Wednesday, November 11, 2015

March 1977 Part Two: Double-Sized 300th Issue!

Werewolf by Night 43
"The Terrible Threat of the Tri-Animan!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Debra James
Cover by Ernie Chan

The Tri-Animan tosses Werewolf and Iron Man around like paper dolls, with Shell-Head ending up in a tangle of live wires, until Werewolf is thrown into him, and both are down for the count. But when the greedy Marauder increases the power to his creation to "maximum intensity," the monster goes berserk, freeing the three beasts that gave him power and frying the controls. Marauder heads to his helicopter's mobile controls (everyone has them handy!) as Werewolf battles the beasts and Iron Man is thrown outside. Quick cut to Topaz at the police precinct, where she learns via phone call that Buck's house has burned down, and he's missing along with Lissa! She heads there immediately, leaving the cops to deal with her missing persons report on Jack. Iron Man deals with the destructive powers of Tri-Animan, saving an expressway ramp, and Werewolf manages to subdue the real animals and save Marauder's thugs, calling the police as they and Jack go check it out. Near the river, the battle goes on at a construction site, and the cops get there just as Werewolf does. Iron Man saves him from being shot, but is smashed by Tri-A and trapped under a pile of girders! The Golden Avenger breaks free and fires his chest beam—which zaps Marauder's chopper when Werewolf leaps at Tri-A, hurling the giant cyborg out of the way and into the docks. The chopper ends up in the water, and as Werewolf gets Marauder out, the damaged Tri-A is shot by the cops and also falls into the water, where the money from the robbery trickles out, Marauder having hidden it there. In our epilogue, Werewolf changes back into Jack, much to Jarvis' delight, and rushes off to find Topaz, leaving the butler and Iron Man to ponder Jack's character. —Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Moench and Perlin are billed as "Hard-Workin' Souls" in our credits, and ya know, they really did put a lot of hard work into this title. But now it's over. Yes kids, this class has run its course, and luckily there will be no final exam. Not sure anyone would pass it anyway. While I'm not sorry to see it go, I will say it certainly wasn't the worst comic book on the shelves. It did help us discover the moody magnificence of Mike Ploog. And gave Doug Moench an avenue to release his myriad of endless captions, since his Planet of the Apes stuff (mercifully) did not normally suffer from Caption Overload. It also allowed Don Perlin to really find a niche, as his artwork seemed to improve once he started doing it all. Not that he would be any good on The Avengers, or Thor, but here he was pretty good after a while. And this final issue has moments of humor, suspense, mystery, action, wackiness, and animals, leaving us with small questions left unanswered, as to the fate of Buck and Lissa mostly.

But let's hear from Moench himself, in the special essay on the letters page: "The Last of the Big Full-Mooners, A Final Eclipse by Doug Moench." There he gives us a quick rundown of the history of the title, which was always "different, offbeat," going through the origins, evolution, writers and artists, saving the most accolades for his partner-in-full-mooning Perlin. And he leaves us with "Of course, you've guessed it by now, People; this is indeed the final issue of WEREWOLF BY NIGHT—for now, at least. The old must ever step aside for the new. In the world of publishing, room for upcoming projects must ever be made. So you can look forward to a new Marvel title appearing henceforth in the Werewolf's vacated spot. But, knowing Marvel, you can also look forward to seeing the Werewolf himself again…somewhere, and some other time." Boy, talk about playing the good soldier! According to an interview with Moench on, it was basically poor sales on the horror books that did WWBN in, and the "new direction," asked for by Archie Goodwin, was not one the writer wanted to go in, but he gave it a shot, to no avail.

But what of our players? According to the Marvel Comics Database, Jack Russell/Werewolf next appears in Spider-Woman #6, with a September '78 cover date, and he's still snarling in today's Marvel Universe. Topaz appears in Tomb of Dracula #63, March '78, and goes on to battle Mephisto in the future. Buck, I can't find any info on, sorry. Lissa marries tycoon Mr. Price, and their daughter Nina inherits the family lycanthropy curse after her 18th birthday and is known today as Vampire At Night, having been also attacked by a vampire.

Matthew: Talk about one-stop shopping!

Chris Blake: It wasn’t a bad idea to have the Werewolf meet up with Iron Man for a two-issue story, especially if Doug & Don thought this effort might contribute to Werewolf’s acceptance in the mainstream.  It’s pretty obvious, though, that stories like this one wouldn’t be sustainable in the long-term.  If Werewolf were not expected to continue to battle adversaries of a supernatural type, then it’s just as well that his series was concluded.  

It was the right idea to allow Jack to control the change, but a controlled Werewolf isn’t nearly as interesting; the Werewolf doesn’t really have any power aside from agility and ferocity-fueled strength.  It would’ve been an intriguing angle for Jack to trigger the transformation, without knowing the degree to which he’d be able to influence the Werewolf, and whether he’d be able to change back (until, say, daybreak, when the change would happen on its own).  

As it is, Werewolf will have some (increasingly rare) appearances in the Marvel Universe as we continue thru the Bronze Age, but with his eponymous title folding, that’s about all the fur that will be flying.  I hope Topaz caught her flight, and I hope that Buck’s okay.  

The Invincible Iron Man 96
"Only a Friend Can Save Him"
Story by Gerry Conway and Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Don Perlin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom and Jack Abel

Iron Man is overcome by chest pain, having delayed Ultimo until the President could evacuate, but rescued by Jasper Sitwell, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., fully recovered from the injuries sustained in #34 and reassigned to Stark/IM.  Meanwhile, O’Brien infiltrates S.I. using plans stolen from Tony’s safe by Key, who realizes that with both of them now lawbreakers, O’Brien has no more hold over him.  Recharged by the jetcraft’s battery, IM ejects himself for a rematch against Ultimo as Hawk realizes “that most of the communications gear and automated security devices that went dead when the monster appeared were manufactured by Stark,” for whom he orders his assistant, Jonathan Rich, to have a subpoena issued…once they reach safety.

Krissy follows, and is knocked out by, O’Brien as her boss—his armor cracked, albeit functioning better than the man inside—recalls his initial encounter with Ultimo, and undertakes a desperate gambit.  While he uses his repulsors to blast a tunnel through the Earth’s outer crust, knowing an enraged Ultimo will follow, an unseen figure fulfills “the master’s commands,” reaching for the briefcase hidden by Stark outside the Senate.  With Sitwell nervously awaiting the deadline to evacuate D.C. for a nuclear strike if Iron Man fails, he lures Ultimo into a cavern leading to a volcanic fault, and is hurled clear by the blast that engulfs Ultimo…as Krissy awakens to see O’Brien is wearing the Guardsman armor of his brother, Kevin, for whose death he blames Tony.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: This month marks Conway’s swan song on four of his current series—Captain and Ms. MarvelAvengersDefenders—although he’ll squeeze out one more issue with Shellhead, and building on the rock-solid foundation of his plotting, Mantlo has crafted a breathless script that reminds us why this strip was born in Tales of SUSPENSE.  Speaking of which, maturing out of his early dorkiness, Sitwell became a valued addition to the cast, too long neglected, and to see him riding in like the cavalry here, with his sporty gloves and sleek jetcraft, did my tired heart good; sure, he’s still a bit of a nerd, but of a kind the rest of us nerds would have killed to be, always a loyal and effective foil for Shellhead, so I greet him with a hearty, “Don’t yield—back S.H.I.E.L.D.!”

Right from its powerful and eminently suitable cover—the Golden Avenger, bent but unbowed, rallying to show his metallic mettle—this rising tide lifts all boats, because the Tuskabel art is really good.  Yes, you read that right; I didn’t say “acceptable” or “not too bad,” but g-o-o-d.  The typical Tuska issue is strong on action, weak on faces (less so on the distaff side), and prone to caricatures, yet in this case, the penciler/inker alchemy enriches all areas.  Submitted for your approval are the dramatic splash page; the sweaty O’Brien in page 6, panel 4; the angry Key in page 7, panel 1; Shellhead’s panel-busting ejection on page 10; and the leaf-shadowed briefcase in page 23, panel 5.  Notwithstanding his detractors, Ferrous Bueller’s day ON is truly underway.

Chris: Good fight with Ultimo, who doesn’t give the slightest impression that he could be defeated without extraordinary measures; although, the talk of ordering a tactical strike on the nation’s capital seems a bit extreme.   The only problem is that Mantlo interrupts the narrative frequently, as we have updates from Michael O’Brien, Harry Key, Senator Hawk, Krissy Longfellow (who could screen my calls anytime), and the security guys’ coffee break.  The better play might’ve been to get Iron Man safely into Sitwell’s craft, so he can pass out and recharge; then, pack-in all the asides in a bunch; finally, spend the bulk of the second half of the issue on Shellhead’s tunneling gambit, and the last-page reveal of the Guardsman.  This approach would’ve allowed for smoother storytelling, and more build-up to the conclusion.  

