Wednesday, May 6, 2015

February 1976 Part One: Who's the Cat that Won't Cop Out When There's Danger All About? Goliath! Yer Damn Right!

Introductory Observation by Professor Matthew Bradley

Not that I object, or would ever accuse Marvel of nepotism, but I do find it interesting that…

  • This month’s Amazing Spider-ManIncredible HulkIron Man, and Thor were written and edited by Len Wein and colored by his then-wife, Glynis [Oliver] Wein.
  • This month’s Black Goliath and Daredevil were edited by Marv Wolfman (who also wrote the latter) and colored by his then-wife, Michele Wolfman.
  • This month’s ChampionsGhost RiderMarvel PremiereMarvel Team-Up, and Super-Villain Team-Up were scripted or written by Bill Mantlo and lettered by his then-wife, Karen Mantlo (née Pocock).

    I’m just sayin’ is all…

And now... February 1976!

Black Goliath 1
"Black Goliath"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Mike Esposito and John Tartaglione

Visiting his boyhood Watts neighborhood, his costume on under his coat, Bill Foster is accosted by street thugs and enlarges to deal with them, but is dubious about continuing his super-hero career while running Tony Stark’s L.A. research outfit.  A still-hospitalized Hank Pym, who deduced the truth from a news report about three punks found wrapped in lampposts, calls and urges Bill to use his powers against the crooks who have been raiding local labs.  After musing over his success at perfecting Hank’s growth serum to remove its harmful side-effects, and his failure to preserve his marriage to Claire Temple, Bill remains uncertain and decides to visit the “Whiz Kids,” his research protégés:  Doctors Herbert Bell, Dale West, and Talia Kruma.

Against Bell’s advice, Dale insists on testing a prototype of the personal force-field device being developed for law-enforcement officers, and to Bill’s amusement discovers that it still has some bugs.  Reading of an eighth lab to be hit, Bill is certain the radium shipment they are expecting will attract the raiders and decides to take Hank’s advice, so that when Atom-Smasher and his men break into the warehouse and enter the radiation vault, they find—in a splendid full-page shot—a 15-foot-tall Black Goliath nonchalantly filing his nails.  He makes short (ha ha) work of the gang but is felled by a blast from Atom-Smasher, “a man—who can transform his body—into pure energy,” and as this issue ends, Black Goliath helplessly awaits his second, more powerful blast. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: The cover and this month’s Bullpen Page both assert that readers “demanded” BG get his own book after seeing him in Power Man #24-5; I certainly didn’t, since it was many years before I acquired that disappointing debut, and I had only recently “met” Bill Foster via my remedial reading in Marvel Triple Action.  Yet despite its pedestrian Tuskolletta artwork, quite acceptable to my forgiving 12-year-old eyes, I liked this mag as soon as I saw it, which as I recall was with the now-standard second issue.  Creator Isabella’s solid (re)introduction expands our knowledge of Foster’s past while supplying him with a supporting cast—such as it is—and milieu for the present, wisely ending with a cliffhanger instead of trying to wind all of that up in a done-in-one.

Said “demand” must not have been that great, because this only lasted five issues, despite being immediately handed off to rising star Chris Claremont, under whom, if nothing else, it got a lot more…interesting.  The sad-sack image persisted as—with a futile change to another of Hank’s discarded monikers, Giant-Man—Bill developed life-threatening medical problems as a Marvel Two-in-One semi-regular, and was eventually killed off in Civil War.  Ironically, Isabella wanted to include BG in the Champions, but was forbidden to because of this planned solo title, although Bill Mantlo did use him later as a guest-star; we’ll never know if he might’ve lengthened that book’s own abbreviated lifespan, but it seems safe to say he couldn’t have made it much shorter.

Scott McIntyre: Not a bad inaugural issue for the new Giant Man. Well, Black Goliath to you, but whatever. A lot of pissing and moaning from Bill Foster, the very definition of “also-ran.” His fate in the Marvel Scheme of Things has already been discussed; the guy will be a real Sad Sack, unfortunately. Tuskoletta does their usual “whatever” job. All their work is looking the same. Why they got so much work is a mystery to me. At least this isn’t as grim as it could have been. The supporting cast of Whiz Kids is pretty lackluster. I did say this wasn’t bad, right? Well, it’s really not. It’s average.

 Ghost Rider 16
"Blood in the Waters"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Karen Mantlo and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Looking for a little R&R, Johnny Blaze cruises across the Mexican border on his Skull-Cycle, heading for Baja. He soon comes across a picturesque cabin on the beach: a crazed man named Frank Phillips is firing a rifle from the patio at dolphins frolicking in the surf. When his daughter Nancy tries to knock the gun aside, a stray bullet pierces one of Blaze’s tires and he wipes out in the sand. Angered, the stunt rider punches out Phillips, only stopping when the pleading daughter intervenes. Nancy tells Blaze that her father used to work for the CIA, training dolphins to sink enemy ships with bombs — an accidental explosion killed her mother and Frank has hated the sea dwellers ever since. As Johnny and Nancy talk, Phillips heads out to sea in his fishing boat, resuming the maniacal slaughter of the cute cetacean mammals. Blaze launches off the pier and lands on the ship, turning into Ghost Rider in the process. When a huge wave swamps the boat, both are thrown overboard. Suddenly, a Great White shark appears, but the dolphins swarm the predator, killing it with powerful strikes of their rostrums. Ghost Rider and Frank make it back to shore: Phillips shouts an apology to the dolphins that just saved his life. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: After reading this one, I wasn’t sure whether to stick my head in the oven or run naked through the streets like a giddy schoolgirl. I mean, come on, if you are going to rip off Jaws, it’s a pretty ballsy decision to use Ghost Rider as your character: a hero with a flaming head is probably not the most logical choice for a story involving the ocean. Considering what he had to work with, I gave Bill Mantlo some slack for the trainwreck that was Fear #30 (October 1975), but this one is just as goofy. Jaws isn’t the only inspiration as Mantlo obviously references The Day of the Dolphin as well. Once again, a female character — first Karen Page and now Nancy Phillips — simply shrugs off Blaze’s transformation into a fire-headed hellspawn. The dreaded Tuskalletta art is what you expect and what this deserves. What else can I say but dumb dumb, dumb dumb, dumb dumb. Tony Isabella returns in April after this mental Mantlo one-shot. The teaser on the last page for that issue states “Next: We honest to goodness really don’t know! How’s that for honesty?” Gee, that’s great. That’s just great.

Matthew: In December, #15 promised Johnny’s “greatest challenges” in Champions #3 (even though #2 didn’t arrive until January) and, reunited with the Son of Satan, in #16.  Instead, we get a fill-in that admittedly makes a feeble stab at continuity, citing last issue’s meeting with the “Friend,” and ends candidly with “Next:  We honest to goodness really don’t know!”  Much as I appreciate the consistency of GR’s books both having the same creative team this month, Mantlo’s Day of the Dolphin/Jaws rip-off is the thinnest of gruel, piling one coincidence or unlikely event atop another until it sinks under its own weight, if you’ll pardon the pun, and even broad-minded Bradley is growing impatient with the seemingly omnipresent Tuskolletta artwork.

