Wednesday, December 30, 2015

June 1977 Part Two: Edgar Rice Burroughs Invades the Marvel Universe!

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 1
"The Air-Pirates of Mars, Chapter One"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

“The Air-Pirates of Mars” begins in Zodanga, leveled a year earlier by a combined fleet of humanoid red men from Helium and the four-armed, 15-foot-tall green men of the Thark tribe.  There, John Carter seeks his kidnapped wife, the Princess Dejah Thoris, now in the hands of the Tharks’ ancient foes, the Warhoons, who violate Martian law by firing radium bullets—which explode in sunlight—at the sword-wielding Carter.  He recalls that two years ago, in March of 1866, he charged into an Apache camp to save the body of his fellow ex-Confederate officer and prospecting partner, Capt. James K. Powell, from further mutilation; overcome while taking refuge in an Arizona cave, he was suddenly separated from his own body.

A gentleman of Virginia and ageless, seemingly immortal soldier, Carter was inexplicably drawn 35 million miles to the planet named for the god of war, called Barsoom by its inhabitants, where the lower gravity enhances his strength and speed.  At dawn, the threat of Carter’s wrath—and exploding bullets—causes one warrior to overcome his fear of betraying Stara Kan and reveal that Dejah is being held in the Tower of Law with their Thark friend, Tars Tarkas.  Dispatching Krakas, a Warhoon who sought to wrest the secrets of the atmosphere factory from Dejah, Carter frees the captives and learns from Tars Tarkas that Krakas was “a mere underling to other, more powerful tyrants…[seeking] to destroy the factories—and end all life on Barsoom—forever!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Writer/editor Marv’s lettercol essay, “Welcome Back, Carter” (a play on, among other things, his work for DC’s peripatetic Carter strip before coming to Marvel), tells us this series is set during a lacuna in chapter 27 of A Princess of Mars (1912), the first—and my favorite—among scores of Edgar Rice Burroughs novels.  In paragraph four, Carter relates that after marrying the titular Dejah, “For nine years I served in the councils and fought in the armies of Helium as a prince of the house of Tardos Mors,” her grandfather.  So, to put this into its proper context, I decided to re-read Princess, which I may not have done since seventh grade, but as is often the case, I had a dual agenda, also wanting to compare it with Disney’s train-wreck 2012 adaptation, John Carter.

On my prior viewing, the film didn’t feel like my then-fuzzy memories of the book, and worse, I found it confusing and dull.  A direct comparison confirmed that the recognizable elements from Princess floating around in there had been so grotesquely altered or recombined that the spirit of the book was completely lost, and although some of the stuff they shoehorned in was apparently taken from the sequels, The Gods of Mars and The Warlord of Mars (which I have yet to revisit), it was probably just as unrecognizable.  I’d long said that after the seven decades of abortive attempts to adapt the novel, I’d rather see it not done than done badly, but unfortunately, that’s what eventuated…and having a leading man with all the charisma of a wheelbarrow did not help.

You couldn’t wish for a better study in contrasts, since right from its quintessentially Burroughsian title and exquisite splash page, “Pirates” is all-ERB, all the time, blessed with a creative team—which stays intact for nine more issues, if sadly sans Cockrum—well-versed in and/or eminently suited to its subject.  It’s a treat seeing Kane back on a regular series, his artwork uncannily close to that in my mind’s eye during my youthful Burroughs heyday, which just predated Marvel’s version.  And despite Marv’s expressed intention not to adapt the novels, the hyper-condensation of Carter’s arrival on Barsoom, obviously included for the benefit of uninitiated readers, hews to Princess with a fidelity putting the film (ironically released to mark its centennial year) to shame.

Chris Blake: I think it’s ingenious to place these stories in a nine-year gap that is only briefly mentioned in one of ERB’s novels; I’d rather have Marv cut loose with his own imaginings for the characters, than feel duty-bound to adapt an existing story.  Marv expertly packs in a lot of exposition, without sacrificing plentiful action.  One aspect of Carter I wasn’t aware of: he doesn’t know how old he is, or how long he had walked the planet Earth before his inexplicable transportation to “the angry red planet,” but as Carter puts it, “I’ve always been this age, and I’ve always been a warrior.”  Best of all, there’s no effort to explain how this could be; the ambiguity would have driven me to distraction as a lad, but nowadays I can appreciate the fanciful mystery.  

The art is really outstanding, an interesting blend of both Kane’s dynamic layouts and Cockrum’s attentive handling of details of both expressive facial features and inanimate machinery and weaponry.  The last panel of p.17 (above) sums up Cockrum’s contribution: first, you notice Dejah’s exotic beauty and defiant expression, but then look at her elaborate gold headdress!  The series is off to a very strong start; it’s unfortunate that Cockrum couldn’t have magically created the extra hours he would’ve required to remain as the regular finisher.

Matthew: "Unfortunate is not the word. Something evoking strangled puppies might be more appropriate. 

