Wednesday, November 18, 2015

April 1977 Part One: Roy Thomas Bids Adieu to the Fantastic Four!

Fantastic Four 181
"Side by Side with... Annihilus?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

ROY THOMAS' FINAL issue opens with Annihilus swooping down on Reed's tiny, drifting-thru-the-Negative Zone asteroid. His stretching powers gone, Reed fights with a flaming bat bone (much larger than the bat was, for you nit-picking, continuity scolds), but everyone's fave insectoid-overlord isn't there to brawl, but to recruit Reed as an ally, "for the sake of my cosmos...and yours!"

WHILE IN LOWER MANHATTAN: Ben and Tigra are hauled out of the drink by the Coast Guard, after sinking the Big Yellow Robot - and a garbage scow - last ish. As "one last favor..." the Guard want to raise Big Yeller, via Thing power. Thundra and the Impossible Man catch a news bulletin about same and make the scene after Impy turns himself into a living F-Car. Yeller's massive weight snaps the cargo net, but Impy twists himself into a slip knot and they bring the 'bot aboard.

BACK AT THE BAXTER, Sue and Mr. Faux-tastic (Reed from Counter-Earth - who can't stretch but can morph into purple bad-ass the Brute & was turned evil [maybe] by a conk on the head; see how far behind you get when you cut class, kids?) - kiss with faux affection. Sue pretends she doesn't know it's Evil Reed; he pretends not to know she's suspicious and so must die!

Sue cabs it to Alicia's, where the long-AWOL Agatha Harkness pops in (Literally. She's a witch, ya know) just long enough to kidnap little Franklin, for reasons she's too pressed for time to explain (although Aggie could have thumb-nailed a Reader's Digest condensed version during the time it took to battle Sue) before winking out with the sleeping tyke.

LOOK, UP IN THE SKY! Where the Torch has been swooping around "for hours," aimlessly adding to greenhouse gases while moping over Frankie Ray. She's scared of fire but Johnny loves a challenge. Finding her in Greenwich Village, Mr. Suave wise-cracks about her phobia, and as Frankie stalks off in a huff, Torchie resolves to solves the mystery of her Flame On fears.

TROPE-A-DOPE: The waiting-at-the-dock U.S. Army wants to take custody of Old Yeller. Ben, opining that Reed should get first crack, defers politely by twisting the cannon on one of their tanks. Our boys respond with small arm fire, and, while it makes for handy conflict, I've always hated the cliché of the Army firing on super-heroes, known to have saved the world umpteen times, at the drop of a jurisdictional dispute or a little property damage. Roy's minor new wrinkle is having love-struck Thundra rush to aid her would-be beau, amping up the destruction.

THE CIRCLE CLOSES where we started. Reed and Annihilus on a rock. Roy skips the meat of their discussion but, sensibly noting " could have kill me anyway...," Reed signs on for a team-up. They fly away to Annie's "free-floating fortress," arriving just in time for an attack by a "...giant semi-human monster," red of hair, green of skin, with a swatting, scorpion tail, and - Roy's final wild card before darting for the exit - it's controlled by the Mad Thinker! -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Not to impugn Roy Thomas' sterling character, but one has to think that he couldn't have penned his last FF epic without at least a twinge of sadistic glee at lofting a baker's dozen of plot/sub-plot balls in the air, all left to his harried replacement to try and snag before they crash to earth.

And unless the new scribe is Doc Ock, rots a ruck!

But we'll deal with those gravitational forces next month. Here, the scatter-gun story method hits a satisfyingly high number of targets, the one obvious exception being the Army-shooting-at-supes cliché noted above.

Annihilus as ally is an idea both unexpected and ripe with potential. Two pages of Impy, with his never-fail power of annoying Ben, is at this point just the right dosage. Thundra's Thing crush is still adorable, even while approaching its expiration date. Nice to see Sue get extra screen time, ditto an appearance by witchy woman Agatha, who, I take on faith, wouldn't be Franklin-napping without a damn good reason.

Frankie Ray's return gives hope to Johnny's long-neglected libido, and the Thinker in the N-Zone is a last page WTF idea that I'm guessing Roy didn't bother to suss out, 'cause he don't have to, leaving more question marks than the Riddler for his successor to untangle.

Matthew Bradley: Roy ends his second FF stint three issues—minus one reprintlater than planned, but interestingly, of the REH-heavy other projects enumerated in his lettercol farewell, Roy omits the one I followed devotedly, Invaders. He notes that successor Len will be joined on #182 by Shooter and Goodwin, perhaps not surprising in light of the threads he leaves dangling: Mr. Faux-tastic’s true i.d.; little Franklin’s kidnapping; Frankie ± Johnny; the giant robot’s origin and fate, featuring Ben’s other “little foursome” (per said reprint’s mismatched cover); Reed + Annihilus vs. Mad Thinker + 1. And, “while Pacesetter George Perez nurses an ailing drawing hand,” Wilson lays down the graphite, leaving Joe “Mr. Fix-It” Sinnott to make it all look pretty.

Chris Blake: Roy’s last go-round for this title – delayed by a whole month, no less – turns out to be a pretty disjointed affair, with storylines affecting all four team-members as individuals, removed from a team concept. The handling of Reed’s story (potentially the most interesting of all four – especially since Johnny’s questions about Frankie can’t possibly amount to much, right -?) is handled in a particularly clumsy way, as Annihilus’ request for help is interrupted on p 6, and not picked up again until p 30. There’s a lot of business on Ben’s end, as a great deal of time and energy is expended toward the retrieval and disposition of the giant robot, dispatched way back in FF #179.

That leaves us with Sue, the only team member whose issues are addressed in any meaningful way. She’s convinced herself that the Reed presently residing in the Baxter Building isn’t the genuine article (since a Wife Knows Her Husband), but has no means to check on her Reed, who will remain trapped in the Neg Zone until she can work this out. The new matter involving Little Franklin could prove more difficult to work out, especially since Agatha Harkness’ flair for the dramatic seems to entitle her to abscond with Sue’s only child without providing a simple explanation. Well, with some luck, and more than a bit of skill, Len (and Archie) will figure out which direction to point this seafaring craft, so that next issue can sail ahead a bit more surely.

Wilson’s guest pencils remind me of the critical role Joe Sinnott plays for this title, month after month. The views into the Neg Zone have their moments, but otherwise, there isn’t much to see here. Like I was saying, thank Willie Lumpkin Sinnott’s here to keep this from looking like an average issue of MTIO.

2001: A Space Odyssey 5
"Norton of New York 2040 A.D."
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer

In the year 2040, the world has changed. New York City is now an enclosed environment, shielded from the polluted atmosphere outside. People are crammed into dwellings, relax in overcrowded virtual beaches. They escape reality by indulging in roleplay within “Comicsville.” The White Zero battles his nemesis and during the melee runs into the Monolith, thinking it is part of the scenario. When he reaches the end of the story, he is greeted by the princess he has won. However, instead of the beautiful young woman he expected, she is sharp-tongued and fat. Now grouchy, Harvey Norton removes his heroic façade and returns to his meaningless life. While at the beach, he encounters the Monolith again and is given a message to explore the stars. He joins the space program and discovers a beautiful alien woman in a spacecraft and shortly thereafter, Norton’s ship is attacked by a much larger vessel. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: And this series rumbles on, easily one of the least interesting I’ve read in years. Kirby spends the first two-thirds showing us a meaningless adventure simply to illustrate what life is like in the year 2040, something which any other artist would have done in half the space. Since the White Zero and his enemy are simply some sort of amusement park attraction, there’s no reason to get into it. Then this Norton guy joins the space agency and meets an alien…and we’re done until next issue. Good lord, they cut down trees to print this stuff?

The Amazing Spider-Man 167
"...Stalked by the Spider-Slayer!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita

J. Jonah Jameson practices some gizmos on his (and Dr. Madison's) new Spider-Slayer, complete with his likeness via video, an Impulse-Beam, Web-Shears and Grapple Claw, as well as brute strength. But first we cut to the New Jersey Coast Highway, where an 18-wheeler is run off the road by a strange glowing ball, from which a being emerges and steals a package—then helps the drivers out before whisking away. Peter and Mary Jane answer a call from Mrs. Watson and find Aunt May picketing against her landlord and, as they walk away, Peter's spider-sense starts tingling. He gets MJ on a bus, then investigates a deserted tenement, changing into Spider-Man just in time to meet the Spider-Slayer! Spidey's webbing incinerates when it touches the robot, and he's blinded by a chest light, so he hightails it out of there. Meantime, Harry, Liz, and a depressed Flash meet Harry's psychoanalyst Barton Hamilton, who comes across as creepy, smarmy and charming at the same time.

Spidey then shows up in the car of Joe Robertson, getting info that JJJ has been distracted by an envelope in his desk, then gets an earful for daring to cross the line of professional and personal. Sneaking in through the window, Spidey swipes the envelope, but has to leave quickly when a night watchman shows up. Before he can get home to check out the contents, the glowing ball passes by—and through a building wall—so the wall-crawler investigates, meeting the eerie Will-O'-The-Wisp, stealing an envelope from a safe! Our hero passes right through the strange being, then is sent flying out the window! But Wispy helps slow Spidey's descent, and thanks to a web cushion, he lands safely on the Rockefeller Center ice skating rink. There's an envelope on the ice…but which one is it? Spidey grabs it, but Wispy hypnotizes him with a glow from his chest—and suddenly the Spider-Slayer shows up! –Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Well, that's quite a predicament our hero is left in! A mysterious new villain has him on the ropes, and the new, seemingly powerful (or at the very least, tricky), Spider-Slayer is ready to strike, with Spidey a mere puppet on a wispy string. What to do? Well, the hazy couple in the window of the ice skating rink restaurant don't seem very worried! If it was me, I'd ask for the check quick! A decent issue that contains a lot of set up: getting introduced to Will-O'-The-Wisp (which takes forever to type, by the way!), seeing JJJ get the Slayer working, taking an instant disliking to Dr. Hamilton, and the envelope affair. There's mild action, excellent artwork, and lots of glowing and wispiness abound.