Chris Blake: Holy flaming skulls – what in the hell (or out of hell, even) was that?  As soon as I could see where the story was heading (man blames others for his own faults, more problems ensue, etc), I kicked my reading speed into a higher gear – not because the story was exciting in any way, but simply so that I could wrap it up and move on.  Ridiculous misfire from Mantlo, featuring one of the more paranoid anti-CIA fantasies I’ve ever heard of, namely the notion that the Agency would be outfitting dolphins to serve as living torpedoes – hilarious!   Shamelessly opportunistic cover as well, as Marvel tries to drum up some Jaws-inspired sales.  Next -!

In case you missed it (and you would have, if you haven’t been dutifully reading Ghost Rider every sixty days), the “next issue” hype box at the bottom of the last page reads: “Next: We Honest to Goodness Really Don’t Know! How’s that for honesty?”  Well, if anything, it is truly funny.  But hey – what happened to Son of Satan?  I thought he was supposed to be here for this issue -?

Matthew: But do they say anything about next issue?

The Avengers 144
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and Mike Esposito
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Finally, we are back for a length of time in New York, leaving Moondragon, Thor, and Hawkeye in the Old West to join the rest of the Avengers lost in a giant Brand/Roxxon warehouse. The Vision here has some pointed comments to make about  Patsy and her intelligence (strangely uncommented on by the rest of the team). Brand launches guided missiles against the Avengers, which they avoid or outmaneuver without much difficulty, and Iron Man, Cap, and Patsy find themselves in a storage area where Greer Nelson's old Cat costume happens to be lying out in the open. Cap and Iron Man nonchalantly ask her to suit up and join the battle, after which Patsy tells about her longing to be a superhero, her marriage to Buzz Baxter, and encounter and knowledge of the Beast’s transformation and secret identity. This recap takes three pages, and a single page is given over to Patsy in her new costume.

Meanwhile, back in the Old West, the Two-Gun Kid announces his desire to travel with Thor, MD and Hawkeye back to the present day, and Hawkeye agrees to take him, announcing, by the way, that he’ll be leaving the Avengers yet again.

We rejoin the other Avengers in the present day with the Vision and the rest of the crew finding Cap, Iron Man, and the new Hellcat and, next thing you know, they are charging against the Squadron Supreme. With the police coming to investigate the guided missiles that escaped the building, Roxxon bigwig Hugh Jones opens a dimensional portal and sends both groups to the Squadron’s world, “Other Earth,” and that is how this talkative issue ends.  -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: What can you say about Perez’s artwork? He has a stunning opening page, with the Avengers standing on a high shelf in an apparently bottomless Roxxon building. His drawing of the new Hellcat is equally impressive, but there’s not many avenues for him to display much flair in the rest of the issue, which is largely taken up by exposition and background rather than any serious action. Even the guided missiles seem rather pedestrian weapons. The real story, as mentioned above, is the Vison’s clinical analysis of Patsy’s actions, and the obvious disapproval he has of her being there. The ability of the Roxxon chief to flush all the characters down the toilet in order to get rid of the “evidence” also seems a little too convenient. How does getting rid of them explain the guided missiles blowing out the top of the building and alerting the citizens of Queens? And that building is huge. If the police got in, how would they ever find the Avengers, assuming that the police even knew what they would be looking for? Well, all for the service of the plot. Now we have the main group of Avengers on Other-Earth, and the rest on our home earth, albeit back in time.

Joe Tura: Of course, I'm not re-reading any of these Avengers issues, of which I had a pretty damn good run, but man do I wish I was! The good thing is just looking at the cover and the screen captures, I remember vividly how much I loved this run with George at the easel. Great stories, amazing art by a true master who only got better with age, and hey, it's The Avengers, the best super-team book ever. (Well, there's a title by another publisher that may have surpassed it in the late 80s, but that's another story.) To me, honestly, this creative team supreme made this the best Marvel title out there until Mr. Byrne and Mr. Austin mutated with Mr. Claremont. It's days like this when I wish I still had my vast collection. Not that I would have a clue where it would be stored!

Matthew: Oh rapture.  With the Englehart/Pérez engine firing on all cylinders, and Mighty Mike proving a worthy successor to Grainger at bringing out the best in George’s pencils, the results display all the luster of a lovingly polished jewel.  Sure, I know it’s ludicrous that Brand would leave Greer’s costume sitting atop a crate, and I know her powers weren’t intrinsic to said costume, but you know what?  WHO CARES?  Hellcat’s advent is cause for rejoicing:  we know from 20/20 hindsight that she will be a major, uh, asset here and in Defenders; Steve’s Patsy 101 recap is perfectly timed and executed; the full-page reveal is stunning; and a 12-year-old fanboy even gets a little erotic frisson (“Hey!  Turn your backs, will you?”).  So what’s not to like here?

Steve asked in Alter Ego, “if [Hank] was in, then what about Patsy Walker?  It’s just an example of how one idea leads to another.  If Patsy was going to be in…she was going to have to be a super-hero.  I didn’t have a whole lot of time for random soap opera…So I thought, if she was in the Marvel Universe, then she would have been a fan of the original 1960s heroes.  That’s why she was at Reed and Sue’s wedding, after all. So if she was a fan and clearly a romantic dreamer then, wouldn’t it be cool if she secretly wanted to be a super-hero?  In The Beast’s series she made an agreement…that he would do something for her if she helped him out of a jam.  The book was cancelled before we got into exactly what.  Here was a chance to finish that plot line.”

Chris: Well, it’s been a few minutes since Englehart poured an origin story over our heads, so I guess we’re due; the only difference this time is that it’s sort of in real-time, instead of numerous issues’ worth of flashbacks.  Still, Steve E’s apparent inability to do this succinctly (as there are three pages of recap of Patsy’s history, when one should suffice, and a total of four pages to pass the costume around – although, I will admit that the full-page reveal of our Defender-to-be is worth the price of admission) means that we get only a few panels of rematch with the Squadron at the very end, when this contest should’ve been the centerpiece of the issue.  

My next thought was: oh great – so not only do we not get to see Perez’s art on Round 2 of the Squadron run-in, instead we’ll get Tuska, or Heck, or some other joker.  And then, it hit me – we will see Perez’s art, but not until after a two-issue fill-in by – Isabella and Heck.  Holy God; maybe Oedipus’ reaction to a bit of bad news wasn’t so hasty after all.  It figures – a little planning, and we could have gotten out of this story in one piece, instead of having to endure both a long wait and an inevitable slogging-thru for #145 and #146.  Thanks a lot, Steve.  

Scott: Great art helps this weird, talky and contrived story. What training does Patsy Walker have as a super heroine? Just because she’s been “waiting her whole life for this” makes up for her lack of experience? Because she fills out the costume, which was just left out so nearly in the open? Not to mention the Two-Gun Kid, who is now going to go into the future with barely a thought of what his being missing from history will do to the present.

