Wednesday, June 10, 2015

April 1976 Part Two: The Uncanny X-Men Welcome the Return of the Sentinels!

X-Men 98
"Merry Christmas, X-Men..."
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum

 The X-Men are enjoying a Christmastime outing in midtown Manhattan.  Scott & Jean settle in to dinner at a restaurant overlooking Rockefeller Center, when strike – the Sentinels!  Scott blasts apart one robot, while another one zaps him and grabs Jean.  As debris crashes to the pavement below, Sean recognizes some of the pieces as Sentinel parts, and takes to the sky, with Logan in tow; they are quickly snapped up by their heartless enemy.  Scott is concerned as Storm whirls a Sentinel apart in hurricane winds, but Ororo assures him that she always is in control of her powers.  Scott’s next thoughts are for the safety of Professor X, who is vacationing on the fishing boat of a friend, astronomer Peter Corbeau; Dr Corbeau has been unable to identify the binary star that Charles has seen in his troubling dreams.  Further discussion is cut off, as a Sentinel emerges from the deep; a psychic attack from Charles buys them little time, as the robot destroys the boat and flies off with Prof X.  At the base of Sentinel-meister Dr Steven Lang, the captured X-Men are trussed up, unable to use their powers.  Jean prods Lang for answers; Lang asserts that the Sentinels' eventual defeat of the X-Men will ensure the destruction of mutantkind.  To drive home his point, Lang backhands the defenseless Jean across the face; enraged, Wolverine rips free of his bonds and starts skraggin’ Sentinels, scattering Lang and survival-oriented minions.  As Banshee, Wolverine, and Marvel Girl are trying to devise an escape plan, which would include springing a sedated Prof X, a cadre of Sentinels busts in to re-apprehend them.  Banshee grabs the hands of his teammates and takes off, determined to find a path to freedom.  Meanwhile, at Xavier’s school, Scott has been trying without success to employ Cerebro to locate his missing teammates.  He and Kurt are surprised by the sudden arrival of Dr Corbeau, who reveals that there has been no sign of the captive X-Men on the earth because – Lang’s Sentinel base in not on this planet! -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: In a short time, we’ve already come to expect a certain amount of greatness in each issue of this revamped title.  After a deceptively mellow opening this time, the story picks up at a terrific pace, with panel after panel of bristling activity.  Banshee has a chance to shine, first as he takes charge in the early stages of the Rockefeller Center attack, then later as he tries to convey his mates out of the base.  (His efforts are well-intended, but little does he suspect that, as his sonic powers pierce one wall too many, he and the others indeed will find plenty of space, but not a molecule of oxygen to breathe.)  This issue is particularly noteworthy for the moment when we learn that Wolverine’s claws are not part of his costume, but (somehow) built into his forearms – more to come on that fact later on, true believers.
Speaking of which – everyone noticed the little tribute to Stan and Jack (p 3), which also doubles as a slight dig at the elders, who are depicted by Chris & Dave as (somewhat stodgily) put-off by Scott & Jean’s PDA.   But – how many perceptive readers caught the cameo by Nick Fury and the Contessa, strolling by in the lower right corner of the splash page?  As long as I’m drawing your attention to the art, let me give Grainger credit for his contribution to art that most closely resembles Cockrum’s self-inked pages.  

Matthew Bradley: A timely letter from Jana C. Hollingsworth, who’d spotted that telltale leg in #96, warns, “any story that isn’t at least twice as good as 1969’s Thomas/Adams Sentinels classic will come across as ‘just another Sentinels story,’” and while I won’t say this is better, I think it can be mentioned in the same breath.  I was less fond of Stan and Jack’s fourth-wall-breaking cameo, but other in-jokes are more subtle, e.g., sneaking Nick, Val and, I assume, Matt Murdock into the breathtakingly detailed splash page; naming Corbeau’s boat the Dejah Thoris, befitting future John Carter scripter Claremont.  I especially loved page 3, panel 6, as the Sentinels threaten to crowd the people right out of the picture, and Chris’s handling of the characters is, again, superb.

Ka-Zar 15
"When Shatters the Gateway to Hell!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Still in London, Ka-Zar hands off injured Tandy Snow to the local bobbies, just as a huge flying sonic creature (created by Klaw) attacks.  Klaw escaped with the alien Shauran, but sent his creation back to kill KZ. But trusty Zabu attacks, only to be dashed to the ground below, as KZ forces the flying creature into water, which dampens sound and ends its life. An hour later, KZ visits Tandy in the hospital, where scientist Kirk Marston is also around, to explain the "madness" afflicting the Savage Land that's caused by sonic radiation. All three plan to go back to the Savage Land, which is already being visited by Klaw and Shauran, so a cantankerous Klaw can use his sonic generator to open a portal, which Shauran's people use to invade Earth! Tongah is around to witness this, and he tells paleontologist Bernard Kloss, who greets a returning KZ with skepticism that aliens could appear. But when one of the Fall People is zapped into ash, he's convinced! A ship approaches, bringing with it commander Traikar, who asks for peaceful surrender but gets a spear from Tongah in the chest! That causes the aliens to demand that Tongah be handed over to them, to quell any further resistance! --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Let's start with the good news: only 5 more issues left after this one! More good news is the addition of Val Mayerik at the canvas, which adds a touch of moodiness this title has mostly lacked. Well, that and some charisma from the lead character, but I digress. Unfortunately, Moench packs the issue with way too many words in places. After all, according to the letters page "Doug regularly turns in the longest and most detailed plots ever seen in the history of the bullpen." No kidding! This fact helps to explain the craziness that has a flashback slightly different from last issue as well as a complete redesign of Shauran, because Larry Hama fell behind the deadline and Mayerik stepped in without having read any of last issue. Can you blame him for that! The worst thing is Klaw's sonic disruptor being ripped off his arm by Ka-Zar, the coolest thing of last issue, seems to have been retro-fitted to have not happened! Ugh. Overall, a kinda sorta OK issue (how's that for high praise!) that ends on a cliffhanger, leaving our hero in dire straights, but always willing to fight like the dickens.

Chris: OK, so I thought it was a bit of a departure for Ka-Zar to have an adventure in London; but now, with an alien armada arriving thru an inter-dimensional portal, I will say that – in consecutive issues – this title has taken on a direction that I would not have anticipated.  I’m intrigued to see where this story will lead, especially since the next issue will have to feature a more-active role for Ka-Zar, after he had been largely absent for the second half of this one.  

Two brief comments: Doug, didn’t anyone have the nerve to walk up to you and explain that the Savage Land is in Antarctica, not the Arctic? (some armadillo is not paying attention); and, Mayerik’s self-inked art is terrifically gritty – I dig his craggy take on Klaw’s face, plus the red sound-demon is niftily nasty-looking.  I’m looking forward to more of his depiction of the Savage Land; isn’t it going to be fun to have Mayerik on the art for the final six issues of this series?

Master of Kung Fu 39
"Fight Without Pity"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Dan Adkins
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Shang-Chi’s showdown with Shen “Cat” Kuei is interrupted as gangsters walk in, demanding that Cat not draw undue attention to their illegal dealings in the club.  S-C takes advantage of the momentary distraction to grab Juliette and plunge them both thru a window, to safety.  Shen quietly asserts that he knows where he will find them, and that he intends to kill them both.  Juliette insists in her belief of Shen’s love for her, and states that she will not flee Hong Kong once S-C has recovered documents as ordered by Sir Denis; still, she recognizes the wisdom of remaining with S-C until she has determined how best to reason with Shen.  Meanwhile, in London, Reston confronts Leiko over recent interest in S-C, and their old relationship appears to gain a new spark.  S-C swims to a junk moored in the harbor, dispatches the guards, and secures the secret documents.  A man holding the information states that these had not been papers stolen from British intelligence, but rather documents that Smith had been trying to steal from the Chinese.  Disgusted by the seemingly ceaseless misdirections, S-C shreds the papers and drops them in the water.  S-C returns to shore, and finds that Shen has caught up to them.  S-C insists that he is not an assassin, as Juliette reports that Shen is not working for the Red Chinese; it seems there is no cause for them to fight, but the battle is joined anyway.  Juliette cannot bear to watch, for fear that one of them could be killed needlessly, and announces instead that she will kill herself.  Shen hesitates, as Juliette plunges a knife into herself.  Shen breaks off his attack, pulls the knife from Juliette’s shoulder; he cradles his lover, and carries her off, leaving his back exposed to his opponent.  S-C does not grasp the knife left stuck in the ground, and instead collects the Siamese cat that has followed him all evening.  -Chris Blake

