Wednesday, September 9, 2015

November 1976 Part One: Hulk Bids a Sad Farewell to a Jolly Green Gal!

 Fantastic Four 176
"Improbable as It May Seem -- 
The Impossible Man is Back in Town!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Behind a great, goofy Kirby/Sinnott cover, George Perez serves up a dark, dramatic splash of "the Jean-Paul Sartre of the superhero set," Ben Grimm, bemoaning his fate as the Thing once more, on Galactus' vengeful whim. After a couple pages of angsty recap as the FF fly home from Counter-Earth, ship courtesy the High Evolutionary, they remember the Impossible Man flies with them. Ben takes a swing & a miss at Impy but – bigger worries - they're now approaching Earth, still traveling at light speed! The Thing accidentally crushes the brake handle, but they've slowed some and aim for a lake in Central Park. Not liking Ben's description of a crash landing, Impy pops out of the ship, floating on air to watch as the Torch exits and does his flame-tornado updraft schtick to slow the splashdown. A force field surrounds the ship as it bobs to the surface. Reed does a rubber bridge stretch to get Sue and Ben ashore.

Impy's there to applaud the show and join in their hunt for a cab. Shenanigans ensue (comedy-with-cabbies is a trope that extends all the way back to FF #1), with Sue turning invisible and Impy becoming mirror-dangling baby booties before drifting away as a balloon. Ben inadvertently de-doors the cab, intentionally rips the engine from the car of a horn-happy motorist, like it's 1962. All those rage-management classes down the drain...

Doing the aerial tour of Manhattan as a green balloon, Impy hears a youngster, on the sidewalk before 575 Madison Ave, rhapsodizing about Marvel comics. The puzzled Poppupian floats up to the sixth floor, and the real fun begins as we eavesdrop on the Bullpen in crisis mode: with the FF out of touch. "How," asks the cartoon Roy Thomas "...can we do our authorized F.F. comic-mag* if they don't tell us what they've been into?" A cigar-chomping Jack Kirby suggests, "...just make up some stories," but Stan reminds him, " just isn't done."

Impy pops in, having decided he wants to star in his own comic, but Stan remembers "...a lot of our readers didn't like [Impy] because he looked silly..." Taking umbrage – and inspiration from the character art on the walls – Impy runs riot, unleashing a repulsor ray here, a Cyclopean eye-blast there. George Perez lugs Stan out of harm's way; Kirby plows into "Jumbo" John Verpoorten; the FF arrives, further amping up the humorous chaos, and one half-expects Forbush-Man to pedal by on a unicycle. 

Learning of Impy's innocuous demands, Reed lassos Stan to pitch the emerald imp in "one special issue." Lee refuses, but the Thing hovering over him menacingly finally convinces him that "everybody deserves a second chance." Peace restored, one of the proofreaders shows the FF a large want ad in the paper.

The Frightful Four, still down a member after Thundra's defection a couple years back, are recruiting. And they've taken to squatting in the Baxter Building! -Mark Barsotti

* The notion that Stan and Jack were depicting "real" FF adventures, as related by the team, was introduced in FF #10-11. 

Mark Barsotti: To some of our brighter students, occasionally given to navel-gazing deconstructionism, rest assured that any over-analytical essays about how the interjection of overtly humorous elements and/or any fourth wall breaking by comic creators to inject themselves into their own tales subverts the realism of "serious" superhero comics and will be read and pondered with the appropriate academic rigor...

...and then you'll get a gentleman's D, you humorless stick-in-the-muds. Watch at least ten episodes of Monty Python and wear a joy-buzzer for a week!

Mark: This one's a blast, but before releasing the tickertape, let's Pick Those Nits! Not only is a tachyon-powered craft that can only travel at light-speed a bad idea, but the trip from Counter-Earth (on the far side of the sun) at 186,000 miles per second would have been over before Ben's pity party got much past, "Wotta revolting development..." But since Roy was an English major, we'll just sentence him to try making it through at least one chapter of a Stephen Hawking book and move on to rhapsodizing over this ish as the "Most Smiles Per Page" offering – thus far – of 1976. 

Sure, the Impossible Man should only be utilized once a decade or so, but Thomas and Perez sure milk Impy for all his worth here. And who cares that Stan wasn't coming into the office and Jack was in So-Cal; this is the Marvel Bullpen as we'd want it to be, from Kirby getting a stogie-spark from the Torch and an oblivious-to-the-carnage Archie Goodwin pondering whether his credit box-adjective should be "Artful" or "Articulate," to the nattily dressed John Romita, the X'ed-out names on the editor's door, and Stan proclaiming Marvel "hasn't got time to waste on silly-looking characters!" as he passes a poster of Howard the Duck.

Mark: Roy's letter page recap of how the tale was born highlights Kirby's continuing creativity and influence, even a continent away: without prompting, Jack's cover art depicted one of Impy's hands as Thor's hammer, the other sheathed in Iron-Man's armor, ideas that Roy and George gleefully incorporated into the story. 

The Perez-Sinnott art is, as expected, top-notch. With the Frightful (almost) Four having invaded the B. Building like cockroaches, we'll be getting back to "serious" super-heroics next month (and Impy, one imagines, will be returned to the comic character waiting room for another ten years), but if anyone really read this issue without cracking a smile then they are in serious need of professional help.

Or at least a good jolt from a joy-buzzer.   

Chris Blake: What a crazy idea – I laughed my way thru nearly the entire issue (I made a point of putting aside this one, as my last November ’76 title to re-read).  Roy not only recognizes the comic (so to speak) potential of the Impossible Man, but he emphasizes how his childlike nature cuts both ways; Impy’s petulance, as he insists on having what he wants (brilliantly complemented by George & Joe’s depiction of Impy’s snarly, pouty face), leads directly to most of the mayhem in the Marvel bullpen.  And how about the “meta” idea of bringing the comic into the office where the very same comic would be produced, featuring the same creative and editorial people involved in that process?  Far out.  

Speaking of the art: this is another of those instances when I feel caught-up in the enthusiasm of the creative crew.  George surely knew that he and Roy could hardly expect to get away with another issue like this anytime soon (if ever again), so he makes best use of the opportunity.  On page 15 alone, we have a mini-Impy swinging from the rear-view (thereby causing an accident), balloon-Impy blissfully sailing away, and to top it off, Ben – perhaps not knowing his regained strength – unwittingly snapping the cab door off its hinges.  The chaos builds quickly in the bullpen, with Verpoorten (seemingly twice the size of people around him) so wrapped up in praise for Kirby’s latest pages, that he doesn’t even notice (despite Kirby’s desperate attempts to warn him) that he’s about to be zapped by an Impy-optic blast.  

Aside from the big, broad moments, there are some subtler ones as well: how about the closet door on p 26, with the long list of editors’ names crossed out (with “[your name]” the last on the list); Johnny gives Kirby a light (p 27); Impy socks Ben hard enough (with Thor’s hammer, no less) to loosen a few terra-cotta chips from his hide (p 23). Then on p 30, there’s Stan himself, impatiently brushing-off the suggestion of devoting a comic to “silly-looking characters” like Impy; and yet, whose poster does George place right behind Stan – none other than Howard the Duck himself!  
We of the MU faculty have had ample opportunity to discuss rancorous exchanges between members of the would-be bilious bullpen (said ill-feeling arising in response to editorial appointments and editorial decisions).  As the issue’s madcap fun plays out on the page, all I can think is: I really hope these guys had a few days, between all the squabbling, that truly felt as enjoyable as it was for me to read about it.

Matthew Bradley:  I expect this will have its detractors, but offbeat issues were a treat before being driven into the ground with Assistant Editors’ Month, and there are Lee-Kirby precedents (#10-11) for both Impy’s escapade and their “authorized” versions of “real” FF adventures.  Among the innumerable cameos, in-jokes, and sight gags—some of which, per Roy’s lettercol essay, prefigure an upcoming Nova story—I’ll naturally single out the list of names, from Lee to Goodwin, on the door marked “Editor,” with all but Archie’s and “(Your Name)” crossed out, including “Roy Tho” between Marv’s and Gerry’s, showing how close he came to taking the job a second time.  The artwork, by the returning Perez and FF bulwark Sinnott, is simply delectable.

Amazing Adventures 39
Killraven in
"Mourning Prey"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Craig Russell
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Craig Russell

January, 2020 in Florida's Okefenokee Swamp, and Killraven is searching for his Freemen, coming across Carmilla's mutant steed, dead, then rouses M'Shulla, and the two talk of Mourning Prey. Flashback to yesterday, where KR shoots a cocoon, which unleashes some caterpillars, and a beautiful yet frightening winged creature. Carmilla names her Mourning Prey, as the butterflies attack. Mourning Prey picks up Killraven and drops him into the swamp, then we get to the present, and KR and M'S come to a clearing where they find their friends—with Mourning Prey! Everyone realizes she's a calm being, and when she grasps Killraven's hands, we're left with…Old Skull saying "Th…Tha…That's all, folks." – Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Well, if we didn't already know this is the last issue of Amazing Adventures, there are clues abounding on the front cover ("The Final Glory"), and McGregor's dedication on the splash page: "Dedicated to: P. Craig Russell, for daring enough to add your own vision and challenge mine, and to the Mud-Brother Following, who cared enough to fight by our sides." And of course a long missive on the letters page letting us know it's the last issue. Turns out no matter how much love the "faithful readers" gave this book, sales "were just not enough to warrant" continuing it. So we are left with more tales to tell, but an ending that is "one of the most beautiful and bizarre—not to mention, haunting—conclusions to a series you're ever likely to see." Well, so the editors say.