The Amazing Spider-Man 153
"The Longest Hundred Yards!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Just hanging around, Spider-Man spots a taxi coming down the block using morse code with its roof lights to signal "SOS". Turns out it's part of a string of taxi robberies, and Spidey thwarts it, but wrecks the cab. The next day, on the ESU campus, Peter apologizes to Mary Jane for his recent bouts of ignoring her to snap pics, and after a little teasing she forgives him. Ned shows up and takes the two along to the football field to interview Bradley Bolton, former football star turned computer whiz, who's still haunted by the day he ran 99 ½ yards, stopped near the goal line and ESU lost the game. Bolton gets a note and leaves the interview to meet the mysterious Paine, who wants the final component of a computer Bolton worked on, or they'll kill his daughter Mindy. That night, at the homecoming dance, Peter once again leaves MJ (in a hotsie-totsie red mini-dress) to follow Bolton to the football field. The Doc delivers the part, but is forced to run the gauntlet to try and save his daughter, brought down by machine guns but not before he grabs Mindy from Paine. Spidey swings in and takes out the squad of armed goons in less than a minute, clobbers Paine, then hears the last words of Bolton, who this time made it the whole 100 yards. –Joe Tura

Joe: Even though my comic collection has been gone for over 20 years, I always seem to remember which books I had based on the covers. This one, I did not own, one of the few holes in my Amazing Spider-Man run. Probably because when you look at the cover it seems a bit lame. No villain from the rogue's gallery? No big splash on the cover other than Spidey getting shot at? Meh…. But reading it for the first time, I'm slightly torn. On one hand, the melodramatic story of Bradley Bolton reminds me of a mid-70s TV movie of the week. But nothing like Killdozer!

On the other hand, it's Spider-Man, so it still works. Andru and Esposito turn in fine work, and Len's script is a bit hammy but solid when it comes to the supporting cast. It's good to see Mary Jane get mega-pissed at Peter's shenanigans, then nice to forgive him. But he's up to his old tricks again, even though she looks mega-hot in that hippie red dress, and yep, she's annoyed once more. It's little moments like this that always grounded this title in "reality", from Stan to Gerry and now to Len. Kooky villains may come and go, memorable or not, but the life of Peter Parker is the base that Amazing stands on. Heck, even today it's mostly the same from what I've read.

Favorite sound effect this month is hard because there's no real standouts. But I'll go with the "BHUD-UD-UD-AH" of the goons' machine guns, because who wouldn't want to make that noise when playing S.W.A.T. in the backyard!

Mark Barsotti: Props to Mr. Wein because, barring a couple logic lapses (both necessary to the drama), this is the best one 'n' done Spidey saga in ages.

Parker & Co. subplots first: Pete and MJ make up ("Want a lick?" Ms. Watson asks of an ice cream bar. Ah, yeah...and what else ya got?) before our hard luck kid has to ditch her again at the homecoming dance (a bow tie, Ross, really?) to shadow computer whiz/Empire State alum Bradley Bolton.

Once a football star, BB tells Pete and Ned of his epic ninety-nine-and-a-half yard championship game scamper that ended just shy of the goal line, causing Bolton to forsake sports for science. Paine kidnaps Bolton's daughter, will trade her for whiz-bang software, delivery of which will take place on very gridiron where Brad came up inches short of glory.

Matthew: The lettercol is devoted to “Of Jackals and Juxtaposition,” in which “Roguish Roger Slifer, boy assistant editor and mighty Marvel masochist” offers explanations of the “minor discrepancies in Merry Gerry’s stupendous storyline,” plus my first known exposure to the word “juxtaposition.”  Prohibited by internal politics from collaborating on last month’s DC/Marvel crossover, the Androsito “Partners for Life” do a fine job on what is, in spite of its title’s apparent allusion to Aldrich’s lighthearted Longest Yard, a genuinely tragic and—to me—moving story. Thrifty Len also revives the subplot of the Worldwide Habitual Offenders (WHO) supercomputer that he’d introduced in his don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it work on Daredevil #124.

Mark: Prof Joe told you what happens next, so to my professorial duty of picking the minor nits. If Bolton can run the length of the field with four guys (anybody know why they're in scuba suits that evoke Doc Ock's men, circa the Master Planner saga?) firing machine-guns at him, our off-screen villain needs new hires. Spidey then arrives too late because he was "on the other side of the campus." But how & why – unless it takes him ten minutes to suit up - since he'd been right behind Bolton in the locker room?

The bad-guys-can't-aim trope can be forgiven because Bolton's heroic death demands it. Len employs a great callback, repeating the Big Game play-by-play as Bolton races to rescue his daughter, even as he's finally cut down by the myopic gunmen. Webs' late arrival makes no sense, but that's of interest to plot pecksniffs only, because it does nothing to lessen the story's emotional wallop. Bolton asks if daughter Mindy is safe with his last breath as Andru dollies back to reveal the dead man across the goal line as Peter, child in his arms, whispers a final benediction, "Touchdown."

The Champions 3
"Assault on Olympus"
Story by Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

His mortal allies are lamenting the state of affairs when GR arrives to announce that the portal blocked by Bobby’s mountain of ice did not close with the others, and can be used to reach Olympus, where Venus urges Hercules to resign himself to their fate.  Burning through with Hellfire, GR and Angel race ahead as Natasha and Bobby battle Pluto’s minions, arriving in time to stun the Huntsman and stop the ceremony, with Herc and Venus trouncing each other’s intended mates.  Knowing the de facto Champions cannot defeat Pluto, Tash reasons that another power can, and after Johnny enlightens Zeus regarding the lies told by that other lord of Hell, all is set right, with the love goddess discarding her mortal i.d. and asking forgiveness for their foes. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Any issue opening on egalitarian cheesecake for every gender and orientation—even Tuskolletta, uhm, rises to the occasion—can’t be all bad.  Meanwhile, Tony’s plot is scripted by Mantlo, who later becomes the book’s regular writer, and its publication schedule remains a mystery:  after the 90-day gap between #1 and 2, it goes monthly through #5, bimonthly through #9, monthly again until #12, and then back to bimonthly for the remainder of the run.  The metatextual undercurrent I’ve been talking about comes right to the surface with Bobby’s two-page “We’re failures all the way down the line!” monologue, although it’s more than a little justified given the context, and I’d point out the irony of calling themselves “Champions”…if the C-word had been invoked yet!

So, just how bad are things at the windup of the first arc?  Well, first off, enough of this issue either is a straightforward recap or belabors the obvious (belabors of Hercules?)—e.g., Johnny’s taking almost two whole pages to explain his epiphany—that I can’t help wondering if it really needed to be a three-parter, and it does seem weird that at the end of it they still haven’t said, “Hey, gang, let’s make it official!”  But the basic story seems sound, even if the enlightenment of Zeus was a little abrupt. Artwise, I won’t say there’s no qualitative difference between Heck and Tuska, but would argue that they are quantitatively of the same caliber and similar styles, and with Great Leveler Vinnie applying the ink, I really had to remind myself we’d shifted pencilers.

