Wednesday, May 13, 2015

February 1976 Part Two: Is the World Ready for a Legion of Monsters?!

Ka-Zar 14
"Two Worlds in Frenzy!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Larry Hama, Jack Abel, and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Dave Hunt and Irv Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Ka-Zar and Tongah hunt a deadly T-Rex, which has been killing the Fall People, when Tongah strikes against their plan. To save his "mad" friend, K-Z knocks him out of the way and throws a spear through the dino's head. Back at camp, paleontologist Bernard Kloss tells K-Z the area they were in is rife with vibranium and he should pursue a radiologist's opinion. Ka-Zar decides to leave the Savage Land and travel with Zabu back to his London estate. Zabu scares off a reporter at the following morning's press conference, which sees K-Z talk freely about giving up his fortune and how he lives, when the sultry Tandy Snow sees through the trivial Q&A and tells Ka-Zar she knows a radiologist, when suddenly a panther leaps through the window! It's the creation of Klaw, the "master of murderous sound", who calls out Ka-Zar and zaps him good! But the Jungle Lord recovers quickly, having fashioned a belt buckle out of vibranium, so Klaw flees to the British Imperial War Museum, where the two battle until Tandy shows up and is trapped under some rubble. Ka-Zar angrily snaps off Klaw's prosthetic weapon, and as Klaw is saved by a man in a UFO, K-Z hopes Tandy has survived. – Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "Launching a New Era of Excitement in the adventures of Ka-Zar", sayeth the splash page credits, and I'm immediately skeptical. It's Ka-Zar, after all. Excitement isn't quite what comes to mind. Maybe like the 354th word…. but let's read on. First off, the cover promises Klaw going after K-Z's "secret", which is never really revealed to be honest. Is it the belt buckle? Is it that he doesn't like wearing shirts? Is it that he uses Breck, even in the Savage Land? Beats me. An OK issue overall, nothing too great but still readable. There's a new beautiful woman for Ka-Zar to flirt with good-naturedly, and a new villain to contend with, and the same old attitude on our hero, plus lots of mystery left unsolved until next issue.

Chris Blake: It’s probably a good idea for Ka-Zar to check in with the ancestral homestead every now and then, make sure no one’s made off with the silverware, consider a few overtures for lunch at the club, etc.  Seriously, though, it’s a good idea on Doug’s part to send KZ to England for a reason, namely to see if anyone can check out the possible effect of vibranium on the local populace.  Oops – who said “vibranium?”  Better watch that – said utterance is made, and a Klaw appearance is sure to follow.  I can’t say I mind – there’s no good excuse for bringing these two characters together, which to me is a sound enough reason to give it a spin, and see how it twirls.  The Hama art is okay, but he’s not helped here by thin finishes of Abel and Esposito.  

Master of Kung Fu 37
"Web of Dark Death!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Sal Trapani
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Mike Esposito

Shang-Chi hears a sound on the roof of the train car, moments before a ninja breaks through and drops in.  S-C thrusts the intruder out thru the wall, then leaps up to the roof, so that he can battle the other ninjas safely apart from the caged creatures of Moon Sun’s carnival (travelling below in the car).  S-C defeats the ninjas, except for three, who choose instead to run from S-C, along the top of the train, toward the engine at the front.  S-C pursues them, and watches in surprise as they seem to plunge off – they should be ground up by the powerful engine, but S-C sees and hears no indication that they have perished.  S-C asks the carnival creatures to explain why they are under threat, and finds that each one has a different account of the circumstances – no two stories are the same.  There also is no agreement as to the identity and intention of Dark Strider, except that he is certain to mean death for the creatures.  The next thing he knows, S-C is helping the creatures erect their tent in the middle of a remote, open area; Moon Sun insists that anyone who desires to “find the fruits of mystery” will find the circus, wherever it might be.  One man does arrive, wearing a hat and an overcoat.  When he next enters the tent, S-C hears a call from above, and sees a large web, snaring all the creatures; at the web’s center is a six-armed figure, who S-C knows must be Dark Strider.  S-C fights for the creatures’ freedom, and defeats Dark Strider, insisting as he does that the forces of life must prevail.  Dark Strider corrects S-C – despite the outcome of the battle, the creatures have been overcome by life, and have given themselves over to death.  S-C looks around, and sees that all the creatures have been replaced by – the ninjas, now speaking with the creatures’ voices.  The ninjas fling their swords upward, and fly up thru the rent in the canvas; Dark Strider walks out, and vanishes, before S-C has the opportunity to press him to answer his many questions.  Still, S-C determines that he has learned much from the “fabric of mystery.” -Chris Blake

Chris: Pretty wild two-parter.  It’s a real departure for Shang-Chi, whom Doug has gone to great lengths in recent months to ground in the physical plane.  Think how confused you might’ve been if you’d picked up these two issues, in order to satisfy your 007 kick!  I’m not at all sure how Doug came up with this idea, and I applaud his initiative as he continues to devise new settings and opponents for the character.  After all the riddling and double-talk and stuff in MoKF #36, followed by the vastly disparate accounts in this issue of how the creatures had incurred the deadly wrath of Dark Strider, I think I would’ve appreciated some explanation of why all this was necessary.  In the end, the creatures all felt that life had been enough, and they accepted death.  Well, fine, but why the ninja-battling, the train ride, the big top, and the spider-armed guy?  And don’t tell me “It’s all a mystery – life is full of mystery;” you know, okay, I get that, but I might’ve been more impressed if there had been some suggestion in the story as to why S-C had been selected to be the beneficiary of this mind-expanding experience and its ultimately profound message.  
The Pollard-Trapani team continues to serve as an adequate backup to Gulacy-Adkins, particularly in the action sequences.  There isn’t as much for the artists to work with, outside of the battling; last time, they had to apply themselves to the outlandish creatures, but we don’t see nearly as much of them this time.  
Mark Barsotti: This one snuck up on me, a gift, perhaps, of lowered expectations. Start with suckie art (to be fair to Keith Pollard, his work is high-end generically respectable; it only "sucks" on the Gulacy scale), last month's Chatty Cathy menagerie of Dr. Moreau circus misfits, overseen by a wise & wizened Zen monk, then open here with a ho-hum ninjas-on-a-train assault, and the bar's set pretty low. 

Doug Moench then doubles-down on yip-yap. The caged meta-humans tell conflicting tales of the Dark-Strider, Rashomon-style, none particularly scintillating, and I'm eyeing the exit. Most of this is a slog. Interest spikes on p. 19, with the pretty girl revealed as hideous and then the six-armed Dark Strider arrives mid-web, our meta-carnies ensnared around him. The following kung-fooey lacks Gulacy's gravitas, but is spirited enough. More interesting is Dark- Strider's role as a morally-neutral, karmic-balancing agent of death, "and death is not is only the final mystery."

And the six-armed Reaper does win, taking our circus folk with him to the shadow realm, and Shang is left with but a dissolving scrap of cloth and the suspicion that jolly old Moon Sun might have also been the Strider!

Somehow the last quarter of the book conjures an unexpected, almost uneasy, emotional power. And Deep Thoughts, as S-C strides into the last panel's sinking sun, thinking, "We are all freaks under other eyes. And life is our cage."

I want a poster of that for my angsty, existential friends. And the strong finish here makes this an unexpected treat. 

Just as Moon Sun predicted..

Marvel Chillers 3
Tigra, the Were-Woman in
"Holocaust is Our Business!"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Will Meugniot, Frank Chiaramonte, and Sam Grainger
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Howard Chaykin and Bernie Wrightson

After a review of Tigra’s history, Joshua Plague’s Rat Pack steals serums from an Army Research Center in Kepkeville, California, and a feline figure caught up in the gas attack is assumed to be their “ground man.”  Arriving from Chicago, seeking a treatment one of the Cat People has developed that can allow Tigra to assume human form at will, Greer and Dr. Tumolo learn from Joanne’s human ally and college friend, Jules Bannion, that it is the selfsame Professor Leon who is in custody.  Freeing him, Tigra learns that the pack is hitting an Indian reservation, but the police ’copter on which she hitches a ride is brutally shot down, and having been bested by Plague, she prepares to follow, unaware that she has been observed by Red Wolf. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Both Black Goliath and Tigra were existing characters repurposed by Isabella and had made only a couple of appearances in their new incarnations before debuting this month in solo series that lasted just five issues.  Of the two, the erstwhile Cat certainly had a more successful second act, eventually becoming an Avenger, while ironically her old togs also get a new lease on life in the concurrent Assemblers outing.  Reading this is a bizarre experience for me, because unlike with the other strips on which I am serving as point man, which I volunteered to cover because I had been a fan for decades, I’m taking this one on as a personal favor to our august Dean (a logical move, since I covered The Cat), and never saw a single issue before he sent them to me on a CD.

