Wednesday, July 1, 2015

June 1976 Part One: The Senses-Reeling, Earth-Shattering, Block-Bustering, Wallet-Emptying Return of the Marvel Annual!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

This year, for the first time since 1968, Marvel finally returns to featuring new material in its annuals; they had appeared sporadically through ’73 and vanished during the ’74-5 heyday of the giant-size titles, the last wave of which devolved into reprint-fests, also ostensibly annual, that were indistinguishable from them.  Jumping in with both feet as always, Marvel will publish at least 15 over the next eight months (including the one-time-only DefendersDr. Strange, Master of Kung Fu, and Power Man), some of them released concurrently with issues cover-dated 1977.  Sources such as the usually accurate Marvel Comics Database may differ, but we have dated them as reliably as we can by comparing their Bullpen Pages with those of their monthly counterparts.

Interestingly, as late as April’s Dr. Strange #13, the A-Word is not used in Englehart’s lettercol, which refers instead to a Giant-Size Dr. Strange (not to be confused with last October’s all-reprint issue).  “Yes, we’ve taken another look at those [quarterly] oversized books of last year, and come up with what we hope is a viable solution this time.  Starting soon, we’ll be releasing one or two giant books a month, each concentrating on a different series…and as things stand now, next October should see the once-yearly appearance of a special tale of sorcery.  This will be an all-new, 35-page extravaganza—and after the fun I had with the extra-length Avengers epics, this one should be a real ball.”  He promises “a similar GS Avengers,” but both annuals eventuated after he departed.

And now, we present June 1976!

The Avengers 148
"20,000 Leagues Under Justice!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and Sam Grainger
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jack Kirby and Mike Esposito

This issue has one of the most misleading splash pages ever, showing the Avengers defeated by the Squadron, and it took me a minute to figure out just what was going on here. Anyway, in this issue, we are given a recap of what happened last issue, and Englehart has some great scripting here, allowing us to get into the characterizations of the different members of the Squadron. The feeling is that they aren’t the bad guys, just merely dupes of a massive government conspiracy.

Meanwhile, Beast, Hellcat, Cap and Iron Man are on the hunt for Vision and Scarlet Witch, having been separated from them last issue. They are dive-bombed by the Squadron, but despite some setbacks, these Avengers come out on top. The Vision and Wanda show up as well, but before they leave to go back to their own Earth, the Vision decides that something has to be done to disrupt the influence of the Serpent Crown on this Earth’s leaders.

The Beast, disguised as President Rockefeller, goes into a long speech about how the government is covering things up, looking to make blind, mass consumers of all citizens while in the meantime continuing to consolidate their power and wealth behind the scenes. At the end of the issue, they escape that Earth and go back to their own; we are left with the Squadron members taken aback,  thinking about the Beast’s words and what side they are fighting on. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: The artwork in this issue seems fairly ho-hum. The battle scenes are nothing spectacular, but the writing is pretty sharp throughout. The dialogue is revealing if, sometimes, a little over-bearing and preachy. But Englehart seriously has a message he wants to convey. Whether or not you agree with it, you can see this same thing going on since the Occupy Wall Street days.

Matthew Bradley: Englehart, Perez (sans short-lived accent), and Graingeris there a boner big enough to do this justice, despite the krappy Kirby kover?  Finally blessed with some worthy inks, George is resolutely the man for the job, given his facility for action and large casts of characters, and I love the membership rosters on the splash page, which even my limited knowledge of DC confirm as part of the JLA pastiche.  Ditto the chapter format and sub-teams well-deployed by Steve, featuring newer membersincluding the delightful Hank/Patsy pairingin Part II and the reunited Tales of Suspense “big guns” in Part III, although Stainless falls into the Supreme/Sinister trap, having Shellhead cite a meeting with the other Dr. Spectrum.

Chris Blake: Overall, it’s the most satisfying issue we’ve had of The Avengers in quite a long time.  All the right ingredients are here: battle-action, teamwork, camaraderie, intrigue, and some humor and freshly-minted ‘70s cynicism for good measure.  And the art!  Finally, we get finishes on Pérez’s pencils that allow them to look as clear and bold as they ought to.  I don’t understand why Pérez hadn’t been paired with Grainger’s clear, sure lines from the very start.  Pick any highlight you want!

Steve E provides a story that requires involvement from nearly half of the team, which is another welcome development, as opposed to his usual tendency to reduce the team to a dyad.  We still have Steve’s pairings-off, but at least the pairs converge and do a little work together before the end – that, to me, constitutes progress.  We also get lightning-fast look-ins with four other characters (that is, two more dyads), both of which feature character developments that will figure more prominently down the road: Moondragon’s imperiousness, and sense of superiority over ordinary humans (which over time, will grow to an insufferable degree); and Hank Pym’s uncertainty about future super-heroing, contrasted with Jan’s determination to go it alone, if she has to (unprecedented, in her character’s history as Hank’s shadow).  
As a trusting youngster, and a deliberate non-reader of DC, I honestly had no idea that the Squadron was intended as a sort-of spoof of the JLA; I simply thought they were a cool group of little-used, would-be heroes.  Steve E makes this clear, though, for anyone paying attention, when he stages this exchange between Lady Lark and Archer: “We always win out in the end!” “Yeah, and when we win, we win!  There aren’t any loose ends or questions --.”  (Okay – I get it now!)

Joe Tura: Yeah, that cover is hokey, but to an 8-year old, it was pretty cool, and made you wonder what the heck happened to the Avengers! Getting to the insides, all the luscious Perez art comes back from the memory banks, but older me has an even greater appreciation for the amazing angles George "shoots" from. Is there any other artist that does so many overheads? The story is fun and frenetic all the way, getting more inside looks from the villain's POV, which many books weren't really doing, I don't think. Just check out some of the unforgettable action like page 7, both dialogue and art crackling together effortlessly. In fact, the whole Beast-Hellcat chapter is the highlight of the issue to me, and I'm so glad I'm getting the chance to experience it again. And how lame is it that the silly Amphibion crawls out of the sewer, then gets his damp derriere beaten handily by Hellcat! Bwhahahaha! Great stuff in 1976, greater stuff now! P.S. Two letters from future Marvelites this month: archivist Peter Sanderson and writer/editor Jo Duffy, both writing from their respective colleges.

Black Goliath 3
"Dance to the Murder!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Larry Leiber, John Romita, and Frank Giacoia

Grazed by the sniper, Goliath is pinned down as Atom-Smasher is silenced, and after giving chase to no avail is overcome by an inexplicable wave of sickness.  Dale tries to cover for his absent boss and earns a slap by kissing Talia, who is haunted my memories of Neil, the love she lost in Bangkok, and felled with an energy blast as the misshapen Vulcan’s biker gang breaches Stark-West security, seeking a top-secret box sent by Tony (in #2).  Dale is almost crushed when his battle-damaged force field begins to implode, but Bill returns in time to hit the quick-release fastener; BG helps the newly arrived LAPD capture the gang, yet Vulcan escapes and the box, buried beneath the rubble of a collapsed building, “begins to smoulder, to glow…” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Atom-Smasher’s death underwent contradictory retconning outside this blog’s purview (e.g., MTIO #85 and a backup story in Marvel Fanfare #3 that may have been written first), so it’s probably best to take it at face value here.  This perfectly demonstrates my long-held principle that good writing can make up for art that is inferior or, in Tuskolletta’s case, merely average, with Claremont’s handling of the opening scene rich in tension.  Clearly disposable in the extreme, Vulcan is aptly a one-shot villain, but that mysterious box, so innocently introduced in Chris’s first issue, is obviously taking on increased importance, and although I have a hazy idea of where the subplot is headed, I’m enjoying the suspense provided by my incomplete memories.

