Wednesday, November 4, 2015

March 1977 Part One: Captain America and... The Swine?

The Avengers 157
"Who is the Ghost of Stone?"
Story by Gerry Conway
Art by Don Heck and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Jack Kirby

It's Christmas Eve at the Avengers Mansion and Iron Man, Yellowjacket, and The Beast are putting finishing touches on a long day. As they are about to make their way to the kitchen, something busts through one of the walls and puts the trio out of commission. We soon learn who the mysterious force is: Dane Whitman, The Black Knight, who was turned to stone by a kiss from The Enchantress during the Avengers/Defenders clash some months before. Believing his fellow Avengers abandoned him, he has come back from his comatose state (but just who revived him, kids? Hmmm?) to punish his former comrades. In his seemingly impervious shell of stone, BK soon trumps Captain America, The Wasp, Wonder Man, and The Scarlet Witch as well. Just as he's musing that there's one more head to put on his den wall, The Vision appears and tries to talk sense to Whitman but to no avail. When The Knight attempts to lay a pile driver on Viz, his stone fists turn to pebbles. An attempted head butt reduces the entire former Avenger to dust and the Vision is left to ponder life and its inequities.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Right! Well, I'm coming in after not having read an Avengers funny book in "three years" (I believe the last batch I covered was the Zodiac arc back in #120-122) so, please, bear with me. The immediate vibe I get from this story is Deadline Doom. Gerry produced a new story all right, but the whole thing hinges on countless flashbacks to and issue reminders about Steve Englehart's fabled Avengers/ Defenders war back in... oh hell, read this issue and you'll know where it appeared. "Who is the Ghost of Stone?" is a big fat nothing. So, I'm not impressed. I am impressed with Don Heck's art. Well, let me rephrase that... I'm impressed that Don Heck's art has never changed one iota since the early days. With a few roster changes, this issue could easily have been slotted in with Don's first run on Avengers back in the mid-1960s. Having said all that, I'm willing to keep an open mind since certain staff members hold a bizarre fondness for this era and, hey, I thought Luke Cage was crap at first, too. I give Gerry a half star bump in my rating for fooling me completely with this issue's villain. Raise your hands, those of you who would have bet it was The Grey Gargoyle. One... two... three... yes, I see I have company.

Joe Tura: Is it possible to like a Don Heck comic book? Of course, it's a skyscraper-sized step down from the regular artist on this book, but overall, not too shabby. The story itself is hokum and retro-fitting, but it works, and I certainly remembered it, especially when the Vision started pontificating about the true origin of the "Black Knight." A neat tie-up to a puzzling story, because it's a stretch that Whitman would seek revenge against the Avengers, to be honest. Wasn't he known for his sense of honor? And who the heck belongs to that robot hand that brings the stone knight to life? Hmmm…. Although reading ahead, it's much less interesting than you'd think and appears to be sorta dropped, as well as debated. Still a good issue, for a fill-in.

Matthew Bradley:  I have historically disliked Conway’s last issue for two reasons, one of which is what an obvious letdown the Hecos artwork is after the Perez/Buscema glories of the past year, although I will say they do a surprisingly good job on the Beast.  The other is that—however safe Dane Whitman’s spirit may be, inhabiting his 12th-century ancestor—I find the finality of having his much-abused 20th-century body turned to rubble unutterably sad.  That said, it has some nice character stuff, especially for Simon, and I appreciated it more in retrospect, especially since I now know Gerry was setting some interesting stuff in motion on his way out the door (even if one guesses the owner of that metal hand, its full ramifications won’t be clear for some time yet).

Chris Blake: Dedicated Marvel fans would’ve known that it wasn’t the Grey Gargoyle stalking the halls of Avengers Mansion (since the Gargoyle is due to meet up with Thor somewhere in deep space – he couldn’t be in two places at once, right?); still, Gerry does a nice job of keeping us guessing regarding the identity of the “stone ghost,” and Heck ably keeps the Knight in the shadows for the first few pages.  Gerry then tips his hand, as longtime Avengers fans undoubtedly would notice that Dane Whitman doesn’t spout dramatic-sounding prose like he’s speaking here, which tells us that – appearances aside – this Knight isn’t the great Dane. Question remains: who was the mysterious power that activated him -?

That said, I still don’t like that the Avengers can be taken out so easily: isn’t Iron Man’s armor polarized, so that it would be resistant to an electrical charge?  If the Wasp or Yellowjacket is trapped in someone’s hand, wouldn’t the easiest solution be to shoot back up to normal size?  Wonder Man just stopped an out-of-control bus – shouldn’t it take more than a header into a mailbox to take him out of play?  At least Cap required two shots – first, a stone hand to the head, then a slam at the back of his head against the stove, in order for him to go down.  The Beast was trapped under a 1950s Univac, so I’ll admit he’s got a legit excuse for being removed from the fray.  

I’m going to refrain from my typical disparagement of Heck because – abetted by Marcos’ finishes – the art doesn’t look too bad.  I’m not saying this art team should continue – no, I say we got away with one this time, and bring back Sal next month.  

Black Panther 2
"The Six-Million Year Man"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

T''Challa and Princess Zanda have their hands full with the big-brained visitor from the future known as "Hatch 22." Hatch dispatches Zanda's henchmen like ten-pins until the Panther pulls a sneaky trick and decks the alien. T'Challa stand around for a while, debating what to do with this dangerous creature; Zanda leaning on the "kill" option but the Panther quashing that idea. They decide that they must locate the twin to the Brass Frog (the time-traveling device that brought Hatch to us in the first place), a curio that will allow a return-trip. While mourning the loss of his chum, Abner Little (shot down by Zanda's thugs last issue) T''Challa notices the vertically-challenged collector is wearing a bullet-proof vest and is... alive!! (exclamation mine-PastePot) While the Little guy is being brought up to speed, a bizarre display of light occurs in the room and the trio is shown the origin of Hatch and his home world. During the performance, an alien approaches Hatch's world and is destroyed with the power of "a stock-pile of Hydrogen bombs." The three dumbfounded witnesses are now all in agreement: Hatch 22 has got to go. Mr. Little informs his companions that Brass Frog II resides in King Solomon's burial chamber and the three hop into his Supersonic Multi-Plane, a rocket-like contraption that is conveniently stored in Little's trophy room. To Infinity... and beyond!
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: While not quite the success of the first chapter, I thought this installment was intriguing enough and certainly kept my interest. I suspect The King never had any intention of killing off Abner Little but he sure had me fooled last issue; I'm glad to see the Little man back. He's obviously the draw to this series; it certainly can't be The Panther as he doesn't do very much but observe (ala Man-Thing). His tactic (Avenger training exercise #42B?) of convincing Hatch 22 that performing  push-ups is a way to greet strangers (while prepping a knockout blow) is hilarious in a "did-Jack-mean-that-to-be-funny?" way. It could be argued that the origin of HatchWorld just kinda blends in with all those SF/distant worlds/alien heroes origins Jack did in the 1960s for Marvel, but I dug it anyway.

Matthew: Fortunately for our august Dean, Kirby wasn’t about to create a character as quirky as Mr. Little and then kill him off right away.  Conversely, Princess Zanda seems to be his opposite in every way, not only the obvious ones—e.g., gender, ethnicity, stature, headgear—but also because, after two issues, she hasn’t progressed much past a one-note persona (not that we’d expect her to have the exquisitely nuanced feminine shadings of Jack’s Sharon Carter, right?).  Once again, amid all of the admittedly fun Kirby/Royer spectacle involving our friend from Hatch 22 and yet another bleak far-flung future for Mother Earth, the observation that the Panther feels like a supporting player in his own title, more reactive than active, remains spot-on.