What do I say? Well, it's beautiful, yes, especially if you like golden butterflies. And it's bizarre, even for a Killraven tale. And ultimately doesn't mean much, sorry. There's lovely art from Russell. There's multiple captions from McGregor that baffle and bewilder. There's the usual cast of characters spouting nonsensical dialogue. There's golden butterflies. There's a non-ending ending. And we're done. We've come a long way since issue #18, but technically have merely traveled across the United States.

Killraven will return, however, in 1983's Killraven: Warrior of the Worlds, Marvel Graphic Novel #7, also by McGregor and Russell. Peeking at the Marvel Comics Database, the story basically has the Freemen finding KR's brother, but he lures them into a trap where the Freeman battle Deathraven, win, and escape to fight another day, and by the way, Carmilla is pregnant with M'Shulla's baby. Next we'll see KR in a one-shot published in 2001, written and drawn by Joseph Linsner, who I've never heard of, then later an Alan Davis 2002 miniseries that's an alternate reality of Killraven, but also features characters like Volcana Ash and the stupidly named Mint Julep.

Chris: We’ve come pretty far from H.G. Wells, and Orson Welles, haven’t we?  In twenty issues (reprints and fill-ins included), there’s also been a significant distance from Roy Thomas’ starting point (as aided by Neal Adams and Howard Chaykin) to Don McGregor & Craig Russell’s (untimely) ending.  The brash warrior, who had led a determined charge against  a far-mightier opponent, has given way to a man who is tiring of the battle, and beginning to perceive – and accept – that there may still be some beauty, and wonder, left in his forever-changed world.  You could (almost) imagine Killraven & the Freemen settling down to make a home for themselves here in the remote swamp, and waiting to see who might happen by, instead of actively seeking-out adventure and danger.  I’m sure Old Skull wouldn’t mind having a little more time to sit and greet the animals, and play his pipe.  
It’s fortunate that the series wasn’t snipped-off on a cliffhanger – with a final page featuring Killraven (for example) staring down a Martian assassin, during a desperate attempt to free his imprisoned comrades.  It might not’ve been realistic to expect the war to be concluded during the run of this title (Martian intolerance for earth-based bacteria notwithstanding), but the one loose end left adrift is the slightly-developed sub-plot involving Killraven’s brother Joshua, who is alive (last we saw, several issues ago) out west in Yellowstone.  (spoiler alert: McGregor & Russell thought enough of this storyline that they will return to it, about seven years from now, and present it in a graphic novel format that, sadly, is outside of the parameters of our University’s charter.)

Russell brings one of his very-best efforts to the final chapter.  The swamp is lovely, dark and deep.  The cocoon and caterpillars are gelatinous and revolting.  Mourning Prey is as ethereal as she is inscrutable; Killraven perceives her as a threat because, in fairness, he’s learned over the years that most unknowns prove dangerous.  Something passes between them during the mostly-wordless sequence on p 26 – when MP lifts KR off the ground, and they look into each others’ eyes – that allows KR to hesitate from blasting her.  I don’t know what they both see, and I don’t think KR does, either; thankfully, Don knows by now not to tell us – it’s enough to observe the moment, and wonder at KR’s uncharacteristic restraint.  Leave it to Old Skull to find a simple, peaceful resolution. 

Mark: And so another ambitious, uneven series of the era draws to a close. Launched three and a half years ago, trumpeting its H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds taproot, there's nary a Martian in sight at the end. Killraven and his Freemen never got to Yellowstone, never found Killy's brother or stitched together other dangling, discarded plot threads. Never had a climactic battle with the odious invaders. 

Instead, "Mourning Prey" is an odd, elegiac tale, more fable than interplanetary war story. Don McGregor's story flashes forward and back with dreamlike incoherence. Craig Russell's self-inked art veers from splash pages of delicate grace and beauty – No cracks, Forbush, or it's eraser duty again after class – to panels that his minimalist inking leave looking unfinished. There's a herky-jerky quality emblematic of the entire series.

But fables and dreams aren't consistent, and that doesn't dilute their power. Paging through the book several times again just now, I found Russell's art looking better every time, particularly our titular human butterfly hybrid. And having reined-in and channeled his, at times, almost vomitous verbosity, McGregor makes his tale of interspecies conflict and reconciliation genuinely moving. 

And, yes, Old Skull communing with the butterflies makes me glad, no longer mad, that he was brought back from the dead without so much as a "Way to go, Lazarus."

Unlike titles like Deathlok that stopped dead while hyping the next issue, there's a letter page good-bye here, informing us this wasn't meant to be a finale. Fortuitous then, that a stand-alone story was in the pipeline, rather than part one of a Big Martian Showdown. 

And despite some early page irritations, the creators have unintentionally produced a well-nigh perfect send off. Had they tried to write a "finale," no routing of the Martian hordes in seventeen pages would have been satisfying. To go out, instead, on a lighter note, almost a happy ending for characters oft bathed in blood, feels like a bit of victory. 

And we readers got lucky as well. Given the book's roller-coaster quality, this last offering could have been a stink-burger. Instead, Don and Craig dance out the door with one of the best stories in the series.

If you gotta go, that's the perfect exit. 

The Avengers 153
"Home is the Hero!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

The Scarlet Witch, in search of herself and the nature of her power, stumbles across the Serpent Crown at a demolished Brand building which, at that moment, is also discovered by the Living Laser. The Laser overcomes Wanda and departs with the crown, leaving her to fight hired goons at Brand. Later in the issue, she is shot but still manages to escape.

Meanwhile, back at Avengers Mansion, the remaining Avengers try and deal with Wonder Man’s reanimated state. Bob Frank, the Whizzer, appears out of nowhere to talk to the Vision, and then suffers a breakdown (caused by the Living Laser, we later learn) and attacks the Avengers, thinking they are someone else. In just four pages, he takes out Vision, Cap, Iron Man, and the Beast before the Wasp and Yellowjacket disable him. When the remaining Avengers have regrouped, Wonder Man has disappeared, apparently by some sort of hypnotic command (perhaps we'll meet the “he” that was hinted at the end of issue 151!).

In fact, we do find out: Wonder Man has been summoned by the Living Laser to help the Laser destroy the Avengers. But even LL does not know the secret of Wonder Man’s resurrection!
-Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters: Gerry Conway and John Buscema continue with the duties here, and the issue is fairly decent. It’s hard to believe that the Whizzer can defeat most of the Avengers, but then again, they don’t want to cut loose on him, and he’s working in the close quarters of Avengers Mansion — particularly the hallway — where there is little room to maneuver. So that is handled fairly realistically. Not much characterization in this issue, but Conway is clearly building up to something, and we’ll see the payoff in the annual.

Matthew:  In terms of both quantity (all or part of seven regular issues plus an annual, just edging out his second TOD on Iron Man) and—in my admittedly nostalgic opinion—quality, this run was Conway’s major contribution during his relatively brief Marvel comeback; you can see a like-minded viewpoint here, although I think this blogger may be a bit hazy on some of his facts.  The transition from Englehart was gradual, but this month Gerry really comes into his own with the first entry on which he gets sole writing credit and the kick-ass annual.  I’ll state upfront that my fondness for this arc is also due to the crossover with my beloved Super-Villain Team-Up, and to boner-inducing art by the likes of Pérez, the Buscema Brothers, Sinnott, and Marcos.

As for this issue itself, I noted in my diary on August 19, “Got Avengers (1st of sub), but it’s concluded in Annual,” which naturally would have to be purchased separately.  In the event, it turned out to be less than a week, but just imagine being a kid, forced to wait on pins and needles while not knowing when—or even if, considering the catch-as-catch-can nature of those non-subscription purchases—you’d get hold of the end of the story? Although judging by my entries for the subsequent eight days, which incorporated an unusually long stint at the family outpost in Vermont (aka The Shack), the dominant theme of any hypothetical “How I Spent My Summer Vacation” essay by the 13-year-old Professor Matthew might easily be, “Bought lots of comics.”

The next day, I “[b]ought 9 comics in store near bus depot in Bridgeport”; as I have no idea why the hell I was over there, it was evidently a one-off, but interestingly, half were reprints:  Marvel Super-Heroes/Tales/Triple Action and Strange Tales.  Somewhere in Vermont I found Daredevil and Iron Fist on 8/23, and on 8/24—unwittingly increasing the Assemblers-related suspense—“Dad said he had a surprise for me at Weston Center,” revealed on 8/25 as “comix at General Store” (i.e., the Weston Village Store, as distinct from the better-known Vermont Country Store across the street), including the Avengers and Defenders Annuals.  Returning home on 8/27, I found Hulk waiting in the mail, bought 9 more issues and noted, “I’m in debt again, but oh well.”

