Wednesday, May 27, 2015

March 1976 Part Two: Flash! Omega is Not Quite the Unknown Anymore!

 The Incredible Hulk 197
"... And Man-Thing Makes Three!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bernie Wrightson

The Hulk is in a foul mood as he wanders about the Florida Everglades.  Unbeknownst to the Green Goliath, he is being observed by the Man-Thing.  Some snakes and alligators attack the Hulk, and he wads them up into a ball and tosses them aside.  During his travels, he finds the remnants of the Omegaville lab and takes a nap, eventually turning back into Bruce Banner.  When he wakes up, he sees a strange man spying on him.  The man runs away, so Banner chases after him, trying to convince him he is not a threat.  After catching the stranger, Banner discovers the man can't talk and is, apparently, frightened out of his mind.  Bruce walks him back towards the lab ruins, where they are suddenly attacked by vintage-dressed pirates.  Led by Captain Cutlass, the pirates try to abduct the two but  Banner turns back into the Hulk and mops the floor with them.  The real leader of the pirates emerges: the Collector. With the Man-Thing under his control, he orders the swamp monster to defeat the Hulk. The Man-Thing proves to be a tricky opponent for the Hulkster as the green-skinned goliath's powerful punches cause the creature no harm and the muck monster is able to punch him around the swamp.  Things get even worse when the Collector shoots the mute, frightened man with his philosopher's stone.  The man was part of the Collector's museum, and the blast turns him back into the Glob.  Both muck monsters team up and easily defeat the Hulk by smothering him.  The story ends with the pirates carrying the Hulk back to the Collector's ship as his newest acquisition.
 -Tom McMillion

Matthew Bradley: The notoriously forgetful Hulk might be excused for not recalling that he has met the Glob twice before (in #121 and 129), and even considered him a potential friend at one point, but Len, not so much, and that fact is nowhere acknowledged here; we’ll see what the next issue brings.  This was quite likely my first encounter with Man-Thing, yet since he quickly becomes a pawn of the Collector, and his burning touch is not in evidence, it didn’t really give me the full effect.  But no matter:  we’ve got satisfying visuals from Messrs. Buscema and Staton, and a solid story from Len, who had been one of the tag-team writers on the last issue of Manny’s GS title (and is perhaps best known for co-creating his DC counterpart, Swamp Thing).

Chris Blake: We’ve always been told that Man-Thing has no mind to speak of, so I’m a bit unsure how the Collector is able to manipulate Manny; well, I guess when you’ve been around as long as the Collector, you have a chance to learn a trick or two.  The fight with the two muck-monsters is sufficiently messy; I guess it goes to show that Hulk doesn’t have much of a chance against beings/objects that he’s unable to smash.  

 The Invaders 5
"Red Skull in the Sunset!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler, Dick Ayers, and Jim Mooney
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Cap, Namor, and the Torches destroy a new Midwestern defense plant in the name of the Third Reich, and the Red Skull announces that they are in his power.  FDR and the FBI’s Bill Stuart recall how, while discussing Stuart’s request to help sell war bonds, Cap had proposed a home-front group of such other costumed heroes as the Patriot, the Whizzer, the Fin, and Miss America.  A Manhattan war-bond parade sponsored by abrasive industrialist Bettman P. Lyles is disrupted by armed Bundists and the Skull, who appears in a giant vortex that soon swallows up all but Bucky, disdainfully left behind; after recovering from a state of shock, he tells FDR and Stuart he has a plan, but is again dismissed as a mere boy.  (Continued in Marvel Premiere #29.) -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’d forgotten that this tetralogy, which bops back and forth between The Invaders and Marvel Premiere, not only throws the Skull into the mix and introduces my beloved Liberty Legion, but also is 75% Robbins-free.  As popular as Ayers-bashing may be among the faculty, I think we can all agree that we benefit from the work of these guest artists, with Mooney’s embellishment bringing commendable consistency to the pencils of Riotous Rich and Darlin’ Dick.  At this point, Roy is clearly focused primarily on setting up the origin of the Legion, although bringing Marvel’s pre-eminent Nazi villain into its World War II strip is logical, perhaps even inevitable, and he’s certainly looking his skeletal best (especially the spectacular reveal in page 22, panel 2).

Chris: Quite a slight to the Buckster.  Should we assume, based on Roy’s admiration for some of the other comics-chronicled States-based heroes, that the next Invaders adventure might feature an Ocean’s 11-style pulling-together of a new team, to save the old team?  It’d be kinda soon for Roy to introduce a whole new cast of characters – I guess he simply wasn’t able to contain his enthusiasm!

Chris: The only downside to a heroes-turned-against-us story, like this, is that we already know that the resolution is likeliest to reveal one of these three causes for their dastardly actions: 1) the Invaders were hypnotized; 2) the Invaders were replaced by doppelgangers, or 3) the Invaders were forced to play along with the Skull, so that other people (hostages, possibly) would not come to harm.  If there’s any other way for a story like this to be explained, then I’m all ears.  I don’t mind – I’m sure there’ll still be plenty of fun to be had; all I’m saying is that the familiar way these stories tend to play out takes some of the excitement out of it.  

Mark Barsotti: A giant Red Skull cover by Kirby and Sinnott, still the Silver Age dynamic duo! And while I completely understand Jack's insistence on doing his own thing when he returned to Marvel, not every choice was inspired and not partnering with Joltin' Joe on at least one title was among the most dubious.

Once inside, it's not Frank Robbins' gonzo-Gumby stylings, but the weird-sounding pairing of Rich Buckler & old hand Dick Ayers, inked by Jim Mooney. Weird-sounding, but the results go down smooth, and while I'm one of the few faculty members to (occasionally) wave Frank's rubbery flag, he ain't missed here.