And that's really all I have to say, maybe the fewest words of commentary on this title yet. Why, class? Well, the old memory banks are telling me this is the start of a slight downward spiral for my beloved Amazing Spider-Man. And I mean very slight, but still downward as we head towards Keith Pollard, and other titles got much, much better in my eyes, such as X-Men, Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, and even Fantastic Four. Of course, I still loved my Spidey, but there's a lot of wild and wacky coming up, students.

Favorite sound effect has to be the borderline hilarious—just for the circumstances and near pathos of it all as JJJ tries once again to defeat our hero himself for the umpteenth time—KWHAMM on page 15. Of course that's the sound a Spider-Slayer makes when slamming into a brick wall when a half-blinded superhero with spider-sense dodges its clumsy attack, leaving an apoplectic publisher holding the bag.

Chris: So, class: is light composed of matter, or energy?  Well, as Will-o-the-Wisp ably demonstrates, it’s both!  The character’s abilities and appearance (ie: the way Andru shows traces of light shimmering behind him, as if to suggest that Will looks like he isn’t “all there,” so to speak) make him unusual enough.  But then, Len adds some intrigue, as Will expresses his reluctance to break the law, and also acts with compassion towards his victims (eg: tending to the injuries of the truck drivers; and arresting the speed of Spidey’s plunge from the window).  Clearly, there is much more for us to learn about this character, in particular the circumstances that led to him acquiring these unworldly powers. 

We won’t get to these revelations right away in our next issue though, will we; Len has masterfully set up the pieces for a satisfying cliffhanger: just as we thought Spidey and Will might be able to work things out civilly, we have two pilfered envelopes to sort out, but not until after someone figures out how to dispense with Jonah’s latest Spider-squisher!  

As a bonus, we also have our share of updates with our supporting cast (although I wonder why Harry’s chance meeting with his swashbuckling therapist required an entire page), with some uncharacteristic expressions of outrage, from Robbie in his rare dressing-down of Spidey, and in Aunt May’s priceless protest.  High marks all around.

Andru outdoes himself with the location-shooting this issue, as we have glimpses of relatively-new Madison Square Garden (splash page), the twin spires of St Patrick’s Cathedral (p 23), and of course the Rockefeller Center skating rink (with the statue of Prometheus viewed first from above on p 27, last pnl), which is best seen after it’s closed for the night and all the damn tourists have gone back to their homes and hotels.

Most Marvel illustrators are content to fudge car models, simply drawing a few rectangles with wheels, but instead Andru drops some nice rides on us. I wish I could tell you that Robbie’s car is a new Buick, but I honestly can’t place it, whereas we all know that Dr Hamilton is sporting a snazzy early-70’s ‘Vette, right? Betcha Hamilton’s (unnamed and unacknowledged) blonde girlfriend is pretty happy to be seen in that, huh? Well, maybe not as happy as Hamilton himself.

Matthew Bradley: Between this and the current Avengers, disappointing issues of two of my favorites, April isn’t off to a very auspicious start. I’ve never been a big fan of the Spider-Slayers (this one, in particular, reminds me of nothing so much as the impossibly clunky robot in Target Earth), despite the extra dose of JJJ they entail, and could never understand why, unless I’m forgetting something, Jonah is never held to account by the authorities for them or any of his other destructive anti-Spidey schemes, e.g., the Scorpion and Human Fly. And I’ve never liked the Will-o’-the-Wisp—who looks way too much like a wingless Vulture—especially knowing his ultimate fate; Dr. Bart Hamilton’s debut is also notable for us Monday-morning quarterbacks.

Mark: Just as I was considering dumping ASM - gasp! - from my crowded curriculum, perhaps to seek spider-thrills in the newborn PPtSSM (and, boy, that title just trips off the tongue), Len brings his long absent A game. Or maybe its just a B-; with the recent bar set so low anything inching above the Mendoza Line can look like a masterpiece. 

Yeah, his Spidey-Slayer footnote ends with issue #58, missing a couple of appearances as if to lower the numbers of flogs to a weary if not quite dead horse, but that's okay 'cause if Wein doesn't breath any particular new life into SS v.49, he at least gets the nag over the finish line.

Dr. Marla Madison, creator of this year's model - in lieu of the all-dead Smythes - will bring far more to J. Jonah in the years to come than the chance to play Robocop. Why the Slayer works here is because it's not center stage, merely one of several fast-paced storylines. Will-o'-the-Wisp is an intriguing if not original Quicksilver knockoff, right down to not really being a bad guy.

Aunt May gets her Rosa Parks on. Pete and MJ get a few panels together, and Robbie gives Webs a ration for showing up at his home, leaving our hero stranded, road-side, after a good tongue-lashing about respecting boundaries.

And you know we're getting into the late '70s when Flash Thompson is considering going to a therapist, because a Van Dyke-bearded, Corvette-driving shrink has done such a bang up job, tinkering with Harry Osborn.

Work in a few in-the-dark action panels, followed by Spidey crashing out a window at a niftily-askew angle, the return of Ross's trademark "woozy webs," and hell, let's give this one that A.

But you're still on double secret probation, Mr. Wein.

The Avengers 158
"When Avengers Clash!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

Traumatized by inner doubts and fears, The Vision flies into a jealous rage and attacks Wonder Man when he sees Wanda walk in on the Big W's arm. The two trash half of the Avengers mansion before the rest of the team arrives to calm things down. Jarvis arrives to announce that he had received an emergency call for the team's services. Meanwhile, in the Canadian Rockies, the subject of that emergency call is holding court with his captive audience. A scientific experiment gone awry leaves Frank Hall a master of gravity and a bit more power-mad than he was pre-accident. Hall cuts his fellow lab employees off from civilization by levitating the entire research facility into the clouds. When a package arrives (ostensibly delivered by the UPS plane), Frank unwraps it, dons his new nifty costume and becomes Graviton ("and soon the world will fear that name!"). Luckily, the Avengers arrive just as Frank wraps his white chiffon sash around his startlingly blue spandex waist and the battle begins. Graviton's powers prove to be too much for our band of heroes and, by the last panel, the new motto is Avengers Disheveled! -Peter Enfantino

Joe: Well, that's no fun. A newbie villain defeats the entire Avengers team in minutes? And it's the second baddie to do so in a matter of months? Not so sure about "Earth's Mightiest Heroes" any more, are we? The issue itself is slightly less than mighty, only because Graviton's story takes up way too much time, but I suppose that's what they call "build-up" in the trades, eh? Sal B & Pablo M help turn up the action with some slammin' artwork, especially the Vision-Wondy dust-up, which any good Marvel Zombie remembers. All of the android's pent-up frustration comes out, as does the reanimated man's, and it's such a mix of action and drama, you can't help loving it! Iron Man plays the good chairman here, first letting them battle it out, then realizing when enough is enough and putting Vision in his place by threatening suspension, and it's there that you realize Vision is an excellent Avenger, as well as how much it means to him. But then Frank Hall comes on screen, and he's an arrogant bully with accidental wacky gravity powers who needs a really good thrashing. Let's hope he gets it next issue!

Mathew: So, the Shooter Era begins in earnest, and I’ve already told our august Dean to expect some lively debate. There are many takes on the controversial Troublemaker—uh, Troubleshooter, one of which is, “Well, say what you want to about him as EIC, but he wrote a hell of a run on the Assemblers beforehand.” I’ll agree with the first part, i.e., that we should consider his writing on its own merits, or lack thereof, and to that end, I am trying to keep an open mind and to compartmentalize my reactions. It bears noting that much of what I say has nothing to do with pompous pronouncements regarding some allegedly empirical good/bad standard but is simply opinions reflecting my personal likes and dislikes; your mileage may vary.

This issue breaks down into two parts, each with—in my opinion—its own problems, the first epitomized by its otherwise encouraging Kirby kover.  (And, while I’m touching on the visuals, I’ll add that the interior artwork is at least recognizably Sal’s, which after some of Pablo’s recent efforts might be considered a minor victory, yet it has a sort of dingy look, as though everybody needs a shave, or some sleep; I’m not sure Don Warfield doesn’t share some of the blame.)  I don’t like intra-team strife, especially don’t like it when it involves two characters I’m fond of, and most especially don’t like it when one is among my all-time favorites.  I’ve also never bought into the (pre-Shooter) premise that Simon’s very presence somehow threatens the Vision.

Now, it’s not often that I invoke The Boys from Brazil, but bear with me.  It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it (which I regard as an entirely good thing), yet I recall the central conceit, that even if all those little cloned Hitlers were genetically identical to the original Adolf, they wouldn’t go down the same dark path unless their development were shaped by the same experiences.  Even if the Vision’s brain is, shall we say, built on Simon’s blueprints, then from that moment on, each becomes the sum total of his unique experiences, making the Vision quite literally his own man.  And, while we’re at it, don’t the mixed and uncomfortable emotions this whole situation engenders in him disprove the very notion of the Vision as an emotionless robot?

On to Frank Hall.  What’s his power?  He controls gravity.  That’s it?  Check, please.  Okay, so what does this guy who controls gravity call himself?  Graviton.  Hey, that’s clever, if admittedly apropos, and slightly zingier than “Frank Hall.”  I find his costume as dull as his name, his megalomania no more interesting or inventive, and his origin both incomprehensible and as implausible as his whole “island in the sky” schtick.  But you know what bothers me the most about him?  This Franky-come-lately takes down “Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” (several of whom—e.g., the Beast and the Pyms—are shockingly underused) in something like two seconds flat.  This isn’t totally Shooter’s fault, but it’s been happening way too often lately for my tastes.

Peter Enfantino: My favorite scene is when the remaining Avengers walk into the room while Wonder Boy and Vision are tearing each other apart, Wanda implores the guys to help her break it up, and Iron Man says (in essence) "Nah, boys will be boys. Let 'em fight!" Shooter obviously needed a few more pages of battle action. No, wait, my favorite scene would be when Jarvis stumbles into the shambles he'll be cleaning up and mumbles something about "Got an emergency call but they all say that, don't they? I told them you guys were busy." Seriously? Is Jarvis the guy who decides which universe gets saved and which gets scotched? Hang on... my absolute favorite scene is when Frank Hall gets his package delivered and, honest to God, opens it for our benefit. There are worse Marvel funny books this month (skip down to The Incredible Hulk for proof) but this issue gets close to pushing the Crap Overload button a few too many times for my taste. When does the legendary run begin and where is Jared Walters when I need him?

Matthew: Gotcha covered on that annual, Chief.

Chris: We tune in to the Graviton story already-in-progress, with a clear sense of him consolidating his power over his peers – while simultaneously honing his own super-powers – for the past few weeks and months. The opposition in his ranks should be cowed by his beat-down of Joe, who had realized high-powered help would be required to rein in the former Frank Hall. Graviton’s manhandling of the Avengers continues an ongoing trend, as the team seems to be knocked around first (whether by the Squadron, Tyrak, or the wallopin’ Whizzer) before it can rally and squash the baddie in Round 2.

The square-off between Wonder Man and Vision had been anticipated by a few astute letter writers. It’s a nasty contest, as neither holds back, and – while perhaps not intending to injure anyone permanently – wants nothing less than to walk away victorious. After all, in the minds of both combatants, the presence of one seems to negate the reason for the other’s existence, right? Well, it’s a rich subject to explore in these pages, and we’ll hear more about it in Av #160. As a bonus, the Buscema/Marcos art misses none of the ferocity and high-impact of the contest, including the exhaustion (physical and psychological) felt by both, right down to the last bone-rattling blow.

Curious choice by Shooter to skip over Iron Man’s address to the team (p 11). It’s a pretty heavy moment when a team leader has to separate warring factions, and then find a way to pull them back into a working unit (especially when IM’s first instinct, on p 7, had been for the two to fight it out). Shooter will get plenty of distance from the inter-personal conflicts with the team, with plenty of other moments – large and small – of tension-truce in months to come.

Conan the Barbarian 73
He Who Waits — In the Well of Skelos!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

Conan and Bêlit row back to the Tigress after discovering that her father Atrahasis, the former king of Shem, is still alive and held captive in the Stygian capital of Luxur. Climbing back on board, the Cimmerian and the She-Devil discover that Kawaku has led a mutiny — M’Gora and the other Black Corsairs still loyal to their pirate queen are locked in the hold. Kawaku demands that the ship sail to the secret island where Bêlit has buried their treasure: she agrees if the traitor will give the injured shaman N’Yaga the vial of healing herbs stolen from the royal palace at Asgalun. When the vessel arrives at the uncharted island, Kawaku and the mutineers take Conan as their guide — two are left behind to guard Bêlit. The group soon come upon the Temple of the Toad: inside is the Well of Skelos, named after an ancient mage, and the treasure’s hiding place. Kawaku gathers his courage and uses a rope to climb down the foreboding and seemingly bottomless pit. After he disappears in the darkness, the Kushite screams out in agony. His compatriots start to pull him up, commenting how heavy he feels. But it is not Kawaku at the end of the rope; a huge frog monster emerges instead. The croaking creature massacres Kawaku’s men until only Conan remains. The gruesome green goliath tries to push the Cimmerian into the well but he manages to shift his weight and the hellish hopper falls in instead — the barbarian hangs precariously on the edge. Bêlit, who managed to break her bonds and kill the two guards, arrives with M’Gora and they lift Conan to safety. The pirates fill a chest with Shemite gold from the actual hiding place — a stone slab on the floor of the Temple — and start planning the rescue of the She-Devil’s father. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: While the anticipated quest to rescue Bêlit’s father hasn’t kicked off officially, it is one of the plot points that propels this entertaining issue. I always enjoy these one-and-done “breaks” that pop up between Roy’s multi-issue epics. They are usually breezy reads and I don’t have to worry about connecting the dots for something that runs four or five issues. It’s been building up for the past few months that Kawaku is a major scoundrel so not a big surprise that he launches a mutiny — it is a bit odd that he gets most of the crew to follow along since he’s proven himself to be a bit of a coward as well. Buscema and Chan deliver a terrific creature even though Conan already faced a giant frog way back in “Monster of the Monoliths” from Conan the Barbarian 21 (December 1972). In fact, it’s been quite some time since our Cimmerian hero faced off against an honest to gosh monster: those things seem to appear more on the pages of Red Sonja these days. Got a laugh from one of the letters on The Hyborian Page. Ann Nichols writes “So what happened to Conan’s helmet between pages six and seven in #69? We know he doesn’t lose it permanently until Conan #6, well after this adventure took place. Why am I asking you this? I know you’ll just tell me Conan retrieved it.” The three-word answer? “He retrieved it.”

Chris: We know to count on certain elements in a Conan story: Conan will be opposed by an ill-advised character; Conan might even be conked out and imprisoned; but, he will find a way thru it, with his tormentor likely to meet a sword-point, or some other, far nastier end. The proceedings could become tedious, if not for the smaller touches Roy works into every story. Here are a few that caught my attention: Conan ignores traitorous Kawaku, “for, what has a lion to do with a jackal?” (p 10); Conan senses Kawaku’s indecision about whether to go for the possible treasure at the bottom of the pit – “the spectre of fear, grappling talon-to-throat with the grey goblin of greed” (p 14); and, as he sends Kawaku to his doom, Conan responds to “'Till we meet again” with “'Goodbye, Kawaku.’ The difference in phrasing is lost on the corsair…” (p 15).

Buscema + Chan is a pairing that is very hard to top. How about the early moonlit air on the splash page (uh, page 1)? Other highlights: Kawaku shows his fearfulness, as he faces the toad temple (p 11, pnl 4); Conan’s relaxed, almost contemptuous look as awaits Kawaku’s doom (p 16, pnl 4); the wordless arrival of the toad (p 17); and the toad itself, which is truly hideous, without looking ridiculous or cheesy (below).

Captain America and the Falcon 208
"The River of Death!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, and John Verpoorten
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Cap is searching in South America when a giant creature emerges from the so-called River of Death and attacks him. It comes close to overpowering him when the monster is killed by the officers of Hector Santiago. While the Falcon is in the skies looking for his partner, he spots a giant nest from above. Meanwhile, Cap battles Santiago’s men. When the Swine himself arrives, Cap falls into a pre-dug pit and is soon joined by the rebellious Donna Maria. As the evil dictator lords it over his captors, another giant freak lunges and drags Santiago away. When Cap and the girl make their way to the surface, they find Hector’s body torn in half. The Swine is dead as are his men. The Man-Fish, however, lives and makes its way toward Cap and Donna Maria. Suddenly, a high-pitched tone sends the monster back to the depths. Cap is suddenly face to face with the controller of the monsters…a large humanoid with a face projected on a screen in his chest! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The only thing of any lasting consequence coming out of this issue is the introduction of Arnim Zola. He is a freakish creation and will bedevil Cap for ages to come. Aside from that, we get to see the end of the Swine, which is very quick for someone who had such a large build-up. No sign of Sharon this issue, thankfully, but we do get to see Leila barge into a SHIELD facility in time to overhear chilling news about Cap and the Falcon. It’s interesting that she can just waltz into this guy’s office undetected. Like everyone else, she’s wildly out of character under Kirby’s pen. While we still don’t see anyone familiar at SHIELD, Kirby finally name-drops Nick Fury. At last, something tied in to the main continuity of the Marvel Universe.

Matthew: Did we somehow know that after two whole issues of mere human villains, Kirby would be compelled to make that hard left back into his “weird science” milieu? So we finally get Cap together with Donna (I’m convinced that was supposed to be the Spanish honorific Doña, and they just screwed it up) Maria, but are abruptly deprived of the Swine; no great loss, although it seems odd that Cap didn’t get the honor of taking him down. Obviously, the takeaway here is the debut of Arnim Zola, perhaps the only breakout character of Jack’s Bronze-Age Marvel tenure, played onscreen by Toby Jones—who, as I immediately observed when I saw him in the nifty Captain America: The First Avenger, really looks like a Kirby creation, poor thing.

Daredevil 144
"Man-Bull Means Mayhem"
Story by Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter
Art by Lee Elias and Dan Green
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Bruce Patterson and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

Daredevil has just completed an early morning exercise/training routine, when he responds to a radio news report of a riot at Rikers Island. DD arrives to find Man-Bull battling the guards; M-B swears he will kill DD, as he feels that DD had to have known that the police would pick him up after a few days (after DD had let M-B walk away from their fight in DD #129). DD tries to avoid M-B’s grasp, but fails to vault high enough; M-B grabs DD’s leg and slams him to the ground, escaping Rikers in an owl-emblazoned helicopter. The helicopter lands on the roof of a downtown building; the roof lowers, and releases M-B in the headquarters of the Owl. The Owl’s ability to fly had come from a serum; the serum has had an adverse effect on his nervous system, resulting in impairment of his ability to walk. The Owl recruits M-B to nab famed medical researcher Professor Kerwin, in the hope that Kerwin might be able to reverse the damage. Matt checks in to work at the Storefront; Foggy shows up late, and drunk, still distressed by the (protracted) disappearance of Debbie Harris. A gun battle erupts outside, between Owl henchmen and rival mobsters.

Matt switches to DD garb and breaks up the fracas. Once the sparring parties have scattered, DD finds a card key on the ground near a fallen Owlman. He finds no markings on the card, but figures it to be a potentially useful clue. DD swings in an open window at an unidentified office, and asks an unknown staffer to help decipher the card; the man (of course) has the proper card-reader and computer to reveal that the card will provide access to 13 Wall Street. DD swings downtown, arriving in time to prevent M-B from absconding with Prof Kerwin (M-B hoped Kerwin could employ his scientific magic to remove his beast-like powers). The Owl is stung by M-B’s betrayal; once he realizes that Kerwin’s knowledge will be unavailable to him, the Owl boards his plane and zooms away. Kerwin reports to DD that he would have been willing to help either villain with their respective problems – if only they had asked him … -Chris Blake

Chris: At best, it's an average issue; not a strong start by Shooter in his first outing as this title's full-time writer (he had provided a script for DD #141). There are a number of curious moments: 1) Man-Bull complains about being picked up by PD, but the last time we had seen M-B, he had plunged into Sheepshed Bay (hauling the Matador along with him) -- was M-B apprehended by NYPD frogmen? 2) the Owl's headquarters is attacked by armed mobsters, but we're never told who they are affiliated with, or how this turf war got started, etc; 3) the next gun battle, as gangsters and Owlsters shoot it out in the street, is more than a bit crazy -- were the ‘70s really such a lawless era? 4) DD jumps into a window to have his key card read, thinking to himself "I should get some answers here" -- well, where is he? Why pick this office? If you're not sure what the card key is, how could you possibly know where to take it so that you could have it read? One likely answer is that Shooter might've been in a rush to move the story along, but the whole thing is so wildly implausible, that he succeeded only to distance me from the story. I heard all of you groan at the end of my synopsis; you're well within your rights to do so, since the "All they had to do is ask" ending really is that hokey.

The art is consistently uneven, if you catch my meaning. I realize Elias is a veteran, but I've rarely seen art from him that inspired me, with results here doing nothing to change my opinion. M-B, in particular, gets the Tuska/Colletta treatment, as one panel varies from the next; there are a few moments when he looks menacing and fierce (above), followed by times when he appears awkward and comical (most of p 23; last two pnls of p 27), with other instances when he looks unfinished and mushy (such as p 14, pnl 5). It's really too bad, since there are other moments, such as DD's training session (p 2), and the Owl’s apprehension (below right), that turn out well. The overall lack of backgrounds is distracting (I can't blame Dan Green for that, can I? I suppose not.), and suggests to me that the artwork came together in a bit of a rush.

Matthew: Curiously, while dropping other series like ballast from a sinking balloon, Man-Bull creator Conway returns to his DD alma mater with this two-parter. Kicking off a year-long run, Shooter scripts Gerry’s plot, and later told Kuljit Mithra in his Man Without Fear interview, “Lee Elias was brilliant, and a joy to work with, but his style—the ‘finish’ on his work had an old fashioned look (which old-fashioned me liked!)—that many fans didn’t like….At Marvel in the mid-seventies, it was common to talk about ‘first string’ books, like the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and The Hulk, ‘second string’ books like Daredevil, The Defenders and Captain America, and ‘third string’ books like Iron Fist, Killraven and (believe it or not) The X-Men….

“Big Shots like Len Wein, Marv Wolfman and Roy Thomas had first pick, and unless they had some predilection that drew them to a lesser title (Marv with Dracula, Roy with Invaders), they took first string books. ‘Lesser’ writers like Chris Claremont, Don McGregor and Doug Moench were stuck with the rest….Marv once told me that he wanted to write a second string book like Daredevil so he could show the newer and lesser writers how to work with a second-stringer and bring it up….I figured that we shouldn’t be publishing a book unless…we thought [it] was excellent, regardless of sales, a book worthy of being done well, and therefore selling well, whether or not the audience ‘got’ it….I thought [this one] could be as important a book as any...”

I might have to put myself in the anti-Elias camp; my limited familiarity with his work on, say, Luke Cage makes it difficult for me to assess his and inker Green’s respective contributions to the finished art here, but my default association is negative, since Lee penciled about half of the upcoming, allegedly fact-based Human Fly book heavily touted on this month’s Bullpen Page. This is another one that suffered from being read at bedtime, so I’m a little hazy on the whole Owl/Man-Bull connection, but I find it interesting—if presumably coincidental—that they both battled the Cat (now Tigra) in her don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it mag. The gang-war thing is handled really poorly, and it’s sad to see the Owl as the merest shadow of his former sinister self.

The Defenders 46
"Who Remembers Scorpio?"
Story by Roger Slifer and David Kraft
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

Dr Strange explains his decision to withdraw from the Defenders: since the reduction of his powers, Doc finds himself vulnerable to attacks similar to the one directed against him by the Star of Capistan, which transformed Doc to the Red Rajah. Doc has determined that he must devote more attention to the study and practice of his skills, which means he no longer can divide his time between personal and team responsibilities. Luke Cage and Tania Belinsky also bow out, Luke explaining that he is more accustomed to working alone, while Tania acknowledges obligations back in Mother Russia. Kyle gets peeved, as he feels the team could be splintering apart, until Patsy and Val vow to keep the Defenders together. The Hulk is briefly upset, thinking there is a feud among his friends, until Val explains that Doc needs some time to himself; the Hulk easily accepts this position. The four remaining Defenders decamp to Kyle’s riding academy, expecting to catch some rest after the battles of recent days. Instead, they are confronted by Scorpio, who declares that his astrological forecast indicated that he would meet with Kyle Richmond; Scorpio is considering a scheme that involves vengeance against Kyle, but ironically, Scorpio is not aware that Nighthawk is Kyle’s alter ego. Scorpio effectively engages the team as he wields the power of the zodiac key – that is, until Nighthawk knocks it from his hand, and Hellcat snags the key with her extended claws. Scorpio regains the advantage as he activates the key remotely, using the key’s power to reduce himself to water; Scorpio splashes against Hellcat, regains the key, and teleports away, promising a future rematch. The team is left with nothing but questions about Scorpio’s possible motivation, as they are determined to be prepared for him next time. -Chris Blake

Chris: I’ll have a fair amount to say about the Kraft/Slifer depiction of Scorpio that will play out over these five issues, so I won’t go into it too much right away. For now, I really appreciate the insight our writing team gives us to Scorpio’s flaws and consequent self-doubt. Scorpio’s bravado is offset by a few thought balloons, which reveal a moment of near-panic as he recognizes “this isn’t going at all as I had hoped!” He fears he might be jeopardizing his as-yet-unrevealed scheme for payback on Kyle Richmond. It’s an interesting twist on the usual depiction of the villain and his ingeniously thought-out, cunning plan; Scorpio already seems at a disadvantage.

I’ve owned this issue for countless years (again, courtesy of the market of fleas), and while my memories of the art are clear and true, the art itself doesn’t match the standard Giffen & Janson had set in their previous four collaborations on this title. There are wide variations on the Hulk’s appearance throughout, and other panels during the Scorpio battle that look bare (ie slender backgrounds) and slightly rushed; it’s not bad, simply not as good as I’d like to remember. Don’t get me wrong, though – there still are highlights, such as: the crazy fanged icon at Doc’s house (above); Scorpio’s look of determination (p 26, pnl 4); Scorpio’s elemental transformation, ending in Hellcat’s dousing (p 27); and, my personal favorite, Scorpio’s reveal, complete with energy-infused zodiac key, and personalized team-member chairs visible behind him (below).

Here are a few loose ends: this issue develops a sub-plot involving Jack Norriss, who fled pursuing cars and then tries to hide out in a north Jersey oil refinery, until he (seemingly) is blasted by – Nick Fury? (more on that to come); and, on the last page, the long-running, ever-inexplicable, compellingly-infuriating bit of Gerber business involving an Elf With A Gun is concluded – somewhat anticlimactically – when he is run down by a delivery truck, moments before he could shoot an unsuspecting Daily Bugle paper-route boy. I’m not sure if Gerber himself knew how this running joke was supposed to wrap up, but I can’t help but think that he might’ve been satisfied by its thoroughly weird finish.

Matthew: As noted, I value good writing over good art in my comics; here, the writing is okay, but not good enough to make me overlook the gloppy, lumpy Giffen/Janson visuals. It’s a shame, because while I’ll temporarily miss Doc and Tania (Luke, by his own admission a loner, not so much), some of the elements—e.g., Scorpio, Hellcat’s “formal” membership—are there, but it just demonstrates why I’m not a big fan of Dave the Dude and/or Roguish Roger. Speaking of whom, per Mark Drummond’s SuperMegaMonkey comment, “Steve Gerber later said in interviews that he had no resolution in mind for the Elf subplot, and that what Kraft & Slifer did was just as good as anything he might have done,” so I guess there’s nothing I can add.

Doctor Strange 22
"Mind Trip!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Rudy Nebres
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Frank Brunner

Stephen is still in what was once Phaseworld. He uses the Eye of Agamotto to pass through an attacking dragon and return to Earth. His next mission is to find Clea, who disappeared so mysteriously from the city's museum. She is not at his residence. Wong has not seen her. Strange sets himself to deep concentration to find her. Clea is not far; her memory blank, her motivations misguided. Having broken out of jail, she resists the attempts of the police to return her there. In fact, she sees them and the throng of onlookers as enemies. She uses her powers (powers that she doesn't understand) to thwart their efforts, turning guns into snakes, and bringing forth giant tentacled creatures from the ground to stop the masses. By this time Stephen has sensed her whereabouts, but faces a new problem: how to help her without harming her, as she doesn't recognize him. She conjures a golden warrior from her thoughts to battle him. Stephen sends the onlookers to a safe place, diminishing the warrior's power and then defeating it. But Clea is not done; she feigns pain to catch Stephen off guard, and attacks anew. He realizes the problem can only be stopped at its source, in Clea's mind, a perfect job for his astral form. He finds a dark cloud, the source of the confounding spell, and though it resists, he destroys it. He returns to his body, Clea's memory returns, and he returns the humans as they were, memories of the events wiped clean. They return home. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: In a way not too much actually happens in this issue. Stephen simply finds Clea and returns her to sanity. But that would do it an injustice. We get to see some of the considerable power that Clea has learned to harness from Stephen's teachings. And without clear conscience, that power corrupts. We have the added mystery of the girl who seems to know Clea. Unclearly at first, then with certainty, identifying herself as Apalla, Queen of the Sun. It's unclear whether she is friend or foe, but she elects to let her presence be unknown for the time being.

Chris: Clea might’ve signed on for study with Doc due to the promise of inter-dimensional travel and a Manhattan address; but now, after having experienced abduction, reality-re-formation, and (this time) possession by a small blue play-doh demon, I wouldn’t blame her if she met with her advisor and switched to anthropology. Marv describes Doc’s difficulty locating Clea – even once he’s returned to our segment of reality, where Clea should be easier to pick out of a crowd – but I don’t think there was any mention of how she was masked so completely. If it were me, I might’ve included some explanation; at the very least, the bond they share should’ve made it less complicated for Doc to track her down.

Nebres continues to provide vibrant, imaginative art. I haven’t seen his work for the B&W mags (specifically Deadly Hands), but based on Dean Peter’s teeth-chattering descriptions, I’ll express my gratitude that Nebres was not inspired to allow the subject matter for this title to take him as far afield. Instead, he follows Colon’s example of unusual panel-shaping. Plus, we have visuals that enhance our enjoyment of the narrative: the slithering, sucking tentacles are sufficiently nasty (p 11); Doc gets twisted around as he battles back (p 15, pnl 5); the innocuous-looking blue goo sprouts fangs (p 27).

But wait – Starlin will provide pencil art next issue -? Cool …
Matthew: Talk about domino effects: last issue’s reprint bears a Clea-amok cover clearly intended for the story bumped to here, while this one’s “Four Worlds to Conquer!” tag line tells us it was meant for what became #23. It’s beautifully but surprisingly drawn by Brunner, who’ll resume doing Doc’s covers on an irregular basis with #28, and for you completists, his stunning cover for the 1975 treasury edition was reworked in ’79 for the first volume of Pocket’s mass-market paperback reprints, my source for his earliest Strange Tales adventures. Not sure when the stories and covers finally synch up, but “in synch” definitely describes Wolfman and Nebres here, and putting Xander offstage helps make this one of the most satisfying issues in some time.

The Eternals 10
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The giant Celestial, Eson, explores the underwater domain of the Deviants, aware of their evil nature, yet not necessarily seeking their destruction. Nonetheless he causes great havoc, and their weapons can do nothing to stop him. Eventually he leaves, as his fellow Celestials likewise explore other areas of Earth. In Olympia, Zuras dons the "link-up," a device that will help attune even his awesome mind to the Celestial ship above them. It works, but is almost too much for even him to bear. He sees clearly the fifty-year judgement that the Space-Gods are unleashing upon the Earth, and the results may not be popular. He activates the Unifier Sound, a device to call together all Eternals everywhere back to Olympia. Among them, his daughter Thena, still a guest in the Deviant's underground city. Her energy is occupied both by Kro's request for her to stay with him, and the attention demanded by the two who had fought in the arena--the Reject and Karkas. The rampage of the former is stopped by her power blasts, but both are touched by her unwillingness to cause them harm. She hears the Unifier's call, and bids Kro farewell, taking the other two as her wards. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The epic power of the Celestials makes a mockery of the Deviants' weaponry. It also brings to the fore, the passions of what is important for all involved. Kro and Thena share a special bond (love?) that the former, especially, doesn't want to lose. Karakas and the Reject are confused yet touched by Thena's motives; clearly she is different than the rest present. And what did Zuras learn, beyond what we already know, that caused him such pain, and gave him the need to call his people together?

Matthew: I don’t see how you could argue with that gigantic clutching-hand cover (with its “City That Died Twice!” tagline far superior to the fairly meaningless formal title, “Mother!”), so much more vibrantly colored than is Madame Wein’s muted Eson in the otherwise spectacular corresponding scene that opens this issue. Jack’s obviously got a lot of Esons—er, irons—in the fire here, and I almost wonder if there might be too many as he bops madly among plotlines and settings, but this is storytelling on an epic scale, requiring a suitably large canvas. The Unifier, which summons “Eternals everywhere,” seemed familiar, but I’m not sure if it’s just a 38+-year-old memory of reading this, or I’m overlooking something obvious; all suggestions are welcome.

Chris: Jack goes out of his way to impress us with the monumental scale of the Celestials; the illustration of Eson swimming past some dinky blue whales is inspired (p 11). I don’t remember the Eternals being so distressed by the actions of the Fourth Host, so that now it’s necessary to call for a gathering of the tribes. But, that’s sort of how this series has gone from the very start – with each issue, things happen, followed by other things happening, until some other things happen along; meantime, we the readers are left wondering what might possibly happen next.

You can’t blame Kro for trying with Thena – I mean, wouldn’t you? So the ending is particularly empty for Kro, as Thena weighs Kro’s treatment of the Deviant outcasts, and finds him wanting. Not only does she deliver her charges to safety, but she makes a point of abandoning him – yes, treating Kro himself as a “reject” – in the quickly-flooding chamber. I wouldn’t count on a Valentine’s card, Thena.

Mark: This is the best issue of the series, and by a wide margin. Has the King amped his "technological sublime," techno-porn art to new heights of graphic glory, created even bigger Space Gods/machines/monsters than we've ever seen before?


What raises the bar is the writing and characterization. While waiting for the yelps of astonishment and disbelief to die down, let's praise the eye candy giant hand cover, the drama of the Eternals' ruling potentate Zuras left agog after mind-melding with the Celestials, and the wet-hankie parting of star-crossed lovers Kro and Thena, separated again as the buxom blonde leaves her one-time Deviant beau to answer Zuras' clarion call, leaving Kro to deal with raising water in the Deviants' now-flooding underwater city.

Good stuff all, but my ballyhooing focuses on Karkas, the big red monster, presumptively-slain last ish in the Reject's gladiator-pit assault. He rises again, not only to address Thena with "great sensitivity," but to extend an olive branch to his would-be killer. "Sanctuary for that poor creature too," Karkas pleads to the blonde Eternal. "Remember your own words! 'The fault lies not with the monsters!' We are 'made!' - not born this way..."

Thena's touch calms the savage Reject, even as he cries, "No! No!" She offers the duo the protection of Olympia and a new beginning, and Kirby serves all this up with enough tenderness and raw, pass-the-hankie emotion to startle not just the "Jack's a hack" critics, but - more impressively - his biggest boosters.

Ginormous Space God thumbs up for this one.

Ghost Rider 23
“Wrath of the Water Wizard!”
Story by Jim Shooter
Plot by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Heck and Don Newton
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Ray Holloway
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

After wrapping up his latest adventure with The Champions, Ghost Rider rides off and uses his new-found ability to change back to Johnny Blaze on command — however, the effort causes a terrible headache. A woozy Johnny takes a cab back to his apartment and finds Roxanne Simpson and George “Stuntmaster” Smith waiting for him: they are both concerned about Coot Collier’s odd behavior on set. Across town, a new villain named the Water Wizard robs a brokerage house with the help of a brutish water monster he creates by tapping into a fire hydrant. Back at his hideout, the Wizard meets his partner-in-crime, Mole, and relates how he got his powers during the Viet Nam war: he was injured in battle and an experimental radiation device gave him the ability to control water. Soon, the Enforcer appears and offers the Wizard $1,000,000 to kill Ghost Rider. The next day at Delazny Studios, Blaze prepares for a waterfall stunt. As he approaches the downpour, watery hands reach out and grab him — but Johnny turns into Ghost Rider and breaks free of their liquid embrace. Convinced that studiohead Charles L. Delazny is involved in all of the strange activity, the Rider races to his estate. But the Wizard is waiting and blasts the monstrous motorcyclist off of his bike with a tidal wave of water from Delazny’s pool. Even while hurtling through the air, Ghost Rider still manages to engulf the Wizard in his hellfire — the watery weasel runs off screaming in agony. However, the Rider’s momentum flings him against a brick wall, knocking him unconscious. Delazny emerges ominously from the shadows. -Tom Flynn 

Tom: This series get worse and worse. Now I’m not going to lay this stinker completely at the feet of Jim Shooter because the art is horrendous, even worse than last issue — which I couldn’t imagine was possible. I am totally unfamiliar with inker Don Newton, who did most of his work penciling for Charlton and DC before he died at the young age of 50. This looks to be the first of his infrequent Marvel assignments. But Shooter doesn’t get off the hook completely. Not sure if he or Conway is to blame for the Water Wizard, but the character is a complete drip. Unbelievably, the Wizard was still kicking around up until 2006 — along the way he changed his name to the totally terrible Aqueduct. His origin is a joke. After being injured in combat, he was helicoptered to a Navy hospital ship. However a ferocious typhoon was raging so the doctors didn’t want to risk surgery in the rolling waters. So they had a convenient radiation device that would keep him in a coma while it stimulated his cells. But then a bolt of lightning struck the ship and voila. Not sure why a combination of radiation and electricity would give him control over water but we already have Electro so what can you do? And what’s with Mole? He looks a bit like the Mole Man but doesn’t appear to have any powers. Basically, he seems to be the brains behind his partner.

Not that anybody was looking for him, but the Enforcer shows up to offer the Wizard the bounty only to slink away after three quick panels. Not sure how this guy can see where he’s going: the eye holes on his mask are barely more than slits. Total crap all around. 

Matthew: To Professor Tom’s undoubted relief, this marks the end of plotter Conway’s brief tenure on the book, and believe me, if I’d created the Water Wizard—whose debut Shooter has the dubious honor of scripting, with its abysmal technobabble “ray-gizmo” origin—I’d slink away with my tail between my legs, too. So, the Enforcer (who resembles a constipated Kabuki character in page 17, panel 3), newly arrived on the scene himself, wants to pay a cool million to this clown, just minutes after his first caper? This is also a rare Marvel credit for longtime DC artist Newton, but having lamented last time that we saw too little of inker Pollard’s touch, I’ll make the opposite complaint here, because if anything, that Two Dons combo looks even worse.

Archie is so sloppy that the first name of La Simpson—whose triangle with Johnny and Karen is, as frequent correspondent Larry Twiss observes in the lettercol, “a bit questionable”—is spelled both “Roxie” and “Roxy” on the same page, not to mention the fact that her nickname has been “Rocky” since day one, a fact that recent writers of this mag have overlooked. It may seem like a minor point, but to me it’s the kind of thing you should know, and be watching for, if you’re paid to be the book’s editor. And on that selfsame page 14, when Johnny says, “Roxie! George!,” am I the only one who said, “Who’s George?” It took me a while to figure out that George (Smith, as it turns out) is the Stunt-Master…but when was he last referred to in that way?


Chris: Over five issues, GR now has featured four different writers (Isabella, Wolfman, Conway, Shooter) and four different pencillers (Robbins, Byrne, Kane, Heck); never a good sign to have so much volatility, is it? I will try to be supportive, and give Shooter credit for a number of things that work well this time: Water Wizard’s skills are more involved that I would’ve anticipated, especially as he composes solid forms that move independently; Johnny has assumed such a high degree of control over the transformation that he can use the Ghost Rider’s power for a space of a few seconds, and then change back again – that’s progress (p 23); Johnny isn’t talking like a “cowboy” – a welcome development; GR typically has used his hellfire against objects, or as a defensive measure, but this is the first time I can remember seeing him burn a person – in this case, the Water Wizard – and for that person to feel cold from the flames, while simultaneously his soul seems to be “on fire!” GR will get a lot of distance from this use of hellfire for the remainder of this title’s run.

The art, Heck pencils paired with finishes by DC-mainstay Newton, is – to borrow a phrase from our own Prof Bradley – neither fish nor fowl. I like the texture Newton brings to the art overall, and while I prefer the characters who are more Newtonian in appearance, the overall effect is too variable; without costumes, I’d have a very difficult time telling some of these characters apart. Credit where it’s due, and ten points to the art team for these two moments: GR scales the wall on a wave of hellfire (p 3), and water-hands clutching at Johnny from the waterfall (p 22).

Howard the Duck 11
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan, Steve Leialoha, Neal Adams, Russ Heath, Walt Simonson, Al Milgrom, and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Colan, Alex Nino, and Steve Leialoha

Bev has called a doctor to check on Howard. He's been in bed for the past few days (since his battle at Niagara with Le Beavair), his lethargy interrupted by brief periods of agitation and screaming. Bev fears Howard might've suffered a Nervous Breakdown, but the doc thinks it might be simple exhaustion; he gives Howard a multivitamin shot, and offers to take Bev out for some tea so that they might discuss Howard's case further. Howard rouses as Bev leaves, and is annoyed with Bev having left him in their motel room (and gone out for awhile with a hunky doctor). He storms out to the motel desk, and buys a bus ticket that will take him as far away as possible (that is, as far as his meager funds will allow); he doesn't care where he goes. The desk clerk tries repeatedly to convince Howard not to take this bus, and advises him to wait for a later one, but Howard is in earnest. He settles in, and realizes – too late – that the bus is bound for Cleveland. The person in the next seat calls herself "Winda" (although, her name might be "Linda" – she appears to have a wisp), and states that she's bound for Cleveland so that she may have an exorcism; her parents feel Winda is possessed by the devil because, she says, she likes to make funny faces. It gets worse – Howard is accosted by a series of earnest proselytizers, advocating Gnosticism, Martyrdom, and Hare Krishna; Howard tells them all to get lost – he wants nothing more than to be left alone. His next confrontation is with the dreaded Kidney Lady (how did she get here?!), who accuses Howard of having followed her from city to city; she declares that Howard will steal Winda's kidneys, and alleges that Howard might've already done so to "the redhead." This mention of Bev throws Howard into a rage; already smarting from Bev's suspected betrayal, Howard lashes out, and the riot is on. The driver attempts to call for order, but a blown tire throws the hurtling bus into a skid, and a crash. The police cart off the perceived provocateurs of the public-transport pugilistics: Winda, the Kidney Lady, and Howard, who is bound up in a warm, snuggly straightjacket. -Chris Blake

Chris: Life in the land of hairless apes ain’t easy. Howard already wasn’t doing well last issue, as he felt overwhelmed by the pressures of everyday life; now, his trip on the loony bus seems to have crumpled the tender bits of sanity he had left. I didn’t mention in the synopsis that Howard is continuing to experience some running commentary in his head (hearing a voice, if you will), and that he sometimes has random words pop up in his thinking (“piano,” “epoxy,” “whim – wham – funga”), so yeah, he’s not doing well. In fact, there’s room to question whether his altered perceptions include some of his fellow passengers; most of this could’ve played out in his addled brain. The one undeniable persecutor is the Kidney Lady herself – at the end, we see the worn soles of her shoes in the back of the ambulance, together with tethered Howard and grumpy Winda. I don’t care how crazy you might be – no one is nuts enough to dream up a force like the Kidney Lady; unless, of course, you happen to be Steve Gerber.

The Gene & Steve L. art continues to excel. Howard’s outrage at Bev’s actions is punctuated by Howard picturing a large book clomping him in the face (p 6, pnl 5). The potential menace of the Cleveland-bound bus is reinforced by the gloomy sky overhead, and the shadowy driver (p 7, last pnl). The KL returns in all her gruesome glory (p 23), a nightmare fit for any of us. We get a neat little touch during the bus-brawl, as we see some thrown food splattered on the inter-panel space (p 27, between pnl 1 and 2). Gene & Steve also present a Jesus-figure in the proceedings (p 15) – a not-so-subtle poke at Tony Isabella’s recent Ghost Rider stories, perhaps -?

Matthew: Tangent time: I have little else to offer here besides standard praise for this extended extra-bizarre plotline, so I’m going to thank Steve profusely for “Goo-goo-goo-joob!” in page 27, panel 1. Why? Glad you asked. Since I was a lad and librarian Mom brought home the LPs (kids, ask your folks about those!) of the Beatles’ 1962-1966 and 1967-1970, with their printed lyrics, I’ve had a pet peeve about pervasive misquoting of “I Am the Walrus,” like one website I won’t dignify by naming it, which renders them “coo coo cachoo.” My audiotapes (ask about those, too!)—perhaps the first I ever owned—of the “Red and Blue Albums” are long since literally played out but the Beatles Complete songbook backs us up with “Goo goo g’joob.”
This is one of three titles (Eternals and Invaders being the other two) soon to have one-time-only annuals, a status shared—contrary to the list in the current Bullpen Page—with the 1976 editions of Defenders and MOKF, mags evidently bumped from ’77 by the yet-to-debut Tarzan and John Carter, Warlord of Mars. And, just to throw fuel on the fire, “January is the month when Marvel Preview featuring Man-God hits your newsstand….The last time when we announced [that]…a large section of the recently completed pages disappeared in transit into the myriad byways of the United States mail. When finally they emerged safely, if somewhat frayed around the edges, we’d already been forced to substitute the Legion of Monsters,” as said Bullpen Page also relates.

Mark: Another quixotic adventure, with Howard seeking not dragons to slay but just a little peace of mind, which proves equally elusive. We start where we ended last month - Howard in hell, mid-nightmare. Our depressed drake wakes up on page three, but does he really? His musings, free-floating thought balloons, disconnected from his head and quite possibly reality, suggest something's amiss.

And the sheets are all sweaty.



Gene Colan's funny animal absurdism - Howard woozy and glassy-eyed atop page 6, his face twisted in an angry. bill-clenching snit over Bev at the bottom - is amplified by the almost palpable human - sorry, hairless ape - emotion Gene brings to our avian outcast. A true master at work, highlighted by Steve Leialoha's righteous inks.

Buying a last buck bus ticket to points unknown has Howard inadvertently rolling back toward Cleveland, shoehorned in with wacko Elmer Gantrys, caterwauling siren songs of salvation. A turtle-necked chubbo hawks thin-veiled Hubbardism. A looks-the-part Jesus freak proffers "Martyrdom for the Millions," "jam-packed with info and color photographs!" while a hare hare huckster pimps To Sri with Love. And to top off the indignity, the cane-wielding Kidney Lady is aboard as well. Faced with his nemesis, Howard's disjointed thoughts randomly fire, like fouled spark plugs:


Federal Reserve Note.


Yet Howard's not completely alone in the mad cattle car. Lisping, face-pulling "Winda" stands by our duck, but while she apparently means well, allies like this got Poland wun over by the Wehrmacht.

Only on the last page, after a general brawl causes the bus to crash and a hard case lawman arrives to trundle Winda and our now straight-jacketed hero off to the loony-bin, do we finally know that Gerbs is serving up - NOT A DREAM! NOT AN IMAGINARY TALE! - but just another day in the life.

And that issue-long uncertainty captures Steve Gerber's dark, bent genius ethos at its best, asking the reader the musical question: is this hallucinatory nightmare, or stark, cell-door-slamming reality?

Or is there even a damned bit of difference? 

The Incredible Hulk 210
"And Call the Doctor... Druid!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

As if he didn't already have enough problems, Dr. Robert Bruce Banner (aka The Incredible Hulk) awakens in a seedy alleyway to find himself facing a hooded, sinister figure. The man drops his hood to reveal... Doctor Druid, Master of the Unknown! [Don't worry, none of us know who this clown is, either!] Druid informs Banner that he needs the Hulk's help; it's a matter of life and death for the entire world. Bruce lays out a new dietary plan for the Doctor of Unknown Arts: Banner has decided he'll never transform into the Hulk again so any help he could give would be of a purely scientific nature. Take it or leave it, Druid! The Doc accompanies Bruce back to his apartment and relates the story of the mysterious bauble known as the Hellfire Helix, a gem that can destroy the world and is presently being sought by the tyrannical Maha Yogi. Bruce and Druid travel to the New Jersey Palisades fortress of the Maha, where they must face several obstacles, including Yogi's henchmen and his monstrous bodyguard, Mongu. Though he fights the urge, Bruce can't help but give in to his bestial side when he's fired upon and loses his cool. The Hulk dispatches all of the Maha's goons but when the Maha and Druid fight for control of the Hulk's mind, the green goliath passes out, leaving Druid to deal with the oncoming onslaught of Mongu! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: About every six months or so, the current Hulk writer will trot out the old "Hulk No More" chestnut and it's six months... right... about... now. Most writers tend to saddle that plot with the latest gizmo created by Doc Samson, Reed Richards, or Bruce Banner himself. Len doesn't even bother coming up with a new concoction. He simply has Bruce make himself a promise he won't transform no matter what. And then he volunteers to go on a stressful trip (the entire world is in the balance -- nothing to get excited about, right?) with Druid, all the while convincing himself he can do this. He can't. I found the whole enchilada very stale, lacking any kind of pep or originality. Throw in a faux-Doctor Strange and you've got a funny book you can skip this month. You guys owe me... big time.

Matthew: Something old, something new, something borrowed, something…green? “Something(s) old” include Marvel’s first recurring Silver-Age character, Dr. Druid (né Droom), as featured in Amazing Adventures Vol. 1, until that was rebranded as Amazing [Adult] Fantasy, wherein a certain arachnid hero first appeared. At the time Druid made his Bronze-Age debut here, Weird Wonder Tales was—as Len’s footnote so tactfully directs us—not only reprinting his adventures (out of sequence), having rechristened him for presumably obvious reasons, but also shoehorning him into other reruns, sometimes as a Crypt Keeper-style narrator. We also get an ancient Thor/X-Men villain and Mongu (last seen facing Man-Thing in Fear #14 in June of ’73).

“Something new” is Flynn-fave and Conan vet Chan, who takes over the “finishing and inking chores” with a far stronger hand than the departing Staton’s, and contributes a cover that is pretty spiffy despite breaking Professor Chris’s commandment against blowing the ending—verbatim, I might add. “Something borrowed” is the Bloodstone saga from (as the lettercol helpfully tells us) this mag’s B&W counterpart, apparently retconned by Len into the Maha Yogi’s origin. And “something green” is, of course, the Hulk himself, now making his entrance with three pages to go, and I find ludicrous Bruce’s refusal to change, “not even to save the whole blamed planet,” especially since agreeing to accompany Dr. Druid was virtually guaranteed to quicken that pulse.

Chris: Admirable restraint by Len, to allow Banner to hold back on the Hulk’s appearance until p 27. We all know that the notion of Banner resisting the transformation, and the Hulk being “dead” to him won’t last, but I appreciate Len allowing the Banner character a chance to take center stage and have a (semblance of) a life of his own, if only for a few issues.

Can anyone tell me how the brute force of the Hulk is supposed to help Druid against Maha Yogi? Druid doesn’t really think that the Hulk might deliver a half-ton clout before the Yogi could zap him a brain-blast – did he? Druid, with his carny-magician skills, is an odd-enough character that I’m surprised he didn’t wind up with (at least) a guest appearance in the Defenders; speaking of, wouldn’t it have made more sense for Druid to recruit the help of Dr Strange & the Defenders against this threat? Makes sense to me. At least that could’ve worked as a more-sensical cross-over with the Defenders than the recent battle with the non-team in Hulk #206-207.
Clever moment as the Maha Yogi origin story overlaps with Ulysses Bloodstone’s first appearance in the uncelebrated Marvel Presents #1. At first, I wanted to credit Marvel for careful attention to continuity; then, on the letters page, I saw that the new B/W Rampaging Hulk mag will include features starring – who else? Why, ageless U. Bloodstone, that’s who. Clever devils, those Marvel editing/publishing types.

As much as I’ve appreciated Staton’s inks on this title, I think that I like Chan’s finishes much more. The results are not consistently clear this time, but I expect that, over the next few issues, the Sal & Ernie team will deliver some satisfying, well-textured results.

The Inhumans 10
"Isle of the Asteroid Web!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Mike Esposito

After mopping up a last squad of city-keepers, the Inhumans join the spider-city demon-rebels to seek Warkon’s “last hope” inside the beetle-city, where Skornn disavows the resisters and conducts them to the spacecraft that was his “fail-safe contingency” for reaching his Kree allies.  Not wishing to antagonize Black Bolt, Warkon agrees to spare Skornn  et al., and the two groups depart, with Warkon planning to orbit the planet until he can locate another rebel contingent.  But Skornn has locked the rocket’s course on the Kree space station, “suspended at the nexus of a web-like force field, each strand of which is a [sicenergy pipeline fed from the surrounding mineral-rich asteroids,” so they must disguise themselves as Skornn’s city-keepers.

No sooner have they met the outpost’s new commander, Mon-Tog, than Skornn calls and blows their cover; as the Inhumans savor this “taste of revenge on…the race that  created us as freaks to be used as cannon-fodder in their self-serving War between the Three Galaxies” (way to summarize, Gorgon!), Black Bolt shatters Mon-Tog’s neuro-lance.  In a monitor room, they see a terrestrial suicide bomber from a Kree-controlled fifth column, and while seeking an unguarded Kree craft meet Warkon, who is increasing the energy-flow to create a power overload.  After the four surviving rebels sacrifice themselves to cover their escape from the explosion, the Inhumans conclude that they must return to Earth and foil the plot against “the only home we’ve ever had.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The lettercol bids us “welcome aboard new artist-inker Klobberin’ Keith Pollard. Keith’s slam-bang powerhouse style has developed dramatically in the relatively short time he’s been with Marvel, and it’s safe to bet that the lad is really looking forward to struttin’ his stuff on a regular top-line mag [?] like The Inhumans.” He only has two more issues in which to do so, but if this is any indication, constrained quantity will be inversely proportional to quality.  Unfiltered as it is here, Keith’s vibrant style can be appreciated in full, while Moench’s story offers ample drama and satisfying resolution; even Karnak’s self-doubt, exacerbated when Black Bolt insists he can better effect ingress to the beetle-city, is mitigated as Karnak locates the station’s launching port.

It’s apt that in page 30, panel 3, we clearly see a Kree clad in Captain Marvel’s original uniform, because there are times—especially the launching of the Last Hope  in page 10, panel 1—that this strip evokes the good old days of the Thomas/Colan Mar-Vell.  

Doug’s caption tells us that “The Kree space station is a mind-blower,” and although the visual may not quite live up to that, it’s a pretty solid job by Pollard (who first drew Mon-Tog on the cover concealing last issue’s reprint, where he was called “Mor-Tog” and depicted with blue skin, rather than its inexplicable brown here).  I won’t deny that it’s been cool having the Inhumans out among the stars, but the reasons for their return to Earth are sound, and I trust this creative team can do well regardless of setting.

Chris: It took me awhile to find my way back into the story, after the reprint last issue. Thank Agon, we finally are moving on from the Planet of Roaming Beetle-Cities, as the Inhumans take the fight to the nasty Kree themselves; two good decisions by Doug. And now, the team is going to return home to earth, pick up the pieces, and prepare to defend the planet against a Kree assault? Well, make that three sound Doug decisions.

I realize that Pollard has his detractors. He might not be an all-time great artist, but I think his work is best viewed as from the Buckler school: Pollard does a solid job of incorporating styles of other comics artists. Pollard’s work here has shades of Pérez, and of Buckler’s take on Buscema, which aren’t poor standards to aspire to, I figure. Credit where it’s due: Pollard’s Kree space station (p 11) is better than anything we’ve ever seen from Milgrom, the regular artist for two space-themed titles; okay, so topping Milgrom probably isn’t saying much. In any case, there’s plenty of action, and everything looks just right. Pollard won’t top the artists he’s emulating, but he’s putting in solid work for a team book, which isn’t so easy; as we know too well, this title could be in far less-capable hands.

The Invaders 15
"God Save the King!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

The Invaders continue to debate the wisdom of having the mysterious, unproven Crusaders supplant them as King George’s honor guard; after they reluctantly acquiesce, Spitfire gets undisclosed news from her father.   Meanwhile, in a ship docked on the Thames, those same Crusaders are expressing equal mystification as to how their powers work, or why they received them, when their “liaison officer,” Alfie—who implies that he works for the Admiralty—appears and reminds them that he controls them all with the power source in his belt.  He asserts that the Invaders are Nazis, offering as proof photos of them wrecking a defense plant, fighting with the F.B.I. and other heroes, and stealing a plane, all explainable as readers of prior issues well know.

Still suspicious, Dyna-Mite hides in Alfie’s coat pocket, hears him reporting to his Nazi masters that the champagne bottle for the dedication contains a bomb, and is dumped in the Thames after confronting the traitor, yet emerges to hitch a ride on a passing lorry and reach Falsworth Manor. At the dedication of H.M.S. Hornblower (yay!), the Invaders must battle the Crusaders to stop George from inadvertently blowing himself up; he agrees to retreat, but not without tossing the bottle, which Toro intercepts and Namor hurls into the sea before it detonates. After the fleeing Alfie’s cab plunges off Tower Bridge and explodes, leaving the chastened Crusaders powerless, the Invaders discover that the Falsworths and Dyna-Mite have left, requesting not to be followed. -Matthew Bradley

Mathew: Does it go without saying how satisfied (if not surprised, given last issue’s “Bwuhaha!” ending) I was to learn that those horrible Crusaders were merely Nazi puppets?  It all seems rather far-fetched, and uppermost among the unanswered questions in my mind is, if the Axis had the ability to empower a super-group, then why not simply create Fascism’s Five or the Blitzkriegers or the  Lebensraum Legion or whoever, and pit them against the Allies on a regular basis?  Being able to bid these clowns “Alf” Wiedersehen puts me in a forgiving mood, though, so I’ll relax and await Dyna-Mite developments, while flashing a V for victory to “F. Robbins, WW II Buff” for a cleverly conceived splash page that lets him show off scale models of three German planes.
A LOC from one Murray R. Ward upbraids Roy for not calling Ms. Falsworth “Union Jackie,” which prompts an interesting explanation.  

Having borrowed the original U.J. handle from an old fanzine, he planned to use the character for only a few issues before the baton was passed to his daughter, in essentially the same uniform and dubbed “Union Jaq (pronounced ‘Jack,’ of course), occasionally Union Jacquie.”  After his sketches revealed “that the female torso just didn’t fit well into the…costume,” Roy decided to accept Frank’s suggestion of Spitfire—despite concerns that, as Ward puts it, “younger readers won’t appreciate the reference to the aircraft and will confuse the name with Sunfire”—and the two collaborated on the final version of their character.

Chris: Roy sets up an interesting debate, as Jacqueline successfully convinces the team to accept the Crusaders; after all, no one had heard of the members of the Invaders (except perhaps for Namor) before they arose from obscurity and began fighting Nazis – shouldn’t the Crusaders be permitted the same opportunity? The Torch is so unconvinced, that I’m surprised he didn’t undertake a solo investigation into the new team; the fact that he has feelings for her makes her rejection of his reservations even harder for the Torch to take, I reckon.

The Crusaders don’t offer much in the way of superpowers: flight, power, evasiveness, mini-size? It’s understandable that Roy let these guys out of their contracts once their powers are lost. But still, I wonder; ’76, with his protective cloak and fighting skills, doesn’t require a remote power-source to propel any superpower – couldn’t Roy have found a way for this character to continue in some capacity, to contribute to The Cause? Lastly, we had some seeds-of-intrigue planted last issue involving Dyna-Mite, and now he’s gone, together with the Falsworths; where ya headed with this, eh Roy -?

I had to search various websites, and now I’m certain that the one-and-done Invaders Annual follows #15 in this title’s continuity. No mention of it at all, though, on the letters page, or in the handy “Next Issue!” teaser at the bottom of p 31. Curious.

Matthew: Correct, although the fact that the annual didn't appear until September may be a factor.

Iron Fist 12
“Assault on Avengers’ Mansion!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Adkins
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Frank Giacoia

After stealing into Avengers’ Mansion, Iron Fist comes across Jarvis: the startled butler flees to warn Captain America about the intruder but stumbles down a flight of stairs and knocks himself unconscious yet basically unharmed. An enraged Captain arrives on the scene thinking that the martial artist has killed his friend — he also believes that the Fist murdered Harold Meachum and Assistant D.A. Bill Hao, unaware that Rand was cleared of those charges. The Living Weapon and the Living Legend face off, the star-spangled icon proving himself the mightier combatant. After absorbing a crackling Iron Fist punch with his mighty shield, Captain America hurls his destructive disc at machinery over Rand’s head. As the heavy metalwork collapses above him, Iron Fist stands still. Refusing to let his fearless foe be crushed, the Cap’n leaps and knocks Danny clear. When the dust clears, Iron Fist convinces Cap that he is innocent and only looking for help to defeat the Wrecking Crew and rescue Misty Knight — united, the two heroes hatch a plan. Iron Fist opens the mansion’s front door and the Crew rumbles inside, Thunderball roughly holding the struggling Misty. Rand leads the fearsome foursome to Captain America, supposedly dead in the Danger Room: he knocks Misty outside and the room’s doors slam shut, the practice session set at “Thor Sequence.” Along with Cap’s ricocheting shield and Rand’s Iron Fist blows, the Danger Room’s powerful training weapons take down the confused Crew. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Ahhhhhh. Smooth and refreshing, this issue went down like an ice cold Molson Golden on a sweltering summer night. Heck, like a frigid winter night as well — I loves me some Goldens in any season! Claremont continues to delight, drafting a story that is simple, effective and chockfull of action. After last issue’s multiple cameos, he continues to expand the exposure with another major Marvel character, America’s greatest super soldier. Sure, we can groan about the old MARMIS tomfoolery, but it was perfectly set-up and totally understandable. I guess you could also raise an eyebrow considering that Iron Fist and Cap could have easily fallen victim to the Danger Room’s traps as the Wrecking Crew. But considering that two of the four Crew members are total knuckleheads, I’ll give it a slide. Besides, Rand mentions the risk at one point so at least Claremont fesses up. Is anyone sick of me singing the praises of John Byrne? Tough. His Captain America is hot diggidy damn. Totally spot on. Cap’s big, full-page “reveal” on page four of my Masterworks Edition is tremendous. And of course, Byrne lays the foundation for his future run on that very series. I think Professor Matthew might have already made a similar lament, but considering that Claremont and Byrne were in still in charge until the very end, it’s a stumper why this series was ever cancelled. Who wouldn’t love this stuff back in ’77?

Matthew: “You are Captain America…” Aside from the not-too-shabby Cockrum/Giacoia cover, could there be a better way to kick this issue off? Because if Iron Fist is gonna encounter an Avenger other than his ferrous counterpart—and the plot demands that he must—which could be better suited than Cap, whom Byrne will frequently draw in Avengers itself and, later, his own book? His fighting skills make him the Assembler most like a martial artist; they have at least one former foe (Batroc) in common; and the power of the iron fist itself, which when not curing radiation sickness, etc., is an unmatched offensive weapon, perfectly complements Cap’s shield, the quintessential defensive weapon. Thus, to quote Jerry Maguire, this one “had me at ‘hello.’”

Can we also agree that erroneous reports of Danny’s complicity in the death of Harold Meachum and the not-quite-dead Bill Hao—a fact overlooked in Cap’s overly hasty research—give us a reasonably justifiable MARMIS?  

I chortled in pure pleasure at that stunning shot on page 6; the Sentinel of Liberty has rarely looked better, and I’ll add that Adkins is at the top of his game this time, with Claremont’s characterization matching them note for note.  Once again, the top half of page 16 gives us an oversized panel whose simple visual balances the requisite exposition, while in the bottom half, John even makes that damned Wrecking Crew look good.  Offhand, I neither recall nor care if it was established that the Avengers have a Danger Room—it’s a tour de force.

Chris: We’ve had a lot to say about Iron Fist, particularly since Claremont & Byrne took over. The stories and characters are intriguing, the art is novel and inspired, etc. I don’t remember us saying much about an issue of IF being fun; well this time, it sure is. First of all, Claremont has a jibe at himself, as he opens with “You are Captain America …” – I love it. Byrne plays a significant role in amping-up the fun in the second half of the story: seconds before Bulldozer is flattened, we see a panel quietly opening in the ceiling above him (p 23, past two pnls); Piledriver is launched from the doorway after tiny clips affix themselves to his shoulders. I laughed aloud at the grin on Cap’s face as Piledriver sails overhead. Danny also takes particular satisfaction in firing up the iron fist before he decks Wrecker (p 30).

The MARMIS isn’t bad (it’s inevitable; whenever you have to break into Avengers Mansion, you can count on fighting with someone), especially as Claremont clues us in to the combatants’ respective mindsets: Danny thinking he has to get thru to Cap quickly, since the Wrecking Crew is due to arrive soon, while Cap thinks he’s got a killer in his midst (with Archie needlessly pointing out that Cap had missed the news story about Danny’s innocence – we got it Archie, we know how to read and everything). Both parties get their licks in, but I especially appreciate Claremont’s depiction of Cap in control of the fight from the very start; Cap also picks up on Danny possibly pulling a punch, which gets him thinking more closely about his opponent. Danny’s solution is clever, as he leaves himself vulnerable, trusting in the certainty that heroic Cap wouldn’t let him come to harm. 

The Invincible Iron Man 97
"Showdown with the Guardsman!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Don Perlin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Ray Holloway and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dan Adkins

As Jasper brings Iron Man back to Long Island, promising that S.H.I.E.L.D. will investigate what they believe is a connection between Ultimo’s resurrection and the sabotage of S.I.’s defense systems, they see smoke billowing from the main plant, and despite having had no chance to recharge his damaged armor, IM confronts the Guardsman, who holds Krissy hostage.   The vengeful O’Brien “can’t know…that the armor acts adversely on already unsettled minds…like Kevin’s and now, Michael’s!”  While chest pain forces the perplexed Iron Man to quit the field of battle, we see that it was Jonathan Rich who stole Tony’s hidden briefcase, and Sitwell reflects on how he has changed since the last time he was assigned to Stark International.

Painfully reaching the safety of his lab, Tony recharges, facing the grim possibility that the strain and shock may at last cause his body to reject its synthetic heart if his armor is not fully powered.   Michael relates Kevin’s jealousy over Tony’s love for Marianne Rogers (sic), and his skewed version of the events from #43-45 leading to his death, to Krissy, who frees herself once left alone.Hoping that he can stop the Guardsman before his power runs too low, Iron Man returns for a rematch, no longer holding back out of respect for Kevin; increasingly disoriented, Michael finally collapses—realizing that he has endangered innocent bystanders, that Michael was used by Simon Gilbert, and that the armor has affected his mind as well—as IM vows to get him help. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Despite its ups, downs, and collaborations with other writers, I still award this run—which ends here with Mantlo yet again scripting his plot—the silver medal out of Conway’s sophomore stint at Marvel, second only to his beloved Avengers arc. Love how on the nice Wilson/Adkins cover, the Guardsman is smashing not only IM’s chestplate (an exaggeration, thank goodness), but also his logo; inside, while Perlin doesn’t do quite the job on Tuska’s pencils as on last ish, George’s flair for action is undimmed, and the two battles with the Guardsman that bookend this issue are solid. I first read these tales long before the ill-fated Kevin’s TOD, and since Bill turns Michael into a loyal ally, I have a retroactive fondness for the Irishman in the aptly green armor.

Chris: This issue could’ve easily been little more than a meatheaded mash-em-up, with pilings-on of posturing (“You can never defeat me!” “The power of justice will win out every time!” etc). Instead, Iron Man exhibits some freshly-minted compassion for his opponent, as he recognizes the basis for Michael’s outrage, and also considers how the Guardsman armor “acts adversely on already unsettled minds,” a plot point that was not adequately explained (How does the armor do this? Why would the armor do this?).

Anyway, IM could’ve easily taken a strategy of full-force, in the hope of a quick win, but he doesn’t want Michael to be injured, while he also (pragmatically) recognizes that his armor still is pretty seriously damaged and not retaining a charge. As bold as it is for IM to return to the battle when he’s at a disadvantage, I have to give credit to Gerry (abetted by scripter Bill) for presenting IM’s fast-talk approach, when IM and GM meet later for Round 2; the battle ends with Michael’s collapse, instead of the usual big-hero-delivers-biggest-punch type conclusion. It’s a novel, thinking-hero’s way to safely win the day, with a reduced probability of harm to a (mostly) blameless opponent.

I don’t know exactly why I like the look of the Tuska art with Perlin finishes, but I do. Perlin provides some texture that I don’t equate with the work by other IM inkers of this period such as Abel and Esposito. I especially appreciate the effect they achieve on p 27 (last pnl) and p 30 (pnl 3), as the shadows suggest that the battle has carried over to late afternoon; is the light of the sun fading, just as Iron Man’s armor is about to lose its charge, thereby dooming him in the fight? I admit I could be reading too much into this. Either way, the visuals contribute effectively to what is overall a very satisfying issue.


  1. I barely know Howard the Duck from Adam, but just from seeing this, I wonder how the Kidney Lady was left out of the George Lucas movie, and whether including her could have improved people's opinion of it. (Just from that one picture above, I automatically imagined her being played by Anne Ramsey.)

  2. Ross Andru isn't suited to spider slayers. This one looks as if you could push it over. And that it wouldn't be able to stand up again.