Wednesday, October 21, 2015

February 1977 Part One: Hell's Belles! Hellcat (meow!) Becomes the Latest Defender!

The Incredible Hulk 208
"A Monster in Our Midst!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Marie Severin and Frank Giacoia

The Incredible Hulk stumbles along a city street, still numb from losing Jarella and only wanting peace and quiet. Coincidentally, a band of henchmen chooses that time and place to break one of their compadres out of the Big House. Exiting the scene of the breakout, the bumblers accidentally run into the Green Goliath with their super-tank, knocking our hero off his feet and enraging him. The tank and the men are left in a pile of wreckage for the police to take care of but, back at the prison, the damage to the wall has created a water leak and drops fall on a mysterious cardboard box located in one of the cells. Bruce Banner realizes that he's going nowhere and decides this is the first day of the rest of his life, kicking it off with new clothes and new digs. He rents a room from the attractive April Sommers and settles in, hoping the new climate will settle his dangerous nerves. Back at the prison, guards have discovered the damaged box and enter the cel. Bad idea. Behind the door waits... The Absorbing Man! Crusher Creel makes a quick exit and is in the process of destroying New York, one brick at a time, when he disappears and is teleported to another dimension. There he stands before a quartet of shadowy figures who tell Creel they'd like him to kill the Hulk for them. Absorby smiles and admits he'd love to do just that. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: This one's a bit of a hodgepodge. The breakout segment goes nowhere fast and Len wisely puts it to bed half way through the story. Len's a smart writer so I'm sure the idea was not to spotlight a nothing jailbreak, but to set up a practical device to re-introduce Crusher. Introduction of future minor supporting character April Sommers (would she be a ninth-tier support?) doesn't impress. Just another Marvel female airhead to gob up pages between battles, April's one of those monosyllabic chicks who punctuates every sentence with "handsome." The real delight here, of course, is Crusher, one of those super-villains I couldn't get enough of.

Chris Blake: Following a suitable period of mourning for Jarella, this issue has a feel of New Direction, as Len tones down the Greenskin in favor of more attention to Puny Banner.  The move seems to be in response to LOC-requests for Bruce to be featured more often, or more prominently, in a mag that he easily could share with his alter-ego (since, after all, Banner doesn’t occupy nearly as much space).  I find it a bit amusing how quickly Bruce gets it all together – especially the super-friendly model-landlady.  How does Bruce walk into a store to buy a shirt, when he isn’t wearing a shirt as he walks thru the door?  ‘70s, man.  

The impending return to these pages of Jim Wilson (and, if memory serves, the arrival of buffoonish Kropotkin) are far less welcome.  I could do without all of the supporting characters for this title, except for those who are sequestered in a marginally effective southwestern base built for Hulk-busting. 

Matthew Bradley:  For reasons I can’t pinpoint, I’ve never liked that cover, and the contents never really transcend it, e.g., the patchy Bustaton artwork, especially the amateurishly sketchy figures in page 17, panel 5.  With her convenient attraction to Bruce, whom Len appears to forget should be mourning Jarella’s loss every bit as much as Greenskin is, perky quasi-landlady April Sommers—really?—seems too good to be true.  Despite such sight gags as the belated “Walter Pigeon [sic] Endorses Duck” headline, and the newsstand display of magazine covers spelling out “I’m having the time of my life,” this reader was not, while Bruce’s declaration (“As of this moment, the Hulk is dead!”) feels like, and will be proven, wishful thinking of the highest order.

Addendum:  Absolutely no truth to the rumor that this was an unofficial try-out for Bruce Banner, the Spectacular Hulk

The Avengers 156
"The Private War of Doctor Doom!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter
Art by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Joe Rosen, and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

The Vision convinces Dr. Doom that he and the Avengers are working for a common purpose in stopping Attuma, and the Whizzer and Wonder Man explain that they, too, are working together in order to stop Attuma. Once Doom helps the Avengers get rid of Attuma’s slave collars, the Vision becomes distant and morose, unsure of his identity once again. Subby and Wonder Man go it alone against Tyrak, and the rest of the Avengers charge in. Tyrak, the genetically modified villain, is much larger, but he is laid low in just a page. Attuma falls on the next page, but where is Doom? Ah, he has secretly taken the object that Attuma was going to use for world domination! Before he has a chance, however, the Avengers find him and the Vision uses his disruption technique to destroy the mechanism. Doom flees, and the remaining Avengers are left to ponder what happened. Vision is no longer speaking to anyone and the Beast was just humiliated by Doom. -Jerad Walters

Jerad Walters:  George Perez is off the art duties this issue, and aside from a fairly good splash page — which reprints the dialogue of last issue’s final page word for word — Sal Buscema’s artwork is fairly routine here and the story is rather briskly paced in order to wrap everything up — perhaps Jim Shooter got shoved onto this book because Gerry Conway couldn’t finish it? Anyway, the result is a bit of a letdown for what should have been some very good pages of battle action.

Matthew: The ink would seem barely dry on Conway’s writer-editor contract when the torch-passing begins, but since soon-to-be successor Shooter merely scripts his plot, I’m giving Gerry the lion’s share of credit for his beloved arc’s satisfying conclusion.  I think they lay the Vision’s coldness on a bit thick but love his reclaiming his cape from “Charlie A’Tuna,” Tyrak’s double-barreled comeuppance, and Subby’s temperate “Your strength will be of great value to us!”  With Perez now busy on Logan’s Run, another Buscema steps into the breach; readers of the current Marvel Two-in-One may not believe Marcos embellished Sal on both, yet I’ll assume Pablo was going for a look consistent with prior issues, a fine thing here…in MTIO, not so much.

Chris: This storyline is more enjoyable for me this time around.  I recall from previous readings that venues change almost continuously, with nearly everyone in motion all the time; it’s a bit difficult to keep track of all the business.  I might have been better prepared for it now; I also think it helps to read one issue at a time (instead of four in one sitting, as I would have in the past), so that I have a chance to digest an issue’s developments.   

As over-involved as it is, I still prefer Gerry’s approach (with scripting help from Shooter, in his first full-length Avengers assignment) to the stories we got from Steve E, especially in his last year or so.  I mean, Steve might’ve strung this out over 7-8 issues, with Attuma and Tyrak not appearing for an issue or two – but maybe we’d have more Kang, for good measure.  Shooter does well with the characterization in his first offering, as we get some steeliness from the Vision (to cover up his self-doubt?), and some existential concerns from Wonder Man (since he’s still not sure how he came back from the dead, and is distracted by the possibility of returning there fairly soon?).

Chris: I’m not about to trade George Pérez for anyone, especially on this title, but Sal B does a great job filling in, with Marcos’ inks providing continuity.  The all-out assault on Tyrak, followed by the double-fisted takedown by Vision and Wonder Man (above and below) are images that have stayed with me.

Joe: I have a very vivid memory of the klassic Kirby kover, with the excellent added touch of The King remembering to draw Vision with no cape, which I probably didn't pick up on 39 years ago. Well, Prof. Matthew probably did, so that's good enough. [Love ya, man --MRB]Turning the page, we know we're in for a good issue with the words "All The Bionic Action Begins Here!" as new Avenger Six Million Dollar Man keeps watch at Mission Control Center….oh wait, that's an ad, isn't it. Well, those Critical Assignment Arms are straight out of Stark Industries! Anyway, enough of that yakkin'….

Joe: My Pal Sal B. starts a pinch-hitting run, inked ably by Pablo Marcos so that some panels, especially the flashbacks to Tyrak's terror, look very Perez-ish. I do love me some Sal, but on this title, George reigns supreme. Having Shooter sit in on the script is interesting, and back then I wouldn't know the difference, to be honest, but he does well, although Wonder Man seems a little too seasoned for someone who's been "alive" for about a day and a half. Beast is, of course, showing more and more signs of why he's one of the 10 best Avengers ever. (Yeah, I said it!) And Subby is, well a bit of a crankypuss, so his character is dead on! Vision becoming more and more android-esque partly because of Wonder Man being around is a big set-up for years and years of Marvel shenanigans that get less and less interesting once we are subject to the Vision and Scarlet Witch maxi-series, but for now it's great! And I'm sorry, I still don't get how an injured arm hinders Wanda's powers, unless she can only send a half-power blast of whatever she blasts people with. Ah, enough of all that, just enjoy this issue for the non-stop fun it is, highlighted by the dynamic arrogance of Dr. Doom, one of the few Marvel villains who can actually back up his bravado.

The Champions 11
"The Shadow from the Stars"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Bob Layton
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by Gil Kane and Bob Layton

As Natasha approaches their H.Q. with Hercules, Warren, and Bobby on board, the controls of their “shiny new sky-car” freeze, leaving her unable to pull out of a power dive; luckily, Bill Foster—who designed it—is waiting on the roof-deck, grows to Black Goliath-size, and prevents them from overshooting, aided by a timely ice-platform.  As they get acquainted, Darkstar arrives, her defection facilitated by Tasha’s friendship with Nick Fury, setting Bobby’s heart aflutter.  Meanwhile, Johnny turns into Ghost Rider and narrowly escapes a stampede in an Arizona canyon, which is sealed with blast arrows by Hawkeye, who along with the Two-Gun Kid is helping ranchers investigate what started with “funny lights” near the Mesa of Lost Souls.

