Wednesday, May 20, 2015

March 1976 Part One: Marv Wolfman Hits a Bullseye!

 Amazing Adventures 35
Killraven in
"The 24-Hour Man"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell, Keith Giffen, and Jack Abel
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Craig Russell

October 2019, Atlanta, Georgia, and the surviving Freemen come across a grieving woman who rushes out of the cemetery and towards a gruesome snake/dragon-like creature named G'rath, who is "as one" with the woman's son, Emmanuel, the 24-Hour Man. The Freemen race to her rescue, hurting G'rath, but unwittingly giving Emmanuel a chance to abduct Carmilla, kissing her in the rain. As M'Shulla goes after his love, Killraven saves him from a G'rath-created avalanche, only for the monster to go "poof", according to Old Skull. But there it is soon enough, with Emmanuel, who tells Carmilla she is to become the mother of their race by becoming G'rath's mate! Killraven swoops in at the nick of time, but the deadly duo is too strong—and now they merge and turn to mist. Walking in the pouring rain, the Freemen see the pair reappear, with Killraven and Emmanuel fighting and the rest blasting G'rath until the creature falls, taking with it the 24-Hour Man, for the last time. The woman shows up out of the shadows, saying she sired G'rath's child, but this time the Freemen do not chase her. —Joe Tura

Joe Tura: An early appearance by Queens, NY native Keith Giffen, here spelled Giffin, gives us a peek at what's to come from the interesting artist/writer, who was most well known for a run on DC's Legion of Super-Heroes, but for me, he's one of the major reasons I got back into comics while in college after a 5 or 6 year break. His work with J.M. DeMatteis and the incredible Kevin Maguire on Justice League (1987-1994) hooked me instantly, thanks to Robert at Little Nemo in Forest Hills. A great, great run that I highly recommend. Oh, wait, we're talking about Marvel here, sorry…

I will admit I thought Old Skull had bought it, but yet here he is, and Grok and Hawk are the two who perished last issue. And that's the tip of the iceberg in this wild and weird chapter in the future Earth saga. From Don name-dropping Scarlett O'Hara on the splash page to close-ups of eyes, strange blondes, a bizarre creature/human who lives for 24 hours, attempted seduction of Carmilla, M'Shulla getting a close shave twice, the whole "Time, Continuity, Sequence" thing that really makes no sense, plus more oddities, we have what's known in the biz as a "doozy." The art is quite interesting, obviously laid out by Russell, but you can clearly see the potential of Giffen, especially on pages 2 and 3, and some of the fight sequences. A strange yet certainly readable issue all around.

Chris Blake: I don’t mind being left with unanswered questions, when it comes to reading this title.  I’d much prefer to wonder about the bizarre factors and life-forms that affect the lives of the Freemen, rather than have everything cleanly laid-out.  In this case, Killraven suspects that Emmanuel/G’Rath share some common bond with the Freemen, but he can’t determine what that connection might be, and he’s unable to employ his clairsentience to elucidate it.  My best guess is that G’Rath’s (terribly involved) effort to preserve his cultural intelligence is akin to the Freemen’s desire to sustain the fundamentals of pre-invasion human existence.  But, of course, that’s my interpretation.  With all the uncertainty facing their lives, it would ring false if each story required a two-page expository break; how awful would it be if, during their clash with G’Rath, the Freemen suddenly heard a voice shout “Wait!  You must know and understand my story!”  It doesn’t work well with other titles, and it would be even more unwelcome here.

Old Skull is dead.  I saw it myself.  I went back and checked Killraven #34 – Skar blasts him in the midsection, Skull falls, and lies bleeding on the ground, whispering a few words to Killraven before his voice trails off into eternity; Killraven promises, and enacts, his vengeance.  So now, Old Skull is here, with a mention that he had sustained injuries at Skar’s hand (well, strictly speaking, from Skar’s empty head-socket).  But he seems fine, and I don’t even see any bandages on him – uh, K.R.?  You sure about that Old Skull – now, he ain’t some Martian impersonating your old friend, is he, Mr Killraven -?
The art is surprisingly good, considering the very different styles of Russell’s two assistants; Grand Comics Database tells us that Giffen penciled-over Russell’s layouts, and Abel inked. Thankfully, somehow, the result throughout appears more Russell than anything, with the art looking its best at times like the battle in the gloomy, rain-swept cemetery.  

Astonishing Tales 34
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"And All the King's Madmen...
Couldn't Put Deathlok Back Together Again..
Or Could They?"
Story by Rich Buckler and Bill Mantlo
Art by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Hellinger's bomb still attached to his right arm, Deathlok battles some goons who blow up after he defeats them, then finds his bionic arm jammed in a door right before the bomb explodes! Mike Travers finds our cyborg hero, and armed with an exo-skeleton takes him to the CIA and sultry leader Teresa Devereaux. They rebuild Deathlok's arm and re-program him so he can use his power to take down the evil Major Ryker, who is "well on his way to becoming omnipotent". Flying in on a 'copter, which is shot down by Ryker's cyborgs, Deathlok tricks them, sneaks up on them and enters the main Omni-Computer bank, where a Luther Manning clone explains that Ryker has become the computer! His body is protected by pre-op safeguards, so Deathlok, programmed to stop Ryker, enters the Omni-Computer, only to find Ryker already firmly in control!  --Joe Tura

Joe: A big turning point in Deathlok's saga starts with his arm getting blown off. How typical! He's now a pawn of the CIA, yet maintains his hatred of Ryker, which of course makes going after him a fairly easy task. Lots of twists and turns and circuits getting rewired in both the readers' heads and the life of The Demolisher, including more Luther Manning clones and a new mysterious ally in the form of the CIA. The Buckler art is far out, including the Steranko-inspired giant Ryker head, plus the usual interesting layouts. A pretty good tale all around, setting us up for even more cyborgian shenanigans to come.