Captain Marvel 49
"Asylum Earth!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, and The West Coast Wombats
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom and Steve Leialoha

Attacked by various villains in the Negative Zone, Rick awakens in Ethan Wilford’s farmhouse to realize it was all a dream, and is declared healthy by Tara, who initiates a “private” encounter implied to be sexual.  In the morning, the clearly jealous Mac-Ronn explains the need to repair “a rapidly weakening restraint-cube imprisoning Ronan aboard their crashed spacecraft,” so Rick reluctantly summons Mar-Vell, their minds no longer linked.  Evidence that the doctors are falling victim to the very virus they are there to study mounts with Mac-Ronn’s bigotry against the white Kree, their own humanoid “false flesh” notwithstanding; as Mar-Vell approaches, Ronan—driven insane by the virus—summons the Sentry and Cheetah to delay him.

They succeed in diverting Mar-Vell while Ronan frees himself, and the resultant explosion of the ship wrecks the doctors’ jeep.  Tara and Mac-Ronn  survive the blast, but after she shows her true Kree spirit by bashing Ronan—who roars that Mar-Vell has “escaped judgement [siclong enough”—over the head with a rock, Ronan slays her with an energy bolt from his Universal Weapon.  Appalled by Ronan’s mad laughter as Mac-Ronn declares his love for her, Mar-Vell fells the Sentry, thus reverting the Cheetah to rapidly fleeing peasant Esteban Carracus, and pummels Ronan into defeat, leaving Mar-Vell with “a strange confusion as to why he is the only Kree to remain…unaffected” by the virus of the spirit and Mac-Ronn weeping over his lost love. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This week’s Disingenuous Award goes to new writer Scott Edelman, according to whose blog “I loved playing around with a character I’d been reading about since the late ’60s.  I can still remember my 12-year-old self biking to the candy store in 1967 to buy a copy of Marvel Superheroes [sic] #12, which contained his origin story.  Would I ever have predicted then that I’d be writing his adventures myself someday, plus working a future staff job at Marvel Comics?  Nah!  Unfortunately, I had to follow the tremendously popular writer/artist Jim Starlin, who at the time was considered to have already done a perfect stretch on Captain Marvel.”  True enough, if you define “follow” merely as “come after,” but he neglects to mention a few factoids.

Matthew: During and after Starlin’s run, some stumblebum named Englehart worked on the book for more than two years, while Scott’s immediate predecessor was Gerry Conway, who—per the lettercol in #50—plotted the first five pages of this issue, not that you’d know it from Edelman.  “So I was in a no-win situation,” he continues.  “Believe me, there were days at the beginning of my brief run on the title when I didn’t have fun opening the mail.  Captain Marvel was my first comic-book series, and it was a true learning experience—but since it was only seven issues long, it was basically over before I could figure out what I was doing and get the training wheels off.” Ironically, that was, by a considerable margin, his most sustained effort as a Marvel writer.

Said lettercol also reports that here, “Al Milgrom was cheerfully lent a few hands on his mind-bending layouts by the West Coast Wombats,” presumably a kind of transcontinental Crusty Bunkers.  My mind certainly felt like it was bending during Rick’s apparent seduction by Tara, whose feathered ’70s disco-’do and rakish scarf were evidently what the well-dressed disguised Kree was wearing back in the day.  Even an inker as talented as Austin seems unable completely to offset the goofiness inherent in Al’s pencils (e.g., Mac-Ronn’s Looney Toons scowl in page 10, panel 4), while Ronan’s return—which should be monumental—is basically squandered, and any potentially interesting elements this does offer fail to gel into a satisfyingly cohesive whole.

Chris: Edelman has some interesting ideas, most notably the way the virus of the spirit does not have a uniform effect on all Kree.  Ronan’s ploy of using the Sentry and the Cheetah to draw Mar-Vell to his downed craft – and to keep CapMarv occupied until Ronan is ready to emerge – is also a good one.  Although, Ronan is too compelling a character to be reduced to an appearance of only a few pages; wouldn’t it have made more sense for the noisy, pointless Sentry/Cheetah rampage across the countryside to be cut short – or perhaps, dispensed with entirely – so that Ronan’s arrival could’ve taken place earlier, perhaps as soon as the last page of CM #48?  That potentially would’ve made for a spirited battle for the entirety of this issue.  A bonus to this timing is that there wouldn’t’ve been time for Rick; anytime more than one page is devoted to Rick, Mar-Vell tends to be reduced to a simple Hero-in-a-Box, ready to spring free from the Negative Zone and Save the Day.

The Champions 12
"Did Someone Say... The Stranger?"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Bob Layton
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Dave Cockrum

In a spectacular splash and two-page spread, the Champscraft arrives as Black Goliath battles Stilt-Man atop their H.Q., wherein his quarry, Reggie Clayborne, seeks refuge.  The Champs are eager to repay BG’s life-saving intercession, and Darkstar destroys the Z-Ray, but after Stilt-Man (whose ornithophobia Warren unwittingly triggers) detaches the pods Ghost Rider has mired in molten tar, enabling him to flee the scene of their pitched battle, BG claims the right to pursue him single-handed.  Stilt-Man sought the power inside a box stolen from Stark West by Reggie’s addicted “old man”; she walked out when he refused to take it back, yet as she tells how she returned to find Jerry gone—and the box glowing—the Stranger walks through the wall.

The box contains “a bomb capable of destroying this entire star-system,” but because of the Stranger’s history, the Champs resist his efforts to reclaim it as, in the background, the scanner picks up a report of BG trouncing his foe.  The Null-Life Bomb begins to grow, absorbing Reggie and starting on the Stranger, who explains that having “forsworn [its] original purpose,” he believed it inert until sensing that it had been re-armed, but was delayed (see Marvel Team-Up #55) en route to saving the Earth.  Now triggered, it will expand, passing harmlessly through solid objects, then solidify and contract, crushing all within; his only hope is to slow its growth from inside as the Champs secure the sole object that can stop it, so he transports them all to the realm of Kamo Tharn (sic). -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I don’t know which I love more, this issue itself or how exquisitely Mantlo and Byrne coordinate their “Stranger Tales” here and in MTU.  It’s not just a “this happened and then that happened” sequence of events, but a true causal relationship, because his trip to the moon—compounded by his imbroglio with the Champs—resulted in a delay with potentially catastrophic consequences.  Befitting his name, the Stranger has always been a somewhat enigmatic character, and Bill uses that quality to maximum effect, creating a MARMIS that is dramatically effective and far more justified than usual, since the mutants’ firsthand experiences (from his debut in X-Men #11) and the Champs’ limited knowledge of his mission make them legitimately suspicious of his motives.

Goliath’s presence among the Champions fulfills their mutual creator’s intent, gives Foster a clear-cut victory over Stilt-Man of the kind he so often lacked, and provides closure after the untimely demise of his solo title.  Yet Mantlo achieves all this in a way that, with irony intended or not, ties in to the “loser” motif permeating both strips; its outcome merely glimpsed on TV at the periphery of the main event, their battle is an almost-literal sideshow, while “Black Goliath has just ripped off one of Stilt-Man’s legs—and is beating him with it!” reminds me of Monty Python or Bugs Bunny.  The consistency and excellence of John’s art complement this beautifully, and although I wish Dave Hunt could have inked both stories, Layton seems to have improved since last issue.

This tale, which would’ve appeared around Christmastime, aptly resembles a stocking filled with treats:  Herc almost capsizing the Champscraft in his enthusiasm; BG symbolically blocking the Champs with his oversized hand; the detail of Johnny’s initial failure to transform (this taking place before GR #22) confirming the Stranger’s story; his throwaway skepticism about Laynia’s defection; the visual parallel of Herc and BG wielding a piece of machinery and Stilt-Man’s leg, respectively; the callback to the selfless sacrifice of Al B. Harper, who disarmed the bomb at the cost of his own life—and forced the Stranger to reconsider—in the classic Silver Surfer #5.  Byrne’s GR is beautifully spectral, his Natasha just beautiful, and his Stranger imposing.  Man, this thing rocks.