Oh, and the issue’s not bad, even if they still persist in calling the annual Giant-Size Avengers #6.  When your fill-in guys are Buscinnott rather than, say, Tuskolletta, we’re talking about a whole different order of magnitude, and my soft spot for Wonder Man, despite the original outfit some find goofy, is no coincidence.  Gerry is clearly thinking big with this not-quite-triple-length story (more on that later), and we agree that the whole android/cyborg/robot nonsense regarding the Laser’s “death” in Captain Marvel #35 is, if you’ll pardon the pun, a non-issue.  And speaking of androids, the Vision sounds a tad formal, even for him, repeatedly addressing his putative father-in-law as “Bob Frank.”  I wouldn’t expect him to say “Dad”…but perhaps “Bob” would suffice?

Joe: Lots of action and intrigue, and somehow The Living Laser ends up as the big baddie, ready to go after the Avengers with a newly woken-up Wonder Man. Flawed plan, perhaps? I would think a depleted Avengers team can take them—but wait, the Serpent Crown trumps all, so maybe the Mighty ones are in trouble. Meantime, the wizened Whizzer goes wild, name-dropping old arch-enemies, much to the amusement and pain of the Beast, who is fast becoming the most entertaining team member. Good stuff, with a decent script, if not a bit too full of exclamation points, by Conway, with dramatic art by Big John and Joe.

Chris: Okay, I know it's around here somewhere.  You seen it?  It's a green crown, with snakes around the outside?  It might tell you to put it on your head, but trust me -- don't do it, don’t listen to it.  Well, no one's had their hands on this thing since around Av #149, so if you see it lying around, let me know, okay -?

Next time the Avengers see Bob Frank at their door, they might want to tell Jarvis that Mr Frank is mistaken – this, in fact, is not Avengers Mansion; if Mr Frank has an issue that requires assistance by a team of superheroes, then perhaps the Baxter Building might provide a suitable option.  Either way, whether he means it or not, when Frank whizzes thru the door, people tend to get knocked out.  At least this time, it’s due to laser-guided hypnosis, instead of the previous instance (in one of the Giant-Size issues, I forget which one), which required Frank to KO Jarvis rather than speak with him.  So, if you are sending Jarvis to the front door to speak with Frank, you might want to tie Jarvis’ sparring gloves on first.  Lastly, no matter what the Whizzer’s top speed might be, I can’t see how he could possibly generate enough force so that he could take down the Vision or Iron Man for more than a few seconds.  
I’m not going to get caught-up in the whole Gerry Conway-EIC question; for now, I’m content to give him credit for re-introducing some action and excitement to this title.  For too long, Englehart’s Avengers have been about drawn-out storylines and origin tales, so I’m ready to have some good-old fun with this team for a change.

The Avengers Annual 6
"No Final Victory!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Perez, Mike Esposito, Duffy Vohland,  and John Tartaglione
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Joe Rosen and Shelly Leferman

"Night Vision!"

Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Herb Trimpe
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Dan Adkins

In our first story, the Scarlet Witch returns from Brand, still wounded (after being shot in Avengers #153), and tells the Avengers about the missing Serpent Crown. The Whizzer revives and recounts his days when he learned that Wanda and Pietro were his children, and also tells about his other son, the living nuclear reactor, Nuklo. He tells this entire story while having dinner with Yellowjacket and the Wasp.

At the same time, the Beast goes out looking for the missing Wonder Man, who is found in short order and who starts pummeling the Beast until he is tricked and knocked unconscious. Finally, Iron Man and Captain America discover where the Serpent Crown is — in California — and go out to get it. There they wage war on a renegade section of the US Army who is under the control of the Living Laser, and they also discover that Nuklo is being held captive there. Cap and Iron Man are overcome by the Laser but are soon rescued by the rest of the Avengers — sans Wanda, but including Wonder Man who is firmly with the Avengers now — who quickly overwhelm the Laser and the army. However, by then Nuklo is released, blindly attacking everyone in sight and growing at a rapid rate. Nuklo captures Iron Man and is about to expand into a nuclear explosion that promises to wipe out Los Angeles when, behold!, the Whizzer races in, smashes into Nuklo, forcing his son to implode rather than explode. Whew! Everyone is saved! -Jerad Walters

Jerad: This annual wraps up all the loose ends regarding Wonder Man and the Serpent Crown. Conway’s writing tends to be a bit heavy-handed at times but the artwork, by George Perez, really shines and features a lot of the custom “debris” that seems to be lying around whenever a battle is over. Cap is drawn well, especially in the battle scenes, and the drawing and coloring of Nuklo is very effective. There’s also a bonus story in this issue, “Night Vision!,” recounting some of the Vision’s exploits, written by Scott Edelman and drawn by Herb Trimpe, which is fairly well done with some geniunely funny dialogue from the Vision. 

Chris: So, you’re telling me that a modest-size mass, moving at high speed (but short of the speed of light squared), could impact a vessel of rapidly-increasing energy, and cause that energy to implode, falling back on itself, rather than discharge outward in an explosion?  Well, I think I would need to have Professor Einstein himself here to explain that to me.  But, I won’t hold the pseudo-science against Gerry.  I do hope to find some explanation for the sudden restoration of Simon Williams’ personality, other than that he was delivered a sharp blow to the head in his encounter with the Beast.  I’m willing to wait until our next issue, to see if Gerry will illuminate us regarding this development.  

For now, I’m enjoying the restoration of action and team-concept to this title.  I’m willing to overlook a few questionable moments (such as Cap and Iron Man taking off to find Nuklo without telling anyone, and a government bureaucrat being too busy to tell Bob Frank where his son is) and goofs (like on p 8, when Mr Frank calls Jan “Mrs McCoy” – uh, unless Jan, there’s something you haven’t told us -?).   
The many-hands embellishment approach typically makes for poor results with Perez’s pencils.  This time, though, we get a fairly consistent look despite having three different inkers on board.  Duffy Vohland’s work on the Beast-Wonder Man scuffle probably turned out best, in my opinion.  Although, John Tartaglione’s inks are above his standard, particularly in the last five pages of the team’s fight with Nuklo (p 31-37); all the figures and faces look right, and we get the full effect of the bristling energy coruscating around the giganticizing Nuklo.  The finished product is better than I remember.  

The supporting feature, a rare solo story featuring the Vision, is an odd trifle; to be honest, I had completely forgotten it was here.  The subject is as light as Vision’s ephemeral form, with a script from asst editor Scott Edelman that can be as dense as diamond-hardness.  I guess it might be clever to have a story about the consequences of a superhero’s inadvertent property damage; surely Scott knew, though, that Steve G had just followed a very similar line in an ongoing story with Valkyrie in the pages of the Defenders.  Oh well. 

Matthew: You’ll forgive me if I feel cheated.  Of all this year’s resurgent annuals, what’s the only one (or the only one I ever saw) that is not a full-length story?  Oh, yes, that’d be the one for my long-term favorite book, which ties in with one of my favorite arcs, and ends with an eight-pager that features one of my favorite characters, the Vision, but is written by—ulp—newbie Scott Edelman, and drawn by—double ulp—a self-inked Herb Trimpe.  “Marvel used back-up stories both as a training ground for new talent and as a way to allow the creators of regular titles to catch up on their deadlines by having them write fewer pages, and I was the frequent beneficiary of both of those policies,” Edelman recounted on his blog; this was his first.

Yet disappointments such as that disposable Vision/Whirlwind fracas and the occasional error—e.g., Hank’s gray hair on page 8—are far outweighed by the positives.  Requiring the services of inkers Esposito, Tartag, and Vohland, this 27-page economy-sizer returns us from our Buscinnott lobster to our regularly scheduled Pérez filet mignon; dang.  The Beast’s concern for Wonder Man (“I for one worry about that mindless chump”) presages a friendship beloved by many a reader, and the shot of them amid the cityscape on page 11 is brilliant.  Pietro was retconned not to be Bob’s son, but Nuklo indisputably is, justifying Cap’s “courage of Abraham” riff, and my only real beef is how irresponsibly he and Shellhead blazed without telling the others their plans.

Black Goliath 5
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Keith Pollard
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

The Z-Ray has transported BG, Celia, and Keith a thousand parsecs to the “second planet of the blue-white star, Dharalla,” where A’askvarii scout Derath’ath Machlan’n finds them “on Sharra’s Forge—the cruelest terrain on this cruelest of planets (named, in bitter irony, for the mother goddess of legend),” not necessarily the Shi’ar deity. Learning English via “mind-tap,” Derath explains that Kirgar “was once the throne-world of a mighty empire which collapsed a million cycles ago,” and that he, too, is stranded, having crashed while seeking the stronghold that, according to legend, Kirgar’s last warlord had left protected by a guardian. Back on Earth, Stilt-Man remains at large, and Jerry, opening the box, is consumed by a blinding light.

