Wednesday, September 2, 2015

October 1976 Part Two: A Dame Called The Phoenix Joins The Uncanny X-Men!

The X-Men 101
"Like a Phoenix, From the Ashes!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Frank Chiaramonte
Colors by Bonnie Wilford
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Air traffic control detects a bogey, closing in at 1500 knots, and clears all other oncoming traffic for Kennedy Airport.  The Starcore shuttle has survived re-entry during an intense solar-radiation-storm, but at these tremendous speeds, and with seemingly no way to slow itself, the shuttle crashes into the tarmac, skids to the runway’s end, and plunges off the edge and into the water.  The X-Men free themselves from the radiation-shielded cell and break the surface of the water.  Scott begins desperately searching for Jean, despite the fact that she had been piloting the craft, protected only by her modest psi-skills, and had virtually no chance of survival.  Peter calls that something is stirring in the water, and at that moment, a being appearing to be Jean, but clad in a green-and-gold costume and calling herself Phoenix, shoots straight up thru the surface, enveloped in energy; she quickly grows faint, and drops back into the water.  Scott grabs Jean, and the team makes for the shore; Prof X uses his powers to block the airport rescue squads from detecting their presence as they escape the ruins of the airport runway.  Scott and the X-Men hold a vigil outside of Jean’s hospital room; after a day’s anxious waiting, they are informed that Jean will be fine, provided she has plenty
of rest.  Prof X pronounces that the others should leave on an enforced vacation, so that he and Scott might tend to Jean without the distraction of team business.  The other X-ers are surprised (Wolverine is, not surprisingly, angered), but Sean provides a solution: he recently has been informed that he has inherited his ancestral home, a castle in the west of Ireland, so everyone could spend some time with him there.  The team jets off to Dublin, then drives to County Mayo and find themselves at Cassidy Keep.  Sean’s welcome dinner for his guests is interrupted when a section of the floor tilts in, and drops the five X-Men to a dungeon; there, Black Tom Cassidy (Sean’s cousin) and Juggernaut (unloved stepbrother of Charles Xavier) announce their intention to kill the X-Men – this dungeon will be their tomb.  Ororo’s thoughts become preoccupied by the rock walls, closing in; as her claustrophobia gets the better of her, she falls to the floor, and holds her head, howling.  -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Marvel heroes have been known over time to augment their powers; Tony Stark, Kyle Richmond, and (supposedly reluctant hero) Henry Pym soup up their suits every chance they get.  Accidents sometimes play out in a character’s favor, as in the case of blue-furred Hank McCoy.  The transformation of Jean Grey is off these other charts, though.  This issue provides only a handful of panels with Phoenix, but when we consider what was required for her to survive the fiery shuttle crash, we acknowledge that Jean is, as she says herself, “no longer the woman you knew!”  In fact, from this moment on, Jean will no longer be a semi-retired modestly-powered mid-tier member of this team, as she will emerge as among the most powerful beings the Marvel Universe has ever seen.  In this way, Claremont continues to present highly-powered female heroes (as he previously had established Ororo as the team’s most powerful member).  The difference is that, in Jean’s case, her powers will continue to build, and (due in part to manipulation by the Hellfire Club) eventually assume control of Jean’s entire persona (side note: years later, John Byrne would have us believe that Phoenix is a separate entity, while Jean is safely preserved in a Warlock-cocoon at the bottom of the sea, but you and I know that’s bunk).   

I’m willing to excuse Cockrum, in his fanciful depiction of Cassidy’s castle – if there ever had been a Norman fortress like this in the west of Ireland, it certainly would’ve been the only one to survive until the 20th century.  Claremont’s depiction of Sean as landed aristocracy is harder to understand (and we’ll all have to overlook the fact that there are no baronial landholdings in the Republic of Ireland), in light of the character’s depiction up to now as a playful rogue, not to mention his previous incarnation as a somewhat-notorious criminal.  And now, all along, he’s someone who grew up with servants, in an ancient stone manse?  Sorry Chris – doesn’t fit the character.  Not buyin’ it – boyo.
Matthew Bradley: By coincidence, I recently re-viewed the superb X-Men 2, which climaxes with the Hollywood version of last issue’s cliffhanger, and as Landmarks go, the advent of the Phoenix is of literally cosmic importance, although in retrospect, it generates surprisingly little comment or explanation.  In fact, by some standards, not a lot happens here, although the character stuff is, of course, great:  we get early evidence of the Jean/Scott/Logan triangle, and the sober reactions of Charles and Cyclops amid the jubilation of the others is telling.  Ironically, Chiaramonte takes a month off from inking the Claremont/Byrne Iron Fist to give Cockrum solid support on this tale, which even brings back one of the original team’s most formidable foes, Juggernaut, as a chaser.

Ka-Zar 18
"The Gnome, The Queen, and The Savage!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik
Color by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Al Wenzel and Dan Adkins

Tandy, now Queen Tandylla, orders Ka-Zar to be her King or die, and the Jungle Lord fights against the Quarlains restraining him until he realizes he must give up. Back in the city, Tongah and Zabu wait for their friend to return, as Marston is duped into touching a life-stone by an old one, with his fate a mystery. In the dungeon, an unimpressed Ka-Zar is warned by the gnome Zartros of the mighty Quarlian warrior Raknor, while in the gleaming city of Sheenars, Klaw and alien Saxtur plot his demise. Inside the Dragonarena, Ka-Zar battles Zartros in a one-sided, humorous affair, then Tandylla sends out Makrum, the arena champion, but K-Z soon dispatches him, cuts down the Queen's canopy, and flees with Zartros. As he starts to head back to the city to rescue Tandy, the mighty Raknor returns—and he looks miffed! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Shocking events this month! The letters page claims 99.9% wildly favorable letters! Is that serious? I ain't buyin it, sorry. That said, at least the plot goes somewhere while taking some odd turns, Ka-Zar shows some personality, especially by being blasé about the description of Raknor and adamant about saving the delirious Tandy, and Mayerik's art carries the day. Although the old dude who makes Marston touch the life-stone, which causes him pain and puzzlement, is super close-up wrinkled, as are a handful of other panels that seem almost unfinished. Only two issues left…only two issues left…only two issues left….

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

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

Kull the Destroyer 17
 “When Strikes the Kraken!”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Alfredo Alcala and Ed Hannigan
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Annette Kawicki
Cover by Gil Kane and Ralph Reese

Roaming the island of Atlantis, Kull spies Kareesha, the dead wizard Sarna’s former servant, dive into the ocean. He plunges in after her, observing the woman as she places a green runestone amidst the sunken wreckage of Lemurian pirate ships. Kareesha surfaces and the former king follows her to shore where three Atlantean guards, loyal to Captain Khor-Nah, await. When they attack, the Valusian outcast throttles the trio, angrily reminding them that he is now second-in-command of Atlantis’ army. Back in the gleaming city, King Om-Ra summons the royal barbarian and asks him to accompany Khor-Nah on his seafaring pursuit of Lemurian pirates — Kull’s childhood friend fears that his army’s leader is amassing a force to take rule of Atlantis and then attack the mainland. On his way to the pier, Kull is mesmerized by Kareesha who tells him that she was the true power behind Sarna and that he must stay clear of her machinations. She also wills him to forget this encounter. Kull boards the indignant Khor-Nah’s ship and it sails out to sea. Soon, Om-Ra’s fears are confirmed: the traitor is rendezvousing with two Lemurian boats. As Kull battles Khor-Nah and his men, Kareesha casts a spell: her glowing runestone causes the sunken ships in the harbor to float to the surface, their drowned crews springing to skeletal life. The ghost vessels attack the Atlanteans and Kull turns his rage on the long-dead corpses that clamber aboard — Khor-Nah’s Lemurian conspirators sail away, fleeing the unearthly battle. Under the water, Kareesha’s runestone transforms into a terrifying kraken that grasps Khor-Nah in one of its huge tentacles. Kull slices through the creature’s snake-like appendage and the captain splashes into the waters below. Enraged by its injury, the kraken sinks the Atlantean and ghost ships, snagging Kull in the process. In desperation, the warrior kills the monster with a sword thrust to the eye. The exhausted Valusian makes his way to shore — not noticing that Khor-Nah has also survived the epic ordeal. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: I admit it: this is probably the only issue of Kull the Conqueror/Destroyer that I have ever looked forward to reading. That’s because I peeked ahead last issue and noticed that the art was credited to the one and only Alfredo Alcala. If you’ve been bothering with my reviews of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian, you’ll know that I love the guy — at least as the premium inker of Big John Buscema. He also flashed some impressive pencils in Tales of the Zombie #7. But sad to say, I’m a bit disappointed with the art on display here. There are many instances of Alcala’s lush style, but the quality is so uneven. It doesn’t help that the usual dense Moench script makes for small and packed panels. It’s like poor Alfredo had to situate his pencils around the overwhelming word balloons and captions. It doesn’t look like the inks of Hannigan, the series main penciller, help much. It probably would have been better if Alfredo inked Ed. [Believe it or not, but I just peeked ahead again and that’s exactly what happens for the next three issues. I had no idea! And yes, the results are much improved.] Moench’s plot isn’t that bad, and Khor-Nah’s plan of building an army at least moves the needle forward in Kull’s own quest to do the same thing. Well, at least there’s some talk of building an army. It’s a tired tale, but Doug really should have cut down on the amount of words. They literally get in the way of the action. Seriously, you don’t need to wax poetic in every panel. By the way, Kareesha didn’t realize that Kull was on Khor-Nah’s ship when she unleashed her supernatural creatures. So she wasn’t trying to kill our hero at least.

