feel as Luke hangs on to the edge of a roof (with a separated shoulder, no less), while the man he had been hired to shadow is blown off of said roof with a six-barrel shotgun (hey Cockroach – ever hear of “overkill” -?).   The overcooked conversation with the detective – which clunks along for twice as long as it needs to – and the hackneyed confrontation with the corrupt business guy – who winds up getting yanked over, then thrown over the furniture – also don’t go so well, credibility-wise.  But the late-night visit to Noah to set Luke’s shoulder, as he gamely tries not to scream so he won’t scare the young boy, is a nicely-done character-moment.  So overall, an uneven outing by McGregor.  

I’m going to break with tradition and give Tuska & Colletta credit for doing some things well in this issue.  In particular, I felt that they caught some of the late-night ‘70s Times Square atmosphere fairly well, right down to the shady characters slinking around.  Solid effort also as Cage tries to keep it together (with teeth firmly gritted) at the walk-in clinic, while Noah goes to work (p 18).  
Scott: This Cockroach guy is pretty visually arresting. Sort of a pimped-up, black version of The Mole Man. Cage is having another bad day and, every so often, we’re reminded he’s an escaped con. He’s really gotta clear that up some day. The doctor’s office sequence is pretty amusing, but pointless if we never see the kid or his mother again. Don McGregor’s prose is a little too flowery and wordy for this title, but I give him props for trying to add a little style. George and Vinnie are sometimes good, sometimes “meh” in this issue, which gives them a rating of “average.” The Adam West “Batman” style cliffhanger is also amusing, but just makes me wonder why Roach didn’t just blow Cage’s head off while he was unconscious. Since one shot from that thing nearly took his arm off, why not just keep firing until his head is pulped?

The Mighty Thor 242
"When the Servitor Commands!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Thor, Odin and Jane Foster emerge from the pyramid where the Egyptian gods had been. Mjolnir creates a vortex that sends the pyramid back from whence it came. Odin, whose memory is now fully restored, nonetheless dismisses his son for keeping company with Jane, not allowing Thor to explain. Thor and Jane find the Warriors Three at the apartment.  No sooner this, than a giant hand smashes through the wall, grabbing Jane as hostage to demand Thor's cooperation. Calling himself the Servitor, he serves another, as yet unnamed. Thor and friends are enraged and fight the creature, freeing Jane. The giant's staff wields considerable power, but eventually Thor defeats him by wresting it from his grasp. The Master then appears in the form of Zarrko the Tomorrow Man, who explains that the violence was unnecessary.  He seeks Thor's aid against a common foe--to save the Earth! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I don't know if it would be realistic to say the Thor issues of this time going forward were the best in a while but they hold a lot of memories for me.  Zarrko is of course a classic villain from Journey Into Mystery #101-2. The Servitor is a decent servant; seems like a lot of great villains had worthy helpers.  The Warriors Three are welcome (and rather funny checking out our Earthly "parchments"). Odin's fury over Jane is disappointing but not surprising;  if he listened he would have known of her bonding with Sif (odd after witnessing her help in the Egyptian battle ).

Chris: So Odin returns indignantly to Asgard – and in return, we get the Warriors Three?  Not bad – I accept.  I guess Zarrko didn’t expect Thor to help him willingly; it’s probably a reasonable expectation, based on their history.  Still, sending the Servitor to capture Jane, and thereby attempt to coerce Thor’s help probably wasn’t the best idea.  Although, it made for a whale of a streetfight, expertly realized by John + Joe, so I’m certainly not complaining.  

Len finally stabilizes the writer’s role, after a few months of turnover (first we thought Thomas might take over, then Mantlo provided some capable pinch-writing); he’ll ably carry on with this title until around #270, if memory serves.  And then Roy will be back again!  Round and round we’ll go.
Matthew: Wein completes a Hulk/Spidey/Thor trifecta, picking up a second of Conway’s long-running titles for impressive runs of his own, and having inherited Zarrko when scripting Gerry’s plot in Marvel Team-Up #11, it seems only natural that Len would now reunite the Tomorrow Man with his original adversary.  How many writers get to take over such a successful strip that is blessed with artists the caliber of Buscema and Sinnott, and in top form, to boot?  Len makes the most of it, giving Big John plenty to do with our beloved Warriors Three, and even if the Servitor is not the most impressively designed adversary, the action scenes have a satisfying heft to them while Len’s story strikes a balance between tying up loose threads and spinning his own.

Scott: Mayhap this issue doth smack of nostalgia. From Odin’s leap to disown Thor yet again over Jane Foster (something he once swore he’d never do again way back in the 60s), to the Kirby-like Servitor, down to the return of Zarrko, this feels like a greatest hits package mashed together. The only thing keeping this stale tale bubbling are the comments finally acknowledging Sif’s life force inside Jane and the absolutely amazing art. Also, the antics of Thor’s friends are fun, but are we to believe that the very moment Odin returned home, these guys just said, “okay, we’re taking a vaca”? Wouldn’t they hang out and assist Odin in returning normalcy to Asgard? Wouldn’t he have anything for them to do? Odin’s sudden departure is both disappointing, since I really liked Orrin’s story, and touching as his goodbyes to Judith were sweet. I almost thought he was going full-on hypocrite for a moment and was about to invite her to Asgard. Thankfully, they didn’t go down that path.