 Conan the Barbarian 58 
“The Ballad of Bêlit!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Steve Gan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

After the crew of the Tigress runs down and loots a Stygian galley, Bêlit’s shaman, N’Yaga, tells Conan the story of the pirate ship’s beauteous captain. As a child, Bêlit was the precocious daughter of Atrahasis, beloved king of Shem — even back then, N’Yaga was her advisor. When Atrahasis’ traitorous brother Nim-Karrak smuggles in Stygian assassins, the king and his faithful retainers are slaughtered. N’Yaga and a small group of royal guardsmen escape with Bêlit, sailing away in her father’s swift ship, the Tigress. After weeks at sea, they land on one of the mysterious southern islands, a nervous N’Yaga’s childhood home. The Shemites are quickly attacked by the Bird-Riders, fierce black warriors astride ostriches. After the guardsmen are slain, N’Yaga throws a chemical firebomb and the Riders pause: the shaman claims that Bêlit is no mere mortal, but the daughter of the Death-Goddess Derketa. While their chieftain, Uzumi, is dubious, the rest of the Riders believe the lie and N’Yaga and Bêlit are welcomed to live among them. As she grows into a woman, Bêlit proves her bravery by single-handedly killing both a leopard and baboon. After she demands to be acknowledged as a warrior, Uzumi orders her to retrieve the right silver eye of the statue of Dagon, long stolen by the hideous Mound-Dwellers. Under N’Yaga’s objections — and after he slips a vial of liquid silver into her side-pouch — the defiant woman charges off. Bêlit soon discovers the stone mound and eventually finds the Dwellers, grotesque and nearsighted half men/half caterpillars that use the gleaming silver eye as a source of light and worship. The She-Devil rushes forward, grabs the totem and races away — the manterpillars in swift and slithering pursuit. When she reaches the camp of the Riders, Uzumi is outraged that Bêlit has led the disgusting Dwellers back to them. The furious female put a dagger to the chief’s throat and forces him to drink the liquid from N’Yaga's vial. The Dwellers burst through the ground, sense that Uzumi is a source of their beloved silver, and drag the terrified chief back to their dark, dank home. The remaining riders hail Bêlit as the new Chieftain of the Silver Isles: she proclaims that they will plunder the seas aboard the Tigress. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Last time, class, we discussed that there were complaints that Roy and Big John took their sweet time adapting Robert E. Howard’s rather brief “Queen of the Black Coast.” And if you remember, December’s installment was very faithful to the first third or so of the story. However, for better or worse, things take a complete right turn as none of this issue’s material was in Howard’s original. Conan is only featured in five of the pages, so this one is mainly the Bêlit show. Which I find a little surprising, since out of Marvel’s two Hyborian She-Devils, Bêlit’s origin is given much more pomp and page count than Red Sonja’s (Kull and the Barbarians #3). Sonja is the more popular and interesting character, no? It’s well established that Bêlit has a grudge against Stygians. Please, please let this lead to Thoth-Amon! Buscema and Gan are a good match, and the Mound Dwellers are certainly unique. Enjoyed Roy’s twist with the silver-filled vial as well. Conan returns in the last page, and like Uzumi, dubious of N’Yaga’s tall tales. But when he retires to Bêlit’s cabin for a bit of the old in and out, he spies the silver eye of Dagon in her overflowing treasure chest. Speaking of Dagon, I assume that’s the Rascally One’s tip of the hat to the short story of the same name by Lovecraft, prolific pen pal of Robert E.

 Captain America and the Falcon 194
"The Trojan Horde"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Cap and the Falcon are undergoing their final series of “brain blasts” at SHIELD to give them a sort of immunity from the Madbomb Mind Waves.  The last treatment nearly kills them but they survive and are allowed time to recuperate. Meanwhile, a General Heshin reports to a man named Taurey about their growing army of mercenaries. Taurey, at that moment, is dressing in the same get-up as his ancestor, Sir William Taurey, intending to wear the Revolutionary War outfit at an upcoming bicentennial celebration. Taurey’s ancestor was killed in a duel with Steve Rogers’ ancestor, a favor he intends to repay as soon as he finds Steve and accomplishes their coup of controlling the country with Madbombs. Later, Steve and Sam have recovered from their brain blasts and go on their mission to find the other bombs. While in a new SHIELD “skimmer,” they are attacked by a giant, causing them to crash land. The rocks the giant was throwing at them turn out to be rubber fakes. Then, Cap and Falcon are taken captive by the Royalist Forces of America, from which the giant had escaped. Once captured, the heroes are placed in a cell with a dozen of other “freaks” and are told by the guards that they are due to get the same treatment themselves. -Scott McIntyre

Matthew: In the immortal words of Brother Ralph on The Odd Couple, “Well, that was quick.”  Ham-fisted Kirby comes to the fore with the thunderingly obvious names “Heshin” and “Taurey,” and full-time wet blanket Falcon’s jaw-dropper about Steve’s family owning his as slaves.  I’m sure it doesn’t strain credulity in the slightest that “royalist” (gives “King Kirby” a whole new meaning) Taurey’s target just happens to be not only the descendant and namesake and spitting image of his ancestral enemy, but also the man who embodies everything he hates, right?  Well, at least sound-effects-meister Professor Joe must have appreciated the literal “Kirby crackle” in page 6, panel 4, assuming he got the joke, and Giacoia’s in there punchin’, as always.

Scott: Only two issues in and already Kirby has gotten us into Crazy Town, USA full steam express with no stops en route. The freaks are classic latter day Kirby. His dialog still runs corny with little or no resemblance to how people of the era actually spoke. Then again, it’s not like characters in the comics speak like you and me. Still no sign of anyone recognizable from SHIELD. No Nick Fury, or Vall, Gabe Jones, Sharon, Peggy or even Clay Damned Quartermain.

It’s wonderful for Taurey that Steve Rogers’ ancestor shares the hero’s name and likeness. Sam’s popping off about how Steve’s family probably owned slaves, or Sam’s own family, is a real buzzkill. We haven’t had that kind of shoulder chip in a while and I didn’t miss it, honestly.

I don’t know a hell of a lot about history, so a lot of references Professor Matthew deemed obvious honestly zoomed right over my head.  I’m sure this says less about my school system than it does for my attention span.

Daredevil 130
"Look Out DD -- Here Comes the Death-Man!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

DD returns to Central Park, curious about a group of people he had observed earlier who had been in the process of burying chicken heads.  Now, he follows a crying child’s voice, and finds a group of people gathered; DD’s radar sense reveals that among them is a woman (whose heart is racing) being held by a man, another man who appears to be calling the shots, and the crying child, who is buried in the ground up to his neck!  DD dives in, scatters the group, and learns that the child had been designated to be a sacrifice.  Before DD can help the woman dig her son free from the dirt, the group leader, a houngan calling himself Brother Zed (who appears to be a living skeleton), informs DD that he is able to use a voodoo doll to take control of him.  Brother Zed dangles the DD-doll from a small rope, and tells DD that his breath is being cut off; DD clutches his throat and falls to the ground.  Brother Zed strides over to drop the doll on DD’s chest, and is surprised when DD knocks Zed’s legs out from under him, then kicks off the skull head to reveal an ordinary, living man.  Zed had been playing on the fears of his fellow expatriate Haitians to extort money from them.  The next morning, Matt and Foggy discuss Foggy’s lost bid for re-election as District Attorney, and Matt welcomes Foggy to Matt’s new legal-aid office, called the Storefront. -Chris Blake

