Wednesday, August 26, 2015

October 1976 Part One: Where Monsters Dwell Starring The Incredible Hulk!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

The dust finally settles as Stan writes, “I’m proud and delighted to announce that one of the most skillful and popular writer/editors in comicdom has just been named editor-in-chief of Marvel Comics.  I’m referring, of course, to my good friend and fellow bullpenner, none other than amiable Archie Goodwin!”  Outside the Soapbox, they note that with him “moving to our color line, you might well ask who is taking over the black and white magazines he used to handle (and if you don’t ask, it blows this whole item).  Answer:  ‘Joyful John’ Warner.  Assisting John will be a newcomer to the Bullpen, [lettercol fixture] ‘Reliable Ralph’ Macchio.”  I am probably not alone in celebrating any time that Warner devotes to editing comics rather than writing them.

The few weeks at the helm of Archie’s controversial predecessor seem to be fondly recalled by nobody, including Conway himself, although in fairness, Gerry saw a legitimate need to end the chaos, stemming a tide of missed deadlines and resultant late fees to the printers. Sean Howe’s Marvel Comics: The Untold Story enumerates some of the bloodletting:  Jungle Action was canceled, to be replaced by the Panther’s eponymous Kirby-created mag; Englehart and Starlin left after conflicts over, respectively, a blown Avengers deadline and art corrections on Warlock.  And who’s to say whether some of that might not have happened anyway, amid president Jim Galton’s ongoing efforts to pare the list to a manageable size and put Marvel firmly in the black?

Les Daniels writes in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics that Gerry “realized he didn’t want the job as soon as he got it.  ‘There was never an acknowledgment that no one person could edit fifty books,’ he says.  ‘Marvel needed to have one person who had an overview capacity, and then needed individuals to have responsibility for the various books.  But the person who acknowledged this need would, in effect, be acknowledging a lack of power, or that’s how it was perceived.”  Stan added, “We used to laugh about it [and] say, ‘Don’t paint his name on the door, just tack it up.’…I was always unhappy that [Goodwin] was an editor because I wanted to get more writing out of him…[but] the artists and writers…got along well with him.”

And now -- October 1976!

The Amazing Spider-Man 161
"And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gi Kane and John Romita

Working out at the Xavier Mansion gym, new X-Man Nightcrawler is reading the Daily Bugle when he spots something that bothers him, and after an argument with teammate Wolverine, he heads out. Peter and MJ are at Coney Island, riding The Cyclone roller coaster and grabbing a Nathan's frank with Harry and Liz, when suddenly someone on the next ride is shot at the top of the lift hill! Peter runs off to take pictures, aka change into Spidey, just as Nightcrawler arrives to find the killer of his old friend Eric Hoffman (the story he saw in the newspaper) and spots the killer. Picking up the dropped rifle/murder weapon, he's smashed into by Spider-Man!

With both thinking the other may be the killer, the battle takes them to the ferris wheel, where Nightcrawler teleports away, leaving Spidey to go to the Bugle to get some answers from Joe Robertson. Robbie discloses The Punisher may be involved, then an eavesdropping J. Jonah sneaks off to look at the package he was mailed—pictures of Spidey getting rid of his clone! Cut to The Punisher, who interrupts a dice game in the Rockaways to find out who's been impersonating him. Back to Spidey, who's ambushed by Nightcrawler on the Roosevelt Island Tram, where the mutant steals the wall-crawler's belt camera. He ruins the film, not wanting evidence of his existence, then the two end up on the cables—where they're held at gunpoint by The Punisher!—Joe Tura

Joe Tura: I always wonder, when Marvel makes claims like the cover's "It's the battle you demanded", just how many people actually wrote in, or picketed the offices asking for such a tussle to take place. But we certainly get off to a good start with the awesome Kane-Romita cover, highlighted by Nightcrawler's terrific tootsies. Much of the plot/action is a Three's Company-esque misunderstanding, but that's normal. As is The Punisher's ruthlessness. And you can see Nightcrawler is growing as a character, but he already has the morality and faith instilled in his personality.

Page 6 definitely captures the terror of riding The Cyclone at Coney Island, loose bolts, steep drops and all. Well, except for the gunsight aimed at your head, that's not part of the ride (for those who've never had the pleasure). Overall, a good issue, with acrobatic action, excellent art except for maybe the hyena-like Wolverine on page 3, and a cool cliffhanger.

Favorite sound effect: Not many stand out, but the one I like the most is "SKRAKT!" on the kinetic page 14, as Nightcrawler gets his tail free from Spidey's webbing by ripping off the piece of the wall it's attached to. You don't see that every day!

Matthew Bradley:  Great cover, great issue, and it’s kinda cool that as X-Man-ia starts to take hold, Len—who X-ited the X-Men pretty quickly—revisits some of the characters he co-created, not only formal guest star Nightcrawler but also Colossus and, lest we forget Incredible Hulk #180, Wolverine.  I’m more forgiving of a MARMIS when, as here, it’s the actual point of the story rather than a moth-eaten device to kick off or, worse, slow down a Marvel Team-Up.  The Rossito team (note the “Esposito’s Custard” sign, one of several apparent Bullpen in-jokes in page 10, panel 3) does well by Kurt, who has a nice chemistry with Spidey, and those ominous photos of JJJ’s spell all kinds of trouble down the road, as does the reappearance of the Punisher.

Chris Blake: Interesting choice by Len, to select Nightcrawler as the first neo-X-man to see action outside of his team’s mag.  Why Nightcrawler?  Spidey himself sheds some light on the decision, as he observes how he and NC are well-matched in terms of skills like agility and wall-climbing.  The MARMIS makes a little sense – Len sets it up well, as the news of the shooting death of NC’s old carnival colleague shares front-page column space with yet-another “Spider-Man – Menace!” editorial by JJJ; so, both parties have reason to suspect the intentions of the other (especially when Spidey finds Kurt with the murder weapon in his grip, right?).  Speaking of Jonah – where’d he get those photos of Spidey disposing of the Parker clone?  And how could Spidey, or Pete, figure out how to talk his way outta this one -?!

Andru really outdoes himself on the art, as the Spidey & NC high-wire act keeps them far above the ground for nearly the entire issue.  Highlights include the chase up the Ferris wheel (p 15), and especially the sweeping view of Spidey in his descent toward the Roosevelt Island tram far below, with detail of the Queensboro Bridge in the background (p 27), followed by a perspective from below the tram, as Nightcrawler falls (also p 27).  I also enjoyed the Coney Island snapshots (p 7, 10); Ross’s depiction of the block-long original Nathan’s is just as I remember it (it’s been awhile … I’m overdue for a return visit).
Mark Barsotti: A bit of an odd if entertaining duck, this one. The Nightcrawler battle/team-up is an obvious attempt to promote and acknowledge the New X-Men's burgeoning stardom, and it's of historical interest to note that Kurt Wagner was tapped for the crossover, rather than the not-yet-a-star Wolverine. Crawler's nimble acrobatics are certainly well-matched to Spidey's, and what starts out as a classic old school MARMIS – I think that's the term - Dean, kindly jump in here to clarify - which I think means "Marvel Misunderstanding," a kerfuffle leading to good guys brawling (you'd think all this would be spelled out in the faculty handbook) (you took the test, Mark, and passed that part of the exam with flying colors -- it is, indeed, a MARMIS -PastePot) – moves beyond that as N.C. no longer thinks Webs is a killer, but give chases for the film in Pete's camera, thus protecting the apparently still secret existence of Xavier's new students.

The death-by-sniper rifle subplot means either Lee Oswald has risen from the grave, or the always entertaining return of the Punisher. Add in a brief Peter and MJ double-date with Harry and Liz Allan, Spidey seeking Joe Robertson's counsel, and Jolly Jonah receiving photos, of Spidey dropping his dead clone down a chimney, from an anonymous tipster, and this is the most entertaining Len has been in months.    

The Avengers 152
"Nightmare in New Orleans"
Story by Steve Englehart and Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Dan Adkins

Last issue, we had a nice cliffhanger with Wonder Man, shipped in a crate to Avengers mansion, breaking free and accusing the Vision of stealing his mind. Now the new line-up has their first task: figuring out who or what sent Wonder Man. The Scarlet Witch recognizes Wondy as a “zuvembie,” and traces his animation to a powerful magician in New Orleans. Meanwhile, the Vision is having a massive identity crisis (his dialog is presented as squarish yellow brackets for the first time, giving more emphasis to his robotic nature, and his self-doubt). 

With a destination in mind, they head to New Orleans and find the Black Talon, who has apparently reanimated Wonder Man for purposes unknown for “he whose will we serve.” How mysterious! Who is this "he"?

The Avengers have little trouble with the Black Talon and his minions. Scarlet Witch, who battles the Talon with magic against magic, ultimately prevails but has some doubts as to whether or not she controls her hex power as much as she would like. She departs at the end of the issue, looking for a way to better understand and manage her power. 

The Vision has several minor verbal run-ins with the other Avengers, notably Yellowjacket, who still wishes he had stayed out of the new line-up, but who seems in good form once the battle gets rolling. Vision even wonders about his immortal soul — an odd thing for an android to question, and what his identity really is, now that Wonder Man has been revived, if only partially. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: This issue has a new artist and writer picking up the duty here, and it’s not too bad. Of course, there’s no way some bayou magician called the Black Talon can hold up for long—if at all—against the Avengers, and Conway doesn’t pretend that he has a chance. The Scarlet Witch telekinetically throws a bunch of sticks at him and down he goes. The art is typical Buscema, pretty routine. The most interesting aspect of this issue is The Vision and his deepening identity crisis. 