The Champions 6
"Mad Dogs and Businessmen"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

After the Champs feign backing down, Iceman freezes Rampage so Hercules can get Angel to safety, but as he breaks free and the Widow’s bite fails, Ivan pushes her aside to take the blows himself.  Distracting Herc with a thrown VW, Clarke slips away by posing as a workman, carrying a crate containing his armor; citing the need for a leader, Warren nominates Natasha with no dissent.  Recognizing the exo-skeleton on the news, the fired Amos Crawley drops a dime on Clarke, who finds his lab surrounded and flees using an experimental ionic jet pack, yet a radio report brings the Champs from Ivan’s bedside, with Angel sporting a golden mace, and Rampage detonates his remaining fuel to evade capture, his life saved by an ice shield. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In the lettercol of his penultimate issue, “The Tiger Talks,” shedding additional light on the team’s origins.  “I had noticed a trend in Marvel’s ‘group’ books towards stories that really had very little to do with you or I….[and] started thinking about a superhero team that would address itself to the troubles of mankind within the Marvel Universe on a more direct basis.”  Declining to challenge Dave Kraft’s assertion that “’twas he who came up with the name ‘Champions,’” he notes that when the planned giant-size book “finally got the go-ahead, it was already late.  That’s why there were three months between the premiere issue and the Champs’ second outing….I’d tentatively put a three-man team together:  the Angel, Black Goliath, and the Iceman,” he relates.

Precluded due to his imminent book, BG was replaced with Natasha and Hercules. “For sales reasons, Len also wanted a character who had his own magazine.  Among those considered were Captain Marvel, Power Man, and Son of Satan.  They were all passed over for various reasons, and we finally selected the Ghost Rider…I wasn’t sure he’d work in a team.  I was wrong.  He fit beautifully.”  The Olympus trilogy “was originally dreamed up as a 35-page story for [GS #1].  The epic got away from us and ended up running 56 pages,” while the Rampage two-parter was intended for GS #2.  Len “came up with the red/yellow color scheme” for Angel’s new costume, designed by Romita, “to keep him from being lost in [Natasha and GR’s] heavy blue costumes.”

Along the way, Isabella dispels any notion of an Angel/Widow romance, started by Warren’s offhand remark in #2 that Natasha was more “attractive” (which Tony says was changed from his original “interesting”) than his last team leader.  He even answers the longstanding question of why Marvel mixes Greek and Roman names from that pantheon:  “House rules.  For major Olympian characters, we invoke artistic license and use whatever name sounds better to us.  So we have Hercules instead of Herakles, Venus instead of Aphrodite, and—because Hades is more commonly thought of as a domain—Pluto instead of Hades.  Generally speaking, though, for minor characters we’ll go with the Greek names.”  In fact, I always wondered about that myself!

The group’s protracted evolution continues with the Widow’s more or less unanimous (minus an absent GR) “election” as leader, although curiously, when enthusiastically supporting her, Hercules makes no mention of their shared experience beside the Avengers.  It’s not a bad idea to give Angel a gimmick beyond his wings, but I believe his out-of-left-field Olympian mace is yet another echo of Hawkman, already invoked on a more elaborate scale with Cap’n Hawk in this month’s Avengers. Tuskolletta rarely rises above the mundane, e.g., the shot of Natasha in page 6, panel 6, yet I like Rampage’s concern over possibly taking a life and determination to avoid prison, while Creepy Crawley embodies the business milieu that pushed him over the edge.

Chris: There’s a fair share of action, and in a way, I like how Tony shows us Rampage coming to realize how foolish it was for him to try to rip off the bank, although his change stems more from fear of consequences than a resurgence of conscience.  The whole “recession-born super-villain” and evil machinations by the scurvy lawyer seem tacked-on, as if Tony’s trying too hard.  Overall, the flow of the story comes off as a bit choppy, but I expect they’ll get it straightened out in rehearsals.  Oh wait – this is the finished comic?  Oh well.

Natasha gets the Tuska/Colletta “Beast” treatment, as there are variations on her hair and face throughout, as if a half-dozen different actresses had been cast in the role, and the director had hoped that some nifty editing would prevent us from noticing.  Frank Robbins must’ve snuck in to draw the silly, awkward tantrumming panel (right).

Conan the Barbarian 63 
“Death Among the Ruins!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Steve Gan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Gil Kane and Vince Colletta

Amra’s cast off wife, Makeda, former princess of the Moonhawk tribe, leads Conan and the Watambi warriors to the jungleman’s Lair of the Lions: she warns the Cimmerian that he is too late to save Bêlit since she summoned the demons that live below the crumbling city before she was exiled. Inside the Lair, Amra begins his wedding ceremony to the defiant Bêlit, his lion pride in attendance including his black feline brother Sholo. Suddenly, the subterranean, six-armed creatures Makeda called forth attack. After single-handedly killing a lion standing guard, Conan arrives with the Watambis and joins the feverish battle — the diminutive demons are eventually driven back to their underground lair. Conan and Amra face off for the honor of the Queen of the Black Coast: even though they are evenly matched, the barbarian emerges victorious. Sholo slowly approaches the exhausted Cimmerian. But instead of getting revenge on his blood brother’s killer, the big cat roars a mighty salute and pads away: Conan has been hailed as the new Amra, First Among Lions.  -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well it had to happen sooner or later: issue #63 is a dud, the first in this usually superior series. Let’s face it, there was never a doubt that Conan would be the last man standing during his fight with Amra — even though the jungle king had his back to the reader when the Cimmerian’s knife finally found his chest. But guess Roy couldn’t have exactly killed off one of Marvel’s biggest cash cows. Their battle royale was a lengthy affair, raging across four pages. As I have said, Amra is a decidedly bland character, a complete Tar-Zar rip off. The little, six-armed demons were rather cool however, swarming over their foes in waves. Their bark was worse than their bite though, as only one Watambi lost his life. Once again, Gan doesn’t add much to Big John’s pencils. Glad this three-issue diversion is over — let’s move on.

Matthew: "Tar-Zar" --- that's great!

Chris: Roy’s delight in his source material comes thru, as he provides several sparkling moments in the text, including Conan’s thoughts of “all the loathsome, time-forgotten horrors he’s battled” (p 15), Conan’s and Amra’s awareness of their eventual restoration of animosities, while they fight together, each thinking “as if he fought with a poisonous viper at his heel” (p 17), and Bêlit’s troubled observation that, in their ferocity toward each other, she finds it difficult to distinguish between Conan and Amra, one who lived among the Hyborian kingdoms, and one who “was raised by wild animals!”  

John B. uses larger panels to emphasize the evenly-matched nature of the combatants, and smaller panels to increase the intensity of their close-quarters battle (p 23, p 26).

Captain America and the Falcon 198
"Captain America's Love Story"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Cap, the Falcon and General Argyle Fist have broken up the mob in the underground badlands hideout, but the Madbomb is still missing. Fist gives the duo their new orders: electronics genius Mason Harding, who has been missing for two years, has been spotted and is believed to be an architect of the Madbomb. Cap and Falcon are to be on hand at Harding's home when the man is captured. Harding has been visiting his terminally ill daughter, Carol, but always under the watchful eyes of a pair of toughs. Cap arrives and meets Carol and her innocence touches him, and she is fascinated by his mask and demeanor. They arrange to meet on the beach the next day. Cap shows up as Steve Rogers and while they chat, Falcon and SHIELD raid the Harding home. As this is going on, a trio of obnoxious strongmen harass Steve and Carol. Seeing his display of prowess, Carol puts two and two together. Steve convinces her that the things they have shared were sincere. She believes him and tells Steve that she will soon be dead… -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: "Cap's Love Story" is barely that. Carol Harding is a fairly air-headed girl who isn't much different from Cheer Chadwick. For whatever reason, Cap is taken with her, enough to reveal his identity and chat about his feelings. Of course, there is no mention of Sharon Carter or anyone from his life. The three guys who show up to kick sand in their faces on the beach are hilariously outdated and ridiculous. In other news, Argyle Fist has no defining features to distinguish him. His helmet shadows his eyes, so he could be literally anyone. Perhaps that's the point. The Falcon sounds nothing like Sam or Snap Wilson. The characters are becoming more and more alien with every issue. And, as usual for the Kirby run, the SHIELD agents are all strangers to us. No Nick Fury, or Dum Dum Dugan, or anyone we've ever met. It's not an unpleasant read, just strange. And it'll get stranger. Of course, none of this brings us any closer to the finish line. It's just more running in place. 