Mark: A wistful reaction to "And All the King's Madmen...": after a handful of half-assed fill-ins  padded out with reprints, Deathlok's starting to soar – full bore Buckler art (inked & colored by a masterful Klaus Janson) the last two issues; the plot now galloping forward as Bill Mantlo supplies first-rate scripts for Rich's plot – just as it's about to end. Full disclosure, class - while I was a big fan when this was first published, I don't remember what happens & haven't peeked ahead. But I can guarantee the end is going to leave us craving more, appetite unsated.

Chris: The quest for the cyborg-surgeon is forgotten, and the Central Park Softball Revolutionaries are blown away, as a lot of new stuff rushes in.  We have – Mike Travers in a mini-mandroid suit! New directives for Deathlok, from the ever-benevolent Agency (whose director has an eye for fashion, no less)! Another Manning clone (group discount?)! The threat of Hellinger’s Doomsday-mech! And most importantly, a journey to the center of the omnicomputer/Ryker!  Best of all, the art continues to pack plenty of action and atmosphere, with lots of nasty looks from our title character, and Janson’s colors ably contributing to the overall effect ; this is easily one of the best-looking issues of the series.

Matthew Bradley: I know I’ve touted this strip as epitomizing Bronze-Age sophistication, and am in no way backing off from that claim, but man, there’s just so much going on here; Lord knows what I made of it at age 12, although I remember liking it.  Awareness that there are only two more issues to go adds a retroactively gloomy feel to the proceedings, not that this was ever a happy-go-lucky series.  Plotter/penciler Rich and inker/colorist Klaus did the cover as well, so the artwork is consistent in that sense, although less so in the interiors, with the splendid splash and last pages offset by, for example, the angular apparition of Teresa in page 10, panel 7, while Bill’s script subjects Deathlok to the usual indignities (in this case having his arm get blown off).

Mark: How many disarm-a-bomb-at-the-last-sec stories have we read/seen? Hundreds? Thousands? Can you think of a single other example, amid all those suspenseful flop sweat countdowns, where the bomb wasn't disarmed but blows the hero's chained-to-the-bomb arm off?

Me, neither. 

And given 'Lok is a cyborg whose human parts are already "dead," not only can he survive the blast without an eye roll, but we can rebuild him. Make him faster. Stronger.

Said rebuilding courtesy of the CIA, led by sultry Teresa Devereaux, dressing more Sophia Loren than SHIELD agent, and aided by Luther's frenemy Mike Travers. The one slightly-off note is the Agency's redundant re-programming to make 'Lok want to GET RYKER!!! which is as unnecessary as re-programming a Kardashian to find a camera.

With the Company - and a pristine Luther clone - looking on, Buckler serves up a stunning, last page splash as 'Lok links in with the omni-computer, the cloud-like digital deity that Ryker has become.

And only by sheer force of will I resist running to the library for the next installment when I finish this sentence...  

The Avengers 145
"The Taking of the Avengers!"
Story by Tony Isabella and Scott Edelman
Art by Don Heck and John Tartaglione
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

From page 1, we are given information that this story and issue 146 are filler stories on account of deadlines. This accounts for the break in writers and artists. For a filler story, and one with what appears to be a hopelessly predictable cover, this one isn’t too bad.

The Assassin has been hired by the Avengers’ old enemies to kill the Avengers for $1 billion, plus an approximate $1 billion in expenses. The story opens a year ago, when the Assassin was hired and then told his boss that he needed a year to plan.

Cut to one year ahead, and Captain America is handling some street thugs wearing Captain America masks. However, it turns out that this is part of the trap. Cap is shot down and apparently dying when he is taken to a hospital. Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, Beast and Vision watch over him. Little do they know that the Assassin is watching all of this in the background, and his underlings could be anywhere, could even be the guards at the hospital.

At the end of the issue, he is busy plotting the next step in the downfall of the Avengers.
 -Jerad Walters

It's 1966 all over again!

Jerad Walters:  This story, low on action and high on personal memoirs by Hawkeye and others, is a good, if low-key, issue, and a good lead-in to the next issue. Don Heck has the art duties on this issue, and while his work isn’t as good as Perez’s work will be in future issues, it’s not bad. The inking job seems a little pedestrian and, combined with the fairly typical story, there’s not much to recommend this issue. The little action in the issue is not particularly interesting, either. And of course what we really want is the final battle with the Squadron Supreme, which is going to have to wait an extra issue.

Scott McIntyre: The cover is so damned good, I actually thought “I’m going to take the time to really read this issue and comment.” Then I opened it. Don Heck. I couldn’t get past the splash. What a waste of a great Kane/Adkins cover.

Chris: So, Isabella and Heck would’ve warranted a giant-sizer, huh?  You mean, Frank Robbins was too busy working on Morbius to make time for this project?  So, Al Milgrom wasn’t available to write and illustrate an Avengers story himself?  Tuska and Colletta were too worn out from their mind-blowing (well, it definitely blew) four-issue run, and they couldn’t sign on for the art?  Wayne Boring – out of town?  Why does the bar at Avengers have to be kept so consistently low?  Adding insult to injury: the checklist page features the cover we now won’t see until Av #147; arrrrgggh.

Chris: This dull issue mostly features people standing and talking, or keeping vigil in a hospital room, and ruminating over past history; so at least the stationary figures worked well for Heck.  The only mildly interesting feature in this issue is the character of the Assassin, who tells us that he has a plan that will take a year to implement; well yes, it might seem to take that long, but it’s really only going to be one more issue, I promise. 

