Wednesday, August 19, 2015

September 1976 Part Two: Preeeeeeesenting... The Man Called NOVA!

Nova 1
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Sinnott

As a spacecraft, with a dying Centurion aboard, hurtles towards Earth, teenager Richard Rider blows a basketball game against girls (!), and is teased constantly by bully Mike. The Centurion, wanting to avenge the destruction of his planet, sends his powers to one who is worthy—could that be Richard? The young man is blasted by the rays and, while recovering in a Hempstead hospital, he's contacted by the yellow and black clad Centurion, who tells him he is now Nova-Prime, and must right the wrongs of the monster Zorr. Suddenly, Richard wakes up and causes a ruckus, then seems okay. At school the next day, his mind wanders but he appears smarter. Feeling pensive at home soon after, wondering why he's not changing like a real superhero, Richard suddenly feels power surging through him, changing into Nova!

Zooming into the skies of Manhattan in minutes (40 miles away), Nova soars through the skies, testing his powers, but realizing he has to use his new powers for good, not for selfish reasons. Picking up a police band alert, he comes upon big ugly Zorr, who is puzzled that Nova still lives, but vows to destroy him as he destroyed his world! As the two battle in the streets, Nova is in full hero mode, saving citizens and shooing away Richard Rider's friends who stray too close [cliché alert—one of many]. But just as he flies towards the alien, Zorr vanishes, having died when Centurion Nova-Prime perished in the orbiting spacecraft, which is waiting for a new master. And Richard Rider may be up to the task, vowing that "My powers must always be used for justice…no matter what the risk…no matter what the danger. For that is the destiny of—Nova!" --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "In the marvelous tradition of Spider-Man!" "Fabulous First Issue!" "Marvel's newest bombshell!" "Featuring the Human Rocket's power-packed origin!" Can you believe they fit all these hyperbole bursts on the front cover? Well, it must have flown off the shelves! But wait, the first page also says "We at Marvel suggest you sit back in a comfy chair, take off your shoes, and enjoy the power-packed origin of the most spectacular new hero you've ever been privileged to read." Um…..No.

First off, the "origin" is ripped off slightly from Green Lantern. Sorry, Marv. Zorr is a grade-C villain who vanishes and ends the battle with Nova before they can finish it themselves. The wistful ending is a bit "been there, done that" and doesn't really make me think of Spidey. But on the other hand, Marv sure tries super hard here, complete with an explanatory memo in the "Nova Newsline." Richard's transformation zips along at a fever pitch, sometimes too fast not to induce head scratching. Same with his realizing he has to use his powers for good. Can't beat up any bullies first? Oh well. Name-dropping Catfish Hunter and Woody Allen? Not bad. And of course, it's hard to top the Buscema-Sinnott pairing. They could draw the phone book and it would probably be a bestseller. Now, not having read many issues of Nova back when it was first published, I'm not sure if I'm in for a treat or the second coming of Ka-Zar. Based on issue #1, the needle ticks slightly towards the former. Let's hope it stays there. I'm not optimistic, though.

Matthew Bradley: Almost none of the new characters/strips/titles Marvel launched during this period was an immediate success, and they were fairly evenly divided between those I was forced to see go down in flames despite my devotion, and those the Kool-Aid compelled me to buy despite my disappointment.  Monthly from the get-go, the heavily touted Human Rocket falls firmly into the former camp and (befitting the primacy I place on words over images) notwithstanding the fact that the artwork devolved from the Buscema Brothers to one of my bêtes noires, Carmine Infantino, for fully 40% of his first solo book.  Creator Wolfman will not only script the entire run but also tie up the threads left dangling upon its cancellation during his concurrent FF tenure.

But I’m getting ahead of myself:  Marvel was wise enough to use my Buscinnott Dream Team on several debuts (e.g., Ms. Marvel), so this one looks suitably, uh, stellar, from the highly stimulating co-ed on the splash page to the hulking alien menace of Zorr.  In many ways, the alliterative Master Rider is clearly struck from the Peter Parker mold, and since Marv—who’d created the character for a fanzine years earlier, and developed him with Len Wein—is overtly hearkening back to simpler Silver-Age days, I won’t criticize the strip for what it neither is nor endeavors to be.  What it may lack in more sophisticated Bronze-Age tones, it makes up for with a progressively intricate mythology and cast of characters that I, for one, found quite compelling.

Chris Blake: From the outset, Marv establishes two principal orientations for this character: his powers originate from a mysterious, dying being from a far-away planet (which makes this origin story nearly identical to the one for Green Lantern); and, the character’s alter ego is grounded in an every-day reality that is shared by countless thousands of teenagers (almost like Marvel’s very own Peter Parker).  Well, I can tell you right now that I’m going to enjoy one aspect of these stories far more than the other.  

On the letters page, Marv tells us that he has wanted to establish a new title that would revive some of the fun of comics from years-gone-by; sorta like what Roy has succeeded in doing with the Invaders, right?  Well, that’s fine.  Marv is going to do this by reminding us that Rich Rider is a youngster, and a newcomer to super-heroing; the problem for me is going to come from Marv re-stating this point, in issue after issue – gee whiz! – for the next year or so.  Blue blazes, but it sure will get old after awhile, let me tell you.  He also will want you to care about Rich’s adolescent supporting cast, but I will not.  

By the time Marv figures this out and roots the title in space-based stories, Nova will be very close to its end.  I don’t remember what the quality of those stories was like; I’ll be left wondering whether a space-based Nova might’ve been good enough to keep this mag afloat.

Last thing: Marv, did you say that the Centurion’s ship is three times the size of Saturn?  Uh, do you have any idea how mind-shatteringly immense that would be?  Let’s put a number to it: tells me that the diameter of Saturn is over 72,000 miles – in other words, nearly 10X the size of our paltry earth, a mere 7900 miles wide.  Now, triple Saturn’s figure, and you have a spacecraft that is over 270,000 miles long.  And what’s the distance from the earth to the moon?  How about 238,900 miles.  And now you’re telling us, Marv, that this object is in earth orbit?! How is that even possible – there wouldn’t be enough room to fit the damn thing between the two celestial bodies.  Proof, yet again, that writers should not serve as their own editors (note: I must not have been the only one to take issue with this, since on the letters page for Nova #9, a sheepish armadillo admits that it was a mistake to claim that the Centurion’s large spacecraft could ever have been that large).

Iron Fist 7
“Iron Fist Must Die!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Al Milgrom

Too weak to resist after mind melding with Colleen Wing, Iron Fist is about to be beheaded by one of Master Khan’s soldiers — but Colleen recovers quicker and thrusts her scabbarded sword in the goon’s midsection. The Living Weapon regains his wind and rushes after Master Khan as Colleen takes on the remaining seven soldiers: she defeats them all and turns to face Angar the Screamer, the man who drove her father insane. Samurai sword now unsheathed, she slices through the villain’s belly. Meanwhile, back on Jeryn Hogarth’s jet, parked outside of the Jera’Ad Al-Din fortress, the lawyer informs Misty Knight that if Danny is killed during his rescue mission, he will inherit the Rand fortune. Misty threatens his life if anything happens to her friend. Back in the fortress, Iron Fist is attacked by Khumbala Bey, the former bodyguard of Princess Azir, now Khan’s champion. The martial arts master easily defeats the larger man and finally corners his prey. Khan’s spells have little effect on Iron Fist who seems to absorb their energy. However, the sorcerer’s last incantation, the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, binds the helpless hero. The evil mastermind reveals that he was once a peaceful practitioner of the mystic arts until the former ruler of Halwan killed his wife and young daughter. Khan asks Iron Fist to leave him to his vengeance: in return he will give the hero his heart’s desire, a return to K’un-Lun, a land only accessible once every ten years. The dark lord opens a dimensional gateway to Yu-Ti’s sanctorum and accuses the August Personage in Jade of plotting to kill his own brother, Danny’s father Wendell, if he had ever returned to the magical Shangri-La. And Khan makes an even more diabolical claim: Yu-Ti could have saved Danny’s mother from the wolves that slaughtered her in the Himalayans. Enraged, Rand smashes the gateway with his Iron Fist, causing a massive explosion that sucks Khan into its flaming vortex. Outside the citadel, Danny and Colleen reunite and head towards Hogarth’s plane.
-Thomas Flynn

Tom Flynn: So wait a second, are we supposed to think that Master Khan wasn’t really that bad of a guy, only heartbroken and misunderstood? The same Master Khan responsible for a healthy dose of murder and mayhem that dates back to Iron Fist’s run in Marvel Premiere? Come to think of it, now that this extended storyline is over, I’m not sure that we found out why Khan had Colleen kidnapped in the first place. Was it some convoluted plot to get Iron Fist to realize that his uncle, Yu-Ti, might not be on the up and up? Maybe I just missed something obvious and another Professor can set me straight. I’m also not sure why we need another appearance by the ho-hum Khumbala Bey. But perhaps Claremont didn’t want to introduce a new character who would get dispatched in just a single page. Regardless of all my complaints, this is a fast-paced and action-packed issue with [fill in the superlative] John Byrne art. I’m interested in seeing where the whole mind meld thing goes. On the last page, Colleen angrily states she and Danny now know each other’s “hopes, fears, loves, hates, needs, feelings, thoughts.” That’s a lot on their plates. No wonder that she’s seriously pissed. I find it hard enough to live with myself. By the way, it looks like, when given the chance, Danny would have remained in New York City instead of returning to K’un-Lun. Good choice if you ask me.