Compounding this unfamiliarity, Will Meugniot is barely a Marvel footnote, whose work I have only seen in (and in no way remember from) Howard the Duck #29 and Marvel Team-Up #98, still years away at this point; with two credited inkers, Chiaramonte and Grainger, it’s even harder to assess his pencils, but my gut reaction is that it’s far too stylized for my tastes.  Yet it feels as though he’s only trying to match the spirit of the script, which seems given to weirdness for its own sake, especially in the nature of Plague’s oddly costumed band, and of course I have no idea where any of this is headed.  Why Leon is taken for one of them I can’t imagine, except that he also looks out of the ordinary, and throwing Red Wolf into the mix is just a cherry on top.

Chris: Full disclosure: I only ever bought any of these stories, as back-issues, due to John Byrne’s appearance as penciller for MC #6.  Along those lines – this is another of those short-lived series that isn’t helped by rotating art-teams; we never have the same art team for consecutive issues.  It’s too bad; Meugniot, who doesn’t put in a whole lot of work for Marvel during the Bronze era, does well here, sort of a Ploog-lite.  Meugniot will be back again for MC #5, but I wouldn’t have minded if he’d been the penciller for all five installments.  

I’m not sure what to make of the inks – I think of Chiaramonte and Grainger as having noticeably different styles, and yet I can’t tell where one inker drops out and the other takes over.  Grand Comics Database is no help (again), as they simply list both names, with no page breakdown.  If any member of the esteemed faculty can determine who inked which pages, then award yourself a fur-lined no-prize.  

Marvel Premiere 28
The Legion of Monsters in
"There's a Mountain on Sunset Boulevard!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Frank Robbins and Steve Gan
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Karen Mantlo and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Nick Cardy

Suddenly, out of nowhere, a mountain appears in the middle of Los Angeles and it draws together four supernatural entities: Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider; Michael Morbius, the Living Vampire; Ted Sallis, the Man-Thing; and Jack Russell, the Werewolf by Night. The four ascend the mountain and are approached by a golden man sitting atop a golden steed, calling himself the Starseed. He tells the quartet of his origin but Man-Thing, Morbius, and the Werewolf impetuously attack the Starseed for no reason despite Ghost Rider's protests. As he lay dying, the Starseed reveals that he held the power to change all four back into their human persona. Dejected that they've screwed the pooch, the four wander their separate ways. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: This could be the biggest hunk of crap I've read in a Marvel funny book since those Human Torch solo stories back in the early 1960s (a run that made the mid-1960s Batman and Batpooch tales look positively Steranko-esque). I'm not sure just what purpose these one-shots serve other than to fill a slot in an established title. There was no way there would be a success coming out of this Demented Monster Defenders one-shot. Ghost Rider is obviously filling the Dr. Strange role and the Werewolf does the same kind of mindless acts as the Hulk. As Matthew astutely points out below, this is a "legion" that has no reason to be together and, while that's not unheard of (you can trace the "shaky partners" routine all the way back to FF #1, of course), here it just plain makes no sense. Did I miss where Angry Young Man-tlo explained how Man-Thing makes it from the swamps of Florida to the asphalt of El Lay in a heartbeat or why the other three are in the vicinity? And why these three? Why Los Angeles and not the streets of Marvel-friendly New Yawk? Why Rocky Horror on horseback? I get the feeling Bill was spending so much of his time whipping up snappy Ghost Rider dialogue like "Get off me, you half-baked Dracula!" and "That refugee from a Lon Chaney film has unhorsed him!" to actually come up with a relevant plot. We get nothing but a phony build-up to an anti-climax.  Some Marvel Monster bickering and then Lord Fauntleroy pops up and is defeated within a couple pages. Can I hear "Phone it in!"? As for the... art... well, my feelings on Frank Robbins are well-known to everyone in these parts so piling on would be like making fun of a Yoko Ono box set.

Chris: So, my question is: if two of these four characters have titles that have been cancelled, and a third who narrowly avoided cancellation (but still will hit the chopping block in the next few months), was there some reason why Marv thought that, if all of these were packaged together, there might be more fan interest?  Well, why stop there?  Why not add the Living Mummy and the Frankenstein Monster, as well -?

Now that both Marvel Premiere and Marvel Spotlight have become titles built around 1-2 part stories, I have difficulty keeping them distinct.  Wouldn’t it have made sense to continue to place supernaturally-themed content in Spotlight, to follow runs by Son of Satan and Ghost Rider, plus a solo story with the Scarecrow, and use Premiere for the mainstream content -?  
Matthew: Because seeing GR twice this month wasn’t enough…because the world needed more Robbins…because Manny and Morby were so popular they just got cancelled…and because the unrelated B&W Legion of Monsters lasted a single issue.  I can’t for the life of me imagine the impetus for Mantlo’s incoherent, unengaging, unmotivated mess of a story about a “legion” whose members have no allegiance to one another.  Of the four, Morbius has the closest connection to Bill, who with Frank presided over the demise of his strip in Fear, and ironically wrote this month’s fill-in for GR’s own book, to which Robbins returns next issue; his humans look so unnatural that I guess this is a logical assignment, but I detect not a soupçon of Gan.

Joe: OK, so the four monsters are together in the same area, interacting with either reverence or anger towards this Starseed dude (who's pretty lame to be honest), and that makes them a "legion" worthy of their own "team-up" issue? Um, I guess so. I didn't like the Robbins art very much, nor the fact that all four monsters were basically on a revolving door of seeing action. Not a great comic, that's for sure. Just OK at best, leaving Werewolf with really not much to do at all. Let's just call this one a "time-killer."

Marvel Presents 3
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Just Another Planet Story!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Al Milgrom and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Dan Crespi and Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom and John Romita

 Earth, 3015 A.D.:  freed by the Defenders, fifty million remaining humans fight their erstwhile Badoon masters, with the Guardians—Jovian Charlie-27, Centaurian Yondu, Pluvian Martinex (sole survivors of their respective colonial races), and Major Vance Astro—leading the final battle in New Moscow, the capital of the world government.  After Martinex executes Governor Koord, victory is declared in the main rotunda of Federation Hall, formerly the Badoon throne chamber.  Starhawk arranges with Queen Tolaria for the Badoon sisterhood to remove the males, who consider it a fate worse than death, and temporarily blinds those humans eager to kill them, who will “be forced to rebuild their civilization on a foundation of dignity…”

Months later, peace finds the four original Guardians having trouble adjusting.  Attacked by a primitive human, Yondu takes his instinctive self-defense as a sign to abandon suicidal thoughts; in Berlin, Martinex encounters racism while lamenting the knowledge lost when humans had to choose between sheltering computer tapes or themselves; Charlie quits his L.A. construction job, unable to endure the disrespect of his boss, whom he wraps in a girder; Vance’s latest visit to a San Francisco “cabaret” underscores his permanent sexual frustration, and ends in an altercation with a drunken patron.  Suddenly, he is teleported aboard the Captain America, where—without awaiting his consent—Starhawk departs with the assembled foursome on an unspecified mission. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Whole lotta mixed feelings here, which may come as a surprise to those who know of my intense affection for both Gerber and the characters, but first of all, I think hustling the Badoon offstage so fast constitutes a real missed opportunity.  However tempting it must be to get the Guardians of the Galaxy out among the stars, I think there were some amazing stories to be told about the rebellion’s last days.  It’s interesting to note that although the SF settings and subject matter automatically make this strip more exotic by definition than your average Spidey saga, and that slab o’text on page 22 is pure Gerber, the style of the storytelling is more conventional than I’d expect from the man behind Man-ThingHoward the Duck, and the Headmen saga in Defenders.

