Wednesday, October 28, 2015

February 1977 Part Two: What If... There Was a Spider... Woman!

What If? 1
"What If Spider-Man Joined the Fantastic Four?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Jim Craig and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Joe Sinnott

The Watcher makes a dramatic entrance and talks about parallel worlds he has witnessed, citing examples from recent Marvel titles, then pondering what would happened if Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four joined forces, which almost happened in "the now-practically-priceless Spider-Man #1," says editor/writer Roy. Flashing back to that issue, Spidey thinks he can earn money by joining the FF, so thinks he can impress them by breaking into the Baxter Building, until their defenses leave him trapped. But the youngster is able to get free and give the team a run for their money. After things calm down, Spidey asks to join up, and is turned down quickly…but what if things were different….

Moments after Spider-Man swings out of the window, Sue calls him back, and Reed ponders if it's a good idea to add more power to the group. Ben and Johnny are skeptical, but once Spidey takes off his mask, revealing he's "Peter Parker, boy wallflower of Midtown High," the quartet is sold. Aunt May is delighted Peter has a job at the Bugle, but the press is taken aback by the Rockefeller Center announcement of the new "Fantastic Five," including J. Jonah Jameson, who's convinced Spidey is a crook. Alas, Reed has vouched for Spidey with NASA and cleared him of all charges, which ruins the plans of the crooked Chamelon. Next we see the team defeating the villainous Vulture, then leaving Sue behind to travel to the moon and defeat the Red Ghost and his Super Apes. Back on Earth, Sue is contacted by Namor, the Sub-Mariner, meeting him on a deserted pier, where he uses a hypno-fish to hoodwink and capture her—but it's all under the control of the putrid Puppet Master!

Reed is testing the members of the team (while a note says Sue is visiting her cousin) when a "mental projection" of Namor states he is holding the Invisible Girl prisoner and they should not try and save her, but Reed is steadfast that they will! Namor traps the four men, unimpressed by Spidey's wisecracks or anyone's "false bravado," revealing a giant octopus holding Sue in a globule inside his dome. The good guys attack, and Namor uses a flame-eater to snuff Johnny's flame, then a razor-sharp coral and deep-sea fungus to corral Ben. Reed stretches to the limits to cage his rival, with help from Spidey's webbing, which allows Ben to free Sue—but Puppet Master orders Subby to kill the FF with the gas from a mysterious plant, until Namor's love for Sue stays his hand. The giant octopus, hurled by Ben, smashes through the dome and crushes the Puppet Master's submarine. After Namor turns back into normal, there's going to be a rumble—until Sue announces she's staying with the Sub-Mariner! He uses a shell-device to turn her into an amphibian, vowing she will forget Reed, as the now Fantastic Four wonder what would have been, their newest member blaming himself for what's transpired. And The Watcher signs us off. –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: The cover says it all for one of my favorite comic book series ever: "BEGINNING: The most awesomely offbeat series of all times…featuring the stories your letters have demanded!!" And of course, Marvel makes the right decision to start by including their flagship team with their most popular character. Needless to say, I was all over this one as a pre-teen, and jumped at the chance at the assignment when it was thrown out to the faculty. I will admit to being worried the book would not hold up after all these years, but no need to worry! Sure, it isn't perfect. In fact, there's a lot going on that doesn't ring true, but all in all, it's pretty darn enjoyable!

Having a soft spot for "alternate timeline" stories thanks to my overactive imagination, this was right up my alley and still is. Sure, it's corny in spots. Yes, the art is average at best, even down to the cheesy "5" in the middle of Spidey's spider on his uniform. I know there's a lot wrong with the very idea of this team-up in the first place, and the machinations of the Puppet Master, and Namor coming up with wacky super-fish after wacky super-fish, but shut my mouth, I still liked it after nearly 40 years. I realize not every issue will hold up over the decades, but so far this title is one for one.

I will admit to never knowing one thing all these years, even after reading this book a dozen times. On page 3 when The Watcher says "And, doubts exist as to whether Spider-Man's spectacular bout with a certain colorfully-clad alien took place in this time continuum or another", I never could figure out who he was talking about. Now I see, after peeking at the MCDB, that it's a nod to Superman vs. Spider-Man. Geez, how could I not figure that out! Yeesh.

A personal story before the bell rings if I may, class. If not for What If? I probably wouldn't be writing this right now. In 1986, armed with a coupon from the Queens College newspaper for 40% off back issues, I traveled to Little Nemo in Forest Hills to pick up the issues of What If? that I was missing from my dormant collection. There I also started picking up issues of The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, and then was introduced by the owner to Justice League #4 (I know, it's the other guys) and I was off to the races, buying more comics than ever. I don't know if I would have been as interested in writing about comics from the 70s if I didn't go nuts in the 80s and early 90s, so thank you, Little Nemo—for costing me so much money... haha!

Matthew Bradley: The fact that this is basically an anthology title not only negates the need—perhaps even the desire—for a consistent creative team, but also freed me up to buy it sporadically when the subject interested me, as with Premiere and Spotlight.  In fact, looking over my holdings, I’m surprised I got as many as I did (19 of the first 32 issues), given my oft-expressed bias against non-canonical material, despite a few exceptions for licensed properties such as the ERB books, which I don’t regret buying, or Star Wars, which I do.  And let’s face it, Roy can split as many alternate-world hairs as he wants to in his lettercol essay, aptly titled “Why Not?” by Marv, but at the end of the day, they’re effectively still “Imaginary Stories” of the type he claimed to avoid.

So, what about this one?  Meh.  Virtually my only other exposure to soon-to-be MOKF artist Jim Craig’s work is on Roy’s upcoming 3-D Man trilogy in Premiere, and with other contemporary efforts showing what a wild card Marcos is, it’s even harder to assess Craig’s contribution here, but I adjudge the results average or a little above.  With the Watcher, the Fantastic Five, the Sub-Mariner, and the Puppet Master all playing prominent parts, this inaugural entry certainly fulfills the kitchen-sink quotient that probably brought in some readers.  My biggest beef story-wise is the surfeit of reminders (e.g., “Which ought to come as no surprise to those of you who read F.F. #14, ’way back when.  –R.T.”) of how slavishly they used the originals as the jumping-off point.

Chris Blake: Great concept by Roy.  It goes a long way to validate the suggestion that Marvel values input and contributions from readers; Marvel’s already come to expect bountiful imaginations from their readers – now’s the chance to take their ideas further!  If letters had been posing certain “What would happen if” or “Have you ever wondered whether” questions over time, then clearly, this would be the proper venue to explore these possibilities, without directly interfering with the existing Marvel Universe.  It also is a sound idea to address and resolve these hypotheticals in a long-issue format, even if it ultimately might’ve cut into sales (by that, I mean that if the question at hand didn’t interest me, then I might’ve skipped that particular issue).  It might have been tempting to draw some of these parallel stories over multiple issues, but I guess Marvel’s editorial board recognized that readers might’ve been put-off by a lengthy story taking place outside the established continuum. 

Roy’s a perfect choice to scribe this premiere issue, since he’s so well-versed in Marvel lore; it seems effortless for him to successfully weave together early storylines for both FF and ASM.  Not all issues of What If? can capably provide a Twilight Zone-worthy zinger at the end, but the prospect of Reed losing Sue (for keeps, it seems), due in part to having accepted Spidey as a member, is momentous in itself.  

Mark Barsotti: Having nothing at all against nostalgia, I've nonetheless tried ruthlessly to excise it from my lesson plans, putting forty-year-old funnybooks under the same critical microscope as I would reviewing a new CD or novel. The addendum to that, class, is the obvious admission that your middle-aged Profs, myself most certainly included, wouldn't be teaching at this esteemed institution if we didn't have a passion for the spandexed-hero enthusiasms of our youth, which, de facto, is almost the textbook definition of the Big N

Oh, do try to stay awake, Forbush. We'll get to the Fantastic Five presently.  

In the peculiar case of What If?, celebrating nostalgia, letting the warm waves of yesteryear break over us, is the pleasure to be had here, if at a one step remove.

What I reveled in wasn't so much What If? #1, Feb 1977, as the celebration/meticulous recreation of the budding synchronicity of the Marvel U as it appeared in ASM #1, March 1963 - which I believe none of our current facility is old enough to have experienced first hand, only elevating its historical mystique - that convincingly sets up the alt-detour from "real" Marvel mythos, leading Sue Storm into the arms of Namor instead of Reed Richards. 

But isn't this book, the iconic source material aped within and the changes worked upon it, the same thing, part and parcel?

Perhaps. Here's where critical vision blurs, definitions get a bit murky, and the slightly unsettled feeling produced by pondering it is a good thing, a symptom of exposure of actual art, or at minimum, a sincere attempt to create it.

What If?  hit the racks when I was on the verge of quitting comics for twenty-five years, and I only saw the first three or four issues, so I've reluctantly signed on for another class to see how Roy's idea plays out.

As to the debate between Professor Matthew and the Roy Thomas of 1976 over whether the coming WI? tales "really" happened, one multi-verse away, or are mere "Imaginary Stories," again, the vision blurs. Priests and pundits bicker over canonical definitions and the nature of reality. I suggest a deep breath, a shot of single malt, then relax and Dial F for Fiction.

They're all imaginary tales... but let's not tell Forbush, whenever he wakes up.

Ka-Zar 20
"Assault on a Cold Fortress!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Val Mayerik and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Escaping from Quarl, Ka-Zar shoots down some wind-sharks and makes it out with Tandy and Zartros on a shark of their own. At the outskirts, the aging Tongah, Bernard Kloss and Zabu see the newly young Ancient Ones leave the village after draining the good guys' life forces. Meanwhile, a Sheenarian skycraft notices the mountain of blue flame is gone, and they have somehow crossed the dimensional gateway. Klaw and head Sheenarian Saxtur go to an emergency meeting where it's revealed a part of Earth's dimension has been relocated here. Back to Ka-Zar, who meets a "whole caravan of Kramen," formerly the group of ancients, who tell the Jungle Lord they plan to march on the city of Sheenars to take vengeance, and K-Z agrees to help. Back in the Savage Land, the aliens nab a Zebra-person to help guide them to the sanctuary. Back at Sheenars, Ka-Zar runs point in the invasion of the city, Klaw spies the dimension-bridging chamber with hopes of hightailing it out of there, and we are left with Ka-Zar sitting on a wind-shark, acting as sentry while the three ships head towards him, shooting death-rays! –Joe Tura

Joe: "Free at last, free at last, Thank God almighty, we are free at last!"—Martin Luther King, Jr.

"I'm free, I'm free / And freedom tastes of reality."—Pete Townshend

"Freedom / Freedom / Freedom / Freedom…."—Richie Havens

Yes, students, Ka-Zar class is cancelled. According to "Comments to Ka-Zar (and Zabu)": "This is the last issue of KA-ZAR to be published in the foreseeable future. And despite Mayerik and Moench's efforts to make this title 'one of the best books around' [What????], circumstances dictate that Lord Kevin Plunder hop up on the old Marvel shelf for a while. Ya see, your ever-lovin' Bullpen is on the verge of embarking on a project so big, so fantastic, so Marvel that even Smilin' Stan is walking on air!" What exactly does this mean? Well, K-Z will be back in X-Men #115, just about when that book becomes a must-read, then gets his own book again in 1981 called Ka-Zar The Savage. Luckily for this Professor, that's after MU will close its doors. Whew…

Joe: As for this final issue, Moench and Mayerik are credited as "Swan Songsters," and assisted on the artwork by Ernie Chan, making the visuals a little less crude and more polished, and they've created a book that gave me a headache. Some of the ideas that come up not only don't make any sense (blue flames and inter-dimensional doorways with crazy reasons for being), but the revelations we get are just strange, all leading to a non-ending, colossal cliffhanger. Will Ka-Zar survive another alien onslaught? Will poor Tongah survive old age and get his AARP card? What of the Zebra people? What will I do with my free time now that I don't have to write about the Lord of the Savage Land any more? Why am I worrying about it?

Another interesting tidbit on the letters page is that Val and Doug are "in the midst of a 50-page Doc Savage extravaganza for our black-and-white book of the same title, and they'll soon be regularly teaming up for a new monthly Planet of the Apes series." I'll let Prof. Gilbert handle that Doc Savage thingie, but the Apes series, as far as I know, never happened. Might have been cool, too. Who knows.

