Wednesday, September 23, 2015

December 1976 Part One: Kubrick Invades the Comics (Sorta!)

2001: A Space Odyssey 1
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

The dawn of time in a land that will someday be known as New Orleans. A primeval hunter forages for food with his club, acting on the guidance of “the stone spirit.” He ignores small game in his search for larger animals. He is a loner, different from the others in his tribe who do not believe in the spirit. Only he hears the messages. He finds a large animal, clubbing it to the ground, but is attacked by the others of his tribe. He fights them off, but loses his quarry in the process. The tribe then follows the hunter to the stone spirit: a giant black monolith. As the hunter touches it, he gains more knowledge, enough to make a stone spear which he uses to slay a tiger. Now with a new weapon for killing, mankind takes a leap forward.

Centuries later, the year 2001, on an asteroid between Mars and Jupiter: astronaut Woodrow Decker makes an important find, but tosses it away in frustration over his and fellow explorer Mason being stranded as their crashed ship burns to nothingness. Mason is hopeful of rescue as they find evidence of a long dead civilization. In an underground city, a giant tentacled monster grabs Decker. In the struggle, Decker’s helmet is smashed, killing him instantly. The dead city crumbles and Mason falls many feet below into a sub-chamber. Running, he has no choice but to leap over a chasm into a floating monolith. Mason is taken on a weird trip though the fabric of existence, coming to a landing in a strange meadow. He meets a young farmer who calls himself Mike and they walk and talk. Mason grows older with each step. He falls and dies at the foot of the monolith. He is then re-formed into a Star Child and continues his journey into space… -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Jack Kirby is the perfect choice for this title. The film is a trippy enigma, the story of which, and its conclusion, has been wildly debated since it was originally screened in the late 60s. Kirby’s imagination is just as trippy and a lot of his plotting is nonsensical, so this fits like a glove. Less an adaptation of the movie (which Kirby adapted in a special 2001 Marvel Treasury Edition earlier this year -PastePot) and more of his take on the concept, it’s not bad, really. It’s strange and the story is linear, if frankly plotless. It really is more of a series of incidents than a proper story. Actually, it feels a lot like a prologue for something larger. I’ll be interested to see if this follows Mason or is just an introduction to the monolith, with that being the main character. As such, there are no real characters to be interested in, just “cave men and astronauts.” Let’s see where this goes.

The Amazing Spider-Man 163
"All the Kingpin's Men!"
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 Dave Cockrum and John Romita

Hitching a ride atop a bus (on what may be the Long Island Expressway), Spider-Man tails a strange-looking helicopter that ends up hijacking a delivery truck! Turns out it's the purple-clad goons who have been showing up all year, and after they swipe whatever gizmo the truck was holding, they drop the truck—with Spidey on the roof! The baddies' boss in the shadows is annoyed, but Spidey makes a web-ball to help absorb the impact. Later, back in civvies, Peter shows up with flowers to MJ's apartment, but she isn't home. Back at his own place, an introspective Peter is surprised by MJ and the gang, who are throwing what neighbor Gloria calls a "Please Provide for Peter Parker's Pad" party, to furnish his place with one item they no longer had use for, including a big wooden Indian chief, a much-used chair, giant stuffed dog, and five toasters. Trying to talk to MJ, Peter is interrupted by Flash, so he heads to the roof, where his inner love life retrospective ends after spying Liz and Harry getting romantic together.

24 hours later (after the events in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #1), Spidey takes to the webs, tracking the purple goons to an abandoned movie studio, discovering the mastermind behind it all—The Kingpin! Avoiding some cane-blasts, Spidey is then smashed over the back by the desk in front of the fast-moving felon, and the battle ensues, until they lock hands in a "contest of sheer power" with Spidey on a wall—that Kingie pushes him through! The wall-crawler gains the upper hand, but is suddenly gassed by the corpulent crook's trick tie-pin (that old gag!), and wakes to find himself trussed up to a "crazy gizmo" with a mystery man next to him, told by his enormous enemy that "we are going to steal your life!"--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: From the moment we saw the awesome Cockrum/Romita cover on the spinner rack at Grand Candy (or wherever my fellow faculty members got this issue), we knew what had been hinted at for months... that The Kingpin was back! And not as a robot like issue 150, in (lots of) flesh and blood, and ready for vengeance. Taking place after Spectacular Spider-Man #1 (which we'll cover in next week's class), according to page 16, which we'll cover in next week's class, it's an excellent chapter in our hero's life, from the bus-hitching to the apartment furnishing (sort of), to the realizations about his love life, to the return of one of Spidey's greatest villains. There's a lot going on in less than 30 pages, and when you throw in some nifty Ross layouts (most notably pages 3, 7, 26, and 27), we can't wait until next month!

Fave sound effect in an action-packed issue chock full of good choices (WRUNCH!, WHOMM!, WRAKK!, and other non W-starting words) is the "KROOM!" when Kingpin smashes a desk on top of Spidey, showing off his speed, strength, and utter disgust for the Web-Head.

Chris Blake: Pretty terrific fight with Kingpin.  Clever moment when KP manages to push Spidey thru the wall (don’t try this at home, readers!).  The build-up is well done, as KP takes the time to remove his jacket and roll up his sleeves, as if savoring the beat-downing to come (p 23).  On the same page, the desk-blow is another highlight, as Esposito’s heavy lines help to convey the weight of the desk, and also the force of the impact.  

Extra points to Len as Spidey indicates that KP is faster than he looks (p 26, 1st panel), since his  hefty appearance makes it difficult to appreciate whether he might have any speed at all.  Points also to Len & Ross on the final page, as they keep the identity of Spidey’s life-energy recipient a secret (with our view of this figure blocked by KP’s impressive bulk).  

Matthew Bradley:  Spidey now knows what we readers had suspected sooner, i.e., that those purple-garbed goons work for the Kingpin, unseen here on his home turf of ASM—outside of flashbacks/dreams/illusions/shadows—since #85 (June 1970).  Right from that nice Cockrum cover, aptly inked by Romita, this felt like a “classic” Spidey tale, and as cool as Frank Miller’s subsequent repurposing of Fisk as a DD villain was, it’s good to see the old “hands-on” version.  Between this two-parter and its immediate “War of the Reptile-Men” successor, Wein and Androsito have a fondly remembered run going here, with the splash of Spidey atop the bus and the fun of the apartment-furnishing party simply ladling a little gravy over the meat and potatoes.

Mark Barsotti: Len Wein's been batting at or below the Mendoza line since taking over the title, but he blasts a rocket-shot double off the centerfield wall here, breaking up the pell-mell action with four pages of supporting cast surprise party, thrown to fill Pete's heretofore empty apartment with castoff furniture, five toasters ("Two of 'em actually work."), and thrift-store detritus like a giant stuffed animal and cigar store Indian (before they became pricey treasures of Americana). Flash flirts with MJ, much to Pete's irritation; Harry and Liz Allan make out on the roof. Len has a feel and obvious affection for the characters, and would do well to get 'em more screen time.

It's the super-heroics that have been less than scintillating, but Wein delivers here, opening with another aerial encounter & fall from great height (survived this time via painfully bouncing Web-Ball) and, after the rubbish christening, getting directly to the Kingpin, to the laser-caning, a thwipped web in the eyes, and a good old-fashioned desk smashing.

Ross Andru's style is better-suited to spindly Vulture-types; his Kingpin hasn't the wobbly sense of mass and menace like Romita's, he's more like an over-inflated balloon, but the rock 'em, sock 'em staging is great. Len didn't try to gimmick-up Fisk or burn a couple pages on backstory. After all the strike-outs, getting back to a classic slugfest, right down to Spidey winning with his dukes before KP plays knock-out gas dirty, was the right slump-busting choice. 

I suspect the other lab rat, tied to the Mad Scientist Exam Table 2000 ©  next to Web's, is Fisk's son. Who I think is dead. Thus the promised "life-stealing" experiment KP has in mind next month... 

And what was that about Curt Connors?

The Champions 9
"The Battle of Los Angeles!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Hall and Bob Layton
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

The inauguration of L.A.’s first super-hero group erupts in chaos, with Hercules and Angel badly outmatched—despite a heroic attack by Fenster that is ignored by the Crimson Dynamo—until Ghost Rider returns from the hospital.  In an outrageously choreographed move, Herc’s mace is thrown in a bank shot off the Dynamo, grabbed in flight by GR to lift him above the panicked crowd where he can safely blast the Griffin with Hellfire, and caromed off Griff after Johnny touches down to return to its master’s hand; try that, Fast Eddie!  But it’s too little, too late:  thrust downward by Warren’s kick, the Titanium Man falls right into Herc, distracting GR long enough to be swiped by the Griffin’s claws, and the Dynamo’s blast lays the Angel low.

