Wednesday, October 7, 2015

January 1977 Part One: We've Had Foul Presidents But How's About Howard the Duck for President?

Howard the Duck 8
"Open Season!"
Story by Steve Gerber, David Anthony Kraft, and Don McGregor
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha

Howard & Bev are shot at from a rooftop; Drey Gultch’s bulletproof Rolls pulls up, and whisks them away to the office of Howard’s publicist, G. Q. Studley.  Studley observes that Howard has a high assassination quotient, which is “great!” since it means that “people care” about what Howard is saying.  Along those lines, Studley has prepared a volume, which prompts “every syllable Howard will utter within earshot of a reporter.”  Bev dismisses it as pablum, which Howard would be unable to recite “with a straight face”, Howard bites Studley on the nose, and he and Bev storm out.  The campaign continues on Howard’s own plain-talk terms (with some help from an agency called “Mad Genius Associates”), and attracts more than its share of media attention.  One week before the election, Gultch invites corporate fat-cats to his ranch for a meet-and-greet with the candidate, but Howard clearly states he won’t (if elected) trade political favors; this time, it’s Howard’s turn to stay, while the guests storm out.  Following a well-received press conference, Howard’s life is imperiled several times, all of the attempts seemingly related to a corporate interest: an exploding doll (munitions manufacturers); a falling girder (construction); a runaway, driverless car (auto industry), and a dousing with gasoline (uh, big oil).  But the last attack might prove to be the most damaging to the campaign: a photo printed in the paper, which depicts the unmarried Duck and damsel Bev, seemingly sharing a bath together!  Howard squawks “frame-up!”, but pollsters declare “he’s finished.” -Chris Blake

Chris: Steve G pours on the satire – and the cynicism – as he skewers the campaign process.  Steve mines plenty of humor from the impossibility of a candidate even remotely like the deliberately off-the-cuff Howard; the fact that’s he’s a duck is less of an impediment than his outspokenness.  Steve shows Howard meeting with some public approval, and he reports that “the auditorium explodes in applause” at the conclusion of Howard’s press conference, observing how an unpredictable, unprogrammed candidate like Howard would be such a welcome change from the norm, especially for a dispirited, disillusioned mid-1970s voter.  (And how might a 2016 voter respond under similar circumstances -?)

I find the assassination-attempt theme a bit disturbing.  There are a few amusing moments in this vein, such as the quote on this issue’s cover (“’Thought He Was In Season,’ Explains Prisoner”), and the public-image manager’s observation of Howard’s unprecedentedly high “assassination quotient.”  But, with the socially destabilizing political killings of the 1960s unquestionably still on readers’ minds in 1976, I don’t see how the prospect of Howard becoming another historical statistic could be terribly amusing.  Or, perhaps the only way a topic like this could be amusing, is if it were terribly amusing -?  I don’t know; I still don’t find it funny enough that I feel it needs to be here.  

Matthew:  It seems like quite a while since I’ve seen a distinctive Gerber text page (reprinted at the end of this post), but what better place for it than HTD’s press conference, with its rimshot newspaper names?  It’s worth noting that part of his platform (“violence should be presented honestly—as disgustingly and offensively as possible”) follows through with his outrage expressed over the glamorization of martial-arts movies back in #3, presumably one of several instances in which the candidate serves as, shall we say, a beakpiece for Gerber himself.  And by depicting his own company, the campaign-button-hawking Mad Genius Associates, as Howard’s randomly selected ad reps, he also approaches the metafictional self-involvement he took to its ne plus ultra in Man-Thing #22.

Mark: Your humble Prof received some poison pinfeather notes and a blackboard graffito that leaned heavily on the old Anglo-Saxon after highlighting the unfocused, herky-jerky aspects of Howard's last installment. While appreciating teen rebellion, my Gerber Guerillas, I'll note to our anonymous, chalk-dusty poet that rhyming the word "duck" three times in a limerick is too easy. An "F" you get for unoriginal doggerel.

And spare the brickbats, Byron, 'cause we're all in the parade for this one. Behind what's likely the series' definitive cover, this issue is rightly considered a classic, not because of the political hijinks per se, but how Howard's abortive Presidential campaign springboards Gerber and Colan to greater heights. The media spotlight – Walter Klondike! Hotel ballroom press conferences! – give our reluctant pond-loving pol a soapbox to espouse his grumpy every-duck opinions on "jackhammer progress," tub-thump for the entertainment industry to present violence as "disgustingly and offensively as possible," and all while dodging roving assassins, telling would-be Big Shot contributors to stuff it, and getting into a denture-chomping dust-up with a soulless PR consultant. And the trumped-up sex scandal that ends his campaign, as well as Howard's plea to let pols have their on-the-side fun so long as they ain't dipping into the public purse, is enough to bring tears to Gary Hart's eyes.

It's a giddy, careening carnival ride, a constant quack-up, bristling with lacerating satirical barbs that hurt so good.  

The Black Panther 1
"King Solomon's Frog"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

With the help of T'Challa, the Black Panther, Abner Little has finally located the coveted Brass Frog, an antiquity whose powers are vast and unexplored. Collector Little has vowed to keep the Frog out of the hands of evildoers (but what are his real motivations?) such as Princess Zanda. When the Panther and Little exit the building, they are attacked twice, first by a man dressed in ancient armor and, once aboard Abner's flying machine, by a huge, "strange aircraft." Abner is prepared though and lights up the attacking craft and its occupants. Landing in Little's hidden base, the pair are once more attacked and, this time, Abner Little is killed (or is he? Hmmmm). The Black Panther is taken prisoner and faces Princess Zanda, who asks the Panther for the control code to activate the Frog. Without the code, there's no telling what the Frog will cook up. When the Panther kicks the Frog out of Zanda's hands, they witness just such a discombobulation when the curio hits the floor and an alien creature named Hatch 22 (no, not Catch-22) materializes before their eyes. - Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: I wasn't a follower of Jungle Action and, truth be told, wouldn't be reading this if I didn't have to, but... much like The Eternals, Jack seems to have lured me into his web. Oh, make no mistake, "The King" is as agile with dialogue here as with his other titles (when Abner exclaims "Shots! We're under fire!", the Panther's right there with the clever comeback, "That's for sure!") and I'm not so sure treating the title star like a co-star in his own book is the right way to go. Having said that, I found Abner Little a fascinating character and was sorry to see the Little nipper go so quickly. Jack could draw the action like no one else on Earth but, good golly, every female looks like Sue Storm and Princess Zanda is no exception.

Matthew Bradley:  Proving that I had to draw the line somewhere even back then, I noted in my diary on October 12, “Got Eternals.  That makes 12 Jan. comix in as many days.  2001 and Ms. Marvel out this month [sic; the series Kirby spun off from his treasury-edition adaptation of the Kubrick classic actually premiered in December]. Got the latter, refused former.”  In April 1978, I’d give a similar thumbs-down to his next original efforts, Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man, although I will weigh in here on their double-barreled debuts via my Marvel Firsts.  Yet having been a belated but loyal reader of Jungle Action—whose bimonthly schedule it continues uninterrupted—I couldn’t very well turn down a title devoted to an established Marvel character.

This is as much of a piece with Jack’s other Bronze-Age Marvel work as it is the polar opposite of McGregor’s nuanced—and, alas, commercially unviable—Panther strip. As with Eternals, editor/writer/artist Kirby and inker/letterer Royer do it almost all themselves, still sacrificing subtlety in favor of dumb-ass dialogue (“Let’s flank ’em on both sides!”  Uh, okay…) and SF/fantasy-flavored spectacle that attempts to explain everything from Ali Baba to the Loch Ness Monster; of the story’s 17 pages, no fewer than five are devoted to full or double spreads.  And, as with Captain America, Kirby kavalierly sh*tcans the characterization and plotlines painstakingly cultivated by his immediate predecessors, but to be fair, he did co-create them both.