As Bill discovers that Bale’s contractor used substandard material, the “computer disaster-scan” picks up a report on the appearance of a spacecraft in Arizona, coinciding with a mania affecting the ranchers, so the team sets out in the repaired Champscraft, joined by Darkstar.  Since his dissipation in Incredible Hulk #184, Warlord Kaa has re-formed, his soldiers able to possess humans by inhabiting their shadows, but the newly arrived Olympian shakes off their control with Tasha’s aid, and after a possessed Angel flies high enough to make his shadow too small to support Kaa’s essence, his ship and soldiers are blasted by a Hellfire-imbued arrow.  Just then, BG’s call about the return of a glowing box, owned by the Stranger, is interrupted by Stilt-Man... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It is to be hoped that criticism of this much-maligned title will be somewhat muted as Byrne (who cut his teeth on Ghost Rider with Wolfman’s recent Daredevil crossover) begins his five- issue stint, even if I’m not yet sold on Layton as one of John’s better inkers.  Hawkeye and motorized cowboy GR seem like natural allies, and while it might be considered faint praise indeed, Mantlo turns in a pretty good job for a Warlord Kaa story, in which he apparently meets his maker once and for all.  It’s fun having Champion manqué Black Goliath bookend the main event—with the opening scene so nicely rendered on the, uh, striking Kane/Layton cover—although I presume I was the only one who got a delicious frisson from that dramatic cliffhanger.

Matthew: Obviously, even beyond Claremont’s unresolved Stilt-Man/Stranger mystery-box Black Goliath subplot, Bill is setting some interesting stuff in motion here, e.g., Bobby’s attraction to Laynia and the questions surrounding Bale’s business affairs.  He also continues the theme of the Champs as the original hard-luck heroes (“At least something we paid for is working!”), although the malaise seems to have affected the Bullpen as well, since the Arizona news report is hilariously identified as “Live from New Mexico.”  It’s a nice detail that Professor X’s teaching helped Warren to resist Kaa’s control, and Layton notwithstanding, Byrne provides both some effective face shots of the possessed and some striking layouts, displaying a real flair for Goliath.

Chris: Finally, finally!  After months of poking along, The Champions finally delivers an issue worth getting excited about, for a number of reasons: briskly-moving action, with all members of the group involved, plus some teamwork mixed in; characterization, as we’re reminded of Natasha’s history with Clint, Bobby’s tendency to be a hound dog, and Natasha’s (strictly professional) attachment to Hercules; continuity, as Mantlo picks up on the characters Englehart had banished to the desert in Avengers, while he also weaves in a storyline from Claremont’s Black Goliath; guest stars, both semi-permanent relative newcomers like Goliath and Darkstar, plus grizzled vets Hawkeye and Two-Gun; great art, as Byrne brings his dynamic approach to team-based action for the first time, ably complemented by the sure, clear lines of Layton.  This is, by far, the best issue of the series to date.

Matthew: I am duly appeased.

Chris: Credit where it’s due: as much as I harp on Tony Isabella, I was surprised to learn (teachable moment!) that Tony had wanted Goliath as an original Champion, and all I can say is that he was dead right to recognize how well-suited BG would be to the team.  Not only is super-size a useful ability (especially if you’re trying to catch a runaway speeder, as we saw in this issue), but Bill Foster is a Science Guy, and every team needs at least one of those, to propose technical solutions to problems, and well, to build neat gadgets.  So, even if it’s a little late, let me wish a hearty welcome aboard to Bill Foster!  

Matthew: Okay, you're in my will.

Dr. Strange Annual 1
"... And There Will Be Worlds Anew!"
Story by P. Craig Russell and Marv Wolfman
Art and Colors by P. Craig Russell
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Dr. Strange seeks the whereabouts of his love Clea, last seen at the museum where he battled Xander. She's not there, and now merely Master of the Mystic Arts rather than Sorcerer Supreme, Stephen struggles to find her. A brazen clue comes in the form of the Ancient One, directing him to find her at the Temple of Man. Going there, Stephen finds all the priests murdered, and Sargor, keeper of the books, tells him that the Book of Knowledge therein, which records everything that happens, has ceased to record. He nonetheless wants to see for himself, and demands to be led deep in the chambers of the Temple to look at the book. Sensing betrayal from Sargor, he prevents an attack, and uses the Eye of Agamotto to extract the truth from the Keeper. He learns Clea is being held in Phaseworld, a bizarre dimension in a state of eternal flux. Going there, he meets Lectra, a beautifully evil woman who claims to be this domain's Empress, and Stephen her slave. She demands his surrender, and his refusal results in a stalemate... until he is shown Clea, caught in a trap. Stephen agrees to cooperate to save Clea from harm. Lectra leads him to her sailing vessel Windchime, which will lead them to her city of Allandra. It rises from the sea like Atlantis, yet despite its stunning beauty, it reeks of sadness and decay. Lectra reveals she brought him here to be her consort, to rule her world with her, and keep it safe from destruction. When she realizes his magic powers are limited now, she claims there is no chance to save it. Her sister Phaydra is the culprit, and she arrives impressively; unable to speak. She has a magic swan that does so for her. The two sisters hurl spell after spell at each other, and the swan explains to Stephen that the mirror in the room holds the essence of both and the power to save or destroy Phaseworld. Stephen uses his best magic to halt the battle, and learns that it is Lectra who is the evil one bringing about the undoing of her kingdom. Before she can strike, the swan takes on the form of a human(oid) man. He is Tempus, who loves and champions Phaydra. Lectra's jealousy demands his death, but Tempus reflects her destructive power at the mirror, bringing about an inevitable end to Phaseworld. Tempus warns Stephen to leave, as Clea had never been here--an illusion, like the Ancient One--to lure him here. He departs, after failing to save any of them, and feels only sadness for them. -Jim Barwise

Jim: One never knows what one will get with Dr. Strange, except the unexpected, and this tale is no exception. Possibly it could have been told in the length of a regular issue, but what this gives us is the chance for more visuals of Phaseworld's dreamy landscapes, and considerable depth to the characterizations of this bizarre triangle. Lectra, while mad, perhaps could have felt love for Stephen; was it the absence of this in her life that had driven her to madness? Phaydra is almost a direct opposite of her sister; powerful enough to hold off Lectra, but not enough to stop this surely once beautiful world's demise or bring her sister back to reason. Stephen reflects on his own choice to have stepped down from his Supreme self and be more human again, and how it almost certainly would have eventually estranged him from Clea had he not.

Matthew:  This one-time-only annual didn’t grab me as a kid, and sadly still doesn’t grab me now, although the ornate artwork by Russell—who also serves as colorist, and co-plots with writer/editor Wolfman—is admittedly unusual and impressive.  It has a very specific place in Doc’s chronology (between #20 and 22, since the contemporaneous #21 is a reprint), but since such seemingly important developments as Clea’s abduction and the murder of the priests once again turn out to be totally illusory, this could be removed from the continuity without causing a ripple.  For most of it, I had very little idea what was going on, and since it features thinly developed characters, concepts, and settings we will never see again, I didn’t care.

Chris: This felt like another issue of Dr Strange where the story simply got away from me after awhile, so I had to go back and review it.  The story turns out to involve a fair amount of (uncharacteristic) failures for our good doctor.  First, Lectra had succeeded in duping Doc into thinking that she had abducted Clea; the reveal that she had created only an illusion of Clea is a very effective reversal.  Next, while Doc succeeds in interrupting the destructive battle between Lectra and Phaydra, he’s not able to stop Lectra’s redirected bolt from destroying the soul-mirror, which dooms all the participants.  Lastly, even though he plunges headlong into the mirror, insistent that he can find a way to spare Phaydra and Tempus, Doc is left with nothing but “wailing cacophony” followed by “shifts and sighs” as Phaseworld collapses, and disappears into silence.   I’m not asking that Doc be left with the taste of ashes too often, but every now and then, it’s a satisfying break from the now-expected mind-smashing reality-sparing effort that ends a story with Dr Strange spent, but spared.

You would think that Craig Russell spent his years illustrating Killraven so that he could practice, and prove his bona fides as a fitting choice to work on this title (as it is, it appears he spent a few years – off and on – working on this story, since the last page features the initials “PCR 73 – 76”).  I can think of few other Marvel artists from this period who might’ve been capable of turning in such imaginative visuals.  Wait – you say that Jim Starlin is going to be illustrating an issue later this year?  Well, if Russell weren’t able to provide all the art, then imagine him as embellisher for Starlin’s pencils – I mean, right?  The mind reels.  

Chris: In absence of that powerhouse pairing, I’ll express my regard for these highlights: Lectra’s attack, which leaves Doc reeling – are those baby pacifiers I see over the horizon? (p 17 – if you look closely, you can see Lectra’s shouting head in the upper-right corner); the sea-faring sequence, as the Windchime is buffeted about by seas of … well, you tell me what it might be (p 25-27); the emergence of Allandra, which Russell depicts as somewhat undefined, almost hazy, which succeeds in making it look energetic and unreal (p 30); Phaydra and Tempus pulled by winds, as if the ruptured mirror is rushing Allandra to its destruction (p 45, first two panels).

Matthew:  Bizarrely, per the MCDb, Russell retold the same story in a 1997 one-shot, Dr. Strange: What Is It That Disturbs You, Stephen? 