Chris: The letters page has consistently praised fans of K-Z for their support, and their enthusiasm for the novelty and excitement Doug & Val brought to the title.  It’s one thing to cancel the series – these things happen – but why, then, would you leave those dedicated fans teetering on a cliffhanger, especially when it seems that this storyline is approaching its final chapter?  The story itself had grown convoluted, which can be especially problematic for a bi-monthly title; I freely admit that I had trouble following events in this issue, as it was difficult to recall how Doug had set up some of these story elements.  If Doug & Val weren’t given an opportunity to tie the whole thing up in K-Z #21, it’s unfortunate that they also did not have the option of substituting a few pages at the end to   reach at least a partial conclusion.  

Matthew:  Apparently the aforementioned X-Men #115 contains whatever resolution this storyline's gonna get, after a wait of almost two years.

Kull the Destroyer 19 
“The Crystal Menace!”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ed Hannigan and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Marie Severin

Still controlled by Khor-Nah’s gemstone, the huge, gelatinous creature continues its unrelenting ooze down the mountain towards Kull and his men. The Atlantean soldiers flee, but the ape-like lorkas and Ridondo stay by the former king’s side. As a few of the lorkas are absorbed by the blistering blob, Kull dives into the creature — his skin begins to burn but he cuts his way through the monstrous mass and emerges from the other side. When Khor-Nah spots the barbarian, he unleashes a powerful blast from the stone: it misses the warrior and instead begins an avalanche that buries the tentacled terror below. Khor-Nah then uses the gem to resurrect Shemenon, the God of Fire and Ice, a giant skeleton encased in jewels. The glittering ghoul attacks Kull, bellowing about his stolen love, Byrana. But just before Shemenon delivers the death blow with his crystal axe, the wizard Sarna, thought long dead, appears in the sky riding a glowing chariot pulled by a hellish pegasus. Bolts of energy shoot from his hands and Shemenon and Khor-Nah are hurtled into a well of hell-fire in the cave. The chariot screams down towards Kull but disappears in the last instant, replaced by Kareesha, Sarna’s former servant. Ridondo and the remaining lorkas finally arrive in the cave as Kareesha weaves the tale of Shemenon. Millennia past, the mightiest of mages came to Atlantis, terrorizing the citizens with an array of demon-beasts he released from the hell-fire well. But one day, the mage simply left, plugging the well with jewels that he fused into a single mass. Years later, a cruel Thurian king heard of the treasure hidden in an Atlantean cave and sent his mightiest warrior, Shemenon, to retrieve it, threatening to kill his wife, Byrana, if he refused. When Shemenon found the priceless plug, he was transformed into a jeweled skeleton, becoming the well’s new seal. Kull, still determined to destroy the monsters that have been plaguing Atlantis, strides down a stone staircase revealed by Kareesha — Ridondo and the ape-men reluctantly follow. After they depart, the woman assumes the form of Sarna. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Where’s the Tylenol? This was a big jumbled mess of a headache. Why was Kull able to survive being inside the blob when the lorkas were instantly burned to their bones? Did Moench really need to devote three pages to Shemenon’s origin? He seems to be a throw away character. Why did the mage simply stop his assault on Atlantis, plug up his monster maker and skip town? Doug gives us no clue. What’s with the return of Sarna? He didn’t seem so powerful when Kull “killed” him in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian # 9. Here, he knocks off both Khor-Nah and Shemenon in seconds. It looks like he shares the same body with Kareesha even though they were individual people in the past. Another thing not explained at this point. And I’m still scratching my head about Khor-Nah. The former commander of the Atlantean army is now a sorcerer? It’s like Doug is trying to wring all he can from characters who weren’t really that interesting in the first place. This thing could have been seriously streamlined. The story just jumps around with Moench stopping to explain each new landing point. The art is totally adequate, but like the past few issues, inconsistent. As things become more convoluted, the pages start to become packed with panels as Moench struggles to keep things together. Just tiresome.

Logan's Run 2
"Cathedral Kill"
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Al Milgrom

Logan is still reeling from the events that just transpired; main computer reprogrammed his life clock, taking away his remaining four years in order for him to be able to become a runner. His mission is to find Sanctuary, and – once there – destroy it and all of the runners he finds. Logan meets Francis in the health spa, soaking in the hot tub before their shift begins. Logan wants nothing more than to explain all of this to his closest friend, but Francis won’t listen. Sandmen have been trained since birth to believe humans renew after death and that running is the greatest crime in their society. Francis can never understand. Frustrated and angry, Logan leaves, returning home to try to find Jessica, the young woman he spoke with the night before. He succeeds and tells her his time is up, but he doesn’t want to die; he wants to run and, because she wears the same Ankh his last terminated runner had, he hopes she can help.  She is suspicious and reluctant, but agrees to speak with her contacts. When she does, they naturally suspect a set-up and convince Jessica to lure Logan to a trap of their own.

Later, Jessica tells Logan that her friends will help and she begins to lead him to his death. Mere inches from ambush, his transceiver flashes a notification of a runner in Cathedral. He takes Jessica with him to deal with it. She’s incensed, convinced he is going there to murder the runner. As they travel across the city in a Maze Car, Logan tries to explain how his viewpoint and beliefs have changed, but isn’t convincing her. Back at Sandman HQ, Francis reads the notification of Logan’s hunt and, knowing where he’s going, runs off to join his partner. Logan and Jessica, meanwhile, arrive at the dilapidated, security-sealed Cathedral section. It is a part of the city sectioned off for the young ones, the violent, murderous children called Cubs who are a blight on society and hopped up on the drug Muscle. Once inside, Logan and Jessica are attacked by a gang of Cubs who disarm Logan and surround them both. Billy, the leader, announces his intention to drug Logan and Jessica with Muscle, which causes a violent and fatal reaction to adults, then possibly cut them both to ribbons, just as he slashed another Sandman earlier that day. Logan talks fast, reminding Billy that the boy is only weeks or months away from turning sixteen, when Cubs are then forced to leave Cathedral. Those who dare to stay longer are torn apart by the others. Billy won’t listen and advances with the Muscle, but Logan breaks free, grabs his fallen gun and chases the Cubs off.

Finally, Logan finds the runner he was after, a frightened girl swearing her life clock is blinking in error. Logan eases her fears by showing her his own flashing clock and giving her the Ankh, granting her freedom to run. Jessica begins to waver in her disbelief, but is still not quite convinced. After they walk off, they hear the terrified death scream of the runner they just helped, believing she had fallen victim to the Cubs. They are unaware of the two men, friends of Jessica, who followed them to Cathedral. They believe that not only did Logan kill the runner, but Jessica helped him. Now both are marked for death. However, in the shadows, we see that the real killer was Francis, who tracked Logan and saw him allow the runner to escape. Having terminated her, he wonders why Logan let her go, but realizes that if Logan has gone rogue, Francis will have to kill his closest friend.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: David Anthony Kraft takes over the writing chores with this issue and I would be hard pressed to tell the difference between his work and Gerry Conway’s (Kraft explains his involvement on the letters page in an enjoyable editorial). Both follow the movie script really closely, while still expanding it and allowing us the time to read between the lines, as it were. This sequence of events went by more quickly on film. Here the relationship between Logan and Jessica, as he tries to convince her of his sincerity, is given the proper weight and space.  There is a lot of duplicity and subterfuge between the two, much more than the film provided and it works better, honestly. Jessica seemed to fall into step with Logan a little more quickly on screen. Here, both are unsure of the other or themselves. Logan’s self doubt is also much more pronounced here. His entire life has been centered on the belief system of the Sandmen. Now, those beliefs are not only being challenged, they’re breaking bit by bit. Logan always had doubts, but now that his life is at stake, and he knows the true number of escaped, non-renewed runners, he is truly torn.

As with the first issue, there are deleted scenes from the film included here. The spa sequence, for example, is extended here to include the medicine ball bit with the other two sandmen. In what was probably a throwaway scene in the film, Kraft uses the time to give us a quick recap of what’s gone on so far. It’s a very imaginative way of doing it, and George Perez and Klaus Janson’s full page spread on page 3 is amazing; showing the “flashbacks” within the sphere of the medicine ball Logan holds. The art is just as great this issue as previously. Perhaps Janson’s inks are a little darker than last issue, but not really much. Both men complement each other well and, with Kraft, put together an excellent chapter in an overall fantastic adaptation. My only complaint is that the issue titles are over-the-top: “Cathedral Kill.” “Lair of Laser-Death.” I’d be happy with “Logan’s Run Part 2.” Also, the dialog is a tad over-written at times, spelling things out in detail that could be shown (“show, not tell” – basic). However, these are mere niggles. I’m having a great time.  

Chris: The prospect of being attacked by a bunch of feral kids kinda creeps me out.  Especially since I wouldn’t feel like I could fight back against them – unless, that is, I was Kramer taking a karate class.  The run-in with Billy reminds me of that Star Trek episode about Kirk & Co encountering a group of children, who are the only survivors after the “grumps” (ie: the grown-ups, if I remember their term correctly) all have died from an infection, which (as Kirk tries, emphatically, to explain) eventually will catch all of them, once they reach a certain age.  The takeaway from the Cathedral confrontation is that the situation in the City isn’t as idyllic as most of its inhabitants might want to believe.  

David Anthony Kraft takes the writer’s helm, beginning with this issue.  On the soon-to-be letters page, his epistle reminds us that he and George had worked together on the science-fiction flavored Man-Wolf – that is, the series took off in an SF direction once these two were assigned to the title.  DAK, in reference to Logan’s Run, asks aloud, “maybe the day of science fiction in comics has finally come.”  Well, you’re almost right, Dave – watch this space for something game-changing, due to arrive in theaters in May of this year …

Master of Kung Fu 49
"Part V (Sir Denis Nayland Smith): 
The Affair of the Agent Who Died!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Ernie Chan

Deep within Fu Manchu’s base, hidden in an arctic mountain, Reston and Leiko discover a silo; inside is a rocket.  Reston recalls what Black Jack Tarr had said about Fu planning to knock the moon from its orbit, and decides to stow away to see if he could foil Fu’s scheme.  Black Jack locates Fu himself, but is quickly mesmerized by the evil genius, who casts Tarr into a pit, surrounded by giant scorpions; Sir Denis (back in London) can only listen helplessly to Tarr’s one-way radio signal.  Shang-Chi begins his battle with Shaka Kharn, a resurrected ancestor of Fu (and, of S-C himself); Fu has cast Shaka in the role of his chosen son, to replace the errant S-C.  Shaka gets the better of his remote relative, and smashes S-C off the catwalk; S-C breaks thru a layer of ice below, and arrives in the same cavern as Tarr.  S-C cracks an opening in the stone wall; they escape, and quickly meet up with Leiko.  S-C directs Tarr to deliver Leiko to safety, while he goes to assist Reston.  Outside the mountain, Larner is planting explosives; once his comrades are free, he plans to blow Fu’s base to pieces.  Leiko and Tarr are pursued by Fu’s forces, closing quickly on skis.  Fu and Shaka board the rocket, and lift off; Tarr calls to Larner to blow the charges, now that S-C and Reston (presumably) are clear, hidden aboard the rocket.  Larner hesitates, as he thinks again how Leiko’s actions had resulted in the death of his love, Jennie; still, Larner holds off as he waits for Leiko to get clear.  One of Fu’s operatives uses this time to sever one of the detonator cables.  Larner fights the man, then is shot in the back as he works to repair the connection; with his dying breath, he holds the wires together, which detonates the charges.  Listening in London, Sir Denis reflects on Larner’s noble sacrifice, while back in the arctic, Larner’s colleagues quietly mourn his loss in the fading daylight. -Chris Blake

Chris: Doug really leaves himself with no option.  As long as he had committed to the idea that Sir Denis’ team would lose an operative, he had little choice but to write Larner out of the script.  Sure, Doug could’ve killed Tarr or Reston, but he wouldn’t want to discount the fact that readers had developed an attachment to most of his cast members.  Doug doesn’t treat Larner as “expendable,” though; over the past few issues, we’ve seen Larner re-connect with his commitment to the anti-Fu aims of MI-6, and we’ve learned enough about his heartbreak over Jennie’s death, that we still can care about Larner’s death.  He isn’t just a redshirt, crumbled to dust on a remote planet somewhere.
Shaka is the latest adversary who gives S-C all he can handle; in fact, Shang’s barely able to defend himself before he gets pitched off the edge.  I guess Shaka might’ve learned a few new moves during his long dead-period.  Well, maybe S-C will find an advantage in zero gravity.  Speaking of which, Shang-Chi and Reston, how exactly do you plan to get back from the moon?  Seems like, selflessly, they’ve given it no thought at all.  Fine chaps.  