Entering the stronghold, a pyramid extending more than a mile below the desert floor that “has stood inviolate for ten thousand centuries,” the quartet finds cubic kilometers of machines that Derath can use to reverse the effect of the Z-Ray, which was “powered by neutron star matter [and]…warped local space around [them].”  Finishing the dimensional transporter, Derath finds BG and Celia enjoying a moment alone, and dies saving them from the axe of Mortag.  Celia distracts the guardian with Derath’s blaster, enabling BG to throw a punch that inadvertently hurls Mortag into a power board, but when “killed” by the exploding circuits, he is revealed as a robot, and as they prepare to transport home, Keith vows to maintain Derath’s log for his family. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The lettercol reveals that by the time this issue saw print (a month behind schedule, as is the current Marvel Presents), they knew it would be the last, which obviously isn’t always the case, and although I liked the book all along, it’s especially poignant to see how good it would have been in the hands of Pollard, slated as its new regular artist, and Claremont.  But fear not: their loose ends won’t go untied, even if it will be quite a long time before we see Celia again.  Reggie Clayborne and the mystery-box subplot burst into the forefront when Mantlo features Black Goliath with the Champions—as mutual creator Isabella always intended—in #11-13, while buffalo-hunter Chris, with Keith, begins repurposing security-schmuck Ballard in Ms. Marvel #9.

Captain Marvel 47
Story by Gerry Conway and Bill Mantlo
Art by Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

Mar-Vell forces entry to the Baxter Building, despite the Torch’s warning that it is off-limits, yet after trapping Johnny with one of their defensive devices and  agreeing to a truce, he fails to rescue Rick from the Negative Zone via Reed’s portal.  He explains that after they merged to travel from Hala—where Bun-Dal was named imperial minister—to Earth, he narrowly escaped a black hole, then found himself unable to release Rick until Johnny reminds him of the Nega-Bands (of which I believe he should still have only one; maybe the merge did it).  As Johnny treats Rick to a burger, scientists Tara and Mac-Ronn retrieve Sentry #459 from Antarctica, believing that even a machine could be affected by the “spirit virus” that robs every Kree to visit Earth of logic.

Falling from the hold when the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier fires upon their ship, the Sentry crashes into Mexico, where bandit Escheverra battles the police; after reconnecting with Mordecai and signing a new contract, Rick hears a report of the robot running amok in Mexico City and trades places with Mar-Vell.  Puzzled that the Sentry—its “diseased” memories erased by Mac-Ronn’s reprogrammer disc—is attacking the police, he theorizes that it is now guided by an Earth-mind, “driven almost mad by finding itself within an alien casement.”  Blinding the Sentry with his photon trail, Mar-Vell topples it into a fountain, yet as he muses that “It’s as if I’ve only fought the first battle of a much larger war,” the seemingly inert Sentry’s eyes begin crackling anew… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Now-former EIC Conway continues to expand his portfolio with another ex-Englehart title, and in addition to discussing the reasoning behind returning Mar-Vell to Earth and Rick to the Negative Zone, the lettercol explains his future plans, not all of which eventuated.  In January, “we’ll be launching a new magazine, Ms. Marvel.  The book will link the good Captain more closely to the world of Peter Parker [!] by introducing a new super-heroine to the Merry Marvel line-up—a dynamite lady, unlike any who have come before her.  Ms. Marvel will also be written by Gerry, who is no stranger to either the Parker or the Captain Marvel legends.  Gerry plans to blend the two…together with his own mind-boggling overview of cosmic consistency.”

Before you dismiss this as the ravings of a deranged armadillo, bear in mind that even sooner—next month, to be precise—Gerry will launch Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, and that Mar-Vell supporting player Carol Danvers becomes the Divine Ms. M just as she enters the employ of a certain Mr. Jameson.  I’d forgotten that Conway had any history with this book, comprising a single issue, #22 (likewise, this is co-scripter Mantlo’s only credit on the title), but his second stint won’t be very much longer.  Bringing back the Sentry is encouraging, even if Marv’s monumental stupidity re: the MARMIS and Nega-Bands is not, and Austin makes the most of Milgrom’s work, yet what strikes me is how Gerry undoes Steve’s major developments.

Chris: Plenty of shaky decisions here.  First off, the MARMIS is of the worst kind: “No time to explain – time to fight you, but no time to talk!”— it’s stupid.  Mar-Vell, you’re going to have to take a few minutes to explain your actions to the audience anyway, so you might as well clue in J. Storm at the same time.  Marv blowing up the Neg-Zone view-screen in a fit of pique is not behavior suited to a former officer of the Kree, either.  And why is Marv so amped-up about Rick being in the NZ, anyway?  I mean, Rick’s already spent enough of his life there; he should know where all the top neg-night-spots are by now – he’ll be fine.  

Speaking of Rick – Gerry, do we really need to revive the “Rick Jones – Rock Idol!” nonsense that bogged down the title in months past?  Get him a job at the mall, or something, to keep him out of trouble – otherwise, I don’t need to know a blamed thing about Rick’s personal life.  
The Milgrom + Austin team always has struck me as a bit weird.  The look this time is a jarring switch from Milgrom’s muddy self-inked work; the results appear to be nearly 75% Austin, and are very clear, bright, and shiny, bordering on cartoony cheeriness.  There’s a curious bit of behind-the-scenes that sneaks in to p 23, at the top of the 3rd panel, as directions (which appear to be in Austin’s hand) inform colorist Hugh Paley that the items visible behind the head of the bandito are leaves, flying “thru air from force of crash.”

Conan the Barbarian 68 
“Of Once and Future Kings!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Pablo Marcos

The giant bat with the head of the Stygian priest swoops down and grabs the page from the iron-bound Book of Skelos out of Karanthes’ hands. Conan and Red Sonja mount up to give chase — before they ride off, the priest gives Conan a blood-red jewel and tells him he will know what to do with it when the time comes. Outside the Nest of the Sacred Ibis, they are joined by the late-arriving Bêlit: all three head after the demonic flying creature. As night falls, they come across a gleaming palace in the middle of a desolate wasteland that wasn’t there a month ago. A group of warriors rides out to meet them, their leader calling himself Bulgar, commander of King Kull’s Black Legion of Valusia. Conan is incredulous, knowing that the Valusian king has been dead for thousands of years. Bulgar takes the captive Conan and his companions to Kull’s throneroom, the faithful Brule the Pict at the monarch’s side. When the Cimmerian demands to be set free, Kull’s counselor, the tattooed Gonar, urges the king to kill them all. Kull, wanting to teach the defiant Conan a lesson, faces off against the Cimmerian singlehandedly. During the pitched battle, Kull mentions that when the jewel in his crown mysteriously disappeared, his palace and men were magically transported to this strange land. Conan pauses and shows the Valusian the gem given to him by Karanthes: Kull marvels that it is the missing Fire-Jewel and places it back on his crown. Suddenly, Gonar reveals himself as the Stygian sorcerer, boasting that he transported Kull and his Black Legion to this present time with a spell from the Book of Skelos page: the wizard planned on using this army to conquer all of Argos. Before the Stygian can transform into his bat form and escape, the Cimmerian kills him with a well-placed arrow, the Skelos page bursting into flames. Kull, his men and the palace disappear, returning to the past. Karanthes appears, refusing to pay Red Sonja her reward since the page was lost. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Not content with just teaming up Conan and Red Sonja, Roy throws King Kull into the mix with this closing installment. Unlike other Marvel comics that promised guest-star heroes on their covers only to reveal them as aliens or robots or whatnot — I’m talking to you Ghost Rider #18 and Man-Thing #20 — Kull actually appears. If a reader didn’t know that Kull and his men were from the past, it would be easy to assume that they came from a future time: the Valusians’ dress and manner are much more civilized than the Hyboreans’. The Cimmerian and Valusian king are even-matched in their battle, but Conan, closer to his barbarian roots than the monarch, begins to gain the upper hand before the Fire-Jewel reveal. Putting the two characters side-by-side really drives home their similar appearance: only Kull’s shorter hair and scar marks a difference. Red Sonja and Bêlit retreat to the background when Kull appears, letting Conan handle his business. The She-Devils part as reluctant friends but it is notable that Conan takes a backward glance towards the Hyrkanian as he rides off with Bêlit — lucky for him, the pirate queen didn’t notice. We have a one-panel appearance by my fave Thoth-Amon. Gonar appeals for his help at the end but Thoth-Amon refuses, realizing that his supposed minion would have also use Kull’s forces to overthrow him as well. Big John inks himself and the results are just fine and dandy.

Chris: My first thought was that Roy was over-playing the guest-stars card here, but (not surprisingly) he finds a way for Kull’s presence to be more than a potentially circulation-increasing gimmick.  I also appreciated the grown-up way Bêlit came around, as she recognized that Sonja was not her rival (so, does that mean that, the next time Conan announces that he’s going out with “friends” for the evening, she’ll give him free rein?  We’ll see.).  Poetic justice is served, as neither Conan nor Sonja winds up with the mysterious page from skelos book; ah well, them’s the breaks.  