Matthew: I’m pretty confident that at 12, I found this story tiresome, but while not embracing it wholeheartedly even now, I do find it a refreshing change of pace, especially after being within the stultifying confines of the Elite’s underground installation for several issues.  True, it has its shortcomings:  the far-fetched love-at-first-sight angle; the likelihood that even someone as sheltered as Carol would not immediately recognize Cap’s uniform; Steve’s casual disregard for the secret identity that Marvel took such pains to re-establish.  But it’s nice for Kirby to give the Falcon some time in the spotlight and allow him to sound somewhat more sophisticated than usual, e.g., “We haven’t been out-fought.  We’ve merely been out-thought!”

Mark: As perhaps the King's biggest fan on staff at this august institution, my silence upon Jack's return to the House of (largely his) Ideas has been the topic of idle speculation. I've started and discarded half a dozen in-depth Sunday Specials to address the topic. While some long form musing may ultimately emerge, Cap's approaching 200th issue (even with the screwy, carried-over-from Tales of Suspense numbering) compels me to address the Big Cigar in the Bullpen.

I was nine and crushed when Jack left Marvel in 1970. Fourteen and thrilled by his ballyhooed return. Growing up in rural Colorado, forty miles from the nearest Rexall spinner rack, I'd only sporadically sampled his D.C. output. The Fourth World thrilled, the little I saw of it. Kamandi merely entertained, but that something extra, the Marvel magic, was missing. And would now surely return.

Of course it didn't happen that way. Even with his eye problems accelerating, Jack the artist was still capable of great power and dynamism, and his visual imagination - stoked by the surrounding pop culture, which he  plundered with abandon – remained unmatched throughout his career. As a writer...Jack was a great artist.

Sometimes it's the bad memories that stick. I've been avoiding Cap because of the unpleasant prospect of having to vivisect Krappy Konvoluted Kirby.

Reading with one's wince-reflex at Def Com 1 is an admittedly low bar, but this was a pleasant surprise. Epic double splash of P's 2-3, no Mad Bomb baddies dressed up like Redcoats, and an exclamatory "Horse Feathers!" is the only jarring Bowery-Boyism. Steve Rogers' connection with apparently terminally-ill Carol is sweet and Old Hollywood genuine, the exact opposite of the mid-70's cynical absurdism that infused the culture at large, comics definitely included. Whatever his other virtues, in 1976 Jack Kirby comics definitely weren't hip.

But what the hell? If Jack's back, so am I.   

Matthew:  Glad you included that.  Disappointed with his Bronze-Age efforts though I was, and largely remain, I never wanted it to feel like the faculty was merely piling on the King. 

Daredevil 134
"There's Trouble in New York City...
That's Trouble with a Capital 'T'
Which Rhymes with 'D'
That Stands for Daredevil"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Jim Mooney
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

 Matt is troubled by a TV news report of Daredevil having gunned down three police officers.  Matt has been with Heather all day, but he wouldn’t be able to use her as an alibi; he’s wary of sharing his secret identity with her, since this revelation contributed to the end of his relationship with Karen Page.  They’re both disturbed by the report, so they decide to go to the park, and clear their heads with (relatively) fresh air.  A few blocks away, a limousine pulls up outside a 5th Avenue jeweler, and is promptly attacked from above with a gas grenade.  The chauffeur finds the vehicle’s occupant, Mr Smythe, unharmed; Smythe proceeds into the boutique, and charges a fortune-worth of gems to his account.  This Smythe returns to the car, only this time, the chauffeur finds the real Smythe, bound and gagged in the back seat; the jig being up, the imposter bolts with the jewels.  Sixty-seven floors above, Brock Jones hears gunshots of the pursuing police, and resolves to check it out – as the Torpedo.  Matt then hears the distinctive whine of the Torpedo’s jets, and resorts to a faint-inducing pinch to Heather’s neck, which allows him to steer her back to their building to rest, so that he might be free to investigate the goings-on himself.  DD and Torp clash briefly, but once Torp explains that he’s chasing a jewel thief, DD agrees to work with him.  DD is able to get a fix on the thief’s distinctive heartbeat; the pursuers lose their quarry several times, as he appears to change appearances, but DD’s radar sense allows them to keep up.  DD is held up at one point by the PD, who believe DD to be a cop-killer, as the news had alleged.  The thief declares to the Torpedo that he is the Chameleon; once DD catches up, he is confronted by two Torpedoes, each declaring to be the genuine article.  DD flattens the fake, and takes off, expressing interest in further discussion with Torp, and stating that he will have to find a way to clear his sullied reputation. -Chris Blake

Matthew: Who knew DD was part Vulcan?

Chris: Marv continues to show improvement, getting back on track after last month’s absurdity with Uri Geller.  There’s plenty of action, mostly of the running-into-people-and-things variety.  The run-in with Torpedo is brief this time; it makes sense that they would start out at-odds – picking up their fight where it left off last time, in DD #127 – but thankfully, Marv realizes that we didn’t need another  entire issue devoted to the two of them brawling.  Marv also makes the right choice as he employs DD’s signature skill to help him root-out the Chameleon from the crowd; not only is this effective, but we can tell from the Chameleon’s reaction (“How did you know-?”) that these moments play into DD’s crime-fighting mystique.
We gain some insight into the ongoing misleading news reports as we witness the Jester manipulating video, so that content from a PSA recorded by DD is rearranged to sound like a threat to the public.  The false report of DD’s attack on the police proves to be particularly effective, as both the public and the PD buy into it.  We learn in a brief look-in with D.A. Tower that he’s not falling for it, but with the media having become so unreliable, how is DD supposed to get out the word of his innocence?  Should be interesting.
I don’t care as much for Brown’s art with Mooney’s inks.  I’ve only been impressed by Mooney’s work on titles like Marvel Spotlight/Son of Satan and Man-Thing; otherwise, Mooney’s art always looks the same-sort-of-ordinary.  It’s fine, just highlight-free, devoid of the atmosphere Janson had provided.  Tower’s tai-chi moves (p 15, pnl 4) are pretty entertaining.
Matthew:  Kicking off with a nifty Buckler cover, this issue epitomizes what I love about Marv’s run, providing incremental progress in both the Maxwell Glenn and Jester subplots (clearly, Len et al. jumped the gun with that throwaway “Daredevil Wanted for Murder” Bugle headline in Iron Man #85 in April).  I appreciate the return of the Torpedo, whose indecision and fallibility increase my empathy for him, while Mooney’s inks—less heavy-handed this time—allow me to savor rather than mourn Brown’s pencils.  It’s tough suspending my disbelief that the Chameleon’s new costume can replicate Torp’s powers, but pitting him against DD, uniquely able to penetrate any disguise he dons, is inspired, and I enjoyed the interaction among the three.

Addendum: Worst title ever?

The Defenders 36
"A Garden of Earthly Demise!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Kyle Richmond,  aka Nighthawk,  finally gets his body, brain and spirit reunited, thanks to the surgical skills of Tanya Belinsky, aka, the Red Guardian. Dr. Strange uses his skills to convince her Russian entourage to let her stay in the U.S. for a while. She foils one kidnapping attempt on Nighthawk in the hospital but later he  goes missing. Valkyrie spends a night in jail with some unpleasant roomies; Hulk assists Jack Norriss in getting her horse Aragorn to a doctor. And while Nebulon's "celestial mind control" continues to influence people,  the real story is a character called the Plantman,  who manages to capture Stephen, Tanya and Kyle in a giant pod, while demanding a $50 million ransom. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Great to see Nighthawk finally in one piece again.  Val's prison time is an odd but novel twist.  If I  didn't know better I'd think there might be a little romance budding between Stephen and Tanya ( although Clea is often absent from this title unlike the Doc's own mag).

Matthew:  Even the resurgent “Ink-Pot Pete” Janson can’t deliver a fatal blow to either Buscema’s artistry or my enjoyment of this beloved arc by Gerber (with an unspecified special assist from Mary Skrenes”).  Empowered to remain Stateside by Doc’s amusing intervention, the Red Guardian is a nice addition to the cast—although they can’t decide how to spell her first name—and it’s nice to have another woman kicking butt, especially as Val begins her enforced penological odyssey.  As I’ve said before, quantity usually helps to offset quality when it comes to the likes of Plantman, the Porcupine, and the Eel, while I find it hilarious that lower-tier super-villains would look to Celestial Mind Control to enhance their less-than-stellar criminal careers...

