Wednesday, August 5, 2015

August 1976 Part Two: X-Men #100 Tops Off a Month of Landmarks!

The X-Men 100
"Greater Love Hath No X-Man"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Dave Cockrum

The battle erupts on the station, as the X-Men defend themselves against a senseless attack by the past members of the team, led by Professor X; he calls the new members “imposters,” and promises their destruction.  Wolverine breaks off from the conflict to confront Prof X, who proceeds to stand up from his chair and punch the unprepared Wolverine, knocking him down; Marvel Girl then catches him in a psych-blast  As Wolverine fights thru the pain, he realizes that he’s better off trusting his animal-like instincts, which tell him that the person he’s facing is not Jean Grey.  Wolverine lunges forward with claws outstretched, and cuts open the Jean-figure, revealing her to be an automaton; the team then goes full-tilt, and proceeds to demolish the mechanical Xers.  As Steven Lang protests to the heavens about the failure of his X-Sentinels, Scott – still imprisoned with the real Jean, the real Prof X, and Dr Corbeau – frees himself and the others from confinement.  Lang boards a one-man gunship and comes after the X-Men; Jean assumes telekinetic control of the ship, and flies Lang into a huge viewscreen, which explodes.  Banshee announces that fires resulting from the battle are threatening to consume the station.  Corbeau reminds the team that the integrity of the shuttle they had used to reach the station already is compromised; there is no means readily available for them to abandon the station.  Compounding their problems is a solar flare, which is expected to hit the upper atmosphere before they can safely reach the earth’s surface.  Jean states that she can do it.  She telepathically absorbs information from Corbeau about piloting the shuttle, then mentally KOs Scott when he begins to protest.  The team members, Prof X, and Dr Corbeau seal themselves in the shuttle’s shielded life-cell, while Jean uses her abilities to re-seal the damaged hull.  She expects her telekinetic powers will protect her from the flare, and the heat of re-entry, but as she begins to bathe in the radiation, Jean doubts her chances for survival. -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: WOW.  It’s simply incredible.  The action never lets up.  Lang’s moment, when he describes how he designed the X-Sentinels to destroy the new X-Men (which explains why, in #98, we saw his crew studying  information about the previous team members), amounts to little more than a brief interruption, which ends as Cyclops blasts free of his containment pod.  Otherwise, the battle goes on feverishly, complemented by desperate moments as team members try to reason with people they believe to be veteran colleagues, but who now are suddenly (seemingly) bent on killing the new team.  Wolverine takes a bold step (all combatants are visibly taken aback when he slashes “Jean”) to turn the tide.

Chris: The final two pages, as Jean consigns herself to her fate, are simply remarkable.  One moment she’s screaming in Wolverine’s face to get him to back off, and the next, she’s in a tearful embrace with Ororo.  Then we witness Scott’s unbearable anguish, once he comes-to and recognizes what’s happening to her, and realizes that Kurt can’t let him open the life-cell.  Jean counts down the last few minutes of her life, as she recognizes the near-impossibility of surviving the radiation-surge prior to re-entry.  Then, at last, we have the trademark TAC TAC TAC TAC TAC as the white-hot solar flare pulses thru the cockpit, and Jean vanishes in blazing light.  Powerful.

It’s a true test for a team-book artist to keep everyone involved, and Cockrum (inking himself once again) certainly delivers.  There are two separate two-page spreads that set the tone, and keep the story moving as fast as can be.  In the first one, p 2-3, every single one of the combatants is in motion as the battle begins.  While Angel has grabbed Banshee, Colossus has slugged Havok, and Iceman has pegged Wolverine with a snowball (not sure what good that’s going to do, Bobby-Drake programmer), everyone else is reacting as the fight commences.  The next two-pager, p 16-17, has the reveal of Marvel Girl’s automaton (Wolverine standing triumphantly over her), and two separate visuals of Lang’s captives (just prior to Scott springing them free), as they react to Lang’s horrible dream of mutant genocide.  The focus of the story then switches to Lang, Scott, and Jean, but Cockrum cleverly keeps us apprised of the team’s progress elsewhere as, on the viewscreen, we can see the robots being slashed and blasted apart.

Matthew Bradley: With Avengers being compromised by editorial upheaval and Captain America being, well, Bronze-Age Kirby, this edges out Thor as the best of the month’s four “anniversary” issues, if only because we Monday-morning quarterbacks know what a profound effect its events will have on the future of the Marvel Universe.  Moments such as Banshee’s “Wolverine—ye bloody homicidal maniac—what have ye done?” have been burned into my brain for nigh unto four decades.  And re-reading it now, still suffused with emotion four days after my daughter’s wedding, I am crying liberally over the bonds already established among this new-old team, and in particular over the noble self-sacrifice embodied in the brilliant title’s variation on John 15:13.

While I might prefer that he be inked by Grainger instead of himself, Cockrum still distinguishes himself, most notably on pages 2-3; double-spreads are so often dominated by a single oversized image that devoting one to a wall-to-wall mêlée seems unusual, and it expertly combines action, detail, characterization, and dialogue.  Those troubled by the ease with which the mutants trashed Lang’s prior Sentinels now know that he retained his best efforts for the X-Sentinels, and amid this issue’s heavy drama and nail-biting suspense, it’s a nice touch that the relative newcomers were perhaps a little slower than seasoned vets may have been to realize the truth.  The “Fastball Special,” retconned as “Maneuver Seven” in the 1986 Classic X-Men reprint of #94, debuts here.

Marvel Chillers 6
Tigra, the Were-Woman in
"Soul Catcher"
Story by Tony Isabella
Art by John Byrne and Frank Springer
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Mike Esposito

To Tigra’s surprise, Red Wolf’s tomahawk severs her remaining restraint, Lobo having told him she was not one of the Rat Pack, and they use the underground sled to escape the exploding base.  As Leon works on the formula, Joanne frets over the danger to Greer, yet after reassuring her, Jules secretly heads for a meeting with Plague; meanwhile, Number 1 demands answers about Plague’s mysterious background and theft of astrochemical serums for which they have no buyer.  Plague has just felled his rebellious colleagues with the Soul Catcher when his foes arrive, but while a distraction—Red Wolf’s discovery that Number 5 is a robot—breaks his hypnotic spell over Tigra, he reveals his true form as that of the gloating Super-Skrull. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The penultimate issue of Tigra’s first solo strip is creator Isabella’s last.  He told Jon B. Knutson, “It was supposed to be a regular series, but that was a chaotic time at Marvel.  New titles were being scheduled with the first issues already behind schedule when they were assigned.  The comics market was less healthy than it had been in recent years, which made it more difficult than usual to launch new titles.  In any case, I’d already decided to leave Marvel for DC, so, had Tigra continued, it would have been with a new writer.”  Ironically, it was Tony’s bête noire—or should I say chat noir?—Jim Shooter (see this past Sunday’s exhaustive examination of their imbroglio over the contemporaneous Ghost Rider #19), who would write the next and final entry.

Matthew: Doubtless it will amuse the haters on the faculty that this is one Isabella series to which, despite Tigra’s appeal, I never did warm up; I’m reading it now for the first time, “thanks” to our august Dean, so a nostalgia-boost is out.  In the meantime, what are we to make of a story that pairs the pencils of rising star John Byrne with inks by the Scourge of S.H.I.E.L.D himself, Frank Springer?  Well, it means that in my considered opinion, this is the best entry yet, with some nice interplay among the heroes, including Tigra’s disbelief of Lobo’s abilities; a continued focus on the conflict within Greer between animal rage and a desire for justice; art to which Springer has done minimal damage; and the appearance, albeit out of left field, of what I consider a great foe.

Chris: I’m not used to thinking of the Super-Skrull as being circumspect; if he wants or needs these “astroserum chemicals,” wouldn’t he simply blow thru a wall and take them?  Why the subterfuge, with the funny masks and costumes and such?  Also, the S-S refers to his “strategic genius,” but it seems to me he’s typically been a tool or a pawn, not a planner or a leader of others.  Well, I don’t mind if Tony takes a few liberties with S-S’s character; in a way, it’s pretty bold for him to match the S-S against Tigra, since he should be way out of her league.  But, if Galactus shows up, then I’m outta here. 

The opening scene is a bit of cheap drama; are we really supposed to believe that Wolfie is in such a hurry to free Tigra from her bonds that he deems it necessary to hurl his tomahawk the length of the room? Plenty of time, Red – take it slow.  

I had expected Springer’s inks wouldn’t be very good here (and oh why should I have that idea …), but despite a few indistinct and murky patches, the results are better than I remember.  I should add that the only reason I ever bought any of these Chillers (as back issues) was so I could have a look at the early Byrne art.   The action is pretty great throughout, with p 22 pnl 2 (above) a highlight I recall from past reading.