Chris: I realize that Doug has his detractors among the faculty, but I am not one of them.  This two-issue story is the culmination of the ideal set by Englehart & Starlin when they had originally introduced this character.  We have action, offset by reflection, and characterization.  We can admire the contestants in the proficiency of their battle-skills, while we also recognize (at times) the needlessness of the violence itself.  This last point is masterfully emphasized by Gulacy, as (on p 26) he draws the camera further and further back, isolating the combatants on a moonlit beach – as we can plainly see, there is no prize to be gained; their fight is gradually overwhelmed by the simple beauty of their surroundings.  
Extra points also to Doug, as he refrains from empty dialog and cluttering captions for most of the three pages of the battle’s peak intensity (p 17, p 22-23).  Gulacy’s visuals alone are left to tell the story, as there’s little to distract from the combatants’ intense concentration (p 23, last panel); we also have a smaller touch like the stirring of the water during the fight (p 23, 2nd-to-last panel).  
We might be witness to some maturation of S-C’s character; S-C is aware of how he’s been called to divert from his code, in the belief that he might be serving a greater good, but instead, he’s found himself stuck in the (seemingly) pointless games of the intelligence services.  A few issues ago, we wouldn’t have expected him to disobey orders and deliberately undo the purpose of a mission: S-C is sent to retrieve Juliette and the documents, and instead flies back to London with a cat, and a mission of his own – to confront Sir Denis.  We have another opportunity for growth on the last page, as S-C admits to himself, despite his fighting prowess, that he might have lost to Shen Kuei; a healthy moment of self-criticism.  Well, good for him – it’ll be interesting to see where all this leads, especially since a fragment of one of the ripped papers tells us that Poppa Fu might be coming back -!

Mark Barsotti: Oh, ye (me) of little faith. With a couple pages left of another gripping Gulacy-Moench offering, I worried the boys were gonna screw the pooch. When Juliette raises a large knife in her left hand, stopping the Shang-Chi v. Cat death match with her threat of suicide, I had - and here's how treacherous memory can be, class - a deja vu flash, actually "remembered" her melodramatic, too-on-the-Shakespearean-nose death...
Which never happened. 

Oh, Juliette (Sir Denis' agent who's fallen in love with "the enemy") stabs herself alright, but only in the shoulder, finally convincing the feline Shen Kuei she hadn't betrayed him to S-C. So he gives up the fight, tossing his knife at P.J. Shang's feet and offering his back as a target.

Absent the gaffe that never was, these two issues are masterful, not as whiz-bang showy as the super-spy trilogies, perhaps, but more rooted in character and emotionally engaging. Love triumphs. None of our principles die. And Shang knows Cat would have beaten him. 

He boards the last page flight back to London with three mementos. The Siamese cat (fur-ball variety) that's followed him throughout the story. A stylish blue suit and flashy red, wide lapel shirt (marking the first time we see S-C in civvies). And a growing distaste for Sir Denis' missions.

Add an ironically-unseen-by-Shang note, tweaking Father Fu's return, and one can hardly wait for...not next ish, necessarily, but whenever Gulacy rests up.

Meantime, "Fight Without Pity" gets four and half razor-sharp shurikens.

Marvel Chillers 4
Tigra, the Were-Woman in
"Night of the Huntress!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Tom Palmer

After weeks of hunting the Rat Pack, Greer returns to Chicago and stumbles on a group of gunmen stealing drugs from a hospital, hired as a diversion by Kraven the Hunter; as he escapes with his quarry, a little girl is caught in their crossfire with the police.  A bullet lodged near her spinal cord, she faces paralysis without the captive David Malraux’s treatment, so Tigra follows the gunmen to Kraven’s hideout inside a bankrupt circus arena.  Kraven reveals awareness of her adoptive race, shows her the bodies of the gunmen—who sought to avenge his abandonment—and seeks to increase his speed with the “experimental psychometer response procedure,” but while able to defeat Kraven, Tigra must struggle mightily to resist killing him…
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The Rat Pack storyline and Isabella/Meugniot creative team will be back next issue, and while it seems a bit odd for a new strip to resort to a guest writer on only its second outing, Claremont is eminently qualified, having scripted Tigra’s first solo story in Monsters Unleashed #10; if there’s a lettercol explaining the fill-in, it’s not present in the version provided to me by our august Dean.  Kraven’s never been a favorite of mine, yet he’s usually fairly formidable, and as with his recent Man-Wolf wingding, pitting him against Tigra is a natural, his foreknowledge of the Cat People just adding interest.  As for the Robbins/Colletta artwork, I can’t say I love it, but I am obliged to admit that their teaming bothers me far less in this context than in, say, Captain America or Fear.

Chris: Claremont develops fairly quickly into such a superlative comics writer that it can be easy to overlook that not all of his early stories are as solid as his later ones. The plot itself makes good sense: Kraven hires goons to create a diversion so that he can hijack a neurosurgeon who can augment his abilities.  At first, I thought that the girl caught in the crossfire was more of Claremont’s tendency to indulge in collateral damage, possibly as a way to introduce Human Drama, until I realized that the critically injured girl was actually a Plot Device; in other words, it’s On, Kraven!  

So no, I’m not taking issue with all of that – my criticism has more to do with the captions and dialog, of which there are a lot.  Pages 2-3 alone, in which Claremont re-summarizes Greer’s back-story, are a lot of work.  Within all this text, we also get a fair amount of variance of tone, from McGregor highfalutionism down to Isabella dime-store.  The last line, in which we learn that “And in that dawn, the soul of Greer Nelson . . . wept,” gave me a dismissive guffaw.  Fortunately, we can count on Claremont to clean up a lot of this.  
The art really isn’t bad at all.  There are some Mr Fantastic-moments with Kraven’s anatomy, and the running goons are gravity-defying (p 6, 1st panel), but Tigra looks svelte and slinky – sometimes sinister – throughout, without taking too many liberties with her ability to bend and stretch.  A lesser effort by Colletta might’ve made this really hard to look at, so points to Vinnie for showing up.  

Marvel Premiere 29
The Liberty Legion in
"Lo, the Liberty Legion!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Don Heck and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Gacoia

Fighting his way through MPs, Bucky interrupts a radio broadcast by the Patriot, planned “to reassure the country that not all its masked heroes had turned Nazi” (see Invaders #5).  The Patriot persuades the network to let Bucky put out a call to other said heroes, hoping that by banding together, they can subdue the enthralled Invaders long enough to bring them back to their senses.  Repeating his message every 15 minutes while awaiting a response, he reviews the FBI’s files on them, and their histories—with proper Golden-Age citations—are cross-cut with their current activities; first up are Red Raven, who made his Silver-Age debut in X-Men #44, and the Thin Man (Bruce Dickson), who helps him defeat a planeload of Nazi spies.

Aptly, the Whizzer (Robert L. Frank) meets his future wife, Miss America (Madeline Joyce), as they vanquish Nazi saboteurs; Roy re-introduced them in Giant-Size Avengers #1 and, briefly, posited them as the true parents of Wanda and Pietro.  Masked Nazis crash a lecture by Professor Elton T. Morrow, who they believe has betrayed the Aryan race by asserting that mankind began in East Africa, and force him to adopt his heroic Blue Diamond identity.  After these five have overheard and come in response to Bucky’s broadcast, they and the Patriot are joined in the studio by Jack Frost, whose freezing power foils a bomb-wielding Nazi spy, and Bucky plans to lead the septet he dubs the Liberty Legion in capturing the Invaders.  (Continued in Invaders #6.) -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: ThHeckolletta artwork may be nothing to write home about, but as with the Robbins Invaders, over which it’s still an improvement, Don’s style seems suited to the wartime milieu—not too surprising when he was already drawing war comics ten years after this issue is set.  I love these colorful guys, despite their manifest similarities to Silver-Age Marvel characters (e.g., Red Raven/Angel, Thin Man/Mr. Fantastic, Whizzer/Quicksilver, Jack Frost/Iceman), and the fact that the storyline inevitably shifts into low gear as we meet the new/old kids.  If Roy’s a little too cute by having a Nazi refer to Madeline as “that scarlet witch,” I can live with it, and still would have bought a Legion mag, if one had eventuated; he offers his usual insights in a lettercol essay.

By virtue of their name, the Invaders were intended to assault Hitler’s Fortress Europa, but that “seemed to me to miss a lot of story possibilities for one of the most interesting wartime areas of all:  the United States herself, in those days of V-mail and Victory Gardens, of Bogart and Rosie the Riveter, of rationing and the black market and the ever-present threat of Nazi saboteurs.  And so, even before Giant-Size Invaders #1-and-only went on sale, I was already hard at work on a couple of try-out issues of a second WWII title, to be composed of some of the lesser [Timely] superheroes…”  Roy thanks his “friend and fellow longtime comics-fan Bobby Vann (no relation to movie actors or dancers, he vows),” credited here as “technical advisor and amiable archivist.”