S-C’s clash with Shaka is one of the clear art highlights, with the first image worth noting: Gulacy shows both warriors faced-off, each poised and ready to strike, with a full-on view of Shaka’s facemask doubling as a backdrop, as if we too (reading at home) are staring directly into Shaka’s eyes (left).

Final observation: do you suppose Albert Broccoli might’ve been reading MoKF #49, and observed the scene when Fu’s ski-fighters come after Leiko and Reston, brandishing automatic weapons (below), while simultaneously thinking of an opening sequence for an upcoming Bond film, perhaps -?

Matthew:  Or did Doug perhaps see On Her Majesty's Secret Service?  Oh, wait, we know he did from Professor Gilbert's coverage of Doc Savage Vol. 2 #3...

Mark: We're racing toward the finish now, and the penultimate episode of our six-part saga finds the creative team of Doug Moench and Paul Gulacy firing on all fury-fisted cylinders. Sir Denis provides the narrative overview; old and injured, he can only ruminate from the London sidelines as his "youthful agents" struggle, half a world away, to keep the very Moon from Fu Manchu's grasping, atavistic embrace. 

Mark: The Asian despot would wrench Luna from her orbit, drown half the world and remake the rest as Ancient China Reborn, and with a resurrected warlord ancestor/surrogate son beside him, he's just the megalomaniacal, mad genius to do it.

Of course Fu's other son begs to differ, Shang-Chi and Reston having already stowed away on the orbit-bound Moon ship for next month's Big Showdown. To get there, Shang and his companions first battle reborn swordsman, assassin squads, and giant scorpions, all served up with ferocious, leave-it-all-on-the-field artistic energy by Gulacy, perhaps knowing he was racing toward the finish as well, about to end his career-defining run on the title. 

Larner gets there first; the Brando-esque, Leiko-loving agent going out in Action Movie Glory, machine gunned in the back, but still managing to connect a severed detonator cord and blast Fu's mountain HQ almost as high as his rocket before falling dead in the snow. 

Moench has crafted characters with compelling personalities and Larner will be missed, while his death adds further gravitas to the proceedings. His teammates, one trusts, will survive the loss and soldier on.

Whether the book, more specifically my continuing interest therein, can survive the coming loss of its signature artist is a more iffy proposition.  

Ms. Marvel 2
"Enigma of Fear!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen and Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Buscema and Dick Giordano

Korman shows footage of Ms. Marvel’s battle with the Scorpion to his new partners at A.I.M., who seek the secret of the electronic webbing revealed by X-rays inside her costume, “heighten[ing] her apparently natural ability to sail the Earth’s electromagnetic field.”  Warning them not to underestimate her, he vows to prove himself as a tachyon-blast-equipped field operative, the Destructor, by capturing her; A.I.M. has also recovered the acid-damaged Scorpion, keeping him alive in a cylinder of nutrient solution.  Meanwhile, Carol has dinner with M.J., over which she relates being a pawn in Captain Marvel’s struggle with Yon-Rogg (in CM #18), but once again is stricken with a headache, and passes out in the taxicab on her way home.

As Korman measures the radiation in the Florida cave where Mar-Vell battled Yon-Rogg, near which Ms. Marvel first appeared, the pain-maddened Scorpion escapes via the department-store front for A.I.M.’s secret lab.  Awakening in her apartment (Park Avenue and 61st Street) with no idea how she got there, Carol turns to psychiatrist beau Michael Barnett, relating under hypnosis that the blackouts began six months after she was bathed in radiation from the exploding Psyche-Magnitron.  Barnett’s theory of “massive paranoid delusion” falls apart when she changes into Ms. Marvel before his eyes, having sensed the vengeful Scorpion’s rampage, but as she subdues him, she is struck from behind by the Destructor, and their battle leaves them both unconscious... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: There are nuggets of news—both good and bad—to be mined from the masturbatory text page, inexplicably written by David Anthony Kraft, who is conspicuously absent from the creative team.  The good news is Claremont’s advent next issue; not that Conway (curiously unmentioned) has done a bad job, but Chris’s involvement is favorable by definition, and since he’ll start out by scripting Gerry’s plot for the conclusion of MM’s “secret origin,” he’s getting in virtually on the ground floor.  The bad news is that, following the predictable Nova template, John Buscema’s workload will not allow him to remain on the book, although he will stick around for one more month and, just as important, Sinnott stays on board to maximize the as-yet-unannounced Jim Mooney’s art.

Dedicated Kree-watchers at last begin to learn what Ms. Marvel’s relationship is with her male namesake, and for those whose memory for such things is less than encyclopedic, our fun fact du jour is that the last part of that ur-issue was penciled by none other than Big John.  Invoked but unseen last time, Barnett comes across to this reader as one imperious, sexist son of a bitch—not exactly the match you’d envision for fledgling Woman editor Danvers—and the capper is having him descend, even at her request, into the queasy quagmire of mixing personal and professional relationships (“Hard enough treating a patient—but Carol—!”).  Otherwise, no complaints outta me for a tale mingling A.I.M., the Scorpion, and Mar-Vell’s Thomas/Kane/Adkins middle glory.

Chris: Hey there -- remember hypnosis?  Handy skill.  Also very useful for plot advancement -- anytime you're in desperate need to find The Truth, you put your subject under (no, you don't hit 'em with a brick -- you have them vatch ze vatch, zere eyes gettink very, very heav-vee...), and the Hidden Facts are yours to discover.  Amusing (and highly unprofessional!) moment as Dr Michael Barnett boots out an anxiety-ridden middle-aged self-addressed schlemiel in favor of treatment  for the “desperate” young blonde; if anything, I guess we’ve established Dr Barnett as a red-blooded American male.  

Getting back to the origin (got myself distracted there, for a moment): good call by Gerry to hold back some of the details: where did the flight suit come from? What triggers the onset of the headaches, and the change? Why the memory loss when she changes back?  How did she get that apartment, and is it rent-controlled?  Did Carol stick Mary Jane with the check?  I’m inclined to stay tuned and see what other surprises await us with this new character.  

Marvel Presents 9
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"Breaking Up is Death to Do!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Al Milgrom and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

Seething with frustration over last issue’s impulsive act of destruction, and awareness that his recent “direct tactile stimulation” will be his last, Vance quarrels with a frisky Nikki as she tries to mollify him.  Suddenly, the ship is attacked by the Reavers, who—per their first-contact SOP—trap them in a radiation-filled energy-sphere, leaving one ship within sensor range to monitor the precise lethal dosages.  Before Aleta can provide the explanation Martinex demands, she and Starhawk (who says the sphere can be shattered) again vie for control of their shared body before splitting into two, each with half of a normal body’s atoms, their lives at risk due to “inadequate molecular density,” while Aleta tells her story via a mental link with Yondu.

Laying waste to a city, Reaver Ogord finds a humanoid baby in an old lab, and—mistaking it for one of his race—brings it home to Salaan as a brother for Aleta.  Dubbed Stakar, he disappoints the family by focusing on mental rather than physical development, becomes obsessed with the forbidden ruins that may hold their future as well as their history, and enters them, drawn to the temple of the hawk-god.  As Aleta relates joining him there, contact is broken and they re-merge, but when Starhawk teleports to the outer hull to save them, the circuit is reactivated by an outside source and they are boarded by the Reavers at the behest of Ogord, who “lured them home…to perish for their heinous crimes against our race,” with Tara, Sita, and John as their executioners. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “This is Steve’s last issue of the Guardians book,” notes the lettercol.  “(Seems to be Steve’s last issue of everything lately, doesn’t it?)  Sixty days hence, Roger Stern assumes verbal command of the good ship Captain America, with Al Milgrom and Bob Wiacek still at their posts as co-navigators….We won’t reveal exactly what Sterno has in mind…but we will allow as how Rog’s plans are alarmingly similar to what Gerber had been toying with”—fortunate, with Starhawk in mid-origin!  “Steve’s longtime collaborator on Omega the Unknown, Mary Skrenes, graciously assisted with the…script this time around.”  Excepting the last two issues of Omega (after a pair of D3-pre-empting fill-ins), Howard the Duck will be Gerber’s only regular series for some time.

I’m never gonna love Al as a penciler, but with Bob’s considerable assistance he creates some pretty impressive layouts, most notably the Lucas-worthy panorama on pages 6-7 (above) of the Reavers entrapping the ship.  Speaking of which, it’s weird in retrospect to see a kid in the crowd wearing a Star Wars t-shirt in this month’s FF (check out page 14, panel 2 if you don’t believe me), six months before the film’s release, but of course it’s well-established Marvel lore that they were in negotiations with Lucasfilm far in advance.  It is perhaps inevitable that as a work in progress, this raises as many questions as it answers, yet we’re at last learning something about the “one who knows,” and as far as I’m concerned, Gerber exits on a high note with this jam-packed opus.

Chris: One of the great pleasures of the Guardians is the way Steve G shows the team members discovering things about one another, as we (the humble readers) simultaneously learn these same things.  This time, the “What – how?” moment is from Charlie, as Yondu connects with Aleta, and relates for us all the first chapter of Starhawk’s (and Aleta’s) origin.  I find it far more interesting to imagine that I’m listening along with the team, instead of overhearing Starhawk thinking to himself, or something.  Best of all, Steve stays true to the air of almost Vision-like mystery he’s assigned to this character, as he holds back from disclosing all the facts too clearly, or too quickly.  

I clearly recall my dislike for the Milgrom/Wiacek art for this title, but it’s become apparent to me that my past assessment was plain wrong; overall, Wiacek fills in the pencils quite well.  He adds something to Milgrom’s look that Al isn’t able to deliver in his self-inked art, best evidenced in the two-page spread of p 6-7.  The Arcturian ships look clear and gleaming, as they stand out against the background; I’m sorry to say that, if Milgrom had inked this himself, the effect would likely have looked flat, and dull.  

Marvel Spotlight 32
Spider-Woman in
"Dark Destiny!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and John Romita

Spider-Woman breaks into the Mediterranean branch of SHIELD, on a mission for Hydra to assassinate Nick Fury. Fury is interrogating a Hydra prisoner, as Spider-Woman (aka Agent Arachne) uses incredible agility and venom bolts to reach her target. In a flashback, we learn she was called a witch growing up, but was brought by Count Otto Vermis to Hydra, where she's molded into a deadly weapon and falls in love with agent Jared, the very Hydra hooligan Fury was beating up. Back to the present, where Arachne shows off "spider agility and leaping prowess" until Fury tosses Jared in the way of a deadly venom bolt, right after he clicks on a video-playback screen which shows her how Jared is really not so nice. As the blonde baddie tells her with his dying breath he was only ordered to "love" her, and let SHIELD capture him, Arachne flies off livid, with a bone to pick against Vermis. She lets the plane hit the Hydra hideout, catches up with Vermis, then is showed an escape plane and told about her true birth—she's a creation of The High Evolutionary, descended from spiders! Leaving her home, she fell in love, and accidentally killed a man, which was the episode that left her so traumatized. Vermis takes off in the solo passenger Rocket Plane, but Arachne bends the tail, the plane crashes, and our heroine walks off, leaving Fury and his men to mop up. -Joe Tura

Joe: This was a lot better than I expected, never having read it before. Decent Sal B art that's Mooney-fied a bit, plus an OK script by Archie, whom I haven't covered much for MU, actually. He's made Spider-Woman an interesting character, but not so much that you want more. Her background is pure science fiction, and she's easily swayed by the machinations of Hydra, which is never a good thing. That's partly because she's in need of affection, later falling in love with Jared fairly easily, even though he's playing her. Arachne is basically messed up is the problem—in control of her powers, but that's about it. After learning the truth, she wanders off and we hear her thoughts: "Finally, I know who—and what—I am! The only thing I don't know now…is if there's any way I can live or survive with that knowledge!" This is supposed to leave the reader saying "Hey, when will we see this awesome character again?" which is a small stretch. In case anyone is interested, Spider-Woman will be back in Marvel Two-In-One #29, and through the years becomes a somewhat important cog in the Marvel wheel, known as Jessica Drew. But you'll probably have to wait a semester or two for that revelation.