Matthew: To me, the overarching theme for the remainder of the blog/decade is how—amid the exits of Englehart and Starlin and gradual sidelining of Gerber—Claremont became the standard-bearer for whatever quality the waning Bronze Age represents, at least among the writing staff.  A fascinating subtheme is the seemingly arbitrary commercial fates of his books, such as this one, which clearly drove nobody away with its lustrous Byrne/Chiaramonte artwork, either.  This entry is exemplary in its seemingly effortless excellence, filled with balletic battles, Angar’s overdue comeuppance, Khan’s complex villainy, major revelations regarding K’un-Lun, the bittersweet “happy” ending, and that Colt .357 Python (I later learned) emblazoned “Monty.”

Chris: Intense, start to finish, with some really striking moments: Colleen saves Danny, with some nifty stop-motion illustration by Byrne (p 3); Colleen scythes thru Angar’s guards, as Byrne deftly shows her shifting her weight as she bobs and weaves (p 7); Colleen stares down Angar, before she cuts him down, and claims her vengeance (p 10, with nice use of shifting perspective in narrow panels); Misty expresses a range of feelings for Danny (p 14); Khan challenges Danny’s understanding of K’un-Lun, and Danny confronts Uncle Yu-Ti (p 26-27).  

I feel I’m only slightly closer to understanding why Khan kidnapped Colleen, so as to draw Danny to Halwan – was it so he could goad Danny into the face-off with Yu-Ti?  If so, what for – who gains from this?  Does Khan legitimately hope to provide Danny with insight to his former home?  If so, then how do we explain Colleen’s brainwashing so that she’s prepared to kill Danny, and the instructions to Khan’s minions (just a few pages ago) to have Danny beheaded?  Well, with Khan disappeared into a vortex (these things do happen), the answers remain tantalizingly out of reach.

Who put the Bey in Khuma-booma-bama-lama-bala Bey?  Who, whomever it might’ve been, I’m sure he wasn’t expecting the mighty (by some reports) would-be Hard Rock Café bouncer to be dispatched in little more than one page.  Bey fans who saw the cover and snapped up this issue by the dozens must have been sorely disappointed.  

Iron Man 90
"When Calls the Controller"
Story by Archie Goodwin and Jim Shooter
Art by George Tuska and Jack Abel
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby

With the Blood Brothers imprisoned in special cells at Ryker’s Island and New Jersey’s McGuire AFB, Iron Man heads for S.I. on his jet skates for repairs.  The hole they made in the rubble lets Scrounger gather enough derelicts to be affixed with slave discs and free the Controller, who’d returned from banishment in limbo when Thanos was defeated, like the fellow thralls he summoned with his cybernetic helmet.  At S.I., Iron Man extinguishes a suspicious fire (as O’Brien intercepts Key bearing the fruits of his industrial espionage), effects repairs, confirms with the Avengers that the Controller vanished from the same site in Captain Marvel #30, trails him to his old factory and wins the first round...but Scrounger activates production of more discs. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Jim Shooter, who scripts editor Goodwin’s plot here, told Kuljit Mithra in his Man Without Fear interview, “When I was hired as associate editor…I was promised freelance writing on the side.  Marvel, not renowned for keeping promises back then, reneged, because cutbacks caused a shortage of work.  A few tumultuous months later, after Gerry Conway quit as a contract writer/editor, leaving us in the lurch schedulewise on a number of titles, I was suddenly pressed into service….Most of the issues I wrote [at] that time were written literally overnight.  They probably read like it.  After the smoke cleared a little, I ended up with the regular assignments to write AvengersGhost Rider and Daredevil [and was] editing forty-five color comics a month...”

Gold in, gold out, and Archie gives him the best possible raw material to work with, still planting seeds he sadly won’t be around to harvest with the evolving O’Brien/Key alliance.  Now, Abel is never going to make Tuska look like a Buscema, but he seems to run a tighter ship than Colletta; not all of the faces are the typical Tuskaricatures (Thanos comes off well, even if the poor Beast does not) and, perhaps more important, his Iron Man somehow looks a little more ripped than George’s.  I love the explanation of how the Blood Brothers and the Controller—who I don’t think ever interacted during the Thanos War—hooked up, which is both clever and eminently logical, and we get a nice callback to Archie’s creation of my beloved Controller back in #12-13.

Jungle Action 23
The Black Panther in
"A Life on the Line"
(reprinted from Daredevil #69)
Cover by John Byrne and Dan Adkins

Chris:  As much as this reprint is unwelcome, it's also unexpected. On the letters page for JA #22, the ordinarily reliable armadillo had glowing reports about the artwork that already had arrived for the Panther chapter scheduled for this month. So, what went wrong? Was the final draft of Don's script held up? Finished art lost in the mail? Color separation snafu? Well, in any case, there hasn't been much momentum behind this story already, so it doesn’t help if you have to back it up for another two months. 

And what's the deal with the cover -- how generic can you get?  I mean, it’s nice that they threw some more work Byrne’s way, but is there anything about the art that makes you want to fling the cover open and dive in?  The copy sounds exciting enough ("Up Against the Wall, the Panther BATTLES as Never Before ..."), until you realize that it doesn't really mean anything. Disappointing. (Points only for the fact that they picked a solid Colan-art story as the reprint.)

Matthew: Here’s a juxtaposition:  the “Dreaded Deadline Doom” having struck again, this issue falls back on a straight reprint of Daredevil #69, while the Bullpen Page states, “we’ve managed to talk Jack Kirby into lending his titanic touch to yet another of our cavorting characters—one the King designed ’way back when he and Smilin’ Stan Lee produced our fabulous Fantastic Foursome.  We won’t tell you which book Jack is going to take over (we have to have some secrets, don’t we?), but we will tell you this—it’s going to be King working with King!”  You do the math.  Other items tout three of this month’s annuals, still referred to as Giant-Size titles; the current Captain America’s Bicentennial Battles; and the upcoming What If?

All the thin dimes we Marvel Zombies willingly threw
into the Fountain of Deadline Doom!

Master of Kung Fu 44
"Prelude: Golden Daggers (A Death Run)"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Jack Abel
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Buscema and Al Milgrom

Ducharme confirms that she is the same person Shang-Chi remembers from the court of his nefarious father, Fu Manchu.  In her youth, Ducharme loved a man named Pan Chen, who served as one of Fu’s assassins.  He was sent to kill Sir Denis and Dr Petrie; the mission failed, with Pan the only member of the attack team to survive.  He and Ducharme fled, but their freedom was short-lived; Fu caught up to them, and sentenced Pan to a cruel death.  Bereft and confused, Ducharme sought out Sir Denis, who recruited her to assist British Intelligence in opposition to Fu.  Ducharme won Fu’s trust, by providing Fu with some legit intel (provided by Sir Denis); he later provided her with his life-preserving elixir – the events Ducharme relates took place forty years earlier!  Larner traces the bombs to a manufacturer named Tarrant, based in Switzerland.  At the safe house, Sir Herbert informs S-C and Leiko that they will meet with Reston in Zurich, and intercept the Golden Dragon Sect at their local HQ in Lausanne.  The three split up, with Reston and S-C travelling by car, while Leiko takes a motorcycle.  Along their way, they all come under fire – as if their enemies knew just where to find them, undoubtedly tipped-off by the mole in Sir Denis’ agency.  Reston and S-C escape, but (unbeknownst to them) Leiko is captured.  Another trap is sprung at the Golden Dragon HQ, and once they’ve subdued their attackers, S-C angrily demands information of Leiko’s whereabouts (since she has not yet arrived, and must’ve fallen prey to another trap).  In London, Sir Denis and Petrie already have visited an injured Black Jack Tarr, but when they check on SD’s nephew Lancaster (aka Shock-Wave, subdued by S-C last issue), he begins to speak deliriously to Petrie about the bombs planted in the office.  SD reaches the awful conclusion – Petrie is the mole (possibly brainwashed by Fu during Petrie’s long captivity)!  Petrie shoots SD, and quickly plants the pistol on Lancaster.  In Lausanne, S-C learns that Leiko is marked for death, by order of his errant sister, Fah Lo Suee.  As Fah enters, she states that S-C had not heeded her warnings of the coming war between her and Fu, so now S-C will die as well. -Chris Blake

Chris: Action! Adventure! Romance! Fast Cars! Delirium! Pierogis! Intrigue! Gunplay! Betrayal! Exotic Locales! Family Conflict! Once again, MoKF has got it all!  (Okay, maybe not the pierogis.)  I can only hope that, to some extent, I’m able to convey some small degree of the excitement Doug & Paul pack into every issue.  It’s not like I can reproduce the entire text of the issue in every summary, so it’s challenging to find a way to pare it down to one long paragraph.  We typically compare this title to Bond movies and other adventure genres; another connection is that, just like any well-made film, there’s barely a moment that could be trimmed out.  

We can attribute the storytelling economy (in part) to Gulacy.  On the letters page, the armadillo-insider passes on a comment from Gulacy, who reports that at times he resorts to dense panel-packing, in part because “that Moench character insists in jamming too much stuff into his plots!”  In response, Moench describes how Gulacy re-works the plot elements, “omitting a lot of stuff.”  In this case, Gulacy has pushed back a “duel” scene, so that it now will appear in the next issue.  (Gulacy’s storytelling acumen might also explain why Moench has been able to refrain – mercifully – from his past reliance on panel-cluttering captions.)  The Marvel Method in action, right?

Mark: Brief announcement, class: as of this issue we're officially past anything I read during my silk-shirted, bong-bubbling youth. So while you all know – save maybe for Forbush – that I'm a big MoKF booster, this and all future lesson plans are now certified 100% nostalgia free.