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 1
"Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Story by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

Drums speak of Tarzan’s return, and “of the white man who leads where white men are forbidden to go,” fleeing into the jungle when his safari is wiped out, only to be menaced by Numa.  Suddenly, Tarzan appears and slays the lion, but no sooner has the European introduced himself as Jules Frecoult than the Natua tribesmen arrive, still seeking revenge on the white man who stole their prey.  The vastly outnumbered Tarzan is forced to call for the aid of Tantor, and after the elephant has routed the Natua, the ape-man offers the European his hospitality, little dreaming as they ride away on Tantor’s back that “Frecoult” is really Albert Werper, who seeks to gain Tarzan’s trust, and that he has just “saved the life of a man who has sworn to kill him—!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Professor Gilbert and I have devoted considerable thought to the division of labor in our Team Tarzan coverage—not, of course, that we would discourage any fellow faculty members from jumping in.  Because I have a large library of Edgar Rice Burroughs books with which I can easily reacquaint myself, we decided that I will write the summaries of the whole series and, for those issues specifically adapted from Burroughs, focus on how they compare with their source works.  Aside from any anecdotal reportage or other random observations, I will then leave it to Gilbert, with his special concentration on the translation of pulp fiction into Bronze-Age Marvel Comics, to be the “big-picture” guy for those issues, and handle the subsequent originals myself.

The identification I scrawled on the inside cover of my Ballantine edition of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (hereinafter TATJOO)—the fifth and one of the best in the series, on which the 11-issue first arc is primarily based—puts me in sixth grade, meaning that when I became a full-time Marvel reader, roughly at the end of that school year, I was already immersed in ERB.  I don’t recall being overly excited when this and its sister title, John Carter, Warlord of Mars, debuted almost two years later.  But that may be because my ERB-session had cooled somewhat in the interim and/or because I was convinced they wouldn’t do the books justice and/or because of my innate and ongoing prejudice against comics that aren’t part of the Marvel Universe canon.

At first glance, this doesn’t bear much resemblance to TATJOO, partly because there is relatively little plot movement, letting us acclimate to the milieu.  The Natua are, I believe, an invention, and ERB opens with Werper’s moral decline as the Belgian—posted to the Congo in lieu of a court-martial—murders his superior and a sentry before fleeing into the jungle and finding common cause with Arab slaver Achmet Zek.  Roy may or may not use this backstory, but in the meantime, we can enjoy the reunited Conan dream team; ironically, Roy told Filmfax that “John didn’t really want to do Tarzan” (perhaps because he perceived a certain, uh, Cimme-larity, although his ape-man is more lithe), yet one Buscema brother or the other penciled the entire run.

Gilbert Colon: “If some people,” writes Roy Thomas in his essay “Edgar Rice Burroughs: The Man Who Created Tarzan,” “reared on the less authentic film renditions of the ape-man, came to know him imperfectly, at least they knew him.”  And at least Marvel strives to be authentic with this fairly faithful adaptation of ERB’s novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar, first published in All­Story Cavalier Weekly (the November and December 1916 issues).  To that end, “what matters most to [Marvel is] carrying a new generation.”  Presented in the thrilling MARVEL STYLE!,” naturally enough.  

Jules Frecoult thinks Tarzan stories are just “fairy tales!,” but what does he know?  The “FURY-FILLED FIRST ISSUE” introduces readers to “the world’s greatest adventure hero,” as opposed to the Marvel-adapted Doc Savage, “Adventuredom’s GREATEST HERO--.”  (Interestingly, page 16 even describes Tarzan as “a great bronzed statue and not a man at all!,” though the line roughly corresponds to the novel where Burroughs writes, “[S]he saw, too, a bronzed and mighty figure leap from an overhanging tree.”)  

Inside Tarzan is called the “most famous fantasy hero of all time!”  Between this and “the world’s greatest adventure hero,” resident Conan commentator Professor Flynn is going to get his Nemedian Aesir up!  Marvel Comics Group certainly corners the market on hyperbole, but with Doc Savage, Conan, and now Tarzan in their stable – for the most part all adaptations from original pulp source material to one degree or another – who can blame their claim (“Cimme-larity” be damned!)?  After all their Ka-Zar, Jann of the Jungle, and Shanna the She-Devil, it is about time Marvel took Tarzan on.  

From the opening panels the drums proclaim, “Tarzan is coming!  Tarzan Is Coming!  TARZAN IS COMING!,” and come he does – pages 10 through 12 showcase ERB’s brutal battle-prose as Tarzan “stoop[s] to pick up the crown” and wrest the title of “Lord of the Jungle” from Numa the Lion King whom he wrestles and vanquishes with “a sharp knife into its maned neck!,” but not before “bur[ying] his strong white teeth into its neck, as well!”  (“Kreeg-ah!  BUNDOLO!”)  

With so much good in this issue, it is hard to know what the best part is – the “savage exploits,” Tantor who is “truly king of beasts,” or Thomas’ excellent ERB essay which “carr[ies] forward the story of Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle, to a new generation.”  

Logan's Run 6
Story by John Warner
Art by Tom Sutton, Terry Austin, and Klaus Janson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Paul Gulacy

"The Final Flower!"

Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Mike Zeck
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Jim Novak and Susan Fox

The City is in flames, the domes cracked and collapsing, the people in a state of utter panic. Faced with the dangers of the open world and the realities of growing old and feeble like the Old Man now in their midst, the citizens are directionless. However, they refuse to trust the Sandmen, particularly Logan whose rebellion caused their world to come crashing down on them. Stripping the Sandmen of their weapons, the people herd them, with Logan, into Arcade and imprison them there. Logan is no more accepted by his fellow Sandmen than by the angry city dwellers. They shun him, set him apart, leaving Logan alone with his own thoughts as he remembers what brought them all to this point.

Suddenly, for the first time, the weather of the outside world comes to the denizens of the City, as lightning strikes the open domes, followed by a huge, torrential downpour, which floods the city, sweeping people away. With no way to deal with this, the citizens turn to the Sandmen for help, freeing them from their Arcade prison. The Sandmen spring into action. Logan leads a group of the populace toward safety. Stopped by fallen debris, Logan blasts a wall out but a river’s worth of water was behind it. It immediately floods the passage, sweeping them all into a deadly current. Just before they can smash into another wall, Logan blows it out, saving them all.