Chris: I like Spider-Woman.  No really, I do.  I like the fact that her powers aren't exactly like those of Spider-Man; perhaps, most importantly, her powers haven't been derived from Spidey (the blood transfusion from Dr Bruce Banner that turns Jennifer Walters into She-Hulk).  This distinction will spare us from a title that would be called Spider-Man Family, featuring Spidey and his cousin/kid sister Spider-Girl, who would tag along and says things like "I'm with you, big brother!" and "You're stronger than I am!" etc.  Plus, there’d be an Uncle Spidey, and the inevitable Spidoggie.  You know what I mean ...
The origin story we see here not only has nothing to do with teen hero Peter Parker and his fateful arachnoid encounter; it is unusual, as we learn that Arachne was spawned by the High Evolutionary.  Or, at least, it appears that might be how it happened; our title character doesn't have any clear memories from her past.  So, this isn't the typical case of a new character trying to learn what her powers are, and how to use them.  Instead, the powers have been there for as long as Arachne can recall; now, she'll direct her efforts to discovering who she is, and – now free of Hydra – what her purpose is supposed to be. 

Matthew:  I must try to dissociate my reaction to this from a reflexive distaste for the solo title into which, after his five-part Marvel Two-in-One arc, Marv Wolfman later shepherded Spider-Woman, whose 50-issue run I only recall enjoying when—surprise, surprise—Claremont wrote it.  Similarly, it’s not creator Archie’s fault that her origin was annoyingly and repeatedly retconned, and although this didn’t dazzle me back in the day, it has much to recommend it.  After all, a story featuring the High Evolutionary, Hydra, S.H.I.E.L.D. (even if they do bollix the acronym), and a decent rendition of Fury by Sal and Jim can’t be all bad; perhaps the only way in which subsequent appearances will improve on this one is in letting her hair flow freely at last.

Marvel Team-Up 54
Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk in
"Spider in the Middle!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak and Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

Spidey swings aside to let the army ensnare Hulk and Woodgod in a net that increases its mass in proportion to the resistance applied, but upon realizing that they intend to kill rather than subdue their captives, and sensing a cover-up, he frees them in “atonement.”  The three newfound friends are felled with gas and awaken as prisoners while Tremens plans to launch Woodgod into space, in an ICBM from which the warhead has been removed, and frame Spidey and the Hulk for the destruction of Liberty.  In a rather obvious ploy, Spidey threatens that the shots in his belt-camera will expose the truth, and as the soldiers open the metal harness holding him to retrieve it, Spidey breaks free, albeit with metallic shackles still on his hands and feet.

Spidey finds and frees Woodgod, who in turn breaks his shackles, and together they locate the Hulk, shattering the gas-filled helmet that prevented him from breaking his chains.  Threatened by Tremens with an atomic cannon, they realize they are inside the rocket silo, down which the Hulk, unfazed by the cannon, plummets after his hand-clap collapses the floor beneath him.  As Woodgod destroys the cannon, the resultant explosion throws Spidey into the rocket and knocks him unconscious; the Hulk’s effort to free Spidey from the rocket—launched by Tremens—fails when the stage to which he clings is jettisoned, so the Hulk bids his “friend” goodbye, Woodgod absents himself after slugging Tremens, and Spidey hurtles off with a dwindling oxygen supply... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Structurally, this Mantlo/Byrne not-quite-trilogy mirrors Bill’s recent MTIO #21-23:  the events of #55 follow directly, but are essentially a separate story.  Longtime readers know I’m no fan of “All-Action Issues!” when they sacrifice plot and character for empty spectacle, yet this could give them a good name; ironically, the Kane/Esposito cover does not tout it as such, but clearly misleads by pronouncing the Hulk dead.  Speaking of whom, although I’m sure he sells more comics than Woodgod, it seems a shame that “Goat-Face” could not have been the official co-star for one of the installments, especially considering that last issue’s “team-up” with Greenskin was nominal at best, while this time out, “Bug-Eyes” could be said to be allied equally with both.

John has a different inker each time, and while I find Mighty Mike an imperfect match—at least here—I grant that excepting some dicey faces, he does minimal damage to these socko visuals.  A perfect complement to Mantlo’s tense, high-octane script, which is over way too soon, they are highlighted by the launching of the electro-mass net on pages 2-3 and the tableau of our captive heroes at the ironically named Tranquility Base on page 14…but am I the only one who thinks that on the latter, Del Tremens (yeah, right) looks like he stepped straight out of Star Trek?  The chemistry among our trio is superb, and I can honestly say I’m sorry we won’t see Woodgood featured again until Bill brings his creation back in Incredible Hulk #251, outside of our purview.

Chris: There’s plenty of action, and things getting busted up and shot into space and such; but, when I consider that the Woodgod/Tranquility Base/Del(erium) Tremens bit is of Mantlo’s origin, I would’ve expected he might’ve taken advantage of this two-issue forum to develop this storyline further.  Instead, the ending is inconclusive, as the three characters are separated at the end, with Woodgod stalking off to an unknown future.  

But, I won’t allow this minor setback to distract me from the fact that MTU #53-54 is the start of a long stretch of steadily-improving quality in MTU, which will carry us thru most of the remaining years of MU’s coverage period.  Byrne, of course, plays a major part of this title’s rise toward can’t-miss status.  Esposito’s finishes provide a much clearer finished product, and truer-to-Byrne look, than we had with Giacoia in MTU #53.  Byrne didn’t need much time to get the hang of Spidey, did he, as the web-slinger appears lithe, but still muscular; I’d say he looks like a slighter version of Romita’s typical depiction.  I particularly like Spidey’s swinging-and-twisting to avoid the laser shots on p 7, pnl 1.

Joe: Oh, man this is the good stuff! A better-with-every-appearance John Byrne. A very good script by Mantlo. A supporting role instead of starring for Woodgod. Drama, action, intrigue, and bits of humor. No wonder MTU is one of my 10 favorite comics of all time! Love Spidey running around with the restraints on. Love that he makes two new friends, neither of whom can form a grammatically proper sentence. Love that Hulk kicks some major booty which he should (even though he's actually subdued instead of just going ape on everyone). Hate that Spidey is sent into space. Is that realistic? Maybe that's the only false note I can find late at night on a Friday with this issue. Excellent, Smithers!

Marvel Two-In-One 24
The Thing and Black Goliath in
"Does Anyone Remember... The Hijacker?"
Story by Bill Mantlo and Jim Shooter
Art by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Irving Watanabe, and Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

 In an atmosphere chamber designed to simulate conditions on Venus, Ben is on loan to S.I., testing equipment for the first manned mission, when a gas attack waylays Bill Foster and his Whiz Kids.  The Hijacker opens the outer airlock door, preventing Ben from smashing out for fear of killing the others with the poisonous vapors in the chamber, but as he departs to loot Stark West’s technology, for sale to the highest bidder, Bill is able to release Ben, who charges after him, and change into Black Goliath.  Blueprints stolen from the architects and his vario-blaster’s nuclear flame give the Hijacker access to S.I.’s molybdenum steel top-security prototype vault filled with S.H.I.E.L.D. hardware, defense weaponry, and space exploration gear.

Interrupting him in mid-gloat, Ben is bowled over by missiles and caught by BG’s giant hand, but they have little time to get acquainted, between the various settings of the Hijacker’s weapon and the S.I. technology he turns against them.  As Ben helps to free BG from the clutches of an experimental Mars lander, the Hijacker deploys his pièce de résistance, his “invincible crime-tank,” which Ben more colloquially dubs “a blamed rollin’ fort!”  BG slows the war machine’s advance enough for Ben to roll between its spiked treads, stopping it by yanking wires from its vulnerable underbelly, and after BG rips off its “plasti-steel fishbowl top,” Ben unmasks the Hijacker yet evinces no interest in the real name of the unrecognized perp, whom he flicks away. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Needlessly unearthing an Ant-Man villain from the 14-year-old Tales to Astonish #40, Mantlo (credited with Shooter) goes out on an utterly humdrum note, reportedly to devote more time—fine by me—to two of my underdog favorites, SVTU and Champions.  Because BG’s concurrent appearance in the latter is a cliffhanger, this presumably occurs first, but there’s no continuity between them; likewise, while some of his supporting cast is glimpsed, it’s as though the last few issues of his late, lamented book never happened.  If nothing else, this demonstrates what went wrong with the recent Ron/Pablo artwork:  it’s “Marcus,” who here reduces Sal’s pencils to a similarly unrecognizable cragginess…doubtless in retaliation for his frequently misspelled name.

My soft spot for Black Goliath is a matter of record, yet in retrospect, that cover—which I otherwise found quite appealing, due to its color scheme—elicited a rueful chuckle, because the fact that he’s depicted as unconscious just seems to cement his perceived loser status.  Speaking of losers, although other writers would later make this mag a kind of second home for our orphaned hero, for now it’s an embarrassment that a nonentity like the Hijacker could even make Ben and Bill break a sweat.  And, having just rebagged and boxed my January issues during the latest redeployment, I’m not gonna dig #23 back out, but I could swear Jim used the same line there as, or one virtually identical to, the Thing’s “You hit ’im high, I hit ’im low!  Wotta team!”

Nova 6
“And So…The Sphinx!”
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and John Romita

A mysterious and powerful figure called The Sphinx awaits the players in his "game," is mean to his "faithful" servant Kur, is leery of soothsayer Sayge, and seeks answers to questions about his destiny. In Manhasset, Long Island (right near the Tiger Schulmann's I train at maybe?), Nova thwarts a bank robbery then heads home to talk to Bernie about Caps, who we finally see—tied up in the sewers by a man who appears to be his uncle, only with no face due to an "accident" for which Caps was the cause, apparently (did someone say "The Question"?). Meantime, Condor and Diamondhead free Powerhouse from the hospital and the Absorbaron (Yes, Marv wrote Absorbaron. Oy.) that saps his powers. Nova hears a radio call and heads to the scene, getting gassed by Condor for his troubles and hooked up to the winged crook's Computalyzer (it's both a computer AND an analyzer! Steve Jobs must have been inspired by this one!) which he uses to learn Nova's power is alien and plans to use him against the Sphinx. The confused Powerhouse drains the power from the machine so Nova can free himself, and the battle is on! As the Sphinx plots his next move, Nova gets tossed around a little and is finally sapped of his strength by Powerhouse, put back on the computer to be "reprogrammed" temporarily, but when he wakes up, he proclaims "Nova's the boss of this gang!"
–Joe Tura

Joe: Certainly a much cleaner issue with Giacoia at the inks instead of Palmer, with Sal running the show quite handsomely. The story is all over the place, but we get the introduction of a new villain who reminds me of Thanos meets Dr. Doom in attitude and influence, with one giant exception—he really doesn't do anything here. He looks imposing and sphinx-like, but really just prattles on and talks down to everyone. His servant is named Kur (aka Cur I assume. Get it? Yeesh.) and the prophet whose face he can't bear to see is Sayge (aka Sage. Double Yeesh.) The other villains aren't so great either, except for their ridiculous bragging, and we've seen them already so are well aware of their OK-at-best standing. Lots of clichés and borrowing from other heroes drags this issue down further. Sorry, Marv. It ain't horrible, but it's certainly not going to knock anyone out.

Most surreal part of the entire issue? Bill Mantlo writing in to Nova Newsline! with the following missive: "Dear Marv, Okay, I held out as long as I could, bolstering myself with the argument that nobody but Stan the Man ever could or ever would create a comic classic. I was wrong. You were right! NOVA's a gas, and I'd better shut up and plot the next TEAM-UP." Geez, what a suck-up….

Visiting Professor Mantlo: Well, there goes that wildly enthusiastic comment I was going to post about your review...

Matthew:  After the last couple of Palmer-smeared misfires, I think this is where Marv’s fledgling book at last comes into its own.  With the long-awaited reveal of the Dreaded One, the major pieces are now in place (speaking of which, I’m a sucker for villains who have chess sets in the form of the characters, as on that gorgeous splash page); although the names of minions “Kur” and “Sayge” smack of Kirbyesque literalness, the Sphinx seems to have enough power and mystery to propel the plotline.  The Caps diversion is intriguing, the heavies make for a visually diverse crew, and with Fearless Frank so masterfully inking Our Pal Sal, we finally have some decent art once again, almost equaling Big John and Joltin’ Joe’s yummy inaugural issues.