Chris: Steve G continues to weave the threads involving our non-teamers; he now has joined Nighthawk (with mind/brain finally intact) together with Doc and the Red Guardian (maybe next ish, Nighthawk re-dons his snappy attire and gets back in the action), while Hulk and Jack mind Aragorn until someone can find time to post bail for Val.  Early on, Steve plays with our expectations twice, first when he interrupts Kyle’s reverie to show that he's awake, and then when Dr Belinsky’s reassuring words are cut off by the sudden arrival of gun-totin’ thugs, who then are summarily dismissed by the more-than-capable RG.  

Steve G is one of few writers who can call on a fairly ridiculous villain like Plant-Man, and not leave me grimly shaking my head; not surprisingly, Steve has found a way for P-M to manage to cause some real trouble for our team.  The only party not heard from this time is the Headmen, and I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t turn my back on them for long.  Plenty of work ahead for our closely-knit non-team!

Mark: Let's see. We open with a Nighthawk career recap (in honor of Kyle's brain-body reunion), segue into the female-Russian- surgeon-who's-also-the-new-Red-Guardian escaping Kremlin thugs via her badassery and a Doc Strange spell, see Val processed into custody by the NYPD and Aragorn barely escape a trip to the glue factory. The first half of the mag could almost pass for a mainstream Marvel offering, which had me checking my watch, since I hopped on the title a couple months back upon promise of full-bore Gerber Unhinged.

Finally, at the bottom of page 15, the Bozo cheerleader squad arrives to run up the freak flag and remind the reader that this all is slightly off.

Val puts a jailhouse dyke in her place, then we're back to what would be a standard heroes-in-peril ending except who but Steve would dare suggest the mighty Defenders tremble before the incomparable threat of...Plantman?

Doctor Strange 15
"Where There's Smoke..."
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

While the menace of Dracula has passed and the world is safe for now, Stephen Strange is troubled.  The world is a re-creation of its former self, even if identical. He can't bring himself to tell Clea, but not doing so undermines her trust. A stranger knocks at the door,  eager to be Stephen's new student but, expecting to be dismissed,  he slits his own throat to ensure his entry. Wong helps Strange stabilize James Mandarin, as he calls himself. Lord Phyffe and Rama Kaliph, the adepts who are guests at Strange's home,  convince him to tell first them what has happened, then Clea as well.  He does, and it seems, as he feared, the knowledge is too much for her. Mandarin  is sought by a different guru,  who then uses him to further his own plans--those of Satan himself! -Jim Barwise

Jim: Here's a great example of a cover that is not inaccurate but takes a small event in the story and highlights it effectively. Actually there's other minor moments that make this tale interesting. Like the fire rescue or the fellow Asian men who confront Wong about his serving a white man. Hard to say if James Mandarin was a pawn all along or just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or if Clea's doubts fuelled the fire too. Next one should be interesting.

Matthew:  I’ll state at the outset that I don’t remember where we go from here, yet despite my faith in Stainless, I have to wonder if Doc is the only “Steve” who will have trouble coping with the Earth’s destruction du jour.  His need to unburden himself to Lord Phyffe and Rama Kaliph—two characters sadly neglected by both Steves—is understandable, as is their staggered reaction, although Clea’s seems a tad overdone.  Wong’s encounter with his fellow Asians is a nice aside, and as usual, I’m far happier with Palmer here, once again providing inks and colors, than I was when he used to besmirch Buscema’s Avengers, but don’t hold your breath waiting for the Englehart/Colan version of The Prisoner promised in the lettercol (perhaps just as well...).

Chris: We’re overdue for a story that addresses the human side of Steve Strange, and acknowledges the cost to him as a person of all the unreal experiences he’s had on our watch.  Right now, Dr Strange could be suffering from PSESD (Post-Supernatural-Experience Stress-Disorder), after having seen the world, and all its people, destroyed, and then replaced; don’t forget, that’s after already having travelled back to the very origins of Reality, and seen Time start all over again.  It’s hard not to feel a bit peaked after all that, and it’s more than you might cure with a simple cup of tea.  

At the same time, Steve E seems to feel it necessary to check through the list of Insurmountable Adversaries, and chastise himself, saying: “Curse me for a novice!  We’ve had pikers like Ghost Rider take on Satan – what’s keeping me from pitting the very Supreme Sorcerer against the Lord of Evil?  Must get on that straight away!”  I mean, c’mon Steve, can’t you give the poor guy a break?  Look at what he’s been thru.  Couldn’t you have him battle the Beetle, or Whirlwind, just this once -?

Matthew: Too bad the Rocket Racer hadn't been created yet.

Fantastic Four 171
"Death is a Golden Gorilla"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Rich Buckler, George Perez, and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott, and John Romita

"Not Just Another Giant Gorilla Story!" promises a cover blurb. That's a low bar, admittedly, and Roy riffs on K. Kong klichés before the Last Page Reveal, which we'll get to presently.

Perez takes the pencil from the departing Swash, but with Joltin' Joe as embellisher only an expert appraiser's eye can spot the difference (George's Sue is, somehow, hotter). Ben takes down a SHIELD L.M.D. as he and Reed continue to gauge Grimm's Clobberin' Time prowess in his new exo-armor. Sue practices projecting "bi-focused force fields," then, all sweaty (er, "glowing") from the workout, heads to the shower, with, alas, no steamed-up cheesecake of Ms. Richards, deep in thought, mid-scrub.

George keeps up the adolescent male interest via the Torch's new female friend Frankie Raye (last seen in #164), on a Central Park date with Johnny. Their first kiss is interrupted by the piercing sound of an approaching space craft. And Frankie's pink balloon, released when she clutched her ears, floats skyward in a great, throw-away visual by Perez.

The ship tips over upon landing and out pops a golden gorilla. A growing golden gorilla. Johnny flames on when GG gets to about forty feet, but then unexpectedly returns to Frankie, a nod to her unnatural anxiety over boyfriends who ignite. Johnny wants to "give up being a super-hero" anyway, so a fiery redhead is a good jumping off (or onto) point.

GG continues growing, climbs the Baxter Building, smashing through a wall to grab Sue on his way to the top. No bi-planes, but he's buzzed by Reed in the F-Car, clobbered by the Thing, but only Johnny's flame (he leaves Frankie in tears when the Baxter's attacked) seems to affect the over-sized simian. A flame-force field combo has GG shrinking then falling toward the street, to be caught by Ben. Remanded into FF custody, the gorilla introduces himself as Gorr and tells the team he "came nearly 200 million miles" to "enlist their aid..."

Against Galactus!
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Full disclosure, class: "Giant Gorilla" is not a favored genre, but behind a nostalgic Big Monster Kirby cover (with Romita and Sinnott! How's that for a murderer's row?) this may be as Gorr as it gets.

Okay, okay, after subjecting you to that groaner, no pop quiz today...

I'm digging Roy's new twist on "Ben loses his powers," having never read these issues before (by this time in '76, my long-running subscriptions to the FF and Spidey had expired, my Marvel habit whittled down to more esoteric titles like Howard, Drac, Warlock, and MoKF). Nice to see Johnny dating again, although I fear the details of Frankie's foreshadowed backstory ("...all this has happened to her...before!" she thinks as Johnny flies away the second time). While not breaking new ground, Thomas has mastered (at least for this ish) the FF's ineffable mix of familial drama and soapy sub-plots with the socko, CinemaScope action that led the Marvel Revolution back in the early '60's.

Every Galactus story is compared to - and pales when judged against - the Big G's first appearance, so I don't expect Roy to clear that bar, while having confidence he'll deliver a good yarn in the attempt. 