Matthew:  In one of “Tony’s Online Tips,” Isabella related this unloved two-parter’s origin during the Thomas administration as a pre-emptive fill-in should the GS title fall behind, which it apparently had with #4.  “Knowing…Heck was waiting for work, I was asked to plot a 33-page story for him as soon as possible.  I set myself several ‘rules’…Use the big guns to insure [sic] reader interest.  Don’t tie the story to any specific recent or future developments.  Tie up all the loose ends so that the story was complete unto itself.  These ‘rules’ actually made my job easier and the plot was completed in a few days.  But my story would end up going through Roy’s successors…before it saw print.”  By then the GS line had devolved into reprints and petered out.
Having worked its way through the LenMarv progression, the story was quickly scheduled when “the monthly title, then in the middle of an arc changing the team roster, was running extremely late….I was concerned about the deadline and asked Scott [Edelman] to do some sort of rough script on some or maybe all of it….[But] I wasn’t happy with [it, so]…I didn’t use what he wrote and paid him some sort of kill fee” for a credited “scripting assist.”  The self-imposed limitations are understandable, but unfortunately scream “fill-in” at top volume, an all-too-common problem at this point in the Bronze Age; Tartag cannot raise Heck’s work above the level of pedestrian at best, and Hunt’s sloppy lettering (“definately”) just adds to the overall sensation of malaise here.

 Captain Marvel 43
"'Destroy! Destroy!' Screams the Destroyer"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom and Bernie Wrightson

The cosmically aware Mar-Vell “hears” a scream as Drax, frustrated by his inability to locate Thanos, destroys all in his flight path; still trying to wear down Rick and his protector, in order to assimilate the human’s mind, the Supreme Intelligence conspires to bring them together.  Inexplicable space-drive trouble forces Rusty down on a moon, but while Rick meets his elusive and enigmatic saloon girl and Mar-Vell tries to repair the mule, Drax senses the Kree and attacks, shattering his space helmet (I didn’t think he needed one!).  Mar-Vell is able to breathe the atmosphere with difficulty, albeit unable to reason with Drax, yet when Fawn coaxes Rick into doffing his helmet, he is overcome, and Mar-Vell is flung from aloft into fiery re-entry. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Potential good news, Drax’s return is more cause for concern; I hate to sound narrow-minded, especially with Englehart involved, yet I honestly feel that only Starlin should handle his most treasured creations, and Milgrom’s middling-at-best rendition did nothing to change my mind.  But that’s not my biggest beef:  even allowing for Drax’s supposed near-madness, we’re told, “He knows his quarry has risen from the grave—it is his nature to know,” so it makes no sense for him to attack Mar-Vell for killing said quarry.  That said, Marv’s sensing a “disturbance in the Force,” as it were—more than a year before Star Wars—is cool, and even substandard Drax goes in the worst-sex-I-ever-had category automatically, plus we get a “Bar-soom!” sound effect.

Chris: Well – I had a real hard case in my office this morning.  I’m reviewing his paperwork, and at the top of his demographics page, I see he’s listed his name as “The Destroyer.”  I know, right?  Well, anyway, so now I have to explain to this guy how no employer in the world is going to consider a candidate with a name like that.  At first, he gets really angry, really steamed, gritting his teeth and all, so I just kind of stay at my desk and wait to see what he’s gonna do.  Pretty intense.  And then, all of a sudden, he sort of stops, and slumps his shoulders; all the air goes right out of him.  He tells me how he was contracted as a specialist for this one big job, I mean he completed some specific training for it and everything, almost like he’d been born to do it, you know?  Really, really invested.  But it turned out that some other guy wound up finishing the job, and now my guy’s left with nothing; he’s really lost.  What’s worse, he’s practically homicidal toward the second guy, the one who completed the contract.  If it was me, I’d be pissed at the guy who put me on the assignment, you know, not the other guy who wound up finishing the job.  Well, that’s just me.  The tough thing is that the Destroyer doesn’t recognize his transferable skills – he’s all wrapped up about this one contract.  I asked him if he wanted to try something maybe with this demolition company – personally, he’d be a natural.  But he didn’t want that, so I wound up referring him to a collections agency – that might do just as well for him.  Hey – did I tell you he has green skin -?  

Is the Supreme Intelligence simply bringing these great powers together so that he can pull up his ringside seats and watch the brawl?  The SI hints that this might be part of his grand scheme, but it feels more like he’s just doing it Because He Can.  Once Drax calms down (it might take a while), he and Mar-Vell will develop an interesting alliance, with Drax’s threat to Marv always hanging over him, although in time, Drax’s promise of Marv’s destruction begins to come off as a perfunctory statement – sort of an in-joke shared between them.  

Champions 4
"Murder at Malibu!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irv Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

In Malibu, Hercules is grousing to Natasha about Pluto’s slap on the wrist when they are attacked by Billy, an oddly powerful escapee from the San Marino State Hospital, then zapped with a strange weapon by uniformed men.  They awaken in the clutches of Dr. Edward Lansing, who uses “those society wishes to ignore” for his unorthodox experiments to recreate the Super-Soldier serum, and compels Herc’s cooperation by threatening Tasha’s life.  Enthralled by Lansing and accompanied by his mutates, they besiege Warren, Bobby, and Ivan until GR’s arrival turns the tide in their favor; Hellfire and ice hold Herc at bay as Tasha nearly kills Ivan, bringing her back to her senses, and destroys Lansing’s control box, leaving him to his victims… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The standard-issue Tuskolletta artwork was far from the only element that evoked Iron Man #79; Lansing’s mad scheme, subhuman subjects and messy fadeout all recalled Mike Friedrich’s Prof. Kurarkill.  Yet while this felt like a typical fill-in by Mantlo, who will become the book’s regular scribe, it’s clearly in continuity, and perpetrated by “guest writer” Claremont.  A LOC regarding #1 from one Stephen Ryan notes, “I had expected the superheroes to just get together and name themselves,” yet ironically, they still haven’t formed a formal team (or even a non-team like the Defenders), and even the C-word is only uttered in the last line when Herc, lamenting the fate of Lansing’s incurable subjects, is reassured by Angel that “the world still needs…CHAMPIONS.”

