Wednesday, August 12, 2015

September 1976 Part One: The Long-Awaited Arrival of the Thirty Cent Funny Book!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

“It seems you just can’t keep a good writer down,” sayeth Stan.  “Remember when Rascally Roy Thomas gave up his editorship last year because he wanted to return to scriptwriting?  Well, it looks like Marvel-ous Marv Wolfman got bitten by the same bug.”  The credits reflect the resultant confusion; we now know that he was succeeded briefly by a returning Gerry Conway, yet by the time this month’s issues saw print, his successor, Archie Goodwin, is already listed on the majority, and the usual “crazy credit” for Marv on Amazing Spider-Man reads, “Irv Forbush, Head Mechanic.”  The rest are credited to those—mainly ex-EICs—with writer-editor fiefdoms, i.e., Kirby (Cap/Eternals), Roy (FF/Invaders), Wein (Hulk/Spidey/Thor), and Marv (DD/Nova).

As Les Daniels wrote in Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics, “Of course, the writer-editor idea took some of the pressure off the editor-in-chief, but it led to other problems, as James Galton [Marvel’s president from 1975 to 1990] soon noticed.  ‘It turned out to be a nightmare,’ he says.  ‘I felt captive to that situation, and I determined that as soon as those contracts ran out, I would not sign another one.  Nobody was looking at what the writer was writing—it just got published.  We needed more checks and balances.’”  Daniels also quotes Goodwin on that same issue:  “It was a two-edged sword because the writer-editors tended to be a law unto themselves.  I was able to get along with most of them, but it was a strange situation.”

Marv’s woes were a familiar litany (e.g., exhaustion, cost-cutting, deadlines, marital problems), but the aftermath was unusually complex, as related in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.  As plans were being made for Roy—his own marriage now kaput—to return, he went to L.A. on a “last hurrah” vacation.  According to Sean Howe, Gerry asked, “‘Why are you taking the job again?’…and while Thomas was on the West Coast, that question kept ringing in his ears.  It turned out that he really liked being in California.  He liked it so much, in fact, that he…soon informed Lee that he was not going to return after all.  But, he said, he had a solution:  Conway, who’d been so unceremoniously passed over in 1974 and departed for DC, should be the [EIC].”

More next month.  And now, we present September 1976!

The Amazing Spider-Man 160
"My Killer, the Car!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

A swinging Spider-Man comes across a fur theft being pulled off by the same purple-clad goons he's met twice before. But this time a gas bomb knocks Spidey loopy and when the mist fades, he's attacked—by a driver-less Spider-Mobile! Trying to escape, Spidey finds his web-shooters won't work, and his fingers won't stick to the walls! Vaulting over a wall, he lands on a cop car, but is able to get away when the police pursue the perilous Mobile. At City Hospital, Peter and MJ visit Aunt May, with Liz and Harry already there. Meanwhile, JJJ, after losing another secretary, one who hilariously smashes his cigar then quits, gets an unmarked package of "the most incredible photos" he's ever seen, ones that could finish Spider-Man!

Back in Chelsea, all is fine with Peter's powers, and he heads out as Spidey in search of his former car. As he investigates a strange mist, the Spider-Mobile strikes again, charging right up a wall after Spidey, and across a rooftop! With his powers slipping away again, Spidey leaps, but his web-shooters jam! The villainous vehicle saves him with its web cannons, tossing our hero into the back seat, where he lets it lead him to the baddie behind it all—The Terrible Tinkerer, tasked by another to deliver Spidey to him and in complete control of the Spider-Mobile. But the wall-crawler tricks Tink's large sidekick Toy into freeing him, then Spidey traps Toy under debris and goes after the Tinkerer, whose attempt to flee in the Mobile ends in a crash. After Spidey uses the web cannon to cocoon Toy, he delivers the mangled Mobile back to the offices of ad men Carter and Lombardo.--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: The most incredible thing about the awesome Kane/Romita cover that starts us off with a bang? That I never remember trying to recreate it with my Mego Spidey and Mego Spider-Car with the silly webbing net on the back! The second most incredible thing about the issue as a whole? Another mention of Howard Cosell on the splash page, shades of Amazing Adventures! Was it Howard's birthday or something?

An issue that's part goofy, part fun, part action, and part a wrap-up of the much-maligned Spider-Mobile saga. Now, I always liked the arachnid-themed auto, so I'm in the minority, but this was a fine way to cap things off. Sure, Spidey beats the terrible twosome a hair too easily, but why wouldn't he, to be honest? Excellent art, a nice script, supporting cast cameos, and some mystery afoot with JJJ and the unmarked package of photos. Hmmmm…

Favorite sound effect this month is page 31's "K-ROP!" as Spidey rips the web cannon out of the crashed Spider-Mobile and webs the heck out of good old Toy. Mainly because I can't figure out if that's an accurate noise, or Len's favorite radio station.

Mark Barsotti: So, the "terrible" Tinkerer has been retconned into a non-alien, eh? Not so fast, Len, 'cause in my copy of ASM #2 there was a bit more to TT's non-terrestrial lineage than a rubber mask. Like ray-guns, a goon squad of little (ok, they're average-sized) green men, and a freaking spaceship taking off in Central Park!

Still, we'll leave it to the letter page continuity cops to take Wein to the woodshed, three months hence, and count our blessings here. Namely, that compared to the spider slop L.W. has been doling out lately, "My Killer, the Car!" is breezy - if instantly forgettable - fun.

Matthew Bradley: The Spider-Mobile appears to be so universally reviled that there’s a delicious logic in having it try to kill our hero, a concept bolstered by the onion-layer effect of having the Tinkerer—man, Len really dug deep there!—be behind that, and Guess Who behind him.  I love how they handled the quotidian scene of Spidey reconfirming his powers on page 15:  simple shots of Peter’s still, uh, uncluttered apartment, with Spidey in various positions, and lifting the fridge was a nice homey touch.  Extra points for the classic panel-busting Rossito layout on page 7 of Spidey pole-vaulting over the borderline, but points off for misspelling Allan (if not Osborn) throughout, and for an M.J. who was seemingly pasted in, and badly, on page 11.

Mark: Ross and Mike are on their winsome, goofball game. Aunt May's chin gets ever longer, MJ rocks hip-hugger bellbottoms, and Pete's Chelsea digs remain a perennial centerfold candidate for Slums and Tenements Monthly. Jolly Jonah's mannish secretary de jour quits instead of getting fired, saving ol' Hitler-'stache from an early LGBT lawsuit.

And, honestly, TT is too slight a baddie to get worked up over Len's rubber mask rewrite. The much-maligned Spidey-Mobile is the star attraction here, as it remote-control wall-crawls and even goes rooftop to rooftop, courtesy the wide, steel-belted issue of its web cannons. We even get an already nostalgic last page cameo by Stan and Roy, in mufti as Mad Men Carter and Lombardo.

So, okay, Len, I cracked a guilty smile over this one, and you got the light 'n' frothy out of your system. Time to bring your A-game, as we page Mr. Fisk.

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 10
"Step Into My Parlour..."
Story by Len Wein and Bill Mantlo
Art by Gil Kane, Frank Giacoia, and Al Milgrom
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

J. Jonah Jameson is annoyed that the Globe is trumping the Bugle in sales and stories, but scoots when a complaining Peter Parker gives him "the idea of the century". Hours later, in the Waterfront district, some kidnappers are holding a man and his daughter hostage when Spidey sneaks in and saves the day. But leader Rick Deacon has the girl at gunpoint, ready to escape when Spidey webs her away and the red-headed rascal goon is shot by the police and falls into the river. As the cops wonder if Spidey really is a hero, JJJ is at the lab of Dr. Harlan Stillwell, agreeing to pay the scientist to create a "force for good"who will rival Spider-Man. Already in progress is Stillwell's work with flies, and when injured Deacon stumbles in, he becomes a willing subject who's turned into a Human Fly!

