Wednesday, July 8, 2015

June 1976 Part Two: Moon Knight Gets His Own Title? Well...

Ka-Zar 16
"The Conquest of Klaw!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

Surrounded by the aliens, Ka-Zar gives Zabu a signal and the sabretooth leads the vicious battle that gets everyone involved. In another spot in the Savage Land, the wife of Tongah is ignored by an alien ruffian as they hold the Fall People captive. Back to Ka-Zar, who is accosted by Klaw and kicks the sinister sonic-wielder into atoms…or so he thought, but the villain forces the good guys to surrender. But Krafty Ka-Zar is able to slip away, leaving his buddies behind but forming a plan that starts with making a long-bow. Soon after, K-Z strikes, skulking back and trapping a bunch of aliens inside an arena by sealing up the entrance tunnel. Tandy Snow taunts Klaw, who fires an arrow to distract Klaw as he frees his friends, then shoots another arrow, this time flaming, into the alien hovercraft! They learn the aliens arrived thanks to Klaw's sonic disruptor, which opened a portal to another dimension. So naturally Ka-Zar has Klaw open a portal, which leads to a new world—whose inhabitants are ready to rumble!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A decent Buckler cover kicks off the battle between Ka-Zar and Klaw, hinting at The Battle of the Century? Of the Ages? Of the Week? Of the Hour? Heck, I don't know, but it ain't any of them! In fact the whole battle between the two top enemies lasts all of two or three panels—and that's counting two fights! A so-so effort overall, with decent art and a script that keeps things moving, yet always manages to grind things to a halt. Amazing how mad Klaw is throughout, like a big baby even. His best line is easily top of page 11, when Klaw calls K-Z "You stupid, savage jerk!" Later he dubs him "jungle-fool." Nice fella, that Klaw, ain't he? We get a little bit from the whole supporting case here, and the aliens are made to look like big nasties. The end doesn't leave much hope for optimism, but for once that means it's an interesting finish. Don't worry, I won't get used to it!

Chris Blake: Solid issue from Doug and Val; no, I really mean it!  We get plenty of action, plus badness from the cold-hearted aliens and the power-mad Klaw; Mayerik draws a fittingly ugly Klaw.  I especially enjoyed the sequence when Ka-Zar traps his alien pursuers in a ring of stone (p 16-22); the field covered with dried dino skeletons puts the final word on their fate, doesn’t it?  Nicely done.
Credit goes to Moench as he manages to refrain from bogging down the story with matters involving the supporting cast; they’re involved, but we’re not required to spend too much time apart from our star players.  The only thing I’ll criticize is Moench’s dispassionate account of the fighting on pages 3 to 6, especially when he gets too preoccupied with Ka-Zar’s choice of dino bone as an offensive weapon.  Mayerik’s spirited depiction of a fierce Ka-Zar, surrounded by bloodied and broken alien marauders, deserved a more fitting accompaniment.  
The idea of taking the fight to the aliens’ dimension is a good one – I’m intrigued to see what may happen next.  No, honestly, I'm not kidding -!

Master of Kung Fu 41
"Slain in Secrecy, and by Illusion!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dan Adkins

Tarr, Reston, and Larner consider the implications of an enemy mole in their midst; having been dismissed in disgrace from the service, Larner wonders whether Sir Denis would believe his report, even if he were to uncover the spy.  Shang-Chi thinks back to a time in his adolescence, when he had been honing his skills with his only friend, M’Nai, the adopted son of Fu Manchu.  S-C had a training session with M’Nai that had gone badly for him, as S-C had allowed his emotions to goad him into costly mistakes.  At the conclusion of this session, Kwan-Shu, keeper of Fu’s kitchens, arrived and declared that he suspected M’Nai of stealing from the stores of drink.  S-C insisted that M’Nai could not be guilty, but obeyed the order to bring M’Nai before Fu – by force if necessary – to face justice.  S-C found a note penned by M’Nai, stating both his innocence, and his unwillingness to suffer for the wrongdoing of another.  S-C confronted M’Nai, and challenged him to realize that he feared to be made a victim, which points to a fear of weakness; M’Nai, in turn, insisted only that he was resisting having to submit to injustice.   The brothers battled fruitlessly, with neither gaining a clear advantage; they finally settled on a truce as S-C agreed to accompany M’Nai to the wine cellar, where they could await the arrival of the real thief.  Finally, a figure arrived to help himself to the kegs, stealing drink from Fu Manchu!  S-C and M’Nai rushed to report this wrongdoing (hoping also that M’Nai would be exonerated), and succeeded only in having a bamboo shaft broken over their heads by their trainer, Cho Lin, who refused to tolerate these accusations being directed toward Fu’s honored servant.  S-C never heard of this incident again; he wondered whether the whole affair might’ve been choreographed by Fu, as a test of loyalty.  The bearing on the present case of the possible traitor in their midst, though, is clear: it will be crucial not to think like Cho Lin, and to recognize that the revelation of the traitor could involve a harsh truth, which still is preferable to “the comforting ignorance of placid illusion.” -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s really a pretty simple story.  It doesn’t help that there are hardly any suspects to consider, once you accept that M’Nai would gain nothing by trying to steal some wine from the cellar.  So, the reveal of kitchen master Kwan-Shu as the guilty party might be shocking to naïve Shang-Chi, but it carries little weight for the reader.  My best guess is that Doug had received a fair share of requests for a new adventure featuring M’Nai (whose one-and-only appearance had been in Special Marvel Edition #16, which you may recall as Shang Chi’s second-ever story); Doug might’ve been unwilling to resurrect the character (which would be pretty challenging, considering the header M’Nai had taken from the top of the crane at the construction site), so this eye-on-the-past serves as a fitting solution.
Fill-in, or reprint?  Given the choice, most Marvel maniacs from this time would elect for a fill-in; it’s pretty obvious that that is exactly what this story is.  I guess it shows good planning to have a story charged and ready in case labor-intensive Gulacy wouldn’t have been able to meet a deadline; still, it’s too bad it has to come right here, after Doug & Paul had given us such a terrific set-up, last issue, to this new storyline.  My only question is whether the flashback story and finished art had been in a glass case, with “In Case of Emergency” on the outside, or whether it’s a script that had to be illustrated against a deadline; the fact that the framing sequence and story-proper have the exact same art-team argues for the latter.  As for the art, it’s fine.  There’s little in the story that calls for much from Sal + Mike; the moment when Shang-Chi is trying to track M’Nai in the shadows is probably the highlight (p 11, 14).

Mark Barsotti: No Gulacy? No Read-ee.

Ah, if only cutting class were as easy for your humble instructors as it seems to be for some of our more cavalier, barely-passing students (they can always get into Not Brand Echh Academy, eh?). Those who press on in the face of DDD will find unexpected rewards.

Artist Paul Gulacy obviously blew his deadline (not the first time and hardly surprising, given he's just started inking himself), so old pros Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito stepped up to the plate, and the bloop single they deliver is still a hit and far better than a reprint or the book not appearing at all.

Doug Moench offers an untold tale of S-C's youth, with Shang placed in conflict with raised-as-his-brother Midnight (it's a sign of the story's in-the-taxi birth that there wasn't even time for a footnote reminder that Midnight died in Special Marvel Edition #16) over a few stolen glasses of wine.

If the stakes are low, rich characterization carries the tale, even if the meditation-sparked flashback leaves us right where we were at the end of last ish. And, no, the bloop single art ain't that pretty, but having just finished John Romita...and All That Jazz! by Roy Thomas & Jim Amash, much of which deals with deadline night-sweats, I'm more appreciative of pros like Buscema and Esposito, who could deliver in the last minute clutch.       

Marvel Chillers 5
Tigra, the Were-Woman in
"Cat and Mouse"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by Will Meugniot and Vince Colletta
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Denise Wohl, and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Frank Giacoia

Trailing the Rat Pack, Tigra is captured after a battle in which she unmasks Number 2 as Marie DuChailu (aka ex-New Orleans crime-queen Madame Menace) and taken to their desert hideout.  Red Wolf thanks Jules, his tribe’s legal consultant; Leon, unrecognizable as a fugitive in his human form; and Joanne, explaining that Plague slew his people for an ancient statue, the Soul-Catcher.  Tigra plays possum long enough to learn of dissension from Number 1, their original leader, and Plague’s plan to leave her to die as they flee and destroy the base, but although recovering from Plague’s Soul Catcher-induced paralysis, she snaps her chains just as Red Wolf appears, Lobo having followed her scent, and attacks her with the explosion imminent. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Well, if they were looking for an inker to tone down Meugniot’s style, which seemed so bizarre in #3, Great Leveler Colletta was probably the right choice; won’t say the results wowed me, but they do look a little less like somebody was on acid.  I will say that my jaw dropped when I saw that this Rat Pack is supposed to be the same “petty scavengers…easily defeated by…Captain Marvel” in #20, exactly six years ago.  I can’t imagine what Isabella thought he had to gain by making that connection to a lame group of villains whom even I didn’t remember, and who bear little resemblance to this motley crew, but it doesn’t seem to make any less sense than anything else in his loopy storyline, which as this installment ends raises multiple questions about Plague.

In Tigra’s first lettercol, Tony notes, “The quartet of issues that together comprise [her] struggle with Joshua Plague and the Rat Pack (Marvel Chillers #’s 3 & 5-7) will hereby be officially dedicated to Barbara Kepke, a Tigress to warm the heart of any Tiger,” and the future Madame Isabella, aka “Sainted Wife Barbara.”  As he later told Jon B. Knutson, “We met at the wedding of her Aunt Nora and my boyhood chum Terry Fairbanks.  Nora wanted to fix me up with one of Barb’s cousins and sort of badgered me into asking this other cousin out.  I was never so happy to get turned down for a date in my life because that left me free to ask Barb out.  Alert readers will note that #3 was set in “Kepkeville”; we’re promised an explanation of #4’s fill-in next time.