After the crisis has passed, the Sandmen address the population, stressing they need order and a form of government to help them survive and restore the city. Logan discovers a strange power source coming from beneath the now-wrecked carousel. He is able to descend the shaft beneath the giant dais through the still functioning anti-gravity well. Logan makes his way to the central computer core, which is strangely undamaged and in perfect working order, except for one control bank. Then, suddenly, he sees something that turns his blood cold. Meanwhile, the teenager, Billy, is leading a pack of Cubs ready to mount an attack on the weakened population…

“The Final Flower.”

On a distant planet, Thanos has killed a group of Priest-Kings and is holding a small flower in his hand when he is attacked by the Destroyer. While they battle, two Pilgrims, a mother and young daughter, approach the temple unseen. During the battle, Thanos drops the flower and is about the kill the Destroyer when the Pilgrims see the discarded seedling and freak. Distraught over this sacred flower, the woman attacks Thanos, who blithely tosses the group away toward their death. The Destroyer flashes back to the deaths of his own wife and little girl (at Thanos’ hand) and rushes to save them. Thanos laughs as he crushes the final sacred flower of this decimated world, vanishing as Deastroyer returns with those he saved. They tell him he should have destroyed Thanos at the cost of their lives, but the man once known as Art Sampson knows that if he did that, he would have been as evil as the merciless being he hunts. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: With the film adaptation complete, Logan changes its creative team and tries to take on “what happens next.” The result is rather curious. It’s not bad, but without a strong narrative thrust, it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere. It is sort of interesting to have the story take a complete 180 degree spin away from the ending of the film and the previous issue, which were both very positive and hopeful. It’s hard to judge how the story would have played out since the next issue’s cancellation would cut the story short before it even had a chance to develop.

What is clear is that new writer John Werner intended for Priest-7 and Modar-9 to be new regular characters. Unlike everyone created for the film, these dudes don’t get real-world sounding names. No, they get saddled with “sci-fi” monikers. The Tom Sutton/Terry Austin art is passable, but page 15 looks as though it were done by someone else entirely.

Perhaps there was a reason why the story is weak: according to the blurb on the letters page, the Dreaded Deadline Doom and conferences with MGM caused the creative team to cut this first story in the new arc short by several pages, To fill in, they scrounged up this Thanos/Destroyer tale. It’s beautifully drawn by Mike Zeck, but otherwise, it is far too brief to make an impact. It feels exactly like what it is: an inventory piece to pad out a short issue.

Chris: I can’t fault Marvel for wanting to continue the story of Logan and Jessica; since this experiment only lasted two issues, I guess readers weren’t similarly compelled by the “Phase II” possibilities.  Still, this issue has its place in Bronze era history: I bet you wouldn’t know it’s become one of the most valuable issues of Marvel’s film-adaptation titles (outside of first-edition Star Wars, that is); the reason, of course, is the Thanos vignette that rounds out the issue.  Bonus courage-points to Edelman for daring to present Thanos outside of Starlin’s realm.  Edelman demonstrates a feel for the character, as Thanos clearly is willing to sow hopelessness, and break any spirit, wherever he goes; if he can endanger harmless pilgrims in the process, that’s a bonus.  We also see Drax’s desperate determination, as he tirelessly pursues Thanos, sometimes righting wrongs, but never realizing his ultimate mission.  Points also to Zeck, who captures the bulk and nastiness of the dark, fallen angel of Titan.

I have to wonder why this five-page filler was commissioned in the first place.  Where would it have appeared?  In the absence of Warlock, Captain Marvel would be the only appropriate venue; since they’d fought him in the past, maybe the Avengers might be another place you might see a Thanos story.  It does serve a purpose, as it reminds readers (in this case, the few thousands who bought Logan’s Run #6) that Thanos has not been resting idly, and that in time, his poisonous presence could infect the Marvel Universe at large.

Matthew:  Since this has no specific place in Starlin’s canon, I won’t analyze it, except to say that given the ferocity of his obsession with Thanos, I'm not sure I buy Drax's behavior, however noble it may be, as being in character.  For what it’s worth, per Mark Drummond’s SuperMegaMoney comment, “Zeck confirmed in Comics Interview #72 that this was his first color work for Marvel; it was drawn in 1976 as a try-out with no plans for publication.”  Added Edelman on his blog, “People say they love their heroes, but if you ask me, they love their villains more.  And here’s my proof—my most-reprinted comic book story starred Thanos, who is to the Marvel universe what Darth Vader is to the Star Wars universe….And, oh, yes, the hero of the tale was Drax the Destroyer—but I still think it was the villain who kept people reading.”  Ol' Scotty (Edelman, not McIntyre) is so quick to dismiss poor Drax that he gets his original name wrong:  it is Art Douglas, not "Sampson."

The Invincible Iron Man 99
"At the Mercy of the Mandarin!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Sal Buscema and Al Milgrom

Confronted by a second Iron Man, Sunfire says the first was hit by a teleportation beam, not a solar burst, and laughs off Sitwell’s attempt to apprehend him; meanwhile, Key is equally astonished when he tries to steal the last suit of spare armor and finds instead the masked female figure—seen only in shadows—of a former employer, reported dead.  Having held back because of their former alliance against the Mandarin (in #70), Iron Man humbles the young mutant, whom Fujiko accuses of shaming Japan, and returns to his lab, pondering Sunfire’s intel.  He traces the new armor’s unique molecular structure via a S.H.I.E.L.D. scanner-satellite, which shows O’Brien fighting death-masked warriors outside the Mandarin’s castle (rebuilt since #71).