Which leads me to a double irony inherent in the art:  first that Milgrom, who rarely rises above routine, should be drawing two of Marvel’s most star-spanning titles, this and Captain Marvel, and second, that he and Marcos, who raises the bar considerably, were both inkers on the Thanos War that set the standard for cosmic sagas to come.  That montage accompanying the text page is obviously meant to be a Starlinesque spectacle, and it looks…fine, but with exceptions such as the magnificent spread on pages 2-3, to use an obvious metaphor, the visuals rarely soar.  I know we’re launching (sorry) a new strip, but introducing each character for what must be about the fourth time seems a bit tiresome, especially as the lettercol essay serves much the same function.

Chris: This issue is better than I remember.  Nice job by Steve G to wrap-up the Badoon War; it allows casual readers – who might’ve missed the Guardians’ most recent appearances in Defenders – a chance to tune into the team’s purpose up to now; it also makes for plenty of action.  More importantly, we have a well thought-out transition sequence once the war is concluded; plenty of other writers would’ve carried the war to its conclusion at the end of the issue, and shown the Guardians borne aloft on the shoulders of an adoring populace on the very last page.  Instead, Steve’s approach might be a bit cynical, but probably closer to the truth: once a nasty conflict is concluded, citizens get back to business (ie “normalcy”), and could drift back into past prejudices, while warriors might find themselves bereft of a sense of purpose, and confronted by the troubles they had before an all-consuming war came along to require every ounce of their time and attention. 

I’ll say the same thing for the art: better than memory.  Milgrom brings some truly inspired layouts, especially the frenetic war-fogged p 2-3.  He takes Sal Buscema’s depiction of the reptilian Badoon and keeps them nice and scaly.  I will say that the full impact of Starhawk’s blinding lightburst (p18) is diminished by the long rectangles on the right side of the page, but it’s not a major complaint, merely a slightly missed opportunity.  Marcos also does a nice job pulling it all together – too bad he wasn’t kept on for the whole series (no reason not to, was there -?).  
Overall, a strong start for the series, featuring the Because We Demanded It! team.  

Marvel Spotlight 26
The Scarecrow in
"Death Waters of the River Styx"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Ruben Yandoc
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by San Jose
Cover by Howard Chaykin and Al Milgrom

Three night demons emerge from the painting of a scarecrow, seeking the Horn of Kalumai, their master, which will open a dimensional doorway—but standing in their way is The Scarecrow! Protector of the dimension, and guardian of the painting, Scarecrow exhibits otherworldly powers, dispatches the demons and returns home to the loft of Jess Duncan, and the painting, leaving the horn behind. Jess and Harmony Maxwell spot it, just as brother Dave stumbles in, then the three head to the opening of an aquarium exhibit featuring a giant deep sea creature. More demons, called Sub-Men, show up to disrupt things, with Scarecrow and a resilient Harmony there to battle them, when Kalumai's piper plays a tune that freezes the demons and sets them ablaze! Harmony quells the flames with a curtain, leading to the giant fish getting loose and flooding the room, Scarecrow kicking some demon butt, a locked-out Jess sketching, and the Sub-Men disappearing in a whirlpool. Scarecrow tries to leave, but is forced to jump into the sketch Jess drew—of Scarecrow himself! As Jess and Harmony wonder where Dave went, Kalumai vows to kills Scarecrow for squelching his plans again! -Joe Tura

Joe: Well, not having read Dead of Night #11, Scarecrow's first appearance, I have no clue what the hell is going on here. And after reading this issue, I'm slightly more lost. "The Most Mysterious Superhero Of All!" is certainly mysterious, but is he exciting? Well, he seems impervious to most assaults, and certainly likes to laugh, and strikes a bit of fear into the hearts of demons and men, but all in all, he's just OK. I know I overuse the adjectives "OK" and "decent" in these pages, but honestly, that's how I feel about these lower-grade titles on the syllabus. The art, by Ruben Yandoc (another Filipino artist who also penciled a couple of Unknown Worlds of Sci-Fi and unfortunately passed away in 1992) is not bad. Scott Edelman is known for creating Scarecrow and filling in on a bunch of other titles here and there, including Marvel Two-In-One #18, which is Scarecrow's (aka The Straw Man) next appearance. After that it's 1991 in Doctor Strange, Sorcerer Supreme #31, co-written by Roy Thomas, as one of the Fear Lords. Yeesh.

Chris: Compared to Scarecrow’s first appearance a few months ago in Dead of Night #11, this outing is a bit of a mess.  The grey ghouls that climb out of the Scarecrow painting, we’re told, are seeking the severed right horn of Kalumai, so that they can use it in a ritual to bridge the goat-god to our unsuspecting dimension.  But when the Scarecrow carelessly drops the horn (as he returns to his home-painting), and when the Scarecrow’s human minders leave the horn behind, do the ghouls grab this opportunity to collect it?  Why, no!  Why not, you ask?  Well, because we all have to go see a giant fish, which has been hauled up from the deep, of course!  Uh – come again -?  Then, the Scarecrow barely breaks a sweat (can hay and rags perspire? No, never mind) as he dispatches the creature-crew via an indoor whirlpool.  It’s hard enough that the story is so dopey; what’s worse is that Ruben Yandoc captures almost none of the menacing atmosphere that we had seen, courtesy of Rico Rival, in the Scarecrow’s first outing.

Marvel Team-Up 42
Spider-Man and The Vision in
"Visions of Hate!"
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 Ed Hannigan and Mike Esposito

Wanda sets a plague of locusts on one of the threatening mob, convincing them that she is indeed a witch, but before our heroes can reach the time platform, she is grazed by a bullet, and they are overwhelmed.  After condemned fellow prisoner John Proctor relates his part in the witch-riots, Spidey frees the Vision, yet when they break out of Salem Jail, entrusting Wanda to Mrs. Proctor, John declines to join them for fear of seeming to admit his guilt.  A glow in the woods leads them to a meeting between Mather and his master, the Dark-Rider, disrupted by first the Vision, who disarms Mather and slays the Dark-Rider’s giant raven, and then Doom, who says he must stand beside them, “or the Earth as we have come to know it—will never be!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Can we agree that when the Dark-Rider orders his bird to “slam them,” it was probably supposed to read “slay”?  If so, I guess Mr. and Mrs. Mantlo weren’t quite in synch; ditto colorist “Janice C.,” with her strangely Caucasian “black servant.”  I can afford to be a little flippant, because this entry has—at least for now—reassured me that my affection for this arc was not entirely misplaced, which is hardly surprising when it teams Spidey up with one of my all-time favorite Marvel heroes for the first time since #5.  The necessity for the length of the storyline becomes clearer with Bill’s flashback (which, according to history major Mrs. Professor Matthew, is largely accurate, save for aggrandizing Mather’s role), and Buscemosito’s art remains rock solid.

Joe: I'm with Prof. Matthew on The Vision. Even though my love for Spidey knows no bounds, no matter how average his main title gets in a couple of years, there are other Marvel characters I have a fondness for, and one of them is Vision. He was always one of the coolest cats around when it came to unique looks and powers, and he's one of the few characters whom just about no artist could screw up. Maybe all the Bullpen members thought he was cool too? Of course Sal B. is one of the more solid Vision artists; then again he draws nearly everyone well! This issue we get an alternate reality version of The Crucible, but not like Ms. Bruno taught it in 10th grade. My favorite exchange here is on page 23 though, where Vizh praises Spidey's courage and humor, then asks him why the Avengers never sought out his talents for membership. Of course, they will again many moons later. And the reveal of the surprise guest at the end is always a welcome sight! Make Mine Marvel Team-Up!