Mantlo only gives us one panel about the hidden hand behind Ultimo, as an unseen minion snags Tony’s briefcase (p 23, last pnl); at least this bit was efficiently done, with only a few-seconds’ interruption of the action, and a neat reminder that there’s more at work in the story than the Ultimo fight itself.  

The Tuska/Perlin art (inks mistakenly attributed to Jack Abel, as the letters page for IM #98 will inform us) is satisfactory, with the armor consistently looking badly damaged (cracked through and through, with the right epaulet almost broken-off); of course this adds to the drama, as it helps to remind us that Ultimo’s already beaten IM at full-strength, and that if Tony’s going to win the day, he’s going to have to overcome the drawback of playing-out this fight while already trailing badly.

Matthew: Re: Tuskabel, I stand corrected.

Logan's Run 3
Story by David Kraft
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Tom Palmer

Logan and Jessica arrive at New You Shop #483, where a runner had his face changed. They are met by Holly, the beautiful receptionist who takes a liking to Logan. The ex-Sandman wants a new face to make it easier to blend in when he runs. They meet Doc, who seems outwardly eager to help Logan, but is on his guard. Jessica assures him that Logan is genuine, but once she leaves the room, a surreptitious call confirms Doc’s suspicions. Once the Sandman is put on the table, Doc demonstrates the effectiveness of the precision laser scalpels he himself designed. After the initial test, by healing Logan’s forehead wound, he turns the beams to maximum. Jessica struggles with Doc as he attempts to kill Logan. Holly, misunderstanding the situation, charges in and attacks Jessica. Logan is able to reach his DS Gun and fires a warning shot as he slides off the table. Doc lunges, filled with the insane desire to kill Logan at any cost, and momentarily forgets the beams. He suffers the fate he planned for Logan. Jessica flattens Holly with a haymaker and the pair run from the New You Shop, only to be stopped by Francis. Logan’s old friend tries to convince him to come to his senses, but Logan has no choice; he clouts Francis, takes Jessica and bolts. Francis rises to his feet and sees Holly grieving silently for Doc as Francis grieves for his friendship with Logan, a man he must now hunt down and kill.

Jessica, now fully believing him, takes Logan to meet her friends, those who will be able to assist them in leaving the City. However, she warns him that she originally planned to lead him into an ambush (see previous issue) and that they will still mostly likely kill him simply because, as a Sandman, he has killed so many of them. But, she says, they’ll convince them somehow. They reach their destination in the sub-level where they are greeted by a bright light. As Jessica suspected, the runners want Logan dead and, convinced Jessica is a traitor, they demand her death as well. As the runners rant over those he has killed, Logan’s hand instinctively and casually brushes against his belt transceiver. Jessica makes an impassioned plea to spare their lives, but to no avail. Suddenly, Holly arrives and tells everyone Doc is dead, but that Logan actually is a runner. They let down their guard and let them pass when Logan insists Jessica return to the safety of the city. “I don’t want you hurt.” The other runners hear this and correctly surmise the Sandmen are coming. They accuse Logan of springing a trap and move in for the kill. At that moment, the wall blows out and a squad of Sandmen enters, guns blazing. Holly is crushed to death by the rubble and runners are mercilessly slaughtered. Logan, in a desperate panic, can’t believe what he has done and tries to defend himself to Jessica. She backs away, convinced he was lying all along when another Sandman rushes in and moves to shoot her. Logan spins on the Sandman and kills him, saving Jessica because he can’t lose her now; she is all he has left to believe in. Tabling their discussion for the present, they run off, but Francis calls out from behind a chain-link partition. He hasn’t reported him yet and pleads with Logan to kill Jessica and leave with him, to come back to his life.  Logan’s response is to shoot, but only to drive Francis back. Francis shouts that he will hunt and kill them both.

Logan and Jessica make their way down another few levels to the final door leading out of the city. Her Ankh is the key to the lock. They only have seconds to pass through the door. Logan drops his transceiver into the stagnant water pooling at their feet, severing his final connection to his former life, and they walk through the door as it closes. They enter what appears to be the plant that uses the sea to provide the city with power. Francis arrives at the door, pulls out the Ankh he took from the runner he terminated in Cathedral (again last issue), and slips it into the lock. On the other side, he sees the runners and fires. Missing them, his shot hits the water storage tank above them, flooding the area immediately. The rushing current pushes them into the drainage chamber and Logan is just able to close the watertight door behind them. They collapse on a grate and Logan leans against a lever which activates the lift and they ascend into an ice chamber. Jessica thinks it may be Sanctuary, but Logan isn’t so sure Sanctuary would be this cold. Suddenly, they are greeted by a towering, shining silver android calling itself “Box,” who tells them how much he hopes their stay will be as enjoyable as it will be permanent! -Scott McIntyre  

Scott McIntyre: This middle issue of the five-issue adaptation is packed with action as it encompasses the most exciting scenes in the film. As before, there are a number of changes in both the situations and the characterizations. While it is strongly hinted in the film that Logan led Jessica and the other runners into an ambush, nothing is done with it. He doesn’t admit he intentionally summoned the Sandmen. While it creates further doubt in Jessica’s mind, it is also a nicely realistic touch. Logan has been trained to be a Sandman since birth. No pretty face or nice body can wipe that away in a day and even though Logan knows he has to run, even though he has always had his doubts, he also has his duty. It colors him with a shade of grey that the film doesn’t develop. Frankly, the movie version of the character is less interesting, and far less conflicted in what he has to do.

Of course, some scenes are missing because of the adult nature of the film. In the adaptation, Francis does not chase Logan and Jessica into a sex shop. No writhing nude bodies to be seen here. No recreational drug use. No orgies (no fun…). And no scene of Logan and Jessica stripping off their soaking wet clothing before they meet Box (seriously, this was a great scene for a 9 or 10 year-old in the theater with his buddies). What the adaptation does give us, in addition to the expanded characterization, is a lot of expositional dialog. I would never say Logan’s Run had the greatest dialog in cinema history but it was more subtle than what Dave Kraft brings to the table. He spells out everything and indulges in over the top histrionics. Do we need to have Doc state that he wants to kill Logan when the whole previous page was showing his attempt, capping it with Doc clubbing Logan in the head? Granted, it was the style of the time, but I would rather they trust the artist to convey the point in the action sequences without littering the pages with unnecessary verbiage.  However, the ambush scene is much more intense and cold, showing us just how mercilessly the Sandmen are with runners as they keep on killing them. No hesitation or remorse.

The art is still consistently excellent (although Janson’s inks are starting to muddy a bit), and while Logan still looks more like Steve Rogers than Michael York, some attempt was made to have Holly actually resemble Farrah Fawcett-Majors. Remember how huge her billing was in the film, yet how small her part turned out to be? Well, she has a little more to do here, but mostly because the adaptation is going on for five full issues.  George Perez gives fine detail to the environment and it’s a pleasure to savor every line.  He recreates the look of the film very well and one can practically hear the Jerry Goldsmith score going in the background. Next time, “Deadly Sanctuary” and the dreaded Box!

Matthew:  Of course, in the movie, you knew instantly that Doc was going to be trouble, because he was played by director Michael Anderson's son and namesake.

Chris: The theme of “running” takes on additional significance, as the pace of the action picks up appreciably.  Nice twist as Logan surreptitiously signals the Sandmen, who savagely subdue the salon of Sanctuary sympathizers.  In the aftermath of that moment, Francis – who wants to protect the status quo, but also still feels loyalty to his old friend – offers Logan the chance to push the reset button; all he would need to do is shoot Jessica, then he and Francis would go home, as if Nothing Had Happened.  Logan doesn’t really give it much thought, but you have to figure Jessica was feeling a little unsteady for those few seconds, especially after so seeing so many of her Sanctuarians gunned down.

The Pérez/Janson art continues to excel.  There are countless images I recall from repeated readings, years and years ago: the opening shots of the “kinesis” lasers, as Logan realizes he’s been had, followed by Logan reaching for his blaster and taking the fight to Doc (p 7, p 10); the merciless killings of the Sanctuary underground railroaders, particularly the empty-eyed death of well-meaning Holly (p 17); the dank, worn look of the lower levels of the City, including the cracked masonry of the ankh-key door (p  22, 23).  