Ka-Zar 17
"A Shark on the Wind!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Dan Adkins

After going through the dimensional gate, Ka-Zar and friends are dumbfounded by their surroundings, and are almost fired upon by the aliens, until they're "saved" by another band of aliens riding winged sharks. The alien gateway machine explodes, the fight begins, with everyone taking down sharks except for Kirk Marston who runs away like the civilian he is, and Klaw escapes with the alien commander Saxtur. Ka-Zar and Tandy hop a captured shark towards the alien city in search of answers. Tongah, Zabu and Kloss search for Marston, as the Fall People are still enslaved by the aliens, but the Zebra Men are preparing for battle! Stopping for the night, Tandy flirts with K-Z, who changes the subject. In the morning, Zabu finds Marston, who claims to have found a peaceful village, and he leads them exactly there, to a city filled with old men. K-Z and Tandy's shark is ambushed, with the Jungle Lord putting up a good fight until he's knocked out, awaking in a dungeon to gnome Zatrtos, another prisoner of the Quarlians (a.k.a. the Wind-Sharkers), who takes K-Z to the Queen—Tandy Snow! She's now Queen Tandylla (yeesh…), whose destiny it was to rule, and when Ka-Zar refuses her offer to share her throne, she orders him to die! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "The final phase in the incredible new adventures of Ka-Zar" says the splash page, and I'm thankful for it. Only three issues left after this one! Yeah, I know they probably didn't have the end in mind with that line (not sure what they had in mind), but I can't help but see it. In the meantime, Klaw name-drops Jaws, Tandy turns terrifying because she's been scorned by our hero, K-Z gets confused, and new artist Mayerik continues to make the book slightly more interesting and dynamic. But still the story is average at best, with lots of wackiness that only starts with flying sharks and ends with a fast-talking gnome. And the characters are, except for Tandy's transformation, predictable. Once again, the Big Bad Klaw only makes a cameo, to give more screen time to the sharks. Unlike Jaws, ironically.

Matthew: Actually, that title had me thinking Doug had somehow anticipated Sharknado by 37 years.

Chris: The letters page informs us that Doug & Val have been receiving uniformly positive responses to their recent efforts on this title, with good reason.  By now, I imagine that most of us already have seen our share of KZ’s singlehanded takedowns of various threatening creatures, both of jungle and prehistoric varieties.  So, why not try something different with this character?  Works for me.

At one point, as KZ is about to face Makrum in the ring, I thought, “Hold on – it’s not like KZ is Conan, or something;” but then I realized – this is where all the rhino- and raptor-battling  pays off for KZ, as he’s  confidently able to approach a fight with an opponent who is nearly twice his size.  Will it be enough for him to outlast Raknor the Slayer, though -?  We’ll simply have to tune in, won’t we, and find out (well, at least Prof Joe and I will).

Kull the Destroyer 16 
“The Tiger in the Moon”
Story by Roy Thomas and Doug Moench
Art by Ed Hannigan and Yong Montano
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Tony Mortellaro

After saving his childhood friend from Sarna’s stone demon, Kull tells the Atlantean king Om-Ra that he needs to leave the island to ponder his future — namely, how to finally build an army to take back the crown of Valusia from Thulsa Doom. But the jealous Khor-Nah, Captain of the Atlantean army, orders a group of soldiers to seize the fallen monarch. The enraged Kull throttles them with his bare hands, an image of a ferocious lion flashing over his head. His path cleared, Kull, along with his companion Ridondo the Minstrel, leave the throne room and head towards the highest peak on Atlantis. There, the former Valusian king recalls the past events that got him to this low point. Bellowing at the heavens, Kull challenges the Woman in the Moon and her Tiger-God. Miraculously, the deities appear. The Woman shows Kull a vision of his future, death by the blade of his archrival, Thulsa Doom. -Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: After exactly two years of bouncing around in various black-and-white magazines, Kull returns to the spinner racks with a “He’s back! The sword-and-sorcery hero who wouldn’t die!!” burst on the cover. Huzzah. In his editorial that replaces the letters on “The Thurian Chronicles” page, Roy shucks and jives through the history of Kull publications, trying to justify why the character was “back!” after the failure of both his first comic book series and the follow-up magazine. Supposedly, current circulation director Eddie Shukin took a second look at the sales of latter Kull the Destroyer issues and saw that the numbers were actually improving. Shukin concluded that the book should never have been cancelled in the first place and deserved a second chance. OK, I’m aware that the last few issues of the original run were written by Steve Englehart and drawn by Mike Ploog, but I’m still dubious. Regardless of the talent involved, they were totally lackluster. And what about that pesky Kull and the Barbarians magazine? Roy shakes it off, saying it bit the dust after only three issues because of “myriad distribution problems.” Guess it doesn’t really matter: Kull, for whatever reason, is back on my curriculum. Huzzah. Thomas gets a writing credit, but it’s probably because Doug Moench basically recaps everything that has come before in the pages of Kull the Conqueror/Destroyer 1 to 15, Kull and the Barbarians 1 through 3and Kull’s last appearance in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #9. He manages to boil it down to eight pages. About the count it deserved. Doug and the bland Hannigan will continue on together until Don Glut and Ernie Chan take over with #21 and see it on to the inevitable second cancellation with issue 29. I do see one bright light on the horizon and his name is Alfredo Alcala. Huzzah!

Master of Kung Fu 43
"A Flash of Purple Sparks"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Jack Abel
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Rich Buckler

Sir Denis meets with Tarr, Reston, and Larner, while Shang-Chi boards a plane to Switzerland to try to rescue Leiko.  The meeting gets contentious as Larner states his expectation that SD would have accused him of being the mole, who has contributed to the recent string of attacks against MI-6.  SD calls the conference back to order, and tells those present two things: 1) he’s counting on Larner’s expertise in demolitions to provide clues to the bomber’s identity, and 2) he’s incensed that his team sought to hide Shock-Wave’s involvement from him – Lancaster Sneed, aka Shock-Wave, is SD’s nephew.  SD sends Tarr and Reston to Zurich to back up S-C, and as Tarr stops by his office to retrieve shells for his revolver, he’s caught in an explosion from under his desk!  In Switzerland, S-C has arrived at the opulent safe-house provided by Sir Herbert Griswold.  As they are getting acquainted on the veranda, Sir Herbert is abruptly felled by a sniper’s round.  S-C dives into the garden, and creeps around behind the attackers, who are taking orders from – Shock-Wave!  S-C stirs the shrubberies enough to draw his opponent away from the others.  He then presses a ferocious attack, ignoring the pain as his hands and feet connect repeatedly with S-W’s metal exoskeleton; S-C succeeds in keeping S-W off-balance, and unable to tap into his electro-shock power, until he is disabled when S-C maneuvers him into Sir Herbert’s outdoor pool.  S-C then is met by Sir Herbert (sagely protected by a bullet-proof vest), and by Leiko.  The guards surmise that S-W and his crew were led to the safe-house as they shadowed Leiko, who is accompanied by the sought-for Agent-D, revealed now as Ducharme, a longtime resident of the court of Fu Manchu.  -Chris Blake

Chris: It looks like the rising and advancing of the spirit can follow more than one path.  In this case, it is in Shang-Chi’s continuing allowance of his emotions to flow.  In recent issues, we’ve seen S-C express his aversion and resistance to SD’s nasty business, but he’s been well short of irate or disgusted by it.  This time, S-C begins to tap into much more intense feelings, as he recognizes a desire for revenge that propels him toward a re-match with Shock-Wave; the ferocity of S-C’s attack is fueled by having endured pain at the hands of S-W, and also (perhaps, more importantly) S-W’s exposure of S-C’s distasteful need for vengeance (“a weakness to which I had once felt immune,” he muses).  There is another desire at work, of course, regarding Leiko; it’s a delicate little moment on p 31, as he finds her safe, and states that he has “given much thought to …love, and . . . we will talk on this later!”  Hey, no problem, Shang-Chi, take your time – you can’t hurry love; you just have to wait.

Not much in the way of fireworks from Gulacy this time.  Over the first five pages, there are some overlapping panels as we cut from one setting to another (a flashback to when the bomb had been planted, Sir Denis’ meeting, Shang-Chi’s hospital treatment and departure for Switzerland), but once we see Leiko’s escape with Agent D, the storytelling becomes more straightforward.  The battle with Shock-Wave is nicely done, with plenty of speed and power from S-C (p 26-27); Gulacy also uses a series of narrow panels to set a faster pace as we anticipate their meeting (p 23).  I appreciated the variation on this title’s look we had last time with Sutton’s finishes; Abel’s inks (thankfully, not as thin as they sometimes can be) are similar to the style we’ve seen from Adkins, so it’s sort of a return to a familiar look, without offering anything new.