Master of Kung Fu 45
"Part One: (Shang-Chi) The Death Seed!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Shang-Chi and Reston engage in a lengthy battle with two members of the Golden Dagger sect, and emerge victorious over them.  Fah Lo Suee states that she meant this only as a test, and once again extends to S-C an invitation to join her in opposition to their father, Fu Manchu.  Fah expects S-C to be interested this time, as she reveals that Fu is the one who has been taking out MI-6 agents, with the help of his mole: Dr Petrie.  Sir Denis requires surgery after having been shot; as he recovers in intensive care, Petrie sends his nurse out for a break, as he promises to look after the sleeping Sir Denis for her.  In another ward, Black Jack Tarr is on the mend, having narrowly missing critical injuries when a bomb (placed under his desk) had exploded.  Larner meets with Black Jack, and the two make an effort to repair their working relationship.  Once Larner learns that Sir Denis has been shot, he rushes to ICU, and arrives with barely enough time to prevent Petrie from completion of Sir Denis’ assassination.  (Meanwhile, at an undisclosed location, Fu himself oversees the work of divers who have located a massive oyster that, by Fu’s report, contains a “hidden treasure of power from centuries past …”).  Tarrant, the master explosives-maker, arrives at Fah’s HQ; once he realizes that S-C and Reston have discovered their location, he becomes anxious that other agents will follow, and insists that he and Fah leave immediately via motor launch (Tarrant hides his face behind a scarf, but S-C believes that he recognizes the voice from somewhere …).  S-C states that, despite Fah’s stated intent, he expects her pursuit to be as fraught with evil as many of the other ventures he’s found himself in since leaving the home of Fu.  Fah denies that Shang is her brother, and directs two guards to kill him and Reston as soon as she and Tarrant have left.  Meanwhile, Leiko frees herself from her captors, and kills both guards.  The three agents sprint to the landing, hoping to stop the launch.  Reston gets ahead, grabs Tarrant, and pulls off his disguise, to reveal that Sir Herbert Griswold is the bomb-maker.  The launch pulls away with an overpowered Reston on board; S-C and Leiko watch desperately from the shore, as they hear a single shot ring out.  -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s another breathless issue from Moench & Gulacy.  Doug keeps the action moving briskly from setting-to setting, as he not only dispenses with captions announcing the venue-change, but also sometimes interrupts a character in one place, so that we can move on without preamble to join another character mid-sentence somewhere else.  Doug also cleverly draws S-C and Reston together with Leiko, Fah, and Tarrant/Griswold in Switzerland, just as Larner ties in with Sir Denis and Petrie in London.
This synopsis should convey the excitement from various reversals, escapes, and near-misses, but there really isn’t adequate space for me to provide the blows-by-blows of the terrific battling, brought to you this time by Shang-Chi, Reston, and Leiko.  Black Jack would be even antsier to be thru with “keepin’ company with bed sores” if he could see all the action goin’ down in stodgy Switzerland.  

Nope. Very Fine!
The cover features a needless plug, as a circular shield proclaims this to be a proud presentation by the bullpen of “an outstanding achievement in comics art.”  Well, as admittedly great as it is (once again, I refer you to the depiction of the furious action), I don’t agree that this issue warrants any extra praise.  If anything, it lacks the additional fireworks we had in recent issues, when Gulacy had presented panel-layouts that were even more unusual than usual.  In addition, as often as I swear by the inks of Marcos, the results here are slightly off the standard set by Dan Adkins, or even the fill-in work we’d seen recently from Tom Sutton.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m not about to kick the artwork out of bed or anything, but the finished product is slightly less-outstanding than other praiseworthy issues of MoKF we’ve seen in recent months.
Mark Barsotti: When they're hitting on all cylinders, Moench and Gulacy produce slam-bang, soapy spy-thrillers that manage the neat trick of also being – for funnybooks - cerebral and sophisticated.

Shang-Chi tells us he doesn't want to fight his father on the opening page, but by tale's end he's become "a demon of anger!" as Reston's apparently just been shot, and Sir Denis, shot for sure. Sister Fah Lo Suee is a fratricidal bitch. Dr. Petrie's in thrall to Father Fu, and supposed ally Griswold is revealed as bad guy Tarrant. So, yeah, it's been a long day. 

Just as well Shang doesn't know about daddy's giant oyster.

Mark: The frenetic action is almost non-stop, saving for one scene in hospital, where the recovering Black Jack Tarr (mercy non-killed by another of Petrie's ACME bombs) and Brando stunt-double Larner try burying the (verbal) each other. Dr. Petrie proves as inept with a knife as he is with explosives. The lithesome Leiko gets the best of her leather-masked kidnappers and rescues her lovers, both current (S-C) and former (Reston), leading to a dockside shoot-out. There are twists and betrayals aplenty, all vividly rendered by Paul Gulacy and richly embellished by Pablo Marcos.

Fu Manchu makes but a cameo appearance, but his malignant presence hovers over the proceedings like a patient vulture circling a lost camper in Death Valley.

Prognosis negative.

Marvel Chillers 7
Tigra, the Were-Woman in
"Masque of the Green Death"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Tuska and Sal Trapani
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Dan Adkins

With Red Wolf and Lobo battling Number 5, and the rest of the Rat Pack—knowing the erstwhile Joshua Plague has no further use for them—fleeing for their lives, Tigra is overmatched by Super-Skrull but barely holds her own.  When he sets the Soul Catcher down, the better to bludgeon her with the Thing’s fists, Lobo grabs the totem and runs, and as the Skrull races in pursuit, Tigra is able to help Red Wolf turn the robot into junk.  Plague’s spy, Jules Bannion, watches them follow wolf and alien from the shadows (vanishing into Subplot Hell at that point, as far as I can tell), but as they leave the “office downtown Somewhere, California” where the secret subway terminated, it explodes, also booby trapped by the Rat Pack.

As the police draw the wrong conclusions, arresting our heroes, the Skrull changes into a bum to evade detection and Lobo flees, having given Red Wolf the totem, which appears to pose no danger, so he is allowed to keep it.  Recognizing him as an Avenger, Captain Marek invites them into his office, but when Red Wolf gives him the relic to examine, he is exposed as the Skrull, who slew Marek and reveals that he has been recuperating since he was left for dead in Captain Marvel #27.  He unleashes the full power of the totem, which inexplicably turns on him instead; Tigra believes it was because her bestial side held sway, yet while Red Wolf suggests it was because he was evil and she was not, she declines to help clear their names to ponder what she is. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Newly hired associate editor Jim Shooter, who succeeded Isabella as writer for a single issue on Super-Villain Team-Up #3, does so again on the finale of Tigra’s first solo strip, but Tony was predictably unimpressed with Shooter’s later handling of the character during her brief early-’80s tenure as an Assembler (c. Avengers#211-7). “My feelings on her [subsequent] portrayals range from disappointed to incensed.  On the disappointed end of the scale, there are those writers who can’t seem to get beyond the ‘sex kitten’ angle.  Midway, we have the writers who make her a victim or treat her as less capable than her fellow Avengers.  On the incensed end of the scale, we have Jim Shooter’s portrayal of her as a cowardly slut ,” as Isabella opined to Jon B. Knutson.