And the timing couldn't be more propitious, as we dig into a prelude to "the six-part ultimate confrontation with Fu Manchu", which will also bring Paul Gulacy's run as the title's definitive artist to a close. Here's hoping for an epic Oedipal that doesn't require a pinch hit pencil more than maybe once.    

"Golden Daggers," even with it bursts of action, reads as a prelude, lots of entertaining backfill and setup. We travel Ducharme's long, twisted road in extended flashback: her lover killed by Fu's super-sized spiders, forty years ago, so she became FM's servant and concubine (with access to his youth elixir), all the while spying for Sir Denis as the now-exposed Agent D. Operatic and perfectly over the top.

Mark: No poster splash this time by Gulacy, but even the quiet scenes – Marlon and Sean (er, Reston and Larner) talking and smoking, a fat man in a dressing gown, pouring Champagne before his elegant fireplace - manage to generate an almost cinematic gravitas. The action stuff, while fine visually, is dulled by clichéd content. Moench and Gulacy have given us unforgettable sequences like the still-steaming bones of a freshly-incinerated mad scientist, cradled in the arms of a cuddly robot, but all they come up with here are two motorized shoot-outs, both marred by that hoariest of tropes: good guy with pistol beats bad guy with machine gun.

Glad Black Jack's still alive, although he shouldn't be, save for the hypnotized Petrie's bad ACME bombs. But his pistol seems to work fine, too, as he's just shot Sir Denis!

Marvel Feature 6
Red Sonja She-Devil with a Sword in
“Beware the Sacred Sons of Set!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art and Letters by Frank Thorne
Colors by George Roussos
Cover by Frank Thorne

Riding toward Argos, Red Sonja is attacked by two men with the heads of jackals. At first she thinks they wear masks, but after killing both she discovers that they are true beast-men. Continuing on, the She-Devil comes across the well-appointed caravan of Karanthes, once of Stygia, now of Nemedia. The priest informs the Hyrkanian hellcat that he was exiled from his homeland for worshipping the bird-like Ibis instead of Set, the favored Stygian serpent-god. He offers Sonja a huge gem if she can acquire the page stolen from the mystic iron-bound Book of Skelos that is now on display in a temple in the Argossean capital of Messantia. The red-haired heroine agrees and rides off. Attempting to steal into the temple through the sewers running underneath the city, Red Sonja is once again attacked by beast-men, this time three, these with the heads and tails of alligators. After dispatching the trio — one with her sword, the second drowned in a fetid whirlpool, the last with a dagger — the woman warrior find her way into the temple, only to discover her old compatriot Conan and his mate Bêlit, the Queen of the Black Coast, about to steal the valuable page for themselves. -Thomas Flynn

Tom: As mentioned in my coverage of this month’s Conan the Barbarian #66, Roy Thomas wrote both issues, here replacing Bruce Jones who had admirably handled Marvel Feature since the second issue. To Roy’s credit, he continues Jones’ style, making this story much more horrific and atmospheric than what he created in the basically straightforward Conan companion. The jackal- and alligator-men are loathsome creations, menacingly brought to life by the talented pencils and inks of Frank Thorne — though Sonja rather easily knocks off the canine creatures. She has a much more difficult time with the reptile monsters, bravely battling them across seven pages. The alligator assassins seem to have a master, a shadowy figure only briefly shown. While still unmistakably Thorne, Fightin’ Frank tries to capture Big John’s spirit with his Conan illustration on the last page. There’s only one more issue of the resurrected Marvel Feature left — but Sonja will continue on after with her self-titled solo series. This excellent storyline, however, will continue next month in Conan the Barbarian #67.

Marvel Team-Up 49
Spider-Man and Iron Man in
"Madness is All in the Mind!
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Aubrey Bradford

As a kindly cabbie helps Iron Man recover from the blast that blew him down through the street, Spidey endures mental manipulation, but breaks free when the Wraith—who can control only one mind at a time—turns his attention to Jean.  Iron Man’s intercession prevents her from shooting Spidey, and after the Wraith flees under cover of a smokescreen, the 37th Precinct is visited by her father, sexist ex-Commisioner Phillip DeWolff, who feels that her brother, Brian, should have held her job.  He bears a note from the Wraith to that effect, written in Brian’s own hand, and once Phillip has left, Jean explains that Brian has been missing and presumed dead after a shootout, prompting IM to suggest the aid of an expert in the supernatural. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Clearly, the DeWolff clan is about as dysfunctional as they come, and the opportunity to explore them in some depth—e.g., shedding light on Jean’s extreme aversion to sexism—is yet another advantage the long-form story has over the traditional MTU done-in-one.  Since I don’t recall off the top of my head, I can think of several possible reasons why the Wraith didn’t trigger Peter’s Spider-Sense, although its explanation in this month’s Amazing (it “does not warn our hero of his enemies, it warns him of imminent danger!”) is certainly not consistent with the Marvel canon overall.  Time will tell; meanwhile, the Buscemosito artwork is largely beyond reproach, but at the risk of belaboring the obvious, Shellhead’s armor shouldn’t sweat, as seen in page 2, panel 2 (left).

Joe: The plot doth thicken in this second part of the Wraith saga. It's a bit too melodramatic at times, with the Wraith's mind control powers toying with Jean and monkeying with our wall-crawling lead, with powers that rival the Hulk's. (Not my words!) And there's mystery afoot with the strange letter in brother Brian's handwriting, and the arrogant father who obviously dislikes his daughter. Nicely done all around, with the usual stellar art by Our Pal Sal, and story by the dozens that has the reader wanting more for sure! Well, this reader anyways. The 9-year-old me, certainly.

Marvel Two-In-One 19
The Thing and Tigra in
"Claws of the Cougar!"
Story by Tony Isabella and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Don Heck
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

With the defense system damaged by Ben, Tigra enters his room to ask for help against the Cougar, a renegade Cat Person who retrieved the fallen Tomazooma’s null-bands (in FF #80).  After defeating his henchmen, who know Tigra is after their boss, our heroes use Reed’s gizmos to trace the bands to the Cougar’s human guise of scientist Curt Ranklin—the employee/fiancé of Sheila Conklin—only to be gassed and trapped.  The Cougar plans to use the bands to tap Ben’s might and increase his own, yet a power shutdown interrupts the process, also freeing the captives, and after Curt sheds his human form to battle them he is shot by Sheila, who hired him to save Conklin Industries from bankruptcy, but saw him twisted by the lust for power. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Man, Bill just can’t get up a head of steam on this book, still chalked up to uncertainty over the duration of his stint, and indeed, he’ll only be around for a few more issues after Roy’s Liberty Legion digression.  I’m sure my colleagues will gleefully blame any problems here on lame-tiger—er, lame-duck—Isabella, from whom they will be free until just shy of blog’s end; if you ask me, however suitable Tigra’s creator may be to plot this (as with Edelman last time), there’s plenty of blame to go around.  As expected, the chemistry between Ben and Greer is pretty good, but that between Buscema and Heck, not so much, resulting in a particularly dire Thing in page 2, panel 4, while the story is so sloppy that page 17 erroneously refers to them as “Nega-Bands.”

Peter Enfantino: Every now and then, I'm amazed at how "behind-the-scenes" the letters pages can be. While not really going into the dirt we now know was going on at the Marvel offices, there was, at times, an openness between the editor and the reader. As Prof. Matthew alludes to above, there were some major upheavals going on behind the fourth-floor door marked Marvel Two-In-One (you can still see the original Marvel Two-For-One title underneath the bright white lettering) and this month's letters page hints at the musical chairs and senior staff shenanigans. That letters page can be viewed at the bottom of this post.

Marvel Two-In-One Annual 1
The Thing and The Liberty Legion in
"Their Name is Legion!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema, Sam Grainger, John Tartaglione, and George Roussos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Convinced by the Watcher’s reappearance that the missing half of the vibranium caused another crisis, Ben is forced by his silence to play “twenty questions”; guided by subtle changes in Uatu’s expression, he deduces that a “time wedge” split the cylinder in two, and returns to 1942 in search of the remainder.  He lands in Times Square, observed by a young “Johnny” Romita, and is trying to persuade the police of his bona fides when a septet of Stukas attacks, commanded by the Nazi Skyshark, who is accompanied by Japanese agent Slicer.  Ben climbs to the top of the Times Building (later the Allied Chemical Tower), where he meets the Patriot and the Whizzer, while the rest of the Liberty Legion downs all but Skyshark’s Stuka.

Having secured the time machine, the Legion tells Ben that they have been asked to protect some weapons being developed upstate, whence the Stukas are presumed to have come, as Skyshark lands on a metal platform floating in the Atlantic and shows Slicer their own secret weapon.  The Whizzer, Miss America, and Blue Diamond fail to prevent Master Man from stealing a cockpit resistant to friction and high speeds; Red Raven and Jack Frost also strike out as U-Man grabs a prototype jet engine.  Skyshark eludes the Thin Man’s plane after strafing a scientist working on an experimental gyroscope, but as Bruce and the Patriot take the wounded man to safety, Ben uses a flagpole to launch himself at a gigantic, jet-propelled swastika.  (Continued in MTIO #20.) -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The equivalent of three monthly issues—five, counting FF Annual #11—this arc is a case where more really is more.  Although they’re still not carrying a mag all by themselves, and never will in the Bronze Age, the Legion gets more of a chance to shine opposite only one co-star, with whom they interact beautifully, and shine they do; at the hands of Our Pal Sal and his (Tar)tag-team inkers, including Grainger and Roussos, they look better than they ever did under Robbins et al.  Pitting them against the inaugural Invaders rogues’ gallery of Master Man, U-Man, and Brain Drain (stay tuned), now enhanced with Skyshark, is inspired, providing them an opposition with built-in recognition and appeal, and Ben’s byplay with the Watcher is, as ever, entertaining.