Roy riffs on the classic Supes-in-thrall-to-the-Axis plot, our heroes laying waste to Arsenal of Democracy defense plants after being sucked into the Skull's giant tornado in the sky (destination more Auschwitz than Oz). All except Bucky, ridiculed by the Skull as "...merely a mascot, a camp follower...," not worthy of sucking into the maelstrom. 

So why do I think the kid will be pivotal in rousing the A-team from their Hitlerite haze?

 The Invincible Iron Man 84
"Night of the Walking Bomb!"
Story by Len Wein and Roger Slifer
Art by Herb Trimpe, John Tartaglione, and Marie Severin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Again, to Pepper’s horror, the Enervator is employed to save Happy and installed in the hospital where Dr. Ritter is about to operate; again, despite adjustments to eliminate its side-effects, he becomes the brutish Freak, plunging into an elevator shaft.  As Michael O’Brien continues seeking proof that Tony killed Kevin, Iron Man finds the Freak hiding in the cobalt supplies, and although the radiation he has absorbed and is emitting is “clean,” he will explode like a nuclear bomb if it continues to build.  Their battle carries them into the sewage system, which Ritter floods to save the hospital, but after they emerge from the East River, IM is felled while goading him into releasing some of the energy as power bursts, and the Freak hops an El… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: There are very few things in this life we can count on with absolute certainty, but one of them is that if Happy Hogan develops so much as a hangnail, the requisite medical procedure will turn him into the Freak.  Tartag’s inks do nothing to strengthen Trimpe’s feeble pencils, while Wein’s plot, scripted by also-ran Slifer, handles the Enervator bit with atrocious sloppiness:  flying in with this apartment-sized gizmo, Shellhead is essentially told, “Just stick it over there,” and although lip service is paid to the notion that Tony has finally gotten the bugs out of it, this is discarded without comment almost immediately.  Continuing a recent whimsical trend, EIC Marv is billed as “Armor Repairman” here and “Game Warden” in this month’s Incredible Hulk.

Jungle Action 20
The Black Panther in
"They Told Me a Myth I Wanted to Believe"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Billy Graham and Bob McLeod
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

T’Challa and Monica are attacked at a grocery store by knife-bearing assailants.  One of the thugs grabs Monica from behind, and threatens harm to her and her family if she talks to the newspapers, or the police, about the recent attacks on her and her family.  T’Challa flings the attackers into the shelves; once the police arrive, he has to defend himself against them as well.  Monica shouts at the cops to lay off; the sheriff backs Monica once he’s on the scene.  That night, the Panther goes alone to Devouring Swamp, to disrupt a Klan meeting mentioned in the store by one of the thugs.  Meanwhile, Monica and intrepid reporter Kevin Trublood speak (again) about his suspicions that Monica’s dead sister, Angela, was aware of a corrupt land deal, which could have resulted in her murder.  Back at the swamp, T’Challa is overcome by the Klansmen, who lash him to an oversized cross, and set it ablaze.  -Chris Blake

Chris: So far, this storyline has been a significant come-down from “Panther’s Rage.”  In fairness, “PR” was a uniquely compelling series, and it would’ve been difficult for any succeeding story to measure up.  Don doesn’t help his case, as there is very little of substance in this second chapter to advance the story.  We already know that Angela might’ve had information that could have contributed to her death – but, all that happens is that Kevin and Monica continue to talk about it, instead of, I don’t know, maybe going out to try to substantiate these suspicions somehow-?  Also, the grocery store sequence goes a bit too long, and is marred by the ridiculous sight of T’Challa pushing a shopping cart while wearing his Panther suit.  Don seems to tell us that T’Challa is being deliberately provocative by appearing this way, but I don’t find it true to T’Challa’s character for him to draw attention to himself like this.  The Klan-clash in the second half is well-executed art-wise, and Kevin’s (slightly overwrought) statements about the ideals of America, and the all-important right to free speech, present a chilly counterpoint to Graham’s large-panel images of T’Challa’s lynching.  

Matthew:  I continue to admire this arc as much for how skillfully it transplants the McGraham magnificence to a drastically different setting as on its own considerable merits, with a shout-out to once and future Panther artist Buckler for his effective, albeit irrelevant, cover.  Billy—again bolstered by McLeod—turns a supermarket into a dramatic tableau on the splash, and it’s worth the price of admission to see T’Challa hunched over a cart, asking if it’s illegal to squeeze the Charmin.  Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story calls Kevin “an obvious stand-in for McGregor himself,” who’d resisted editorial pressure to change the low-selling title, and posits Arthur Winslow in Howard the Duck #2 (on sale just a week later) as Gerber’s riposte.