Conan the Barbarian 60
“Riders of the River-Dragons!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Steve Gan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

Far south of Kush, the Tigress sails down a large river heading towards the village of the peaceful Watambi: Bêlit demands tribute of ivory tusks from time to time. But their chief, Ombassa, informs the Queen of the Black Coast that the Riders of the River-Dragons, fierce black warriors astride huge crocodiles, have stolen her tribute. Later at the Watambi’s compound, a ceremony takes place to protect the tribe against the Riders. Conan, swept up by the sensuous dancing of Ombassa’s daughter, joins the ritual, much to the consternation of the jealous Bêlit — but her shaman, N’Yaga, slips a sleeping powder into her drink. During the night, the Riders attack, tearing through the village with spears and the gnashing teeth of their scaly mounts. Conan quickly rises, and, with the help of the Black Corsair’s deadly arrows, takes the battle to the incredible invaders. The Riders retreat, one fallen man left behind. The Cimmerian interrogates the dying native: he confesses that the Riders pillaged the Watambi to placate someone named Amra. When Conan discovers that Bêlit was kidnapped during the ruckus, he vows to find her at all costs. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Ladies and gentlemen, we have completely changed our flight plan. For the second straight issue, Roy, Big John and new permanent inker Gan have abandoned any of the plot and action of Robert E. Howard’s “Queen of the Black Coast,” heading out to ports unknown. The first five pages have little bearing on the proceedings, as we basically have Conan taking part in a little roughhousing with a few Corsairs and Bêlit herself. The Riders are an impressive bunch, but I guess even if they all looked like a young Jackie Earle Haley they’d still be pretty formidable, giant crocodiles and all. The crocs were not very well trained however, since whenever a Rider would be knocked off their backs, they would attack anything that crossed their paths, including supposed masters and even one another. This is the second mention of Amra in the series: Conan the Barbarian #25 revealed that it means “lion” and that the Cimmerian would earn this nickname in the future. We’ll meet the original that the barbarian would take it from next issue. Now it’s common knowledge that the hyper prolific John Buscema would sometimes turn in pencils that could be termed sketchy, so he often needed an inker who provided strong lines and detailed embellishments. Not sure that Steve Gan is the man for the job. Though he showed some talent as the illustrator of the krappy Ka-Zar stories in Savage Tales. I wish that Marvel just would have stuck with good ole Ernie Chua/Chan. Or better yet, permanently teamed Buscema with Alfredo Alcala. They worked pure magic with their rare collaborations on The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. Did I mention that my employer, Dover Publications, is reprinting a book by Alcala? Plug, plug.

Captain America and the Falcon 195
"It's '1984'"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and D. Bruce Berry
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and D. Bruce Berry
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Cap and the Falcon are imprisoned in a pen filled with freaks created by the madmen out to take over the country. The heroes smash through the prison walls and attack their captors. After defeating the hordes, Cap and Falcon find the lab where scientists are changing men into monstrous freaks who no longer fit into our society. In walks Cheer Chadwick, a strange flighty young lady, a self proclaimed “elite” whose father is a “biggie” in the “new society.” She finds the men intriguing and takes them into the heart of the community, which lies secretly beneath the Western badlands. She leads them to a giant auditorium where throngs of people are being brainwashed by a pep talk from a face on a giant viewscreen. It’s not the face of a single man, but a computer generated composite. Cap deduces the people are being led secretly by the elite hiding behind this figurehead. As Cap and the Falcon try to convince Cheer to take them to the “Big Daddy” Madbomb, a giant armored man arrives and attacks, testing them for their suitability to fight in the kill derby. When they are judged unworthy, Cheer demands they be made ready. She reports to her father, telling him the heroes asked about Madbomb, but he dismisses it. As soon as the bomb  is activated, America will fall before them… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The odd thing about these issues, if there is only one odd thing, is that it’s a great plot. Kirby’s imagination is undimmed. Under the pen of a different scripter, this run could have been knocking it out of the park. However, Jack is doing his own dialog and it’s creaky at best. My favorite bit of dialog: “Bad thinking, solider. It’s my hands you’ve got to watch. I’m going to punch you out!” Even at his most obvious, not even Stan Lee delivered dialog that stilted and corny. Jack had lost touch with how people spoke, if he ever really knew at all. I am enjoying the macabre aspects and really do feel the overall idea and the stakes involved are worthy of telling, but it’s all just so damned weird.

The art is also exceedingly strange because Jack’s eyesight had started to fail. He was clearly trying, and as always, the energy is there, but it’s all so out of control. Yet, there is still just enough of the late '60s Kirby on hand to keep it fun. It’s at odds with the more realistic art in many of the other mags, but that’s kind of what makes it so much of a wild ride. Maybe I’m heaping too much praise, but I’m having fun. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that.

Matthew: Having embellished the end of the Robbins regime on this book, Berry returns for another Cap twofer with longtime DC collaborator Kirby, providing both inks (in which capacity his only other Marvel credit is over Trimpe’s pencils in Amazing Adventures #33) and lettering.  The debut of Cheer Chadwick does nothing to inspire the eponymous emotion, as she is a typically one-note airheaded rich bitch who actually says, “we don’t take sass from the hired help!”  As usual, Bronze-Age Kirby is a throwback best enjoyed—if at all—by switching your brain firmly into the “off” position, giving yourself over to pyrotechnics like the two-pager of Cap and Falc busting out of the Manual Labor Pool, or Kirby Kontraptions like “Hound-Dog.”

