Wednesday, July 29, 2015

August 1976 Part One: Time to Celebrate the Bicentennial in Style with Captain America!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

Wow, what a month.  We get a quartet of landmark (read: multiple of 50) issues as, with varying degrees of success, Marvel celebrates X-Men #100, Avengers #150, Captain America #200, and Thor #250, even if, strictly speaking, only the Assemblers actually have that many first-run issues to their credit; the rest get a leg up via reprints (X-Men) or retitled SF anthologies (Tales of Suspense and Journey into Mystery).  We get Tony Isabella’s swan song, with his final issues of ChampionsGhost Rider, and Marvel Chillers, although he aptly plots next month’s Tigra tail—er, tale—in Marvel Two-in-One #19.  And, in Stan’s Soapbox, we get the first rumblings of a truly seismic shift:  “don’t miss the big news next ish about Gerry Conway and Marv Wolfman!”

Lay readers back in the day (including yours truly, if while turning 13 I was paying any attention to who edited Marvel Comics, which seems unlikely) might have been understandably confused by the trickle of information in subsequent Soapboxes.  “Ol’ Marv is swapping our editor’s chair for a full-time writing schedule here at the bullpen.  But, not to worry, chappies. With all the indescribable talent running rampant in the hallowed halls of Marvel, we’re sure to come up with another winner!  In fact, we’ve already practically decided who our editorial ramrod will be—but, just to keep you guessing, we’ll announce the big decision next ish!  We’ll tell you this much, however—you’ll flip when you learn the name!,” Stan informs us in September’s column.

Come October, however, in announcing that Archie Goodwin “has just been named editor-in-chief,” Stan notes, “I know that our illustrious list of former [emphasis mine] editors-in-chief, Roy Thomas, Len Wein, Marv Wolfman, and Gerry Conway, who are now busily engaged as senior writer/editors for mixed-up Marvel, join me in wishing Archie fame, fortune, fun, and fortitude…”  WTF?  If I appear to be jumping the gun, it’s only because things were moving so fast that a summary seemed in order, and we’ll examine these events in greater detail in future posts.  What it all represents is the point where the EIC position—having developed a reputation as a revolving door since Stan’s successor, Roy, had stepped down—achieved maximum RPMs.

Wunderkind Conway, promised he’d be next in line, left Marvel when passed over in favor of successive DC vets, relative newcomers Wein and Wolfman, but post-Marv, Roy relocated to California rather than reclaiming the job as planned, and Gerry returned from DC to take over.  Researching this was like drinking from a fire hose, so I’m sure I’ve only scratched the surface, and of course accounts/memories/opinions differ.  What seems beyond dispute is that Gerry’s tenure as EIC lasted approximately a month; attempted to address the missed deadlines wreaking havoc on Marvel’s schedule and bottom line; alienated some top talent, e.g., Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin; and was followed, briefly, by a writer-editor gig, like those of his three predecessors.

And Now... August 1976!

The Avengers 150
"Avengers Assemble!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez, Jack Kirby, John Tartaglione, Duffy Vohland, and Dick Ayers
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Denise Wohl, Irving Watanabe, and Artie Simek
Cover by George Perez and John Romita

This is mostly a reprint of an old Stan Lee/Jack Kirby issue, going back in time and documenting how the Avengers line-up has changed over the years, especially detailing the addition of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch and the exiting of Iron Man. To be honest, there is not much going on in this issue, although it is interesting to see the old artwork contrasted with the new work from George Perez. The only big deal is when Thor announces that he is leaving the group, having had his doubts about holding back his power in the last couple of issues. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: This is clearly a “marking time” issue until the big line-up announcement that is coming in 151 (along with a twist ending). It almost looks as if the writer and artist had other deadlines and so reprinting pieces of old issues was a more time-sensitive way to finish the issue. 

Chris Blake: Psych!  So, you really thought you were gonna get a big-splash anniversary issue, right?  And once you read the first few pages, there wasn’t any reason to expect otherwise, was there?  Oh, man, you should see the look on your face!  Hey, c’mon, don’t be like that – at least you got six new pages of art.  You wanted an entirely new story?  Well, you know what they say – there’s always next month, when we try it again, in “sesquicentennial + one.”

Seriously, though, it’s more than a bit of a bummer that we don’t see Gorgeous George recount the entirety of the Avengers history, up to now.  Three items of note: Iron Man’s pointed statement about Moondragon having encouraged Thor to leave the team (not stated as blatantly as that, but as IM offers this comment, we see him at the head of the table, viewed from behind the green cape of MD, on p 7); the return to these pages (and first rendering by Pérez) of Wonder Man, if only as a flashback (p 10); and, on a small note, the first look at Pérez’s so-cool personalized conference room chairs (below).

Matthew Bradley: According to Englehart’s site, “I was halfway through scripting this issue when an editorial shift at Marvel drove me and several other writers out the door, so the last [two-thirds] of the book is a reprint”; curiously, Goodwin is already credited as editor here and in Marvel Presents.  Steve’s six pages are a perfect lead-in to the eminently suitable Lee/Kirby tale that depicts the formation of the second Assemblers line-up, my beloved “Cap’s Kooky Quartet,” excerpted from #16.  Nicely penciled by Pérez, and co-embellished by John “Tartag” and Duffy Vohland (among a handful of inking credits for the FOOM editor), they let Stainless reinforce such plot threads as YJ’s reluctance to re-up, Patsy’s eagerness, and Thor’s newly lofty attitude.

Joe Tura: Does it count as a "spectacular 150th Anniversary Special" when most of the book is a reprint? No, but it's still fun in the beginning, with some oddities like Iron Man telling Thor "You just wish you could hide your ugly face!", Beast getting snippy with Hellcat, and Scarlet Witch name-dropping The Lady Liberators. It's a big set-up for the next, lineup-altering issue, but the biggest question this issue leaves me with is: Where do I get an Asgardian hegoat of my own? P.S. That Bulletman, The Human Bullet action figure (from the G.I. Joe ad on page 32) sucked.

Black Goliath 4
"Enter Stilt Man -- Exit Black Goliath!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Rich Buckler and Don Heck
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Nabbing a trio of bank robbers, BG recognizes their anti-proton cutter as part of a stolen shipment of old S.I. weaponry; earlier, an angry phone call from Tony Stark—aghast at news of the box’s theft—ended abruptly when his explanation was cut off for security reasons by project director Ballard, who was named by the President and bears Bill a grudge.  Said box is in the hands of junkie Jerry Washington, who beats on girlfriend Regina Clayborne as BG and L.A.P.D. Sgt. Julio Pérez are summoned by 12-year-old Keith to another bank heist.  The perp is Stilt-Man, who takes Keith’s aunt (revealed as Celia) hostage, and after she claws at his eyes, triggering his Redwing-inspired phobia, Stilt-Man banishes Celia, Keith, and BG with his Z-Ray. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Last month’s Bullpen Bulletins page announced that Claremont “has left the nine-to-five frenzy of editorial life for a peaceful existence as a free-lance writer for merry ol’ Marvel, scripting not only Iron FistThe X-Men, and Black Goliath, but also the upcoming Luke Cage, Power Man Annual—and a couple of issues of Daredevil, giving Marvelous Marv Wolfman a much needed rest.”  In the event, he would instead just script Marv’s plot for this year’s DD annual.  Chris was replaced by Jim “Trouble” Shooter (you might want to remember that name), and another new hire, Roger “Sterno” Stern, succeeded Irene Vartanoff as Reprint Editor, “while Irene has moved up one more rung on the ladder of success by becoming Reprint Production Manager,” we learn.

So, guess who drew Bill Foster’s debut, ten years ago next month?  You got it:  Heck, whose inks here pretty well obscure Buckler’s pencils (a fill-in job before Pollard takes over next issue, which turns out to be the last); readers of Champions, another Isabella-created mag, may find the Tuska/Heck alternation all too familiar.  However you feel about Stilt-Man—and I’ll admit I’m not immune to his goofy charm—you’ll have to allow that a villain who can change his height is the perfect foe for a Goliath, and that sideways two-page spread is impressive, even if I’m not sure they got the proportions 100% right.  I remembered just enough of the mystery-box subplot, with its echoes of Kiss Me Deadly, to get a little frisson at the mention of physicist Al B. Harper.