On the letters page, Ron M (from Urbana IL) breathlessly speculates that Petrie could be the mole, brainwashed during his captivity by Fu in a Manchurian Candidate sorta way.  Well, Ron, it seems like a good guess – but we’ll soon see, won’t we -?

MarkShock-Wave – who almost flash-fried P.J. Shang last ish - is Sir Denis' nephew! And while that reveal is something of a penny dreadful groaner, it does explain Reston and Larner keeping their boss out of the intel loop ("We tried to spare you a little psychological pain").

And we're spared the pain of Gulacy withdrawal as Paul beats Deadline Doom two months running, serving up his nouveau-Steranko super-spy chop-fuey with the expected brio.

For all of Doug Moench's dense, almost word balloon-popping dialogue, this one still piles on the action, including Shock-Wave sent for a short-circuiting swim, Leiko's rescue by S-C (yea!), and the apparent time-bomb murder of Black Jack Tarr (boo!).

One historical note, class (Pay attention, Forbush; this will be on the test!). The primary reason the series - from its high-pedigreed birth, courtesy of Steve Englehart and Jim Starlin, to its apogee achieved by Messrs. Moench and Gulacy – isn't more lauded today is because it's never been reprinted. Marvel lost its licensed use of Fu Manchu ages ago and, barring some future deal with the current Sax Rohmer copyright holders, MoKF will remain an anomaly of a digital age: a classic comic series that's unavailable to today's audience.    

Matthew:  On a related note, the loss of rights to the character of Doc Savage explains why the trade paperback collecting the 8-issue run of Marvel's four-color Doc comic (to which Stainless also contributed) was published under the auspices of...DC.  Likewise, Doc's appearances in Giant-Size Spider-Man #3 and the upcoming Marvel Two-in-One #21 had to be omitted from their respective Essentials volumes.

Marvel Premiere 31
Woodgod in
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Screaming for his father, Woodgod is met by an odd man on a deserted street, who promptly throws a rock at the beast-man, who then throws the man through a store window. As he walks back down the street, Woodgod flashes back to his "birth", the "son" of scientists David and Ellen Page. A genetically produced combo of human and animal genes, he learns to walk in just two days, meeting a friendly dog—unlike the one who attacks him in the present, that Woodgod is forced to kill. Back to his third day, and a local spies the beast-man and rallies his buddies to "kill us a monster". Between the rabble-rousers and a broken vial of nerve gas (huh?), the Pages are killed, as well as all the bullies, leaving Woodgod on his own. In the present again, he tries a drink in a bar, which he hates, then is viewed on satellite as the last survivor of the town of Liberty, to which Major Tremens decides to visit, with some men in tow. Woodgod kills the men using his "scream", or violence basically, except for Tremens, who mentions Pace and is spared by a saddened Woodgod. And we're left with a mystery as the beast-man slowly walks off. –Joe Tura

Joe: The vintage Kirby cover features a script that had to be written by Stan. Besides calling the hero a "Man-Brute", we get "The House of Ideas does it again! All-Out Action! In the Mighty Marvel Manner!" plus "The most bizarre super-hero of all!" Dude, he's a goat-man! I mean, really! Does the inside live up to the so-called hype? Heck, no. As most classes I seem to teach here at MU, it's not horrible, but boy, it's far from exciting. Fairly run-of-the-mill, strange, hairy, infantile, confusing, and did I mention strange? The art is OK, certainly not Giffen's best although an early effort. The script, see two sentences ago. A downbeat ending, too that gives us some answers but leaves us hanging until we see Goat Boy again in a couple of months. Can we go back to the Liberty Legion?

Matthew: I clearly bought this one long after the fact, because I’m certain Woodgod was an unknown quantity to me when Mantlo reactivated him five months later for Marvel Team-Up #53.  That means his debut is also my retroactive earliest credit for penciler Keith Giffen, who would become the sole constant among a steady stream of inkers (often Janson, who dominates here as usual) and writers in Defenders #42-54.  It’s an interesting concept, and the level of unanswered questions is acceptable since Bill obviously hoped Woody would have a brighter future than he ultimately did, but those who know me well will be unsurprised to learn that I enjoyed him more when he had established Marvel characters to act as his foils; carry on…

Addendum:  Offhand, I can't recall if it's established here or on his next appearance, but the first name of Major Tremens is "Del."  Seriously? 

Chris: Pretty bleak story by Mantlo, as fear and ign’rince leads to the deaths of the populace of Liberty USA (I guess there are pros and cons to conducting research in remote areas – right, Dr Pace?), and the need for control dooms nearly all of Major Tremens’ crew.  Pace refers to Woodgod as his child, and marvels at his rapid development, but what sort of life did he envision for this bizarre hybrid?  WG’s super-human strength could be explained by his animal genes, but how is he resistant to harm by the floater-mortars, and (just as Maj Tremens desperately inquires) immune to the deadly effect of the nerve gas?  I guess we’ll have to wait and see – if memory serves, WG next appears in an upcoming MTU, so by then, Mantlo might have new light to shed on his creation.  

I really enjoy Giffen’s dynamic pencils.  Maybe it’s the Janson inks, but the art here reminds me at times of Deathlok.  Highlights include: the growing darkness on WG’s face as he breaks the dog’s neck (p 10); the overlapping panels as Tremens prepares to investigate the creature at Liberty (p 22); the chaos of the battle with the floaters (p 26-27, p 30); a life-or-death sequence as, in a series of alternating panels, Tremens faces the possibility of imminent demise at the hand of the enraged Woodgod (above).

Marvel Presents 6
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"The Topographical Man"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Watching a planet devoured, Nikki is shocked that Starhawk’s instructions were to ignore Karanada and proceed to the center of the galaxy, so she steers the ship right at it, but with their ion-fire ineffectual, they plunge inside, landing on a desert surface able to support human life.  Declining to join in a recon, Vance is beset by a mini-Karanada he kills with a PK burst, revealed as an energy-husk around a grain of sand.  The others encounter nomads whose chieftain introduces Starhawk as his adopted son; he has Vance save the ship from a tremor by plunging it straight through the planet—now shown to be anthropomorphic—but as he leads the group to the Convent of Living Fire, Vance encounters another Karanada with his form, c. 1988. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Professor Chris will doubtless perk up at the news that Austin inks fellow Motowner/Crusty Bunker Milgrom on this issue and, starting next month, Captain Marvel; I see from the ol’ CBDB (that’s “Comic Book,” not “Chris Blake” or “Crusty Bunkers,” Database) that excepting the communal ink-fest on CM #41, this was my earliest exposure to the third leg of the famed X-Men tripod.  Fittingly, one of Marvel’s few overt SF strips sometimes boldly goes where Star Trek has gone before, with Marty in full Spock mode—“I am fascinated by the unexplained”—and the Captain America/Enterprise resemblance pronounced in page 11, panel 1.  Charlie’s avuncular stance toward Nikki is displayed...and surely the Topographical Man evokes Starlin’s shackled Kronos?

Chris: The only sour notes in the whole issue are Vance’s needlessly petulant attitude (resulting in him throwing himself on his bed and holding his pillow – well, guess who I’m not going to call next time I’m in a deep-space crisis!), and the ridiculous appearance of the Frog Who Ate the Universe (even Steve G recognizes how stupid it looks, and has Vance call it “Froggy”).  On the plus side, know-it-all Starhawk is back (as you knew he would be, right?), and Vance has found his way to the center of the galaxy; it’ll be interesting to see how Steve G pulls all this together in our next chapter.  

This must be one of the first-ever issue-length Marvel appearances by Terry Austin, right?  His inks complement Milgrom quite well, as he takes Milgrom’s basic ideas and builds them into clear, well-formed images.  It’s easy to imagine that the Topographical Man (as seen on p 26) would’ve looked flat if Milgrom had inked this bit himself.  Don’t get too attached, though, since Austin’s going to be switched over to continue with Milgrom on Captain Marvel, while Milgrom’s pencils here will be sunk into the soup that is early Bob Wiacek.

Marvel Spotlight 29
The Moon Knight in
"The Deadly Gambit of Conquer-Lord!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

Moon Knight's derring-do prevents the mayor from being killed, but he's still wounded, and tells MK he'll call off the cops if he goes after Conquer-Lord. But first our mercenary hero has to copter back to his Steven Grant mansion, where he changes into Jake Lockley just as his "new valet" Merkins is discovered—but of course he's a spy for Conquer-Lord. Lockley plays possum and Frenchie follows the smarmy spy to C-L's hideout, where he has Marlene in a trap where she's lowered towards a pair of hungry alligators as the sand in a heavy bag slowly pours out. Seriously. I'm not kidding.