The Tomb of Dracula 39
"The Death of Dracula"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Quincy Harker, Rachel Van Helsing, and Frank Drake are tied up and held prisoners by Dr. Sun and his large henchman Juno.  Dr. Sun has Juno attack the Count in the hopes that he will be destroyed.  Still weakened from Sun stealing his powers, Drac has a hard time fending off the powerful Juno.  Hack writer, Harold H. Harold, along with his boss's secretary, Aurora, stumbles into the home just long enough to distract Dracula and allow Juno to stab him through the heart with his silver stake hand attachment.  Dracula dies and Juno burns his body to a crisp.  Later on, the vampire hunters are able to escape the hideout. Sun reveals to Juno that he actually allowed them to escape so they would come back with the military, providing the evil brain an army of his own to brainwash. -Tom McMillion

Scott: Harold and Aurora continue to annoy and their antics are woefully out of place in this story, which is otherwise damned good. Obviously, Dracula will return next issue but, at the moment, his death does indeed seem pretty final. Ashes and all. Of course, Dr. Sun has to keep them all together in an urn instead of separating them, scattering some in one spot, flushing some in his toilet, and having Juno piss on the rest. Having them all bottled up together will probably be key. Nice to see Frank Drake having some balls. With Harold Harold there to provide the shenanigans, Frank winds up looking better.

Chris: Things definitely continue to get weird for awhile here.  For now, there are numerous questions to ponder.  Dracula seems more dead this time than previous times, right?  I don’t expect that Dr Sun’s urn-of-gloating-victory is about to become the centerpiece of this mag; how might Drac worm his way back from full-dead to un-deadedness?  Does Juno know that Dr Sun bought him a return ticket to China – by bus -?  Is Marv really serious about keeping Harold and Aurora in the mix?  Letters pages have been asking for Blade and Hannibal King, not wannabees and hangers-on like the “True Vampire Tales” twins.  

And now, for his next trick, Dr Sun is going to hypnotize the US Army -?  I’m not sure I want to see that; I mean, I will see it, don’t get me wrong, I’m not about to pass up a single moment of the thirty-one issues of Tomb of Dracula we have left.  But – the past few issues have not been among my favorites, so I’m counting on Marv to get back to wowing me again as of #40.  
Gene & Tom can be relied-upon to provide highlights, of course.  This time, the easy choice is the wicked Juno vs Drac battle, featuring apparent offense to Drac’s body (which we don’t see too often – musta been the silver, right?), with black blood along his arm and on his partly broken face.  For two smaller moments, I nominate Drac’s red-eyes sneer (right), and Juno’s backlit, determined appearance before the battle is joined (below).

Mark: Not a fantasy or imaginary tale! Marv and Gene deliver not just the titular death of Dracula, but the immolation of his corpse, reducing the Dark Lord to an urn full of ashes.

Of course Drac has been killed before, if never quite with the relish Dr. Sun serves up, courtesy of his henchman Juno's silver stake and way with a flame-thrower. Harker's vampire hunters are Sun's captive witnesses to the BBQ, joined by schnook scribbler Harold and brassy, capable-ditz Aurora. Sun releases them, knowing, indeed counting on, Quincy summoning the cavalry, which the evil Brainiac plans to suborn into world-conquering service!

We know Drac will return from the ashcan (barring a reboot as Dr. Sun and Juno), but it's still a visceral jolt to see our Lord King Bloodsucker not just defeated, not just killed, but annihilated. Part of me cheered for team Harker; here's the victory they could never pull off. Sure, Sun is worse but revel in the moment, Fangsquad, even if – and this is just a guess – you end up having to bring Drac back to put out Dr. Sun.

Four-and-a-half fangs.

The Son of Satan 1
"The Homecoming!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Jim Starlin and Jim Mooney
Colors by Diane Buscema
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Daimon Hellstrom returns to his home at Fire Lake after an absence of several months.  He retreats to his study, only to find rainwater soaking the carpet thru a broken window; more importantly, all of the furniture, including the desk that contained his mother’s diary, is gone.  Daimon instantly suspects that his father – Satan himself – has desecrated his home.  He burns a path to the basement, and finds the portal to the netherworld has been breached, which feeds into a rage that allows his dark side to gain its advantage; Daimon stalks his way to Satan’s realm.  He encounters a cadre of lesser demons, who plead for his help against an unnamed threat.  Daimon ignores them, which only incurs their wrath; the fight is broken up when Satan arrives.  Satan denies any harm caused to Daimon’s home.  Daimon, rightfully, expresses suspicion toward the Prince of Lies.  Deeply dissatisfied, Daimon returns to his reality, reseals the doorway to hell, and reflects over how his loss of control prevented him from being able to ascertain correctly Satan’s true role in the interference with his home.  Daimon then is confronted by a series of disturbing images, including that of a spirit imprisoned in a dead tree, before a hooded figure announces its presence.  This being identifies itself as The Possessor; he throws back his hood to reveal two demons, whose pleading faces are trapped on either side of the Possessor’s head.  Daimon’s adversary announces that there is a curse in store for Daimon, which will be worse even than the one he lives with now.  Before Daimon can explore these threats further, the Possessor vanishes, only to appear on a distant cliffside in Arizona, where a young American Indian has spent seven days fasting, in the hope that his dedication will reveal the spiritual guide who will provide him with vision.  The young brave sees the haughty figure of the Possessor, as he professes his dedication to him!  -Chris Blake