2001: A Space Odyssey 3
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Eons ago, barbarian warrior Marak conquers his enemies in brutal fashion. However, before he can revel in his success, his weapon is destroyed by a golden mace wielded by an old man. Marak doffs his helmet and proposes a truce; protection of the old man in exchange for the weapon.  The old man ain’t no dummy. He refuses, so Marak overpowers the ancient one and takes the weapon from him. However, he refuses to allow the old man to be killed while he still retains the secret of the weapon. The old man realizes Marak is no mere barbarian, so he goes to the stone spirit for guidance. Since you’ve read the last two issues, you know the spirit is the monolith. Again. Marak joins the old man and touches the monolith and is given visions of things to be obtained and great power to be had. And a woman named Jalessa. Marak will find this woman and take her and her lands. The old man, Egel, the aptly named “thing maker,” agrees to go with Marak. Marak gives him enough men to help him accomplish his tasks. Egel makes stone casks to carry food and water, but Marak is enraged at the wasted time and futility of something too heavy for his men to carry. As he thrashes Egel, one of the casks falls, the lid of which rolls across the floor…and the wheel is invented. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Wow. Why did I volunteer to cover this book again? Thankfully, there are only ten issues, as this is a damned chore.  Without regular characters, we don’t have anyone to connect with long enough to care about what happens to them. This is a weird anthology series, each story showing mankind’s evolution and how the monolith is responsible for every major leap humanity has taken. There’s a lovely two page spread, but that isn’t as impressive as it might have been years ago.  Seven more issues to go. Will they be the same story repeated seven more times? Stay tuned, True Believers!

The Amazing Spider-Man 165
"Stegron Stalks the City!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Answering a spider-sense call, Spider-Man smashes into a lab hidden in an apartment building, only to be waylaid by a stranger in the shadows! Turns out it's a "secret SHIELD installation" and Spidey is able to get away with more questions than answers. At his Manhattan pad, a dizzy and exhausted Curt Connors has his apartment broken into by Stegron, The Dinosaur Man (last seen back in Marvel Team-Up #20), who kidnaps Curt's kid and insists the scientist prepare some stolen materials for him within 48 hours. Peter spies Flash Thompson, and confronts him about chasing after Mary Jane, but an understanding Flash says it was MJ's idea and he will have a chat with her about it. Cut to J. Jonah with Marla Madison at Empire State University, where she places a "psycho-cybernetic helmet" on him to pick up readings of his mind stemming from his hatred of Spidey, for a plan that will lead to the web-head's defeat.

Now to Peter and MJ, who have a heart-to-heart where MJ basically says she was a little scared by Peter's good-bye kiss before his Paris trip (one of the best moments of this title!), and questions his running out to take photos all the time. As they sit for a Laserium show in the Hayden Planetarium, still chatting away, the lights (the laser lights, that is) go out, and Peter of course, sneaks away to "take [his] precious photos again." In the nearby Museum of Natural History, Stegron uses an electro-magnetic gun to reanimate some dinosaur skeletons (really? That's his plan?), and when Spider-Man runs into the ancient army, their reptilian ruler Stegron is right behind! Turns out he survived his watery grave by lowering his metabolism (that old gag!) and has returned to set off a new age of the dinosaurs. After a brief but energetic battle, the scaly scoundrel drops his control console, and when Spidey goes to grab it, Steggy drops a pillar on him and skulks off! Back at Curt Connors' place, the stress and strain get to him and he transforms into the Lizard—looking for revenge on Stegron!
-Joe Tura

Joe: OK, what's with Spidey calling Stegron "The Dinosaur Man" on the cover? Is that for people who don't know who the heck Stegron is? I understand that's what the lisping lizard calls himself, but I can't see Spidey doing so. And why does Steggy look like a squatty Land of the Lost refugee? Let's chalk it up to bad angles, and of course, blame the inker, as Romita can do no wrong. No wrong I tells ya!

On to the insides, and in addition to being an obvious set-up for a longer tale, this ish is filled with action, drama, romance (or discussions of said romantic entanglements), transformations, shopping, plotting publishers, stressed scientists, harrowed heroes and more amazing alliterations that I can't think of. A fine job all around, even with some odd angular bodies drawn by Ross & Mike this time around, especially on Stegron. I do wonder about the plan the prehistoric predator has in mind, but I guess enough dinosaur skeletons can help him take over NYC if people run away.

Favorite sound effect is the unique "SKRA-DAK!" on page 30 as Stegron brings the house down, or should I say brings the pillars down, on top of our hero and hightails it out of there. Or should I say "long-tails"!

Matthew:  This is one of the more fondly remembered stories of my youth, even more so when things really take off in part two, and for some reason Spidey’s line “that kick turned my guts into Cream of Wheat” always stuck in my head.  Any issue featuring the Lizard already has a scaly leg up in my book, especially when they spell Connors’s name right, and to pit him against Stegron is an eminently logical and dramatically satisfying move.  If I must confess some annoyance at the course of true love not running smooth for Peter and M.J., it’s only because I’m an incurable romantic, and in fairness, the rude behavior that his secret i.d. won’t let him explain would be a legitimate gripe for anyone who had a conventional boyfriend.

Chris: The Spidey I know would've zipped a web to catch the control box, then bounded out of harm's way, instead of sitting in place, stating "No time to get out of the way of the falling stones! I hope Stegron will wait until I dig myself out!" It's a not-much sort of issue – even the art is a bit below par, with Espo's inks less-defined than usual.  Pete's air-clearing with MJ on their night-out-at-the-Planetarium probably stands as the highlight moment for this ish.

Mark Barsotti: Dinosaur-Man, re-animated Dinosaur bones? Feh! on all that, although Rossito gives Steggy a certain scaly, beak-faced elegance (as well as using a lot of horizontal panels to give this one an unusual look), and I expect the Liz to raise the reptilian bar next month.

What works best here is the spandex-free stuff: Pete and Flash having a high school era dust-up; Jonah scheming Spidey-squashing dreams, while unknowingly starting to connect emotionally with Marla Madison; MJ and our boy having a quintessential '70's Am I OK, Are We Ok? angst-fest as they struggle to define their relationship (give it another decade, kids).  And who doesn't love Laserium?

Look, class, (and Prof Joe) I know the title is The Amazing Spider-Man, not The Passion and Pratfalls of Peter Parker, but throughout Len's run, the soapy stuff has largely soared, the web-spinning, mostly bored. 

                                                        I think we can call it a trend.  

The Invincible Iron Man 95
Story by Gerry Conway and Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Don Perlin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

 Having rebuilt his much-abused armor, now once again stored in his attaché case, Iron Man subjects it to a successful test that shatters an atomic pile-driver; Tony is determined to appear aloof to Abe and Krissy, forestalling further attempts to strike at him thorough friends and employees.  He gets a call from Senator Andrew Jackson Hawk, who has anonymously received what seems to be evidence of S.I. bribing foreign officials to sell computer defense systems, and although believing he has been framed, Hawk summons Stark to Washington to explain himself.  As Tony ponders possible connections with recent industrial espionage and sabotage against S.I., a Soviet sub fires a “torpedo” that lands on the Virginia shore and, shortly after, releases Ultimo.

As Iron Man flies into D.C., hoping Hawk won’t wonder how he did it with air traffic suspended by the military alert, an unseen onlooker pushes a mysterious button that he hopes will spell our hero’s undoing.  Landing, Iron Man sees people fleeing in panic, feels the ground shaking, and confirms that Ultimo lives again, despite a mountain falling on him in #70 and the death of his master, the Mandarin.  Concluding that he has been set up, IM blasts Ultimo into the Washington Monument with his repulsor rays, accidentally knocking off the top, and although he is able to push it back into place with his boot-jets, his power is severely drained; when he is squeezed in the monster’s mighty hand, his armor holds up but his heart apparently does not, and he falls as Ultimo departs.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I don’t want to give Mantlo more credit than he’s due, since he’s only scripting Conway’s plot, so I’ll simply observe the correlation between an upswing in quality—especially after the Kraken kraziness—and the start of Bill’s regular run after occasional prior issues.  And in all fairness to Gerry, he has stacked the deck completely in this issue’s favor by bringing back Ultimo, one of my old favorites; Iron Man’s apprehension when he suspects Ultimo’s presence is dramatically effective, and he’s visually impressive despite the fact that Tuska may not be his best interpreter.  Speaking of which, Perlin comes in for his share of lumps in the faculty lounge, yet as with this month’s Ghost Rider, I might have preferred the inker’s style to be a little less invisible than it is.

Chris: Gerry & Bill provide some much-needed toughening-up of IM’s golden exterior.  How then, is Ultimo still able to put him down?  Looks like it’s going to take a whole lot more than firepower and brute strength to defeat Ultimo.  And what’s the deal with the shadowy figure, who appears to be pulling the strings?  Clearly, if his aim were to assist a Soviet-backed plot to wreak havoc in the capital, then the plan should be to ensure that super-types are diverted elsewhere, and not drawn in to defend your target(s) – right?  So, kudos to our plotter/scripter team – I’m intrigued.  

Plenty of action-packed panels from Tuska, with capable inking from Perlin.  The near-toppling of the Washington Monument is a bit melodramatic (plus, why should Ultimo’s impact with the base cause a piece higher up to break off?), but I don’t mind too much – you guys go have your fun.  