Daredevil 131

"Watch Out for Bullseye He Never Misses!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

A paper plane glides silently over the city street.  It strikes a window pane at the exact correct speed and trajectory to pierce the glass, and lands on the desk of a corporate executive named Hunnicutt.  He unfolds the paper, and finds that it contains a threat: “Pay me $100,000 or I will kill you!!”, signed by someone named Bullseye.  Hunnicutt believes this to be an ill-advised prank, but then finds Bullseye is in the office with him.  Bullseye gives Hunnicutt little opportunity to discuss terms – he flings a ball-point pen into the exec’s throat, killing him.  Daredevil hears a report of a “bizarre killing” on the radio, and proceeds to investigate.  As he’s about to depart the crime scene, a Bugle reporter named Jake Conover tells DD that he has intel regarding this new villain.  Conover doesn’t know Bullseye’s identity, but he does know that he had spent time in Viet Nam, and then continued to hone his killing skills as a mercenary in the revolutions and proxy wars of South America and Africa.  Conover suspects that Hunnicutt’s killing was intended to send the message that Bullseye’s threats to future targets should not be taken lightly.  As he swings away from the Bugle offices, DD suddenly is aware of a grenade flying toward him.  DD twists out of the way of the explosion, and once he safely arrives on the ground, he is confronted by Bullseye.   Bullseye states to DD that he is leaving, but he will go “slowly enough for you to follow me;” DD considers that Bullseye might be a “loon,” and realizes he’s being baited, but, intrigued, he follows along.  They arrive at a crowded indoor space – DD is aware that the many heartbeats interfere with his ability to track Bullseye’s movements – when Bullseye orders the spotlights on, as the crowd realizes that they will witness this battle to the death, here in Madison Square Garden.
 -Chris Blake

Chris: Bullseye is well-suited as an opponent to DD – BE might have unerring aim, and might be able to utilize practically anything as a deadly weapon, but DD’s hypersenses allow him to detect objects that he wouldn’t necessarily be able to see.  Another contrast is that DD is a rationally-minded do-gooder, while BE is a merciless psychopath.  Marv will have to proceed with caution, though – if BE comes to be defined by odd death-traps and grand spectacles, he might be identified too closely with the Joker (and I think we all might agree that there should be only one Joker, right?).  If anything, the emergence of this dangerous new character should buy us a longer break between appearances by Man-Bull, the Beetle, and Stilt-Man.  
Marv also maintains some useful sub-plots, involving: the conspiracy-theorist-friendly news reports (the new wha? story alleges that US forces never fought in Viet Nam, but were only hypnotized into thinking they were there while they fought in CIA-backed conflicts in other parts of the globe); hints of some devious power behind the ads that helped sink Foggy’s re-election campaign; and now, the possibility that Heather’s father’s corporation might be involved in a slumlord scheme.
The art continues to be adequate-plus; I will admit that Janson brings one of his “less-distinct” pens to Brown’s pencils this time, so that the faces sometimes look unfinished (perhaps the greatest weakness in Janson’s technique).  A few other odd-looking things in this issue are Conover’s appearance (he looks less like he’s spent years on the news beat, and more like he just walked in from a few years of prospectin’), and a British-teeth moment for Bullseye (below).
Matthew:  Marv made a seminal contribution to the strip by introducing Bullseye, yet was self-deprecating even on that subject in his interview for the Man Without Fear site.  I brought the concept to John [Romita] and asked him to design the costume based on my ideas….I thought Bullseye was a good villain which [sic] Frank Miller made better. I always liked the idea but never got him to work the way I envisioned him.  Frank did.  Meanwhile, let’s have Lt. Rose put out a “missing pencils” report for poor Bob’s work, which has virtually vanished under Klaus’s ruthlessly applied inks.  The issue is uneven overall, with DD’s ability to knock a guy out of a moving car, thereby snapping off both the steering wheel and a door, straining credulity.

The Defenders 33
"Webbed Hands, Warm Heart!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane

The Defenders have been captured by the Headmen: Jerry Morgan, Arthur Nagan, Chondu the Mystic, and the orb-headed Ruby. Thanks to Dr. Strange, a minor snag has been placed in their villainous plans. The mind of Chondu has been put in the body of a fawn, unable to articulate any spells or to free himself. At the same time, the spirit of Jack Norriss has been switched with the brain of Chondu in Nighthawk's body, thus allowing the Defenders access to the Headmen's plans. The Headmen's plan is to alter the brains of our unconscious friends slightly to see things more "their way." Meanwhile, a young couple, canoeing at night in Central Park, are captured by some aquatic creatures who take them into their "UFO" and depart! They awake in a machinery-filled transparent chamber, complete with Greek architecture and other captured humans. Soon they are joined by the frustrated fawn, captured by the same lagoon creeps when it broke through the glass to escape the room of its capture. Soon the Defenders awake, apparently still in possession of their free will. In the ensuing conflict, a blow by the Hulk causes the house to collapse, an eventuality Stephen was prepared for, casting a bubble of force about them all, protecting them. He urges Nighthawk (Norriss) to grab his brain and fly off, as Strange allows him to pass through the bubble. Then the Headmen, thanks again to Ruby, get the upper hand and escape, as she covers the Defenders in a debilitating goo of sorts. Nighthawk flies right into the capture of the earlier UFO, meeting the creatures from Zaar, and their leader, Nebulon, the Celestial Man. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Sal Buscema's art delights as Steve Gerber really works what could be a dull conflict into a highly entertaining sequence of events. The rather brilliant infiltration into the Headmen by Jack Norriss would seem to be the solution. But the addition of the Ludberdites of Zaar and Nebulon raise the level of conflict to a still further perplexing height. Ruby's unconventional methods of communication are a highlight, as is the unusual ploy of an innocent animal to further the Defenders' cause,  Can't wait to see what comes next!