2001: A Space Odyssey 2
"Vira the She-Demon!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

The Dawn of Time: Vira, a female warrior, battles against the vicious men of her age, using the flaming skull of an enemy to drive them back. The cave men believe she has spoken with the “stone spirit” to resurrect the dead to do her bidding, but in fact, she merely used whatever tools were at hand. However, she is determined to find the spirit. When she does finally locate the alien monolith, she begs it for food and knowledge. It speaks to her, showing her what she can use to convey fear to the others. Among the fields of the dead, she finds bones and skulls and uses them to disguise herself. She becomes a malevolent overlord, threatening to devour whole tribes if her will is not obeyed. Her gambit works and others pay her tribute, introducing the concept of government to humanity.

2001: In space. Vera Gentry of Explorer Unit 5 reports to mission control from the surface of Jupiter’s moon, Ganymede. She leaves her survival hut to investigate a UFO sighting and is fired upon from above. The survival hut is destroyed and she runs for her life. Taking shelter behind a rock, she notices motion overhead and turns to face a squadron of hideous aliens. She bolts and ducks into a cave, following it down until she discovers the monolith. She turns to see her pursuers closing in and takes a step backward into the monolith, journeying through mind-bending reality. She appears in a pool, happily swimming under the sunny California sky. She leaves the pool and settles into a chair, falling asleep. Then she ages rapidly and transforms into a Star-Child and leaves on another awesome journey. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Should I just cut and paste my comments from last issue? Because that’s how Kirby apparently wrote this story. It’s basically the same tale as the previous month, he only switched the genders of the main characters: one is Vira and other is Vera – clever!!!  (#sarcasmisobvious).  Same lack of real plot, same wacky pictures, same cardboard characters. He’s apparently trying to evoke the same trippy weirdness as the film, but he’s falling short. Honestly, what’s to say? Sorry, kids, but I’m just spinning wheels to fill space.

The Amazing Spider-Man 164
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen and John Costanza
Cover by John Romita

Kingpin tells Spider-Man of his plan: to drain the life-force from his body and awaken his son Richard, who was the casualty of a battle between Red Skull's Fifth Sleeper, Captain America and the Falcon, and the Kingpin's mob (back in Cap #148), then placed into cryogenic suspended animation. After a brief moral debate between Kingie and wife Vanessa, the massive mobster throws the switch to the Vita-Drain, bringing Richard back to normal, and he leaves with his mother to discuss "other things". With no use any more for Spidey, a "dying battery" with roughly six hours left to live, Kingpin has his men toss Spidey out of a car. He stumbles back to his apartment, with barely enough strength to make it into the window, and get dressed before Glory Grant stops by, and she's concerned enough to go find a doctor, which gives Peter a chance to duck out and call on a doctor of his own—Curt Connors, of course!

Spidey steps into Connors' Evervator, designed to help with his cell-regeneration experiments, but the machine explodes before it can work fully! To help, Connors gives the web-head a special taser device that might work to counteract the Vita-Drain with some quick modifications. With less than 30 minutes left until the "fateful deadline," Spider-Man tracks his own life-force, now inside Richard, to the Brooklyn Navy Yard, where he waits for the squabbling father and son to walk by…then fires the taser, which works like a charm! But Kingpin is right peeved, and goes after Spidey with gut
a-blazing! Ripping down a scaffold, climbing up a ladder, swinging to a elevated platform, he's relentless in his battle against our hero—until the crane he swung in on and threw at Spider-Man comes back and (with his foot neatly webbed to the platform) knocks him off! Hanging for his life, Spidey's arrogant adversary refuses to take the wall-crawler's help, so instead topples into the murky waters below, seemingly buried under the platform wreckage. Vanessa puts a stop to the battle, having lost a husband, but regained a son since his body was rejuvenated by Spidey's life-force, and they drive away, leaving a slightly puzzled Spider-Man alone to swing off into the dawn.--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A very long summary this time around because there's lots of good stuff going on in this one. It's not perfect by any means, since Kingpin seems to have been dispatched a bit too neatly—and do we really believe he's gone? Nah. The long mystery of who's been behind a bunch of odd occurrences is over with the giant gangster explaining everything like a nice bad guy does, but there's some loose ends left beyond "is Kingpin dead". Will Glory realize MJ is right all these years when she comes back to find Peter gone with no explanation? What's up with Dr. Connors after that explosion and he gets a little goofy after Spidey swings off? Can't be good with Stegron due next issue! (P.S. Not a big Stegron fan). Who's going to rebuild the Brooklyn Navy Yard? The Mayor will not be thrilled, I take it.

The usual solid Andru & Esposito art (except for Spidey's Frank Robbins-esque arm angle on page 26) is enhanced by some choice lines. Vanessa's "You've been a sleeper of sorts yourself, Richard." (pg 6); Kingpin telling Spidey "Your face-messing days are over!" (pg 7); nameless old woman saying Spidey looks "as drunk as a heathen on holiday" (pg 10—my favorite line of the book); Glory's comparison, "like the Chicago Fire was just a little barbecue" (pg 11); Spidey calling his enemy "Pudge-Puss" and "Chubbins", which is always flattering; Kingie's angry boast "I'm going to bring this blasted scaffold down around your scrawny neck! And then I'm going to break that neck in two!" (pg 22); and Spidey realizing he's off when he tells Kingpin "You certainly try! In fact, you're the most trying person I know!" followed by inner dialogue "Sheesh—you can tell I'm not well! That pun was atrocious!" (pg 26). Enjoyable stuff for the most part, with a few quibbles.

Fave sound effect is page 30's "THWOOM!" when Kingpin is knocked off the platform and goes flying, with a look of sheer disbelief that soon turns to anger again when Spider-Man has the gall to offer his help. Harrumph to that, right, Mr. Fisk?

Chris Blake: Interesting look by Len into the personalities involved.  Spidey correctly observes that the Kingpin has no grounds to seek “revenge” against him (p 27), since son Richard isn’t dead, having absorbed enough of Spidey’s life-force to live again.  Richard is a bit hard to read, as he’s capable of re-forming a criminal cartel like Hydra, and yet he doesn’t want Spidey’s death on his head.  Vanessa takes advantage of an opportunity for a reversal, as she goes from ordering her husband’s armed goons to shoot to kill, then later expresses thanks to Spidey for giving Richard (albeit, against his will) another chance to live.  Also interesting how, toward the end of their battle, Spidey tries to save Kingpin from falling to his death – always the hero, hmm?

Nice work by Dr.  Conners to have both the enervator and the adaptable life-force-regaining tazer fully charged in case of emergencies like this one.  Bet you’re going to regret helping out, though, eh Doc . . .?

Matthew: Enervate”:  according to Merriam-Webster, “to make (someone or something) very weak or tired.”  So, after all these years of gnashing my teeth while Tony Stark tried to “strengthen” Happy with his Enervator, inevitably turning him into the Freak, I learn that Connors—a typical Marvel “jack of all sciences”—has one to “rekindle [Spidey’s] fading life-spark”; wonder if Tony had a patent?  While not depicting a specific scene, that Romita cover is accurate in a representational way, and I dearly love it, both for its striking colors and unusual layout, and because it doesn’t condescend, relying on the reader to recognize the Kingpin.  Not too many comic-book villains have families that are of interest to us, which also enhances Kingy.

Mark Barsotti: When did the Kingpin add genius inventor to his stout resume? Len doesn't even put a mad scientist on KP's payroll as creator of the life force swapping "Vita-Drain" that rousts Fisk's son from suspended animation, while leaving a woozy webs with "less than six hours to live." 