Chris: Overall, it’s a solid first foray for Warner into the world of the Son of Satan.  I give him points for playing up the mystery, while simultaneously avoiding the easy route, which would involve yet-another-battle with bad-old-Satan.  We’re left without a clear idea of who the Possessor might be (and, by the way, is that the only name you could come up with, John?  Even the character admits that it’s somewhat melodramatic), and why he might be messing with Daimon.  Since I’m not nearly as familiar with Warner’s writing as I had been with Gerber’s, I’m likelier to consider this story as disjointed, to the point of jarringly confusing at times, rather than allow Warner proper credit for showing us Daimon on the defensive.  
I will award Warner ten bonus points, however, for his illustration of the duality of Daimon’s personality.  Warner shows us the cost to Daimon of losing his rein on his dark side, and his recognition of the greater gains available to him when he can effectively apply his darker power.  Warner puts it succinctly, following the moment when Daimon dismisses the conjured-image of the two temptress-women: “Daimon is angry – but it is an anger controlled, the strengths and powers of his darker self utilized toward the goals of his human half.”  Fans tuning in for the first time, as Son of Satan arrives in a crispy-new premiere issue, would certainly need to be familiar with this facet in order to understand Daimon’s character; so again, bonus points to Warner for seamlessly weaving this point into the story.
My first look at the art said, ”Whoa boy!”  But – the handy little asterisk saves me from embarrassing myself, as it identifies Jim Starlin as the splash-page artist (one page!  Oh well).  Mooney’s art is very good overall – there might be some carryover from his inspired recent work on Man-Thing.  Daimon’s moods, and his ability to control them, contribute to our appreciation of a better SoS story, so it helps when the artist can help portray that for us.  Tip of the easel, then, to Mooney for Daimon’s angry expression (p 6), followed by an angrier one (p 7); bonus – we get a rare surprised look (p 22, last panel).
Matthew:  For what it’s worth, this is Warner’s most sustained Marvel writing gig, which comprises all but the last of the book’s eight issues.  The lettercol tells us that Sonny Trinidad is taking over as artist, after this fill-in by Hellstrom vet Mooney, and that, per Warner, the “current story is being used to tie up a dangling plot-thread that has been around since Gary Friedrich days, and it’ll likely be the last we see of Satan for awhile.”  So far, it seems safe to say that he’s no Steve Gerber, and that the promise of the bold Kane/Esposito cover is fulfilled by neither the humdrum art (plus Jim Starlin splash page) nor a rambling plotline thatat least in this readerprovoked one of those “I don’t know what’s real and what isn’t so who gives a crap?” responses.

Marvel Chillers 2
Modred the Mystic in
"Of Magic and Madness!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Tony San Jose
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Modred the Mystic finds life to be a bit confusing when he's transported from his Camelot era to present-day London. Fighting Irish-accented bobbies and transferring the roadway into  a carpet quickly becomes tiring and, when a bullet finds its mark, a right ol' pain as well. Fleeing with the help of his two friends, Janet and Grant, Modred tries to make sense of his space/time problems. After several pages of helpful flashbacks (to the reader too bored to reread the first issue for answers to some confusing questions), the trio conclude that "The Other" has followed the Mystic into this time period and, sure enough, pops up fairly quickly. Modred seems to have no problem whatsoever dispatching this great menace but can he find a good dry cleaner for an outfit that's got to be pretty rank by now. -Peter Enfantino

"A bottom-tier hero is what i yam!"
Peter: I have very sage advice to those fool enough to read this over-stuffed malarkey: turn the sound down while you look at the pretty pitchers. I've never been a fan of John Byrne but that may be a result of my disgust with his monstrous ego. I seem to be the only one in the MU cafeteria without a "John Byrne is a God" lunchpail and, in fact, whenever I mention my aversion to the "Bronze Age Kirby," the lunch room empties out. Having said that, the guy is spot-on here, whipping up an excitement in pert near every panel unseen since, well, in a few weeks at least, proving that Byrne never read a word of Mantlo's script. Had he done so, his excitement might just have gone the way of Not Brand Echh. Mantlo's Brits sound like Tunisians, Rumanians, New Yawkers, Scots, Jawas, anything but Brits. Bill's dialog (inspired by Doug Moench's tutelage, no doubt) is bombastic and laughable, filled with such fauxMoenchisms as "Different cloth, creature! You, from the wrapping sheet 'gainst the dead flesh of a murderer or traitorous knight -- I, from the cloth of ignorance, 'pon which no blemish lies save the stain of foolhardy endeavor!"Modred's exclamation during his brief tussle with "The Other" sounded more natural coming out of the pipe-smoking mouth of Popeye the Sailor; a more fitting send-off might have been "I want to rock 'n' roll all night and party every day." Too long perhaps? And how about that Battle Royale? Such a build-up and all we get is Holmes-Cooney II. A whole bunch of boring questions go unanswered and, since Tigra the Were-Woman takes over this space next issue, I'm not sure we'll ever get the answers. I, for one, welcome the peace and quiet, blimey.

Marvel Presents 2
Bloodstone in
"Hellfire Helix Hex!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Sonny Trinidad
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Sonny Trinidad
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

The buckskin-wearing creature taps into Bloodstone’s memories, and sees Bloodstone as a hunter living in the 9th century BC. The hunter encounters a tentacle-headed alien named Ul’lux’yl, who offers to confer great powers and immortality to him thru a pulsing red stone. The hunter returns to his village, and demonstrates his new abilities, as he kills a mastodon ("with his bare hands!" the tribal chief cries out), and fires a bolt of energy at a mountaintop. The hunter calls to his tribe to come with him to see Ul’lux’yl, so that they all might share in his god-like powers. The villagers gather with the alien, but as the red stone begins to shower them with energy, their under-developed consciousnesses are overwhelmed by the cosmic secrets imparted by the stone, and the villagers begin to burn alive, with the proto-Bloodstone the only survivor. The hunter accuses Ul’lux’yl of having purposely destroyed his tribe, and he lunges forward to smash the red stone. The sudden discharge of energy results in an explosion; the hunter emerges from the experience with a fragment of the stone fused to his chest. The recollection spurs Bloodstone back to his present reality; he uses the creature’s mind-link to force its essence-self into the stone, and draws on his stone-borne power to subdue the creature. -Chris Blake

Chris: There’s a full-page description by Warner that imparts the source of the stone’s power, I suppose.  Or maybe it’s about how Bloodstone attained immortality.  It could be about any number of things – you’ll find it toward the middle of the comic, if you’re really interested.  
Did anyone see a large, gilled creature, about yay big, stalking thru the city, wreaking destruction?  It seems to have been misplaced somewhere between the middle of last issue and this one.  If found, please call Marv and let him know.