Master of Kung Fu 50
"Part VI (Fu Manchu): The Dreamslayer!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Fu Manchu looks out from his space station, toward the moon below, and reflects on the majesty of his plan: soon, it will be time to set the nuclear explosion that will unhinge the moon from its orbit, and cause widespread destruction on the surface of the earth.  Fu expects most of the survivors to be living in the higher grounds of inland China; to them, Fu will descend, and re-establish the greatness of the world as it was in the days of ancient China.  Shang-Chi and Reston surreptitiously exit the shuttle that had carried them as stowaways to Fu’s station.  S-C moves on to locate Fu, while Reston spends some time interfering with a panel that he believes to be “the master control setup for this orbiting amusement park.”  S-C takes Fu by surprise, and at sword-point, questions Fu concerning his plan of widespread destruction.  Fu observes that the world is dying anyway; Fu feels it is his destiny to, in effect, save the world from itself, and restore the proper order.  Without S-C being aware, Fu activates a loudspeaker that broadcasts their conversation to other parts of the station.  In one chamber, Shaka Kharn turns aside from the nutrient fluid-bath that is required to sustain his life, and instead goes to complete his assignment to eliminate S-C, Fu’s errant son.  S-C declares that he will not allow his father to active his doomsday device, but Fu expects that S-C will not follow-thru with any threat directed at him.  Reston arrives and states that he has no reservations about eliminating Fu; Shaka Kharn gets the drop on Reston, and cuts him down.  S-C and Kharn battle, until Shang’s sword catches Kharn’s face mask; S-C sees Kharn age before his eyes, until he appears as little more than a skull.  By the time S-C has finished the weakened Kharn, he finds Fu at the control panel; Fu observes that S-C cannot reach him before he can begin the fatal chain-reaction.  A wounded Reston arrives, and tosses S-C his firearm; as Fu activates the device, S-C shoots him.  The sabotaged panel shorts out; immediately, protective shielding drops down and secures Fu in what is now an escape pod – Fu is never without a contingency plan.  S-C and Reston watch Fu rocket away from the moon’s orbit, as all three face an uncertain future.  -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s not exactly an earth-shattering conclusion – which, uh, as I think of it, is probably the best thing we could ask for.  No, what I’m really saying is that Doug & Paul don’t pull out any unusual stops for this conclusion (aside from being in orbit around the moon, that is …); what we have is a continuation of the winning formula that has carried us thru the duration of their creative partnership.  All the elements are here: fierce battling; bitter betrayal (Sir Denis is informed that Ducharme has disappeared, and he muses over how she probably had never truly turned to their side); megalomaniacal machinations; unshakeable loyalty (both Sir Denis and Black Jack reflect over Larner having exceeded their expectations in his devotion to their cause, plus Reston exerts a tireless effort – despite blood loss – to assist Shang-Chi against Fu).  

So, even though this issue marks the conclusion, apparently, there still are a few loose ends to tie up in the “Epilogue,” next issue.  It’s definitely going to be a different experience, since MoKF #51 will be the first issue in the post-Gulacy period.  Yes, that’s right, this is Paul Gulacy’s final issue, and we’ll never see him in these pages again (select covers only).  Oh – you mean – I’m sorry, didn’t I say something about it earlier -?  No, I guess I – now class, please, people, please!  Settle down, back in your seats everyone, now please, let’s all take a breath.  It’s going to be fine, it’ll be fine!!  Please listen!  Everything’s going to be just fine!  I’m going to flick the lights, if this continues!  You don’t want me to flick the lights, do you?

Okay.  Maybe we should, um, wrap up a little early this time, okay?  Sound good?  Let’s do that.  But please read MoKF #51 for next time, and we’ll all meet back here.  Class dismissed.

Mark: Departures.

Paul Gulacy leaves the book at the height of his now considerable powers. 

And a defeated Fu, with a large jug of immortality elixir no doubt stored in his moon rocket's detachable shuttle craft, blasts off for "...a dozen years or a hundred..." of space exile quiet time. 

Fu's Super-Geritol showed its import earlier in our tale, when Shang-Chi faces re-animated ancestor Shaka Kharn, who skipped his life-giving elixir bath to rush to Father Fu's aid, and as a result starts decomposing during battle. Gulacy gets some ghoulish licks in as, by fight's end, Shang is dismantling a living skelton.

Clive Reston gets skewered by a Samurai sword, but, in the story's one eye-rolling oops, Clive seems to have spontaneously healed by the last page, as he stands besides Shang, without holding shut his once-gaping wound, as they calmly debate FM's fate as his craft disappears toward the moon.

Just two pages before, a severely-wounded Clive drug himself close enough to S-C to toss him a gun, leading to the story's most dramatic moment: Shang-Chi shooting Fu with a gun! An ironic east/west inversion of weapons, the expected sword or shuriken replaced by gas-propelled metal pellets, is one of those great ideas that first surprises, then seems inevitable. 

It's a powerful finale, Gulacy exits to extended applause, and if they had to cut the scene of Reston guzzling a leftover bottle of elixir, thus healing his wound, well, you can't have everything.

Ms. Marvel 3
"The Lady's Not for Killing!"
Story by Chris Claremont and Gerry Conway
Art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott

The Destructor revives at the same time as Ms. Marvel, who is puzzled by his knowledge of her Kree abilities, but as she gets the upper hand, an A.I.M. craft smashes through the pavement to rescue him and prevent his interrogation, endangering two children to divert her.  Still pondering her identity, she is overcome by a migraine, reverting to Carol and coming to on the roof of the Bugle Building.  Deflecting a visit from M.J. and a call from Michael, she learns from Salia Petrie that her old friend has been assigned to a NASA crew being secretly launched to Skylab, and persuades JJJ to send her to Cape Canaveral to cover it, with the Bugle breaking the initial story and Woman scooping everyone else with photo spreads and exclusive interviews.

Below its front on the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, A.I.M. submerges Korman’s will with the Psycho-Conditioner, and launches a rocket from a Satterfield Avenue warehouse to foil NASA’s flight, which threatens its projects.  Slipping away from a tour with Sal and her crewmate, David Adamson, Carol becomes Ms. Marvel, who senses and intercepts the incoming rocket, protected and supplied with oxygen by an energy field her costume creates.  She finds the Doomsday Man (reportedly destroyed in Silver Surfer #13), who battles her and destroys the rocket; surviving the fall, she is drawn to the cave of her “birth,” realizing that she and Carol are one and the same, but Dr. Kronton’s robot prepares to obey its secondary directive:  to engage and destroy Ms. Marvel.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Conway hands his baby off to Claremont for adoption—which, creatively, is rather like turning her over to Daddy Warbucks—while still plotting her protracted “secret origin” (and, in case anybody’s wondering why I keep harping on their use of that phrase, it’s the title of a desultory series from DC, for whom Gerry is about to quit Marvel…again).  Buscema, too, will jump ship after this issue, leaving things in equally good hands with Sinnott, but signs off with his usual stellar job, although frankly I’ve never liked his rendition of JJJ.  So much is still to be revealed that aside from giving this a hearty thumbs-up, especially the welcome end of the rather tiresome split-identity gimmick, I’m going to stay out of the way for the nonce, and simply enjoy the ride.

Chris: Claremont does a nice job as he anticipates a few credulity-stretching moments in the plot; first, in 1976-77, he might correctly observe that most people wouldn't believe it if you told them that a rocket had launched from the beleaguered Bronx (and in some neighborhoods, you could question whether people would notice if a rocket were to impact there); second, Claremont tells us the rocket is following the same orbital track as a known Soviet satellite, which would be an effective means to avoid detection.  Of course, it's always possible that these details came from Conway's plotline (in which case, due credit to him), but these points strike me as too minute to be dictated by the plotter.  Either way, credit to Conway and Claremont both for their methodical progress with Ms Marvel's origin; in many instances, we are learning about Ms M at the same moments she is learning about herself.

Marvel Team-Up 55
Spider-Man and Warlock in
"Spider, Spider on the Moon!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Susan Fox
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Amid hallucinations of his friends and foes, Spidey revives in imminent peril, air rapidly leaking from the unsealed cabin, but the rocket is spotted by an oversized Adam Warlock, who detects life within and teleports it to the oxygenated Blue Area of Earth’s moon, the home of the Watcher.  As a side benefit, “warping through space has gradually reversed the process [that] caused the atoms of my body to drift farther apart,” returning Adam to normal size.  Their introduction is rudely interrupted as his symbiotic emerald Soul Gem, which can only be freed with his death, senses the imminent arrival of the Stranger, who—having acquired a yellow counterpart now on his own forehead—seeks to collect all six, and “zaps” Warlock unconscious.

Leaping to aid him, Spidey is hurled away, saved this time by the moving plants of the Gardener, who has used the oxygen to create an Eden; he seeks only peace but, knowing that the impatient Stranger (“There is a matter on Earth which requires my attention!”) was actually drawn there by his own red Gem, cannot let Adam die in his stead.  As he provides a diversion, Spidey hefts a rock to smash the stasis field holding Adam, unintentionally accomplished by the Stranger’s pre-emptive strike.  Halted by the pooled power of two Gems, the Stranger departs—as does the Gardener, his paradise shriveled and his Gem corrupted by battle—while Adam agrees to drop Spidey off en route to Counter-Earth and, “unnoticed, a gleaming silver egg lies undisturbed…” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’ll pay this my highest possible compliment by asserting that in spite of his non-involvement, it is Starlin-worthy, especially Adam’s entrance on page 3 (left), with Byrne (beautifully embellished by Dave Hunt this time around) capturing him as few other artists could.  And we now see that the Woodgod/Hulk story not only is a cracking good yarn in its own right, but also provides a literal vehicle to bring Spidey into contact with Adam, thus tying up some of his dangling plot threads.  “Marvel got rid of [the size-changing cliffhanger] right quickly!  [laughs]  I wanted to separate Warlock from the rest of the Marvel Universe, and that was one of my last stories, and right after that, Bill Mantlo and John Byrne brought him back down to normal size,” as Starlin later related.

