Wednesday, June 17, 2015

May 1976 Part One: Howard the Duck, Master of Quak Fu!

Howard the Duck 3
"Four Feathers of Death!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by John Buscema and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Rich Buckler and Steve Leialoha

Howard is disparaging a kung fu movie he has just seen with Bev; he continues to complain about the simplification of the traditions of an ancient culture, and the glorification of violence, as he and Bev duck (!) into a diner.  Suddenly, a young teen (who had also been in the theatre) comes crashing in, thru the window!  He’s followed by a thug who calls himself Count Macho, who’s reacted unfavorably to the teen’s kung-fu feint on the sidewalk.  Howard suggests the lout back off, and gets a backhand for his troubles; a diner-wide brawl ensues.  During the melee, the teen is knifed, and is losing blood; Bev accompanies the teen as the police take him to the nearest hospital.  Howard seeks distraction in a local bookstore, and (in a magazine called Deadly Feet of Kung Fu) finds an ad for a local instructor of martial arts, and purveyor of proverbs.  Howard asks for help to bring down the mayhem-inflicting “maniac"; in reply, the master asks Howard what he knows of his opponent.  Howard brandishes a medallion that had fallen when Howard tackled Macho; the master recognizes it as belonging to a former student, and resolves to help Howard teach a new lesson to this ruffian.  Three hours and seventeen minutes later, Howard is back on the street, having completed “a lifetime of study” in those few hours – Howard now is the Master of Quak Fu.  When he returns home, he finds a vaguely-worded note stuck to Bev’s door; Howard grimly infers that Bev is the prisoner of the ill-mannered Macho.  Howard finds them at a building site, where Macho is threatening to hurl Bev to the street below unless she helps him locate Howard, and the medallion.  Howard uses his new moves to bowl over Macho’s minion-mates, and then goads the big clod to attack by calling him a “sissy.”  Howard nimbly avoids all of Macho’s moves, until the fully-enraged lout dives for Howard, and instead plunges from the platform.  Bev informs Howard that the teen has died; she and Howard agree that the young man was more fully developed than the supposedly-adult tough guy.  -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Steve G had established something unique with Howard’s riotously satirical early appearances, so the descent into real-life violence – with two people dying, no less – comes off as a bit harsh.  Steve’s description of the brawl’s fury as a sort of loosed animal feels like a moment better suited to the pages of Man-Thing.  Now, I’m not saying that Howard the Duck has to be joyfully ridiculous all the time, but his fifth-ever solo appearance feels too soon to be drawing us back to heavier themes that are more at-home in many of Marvel’s other titles.  I would’ve expected that Steve might’ve taken more time to establish this title’s peculiar voice before he went off in this direction.
That being said, the kung-fu training sequence is spot-on.  Howard – called “pondhopper” by the master – is challenged to several tests (“Is it better to be a dead butterfly, or a live caterpillar?”) and gets them all wrong, as would any one of us.  Because he’s the student, right?  The inevitable training montage is great too, right down to the close-up of Howard’s fierce effort to split the stack of boards (with his four-fingered, white-gloved hand).  
We shouldn’t have to say anything else about Big John Buscema by now, but it bears mentioning that he gets Howard’s look just right.  Page 30 features a number of references to our favorite kung-fu master; the last panel, featuring Howard snagging Macho’s knife in mid-air with his fingertips, made me laugh out loud.  
I really hope that Englehart & Starlin, and Moench & Gulacy, took all this in the right spirit.  
Matthew Bradley: Brunner having decamped, I was surprised to see Big John step in for one issue before Gentleman Gene becomes the book’s permanent artistLeialoha’s inks providing continuity throughoutbut then again, he’d worked well with Gerber on Howard’s parent strip, and he’s my favorite penciler, so why the hell not?  If forced to find fault with the artwork, I would argue that Count Macho was the weakest link, usually looking like some sort of hysterical self-parody, yet Buscema nails Howard perfectly, and the supporting cast looks just fine.  Even without being a MOKF reader, I can sense that the parody is also dead-on (love “Master C’haaj”) and Steve’s observations, courtesy of consummate outsider Howard, characteristically trenchant.

Mark Barsotti: "He died a caterpillar, the kid died a butterfly..."

With that closing line, Howard dispenses a pearl of Eastern Wisdom equal to all such served up in early Master of Kung Fu, and this at the end of a tale in which Gerber first critiques the Kung Fu craze ("You misrepresent an ancient philosophy, package it as a violent entertainment..."), then lampoons the genre's tropes, right down to Howard meeting an old master and completing a "lifetime of study in three hours and seventeen minutes" to become a Master of Quak Fu!  

This being Gerberland, Howard's training takes place in the Lavender Flamingo adult bookstore, wherein he sees the ad for Master C'haaj in our Dean's beloved Deadly Feet of Kung Fu! And this being Gerberland, the real world stakes are high as a teenager is knifed and killed. His killer, Count Macho (that may be Gerber's "Paste-Pot-Pete." Hey, not every creative decision can be a gem), is bested by newly christened "Shang-Op" and takes a last page header off a skyscraper. Redemptive justice, perhaps, but neither Howard nor Bev feels any better.

Amazing Adventures 36
Killraven in
"Red Dust Legacy"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Dave Hunt
Cover by Craig Russell

December 2019, Nix Olympia Volcano on Mars, and Killraven sifts his fingers through red Martian dust. He knows the moons, the stars, the solitude, but finds himself at the center of a deadly tournament! Yet he's really in Georgia, in the Windsor Forest on Earth, on a mind-swap, and best bud M'Shulla gives Killraven some mead to settle him down, before a conversation with Old Skull about fallen comrades gives him pause. Cut to Yellowstone Park, where the High Overlord bathes in the spray of Old Faithful, met by the presence of Death-Raven, Killraven's long-lost brother! Next, a young Martian and old Martian slide through a replica of the Olympia Volcano region, entering the Birth Room, where an embryo is plucked from the young one. Killraven sees this in a vision, as the Freemen advance on the fortress, breaking in to destroy the alien incubators. Carmilla tries to stop Killraven from destroying the "defenseless birthlings," and there's only time for him to fire a couple of shots anyway. The Freemen escape the approaching Martians, only to find themselves in the middle of a faux Mars landscape, with giant tortoises thundering towards them. But a nifty silver star throw from Killraven downs one of the Martian riders, and he and his band escape, earning "a defeat in victory" by damaging the incubators according to their leader, who is able to enter the mind of the young Martian. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Big news from the Bullpen Bulletin about this title: "A word of caution to all readers of AMAZING ADVENTURES (and who among Marveldom isn't?), 'cause we've changed the name of our far-out future series once again, from Killraven, Warrior of the Worlds, back to the original War of the Worlds title. So, be sure to pick up the latest DON McGREGOR, CRAIG RUSSELL, KEITH GIFFEN, JACK ABEL masterwork. Under any title, it's still the best-selling science fiction series anywhere!"

Well, first of all, that's big news in that this title actually gets a mention in the Bulletin. Second, it's a month late. Third, it's not the same art team this time around. Lastly, it's one of the only sci-fi series around, so maybe that's not exactly a huge boast. But let's get to the issue at hand. One where I'm not sure what the heck is going on. It's another one-shot like last time around, but with some undertones of story by introducing Killraven's brother, before losing us in the tale of the Martians who look like a cross between The Green Slime and the dad from Sigmund & The Sea Monsters. ("Shello?") And do we care? Not so much. McGregor tries to give us some pathos in the form of the young and old Martians, but I ain't buyin' it, having seen all the dirty work they've done over the past umpteen issues. The artwork is otherworldly, full of luscious red landscapes and fantastic imagery like the Gamera knock-offs, but still missing something in the close-ups, which look more off than usual.