Chris: It’s hard to imagine that a bi-monthly series could have required a fill-in after only one issue, but that appears to have been the case, as Tony gamely resumes his storyline from four months ago.  So much time has elapsed, that I honestly don’t remember the specific details of the Rat Pack’s atrocities from MC #3; Tony’s recap doesn’t put me back in that frame of mind, either.  

Overall, Tony doesn’t accomplish very much in the issue, in terms of advancing the story toward its next chapter.  After a brief spate of action (the one clear highlight of the issue is p 7, with Greer’s recognition of the need to rein in her animal side, and not tear her opponent’s face off – yes, a helpful guideline for us all), Tony derails the story with four pages of inter-office politicking by the nameless, faceless Rat Packers, followed by a calm, quiet update with the numerous members of the supporting cast.  And with all that, no one thinks to mention anti-Pack Tigra’s involvement, until Red Wolf gallops off, with vengeance in his heart.  After that, Tigra breaks free long enough to be re-subdued, and we’re done until next time.  
I find that Tony is one of those writers who feels he has to needlessly oversell details, as if that might add more interest or drama to the story.  The instance in this issue is when Greer identifies her female opponent as Marie Duchailu, formerly “the crime queen of New Orleans.”  Well, if so, then how did one of the top brass in one of the country’s most crime-besotted cities fall so far that she’s now no better than mid-rank with this two-bit mob?  

Matthew: A very fair critique.

The Invincible Iron Man 87
"The Icy Hand of Death!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Having seen Pepper enter the factory on the news, Happy races from his hospital bed to S.I., where Blizzard reveals that he is research scientist Gregor Shapanka, who began his villainous career as Jack Frost after Stark fired him for stealing industrial secrets, and modified his cold-generator to escape prison.  Fleeing with the Climatron, he leaves Iron Man for dead, yet Pepper deduces that like a cryogenic patient, IM can be revived with the heat from the dynamos, and as the Hogans are reunited he heads for a rematch on Long Island Sound, armed with a mini-dynamo cannibalized from the generator.  To save two kids whose boat Blizzard freezes, he must destroy the Climatron to prevent its theft, but is able to overload the refrigeration units in his suit. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In an interesting bit of timing, Mantlo thaws out the villain formerly known as Jack Frost (last seen in Tales of Suspense #45, about when I was emerging from the womb) just as his Golden-Age eponym is resurging in the Invaders/Liberty Legion crossover.  The result is a flavorful and hearty serving of meat-and-potatoes Marvel goodness that brings this two-parter to a satisfying conclusion, with serviceable Tuskolletta artwork and even a nice rapprochement with Pepper.  Mantlo’s excellent handling of Shellhead prefigures his imminent longer run on the book, so I’ll even forgive him an annoying continuity gaffe:  last issue, Pepper clearly suspected that Blizzard was the yet-to-be-identified Gregor/Jack, yet here, she is shocked—shocked!—at that revelation.

The Invincible Iron Man Annual 3
"More or Less... the Return of the Molecule Man!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Tony agrees to fund the rebuilding of Omegaville, but is surprised to see the petrified skeleton of Entropist cult leader Yagzan, who destroyed the solar-powered village of geodesic domes (in Giant-Size Man-Thing #1).  Watching Sanford and his friends play super-heroes, the muck-monster sees Cynthia sink into quicksand while retrieving the Molecule Man’s wand, unwisely given to Sanford by the Thing.  Weeks later, in Citrusville supervising the work, Tony becomes Iron Man to investigate inexplicable phenomena that match the Molecule Man’s m.o., and claim the life of a local tough who embodies the town’s mistrust; seeking information, he visits former d.j. Richard Rory, jailed on a kidnapping rap, and promises help with his appeal.

Reed confirms that the villain died battling Ben, yet an amalgam of Cynthia and the Molecule Man rises from the radioactive pool that spawned the Glob, its personalities fighting for control, and heads for her home, followed by Man-Thing.  Hit by Tony’s limo, the monster (of whom he knows from GSMT #2) is frozen by Iron Man with a cryogen-bomb while the Molecule Person shows her resentment by turning her mother into a doll, and flees when faced with “Iron Girl’s” idol.  At Omegaville’s reopening, the Molecule Person animates the skeleton but drops the wand after Cynthia’s fear makes her burn at the Man-Thing’s touch, restoring mother and daughter; it passes from a snake to Iron Man, who prevails, to the mindless Man-Thing, banishing the villain.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Wow.  I enjoyed this much more than I remembered, because its extremely sophisticated story—following the current monthly outing—rests so heavily on the Man-Thing mythos with which, at 12, I was unfamiliar.  Taking full advantage of the oversized format, Gerber weaves together not only threads from Manny’s regular and GS mags, but also the complex evolution of the Molecule Man that he’d begun in Marvel Two-in-One #1, and a footnote tells us that Rory’s involvement will be tied in with Omega, as well.  Unlike his big brother, Sal is not normally associated with Manny yet turns in his usual professional job, respectably inked by Abel, and it’s worth noting that Steve’s earliest credits include several issues of Shellhead (whom he handles superbly here).

Marvel Premiere 30

The Liberty Legion in
"Hey, Ma! They're Blitzin' the Bronx!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Don Heck and Vince Colletta
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

After a skirmish with Bucky and the Thin Man, a homing instinct caused by the nulla-rays draws the Torch to the Skull’s H.Q. in the station’s sub-basement.  Disguised as Lyles, whom he’d killed and replaced to lure his foes to New York, the Skull is shocked to see Toro jump out of a window and make a flaming “V for victory” to prove that he is free from control.  He challenges the Legion to meet the Invaders at Yankee Stadium, but as a battle royal ensues, we learn that in a complex ruse, Bucky was replaced by Yankees batboy Fred Davis to impersonate Toro, the “V” courtesy of Miss America; released, the real Toro soars to the Skull’s Zeppelin, exploding its hydrogen, and the Invaders and Legionnaires save the crowd from debris. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Was gonna quip that Robbins, returning after the Buckler/Ayers fill-in for Invaders #6, had made even Don look good…but now I’m not so sure, nor of who on the Heckolletta team is to blame.  Otherwise, this is a cracking yarn, with a great title and a clever comeuppance for the Skull, yet as a trial balloon for the Legion (whose 1940s appearances Roy enumerates in his lettercol essay, along with any costume changes), it’s a bit problematic.  While the tetralogy picked up speed as it went along, it’s tough for readers—presumably unfamiliar with these minor Golden-Age characters—to get to know them in a story featuring seven super-heroes, let alone twelve, so it’s probably no surprise that they never got their own book, although we’ll see more of them shortly.

Mark: Dynamic King Kirby cover, great title, and the Thin Man getting goofy on the splash page (but where's Asta? What's that, Forbush, you don't get the reference? For God sake, Google William Powell, you Pop Culture illiterate. And plan on cleaning erasers after class). Don Heck - criminally underrated by some wooly-headed facility - is just dandy here, if occasionally causing Tales of Suspense flashbacks, and well-matched to Vinny Colletta's thin, lazy inks. One art gripe: the exploding zeppelin (still using hydrogen as fuel? Really, Roy?) should have been a big boom, instead of being shoehorned into a seven panel page.  

Matthew: First Veronica Lake, and now Asta. I'm sensing a kindred spirit here.

Mark: Skull henchman Krieghund must have a death wish, seeing how he's always tweaking a boss with a Schmeisser slug retirement plan. 

Joe: Is it possible that Don Heck actually draws a pretty mean (meaning mean-looking, not mean from the streets or mean green beans jeans) Red Skull? OK, at times he looks like a Planet of the Apes refugee (left), but shouldn't he look gruesome? After all, his freakin' skull is red and hairless! On a whole, this issue zips along at a breakneck pace, and there's hardly time to stop and count the characters. In fact, does it skip along too fast? My favorite part, amid all the action and drama and bravado, is that Heck actually draws Yankee Stadium with the famous facade in place (page 15, panel 2). Go Yanks!

Mark: Pick those nits: Bucky-impersonating-Toro was a nice bit of plot trickery by Roy, but I'm not sure what it accomplished, and who knew Miss America could flame-on? The Yankee Stadium showdown amped up the cheering crowd drama, but why would the NYC authorities allow the public to gather in harm's way, right beneath, say, the flaming debris of an exploded zeppelin.

Now if admission was dependent on showing up with five pounds of scrap metal and buying a war bond, that would be worth the risk of a little collateral damage. Or don't you know there's a war on?

Matthew:   It was admittedly a little convoluted, but I think the idea was that they wanted the Skull to believe Toro's conditioning had been broken because their plan depended on releasing him like a homing pigeon at the proper moment.  And I don't think anybody expected him to show up in a zeppelin at that point.  I believe they also explained the mechanism whereby Miss America was able to simulate Toro's "V," but I've forgotten the details.

Marvel Presents 5
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Planet of the Absurd!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Al Milgrom and Howard Chaykin
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott

With their life-support systems failing, Martinex—able to survive without them—teleports the others to the unidentified planet below while effecting repairs.  Materializing in a rooftop garden belonging to crime boss Slech, they fight their way out into a multispecies city resembling New York c. 1980, where Vance attended E.S.U., and learn that Martinex needs a transistor, so Vance takes Yondu in search of the nearest hobby shop, fearing his naiveté makes him the most likely to get into trouble.  Sans wallet, and knowing the ship’s fate depends on it, Vance trades the proprietor for a Yaka arrow, but after they depart, an irate Yondu summons it with a whistle, insisting that Vance had no right to take it, and making them ex post facto thieves.