A squabbling Iceman and Ivan have just tracked Alex[e]i to a Venice Beach warehouse when the villains arrive with the captive trio, so Bobby bravely initiates a doomed holding action, sending Ivan through his rooftop ice-tunnel to find the Widow.  Inside, Ivan interrupts an escape attempt as Natasha and Alexi battle their jailer, Darkstar (aka Laynia, another former pupil of Bruskin’s), and seems to have turned the tide in their favor until the big guns arrive, having added a defeated Iceman to their trophies.  Stating that the Russian “traitors” are their targets, the Dynamo tells the Black Widow, “The state has its reasons for wanting you and the commissar—and I have mine for wanting Ivan,” to whom he reveals the truth:  the Outcast is Ivan’s son, Yuri, believed dead.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: How much of this entry, if any, was laid out by Isabella before he flew the coop, I don’t know, but it being Mantlo’s second, I’m going to give Bill the benefit of the doubt, assume he’s now essentially flying solo, and ascribe the credit to him.  Before John Byrne takes over, Hall—who will return in #16—has three inkers in as many issues; this time, it’s newcomer Layton’s turn, yet while The Bobs (per Office Space) achieve better results than under Patterson last time, the overall effect is uneven, as if Layton had initiated a Crusty Bunkers-type deal à la Iron Man #91.  While it would be nice if this “All Action Issue!” quieted critics who call the title uneventful, I suspect that as its cancellation demonstrates, it just had nobody else but me to, uhm, champion it.

Chris: You were in-volved in a rob-ber-y, That was due-to-happen at a quarter-to-three, In the main street. So we went out – Magneto and Titanium Man – And the Crimson Dynamo, Came along for the ride (lyrics used completely and deliberately without permission – sorry Paul).  

The Hall/Layton art looks stiff and weird at times (although the Widow and Darkstar are not penalized as badly as some of the other characters), but at least I can safely say that the look of this mag is going to continue to improve.  

The optimistic lettercol tells us that Mantlo, prior to scripting this issue, went back and read all the letters mighty Marvel had received to date regarding this (underwhelming) title.  In response, the trusty armadillo promises a better balance of action and characterization; well, Mantlo certainly delivers on the action part, as the battle carries on throughout.  Clever device to have Herc’s mace-throw carry Ghost Rider above the Griffin, so that he can zap him without endangering civilians (p 11); good example of teamwork, too.  

Conan the Barbarian 69 
“The Demon out of the Deep!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Val Mayerik and The Tribe
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Gil Kane and Pablo Marcos

As the Tigress sails towards Kush, Conan passes the time by weaving a tale of his youth to Bêlit. After fighting for the Aesgaardians during their border war with Vanaheim, the young mercenary is captured by a Vanir war-party led by their chief Lireigh. Bound, he is brought to their ramshackle fishing village on the shore of the Western Sea. When they arrive, it is discovered that one of the villagers, Fallon, has drowned. When his betrothed Marga goes to give the corpse a final kiss, she recoils, screaming that it is not the body of the man she loved. Gowar, Fallon’s rival for Marga’s hand, also comments that something seems odd about the corpse. That night, Conan is staked to a post on the beach. When a cry rings out, the Vanirs rush out of their huts to investigate: Lireigh frees the barbarian who gives his word not to escape. They discover Gowar cradling the dead body of Marga. The grieving man swears that he did not kill her, instead he saw her suffocated by the undead Fallon. Since the woman has the appearance of someone who drowned,  Conan believes Gowar and helps the Vanir men search their village. Suddenly, another shout echoes out — this time the victim is Lireigh. Moments later, Gowar is discovered dead. The fearful villagers retreat to their homes, leaving Conan to face the unknown killer. On the beach, Conan spots Fallon. The Cimmerian realizes that the dead man has been possessed by some kind of sea demon and they struggle against each other. The barbarian is soon overcome by the feeling that he is drowning. But when the sun begins to rise, the creature crumples to the ground and transforms into a moldering mass of seaweed with two hideous dead eyes. Conan walks away from the haunted village. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: This rather uninspiring issue smacks of the dreaded fill-in syndrome. Or perhaps Roy was taking a breather after the multi-issue Red Sonja crossover. According to one of Thomas’ editorial captions, the flashback takes place directly after Conan the Barbarian #2. Val Mayerik draws him in the style of that era, with horned helmet, large necklace and sandals. By this point, Mayerik is an old hand at sword-and-sorcerer characters — having already penciled Brak the Barbarian and Thongor — but his work here is very pedestrian. The Tribe doesn’t seem to add much as most panels are very plain with sparse and uninteresting backgrounds. Basically this is a horror story that doesn’t generate much tension or suspense. We get back on track next month with our usual creative team of Roy and Big John Buscema as well as the return of the long missed Ernie Chan.

Chris: After an extended, multi-part story, I like the idea of giving readers a breather, and resorting to a one-shot story – even a fill-in, if it’s done right.  I also agree with the notion that there are different and unusual sorts of stories available for Conan – not every issue has to feature our dark-maned barbarian swarming into a stone fortress, broadsword swung overhead, scattering overmatched guards to either side.  This story has its share of mystery, as the identity of the killer is difficult to establish, since it turns out that none of the villagers – in fact, no humans at all – were involved in the murders.   That said, it feels too far removed from the familiar Conan format; a bit of mysterious deep-sea creature isn’t quite sufficient to compensate for the usual bloodthirsty action.  Maybe it’s because Conan is fairly humble throughout – he keeps quiet around his captors, he upholds his promise not to escape during the night, etc; I don’t see enough of our hero’s brash personality in evidence this time.  Well, ‘til next issue.  

Captain America and the Falcon 204
"The Unburied One!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

At a SHIELD psych hospital, Falcon and Leila are still brainwashed, while Cap and the head doctor try to get information about the method of the washing from Brother Wonderful. Wonderful refuses to speak other than mentioning shock treatment and is taken away. Cap is shown the Falcon, who is in a straight jacket because he refused to part with his costume. Cap doesn’t like the arrangement, but sees there is little choice. He is then shown another patient recently brought in: a strange bald man who can barely speak and who seems to be unfamiliar with himself.  The doctor theorizes that this may be an alien inhabiting a body. Cap finds it hard to believe, but does make out what the creature is saying: its name…”Agron.” Later, Cap is driving in the country with Sharon Carter, who is still trying to get Cap to quit the hero game and be plain Steve Rogers. Cap refuses and Sharon gets emotional. Back at the hospital, Agron breaks free as he’s being fed and tosses orderlies around. The doctor contacts Cap, but before he can arrive, the doctor sees no alternative than to free the Falcon so he can stop Agron. Falc flies toward the creature and as he approaches, the confused hero screams in terror at what he sees… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This is an odd issue in a series of odd issues. There are absolutely no scenes of Captain America in action. Just him being upset at the Falcon’s condition, upset with Sharon’s bitchiness (more on that in a second) and bummed at his apartment because he has nothing to do but wait for Sharon to call and apologize while he watches a crappy old sci-fi movie on TV. The rest is Agron and the Falcon, who is still brainwashed and strange. Agron is a fairly typical Kirby creation and this issue feels like it exists to introduce the character. As for Sharon, she’s amazing. Cap tells her about Falcon and Leila and she kisses it off as “well, them’s the breaks” and proceeds to bitch about Cap being a super-hero. Again. She’s hugely shrill and uber-bitchy; unbearable. Kirby can’t write for women in any realistic manner, unless this represents the women in his life at the time. There isn’t much else to this one. Funky stuff.

Matthew: Jack’s back…or rather, backslid.  Yes, Agron is conceptually interesting thus far, and his rendition by Kirbiacoia—okay, I know, now I’m pushing it—is actually kinda creepy, but the writing really kicks this one down a huge notch, and you’ll notice Jack doesn’t so much as acknowledge the concurrent Marvel Team-Up story that fills in the blanks between last issue and this one.  Hartman waffles between having no idea how to help Falc and wanting to restore his memory “in progressive steps”; “It’s just too far out/fantastic,” says the guy who just returned from fighting monsters in another dimension; his lingo (“poor dude,” “this is my bag”) is utterly out of character; and he himself says to Sharon, “Let’s not beat that dead horse again.”

Daredevil 140
"Death Times Two!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Karen Mantlo and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott

Daredevil dives aboard an out-of-control bus and brings it to a stop; his radar sense had informed him that the driver had suffered a heart attack.  As the debris settles, a police officer informs DD that the Gladiator had escaped from prison in Florida.  Cut to: the Gladiator terrorizing passengers on a passenger train, together with the Beetle; the two villains force all the passengers to leap out of the car, as the train continues on toward New York.  The Gladiator forces the train to ram into the platform at Grand Central station, causing further injuries and extensive damage.  DD arrives, and uses radar to detect his two adversaries as they prowl thru the dust and smoke.  As the battle begins, the Gladiator grabs hold of Daredevil and cuts him across the back; DD breaks free, but as he’s aware of possible blood loss, he wants to conclude the fight quickly.  The Beetle then hoists DD far above the floor in the terminal’s high-ceilinged Main Concourse, and drops him; DD quickly detects a newsstand below, and twists to direct his fall away from the marble floor, and onto a stack of papers.  DD gains the upper hand as he flips the Beetle onto the Gladiator, who unintentionally cuts the Beetle across the chest, thereby taking him out of the fight.  DD then hefts the Gladiator overhead, and hurls him into the shambles of the newsstand, and triumphantly faces down his vanquished foes. -Chris Blake

Chris: I wasn’t too happy with Marv’s work on the past two issues of DD (#139 and Annual #4, both of them text-dense, slow-paced, and overlong in general), so this fill-in by Bill Mantlo is a welcome change.  Aside from the fresh-air breath, Bill makes a useful contribution in his willingness to employ DD’s radar sense, which I find Marv has tended to underutilize.  The echo-location is especially handy as DD spots his opponents, who might’ve been trying to use the post-collision haze of the train-wrecked platform to mask their approach.  So, we’re afforded a little moment of suspense, aren’t we, as we hold back with DD and await the villains’ approach.  