Mark: Following the story over from the last Invaders, we find Bucky taking to the airwaves to recruit other Timely heroes to battle/free the Red Skull-enslaved Big Guns. The real puppet master, of course, is fan-boy Roy at play, trotting out his deep comic knowledge and the heroes and heroines of his youth.

With Don Heck and Vince Colletta providing the right retro look, I'm ready to enlist myself as Bucky broadcasts live, getting (us) up to speed on the other heroes by pursuing F.B.I. files that the Patriot conveniently has on hand.

Joe: See, now this is the kinda stuff Don Heck should be doing, comics from the 70s, set in the 40s, but meant to be published in the 60s. I think part of the reason this works is the lettering of John Costanza actually makes Heck's art better. Not sure why I think that other than the clean, classy work John puts in here makes the pages flow quite nicely. See, that's what Don was missing all along! I definitely had this one, especially since it tied in to The Invaders, a book which I bought a bunch of, but probably had more holes in my collection of that one than in The Whizzer's tights after a quick run through some rose bushes. Of course Roy brings in some old-timey heroes for the roster from the comics in his closet, from the hey-look-there-he-is Red Raven to the eat-a-burger-will-ya Thin Man. But are those files really drawn like funny books? That would make working for the government much cooler I would think. All in all, a fine let's-get-the gang-together story that has us wanting more, or my name isn't Adolf Schickelgruber!

Mark: I won't bore you by cataloguing Timely's B-Team, but some of their origins demonstrate the high level of creativity necessary in the days before the Bomb, after which Stan could pin everything on radioactivity. 

Getting pin-cushioned by diamond shards, exploded by a U-boat's torpedo. Plane-crashing on an island in the sky run by birdmen, compared to which a mere transfusion of mongoose blood seems downright pedestrian. 

The only truly goofy entry is Thin Man. Kinda like Mr. Fantastic and Plastic Man, but not, because they can turn their fists into giant mallets or bounce down the street like a Super-Ball. The Thin Man can get really, really thin.

And the Red Skull trembles.

Hey, it's a "pop corn" comic, a story where one doesn't question all the summoned heroes, from the far points of the map, showing up in the radio studio at the same time. As Bucky says, the Nazi nasties had better watch out, as we collect scrap metal, Buy Bonds, and a graffito is soon seen across the land. 

Kil-Roy was here.           

Marvel Presents 4
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Into the Maw of Madness!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Al Milgrom
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Al Milgrom

On Centauri-IV, Yondu consults his gods before the mission, answered as life-giving rain drenches his dead world.  Starhawk’s lecture about dwelling in the past provokes a PK burst from Vance that produces an image of Aleta, who later occupies Starhawk’s body and asks Vance to tell him, “The children are in danger”; meanwhile, the Guardians pick up 18-year-old Nikki, sole survivor of the Mercurian colony, whose parents were killed by the Badoon.  The dead worlds she saw are evidence of what Yondu calls Karanada, “an alien force…infinitely old, incalculably powerful, and insatiably hungry…[that] sustains itself on the energy of exploding galaxies,” and “infects” the Captain America’s circuitry after it apparently consumes Starhawk... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As usual, I believe this is where I came in on the Guardians’ solo book, and if you consider last issue as one big hit of the reset button, then this isn’t a bad jumping-on point.  Again, we have Milgrom working with my beloved Two Steves on two of my favorite cosmic strips—this and Englehart’s Mar-Vell, natch—and in each case, his art threatens to drag it back down to Earth, especially when he’s inking himself, although that Pac-Frog-Man looks strangely cool.  So it’s up to Gerber to provide most of the thrust (plus the lettercol’s “Outline Course in World History, 1975-3015 A.D.,” expanded from the retelling in Defenders #26), which he does by adding a fun new team member, providing some nice character stuff, and deepening the mystery of Starhawk.

Standard Disclaimer: There is a character called Yondu in the celluloid excrescence misnamed Guardians of the Galaxy. Please pay no attention to this unfortunate coincidence.

Chris: This does not strike me as the work of someone who has been known to start off a storyline, and then piece it together as he would go along.  No – at least in the case of Guardians, Steve G appears to have a plan, and to be sticking to it.  Nikki will provide a different perspective, and some much-needed “spunk” (to use a definitively ‘70s term), which will be especially helpful to offset the cranky mood Vance has gotten himself into.  Steve deepens the Mystery of Starhawk further, adding more information without providing any explanation (yet).  

Al’s art is acceptable throughout, with Yondu’s appreciation for the Centaurian rain a particular highlight (p 2); as I give, I also will take away, because Al’s space-eating giant frog, with the face of an irate stuffed animal, is completely ridiculous.  

Marvel Spotlight 27
Sub-Mariner in
"Death is the Symbionic Man!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Newly resolved to put his people first, Namor is unaware that he is being tracked by Captain Simon Ryker, who wants power to “activate [the] slumbering mind” of his cyborg super-soldier, “given life by the power I siphoned from Dr. Doom during [their] battle” in Super-Villain Team-Up #4.  Absorbing plankton, this Symbionic Man merges with the sea and instinctively follows Namor, grasping him with tendrils that begin drawing out his life and soul.  Briefly breaking away, Namor is attacked by a giant squid guided by the cyborg, but severs their “organic life-link” and hurls the squid aloft, conveniently downing Ryker’s ship hovering above, which leaves the dying Symbionic Man, now freed from his control, to return Namor’s life-force. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Several sources state that the Symbionic Man is the future Deathlok, which is ludicrous for far too many reasons to enumerate here; trust me, he’s not.  Mantlo and Mooney reunite to tie up the threads they’d left dangling in SVTU, while proving once again that comics can have socially redeeming value by introducing my 12-year-old self to the concept of symbiosis.  It’s a solid story (although I was shocked at Subby’s disrespect in destroying one of the Easter Island statues), yet one whose very existence is curious:  why would Marvel feel the need of a trial balloon for a character whose own book had finally succumbed to poor sales barely a year and a half ago, and is still being featured regularly in not one but two other titles, SVTU and Invaders?

Fellow Monday-morning quarterbacks may find this interesting:  per the Bullpen Page, “Jumpin’ Jim Starlin and Howling Howie Chaykin have gotten together to work on an issue of Marvel Spotlight givin’ you fearless front-facers the inside info on why [Nick] Fury looks younger now than he did back in the big war!  You won’t want to miss this one”…but you might have to wait eight months until it finally appears, and at that time, we’ll discuss one reason why.  They promo the Warriors Three tale in #30 and a Thomas/Kane Jungle Book adaptation that never happened.  Ex-Spotlight, we get our first look at Nova, debuting in September, and learn that Dr. StrangePower Man, and Marvel Two-in-One will soon go monthly (although only MTIO stays that way).

Joe: Boy, am I glad Prof. Matthew took the lead on this one. Sorry, but for the most part, it was a snoozer. Maybe it was the OK Mooney art. Maybe it was the insufferable conceit of Namor that gets tiresome when he's the lead character. Maybe it was the lame fish-borg villain. Nah, it must be the giant squid that keeps changing size, and has the nose of a parrot. But we do get a "first" look at the soon-to-be-much-more-evil Capt. Ryker, before the promotions in the pages of Deathlok that are long in the future according to Marvel-time, natch. What's most perplexing in this mediocre-on-its-best -day issue are the positive letters for the Sinbad issue. Those readers should be forced to walk the plank!

Marvel Team-Up 44
Spider-Man and Moondragon in
"Death in the Year Before Yesterday!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Haunted by dreams in the present, Moondragon is summoned to Wanda’s aid by a fireball (as Spidey was in #41), arriving in Salem to find them and the Vision on a high-tech “altar,” attached to a sphere in which Doom floats.  Before Mather can plunge a soul-blade into them, she battles the Rider, allowing the others to revive and free Doom, and their mind-lock shows her his origin as the last survivor of an evil wizard-race, who fled the first age of man into the time-stream.  The quintet’s combined power reduces the Rider to ash—leaving Mather a discredited madman—but after Doom departs using the time-circuitry in his armor, and Spidey asks the others to send the platform back for him, he arrives just too late to prevent the hangings. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I retain my youthful fondness for this tetralogy, but I see some of the cracks, most notably in the kitchen-sink finale, where “dragon” in (sorry) the guest-star du jour feels totally random.  The Dark Rider shows off his magical skills by making that hyphen in his name disappear for good, and although his origin is pretty perfunctory, it’s presented by Buscemosito in a neat way, as an inversion of Doom’s in #43:  this time, the contemporary—well, okay, 17th-century—action is at the center of the two-page spread, with the flashbacks on the periphery.  Spidey’s grief over the deaths of Proctor et al. is understandable, yet he and/or Bill must surely know that saving them could wreak havoc with the future/present; I mean, The Crucible would never have been written!