Although anomalous for its time as a non-Starlin Warlock story, this forms the vital connective tissue between the abrupt demise of his book with #15 and Jim’s Avengers Annual #7.  As Starlin told Newsarama’s Zack Smith, what happened to Gamora in the interim “was supposed to be Warlock #16, which never happened—I had a few pages penciled, but I’ve got no idea where they are.  They were loose pencils, and then things fell apart with Marvel….I was going through some personal stuff too at the time, so it was good to have other people [collaborating with me on Warlock]…Alan Weiss is a good friend of mine, and he did a whole solo story that was lost in the back of a cab for years, you can see it in [Warlock by Jim Starlin: The Complete Collection].”

Here, Mantlo makes the next significant contribution to the evolving mythos of the Soul (later Infinity) Gems, begun by Roy Thomas back in Marvel Premiere #1. In Captain Marvel #45, outgoing scripter Steve Englehart and co-plotter/artist Al Milgrom established that the vampiric emerald gem given to Adam Warlock by the High Evolutionary was not the only one.  The Marvel Comics Database identifies that issue as the first appearance of what later became known as the Mind Gem—depicted by Milgrom as gigantic and red, rather than its subsequent blue—but if you want to get technical, the as-yet-unidentified Rambu is seen literally stumbling across said jewel, then green like Adam’s, in one panel of the montage that closes Captain Marvel #41.

As the duplicitous General tells Mar-Vell, “it is one of the fabled six Soul Gems, strewn across the stars!  Though each of the six has a different power, they are all equally effective—on the mind!  One of the gems resides with a man named Adam Warlock—the others I know nothing of.”  This issue introduces what were later identified as the Power (red) and Reality (yellow) Gems and, just to throw some filet mignon next to your lobster, the Stranger’s attempt to collect them leads straight into this month’s sublime Mantlo/Byrne Champions.  It would be aptly left to Starlin himself to complete the set—required by Thanos for his “mad scheme of total stellar genocide”—with the Space (purple) and Time (orange) Gems in that aforesaid Avengers Annual.

Joe: I remember this one as having awesome art and a story that was a bit confusing, which a lot of the cosmic stuff tended to be. And things haven't changed much. Although slightly less confusing now, it can be said to evoke deeper conversations about the Marvel Universe if you stop and think. Like, who is the Gardener and why does he have a Soul Gem? Why is Adam Warlock so darn profound all the time? Who dresses the Stranger? How can Spidey take all this craziness in stride and still have time to make puns? Well, some of those answers are far away from where we're at on campus. Meantime, I enjoyed this issue quite a lot for the fun splash page, the rich colors, the terrific cape swirling, the Thunderbolt Ross lookalike villain, the cosmic conundrums, the excellent angles in some panels, and of course, the always enjoyable (OK, just for Prof. Mark, let's make it mostly enjoyable) wall-crawling hero.

Chris: This is another of those issues with characters co-starring, not necessarily teamed-up; by that, I mean that while Spidey and Warlock are in the same comic, they have little time to work together toward the same desired outcome.  Most of that time is spent as one individual seeks to save the other, as Warlock interrupts the flight of Spidey’s rocket, and Spidey inadvertently goads L’Etranger into blasting away part of his stasis arc.  Otherwise, Spidey and Warlock fight the Stranger as a tag-team, as one steps in to replace the downed other, but there never is a moment when their combined power is directed toward the Stranger; this is unfortunate, since it would’ve been interesting to see how the Stranger might simultaneously manage two opponents with vastly different powers.  Although, since the Stranger is able to launch a section of the moon into space, blow it up, and then reassemble his atoms back on the moon’s surface, maybe he wouldn’t have had all that much trouble after all.

Speaking of Warlock’s powers, Mantlo takes some obvious, no-prize worthy liberties with Warlock’s abilities.  Since when can Warlock sense the presence of living people (ie Spidey trapped in the speeding rocket), or of an-oxygen rich area, and since when can his soul gem teleport anything, let alone something the size of the rocket?  When the Stranger tries to steal Warlock’s soul gem, why doesn’t Warlock’s vampiric gem reach out and try to grab the Stranger, instead?  Now, that would’ve been some fight; to see the two cosmic personages battling, infinity stone against stone, might’ve ranked alongside Thanos vs the Magus.

The Stranger’s motives are a bit hard to figure out, despite being handled by the same creative team presenting his appearance in the Champions.  If it’s so important for the Stranger to contain the null bomb, is it really worth it for him to stop and hunt out the desired gem?  Would he have used the gem against the null bomb somehow?  Or is this gem simply a means to boost his already-formidable personal power?  It doesn’t make sense that the Stranger should come across as uncharacteristically selfless in Champions, after seeming so self-serving here; Mantlo could’ve done a better job of linking up the Stranger’s actions in these appearances.

Dave Hunt emerges from the backgrounds (ha! See what I did there?) to provide some rock-solid inks for Byrne.  Hunt’s finishes are good and clear, with some shadows and texture (but not too much!), which results in Byrne’s art looking exactly as it should.  Hunt will be the regular inker for MTU for the next year (thru MTU #67, with Pablo Marcos embellishing #58), as his only steady gig during the Bronze era; based on the quality of the work he does for Byrne (and for Sal Buscema over the next two issues), I’ll never understand why Hunt wasn’t called on for some other regular assignments.

Marvel Two-In-One 25
The Thing and Iron Fist in
"A Tale of Two Countries!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Sam Grainger
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Romita

Attending a Jets game at Shea Stadium with Alicia, Ben is zapped and hoisted into the Goodyear blimp—camouflaging a jet craft—on behalf of Prince Dragon, whose country’s Queen Sen has been stolen by General Chonga.  When he awakens, Iron Fist frees them, both having refused to take sides by training an army for their captors from Kaiwann, “an island off Manchuria which has two warring countries…”  Dropped through the bomb-bay doors, they miraculously survive an impossible plunge onto the island, and are informed that if the army their “hosts” were forced to train without them can defeat “the greatest martial artist of all [and] an unstoppable monster....[then] General Chonga’s forces will be helpless against us.”

Dispensing with Konga’s poison-tipped swords, they are directed by one of his minions to the temple at the Ridge of Four Hells, to which they gain ingress with a vine stretched over active volcanoes.  S’Kari the Blind Swordsman and Mongo the Merciless fall before the prince reveals that it was their own general who objected to Queen Sen’s marriage to their neighbor’s emperor, the Gracious One, so our heroes join the Dragon in challenging Chonga’s forces inside a hollow crater.  The final twist follows after Chonga and his death ax have been dealt with:  Queen Sen actually loves and was to wed Prince Dragon, but agreed for the sake of her people to sacrifice her own happiness and marry the Gracious One, who demanded Sen’s hand as the price of peace. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The Wolfman cometh, and stayeth for just over a year, populating the book with such orphaned heroes as Deathlok, Modred, and Skull, also putting Spider-Woman back into play.  It seems almost certain that his work is going to improve…because this is a train wreck.  And I’m not just talking about a nice, civilized derailment.  We’re talking River Kwai-style plunging into a gorge and exploding, and then having a meteor fall on it.  Maybe a radioactive meteor covered with anthrax and Limburger.  Although it’s not Marv’s fault that I owe Marcos an apology, because Grainger seems no better able than Pablo was to make Wilson’s figures recognizable, or even recognizably human; I’m gonna call Easter Island and tell them some of their statues are missing.

Villains in a Goodyear blimp above a football game? Naah…  (The Great John Frankenheimer’s adaptation of Thomas Harris’s Black Sunday, no doubt widely anticipated, would be released the same month this issue is cover-dated.)  Antagonistic nations the writer made up during a furious hangover?  Always a bad sign.  So, these clowns have the know-how to identify one guy—a big orange rocky guy, but still—in a crowd of 35,000, hit him precisely with an “anesthesia ray,” and pull him up into their ship, albeit with low-tech grappling hooks that would surely tear through his coat, but can’t handle the dudes on the other side of their island?  And to train their army they wanted a WW II vet whose military strategy could best be summed up as, “It’s clobberin’ time?”