Master of Kung Fu 38
Story by Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy
Art by Paul Gulacy and Dan Adkins
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Shang-Chi is in Hong Kong to locate a cover-agent, and recover documents currently held by an enemy agent named Shen  Kuei, aka Cat (owing to his “stealth, cunning, and mystery”).  S-C locates the British agent – she is Juliette, a singer at a bar called the Jade Peacock.  When S-C speaks with her, he is confronted by a youth who accuses S-C of having “betrayed” his people; after he is quickly defeated, the youth leaves, cursing S-C as “white one.” In her room away from the bar, Juliette reveals to S-C that she has found a life in Hong Kong, and does not wish to be rescued, in part because she and Shen Kuei are lovers.  S-C returns to the Jade Peacock, and finds it empty – moments later, he is surrounded by six members of the youth’s gang, who are here for payback after S-C’s embarrassment of their comrade.  Before the fight can begin, a man throws a knife from the balcony above; heads turn, as he identifies himself as Shen Kuei – he removes a robe to reveal the cat tattoo on his chest.  He drops to the floor below, and states that he will fight alongside S-C; the two martial-arts masters rout the gang members.  Juliette then enters the room, expressing surprise to see Shen Kuei.  Cat declares that Juliette has betrayed him to this “British assassin,” Shang-Chi, and he is prepared now to repay her for her “false love.”  -Chris Blake
Chris: Say what you will about Moench (hey – not so loud!), but he continues to do a nice job of devising matters to occupy Shang-Chi that don’t involve daddy issues.  We also have a moment of focus on S-C’s moral center, as he initially is resistant to Sir Denis’ directive, since he does not want to accept this assignment to Hong Kong if it requires him to kill Shen Kuei.  Doug also suggests that Leiko now has a thing for S-C; wonder if Reston knows – that should be interesting . . .
I think my appreciation for Gulacy is augmented by his limited presence in these pages – I was reasonably satisfied with Pollard’s work the past two issues, but now that Gulacy is back, well, I bow again to the master.  As we continue to enjoy the cinematic style we’ve come to expect, we also may appreciate some new wrinkles, like the ingenious depiction of a conversation shown in reflection on decorative glass (p 10).  The battling continues to be ferocious – excuse me if I keep relying on that term.  The extended fight sequence toward the end is pretty great.  Earlier on, there’s a neat little bit, played out over four panels, as S-C catches the punk’s left hand, holds it, and prepares to kick him into the bar furniture, all of which gave me an appreciative chuckle (p 11).  The visual leitmotif of the cats, either threatening each other, or simply on patrol in the night, is a nifty complement to the action, especially as it’s not overdone.  
Mark: Rather have a Gulacy cover, Shang picking daisies, anything, but still have to shout-out Gil Kane's great composition, doubling the action in a mirror's reflection.   

Moench and Gulacy are back in harness, and after consecutive stop-madmen-from-ruling-the-world spy saga trilogies, they wisely go small, head to Asia and go personal. Sure, there's a Sir Denis mission in the background, but there's where it stays as S-C finds a blonde saloon singer in Hong Kong who reminds him of Leiko. Juliette (rendered as a Marlene Dietrich-look-alike on P. 10) is Sir Denis' agent, but she's quitting because China still "bewitches" with magic the West lacks and she's become the lover of Shen Kuei, the titular Cat, who, believing Juliette has betrayed him, is out for her blood.

All the stakes here are personal, giving the story more emotional heft than the whiz-bang, Steranko-favored spyventures. There's also a lot more martial arts mayhem then we've seen lately, served up in dynamic fashion, to remind us of the title.

M&G shift smoothly into another story-telling gear with "Cat," and it's sure to get the reader purring.   

Marvel Feature 3
Red Sonja in
“Balek Lives!”
Story by Bruce Jones
Art and Letters by Frank Thorne
Colors by Petra Goldberg Cover by Frank Thorne

Red Sonja escapes pursuing militia with the help of a spell weaved by Neja, the old mage who knows the secret behind the gold key the She Devil stole from Rejak the Tracker. After a flagon of wine in the crone’s hidden cave, Neja tells Sonja that the key once belonged to King Thelok of Skurga, who was embroiled in a 100-year war with his rival King Milos of Thros, neither gaining the advantage. One day, an outlander named Lamrac — secretly hired by Milos — arrives in Thelok’s court, bedazzling the king with a mechanical bird and other wonders, including a giant automaton of the monarch himself. Completely mesmerized by Lamrac’s creations, the king forgets his warrior duties and Milos eventually overruns Skurga. Thrown in the palace dungeon, Thelok besieges the dark god Balek to possess his giant doppelganger. The demon obliges, slaughtering everyone except Thelok and Lamrac. When the traitorous toymaker removes a gold key from Balek’s back, it lurches to a stop. The king kills Lamrac and pushes the immobile Balek into the sea, jumping in to his death afterwards. The tale told, Red Sonja suddenly becomes woozy, her drink drugged by Neja. When the Hyrkanian heroine comes to, she is chained to a wall before the metal Balek, salvaged by Neja and activated with the golden key. The old witch orders the giant to kill Sonja, but its powerful punch only frees one of the chains. The She Devil uses the length to strangle Neja, ordering her to unlock the other chain and have Balek stand down. But the mage slithers out of the warrior's grasp and Balek chases Red Sonja to the edge of a cliff. Swinging the length of chain on her left hand around an outcropping, she swings away and Balek falls off the mountain — the She Devil whips the other chain around Neja’s neck and pulls her down after the mechanical man. However, Balek manages to clamber back up to the cliff. Red Sonja jumps on his back and fiercely tugs at the key. The automaton reaches back, grabs Sonja and pulls her away: she refuses to let go of the key and it is removed in the process. With Balek deactivated once again, the woman melts the gold key into an armband. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: A simply terrific comic. It might be sacrilege to say, but Bruce Jones and Frank Thorne easily surpass the Hyborian action offered by the masters, Thomas and Buscema, in this month’s Conan the Barbarian #60. While last issue played out like a horror movie, this one recalls a Grimm’s fairy tale. Thorne hands the coloring off to Petra Goldberg, concentrating on the art and lettering: both are outstanding, and he is quickly establishing himself as one of the most talented and distinctive artists of the era. Not sure why Jones’ Marvel career was rather undistinguished during the '70s since he’s really shining on this series. Though it looked like he had some success writing The Incredible Hulk from 2001 to 2005. I guess I need to expand on Neja’s spell at the beginning: the mage made it appear that Red Sonja and her horse fell into a chasm while trying to flee the militia. Sonja was under the trance herself and shouted “Conan…I never…let you…” before “hitting” the bottom. That Cimmerian was an old heartbreaker wasn’t he?