This observation allows me to transition seamlessly to praise the effective, richly-shaded art by Sal + Klaus.  I never give much thought to the Beetle, but to see him drift into view as he does (in the full-page illustration of p 15) gives the Beetle a menacing air that typically is missing with this lower-tier baddie.  Sal + Klaus make best use of the dimly-lit, underground setting , as Klaus applies plenty of atmosphere to Sal’s solid pencils.  The visual of Daredevil’s acrobatic moves toward a safe landing after the Beetle drops him – with an iconic Grand Central window in view in the background – is another highlight (p 23).  Proof yet again that Klaus, when his skills are employed in the right setting, will provide effective results; and that Sal, as we’ve known all along, can do it all.   

I enjoyed the issue so much that I’m not going to harp on the fact that a train arriving from the south would pull in to Penn Station, not Grand Central.  But, I understand the reliance on poetic license: New York’s Penn Station – with its airy, sun-lit main waiting room – had been unceremoniously demolished in 1963 (in part, to make room for the latest incarnation of Madison Square Garden). So, Bill & Sal might have decided to move the setting of their tale to a more picturesque setting, rather than the MSG basement.  

Matthew: With so many multi-part epics and other exciting and/or interesting stuff going on in various titles, I’m sometimes unfairly disappointed by what seems like “just another issue,” and here’s an example.  It’s no Thanos War, yet there’s nothing particular wrong with it, either; guest writer Bill pairs up two moderate but formidable DD villains, and it’s fun seeing a fight set in Grand Central, through which I used to pass every workday (and where newsstand wreckage prominently displays editor Marv’s Nova and Tomb of Dracula).  I’m usually a fan of neither Klaus—also the colorist—as Sal’s inker nor that shadowy “black dots” effect, but the latter is effectively used in page 6, panel 5, and the smoky setting lends itself to the “prince of darkness.”

The Defenders 42
"And in This Corner: The New Emissaries of Evil!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

The Defenders are spending a quiet Friday evening at the sanctum of Dr Strange, when Nighthawk suddenly is struck by an energy beam, fired from outside.  The Hulk powers thru an exterior wall to find the source, followed close behind by Power Man.  The two are stopped short by the sight of the oversized, fiery figure of Solarr; he melts the asphalt by Cage’s feet, sticking him in place, while the Hulk is sent airborne by a sneak-attacking Rhino!  Solarr demands that the Defenders surrender to him the all-powerful Star of Capistan; Dr Strange claims neither possession, nor knowledge of this item.  He then reveals Solarr’s height to be an illusion, while Cage snags the charging Rhino by the horn and crashes him to the pavement.  The two villains then blink out of sight, transported elsewhere; they re-appear at an orbital station, under the command of Egghead.  Egghead dismisses his underlings’ report that Dr Strange and the Defenders could not account for the whereabouts of the Star, and resolves to employ a more powerful weapon against them.  Back in New York, Nighthawk’s teammates have brought him to the hospital, only to find that he was barely singed by Solarr’s attack.  Dr Strange is met by an acolyte of his old friend, Omar Karindu, and leaves the hospital in order to meet Karindu at his hotel.  Karindu reveals to Strange that he is the keeper of the Star of Capistan; he is concerned that the Star’s power is out of his control.  He leads Strange to the gem itself; Dr Strange gazes upon the brilliant ruby light, as he feels himself drawn into the Star.  At that moment, the Cobalt Man smashes his way up from the ground outside Kyle’s hospital room.  The Hulk is joined by the team (Nighthawk included) in battle with the Cobalt Man, who is quickly brought down.  He appears to be glowing more brightly; the radiation that powers the Cobalt Man could be building to critical – in moments, he could explode, and take the team with him! -Chris Blake

Chris: I’m not going to wave a flag, toot a horn, and insist that this is the greatest run of stories in this team’s history.  The significance of this run is purely personal, as these stories did their part to sell me on comics as a medium, and Marvel as the only company deserving of my readership.  What is it about this run?  At times, it’s the brutal, raw energy of the Giffen/Janson art, which balances Kirbyan heft with Palmerian murk and shadow.  It’s also the characters, as the Defenders have formed their own little group that has passing connection to Marvel at large.  The Defenders versions of Dr Strange and the Hulk are different from the ones we know from their solo mags, as Doc here is commanding and more physical, while the Hulk can enjoy moments of calm – and companionship – that are routinely denied him elsewhere.  

Steve Gerber established a bizarre assortment of threats for the Defenders – both from our own world, and from neighboring dimensions – unlike those of any other team.  To their credit, Gerry Conway and David Kraft will build on Gerber’s penchant for unusual villains and circumstances in Defenders adventures; these two will not attempt to top Gerber, but they won’t allow this title to lapse back to the realm of the conventional, either.  

And now, some art highlights: Hulk grabs Luke Cage by the hand and busts thru (p 2-3); the bristling energy of Solarr’s illusionary construct (p 6, 1st pnl); Doc, turned purple by a Solarr-blast (p 7, last pnl); cracks in the pavement from the running Rhino’s weight (p 10, long vertical pnl); the sagging park bench, failing under the half-ton weight of a patiently waiting Hulk (p 26, pnl 8).

Matthew: The floodgates are open as Conway scoops up two more existing titles (this and Ghost Rider), guests on a third (Marvel Team-Up), and extends the Spideyverse further with a new one, bringing him up to six books this month.  He throws so much new or recombined stuff (and, acknowledged but unexplained, Val’s original costume) at us that I’ll adopt a wait-and-see attitude toward this storyline; I guess it’s a coincidence that we caught up with Trish Starr last issue, and now Uncle Egghead shows up here, having assembled these new Emissaries of Evil seemingly at random.  Alas, embellisher/colorist Janson negates any goodwill he inspired with the current Daredevil; I picture poor Giffen trapped in a gigantic ink bottle, struggling to escape.

Doctor Strange 20
"Call Him: Xander the Merciless!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Rudy Nebres
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Tom Palmer

Clea has received a message for herself and Stephen to go to the Museum of Natural History. Though it reeks of a trap, they are drawn to find the answer. It comes in the form of the statues in the Roman display coming to life and kidnapping Clea! Not quite as powerful as he recently was, Strange finds every task just that much more challenging. He renders his astral form the task of finding his loved one and it finds her in a mummy case. Rejoining his physical form he no sooner frees a dazed Clea than the person behind all this shows himself--a being called Xander. He offers Stephen a choice: join him in returning to Xander's own masters, the Creators, or die! Stephen chooses neither, and attacks. Clea, meanwhile, has suffered some memory loss and, left behind in the museum (Stephen and Xander fighting in another dimension), she cannot explain to the guard the reason for her after-hours presence. She ends up in a holding cell, and discovers that, while the complete picture is missing from her mind, she knows somehow that she possess powers that enable her to escape and put anyone who bothers her to rout. The battle between Xander and Strange is complex; the former more powerful than Stephen, but not possessed of his resourcefulness. Anticipating a very mystical fight, some simple human tricks (like a fist to the face) prove Xander's undoing. Enter, in a brilliant display of light... one of the Creators. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: We sure have a different feel to this issue; with Marv Wolfman continuing as the replacement for Steve Englehart (not Gerber as I erroneously said last month), and a very different feel from guest artist Rudy Nebres. The latter's style is quite detailed and dense, and satisfying enough for me this time around. I enjoy Stephen's use of his humanity to save the day; it makes him more vulnerable and willful. Fun too, watching Clea whip up some magic spells -- no one tells this gal what to do! I'm not convinced yet that the Creators are behind the Ancient One's removal of Stephen's powers, or for faking the destruction of Earth. If it's not a bluff and they're that powerful, then Strange has his work cut out for him.

Chris: Xander would have us believe that his bosses, the Creators, somehow duped the Ancient One into testing Stephen, and then reducing his powers.  Could they do this, with neither the AO nor Dr S getting wise to it?  If so, they must be mightily powerful indeed; either that, or Marv simply felt like Steve E’s recent storyline required a re-write …

It’s sorta funny that Nebres is listed as “guest artist,” when (as it turns out) his work will be featured in four of the next five issues of original material.  Speaking of which: DrS drops back to bi-monthly, and then misses a deadline right away, which means that it will be four months until the next regularly-scheduled issue (that’s right, not including the Annual) of Dr Strange – ouch!

The letters page asks for feedback regarding Sr Nebres’ art, so I’ll say this: his style certainly is suited to the pages of Dr Strange.  The newcomer delivers in several key areas: spells are brightly energized; panels are appropriately twisty; there are wondrous happenings (unless you happen to be a wino-turned-hog, that is); there is a fair amount of atmosphere (not only in the shadowy late-night at the museum, but also in the shading for Xander’s face on p 14, and Doc’s on p 15, pnl 2); and Clea looks pretty fine (how about that yoga pose on p 17?).  In this, his first full-length four-color comic for Marvel, Nebres appears to be an inspired choice as the new artist for this esteemed title.  

Matthew: I’m not dumb enough to jeopardize my cushy faculty parking space by dissing Alcala, but it is a matter of record under what adverse conditions #19 was created.  So I trust our august Dean won’t take it amiss if I opine that—although never a big fan of applying the more stylized look of the Filipino “Tribe” to what is, in effect, a super-hero comic—I preferred Rudy’s ornate work here enough to welcome him back after next issue’s reprint.  Marv also seems to benefit from the absence of that gun to his head, and while I remain vexed at Marvel’s profusion of recent resets (now, the world didn’t get destroyed and recreated [again], and Clea didn’t boff Ben Franklin), the plotline du jour at least seems a bit more coherent, so we can move forward...