Chris: The letters page features several requests that Marvel move away from the worn-out fight-first-then-join-up routine that has been plaguing this title since . . .  well, pretty much since its beginning, right?  Well, look what happens – now Spidey has to team with Doc Doom without fighting him first!  Nice going, letter-writers – with Doom now in the clear, he’s asking, nay demanding future opportunities to appear in these pages!

This is another flea-market acquisition for me; I’m nearly certain that my motivation to buy it was due to one factor: the Vision.  Of course, by buying this issue, I left myself with another cliffhanger, which I wasn’t able to resolve until years later, when I finally acquired the next two issues.  That leads to another LOC concern, namely, readers’ preference for multi-issue stories, which I agree is the better idea.  The way to handle a continuing team-up story is demonstrated by Mantlo here: you start with the Scarlet Witch, then add the Vision, then go with the unexpected with Doc Doom, etc – get the idea?  It’s easy once you get the hang of it.  Over the next 2+ yrs, Mantlo – and his successor, Claremont – will fine-tune the multi-character multi-issue team-up formula.  

Luke Cage, Power Man 29
"No One Laughs at Mr. Fish"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Tom Palmer

Power Man stands guard over several trucks he has been hired to protect because the drivers are being shaken down by a criminal organization.  Distracted by a noise, Power Man accidentally lets a black midget bomb the trucks right out from under his nose.  The African American runt cracks Cage in the head with a club and then runs off.  Power Man pursues him until he runs smack dab into the gang of toughs who are responsible for the trucker harassment.  Cage is sickened by the sight of a mutated human called Mr. Fish, a green and scaly Maggia boss who has a small crew of thugs with him.  Cage battles the gang briefly, but gets knocked out cold by Mr. Fish's powerful gun blaster.  As the gangsters take Power Man to the top of a building under construction, the Fishman fills him in on his origin.  Once a normal man, Mr. Fish was trying to steal an isotope from a crate inside a truck on the docks.  The isotope started to burn him so he jumped in the murky river, only to rise up hours later a new and amphibious man.  When Cage gets thrown off the building, he is able to save himself by grabbing onto a metal beam, dislocating his shoulder in the process.  Even though he only has one good arm, Cage is able to defeat Fish's thugs, including the vertically-challenged ebony goon.  Mr. Fish is pretty strong, and he fights Cage fairly well, until he accidentally falls off the building and dies. -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: Here we are yet again: another “dreaded deadline doom” fill in issue. Or, “is this any way to run a comic book company?” The missed deadlines and one-shot fill issues have gotten out of hand at this point, popping up in nearly every title. This oddball story would be more at home in the 50’s, with the Bill Everett style “Mr. Fish,” a one and done villain who is only interesting by virtue of his amphibious appearance. That, plus the freakish Cajun-talking Shrike, is the only thing keeping this tale interesting, Mr. Fish should have been battling Sub-Mariner somewhere instead of puttering around in Harlem as head of Maggia Ops in that part of the city. These Maggia goons are apparently a dime a dozen, and the position turnover is pretty rapid. Decent art considering the Tuskoletta scratches. No regular supporting cast to speak off, but at least we get Luke shouting “Sweet Jumpin’ Christmas” in a full page panel that’s actually pretty cool. I take my thrills where I can get them… Next issue returns us to our regularly scheduled three-parter.

The Son of Satan 2
"The Possession!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Sonny Trinidad and Tom Palmer

 Daimon recognizes that the Possessor has planted “cryptic messages” in his mind, and employs his trident to draw these images forth to his consciousness.  Daimon follows a sequence of events in the life of Raphael Zoran, as he travelled in his childhood with his parents as they put on a carny show, featuring “The Great Zoran, Master Mentalist!”  For years, young Raphael had recognized how his mother used various cues to indicate to his father how he should “perceive” various facts about members of the audience, to perpetuate a “harmless fraud.”  Over time, it became apparent that Raphael’s mother had control over psi-powers that allowed her to subtly influence her husband’s “reading” of audience members.  As he learned this for himself, the “Great Zoran” reacted with jealousy and fear toward his wife, which grew into alcohol-fueled rage.  Raphael witnessed his mother’s death at his father’s hand, and swore revenge.  Raphael buried his feelings, and withered emotionally, even as his own psi-powers began to manifest themselves.  Raphael’s emotional vacancy seemed to leave him vulnerable to possession by two demons seeking a host, but his powers instead allowed him to take possession of the demons, and their powers, for himself.  Daimon traces the Possessor to Arizona, specifically a portal that stands as an entrance-point to hell.  Daimon is confronted by Baphomet, who asks Daimon to help Satan bridge the distance to this plane, so that Satan might be able to “quell [a] threat to both earth and hell!”  Daimon angrily blasts Baphomet, stating he would never form a pact with Satan.  The Possessor arrives, and makes a statement about “mental implants” having had an effect.  He then fires energy at Daimon, which he seeks to block with his trident; the trident is left on the ground, as Daimon finds himself transformed to the fourth face on the Possessor’s head.  The former Raphael announces to Baphomet that he has successfully gained control of Daimon, and intends to use Daimon’s power to make himself “invincible!”
-Chris Blake
Chris: Wow – I really thought I was going to gloss over some of the details here, and it turns out that I did; the problem is that the origin tale for the Possessor is looooong.   In fact, it’s so long that it gets downright tedious – I wound up walking away in the middle, and found my way back to it later on.  The length might not be so much of an issue (although it does take us away from our title character for over four pages, plus then we have a completely unrelated “interlude” after that) if it carried any emotional content – there are plenty of instances in Raphael’s life that should inspire some reaction, but frankly, it simply wasn’t happening for me.  
The same is true with Daimon later in the story – Warner makes a point of telling us how violently horrified Daimon is to find himself possessed, but that’s all it is: telling.  Warner’s words don’t seem to convey properly the emotion he wants us to appreciate for these characters when they are subjected to these truly awful  occurrences; unfortunately, they never rise above the simple words on the page, so these moments simply sort of happen, without resonating.
Trinidad’s art is very solid; he’s a fitting successor to Sal Buscema.  Sonny depicts the demons well, and includes plenty of wispy panels when Daimon’s trying to find his way into Raphael’s clues.  We don’t see very much of Daimon himself in action this time, so hopefully we’ll see more of that from Trinidad next time.  

Matthew: This is one of many back issues I acquired years later but have no memory of from my first read-through, so I’m not sure how or if that D.C. interlude pays off; don’t know if I correctly recall a strong connection between Daimon and Georgetown or am just transposing it with The Exorcist.  Regardless, having him be a mere spectator for fully half of the second issue of his own book, and then ending it with him subsumed into the villain, certainly seems like a ballsy, counterintuitive or foolhardytake your pickmove on Warner’s part.  So far not a fan of Trinidad’s self-inked art, which may just be a matter of taste, but full marks for the title of the lettercol (“Hellstrom’s Chronicles”), which Professor Gilbert, for onewill likely also appreciate.

Super-Villain Team-Up 4
Namor and Doctor Doom in
"A Time of Titans"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jim Mooney
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

Angered over the callous death of Saru-San, Namor clashes with his sometime ally, and the energy of their violent confrontation is detected by the sensors of a U.S. Naval vessel, aboard which Army Captain Simon Ryker seeks a power source to infuse his first creation, an experimental cyborg-soldier, with life.  Feigning weakness, Namor tricks Doom into dropping his force-shield and hurls him into the ship, where Ryker siphons energy from Doom that flows into his “seething vat of protogen-gel” before blowing out his central computer bank. Hurled into the sea by his energy-blast, Namor is presumed dead by Doom, who stuns but does not slay Ryker, yet having duped the doctor again, Subby still livesand he’s not the only one… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Looked at one way, this is the merest placeholder before Englehart’s short yet significant stint on the book, and a debut for Trimpe in which, more often than not, his style is eclipsed by that of Mooney, his first of four inkers in as many issues.  But Bill will return to follow Stainless with a longer, and arguably better, run, and this takes on added dimensions in the larger Mantlo context.  If I’m not mistaken, Ryker’s presence marks the first conclusive link between the Marvel present and the future inhabited by Deathlok, whom Bill is now co-writing; on top of that, although it does little to further the Doom/Namor plotline (other than to put the perennial frenemies back in the “enemies” column), it sets up Subby’s solo yarn in the Mantlo/Mooney Marvel Spotlight #27.