Marvel Team-Up 43
Spider-Man and Dr. Doom in
"A Past Gone Mad!"
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 Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

 The deranged Mather shifts his allegiance to Doom, believing him to be “the angel of light,” and is swatted aside; diverting Spidey and the Vision by turning his cat into a sabertooth,  the Dark Rider (now sans hyphen) confronts Doom with knowledge of his mystic birthright from FF Annual #2.  Our heroes are saved by a hex from the still-weak Wanda, who left Mrs. Proctor’s care, and the Rider grows by draining Doom’s power, revealing his demonic face, while the Proctors are condemned amid courtroom hysteria.  Despite the threat he poses in the present, the others rush to Doom’s aid, but after being held temporarily by Wanda’s hex, the Rider is freed by the infusion of Doom’s scientific power, and soon all four of his foes are felled. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With so many characters already involved as this tetralogy kicks into high gear, and Moondragon being interpolated next time, it’s a stunning example of why Our Pal Sal—perhaps the Bullpen’s ultimate utility player—is the perfect artist for MTU; Mighty Mike’s unwavering support helps him make everybody look good.  Although they only topline two of the issues, the Vision and Wanda are at the heart of this arc, which not only gives them welcome exposure but also spotlights their love for each other in a way that Avengers sometimes cannot.  It’s a kick having Doom co-starring in Marvel and Super-Villain Team-Ups (the latter a future Mantlo title as well) concurrently, and the two-page spread recapping his sorcerous history is a real stunner…

Joe: Why is Doctor Doom so freakin' cool? Well, read the first two pages of this comic and you have your answer. If you didn't already know, that is. He shares the "I don't suffer fools" attitude of Doc Ock (see page 2 panel 3), with the weapons and know-how to back it up. And drawn here by Sal B., "teamed" with Spidey, the coolness factor goes up considerably! Love that he turns on the Dark Rider so fast, that mohawked nasty ("Back, you damnable leech!") and battles alongside heroes he hates just because it's better for him. Well, that's to be expected, yes, but heck, it's good stuff, says me! And another cliffhanger, so we're waiting with bated breath for next month!

Chris: It’s a pretty ordinary MTU story, as four characters – including Von Doom! – take their best swats at the Rider, only to be felled in turn, while the Salem Witch Trials (which are, somehow, related to our story at hand -?) play out in the background.  I liked how Mantlo drew on Doom’s rarely-mentioned sorcery-related heritage; although, the magic doesn’t factor into the story much, as Doom seems to be pouring only plain-old energy blasts toward the Rider.  

It’s time for someone, somehow, in the Marvel Universe to state in a widely-circulated memo, the following point: “When an opponent/villain declares to you that your attacks (whether in kinetic- or photon-form) are feeding into his/her power, thereby resulting in said opponent becoming more powerful, hero is hereby directed to break off attack and find some other means to defeat opponent/villain.  Direct inquiries of alternate methods of attack to R. Richards PhD, c/o Baxter Building (5 or 6 top floors), NYC 10012.”  

Marvel Two-In-One 14
The Thing and The Son of Satan in
"Ghost Town!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Herb Trimpe and John Tartaglione
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

New Year’s Eve, ’75:  searching an Arizona ghost town for the source of a disturbance detected by Reed’s instruments, Ben sees a saloon painting of an ominous rider, identified by an abruptly appearing Son of Satan as Jedediah Ravenstorm, the half-breed founder of Lawless, which became deserted after its law-abiding citizens hanged him.  A century later, he returns and toys with Daimon by pitting him against a possessed Ben, but when he lets it slip that he recognizes Daimon, the latter realizes that “Jed” is his old foe Kthara, Mother of Demons.  As she blasts Ben, Daimon impales her with his trident, yet in dropping her hold over Ravenstorm, she releases the vengeful souls his curse held enthralled, and she “is torn limb from astral limb.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This reunites Daimon with early artist Trimpe, but that doesn’t make it good; in fact, it’s terrible, and inked by Tartag—rather than obliterated by Giella, as in #9—his rendition of Ben is among the worst I’ve seen.  Mantlo’s pacing as all wrong, squandering panels on an apparent attempt at a parallel to the Christmas Eve scene in #8, so the eleventh-hour introduction of Kthara (last seen in Spotlight #24) is muddled and rushed, with the overall plot a confusing mess and Ravenstorm a mercifully one-shot villain.  A team-up book lives or dies on its chemistry, sorely lacking in this issue, which feels obligatory after we’ve had Ghost Rider meet Ben and Daimon meet the Torch in MTU, and it’s a damned shame Reed’s “atmospheric probes” couldn’t detect any here...

Omega the Unknown 1
"Omega the Unknown"
Story by Mary Skrenes and Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

On another world in another dimension, a nattily-dressed hero ostensibly named Omega fights an army of killer robots but one gets the jump on him and Omega is blasted in the back. The pain is felt across the universe by young James-Michael Starling, who awakens from a dream of a nattily-dressed hero named Omega... His parents come to his room to comfort James-Michael but, being a child genius, he puts their fears to rest. His mom and dad have decided James-Michael needs a change of scenery, that maybe a new school will bring him out of his shell (after years of home schooling), but on the road out of town, the three are involved in a deadly car crash. His mother is decapitated but, as we soon learn, she's not in much pain since she's a robot! Before she sizzles to dust, Ma Starling tells her son not to listen to the voices in his head as that way lies danger. Very soon we learn that James-Michael is psychically linked to Omega and that the hero is trying to jump over into our world. The new orphan is taken to the hospital and seen after by a gorgeous nurse named Ruth and the strange Dr. Thomas Barrow. After James-Michael is discharged, Ruth agrees to look after him at the apartment she shares with groovy hipster Amber (who shops at all the same outdated clothes stores that Mary Jane Watson frequents) but before that magical event can occur, J-M is attacked by a costumed creature with a laser gun. Omega comes to J-M's rescue and hightails it before the doctor can arrive. When Barrow enters, he finds J-M kneeling on the floor, Omega symbols burned upon his palms.
-Peter Enfantino

Feets don't fail me now!