Matthew: Englehart’s Cheshire Cat vanishing act ends with this plot scripted by Conway, and although I’m not wild about the random-seeming voodoo/“zuvembie” stuff, the takeaway is that his last major contribution to the Assemblers was the resurrection of Wonder Man.  I’m as enamored of Pérez as the next guy, yet I practically got weak in the knees when I took another gander at that Buscinnott splash page, and Big John can fill in—as he does on this issue and the next, perhaps to free up George for the annual—any time; my only reservation on that score was that Wanda’s face looked a little flat in spots (e.g., page 10, panel 7).  But who actually revived Wonder Man, since a close reading of the last page makes clear that it’s not the Funky Chicken, is more complicated than you’ll want to know…

Chris: Another flea-market find for me, with a noticeable triangle-shaped chip missing from the bottom-right corner of the cover.  But I was willing to overlook that – for many years, this was the oldest non-reprint issue of Avengers in my collection.  

The conclusion doesn’t leave us any closer to an understanding of what the future might hold for Simon Williams, the man who would be Wonder Man.  He’s described as animated, but not capable of independent thought, as if the Vision’s sentience and Wonder Man’s could be mutually exclusive.  Telling statement, by the Vision: “No matter what the outcome today, certain doors have been opened, which before this were closed.”  Well put, Vizh – the questions about the identities about both characters will be debated for most of the next year (publication-wise), and will leave the convoluted business of Englehart’s love quadrangle buried in the dust.
I have a few other observations:  first, from Hank Pym: “I’m not a swashbuckler anymore.  I’m a grown man, and I feel kind of silly chasing around playing hero.”  Earlier in the issue, Dr Pym describes himself as a theoretician, and no longer having the “temperment” (sic) to deal with super-hero business.  Of course, his teammates (Jan especially) observe that Yellowjacket rises to the occasion, and becomes invested in the action.  I mention this now, in order to contradict claims by later writers that YJ was always a reluctant hero, racked with self-doubt, in part because of Ultron’s interference.  Sure, Hank Pym was never Steve Rogers: All-American, but he was never a basket case, either.  He has legitimate reservations about his degree of commitment to the heroing-life, which he’s capable of overcoming when the moment requires it.  Next: Wanda takes a welcome central role in this issue, as her abilities continue to develop.  

As much as we all treasure a pairing of Buscema/Sinnott, I don’t think they’re the ideal team for this story, especially when the action takes us into the swamp; maybe I’ve grown too accustomed to the murky environs of Man-Thing (as depicted by artists ranging from Mooney to Ploog), but there isn’t as much shadowy atmosphere as I would have liked (p 22, pnl 2, though, is one visual that delivers).  Tom Palmer would’ve been a better fit with Buscema here.  
I’ll close with a confusing moment: Iron Man references (on p 14) an encounter he’s had “not so long ago” with a Werewolf, which Gerry tells us takes place in WbN #42; okay, Gerry, that may be, but I hope you realize that the pub date for the issue in question isn’t until Jan ’77, a full three months from now …
Joe: Always with the zuvembies, these Marvel people! I certainly don't remember this ending so fast, and could have sworn it was a two-parter, but that's neither here nor there, nor in N'awlins. Of course, the whole issue is a big set-up for many decades to come, from Scarlet Witch's thirst for self-knowledge to Vision's bitterness to Hank Pym's flip-flopping to Beast caring for future best bud Wonder Man (sorta) by being the one to carry him through the swamp. Everything zips along, with a decent if not overly exciting script, classic art, and some nice moments for Cap, Wanda, Yellowjacket, and my favorite one, Jarvis (page 3) doing a proper butler's job, shooing away the riff-raff!

The Champions 8
"Divide and Conquer!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Hall and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Rampage brings the Champions photographic evidence that the Titanium Man has captured Natasha and Bruskin, yet upon pressing a stud on his belt to open verbal contact, he explodes.  As Johnny takes a critically injured Clarke to the hospital, the others try to get things in shape for the dedication and the Soviets confer with their leader:  the new Crimson Dynamo, Yuri Petrovich.  Bobby helps Ivan track Bruskin, using a device attuned to his signature black pearl, but while Warren—his shredded uniform replaced with a red-and-white variant on his old X-Men outfit, provided by Fenster—and Hercules announce the formation of the Champions, their press conference is suddenly attacked by the Crimson Dynamo, Titanium Man, and Griffin. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: After repeated calls from readers for him to be given a regular series, Mantlo spearheads the new-broom creative team, featuring my earliest exposure to penciler Hall; they will soon reassemble on another of my underdog favorites, Super-Villain Team-Up.  The newcomer’s work is admittedly somewhat cartoony—although I don’t think the one-off inks by Patterson, who later presides over the slow death of Captain Marvel’s strip, do him too many favors—yet with 20/20 hindsight, I can see some potential there.  Running with Isabella’s ball, Bill not only furthers the engrossing storyline Tony initiated on his way out the door, but also retains his theme of the little super-hero group that couldn’t (which, I would argue, makes the book unique).

Chris: Mantlo must have consulted with Tony Isabella before the latter went out the door, since Bill ably continues Tony’s trend of devoting an entire (bi-monthly) issue to virtually no action, or advancement of story.  There’s a lot of talk about going after the Widow, but no one does anything until Ivan employs his black pearl tracer-trick (which he doesn’t bother divulging at any time to the team, only Iceman -?).  Instead, the group’s attention is devoted to their pointless press conference; because, the Widow can handle herself, right?  She’ll be fine.  “Hey Dad – can I get this comic, The Champions?  The guys at school say there’s a real-live press conference in it -!”

Chris: Patterson marks an improvement in the inks, which ordinarily wouldn’t be saying anything as he’s taking over for Colletta.  Truth is, though, that Bruce D. is (IMO) one of the unsung inker-heroes of the Bronze era; he’s one of those uncommon talents who can adopt his style to suit a variety of pencillers.  In this case (strangely enough), I’m going to speculate that the art would’ve been better if Tuska had been held over on the pencils; Bob Hall does an adequate-enough job, but it looks amateurish to me (plus, there are a few inexplicable moments like Fenster’s sudden stretching ability, on page 16 last panel).  

Conan the Barbarian 67 
“Talons of the Man-Tiger!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and The Tribe
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Conan and Bêlit face off against Red Sonja over their common goal, the page stolen from the iron-bound Book of Skelos in Messantia’s Temple of a Thousand Gods. After tempers subside, the Cimmerian and the Hyrkanian relate the events that led to this confrontation. Bêlit, furious over Sonja’s steady insults, draws her cutlass on her fellow She-Devil. When Sonja proves to be more of a match with a sword, the Queen of the Black Coast switches to her preferred weapon, a dagger. But Sonja douses the chamber’s torch and makes her escape with the page as Conan struggles to relight the flame. The barbarian tells his mate to head back to the Tigress before the Black Corsairs set sail — he will chase down his former compatriot alone. Unaware that he is being watched by a Stygian holding a tiger-striped alley cat, the same hooded figure who led the alligator-men who attacked Sonja in the sewers, Conan surprisingly runs into his old squire, Tara of Hanumar. Now pregnant, she tells the Cimmerian that her lover Yusef was imprisoned after he killed the Captain of the Guards. The barbarian gives Tara a sack of gold to buy a horse and wagon and then slips into the royal castle’s dungeon, happy to find that only a single man guards Yusef’s cell. However, the guard suddenly transforms into a vicious were-creature. The warrior impales the man-tiger with his sword but the furious beast continues its relentless assault. Finally, Conan chokes the life out of the hairy horror — in death, it transforms back into the guard. The Cimmerian and Yusef make their escape but are soon cornered by additional guards: Bêlit arrives just in time and the tide is bloodily turned. Tara and Yusef depart in the wagon just as Red Sonja rides by — the pursuit begins anew. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Another fine issue, but a bit shaky. While they were major characters in the excellent six-issue arc that ran from Conan the Barbarian 52 to 57it was somewhat of an unwelcomed surprise to see Tara and Yusef again. Did we really need their rather low-impact return? Let’s face it, their appearance was basically an unnecessary subplot to the action at hand. Roy could have simply had Conan actually catch Red Sonja and then sic a pride of man-tigers on the both of them. But I guess that the lovestruck teens’ drama did reveal that the hooded figure responsible for all the man-monsters who tormented Red Sonja in September’s Marvel Feature #6 is a Stygian sorcerer. Plus, Yusef did hear a deranged fellow prisoner rant that he was the thief who stole the Book of Skelos page from Thoth-Amon (!) and that it had to do with something about the Black Legion of Valusia — which would explain the improbable “Conan vs. King Kull” promised for next issue. What is not a surprise is that the two She-Devils do not make nice during their first meeting. Sonja calls Bêlit a “serving-wench” and the pirate replies in kind with “Hyrkanian hussy.” Sonja had already heard of Bêlit and her false claim of being the daughter of the death-goddess Derketa — she also quickly realizes that Conan must be the so-called Amra she has been pillaging around with recently. As usual, The Tribe serves Big John well, but I’m starting to think that the different inking styles are a bit of a distraction. The work done by Tony DeZuniga is easy to spot: just look for the darkly detailed eyes. They should have just had the talented and well-matched DeZuniga do the issues by himself. While I’ll never bash my old teacher, I must say that Gil Kane’s wicked depiction of the man-tiger on the front cover is far superior to what Buscema the Elder delivers inside. Things will continue in next month’s Marvel Feature #7 — even though the closing teaser says Red Sonja #7. Lucky we are here to correct Marvel on the titles of their own series.

Matthew: That's no joke. Even as late as December, they'll still be referring to the resurgent annuals as Giant-Size [fill in the blank].