Super-Villain Team-Up 3
Doctor Doom and The Sub-Mariner in
"If Vengeance Fails!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Evans and Jack Abel
Colors by Ellen Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Ray Holloway
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

Weakened and outmatched, Namor is teleported to Doom’s skycraft and passes out, awakening in Latveria in a restorative brine-bath, and despite continued friction between them, he is grateful for the assistance. They attack Hydrobase together, with Doom’s destruction of the Octo-Meks creating a sufficient diversion for Namor to free Tamara and the hostage amphibians, but after subduing Attuma, Tiger Shark, and Dorcas with Doom’s weapon, he opts for the hands-on approach.  Mocked by Saru-San, Doom kills Kor-Konn’s soldiers with missiles from a wrecked Mek as Namor avenges Betty, toppling a wreck onto Dorcas with the body of the defeated Tiger Shark; he is outraged as Doom compels the jester to blow himself up. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Next issue, we are promised a new writer (said to be Englehart, who doesn’t actually materialize until #5), artist, and direction, so given my aversion to Shooter’s later tenure as EIC, you might well expect me to unleash the snark as he replaces Isabella among this clean-up crew.  Yet as we say on the Bethel campus of MU, “every Godard has his Alphaville,” and as much as I’d like to believe he’s only following Tony’s blueprint on the plot, Jim has nailed the characterization and dialogue perfectly.  Following the death of Betty last time, those of Dorcas, Saru-San, and Kor-Konn give the arc a surprising body count, while Evans, in his second and last SVTU gig, is by definition far better served by Abel than by Springer in #1, with solid—if unspectacular—results.

Scott: The art is barely adequate, but I agree with Prof. Matthew in how Shooter gets the dialog and personalities just right. I actually don’t mind Shooter as a person or an editor, as he presided over Marvel during my most dedicated years. However, this title is hardly interesting. I have memories of one or two fun issues, but we haven’t reached them yet.

Warlock 10
"How Strange My Destiny! The Price!
Part I Chapter I"
Story by Jim Starlin 
Art by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin and Alan Weiss

Even with his death-rays, Thanos sees that General Egeus’s Black Knights—now mysteriously upped to 25,000—will overwhelm them, so he has Adam, Gamora, and Pip retreat downward while holding off the army that surrounds the palace.  In the caverns below, of which Adam displays inexplicable knowledge, they find the Matriarch, who soon succumbs to injuries sustained when the Magus dropped her through a trap door.  After Captain Marvel introduces the reader to Thanos (explaining that the destruction of the Cosmic Cube forced his return to mortal form, “floating unconscious at the center of the universe!”), he “phases” the others to Sanctuary, his space ark, “in free drift outside of the gravitational and detectional fields of…Homeworld!”

Knowing that the Magus may one day threaten his dream of retaking Titan, and needing the Soul Gem, Thanos used his time-probe, Knowledge I, to learn all about Adam’s life.  Hoping that “a contaminated element from the Magus’s future might be introduced into his present to disrupt his past,” he shielded Gamora when her peace-loving people, the Zen Whoberis, were “purified” by the Grand Inquisitors, molding her hatred of the Magus while training her as an assassin.  Her attempt having failed, Thanos explains that their last recourse is Adam’s suicide—but only if it is carried out under the proper conditions, utilizing Knowledge I; meanwhile, realizing the danger Thanos and his time-probe present, the Magus orders Egeus’s Death Squad to slay all but Adam. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Wow.  Can’t wait to see what my colleagues make of this one, ’cause it blew me away, erasing any concerns I had after the last entry, and once again, there’s material for discussion even in the credits, which bill this as “A WolfmanStarlinLeialohaOrzechowski Production,” enumerating no specific contributions.  As a point of reference, the next two issues list the same four creators but attribute story and layouts to Starlin and finished art to Leialoha (with Orz and Marv on letters and edits, natch); Jim cedes the position of colorist—uncredited in his case—to Steve in #12 and 14.  What does it all mean?  That while Jim retains control over almost every aspect of the strip, he may have found in Steve, who stays aboard through the penultimate issue, the perfect partner.

So many neurons are firing that I almost have to resort to a stream-of-consciousness commentary (going, as usual, by story pages, since I’m working from the 1983 special edition).  The plotting is no less dense than before, possibly even more so, yet this time Adam’s existential crisis seems better balanced with action and drama in a riveting read.  Jim’s gift for unusual layouts shines in, for example, the circular panels on page 2 and the thin vertical ones on page 3, the latter creating a kind of “slashing” effect that increases the excitement.  The storyline is now so complex that the recap requires a Gerberian slab o’ text on page 7, yet Starlin considerately offsets this with a ravishing montage whose kaleidoscopic effect is enhanced by its carefully mirrored construction.

Of course, this calls to mind his even more elaborate tour de force in Captain Marvel #28 (which I’ve begun to think might be my favorite issue of any comic book ever); speaking of whom, Jim even gives us extra value with Mar-Vell’s two-page sidebar, which not only tells the uninitiated who Thanos is but also explains for the rest of us how he survived his apparent death.  And while we’re on the subject of death—see, I warned you this would be stream-of-consciousness—the use of light and shadow is naturally superb in the cavern sequence, especially the encounter with the dying Matriarch, first framed by Gamora and Pip as a “holy” light from above falls on them, then in the repeated image that is part erotic, part Pietà, and interrupted by the Mar-Vellian skull.