Chris: Anyone who has ever seen an episode of “Scooby-Doo” might’ve suspected that there would be a man lurking inside the skeleton.  DD never falls for it; when he first spots Zed, we see DD’s radar sense show Zed to be a regular flesh-and-blood human.  Still, Brown and Janson do a nifty job of depicting Zed as a convincing skeleton, particularly in places like p 15 (above); it serves as an illustration of how thoroughly Zed has managed to spook-out his hapless neighbors, so that they really believe him to be a skeleton-man.  I hafta ask, though – how was Zed able to produce a DD voodoo doll on such short notice -?  
Foggy’s ouster as D.A. is a welcome development: first, we won’t have any more of this erroneous depiction of Foggy as a sort-of police commissioner, arriving at crime scenes and jawing with PD; next, it will allow Matt and Foggy to work together again, which is fine – plus, the Storefront will give Heather something to do other than stalk Matt in his apartment; lastly, we have more evidence that some one, some how, is manipulating the media, both by placing misleading fake ads about Foggy, and planting perplexing information that Jack and Bobby Kennedy might somehow still be alive . . .
Matthew: Battlin’ Bob clearly lost this one, his poor pencils battered into submission by Klaus’s bludgeoning brush (e.g., demented Kewpie doll Candace, left).  Yet comics combine word and image, and with the former, Marv still turns out a story that, if not sublime, is interesting on several levels and thematically organic.  Unless I’ve been more inattentive than usual, the revelation of the scheme Matt and Heather were cooking up—methinks it might’ve been her idea—was saved as a surprise until now, and not only marks an eminently logical move for a hero who’s been seeking direction, but also dovetails nicely with action scenes focused more on helping people in another capacity than on bashing super-villains.  Great Buckler cover.

Scott: Part of a string of issues I got in trade as a kid; I always had a soft spot for this run. I remember mostly that a lot of this issue scared the crap out of me back then, even though the revelation of the villain was cheesy as deep dish pizza. The climax between Matt and Foggy was memorably touching and still resonates. For all of the bizarre imagery and wonky plotting, this is an effective issue. All of this, however, will be forgotten with next issue’s introduction of Bullseye!

The Defenders 32
"Musical Chairs Minds"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Petra Goldeberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

The Defenders have called upon Daimon Hellstrom to exorcise the demon within Nighthawk.  But  it isn't a  demon, nor is it sorcery. Dr. Strange uses the Eye of Agamotto to seek the source of the trouble. Surgery, as in brain transplant. Jack Norriss recognizes the face they see as Chondu the Mystic from the fair where he first took Barbara (now Val) on their first date. They set sail to find Chondu and hopefully replace Nighthawk's brain. At the headquarters of said mystic, and his fellow villains who call themselves the Headmen,  the newest member joins the team: a beautiful woman with the head of a red crystal ball who can transform at will. The brain of Kyle Richmond,  aka Nighthawk swims in a kind of limbo.  Without his body, he has no reference point, and relives the details of his disappointing life. He recalls his father's absence, his college days, and his parents' death, leading to the inheritance of his father's company--feeling as lost as ever. The Defenders arrive in seemingly peaceful Westbury, Connecticut,  the Headmen's headquarters.  Ruby answers the door, when they knock, in the appearance of a woman of light. That is, until she blasts them unconscious. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The highlight of this tale is the life story of Kyle Richmond, told in a dream-like way through his disembodied brain. It actually suits Nighthawk perfectly,  as he is about as lost as anyone can be, with no ground to stand on in his spoiled but tragic upbringing. Jerry, Nagan and Ruby are different enough as a team to make an interesting team of baddies as the Headmen, especially the latter as she explores her varied powers.

Chris: As a youngster, I remember being confused by the expression “poor little rich kid;” I mean, is he rich or poor, or what?  Well, Kyle certainly comes off as a good example here.  Kyle tells his story with mixed elements of courage and self-pity, which is fairly true to the character as we come to know him over the years.  I wonder if Defenders fans, though, might be getting a little impatient with these exposition-laden issues – we had a fair amount of story-telling during the Badoon/Guardians issues not so long ago.  At least he’s not pulling a Steve E, so that we’re mercifully thru Kyle’s story in less than one issue.

I’m not saying Steve G can’t tell a good story, it’s not that – it’s only that these sometimes-lengthy passages come at the expense of action, and there’s really no action to speak of in this issue; the Defenders arrive in Westbury CT and are promptly defeated – that’s it.  In fairness, I should give Steve credit for requiring the Defenders to work through the thorny problem of what’s happened to Kyle’s mind; nice touch to add Daimon Hellstrom to the mix (however briefly), in case Kyle’s been possessed – hey, in this comic, it’s best to cover every possibility (hey – there might even be an Elf involved).
Matthew: Is it any wonder that as he followed the interstellar epic of his early Guardians arc with the magisterial oddity of the Headmen saga—still building up a full, er, head of steam—Steve earned a place in my pantheon, whether I was paying attention to the credits back then or not? Even the title is perfect, and Brother Sal is right there beside him, albeit with the Madman still a little heavy-handed at times, highlighted by the stunning reveal, in every sense, of Ruby in her sexy costume from the Moondragon Collection.  I love the almost throwaway cameo by ex-Gerber-stablemate Daimon (which they wisely don’t hype on the cover, leading to a satisfying spit-take with the splash page) and his offbeat handling of Nighthawk’s “secret origin,” pace DC.

Scott: There’s something inherently awful about the very notion of taking one’s physical brain from a body and leaving it in a bowl of formaldehyde (can the brain survive like this?). It’s a horrific fate and, frankly, that horror isn’t played up nearly enough. Yet, it does give us a chance to delve into Nighthawk’s full origin, which is a pretty good yarn. Kyle Richmond was a thoroughly useless sort and now, finally, is able to make good with the Defenders. That Val’s husband is now in Nighthawk’s costume is not spelled out and is kind of confusing. They give no reason for his coming along and, really, I wish we’d ditch this guy already. All he does is belly ache and try to get Val to remember her life as “Barbara.” Good art and a really grim overall story make this one of the better reads this month.

 Doctor Strange 12
"Final Curtain!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Dr. Strange visits his master, but is it the Ancient One? He regains his power but the mystic dismisses him for not heeding his advice. Upon leaving, Dr. Strange faces another version of himself  (as his foe Eternity had suggested he would), this time an alternate  future version of himself. His foe's overconfidence is his undoing and Dr. Strange prevails. But upon unmasking him he finds, first the skeleton of death then his old nemesis Mordo,  still mad, but not mindless, having entered the mind of old Ghenghis, having gained the old one's power, and his own mind back. Despite the aid of Clea (whose previously ignored attempts at contact he now acknowledges ) Stephen is powerless to defeat Mordo,  and can only watch as the Earth is destroyed within minutes. Yet how does Strange remain? -Jim Barwise

Jim: A question we could ask often regarding this title,  and certainly here, is how is writer Steve Englehart going to get us out of this one?! He seems to revel in presenting this challenge.  Gene Colan's  artwork rivals the best of what he did in Daredevil. As is often the case, it is unclear how much of the struggle is real and how much is in Dr. Strange's mind. Was it really the Ancient One, in the state Stephen says he has touched but not attained? How much of this has Eternity orchestrated? What's happened to Clea's mind? Englehart assures us we are looking at the real Earth's destruction...

I hope the forthcoming film can do this title justice.

Mark: What a cool, creepy cover of death's-head Doc; it's like a gateway drug to Tomb of Dracula! Once inside, the Colan/Palmer art is the highlight here (you could make that case on every book that dynamic duo takes on. They never mail it in). "Final Curtain!" isn't bad or even mediocre, it's good, but with Englehart at the typewriter, with Eternity in the script, good is the lowest acceptable bar.