Chris: Kind of a two-part battle, as we start with a few pages with the Stilt-Man. This has never been one of my favorite opponents, but he proves to be more formidable than I remember, especially as he’s able to compensate for Bobby’s freezing, and recover and renew the fight after Herc takes him down.  The detachable leg-segments (allowing for a swift get-away) also is a neat idea; still, I appreciate the novel way Bill & John choose to conclude Goliath’s battle with him, as we literally view the final moments by remote feed, with news commentary keeping us informed.  Nice!

Then, we move on swiftly to the main event with the Stranger.  The Stranger’s frustration with the team as he tries to reason with them is cleverly done; still, it’s hard to blame the Champions for suspecting his motives (especially Johnny, who gets blasted out a window to the street below!).  Neat twist at the end, as the Stranger zaps the team elsewhere, based on a passing thought by the Widow; they’re gone so quickly that there isn’t time to process whether this was a really sound idea or not.  And, Kamo Thamn!  Can’t say I saw that coming!  Apparently, neither did Herc, who can’t help hoping that he’ll have a minute to take Thamn quietly aside, and speak reasonably with him about that ol Runestaff …

Byrne’s approach to the art is more straight-forward than what he typically brings to Iron Fist, as we tend to have regular sequences of rectangular panels to follow.  The two-page spread is awfully good (p 2-3), and there are plenty of small details to enjoy, such as: Darkstar’s concentration as she closes her fist and uses darkforce to crunch the z-ray (p 6, pnl 5); Blaze pouring hellfire on the street below (p 11, last two pnls); Goliath blocking Herc’s progress with an oversized open palm (p 14, pnl 5); shadows on Herc as the Stranger withers the metal rod Herc had brandished (p 23, pnl 4), which also contrasts with Goliath having successfully battered Stilt-Man with his own extended leg (p 23, previous panel).  I also like how, in all the excitement, we see Ms Clayborne has lost her left shoe (p 23, pnl 5), and I really, really appreciate how Byrne has kept Goliath to a fairly consistent, uniform size throughout the issue.  

Conan the Barbarian 72 
“Vengeance in Asgalun!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

On board the Tigress, N’Yaga struggles to recover from the wounds suffered when the ship ran aground off the island of Kelka. The elderly shaman tells the She-Devil that he has only one hope: a vial of healing herbs hidden in the royal palace at Asgalun, the capital of Shem and Bêlit’s childhood home. The king is now Nim-Karrak, the brother and murderer of her father, the rightful ruler Atrahasis. Even though she vowed never to return to her home without an army to regain her birthright, she sets sail for Asgalun, determined to save the life of her lifelong confidant. Disguised as acrobats, Conan and Bêlit enter the Shemite city, surprised to find it overrun by Stygian warriors. After impressing a Stygian with their tumbling skills, they are brought to the palace and presented to King Nim-Karrak and his dark counsellor Ptor-Nubis, one of the sorcerers of Stygia’s dreaded Black Circle. Bêlit, unable to control her rage at the sight of her father’s murderer, draws a sword. Ptor-Nubis steps forward, touches her forehead and commands the fierce woman to attack her Cimmerian companion instead. The king, not realizing that Bêlit is his niece and beguiled by her beauty, orders the sorcerer to break his spell: she will become his latest concubine and the mighty Conan conscripted into the Asgalun army. In Nim-Karrak’s bedchambers, the She-Devil finds the vial of herbs — she then viciously strikes her uncle with a chair. Just before she drives the jagged edge of a broken bottle into his throat, the king blurts out that her father is still alive, held captive in the Stygian capital of Luxur. Bêlit rushes away, running past the soldiers accompanying Conan: the barbarian grabs a sword and lays his captives low. The lovers steal a chariot and make their escape from Asgalun. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Stygians! Love those guys. They are like Hyborian Nazis — you are always behind enemy lines when you encounter these nasty creeps. Of course, when I hear the word Stygians, I start drooling about my fave Thoth-Amon, the biggest baddie in the Conan canon. I haven’t peeked ahead to see if the Cimmerian and Bêlit head off to Stygia the next issue but you have to assume it will happen one day or another. Conan has been kicking around with Bêlit for so long now — she first appeared in issue 58, way back in January 1976 — that I had forgotten that she was the daughter of a king and the rightful ruler of Shem. So, since I was not expecting this storyline, it feels totally fresh and exciting. I also have to wonder if Roy began laying the groundwork when N’Yaga was first injured in issue #70 — the incident didn’t seem all that important back then. So a tip of the hat to the Rascally One if so. As usual, Big John and Ernie deliver the goods making this a superior issue that opens up a whole world of possibilities. The Hyborian Page features a letter by future scribe Mike W. Barr, as well as one by Peter Sanderson; never heard of the guy but seems like he’s some type of respected comics historian.

Chris: Bêlit sneak-assaults Conan by clubbing him in the head in public, which secures them jobs as entertainers in the palace; Bêlit can't hide her fury at the sight of Nim-Karrak, and in response he decides he likes her fiery temperament, which gets her into his bedchambers; Conan's conscription has him in the street, under guard as he's being escorted across town, which allows him to bust loose, rescue Bêlit, and free them both. There is a crucial element of chance in all three of these moments, but we have to be willing to put their unlikelihood aside in the interest of brisk continuance of the story, which of course Roy succeeds in executing.  It's not often that we see Conan hang back and let another set the pace, but clearly this is Bêlit's fight; their mission succeeds both as it allows her to repay an old debt (as she retrieves the last of the elixir for old N’Yaga), and to commence the settlement of an old score – now that Nim-Karrak knows that Bêlit is still alive, and gunning for him, I don't foresee a whole lotta restful, contented nights of sleep for him anytime soon, ya know?

Captain America and the Falcon 207
"The Tiger and the Swine!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jack Kirby, John Romita, and Frank Giacoia

Steve Rogers has been captured by the henchmen of Hector Santiago, alias the Swine! Steve is bound and seemingly unconscious on a plane to Latin America. His sleep is a ruse, however. He breaks free and attacks but, during the fight, the pilot is shot and the plane crashes, leaving Steve the only survivor.  He dons his costume and prowls the jungle as Captain America. He runs into the Swine’s forces and battles them relentlessly. Finally he is face to face with Santiago himself, who is no match for Cap. The hero leaves the Swine humiliated and hanging from a tree to be rescued by his men. Later, the Swine takes his anger out on his prisoners, becoming even more ruthless in his torture. Only his cousin Donna Maria has the courage to stand up to him. When the Swine’s advisers counsel that Captain America has been at large too long, Donna Maria challenges her cousin to bring him in. Fearlessly, she tells him how she hopes the costumed adventurer will bring the Swine long-earned defeat. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This is one of the first comics I had gotten when I was a young lad. Nostalgia is what makes this more enjoyable than it really would be otherwise. This issue is really just a lot of padding; long drawn-out fight sequences taking the place of a proper story. Over the top, cartoony torture sequences substituted for character development. The art is energetic as usual, but still latter-Kirby wonky. There’s a subplot about the Falcon trying to find Steve, but all it does is add to the page count. Of particular note: Steve’s dress suit is particularly ugly.

Matthew:  Perusing this month’s Kirby double-feature (since Cap directly follows the Black Panther in my stack, which is read alphabetically unless continuity dictates otherwise) left me with a vague impression of anodyne, almost ephemeral entertainment.  Last issue’s cover touted “Captain America and the Falcon Trapped in the Domain of the Swine!”…but they really weren’t.  This issue is entitled “The Tiger and the Swine!”…but their first meeting lasts for a big four panels, with Cap’s “Are you a talker—or a shooter?” recalling Leone’s Tuco.  In the second consecutive episode of Big Build-Up to the eventual Cap/Swine smackdown, Kirby and Giacoia deliver the goods, e.g., Rubenesque Donna (sic) Maria, but I can’t recall if the payoff is worth it.