Joe: A nifty Kane cover. A moody Sal B. splash page. Spidey and a who's who of Marvel-dom guest stars. I'm in! This rollicking romp through old Salem proves, to me at least, that Team-Up was on top of its game here. Sure, there's some silliness thanks to wacky Mather, who's like Michael J. Pollard combined with Jeff Spicoli, plus, some needless (to some) recapping by Spidey on page 14. Although we all know the web-head does like to talk to himself out loud, so Vision & Scarlet Witch probably weren't too taken aback by it. Some awesome art abounds, my favorite being top panel on page 22 (left), Spidey and Vision trying to free Doom, which is a poster waiting to happen! A downbeat ending notwithstanding, this is one of the better books of the year so far, packing a little bit of everything into a sensational smorgasbord of sorcery and Spidey-ness! And there's more time shenanigans to come, so hold on tight, True Believers!

Chris: The multi-parter churns its way to a fairly exciting conclusion.  Clever idea to bring Moondragon into the mix; as a freshly-minted Avenger, she could benefit from the exposure.  Plus, her inclusion helps to illustrate a winning formula for MTU: go with stories that require 2-3 issues, and find a way to involve unusual combinations of characters.  It all works well here, and I don’t mind that Moondragon winds up with so much screen-time; but still, the web-head has to feature more prominently in the story.  His grisly discovery at the end – no, they weren’t able to change the outcome of the witch trials – is as shocking today as it was when I first read it 35+ years ago; high marks to Bill & Sal for not sugar-coating the insanity of an earlier era in our history.

Luke Cage, Power Man 30
"Look What They've Done to Our Lives, Ma!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Rich Buckler, Arvell Jones, and Keith Pollard
Colors by Denise Wohl
Letters by Keith Pollard
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

Luke Cage struggles to free himself, chained underneath the Harlem River Bridge by a creep named Cockroach.  The bridge is about to open, as a ship gets ready to pass by, but Cage is able to break free from his chains and escape.  During some down time, Cage is visited at his office by the boss of Adonis Chemicals company (a man Cage had beaten) and his lawyer. The hero puts them in their place, but still has to deal with Detective Chase, who is starting to pester Luke about his social security card.  Cockroach meets up with his boss, a fanged mobster named Piranha.  The two gangsters, along with some of Piranha's henchmen, attempt to rob an Adonis Chemicals delivery truck but  Luke arrives in time to stop the theft.  Piranha ends up being a tough opponent for Cage as the two fight to an even stalemate with Piranha biting Cage's throat.  The story ends with a chemical canister about to explode, and possibly kill everyone in New York City. -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: "Just get on with it." Those were my first thoughts as I trudged through Don McGregor's over-wrought prose on the splash page. It doesn't ease up afterward, either. I'm all for reading, it's Fundamental. But, comics are, by and large, a visual medium and I swear, the writers at this point write as if they were paid by the word rather than the page. Just get on with it. It's not as if Cage was really going to be ripped in half by this drawbridge, and unlike Steve Ditko's Spider-Man classics (you know, when he was throwing the huge impossibly heavy piece of machinery off himself), there's no suspense or realistic stakes here. I appreciate the parable of a (black) man breaking his chains "as the cost of blood" but it's a little obvious. Perhaps if he calmed down on all the excess verbiage, they wouldn't have had a run in with the Dreaded Deadline Doom, as they apologized for in the lettercol. This is a thick issue to wade through and not much excitement. We get to meet D.W.'s new girlfriend, who doesn't get a word of dialog before being ushered off the page; Luke gets to tell D.W. what happened to him, in effect telling us what we just read; and by the time we get to the final panel, I was only vaguely aware of the jeopardy. This was a mind-numbing trip from front cover to back. The art was passably interesting, but nothing amazing.

Chris: As much as I admire McGregor, he establishes pretty clearly that he’s not the right scripter for this title.  Granted, the opening bit could easily be saturated in Saturday-morning-serial -style peril – “Can Our Hero Escape the Bridge Trap In Time --?”  But instead, Don goes to the opposite extreme, crying a “lament” for buildings, dead fish, sooty air, and finally our hero-for-hire himself.  We cut away again for a recap of PM #28 (required, due to the unwanted appearance of Mr Fish last issue), and then a reflection on the life of the seafarin’ man.  Finally, on p 3, Luke bursts his chains – McGregor tries to ladle on some sanguinary moments, a la “Panther’s Rage,” but the words are not mirrored in the art, which serves to remind us that Luke has these big-ol metal bands on his wrists, you see, which should preclude the skin from being ripped and shredded as he struggles mightily ‘gainst his bonds.  So, we find ourselves so distanced from the drama of Luke’s escape that there winds up being hardly any excitement at all.  There’s room for some overwriting in McGregor’s signature titles, as his characters struggle to preserve the integrity of their nations, or of humanity itself, in the face of brutal opposition.  But, Luke Cage is never about the big stories, which, to me, was always part of the appeal of PM and PM/IF – it’s about paying the bills, man, and keeping your ear to the ground, and staying true to the people countin’ on you.  McGregor’s writing, ambitious as it may be, misses the smaller-scale ground-level setting that belongs to Luke Cage.

If there’s any disadvantage to Buckler’s skill and versatility, it’s that I have difficulty identifying his style.  I think we’ve concluded that his work on Deathlok comes closest to Buckler-as-Buckler.  The art for issues like this one only compounds my problem; despite the fact that Buckler provided the layouts, there’s very little that tells me “Ah – there he is.”  It’s neither the wide-open look of Fantastic Four, nor the sometimes oppressive mood of Deathlok.  The physical scale of Luke himself is probably the clearest sense I have of Swash’s contribution.  I’m not complaining – we’ve seen what Jones alone can provide as a penciller (on Iron Fist, in particular), so to have him fill-in Buckler’s layouts is probably the right idea.  I don’t think of Pollard as an inker; the effect he achieves on Piranha is creepy, downright weird at times.  Doesn’t Piranha’s look on p 15 panel 2 (far above) look like something from Don Perlin? 
Last question: can anyone in the world tell me what the Many-Loves-of-Detective-Chase moment (right) is doing in this comic?  Talk about sumpin outta left field.  

The Son of Satan 3
"Demon's Head"
Story by John Warner
Art by Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

The forces of the Possessor challenge Baphomet and his hell-minions for the crown of the underworld.  The Possessor already has absorbed Daimon, physically and spiritually; Daimon’s face is visible on the back of the Possessor’s head, in addition to the two demon heads that already had been appropriated.  The Possessor intends to use his power against that of Daimon’s father, Satan.  Daimon seeks a means of escape, but the Possessor is privy to his thoughts, and plans; desperate, Daimon releases the dark side of his soul, only to see the Possessor direct this energy to cause an explosion within hell itself.  Satan comes forth (from the gateway to hell beneath Daimon’s Fire Lake home) to investigate this challenge to his power, but realizes too late that the Possessor has used this opportunity to plunge thru the opened portal.  Satan pursues the Possessor back to hell, but as he’s preparing to re-assert his hold over the throne, his opponent suddenly drops in pain, and is undone in a sudden release of energy.  Daimon reappears, and states to Satan that his release of his Darksoul had been internalized, which means that the Possessor was defeated from within.  A rageful Satan dismisses his errant son. 
-Chris Blake

Chris:  John Warner has an active imagination, and while he brings some intriguing ideas to this story, it’s unfortunate that he has to clutter it up with so many extraneous elements; I trimmed out quite a bit from the summary, mostly stuff involved with the Possessor taking control of an American Indian brave, who had been the disciple of a shaman who had refused to share his magical knowledge with the Possessor.   This is all part of a lengthy (especially when you consider this is only a 17-page comic), and needless, resumption of the Possessor’s origin story.  The showdown with Satan is derailed, and by the time Warner returns to this moment, he has to rush thru the last few pages; there’s no opportunity to re-build the drama that should have been a natural outgrowth, if Warner had kept his focus on the story, and refrained from a return to the backstory (which took up enough time last issue, thanks very much).  
The larger problem is that there is too-little attention paid to Daimon, our title character, dontcha know.  Warner seems to be saving the beat-opponent-from-within plan as a gotcha! for the end, but he should have realized that we’ve become accustomed to seeing Daimon’s determination and resourcefulness in action, so points off to Warner for excluding us from Daimon’s machinations.  Potentially, Daimon could have employed the two demons (who are just as unhappy as Daimon, to be trapped where they are) to provide some distraction; Daimon ordinarily is brash enough so that he could have instructed the demons directly, and made no secret of his intentions, as he would’ve counted on the Possessor to have been pulled in too many directions at once to have effectively prevented Daimon from taking action.  This would’ve been a far more accurate, and more interesting, way to present the character.  
Trinidad is a good choice for the art, but the results this time are a bit too indistinct for my liking; Satan’s shadowy, almost grimy emergence is a highlight (p 10, above).  I’m looking forward to Sonny’s inks on Craig Russell’s pencils, coming to these pages in sixty short days.  