Chris: There’s more than a little confusion at work here, with a fair amount of it deliberately orchestrated by Don.  From the opening, of course, we have to reach the same conclusion as Killraven: somehow, his visions have allowed him to tap into a Martian mind – but this time, on Mars?  We learn a little more about Martian culture as we witness the “birthing” process, but we also observe the dispassionate approach the aliens bring to this moment.  The notion that some Earth-born Martians might be developing a mind-set that differs from their elders is a nice twist; just when we have the idea that most Martians have an anonymous sameness, we see that there can be variations in attitude that ultimately could undo the conquerors’ mission.  Another nifty reversal as Killraven’s need to defeat each and every Martian blinds him to the possibility that a raised tentacle could have been waving, not threatening.

There are only two points of the story that, to me, don’t quite add up: we see Death-Raven (well, sort of), and expect at first the High Overlord is there to challenge DR, but DR seems to be fawning to the HO; if so, then why does the HO accuse him of arrogance?  In addition, when the HO reveals to DR that Killraven is seeking him out, is the HO disclosing this because he expects DR to prepare to combat KR?  Also, over the question of killing the unborn Martians, KR’s and Carmilla’s threats to kill each other sound a false note; these two ordinarily are cool-headed in a fight, so it seemed they both got overheated much too abruptly.

Mark: The title jumped the tripod by "killing" Old Skull in #34 (evidence: he takes a full-power laser/flame blast in the chest, a wound that turns dust "to red mud by gushing blood," resulting in his "violent end"). Old Skull has no mutant healing factor, isn't placed in a magical healing chamber, there's no triage, not even a Band-Aid is applied to his wounds. Yet in #35, Big Baldie is alive and well, nary a scratch on his naked torso, bringing to mind the Monty Python knight, all his limbs hacked off in Holy Grail, insisting it's only a flesh wound.


But comics are a genre where death need not be final, so one might allow McGregor & Russell some resurrection wiggle room here if the title wasn't spiraling into incoherence as it barrels towards cancellation. 

M'Shulla comes up with mead out in the wild. Where? "The same place you keep finding to replace those (throwing) stars," M'Shulla smirks, one of which (the stars, not the M'Shulla) later explodes like a bomb simply because McGregor wants it to. Carmilla get irrationally paternal over a nursery full of baby Martians (prompting the fake showdown on the cover). The action slingshots from a Mars in Killy's mind, to a simulated Mars under a dome, both featuring odious, poop-mound Martians racing giant turtles (!) one of which (the Martian, not a turtle) apparently has non-genocidal thoughts regarding humans, and, cue the phony pathos, he's the one inadvertently killed (apparently) by our hero.

But it's probably only a flesh wound.  

Astonishing Tales 35
Deathlok the Demolisher in
"...And Once Removed From Never"
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

Deathlok careens through space, a light-beam inside the matrix, and evil Ryker is there also, as a naked light beam showing the cyborg memories of body barges, Manhattan being bombed, and the new metropolis of Long Island, ruled by Ryker himself. The two eventually grapple until Dr. Wilcox brings them back, but in the wrong bodies! A quick flow reversal, and Ryker is back in his body, but driven mad, just as brother Hellinger releases a radioactive "Manning clone." Deathlok is begrudgingly satisfied Ryker is no longer a threat, but Teresa Devereaux tells him Hellinger is a more serious concern. She takes the Demolisher to a lab where Dr. Wilcox is dying, his body a Manning clone, but they will save his brain patterns on tape (hopefully not Betamax!) like the President's. Next up is decoding Deathlok's brain patterns, implanting them into another Luther Manning clone, but the cyborg body is still alive! And Hellinger's radioactive clone is approaching! – Joe Tura

Joe: "This is It! The Final Battle!" promises the cover, featuring a deadly dance straight out of Beach Blanket Bingo between Ryker (thankfully wearing shorts) and Deathlok. And for once they're right! A strange ending to the Ryker shenanigans is partly unsatisfying since Deathlok doesn't get to blast him into the smithereens he deserves, but it's still OK since we don't have to be threatened by his reverse-type tiny print omni-computer any more. Of course, there's another threat in the form of Hellinger, who's creepier than Ryker ever was, and slightly more bold. And what's to become of the new Luther Manning, one of a zillion clones that keep popping up here, like a full season's worth of Orphan Black episodes. Well, it's wait and see, but Buckler, Mantlo and Janson certainly have our interest as to where this is going, with moody art, a partly gonzo script, and the introduction of the Dual Deathlok Dilemma. (I'm gonna trademark that one!)

Chris: We have a series of unexpected developments: Ryker seeking to share with Deathlok his dream of a new, ordered society constructed from the ashes of the old; Ryker finally losing his brittle mind, once he has first-hand experience of the half-life that is the norm for the Deathlok cyborg; beneficence of the CIA (as readers can’t help but share Deathlok’s trepidation that he’s being led into another trap, or double-cross); and finally, the brilliant notion that the Deathlok personality had developed significant integrity that it would survive, and continue to exist even after Luther Manning has been repositioned in a human body!  The only quibbles I have are: after all this build-up, the fateful showdown with Ryker is over fairly quickly; and, with so much material to cram into one issue (did Rich & Bill know that this title’s clock was ticking its way down -?), the whole thing feels a bit packed-together, and slightly rushed.

Unrelated thought: the image of parts of Manhattan exploding, due to the actions of unseen, unknown terrorists, is chilling.  

Matthew: Per the lettercol, “Readers complained [that Deathlok’s “third voice”] was too hard to follow or just plain confusing,” and a perceived “lack of depth” in delineating his future world was due to, “possibly, too many cooks in the kitchen.  Beginning next issue Rich is assuming full scripting chores,” with a new direction apparently planned, but alas, said issue will be the last for a strip that was never less than interesting and challenging, and while he doesn’t do the Full Monty (not that I need to see that), I can’t imagine Ryker running around buck naked in a Silver-Age book.  Creator/plotter/penciler Buckler’s vision remains an intriguing one, and he is ably aided by scripter Mantlo and inker/colorist Jansoneven if the latter’s efforts are uneven.

Mark: This is by no means a train wreck, but after ten issues and the king hell cliff-hanger of 'lok entering the Omni-Computer-Matrix to be greeted by Giant-Head-Ryker set-up last issue, I could have done without eleven pages of the rest of the Colonel's anatomy. A bold choice, sure, and I wasn't troubled by any homo-eroticism, implicit or explicit (or did Buckler offer this as a satire on the exploitation of female flesh in funnybooks?), but I was distracted by all the strategically placed, groin-blocking energy bolts, elbows and knees. Then I turned to page eleven and a pose that should reveal the Full Ryker, but of course does not (What if Robert Crumb had done a Marvel Mag???) leading one to conclude the Colonel is either a Ken doll, or hung like a mosquito.

That's not what I wanted the Big Finale to leave me pondering.

The Avengers 147
"Crisis on Other-Earth"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

Perez and Englehart are back on the scene here, which is warmly welcomed from the very first page: better writing, better artwork, better angles, right from the get-go after a two issue hiatus. Three issues ago, the Avengers had been plunged into Other-Earth by Roxxon oil chief to fight the Squadron Sinister, er... Supreme. The action starts right away, and even Hellcat gets some good licks in on the ultra-strong Hyperion. Then the Vison uses his disruption to put the kibosh on Lady Lark before she can get started with her singing. However, before they gain the complete advantage, the military rolls in with President Rockefeller, who just happens to be under the control of the Serpent Crown.