After-the-fact Note to Self: No

Guest starring Sersi from The Eternals... no, that's a brunette Sue Storm...
no, wait a minute... it's Wyatt Wingfoot... no, it's...

Daredevil 143
"'Hyde and Go Seek', Sayeth the Cobra!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Keith Pollard
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Daredevil escapes from his bonds, jumps free of the prowling lion, and contains it with his billyclub cable, thereby staving off its potential attack.  Rotsler reports that Cobra and Hyde are inside his apartment, trying to steal from his well-protected rare books collection.  DD confronts the two crooks, but Hyde grabs DD and throws him off the terrace; DD snags the building with his cable and swings back up, but his adversaries already have taken a powder.  Heather, Foggy, and Matt meet with Heather’s father, Maxwell Glenn, to discuss the conclusion by police that Stone’s involvement with slum tenements had nothing to do with Glenn; Heather is relieved and delighted, but Matt detects that Glenn is trying to control his voice, and that his heart-rate has increased, both of which leave Matt suspicious.  DD returns to Rotsler’s rooftop jungle, and finds the homeowner unconscious; once revived, Rotsler reports that Hyde and Cobra returned, and forced him to hand over his rarest book, penned by “the ancient scientist-wizard, Cagliostro.”  Conveniently, Rotsler had heard Hyde state that he and Cobra were headed to the Manhattan Labs; DD finds them there, as Hyde mixes rare chemicals stolen from a safe.  Hyde states that the chemicals, mixed according to Cagliostro’s formula, will provide him and Cobra with godlike powers.  Hyde speaks at length about the mixture, and takes about a full minute to raise it to his lips, which allows DD plenty of time to fling his billyclub and smash the beaker.  DD then bowls over Hyde, and the battle is concluded. -Chris Blake

Chris: The pairing of Hyde with Cobra is a good one; Cobra observes (as he had last issue) that he and Hyde have tended to fail in their solo endeavors, so it makes sense for them to aspire to work together.  The problem is that DD’s involvement with them over this issue and DD #142 is very disjointed, starting with DD’s unannounced arrival when they try to rob a bank.  Then, we have three separate clashes in two different visits to Jungle Bill’s Inexplicable Rooftop Jungle; in DD’s second visit, Bill tells him that the two villains simply walked in and demanded the book – if it were that simple, couldn’t they have done that in the first place?  There is some decent tangling in the final encounter (literally – DD knocks Cobra out, but Hyde uses Cobra’s unconscious form to tangle DD up, which is kinda clever), but DD somehow is able to take Hyde down in the final three panels, after having very little prior luck against his mightier, nastier form.  It’s as if Marv realized he’d reached the bottom of the page, and simply had to wrap it up.  

I’m glad to see that Marv is moving on; his tenure on this title has been mixed, at best.  There have been a number of highlights: a nifty two-parter with Copperhead; DD and Torpedo’s mindless, house-wrecking battle; DD’s decision to let Man-Bull walk, realizing that he intends no further harm; the introduction of Bullseye (high marks!); the compelling build-up to the mind-bending campaign of the Jester; Marv’s half of the Ghost-Rider/Death-Stalker story.  The downside, though, has been impossible to overlook: Torpedo’s one-punch demolition of a midtown office building; the ridiculous little alien and his light-panels to space; the underwhelming battle with Bullseye at the Garden, when BE seems to get bored and go home; Uri Geller; Jester’s Joker-inspired house of horrors; another ridiculous one-shot, about a bomber who sets off explosions to compel the city to locate his drug-addled wife; a dull and tedious annual; BE’s giant crossbow that can fling a person across the Hudson; DD’s 100% completely implausible escape from the death-arrow; Jungle Bill’s Inexplicable Rooftop Jungle.  Through all of this, I’ve made no bones about my dislike for Marv’s insistence on in-battle forced humor from DD (which, I’ll admit, has not been as egregious in the past few issues – maybe DD’s encounters with BE set him straight that this is No Laughing Matter) and DD kvetching about how hard it is to be a superhero, whether it’s worth it, etc.  If Marv had brought more of the storytelling acumen and characterization that has made Tomb of Dracula such a consistently satisfying read, then this might have been a far better run.

Matthew:  For the record, Marv wrote (and Byrne penciled) both halves of the DD/GR crossover, since GR was between "regular" writers at that time.

Chris: Bob Brown also is leaving (due to serious health concerns).  What a difference an issue can make; for DD #142, I had complimented Jim Mooney for capably filling in Brown’s pencils, nearly as well as Klaus Janson has for this title.  This time, for some reason, we have Keith Pollard on inks; now, I like Pollard – as a penciller, and sometimes as an embellisher for his own layouts.  The inks here are clean, but almost too clean; the figures look stiff as a result.  I don’t feel the need to go over it in any great detail. 

Matthew: And so, per that clever last-panel sign-off (“30,” which follows the initials B.B. and M.W., being journalese for the end of a story), some of us bid a fond farewell to the team of Wolfman, passing the torch to Shooter to take over the imminent John Carter strip, and Brown.  The lettercol’s “Best of luck, Robert!” seems strangely jaunty under the circumstances, but it also contains a spirited defense of Sal Buscema that I am sorely tempted to quote in full.  Sadly, this issue is the finest hour of neither man, nor of inker Pollard, with the finished art looking a bit sketchy, plus I could almost swear I’d already read some of that Maxwell and Heather Glenn stuff in an earlier entry—and from what, precisely, is DD swinging as he soars past that bridge?

The Defenders 45
"We Must Free the Defenders!"
Story by Gerry Conway, David Kraft, and Roger Slifer
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Frost
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

Valkyrie, Hellcat, and Red Guardian confront the Red Rajah and his hypnotized followers in Central Park.  The Rajah states that the three will come to accept his message of world peace thru the single-spirit; in other words, they will bow to his will, just as Hulk, Nighthawk, and Power Man have already.  The women warriors resist, and escape the park as the Rajah (his harmonious wrath now aroused) fires an energy bolt at them.  Red Guardian takes the brunt of the blast; she isn’t seriously injured, but Val feels that the moment is right to step back, salve Tania’s wounds, and formulate a new plan before taking up the fight again.  At Doctor Strange’s sanctum, Val consults Clea; Clea’s efforts to locate Dr Strange have proven fruitful – Clea states that the Rajah has taken possession of Dr Strange!  Clea joins the others as they seek to free Dr Strange from the Rajah’s influence.  The Rajah sends his three male mind-controlled Defenders against the would-be rescuers.  As the Rajah is occupied by the battle, Clea reaches for Stephen Strange’s mind, trapped within the Star of Capistan.  Clea realizes that Dr Strange is trying to force his way free of the Rajah; as they work together, they force the Rajah to seek sanctuary within the Star.  Dr Strange springs free, and simultaneously casts a spell to destroy the Star, neutralizing the Rajah and undoing his hypnosis.  The Defenders have succeeded in avoiding serious harm to one other.  They de-camp back to Dr Strange’s home, where the mystic mage announces that he feels he should depart the team. -Chris Blake

Chris: For many years, this was the oldest issue I owned of the Defenders (another flea market find, along with Defenders #46).  It holds up well today; the action moves along briskly, as the Rajah establishes himself as a force to be reckoned with.  Conway (with a script by Slifer & Kraft) provides a working theory to explain why Tania is drawn in to the Rajah (her lifetime exposure to Soviet policy that emphasizes common good over the rights of the individual) while Val and Hellcat are not similarly affected.  Good thought to involve Clea; it allows for continuity with Doc’s own mag, as Clea and Doc once again employ their bond to achieve results Doc might not have achieved on his own.  