Auctorial shorthand, I get it, much like Wein not bothering to explain Hammerhead's ghostly survival after getting nuked a few months back. Having registered a protest for  readers who want at least a Super-Ball's worth of rubber science stretched over their plot gimmicks, I'll note that Len at least used Dr. Curt Connors' genius to both re-charge Spidey and set-up the return of the loveable Lizard, proving Lazybones Len can provide connect-the-dots details, when so motivated. 

And, as is his wont, our scribe omits the supporting cast, save for a couple panels of Glory Grant helping fading-battery Pete to his presumptive death-couch before inadvertently giving him the idea to see Connors. Ironically, the personal interplay/soap-sudsy character stuff has been the highlight of Len's tenure, perhaps just because he's been so stingy with it.

Again almost all the focus here is on Spidey heroics, which have been less than super. Last month's roaring Kingpin kick-off can't sustain the momentum, but this is the best wrap-up we've seen in awhile, even if requiring our buy-in to the bold premise that Spidey's stolen life force can in turn be instantly sucked out of Richard Fisk's, via forehead suction cup. 

After that, the rest goes down easy, with Ross & Mike's art in effortless, goofy groove, even if their K-Pin continues to resemble an escaped Macy's balloon. Absent MJ & crew, Vanessa and Richard provide the minimal recommended monthly dose of poignant humanity. Her Humpty-Dumpty hubby takes a big fall.

Doc Connors on deck is good. Stegron, on the other talon...

The Avengers 155
"To Stand Alone!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

(Continued from Super-Villain Team-Up #9, covered last week)

The Avengers, with Iron Man down, regroup against Doom and  henchmen of Attuma. Captured, Doom learns of the Avengers’ predicament of being controlled with slave collars to do Attuma’s bidding. Back in New York, however, the Beast and Wonder Man team up with the Whizzer and head out to rescue their fallen comrades. Okay, shift back to the Avengers, still imprisoned. Tamara, the red-skinned sole survivor of a lost race, eyeballs the Vison’s red skin, thinking that he might somehow be one of her race. The Scarlet Witch and Cap arrange to manipulate Cap’s shield to break the Vision’s slave collar. Vision flies away, deserting his comrades without a word.

Meanwhile, Beast, Wonder Man, and the Whizzer appear to take on Attuma, who is also cornered by the Sub Mariner at the same time. Attuma responds by stating the heroes are his friends, which distracts Namor and allows Attuma to take some heavy weaponry into the ocean. Wonder Man handles Subby, however, and the Vision appears in Dr Doom’s chamber, wishing to make a bargain with Doom at the end of the issue. -Jerad Walters

Jerald Walters:  That's a lot for one issue but the story and pace are well handled by Conway, and Perez’s artwork really starts off with a bang here, with one of the best opening splash pages we’ve seen in some time. The contrasting colors between a leering Dr Doom and fallen Iron Man are terrific. The battle between the Avengers and Doom and his people is also well done, and Perez does a great job of drawing very good-looking women. Tamara, the red-skinned woman, is especially attractive.

There are a few too many plot threads here, but they are all handled pretty well, not much left dangling, and good action for the pages, balanced with good dialogue and thoughts from the other characters. Wonder Man seems to be coming into his own; it seems like just yesterday we saw him awakening from his apparent death. Although not an Avenger, he seems along for the ride a lot of the time, and he and the Beast are developing a tentative friendship. The Vision seems to be over his identity crisis for the time being, and it should be interesting to see how the Vision and Dr Doom work together in the next issue.

Matthew:  If I am incrementally less enthusiastic about this issue than the last, bear in mind that I went up to 11 with that one.  Even allowing for his advanced age, the grizzled Whizzeras embellished by perennial wild card Marcoslooks a little off-model from the version Perez has given us in recent months, and however conceptually cool the layout on pages 2-3 may be, with new action flanking the flashbacks, it still adds up to one thing:  the Assemblers getting their butts kicked, AGAIN.  But everybody else looks great; Conway makes some interesting moves to set up the Big Finish; I love the color scheme of the otherwise too-busy Kirby kover; and little moments (e.g., Cap’s precision shield-flipping and “Attummmma…”) stick in my head, as usual.

Joe: The ad on the inside front cover: Steve Austin vs. Maskatron! Holy cow, that brings back memories! My fave was the Oscar Goldman mask—he always hoodwinked poor Steve. I did have both action figures, but no, I didn't join the "Bionic Action Club".

Speaking of memories, this ish of the Avengers brings back plenty of good ones. The framed one-on-one action sequences on pages 2 and 3. Cap flinging his shield to break Vision's collar, followed by Vision vamoosing. Wonder Man smashing Namor but good—twice! The Beast's covert op into Attuma's ship. The Hulk defeating the Green Thumb…Oh, wait….I have to stop reading the ads. Anyways, it's the crossover epic that keeps on giving, led of course by the usual superb Perez artwork. I'm not sure there's any character he didn't draw well in the 70s.

Chris: The diverse plot elements of SV TU #9 are pared-down to the essentials of Attuma’s machinations; just as Namor is freed from Latveria, we the readers can free our attention from there.  As a result, Gerry can move the still-somewhat-involved story along at a brisk pace, with hardly any wasted effort.  Gerry finds roles for all participants, which isn’t easy with this large a cast (admittedly, the Pyms and Iron Man aren’t heard from again after they’re subdued on page 3, but the non-involvement of these three is the exception here). 

Two clever twists: first, once the Vision is freed, he doesn’t follow the predictable route – instead, Gerry decides to have Vizh disappear, requiring us to wait and wonder until the very last page to see what he’s up to; second, crafty Attuma dupes Namor into thinking that his three opponents are, in fact, his allies, which creates an instant diversionary MARMIS.  Extra points to Gerry for having Namor recognize the Whizzer (once the now-older man has slowed down, and is no longer a blur, that is), and for Wonder Man’s smiting of the mighty avenging son; if anyone were to have doubts about Simon Williams’ possible contribution to the team, this display should set those questions to rest.

I’m going to assign a big “Cut the chatter, Red 2,” though, to Gerry for his needless gee-whiz caption on p 14, as Namor enters the scene.  It kinda takes me out of the moment any time the editor pipes up and says, “It’s only a comic!”  That said, the art is outstanding, of course, as Pérez & Marcos prove that Av #154 was no fluke.  Pages and pages of highlights, so I’ll limit myself to these: the simultaneous recap + current battle of p 2-3 (also marred by a self-serving editorial caption); Wanda’s concentration, followed by Cap’s catch-and-throw as he frees the Vision, requiring only a flick of a well-practiced wrist (p 11); the approach of dastardly Attuma, backed by minions (p 15, last pnl); old man Whizzer on the offensive (p 17, 1st pnl); Wonder Man slams Attuma back, thru the wall (p 22, pnl 4-5); the aforementioned Namor-crunch (p 30, pnl 4).  Well okay, one last one: von Doom, looking even steelier-eyed than usual (p 31, last pnl!)!

Captain Marvel 48
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

 Shown the door by the Mexican authorities before he can investigate the mystery, Mar-Vell flies north, while flashbacks reveal that Raoul Eschevarra’s touch unwittingly completed Sentry #459’s reprogramming, and his friend Esteban Carracus is hit by a mysterious force.  Having crashed in Texas, Tara and Mac-Ronn pose as rocket scientists and are given a lift by elderly Ethan and his wife as Mar-Vell reaches New York; switches with Rick, who can now survive for up to ten hours in the Negative Zone; visits the Halfway Inn, a “shadowed night spot” that turns out to be run by Trina (last seen in #18); and is invited back to her place to catch up.  Back in Texas, 459 and the Cheetah destroy Lewin Electronics to avenge capitalist enslavement.