Am I the only one who thinks Sanctuary looks like a TIE fighter, two years before Star Wars and Darth Vader, who is not entirely dissimilar from Thanos?  Pip holds his own in the comic-relief department (“I appreciate the concern!”), notably the priceless moment where, within minutes, he intuits how to elicit a cigar from Sanctuary’s complex hardware.  I love how Thanos—whose stony face beautifully borders Gamora’s origin, and whose goals remain satisfyingly secret—so offhandedly informs Adam he must kill himself; ditto the apoplectic reaction of the Magus upon learning That Other Cosmic Heavy has become the fly in his personal ointment.  That’s probably enough for this issue.  After all, I have to leave Professors Chris and Mark with something to write about…

Chris: Starlin goes a bit nuts this time, as the attack of the 25,000 Black Knights borders on parody of comic-story derring-do (I think Hercules might be the only dude in the cosmos who could beat 25,000 men in a fair fight – or at least, Herc might be inclined to tell you so).  The guest-narration by Captain Marvel also is done in a jaunty way (“Hey readers!”), which is far better than having Thanos grind the story to a halt so that he can stand there and lecture us about where he’s been since Mar-Vell put the crunch on the cube de cosmique (side note: these recaps are always welcome to me, since there’s always so much happening in Starlin’s story).  Of course, these lighter-mood moments don’t prevent Starlin from introducing the possibility of Warlock’s suicide. 

Thanos’ account of the origin of Gamora gives us an appreciation of the once-mad-god’s easy mastery of time, which seems to have eluded bunglers like Kang.  As far as Thanos is concerned, he’s playing tri-level chess like the game we all remember from Star Trek – a move on this level affects this other level, like so; regardless of where, or when, it’s happening, Thanos can see the changes in the bigger picture.  
Thanos’ description of the church’s “reindoctrination” of the non-followers of Zen Whoberis says less to me about Starlin’s well-documented opposition to organized religion, and more about the danger of a state run under the guise of zealotry.  I also thought of the Khmer Rouge “re-education” campaign in Cambodia, which was being perpetrated with similar cost in lives at this time, but I don’t know how widely-reported this story might’ve been as early as 1975.  
I’ll direct my art-praise this time to the poignant death-scene with the Matriarch (obvious choice, I know), and also the depiction of Sanctuary, which includes: Thanos’ grab of Pip’s leg, and his instructions to be careful with the equipment (Thanos addressing Pip while down on one knee, as if the troll were an inattentive child); various characters moving thru the station at right-angles to one another, which suggests not only unreality, but also their differing viewpoints/positions relative to one another; and of course, Pip’s unexpected ability to figure how to use the ship’s computer to generate a cigar for him (a moment which a lesser writer would’ve spoiled by drawing too much attention to it, instead of letting it play out in the background) – hey, if you can find some Borolo or Brunello in there, Pip, then we’re going to have to re-think this suggestion of you being “generally useless,” won’t we -?

Mark: Crazy green energy cracking from Magus' head. Four round panels on pg #2 bump against the picket fence of #3, four, inch-wide page long panels, bursting with energy as Warlock's fist almost flies off the page.

Captain Marvel pops up to break the fourth wall, pulling us from the story with needless exposition about Thanos...except it sure is pretty and the tone's right somehow, even when Marv addresses us as "dear reader." So, another gimmick Starlin pulls off.

The Chapter III slash page should be a poster and dig the Ditko-meets-Kane flying rock-sock on #16. Virtually every page, varying in panel size and design, pops, demands your attention, that you look at it a little longer. Well-inked here, Starlin's never been better. The showy, tour de force graphics perfectly match the burgeoning stakes, with our hero contemplating suicide by tale's end, at Thanos' gentle urging.

I'd thought maybe esteemed Professor Mathew gushed too much, but no - other than reminding him that Thanos looks a lot like Darkseid - I now think he may not have gone far enough.

If this isn't a perfect comic, it as close as you're likely to come.

X-Men 96
"Night of the Demon!"
Story by Bill Mantlo and Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by John Romita

Cyclops stalks through a quiet wooded area, as he fights to hold back his hurt and anger; he’s been troubled for the past few weeks by the death of Thunderbird.  Finally, Cyclops can contain himself no longer.  He wantonly cuts loose with his optic blasts, and succeeds only in feeling ashamed of himself for having lost control of his potentially deadly power.  As he prepares to return to the Xavier School, Cyclops fails to notice that he has damaged an obelisk, standing unobtrusively among the trees.  Elsewhere, at a military base in upstate NY, Dr Steve Lang is unceremoniously informed by his liaison to Washington that Lang’s secret mutant-busting program is about to be cut off from funding, and will be shut down.  Back at the school, Prof X barely has had time to introduce Dr Moira MacTaggert as someone who will serve as “housekeeper” while he is away (Xavier does not disclose his “vacation” plans) when Cyclops is flung inside, thru the window.  Cyke is followed by an oversized demon calling itself Kierrok the Damned.  No one is able to succeed in besting the demon, until Wolverine slashes it repeatedly with his claws, and appears to have killed it; not so, observes Cyclops, as a nimbus of energy begins to re-form Kierrok.  Xavier resolves to discover a way to undo the demon, but once he taps into its mind, Xavier unwittingly links with it and feels himself becoming Kierrok.  Xavier separates successfully, and sends Storm out with instructions for how to locate the obelisk.  Once there, Storm is beset by other demons, and feels herself about to be drawn into the structure, when she summons lightning to destroy the demon-portal.  Meanwhile, the transport from the “Project Armageddon” base, set to travel to DC to shut the project down, has unexpectedly crashed – no survivors.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Kierrok serves as a smaller-scale Krakoa; its only purpose appears to be to provide individual team members a chance to show off their skills a bit.  Wolverine makes best use of the opportunity, which is a sound idea on Claremont’s part; this issue marks the first time that we see Wolverine use his claws to destroy, or kill, another creature.  In addition, Wolverine comments on being “glad” that he still can tap into his killing fury, which (as he tells us) years of re-conditioning should have prevented from happening.  The letters page features a few reactions from X-Men #94, which tells us that some readers weren’t really taken with Wolverine; so, I wonder what people had to say about this development involving our anti-hero X-Man . . .
The issue is useful as it provides readers with a look at the new team as they continue to interact.  Claremont & Cockrum wisely decide to leave some space between last issue and this one (three weeks, we’re told), which has given the team more time to build relationships.  Ororo and Peter both express concerns for their teammates’ welfare.  Logan might be claws-wielding mad at Kurt for having laughed at him, but once Kierrok arrives, Wolverine is springing to his defense, stating “nobody beats on Wolverine’s buddies!”