MK makes it there and takes out a slew of purple-garbed goons, one of whom is ordered by Conquer-Lord to kill the disappointing Merkins, then he falls through a trap door—right into a giant chess board! But C-L's game is a little different, featuring black chess pieces armed with weapons, explosive squares and strange house rules. He takes out MK's king, claiming victory, but our hero delivers the best line in the book: "Buster, all you've won is the booby prize in a looney-tunes contest!" As MK gains the upper hand, C-L escapes through to the control room in the ceiling, but MK is too fast, managing to jump up to the hatch, take out the over-confident C-L, stop the alligator trap and save his lady love. Then they head out for some burgers in Lockley's cab.--Joe Tura

Joe: "Story-Tellers Supreme" sayeth the credits for Moench and Perlin for this second part of their Moon Knight tale, and well, I'm not convinced of the "supreme" adjective. Not that it's horrible though. There are a couple of art standouts for Perlin, including Moon Knight's nifty entrance on page 14, as well as most of the chess match. That match, while not exactly Fischer vs. Spassky, is certainly entertaining, even script-wise. Man, does that Conquer-Lord love to talk (as does his rival Moon Knight come to think of it…C-L even calls him "fat-mouth"). Supremely confident for a guy wearing such a dud of a costume, he's done in by his own arrogance, as are most Marvel villains.

Conquer-Lord's evil trap for Marlene reminded me a lot of Dr. Evil's "sharks with lasers" trap for Austin Powers. All that's missing is Moon Knight yelling out "Judo Chop!" or asking Marlene "Do I make you horny, baby?" Then we get a giant chess piece match reminiscent of the same one in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. Well, except for the gun-toting pawns and the fire-breathing Queen and the explosive arrow shooting Bishop. Boy, what an influential comic this turned out to be! But then again, maybe not, since MK's next appearance won't be until Defenders #47, May 1977. I guess they were waiting for the mega-sales figures on these two issues to come in first?

Matthew: To plummet from the cosmic grandeur of Gerber’s Guardians into these depths is disheartening indeed.  It’s hard to believe that this Moench-mess is written by the same guy simultaneously wowing me with Inhumans, and sadly, neither his crappy script nor Perlin’s amateurish art has improved since part one.  Even the lettering sucks.  Is the Grant i.d. supposed to be a secret?  If so, you’d never know it from the way MK runs around referring to Marlene as his girlfriend and Merkins—an offensive “pansy” stereotype enabling Doug to sprinkle a little homophobic arsenic over this already noxious stew—as his valet.  Our next opportunity to get Mooned comes when Dave “The Dude” Kraft uses the lunar lad in Defenders #47-51; I can wait.

Chris: My enjoyment of the non-stop action is tempered by the ridiculous trappings of Conquer Lord’s explosive chess set (later used, in a modified, less-dangerous form, by Mel Brooks in his classic movie History of the World, Part I).  Okay, Doug, I realize that gimmicks like these have a place in hero-adventure comics, but really – why would anyone go to the trouble of building something like this?  “Can’t be too careful,” quoth Conquer Lord; “In case a superhero should show up someday, I want to have a fitting challenge prepared for him!  But, uh, not if it’s Iron Man, or the Thing, or Hercules, you know – they’d trash the place in about five seconds – so, make doubly sure not to lead one of those types back here!”  

A few years hence, once Moon Knight nails down his own title, Doug will limit the craziness (well, most of it, anyway) to Spector’s adrenaline-junkie need for persona-flipping.  Good decision; based on the initial response from letter-writing fans, the use of the different personalities (and Spector’s tendency at times to lose himself in those roles) is a big part of this new character’s appeal. 

Matthew:  Those seeking a more sophisticated precedent for human chessboards need look no further than tclassic 1967 Prisoner episode "Checkmate." 

Marvel Team-Up 48
Spider-Man and Iron Man in
"A Fine Night for Dying!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Romita

Swinging by as a toy plane drops a bomb on a Stark International jet-fuel tank, Spidey is caught in the blast, which disables his web-shooters, and rescued by Iron Man, who’d evacuated the area after receiving a warning note.  Allaying his suspicions, Police Captain Jean DeWolff explains that this is the fifth such explosion in the last month, with each plane self-destructing; after racing over the 59th Street Bridge in her vintage roadster, and demoting a sexist desk sergeant to patrolman, she shows them footage of the prior cases, revealing the presence of a masked man whom nobody recalls seeing.  Evidence links the letters to the police, but just then another plane attacks, blowing IM out of the sky, and the masked Wraith gets Spidey in his grip. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Just as Englehart is developing the Shroud, whom Mantlo will inherit in Super-Villain Team-Up, Bill introduces another spectral super-doer, later reunited with Shellhead—alongside his Deadly Hands of Kung Fu creation the Jack of Hearts—in the Midas saga, while Jean also becomes a durable Marvel supporting character in her own right.  This being but the start of a tetralogy, Bill can take his time, allowing him to give Jean some dimension and unleash Sal on that spectacular two-page spread of the explosion.  Just a few sour notes, e.g., the MARMIS, which feels forced, and the misspelling of “rein”; I’m sure our august Dean is readying an “angry young Man-tlo” bon mot over the fact that the cop complaining about Grady’s treatment just happens to be black!

Joe: Here we meet Spider-Man supporting cast member Captain Jean DeWolff for the first time, and thankfully not the last. Maybe a bit hokey with the 1930s throwback stuff and the snazzy Roadster, nonetheless DeWolff was tough as nails and worked well with Spidey through the years. We won't get into her entire story quite yet, lest we spoil anything, but I will say I always liked DeWolff, and welcomed her appearances, including this one. (Doesn't hurt that she's a redhead!) But let's get on to the issue at hand. Iron Man's impatience with Spidey's banter makes for an interesting relationship given their history together in recent years (Civil War, etc), but I love that my beloved Web-head gives it right back to the arrogant Avenger. The gizmos DeWolff reveals in her office, given to her by Nick Fury, get a great internal reaction from Stark/Iron Man: "So this is the 'friend' Nick asked me to tool up these 'toys' for!" DeWolff's panic when the plane is hurled through her window is one of the few things that doesn't ring true, but hey, I imagine I would act the same way--or hide under the desk crying like a baby! The Wraith, who we only meet in the last panel, is a nasty SOB based on the deaths he causes, and the mystery behind him is a doozy, but you'll have to wait until next ish for that reveal! Nicely done for the most part, and of course Sal and Mike pave the way as always.

Marvel Two-In-One 18
The Thing and The Scarecrow in
"Dark, Dark Demon-Night!"
Story by Scott Edelman and Bill Mantlo
Art by Ron Wilson, Jim Mooney, and Dan Adkins
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by John Costanza and Ray Holloway
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

Alicia brings Ben to a SoHo gallery opening to meet painter Jess Duncan and art critic Harmony Maxwell; he scoffs at their account of a cult that tried to sacrifice Harmony in the name of the god Kalumai, and was foiled by a Scarecrow who came out of the painting for which Jess outbid their leader.  A possessed partygoer knocks out Jess’s journalist brother (misidentified as Dave Monroe), enters the painting, and emerges as a fiery demon.  The guardian of an interdimensional door, the Scarecrow helps Ben defeat the demon, who returns to human form, but after he plunges into the painting—consumed by mystic flames as its image changes to that of Kalumai—Harmony reveals that Dave, believed to be the Scarecrow, is gone... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “Is this the end of the most mysterious superhero of them all…?” asks the next-ish box, to which I can only respond with a resounding, “Who cares?”  Insane laughter doth not a characterization make, but for once, an utter lack of personality is just as well; yet again, pacing proves to be Bill’s Achilles’ heel, so by the time he’s finished recapping the Scarecrow’s past and belaboring Ben’s disbelief—a tad hard to swallow with all he’s witnessed, if perhaps partly explained by an aversion to the supernatural—there isn’t room for one anyway.  Tellingly, the lettercol notes that “Bill’s been unable to give [MTIO] the same feel as MTU because, even now, he’s not sure how many issues he’ll be writing,” plus the Wilson/Mooney/Adkins art never exceeds the pedestrian.

Like the Golem in #11, the Scarecrow does indeed make his Bronze-Age swan song here.  As his creator, Scott Edelman, wrote on his blog, “Due to the horror implosion, which killed many a supernatural comic book at Marvel in the ’70s, my character The Scarecrow never got to continue his solo adventures past Dead of Night #11 and Marvel Spotlight #26 [the latter intended to be Scarecrow #1].  His story came to a conclusion of sorts in [this issue] I co-plotted with Bill Mantlo…But here’s part of the secret history of comics—I had begun writing the Scarecrow’s third adventure, of which only a single page of script and art remain.  [It] was meant to be the splash page for Scarecrow #2,” and interested parties can see it in Edelman’s post.