Peter Enfantino: I not only didn't read Omega the Unknown when I was a kid but, weird as it may seem for a Marvel Zombie to admit, I didn't even know it existed until years later when I was trying to amass every single Marvel funny book ever published (I got very close, just before my mental breakdown) and acquired every one of its ten issues in a quarter box at a convention. If I can find the receipt, could I get that $2.50 back somehow? It's too early for me to massively crap on this title but if I didn't feel I had to read this, I wouldn't bother opening #2. Is James-Michael just a younger version of Rick Jones? Is the kid a robot? More importantly, will we get to see Amber pierce her navel (what's up with her Bad-Ass Chick dialogue anyway?)? I think the biggest problem is that a first issue should hook, not confuse, a reader and Skrenes/Gerber (heretofore known as Skreber) throw a full bucket of WTF across the paper and just let it lie there. That's a perfect segue into Jim Mooney's lifeless art. The guy does love his shadowy faces (Ruth actually seems to have lost an eye on page 18), doesn't he? Amber's exit from the hospital is obviously inspired by John Romita's classic Mary Jane poses (with the deviation being that Amber uses the word "punk" rather than "Tiger" -- could a .44 Magnum be tucked in her tight jeans?). That splash (above) makes me appreciate Frank Robbins.

Matthew:  I bought every issue of this, but I never really liked it, and revisiting it now, it’s easy to see why.  Being mute, Omega lacks charisma; his costume—designed by Gerber, erstwhile EIC Len Wein, and art director John Romita—is boring; and despite my retroactive regard for Steve (who conceived and wrote the series with partner-in-every-sense Skrenes, the inspiration for Howard the Duck’s Beverly Switzler), it relies too heavily on obliquity and questions that, as I recall, are not answered for far too long, if ever.  Mooney worked well with Gerber on Man-Thing, yet his aggressively average style does little to compensate for the material’s limitations, although the scene of the robot mother’s head disintegrating while she’s talking stayed with me.

Skull the Slayer 4
"Time Out of Mind!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

Trapped on the floor of ancient Egypt, Scully and his three companions fight robotic warriors until the sheer numbers overpower them. Captured, the quartet is brought before Master Slitherogue, a devilish chap garbed in ancient Egyptian who tells them he is not only the ruler of Egypt but also the man in charge of the entire "time pyramid." Slitherogue belonged to a race of alien beings who had mastered robotic life on another planet but then got bored and decided celestial conquest was where it was at. He tells his stunned and captive audience that, eventually, all eras on earth will be ruled by Slitherogue and then puts the cherry on the cake, giving a demonstration of his power, when he blasts poor young Jeff to dust. The remaining explorers are put to work building pyramids but when Scully notices how slowly the guards walk across the desert sand, the trio make their escape. Ann falls and breaks her leg but Scully pushes on, leaving Corey behind as well. He turns to see both of them slain as he takes a tumble into the time pyramid and ends up in the presence of Merlin the Magician and his bodyguard, The Black Knight! Scully and the Knight tussle for a bit but then call a truce when Merlin hears Scully's story of Slitherogue. The wizard had suspected something was up and he proposes Skull the Slayer help him and The Black Knight open up a can of WhoopAss on Slitherogue. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I'll say this: if Stainless only had one issue to set forth his doctrine on all that is Skull the Slayer, he must have thought "What the hell" and gone for broke. God love him! This is one of the wackiest, nonsensical, out of the blue, WTF? Marvels I've ever read. That's a good thing. Marv had found a way to trim the fat he'd built up in this storyline in the first two issues, but I wasn't sure where he would take us after last issue's events. Stainless opts for the "scorched earth" policy and kills off the entire supporting cast in an almost offhand way (and just in time too, as Professor Corey's mad rap was becoming quite tiresome), no last words or tears on Scully's part; just a shrug and on to the solution to this hell. The greatest funny book writer of all time takes the foundation of selfishness Marv had built into his title character and pushes Scully straight into "heartless son of a bitch" territory with the greatest of ease. And Steve is nice enough to load the script with lots of Moench-esque dialogue just to remind us this title is not meant to be taken seriously (after Jeff is vaporized, Ann moans, "All our problems -- his father, feminism-- even your feud-- they all seem petty now. We could all be dead at any minute! My mother told me about World War II -- how helpless she felt when she heard about Pearl Harbor! I never -- never thought I'd face anything like that!"). Marv and Steve took what should have been a disposable, forgettable short-run and turned it into an alternative classic and now it's up to Bill "Angry Young Man"-tlo to keep me interested for the remaining four issues. I ain't holdin' my breath.

The Mighty Thor 245
"The Temple at the End of Time!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Having survived the destruction of  Earth in the 50th century,  Thor and his companions mourn its loss. When Zarrko and the Servitor return in the time cube, they of course blame Thor for failing to stop the Time-Twisters. Soon a consensus is reached: travel forward to time's end and stop the events from beginning. Their destination finds the only sign of life a planetoid with a central temple. They penetrate a force field then defeat some Protectoids.  Sadly the Servitor is lost in the battle.  Upon entering the temple they find the Twisters--as embryo-like formations guarded by an ancient  being: the One Who Waits. The Time Twisters' mission is to pass on the knowledge of all history to the new beginning. The One Who Waits is at first unbelieving that their journey will wreak such havoc, but as time passes he realizes our traveling friends are telling the truth. As the shock waves of the END begin to occur, he urges our friends to leave in the time cube. They do, and the being sadly terminates the embryos' life support.  The changes to history mean that Zarrko's time is a hugely prosperous one, and Thor and company never made the journey. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: As time travel stories go, especially in comics, this one is well thought out and suspenseful.  We get an explanation - enough - about who the Time-Twisters are and what their purpose is. Len Wein cleverly orchestrates it so that the whole thing never happened.  Yet what of the Servitor? Did he exist? And what different purpose for the One Who Waits and his race? Some sadness here. A good way of joining the Sif/Jane question is touched upon, as it appears Sif's often ignored space time power saved them in the beginning. And Derek's fate is improved as he becomes the new ruler of that time.