In the morning, Rick declines a date with Trina’s roommate, Sharlene, and reluctantly switches with Marv, who returns south as an installation conspicuously labeled “US. Govt Research Plant #47” is ravaged.  Following a trail of destruction across Texas to the next scientific complex, he battles the “devastators,” and El Gato (not to be confused with the eponymous Omega villain) confirms that Raoul gave him his power before slamming Marv into unconsciousness.  When he awakens in jail—having apparently and inexplicably been blamed for the chaos despite saving the lives of several employees—the ten hours is almost up, so he busts out and switches with a Rick who, near death, blacks out and, by an “odd twist of fate,” is then stumbled upon by Ethan et al. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Per the lettercol, having been announced as the Jaguar, this villain was hastily renamed after somebody recalled the Hydra loser from Daredevil #120; ironically, in reviewing that, I not only called El Jag “boring and overly familiar,” but also compared him to Tagak the Leopard Lord, who “epitomiz[ed] the bad old days of the Conway DD era.”  In the interim, Marvel Two-in-One #19 has also thrown the Cougar into the litterbox (battling Tigra, natch), so the Marvel bestiary is starting to feel quite weighted in favor of, as Professor Joe might say, feline fiends.  I don’t know which is loopier:  the Cheetah/Sentry tag(ak) team, or the notion that ol’ 459—even, or perhaps especially, while controlled by Raoul—could simply zap fellow thief Esteban into Cheetahdom.

So it goes in Gerry’s only solo issue during his current TOD, and again, SuperMegaMonkey hits the nail right on the head: regarding the supposedly hilarious Mexicans who try to move 459 by using a crane like a bulldozer, he notes, “I think we’re all a little embarrassed by that sequence.”  Methinks Conway also exceedeth his Unbelievable Coincidence Quotient, although as we’ll see elsewhere next month, this won’t be the last time he harkens back to the seminal events of #18.  Since he’s off the book as fast as he got back on, the “great plans” promised in the lettercol will presumably not eventuate; meanwhile, as usual, Terry tries his best, with mixed success, to keep Al’s pencils from looking too goofy…but that party in page 11, panel 2 (left) is a genuine jaw-dropper.

Chris: So, you’re saying we should interrupt Mar-Vell’s search for the power behind the Sentry so that he can free Rick from the Neg Zone, and then follow Rick as he feels sorry for himself, has a heart-to-heart with an old friend (who has a spare bed), and then turns down a little “something” with a woman dressed like an exotic dancer, who has the day off, and who doesn’t have a spare bed (wink WINK).  Okay, can we simply leave Rick in the NZ from now on?  Maybe M-V can let him out between issues, when we’re not here -?  I would sign on for that. 

The needless, uneventful Rick Jones sequence accomplishes one thing: it succeeds in interrupting Marv’s fight with the Sentry.  Once Marv is finished with the Sentry in Mexico City, he says (to paraphrase): “Oh well – not my problem; time to let Rick out of the NZ!”  Once it’s Marv’s turn to emerge from negative space, he suddenly is full of resolve, stating: “Now to find out what’s behind the power of the Sentry!”  That means we could’ve gone straight from p10 to p17 with a far-shorter break in the action, if not for the obligatory, lengthy Rick time.

In case you missed it (you might need to find your reading glasses), Terry Austin – that ol wag – inserted a little “Howard for President” flyer, on the ground behind Rick’s feet (p 10, pnl 5).  I’m pretty sure he also turned one of the empty cans, probably left on the street by Milgrom, into a Blatz (p 10, pnl 3; I can’t think of any other beverage that ends with “ATZ” – can you?).

Captain America and the Falcon 205
"Agron Walks the Earth!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

The being called Agron grabs the Falcon, sending a shock through him, and tosses him away like a rag doll. The creature, actually a life force from the distant future taking up residence in a corpse, attacks the SHIELD agents and leaves. Cap is summoned in his apartment to come and help. Cap finds Agron rampaging through the city and attacks. Things just aren’t going his way, but before final defeat can come, the Falcon arrives, his memory restored by Agron’s energy pulse. Using time tested teamwork, Cap and Falcon fight Agron to a standstill, until the creature decides to vacate the human body. He chases the Falcon, who flies through a specially prepared canister. Agron follows, but is trapped in the canister as soldiers slam both ends shut as it enters. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: An interesting enough idea: Agron being a life force from the far off future, fleeing the destruction of Earth and appearing here. Other than that, it goes nowhere. It’s just an excuse to have Cap and the Falcon beat the crap out of some big guy. He seems to exist only to provide action sequences and restore the Falcon’s memory. Speaking of memories, Steve Rogers refers to his problems with “Carol” on page 15, when I’m pretty sure his problems are with Sharon. The citizens are particularly annoying during the fight. It feels like Jack was trying to recreate some of the background business of the 60’s, but Stan was better at it.

Matthew: “Please do not let this magazine turn into a strange science fiction flavored Twilight Zone, or a Kirby space epic as was the Annual,” pleads one Charles Webb.  “Captain America is a costumed athlete who is at his best fighting the henchmen of criminals or individual masters of combat…”  I’d hate to see what he thought of the issue in which his LOC appeared!  But here’s the thing:  if you’re willing to go along with that, as I have now somewhat resigned myself to be, you could do a lot worse than this tidy two-parter, with its typically robust Kirpoorten art and obligatory gaffes (presumably, when Cap says “Carol,” he means “Sharon”), while providing a convenient way to bring the Falcon out of Brother Wonderful’s brainwashing.

The Champions 10
"One Man's Son is Another Man's Poison!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Hall and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Yuri & Co. imprison Tasha’s teammates within the San Andreas Fault, inside a vault from which only Laynia’s spatial displacement can release them, and return to the Russian captives while the others try to stop Hercules from triggering a quake that will destroy L.A.  Said to have died in a car crash with his mother 19 years ago, Yuri tells Natasha that Americans killed her and kidnapped the five-year-old boy, staging the “accident” to change Ivan’s mind after he’d refused to defect.  Held in West Berlin for nine years and unsuccessfully brainwashed, Yuri was rescued and brought home to the shame of Ivan’s treason, but as he flies from their ship to stop the Titanium Man from destroying the pursuing jets, Bruskin reveals that there was another side.

Yuri was “kidnapped” by his own people, who wanted him to hunt down Ivan, and his “rescue” faked by Bruskin, who finally had enough and defected as well.  When the returning Yuri refuses to listen to the truth, Laynia frees Natasha, Bruskin, and the Champs, who commandeer a plane from a nearby airbase.  Natasha cripples Yuri's craft, and as the Griffin pilots it to a rendezvous with a waiting sub, a climactic battle ensues in which Hercules smashes the Titanium Man into watery defeat; Bruskin is mortally wounded while tossing a grenade into the conning tower; Bobby and Johnny subdue the Griffin with Hellfire and ice; and Laynia, despite having now sided with the Champions, reluctantly allows Yuri, her former lover, to escape, which he does vowing revenge. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The transition in inkers from Patterson to Layton to Giacoia has certainly helped artist Bob Hall, who is also, as the lettercol informs us, “a set-designer and director for off-off Broadway theater productions in the Big Apple.  As a student at Big John Buscema’s class on comic art, he caught his teacher’s eye….Though [his] stay on the Champs has gone one issue further than originally forecast, John Byrne (currently hard at work on Iron Fist and Marvel Team-Upwill be picking up the reins next issue.  But Bob isn’t vanishing, just moving over to Super-Villain Team-Up.”  As for the story, I wrote, “Got 4 comix:  Black Panther #1, Marvel TalesNova and Champions.  Champs is very complicated.  I don’t understand it,” according to my diary entry for October 21.

I suppose it’s some compensation that even some of the characters remain confused at the end of this issue, and of course obfuscation was precisely the point of the entire Bruskin-orchestrated scheme.  Re-reading it today, I get the delicious frisson of what were, at least for popular culture if not for the real world (though the current climate of terrorism may argue otherwise), the “good old days” of the Cold War, with their double agents and divided Berlin.  Mantlo finally wraps up the complex tetralogy set in motion by the exiting Isabella, having presumably made it his own, and simultaneously sets the stage for both Byrne—moving the Bill & Bob Show over to SVTU—and a carryover of Black Goliath’s saga promised in the current Daredevil lettercol, of all places.