Routing a street gang in an arcade to defend Nikki’s honor, Charlie is gassed and jailed; Yondu gets a lesson in Bicentennial politics from a cynical cyclopean drunk; Vance is forced to decline an offer to “wiggle out of those shiny mummy wrappings.”  Learning that his elderly cellmate has done decades for robbery while murderers are paroled, Charlie literally busts out, and Nikki runs afoul of the corpulent Big Budd’s apocalyptic cult.  Stumbling across one another to face an assembled mob, the four are beamed up and returned to their ship—along with the material Marty needs—by Drs. Pazz-Ko and Roh-Ma, the caretakers of Asylum, a mental institution for a confederation of some fifty planets, whose patients are allowed “to structure their own society.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Desiring a better inker for Milgrom than Milgrom, I wouldn’t have short-listed Chaykin—whom I know best as the initial penciler on Star Wars—for the job, yet while I don’t see a big change, he certainly doesn’t make things any worse.  The story is pure delight, and although a grump might argue that it’s only a sideshow to the main plotline, we all know by now that with Gerber, the “sideshow” is very often the point.  SF has always been a great vehicle for commenting on contemporary society, and Steve throws in such gems as the marquee for “Deep Kiss, starring Linda Lovecraft”; the multiculti Street Brutes gang; the alien Prexy wearing a WIN button (for those of us old enough to remember them); and poor Vance’s consciousness-heightening session.

Chris: Don’t look now, Steve G, but I don’t think we’re in St Louis anymore!  This was another invaluable flea-market find.  Unlike some of the FF issues I’ve described, though, this isn’t an issue I remember well; I’m sure I wasn’t drawn-in by the goofy artwork by Milgrom & Chaykin.  Mid-way thru, I had the same sort of question as Vance: this couldn’t possibly be parallel evolution, right?  So then, what is it -?  

Since I couldn’t remember the pay-off, it came as a surprise, and it gave me a better appreciation for the whole issue: left to themselves, a collection of brain-addled creatures who aren’t fit to live among their own kind will build 1970s New York, complete with power-hungry tough guys, arcade punks, park-based encounter groups, and misguided religious cults. Steve G allows us to join-in on the cosmic joke, because, best of all, he doesn’t ruin it (as a lesser writer might’ve) by jamming in some Redemptive Moment, which causes the asylum inmates to Look At Themselves, and resolve to Build a Better World.  No, these creatures are left to muddle thru an even worse fate: 1980s New York !
So, it doesn’t amount to much, except a team-building exercise, with a punch-line.  I’m looking forward to a resumption of the Search for Starhawk; too bad it’s a whole sixty days away!

Marvel Spotlight 28
The Moon Knight in
"The Crushing Conquer-Lord!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Don Perlin

In a Manhattan alley, Moon Knight stops a band of purple-clad baddies from breaking into a building, with Frenchie guiding the copter, Marlene Fontaine waiting for his Steven Grant, millionaire persona in a Long Island mansion, and dispatcher Jesse calling for the Jake Lockley Brooklyn cabbie persona to no avail. As the police come upon the defeated goons, they discover they're all undercover cops, hired by the mysterious Mr. Quinn, who gets info from his henchman Weasel (yes, Weasel) about the caped silver and black clad hero, including his tussle with the Werewolf, his multiple identities, and his whereabouts. But Quinn is annoyed Weasel didn't call him "Conquerer-Lord", or as he botches it, "Conquer-Lord", so sends him into a trap door to be eaten by alligators. [You can't make this up!]

Moon Knight swoops down toward some policemen, who shoot at him, so he and Frenchie head to the mansion, just as Conquer-Lord unveils his crazy costume that's a hybrid of The Executioner, Aquaman, and Mil Mascaras. Moon Knight dives into the mansion pool and swims through a submerged tunnel to the master bedroom, where Marlene is waiting for their date at the Mayor's fundraising dinner. But Grant changes to Jake Lockley and heads to the Brooklyn Cab Depot to pick up some fares and get some info from diner waitress Gena and disheveled informer Crawley about the undercover cops and Conquer-Lord. Lockley calls Marlene as Grant and they do head to the fundraiser, where more purple goons are holding everyone hostage! Quick change into Moon Knight, who's stronger with the moon being full, and he stops Conquer-Lord from shooting the Mayor! Marlene gets away from the goons to help, but instead is grabbed by Conquer-Lord, who makes off with her as Moon Knight is told the Mayor has been shot! --Joe Tura

Joe: "Because you demanded it" screams the cover, and I'm wondering who the "you" is they are referring to that wanted Moon Knight, from the pages of Werewolf By Night, to get his own comic book. Don't get me wrong, I sorta liked MK when he got his own stories in The Rampaging Hulk mag, then his own short-lived series in 1980, drawn by the usually-interesting Bill Sienkiewicz. But if I had been reading WBN as a pre-teen (which I certainly was not), I doubt I would have been clamoring for a Moon Knight solo tale. However, he has proven to be a very interesting character in the Marvel Universe. But what to make of his first sojourn into the Spotlight?

First off, the switching back and forth between settings in the first third of the book, sometimes panel to panel, is a bit distracting and maybe even unnecessary. But Moench does like to show off a bit now and then. Mostly now. And every non-lead character is drawn by Perlin like they're holdovers from the cast of Freaks, with bad teeth, bad lips, bad pets, bad hats, bad hair and bad news. There's some decent action, and the multiple identity shtick makes for some intrigue that holds the interest, but there's one unmistakable thing that stands out. To make the understatement of the year, Conquer-Lord is not a very good villain. The name is dumb, although the explanation for it isn't horrible. The costume is one of the worst I've ever seen. Or anyone on the faculty has ever seen! And lucky us, we get a cliffhanger and get to do this again next issue.

Matthew:  Instead of the Warriors Three tale announced for this issue in last month’s Thor, we get “the” Moon Knight’s first solo outing, perpetrated by the Moench/Perlin team that created him back in August in Werewolf by Night #32.  I only acquired this two-parter (doubtless at some expense) years later, after he inexplicably became the flavor du jour, and only bought his subsequent book because I had so thoroughly quaffed the Kool-Aid, so no warm nostalgia tempers my reaction.  The art is functional at best and caricatured at worst, full of eccentric supporting players who barely appear human; the multiple-i.d. bit is just as contrived and annoying as I always found it; and the villain’s name and costume are both downright atrocious...

Chris: Remember the shoeshine guy on Police Squad, you know, the guy who could offer marriage counseling, advice on world diplomacy, or a simplified explanation of quantum physics as readily as he could drop a quick tip on a horse?  Well, that’s exactly who I thought of when this fleabag walks in to an uptown coffee mill and provides Spector (sorry, I meant Jake) with the exact information he requires in order to anticipate his opponent’s next move; it’s a bit of lazy exposition by Doug.  Otherwise, most of Doug’s energy is devoted to the parallel storytelling of the first half of the story.  I think Doug might’ve been going for a bit of the creative approach to narrative that he’s brought to Master of Kung Fu, but the effect comes off in such a raggedy manner this time that I felt like someone kept switching the channels on me (“Pick one,” I says, “ – I don’t care which one, but just pick one, willya?”).

Here’s a lesson the class can draw from Weasel’s unpleasant end: the next time you meet a man who plays with rats, and he asks you whether anyone else knows of the valuable information you have just imparted to the rat-player, think fast and concoct a story about an envelope stuffed with evidence, locked away in a safety-deposit box somewhere – unless you want to wind up as alligator feed.

Marvel Team-Up 46
Spider-Man and Deathlok in
"Am I Now... Or Have I Ever Been?"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Mike Esposito

The time-platform deposits Spidey in a ruined Times Square, where he overhears half of Deathlok’s dialogue with ’Puter and draws the wrong conclusions as the cyborg takes aim at some children.  A brief MARMIS ends when they are revealed as mutant cannibals with irradiated blood and a group-mind, who pool their energies through cubes; they scatter after a clash that leaves one dead and one captured, and Deathlok says he has no idea whether Spidey still exists in 1990.  His Spider-Sense warns him of two snipers aiming for Deathlok, so only the captive is killed, but after Ryker’s goons are disposed of, the other mutants seek revenge, and must be dispersed before Spidey departs, leaving Deathlok to an ultimate showdown with Ryker. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Ironically, just as Buckler phases out Mantlo’s contribution to Astonishing Tales, assuming full scripting duties on his creation in next month’s final issue, Bill uses Deathlok here; at least we avoid having a team-up book whose writer lacks experience with the guest-star!  Another of my after-the-fact acquisitions, this was the first Deathlok tale done without Buckler’s involvement, and is not surprisingly a more conventional piece of storytelling, but while I fully approve of Buscemosito’s rendition, the overall result is fairly blah.  Far from augmenting Deathlok’s own plotline, it trots out a boring, poorly developed gestalt antagonist with no precedent in Buckler, and the Spidey-delivers-platitudes-and-then-splits ending just feels like a rehash of the last issue.

Joe: Alright, so no Buckler around for this Deathlok guest shot with Spidey, but he is nice enough to submit a cover, but dare I say his Spidey looks very Keith Pollard-esque, in what's a preview of my least favorite Spidey era. But anyway...Some nice action shots drawn by Sal B., most notably the Spidey somersault, the swinging towards the billboard, and the twosome smashing the rotten cube kids, in an issue I remember well. Might have been my first taste of the Demolisher, in fact I think I picked up an issue or two of his Astonishing appearances long after the fact. At the time, I was slightly impressed with this wacky cyborg dude, about as much as Spider-Man. Still hate those creepy cube kids, though. 