Chris: When I see a gorilla featured on the cover, I’m reminded of a derisive comment by our own Prof Tom, who observed that he tended not to buy Superman comics because it seemed like, more often than not, the issue concerned itself with the Man of Steel battling a gorilla.  Well, no need to be concerned in this case, as Roy ably sets up his next storyline.  There are plenty of questions about our golden gorilla to carry us over until the next issue, such as: what causes him to grow?  Why does he go on the offensive?  Why does he not speak, until the very end?  

And, oh yes, what’s this about Galactus coming to town?  Last time we saw the Big G, he and Thor were working together against Ego, so I imagine that he’s probably only returning to offer his appreciation, or maybe to ask for help with another problem?  That’s the only reason why he’s coming, right Roy?  Uh, Roy . . . ?

We have another period of pacesetting pencils, beginning with this ish.  This development gave me a thought – Pérez is on his way to becoming the iconic Bronze-Age penciller for the Avengers, but are we overlooking his contribution to FF?  I went back and checked: George will pencil twenty-five issues of Avengers (plus two annuals), plus seventeen FFs (and one annual); that’s more than I thought – I might’ve guessed 11-12.  

In FF #171, Pérez contributes to the ever-present Baxter Building floating-floor mystery (as he varies between five and six HQ floors), but I don’t recall this being a chronic problem with him.  Points to Pérez for his depiction of Sue fighting free of Gorr’s grasp, and then parachuting to safety; special thanks to Roy & George for having Sue save her own bacon, and sparing us an embarrassing “Eeek! Reed, oh Reed – save me!!” moment.  It is 1976, after all.  
Matthew: If everyone’s finished ripping off Jaws, it’s time to capitalize on the next, uh, big thing from Hollywood, i.e., the controversial King Kong remake, but Roy redeems it by acknowledging up front the story’s metafictional debt, and especially by having Gorr turn out to be something very different indeed.  He also earns a chuckle by name-checking Tomazooma (from way back in #80), yet seems to be sending mixed signals regarding Sue, enhancing and expanding her powers while absurdly sporting an apron over her uniform.  Although there is no immediate explanation for the abrupt shift in pencilers from Buckler to Perez after the first three pages, Joltin’ Joe’s lovingly applied embellishment smooths over any difference, so it’s all good.

Fantastic Four Annual 11
"And Then -- The Invaders!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Sam Grainger
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Chided by Reed for demolishing a floor during a training session, Ben vows to end their financial problems by using Doom’s time machine to anticipate the Gold Rush of 1849, but the room is full of Nazi soldiers who must be subdued.  Reed gradually pieces together that the Vibranium cylinder he’d been testing rolled off the table onto the time machine during their battle with Power Man (in #169), yet the Nazis came from London in 1946, and as Reed prepares to send Ben and Johnny there, the Watcher appears.  Although he remains silent, due to his renewed vow of noninterference, his presence prompts Reed to investigate further and deduce that the Vibranium arrived in early ’42, enabling the Nazis to accelerate the V-2 program.

The FF appear as General Fitz-Hugh briefs the Invaders for a raid on Castle Cherbelle and, after a brief MARMIS, persuade the others of their bona fides, flying into Occupied France aboard Namor’s airship (his flagship, armed since he escaped the Red Skull’s control, being too small).  Effecting entrance, they split up:  Namor and the Richardses destroy a weapons-making facility; Johnny, Cap, and Bucky encounter Baron Zemo, who flees after Cap’s shield bursts a vat of Adhesive X, fusing his mask to his face; the Torches and Ben disable three rockets pointed at London.  Astride the fourth, Ben redirects it to the castle, from the which the Invaders narrowly escape, but back in ’76, Reed says he found only half the cylinder, and Uatu ominously returns… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Lucky Grainger gets the honor of inking two plum assignments this month, the Englehart/Perez Avengers and the Thomas/Buscema FF; nice to see Big John also reunited with Subby, whose ill-fated book he and Rascally got off to such a promising start.  An FF/Invaders encounter was probably inevitable, with Reed and Ben being vets and Roy writing both books—maintaining continuity with the current Marvel Premiere—although I’ve given up any hope of consistency regarding Doom’s peripatetic time machine, which we’re now told Reed duplicated before complying with his official request for its return.  Ben’s wartime odyssey leads right into Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1 in September, but you’ll forgive me if I proceed to the FF proper in #171.

Meanwhile, lots of good stuff here, and although I might otherwise lament the protracted build-up, the full-length annual format (no back-up reprints in these “giant-size” issues!) justifies it.  It probably goes without saying that the artwork is excellent, with Cap—whom Buscema used to draw in Avengers—looking especially dignified, although John does make the Germans look like undifferentiated Neanderthals; well, this is war, after all.  One wishes that Marvel Team-Up were more often able to devote the attention that Roy does here to the interactions among his co-stars, highlighted by Johnny’s sobering realization that Bucky will be dead by war’s end, and Namor’s attraction to Sue, providing Stretcho with an uncomfortable reminder of their marital difficulties.

Chris: “I’ve never been to World War Two before!” Sue exclaims, as if she’s just stepped onto the platform at 30th Street Station; spoken like a truly seasoned space-and-time traveler.  Roy employs the FF Annual as a sort-of try-out for next year’s What If?, as the two teams face one of modern history’s great nightmare scenarios.  This story doubles as a boost for Roy’s pet project, as he provides the Invaders with time in the Bronze Age limelight.  One question: why does Ben have to return alone to the past?  Uh, Ben, you know, the rest of the team’s just down the hall, right?  Well, maybe Roy will shed some light on his thought-process as the story continues in the MTIO Annual.  

Chris: The Bronze Age annuals allow for an approach to storytelling that we had been promised in the Giant-Size issues: a self-contained, longer-format story.  I always find it a bonus when these stories feature some variation on the usual creative teams; in this case, we have the FF’s regular scripter, and penciller emeritus, but for a change, we have Grainger on the inks instead of Sinnott.  Grainger is fine, if a bit inconsistent, although his finishes on Namor always come out right; I don’t mind seeing a different look for the team from time to time.  Special thanks to John B for featuring Ben in the Slim Pickens/Stanley Kubrick tribute toward the end.  

Mark: Fifty-two pages and not a single reprint! With Roy writing both FF and the Invaders, he seamlessly mashes-up his approach to both, opening with an FF work-out at the Baxter before the Thing's floor-rupturing tantrum triggers Doc Doom's time machine (and the disappearing vibranium  plot set-up in FF #169), after which it's a quick trip to Nazi-ruled, time-slipped 1946 and a dose of breathless team-up action.

Sam Grainger's inks do the better Buscema brother no favors, but Big John still delivers, with Namor particularly well-rendered. Sure, Stuka dive bombers, already obsolete by '41, wouldn't be flying combat patrols for a victorious Germany five years later, but if you're digging through WWII marginalia to find fault, just shut up and enjoy a story full of nice touches like a new take on Baron Zemo meets Super Glue, a completely mute Watcher, and Ben's Strangeloveian rocket-ride into a Nazi stronghold. 

And it effectively pimps the Marvel-Two-In-One annual...which Dean Peter is probably even now adding to my class load.