The decision to remove Doc from the mix is a good one.  I foresee reactions similar to those of fans of the Avengers, who bemoaned the loss of Thor from those pages.  Doc is arguably the Defenders’ most power-filled member; how will the team continue without him?  Well, the proper response is that it provides an opportunity for the team to adjust, and allow strengths among other members of the team to come forth.  Best of all, in the tradition of the non-team, we can count on seeing Doc again, once the demands of a particular situation call for him.  

I love the weighty, energetic look to the Giffen/Janson art.  Giffen can give you the big visuals, such as the stone-Strange emerging from the ground (p 3), fiery eye-blasts from the monolithic Strange (p 6), the Defenders blown aside by the energy burst (p 10), and Val plunging into the fray astride Aragorn (p 22).  There are plenty of neat little story-telling moments, such as the Red Guardian framed by the head of the Rajah, as he seeks to assume control (p 6), and the mystical efforts of Strange and Clea to free him from the Star (p 26, p 27; last panels).  A few small points: Tania attends to her damaged uniform by tying a bow at her mid-section; and, Giffen is sure always to remind us that, in her civilian life, Patsy Walker had earned a living as a model – I don’t know of anyone to follow on this title who ever drew her better.

Matthew: Right from its serviceable yet rather dull cover, this issue has a ramshackle air to it.  Instead of simply being submerged in inks by Janson that are characteristically heavy-handed, Giffen’s artwork has a rough, unpolished look, while the dialogue by Kraft and Slifer, scripting lame-duck Conway’s plot, feels stilted, and is certainly not helped by the fact that I don’t care for the style of John Frost’s lettering.  That said, I like how the bond between Strange and Clea, oft-neglected in his own book, enables them to defeat the Rajah by attacking him “from within and without,” while the chemistry among the distaff Defenders—for as such we must soon consider Hellcat—survives the wreck, even if I presume we won’t long be permitted a 50% female group.

The Eternals 9
"The Killing Machine"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Ikaris leads Makarri and Margo Damian to the city of the Eternals, Olympia. When they arrive (in flight) they are menaced by more than one flying monster. It turns out they are illusions created by a mischievous young Eternal named Sprite,  and they pursue the speedy little brat. Meanwhile, their monarch, Zuras, observes what others are observing around the world: various Celestial Space Gods (Nezzarr, Hargen and Eson to name a few) exploring different locales of man, and creating quite a stir. Below the ocean in the city of the Deviants, Thena, daughter of Zuras and guest of Lord Kro witnesses a smaller scale, but more brutal event: fighting in the arena. Great Tode has pitted  the one called Reject (handsome to humans, but to the Deviants...) against the giant monster Karkas. The Reject knows no fear, and uses his wits and weapons to defeat the monster against which he really should have had no chance. Then he attacks the guards around the arena, scattering them like so many flies. Only a force field prevents him from attacking the Deviant Royals. Tode tells Kro it is time to see to the Reject's destruction, but before this can be done, Eson draws all the power from Lemuria, leaving many systems down, including the barrier that prevented Reject from attacking the others. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: We get a further taste of arena life; nothing new to comics or literature for that matter, but usually fun. The Reject steals the Deviant show in David and Goliath style, although I recall seeing Karkas in later titles, so he's not really down for the count. Glad, because I kind of like the big guy. The Celestials toying with humanity create some nice images and conjure up memories of Galactus and his many (more imminently menacing) visits to Earth. Otherwise I found the issue more of a carry-over and not too exciting in itself, but not bad.

Matthew: After last issue’s cliffhanger, which promised us untold mayhem between “Killing Machine” Karkas and everybody’s favorite Reject—again unnamed here but, per the MCDb, yclept Ransak—Kirby jacks up the suspense, as it were, by first giving us the introduction of the insufferable Sprite and a Who’s Who in the Fourth Host travelogue.  Then it’s back to the beach, or rather below it, in That Other Lemuria, presumably as distinct from those of Lin Carter or Robert E. Howard as Olympia, Zuras, et alia are from their Greco-Roman almost-namesakes.  It’s no coincidence, I’m sure, that Karkas and Ransak both belie their outward appearances, with Royerby particularly cutting loose on old Big Red (“He’s big, big, big!  And he’s red, red, red!”).

Chris: Kirby sets us up well, and even uses the cover to advance the expectation that the “Killing Machine” will be the seemingly mindless Karkas, when in fact it proves to be the single-minded Reject.  Eson adds a bit of mystery as well, when it appears he’s drained power from the Deviant stronghold, at just the right time to remove the protective barrier that protects the Deviant braintrust from Reject’s wrath; but, how does this action fit into the unfathomable greater scheme of the inconceivable Celestials -?!

We do get a strange moment, though, following a few pages of frantic action: Kro marvels that Reject – in his remorseless fighting fury, not his repulsive appearance – represents “an improved level of change” for Deviant genes; why, then, would Tode order his destruction, and why would Kro be so willing to follow Tode’s wasteful directive?  The petty pranksterism of Sprite (why will he not behave ..?) is a needless nuisance; could you imagine having to endure a colleague’s childish aggravations, for millennia -?

Mark: As always the book's loaded with "King-sized" hyper tech machine-porn, but now enter Karkas, twenty foot tall red monstrosity, giving Jack a chance to get his Big Ugly on. Flashback to the pre-super days of Tales to Astonish, et al.  

That Karkas was abused into frenzy enough to lay waste his tormentors and the gladiator pit is a nice bit of "abused monster" characterization that quickly wins the readers' sympathy. But that doesn't stop the unnamed Deviant "Reject," who looks like an Eternal and fights like an amphetamine-fueled badger, from offing Karkas. And check the face-crunching blow Reject delivers to a hapless guard on P. 27. Brutal stuff. Somebody call Dr. Wertham. 

Elsewhere, in a new if minor flourish, Ikaris is now "the Levitator," Makarri "the Light-Speed Racer." Sprite, the practical-joking scamp, adds a dollop of humor, juvenile Jimmy Olsen Division. The machines, aliens, and monsters continue to overshadow the humans, and that's as it should be in a Kirby Kosmic Komic.

Fantastic Four 180
"Bedlam in the Baxter Building!"
(reprinted from Fantastic Four #101, August 1970)

Peter: Now, I know I've pointed out time and again how much of a rip-off these reprint issues were to us Zombies but a part of me knows that brown stuff happens now and then. Marvel had spinners to fill and quotas to meet. I get that and, sometimes, I should go easier on these guys (especially since it's been four decades) but Fantastic Four #180 is a different animal altogether. With its cover depicting Tigra (a character that wouldn't even be created until years after Fantastic Four #101 appeared), this is the most vile case of misrepresentation and bait-and-switch I've yet seen. Shame on Roy and Marvel for taking three dimes out of this Marvel Zombie's pocket back in late 1976. When I got home and opened it up, I had to double check to make sure I hadn't picked up Marvel's Greatest Cashgrabs by accident. Roy's note at the bottom of the splash put the icing on the cake:

Chris: Wasn't it Roy Thomas who initiated the practice of assigning creative people to generate inventory stories, so that there would be fall-back material available in the event of a triple-D's ugly head-rearing? You'd think that, with FF being on the short list of Marvel's title-royals, there would be a well-oiled inventory story, sitting there in the top drawer of a big desk, ready to spring into the continuity?  All you'd need would be about 14-15 pages, right, so that there'd be space available for you to whip together a quick 2-3 pages for a nifty framing sequence, and ensure that the wheels of the main storyline would keep turning.  Best of all, this fill-in could be built as a Ben-based barnburner, with minimal involvement by the rest of the team, so that you’d have the option to plug the story in to MTIO after a few months (a title where a one-shot story wouldn't be unexpected), to be sure that it wouldn't go stale in that editorial office's desk drawer.  Then, Marv/Gerry/Archie/Your Name Here could commission a new inventorier, and your restored insurance policy would be tucked back in the break-glass file until next time. 