Matthew: Next issue:  new story-line—a new direction…”  Couldn’t hurt, since after enjoying Gerber’s run with the character, I found the Homecoming Trilogy unengaging on every level, making it little wonder that this book apparently didn’t sell.  Even with the luxury of three issues, the story feels rushed and muddled, and the pages and pages of back-story failed to sell me on the Possessor as an interesting villain, let alone one who could hope to challenge Satan himself; as for Sonny’s art, it might have potential with a dedicated inker, but here, it just looks average and unfinished.  As explicated by Professor JoeWarner and Trinidad had adapted Ray Harryhausen’s classic The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad in Marvel Spotlight #25 back in December.

Super-Villain Team-Up 5
Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner in
"...And Be a Villain!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Don Perlin
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Namor bursts into Reed’s lab seeking aid and passes out, “drowning in the air”; recovering in a water tank, he reveals that after Spotlight #27, he was shot down over Hydrobase by a blast from Doom, rendering his protective garb inoperative.  He refused to trade his allegiance for the antidote until Doom shelled Atlantis, where his comatose subjects slumber, and offered to release Namor from his vow if Reed could repair it within 24 hours.  As he works, Johnny tussles with the Shroud, a cloaked figure who flees after spying from a rooftop, but Reed realizes that Namor’s suit was a diversion, Doom’s antidote having changed his body chemistry, and as the time runs out, Namor—back in his green trunks—flies off to be teleported by Doom… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “I escaped Skull the Slayer to take this on,” Englehart recalled, “and it was a whole lot more fun.  For one thing, I got to work with Herb Trimpe again.  For another, it was an intrinsically goofy idea—[Doom and Namor] fight the worldbecause they naturally have to lose, and who wants a book about losers?  Well, people who don’t know that that’s what it’s about, and that’s where the fun for a writer comes in.  You dazzle ’em with footwork.  Unrelated to the above is the happy fact that Subby lost his leathers between issues 5 and 6.  But totally related was my creation of the Shroud in #6 [sic] to be a third force somewhere between the villains and the heroes.  He was a combination of the Shadow and the Batman, both favorites of mine,” as Steve wrote on his site.

The splash-page hype (“the reaffirmation of comics’ most awesome legends!”) is a bit much, but if Trimpe insists on drawing something besides the Hulk, he has ironically done far worse than frequent faculty whipping boy Perlin as an inker.  I’d forgotten that Stainless created the Shroud in the first of his four issues, although his admittedly derivative origin is kept a mystery for now, which only adds to the character’s considerable appeal.  This is both a rare chance for Englehart to write the Bronze-Age FF, which he does rather well—foreshadowing his 30-issue run on their own book, starting in 1987—and a solid start to his short but memorable SVTU stint, changing the characters’ dynamic, charting a new course, and setting in motion some interesting story lines.

Chris: Doom finally finds a way to compel Namor’s Atlantean forces to support him: he knows that, despite having been coerced, the Fishman won’t welch on his word.  I believe this is the first appearance of the Shroud; he’ll play as a wild card in the proceedings, but in all honesty, I don’t see how he could ever have sufficient mojo to take down Big Daddy Doom.  Extra Points to Steve E, as he gives Namor a moment to apologize for his impertinence, and thank Reed for his efforts, instead of charging off in a huff like he usually does.

The art wavers its way between looking Trimpean, and appearing Perlovian.  Perlin usually can be counted on to provide a decent job as an inker, and I think this team might be suitable for other titles, but certainly not anything that involves the FF; while Namor looks decent and Doom appears adequate, the Thing (still rock-piled in this mag, as opposed to his present fleshy state in FF) looks like something I might draw.  

The Mighty Thor 246
"The Fury of Firelord!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

As Thor and his friends relax at Jane Foster's New York apartment,  a news story catches their attention. In the small country of Coste Verde,  a group of rebels  is attempting to usurp power from President Elmirez. The rebels have a curious ally: the Firelord! Thor and Jane head to Coste Verde, and after a less than friendly greeting, Elmirez points them in the rebels' direction. In Asgard,  Odin continues his ways of madness, perhaps under the influence of his new right hand man Igron. Balder may soon be in trouble when word of his objections gets back to the All-Father. General El Lobo leads the rebels, but he has a secret weapon in a gypsy woman who has hypnotized Firelord into believing in their cause --and blanked his memory of past events. The opposing forces meet,  and a furious battle between Thor and Firelord ensues. The former seems to be gaining the upper hand until Jane is held at gunpoint,  giving the gypsy woman a chance to hypnotize Thor too! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Another revolution in a discontented country sets the stage here. There's a number of interesting things going on: Odin has now clearly lost it (Len Wein has got something up his sleeve); there's an Odin quest in the not too distant future-- some ground rules may be getting established here; and Firelord has a welcome return-- even under the hypnosis he still struggles with his memory and morals. The gypsy woman's powers are interesting  (she may be the power behind El Lobo's hijinks); Jane (with a little bit of Sif) is getting a chance to get in on some action here, including a change to a more alluring attire. She must be a little tired after hanging onto Thor for the long flight down there however.

Matthew:  Although the Thunder God is technically part of the Marvel Universe, the Asgardian nature of his customary milieu and supporting cast have a distancing effect (you know he’s not gonna have a crossover with Daredevil, for example), which exemplifies my disappointment that the even-better-than-usual efforts of my favorite Buscinnott art team aren’t devoted to a more mainstream strip.  Be that as it may, it’s good to see Firelord back, and of course Len has to find a creative way to make him and Thor foes instead of friends again, at least temporarily.  Now, I understand that Balder’s probably supposed to be naively idealistic, but if he’s dumb enough to talk treason—loudly—in a crowded meadhall, well, he sorta deserves whatever happens to him...

The Tomb of Dracula 43
"Paul Butterworth -- The Night-Staker!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Bernie Wrightson

It's snowing on the brutal streets of Boston, as a newspaper writer and photographer named Paul Butterworth types furiously in his office.  Butterworth relates throughout the story that he's been following the string of murders committed by Dracula. After hearing a radio advertisement for writer Harold H. Harold's newest magazine, recounting his own dealings with Dracula, Butterworth pays the hack a visit.  Under the phoney pretense of interviewing him for the newspaper, Butterworth is able to get from Harold the address the vampire hunters are staying at.  The newspaperman visits the vampire hunters and they tell Butterworth about Blade's recent battle with Drac. Unbeknownst to all, the Count stops by to attack them again and Butterworth earns the Count's hatred when he joins the fray armed with a cross.  Eventually, Dracula flies off  and Butterworth returns to his office to write the big story.  The vengeful Dracula tracks him to the newspaper headquarters and tries to kill him but Butterworth is able to evade the vampire until the sun comes up.  Once again Dracula flees while vowing vengeance at a later date.  The story ends with Butterworth trying to explain to his boss why the office is in such a wreck.  Of course, when he develops the photos he took of his encounters with Drac, the vampire's image does not appear. -Tom McMillion

Mark: Sure, Gene can take cover duty off, if his replacement is Bernie Wrightson, whose highly-stylized cover is menacing, erotic, and billboards an actual scene, if not with plot point exactitude.   
Once inside, we're in the ghoulishly good hands of Colan & Palmer, from the outside-in-the-snow, high camera angle splash page intro of reporter Paul Butterworth, to the silent, multi-panel Drac-attack (P. 6) and the door-splintering ferocity of the Count's grand (Guignol) entrance (P.17). Superior art elevates any comic, not that Marv's "Night-Staker" riff needs much help. As Butterfield, in goofy Carl Kolchak-like hat, follows the neck-tapped victim trail, Wolfman gets good mileage out of Harold as unreliable witness, explains the Vampire-repelling difference between a Crucifix and a cross, while working in Harker, Blade & co and keeping our intrepid reporter's fate in doubt until the final page.

The sunrise saves Butterworth. Drac's failure to photograph torpedoes his story. At least he wasn't run out of town with Simon Oakland.

Chris: You can always count on the threat of impending death to amp up the excitement effectively in your story. The opening bit with Butterworth is a curious choice here, though; I can't tell whether Marv deliberately wanted to play with our expectations (since we all figured that the splash page would feature Blade aiming a hickory stick at Drac's hollow heart, right?), or if Marv simply felt like taking a break from the usual linear storytelling. 