O'Brien is struck down, dragged inside, and bound to a missile by a figure revealed as the Mandarin; as the pieces—Ultimo, the conspiracy—fall into place, Tony realizes that with his discredited defense systems down for inspection, the Mandarin intends to spark World War III, then step in and take over.  Gambling that he will first toy with his “arch-enemy,” Tony leaves Jasper and Krissy in charge, boosts his old armor’s transistors past their tested limits, and borrows a Quinjet to fly to China.  After a flash-forward to the Senate, where Rich prepares to reveal damning evidence, Iron Man arrives as the missile is launched, frees O’Brien (whose silence infuriated the Mandarin), reveals his i.d. as they switch armor, and sends him back, the Quinjet controls preset. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Now we’re talking.  My longstanding admiration for Mantlo’s run—which I hold up as Exhibit A for those eager to write off this book—is a matter of record, and with the plotting pure Bill in the post-Conway era, the stage is set for a worthy milestone issue as we hustle Sunfire mercifully off and bring back Shellhead’s nemesis.  Sure, we know from last issue (at the very latest), the cover, and the title that the Mandarin has returned from his apparent death, yet his stunning reveal on Tony’s viewscreen on page 16 is one of those cases where the satisfaction comes not from an actual surprise, but from confirmation of what we’ve been building toward, and I might add that throughout, Esposito’s inks show Tuska’s power-packed pencils in their very best light.

I can’t say enough good things about this.  The final panel of the Mandarin’s face looming over his castle evokes those Christopher Lee films that ended with Fu Manchu vowing, “The world shall hear from me again.”  There’s a nice symmetry to sharing his secret with Michael (“You now know what your brother Kevin knew!”), whose conversion from foe to friend is complete.  Jasper is resolute, Shellhead confident and decisive (“You’d better wake up, son—you’re playing in the big leagues now!”).  The whole script crackles with tension, and that ending puts a lump in my throat:  “He knows I’m coming!  His death-squad is rising to intercept me!  But if I go to meet my end, I do so with honor!  As the invincible Iron Man!”  Try to film that, suckers!

Chris: There's a part of me that wants to joke that the excitement is racing by too quickly to allow the time to stop and consider my comments.  In fairness, though, this title has improved significantly in the past few months as Mantlo has settled in as scripter; it's become one of the strips I save for the latter part of the month, after I've dutifully attended to the ones that are not consistently satisfying.  Good work, Bill -- you've brought relevance to this title. 

The battle with Sunfire is spirited, but brief, for a change; it’s the first time in quite a while that we’ve seen IM exit a fight without getting his armor all pitted and cracked.  Maybe there’s more of that ol’ US-made steel in that early-‘60s model, know what I mean?  While I’m thinking of Sunfire, I want to mention that, maybe 3-4 years ago, I had viewed the splash page for the first time, possibly, in decades, and yet the image came right back to me as if it were yesterday; pretty cool when that happens, right?
For many, many years, this issue was an orphan, since I did not own IM #100. Tony seems to think that the Mandarin has been (sneakily) behind some of his recent problems; I'm legitimately looking forward to seeing how Bill ties it all together in our next issue. 

Kull the Destroyer 21
"City of the Crawling Dead"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Rick Hoberg
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Gil Kane

After surviving the horrors of the hell-pit, Kull, Ridondo and the man-beast  Lorkar return to Atlantis and find it in ruins. When the barbarian comes across a stone scroll, he realizes that the writing is not Atlantean — they are not actually in the city of his birth and have emerged from the pit in an entirely different location. After dining on one of the constantly circling vultures caught by Lorkar, they bed down for the night. Kull is awakened by a beauteous woman who draws the former king away from the camp. But Lorkar, sensing danger, attempts to stop the warrior. Kull, gripped by a sudden rage, attacks his friendly companion, kicking him unconscious. He continues his pursuit of the woman who ultimately reveals her true form: a quivering mass of putrid flesh and flailing tentacles. Recovered, Lorkar leaps to the defense of Kull — he is completely devoured  by the hideous horror. The creature grasps the barbarian with one of its tentacles and suddenly Kull senses the monster’s origin. The ruined city used to rival the decadent splendor of Valusia. The people had the habit of tossing their dead into a huge pit in a communal tomb. Over the years, eldritch forces fused the bodies together, forming the tentacled terror — the citizens fled the city in fear. Suddenly, Ridondo appears and tosses Kull his axe: he plunges it into the center brain of the monstrous mass, killing it instantly. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: A completely new creative team takes the reins with this issue. This is the first time I’ve encountered Don Glut’s credit in a Marvel comic, but he sounds like an interesting guy. As a kid, he used to make his own 16MM films, some of which were actually featured in the pages of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. There’s a DVD available that covers all of this material — I might give it a whirl. Glut graduated to working on quite a few animated kiddie series, including Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends. He also sued Mattel over the rights for characters he created for the Masters of the Universe toy line — he lost. I think I heard that he was a pal of Roy Thomas so that could explain his appearance here. Glut will see the series through to the end. Of course we’re all familiar with the work of Ernie Chan as inker on Conan the Barbarian: he does a fine job as penciller, improving on what we have come to expect from Ed Hannigan and my man Alfredo Alcala. This is a first for me with Rick Hoberg as well: he’ll stick around for the rest of the 70s on various projects until moving on to DC. Glut tosses all of Moench’s confusing mumbo jumbo out the window for a more straightforward and enjoyable approach: I appreciated a headache-free issue for once. Gonna miss Lorkar though. If Don and Ernie keep it up, I might not be filled with dread the next time I see Kull the Destroyer on my syllabus. Fingers crossed!