The Mighty Thor 244
"This is the Way the World Ends!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler, Joe Sinnott, and John Romita

Thor and company watch the arrival of the Time-Twisters on Zarrko's screen. The Tomorrow Man incites his citizens to go forth and  fight the  three giant slender figures;  actually an act of cowardice,  as everyone knows being blasted to dust is inevitable.  Jane convinces Thor to try reason before action to halt the aliens. Back in Asgard the events are not unnoticed by Odin, whom the Vizier pleads with to have mercy on the Thunder God. Instead, Odin banishes his faithful  advisor to the Tower of Solitude for "rest and study", then orders Balder to fetch Igron  ( Loki's prior sidekick) from the dungeons for a replacement. Thor finds the Time-Twisters willing to answer questions, but unwilling to stop their quest for knowledge that destroys each world they visit on their journey back in time.  Reason then exhausted,  Thor tries force, but to no avail. The Time-Twisters merely keep them at bay with soldiers and creatures out of time.  Then they disappear as quickly as they came. Next stop : the 20th century! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: They may not look too different from many a foe Thor's faced,  but something about the three tall aliens striding in and out of town as they please reminds me of the old west. Seeing the innocent people of Earth's 50th century turned into dust and blown away was quite chilling. The origin of the Twisters still doesn't tell us the appointed task they must complete at time's beginning. Odin's behavior is getting downright suspicious: banishing the Vizier, and then Igron!? And what's with Thor and company's survival after the future Earth burns up (except for Zarrko and the Servitor making their
escape)? Interesting.

Matthew: Hey, ho, another February issue, another destruction of the Earth, albeit this one 30 centuries hence.  Such an entry—which, not coincidentally, has a pretty dramatic story by Len, to boot—reminds me that I am at times in danger of taking my favorite Buscinnott art team for granted, especially as they’re laboring away on a strip that is rarely one of my favorites, which of course prevents me from ranking it even lower.  I don’t think anybody does the nobility of Thor, the majesty of Odin, the charm of the Warriors Three (coming soon to a Spotlight near you!), or the grandeur of Asgard better; to those we can add, on this outing, the Time-Twisters’ literally unearthly weirdness, epitomized by page 16, and, oh yeah, that aforementioned end of the world.

Chris: These Time-Twisters are for real, huh?  Buscema + Sinnott do a nice job of portraying their "baleful" expressions as they stride by, unseeing of the little people.  Since Thor is such a power-filled figure, it would be easy for this title to get in a rut; there aren't too many legitimate opponents out there in the Marvel Universe (shameless plug!), so the onus is on Len to dream up new challenges, and to deal our Norseman a humbling setback from time-to-time. 

It's hard not to question Odin's recent decision-making.  Who elected him king, anyway?  After all, strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.  Well, we'll see -- knowing the Big O as we do, these moves – questionable as they might appear to be – all could be part of him being Up to Something.

Matthew: I'd much prefer an anarcho-syndicalist commune.

The Tomb of Dracula 41
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

The vampire hunters feverishly read through books about vampires, trying to figure out a way to resurrect Dracula so that he can stop Dr. Sun from achieving world domination.  Hack writer Harold H. Harold reads out loud from one of the sources that Drac can be revived by the blood or tears from a pure virgin.  Just as he is saying this, his boss's secretary, Aurora, sheds a tear of sorrow while cradling the Count's urn.  Her teardrop falls into his ashes, and Dracula reforms back into the living lord of the undead.  Drac knows right away why Quincy Harker would allow him to be reborn.  Needing fresh blood, Dracula kills a woman who is out for a late night stroll.  Suddenly, Blade the vampire hunter pounces on him.  Before they can battle it out, Drac gloats to him about his alliance with Harker.  Blade follows him back to their house so that he can hear this for himself. Angry and sickened that the vampire hunters would make a pact with a murderer, Blade storms off, but decides to follow Drac when he leaves to kill Dr. Sun. It's Halloween night as Dr. Sun mobilizes his brain-washed military  to help him take over the world. The evil brain's headquarters gets a sneak attack from Drac.  Killing his way through Sun's military guards, Dracula confronts his enemy. Dr. Sun shoots mind blasts at him and then Blade comes to Dracula's aid.  The story ends with two trick or treaters leaving Sun's mansion after ringing his door bell. -Tom McMillion

Mark: We're back on track for chapter XCX (I've lost count) of the Drac vs. Doctor Sun smackdown, now that Harold's no longer cast as action hero. Instead he peruses his library for vamp revivification methods, while crushing-on-the-Count Aurora drips the single tear "of a virgin pure" (whoda thunk it?) into our anti-hero's ashes (I've never seen a cremation urn with a silver-dollar-sized virgin tear opening in the lid, but then I don't browse much on, and that's one of the methods! So our red-eyed aristocrat and Jack Palance ancestor again walks & stalks among us...

Props as always to Gene the Dean's and Tom Palmer's moody, menacing art. It's easy to take their expected excellence for granted, month after month, but imagine how uneven ToD would be if Colan took a break every fourth month (I'm stink-eyin' you, Paul Gulacy), or his rough breakdowns had to be passed around the Bullpen like a joint of cheap Mexican, as oft happens on Deathlok. Killer cover, even if Drac never scares the M&Ms out of trick-or-treaters, and the overall quality of the title has gone up since Colan started supplying covers, rather than leaving the billboard art to lesser hands.

Chris: This is, by far, the most satisfying issue of ToD we’ve had in some time.  Not only because Drac is front-and-center again (good decision by Marv not to drag out the how-do-we-revive-the-fiend quandary), but since it allows us to see a few things: who would ever think that, at least for now, Drac ever could speak civilly with Harker & Co (complimenting Rachel for her work with the crossbow -!); but, Drac being Drac, he takes full advantage of an opportunity to stick it to his erstwhile opponents, when he announces as he flies off that he’s on his way to take an innocent life (as Harker dies a little bit more . . .); and lastly, Drac states to himself that, as soon as possible, he’ll be ready to tear into his momentary allies (well, I hope that didn’t come as a surprise to anyone).  Blade’s return is an added bonus (after being stranded in the world of B&W for too long), especially as he eventually talks himself into siding with Harker’s cause against Dr Sun.  

Chris: Page 11 (right) is among the many art highlights, if only for this reason: it goes to show that, despite the fact that Drac’s feasting on the unsuspecting is sort of a recurring theme with this title, Gene & Tom take each of these moments seriously, and avoid falling into a rut of depicting each of Drac’s predatory moments the same old way.  This time, I especially liked how the victim’s eyes are shown as negative images (panels 3 and 4), a black pupil in a white iris, offset by a white pupil in a black iris, as if to say that Drac’s latest victim is briefly straddling the border between living, and undeath.  
And then, on top of everything else, I see there is another LOC from fan Mark Barsotti -! (and, I might add, a well-written missive from the relative newcomer to this title – clearly, the lad showed writing promise from a tender age!)
Mark: Still bothered that an army platoon now serves a disembodied brain (of a Red Chinese, no less!) and the US government does zilch (Marv could have provided a one panel fix of General Whoever, agreeing on the phone with Quincy to give the Vamp Squad 48 hrs to resolve the problem before attacking), but with that nit officially picked, our scarifying tale builds toward its demonic denouement as wild-card Blade is back in play and the Count is at "full power" for the first time in months. Expect Sun to go into permanent eclipse.   

And don't worry, Moms. No actual trick-or-treaters were harmed during the production of this comic.

That we know of.  

Warlock 11
"How Strange My Destiny Part 2 - Chapter 4"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Jim Starlin
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin and Alan Weiss

Before Thanos can dispatch Adam on his suicide mission, the Death Squad phases aboard Sanctuary I, and knowing that all is lost if they cannot reach his time-probe ahead of the In-Betweener’s arrival, he urges Adam to use his Soul Gem on the zealots, reminding him that it is the only way to prevent the Magus’s existence.  But as the unleashed Gem wipes out the entire Death Squad, the Magus gloats to Adam, “You’ve just proven yourself worthy of becoming that which I am!”  With Pip literally at his heels for presumed safety, Adam enters the probe, preset to take him to his rendezvous with destiny, while Thanos battles the Magus, created by the forces of Chaos and Order as a champion of life, to oppose his “mad scheme of total stellar genocide!”