Chris: Our hero enjoys more than his usual share of good fortune, as he locates Yusef, fights his way out of the dungeon one-handed (as he supports the depleted Yusef with his non-sword arm), and is spared a stab in the back by a well-timed return of Bêlit.  Speaking of timing, I don’t know whether we should attribute Sonja’s decision to ride past the fortress (after having run from it, apprx 30 mins earlier) as a continuation of Conan’s luck, or simply questionable judgment on Red’s part.  

Either way, it’s a fairly straightforward outing by Roy & John, with an inconsistent look to the proceedings by Yong Montano and the Tribe; I don’t know which member of the international inkers’ consortium provided the finishes for p 16-17, but his work is more to my liking than the rest.  Roy has sown a few tasty seeds about the possible value of the page from the Book of Skelos, and has us wondering about the identity of the tiger-cub-stroking man in the shadows; plus, Sonja is a welcome (and hardly over-used) addition, so I’m optimistic as I look forward to the next two chapters.   

Captain America and the Falcon 202
"Mad, Mad Dimension"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby

Captain America smashes his way through the bodyguards outside the apartment of Texas Jack in order to see the man himself and find out what happened to the Falcon. Texas Jack is more than happy to sit and talk with Cap. Jack is “oil rich” and also wants to know how the Falcon vanished before his eyes. Meanwhile, at Zero Street, one of the Night People, the Inquisitor, has had Leila and the Falcon brainwashed into becoming followers of the underground society. He orders Falc to face down the approaching “monster.” As he flies off, we learn that Zero Street is not on Earth, but is located on a small planetoid. Falcon finds and faces the monster, but the creature is too strong and batters him into unconsciousness. Back on Earth, Cap finds it difficult to believe that a street has been scooped up and taken away inter-dimensionally. However, it is true: an insane asylum on Zero Street was teleported away and replaced by foreign atoms, making it impossible for anyone to dig in that spot. Apparently, this was done by asylum doctor Abner Dolittle. Knowing he has a long night ahead of him, Cap calls Sharon to tell her of his plight, but is met with violet negativity from her. Sharon wants a normal life, while Cap wants to save his friends. Sharon, however, is apparently on the rag since she’s in serious super bitch mode. Cap hangs up, now a little depressed over his conversation with this selfish shrew of a girlfriend. Still, he soldiers on and waits for the possibility of the dimension rift to re-open and lead him to his partner. At that moment, on the planetoid, the Falcon comes to, still in the icy grip of the monster. He breaks free and flies full speed into the monster, knocking it off the planetoid and into space. The Night People rejoice in the victory, but fear that there are other monsters on each of the planetoids orbiting theirs. They then decide to open the dimension machine and send them all to Earth. As the portal opens, Cap leaps through, but before it closes, he’s joined by Texas Jack, who is determined not to miss the party. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Oy vey, that was something. I admit it, I always was a a fan of this run of the series. Actually, to be more accurate, I consider it a guilty pleasure. There’s something charming and goofily fun about it all, but when you sit down and have to review it, this series can be a bit of a chore. This issue is really crazy; packed full of imagination and energy, but totally off the wall. Cap remains weirdly stolid and formal, stuck in a more innocent time. Perhaps this is genuinely how Kirby saw the character, but for my money, it makes Captain America kind of a weirdo.

We finally catch up with Sharon Carter and she’s horribly abrasive. She really has her bitch on and ramps up the selfishness to new heights. She’s not the slightest bit concerned with the safety of Sam or Leila, only about how she can’t enjoy her life because her boyfriend is a super-hero. Boo-hoo, cupcake, that’s why you fell for him to begin with! These sort of things make me long for the older days, when Sharon was in charge of the Femme Force.

Texas Jack is a lunatic. Pleasant enough in the first half of the book when Cap needs info from him; totally going off the rails when he jumps into the dimensional vortex. “YAAHOO! Texas Jack ain’t passin’ up a shebang like this ‘un!” Sometimes, I wish I could.  Yup, it’s still goofy fun, but was anyone really enjoying this at the time? 

Matthew: This just confirms that I have a higher tolerance for the post-Madbomb stuff; for example, while the idea of Zero Street existing on its “unknown planetoid” is ludicrous, page 7, panel 4 (far above) has a kind of Little Prince charm.  Texas Jack seems more like a viable character than many a Kirby cipher, even if he can’t decide whether his “man” is Beasley or Beamish, and even amid the King’s notorious dialogue, how spot-on is his statement, “No man ever looks like that unless he’s talked to a woman!!”  Still, problems persist:  the brainwashed Falcon’s mindset is inconsistent between his dialogue and thought-balloons, and why bother bringing back Sharon simply to portray her as the type of whining milksop—a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, indeed!—we hated?

Daredevil 138
"Where is Karen Page?"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Jim Mooney
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

 Daredevil’s efforts to locate Karen Page have led him to the L.A. Science Institute, and an unanticipated battle with the Smasher; Smash had been sent there to acquire a box from a safe.  Our hero is overpowered, as the Smasher hauls him off, with the purloined box, to Death’s-Head (who is well pleased).  Elsewhere, Johnny Blaze checks in with Roxanne Simpson in the hospital; he informs her of Karen’s abduction by the Stunt Master, and (astutely) assures Rocky that he and Karen are “just friends” – his concern for Karen is (mostly) professional.  Johnny sets out, and when he feels himself change to Ghost Rider, he expects he’s on to Karen’s kidnapper, but instead interrupts the work of a group of rug thieves.  GR chases most of them away, and isn’t terribly impressed (as he wonders why the transformation might’ve been triggered), until he notices that one of the rugs is stuffed with bundles of heroin.  Karen wonders aloud about the possible identity of this Death’s-Head – it would have to be a new person in the role, since the original D-H had been Karen’s father, now deceased.  D-H himself walks in, and states his intention to acquire information about Dr Paxton Page’s research into cobalt bomb technology, time displacement, and the fourth dimension!  Stunt Master catches up to GR, and explains that he only kidnapped Karen Page because his mind was under control by D-H; he agrees to take GR to where Karen is being held.  DD breaks out of confinement, and locates Karen within D-H’s HQ.  D-H arrives, and declares the DD will die; DD recognizes the voice behind the skull, and suddenly realizes the identity of the new D-H.  D-H grabs hold, and DD’s arm goes numb; he doesn’t want D-H to feel he has the advantage, so DD presses the attack.  D-H gets DD by the neck; as GR crashes through, DD feels his life-force ebbing away.  -Chris Blake

Chris: This pairing of DD + GR is a welcome direction for both characters; there isn’t a natural connection between them, which helps to make it interesting.  DD’s been on his own since Natasha took off, while GR’s appearance here signals a growing trend of involvement with non-supernatural members of the Marvel multiverse.  I hope DD fans weren’t too confused by the plot elements from GR’s own mag; overall, I think Marv does a solid job of weaving the two stories together.  
I’m beginning to think that Foggy is almost as prone to victimhood as a certain May Parker of Queens NY.  It’s another one of those night-at-the-movies moments, as we see Foggy take a phone call, and gamely set out alone, which prompts us to shout from the 18th row of the theater: “Don’t go out there, Foggy!  Stone’s gonna getcha!  Wait for DD to come back, man – I’m tellin ya!” 
Byrne brings a drastically different look to this title; for the longest time, we’ve had wispy gasps of good when Colan has dropped in, or Janson has provided inky atmosphere, but those moments have been offset by Colletta-scratchings and typically ordinary finishes by Mooney.  Mooney is back again for this issue, but the look is at least 90% Byrne, as we admire some strong, fluid movement by the title character, and some very spooky looks for both GR and D-H.  Byrne’s depiction of GR is particularly strong in moments like p 11 (pnl 3, 4), p 14 (pnl 3), and p 26 (pnl 2).  I like the little touches for D-H, like the craggy skull-bones, loose mummy-wrappings, and the empty ruby eyes (especially on p 17, pnl 4).
Note: John G of Shawnee Mission earns a no-prize by correctly identifying Lt Bert Rose as the same flatfoot who had been on the scene after Matt’s father had been gunned down, way back in DD #1. This information doesn’t serve to make Rose’s recent appearances any less irksome.

Matthew: Of historical interest to nobody but me, this is the first specific issue mentioned in the diary I had begun keeping, at first sporadically.  Some earlier entries were transcribed from my 7th-grade “Journal/Idea Source Book,” e.g., a note on 2/12/76 that I “collect comic books.  I bought a lot of comic books today.  I really enjoy them.”  On 6/17, I listed “October Daredevil” among the acquisitions I made in New York with Dad; to put that in context, they also included Famous Monsters of Filmland; books by Sax Rohmer (two Fu Manchus), Edgar Rice Burroughs (Back to the Stone Age), and Agatha Christie (three Hercule Poirots); and a new copy of 20,000 Leagues under the Sea (which I believe replaced a dog-eared hand-me-down I had not yet read).

October is Daredevil Month, as Hornhead appears in his resurgent annual after this two-parter, which concludes in the current Ghost Rider and has perhaps been inevitable since Karen Page joined the latter’s supporting cast; the clues to the identity of the Death’s Head du jour are also there for seasoned DD readers.  Marv is blessed with beautiful Byrne artwork—the prolific John’s only credit on either book, interestingly enough—but we get an opportunity to contrast his inkers, Mooney here and Perlin in the conclusion.  At the risk of paying a left-handed compliment, I’m pleased to say I see essentially no trace of Jim’s style obscuring Byrne’s, and the only discordant note is the uncharacteristically heavy twang imposed onto Johnny’s dialogue.