Part II, "…Said The Spider To The Fly!" starts with Peter trying to give JJJ the "file shots" he asked for, but Stillwell asks Jameson to come over quick, where he discovers the diabolical doctor is dead! JJJ runs off, but is nabbed in the streets by Deacon/The Fly, who soon after busts into the Bugle and tells them to have Spider-Man meet him at the Colosseum at midnight, with "Jameson's liver on the line". Spidey swings in on time, and The Fly shows considerable strength, flight, sight in all directions, and ultra-sonic waves in their brief but boisterous battle. Fly has JJJ on some girders, but when he's knocked off, Spidey saves him with a giant web. A second battle has the two trading punches, but Spidey is able to swat The Fly once and for all. –Joe Tura

Joe: Another Kane-Romita cover! Yay! This one has JJJ in peril but, alas, Spidey has to save him or he won't get any more paychecks. But let's go random for impressions of this king-sized issue to save time and space. Mantlo just has to name-drop The White Tiger, doesn't he, much to Dean Pete's delight no doubt. The kidnapping starts off so lame, but ends in a hail of bullets not seen in Amazing Spider-Man for as long as I can remember.  Deacon is pretty mad but not very appreciative of his new powers to say the least. JJJ fails again, but he'll keep trying. Good thing for him Stillwell is killed so he won't have to pay up! Does the machine create the yellow and green costume also, or did Deacon already have that on? Is that how his genetics are changed? Complete with boots and gloves? I liked the Spider vs. Fly fight scene, but for a long book, it seemed to be pretty short. And it's nice that Deacon is able to adapt to his powers in a split second. I guess bad guys tend to do that, don't they? Overall an above average annual, with Len's plot scripted OK by Mantlo, but drawn nicely by Kane. Although it's easy to tell Giacoia is on the case. Didn't really miss him (sorry, Frank). See ya next year!

Fave sound effect for this "double-sized dynamite" annual is page 11's "KER-WHAM!" when Spidey smashes thug Chino, a Gil Kane special if there ever was one.

Matthew: I’ve always had lukewarm impressions of this story, which you’ll notice looks exactly like a monthly two-parter, and re-reading it now, I’m trying to understand them.  I like Kane’s Spidey, and thought perhaps I just wasn’t acclimated to it at the time, yet I see it’s right in the contemporaneous Marvel Tales #71; of course, he’s inked by Romita there, but while the annual’s Giacoia/Esposito embellishment is a tad rough-hewn, I can’t find major fault with it.  Similarly, giving Spider-Man an enemy called the Human Fly is a no-brainer, and the dipterous abilities enumerated by Mantlo (who scripts Wein’s plot and will, ironically, write all of the unrelated Human Fly) are formidable, so why do I hate the character?

Chris Blake: Not exactly uncharted territory here, is it?  Spidey himself observes that this isn’t the first time Jonah has been caught by a threat of his own creation, and that Spidey has had to come to his rescue.  But we don’t look to AS-M for innovation, do we?  Much as with FF, readers expect certain types of stories, and as long as they’re well-told and provide plenty of action, then all’s well.  

And we aren’t cheated on the action, are we?  I feel like the kidnap-foiling in the tenement goes on a bit long, but that might be my only criticism on the pacing; obviously, Len & Bill need a readily-available villain-host to keep the story going, so here’s Deacon!  It helps that Deacon already has thoroughly established his badness; so, we’re spared another of those instances when the power-infusion drives the recipient to madness.  I’d like to ask how Dr Stillwell’s nefarious device gives Deacon his powers, but I’m more intrigued by the fact that it seems to put a fly costume on him.  Wouldn’t it have made sense to show his hands colored green (p 23), so that we’d figure that he was already attired in the costume before Stillwell flipped the switch?  I admit that it’s a terribly small point, but Deacon’s sudden appearance as fully costumed sort of took me out of the moment there.  Minor quibbling aside, it’s a completely acceptable, enjoyable bit of Spidey-style fun and excitement.  

Amazing Adventures 38
Killraven in
"Death's Dark Dreamer!"
Story by Keith Giffen and Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Giffen and Al Milgrom
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Keith Pollard and Marie Severin

In "this city called Miami", Killraven rides his razor-maned mutant steed to the shore, where he spies a strange dome. Having sent the others to scout ahead [seemingly keeping the creators from having to pay them for appearing], he wonders if this is a Martian trap, but enters anyway, drawn by a humming sound until he is swallowed up by "a swirling frenzy of nightmare!" A helmeted figure notes KR has made it past the first two security locks, and goes up an escalator to a taped tour-guide's guidance. The nightmarish vision continues in spades, the mystery man having "jolted" KR too far, and now their dreams can't be separated!

In the 1970s pavilion, Killraven meets "an audio-visual psychic projection" of Iron Man, something from the mystery man's memories, who catches a KR-thrown star and sends him to another reality. One set in the Florida Everglades, where of course Man-Thing oozes from the slime, a holograph that is unaffected by Killraven's blade, yet his touch still burns…burns a hole in the fabric of reality to "The Hall of the People Pavilion" where they pay homage to the great Howard. Meaning Cosell. Howard Cosell. That's right, Howard Cosell. On that note, I need a beer……

Ok, that's better. A version of Dr. Strange rouses the masses of semi-demonic Marvel heroes, from Black Panther to Medusa to Daredevil to Iron Fist, etc. They fight the stranger among them, but Killraven is able to hold his own until he's grabbed by Giant-Man, while the mystery man, aka the dreamer, can't believe what's happening. Iron Man saves KR, bringing him to the mansion and introducing the leader—Capt. America-Ford (that's Gerald Ford. Oy.), who asks KR to join them now that he's reached the end of the trip. But our hero smashes Ford in the mouth, which wakes the dreamer! Turns out he's an astronaut who's been "asleep but aware" since a 1999 Mars launch and trip through cosmic rays, and can project his dreams like "real things". He drew Killraven into his dreams to wake him up and stop the distortions—so Killraven smacks him in the mush and leaves him to "keep your nightmares to yourself!!" And that's it. Good thing I had that beer. – Joe Tura

Joe: Our Keith Pollard cover gives KP a chance to draw a bunch of Marvel heroes—as demons of some sort. Well, some of them at least. Medusa and the Thing look fairly normal, while Subby just looks constipated. I guess that's one way to try and sell a comic. Another is having a one-shot that guests wacky versions of Iron Man, Man-Thing, Dr. Strange (introduced in a page straight out of Not Brand Echh!, page 22), and well, a dozen or so more, including Moondragon for some reason that probably killed this title (more on that next time). One more is promising "The most unexpected shocker of them all!" on the cover, which is about as much of a stretch as there ever was in 1976 Marvel-dom.

Really, what the heck is this? Sure, it captures the mood and oddness of the Killraven future-verse, but has nothing to do with the regular story at all. (Not that we can follow that either, but I digress). The art is OK, but there are some bad panels like on page 31 panels 4, 5 6 and 7. The script is goofy and way too Outer Limits-lite to be taken seriously. Sorry for the summary longer than Mantlo's words, but I had to try and figure this one out on the page. I guess they had to do something for an "original" one-shot, just would have hoped for something more interesting. Can I have my 30 cents back, Mister Candy Store Guy?

Chris: Judo Jim recently presented a similar concept with the Star Thief in Warlock, as an immobile man is able (over time) to expand his mental faculties.  It’s more of a fanciful idea here, as Mantlo allows the dream-logic free rein, and Killraven is forced to struggle to keep up as the landscape keeps changing.  Aside from the narrowly-escaped laser-blast in the causeway, and a couple of drops from a high point, Killraven rarely appears to be in any grave danger – it’s all more of a nuisance to him – which reduces the suspense.  At least this story is more in keeping with the manner of storytelling we expect from this title, which makes this issue a marked improvement over Mantlo’s previous fill-in (namely, the faculty-derided AA/WotW #33).

Giffen’s art is imaginative and energetic; if Russell can’t make the party, then young Giffen is a name to have on the reserve list.  Fans should recognize his craggy take on Cosell – with its droopy eyes and ears, and a solid nose – right off, without the idol even being identified (p 22).  Milgrom’s inks are a bit thin throughout, which leaves some figures and faces under-defined, but coming from Milgrom, I’ll settle for a lighter hand over his usual tendency to ladle on the heavy shading.

Hey, remember the bit from Sleeper when Woody Allen’s character was asked to identify some records and artifacts from the 20th century, and he agreed with the future-people theory that Cosell was “a kind of torture”?  Well, they kinda hit it on the head, didn’t they?  

The Avengers 151
"At Last: The Decision!"
Story by Gerry Conway, Jim Shooter, and Steve Englehart
Art by George Perez and John Tartaglione
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Dan Adkins

This issue opens with the Thing, in Ben Grimm mode, wearing a costume, watching his television with a special news report about who will be the new Avengers. Ben is skeptical about all of it, and his character quickly fades as the reporter goes into a long history of the Avengers and the different line-ups, especially the very confusing heroes that Hank Pym created.

Along the way, with all of this, we have a mysterious old man who is distressed about the Scarlet Witch’s status, and a mysterious villain who is jealous of Hank Pym and the Wasp. We also have a history of the other members, who stayed long and short stints, and people who missed their chance to join the Avengers, with lots of footnoted references to other comics and back issues. It’s enough to keep your head spinning. 