Peter Enfantino: Completely understood, Professor Matthew. After all, one is entitled to one's opinion (no matter how wrong it may be). I'm sure the taxi ride to the campus from your new parking spot will give you plenty of time to reflect upon those opinions.

The Eternals 6
"Gods and Men at City College"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Eternals Makarri and Thena slow the Deviants' passage in New York with the use of Thena's energy spear, rendering the evil creatures weightless and helpless. Kro, the Deviant leader is unmoved. When the Eternals arrive on the scene, not having seen Kro in literally "ages," the Deviant proposes a truce. Thena agrees, but on her terms, demanding Ikaris be released from the state of "eternal" sleep he has been placed in. The metal tube housing Ikaris is below the ocean, where the Deviants' craft has been hiding from the humans. Fellow Eternal Sersi and her companion, the human Margo Damian, have been held prisoner (loosely termed, as the former is capable of more magic than her Deviant guards can handle) aboard the craft, and soon learn that a truce has been agreed upon. Once Ikaris is freed, the trio reunite with Thena and Makarri. Thena's terms of the truce involve informing humanity of the three races' linked past and educating them about the arrival of the Celestials. They start by contacting Dr. Sam Holden, a fellow professor and friend of Margo's father. The plan is first to explain to a more intellectual audience, thus gaining some credibility for their story, before opening up to the general public. After a week of talks with the more educated and less skeptical, Holden's anthropology class is next to listen to and ask questions of the Eternals and Kro. The humans being typically skeptical, it is apparent that belief will be slow to come. As if in warning, a pair of Nick Fury's agents are exploring a mysterious "dome" in the Andes mountains when the appearance of one of the space gods, Gammenon, frightens them into fruitless gunfire. A scattering of equipment is all that remains to answer when their radio call to Fury is returned. -Jim Barwise

Jim: Well, I'm in deep water taking over for Paste-Pot Pete on this title's commentary but here we go! I'd always been fascinated by The Eternals, but having read only a few, it'll be interesting to see how they live up to expectations. Coming from a quasi-mythological viewpoint, the title certainly appears to fall into the Thor-like genre that was my favourite spot in comicdom. Jack Kirby, as he did at D.C. earlier in the decade (especially with New Gods, or my personal fave The Demon), gets free rein to create the epic type of title he so loved doing. No matter what your standpoint on who did what in the Lee/Kirby classics of the sixties, we know the Kirby was a brilliant storyteller, but can the King's grand ideas carry a title with great expectations like this one? We'll see. So far I can say I'm intrigued, and certainly willing to give it every chance. The concept of the three races being joined at birth is one way to explain our myths of the past, and appeals to the concept of help-from-aliens that pervades everything inexplicable in human history. Kirby certainly tries to build characters with some personality; Sersi's playful pranks, or Kro having fun toying with the human fear of/ belief in the Devil.

Chris: The notion of a student forum on Eternals and Deviants is a strange one, especially since none of the students ask whether this information might be fair game for the next test.  Kro is forced to the bargaining table, and now that he’s disclosed his identity as Deviant, not devil, he realistically has no way to revive his unlikely ploy to pit humans vs Celestials.  So now, Jack, where’re we headed?  I have to wonder; based on the final page, I’m willing to guess that we’re on our way back to the Andes, and that’s probably for the best.  

Matthew: Damned if I didn’t enjoy this one with no serious reservations that I can recall, not having it right in front of me—a bold statement for Kirby Bronze.  Now that he’s focused less on Establishing Big Things (literally), he has the time and space to do a little honest-to-God storytelling, and of course I was charmed by his using a fellow institution of higher education as one of his settings; the almost-cameo by the Thing clearly places this title in the Marvel Universe.  The Kirby/Royer (Kirbyer?  Kiroyer?  Nah...) artwork does the heavy lifting, as usual, and jaded though I may be over Jack’s almost-obligatory double spreads on pages 2-3, the one of the Deviants held at bay by Thena’s energy-spear is impressive, as is that group shot on page 23.

Mark: Great cover and a textbook example of "Kirby Krackle" in the two page splash of the Deviant hordes under attack by Thena and Makarri, but Devil impersonator Kro is so sure his NYC assault will set humanity against the Celestials, he offers Thena "a truce on any terms you wish." When Jack dials down the action to go Chatty Cathy, ya better brace yourself...  

But the results aren't bad. Sarcastic party girl Sersi continues to be the book's "pops off the page" character, while presumptive star Ikaris, generically heroic, has all the personality of a tackling dummy. Kro seems overly helpful, truce or no, and the Eternals (plus Kro and Margo) appearing before an anthropology class – "negotiations with political and law enforcement authorities" having taken place off-screen – is an oddball Kirby touch that makes barely a lick of sense, but it's fun seeing a disbelieving student's head turned into the Thing's rocky visage. That and the last page (dis)appearance of SHIELD agents settles the question of whether The Eternals exist within Marvel U continuity.

Jim: As Professor Matthew mentions, the acknowledgment of the existence of the rest of the Marvel Universe with the Ben Grimm facial cameo (or that of Nick Fury's men) gives promise that at some point Kirby will have to join up these characters from different time periods. Much of that joining takes place later (without Kirby) in Thor, in a rather lengthy and complex epic (which is one of the best and most relevant of that title's '70's run, spilling over into the '80's). The academic unveiling is a class I'd sure like to attend!

Fantastic Four 177
"Look Out for the Frightful Four"
Story by Roy Thomas and Mike Friedrich
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

We open with the Fabs (plus the Impossible Man, briefly hanging around from last ish) confronting their dark doppelgangers, the Frightful Four, now squatting in the Baxter Building, with Alicia and baby Franklin nowhere to be seen. "Both are safe," the Wizard says, assuring Reed he doesn't "war on women and children."

The pleasantries dispensed with, we segue into standard issue if vividly rendered combat. Wandering through the chaos, Impy is entranced by a TV (which isn't even on) and disappears - for now - from the story as Wiz & co take to their heels. But P Pot's (who can re-brand himself "the Trapster" 'til the cows come home, but he's still just sticky ole Paste Pot Pete) 3-D hologram projector (WTF?) fools the pursuing Fabs into running into an energy wall, I guess thrown up by Wiz, but Roy doesn't bother to say.

Awaking strapped to what looks to be a giant fan, our foursome are a captive audience as the Frights hold auditions for a new band member. A guy in a bird-suit can't fly...until the agitated Wiz sends him soaring out a window, courtesy of an anti-grav disc. The Texas Tornado whips up a storm, but his presumptive mates can't match the salary "another bunch'a fellers offered" (stay tuned, I'm guessing). 

Thundra shows up, cold-cocks Sandy but then gets zapped by P Pot's electrified floor panel (this guy's suddenly bucking from brainiac?). Captain Ultra looks like he flew out of Jack Kirby's forehead, but faints when Wiz sparks a "celebratory" cigarette. 

Tigra, a.k.a. the Were-Woman, arrives through an open window and flaunts her wares, but Sandy grouses, "I don't like working with skirts." The Wiz, however, is clearly smitten, distracted enough to allow Tigra to release Ben and Johnny. They start kickin' tail and the panicked Wiz gets on the PA-system to the would-be baddies waiting down in the lobby, offering lifetime Evil F membership to anyone who can save their bacon. The wannabes scatter, save for a trench-coated man, who Hulk-shreds his threads, transforming into the Brute. The purple pug ugly quick-times up 30+ flights of stairs, trades haymakers with the Thing, then shoves Ben into the Negative Zone. How, the happy but curious Wiz wants to know, did the Brute instantly master Reed's complex tech?

Because - Stretch-o Change-o – plumb-colored Bruteski's alter-ego is evil Reed Richards from Counter-Earth! And he hasn't come "200 million miles" to collect for charity...  -Mark Barsotti

Mark: The Frights have bedeviled our heroes every couple years since issue #36, but lacking a strong, smart female, they're out of their league, so I can't agree with Professor Matthew's grousing that the "once-formidable opponents" are reduced "to a bunch of ludicrous clowns." Sandman still packs a wallop, P Pot's apparently been to new-gadget night school, and Smart Guy Wiz always knows when to retreat. Now some of the wannabes are ludicrous, intentionally so, Roy obviously having a tickle or two left in the ole funnybone after Impy's last issue romp. But when the yucks are over, Reed-Brute (new to me as a non-Starlin non-Warlock reader) changes the balance of power considerably.

The art's outstanding, per George and Joe's polished, assured palette, but Roy's underlying plot conceit – the baddies taking over the FF's digs in the B Building – is a bit of a howler. The cops can't evict the Frights "unless a wanted criminal showed up?" Well, what are they, Girl Scouts? And if they weren't wanted before – per the Marvel U's revolving door justice system; damn liberals! - isn't setting up housekeeping in someone else's house still a crime?

A minor annoyance, but you gotta love the Wiz going ixnay on the Osprey, and Captain Ultra felled by second-hand smoke. No, we don't want the FF turning into a Gerber-like satire, but with the Brute on-board I don't think that's a concern.