Mark: With the clock running down on Deathlok (and with the original copy of this in my library), I decided to take my own trip through time for this oddball, titular team-up of wise-crackin' Webs with perhaps Marvel's darkest misanthrope. The Bill Mantlo-Sal Buscema tale demonstrates both the book's appeal and its formulaic limitations, reminding me of why I was a faithful reader back in the day and, somewhat paradoxically, have no interest in
MTU as part of my regular curriculum. 

For full-blown Marvel fan-boys, the mix and match heroes were irresistible, "what if" catnip (before the Bullpen stumbled upon the even wilder, non-canonical possibilities inherent in those two words), pairings the readers would never see elsewhere. Simply add Doc Doom's time machine (or any Rube Goldberg time/space dissolving plot device) and plunk Spidey down in 'Lok's dystopian New York, where, after a brief set-to, the unlikely duo make 17 page common cause, in this case against power-cube wielding muties. No matter that such power-cubes never appeared in 'Lok's own title, or that this encounter had zero ripple effect on either the characters or their respective books.

The fun was in witnessing these unlikely, oft-nonsensically jerry-rigged encounters happen at all, even if their impact on the larger Marvel U was practically non-existent. That's why one can enjoy this fifteen minute read again, after 39 years. Then promptly insert MTU #46 back in its storage box. 

And once again drop it down the memory hole, as if it never existed.   

Chris: This was the first-ever issue I owned featuring Deathlok; his series was already long concluded by the time I found MTU #46 (another flea market gem).  It helps that Mantlo knows the character, and is able to recreate some of the mood of the doomed early 1990s.  Bill has the good sense not to rely too heavily on the usual interaction between Deathlok and ‘puter, since this would prove distracting to Spidey (who observes at one point that Deathlok appears to be talking to himself, until Spidey realizes that DL is getting a response, from somewhere), and to casual readers who might’ve been tuning in to DL for the first time.  Speaking of which: the Killraven story might’ve been positioned in an effort to boost sales for his mag, but how much of a boost was Deathlok going to get from a similar spotlight here?  Seems like too little, too late – his title only has weeks to live.

Spidey has a bit of a future-shock freak-out, as he asks himself whether the reality he knows so well could possibly disappear so quickly (p 14); do you suppose that Bill might’ve forgotten that Spidey had a similar existential crisis in our previous issue, a mere 30 days ago (or minutes ago, if we’re measuring this story in “real time”)?  Spidey’s last speech to Deathlok comes off as a bit preachy; Deathlok has already stated that Ryker is the overriding threat, and that he’s only defending himself against the muties, not targeting them.  
Bill finds a useful way to address Deathlok’s lack of familiarity with Spidey.  You have to figure that – in 1975 (ie ahead of the events recounted in Deathlok) – Peter and Luther would’ve been right around the same age, and there would have been plenty of time for Manning to have heard about Spidey; so the only way for Deathlok (ie no longer Manning) to not have knowledge of Spidey is if (as Deathlok tells us) this sort of info hadn’t been deemed necessary to carry over into his new mind-form.  
Sal & Mike turn in a solid job, as Deathlok looks suitably craggy, if not quite as menacing as Rich & Klaus are able to deliver.  The rounded black-bordered frames are views that we’re getting from the omni-computer, right?  The sky is fittingly ashen and ominous throughout, possibly also radiation-infected, as Petra G adds deep purples to Sal’s clouds. 

Marvel Two-In-One 16
The Thing and Ka-Zar in
"Into the Savage Land!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Ron Wilson and Dan Adkins
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Parachuting from a S.H.I.E.L.D. jet over the South Pole, Ben recalls how seismic readings augured a catastrophic chain of volcanoes along Earth’s magnetic axis, and Reed sent him to locate their source in the Savage Land, via the crater of which Professor X told them.  Ka-Zar and Zabu help Ben defeat an allosaurus, crushing Reed’s instruments, and they travel to the southern extent of the eruptions, where they encounter armed men led by Volcanus, who plans to transform himself into a god with volcanic energy, and knocks them out with his blaster.  Suspended above the mouth of a volcano and left to die, our heroes escape by swinging their cage into the crater wall, and Volcanus plunges into the lava while trying to make Ben fall... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although by no means a train wreck, this could be significantly better, and once again, Mantlo has trouble with pacing; there’s a fairly leisurely build-up to K-Z’s entrance, and by the time we get to the ending, things are so rushed that the defeat and death of Volcanus (accent on the “anus,” no doubt) is almost lost in the shuffle…not that this forgettable one-shot villain deserves better.  It may be that Adkins—whose inks I usually admire—is having an off day, or that he’s simply mismatched with MTIO mainstay Wilson, yet whatever the reason or whoever’s to blame, the artwork looks goofy and/or variable.  Don’t know what their correct hue is, but Ben refers on page 2 to Stretch’s “innercent baby-browns,” which on page 3 are unmistakably colored as blue.

Luke Cage, Power Man 32
"The Fire This Time!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

Luke Cage's most recent gig has him protecting a black family, harassed by a costumed arsonist who is trying to get them to move out of an all-white neighborhood.  The villain, Wildfire, is equipped with a gun that shoots fire.  With help from Mr. Simmons, Cage prevents the bigoted bad guy from burning down the family's home, but Wildfire manages to escape.  It turns out that he is neighbors with the Simmons family and isn't the only one in the neighborhood with racist views.  Cage meets up with Detective Chase at the Gem theater and fills him in on his latest adventure. Intrigued, Chase sneaks back to the Simmons home to aid Power Man when Wildfire once again attacks.  During the fight, Mr. Simmons' young son dies from smoke inhalation.  The story ends with Luke punching Wildfire unconscious and handing him over to the police.  -Tom McMillion

Scott McIntyre: Just when I thought I was safe from Frank Robbins and Vinnie Colettta… The wonky art is energetic if nothing else. The story is pretty heavy-handed, piling on the racism like Dagwood Bumstead piled on the cold cuts. I give Don McGregor credit for not shying away from a dark finale. Killing children isn’t the usual way a Marvel story goes, but Luke Cage was always a fairly grim book. The pacing and action is fairly relentless, which, along with the dark ending, is the issue’s saving grace. As usual, McGregor has his characters stand on their soapboxes, using up the word count without having them sound like people. I get it, Wildfire hates blacks. And so do the white folks in the neighborhood shown here. So, we have energy, action and a deep message, All that is missing is the fun.

The Son of Satan 4
"Cloud of Witness!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Craig Russell and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

 Daimon Hellstrom arrives in Washington DC, having accepted a post at the University of the District of Columbia.  Daimon anticipates having an opportunity to learn about his mortal self, as opposed to his usual preoccupation with his role relative to his hell-ruler father.  Daimon is met on campus by Saripha Thames, who had been sent by department chair Dr Anderson to escort Daimon to his accommodations.  As Daimon gratefully settles down to rest, he dreams of a bronze-skinned man dressed in ancient Egyptian garb, who leads him thru a stone portal.  Daimon (appearing now in his Son of Satan garb) observes a line of dark-robed people, chanting in an unknown tongue.  One person separates herself from the group, and reveals herself to be Daimon’s mother, long-since deceased.  His mother announces her peace with God, then embraces a demon-figure and calls it her lover.  A new figure emerges, calling herself Proffet, the Celestial Fool.  Proffet declares these images, and others she proceeds to present in mirrors, to “have meaning – they are all portents!” and challenges Son of Son to “unravel their fabric and reweave them!”  Daimon resolves not to be deceived by the images before him, and shatters the largest mirror with soulfire; Proffet seems to sink into the ground.  Daimon then sees what appears to be a large funeral procession; he follows them to an open grave, in which he finds the body of Saripha Thames.  More confused than ever, Daimon then is met by a version of himself (appearing in the clothes Daimon had worn earlier), who claims that Saripha had killed herself because Daimon had “crushed her, and hurt her.”  SoS rejects this as a lie, burns the other “Daimon,” and sees his black darksoul emerge from this “other” body; “Daimon” challenges SoS to determine whether he seeks to reject his dark side, or his human side.  Daimon abruptly awakens from the lengthy vision, and finds himself still wearing his SoS attire; appearing before him is Proffet, who claims to have created the dream, but also to be unable to interpret it for him.  Daimon then is wracked with pain, as an explosion blows out his window and a section of the wall to the next apartment.  Saripha arrives, as she and Daimon find, thru the hole in the wall, a gold figure stretched across the floor. -Chris Blake

Chris: Okay – everybody with me so far?  I have to admit that I wasn’t at all sure how to summarize this issue until I began to review it for some ideas – I took very little away from my first reading.  I don’t mean that as a criticism of Warner; it’s apparent to me that he’s trying to continue the far-out storytelling standard that Gerber had established for this character.  If he’s trying to place the reader alongside Daimon, so that we can share in his disorientation, then Warner certainly has succeeded.  The result, however, doesn’t make for a very satisfying narrative so far; I can only hope that Warner will be able to deliver on making some sense of this in the next issue.  

One concern I can express now is the ongoing preoccupation with Daimon’s duality as a story device; it seems to me that Steve G already put some of this to rest, with the idea that Daimon could accept – and work with – his dark side, in MS #22.  It’s as if Warner decided to ask, “Yes, Daimon, but are you sure -?”
Russell is an inspired choice to provide layouts for this issue, as once again, he allows his imagination to carry him (and us) to far-off places.  Trinidad’s finishes aren’t as well-defined as I might like, but he contributes well to the atmospheric visuals, especially in moments like: Daimon’s mother in an energized vortex (p 15, pnl 2); the demon and the priestess (p 15, pnl 4); the Bergmanesque funeral procession (p 23, last pnl).  One criticism on the art, though, is that Russell’s massive brutalist-architecture structures for UDC are constructs you might find in East Berlin, but never in quaint, brick-lined northwest Washington.