Eternity has been mostly off-screen the past couple installments. That's understandable perhaps, given that Strange on his best day is no match for the Big E's cosmos-rending powers, but it's still kinda like watching fake porn on Skinamax. What's the point?

Chris: So – the earth’s destroyed, because Doc hadn’t taken the possibility of Mordo’s madness into account.  Well, that’s not a problem – Doc, you see, once was able to go back to the very origin of time and restore all of reality.  So, bringing one planet back together should be a breeze – right, Doc?  Hey Doc – Doc -? Uh . . . why d’you look so pale, bud . . . ?

I was about to try to demonstrate that I’d finally worked out the intricacies of the plot, but on second thought, I’d better not put myself out there – hey, isn’t the art really great?  Aren’t we lucky to still have Palmer on the inks, huh, for consecutive issues!  Nearly every page has a moment to admire, so I’ll limit myself to two highlights: the shadowing on Mordo’s face is even spookier than the death’s head he had replaced (p 22, last panels); Clea as she emerges from – uh, from somewhere else, shrouded in mystical energy, as Doc crouches on the ground, in desperation and deep concentration (p 27).  Okay, and one last obvious choice too, since the total, complete, irrevocable destruction of our own little planet is well done, too (p 31 – in case you thought the earth might have been destroyed somewhere earlier than the final page . . .).

Matthew: Once again, I am left with little to express but sighs of satisfied admiration at the sustained excellence of the Englehart/Colan run, equally adept at atmosphere and action, with Steve’s narration at the end of page 27 capturing, and even amping up, the suspenseful drama.  The frequently lionized pairing of illustrators—crediting Gene as “artist” and Palmer with “ink, art and color”—makes very few missteps (e.g., Doc looking like he’s in mid-sneeze at the top of page 10; the goofy Mordo in page 23, panel 3), and is also responsible for the unforgettable cover.  The Mordo/Genghis subplot finally pays off in spades, and that last page, quite literally a cliffhanger to end all cliffhangers, manages to be breathtaking at once visually and conceptually.

Mark: It doesn't help that the battle of the four Stephens – Eternity's challenge to Strange that he best earlier, flawed versions of himself – has had minimal payoff. Here he takes on the black mask version (the failed, circa '69 hope that a "new look" Strange could stave off cancellation) and quickly dispatches same, but we gain no more insight into that incarnation than we did into the drunk or Nixon-masked Docs; Englehart dresses up an intriguing notion, but has no particularly interesting place to go.

Elsewhere, the beyond-death Ancient One shows up to fill space, and the insane Mordo mind-melding with the husk of Genghis up-powers the Baron enough to, apparently, blow up the world like M-80s in a mail-box, but the Gaia genocide is too sudden and impermanent to have any emotional impact.

So let's hope Englehart has a give-Eternity-something-to-do trump card up his sleeve that will elevate all the sound and fury of this saga that, thus far, has signified very little.  

Fantastic Four 167
"Titans Two!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Picking up right where we left off last month, Bashful Ben declares he and Hulkster are "an item," and his pards' come-to-your-senses pleas fall on deaf ears. Our newly-bonded dysfunctional duo smash (in spectualar fashion) two of three hovercraft in the military doomsday base and escape in the other. Soon soaring above St. Louie, Mean Green spies the iconic arch below and, reminded of a rock bridge where he once "tried to think," insists that his cobble-stoned cohort land for an impromptu skull session. Ben starts to object, but feels woozy and relents, our first sign that there's more to the Thing's impulsive defection than sympathy for a fellow "monster."  

After taking lip from the ass-hat kid Colonel, our remaining trio head after their wayward teammate. Reed speculates being exposed to the gamma radiation the Hulk "sometimes emits" could harm Aunt Petunia's favorite nephew. They reach River City just as the Thing's trying to de-escalate Hulk vs. the Army, round 4552. Mayhem ensues and the battle comes down (natch) to Thing and Hulk, duking it out atop the arch. All those leaky gamma rays prompt the Thing to change half-way back to Ben Grimm, just as ole purple pants delivers a haymaker that rockets Ben off the arch, toward another zip code. But the Torch is Johnny on the spot and the heat updraft from his flame rings saves Ben from going splat. Jade Jaws laments, "Whenever Hulk finds a friend...they take him away," before leaping back towards him own mag.

Ben is happy to be de-bricked, of course, but a pensive Reed leaves us with a last panel question we've heard a couple dozen times before: "Does this mean...the end of the Fantastic Four?"
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: I shoulda learned from the Space Hockey Saga, but didn't and so was again surprised when Roy flipped the MCD script by following up a lame opening installment with a stick-the-landing climax. With Joe Sinnott again embellishing George Perez, the art is terrific. The action's high energy, but even better is the Thing and Hulk's uneasy alliance, which, even though it was jerry-rigged last ish by the punk Colonel's duplicity and over-weaning ego, makes dramatic and emotional sense. Both made outcasts by their "monstrous" appearance (to say nothing of Greenskin's anger management issues), T&H are an instant support group, even if the Hulk won't stop calling the Thing "little man," and Ben knows this is probably a bad idea that won't end well. While Mean Green emitting Gamma rays is new (at least to me), it sets up the back to Ben Grimm ending and explains some of the Thing's questionable choices. 

Each of our foursome get a moment to shine (Reed's the least-effective in battle, but without his brains they'd all be back in that Strange Tales era Torch-had-a-stupid-secret-identity town that Johnny & Sue lived in), while the Hulk exits with another mournful, woe-is-me moment.

After eviscerating last month's mag, I said only a "whole lot of...smash...and an infusion of logic and/or characterization" could salvage the wreckage. And hot damn, Roy delivered. 

I closed the book with an odd smile on my face, the kind prompted by an unexpected pleasure. I'd wager every faculty member at ivy-covered Marvel U took the position with an eye toward re-experiencing and extolling their fave sagas from yesteryear. But it's just as exciting to unearth new treasure, stories you don't even remember, untainted by nostalgia, that for ten or fifteen minutes, make you feel like a kid reading a comic again.

Class dismissed, and forget about that homework assignment. 

I'm gonna go give the spinner rack a twirl. 

Matthew: Sinnott is back where he belongs, so with the single caveat that I wouldn’t necessarily put Pérez in the top rank of Hulk artists, all’s right with the world, at least in that department; everybody else looks great, especially the FF themselves, and the action scenes have the requisite oomph.  If there’s a minor trade-off to be found here, I’d lay it at the doorstep of ol’ Rascally, because for my money (which it literally was by this point), he starts chipping away far too soon at the nascent Thing/Hulk alliance before we really get a chance to savor the situation, almost immediately intimating the effects on Ben of Greenskin’s gamma emissions.  Of course, said effects also take the strip in interesting new directions for the foreseeable future, so hang on.

Scott: So now the Hulk emits lots and lots of gamma rays? If you spend a few hours with him, you’re contaminated? So what did that do to Rick Jones? Or Jim Wilson? Or Betty Ross? Or any of the Defenders? And gamma rays can counteract cosmic rays? I’m stunned Reed never thought of this. Not much going for this issue other than the art. Even the Hulk’s personality seems off: he’s upset that his friend was taken from him even after the Thing spent the last few panels whaling the crap out of him. Usually, the Hulk would take it as another betrayal. Whatever. 