The Vision easily grabs the Crown and drops it into the hands of Wanda. The President confers, via thought, with Hugh Jones of Roxxon, who is also a slave to the Serpent Crown. The President says the Crown must not be damaged and the Avengers are apparently allowed to leave freely but the Crown begins to have a negative influence on Wanda, who attacks the Vision. The Squadron shows up and the Witch and the Vision easily handle them, showcasing their many talents. Vision subdues Hyperion with his disruption again and that takes care of the bad guys in short order.

Earlier, we are given one page of Thor and Moondragon, with Hawkeye and Kid Colt, returning to present-day Arizona, but thankfully we only have a page of that before getting back to the main action. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: In this issue, we have Perez showing a terrific step forward in his artwork, and Englehart’s script is concise and keeps the story moving quickly. More Serpent Crown storylines are to come, but for a start, this is extraordinary. Equally appealing is the side-by-side fighting of the Vision and Scarlet Witch. Amazing how these two take down the Squadron Supreme in just a handful of panels. Definitely looking forward to seeing how this storyline resolves.

Matthew: “Oh, my stars and garters,” indeed; pent-up desire caused by the two-part fill-in naturally makes this seem even better, but it really doesn’t need any help.  As always, Englehart expertly juggles action, exposition, and characterization, while Wanda’s lonely struggle with the Crown and its satisfyingly romantic love-conquers-all conclusion are at least as interesting as, if not more than, the “long-delayed donneybrook” (sic) with the Squadron.  In spite of its being compromised by a recidivist Colletta, the art by Pérez—finally accented, at least here if not on the FF—is a thing of beauty, with the blessedly prominent newlyweds coming off particularly well in both word and image, and since the Vision is one of my all-time favorites, I’m overjoyed.

Stainless transplants the Two-Gun Kid into the present, though we won’t see much of him there, except for a back-up story pitting him and Hawkeye against Killgrave in Marvel Tales #100 (as noted in our coverage of Amazing-Spider-Man #123, reprinted therein).  “What I wanted to do was to have this guy who, in his time, was a lawyer, he was smart, he fought proto super-villains back in his day—but he’s still an 1870s man.  Drop him down into the 1970s with Doctor Doom as the bad guy—another guy in armor plating, but much more advanced armor plating.  I didn’t really have the time to fully develop that idea.  I had so much else on my plate…Then I left The Avengers so I never got to finish that notion,” he told Richard J. Arndt in his Alter Ego interview.

Joe:  Now this is why I requested these issues to become part of my extra reading for the U. A great story, rife with Serpent Crown silliness, boisterous battles, and non-stop Vision action; amazing art from the great George Perez, hitting his stride for sure, on every single page; and excellent characterization (even from the villains) that you can tell the Avengers movies stole some camaraderie from. Just an excellent comic book all around. I couldn't even pick a favorite page, but pg 30 is sure in the running! P.S. A Fred G. Hembeck letter!

Chris: Steve E is a fine comics writer, but if he’s proven anything over his years at the helm of the Avengers, it’s that he isn’t suited to writing a team book – or, in fairness, not this team book.  Why would I make such an audacious statement (at the risk of expulsion)?  Well, think about it: in this issue, as with so many others over the last 30+ that Steve has scripted, the action comes down to 2-3 characters, with a token line, if that, for the other 5-6 who are supposed to be featured.  

The issue starts off well, as we finally have a few pages of sparring with the Squadron – nice teamwork, as the Assemblers niftily throw their opponents off balance by not playing to expectations (ie, Hellcat tying up the powerful Hyperion, Cap blindsiding Arrow with his shield, etc).  Vision’s theft of the Crown is a classic move.  And then – the Avengers go for a stroll thru town, with the Squadron patiently walking after them (which gave me a flashbacking fear-fit that we’d have more endless wandering thru catacombs, a la Av #132).  Along the way, we lose Iron Man (seriously – where did he fly off to -?), then Cap, Beast, and Hellcat (so busy chatting that they somehow don’t notice Wanda lingering behind, safeguarding the all-important Crown), until finally, Wanda runs away from the Vision (who, you know, can FLY).  So, the crux of the story comes down to, you guessed it, two characters.  Don’t get me wrong: Wanda’s psychic victory over the call of the Crown, coupled with the Vision’s impressive take-down of, well, some of the Squadron (Whizzer and Spectrum stayed behind to discuss foreign policy with President Rockefeller, perhaps -?) provides one of the more satisfying moments we’ve seen in this title for a long, long time.  My only reservation is that, once again, there are too many team members who – for no good reason – are elsewhere, and not contributing to what should be a team win.
Colletta’s inks don’t hurt Pérez’s pencils (this time), but continue not to help either.  The invaluable Fred Hembeck, who knows a thing or two about comics art, mirrors my thought: “Vince Colletta does nothing for [Pérez’s] pencils . . . I think you could do with a more dynamic inker for this series.  Anyone from Giordano to Adkins would be good.  I’m glad to see George aboard.”  Right there with you, Fred; your wish, and mine.

Captain Marvel 44
"Death Throws!"
Story by Steve Englehart and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Al Milgrom and Frank Giacoia

As Mar-Vell realizes he can draw power from his Nega-Band to halt and replenish himself, the Supreme Intelligence chafes at the delay in his plans, so he restores Rusty. Touched by the enigmatic Fawn—invisible to a Kree who inexplicably begins displaying Rick’s personality—Drax suddenly senses Thanos’s location and departs in pursuit after informing Mar-Vell that Rick is in danger, caused not by the toxic atmosphere but by his drawing too heavily on the Nega-Energy.  Mar-Vell flies Rusty to Deneb IV, where amid widespread destruction he puts Rick in a life-support chamber and battles Null-Trons, created to punish transgressors against the empire; both are captured by robots whose leader reveals that their minds are merging into one… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Having covered every issue of this strip, I can say with confidence that this is the first time the Supremor has called our co-star “Rik-Jonzz,” presumably a nod by Stainless—already parodying the JLA in Avengers—to DC’s Martian Manhunter, J’onn J’onzz.  I can also say this is not one of the Engrom team’s better outings; the story is deliberately obscure, but so much so that WTF? threatens to devolve into “Who cares?,” and more than ever, Milgrom needs a better inker than Milgrom.  The Supremor’s utterance of “Pfagh!” makes him come across like an emerald-hued Nero Wolfe, which while not the worst thing in the world feels somewhat out of character, but I always like the plans-within-plans nature of his appearances, and it seems Drax is back on track.