Chris: Cockrum continues to maintain his high standard.  There’s plenty of debris-yielding action in the demon-fight, and Xavier’s peek into Kierrok’s head is a serious bad trip.  Cockrum also packs a lot of scale into our brief visit to Project Armageddon, which includes an overhead view of a briefing room, where people appear to be studying characteristics of the Beast and Marvel Girl; well, that can’t be good.  How about the moment when we see Wolverine scratching a tic-tac-toe game into a tabletop (p 15)!  Grainger continues to be a good fit for Cockrum, as his inks most closely re-create the solid (and un-murky!) effect we’ve seen when Cockrum’s art is self-inked.  
An editorial response to a LOC suggests that readers chime in about which of the past X-foes they’d like to see in upcoming issues.  Well, get ready fans, because over the next twenty issues, you’re going to see all of them – no, maybe not the Mimic, but all the ones you’d truly, eagerly want to see. 
Scott: I’d feel a bit more broken up about Thunderbird if he wasn’t such a belligerent pain in the ass all the time. As it stands, he was just a loud mouthed guy with a huge chip on his shoulder and his death really only adds a layer of relief. That’s one less mouth devoted to bitching. We also get to see Wolverine in his formative stages, easily freaking out and more than willing to gut Nightcrawler for laughing at him. We get to meet Moira MacTaggert for the first time and, charmingly, Banshee is smitten from moment one. And she’s pretty handy with a machine gun. Dr. Lang is waaaay melodramatic, my major pet peeve with Dave Cockrum. If people in real life acted like his illustrations, everyone would be bursting blood vessels and getting hemorrhoids. Col. Rossi’s death would carry more weight and shock value if it wasn’t relegated to a wordy and crowded final panel. The feeling of dread they were going for is lost in the rush. This title is still a diamond in the rough, but fun.

Matthew:  I probably had my sophomore encounters with both X-teams simultaneously, since this coincided with the reprint in GS #2 of the Sentinels saga from #57-9, well-timed in light of the subplot involving them here.  Anyone else notice that purple leg in Project Armageddon? Following an event like the death of a main character can be tricky, but in his first solo run (albeit with a plotting assist from Mantlo), Claremont pulls it off beautifully, while with Grainger back on inks, Cockrum proves that we didn’t need to await Byrne’s arrival for this book to soar on every level.  For once, a demon really looks scary, and Chris beautifully balances the four-color debut of the N’Garai—whom he’d created in a Satana prose story from Haunt of Horror #4—with awesome character stuff like the hip-shooting Moira.

Also This Month

Adventure on the Planet of the Apes #3
FOOM #12 >
Giant-Size Avengers #5 (All-Reprint)
Giant-Size Captain America #1 (All-Reprint)
Giant-Size Captain Marvel #1 (All-Reprint)
Giant-Size Power-Man #1 (All-Reprint)
Giant-Size X-Men #2 (All-Reprint)
Kid Colt Outlaw #201
Marvel Adventure #1 (Daredevil reprints)
Marvel Double Feature #13
Mighty Marvel Western #43
Our Love Story #37
Spidey Super Stories #14
Two-Gun Kid #127
Weird Wonder Tales #13

Those Marvel-ous Magazines

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 19
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Shall I Love the Bird of Fire?"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rudy Nebres

"An Ending!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Jack Abel

On his birthday, Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist) spends some solitary time contemplating life and his origin. His thoughts are disturbed by a woman's scream; moments later he comes across the screamer, a poor, defenseless girl being attacked by a mindless mob in the park. Danny makes short work of the crowd and approaches the terrified girl but is taken aback by her reaction to the silver dragon tattooed upon his chest. It takes a bit of sweet talk but Danny manages to convince the girl he's on her side and takes her to Professor Wing's mansion. There, the girl tells her story: her name is Jade and she has come to New York for Iron Fist's help. She's to be sacrificed by Dhasha Khan, the Soulslayer, who has sent his men to retrieve her. Just then, two of Khan's henchmen, Niu T'ou the Black and Ma-Mien the White Ox bust into the house and demand the return of Jade. Danny warms up his Iron Fist and lets loose a hell of a right jab... only to find he and the girl transported to the kingdom of the dead, lorded over by Dhasha Khan! The soulslayer announces his intention to mow his way through Iron Fist if he doesn't surrender the girl but IF stands his ground. Since Khan is well aware of the bravery of Iron Fist, he is ready for this stance and tells IF to get ready for a battle. Before the war can begin, Khan blinds Danny and tells his henchmen to take both IF and Jade to the dungeons.

Well, "Shall I Love..." is just the first chapter of a six-part epic but this piece pushes all the right buttons. We've got the rapidly improving art of Nebres (mind you, I've always thought his art was very good; it's just now a bit more focused and visually coherent) and a compelling story. Lots of questions to be answered (hopefully) in future chapters: I'm sure the mob was controlled by Khan but we haven't really gotten confirmation of that as of yet and please don't tell me that Danny and Jade met through the wonder of the MARMIS. This one would be a monster to swallow. When it comes to the serials of Deadly Dull Haze of Tufu, I'm not sure I've ever been able to type "I can't wait for the next chapter" until now.

The hostility between Lin Sun and Bob Diamond, all because of a kung fu chick named Lotus, boils over and explodes. As the two prepare for martial arts war, the third Son of the Tiger, Abe, quits the group in disgust and walks away. Lotus bursts into tears and flees. Then all hell breaks loose. After the two have beaten each other to a pulp, they call a truce and both decide to join brother Abe in ex-Tiger land. They toss their medallions into a waste can but, before too long, a young hispanic man comes along and finds the trinkets. When he hangs them around his neck he becomes The White Tiger. To Be Continued!