Chris: Based on the way our team is quivering in fear on the Kirby cover, my first thought was: “Oh no! The FF’s getting audited!” or possibly “Egads! The team’s being sued by Apple for copyright infringement!” But no – it’s the other Reed Richards, the Counter-Earth Richards … who I thought was the Thing -?  No wait, that was a Reed from another alternate Earth, wasn’t it?  Man, it’s starting to get a bit DC around here.  Well, in any case, it’s the start of another solid run by Roy (ably assisted this time by George), featuring not only the Brute and the Negative Zone (and we know what that means …), but also the return of Thundra, a decent guest-run by Tigra, and a bit more fun with Impy, who will stay in town for a few more issues.  

A few personal highlights from this issue: Sue breaks the standoff and delivers the first blow, with an offensive force field no less (p 3); Impy does nothing at all to help the FF, as the fight is simply another enjoyable distraction to him (that is, until he spots the TV in the next room …); new gadgets and gizmos from the Trapster, as he moves further away from the one-note paste-gun act; the ludicrous Osprey (p 10), and the impressive Texas Twister.  The art by George + Joe is first-rate throughout this nearly-entirely-action issue; you knew they’d present an awesome Tigra, didn’t you (p 17)?  Oh yeah.  

Matthew: Oddly, this annoyed me more than last issue’s Impy-fest, since that was clearly intended as a lark, whereas this alleged “return to nefarious normalcy”…really isn’t.  I was all set to unleash the snark over the fact that the would-be FF couldn’t discriminate but could advertise for a super-villain, yet even with the CYA dialogue explaining that the NYPD’s hands were tied absent an actual crime, this is just dopey, despite compensations such as Tigra, the overdue return of the Brute and, naturlich, the exquisite Perez/Sinnott art.  Many heroes—most notably James Bond—are said to stand or fall by their villains, and in this case, Roy diminishes his stars by reducing their once-formidable opponents to a bunch of ludicrous clowns.

And just to clarify two points, Professor Mark: it was their m.o. for finding a new member, by your own admission "a bit of a howler," that made me nominate the Frights for clowndom, rather than their continued prowess in battle, and the Brute actually dates back to the pre-Starlin Warlock, specifically #6, "from an idea by"—you guessed it—Roy Thomas.

Ghost Rider 21
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Gil Kane and Sam Grainger
Colors by Jim Shooter & Roger Slifer
Letters by Irv Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

The Gladiator cuts his way into Delazny Studio and begins to trash a soundstage, looking for a device that someone named the Enforcer told him was placed there by Leopold Stryke aka the Eel. When the Ghost Rider appears, the buzzsawed brute think that he’s simply wearing a flaming mask. But as the battle rages on, the villain begins to panic when he realizes that the flame-tossing motorcyclist is actually satanic — the Gladiator rips through a wall and escapes by leaping to the parking lot below. Coot Collier and Karen Page arrive at the burning soundstage to investigate the ruckus, followed soon by studio security: the rent-a-cops let Blaze leave the smoldering scene with Karen. Johnny and the actress kiss before heading to Page’s home arm-in-arm. The next day, Johnny checks Delazny’s personnel files and discovers that Stryke has just been hired as a marine life advisor to the Stuntmaster’s TV show. He heads to Stryke’s residence, a run-down flophouse, but the angry man refuses to let the young stuntman into his apartment. However, Blaze notices a strange electronic device on Stryke’s dresser. Outside, Blaze suddenly transforms into Ghost Rider as the Eel climbs down the hotel’s drainpipe clutching the device. When the Rider approaches, the Eel knocks him unconscious with an electrified kick. When he comes to, the hellspawned hero discovers that the fishy fiend is dead, his costume in shreds. An elderly woman screams from a window that the Rider is the killer. But the true murderer, the Gladiator, reappears and they battle again, the Ghost Rider finally knocking the helmeted heavyweight out with a downed light pole. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: This issue’s excellent King Kirby cover boasts “Now at last — the NEW Ghost Rider” and “More mind-stunning action than ever before!” Not sure what these claims are based on. Is it the arrival of Gerry Conway? Probably not since he only sticks around for two more issues. The art by Gil Kane? He lasts even less than Gerry, only illustrating this one. Or perhaps it’s the appearance of two second-tier villains? Let’s hope not. Conway proves to be a bit of a disappointment. Is he completely dropping the reunion with Roxanne Simpson from recent issues? I thought that she was the love of Blaze’s life? But here he kisses Karen Page and she come-hithers him with a “I see a better Johnny Blaze and I want him — to take me home.” I assume that’s because she wants to ride something other than his motorcycle. Rim shot! Also, when Armstrong the security guard arrives after Ghost Rider basically burns down the soundstage, he lets Blaze go and says that the stuntman “better be ready with some fancy explaining tomorrow.” Johnny gets off that easy? A soundstage must be fairly expensive. Plus, after the Rider knocks out the Gladiator, a few patrol cars pull up and, once again, our hero is allowed to leave the scene of a crime. This instance is even less believable since it’s Ghost Rider who explains to the police that the Gladiator killed the Eel and that he is innocent. Are we to believe that the boys in blue are going to take the word of a demon with a flaming head? Sure Ger. We also get the umpteenth rehash of the Ghost Rider’s origin on page 14. Sad to say, the NEW Ghost Rider is not much more entertaining than the OLD Ghost Rider. Enjoyed the Gil Kane art though. And while I rarely comment on letterers, Irv Watanabe does a bang-up job, offering text that is both highly readable and crackling with excitement. While I don’t know what pages he actually colored, looks like Jim Shooter didn’t embarrass himself either.

Chris: After months of squiggly art from Frank Robbins et al, it’s very satisfying to have the strong, sure lines of Gil Kane on this title; I especially appreciate the way GR’s head is a real-live, bony skull, looking nothing like the fright-mask his opponents think they’re seeing.  Wait, what’s that – taking over the art next issue is – Don Heck ?!  Aw, come on, guys . . .

Well, at least we can continue to pursue a new direction in the storyline.  I have no idea who killed the Eel, and what the “electronic gizmo” he had been carrying is all about; but, as long as none of these questions require a ride-to-the-death, or divine intervention, in order to be resolved, then sign me up.  Looking forward to the next installment; I’ve hardly been inspired to say that over the past 8-10 issues.

Matthew: Consulting the prior issue, in which I thought I recalled Johnny reaffirming his love for “Roxy” (sic), I see that it’s really she who does the reaffirming, while he hems and haws that she could do better, so I give drive-by writer Gerry a pass for having him lock lips with Karen.  Still, the “let’s all edit ourselves” policy enables the Gladiator to appear simultaneously on both coasts here and in Daredevil (where he apparently goes straight from Florida prison break to Grand Central Station to recapture) without even an acknowledgment, let alone an explanation.  I love both Kane and Grainger, but unless they’re simply having an off day, they’re badly mismatched with each other, or GR, or both—and yes, the original Eel is genuinely dead…

Howard the Duck 7
"The Way the Cookie Crumbles!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Howard and Bev sail into New York in the cushy back seat of a Rolls Royce.  They are the guests of country and western star Dreyfuss Gultch, who had picked them up on the road in Pennsylvania.  Gultch is Manhattan-bound, so that he can perform for the All-Night Party’s political convention.  Bev asks whether Gultch could line up jobs for both her and Howard; Gultch comes thru, not only with hospitality (for Bev) and security (Howard) gigs, but a suite at the Plaza as well!  Bev feels like her ship finally has come in.  Howard finds that his supervisor‘s attention is drawn more to entertaining the hospitality girls than to security concerns, so he sets out on his own, in search of trouble.  Howard interrupts an argument among policy wonks, as he states their candidate should tell the truth if he doesn’t have a ready answer for a pressing problem.  He also provides impromptu negotiation between rival factions whose agreement to trade voting blocs during the convention has broken down.  As he wades thru the convention’s dealings, Howard is delivered three seemingly benign, somewhat obscure messages; all deal with preparing a dish, possibly a dessert – it could be baked Alaska.  Howard figures these clues point to a bomb that’s planted at the convention; sure enough, Howard sees that the standard for Alaska is smoldering!  Thinking quickly, he plunges the bomb into a large cake (on hand to celebrate the Bicentennial), which absorbs most of the force of the blast.  Covered in frosting, the All-Night front-runner withdraws his candidacy, acknowledging the job as too dangerous.  Gultch steps forward, and proposes resourceful, courageous Howard as the new candidate. -Chris Blake

Chris: Hawk-eyed MU students (possibly angling for brownie points) would’ve noticed right away that my synopsis omits the resolution of last-issue’s cliffhanger, when Howard and Bev were about to be attacked by a gigantic, oven-fresh gingerbread man.  Here’s what happens: Howard adopts a direct approach, as he attacks the flaky, delicious monster and chomps off his right leg, which causes him to wobble and crash into a poorly-rigged electrical conduit, which explodes (clearly, not up to code!).  Howard  and Bev break a window and dive free of the house, one-quarter of a moment prior to the house bursting into flame (also, possibly not inspection-worthy), seemingly taking out all the occupants, to whom we had been introduced a scant thirty days earlier in HtD #6.

Chris: Why did I put this aside?  Well, my impression is that Steve G has done the same thing – for whatever reason, he abruptly abandons the Gingermonster storyline, after taking the entire previous issue to set it up.  Why?  My unsubstantiated working theory is that Steve got the idea (or someone gave it to him) about Howard as a potential presidential candidate; once he got a handle on it, Steve dropped  everything, and – much like a child grasping for a new toy – ran with the new idea.  I don’t have a problem with this, especially since HtD #6 was a bit slow to develop, with a whole pile of new characters to sort out.  Lastly, if you’re going to write a parody, you might as well make it timely.  