Chris: Marv tones down the “Rich Rider – Teen Hero!” noise (“I couldn’t get a date, even if I had a calendar! Sheesh!”), and simultaneously directs far less attention to the school-age supporting cast, which helps him deliver the most satisfying issue of this title to date.  The Sphinx has a question, and a destiny!  The Condor has a team, and a plan!  Nova has a Napoleon complex!  At last, Nova has a problem I can get behind – mind control!  Now, finally, he’s beginning to feel like a real-live superhero, and not Marv’s nostalgia act; for the first time, I’m looking forward to the next issue.  

The Buscema/Giacoia art is good, but I already miss Tom Palmer’s inks; the Sphinx’s broody musings (on pages 1-3) would’ve carried more weight if Palmer had been there to fill in the shadows.  

Luke Cage, Power Man 40
"Rush Hour to Limbo"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Lee Elias and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Janice Cohen 
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

Madder than a crowd of Sly Stone fans at a Metallica concert, Luke Cage, Power Man for Hire tears apart Big Brother's headquarters looking for the jiveass mutha who sold him a bad bill of goods last issue, convincing Cage that his real enemy was The Baron while Brother was plotting to take over the world. Brother's got a gizmo that will shut off all the electricity in New York unless he's paid a boatload of Benjamins. You dig? While searching the city for traces of his enemy, Cage is gassed and taken prisoner by Big Brother and his little man, Cheshire Cat. In a stunt he probably saw on Batman, Brother chains Cage to the top of a runaway train heading for a date with a long drop off a cliff. Holy Jumpin' Crud! How will Luke get his fat out of this fire? By tearing the roof off the train and leaping for safety only moments before the engine takes a dive. Thinking the Hero for Hire is sleeping with the fishes, Brother and Cat get cocky and let their helicopter get a tad too close to the cliff and Luke jumps on board. Our Hero dismantles the copter one piece at a time and then leaps for safety, leaving the two fifth-tier (albeit snazzily dressed) villains to say a quick prayer before they meet their jumpin' jivin' maker. -Peter Enfantino

This man is limber.
Peter Enfantino: Marv whips up a wall-to-wall actioner to close out the Big Brother arc. More fabulous black dialogue written by a white guy, like this nonsensical rant from Big Brother while Cage lies chained to the top of the locomotive: "Sunshine baby -- seeya got your orbs propped wide. Groovy, baby, really groovy. Now you can really dig what's comin' down on ya, daddio! Dig this baby, big bro's now 'El Lordo' and M-A-S-T-E-R of the king-sized Lionels, man --just so you can really jive with his punchcard game. Dig the trip, man? Dig it?" Now, reread that, thinking "Barry White and Love Unlimited Orchestra." Just from the previous exchange, I'd say it's a good chance Marv Wolfman never actually met an African-American in his life. But he's entertaining me! The art of Lee Elias is going to take some getting used to after the stellar job Bob Brown was doing on this title. Maybe a change of inkers will help (Tomb of Drac's Tom Palmer jumps aboard beginning next issue)? Artists, shmartists, just don't mess with the writer on this funny book.

Chris: For all his self-proclaimed brilliance (and in fairness, the Y2K gambit is forward-thinking), Big Brother’s solution to his Power Man problem is fairly pedestrian.  You’re going to lash him to a locomotive, and drive him off a cliff (which appears to be somewhere in western Pennsylvania, based on the artwork)?  Here’s a thought: I read somewhere that Bullseye has this massive crossbow, which you could use to launch Cage across the river!  It defies the laws of physics!  Now, that’s what I call inventive!  Bullsie’s already through with it, so you might even be able to get it at a decent price – I’d give him a ring.  

Toward the end – as he’s walking along the top of a helicopter – Cage muses that death would “slow even me down a bit.” Well, Marv, nothing else slows down a comic quite like two pages chock-full of thought balloons, as Cage muses about his need to clear his name, his tax bills, and whether he might be a loser (p 26-27). Marv: shouldn’t you be building towards a thrills-filled climax?  Save the introspection for some other time, if you must resort to it at all.  

Elias’ art is adequate, if uninspiring.  There are a couple of teeth-chattering Robbins-esque moments, such as Cage speed-skating down the boulevard (p 6), but these peculiar visuals are the only things that raise the art out of the ordinary.  

The Son of Satan 8
"... Dance With the Devil My Red-Eyed Son!"
Story by Bill Mantlo and Archie Goodwin
Art by Russ Heath and John Romita
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

Daimon responds to a summons from a woman who claims to be his mother.  He rejects her as false, another of his father’s tricks, and then finds himself cast to some faraway place.  D encounters a beautiful woman, who leads him among the wretched refuse of hell.  She entices him to oust his father, and rule the underworld in his stead; this would be the time to strike, since this night is Christmas Eve, a night when the “petty evils and greed” of humanity are put aside, and which Satan avoids by sleeping thru it.  Just as D is about to give in, the woman reveals herself to be a withered corpse; her skull drops from her body as D casts her aside.  The skull then calls for “the hordes of hell,” and D is attacked by the damned, and overwhelmed.  He next finds himself in a deserted place; a hooded figure directs D toward a city, standing alone in the sand.  D espies a man, crowned with yew branches, who is himself!  The crowned figure bursts free of the armed men surrounding him, and is revealed to be Satan.  Daimon's father issues this challenge: could it be that D has had difficulty reconciling the two aspects of himself, because the evil he contends against is derived not only from Satan, but from Daimon's mother as well?  His mother (the same false one from before?) accepts Satan’s word, but D cannot tolerate this thought, as he engulfs both Satan and his seeming-mother in soulfire.  Satan protests, angered by his impression that D had been weakening; Satan then wakes, to find that Christmas Eve has ended – these trials of Daimon all have transpired in Satan’s dream.
-Chris Blake

Chris:  Do devils dream of hell-bound sheep?  It’s hard to believe this was a simple inventory story.  It’s easier to understand why the editorial staff agreed to publish it, despite the fact that this title already had been slated for cancellation – it’s by far the most intriguing SoS story since Daimon moved here from Marvel Spotlight.  Bill Mantlo (still finding his voice as a comics writer, and guilty of some serious clunkers we’ve seen in his fill-ins penned for other titles) turns in a dandy here, as he ably captures another moment in Daimon’s quest for himself – this time, (unexpectedly) viewed from the perspective of the one who has done more than anyone to plague Daimon’s mind with doubts.  

Russ Heath – Dean Pete fave, and veteran of countless war stories over the previous decades – gives you the impression that he’s been drawing SoS stories for just as long.  The images of animate gargoyles, nightmare denizens, and various flesh-eating creatures are both wildly creative and deeply disturbing.  Hieronymus Bosch would be justly proud of the dastardly critters, and of the tortures inflicted on the condemned, particularly in the nasty panels on p 7 (right).  A part of me wonders, “Why wasn’t Heath called on to illustrate more stories like this?” while another part observes, “This is one of about a dozen works Heath provided for Marvel in the Bronze era, so you’re lucky you got this one, buddy!” 

Lastly, I want to observe that Daimon’s experiences (as envisioned by Satan) have faint parallels with Satan’s temptation of Christ in the desert, as he was offered temporal power, if Christ would worship Satan.  Daimon has the offer of power (the opportunity to be a beneficent ruler of hell), but also is provided a carnal enticement, and a possible justification to allow himself to yield to Satan’s evil influence.  That’s a lot of fortitude to call on in one night!  Well, we won’t have Daimon Hellstrom to be kicked around by demons and other hellspawn for awhile; with the exception of a Steve G scripted Howard the Duck story, Daimon goes into mothballs before finally resurfacing back with the Defenders, but that won’t be until a few years from now.  

And, okay one last other thing: in case you missed it, Tom Sutton’s crazy little two-page story, “Contact!” (reprinted from Tower of Shadows #6, I’m told) rounds out the issue.  It’s wildly incongruous, given the content we’re come to expect from SoS, but it’s so unabashedly silly that I can’t help but grin along with Tom the Mad Fool.  

Matthew: This issue “was plotted a year-and-a-half ago as an inventory story to be on the shelf in case the regular crew just couldn’t meet a schedule.  That event never happened, but both Boisterous Bill Mantlo and Rustic Russ Heath [who, according to Mark Drummond, took some of his demons directly from paintings by Hieronymous Bosch] did such a magnificent job that we couldn’t stand the thought of this story being left on the shelf to collect dust forever.  So we brought out Son of Satan #8 because we wanted this story to see print.  We were that proud of it,” per the lettercol, which ironically—as the armadillo takes pains to point out—was scheduled just late enough to print correspondence on the title’s intended final issue in its actual final issue.

As if that weren’t a sufficiently interesting backstory, SuperMegaMonkey not only tells us that the B&W page 22 (whose numeration is backwards!) was added by Archie and Art Director John Romita to replace one rejected by the CCA, but also reproduces the offending object, in which Daimon watches his own crucifixion; how’s that for service?  It’s obviously the faintest of praise to deem this superior to the Warner/Trinidad ordeal, and almost unheard of for a fill-in even to approach, let alone surpass, the efforts of the regular creative team.  Yet that is just what this superbly drawn yarn has done; however, if the censored material was replaced, why the need for those two pages of Tom (Sutton) foolery, reprinted from Tower of Shadows #6?

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man 3
"... And There Was Lightmaster!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Al Milgrom

Swinging through the city, Spider-Man thwarts a mugging and unbeknownst to him, is actually called a "good man" by the old-timer he saved. In the now infamous posh Gramercy Park townhouse, Tarantula frees himself to go after El Lider, who turns out to be Lightmaster! The brilliant baddie knocks out Tarantula with solid light, uses a light-burst to knock out Chancellor Gorman and flies off to "begin the final stages" of his plan. Crawling through his apartment window, Spidey is shocked to see Flash and Glory in his pad playing records, waiting for Peter to wake up. He skulks over them on the ceiling quietly and changes into a robe, avoiding disaster. The trio head to a local hipster joint for some dinner, where Flash is stunned that one of the waitresses is Sha Shan, but she runs away crying and they're asked to leave. Flash walks off to think, while Peter goes off to investigate a light from City Hall—where he finds Lightmaster attacking City Controller Goldin! With an axe and hammer and burst of solid light, the sun-lit scoundrel defeats Spidey and flies off with his prey, leaving the wall-crawler to be ridiculed by his less-than-adoring public.

The next day, Peter visits Joe Robertson at the Bugle, wearing sunglasses to protect a "minor infection" (meaning light burst) and digging for information of the kidnapping of the city officials. Robbie shows him a file, and it's exactly what Peter is looking for. Swinging to the aforementioned Gramercy Park townhouse, outfitted with dark, smoked filters in his mask to prevent Lightmaster from blinding him, Spidey breaks through a window to discover…Dr. Lansky! Yes, the School Administrator who was "kidnapped" was once a Physics Professor specializing in Light Phenomena, and planned to get rid of the "corrupt city officials" who were denying the college the necessary funds. After a light blast blows open a hole in the wall, Spidey swings out into open space, tweaking Lansky's plan to try and make him careless. Ducking into a movie theatre, and remembering one of Lansky's own papers, Spidey knows solid light is a conductor, so gets the radiated rogue to zap a high voltage area, which knocks him out! --Joe Tura

Joe: An issue that seems like Spidey "lite," pardon the pun, is the third part of a story that seems more like a one-and-done since we get introduced to Lightmaster, then see him snuffed out in the same issue. But we haven't seen the last of the illuminated ingrate by any means. Personally, I find him to be a bit of a dim bulb. All that planning, getting Tarantula and Kraven to work for him, and his suit gives him mega-watt power, and he's duped into being shorted out by our hero. Tsk tsk.

Sal and Mike draw him quite well, of course. And pinch-hitter Shooter gives us some supporting cast intrigue with the reappearance of Sha Shan, from Amazing 
#108-109, but no clue yet what this will mean for Flash, or which Spidey book we'll see her in again. See, Marvel's plan is working! Buy more comics, kids! Next issue we're promised The Vulture, meaning another of Spidey's rogues gallery is coming back—not that we mind!

Favorite sound effect is a curious one this time—the issue only features four! That's so unlike a Marvel book, especially a Spider-Man title. Yes, just pages 26, 27, 30 and 31 have actual effects. Very strange. But the best of the light bunch is when Lightmaster gets lit up to a loud "BZZZZZZZZTTT"

Matthew:  The lettercol reports that EIC Archie Goodwin takes over as writer next issue, if only through #8, and while Conway (whose plot Shooter scripts as a one-off here) nominally returns in #6, it’s just a truncated reprint of his Marvel Team-Up #3, framed by new material of unknown origin; more on that when the time comes.  If I focus on the housekeeping first and foremost, it’s partly because I don’t find Lightmaster very interesting, although it’s nice to learn—or have confirmed, if you figured it out sooner—what they’ve been leading up to with the “kidnapped” Lansky.  True to the mag’s title, Peter & Co. get much of the focus, and Sha Shan, last seen in ASM #109 (June 1972), will become a major supporting player.