Another new hire, Ralph Macchio, proves in the lettercol that he hasn’t gotten “letter-hacking out of [his] system,” while the armadillo notes, “The word from the powers-that-be is that early sales on Marvel Chillers weren’t as healthy as we would have liked.  And so, the lady with the two-toned fur hops up on the old Marvel shelf to await her next opportunity at comic stardom.  And that…won’t be far off, if a certain Rascally Roy Thomas has his way.”  Hint:  he’s not making her an Invader.  Do people really say things like, “A heavy thud…and a shriek straight from Hell!”  You better go and ask Jim, because I have no idea; meanwhile, the Tuskani artwork does nothing to help this series go out on a high note (doing a disservice to Super-Skrull in particular).

Chris: Okay, I think I got it: the Super-Skrull employed the intellect of Mr Fantastic to deduce that Tigra would be arrested, and taken to Capt Marek’s precinct; he then turned to the Invisible Girl’s skill to gain surreptitious entry to the police station, and either crushed Capt Marek with the strength of the Thing, or burned all the oxygen from his office with the Torch’s power.  Is there any other reasonable explanation for the sequence of events in the ground-to-halt middle of the story?  And if not, do I get a sable-fur no-prize -?

Chris: Tuska’s layouts have their moments, such as Tigra (somehow) smashing the damaged robot (far above), and a forceful fire-blast from the Skrull (above); the Skrull being soul-sucked is pretty good too (below).  But, ordinarily-reliable Trapani doesn’t do well by Tuska’s pencils here; the results are uneven, and appear rushed at times.  
It’s hard to imagine that a five-issue story might require three writers, four pencillers, and five different inkers; that’s got to be some kind of record.  The armadillo laments that “early sales on Marvel Chillers weren’t as healthy as we would have liked;” well yeah – how about that fill-in story after the first chapter, hmm -?  New staffer and longtime “letter-hacker” Ralph Macchio observes that “although graphic variety is the spice of comics – I doubt it did much to raise sales figures.”  Hey, who hired this wise-guy, anyway -?

Marvel Premiere 32
Monark Starstalker in
"Monark Starstalker"
Story and Art by Howard Chaykin
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Annette Kawecki and Jim Novak
Cover by Howard Chaykin and Al Milgrom

On the icy planet of Stormking, a federal starship lands, carrying, among other passengers, 3rd Vice President Emanuel Shaw and hunter Monark, Starstalker. Attacked by wharf-rats, he fights them off until one fires a senses-shattering Vortex Pistol, which leaves all but Monark affected. He's on the trail of Kurt Hammer, murderer of six people on Tycho, and at dinner with companion Robin Goodfriend, another donnybrook breaks out, and the Sheriff boots the adventurer out. Headed to Robin's cabin with Monark's android falcon Ulysses—given to former rigger Monark after he traveled through the core of a nova by the Technos as "an artificial nervous system telepathically linked" to him—the two share an intimate night. In the morning, Robin travels to the city of New Canaan, where she witnesses Shaw's murder—by Kurt Hammer! Holed up in a canyon with Shaw's blonde Brigid, Hammer waits for Starstalker, and when he arrives, Ulysses warns him telepathically and almost takes out Hammer! The assassin fires some "flack", causing an avalanche from which Starstalker surprises Hammer from behind. 3 days later, Monark shows up in New Canaan carrying Brigid, Hammer supposedly dead of pneumonia, and asks the townspeople to say goodbye to Robin for him.  -Joe Tura

Joe: Ah, Howard Chaykin. For those who've attended my Marvel Preview lectures that touched on his Dominic Fortune, you've heard me sing the praises of his more "mature" work in the 80s and 90s. Here we're promised some "Savage Science Fantasy", or as the Bullpen Bulletin claims, "'Wholesome HOWIE' CHAYKIN's decidedly different MONARK STARSTALKER". Well, it's different all right. Certainly nothing seen around these parts, but certainly not exactly groundbreaking. There are words and settings that smack of an invented language; futuristic worlds packed with odd politics, android falcons, and honest bounty hunters; gorgeously drawn, well-endowed women who would probably be even more scantily clad if Chaykin did this 10 years in the future for an independent publisher; and did I mention the android falcon? Sure, Killraven shares a couple of these traits, but there's something about the way Chaykin writes his main characters that gives this one-shot a devil-may-care attitude and rough edges that hold the interest, but maybe not leave us clamoring for more. I did sorta like it, and wonder with the super rushed ending right after the fight with Hammer if a longer tale in Marvel Preview may have been more fitting? Amazingly enough, Monark will return in Nova volume 4, September 2009, then in Wolverine: The Best There Is in 2012.

Marvel Spotlight 30
Warriors Three in
"A Night on the Town!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Joe Sinnott

The Warriors Three--Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg--catch a taxi in search of some action, but as cabbie Myron J. Maxwell takes them towards a hot spot he knows in town, they're halted by traffic. Turns out a woman is on the ledge of a building ready to jump, so Fandral leaps into action, climbs up and talks her down (not without a close call). The Warriors vow to help the woman, Mary Miller, find her fiancé Arnold, who was forced to participate in a robbery as payment to loan sharks he couldn't pay back. There they meet "drunkard" Ragland T. Peppermill (aka Rags or "ragged one"), who leads them in to the heist-in-progress, where they take out the crooks quickly, but Arnold isn't there. Next stop is waterfront tavern McGinty's ("A pretty classy place. They even wash the glasses once a week."), and after a misunderstanding and a knock-down, drag-out barroom brawl, they find Mary and Arnold reunited outside! They next head to "the nearest magistrate" so the two lovers can be "wedded 'ere this evening ends!" The Warriors pay Myron in gold, tell him to take the newlyweds to "the Falls of Niagara", and wait for another taxi.
-Joe Tura

Joe: Just by the cover's claims of "It's one for all--and all for FUN!!" starring "Thor's three buddies", you know this one is not going to be too serious, and may be like the dumbing down of Asgard. And while it's not exactly The Three Stooges, nor is it Shakespeare (although the dialogue is close), it's much better than I expected. The repartee between the three friends in undeniably strong, and they make a fabulous team. Volstagg is, of course, the funny one of the bunch, but here I found Hogun, the serious one, to be the Warrior who cracked me up the most. His endless stare downs and threats at normal citizens were great, but on page 11, when a bragging Volstagg trips on a rug and takes out two crooks, Hogun's deadpan reaction of "Methinks 'tis an experience they'll not soon forget!" actually made me laugh out loud. Fandral, the dashing one, is the cause of all their adventures with his derring-do. The art is the usual great work from Buscema-Sinnott—really, can they do no wrong—and the script is fast-paced and well-written, with all the players staying fully in character. A nice little time-killer, sayeth I. Fare thee well, Warriors Three!

Chris: Gene Kelly and Frank Sinatra never had half as good a night out in the city as these Warriors Three.  John and Joe give us a hint of the fun to follow with a spirited splash page.  Fandral, swinging from a chandelier with a cavalier “Have at thee!” expression, is kicking two weapons-bearing clods in the face while (with his free hand) he tugs over another guy by the back of his pants.  Hogun seems to have taken down two brawlers with one snarly-faced blow; all we can see of one is the bottoms of his shoes as he’s set a-flyin’.  The bartender looks on aghast, at the bodies strewn on the floor, atop the door, and on the bar itself; one man is at rest on the floor, with a contented smile, cradling a bottle.  And, if you look closely, you can see Volstagg nearly crushing two guys in the doorjamb in his rush to get out.  

I felt compelled to read this right after Thor #247, since that’s where it fits in the continuity.  It’s unclear to me exactly what Len expected to do with these pages; it’s not like Fandral, Hogun, and Volstagg were ever going to get their own title together, and I don’t know if anyone but the hardest-dying Thor fan would’ve been in favor of seeing this adventure appear as a fill-in for that title.  Did Len really intend for this to be stand-alone story?  This material might’ve been best suited (in a slightly shorter form) as a back-up feature in a Thor Annual.  

Matthew: I’m curious about the credit to Irv Forbush on at least two books this month (as Honorary Godling here and Bird Watcher on Nova), and wonder if the rapid-fire EIC transition has something to do with it.  Originally announced for #28, this romp was created by the then-current Wein/Buscinnott Thor team, and indeed is set c. #246-7 of that mag, so it’s as though the Thunder God went out for a smoke that lasted an entire issue.  All too often, comic relief falls flat when stretched to fill a whole story, but in this case the reverse is true; given the chance, they shine with a luster that equals the scintillating artwork, and even the comic relief’s comic relief—at least Myron J. Maxwell, if not “Rags” Peppermill—brought a smile to my face.