The result is one of the funnier issues of HtD I’ve seen in a while, possibly since #2.  The humor is on numerous levels: Howard gets riled, as he states that the threat of the gingerbread monster poses “a stupid way to die! I mean – who ever got eaten by a cookie before?” (p 2); Bev doesn’t have a penny to tip the bell boy, so she makes a show of kissing his hand (p 15); the bomber’s clues are hilariously banal (“The ice cream’s on the cake,” etc).  Gene & Steve get in on the act, as we see: the merrily grinning face of the deadly giant cookie (p 2-3); Gultch resting his fingertips on Bev’s knee, and then leering at her breasts (p 10-11); and something I hadn’t noticed before, as the ash from Howard’s stogie collects on the top of the panel below, which looked like something right out of Mad magazine (p 10).  Great stuff!

Matthew: Interesting—#5’s cover depicted events that didn’t occur until the very end of the issue, while now what appears to be the main story is dispensed with in a few pages, although generally a cookie monster is more visually striking than a nominating convention.  Perhaps inevitably, Gerber has brought his plot into alignment with the mock “Get Down America!” Presidential campaign currently dominating all of Marvel’s lettercols, with their “weakly” updates on the All-Night Party candidate, and I’m confident that Steve and political satire will remain a match made in Heaven.  The interior Coloha art is as irreproachable as ever, and HTD looks great in his security-guard get-up; maybe I’m just a sucker for a duck in uniform.

Mark: Steve Gerber is completely zeroed in on Howard and Bev, his signature characters so vivid they almost walk off the page and, forty years on, their affectionate, oddball relationship remains almost downright subversive. But for the first time – and this is a trait that bedeviled Man-Thing for the last year or so of its run - the story kinda slips away from Gerbs on this one. 

Cookie Monster goes boom (along with a little girl and assorted crackpots) on page three. That's fine, the joke was in the set-up anyway; after Patsy's giant Gingerbread Man rises from the table, there's not much you can do with "moist, flakey limbs" besides chow down. And anyone who kills a kid and her mom in the first three pages of a funnybook is certainly okay by me.

The trouble begins when Howard and Bev reach the Big Apple and are put to work (as security guard and hospitality girl) at the national nominating convention of the All-Night party. Our inter-species pair shine in their roles, but for satire to be effective it has to rip into recognizable targets. Here we get country-western star Dreyfuss Gultch in his gold-plated Rolls, a platform committee debating the niceties of state-sponsored assassination ("The Russkies will kill their own people...our intelligence agencies must have the same freedom...") and dueling candidates named Wauldrop and Wauldrap, all leading the befuddled reader to ask just who or what Gerber is sending up here. 

Having come to cynical age during Tricky Dick's Watergate meltdown, I was paying close attention to politics in '76, and absolutely none of this has any real world resonance to what was goin' down that Bicentennial summer. It's more Steve throwing a bunch of crazy shit against the wall in the hope some of it sticks.

Am I making too much fuss over a comic, when all the hurly-burly is just a plot device to get Howard nominated as candidate for the Big Chair?

Maybe so. But if you want comics at their best to be taken seriously as Art with a capital A, (as I suggest Gerber did, as I do) then the results must be judged by capital A Aesthetic standards.

Seeking refuge in the "It's just a comic book" defense is a cop-out. You can't have it both ways. 

The Incredible Hulk 206
"A Man-Brute Berserk!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Believing that Doctor Strange is the only one with the power to raise Jarella from the dead, The Incredible Hulk hits Manhattan to seek out his "magician friend." Unfortunately, there seems to be a plethora of "puny humans" out to do the behemoth harm. After mowing his way through the city (and leaving the Statue of Liberty in ruins), Hulk finally lands at Strange's Sanctum Sanctorum, but the Doc ain't home. Plopping himself down on the curb, Hulk can't help noticing the growing number of S.W.A.T. teams that surround him. A trigger-happy rookie breaks the calm and the Green Goliath does quite a bit of damage before his hand is stayed by... Doctor Strange. Having heard of the Hulk's rampage, the Doc has brought along his fellow Defenders and swears this day will see no more damage. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Though, as Professor Matthew points out below, this is nothing more than a "Hulk Smash Puny Humans" issue, my favorite scene is the one moment of calm before the storm, with our big green hero sitting peacefully on the curb waiting for the Doc. Our Pal Sal's "camera" pulls back to let us see a little bit more of the surrounding area and, over the course of four panels, we see the build-up of armed forces circling the Hulk. It's a classic moment amidst the carnage. Could we have a moratorium on "Sweet Jesus" and all its variations ("Merciful mother" and "Sweet heaven" come to mind) for just a couple months? I'm not playing a religious card here; it's just that it's becoming a cliche very quickly. I've got a feeling that last panel (with Doc and the other 'Fenders staring down our heart-broken Hulkster) signifies a next issue filled with a heaping helping of MARMIS.

Chris: So, just how badly do you have to screw up in order to draw the assignment of being cannon-fodder for the Hulk?  Insult the mayor?  Hit on the captain’s wife?  Park in the desk sergeant’s spot?  Either way, by now, every child older than age five – and probably most dogs that age, as well – is aware that conventional weapons aren’t going to slow the Hulk down for more than a few seconds.  And yet, time after time, our bedraggled green-skinned protagonist finds himself boxed-in by these self-same rifles, tanks, etc.  It’s easy to understand why poor Hulk’s gotten so sick of it; the fruitlessness and senseless waste of these attacks is beginning to wear a bit thin for me too, truth be told.  

The other unfortunate aspect is that Len affords the Hulk only a single, brief moment (as he pauses atop the Statue of Liberty) to contemplate why his search for help for Jarella is so infused with desperation: “Jarella is the only one who ever cared for Hulk … Hulk needs Jarella to help understand that –“ and at that moment, his reverie is interrupted.  The implication is clear: in his mind, the only person in the world who could help the Hulk come to grips with his loss of Jarella is – Jarella herself.  So, go ahead and try to smash your way past that, green guy.

I still enjoy the Sal + Joe art, although I’ll freely acknowledge that the inks are a bit too far into the “loose” column this time.  I’m looking forward to the probably-inevitable (and possibly unnecessary) clash with the Defenders next time – I wonder if there’ll be a hype-fueled balloon or box somewhere, either on the cover or splash page, informing us that the Hulk vs Defenders fight is here “Because You Demanded It!”

Matthew: As the wife would say, there’s a lot going on here…and yet there’s not a lot going on here, if you know what I mean, since it could mostly be summed up with two words:  “Hulk smash!”  I’m almost surprised it wasn’t touted as one of those “All Action Issues,” minus the minor detail of a villain, and as I observed as recently as #199, his clashes with the military and police—complete with trigger-happy NYPD rookie—seem almost pro forma (even if I was a bit surprised to see him maim Lady Liberty), as does Glenn’s obligatory PTSD moment.  Hulk’s search for “Magician” is, of course, completely understandable under the circumstances, even if it does require that next month’s dustup with the Defenders takes place before their current issue.

The Inhumans 8
"Star-Search: Dust and Demons"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by George Perez and Don Perlin
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

City magistrate Skornn reneges on repairing the ark, citing the need to reconstruct the city’s severed leg and restore forward motion, so Medusa (with borrowed jet-pack) and Black Bolt fly to retrieve Lockjaw, whose energy bubble contains the leaking oxygen, and Falzon.  The latter posits that this is a planet talked of in the Homeworld Council, located strategically for the coming war, but divided into pro- and anti-Kree factions; as if on cue, an arachnid counterpart to the beetle-city appears, and its soldiers capture the quartet by taking Falzon hostage.  As Karnak initiates a pity party on the beetle, lamenting that his only ability is a destructive one, Medusa et al. are marked for death by Warkon and his anarchists, until she reveals their hatred for the Kree.

Warkon admits the irony of using his city to destroy others, and on learning of Shreel’s death, he makes Skornn his top priority; meanwhile, businessman Morgan Charles and nurse Anne Marie Menzie are among 100 earthlings “marked” by the Kree.  Warkon grants Medusa a squad of his “demon-rebels” to rescue the others before the battle reaches its peak, which she and Black Bolt do—aided by Lockjaw (“Wurfle flurf”) and his teleportational skills—as Warkon wins a Pyrrhic victory, which leaves both cities crippled.  “There is only one thing we can do [now], and I had hoped we would never be forced to do it.  Those Kree can be utterly merciless,” as he ominously intones, and when asked to explain himself only answers, “You will see, Medusa.  You will see.”
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This isn’t terrible, but it might be the most disappointing issue yet, right down to its substandard lettering, and Perlin must be an inker of rare talent…because I didn’t think anybody could make Perez’s pencils look perfunctory.  I should be glad that Moench has returned to the overall “War between/of/with [the] Three Galaxies” (hereinafter “3G War,” since they can’t decide on a name) arc, yet unless there’s some nuance that I missed—quite possible, given the heaviness of my eyelids at the hour I read this—or has yet to be revealed, their arrival on this planet is a literally astronomical coincidence.  I don’t think Gorgon’s saying “Yeah” is in character, and I’m not too sure about the scene of him, Karnak, and Triton playing the “who is more useless?” game, either.