Conan the Barbarian 62 
“Lord of the Lions!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Steve Gan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Conan saves Tindaga, captured leader of the Riders of the River-Dragons, from a rampaging wart hog: the Cimmerian needs the man to help him find Bêlit. However the barbarian’s mighty effort proves useless as Tindaga is later killed by a venomous bush-viper. Meanwhile, deeper in the jungle, Amra claims the Queen of the Black Coast as his bride. He embraces her for a kiss, but when she fights back he knocks her unconscious. Bêlit awakes in a lion’s den, hands tied behind her back. Amra begins to tell her his origin: as a baby he was brought up wealthy in Aquilonia. While he sailed with his royal father, their ship was capsized during a storm — somehow, they made their way to the shores of Kush, the only survivors. Exploring the jungle, the Aquilonians were attacked by native warriors: Amra’s father was murdered and he was taken captive. Later, one of the warriors killed a lion cub and the furious pride pounced, slaughtering all except the defenseless baby — he was adopted by the grieving mother of the slain cub. Amra grew up with the pack, forming a particularly strong bond with his lion brother, Sholo. As an adult, Amra and the pride discovered an ancient city built by a long dead race of lion worshippers. Inside, the jungle man found an amazing treasure trove and a strange tomb-like wall marked with mysterious writing. His story told, Amra informs Bêlit that they are headed towards this crumbling city, now called the Lair of the Lions, and that she will help decipher the words on the wall. When they arrive, Amra casts out his present wife, Makeda, former princess of the Moonhawk tribe. Makeda storms off but is soon stalked by a leopard: when it leaps at her, Conan suddenly appears and breaks the cat’s back. The Cimmerian demands that she tell him were to find Bêlit. The vengeful princess informs the barbarian that it is too late, for before she left the Lair, she read the mysterious inscriptions, raising the beings buried underneath the city. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: As with issue #59, this one spends considerable page count laying out the origin story of a new character in the Conan universe: that one Bêlit, this one Amra. Let’s face it, Amra’s tale is basically the same as any other jungle hero’s: parents killed, adopted by jungle animals. Shoot, Rudyard Kipling used it as far back as 1893 with “In the Rukh,” the short story that introduced Mowgli. So a big ho hum there. The fight with the wart hog at the beginning lasts nearly five pages: Roy says that the horned porker weighed half a ton so it was a pretty formidable foe. At one point, the Watambi warriors Conan is traveling with reveal that they don’t know his name: the Cimmerian vows that he will only tell them when Bêlit is rescued. Guess that’s part of how he will become known as Amra whenever this thing wraps up. Besides eventually killing the jungle lord that is. Bêlit spends considerable time comparing Amra to Conan, noting their macho similarities. When Amra shows her his treasure trove, Bêlit even seems to warm up to the jungle man: methinks she wouldn’t mind being his bride after all.

Chris: I hope Cimmeriaphiles are enjoying this departure from Conan’s typical desert wanderings; in keeping with the usual vein, the mood continues to be weighty and deadly serious.  Sure, there’s a terrific battle with a wart hog (ending as Conan’s sword pierces the hog’s mouth, exiting out the side of its face) – still, no one’s about to mistake this for a Ka-Zar story.  Two quotes that I thought were particularly bleak: one consistent with our hero (“Let the jackals be his pall-bearers!”), the other somewhat uncharacteristically forlorn (“Crom take me – more death!  Is there never – an end to it -?").

I like Gan’s finishes – even though they can be indistinct at times – since his inks don’t obscure Buscema’s look for the issue.  This title has had its share of great covers, but this Kane & Romita (I mean, how could you go wrong -?) effort really struck me, as we have an arresting balance between furious action, and the floating, menacing skull.  

Captain America and the Falcon 197
"The Rocks are Burning!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Cap is determined to get his shield back from the gladiator in the Kill Derby. Reason won't work so Cap attacks, even as the Falcon warns him to take care. After a scuffle, the gladiator sneakily attaches an explosive to the shield and throws it back to its owner, but it boomerangs toward the gladiator, killing him upon detonation. The crowd is hugely entertained by this, but Cap tries to sway them with a stirring speech about the kind of life they're creating and the futile cause they serve. However, they'll hear none of it. Cheer Chadwick tells Cap to take the gold and leave, but Cap stands his ground and continues pontificating and demanding to see Cheer's father. She refuses and encourages the other gladiators to kill Captain America and the Falcon. At that moment, the forces of General Argyle Fist blow their way in from the surface and invade the stronghold. The enemy is defeated, but there is still no sign of the Madbomb. At the same time, Cheer Chadwick and her mysterious father escape through a strange monorail system, discussing the end of the nation as the Madbomb is primed to go off on the very day of the Bicentennial! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Each issue seems more and more abstract as Cap and the Falcon fight their way through each new battle, but barely any closer to their objective. With Kirby more and more obviously out of touch with readers, the story feels oddly cold. General Argyle Fist is a non-personality and Cap stands around making flowerly speeches when he's not launching into battle. He is the ultimate square, more like Adam West's Batman than Adam West himself.

There are still no real clues as to the identity of Cheer Chadwick's father, only that he is "a biggie" in the organization. With almost no clues to go on and with the book pretty much outside the Marvel continuity, it's not so hard to guess who he is. How many suspects were we given? Kirby has only introduced us to a small handful of new characters. Just go back to issue 194 and pick one.

Matthew: Kirby’s kover is kompletely genericnot to mention dissing Cap’s partner, the Falcon (“I’ve got to stop them alone!”)but it’s endearing in a boneheaded way, with a kind of “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” vibe.  As I recall, Giacoia was one of Jack’s most reliable Silver-Age inkers, and the team doesn’t disappoint here as they delineate General Argyle Fist’s moment of glory with considerable zeal; I love that title, “The Rocks Are Burning!”  With its generously sized panels, and especially its multiple space-gobbling full-page shots, this issue ensures that Kirby’s plotting skills are not overtaxed, although for a guy who is first and foremost an artisthe does squeeze in almost Moench-worthy amounts of dialogue and captions.

Addendum: At this point, Kareless Kirby drops Cheer and her poppa like burning rocks, and according to the MCDb, they won't be heard from again until Thunderbolts #31 (October 1999).

Daredevil 133
"Mind-Wave and His Fearsome Think Tank!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Jim Mooney
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Ray Holloway and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

 A huge steel juggernaut called the Think Tank rumbles into the downtown financial district, piloted by Mind-Wave, whose helmet allows him to read the thoughts – and then counter-act the motions – of his opponents.  Daredevil engages with the Tank, but is unable to prevent Mind-Wave’s minions from pulling a robbery, and then disappearing in the smoke.  Daredevil is asked to meet with D.A. Tower, who introduces the crimson crusader to Uri Geller, who supposedly has esp-powers.  Geller offers to help DD locate and stop Mind-Wave, against whom Geller has contended in Europe.  DD and Geller catch Mind-Wave when he returns to strike downtown again, and work together to defeat him and his flunkies. -Chris Blake

Chris: Well, just when I was comfortably warming up to Marv, the title takes a full-step back as he subjects us to this fill-in feeling issue.  The idea of placing a novelty act like Uri Geller in a comic is inexplicable.  Marv makes sure to tell us that it was all Stan’s idea, but then Marv goes on to describe how he was sold by Geller’s key-bending tricks.  So then, this issue includes not only Geller’s origin story, plus also an assortment of other powers for him, which I won’t bother to list here.  I guess we all can be thankful that Stan hadn’t taken a shine to Doug Henning, or Kreskin.
The issue is further hampered by a full-bore resumption of DD’s bantering, as we get a slew of yuks while he tosses bad guys around; p 23 alone is packed with enough examples of egregiously pointless interplay with villains that you could use this one page to fill 2-3 other issues (if you really, really had to do that).  We also get not one, but two encounters with the grating, one-note Lt Rose; this completely unnecessary character is so one-dimensional that he is, in fact, composed only of two half-dimensions (the harping on DD every time, and the sniff of the rose in his lapel every time, each counting as only one-half of one dimension).  

The last thing I’ll harp on is the look of the book, which completely loses its atmosphere as Janson is replaced by Mooney on inks.  Even the text on the page doesn’t look right to me, as the (numerous) thought and speech balloons look inflated, and the letters themselves seem oversized (further contributing to my irritation).  So, I turned back to the splash page, and saw that the letters were by someone named Ray Holloway – seems like he was more of a Silver than Bronze Age letters-man, am I right?
So, if you don’t have to read this issue, then don’t!  That’s my little PSA to my fellow MU faculty and student-body.  I’m officially removing this issue from all future syllabi.  
Matthew: I see, to my horror, that the seven-issue Janson-free run starting here is the longest until 1983, so I’d best enjoy it while I can, and although I’d never nominate Mooney for the Inking Hall of Fame, even the Madman’s overly assertive embellishment of Brown is a welcome change.  Oft-debunked “psychic” Geller follows in the footsteps of Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner, who appeared in #100, but aside from the novelty value of featuring a (more or less) real person, this issue isn’t especially memorable.  I’m much more interested in the fact that Marv has finally brought to a boil his long-simmering subplot about those computer-generated—this in 1976!—ads and fake newscasts, portentously revealing the Jester as the man behind them.