Super-Villain Team-Up 10
Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner in
"The Sign of the Skull!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Hall and Don Perlin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Karen Mantlo, and Irving Watanabe

Penetrating the defenses of the Latverian embassy in New York, Captain America recalls that offstage, during Avengers #156, he spotted a hovering spy-ship; on the body of its pilot, who poisoned himself, he found an “identification friend or foe” device concealed in an ornate scepter.  He encounters not the Red Skull, as expected, but Doom (“Would you care for some wine, or is this purely a business call?”), and explains that analysis revealed the IFF—which, to Doom’s ire, bears the Skull’s likeness—was made in Latveria, suggesting that they were allies.  Meanwhile, in Atlantis, Namor is outraged when his comatose people are endangered by miners, one of whom tells him that their mysterious master, known only as Orbiter, is based in Latveria.

There, the Shroud and Rudolfo are approaching the throne room when the crown prince picks a poor time to remove his mask for relief from the heat and is seen by the guards, exposing him as an imposter and leading to a full-scale battle with his guerillas.  As they enter the throne room and its occupant blasts Rudolfo, the Doomship flies over the castle, but Doom, accompanied by Cap, is surprised to be attacked by his own heat-seeking drones, and Cap mans the ack-ack gun, observing that someone has cracked the Doom-code activating them.  Flying low, and screened by the others, the Rainbow Missile—“The deadliest of all!”—gets through Cap’s barrage, and the Doomship vanishes in a multi-colored flash while the Shroud is confronted by a gloating Skull. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: When I rave about SVTU, this is one of my poster children, so I was afraid it wouldn’t live up to my memory, but my fears were as unfounded as rumors of Obama being a foreign-born Muslim.  I’ve realized that my reflexive fondness for Hall stems primarily from this issue, and since I’ve never considered Perlin to be anything but an average inker, it suggests that unique alchemy in which the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts.  You want art highlights?  We got art highlights:  Cap’s astonishment in page 6, panel 6; the magnificent full-page portrait of Doom on page 7; Namor’s rage in page 15, panel 2; the miner’s abject terror in page 17, panel 5; and the superb reveal of the Skull—a character who is notoriously difficult to get right—in the last panel.

The art is terrific in general, especially the fluidity of the action scenes; having Cap guest-star as his nemesis rears his ugly, uh, skull is inspired and logical, while both Bill and Bob handle Cap unusually well.  Of course, Doom’s “Again he has taken advantage of my absence!” has more resonance for me now that I’m familiar with their clash from Astonishing Tales #4-5—which, ironically, I first read reprinted in SVTU #15—and I continue to salute Bill for weaving in these AT plotlines.  This a masterful blend of gripping action, substantive plot development, and solid characterization, highlighted by the contrast and interaction between Cap and Doom, allied once again after the recent Attumapalooza but against a far more apt foe (or rival, as the case may be).

Chris: Now that Subby no longer is bound to the bidding of von Doom, I figured he might be ready to skip out on this plucky title. That said, I was a bit surprised to find Namor swimming along as the curtain rises on chapter 2; before long, I realized he is here to link us to the mysterious Orbiter.  So now that we're hip to the Orbiter, can Namor go back to his regularly scheduled programming? 

There's been so much crossover activity with the Avengers lately that I wasn't sure whether I should expect to resume SV TU's previously existing storylines.  It's nice to see that the Latverian revolutionary story hasn't been rolled up and put away, since there is more grist to mill here. With Doom deposed (at least, for the moment), the Shroud seems committed to stick around to ensure that the good guys win the day.  Note to Rudolfo: keep the mask on, never mind that it gets hot – use some treasury slush funds to buy a fan, or something, but don’t take the mask off.

One significant reservation I have is the completely-spoiled reveal of the return of the Red Skull; he's pretty hard to miss, as his head dominates the entire cover, you know?  I'm not crazy about the art, either.  Granted, it's better than Shooter's grade-school doodlings from last issue (faint praise!), but I'm distracted by Hall's way of depicting characters as having all the fluidity of action figures.  Perlin's inks, which are fine most of the time, only add to the stiffness effect here.

Matthew:  I don't think the actual reveal of the Skull in the last panel was intended as a surprise per se, since (the cover notwithstanding) his involvement had been made pretty clear as early as the opening embassy scene.  I think it was just supposed to be, and worked for me as, a dramatic effect that we only then got a good look at him.

The Mighty Thor 256
"Lurker in the Dark!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

What seems to the Starjamming Asgardians to be another incoming meteor proves to be none other than Thor's old friend and companion the Rigelian Recorder, come to aid his friend for past kindness. The crew spots some interstellar debris that leads them to an apparently dead Worldship. Deeming it worth investigating, they land and enter through one of its ports. They find the ship is not as deserted as it seems. Volstagg foolishly presses a button that unleashes protective robots called Securitrons, aged and imperfect but still dangerous. Though they are winning, the need to finish the battle is unnecessary for the Asgardians, as the robots are called off by the leader of the Worldship (known as Levianon) by their leader, Relstor. While his people tend to the wounds Sif incurred in the battle with the Securitrons, Relstor tells them of the mysterious and elusive beast they call Sporr, who steals away those weak and old in its tentacled grasp, never to be seen again. The most recent was the grandfather of a young man named Darnak, who encourages them to hunt down the creature. Thor agrees to help them, and as they talk, a recovering Sif wanders off and is taken by... Sporr! Her calls for help bring Thor and company to the rescue, but the creature's numerous tentacles keep them at bay long enough to vanish behind a wall it collapses in their path. Now Thor has a personal reason for the hunt. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I don't recall the Recorder being called Memorax before, but everyone deserves a name. The environment of the Worldship, a self-contained world including its own hell, isn't a new one. A little touch of Alien, a little Star Trek, and many others, it's an effective backdrop for the events to unfold. And lest we think things at home in Asgard are peaceful, Balder and Karnilla are graced with bad news of their own, when Brokar, who guards Asgard's northern gates, enters, with his dying words being the names of two more deadly foes who are intent on bringing Asgard down. A good mystery to get us started.

Chris: Just when DeZuniga was getting on my good side, we have an issue like this, which features nearly as many indistinct-looking finishes (most of the panels on p 11) as atmospherically effective ones (most of pages 14, 17).  I think my favorite is p 22, which captures the dim interior lighting of the fading ship; Glynis Wein’s coloring contributes to the effect of the close-up of Thor and Fandral (panel 4), as their faces appear to be lit by a nearby campfire.  

I’m enjoying the company of the Warriors Three.  Len does a nice job puffing up Volstagg – amusing moment as he praises himself for his mighty action of pressing a button in the wall (which triggers the release of the securitrons, on p 10).  Fandral’s quips are welcome, particularly the one when he recommends that Volstagg – if reluctant, as he claims, to steal glory from Fandral and Hogun – might at least deign to sit on one of Sporr’s writhing tentacles (p 27).  

Matthew:  When all I can complain about in an issue of Thor is DeZuniga’s inks, which are far from the worst yet—I still too often feel—obscure Buscema’s style o’ermuch, you know Len has to be doing something right.  This is the kind of kind of cosmic SF/mythology mash-up the book does so often, but by no means always well, so for me to pronounce myself as satisfied with this entry as I am is high praise indeed.  It’s tough to go wrong with a giant, tentacled monster aboard a huge, derelict spaceship; Sif, although she devolves into damsel-in-distress mode, comes by it honestly, after being wounded in battle; and, like Thor, I welcome the return of the Recorder, who luckily comes across as more than the “emotionless thinking machine” he was built to be.

Peter: I'm assuming this chap, Sporr!, is the same tentacled amoeba created by Lee and Kirby for Tales of Suspense #11 (September 1960) and reprinted in Where Monsters Dwell #2 (March 1970). I always thought it was cool when the Marvel writers would thaw out one of the old Lee/Kirby giants (from whatever polar cap it had been lured to) and utilized it for a contemporary title. And then I read Tony Isabella's "IT!"

The Tomb of Dracula 53
"The Final Glory of Deacon Frost"
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

Hannibal King enlists the aid of Daimon Hellstrom to exorcise/separate Blade from his doppelganger. The split goes well and King stakes the twin. King and Blade then head off to destroy Deacon Frost, the vampire responsible for woes in the lives of both men. They track Frost to his underground lair, where the vampire reveals his origin and the startling fact that he can produce twins (and triplets and quadruplets...) of any human he victimizes. As proof, he unleashes an army of Kings and Blades on our boys. The vampire hunters prove to be too much for the doppelganger army and then turn their attention to Frost. Tossing wooden blades, they score a bullseye but Frost falls into a bank of machinery, setting off a major explosion. Blade and King get out of the inferno just in time. They say their goodbyes as each sets off on his own course of vampire hunting. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: A decent enough adventure but you get the feeling that Marv just wanted the whole doppelganger arc to be done and dusted. Drac is scarce, turning up in only a few obligatory "I must feast" panels and nothing more, but next issue's banner informs us that the spotlight will be turned back on our favorite vampire king as we welcome Count Alucard, the Son of Dracula to the cast.

Chris: “It’s over, and about time.  I’ve been waitin’ for this for years,” Blade observes after he and Hannibal King have vanquished Deacon Frost.  Well, Blade’s dead right, Marv – you’ve kept fans of ToD on the hook for far too long, as they have awaited this confrontation.  There’ve been little teasers and such from time to time, but very little advancement of this plot until the past few issues.  Considering the fact that we’ve known Frost’s name since #45, and that King has been after him since #25, I don’t think Marv had to take so long to bring this storyline to a head.  (After I’d written this, I saw that Peter Sanderson had stated in a LOC that “three pages of this subplot a month hardly seems enough;” Ed Via expresses similar sentiments.  And that was in response to ToD #49, four issues previous to this one!)

Chris: It doesn’t help that the confrontation itself doesn’t amount to much, with Blade and King battling their inexplicable doubles (how could these beings grow, without their hosts being aware of them -?), instead of Frost, until the very end Frost falls into his oversized electrical panel and goes skzzzzak.  And what is all the machinery doing there, anyway?  The one truly satisfying moment is immediately before that, when Blade and King both manage to plant their wooden knives in Frost at the same moment.  

One last thought: as much as this has been Blade’s and King’s fight, which means Drac has to wait on the sideline for this issue, I still would’ve enjoyed a little twist in the story that would’ve involved Drac undermining Frost somehow; not to help Blade and King, of course, but perhaps to ensure that they could take out a potential competitor for vamp superiority.  My two cents.

Mark: The Son of Satan, exorcist extraordinaire, separates Blade from his dead vamp doppelganger, once Hannibal King and Hellstrom dig 'em both up amid the cemetery stink of "...week-old fish left out in the sun." D-ganger quickly dispatched, we're off on the banshee-howl hunt for Deacon Frost with King and Blade, antagonistic odd couple united only in burning hatred for their common enemy.

After teasing out this plotline for months, Marv - abetted as always by Gene Colan's ethereal, spookhouse pencils - finally serves up the De-Frosting beatdown we've be waiting to sink our teeth into.

We learn Frost was a chemist and budding mad scientist, working up an immortality serum that included vampire blood, to be tested on an unwitting female. Yadda yadda, jealous fiancée rescue attempt, Frost gets stuck with a needle's worth of his own medicine. Okay, that made him a vamp, but Marv still can't make sense out of Frost's inexplicable D-ganger producing powers, but doubles down on the idea anyway, rolling out a platoon of Blade and King clone-fangers and, in the merry mayhem that follows, Wolfie actually pulls it off, if only because we're enjoying the carnage so much we forget the underlying wacko premise. 

After a battle deep in Frost's lair, the catacomb bowels beneath the cemetery, the mother-killer gets simultaneously staked by Blade and King, in the most crowd-pleasing revenge payback in many a moon. That Frost then tumbles into his mad science machinery, blowing the place to smithereens, is just blood red icing on the cake.

Now, bring on the Son of Dracula! Let's just pray it ain't Pauly Shore.