Chris: The clever novelty of the Thing and the Hulk working together, if only for awhile, still resonates for me to this day.  Now that I think about it, I find it odd that Roy should pick this moment to remove the Thing from active duty, after it had taken oh-so-very-long to get Sue back in the fold; the original team had only been re-united for a handful of issues, and now we have another drastic change.  

Still – it’s always great fun to dig some of these FFs out; this issue was a particular favorite of mine.  It’s another of those flea-market-finds, which I read and re-read enough times at an impressionable age, so that countless images of the flawless Perez-Sinnott art are firmly etched in the old brain: Hulk snaps away the Torch’s flame (p 2); Sue fading, perspiring, as she struggles to maintain the force field, while Hulk and Thing hammer down (p 3); Hulk and Thing gleefully smash the two hovercraft (p 7); Thing cracks apart the hunk a’ concrete, before Hulk can fling it down from the rooftop (p 15); Sue’s float-bubble, and invisible walkway (p 23), as her powers continue to take interesting new turns; Torch’s hot-air lift for the non-Thing (p 30); Ben hitching up his now-oversized molecularly-stable shorts (p 31). 

 The Incredible Hulk 196
"The Abomination Proclamation!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

The radiation-spawned monster, known as the Hulk, has been tricked into teaming up with his former nemesis, the Abomination.  Believing  that the villain is his friend, the Hulk accompanies the Abomination to the Kennedy Space Center.  The monsters easily overtake the base after fighting off military troops and a gigantic moon space buggy.  Once they have everyone held hostage, the Abomination uses transmission monitors to communicate with every main government branch.  He warns that if they are not paid 100 million dollars in uncut diamonds, they will destroy the entire Space Center.  The duty to stop this diabolical sceme falls in General Ross' lap as he is the most knowledgeable of the two beasts.  Doc Samson, still with Ross, comes up with the idea of using the General's daughter, Betty, to help defuse the situation.  Using the same monitor system that the Abomination had used earlier, they transmit an image of Betty to beg the Hulk not to destroy the base.  When the Abomination destroys the monitor it causes the Hulkster to attack in a fit of rage.  After trading blows with Jade Jaws, the Abomination retreats to a rocket ship and flies away.  The Hulk jumps on the ship before it gets too far.  High up in the air, the Abomination punches the Hulk off the ship but the Hulk's added weight, while riding on the outside of it, throws the ship's controls off, and it explodes.  The story ends with the Hulk plummeting back down to the earth. -Tom McMillion

Chris: So, I hope no one had pinned their hopes on a title called The Incredible Hulk and the Abhorrent Abomination.  Maybe, in order to sell Hulk on their partnership, the Abomination should’ve relied on terms Greenskin would’ve understood: “Hey Hulk, if we pull this off, we can buy more cans of beans than you could ever eat!” “Hmmm . . . Hulk likes beans.”  Clever angle by Len to have the Abomination’s plan done-in by an outside influence, when circumstances ordinarily dictate that Hulk figures out for himself that he is, in fact, smelling a rat.  I was a bit surprised that it took a few moments for Hulk to recognize Betty once she appeared on the monitors – I guess even the Hulkster needs to rely on context to figure some things out, and I can see how he wouldn’t have had the slightest clue how Betty might’ve magically appeared at the space base.  

The Hulk’s effort to fight thru rapidly accumulating g-forces in his climb up an ascending rocket was a highlight.  Pretty delicate instrument, that ol rocket, for it to “self-destruct” so easily; although, I can see that the huge hole ripped into the rocket might’ve disabled it even more readily than the weight-shift once the Hulk was booted off.  Also, I don’t think I would’ve designed the rocket to have a one-step easy-launch feature, which Abominy uses to his advantage.  Oh well.
Matthew: Well, you can’t claim this vibrant Kane/Romita cover (another winner, in my opinion, more colorful and frenetic than the last) is inaccurate, being a virtual variant of the splash page, with identical composition.  I’m still slightly annoyed with Len for ignoring the fact that the Hulk has entered into consecutive ill-fated and short-lived alliances with once and future foes the Thing and the Abomination, but I’ll forgive him because except for gradually making Clay such a schmuck, he has brought this two-parter to a solid conclusion, enhanced by Staton’s improved inks. Using Betty to appeal to the Hulk’s better nature has an old-home-week feeling, and it’s a nice twist that the Abomination is undone by the very broadcast system he’d co-opted.

The Inhumans 3
"Panic in New York!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Perez and Mike Esposito
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

Lockjaw returns to save Medusa, Triton, Gorgon, and Karnak as they fall from the balcony of the palace during the latest in a series of tremors, caused when Black Bolt—entering an ancient hatchway at the base of the tower-tunnel whence they seemed to originate—found and unwittingly triggered the monolith creating them.  Accepting Medusa’s suggestion that they seek the help of the FF, he bids the others join him in teleporting to New York, declining the company of Crystal and Pietro.  On Hala, erratic signals indicate that the monolith is malfunctioning, and suggest that the Kaptroids have failed, so the Supreme Intelligence orders the pre-eminent Kree scientists to dispatch Shatterstar on an investigatory expedition, planned to capture the Inhumans.

The lone dissenter, Falzon argues that creating them—and leaving them on Sol III  because they were considered repulsive—was an unforgivable sin that will only be worsened by using them as cannon fodder in the upcoming War with the Three Galaxies.  The Inhumans’ arrival is quickly followed by that of two spacecraft while Black Bolt finds the Baxter Building deserted, and after one downs the other, their respective pilots are revealed as Shatterstar and Falzon.  The latter has come to fight on behalf of the Inhumans, but all fall to Shatterstar’s spectrum-based powers; even Black Bolt is knocked out when grasping the Kree’s wrist devices to smother his energy-blasts causes an overload, and the issue ends with Shatterstar about to kill Black Bolt and Falzon. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I must admit to peeking ahead a little to see if this War with the Three Galaxies bit was anything I needed to keep track of, although the fact that I remembered nothing about it should have tipped me off that, spoilers aside, it apparently doesn’t add up to much.  Yet despite a cluttered and inaccurate Buckler/Adkins cover, Shatterstar’s garish costume (somewhat justified since his power derives from color), and the ominously text-heavy page 14, with its daunting but necessary exposition, this is a winner.  I love the epic sweep of Moench’s plot, making more use of the Kree konnection than many an Inhumans yarn, and the Pérezposito artwork meets or exceeds the high standards set in the last issue...but since when does Lockjaw have a force-field?

The lettercol presents praise for #1, and reveals that this “was originally slated to be a quarterly ‘Giant-Size’ book…Therefore, Doug plotted a mammoth 40-page story for the first issue—including a scene which featured Crystal and husband Pietro.  However, he plotted the story some 14 hours before a meeting was held in which it was decided to cancel (at least temporarily) all Giant-Size books and convert The Inhumans to a normal-size bimonthly book….[D]ividing the single 40-page story into two 18-page stories…wasn’t easy, especially since [he and George Pérez] had to add a [recap] to the beginning of the second issue…In other words, they hadda cut a whole bunch of stuff.  The Crystal/Quicksilver sequence was included in that bunch.  Sniff…”

Chris: Give the Kree credit – they’re prepared!  So, the Kaptroids didn’t work out – well, now try Shatterstar on for size!  First question: when faced with their tremor trepidation, why are the Inhumans so quick to seek input from Reed Richards?  Do you mean to say that a genetically-advanced society like this one doesn’t have any scientists of its own -?  Next – what reason would both Calzone – sorry, Falzon (I must be hungry) and Shatterstar have for racing to New York, when over 95% of the Inhuman populace is on the far side of the world, in Attilan?  