Luke Cage, Power Man 34
"Death, Taxes, and Springtime Vendettas!"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Rich Buckler and Pablo Marcos

"New office door" is added to the grocery list of Luke Cage, Power Man when the latest in a string of loony sixth-tier super-villains busts through and turnbuckles the Hero for Hire. This one's carrying the monicker of the Mangler and purports to be the best wrestler on the circuit. He's here to visit some payback on Luke for the hero's attack on Spear (last issue). The kerfuffle soon leads to the streets, where Cage shows the masked nut just who the boss is. Before Nick can interrogate the Mangler, Spear shows up and intervenes, allowing the wrestler to escape. Cage is left wondering when he'll be jumped from behind again. The crazed Spear lets on to his new partner that he's tired of toying with Dr. Noah Burstein (see the last few issues-Dizzy Dean) and is ready to put the man down. Luke, visiting the distraught doctor, happens upon a hung effigy of Burstein and a note from Spear telling the doc to meet him at the docks. Cage does his best to make it to the scene as quick as possible but, unbeknownst to our hero, Burstein and Spear are already eye to eye. Spear lets one rip and the doc tumbles into the water, presumably deceased.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Can I say what a delight it is to read Don McGregor's multi-layered prose and natural dialogue?  Granted, I don't read all the Marvel titles every month (I keep up with about a dozen) but this is the one I always look forward to the most, thanks wholly to Don's wit and imagination (the only misstep being the treacly sequence where we learn Chase's four year old daughter is a big fan of KC and the Sunshine Band and can do all the latest dance steps -- yeccch). You can keep your Amazing Spider-Man and his gallery of classic bad guys, I'll eat up Cage and his parade of "homicidal fruitcakes" like Piranha, Stiletto, Cockroach, Mangler, and Spear, It's a freakin' alternate Universe, man! I love how Don inserts throwaway scenes amidst the action like this issue's discussion between Cage and the cop Chase around and about a defective soda machine. Spear's unhinged diatribe on Dr. Burstein, delivered to the equally disturbed Mangler, has me turning pages faster than I can read them. What happened in that prison to set Spear on his mission to torture and kill the kindly doc? Maybe Burstein isn't the wonderful old man we thought he was. I'm assuming Burstein hasn't joined the ranks of ex-supporting characters just yet since we haven't gotten the full skinny. The biggest compliment I can pay to Don McGregor is that the two worst artists of the Marvel era team up to produce the visuals here and it doesn't really bother me.

The Son of Satan 5
"Assassin's Mind"
Story by John Warner
Art by Craig Russell and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

 Daimon reports to police that he has no reasonable explanation for the explosion that killed Michael Taine, a student of the occult who had been rooming next door.  Daimon is introduced to Amelia Sefton, his research assistant; as they proceed to a departmental meeting, Daimon does not see the shadowy image of a horse’s head appear in a mirror, still intact in the dead student’s demolished room.  At the meeting, Daimon is deep in thought about Taine’s death; he considers the significance of the positioning of his body, as it resembled the hanged man of the tarot, or possibly a pyramid surmounted by an ankh.  Daimon’s quiet assessment is interrupted when the faculty is assaulted by a power that overwhelms their senses; he switches to his Son of Satan persona, and plunges outside to find the perpetrator of the attack.  He is confronted by the horse-headed figure, who claims elemental powers; Daimon dismisses him by the power of the trident, but the being asserts that the SoS’s victory is merely temporary.  Daimon returns to the blast site, with a silver ankh tied to his forehead.  The trident provides Daimon with images of Taine’s ritual, but the SoS is no closer to the answers he seeks.  At that moment, Proffet – the Celestial Fool – appears, denying responsibility for what is to come, when a gold-clad figure arrives, calling himself Mindstar.  Mindstar declares that he will continue to use Daimon’s senses to attack him; Daimon calls on the darksoul, “just enough to bring me strength,” he states, and is able to injure Mindstar with a blast from the trident.  Mindstar grabs Amelia and threatens harm to her;  Daimon is momentarily confused, as he has no attachment to Amelia – still, the distraction is effective, as Mindstar infuses the trident with enough heat that even Daimon is unable to hold it.  The trident falls to his feet, so Daimon is close enough to trigger it mentally to fire another blast at Mindstar; enraged, he flings Amelia from the rooftop and escapes.  Daimon flies up to catch Amelia, then strikes her, enraged that she did not flee from Mindstar when she had the chance.  Daimon immediately apologizes, and heals her hurt with a touch.  Cut to: a room lit with a single candle, and a man in a wheelchair, who speaks briefly with an unseen figure, who promises the man that ”Mindstar will be needed again, soon!” -Chris Blake

Chris: Warner provides a full dose of mystery, as Daimon is left with many questions: who is Mindstar, how did he derive his powers, and why is he on the offensive against Daimon?  The last question was the most problematic for me, as we don’t have a hint of Mindstar’s motivation throughout the story; I realize he might be attacking people For Badness, but it was difficult not to expect that there's something more to it.  The final page points us on to the next issue (as it should), as we’re informed that the shadowy figure provides the wheelchair-bound man with power, and that the man intends to kill Daimon so he can “fulfill” his ritual.  OK – that’s promising.  I mean, it bodes well for our next issue – I’m not saying that people should be ritually-killing others, for any reason.  So we’re clear on that.

The ever-imaginative Russell is an inspired choice for the art, even if he’s only providing layouts.  He isn’t required to be as inventive on the visuals as he was for SoS #4, but we do have plenty of Russell’s trademark use of varying-sized panels as he’s telling the story.  I find this particularly effective on p 15, as Daimon prepares himself to re-enter Taine’s room, and slowly moves from one observation to the next, until the trident calls up images of Taine’s ritual.  Russell isn’t afraid to give us some shots of Daimon in-action; see the transformation on the aforementioned p 15, and defenestrating Daimon on both p 11 and p 22.  Trinidad is a fitting complement for this title, as he adds plenty of mood and atmosphere, without compromising clarity too much.

Matthew: Inimitably calling a spade a spade, SuperMegaMonkey deems this arc “some unreadable dreck...Just looking for something to latch onto here, how about the fact that Daimon Hellstorm [sic] has a student named Amelia Sefton, and she’s sensitive to the occult as well as a computer wizard that likes to dress up in old-timey clothing.  Any relation to Amanda [recently introduced in X-Men #98]?”  The WTF pinnacle is on page 26 (below), with its “Skull’s Donuts” vendor, willfully goofy passersby—are they supposed to be caricatures?—and Possessor-like triple-take by Daimon.  Rarely has a strip fallen so far so fast, and its euthanization can’t come soon enough (J.M. DeMatteis will eventually redeem the character, but sadly outside the purview of this blog).

Super-Villain Team-Up 7
Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner in
"Who is...the Shroud?"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Herb Trimpe and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Jean Hipp
Cover by Rich Buckler and Klaus Janson

The Shroud tells Namor how his parents’ murder by a small-time hood took him to Nepal, where the cult of Kali blinded him as the culmination of their teachings, and announces his intention to establish himself as a super-hero by killing Doom, freeing Namor from his vow.  Meanwhile, Reed leads the FF—forced to leave by Kissinger—to Hydrobase, and Doom exercises his droit de seigneur with a young woman named Gretchen.  As Doom releases his hounds on a wolf-hunt, the Shroud attacks; forced to remove his chest-plate when the Shroud attaches a magnesium bomb, Doom is bowled over by the wolf and hounds, plunging off a cliff to his apparent death, but he awakens as a captive of the Atlanteans, who found him in the river. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: For the end of his four-issue stint, Trimpe is inked by Marcos, and looking at Namor’s features on the splash page, it seems they may have saved the best for last, with all due respect to Messrs. Mooney, Perlin, and Abel.  Whether you consider such an homage acceptable or not, Stainless is very forthright about the Shroud’s debt to Batman, although his blindness would seem to suggest a dollop of Daredevil as well, and I for one have always been happy to take him on his own merits.  The enjoyment of Namor’s interplay with the Shroud (“Oh.  I see…you’re insane.”) is heightened by the belief, at least temporarily, that he has achieved his goal, and it’s sort of neat that we never know for sure if Doom’s intentions toward Gretchen were the obvious ones or not.

Matthew: I recently asked Englehart about the controversial portrayal of Dr. Doom as a supposed “rapist,” which I’ve seen characterized as everything from “daring” to “disturbing.”  I’ve felt since first reading this that—feeling full of himself after his diplomatic triumph with Kissingerit might have suited his twisted sense of humor to “claim” the girl, satisfy his vanity by impressing her with his magnificence for a while, and then return her to her parents untouched.  He replied, “I think you’re probably right.  I was going for the traditional European droit, because I was exploring Doom in the ‘local’ context of a European lord and not a world-conquering super-villain, but I agree that he probably was just demonstrating that he could and not that he would.