Matthew: While Sal’s contribution is restricted to layouts, the balance seems tilted less in Jim’s favor than in some issues; speaking of artwork, the Kane/Giacoia cover is largely accurate, but I dislike the red background, and find the whole a bit of a jumble.  I presume that on page 11, readers were expecting the threat of a pistol-packing elf, rather than a Ludberdite, which was probably Steve’s intention.  Believe it or not, things are going to get significantly weirder still, yet for my money this is already USDA-grade Prime Gerber, with the “musical minds” stuff well handled, the vengeful Chondu-Fawn (Fawndu?) a hoot, page 16 a great Headmen refresher, page 26 a nice callback to my beloved #21, and the surprise appearance of Nebulon…well, surprising.

Chris: It was very helpful of Steve G to provide us with frequent reminders of whose brain, and whose mind, presently could be found residing in which form; it might’ve been easy to lose track, otherwise.  Although Jack will never be mistaken for Chondu, will he?  It’s a very humorous turn by Steve to show Jack fumbling to maintain his cover; the fact that the other Headmen aren’t able to see thru it makes this instance even more enjoyable (if you had it to do over again, Doc, do you think Wong might’ve done a better job as Chondu?  Well, think about it for next time).  

The employment of the fawn in such an important role also is masterfully done, particularly as Steve hadn’t drawn attention to his intentions when the little deer first showed up.  I realize that Steve had a reputation of sometimes letting these longer storylines play out, without knowing the outcome beforehand; well, that might be the case, but I’m inclined to believe that we’re participating in a maturation of Steve’s storytelling approach, as he quietly sets us up with a small piece, and before you know it, he’s turned it into a significantly larger facet of the story.
The Buscema/Mooney art is better this time; the art has Sal more in evidence than Jim, but there still isn’t a whole lot to see here.  Although, I will say that the appearance of the unworldly morphing globe-head of Ruby is a classic bit of Defenders-style weirdness.  

Fantastic Four 168
"Where Have All the Powers Gone?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

The Torch, after flying Hamlet-like laps around the Baxter, tells Reed and Sue he wants to take a leave of absence from the Fabs, knowing they’re already short-handed, with the ex-Thing still pink ‘n’ rockless, post-Gamma ray exposure. And though this is what Ben has wanted most since their ‘61 rocket ride, his pride still takes a hit when fans on the street want Alicia’s autograph and the Bax Building doorman only allows the couple access to the FF’s private elevator because he recognizes the blind sculptress. 

Lots of personal turmoil, and we’re just getting started.
Mr. Not-Fantastically-Sensitive Reed tells Ben he’s being replaced the instant he arrives; seems the legal mumbo and contract jumbo of “Fantastic Four Inc” demands “four super-powered members at all times!” And rather than risk being sued by themselves, Richards has laid out long green on the original Hero For Hire, Luke Cage, who proves his worth by totaling a X-licensed danger room robot. Cage tries being sensitive to Ben’s feelings, but Grimm’s not buying, particularly when the local media is already treating him as a has-been.  Alicia is supportive, but when has the love of a good woman ever been enough for a super hero?

Just as we’re reaching soap opera overload, the Wrecker shows up. Why does Reed agree to allow the now normal Ben to fly into battle with the Fabs? ‘Cause how else can he be captured by Crowbar Boy, then saved by Cage when he's tossed off the roof?

Still not a happy camper, Ben shows his appreciation by punching Luke in the breadbasket, and almost breaking his hand. He then stalks off to be alone with his self-pity, as the last panel blurb promises a big “Shock Ending” next ish! -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Who knows how many times the Ben-loses-his-powers-and-is-replaced trope has been trotted out over the last half-century plus history of Marvel’s First Family? Even in ’75, the idea wasn’t new, but Thomas and the estimable art duo of Buckler and Sinnott keep the pace lively enough to pull it off here.

Any number of villains could have been plugged in to the Wrecker’s meet ‘n’ beat role here, and of course he gets taken down by the newly-arrived Luke. It’s all entertaining if certainly not groundbreaking, but I’m hoping Roy finds a way to up the ante and deliver a genuine “shock” or two in the next installment.

Give this one three out of five Ben Grimm crying towels.  

Chris: We've grown accustomed over the years to Ben's self-doubts about his un-human appearance; and now, he replaces those doubts with outright self-pity.  FF fans already put-off by Johnny's adolescent posturing might have reason to be concerned, if Ben were to go down a similar path.  Thankfully, Roy is able to provide a reasonable explanation for Ben's woeful outlook.  It's easy to forget that Ben and Reed are contemporaries; while Reed has spent the past two decades developing nifty scientifico-devices, and securing lucrative contracts for them, Ben was flying planes.  Now, he feels too old for test-pilot work (and he doesn’t even consider the work-a-day commercial airlines, does he?), so Ben's left without a sense of accomplishment, or a hope for future prospects. It's easy to see why he’d get caught up in a desperate attempt to cling to his old life.  Still: points off to Reed for not meeting with his sometimes-insecure old friend to discuss all of this before bringing in Luke; and, demerits to Ben for taking out his frustrations on Luke – it’s hardly his fault. Luke's the only one who handles the situation well, as he speaks up for himself while maintaining his composure, despite Ben's tantruming.

Roy reminds us that the Wrecker had last been seen in Defenders #18-19; strange that no one (including the participants) seems to recall that Luke had been there, too.

The art seems a bit off this time, not up to the Buckler/Sinnott standard we've seen in the recent past. Luke, in particular, looks a bit odd, especially moments like a painful, Robbins-esque stretch (p 10, last panel).  I do like the bit during the flashback (p 3), as Rich shows Ben's rocky scales fading as he's falling.  Although, I have to wonder -- if Ben were to change, wouldn't it make sense for the scales to drop off? I think it'd be quite cool (and I would argue for this, if I happened to sitting in for the production meeting) to show Ben un-Thinged, surrounded by a pile of terracotta shards. 