Matthew: Having reached the halfway point, albeit with no memory of what lies ahead, I think I can safely say I do not like Daimon’s post-Spotlight series.  The layouts are by the widely admired Russell, but to me the artwork just looks like more of Trinidad, which I don’t consider good news, and as for Warner’s frustrating mess of a story, I don’t think I’m capable of offering a comment that is any more coherent than the plot itself, which is to say not at all.  I’ve often observed that I don’t notice the lettering unless it’s unusually good, e.g., Orzechowski’s, or bad; the work of “Condoy” (whose Marvel credits, especially those in my collection, are mercifully few), to use the immortal expression coined by Professor Flynn, gave me a headache in my eyes.

Super-Villain Team-Up 6
Dr. Doom and the Savage Sub-Mariner in
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin, John Romita, and Alan Weiss

Namor chafes under his imprisonment and enslavement by Doom, who prepares to welcome his first official visitor while monitoring the arrival of the FF, seeking to offset Reed’s failure.  As they penetrate his defenses and defeat his android army, the Shroud slips in, seen only by Johnny and Namor, and Doom displays weaponry—e.g., controlled nuclear blast, di-lithium thermal mine, orbital laser bomb—sufficient to make Latveria a super-power, now that alliance with Atlantis has given him a political base.  Namor’s worst fears are realized when he is ordered to attack the FF, but although they defeat him and enter the castle, Dr. Henry Kissinger forbids interference, having just concluded a non-aggression agreement with Latveria. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It’s always interesting to focus on Dr. Doom as a monarch rather than as merely an armored tough guy, so I salute Stainless for infusing his funny books with realpolitik; he also gets props for invoking his Cage/Doom smackdown from Hero for Hire #9, while the Shroud continues to show promise and hold my interest—I love how his thought balloon obscures Reed’s dialogue in the last panel.  Abel served Herb well in the later days of the Englehart/Trimpe Hulk, and does so again here (especially in page 26, panel 2), even if I wouldn’t say Herb was ideal for SVTU.  Kissinger is touted on the cover as “the most unexpected guest star of all,” by which they presumably meant that nobody expected…to see him again so soon after Captain America #193.

Chris: I forgot Dr Kissinger was in here!  Clever job by Steve E and Herb T to set this up, although I will say that Herb (deliberately?) misled me with his shadowy depiction of Doom’s visitor; with his lanky build and sort-of flat head, I was reminded more of JJJ than our koala-headed former Secretary of State.  

I also appreciate Steve’s handling of Namor here, as Subby seems genuinely conflicted about being forced to tangle with his once-foes, the FF; it’s a clever device to have Namor hold himself in check until the team responds to his unintentionally rough handling of Sue – and then, it’s on!   
There’s almost nothing for the Shroud to do here, except skip customs.  One question, though: how does the Shroud pilot a plane -?  It’s not like auto-pilot can allow you to take off, or land, right -?

Matthew:  Oops!  Never thought of that--nor, apparently, did Stainless.  (Of course, we won't know he's blind until next issue, right?)

The Mighty Thor 248

"There Shall Come... Revolution!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

Thor and Jane return to the city. A nasty storm rages, and Thor controls it,  but there is resistance.  He then has to break up a traffic jam his Warrior Three friends have caused. They go to Jane's apartment where they find a ruffled Balder, who tells them of Odin's madness. The groups hies to Asgard, where the loyalty to Odin is predictably split. Even for a fine group like this, the tide of battle is tough. Thor defeats a storm giant guard while freeing the Grand Vizier from the Tower of Solitude; he hopes he can provide some answers.  An infuriated Odin watches this with disdain. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: It's not the first or last time Odin has his people facing off against one another, but the big why remains the question. The Vizier must know something;  why else would Odin so earnestly keep him prisoner? The Warriors Three add some comedy --imagine Heimdall awakening and realizing it was Volstagg who knocked him out?!

Matthew: Buscema’s frequent inker on The Savage Sword of Conan, “guest embellisher” DeZuniga will actually stick around for a half-dozen issues; alas, Tony’s style is much harsher than Joltin’ Joe’s, yet we’ve seen far worse from, say, Colletta.  Otherwise, and despite the fact that the admittedly impressive Buckler/Sinnott cover is about as misleading as you can get (the scene depicted occurring only on the penultimate page, and briefly at that), this is a pretty solid entry overall.  There is a slight sense that Len is noodling around here, but one look at the issue number tells us we’re leading up to something big, and can probably expect imminent resolution of such plot threads as Big Daddy Odin’s alleged madness and Sif’s spiritual game of peekaboo.

The Tomb of Dracula 45
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Hannibal King and Blade face each other inside an apartment to which they've tracked a vampire known as Deacon Frost. Blade attacks King instantly when he realizes he is a vampire but the fight doesn't last too long as the stronger King is able to grapple Blade and subdue him. King explains to Blade that Frost was the one who turned him into a vampire. Blade reluctantly agrees to team up with King so that they can both get revenge.  A corpse, left in the room, turns into a vampire and the two interrogate him.  The vampire relates that he dug up a coffin in a graveyard and transported it for Frost, who then bit and transformed him.  Much to King and Blade's amazement, the vampire tells them that the body inside the coffin was a doppelgänger of Blade. Meanwhile, Dracula restores his body after his battle with Dr. Strange.  Using an old church as his home gives him the idea of recruiting Satan Worshippers to do his bidding. After he obtains information from Harold H. Harold, the Count goes to the Satanists' place of worship, where they are about to perform a sacrificial ritual on a young woman.  The devil crew embraces Dracula as their savior. In turn, Drac pledges that the woman will be his new bride.  -Tom McMillion

Mark: Admit it or not, we all grade on a curve. On a consistently first-rate book like TOD, I'll let stuff slide – so long as the Big Picture's in focus, sharpened to crystal clarity  – that would've brought hammer and tongs wrath on feebler titles. But we still gotta go on record so... the Shit-Slide, Robin!

Drac's fool Doc Strange with the ole mist & hypnosis trick is tap-dancing on a crypt, yada-yada backfill, but with the crossover clash done a quick reset was called for so ignore the Marv behind the curtain. 

Apparently readers of Dracula Lives #9 understand the old woman's Drac-attack immunity; for the rest of us it's a WTF waste of a half-page.

Chris: Marv takes the series forward, as he moves both the white-haired vamp (who, we learn, is named Deacon Frost) and Hannibal King (da-da-daahh!) in from the sidelines, and on to the forefront.  Blade can be pretty one-note, so the contrast between his single-mindedness and King’s practicality is entertaining.  

Chris: As for Drac himself, he’s got some pretty big plans.  Bonus points to Marv for finally putting the world-domination-thru-widespread-vampirism idea to rest.  Drac’s new approach is delightfully cynical, as he seeks to employ religion as a way to manage the masses.  Nice moment there as Drac meets Anton and Domini, and realizes that there could be more to this than he originally had foreseen (p 23); strong quality of Drac’s, to adjust his plans as a new opportunity presents itself along the way.  In the process, Drac will not only subject religion to his will, but also profoundly insult the human conventions of marriage, and (gasp!) parenthood.  
One question about Lupeski: once Drac sneaks in, and starts barking commands, Lupeski (nice fright mask, by the way) refers to him as their dark-lord, as if he were Satan, while Drac refers to himself by his given name.  Anton & Co surely have heard of Dracula, and would have to know that he’s not Satan; I don’t recall whether Drac addresses this later on.  Another neat moment as Marv tunes us in to Lupeski’s thoughts, as he anticipates somehow subjugating this dark-lord to his will; yeah, good luck to you, pal – you have no idea what you’re in for.  

Matthew:  Much as I adore the film, I've always had the same problem with the title of Hammer's Dracula--Prince of Darkness (and a big sigh over the passing of Christopher Lee). 

Mark: Top flight bat-winged Colan & Palmer art? Check.

Harold's knowledge of the occult underground justifies his appearance, while Harker's long-tenured Vamp-hunters seem shoe-horned in. The twin A-stories – Blade and Hannibal King making uneasy peace to hunt the white-haired, now-named Deacon Frost, who turned King fanger and killed Blade's momma, and the Count giving a Satanic cult the undead thrill of their lives to co-opt them as a support team  – barrel down the highway to hell with snarling, high-octane efficiency. Let's hope Marv has a spooktacular crack-up waiting, just around the next curve, when the stories intersect.

Warlock 13
"...Here Dwells the Star Thief!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin

In New England’s Wildwood Hospital, 24-year-old Barry Bauman—born without any of the five senses—is tended by Tom Vocson, a reputedly mad nurse hired by his father, the chairman of the board.  In the Hercules star cluster, Adam’s ultra-perception confirms that stars are vanishing, and he visits a world turned into a frozen graveyard, yet its sun’s gravitational effect strangely remains.  The Soul Gem’s exploratory force-beam traces these galaxy-spanning forces to Barry, the Star Thief, who mastered far more than the usual 10% of his imprisoned but incredibly powerful brain, granting him telekinesis and control over Vocson, and seeks “revenge against a world that made no effort to allow me to be as they were” by snuffing out all the stars...