Unless, of course, the thinking around the Bullpen was that FF was so bullet-proof that it could shrug off a missed deadline, and that fans still would be delighted by a high-quality past-blast?  If that had been the case, of course a special bonus would be that FF could run the reprint, without having to pay guys for a new story; if fans wouldn't be ticked off, and (most importantly) could be expected to return dutifully next month, then (I guess) where's the harm?  (Well, it means you have to wait, and wait, this time for sixty days until you get a new story, like the one that’s happening wherever the cover’s events are taking place.  So – there’s that.)

Matthew:  Again just for the record, as noted in our first post for November 1975, the innovation of pre-emptively putting Marvel Fill-In Comics on the production schedule is actually attributed to Marv, rather than Roy.  And, as countless examples (e.g., last month's Dr. Strange) have shown, the covers were apparently developed before the interiors, and thus were often unable to reflect contents that failed at the last minute to materialize.

Howard the Duck 10
"Swan-Song ... of the Living Dead Duck!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha

Howard finds himself encased, comfortably, in an egg.  He stretches, cracks the shell, and emerges, to find himself confronted by a series of fantastic sights: Howard towers over a group of tiny hairless apes, one of whom threatens to shoot him for being a “fluke” in the human world; Howard is confronted by a clothed gorilla calling himself Kong Glomerate, carrying cash in one fist and a rubber stamp in the other; Kong then violently stamps Howard as “CANCELLED"; Howard journeys up a steep mountain path, and meets Omega the Unknown; Howard asks Omega why we’re here, to which Omega replies simply, “Why not?”; Omega observes that he and Howard are “in the same boat” (because, now they are, paddling along in a simple skiff); Howard expresses relief that he still can trust in constants like the law of gravity – as he and Omega and the boat abruptly hurtle off the earth’s surface and into space; Howard meets Bev, who tells him that truth is “always new;” she grasps her nose, unhinges her face, and reveals a blooming daisy within her empty head; the daisy then squirts water in Howard’s face; defeated, Howard thinks “back to the egg – back to the egg,” which clamps shut as he retreats to it.  

Howard now finds himself in a motel room; he seems to recall that Mountie Dudley had arranged lodgings for Bev and himself.  Bev (face now intact) continues to sleep as Howard moves to the bathroom. The tap doesn't yield water -- instead, it's Spider-Man who pours out of the faucet, and offers Howard a guide to assertive behavior.  Howard decides he needs something stronger, so he quits the motel in search of a late-nite coffee shop.  He walks thru the door, only to find that Pro-Rata, the Space Turnip, Winky-Man, Gonzo the Clown, the Gingerbread Monster, and other opponents await him, to hurl insults his way.  Howard leaves immediately, and walks with Dr Strange back toward Niagara Falls; he complains to Doc about how (since his arrival in our dimension) he continually finds himself having to scramble for money, as he also winds up thrust into the hero’s role, two positions he finds contrary to his nature.  Le Beaver had not been in the coffee shop – instead, Howard finds him here, by the Falls, clad in his pelt-covered exo-skeleton, just as he had been before his fatal plunge earlier the same night.  Howard recognizes that, instead of his previous tactic of avoidance, this time he is meant to defend his honor and confront the Beaver.  Howard attacks, armed with a Thompson submachine gun that (somehow) had been in his jacket.  Le Beaver crushes the gun, and this time Howard is cast from the edge of the Falls to certain death.  Is he dead?  Howard doesn't know, but as he finds himself chained to a wall in a stone cavern, and confronted again by his old adversaries (now including Bev, and the dreaded Kidney Lady), Howard wonders whether he might have found himself in hell. -Chris Blake

Chris: Regarding HtD #9, I observed that Steve G had found his way back to a Pure Crazy feel for this title, but I might have spoken too soon.  With this issue, we’re well past light-hearted Crazy, and well down the road to Outright Psychotic, with a healthy helping of Dream Logic to keep reality safely out of reach. Now, if this sort of trip is appropriate for any title, then HtD certainly would qualify (Dr Strange being the only other possible stop for this sort of loony express). 

Steve G is having a laugh at his own expense, as the title and some of the content mirrors his Man-Thing tale entitled "Song-Cry of the Living Dead Man" (M-T #12), which detailed one's man's torment wrought by the empty demands of the commercial, material world.  Howard expresses some of these laments here as well, as he ponders the meaning of existence, the quality of his character, and the undeniable influence of the status-quo.  It's fine that Steve wants to put questions like these into Howard's beak, but the notion that any of these concerns could be contributing to Howard "quacking up" isn't consistent with what we've come to know about Howard's character (I can't believe I'm making a statement like this).  Up to now, Howard has been inspired to rail against consumer culture, insipid entertainment, and a vapid, insincere political process; if anything, he's seemed content to shake his head in dismay and wry amusement, but hasn't appeared to have been weighed down by any of this.  Well, it’s obvious that Steve isn’t finished screwing around just yet with our favorite duck-out-of-water, so we’ll see (in HtD #11) where the trip to Howard’s private hell will lead us.  

Matthew:  It’s been about a year since I read Gerber’s “Song-Cry…of the Living Dead Man!” in Man-Thing #12, so I’m not sure about any parallels, but that title is certainly self-referential as all get-out; ditto the credit to Ted (Manny) Sallis as “Consulting Schizo.”  While we’re glossing, the lettercol has a suitably insightful LOC by future Video Watchdog maven Tim Lucas, whose book on The GREAT Mario Bava, All the Colors of the Dark, set the standard for definitive filmmaker tomes.  Every panel is a delight here, so I’ll single out the obvious one, i.e., the rogues’ gallery on page 17 (left), and note that—after meeting the Defenders in a tale drawn by their definitive artist—Howard now re-encounters Doc as drawn by one of his finest interpreters.

Mark: Welcome to my nightmare, or rather our poultry protagonist's. Not surprising, as any self-respecting, stogie-puffing duck, plunked down amid the hairless apes of the mid-'70's, would soon be on the verge of quacking up (don't blame me, class; it's punning season).

Howard's dreamscape takes him from womb (or egg, to be eggsact) to tomb, and as soon as he emerges from his shell, a giant human fist tries turning him into duck sauce. He's subsequently menaced by "Kong Lomerate," a suit-wearing gorilla, representing the brute forces of Big Business/Bureaucracy, aided, for all of three panels, by Omega the Unknown (in a shameless plug for one of Gerber's lesser efforts), cast off-planet and returned by cosmic vortex, squirted in the face with a gag-flower by Bev-with-a-detachable-face, given a self-help book by Spidey, and then a duck walks into a bar...only to be insulted by his personal rogue's gallery of Pro-Rata, Winky-Man, et al.

pant, pant...

And even that long-winded sentence can't keep up with the breathless, dreamscape jump-cuts, having omitted the fake wake-up interludes. Happily, the juiced-up unreality drives Gene Colan to giddy, phantasmatic heights. Dig Howard's feet in egg-beater motion on P. 2, the longing in his googly blue eyes as he clings to Omega's leg like a life raft, asking about the meaning of life. Marvel at splash page 17, the baddies in a bar, exuding a Neal Adams-ic vibe.

Even the sage counsel of Dream Doc Strange offers no defense against the tag team of Kidney Lady and Le Beaver, who knock Howard off a Niagara Falls tightrope and send him plunging to his death. 

And the baddies greet him, in hell.

"WAAAAAUGH!" indeed, my fine feathered friend.

"WAAAAAUGH!" indeed. 