As much as I admire the consistently superlative artistry that Big John brings to an assortment of Marvel titles, I hope you’ll excuse me if I’m never going to be a fan of his self-inked work.  The composition of the panels conveys energy and intensity, but it doesn’t feel the same, with figures and facial expressions left appearing a bit vague, suggested-at but not quite finished.  Could it be due to the fact that, nearly all the time, Buscema has been paired with an inker (Sinnott, Esposito, Palmer, followed by the various Conan embellishers) – was it that he simply was not accustomed to the practice of inking -?

 Captain America and the Falcon 203
"Alamo II!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Cap is joined by Texas Jack as they both emerge on the other side of the dimensional door. There they meet Brother Wonderful, the man in charge of the transporter, who believes Cap and Jack represent the authorities who imprisoned the inmates in the original asylum. Cap tries to explain they are only there to find their missing friends and while they notice all of the planetoids in the sky above, Cap spots Leila. However, she does not recognize him and now answers to the name Sister Sweet. As Cap tries to get through to her, the similarly brainwashed Falcon arrives and attacks. Brother Inquisitor stops the fight and gives Cap and Jack the option to join them by undergoing shock treatment and erasing their previous lives. Before they can make the fateful decision, a monster from one of the planetoids arrives and goes on the offensive. The battle is a long one, but Jack overhears the plan to send the monsters all to Earth to keep the Night People safe in this dimension. Cap tricks Brother Wonderful into agreeing to test the transporter by sending Falcon and Leila through, and then Jack. Cap then takes the self-destruct detonator from Brother Wonderful and throws him through the vortex. As the monsters mount their final attack, Cap ushers the rest of the population through and sets the explosive before leaping home himself. Once the bomb detonates, the entire planetoid is destroyed.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Because of the fight of the inmates against impossible, overwhelming odds, this one was called "Alamo II." And, I guess, that makes it appropriate for loony toons ol' Texas Jack to come along for the ride. Cap gets even more heavily into the nutsy sci-fi / fantasy antics of Jack Kirby's fertile, if skewed, imagination. To be frank, there's very little new to comment on here. The dialog is still dusty and stilted, the drawings are weird and the plotting is inane. It feels like there's some kind of message that Kirby wants to impart, but it's not coming through. It's just light reading; short on plot, long on action and I guess that's what he always did best. In younger days.

Matthew: My qualified enjoyment of the King’s Bronze-Age run on Cap continues to rise steadily in the post-Madbomb era, as always with a nod to the stalwart Giacoia for maximizing the dominant visuals.  This story stands out in my mind particularly as one of the few that actually crosses over with the mainstream Marvel Universe, leading directly as it does—albeit with a totally different creative team—into next month’s Marvel Team-Up.  I have a stubborn affection for Texas Jack (hey, hold on a second, that’s Kirby’s first name!), and the loopiness seems more acceptable when held down to a trilogy instead of a sprawling, eight-part epic, especially one that is brought to such a clever conclusion.

Daredevil 139
"A Night in the Life..."
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

 A harried mother bursts in to a medical clinic, pleading for help to find her missing son, Tim – her panic is due to his hemophilia.  The doctor calls the police, who say they can’t help – they’re desperately trying to stop a bomber, who is setting off explosions every 30 minutes.  The bomber has one demand: the location of his wife, Joyce, who is missing in the city.  Joyce has an addiction to cocaine, and her bomber-husband, Frank, only wants to get her to rehab.  So, the bombings will go on until someone – anyone – is able to bring her to him.  Joyce had turned to drugs to hide from the pain after her young daughter had been killed; she had run into the street and was hit by a car.  Joyce tries to rob a pawnshop, but the owner plugs her in the shoulder as she tries to run out.  Joyce then stumbles on Tim, who has fallen and is unconscious, bleeding, on the sidewalk; she wants to help Tim (in part, to satisfy her frustrated desire to save her daughter), but feels she can’t think clearly while she’s withdrawing from the drugs.  At the same time, Daredevil (remember Daredevil?  Comic’s about Daredevil) is rousting crooks all over the city, trying to drum up information about Joyce; he wants the word out in the street to help locate her, before the next bomb goes off (miraculously, there have not been any casualties in the explosions, in this densely-populated city).  Joyce (accompanied by a slowly bleeding Tim) returns to the pawnbroker and robs him, then takes the cash to her dealer, Slate; Joyce shoots Slate when she suspects he’s going to turn her in, without giving her coke first.  As she grabs a dose and runs out, Slate calls in the Joyce-sighting to his boss.  Daredevil is fired on; he drops to the street, and learns that this thug is not trying to hit him, only to draw his attention.  Daredevil takes the new intel and scoops up Joyce, and a fading Tim; he gets medical attention (a coagulant) in time, and Frank – once promised that Joyce will receive treatment for her addiction – backs off from his last bombing, and turns himself in.  Problems solved. -Chris Blake

Chris: This is, by far, the longest issue of Daredevil I have ever read.  It’s hard enough that every panel on every page is stuffed-full of word balloons and captions, with phrases and sentences clotted where only a few words are called for – I almost expected the comic itself to weigh twice as much as a normal issue.  No, what makes it worse appears to be the influence of other, lesser writers in the proceedings.  First, we have ludicrous story-details that only Isabella could dream up, such as bombs going off all over town – every thirty minutes – none of which cause any harm to anyone.  Pretty fantastic, hmm?  And DD – here’s an idea – maybe there’s a way to locate the bomber, instead of Joyce, since maybe one of these bombs might accidently blow someone up, you know -?  
We also have poor Tim, who manages to fall on the sidewalk, which not only causes him to start bleeding, but also somehow knocks him cold – he’s unconscious on the pavement for an hour or so (a few harmless bombs go off in the meantime), but doesn’t bleed to death.  In a Dickensian twist, Joyce is the only person in a city of eight million who happens upon the injured boy.  Lastly, I told you the guy who shoots at DD is trying to get his attention – he was calling DD overhead, but DD couldn’t hear him – that’s right, Daredevil could not hear the voice of someone calling him – so, the guy fired off a shot instead.  Take a bow, Marv “ the Tiger” Wolfman.

Equally bad are the moments of rampant young Mantlo-moralizing (mantloralizing -?), as Marv bemoans the evils of drug-using and drug-dealing.  Slate might’ve been shot by Joyce, but “it is not pain enough for what he and countless others like him have done … to a generation seeking a misguided truth in a syringe.”  I’m sorry, had there been a period of pro-drug comics-writing, that Marv felt the need to refute -?   
The art is credited to guest-artist Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney, but there’s practically no evidence of Sal’s art here; the finished product is almost exclusively average Jim.  

Matthew: After the protracted Jester plotline and DD’s recent spate of team-ups, it’s perhaps understandable that Marv would want to shift gears with a low-impact done-in-one, like this tale tellingly titled “A Night in the Life.”  Naturally, Sal acquits himself well, succeeding his big brother as guest artist du mois and reunited—at least here if not, alas, in Defenders—with the Madman, but what’s with the credit to Irv Forbush as Consultant?  Overall, it’s sloppy (confusing cocaine with heroin; “there should be some junk dealer’s [sic] behind that door” in page 17, panel 3), ham-handed, and rife with clichés and coincidences, e.g., the woman devastated by her daughter’s loss, then thrust into the role of surrogate mother to an at-risk child.

The Defenders 41
"Intruder in the Sand!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Dr. Strange and Kyle Richmond have been summoned to a Nevada desert commune where the residents call themselves the "Dune People." Their leader, David Anthony, shows them around and explains how the disappearance of Trish Starr led him to call them. Trish had become a member, and had used her talent while she was there to develop a whole new setup for the commune's operation, far superior to what it had been. Soon, however, the lack of a challenge had led her into a soul-searching depression that included lots of mysticism. Eventually after an unexplained atomic flash had drained her and made her cold and angry, she wandered off into the desert and vanished. A search of her notes had included a highlighted Kyle Richmond--thus the summons. The next day Stephen and Kyle venture into the desert to search. The mage's senses lead them to an energy barrier, impenetrable physically, but not to Stephen's astral form. He finds himself in another dimension, and Trish is indeed there. He brings her back, seemingly unharmed, and happy to see Kyle. Strange looks into her mind to see if she's really ok; unfortunately, this is exactly what Stephen's old enemy, Shazanna had been waiting for, opening a path to Earth for her and her Medieval legions. It seems the conquest of Earth may be close at hand until Stephen uses the  link (with some help from Clea and his fellow Defenders) Shazanna has with Trish to defeat his foe and return them to whence they came.  -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A satisfactory way to bring Trish Starr back into the picture, and a relief to have something other than the Headmen to contend with. The contrast of swordplay and twentieth century makes an effective backdrop. Still, Trish seems fully recovered rather quickly; unlike say Barbara Norriss, aka the spirit of Valkyrie. Some of Sal Buscema's art really looks like Steve Ditko's old work, creating a sense of authenticity.