Tom Flynn: So we have one of the most important character developments for Ghost Rider since I’ve been covering his solo series since issue #11 — and it takes place in the pages of Daredevil. Under the former and dubious guidance of Tony Isabella in his own mag, the character always spoke in the wisecracking manner of Johnny Blaze, head aflame or not. But here, Marv decides to give Ghost Rider a demonic voice, all full of “Miscreant! I am Ghost Rider! Scourge of evil!,” “Speak fast, mortal!,” and “Human fool!” Even Stunt Master is surprised, proclaiming “You don’t have to sound so spooky.” Ghost Rider does still think in the tone of Blaze, which seems a bit of a gyp. Wouldn’t it be much more effective if Ghost Rider didn’t have thought balloons at all? Are we are to believe that Johnny Blaze is coming up with words like “miscreant” while making an effort to speak in a “spooky” tone? It’s even more misguided  since Wolfman also decides to dumb down Blaze’s vocabulary, having him say “tuh” instead of “to,” and sprinkling in plenty of “actin’,” “wonderin’,” “breathin’,” and other words that end in, well, in’. I must say, John Byrne can draw some attractive female characters.

Daredevil Annual 4
"The Name of the Game is Death"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Chris Claremont
Art by George Tuska and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

The young son of Robert Mallory, a millionaire inventor, is kidnapped; for ransom, the abductors demand the plans for Mallory Mark I, “the world’s first tidal power station,” which would gather energy from “deep ocean currents.”  Mallory is meeting with T’Challa, the legendary Prince of the Wakandas, to request a quantity of vibranium, which would be a pivotal factor toward the effective performance of the station.  Now T’Challa, in his guise as the Black Panther, sets off to find Mallory’s son’s kidnappers.  Meanwhile, in Manhattan, Daredevil is swinging thru the city (having returned earlier that morning from his trip out west to rescue Karen Page).  He spots a badly-damaged police cruiser; the injured officer informs DD that they had been attacked by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, who had been ranting about Mallory.  DD sets off in search of Namor, spots him flying along, and attacks; Namor batters back, declaring that Mallory would destroy the life-giving oceans.  Namor leaves DD senseless, and goes on his way after Mallory.  The Panther traces the kidnappers to the home of Ruffio Costa, who has one of his hoods gunned down when he gets out of line; another of his men gets the drop on T’Challa, and takes him prisoner.  Matt Murdock receives a ransom demand: he alone should bring five million dollars to secure the Panther’s release; no cops, no Avengers involved.  Matt realizes that T’Challa must’ve directed the crooks to call him, because T’Challa is among the few who know Daredevil’s secret identity.  Costa orders his men out to collect his cool five million, and leaves the Panther clamped into an “electric chair;” minutes after his departure, T’Challa ably extricates himself and young Mallory from their bonds.  The Panther hides the boy in a storeroom, and escapes the mobster’s lair in time to leap atop Costa’s van as his crew drives to the pickup site.  Daredevil meets the van at the appointed site, and he and the Panther overpower Costa’s thugs.  Namor abruptly arrives, but before another brawl can break out, DD explains to him that he will have Murdock employ the courts in an attempt to block Mallory’s project.  Namor isn’t convinced, but he departs, leaving the case in DD’s hands; T’Challa seals the deal, as he states to DD that Wakanda will sell no vibranium to Mallory.  DD and the Panther descend on Costa; in their fight, Costa crashes into old lab equipment, which douses him with “raw energy.”  The machinery explodes, revealing a new figure in Costa’s place; he announces that the explosion has augmented his brain power to an infinite degree.  Christening himself “Mind-Master,” he orders the Panther to attack DD, as he begins to assume control of the Panther’s mind.  DD takes the fight back to Mind-Master himself; DD’s heightened senses indicate that M-M’s power could be quickly building to overload.  M-M does, in fact, blink out, leaving a bewildered Costa in his place; T’Challa has the honor of knocking out the would-be crime boss.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Overall, without all the stuffing, this might’ve been a perfectly acceptable single-issue team-up with T’Challa.  On the final page, Daredevil observes that he and the Panther are two-of-a-kind, each pursuing their selfless efforts to help others.  They might be from very different backgrounds, but their demeanors are much alike, as both are intelligent, thinking-man’s heroes.  The team-up involving these two characters is the most enjoyable aspect of this overlong issue; it’s a bit surprising that they weren’t paired again at some later Bronze-age point in the pages of DD’s regular mag.  
The stuff with Namor feels extraneous; there’s really no acceptable reason for him to be flying around Manhattan.  Does he expect to spot Mallory from the air -?  DD knows going in that fighting Namor is a mistake, and you know what?  He’s absolutely right.  Worse, they have another needless battle later in the issue; I had to snip that out of the summary.  I mean, my God, look how long the summary is already; some non-story-advancing moments had to be trimmed out – too bad I wasn’t on the Marvel editorial staff at the time, right?  It should have been sufficient for Namor to appear and voice his grievances, without the pointless dust-ups.

The end bit, as our heroes face the so-called Mind-Master, is so tacked-on that it feels like it was spliced in from some other comic.  Right when we think DD and T’C are going to grab the baddie and adjourn to the nearest diner, we’re informed that Costa’s HQ is an old university research lab (because we all know how much mobsters dig hanging out in places where you wear lab coats and carry clipboards).  It feels like nothing at all but filler.  

Tuska’s layouts are better than his usual, as both DD and T’C are depicted with solid musculature and lithe movements that are consistent with Colan’s realizations of them.   Namor is solidly-built too, but his distinctive face doesn’t come across consistently.  Chiaramonte’s inks provide texture and atmosphere at times; nearly all the action takes place at night, an advantage for Chiara.  There are a few lapses when the faces are left too sketchy-looking, but overall it’s an adequate job.  
Matthew: Claremont scripts both of this month’s annuals, each plotted by the strip’s regular writer/editor—Marv here, Len for the Hulk—but neither they nor the Tuskamonte team can elevate this potboiler.  Despite DD’s previous encounters with both guest-stars, the mix feels wrong and, absent a viable villain (Mind-Master?  Please.), reads more like Giant-Size MARMIS than anything else.  Notwithstanding its admirable continuity with the larger Universe, the story is a mess:  “snappy patter” that doubtless made Professor Chris cringe, the dodgy MacGuffin of the tidal station, the unlikely odds of Namor seeking Mallory just as his curiously feminine son has been snatched and, above all, the outrageously “because science” origin for the super-villain.

The Defenders 40
"Love, Anarchy, and, Oh Yes,... The Assassin!
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

With a little help from Matt Murdock, Valkyrie is now a free woman. She and her fellow Defenders head back to Dr. Strange's home.  Clea presents her with the gift of a striking new costume, her original having been tossed while she was in the stir.  Dr. Strange comes out of his self-induced solitude in Central Park, none the wiser as to his recent lack of power or fragmented thinking. In another part of the country the Hulk wrecks a theatre where a controversial play, "Waste" is playing. Back in New York,  the Red Guardian chases down some predudice-tossing punks, leading into a near trap with enemies who apparently know her Russian identity.  She escapes and rejoins her fellows; they set to discuss the recent craziness that seems rampant everywhere. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Another chapter in the hate-filled Nebulon saga leaves me eager for the title to move on to other story lines. It feels similarly fragmented as Stephen himself must feel. The angry departure of Jack Norriss for example, or Hulk dropping by just to waste Waste seem like Sreve Gerber's just filling space, and it's not worthy of what this group is capable of. Val's new costume is nice, though I still might prefer the original.

Matthew: Nope.  Don’t like it.  Never have.  Okay, I can understand the desire/need for a calm-before-the-storm issue where Gerber can put his house in order before the so-called “mind-mangling conclusion of the Nebulon/Headmen epic” in next month’s annual, but surely Steve could’ve come up with a more creative and/or satisfying way to do it.  I’ve especially always hated the cover, which reeks of a fill-in, and although this technically isn’t one, it certainly feels like it, complete with poorly explained, easily dispatched and utterly forgettable villain.  The Snuff satire seems random, Janson offers no relief from his oppressive embellishment of poor Sal’s pencils, and on top of all that they’re back to being unable to decide how to spell “Tani/ya.”

Chris: Hold on, now – you mean that, if we’d all ponied-up some cash earlier, we could’ve been rid of Jack Norriss months ago -?!  Well, damn, Steve G – why didn’t you say so?!

The departure of Jack (well, for now – when he returns, Jack will find other uses for his time than simply mooning over Val) is about the only thing Steve accomplishes this time; this, unfortunately, has been a trend over the past 2-3 issues.  (Well, in fairness, I also should give Steve credit for planting the seed that – spoiler alert! – will allow Doc to part company with the non-team.)  
The final page promises a “Conclusion of the Nebulon/Headmen Epic!”  Well, how has this been an “epic”?  Steve devoted four issues plus a giant-sizer to the Guardians vs Badoon story – now, you could say that one had epic proportions.  In this case, we had some progress on the Nebulon story last issue, but the Headmen disappeared in the rear-view mirror a long time ago; this time, we hear a one-line reference to Ruby Tuesday’s campaign, but that’s it.  Overall, there hasn’t been enough momentum to sustain the storyline, as instead the Plant-Man, Val-in-stir, and now Red-Guardian-fights-alone stories have occupied Steve’s attention.  
Val’s on the cover!  Whoo-hoo!  Three years after joining the group, Val finally has her headshot included with the guys on the cover !!