Matthew: After my first read, I got a cold feeling in the pit of my stomach at the prospect of summarizing this mess, especially since, if I counted right, it has three—count ’em, three—“Oh, that’s what’s really going on here?” moments.  A team-up book stands or falls on its chemistry, but there can be little if any of it when the star behaves like a big orange rocky douche the whole time; I don’t think he calls Iron Fist by his proper name once, instead demeaning him with “Fancy-Fist” (an inexplicable allusion to Fancy Feast?) and the arguably homophobic “dainty, sweet little booties” line, despite Danny’s manly prowess in busting his metallic restraints.  This he apparently, and implausibly, does without the use of the iron fist power, which Marv ironically seems to overuse.

Nova 7
"War in Space!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

His head pounding, Nova continues to claim to be the boss of his newfound gang of baddies, then gets the lowdown from Condor on The Sphinx. 5,000 years ago, he was chief wizard for the Pharaoh Ramses, but was banished to wander the desert after Moses and the ten plagues (a story everyone knows), then found The Spirit Stone, which he placed on his forehead and was reborn. Watching from afar, The Sphinx instead says he wants to become emperor of the world, then zaps a rebellious soldier and speaks with Sayge the soothsayer. Condor and Nova break into an Air Force warehouse to steal a part for the winged nasty's space ship, and when they return to the lair, a semi-recovering Nova is subjected once again to the Computalyzer, with Powerhouse pondering his place in all this and how he's being controlled. The gang takes off to the stars, headed to Nova's ship, which Condor's gizmo can pick up from its invisibility cloak, then he sprays them with gas that lets them breathe in space. (Man, Condor is a regular Reed Richards with wings and anger issues!) Once aboard the enormous Nova-ship, they're watched by The Sphinx (who may soon have to deal with his not-so-faithful servant Kur) and the evil Egyptian sets off the intruder alert, which brings robot sentries to life, even regenerating them after the Nova gang destroys the machines. But the Terrible Trio plus one fights off the robots, and when Powerhouse absorbs the power from some dangerous lasers, he unleashes it, blowing open the door to the weapons room. Once inside, Nova finally regains his memory, smashing some villains until Powerhouse throws a confused tantrum, distracting Nova enough to get hammered by Diamondhead. The bad guys head back to Condor's ship, armed with weapons to fight The Sphinx, and Nova is trapped aboard his own ship, headed to "the other side of the universe!" –Joe Tura

Joe: I really don't know what to make of this title. Not sure if I am enjoying it beyond the artwork and the action sequences. OK, there's no supporting cast distractions which is good. But the Terrible Trio are all hard to stomach between Condor's arrogance, Diamondhead's clichéd anger, and Powerhouse's inner torment, which is bad. We get some answers about the Sphinx which is good, but not many, which is bad--even Condor says "What happened then, we don't know, but there are legends throughout history attesting to his presence in times of wars." Ooooo kay…We get some rebellion against ol' Sphinxy which is good. But it's a waste of time which is bad, and no one could possibly care about Kur except Kur himself. We see Nova really show off his strength at nearly every turn, especially when he's Condor-ed, which is good. But he brags about it more than Hulk, which is bad, but we can forgive this since he's Condor-ed, and inherited the flying fiend's conceit. The Nova ship has some great security, which is good, but it's not only controlled by Sphinx but is defeated handily by what are really low-grade baddies, which is of course, um, bad. Interested to see where next issue—and the Nova ship—takes us, plus there's the whole Sphinx war yet to come, I think. Hopefully Marv will stop reading the fan mail (which is still, incredibly, all positive according to the letters page) and tell stories instead of trying to pump Nova up to the point of exhaustion. For the reader, that is. For now, he's teetering on the brink and hopefully will come down on the side of good.

Matthew: Once again, Sal & Frank are within spitting distance of John & Joe, and when I saw that splash page, I sighed with contentment like a cat curling up on the hearth (or so I gather; Maison Bradley has had plenty of cats but no fireplace).  So the art is beyond reproach, although story-wise, I’m having a little trouble making the mental leap from “lord of crime”—a dubious title for which the Sphinx and Condor are contesting, yet with precious little evidence that either is anywhere near achieving it—and “emperor of the world itself!”  But I quibble:  it’s great to see the strip returning to its interstellar roots, and I am thus far unwavering in my admiration for the little corner of the Marvel Universe that Marv has staked out with these characters and storyline.

Chris: Marv & Sal deliver another satisfying issue, as they build on the promise of our last chapter.  The background on the Sphinx is interesting (and rooted in the Old Testament!), while his powers still carry some mystery – how is he able to reach into space, and influence events on the distant Nova Prime craft-?  The highlight, though, has to be the interplay among Nova and his (for now) allies, particularly as Condor carefully watches Nova to ensure that his mind-programming doesn’t fade before Condor has acquired what he wants.  Marv also reminds us that Powerhouse serves Condor reluctantly, and somehow is under Condor’s control (pointing ahead to a possible rebellion -?).  

The “space-breathing gas” is an unfortunate stretch; it’s a big-enough ship, Condor – you couldn’t pack a few pressure suits?  At least, this time, Marv doesn’t try to tell us that the Nova ship is millions of miles long; the only perspective on its size is Diamondhead’s observation that the ship is “enormous – bigger than any football stadium,” which I think is a scale we all can live with.  

Omega the Unknown 7
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Hugh Paley
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum

After defeating The Wrench, Omega the Unknown and James-Michael have some alone time to try to sort out their problems. Meanwhile, across town, Blockbuster (last seen, when he was known as Man-Brute, in Captain America #121, January 1970) trashes his dumpy apartment and whines about his son being taken away from him. He decides to rob a bank and raise enough cash to help his boy out so that the youngster will never have to resort to a life of crime. Omega arrives to battle the twelfth-tier villain but when he discovers that Blockbuster only wanted the cash and not to harm innocent bystanders, Omega lets him go. Taunted by the crowd and noticing a disappointed James-Michael, Omega gives chase after all but, once again, after a vicious battle and an explanation from Blockbuster about his son, Unknown watches as the bulky baddie walks off with the attache full of dough. -Peter Enfantino

Matthew: Edelman recalled, “That I wrote [this] was purely the result of being in the right place at the right time.  Many writing assignments back then ended up being handed out in that way….[It was] an intriguing series that was revealing its secrets slowly.  Unfortunately, that was not the only thing that was being done slowly….[and it] was in danger of missing its printing schedule….Jim Shooter was determined to crack down on…the Dreaded Deadline Doom.  So [he] took Roger Stern and me out to dinner and told us that we were going to write the next two issues…basically overnight, allowing the hero to have adventures while making sure nothing important was left changed about the characters at the end,” as he wrote on his blog.

“We were each assigned an artist to whom we had to quickly turn over a plot, and I was thrilled to nab Jim Mooney as my artist.  I had a sentimental attachment to Mooney, since he had drawn the adventures of Supergirl back in Action Comics in some of the first comic books I ever read.  But one panel of his did not make it into print exactly as drawn, thanks to the censors at the Comics Code Authority.  On the last page…Blockbuster runs off, slugging a policeman as he goes.  Since one of the rules of the Code was that no villainy was allowed to go unpunished, we had to white out the policeman, so that Blockbuster was left swinging at empty air as he ran off into the distance.  And so the morals of the children of America were once more kept safe”; yay.

So being allowed to make off with the loot from a bank robbery doesn't count? 

The one thing you can pretty well bet the farm on is that these fill-ins will be more conventional, demonstrated by the straightforward narration replacing Skerber’s purple prose, although having Omega speak (even if he doesn’t end J-M’s confusion, a possibility the captions so tantalizingly dangle before us) would seem to contravene the mandate against changing anything important.  I know dredging up old bad guys can be hit or miss, but excavating one as forgettable as this, from a story I excoriated as thoroughly as Captain America #121, seems extra-inexplicable, especially when you don’t even acknowledge rebranding him from the Man-Brute to Blockbuster.  The obvious answer is that his devotion to that unseen son makes him a relatively sympathetic villain.

Peter Enfantino: Conventional, yes, but at least I can understand what the hell's being said in the pretty yellow boxes. Edelman might not be much of a writer but I'd go so far as to say this is the best issue yet of Omega the Soon-to-be-Canceled. And a pretty ballsy move to allow the bank-robbing, citizen-threatening heavy to walk away with his spoils, free as a bird. At least we were spared, with the absence of Skerber, flowery prose describing the "electrical viaducts of emotion flowing between the Temporal and Parietal lobes of the human vortex known as Blockbuster" or some such nonsense. I haven't lost my mind enough to put this at the top of my "I Gotta Read" pile (and thank heaven this is a bi-monthly!) but, for the first time after reading an issue of this title, I don't feel the need to reach for my thesaurus to look up yet another synonym for "pretentious." 