Chris: Steve E gives us an origin of the Shroud that is both derivative, and a pastiche, as it sifts together aspects of the formative stories of the Batman, Doctor Strange, Iron Fist, among others.  The result comes off as something like a parody of typical comics origin stories, seeming closer to an approach Steve G might employ in Howard the Duck.  If Steve E wants us to take the Shroud seriously, this isn’t the way to go about it.

Credit is due to Steve E for moving the story along to its next sequence – we now have Namor safely removed from his cage in Latveria, while Doom finds the tables turned on himself, as he has now become a captive.  It’s the right decision, since I don’t see how the story could’ve advanced if status quo had carried over into another issue.  

There’s a bittersweet moment on the letters page, as the armadillo proudly announces that Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha will be providing the art for the next issue.  Can you imagine -?  Well, suffice to say, that never happened.  Can you say: Keith Giffen, Bob Hall, Don Perlin -?  I knew you could.  

The Tomb of Dracula 47
"Birthrite: Death!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Dracula maps out his plan for world domination to a welcoming young Domini, even while their marriage looms. Meanwhile, Safron returns to Boston and a sex-starved Blade while, across town, Rachel rejects Frank's advances. Back at the Satanic church of Anton Lupeski, the long-awaited marriage is interrupted by a stranger bearing a shotgun. After mowing down several of Lupeski's minions, the man is halted by the Count, who puts the bite on him. After dropping the corpse, Dracula discovers the assassin was none other than the father of Domini, come to retrieve his daughter from the clutches of evil. The ceremony continues and, after, the newlyweds retreat to their room. Dracula tells his new wife he can't wait for their son to be born and Domini, for her part, looks smugly satisfied. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Aside from the marriage and twist ending (which isn't really a twist if you're paying attention), this is something of a "placeholder" issue in that nothing really happens to advance the story all that much. A full page is wasted on the romantic side of Harold H. Harold (this is one title that needs no comic relief and HHH, as my colleagues will doubtless agree, needs to be jettisoned pronto) and a couple more are tossed away on Blade's trip to the airport. Them wheels be spinnin' but at least we get to watch them spin in Colan-Palmer style!

Chris: Hannibal gets impatient with Blade, and I can’t say I blame him.  I myself am more than a little frustrated with Marv – now that’s he’s finally brought these two vampire hunters together, what reason could he possibly have to delay the search for Deacon Frost?  Instead, we get Rachel finding something new to disapprove of regarding Frank (not as interested when you aren’t the dominant personality in the dyad, eh Rachel -?), and Harold taking Aurora out (maybe).  At first, Aurora seems to have forgotten that Harold was coming – can’t say that I blame her; more importantly, when can we forget about him?  The three pages devoted to these relationships (including Hannibal sent packing so Blade can get some, now that Safron’s in town) could’ve been time better-spent on developing the Frost storyline.  But, since Marv’s his own editor, what’s a Marvel maniac to do?

I’m not sure which is creepier: Drac’s fawning devotion to Domini, or (major gulp) the notion of Drac removing his garments for the impregnation rite (although, Domini looks pretty great – thanks, Gene & Tom).  Another creepy feature is Marv’s suggestion that the painting of Jesus is somehow influencing the proceedings; Gene & Tom ably contribute to this idea when Drac kills Domini’s father, as we see the eyes of Jesus gain a greater intensity (p 27) – intriguing.  The last page also is very effective, as we observe the contrast between Drac’s maniacal ravings and Domini’s peaceful reflections.  The two also are separated physically in those five frames, with Drac upstage and facing away, while Domini gazes contentedly at her reflection.

Mark: Marv Wolfman's stint in the rapidly revolving editor's chair had to be distracting, and one likely spillover effect has been the recent, somewhat erratic storytelling in TOD. While the overall quality remains high – three, maybe three and a half fangs here, the ride's bumpier, the odd plot potholes deeper.


Blade, gung-ho to get the mother-killin' vamp he's been after his entire life, breaks off the hunt that's been accelerating over the last three installments for some nookie? Yep. He picks up gal pal Safron at the airport then beelines to a luxury hotel penthouse for a bit of the old in-out, while his temporary pard, undead private dick Hannibal King is left to fume in the lobby.

What's the underlying message here, Marv? That black men can't control their animal urges, even mid mom-avenging Vamp hunt? Nah, it's just a plot-stall, but one as phony as a twenty dollar Times Square Rolex, as the once-promising Blade-Hannibal team-up is now being dribbled out to annoying length.

Even more muddled is the mind/motivations of Drac's new bride, Domini. We learn she was schooled in a convent, constantly running away then returned by her father, "a man who cared nothing for her." Shotgun-wielding Daddy Dearest arrives at the satanic cult's abandoned church HQ, post-nuptials, to blast away at leader Lupeski's flock before the Count puts the chomp on him. Domini then somehow divines that (A) the large painting of Jesus (left intact to be mocked) granted her father absolution by – apparently – killing him before Drac did, and (B) the fetus now gestating inside her (conceived by Lupeski's dark spell; no in-out for our newlyweds) "will not be the devil's son after all."

So...her father's wedding reception murder spree caused Domini to be born-again and imbued her with the gift of prophecy? I've no idea, class, and even more troubling is the nagging notion that Marv's just as confused as the rest of us.

The Mighty Thor 250
"If Asgard Should Perish...!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters  by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

The recent madness of Odin stands revealed: he's not the All-Father at all, but mighty Mangog, aided in his disguise by Igron's magic. The latter had stumbled upon the former, and using the bits of life-force energy he had siphoned from Asgard's citizens,  revived the shrunken Mangog, whose hate couldn't completely die. Igron then created the illusion that Mangog was Odin, thus he could feed off the worship of "his" people.  Although Thor alone has seen this, the subsequent abuse of father to son convinces more of his fellows that all is not as it seems.  When all seems lost, Mangog's own greed becomes his undoing.  He reveals his identity and banishes Igron to who knows where.  As Asgard loses belief, the truth now revealed,  Mangog fades into nothing without worship to sustain him. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A rather clever take on the third coming of  Mangog, although this is a case where the first was best. The mystery of Odin's whereabouts are unknown, but now we know when he disappeared, forshadowing the upcoming Odin quest (which I hope is as excellent as I recall ). The Sif/Jane symbiosis gives us whoever works better for the situation; talk about a good solution. I don't think Mangog will be the force that brings on Ragnorak in the third Thor film, unless it's a well kept secret--too bad!

Matthew: Okay, even by the standards of my usual ambivalence toward Thor, this is damned good, not least because DeZuniga has reined himself in a little, showing Big John’s work to maximum advantage, from the nice montage of the Warriors Three et al. rallying support to the spectacle of Mangog amok.  The short-lived Mangog/Igron (Mangron?  iGog?) alliance begins almost comedically—“Must I now share my foul imprisonment with filthy rodents?”—and ends the only way it can, with Igron destroyed, for once conclusively, by the force he has so foolishly set in motion.  Len makes interesting use of Mangog, probing the very nature of his worship-based existence, which recalls Dormammu’s; all in all, it’s an unusually satisfying milestone ish.

Chris: I would’ve preferred to see Mangog go out in a crunch than a pffftt; as it is, his hasty dispatch of Igron in a moment of power-madness is probably the most satisfying moment in the issue, since we can tell right away that he’s managed only to set up his own destruction.  Before he’s reduced to atoms, Igron does a nice job summing-up some of the recent storylines, which also points ahead to the next one, ie: the Search for Odin!  I’m still not excited about De Zuniga’s inks on Buscema’s pencils for this title; the resulting shadows and murk are suitable for the grim existence of Conan, but not the gleaming spires of Asgard.  

Warlock 14
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jim Starlin

The Star Thief devises elemental foes befitting Adam’s status as “a true warlock of fire, air, water and earth,” but while the flying demons in his second test are soulless creatures, impervious to the Gem, he is able to scatter them.  After leading a space shark into the path of a midget comet, Adam takes the Star Thief off guard and steals a piece of his soul, revitalizing him for the final test, a flaming giant whose brain is its weakness.  Having briefly distracted the furious Star Thief, who barely fled his host body before its decapitation, Adam tries a desperate gambit:  using “Autoclyus’s navigational skill and the Magus’s dark knowledge” to traverse a black hole, seeking an exit that will take him to the Milky Way in time to catch his foe unawares.