While my faith in Chris, and the knowledge that the book’s cancellation curtailed any long-range plans he may have had, make me eager to give him the benefit of the doubt, my curiosity is piqued by some dots that have yet to be properly connected, if indeed they should be.  For example, the plot elements of Stilty’s ocular trauma and the stolen S.I. armaments—last seen in the possession of Dr. Faustus—come from consecutive issues of Captain America, #191 (plotted by Tony) and #192 (written by BG editor Marv); there’s no specific link between those two stories, but it does seem like quite a coincidence.  Also, the abrupt introduction of Keith, without establishing at the outset that he is Celia’s nephew, makes the sequence at the bank less effective.

 The Champions 7
"The Man Who Created the Black Widow"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

As Hercules and Iceman stop a bomb that flies into the team’s temporary H.Q., Clarke refuses Bale’s aid; brought up to date, GR is suspicious of his motives but, upon entering his hospital room for a little Q&A, finds the Griffin (who seeks revenge on Angel for Amazing Adventures #15) and Darkstar busting him out.  Darkstar uses her black-energy bands to ensure their escape, and her thoughts reveal that someone named Yuri plans to kill all of the Champions, save for Natasha and Ivan, at once.  Hercules, Bobby, and Fenster are searching the premises, hoping to avoid disaster at the next day’s dedication ceremonies, when a black youth seeking aid diverts their attention, letting the mysterious Outcast—Ivan’s son—flee after a scouting mission.

Ivan’s analysis of the bomb discovers a storage unit containing a black pearl, leaving no doubt in his and Natasha’s minds as to who sent it:  Commissar Alexi Bruskin, who reveals via an audio-visual unit that he is waiting on a rooftop across the street.  Having long avoided politics, save for “an occasional altercation with [her] former Soviet masters” (e.g., Avengers #44) and a single attempt to recapture the defectors (#16), the Widow confronts the man who trained her and Ivan as his top agents, nicknaming the Tsarina his “Black Pearl.”  Although understandably wary, Natasha greets Bruskin as a friend, but his warning is cut off when he is felled by a blast from the Titanium Man, who ominously informs the Widow, “Your troubles are just beginning.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: To his credit, which I’m sure my colleagues will deny him (denied-- colleagues), Isabella initiates a fruitful storyline on his way out the door that sheds significant new light on the Black Widow’s past and her relationship with “enigmatic Ivan,” leading up to that nifty Titanium Man cliffhanger.  In so doing, he provides Bill Mantlo—who will write the remainder of the book’s underappreciated run—with the foundation for his first three issues and creates several new characters, most notably Darkstar, still active as late as Fantastic Four #643 (April 2015); that’s some staying power.  Tony’s metatextual exploration of the difficulties in setting up a new super-hero team also continues, plus we get my introduction to the ever-formidable Griffin, so what’s not to like?

Addenda:  First, incredibly, it's only just now that the hilarity of having a lawyer named "Bale" has struck me.  Second, I believe I'm correct that the desperate African-American youth is never seen, heard from, or referred to again, unless he was supposed to be Keith from Black Goliath, but the timeline would be all wrong.  If anyone can remind/enlighten me on that point, please do; otherwise, it seems to have been a subplot that Tony took with him. 

Chris: Well, not a whole lot happening here.  Once again, Tony the Tedious tries my patience as he devotes an entire issue to little action, and less advancement of story.  Once Clarke is successfully rescued by the Griffin and Darkstar, the last seven pages are devoted to little more than Natasha meeting with Bruskin (who, for some reason, is Ivan’s son), and then Bruskin being zapped by the late-arriving Titanium Man.  

Just as with the bi-monthly Ghost Rider, Tony, you should realize that you have to make expedient use of the issue-space available.  If readers are only tuning-in every eight weeks, your stories should be as brisk and economical as possible, not only because you have less time (over the course of a year’s worth of issues) to tell your tale – in addition, I expect you’d want to fire-up your title’s fans in each rare installment, in order to ensure that they watch the racks carefully for this comic’s next appearance.

The Tuska/Colletta art isn’t bad this time.  We get some creepy looks from Ghost Rider, and Natasha looks pretty fine (and consistently so, for a change) throughout.  

Matthew:  Bruskin is not Ivan's son, but the man who trained him and Natasha.  The Outcast (who only next issue will be confirmed as the "Yuri" to whom Darkstar's thought balloon alluded) is Ivan's son. 

Conan the Barbarian 65 

“Fiends of the Feathered Serpent!”

Story by Roy Thomas

Art by John Buscema and The Tribe
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Vince Colletta

Pursued by three Stygian warships, Bêlit orders her Black Corsairs to sail the Tigress seaward: the crew protests since Ahmann the Merciless, the first and mightiest of the Corsairs, disappeared in those cursed waters a century ago. But the threat of Conan’s blade ends any thought of mutiny. Soon, the ship comes across a mist-enshrouded island with a huge, tower-like mountain sprouting towards the skies in the center. The Cimmerian, Bêlit, the shaman N’Yaga, and four of the fearful crew make shore on a longboat, looking for water and food. They come across an ominous hut on the beach — inside they discover the remarkably preserved body of the long dead Ahmann. Two of the Corsairs are unable to budge the mighty battleaxe still clutched by the corpse but the barbarian lifts it with ease. Suddenly the group finds itself surrounded by pygmies. The largest of the natives strikes a gong and the landing party is dumbstruck by an unearthly weakness. The pygmies bind Conan, Bêlit, N’Yaga and Baktu and lead them up stone steps carved into the side of the mountain — strangely, the Cimmerian is allowed to keep Ahmann’s huge blade. They are brought before the little people’s ruler, Tezcatlipoca, Lord of the Mist, the sorcerer who killed Ahmann 100 years past. Conan is thrown into a cell, the rest to be sacrificed. After Tezcatlipoca slays Baktu, Bêlit wrests away the sacrificial knife and stabs the wizard. Rushing off, she frees Conan from his cell as N’Yaga makes his escape. But the near-immortal Tezcatlipoca still lives and grasps the barbarian in a death choke. However, Ahmann, apparently resurrected, calls out for the sorcerer from the forest. Conan takes advantage of the distraction and lops off Tezcatlipoca’s head with the enchanted axe. Outside, N’Yaga reveals that he used his juju trickery to make it appear that the legendary Corsair had returned from the grave. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: While this is certainly a major leap up from the dreary Conan the Barbarian 63 — the last non-reprint issue — “Fiends of the Feathered Serpent” will not go down in the canon of classics. And yes, a feathered serpent makes a brief appearance but Conan dispatches it so quickly it wasn’t really a plot point. It seems that the nondescript Tezcatlipoca couldn’t wrest the battleaxe from Ahmann’s dead hands a century ago so he let the Cimmerian deliver the trophy to him. Unless I missed it, why Conan can heft the blade is not explained: guess it’s along the lines of Thor and his hammer. Let’s hope it become a constant companion like Mjolnir because it’s a wicked piece of business. Roy adapts Robert E. Howard’s “The Thunder-Rider,” which was first published in the 1972 Donald M. Grant collection, Marchers of Valhalla. It’s one of Robert E’s “Weird Westerns,” a short about a Comanche warrior  who battles a sorcerer who once ruled the Aztecs. While I’m sure that Thomas had access to all the Howard books being published in the era, it’s still a rather obscure choice for a Conan adaptation. Come to think of it, I’m surprised that Roy hasn’t done a straight adaptation of a non-Sword and Sorcery Howard story so far. Shoot, a comic about a Comanche fighting a wizard sounds pretty cool to me — and there’s tons of other interesting stuff available. Considering all the dubious black-and-white magazines Marvel launched in the early 70s, they couldn’t have tried one that featured Breckinridge Elkins, Sailor Steve Costigan, and other roughnecks? Or give one a chance in Savage Sword at least. Perhaps Marvel didn’t have the rights to everything.

Matthew:  I can hear Professor Gilbert applauding those remarks all the way from Bethel.  Magnifico! 