Captain America and the Falcon 206
"Face to Face with the Swine!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, John Verpoorten, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The Falcon and Leila are back to normal, finally, and they rejoice in their return to the land of the sane as a grateful, but somewhat blue Captain America looks on. He gripes to the SHIELD shrink about how crabby Sharon has been, but the doctor is grateful for the work super-heroes do. Perhaps Cap and the shrink…? Alas, no. The trio take a SHIELD jet back to New York, while in the jungles of Central America, we meet a sinister commandante, one who we shall soon know as Hector, The Swine! Two prisoners are brought to his quarters. One is belligerent while the other is a supplicant. The realistic one who dares to be disrespectful is punished, while the starving beggar is given all the food he desires. Surely this is a trick…? At that moment, Steve and Sam are on a double date with Sharon and Leila. Their food arrives as Sharon crabs about the risks of being s super-hero. Sam, meanwhile, is more concerned about dessert and chats it up with the waiter, Felix, who is suddenly accosted by two men. They hold a gun to his head and demand he return to prison. Steve and Sam intervene and you know what that means. As the restaurant is being turned into a warzone, the Swine insists his “guest” continue eating, even though the old man is in horrible pain from all the food.  The man dies in agony as his shrunken, starved stomach could not handle the strain. The other prisoner mouths off in rage and the Swine shoots him dead on the spot. The Swine walks among his small village, populated by tortured souls and the guards who all hate him equally. Back in New York, the violent dinner has ended and Sharon is as bitchy as ever over it. She’s done, she’s had enough. While she and Steve fight, two foreigners follow them home and release a gas into the apartment, knocking them both out. Over in Harlem, Sam and Leila are in a clinch and Sam has a premonition about trouble, but Leila would rather make the beast with two backs. Finally, the Swine, having just doled out some more evil decisions, sees his cousin, Donna Maria, sunbathing in her bikini in full view of the guards and the inmates. She defies his wishes and shows him no fear and awaits the coming of a real man who will finally break him. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Compared to the previous issues, this one is actually quite good. Hector, the Swine, is a man of such pure, over the top evil, that his sadistic tortures are entertaining in a guilty pleasure sort of way. He is as evil as Hitler, but takes a personal hand in his acts, something der Fuehrer had never done.  Donna Maria is the standard latter-day Kirby female: lots of curves, thunder thighs and teeny-tiny little feet. Her relationship with her evil cousin will prove to be, if not interesting, mildly entertaining. Sadly, the same can’t be said for Steve’s problems with Sharon. She's in super-bitch mode and Steve is just so busy farting rainbows, I can’t relate to him. I almost wish he’d just send her packing. He’s Captain Damned America. He can’t find a girlfriend?

Matthew: This issue came back to me much more clearly on the re-read than many of its contemporaries, partly because of the scene in which the Swine forces the guy to eat himself to death, a concept I’ve always found especially disturbing.  Also memorable, and also not in the good way, was the fact that although Kirby has temporarily dispensed with the Weird Science trappings that epitomize so much of his Bronze-Age output, his dialogue and so-called characterizations are no more grounded in reality than before.  Especially jaw-dropping is that opening scene of our heroes and their significant others going out to celebrate their allegedly bright new future; the difference between the before-and-after Leila is like, um, black and white.

Daredevil 142
"The Concrete Jungle!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Bullseye has strapped Daredevil to an oversized arrow and fired him across the Hudson River; DD uses his billyclub cable to snag a buoy in the river below and pull the arrow into the water, sparing him from a high-velocity impact with the craggy Palisades on the river’s far shore.  Elsewhere, a recently-released Mr Hyde picks up a presently-escaping Cobra outside a New York lockup.  The two wrongdoers have decided to join forces, in the hope that a cooperative effort will spare them the failures that have plagued their previous solo capers.  Still, a gem-and-cash grab is interrupted by the police and DD; before they escape via the sewer, Mr Hyde tosses DD aside and promises future harm.  DD shrugs off the missed chance to nab the crooks, and prepares to meet Heather and Foggy for a much-needed evening out; although, Foggy continues to be preoccupied by Debbie’s kidnapping.  Next day, DD is on patrol when he picks up Mr Hyde’s heartbeat, as he and Cobra are invading the rooftop penthouse of a rare book collector; the collector has decked out the roof in a jungle theme, complete with a zoo.  DD handles Cobra, but is tossed around by Hyde, whose transforming formula now has made him stronger, and more bestial.  Cobra puts DD out with a gas grenade; the two fiends stake DD to the penthouse’s ground, and watch as a lion approaches, closing in for the kill. -Chris Blake

Chris: As fans of our funny books, we’re accustomed to making allowances for pseudo-science, narrow escapes, and unlikely coincidences.  It can be a delicate balance; in this case, Daredevil’s escape from the hurtling arrow crosses the willing-suspension line.  Now, I grant that Bullseye could’ve built a giant arrow-launcher (it’s possible), and that he would want to fire DD across the river and splat him into the cliff-face of the Palisades (understandable).  Could DD’s radar sense detect a buoy below?  Possible, since the arrow appears to have no means of propulsion, so there are no proximal noises to block his radar.  But, could a non-propelled arrow make it all the way across the river, travelling in virtually a straight line to strike the cliff?  Hmm – tell me how it could; it’d have to be moving incredibly fast, and cross the ¾ mile distance in a few seconds.  (Bullseye regrets that he can’t stay to watch the results – what, are ya double-parked?)  If it’s moving this fast, could DD even have time to catch the buoy?  And how many hundreds of feet long would the cable have to be?  The buoy thing really is one of the worst aspects of this whole bit; even if DD and the buoy were stationary, and within sight of each other (so to speak), it’s not a given that he could snag a ring on it with the little hook at the end of the club.  I mean, DD’s good, but he’s not that good.  I don’t mean to be so negative, but with a stunt like this, I feel I have no option but to brand it as ETI (ie Entirely Too Impossible), and dismiss it with derision.  Lastly, Marv makes the whole situation much worse when he has Nova swoop in from nowhere – no, I’m not kidding – and pluck DD out of the water.  It’s really quite embarrassing – Batman TV show embarrassing.  

Chris: The issue takes further odd turns once the villains are on the scene.  There’s no explanation at all for DD’s instant arrival to bust the jewel heist – suddenly, there he is.  Marv does a better job in their next meeting, as DD picks up Hyde’s heartbeat (but doesn’t seem to notice that the pulse is heavier, more powerful, eh mister writer/editor -?).  The final setting is beyond strange, though, as we suddenly meet this Tarzan-clad rich guy and his gal in their inexplicable rooftop jungle.  I can see how DD might’ve swung up there, but how the hell did Cobra and Hyde manage it?  From the screaming arrow and magic buoy on down to Jungle Jim the rare-book collector, this issue feels like it’s cobbled together with too many random ideas – not Marv’s best ones, either.

I’ve made my preference clear for Janson as inker on this title, especially with Bob Brown, but I will gladly give Mooney credit for turning in another solid effort; the inks are consistently solid, not murky.  I especially enjoy how he and Brown depict Hyde; he looks shady and thuggish most of the time, until his souped-up formula makes him monstrous (p 23, last pnl).  R.L. Stevenson would be proud, I’m sure. 

Matthew:  In retrospect, Brown’s return to providing full pencils becomes bittersweet with the knowledge that he must have had only weeks to live when this went on sale, which—at least in my mind—excuses any deficiencies of the Mooney-inked art.  Curiously, there is no immediate follow-up to the outlandish, Batman-worthy death-trap created by Bullseye, who doesn’t actually reappear until #146; in their collective penultimate issue, Marv has plenty else to keep him busy, e.g., DD’s equally outlandish escape, that crazy rooftop Eden, and an even more overt Nova plug than we saw in #140.  The relationship between Cobra and Hyde has always fascinated me, and this may be the best look we’ve had to date at their dysfunctional “marriage.”

The Defenders 44
"Rage of the Rajah!"
Story by Gerry Conway, Roger Slifer, and David Kraft
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John  Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

The Defenders desperately seek Doctor Strange; the Hulk’s fervor threatens to rend the sanctum from its foundations, until Valkyrie’s quiet words calm him.  Tania Belinsky overhears Val mention that Doc had gone to see an Omar Karindu; she had read in the paper that Dr Karindu is staying at the Americana Hotel during his visit.  Nighthawk, Power Man, and the Hulk travel uptown, and find the city’s Special Weapons and Task Force carting from the Americana the unconscious forms of Solarr and the Rhino.  Lt Keating explains that SWaT had nothing to do with capturing them; he leads them upstairs to meet Dr Karindu, who attributes the villains’ defeat to the influence of the Star of Capistan.  The Star is sentient, but immobile, requiring a host-body to act-out its self-appointed task to end conflict, and impose itself as “absolute among all men’s minds!”  This corporal manifestation of the gem is called the Red Rajah; the Star presently has possession of Doctor Strange, who now has been transformed to the Rajah!  Karindu’s account is cut short as his eyes suddenly grow glassy, and he and the other people in the area stop everything and walk out, in a trance; the three heroes follow a red glow that seems to be drawing the living zombies to Central Park.  Meanwhile, back at the sanctum, Val and Tania are met by the Hellcat.  She states that her training on Titan with Moondragon had been interrupted when MD detected a serious threat, and sent Hellcat back to earth to meet with Dr Strange; with Doc missing, Hellcat fears she is already too late.  Tania confirms her fears, as she observes entranced people on the move on the sidewalk outside.  Val, Hellcat, and the Red Guardian (now that Tania has switched to her hero garb) also proceed to Central Park, only to find their three mighty comrades already have been overwhelmed by the Red Rajah!  -Chris Blake

Chris: The action continues at a steady pace, with just enough exposition along the way.  Red Rajah – combining the power of the Star with the mystic might of Doctor Strange – should be tough to tackle.  I’m surprised that Moondragon’s self-importance didn’t compel her from Titan to save the earth herself, but her decision instead to send Hellcat works wonderfully for Defenders fans, doesn’t it?  It’s been some time since the team acquired a new semi-permanent member, and Hellcat fits the bill wonderfully.  Her skills, and her personality, nicely complement the present line-up, as Hellcat’s agility – and ebullience – are unmatched by anyone in the group.  