Marvel Team-Up 50
Spider-Man and Dr. Strange in
"The Mystery of the Wraith!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Spidey asks Dr. Strange to visit the site of Brian’s shooting, where his amulet reveals that Phillip carried off Brian after avenging him; Jean visits the family crypt while Tony’s analysis reveals that Phillip’s fingerprint was on the paper before the note was composed, seemingly confirming her theory that he is the Wraith.  Jean confronts the Wraith, only to have Phillip appear and bid the figure to unmask.  Arriving just in time to hear her shocked screams, Spidey and Doc are attacked inside the crypt by mental manipulations, felled by the Wraith, and imprisoned by Phillip under a paralysis-beam, forced to listen as Phillip explains that the shot left Brian a vegetable, and he sought help from banker Karl Bonn and wealthy landlord Max Vorster.

Tunnels linked his house to the crypt, yet as Phillip prepared to revitalize Brian, his benefactors revealed a criminal agenda, and when an altercation knocked him into the machinery they were linked, enabling Phillip to control the mindless Brian and make the moneymen the Wraith’s first victims.  Inexplicably unable to cast a spell, Strange blocks the beam with his cloak of levitation, freeing himself and Spidey, but Jean, outside his defenses, is mentally attacked.  Just then the cavalry arrives in the form of Iron Man, who has cobbled S.H.I.E.L.D. Esper Unit technology into an alpha-jammer helmet that he places on Phillip’s head—cutting off the brainwaves with which he was controlling the Wraith—and Strange vows to help cure Brian’s catatonic condition. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A worthy installment to match this milestone 50th issue, with Buscemosito’s rock-solid reliability undergirding Mantlo as he continues to peel back the layers of this complex tetralogy, even if Archie clearly needed the proofing skills of a Professor Matthew to avoid the embarrassment of “Never turn you’re [sicback on a pair of heroes” in page 30, panel 2.  Spidey and Dr. Strange have always had a good rapport (Amazing Spider-Man #109 remains one of my favorite examples), and this tale is no exception.  Just as the lettercol celebrates the commendable continuity afforded by multi-part MTU stories like this one, Bill slips in a reference to the intermittent problems with his powers Doc’s been having in recent issues of Gerber’s Defenders.

Joe: I was so hoping Spidey would say "Strange man, that Doctor" in a nod to the greatest comic book-related album ever but, alas, instead we get mystery and mayhem as only MTU can give us. Meaning every page zips along as if there are pages missing, the villains get odd explanations for either existing or being where they are, and the actual team-ups come out of left field. That said, it's an excellent issue packed with star power and suspense, crazed commissioners, undead siblings, imaginative (if not lucky) escapes, Tony Stark bravado, nick-of-time appearances, and a rushed ending that still whets the appetite for more delicious plot and fabulous artwork.

Marvel Two-In-One 20
The Thing and the Liberty Legion in
"Showdown at Sea!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Sal Buscema and Sam Grainger
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby, John  Romita, and Frank Giacoia

Ben climbs atop the swastika to find Brain Drain, who is able to pilot it without the gyroscope Skyshark failed to steal, and whose hypnotic power is ineffective; to stop Ben’s destructive rampage, he lands the craft on the floating platform.  Ben is outnumbered by his henchmen until the Liberty Legion literally drops in from the Thin Man’s plane, and teamwork enables them to defeat U-Man and Master Man, but Brain Drain jets away in his cockpit after Ben disables the swastika and Skyshark—from whom he retrieved the vibranium—flees in his Stuka, ejecting Slicer.  Making his farewells, Ben returns to 1976 and reassembles the cylinder, whereupon the Watcher, whose image led the Legion to Ben, disappears, the crisis past.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A floating-heads Kirby kover, the Liberty Legion, the expanded Brain Drain gruppe, and inks by my main man Grainger that give every panel of Buscema’s pencils the glow of a vintage gem—what more could you want?  Yeah, I’m totally in the tank for this one, baby.  Ben’s repartee (“Couldn’t ya just send ’em a nasty postcard?”), especially with Brain Drain, is as tasty as a box of made-in-America Russell Stover chocolates, and while it could be argued that his co-stars make a bit of a tardy appearance, in fairness, they got in most of the licks in part one, plus that full-page shot of them leaping into the fray makes up for a lot.  As always, the draft board has classified Our Pal Sal as 1-A when it comes to drawing lots of characters and fast, furious action.

Chris: The lengthy missing-vibranium-canister story finally reaches its conclusion.  The first segment of the story, way back when in FF Annual #11, featured plenty of intrigue and a compelling what-if.  Since then, we’ve had little more than dust-ups as Ben has mounted his (needlessly) solo return to the past.  This final chapter is no more satisfying than the previous one, for the same reason that the MTIO Annual #1 doesn’t quite work: for a team-up, there’s virtually no overlap of Ben’s screentime with his invited guests, the Liberty Legion.  The first half of the issue features Ben as he’s beaten up by the Nazi villain threesome, and the second half is about the Legion as they arrive (literally swooping in from above) to vanquish said villains.  Couldn’t we have seen Ben work together with the group, just a little?  Instead, as the battle is rejoined, he amuses himself off to the side as he continues to dismantle the flying swastika.  

Granted, it’s fine to apply some Invaders-style simple fun to these pages, but if Roy’s intent here is to promote this new war-era team, he’s not doing much to take advantage of the spotlight; in the few pages they have, we barely hear the names of the Legionnaires, or have time to get a sense of what they do, and how they operate. There are only so many opportunities to introduce a pet-project idea to a broader audience, and Roy seems to have let this chance pass him by.

Nova 2
"The First Night of... the Condor!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Nova helps foil a bank robbery, watched by a winged villain named The Condor, then returns home where we meet his brother, science whiz Bobby. At the Condor Roost, the flying fiend gets annoyed that Powerhouse is not in the grotto, so he knocks him off a cliff, saves him amongst Doc Ock-like insults, and makes him wear a goofy purple and black outfit. After saving Powerhouse's life, Condor took him in, and is now plotting to send the headached one after Nova. Richard Rider spies Condor flying outside his school, jets off to change into Nova, and falls right into the winged wacko's plan, as the fusion-powered Powerhouse siphons some of Nova's energy and smashes the hero. Back at home, after helping Bobby put out a fire, Richard takes off as Nova to battle Condor and Powerhouse at the museum, as the deadly duo are searching for a mummy to appease an incredibly powerful superior. Angry Condor flies off as Powerhouse is subdued by Nova's quick thinking of firing up a fire extinguisher. -Joe Tura

Joe: Well, Nova gets an instant bunch of enemies in just his second issue, and they're both second-rate villains if you ask me. Condor is an angry SOB who treats his underling like total garbage. Geez, give a guy some wings and he gets all conceited! Powerhouse has a power that precedes the mutant Rogue's, but it appears chemically induced. One good thing about this title, there's no denying the excellence of the artists. But Marv is just riffing on his own, kinda making up the pages as they happen. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but the end result doesn't exactly knock me out, sorry.

Matthew:  Neither the Condor nor Powerhouse is destined to set the world on fire individually, yet it’s interesting in retrospect that like the Invaders, Nova immediately starts building a gallery of rogues who wind up working together rather than separately.  Also interesting to compare Rich Rider’s relatively benign, Peter Parker-like academic experiences with those of Omega’s James-Michael Starling, who really seems to be taking his life in his hands every time he enters his Hell’s Kitchen school.  Was there ever a more accurate billing than “John Buscema & Joe Sinnott, Artists Supreme”?  Not from where I’m standing.  They make even minor villains look like Greek gods.  Nominee for Prof. Joe’s favorite sound effect:  “Shwamp!” (page 18, panel 7).

Joe: That is a good one, but I reserve my fave sound effect shtick for Amazing Spider-Man only. The mediocre books usually don't rate.

Matthew: Whack!

Luke Cage, Power Man 36
Cover by Ron Wilson and Klaus Janson
New Cover by Ron Wilson and Klaus Janson
(reprinted from Hero For Hire #12, August 1973)

Peter Enfantino: Just when Luke Cage, Power Man for Hire was building up steam and rising to the top of my monthly to-read pile, we get this step back. Imagine the surprise readers got when they opened to the splash of Power Man #36 and realized it was really Hero For Hire #12, a "vintage" reprint from a mere three years ago! Shame on Marvel for not advertising a Deadline Doom on the cover and hoping we wee lads were too stupid to check the insides. I think we learned our lesson after a few of these three-dime rip-offs.

Actual photo from Summer 1976
Look closely enough and you'll see dozens of discarded copies of
Power Man #36!