Chris: For an ordinary mortal like myself, I can take heart in the knowledge that a few things in this world can give Conan a bit of the willies.  Extra points to Roy, who sends N’Yaga offstage with a brief comment that he knows what to do (i.e. without requiring direction from Bêlit), and then draws no further attention to the sorcerer until we all see the animated – walking and talking! – body of Ahmann, which gives Conan pause for a moment, and proves to be the undoing of the birdman of Tezcatlipoca.  

Note to self: next time I happen to be in the castle, or fortress, or tower, of a seemingly-ageless personage who commands magical powers, and that being happens to die unexpectedly, I’m going to beeline for the exit before the masonry starts crashing down.  This sort of thing seems to happen quite often in the Hyborean Age, doesn’t it -?

Matthew: Building codes were pretty lax back then.

Captain America and the Falcon 200
"Dawn's Early Light!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Captain America enters the grounds of the Taurey Estate, backed by a combat team and a group of technicians. The techies dismantle a sonic wave projector on the edge of the property before it can wipe out the team. Cap and his men are able to work their way into the mansion. Meanwhile, the Falcon clears the North Tower for the advancing strike force. Cap finds Taurey giving his ball address after activating the Big Daddy Madbomb. Falcon is at the bomb site, and as per the pre-mission briefing, turns the sonic force to maximum. While the Falcon fights off the crushing effects, Cap challenges Taurey to a duel, but the man crumbles. At that moment, the Madbomb overloads and blows.  Over the radio, the Falcon asks Cap, “how stands the nation?” Captain America proudly responds, “the nation stands!” -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: What could have been an epic arc under the pen of another writer limps to a conclusion. Kirby didn’t have the scripting chops to do much with this story. Taurey is a bland, identity-less figure without any real interest. The people helping Cap and Falc are the faceless, nameless minions Kirby was saddling us with at the time.  The Falcon gets to have a nice long inner monologue about how it feels to be saving America on the bicentennial when he is a direct descendant of slaves. It had been so long since it was mentioned that Steve Rogers’ ancestor dueled Taurey’s that I completely forgot about it. The art is typical of Kirby of this era. Lots of sound and fury amounting to very little. 

Mark Barsotti: The letter page admits "July 4th is still a ways off," which is fine since it's Cap's numbering that counts and this is the big 200, not just for the mag (adopting the old Tales of Suspense numbering; Cap first co-starred in TOS #59) but for these wheat fields waving United States of Mom & apple pie loving America!

And after the country's long, dismal trip from Dallas to the fall of Saigon, who's gonna object to starting the party early? Light up the bombs bursting in air blowout celebration. Jack Kirby was a combat soldier in World War II, so any red, white, and blue rah-rah the King chooses to serve up on this august occasion, I'm gonna stand up and salute.

Except we don't get much of that.

Matthew:  This “I know Steve Rogers well enough to stand in for him!!” nonsense squanders the opportunity for a satisfying resolution to the Taurey/Rogers conflict established in #194; setting the confrontation in private, rather than at a ball, would have allowed Cap to unmask, provoking the proper “You!” reaction, and Taurey to take Cap’s i.d. to the grave, preferably in a mishap of his own making, say while cheating in the duel.  Instead, we get such a painstakingly detailed depiction of Cap and Falc’s respective raids that the climax is almost an afterthought, with the Hardings—so central to the past two issues—not even meriting a mention by name, so my reaction to the conclusion of this poorly plotted arc is mainly relief that it’s over.

Mark: Between the "Dawn's Early Light!" title and Cap's last panel assurance, "The Nation Stands," Old Glory flapping majestically behind him, the King delivers an overdrive actioner. Almost every panel on every page throbs with energy and movement. Pages 22/23 are an explosive reminder that Kirby invented super-heroes in dynamic motion, around the time Hitler was taking France. Even on the downhill side of the mountain in '76, Kirby was still a vibrant creative force.

Inks by Bullpen vet Frank Giacoia "Marvelize" the art a bit more than Jack's D.C.-cohorts would have, to fine effect, all save the Cap close-up on P. 3, which is perhaps the ugliest Kirby hero ever. Just turn the page quickly and don't show the children!

The Mad-Bomb-foiling finale is an effective thrill-ride, but remove all Fourth of July references and this would still be a Kirby-epic, shorn of its thin political veneer. K-epics of this era didn't have much to do with reality, not just within the Marvel U, but real reality either. The story's so removed from anything happening in the country – the whole arc, not just the finale – we could change the year to 1966, 1956, and the bang-bang keg 'o dynamite tale doesn't suffer. 

Is that a sign of timelessness, or falling behind the times? Perhaps both.

Steve Englehart's Cap would have no doubt been more provocative and topical, if less broad-shouldered. One doesn't expect soliloquies from a Kirby hero, but why deny Steve Rogers his revelatory moment of ancestral comeuppance? Without it, the pistols-pressed-to-chests "duel" with Taurey is drained of drama. It's a rare misstep for a natural storyteller, leaving the big payoff on the shelf.

And Kirby was an avid reader, kept up with the times and trends, so with all the problems bedeviling the American psyche in '76, the most frightening baddies Jack could come up were powdered-wig wearing, faux-monarchist fops?

First, they came for my Grey Poupon. And I said nothing.

Chris: Here’s another issue that’s etched comfortably in my mind.  It’s been years since I re-read it, but even today, I appreciate the way Jack builds the suspense, as Cap and the Falcon mount their systematic, careful assault on Taurey’s strongholds.  I also enjoy the patient way Cap stands in the background, listening in as Taurey gloats over his expected victory; nice moment also at the end, as Cap offers Taurey a taste of vengeance, which he confidently knows Taurey hasn’t the stomach to act on.  

I found a slip of paper that I had inserted inside the front cover, which reads: “200th Issue!  Sept 16th, 1979.”  Even though this issue was barely over three years old, I’m sure I felt like I’d recovered some ancient artifact.  There simply weren’t very many options available for me to collect back issues in those days; once a comic had come and gone from my local newspaper store, I was out of luck.  

Daredevil 136
"A Hanging for a Hero!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Daredevil is led from a cell to D.A. Tower’s office. Their ploy to lock up DD overnight has paid off; they now have proof that the real DD did not break out of jail, and was not subsequently recaptured by the supposedly heroic Jester.  Tower also reveals that the purportedly dead body of the reportedly murdered Jester had “self-destructed” and turned to ash; chemical analysis proved that it was nothing but an automaton.  DD expresses concerns that the series of false new stories has been part of a deliberate campaign by the Jester; the accounts have become broader and less credible, but a significant percentage of the public seems to accept them, only because the Jester has been able to present these stories as legitimate network news broadcasts.  DD fears that, whatever the Jester’s scheme might be, it’s likely to involve an even more outlandish story.  Before long, the news hits: President Ford appears (or, appears to appear) on TV to announce that the NYPD have “all gone insane,” and are enlisting super-heroes to help them kill civilians and “loot New York blind.”  Ford encourages the populace to arm themselves and “take to the streets” against this threat, until US armed forces can arrive to restore order.  DD concludes that this night, with the streets unsafe both for PD and super-types, should allow criminals (the Jester foremost among them) free rein.  DD takes the risk to scout around the city, and finds only a few dozen citizens out, until he senses a car crash thru the front window of a federal reserve bank.  DD tries to interrupt the robbery, but the people on the street think that DD is there to steal for himself.  The crowd overwhelms DD, by sheer force of numbers.  The crooks check in with the Jester, who directs them to stage a “fair trial for DD – before we kill ‘im!”  DD awakes to find his arms bound, and a noose around his neck, moments away from the Jester’s announcement of the mob’s verdict. -Chris Blake

Chris: After months of hints and build-up, the Jester Widespread Misinformation story is finally coming to a head.  The Jester enjoys his own company, so we hear from him all about how the news-rigging device can take existing footage (from movies, from real news reporting, etc) and adapt those images to suit a new script.  It would have been a chilling idea in its day, but pure science fiction, right?  I mean, there’d never be a way to modify the content of a person’s speech to suit some other purpose, could there -?  And even if there were a way, well, a discerning public would see right through the ruse, deny the misleading images, and insist on the truth, wouldn’t they …?