Chris: Isn’t it a bit odd that, after having gone thru a year-long arc of Headmen/Nebulon, packed with overlapping stories and sub-plots, Steve G has one final stand-alone story for the team?  It’s almost like having a fill-in issue, only it’s presented by the usual creative crew.  I also find it funny how Steve & Sal depict the rest of the team sitting around the sanctum, apparently with nothing at all to do; my only criticism of the issue is that I would’ve preferred it if Steve could’ve found a way to include the other Defenders earlier in the story, so that their participation for 2-3 pages at the end would’ve felt less tacked-on.  That aside, it’s a perfectly enjoyable bowing-out for Steve & Sal.   

Matthew: In my diary, after recording the purchase of 11 issues in two states on some three occasions over the prior two weeks, and observing that I was reading through my entire collection—having reached Dr. Strange #17—I noted that “Defenders #41 came in the mail [on August 7], my first subscription comic.”  When one door opens, another closes, and this is sadly the last gasp for Gerber, reportedly forced off the book to help fulfill Conway’s new writer-editor contract.  Ever the trouper, he leaves the field carrying the battered, bloody body of Buscema, who to date has drawn every damn issue but one; unlike Steve, Sal will be back once in a while, but it’s the last time on this title that his pencils are submerged in Klaus’s viscous, noxious slime.

Matthew: Somebody must have squealed with delight upon receiving a couple of letters critical of Gerber.  The armadillo answers one, “we’re not necessarily sorry you disagree with [his] plots or that they disagree with you, because Gerber’s being relieved of his duties [emphasis mine] on the book.  Next issue, Gerry Conway takes over the scripting, and he promises that The Defenders will shortly resemble a super-hero book—and not the outtakes from Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman—in plotting and dialogue once again.”  In response to the next, they say, “not only do we get a responsible writer [emphasis mine] with a decided aversion to elves on this book—finally!—but Gerber also gets shipped off to the Duck Farm where he belongs.”  Real nice, guys.

SuperMegaMonkey theorizes that this standalone “may have been an inventory issue that was pulled out [like the forthcoming Son of Satan #8] now that Gerber is quitting [sic].  Defenders Annual #1 ought to be viewed as the real conclusion to his run.”  Since it shows Valkyrie’s just-acquired new duds (albeit inexplicably in silver rather than gold), it can’t have been sitting on the shelf for long, but with no reference to recent events, it admittedly feels like a fill-in, especially in its use of Shazanna, for whose return—her name augmented with an extra “n”­—absolutely nobody has been clamoring since Strange Tales #133 (June 1965).  As usual, Doc gets the worst tarring with Klaus’s brush; his own mother wouldn’t know him in page 31, panel 5, let alone Sal.

The Defenders Annual 1
"World Gone Sane?"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan

Jack Norriss, Valkyrie's kind-of husband, calls the Defenders and sums up for them his version of what's happened, before going undercover himself to do his part in solving the mystery. That is, essentially that two different forces are playing off each other in trying to take control of the Earth. The first force is Nebulon the Celestial Man, whose view is that controlling the minds of humans and taking away their free will is the way to save them from themselves. The Headmen, the bizarre group of scientist misfits have exercised a bit of mind control themselves to keep the Defenders from interfering with their political overthrows. Nighthawk and the Red Guardian head to France to rescue their recently deposed leader. The latter infiltrates Nebulon's French mind control headquarters while the former learns from the deposed leader how the Headmen have been pulling the economic strings behind the scenes. This knowledge gets both of them miniaturized as part of the gang's plan of control. In New Dheli, Val and Luke Cage nab a special box from a gunmen that proves to contain more such shrunken people -- who they soon join after Headman Nagan blasts them with the shrink ray. Jack Norriss sees himself as a James Bond of sorts, as he gains an audience with  presidential candidate Ruby Thursday, you guessed it, another one of... He exposes her, but like the others he ends up on the receiving end. Dr. Strange himself has perhaps the most bizarre adventure, whisking away the U.S President to open his eyes to the false promise of Nebulon's mind control.  When the latter appears to debate the merits of "saving" Earth, the leader gets more info than he bargained for. When they realize, upon returning to earth that they're trapped "under the dome" as Headmen's lab rats, Stephen pulls a card only he can. He uses his mental energy to summon the Hulk, who smashes the dome, breaking the spell, and they return to normal size. Their unexpected escape gives them the advantage over the Headmen to win the inevitable fight, then Stephen uses his Eye of Agamotto to force Nebulon to feel; the alien departs, considering us unworthy of saving.
-Jim Barwise

Jim: This is a better wrap-up than the last couple of issues would have led us to expect, no doubt aided by the extra length an annual allows. The cross purposes of the villains on both sides is cleverly intertwined, as they both help and hinder each other's efforts, and in effect make it possible for the Defenders to save the day. I enjoyed Jack Norriss in his rather laughable spy efforts, as well as the President getting a bird's-eye view of inter-dimensional theatre. The subtle mind control the Headmen had gained over our heroes explains why the Defenders couldn't have wrapped these guys up sooner. What would Stephen King have thought of Steve Gerber's version of being under the dome?

Matthew:  Or, for a much earlier treatment of the same theme, see Arch Oboler's The Bubble (1966).

Chris: Clever thought by Steve G to find a new purpose for Jack -- we've all had our fill of his mooning and moping, right?  Jack's had his share of moments when he's been along for the ride, but this marks the first time that he's placed himself an active role – well, at least since he had to bluff his way thru a Headmen board meeting, in Kyle’s guise.  It's a good move to position him as someone who can work for the team on his own, as it will make him more useful as a character.
Steve G packs plenty of action and goings-on in this one-and-only Defenders Annual.  The notion that Nebulon could have been inadvertently advancing the Headmen’s aims is a good one, but it feels like an idea that only truly occurred to Steve once he realized he was down to his last canister of 70mm; I would have much preferred that Steve had done more to lay-out these seeds across some prior issues.  Instead, the Headmen suddenly appear (as if they had only opened their invitation that morning, asking them to appear in the Annual), after months have gone with nary a word or a glimpse from Nagan.  Through his handling of this title, we’ve seen how Steve can capably keep multiple balls rotating around at once; there should have been more attention on his part, especially over the past 2-3 issues, to keep us apprised of the Headmen’s plans and actions.  

In addition, as Steve gets down to his final page of typing paper, the cataclysmic battle with the Headmen is done in one large panel; too rushed, and a bit disappointing.  Steve instead could have incorporated more of the story details from the first half of this issue in Defenders #40, and then opened the annual with the Jack Norriss – Secret Agent sequence, which would’ve allowed Steve – via Jack’s voice – to provide us with the recap, while simultaneously introducing Jack’s play at Danger Man.  That would’ve allowed more time in the annual for the action to play out.  Well, call it my two cents.  
Nice “Le bozeau – c’est moi” moment at the very end by Mssr Strange.  
Matthew: In truth, I revisited this with trepidation, despite my fondness for Gerber’s run and for resurgent annuals that tie in with the monthly mags, because although it would be overstating the case to say that the Headmen/Nebulon arc didn’t live up to my memories, it was a bit more uneven than I thought.  Yet Steve pulls his sprawling saga together pretty satisfactorily, from the charm of “Bozeaux” and the bizarrerie of Agent Norriss (“‘Heh-heh,’ I said.”) to Doc’s incontrovertible argument that humans were never meant to be perfect, and of course it’s nice to see old Jade-Jaws finally reunited with his, uh, non-teammates.  The Ed Hannigan cover is okay, if disappointingly generic; there’s obviously no point in my addressing the interior artwork here.

The Eternals 5
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

Knowing the really smelly stuff is about to hit the fan, Sersi turns on her mirror (an ancestor of Skype) and contacts fabled Makkari to let him know what's going down on the streets of New York. The Eternal scoffs, insisting Sersi is having one over on him, until a band of devilish Deviants pops in the apartment window and snatches Sersi and her new gal pal, Margo, right in front of Mak's eyes. Mak (whose power is Quicksilver-like speed) flits through the streets of Olympia, the city where the Eternals reside, and demands an audience with the head honcho himself, Zuras, "the eldest of Eternals, and wielder of a hundred potent powers." Meanwhile back on Earth, Margo and Sersi are escorted to a waiting air shuttle and taken to the bottom of the harbor, where the Deviants have set up base. Mak finally gets in to see Zuras, who's having a friendly game of Rock'em Sock'em Robots with his wild daughter, the Eternally gorgeous Thena, and who is none too happy to be disturbed on a weekend. The speedy one finally convinces the pair that there's some nasty stuff going on down in Manhattan. Thena, ever up for a battle, volunteers to check out the situation and she and Mak head to Earth where they arrive just in time to prevent the vaporization of some brave, upstanding cops (we know they're  not on the take as neither Mantlo nor Moench had anything to do with this strip). At the Pentagon, a message boy rushes top secret photos to a General and the two are shocked by what the pics show: a giant dome has appeared in the Andes and, visible through its glass, the men can see an ominous giant Giant! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Shout it out Loud! "The Sixties Never Died!" I have to say (and you can probably read it in my snarky comments for the first couple issues) that I didn't expect to like this series at all but it's really beginning to grow on me. I have no idea what the hell Jack is doing or where the hell he's taking us but each chapter seems to add another goofy, enjoyable plot thread. This issue we don't even see our ostensible hero, Ikaris, who's been encased in a capsule and dumped at the bottom of NY harbor by the Deviants. What we do get is the introduction of three major new characters, Zuras, Thena, and Makkari (Margo is told by Sersi that humans have long mispronounced the speedster's name as "Mercury"), and the escalation of the war between Deviants and Eternals via humans. I love that Kirby (wittingly or unwittingly) peppers the dialogue with smart-ass comments to lighten the very serious tone now and then. How many seventh-graders giggled at the following exchange:

Sersi: New York City is aflame! It's been subjected to a surprise attack! The Deviants are swarming everywhere!
Makkari: I know you well, Sersi. My guess is that you've beaten off a few already!