Chris: Anyone who can explain how this is a legitimate team-up-in-one story will have earned some sort of prize.  And I don’t mean no fake-out no-prize, neither – I mean something suitable for framing, or to stand on the mantelpiece.  The Thing’s nearly inconsequential involvement with the story leads me to suspect that this might’ve started out as a Spotlight or Premiere type story, or maybe an Invaders add-on or fill-in, which then somehow morphed into its present form.  The story is very disjointed, and the last two pages – which even include an acknowledgement by Roy that Ben is supposed to be the star of the title – feel very tacked-on.

Chris: Ben’s insistence that he has to settle this matter himself, to the point where he feels it necessary to seal himself behind an impenetrable door apart from the rest of the team, makes no sense at all; this kind of behavior is way beyond Ben’s typical degree of hot-headedness.  He’s supposed to have returned, moments before, from a fight that required the combined might of both the FF and the Invaders, but now it’s his solo fight -?  I will say that I enjoy Ben’s “twenty questions” method of divining information from the Watcher, especially since Sal does such a nice job with the subtle flickers across Uatu’s ordinarily stony face.  

Omega the Unknown 4
"Cats and No Dogs!"
Story by Mary Skrenes and Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Mooney and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Ray Holloway, and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Howard Chaykin and Frank Giacoia

Omega (formerly the Unknown) stands under the 59th Street Bridge, feelin' groovy and contemplating this big blue ball he's become fond of. Turns out the Big O (as the girls call him) has picked just the right time to ponder under this huge concrete chasm-spanner since this is the time Teresa Mendez picks to end her life. Having none of that, O swoops to the girl's rescue and hurries her to Gramps' place. Meanwhile, James-Michael and his friends, Dian and John, are still having problems with bullies at school and, after an altercation involving a science teacher and a sabotaged class experiment, the heavies turn violent. Back at Gramps' crib, Teresa has regained consciousness and tells the boys her sad, sad story: she crossed a man with special powers (a brujo), a man known to the neighborhood as... El Gato (The Cat!) and was marked for death. Since then, her life has been a series of near misses and fatalities. Anyone who gets close to her ends up muerto (not alive) so she decided to end it all. Sobbing, she ends her tale with a sigh and a warning to stay clear. Gramps tells O to take a walk, he'll do the cleaning up, but while the Unknown is out strolling, El Gato comes a-callin'! The vicious fiend escorts Teresa to his waiting limo but O comes to the rescue, battling with the mad magician, who reveals his secret power: he can control all the alley cats in New York! O is nearly torn to pieces until Gramps turns the hose on the pussies. El Gato smiles and tells O that if Teresa wants to leave, she is free to go but the girl astonishes everyone by claiming she's going back with The Cat under her own free will. As the limo drives off, Gramps has an epiphany: "By cracky, that there girl's been hypmo-tized!!" -Peter Enfantino

Peter: There's a queer fascination I have with this series now. It's the delicious disrespect I have for the writing of Skerber that keeps me turning these pages, looking for more eye-rolling two-paragraph descriptions of simple acts. The first three and a half pages are dialogue free so Skerber has a virtual acre of sustainable land in which to sew their seeds of nuttiness:

Perhaps it was merely the intended result of the homeworld's highly structured socialization process. After all he has noticed  in himself the inchoate stirring of unfamiliar feelings which, he presumes, must approximate emotion.

Can you just picture a group of ten-year-olds at school recess discussing Omega the Unknown and its deep, humanistic recesses? Nah. Despite the entertainment value in Skerber's meandering muses and head-scratching dialogue (I have no idea what Dian means when she tells James-Michael that "Nobody makes off with this kid's heart. I don't even loan it out without collateral."), I'm still not seeing a point to the proceedings. Nothing seems to be heading down Sensible Street to The Goal, leaving us nothing but a few guffaws and a hero in a generic costume. The only bit of Steve Gerber that escapes the murky blackness of "co-writer" is a villain who can command hundreds of feral cats. A leftover from Man-Thing, perhaps?

Matthew: Despite the unfortunate cover tagline evoking a controversial Mexican exploitation film, the notorious René Cardona, Jr.’s Night of a Thousand Cats (reputedly replete with actual animal abuse—is that really the association you wanted, guys?), I was a little more taken with El Gato than expected, even if that is setting the bar relatively low.  Gerber and Skrenes have invested him with a fair degree of charisma, and one is inclined to cheer when Teresa defies him at the funeral:  “Address your bill to the spirit world, El Gato!”  However, I should have known from his misspelled name not to get my hopes up when I saw that Pablo “Marcus” had inked Jim’s work, because to my untrained eye, it looks like pretty pure Madman.

Luke Cage, Power Man 35
"Of Memories, Both Vicious and Haunting"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Don McGregor
Art by Marie Severin, Joe Giella, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Marie Severin and Dan Adkins

Luke Cage, Power Hero Man for Hire, is one upset dude and when you cross him, the stuff's gonna hit the fan. So it's no surprise when Luke gets antsy and tears the doors off a subway train that's a little tardy in opening. Arriving at last at the scene of last issue's carnage, Luke discovers a half-dead Noah and a suspicious bunch of cops. The police haul Cage in for questioning but his buddy, Lt. Chase, is there to cool things down. While being questioned, The Mangler is rescued from custody by his brother, Spear, and the pair successfully leave Cage in their dust. Visiting Noah in the hospital, Luke is finally given the 411 on what went down with The Mangler and Spear when the doctor worked in the prison ward. A third brother, Jack Daniels (!) lay dying in the ward and Noah thought he could help him with an experimental treatment, but to no avail, and the family held the doc responsible for Jack's death. With a tip on the whereabouts of Spear, Cage and Chase head to Midtown for a showdown with two mean muthas. After a lengthy fist fight atop a traveling bus, Luke Cage gets his man and Across 110th Street plays over the end credits. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Forgive me, fellow MU brethren for what I'm about to say but... I can't.... seriously, I can't.... oh, all right... I miss Frank Robbins! There I said it. But let me explain before you all laugh and throw rotten vegetables at me. Robbins' quirky, jerky, twirky rubber rhythm somehow fit this blaxploitation celebration in a way that no other artist could. Severin and pals submit palatable, if pedestrian, visuals but there's no flow, no excitement, no "holy jesus, will you look at that!?" Call me a nut - hell, I am a nut - but this title needs, no begs, for a wonky artist like Frank Robbins. I'm not saying the substitution threw McGregor off his game but I did notice a sizable drop in the fun factor. The wrap-up of the Spear/Mangler case is a bit hurried and anticlimactic, unfortunately. Even the soda machine shenanigans were a bit off this time out. And don't look now but, after a Deadline Doom reprint next issue, a whole new team comes storming in. I don't like change in a strip I'm diggin'. Like Pam Grier said in the immortal Black Mama, White Mama, "Some jive-ass revolution don't mean shit to me!"

Just imagine what Frank Robbins could have done with the
scene of Luke landing on the trash bin!

Skull the Slayer 7
"Bury My Heart in the City of Gold"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Karen Mantlo
Cover by Ron Wilson and Klaus Janson

Scully and his comrades arrive at the temple in the City of Gold but  it quickly becomes clear, like so much in this crazy prehistoric world, that all is not what it appears. The friendly Aztecs who had brought our heroes to the City of Gold suddenly turn on them and their leader reveals that he speaks English! Back in the "real world," Lancer tells Senator Turner that their deal (Lancer would track Scully and bring the Senator's son, Jeff, back to him safely) is off but Turner is persuasive and the two strike an uneasy bargain. Lancer brings the Senator to a hidden warehouse where he's keeping a fleet of jets all gassed up and ready to soar into dinosaur country. Back at the temple, Scully's friends are dumped into a pit with a carnivorous pterodactyl but Ann proves she's more than just a great set of breasts when she takes the bird out with one well-tossed grenade. After dispatching a wily stegosaurus, Scully arrives back at the temple just in time for the Aztec leader to remove his helmet and introduce himself. Scully and Co. come face to half-face with Capt. Victor Cochran, USN, stranded in the Savage Land II for 37 years! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Lancer's motivation for his hate of Scully - that he wants to get The Slayer before The Slayer gets him - is a bit outlandish since Scully is effectively out of the picture, dodging T. Rexes in the Savage Land II. Why tip the apple cart looking for trouble? Bill Mantlo manages to keep interest up and leaves us with enough suspense with the final panel reveal that this Professor wouldn't mind jumping immediately into the final issue. Here's hoping "Angry Young Man"-tlo finds a way to avoid tying up loose ends somehwere down the line in Marvel Dustbin Presents although a Marvel Misunderstanding Team-Up Featuring Ka-Zar and Skull only seems natural.