So, what's going to happen to MTIO while Ben is in this form? Is Dick Cavett, or David Brenner, available to guest-team for the time being -?

Matthew: The whole Thomas/Buckler/Sinnott era is just catnip for me, even if this particular issue is another one of those tiresome “Ben’s a jerk” stories.  It’s ludicrous for him to be shocked—shocked!—that he is considered less than a viable member of the FF once he’s no longer the Thing, and we know damn well he’ll never be happy as “just” Ben, but at least Roy uses the device as a springboard for some interesting stories before the inevitable restoration of the status quo.  His behavior toward Cage is as insufferable as in the awful Marvel Two-in-One #13, yet at least this story has excellent artwork and, in the form of the Wrecker (about whom we obviously have some unanswered questions), a truly surprise villain not given away on the cover.

Howard the Duck 2
"Cry Turnip!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Frank Brunner, Jim Starlin, and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Frank Brunner

Howard wakes from a disturbing dream, and finds himself at Bev’s apartment.  Howard attributes the dream’s bizarre content to the (unpublished) writings of Bev’s friend Arthur; Howard promises not to read any more of Arthur’s stories before going to sleep.  Meanwhile, Arthur’s dull vigil at the warehouse (where he’s working as a night watchman) is disturbed by the glass-crashing arrival of a large, glowing . . . vegetable.  Arthur investigates, and is zapped by the “star-spawned turnip;” they commune, Arthur and the space-turnip, who calls himself Phelch.  They discover a need for each other: Arthur agrees to allow Phelch the use of his physical form, provided that the turnip can supply the power Arthur always has longed for, so that he may become a Hero.  Next morning, Howard and Bev are travelling across town by bus to Arthur’s.  Howard lights a stogie, and is thrashed by a kidney-poisoning-conspiracy-fearing old woman.  In the ensuing battle, Howard is pitched to the bus driver’s seat.  The out-of-control bus plunges from an overpass, and is saved by: Turnip-Man, “garden-fresh guardian of the good!”  Bev recognizes that Turnip-Man is, in fact, Arthur; Phelch, in turn, notices that Bev’s got it goin on, and decides to partake of a distinctly mammalian physical experience.  As he flies off to a park with Bev in his arms, Arthur realizes that Phelch has betrayed him.  Howard hitches a ride on a truck, and finds Arthur struggling to remove his turnip-helmet.  Howard’s approach is interrupted by a blast from the turnip; Howard lunges back, and grabs the green sprout from atop the turnip, thinking that it might be “the brains.”  Sure enough, the greens take flight, with Howard in tow.  Howard steers the greens toward a smokestack, drops them in, and uses his wings (such as they are) to glide to safety.  Back at Arthur’s, the once-Turnip-Man reflects on the “profound meaning of life without heroics,” as Howard lights a stogie. -Chris Blake

Chris: The opening “Killmallard” bit is simply incredible; Steve G offers Don McG a simple skewering.  In the early issues of the series, Steve will continue this theme, as each installment will feature a take on a distinctive title in the Marvel realm (last time Conan, next time Shang-Chi!).  Of course, Steve’s not afraid to have some fun at his own expense, as the extended dialog between Arthur and Phelch is presented as a text-page, which Steve had turned in a number of times with Man-Thing.  In fact, there’s so much time and space devoted to the emergence of seemingly healthy-and-wholesome Turnip-Man that there isn’t as much required of Howard this time.  The meeting with the Kidney Lady is significant; we’ll have our share of trouble with her, won’t we?  
I wish Brunner had more time to devote to this series.  He brings the full range of images required for a title like this, from the turnip-man mind-meld (p 14-15), to Kidney-Lady’s comically ugly ferocity, to Bev’s simple sensuousness.  Of course, there’s plenty of nuttiness too, mostly at Howard’s expense, whether he’s being whacked in the head with a Kidney-Lady cane (p 16) or smacked into the inside of the bus windshield as Turnip-Man halts the bus’s fall and saves the day (p 18).  Don’t miss the signs scattered around: there’s an obvious intersection of “Mary” and “Jane” streets (p 18), but unless you look closely, you might miss “Stan ‘n Sol’s Market” (also p 18), “Dull Street” (p 22, 1st panel), and “Script for Duck #2,” tossed in a trash can (p 22, last panel).

Matthew: My youthful introduction to HTD would, ironically, mark the duck—er, swan song of Brunner (whose cover is also excellent) on the character he had done so much to popularize; Leialoha offers rock-solid support, and Starlin is thanked for helping to lay out the script, but I don’t know who was responsible for those countless sight gangs, e.g., Universal Imports, Smegma, Pink Flamingos, Mary/Jane St., “Script for Duck #2.”  Although I’m not a Killraven reader, I have to assume that Gerber’s McGregor parody is as dead-on as Englehart’s Black Panther pastiche in Avengers.  Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, yet how page 7, panel 1—oh so suggestive of potential girl-on-duck action—made it past the CCA, I’ll simply never know.

Mark: Howard dreams of fighting Martians as Killmallard and getting squished by a tripod. He awakes from the nightmare to the tender embrace of Bev, who supplies our aquatic outsider with a stogy then ruffles his feathers with mention of her boyfriend Arthur, cluing the alert reader that Steve Gerber won’t be afraid to explore interspecies attraction as the series progresses. One wonders what the Comics Code Authority would have made of that had they not be rendered toothless by the anything goes mid-‘70’s.