The use of Ford’s image to deliver news of city-wide chaos certainly would’ve struck a nerve for New Yorkers; only a few months earlier, in October 1975, Ford had stated he would veto any measure to provide a federally-funded bail-out for the financially-strapped city.  The Daily News headline famously phrased this pronouncement as “Ford to City: Drop Dead”; anyone living in or around the city in those days surely would remember that front page slogan, so it’s a brilliant move by the Jester (and Marv) to position Ford as the bearer of significantly worse news for the city.

Marv continues to take his title character more seriously, without nearly as much joking around; the little bit of forced levity is quickly lost as DD is buried under the misled mob (with the opportunistic crooks looking on).  That moment leads me to one criticism: this is one of those occasions when the cover gives away the last image of the story.  If I have to read to the very end of a comic, and wait all the while to witness the scene depicted on the cover, then the moment itself loses a lot of its impact.  I would’ve much preferred to see a cover like this for DD #137, since (I expect) we’re going to pick right up at the lynching scene in the next issue.  You think DD could escape between this issue and the next one, with page one of DD #137 featuring a pile of empty ropes, and guys saying “Hey!  Where’d he go?!”? – well, sure DD’s good, but I don’t think even he is that good.  

Matthew: Per the lettercol, “Bob [Brown] has been seriously ill in recent months, and it is to his credit that he’s consistently managed to meet deadline after deadline.  However, he is now recuperating and taking a well-deserved rest, which means that we have a few fill-in artists lined up for the next several issues, starting with the one you’re holding in your hands.  Next month’s action epic will also be limned by Big John Buscema, while the penciler for #138 is, as yet, uncertain [’twas John Byrne, of all people].  Issue #139 will feature the far-out art of Our Pal Sal Buscema, and, hopefully, Bob Brown will be back with #140.”  Brown apparently shares credit with Gil Kane on #141 after another fill-in by Sal, but his recovery was unfortunately temporary.

Battlin’ Bob’s faculty detractors will presumably be appeased for now by this issue’s artwork, and although Mooney is no Sinnott when it comes to bringing out the best in Buscema’s pencils, Big John particularly shines in moments like page 11, panel 9 (far above); page 16, panel 2 (above); and the top of page 31 (below).  Although the first issue of Marvel’s adaptation won’t be published for another five months, we can probably deduce from the Logan’s Run marquee so prominently displayed in page 30, panel 4 that the ink was already dry on that contract.  I read this in bed just before going to sleep, but I don’t think that’s the only reason it threatens to evaporate from my memory; Marv is still running out the clock, making me feel like this otherwise good story is one issue too long.

The Defenders 38
"Exile to Oblivion!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Nebulon deposits Dr. Strange, Luke Cage and the Red Guardian on a natural world hostile enough to keep them busy, and Stephen's power limited. Nighthawk joins them soon, tricked by the alien's human guise. Valkyrie has her own troubles to deal with, stuck behind bars with human trash. Eventually Stephen brings them back to Earth, where the Eel and Porcupine give them trouble, but not for long. Battle won, but war with Nebulon ongoing! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The magic the Defenders face here is fanciful enough to make their escape and eventual victory over some of their foes believable. Val's prison troubles add some humour; the ending implies a change in her plight is forthcoming.

Matthew:  Any comic-book series is, by definition, episodic, but I think these latest couple of entries epitomize a less neutral meaning of the term.  Make no mistake, I still love everything Gerber is doing, and it had quite an impact on my young self; as soon as I saw Tania’s horrified reaction to her infestation, I had a letter-perfect recollection of her later observation that the trip through the dimensional doorway had “overtaxed the little dears.”  Yet Steve seems to spin out these parallel events in a way that makes it difficult to distinguish one issue from another, while as I re-read it now, the scene of Val dumping the tepid stew on the bully (yclept Felicia, per the MCDb) reminded me of nothing so much as Janson smearing his ink on poor Buscema’s pencils.

Chris: Steve G begins to consolidate the team, as various storylines come together; the issue moves briskly along, with more time devoted to action than we’ve seen (on average) lately.  The bozo club appears to be breaking up, but it’s difficult to expect Nebulon to give up his crusade too easily.  And regarding Defenders opponents, we haven’t seen or heard from the Headmen in some time, have we?  Now, it seems they must be up to something, but for the life of me, I can’t remember what it might be.  Did it involve Nagan randomly switching other people’s brains around?  Well, in any case, I wouldn’t leave those birds unsupervised for too long.     

Classic bit of Steve G lunacy, as a door to another dimension comes complete with a knob and hinges.  Speaking of chaos, we have another installment featuring the gun-totin’ homicidal elf, which already is beginning to drive some letter-writers to distraction.  The only downside to the elf-moment is that the space required for this (seemingly random) aside might have precluded Steve from providing an update regarding the Defender-foes; well, there’s always next issue.

Doctor Strange 17
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

James Mandarin,  who had sought to be a disciple of Dr. Strange and was turned down for his unworthiness,  has now stolen some of Stephen's books. He is apprehended, and his memory wiped clean. However, one of the books, New Atlantis, raises questions for Stephen and Clea, so the pair journey back to 1618 to meet Francis Bacon, author of said book, and a visionary of a more peaceful world.  He invites them to attend his house that evening, where they meet others like Bacon. A failed attack on the way to Bacon's house foreshadows another later. After borrowing the original manuscript of New Atlantis  to peruse (including the 2nd half that never appeared in public print ), the villains make themselves known: sorcerer  Stygyro and his men,  who hijack the mystery manuscript. When Bacon appears, it is with an apology. He never meant to publish the latter work, and let Stygyro have it to fool him. -Jim Barwise

Jim: An interesting time travel yarn perhaps not so brilliant as some, but better still than other titles.  Clea develops her powers further, and Bacon is a fascinating visionary of his time. Nice cover.

Chris: So who gets bicentennial fever this month: Captain America, and – Dr Strange, of course!  Doc already has preserved the very fabric of reality from annihilation, and more recently saved himself from damnation, so I’d say a little time away from the sanctum is well-earned.  Clea might add that a little alone-time with Strange is long overdue, but she doesn’t seem to mind that it’s turned out to be a working vacation.  Steve E’s notion that time-travel could be akin to allowing yourself to be carried on a (real cool, not gnarly) wave – without all the bolting-of-energy to get yourself there and back – is an interesting variation on this fantastic theme.

Prior to that, it’s not often that we see Doc pop off at a citizen; he’s usually above such reactions.  The noteworthy aspect of Doc’s reaction to Mandarin isn’t that he thought he could have Doc pinned down in hell, but that Mandarin had tried to bolt with some treasured, ancient texts.  Doc then sends him to the cornfield.

Know-it-all side note: Bacon’s assertion that he did not write Shakespeare’s plays is amusing (and accurate), but it’s an anachronism, since in 1618 – two years after Shakespeare’s death, and a full five years prior to the publication of the landmark First Folio in 1623 – all of London would’ve been able to distinguish the works of Shakespeare (including those involving some co-authorship assistance) from those of Bacon, or Marlowe, etc.  The question of authorship is an affectation with its roots in the mid-19th century; up until that time, there was no need to speculate about whether some other person might have written the plays and other verse.  Perhaps Bacon already had been posed this question, by previous visitors who had ridden the time-waves from other eras -?

Matthew: The lettercol features a veritable all-star team of most-prolific correspondents:  Ralph Macchio, Dean Mullaney, Larry Twiss, and Edward Via.  I don’t recall thinking as a kid that the Bicentennial was a big deal, and certainly never felt—then or now—that it was a suitable subject for Marvel, from the title of Captain Marvel #45 to the Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles treasury edition (which I never bought) and Kirby’s Madbomb saga.  This esoteric new storyline is no exception, evoking the dreadful This Is America, Charlie Brown segment that put the Peanuts gang on the Mayflower, and with Doc already having traveled back in time to meet Cagliostro, in Marvel Premiere #13, it feels more than ever as though Steve is repeating himself.