The Mighty Thor 251
"To Hela and Back"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Condoy
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Thor is very worried about his father's whereabouts. When even the Vizier can't find Odin among the stars, the Thunder God fears the worst--that his father hath perished! He feels he has no choice but to invade the realm of death: Valhalla. This despite the fact its mistress Hela has often longed for his soul. Leaving his beloved friends in charge, Thor rides forth. After piercing the Mists of Midnight, the gateway to Hela's realm, his steed dies of fear. He proceeds on foot and soon is met by his former foe Harokin the Barbarian, and a slew of warriors. Initially thrilled he has joined them, Harokin and company feel much more ire when they realize Thor has no intention of staying. Their welcome turns to anger, and Thor faces  quite a battle. The considerable challenge is halted instantly when the Death Goddess herself arrives. She confirms that Odin is not present in her realm, even letting Thor go his own way. She wants him, but in her own sweet time... -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Hela is one of those characters in the Thor world who wouldn't fit in any other mag. Thus her appearance is a promise of great things. For the most part, those expectations are fulfilled here, even if Hela lets Thor depart unresisted. Harokin brings us back to the classic issues of the sixties, even if the battle is pointless. But isn't that the point in Valhalla? Interesting appearance by Grombar, one of Odin's old pals.  Hela's presence always humbles others; even in letting Thor go she seems to have the upper hand. Nice, if misleading, Jack Kirby cover.

Chris: Average issue, with some fairly routine battling.  It’s okay; when you’ve come out of one big story – or, more accurately, a series of stories that tied together in #249-250 – it’s reasonable to expect the new direction to start off slowly.  Based on her reception, I had expected Hela to give Thor more difficulty about his return to the land of the living.  I stand by what I’d said last time about De Zuniga’s inks here; not really doing it for me.  Two very different art highlights: the care-worn faces of Thor and Sif (p 3, pnl 6), and a big, big smash (p 14, 1st pnl).

Matthew: Sure, I could quibble over little things, like Len’s reference in page 22, panel 1 to “the supine spine of the lady Sif,” who is clearly standing up rather than “lying on the back” (per Merriam-Webster), or the tell-tale raccoon eyes that DeZuniga once again gives to Thor in page 26, panel 1.  Yet despite the differing outcome, my main reservation regarding this issue was the overwhelming feeling that Gerry Conway had, at least to some degree, taken us down this road before.  Sure enough, I didn’t have to dig very deeply to confirm that c. #200, Thor confronted Hela over the fate of a supposedly dead Odin, but no matter; it’s a perfectly good storyline, and (the double shiners notwithstanding) Tony probably ranks among Big John’s better embellishers.

The Mighty Thor Annual 5
"The War of the Gods!"
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe and San Jose
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The dawn of the Asgardian gods is a lengthy story, including  the Frost Giant Ymir, Buri the first god, and the lands of Niffelheim , Muspelsheim and Midgard. After Odin and his fellows had built Asgard as their home, they go about creating more life, including the first humans, Aske and Embla. When Thor (Odin's son of course!) ventures to Earth, he finds a battle between his own Asgardian warriors and those from a realm called Olympus. The mightiest of them is a match for Thor--Hercules. A formal battle is called, although neither Odin nor Zeus condones it. Some mischief  by Loki prompts Zeus to embrace the battle. It is a fierce one, with many casualties on both sides. Odin and Zeus watch from afar, both understanding that a painful lesson of humility and understanding will be learned by all. Asgard "triumphs" but neither side really wins. Odin explains this to his son who eventually embraces the lesson learned. -Jim Barwise

Jim: It had been a long ten years since a fully original annual had hit the news stands (featuring the dreaded Destroyer) with Thor's name on it. It appears that in 1976, Marvel took that drought seriously. No surprise then that Steve Englehart was chosen to write the comeback issue. And he does it very well, addressing the historical aspect of the Norse myths leading up to Thor's time. A battle between two characters of Hercules and Thor's stature is always fascinating, as is that of their fellow men. The rather lengthy introduction of the origin of the gods themselves is an intriguing background for both sides in this battle. How like Odin to sit back and watch; it appears Zeus is the same! Some nice John Buscema artwork to fill it out.

Matthew: Per Englehart’s website, “I had dropped Captain America with great reluctance because I was offered a monthly, black & white magazine chronicling the mythological adventures of Thor, with John Buscema art.  Unfortunately, in one of those things that just happen in life, publishing plans changed and Thor the Mighty was shelved.  Its inaugural story [inked by Tony DeZuniga] eventually appeared, cropped and in color, in the following year’s Thor Annual.  The result is a curious beast, a bit like Stainless and Big John’s version of “Tales of Asgard” on steroids.  Of course, Steve had written Thor himself in Avengers for years, but this is obviously a change of pace for him, whereas John is on familiar ground, and the artwork soars.

Chris: If there’s an advantage to presenting an “untold story” for this character, it’s that you don’t have to concern yourself too much with possible continuity violations.  Steve E takes us back to the beginnings of everything, which might make this the earliest Thor tale on record.  That also means that Thor and Odin have had several millennia-worth of disagreements; doesn’t it ever get old for you two?  The tussle with Herc is pretty great, and fittingly (thanks to a wise call on the part of a young Thor) ends in a draw; I for one was glad that the wrasslin-of-the-gods didn’t carry on for the entire story.  Crafty ploy by Steve to tell us that both the Norse and Athenian populaces had been led to believe that their own sides had prevailed; at the same time, does this provide another lesson on the futility of conflict -?

De Zuniga is not my favorite finisher for Big John; he certainly has his moments, but that’s part of the problem – I find the results inconsistent, sometimes looking as lush and full as Palmer, other times as scratchy and indistinct as Colletta after an all-night poker session.  Still, here are a few highlights: Asgard, looking monumental, palatial (p 5); Thor hurtling into the fray (p 15); the commencement of the battle (p 30-31); the boulder-scattering second clash of titans (p 34); Thor, in silhouette, surveying the cost of war (above).

The Tomb of Dracula 48
"A Song for Marianne/ Lost: One Vampire/
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

A vampiress named Marianne tells the story of how she became afflicted and how she crossed paths with the Lord of the Vampires three times. As a child, Dracula attacked and converted Marianne's father and she was forced to care for him, shackling him in a basement and bringing him bottles of blood. As a teenager, Marianne is confronted by the Count but saved by her father. The vampires battle but Dracula proves too strong and her father is reduced to ashes. Years later, married and living in Rome, the girl must watch once again as Dracula takes someone she loves, this time her husband. Unable to live without him, Marianne convinces her husband to drink her blood and transform her into one of the undead. When she finishes her monologue, we learn she's relating her story to Dracula and his bride. Days before, Blade had staked her husband while they were raiding a blood bank. Marianne has come here to beg Dracula to kill her. He happily complies. Meanwhile, Blade and Hannibal King are convinced they've cornered super vampire Deacon Frost but, when they kick a door down, they've found an entirely new menace: a vampire twin of Blade! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: While it's not got that stinky, moldy smell that comes with a Deadline Doom placeholder story, it sure has that vibe. Marianne's story is an interesting enough one but it's a side trip from the plot threads we've been enjoying of late. An argument could be made that "Marianne" is one of those "Save it for a Rainy Day" fill-ins that began to crop up about this time. Sure, we get one page of Drac and his wife and the final panel, of Blade's Big Surprise, is a corker but, otherwise, this is one I could have skipped.

Chris: Marv finally – finally! – gives us significant development on the Blade/King hunt for Deacon Frost; but, it’s only two measly pages, with a huge cliffhanger.  I would’ve been very happy with an entire issue devoted to their search, but for some reason, Marv continues to rein-in his account of this potentially-compelling partnership.  Their two pages are one less than the three that are spent on mopey and dopey time starring Frank, Harold, and Aurora.  I can see how Quincy’s tired heart might give out; no chance at all of catching Dracula, with this crew.

Chris: The other consideration is that Marv might be holding back a little, as he prepares for a bigger splash in Vlad’s story next issue.  There’s really no other way to explain the appearance of Marianne’s woeful tale at this time; my only guess is that this story might’ve been slated for a b&w mag, and then wound up being inserted here.  I’m not going to complain about the story itself; although, anyone who might have had the grave misfortune of encountering Dracula three times in her life (and then once again in her undeadedness) would’ve had to have some of the worst luck in history.  The last moment, as we recognize that Marianne has come to Count Vlad – the cause of the most profound moments of misfortune in her existence – to ask him to finish her, is a truly bitter irony.   

Mark: The classic cover of Vlad about to feast also tub-thumps a "trilogy of fear!" Marv has gone the anthology route before, but this time foregoes the connective tissue of vignettes presented as entries in the Count's journal. He makes no attempt to link them at all, using interior titles – "LOST:ONE VAMPIRE!" – to cut among disconnected scenes.

The long opener, "A Song For Marianne!" is a gem, recounting the misfortune of one of history's unluckiest women, her life thrice darkened by Dracula's long shadow, across decades and half of Europe. During the last encounter, Rome, 1926, the Count killed her husband in front of her, as he'd done with her father twice before.

The lovely twist is that Marianne and hubby, after his return three days later, had become an undead couple for the ages, "never leaving each others' side for fifty years." Until, robbing hospital blood, they ran into Blade, returning us to the present...

And Marianne, left alone again, has found her way to the Count, stake in hand, seeking release. While he's never been one for sentiment (other than his own), the newly-wed Drac sounds downright domesticated, "...with my wife Dommi at my side, I can understand such things," he says then, off-camera, grants her final wish.
It's such a strong entrée, presented with Gene Colan and Tom Palmer's standard superlative art – that it seems  almost churlish to nitpick the side dishes. The Quincy and crew scene is fine; Harold gets a kiss from Aurora, as pre-payment for his joining Frank in sniffing out Drac's hideout. Rachel, watching them drive off in Harold's jalopy, doesn't think much of her beau's new machismo. Quincy survives a minor cardiac event.It's the final two pages, "Doppelganger!!" that had me lurching out of my seat.  We're finally back to Blade and Hannibal King, on the hunt for Deacon Frost. Blade goes blundering in, his standard full-frontal attack, but wait a minute, that's not the white-haired old demon...