On the Man Without Fear site, Wolfman noted that the story drew “some criticism, mostly from other magicians.  The problem was Marvel made a deal with Geller to appear in one of their comics.  No writer wanted to do it, and since I was editor-in-chief I felt I had to do it.  I made his abilities somewhat bigger than life…and handled it like any typical Marvel comic at the time, so whether the real Geller had ‘powers’ or not wasn’t important.  It could have been a new character for all I cared.  I did like the idea of the Fearsome Think Tank, however.”  Geller himself told Kuljit Mithra, “I met Stan Lee in New York and that’s how it started….To the best of my recollection I told them events that happened in my life.  They probably used that as the basis...

The Defenders 35
"Bring Back My Body to Me, To Me...!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

In Russia, a street robbery is prevented by a costumed hero named the Red Guardian,  who, despite her good intentions,  is not looked upon with favour by the Russian government. By day she is Dr. Tania Belinsky, world-renowned neurosurgeon. A call from the U S. --Stephen Strange no less--greets her in her apartment. The mystic requests her presence in New York, and she agrees. The mission is to return Nighthawk's brain to his body. The magician returns Jack Norriss' consciousness to his body. Chondu, the Headmen's evil magician lets his fellows know he is trapped in the body of the fawn. The others create a new body for him and place his spirit there, a body like the accumulation of the worst monster scraps around! Said monster ends up battling Valkyrie who, in her victory, is arrested! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I'm not sure why the Defenders are so much fun, but they are. The Headmen are so ridiculous it's hard to keep track of whose brains and spirits are where! The Red Guardian is new to my reading,  but I gather a significant character for some time. The Hulk's fawning over the fawn is still a hoot,  but Val battling Chondu , or chopped-eww is a comedic and dramatic highlight. I honestly can't guess what's next!

Chris: Once again, Steve G packs plenty of intriguing story into his allotted pages.  Up to now, Chondu might’ve taken some solace from being the normallest-looking Headman – but so much for that, right?  It’s been a rough week for him – I’m sure he thought that having his mind trapped in a fawn’s body would’ve been the low point.  But, once he woke up to find talons, lampreys, and a horn, well . . . he cuts a truly gruesome figure; Nagan is quite the twisted bastard.  And how about Ruby’s attitude: “Hey, if you don’t like the body, go steal a different one!”  

Two welcome developments: the arrival of the Red Guardian, who will see some significant changes in her life over the course of her lengthy association with our non-team; and, the re-appearance on inks by Klaus Janson, who will ink Sal and Keith Giffen for most of the next year.  I realize Klaus has his detractors (I had been among this camp, at one time), but I feel that his heavier, darker style better suits the content of this title far better than, say, Mooney or (yikes) Colletta.  Where might we appreciate this influence, you ask?  Well, here are a few small examples: the dark shading on the satisfied, post-op face of Dr Nagan (p 10, pnl 6; again on p 17, last pnl); and, the hideous face of Chondu-the-new (p 22, pnl 2).
Matthew: Marvel giveth, and Marvel taketh away; while expressing my relief at Mooney’s replacing Janson on Daredevil, I didn’t realize that they had simply swapped gigs, and given the special place this arc occupies in my heart, I wish they hadn’t.  But Steve and Sal are still great, even as Klaus’s ink-spewing casts its inevitable pall over the proceedings, and their introduction of the second Red Guardian, who will be an integral part of the cast for years, is a far-reaching development.  Amid the deepening Headmen saga—of which the grotesque patchwork that is Chondu 2.0 is but the latest bizarre manifestation—Gerber takes time out to give one of his two new titles a leg up, dutifully cross-promoting the Hulkster’s guest-shot in the concurrent Omega.

Mark: Ah, the dreaded "imposter-imposter!" Gumball-head Girl! Hulk talking to random deer in Central Park Zoo, in search of Bambi (I wonder why the Mighty Mouse didn't sue?)! And as for Chondu's new & improved look, post-surgery...words, poor things, can only fail.

All in all, more proof that if Steve Gerber was still with us and writing stuff like this today, he'd have five million Twitter followers and be on every government watch-list extant.

 "They can't exactly define why, but a brain like that has to be dangerous."

The Tomb of Dracula 44
"His Name is Doctor Strange"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Dr. Strange is aghast when he finds that his servant, Wong, has been attacked.  Two puncture wounds to Wong's throat give  Strange suspicions.  Using his astral form to go into Wong's mind, Strange is able to see his servant's last thoughts before his grim attack. Wong interrupted Dracula as he was feeding on a young woman.  As payment for his interference, Dracula fed on Wong as well.  Dr. Strange suspends Wong so that he does not immediately die, and gives him time to find a cure.  Dracula is sleeping in a coffin, hidden away in the catacombs under Dr. Sun's mansion.  When Dr. Strange finds him, the two mystical beings have a showdown.  Using his powers, Strange reaches into Drac's mind to find his greatest fears. Dracula's origin is briefly retold as Dr. Strange plays the role of Turoc.  Drac is too powerful for Strange to maintain his magical spells on him and, eventually, the Count is able to feast on Strange after using his hypnotic powers.  The story ends with the lord of the vampires telling Strange he will see him again in three days. During this time, Blade is stalking the silver-haired vampire who killed his mom. He waits in an empty apartment for someone to arrive.
  -Tom McMillion

Chris: Each of our principal players is able to employ his primary skills during the course of the showdown, although the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak aren’t much good against a being who can turn to mist at will.  Strange talks about how he has to “break” Drac in order to learn how to reverse Wong’s near death experience, which doesn’t quite make sense; wouldn’t the Eye of Agamotto be able to see its way into Drac to learn his secrets?  But, I guess you’d have to keep Drac still, and we’ve established that he’s not going to do that willingly.  If anything, Drac’s nasty journey back to his moment of vampiric conversion seems to give him the will to push past Strange’s spells – Doc’s focus on his task seems to preclude him from preparing a defense against the hypnotic Drac attack.  You guys probably figured all this out already – I’m recounting these details, in part, to make sure I followed them correctly.  

Chris: The cover tells us that readers had demanded the Doc vs Drac smackdown, but I’m wondering – why now?  Is Marv trying to broaden Tomb’s reader base, at a time when nearly all of Marvel’s other fear titles have sunk back into the swamp?  Or is Marv hoping to boost Strange sales as his title goes monthly?  Maybe there’s hope to achieve both goals at the same time?  I’m curious to know if either aim, or maybe some other unknown purpose, is at work right now.

Well, so I guess someone’s going to have to give Clea a call -?  What else can we do?  Oh yes – could anyone tell me what Wong was doing in Boston, in the first place -?

Mark: DISCLAIMER: If I read this back in '76. I don't remember it – a cautionary tale, perhaps, on the memory-misfiring effects of teenage reefer madness – so the class notes are zit-cream and nostalgia free.   

"Because you demanded it!" whispers a cover blurb so tiny, it blushes over the exclamation point, but the genre mash-up is a natural. Mystic versus monster, characters with spiritual rather than scientific powers, Strange's hopeful, sun-ray sorcery as one side of the metaphysical coin, Dracula's neck-tapping nihilism the other.    