The Eternals 2
"The Celestials"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

As Ikaris, Kro, and the father-daughter archaeology team of Margo and Professor Damian look on in awe, the ship of the Space-Gods touches down in front of them. Kro and his henchmen flee in fear but Ikaris and his companions remain to greet the star-riders. As they wait, Ikaris keeps his friends' interest by telling them stories of his early days, including the time he piloted a giant ark full of animals through  massive rainstorm (hmmmm). The Eternal's attention drifts to a "resurrection crypt" where he turns a latch and opens a door, releasing his old friend, Ajak, now rechristened Tecumotzin. The boys embrace, have a laugh, a hearty lager, and then return to business at hand -- the landing of the Space-Gods. Ajak instructs his men to open the "cosmic door" and, when the portal is open, it reveals a ground crew preparing for the arrival of the big guys. At last, something is teleported from the ship, a huge red metal being known as Arishem, Leader of the Fourth Host, a creature whose very presence spells doom for Earth. 

-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: So, the awesome new evil presence in the Kirby World is a scarlet Galactus? As with installment one, I'd recommend you buy the French version of Marvel's Eternals.. or the Italian... or the Taiwanese... or the Braille... anything that gives you an excuse to ignore the words that make up what passes as a story here and just admire the art. Yeah, Jack's revisiting a whole lot of past in his art (Margo is a thicker version of Sue Storm, Ajak's got more hardware on his helmet than Peyton Manning, and like most of The King's early Marvel hero art, everything looks a bit... boxy) but there's still a lot of "Oh, that's pretty cool!" on display and it could have been much worse. Hell, imagine this with Jack's prose and Frank Robbins' art. Still, if Jack doesn't steer this thing in the general direction of clarity very soon, it'll be hard not to write this off as a "Cosmic Outhouse" after only a few issues.

Matthew: For God’s sake (ha ha), let somebody write in, so that we can fill the lettercol with something other than Kirby’s ramblings about “saucer flaps”—there’s that word again!—and “the somber rituals of a Spider-Man cult in 2540 A.D.”  My initial inclination to refer to this as “empty spectacle” was only strengthened when I discovered that almost half the issue is devoted to full- and double-page spreads, and okay, yeah, comics are a visual medium, yadda yadda yadda, but there really isn’t a whole lot of plot or characterization here.  “More Fantastic Than Chariots of the Gods!” trumpets the cover, just on the off chance that there was any uncertainty where Kirby was coming from, meanwhile positing Ikaris as the savior of Noah’s Ark…whatevs.

Chris: So, who put the “lost” in lost Lemuria?  Looks like it was the Celestials, once the Deviants committed the classic Old Testament error of crossing their creator.  Kirby has a lot of fun as he establishes the seemingly limitless, nearly imponderable capabilities of the Celestials; the regeneration of the “ground crew,” as men are re-assembled from atoms, is a particularly inventive concept.  There hasn’t been much story yet, since Kirby has had a fair amount of back history to fill in for us (a few millennia worth, you know), plus the large-scale and full-page illustrations, as great as they look, don’t allow for events to turn over quickly.

Mark: A bombastic, Michael Bay-worthy idea like the return of ancient astronauts, whatever its other (de)merits, is right in Jack Kirby's mid-'70's widescreen wheelhouse. If his mere humanoids (with exceptions like the obviously fussed-over interior splash, P. 6) are somehow getting even blockier, their faces broader and blunter, all the rest - spaceships, Gods, ancient Inca cities - deliver the expected majestic size and techno-grandeur (two page spread of the mudda of Motherships; eat yer heart out, Close Encounters!), the incalculable heft and weight of ancient monoliths (P #14) the gaudy, grandiloquent character design (Ajak on P. 23).

This one's a visual feast, boasting seven – count 'em, seven! - full splashes, indelibly etched on the page, like lightning zapped directly from Kirby's endless imagination.

The bad news: it deprives us of more Eternals' banter like:

"You found the Gods, Ajak – when they appeared to the Incas – you were there!"

"I was there, Ikaris...I came to know the Gods!"

Er...maybe there is no bad news.

Fantastic Four 173
"Counter-Earth Must Die -- at the Hand of Galactus!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Our story accelerates as Galactus tells the Thing he removed the "most minuscule portion" of his life force from the Destroyer, calling into question Ben's k.o. last ish. He attacks Big G, knowing he's way overmatched, with predictable "Down goes Frazier!" results. Running out of Thing-suit air, Ben digs through the surface of Counter Earth's artificial moon, hoping to hit an air pocket, but collapses instead. Galactus looks on impassively as the Gorr-piloted ship arrives, with Stretch-o scooping up the barely still alive Ben.

Chatty interlude as Galactus telepathically recounts his post-Surfer heralds before the High Evolutionary pipes up, asking the purple planet eater to stay his hunger, load up on triple espresso or something, and seek sustenance elsewhere but Counter Earth. 

Big G, in return, offers a choice 'twixt devil and deep blue sea: either (A) find a planet (he specifies it must be "highly populated," a new culinary requirement Roy no doubt added to ramp up the moral dilemma) that will willingly serve themselves up, like the four-footed fare on menu at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe in Hitchhiker's Guide..., or (B) the FF can finger a world of unwilling entrees.

And all on a 24-style countdown clock.

The High E has already been "searching for other inhabited planets," finding three near-by: one earth-like (again?), another "looks as dead as the moon," the third "...almost mechanical, clock-like..."

Reeds tasks Sue to hang with High E as "a one-woman reserve unit," force fields at the ready (can she now project them to distant worlds? Reed - and Roy - don't say) while the other four hunt tasty planets.
Johnny & Gorr get the Earth-like analog (number 359th in the series. Collect every card!), where in less than a mag-concluding page and a half they rescue a damsel in dragon distress, only to be "Bonk"ed and "Klonk"ed upside the head with lances, then trundled, unconscious and lashed to a pole, toward a distant castle.

We backtrack to the adventures of Ben and Reed in Roboland, a.k.a. planet Mekka, ruled by Torgo, Ben's old Skrull slave-pen bro, from FF #90-93. Roy wisely skips the awkward, can-Galactus-gobble-yer-planet pitch, cutting right to Torgo's sensible response: taking our heroes captive, since he can't risk them tabbing Mekka as a Galac-Snack anyway. Reed and Ben now face "the Ultimate Resolution," which, considering they're now stuck, crucifixion-style, on what looks like an Entomological mounting board, doesn't sound like high tea.

We end with the High Evolutionary deciding they're down to a last card. He'll challenge Galactus to a "fight to the death!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark: High marks all around. John Buscema pitch hit art is top-flight, and Roy's story, even with a plotty gabfest or two, has the pulse racing, pages turning.

Sure, Reed and Ben over-shared a bit with Torgo; letting him know that if his Metal-Men ( © D.C. Comics) weren't up to a People's Temple Kool-Aid break, they could still be Big G belly-bound wasn't the wisest tactical decision, but it sure amps up the drama.

Pound-for-pound, I don't see Vegas taking any money on the High E against Galactus. It's off the board, in fact, but I suspect team FF - and Roy - will come up with a horseshoe-in-the-boxing-glove gimmick to even the odds.

Chris: So, the FF are being asked to serve as supplemental, or substitute heralds for the Big G?  I see how Reed might sign on for Galactus’ impossible terms if he expects to use those 24 hours as a delaying tactic, but even Tony Danza has to realize that they aren’t going to find any willing takers out there, right?  Nice job by Roy the Librarian to tie this story in with a previous deep-space adventure; although, it didn’t take long for that ol’ camaraderie with Torgo to dry up, did it, Ben?  

There are two undercurrents at work here as well: Reed’s diminishing elasticity, which he’s keeping so quiet that even Roy doesn’t comment on it (p 7; and, if you look closely, you can see that Reed’s refraining from stretching his right arm on p 26, and p 27 as well); Reed’s over- protectiveness, or maybe it’s chauvinism, that results in Sue being left behind again.  If Reed’s playing the “team-leader” card, then he might realize that he should be the one to stay behind at the High Ev’s HQ, shouldn’t he, so that he could monitor both away-teams?  Sue comments only that she suspects Reed is “conning” her, but I’d like to hear more of her thoughts on the subject.

Matthew: So far—reading alphabetically, as usual—this stands head and shoulders above many of the month’s mags.  Roy’s suspenseful, carefully plotted arc continues combining time-honored tropes, like dividing into sub-teams, in a way that manages to feel at once familiar and fresh, and the High Evolutionary is a character I find increasingly fascinating; the Sophie’s Choice dilemma faced by the FF is poignant, although it’s sad to see Torgo turn on his old ally like that.  Other than ko-kreator Kirby (yes, I’ll give Jack his royal due, especially with that kool kover to remind us), I don’t think anybody but Big John gives Galactus the gravitas he demands, and an issue like this one just serves to remind me why Buscinnott remains my favorite art team.