Chris: Bill does a nice job with the heartbreaking tale of Ivan and Yuri, as both prove to have been victims of state-sponsored deception.  Bruskin’s attempts to butt in – and come clean about the family-severing lies told to them both – add a bit more suspense, and keep our attention on the details to come, even while other story-elements cut in.  Darkstar’s crisis of conscience is a welcome bit of character-development, as it contrasts effectively with Yuri’s blind loyalty; as a bonus, Darkstar’s change of heart, and loyalties, will allow her to spend more time with the team (as the sought-for – based on some letters – second female member of the team).

The issue ends in a blur, as there isn’t time to show the Champs stealing a fighter plan from a nearby airbase (bet that was a good trick!  Now, Warren, you can have your publicist try to figure how to spin that one!) and try to save Natasha and Ivan.  The Widow has been rooted mostly to the sidelines the past issue or two, so I’m looking forward to seeing her back in the thick of the action next time.  
The art is adequate, at best.  Hall is a capable penciller, but he’s not well-served here by Giacoia.  Not a problem – Byrne will be here soon enough.  

Fantastic Four 178
"Call My Killer -- The Brute!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by George Perez and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita

"Lemme outta here!" hollers the Thing on the splash page, having been sucked into the Negative Zone, courtesy Counter Earth's Reed Richard, at the end of our last installment. On P. 2 he encounters a snake-headed horror – one of Annihilus's crew – soaring right at him. Then...

...a pair of "Who turned out the freakin' lights?" black out panels...

...and Ben's back in the B. Building, strapped into restraints, as he beholds the remaining Fabs plus T-girls, Thundra & Tigra, strapped/P. Pot-pasted to the Wizard's giant fan. Ben exhorts the shirtless, pipe-smoking Reed to free the bunch. 

But then he sees the real Reed, Ace-bandaged to the fan, and we segue into Counter Reed's flashback. During Galactus' recent attack, CR's ties to the military got him tabbed for a rocket ride toward the High E's artificial asteroid. 

But - like his namesake - he's blasted by cosmic rays then his ship violently explodes... No worries, CR's jet-packin' it in the next panel, fat & happy, with no hint of how he escaped the doomed rocket. Entering the Hollow Moon's open door, he tours the Evolutionary's playpen lab, then gets conked on the head by the metal rod McGuffin Roy inserted into our saga, many moons ago, and soon morphs into the Brute. Whether said head-conk contributed to CR's murderous immorality remains to be seen.

Back in the present, Brutie pants to kill real Reed, but the Wiz stays his hand – and, natch, our heroes' summary execution - with an extortion scheme to ransom the FF to the city of New York for a cool billion. 

Cut to: a P. 15 interlude with the largely forgotten, TV-watching Impossible Man, whose eyes go all psychedelic-swirly when the tube dies, cutting off the Fonz in mid, "Ahhhyyyyy!" 

Cut to: Big Apple Mayor Beame, on the phone hustling Save-the-FF cash with pols Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, and Ronnie Ray-Gun, none of whom offer a nickel. With the ransom deadline looming, Army troops outside the Baxter ready a rescue mission. Sandy and Wiz fantasize about spending their loot. Impy's TV is working again, but it's late now and Network TV, students, once did something inexplicable called "signing off," a voluntary cessation of broadcasting until  the cock crows. Insane, right? Like ever turning off your phone... 

Impy, as flummoxed by this notion as our young Mr. Forbush, concludes it must be a power outage and neck-stretches into the generator room to pull out a random fuse with his teeth, cutting power to the FF's tower just as the blackmail clock runs out and the Wiz pulls the lever on the lethal fan.

With the electricity off, the Fabs break free and give battle. The Brute's pummeling Sue's force field; real Reed tries to intervene but can't, causing him to scream the heretofore hidden truth, " stretching!"

Ben clobbers Brutie. The pasted-up, anti-grav floating Tigra reaches the ceiling and kicks off hard, torpedoing the Wiz right into Sue's force bubble. Johnny melts PP's paste-gun. Thundra K.O.s the Sandman.

But where are the Reeds? Back in the Negative Zone portal lab, where a crestfallen Mr. R says he'll probably never stretch again as, via the portal screen, they watch the presumptive de-Bruted & down to his Jockeys Counter-Reed, drifting off to well-deserved exile in the NZ.

Offering to step-down as team leader, what with his lack of elasticity and all, Reed is shouted down by the others, who proclaim him the only man for the job.

But sinister inking and thought balloons reveal Reed's humility is as false as this Reed is Counter. And, having donned his better's blue unitard, CR now plots the team's destruction, while Real Reed drifts, unconscious, deeper into the Neg Zone. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Unless Roy's got a really deep game goin' on (which is entirely possible), the opening here is completely mystifying. How did Ben pop back into the Baxter Building after spending the opening two pages in the Negative Zone? Why do none of the characters comment on the Thing's odd travels, not even Counter Reed (who looks like the centerfold for College Prof Monthly, serving up shirtless beefcake while puffing on his pipe. And yes, girls, he's single!), who personally put Ben there, less than three pages ago (counting last ish).

Pondering this proved so distracting that lesser matters, like how the Wizard settled on a giant fan as murder weapon, fell by the wayside...although I still wanna know how Counter R escaped his exploding rocket...

Matthew: My only dislike about this arc is the goofiness that has diminished but not disappeared since the Impy romp, typified by the cameos of Beame et al. on page 16.  So I was disappointed by Roy’s lettercol account of attending a Dallas comics con with Mike Friedrich—whose work with Starlin on the Thanos War I so admired—and getting a hand plotting last issue’s Captain Ultra nonsense.  I associate Hunt first and foremost with uncredited backgrounds, but as guest inker/colorist here, he reminds us that (per a nice 20th Century Danny Boy interview) “Hunt’s ink line was highly sympathetic to the pencil artist and he was always able to remain true to the artist he was working over at the same time as enhancing the strengths that existed…”

Chris: Nice job by Roy.  First, he had put Impy in position when he set him in front of the TV (a friend of mine calls this device “the swirling black vortex”); next, he gives Ben a line about Impy possibly helping the team; lastly, we see how Impy’s need for continual entertainment can inadvertently save the day.  Roy builds the suspense as we all watch and wait for 3:00am (with a little political humor included, on page 16).  The quick-change of Reeds at the end is a clever twist, as Counter-Reed seizes a chance to resume life with a living, breathing Sue Storm Richards (can you blame him -?).  

Dave Hunt has been stuck in the backgrounds for awhile now, and he’s a fine choice to fill-in for Joltin’ Joe here.  The results are good and solid, if a bit inconsistent – a few character-faces look weak and thin, here and there.  Most importantly, the Thing looks Just Right, and we know that’s hardly a given.  We’ve learned thru hard experience that Marvel could’ve done much, much worse in its selection of a fill-in inker to pair with Pérez.  

A brief cultural observation: on the aforementioned p 16, we see some early influence from Saturday Night Live, which would’ve started its second season by this time.  The bandage on Ford’s head certainly hints at Chevy Chase’s take on Ford’s would-be bumbling, while the man with the bowl of peanuts looks a good deal more like Dan Aykroyd than Jimmy Carter.  

Mark: Unlike Prof Matthew, I enjoyed the political cameos, complete with Band-Aid on Jerry Ford's noggin and Carter with a big bowl of goobers. And the story/art package is as professional and polished as work by the oddly absent Joe Sinnott (filled-in for here nicely by Dave Hunt), but it leaves me pondering a bigger issue.

Roy took on the FF (and indeed most of his titles) with two storytelling shackles in place. Stan's late Sixties edict that the core titles shouldn't move beyond the illusion of change was still in effect. The second, maybe even more restrictive, was Roy's own long-standing decision not to create new characters for Marvel, because he wouldn't own them.

Thus with only Xeroxes and retakes on the shelf, we get another riff on FF #1's cosmic rays, and how many alt-Reeds have we cycled through in the last two or three years? I've lost count.

Without having checked when Thomas's tenure on the book ends, I nonetheless get the sense that - while remaining polished and professional - the Boy may well be getting a bit bored.

He ain't the only one. 

Conan the Barbarian 70
 “The City in the Storm!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Pablo Marcos

Battered by a raging storm, the Tigress runs aground on an outcropping of rocks surrounding an isolated island — the ship’s shaman, N’Yaga, is hurt by a tumbling treasure chest and one of the Corsairs, Kawaku, is shamed as a coward. Leaving most of the crew behind to repair a large hole in the ship’s hull, Conan, Bêlit and a dozen or so Corsairs row ashore for supplies, amazed to find a towering and ancient city not far from the beach. Suddenly, a group of apish warriors armed with crude spears streams out of the main gates and attacks. But they are no match for the Cimmerian and his mates — the savages quickly retreat back into the city. Soon after, a beautiful blond handmaiden named Aluna appears on the wall and promises the pirates a fortune in riches if they spare the city, which she calls Kelka. When Bêlit demands to see the treasure, a procession of other temptresses strides out of the gate with gold, jewels, food and wine, followed by the corpulent Akkheba, priest of Ashtoreth, the goddess of Kelka. The priest offers the Corsairs all they can carry if they defend Kelka from the Barachan raiders who loot the city each year. Conan and Bêlit agree to the terms, but the She-Devil, worried that her men will fall to temptation if they stay in the city, orders them to bunk on the beach. Later, much to the jealous Bêlit’s dismay, Aluna visits Conan and gives him a carven knife in thanks. The next day, the Barachanian ship is spotted — it is commanded by the fearsome Auro. The Corsairs enter Kelka and lie in wait. When Auro and his men approach, Conan and Bêlit lead the charge through the gates. Taken by surprise, the battered Barachanians flee and sail off to the horizon. Akkheba welcomes the Cimmerian and the crew into Kelka for a victory celebration — Bêlit reluctantly agrees to let her men enter the city. But it is a trap: Akkheba has drugged the wine and Conan, Bêlit and the Corsairs all slip into unconsciousness to be sacrificed — along with Aluna — to the great goddess Ashtoreth the next day. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: After last issue’s fill-in misstep, we quickly round back into excellent form with Roy’s thoroughly enjoyable adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Marchers of Valhalla.” Well, adaptation is quite the stretch. The story was originally written in 1932 but was only published in 1972. In a letter to his friend H. P. Lovecraft, Howard wrote, “I'm working on a mythical period of prehistory when what is now the state of Texas was a great plateau, stretching from the Rocky Mountains to the sea — before the country south of the Cap-rock broke down to form the sloping steppes which now constitute the region.” But, “Farnsworth Wright [editor of Weird Tales] rejected the antediluvian Texas story, not enough weirdness about it.” From what I could find, “The Marchers of Valhalla” was to be the first in a series of stories about James Allison, a crippled young Texan who recalls his past lives. Never read it, but I doubt it has much to do with what Roy had dreamed up. The big news is that the great Ernie (Chua) Chan is back, trumpeted as “embellisher-in-residence” on the splash pages. According to “The Hyborian Page,” Ernie finally gained U.S. citizenship and decided to change his name from Chua to Chan: the former was misspelled on his birth certificate. I’ll take his return as one of Professor Joe’s “little victories,” as few inkers — besides Alcala and Sinnott — work as well with Big John. It’s been awhile since we have seen such outstanding art in the pages of Conan the Barbarian.

Chris: No such thing as a simple ocean-going journey for this crew, hmm?  Ernie Chan proves yet again how well-suited he is to Buscema’s pencils; the inks are consistently clear and strong.  All the visuals work just right, from the storm at sea, to the magnificent city, to the battle with the ape-men; the gift-bearing sirens aren’t bad, either.  Chan resumes his place as a mainstay on this title, but I can’t help wondering how his inks would’ve looked with Buscema’s pencils in the pages of Thor (especially now, with the dynamic but indistinct Tony DeZuniga providing the art-finishes for that title).

Daredevil 141
"Target: Death!"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Jim Shooter
Art by Gil Kane, Bob Brown, and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Foggy is shot at from above by an unseen assailant; Daredevil springs to his defense.  (After he had been shot at the last time, DD and Foggy determined that DD would shadow Foggy the next time he was directed to appear at a location for information about his kidnapped girlfriend, Debbie Harris.)  The shooter turns out to be Stone, the taciturn assistant to Maxwell Glenn.  During their fight, Stone leaps toward DD, who evades him; Stone falls to the pavement below, and dies without disclosing Debbie’s whereabouts.  Matt Murdock, Foggy, and Heather Glenn meet with her father, Maxwell, to request company records; they hope Stone had an accomplice who could lead them to Debbie.  Outside the window of their Storefront legal office, Matt detects the sound of an automatic rifle being primed; he takes Foggy down before the place is sprayed with lead.  Matt runs out after the gunman (ignoring Foggy’s pleas not to go – after all, Matt is blind, and could come to harm, couldn’t he -?).  Matt switches quickly to Daredevil, and traces the sound of the car’s engine.  He arrives in time to see the car plunge into the river, as its driver leaps free; DD recognizes the heartbeat as belonging to Bullseye.  Bullseye reports having been paid a million-dollar fee – assumedly, for the hit on Matt and Foggy.  Their battle takes them both off the dock and into the river, where they are separated.  DD climbs back onto the dock, and scans the area for signs of his adversary, but misses the whisper in the air of a heavy-cardboard paper plane, which connects with DD in the head, stunning him.  DD awakes to find himself lashed to a huge arrow, mounted in an oversized crossbow.  Bullseye announces that he is going to fire DD across the Hudson River, where he will be smashed into the rocky cliffs of the Palisades.  
-Chris Blake

Chris: Solid issue.  Marv advances the Maxwell Glenn story, which has been building slowly on the sidelines for months now.  He introduces some intrigue, too: Glenn appears to be surprised to learn of Stone’s duplicity, and to be motivated to assist Matt & Co in their investigation.  But, who ordered Bullseye’s hit on the storefront -?  Bullseye’s return to these pages is sudden, considering that he was last seen a mere nine issues ago, in DD #132; fan interest must’ve been fairly vocal.  

This is the first appearance as scripter by Jim Shooter, who will succeed Marv as full-time scribe in a few months.  First impression is good, for two reasons: first, Jim dispenses with the stupid banter that I’ve been complaining about ever since Marv took over, with DD only calling Stone “stone-brain,” and referring to him as a “bonehead,” but I can live with that – plus, the meeting with Bullseye is deadly serious, with no snappy patter at all, as well it should be; second, we have improved attention to DD’s distinctive hypersenses – in addition to the moments already mentioned, Jim also has DD observe that the rain is interfering with his radar-sense, then register Stone’s failing respiration and heart rate after his fall.  

Chris: The art is terrific throughout, especially the two brawls.  Gil Kane is an inspired choice for this title, as he mixes panel sizes, and works in a few close-ups, to sell the fight with Stone; I especially like the unusual choice of the long, wordless panel that shows DD standing by Stone’s lifeless form (p 11, pnl 4).  Bob Brown ably handles the Bullseye clash in our issue’s second half.  Jim Mooney does an above-par job of pulling the art together, which helps to minimize the disjointed look you’d ordinarily expect with two different pencillers.

I’m going to file a brief complaint about the cover.  Don’t get me wrong – I love the art, that’s not the problem; the image inspires me to imagine what Cockrum would’ve brought to this title as its regular penciller.  No, I take issue with the content; I’m always going to be opposed to a cover giving away the final image of the comic.  If anything, this cover should appear on DD #142, when DD’s cross-Hudson fling will resume.  

Matthew: This transitional story goes only partway toward reuniting the Brown/Wolfman team for its two-part swan songwhich begins next issuewith soon-to-be-successor Shooter scripting the vacationing Marv’s plot. The pencils are credited to both Bob and Kane, with inker Mooney doing such a good job of providing a consistent look that I won’t even bother trying to tease out who did what, since my usual sources don’t volunteer that information.  You’d think poor Foggy would never be tempted into another phone booth again, but in any event, Stone’s transformation from ominous underling to forgettable costumed clown (what’s with the Phantom mask?) mercifully ends where it begins, while Bullseye continues to evolve into DD’s bête noire.

The Defenders 43
"This World is Mine!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

The Hulk thinks he can smash the Cobalt Man, and thereby interrupt his build to critical mass. Nighthawk (thinking quickly, and relying on an admittedly limited understanding of nuclear physics) asks him instead to carry Cobalt Man to the East River; once doused, the atomic reaction is slowed, and the explosion is averted – although, the Hulk now is wet, which can sometimes lead to other problems.  Egghead – observing from his orbital satellite – is frustrated that his plan did not succeed in destroying the Defenders; still, while their attention is occupied, he recognizes an opportunity to capture the Star of Capistan.  Egghead believes that Doctor Strange has knowledge of the Star’s location; he dispatches his (now reluctant) partners, Solarr and Rhino, to Doc’s last known position, a midtown hotel (where Doc had paid a visit to an old colleague, who in fact has the Star in his possession).  The two villains are met by a masked being calling himself the Red Rajah; the Rajah blasts Solarr’s power source, then increases his mass to smash the Rhino down to the hotel basement, efficiently defeating them both.  The Defenders are met by the Red Guardian (who heard a radio report of the Defenders’ street-brawl with the Cobalt Man); at Dr Strange’s sanctum, she forges a mind link with the Cobalt Man, facilitated by Doc’s disciple, Clea.  The link indicates that the CM has been under Egghead’s control, and that he is mentally unstable.  Egghead ‘ports himself into the Sanctum, and defeats Hulk, Valkyrie, and Nighthawk with specially-tailored devices.  His misjudges the force required to defeat Power Man, though, and Luke slugs him.  Egghead crashes thru the door, into the room where the Cobalt-Clea mind-meld is being conducted.  Egghead directs CM to destroy the Defenders, but instead, the CM grabs him and triggers a nuclear implosion, reducing them both to atoms while causing no harm to the others in the room. -Chris Blake

Chris: Early returns tell me that Gerry was a solid choice to assume control of this title.  Granted, we shouldn’t expect the inspired weirdness of Steve G – that’d be asking a lot – but it’s clear that the Defenders will continue to find themselves in unusual situations, as evidenced now by the emergence of the Red Rajah.  Extra points to Gerry for keeping everyone in the dark about this new foe’s origin.  Rajah boasts to Solarr that he already has “disposed” of Dr Strange, who had “presumed to approach the sacred Star;” there’s no other indication of Doc’s potential whereabouts (and the Hulk, for one, is growing concerned), so it makes for a very satisfying mystery to carry into the next issue.  

Chris: Gerry also gets the so-called non-team concept – no initiation, no membership fees, etc.  The Red Guardian hears that the Defenders are in the middle of a fight, and she’s back, no questions asked; members will continue to come and go.  Toward the end, Cage indicates to Nighthawk that he’s thinking of leaving, simply because he might be better off working alone.  But, take heart fans – it looks like Clea will be available until Doc can be located;  plus, the blurb on the bottom of p 31 announces “a startling new Defender” will be introduced next issue (and, well, we all know who that will be, don’t we -?).

Matthew: I find it curious that they devote space in the lettercol to displaying Val’s “new” golden outfit (also seen in the current, but chronologically earlier, Incredible Hulk) and crediting John Byrne with its design, despite the fact that it was already history as of last issue; maybe they had yet to decide on its ultimate fate.  Through Janson’s murk, Giffen provides some handsome layouts of Tania’s mind-meld with the Cobalt Man, but unlike the Eel in last month’s Ghost Rider, both he and Egghead survive their apparent deaths at Conway’s hands.  Nice to see that the reaffirmation of Greenskin’s friendship with his non-teammates, depicted in the selfsame Hulk, is followed through in that well-handled scene of Nighthawk directing his wrathful energy.

The Eternals 7
"The Fourth Host"
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

High amid the Andes Mountains, the Eternal Ajak and Dr. Daniel Damian bear witness to the doings of the Celestial Fourth Host, the visit to Earth that will determine its future. They witness the examination of capsules the space beings call "life-seeds," stored atoms of various life forms on our planet, to be studied. As if hearing Damian's amazement, the giant Gammenon passes Ajak one such capsule, which is the stored essence of the three SHIELD agents who have disappeared. It is the Celestial's wish that Ajak revive them, which he does. In true SHIELD form they demand to know everything Damain and Ajak do, to take the info back to Nick Fury. Ajak does relate to them the details of the first three Host visits over millions of years of Earth time, the third of which Ajak himself had been witness to. Of course the trio, Stevenson, Tyler and Parks, have to make a show of power, but when a nuclear bomb is tossed at Tefral, the closest Celestial, it is simply contained within his closed hand. The humans begin to get a sense of the power they face. What it does bring about is an awesome spectacle: the gathering of all the Fourth Host Celestials, who, in a communication with their craft orbiting the Earth (piloted by the One Above All), learn via a lightning-delivered message the reason for the Celestial visit. Fifty years; a long time, but perhaps not long enough for humanity to prove its worth. If they do, they will survive, if not, all will die! Instinct still drives the three to try and escape, only to be returned to the capsule of stored atoms again to wait out Earth's sentence. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I always wonder whenever an epic, universal-type being assumes it has the right to make a judgement of other races and thus determine their survival, why they wouldn't be above this? Of course, if they really did, I'd have nothing to say about it, so let's go with that. The business of Alpha Day is what the Celestials call their search for said worth. They are rather impressive to watch; the gathering of giants being an incredible sight, as is the nuclear bomb snuffed out by Tefral. Dr. Damian gets to live an archeologist's dream; sorry Harrison Ford, even Indy didn't get stuff as impressive as this (although he had a lot more fun). Now, how does Jack fit fifty years into twelve more issues and an annual? He's going have to be the King to pull it off!

Chris: Our SHIELD agents have all the dogged determination of a squad of Kamikaze Highlanders.  I don’t know whether I should be inspired – or deeply, deeply discouraged – by their single-mindedness.  Hey, Agent Stevenson – did you notice how Tefral shrugged off your pocket-sized nuke (good luck getting that thru customs!)?  Maybe your plan to run past him isn’t going to work, and you and your crew should take your time to think this thru, hmm?  Well, at least now you have fifty years to give it some consideration; shouldn’t be too bad.  After all, as Jack tells us, “stored atoms experience no discontent.”

Matthew: This issue provoked an interesting series of reactions.  First, I read on page 2 of the “rod” filled with “life seeds.”  Okay, Jack, whatever you say, babe.  From there through page 17, I found myself marveling, as it were, that this crazy book was actually starting to win me over, as it has our august Dean.  Then, in the last six pages, it happened: Kirby’s narration spiraled off into an incoherent frenzy beggaring anything of his I’ve seen before, reducing me to (per Python) howls of derisive laughter.  Mrs. Professor Matthew chanced to be within range, and I read them to her, leaving her equally dumbfounded.  Well, it’s all good clean fun, with the usual outsized Kirby and Royer spectacle, and nobody got hurt.  Per the intrepid S.H.I.E.L.D. agent, “I’m hip!”