There's a big, unaddressed logic lapse: Drac's in Boston, recently battling Dr. Sun, but why is Strange's attendant Wong there to fall victim to the Count? And when does Strange hit Beantown? He's extracting images from the dead Wong in his Greenwich Village manse then - four pages later - following Drac's shadowy "life patterns" in Boston, and Wolfman, who could have addressed this with a Wong visiting relatives line here, a panel of Strange summoning a redeye-to-Boston portal there, just plays it like they're in the same city, 'cause who's gonna notice?

Some grouchy professor, a half century later, Marv. That's who.

Matthew: This is the only actual issue I own (not counting #1 in my Marvel Firsts), although I know I bought the Surfer’s guest-shot in #50, which maddeningly vanished from my collection.  I’ve always found it faintly hilarious that they did a crossover between two characters who not only are drawn by the same artists/colorist team, but also bear a strong resemblance to each other; they’ve considerately minimized the thrown-in-at-the-deep-end factor for non-TOD readers like me by opening with Doc.  Having read my colleagues’ coverage of this series, I can only echo their condemnation of HHH, whose “shnook/shmendrick” shtick seems misplaced, and Costanza should have his pay docked for egregious misspellings, e.g., “nobel,” “resistance.”

Mark: Once past the geographical gaffes, we're pretty much home free. Beyond the attention-getting Blade meets vamp detective Hannibal King last page, pimping the next TODthe only supporting characters to appear aren't the Harker bunch, but – much to the irritation of fellow faculty - Harold and Aurora. But all that's forgotten when our antagonists clash across the final ten pages, thick with suspense as the battle ebbs and flows toward its fatal, if temporary, conclusion.

It's a broken record, I know, but it must be said that Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, working both ends of the doubleheader, are masterful once again. The fight scenes swirl with demonic mist, crackle with mystic bolts, expanding Eyes of Agamottos, as irresistible force meets immovable object.

And, no, Professor Matthew, the Doc and Drac do not look the same. Strange is Ronald Coleman, the Count Jack Palance.  

Matthew: Well, at least I know how to spell "Colman."

Doctor Strange 14
"The Tomb of Dr. Strange!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Dracula has killed Stephen Strange; he tosses his body in a cellar for a few days of pre-slavery peace, then departs. But Strange, unknown to the Count, had fled his body, and now tries to rejoin his Astral and flesh forms--but cannot. The vampire's power over his victims' bodies prevents access, even from Stephen. Dracula, out and about, goes to enslave the soul of Wong, Stephen's servant whom the count killed three days before. He encounters the brain-being Dr. Sun, or rather his ghost; the Count's victim from two days prior. The brain vanishes with a threat of redemption. Wong too, has mysteriously vanished. The apparent spirit of his long dead wife Maria appears before Dracula, then takes the shape of a demon before disappearing. It departs in flight, Dracula in pursuit. For miles and hours they race, over the ocean,  until the spirit reveals itself as Stephen, luring the vampire well out to sea--and almost in sunlight! A tired bat barely makes it back, and Strange follows. Inhabiting his body again,  Stephen destroys the Count, then calls upon all he knows to expunge the vampire from within himself,  and return Wong to life. -Jim Barwise

Jim: With the incredible popularity of vampires in recent years,  I can almost forget how interesting the basic concept of their powers and fate are. (The A.E. Von Vogt story "Asylum" comes to mind) Pitted against the very different sorcery of Dr. Strange makes for a fascinating study. The Count seems perhaps a strange (no pun intended) choice for the sorcerer, but the victory for the latter is well earned, almost dragging the vampire to a sunny death. I'm not sure I buy Stephen as a vampire,  but I'll take it.

Matthew: Steve gives us his second “Pfagh!” of the month, and notes on his website that this is “The second half of a crossover with Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s Tomb of Dracula[#44].  Gene [and inker/colorist Tom Palmer] obviously drew them both.  Marv killed Doc at the end of his half and I killed Drac at the end of mine.”  I’ll admit that I read this issue under highly inauspicious circumstances, amidst the chaos of houseguests for my niece’s wedding, but despite such felicities as its luscious artwork, I never fully understood how Doc cheated both death and vampiric contagion.  I know Marvel and Hollywood have repeatedly killed and resurrected Vlad, yet since Wong dies in part one as well, the whole concept of “death” seems somewhat devalued.

Chris: There aren’t many beings who could outlast Dracula in a contest of wills, but it’s a safe bet that Stephen Strange could be one of them.  It’s not clearly stated, but my understanding is that Doc is able to balance simultaneously the living and undead forces in himself, until he’s able to draw on power that allows him to pull a Man-Thing on Count Vlad.  It’s less clear to me how Doc is able to call Wong back from the dead, and then expunge the undeadedness from himself – does he use undead powers for Wong, and living powers for himself?   I understand that Doc’s ability to maintain control of his mind and spirit must stem from the timely release of his astral form during Drac’s initial attack; still, I have one question: is there any blood left in Doc’s body?  Might he require an immediate transfusion -?

Drac’s undead body has seen its share of punishment lately – Gene & Tom give us a nifty look at the dried-out husk Drac’s left with after Doc burns him (p 30).  Overall, the look for this issue is consistent with the appearance of a Drac story rather than a typical Doc story.  But, that makes sense, since Drac and Doc were not battling in some far-removed dimension; much of the action takes place in settings of Drac’s choosing (in particular, Dr Sun’s old HQ). 

Mark: We open with Doc dead at Drac's hand, and by tale's end the equation has been reversed... at least 'til the next Tomb of Dracula. With two characters whom readers have seen "die" with some regularity, there's no cheat (or cloning) involved, so we can sit back and enjoy the fangs & fireworks.

The return of Dr. Sun (as a floating ghost brain?) is a not particularly welcome surprise, given his very recent departure, but that's mere background noise to the main event, as Strange (newly-undead edition) lures the count-as-bat far out to sea and into dawn's early light. The never say die Drac has one last fight in him before being reduced to a charred husk, at least until the next...

Kudos to the Colan/Palmer art and a first rate crossover, even if the high stakes result in nothing more than the resurrection of the status quo.

Fantastic Four 170
"A Sky Full of Fear!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Carla Conway
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

We open with Ben speculating his "real" replacement is the alt-earth "Reed Richards Thing," (last seen in World Wars III) but, nope, it's an exo-skeleton, specifically designed for Aunt Petunia's fave nephew. After quickly getting the hang of his orange armor, Ben demos a big slab of granite, and who else but the FF would stock rock for Ben to sock (sorry, class, the alliterative muse of Smilin' Stan grabbed the controls)?

Despite his new gear, Grimm still doesn't "feel like a superhero no more," so Reed goads him into a mini-dustup, after which they realize Alicia's gone missing, quickly followed by realization #2: Alicia + mind-controlled Luke Cage must = the Puppet Master (I know I called that last issue, but no credit due as my subconscious obviously worked out the above equation before I did)!

Johnny's banged-up arm (courtesy Mr. Cage, last ish) keeps him out of action; no reason's given for Sue sitting out the action. With the puppetized Power Man having hot-wired the Fantasticar, Reed pulls the original version out of mothballs (after Ben pulls the hanger door off the wall; so much faster, ya know, than using the combination lock), and I can imagine the smile on long-time FF fan-boy Roy's face as he brought back the "flying bathtub" for the first time since FF #12.

But Alicia beats Reed and Ben to "a certain maximum security prison, not far distant," to visit her step-father (rendered with buck-toothed relish by Perez; dig P's 15-16). In his huge, stone-walled cell, the blind sculptress' sensitive fingers find the loose stone and hidden Luke puppet, where the warden and his fancy Geiger counters could not. 