Traveling back for the first time to his birth planet, Adam realizes it will take weeks to reach Sol, and is about to unleash the Gem when he is contacted by Barry, who asserts a kinship between them, yet Adam swears to defend life.  After failing to kill Adam with giant assassins animated from rock, Barry issues a challenge:  “I defy you to reach Earth and kill me as you had already planned.  I shall seek to block you with only the corporeal creations my mind can create.  I promise to refrain from attacking you on anything but a physical level until you reach Earth,” by which time he claims it will be too late.  With no other choice, Adam accepts and resumes his journey while mankind detects the vanishing stars and descends into rioting, murder, and suicide. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Starlin told Newsarama’s Zack Smith, “That story was inspired by Johnny Got His Gun, the Dalton Trumbo novel.  Basically, it’s about a WWI veteran who’s been terribly injured—he’s lost his arms and legs and face, and is a very sentient vegetable in a VA hospital.”  (Trumbo’s own 1971 screen adaptation was sampled in the 1989 Metallica music video “One.”)  Is there life after Thanos?, I am forced to ask myself while examining my relatively tepid response to these post-Magus tales, once again first encountered in the 1982-3 special edition.  Sure, the ideas are interesting and the art is awesome, but I don’t feel the same zing I got from the Magus Saga; I will say that final full-pager of Adam flying into your face is worth the price of admission alone.

Chris: This idea seems so far-out that it strikes me like something we’ve come to expect in Englehart’s Doctor Strange: a mind turned in on itself, that takes advantage of zero input to develop limitless power.  We all know that Starlin is capable of presenting wild ideas, but this is far, far away.  It’s fortuitous that the Star Thief is a sporting entity, otherwise this’d be another situation where I’d have to ask: “So, why doesn’t he simply wink Warlock out of existence, already?”  Interesting that Warlock is willing to follow the soul gem’s lead in this case; one question, though: could Adam be certain that the gem would be capable of fully absorbing, and effectively containing, such an expansive mind?  If one of those suns – now safely stolen into the Thief’s mind – should get loose, then I’d say we’d have a problem! 

Mark: Another of Marvel's edgy, explode-the-envelope mid-70's titles winds down, but there's a smile behind my sigh, class, because I missed Star-Thief first time around (no amount of $10 a bag stems & seeds Mexican could make one forget Space Oddity Jim) and experiencing "new" 40 year old Starlin is as much fun, perhaps more so, as reliving well-known classics.

But while this may sound churlish - picking troll turd nits on an asteroid far - give me a purple, death-loving demigod or a Jewfroed, funhouse religious fanatic reflection of A.W., ya know, credible cosmic adversaries, which Barry Bauman's star-snuffing vegetable brain is not.

Of course, Thanos and Magus set a high bar. Some slack is surely due, and when the story's up and running, Starlin delivers the stellar, high stakes Sturm und Drang.

The art, which seems somehow a bit less Jim, a bit more Steve Leialoha, remains excellent, although it's worth noting the Ditko-inspired stonemen work far better than the outline of Star-Thief Barry's angry eyes, floating in space. 

But again, some slack. I'm psyched for a last "new" draught of vintage Starlin, and so what if it ain't a classic? 

Sometimes one settles for mere excellence.

X-Men 99
"Deathstar Rising!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Steven Lang sends a group of Sentinels out from the station to retrieve Banshee, Wolverine, and Jean, and save them from the vacuum of space.  Back on Earth, Scott and Dr Corbeau determine that the missing X-Men must be in orbit, held captive on a decommissioned SHIELD space platform.  Dr C arranges for the other X-ers to replace a crew scheduled to fly a mission in the space shuttle; Scott, Peter, Kurt, & Ororo lift off, with the orbital platform their destination.  Once they are within sight, Lang sends out a group of intercepting Sentinels.  The shuttle bridge takes a hit, and begins to lose atmosphere, pulling Ororo (protected by a pressure suit) out thru the breach.  Scott and Dr C resolve to act quickly, and ram the shuttle into the station before they lose more oxygen.  The X-Men engage more Sentinels, and tear them to shreds.  Storm harnesses the power of solar winds to dispatch a Sentinel, then rejoins her teammates on the station (much to the relief of Colossus, who feared her lost).  Scott receives a telepathic message from Jean, informing him where Banshee and Wolverine can be found – and, that she and Professor X are under immediate threat from Lang.  Scott sends his teammates to free Sean and Logan, and declares that he alone will stop Lang, and save Jean and Prof X.  Scott slams Lang with an optic blast, then begins to pummel him; Jean finally pulls Scott away before he can cause any serious harm.  Lang acknowledges that the Sentinels he had devised were inadequate, if not “pathetic,” and announces that the true purpose of Project Armageddon is about to be revealed.  At that moment, the new X-Men arrive, to find Professor X (somehow) directing the “old” team, including Scott and Jean, to attack the “imposters” of the new team, and to kill them! -Chris Blake

Chris: Chris & Dave have already established that we can expect plenty of action in each and every chapter of X-M; this installment is no exception, as (seemingly) dozens of (probably very costly) Sentinels are reduced to scrap.  The one problem I have involves the shuttle crashing in to the station – wouldn’t that cause the affected section of the station to decompress?  There’s a sense of “scene missing” as we catch up to the X-Men, already disembarked from the shuttle and onto the next phase of the battle with the Sentinels.  Maybe Chris & Dave wanted to dispense with that “science fact” moment of the team’s safe jump from their crippled craft, so they simply could keep the action on full-perk.  (Not a problem, crew – please continue!)
(At this same moment, there’s a weird color problem, as the reds of Colossus and Nightcrawler look purple, while the Sentinels look orange; there are similar problems on page 1 and 16.  I’m willing to attribute this to a printer’s error, and not pin it on Michelle Wolfman.)

Chris: We have an interesting character-development moment with Peter, when he reveals the fear and hurt he carries since the death of his brother, cosmonaut Mikhail (although, tearing off your pressure suit during launch probably wasn’t the sharpest idea, tovarisch).  Peter reflects that he and Mikhail were their only family to each other; so, I guess sister Illyana will come up later.  Chris has an interesting way of setting this up; he’s already reminded us of Ororo’s claustrophobia, so our attention is on her – we don’t know of any reason why Peter should freak out, so his reaction is completely unexpected. 
Loose ends: this is another issue where we see and hear very little of Wolverine – he’s had few opportunities to shine, and show off his star power; and, it’s funny how the term “Deathstar” appears so prominently on the cover, but is not used in the text of the story – in Spring 1976, we’re still about a year removed from “Death Star” becoming a term that will be etched prominently into popular culture.  

Matthew: Evidently, overcrowding of credit blocks has become a serious problem, because this month we get Colletta billed in Inhumans as “Vin” and Chiaramonte billed here as “Chiara,” presumably preferable to the all-too-common discourtesy of “Chiarmonte.”  This isn’t Frank’s finest hour, but the rest of the C3 team acquits itself with customary excellence, including Cockrum’s spot-on likenesses of Roger Grimsby and Geraldo Rivera.  Claremont expertly ratchets up the tension with such devices as Peter’s panic attack—which neatly commingles characterization and exposition—while not stinting on personalities or their interactions, and also has the decency to acknowledge and explain the fact that these Sentinels are so easily dispatched.

Also This Month

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes #6
FOOM #14
Kid Colt Outlaw #207
Marvel Double Feature #16
Marvel Tales #68
< Mighty Marvel Western #45
Two-Gun Kid #130
Weird Wonder Tales #16


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 25
Cover by Earl Norem

Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Pat Broderick

"Destiny Cross-Swords"
Swordquest Part One
Story by John Warner
Art by Sanho Kim

Shimuru must battle his war-lord father, Karasu, when the tyrant kidnaps Shimuru's wife and threatens to sacrifice her to "the mighty preserver," a mythological sea beast that protects the people of the village. After Karasu drags Elena to the beach, Shimuru follows them down, hoping to stop his father in time. The Samurai arrives just in time to see a huge dragon rise from the water and ready himself for a tasty morsel. Shimuru proves himself adept with a sword, killing the monster and his own father in one fell swoop.

Just one example of Broderick's
dynamic layouts
Not too long ago, I was adding Bill "Angry Young Man"-tlo to the horde of social-workers-turned-funny-book-writers, whose Friday night meetings, doubtless, were held at The Moenchster's shack (he'd have a shack because a house would be a sell-out). Now, in an aura of astonishment, I give you, Bill Mantlo the writer. Yep, I've been seeing some advancement in Bill's talent the last few months with his stellar job on The White Tiger but "Samurai" is yet another step up the quality ladder (dare I say, pretty close to the top), a gripping and exciting action thriller capped off by an ending no one saw coming. This saga could have been quite comfortable in the pages of Monsters Unleashed with its WTF? inclusion of an honest-to-gosh sea monster but Bill wisely waits until the final pages to show his hand. Perhaps the biggest twist of all, in a magazine called Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, is the absence of anything resembling a "Hai-Ya" or roundhouse kick. There is a lot of Kurosawa- influenced swordplay so the Deadly Hands make an appearance but we're happily short on the Kung Fu. Pat Broderick's art is stellar.

The second new series in this issue of DHoKF, "Swordquest," written by John Warner (who confesses a debt to Akira Kurosawa but then manages to misspell the director's name in the intro to "Swordquest"), dispenses with the thrills and wonderful story-telling we found in "Samurai" and instead presents something akin to one of those late 1970s NBC mini-series inevitably starring Richard Chamberlain; an utter bore. Something about warring factions in 16th Century Japan and the three warriors who come together to change historzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz -Peter Enfantino

And then there's "Swordquest"

Planet of the Apes 21
Cover by Earl Norem

"Beast on the Planet of the Apes"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe, Dan Adkins, and Sal Trapani

"Hail Caesar! Hail the King!"
Conquest of the Planet of the Apes
Chapter 6
Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Our first tale in this month's ever-evolving Apes mag (see what I did there!) is a long-awaited (by some, I'm sure) "movie-length" sequel to "A Kingdom on the Island of the Apes" from issue #10, which is sorta good news. The bad news? Herb Trimpe makes his debut in these pages, which will affect our beloved "Terror" saga, and I will complain about this monkey business in the weeks to come, so get ready!