Doctor Strange 19
"Lo, the Powers Changeth!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Alfredo Alcala
Cover by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson

A warrior named Xander has been trained by a group of powerful beings called the Creators, who plan to destroy the logic of the Universe and replace it with the magic of their Quadriverse. They have set traps for Stephen to manipulate him into becoming one with the Universe, thus clearing the way for their plans. If he resists--that's where Xander comes in. Stephen returns to find Ben Franklin  and Clea seemingly in love, but he senses he has already been toyed with, and destroys the image of Franklin,  who is a put on by Stygyro. The wizard creates a ball-model of Earth,  crushing it and causing  an earthquake. Stephen freezes time and asks for an audience with the Ancient One, who can only tell him that he is indeed being tested.  He turns back time to before the earthquake began, finds Clea, and bids farewell to the real Ben. Back in the present, the world has been destroyed a second time;  they are attacked by skeletons -- the remains of humanity. Clea has become one too. The Ancient One appears again,  telling his disciple he must become one with the Universe if he is to have the Sorcerer Supreme's final destiny.  He declines, having love and life yet to live.  Reluctantly the Ancient One reduces his power and departs. Stephen, Clea, and the world are normal again. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Despite the different style of writer Marv Wolfman and artist Alfredo Alcala, they try to maintain the feel of a Gerber/Colan piece,  and succeed...fairly well. Stephen goes through quite the wringer, first appearing to have lost his lady love, then seeing the destruction of Earth again. The Creators are more interesting than Xander (at this time ), and we have to wonder how many bizarre connections  (the Ancient One with Stygyro and the Creators for instance ) are out there for as yet unrevealed purpose. Stephen choosing to be more human and less sorcerer is kind of a relief, but will it spare him more tortures  like  recent events?

Matthew: As the title returns to bimonthly status, the lettercol explains, “Because of the sudden switch in writers…we literally found ourselves without a mag to go to press, and only a few days to complete 17 pages.  Therefore, we took advantage of Artistic Alfredo Alcala, who had just moved to the U.S. from the far-flung Philippines, to work on Marv’s already existing plot.  Alfredo, one of the speediest artist-letterer-inkers in the business, was able to supply Marv with the layouts…in mere DAYS.”  The result is one of the biggest WTF issues in history, a mad improvisational tap-dance suggesting they put a gun to Marv’s head and said, “Make something up!”  The art isn’t bad, but along with the story’s massive reset, the overall effect is quite jarring.

Chris: Marv has the unenviable task of taking over from Steve E.  On the letters page, Marv has the good grace to “wish Steve the best wherever he goes,” as contrasted with Steve’s unceremonious dismissal from Avengers.  Marv indicates that the title will move in a new direction, with “a change in Doc’s attitude and story line.”  So, Marv begins to introduce those changes, while simultaneously trying to wrap up Steve’s previous tale; we’re left with a somewhat confusing result, with more questions than I typically have following my first read-thru of a Steve E Doctor Strange script.  Doc and I share a few of these questions: why the sudden interest in colonial America?  Is Stygyro involved, or is he merely a place-keeper in one of the Ancient One’s tests?  And why would there be a need to continue to test Strange?  For the love of God, hasn’t the man been thru enough?  Doc decides not to join the Ancient One on a higher plane of reality (I think); why does this result in the AO reducing the scope of Doc’s powers?  I remember, from a previous reading, that it wasn’t clear to me why this played this way, and now, I can’t say I’m any closer to understanding it.   

Kudos to Dean Pete-fave Alcala for whipping up a decent-looking Doc issue on such short notice.  Mrs. Wolfman’s palette is too bright for this title, especially after we’ve grown accustomed to Tom Palmer’s deeper shades over the past several issues. 

Vintage Alcala!

The Eternals 4
"The Night of the Demons"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irv Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Ikaris attempts to save New York City from the rampaging Deviants but falls victim to their devilish "Brain Mine," a device that leaves the Eternal in a coma-like state. Even though Ikaris cannot die, he can be taken out of action and that's just what the Deviants plan, locking the Eternal in a capsule and dumping him in the Harbor. Meanwhile, Sersi and Margo are attacked by armed Deviants at Sersi's penthouse apartment. The siren transforms the little devils into lizards but knows that a bigger menace is on the way. Back at the Inca Temple, Ajak and Doctor Damian discuss the destruction of New York and what that means. Damian is sure that mankind will come calling at the Inca ruins and Ajak agrees, knowing that the minute humans catch sight of the gargantuan sentry, Arishem, there will be hell to pay. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: Despite the nasty, threatening posture the Deviants present, the Eternals remain fairly sanguine.  “Ikaris has himself trapped in a pod by the Deviants, and he’s stuck in the sand at the bottom of the sea?  Well, let’s leave him for now – he probably could use a little rest.  Daughter Margo is in New York, as the Deviant attack rages?  I’m sure she’ll be just fine – you’ll see.”  The only palpable people-peril is from the impending judgment of the mind-crushing Celestials.  As much as Dr Jack has drummed up the drama with the space gods, he hasn’t found a suitable angle with the Deviants to encourage us to take them seriously.  As long as Ajak and the other now-wakened Eternals aren’t concerned about a humans vs Deviants war expanding to where it could involve the Celestials, there’s not much reason for us to be invested, either.

Mark: I love larger than life Kirby-Vision more than any of my esteemed colleagues, yet even I think the splashes of Arishem are getting redundant. We get it, Jack. He a really big, red Space God, who'll judge the fifty years.

Over-indulgence on the "technological sublime?" Yep...but Big A is still eye-poppingly awesome. And most of this story cooks along at a high temperature: Ikaris battles the Deviant hordes in New York (and goes night-night when hit with a "brain mine"), then gets dumped in New York Harbor; fellow Eternal Sersi, tasked with babysitting Margo, easily becomes the most fun and compelling character in the series, as we learn of her role in Greek mythology and tutoring Merlin before she dispatches a door-crashing squad of Deviants in her NYC penthouse.

Mark: So...haters gonna hate, hate, hate, as the Watcher (or maybe Taylor Swift) taught us. Kirby Unbound (not, as some would sniff, unhinged) in his last round-up in the MU corral is gonna be hit and miss, sure. But Jack is still swinging for the fences. And, in a grueling, grind-'em-out biz that was and remains largely a young person's game, his always-buzzing brain continues to pour forth ideas and concepts with unbridled, hellzapopping energy, all while pushing sixty.

Just another reason that, in a field rich with hyperbole, there ain't nobody else they call the King.
Matthew: Okay, it’s Sunday night:  I obeyed the tyranny of the turf with yesterday’s mowing, did the family thing by attending our niece’s housewarming party today, and in my solitude am a bit more receptive to this title than usual, now that Mrs. Professor Matthew has left town to visit our nephew for a few days.  Having provided vast amounts of exposition in the first three issues, Jack now gives us a bit more of a story (with Sersi inexplicably referring to Margo as “Carol” at one point), yet doesn’t stint on the book’s strongest suit, the Kirpoorten artwork.  Knowingly or not, he has also echoed my beloved Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass and the Pit, positing another race—Martians there, Deviants here—as the ancient source of humankind’s devil images/myths.

Fantastic Four 175
"When Giants Walk the Sky!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

There's a whole lot happening, class, so let's roll!

The High Evolutionary confronts Galactus, both several stories tall, air-walking above Counter Earth's Manhattan. After the standard dosage of speechifying/plot-recap, battle is joined. Big G ducks an energy bolt; his return fire dispatches High E to "the dreaded Negative Zone." Galactus then summons his planet-juicer from the hovering mother ship and is fiddling with the controls atop the Trans-Am building when Reed and Ben, heretofore stranded on Torgo's world, pop back to C.E., literally at Big Purple's feet. They're followed by Johnny and Gorr, and this underdog foursome promptly gives battle. 

Galactus senses Ben is "...not precisely the same 'Thing," even while chastising him with a "ZZap!" bolt for daring a Clobberin' Time attack. Ben must be punished, Big G declares, (Foreshadowing Alert!) "...even as the Silver Surfer was punished!"

Ben's unappreciated quip about Right Guard prompts a lethal blast that is stayed by – you guessed it – just popping-in Sue's force field. And she arrives –  after last seen running out of air on the barren planet she was scouting as a substitute Glac-snack – bearing word of a distant world, ready & willing to hit the BBQ grill for Galactus.

The Big G beelines there, posthaste. Sue tells a touchie-feelie Reed that "...there's no need to get familiar." The High E returns from the N. Zone and tunes in on their departed opponent, inviting Reed to watch Galactus feed, Marlin Perkins-style.

They do so and so witness Big Purple overcome by terminal, I can't believe I ate the whole thing indigestion. The Evolutionary, noting that "there is a kinship between the world devourer and me," saves him with an evolve-o ray tachyon burst, mutating Galactus down to his brain, which then blinks off to some pocket dimension. The story could have ended there, but no, Roy's still got a couple wild cards up his sleeve. The standoffish "Sue" is revealed to be the Impossible Man, a.w.o.l since FF #11 (!), when the real Sue suddenly re-materializes.

It's explained that since Impy's race, the Poppupians, shared one collective hive-mind, Galactus gobbling their planet was "like having a heavy dinner of nothing but hot air." And since Impy not only saved our heroes' collective bacon, but is now an orphan to boot, he thinks it only right that the FF adopt him!

And then! Big Purple's tiny time-pill "punishment" of Ben kicks in, shredding the exo-orange cobble suit as he morphs back in the Thing, for real-zees. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Roy's niftiest trick here - one I think he must have cooked up consciously - is a subtle one, and sure to go unnoticed by all but serious scholars of the Kirby/Lee FF canon. Galactus is neutralized by P. 23, and Roy uses the last quarter of the book to segue into next month's adventure.

Starting and ending plot lines, mid-book, was both a radical break from tradition and pretty much the norm during the FF's '65-'67 heyday. Consider the original "Galactus Trilogy." The first seven pages of FF #48, "The Coming of Galactus!" is a wrap-up of the multi-ish Inhumans saga. In the Surfer-exiled-to-earth conclusion in #50, Big G splits on P. 10 and the second half of the book sets up next month's villain, devotes – in perhaps the oddest random scene Kirby ever threw in and forgot to follow-up on - more than a page to Sam Thorne, football coach at Metro U, where Johnny has just enrolled and meets buddy-to-be Wyatt Wingfoot. This was all Kirby, stopping and starting stories as he saw fit, since Stan had to dialogue whatever art Jack turned in.