Luke Cage, Power Man 41
"Thunderbolt and Goldbug!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Lee Elias and Tom Palmer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ernie Chan

Things are looking up for Luke Cage, Power Man for Hire. No big jobs in line, a little more time to spend with his bodacious babe, Claire, and the sun is shining! Unbeknownst to our ebony savior, on the other side of town, a vigilante "hero" going by the handle of Thunderbolt is quashing a robbery on the docks. 'Bolt has super-speed and a "lightning-bolt flare" that is "strong enough to search out vermin" and, before long, the band of goons is stacked up like so much firewood. With the cops arriving, the new superhero hoofs it but before hightailing it, he leaves behind his calling card: a lightning bolt tattoo on the forehead of each one of the hoods. Back at the office, Luke Cage receives a visit from a prospective client: Jack Smith of Shanks' Armored Cars, who wants to hire our favorite mofo for a security detail. Shanks will be transporting two million dollars worth of gold to Washington and the company is worried about a threat from a new super-villain known as Goldbug (revealed to be Shanks' own Jack Smith!). Luke takes the job and, sure enough, the van is ambushed and the driver killed. Having gotten wind of a heist, Thunderbolt has been tailing the van and, when the vehicle goes blooey, 'bolt is the first thing Cage sees. In a rare case of "fists first, talk later," Power Man attacks Thunderbolt and a battle royale (with cheese) ensues. While the two dopes are beating on each other, Goldbug pulls up in his hovercraft and loads up the gold bars. Luke and 'bolt come to a truce and then team up to stop 'bug from escaping. Luke is sprayed with Goldbug's "quick-hardening gold dust" spray which stops our hero in his tracks. Only quick thinking from the speedster allows the big man to survive but the golden goofball escapes. Luke and 'bolt head back to the office where they discover the police waiting and Jack Smith leveling accusations of thievery at the both of them. What can be done?
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Marv really missed the boat on this one. Thunderbolt? Too generic. Now, The Welder... that's got a ring to it! This issue's a bit of a letdown after the gut-aching hilarity that had ensued in the previous few months. Marv seems a bit hurried, the only excuse I can give for a story that's a blender full of random ingredients: a take off on a Clint Eastwood movie title; masked vigilantes who don the spandex in memory of a murdered loved one and rip off other heroes' powers; and a big honking MARMIS. Oh, and, as Professor Gil would tell you, the forehead tattoo is an obvious homage to legendary pulp vigilante, The Spider. Thunderbolt and Goldberg may have just broken the champagne bottle on the newly-opened thirteenth tier of Marvel Villains. Everything about them (including their cheesy "powers") cries out "low-rent." The art is serviceable here, awful there, just this much better than a Frank Robbins debacle.

Red Sonja 2 
“The Demon Of the Maze”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne
Cover by Frank Thorne

Red Sonja strides into the bustling Argossean city of Venzia and witnesses two merchant galleys collide and sink in the port. Moving on, the She-Devil comes across three men trying to kidnap a woman: she intervenes but one of the brutes knocks her unconscious with a club. Sonja wakes in a mirrored maze, human bones strewn across the corridors. Suddenly she sees her reflection as an incredibly aged woman and her arms transform into constricting snakes. But when Sonja realizes that these are just harmless visions, the horrors disappear and one of the glass panels opens up before her. Outside, she discovers an elderly magician sprawled on the floor. The dying man tells the Hyrkanian that the maze was created by a powerful sorcerer and a nameless demon: any woman strong enough to escape the mirrored labyrinth is worthy to become the demon’s bride. He also explains that the diabolical duo is bound to the maze by a spell. However, a ship is delivering the heart of an ancient holy creature that will release them. In fact, the wizard caused the maritime disaster that Sonja witnessed, thinking that the charm was on board one of the boats — tragically it was not and the seamen lost their lives for naught. The old man also tells the woman warrior to reenter the maze and gather a single bone from each of the skeletons inside. Soon, Sonja comes across the sorcerer, the demon chained in a pit before him. When the mage conjures up terrifying creatures from hell, Sonja tosses the bones in the air. Instead of clattering to the ground, they turn into skeletal warriors that attack the monsters. The heroine launches at the sorcerer and drives him through with her sword: he dies and the hellspawns disappear while the skeletons collapse. Suddenly, a soft voice floats up from the pit. Red Sonja peers in and the demon has been replaced by a handsome blonde prince. Bewitched, she leaps down and breaks his chains. Unable to move, she is helpless when the man transforms back into the demon and lasciviously approaches his new bride. Back outside the maze, the magician causes two more ships to collide: this time the ancient heart was actually on board one of the craft and it is lost to the sea forever. The demon, realizing that he will never be free, howls in anguish. Sonja is released from his hypnotic spell and cuts the devilish beast down.

Tom: Boy, this one had a ton of plot points. I usually try to take a few shortcuts with my synopsis but felt like I had to describe the magician’s tale step by step for the whole story to make any sense. Still, I think this one was a bit more complicated than it needed to be. Might have been better if it was spread over two issues. You can clearly see that Thorne realized that he was illustrating a very dense story, packing each page with fairly small panels, usually eight or nine drawings. Not that I’m complaining about a large amount of art by the great Frank Thorne, but I was left wanting the full-page illustrations he’s blessed us with in the past. Thought it was neat — but obviously nasty — that the old guy figured that sinking ships and killing sailors was preferable to having the sorcerer and demon running around willy nilly. But seeing that the sorcerer can summon terrifying creatures from the depths of hell, he was a pretty serious customer. And the other dude was a demon after all. I also appreciated the continuity from last issue: Sonja walks into the port city of Venzia since she was forced to put her horse down during that previous adventure.

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man 4
"The Vulture is a Bird of Prey!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen and Marie Severin
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Mantlo
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Frank Giacoia

Joe Knuckles runs through the snowy streets from the clutches of the Vulture but the winged villain tosses the low-grade hood into the "garbage-strewn waters of the Hudson." [Prof. Gilbert, they're badmouthing your city!] The next morning, Knuckles reports to his boss Mr. Morgan that the old geezer wouldn't pay off, as Peter wakes up late for class and tries to hitch a ride on a bus Spidey style, but is defeated by a low hanging branch. Morgan and crew head to the shop of the geezer, who of course is Vulture, and he attacks, full of bragging and power. At the lab, Peter falls asleep, not even finishing his experiment, then stops by the restaurant where he and Flash spotted Sha Shan to no avail. Next he and some citizens spy Vulture grabbing hostages every 15 minutes until Spidey shows up, flying them to the top of a building!

A quick rooftop change in the cold, new web fluid cartridges in place and Spidey is ready for action! After a quick aside to Morgan hiring The Hitman to take care of his Vulture problem, we see Spider-Man making some nifty moves to tackle the Vulture in mid-air! But the more-powerful-than-ever oldster is up to the task, and pursues the web-swinger into an empty office building, slashing his webbing and ending up in an elevator shaft, where he rigged his power pack to stop Spidey from doing old tricks that stopped him in the past. But before Vulture can deliver a final blow, the doors blast open and The Hitman is there—not for the Vulture, but to kill Spider-Man! -Joe Tura

Joe: Archie Goodwin is at the typewriter this month, and he delivers a decent Vulture tale that seems to lack a little in the excitement section. Yeah, there's plenty of swinging and flying and dropping people from heights, but it seems not only too short, but too average. Maybe it's Vulture, who was never my favorite of the Spidey rogues' gallery, but his senior citizen status drops him a notch below the normal awesomeness of Web-Head's villains. And where does he tuck the AARP card in that itchy-looking green suit of his? The artwork also seems just OK this month, as if it's looking too familiar maybe? I hate to say anything bad about Sal, so let's just say there seems like a lack of background detail in most of the panels that gave this issue (which I don't believe I actually owned)  a lower grade. Let's see what this Hitman character comes up with besides seeming like a Punisher wanna-be.

Fave sound effect, where at least there are some interesting choices during the high-flying action, is the one that made me chuckle: "WUNK!," when Spidey hits the tree branch while hitching a roof-ride to Empire State U. It's a laugh-fest I tells ya!

Matthew: Goodwin didn’t do much writing while serving as EIC, to Stan’s regret, but this brief run is a rare exception.  It seems utterly appropriate that he’d kick it off with a story that displays his big-picture credentials in several ways, e.g., by setting it against the backdrop of a power vacuum in the rackets left by the absence of the Kingpin and Hammerhead, and by bringing Boss Morgan back two solid years after Captain America #183.  I was never a big Vulture fan, so it also bespeaks Archie’s talent as a writer that he can turn in what I consider to be a solid Vulture yarn; as I reached the final few pages, I thought they’d left too little room for the big fight, and was thus pleasantly surprised to see this would be continued.