So the Moench/Trimpe/Dan Adkins chapter re-introduces us to "starry-eyed dreamer" Derek Zane, stuck in a future world dominated by apes and residing in the castle of Camelot. Derek rides his horse Gandalf to where he left his raft on the shores of Avedon—and discovers there's a dead stag on it. Going to investigate, he has an arrow shot at him…by a chimpanzee Robin Hood who also claims he owns the raft! The two fight for it, and their battle causes the raft to drift towards the mainland. Robin agrees to help Sir Derek search for the four missing astronauts (Taylor & company), and they hoodwink a chimp rider then head towards the city in disguise. General Zaynor, who's been in charge since Derek's nemesis Gorodon disappeared, tries to take "prisoner" Derek for target practice, but Robin insists he must go to the labs. When Zaynor smacks Derek in the chops, he speaks, but Robin laughs it off as a growl.

Dr. Cassius at the lab seems a bit too eager to experiment on his new subject, and a worried Robin straps Derek down and leaves. The apes bring out a woman, but not astronaut Stewart, instead a primitive woman who speaks a little, and when the "scientist" say they will remove her larynx, Derek speaks up to try and save her! This distracts Cassius enough that the woman stabs him with a scalpel, frees Derek, and the two escape, running through Zaynor and orangutan leader Hastus until Derek is caught by a net (shades of Taylor!). Robin finds the woman, and saves Derek from hanging soon after with a well-placed arrow. They hop a cart and are on their way out, when Zaynor catches up to them and Derek stabs him in the throat with one of Robin's arrows! As the woman tries to get to the cart, calling Zane's name, she's shot by ape soldiers! Derek shoots a flaming arrow into the ape armory, causing a huge explosion that helps them escape. Derek and Robin bury the woman, whom Derek names "Hope", then the two part, the archer headed back to fair Avedon, while the dreamer vows to keep searching for his missing comrades, not returning to his love Lady Andrea yet. But maybe someday…

I will admit to liking this story much more than I thought I would, and didn't remember it until the shot of "Hope" getting, um, shot by the apes. For some reason that stuck in the old memory banks. This is, alas, one time in these pages where the story outweighs the art. Not that Trimpe's work here is terrible, but just pales in comparison to the artists who have contributed before him. Speaking of…let's turn the pages, past "The Apevine" where even the editor sighs at another month without Jason and Alexander, past Part II of the "SFX on the Planet of the Apes" article, which does include some decent stills from the films, and get to Dean Pete and Prof. Tom fave Alfredo Alcala at the easel for the final part of the excellent and noir-ish Conquest adaptation.

As Governor Breck orders every ape to be shot on sight, Caesar leads the apes to a restricted area, where they grab weapons and kerosene. The truth is broadcast about Caesar, and Breck is incredulous that he wasn't electrocuted. As the apes head towards the heart of the city, a lone sniper almost takes out their leader, but instead Caesar signals a group to set fire to the Civic Center. As the city burns, the riot increases in power, until they overtake the soldiers and break into Breck's "supposedly impregnable Command Post," cutting the power and taking the leaders hostage. Caesar addresses Breck and MacDonald in the smoldering plaza, engaging in a philosophical discussion on slavery and humankind, that ends with Caesar boldly proclaiming "We shall found our own armies—our own religion—our own dynasty!! On  that day, the apes shall rule the world! And that day, humans—is upon you NOW!!"

Man, that is some damn powerful stuff in the last five pages. Well scripted by Moench, fabulously imagined by Alcala, and bringing back fond memories of the 4:30 Movie, especially as I write this one day after Father's Day, remembering how many times my Dad and I watched Apes Week, or Monster Week, or The Great Escape 3-parter, or any number of incredible films. Having lost my Dad in 1996, it made reading this chapter even more fun for me, thinking of that final shot of Roddy McDowall pontificating among the flames, surrounded by apes in red jumpsuits, on the precipice of taking over the world. Very nicely done, and so far the best of the four adaptations, with only Battle remaining.--Joe Tura

Marvel Preview 7
Cover by Bob Larkin

"The Damnation Waltz"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Vicente Alcazar

"The Sword in the Star!
Slave 2: Witchworld!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen

So, is this issue finally Titan? Nah, it's Satana, as the John Warner editorial explains, since Titan just can't be rushed, and will now be called Man-God when it does appear. So, instead, we get the Satana story, because everyone was breaking down the door to see that. The Bob Larkin cover is certainly sultry and creepy, that's a start.

Judith Camber enters her home to find her husband and two children murdered, and when the husband's partner Brian Abelard tries to talk to her, Satana, daughter of the devil, appears to seek vengeance! But after Judith passes out, she dreams of Satana's banishment, is comforted by Abelard, then after he leaves sees Satana's reflection in a coffee pot, then calls her brother—Daimon Hellstrom—but Judith doesn't have a brother! Turns out Satana was turned into a mortal woman by a Soul-Spell cast by Abelard and his cronies, and the Camber family was sacrificed in a satanic ceremony.

A wary Judith goes to a Sunset Strip occult boutique to pick up a costume that awakens Satana, who then takes down a slew of hoods and uses her kiss to take a man's soul, then is back to a disbelieving Judith. Part II begins with dreams of Abelard's treachery and a quick battle with a demon. Next, Judith is kicked out before she can get into Abelard's cult, and saved by curio shop owner Leander Dyson, whom Satana almost kills, but Judith wins out and Dyson reveals the birthmark on her throat is the mark of Keeper of the Basilisk, seal of the House of Hell. Satana is suddenly separated from Judith, but she's told she must stop Abelard's death-spell ceremony or all mankind will come to an end! In order to stop the ceremony, Satana busts in and when all seems lost, she calls on The Basilisk, who destroys all, including Abelard, whose butterfly soul is crushed by Satana once and for all, and now she is once again free!

Chris Claremont gives us a script that put me to sleep twice. No offense, Chris, but this just wasn't a story, or a character, that held my attention. Probably not entirely Claremont's fault; let's blame John Warner just for kicks. It goes back and forth between Satana and Judith so much, it was like watching a supernatural soap opera, but nigh impossible to follow I'm sorry to say. And sure, that's intended, but let's say maybe it's just not for me. Vicente Alcazar adds some decent pencils, most notably some full-page wacked-out layouts like page 21, and some odd panel choices on page 22. At least he tried to make it interesting! Spanish-born Alcazar is known primarily for a run on DC's Jonah Hex, but also worked for Archie Comics, Charlton (Space: 1999) and dabbled in inks and covers for Marvel, including pencils for an issue of Moon Knight in 1983, his last work for the Bullpen as far as I can tell.

Claremont next gives us an article ("From the Devil, A Daughter") about the origin and history of Satana, praising all her appearances actually. Not sure the article merited four pages. Bill Mantlo is up next, with a two-page explanation ("Just a Little Over a Year Ago Today") that rambles about the creation of "Sword In The Star," of which we now get to read Stage 2, illustrated by Keith Giffen.

Continuing from Marvel Preview #4, Prince Wayfinder mourns the loss of his teacher, Delphos the wizard, also creator of Alkinoos, the robot that guides the ship and is around to help the prince. The ship is set to land on the planet Hailailae, aka Witch-World, where an impatient Wayfinder goes to hunt game and is grabbed by a tree's tendrils! As he breaks free, talking raccoon Rocky shows up to befriend him, then help him fight off The Plagueosaur, a tree monster who lasts nearly two pages. Then suddenly, the witch Kirke appears, bringing with her a band of man/animal knights and a powerful scepter that ends the battle quickly, leaving Wayfinder and Raccoon the choice to come with them—or die!

OK, first things first. The raccoon appears to be Rocket Raccoon, but according to the Marvel Comics Database, "Since The Sword in the Star! saga is stated as 10,000 years in the future (Earth-7614), it's unlikely that this Rocket is the same that appeared in Earth-616 continuity. Possibly it is a descendant of Rocket." So there. Well, all in all, this one's a little better than the first "Sword in the Star," but still just OK. Some decent action that ends a bit too fast, and a cliffhanger that basically asks the reader to beg if you want to know what happens, like a ill-mannered PBS fundraiser, plus nice art by Giffen and a pretentious and slightly puzzling script by Mantlo. Yeah, that's about it. –Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 12
Cover Art by Boris Vallejo

“The Haunters of Castle Crimson”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Chivalry is Alive and Well and Living in Berkeley”
Text by Sam J. Maronie
“The Hyborian Age Chapter 3: The Hyborian Kingdoms”
Text by Roy Thomas
Art by Walt Simonson

“Swords and Scrolls”

If someone had asked me to name my favorite illustrator/inker team in the 1970s before I was hired by Marvel University, I would have casually tossed off John Byrne and Terry Austin. I assume that a few other professors would as well. Well, my friends, after countless hours of study and scholarship, that tune has changed. I now proclaim that the pairing of Big John Buscema and Awesome Alfredo Alcala are the undisputed heavyweight champs of the decade.

Listen, what more can you say about Buscema? Perhaps he didn’t have the pure artistry of a Barry Smith or Neal Adams, but the man was a beast, churning out pages that pulsed with action and drama. And Alcala? He took Buscema’s pencils to majestic levels like no one else. His inks literally curved around Big John’s characters, give them brilliant life and dimension — they looked ready to stride off the page. The backgrounds were equally amazing, which is probably an even greater accomplishment considering Buscema often supplied rough sketches. Alcala’s attention to detail was remarkable. And he was a master of light and shade. So do ya think I enjoyed the 48-page “The Haunters of Castle Crimson?” Damn skippy. Let’s get started.