Matthew: Here I am again, at the end of another post and wondering what the hell to say about this book.  Random reactions include the following:  the cover not only is more inaccurate than many, but also too heavy on the red end of the spectrum for my tastes; despite Gerry’s having passed the torch to Len, this feels like one of those star-spanning Conway Asgardian epics; nice to see the notion of residual Sif traits remaining inside Jane reflecting the lively lettercol debate over who should be Thor’s main squeeze; the ending is satisfying, both ironic and conclusive; and the artwork is unusually delectable, even by Buscinnott standards.  I just continue to wish that all of that visual splendor were being put in the service of something I found more engaging.

Chris: The Servitor is quite the fickle Freddie, isn’t he, buying you a beer one minute, and then throwing it in your face the next!  Well, at least he is dignified by a Death in Battle with Honor.  Based on how the LOC have sounded lately, readers should be fairly evenly-divided over whether Jane’s speech (which results in the Time Twisters’ demise in utero by He Who Remains) was brave and heartfelt, or whiny and self-serving; there simply appears to be no consensus over whether her return was worth the cost to Sif. Clever device by Len at the story’s end to replay an earlier incident with Thor & Co at Jane’s apartment, with no interruption this time by the Servitor, and no recognition by the group that they had returned from a jaunt thru time.

The Tomb of Dracula 42
"A Final Battle Waged!"
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

Dracula and Blade find themselves locked in a battle to the death against Dr. Sun. Inside the evil brain's mansion, the two unlikely vampire allies dispatch the brainwashed U.S. military soldiers who are under Sun's control.  Once they attack Sun, he opens a trap door into which Blade falls.  Stopping himself before he hits the wooden spikes below, Blade crawls his way up a landing and escapes through a sewer cap out onto the Boston streets.  More possessed soldiers attack him.  As he fends them off, Blade is distracted by the sight of the silver-haired vampire who killed his mom many years ago, and is knocked cold by the soldiers. Meanwhile, Dracula has been evading Dr. Sun's powerful mind blasts.  Turning into his mist form, Drac almost defeats Sun when he uses his ghost-like hand in an attempt to crush the living brain by seeping into Sun's protective casing.  Sun is able to use his telekinetic powers to stop the Count once again and then unleashes a powerful crucifix, made of energy light.  Even though he is in terrible pain, Dracula uses his mist form to defeat his foe again. The lord of the vampires smothers his body over Sun's container, causing the brain's vast electronic mind powers to fade out, eliminating his mind control over the U.S. military troops.  Frank Drake, Rachel Van Helsing, Harold H. Harold, and Aurora arrive just in time to see the final conflict, with Sun's brain on the floor.  When Harold runs over to stomp the brain to death, Sun shoots one last mind blast at him. Dracula moves the buffoonish hack out of the way, and the blast hits Sun's last computer; the evil brain short circuits and perishes in a burst of flames.  As Drac gloats over his supreme victory, Blade barges in, demanding the Count's help in tracking down the silver-haired vampire who killed his momma. -Tom McMillion

Chris: We’re accustomed to Drac being involved in battles of wits, but this turns out to be more of a contest of wills, as Drac proves he’s more than a match for a brain-in-a-box.  We continue to have an interesting dynamic with Drac’s hunters-turned-allies; it’ll be interesting to see how much longer this could last, if it requires Drac potentially to go against one of his own.  I can’t see him taking orders from Blade – Drac would have to have some ulterior motive (well, doesn’t he always?) if he were to agree to go after the white-haired vamp.  Does Vlad yank Harold away from Sun’s ray-blast because he wants to deny Sun any semblance of victory, or because he’s come to appreciate the value of comrades-in-arms, perhaps?  Nah.

Plenty of great art, as always, but the highlight for me is Drac re-forming from the mist, both on p 15 and again on p 26, especially the way his expression reflects his involvement with the battle at that moment.
Hey Vlad – since you’ve come back, it seems like you’ve had a few jars of blood to drink, but it can’t be like the real hot blood of the hunt, you know?  After all these years of feasting, it’s hard to imagine that you could go so long without, and that – uh, Vlad?  Count -?  You’ve got this kinda . . . uh, hazy look, and  . . . whoa, wait . . . whew, better sit . . . down . . . Vlad, could you, uh . . . uh, never knew your . . . eyes were so . . . red . . .

Mark: Dr. Sun is reduced to ashes (mirroring Drac's fate three issues ago, but unlike the Dark Lord, one expects that Sun has set for good) by tale's end and, barely pausing for breath, the creative trio launches the next arc, as Blade recruits the Count to help him find "that white-haired vamp that killed my mother..."

The pace of "A Final Battle..." is so frenetic, seeded with new mysteries (who decapitated the already dead Juno?), cliffhanger escapes (Blade's agonizing climb from the trap-doored stake-pit is a Gene Colan classic) and a battle royal (Drac forming a mist-fist after Sun has sucked the Count's incorporeal form into his brain-box; the Doc fighting back with crucifixes of light) between Big Bads, that it seems churlish to suggest some might have expected an even bigger final showdown, given the two years or more that Sun has bedeviled Dracula.

So I won't. Instead, a tip o' the coffin lid to Messrs. Wolfman, Colan, and Palmer for an excellent spookhouse saga.

And bring on the white-haired vamp.