Realizing that Adam has jumped into hyper-space, yet confident that “he can’t harm me without killing everyone on Earth,” the Star Thief sends his mind forth to prepare his defense, freeing nurse Tom Vocson from his control.  When Adam emerges, Earth is no bigger than his fingernail and he is “a giant wraith” who has proven the expanding universe theory, growing at a faster rate than Earth while thousands of light-years away.  Yet as the Star Thief gloats over his apparent victory, Adam somehow senses that he has actually lost when—aware of Barry Bauman’s evil—Tom pulls out a pistol and shoots him; as he is taken away, vainly insisting that he is a hero who has saved the world, the stars return to normal and Adam sadly realizes that he has lost a home… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’d call this the best post-Magus entry to date:  the focus is back on Adam, where I prefer it; the artwork—never less than splendid in a Starloha issue—seems somehow better integrated with the storyline; and the ending is richly ironic, a literally world-threatening menace laid low with a simple bullet by its own erstwhile, and ultimately misunderstood, puppet.  Even the space shark (perhaps the last and loopiest of the Jaws homages that probably hit bottom, as it were, in Ghost Rider #16) somehow works, at least for this middle-aged fanboy, and although the visuals are uniformly excellent, with Steve’s finished art perfectly complementing Jim’s layouts for the last time, story page 15 is a classic mind-blower.  Next, it’s back to business with our favorite Titans.

Addendum: And nobody told me this was flying-shark week!

Mark: Starlin's second, cosmos-spanning series ends here, and if the Star Thief is several cuts below Thanos and the Magus on the epic antagonist scale, "Homecoming" is a satisfying (enough) grace note for Jim's first auteurial onslaught.  

With that encomium issued, it must be said that the  energetic and explosive art (inked by Steve Leialoha) and eye-popping panel design outshines the story. Jaws-mania aside, do we really need a space shark? And shortening interstellar distances via travel through a black hole might well acceleration the passage of time, it wouldn't cause Warlock to grow so large that the earth "is no larger than my fingernail." And, no, "it's only a comic" ain't a defense; if funnybooks want to aspire to the status of (insert  pretentious cough here) literature then they can't just invent any old shit that ignores ninth grade science whenever the urge strikes.

Chris: Since the time of his arrival on this title, Starlin has typically concerned himself with space/time and mind/spirit matters.  So, this issue, devoted as it is to the physical (eg: fighting with the elemental representatives; the imponderably vast distance to travel to our Sol system; Adam’s unforeseeable transformation into an immense, but immaterial wraith), is unexpected.  Let’s see a burst from the soul gem get you out of this one, Mr fancy Warlock guy! 

Speaking of the bedeviling soul gem, it was a crafty decision on Starlin’s part to have Warlock help himself to only a small portion of the Star Thief’s spirit; if Warlock can work more closely in concert with the gem, it will only make him more powerful.  I wasn’t as impressed with the outcome of the story; rather than have someone on earth solve Adam’s problem for him, I would’ve preferred if Warlock could’ve found a way to influence this outcome – again, probably thru a refined application of the soul gem’s power.  That, at least, would’ve created another moral concern for Warlock: could he justify  drawing-in a third person to kill the Star Thief, if that turned out to be the only way to stop ST from snuffing out more suns -?  We can be thankful that none of us are forced to make decisions like that, right?

Mark: Professorial complaints now noted, I enjoyed Star Thief Barry Bauman being served up old fashioned, earth-bound .45 caliber justice. Feel somewhat empty by the mocking last panel NEXT blurb, when next, of course, came...nothing.

Starlin would return, thankfully, sporadically contributing to the Marvel mythos down to the present day. Tying a ribbon around his first two offerings, one notices an interesting parallel to Jack Kirby's abortive Fourth World saga at DC.

Captain Marvel has been repeatedly recast (and is currently female), and I've no idea when/where the most recent iteration of Warlock appeared. But just as DC replays the Darkseid Big Bad card with some regularity, Thanos remains a first rate menace for the contemporary Marvel bullpen.

Proof, perhaps, that villains may not win in the end, but the threat of such an odious outcome never goes out of style.

Matthew:  Professor Mark, rejoice!  There was a Warlock #15, which I'll be covering come November. 

Also This Month

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes #7
Crazy #19
< Kid Colt Outlaw #209
Marvel Classics Comics #8
Marvel Double Feature #17
Marvel Tales #70
Spidey Super Stories #18
Two-Gun Kid #131
Weird Wonder Tales #17


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 13
Cover Art Richard Hescox

“The Gods of Bal-Sagoth”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Gil Kane, Ralph Reese and Dan Adkins
(reprinted from Conan the Barbarian 17, August 1972 and Conan the Barbarian 18, September 1972)

“A Conan for Collectors”
Text by Fred Blosser
“When the Little People Strike”
Text by Fred Blosser

“The Right Hand of Doom”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Steve Gan

“Swords and Scrolls”

The Dreaded Deadline Doom that struck last month’s Conan the Barbarian rears its ugly head once again, this time taking down the color comic’s black-and-white brother. We were supposed to have been blessed by a Roy Thomas/Freakin’ Neal Adams collaboration, the 39-page “Shadows in Zamboula.” On the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page, Roy lays it at the feet of Adams, complaining that the artist has been “diddling around with the lay-outs” for nearly a year. He promises that it will finally appear next issue, “whether finished by Neal and his Crusty Bunker buddies or by the beleaguered Marvel Bullpen.” As we will find out next month — yes, Savage Sword will go monthly for a bit — the Rascally One must have owned a crystal ball. So, Thomas picked one of his favorite two-part Conan the Barbarian issues to plug the Hyborian hole, numbers 17 and 18 from back in 1972. We’ve already had lessons on those fine comics, but you can have a refresher course here and here. Kane is in fine form, served much better by Ralph Reese than Professor Blake’s whipping boy, Dan Adkins. Poor Adkins.

Surprisingly, I actually have a bit more to add to this Cimmerian controversy. My employer, Dover Publications, has just gotten into the graphic novel game, reprinting notable out-of-print books. I’m happy to say that it seems to be working out rather well. The new line’s editor lent me an old copy of an Alter Ego/Comic Book Artist magazine since he knew I’d be interested in the article about the comic collaborations of Roy Thomas and Neal Adams. Sorry, can’t remember the issue’s number: I photocopied the darn thing but, due to my obsessive neatness, it was accidentally recycled. There goes my tenure. Anyways, I do remember that Thomas mentions that “Shadows in Zamboula” was actually scheduled for Savage Sword 12. By Crom, I find that a hard claim to swallow. Let’s face it, are we to believe that the story that did appear in that magnificent magazine, the Roy/Big John/ Freakin’ Alfredo Alcala classic “The Haunters of Castle Crimson,” was just sitting around and ready to plug in? Sorry Roy, methinks not. Regardless, you still rule. Thankfully, The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 13 does offer plenty of new material. 

Solomon Kane, last seen in September 1975’s Kull and the Barbarians 3, returns in “The Right Hand of Doom,” an adaptation of the Robert E. Howard short story, written circa 1928, but not published until 1969 in Red Shadows. In a Torkertown tavern, the pensive Puritan listens as the slovenly John Redly celebrates the dawn execution of necromancer Roger Simeon. Kane shames the man, since the boisterous boob betrayed Simeon for a bag of gold coins. That night, the dozing adventurer hears a noise in the next room of his hotel. He investigates, only to find that Redly was his neighbor, now strangled to death by a disembodied hand — the same five-fingered fiend that Roger Simeon had a prison guard hack off his arm during the night. 

While rather enjoyable, this one certainly stretched to reach 10 pages. But what the heck, Solomon Kane is always an interesting character — even if he is basically an observer in this case. Which I believe is in line with Howard’s original. I’m an old hand at Steve Gan and he turns in some of his best work yet. Guess he should ink himself more often. Gan really captures Kane’s menacing angularity. Kane will be back next issue, drawn by some newcomer named Mike Zeck. Wheeeeee!

Fabulous Fred Blosser is also back with two text pieces. “A Conan for Collectors” is a 4-page overview of the hardcover Conan books published by Donald M. Grant during this time. The four-page “When the Little People Strike” concerns Howard’s Celtic-inspired short stories "The Children of the Night," "People of the Dark," and "Worms of the Earth." None feature Conan, but Roy Thomas should be commended for enriching Savage Sword with such wide-ranging treats — especially since this one features a frontispiece by Barry Smith that I have never seen before. Score! 

And finally, Zebra Books coughed up for a full-page ad on page 65, promoting their Robert E. Howard paperbacks. No Conan and Kull of course, but some cool oddball stuff. It’s about time the publishing house advertised in these pages. Talk about a target audience! -Thomas Flynn

Bonus Coverage by Professor of Moldy Old Rotted Dusty Pulps himself, Gilbert Colon!