Matthew:  Are you sure we didn't watch that Glut DVD one night, years ago?  It sounds awfully familiar.  I have a notion that Professor Gilbert, who may be able to confirm or deny, had borrowed it from a friend.  Or maybe I'm thinking of something else...

Master of Kung Fu 53
"Weapon of the Soul"
(reprinted from Master of Kung Fu #20)
Story by Gerry Conway and Doug Moench
Art by Paul Gulacy and Al Milgrom
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Dave Hunt
Cover by Ernie Chan

This is a reprint of MoKF 20.  My thinking about reprints has changed over time.  In the old days, when I was actively collecting, I might have welcomed a reprint, as a window into past adventures I had missed when originally published; in fact, I would routinely pick up Marvel Triple Action and Super Action (Avengers reprints), with the occasional Marvel Tales and Greatest Comics as well.  If collecting today, I were to find a favorite title offering a reprint, I'd be inclined to put it back and pick something else; unless, of course, a cursory flip thru the pages revealed a hearty helping of furious action, which might tip the scales in favor of purchase. 

Since MoKF is one of a handful of titles that has a companion B&W magazine, my preference for a reprint would not be a story that already has appeared in MoKF; wouldn't it be a kick (so to speak) if one of the early Starlin-illustrated stories from DHoKF were to appear in these pages, in a colorized version? Conan has done something similar on more than one occasion -- in fact, one of those carry-over stories (to coin a phrase) had been a Starlin story from SSoC.  Speaking as someone who didn't follow the B&W publications (my local shop never carried them) and never would've set eyes on these stories, this to me would've been a perfect way to counter the DDD. -Chris Blake

Reprint rapine.

The odious if understandable practice of violating the piggybanks of pink-cheeked, young Marvel zoms by pouring old wine into new skins. The "understanding" comes with the adult knowledge that funnybooks in the 1970's were a low profit enterprise, one where the pressmen got paid for their pre-booked time, whether you published a book or not. 

MOKF #53 is a bit more honest than most, with a "special repeat performance" blurb right on the cover. But it's not prominently displayed, and who reads every caption when plucking your faves from the spinner rack? 

Revisiting this one after only three "years," MU time, is of interest only for another peek at Paul Gulacy's debut pencils, full of power and promise, dripping Sterankoisms, but also crude and rough in patches, if clearly hinting of the mature artist to come (and so recently, sniff, to have gone).

But I can still vividly remember cracking the cover on what you think is a new adventure, followed by a rude shock: not only aren't you getting your fix, but you just bought a comic you already have! From anticipation to awful in a nanosecond.

And I'm not talking about boyhood, class, but when I paid $3.50 for this, Comic-Con, 2012...
-Mark Barsotti

Ms. Marvel 6
"... And Grotesk Shall Slay Thee!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema, Frank Giacoia, and Marie Severin

The first issue of Woman is on the stands, and JJJ upbraids Carol for not making her cover story on Ms. Marvel the exposé he wanted, but while countering with hot sales figures, she is overcome by a fainting spell.  After her seventh-sense premonition of firefighters falling through a refinery floor pulled down by a huge hand, and an explosion toppling steel towers onto Ms. Marvel, she awakens to find she has been aided by freelance reporter/photographer Frank Gianelli, there at Joe Robertson’s suggestion.  She assigns him to cover the refinery fire, because the crew includes women, but on her way to Dr. Barnett’s office, she changes involuntarily into Ms. Marvel, and “flies towards the massive refinery complexes that line the Jersey Turnpike.”

Learning that a hose crew is trying to retrieve an invaluable crystal from Dr. Ellis’s lab, Ms. Marvel arrives just as they are trapped in a sub-basement by Grotesk ( Prince Gor-Tok of Sub-Terranea), who set the fires as a diversion and plans to avenge his race by destroying the Earth.  As they battle, the crew escapes, but her costume’s circuitry web, whose energy field enables her to fly, shorts out; she remembers learning from Dr. Peter Corbeau that the crystal—which Sal planned to test in orbit—is “a high-range energy matrix” that warps space around it, its potential as a hyperdrive limited by the danger of a backlash.  Inevitably, a storage-tank explosion knocks a 40-story fractioning tower toward the lab, and only Grotesk emerges from the tons of rubble… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: By a bizarre coincidence, I read this one while Mrs. Professor Matthew and I were on the Jersey Turnpike, en route to D.C. for Thanksgiving with our newlywed daughter—talk about verisimilitude!  After the slight too-many-cooks dip reported by Professor Chris last time, Claremont is back in fine form and, with Sinnott typically sweetening Mooney’s pencils, orchestrates a satisfying symphony of elements old and new.  The former include Grotesk, the latest obscure villain blessed with Claremontian rehabilitation, and an obligatory Corbeau sighting; the latter include Gianelli and the Cavourite crystal (an apparent nod to H.G. Wells’s The First Men in the Moon), laying additional groundwork for cross-title wonderment to follow.