Unpublished writer Arthur, working the Paul Blart security beat, soon merges with the cover-pimped Space Turnip, and gonzo hijinks ensue. Howard has his first run-in with the Kidney Lady, odious old bat conspiracy-monger (and current Ted Cruz campaign chairperson for West Texas); Turnip-Man saves a busload of passengers, but learns bad puns are seldom the way into a girl’s knickers, and the reader garners more evidence suggesting all of Steve Gerber’s (way) outside the box fever dream ideas that, in the end, grew fallow in the barren soil of an unthinking muck-monster, will take root and flourish in the rich, loamy earth of duck droppings.

And a big hand for the always impressive Frank Brunner, who goes out on a high note in what I believe – apart from a couple one-offs – is his last mainstream work for Marvel.

The Amazing Spider-Man 154
"The Sandman Always Strikes Twice"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

After the death of Bradley Bolton (last issue), a frustrated Spider-Man comes across a mugging and mauls the thugs good, including slapping one around so much he refuses to sell the photos he snapped to JJJ. Cut to an armored car carrying Flint Marko/William Baker/The Sandman, which is suddenly attacked by costumed goons, allowing Sandman to escape, and he's taken to "the boss"! The bowery derelict from issue #152 trips an unsuspecting New Yorker, but sees his mysterious stalker and runs off, forgetting to reap any ill-gotten rewards. Back to Sandman, who regains his Inhumans-inspired costume from Marvel Team-Up #2 and is ordered by a mysterious smoking villain to bring him a "particular mechanism stored at a certain research facility across town", and to do it "by whatever means necessary!" Swinging towards home, Spidey gets a hit from one of his Spider Tracers, leading him to a research complex, where he webs a pair of guards with the same get-ups as the ones from last ish, sets up his automatic camera, and turns to face Sandman! Sandy planted the fence-bought tracer to get revenge on the web-head for recently capturing him (MTU #40), and the battle begins! Spidey makes a web/sand sculpture, but Sandman disappears, only to create a sandstorm and some sand fists that knock our hero out! The beachy baddie tries to use a Cryogenic Converter to put Spidey permanently on ice, but the always-thinking arachnid flips the table he's strapped to, breaks free, and has to endure a Sandy-created oil slick before dodging constant attacks. Somehow, Sandman slips towards the freeze ray, and Spider-Man is too late to stop Sandy from being frozen solid, ending our mini-battle! –Joe Tura

Joe: A John Romita cover! Sal B. guesting on the insides! Is this professor in Heaven or what? A rock-'em, sock-'em issue that zips along too fast once we get halfway home, with a classic Spidey vs. Sandy donnybrook that you can't help but smile along to. Even that goofy futuristic outfit on Sandman isn't enough to make us not want to read this one again. A novel ending, a bit off the beaten path, only adds to the excellence, even though there's a bit too much Spidey moaning about losing a "friend", namely Bradley Bolton from last month. Now I could swear they just met, so I'm not sure why he's so annoyed, other than he's probably sick of seeing death around him and Bolton was an OK dude. Between that and the sudden begging for mercy by the thugs in the beginning, we have just a couple of minor quibbles in a solid Len script that even gives us another look at the haunted hobo scouring the alleys of Manhattan as he's scared off by…well, we don't know yet, do we?

Fave sound effect: There's a slew of good ones this time around, but I'll go with the last page's "ZZKAKK!" as Sandman is frozen by the Cryogenic Converter and turned into a "Sandman-on-a-stick", sayeth Spidey.

Matthew: First-class meat-and-potatoes Marvel all the way, reuniting Spidey and Sandy with the Buscemosito powerhouse from Marvel Team-Up #39-40, and reminding us that while a welcome “guest artist” here, Sal is logging plenty of arachno-hours on MTU.  Looks like somebody’s doing a Mortellaro with the torn “Back— Hun—” poster on the splash page, as Len maintains close continuity with recent issues of both books, and although this is a done-in-one, he keeps those Bowery-bum and smoking-boss subplots bubbling.  Interestingly, Spidey’s concern about “little sandsicles all over the place” seems misplaced, because with his unique physiognomy, Marko ( Baker) is probably the only villain who could survive such a shattering.

Chris: Nice bash-around with Marko.  I’ll never understand how, later on, he was effectively rehabilitated and became a superhero (he even became an Avenger at one point, post-Bronze, am I right -?); he’s pretty determined to buy himself some payback against Spidey here.  I’m not sure how he was supposed to drag the huge cryogenic-transmogrifier out of the lab here –looks like it must weigh a few tons, at least.  Well, maybe Sandy was planning to do it in a few trips.  

I also don’t understand how it’s possible to form complete sentences about not having enough time to react before you splat into something – shouldn’t Sandy have been able to sand himself down, and simply drop to the ground, and thereby avoid the chilly-ray?  Well, either way, it looks like Len will be adding his own touch of mystery to the title, and without necessarily reviving anyone from the dead (or seeming to, or whatever).  Sal does his usual fine job on Spidey, and provides us with plenty of nasty looks from Marko, especially on p 23.

Mark: After raving about last month's poignant one 'n' done saga, this one elicits little more than a shrug. Always enjoy the Sandman (and still don't know who hired him but the cigarette holder has me thinking Kingpin), but this one is by-the-numbers product, delivering nothing fresh or exciting, either in character development or slam-bam action. Zero appearances by Peter and the supporting cast doesn't help. Yeah, I know with the monthly sausage-factory production schedule, not every offering can be a classic, but this one has all the appeal of cold Spam.

1 comment:

  1. Best of this batch is HTD for both art & story and I'd give the Defenders 2nd place; Gerber's on a roll with classic, offbeat tales. The Assassin double fill in on the Avengers really irritated me; lackluster story & art IMO. I concur with Professor Scott's assessment of Kirby's CA&TF; the basic plot had a lot of promise but the execution didn't come off that well. Kirby's dialogue was too off-putting for me, and his characterizations too cliched, even for my then 13 year old self to fully enjoy.