Hank Pym then announces his decision to leave the group (if only it were true!) and Moondragon turns down the chance as well, much to everyone’s relief. Hellcat also opts out, as Moondragon pretty much forces her to undergo extensive training at her side. Then Yellowjacket returns, wanting to be a member. 

As we knew from last issue, Thor is leaving, and it is his departure that causes the most anguish for the other Avengers, particularly Iron Man. With the new lineup of Vision, Scarlet Witch, Wasp, Yellowjacket, Iron Man, Captain America, and the Beast, the issue seems willing to end on this upbeat note, but on the last page, Wonder Man shows up out of nowhere, having been delivered in a large crate. Who sent him? And why does he accuse the Vision of stealing his mind? There’s enough postmodern ethics questions about identity and the soul to keep anyone tied up for hours, but for now we’re left hanging.  -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters:  The line-up issue is skillfully handled with the news reporter, Sam Reuther, providing a good, crisp narrative throughout the issue and providing some refresher courses in Avengers history along the way. The art by Perez, for such an issue with virtually no action, is very well done. He draws every Avenger, with the old costumes, and has a chance at drawing other heroes and The Champions, in a nice cameo shot, as well. He also draws the Thing from the point of view of the reader on the first page, helping to draw you in. The writing is top-notch. Why does Iron Man detest Moondragon so much? And how long will Hank Pym stick around? And where the heck does Wonder Man come from? The last time we saw him in action was way back in Avengers #9, although his corpse was seen a couple times in a few back issues here and there. His surprise appearance here is a welcome way to add some tension to the Avengers ranks as they begin to go through an amazing run of villains.  

Matthew: As Englehart wrote on his site, “Pages were added to the last half of my story to fill out a whole book, but my story is untouched on pages 3, 7, 10, 14, 15, 17, 22, 23, 26, 27, 30, 31.”  You may feel free to annotate your copy as you wish, but blissfully unaware of all that as I turned 13, I simply savored this luscious Perez/Tartag patchwork, a microcosm of what lies ahead for the Assemblers and Marvel. Stainless is credited last after Conway, who then takes over the title, and Shooter, who eventually follows him as both Avengers writer and EIC.  No editor is credited on the splash page, although Gerry is identified as such in a lengthy “apologia,” signed simply “The Bullpen,” that dominates the lettercol and explains last issue’s partial reprint.

Engelhart [sic] plotted the story…for Avengers #150, and when Steve failed to get it in on time…Shooter jumped into the breach to finish the last six pages, in the vain hope that we might still be able to publish the full story [there].  Unfortunately, the book was already several weeks behind schedule, and there was just no way it could be finished before the printing deadline.  So…the bulk of the story was shifted to this issue, part of it written by Steve, and part written by Jim….Since the truncated story was only eleven pages long…six new pages were needed…In the course of a week [Conway and] Perez patched together a half-dozen story spots, which lead into future issues.”  Told Gerry wrote pages 1-2, and Jim page 17, we’re invited to guess the rest.

The results remain pretty damn readable for a story in which, by some measure, nothing happens besides the formation and announcement of the new line-up (oh, and that returning from the dead thing).  Said line-up was a major part of my Marvel youth, so I remember it fondly, yet even in retrospect, it’s solid for many reasons, and cool that it contains not one but two married couples; much as I adore Hellcat, the logic behind her absence and Thor’s is sound, and of the old guard, I’d have missed Cap or Shellhead more.  The history lesson was not unwelcome to a lad with very little, shall we say, frame of reference, and Gerry’s “story spots” help form the foundation for one of my favorite runs…although—to give credit where it’s due—Engelhart” plotted #152.

Joe: Beyond the usual Perez brilliance, there's a lot to like in this issue. Ben Grimm watching it all unfold on TV while eating a bowl of chips. The newscaster, who starts off like more of a carnival barker, telling the audience he's confused by the constant changes of Pym and Hawkeye. The one page interludes that set the scene for more to come. Yellowjacket's saying being a Defender gives you more free time--and a longer lunch, too! Iron Man's constant internal comments on Moondragon's snobbery. The giant crate that turns out to be Wonder Man--was it delivered C.O.D.? Nicely done once again. This book is on a genuine roll.

Chris: Ok, so where were we?  Yes, that’s right – the new line-up.  In a way, I’m glad they played it this way, with the focus on the discussion among the team, inter-cut with an abbreviated recap of their history.  In other hands, a skittish editor might’ve insisted on wedging some 4-page battle in here, thinking that some nut might’ve wanted to take advantage of the assemblers being, um, assembled all together.  This dim-bulb approach would’ve involved some prospective member either having to prove him/herself, or exposing him/herself as unworthy, thereby settling some question hanging over whether this person would or would not be appropriate for membership.  So, we managed to skip all of that. 

Instead, the members recognize that the Beast is a good fit, that Moondragon is not, and that Jan & Hank are welcome.  The idea that we could have Clint, Thor, and (okay, if we have to) Moondragon available on a heavy-crisis basis is a sound compromise.  Not sure where Moondie thinks she’s taking Hellcat, but I’m pretty sure this will be the last we’ll see of Patsy in these pages.

Chris: The return of Wonder Man is a pretty crazy idea.  That had to be one hell of an editorial meeting.  Simon Williams always was one of my favorite characters, and the whole question of whether his re-existence in some ways negates the Vision’s presence will introduce some interesting conflict in the team’s dynamics.  Just when you thought the new membership was settled!

This is Shooter’s first credit on Avengers. Regardless of your (potentially intensely negative) impressions of him in his eventual role as EIC, Shooter knows his way around a comics script, and pretty soon, he’ll be pouring out some pretty intense tales of our talented team; Gerry will take over for a few issues prior to that.  This also is the unceremonious exit of Steve E, after several (uneven) years at the helm.  I was pretty surprised when I saw (in the lengthy apologia on the letters page) that the screw-up of Avengers #150 is laid squarely at his feet, as the armadillo tells us that “Steve failed to get it in on time.”  Ouch!

Matthew: Doesn't one always blame the guy who's no longer there to defend himself?

 Captain Marvel 46
"Only One Can Win!"
Story by Chris Claremont, Steve Englehart, and Al Milgrom
Art by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

Nearing Hala with Rick, Fawn, and Rambu, Mar-Vell sees the imperial dreadnought Star of Vengeance, on which he had served as a junior lieutenant; he and Rick are respectively teleported to Hala and the starship, where each battles a Supremor (defined here as “the physical manifestation of the Supreme Intelligence,” although the names were hitherto interchangeable).  Mar-Vell deduces that a given Supremor can only be defeated by using one Nega-Band at full power, dooming the bearer of the other.  But the Supremor’s carefully laid plans are disrupted by a “random, unforeseen factor,” in this case the arrival of Fawn, who has sensed Rick aboard the ship, and the cyborg, who nobly sacrifices his half-life in order to buy time for her to assist Rick.

The Supremor realizes that—as with the Golden-Age heroes in Avengers #97—Rick unwittingly used his heightened mental powers to make his image of the ideal woman a reality, and slays her.  His concentration shattered by Rick’s grief, Mar-Vell falls as the Supremor gloats that with the Millennia Flower’s imminent blooming, he will gain control and have them destroy Earth, so that the “power inherent in every Earthling” will be his alone.  But the revived Mar-Vell tells Rick to launch the starship’s missiles into Hala’s sun; forced by the sunflare to divert all his power to the defensive shields, the Supremor overloads “himself, every person, and every machine on Hala,” though they will recover, and Mar-Vell, saved by Rick’s Nega-Band, suggests returning to Earth. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Claremont made his mark on an impressive number of Bronze-Age books and characters; he can’t truly be said to do so here, having scripted his sole Mar-Vell entry from an uncredited plot by Milgrom and the outgoing Englehart, but will quickly make the spin-off, Ms. Marvel, his own.  Whatever its patrimony, this brings pretty definitive closure to the second post-Starlin arc, and although the Millennia Bloom thing remains a bit hazy to me, the rationale for Fawn’s brief existence is both logical and a nice callback to the Kree-Skrull War that underpins so many of Mar-Vell’s plotlines.  Al’s work will be inked by Austin for the foreseeable future, providing some continuity as the title then goes through three writers in as many issues before finally stabilizing.

Chris: I have to wonder whether Steve E’s plans might’ve been to conclude the Supremor vs Mar-Vell storyline.  Well, enough already, as Claremont has the unwelcome task of wrapping the thing up.  Not surprisingly, all turns out well, highlighted by the moments of concern Marv feels for Rick: Marv doesn’t want to take too much power, since it might leave Rick without enough for his own fight; Marv feels the weight of Rick’s grief following Fawn’s “death” (while Claremont tells us that Fawn was never really here).  Clever moment when Marv finds a way to finish the fight, as he signals Rick to fire the flagship’s armaments into Kree-Lar’s sun (uh, you might want to look into some safety protocols for the switches on your missile control console, eh Supremor?).