The Incredible Hulk 209
"The Absorbing Man is Out for Blood!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Staton
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Frank Giacoia

Bruce Banner, alter ego of The Incredible Hulk, is having a hell of a time finding work until his curvy landlord, April Sommers, contacts a buddy on a construction site and gets Bruce a job. Meanwhile, The Absorbing Man is tracking Banner, waiting for him to transform into the Green Goliath so that he can smash him.
Getting antsy, Creel makes his move by riding a girder up the skyscraper Bruce is working on. Absorby confronts Banner but can't get him to admit that he's the Hulk. The point is moot when Baner loses his balance and topples off the building, falling hundreds of feet to his... transformation. Meanwhile, back at Gamma base, Doc Smason and Thunderlips Ross are waiting by the bedside of the stranger Samson found in the desert (last issue-PastePot) when the man awakens and reveals that he has no idea where or who he is. Back to the battle. The Hulk and Absorbing Man pummel each other, with Creel gaining the upper hand since, no matter what Hulk throws at him, he can naturally absorb anything. Hulk destroys the building below them and, as they plummet, Crusher inadvertently reaches out and grabs a shard of glass. His newly-transformed body shatters into a million pieces when he hits the ground. The Hulk wanders away and falls asleep in a nearby alley, unaware of the shadowy figure that approaches. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: When last we visited Crusher Creel, Thor tricked him into transforming himself into cardboard (nice one, goldilocks!).  This prompted me to ask: to what extent can Creel control whether he’s taking on the properties of another substance?  Len sheds a bit of light on that matter, as he shows Creel purposefully transforming to steel (not iron, writer/editor Len – you need steel to build skyscrapers) and concrete; interesting variation as he begins to turn the Hulk’s power into his own – I don’t recall seeing Creel do that before (so, watch out for next time, thunder god!).  Once the Hulk’s succeeded in compromising the tower’s integrity and he and Creel both are falling, Creel opens his hand and prepares to become whatever he grasps first (no time to be choosy while plummeting, right?

But don’t forget, Creel – if you happen to be falling again in the future, don’t forget that you’re carrying an iron wrecking ball – it’s kind of your trademark – and that might make for a less-messy landing).  So, my conclusion seems to be: the Absorbing Man can change form whenever he choses to change, whether that means he’s becoming something he’s chosen, or because he’s leaving himself open to the next available source.  

This issue packs more memories than nearly any other in my collection.  I know what you’re thinking, but no – this isn’t one of my invaluable flea-market finds.  This issue is one of a small handful I had purchased from classmates.  Since this is a March ’77 title, I probably bought it about 4-5 months after it had been published, so later in spring of my 5th grade year.  I didn’t care that it already had been heavily-handled, and that a coupon had been clipped; I loved the story, and I read it numerous, countless times, so much so that every single page has images and dialog that I remember with crystal clarity.  The obvious highlights are: Creel’s crash into the building site (p 15); Banner’s mid-fall transformation (p 22); Creel’s fiery approach (p 26, 1st pnl), and gradual turning green as he absorbs the Hulk’s powers (p 27, pnl 2, with Glynis ably providing the colors).  In addition to these moments, I want to tip my hat to Sal & Joe for the very effective montage of Bruce’s fruitless job search (p 7), which undoubtedly gave my young mind an early glimpse into the future delights awaiting in impending early adulthood.  

And how about that Romita cover?  It’s unusual to see a cover deliberately take such obvious liberties with a story, in this case inflating Creel to about 60-70 feet tall, as he almost seems to be expanding in his corona of bristling energy, while the Hulk nearly keeps pace, but still only has topped out around 30-40 feet – it’s difficult even to estimate.  Certainly makes for a dramatic effect, doesn’t it?

Peter: I love how Len's construction workers go from dumb as a dirt clod in one panel to exclaiming "Holy Smoke! It's that super-villain freak who busted outta the Men's Detention Center yesterday!" What beer-guzzlin', football-lovin', wife-beatin' he-man is going to use the words Men's Detention Center instead of jail or stir or pokey? Borrowing a page out of Professor Joe's handbook. my sound effect of the issue would have to be "SKRA - DAK!" when Crusher busts through a plate glass window. How did these guys come up with these nonsense sounds? I would trade my Pamela Anderson video to actually hear "SKRA-DAK" with my own ears. The most fun in reading an Absorbing Man saga is getting to the defeat (kinda like a Hammer Dracula flick, no?). Since this guy is nigh on impossible to take down, the writer really has to use his noggin to come up with ways to conquer Crusher. Len doesn't let us down on this one. Creel's bragging ("Ya ain't won yet! All I have ta do ta protect myself from this fall is absorb the power of the first thing I can grab hold of and turn myself inta...") becomes what might pass as embarrassment (""). Sorry to say, Joe Staton does Pal Sal no favors this issue with his inking. That first panel of the Green Goliath (on page 22) reveals a cross-eyed kewpie doll more than the fierce beast we're accustomed to. As for the script, I'm afraid Professor Matthew may have been closer than he thought when he joked about Bruce Banner, the Spectacular Hulk. The scientist's exchanges with dopey blonde, April Sommers, would be the nadir of the issue if we weren't later treated to the My Love one-pager starring Major Glenn and his estranged wife, Betty Ross Talbot:

Glenn: It's beautiful, isn't it? The sunrise, I mean. Some people go thru their entire lives without ever noticing it.

Betty: Some people go thru their lives without ever noticing anything, darling. Some people are blind by choice.

Glenn: Do you mean us, Betty? Are we being blind? Are we refusing to see the truth laid out before us?

Does anyone, aside from badly scripted characters on a soap opera, even talk like that?

Matthew: Speaking of swan-songs, this is Staton’s inking Sal’s Hulk—or what little there is of ol’ Greenskin on view after his entrance on page 22—but sadly, Joe seems once again to have phoned it in.  Interestingly, while enumerating the prior appearances of the mysterious “They,” Wein cites Marvel Team-Up #15, 20, and 26 (all of which he wrote), but omits Conway’s widely, and rightly, derided #28, so I’m not sure if Len considers it non-canonical, or just too much of an embarrassment.  And, while we’re on the subject of embarrassments, “They” may have extricated Creel from New York’s Finest, but they sure didn’t do him any favors with his “cockamamie costume”; Roger Stern will at last tell all regarding “They,” beginning in #238.

The Amazing Spider-Man 166
"War of the Reptile-Men!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

It's Christmas time in the city, and Spider-Man is wondering how he can stop Stegron. As he swings over to Curt Connors' apartment, his spider-sense goes crazy and the Lizard leaps out of the window into him! But the scaly scientist slips away into the sewers, with our hero stopped by traffic, of all things. Spidey drops by the apartment to speak to Martha Connors, helping pick up the Christmas tree and consoling her by promising to get Curt and son Billy back safe and sound. Cut to J. Jonah Jameson, who meets Marla Madison at Empire State U to reveal the brand-new Spider Slayer! Then we go to Harry and Flash's bachelor pad for a holiday bash, with Peter making excuses to Mary Jane for his absence via phone call, and Harry and Liz revealing they're engaged!