The Mighty Thor 257
"Death, Thou Shalt Die!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Condoy
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

After the abduction of Sif by the tentacles of Sporr, Thor and Reltsor make a plan of action: search the worldship Levianon to find and destroy Sporr. While venturing  forth, Relstor relates the origin of his people. Once a culture of unsurpassed technology designed to provide its people with their every desire, they exhausted their planet of its resources, until it began to die.  They constructed Levianon to send as many of their people out into space for a new life as they could, leaving their world to crumble into dust.  Not having learned a lesson from this, the refugees forgot over centuries how to fix the very machines who looked after them, and their ship fell into disrepair. Eventually they were struck by a meteor shower, crippling the world ship and one of which carried with it the mysterious stowaway Sporr. Soon they find their goal.  They attack the alien,  a giant cyclopean, misshapen blob with numerous tentacles.  The fight seems a stalemate until Thor stuns it with lighting from Mjolnir. Before he can stop Relstor and his people, they stab the alien to death. Behind the giant corpse they see what it had been protecting: as perfect a paradise as could be created for all its kidnapped "victims" on the starship,  a place where the old and injured could live in peace and dignity.  Sif appears, saddened at the creature's misjudged fate. Meanwhile in Asgard,  Balder and Karnilla watch with chilled blood as a massive silent army surrounds the city, unmoving,  its intentions unknown. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: There are cliches afoot here, but good ones. The story of a once great civilization falling into ruin isn't new to Marvel or even to this title nor are the intentions of Sporr. Opposite of what was  expected; a real surprise. The other subplot here is appealing, with the loss of greatness through ignorance saddening. Sporr's tale perhaps more so, largely because we never get to know the silent alien and his intentions, why he was riding through endless space or wanting to help others. The giant, silent army on Asgard's doorstep is unnerving, as Balder's self doubt about being able to protect the realm is no doubt an opportunity for Karnilla to get under his skin. My only complaint about the issue is the appearance of the Grey Gargoyle at the end.  It kind of takes away from the subtlety of this tale.

Matthew:  Double disappointment here, despite an otherwise satisfyingly ironic wrap-up to this two-parter.  First, for our august Dean, according to the MCDb, the tentacled blob named Sporr featured here is not the same tentacled blob named Sporr featured in Tales of Suspense #11 (although it does not seem unreasonable to conclude that Len may have meant it as an homage).  Second, for me, this issue once again displays the eye-punishing lettering of Condoy; luckily, the bulk of his credits—on Conan the Barbarian and Marvel Classics Comics—are outside my orbit.  Can’t recall the outcome of that out-of-left-field cliffhanger, but with my old fave the Grey Gargoyle and what appear to be some Wundagorian New Men on deck…well, sign me up, boys!

Chris: Len does a nice job setting up the ending-twist, as Thor observes that Sporr does not crush him with his tentacles (although he could have), and that there is no need for the Levianonians to kill Sporr once the bold Asgardians have subdued him.  One question, though: I get that everyone is comfortable and peacefully enjoying themselves in Sporr’s haven, but when you consider the circumstances under which all of these people had been (beneficently) abducted, wouldn’t you expect that they’d want to get word back to their people, to assure them that they haven’t been harmed?  Could all of them truly be so content after having been forcibly separated from their families and loved-ones?  

Len could’ve addressed this a few different ways, but let me propose two: 1) Sporr emits a narcotic chemical, which dulls out the senses of his rescuees, so that their contentment is somewhat opiate-fueled; or 2) Sporr is able to (again, beneficently) influence perception of time, so that none of his haven-dwellers feels any great rush to re-unite with their people – there’ll be plenty of time, later.  

Lastly: what in the name of the outer rim is the Grey Gargoyle doing in the trackless void of deep space?  I’ll be tuning in to find out; you can bet your gravity boots.  

The Tomb of Dracula 54
"'Twas the Night Before Christmas"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

On Christmas Eve, Dracula and his wife, Domini, await the birth of their first child together. If Drac expected the evening to be serene, he has another think coming. Multiple attacks from Rachel, Blade, Frank, and Harold H. Harold keep the Lord of the Vampires on his toes right up to the blessed event. In a Mexican stand-off as his son is born, Dracula follows his wife's wishes and allows the vampire hunters to leave with their lives. Rachel wonders aloud how they can leave without putting the Count in the ground but Harold muses that, on this night, peace is only human. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Here it is, the issue we've all been waiting for and were you surprised that it was a bit of a letdown? The usual showdown at the climax, where obviously one side or the other is going to be taken down, leads to yet another lame Marv plot device, this time the fact that, at least on Christmas Eve, we should let bygones be bygones. But right up to that disappointing finale, this baby chugs right along with a monstrous head of steam, full of suspense and excitement. The one question that popped up, for me, while reading this, was: Where the heck is Lilith? Wouldn't Pop want his eldest to be present for the birth of her darling little half-brother? Cheating a bit, I sneaked a peek and can confirm that Lilith will be making a comeback in these pages before too long.

Mark: I expected some blood-spurting, stake-pounding closure to the long-gestating birth of Baby Drac, but in the rearview, class, this erroneous assumption demonstrates how easily even your - a-hem - esteemed Professors can be gulled by their own fan boy anticipation.

The Wolfman wrapped one long-running sub-plot last ish, with the double stake demise of the white-haired vamp who drank Blade's momma and turned private eye Hannibal King into a fanger. So while my literary lust craved a one-two punch, another dramatic, vein-draining climax, it makes more sense for Marv to milk Baby Drac's storyline a while longer. And with Domini having just given birth to the little tyke, the lactate supply line seems secure. 

Chris: Marv does a solid job of setting us up, as the entire issue feels like it's building toward an inevitable confrontation with Drac.  Lupeski's been worming around, with empty talk about a possible palace coup to unseat Drac, but it's seemed like nothing but an idle idea until he and Rachel get together; perhaps he thought the job was too big for a one-man rebellion, or possibly he needed a taste of Rachel's fervor before he was ready himself to commit to the plan. In any case, following all this build-up (with the clock ticking toward midnight all the while), the ending certainly is unexpected – I guess the presence of a newborn child turned out to be Drac's best defense (did Drac know this, all along -?).

Chris: But wait, did you guys see that baby – you know, with them red eyes and pointy ears?  Forget about Drac for a moment – are you sure you want to let the little guy go, too?  The only consolation here is that Domini seems to be up to something, which could turn everything out OK for Vlad Junior.  Extra points to Marv for hinting at Domini's hidden agenda (complemented by the occasional sly look and wistful smile, as provided by Colan & Palmer) without broadcasting it, or allowing us to be privy to Domini's thoughts; we're in the dark almost as much – not quite, but almost – as the dark lord himself.  And what, I wonder, would Drac have to say if Domini were to suddenly snap back the drapes, and let the daylight stream in -?

Mark: Kudos to the spooky, sumptuous art. One can get blisters, patting Gene and Tom on their deserving backs, but Colan/Palmer rank among the very best of any long-running pencil & ink combo, not just of this era, but in the history of comics.

Some of the plot details are a bit mechanical. Comings and goings to the Jesus painting dark church, Domini's preferred birthing locale. Lupeski, still bereft of his one & done Surfer summoning powers (we ain't gonna forget that, Marv), is deep in the thick of things, first taking Rachel to Drac at crossbow point, then tying her up after she's knocked unconscious by the Count. And her special, Star of Bethlehem arrow is more than a bit on the nose (as is the birth in barn/manger), yet the story and art rise above such niggling nitpicking. If the peaceful, low-keyed ending defies reader's expectations, so much the better. Proud, new papa Drac is in no mood for a showdown with Harker's crew, and it is Christmas, after all.

But how long will it be before Vlad's done passing out cigars and realizes that his red-eyed, yellow-skinned bundle of joy resembles the alien do-gooder he slayed, just last month?             

The Invaders 14
"Calling the Crusaders"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Returning from Warsaw, Namor’s flagship flies into a dogfight between Spitfires and Junkers Ju.88’s, but when a downed German crew attacks the Home Guard and the airborne Invaders try to intercede, they are beaten to the punch by half of a new group, the Crusaders.  The 12-cm Dyna-Mite has a full-grown man’s strength, Ghost Girl refracts light to seem a meter away, and the Spirit of ’76 (“you can call me Six for short”) is a Yank with a bulletproof cloak.  The remaining Invaders meet the hulking Thunderfist, the gliding Captain Wings, and Tommy Lightning, who absorbs and emits electricity just as the Torch does flame, but while appearing to crave publicity, the Crusaders deflect queries about the origin of their powers, and swiftly depart.