At a Ditkoesque crossroads of his fate, Adam faces the In-Betweener, who is immune to the Gem and his other powers, and whose very raison d’être is to bring the Magus into existence.  As the violence of the latter’s clash with Thanos destroys part of the ark, forcing Gamora to flee into space, Adam uses his last moments to sever the “kismet trail” leading toward that possible future and, meeting his dying self a year or two in the future, steals his soul to prevent its becoming his foe.  The universe reborn, Adam and Pip appear on Homeworld while Thanos retrieves Gamora, explaining that only those four “at the very eye of this explosive reshuffling of time” will recall the Magus existed, yet as he and Pip go for a drink at Mama Alpha’s, Adam sees the Matriarch… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The elephant in the room is Adam’s “strange death.”  It was rightly thought to be very cool when Starlin wound all this up (infinite—ha ha—resurrections of various characters notwithstanding) in his magisterial 1977 Avengers and Marvel Two-in-One Annuals, and showed the same events from the perspective of the “future” Warlock, who by then had indeed endured the losses alluded to here.  Having read those first, I instead experienced a sort of reverse-frisson when I finally got this 1983 special edition and said, “Oh, that’s how it came about”; moreover, being less familiar with Warlock than with Captain Marvel, I’d forgotten that the Magus Saga per se ends here, so I was quite off-kilter when I came to the conclusion, but that’s no reflection on the material, natch.

Once again, Jim is credited with story and layout—if not for his colors—and Steve with finished art, cementing my conviction that Leialoha is the solution to the problems presented by Starlin’s multiple inkers during the Thanos War.  Having the Magus be, in his own twisted way, a force for good is a nice irony, and I enjoy the parallel between Starlin’s Eon and In-Betweener, whose “sole reason[s] for existence” are to transform Mar-Vell and Adam, respectively, into the beings needed to counterbalance Thanos. We now know why Thanos helped Warlock (even if we don’t know the details of his “ultimate plan,” with which he mistakenly believes he can thus proceed unopposed) and, in what is presumably a comic-book first, how our hero will perish, if not when.

Chris: Warlock’s choices within his kismet trail prompt a few questions.  Warlock runs down the shortest path, which allows him to meet a beaten and discouraged version of himself in the near-future, who willingly accepts death; is this short path the same one that, fairly soon, will lead to Warlock’s fateful encounter with Thanos?  Also, Warlock purifies the dark Magus path before he destroys it; might it have been possible for Warlock to purify the path, without destroying it, thereby turning the Magus into something akin to a benevolent dictator?  

The Magus is a curious choice to appoint as a life-defending warrior.  Is it because he is among few beings who wield sufficient power to oppose Thanos?  Or is it because he retains a quantity of decency from his life-period as Adam Warlock?  The Magus has made it a point to inform Warlock that he has goaded him along a path that will corrupt him sufficiently so that his transformation to Magus will be inevitable; the Magus’ actions have given Warlock no alternative but to believe in the Magus as a creature of evil, which precludes Warlock from discovering the Magus’ role as a designated opponent of Thanos, and which ultimately assures Magus’ downfall.  Now, we have to ask ourselves how many deliberate actions on Thanos’ part might’ve kept Warlock on track to eventually remove the Magus as a possible impediment to Thanos’ master plan.  Hmmm.
There’s something about Thanos that I didn’t really appreciate until now.  All along, Thanos’ exterminatory determination seemed to have been motivated by a desire to please Death herself (and probably also For Badness).  In this issue, Thanos mentions an angle that I don’t remember hearing before: “Soon, all who must suffer through that which is called life shall be granted the peace that only passing the great divide can bring!  Yes, I shall grant them this tranquility, for am I not Thanos?”  So, Thanos also sees himself as a sort of righteous crusader?  As he if he weren’t hard to handle already -!
Mark: I bought all these as a teen, but not having reread the entire Magus saga since 1975, my still glowing-like-Chernobyl memories are for Starlin's Big Bang in toto, not long forgotten plot details. So, off a fresh read, I'm still more than a bit stunned by how underwhelming this is as the Magus goes out with a whimper and Warlock's presumptive suicide becomes a weird self-murder that would confuse Columbo. 

First, the Magus - fearsome Jewfroed future Adam who will enslaves galaxies – can be dispatched by one good blast of the Soul Gem? All that stellar Sturm und Drang, Jim, for such a ho-hum expedient?

And then, the next page and "a year – maybe two years..." later, Adam Warlock 2.0 (actually, he's probably at least 3.0 by now, going back to "Him" in the FF) confronts our Adam, apparently, since he fears "my soul...will...become the foe I defeated those long months ago." Then AW3 either sucks up his predecessor's soul first, then destroys this "universe," or maybe blows them both up together. It's a muddle and unimportant, really, since a Magus-free reality pops up in the very next panel.

The art remains brilliant, and there's certainly no MCD here. Indeed, the Magus arc remains a "cosmic" benchmark, but after raving about the last installment as an almost "perfect" comic, it's my duty to report the final chapter is anything but. 

Yet all the fond memories remain. Starlin was a creative whirlwind, and almost every page contains delights, exploding, issue after issue, with eye-popping art and reality-twisting concepts, in both inner and outer space. So even with no Fourth of July fireworks at the end, every minute was still one hell of a ride.

X-Men 97
"My Brother, My Enemy!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dave Cockrum

 Prof X reveals to Moira that he’s being tormented by inexplicable, vivid dreams of a conflict between interstellar armadas; Moira convinces him to allow himself some respite from the demands of overseeing the X-Men.  Meanwhile – out west, an unseen force has taken control of Polaris, and used her to subdue Havok.  The X-Men deliver Prof X to JFK airport to see him off on his vacation, and are met by Alex and Lorna, in costume.  Jean calls out that she senses a trap, right before Lorna strikes her down.  Kurt and Peter join Scott in the fight, as they prevent Havok from blasting Xavier’s plane before can safely take off.  Eric the Red reveals himself as the power that is manipulating Alex and Lorna; Scott expresses his confusion, since he had worn the Eric the Red costume in the past – who could be masquerading as this figure now?  There is no opportunity to discover the answer; as soon as two previously-absent X-Men (Banshee and Wolverine) arrive to join the fray, Eric decides that he and his allies would be wise to retreat.  He grabs Alex and Lorna and flies off; Scott has a clear shot, but he hesitates, unwilling to risk injuring his brother.  Wolverine chastises Scott, earning himself a punch in the mouth.  Scott walks off, alone, as he is observed on a video screen – a screen that, in turn, is being viewed thru a second screen . . . -Chris Blake
Chris: Plenty of action, once again, as a boring-old trip to the airport turns into a big hairy deal.  The X-ers get to wreck some very costly materials, as Havok blasts a 747 to scrap, and Colossus has most of a DC-10 dropped on him by Eric.  Interesting angle by Claremont to introduce some mystery, as first we’re left guessing who might’ve tackled Alex and Lorna, but then we’re totally stumped by the arrival of Eric the Red!  And then, the single frame at the end, which shows two unknown parties spying remotely on the team (with the second one peering in on both the team and the other spy).  And let’s not forget Xavier’s dream, which opens the issue (and isn’t resolved for months and months to come!).  So many questions!  Very cool.  
LOC dealing with X-M #95 are featured in this issue’s letters page.  A cold-blooded armadillo responds to one fan’s question about why Thunderbird had to die, and plainly states that John Proudstar was “the weakest potential character of the X-Men,” a “not-as-interesting copy of Hawkeye” who might have “deserved a better deal,” but would “never get it, which is why he had to die.”  Ouch!  