Werewolf by Night 37
"The End"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Diane Buscema
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Dan Adkins

As the zombie cops break into Marcosa House, Jack-Wolf and the women try to fend them off, with Topaz using her mind powers and JW using a club. Then the gloating Marcosa turns the women into demons, and JW slashes at a ghostly Marcosa, forcing him to howl in frustration. Suddenly, Gideon Blaine and the rest of Marcosa's victims show up, trapped in his corrupt soul, and JW rips them free. The spirits stop the women from fighting each other, then make Marcosa "carnate", so Jack is able to attack him after knocking him from the steps. But from Marcosa's "blood" rises Dr. Glitternight! After another slashing, Moon Knight arises from the "welter of black bubbling blood", then the third unleashes The Hangman! All three attack the Werewolf, until he's able to pull the hangman's noose, sending him flying into Glitternight, whose light-demons hit Moon Knight, all three crashing down and disappearing, leading Jack to slash Marcosa to bits! Blaine declares they have won, and vows to fulfill his promise that they would save Buck. And save him he does, the spirit entering Buck's body and waking him up from the coma. Back to Marcosa House, and de-wolfed Jack destroys Marcosa's physical remains, then they await Jerome Selwin's men, who relate that Selwin's been committed and there won't be any payments coming. But no matter, as Jack says, "nothing happened here…" In our Epilogue, Jack says an internal goodbye to sister Lissa, stepfather Philip, his unrequited love Topaz, and best friend Buck. Then he changes into the Werewolf and lopes off into the dark North Woods in search of the end, only to start a new beginning.--Joe Tura

Joe: Well, obviously by the ending, this was supposed to be the final issue of the Werewolf By Night saga, but alas, it will live on, for better or for worse. And this title has certainly improved over the last year. Sure, it's been goofy and wacky, especially once they got inside Marcosa House, but between the consistent Perlin art and the spooky scripts of Moench, it's been a decent comic book. And just as the tale ends, with a wild and woolly battle, walking dead policeman, ectoplasm galore, vengeful spirits, a miracle recovery, an admission of love, and more supernatural shenanigans, we are told we'll get more. After all, there are still some loose ends, such as Prof. Chris fave Raymond Coker, to be dealt with.

Chris: Doug delivers a very satisfying conclusion to this multi-part story; how is it satisfying?  Well, for starters, Marcosa is done-in largely by his own overconfidence (satisfaction – check), as Jack’s frustrated howl somehow triggers the appearance of Marcosa’s grisly soul, and the soul’s captives.  Marcosa finally shows a bit of trepidation (very satisfying), once he realizes that Gideon and his allies might now be more powerful than he expected.  Most significantly, Jack is left on his own – without help from Topaz – to destroy Marcosa (so, so satisfying) once he is trapped in corporeal form.  The end does come quite quickly for Marcosa, once the Werewolf begins tearing at him – I can only guess that Marv and the editorial staff were taking into consideration the tender eyes of its youngest readers, and toned-down the death scene somewhat.  

Chris: Perlin justifies his fans’ faith in him, as he delivers another WbN that is far-out fantastical at times, and downright savage at others.  Highlights: ghouly police (p 3); Marcosa’s nasty, writhing soul (p 10); the Werewolf’s shocked and enraged expression, as Marcosa keeps him at arm’s (or leg’s) length once again (p 15, pnl 2); the beset-on-all-sides page (p 18); the energy-infused killing scene (p 23).  Nice job, Donnie!
Jack’s always been reliant on his inner-circle to help him keep things together; Buck bails him out, Philip provides financial support, Lissa offers an emotional harbor, and Topaz has been a well-worth-it love interest.  So now, Moench makes the bold, but fully understandable (in light of Buck’s serious injuries in WbN #31) decision for Jack to leave all of them.  At one point, WbN #37 was scheduled to be the final issue of the series; this would’ve been a fitting (and somewhat satisfying) way for this title to have concluded, wouldn’t it -?

Also This Month

Chamber of Chills 21
Crazy #16
FOOM #13
Kid Colt Outlaw #204
Marvel's Greatest Comics #62
Marvel Classic Comics #3
Marvel Super-Heroes #56
Marvel Tales #65
Marvel Triple Action #28
Mighty Marvel Western #44
< My Love #39 (Final Issue) 
Rawhide Kid #132
Ringo Kid #26
Sgt Fury #132
Strange Tales #184
Tomb of Darkness #19


Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 22
Cover by Bob Larkin

"To Storm the Gates of Hell"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Who is the White Tiger?"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen and Rico Rival

Still trapped in the Land of the Dead, Iron Fist listens as Jade relates the origin of her alter ego, the Firebird. The duo are joined by the Bowman and, together, they attempt to overcome the soldiers of Dhasha Khan. To battle Dhasha, Iron Fist must cross the Bridge of Pain but when he gets there he is confronted by Silver Dragon, who vows to kill Danny before he has a chance "To Storm the Gates of Hell." Nothing new to report; this is still a mad mess and jumble of tangled images. There's really no telling where this arc will lead, chiefly because I have no idea where it's at right now. Such a great character, such a lousy serial.

The funny book equivalent of a really bad hangover

Hector Ayala continues to struggle, mentally and physically, with his transformations into the White Tiger. In an effort to put Hector's father's mind at ease, the superhero confronts the older man and insists that Hector is doing well and doing good. Meanwhile, Abe Brown is coping with his situation just as well as can be expected. He's stopped a violent hijacking but the terrorists managed to murder both pilots, leaving Abe to landing chores. The jet goes down in the Sahara but the passengers seem only shaken and stirred. Back in New York, the White Tiger is having a moment of clarity on a rooftop when he is attacked by The Jack of Hearts!

Abe Brown earns his wings

Aside from the typical handful of "the world is a ghetto" proclamations and a few too many "Meanwhile, back at the ranch..." interruptions, "Who is the White Tiger" and its larger arc are the antithesis of the Iron Fist series; a walloping, involving, exciting joy ride, start to finish. I'm glad that Mantlo is exploring the concept of the limbo Hector is cast into when the Tiger walks our streets and his talk with Ayala Sr. is poignant, not maudlin. Abe Brown, simply an angry black man when he was co-star of the Sons of the Tiger strip, threatens to steal the show with his sidebar saga in the air, becoming the Superfly TNT MothaF**ka of the B&W world. I'm not really familiar with Jack of Hearts (who makes his funny book debut in the final panel) but that may be because most of his appearances came in the '80s, a decade I'm still trying to convince myself never happened.  I had my worries about the exit of Tiger artist George Perez, but Giffen and Rival do a great job of dropping us right into the lap of the action so quickly we almost forget there was a change over. Can I retroactively petition Archie to dump Iron Fist and give us forty pages of the Tiger? -Peter Enfantino

Paging Steve Ditko!