Ghost Rider 18
“The Salvation Run!”
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson 
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Frank Robbins and John Romita

Cursed by the demonic Challenger to ride the Salvation Run for his and Katy Milner’s souls, Ghost Rider finds himself racing against the two people he has loved the most: Roxanne Simpson and her father Crash, a man dead for over three years. When the Rider and Crash attempt the same jump that killed Simpson at Madison Square Garden, the man once again lives up to his nickname. Roxanne storms away and flame-headed hero races after her: but the Challenger appears and vows that if he continues after his love, Katy Milner will be doomed. Ghost Rider mounts his Skull-Cycle and rides on. His next challenge is to jump Copperhead Canyon — he falls short but manages to save himself by grabbing onto the wreckage of his bike that has been embedded into the other side of the canyon wall. Unable to continue the Run without a bike, Ghost Rider summons his hellfire to create a new Skull-Cycle. Soon, the cyclist encounters his greatest foes — The Orb, Snake-Dance, The Miracle Man, Aquarius and The Trapster — as they are crucifying his Jesus-like friend. The Rider’s trick riding and hellfire defeat his opponents but the long-haired messiah dies of his injuries. Suddenly, out of nowhere, The Thing, Angel, Iceman, Hercules, Spider-Man, and The Black Widow attack. Brutally beaten, he transforms back into Johnny Blaze and collapses in a huge spider web. Back at Delazny Studios, the Stunt-Master regretfully reveals that he is the one who stole Karen Page’s records. Astride a skeletal horse, a mummified horror named Death’s-Head proclaims that he is the actor’s master, ordering him to kidnap Page. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Did anyone actually fall for that cover? Didn’t buy that lame, sales-boosting attempt the first time I encountered it with The Man-Thing #20. I guess Ghost Rider’s Champions teammates and the rest of the other Marvel heroes did actually appear but they were all obviously the creation of the goofy-looking Challenger. And what’s up with him? Completely forgettable. Daimon Hellstrom turns up for a page, back at the hospital guarding Katy Milner. So he adds nothing. What we have here is basically a series of standard-sized motorcycle stunts through what I guess was supposed to be an otherworldly dimension. But Robbins and Colletta add zero supernatural elements to the environment so it all just looks like a plain ole desert. I’m not sure what to make of the Stunt-Master’s reveal at the end. And Death’s-Head? Looks like something out of that old 3-D flick The Mask. [Damn straight. -- MRB] Second time I’ve mentioned that one during my tenure at the University. Not sure I’m gonna put him on any time soon though. Now I have been rightfully accused of slamming the quality of Iron Man’s villains, but the full-page presentation of Ghost Rider’s “deadliest super-foes” on page 16 couldn’t be more ridiculous. Really? I’ve seen scarier rogues galleries on Dancing With the Stars. When your “deadliest super-foes” include a guy with a glue gun and someone with a giant ping-pong ball on their head, I wouldn’t worry about life insurance. We do have Ghost Rider forming his Skull-Cycle with hellfire for the first time so that is notable at least.

Chris: So, Ghost Rider hits the lip of Copperhead Canyon at 140mph, we’re told.  Then, his cycle bursts into flame, and he and the shattered hunks of metal begin to fall.  But now, Tony would have us believe that the handlebars – which, as far as I can tell, typically are in the front of the vehicle – now are pinned by the explosion into the cliff face behind GR.  Plus – even better! – GR is falling right along the cliff face – straight down! – so that he can reach out and grab the handlebars, to arrest his plummet.  No such thing as momentum, for objects travelling at 140mph, hmm?  I mean, in fairness, all comics crafters take some pretty serious liberties with science, but let’s stay true to high school physics, okay Tony?  I had to stop reading right there.  Any comic featuring all three of the anti-Vishanti – Isabella, Robbins, Colletta – was going to be on inch-thin ice with me anyway.  This title doesn’t stand much of a chance with even one of these jokers involved, but all three -?

To make matters worse, we have another instance of an outright lie committed by the cover concerning the role in the story of a host of non-guest-stars.  As for the interior content, why is there so much attention to GR’s past history and opponents, when none of it is terribly interesting (the Trapster? Snake-Dance??)? This title is desperately in need of some new ideas; the revival of the flame-cycle is a good start, but plenty more is needed.  

Matthew:  I know we’re expected to go nuts over issues like this one, with their wall-to-wall action and villains and guest-stars galore, and as a kid, I probably did, but as an adult, I find myself increasingly impatient with them.  We know that what our hero is going through never “really happened,” and at the end of the day, he basically just hits the reset button and moves on, so who cares?  Surprising though it may be for me to say something positive about a Robbins/Colletta art job, Frank usually seems to do better on the distaff side, and his Black Widow here is no exception, looking especially fetching in page 30, panel 1although, ironically, GR was absent when the Champions were officially formed, and thus wouldn’t know their name!

The last-page reveal of Death’s Head as the force behind the Delazny Studios shenanigans is a logical corollary to Karen’s joining the supporting cast, and the Stunt-Master’s apparent recidivism had been Isabella’s intention all along.  “I saw [him] as a basically good man who made some bad choices in his life and, tragically, despite his success, kept making bad choices.  He started out as a villain in Daredevil, then reformed.  I can’t recall exactly what I had in mind for the cross-over with Daredevil—which [went] from Ghost Rider [#19] to Daredevil [#138] and then back to Ghost Rider [with DD scribe Wolfman filling in on #20 after Tony’s exit], but I do recall the Stunt-Master wasn’t acting completely of his own volition, he told Jon B. Knutson.

The Incredible Hulk 200
"An Intruder in the Mind!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and John Romita

The Hulk is about to be sent on an extraordinary mission as Doc Samson gets him ready at Gamma Base.  Using an Encephalo-Helmet, the Hulk is able to walk about in his monstrous form, but still keep the mind of Bruce Banner.  His mission is to go inside Major Talbot's brain and remove the mind block that is preventing Doc Samson from curing the Major's vegetative state of mind.  The Hulk is shrunken into micro-size and begins his journey.  Inside the brain, the Hulk is faced with manifestations of countless old enemies from his past.  These are antibodies from Talbot's brain conjured to combat the Hulk's foreign presence.  While these versions of The Leader, Juggernaut, the Abomination, the Rhino, the Mandarin, the Avengers, and many others, are powerful, they quickly vanish when struck down.  During the course of these battles, the Hulk rips off his helmet and converts back to a mindless brute.  Eventually, he faces the hideous creature that represents Talbot's mind block.  After he defeats the red beast, the Hulk starts to grow in size.  Doc Samson realizes that this will kill Talbot if the Hulk grows inside his head, so he shrinks the Hulkster into nothingness.  The story ends with Talbot saved, and the Hulk nowhere to be found.  -Tom McMillion

Chris: Good decision by Len to open with Banner-as-Hulk loaded up and ready to fly into Talbot’s brain.  Finally, Doc Samson’s pronouncements make sense, when he had said he needed Dr Banner in order to cure Talbot; sure, in the ever-volatile combination of Hulk body + Banner brain.  Nice bit of Hulk-style impetuosity as Banner rips off the encephalo-helmet.  I have to tell you that I anticipated that Samson might track the Hulk’s continued progress via his gamma-radiation signature; I guess I’ve been reading these comics for awhile now, huh?  I also appreciate the grace-note Len sneaks in (p 27), as Hulk considers that he’s in this slimy space for a reason, but then his voice trails off as he realizes he has no idea what that reason could possibly be (“Hulk only came here to . . .”).

Chris: I do have a few recommendations for improvement.  First of all, Talbot’s subconscious supposedly generates Hulk-foes to combat him.  In a way, this makes sense, since Talbot is a long-term Hulkbuster.  The thing is, Talbot has never been in the trenches with the Hulk against any of these forces, has he?  So, his brain could only have a passing familiarity with how any of these beings act, or speak.  I would’ve preferred to have all of the Hulk’s adversaries speak with the same sort of unearthly cadence, which would’ve had the added bonus of confusing the Hulk, and enraging him further.  Also, I would’ve preferred Talbot’s “mental block” appear to be the Gremlin himself, since it was the Gremlin who had put the block there, rather than the Steve King-ish It-creature we have here.  Last matter: Len has to zap Hulk down to extra-super-smallness in order to prevent him from damaging Talbot’s brain; what, exactly, would have been the plan to extricate the Hulk from the brain, in the first place -?
Another nice moment, right at the top, as Marv acknowledges Stan & Jack, on the anniversary of the debut of the ever-popular Hulkster.  Nice one, Marv! 
Matthew: Presumably befitting the festive mood of this landmark tale, EIC Marv is credited as Jolly Good Fellow (plus Pedestrian and General Insurgent in Spidey’s and Thor’s mags, respectively).  By now, it’s simply a question of how they’ll rationalize the obligatory faux-gues’ gallery in a multiple-of-fifty issue, so Len’s “it’s all in the mind” take on Fantastic Voyage is an interesting solution; I think we can make a pretty educated guess as to where we’re ultimately headed after that last page.  Nice to have the Talbot situation resolved, and there is naturally nobody better than Sal—with workmanlike Staton inks—to draw so many characters, although the bulk of their “appearances” are so fleeting that they are hardly worthy of the name...