Chris: Kind of a slender issue – and I don’t mean that in a flattering way. It seemed to me that this as-yet-unexplained “seventh sense” has given Carol glimpses into upcoming problems, but this time we get a few minutes from a big-budget disaster flick. I guess Claremont wants us to be impressed that Ms M flies headlong into danger, despite her awareness of the risks to herself. Well, there’s plenty of action, and that’s fine, and there’s some drama as the flight mechanism appears to short out, and then as Ms M seems to have been squished by an immense “fractioning tower” (Claremont tells us that this thing is
forty stories tall, but it’s a safe bet that there isn’t any structure as tall as forty-stories in the entire state of New Jersey); but, hasn’t Ms Marvel already survived a fall from earth’s orbit?  Well, this multi-ton structure shouldn’t pose much of a problem.  The bottom line is that, since he took the reins, Claremont hasn’t hit on the formula that has made Iron Fist compelling reading (you notice I’m not comparing Ms M to X-Men; now, that would be truly unfair).  

Marvel Premiere 36
The 3-D Man in
"The Devil's Music!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Don Glut
Art by Jim Craig and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

3-D Man (who just happens to be hanging around the observatory) thwarts a gang of greasers attacking Professor Potter, but the ringleader—who's actually a Skrull—gets away. Returning to brother Hal Chandler's glasses (remember, that's where 3-D man "lives" as red and green images—keep up, class), the youth walks—no more crutches for young Hal—to a meeting with Potter (explaining the hanging around), where he spends a bunch of time remembering 3-D Man's origin in his head and leaves, wasting everyone's time. Back at home, with Dad Chandler still mourning his hero son Chuck, building a new bomb shelter, the Chandlers and Chuck's gal Peg see rocker Vince Rivers on the news, and Hal gets a Skrull hunch (their hidden super power—consider this a test review).

Backstage at the show, Rivers is introduced by famed DJ Doc Rock to a swarm of screaming guys and dolls, and as the crowd starts getting out of hand, Hal slips away to activate 3-D Man. After making his way through the tumultuous teens, the Christmas-clad hero surmises the speakers are magnifying the Skrull's thoughts and riling up the crowd, so he smashes it with the power of three men! (In case you didn't know) Hurling the amp at Rivers, our unseen narrator is shocked that the rocker doesn't turn into a Skrull. But after Peg gets her own hunch that she may know 3-D Man, we learn who the Skrull is—it's string-puller and promoter Doc Rock! --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: "Marvel's Sensational New 1950's Superhero," cries the cover, and in addition to the apostrophe use that I've always hated, this 10-year-old would have stayed far away from that claim, having received more than enough throwback fun with his long run of The Invaders, a very underrated title. And the newly-49-year-old Prof. would also like to stay away from this, but must press on so as not to disappoint the class. Then again, going on might disappoint the class.

Roy turns in an all-over-the-map script that includes a blatant caption plug for What If?, which really has nothing to do with the "regular" Marvel Universe we're supposedly reading here, no? Then he has 3-D Man drop a slew of pop culture references, including Marlon Brando, Groucho Marx, calling the police "gendarmes" (not sure why), Howdy Doody, The Lone Ranger's "Hi-Yo, Silver" call, Riot in Cell Block 11, Alcatraz, plus a Payola reference by Vince Rivers. Is Roy showing off? Or getting lazy, retelling 3-D Man's origin again over three pages? Do they think no one bought the last issue? Wait, that makes sense. Roy does go on and on about his favorite time period in "First Class Mail," but he lost me at the first sentence "The 1950's were 'my' decade."

As far as the art, it's average at best, with so many open mouths I'm thinking everyone was really hungry in the late '50s, or just aghast with the constant hipness and innovations going on. Or Jim Craig just isn't so good. And must 3-D Man constantly remind everyone who will listen that he's a normal guy, only triple the everything? Can he drink three times as much beer as me? Will he answer with three times the sarcasm? Will he be forced to read this book three times?

Matthew: Don Glut, who one year hence will begin alternating/collaborating with Thomas on closing out the Invaders’ run, is here credited with giving him “a plotting assist.”  Aside from the three-page recap, which really is indefensible with the standard count now down to 17, I thought this issue was a little bit of an improvement over the last one, and although it is just as firmly anchored in the so-called “Fabulous 50’s [sic]”—on which Roy rhapsodizes in his belated lettercol essay—I felt less like I was being bludgeoned with all the period details.  I think the hero himself looks cool, Christmas colors and all, yet despite my current fondness for Hunt’s work elsewhere, I’m not enamored of the cartoony look on most of Canadian Craig’s characters.

Marvel Presents 11
The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"At War with Arcturus!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Al Milgrom and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

The Captain America is destroyed with a “protonucleic disruptor pulse,” but the Guardians board the Kammar via a PK-burst-propelled escape module, and after Charlie knocks out his crew, the captain agrees to “play chauffeur” while Martinex taps their databanks.  To Starhawk’s millennium-old origin, they add detail (the “hawkgod computer-robot [was] a long-lost artifact of the Genetics War”) and subsequent events:  500 years ago, his death was decreed when he foiled an Arcturian first-contact seizure, and two days ago, High Commander Ogord ordered the capture of Starhawk’s children, Tara, Sita, and John.  Found “to possess latent power of unusual strength…they have been pressed into imperial service” by the use of mental control.