Aside from an unnecessary and supremely silly opening where Bill Mantlo and George Perez wander into a slum and bump into their kung fu creations, "An Ending!" is the best Sons of the Tiger installment yet. It's nothing more than a bloody brawl over a dame but the sheer hatred Bob Diamond shows for Lin Sun (complete with racial slurs galore) is startling. I've read every SotT installment (save for Marvel Team-Up #40, a title I don't get paid enough to read) but this antagonism seems to be coming right out of left field. No, the boys were never going to be bosom buddies but they did share the occasional kung fu tourney and hot dog and beer. Whatever, I won't argue with the sudden change of pace; it prompts a very good interchange between these two Sons. If there's one more quibble I have (aside from -- did I mention it? -- the incredibly dopey prologue), it's that the two kung fu fighters can sure gab a lot while kicking each other's teeth in. I've seen a couple Bruce Lee films and I don't remember the master having the breath nor the time to offer a running monologue about life and love while defending himself from death. When all is said and done, this could be the best issue ever published of Deadly Hams. -Peter Enfantino

Planet of the Apes 15
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Dreamer in Emerald Silence"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton

"In the Cradle of a Father's Sins"
Escape from the Planet of the Apes
Chapter 4
Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Rico Rival

Now "only 75¢," this month's Apes mag starts with a cover that's as kooky as it gets, a trident-holding gorilla fighting an octopus underwater, with a Nova-lookalike nearby. Nothing like the first tale, which is "Future History Chronicles" part II, "Dreamer in Emerald Silence", featuring the Dean's fave Tom Sutton at the easel. It's a long, long tale, with the usual endless Moench captions. Two years after the destruction of Hydromeda in issue #12, Alaric and Starkor are the human leaders, while Graymalkin heads up the apes, as the two races work together to pilot the ramming ship Freedom Reaver. Expert sailor Graymalkin is a stern taskmaster, and Starkor grows wearisome of his constant orders to the humans. But they manage to get the ship to sail, and three days later come up to the city-ship Dymaxion, which they vow to free the slaves from, but a fight between Graymalkin and Starkor sends the two overboard, with Alaric jumping into the ocean to save them…when they're all swallowed by a giant sea monster! Turns out it's a bio-mechanical ship named Dwelleron, piloted by creator Ambrosia, an orangutan hoping to destroy four city-ships at once with old school explosives. They all travel out of Dwelleron onto a jungle island, where Alaric, Starkor and Graymalkin are attacked by deadly Heathen Apes! Ambrosia's men are killed by a giant squid (Professor Gilbert alert!), but he's able to get back to Dwelleron and surface to save the three escapees. As they blow up the Dymaxion, Alaric and the gang take over the ship, forcing Ambrosia to jettison the rest of his explosives. As he returns them to the Freedom Reaver, Dwelleron explodes "from the depths of emerald silence", Ambrosia having saved some of the explosives.


Man, there's a lot going on here, and most of it is pretty good, although hard to see some of the murky black and white drawings thanks to the heavy inks and black seas. Our second visit to this "Future History" gives us lots of story, with a wacky Captain Nemo-esque guest star who's more like an old hippie than a madman with bombs.

Next we turn to Part 4 of the Escape re-telling, which further sets up Dr. Hasslein as the villain of the piece. Beginning with a presidential commission that paves the way for interrogation of Zira and Cornelius, we learn the story of how apes came to power (a plague fell upon dogs and cats, apes became pets, then one ape said "No!", they learned military force, yada yada yada, they took over the planet). Hasselin orders Lewis Dixon to administer Sodium Pentothal to Zira, whom they grill to the point that she admits performing experiments on live humans, and to meeting Taylor. Hasselin takes the tape to the commission, who rules by majority vote that the apes are not hostile, but Zira's baby must be terminated! Boy, lots of drama in this middle chapter, and lots of evil machinations, leading into the home stretch with talky politicians, nasty doctors, and two loving chimpanzees who finally reveal they know way more than would have seemed possible. -Joe Tura

I loved this notice in The Comic Reader #122 (September 1975) regarding the Planet of the Apes British weekly tabloid comic:

"The frequently  mentioned English Marvel weeklies run into frequent problems because of their accelerated schedules. Since Planet of the Apes has used up all of the material done for the U.S. books, the Bullpen came up with the idea of adapting the "War of the Worlds" strips from its beginning in Amazing Adventures to the ape saga. All the humans and mutants that Killraven was fighting have grown all kinds of hair and become apes. Consequently, the stories have lost a little in their translation to English. No explanation is offered for why apes are now piloting Martian tripods. The advantage that Marvel weeklies have however is that they also receive brand new covers very other week since they use those up at an equal rate."

Though the B&W POTA only ran 29 issues, the British weekly ran an incredible 123 issues (from October 1974 through February 1977). Before closing down, the weekly also ran reprints of Ka-Zar, The Black Panther, Man-Thing, and, inexplicably, Tomb of Dracula! -Peter Enfantino

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 9
Cover by Boris Vallejo

“The Curse of the Cat-Goddess”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Pablo Marcos

“Gods of the Hyborian Age, Part Four: Demi-Gods and Demons”
Text by Robert L. Yaple
“A Fabian Portfolio of Conan”
Art by Stephen Fabian

“When a Tiger Returns to Atlantis”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad

“The Conjurer from Cross Plains”
Text by Fred Blosser

“Swords and Scrolls”

In “The Curse of the Cat-Goddess,” Conan returns to his army of Zuagirian desert nomads, enraged that they have just slaughtered a religious caravan: he has forbidden his men to attack anything except merchant traders. Fazal, his second in command, hands the Cimmerian an obsidian cat idol that was found on the body of a priest — the barbarian feels a sudden breeze when he holds the statue that no one else seems to notice. With the idol always in his possession, Conan becomes increasingly bloodthirsty over the coming days, putting his men in more and more dangerous and deadly situations. One night, Fazal and two other conspirators, angry that a barbaric outsider leads the Zuagirs, steal into Conan’s tent and bind the slumbering warrior with heavy ropes — Fazal takes the cat idol and proclaims himself the new leader. Fazal, now under the idol’s insidious spell, leads the nomads on an impossible attack on a desert city: the Zuagirs are slaughtered by relentless volleys of arrows. Leaving his men to die, Fazal flees back to the Zuagirs’ camp, only to find that Conan has freed himself. After a lengthy battle, the Cimmerian kills his former lieutenant. Conan rides off — but not before tossing away the cursed cat idol, leaving it to be buried by the sweeping sands.