Another strange choice is Harold's unprecedented grasp at heroism; up to now, he's been unashamed to admit his cowardice (and the consequences inflicted by daring action on his delicate constitution). But this time, he's put himself squarely in the middle of the Drac fight. Could it be that Harold's experience of seeing up-close the beady eyes and fangy mouth of the vampire's vampire, and still managing to live thru it and (literally) tell the tale, has caused a conversion for our chronically craven chronicler?

Warlock 12
"A Trollish Tale!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Steve Leialoha
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha

Pip and Adam drink at Mama Alpha’s Cabaret on Sirus X (formerly Homeworld), but when Adam departs for the stars to ponder the riddles that trouble him, Pip must instigate a brawl to get out of paying his tab and making good on promises to Mama.  Leaving the cabaret, he is invited into the pleasure cruiser of Heater Delight, who offers “unbelievable pleasure” in exchange for cutting the wire holding her enslaved, while Adam’s introspection is curtailed as he sees that the stars are vanishing.  Stealing wire cutters from an electronics shop, Pip frees Heater, which triggers a signal to her owner, Pro-Boscis the Procurer, yet after Pip topples a column of boulders on him, Heater reveals that his “reward” is the cruiser and departs with her beau…Eros! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The division of labor remains largely unchanged through #14, with Starlin handling the layouts and story, although Leialoha is credited here with coloring as well as finished art.  Jim called this breather “an advantage comics had back then that modern comics don’t have.  Everyone came back to these comics, paid a quarter, found out what was happening to these characters, and once you finished a big storywhich Kirby showed me how to do with his Thor books, he’d have Thor sent off to the end of the universe by Mangog or something like that, and then go back to Earth and have an ice cream soda and kick the Wrecking Crew’s ass, just for funand that was what I was doing, except instead of an ice cream shop, it was a bordello,” as he told Newsarama.

I think Pip’s a great character (who here relates his past as Prince Gofern of Laxidazia, a human transformed by a night of debauchery in a nearby encampment of trolls) but wouldn’t necessarily center an entire issue on him, especially knowing now how few are left.  Still, if you’re going to do a light-hearted change-of-pace story, the brooding Adam—whose ruminations while sitting atop an asteroid no bigger than he are a visual delight—is admittedly an unlikely subject.  The cameo by Eros, who had little to do during the Thanos War, shows Jim’s penchant for keeping his creations in play; without immediate access to the original text, I think I recall Thanos referring to him as “my frivolous brother,” and of course Eros later became the Avenger Starfox.

Mark: A little levity from Mr. S; not his natural métier, but no matter since "A Trollish Tale" is a droll diversion, proof Starlin can gear down from Fate of the Galaxy Stakes to the underdog comedy of Pip trying to get laid.

With our angsty, soliloquy-spouting hero reduced to co-star duty on a tiny asteroid, Jim introduces two winsome females, Rubenesque cabaret owner Mama Alpha, troll-lover and no slouch in a bar fight, and babeilicious, blue-skinned Heater Delight, who Pip just knows lives up to that name, even if she didn't fly around in a purple-draped "pleasure cruiser." 

Chris: It’s fairly customary to follow-up a major storyline with a one-shot interlude.  Starlin being Starlin, he’s able to take this convention and go two steps further with it, not only as he turns the focus to a supporting character, but also by turning him loose in a comic mode.  Tomb of Dracula might be the only title that you’d expect to be less likely to provide a comedy-themed issue.  It helps that Pip (the Starlin id unleashed?) is such a fun character.  Volstagg is Marvel’s only character with a similarly clownish quality, and I don’t see Len letting him take over Thor for an issue anytime soon.  Pip isn’t ashamed to run from a fight, but that’s where the similarity ends; while Volstagg employs bluster to hide his cowardice, Pip will tell you straight-up: he has a well-honed self-preservation instinct.  

Who knew that trolls are made, not born?  I guess your mother’s warnings about “the company you keep” turned out to be true, after all.  I love the bit when Pip’s painting “starscapes,” and employing his most earnest effort (eyes goggled, tongue wagging) to the task of applying white spots to a black background.  Great fun!

Mark: But we also learn she's an enslaved sex worker, literally handcuffed to the flying bordello by human(oid) trafficker, Pro-Boscis. Yet when Heater offers "unbelievable pleasure" in return for freeing her, not just Pip, but I'd argue Jim and the horny, adolescent target-audience, have one goal in mind, and it's not immediate emancipation. 
That said, it's not fair to judge a 39 year old funny book by today's more (hopefully) enlightened standards of ethical behavior, but I couldn't read P.15 ("Do you think I chose to lead this sort of life?" Heater asks Pip. "I was sold into slavery and forced into this work!") without wondering how many dump trucks of tar and feathers a certain subset of internet trolls (P.C.-feminist division) would demand be applied to Jim Starlin if he wrote such a story today.

Back in mid-70's Marvel-land, Starlin's comic touches prove he was just having a goof, from the name "Pro-Boscis the Procurer" (and his red, Gene Simmons platform boots), to the impractical pleasure cruiser, flown through space by a robo-pilot that should be taking orders at a Jack-in-the-Box drive-thru, purple drapes flapping.

As if Heater isn't enough to take your breath away.   

Also This Month

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes #5

Kid Colt Outlaw #205
Marvel Classics Comics #4
Marvel Double Feature #15 >
Marvel Tales #66
Spidey Super Stories #16
Two-Gun Kid #129
Weird Wonder Tales #15


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 23
Cover by Ken Barr

"Bridge of Sorrow, Bridge of Pain"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Revenge is the Jack of Hearts"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Gil Kane and Rico Rival

Iron Fist must battle the masked Silver Dragon on the Bridge of Pain and if he falls, so does Jade, the woman he loves, even now being held captive by Dhasha Khan. After a well-placed kick to the noggin, Silver Dragon's mask falls away and reveals her secret identity to be Danny's mother, Heather. We see how, after Heather had died while protecting a young Danny, her soul had drifted to Feng-Tu and she had become a servant of Khan. Breaking the spell Khan has cast over her, Heather gives her "life" once more for her son and this throws Iron Fist into a rage. Before he can pummel Khan into the dirt, the evil genius transports them back to earth where he holds the upper hand.

There's a lot of interesting things going on in "Bridge of Sorrow, Bridge of Pain" so all the nuances and intricacies can be hard to follow even given the right illustrator but, clearly, Rudy Nebres is not that guy. I'm going to sound like a broken mp3 but any clever twist or turn Chris has come up with in his script is buried beneath the indecipherable visuals (although, to be fair, when Rudy decides to use good old fashioned panel lines to distinguish the scenes - as shown below, he's a hell of a good artist). I can't see anyone making their way through all 18 pages of this gobbledygook unless they're expected to for a blog! That's unfortunate as there really are some bits here that piqued my interest, chief among them the return of Danny's dead mother, Heather, and her "origin" story.

The White Tiger battles new foe Jack of Hearts on a Brooklyn rooftop. When the Tiger is seemingly beaten, Jack relates his origin (son of a murdered chemist, exposed to super formula, out for vengeance), which gives the Tiger long enough to get his wind and launch a counter-attack. The fight carries them both over the roof and on to the pavement below, where the police have arrived with lots of questions for the battling superheroes. Meanwhile in the Sahara, Abe Brown has successfully crash-landed the hijacked jumbo jet he'd been traveling on but most of the passengers have been killed. Wanting answers, he follows terrorist The Mole across the desert but then is badly wounded when the thug opens fire. Just as he's about to finish off Abe, a band of men on camels comes and takes both of them away.