Racing to their aid, Starhawk is flying into a trap, and surprisingly it is Vance who vows, “We’ve got us a Guardian to save!,” the Kammar providing perfect cover.  Starhawk is attacked by his children, “psychic vampires—feeding on the life-forces of others,” and changes places briefly with Aleta as the power ages them 20 years in seconds.  In quick succession, the Guardians burst in and, unable to penetrate their force field, capture the unprotected Ogord; the stunned children drop the field, enabling Vance to blast the headbands that Yondu senses hold them in thrall; and the shock of realization accelerates the aging cycle, turning their parasitic powers inward as they crumble into dust before the horrified eyes of Starhawk, too weak to save them with his power… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A far more satisfying penultimate issue than that of its fellow doomed cosmic book, Inhumans, this could even have served as a decisive—albeit downbeat—finale, with the Captain America reduced to wreckage and the children dead. Because they were never really given any characterization, their demise is not personally heartbreaking to the reader, but its effect on Starhawk is obviously devastating, and Aleta’s plea to “Save the children!” has long lent the strip urgency. What the Milgrom/Wiacek art conspicuously lacks in polish it somewhat makes up for in enthusiasm, e.g., the chaotic splash page; the modified double-spread on pages 2-3; “dead-eye Nikki” in page 6, panel 3; the Arcturian dogpile in page 7, panel 1; the mêlée in page 23, panel 5.

Chris: It’s quite a finish for the Starhawk/Arcturus storyline.  Our expectation, of course, is that mighty Starhawk (who effortlessly cleaves thru the Arcturian advance guard and planetary defenses) will save his children in time; that’s how these stories end, right?  But credit to Stern for demonstrating the limits to his great powers, which also serves to humanize Starhawk, as the team rallies around him in his moment of heartbroken loss.  (Stern also raises a question, voiced by Ogord: how could it be that the one-who-knows didn’t realize that his children had these vampiric powers?)  

Chris: Milgrom + Wiacek continue to present an uneven mismatch.  Milgrom lays out plenty of action (see the spread on p 2-3), but Wiacek’s finishes still are thick and heavy.  Wiacek also doesn’t help Milgrom when he needs it, which leaves some of the faces looking odd (such as Starhawk on p 16).  Page 22, as Starhawk struggles to resist his children, is an obvious highlight; the children’s rapid deterioration also is noteworthy, as they totter in place before sifting to piles of ash (p 31).  

Marvel Team-Up 58
Spider-Man and Ghost Rider in
"Panic on Pier One!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema, Pablo Marcos, and Dave Cockrum
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Al Milgrom

On the Lower West Side, Coot Collier’s crew is filming the Stunt-Master season premiere on Peter’s Chelsea street, yet he and M.J. aren’t the only ones watching Johnny Blaze set up a stunt that entails jumping a Harley from car to car to avoid a baby carriage.  Fired from the roof of Peter’s building, a glob of quick-drying paste rips off the bike’s front wheel, and Johnny changes into GR in an effort to survive as the bike hurtles toward traffic in an enforced wheelie.  With the crew’s medic looking after an injured M.J., Peter saves GR by snagging him and the bike with webbing from the shadows, then changes into Spidey before greeting his old friend from MTU #15, but the Trapster interrupts their reunion by capturing Spidey with his paste-gun.

Aboard one of the Wizard’s anti-grav platforms, with Spidey dangling beneath and GR following via flame cycle, the erstwhile Paste-Pot Pete recounts how he parted ways with his escaped teammates after the Frightful Four’s defeat in FF #178, and sought revenge for his humiliation in GR #13 (first incorrectly footnoted as #15).  GR saves Spidey from a fatal plunge with a thermal updraft and blasts the floater, forcing the Trapster down on the deck of the nuclear carrier U.S.S. Halsey.  As a diversion, the Trapster points a fully loaded F-14 Tomcat toward the West Side Highway, but Spidey is able to send it into the river; fearing their battle will cause an explosion, Spidey is instead horrified when GR sears the Trapster’s soul with Hellfire, leaving him moaning pitifully. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Okay, we’re back on an upward trajectory, not in the rarified Mantlo/Byrne air of #53-55 or the Claremont/Byrne wonderment expected next month, but after Chris’s somewhat disappointing debut—with its misleading tease that this story might shed some light on that one—we’ve rebounded to the kind of solid one-and-done that marked Bill’s swan song in #56.  Before beginning a two-year MTU hiatus, Sal fares surprisingly well at the hands of “Hit or Miss Marcos,” his work recognizably his own and his GR not too shabby.  I really enjoyed GR’s prior encounter with Spidey, and of course when super-heroes meet up again, it reduces the likelihood of a MARMIS (while simultaneously offering greater opportunities for chemistry between them).

Joe: A fast-paced MTU from start to finish that tugs on the ol' memory bank. Sal and Pablo do nice work, and the script from Chris works well enough to hold interest all the way. Besides the big moments of each hero saving each other's lives, and Ghost Rider's borderline nasty hellfire defeat of Trapster, there are some little things that were cool here. The filming of the movie on Peter Parker's block made me think how many times Prof. Gilbert has had to deal with that in "his city." Keeping the web-shooters on under his civvies was a good idea, although maybe a bit convenient. Spidey showing off some moments of strength is always welcome, and him getting nailed by the Navy soldier shows he'll probably never be trusted 100% by the public and is actually a good touch. My favorite moment though, is page 26 panel 2, where Spidey looks a lot like the immortal 1960s cartoon Spidey! Yay!

Chris: Claremont continues Mantlo’s sometime tendency to choose characters on the Marvel periphery to pair with Spidey.  Special thanks to Claremont for sparing us a MARMIS, as instead he provides a genuine disagreement that helps to illustrate the differences between the two principals. 

It occurs to me that I was not an active collector of Ghost Rider at this point in Bronze history, so this would have been the earliest appearance of GR in my possession.  Despite Claremont’s depiction of GR as a character with unique skills, some mystery, and a code (he reflects on how he owes Spidey, after he had saved GR’s hell-spawned bacon on two separate occasions), this issue did not inspire me to start picking up his own title; maybe if Claremont-Buscema-Marcos had been the regular GR creative team, I would have taken the plunge at the time.  
From this point until sometime in 1978, we’re going to cover more and more comics that I remember fondly from repeated readings.  This issue happens to be one of them, with Sal+Pablo’s images firmly etched in my memory.  Clever move by Spidey to use a web to pull himself forward to crack the paste-column (p 15), and an impressive show of Spidey-strength as he pops himself free of the paste-bands (p 22, pnl 6).