I realize some fans might’ve expected Hellcat to eventually join the ranks of the Avengers, but with the Beast already in-residence with the assemblers, this move is better for Patsy; she certainly can expect more playing time on this team.  This free-agent signing also continues a trend for the Defenders as they adopt members who are somewhat untested as heroes: Nighthawk converted to join the team, and Val essentially was created to be a Defender.  Lastly, I know that many fans will applaud Val having another female to pal around with, especially with Red Guardian’s status becoming unclear.  Now, let’s see how long it’ll take before the editors put her face in the box on the cover …

The art highlights this time involve the (too-brief) battle with the Rajah in the park (p 26-30), and Hellcat’s account of her training on Titan (p 15-16).  (I forgot to mention earlier that there isn’t even a cursory explanation of how Hellcat was able to bypass Doc’s defenses and enter the sanctum unnoticed – that should call for a no-prize.)  Hellcat’s arrival may not be as eye-popping as George Perez’s full-page debut for the character in Avengers #144, but there’s a lot to like about the Giffen/Janson panel (above).  First, her relaxed pose (as she leans back on the desk) suits her character; second, I really appreciate how Keith & Klaus capture the contours of her, um, feline form; third, Klaus’s shadings give an impression of the muted lighting in the room, provided only by the sunlight from the window behind her; fourth, the shadows allow you to peer around the room, and discover the bizarre sculpture to Patsy’s left, and then the unmistakable cover for the Orb of Agamatto, resting unobtrusively to her right.  Although, I still haven’t figured out what that large blue surfboard-looking-thing, in Patsy’s right hand, is supposed to be.  Really nice attention to details.  

Matthew: Not to go all Professor Gilbert on you guys, but there’s lots to discuss just in the lettercol, e.g., claiming those snarky anti-Gerber cracks that so upset me—and, apparently, Pierre Watson—in #41 were written, with tongue firmly in cheek, by…Gerber; hey, if that’s your story, you stick to it.  They acknowledge, again without explanation, that Val’s outfit went from gold to silver and back to the original, then lamely proclaim “[a]n official opinion poll.”  They promise a resolution of the elf subplot in #46; per Kanga, “we’ll see, dear.”  And they mark this issue’s abrupt arrival of “newly-named dialogue collaborators” (a harbinger of plotter/editor Conway’s imminent slow fade?) Slifer and Kraft, their “destinies…interwoven” since they joined the staff on the same day.

Whether in willful repudiation of Gerber or not, they misspell “Norriss” throughout, (as Jack gets cold-shouldered before fleeing a shadowy pursuer) yet despite Kyle’s animosity—which I found less justifiable than Val’s aversion, considering Jack’s risky infiltration of the Headmen—he’ll stick around for some time.  The self-imposed limitations of Janson’s inks almost make a discussion of Giffen’s artwork superfluous on my part, but the Red Rajah storyline is interesting, and the writers’ room keeps the interactions among the non-teammates lively.  Speaking of which, the most far-reaching development of this issue, and by extension of Gerry’s brief involvement, is unquestionably the advent of Hellcat, who will be a permanent fixture for years to come, perhaps better suited to the Defenders than to the Avengers.

Doctor Strange 21
"The Coming of ... Dr. Strange."
(reprinted from Doctor Strange #169, June 1968)



The Eternals 8
"War in the City of Toads!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

In the city of the Deviants, it is common practice to pit in battle those known as Rejects. Ugliness is in the eye of the beholder, and the Rejects are not much more gruesome-looking than their masters. What they are is the result of unstable atoms, whose growth is uncontrollable. One such, who is a warrior at heart, defeats all sent against him in combat. He is also about as handsome a specimen as any we (humans) could imagine. It is the decree of the Great Tode, ruler of the Deviants, that despite his "homeliness," this reject deserves the chance to die in battle against another Reject, the giant monster, Karkas. In New York City, a lecture by anthropologist Samuel Holden has bored all of his small audience but Sersi, the most mischievous of Eternals, who finds him... fascinating. Two who have departed are Deviant Kro and Eternal Thena; the former having convinced the daughter of Zuras to join him in visiting his city (actually called Lemuria), hidden deep under the ocean. In a nod to their past relationship as more than friends, she agrees to go. Kro holds out hope that the distance between their two races has been narrowed over time, but what Thena witnesses is not encouraging. First the truck that carries Rejects to their death in a ritual known as "purity time." Next the battle between Karkas and the handsome warrior. Against all odds, the David must battle the Goliath. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Kirby continues to weave personality into his people. The unlikely former romance (?) between Kro and Thena makes for an interesting friendship now. Their trip to Lemuria offers some beautiful art, even by Jack's standards. The Reject warrior (he's gotta have a name soon, I'm sure) puts Johnny Depp to shame, he's so handsome-- unless you're a dashing Deviant of course. The interplay between Sersi and Holden is entertaining too, another unlikely friendship. Great "Jabba the Hutt" Tode seems an odd ruler for this lot, certainly not physically threatening. Like all writing, it is the sum of the parts, or the way it's put together rather than true originality, that makes it interesting, and so far Kirby has kept me on board by borrowing from many other ideas (including his own) to move the Eternals along.

Matthew:  In fairness, this book is increasingly shaking off my original “empty spectacle” label, and while it will never be mistaken for Proust—like I’ve even read him!—there’s a fair amount going on here story-wise despite the obligatory Kirby/Royer grandeur, including Sersi’s attraction to the supposedly dull Holden.  I’m intrigued by the revelation that Thena and Kro have a, for lack of a better word, romantic history, and amused by his attempts to keep the truth from her (“Blast!  I’m undone!”).  You needn’t have seen Rod Serling’s “Eye of the Beholder” to make an educated guess what the star of Jack’s latest Kill-Derby would look like, although comparing the Deviants and Rejects, it’s tough to guess by what criteria the latter were selected!

Chris: This disjointed issue helps to illustrate some of the problems inherent in writer/editor Kirby’s approach to this title.  The notion that an Eternal-resembling being might be “rejected” by his own race presents some intriguing questions about the Deviant mentality.  But, these concerns are shelved so that we can check-in momentarily with established characters like Ikaris and Makkari, until they literally flee the scene and are heard from no more; then, Sersi gets to perform a magic trick.  

At the same time, Kro and Thena seem to have a history; hard to do, considering that their races are bitter enemies, plus one was living at the bottom of the ocean, while another was at the top of a mountain (perhaps they were pen pals -?).  It’s harder to understand how Kro now seems to believe he can reconcile Deviants and Eternals.  Well, back up a second there, Jackson – a few days ago, didn’t you lead an attack on a human city, in the hope that you could use this unrest to spark a global war against the Celestials?  But now Kro, instead, we find you’re both a hopeless romantic, and a bridge-builder?  It’s a bit hard to follow.  

In a LOC, Vallard E. of Sunnyvale CA (hold on – Vallard?  sorry, I had to be sure) offers: “I believe that Jack has sacrificed valuable input and feedback in gaining his editorial freedom.  I feel that Jack the writer and Jack the artist lose something by working together at the exclusion of another creative ‘sounding board.’”  So, we can count on support from a guy named Vallard.

Mark: Amid the Super-Sized Combo Mythology - Space Gods, hidden races, Cosmic Judgment, a great buffet of adolescent enthusiasms - Jack gets a bit unexpectedly adult here, first hinting at a past, Rated M [Mature Audiences Only] romance between Thena and Kro, a no-doubt scandal-causing embrace across the Deviant-Eternal color line. 

"You know me to be noble, wise, and brave," woo-pitches Kro, forgetting to throw in modesty. Or maybe he's just too modest.
Then, more darkly, there's "Purity Time," a thinly-veiled Holocaust ethnic cleansing ritual, when the Deviants trundle their "Rejects," those with "unstable atoms," off to be disposed of in a final giant furnace solution. Auschwitz at Kirby-Scale. At risk of cheapening Jack's unblinking genocide riff, it must be pointed out that mass killing didn't score Kro any points with Thena. 

Elsewhere, sparkplug Sersi, the Eternals' Mary Jane party girl, clowns around with Dr. Holden, then takes him dancing, without ever leaving his office. And the most hideous of the "rejects" (because he looks like a Greek god; Jack remembers the "Eye of the Beholder" Twilight Zone episode, too) is pitted in battle against Karkas, one of Jack's Big Uglies, who looks capable of goin' claw-to-claw with Fin Fang Foom! 

Fantastic Four 179
"A Robinson Crusoe in the Negative Zone!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas
Art by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen, Jim Novak, and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott

Reed's the "Robinson Crusoe in the Negative Zone," and we open with him thinking of Sue as he drifts along (as an aside, I've always wondered how the NZ has a breathable atmosphere), stripped to his boxers and cast adrift by evil Counter Earth Reed, last ish. A flying beastie attack rousts him into action and he kicks their asteroid "halfway across the galaxy" and lapses into a weary sleep.

Back on earth, his counterfeit counterpart chairs a team meeting, with Impy, Thundra, and Tigra also attending. Johnny hits on the were-woman; Thundra hits on Ben; Mr. Faux-tastic* shouts at all of them to shut-up, then feigns being tuckered out and bags the meeting (actually scheduled by Real Reed). Sue's feeling frisky, and faux-Reed, whose own Sue has been comatose for years, considers letting our Sue live, "after I've destroyed all her freakish companions."

Ben, tiring of Thundra's come-ons, vants to be alone, but Tigra joins him and they exit the Baxter in search of pizza. Meanwhile, back on Real Reed's drifting asteroid, he manages to spark a fire then kill and roast a Zone bat. Good eatin', apparently, once you chomp through the "leathery hide."

Ben and Tigra's pizza quest has morphed into steak tartare in a swanky restaurant, where the orange & fuzzy lass decides the Thing's "kind of cute." Before he has to fend off another Super-Hottie, a giant yellow robot, with New York's finest in hot pursuit, runs down the street, toting a giant bank vault on its back. The robo-robber can not only go punch for punch with Benjy, but he heats up to 300 degrees. Thankfully the battle moves down by the East River where, one sunken garbage scow later, T&T prevail. 