The dexterity with which Roy riffs on K & L's non-linear storytelling shifts the focus to Impy and "a monster once more" Ben, thankfully distracting from the eye-rolling aspects of death by gut-bomb, however temporary, for the god-like Galactus. Gerber could have gotten yucks from such a premise; Thomas plays it straight and, given the high quality of the storytelling (and, of course, top shelf art by an apparently self-inked John Buscema), one's inclined to accept Big G's overdose on Poppupian demise  was served up with at least a sly, half-wink at the reader.

And Impy is on deck. Oh, boy, oh boy! 

Matthew: No doubt a collective howl went up among certain faculty members over the return of the Impossible Man, but since this was my first exposure to him, I had no preconceived notions and just thought the ending was clever, both in the temporary resolution of the Galactus problem and in returning Ben inevitably to the status quo.  The lettercol confirms that Roy planned to re-up as EIC until vacationing in—and relocating to—L.A., also explaining that Big John inked his own pencils because Joltin’ Joe was under the weather.  The artwork is still pretty awesome, natch; I’d have appreciated a full- or double-page stunner to commemorate this historic clash of titans, but it’s possible that there was simply too much plot to be jammed in.

Chris: It’s a very satisfying conclusion to the latest Galactus saga.  Instead of the usual stalemate, brought on by some trick or technicality, this time Galactus seems completely vanquished, especially if the High Ev has successfully advanced Big G to a form that no longer requires planet-feeding.  It presents quite a challenge to Roy’s eventual successor, doesn’t it, for him to try to find a way for Galactus to return from this sort of outcome, doesn’t it?  

Longtime FF fans must’ve been boggled by the return of the Impossible Man.  Impy becomes such a staple of Marveldom from this time on, that I hadn’t been aware until this re-reading that his previous appearance had been ages ago, in FF #11!  Well, leave it to resident historian and keeper-of-the-storage-closet Roy Thomas to figure a way for Impy to factor in the downfall of a force of nature like Galactus.  As for expected developments, the return of Ben to his essential Thing-ness was inevitable.  
Joe Sinnott is such a fixture with this title that I always wonder what could cause him to require a one-issue replacement.  Our ever-reliable armadillo informs us that Joe was “under the weather” (and here I hoped instead that he’d gone to the Cape for a few weeks’ vacation!), so Big John stepped in to provide a rare instance (in the pages of FF, at least) of self-inked art, “on this” (so continues the armadillo), “his final (at least for now) issue of Fantastic Four.”  Very true – I’m reasonably certain that this issue is, in fact, Buscema’s final pencil work for this title in the Bronze Age. 

Ghost Rider 20
“Two Against Death!”
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Byrne and Don Perlin
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Denise V. Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

As Daredevil struggles in Death’s Head’s life-draining grasp, Ghost Rider and Stunt Master crash through a window of the villain’s mansion on the Skull Cycle — the horsebacked horror flings the Man Without Fear away and gallops off, vowing to return for Karen Page. The Rider pursues but Death’s Head vanishes before his eyes. Page forgives Stunt Master for his part in her kidnapping, understanding that he was under Death’s Head’s thrall: the TV star walks off to clear his head for a spell on the open road. Karen also tells Daredevil that they can only be friends from now on. Johnny Blaze visits Roxanne Simpson in the hospital and she professes her undying love. Later that evening, Matt Murdock and Karen stroll through a peaceful Los Angeles park. Suddenly, Death’s Head and Smasher attack: the brutish brawler shoves Murdock out of the way as he grabs Page. The blind attorney slips into his costume and leaps into action, kicking the Brawler into Death’s Head’s out-stretched hand — the super-strong servant accidentally dies under his master’s touch. Then, Death’s Head reveals his true identity as Death Stalker, Daredevil’s old foe. The nimble hero manages to avoid the macabre man’s deadly power just as Ghost Rider appears on the scene. He leaps off his flaming cycle and engages the dark figure, Death Stalker incredulous when his death grip has no effect on the supernatural superhero. Finally, Ghost Rider blasts Death Stalker with a furious hail of hellfire: he disappears within the flames, once again vowing to return. Back in human form, Johnny Blaze takes Karen home as Daredevil plans his return to New York. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Not only have we happily seen the last of Tony Isabella, many of his hyphenations have left with him. Wolfman uses Death’s Head instead of Death’s-Head, Stunt Master for Stunt-Master and Skull Cycle rather than Skull-Cycle. Marv also uses Death Stalker, which I think was mainly Death-Stalker in the past. Perhaps he hates hyphens. The team from this month’s crossover in Daredevil #138 mostly returns, with Don Perlin replacing Jim Mooney on inks — which is a bit notable since Perlin would begin a long Ghost Rider run exactly one year from now. This is a rather flimsy issue, only elevated by the art of John Byrne, who continues to prove that he can handle all of Marvel’s cast of characters with confidence. Let’s face it, did Death Stalker really need to disguise himself as Death’s Head? Sure, the original was Karen Page’s father, but she saw through the ruse right away. And Daredevil recognizes his voice early on. Seems an unnecessary reveal, especially since Death Stalker doesn’t do much in his five-page appearance at the end. And it looks like Ghost Rider’s hellfire isn’t what does him in: he simply decides to fade away, threatening to return when they least expect it. Did he have a previous appointment? Something on the stove? Wolfman continues the two voices for Blaze/Rider, which is most welcome but still needs to be refined. Gerry Conway will continue the trend when he takes over next issue for a brief three-issue stretch. After that, we have the much-maligned Jim Shooter. Excellent cover by the way, but doesn’t it spoil the whole Death Stalker twist?

Matthew: Marvel's inconsistent punctuation certainly makes it tough on us proofreaders!

Chris: GR comes off as a supporting character in his own mag, as Marv keeps the attention on Daredevil and villains who have populated his title – not to mention Karen Page.  The issue is partly a retelling of DD #138, with the first three pages loosely lifted from that issue, followed by a hospital room meeting with Rocky (whom self-editing Marv refers to as “Roxy”) that seems to continue the same conversation she and Johnny were having before he went out to search for Karen in the first chapter.  The only development in the story is from Death Stalker dropping his cover as Death’s-Head; otherwise, he repeats his fruitless demands that Karen reveal her father’s secrets of cobalt radiation and time displacement.  

Matthew: Said proofreader also understandably has trouble keeping Roxanne "Rocky" Simpson and Iron Man's Roxanne "Roxie" Gilbert straight. 

Chris: GR finally gets in the act when he challenges Death Stalker and, notably, isn’t affected by his death-grip.  Good call by Marv to have GR employ hellfire against DS since, as DS points out, he can’t be touched by DD – GR is able to employ a completely different weapon against DS.  The attire is burned up, but as DD observes, that should give them no assurance that the threat of DS is over.  
Overall, it’s a decent two-parter, with plenty of action and far-better art than we’ve seen in these pages for some time, although Mooney’s inks for Byrne on DD #138 are more solid than Perlin’s are here.  The story is noteworthy as a continuation of GR’s inclusion in the mainstream of the Marvel universe, as he continues to be distanced from the fading supernatural titles.  Okay, so next issue we get another Daredevil villain?  Oh well – it’s a start.  Wait, it’s not Stilt-Man, is it -?!
Matthew: I like this story overall, and have always found it amusing that Death Stalker, uh, bedevils Hornhead every 10 issues like clockwork, yet the second is decidedly the weaker of the two halves, a fact of which the Byrlin artwork—far less felicitous than the teaming with Mooney—is but the most visible example, although even here, the faux Death’s Head looks freakin’ awesome.  The soap-opera stuff rings really false with both “couples,” and even the lettering is crappy.  Having Marv write this is eminently logical in light of both the crossover and the vacancy precipitated by Shooter, who will ironically fill it himself starting with #23; save for the WolfMoench collaboration in #5, it is Marv’s only issue…and that would seem to be just as well.

The Incredible Hulk 204
"Vicious Circle!"
Story by Herb Trimpe and Len Wein
Art by Herb Trimpe and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe

With his beloved Jarella locked in a room at Gamma Base, The Incredible Hulk goes ballistic and tears apart the compound. A giant bubble cell is dropped on our hero and a blast of somna-gas puts him out. When Bruce Banner awakens, he meets Dr. Kronus, a scientist who promises Bruce he can rid him of his alter ego. But does Bruce want to nix the big guy? When he finally meets with Jarella, she tells him that she'd love him no matter what form he took. With that, Banner informs Kronus he's game for the experiment. Kronus' plan is to send Bruce back in time to the moment of the gamma ray blast that created the Hulk. The scientist is convinced that if they can just change that moment, then everything will fall into place and Banner will be cured. Bruce makes it back to the blast site at the moment of the gamma test and all goes as planned. This time, when the idiotic teenager Rick Jones drives on to the bomb test site, Bruce warns him of the danger and then jumps behind a concrete block for cover, believing Rick is young enough to fend for himself. Boy, is he ever wrong! Rick dies from the blast and Banner holds himself responsible. BB heads back to the future with an eye to making things right but has a nervous breakdown before he can get a start. His wife, Betty Ross Banner sits by his bedside when Dr. Kronus, now a super-villain known as The Temporal Man, busts through the hospital wall and kidnaps Bruce, transporting both of them to 1,000,000 BC for a good old-fashioned prehistoric smackdown. Bruce transforms into the Hulk and bashes Kronus' brains in but, upon further inspection, we discover that it was actually Rick Jones under that helmet! Fooled ya! Bruce was just dreaming the whole thing. Well, not the whole thing cuz Betty's still his wife. Whether that's what finally pushes the poor man over the edge or not, we'll just have to guess; in any event, Bruce hoofs it to the time machine, goes back to 1962, saves Rick Jones and, ostensibly, lives his entire life again in the space of one panel. All is right with The Incredible Hulk. 
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: There's some good to this story but not enough for me to give it a thumbs-up. I love time travel tales and Len seems to have a bead on a unique twist here but it quickly disintegrates. It's almost as if Bruce Banner forgot that one teensy weensy bug in the strawberry jam, Rick Jones. Hell, I stood and cheered when I saw Rick Jones dead on the test field. I thought to myself that perhaps, if this was true, all those really bad Rick Jones, Junior Avenger and Rick Jones, Junior Stephen Stills stories I hated so much would disappear from my brain pan but no dice. I'm assuming Len thought he had created a first-tier villain in Kerwin Kronus aka The Temporal Man aka The Clock-Man but Herb disagreed and gave the professor one of the silliest costumes in Marvel history (Namor's ankle wings seem to have been grafted onto this guy's helmet and there's what appears to be a grandfather clock on his forehead). Okay, Len, you got the vacation out of the way; now let's get back to the Jarella wrap-up, okay?