Chris: I have to recognize two particularly great art moments from Cockrum, since so much of this title’s early success is due to the contribution of his steadily-developing style: the in-space battle p 2-3, most notably the ship on p2, which is about to fly right off the page and directly over my right shoulder; and, the culmination of Storm’s clash with Polaris, especially the way Storm’s energy crackles around her face.  Eye-poppers all around!
Matthew: Wolverine is largely offstage, while amusingly, Bruce Canwell’s LOC expresses confidence that after #95, “he’ll eventually get some time in the limelight.”  Scott’s Erik/c the Red shtick was before my time, and I’ve retained little more from my remedial reading than that it was kind of lame, so I’ll have to trust Claremont knows what he’s doing by dredging it up.  My biggest beef here being the consistent misspelling (except, ironically, on the cover) of Havok, Chris is obviously off and running, and the Cockrum/Grainger art remains excellent; Xavier’s jaw-dropping dream not only anticipates Star Wars but also evokes the space-opera subgenre so hotly debated in Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction, as our intrepid Professor Gilbert has noted.

Also This Month

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes #4
Kid Colt Outlaw #203
Marvel Adventure #2 (Final Issue)
Marvel Classics Comics #2
Marvel Double Feature #14
<Marvel Treasury Edition #8 
Marvel Treasury of Oz #1
Our Love Story #38 (Final Issue)
Spidey Super Stories #15
Two-Gun Kid #128
Weird Wonder Tales #14

Those Marvel-ous Magazines

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 21
Cover by Bob Larkin

"And When I Died"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rudy Nebres

"To Claw the Eyes of Night!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Perez and Jack Abel

Iron Fist finds himself overmatched in battle when an archer named Bowman comes to his rescue. Bowman tells Danny that if the Firebird is destroyed, earth will become just as hellish as the Land of the Dead. In the meantime, Danny knows he must eventually face Dhasha Khan if he is to reclaim Jade's soul. The trio meet up with an old friend of Danny's, Chuin, a man who just happens to be dead. Chuin tells the group they must come with him to see the influential Tuan. Once in Tuan's palace, Bowman is told that, if earth is to survive, Iron Fist must die. He has no choice but to cut Danny down.

busy busy busy
"And When I Died" may be the most perfect blending of art and story ever captured between two Marvel covers. Both are indecipherable. Yeah, I know Claremont will soon become the Grand Poobah of all comic book writers but, here, he's still sowing his wild oats or something. His script is needlessly complex and rambling and nothing really seems to be going on here. I'm going to sound like a broken record... like a broken record... like a... but there are so many spots in this strip that are virtually unreadable thanks to the stylings of Rudy Nebres. Who in the bullpen thought Nebres' bleeding panels would knock our socks off? If anything, the events get harder and harder for the reader to translate. I'm heartened that, on the letter page, future Comic Journal scribe Kim Thompson completely agrees with my assessment: " (Nebres) hasn't progressed one inch, and his faults still stand out annoyingly. He's hard to read because of his indecisive inks, uses excessive blacks, and compounds those faults by letting his figures overlap from one panel to the other..." I couldn't have said it better.

The police have arrived at Hector Ayala's pad to arrest him for murder (as seen in the last issue) but Hector can feel the change to White Tiger coming on so he hightails it, police close behind. Meanwhile, on a flight to Africa, Abe Brown watches as a band of thugs attempts to hijack the plane. Abe is no pushover though and the hijacking is thwarted. Only problem: the bad guys murdered the pilots and the big bird is heading down. Back in New York, White Tiger has given the fuzz the slip, only to be confronted by Spider-Man's old foe, The Prowler. In his secret identity as Hobie Brown, The Prowler played big brother to the youth White Tiger is accused of killing so, never one to ask questions first, the semi-sorta bad guy has been out stalking White Tiger. The two battle until the police show up, informing the Tiger he's off the hook since the real murderer has confessed. White Tiger and The Prowler go their separate ways and an uneasy truce is declared between the trigger-happy pigs and the newest hero in town.

White Tiger is officially welcomed to the Marvel Universe

Bill Angry Young Man-tlo has stumbled onto a good idea, maintaining two major story lines at once (and I'm assuming, at some point in the future, these lines will bisect), a concept that has been used before with varying degree of satisfaction. What makes it work here is that Bill doesn't give one arc more space than the other; both are equally dopey and intriguing. "To Claw the Eyes of Night" is like a 1ate-70s Corman flick: dumb but enjoyable. The hijackers have monikers like "table-top," "mole," "wrinkles," and "brow"; Abe Brown spouts expletives like "Sweet Mutha!"; Hector's mother tells him he stinks when she finds out he's been accused of murder; every cop in the drama is either stupid or corrupt (and the lead detective chain-smokes and wears a classic overcoat); and there's more action here than in all three Walking Talls combined. It's also the first black and white hero strip (that I'm aware of) to borrow elements from the color world with its Prowler cameo. Of course, it's hilarious that Hobie is second-guessing himself minutes after setting the gauntlet down before White Tiger: "You murdered my friend... well, I could be wrong... hey, I think you're innocent!" is about how it goes. The plane sequence is pretty doggone intense and violent for a funny book, with a high body count, but we never do find out what the bad guys were after. Who cares? George Perez effortlessly choreographs the attempted takeover of the jumbo jet as if he was storyboarding for Jack Hill's Airport 1976; it's a sequence that reminds us why the 1970s were so awesome: you could take a semi-automatic weapon in your on-board luggage with no hassle! -Peter Enfantino

Meanwhile, back on the plane...

Planet of the Apes 17
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Graveyard of Lost Cities"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes 
Chapter One
Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

For whatever reason, this Bob Larkin cover (another great one) jumps out at me as being particularly memorable. Whether it reminds you of Uncle Sam or not, that's up to you. Kicking things off is "Graveyard of Lost Cities", another chapter in Future History Chronicles by Doug Moench and Tom Sutton.

The Freedom Reaver sails up to a dozen ships moored to one another, forming a great city with a tower/mast in the middle. As Alaric (against Lady Reena's wishes), Graymalkyn and Starkor board the Federation, they find it abandoned…until the trio is ambushed and Starkor wounded! Graymalkyn meets old friend Garshan, who tells of the Thieves Guild and Grimstark, The Crazy One who lives in the tower, then takes our heroes for some ale in the Night-City. But Starkkor is fading, and they decide to visit Grimstark to try and heal him. Meantime, a couple of drunks on the Freedom Reaver decide to take the long boat to the city and sink the central ship, watched by an ape who warns Lady Reena of their plot. Alaric and Graymalkyn yell their way past some ape hooligans and into an elevator up to the top of the tower. Grimstark has been watching them, and as he patches up Starkor, he shows them his flier, which is shot down by arrows almost immediately. The two drunks start the flooding of the Federation, then are slain by Lady Reena's ax-blow when they return to the Reaver. The denizens blame Grimstark for the flooding, and storm the tower, forcing Grimstark to try his flier for real…and he's shot down far short of his target. Our three adventurers battle the thugs, then jump off the tower into the flood waters, using the flier to float back to the Reaver, and on to the next adventure.

Not too shabby, this chapter, but lots and lots of words that make it seem much longer than it is. Not a lot of action either, but what's there is well-drawn by Sutton, with hordes of angry apes and swashbuckling humans. It's hard to care about Grimstark, the tragic figure of this tale, because, well, he's fairly arrogant and slightly wacky.

On to Jim Whitmore's long-awaited (according to the editors only) Glossary of the POTA, and it partly saddens me that I remember this, yet also makes me happy that I can zip by it without feeling guilty thinking I'm missing something important.