Mark: Checking out the Hulk-iversary cold – the last issue I read was #181 – I'm pleasantly surprised by Banner's brain in Big Green's body, but outright gob-smacked by Thunderbolt's handshake and best wishes. Change is gonna come.

Glenn Talbot lost the pencil-thin mustache sweepstakes to Doc Strange ages ago, so he can stay in the veggie bin for all I care, but Len makes decent use of the Fantastic Voyage riff, delivering the expected anniversary ish rogues gallery as Talbot's mind – in service of his icky, sticky, red-blob brain parasite – spews out memories of Hulk-battling baddies to ward off the tiny invader.

Sal does his meat 'n' taters thang, extra tasty here, helping make this an effective "milestone" issue with an intriguing ending. Enough to bring me back next month?

Well, if Professor Warren ever delivers my "gets-to-read-all-day" clone...

Matthew: Can we get a faculty discount on those?

The Inhumans 5
"Voices From Galaxy's End"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gil Kane and Vince Colletta
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler

Black Bolt has been chained to pillars above Attilan’s Great Square for nine days, forced to watch his people construct the space-ark with which Shatterstar (né Arides) will abduct half of them as Kree cannon fodder in a galactic war, tormented by Maximus’s raving, unwilling to give destructive voice to his suffering.  Flashbacks reveal that when they returned from New York with Shatterstar back in control of his warship, they found the evil Inhumans had taken the city by threatening to kill the captive Crystal and Quicksilver.  Falzon was struck down after vainly begging his son to have mercy, his life saved by Medusa, and Black Bolt surrendered, yet as the royal family was about to be shackled, Lockjaw had transported Karnak and Triton away.

Maximus reveals that Shatterstar is to select those whose attributes will be an asset in the War of the Three Galaxies and take them to Hala, leaving the rest, “Inhuman only in appearance but not in ability,” for him to rule.  Emerging from limbo in the mountains, Triton and Karnak are taken by Iridia (who survived the blast when she tried to warn them) to the cavern hiding the few free Inhumans, where she explains that Leonus and Stallior released Maximus after they were struck by a nimbus of energy from space.  Aboard a skysled, Triton defeats Shatterstar with his own power by tricking him into firing at the Mirror of Eternity, but Black Bolt—tragically unaware that Karnak has freed Medusa and Gorgon and they have rescued the hostages—finally cries out. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “If you’ve been wondering why you’ve been seeing less of Garrulous Gil Kane’s cavorting covers these past few months, well, we’ve been waiting to let the reasons burst free,” exults the Bullpen Page.  “Y’see, Ol’ ‘Sugar’ Kane’s been dying to get back to drawing insides again, and he’s just finished not one, but two new stories.  First is this year’s sensational Spider-Man annual—a fist-fighting free-for-all with Spidey’s newest foe, the fearsome Fly—and the second story’s Gil’s premiere appearance as the brand-new artist on The Inhumans…And right after [that], Gil takes over the reigns [sic] of ‘Sons Of The Tiger’ in our bombastic black-and-white blockbuster mag The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu!”  (Even that may not satisfy our august Dean...)

Matthew: Curiously, Colletta is billed as “Vin,” yet as tempted as I am to say that a turd by any other name would still stink up the joint, I’ll be scrupulously fair and admit he’s pretty well matched with Kane, whose distinctive style would suffer if smoothed out too much; the lettercol reports that Gil had long wanted to draw the Inhumans, especially evident in page 3, panel 3 and page 14, panel 4. Moench deftly puts Black Bolt at center stage despite his enforced passivity, which not only provides that devastating ending but also gives Karnak and Triton some face time, and even Iridia’s role is expanded. However, Doug twice stops the momentum with lengthy flashbacks, and while they enhance this epic arc, the pacing might’ve been better served by combining them.

Chris: Doug expertly sets us up for the ironic conclusion.  The team has done a solid job of turning the tide their way (as Doug finds parts for everyone – it’s not all about Black Bolt, thankfully), but with no way for Black Bolt to know, his frustration finally gets the better of him.  It’s difficult to think of a dignified figure like Black Bolt reduced to this desperate place, especially when we all know too well that his one spoken word will have disastrous consequences.  

This is another of those flea market finds for me; now that I think of it, I had very good luck locating items from 1975-76, two years which preceded my active collecting.  There are several of Gil’s images that stuck with me, particularly the double view of BB, as (in the same frame) we see him suspended in chains, paired with a close-up of his agonized face (far above); Bolt’s silent surrender (above); and Triton’s daring play to defeat Shatterstar (below).

Iron Fist 5
“When Slays the Scimitar!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Continuing his search for the abducted Colleen Wing in London, Danny Rand receives a telegram from Gamal Hassan: he’s directed to meet the kidnapper at 73A Golladay Mews at midnight. On the way, Rand comes across a group of IRA thugs beating Alan Cavenaugh, a fellow Irishman who has turned his back on the cause. The young American’s martial arts skill scatters the gang. Cavenaugh tells his rescuer that he was the IRA’s best bomber — but after accidentally killing 12 innocent women and children he fled Ireland. The thankful Cavenaugh insists on joining Rand to his meeting: at their destination, they find Hassan hanged and are fired upon by Halwan soldiers. Rand manages to barricade Cavenaugh in another room and changes into his yellow-and-green outfit. Iron Fist easily dispatches the Halwan assassins but is quickly attacked by a huge, sword-wielding costumed killer named Scimitar. After a back-and-forth battle, the Living Weapon powers up his Iron Fists and punches Scimitar through a wall and unto the train tracks below. When the villain tries to escape, Cavenaugh intervenes, only to take a blade across the arm for his efforts. Enraged, Iron Fist leaps down and a double sword hand chop to the back of the neck finally takes Scimitar down. Meanwhile, in the Jera’Ad Al-Din fortress in Halwan, Angar the Screamer’s mind-bending powers — regenerated and modified by Master Kahn — have finally broken the will of Colleen Wing. As proof, Angar summons an automaton of Iron Fist: Wing destroys the mechanical duplicate with a ferocious leaping kick to the head. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn:Most students will not recall, but a few terms ago, I wrote a two-part Sunday Special about the long forgotten Atomic Comics. In a shameful effort to boost nonexistent sales, the pathetic publisher would reference and even illegally feature Marvel characters in the pages of their craptacular comics. Well, I hate to say it, but Claremont seems to take a page out of the Atomic playbook to give this series some credibility — as if it needed it at this point. After Rand changes into his costume to fight the Halwan assassins, he bemoans the fact the he has ruined another set of clothes, wondering what Spider-Man does with his civvies when he goes into action. I dunno, thought that was lame and a bit pandering. I also groaned a bit when Cavenaugh calls Iron Fist a “flippin’ superhero” and the Living Weapon, all golly gee, replies “I never thought about it before. A super-hero … I guess I am.” Weak. However, complaints aside, this is another beautiful looking issue of Iron Fist, as Byrne totally delivers the goods. In fact, instead of shoehorning in a reference to a more popular Marvel hero, a good way to raise sales would have been handing Byrne the cover assignment instead of Gil Kane. Cavenaugh must have a bit of Black Irish in him since he sports one of the most glorious afros I have ever seen, a billowing bush of flaming red curls tapering into huge muttonchops. Hey, it was the 70s I guess. While a natural opponent for a martial arts hero, Scimitar is not very memorable: he will return down the line but on not many occasions.

Matthew: Just to throw fuel on the fire, according to a plot point in Marvel Team-Up #31, Danny shouldn't even remember his encounter with Spidey.  Be that as it may...

Matthew: Even at this early date, I think Claremont’s work is as good as one can get, with an impressive urgency and assurance; from his first issue, Alan becomes a more rounded character than many a supporting player.  Chris is blessed to have his scripts visualized by Byrne here and Cockrum in X-Men, and if the Chiaramonte oeuvre is a bit of a mixed bag, he does a superb job this time out, from the splendidly shadowy splash page to the ominous final revelations.  The action has that delicious Byrnian fluidity, word and image meshing with equal grace, and while Scimitar isn’t the most memorable of villains, the storytelling is strong enough in other areas that he doesn’t necessarily need to be, with some interesting ruminations on the power of the iron fist.