The X-Men 103
"The Fall of the Tower"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Sam Grainger
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Nightcrawler wakes to find himself with a group of little people.  The leprechauns explain that Black Tom has kept them prisoner since he took possession of the castle; they offer to help Nightcrawler defeat their oppressor.  At that moment, Black Tom and Juggernaut are preparing to torture the captive X-Men, so that they can harm Prof Xavier thru his psychic link with his students.  Then, Prof X himself appears in the room; Juggernaut lashes out, trying to crush his hated step-brother.  In his rage, he fails to notice what Black Tom can see: Xavier should not be able to spring clear of Juggernaut's fists, or cling to the walls – yes, it's Nightcrawler, undoubtedly employing his disguise-inducer to modify his appearance. Juggernaut barrels mindlessly on, until his fist finally breaches the stone wall; Ororo breathes the clear air, as her claustrophobia immediately lifts.  She summons a wind that blows Colossus, Wolverine, and herself to safety; Nightcrawler stays behind, KO'd by pieces of the pummeled wall, as does Banshee, held back by Black Tom.  Tom threatens to fling Banshee from the parapet unless the X-Men re-surrender.  In response, Ororo conjures a mighty storm, Colossus flings Wolverine to the top of (and over) the wall, and then proceeds to climb up himself.  Nightcrawler helps Banshee free himself from his bonds, and Banshee resumes his battle with his renegade cousin.  Banshee catches Tom in the midsection, and pushes him up and over the castle walls.  Juggernaut sees Tom plummet from the parapet, and he leaps and plunges after, as if to save Tom; both men vanish in the angry sea waters. -Chris Blake

Chris: Significant plot development this time, with multiple implications.  First, we learn that Eric the Red (neither seen, nor heard-from since XM #97!) is behind Black Tom & Juggernaut's attack on the X-ers.  Second, we're informed of a deadline: Eric’s signal-caller (addressed by Eric only as “my liege”) wants the team eliminated before a “Princess Neramani” can reach the earth (could this news tie-in to Prof X's disturbing dreams -?).  Lastly, Eric now is calling in the biggest big-gun of all -- Magneto!  Bonus points to Claremont for holding back this arch-foe until now; it speaks of admirable restraint.

The notion of putting real-live leprechauns in the story – and to have them involved in the X-team’s plans to free themselves – is so crazy that it’s bold.  I can’t imagine that too many editorial meetings included an exhortation to include more fanciful little people in mainstream Marvel stories.  It speaks to Claremont’s ever-increasing confidence in his writing for this title, that he would feel comfortable including this potentially laughable idea in a story.  And no, I’m not saying it’s laughable – it works, in its own odd way.  (But, if Claremont had the leprechauns tackle Juggernaut, well …)

Chris: Another daring move: this could be the first-ever issue of X-Men that features neither Professor X, nor  Cyclops!  The Prof appears in a way, when Nightcrawler fakes it to confuse his opponents, but Cyke isn’t even referred to.  I guess our little team is growing up – happens fast, doesn’t it?  (sigh)

Matthew: The problem, if you want to call it that, with sustained excellence is that at times it leaves me with very little to say other than, “Dude!”  The fact that I’m already experiencing this phenomenon within the first ten regular-sized issues, even before Byrne’s advent on the strip, is quite a testimony to the Claremont/Cockrum team in general, and as embellished by Grainger in particular.  The climactic self-sacrifice by Juggernaut, normally among the most unrepentant bad guys, is curiously poignant, and the spectacle of seeing him seemingly bedeviled by his suddenly agile step-brother is unforgettable; this and other elements, such as his shadowy invisibility, keep Kurt growing as a fascinating character, even if the classic Wolverine persona is still developing.

Also This Month

< Funtastic World of Hanna-Barbera #1
Kid Colt Outlaw #215
Marvel Classics Comics #14
Marvel Tales #76
Spidey Super Stories #21
Two-Gun Kid #135


Planet of the Apes 29
Cover by Malcolm McN

"To Race the Death-Winds"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton

An excellent Malcolm McN cover kicks this one off, and looking at the TOC, I know I'm in trouble. Three articles? Hmmm…There's more trouble when the letters page starts with a long one that says how great Herb Trimpe's work on Terror was. Hmmmm….A couple of nice Pat Broderick illustrations later, we're off to the ocean with Moench and Sutton's Future History Chronicles V, picking up from issue #24.

From the mutant ship, Alaric and his confidants spy the Freedom Reaver in flames and sinking, and they're told they will soon turn into mutants themselves and become "converts to the New Order"! An angry Starknor wants to start killing people, but Alaric halts him, even though Reena is also seeking vengeance. Suddenly the deck begins to open…and out comes a giant hot air balloon as the mutants are trying to escape. The good guys hop aboard, with a hesitant (again) Alaric forced to shoot a crossbow line to get up to the rising gondola with Reena. They fight off all the mutants save two, and soon enter the "Death Mists," where the sky is black and stormy. Managing to make it to clear skies, with Alaric and Reena nearly reconciling, they soon come upon a trio of airships that begin shooting flames at the balloon! The rigging burns through, and with some heroics by ape Greymalkin, the basket safely hits land. The mutants run off, and our merry band are attacked by Her Majesty's Cannibal Corps, basically apes with giant toads, who take the humans prisoner and hang them upside down over a boiling kettle. They kill both mutants, and when Graymalkin returns (after being told to "depart this region") he's asked to throw spears at his friends—which he does, freeing them and allowing them to escape! But after a dip in the river, they come upon a jungle that may or may not be a "place of peace."

A confusing and confounding chapter actually leaves us wanting more, ending as our heroes ponder their next move. But what to do with their ship and crew gone, stranded in a strange land with only each other to rely on? That will have to wait. Moench stuffs this tale with a ton of words, as if talking helps with survival, and narrating every move makes it all the more safe. Sutton's art is quite good, from the deep, dark danger of the Death Mists to the insane giant toads, with backgrounds that are equally murky and detailed, and close-ups that are as expressive as it gets. Certainly the right artist for this funky futuristic adventure.

Our first article, "10th Anniversary on the Planet of the Apes" is basically a fan letter/timeline of the Apes saga, starting with the first film and explaining the lasting pull of the entire run. It's full of great photos and goes on for quite a long time. Next up is "Kim Hunter: The Woman Behind The Ape," also by Samuel James Maronie, who is obviously a huge fan, but just an OK writer. Sorry, Samuel. An interview with Ms. Hunter would have been an excellent choice, but instead it's just another fan letter. Yippee.

Our final article is "From Simians to Sharks: An Interview with Richard Zanuck," the late, great producer whose passing inspired one of the better blog posts in my long-neglected personal blog. (Don't worry, that won't be on the test.) Now THIS I can get behind! On second thought…Maronie's questions—in all caps, mind you which is super distracting—are all over the place, starting with the Apes and delving into When Worlds Collide and nearly rambling. What a shame.

And that's it. Really it is. This was the last issue of the sometimes brilliant, often wacky, seldom boring Planet of the Apes magazine. The abrupt cancellation came after an increase in licensing fees that apparently became too big for the powers that be. But there do exist revelations on Moench's plans for the mag, especially my beloved Terror, plus a script too! Gotta love the internet.

Turns out Moench planned to focus his energies on the Derek Zane storyline, you know the time traveling guy who ended up in a faux Camelot, with enough stories to last 30 more issues! The next Future History Chronicles would have told us more about the Cannibal Corps, and a city named Sexxtann with an isolated band of humans called the Industrialists who capture a giant female gorilla named Her Majesty. Whoa. No more beer for me, I don't know what the heck that would have turned out like.

More importantly, the next chapter of "Terror" had the Makers creating a nine-foot tall Gorilloid called Smashore, who attacks the city, inadvertently frees Brutus, and is killed after being tricked by Jason and friends. The good guys commandeer a war machine, and with help from invading Mutant Drones fight off the Gorilloids. After a victory feast, Alexander's parents are taken away, by what Jason thinks are apes, but are actually humans, forcing him to rethink his seething hatred for Brutus—who watches from a high ridge with mocking laughter. Man, even drawn by Trimpe, this would have been damn cool. Oh well…

Thanks to Dean Pete for letting me relive a huge part of my comic book collecting childhood. Apes was easily my favorite Marvel Mag, and getting to read the entire run was awesome, even through the endless parade of article after article. And big thanks to Hunter Goatley's website for a bunch of the post-mag info, which I never knew existed.

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 33
Cover by Earl Norem

"Between Two Hates"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Rudy Nebres

"Sword of Vengeance"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Marshall Rogers

It's a big city so perhaps it's not so outlandish that Shang-Chi has stumbled into his 33rd rumble of the month, this one between rival Kung Fu schools (!). Though Shang dispenses more than one volume of spiritual advice, it all comes down, as it usually does, to a rumble grande. When one of the participants is killed, the rest all stop and take stock of their morality and human decency. Love wins out.

A typical Nebres WTF?
What possible combo could possibly end the nightmare that was The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu any better than Moench and Nebres? Doug seems to have brought his "A" game to "Between Two Hates," remembering, in best purple fashion, that pulp writers were paid by the word. How else to explain the long diatribes about man's inhumanity to man? There are lots of quotes to choose from but I think my favorite sums up the TDHoKF title nicely: "No amount of paddling on the surface of a disturbed pond can restore to it a placid surface." You're saying, "Huh?" Yeah, so am I, but that's why I love this crap so much. Doug so wants to come up with proverbs that may be used thousands of years from now that he doesn't bother to stop and think them through. The same can be said for this story. It's hard to rationalize that this is the same Doug Moench who writes the four-color exploits of Shang-Chi; here there are none of the intricacies or clever plot twists found in those adventures. Rudy Nebres contributes even more of his bewildering sketches-sans-layout; in one full-page panel (reprinted at left), each character looks like the next, with no distinguishing features to help the reader tell them apart. This withered corpse couldn't be buried fast enough.


Having been captured by the thugs of Emil Vachon, The SuperFoxes (yes, they're officially known as The Daughters of the Dragon but I prefer my moniker) Colleen Wing and Misty Knight are bound, gagged, and hauled off to the fortress of Vachon, deep inside a dormant volcano. There they are bathed and scented and brought before the evil Vachon, who announces his intentions: to recoup his losses (Misty and Colleen blew up all his illegal arms at the harbor last issue), the dastardly villain intends to hook the babes on heroin and sell them into a prostitution/slavery ring. At first the girls fight the heroin but, eventually, they ride the horse to ecstasy. Just before they're to be shipped out, their heroin dispenser, Dr. Hartmann, decides he'd like a little taste of Colleen Wing. He disrobes her but has a nasty surprise when Misty breaks her bonds and snaps Hartmann's neck like week-old french bread. Misty explains to Colleen that the bad guy was injecting the horse into her bionic arm and she played hooked until the perfect moment. They head upstairs where Vachon and his right hand man, Chung, are waiting. A hellacious kung fu battle ensues but, in the end, good trumps evil and the girls put an end to Vachon's reign of terror.

A fun, action-packed romp, borrowing heavily from Bond (... James Bond) and Marvel's four-color heavyweight champ, Master of Kung Fu, spiced liberally with violence, a little t 'n' a, and some really bad, cliched dialogue. It's always annoyed me (and frequently taken me out of a story) when a character constantly talks in third person when they're all by themselves! Chris Claremont takes that annoying habit to another level here when the girls are fighting their adversaries and even has Colleen completing a sentence aloud that she'd begun in thought:

Colleen thought balloon: "Misty fought for her life, butcher -- like I'm fighting now -- and like she won hers..."
Colleen aloud: "I'm going to win mine!"

It's no wonder Vachon goes down so fast; he's confused by the sudden outbursts of nonsense.

At any rate, the whole, in this case, is certainly better than the bits and how can you lose when you've got Marshall Rogers illustrating? When I look back on the 33-issue run of The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu (and, believe you me, I am so glad I'm looking back), I'll remember it for the brief outbursts (much like Colleen's) of quality like this series and the middle installments of Sons of the Tiger and I'll try to forget the rest. -Peter Enfantino

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 17
Cover Art by Ernie Chan & Earl Norem

“On To Yimsha”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Of Buccaneers and Barachan Pirates”
Text by Fred Blosser           
“The Hyborian Age Chapter 6: The Darkness and the Dawn”
Text by Roy Thomas
Art by Walt Simonson

“Curse of the Black Stone”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Tim Conrad

“Swords and Scrolls”

Thomas, Buscema and Alcala continue their adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle,” as Conan and his kidnapped captive, the devi Yasmina of Vendhya, rest in the camp of his friend Yar Afzal, chief of the Khurum Wazulis, before they ride out to the Cimmerian’s destination, Afghulistan. There, the barbarian will trade the noblewoman for his seven sub-chiefs — not knowing that they have already been killed by the sorcerer Khemsa.