The Incredible Hulk 202
"Havoc at the Heart of the Atom!!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Romita and John Buscema

The Incredible Hulk continues to shrink, bouncing off molecules like a pinball, until he finally settles in a lush green field. The peace and quiet doesn't last, however, as the green goliath is soon set upon by a horde of Warthos. The giant pigs don't last very long though and the Hulk is soon back to wandering this new world. Meanwhile, back at Gamma Base in New Mexico, Major Glenn Talbot is led by Doc Samson into surgery. There, it is hoped that the microscopic Hulk will be removed from Talbot's head and the Major can get back to a life of wedded bliss. As The Hulk turns a corner in the forest, he comes upon a chilling sight: his beloved Jarella, about to be sacrificed to a "God of the Mountain." The big guy intervenes and his long-distance girlfriend informs him that a giant living above the clouds has been causing a series of deadly earthquakes and the only solution is human sacrifice. Hulk grabs hold of the green babe and starts climbing the mountain and, after a very long trek, the duo come across a huge castle above the clouds. Sneaking under the door, Hulk and Jarella are immediately set upon by a giant ogre. After a few vicious blows, Hulk discovers that the creature is actually a robot and soon smashes it into rubble. Convinced he's saved the day, Hulk scoops up Jarella and prepares to leave when he's blasted by a ray-gun wielded by his old nemesis, Psyklop! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: My all-time favorite Hulk story is "The Brute That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World" (from #140) so any appearance of the jade jezebel automatically becomes a "must-read." The first of a four-part epic that will (SPOILER ALERT) not end happily for the green couple certainly gets the wheel spinning but I have a silly question for those in the know. I get that Doc Samson shrunk the Hulk and he's bouncing off the atoms and stuff inside Talbot's head but what is Jarella's world doing in the same place? Wouldn't that assume that Jarella has always been an occupant of Talbot's grey matter? And our hero has a hard time remembering where he was yesterday (or five minutes ago, actually) but he recalls the porkers are known as Warthos? I'm hoping we'll eventually get down to the matter of unloyal subjects sacrificing their queen and the hazards involved.

Meanwhile, our Bullpen Bulletin page absolutely guarantees that, beginning in the Summer of 1976, all subscription copies will be mailed flat and received in pristine condition! As a 1970s subscriber (and a Postal insider beginning a few years later), I can assure you that this particular policy was deader than John Carter 2. Marvel's "Subscription Department" was obviously more concerned with counting all the crisp one dollar bills received from their young fans than shopping for a proper mailer. As documented here in the past, the company would ship their minty fresh gems in a horrid little piece of brown wrapping tantamount to a decapitated condom. Imagine this open-ended grocery bag traveling through the vast array of machinery, designed to speed your correspondence to your mailbox as quick as possible (think, oh, I don't know, the Hulk bouncing from Talbot's cerebrum to his hippocampus), without upchucking its fragile contents. A well-intentioned but naive proclamation.

Matthew: The creative team is pretty well firing on all cylinders here, with the ever-variable Staton having one of his better days (Sal’s constancy is virtually a given).  I’m usually leery of Jarella stories, because you know they’re not going to live happily ever after and raise 2.5 lime-colored children, but Len handles her reappearance du jour nicely.  It’s interesting to compare her relationship with her people, already shown as pretty damn fickle, to that of Black Bolt in the current Inhumans; although understandably dismayed that he has flattened their home in an effort to save them, not knowing it was unnecessary, the Inhumans ultimately stand by their monarch, while Jarella’s lousy subjects are all too willing to sacrifice her.  Also:  Psyklop—cool!

Chris: Len picks on our hero this time, as his caption-comments refer to Hulk’s pea-brainedness.  Well, over time, we’ve found that’s not quite true – the Hulk might be densely slow-witted, and a bit self-centered (as people with a childish mentality tend to be), but he’s not stupid.  In fact, I’d say that Hulk’s memory, as evidenced this time by Hulk’s recognition of the threat posed by the warthogs, or “warthos” as he calls them (was “Warthos” one of the names Dumas considered assigning to a member of his merry swashbuckling band -? But, I digress.) is one of his stronger cognitive skills, even if he doesn’t retain the exact name in most cases.  Hulk remembers every opponent who ever hurt Hulk.  

With that in mind, I’m a little surprised that Hulk is so accepting of the possibility that he is back in Jarella’s world, and that he is somehow returned to her company.  The last time Greenskin saw Jarella, she was part of the Shaper’s imaginary Hulkworld (in issue #190), which was a lovely diversion for our Hulkster, but ultimately proved to be illusory, as the Toadmen showed up and ruined the whole thing.  I’m surprised that Hulk isn’t a little more wary as he sees Jarella again so soon, especially since things went down so badly, so quickly, the last time they were together (I will acknowledge that Hulk probably can’t distinguish between seeing Jarella here, in her sub-atomic homeworld, and having seen her last on the pretend Shaper-world) .

The Inhumans 6
"A King of Ruins"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gil Kane and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Black Bolt’s long-suppressed screams destroy most of Attilan, the space-ark, parts of the mountainsides and, finally, the pillars to which he was chained, while Maximus and his followers flee amid the chaos.  Upbraided by Gorgon, whom Medusa angrily reminds that he did not know of their victory, Black Bolt staggers into the ruins of the palace, emerging hours later to present her with a scroll before collapsing in exhaustion.  After the Inhumans rally to their liege, Medusa reads his proclamation, which states that restoring Attilan may be a wasted effort,  and that the royal family will use the space-ark to seek a habitable refuge from the Kree; the evil Inhumans regroup, but are soon soundly defeated, and the reconstruction of the space-ark begins.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Oh, wow, like I didn’t love this book already—the somewhat shaky inks by Frank “Chiar” (as opposed to last issue’s “Vin” Colletta) are my one criticism, and Kane’s pencils withstand them pretty well, especially the beautiful tableau on page 17 of Medusa reading the scroll.  I was so impressed with this that I re-read it aloud to Mrs. Professor Matthew, as she cleaned the shower in preparation for the crowd soon assembling for our daughter’s wedding, and Moench’s oft-mocked prose rang beautifully.  He boldly devotes all but the last few pages to a contemplative tale that gets to the heart of the Inhumans’ interrelationships; charts an interesting new direction for the series; and understandably eschews Black Bolt’s customary forgiveness toward Maximus.

Chris: Casual followers of this team might assume that it is a pretty bleak title, preoccupied with ruin and failure.  Doug rightfully devotes attention to the emotional impact of the seeming collapse of Inhuman society (due to the actions of their “infallible” leader, no less!), and Black Bolt’s desire to take responsibility.  Thankfully, Doug has the good sense to do three things in the second half of our story: 1) close out the Maximus story; 2) point the title in a new, off-world direction, and 3) give Black Bolt – who already has the endorsement of his people – a shot at redemption.  

This is another flea-market find for me; if I were a betting man, I’d put money on having acquired this issue at the same time and place when I originally snapped up Inhumans #5.  There are a number of Gil’s visuals that have stayed with me over time, including: Bolt’s collapse (above); the Hulk-like sonic-slap scatter of the Maximus allies (below); and of course, BB’s SWOK! of Maximus off his feet (p 30).  Medusa’s emotions are well-depicted throughout, especially her sympathy with Bolt’s sad state (p 10, last pnl), and her defiance (far above) as she challenges her fellow royals.  