The Son of Satan 6
"House of Elements!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Ed Hannigan and Sonny Trinidad
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Condoy
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

A student named Brett Carson awakes from a terrifying nightmare, which involved him being trapped in a “blood-colored stone,” surrounded by bizarre creatures, and finally confronted by an image of the Darksoul of the Son of Satan.  Restless, Carson goes for a drive, and finds himself outside a cave, with a glowing red light inside.  Carson follows the light to a blood-colored stone; when he reaches out for it, there is a sudden flash, and Carson is transformed to a reptilian demon.  The next morning, Daimon lets himself into a house, offered by a man identifying himself as a realtor named Silas Warden.  Daimon notes feeling apprehensive, and worries if he’s growing paranoid.  Just then, the room explodes in flame; Daimon raises the sign of the trident, and assumes the form of the Son of Satan.  He is beset by astral elemental fire-demons; just when he fears they have overwhelmed him, Daimon is snapped back to the house, which now appears to be flooding.  A wall of water crashes in from outside, and Daimon now faces water elementals called “undines.”  He blasts them with soulfire, and once again is restored to the house.  Daimon speculates that some power has attempted to trap him in these elemental dimensions, but had not counted on his soulfire’s disruption of the elements, since it is “indigenous only to hell.”  As an earth-based attack begins, Daimon flies down a hallway toward the adversary he detects behind the door.  Mindstar awaits him, and declares that Daimon has found himself in the Court of Anubis, which will require him to stand trial, and die! -Chris Blake

Chris: Overall, it’s a much more coherent story from Warner.  He has a grasp of Daimon’s character, especially the way Daimon works to understand the situation he finds himself in – this rational approach doubles as a means of keeping his darker side at bay.  Warner also scores points by not weighing us down with Mindstar’s origin, or backstory, etc – we’re in the dark with Daimon, so we’ll all have to figure it out together.
Warner did throw me off with the sequence about the Dire Predicament of Brett Carson; I fully expected the transformed Carson to re-appear and contribute to the chaos prior to story’s end, but it did not turn out that way.  Curious.
We’ve seen numerous covers by Hannigan over the past 1-2 years, but aside from one segment in a Giant-Size Man-Thing (#5, if memory serves), I don’t believe we’re seen many instances of Hannigan’s pencils for a story.  He brings a very dynamic approach, complemented by plenty of slanted and oddly-angled panels to convey Daimon’s disorientation.  Trinidad contributes the shadows and atmosphere we’ve come to expect from him on this title.  
Matthew:  Just when things were going so well, I had to get to “S,” with the presence of future Defenders-scourge Hannigan’s name in the credits as penciler boding even worse.  Only thanks to SuperMegaMonkey, who identified the squid-monster as Ulluxy’l, do I now understand the seemingly random reference on page 6 (“I’m in some kind of blood-colored stone!”) as an actual connection, however tenuous, to Warner’s Ulysses Bloodstone, currently in between his Marvel Presents twofer and the debut of his Rampaging Hulk backup feature in January.  Who besides the world’s three Bloodstone fans was supposed to get that, I don’t know, but perhaps Professor Chris, who doubles as our resident expert in hemogemology, can shed some light on it.

Super-Villain Team-Up 8
Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner in
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Keith Giffen and Owen McCarron
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Irving Watanabe, and Jean Hipp
Cover by Marie Severin

Assuring Namorita and Tamara that Namor is an ally, visiting of his own free will, Doom says he has agreed to return the Hydro-Men to normal, yet when Bela reports Namor’s escape, the Atlanteans retreat.  His plane destroyed by the peasantry—whose rumors of Doom’s death, begun by Gretchen, are discouraged by chief aide Boris—the Shroud vows to help Namor find a cure for Doom’s treatment; as they escape the mob, Doom stalls at Hydrobase while secretly contacting Boris.  Stumbling on circus tents, the fugitives are refused asylum until Namor forces the Ringmaster to provide them with disguises, but spotting “Doom” on a balcony, Namor feels honor-bound to reveal himself, until the Shroud knocks him unconscious. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: First, a PSA:  this issue clearly suffers from the same “weird coloring done on the splash page and on pages 16 & 17” that afflicted X-Men #99, which the lettercol in #101 goes on to assure us was not the fault of the colorist, but due to a reversal of coloring plates at the plant.  One of two SVTU entries to be penciled by Giffen—and a very commendable, albeit somewhat uneven, job it is, especially on Namor—this is among the very few Marvel inking credits for Canadian cartoonist and Charlton vet Owen McCarron, who would provide several covers for their Fun and Games Magazine at the turn of the decade.  It’s also, if only by default, Englehart’s Bronze-Age Marvel swan song, and he certainly has a lot of balls…in the air for successor Bill to juggle.

Speaking of jugglers, it’s probably no surprise that if anyone can write a good Circus of Crime story, it’s Steve; for all the Ringmaster’s bluster, they’re a pretty sorry outfit, so it’s amusing to see them reduced to a gig in Latveria, and understandable that they’d be reluctant to risk Doom’s wrath by shielding the fugitives.  The Shroud is a proud legacy for Stainless to leave behind, and the machinations among him, our stars, the Hydrobase contingent, the circus, and That Other Dr. Doom weave a fascinating web that leaves Mantlo plenty to work with.  Doom’s resourcefulness never fails, and to see him ad-libbing like mad to buy time with Nita et al. is entertaining, while Subby’s resignation to his fate, and the Shroud’s no-nonsense reaction, are nifty characterization.

Chris: A few useful, modest advances to the story by Steve E, as he prepares to sign-off after having put this title back on track in his four issues.  I dreaded the arrival of the feeble Circus of Crime (how many times have they shown up in the past 12-18 months, anyway?); mercifully enough, we only see them for a few pages in the second half.  I also can be thankful for the straightforward dominance over these clowns by Namor and the Shroud; too often, the Circus somehow finds a way to overcome the heroes who’ve already paid their four bits to get in, so this time, I was relieved to see them properly put in their paltry places.

I’ve always been a fan of the sure, clear lines of Keith Giffen, who makes the first of two appearances on this title.  Admittedly, his style borrows freely from other practitioners, but the artists he elects to emulate are well-chosen.  The figures and equipment resemble Trimpe, while the dynamism owes a lot to Buckler (the FF Buckler, I mean, who in turn was replicating the feel of Kirby and Buscema).  Considering the fact that Jim Shooter winds up penciling an upcoming issue, I’m prepared to say that the title would have been well-served if Giffen had stayed on.  McCarron (another artist rarely seen at Marvel) complements the pencils well, as his inks are fluid and clean. 

The Mighty Thor 252
"A Dragon at the Gates!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen

"Tales of Asgard: The Weapon and the Warrior!"

Story by David Kraft
Art by Pablo Marcos
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby, John Romita, and John Verpoorten

Having failed to find the whereabouts of Odin, Thor and his fellow Asgardians seek the council of Mirmir, the Well of Wisdom. The flaming being, aroused with a spell cast by the Vizier, doesn't take lightly to being called upon again, having recently appeared to answer the same question: where is All-Father Odin? It demands payment in the form of the cyclopean ruby eye of the dragon who guards the gates to the Realm Below. It is theft, pure and simple, but for the sake of his people, the Thunder God has no choice. Leaving Balder in charge, Thor proceeds, and at first it seems a simple enough task. Blistering flames aside, he finds the dragon, but lo, another seeks the prize as well. His old foe Ulik, who claims the troll empire is at stake, has his eye on the prize. Neither gives an inch, and the battle shakes the rocky realm around them. It is Ulik who gains the upper hand, as Thor is struck and falls into the flames under the bridge he crossed moments ago.  -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The mystery of Odin's whereabouts leads Thor to one of his classic foes: the mightiest of trolls. Actually this battle has a similar feel to their first encounter back in 1967. Question is: what is the mission Ulik is on, to seek the ruby eye with as much passion as Thor? You'd think Mirmir had set up the battle himself (not a hint). Glad to see the Vizier get some wizardly respect as a character of stature.

The revived Tales Of Asgard, "The Weapon And The Warrior!" part one in this case, seems misplaced. Like it did back in the day, taking pages from the main story is kind of frustrating; this tale about Thor facing his boyhood arrogance has been explored before.

Matthew: Was the world really waiting for a “Tales of Asgard” do-over, written by Man-Wolf scribe manqué Kraft?  I don’t know, but as one who was never a big fan in the first place of “the most widely-acclaimed mythological mini-series of all time,” I can tell you that I was not.  I also don’t know if this was sitting on the shelf in readiness, to be used if a D3 loomed, or if they really intended to place it here.  I do know that—with no disrespect to Marcos—his Kraftsmanship can never live up to a Buscema-drawn Ulik tale, even if the latter is DeZunigized, and that they erred both when Thor refers to Sif as the sister of Balder, rather than of Heimdall, and when the Storm Giant asks why Thor “dost…lie there supine at my feet,” when he is demonstrably prone instead.