Conan calmly rides into Kizil-Bezzin, a city-state under siege by one of the murderous tribes of desert nomads that has risen up to take the place of the disbanded Zuagirs. He rescues a beautiful slave named Zuleika and heads towards Castle Crimson, a fortress ruled by his old friend Malthom of Nemedia. The Nemedian informs the Cimmerian that the Castle has exchanged hands throughout the decades. Before it was gifted to Malthom by Princess Yasmela of Khoraja, it was held by Mordek, a traitorous fiend who slaughtered and buried the rightful rulers in a secret vault. After the stronghold’s history is told, Conan gets down to business. The slavegirl Zuleika looks remarkably like Corma, the daughter of Aballah Bin Khor, thought dead for years. Before she disappeared, the woman was promised as a bride to Khelru-Shan, a powerful chieftain. Conan will visit Khelru-Shan and tell him that Corma still lives: after he pays a hefty reward, they will deliver the chieftain her double, Zuleika, instead.

Conan rides off and is welcomed into Khelru-Shan castle — the traitor Mordek is now the chieftain’s royal advisor. The Cimmerian convinces Khelru-Shan that Corma is actually alive and the man agrees to the terms. The barbarian, the chieftain and his huge army head off to Castle Crimson. With Shan and his troops waiting outside, Conan enters the Castle only to discover that Malthom has fallen in love with Zuleika and refuses to turn her over. Enraged, Khelru-Shan begins a siege, and his forces soon overrun the keep. Mordek, aware of the catacombs beneath the fortress, steals inside and kidnaps Zuleika. But Conan spies him escaping and gives chase, following the advisor and the struggling woman into the secret crypt containing the skeletal remains of the former rulers of the Castle Crimson. The Cimmerian and Mordek square off until a drop of the advisor’s blood splashes on one of the skeletons: it lurches to life and tears the traitor’s head off his body. Holding the decapitated head aloft, the undead creature shakes even more blood on his moldy companions. They all rise and join in the battle against the invaders. After a long and horrifying night, Khelru-Shan and his army are finally defeated — the skeletons collapse into a fine white dust.

At dawn, Aballah Bin Khor and his forces arrive at the gates, hearing the news of Corma’s long-hoped for return. After all their previous losses, Conan and Malthom realize that they are hopelessly outmatched and take Zuleika outside: even though she looks a bit strange to her “father,” Aballah Bin Khor embraces his “daughter” and gives her hand in marriage to Malthom.

Excellent stuff. Not only is the art a joy to behold, Roy Thomas delivers the goods as well, crafting an exciting story full of twists and intrigue — and buckets of blood. “The Haunters of Castle Crimson” is based on Robert E. Howard’s “The Slave Princess,” a Cormac Fitzgeoffrey story he left unfinished at his death. It was finally completed by Richard L. Tierney for the 1979 book Hawks of Outremer — have no idea how Roy got a hold of it in 1976. Regardless, Roy, as usual, plays with the source material since it was originally set during the Third Crusade.

We have two rather lengthy bonus pieces as well. Sam J. Maronie’s “Chivalry is Alive and Well and Living in Berkeley” is a 5-page feature on the Society for Creative Anachronism, a group of nutjobs that wear armor, swing swords, weave rugs, drink mead, and take part in other goofy medieval activities. They are still going strong today. Finally there’s Roy and Walt Simonson’s “The Hyborian Kingdoms,” the third chapter of their illustrated history of Howard’s Hyborian age. This one covers 14,000 to 10,000 B.C., beginning with the rise of the kingdom of Hyperborea and ending with the time of Conan. Professor Gilbert usually chimes in at this point so I’ll let him run with the ball on this one. -Thomas Flynn

An extra-special supplement from our Professor of Musty Pulps, Gilbert Colon....

The “tawny-haired Hyborians” are on the march, along with an assortment of other wandering “clans of nomadic savages,” making this era one of great migrations and kingdom-building.  Many of the peoples have names familiar to the modern eye and ear, though these ancient designations do not always agree with those passed down to us in the recorded history of today.  

There are the Cimmerians (“ferocious savages untamed by any invaders”), Picts, Amazons, Hyrkanians, and Kushites.  Then there are, in terms of geography, the Nile, Argos, Aquilonia, Nordheim, and Ophir; the almost-identifiable Empire of Zembabwei, Shemites, and Corinthia; and mythological names like Styx, Vanir, and Æsir.  

Friend and fellow Weird Tales contributor H. P. Lovecraft objected to the too-recognizable appellations of “The Hyborian Age,” explaining in a letter to Donald Wollheim: 

“The only flaw in this stuff is R. E. H.’s incurable tendency to devise names too closely resembling actual names of ancient history – names which, for us, have a very different set of associations. In many cases he does this designedly – on the theory that familiar names descend from the fabulous realms he describes – but such a design is invalidated by the fact that we clearly know the etymology of many of the historic terms, hence cannot accept the pedigree he suggests.  E. Hoffman Price and I have both argued with Two-Gun on this point, but we make no headway whatsoever.  The only thing to do is to accept the nomenclature as he gives it, wink at the weak spots, and be damned thankful that we can get such vivid artificial legendry.”  

Since it is doubtful that Howard was trying to construct a literal alternate history any more than Lovecraft was with his “Cthulhu Mythos” – which incidentally did its own share of creative borrowing (e.g., Dagon, Hastur, etc.) – the criticism too easily comes across as that of a persnickety academic.  Rusty Burke, in “A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard,” quotes a Howard letter confirming his aims: “I’ve been working on a new character, providing him with a new epoch – the Hyborian Age, which men have forgotten, but which remains in classical names, and distorted myths.”  Regardless of Lovecraft’s critique, there is no denying his loyal affection for his friend Howard and his work, as evidenced when he eulogized him with “In Memoriam: Robert Ervin Howard” in Fantasy Magazine (September 1936).  

“Chapter 3 The Hyborian Kingdoms” shows the world at a stage barely less primitive than the decidedly Darwinian epoch depicted last issue which saw Hybori Homo sapiens unsentimentally endeavoring to exterminate man-ape rivals before beginning their drift southward.  “The apish Atlanteans have begun the long hard climb toward true humanity…” while other races are “neither progressing nor retrogressing.”  A breakdown of the various populations of this age and their physical characteristics can be found on page 63.  

Yet it is the brutal Hybori tribe who first make the transition from a nomadic hunter-gatherer society to an agrarian culture – the genesis of civilization as we know it, albeit it in its primeval infancy, starting with “--the rude and barbaric kingdom of Hyperborea” and its “crude fortress of boulders heaped to repel tribal attack.”  This simple but purposeful stack of rocks is an evolutionary leap forward as defining as hominid Moon-Watcher’s discovery of animal bone potential in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  

“There are few more dramatic events in history than the rise of this fierce kingdom, whose people turned abruptly from their nomadic life to rear dwellings of naked stone, surrounded by Cyclopean walls.”  This small step – a giant leap for man – may resonate for some readers as a miniature of the Cyclopean cities of Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, built by cosmic travelers so evolutionarily advanced beyond man that they regard us as little more than insects.  (“[T]his Cyclopean maze of squared, curved, and angled blocks had features which cut off all comfortable refuge.  It was, very clearly, the blasphemous city of the mirage in stark, objective, and ineluctable reality.”)  

In a Darwinian world, this is what it means to be at the top of the food chain, whether Old Ones, Hybori, or H. G. Wells’ Martians who saw “we men, the creatures who inhabit this earth, [as] to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us.”  Nothing means anything except survival and dominance, at least until the establishment of civilization and the coming of a Nemedian priest named Arus who offers a better way – “the introduction of the gentle worship of Mitra [and] the eternal rights and justices which were the truths of Mitra.”  But that time is not now.  

From the Hybori base of operations, the obscure tribal kingdom in due course sprouts and spreads into the world to found many high kingdoms that “dominate the Western world.”  Their first is Koth, then later mighty Aquilonia, “a virile civilization…supreme in the Western world.”  Simonson’s renditions of their storied cities rival what we know of antique Rome and its architectural grandeur, one of the supposed influences for Aquilonia.  

Elsewhere “[i]n the North ... golden-haired, blue-eyed barbarians [expel] the remaining Hyborian tribes out of all the snow-countries except Hyperborea.  Their land is called Nordheim, and they are divided into the red-haired Vanir and the yellow-haired Aesir.”  

Meanwhile “the Lemurians are evolving a strange semi-civilization all their own” and eventually “enter history again, as Hyrkanians…establish[ing] the kingdom of Turan.”  

“This, then, was the Age of CONAN” – an “Age Undreamed Of” – intimately familiar to readers of Weird Tales and, in later decades, Marvel’s many publications, unlike the other periods chronicled in Howard’s epic essay.  Then, after the two reported cataclysms of previous installments, this cryptic closing: “NEXT: THE BEGINNING OF THE END.”  

—Professor Gilbert


  1. Compared to the later assembly line the first years of SSoC were a marvel of art and stories. That is not to say that later there are not some great issues because there were, still they went from highlight to highlight. And I am with you, Prof. Flynn. Buscema is underrated on this.

    Over the course of MU I have come to like Sal Buscema’s work whom I never spared a second glance back then, still MoKF 41 is like a cold shower. Could two art styles be any more different? Gulacy’s elaborate panels, Buscema’s simple drawings, often without any backgrounds.

    And RIP Earl Norem.

    1. Amen brother. A great talent.

  2. The MTU time-travel lark makes me wonder if anyone will be daring enough to do a tale in which 2015 Spidey gets lost in a time loop and meets his teen-aged self from the 1960s and is left to wonder how it is that nearly 50 years later he and everyone else he knew back then who is still alive are only about 10 years older and that in the '70s he went 17 years into a future which is now 22 years in the past!
    Anyhow, as to Warlock, I can appreciate Starlin trying different types of stories but despite the still stellar artwork this does pale in comparison to the Magus/Thanos epic. But I'd still rate it, along with the X-Men and Guardians of the Galaxy mags as the best picks of this batch.