Well, as with the previous installments, there are a lot of plot threads to contend with and, unfortunately, some begin to unravel. Jack's reason for attacking our hero is tenuous at best (he heard one of the thugs who killed his father mention that they'd be meeting "the Tiger in Brooklyn") and the entire battle scene is predicated on the first rule of MARMIS -- "Never explain to the other guy exactly why you're attacking him until the battle is almost through." Then, the climax of the battle is a great example of MARMIS rule number 2: "Attacker must make an abrupt, 180-degree change in his attitude, apologize and admit he may have jumped the gun!" The comedic relief (Mr. Gomez has just polished his brand-new Lincoln, one he saved up for six years to buy. mere moments before Jack converts it to rubble) would have been amusing in a Pink Panther flick but not in an otherwise serious-as-all-hell martial-arts superhero story, and merely slows the action down. The Abe Brown subplot continues to be the one that holds my interest the most but who knows where "Angry Young Man"-tlo will take that after Abe and his nemesis, The Mole, are carted away by Arabs? Jack's origin is mighty pedestrian, I must say. Other than a few up-the-nose give aways, I'd have never spotted Gil Kane's work under Rico's heavy inking. Don't get me wrong though; the art is the polar opposite of the illegible delineation we endured in the opening act and quite pleasing to the eye. -Peter Enfantino

Marvel Preview 6
Cover by Ken Barr

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Part II
From the Story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Tony DeZuniga

I think I could have read three Sherlock Holmes tales in the time it took me to get through this second part of The Hound of the Baskervilles adaptation. Seriously, it's packed with details and words and is a struggle to finish. Reminds me of high school! Mayerik does his best to make it look cinematic with some nice art, but the script has me reaching for the Cliff Notes. Yet, we must prattle on…

After a self-serving Archie Goodwin editorial and a nearly three page recap of last issue that also seems too long, Holmes and Watson follow Sir Henry and Mortimer, spotting a bushy-bearded man in a carriage who takes off when he realizes he's been discovered. Paying a messenger to search the wastepaper baskets of the hotels, Holmes & Watson visit Sir Henry at his hotel, finding out his boots have been stolen and his butler cannot be trusted. Back at Baker Street, the paper search goes for naught, and Holmes sends Watson to Devonshire along with Sir Henry, asking he write to him regarding anything having bearing on the case. And to avoid the moor during dark...

Before arriving at Baskerville Hall, Watson and Sir Henry learn of an escaped murderer, Selden, who is loose in the countryside. The next morning, a mysterious sobbing woman leads Watson to be suspicious of Barrymore the butler, and during a walk in the moor, he meets naturalist Stapleton, with whom he witnesses a horse sucked into The Great Grimpen Mire. Ewwwww….Suddenly, Stapleton's sister Beryl appears, warning Watson to go back to London immediately, and later expressing her belief that the Hell-Hound will take Sir Henry's life.

The script then shifts to the letters of Watson to Holmes, where he visited Stapleton's home again and witnessed the attraction between Beryl and Sir Henry, then the next day Mortimer's recollection of Sir Charles' demise. Another neighbor, elderly Mr. Frankland appears to be a nosy old coot who bears watching. In the middle of the night, Watson finds Barrymore sleepwalking and gazing upon the moors from a window, hot on the heels of Watson's suspicions about Mrs. Barrymore. The Second Report finds Watson trying to figure out why Barrymore was looking out the window, then following Sir Henry to a rendezvous with Beryl, interrupted by an angry Stapleton, who later shows up to apologize, adding to the baffling behavior.

Watching for Barrymore, Henry & Watson follow him towards a mysterious light in the distance, which turns out to be Mrs. Barrymore's brother, the escaped convict Selden! Then another mysterious man is spotted, then a deadly howl…things are getting creepy! They're asked to leave Selden alone, then Watson investigates Laura Lyons, Frankland's daughter, who was involved with Sir Charles in that she asked him to help her escape her husband. Getting more mysterious…

Frankland tells Watson he has spotted Selden through his privacy-busting telescope, where Watson discovers someone has been watching him—Holmes! The master detective has been here all along, watching from the shadows not because he didn't trust Watson, but maybe is just a control freak who can't stay away from a good case? His reasons are a little vague, to be honest. Out of nowhere, the two men hear a terrible scream, and rush to see Sir Henry jumped by the hound and his skull crushed! But wait…it's not Sir Henry, it's Selden, dressed in Sir Henry's clothes! And Stapleton is mysteriously around to ask questions….

Looking at family portraits, Holmes deduces Stapleton is probably a Baskerville descendant, possibly of the evil Rodger Baskerville, who was disinherited. Then H & W say they will head to London, but stay behind, leaving false trails, to learn some truth from Laura Lyons—Stapleton was responsible for the letter to Sir Charles. Inspector Lestrade arrives, and two hours later the trio arrive at Stapleton's home to witness the naughty naturalist taking Sir Henry's stolen boot to the shed, then witness Sir Henry traveling the moor, with a growling hound watching from the fog…Holmes rushes to Sir Henry's aid, tackling the hound, kicking it free, shooting it five times, then realizing it was a bloodhound-mastiff mix, smeared with a substance to give it an eerie glow. Rushing back to nab Stapleton, they find he's on the run, where he sinks into the deadly mire, ending the case, and the life of one of the most dangerous men Holmes and Watson have ever hunted.

Whew.... Is it possible this story was ten or twelve pages longer on second read? Sure felt that way! At least there was some excitement at the end. And I wonder why I never get any sleep. Man, these mags can go on and on and on….The letters page teases Marvel might be doing a regular B&W Holmes mag due to popular demand. Oh boy, that could be trouble for the entire University!

Coming attractions tell us next issue will be "Titan," a rework of the Philip Wylie novel Gladiator, however it'll be three more issues before it actually surfaces. Under a different name, yet! Talk about the opposite of "elementary"!

Planet of the Apes 19
Cover by Bob Larkin

"Demons of the Psychedrome"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Ploog and Tom Sutton

"The Savage is King"
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Chapter 4
Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Another fine Bob Larkin cover has us wanting more, and inside we get the return of our original story, with Mike Ploog at the helm! But things are slightly different because Tom Sutton is also on artwork, so the characters look like they're hung over. Yet, it's still Terror, reason enough for excitement, so let's read on!

Brutus and his men, including mutants, get assistance from Maguanus and his Assisimians and are hot on the trail of Jason, Alex, and "Magick-Man" Lightsmith again. The Wonder Wagon reaches its destination, searching for the Psychedrome, and it’s a peaceful town run by a Shaman. As part of their welcome, the travelers are given buttons, from the holy cactus plants, that are said to give people "beautiful dreams". Lightsmith does not partake, and asks the Shaman to take him to the Psychedrome, which he does in return for one of his "magic talismans", and they reach the entrance. Meantime, Jason has strange visions involving Brutus, then one where Alex is kissing Malaguena—which turns out to be real! Lightsmith stops Jason from hurting his friend, who is in disbelief that he was kissing a human, most likely under the influence of the "button". The next morning, neither can really remember what happened, as they join Lightsmith in using boomsticks to open the silvery door to the Psychedrome. As they enter, winged monkey-demons carry Lightsmith off and attach electrodes to his skull, while outside, Brutus' minions arrive, and fire a war machine into the city! The resulting avalanche seals the opening, and as Lightsmith is turned into a "good person", Jason and Alex realize they are trapped in a bizarre place—and the monkey-demons are waiting with swords drawn!

A wild and weird tale that's one of the most confusing chapters in the Terror saga. What the heck is going on exactly? Well, hopefully next issue will shed some light on this one. Plenty of odd visions, poor Lightsmith gets his brain turned to mush, and Brutus is still around to cause way too much trouble for our heroes. I certainly missed this story, but as I said already, it's a bit different due to the look of the art and the crazy script.


After a quick skim of the Jim Whitmore article "Simian Visions: The Written Worlds of the Apes," an honest look at the Apes novels, including an in-depth review of the Pierre Boulle novel everything was based on, we're on to Conquest Part IV.  When Armando jumps to his death. Gov Breck and
MacDonald discuss this with Caesar in earshot, hearing Brent will look for the "intelligent ape" and break all his enemies. An angry Caesar starts rallying the apes in the city, starting with Aldo, and including apes of all sorts, getting kerosene, guns and ammo, and knives with some cool forgery and charisma. Chief Inspector Kolp discovers there was a delivery with a chimpanzee from Borneo, but there are no chimps in Borneo! Breck gets the info and orders MacDonald to find Caesar, but instead he tries to hide him…until Caesar reveals himself as the talking ape!

Things get rolling in chapter IV, with Caesar starting to take shape as the leader he was born to be. There are times that the art is a little wacky, like MacDonald's hands in the final panel, and endless close-ups of people talking on phones, but it's still well-done and certainly whets the appetite for the action yet to come! -Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 11
Cover Art Ken Barr

“The Abode of the Damned”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Yong Montano

“El Borak the Barbarian”
Text by Fred Blosser
“The Scribes of Hyboria”
Text by Fred Blosser

“Conan and the Tower of Vinyl”
Text by Ed Summer

“Swords and Scrolls”

Another ultra-lengthy installment this month, as Roy, John and Yong adapt Robert E. Howard’s “The Country of the Knife” (Complete Stories, August 1936) with 50 beautifully illustrated and written pages. Howard’s original was an El Borak story, but with “The Abode of the Damned,” the crack creative team makes it a Conan tale through and through.

Beautiful tavern owner Mellani — a former prostitute known as Mellani of the Many Men in her past life — finds her brother, Darami, assassinated outside her establishment. With his last breath, Darami tells her that the infamous city of thieves known as the Abode of the Damned has a new ruler, Abdel Khafir: however, Khafir’s real name is Nikolav Yvonn. Bent on revenge, Mellani rides out to the Abode, but is soon captured by a gang of Dark Tigers, murderous Abode bandits led by Khafir. Before reaching their stronghold, the Tigers reluctantly let a lone rider named Skirkuh of Zamore join their motley caravan: the Zamorian is actually Conan in Arabesque disguise. The group is ultimately joined by three more men, a strange trio of identical looking bald and black-eyed beings.

When the group reaches the Abode, a great walled city atop an imposing mountain range, Conan/Skirkuh is denied entry: but after killing the head guard he earns the respect and welcome of Bellisar Khan, Abdel Khafir’s main rival. Mellani is thrown into a dungeon to be sold into slavery the next day. Khafir visits her during the night, demanding to know what her brother told the woman before he died. When she reveals that Darami told her that his real name is Nikolav Yvonn, Khafir admits that it is indeed true. He is actually a Turanian, bitter enemies of those who abide in the Abode, and a spy sent by King Yezdigerd to infiltrate the Dark Tigers. But when he managed to become their leader, Yvonn/Khafir decided to abandon his mission and enjoy the spoils that come with being Emir. Before leaving, Khafir informs Mellani that he will purchase her the next day and promptly kill her, keeping his secret safe.

Conan/Skirkuh, meanwhile, convinces Bellisar Khan to loan him the money to win Mellani himself, claiming it will help overthrow Khafir. After Conan outbids Khafir, the enraged Emir orders the slave auction closed. When the disguised barbarian bellows that this is against sacred tradition, cutthroat citizenry who support Khan revolt, chanting “All hail tradition” and “All hail Bellisar Khan.” But suddenly, one of the thieves recognizes Conan, former Chief of the Zuagirs, sworn blood foes of the Adobe, and a small group attacks the Cimmerian. Conan sweeps Mellani on to his mount and cuts a swath through the crowd, finding temporary shelter in a stout building. Inside, the barbarian and the woman encounter the strange trio of black-eyed men. They show Conan an image of a dazzling jewel inside of Abdel Khafir’s sprawling treasure room: suddenly, it begins to bubble and change into a quickly growing gelatinous mass that devours everything it comes in contact with, stone, metal or flesh. 

The alien-like trio leads the Cimmerian and Mellani outside and through the still rampaging crowd, weaving an otherworldly spell that makes them invisible. But when Conan spots Abdel Khafir, he charges at the Emir, knocking the man unconscious. He throws Khafir over his shoulder and joins the bald men and Mellani as they mount horseback and ride from the carnage. When at a distance, the beings tell everyone to close their eyes as the bubbling mass consumes the Abode and half of the mountain it sat upon. However Khafir cannot resist and looks at the carnage, driven mad by the incredible sight. The black-eyed men tell the former Emir that he will spend the rest of his days studied on their star-spinning world — Conan and Mellani head towards Zamboula.

While this one does have its fair share of Hyborian violence, there is a lot of political maneuvering that I left out of my still long summary. Not to mention bald aliens, something I’m not sure we have encountered in a Conan comic. They reminded me of the Thern from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter novels. Not sure what they were really up to — seems like a lot of to do for an abduction. Watch out for those anal probes Abdel. Basically, Conan comes across like the Man with No Name in A Fistful of Dollars, pitting various Abode rivals against each other in his clever mission to destroy the city of thieves. Sorry to keep beating a dead horse, but few inkers enhance the powerful pencils of John Buscema like the crew of Filipinos that Marvel employed at the time: Yong Montano is no exception. You can feel his effort in every panel, as he painstakingly added small details and shading that most likely didn’t exist in Big John’s originals layouts. I’m all a-giddy knowing that the awesome Alfredo Alcala will be handling the inks next issue. Wheeeee!

The three bonus articles continue the high quality of Savage Sword text pieces. Since “The Abode of the Damned” was an adaptation of an El Borak story, we have Fred Blosser’s absolutely appropriate “El Borak the Barbarian,” a brief, two-page history of Howard’s lesser-known Texan gunfighter. The character traveled the world and settled in Afghanistan, so names like Abdel Khafir and Bellisar Khan seem to fit with his adventures. Blosser is back with “The Scribes of Hyboria,” four pages that spotlight the numerous Howard/Conan fanzines available at the time, including Amra and Cross Plains, the latter taking its name from the author’s hometown. Finally “Conan and the Tower of Vinyl” is a piece about Robert E. Howard’s Conan, a record that collects radio dramas of both “The Frost Giant’s Daughter” and “The Tower of the Elephant.” By Crom, Roy Thomas was involved so it must have been of high quality — if not high fidelity. -Thomas Flynn

“El Borak and the Barbarians” by Fred Blosser

A Special Postscript by Professor Gilbert Colon
Master of Dusty Pulps

No, you read right – not Bran Mak Morn or Brak, but Borak, as in “El Borak,” Robert E. Howard’s pulp adventurer Francis X. Gordon, partly modeled on “El Aurens” (aka Lawrence of Arabia).  Fred Blosser, in this issue’s concise and excellent introductory essay “El Borak and the Barbarians,” also attributes inspiration to “the Jimgrim novels of Talbot Mundy and Harold Lamb’s stories of adventure laid in Central Asia.”  

It is good to see a magazine called Savage Sword of Conan not forget the other Howard characters who do not bear the name Conan.  Besides Conan the Cimmerian, REH created dozens of original characters, few of whom are ever adapted to the comic medium.  Some exceptions are Marvel’s many Kull and Solomon Kane yarns, Red Sonja if that counts, some Bran Mak Morn, and Kirowan and Conrad (which will be the subject of a future “Weird Marvel Tales” Sunday Special if a certain professor can ever get his act together!).  

What is less good is that Savage Sword of Conan never got around to an El Borak story, nor did anyone else during the “Bronze Age” for that matter.  It was not until 2013 that Dark Horse Comics told two tales in their Robert E. Howard’s Savage Sword series, and neither of those were even adaptations.  

As Professor Flynn points out, this issue includes Blosser’s essay because Marvel adapts REH’s original pulp yarn “The Country of the Knife” (Street & Smith’s Complete Stories, August 1936) into the Conan tale “The Abode of the Damned.”  There is no crime in this – Howard “cannibalized” himself on occasion, as did several pulp writers – but it is a shame for no one to get around to the rest of his prolific literary output as they were originally written.  Why not make room for both?  (Not under the same cover of course, but after all, Savage Sword of Conan racked up more issues than there were Doc Savage novels!)    

The art of Mike Kaluta, “hitherto best known for his work in the comics medium,” dominates these three pages, each drawing a portrait of the “Texan of Gaelic descent who drifts into Afghanistan and becomes known as El Borak (‘The Swift’) among the barbaric tribesmen of Hindu Kush.”  These illustrations are reproduced from The Lost Valley of Iskander (1974), a collection of El Borak tales “[o]ut of print for some four decades” and anthologized by FAX Collector’s Editions (one of the day’s “new fantasy house[s]”).  (In 1977, FAX published another anthology, Son of the White Wolf, that volume illustrated by Marcus Boas.)  For Lost Valley, Kaluta “contributes a sumptuous dustjacket, three color plates, and numerous black-and-white illustrations (including a grimly effective series of severed heads to decorate each chapter of ‘Hawk of the Hills’).”  

FAX’s half-dozen REH volumes from the 1970s, only two of which are devoted to El Borak, are today long out of print, but Francis Xavier Gordon’s adventures, collected by Del Rey, are currently available in the one-volume El Borak and Other Desert Adventures.  (Kaluta’s rugged black-and-white sketches are not unlike Jim & Ruth Keegan and Tim Bradstreet’s style of illustration adopted by the Del Rey series of Howardiana.)  For collectors there is the pricier REH Foundation edition The Early Adventures of El Borak.  

—Professor Gilbert


  1. I somehow managed to miss the 3 best picks of this batch when they were all new on the stands, MOKF, X-Men and Warlock. I'll give "Fight without Pity" the highest marks for story & art. Starlin's trollish tale is a lot of fun, with a lot of risqué humor that would not have passed muster with the CCA just a few years earlier. Meanwhile, Claremont and Cockrum are starting their first big X-Men epic, which would have some major impacts on several of our merry mutants, most especially Jean whose presence in this issue marks her return as at least a regular member of the cast even if not quite as a full-time member of the team. Very likely not a direction Len Wein would have taken if he had remained as the team's scribe, but fortunately Claremont determined she had too much potential to keep out of the series.

  2. Prof Matthew - in re your comments for Spotlight #27; you might be interested to know that Gil Kane's illustrated Jungle Book stories (I don't remember whether they had been adapted by Roy Thomas, or perhaps someone else) finally saw the light of day in Al Milgrom's hodgepodge of inventory materials known as Marvel Fanfare, circa 1983.