It's Blade's...vampire double?  

Okay, Wolfman, what the suck?   

Werewolf by Night 40
"Souls in Darkness"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by Jan Cohen
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Tom Palmer

Brother Voodoo sends brother Daniel's soul into a smug Dr. Glitternight, but the bald baddie taints it with evil and sends it back into BV, as a monstrous melee ensues with Werewolf and friends against Glitternight's ghoulish goons. BV erects a wall of flame to separate Glitternight from Topaz, but too late to stop the capture of Topaz and Coker. The false zuvembies are defeated, Brother Voodoo somehow manages to exorcise the evil from his brother's spirit, then he and Jack head into the pit of monsters, with Jack turning back into Werewolf and the two enveloped with green vapor. Suddenly, The Three Who Are All appear, replaying a battle they had with Glitternight on a plane of alternate reality, where they defeated him and he was flung to Earth, with the only way to defeat him involving death. Lt. Northrup shows up to Devil's Grotto and is snatched by one of the pit monsters. BV and Jack-Wolf come upon a strange black egg, which traps Jack and Daniel inside. As they explore, they see zuvembies being created and light-demons stalking them, so Jack changes into Werewolf by himself (courtesy of some advice from TTWAA). The Glitternight shows up, unleashing a demonic Topaz on our heroes! -Joe Tura

Joe: And we're back to issues that are so strange that we can't really summarize them correctly. Seriously, this one is loopy from start to finish, starting with that stupid Glitternight coming back. But we do learn he's some kind of powerful entity that battled The Three Who Are All and lost, sending him to wreak his hairless havoc on our precious Earth. Great. And now he's turned Topaz into a "wicked harpy straight from his corrupt soul" which is never good! Can Jack and spirit Daniel survive? Well, we're promised next issue will include "The final phase of the Werewolf's big change—and the first chapter of the new, revitalized Werewolf By Night series-in the sizzling shocker called: AND DEATH SHALL BE THE CHANGE!" That settles that!

Meantime, besides being a kook-fest, this issue is the usual caption-heavy Moench script paired with odd Perlin art that could only suit this title. This series has certainly come a long way, which doesn't mean it started from bad and got good, just that it's been a loooooong journey to get to issue #40. The color-by-numbers demons, which Jack-Wolf hilariously calls "you pack of ugly bizarros", look alternately like walruses, apes, and sasquatches, and really don't appear threatening. But don't tell poor Lt. Northrup! Let's see if next issue lives up to the self-imposed hype. As long as Glitternight is gone, that is.

Chris: The issue gamely fights its way along (past Doug’s lapse, amid the early pages, into past habits of over-captioning, and slang-slinging by young Jack), until finally, we learn a few things about the Three Who Are All.  Jack’s ability to force the transformation, and to retain control of the Werewolf, both are welcome changes.  We’re still left to wonder what the “change which will involve death” might be, and as Jack insists, “whose death?”  But that will have to wait until next time, won’t it?

Overall, these last two issues haven’t been nearly as interesting as the Marcosa story and its immediate aftermath, but Doug and Don built up sufficient good will during that run, so I’m willing to stick with it.   

Also This Month

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes #8
Chamber of Chills #24
FOOM #15
Kid Colt Outlaw #210
Marvel's Greatest Comics #65
Marvel Super-Heroes #59
Marvel Tales #71
Marvel Triple Action #31
Mighty Marvel Western #46 (Final Issue)
Rawhide Kid #135
Ringo Kid #29
Sgt Fury #135
Strange Tales #187
Tomb of Darkness #22
Two-Gun Kid #132


Marvel Treasury Special
Captain America's Bicentennial Battles
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, Barry Windsor-Smith (Part 1), Herb Trimpe (Parts 1-4) John Verpoorten (Parts 3,4) John Romita (Part 4), Dan Adkins (Parts 4,5)
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby, Marie Severin, and John Romita

Chapter One: Mr. Buda

Captain America is compelled to accept the invitation to visit the enigmatic Mr. Buda, who sits silently in a strange Energy Pyramid. His astral form arrives and rejoins his physical body. He introduces himself as a master in the art of sorcery and proposes that Cap view the people of America in a boldly different way. As the Nation’s symbol, he is perfectly suited. Cap effuses, but as he leaves he is transported into a weird maze of corridors. Most lead to dead ends, with only one opening in the floor being his potential for escape. He plunges through, landing in Nazi Germany. He is shocked to see his long-dead young partner Bucky being brutally interrogated by Adolf Hitler himself! The Red Skull lurks behind, but Cap fights them all off and rescues Bucky. He loses Bucky in the thicket outside and returns to the residence of Mr. Buda. Cap refuses to believe he actually traveled back in time, but Buda insists it was no trick and that Cap truly enjoyed fighting alongside his youthful partner again. Still, Cap declines the offer to a bizarre tour of America and, shaking Buda’s hand, takes his leave. However, Buda has planted a psychic talisman on the hero, which sends Cap on his strange journey, like it or not.  As the talisman begins to work, Cap sees strange visions and runs into the street, thinking they will pass.

Chapter Two: The Lost Super-Hero

Cap hails a cab and heads for a bicentennial luncheon where he is scheduled to deliver an address. Then Cap notices the talisman and his journey begins. He finds himself in a horse-drawn coach in Philadelphia in the year 1776. He causes a stir among the populace and draws the curiosity of the local newspaper editor, Benjamin Franklin, who invites Cap inside. Franklin has Betsy Ross summoned to join them and she sketches the first design of the American Flag. Cap freaks out when he realizes he was the inspiration behind Old Glory. He runs out and finds himself in the era of the Great Depression. He attacks some hoods who rough up a paperboy. Then, the talisman in his palm glows and he is transported away.

Chapter Three: My Fellow Americans!

Cap is now in Injun Territory, where his costume raises the ire of the Indians nearby. He is attacked, but before he is shot, the chief – Geronimo - orders his braves to hold their fire. Cap convinces the Indian he is a man of peace, but realizes the American troops are massing an attack and he is caught between. Geronimo agrees to leave in peace, but the troops advance, refusing to stop in spite of Cap’s pleas. He is then whisked away again, appearing in a collapsed mine with a group of trapped miners in Kentucky. As air runs out and gas enters the space, they lose hope, but Cap, using his shield and strength breaks them free. When they try to thank him, they find that the strangely garbed man has vanished.

Chapter Four: Stop Here for Glory!

Cap is now in a bi-plane being shot at by a German WWI flying ace. Cap is able to out-maneuver him, but crashes into a dirigible. He appears at the feet of Mr. Buda. Cap, livid at all this hocus pocus, has to endure taunts from Buda about his integrity. Then he is transported again, this time appearing in the ring with John L. Sullivan. He is able to knock out the legendary boxer just as the police arrive to stop the still illegal fights. Cap vanishes again, this time landing between a group of bounty hunters trying to take a young slave out of free territory. This is witnessed by a young boy who fires a shot that gives Cap and the slave a chance to fight back. As they win, Cap and the slave go their separate ways. The boy’s father, John Brown, arrives to collect the slavers and bring them to the law. As Cap rides a horse through the Badlands, the animal is spooked by a scurrying lizard and Cap is thrown. He is met by a jeep and he realizes that he is now in 1945 and about to witness the first atom bomb test. Once it ignites, he is transported yet again, this time to Chicago in 1871, the night of the great fire. He helps various citizens to safety and dives into the water to save a drowning man and, courtesy of Mr. Buda, finds himself brought into an undersea research station on the Continental shelf. He is then brought back to see Buda, where Cap declares he has seen nothing new. This is America as he has always known it. Buda sends him away once more, for there is much left to learn…

Chapter Five: The Face of the Future!

Cap appears on the moon and witnesses space-suited men in battle. This is the future and wars will be fought in space. Then, he is taken back to Earth, this time to a movie set in Hollywood, where he is placed into the huge finale of a sing and dance picture. At the end of his rope, he calls out to Buda to show himself and take him to see the true spirit of America. Buda does so and after a few short side trips, he finally reaches the climax of his long, arduous journey. A neighborhood teeming with boys and girls of various ages and races, each stating what they want to be and how anything is possible. Thanks to the fighting and sacrifices of those throughout the last two centuries, we all have the freedom to make our lives meaningful.

A huge 80 page Treasury to celebrate America’s Bicentennial, Jack Kirby pulls out all the stops and attempts to make a thoughtful and exciting journey through the ages. He attempts to show us slices of history and glimpses into the future. This comes off a lot like an episode of Time Tunnel, the 1966-67 series where two scientists are tossed through time and meet all sorts of historical figures. Jack does better here than he does in the monthly title, but the dialog remains stilted and corny. His freak-out over being “ripped off by Ben Franklin” is pretty hysterical. Mr. Buda could have easily been Dr. Strange, if Kirby was interested at all in crossing over into the mainstream Marvel Universe. As an album or commemorative issue, it does the job, but it is weird (as par for the course) and lacks narrative clarity. The pin-ups are pretty funny, however unintentionally. With the different inkers, the look varies from chapter to chapter, but it’s not badly drawn. The weakness is in the dialog and, as usual, Kirby enjoys his full plate of corn. Whether you like it depends on your fondness for the indigestible vegetable.  
-Scott McIntyre 


Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 28
Cover by Ken Barr

This issue features a special full-length illustrated biography of kung fu legend, Bruce Lee. "What's so special about that?" I hear you say. Well, according to the by-laws written years ago by our founding members, that content falls out of our purview. "I want to see those by-laws," I hear you say. Ummm, no, sorry. Those are documents for our eyes only. Just take my word for it. I'll be spending the time working on other projects. 