Chris: It helps that the fight with Scimitar is a good one, since otherwise it feels like we’re simply playing out time until Danny can finally make some progress on the search for Colleen.  I’m very grateful to Claremont for finally providing us an update, so at least we readers know that Colleen is still out there.  But – does anyone know why Master Khan has it in for Danny, so that it’s worth his time to spring Angar, and have him break Colleen down, and condition her to kill Danny, if she gets the chance? 

Matthew: He's presumably still pissed at Iron Fist for foiling his plot against the Princess Azir in Marvel Premiere #24.

Chris: Byrne continues to impress.  The splash page could’ve been lifted straight from a Neal Adams Batman story.  Byrne’s attention to detail is there, time after time.  I like how he’s able to lay out a fight sequence without losing his place.  Page 7 is a prime example, as we see Danny grab Walker’s right hand with his left, pull Walker forward and chock him in the chin; Walker’s chain remains looped around Danny’s left forearm as he turns to face his next assailant.  The bit with Danny using the smoke as cover so he can change while he’s running is cleverly done; Scimitar’s emergence from the shadows, raising his sword over his head to strike, also is spot-on (far above).  Did you catch the bit when, after he loses his big blade, Scimitar reaches behind his back for a shorter one (above)?  Lastly – do I see some Steve McQueen in Danny’s face (right)?  If I do see that, it’s okay; Prof Joe probably wouldn’t mind, either.

The Amazing Spider-Man 157
"The Ghost That Haunted Octopus!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Threatened by a Corona Motors lawsuit, via a Bugle ad, Spider-Man dives into the Hudson River to search for the submerged Spider-Mobile, but finds only a side-view mirror and a couple of cops he sends into the drink. Flash and Harry run into Liz, who gets the younger Osborn to go out for coffee with her. Doctor Octopus spruces up at Aunt May's Forest Hills apartment, complete with a new costume she was holding for him, then the two get a visit from Peter. Toting a tub of fried chicken, Parker is annoyed and surprised at Ock's appearance, and gets a recap of what happened on the island (issue #131 to you and me): Hammerhead ran at Ock, but smashed into the reactor and got his hammer-head stuck. Ock tossed aside a flunky and hid in a safety shaft as the reactor reached critical mass, washing ashore with the explosion grafting the mechanical arms to him permanently once more. Wishing to "re-establish his criminal empire", he returned to New York, but something changed his plans…

…The ghostly form of Hammerhead that's been haunting him—and now enters May's apartment! Ock grabs May and smashes through a wall, ghost Hammerhead and Spider-Man in tow. Spidey loses the trail for a little while, then catches up to Ock on 42nd Street, managing to grab Aunt May momentarily before Ock smashes him and heads up the Pan Am Building—just as Spidey's web-shooter runs out of fluid! Ock steals a helicopter that lands on the roof, so Spidey changes his fluid cartridge and snags the escaping copter! All is well until the pilot notices some extra weight when questioned by Ock, who snips the web line and sends Spidey falling—with nothing to grab on to! 
–Joe Tura

Joe: The best thing about the awesome Jazzy Johnny cover? The little detail of one of Ock's tentacles wrapped around the broken window of the chopper, right near his right hand, helping the Moe Howard-coiffed madman hold on while he blasts our hero verbally and physically. The best thing about the inside? Ock's penchant for insults is back! In the two page flashback, he manages a "blundering buffoon", "fool", "mallet-headed moron", "dolt", and "clod". Right after that, we are treated to "inhuman monstrosity", then later "simple-minded cretin" and finally "if you value your insignificant life". A regular Don Rickles, our Otto!

Joe: An excellent issue that is packed with story, featuring a nice script by Len and rousing art by Ross, including some nifty layouts (page 27 and especially pages 30 and 31) that push this to the max. And the overlying theme of the book is determination. Hammerhead is determined to get Ock back for what he did. Octopus is determined to protect his love, May, at any costs, and to evade Spider-Man, who in turn is determined to both save his Aunt and nab his arch-nemesis, even hanging onto a copter a mile above the city. Some might also say Liz is determined to get Harry to go out with her, so she Sadie Hawkins him into grabbing coffee. And let's not forget Daredevil, determined to stop the imposter "Dare-Double" from robbing any more stores, so he lures him with Hostess Fruit Pies! Oh wait, that's the ad on page 29, sorry….

Favorite sound effect is page 16's "KROOM" when Ock busts through the apartment wall, getting May as far away from ghost Hammerhead as possible. Mainly because this scene raises the biggest question of the entire issue: how the heck will May be able to afford building a new wall in her apartment? Does she have renters' insurance? Will Ock pay for it? Will she be thrown out on the street by the landlord for associating with known criminals? Am I spending too much time on this?

Mark: Sure, Doc Ock's back. Didn't expect a little thing like a nuclear explosion to keep an arch-villain down, but does Wein have to go Otto + Aunt May yet again
, hoping to milk a final inspired squirt from a dried-up teat? I'm even less sanguine about the return of Flathead (though his dome stuck in a reactor is great), much less as a "ghost." 

Maybe Len's cooking up something great, something new, but Spidey last-panel falling from great heights is neither. So we'll see.

Chris: Doc Ock matches up well with Spidey; not only do his tentacle-arms add to Ock’s strength, but they also provide maneuverability, even wall-climbing, that Spidey does not have to contend with in his other opponents.  The city-wide chase serves as an exciting first round in what’s bound to result in a clash next ish; assuming Spidey survives the mile-high fall, that is (webbing-chute, anyone?).

I can’t imagine there’ve been many occasions when Peter has sat down to break bread with someone who’s tried to kill him; and in his dear aunt’s parlor, no less.  It’s quite the surreal moment when Peter passes Otto the tub of chicken, and Ock helps himself to a drumstick as he begins to wax on about restoring his criminal empire.  And then, the scene takes an even more wild turn when Hammerhead (or, “A piece of him,” it seems) shows up, isn’t it?  I can’t remember whether this is some sort of illusion intended to spook Ock, or something else; we’ll find out soon enough though, won’t we?

Matthew: Isn't Andru supposedly obsessed with drawing food and people eating? This might be the most memorable example.

Chris: I’m not sure why Len decided to re-open the conversation about the spider-buggy; seems to me it’s been right where it belongs for awhile now – keeping company with Luca Brasi.  All that’s missing is cement in its wheel wells . . .

Matthew: I am now forever doomed to see this issue through a caffeinated haze…literally: I was just sitting down to begin the monthly crop up at the family outpost in Vermont when my mug broke and drenched it with coffee. But I can’t blame that on Romita, whose cover is, as it were, a knockout; Rossito, whose artwork is fluid and vibrant, highlighted by Spidey’s apparently launching himself from atop the panels on page 30; or Len, who kicks it up a notch with his first full appearance by Spidey’s arguable arch-enemy. Setting aside my standard distaste for the Otto/May romance, Ock’s rivalry with Hammerhead is always fun, and the “ghost” angle adds a fresh dimension to the latter, whose appeal is intrinsically more limited.

Addendum: Finally picked up a replacement at Cave Comics for $15.00... a mere 6,000% markup from the quarter I originally paid.

Mark: The just-sparked Harry-Liz Allan connection has a "?" thought balloon popping up over Flash's head. Bum status or no, once back in his uni – saved by a thoughtful Aunt May in a string-tied box - Ock is muscle-popping spandex eye candy. And Ross is the boss, from great splash page and Ock eating Col. Cluck's chicken to a maximo-absurdo Flathead on P. 14. Don Rickles hit by a hundred anvils.

That alone, worth the price of admission.  

1 comment:

  1. Prof Matthew: "Matthew: Isn't Andru supposedly obsessed with drawing food and people eating? This might be the most memorable example."

    YES! This is exactly one of the points I would harp on when I had more time to spend trudging through Anrdu's Spidey issues. Dove me nuts, everyone was eating and not only eating, but calling attention to it. "Dr. Pepper again!?" "Want a sip of my Dr. Pepper?" "We got ice cream." "Pass me that chicken." I don;t know why, but that just kinda drives me nuts and this was the issue when it finally dawned on me that Andru was obsessed with food.