Haha! Get it? Or how about when Zuras tells Thena to fill his wine cup when he hears Mak is on his way: "I can tolerate that racing nut once I'm amply fortified!" Things can only get more interesting next issue when the Eternals Universe officially becomes merged with the Marvel Universe (didn't you wonder why the FF hadn't shown up when all of Manhattan is in flames?) but, one thing's for sure, this is head and shoulders above the pap The King is shoveling over at Captain America and the Falcon. At the onset of the series, I wondered what sort of movie The Eternals would be should Marvel take the risk (a very slim chance, I'm sure) and, after a couple issues, I thought this property would naturally fall into the hands of a hack like Bay or Emmerich but now, with a few more issues off the to-read pile, I'd hand it over to Christopher Nolan. Of course, no matter the director, if we want the dialogue to be as... inspired... as Jack's, we'd have to lure George Lucas out of retirement. He'd knock this out of the park.

Chris: Jack continues to deliver the sort of urban destruction and mayhem that would make a Toho producer beam with pride.  Nice moment when New York’s finest stand their ground against the formidable Deviants.  

Good decision by Jack to introduce a few more members of this new team, as he has gradually brought in a few with each issue (but, don’t take too long, Jack), rather than throw them all in at once.  And, a good move to have Makkari and Thena join the fight; the battle’s been fun, sure, but poor New York’s been aflame for about three issues now, so maybe it’s time to save the beleaguered city and move on.  
Mark: "Olympia!" is top-flight Kirby. With the book's Von Danikeny premise (although Kirby hardly needed inspiration from the natterings of a Swiss hotelier-cum-swindler to conjure modern mythology) well-established, Jack now puts his foot on the gas, revving-up high octane Gods versus Monsters Space Opera. He plays out the Deviants' attack on New York, while shifting the focus to a new batch of Eternals, and all without missing a beat. 

Kirby fave Mike Royer makes his first Marvel appearance on inks and lettering, and everything looks crisper, sharper. Tart-tongued Sersi continues to be the book's best character, as she turns her captor Kro's hand into a "...twisted stump of wood." Makarri (Mercury) has a great wardrobe, if not an original premise. Thena's another strong female, daughter to elder Zuras (who gets a leonine, Brezhnev-browed splash, P. 16). She's more battle-oriented than socialite Sersi, and wields a mean bow and arrow. And while the Deviants' NYC assault is put to the rout by tale's end, their plan of misdirecting humanity's wrath toward the Celestials proceeds apace.

Look past the "mid-70's Jack's a hack" cliché that came into vogue among certain blindered comic-hipsters around this time (and, sadly, lingers to this day), and you'll see - this issue at least - for what it is: a master class in comic book storytelling.    

Matthew:  “You can’t reason with space devils, Inspector!”  I’ve often said that.  Mike Royer, Kirby’s primary inker at DC, rejoins him in that capacity (usually also providing the lettering, as he does here), not only finishing out this book’s run—and, later on, Jack’s stint on Cap—but also handling his other short-lived new titles:  Black PantherDevil DinosaurMachine Man, and 2001.  This issue’s first look at Olympia, Zuras, Thena, and Makarri increases my curiosity as to why, if the Eternals are supposed to be one of three parallel races created by the Celestials, aka Space Gods, Kirby is bending over backwards to equate them with the gods of the Greco-Roman pantheon, of which Hercules is the best-known representative within the extant Marvel Universe.

Howard the Duck 6
"The Secret House of Forbidden Cookies!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Howard and Bev learn that life on the road lacks adventure, and appeal – especially at night, in the rain.  Bev finally gets fed up, and storms off (!), leaving Howard alone; he slinks off to sleep in the soggy woods.  Bev finds a way out of the dark and stormy night when she spots a (slightly ominous-looking) Victorian home.  Since there’s one light on (in the attic, way upstairs), Bev knocks, and agrees with the girl named Patsy who answers that she is, in fact, the girl’s new governess.  The daylight wakes Howard, who finds himself observed by a group of young people, all wearing t-shirts printed with a bright yellow sun.  Once they realize he’s a real-live talking duck, they sprint off, gravely afeared that Howard could be a demon-spawn.  Howard follows, and meets Rev Joon Moon Yuc, who is here with his followers – the Yucchies.  At that moment, a man on horseback swoops in, and announces himself as Heathcliff Rochester – a realtor.  He mistakes Howard as “Rev Duck,” and proceeds to pitch the (imposing) Victorian to him.  Intrigued (and needing a home), Howard goes with “Cliffy” (as he calls him), the Rev Yuc close behind.  As they draw near, Howard spots Bev outside on the lawn; the two are tenderly, gratefully reunited, and share tears of relief.  Then, a murderous horde of villagers approaches the house – they believe Patsy to be a witch, who must be killed (and, possibly eaten?).  Heathcliff drives them off, declaring that the house’s acreage is zoned “residential!”  Patsy mentions that the murderous-minded villagers come nearly every day, but she can’t imagine why – all she’s doing in the house is baking.  She invites her guests downstairs to inspect her handiwork, in order to clear her good name.  They find a large cover over a large table, which Patsy infuses with D-battery-powered electricity.  Patsy pulls back the cover to reveal an oversized gingerbread man – nearly seven feet tall – that has begun to make a low growling sound … -Chris Blake

Chris: I guess Patsy’s creation gives new meaning to the name “Cookie Monster,” hmmm-?  Sorry – couldn’t possibly resist.  
If the summary seems a bit disjointed, then credit Steve G himself.  There are plenty of odd moments, as Steve has fun with conventions of Gothic horror and the Whale Frankenstein movies, but then he pokes at Sun Myung Moon and religious cults, and introduces a real estate peddler on horseback, with a name from Jane Eyre; there isn’t a unifying idea in this story, as opposed to issues of HtD to date.  The issue also lacks a pivot point to drive the story forward; we’re sort of following Howard around until the very end, when the offering for the most frightening bake-sale in history is beginning to stir.  
Howard’s reunion with Bev is sweetly heartfelt, and the first indication that their relationship may have grown beyond the fellow-travellers stage, with its exchange of kind words and such, to where they may both recognize that they truly share feelings for each other.  Good for you, ducky!
Mark: The humorous travails of odd couple Howard and Bev continue. Kicked off their New York-bound bus for cigar smoking. Almost run over in the driving rain. An acrimonious break-up, just in time to trudge, alone, "for hours" in the storm. 

So far it's your standard inter-species rom-com, but the Gerb's about to ladle out the juice. Satire? The Moonies refracted as Joon Moon Yuc's Yucchies. Random absurdity? Real estate broker ("I favor the term 'lifestyle consultant.'") Heathcliff Rochester, who, for no apparent reason save his lifestyle, rides a horse and is duded-up like an 18th century highwayman, complete with pistol, sword and ruffles.

And that's just Howard's scene.

Bev's a temp-governess to precocious little Patsy, who lives with her dotty mother in a standard issue Norman Bates manse and is thought a witch by the town folk. They're soon besieged by a burn witch burn mob, so, Healthcliff, release the hounds. Literally. 

Gerber's slinging hash, fast and furious, and enough of it sticks to both brain and funny bone, while also providing the giddy thrill that it all might go off the rails on the next page. Gene Colan more than keeps the merry pace, and when little Patsy's D battery-powered Franken-lab ("...more a glorified Suzy Homemaker oven!") brings her giant gingerbread man to last-page life, what can one say?

Except bon appétit.

Matthew:  One of this book’s greatest strengths, in my opinion, is that many of the issues resolutely refuse to be all or only one thing, and this is a case in point, with Steve’s satirical targets ranging from the Brontë Sisters to the Reverend Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church.  Gerber’s boundless imagination seems to be liberated by not trying to force the entire story into a single genre or theme, while we are also blessed with the most overt evidence to date of an actual Howard/Bev romance.  Spawning a genuine cookie monster, the mad lab lovingly delineated by the sublime Coloha team gave me a visceral flashback to those controversial Aurora Monster Scenes models—complete with “The Victim”—that so fascinated me as a youth.