Like sleeping. -Peter Enfantino

Planet of the Apes 24
Cover by Bob Larkin

"The Doomsday Spawn"
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Chapter 2
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala

"The Shadows of Haunted Cathedraulus"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton

We start off with a bang on Chapter II of the Battle adaptation, and 24 issues in, it's one of the best chapters of the entire run! Alfredo Alcala is in top form, with cinematic expressions on every page that look better than J. Lee Thompson's direction of the film. Moench chips in with a zillion words of captions in the beginning as the set up for a suspenseful heist/adventure/mutants-on-the-loose story that only has two captions after we meet melty-face Breck. And this definitely has us reserving our copy of #25!

Caesar, MacDonald and Virgil start to the destroyed human city, finding a nightmarish mix of rubble and radiation caused by human folly, as was the fate of many of the world's major cities after the deadly games without frontiers. MacDonald's Geiger counter gives them about two hours to get in and get out, and through the wire they hustle, to a hidden door that will lead to Breck's command post. Meanwhile, they're being watched by Breck himself, mutated by radiation and not one of us anymore, as well as Alma and Mendez, former officers in the city's outpost. Not knowing why the trio is in the building, they show no self control and send the horde of mutated drones who are collecting food and guns through the halls after them. A small avalanche keeps the wandering trio from turning back, so they press on and reach the Archives room, where they spy a moving camera, shoot it, then shoot down the door. As Breck and crew wonder what the intruders are after, they find the films of Zira's old interviews, leading to a mental family snapshot and a conversation about the future of their damaged Earth, and if it can be changed so they can all lead a normal life. As they leave, the two apes smell something strange, not knowing the mutants are ready to pounce on them from above!

Great, great stuff, really. Excellently done. By the way, let's see who, besides Prof. Flynn, gets the "melty face" references I threw in for you all to enjoy. Heh-heh. Meantime, let's gloss over the "Man & Ape: Reflections in an Imperfect Mirror" article about the relationship between men and apes in the films and TV show, and complain that it's only Part 1, and get to another chapter in Future History Chronicles by Moench and the always-interesting Tom Sutton.

After a spat with gal pal Reena aboard the Freedom Reaver that might be their last, Alaric and his best buds Starkor and ape Graymalkin board a mysterious ship that holds a huge cathedral. They split up, Graymalkin running into an ape who thinks he "serves the New Order against his own kind", while Alaric and Starkor are tracking down a human who hates the "New Order" [not the band, one of my faves!]. The ape tells Greymalkin the story of the fortress/cathedral, which survived danger only to be the scene of a huge ape vs. human battle that led to a "religion of revenge", the "New Order of humans" that continues to massacre apes. Meantime, the human tells Alaric and Starkor the story in reverse, with the apes being the bad guys, and now ruling the New Order to devour human flesh as "a means of communion". The two small groups meet up, and a small skirmish ends when the New Order approaches, wearing cowls to hide their faces and towing a band of black robed prisoners. Inside the main cathedral, a sacrifice is begun, but the victim manages to roll over so her bonds are cut—it's Reena! She unmasks the leader, who's revealed to be a mutant—as are all the members of the Order! The trio of heroes battle their way through the zealots, topping their sacred monolith, but as a calm comes over the proceedings, the leader points to the Freedom Reaver in flames, and he claims they all have been exposed to radiation that will mutate them also!

Wordy, wordy, wordy. Murky, murky, murky. That's the best way I can describe Chapter IV of FHC. Not that this is a shock based on past episodes, but this one seems to go overboard [no pun intended]. Lots of religious fanatic talk, as well as battle of the sexes, plus friend vs. friend. It's all a little hard to follow in the drawn-out middle section, even though the twist ending brings us back from slumberland. Overall a pretty good effort, and Sutton manages to rein himself in once the flashback sequence is over, although I'm not sure we can say that about Moench, who leaves us on a cliffhanger in between all the hundreds of word balloons.

The letters page gives us some clues about what's to come for POTA, and it ain't all great. After they praise Mike Ploog's work [rightly so, I must say!] in an answer to a fan, we're told Herb Trimpe will take over the art of Terror. Ugh. Ugh. Ugh. We'll also get more Future History Chronicles, which isn't horrible, and they won't interrupt Terror "until the conclusion of given story sequence". Whatever that means. Plus, they have a third original series in the works, more info to come "next time". Hmmm…. 
–Joe Tura

Marvel Preview 8
Cover by Ken Barr

"The Madman of Mansion Slade"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"Into the House of Terror!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan

"The Reality Manipulators"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Mike Ploog

"Curse of Anubis!"
Story by Russ Jones and John Warner
Art by Val Mayerik

John Warner kicks things off with another apology about MAN-GOD, and at this point, it better be the Citizen Kane of comics or the whole dozen or so Marvel Preview fans will revolt! Instead, we are treated to a horde of stories featuring the Legion of Monsters. First up, Doug Moench (who writes every freakin' book I work on it seems) and Sonny Trinidad tackle the sorta-vampire Michael Morbius in "The Madman of Mansion Slade".

Morbius boards a train from London to Scotland, haunted by the pain of hunger that the plasma he has packed fails to quench. Meantime, there's a creature on the moors, and it murders a hunter and his dog. At dawn, Morbius abandons the train, dons his disguise and takes a cab to Slade Mansion, learning of the strange murderer from the cabbie. He's greeted by old friend Ronson Slade, whose son Jeremiah is unwell and daughter Mary is accommodating and curious, promising a cure for Michael's condition. Morbius hears a wailing voice in the basement—Jeremiah, mad as a hatter and held like a prisoner, then discovers Ronson has turned to drugs to deal with a heart condition (so he says). Mary tempts Morbius' hunger unwittingly, but he fights the urge and goes after the fleeing Mary, who runs to the moors and into the sight of a monster! Morbius attacks before the Monster of the Moors can grab Mary and he feeds…turning the creature into Ronson! The injections failed to suppress the beast, and he dies, taking with him the chance of a cure.

Not bad, this moody little tale has echoes of Hound of the Baskervilles, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, and The Incredible Hulk TV show, but with Morbius walking off to soft tinkling piano at the very end. Cool art, OK script. A good start.

Next up is Ralph Macchio's super-long letter, I mean long article about the history and popularity of the Marvel monster mags. But let's press on instead, to the Marv Wolfman-Gene Colan Blade story, since the slayer will get peeved if we ignore him too long.

Blade walks "Into the House of Terror" to discover a squad of vampire children. He hesitates to slay them, and almost loses his life, but recovers in time to take them all out and walk away, wanting to forget what just happened.

Yep, it's that short, but full of mood, kinetic Colan art set in the cold rain and in a creepy mansion, and morality from Blade that doesn't really matter as he keeps searching for his mother's killer.

Up next on the monster march is a spooky story from Don McGregor and Mike Ploog (yay!) called "The Reality Manipulators". Troubled Jefferson Cort, due to appear before a Congressional committee, suffers a blowout while driving and hits a young woman who turns out to be his girlfriend Ruth. In the car, the mortally wounded Ruth awakes and grabs Cort, who stops the car and heads into the swamps. He's shot at, haunted by the Ruth monster, then stumbles into an old man's hut, watched by a mysterious man and woman. Cort calls his lawyer, hallucinates seeing the Ruth monster at the door and somehow murders the old man. Cut to Ruth, the real Ruth, primping for a night out, and she's attacked and defaced by an intruder. Cort gets to the office of his lawyer, who has no recollection of his call, and begins to think he's crazy. Back at home, the Ruth monster is back, and Cort kills her, suddenly realizing she was the real Ruth, and police sirens approach. We end at the offices of Victims Anonymous, the company behind the entire ruse, and they've closed the case of Jefferson Cort.

Not too bad, but super verbose. Nice to see Ploog back at the easel, that's for sure.

This leads us to the final monster missive, "Curse of Anubis!" from Russ Jones, John Warner and faculty fave Val Mayerik. In 1922, two archeologists ignore the threat of curses and unearth the tomb of Aunubis, "Watcher of the Dead", with fur grafted onto his flesh. Sir Thompson reaches to touch the body and scratches his hand on the fangs. Partner Humphries worries the next day when Thompson has been working tirelessly and his hand is not healing well. But the next day Humphries is killed by a man-beast! Their two students also turn up dead, and as the relics are all delivered to Thompson's house, he realizes he's been possessed by the spirit of Anubis. So he drinks poison to stop it, unknowing he released the spirit of the living man-god to walk the earth!

Another Outer Limits-type story, the kind that Marvel seems to love, but this time it's chock full of the usual McGregor prose that prattles on, plus fine Mayerik art that captures both the historical and the horror. Finally, we're treated to a letters page that we're told was 98% favorable to last issue's Santana epic, plus the Sword in the Star saga, and there's much self-patting on the back to be had. Perhaps pride is the real monster here! –Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 14
Cover Art Earl Norem

“Shadows in Zamboula”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Neal Adams and The Tribe

“The Worm Returns”
Text by David Anthony Kraft
“A Kull Glossary”
Text by Fred Blosser

“The Silver Beast Beyond Torkertown”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck

“Swords and Scrolls”

Here it finally is, the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams collaboration originally scheduled for August — well, some of it at least. As Roy promised last month, the 39-page “Shadows in Zamboula” would appear in issue #14 “whether finished by Neal and his Crusty Bunker buddies or by the beleaguered Marvel Bullpen.” And that was exactly the case. Even with the extra time, Adams failed to deliver, submitting only “four or five completed pages, plus a smattering of half-inked pages” according to the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page. So, the Filipino collective known as The Tribe stepped in, as Tony DeZuniga, Alfredo Alcala and Yong Montano did most of the heavy lifting, trying their best to make the art look like Adams. They were fairly successful, though the story as a whole is a bit of a disappointment.