Back to our regularly scheduled action, and in an abandoned storage vault under Central Park, Stegron uses the Retro-Generation Ray to clothe his "long-tailed brothersss with flesh once more" with promises of cloning more with Connors' formula. Billy keeps complaining, and who shows up to save him but the Lizard! As the reptilian rivals battle, the dinosaurs begin to march! Lizard saves Billy with a quick tail snatch and continues to fight verbally and physically with Stegron, while the dinos reach the surface and begin to wreak prehistoric havoc. Spidey appears on the scene, webs a couple of their eyes shut, and heads downstairs, where he shoots an antidote into Lizard's maw, changing him back to Curt Connors, then heads off to track down the escaping Stegron. He swings up, grabs Billy from the dorsal-plated desperado, and is about to be squashed by the dino army when their flesh begins to fade and the bones fall when scientist Connors reverses the effects of the Retro-Generator! Stegron stumbles off into the snowy night and, using the last of his energy, throws a stone to distract the approaching Spider-Man. The diabolical dino-man slides into the park lake, under the ice. "Some time later," after the snowstorm has stopped, Spidey swings by the happy Connors family and leaves a gift hanging near the window, swinging off into the night with a "Merry Christmas, New York—you great big shiny apple you!"--Joe Tura

Joe: A somewhat uncharacteristic splash page starts us off this month, as you don't see too many "phantom menacing villains" in these pages unless Spidey is hallucinating. Although Stegron's pinky looks a bit dislocated there, and he's gained 15 pounds since last time. But never mind that. Just enjoy this issue for the non-stop story telling, including two supporting cast asides that give us big revelations. Of course, that's the Harry-Liz engagement and the umpteenth try of JJJ to destroy Spidey with a new Spider-Slayer. Lots of excellent art also, including page 15, with the constant panel breaking by the two reptile-men's tails, and the great middle panel on page 19 where Spidey smashes both of them at the same time. One can only imagine what Frank Robbins would have done with that one! And maybe my favorite panel is actually on page 26, where Spidey grabs Billy, and you don't get a close-up of it, instead it's a distant view, where you take in the whole scene, with the flipping of the cop car and the destructive dinos and the snowy background and it's just really well done. Looking back, it's also done on page 16 panel 4, when Stegron pops Lizard under the T-Rex. A fun issue, with a very merry ending that tugs at the ol' web-strings.

For this month's favorite sound effect, I’m tempted to go with the simple "SPLASH!" as Stegron sinks into the drink unseen by Spidey, for the tragic ending it implies, but instead I'll say my faves are the awesome middle panel on page 19 where Web-Head whacks both reptile-men at once with a "BROK!" and a "WOK!"

Matthew: Well, if it ain't "BROK!" don't fix it.

Joe: Now, I know I've commented a lot on the horde of Hostess ads that we see each month, but Iron Man's "City Crisis" is easily the worst one yet. First of all, it features Kwirekegard, "a philosophically sinister villain" who's somehow known to Iron Man. Second of all, it's drawn quite poorly (especially the kids), and lettered badly, and kinda dumb. Twinkies are ok, though. But I hate that they turned my childhood fave Chocodiles into "Chocolate Twinkies," and made them slightly worse. You rat finks!

Matthew:  Okay, two outta three ain’t bad:  they correctly spelled “Connors” (no “e”) and “Osborn” (no “e”), even if they still screwed up “Allan” (no “e,” as in Edgar Poe).  And, not that I use it myself too often—okay, ever—but I’m pretty sure this two-parter was my first exposure to the word “whelp,” proving once again that an increased vocabulary is just another example of Better Living Through Marvel Comics.  My main complaint is a minor one, namely that as fond as I am of Rossito, their Lizard looks a little off-model to me; I also note with amusement that Drs. Connors and Banner shop at the same Scientist Store for their purple pants, and I had forgotten Stegron was once Curt’s assistant, further strengthening their  linkage. 

Mark: Another Spidey snoozer, and even artists Andru and Esposito seem bored by Steggy and his Lame-O Dinos, turning in their most flaccid and uninspired offering in memory. Len Wein can't even wring any emotional juice from A Child in Danger, has Spidey stupidly leaving a couple of cops to battle a T. Rex, and drains the once-tragic Connors family of any pathos, exchanged for holiday bromides with all the dramatic punch of an Old Navy commercial. 

And yet another Spider-Slayer on deck does nothing to amp up our enthusiasm.

I know Wein can be a top flight writer, but with yet another arachnid arc nose-diving into the porcelain convenience (not quite true; to "dive" something first must soar), there are no genius bits, just an abundance of a word that rhymes.

Chris: So we're clear: the next time a writer wants to use Stegron, he'll have to start with the notion that Steg was trapped under the ice, and frozen, as if in suspended animation.  Next, as the ice begins to loosen up, Steg will come around, and discover that a scuba diver had left a full oxygen tank at the bottom of the park lake, which will allow him to breathe until he can break thru the partially frozen surface.  See that?  I've read a few of these funny books before. 

I didn't know Spidey was such a good listener.  Maybe he missed his calling; there's still time for Peter to toss the whole hard-sciences game, change his major, and focus instead on a degree in counseling. Then, he could open his own practice, and set his own work hours; sorta the way he does now, but he'd be his own boss – no skinflint Jonah to wrangle with.  Speaking of Jonah, howdja like the way Prof Marla razzed him about his "hard-hoarded money" (p 10)?  Not too many people can talk to our pugnacious, parsimonious publisher with such impunity. 

Page 10 reminds me that I'm not crazy about the art again this time.  What's going on?  Espo's finishes weren't this loose an issue or two ago; there are other pages where the art looks a bit flat and dull.  The Andru/Espo visuals don’t recapture their usual verve until the battle scenes on p 22-23.  I'm not saying it's bad, mind you; merely short of its usual standard, due more to the results of the finishes than anything I could fairly attribute to Andru.

2001: A Space Odyssey 4
"Wheels of Death"
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

In the past, the warrior Marak cuts a swath across the land, invading and pillaging every community he touches. The news of his onslaught stretches vast distances, finally reaching the ears of Jalessa, the warrior princess. Like Marak, she too has access to the monolith, which gives her visions of uniting with the warlord. She goes to meet him, unarmed. Marak is stunned; he has seen her in visions, dreams, and immediately they bond to create a new future.

The year 2001: Liberty 1, a giant space station in Mars' orbit, is struck by giant meteors and is in grave peril.  Its commander General Herb Marik orders all personnel to abandon the station for the surface, but he stays aboard, awaiting death by meteor. However, before his doom arrives, he sees the monolith hovering outside. Unable to resist the mystery, he takes a spacewalk and is drawn into the object. Like others before him, Marik is taken to a strange new world. He meets a lovely young woman and sees a fantastic castle in the distance. Unlike the others, however, he does not age and transform. He does not respond to the process. The monolith moves on, allowing this rare failure, and looks for a new seed to plant, as Marik will live his normal lifespan in this happy new environment. An environment that will vanish upon his eventual death.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: What is this book even about? There doesn’t seem to be a real point or narrative thrust involved. It’s s series of self contained but similar stories of people who are impacted by the monolith. Fans of the film must have been truly perplexed over this title; aside from the monolith, it has nothing to do with either the book or the movie. It’s fairly pointless and dull. The Kirby/Royer art is interesting and the only saving grace. Well, other than the short run…

Matthew:  Man, how much does Professor Scott's self-sacrifice vindicate my youthful decision to avoid this book like the plague?  Talk about public service!


  1. Y'know, I got most of these comics when they were brand new and available at Navy Exchange in Lemoore, CA, where I got all of my comics at the time, but recalling them now I'm left with a feeling of blah. The only that brings a really fond memory is good old Howard the Duck -- it was one of my favorites back then and remains so now, for both the story and art. It's enough for me to take it that Howard's quack up is due to exhaustion and the aggravation of dealing with being a smart duck in a world dominated by hairless apes so similar yet different from his own home catching up with him. And, of course, this is a fascinating dream-scape.
    As for the rest, I still have most of these in my house somewhere but the only one I've ever re-read is HTD, the last time within the last year. Of the standard superhero stuff, I'd rate the Champions the best, mainly due to Byrne's art. And this month's Conan and the Defenders were above average, if not particularly memorable to my mind. Kirby's Cap & Black Panther were a bit of goofy fun, but otherwise not all that compelling, and I never got into the Eternals or 2001.

  2. I've decided that all of my future reviews of 2001 will only contain two words: "Kill me."

    1. I only hope no one takes you up on that offer.

      If you're not around, I'll have to read the damn thing!