The Incredible Hulk 205
"Do Not Forsake Me!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Dan Adkins

Bruce Banner is happily walking the streets of New York with his/Hulk's gal, Jarella, oblivious to the danger that is just around the corner. A nameless madman, hidden in shadows, has resurrected the Crypto-Man (for the last appearance of this seventh-tier villain, see The Mighty Thor #174) for no reason other than instant fame and fortune. Unfortunately, Crypto's first bank heist is just down the street from the happy couple and, sure enough, their paths cross. When Crypto threatens Jarella, Bruce Hulks out and the giant android takes a pounding. When a well-placed soaring automobile brings a building down, Jarella saves a child's life but is buried under the rubble. Everyone knows that the madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets and this is about as mad as he's ever gotten. He destroys Crypto-Man, which in turn causes an explosion back at the lab of the mysterious unnamed evil genius controlling him. Hulk scoops up Jarella and takes her to the only place he can think of: Gamma Base. Doc Samson does all he can but Jarella is pronounced dead at approximately page 30. In a rage, Hulk tells Samson if science can't help, then maybe magic can, and then leaps into the sky.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Well, I'll just say that it's lucky Len was working at Marvel when he decided to rip off the classic Spider-Man saga, "And Death Shall Come!" Really, Len, there wasn't another way of getting out of the box you'd written yourself into? Aside from that, the rest of the issue... sucks as well. We've been given silly motivation before but this shadowy figure goes to the trouble of giving life to Marvel's Greatest Forgotten Android just so he'll be known? Ironic then that we never get to learn his identity (Oh, Len, you devil, I see what you did there!). The General Hospital interlude starring the Talbots is nauseating ("I can see why Betty loves Doc Samson. He's big and sexy and has long hair and I'm... I'm just a man"), almost as cringe-worthy as the Bruce and Jarella walk to the malt shop that opens the issue (try to imagine some schmaltzy mid-1970s music like "Feelings" playing on the soundtrack). This one almost nullifies all the good stuff Len had been doing with this series lately but, look, I'm willing to give him another shot if you are. The Hulk is mad and he's heading for New York. That's gotta be good, right?

Matthew: Well, it had to happen.  At first I wondered why they didn’t give Jarella’s inevitable death, which Len shamelessly steals from The George Stacy Martyr’s Handbook, extra resonance by having it happen, at least indirectly, at the hands of one of Greenskin’s classic foes, as with the second-generation Stacy victim and the Green Goblin.  Then I concluded that they would want to make the perp pay the ultimate price, but not to waste a good villain, thus making the Crypto-Man—who was excavated from Thor #174 (March 1970) in response to absolutely no requests whatsoever, and will be mercifully unseen outside of flashbacks for the remainder of the Bronze Age—eminently suited, which goes double for the literal nonentity commanding him.

Chris: It’s difficult to think of developing the Hulk’s character, without radically changing it, and losing the fundamental aspects that have defined him as Hulk.  Len & Sal are able to provide that development, without losing that essence – who would think that the Hulk could cry, or experience loss, or say “please,” and still be the Hulk?  As much as I admire Trimpe’s work on this title, Sal still is my preferred illustrator, in part because of the way he captures greenskin’s emotional states.  I don’t ever want anyone looking at me the way he glares at Crypto-Man on p 17 (last panel), and I can only pray that it’ll be a long time before I ever feel as shocked (again, page 17) or desperately saddened (p 30) as Hulk is in this issue.

The Amazing Spider-Man 162
"Let the Punisher Fit the Crime!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito 
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ross Andru and John Romita

Punisher battles Spider-Man and Nightcrawler on the Roosevelt Island tram, until they're fired upon by someone on the 59th Street Bridge. Nightcrawler teleports away and Punisher tells Spidey he's earned a place in the operation, then they slip out in the War Wagon. The next day, Peter spies Mary Jane flirting with Flash on campus, seemingly tired of his abandoning her. Then JJJ shows up, to meet with electro-biologist Dr. Marla Madison about destroying Spider-Man. Spidey meets up with Punisher 12 hours later, scanning the area at a block party to catch the "pseudo-Punisher", and Spidey is knocked out by a couple of goons and is held in chains by a gangster named Jigsaw! Turns out Jigsaw was knocked through a plate glass window by Punisher and has vowed revenge with his extremely scarred face. Punisher acts from far away, then Nightcrawler jumps in to help free Spidey. Jigsaw heads out on a fire truck, but Spidey catches him, a fire hose gets caught in the wheel and the truck crashes. Nightcrawler teleports back to his own mag, Punisher stealthily disappears, and Spidey swings off with the battle over.--Joe Tura

Joe: So why is Ronald Reagan dressed in a Punisher outfit on the cover? Oh well, they can't all be great…. This one moves along quickly, yet slows down in parts due to way too much dialogue. It's certainly not vintage Spidey, but still enjoyable in wrapping up a strange team-up, and introduces a nasty Punisher villain (one he'll deal with for years) in Jigsaw. Decent action, mostly solid art, and more groundwork laid for future stories with the almost obligatory supporting cast asides.

Fave sound effect is the smashing of the fire truck into a wall on page 30, as Jigsaw is stopped with a mighty "KWA-ROOM!" A quick ending to a battle that could have been epic and bloody, but instead a fire hose won the day. But that's OK, considering how much of a jerk Jigsaw is and will be.

By the way, the absurd word balloon of the year might just be in the new Hostess ad (page 31) where Thor stops Loki from stealing all the cup cakes in Asgard and exclaims: "Good people of Asgard! Reclaim your rightful Devil's Food Cake upon yon altar. Enjoy yourselves with nobility and Hostess Cup Cakes!"

Chris: Good decision to weave Nightcrawler back into the story; once we left him resting on the Queensboro Bridge, I figured Len was going to send him back to Westchester and turn the attention to the Punisher + Spidey.  It makes for a satisfying conclusion to have all three participants involved.  Speaking of which, very clever final page, as all three characters take their leave, with Spidey providing the only sign-off (addressed to us readers thru the fourth wall, no less!).

Chris: Andru brings plenty of energy to the proceedings.  The moment when the Punisher pins Spidey with two “bayonets” (p 3) is one I remember from repeated readings in the far-distant past.  The depiction of Jigsaw is fairly gruesome (especially when Ross comes in for a close-up, on 18, so that we can really see the stitches).  How about this for a fine detail: also on p 18, dig the way Andru goes to the trouble to include the cobblestones beneath Jigsaw’s feet on Broome Street; there’s a little piece of old New York for ya – no extra charge.  
Matthew: I suppose that with a story featuring Spidey, Nightcrawler, and the Punisher, it’s greedy of me to complain about the inexplicably durable Jigsaw, but he really is, as Dad used to say, a big nothing, cartoonishly drawn and poorly developed.  So let’s see if I’ve got this straight (always a dubious assumption):  he killed four random people, including Kurt’s friend, in the hope of framing the Punisher, who as far as I know has never targeted anybody but criminals before?  Yet even he can’t pull this issue below average, and it shows Ross’s excellent command of the supporting cast...speaking of whom, the debut of JJJ’s future wife, Dr. Marla Madison—whose middle initial, I will have to assume, is M—should be considered noteworthy.

Mark: Yaaawwwnnn.

While there are a few nice bits here – the Punisher, years away from ruinous over-exposure, is always entertaining (but how many times does he need to team-up with Spidey before he stops threatening to ventilate Webs at the start of their next encounter?); Peter gets dissed by MJ (and thanks, "friend" Flash); and J.J., in full baboon-grin gloat over the SM-PP blackmail/exposure pix he received anonymously last ish, makes the acquaintance of Dr. Marla Madison – the main event is a cure for insomnia.

Which leads to the unpleasant but inescapable conclusion that, about a third of the way through his run, Len Wein's tenure on the title has been a bust.

He penned one memorable addition to the canon, the poignant football field death of Brad Bolton, in #153. But the Shocker started strong then fizzled out. The Sandman was a freezer burn bore, and Len's killer computer should have been name M.O.R.O.N.I.C. The Mirage vanished into well-deserved oblivion, and the ghost of Flathead managed to turn Doc Ock's return into a horrorshow.

And last month's promising opening devolves into Len's now standard schtick: a nothing new baddie (the only effective thing about Jigsaw is his fragged-face), backed by costumed, machine gun wielding henchmen, with worse eyesight than Alicia Masters. For the record, Wein's now trotted out these packs of worthless gunsels in issues #153, #154, #156, #157, #159, #160, and #162.

Can you say tired, hackneyed trope, boys and girls? Mr. W sure can.

Some of you new students may think grumpy ol' Prof Mark is arachnophobic. Nope. Spidey is probably my fave Marvel hero of all time, which is why my blood pressure rockets every time I see him poorly served in third rate snooze-fests like this one.

You want rose-colored, rah-rah nostalgia? Canned applause, echoing across the decades, for crap you thought was great when you were a snot-nosed ten year old? Well, this august institution is large, we contain multitudes, and if the above is to your taste, you'll certainly get your fill.

Just don't expect such thin gruel to be celebrated in my classroom. Oh, I want a thousand word essay on Aunt May's many maladies, including a list of all her doctors and priests summoned for the Last Rites. 

It's due tomorrow.

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