I flinched a bit when I saw p 14, which is one of the text-heaviest I’ve ever witnessed.  No problem, though – it looks like Doug simply wanted to wedge as much exposition into as small a space as possible (and he succeeded).  But it really is all for the best, since it allows for buckets-full of action on nearly all of the other pages.  As long as Doug is able to refrain from wedging weighty captions into the action-sequences, I won’t be complaining.  
Perez continues to do well by this little-utilized team.  How about the moment when Medusa employs her tresses to flick away falling debris (p3)?  Do you suppose Rich Buckler saw that panel and said: “Damn!  Wish I’d thoughta that!”  Esposito’s inks come off as a bit inconsistent, but overall the results are leagues better than the recent crap we’ve seen from Colletta on Perez’s pencils for the Avengers.

Iron Fist 3
"The City's Not For Burning!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Dave Hunt
Cover by Keith Pollard and Klaus Janson

As Misty Knight and Daniel Rand fly to London on the trail of the kidnapped Colleen Wing, their commercial flight is struck by an atomic blast during landing, killing many on board. Misty punches a hole through the burning fuselage to help the survivors escape while Rand changes out of his smoldering clothes into his green-and-yellow costume. Outside the wreckage, he encounters the cold-blooded culprit, a huge armored villain named the Ravager. Even the combined might of the Living Weapon and Knight is not enough to stop the Ravager’s escape as he runs off with a barrel of nuclear waste. During the fight, Misty is severely injured, revealing that she has a bionic right arm, explaining her surprising strength. At St. Mabyn’s Hospital, Misty’s robotic arm is removed and she clashes with Danny who wants to hunt down the Ravager instead of searching for Colleen. But when a little girl from the plane dies during surgery, a vengeful Rand makes up his mind and heads after the metal menace, tracking his radioactive footprints to the General Post Office Tower. Iron Fist finds his tin-plated target on a top level and they battle. The martial artist eventually destroys his opponent’s wrist beams and the Ravager’s nuclear power begins to become unstable. Channeling his crackling Iron Fist, another mighty blow knocks out the armored assassin’s chest-plate control system. Shredding his disabled suit, the Ravager shows his true identity: Radion, the Atomic Man. Misty, watching the clash on the local news from her hospital bed, is horrified when the top of the Tower explodes into flames. 
-Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Let’s start with a mea culpa. I’m reading this series for the first time, so when Misty cracked a brick wall last issue, I just assumed it was comic book hyperbole and had no idea that she sported a bionic arm. Both Claremont and Byrne were born in Great Britain — with Chris a noted Anglophile to boot — so no surprise that the crack creative team placed Iron Fist in London so quickly. And Byrne moving to the Great White North as a tyke must be the only explanation for why Rand and Misty took a Canadair 747 out of New York. But maybe it was the ice-cold Molson Goldens and savory back bacon served onboard. While the Ravager is a new creation, his true identity as Radion first appeared in Marvel Two-in-One # 9 (May 1975), a comic scripted by … Chris Claremont. Iron Fist displays some as yet unseen ninja abilities, using a cloud of smoke to slip past some Bobbies. He’ll display another new power next issue. A fine if not earth shattering issue with the usual top-notch art by Byrne. There’s another Anglophile I know that works on the MU faculty so I’m sure he’ll think it’s the Queen bee’s knees.

Chris: As I read some of these early Claremont stories, I’m reminded at times of the quiet kid who lived down the road, you know who I mean, the one who used to bring a magnifying glass to an anthill on a sunny afternoon -?  There are so many mentions of kill, and death, and dying – it’s like the Steve Martin banjo song, you know?  I mean, we’ve barely finished the second page, and already the pilot is dead, and for some reason, the plane is “dead,” too.  There are some Tomb of Dracula stories that don’t have as high a body-count as some of these Cheerful Chris tales.  I realize that you have to have some life-or-death for the derring-do to have any weight, but the reliance on death-themes gets a bit wearing after awhile.  

Chris: Does anyone know why the Ravager had to destroy the plane?  He talks about the British government providing him with “nuclear material,” and we see him running from Heathrow (p 14, 1st panel) with a red canister marked “AEC – DANGER,” with a “radioactive” tri-delta symbol, but I don’t know where it came from; I see it only on that one panel.  Are we supposed to accept that commercial airliners are carrying containers of enriched uranium -?  

I checked the inside cover, and now Iron Fist is being published eight times per year (extra issues in summer, I suppose).  How did Verpoorten ever manage these seemingly-random schedules?

Matthew: Cutting to the chase, I think this is excellent in almost every way, from a satisfying meat-and-potatoes Pollard/Janson cover to the fiery cataclysms bookending a tense tale; between this and Dr. Strange, it’s a hell of a month for cliffhangers.  Chiaramonte complements Byrne’s sometimes deceptively simple pencils even better than last issue, despite the occasional sour note such as those on page 17, with Danny looking like an anime wannabe in panel 3 and…I don’t know what in panel 7.  Having Scotland Yard assume he and the Ravager were allies when they were clearly beating the crap out of each other at Heathrow is a drag, but otherwise Chris keeps it crackling with tension, and proves that he and Byrne were a well-oiled machine before X-Men.

The Invincible Iron Man 83
"The Rage of the Red Ghost!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe and Marie Severin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Happy survives his fall and is updating Pepper when O’Brien interrupts; a police detective, he suspects Tony faked his own kidnapping, and is told that “Iron Man” will provide a statement ASAP. The Red Ghost believes the cosmitronic cannon can cure his immaterial state, and having failed to obtain the plans, he demands to have one built, yet Tony says that the lab in Kragoff’s H.Q. under Long Island Sound is insufficient, so they must use the prototype at S.I.  Rightly believing that Kragoff will betray him once cured, Tony equips it with a smoke bomb as part of his “adjustments,” and armors up to subdue the super-apes, but after Kragoff ignores his warning that the cure was “a one-way proposition” and fades into intangibility, Happy collapses. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Based on the evidence of this issue alone, I’d have to conclude that Herb and Marie are unsuited for each other and/or this strip, despite their long mutual history with the Hulk, and of course we cannot blame them for Shellhead’s widely (and fairly) derided nose.  I dwell on this because my aversion to the artwork, which smacks much more of Severin than of Trimpe—not to mention a cover on which the Red Ghost improbably addresses Iron Man as “Shellhead”—distracted me from a story that otherwise has merit, especially from the Monday-morning quarterback position.  The inevitability of the path on which Happy’s predicament places us is partly offset by pleasant anticipation of O’Brien’s medium-term character arc, and the Kragoff situation is nicely resolved.


  1. Professor FlynnMay 7, 2015 at 6:19 AM

    Professor Chris: Iron Fist goes monthly down the road. That's why there's a strange number of issues printed this year.

  2. Well, I'm glad someone knows the score. Still, it strikes me as a bit odd, since most other titles simply flip a switch and go monthly, without having to work their way up to it. Prof Matthew also points out a seemingly-random production schedule for The Champions. I guess we can be glad that, some months, they managed to get these things out at all.