Planet of the Apes 18
Cover by Ken Barr

"Rites of Bondage"
"To Serve the Slayers"
Chapters 2 and 3 of
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Two more chapters of the Conquest adaptation grace the pages this month, kicked off by another excellent Ken Barr cover. Part II takes us from Caesar yelling "Stinking lousy humans!" to he and Armando slipping away, only to have the circus owner go back to the police and tell Caesar to join his other apes if he's captured. Grilled by the authorities, Armando admits nothing, even though his interrogators think he's hiding something, and plan to keep him in custody. Caesar slips in with a bunch of apes transported to captivity, witnessing some electro-shock behavior therapy but sharing a banana with some fellow apes that garners a bit of suspicion.

The letters page explains an illness in Mike Ploog's family has contributed to another month without Jason and Alexander's saga, but promising it will return next ish. Then we're treated to the conclusion of the Glossary, skipping over it super fast to get to Part III of Conquest.

As the grilling of Armando continues, Caesar is subjugated to menial tasks to see where he could fit, and even takes a bow when he's finished! Sent to auction, he's "won" by MacDonald bidding for Governor Breck. At Breck's penthouse suite, Caesar shows his proficiency at making cocktails, then makes a slight mess to even things out. Then they ask him to pick out his own name and he chooses Caesar, raising slightly more suspicion. Meantime, Armando is sent to The Authenticator, questioned some more, then  leaps/falls out a window!

Moench and Alcala make a fine team on this re-telling, with the mostly wordless pages standing out the most for me. Two well-done chapters that certainly leave us wanting more—but yet not wanting to go too fast. Lots of solid artwork, and plenty of political dialogue that's probably too important to skip over, yet eventually may not mean much if you're an action fan.--Joe Tura

Marvel Preview 5
Cover by Ken Barr

"The Hound of the Baskervilles"
Part One
From the story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik

I never understood why Marvel had to keep adapting classic novels and stories. Did someone in the Bullpen have an English degree they needed to show off? Was this the only way to get kids to actually read these books outside of school? Or instead of their schoolwork? Did any of the faculty actually buy these things? I had a small handful, the titles of which elude me at the moment, but this issue was certainly not one of them. Not that I don't like Sherlock Holmes, I did enjoy me some Sir Arthur back in the day, just not in my funny books. Them I like with superheroes and stuff like that.

But here I am with this week's assignment: read a Sherlock Holmes comic and summarize for the class. It's Part 1 of The Hound of the Baskervilles, perhaps the most famous of the Conan Doyle novels, and the one that's been adapted over 20 times for TV and film, including a Disney one starring Uncle Scrooge! I myself was never a big fan of the novel, but will this Moench-Mayerik take change my mind?

A creepy Ken Barr cover and odd Frank Thorne frontispiece kick things off, before the Archie Goodwin editorial explains the care that's gone into adapting the popular-again Holmes then, as Archie quotes, "the game is afoot!"

Dr. John H. Watson, our story's narrator as always, and Mr. Sherlock Holmes are in the living room, with Holmes finishing breakfast and Watson examining a walking stick left behind by a visitor the night before. Watson gives his ideas on the stick's owner, and Holmes applauds his efforts then shoots most of them down to reveal it belongs to a Dr. Mortimer of Charing Cross Hospital, an absent-minded man who owns a curly-haired spaniel—and is at the door. Mortimer, a "dabbler in science", shows interest in Holmes' skull (?), then lets Holmes know in Chapter 2, "The Legend", that he's brought along a manuscript from 1742. The papers are the statement of a Baskerville family legend, retelling the origin of the Hound of the Baskervilles, in the days of Hugo Baskerville, a nasty SOB who coveted a young maiden who he locked up while he and his friends caroused. The girl escaped, headed across the moor towards her father's farm, with Hugo and pals in hot pursuit—and a Hound of Hell not far behind! The girl lay dead however, and Hugo not far from her, with the Hound "plucking at his throat", and the other men were scarred for life by the evil canine.

A skeptical Holmes gets even more info from Mortimer, via an article from the Devon Country Chronicle that recounts the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville, a traveler and man of wealth who fell ill, then vanished under mysterious circumstances. Mortimer then tells of how he was involved in the case, and Sir Charles' concern over a ghostly presence watching over him. He and the butler find the body, dead from shock, with the footprints of a giant hound around him.

Chapter 3, "The Problem", finds Holmes grilling Mortimer, who believes supernatural forces are at work and promising to deliver Henry, the last of the Baskervilles. Watson goes off for a moment to fetch tobacco and marvel at his adventures with Holmes. When he returns, Holmes has smoked enough of his pipe to fill the room with smoke, and filled himself with coffee, to stimulate his deductive powers.

Chapter 4 brings "Sir Henry Baskerville" to visit the next morning, in possession of a threatening letter warning him away from the moor. Holmes' knowledge of print and newspapers, and handwriting, leads him to believe the letter was written in a hotel, and says they should examine the wastepaper baskets around Charing Cross to find the culprit, as Part One ends.

OK, first of all, this is reeeeeallllllyy long when you take the time to read every word of the script, which has me thinking Moench was paid by the word for the black-and-whites. Second, it's maybe a little too faithful to the novel in that there are three "stories-within-stories," which gets a bit annoying. But Mayerik's art makes up for it a little, chock full of big panels, close-ups and smoke. All in all, not too bad, but also not exactly thrilling. Yet one thing is prevalent—it's elementary that the second part and conclusion of this narrative will bring more mystery into our midst, Watson….
—Joe Tura