Jim: Thanks Professor Matthew: I totally missed that mis-reference to Sif as Balder's sister! It's an occasional mistake that seems to pop up (would sure have made the forgotten subplot back in Thor #143 about Balder's guilty attraction to Sif kind of creepy!).

Matthew:  My pleasure.  They seem to have trouble keeping track of the familial relationships among both the Asgardians and the Inhumans (e.g., Medusa and Crystal are sisters, not cousins).

Tomb of Dracula 49
"And With the Word There Shall Come Death!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Right smack dab in the middle of a conversation with his beloved wife, Domini, the Lord of the Vampires is sucked into some kind of vacuum and deposited in the living room of a specially-gifted woman. Angie is somehow able to bring her favorite literary characters to life to keep her company but her absolute bestest favorite literary creation has eluded her until today. Count Dracula is not very happy that he's been teleported away from Domini and he makes that unhappiness known by tearing through D'Artagnan, Robin Hood, and the Frankenstein Monster, before turning his attention to Angie herself. Disappointed that her favorite character has been revealed to be the meanie he really is (rather than the object of lust popularized by Stoker), Angie sends him away, leaving her alone with her friends. As the camera pulls away, we see that Angie is actually in a padded cell, the result of a nervous breakdown. Meanwhile, Blade and Hannibal battle the Blade vampire-twin... with disastrous results.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: While I'm firmly in the "Liked it" camp this issue, the story's got a few elements that make me scratch my head raw. The Count explains to Angie that he's actually not a literary character and she's mistakenly summoned him, rather than the dream Dracula she's in love with. That's a very cool concept but there's only one problem (and Dracula actually mentions it) and that's the Frankenstein Monster's presence in the story. The creature exists in the Marvel world so it's not merely a literary character; Dracula's argument doesn't work. Also, if this entire story takes place in Angie's head, then where was Drac transported? Into her brain? For the second issue in a row, we're presented with an off-road story, a one-shot that doesn't impact the arc we've been on for far too long. Was it Marv's desire to drag the Dracula/Domini/Lupeski saga out as long as possible to give it the feel of an epic or was it a minor (and consistent) Deadline Doom problem? I'd vote the former if for no other reason than the evidence of the Colan/Palmer art, which looks exquisite rather than rushed. At least we get more pages concerning Blade's showdown with Blade II than Humphrey Hambone (or whatever his name is). Unlike Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein where the comedy skits were every bit as good as the horror codas, the humor here is disposable.

Trivia note for those who care about these things: Drac mentions that he can't wait to teach his forthcoming son, Vlad, how to play catch and fish and all the things a dad is good for. Interesting that the Count mentions the little fetus by name since, according to The Comic Reader #133 (August 1976), "Dracula's child will be born in TOD #54. Marv Wolfman is running a "Name That Kid " contest... (i)deas will be accepted... after the issues appear, and an actual prize (!) will be awarded." So, I wonder if the Vlad name will be retained or dropped. Having not read these issues before, I have no idea, but I'll keep an eye on the progress.

Chris: We finally have a Great Leap Forward involving Blade; it certainly hasn’t gone the way he – or any of us readers, for that matter – might have expected.  It still isn’t clear to me why it’s taken so long for Marv to get us to this point.  Another question is: why does Harold have to come to the Satan-worshippers’ ceremony?  His mewling and cringing undercut the horror we should be feeling, not only as we think of what it must be like to be in the presence of these people, but worse, to be their captives!  When Marv willingly undercuts the emotional impact of a moment like this, I begin to wonder whether he’s grown tired of writing for this genre.  

Now, as for Mr Fangs, Marv places him in an increasingly-familiar circumstance that involves isolated people developing superior mental capacities.  On the plus side, he continues to deliver satisfying situations that are maddeningly outside of Drac’s control.  Drac succeeds in asserting himself as he completely dispells Miss Angie’s romanticized view of the man she thought Count Vlad would be; she’s capable of summoning him, but since he’s not her fabrication, she isn’t able to shape his persona in a manner that suits her.  Drac’s insistence that he is real (as opposed to the other fictional characters, who acknowledge Angie’s role in their creation) leads to compelling questions about the fabric of reality – where had Drac been, relative to Miss Angie, when she pulled him to her?  
Marv spoils the final moment when he lays on too much, and resorts to telling us how Angie’s talent emerged in response to severe trauma.  I would have been satisfied with the notion that Angie had successfully built this fantasy life for herself, without knowing how she did it; once Marv provides an explanation, he drastically diminishes the mystery, and the impact.

Mark: Now a month or more removed from the Big Chair, Marv Wolfman is back in the ghoulish groove, unearthing his best tale in months. Psychotic dream-weaver Angie Turner has a world between her ears, living in a mansion with literature's rogue heroes, Tom Sawyer, Zorro, the Frankenstein monster, D'Artagnan, and Robin Hood. Rooted on by her cadre of adoring cavaliers, Angie tries again to whistle up the great dusty-paged love that's always eluded her, Bram Stoker's Dracula. 

She gets Marv and Gene's Jack Palance-inspired O.G. Killa instead.
Chris: I’m going to keep an eye on Michele Wolfman, who brings a brighter palette than Tom Palmer – thankfully, not as bright as the candy-floss she provided for Doctor Strange #19.  I’m not seeing any diminishment of the shadows when we need them (such as the Blade vs Blade fight, and our first views of Miss Angie’s library), but there is an evident effect in the pinker skin tones.  Has there been an editorial conversation about whether the dark mood of ToD impedes sales, and that a (slightly) brighter appearance could be expected to mitigate that -?  

Mark: As inspired an idea as Angie's mental Count-napping is, what really gets the corpuscles pumping is how seamlessly Marv works it into the continuing plotline. We check in on Satanist cult leader & Drac's stooge, Lupeski, already plotting betrayal. Frank and Harold soon roll up outside Chez Lupeski in Triple H's jalopy...followed shortly thereafter by Rachel Van Helsing, keeping an eye on the boys. Even the one weak spot, the Dumb Double Blade Dilemma, gets explained, if weakly ("I was born...from the seed planted when my master murdered your mother," Vamp B says, i.e., the same night the real ski-goggle kid was born. So is Marv suggesting that Deacon Frost had at Momma right after she gave birth (and, of course, after drinking her) and so potent was his vampiric, ah, frosting, that she spontaneously gave birth to Blade 2? Cause that's sure what it sounds like...), but it's served up amid a particularly energetic knife fight by Gene and Tom, and we take our pleasure there.

Drac was conjured away to Angie's library just as he arrives home to his beloved bride, Domini. Given his new-found domestic bliss, one might expect the Count to be sympathetic to Angie's romanticism, even flattered by it. But when he learns her longings were sparked by Stoker's "foolish novel," he flies into a rage, but can't best Angie's imaginary guardians, though he can temporarily kill them. Finding this off-putting, she renounces O.G. Drac and burns the novel, sending the no longer welcome Count back to "reality" at Domini's side.

The last panels, revealing Angie in a padded cell, of course evokes the end of Psycho, yet Marv's not just aping the idea, but inverting it. Norman Bate's crazy dead mom taking him over completely was terrifying. Here, Angie's inner world is a sanctuary, where she's surrounded by good books, by friends and noble spirits. Poignant stuff, and about as sweet as it gets in a title normally spiced with the coppery tang of old pennies and blood.

Also This Month

Adventures on the Planet of the Apes #9
Crazy #20
Kid Colt Outlaw #211
Marvel's Greatest Comics #66
Marvel Classics Comics #10
Marvel Double Feature #18
Marvel Super-Heroes #60
Marvel Tales #72
Sgt Fury #136 >
Two-Gun Kid #133
Weird Wonder Tales #18


Planet of the Apes 25
Cover by Ken Barr

"A Taste of Mutant Hate"
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Chapter Three
Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad, Marshall Rogers, Yong Montano, and Dino Castrillo

"The War Machines"
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Chapter Four
Adaptation by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad and Virgil Redondo

Our 25th issue features two more chapters of the Battle adaptation ("Terror" being delayed again according to the letters page so that it can be done right), and another new artist as Sonny Trinidad is back, with a splash page from Flushing, NY native Marshall Rogers. In part III, MacDonald breaks free from the mutants with a machine gun blast, and is shot in the arm for his troubles. Caesar looks for another way out, and walks through swirling radiation, blasting his way through the mutants and getting MacDonald and Virgil out and back to Ape City. An angry Breck wants to find the apes and exterminate all of them, with second banana Mendez confused as to his motivations. Aldo orders an attack of Caesar upon his return, not buying his talk of a "future", as a mutant watches the apes from afar. At the Council Chamber, a "weary and perhaps ill" Caesar tells of his journey into the city and his wish to arm his people, but Aldo and the gorillas storm out when the humans enter. Back to Breck, and after Mendez restores power to the control room, he's tasked by the gonzo governor to fire a missile into the Ape City if the mutant attack goes wrong.