Solomon Kane Lives Again!” in REH’s “The Right Hand of Doom”!  There is little to add that Professor Flynn has not already said, and as Professor Flynn suspects, Moench’s adaptation does indeed hew faithfully to Howard’s Poe-esque original.  Posthumously published in Donald M. Grant’s 1968 Solomon Kane story collection Red Shadows, “The Right Hand of Doom” can be read today in Del Rey’s The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, and this particular Marvel adaptation in the Dark Horse collection The Saga of Solomon Kane. 

Savage Sword of Conan sets the stage with selected quotes from Fred Blosser’s “The Trail of Solomon Kane: An Informal Biography” essay (Kull and the Barbarians #3), and in the page’s background a cross-hatched woodcut-worthy image of the “Puritan Adventurer” by “BG” and “DV” (Bob Gould and Duffy Vohland, per Professor Bradley’s investigative efforts).  It is an evocative effort not unlike the rough black-and-white sketches of Kane by Gary Gianni in Del Rey’s collection and could be counted among the definitive Kane portraitures to date. 

In the pages of the story, Gan’s solo depiction gives Kane a grimmer visage than his predecessors, capturing “eyes [that] were somber, yet coldly grim,” and overall looks more hardened than before.  There were times in Dracula Lives! #3’s “Castle of the Undead” where artist Alan Weiss and his “Crusty Bunkers” could have been drawing Swan Lake, which is even worse than the Monsters Unleashed #1 grotesquerie-stylings of Ralph Reese in “Skulls in the Stars.”  Weiss continued drawing Kane with Neal Adams in Kull and the Barbarians #2’s first-part adaptation of “The Hills of the Dead,” and while they do well with the face, his stance is still more that of a male ballet dancer prancing and posing onstage at the Mariinsky Theatre.  Weiss does better in Kull and the Barbarians #3 when teamed with Pablo Marcos where Kane is finally rugged and more swashbuckling, but Gan’s may be the best thus far, stringy long hair aside and this issue’s accompanying Gould-Vohland stand-out stand-alone notwithstanding. 

The ten-page story moves more briskly than Professor Flynn gives it credit, and once it gets going, it “clamber[s]” towards its victim, and its reader, like “a huge spider...,” its horrible hairy hand of hate severed but alive.  After that it beelines straight for the jugular, never letting go and becoming a classic monster story in the vein of the Curt Siodmak-scripted The Beast with Five Fingers (1946).  (The W. F. Harvey short story collection The Beast with Five Fingers and Other Tales was published in 1928, with Howard’s unpublished story originally written around the same time.  Significantly, both feature not only a five-fingered fiend, but a signet ring.) 

The Solomon Kane tale is told in a Torkertown tavern, noteworthy as the town and its environs will serve as the setting of the next Kane outing (an original tale from the quill of Moench). 
—Professor Gilbert

Planet of the Apes 23
Cover by Malcolm McN

"Messiah of Monkey Demons"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton

"The Weapons Shop of Paradise"

Battle for the Planet of the Apes 
Chapter One
Story Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Vicente Alcazar and Sonny Trinidad

And, we're back! Terror's "Psychedrome" saga concludes in our first part, with Sutton at the helm for the final time, as we're told afterwards, presumably to concentrate more on Future History Chronicles, with his successor a surprise comic veteran. Hmmm….

Brutus and his apes rejoice at having found the bombs, while Jason, Alexander and crew head towards them in the railcar, which slows down at the station and Malagueña calls out to Jason—but our heroes are surrounded. Lightsmith walks out, spouting his goodness mantra, just as the monkey-demons attack! The good guys hightail it out of there, pausing for the gorgeous gypsy to lay a kiss on Jason. Cut to the ailing Lawgiver, who may only be able to be helped by "medical miracles stored somewhere in the Forbidden Zone"—and his young attendant may be the answer. Brutus seethes, while Mutant-Drone Bee slinks away to plot against the gorilla general, getting a missive to the giant brains in charge, who want him to destroy the weapons.

The heroes come to a door—which opens back into the Psychedrome! They hop aboard a skycraft, which crashes into a room and they take an eyeball Keeper prisoner and it leads them to another railcar—and a host of monkey demons. Savage ape leader Maguanus challenges Brutus, but their nasty fight is interrupted by Bee, who fires a laser pistol and explodes the bombs! Brutus' man Warko kills Maguanus and they head off to attack Jason another day. Meantime, the young orangutan, 13-year old Thaddeus, heads toward the Forbidden Zone to save the Lawgiver. Plus, the heroic crew sees their railcar reach the end of the line, free from the grips of the Psychedrome but surrounded by snow… and lost.

The good news is this is a rousing conclusion that features short but exciting brawls, non-stop kinetic movement, narrow escapes, and of course, more questions and the promise more from Brutus. Nice script, nice art. Well done.

More good news is no articles—instead we go right into the first chapter of the Battle for the Planet of the Apes adaptation, drawn by Vicente Alcazar and Sonny Trinidad. Spanish artist Alcazar, known mostly for his work on DC's Jonah Hex, makes his only appearance in this title for super-sized part 1, starting with a quick recap of the whole saga, then focusing on an introspective Aldo, who returns to the "hated city which is his home". He begrudgingly stops to help MacDonald and Jake repair a wagon, then speeds off to his reading and writing lesson.

Caesar's son Cornelius is a natural in class, but warrior Aldo struggles, enough so that he chases after the human teacher with blood on his mind. Stopped by Caesar and Virgil, who learn the teacher used the "old word" of NO, Aldo storms off as Caesar ponders the future. Cornelius plays a game of "war" with a human friend, against his mother's wishes, then dinner begins and includes MacDonald telling of old tapes of Caesar's parents being held in the destroyed human city's command post. Before they travel to the city, they're stop by Mandemus, keeper of the weapons, to arm themselves for the dangerous trek.

Nice art split by Alcazar and Trinidad, with a pretty abrupt shift, but both halves work nicely together thanks to a dialogue-heavy Moench script that doesn't go off the rails yet. A fine start indeed.
—Joe Tura

Professor Tura reacts when the Dean asks him
to take over chores on Deadly Hands.

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 27
Cover by Earl Norem

"Death is a Game Called Handball!"

Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Ron Wilson and The Tribe

"The Ninja Conspiracy!"

Swordquest Chapter Three
Story by John Warner
Art by Tony DeZuniga 

Thirteen-year-old projects dweller Marguerita Molina is enjoying a solitary game of handball when she is interrupted by the approach of her idol, The White Tiger. The urban superhero is on his way to El Tigre Bar, with his companions Blackbyrd and Detective D'Angelo, to sniff out the bad guys responsible for the hospital siege seen last issue. The Tiger and Marguerita exchange some small talk before the hero wishes her well and heads off. Overcome with awe and curiosity, the girl follows. When the men get to the sleazy bar, they're set upon by a trio of roughs but attention is predominately drawn to a TV set that emits a laser blast. Henchmen dispatched and killer boob tube destroyed, The White Tiger searches the rest of the bar to discover... nothing. On his way back out, The Tiger again stops to talk to young Marguerita, who tells him a man leaving the bar was nice enough to give her a new handball. The ball explodes, killing the girl and leaving The Tiger with more questions.

The return of world-changer Bill "Angry Young Man"-tlo to comics writing, a devolution I suspected was coming but certainly was not looking forward to. What happened between the last issue's crowd-pleasing chapter of The White Tiger and this one is anyone's guess. Perhaps Bill got another one of those flyers in the mail pleading for donations to The Black Panthers? Whatever reason, there's the unmistakable notes of "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)" playing in the background of this disposable chapter, an installment that jettisons the series' winning formula of intertwining Tiger threads and, instead, focuses on one narrative. The boys visit the bar and find nothing for their troubles; the thread advances not one iota. You gotta love Bill's idea of the Urban Innocent: a (very mature) teenage semi-JD who 's dating (and sleeping with, we're told in a Marvel PG-13ish way) a gang member and cuts school to play handball! That's got to be the ultimate good girl/bad girl, no? Let's hope Bill gets his mojo back next chapter (DHoKF #28 will be an all-Bruce Lee Special and, blissfully, a one-week vacation from chop socky for yours truly) and updates us on Abe Brown's dilemma in the desert. Ron Wilson and "The Tribe" contribute adequate visuals (no one will replace Perez on this series as far as I'm concerned) but the inside jokes (graffiti like "Bill & Karen" and "Archie is Slow" are about as un-ghetto as you can get) are pretty silly.

"The Ninja Conspiracy" is the third and penultimate chapter of "Swordquest," John Warner's endless slog about a ninja trek across Asia. Just as ponderous and devoid of entertainment as the first two installments. In his editorial, Warner introduces new Assistant Editor, long-time letter hack Ralph Macchio. Before you go rushing to your Google, I'll save you the trouble and report that, sadly, this was not the same Ralph Macchio who famously painted Mr. Miyagi's fence.-Peter Enfantino

1 comment: