Wednesday, October 14, 2015

January 1977 Part Two: That's Ms. Marvel to You!

 Ms. Marvel 1
"This Woman, This Warrior!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Carla Conway
Art by John Buscema, Joe Sinnott, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Dick Giordano

An unknown heroine, her costume a variant on Captain Marvel’s, foils five bank robbers with her super-strength, power of flight, and “seventh sense” (whither #6?), but they were decoys hired by the Scorpion, who escapes with $200,000 as the woman avoids police questioning.  Later, in the Daily Bugle Building, freelance writer Carol Danvers is hired by J. Jonah Jameson as the inaugural editor of Woman magazine, holding out for a $30,000 salary and refusing to cover diets or recipes.  As she makes the acquaintance of Mary Jane Watson—a fan of her work—and Peter Parker, the Scorpion uses the cash to buy a booby-trapped Brooklyn Bay Shore brownstone and its lab from Prof. Kerwin Korman, a weapons-maker for Hydra and its ilk.

In her Central Park penthouse, paid for with royalties from a book on the space industry, Carol tells M.J. that (since Captain Marvel #40) her inability to capture Mar-Vell ended her career as Cape Kennedy security chief, but a migraine cuts the visit short, and Carol blacks out.  Seeking revenge for being turned into a freak, the Scorpion kidnaps JJJ, and after meeting Joe Robertson at the Bugle, the nameless heroine “pick[s] up the necessary vibrations” to sense his location, where he is suspended over acid.  Although distracted by her amnesia and inexplicable knowledge that her powers come from the Kree, she evades the death-traps, knocks the Scorpion into the vat, rescues JJJ, and dubs herself Ms. Marvel, leaving Carol to ponder these mysteries... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Launching his second new title in as many months, with “more than a little aid and abetment” from sometime Marvel writer and then-wife Carla, née Joseph, Conway does his bit for what was then called “women’s liberation” and extends the Mar-Vell franchise he fleetingly oversees, repurposing an existing character à la (wait for it) Tony Isabella.  As with Nova—also ballyhooed as “in the [fill in the blank] tradition of Spider-Man!”—they wisely have the artistic dream team of Buscema and Sinnott get the newcomer off the ground, as it were.  In this case, the book devolves from Big John to Jim Mooney after the third issue, in which Chris Claremont comes  aboard for the rest of the run, once Gerry has belatedly begun her “secret origin” in #2.

The use of Spidey’s supporting cast and villain confirms that, as forecasted in the lettercol of CM #47, Gerry is tying Ms. M. as closely to his world as to that of her Kree namesake, but whether that outlasts his tenure, I can’t recall.  His “Ms. Prints” (nice) editorial essay discusses the strip’s unusual aspects, its prehistory before his “rearrival at Marvel,” what he brought to the table, and why it’s being written by a man, citing, most notably, an absence of “thoroughly trained and qualified women writers working in the super-hero comics field.”  The feminist stuff is a little heavy-handed (“Mommy, I’ve never seen a woman like that…When I grow up—I wanna be just like her!”), and her costume will undergo some welcome evolution, but we’re off to a solid start.

Scott: Well, you can’t go wrong with art by a Buscema brother and Joe Sinnott. The book looks amazing. Hedging their bets, they saddle Ms. Marvel with Peter Parker’s cast and villains, giving her an immediate place among Marvel’s most successful heroes. Is this the first time we’ve been told the Scorpion’s costume doesn’t come off? It always had before and later on, it will come off again. However, even the narration calls it “grafted on.” Also, I can’t believe anyone was at all taken in by the mystery of Carol Danvers vs Ms. Marvel. Carol has weird blackouts and Ms. Marvel doesn’t know her own name. If the obviousness of this was intentional, it’s kind of a narrative waste. And while I do understand the urge to put her in the mainstream immediately, Carol isn’t given her own supporting cast here; it’s all Spider-Man’s. Weirdly, Peter Parker has only a cameo, as if they couldn’t afford to have him do anything other than a walk-on. I wouldn’t call this a resounding success, but a decent start. It just feels strange to have what is, for all intents and purposes, a Spider-Man comic with Ms. Marvel as the central character. 

Chris Blake: It’s unusual to have a premiere appearance for a character and have little more than a hint of his/her origin; but, it’s truly unique for the character to not know whether she has a secret identity.  So, right from the start, Gerry tells us this is not a typical Marvel hero. We’re intrigued to ask: What triggers the blackouts? Under what circumstances could Carol have received these powers, without remembering how this happened? How long until Carol connects the dots, and recognizes who she is? What’s a “seventh sense,” and how does it work?  How does an author possibly make enough money on the sale of one bestselling (nonfiction) book that she can afford a penthouse apartment – in any city, let alone New York?  I like the amnesia angle, for as long as it lasts, especially when Gerry sprinkles in little hints of Ms Marvel recognizing places and things that Carol had experienced; still, the idea that Ms M would choose to discuss this memory-block while she’s mid-battle with the Scorpion is a bit silly.  

Gerry (who credits his wife Carla with an assist on the first page, but then doesn’t even mention her name in his full-page epistle) has Carol insist to Jonah that Woman magazine will be different, since it will feature no diets, no recipes, and no fashion; well, isn’t it too bad that you could look at a woman’s magazine today – forty years later – and see that this sort of writing still typifies many publications directed at this audience . . .?

The Invaders 12
"To the Warsaw Ghetto"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Reviewing recent events during a head-clearing spin among the barrage balloons, the Torch mulls over Gold’s cryptic warning, and a visit to the Tower of London’s latest prisoner confirms his theory.  The professor,  Goldstein, saw the handwriting on the wall and fled Warsaw’s ghetto for the West, but his younger brother, Jacob, refused to join him, and the Nazis threatened to kill the aspiring geologist if Gold did not turn traitor.  He agrees to resume working for the Allies if and when Jacob is safely out of Poland, so the Torch suggests that he and Cap “shelve the personal stuff” (i.e., a romantic intra-team triangle) since “it is time the Invaders once more earned their name—by attacking the Nazis on their home ground!” as Namor puts it.

Having created a costume, practiced in secret, and dubbed herself Spitfire, Jacqueline announces herself ready to replace her father, and the tables are turned as Lord Falsworth now worries over her safety, but she points out that although she lacks Namor’s strength or stamina, the speed that makes “the very air [catch] fire behind her” can compensate. Namor's supersonic flagship takes them to Warsaw, where they forestall the harassment of a Jewish girl and locate Jacob in his bookshop but cannot persuade him to resist or to leave his studies.  He says that the days of the Golem are gone, yet after German soldiers threaten his people and force the Invaders to surrender, knocking them out with a gas grenade and capturing them, he vows to fight back, “and so the die is cast!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In retrospect, the idea of reviving the quintessential Jewish champion, the Golem, to battle the Nazis feels like such an utter no-brainer that it was quite a shock when I realized I, for one, had never seen anybody but Roy do it, that I could recall.  Perhaps inevitable in a wartime book, his treatment of the so-called “Jewish question” seems, at least initially, to be both respectful and tasteful in this transitional issue, which provides a bridge betwixt arcs as well as Spitfire’s formal debut.  Meanwhile, in case anyone thinks that I’ve become totally immune to the vagaries of the Robbins/Springer artwork, I’ll point out the extreme-yoga contortions of Namor (left... and how about that leg muscle?!-PastePot) and the Torch (page 6, panel 4), and the Warder’s Little Orphan Annie eyes in page 7, panel 2.

Chris: So, in those days, the Warsaw Ghetto has what, a million, two million people maybe?  And the Invaders, they’re there to find one person (holding up my right index finger) – one person!  And they find him in, what, about two seconds – two (holding up two fingers on right hand)!  So . . . (shrug left shoulder, raise left palm), so I ask myself, we suspend disbelief, for this?  And then I realize – Roy, he has been excellent, excellent (hold up right hand, fingers open)!  He has done wonderful things!  So I say to you, Roy, for you – for you (slapping both palms on knees)!  We suspend this disbelief – we do (slight nod)! 

The artistic mystery this month involves the brothers Goldstein, one of whom – our rock-and-hard-place reluctant villain John (his name is John -?) Gold has visibly aged since the scholarly days of his youth, which Jacob Goldstein appears merely to be a taller version of the boy depicted on p 10.

So, the Golem returns next issue, hmm?  Did Marvel have a contractual obligation to present him a certain number of times in print, which had been left unfulfilled from his brief run in Strange Tales, and was unsatisfied by his one-shot in MTIO?  Well, if so, the sight of the Golem flinging some Nazis around should be quite satisfying.  

Matthew:  You bring up an interesting point about "John Gold."  I read somewhere (probably on the MCDb) that he also changed his first name, originally Johann, which seems logical, but I have yet to confirm that with primary sources, which is why I omitted it from my synopsis.  Also, as this Golem's origin next issue will make clearer, there is no overt connection between him (it?) and the Strange Tales one.  So perhaps we should call him a Golem, as in Lancelot's "Well, I got a note."

 The Invincible Iron Man 94
"Frenzy at Fifty Fathoms"
Story by Herb Trimpe and Gerry Conway
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jack Abel
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Al Milgrom

Compelling compliance with a device inflicting pain in Krissy and Abe, Kraken shows off his “undersea empire,” where he brainwashes captive crews into a pirate navy, as Iron Man notes his physical changes (e.g., robot fist, electro-sword, facial scar) and apparent madness since facing the Cat.  Planning to have Stark—whose i.d. he has deduced—produce weapons for him, Kraken has him doff his armor and dumps an unconscious Tony topside, where telltale mud on his borrowed boots enables a helpful local to identify the cave.  Tony sneaks in, retrieves his armor, gets a boost from a miniature power cartridge he’d palmed, frees his friends, and defeats Kraken, seemingly drowned amidst the resulting destruction…but glimpsed alive in the epilogue. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Since his last formal appearance in The Cat #3 (April 1973), Kraken was identified in Daredevil #121 (May 1975) as Hydra’s division chief for “naval action,” but never actually depicted as such, and Hydra is not invoked in his resurgence here, which will be followed by a dry spell of almost ten years, reappearing only to be slain by Scourge in Captain America #319 (July 1986).  He’s been so thoroughly revamped that one wonders why artist/plotter Trimpe didn’t simply invent a new character, and as inked by Abel—also billed as “goodfellow” this time—he looks pretty damned cartoony.  Another drawback is how relentlessly Conway’s script hammers away at Iron Man’s inexplicable infirmity, harkening back to the bad old days of his cardiac problems.

Logan's Run 1
"Part One"
Story Adaptation by Gerry Conway
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Al Milgrom

In the 23rd century, under the domes of the great futuristic City, a population of young people lives a carefree life of ease and luxury. Every desire is satiated, and every day is filled with pleasure.

There’s just one catch…

A lone man runs for his life. Leaving the maze car, the runner is confident he has eluded his pursuer.  That he actually has a chance to reach Sanctuary. He’s wrong. The hunter is a Sandman, a special police officer whose only job is to track down and eliminate runners – those misguided souls who insist on avoiding Last Day to live past 30. The runner turns, pleads for his life, pleas that fall on deaf ears. The Sandman levels his laser at the runner and fires. Had he not run, he may have renewed. Everyone who enters Carousel has the same chance: reincarnation. New life. Now the deluded soul is simply dead. Forever.

At that moment, Sandman Logan 5 is visiting Nursery, wondering if any of the newborns are of his bloodline. His closest friend and partner, Francis 7, joins him, dragging him from his musings, hoping they can make it to Carousel on time. Logan, who like all Sandmen, has trained for his vocation all his life, still has nagging doubts about renewal. Even as he watches the latest batch of 30 year olds, those whose glowing, palm-embedded life clocks have begun to blink, volunteer to be extinguished in the fiery ceremony. Francis, conversely, is completely secure in the belief that for every death in Carousel, there is a birth; one for one. The discussion is drowned out by the enthusiastic crowds. In the midst of the ceremony, Logan’s comm receives a blip; a runner is using the ceremony as cover. Logan slips out to deal with it and finds the runner in short order. The chase begins as Logan playfully shoots, intentionally missing to lend spice to the pursuit. Francis joins and both toy with the man until they finally, mercifully, bring the runner’s life to a violent end. As Logan calls for clean up, he checks the man’s identity. The face doesn’t match. Confirmation shows the runner had a face job done at a New You shop. He confiscates the runner’s personal effects, including a strange ornament. The clean up unit arrives and dissolves the body before the ceremony lets out.

That evening, Logan is home, relaxing, and searching the transport circuit for companionship. Before long, a beautiful young woman steps out. Her name is Jessica 6, and she is wearing around her neck the same ornament Logan found on the runner. She is sad over losing a friend to Carousel, as she believes people are killed outright rather than renewed. She knows Logan is a Sandman and voices her less than flattering opinion of his profession. Logan explains that he only terminates those who try to avoid Last Day and asks to look at Jessica’s life clock. It’s green and she goes to red next week; she’s still only 20. He laughs that she has years ahead of her. Since she’s not in the mood for sex, he kisses her politely and sends her on her way.

The next morning, Logan and Francis arrive at Sandman HQ to debrief over the previous night’s activities. Francis’ session goes as normal, while Logan watches a run at the main console. Francis comes out of the chamber, they arrange to meet at the sauna after Logan is finished. Logan places the runner’s property on the scanner. Computer is strangely quiet, ordering Logan to approach and sit in the lone chair by the screen. Logan is non-plussed, this has never happened before. He is then told what the ornament is: an Ankh, a symbol of Sanctuary. Sanctuary is the destination of all runners. Logan is then told the shocking truth: 1,056 people are unaccounted for. That many runners have avoided Last Day and escaped the city. Logan’s assignment is to go undercover as a runner, find Sanctuary, terminate all runners and destroy their refuge. He is to tell no one of this. Logan questions the logic of this, as he is still 26 years old. His life clock is still four years from blinking. Computer responds by resetting his clock. It’s blinking! When Logan asks if he’ll get those years back, there is only silence. He takes the Ankh and runs. Runs for his very life. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Logan’s Run was an immediate hit in theaters, a huge film that all of my friends in grade school saw. We played Logan’s Run in the field at recess. For a full year, this movie was the ultimate in science fiction. It spawned an extremely short-lived TV series (which I watched every single week), and produced a soundtrack record that launched my passion for film scores, especially the wonderful work by composer Jerry Goldsmith. This film was the be-all, end-all of sci-fi films for my generation. Until the following summer, when Star Wars immediately knocked Logan’s Run back to the stone age. However, for that year, Logan ran. The comic book was an early purchase for me. I still have every issue of this too short series. It is, frankly, one of the best movie adaptations Marvel did during this time. Initially slated for four issues, it would stretch to five and went into greater detail than the film, even including deleted scenes such as the prologue. Star Wars, while a vastly more popular film and franchise, got a lesser quality adaptation from Marvel. The art was sloppy and inconsistent. Here, George Perez and Klaus Janson do amazing work. None of it feels rushed. Of course, due to licensing, none of the characters really look like their cinematic counterparts. Logan looks nothing like Michael York, who has straighter hair and a much more slender build. The Jessica here looks less like Jenny Agutter and more like Heather Menzies, who played the character on the TV series (which had not premiered yet). However, none of this matters, it’s the story that holds interest.

Like most comic adaptations, the dialog and pictures are overly dramatic. Gerry Conway spells out things the film didn’t make as obvious. The sex is downplayed, of course, for the younger audience. The film had a very shocking, for today, sexual frankness. PG-rated films were quite different then. The emphasis here will be on the chase and less on the “free love” of the City’s populace. What does work is the greater space this adaptation is given. Time is spent exploring Logan’s thoughts and motivations. Things glossed over or abbreviated in a two-hour film are given room to breathe here. It opens up the characters well and gives us a feel for them, their lives and their society.

George Perez’s pencils are perfect for this title. Flashy without being too overdone. Stylized and simple, but still in the realm of the comic book genre. It’s more “Marvelized” than his other work. Klaus Janson’s inks have never looked better. No muddy smears here, the lines are clear and filled with depth. I am up for a run with Logan, as short as it will be.

Matthew:  .......mmmmmmmm...............Jenny Agutter...............

Chris: I don't recall much about this movie.  I think of: big, austere sets; exterior shots of fake-looking domes; a few sparkly, fizzy explosions; an awkward, clunky Box. This isn't one of those movies that required repeated screenings for me; it also wasn't a late-night cable staple, so I would hardly even have seen it by accident.  The premise has always stuck with me, though: eternal youth – at a price! 

Chris: Gerry does an admirable job of capturing the internal logic, as we see these societal norms have become deep-seated and unquestionable.  The perceived folly of running allows for the bloodless dispatch of runners; thoughtless acceptance of your crystal going black is reinforced by blind faith in the sham of Carousel; why would you ever want to leave the City? ("Hm - it's only a model," says Sir Percy.)

Janson is an interesting choice to pair with Pérez. The art team seems to purposely try to give the setting a different look than the movie itself.  Instead of the too-bright 1960s-vintage sound-stage look (as I dimly recall), the City as depicted here has shadows, and darker textures.  I also like how Pérez doesn't bother to pattern his Logan after Michael York.  The adaptation, in its own minor ways, instead emerges as an interpretation of the movie.  Best of all, with five issues to work through, there's plenty of time and space to take the movie's framework and, well, run with it. 

Master of Kung Fu 48
"Part IV (Black Jack Tarr) 
City in the Top of the World"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy, Jack Abel, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Denise Wohl, and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Marie Severin and Dave Cockrum

 Black Jack Tarr (now recovered from the bomb-blast at MI-6 a few issues back) is dropped off at the North Pole, near the site of Larner and Reston’s crash.  He meets Larner, who is minding Fah Lo Suee, the daughter of Fu Manchu.  Fah informs the two agents of Fu’s plan, perhaps his most diabolical ever: he intends to set off a series of nuclear blasts on the moon, in order to dislodge the satellite from its orbit.  The resulting disruption to global tides would cause widespread tsunami, crippling the heavily-populated cities that border the seas, and decimating world population; Fu then would descend from his mountain-enclosed city at the Pole, take control of the scattered survivors (the majority of whom would still be living on China’s immense landmass), and restore the glory of Old China.  Meanwhile, Shang-Chi, Leiko, and Reston are inside Fu’s mountain, seeking a path to Fu’s fortress.  Fu gathers his followers, and presents his resurrected ancestor, Shaka Kharn, who takes his place as Fu’s “new son.”  Black Jack catches up to S-C’s group, moments before they are attacked by Fu’s soldiers.  The four split up, as S-C and BJT go left, Leiko and Reston to the right, both pairs drawing swarms of armed men.  Tarr observes as S-C mercilessly takes out the attackers, with “more flint an’ fire in him now” than Tarr can recall seeing before; S-C addresses the squad, declaring that they will not impede his efforts to reach the causeway that will bring him face-to-face with Fu.  Tarr is witness as S-C reaches his goal, and is not confronted by Fu, but rather the armor-clad, sword-bearing figure of Shaka Kharn. -Chris Blake

Chris: Last issue, we saw how Leiko has come to admire, and rely on, the strength of Shang-Chi.  This time, Tarr provides the running commentary, via a one-way radio microphone installed in his suit prior to his departure from London.  Tarr has always known of S-C’s daring and fighting prowess, but this time, his observations reflect a newfound respect for S-C’s speed and determination, as he works tirelessly to reach the heart of Fu’s HQ.  I find it strange that Tarr is depicted as trailing S-C, and not fighting by his side; I suppose that Doug & Paul didn’t want anything to distract from Chi’s impressive solo effort.  Plus, the confrontation with Shaka Kharn is for S-C alone, without help of his allies.  

The attention to Tarr’s perspective means we don’t have an update on happenings back in London, regarding both the restoration of Petrie’s mind, and also the intrigue of Ducharme’s double-agency.  The teaser-box on the bottom of the last page promises that next time will feature Sir Denis’ turn as our storyteller; does that mean Doug & Paul will require us to wait until MoKF #50 before we witness the battle with Shaka Kharn -?  Guys, I’m not sure that’s fair -!

Gulacy (now nearing the end of his run on this title) presents more S-C spotlight kung-fu action than we’ve seen in recent issues, with nearly five pages of hand-to-hand combat (p 22-30).  He delivers on the larger-scale stuff as well in the visuals of Fu’s mountain city, with full-page illustrations on p 3 and p 15; p 3 is offset by a series of small, wordless panels on p 2, depicting S-C & Co as they surreptitiously infiltrate the fortress.  One last impressive full-pager, as Shaka Kharn faces down Fu’s former son (p 31).  

Mark: After a middlin' last installment, Moench and Gulacy crank the amps to 11, leaving the hot 'n' bothered reader yelping in last page pleasure and/or howling in despair over thirty days in purgatory before the next issue hits the stands.

The "City in the Top of the World" (and inside a mountain) belongs, of course, to Fu Manchu. Having raised his warlord ancestor from the dead then rechristened him new Number One Son (Shang-Chi having been disowned), the inscrutable Fu, pulp fiction's original "Yellow Peril" prototype, aims for villainous new heights. Literally. Nuke the Moon out of orbit, drown 90% of the earth then rule the survivors and "embrace the glory of old China!" 

Imagine a sandal stamping on a human face - forever.

Thankfully we're not there yet, although Moench and Gulacy have me worried. It may make the month-long wait more bearable when you consider it could be our last...

Marvel Team-Up Annual 1
Spider-Man and The X-Men in
"The Lords of Light and Darkness!"
Story by Chris Claremont, Bonnie Wilford, and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Jim Novak
Letters by Hugh Paley
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Pahute Mesa, Nevada, September 1975:  Senate special-projects investigator Stephen Marchesi is welcomed to the Nest, a top-secret government site, by Rakks, robot guardians named after Rakshasas, the Hindu demon-guardians of hell.  His human hosts are, for the record, Brian Mann, nuclear physicist and administrator; bio-physicist Vic Norman; electrical engineer and Rakk creator Jan Maarshall; Marchesi’s ex-wife, geologist Karen Lee; astronomer Si Fan (!) Chung; radiation expert Martin Aaronson; project overseer Randy Tate; and Indian scientist Araman Nila, who can irradiate common minerals.  But that all becomes academic when an earthquake overloads the Nila Pile and, per Marchesi’s narration, “I’m dead.”

Later, in his capacities as reporter (sic) and aspiring physicist, Peter is covering an international conference on man-made mutation, held aboard an airborne Boeing 747 and including, among others, Soviet scientist Mishkin and rabid Senator Turner of Skull the Slayer infamy.  Attending with his students—at the suggestion of Reed Richards, who could not—is Professor X, until the plane is jolted by a black cloud and attacked by Rakks.  Recognizing some of the mutants from prior encounters, and deducing that the rest are the new X-Men, Peter slips into the men’s room to change while Cyclops takes the controls, Storm and Banshee launch an aerial counter-attack, and the others repel Rakks; Spidey’s web drag-chute slows the plane enough for Scott to land it.

As Turner fumes about “muties,” Mishkin helpfully provides a radiation-detector and an untested anti-radiation spray, with which our octet investigates the slag-heap whence the robots came, but are soon felled by Yama, the death-god, and Kali, the black madness, who sense that Jean is “the one.”  Inside the mound, she is placed in her Phoenix uniform and the others imprisoned within a force field by the former Nest scientists, mutated by the radiation that killed Marchesi.  Because Nila was closest to the pile when it exploded, his mind was searched for memories, and they were reborn as “myths torn from Hindu mythology,” also including Brahma, the creator; Shiva, the destroyer; Vishnu, the preserver; Mara, the dreamer; Agni, lord of fire; and Ratri, the night.

Jean shields her awareness of the others, who free themselves after realizing that the field holds them according to each X-Man’s specific power, as the gods reveal that they are unstable and must tap Earth’s energy to transcend their current state, leaving the planet a dying husk.  They need Jean to bind and focus their energies, guarding them against molecular disruption, but when she refuses to join them, they are delayed by battle until dissolution—and Earth’s destruction—approaches.  Spidey suggests that they might be safely removed from the Earth, so the two groups link hands as their lifeforce flows through Jean as a mental projection, teleported by Kurt into the path of Scott’s eyebeams, and contained by Sean while Ororo acts as the cooling system. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: When they introduce nine new characters in the space of three pages you know you’re in trouble.  This basically botches Spidey’s historic meeting with the ANADX-Men, despite the involvement of mutant maestro Claremont (co-plotting with Bonnie Wilford, who had colored his titles since August, and scripter Mantlo), and the irony is that at 35 pages, it’s not too long, but too short, at least to achieve its goals.  Having tackled the Norse, Greco-Roman and—with Bill—Egyptian pantheons, they now dive into Hindu mythology, which entails eight more characters on page 37 alone, so there isn’t enough room to develop anyone properly; they should have made the human hosts anonymous, dispensing with Marchesi’s Sunset Blvd.-style “from beyond the grave” recap.

In Mantlo’s temporary reunion with the Buscemosito team, Sal appears to have a better handle than before on depicting Xavier, but while Storm is clearly a woman of color, I don’t think her color before she changes into costume—i.e., the same as her green dress—is what Hugh Paley (fortunately not Bonnie, for her sake) had in mind.  Even though Wolverine is frequently a pill, his unwarranted animosity toward Spidey, for whom both Nightcrawler and the original team can vouch, seems like lazy characterization.  And even by comic-book standards, the Rube Goldberg plan that Spidey and Scott whip up on the spot seems far-fetched, capped with the final explanation that Charles has conveniently wiped the incident from the minds of the passengers...

Joe: An enjoyable little (so to speak) romp, with Spider-Man and X-Men making a darned good team. I can't remember if I bought this long after the fact or when it came out, but I do remember reading it, especially the team of "villains" who really are just misunderstood former mortals. Nah, not really. Sal and Dave are on their game for sure, with some fine action scenes, including the dust-up on the plane, and the solution by the X-Men & Spidey to set off a pseudo-Rube Goldberg idea at the end. A pretty good month for the web-head!

Chris: I wasn’t looking forward to re-reading this issue; I’d only read it once, a few years back (it’s a more recent acquisition).  It’s better than I remember, due to Mantlo (plot-assisted by Claremont and his then-wife Bonnie Wilford; she also landed a few coloring assignments, primarily on Claremont-penned titles), who provides plenty of action, and ably incorporates all members of the team together with Spider-Man in the proceedings.  The conclusion reminds me of G-S X-M #1, as multiple team-members are employed to use their unique powers in-sequence to (somehow) produce the desired outcome.  

There are a few sequences that leave me wondering.  In the first chapter, Mantlo devotes a fair amount of time and attention to introducing the principal researchers of the Nest, including visitor Stephen Marchesi, and providing some backstory (eg: Marchesi was married to a Nest-staffer, who now has hooked up with a present member of the staff, etc).  I’m thinking, “So, the internal dynamics that Mantlo introduced will figure in the outcome of the story, right?”   Well, no – by page 7 (page 5 of the story), these people are blown up in an accident, and never appear again as these personas.  So, what was the point of all of that?

Next, would someone please tell me why no one talked Bill & Co out of the screamingly laughable idea of a week-long in-flight conference?  Ever hear of a cruise ship, Bill?  A mountain retreat, maybe?  Anyway, we had to have a mid-air disaster (all the rage in the 1970s, right?  Verite, au courant), and Mantlo’s tone is all over the place throughout the segment.   The plane requires over five pages to complete its crash, which gives us plenty of time to see: a casual, pleasant conversation between Prof X and Spidey (p 16); incongruous air-sickness hilarity (p 15); some uncharacteristic freaking-out by Scott (p 16); and, patient, careful analysis by multiple team-members in the 0.8 seconds required for a “rakk” to sail thru the passenger cabin (p 17).  

Chris: Jean zaps a “mindblast” at the rakk, which barely slows it down, prompting me to wonder when this story took place (since Phoenix power should’ve stopped it dead).  Later on, Kurt refers to his previous meeting with Spidey in ASM #162, which also means we’re post the arrival of Phoenix in X-M #101; and, Jean later appears in Phoenix garb.  So, why no manifestation of her Phoenix-level powers -?

The art highlight is the cover; as much as we all enjoy Sal B, and as much as people appreciate Espo’s inks on ASM, the art here, while adequate, seems a bit weak and thin to me.  It could be that I’ve already grown accustomed to the energy and detail Cockrum brings to every issue of X-Men, so any other depiction of this team has potential to be a let-down.  It’s not like Cockrum could’ve found time to pencil a double-sized annual, but what if he’d finished Sal’s layouts – hearkening to Cockrum’s embellishments on some of the Giant-Size Avengers, you know?  Well, it’s a thought.  

Matthew:  An excellent analysis.  Bravo.

Marvel Team-Up 53
Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk in
"Nightmare in New Mexico"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and John Romita

The Hulk decides—despite its funny smell and curious desertion—that Liberty, New Mexico, is his town, yet when dutifully trying to clean up, he first stumbles upon a corpse and then is attacked by Woodgod.  The “goat-man” believes that Hulk brings “scream” (explained in the lettercol as “an animalistic, pathological side that would take over in moments of anger/tension/rage”), which killed his parents.  Meanwhile, after the events of MTU Annual #1, Spidey has accepted a ride home aboard the X-Shuttle, “psycho-kinetically summoned” by Jean, when they are fired upon over the restricted area by “floaters,” two-man hovercraft whose commander, Major Del Tremens, reminds the men, “Anything alive in Liberty—is the enemy!!”

Surviving the missiles, they intercept a satellite transmission of the Hulk confronting Woodgod, and Banshee agrees to fly Spidey—who senses both danger to Banner and a hot news story—to Liberty before rejoining the X-Men.  Already subject to inexplicable weakness, the Hulk reverts to Banner when the truck he is hefting brushes a high-tension wire, and Spidey arrives to find Woodgod battling the floaters.  Learning of the nerve gas, he realizes that Dr. Mishkin’s mist has protected him, but as Woodgod attacks him, claiming to have killed Banner, Spidey begins to suspect that “the military boys are in the wrong,” while Banner revives and turns back into the Hulk, who remembers Spidey from prior meetings and vows to smash him instead of Woodgod. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This issue begins a round-robin featuring every combination of writers Mantlo and Claremont with artists Buscema and Byrne, before the mag finally stabilizes as the latest vehicle for the Lennon/McCartney—uh, Claremont/Byrne dream team in #59.  It was with trepidation that I revisited this two-parter (of which I had fond memories) after the disappointing annual (of which I had virtually none, making me wonder if it were a retroactive purchase).  Yet whether due to the infusion of fresh blood by John here, beautifully drawing what would become his signature super-heroes, or the too-many-cooks-and-characters plotting there, or simple nostalgia, or what, I’d trade that two-page shot of Spidey (above) on the hood of the X-Shuttle for all 35 pages of the annual.

It’s ironic that I prefer this story so strongly to the annual—hilariously, albeit fairly, pilloried on SuperMegaMonkey—when it’s really Bill’s direct continuation as much as, if not more than, the nominal team-up with the Hulk (of whom he would write more than his share in the ’80s).  In fact, the latter is a total cheat, since Spidey’s and Greenskin’s parallel plotlines don’t fully coincide until the cliffhanger; not that I’m complaining, since we have next issue to catch up with him and Mantlo’s Marvel Premiere #31 creation, Woodgod.  Although I’m not used to seeing it so subdued by Giacoia’s firm hand, Byrne’s work remains excellent, and in kicking off this triple-play by Bill and John he has obviously warmed up to his mutant subjects immediately.

Chris: Plenty of action; with this cast, I have to wonder who’s more of a wild-card, the Hulk or Woodgod?  The poisonous purple dust seems to have enraged the Hulk further (hard to do!); the fact that Spidey was recently exposed to an anti-radiation mist shouldn’t explain why he’s immune to the airborne poison, though.  Apples and oranges.

I had forgotten that Byrne’s first work with both Spidey and the X-Men was in this same issue (unless I’m forgetting something).  The two-page spread of the heretofore unheard-of “X-shuttle” (I bet Xavier is wishing now he’d sprung for the extra dough to equip the thing with a roof, right?) is awfully nice.  

Chris: This is the first of seventeen MTUs featuring Byrne’s pencils, which I imagine would rank him behind Sal Buscema for second-most credits on this title (in the Bronze era, at least).  We’re not off to as strong as start as we might’ve been, though; Giacoia is an unfortunate pairing as inker, as many of the faces appear flat and unnatural (I mean, look at Banshee on p 15, pnl 2).  Plus, it’s impossible for me to look at the art, and not recognize how much better Byrne’s art should look.  We don’t even have to look ahead to his run on X-Men; we only have to consider every issue Byrne has penciled of Iron Fist.  

Joe: From the first excellently drawn page, what's not to like about this ish? It's not every day that Hulk looks like a young Walter Matthau, like on page 2, panel 3. And let's not forget the witty banter of Hulk and Woodgod, pronouns be damned, as the two get to compare how much they each hate "man" or "puny humans", whichever you prefer. Byrne (my second favorite artist) gets to draw the X-Men in a small preview of what's to come in the mutants' own title. Banshee admitting he's too old to carry Spidey that far is a nice touch, as is our hero remembering he has a day job, and thinks to take pics of the fracas in Liberty. (Of course, he doesn't.) Very well done and leaves us with a cool cliff-hanger and the promise of more Byrne.

Marvel Two-In-One 23
The Thing and The Mighty Thor in
"Death on the Bridge to Heaven!
Story by Bill Mantlo and Jim Shooter
Art by Ron Wilson, Marie Severin, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by John Costanza and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

As Johnny laments to Janice that keeping Tom stabilized prevents him from aiding Ben, Seth transports his foes to his chosen battleground, the golden paths of the gods where his half-brother, Horus, and Thor defeated him.  Their mother, Isis, and Seth’s stepfather, Osiris, helplessly watch Horus suspended over the Flames of Anubis; a mystic barrier prevents Thor from shattering his fetters, but when he saves Ben from Seth’s deathgaze, the furious villain summons the Devourer, having traded Horus’s life “for power beyond ken!”  The monster hates Horus most of all, for it was he who lured the Devourer into imprisonment in a mystic vault eons ago, yet in releasing him, Osiris observes, “perhaps our evil son has sealed his own fate as well.”

Sure enough, the Devourer turns on his supposed master, who “hath released total, unrepentant destruction upon the universe,” and even releasing Horus avails Seth nothing, for he cannot give back the power and vitality he stole.  With even the Asgardian felled by the Devourer, it’s up to Ben to save the day with a game of keep-away:  when he grabs Horus and plunges off the mystic bridge into the frigid void, the Devourer blindly follows, but Thor throws Mjolnir, which always returns to his hand, and by grabbing it on its way back, Ben is able to carry Horus and himself to safety.  Soon, he reappears at the hospital, with Thor nowhere to be seen, yet Dr. Blake soon follows to tend to Tom and reminds Ben, “There are some things better left to us mere mortals.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although he occasionally returns (e.g., keeping the Jack of Hearts in play in #48), Mantlo ends his largely unbroken run of a dozen issues with two on which he shares credit with Shooter, here respectively writing pages 1-6 and 7-31.  Looks like everybody needed some help on this one, since the pencils, again inked by Marcos, are attributed to Wilson “with an assist from Marie Severin,” not that you could prove it by me.  Having lurched from Depression-era Doc Savage to Egyptology, the Lightner trilogy—if one wishes to dignify such a haphazardly structured trio of stories, with Lightner Fils reduced to an afterthought—now does what may be the most unexpected thing of all:  it turns into an utterly conventional slug-fest against a one-shot monster.

Chris: If I notice that the comics-pages in my right hand are getting light, it isn’t a good sign if I ask aloud: “Uh, guys, you don’t plan to carry this over to another issue, are you -?”  I’m not saying this is a bad outing – there’s plenty of action – but the battle feels like professional wrestling, with a lot of “middle part,” as various parties bash each other around, but little development of the battle itself.  I will give Shooter credit (unless Mantlo had, in fact, plotted the whole issue, with Shooter only scripting pages 7-31) for foreshadowing the “Devourer” (what – have we run out of cool Egyptian names, already?) as a bringer of widespread trouble, and also for the twist of having Horus (or “Horace,” in Ben’s priceless thought of him) too weakened to be able to bring the Devourer to heel. 

Ben’s solution to the problem of the Devourer is clever, and selfless, but it leaves us with one glaring question: what is the final fate of the conflicted Egyptian family? We don’t hear another word from Seth after the first panel of p 26, at which point he reasserts himself as “Lord of Heliopolis;” as Ben and Thor prepare to depart on p 31, Horus observes “there is much to put in order here!” (pnl 5).  So, now Horus has sufficient strength to usurp Seth – but he hasn’t yet, has he?  Did Seth abdicate, off stage -?  

Nova 5
"Evil is the Earth-Shaker!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

At the drive-in watching King Kong, Richard is called out for being distracted by Ginger, then at home, he and Bernie are still looking for the missing Caps. Cut to Tyrannus, self-proclaimed "conqueror of the world called Earth," as he unleashes The Earth-Shaker machine, built by the minions he treats like total garbage. Hearing a news story on TV, Richard/Nova heads to Marvel Comics to try out for their new superhero comic, meeting this title's creators and putting on a demo of his powers in Central Park when Tyrannus and his Earth-Shaker break through the surface! Nova is scooped up (literally) by the marauding machine, and taken prisoner as Tyrannus begins to create caves above ground, using Nova's life-force to power the generator. But the fledgling hero begins to over-vibrate, breaking free, smartly tunneling around and forcing Tyrannus to give up. Alas, the next day Stan Lee shoots down Nova's attempt to become a comic book hero—in favor of Midas the Million Dollar Mouse?
 –Joe Tura

Joe: Looking at the cover, is this Nova vs. The Transformers? Nova vs. an Ultraman villain? Nah, it's Nova vs. The Earth-Shaker, which on paper sounds much worse. And it's controlled by egomaniac and youth elixir pitchman Tyrannus, which means it's even worse than it sounds. But there's much more to quibble about here. On page 3, first panel, is that a tube of toothpaste that Robert ruins or actually an entire case? Seriously, was that toothpaste or a fire extinguisher? It's little stupid things like this that can make a comic book worse, and so far in this title, things like that haven't actually happened until now. What's even stupider is on page 11 where Nova says "Marvel wants me? I can't believe it! I've loved them ever since they published 'It! The Living Colossus!'" Now what person in their right mind would ever think that to be true? Yeesh.

At least Nova name-drops both Godzilla and Megalon, but then again, calling the same creature two different names within three panels shows he has a lot of superheroin' to do (later he used Gorgo and Raideen, and Tony Orlando and Dawn. Wait, what?). The "try-out" with Marvel is completely absurd, but more interesting than Tyrannus' tirade. I will say it's always cool when they put in Verpoorten getting annoyed at something being late. Why, when he's in danger of having his life-force taken, is the first thing Nova worries about turn out to be "I haven't even seen my first x-rated movie yet"?  C'mon, Marv, that's a bit dopey, don't ya think? We'll chalk it up to you being stressed after you and Sal had to run from the Earth-Shaker. And the super-fast ending to the battle is a letdown when things were starting to pick up. All in all, this issue is like empty calories, more so than the first four issues.

I agree with Prof. Bradley's assessment of Palmer's inks below, as they seem heavier than usual, which is saying something. The King Kong on the drive-in movie screen on the splash page looks like a blob of ink, which is probably not what Sal B. intended. And there's lots of blacks everywhere, as if it was reproduced on a copier set on "mega-dark."

Matthew: Those who just can’t get enough meta-Marvel doubtless rejoiced at the dropping of the other shoe promised in FF #176, although instead of its luscious Perez artwork we get the pitiful wreckage of Buscema’s pencils, left smoldering at the side of the road by hit-and-run inker Palmer.  Between the tiresome self-depicted antics of Sal (“like in Bue-sema,” not “Bus-kema”) and Marv and the quasi-return of one of Marvel’s least compelling villains, I learned with great relief that we’d be back to business with the Condor et al. next time.  I did award points for Rich calling the Earth-Shaker “Megalon,” whom it actually resembles…then deducted them for the progressively less appropriate Raideen (sic), Gorgo, and—dude, seriously?—Mighty Joe Young.

Addendum: Wasn't even going to dignify the Tony Orlando reference by repeating it, so thank Professor Joe for taking one for the team.

Chris: Marv jumps up and shouts, “Me too!”  Well, sorry Marv, but the reason why FF #176 is so satisfying is due, in large part, to the rare occurrence of a story being presented that way; it’s innovative, imaginative, and highly amusing.  To present the same approach here, a scant two months later, makes your effort seem like a gimmick.  What makes this even harder to take is that Marv & Sal simply repeat some of the same elements as did Roy & George: Archie Goodwin walking around, trying to compose an amusing alliteration of his name; Jumbo John Verpoorten, harassing creative folk; the EIC door, with the long list of crossed-out names.  If you want to tag along, then at least come up with your own wrinkles to make it entertaining.  What’s next, Iron Man invades 575 Madison in Iron Man #88 (maybe it’s to harass the guy who put the nose-point on his mask, or possibly to thank the guy who filed it down.)?

(For a completely different take on this issue, I refer you to Peter Sanderson’s inspired letter, which appears in the lettercol for Nova #8 (and is reprinted at the end of this post-PastePot).  No, it’s not on the syllabus – consider it supplemental reading, for those inspired, self-starting students who are here to learn something, and not simply preoccupied by what might – or might not – appear on the final.)

For a second consecutive issue, the search for Caps is on hold until after everyone’s eaten; so I guess we shouldn’t worry about it too much, eh Marv?  Lastly, did anyone else notice that Marv used the dry-cleaner joke not once, but twice (p3 and p27)?  The writer who serves as his own editor strikes again.

Omega the Unknown 6
"A Tug of the Wrench!"
Story by Mary Skrenes and Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita and Dave Cockrum

Omega the Unknown must face off against a disturbed man with a really big wrench while James-Michael continues settling in to life as a teenage robot. The two threads intersect when The Wrench goes after Amber and J-M in a dark alley and Omega tries to intercede. The Wrench shoots the Unknown superhero, grazing him and putting him down for the count, and then turns his sight once again to the pretty redhead. It's then that James-Michael unleashes another of his palm blasts, saving the day but leaving several questions unanswered. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: The first and, perhaps, the most important question being: who read this tripe back in the day and enjoyed it? What eight year old, drawn in by the garish and misleading cover, could make sense of Skerber's purple prose:

Familiar words. Disorientation. As the fingers of nightmare peel away from his mind. Mother?

(T)he stench overwhelms him, overpowers his reason. For the chaos, the tumult raging all about the last of his superior breed could only be the product of the pain... and the passion... and the fire... to which he alone remains heir. It will end when he ends!

You can almost picture William Shatner bringing these staccato jabberings to life in a one-man off-Broadway play but is it conducive to guys in capes and spandex? Nope. Still another chapter (in a series that will end in only four more issues) that prods the story on not one bit nor do we have any more inkling than we did in the previous five as to the connection between robot James and The Unknown. As for "The Wrench," I guess he was easier to pass through the CCA than "The Plunger" but it's interesting that the guy himself is never actually referred to by that moniker (other than on that aforementioned cover). Is this a first in Marvel history, the absence of a full-page illo of the dope, fists clenched, teeth gritted, saying "...Today is the day of your doom for I am The Wrench!"?  I'm sure eventually Skerber will put two and two together and realize that James-Michael and The Wrench make the perfect team (first story title: "Nuts and Bolts!"), but maybe the Skerber twins need a vacation to sit on the beach and work on the plotting a little (comic book writers on a beach -- the mind boggles!)? Well, they'll get it and be back in time for #9. Hopefully, while the slightly deranged cats are away, the mice will play. Meanwhile, if I may play with the English language for a moment (I hear you say "But, Peter, isn't that what you've been doing all along?"), the art of Esposito and Mooney gets more genericer every issue. There's not one panel that shows enthusiasm or imagination here.

Matthew: The fact that two titanic talents like Romita and Cockrum could gin up such a hideous cover, probably rushing to meet a deadline, says something about this unusually disappointing issue, even by Omega standards.  And am I wrong, or is this the first, perhaps only, one where “Skreenes” is billed above Gerber—a dubious honor, misspelled as it is.  Sure, I often value stuff that is different and/or enigmatic, but to be different and/or enigmatic is not enough in and of itself, especially when Omega himself still has too little personality to be of much interest (aided not at all by the pedestrian Mooney/Esposito artwork), Skerber’s purple prose leaves the reader as bemused as ever, and the enigmas just spin on, still with no satisfying answers offered.

Luke Cage, Power Man 39
"Battle with the Baron"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Brown and Klaus Janson
Colors by Roger Slifer and Jim Shooter
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Ron Wilson and Jim Mooney

Luke Cage, Power Hero Man for Hire is about to level Big Brother and Cheshire Cat but the Brother insists he's not to blame for Cage's recent misfortunes. At first Cage thinks the man is a jiveass mofo but, after listening carefully to the facts, our hero is pickin' up what the Bro' is puttin' down. Big Brother insists the real crime mastermind behind Chemistro is a nut who dresses in armor and calls himself The Baron. The foes declare a (shaky) truce and the Hero for Hire heads for a castle, high atop a very skinny hill, where The Baron and Chemistro are hunkering down. Before he leaves, Cage picks up a special gizmo concocted by Curt Carr (the original Chemistro) that deactivates the alchemic powers of Chemistro II. Without the ability to turn stone into raisins (and vice versa), Chemmy is virtually powerless and he and the Baron fall quickly before the ebony, sweaty, pulsating muscles of the Power Man. Just before Luke is to deliver the killing blow to the nutty knight, he gets the shocking news: he's been played by Big Brother who is, at this minute, preparing to conquer the world! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: You can picture Marv Wolfman ending a long, stressful day plotting and scripting the dark and depressing intricacies of Tomb of Dracula and then turning his attention to Power Man with a big smile on his face and a sparkle in his eye. Though there's no supporting cast nor rebellious soda machine, the fun lies in watching Luke (and, by extension, the reader) manipulated by these four sixth-tier villains. Just when you think you know what's going on... nope.

Best Cage quote of the issue is when he says to Cheshire, "One more giggle outta you, an' the fire department's gonna be haulin' your ashes down outta some trees!" I don't have a clue what the hell that means but man, I wish I was reading this when I was fifteen. I'd have used that one in the cafeteria at lunch. What's the story with The Baron? Luke mentions he owes The Defenders for "bus fare" to get to the castle but is he being literal or did he borrow the Defender-Mobile and fly to some other country? Looks European to me. Do they have castles atop the high peaks in Manhattan? The Baron wears medieval dress, carries a lance, rides a steed, and even has a catapult in his courtyard.

Chris: Aside from a few pages of action, this issue doesn’t amount to much.  It doesn’t help that the Baron has nothing to offer except his power lance; Cage defeats him pretty easily, and he turns into a cringing worm.  It’s pretty obvious all along that Cage is going to have to settle accounts with Big Brother anyway, and this half-issue delay as Cage scales a mile-high stone cliff, all for a five-minute battle, isn’t worth it.  I’m not sure why BB is confident that the annoying Cheshire Cat would have any chance against Cage; I’m also not at all inspired to think “maybe BB knows something we don’t,” or musings to that effect.

Matthew:  Yet somehow, you guys almost make me wish that back in the day, I had blown my 30¢ on Power Man instead of Omega.

Red Sonja 1 
“The Blood of the Unicorn”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Plot by Ed Summer
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne 
Cover by Frank Thorne

After being forced to put down her horse, a heartbroken Red Sonja comes across a group of hooded cultists terrorizing a pure white unicorn. Their leader, a tattooed wizard named Andar of Bezfarda, is convinced that the animal’s horn unlocks the key to immortality. When the animal is lassoed around the neck, it rears back, accidentally dislodging its own horn against a tree branch. Sonja, disgusted at the sorry spectacle, wades into the crowd, leaps unto the hornless horse's back and they race off. The Hyrkanian heroine and the unicorn spend weeks in peaceful solitude in the forest — miraculously, the steed’s horn grows back. When Andar learns that the horse has regained its sharp protuberance, he orders it slain, worried that someone else will gain its magical powers. He assembles his men and hunts down Sonja and her equine companion. While she battles bravely, the woman warrior is soon overcome. But just before Andar can kill her with a spear, the unicorn impales and kills the wizard with its horn — the other men scatter in fear. Red Sonja and her saddleless savior wander off: but when they reach the edge of the forest, the horse refuses to leave its home. The pair depart as lifelong friends. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The Queen is dead, long live the Queen. Red Sonja sheds her Marvel Feature banner and kicks off 1977 with her shiny new solo series. Besides the title, nothing has changed as we have yet another beautifully illustrated and told tale that zips along quickly. According to the poorly-named “The She-Devil and the Scribes” letters page, Roy collaborated with Ed Summer, owner of NYC’s famous Supersnipe Comic Book Art Euphorium, and film editor/screenwriter Clara Noto on the story. Noto, who didn’t seem to have much of a film career, will continue to work on the series moving forward. While there is still plenty of brutal swordplay and violence, this is perhaps the most girly of the Red Sonja stories so far. There are multiple panels of Sonja and the unicorn frolicking in the woods like lovestruck teens. Noto’s influence? And what can you say about that cover. What horny teen boy would be able to resist that image on a spinner rack? Hotsy totsy!

Matthew:  Appreciate the enlightenment, since Summer is also credited with a "plotting assist" to Roy on next month's Invaders

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 2
"Kraven is the Hunter!"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Irving Watanabe, and John Costanza
Cover by Al Milgrom and Frank Giacoia

Hitching a ride (again) aboard a tugboat, Spider-Man stops by Curt Connors' apartment to thank him, not catching the extra dizziness, the result of which awaits in next month's Amazing Spider-Man lesson. Meantime, in Gramercy Park (spelled here "Grammacy" as if someone from Brooklyn were reading it aloud), Kraven the Hunter shows up at a swanky apartment with two leashed Bengal tigers, brought to help The Tarantula kidnap Schools Chancellor Richard Gorman, a mystery string-puller with anger issues, and to "take him dead or alive!" The two bickering baddies stealthily invade the Chancellor's administration building, easily trapping the portly politician and escaping on a jungle vine. Peter pays a quick visit to Aunt May and gets some milk and cookies (mmmm…cookies…), then takes Glory Grant to the Daily Bugle to apply for JJJ's revolving secretary door—and she's hired! With Jameson turning into a "pussycat," too! Peter hears about the kidnapping in the lobby, and after a quick costume change, runs into Kraven and his tigers! Still slow after his tiring battle with the Kingpin (this month's Amazing—try to keep up, class!), Spidey manages to sack the Bengals, escape Kraven's bear hug and run off. After a quick aside to the greedy Tarantula being hoodwinked by the mystery boss into accepting money that explodes into gas, Kraven confronts Spidey on a movie marquee, and pulls a knife! The Web-Head manages to dodge, and Kraven stabs a light, shocking himself into unconsciousness and leaving us with some unanswered questions. -Joe Tura

Joe: It's the battle of the century—between the egos of Kraven and Tarantula! Seriously, these two insufferable villains spend more time knocking each other down and pumping themselves up, it's a miracle they manage to get anything done. But then again, ego leads to both of them getting their comeuppance: the Hunter seeking vengeance by literally trying to stab Spidey to death and failing; the Latin Captain America (self-proclaimed of course) too money-hungry to realize he can get easily double-crossed. And everyone cheers! Yay! Each get some choice lines, though. My favorite exchange is on page 14, when Kraven tells Schools Chancellor Gorman "Bulbous buffoon, you should be grateful your elephantine body can even move! There, Tarantula—perhaps now you understand why Kraven is named—The Hunter!" And Tarantula responds: "Si, amigo—for your skill at capturing plump old men!" Felix and Oscar, move over!

There are a couple instances when Gerry has Peter explain everything in his life (I'm talking to you, page 10), maybe for readers just coming into the Spider-Man universe because of the new title, perhaps? And we finally get more of a role for Glory Grant, as JJJ's secretary of all things! At least that mystery is over. Speaking of mysteries, I don't remember who the mystery villain was, so I'll be as surprised as most when it's revealed. He is a crafty one, though! Decent action, a good script peppered with humor, the always welcome Sal & Mike art, and a name for the letters page that took the whole page to explain: Peter Parker's Pad. Yeah, that could work.

Favorite sound effect has to be the electrifying (ho ho) "ZZZAZK" on page 33 when Kraven is literally shocked to find he's stabbed the marquee light and drops to the sidewalk. Then again, maybe it's "ZZZALK"? I gotta tell ya, it's hard to tell , but I'll assume it's a Z, not a L. I mean, "ZZZALK"? What electric shock sounds like that?

Matthew: What is this, Marvel Megalon Month?  We also get an embarrassing number of errors, e.g., that old bugaboo Curt “Conners”; “Grammacy” (sic) Park; “New York City” (rather than Empire State) University.  But if Conway-as-Editor and dual letterers Watanabe & Costanza deserve docking of their pay, the returning Conway/Buscemosito creative team does a generally good job, and the issue gets off to a nice start.  Even if the cover, with its shameless and inexplicable Omen allusion, is just okay, the splash page—with its forced-perspective shot of Spidey atop the smokestack—is striking, and the vignette with the sometime Lizard creates the kind of seamlessness they hoped to achieve between PPTSS and its sister mag.

The Mighty Thor 255
"Lo, the Quest Begins!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby, John Romita, and John Verpoorten

Thor returns to Asgard after failing to get the Ruby Eye of the Dragon to offer to Mimir. Vizier calls forth the Wisdom Well's guardian, who is satisfied to learn the worthiness of the Thunder God. He advises them to seek the Doomsday Star, a mysterious sun that blots out light on any world it "shines" upon. With no more to go on, Thor, the Warriors Three and Sif set out  (Balder stays behind with Karnilla to watch over Asgard) on the Starjammer to find this place where Odin can be recovered. A meteor shower of massive proportions just about does them in, but Mjolnir helps guide their course through it. They land on an Asteroid to effect repairs, finding an abandoned spacecraft marooned there, its occupants apparently long gone, and only some mysterious statues as company. As they begin repairs on the Starjammer's sail, the "statues" awake from suspended animation, and eye the Asgardian ship as the means of their escape. They attack, and it doesn't take long for mutual recognition between Thor and his very first Earthly foes, the Stone Men from Saturn to take place. It turns out they crashed here fleeing from Earth after their botched invasion. Six of them are enough to give the Asgardians a good fight, until the Gravitron device that powered their craft is turned into a weapon that may just net the rock stars a victory. Increasing the force of gravity upon the gods almost crushes them into the rock, until Thor manages to arise and destroy the device. They return to the Starjammer and take off, Thor holding the Saturnians at bay, then joining his fellows. The asteroid explodes from a reaction in the Stone Men's ship, ending their evil ways.  -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The title says it all friends, and indeed, the quest begins. After a reprint last month of Thor's retold origin from #159, it's fitting the Stone Men from Saturn should return. I'm sure many had asked the question up to this point what happened to them after they fled from Thor's defence of Earth. It's unclear if their home planet ever was aware of the reception they got at Thor's hand back in 1962, unless they had radioed home immediately after they left. Or even if their race, as a whole, was as evil as this renegade group. Quests are the stuff of Thor-dom, so it feels very natural to have this as the basis for the next number of adventures. The return of John Buscema next month promises to bring the visuals up a notch (no offence to Tony DeZuniga here). The mix of science and mythology has made for some great issues (i.e. classically the Rigelian/Ego tales), and this, to a lesser extent perhaps, has that promise. Peter has asked "Where were you in 1977?" Well, I vividly remember buying Thor issues from the newsstand, and becoming intrigued with The Outer Limits on TV (not my first viewings, but the first serious ones) to name a couple of things-- great year all around for me!

Matthew: At least at Marvel, DeZuniga’s work as an inker outnumbers his penciling credits by a ratio of more than 5:1, according to the MCDb, and those are even thinner on the ground in my collection, which by my count contains precisely five, including this and #271.  Not surprisingly, Tony inked by Tony looks a lot like Big John (due back next issue) inked by Tony, so the shift is neither radical nor displeasing, and I enjoyed the twist of Mimir’s “tribute” being merely a test.  Resurrecting bygone bad guys must have been a fun parlor game within the Bullpen, but Len probably earned special recognition for excavating the Stone Men from Saturn—technically, also per the MCDb, the Kronans—from Thor’s debut in Journey into Mystery #83 fourteen years ago.

Chris: Ordinarily, I’d expect Roy Thomas to blast us with characters from the far-distant past.  The Stone Men put up a good fight, but with the Lion of Asgard on Thor’s side, could the outcome ever have been in doubt?  Thor offers a fitting observation at the end, as he recognizes how the voyagers (I was about the say “Starjammers,” but that’s an entirely different group, now isn’t it?) are no closer to their objective.  Well, Thor, surely you’ve learned by now that a quest like this involves countless side-tracks and diversions; ask any blind Greek poet – he’ll tell you all about it.  

I’ve come to appreciate DeZuniga’s art a bit better than I had for this title; clearly, he’s learned a few things from careful observation of the Master, Big Sir John. And now, Buscema returns next issue?  Well, that’s a win-win.  

 Tomb of Dracula 52
"Demons in the Mind!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza and Denise V. Wohl
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

As the funeral for Blade, the vampire slayer comes to an end and his mourners depart. Count Dracula descends to begin his private taunting session. As the Count guffaws, he catches sight of a strange figure hidden behind a tree. Recognizing the shadowy presence from his own past, Dracula gives chase but loses the phantom in the mist. The vampire reflects on when he first came in contact with the man, centuries before, and is at a loss for why he's so frightened. Thinking he needs to clear his head, Dracula takes in a matinee at the local grindhouse, which happens to be screening the latest variation on the Count's life. On edge, Dracula picks a fight with an old woman and tears her apart in front of a packed house. One of the moviegoers is the same strange figure seen at the cemetery. This time, the man does not vanish and the Lord of the Vampires asks him what he wants. The figure doffs his overcoat and sun glasses and reveals himself to be clad in a spandex outfit, with red eyes a-blazing. He tells the vampire that he has been sent by his master to battle Dracula and that only one will survive. He knows the future; he knows the outcome, and yet the battle must be fought. The warfare spills out into the streets and into an amusement park before Dracula gets the upper hand and rams a steel post though his adversary's gut. Dracula tells the super-powered being to go back to Satan and tell him Dracula is the new boss in town. As he lies dying, the being asks why the vampire had assumed he had been sent by the devil when there are two sides to this good and evil stuff. Racing back to Domini, Dracula discovers the truth when he glances at his wife's painting of Jesus Christ and its eyes are glowing with the same power as the being. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: After a couple of so-so installments, Marv brings this series back on track, giving us a great knock down drag out battle, a mysterious figure, and one hell of a reveal at tale's end. It's a wicked surprise but, really, you'd have to have been daft not to have guessed who this guy was (and it would have been nice if Marv had given our guest star a name so I could have referred to him as more than "the being" or "the Man" or "Him") halfway through the story but the first chapter in Marv's New Testament is chock full of surprises anyway. In Marv's New Testament, Jesus Christ dresses like Captain Marvel (but then Warlock was supposed to be JC, wasn't he? -- Oh, I'm so confused) and shadows the vampire throughout the ages. A Christian would say "That's my lord, looking out for us and trying to bring down the scum of the Earth" but an atheist would question why, if "Christ" were stalking the Count for centuries, he didn't act before thousands of innocents were slaughtered. With that, I'll slide out of the religion portion and send Marv a belated thanks for dodging all the boring "supporting cast" bits and giving us wall-to-wall hysteria this time out. And how about the look on Drac's face when he spots the eyes on Domini's artwork (why the heck would he allow her to hang on to something like that in the first place?). Ooh, I can't wait for the next chapter!

Chris: Most of the recent business is put aside, so that – once again – we may have the pleasure of seeing Drac fight to attain control of a situation that is under another’s direction.  Drac’s Adversary seemingly has achieved the aim that had brought him into contact with Drac in the past: Drac now is aware that powers, apparently far mightier than his own, will prevent him from wresting control of the U.S., or any other country.  My question is: what else does the Adversary hope to accomplish?  He indicates that he has power enough to destroy Drac, and proceeds to demonstrate that, causing Drac to flee (p 18); then he effortlessly hurls Drac (following a change of venue, that is) from the top of a roller coaster, and a Ferris wheel.  Why doesn’t he simply destroy the so-called prince of vampires – as long as he can eliminate Dracula, then why toy with him?  

The confirmation at the end that the Adversary’s power is deriving from God, and not Satan – coupled with Drac’s resulting outrage – is a highlight.  I also enjoyed Drac sizing-up, and then pouncing on his prey in the movie theater (p 11, last two panels), and Drac cringing in the shadows, pleading to know why Satan (as he thinks) would be sending an emissary after him (p, 17, last pnl). 

Mark: We open with grave matters, Blade's dead-fanger-double being shoved under. The Count arrives for a piss-in-your-grave victory dance, but the demonic laughter dies in his throat when he spies a shadowy being among the trees "who has haunted me these past centuries," prompting inexplicable acts of mercy and the abandonment of coups.

Disturbed by these memories, Drac's taken by one of his moods to go among humans for more than a meal, "to study their behavior," what with a son on the way and his mysterious tormenter already arrived. The mission's strictly recon as, in a great touch by Marv, the Count takes in a "Dracula" movie. Despite his best intentions,  loud, noisy seatmates - as with any of us - prompt homicidal thoughts and Vladdie ain't one to fret over impulse control. Fearlessly savaging a middle-aged woman who defended a child, the Count clears the theater, save for his old nemesis, now revealed.

Platinum blond, golden skin, red eyes, with muscles bulging in regulation super-being spandex (one wonders if ole red eye's appearance is the second shoe to drop, two months after Silver Surfer, in an effort to attract the Super-Duper Zombies to a horror mag. Regardless of motivation, the idea works much better here). 

 Drac thinks his foe a demon dispatched by Satan, while Tomb regulars know Ole Red's in the other camp, a manifestation of the long simmering Drac + Domini forever lovechild/Devil-cult Big Story, without all the contradictions and batty bric-a-brac that's accumulated over the past couple three months.

Yet even while facing a near-angelic (in an early Altar Boy way) foe, the Count prevails, living up to his Impaler's rep. But Ole Red's spirit rises and takes flight to Drac's dark church, where the Count finds it inhabiting the giant oil painting of J.C...

Taut, terrific stuff, brought to life by maestros Colan and Palmer. I'm thinking maybe Ole Red's a future version of Domini and Drac's coming joy bundle. Who knows what's Marv's thinking, but I'm saying my prayers he keeps conjuring such storytelling voodoo as we gather around the manger.

Werewolf by Night 42
"The Marauder and Man of Iron"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Werewolf leaps into action to stop a bank robbery led by The Masked Marauder, but jumps into Tony-on-the-spot Iron Man! Thinking Werewolf is part of Marauder's gang, Shell-head starts a battle that is surprisingly even partly because of low armor power, until Werewolf saves Iron Man from being shot from behind by the cloaked crook. The bad guys slip away, and as Topaz approaches with the police, Iron Man flies the injured "Russ Jackson" (so Jack tells him) back to Avengers Mansion to recover. Jarvis is taken aback, but is able to do his duty and help Werewolf rest. Meantime, back in Malibu, sister Lissa is accosted by a mysterious baddie in the shadows that tells Buck "your time has come, Cowan." The Marauder steals a gorilla, cheetah and alligator with hopes of creating a Tri-Animan to defeat Iron Man, then the Maggia. Jack awakes, with Tony Stark telling him to meet Iron Man later, then Jarvis talks Jack into transforming back to get a jolly good show. The unlikely heroic duo break into the Marauder's deserted warehouse hideout (do villains pick anything but such a building?), but despite their efforts, the Tri-Animan lives! And our heroes are in a heap of trouble!--Joe Tura

Joe: The letters page, still one of the better-named ones with "Weremail By Night", lets us know the Big Change has occurred and this is Werewolf's "baptism of fire" and, of course, asks the readers to let them know what they think. Well, I'll tell you what I think, since I have to. Lord knows I didn't read this one back in 1977, even though the cover looks mighty familiar. I think I had the next issue, which certainly is a "big change," but more on that in a month. I did like Werewolf as a "hero," maybe not more than past issues that were nastier and more supernatural, but found it to be a decent change. However, don't get too excited, I certainly didn't love it. His byplay with Iron Man struck me as a bit odd. Then again, Iron Man's seen it all already—well, except for a werewolf. The Masked Marauder is a low-grade villain, but he does have some skills when it comes to creating androids, and is another purple clad baddie in a comic that seems to have a lot of them. Yippee. Not impressed until the last page that puts the two stars in some peril. The real scene-stealer is a goofy Jarvis, gone as nutty at the sight of an actual werewolf than I probably would. Except I don't think I would have made the creature any broth, and certainly would have pooped my pants in terror, unlike the sophisticated British butler. Unless they left that part out!

Chris: I completely understand the decision to allow Jack the freedom to change to the Werewolf at will, and the move to make WbN more of a superhero title; but, I think both changes have come too late.  The obvious monster-title comparison is Ghost Rider, which already has made the transformation (so to speak).  The difference between these two titles is that, while GR never successfully established itself as a monster title (as, too much of the time, GR had been fighting only Satan or his emissaries), WbN has just completed its most satisfying run of supernaturally-themed stories.  The change for GR had been necessitated by a lack of direction, while WbN had finally found its voice.  Still, with mystery/monster titles fading away, I give Marvel credit for trying something new, in an effort to keep this title afloat.  

The scenes with Jarvis are quite comical, even though Jarvis’ request to witness Jack’s change to lupine form strikes me as out of character for the Avengers’ uncompromisingly professional butler.  Jarvis’ observation that the Werewolf is “bristly” is classic, as is the image of Jarv carefully spooning him some restorative broth (p 16).  

Two final observations: too bad Jack & Topaz’s night out had to be interrupted by the robbery, otherwise they might’ve enjoyed the Marx Brothers triple-feature (as seen on the marquee, p 16 pnl 7); the drunk witnessing an unfathomable occurrence is an all-too-familiar trope, but I enjoyed his unusual response, as Doug had him say, “flyin’ am’nals … gonna attack that hel’copter, I bet …” (p 23, bottom pnls).  But then, I thought: uh, how exactly is the Marauder going to house a gorilla, a leopard, and an alligator in his helicopter?  What’s the atmosphere in that cramped space going to be like -?

Also This Month

Crazy #22
Kid Colt Outlaw #214
Marvel's Greatest Comics #68
Marvel Classics Comics #13
Marvel Double Feature #20
Marvel Super-Heroes #62
Marvel Tales #75
Marvel Treasury Edition #12 ->
Marvel Triple Action #33
Rawhide Kid #137
Sgt Fury #138
Weird Wonder Tales #20

Marvel Treasury Edition #12
Howard the Duck in
"The Duck and the Defenders!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan, John Romita, and Tom Palmer

Howard and Bev are unceremoniously tossed out of their swanky midtown hotel, due to non-payment of bills (hotels can be sticklers about this stuff).  With nowhere to go, Howard wonders whether they might have to ride the subway all night, but Bev proposes a solution: she has two friends from Cleveland who now are living in the East Village.  They poke their way around the narrow streets (stopping at one point to ask directions of a charming young couple, named Peter and Mary Jane), and finally knock on the door of an impressive edifice.  The door is opened by – the Falcon?  No, it’s Nighthawk, who welcomes the two travelers in, speculating (by Howard’s unusual appearance) that they are guests of Dr Strange.  Howard and Bev then find themselves face-to-face with – the dynamic Defenders!  Howard has one look around this “nest of zanies,” and decides immediately to split.  Dr Strange encourages them to stay, in part because he recognizes that Howard has travelled “an inordinate distance” to arrive at his door.  Elsewhere, four would-be villains (all hampered by stereotypical, derivative personas and powers) meet with Dr Angst, the self-proclaimed master of mundane mysticism, who promises success and relevance to his new partners.  To seal the deal, he offers them metal spheres of promethium; once the spheres are ingested, his charged-up guests agree to raid Dr Strange’s sanctum, so that they might acquire more promethium, and also collect a bounty to be paid for the killing of – Howard!  

At the sanctum, Howard asks whether Doc might help return him to his home; Doc peers into the Orb of Agamotto in the hope of locating Howard’s home dimension, when suddenly he is pelted by a rain of tennis balls fired from the Eye, knocking Doc unconscious!  Doc is briefly able to maintain his astral form (not as easily as usual, due to his unconsciousness), as he empowers Howard to call on mystic energies in defense of the Defenders.  Downstairs, Dr Angst and his avaricious allies have crashed in, and the battle is joined.  Howard mistakenly employs the Vapors of Valtorr to zap the combatants (including Bev) to Shea Stadium (thereby interrupting an NFL game), unwittingly leaving him alone to confront Dr Angst.  The evil Doctor fires a set of radial tires at Howard, who nimbly deflects them with the Shield of the Seraphim.  Once Howard has wrapped Angst in Doc’s Cloak of Levitation, he has the opportunity to “deliver the punch line” and KO the mundane master.  Doc returns, and transports all parties back from Shea.  He informs the villains that Angst has mislead them – promethium is nothing but “a mystical placebo.”  Bev showers Howard with sweetness, in her concern that Angst and his crew might’ve killed Howard; when Doc returns to the question of Howard’s possible journey to his true home, Howard says to “skip it,” asking only for a nap and bus fare back uptown.

It’s a fun ride, as Steve G’s Defenders – no strangers themselves to strange adversaries – are as close as you could get to a natural fit for a Howard team-up.  I didn’t mean to gloss over the opponents, freshly arrived from the Island of Misfit Villains, but I didn’t want to bog down the summary; now, I’ll give them their due.  They are: Sitting Bullseye, Tillie the Hun, the Spanker, and Black Hole, who admits to having been endowed with “an extremely gross power” (namely, he’s able to open a hole in his chest, which is able to absorb people and send them … somewhere).  Sitting Bullseye has a bright white-and-red target tattooed to his chest, and fires rubber-tipped arrows; Tillie insists that, if the Hulk vanquishes her, he must marry her (which puts Hulk in a bind, since he feels he shouldn’t smash her, but isn’t into her, either); the Spanker sets off after Bev right away, with a paddle – he doesn’t say why he thinks she deserves a spanking, but he doesn’t refrain from delivering it.  

Interesting moment as Howard asks Doc about a ticket home, and dismisses Bev as a present means to “occupy [his] time;” up to this point, Bev + Howard have seemed to be a fairly tight team, each being supportive of the other at various times.  Doc doesn’t make it an issue, as he recognizes that Bev is “not your species,” but I found it surprising that Howard could be so quick to disregard her.  

The visuals from Sal + Klaus are especially solid, and they take particular glee from the moments when Howard – appearing in Strange’s tunic, with the Eye of Agamotto at his throat – delivers with determination Doc’s well-known spells.  Clever moment of quick-thinking when Bev contributes to the battle, as she forces Black Hole to absorb his left arm, which proceeds to suck the rest of his body (paradoxically) into the hole in his own chest, as we see the soles of his feet vanish into the hole.    

I have to point out that Shea Stadium, unappealing as it was (a venue loved only by fans who had been taught from childhood to tolerate its primary baseball tenant), at least was never afflicted with hideous Astroturf; nevertheless, Steve tells us that the Hulk is ripping it up.  In defense of Sal + Klaus, they seem to be showing it as sod, with tines of (real) grass pointing up, so perhaps Steve misinterpreted the image and thought it was Turf.  That’s a moment when an editor should step in, and correct the mistake – but, I admit it’s a terribly small point. -Chris Blake

I’ve already addressed the material reprinted here in our coverage of HTD #1, but as noted, this is unusual among treasury editions for containing a brand-new 27-page whopper, which takes place immediately before the concurrent HTD #8.  I’ll leave it to faculty ornithologist Professor Chris to deconstruct the widely debated parodies among the Band of the Bland—which is not named herein—while noting the irony of Gerber’s Duck/Defenders crossover appearing two months after he was unceremoniously booted off the latter, although of course it may have been written earlier.  So that actually makes this the last hurrah for the venerable (if I may use that term where the tarring of Klaus’s brush is involved) Defenders team.

As the original Bird-Nose reminds us, the Defenders “specialize in weird villains—Bozos, baby deer, Headmen,” but this cross-pollination of Steve’s best-known strips allows for a whole new level of lunacy, with its intriguing mix of the mundane and the outré, plus Bev’s moment of glory.  Even with those extra 10 pages, it didn’t feel overlong to me, and  I, for one, wanted to know more about just what Strange sensed upon meeting Howard, while the latter’s temporary progression from Master of Quak Fu to “Ducktor Strange” joins this durable character’s run of pleasing pastiches.  And Our Pal Sal even draws a serviceable HTD (presumably no easy task), albeit liberally lubricated with Klaus’s goose grease…man, is there nothing that guy couldn’t do? -Matthew Bradley


The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu 32
Cover by Malcolm McN

"Daughters of the Dragon"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Marshall Rogers

"The Tiger-Sons Must Die!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Joe Staton, Sonny Trinidad, and Michele Brand

Colleen Wing. Misty Knight. Together they are the deadly "Daughters of the Dragon," on a mission to eliminate arms kingpin, Emil Vachon (that's V for Vachon), the man responsible for the murder of Colleen's grandfather. Now the gorgeous gals are chopping and slicing their way through Vachon's men to get to him. They're tipped that Vachon is shipping out a massive amount of weaponry on a junk docked in the Kowloon Harbor. The girls take on an army of chop socky masters and, in the end, blow the boat to kingdom come. Unfortunately, they also blast themselves into unconsciousness and, while out, they're captured by Vachon's right hand man, Mr. Chung.

There's a new Marshall in town!

The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu is injected with a massive hypo of quality and class with the addition of Marshall Rogers to the bullpen. Rogers knows his way around a woman's body and, truth be told, that's all we 13 year old Marvel Zombies cared about, right? Well, the three of us who were buying TDHoKF back in 1976. Since I've never read the Iron Fist title, I wasn't familiar with Wing or Knight but the girls are pretty impressive and Claremont infuses them with wit and humor as well as great roundhouse kicks. This is the kind of strip this magazine has been missing since the Sons of the Tiger hung up their medallions. Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart reinvented the stagnating Batman franchise in 1977 with a series of classic stories in Detective Comics. At least three stories stand with the best Batman tales ever written and drawn: "I Am the Batman," "The Dead Yet Live," and "The Laughing Fish." As far as I know, this two-parter is the only contribution Marshall made to the Marvel Universe in the 1970s (he'd pop up here and there in later decades) which is a doggone dirty shame.

A rare bit of Marvel B&W t&a

Bernie Klieg, agent of Bob Diamond and new head of Diamond Feature Films, has a spectacular idea: he's going to make a Sons of the Tiger film. Only two people stand in his way: Lin Sun and Lotus Shinchuko who are, as far as the world knows, the only surviving members of the Tigers. In the grand Hollywood tradition, Klieg dispatches a Ninja killer, (the aptly named) Harmony Killdragon, to eliminate the two road blocks. Meanwhile in Africa, Abe Brown has let villager adulation go to his head; our former hero has become something of a violent Lawrence of Arabia-type, mowing down any uniform in his path (and any innocent who should get in his way, as well) in his new role as Black Tiger. In Canada, Bob Diamond proves that rumors of his death have been greatly exaggerated when he kills a polar bear with his bare hands in front of some Mounties and is taken back to civilization. Lin Sun and Lotus are attacked by Harmony but, after a heated tussle, are able to talk sense into the confused Ninja. The trio head to Klieg's office and, once there, are surprised by the presence of Bob Diamond, back to reclaim his studio. The heroes vow to find Abe Brown.

Not much to report here. This is still a confused jumble thanks to a meandering script and awful art. Abandoning any sense of linear storytelling, the trio of artists instead bleed all their images into one... I think. Rather than present startling images or expand the visual aspects of the script, the art instead confuses the reader's eye and makes comprehension next to impossible. Not that there's much to tell anyway. Bill "Angry Young Man"-tlo has taken this rollercoaster ride of quality back into the valleys after peaking several issues ago. The story of The White Tiger is uninvolving; Lin and Lotus just seem to wander around through this series, contributing next to nothing to the story; Bob's killing of a massive bear with only his hands would be a fascinating story if we were told how the hell the guy did it; and then there's Abe Brown. Once the foundation of the Tigers saga, Abe is now transformed from a laid-back ex-hero into an ideological killing machine over the course of two weeks. If this was all going somewhere, perhaps I'd be a bit forgiving but, since this is the final installment in the series  we're going to be left hanging. Well, the three of us who were left to read this magazine, that is.

A year later, on the letters pages of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #13, Mantlo would sum up his Sons of the Tiger series thus:

"When Archie Goodwin asked me to do a two-part Spider-Man/White Tiger story for Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, I was overjoyed for a number of reasons.  First, the Tiger was the first character I got a chance to create at Marvel--as well as being the world's first Puerto Rican super-hero.  In his brief tenure in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, the Tiger elicited response from readers all over the states, from kids in the barrio and adults in college, from professors and folks on the job, from Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics who saw him as a unifying force--a message for brotherhood, an appeal for peace and understanding. Since those are the very reasons which led to the Tiger's creation, I was most gratified by the response."

I'm naturally skeptical  about the truckloads of positive mail but I will say, for brief moments here and there, SotT fooled me into thinking it could be a contender rather than a pretender.
 -Peter Enfantino

(special thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Professor Matthew for going above and beyond the call of University duties in helping me with this commentary)

Planet of the Apes 28
Cover by Earl Norem

"Revolt of the Gorilloids"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Virgil Redondo

"Tremor of Doom"
Battle for the Planet of the Apes
Story Adapted by Doug Moench
Art by Virgil Redondo

We kick off with another chapter of Terror, and right away something's different. The Trimpe art is inked by Virgil Redondo, which gives Jason a better, slightly more wild haircut, the gorillas more savagery, Malagueña less voluptuousness, and the story a little more movement than last month. As for the story, Brutus' forces advance, as Jason meets new peace officer Moravius and heads off to look for the Lawgiver, just as a shell from a war machine smashes the physician's building he's in! Amazingly, the Lawgiver lives, Moravius is impressed with Jason's work, and Alexander is reunited with his parents, which upsets his human best friend. When the attack renews, Jason is saved by Moravius, the Gorilloids refuse to go through the flaming barricade and Gunpowder and Dan deliver some guns to the good guys. But when the flames subside, the Gorilloids are on the march! As young Thaddeus—turned into a Gorilloid by the mutant Makers—heads slowly toward the city, Brutus' army seemingly wins, but the Gorilloids go bananas and start smashing everything. An angry Brutus orders them to stop, but when they don't, he kills all of his new allies! Then he's surrounded by the forces of good and forced to surrender! In the aftermath, the Makers vow revenge for their creations being destroyed, Lightsmith slips away to reclaim his Wonder Wagon, and Thaddeus stands there waiting for….who knows?

Well, as we get some answers, we're left with more questions and cliffhangers. Will the mutants attack the city? Will Thaddeus hold the key to saving the Lawgiver or is he a mindless drone? Will Brutus continue to cause trouble? Will Jason ever stop pontificating? We'll find out next time, hopefully. Or not. More on that next month. Sigh…

Next up is another in an endless parade of articles about the Apes universe. Now, being such a big fan of the movies, you'd think I would be all over these things. Nah. Who has time to read them when they're sorta boring for the most part? This month's skip-over is "Profiles of the Future: A Look at Conflict and Characterization in the Planet of the Apes" Oy, I'm tired just reading the title. And it goes on for seven pages. Seven. No thanks.

Instead let's move on to the final chapter of the Battle adaptation, drawn by Redondo in a moody, dark, and ugly chapter that captures the downbeat atmosphere of the ending, and the whole "movie" really. Battle was always the lesser of the five films, but the adaptation rose a little above it, taking liberties with the story (as explained last class—next time there will be a quiz!) and giving Caesar setback after setback to overcome. Our story begins with Aldo and his brigade finishing off the rest of the mutants, including an injured Breck (yay!). Back at the mutant Communications Center, Alma and Mendez almost set off "the bomb,"  but decide to wait, maybe forever (whew….). In Ape City, Aldo refuses to let Caesar release the captive humans, or give up the guns, which leads to all the apes realizing Aldo has killed Cornelius, breaking the sacred "Ape shall never kill Ape" commandment! Aldo grabs a sword, and MacDonald throws Caesar a chain, and the two former friends take to the trees to battle! A determined Caesar nabs Aldo with the chain and tosses him off a branch, where he snaps his neck and dies. The woozy and wounded Caesar also falls—luckily on top of Aldo! Virgil frees the humans, the gorillas give up the guns, and they all live happily ever after….until we get to the Lawgiver telling the end of the story, how everyone is waiting for Taylor to come and make everything new once more…and outside a human child and a gorilla child fight…-Joe Tura

The Rampaging Hulk 1
Cover Art by Ken Barr

“The Krylorian Conspiracy”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala

“Trail of the Starstone”
Story by John Warner
Art by John Buscema and Rudy Nebres
Class, please, quiet down and take your seats, I have a question: out of all the characters from the Marvel universe in January 1977, why did the publisher decide to feature the Hulk in their newest black-and-white magazine? Anyone? Hello? Bueller? Nothing? Well that’s completely understandable, because I’m stumped myself. Why the Hulk? Sure, he was and remains a very popular character, but he was already starring in his own color comic as well as in The Defenders. How about a more underused hero such as the Silver Surfer instead? Or even an Avengers magazine, considering that would gather a large amount of top-tier icons. I would understand if the series was introduced to capitalize on the popularity of The Incredible Hulk TV show, but that didn’t debut until March of 1978. Too bad that there wasn’t an editorial to explain it all. On a side note, The Rampaging Hulk will be retooled after issue #9 to more reflect the tone of the Bill Bixby/Lou Ferrigno series. But let’s get back to the lesson at hand.

Regardless of the reasons for its origin, The Rampaging Hulk was built on an interesting concept: it focused on Jade Jaws'  “lost years,” the time between the cancellation of the green goliath’s first solo series — The Incredible Hulk #6, March 1963 — and his reappearance in the pages of Tales to Astonish #59, September 1964. Considerable talent was utilized on the magazine: the very busy Doug Moench handled the bulk of the writing chores and the superstar team of Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala illustrated the first three issues. Other artists to come included Jim Starlin, Keith Pollard and Sal Buscema. We will also see crossovers with the original X-Men, Namor, Iron Man, Thor, and others. OK, take out your copy of the premiere issue and let’s get started.

“The Krylorian Conspiracy” starts with a fabulously retro splash page that introduces the main players: the Hulk, of course, as well as Rick Jones, Betty Ross, and General Thunderbolt Ross. Then we jump immediately to Chapter One, “Enter the Hulk!” This 8-page section basically recaps the Hulk’s origin story — belted by gamma rays and all that — and then leaps forward to the summer of 1963. There, the green goliath and Rick stumble across Ross’ battalion engaged in wargames. After much smashing of military equipment, Hulk leaps off and transforms back into Bruce Banner.

In Chapter Two, “Over the Spanish Stairway,” flying saucers appear over Rome, splashing down in the Tyrrhenian Sea. Back overseas, the unconscious Banner is found by Rick and Thunderbolt. An alarmed Betty soon arrives, telling the general about the arrival of the alien crafts. Ross, sucking on a 5¢ cigar I might add, claims it’s probably just hysteria caused by the cheap wine that those “crazy Eyetaliens” are always drinking. Italians drink cheap wine? No wonder Dunderbolt could never defeat the Hulk. Elsewhere, the grotesque Gargoyle — thought killed in The Incredible Hulk#1 — watches the saucers on TV. He flies off in his jet, hoping that the aliens will be more welcoming of his deformities than his fellow earthlings. Banner and Jones decide to buy airline tickets for Rome and investigate as well, which must be a dubious proposition since the Italian airspace would certainly be shut down considering the UFOs and all. Anyways, Banner freaks out for some reason when the plane lands in Italy, turns into Ol'  Greenskin and bounces away. 

Chapter Three, “The Return of the Gargoyle,” begins with the toad-like Krylorian invaders practicing their transformative powers within their submerged ships, disguising themselves as humans. Their leader demands to know the location of Bereet, a techno artist stowaway who escaped. Back in Rome, one of the Krylorians attacks the Hulk, worried that the mighty brute might upend their plans. As they trade blows, the alien comments that while the Hulk’s strength is “prodigious,” his is “preposterous” — but not preposterous enough, since the man-monster brings the froggy freak to his knees. When the Gargoyle arrives on the scene, the Krylorian claims to have peaceful intentions and that his people are only on Earth to capture a dangerous criminal from his home world. Meanwhile, Rick Jones encounters the spaceship of the lovely Bereet, who reveals that her fellow Krylorians are actually here to conquer the planet. Now take note class, because this might come up on a test: Bereet was also the name of the purple-skinned stowaway on board Starlord’s space cruiser in the highly entertaining Guardians of the Galaxy movie.

The final chapter, “A Wild Hulk Chase,” finds Hulk and Gargoyle welcomed onto one of the saucers. When the gamma-radiated goliath becomes bored, he vows to find Bereet himself and smashes his way out of the ship. He quickly finds Rick and the shapely alien. As Jones explains that the weird woman is a friend, the Krylorian saucers attack. Hulk knocks three of the ships out of the sky with a boulder. When the Gargoyle protests the invader’s actions, the commander knocks him unconscious. Rick and Bereet enter her ship and blast off, the Hulk clinging to the outside: he begins to tear huge chunks from the fuselage, hurtling them at the Krylorian saucers. The Gargoyle comes to, steals a laser and blasts the duplicitous aliens — he heroically pilots the saucer into three of the others, destroying them and killing himself. Since the Hulk has basically disabled her ship with his destructive behavior, Bereet dons her Banshee Mask and transforms into a sleek, bird-like spaceship that vibrates at an incredible pitch, shaking apart the remaining Krylorian saucers. Hulk, Rick and Bereet agree to team up and drive the remaining Krylorians out of Europe.

So there we have it students, the first Hulk story in his brand-new magazine, an enjoyable, if not goofy, 37-page romp. The art is terrific, an excellent mashup of Simonson’s pop art sensibilities and Alcala’s slick sheen. Moench must use the word “smash” 57 times: in fact, he has the Hulk talking in the infantile style of the 70s instead of the more literate manner the character used in the early 60s. Let’s give it a solid B. However, the grade plummets for the companion story, “Trail of the Starstone,” featuring Bloodstone.

I apologize class, since I am a bit unprepared for this discussion, so please be patient. According to my shaky research, Ulysses Bloodstone is an immortal mercenary who appeared in the first two issues of Marvel Presents (October 1975 and December 1975). In the Hyborian age, the man came across a gem-like meteorite called the Bloodgem: it exploded and a fragment embedded in his chest, the rest scattering around the globe. Now imbued with super strength, he wanders the earth seeking out the remaining pieces, gathering an immense wealth in the process. I guess he’s sort of a combination of Doc Savage and Blade.

In the 19-page “Trail of the Starstone,” Bloodstone and his companion Brad Carter are on board an ocean liner cruising out of Rio de Janeiro. That night, three masked goons — all wearing special glasses that enable them to see in the dark — enter the mercenary’s stateroom. But Bloodstone is waiting, his invisible third eye revealing the auras of the shadowy assassins: all three are subdued, one thrown through a porthole. Afterwards, Brad introduces Ulysses to a fellow passenger, freelance photojournalist Samantha Eden, who has been following the immortal’s adventures. Suddenly, a 40-foot humanoid monster named Goram rises from the ocean, demanding a fragment of the Bloodgem — unbeknownst to Bloodstone, it is in a small metal case aboard the ship. The hero dives into the water and battles the huge beast. But ultimately, he is no match for Goram and the titanic terror makes off with the fragment. Elsewhere, Bloodstone’s mortal enemy, the tentacle-headed Ulluxy’l Kwan Tae Syn, is observing the event, raving about The Conspiracy. Suddenly, a darkly dressed villain named the Killer Shrike appears, claiming to have been sent by The Conspiracy.

Sorry students, not sure what to make of this gobbledygook. Hard to complain about something illustrated by Big John Buscema — and solidly inked by Rudy Nebres — but it was nigh impossible to follow what was going on. Warner writes like his audience is completely familiar with Bloodstone’s backstory and powers. For example, I had to figure out that the octopus-headed freak at the end was Ulluxy’l, ultimately referencing Professor Blake’s write-ups of Marvel Presents #1 and #2. He was as confused as I am now. But, I’ve been assigned to teach this malarkey so we shall soldier on to the end. Class dismissed. -Tom Flynn

I love the trip back to 1962 and the whole black and white thing, The art is incredible and old greeny has a nice Kirby/Ditko look about him. Less enchanting is T-Bolt’s obvious bigotry (eye-talians?) and sudden decline in IQ. He comes across more like a uniformed Archie Bunker than an intelligent military commander. Bereet is cute and will be just as adorable when her character returns in the 80’s. All in all, not a bad start, it just seems a little over the top crazy in some spots. Later, as the magazine changes gears, and goes to color, it will hit the present day and take on issues much like the hit TV series. Until then, this is a nice trip back to the 60’s. -Scott McIntyre

Peter Sanderson's novel-length letter in
Nova #8

This Sunday!
Professor Tom gives us an exclusive look at the new edition
of The Art of Alfredo Alcala!

No comments:

Post a Comment