I’m rarely enthusiastic about Milgrom’s art, especially when he inks himself (which is the primary reason why I skipped the last two issues); on the letters page, Larry T of King of Prussia PA expresses a related thought, and asks that Al be assigned an inker.  Well then, how does Terry Austin look to you?  You could hardly ask for a more stark contrast in styles.  We still can tell that Milgrom is capable of putting together some decent layouts; there’s a lot of battling, as Marv and Rick each have their own Supremor-tangling, so Al wisely uses a lot of small panels.  The clearest gain, frankly, is that Austin is a far, far more capable inker than Milgrom.  Case in point: in the issue’s most boffo image, when the missiles collide with the sun and produce an immense corona (below), see all the energy coruscating within the levels of solar radiation; now, could you honestly say that Milgrom, on his own, might’ve been capable of creating a similar visual effect?  

Matthew:  Since Steve and Al plotted this issue, albeit uncredited, it seems safe to assume that it does indeed represent what they had planned. 

Conan the Barbarian 66 
“Daggers and Death-Gods!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and The Tribe
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

After paying off a pair of dock guards, Conan, Bêlit, and a few of the Black Corsairs steal into Messantia, the capital of Argos, to trade their hard-earned booty to the merchant Publio for Shemite gold, the only currency that the Queen of the Black Coast accepts. On the way they are ambushed by masked men who are easily defeated — the Cimmerian assumes that they were hired by the traitorous merchant. At his shop, Publio denies the charge. Crying poverty, he shorts Bêlit on the deal, but offers the black-haired She Devil a chance to make up the loss: obtain the page stolen from the darkly dangerous iron-bound Book of Skelos that is currently on display in the Temple of a Thousand Gods, a citadel that honors all deities, from Ishtar to Mitra. Ordering the Corsairs to head back to the Tigress, Bêlit and Conan stride off to the unguarded Temple. Inside they marvel at towering statues of Derketa and her mate, Dagon. Suddenly a priest appears and the stone gods spring to life — oddly, only Bêlit can see Dagon, and Conan only Derketa. During his struggle with Derketa, the barbarian realizes that he has been mesmerized by the priest and is actually battling Bêlit. The Cimmerian threatens the priest with his sword and the spell is broken. Conan and Bêlit approach the page from the Book of Skelos, only to find their way barred by a defiant Red Sonja who wants the powerful parchment for herself.
-Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: Now that Red Sonja has her own series over in Marvel Feature, this one kicks-off the first official Hyborean crossover. The last page of that comic’s issue for this month is the mirror image of page 31 here, except it’s drawn by Frank Thorne and not Big John. This is the third appearance of the Robert E. Howard character Publio in a Roy Thomas tale. He made a mark in Conan the Barbarian #57 and played a role in the adaptation of Howard’s King Conan-era novel Hour of the Dragon during the Giant-Size Conan the Barbarian run. In all instances he’s a weasel who’s not to be trusted. After Steve Gan’s lengthy run, this is two in a row inked by Tony DeZuniga and his Filipino compatriots, The Tribe. Let’s hope they stick around because the results are outstanding. This is a very solid issue, pure blood-and-guts Conan the Barbarian — a nice counterpart to the companion Marvel Feature #6, which takes a more fantastic approach. Both Rascally Roy’s work by the way, a testament to his talent. By Crom, if Moench can get Kull the Destroyer up to steam we’d be cooking with gas. Sorry, can’t help it, but every time I type the word Ishtar, I stand up and sing:

Telling the truth can be dangerous business.
Honest and popular don’t go hand in hand.
If you admit that you can play the accordion,
No one’ll hire you in a rock 'n' roll band.

Matthew:  Tom, I was hoping you'd work in a reference to that notorious turkey.  Thank you for not disappointing me.

Chris: OK, maybe I’m a bit jaded, but my first thought when we encountered the huge god-edifices was, “They’re coming to life, and Conan’s going to fight them.”  So, it turned out to be a neat twist that, instead, Conan and Bêlit wound up pitted against each other.  I suspected the truth once Derketa went down, especially since she seemed so much closer to Conan’s size by that point.  
Speaking of points, the moment when we see Conan’s sword pegged into the wall, inches from the priest’s head – and his very subtly surprised, possibly impressed, but not in any way frightened reaction – as seen from Conan’s POV, is a highlight (p 27, 1st pnl).  

Captain America and the Falcon 201
"The Night People"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

A squat, bizarre little man named Brother Dickens, one of the “Night People,” while robbing a store, holds a figurine of Captain America, ranting about how it would please his brothers on Zero Street, who will not rest until they have their own live super-hero. A cop arrives and he is taken down by other Night People, each as ugly and deformed as Brother Dickens, and they steal off into the night. Over the days that follow, they embark on a massive, terrorizing crime wave; supermarkets, pet stores, costume lofts and even current feature films in mid-showing .The police are baffled at these weird crimes. Meanwhile, Cap and Falcon see Mason Harding one last time before he faces his punishment, thanking him for his assistance and assuring him that his daughter will get whatever she needs and that his prison sentence will be lighter thanks to his help. Afterward, they retire to a hotel room and clean up. While Cap is in the bath, Falcon calls Leila and she is laughing hysterically over the news reports of the crime wave and the ridiculous items that have been pilfered. However, it’s all fun and games until someone is kidnapped, which is what happens when these “Night People” take her away during the call. Falcon doesn’t even stop to tell Cap, he zooms off into the night, leaving a confused, albeit clean, super partner in the lurch. Falcon zooms high and hitches a ride with a small plane. Before he can fall to his death, Texas Jack Muldoon opens a door and lassoes the battered hero and takes him aboard. Meanwhile, Leila is brought before a freakish tribunal because she knows a super-hero. They want to know when the Falcon is returning home, but they are frustrated when she can’t be certain. After Texas Jack lands, Falcon takes off on his own and pierces a dimensional vortex that deposits him at Zero Street.  He is brought before the tribunal and stands with Leila. They inform them that they will be subjected to shock treatment to purge them of the impurities of the outside world and thus join in their crusade. At SHIELD headquarters, Cap is told that the Falcon was seen vanishing into thin air. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: The Night People are like a group of Mad Hatters; short, squat, ugly and wearing clothing befitting a rag tag group of vagabonds or bindlestiffs. They look creepy enough, but the usual Kirby dialogue is a kick in the scrotum for this story. Falcon gets to bitch about racial problems – again – and Leila weirdly can’t stop laughing at the crimes being committed as she reads about them in the paper. But, they’re not that funny. No knee slappers here, actually they are more like eyebrow raisers. But, whatever, Cap is pushed into the background as Falcon goes after Leila and is captured for undisclosed reasons. Some of the character designs are interesting, but nothing else really is. Other than Falc exclaiming “blazing bullfrogs!” Texas Jack joins the cast and he’s just another wacky Kirby oddball. The letters page is largely complimentary, but I also suspect some screening. This is a weird run. 

Matthew: Still no shortage of krazy Kirby krap now that we’re past #200, and I must say that with this, the concurrent Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles treasury edition—which I’ve never read—and the recent annual, he’s certainly turning out a lot of shield-slingin’ pages!  It’s a typical parade of Jolly Jack grotesques, yet while I think I slightly prefer these subsequent stories to the Madbomb epic, they suffer from some of the same deficiencies as his other Bronze-Age work (and there’s that little matter of airplane pressurization). Often rigorously compartmentalized from the mainstream Marvel Universe, many also feature unrecognizable versions of prior characters, e.g., this laughing hyena passing herself off as Leila.