Seconds later, Cage busts through the wall and flies off with both Masterses. Ben, mid-air, leaps from one F-car to the other, to duke it out with Luke. Super-powered fisticuffs, not surprisingly, don't add to flight stability, and Alicia goes over the side. To his credit, her toothy step-dad tries to save her and likewise becomes airborne. Reed does his human rubber band thing, and Alicia and PM climb the "human ladder" to safety in the F-tub.

As the Luke puppet sinks beneath the waves, Cage regains his free will. As Reed says, "everything's a-okay!" and as our heroes fly back to the Baxter, Ben considers popping the Big Question. 
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Nothing ground-breaking here, but this one hums along like a well-oiled machine. The Perez art hardly differs from Buckler's, with Joltin' Joe at the ink pot, and Roy's script is first rate, from rolling out the original Fantastitub, to demonstrating the Puppet Master's love for Alicia. Touches like Ben ripping out an expensive vault door instead of allowing Reed to enter the combination are a bit over the top, but I'd settle for such minor gripes in every title every month, given the chance.

Good stuff, but I'll that admit that "a word from our Golden Gorilla" next ish has me scratching my noggin.  

Matthew: At the risk of stating the obvious, “The world’s greatest comic magazine!” is firmly in the hands of three practitioners whom I think most of us would consider hall-of-famers:  ThomasPerez, and Sinnott.  So, while the identity of the sinister string-puller behind recent events might not be a huge surprise, it’s also no surprise that I give this issue top marks in all departments, especially the clever way in which the Puppet Master’s inability to control a rehumanized Ben is tied in with developments regarding his new exoskeleton and his temporary replacement by Cage.  Inked by the best in the business, instead of that clown Colletta, George really soars, and Roy does a nice job portraying the poignancy of the dysfunctional Masters clan.

Chris: The team discusses how Cage has learned how to pilot the Fantasticar, but it’s possible that he missed the lesson on navigation; there’s no other explanation offered for how Alicia was able to arrive at the prison before Cage, especially since the prison first had to send a helicopter all the way down to pick her up (pretty huge favor to call-in, Alicia); so, the helicopter didn’t pass Luke as they were flying in opposite directions, I guess?  Reed and The Real Thing then arrive less than a minute after Cage, despite the fact that they are flying the smaller, older bathtubicar.  It’s a bit of license that, I’ll admit, didn’t bother me (years ago) when I originally read this story.

And when I say I read this comic, I mean that I read it, read it, and read it some more.  This is another of those priceless flea-market finds, which provided invaluable background to the FF stories that had preceded my active-collecting period.  Overall, the Perez/Sinnott art doesn’t have as many opportunities to crackle as it had in the Crusader and Hulk stories, but there are certain images that burned their way into my impressionable mind, and which I enjoy re-viewing now.  Such as: Ben’s surprise as Reed pops the top off the Thing-suit (p 2); the bizarre appearance of the limp Thing-keleton as Reed holds it out for Ben to don (p 6); Ben’s exuberant wall-smash (p 7), followed by his snap of Reed to one side, and classic hot-headed raised-fist gesture, as seen from Reed’s POV (p 10); lastly, another moment of surprise as Ben unwittingly wrenches a steel door off its frame, throwing him off-balance (p 11).

Where’s Sue?  Was it her place to stay home to take care of the baby, and apply cold cloths to her brother’s bruised arm, while Ben and Reed were off adventuring?  Maybe she made sandwiches for everyone, and cut off the crusts – Johnny likes them that way.

The Incredible Hulk 199
"And SHIELD Shall Follow!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and John Romita

The Hulk is causing a ruckus in a Florida town as he screams at the inhabitants.  The fire department tries to chase him off by blasting him with their truck hoses; this does little but make the big guy upset and he smashes their trucks.  Alerted to the Hulk's recent actions, General Ross and Agent Quartermain ask Nick Fury for S.H.I.E.L.D.'s help.  Nick provides them with manpower and helicarriers, with Doc Samson leading the charge as they attack the Hulk.  The Green Goliath fights with Samson until some cables are dropped down from one of the aircraft to wrap around him.  They carry the Hulk away but he escapes and is dropped in a swamp.  Once again, the mighty force attacks the Hulk.  As Samson and the Hulkster slug it out, Quartermain has the troops blast them with sleeping gas.  The story ends with the Hulk being taken away after he and Samson both pass out.  -Tom McMillion

Tom:  Leave it to a wuss like Samson to brag about defeating the Hulk even though he had an army to back him up.  Plus, it's not like he even knocked the Hulk out himself.  The writers are really making Betty seem like a mental patient with her theatrics and unstable love interests.

Matthew: While there’s nothing egregiously wrong with it, this issue gets a hearty “meh” from the university’s Bethel campus, not least for a disappointing inking job by Staton that looks rushed and scratchy.  Oh, sure, it has some good stuff in it, e.g., a marquee advertising Professor Joe’s second-favorite film, Jaws; Samson’s parachute-free drop (“Don’t bother, Quartermain”); and, above all, Greenskin making a pun (“leave Hulk in peace…or Hulk will leave you in pieces!”).  But overall it feels like Len is just running out the clock until #200 with a standard Hulk vs. the fire department/military/S.H.I.E.L.D. slugfest that doesn’t really advance the storyline at all, and even the return visit to Citrusville doesn’t pay off in any meaningful way.

Chris: Pretty straightforward bit of Hulk-busting.  I think we all knew that the traps and snares had little chance of success, didn’t we – I mean, why even bother with the little boats?  Good thing that the paralysis-gas was part of the plan, especially since it’s the only thing with a proven track record of slowing the Hulk down.  

Doc Samson is pretty committed to victory, isn’t he?  Len (Wein, I mean, not Doc S) keeps us posted on Doc’s strategy against Greenskin, but he doesn’t provide any clues to Doc’s heightened motivation; does he want to prove himself as the prime-gamma?  It’s more likely that he believes in his (unfounded) contention that puny Banner is the only person who can unlock Talbot’s mind.  But once Talbot can feed himself again and enjoy an evening sitcom, won’t Betty be lost to Samson?  The crux of it: is Samson acting selflessly, or do his feelings for Betty not run as deep as Len has suggested they might?  I guess we’ll find out in our landmark next issue!

The Amazing Spider-Man 156
"On a Clear Day, You Can See... the Mirage!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by John Romita

A tired and hungry Spider-Man swings back to the roof of his pad and is attacked—by a broom-swinging Mrs. Muggins, his landlady! She knocks him off the roof, but Spidey slinks into his window to grab some sour milk. Cut to the mysterious Bowery derelict from issues 152 and 154, still being chased by someone who frightens him, but there's "one person in all the world" who can help him. After a montage of supporting cast members getting ready for the Ned Leeds-Betty Brant wedding, highlighted by a "sea-sick shark" smile from JJJ, Peter gets some much-needed bow tie assistance from an apologetic Mary Jane, then we're off to Malverne and the giant wedding hall. Peter still isn't able to nosh, but the gorgeous ceremony is underway, with a gang of costumed hooligans robbing every other wedding in the place! The Mirage is the leader of the gang, and when they get to the Ned-Betty room, Peter pulls the lights and goes off to change into Spidey. Web-head takes care of the goons fairly easily, but The Mirage keeps eluding his attacks and almost has our hero on the ropes! But our whiz-kid wall-crawler notices the funny looking gizmos on Mirage's head are projecting holographic images, so he swings up to the lobby's humungous chandelier, crashing it down on the disappearing delinquent, before high-tailing it back to the wedding. After the ceremony ends, Aunt May catches the bouquet, then returning back to her Forest Hills home, finds the Bowery bum waiting inside for her—he's her old beau Doctor Octopus, back from the dead! – Joe Tura

Joe: A nifty little tale overall, this one flies by like Spidey swinging to a photo op, and that's a good thing. There's not much meat on its bones, but nonetheless, a tasty treat that welcomes back Ross the Boss in fine form and leaves us with the shocking ending the entire issue was setting us up for. But I'm left to ponder a couple of things. What happened to the reception? All that dough for a fancy place like Malverne's and no party afterwards? Will Peter Parker ever get to eat? And are we to believe he managed to tie the bow tie with no problem after mangling the Mirage and getting dressed again? It's funny that JJJ manages to get a dig in though: "And I'll bet you didn't get me a single lousy photo, did you? Parker, you're the most incompetent…"

Also, how did Doc Ock manage to keep the Moe Howard cut but still have time to grow some thick stubble? And if this doesn't give Aunt May that much-promised heart attack, what will? Ah, who cares, it's still a fun ride, even though we get a lame-o villain that believe it or not, will return in Marvel Two-In One #96, then later issues of Captain America and The Punisher. Yeesh.