Matthew: Actually, since Herb plotted this story, he probably deserves all of the blame for Captain Chronometer (Hammer in-joke).

Chris: Anyone who could figure out an uncomplicated, unconditional way to cure Banner of his Hulkopathy would get my vote for the Nobel Prize.  It’s true to the history of this title and its lead character that, sadly, there are no easy answers.  Extra points to Herb & Len for recognizing that Banner would not choose a solution that would come at a cost to another, whether it be Jarella or Rick.

Chris: And what, exactly, is the nature of Banner’s relationship with Jarella?  Was the Hulk ever in his puny form when he was in Jarella’s teeny-weeny world?  Jarella explains that she sees the decent person at the core of both Banner and Hulk, so I can buy that (perceptive filly, that Jarella). But how about Bruce – how well does he really know Jarella?  We know that Banner retains some figments of memories of his Hulk-exploits, but do Hulk’s feelings for Jarella run deep enough that they would influence Bruce -?

Matthew: In much of their previous time together (e.g., #140 and 156), the Hulk actually had Bruce Banner's consciousness, making this a bizarre kind of love triangle.  By now, she really does seem to love them both equally.
Chris: I’m pretty sure that this is Trimpe’s final regular issue of Incredible Hulk in the Bronze age (he also will pencil an Annual in 1977), and one of very few issues where he’s credited as “plotter.”  It certainly makes for a fitting final chapter in his substantive contribution to this title.  

Matthew: This is a curious but entertaining issue.  Normally, the combination of revisiting the character’s origin + guest artist—which by this point Trimpe had effectively become—screams “fill-in,” yet because Jarella’s presence is fairly integral to the story, it’s quite definitely in continuity, and rather than merely rehashing Greenskin’s genesis, they riff on it in an interesting fashion, although the variation can clearly end only one way.  It’s fun for old time’s sake to see Herb reunited with longtime Hulkollaborators Len and Joe, and since he plotted as well as penciled this tale, it was obviously very special to him; I enjoyed the subtle way they indicated the changes to Bruce’s reality effected by his pyrrhic attempt to alter history.

The Incredible Hulk Annual 5
"And Six Shall Crush the Hulk"
Story by Chris Claremont and Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Jack Abel
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

The Incredible Hulk finds himself set upon by five of the most notorious monsters in Marvel's history: the smoke monster known as Diablo, the Demon from the Fifth Dimension; the mud monster Taboo; walking, talking tree, Groot, the Monster from Planet X; the BVD-sporting Goom (who coincidentally also comes from Planet X!); and the electricity-eating Blip! Hulk has his hands full but proves to be the strongest monster of all. But who's behind the curtain, controlling all these Dwelling Monsters? That would be Xemnu, another of Marvel's giant monsters made good, who wants nothing more than revenge for his defeat at the hands of The Defenders... and then domination of the world. With a rare assist from the military, the Green Goliath is able to dispatch Xemnu and prove that, once and for all, Hulk is the mightiest Marvel monster of them all! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I lovedlovedloved Where Monsters Dwell and Where Creatures Roam  (and still do) so chances are I ate this Annual up as well. Fitting that the cover art is by The King since he had a hand in the creation of all six mon-stars  You gotta love the respect Claremont and Co. had for the Atlas monsters, going so far as to format the chapter splashes just like Stan and Jack would have done in the Good Old Days. Chuckle-worthy is the Hulk's mistaking The Blip for Zzzax (obviously a nod by Claremont to the wonderful silliness of the whole genre), an error any good Marvel Zombie worth his ink could correct for the big green guy. You could question Xemnu's logic in going to the trouble of duplicating the five monsters (and why those five instead of, say, Sporr, Grottu, Rommbu, Thorg, and Vandoom?) instead of simply conjuring up a quintet of Xemnus but then we wouldn't get mindless fun like this, would we? This sure has the feel of a Roy Thomas production. And, yep, that's the same Groot who'd find fame in the Guardians of the Galaxy flick in 2014. In an ironic twist, Xemnu first appeared in Journey Into Mystery #62 (November 1960) with a different moniker... The Hulk!

Matthew:  I promised our august Dean Paste-Pot that I would relieve him of a bibliographic burden by enumerating the first appearances of those simulated in Xemnu’s pre-super-hero monster squad, so here goes.  Diablo:  Tales of Suspense #9 (May 1960).  Taboo:  Strange Tales #75 (June 1960).  Groot:  Tales to Astonish #13 (November 1960).  Goom:  Suspense #15 (March 1961).  Blip:  Astonish #15 (January 1961).  Xemnu himself has, of course, already faced the Hulk in Marvel Feature #3 and Defenders #12.  Incredibly, all six enjoyed some form of 21st-century afterlife; their debuts had also been reprinted during the Bronze Age in multiple issues of Giant-Size Man-ThingMonsters on the Prowl, and Where Monsters Dwell.

The phrase “guilty pleasure” was coined for just such an opus, which I bought as the 13-year-old boy who was presumably its target audience, unfamiliar with the antagonists, while as an adult (?), I’d forgotten until his footnote reminded me that plotter Len had written Xemnu’s last outing.  Inked by Hulk vet Jack, Sal seems to be having a good time recreating all those krazy Kirby kreations, and depicting Greenskin in a wide array of moods and predicaments.  It’s scripter Chris who has the hardest task, given the intrinsically repetitive nature of this episodic epic, as he struggles to differentiate these thinly characterized critters by their personalities, powers, origins and, above all, dissolutions; after all, how many ways can you write “Nooooo!!!”

Iron Fist 8
“Like Tigers in the Night”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Adkins
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Byrne and Dan Adkins

Exploring his adopted home of New York City, Iron Fist comes across a mugging in the Canal Street subway station: members of the Golden Tiger gang are robbing a group of tourists and an intervening cop has been injured by a throwing star. The Living Weapon begins to throttle the punks but is distracted when a train rumbles into the station — he is kicked into one of the speeding cars and the gang members make their escape. Afterwards, Iron Fist relates the events of the crime to his friend Lieutenant Scarfe. As the crowd disperses, attorney Bill Hao — brother of the Golden Tiger’s leader, Robert Hao, aka Chaka — tails a member of the gang’s female auxiliary to their secret warehouse hideout: he is quickly captured. That night, Danny Rand retires to his new home, his late father’s Riverside mansion, part of his multi-million dollar inheritance. Unable to sleep, the young martial artist is haunted by his parents’ tragic deaths. The next day at the Meachum Building, Joy Meachum, still seeking revenge on Iron Fist since she thinks he murdered her father, orders her bodyguard Davos to investigate her uncle Ward, convinced he is up to illegal activities. Later, Rand, his lawyer Jeryn Hogarth and Misty Knight arrive at the same skyscraper for a meeting with the Meachums to discuss Danny’s stake in the international corporation. Suddenly, Chaka and other members of the Golden Tigers burst into the conference room. -Tom Flynn

Tom: We kick off with one of the most iconic covers in Marvel history, right up there with Captain Marvel #29 and Giant-Size Man-Thing #4. I've said that Byrne should have been handling the covers much earlier: his excellent art beckoning from spinner racks certainly couldn’t have hurt sales. After the very lengthy Colleen Wing kidnapping storyline, Claremont immediately launches into another multi-issue arc, this one not ending until Iron Fist #10. Chaka is rather goofily dressed for someone calling himself the Crime Lord of New York: all bare legs and arms and silly tiger mask. The mob probably has a hard time taking him seriously during meetings over turf issues. There are two comical cameos included: Byrne is one of the mugging victims — Claremont might be the other but not sure — and one of the detectives on the scene is Abe Vigoda, Fish from Barney Miller (page 7 bottom middle panel). Besides the mugging at the beginning, there’s not much action in this issue, with lots of pages devoted to Danny’s flashbacks, Joy Meachum, and the concluding conference. But, as usual, it’s very well written and illustrated. I didn’t notice much of a difference between the inks of the usual embellisher Frank Chiaramonte and this issue’s fill-in, Professor Blake’s punching bag, Dan Adkins. Adkins will be back down the road for a spell.

Chris: Part of the reason why Danny’s origin story has stayed with me is due to the horrific nature of the deaths of his parents; the other part is that Danny finds himself reliving the experience so often.  It’s fair to expect that someone who has experienced this sort of trauma would have difficulty distancing himself from these painful memories.  Nice job by Claremont to show that Danny has repressed most of the worst aspects of this memory, until his return to his boyhood home brings it all back again.  Byrne complements this sequence well, as Danny views ephemeral images of his lost family (including the lost self of his childhood).  I especially liked the moment when we see Danny-as-child (playing with a toy plane in the front hall, p 17) brighten up when he hears his Dad come thru the door.  It all helps to emphasize why these losses have been so enduringly painful for him.  