Iron Fist 6
“Death Match!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Summoned by a telegram, Danny Rand boards a private jet at Heathrow Airport. On board he finds a fully recuperated Misty Knight and the sleek plane’s owner, Jeryn Hogarth, his late father Wendell’s lawyer. Hogarth informs Rand of two things: first, Misty has tracked down the kidnapped Colleen Wing to the Jera’Ad Al-Din fortress in Halwan; secondly, Danny is in line to inherit $250 million from his father’s estate. They fly to Halwan and when over the fortress, Rand suits up and bail outs, floating to the ground in a para-glider — Colleen’s samurai sword strapped to his back. Meanwhile in K’un-Lun, Yu-Ti, the August Personage in Jade, monitors Iron Fist’s progress with the Great Crystal. Lei Kung, The Thunderer, barges into the study, angered that the ruler never told Danny the truth: his father was not only Yu-Ti’s older brother, but the rightful ruler of K’un-Lun. In effect, the young Rand was next in line for the crown. Furious, Yu-Ti orders The Thunderer to get from his sight. Back in Halwan, the Living Weapon steals into the fortress, dispatching three guards in the process. He soon discovers Colleen. But, under the control of Angar the Screamer, she attacks her would-be rescuer, as does Angar with a disorientating mindstorm. Off balance and refusing to use his powerful Iron Fist, the martial arts master barely avoids Wing’s barrage of weapons: shuriken, naginata, sai, triple iron. But Iron Fist finally gets his beauteous friend in a headlock. Focusing his power, he uses his chi to mind meld with Colleen in attempt to free her from Angar’s influence. Colleen falls unconscious and Rand collapses under the strain. Too weak to resist, Iron Fist is captured as Master Khan, the mystery man behind the kidnapping, watches from the shadows. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: While entertaining and packed with outstanding art, this one is a good ole transitional issue, setting up next month’s big conclusion and what seems like trouble with Yu-Ti down the road. And it looks like the mind meld — another new power? — will have an impact in future issues as well. Jeryn Hogarth comes across like Auric Goldfinger with his sleek jet and crew of beautiful women. One even gives Rand a hair cut en route. We’ve had glimpses of Hogarth before: he has been the “Fat Man” monitoring Danny since he arrived in New York to confirm that he is truly Wendell Rand’s son. He actually hired Nightwing Restorations, Ltd to help. (Why isn’t it Knightwing? That’s much cooler.) Hogarth also claims to be Wendell’s trusted friend, but we shall see. We get a three-panel explanation of how Misty Knight lost her arm: as a NYC patrolwoman, she instinctively reached for a bomb thrown by some unidentified bad guy. There’s no mention on how she got her bionic replacement — or the one she is currently sporting. At this point, Iron Fist has rounded into a very mature comic book, with Claremont offering thoughtful, well-written situations that have serious consequences for all involved. And the class might be tired of hearing it, but Byrne’s top-notch illustrations sure don’t hurt. For some reason, it looks like the name of the colorist was erased on the splash page. 

Matthew: What “Chiar” lacked in Inhumans, he makes up for here, and while Claremont’s story is a knockout (Jeryn’s advent, misty Misty, K’un-Lun intrigue, ass-kickin’ Colleen, power-usage evolution, Khan khliff-hanger), it’s Byrne who steals the show.  First, he’s a miniaturist, e.g., the detail packed into page 2, panel 1 and visual characterization in page 10, panel 8.  Then, BOOM, he lurches dazzlingly to the other extreme with multiple tours de force:  the distortion and multi-layered effect of pages 16-17, with a nod to the uncredited colorist; the mind-meld on page 27 that is—yes, I’ll use the word—Starlinesque in conception and execution, with a whiff of Kane to seal the deal; and the cruel capper that prevents even a brief savoring of the “victory.”

Addendum:  Should we start calling our revered Dean Paste-Pot "the August Personage in Azure"?

Chris: At least, we’ve finally managed to get Danny, Colleen, and Master Khan all in the same room, at the same time.  Maybe now – well, when I say now, what I mean is “next issue” – we’ll get an idea of why Khan went to so much trouble to draw Danny here.  In the last-page illustration, Byrne cannily positions Colleen’s sword in the foreground (still in its packaging, but we, the readers, can tell what it is) – we’ll see whether the mind-freed Colleen will feel well enough to join the battle on Danny’s behalf.  

Chris: Claremont takes liberties again with applications for the iron fist.  I’ll give him credit for consistency, though – both in this case (the K’un Lun mind-meld with Colleen) and the previous instance (self-repair of widespread physical trauma in IF #4), Danny is focusing his mind so that he can direct energy to a specific part of his body, so that it can perform a super-human feat.  It’s not just about the sha-kow, you know.  As I mentioned in my comment for IF #4, I can’t recall whether Danny’s future scripters followed-up with this concept of broader uses for his power.

Claremont gives us a lot to think about as well with the K’un Lun intrigue, doesn’t he?  We’ve gotten a bit complacent with the notion of peaceful serenity and cooperation (well, non-stop martial-arts training excepted), so it’s a bit jarring (in a good way) to see Lei Kung and Yu-Ti in a work-space throw-down.  (Unfortunately, I don’t think Chris will have quite enough time to pursue this element of the storyline as far as he might have originally hoped.)  

Byrne’s art continues to offer plenty of satisfying action, with ample helpings of eye-pop.  Even Chiaramonte’s inks looks firmer, more polished this time out.  Aside from the obvious highlights (the latest, craziest mind-warp, on a two-page spread, no less!), here are a few personal favorites:  KTOW! (p 2); the multi-faceted all-seeing jade jem (p 11); crazy Colleen (p 26, pnl 3); and p 30, which not only captures Danny’s exhaustion, and has some very effective shadowy atmosphere, but also includes a neat small detail, as we notice shredding to the left-hand side of Danny’s costume (pnl 3), from the shurikens Danny had narrowly avoided on p 26, pnl 1.

The Invincible Iron Man 89
"Brute Fury!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Iron Man flips aside the concrete slab pinning him in the Hudson before his flying jets cut out due to power-pack damage, leaving him clinging to the retaining wall where Daredevil (seeking to reach the West Coast) rescues him.  Promising that Stark will delay his flight, IM asks DD to buy him time to effect repairs; meanwhile, O’Brien spots Harry about to infiltrate S.I., and lets him go with a condition.  Seeing the Blood Brothers tearing up ruins, DD uses a homing device to summon IM, who during the ensuing battle tests out a theory based on past meetings—that the symbionically linked Brothers grow weaker when separated—and this results in their defeat, but they had enlarged a hole in the wreckage imprisoning…the Controller. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Reading this was a bittersweet experience, because Archie’s story is so damn good that I’m sorry the veteran Ironmonger couldn’t have stuck around a little longer.  Horn- and Shellhead have had a “symbionic link” of their own since the days when Conway drove the sales of both titles so low that the two books were almost combined in a shotgun marriage, and the repartee between them here helps drive an already exciting story forward.  Since Archie created the Controller himself, and both he (the Controller, not Archie) and the Blood Brothers were thralls of Thanos, it feels as though something very cool is going on; for my fellow continuity freaks, DD’s appearance here, as he tries to pick up a kidnapped Karen Page’s trail, follows next month’s issue of his own title.

The Amazing Spider-Man 159
"Arm-In-Arm-In-Arm-In-Arm-In-Arm-In-Arm With Doctor Octopus"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru, John Romita, and Frank Giacoia

Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus both take on the rejuvenated Hammerhead, until all three knock into one another and pass out. As the SWAT Team enters Brookhaven Labs and Hammerhead's goons enter from the roof, the trio comes to, a major tussle starts, then Hammerhead grabs Aunt May and takes off on a super-copter. Incredibly, Ock and Spidey team up to get her back, but first there's a quick cut to someone rebuilding the Spider-Mobile, with the mysterious cigarette-smoking man we've seen before, vowing to rid the world of Spider-Man. At the Bugle, JJJ sees Spidey and Ock together, and causes another secretary to quit with his own brand of insanity.