Daredevil 137
"The Murder Maze Strikes Twice!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema, Jim Mooney, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by John Buscema

As the Jester prepares to hang Daredevil in a public square, there are voices in the crowd that wonder whether this whole situation might be going too far.  The Jester tries to find a way to regain control of the crowd, but when DD springs up from the platform (as he nimbly manages to flip his feet up, and twist his ankles around a pole above that has secured the noose-line, thereby allowing some slack in the rope around his neck), the Jester’s henchmen begin to fire toward DD.  Now, the rat being well-smelled, the crowd turns on the Jester, and he’s forced to make his escape.  DD thanks D.A. Tower for his help, since he had stirred anti-Jester sentiment among the mob, then swings home to change back to Matt and follow the TV news with Heather.  Once President Ford appears to announce that police and superheroes are sowing widespread panic in the financial district, Matt excuses himself to change back to DD, and races downtown.  DD plays a hunch, and follows a car that leads him to the building that houses the Jester’s HQ.  Once DD busts in, the Jester plays at surrender, and puts DD down with a gas-blast when our hero (unwisely) gets too close. DD is flung unceremoniously into the Jester’s in-house “murder maze,” which he touts as “my ten floors of terror.”  DD relies on quick reactions, acrobatic skill, radar sense, billy club, and sound decision-making to foil the traps, and retraces his path back to the top of the maze, where he crashes thru the door and flattens the Jester and his crime-partners.  Afterward, Matt is home again with Heather and Foggy, as they view a post-mortem of the Jester affair, with DD as a guest on the evening news.  The focus shifts to other stories, including the disappearance of actress Karen Page; without hesitation, Matt vows to travel to Hollywood to try to find her.  -Chris Blake

Chris: After numerous issues-worth of set-up, featuring tantalizing seed-planting as readers shared Matt’s confusion regarding the phony news stories, and with challenging moments of social commentary regarding the public’s reliance on popular media – not to mention the chilling reality of mob-mentality – the conclusion to this arc falls a bit flat.  To Marv’s credit, he signals a change in mood as early as the first panel of p 2, as the crowd, now faced with the reality of executing someone (and, maybe with adrenaline starting to wear off), questions whether they truly are prepared to take this step (after all, if a judge condemns a criminal to the chair, well, then, that’s not our fault, right?).  It makes sense that the crowd’s recovery of its senses would take place gradually, and that the Jester would keep grasping to keep the people firmly in the palm of his hand; the transition is well-done.  Following this, though, we have the same events as the previous issue, as a fake announcement once more is positioned as a means to create criminal opportunity; the effect on the populace is far less significant this time (New Yawkers’re gettin’ wise to it, buddy).  From this point on, the opinion-manipulation measures are forgotten, as the Jester has no fall-back, except for his vaunted kill-maze.

The thought of a building with a built-in terror-tower gives me cold-sweat flashbacks to the ludicrous excesses of Iron Fist’s similar escapade in Marvel Premiere #17; the Jester’s traps, mercifully, only take up a few pages in the issue, and they’re not terribly impressive (a big mouth that chomps, armed wooden soldiers, a trap door!  Hoo-whee).  What’s worse is that Marv elects to fill DD’s maze-time with lots and lots of thought balloons, as DD applies plenty of self-talk to his efforts to work his way along (we also get needless stuff like, “but if Monty Hall is behind this [door], I’ll give up being a super-hero for good!”).  There is time – and energy – required to read thru all this, which only derails the maze-sequence from developing any tension; DD patiently moves from one would-be threat to the next, and never appears to be in any great danger.  

Bottom line: I remember from my previous reading of this storyline that it could’ve been economically presented in one less issue than it required, and my impression today is the same: still one issue too many.

Matthew: I still wasn’t as excited about this as I expected/hoped/remembered I’d be, especially with Marv’s lengthy build-up and the return of guest artist Big John (albeit inked by the oft-pedestrian Madman), but if nothing else, like the current Captain Marvel, it gives us the satisfaction of putting paid to a protracted plotline.  A concept like the Murder Maze runs the risk of feeling like a stack of unfilmed scripts from the old Batman TV show, yet I think it’s handled fairly well; although probably not unique, the “I survived by going through it backwards” gimmick remains effective.  While the moral about not trusting one media source too much may seem quaint amid today’s info-glut, it is nice that Foggy is proven to have lost unfairly to Tower.

 The Defenders 39
"Riot in Cellblock 12!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Jean Hipp, and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dan Adkins

At Stephen Strange's home in New York,  the magician is in deep meditation, trying to find some answers. The rest of the Defenders wait impatiently,  that is until Jack Norriss arrives and makes them aware of Val's disappearance.  They set out to find her. We know,  of course, that she's in jail, and making no bones about not crumbling under the warden's advances--landing her in solitary. She's finally had enough and breaks free of her cell,  to find a riot in progress. Ironically the women cite Val as their cause, until they see she isn't out for blood, and instead wants to help them (after she handles bully leader Felicia). By the time the other Defenders arrive, the Valkyrie has things well in hand. Dr. Strange is absent this time from all the action,  no doubt prepping for next issue. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: We finally get Val out of jail, but not before the gamut of prison cliches : solitary,  a dirty warden, a fellow inmate out to protect her control at all costs, etc. All done well; now she can get back to Defenders business! The rest of the membership is still in continual Flux,  keeping things interesting.

Matthew:  If you can get past an unattractive cover that is almost criminally misleading, this is a return to form, and not surprisingly, Steve’s never-less-than-wonderful story snaps back into sharper focus on the eve of the saga’s double-header conclusion (monthly issue + first-and-only annual).  With Doc and Hulk offstage, the B-listers do an excellent job of resolving Val’s correctional sojourn, while the Red Guardian—whose first name has stabilized as “Tania”—and Cage remain flavorful additions to the broth, especially their interactions with each other.  As for the art, Sal is down to providing only layouts, but I must be experiencing Stockholm syndrome, because Klaus’s finished art bothers me less in this entry, and is clearly fitting for prison squalor.

Chris: I’m sure we’ve all grown accustomed to the tendency of cover art to over-sell the details of the interior story, but I don’t remember the last time a cover was misleading on two fronts: 1) in the story, Clea is using sunlight as a diversion, and is not trying to incinerate anyone, and 2) the cover blurb asks, “What the Heck is Happening to the Hulk?”  Well, you tell me, as the Hulk has been Sir Not Appearing in this Comic for the past several issues.  Miscommunication with Steve G about the details of this issue, or a deliberate misrepresentation …? 

Well, in any case, most of the gang finally is all here (hopefully Doc will have completed his self-diagnostic by next issue), so we can get back to the Headmen, and Nebulon, right?  I really hope so; the past few issues have been enjoyable, but it should have been possible for Steve to compress the action over that time, so that he could have sprung Val and re-assembled the team one issue sooner than this has taken him. 

Doctor Strange 18
"The Dream is Dead!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Gene Colan and Al Milgrom

After visiting Sir Francis Bacon, Dr. Strange and Clea travel forward in time 150 years to 1775. This time their goal is to meet Benjamin Franklin,  and they join the ship on which he sails, bound for America. The appearance and sudden vanishing of Stygyro (and a pet sea monster ) set things on edge--the magician apparently followed them from Bacon's time. The next morning our duo finds the ship deserted, save for Franklin  himself.  Stephen's magic sails the ship for them, and stops it short at a gaping hole in the middle of the Atlantic. Stephen bids Ben and Clea wait, while he flies to the hole's bottom: ruins of Atlantis!  Stygyro appears as one with his serpent, but Dr. Strange prevails. Clea's magic helps bring him to the surface where Ben and Clea await him in a lifeboat. -Jim Barwise

Jim: We continue Stephen and Clea's trip through history,  this time with Ben Franklin.  Stygyro is fascinating with his comings and goings, looking like a mad Merlin. The tie-in to Namor's Atlantis is a nice Defenders connection as well.  No matter what magic one possesses the heart is never immune to harm. The less than subtle hint of infidelity creates a tension even Stephen may be ill-equipped for.

Chris: No need for the Greyhound, as Doc & Clea walk out – walk - out! – to look for Am-er-i-ca!

So, we have the swan song for Steve E; we could say that his consistently impressive job scripting Dr S contributed to increased readership, which allowed Marvel to bump the title up to monthly, but that has turned out to be short-lived; with Steve out, the title is about to drop back to bi-monthly.  Whomever Stygyro might be, he shouldn’t be that tough for Doc to tackle, should he, after Doc’s recent class of opponents.  I was disappointed at first by the ending, since the Stygyro story appears to end inconclusively here, but I peeked ahead, and now see that Wolfman will provide at least another chapter, which should give us a chance to figure out what Stygy’s beef is against the ol U. S. of A.  Tory, is he -?  Anti-Federalist, perhaps?

Franklin establishes that – at least by standards of his time – Clea is a free agent.  Clea, as usual, is disappointed that Doc’s sense of responsibility to sorcereal supremacy sends her to second string.  So now, is Franklin looking to sow some Pennsylvania oats -?  Will he invite her upstairs to “peruse the almanac”?  You old dog.  