After a short and supremely skippable "Catalogue of the Apes", Battle part IV begins with Aldo rallying the gorillas and Caesar building a defense system. During a nighttime conversation between Caesar and Lisa, a bored Cornelius spys on MacDonald, then on Aldo, who vows to smash Caesar and Cornelius cries out! Aldo stabs at him, the branch breaks, and Cornelius falls, severely injured with little hope of recovery due to the lack of resources. As Breck's army advances on Ape City, the gorillas kill the mutant scout, but the muties take out four apes with cannon fire. Back at the Council, Aldo warns of mutants approaching, and says he is now giving the orders!

A rousing start takes a slightly subdued turn in part III, then part IV picks up the pace, with the tragic fall of Cornelius and the onset of war. But it's all a bit uneven because of the varying inkers. Part III especially gets odd halfway through, although the story moves along steadily. I will say, I don't remember a lot of this, most notably Caesar walking through radiation, not having seen Battle for quite a long time. I do believe there's a marathon Blu-Ray Ape-stravaganza in my future. -Joe Tura

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 29
Cover by Earl Norem

"To Slay the Savior"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Flesh of My Flesh!"

Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sonny Trinidad, Ron Wilson, Rudy Mesina, and Pete Lijauco

Sir Denis asks Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu if he'll investigate the disappearance of Winston Neville. Denis believes his old colleague has been kidnaped by Fu Manchu and is being held under the streets of London. SC drops through a manhole cover and is immediately set upon by a group of kung fu assassins. Obviously, SC is on the right track!

Unbeknownst to our Kung Fu hero, an evil presence has lured Iron Fist into the same sewer system, seeking the kidnapped Colleen Wing. After several tussles with unnamed assassins, the two heroes at last cross paths when they enter a large subterranean hall and discover Winston Neville hung upside down, his throat dangerously close to a very sharp blade. Turns out the menace here isn't Fu Manchu but a former operative colleague of Neville who has planted a bomb in the Houses of Parliament. The insane Blevins promises to cut Neville's throat and detonate the bomb if Shang-Chi and Iron Fist don't put on a kung fu tournament right in front of him. Our boys turn out to be a little more intelligent than Blevins counts on and they team up to put the kibosh on the nut, save Neville and walk off into the sunset as friends again.

A really silly excuse for a second team-up of Marvel's chop socky stars (they had battled just a few months before in Master of Kung Fu Annual #1), "To Slay the Savior" is bottom-rung Shang-Chi but at least Rudy Nebres art doesn't look like it got rained on before it saw print. I can actually tell what's going on 90% of the time. Doug introduces this grand villain, Blevins, and then dispatches him after some half-hearted fight scenes and an admittedly interesting twist at the climax (the bomb was only smoke and mirrors, a "way to enlist Shang-Chi and Iron Fist against Fu Manchu") without giving us much background. Blevins, with his heartfelt but kooky way of protecting "the glory of England," could have been a much more fascinating character with a bit more fleshing out. But, hell, how can I complain? As John Warner explains on his editorial page, he wanted Tony DeZuniga to have plenty of time to finish the final chapter of "Swordquest," so that was postponed until next issue, necessitating the slotting of (what I assume is) a "shelf story." I know it's only a one-issue respite from that bin-liner of an epic and, eventually, I'll have to sleep through the finale but I'll take whatever gift I'm given.

The White Tiger must stave off a mob of blood-sniffing ghetto yutes, enraged after the murder of "Cheeky" Molina (in #27) and looking for a scapegoat. The superhero in the white outfit seems a good target. With help from the police, Tiger manages to end the riot... but at what cost to humanity, my children? Meanwhile, The Tiger's brother, junky/dealer Filipo has gone astray of his cartel partners and they've strapped him to a bomb; the only man who has a key has gone missing! Sons of the Tiger sightings: Lin and Lotus are called to the office of Bob Diamond's agent to discuss Bob's will. But... Bob's still alive, folks, having escaped the avalanche, and is presently crawling through the Canadian backwoods, vowing to walk on Broadway again someday. And in front of the natives who treat him like a God, Abe Brown makes his African debut as The Black Tiger (second cousin to The Black Panther)!

As my pal BSpring used to say, "One step up and two steps back." Ladies and gentlemen, welcome back Bill "Angry Young Man"-tlo, the funny book writer who will singlehandedly (or in a tag team if Doug Moench is around) save the world with prose that cries out for reform, justice, and a color blind society. Never mind an interesting story, Bill's got something to say here. Race riots (oh, the irony if these hispanic thugs ever rip the White Tiger's mask off and find "he's one of them!"), murdered children, drug-infested barrios, racist cops (" stupid spic!"); all the boxes ticked. Whoops... I forgot... heavy-handed captions:

As if in a dream, you stare into eyes that might be your own and see nothing there but hate and hear in their stare the litany that is the commandment of the streets! I am the streets. Thy God thou shalt have no other gods before me. He who tries to rise above me shall be brought down by me -- for I am the street, and the street is all!

It all makes me want to puke. But what's worse is that the most intriguing aspect, Whatever Became of the Sons of the Tiger?, continues to get short shrift in this series (obviously, Bob has been dragging himself through the woods for weeks now or else that's an awfully quick will-reading Lin and Lotus are set to attend). That was permissible when Bill was cranking out crackling entertainment a few issues ago but three pages devoted to the other three Tigers is not enough. What we're left with is a whole lot of posing.  -Peter Enfantino

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 15
Cover Art by Boris Vallejo

“The Devil in Iron”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Arms and the Manner”
Text by Samuel J. Maronie
“A Portfolio of Robert E. Howard”

“Conan in the City of Blood”
Text by Fred Blosser

“The Hyborian Age Chapter 4: The Beginning of the End”
Text by Roy Thomas
Art by Walt Simonson

“An Interview with Conan Artist John Buscema”

After the much-anticipated Roy Thomas/Neal Adams misfire from last month, we are on solid ground once again with this crackerjack issue. First, we have the titanic team of John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala, the mightiest matchup in Marvel magazine history. Plus, Roy adapts Robert E. Howard’s “The Devil in Iron” from the August 1934 issue of Weird Tales. It certainly is weird but very interesting, a heady mix of sci-fi, horror and sword and sorcery. It’s generally considered one of Howard’s weaker stories, but Roy, John and Alfredo polish it into a shiny 40-page jewel.

A primitive Yuetshi fisherman is caught in a fierce storm on the Vilayet Sea: his battered boat washes up on the shore of the foreboding island known as Xapur the Fortified. The brute comes across the ruins of a prehistoric city and a domed building within, finding the perfectly preserved body of an eight-foot-tall man lying on a slab. When the fisherman removes the ornate dagger resting on the giant’s chest, it lurches to life. The Yuetshi’s crude knife breaks on the being’s iron-like skin and he is strangled to death.

In the Turian outpost of Khawarizm, Jehungir Agha, the city’s ruler, reads a letter from King Yezdigerd expressing displeasure over the losses to Conan and his band of Kozaki bandits. Jehungir’s counsellor Ghaznavi hatches a plan: during the last prisoner exchange, a Nemedian slavegirl named Octavia caught the Cimmerian’s eye. They will strand her on the island of Xapur and when the randy bandit arrives to claim his lovely prize, the deadly archers of Khawarizm will be waiting.

When Conan arrives on Xapur, he is shocked to discover that the ruins that dotted the island only a month ago are now a magnificent walled city. The barbarian silently steals into the lofty building in the center of the seemingly abandoned structures. Inside the luxuriously appointed edifice, he discovers random people sleeping soundly as well as a huge temple with a tremendous jade snake curled in the center. Suddenly he hears a haunting voice from behind a stone wall: it tells the tale of rising from the primordial ooze and transforming itself into the impervious giant known as Khosatral Khel. Enslaving the primitive people of Dagonia, he forced them to build this wondrous city. Years later, Yuetshi tribesmen arrived on the island, their priest in possession of a dagger forged from a meteor. Khosatral Khel was helpless before the enchanted blade and has been held motionless until the fisherman recently removed it from his chest. Awakened, Khel resurrected his city and its sleepy slaves.