Meanwhile, back at the Bax, Sue comes to the horrified realization that the man she just slept with " not the same Reed Richards I married!"

Speaking of which, who but Annihilus swoops down upon our no longer elastic Mr. Fantastic on the final page?

No, Forbush, it is Annihilus. You owe me a thousand word essay on "rhetorical questions" by class tomorrow. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Kid Conway plotted this, taking the reins from Roy mid-tale, and wrote the first three pages, with Thomas scripting the rest. That's of academic interest only, since we'd never have known without the credits. This one's polished and entertaining enough, if a bit paint-by-number, as exhibited by flabby gimmicks like Reed's kicking an asteroid, never mind that the "sub-space monsters" could have simply jumped off, since they can fly, and continued their attack.  

Ben Grimm, Super-Heroine Catnip, is a clever new orange-cobbled wrinkle, with Tigra an easy winner over Thundra. The were-lass is sassy, smart enough to be suspicious of Mr. Faux-tastic, and winningly calls Ben, "Rocky." Thundra's like, "We are both big. Both strong. Destined to be together." 

Swipe right for Soviet Amazon.

Sue's radar isn't as finely-tuned for fake Fantastics as Tigra's, but Mrs. Richards has the excuse of being horny. Her negligee-clad, post-colital suspicions casually reveal that she just banged a bogus hubby, a sign of the more-permissive '70's, yet its done innocently enough to go over the head of most ten year olds and not rouse the ire of the largely-defanged Comics Code. But other than Counter Earth Reed cuckolding his counterpart, alt-versions of the Fabs have officially reached tired trope status and are anything but fantastic.  

Nor did I give a whit about the Bank-Robbing Robot, cover-blurbed as "Metalloid." Pinch-hitting penciler Ron Wilson does fine, shinned-up of course by Joe Sinnott's glossy finishes. Messrs. Thomas and Conway likewise serve up familiar comfort food, with Annihilus promising more of the same.

Polished, professional and - a couple nifty subplot bits aside - assembly line predictable.  

(*courtesy wordsmith Professor Matthew )

Matthew:  Prima facie, the resurgent Conway’s ubiquity reaches its peak this month, with all but one of his seven current canonical books represented (Captain Marvel being between issues).  And in his spare time, he returns to his FF alma mater at the end of writer/editor Roy’s own second run to pitch in by plotting this story, even scripting the first three pages for good measure.  Yet a careful reading of the various credits reveals that except on Ms. Marvel, Gerry contributed only the plot or story, with the actual scripting being done by Jim Shooter (Avengers; Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man), Roger Slifer & David Kraft (Defenders), Don Glut (Ghost Rider), or Bill Mantlo (Iron Man), many of whom succeed him on those respective titles.

My nostalgic affection for this arc merely increases (the Brute, the Negative Zone, Annihilus, shapely guest stars…man, what’s not to like?), now that the tomfoolery of the FrightFour’s recruiting drive is done, and I love that they credit multiple characters, even quintessentially flippant newcomer Tigra, with the smarts to be immediately suspicious of Mr. Faux-tastic. The Milgrom/Sinnott cover is another one that won me over with its color scheme—heavy on the blues and purples—despite being a little busier than I normally prefer.  As for the interior art, recent readers of Marvel Two-in-One may be skeptical that it’s by the same Ron Wilson, but let’s face it:  I probably could have penciled that myself, and Joltin’ Joe would still make it look great.

Chris: The oversized android appears to be little more than noisy filler, providing the Thing with some exercise, and allowing Roy to stretch out Reed’s neg-zone exile; Roy manages to salvage (so to speak) the android as a plot point, though, as he cleverly prompts Ben to speculate that the robotic bank-thief would’ve cost more to manufacture than he might have delivered in the heist.  Who, then, is behind the metallo-thing’s construct, and would-be crime spree?  As always, we can count on Roy to keep us thinking ahead.

Ron Wilson does his best to channel Rich Buckler’s homage to Kirby and Buscema; without the example of these previous masters to follow, Wilson on his own could make for a fair amount of trouble.  Thankfully, Sinnott is here to smooth over most of the rough edges, and keep it looking like an issue of FF.  The breakdowns come in Wilson’s depiction of the Thing – as we know, a humbling moment for many Marvel artists.  For all the instances of the Thing properly resembling himself, there are others when he doesn’t, either because he suddenly is less tall, or less broad, or smaller-headed, or looking like Jackie Gleason after a long weekend (this last example appears on p 23, 1st pnl).  

I didn’t realize that clicking two flinty stones together would cause them to catch fire.  I also didn’t know that, once ignited, a few stones could burn for a few hours (and cook a bat in the process) without requiring any more fuel.  C’mon Roy – are you trying to tell us you were never a Boy Scout?  And even if you never were, you must’ve known a few Scouts growing up, right -?

Howard the Duck 9
"Scandal Plucks Duck"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha

Howard & Bev sift thru the rubble of his presidential campaign; his 3rd-party candidacy has ended in a 3rd-place finish.  Howard doesn't care that much, but Bev is troubled by the bruising to her reputation; the photo of the two of them co-lathitating has been front-page news.  The photo must be a fake; there is no faucet visible in the tub – plus, Bev hates the smell of wet feathers.  Could the hotel bellboy have taken two photos, and cropped them together?  Drey Gultch reports that his sources trace the photo to the machinations of a foreign power; Russia? China? No – Canada.  Howard & Bev board a plane north to investigate, only to find no other passengers – and no pilot!  After a twisty-turny flight, they crash near Toronto.  Sgt Preston Dudley RCMP and his trusty Husky (named Elizabeth) are there, to the rescue.  Dudley pegs the use of bellboys and robot planes to the M.O. of Canadian super-patriot Pierre Dentifris.  Pierre raves against America, but doesn't seem a true threat; once his accusers have left, Pierre summons the bellboy, and recommends that he try again to eliminate Howard & Bev.  While they sleep at Dudley's house, the bellboy sneaks in thru a window (dressed as Uncle Sam); Bev recognizes him from the staff of the Plaza Hotel.  Howard and Elizabeth foil the bellboy's attack, but don't notice that Bev has been abducted, borne away on the backs of a bunch of beavers.  Howard sets out in the night to follow her trail, and finds Pierre, encased in a mighty beaver exo-skeleton!  He challenges Howard to cross a wire suspended over Niagara Falls, to rescue Bev before the beavers can chomp down a tree where Bev is trapped in a high bough.  Howard starts across, then bags it, returning the way he came; the sudden change of tension on the wire springs the Beaver off, and he plummets to the water far below.  Dudley helps Bev down from the teetering tree; Bev praises Howard for his daring, while Dudley observes to Elizabeth that “this basket case is closed.” -Chris Blake

Chris: Now that Steve G has attended to Political Satire, he is free to turn the HtD dial back to Plain Crazy. We learn that both Pierre and the Bellboy have been shaped by traumatic experiences; it's hard (if not impossible) to find humor in war-trauma, but with Steve, you can at least count on something bizarre. First, Pierre (in his patriotic fervor) had tried to re-direct Niagara Falls so that they would only pour down into Canada (he had airlifted a million beavers to the site to build a titanic dam), until the US Air Force bombed out his dams, which led to Pierre's fierce hatred of all things American, and also caused him to age 73 years since February.  As for the Bellboy, his brother had been blown up in Viet Nam by a VC mine that had been triggered by a duck dropping onto it; this caused the Bellboy's homicidal vitriol toward ducks, but resulted in no wavering of his devotion to the U.S. of A. 

Steve had me laughing out loud with Dudley’s (and, what other name could Steve give the mountie but "Dudley"?) observation that the use of robot planes and bellboys in the commission of a crime points directly to Pierre; the manhunt for Pierre is amazingly short, as he can be found at home on his front porch, directly beneath an oversized sign that reads "Pierre Dentifris."  Gene C & Steve L do their part, of course, in addition to the visual of Pierre's showy hideout; we have moments like the Bellboy's July 4th-parade-style Uncle Sam suit (p 22-23; all that's missing are the stilts!), and especially Bev's imperiled moment toward the end, when she's been treed by a cadre of chomping beavers (p 27, last pnl). 

Matthew:  Howard lost to Carter?  Oh, man…  My gut reaction was that Le Beaver got hustled offstage a bit too fast, but then again, you probably don’t want to risk devoting too many pages to a guy in a castorine—yes, I had to look that up—exoskeleton.  His Frenglish is amusing and cleverly constructed, with just enough context to make his meaning clear to non-francophones, and his scheme is a delightful precursor to Michael Moore’s only overtly fictional feature film to date, Canadian Bacon (1995), itself something of a riff, as I recall, on Leonard Wibberley’s The Mouse That Roared (1955) and Jack Arnold’s 1959 adaptation, with Peter Sellers in three roles.  But I digress.  Ongoing kudos to Coloha for giving HTD such personality.

Mark: A letdown was inevitable after last month's epochal Prez campaign blowout. While the satire battery needs recharging, Gerbs turns to pure absurdism, as the evil-Jimmy-Olsen bellboy (whose brother died in 'Nam from a duck-detonated landmine) continues failing to kill Howard with Clouseau-like ineptitude, be it by remote controlled plane crash or during a dressed-up-like-Uncle-Sam hatchet attack. Sgt. Preston Dudley, RCMP, chin-channels Do-right. Bev worries that the phony rub-a-dub in the tub sex scandal will torpedo her "good girl" rep, while Steve offends our neighbors in the Great White North.

No doubt there's yucks to be had here, but this one leaves me wistful with what-ifs. Had HTD been an underground comix, no doubt an encounter with "Le Beaver" would have been far more interesting and just as wet.     