The new twosome get to Hammerhead's old hideout, break in by smashing some henchmen, then are caught between some crossfire before the mallet-headed mobster starts his office spinning (if you remember from issue #114) and jumps out the window. The room is spinning faster, so Spidey starts tossing debris into the gears to stop it. Ock gets out, but when the office stops rotating, it ends at a brick wall. With Spidey occupied, Ock goes after Hammerhead, but the super-copter starts to fly off with the gloating gangster. So the furious felon uses his tentacles to hurl garbage cans at the vehicle, causing it to crash into the Hudson! Spidey busts out, the fire department enters the scene, Ock vamooses and Aunt May is safe. -Joe Tura

Joe: The creators must have finally realized Ock's haircut looks like Moe from the Three Stooges ("Moe is their leader"—H. Simpson ) and they engage in some silliness like the three-way knockout on page 3, the JJJ vs. Secretary #2 nuttiness on page 15, the insults back and forth between the new "team" of Spidey and Ock, and the hilarity of Ock tossing garbage cans just like Curly did to Larry in their first episode together. (I made that last part up. It's late…) But overall, this issue zips by with hardly a chance to breathe. There's so much going on, even in the asides with the tinkering villain (no spoilers there!) and the Bugle follies, that we're engaged on every page. Ross'  arm and leg angles are even more pronounced than ever, like he's on the same fever pitch as Len's script. Well done as usual, even through the wacky stuff.

Favorite sound effect this month has to be the "BWA-ROOM!' when Hammerhead's copter crashes into the Hudson, "where his protests finally cease—FOREVER!!" Geez, that's kinda final!

This month's Hostess ad has Captain America saving the country from Red Skull's Cosmic Cube attack—by giving the all-powerful geometric shape a Twinkie! Now that's a Bicentennial celebration, complete with cream filling!

Matthew: Ably illustrated by the reliable Rossito team, the action involving Spidey, two bad guys, various henchmen, the SWAT team, and Hammerhead’s nifty turntable office comes so fast and furious that Aunt May—the ostensible object of the exercise—is barely glimpsed, but whether you classify that as bad news is strictly up to you.  Yet in approved Amazing fashion, Len still finds room for the JJJ secretary du jour gag, plus some ominous developments regarding the Spider-Mobile and a not-so-mystery villain.  Love that title; also, in what may be the last such hilarity, lame-duck EIC Wolfman is billed as Cook & Bottle-Washer here, and Big Kahuna in the Hulk’s mag (although he is no longer credited in this month’s Thor).

Mark: Despite my disdain for moronic crimester Flathead, only amped up by his current status as resurrected ghost, "Arm-in-Arm-in-Arm..." opens at such a frenetic pace, with fun bits like Webs, Ock, and FH all knocked out at the same time, that, by God, there was hope Len could redeem this Brand Echhian slog with a socko finale.

Alas, false hope springs eternal...only to die, thrashing feebly on a crash cart.

Chris: Good fun all around in this three-headed, sixteen-limbed showdown.  I didn’t realize Hammerhead’s House of Fun had so many built-in surprises, from roll-up walls with armed thugs hiding within, to a high-speed revolving room, and a pop-open roof to boot!  And even if Hammerhead can survive an exploding helicopter crash, the PCBs contaminating the Hudson oughta finish him off.  

My favorite moment is when Spidey and Ock solidify their shaky alliance against Hammerhead, and Spidey disses Ock big-time, as he says “Okay, I’ll work with you, Octopus, but I won’t shake your hand!”  Andru even depicts Spidey holding up his flat palm toward Ock.  Classic.

And in other news, the useless suits have decided to bring back the DC-caliber Spider-Mobile, or whatever it’s called, and wedge in into our storyline, starting next issue?  All right, then – I’ll meet you all back here for ASM #161, deal?  
Mark: The most interesting bits are sub-plots and set-up: J.J.'s second new secretary in as many days (MU time) telling our pugnacious publisher to get stuffed, and the as-yet-unrevealed Kingpin (his FDR cig holder is the tip-off) rebuilding the Spider Mobile with sinister intent.

Len doesn't bother even serving up Flubber-level science to explain Flathead's return from beyond, save for one line about the atomic explosion (ASM #131) blowing FH "out of phase." Whatever that means.

The Spidey-Ock team-up amuses to about the halfway point, after which the three-way battle devolves into pie fight flailing. Flathead dives out a window and is off in his whirlybird. Which Ock then brings down. By flinging trash cans. From a distance of a quarter mile or more.

Fitting, since a garbage pail is where this stinkaroo belongs. And as much as Prof Joe loves all things Spidey, grading the mag on the most generous, Raquel Welch curves, if he raves about this one, Dean P should exile him to parking, not just off campus, but in the next freakin' county.

Matthew:  ......mmmmmmmm..........Raquel........

Ghost Rider 19
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Jean Hipp
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Powerless and strung up in the false Spider-Man’s web, Johnny Blaze is approached by the Challenger. The villain reveals himself to be a towering, horned archdemon of the omnipotent Lord of Darkness and that he was actually Johnny’s Jesus-like friend in disguise. When the evil creature orders Blaze to follow him through the gates of hell, the stuntman transforms into Ghost Rider even though the faux Black Widow supposedly sapped his abilities earlier — and, for some reason, he feels more powerful than ever. The two battle until the Rider realizes that the demon is only as invincible as he believes it to be and blasts his fearsome foe with a huge burst of hell-fire: the creature explodes and disappears. Finally free of Satan and his minions, Ghost Rider races off to Lebanon Hospital in Los Angeles to check on Katy Milner. When he arrives, Blaze is shocked to find that Milner never existed and that she was Roxanne Simpson all along, transformed by Inferno. As the reunited lovers embrace, a jealous Karen Page runs off, only to be gassed unconscious by an apologetic Stunt-Master and taken to Death’s-Head. The horsebacked horror demands that the girl tell him of her long-dead father, Paxton Page, the original Death’s-Head. 
-Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: The “Ghost Writers” letters page features two missives complaining about all the satanic shenanigans in the pages of what is supposed to be a super-hero comic. And this issue seems to finally excise that subplot for good — albeit with what is called a “script assist” by recently-hired assistant editor Jim “Trouble” Shooter, who turned Tony Isabella’s Jesus character into a demon in disguise. I’ll let Professor Bradley expand on that little controversy (see announcement below- Dean). This issue seems to be all over the place but really nothing much happens — and what does is completely convoluted and exhausting. Basically, the Rider and the archdemon battle and bicker back and forth for 10 or so pages until the hell-fire explosion ends things with a befuddling bang. Not sure why Ghost Rider feels even more powerful and we’ll see if that continues with Isabella’s exit — this is his last issue. Can’t say that I don’t feel a bit of relief over Tony’s departure. Too much penny-ante soul searching for me over the past few issues. And Rider’s jokey voiceovers about the action have become quite tiresome. After forming his Skull-Cycle he pauses to think “It’s made out of 100% harnessed hell-fire — guaranteed against rust and corrosion. It doesn’t even use gas!” All that with a huge demon on his fender. Bleecch.

Chris: It’s a lot of scrabbling around, before – yet again – we have the if-I-don’t-believe-then-you-can’t-hurt-me business, which is at least a useful lesson to impart to grade-school children.  There’s not much substance to the battle with the satanic emissary; Tony could very easily have used his space more economically (ie he could have radically trimmed back the clash with the faux-opponents last issue) and fit all of the content from #18 and #19 into one tightly-wound, fast-paced issue.   I mean, someone could have – maybe not Tony.  Seems to me (as I mentioned for another Tony-title appearing this month), when you’re working with a bi-monthly title, you want to compensate for your rarer appearances by keeping the story moving along briskly, without wasting time by padding things out.  

Tony also doesn’t bother to explain why GR’s powers have changed – they just have, that’s all!  Even Johnny expresses some reservations about this (“This doesn’t make sense!”) – I’m with you, cowboy.  

The return of Roxanne Simpson is nice, but so random – how did she get here?  And then, we get a very soapy page with Karen, before Death’s-Head appears once again –that’s right, we end this issue in nearly the exact same way as GR #18, with a big-deal reveal of Death’s-Head, astride his ghostly horse, covered head-to-toe in toilet paper.  The Robbins/Colletta Funhouse finally leaves town after this issue, so at least the art can begin to show some improvement (but, don’t be fooled by Byrne’s guest pencils next ish – he’s jest a-passin’ on thru).

What? You say you want to know more about this controversial tale? Why would Jim Shooter re-write Tony Isabella's script (nope! not for the obvious reasons!)? Why would Tony quit Marvel in a huff? Why would Marv Wolfman be implicated in the espionage? And which California beach was Stan Lee lounging on when the House of Ideas was in turmoil? Glad ya asked! Professor Matthew Bradley lays out the case in intricate detail this Sunday. You don't want to miss: Controversy is The Ghost Rider!