Conan strides into the Turanian city of Zamboula, stopping at Aram Baksh’s inn for room and board. During the night, a shadowy figure sneaks into his room but the Cimmerian cuts him down. The body is of a black man, one of the Darfar cannibals that populate the city. The barbarian deduces that Aram Baksh lets the flesheaters take their pick of his clientele as long as they leave the travelers belongings to the innkeeper. Enraged, Conan storms out into the dark streets, soon coming across a trio of Darfarians attacking a half-naked woman: he slaughters all three. The frightened beauty, Zabibi, ran out into the deadly streets after nearly being murdered by her lover, a Turanian soldier named Alafdhal, who was driven mad by Totrasmek, the high priest of the ape-god Hanuman. If Conan helps, her body will be his reward. They soon come across the wild-eyed Alafdhal: the Cimmerian knocks him out and ties the soldier’s hand with his sword belt. 

Together, Conan and Zabibi sneak into Totrasmek’s temple, looking to find the cure for Alafdhal’s madness. Suddenly, two ebony arms dart from a secret door and drag the woman away. The barbarian quickly follows, finding himself in a chamber occupied by a huge black man with strange crystal balls floating by his side. He is Ball-Pteor, a Strangler of the Yota-Pong, raised since birth to crush the life out of sacrifices to the god Yajur, thus saving every drop of precious blood. Using the spheres, Ball-Pteor mesmerizes Conan, making him think he’s being attacked by a bull and a panther. But the Cimmerian realizes it’s all a ruse and the two become locked in combat, each trying to strangle the other — after tense moments, Conan emerges the victor.

Meanwhile, in Totrasmek’s throne room, Zabibi is sprawled before the high priest. Totrasmek mocks the woman, reminding her that she came to him earlier looking for a sleeping potion to drug her lover so that she could steal from him the valuable ring known as the Star of Khorala — she would then sell it back to the original owner, the Queen of Ophir. But Totrasmek, wanting Zabibi for himself, betrayed the beauty, giving her the maddening potion instead. Conan sneaks into the chamber and runs the priest through with his broadsword. Zabibi searches the corpse and finds the antidote. They both rush off to Alafdhal and he is cured.

Afterwards, Zabibi reveals that Alafdhal is actually Zamboula’s satrap, Jungir Khan, and she is his mistress Nafertari. Since she is too highborn for someone like Conan, Nafertari reneges on her carnal promise, giving the Cimmerian a sack of gold instead. The barbarian turns and walks away, a sly smile spreading across his face: he knew that she was Nafertari all along, and palmed the Star of Khorala while he was binding  Jungir Khan’s hands.

“Shadows in Zamboula” adapts Robert E. Howard’s Conan story “The Man-Eaters of Zamboula,” originally published in the November 1935 issue of Weird Tales. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s a fairly average affair, highlighted mainly by a “Can You Spot the Adams Art” game. I gave up after a few pages since The Tribe does an outstanding job of aping the legendary artist. It mostly looks like Neal did the entire story, except for a few obvious instances.


Solomon Kane returns for the second issue in a row in the 12-page “The Silver Beast Beyond Torkertown.” Travelling the English countryside, Kane comes across the victim of a werewolf. He takes the body to a nearby tavern: inside a lovely young woman cries that the lycanthrope is her brother and it is stalking her. The beast suddenly bursts into the room — after a fierce struggle, the Puritan kills it with one of the inn’s silver table knives. The werewolf transforms back into Gideon Harkins: the innkeeper tells Kane that Gideon lived in a mansion on the hill. After melting down another silver utensil into a bullet for his musket, the somber wanderer breaks into Harkins’ home and finds the man’s diary. It reveals that Harkins’ parents were killed by a werewolf called the Silver One when he was a baby and that the man spent his life tracking down the monster. However, when he finally found the supernatural killer, he became its latest victim. Suddenly the woman from the inn appears: she is not actually Harkins’ sister but the Silver One. Kane kills her with his silver bullet.


Doug Moench turns in a rather by-the-numbers plot but what excites me is the very first Marvel work by Mike Zeck. Coming over from Charlton, Zeck would go on to great acclaim as the illustrator of such series as Master of Kung FuCaptain America, and The Punisher. I’ve always loved Zeck and it’s a treat seeing this early work. The style here doesn’t look like what we’ll come to expect from Miraculous Mike down the road, but it’s great for a black-and-white magazine. Zeck really plays with shading and contrasts, a perfect approach for what is essentially a horror story.

We also have a pair of text pieces. In the 3-page “The Worm Returns,” David Anthony Kraft reviews Zebra’s new paperback edition of The Worms of the Earth, originally published as a hardcover edition by Donald M. Grant in 1974. The book collects a variety of Howard stories, featuring such characters as Cororuc and Bran Mak Morn. Finally, frequent contributor Fred Blosser compiles the 6-page “A Kull Glossary.” It runs from Aa-Thak, a wizard who appeared in Howard’s “Wizard and Warrior,” to Zogthuu, the worm-like demon featured in “Black Abyss.”  


Bonus coverage of Solomon Kane by our expert on old, musty, dusty tomes, Professor Gilbert Colon. Now, pay attention, class!

Several times Solomon Kane adventures in and around the fictional village of Torkertown, site of two stories, “Skulls in the Stars” (adapted in Monsters Unleashed #1) and “The Right Hand of Doom” (adapted in last issue’s Savage Sword of Conan).  And now “The Silver Beast Beyond Torkertown” (listed in the Table of Contents as “The Silver Beast Out of Torkertown,” and not adapted from any Robert E. Howard tale).  Like New York in Ghostbusters, Torkertown seems to have enough psychokinetic energy and spiritual turbulence to make it England’s Spook Central.  

If “Castle of the Undead” (a Roy Thomas original in Dracula Lives! #3) was “Solomon Kane meets Dracula,” this one is “Solomon Kane meets the Wolf Man.”  (“Never much horror under one roof!”)  Between last issue’s The Beast with Five Fingers (1946) and this issue’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) approach, Moench must be an admirer of screenwriter Curt Siodmak.  

All the classic horror movie pieces are in place – the gypsy caravan wagon from The Wolf Man (1941), as well as its half-man, half-beast instead of just a wolf, along with the Werewolf of London (1935) insinuation that those closest to the cursed creature are its prime prey (the sister, in this case).  Yet Moench’s original is no remake – it has at least one twist and turn not typically found in the classic werewolf tale.  

At one point in the story it seems that Kane should have kept the silver ring he gave to the boy in “The Right Hand of Doom.”  He asks the youth, “Roger Simeon’s hand great and hairy with a ring on the second finger of the right?,” and the boy responds, “Aye, sir!  A silver ring--coiled like unto a serpent!”  Kane could have melted it down to slay another hairy beast, this one a “wolf-demon,” but “the greatest Puritan wanderer of them all” proves resourceful enough not to need any unsolicited advice from peanut gallery amateurs with dubious professorial credentials.  

Artist Mike Zeck’s visualization of Kane is up there with Steve Gan from last issue, along with this issue’s David Wenzel-Duffy Vohland action pose introducing Kane and Torkertown to readers before the story begins.  

Overall the tale is an agreeably diverting detour along the road of the wandering Puritan’s peregrinations.  

—Professor Gilbert


  1. My main memory of this batch is getting Nova #1 during a cross-country trip my family made from San Francisco to Mineola, TX (about 100 miles southeast of Dallas) for my cousin's wedding. I also recall getting a reprint of Spider-Man Annual #3 wherein Spidey auditions for the Avengers by trying to capture the Hulk, which was fun enough but not a particularly great story. As for Nova, 14 year old me was enthralled with it, and at the time I was entirely unfamiliar with the origin of the Silver Age Green Lantern so unaware of Wolfman's plagiarism. Reflecting on the series as a whole, based on what I know now, it strikes me a bit of a mix of Marvel & DC Silver Age era comics, particularly with the rogues gallery Marv came up with that was unique to Nova, mostly avoiding using older villains. I stuck with it to the bitter end, although I didn't much care for Carmine Infantino's art. Funny that in the '70s Marvel had such trouble creating comics consisting of entirely new characters or concepts that lasted anywhere nearly as long as the best of their Silver Age titles. Not that DC had much better luck. The longest lasting new titles for Marvel in the Bronze Age were the team-up books, and Conan and Master of Kung Fu, which both made extensive use of license characters, and Tomb of Dracula, an old character in public domain. Shang Chi himself was original, at least, and he and, to my recall, Ghost Rider had the longest runs of any entirely new characters created in the '70s. Of course, there was Wolverine and the Punisher, but although created in the '70s, they only got to star in their own series in the '80s.

  2. In this case I can't share your opinion about Savage Sword.
    Adams knows how to sell the highlights of the story, the duel with Ball-Pteor, Zabibis dance with the snakes. Some european reprints miss the strategically placed hair on her chest :)

    Wonderful cover by Norem. Even if the content of the b/w magazines was sometimes a bit shaky, the covers seem to jump of the page.

    This epic of MOKF is so well done. It channels the spirit of the action spy story perfect. Moench wrote a lot in his career, but this is among his strongest work.

    I agree to the writer/editor thing. Storywise some of these books could have been better if someone had nudged the writer into the right direction.

  3. I think I read and re-read that Thor annual about 45 times in 10 years--great stuff, man!