One of Yar Afzal’s scouts arrives, warning that there are two large armies scouring the hills in search of Yasmina. One is led by Chunder Shan, governor of Peshkhauri in Northern Vendhya, the other by Kerim Shah, whom Conan knows is a spy for King Yezdigerd of Turan. The chief sends the scout back to his post to watch for any approaching invaders. Along the way, the man encounters Khemsa. The scout is hypnotized, given a small black marble and told to give it to Yar Afzal. Returning to camp, the mesmerized man delivers the shiny object to his chief: it transforms into a poisonous spider and Yar Afzal dies from its bite. Suddenly, a booming voice rings out that startles the Wazulis: “Yar Afzal is Dead! Kill the outlander!” The tribesmen rush at Conan who retreats to the stable containing the frightened Yasmina — they both make their escape on a sleek stallion.

After buying the clothes off a Galzai hillwoman’s back to help make the regal Yasmina look less conspicuous, the mismatched travelers skirt the accursed mountain called Yimsha, home of the powerful Black Seers, the mystics the devi believes responsible for the death of her brother, Bhunda Chand, the king of Vendhya. They continue on the mountainous path until they come upon Khemsa and his lover Gitara, the devi’s former handmaiden, on a rocky ledge. The wizard uses his hypnotic powers to fell the Cimmerian. But a whirling dervish appears in the sky and sets down on the ledge: it disperses and the Black Seers appear, four gaunt bald men with long beards and black robes. Khemsa, gripping Gitara’s shoulder, struggles to fight off the Seer’s psychic assault. When the bald sorcerers realized that Khemsa is drawing power from the love of his woman, they turn their attention to Gitara instead — they force her to hurl herself off the mountainside. His power broken, the helpless Khemsa soon follows his lover to a similar death. The Seers transform into the whirlwind once again and spin off, taking Yasmina with them.

While obviously magnificently illustrated and masterfully written, the second part of this four-issue adaptation does not really advance the plot in a major way. At 21 pages, it does get Yasmina in the hands of the Black Seers so we must assume that Conan will soon mount an assault on their mountain lair — which is really what the revenge-minded devi wanted all along. Remember, we have two more thick magazines to go until this wraps up in issue 19. This is rounding into a bona fide epic.

Also continuing from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #16 is Roy and Tim Conrad’s adaptation of Howard’s “Worms of the Earth,” a tale of the Pict king Bran Mak Morn. Last issue Conrad split duties with the great Barry Smith but he rides solo here. I haven’t read the source work but it seems that Roy directly lifts Howard’s nigh-Shakespearean dialogue. The tale comes across more like illustrated poetry than a simple work of fiction. At 22 pages, it’s actually a page longer than the leading Conan story.

Bran Mak Morn learns that the Romans have launched an attack on his tribesmen, the general Titus Sulla remaining behind, safely confined in the impenetrable Tower of Trajan. The warrior king seeks out the hut of a wizened werewoman and demands to know the location of the entrance to the hellish underworld ruled by the dark creatures known as the Worms of the Earth — he will then steal their sacred totem, the Black Stone, and have them under his command. The ancient hag agrees but only after Morn promises to kiss her cracked lips. With the information he needs, the daring Pict completes his quest: he will return the Stone only after the Worms destroy the Tower and deliver Titus Sulla to the agreed meeting place, Stonehenge. After leveling the stronghold, the subterranean horrors drive Sulla to the feet of Bran Mak Morn: he decapitates the general and returns the Stone. The Worms crawl back to their nightmarish home, the werewoman crying out that they will return one day soon.

As I’ve said before, Tim Conrad has a style that’s similar to Barry Smith’s if not quite on the same level as the Englishman’s supreme artistry. This is a terrifically moody tale, with a sense of horror and dread permeating every panel. Half of the pleasure is reading the text. Again, I assume that most of it is Howard’s and there’s a superb lyrical quality at work. One of the more superior backup stories ever to appear in Savage Sword.

At 3 pages, Fred Blosser’s “Of Buccaneers and Barachan Pirates” is a review of the “new” Robert E. Howard book Black Vulmea’s Vengeance. Published by Donald Grant, it collects three of Howard’s tales about buccaneers and freebooters, works supposedly inspired by Rafael Sabatini and Robert Louis Stevenson. We also have the sixth and final chapter of Roy Thomas and Walt Simonson’s “The Hyborian Age,” called “The Darkness and the Dawn.” It basically recounts the final days of Hyborea and the coming of the world we now know. Professor Colon usually chimes in with a much more detailed and knowledgeable recap, so I’ll bow out as graciously as I can. Whoops! Crash! Bang! Thud! -Tom Flynn

Professor Gil Colon, P.o.M.P., on The Hyborian Age Chapter Six: 

Aquilonia is fallen.  From out of the East, “the raging Hyrkanians,” joined by the Turanians, run roughshod over the weakened Hyborian kingdoms – only the Cimmerians are able to resist, almost annihilating their invaders.  

The Picts, the center of this swirling chaos, sit enthroned as rulers of Aquilonia’s empire after “massacring nearly all the inhabitants in the process.”  They stop the “Hyrkanians from adding even Stygia to their widening empire,” and never-before-conquered Nemedia employs “a tribe of mercenaries” to “beat off the Hyrkanians.”  These Aesir even “halted the eastward advance of the Picts.”  

Gorm, the Pictish chief of chiefs, is slain by an Aesir chieftain named Hialmar.  “75 years had elapsed since [Gorm] had first heard...of the western lands.  Long enough for a man to live, or a civilization to die.”  

The Pictish empire replacing Aquilonia is an empire in name only, and these barbarians build nothing in Aquilonia’s place.  It will leave no lasting legacy except for savagery, no legacy except for a pair of indelible Robert E. Howard characters, Brule the Spear-Slayer and Bran Mak Morn.  

What is left of the world’s corpse is locked in stalemate as “Pict and Hyrkanian snarled at each over the ruins they had conquered.”  Then: Ice Age!  

This glacial period and its “moving ice fields” uproot “many Nordic tribes [who are] driven southwards,” causing a domino effect of displacement.  During this time, Nemedia “became a Nordic kingdom ruled by the descendants of the Aesir mercenaries.”  

The Cimmerians, “pressed by the Nordic tides,” marched across the residual kingdoms, “destroying...Gunderland--,” toppling “the Nordic-Nemedians,” “overthrowing an Hyrkanian army,” and almost crushing “the newly-founded Pictish empire.”  

In the borderlands, new diasporas changed an already unstable map.  The “fleeing Nordic-Nemedians,” by breaking Hyrkanian rule in Shem, Brythunia, and Hyperborea, “forc[ed] the descendants of the Lemurians back toward the Vilayet Sea.”  At the same time, the Cimmerians “destroyed the ancient Hyrkanian kingdom of Turan,” and with “their western empire destroyed, the Hyrkanians butchered all unfit captives” and enslaved the rest before riding back to “the mysterious east.”  

“They would return thousands of years later, as Mongols, Huns, Tartars, and Turks[,] bloodily reenter[ing] western history” and imperiling new civilizations all over again in cyclical fashion.  

The Vanir, who had swarmed with the Aesir from Nordheim, overthrow Stygia’s “reigning class and build up a vast southern empire which they called Egypt,” and it is “from these red-haired conquerors the early Pharaohs were to boast descent.”  

By degrees, the world is beginning to look more like ours.  But “[t]he western world was now dominated by Nordic barbarians,” and “the once dominant Hyborians” – who gave the epoch its name – “vanished from the earth, leaving scarcely a trace of their blood in the veins of their conquerors.”  

“In time, the whole history of the Hyborian Age was lost sight of in a cloud of myths and fantasies.”  The stuff as dreams are made on; “the stuff of future memory,” as King Arthur says in John Boorman’s Excalibur; the stuff of stories.  

As if that is not enough upheaval, “another terrific convulsion of the earth” strikes, “carving out the lands as they are known to us moderns.”  

From “the mountains of western Cimmeria [come] the islands later called British,” and “the Mediterranean [is] formed when the Stygian continent broke away.”  Stubborn Pictish remnants “reduced to the status of stone-age savages, possessed the land once more,” finally to be “overthrown by the westward drift of the Cimmerians and Nordics” who have begun to intermingle.  But this demise comes “in a later age.”  

From this drift, migration, and population growth come the tribes “known now as Aryans” who “thronged the steppes west of the inland sea-- now known as the Caspian” and move into “India, Asia Minor, and much of Europe.”  “[T]he primitive Sons of Aryas” can be recognized today – the “sea-roving Danes” descend from the Vanir, and the “pure-blooded Aesir” are forefathers of “[t]he blond Achaians, Gauls, and Britons.”  “[T]he Nemedian Aesir” become the Irish, whereas “[t]he Gaels, ancestors of the Irish and highland Scotch came of pure-blooded Cimmerian clans.”  

Elsewhere, “[t]he ancient Sumerians were of mixed Hyrkanian and Shemitish blood-- while...the purer Shemites” give birth to the Arabs and Israelites.  Indeed “[t]he origins of the other races of the modern world may be similarly traced[,] their history stretch[ing] back into the mists of the forgotten Hyborian age.... -FIN-

So closes “[t]he final fantastic chapter of ‘The Hyborian Age,’” and dawns what “The Phoenix on the Sword” calls “the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas.”  In the eulogy “In Memoriam: Robert Ervin Howard,” REH’s friend H. P. Lovecraft described “The Hyborian Age” as “a detailed quasi-historical sketch of infinite cleverness and imaginative fertility.”  But why all this detail?  Howard himself tells us at the beginning of his “fictional history”: 

“When I began writing the Conan stories a few years ago, I prepared this ‘history’ of his age and the peoples of that age, in order to lend him and his sagas a greater aspect of realness.  And I found that by adhering to the ‘facts’ and spirit of that history, in writing the stories, it was easier to visualize (and therefore to present) him as a real flesh-and-blood character rather than a ready-made product.”  

“The Hyborian Age” first saw publication in The Phantagraph (November 1936), three years after “The Tower of the Elephant” (his Conan yarn published in the March 1933 issue of Weird Tales) provided readers a few paragraphs of similar historical outlining.  Conan’s world must have been much on Howard’s mind during this period, and we learn more previously unknown material about it in his only novel, The Hour of the Dragon (serialized in Weird Tales between December 1935 and April 1936).  In these pages, Conan is told of an empire called Acheron from three thousand years ago whose “wizards...practised foul necromancy, thaumaturgy of the most evil kind, grisly magic taught them by devils” before being “finally overthrown by the Hyborian tribes of the west.”  From this downfall, “[t]he barbarians who overthrew Acheron set up new kingdoms...called Aquilonia, and Nemedia, and Argos, from the tribes that founded them.”  Upon these ruins are laid the foundations of the Hyborian age, bringing us full circle.  

Howard may be the first to provide a comprehensive fantasy realm, complete with map and pseudo-history (though some have pointed to Baum’s Oz novels), well before J.R.R. Tolkien’s book-length appendices and his Silmarillion.  

The Del Rey Conan of Cimmeria books carry a series from Howard scholar Patrice Louinet – spread across three parts in The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian, The Bloody Crown of Conan, and The Conquering Sword of Conan – that go into great depth about the formation of this “Age undreamed of.”  

Throughout Marvel’s six-part adaptation, Simonson draws in a semi-xylographic style entirely unique, distinct, distinctive, dynamic, and memorable, its lines possessing almost an Art Nouveau quality (paging Dr. Clark Savage, Jr.!).  Thomas and Simonson are to be commended on the basis of sheer ambition alone.  How does one go about adapting and illustrating what is essentially a fictional history text?  Like this.  

It would be hard to imagine the later Conan stories of L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Roy Thomas (in these pages), and countless others, were it not for this mythmaking essay which gave these authors, and more to come, a sandbox to play in.  

This is Howard’s world, one of enduring poetic imagination; all others just inhabit it.  

# # #

This Sunday! Professor Gil concludes his study of
Solomon Kane in Marvel Premiere!
Be here, all ye heathens!