Mark: Wherein Jack mostly squanders the momentum of the last couple months, as we go back "under the dome" for more graphically impressive if anonymous Celestials and Cosmic Day of Judgment palaver. 

Dr. Damian and Ajak host the STP SHIELD trio - Stevenson, Tyler, Parks - once they're reassembled from their handy reduced-to-atoms storage case. The Doc gets them up to speed on the Celestials tinkering with our ancestors, and the Space Gods' rather strict – "Wrath and Discipline!" – inspection tours thereafter. Having heard enough, STP springs into action, with Stevenson chucking a handheld "tactical nuclear device" at a SG.

"Remember to take cover," Parks says, sensibly. But Galactus-colored Tefral catches the bomb and smothers most of the blast in his hand. And yes, STP wind up back in their storage box.

Kirby's stories are going to kangaroo around, as the mood strikes, and it can be part of their idiosyncratic charm, when it's not annoying. This ain't a bad story, but there's no Deviants, no Ike, worst of all, no Sersi, and even STP never mention the Deviant attack on New York that prompted their mission, missing a chance – say for a new reader just picking up the book – to tie these under dome doings to other plot lines.

We're threatened again with "Alpha Day" fifty years! 

Close on a Kirb-O-Vision splash of Arishem, He of the Big Red Judgmental Thumb, and the eyeballs practically vibrate. 
Jack's moving beyond what writer Charles Hatfield called the "Technological Sublime," into almost flagrant Machine-o porn. 

"Hey, don't come in here!  I'm readin' The Eternals!"

The Incredible Hulk 207
"Alone Against the Defenders!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dave Cockrum and John Romita

After laying waste to half of Manhattan, The Incredible Hulk faces his comrades, the Defenders, who have arrived to put a stop to the green goliath's rampage. After several pages of MARMIS, the Defenders finally decide to ask the Hulk what's bothering him but, too late, the big guy doesn't want to be friends today. Several more blocks (and an expressway) are dismantled before peace is declared and the Hulk explains to Doctor Strange that he only wanted the master of mystic arts to save his precious Jarella, even now succumbing to injuries (received back in #205). Strange agrees to project himself astrally to Gamma Base and get the 411 on the pretty green gal. Alas, when the Doc gets there, he finds that Jarella has already passed on. When Strange returns to his body and breaks the news to the Hulk, the big guy destroys Strange's best furniture and knickknacks before breaking down and crying on Valkyrie's shoulder. When the sobbing ends, he exits the building, telling the Defenders there's nothing for him to live for.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Gerry Conway caught pure hell (and received death threats, if he's to be believed) for breaking sweet Gwen Stacy's neck in Amazing Spider-Man #121, but I don't recall a similar outcry aimed at Len Wein after this bizarre issue. That may well be because Jarella wasn't a continuing support character but, rather, a distraction who'd pop up every twenty issues or so before being sucked back into the molecular void. Peter Parker had babes all around him and you knew the guy would somehow get over Gwendy eventually. Who will ever love the green goliath like Jarella? She-Hulk? Brienne of Tarth? One of the Kardashians? And the way the green gal is dispatched, almost off-screen, is almost anticlimactic (but I guess it beats the obligatory "closing monologue"). As Prof. Matthew mentions below, Hulk and Val's cry-off is deeply moving. I do miss Herb quite a bit.

Matthew:  Not that it took me by surprise, as it’s been burned into my brain for nigh on forty years, but that last-page scene of the Hulk dissolving into tears in Val’s arms briefly had the same effect on this old softie.  This is an interesting issue in context, because although Sal left Defenders at the same time Gerber was forced off the book, he gets to draw them again both here (albeit inked by Joe instead) and in the concurrent Howard the Duck treasury edition.  Not only that, but in this case, he and the non-team are also reunited with erstwhile Defenders scribe Len, who provides Greenskin with some necessary, and dramatically satisfying, closure after the death of Jarella; capturing these many moods, Buscema again proves Trimpe’s worthy successor.

Chris: Okay, I can excuse a bit of Hulk vs Defenders in the early going.  But when the team returns for round two (in the person of Nighthawk), it’s really hard to excuse.  After all, if you want to reason with someone, and convince that person that you’re on his side, I don’t think swatting him in the head with a garbage can lid is the way to go.  This segment could’ve been handled more effectively if Kyle had simply placed himself between the young woman’s head and the green goliath’s fist, and then challenged the Hulk to proceed to strike her (after she – in Hulk’s mind, at least – seemingly had duped Hulk into thinking she was Jarella made whole).  Granted, I’m calling for the old reliable “If you want her, well, you gotta go thru me first, buster!” routine; but in this instance, it’d be the right way to (possibly) stop Hulk in his tracks, so he could recognize that Bird-Nose is not trying to hurt him, and simply wants to prevent Hulk from hurting Girl (i.e. would-be Jarella).  

Nice moment, toward the end, when Doc doesn’t fret about the damage to his home, as he states that it’s more important for the Hulk – his friend – to express his grief (p 30).  I’ve already credited Sal + Joe for the way they depict the Many Moods of the Man-Monster, but p 31 really says it all, especially the subtly-shadowed, emptied-out look on his face in pnl 4.
Lastly, as Hulk walks out and slams the door behind him, I want to mention how we’re already in some sort of parallel universe, or sideways dimension.  Last month, in the pages of Defenders #42, Doc had referred to their fight with the Hulk as recently-concluded, even though it hadn’t happened yet in this title.  Now that Hulk is leaving, how will he also be available to pitch-in for the Defenders’ fight against Egghead and his cronies in Defenders #42-43 -?  So much for continuity.  

Crusty and dusty old Professor Gilbert
has some teaching to do this Sunday
on the Super Giant Gargantuan Absolutely Final Issue of
Unknown Worlds of Science Fiction
Be Here Sunday for Some Educatin'


  1. Once again Howard the Duck gets my vote as best mag of this batch, and I don't think it was inappropriate for Gerber to satirize the assassination madness -- this wasn't Donald Duck, after all, and reading it as a 14 year old in 1976 didn't scar me for life. I appreciate that Gerber made fun of some of the really dark stuff of reality rather than engage in pure escapist fantasy. My family actually lived in San Francisco (on Treasure Island, to be exact) the year that two assassination attempts were made on Gerald Ford in 1975, and we were in Japan in 1968, when MLK & RFK were murdered (while I was still 5 years old) and I didn't become aware of them until maybe by the time I was 12. I think part of Gerber's humor in HTD was trying to laugh at harsh realities as a means of dealing with them psychologically. If Ford had been assassinated in 1975, the satire in HTD #8 might not have gone over so well, but in truth the attempts failed and seemed so absurd as to be farcical echoes of the tragedies of the previous decade.
    Otherwise, my other fave of this batch was the FF vs. FF and the Brute Reed fooling everyone into believing he was the good Reed. Hmm, and this was the 2nd time in his run that Roy used an alternate Reed in a storyline, to more riveting effect this time, IMO.

  2. "a trumped-up sex scandal"

    Welcome to 2016, write-up!
    See anything about an Angry Yam? Sounds like Angry Yam
    could be Gerber's satirical character of choice this election season, were he still around.

    That Hulk story I sometimes see cited as a favorite Defenders story of the era, too. I agree with the suggestion about Nighthawk's approach; too often these super-people are as busy being brawlers as they doing anything heroic.

    Meanwhile, the Defenders issue in question was a bit of a come-down to me after Gerber, even as I'm sure it was a relief to someone longing for a more typical super-heroic outing. Your discussion may have bumped it up a notch in my estimation- works better when not read directly after the run before, too.

    That's some jaw-dropping machine-o porn there, King Jack.

    I'd love to stop off and read the FF storyline presented here. Some early Howard The Duck issues are holding my interest at present- I'm on #6 now.