Finally, we are treated to Part 1 of that 4:30 Movie fave Conquest of The Planet of the Apes, with moody art by Alfredo Alcala and a straightforward Moench-u-script. North America in 1991 sees apes as servants, especially in the citadel visited by circus owner Armando and talking ape Caesar, posing as a bareback rider. Armando explains there was a plague in 1982 that wiped out every dog and cat and apes became the predominant pet. Observing different apes, such as Aldo, library worker Lisa, and more, they see an uprising that ends with an ape being sedated and Caesar yells "Lousy Human!" which Armando takes the hit for, sending them to Interrogation. Nice first part of a movie that I haven't seen in a long time but always loved. Interesting art take on Caesar, but it works. Definitely going to be a fun ride! -Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 10
Cover Art by Boris Vallejo

“Conan the Conqueror”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and The Tribe

“Conan the Cannibal”
Text by Fred Blosser
“Portrait of the Cimmerian as a Middle-Aged King”
Text by Roy Thomas

“Swords and Scrolls”

And lo, an ending! Rascally Roy’s epic adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s only full length Conan novel, The Hour of the Dragon, finally reaches an end with this 59 page conclusion. When you add up the count from Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian 1 to 4 and the brief installment in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #8, we have a grand total of 189 pages. Yowsa! So let’s wrap things up.

Part One “The Sacred Serpent of Set”: Disguised as a fisherman, Conan rows into the port of Khemi, capital of Stygia. After slaying one of the huge boa constrictors that slither through the city with his knife, he is chased by an outraged crowd who curse him as a blasphemer as they consider the snakes scared Sons of Set. The Cimmerian ducks through an unlocked door and finds himself inside a huge temple. After he kills a priest wearing an ornate mask, Conan dons the disguise and join others marching through the structure, all chanting the name Thutothmes, the sorcerer who supposedly stole the Heart of Ahriman. 

Part Two “In the Halls of the Dead”: After the procession enters another structure, Conan is stopped by a beautiful woman who realizes that he is an outsider — she agrees to lead him to Thutothmes. They enter her bed chamber and the barbarian realizes that she is the evil Princess Akivasha, thought dead for ten thousand years, now a soul-sucking vampire. Conan escapes, plunging though pitch-black corridors. Eventually, a far off light leads him to the colossal Hall of the Dead, filled with rising tiers of sarcophagi. In the middle, an altar contains a rotting mummy, bathed in the light of a great red jewel: it is the Heart of Ahriman and the hawk-faced Thutothmes and other priests also bask in its cryptic glow. Thutothmes vows that he will use the Heart to raise the Stygian wizards, kings, and queens buried in the Hall and learn the dark wisdom in their withered skulls — then he will have the power to rule all, even his mighty rival, Thoth-Amon. But when the priest begins his incantation, he is interrupted by the four robed Khitan sorcerers who have been tracking the Cimmerian, hired by the Nemedian conspirator Valerius. When they demand the Heart, the Stygians attack: after the pitched battle only one Khitanian remains standing, Thutothmes among the dead. Conan rushes forward and beheads the last mystic. When he turns to grasp the jewel, the barbarian is shocked to see that the mummy, a long dead wizard named Ptah-mekri, has come back to life: it hands the Heart to Conan and leads him out of the temple. The Heart finally in his possession, the Cimmerian races back to his ship, the Venturer, and his crew of Kushite warriors. 

Part Three “Out of the Dust Shall Acheron Arise”: Back in the Aquilonian capital of Tarantia, the conspirators who toppled King Conan — the new king Amalric, the priest Orastes, and the Nemedians Tarascus and Valerius — are paranoid that Xaltotun, the ancient sorcerer they raised to help with their wicked plan, has designs of his own, namely restoring the grisly kingdom of Acheron and ruling the world. Suddenly Xaltotun appears and strikes Orastes dead: the fearsome wizard also informs the remaining conspirators that Conan is alive and amassing an army.

Part Four “Drums of Peril”: Conan leads 10,000 soldiers from the loyal Aquilonian province of Poitain towards Tarantia. But he is not alone in his quest: rebellious forces from Bossinia and Gunderland are marching as well. But the conspirators have formed legions of their own: Tarascus of Nemedia takes 30,000 men to turn away the Gundermen, while Amalric and Valerius’ forces head towards Conan’s. At night, Xaltotun rides into Amalric’s camp: if Conan’s army crosses the River Skirki, he will join with the Gundermen and all is lost. So the sorcerer conjurers torrential rains to flood the river. But the next day a scout informs them that the flood never took place and the river has been crossed. Later, an old Aquilonian beggar named Tiberias arrives in the camp, claiming to know of mountain passages that Amalric and Valerius can use to attack Conan from behind — all he wants is gold for his service. Valerius rides out with 5,000 soldiers and follows Tiberias through the rocky canyons. But it is a trap: Tiberias is part of a group of men who were persecuted by Valerius. They rain boulders down upon the false king’s army, crushing all below.

Part Five “The Road to Acheron”: Conan’s men have reached the Valley of Lions, joined by the Bossinians and Gundermen — Tarascus’ Nemedian army charges from the far end. On a cliff above, Xaltotun watches the massive battle. His two reptilian familiars arrive with a lovely young Aquilonian girl: she will be sacrificed so that the sorcerer can unleash a violent storm to wipe out the rebel forces. However, the Asrurian priest Hadrathus and Conan arrive before he can complete the spell. Hadrathus reveals that he dispersed Xaltotun's torrential rains using the Heart of Ahriman, given to him by the Cimmerian. Enraged Xaltotun attacks with a dagger but is quickly cut down by Conan’s slashing broadsword, transforming back into a lifeless corpse. Without the sorcerer’s magic, Tarascus’ army is ultimately defeated. The barbarian is once again hailed as king of Aquilonia — Conan proclaims that Zenobia, the harem girl who helped him escape from Tarascus’ dungeon many moons ago, will be his new queen.

OK, let’s take a breath. This five-part behemoth is packed with enough action and intrigue to fill at least five issues of the color Conan the Barbarian. As I’ve said, I haven’t read Howard’s original novel to compare, but here Roy does a crackerjack job of bringing various characters back for the grand conclusion: Zenobia from Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian #2Hadrathus from GS #3, etc. All the pieces click into marvelous place. John Buscema’s fine pencilwork is ably abetted by the Filipino collective called The Tribe: it’s hard to pick a singular inker out, but it usually included Tony DeZuniga. By Crom, it’s a bit of a relief that this sprawling saga is finally over, but I enjoyed the savage ride.

We also have two worthy text pieces to go along with Roy and Big John’s excellent adaptation. In “Conan the Cannibal,” Fred Blosser claims that Howard  in a term coined by Raymond Chandler — “cannibalized” The Hour of the Dragon, using pieces from earlier tales to create an entirely new one. In this case, Robert E stole from his own Conan short stories “Black Colossus” and “The Scarlet Citadel.” Plus, Roy Thomas’ “Portrait of the Cimmerian as a Middle-Aged King” is three-pages of artwork related to The Hour of the Dragon, drawn from the original Weird Tales magazines and even Japanese editions of the book. -Thomas Flynn


  1. Of all the Dracula resurrections I have read or watched on the screen over the years, I still can't decide if Marv's here was the most inventive or the most laughable. It surely was one of the most coincidental ones. The virgin, the tear and the urn. Why not a lottery ticket too? And Sun's effort with the handful of soldiers was pathetic. As much as I hate todays written for the trade storytelling, here is so much plot crammed into the story, it would have benefitted from another issue or two to let the parts breathe a little more.

    Most Marvel writers of the time were not exactly subtle, when it came to their purple prose. But I find guys like Warner or McGregor especially hard to read or downright unreadable. They lacked IMHO a specific kind ot talent writers like Conway had. This page of Hellstrom here, you could lose half the captions without missing anything. Their storys are often so needless unwieldy. And I think this distinguishes a mediocre comic writer from a good or a great one.

  2. I quite liked that first episode of the Guardians of the Galaxy and considering that Marvel already had one title set in the future with characters fighting alien conquerors of Earth, it's not surprising that Gerber decided to steer away from that angle with this series and get the gang out and about in the Milky Way. This mag also starts the process of morphing Vance Astro as a sort of futuristic Captain America, only that much more out of time than Cap was, into a more troubled character.

  3. Prof Chris,

    Thanks for mentioned my letter in TOD. I read this issue, what, two and a half weeks ago, didn't notice, and obviously didn't even glance at the letters page (which I oft read in full).

    So 15 year old Mark didn't like Gene Colan's "weird shaped panels?"

    What a little jerk.