Favorite sound effect: I'm tempted to go with the unique "KWA-ROOM" from page 27 that "clears the room" (see what I did there) as Spidey drops the chandelier on Mirage, but instead let's say this month's winner is page 2's "BAFF" as Mrs. Muggins lays the straw to Spidey! That tough old bird brandishes a mean broom!

Chris: Wedding planners run screaming when they see Marvel heroes and supporting characters.  At least we didn’t get an inflatable fake Ultron this time (unlike FF #150), otherwise I might’ve started screaming too.  I think Vision and Wanda were the only ones whose course of love did run smooth, as at least their ceremony ran uninterrupted (due, no doubt, to Pietro not having been invited).

It’s a bit of a DC-premise for the Mirage; he says he spent a year planning this heist, so he could steal, what, a few thousand dollars?  Small time.  It’s a good thing his henchmen always seemed to be aiming for Spidey’s feet, otherwise a roomful of wedding guests might’ve gotten hurt by the dozens of firearm discharges.  Spidey might’ve smoked out the Mirage by tossing a few web-nets into the room, so that the corporeal man could’ve been located and snared, but obviously it makes for a more dramatic moment if you tear the massive chandelier down from the ceiling.  Forget about the planners being upset – wait til the reception-hall manager sees this!  No more Bugle staff getting hitched there, I betcha!
Doc Ock’s one of the best bad pennies in Marvel history; after a few recent one-and-done villains, I have to figure that Spidey’s in for more than his usual share of trouble, starting next issue.

Mark: An upgrade over last month's W.H.O.-sucked-it groaner, largely by dint of the supporting cast getting lots of play (even forgotten landlady Mrs. Muggins shows up for a few panels, swatting Spidey off the roof, with a classic Webs stuck to a wall rendering - P. #3 - by Andru the result), decked out in wedding finery for Betty & Ned's nuptials. The mysterious Bowery bum, sporadically turning up in dark alleys for months now, is revealed as Doc Ock. Since I have no memory of these stories, I didn't see that coming, but it makes sense. It takes more than an atomic blast to make Ock forget Aunt May!

Oh, the Mirage, our villain de jour. Saddened to learn (via Prof Matthew's lesson plan) that such a D-lister, while okay as a one-shot wedding-robbing nuisance, limped along into the 21st century. The looks-more-like-Beeman-baddie gets in his licks before Spidey drops two tons of chandelier on him (a highly questionable move for our doesn't-kill-baddies hero) then rejoins the wedding party, back in his tux and spinning yarns about disappearing to call the cops before the wedding resumes and Pete's first love becomes Mrs. Leeds. 

Matthew: As with the engagement party in Len’s first issue, he puts much of the focus on the wedding, so a lower-tier villain seems suitable…but maybe not Mirage, who had an inexplicably robust career stretching into this century.  The pseudo-science of his m.o. seems unusually far-fetched; his boast of being inspired by Spidey rings hollow; and no matter how much you rationalize it with talk of “integrated circuitry,” I think Spidey took quite a chance that he wouldn’t be killed by that gigunda chandelier.  Raise your hand if you believe that all of the lighting in the Cupid Room would actually be controlled by a single switch, and that flipping it would truly result in pitch-blackness (although I do love the Godfather-style montage on page 7).

Mark: This is formula Spidey, but Len mixes the ingredients right: a swig of Parker sour milk hard luck here, a page of next story Doc Ock ramp-up there, while taking full advantage of a Parker-world Big Event to churn character-driven soap suds and integrate the Mirage's failed caper.

That said, round 3 (or is it 4?) of an Aunt May-Octavius romance ain't on my Top Ten Letterman Shout-Out list of things I'm dying to see. 


  1. I was at Marvel Con at the good old Commodore! Sold off my program long ago.

  2. Prof Matthew,

    Coleman? Colman? A dumb mistake no doubt, to which I can only plead excitement at confirming, via Google image search, that RC actually looked like I thought he did (and like Doc Strange), although how I knew that I have no idea.

    As for typos, it's too bad no one is actually tasked with proofreading the lesson plans (g)...

    1. Heck, it's better than calling him Gary Coleman!

  3. My two faves of this batch are HTD & Defenders, with more wonderful Gerber weirdness and social commentary & great art by each of the Buscema brothers, ably abetted by Lealoha & Janson. The worst, story-wise, was DD with special guest fraud Uri Geller; even as a 13 year old, I suspected there was something fishy about him, but 40 years later I'm more certain that his only "super power" was in conning people than in bending anything with his mind. As to the violence and death in Howard, considering that in the very first page of the first issue of the series Howard was seriously contemplating suicide, I don't think it was off-putting to include a senseless murder in issue #3 and I liked that although this was supposedly a "funny book" Gerber was willing to tackle serious issues that were a part of life -- the story was inspired by an actual event he witnessed while living in Hell's Kitchen. This made clear that HTD should not in any way be confused with Donald Duck. Gerber varied the series between the utterly outlandish, as with the Space Turnip, but also the horrors and absurdities of life that beset people out in the real world, such as random violence, economic woes, religious nuts and political inanities. A weird mix of serious drama and satire, but nearly 40 years later it still holds up as a classic IMO.

  4. Great post and commentary as always, folks.

    And extra thanks for including pics of the glorious Colman and a shirtless Ben Grimm--a little eye candy is always appreciated! ;)

  5. Hi Fred - thanks for your response re HtD #3. I wasn't aware that the knifing incident was a part of Gerber's real-life experience; it now makes a bit more sense to me that he would want to include it in this story. That is, unless the incident you are referring to has something to do with Steve training to be a kung fu master in a mere 3 hours and 17 minutes.

    I'm glad I wasn't the only one who didn't quite follow how Doc was able to blast Drac, save himself, and revive Wong. To Prof Mark, Special Thanks for backup on the whole what's-Wong-doing-in-Boston-anyway question.

  6. Professor Mark: How do you think I spend most Saturday mornings?

  7. I can certainly attest that, if it weren't for Prof. Matthew, there would be a whole lot of typos and boners (Hey, knock it off, you in the front row! I'm not talking about those kind of boners!) in every single post. Professor Matthew (aka "The Tiger's Number One Fan") must spend hours editing and proofing each post every week so that your poor overloaded Dean (hey, these beers don't get drunk on their own, ya know!) can get each issue out on time. No Dreaded Deadline Doom at this University. That's accomplished, chiefly, by the two guys behind the curtain, Prof. Matthew and semi-retired Prof. Jack. Thanks, guys! Now get back ta woik!