The Inhumans 9
"The Inhumans!"
(reprinted from Amazing Adventures #1, August 1970 and
Amazing Adventures #2, September 1970)

This is obviously one of those cases where the cover (by Keith Pollard, who will replace Perez for the rest of the book’s brief run, and Aubrey Bradford) was locked in before they realized that the accompanying story wouldn’t be ready in time, and it was too late to change it.  Ironically, last issue’s handsome but supremely generic Kane/Adkins cover—which shows the royal family, including Lockjaw, charging furiously toward someone or something, somewhere, sometime, for some reason, with absolutely no indication of what’s going on inside—would have been letter-prefect for this one’s actual contents.  Here we find a truncated reprint of the two inaugural chapters of the Inhumans’ solo strip from Amazing Adventures #1-2. -Matthew Bradley

Chris: Ah yes, the new Inhumans issue!  All right!  Two months is too long to wait.  Let’s see – interesting cover –I’m in!  Wow, the guy they got to do the art looks a lot like Jack Kirby …wait … aw man, it’s a reprint?  Nooooo . . .

Of course, when I bought this issue (yes, at a flea market), I didn’t care that it was a reprint, since I had no other issues in this title’s current search-for-a-new-home storyline.  No, I didn’t mind, because this issue still was an artifact, an issue that already was long-gone from the newsstand before I started collecting. As a key to earlier Marvel stories, this issue had value.  But, for readers at the time, trying to hold on to this bi-monthly series, I’m sure they were thoroughly disappointed.  With both Pérez and Kane already gone, and now a reprint, I wonder how sales for the final three issues were affected -?

The Invaders 13
"The Golem Walks Again!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Ed Summer
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

The Invaders undergo imprisonment, insults, and mistreatment by Colonel Eisen, the gauleiter (military commander) of Warsaw, nicknamed “The Face” for partially iron features, due to a homemade Jewish bomb.  “A lot of American know-how went into that shield, goon—plus other things you’d never even suspect,” Cap tells an Eisen hoping to solve its mysteries and regain favor in Berlin after a sample of heavy water was stolen from his care.  The thief entrusted it to Jacob, who during a storm mingles both that and “the rains of heaven” with the special clay he has prepared; using the secret he found in “ancient Kabbalistic texts,” he fashions a gigantic human figure, like the legendary Golem, writing the Hebrew word emeth (truth) on its forehead.

As Jacob prays for God to grant life, lightning strikes his shop, merging him with the clay, and a ten-foot Golem rises from the rubble, driven by an old man’s question to seek the castle occupied by Eisen, where the shield defies analysis.  Freeing Spitfire, who finds the keys to release Cap and Bucky, he smashes a water tank holding the Torches, in turn enabling Namor—dried out by infra-red lamps—to escape his concrete block.  While the Invaders mop up the soldiers and Cap retrieves his shield, the Golem hurls Eisen to his death from the roof; asked about his identity, he thoughtfully rubs his forehead, erasing the first letter to change emeth to meth (death), but after he reverts to human form, Jacob insists on remaining and vows that the Golem may walk again... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: At first I wondered why Roy (with a “plotting assist” from Ed Summer) felt he had to throw the heavy water literally into the mix.  Then a likely answer hit me:  in a Marvel Universe where we can’t have Johnny Blaze saved from Satan by Jesus, we presumably also can’t have divine retribution as the indisputable—or at least the only—motile force that powers up our wartime Golem.  Youthful reading about still-unseen Franco-German Golem movies and the “[e]meth” gimmick enhanced that plot point with both a nostalgic glow and an enjoyable insider feeling, while after Jacob was compelled to reconsider his position on passive resistance, I was pleasantly surprised that they eschewed the pat ending of him accompanying the Invaders back to England.

Chris: A little kick-fighting can cut both ways.  On the one hand, I liked Cap’s well-placed kicks while chained to the wall (p 10) – practice, practice, practice, right Cap? – while Namor’s two-footed takedown smacks of something from a Jackie Chan movie (p 26, pnl 2).  The Golem’s entrance is impressive (p 15), although overall he was more imposing, and stonier, in his short-lived Strange Tales run; I find it a little silly that he has hair, and a belt, and a torn shirt.  Beyond that, it’s unfortunate that “emeth” appears as an English word, when everyone knows that it should be represented by a Hebrew character.  

Matthew:  Never thought of that before, but otherwise, it would ruin the whole "[e]meth"gimmick, wouldn't it?  Stranger still, one wonders how that wouldn't have been lost in translation in the Euro-films from which I first learned of it?  Per the Tick, "Mysteries abound."  

Conan the Barbarian 71 
“The Secret of Ashtoreth!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

Drugged by the high priest Akkheba, Conan, Bêlit and members of her Black Corsairs crew find themselves locked in a dungeon, soon to be sacrificed to Ashtoreth, the goddess of Kelka. But M’Gora, the She-Devil’s second-in-command, finds a loose stone: behind is a tunnel that leads up and out over the walled city. Bêlit commands the Corsairs to return to the Tigress: she and Conan will steal back into the city and find the treasure promised to them for driving off the Barachan raiders. Unnoticed, the cowardly Kawaku slinks off. After regaining their weapons from two of the apish city-dwellers, the Cimmerian and his mate make their way to the Temple of Ashtoreth — however they are too late to save Aluna from being sacrificed by Akkheba. The vengeful warriors chase the corpulent priest up a staircase and soon come across Ashtoreth herself: the goddess actually turns out to be a sorrowful captive named Astarta. The beautiful woman was originally saluted as a goddess since she was granted immortality after being forced to marry a powerful sea-god. But over the years, the Kelkan high priests have begun to abuse the woman, even weaving a spell that make it impossible for her to communicate with her watery husband. Below the tower, the city is suddenly overrun by Auro and his Barachanian pirates — the traitorous Kawaku found their ship anchored on the far side of the island and led them to the escape tunnel. At the same time, Akkheba and a group of Kelkan warriors burst into Astarta’s cell: they are quickly routed by Conan and Bêlit who kills the high priest with a spear. The binding spell broken, Astarta calls out to the sea-god and a huge storm begins to pound the city. Dragging Kawaku with them, the barbarian and the She-Devil manage to row back to the Tigress before the island is totally destroyed by enormous waves. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: A very satisfying conclusion to this little two-parter. Buscema and Chan continue to show why they are one of my favorite art teams. Chan doesn’t lavish as much detail on Big John’s backgrounds as Alfredo Alcala, but his embellishments on all the characters are outstandingly sharp. The splash page is especially fine. The Astarta/Ashtoreth story is a sad one, as she remained young and beautiful as those around her grew old and died. It seems that she was washed ashore on Kelka when her original home was destroyed by the same fierce storm that sunk Atlantis — I appreciated that little touch. Not sure we needed the return of Auro and his pirates since their appearance was so brief and inconsequential. But Roy seemed to hint that they would stick around for a bit last issue. Again, this is an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Marchers of Valhalla,” but the Rascally One wanders far and wide from the source work. Conan shows off some superhuman strength in this issue, tearing apart a steel gate with his bare hands. I thought that was a little bit much to be honest.

Chris: Quite the jam-packed issue, as Roy checks off all the elements that make for an entertaining Conan story: escape, rescue, swordplay, deceit, payback, plus beautiful women, and a tale of the supernatural.  Plus, as a bonus, we have a city reclaimed by the sea!  Plenty of excitement all around.  
We do have a few variations on the theme, as Conan and Bêlit arrive too late to save Aluna; this moment emphasizes Akkheba’s villainy and decadence, as it also reminds us that the high-stakes game Conan plays doesn’t follow a clean set of rules.  It also was interesting to meet Astarta, another unfortunate immortal – not much good to have life eternal if you have to spend it confined to a high tower, with your respite (as offered by the god of the sea) within view, but out of reach.

Chan once again delivers spot-on finishes to Buscema’s pencils, as panel after panel is coated with texture and bristling with energy.  