At only 15 pages, this tale is fairly inconsequential, only of note that it seems to mark the end of Conan’s connection with the Zuagirian raiders. Frequent John Buscema inker Pablo Marcos delivers decent art, a few steps below Big John’s usual. By the way, Pablo is from Peru not the Philippines like many of the black-and-white illustrators.

Robert L. Yaple returns with Part 4 of his “Gods of the Hyborian Age,” this time covering various demi-gods and demons. Many of them sprang from the superstitions of the Picts, often packaged in Lovecraftian names.

In “A Fabian Portfolio of Conan,” the former teen idol show he’s much more than simply a Hound Dog Man by illustrating scenes from a few of Robert E. Howard’s stories, including “The Queen of the Black Coast” and “The Phoenix on the Sword.” Oops, wrong Fabian. It’s actually Stephen Fabian, the sci-fi and fantasy illustrator. Not familiar with the artist but he won the World Fantasy Award for Life Achievement in 2006. The other Fabian won the Silver Award as The Promising Male Vocalist of 1958, so take your pick.

The seemingly never-ending saga of Kull’s struggle to regain the crown of Valusia continues on in the 29-page “When a Tiger Returns to Atlantis.” Returning to his childhood home, the island of Atlantis, to raise an army, Kull, along with Ridondo the Minstrel, marvels at a huge, shining city that didn’t exist mere years before. Suddenly, they are attacked by a band of savage men-beast and overcome. Two Atlantean guards emerge from the city and take them to a dungeon. They share the cell with an old man, Ranas of Lemuria. Since he was once a Lemurian slave, Kull takes an instant dislike to the man, but tells him of his plan to raise an army regardless. Ranas, in turn, informs the former king that the city was conjurered by a legendary wizard who holds true power over a pawn king. The next day, guards arrive to take Kull and Ridondo to the king, denying the captives' claim that they shared their cell with a Lemurian. The king turns out to be Om-Ra, Kull’s former childhood friend, who agrees to introduce him to Sarna, the sorcerer who helped usher Atlantis into its current age of enlightenment. To Kull, Sarna resembles the Lemurian from the dungeon, but the wizard denies this. Suddenly, Sarna’s beautiful young assistant, Kareesha, enters the room — Kull is dumbfounded that this is the same name as the crone he recently met on a Pict island. Later that evening, Kull meets another old acquaintance, Khor-Nah, now Captain of the Atlantean army: this man is not as welcoming as Om-Ra since he finds Ridondo seducing his woman. Afterwards, Kareesha approaches Kull, warning him that Sarna will attempt to kill him during the parade planned for tomorrow. As the lively event proceeds, Sarna casts a spell that causes a winged stone demon to lurch to life and it dives at Kull from the wizard’s high tower. Kull, seeking to gain favor from the crowd, positions himself between the demon and Om-Ra, pretending that the creature is actually trying to kill the king and not himself. While Kull battles fiercely, his broadsword has little effect. However, Kareesha tosses a jewel called The Demon’s Heart at the beast — when the demon blasts it with his fire breath, the jewel turns black and the winged beast itself explodes. Om-Ra praises Kull for his courage, naming him First Lieutenant of the Atlantean army, second only to Khor-Nah.

Can we get this whole Kull thing over already? Twenty-nine pages is tough to take — and difficult to keep the synopsis to a manageable length. Kull’s plan to gain favor with the crowd had a comical overtone as he rushed back and forth yelling “Save the king!” “Watch out!” and whatnot. But in the end, it seemed to work. The art is fine and you can skip over most of Moench’s dense captions and still get the gist. The last panel shows Kareesha smiling deviously from the shadows so we’ll see what comes of that — though I’m not sure when or where this storyline will finally wrap up. Hopefully in the pages of something like Ka-Zar so Professor Joe will have to deal with it.

“The Conjurer from Cross Plains” is Fred Blosser’s review of L. Sprague de Camp’s The Miscast Barbarian, a biography of Robert E. Howard. At 43 pages, it sounds more like a magazine than a book. Blosser was not very impressed and hopes for a more definitive work. Perhaps Professor Gilbert can recommend one (see below-The Dean). Finally, the “Swords and Scrolls” letter pages drops that next issue will conclude the adaptation of Howard’s novel The Hour of the Dragon, which began way back in September 1974 in the pages of Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian #1. Fifty. Eight. Pages. By. Crom. -Thomas Flynn

For REH biography, this is by far the best recommended reading list from the Robert E. Howard Foundation:  
The first on the list, One Who Walked Alone by REH’s girlfriend Novalyne Price Ellis, was turned into the 1996 biopic The Whole Wide World with Vincent D’Onofrio as Howard.   
The Foundation also publishes an excellent little biographical essay for starters:  

-Gilbert Colon

This Sunday: no amount of danger can keep Professor Gilbert from completing his assignment: to unearth and dissect the long-forgotten 3rd issue of Marvel's black and white Doc Savage Magazine. Read this one if you dare!

And... Coming in two weeks!

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