Matthew:  On his site, Englehart calls this “the unexpected final issue of my run, as one of Marvel’s periodic editorial meltdowns drove me to DC.  We were left midway through a saga of America’s occult history which has never been completed.”  Sadly, said run ends one issue too late, allowing That Bitch—I won’t dignify her by using her name—to betray her mentor; Ben’s extinguishing that candle is, as it were, burned into my memory.  If they were “merely” married, it would be bad enough, yet they have a unique relationship: she is not only Stephen’s lover but also his disciple, and I don’t care how big a “ladies’ man” Franklin is, you don’t throw that away just because Doc got all busy doing Sorcerer Supreme stuff that could, y’know, save the world…

The Eternals 3
"The Devil in New York"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

With the arrival of Galactus-sized Arishem, a new age of space gods on Earth begins! But our heroes have little time to gaze in wonder and awe before Arak drops another tidbit: the temple they're inhabiting will be closed off by the Gods in a matter of moments and will not be unsealed for fifty years. Knowing that the secrets he will unlock will be worth his life, Professor Damian informs his fellow explorers he'll be staying for the revival. Since Margo will be old and wrinkly in fifty years (and unattractive even to an Eternal), Ikaris takes it upon himself to grab hold of the protesting woman and exit stage left. When Margo turns into a she-cat, the Eternal has no choice but to give her a good old-fashioned pop to the kisser with his "twin eye beams of energy." From the safety of his plane seat, Ikaris watches as the "impenetrable atom shield" descends upon the temple. Meanwhile, back at Deviants' Palace, the future extras of the Star Wars cantina scene discuss the punishment they have in mind for Kro (as "The King" informs us, "if you'd like more of a fillin (sic) on the Deviants, get the previous two issues" as I'm not about to repeat all that cosmic nonsense again- PastePot) when the group suddenly decide the poor war chief has had enough torture and they release him. Undeterred, Kro maps out his plan to fool the puny humans and take control of earth by disguising himself as Satan. This, he insists, will work since all humans fear and respect the devil. Back on the plane, a suddenly forgiving Margo awakes and Ikaris shows her one of his tricks: he exits the plane and flies alongside. Unfortunately for the show-off Eternal, a strange ship emerges from the clouds and takes a shot at him. Inside the craft is Kro, on his way to New York, who delights in the fact that he may kill two birds with one stone. Ikaris, however, has a few tricks up his long blue sleeves and enters the minds of the crew of the dastardly ship. He sees Kro's plan, gets back in the plane and teleports the craft to New York to await the evil Deviants. Once in Manhattan, Ikaris takes Margo to the apartment of another Eternal, the beautiful Sersy (though an argument could be made that she, Margo, and Sue Storm were all separated at birth but we'll leave that discussion to the art critics, won't we? -PastePot), asking his fellow Eternal to keep an eye on the girl for him while he takes care of business. Just then, the streets of New York City erupt in flame. The devil has returned to Earth! -Peter Enfantino

Knowing in fifty years she won't be
the beauty she is now, Margo
must weigh her options

Mark: I read this issue (for the first time) concurrent with the excellent if occasionally academic appraisal of the King, Hand of Fire: The Comics Art of Jack Kirby, by Charles Hatfield. I recommend the book to all serious fans of the medium because, love or hate his latter-day work, Kirby's fifty-plus year contribution to the look and energy, the graphic storytelling language, the very essence of comic books is unparalleled. If there was a Mt. Rushmore for funnybook men, Jack would not only be the first face on the mountain, but the results, as an expression of raw power and bold, brash gigantism, would seem to have been chiseled by his hand.

Hatfield deserves credit for coining the term "technological sublime" to describe Kirby's "use of high tech motifs to represent vast forces that not only are ineffable and awful (in the original sense of the word) but may also result in shock, estrangement, or madness...Kirby pushing his drawings to extremes, indulging in ecstatic, newly heightened graphomania and shooting for grand, cyclopean images...pumping up the volume of comic books but also opening them to disorienting new vistas..."

The two page spread of Arishem, newly arrived space god, who will stand silent and immobile under an impenetrable dome (shades of the Great Barrier that imprisoned the Inhumans in the FF) for fifty years before emerging to pass judgment on "all living creatures on earth," is a textbook example of Kirby's sublime technology.

Mark: It's also a reminder that at this point in his career Kirby was - decoupled for both good and ill from Lee's humor and humanism – striving to create a modern mythos in the literary slum of comics. Mixing, willy-nilly as it rushed from his febrile mind and off the tip of his racing pencil, the promise and threat of 20th century science/technology, run riot in the sixty-six year sprint from Kitty Hawk to the Sea of Tranquility (and the launch pad of much of his and Lee's 100+ issue run on the FF), with the ransacking/recasting of ancient mythology that infused his Thor epics. If the abortive Fourth World epic was Kirby's creative apogee, The Eternals represents only a slightly diminished swing for the genre-busting fences.
More proof that George Lucas ripped off
loved Marvel Comics! 
And given comic's monthly sausage factory schedule, product quality will vary. With the stage-setting largely dispensed with during the first two installments, "The Devil in New York!" is the tastiest offering yet. The prose is 100% free of chuckle-worthy Bowery Boyisms, and two captions (both on P. 15, as Ikaris and Margo fly away from Gods and Margo's father, freshly sealed away for half a century), "At that moment, a small plane hurdles the high Andes mountains with the smoothness of a gliding condor," and "Ikaris takes the plane...above the clouds – the mountains have given way to a kingdom of white, cotton vapors," are simple but evocative, almost lyrical.

The misshapen Deviant menagerie erupts off the page (Kirby always had a taste and talent for the grotesque), and freshly-chastised warlord Kro (with the ability to manipulate his appearance) sprouting horns to resemble the Devil and so better to inflame/direct human reaction when he hits New York, is the sort of inspired idea that Jack churned out by the bushel.

Make no mistake, class. There'll no doubt be plenty to mock and giggle over in the months ahead, as Kirby's bursts of auctorial tone-deafness and goofiness tended toward gigantism along with everything else. But there will also be rat-ta-tat bursts of unbridled creativity, a go-for-broke grasping after Big Questions with inadequate answers, and, of course, Imax-sized eruptions of the technological sublime.         

Proof that Ikaris can not only live forever and fly but is hip to the day's lingo...

Matthew: Okay, I find this hilarious.  The first lettercol is dominated by a missive from Ralph Macchio, who expresses a concern (breezily dismissed in the reply) about the book contradicting the established Marvel Universe, and states, “I firmly believe, after much thought, that the Earth inhabited by the Eternals should not be the Earth of the Marvel Super-Heroes.”  Flash forward to 1980, as the Celestials et al. are being wildly integrated into Asgardian and Marvel mythologies, and whose name repeatedly crops up among the writers?  You guessed it.  Meanwhile, the Kirpoorten artwork struggles to offset the dialogue (“A-as an archaeologist, I-I’m dumbfounded at the sight of an ancient myth come alive!”) and the literally paternalistic attitude toward Margo.

... he's just not that bright.

Chris: Kro’s scheme has its merits; after all, no one ever went broke playing to the baser instincts of people, right?  It’s not clear to me, though, how Kro’s call to battle against Deviants will broaden out to a war against Celestials.  Also, the choice of New York as the setting for Kro’s fear-mongering assault is questionable.  First of all, the place is lousy with super-powered beings who could intervene, and effectively interrupt an Enraged Populace vs Indifferent Celestials showdown before it could ever begin.  

Secondly, our first-ever Eternals letters page includes not one, but two missives (one penned by the precocious Mssr Macchio) encouraging Jack to refrain from placing the (potentially) earth-shattering Celestials epic in the mainstream Marvel Midgard, for this same reason – what’s to stop the FF, the Avengers, and the Yancy Streeters from taking on this fight as their own -?  I guess the answer ties in with Prof Scott’s comment for CA&tF #193, when he observed that one of Kirby’s conditions for return to the Marvel fold was that his titles would not have to conform with the overall continuity – it’s possible that Jack went with the New York setting, secure in the knowledge that there would no unwanted interference by other heroic interlopers.  

Jack provides more fantastic abilities for Ikaris (flight, thought-control of a plane, thought-control over the appearance of his raiment, etc), which brings us back to the ages-old Superman-quandary: if a being is apparently all-powerful (we already know that Ikaris is death-proof), then where will we find the drama in any of Ikaris’ battling?  Wouldn’t any contest with his adversaries be a forgone conclusion in his favor?  We’ll see, I guess.  

Fantastic Four 174
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The High Evolutionary opens "Starquest" with a standard story recap, damning Galactus for putting Counter-Earth on his lunch list before Sue, ignoring H.E's command to stay put, turns invisible and transports to the third near-by world (her teammates + golden gorilla Gorr are already in trouble on the other two) that hungry G may accept as a menu substitution. Alas, the barren world "doesn't even have enough oxygen to support life," leaving Sue with a "few hours" of air inside her force field.