Ghost Rider 22
“Nobody Beats the Enforcer!”
Story by Gerry Conway and Don Glut
Art by Don Heck and Keith Pollard
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irv Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom
Tired of his hellish antics on the streets of Los Angeles, three patrol cars pursue Ghost Rider down Highland Avenue. When he escapes, the skull-faced cyclist transforms back to Johnny Blaze. After absorbing the flaming Skull Cycle, Blaze hops on his regular bike and heads to Karen Page’s estate — the actress rejects his romantic advances. That night in the Hollywood hills, a costumed creep named the Enforcer visits a scientist who has shrunk the Eel’s bulky electronic device to medallion size. The bespectacled man promises that he has almost finished an even smaller ring version. With his new weapon, the Enforcer drives to a gangster’s mansion, disintegrates the man with the medallion’s molecule destroying energy beam and takes control of his crew. Later, director Coot Collier returns home to discover joyfully that his shifty-eyed son Carson has returned to town. The next day, Blaze, after finishing a rescue scene for the Stuntmaster TV show — and worriedly noticing Karen Page and Roxanne Simpson commiserating on the backlot — is summoned to the offices of Mr. Delazny, the studio head. There, police officer Flannigan accuses Johnny of being the Ghost Rider and tries to take him downtown. But the stuntman runs away, jumps on his cycle and motors off. After finding out that the Eel was hired directly by Delazny’s office, Blaze wills himself to change into Ghost Rider and stakes out the studio. There he sees the Enforcer and his goons enter a Cadillac limousine: he follows them on the two-hour drive to the San Diego Navy Yard. Now armed with the ring-sized version of the disintegrator laser, the Enforcer obliterates a destroyer to prove his power. The Rider guns his engine and leaps off his bike — both he and the Enforcer are knocked off the pier and into the ocean. While the Enforcer manages to escape, the ring is lost in the murky waters. The following morning, Blaze turns himself in at police headquarters. But when Ghost Rider cruises by the building’s window, Flannigan lets him loose. Outside, Johnny waves away the hellfire-formed apparition of his supernatural alter ego. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Total dreck. I had hoped that Gerry Conway could lift this series from the dreadful depths of the Tony Isabella era, but this completely horrible issue gives me serious doubt that he has the talent — or perhaps the motivation. The entire plot and tone seem completely lifted from a Grade-Z serial of the 1930s. Of course, his cause is not helped by the absolutely atrocious artwork, the worst I have seen during my tenure at the University. It’s about what you’d find in a sub par Mary Worth strip. I’d take Frank Robbins and Vince Colletta over the team of Don Heck and Keith Pollard every day of the week and twice on Sunday — though Pollard would become a major player for Marvel, at one point simultaneously illustrating Fantastic FourThe Mighty Thor and The Amazing Spider-Man. The Enforcer is a total dud. Fine, he does have an undeniably powerful disintegrator ray — however unbelievable, it did make a Navy destroyer disappear. But his outfit is strangely terrible. He looks totally ridiculous when interacting with his goons. Plus, he peppers his speech with references to movies: “If you’re ‘Satan’s emissary’ then I’m Shirley Temple”; “If one of the blasts hits me, I’ll burn like Atlanta in Gone with the Wind”; and other groaners. At one point, the Rider wonders if all the hokey Hollywood references could be a key to the stiff’s identity. No duh. I assume we are supposed to think it’s the recently arrived Carson Collier. After Coot embraces his son, Conway writes “So filled with emotion is the former Western star, that he never notices the peculiar smile that curl’s his son’s lips … or the sudden glint in each eye.” I hate this comic. Ptooie! Ptooie!

Matthew:  I see that Donald F. (Don) Glut had not yet published Classic Movie Monsters (1978), among the first of my c.-200-volume reference library, when he made what appears to be his debut on a regular Marvel four-color series by scripting Gerry’s story here.  But he certainly had by the end of his sporadic 1978-79 run on Invaders, and decades later, The Dracula Book (1975) would yield several factoids for my tome Richard Matheson on Screen…all of which seems to me much more interesting than the ho-hum Enforcer, aptly a Spider-Woman villain later on.  As a rule, I like an inker to respect the penciler’s style, but here, I might have preferred more of Keith Pollard, a fine artist in his own right, and less of a seemingly unfiltered Don Heck.

Chris: Well, that certainly was a long issue, wasn’t it?  Anytime I’m reading a comic, and I happen to flip ahead to see if there’s a point when characters are finished talking, and things have finally started happening, it’s never a good sign.  The TV show business slows things down, as does the time spent with Coot’s son (which, I guess, is supposed to lead to something …), not to mention The Many Loves of Johnny Blaze.  

What was the point of the attack on the Navy yard?  The Enforcer’s goon calls it a “caper,” which tells me they were there to nab something, but all they’re doing is allowing the Big E a clear shot at a moored ship with his Power Ring.  Well, Enforcer, if you’re willing to kill people in order to become Crime Boss, you’d better be looking into crimes that are more lucrative than Destruction of Private Property.

Don Heck demonstrates his creativity by depicting Johnny with a square jaw, with high cheekbones, as a bright-eyed teen-ager, as Robert Redford, as Errol Flynn (without the jaunty moustache), as a middle-aged man with a heavy brow, and every other variation he can think of, sometimes mixing up the look from one panel to the next. At least GR himself looks solidly bony-headed.  

Iron Fist 11
“A Fine Day’s Dying!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Adkins
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Pablo Marcos

Danny Rand meets Misty Knight at the Manhattan-South Medical Complex to visit Colleen Wing’s father: the Professor is still recovering from Angar the Screamer’s mindstorm. In the lobby they run into Misty’s roommate Jean Grey and her friend Scott Summers. Rand finds Colleen who is heartbroken that the Professor doesn’t recognize her anymore. Afterwards, Danny and Misty take a walk in a park across the street. Suddenly, the ground erupts in front of them and the Wrecking Crew emerges, in town to prove their might by killing Thor — their first move is to snatch the Thunder God’s friend Doctor Donald Blake from the hospital and use him as bait. Rand tells Misty to evacuate the building while he attempts to slow them down. But the Wrecker easily knocks Danny away with his mystically charged crowbar. The four giant goons burst into the hospital: Piledriver grabs Misty in a vicious bear hug when she attempts to stop them. But Iron Fist swings in action, popping ’Driver’s ear with two tremendous palm slaps. The hero powers up his crackling Iron Fist as Thunderball furiously swings his deadly wrecking ball: the two weapons collide in a powerful explosion. Meanwhile, on the S.S. Balaclava, steaming from London to New York, Rand’s friend Alan Cavenaugh wakes from a nightmare, unaware that there are two assassins on board, gunning for both him and Iron Fist. Back in New York, Iron Fist recovers from his explosive encounter with Thunderball and faces off against the Wrecker: the brute lays the Living Weapon low with his iron instrument. Fist — realizing that he is hopelessly outmanned and fearing for Misty’s life — offers the Crew a deal: he’ll steal into Avengers Mansion and let them inside. There, they can ambush Thor when he least expects it. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Not sure if many of you will agree, but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Wrecking Crew. It might be because I enjoy the concept of a supervillain team that shares a unifying concept, here construction equipment. (If they were good guys, would they have been called the Building Crew?) But it’s probably because I first encountered them here. I definitely remember owning this issue at one point, and John Byrne pencils the heck out of the foursome. They are totally badass, massive, muscular and mean. And Claremont makes an effort to give them all a distinct voice, from Piledriver’s “youse” to the more intellectual speech of Thunderball, a former doctor. This is another issue with wall-to-wall action: it’s really only interrupted by the two-page Cavenaugh interlude. At the end, Iron Fist hopes that Iron Man, the only Avenger he has met, will be at the mansion so that they can join forces and defeat the Crew. But we’ll find out that it’s another Avenger altogether — a character that Byrne will draw for a nine-issue run in 1980. Claremont continues to draw Iron Fist into the larger Marvel universe, not only with the already-established Wrecking Crew but also with a cameo of Matt Murdock and Heather Glenn on the second page, the meeting with Jean Grey and Scott Summers and a flashback that features Dr. Strange and the Fantastic Four. That FF flashback, by the way, was from the brief time that Luke Cage replaced the Thing. So, here we have the very first time that Power Man and Iron Fist appeared in the same comic. And the very first time that Byrne drew Scott Summers and Jean Gray. Two very first times in one single comic. Wheeeeee! This is my favorite issue of Iron Fist so far.

Chris: Holy cow!  Now that’s what I call a hell of a fight.  It’s especially impressive when you consider that the Wrecker has gone toe-to-toe with Thor and the FF, and that the Defenders required a rematch to defeat the Wrecking Crew.  Claremont does a very wise thing, as he demonstrates how hard Danny has to work just to keep pace in this fight, dodging blows when he can, and dishing out his own (courtesy of the iron fist) as well.  A lesser writer would’ve found a way for Iron Fist to pull out an unlikely victory; instead, we get a neat twist at the end when Danny promises to deliver the Avengers on a platter.  The Wrecker’s been around the block a few times himself, so I expect he anticipates a trap; it’ll be interesting to see how Danny pulls this off.  

Once again, Byrne does a ridiculous job of making the well-oiled action flow so easily.  Plenty of debris, whether sheetmetal, masonry, pavement, all flying and splintering in the air.  Nice touch as Piledriver’s meaty paw is big enough to grab Misty around the waist, and hoist her up (p 10, last panel), and quite a stinger for PD as Danny boxes his ears (p 11, p 2).  The collision of Thunderball’s wrecking-ball and Danny’s iron fist is a natural (p 22); dig the determination on both of their faces as they prepare for the smashup.  And, an amusing follow-up, as we see Thunderball blasted outside and dragged thru the ground by the force of the impact (p 26, pnl 5).  Adkins’ inks are seamless, and work to perfection here.  Terrific!  

Chris: Claremont & Byrne go a bit crazy with the cameos on p 2-3, don’t they?  Matt & Heather, Shooter and Stern (over there in the corner of p 2 – Shooter’s the tall one . . .), and then Scott & Jean.  Claremont might’ve been mindful of the fact that this month’s X-Men features not a word concerning the present condition of one Ms Grey, so isn’t it clever of him to drop this little update into Iron Fist, without even slowing down the story!  Very impressive – and, another indicator that, before you know it, the Cheerful and Jocular ones will be plying their trades with those student mutants – full time!

Matthew:  Micro-paradox:  I dig the Wrecker but not his crew, of which Thunderball seems to be the only remotely interesting member (his name an obvious plus for me), so this is the first issue I didn’t actually love.  Even they can’t completely drag down a Claremont/Byrne opus, although I think it must have been an off day for John—notching some more X-perience after drawing our merry mutants in last month’s Marvel Team-Up, much as I hate to have to correct Professor Tom—or Dan, or both; the artwork seems wildly uneven, with Alan looking especially unnatural.  Not that hero/villain parity is always dramatically desirable, yet we’re told so frequently, and correctly, how overmatched Iron Fist is against these palookas that I kept waiting for word of the Shanna vs. Dr. Doom follow-up.

1 comment:

  1. Stumbled across your Eternals #8 comments where you quote part of my letter about Kirby. Yes I am Vallard .... and as a huge comic book fan of Kirby, Adams, Smith & Steranko wrote some letters to Marvel as well as The Comics Journal back in the seventies. Enjoying your site.