Meanwhile, Jehungir Agha and his archers land on Xapur, similarly amazed that the ruins have been mysteriously rebuilt. Back in the city, Khosatral Khel appears before Conan: the Cimmerian’s sword is useless against the giant’s steel skin. Conan turns and flees, rushing through rooms until he comes across the sleeping Octavia. He rouses the slavegirl and drags her along, finally locking a thick metal door behind them. It begins to buckle under Khosatral Khel’s powerful pounding — but the assault suddenly stops, replaced by the screams of men. Conan hesitantly unbolts the door and, Octavia in tow, heads for the one thing that might be able to save them: the magic Yuetshi blade.

In the temple, the jade snake come alive, nearly killing the woman until the barbarian splits its head with his sword. Conan grabs the magical blade and he and Octavia climb down the city’s outer walls. In the jungle, they come across Jehungir Agha — all the other Turians have been slaughtered by the undead giant. The barbarian’s sword soon has Agha joining them in the afterlife. The fearsome Khosatral Khel then arrives: the Yuetshi dagger serves its purpose as Conan plunges it again and again, the dying giant returning to protoplasmic form.

Hot dog, this was a good one! The giant Khosatral Khel comes across like Jason Voorhees, a relentless killing machine that just won’t stop. His backstory is quite interesting and I enjoyed how the story was built layer on layer, starting with the fisherman, than Jehungir Agha and so on. But it wasn’t very wise for the iron-skinned giant to reveal that the Yuetshi dagger was his Achilles heel. And what remains to be said about the Buscema/Alcala art? Just beautiful stuff, from the amazingly lush jungle scenes to the detailed stonework of the haunted city. Happy to see that the team will handle eight of the next thirteen issues. Wheeeeee!

As usual, we have an assortment of solid text pieces on hand as well. Samuel J. Maronie’s 4-page “Arms and the Manner” is a continuation of the expose on the Society for Creative Anachronism that began in issue #12 — I basically skipped this look at the arms and armor worn by the medieval reenactors. The 3-page “Conan in the City of Blood” is Fred Blosser’s review of the limited edition of “Red Nails” just published by Donald M. Grant. In “The Hyborian Age Chapter 4: The Beginning of the End,” Roy and Walt Simonson continue their adaptation of the essay by Howard. At six pages, this installment starts 500 years after Conan’s death, setting up the fall of the Aquilonian empire at the hands of the Picts. “A Portfolio of Robert E. Howard” is just that, a collection of one-page illustrations of Howard characters — Solomon Kane, Conan, Bran Mak Morn, Red Sonja, and Kull — by Howard Chaykin, Big John, Tim Conrad, John Byrne, and the Severins. Finally, and my favorite of the bunch, is “An Interview with Conan Artist John Buscema.” Some of the artist’s students pepper the master with two pages of questions. We find out that Buscema can churn out six pages of breakdowns a day or three finished pages. Conan seems to be his favorite character to illustrate — he’s really not a fan of the superhero stuff — and that the comic work he is most proud of is his collaboration with little brother Sal on Silver Surfer. And Boris Vallejo delivers a stunning cover that actually reflects the main story.

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian will return to bi-monthly status starting next issue. So see you in December! -Tom Flynn

Bonus coverage from the Pulpman, Professor Gilbert Colon!

“The Hyborian Age”

Adapted from the Essay by ROBERT E. HOWARD
Chapter 4 
The Beginning of the End
Circa 9,500 B.C.

Script: Roy Thomas

Art: Walt Simonson

It is half a millennium since King Conan sat upon the throne of Aquilonia as we enter “[t]he decline of the Hyborian Age.”  

Tribes against tribes has evolved into kingdoms against kingdoms, then civilization against civilization as West and East clash.  The seat of power, mighty Aquilonia, has overextended and thus weakened itself.  In these struggles, no one has taken into account the rising Pictish people, nobody except a Nemedian priest named Arus...  

Four parts in and the “Hyborian Age” series gets little ink in the Swords and Scrolls letters section, none of it from readers.  “Rise of the Hyborians” (from Savage Sword of Conan #8) is listed as coming in only fourth in their Readers Poll (printed in #10), but Marvel is allowing Thomas and Simonson to carry it through to the end.  

In fact, in the letters page in #12, their confidence is undimmed.  “[T]he remainder of Roy’s and Walt Simonson’s much-heralded adaptation of ‘The Hyborian Age’…will likewise be continued next ish.  And, lest you look on this Thomas/Simonson project as a minor undertaking, how many guys do you know who ever tried adapting a pseudo-historical essay into comics form?  Win or lose—they’ve got guts!”  

They certainly do have guts, and spill them aplenty in their ambitious illustrated essays filled with enough bloodshed and battle on a mass scale to do Genghis Khan and John Milius proud.  And again in this one, more “startling images of...gleaming cities” courtesy of Simonson’s pencils and inks.  

The missionary Arus also has guts.  Despite “the grisly tales of what had happened to traders and explorers before him,” despite how the “heathen Picts...fiercely,” and despite “customs [that] were bloodthirsty,” Arus enters the court of their tribal chieftain Gorm whose tiger-hides and necklace of human teeth belie an uncharacteristic cunning.  Gorm is a shrewd savage.  In many ways he is like Shaka, the King of the Zulus who craftily manipulated the Europeans who infiltrated his court into foolishly thinking they had sway over him, and in the end united his people and built an empire.  

But Arus is no colonialist.  His motives are pure, as pure as the “Lux et Veritas” of his Mitraism.  (Simonson chooses to draw him capped in the kind of biretta seen in Tudor art like Portrait of Sir Thomas More by Hans Holbein the Younger.)  However, that truth is not bright enough to illuminate the heart of darkness here in the wilderness of the Picts.   

In “The Gods of the Hyborian Age—Part One: The Home of the Gods” (Savage Sword #6), Robert L. Yaple quotes Conan the Warrior when asking about the religion of the Picts, “[W]ho knows what gods are worshipped under the shadows of that heathen forest, or what devils crawl out of the black ooze of the swamps?”  He then proceeds to piece together their collection of gods: “Besides the inevitable swamp-demons, dryads, elementals, and slithering horrors, the Pictish pantheon included Gullah and Jhebbal Sag and other apparently pre-Cataclysmic spirits, like the ‘Children of Jhil’ and the ‘Four Brothers of the Night.’”  

Arus’ Mitra, in contrast, offers a better and brighter way – words and phrases like “eternal rights and justices” are used in conjunction with him and his “gentle worship.”  Yaple, in “Crom and Mitra: Gods to Swear By—Part II of ‘The Gods of the Hyborian Age’” (Savage Sword #7), documents that Mitra went on to become “‘the universal Hyborian god’ profoundly that Zingara, Aquilonia, and Ophir (at least) seem to have been practically monotheistic.”  His “rites were...unique, in that they alone included no blood sacrifices of any kind—either animal nor [sic] human.”  Further distinguishing the Mitraic cultus from idolatry, “majestic images of the god...were not actually worshipped or considered to be the peculiar dwelling places of the god.”  

Arus’ tragic mistake, besides his misplaced trust in Gorm’s soul, was in “being a practical man” who “appealed to the savage’s sense of material gain,” telling of “the splendor of the Hyborian kingdoms as proof of the power of Mitra.”  “Wealthy cities and fertile plains.”  “Jeweled towers and glittering armor.”  As Howard’s “immortal essay” from the 1930s relates, “the Pict was little calculated to seriously regard teachings which bade him forgive his enemy and abandon the warpath for the ways of honest drudgery ... When the priest talked of the glories of the civilized nations, his dark-skinned listeners were intent, not on the ideals of his religion, but on the loot which he unconsciously described in the narration of rich cities and shining lands.”  

Arus is playing a perilous game by dangerously dangling red meat before tigers.  By clothing spiritual mysteries in material garb, Arus might as well be promising his savages 72 virgins in Paradise, for all their primitive understanding.  Like Paul Muad’Dib with the Fremen tribesmen in Frank Herbert’s later Dune novels, Arus knows not what he is about to unleash.  

Gorm “passe[s] over his words [and] teachings,...fixed on the material riches so vividly described ... There, in the mud-floored wattle hut...were laid the foundations of the Pictish empire.”  

—Professor Gilbert

Tune in this Sunday for Professor
Gilbert Colon's take on Doc Savage #6!

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