Chris: I didn’t realize the itinerary called for another entire day on the Purple-Dusted planet.  Good thing Falzon is able to provide a connection to the galaxy at large, as he introduces a way for the Kree to have some investment in the factionally-divided world.  Speaking of the Kree, looks like they might be turning a blancmange-ray on a few members of the earth’s populace (those crazy Kree – always getting into everything!); well, as long as they’re not turning people into Scotsmen on the eve of Wimbledon fortnight – but with the Kree, who would know for sure -?  

In any case, despite it being a text-heavy issue, there’s enough action to compensate for that, ably depicted with more spirited Pérez graphics.  The debris-generating inter-city death-grapple (p 27-30) is a clear highlight.  On a smaller note, I like the look of the Inhumans when they’re behind facemasks and force fields; Janice Cohen probably should share credit for the slightly paler color – especially effective for Medusa – which serves to emphasize that the characters are behind a shield of some sort.

The Invaders 11
"Night of the Blue Bullet"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

At the hospital, Cap and Namor protect Lord Falsworth’s secret i.d., removing his Union Jack costume, but Jacqueline’s unspecified surgery is jeopardized, first by a side-effect of Baron Blood’s bite that keeps changing her blood type—offset by a near-total transfusion from “a truly ‘universal donor,’” whose android body manufactures more—then by a power outage.  As Namor revives the generator with winged-foot power, Dr. Latham angrily confirms that, once again, the cause was Professor Gold’s secret construction of “a human rocket,” the Blue Bullet.  An unseen agent is ordered to destroy the Invaders, and when attacked they naturally assume that Gold’s “over-zealous” assistant, Norris (who had forcibly tried to eject Cap), is inside the armor.

Efforts to stop the Bullet without wrecking it fail, and Bucky unwittingly lures it into crashing through the wall behind which Jacqueline and the unconscious Torch are recovering.  Lunging protectively for him, she finds herself (per Bucky) “moving as fast as a British Spitfire,” her hair a flaming streak, and carries him to safety; revitalized by the hospital shower, Namor downs the Bullet, operated by Gold, who warns, “Everything that happens from this moment forward—is your responsibility!”  The Torch deduces that “the vampire’s bite—and…[his] unique blood” have given Jacqueline her new powers and, stung by her obvious romantic attraction to Cap, he flies off in a jealous rage, vowing that they should “count me out!” while she replaces her father.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Roy is clearly thinking several moves ahead lately, from the torch-passing, as it were, among the Falsworths to the ramifications of Professor Gold’s dire prediction (a virtual Ungerian “Let it be on your head!”); it’s like a serial, with each episode flowing smoothly into the next, which makes it a little easier to take when one of them falls a tad short, as this one does.  I’m not buying the “space is at a premium” bit to explain why they’re developing this impossibly clunky proto-Iron Man in a hospital, and where on earth did they think they were going to test it?  I will say this, though:  love him or hate him, Frank’s style is sufficiently distinctive that—as with Baron Blood, and John Byrne notwithstanding—it’s difficult to imagine anybody else drawing the Blue Bullet.

Chris: The clash with the Blue Bullet is fine, and the reveal of Professor Gold as the Nazi spy is a bit of a twist, but the excitement of the battle doesn’t top the tension of the medical staff’s efforts to save Falsworth and Jacqueline.  The team is required to stand by and wait, and then to work quickly to ensure that the infirmary will continue to have electricity; thru it all, there’s a clear sense of their concern for their comrades.  Roy makes a subtle move here, as he allows Namor to quietly, carefully handle the injured Lord Falsworth (p 2), and ensure that his identity as Union Jack is protected.  It’s a noble turn, without the usual bluster that we get most of the time with this character.  

I wish I could explain why Robbins’ work is so much easier to take on the pages of the Invaders than anywhere else.  The simple answer is that issues like this one include some very effective moments that I can’t recall seeing in the pages of Robbins’ other titles.  Highlights include: Cap and the others standing back as Falsworth and Jacqueline are wheeled in to surgery (p 3, 1st panel); the quiet vigil (p 6, last pnl), with an effective color-assist by George Roussos; the team scramble to action in the sudden darkness (p 10, 1st pnl).   

Side note: I probably didn’t notice until after I had purchased it (second hand), but the first copy I owned of this issue had one of Bucky’s eyes etched-out with a pencil (I could see traces of the graphite around the edges of the now-empty space). Seemed like a pretty rotten thing to do to Kirby’s art, you know?

Mark: Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America and all the ships at sea. Let's go to press.

London, where the super-powered Invaders save lives via the world's most complex blood transfer in local hospital. Lives saved but hearts broken, leaving the Human Torch boo-hooing over English high society gal, Jacqueline Farnsworth, who reportedly only has eyes for the walking embodiment of the White, Red, and Blue, Captain America.

So the Torch is left carrying one. Tough break, firefly. Get a haircut and better luck next time.

Meanwhile, my contacts in G2 report that top secret military research in that self-same hospital was infiltrated by Nazi saboteurs. Details are classified, but a "Buck Rogers-type weapon" was kept from Hitler's hordes thanks to the selfless sacrifice of one of our top scientists, who gave his life for the Allied cause. With brave eggheads teaming up with Cap and crew, surely the tide is turning against the mad Austrian house painter and his goose-stepping goons.

Remember, folks, four out of five doctors recommend Lucky Strike cigarettes. L.S.M.F.T. Now, here's Kate Smith with "God Bless America."

Iron Fist 10
“Kung Fu Killer!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Adkins
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Iron Fist finds himself on the wrong side of the law once again, hunted by the New York City police for the murder of Bill Hao, a respected lawyer on the staff of District Attorney Tower. The next night, he runs into Misty Knight and Colleen Wing on a shadowy rooftop. He manages to convince the private investigators that he is innocent and that the crime lord known as Chaka — Hao’s brother Robert — is the actual murderer. The friends depart and, over the next few days, the Living Weapon begins a one-man war on Chaka and his Golden Tigers, single-handedly crippling the gang’s drug and prostitution rings. Days later, Rand, Misty and Colleen are relaxing in the offices of Nightwing Restorations when Chaka bursts through the wall, his electrified triple-iron even more powerful. The women are quickly dispatched and the gang leader and Iron Fist face off. Their violent battle rages out to the street below where Chaka manages to wrap his crackling weapon around the martial arts master’s neck. But the hero channels his Iron Fist and shatters the triple-iron. Rand begins to pummel the dazed Golden Tiger leader, demanding that he admit to the murder of his brother — the battered badguy moans that he will deny it to his very last breath. But shockingly, the still-alive Bill Hao arrives on the scene. After Chaka hypnotized Bill to kill Iron Fist, the lawyer’s martial arts instincts were somehow restored — he managed to avoid the full impact of his brother’s deadly triple-iron. So, along with Lieutenant Scarfe, they hatched a plan to use Iron Fist as a pawn, letting him remain free until he drew Chaka out into the open. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Let’s start with that absolutely amazing splash page: Iron Fist in the middle of a police spotlight, a huge Daily Bugle front page plastered to the wall behind him, its headline shouting “Kung Fu Killer!” As an extra treat, the comic’s credits are incorporated into the newspaper’s copy. And, of course, there’s a subhead for J. Jonah Jameson’s editorial, “Is Spider-Man Involved?” Fan-freakin’-tastic. Hmmmm. Do you think Byrne drew on this illustration when creating the iconic cover for The Uncanny X-Men #141 (January 1981)? You know, the one that kicked off “Days of Future Past.” I always forget that story arc basically signaled the last hurrah for the Claremont/Byrne/Austin team on that series. But enough of that, let’s return to the present. Or is it the future past? D'oh! We have the finale of the three-issue Golden Tigers plot, and things wrap up in a fairly satisfying fashion. It’s a bit of a stretch that Bill Hao and Scarfe’s scheme works out so well. Sure, I guess it’s easy to feed New York’s newspapers with headlines about the lawyer’s supposed murder. But was the entire police force directed to stand down whenever they spotted Iron Fist? Not likely that wouldn’t have leaked out. Regardless, a totally enjoyable issue. Byrne is in top form and it looks like Adkins does a much better job of enhancing his talent than Frank Chiaramonte. Sorry Professor Chris! After this one, Iron Fist will return to a bi-monthly schedule so we won’t be back until February 1977.

Matthew: I tell ya, something else became “like unto a thing of iron” when I saw that splash page.  I’ve long championed Adkins, who’s at the top of his game here, effectively adding a rich chocolate buttercream frosting to the moist cake Byrne has baked to such exquisite perfection.  I was particularly impressed with page 11:  he devotes two oversized panels to what is essentially a static shot, masterfully contrasting them with his customarily tight but dense panels on the prior page, and compensates for a page’s worth of expository dialogue with ample visual interest, first by setting his figures against the dramatic backdrop of a rain-swept Manhattan skyline, and then mixing it up by moving in for a closer shot on the reverse angle.  Richie Rich, eat your heart out!

I don’t mean to keep slighting Claremont, who I assure you will be receiving ample veneration from this corner in the days ahead, but man, this artwork is so conspicuously excellent that it’s a strain not to focus on it.  Feast your eyes on the vibrant montage of page 15, the subdued colors of the background preventing it from swallowing up the tense foreground figure; the aptly feline ferocity of Chaka’s entrance and attack on page 17, with its time-lapse triptych as his triple-iron fells the Nightwing contingent; or the trademark balletic sequence on page 23.  And yes, Chris’s work is also excellent, with superb characterization of our heroes, intense drama, and an ending that is satisfyingly complex, a bittersweet victory exposing Danny as an unwitting stalking horse.