At Falsworth Manor, the Invaders formally induct Jacqueline, while her father reacts oddly when told about Dyna-Mite.  Embarking on their next mission, they fly over an exploding car outside Buckingham Palace, and are told by a nearby cabbie, Alfie, that the bomb-thrower fled into St. James Park, yet as they pursue him, a shadowy figure takes aim at King George VI in his passing limo, shouting, “Death to all tyrants!”  Concealed inside, Dyna-Mite foils the attempt, but there is no sign of the bomber or of a body in the wreckage, and although Spitfire persuades her fellow Invaders that the British group should be granted its request to replace them as George’s guard of honor at the dedication of the battleship Hornblower (yay!), the news makes Alfie laugh evilly… 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Love the Liberty Legion, loathe the Crusaders.  I grudgingly grant the significance of the Spirit of ’76—see What If? #4 come August—but Roy has gone to the well once too often, and we should be grateful that he merely mentioned Union Jack’s World War I combo, Freedom’s Five, in passing in #7 instead of subjecting us to a Spotlight story.  At least his Squadron Supreme was a clever pastiche of the JLA, yet these pathetic clowns are mostly knockoffs of knockoffs (Captain Wings : Angel/Hawkman/Red Raven, Dyna-Mite : Ant-Man/Atom, “Six” : Cap/Patriot, Tommy Lightning : Electro/Torch), while Thunderfist looks like a reject from the wretched Wrecking Crew, and Ghost Girl’s gimmick mimics that of Mirage, the disposable Spidey villain.

The Legion has so far been drawn mostly, and beautifully, by Our Pal Sal, whereas the Crusaders merely emphasize the oft-forgiven deficiencies of the Two Franks, although to give credit where it’s due, the dogfight stuff looks great; I’ll take its historical accuracy on faith.  The horizontal layout of page 2, panel 1 lets each Invader be heard—or not, in the case of the pensive Torch—as well as seen in Namor’s cockpit, and I like Cap’s characterization as he calmly rejects the notion that they’ve been “shown up” by the newcomers.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that he (slightly mis-) quotes Bogart in Casablanca, which he “just saw…last week,” but since, per the IMDb, it had its New York City premiere on November 26, 1942, that pushes our time frame ahead somewhat.

Chris: For a change, I didn’t mind having an issue devoted to homefront heroics.  After all, heroes could be just as useful in the face of the fiery Blitz, right? The instant rivalry with the Crusaders is enjoyable, especially as it reflects the competition that tends to run between branches of armed and intelligence services that should be working in concert toward the same goals.  (side note: the letters page states that we can eagerly expect the Crusaders next issue; uh, did this team take you by surprise as well, Roy -?)

Roy leaves us with plenty of intrigue: why is Falsworth upset, and what does it have to do with Dyna-Mite?  What is the Invaders’ next mission (Spitfire’s dying to know)?  Should we be concerned that the Crusaders now have the king’s security detail?  And what the hell is so funny, Alfie the Cabbie?  All will be revealed.  

Also This Month

Crazy #23
FOOM #17
Kid Colt Outlaw #216
Marvel's Greatest Comics #69
Marvel Classics Comics #15
Marvel Double Feature #21
Marvel Super-Heroes #63
Marvel Tales #77
< Marvel Treasury Edition #13
Marvel Triple Action #34
Rawhide Kid #138
Sgt Fury #139
Weird Wonder Tales #21


Marvel Preview 10
Cover by Ken Barr

"Thor the Mighty!"

Story by Len Wein
Art by Jim Starlin and Tony DeZuniga

"The Isle of Fear"

Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Val Mayerik

We are finally treated to "All New! The Power and the Majesty of the Greatest Warrior of All"—Thor, originally promised in issue #2. And what we get is an annual-sized tale that might not rate a black-and-white mag, but certainly holds the interest most of the way. A nifty Jim Starlin frontispiece leads the way, and the first thing we notice is some mythologically-themed letters by Joe Rosen on what can be called the prologue on page 7. Joe carries this style in the captions, adding a little to the Norse-ness of this slightly off-the-beaten-path story.

Thor and the Warriors Three are embroiled in a jolly good brouhaha when Thor is summoned by a messenger to see Odin. There he and Loki are sent by the All-Father on a journey to find a blood crystal buried deep within a cavern "far beyond mortal ken" in the Land of Shadows; a crystal with enough power to not only threaten the Realm Eternal, but also "generate total non-existence!!" On the way, the always plotting Loki and valiant Thor stop at the castle of witch-woman Shamballa, where she almost hooks up with Thor (go, Goldilocks!), but they're interrupted by a shouting Loki, who is attacked by evil gnomes! Thor scatters them with Mjolnir, and Shamballa reveals she usually hands seekers of the crystal to the gnomes, but instead gives the brothers the directions they seek—and they travel to the Cavern of the Screaming Skull, a creepy place if there ever was one, illustrated to the hilt on page 19 (below).

Sensing impending doom, Thor and Loki enter the cavern, but Thor's hammer smash on a locked door awakens the Titans standing like statues in the hall! A fierce battle ends up with Thor and the Titans rolling through the door Thor smashed open—and they stand before the very gemstone at the heart of the quest! But the enchanted crystal is guarded by a giant serpentine guardian, who rises from the waters and chomps the Titans—yet is no match for the ever-persistent Thor, who slays the beast and swims to the crystal…but of course, Loki gets there first! The God of Mischief seeks revenge (that old gag!), seeking to use the power of the crystal to take over, well, everything—but suddenly a Titan emerges from behind, having been hurled into the water, and nabs the crystal! As it's about to use the power to destroy Thor, the Thunder God hurls his hammer, and…wait, here's the awesome caption: "Hurled without MERCY, the mighty weapon called MJOLNIR THE DESTROYER struck savagely, SHATTERING the arcane blood crystal and laying the Titan LOW…" That's like straight out of D'Aulaires' Book of Norse Myths!

The cavern collapses, and the noble Thor pulls Loki to safety, since after all they are brothers. Back at immortal Asgard, after a mostly silent journey, they apologize to Odin for destroying the crystal, but he reveals he would have done the same. Keeping Thor behind, the Norse ruler asks about Loki, and Thor has his back, saying he acted like a proper Asgardian. This leads Odin to say he has the answer to who will "sit the golden throne" when Valhalla claims him—then Thor spots the doohickey Odin used to spy on the Cavern of the Screaming Skull. Oh, that crafty Odin!

Always a mythology fan, I had a good run of Thor comics in the late 70s, but not this one. I thought Len did a nice job, with a "Gotcha" by Odin at the end that's maybe a bit sitcom-esque but still enjoyable. The art looks a lot more Tony DeZuniga than Jim Starlin for sure, yet it suits the black-and-white format, never getting too murky but still featuring deep blacks when needed.

Next up is a Hercules, Prince of Power tale from Mantlo and Mayerik that's also rooted in mythology, the Greeks this time. On a strange island with friend Jason, the demi-god remembers the arena in Pylos, where rotten king Kreon had Jason and daughter Alceste in the sands against an angry bull. A guard jumps in and is gored for his troubles, so Hercules joins the fray and slays the bull—which angers Kreon for he feels shame! Thusly, the tyrant orders Jason to bring him the gold of the Gorgon from the Isle of Fear in order to keep his life, and his love, the sultry Alceste.

Back on the Isle, the ship's crew is attacked by a Griffin, which takes out some of the men then flies off with Jason on top and Hercules holding on to a paw—and thinking back again to days earlier, when he and Jason put together a crew to journey to the Isle on the legendary Argo. Back to the present, and the old man who accompanied them rails against those who would dare desert their captains when a sea monster attacks! Meantime, the Griffin falls, and Herc and Jason find the path to the temple of Medusa, the Gorgon. Tempting Jason with a golden apple, she's struck by Hercules' mace, and her cowl comes off, turning Jason into stone! But before she can stab Herc, the old man shoots an arrow into her Gorgon gut, killing her and returning her victims to flesh, as he dies a hero. Returning to Pylos, they trick Kreon with a bag containing a viper instead of golden apples, and he dies from a deadly bite. Jason claims the throne, ending tyranny, and Hercules grabs a saucy wench and goes off to celebrate as only he can!

Well, that one was fun! Some nice art by Mayerik, from muscles to monsters, is paired with a jaunty script from Mantlo that zips along quite nicely, with an old guy being the hero, a demi-god getting some girly action, and everyone's favorite Jason getting some satisfaction. Not sure they needed the double flashback, but hey, what do I know, I just work here.--Joe Tura


  1. HOSPITAL DEVICES is a globally recognized company, focused on creating innovations in the medical devices field to deliverdevices at affordable cost.
    anaesthesia workstation

  2. Hi, sorry to be late for class. I want to assist Prof. Matthew in his Invaders research. Contemporaneously with the publication of this issue, DC Comics (you may know them as National Periodical Publications) published two issues of its comic Freedom Fighters that featured a team called The Crusaders. In this story the Crusaders were a patriotic flag-wearing, shield-carrying hero and his kid partner; a man who could turn his body into flame and fly, and his kid partner with similar abilities; and a hybrid mer-man with little wings on his ankles. So you see, The Crudsaders who met The Invaders were direct dopple-gangers for the Freedom Fighters, a collection of characters initially published by Quality Comics in the 1940s. Uncle Sam, Black Condor, Human Bomb, The Ray, Dollman, and Phantom Lady. Roy Thomas had very was making up "knock offs of knock offs." These were knock offs of the originals!