CUT TO: Ben and Reed, captives of metal-man Torgo (see FF #93), who fears our heroes may serve up his world to Galactus and so readies the old college roomies for the "ultimate resolution," turning them into "true Mekkans," i.e. Robots. Ben escapes their magnetized flytrap by shedding his Thing-suit. After the ensuing scuffle with robo-security, Reed reveals that he can no longer stretch his right arm, a losing-powers subplot that Roy had alternatively teased and ignored for many months.

As Torgo returns to battle Benjy, Reed disables the Mekkans' main power source and Torgo & co. topple over like run-down toys. B&R quickly decide the Mekkans don't deserve being served up as Galac-snax and flip the power back on. Torgo, having "sensed their deeds [that should be "words"], even while inanimate," now believes Mekka is off the menu, and lets B&R go...

...except they don't blip back to Counter-Earth, meaning "something has happened to the High Evolutionary." 

CUT TO: the remaining world of apparent knights and dragons, where Johnny cools his heels (and the rest of his body, up to shoulder level) in a wooden water iub. Gorr is chained to a dungeon wall. They're visited by the King (looking like Odin on a kale & water diet) and a duel deal is struck: Gorr v. a badass "dark knight," for standard freedom or death stakes.

With his simian agility, Gorr quickly dispatches his opponent, but the King (never trust a monarch) then brings in a ringer, the dragon that Johnny and Gorr saved a fair maiden from last ish. But Big & Scaly goes off-script, breaking from his cage to attack the King. His guards whip out their lasers (wha?) and the dragon, sole survivor of the planet's "intelligent herbivorous reptilians" is killed.

The King and his minions reveal themselves as – wait for it – Skrulls! Leave it to those green, shape-shifting bastards to decide the fun's over after exterminating the last member of an indigenous species. The craven chameleons quickly pack up and blast off, leaving the Torch and Gorr surprisingly - given their long animosity toward the FF - unmolested.

Our Final Cut is to Counter-Earth, where Galactus is making mincemeat of the local air defenses before the High E arrives, air-walker style, to battle – next ish - the Purple Planet Eater over the "fate of four billion!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark: While I've been grooving off Roy's extended Galactus riff (which I've never read before), this penultimate installment gives me the ole MCD* heebie-jeebies. Granted, Thomas has had me covering my eyes before, only to redeem himself with a Socko Finale, but can he do it again?

One hopes so, sure, but the missteps here don't suggest a sprint to the finish line. Using Torgo and the Metal Men of Mekka was a great idea; the method of beating them ham-fisted. Why would robots add to their main power plant a convenient level which, when pulled (in entertaining fashion by Reed's rubber band fingers), makes them all fall down?

Why were the Skrulls playing Dungeons and Dragons with a real dragon? And wouldn't they have had even more fun with a captive member of the hated FF, instead of bee-lining for their rocket before the dragon's even bled out?

All a bit creaky, and even Johnny B isn't immune, serving up the Destroyer (P. 2) with a tiny head and barrage balloon body. If the ride's a bit bumpy, well, expect some turbulence on a multi-part story and this installment doesn't matter anyway. The real question is if next month's Big Showdown delivers the goods.  

*Marvel Climaxius Disappointius  

Matthew: Exemplifying the odd coincidences that characterize my life, I read Gorr’s reference to the Society for Creative Anachronism—of which one of my brothers is a member—just hours after proofing an earlier post in which Professor Flynn alluded to a Savage Sword of Conan article on the CSA.  I guess that must have been prominently on Roy’s radar at the time.  Anyhoo, despite the rather abrupt wrap-up to its Gorr/Torch tributary, this penultimate chapter of the Galactus saga du jour continues to represent the work of top talent in top form, with Big John and Joltin’ Joe (still my personal art dream team) effortlessly bringing to life an array of alien worlds, Sue getting herself into quite the cliff-hanger, and a Big G/H.E. smackdown imminent…

Howard the Duck 5
"I Want Mo-o-oney!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Marty Pasko
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha

So, what’s it take for an honest duck to catch a break in this two-bit town, anyway?  Discouraged by his meager financial state (Bev has been able to scrounge up only enough to buy candy bars for dinner), Howard hits the bricks to try to drum up some work.  First, he walks into a TV station, and finds himself unwittingly cast as the foil for a kids’ afternoon show.  Howard gets a pie in the face from Gonzo the Clown – he fights back, and gets himself tossed off the set (even though the kids loved seeing creepy Gonzo get his for a change).  Howard passes a home appliance store; the proprietor had caught Howard’s grandstand play on the tube, and offers him a position as a collector of unpaid accounts.  Howard gamely applies himself, but can’t get past the first name listed under letter “A;” he finds he can’t bear to part Mrs Adler’s four kids from the TV shows they enjoy so well (including Gonzo).  Dispirited, Howard pads home, and while Bev has good news – she earned a few dollars live-modeling for art students – Howard wants something big.  Bev tosses him the Plain Dealer, and as he scans the pages, Howard hits it: and ad that offers $10,000 to anyone who can last three rounds with wrestling champ Emile “The Goat” Klout.  Bev is hesitant; she tells Howard that Klout is called “The Goat,” because “he chews up his opponents!”  Undaunted, he leads her to the arena, Howard promising Bev that – with his winnings – they’ll blow the popsicle stand known as Cleveland, Ohio, and move up to the big time.  As Howard changes to his wrestling togs, Bev watches in dread as Klout twists and thumps his challengers, pounding his chest and grunting in victory.  Howard recognizes that his mastery of Quak-Fu won’t help in this instance; once the Goat is off-balance, Howard pours on a full duck-rush, and topples Klout over the ropes and out of the ring.  One problem, though: as Klout’s manager astutely observes, the ad clearly states that the prize would go to any man who could outlast the Goat, and well – Howard’s not a man, so … .  Howard’s fighting-madness convinces the manager otherwise; they come to terms, so that Bev and Howard can score just enough bread to cover her bills, and move on to the thruway, where they seek to thumb a ride to New York. -Chris Blake

Chris: A letter from Gregory S of Newark NJ describes how “the absurdity of this funny animal-figure trying to exist in a very, very real world strips all our defenses and, conversely, allows us to more readily receive his so obviously sincere commentary on life.”  Well done, Greg – I could hardly have said it better myself.

Steve G’s attention this time is on society’s paltry excuses for entertainment, whether it be controversy-seeking radio shows (sound familiar -?), insipid children’s entertainment, or blood sport (again, ring any bells -?).  As opposed to the outright disparagement of senseless violence presented in HtD #3, this time Steve has us watch over Howard’s shoulder as he experiences these media first-hand.  Howard isn’t angry about the stupidity of the “Quackie Duck” comic he finds (and damages in anger, and has to pay for, thereby desperately reducing his dinner budget) in the drugstore – he’s upset by the “unfair representation of ducks … as sadists -!”  He passes up a contract as a wrestler, not because he disapproves of the spectacle – he’s succeeded in securing (some) money from the experience, and is ready to move on.  Howard isn’t outraged by the absurdities and indignities he’s encountered (except to observe that the Gonzo show’s producer could learn something from his jeering grade-school critics), either because he’s distracted by the task at hand (i.e. finding gainful employment), or because Steve simply decided to let the commentary play out more subtly (but still, absurdly) this time.  

The Colan/Leialoha art continues to be singularly brilliant.  The kids show (seen in part from the studio camera’s perspective) is especially crazy, particularly when the melee breaks out.  Their depiction of the Goat in his merciless thick-headedness bears notice; the frame from Bev’s perspective, with the Goat looming menacingly above – which mirrors monolithic figures from the Sert murals in the lobby of 30 Rockefeller Plaza – is one of the highlights (p 26, last pnl).  I don’t know who’s responsible, but one of the two artists snuck in a headline that appears to read: “Patty Hearst Kidnapped by Martians” (p 22, pnl 6) – quick, somebody call Killraven!

Oh, why oh why oh why, would Howard and Bev ever dream of leaving a place like mid-70s rust-belt burning-river Cleveland?  Well, I figure they’re just trying to escape the Kidney Lady – no other reason.

Matthew:  See, there are misleading covers and misleading covers.  For instance, this one is misleading to the extent of featuring events that don’t occur until the last two pages, yet since those events are the logical culmination of the plot, I’ll allow a little artistic license.  But it differs from the current Defenders in two key respects:  it doesn’t traffic in events or characters not even appearing therein, and it eschews the ugly burnt-orange background that also defaces this month’s FF.  The Gerber/Coloha troika firmly in place, this issue effectively hits numerous targets with its Daffy parody—note the Warlock cover just behind it—talk-radio and crass kiddie TV shows (anticipating Krusty?) and a wrestling match straight out of the Bugs Bunny playbook.