Chris: Pretty daring ploy by Scarfe, isn’t it, to leave Iron Fist out there to battle Chaka’s goons, with Danny at risk for both a sneak attack by Chaka (which finally comes) and a possible bullet by an overanxious rookie cop (narrowly avoided).  Claremont dangles an intriguing question, about why Danny isn’t badly hurt or killed by Chaka’s irons; I can’t recall whether Claremont has time to explore that matter more thoroughly, in the issues he has left.

Chris: Byrne does his usual outstanding job.  Not one, but three full-page illustrations, with Danny’s one-man army campaign against Chaka a particular favorite (p 15); note how, in the upper-right corner of the page, Byrne uses an outline of Danny’s hood to indicate a shadow appearing on the back of the suddenly-alert pimp.  I also like how, on page 1, Byrne leaves a brick at Danny’s left foot, so that on p 2 he can use it to take out the patrol car headlight.  Nice atmosphere on p 7, as Danny hides out in the shadows during the late-summer thunderstorm; too bad he didn’t recognize (as most of us probably did) that it was Misty’s hand holding that .357.  Lastly, for all the fireworks on p 27, I particularly enjoy the way Byrne captures Danny’s fierce look, especially the way his hard scowl has slitted his eyes under the bunched muscle of his brow (last pnl).  

Iron Man 93
"Kraken Kills!"
Story by Herb Trimpe and Gerry Conway
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

Testing the para-gravity deflector whose design Stark allegedly stole, Iron Man seemingly blows up in re-entry, and is again presumed dead, but fished from the sea by a British merchantman, Northern Lights.  With Tony “vanished,” Abe and Krissy fly to meet Iron Man in London, where they are kidnapped by a mysterious figure; meanwhile, his power pack already damaged, Iron Man is at a disadvantage when the pirate brigantine Albatross attacks with energy blasts.  Disabled and knocked overboard by Commander Kraken, now sporting a jet-pegleg, Iron Man plays possum as the Albatross converts into a sub, sinks the freighter, and departs with its crew, but confronting Kraken in an underground base, he learns Abe and Krissy are held captive. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Guess I spoke too soon:  befitting our nautical theme, it seems Conway is not so much charting that new course I mentioned last time as simply steering the ship, since Trimpe both pencils and plots this two-parter (with Abel billed here as “inker/compadre”), and Gerry will then collaborate with his successor, Mantlo, on the remainder of his run.  The reunited Hulkmeisters do a capable job with the artwork, but on the whole, this issue inspires a resounding “meh” from your humble correspondent.  Kraken is, at best, a C-level villain, and it’s only because we don’t yet know why he’s singled Shellhead out in particular that I’m withholding judgment until we see what Herbie had in mind; Gerry’s fourth-wall-breaking captions are more intrusive, and distracting, than ever.

The Avengers 154
"When Strikes Attuma?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

Boy, things get rolling with this issue. Vision is disposing of the Serpent Crown, dropping it into the middle of the Pacific Ocean, when he is attacked by a rogue group of Atlanteans. He is overcome and chained and brought to Attuma, who outlines his plan to enslave the Avengers so that they can defeat the Sub- Mariner and then he can rule the world!

Back in New York, the remaining Avengers ruminate over the Whizzer’s health and talk about the status of Wonder Man, who, in addition to coming back from the dead, has now regained his memory. At Avengers Mansion, Wanda is visited by Triton from the Inhumans, who turns out to be Attuma’s super strong henchman, Tyrak, in disguise. He attacks and subdues Wanda, but the rest of the Avengers show up to do battle with him. Unbelievably, they are defeated one-by-one, and he literally brings the wall down on Cap at the end. The Beast, who hasn’t done much, flees the scene.

The unconscious Avengers are gathered up by Tyrak to be taken to Attuma to be held as slaves, and we are left with this cliffhanger until the story continues in Super-Villain Team-Up #9 (covered in MU next week!- PastePot again). -Jerad Walters

Jerald Walters: Writer Gerry Conway really gets going here, with a ton of action, exposition, great dialogue (some of it pretty heavy-handed), and a memorable villain in Tyrak. Tyrak’s defeat of the Avengers is skillfully handled and made believable. George Perez’s artwork is starting to rev up as well. The panel of the Vision flying over the Pacific is well-done, as is Vision’s battle with Attuma and his men. More convincing is the Avengers’ battle with Tyrak. When Iron Man has his chest plate crushed, the look conveyed in his eyes, looking through the eyeslits of his armor, is very memorable. Cap has a terrific shield attack on Tyrak that is also a classic 3/4 pager. Overall, a terrific issue.

Chris: Not a strong showing by the home team. You're never in for a good day when your opponent can crumple Iron Man's chest plate (uh, Tyrak -- hope you've got some extra armor, otherwise IM isn't going to be much use against Namor, is he?). The Beast doesn't even get in as much action as Jarvis; although, his dive out the window strikes me as strategy, not cowardice.

I'm not sure that it's such a hot idea to drop the Serpent Crown into the sea -- wouldn't it be safer in the immense warehouse where the government has stored the Ark of the Covenant?  Your average supervillain could never complete the paperwork required to recover it from that black hole. 

This issue is particularly noteworthy as the first-ever pairing of Pérez & Marcos.  It’s true that they will produce only a fraction of the number of issues created by Buscema & Sinnott, or Byrne & Austin, or any other iconic team you could think of; still, for me, this is the definitive Avengers art-team of the Bronze era.  Marcos complements Pérez so well, as he provides shading in the right places, and fills in some of the fine details, without ever detracting from Pérez’s pencils.  Highlights on every page, so I’ll limit myself to these few: Vision on the offensive, as he darts his hand forward to disrupt his foe (p 3, pnl 3); Wanda’s “purposeful” stride into the garden, with the fluid movement of her cape as she walks (p 7, pnl 3); Tyrak shreds the couch before it can hit him (p 17, pnl 4), then closes in with his claws bared (p 17, last pnl); Tyrak snags Cap’s shield in mid-air – a subtle tribute to Gulacy, perhaps? (p 23, pnl 3); the unconscious Pyms are placed in a jar for transport, which always struck me as an effectively creepy image (p 31, last pnl).  

Matthew: Oh joy, oh rapture.  I love the Kirby/Milgrom cover, with its floating heads and its appropriately aquatic green background.  I love the splash page of the Vision soaring over the Pacific as he consigns the crown to the deep, with trouble brewing beneath him unnoticed.  And I love every damn page that follows.  This is my moment, my prime time, my childhood heyday, an arc approaching the Starlin triumphs and Avengers/Defenders War in my affections.  It’s all too easy to take Perez’s ridiculously superb pencils for granted, but because his work is probably intrinsically more uneven, Marcos is the surprise inside the Cracker Jack box, helping to polish each panel into a little gem in an entry that, to me, helped define what Avengers greatness can be.

Matthew: Moments.  The brutal image of the Vision plunging his hand into Mako’s face—that’s gotta hurt.  “Should we go after that crown thingy?”  “Nah.”  George making the distaff Assemblers as hot as they have ever looked.  Cap’s “Do you, Wonder Man?” and the latter’s tormented face in page 6, panel 8.  The oddity of seeing the Vision sans cloak, which Attuma dishonors.  Wanda’s “hex hemi-sphere” blasting off Tyrak’s exo-skeleton.  Jarvis’s brief burst of glory.  Iron Man’s abrupt takedown (especially ballsy considering Gerry was writing Shellhead’s book at that time).  Cap courageously punching above his weight while roaring, “shove it right up your Sargasso!”  And as fine a portrait of the blue Beast as ever I’ve seen in page 30, panel 7.  Man, what’s not to like?

Meanwhile, those with nothing else to do may return to the burning question of who did what in #150, a fire onto which this issue’s lettercol throws fuel rather than foam.  Of the 17 story pages, there is unanimity that Conway wrote 1, 2, 6, 11, and 16 and Englehart 3, 7, 10, 14, and 15; then it gets hairy.  Among the pages on which Steve’s site says “my story is untouched,” #154 states that Shooter “scripted” 22, 23, 26, 27, and 31, which could just be a plot vs. script distinction, but both Steve and Gerry take credit for 30, while having asserted in #151’s “Apologia” that Jim wrote 17, Marvel backs Steve’s claim in #154.  “Perhaps it’s a tribute to [their] professionalism that they could blend their three distinctive styles into one cohesive story,” they piously observe.

Joe: Even missing the issues around this one, the memory banks are reminded by the Perez/Marcos brilliance of the story, which crackles like the Atomo-Collar that inhibits The Vision's powers. Great moments abound, from future BFF Wonder Man spooking The Beast, to Jarvis coming to Wanda's aid twice (and using the word "brigand"), to Attuma stealing Vision's cape, to Cap's big moment on page 27: "Mister, you can take your sea-chauvinism—and you can shove it right up your Sargasso!" At 9, I had no clue what that meant, but who cared! Of course, nothing's perfect. Can Wanda's powers really be cut in half because one arm is hurt? Is that where she stores her hexes? Iron Man really wouldn't be that arrogant to attack Tyrak and get beaten that easily, would he? (Well, maybe.) When Jarvis recovers, will he need help to clean up the awful mess left by Tyrak's attack? That's the worst tragedy of them all!

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