I wonder what Dan Adkins thought when he was informed that he was moving from one martial artistry mag to another.  Well, the result is a stronger, clearer line throughout, compared to the recent work we’ve seen recently from Frank Chiaramonte.  Admittedly, Frank has shown improvement over the past few issues – still, I think Dan is a better fit for Byrne on this title.  

Matthew:  Proving once again that he wastes nothing, buffalo-hunter Claremont squeezes a last drop of usefulness from Ruffio Costa (the aggressively forgettable heavy in the Daredevil Annual he scripted from Marv’s plot this month), setting his arc against the backdrop of a power vacuum left by the Maggia chieftain’s arrest.  Supplying artwork inside and out, Byrne and Adkins prove that even a generic cover can, uh, pack a punch, and while I’ve regretted seeing his byline so little of late, I gather Dapper Dan’s been laying down some martial-arts lines over on MOKF.  Having forgotten about the involvement of the Meachums, I expected the Chinatown milieu to be of less automatic interest, but should never have doubted this team for one moment...

The Invincible Iron Man 91
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Tuska and Bob Layton
Colors and Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Aubrey Bradford

Abe helps Iron Man imprison the Controller in a vat of highly dense plastic with an oxy-mask; while Tony wonders if the rash of recent “accidents” is really sabotage, and meets new secretary Krissy Longfellow, Scrounger affixes discs to 20 men, enabling the Controller to escape.  As they battle, Iron Man overhears a report of the Blood Brother escaping his Ryker’s Island cell, not knowing that it was at the Controller’s telepathic behest, or that Scrounger is en route with the slaves.  Playing a hunch, Iron Man snatches the last disc from Scrounger and affixes it to the Brother himself, burning out the Controller’s exo-skeleton, but as he subdues the weakened Brother, Scrounger drags the Controller back “home” so he can resume caring for him. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Conway and Goodwin swap places, with Gerry succeeding Archie here just as the latter follows his brief term as EIC; given the unholy mess that was the Mr. Kline saga, which infected Conway’s prior stint on Shellhead and simultaneous Daredevil run, one might well quote a certain Ms. Quaife:  “Be afraid.  Be very afraid.”  But Archie—who wrote or plotted the first 75% of this tetralogy, and presumably had an uncredited hand in its conclusion—gives him the best possible start, and we meet an important new character in Krissy.  Credited as Tuska’s inker is Bob Layton, the future Iron Man writer-artist and former apprentice of Wally Wood’s who, in an interview with the Spanish magazine Dolmen (posted on his site), discusses his Marvel debut:

“Occasionally, I would deliver pages for Woody when I made a trip into NYC from Connecticut.  One day, I was in the Marvel offices…handing in Woody’s pages to the production dept.  So, I used the opportunity to show my samples around while I had ‘my foot in the door.’  When I passed the Art Director’s office, I heard John Romita on the phone, frantically trying to find someone to ink a desperately late issue of Iron Man by George Tuska.  Blissfully unaware of the consequences, I stuck my head in his doorway and said I could get the job done in the four or five days that was left on the schedule.  It was an utter fabrication…but I REALLY wanted to work for Marvel Comics!  [He] gave me the pages and said, ‘Show me what you can do, Kiddo.’

“Panicking, I ran down Madison Ave. to Continuity Associates, where a lot of my fledgling contemporaries [e.g., Austin, Wiacek, Rubinstein, McLeod, Potts] worked for Dick Giordano & Neal Adams….Like the troupers that they all were, they pitched in on the inking and we finished the entire book in less than four days.  Once I turned the job in, I never heard from anyone…I’m sure I have permanently destroyed any chance of ever getting work there again.  Then, about a month [later], a package arrives on my doorstep.  I open it to find [pencils for Champions #9].  I presumed that it was sent to me in error, so I called…to see where they want me to forward the material.  But [to] my utter amazement, John Romita tells me that I’m the new regular inker…”

The Inhumans 7
"A Trip to the Doom!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Gil Kane and Don Perlin
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Howard Bender
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Aboard the rebuilt space-ark, the royal family and Falzon are hit by a rocket from an unknown planet below, crash-landing in the deep purple dust coating its surface. Flashbacks reveal that several weeks earlier, seeking a new world to colonize, they had left amid a gamut of emotions among the Inhumans, and resentment from Pietro over Black Bolt’s decision that he and Crystal stay behind to govern in his absence (aided by an Iridia aware of one who seems to welcome the departure as an opportunity).  With dust seeping into the ark, they go out to inspect the damage, only to be overwhelmed by a torrent of water spat out by a giant mechanical beetle, thus creating “a trench of mud through the dust…to flatten a path for it’s [sic] own progress!”

Unprepared, the Inhumans are quickly defeated by the denizens of the city inside, then told that the ark will be retrieved and repaired; the leaders apologize telepathically for the misconception that they are allied with Shreel, who leads a rebel band in one of the city’s “squalor-sectors.”  As Shreel attacks the council chamber, Karnak and Gorgon stand with the “city-mongers,” despite Medusa’s warning that they do not know which side is in the right, and when pursued into the ghetto, Shreel threatens that firing their cannon will detonate a bomb hidden in the sector.  After the city-keeper commander is shot, the cannon is fired, triggering the bomb, and the walled-off sector is discarded, leaving the crippled city to move in a vicious circle on to the next water-hole. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Rereading this after God knows how many years, I realized that the only thing to stay with me since childhood was, perhaps not surprisingly, the idea of the giant water-spitting beetle tracking endlessly through the dust.  Amusingly categorizing Lockjaw as a member, Moench takes the royal family out into the stars and a bold new direction, although arguably with mixed success at first, this installment being imaginative and visually striking but pretty implausible even by comic-book standards, not to mention conspicuously heavy-handed.  I’ve always said that Kane must be one of the hardest artists to ink, and Perlin proves my point by being resolutely the wrong guy for the job, his figures so rubbery that Gil’s angular style vanishes almost completely.

Chris: Is Doug’s study of a stratified, stagnated society meant also to be a comment on the Inhumans?  After all, even though the Inhumans are taking an active role as the royal family works to establish a new home for them all, we are reminded again that there is resentment (due in part to perceived oppression), although no violence (for now) among the people.  The only issue I have with Doug’s tale is that it doesn’t require much from the titular team; the Inhumans are required only to react to events in this alien environment, and aren’t ever in a position to dictate how the action plays out (unless, of course, you want to say that Black Bolt’s hesitation contributes to the doom of the rebels).  I don’t know if anyone has interest in a series that could be dubbed “Lost (Kreespawn) In Space,” so hopefully next time around, Doug will find a way for the team – and the title – to regain a sense of purpose, and direction.  

It should be no surprise that Kane’s variety of Inhuman faces is on the highlight reel for this issue (p 6, p 10); still, overall, there isn’t a whole lot to be excited about, art-wise.  Perlin turns in a suitably average-to-above effort here, although the art turns a bit thin and indistinct for a few pages toward the end.  

The Invaders 9
"An Invader No More!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Springer

Upset at seeing her father back in costume, Jacqueline faints, and a fresh wound on her throat suggests that Baron Blood knows Union Jack’s identity.  When the Invaders split up to patrol London, Cap orders Lord Falsworth to guard her, yet he proves no match for the hypnotic power of the vampire, revealed as Jacqueline’s uncle, who sought to control Dracula but became his victim, faking his own death in the Far East and allying himself with Germany against the Count’s hated England.  Suspicious of John, the Torch stayed behind in hiding, and summons the others as Baron Blood kidnaps Jacqueline; in a cave where they played as children, Baron Blood crushes Union Jack’s legs with a boulder, which he rolls off, impaling his brother on stalagmites. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Union Jack is crippled, Baron Blood is dead, and…what’s that you say?  Yes, I’ve seen enough Dracula movies to know that vampires are frequently resurrected, and everybody’s favorite bloodsucking Nazi will be no exception, but while he’s dead for now, Roy will guarantee that we have far from seen the last of the Falsworth family.  As for his uncle—er, brother—I’m not sure anybody really expected that the original U.J.’s glorious single-issue career as an Invader would last any longer, yet if so, it was probably unrealistic given his age.  It’s interesting to note that although Vlad himself is identified as having “turned” John, Robbins and Springer never really give us a good look at him, forestalling comparisons to the Colan/Palmer rendition seen in TOD.

Mark: Having just read Invaders #8 & #9 in one sitting (even us academic-types succumb to Deadline Doom) heightens my appreciation of Roy Thomas' storytelling gifts, the hard work that goes into writing that seems almost effortlessly tossed off. I sped through what amounts to a thirty-four page story, with nary an expository speed bump or sub-plot pot hole to slow the joyride. Roy doesn't even bother with a "last ish recap," he simply picks up where we left off.

Mark: Oh, there's a couple minor gripes. Dracula can't work vamp voodoo hypnotism while staring directly at a cross; indeed the sight of same has the Count cringing away in pain. And look at the Torch on P. 18, particularly the last panel. Get a haircut, hippie! Johnny Storm grows his hair longer, fine. But this is 1942. Period pieces work better when they get details right, without cutting cloth to current fashion.

And as a "period piece," the book gets all the big stuff right. Out of place in "modern" Marvel U, Frank Robbins' energetic, rubber-limbed renderings are spot on for a '40's throwback. The book is Roy's second passion project (after Conan) and it certainly shows. Having been weaned on all the "old" superhero comics he could scrounge up in the late '40's, Thomas can recreate their frantic pace, but with better plots, richer characterization, creating a superior simulacrum of rah-rah war time comics.