Mark: Sure, everything was a lot cheaper in the antediluvian days of yore, but even in 1976 dinner for two on fifty cents was a tough-go, and then to see that beggar's budget halved on the impulsive drug store trashing of an offensive Quackie Duckcomic.

The only appropriate response is, of course, "Waaaugh!"

But such is the lot of our duck, Howard by name, grouchy moral outrage his game. Here, after splitting a candy bar with his even sweeter platonic (thus far) roomie, Beverly, Howard gets hung-on by a talk show host (God, I loved talk radio as a kid, before it devolved into a shouting match between ten thousand little Limbaugh-wannabes, each more obnoxious than the last. But I digress...) pied-in-the-face by a kid's show clown, and put to work as a debt collector for a sleazy rent-to-own appliance store. Yet Howard perseveres, even when - indignity heaped upon indignity! - he and Bev are harangued once again by the kidney-lady on a cross-town bus.

Howard perseveres, and much like his spunky, spiritual forefather, young Peter Parker, he takes to the squared circle, the amateur wrestling ring, to put food of the table. And the duck is braver, not enjoying the proportional powers know, but fueled only by grit and native pluck.

And, yes, mastery of Quak-Fu. Howard triumphs, is cheated from his rightful ten grand, but bargains enough to pay their bills and buy two bus tickets to New York.

Such is life on the mean, pin-feathered streets of Gerald Ford's America. You kids today got it lucky.

The Incredible Hulk 203
"Assault of Psyklop!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Romita

Psyklop holds The Incredible Hulk, shackled in dimundium steel (utterly unbreakable), while he terrorizes Hulk's love, Jarella. As we all know, the madder the green goliath gets, the stronger he gets and, unbreakable though it may be, the dimundium is reduced to shards. Psyklop has to resort to the old hypnotic ray in the visor trick (though why he didn't do that a long time ago is anyone's guess) and that does the trick; the Hulk is now Psyklop's slave. While the Hulk is on auto-pilot, the one-orbed villain reveals to Jarella that he's built a gigantic dreadnought-drill that bores into K'ai and causes earthquakes and he plans to use that to convince Jarella's people that he's a God and should be worshipped. Unfortunately for Psyklop, Jarella's people are aces with undercover devices and hear every word Big Eye has to say. They march on Psyklop's fortress to destroy the villain and rescue their  queen. When Psyklop gets word of the approaching mob, he sends the Hulk out to stop them, using his hypnosis to convince the brute that the crowd approaching is a mob of Psyklopses. But the  sorcerers of Jarella's tribe see through the ruse and reverse the trick, convincing our hero that he's facing multiple Jarellas. In a last ditch effort, Psyk grabs hold of Hulk's pretty young squeeze but nothin' doin'. The Hulk delivers one last blow, cracking Psyklop's "essence urn" and triggering a massive explosion that vaporizes the villain. Jarella impulsively pops the question to her tall, dark, and green paramour but the moment of joy is short-lived since, back at Gamma Base, Doc Samson has figured out how to bring the Hulk out of Talbot's brain and back into our world. The zap brings Jarella back to earth with him but Doc Samson laments  there's no way to send the girl back to her planet. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: While the Hulk's been away from JarellaWorld, his girl has been doing a lot of science study. That's the only explanation I can give for her sudden knowledge of how everything works. Our green grrrrl informs us that not only does Hulk get stronger as he gets madder, but when he gets really mad, hypnosis is useless. She also has a keen working knowledge of Psyk's "essence urn," as when it blows she tells Hulk, "Psyklop was consumed by love -- by the very spirits of those he'd slain!" The story is engaging but how many times can you pull the "Hulk is yanked out of Jarella's world just as he gets the job done" scene? Regardless, the title is continuing the ascent it began right around the time of its bicentennial. Good work, Len!

Chris: The Hulk gets screwed-with, not once, but several times all in the same issue.  You think he was mad before, when Psyklop tricked him into fighting Jarella’s people?  Well, how d’you think he’s going to feel now, when you (and I’m talking to you, Samson) pull him out of his own engagement party, and zap him back up to confront his usual suspects at Gamma Base?  It’s not easy being green.  

Speaking of pigmentation – there’s an amusing LOC from Ben K of Sandwich MA who speculates that, since Hulk is rarely seen eating, and since he should require an awful amount of energy to fuel his “vigorous activities,” Len could propose that the Hulk’s green skin could photosynthesize its own energy.  C’mon Ben K – next thing you know, you’ll want to see an Elf with a gun, or some other crazy thing.

So now, Jarella’s back in town.  Okay then.  So Hulk – uh, you’re still on for bowling this Wednesday, right?  Hmm – well, how about Namor’s party on Friday ?  You’ll let me know?  All right – catch you later.  

Matthew: Just as with James Bond and Tracy at the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, we know damn well that our emerald couple will not, cannot, be allowed to live happily ever after, yet you’ve gotta give Len credit for mixing it up, at least in the short term.  Here, he closes the story with Jarella separated not from Greenskin but from K’ai and her people, and given their track record, that may not be the worst thing that ever happened to her.  I always thought Psyklop (whom I must have seen for the first time in this storyline, since the Marvel Super-Heroes reprint of his Sal-penciled debut in the 1971 Avengers/Hulk crossover was still some years away) was cool, even before I understood the Lovecraftian echoes of his Dark Gods.

The Invaders 8
"Union Jack is Back!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

At dinner, Lord Falsworth relates his 1918 encounter with Baron Blood, who had been murdering prominent citizens, and was driven off with a silver blade before he could kill an M.P. passing below his Tower Bridge perch.  Jacqueline is touchy about her father’s enthusiasm, having lost her mother in the Blitz two years earlier; her “cousin” John says that he is rarely seen during the day because of his interest in rare nocturnal fauna.  Baron Blood traps the Invaders in an electrified net (having felled the Torches with an explosive mannequin and Namor with a poison-gas-emitting simulacrum), and steals the resurgent Union Jack’s Webley, but the pistol is rigged to blind him with silver dust, and after he flees in pain the Invaders accept a new member. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Delving deeper into the Falworth family and its history is like slipping on that proverbial flannel shirt; for those of us who grew up reading and loving this strip—plus its attendant Liberty Legion spin-offs—the current arc pretty well defines what the Invaders are all about, and even the Gumby-esque Robbins/Springer artwork feels like an old friend.  Roy is not exactly going to make any enemies in the Bradley household by including a real, live (?) vampire in the storyline, and yet another powerhouse Kirby kover helps seal the deal for one of the faculty’s Anglophiles.  Frank’s layouts on the first two pages are especially nice, with the establishing shot of the dinner tableau, followed by the juxtaposition of each family member with his or her respective thoughts.


  1. Clea getting it on with Ben Franklin is one of the (ahem) seminal "WTF!" moments of the Bronze Age. I remember feeling shocked by that sequence back in the day -- had to re-read it several times to make sure I wasn't mis-interpreting what was happening. I felt bad for Doc Strange,
    and disappointed and angry with Clea -- Super-girlfriends simply DO NOT shag Founding Fathers! I've always wondered how Englehart would have followed up on that incident if he'd continued with the book -- in-coming scripter Marv basically just pretends it never happened.

    - b.t.


  2. For my 14 year old self in 1976 and my 53 year old self now, the most entertaining comic of this batch for me by far was HTD #5. Great Colan art, great mix of pathos and humor in Gerber's writing. I was still much enamored of the spandex crowd back then, and if asked would have listed the FF, ASM and the Avengers as my favorite comics, but that was more going for what were my long-standing favorites rather than what I really most enjoyed reading at the time and would still hold up to my somewhat more critical adult self. Anyhow, Avengers 151 made for a great historical romp & future events romp, with some exquisite Perez art. I was rather saddened by Englehart's departure from the Avengers and Gerber's upcoming departure from the Defenders. Conway's tenure on both was too brief to leave much of an impression. I only got a few issues of the Eternals, not including this one; I did get all of Kirby's run on CA&TF, but couldn't really get into it. I loved Kirby's classic mid-60s runs on the FF, Thor, etc., but I found most of his Bronze Age material meh, although I did enjoy his collaboration with Gerber on Destroyer Duck. I missed this month's issue of the Invaders, but although I wasn't keen on Robbins' art, I mostly enjoyed this series, and Robbins seemed easier to take on this nostalgia trip than on CA&TF. Maybe it was just the jarring contrast of his style with that of Sal Buscema that made it harder to take on modern Cap tales.