Nova 10
"Four Against the Sphinx!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Bruce Patterson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Al Milgrom

Inside the "Westhaven Nuclear Generating Station—along the Hudson River," Nova battles blazing baddie Firefly, tossing him into a lake to take him out, and is given accolades by the police. Heading back home, Richard Rider bemoans the fact he has a big midterm coming up, especially when brother Bobby pops in bragging about an A+, and ends up flying off as Nova, joining the battle between Condor, Diamondhead and Powerhouse vs. the Sphinx, right outside the egotistical one's Pyramid of Knowledge. Condor shoots an energy shield around Nova that looks like a trash bag, then Sphinx destroys the weapon with his powerful jewel and takes out Diamondhead with ease. Nova heads back to the police station to get Firefly's help in getting the shield off, but when the crook declines, he zips to the power plant and uses the generator to burn it off. (Sounds plausible…) Speeding back into action, Nova battles Powerhouse, but slips up and allows the purple-clad power-draining one to do his thing. Condor is zapped from behind by the creepy Kur, which wipes his mind and angers Sphinx since he wanted the winged villain's memories. Then, Sphinx turns Condor into an actual condor, zaps Powerhouse, and stands triumphant over  his and Nova's fallen bodies!--Joe Tura

Joe: This time around we get little to no character development for our hero, other than the fact that he probably isn't going to make his midterm and instead of studying he sat sulking, but instead we return to the Sphinx story that seems to have been put on pause from three issues ago. The Firefly episode only serves to set up a Nova plan that actually works, which is a miracle in itself, according to the blue-and-gold hero himself. The reader finds it a slight distraction, as Nova quickly returns back to the donnybrook and ends up stepping right into trouble. Sphinx is far and away more powerful than everyone else in the book combined, so it's a shock even to him that ever-waffling Powerhouse manages to land a punch. Yet it's a mere smack with a feather, and it doesn't look good for anyone at the end. Not the best of comics, but the action stays consistent, and Sal dials up the intense expressions enough that it's, for once on this title, slightly above average and maybe even enjoyable.

As Prof. Bradley pointed out last class, "Blue Blazes" must be Nova's trademark exclamation, as it pops up again on page 14 when Condor wraps the hero in a plastic bag. And sorry, Marv, but I still think it's a bit too 1940-ish to work. To compound matters, two pages later he says "furshlugginer" which is out of character for anyone not writing for the Marvel Bullpen page. A small matter, but one that consistently keeps Nova from becoming as good a comic as the letters page and the editors think it is.

Matthew: Proving that I don’t dislike all covers with red backgrounds, I think this Milgrom one works quite well, both aesthetically and conceptually, as it visualizes the three-way war among the Sphinx, the Terrible Trio, and ol’ Bullethead.  The opening “What goes on between issues?” bit seems like a clever device (and I’ve seen far worse costumes than the Firefly’s)...until you get to page 17, and realize it was nothing more than a set-up to extricate Nova from his “Jello-blob.”  After the curiously timed Megaman digression, it’s nice to see Wolfman finally returning to the main event, with that solid Buscemacoia artwork, but was this issue brought to us by the letter S?  The sound effects include “Sploosh!,” “Skok,” “Spak! [twice],” “Spuk!,” “Skunch,” and “Skog.”

Chris: I’m thankful for Marv’s decision to join Nova’s fight with Firefly already-in-progress.  It doesn’t change the fact that we’d been needlessly diverted from this fight with the Sphinx in the first place.  Speaking of which, the story this time is pretty disorganized, as Nova only chooses to rejoin the fight against Condor & Co as a distraction for his poor grades (it’s a good thing their battle with the Sphinx’s forces apparently has continued without a break for a week or so, while Nova was dealing with Megaman, and then Firefly).  Then, Nova has to leave to deal with a supposedly-constricting soap bubble, which patiently hangs around him – not “constantly” contracting, as the Condor said it would.  Nova later returns (with the fight against the Sphinx now in its 66th round) to pick another fight with Powerhouse, who astutely points out that he might be inclined to listen if Nova weren’t attacking him all the time.  Now that we’ve dispensed with the Condor’s dreams of donning the “emperor of crime” mantle (and did he honestly think that the Sphinx had the same goal -?), Marv might maintain a clearer focus next time.  

Marvel Two-In-One 28
The Thing and Sub-Mariner in
"In the Power of Piranha!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and John Tartaglione
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Pablo Marcos

Unable to remove the Fixer’s servo-pod, Reed fears the now-catatonic Deathlok may die until he remembers Professor Louis Kort, a British expert in cybernetics and bio-genetics, so Ben agrees to take Deathlok to London if he can bring Alicia.  Meanwhile, freed from Dr. Doom’s control, Namor is attacked by the Piranha, whom he thought dead, and impales him, not knowing that another one watches him swim away.  As Reed’s new sling-jet skims over the ocean, Namor flies alongside in greeting; although still disgruntled over their enforced battle in Super-Villain Team-Up #7, Ben grudgingly agrees when Alicia urges him to help Namor, who is pulled under by a Piranha, and lands the plane, leaving Alicia on the surface as Ben plunges in.

She is captured by a Piranha (inexplicably able to breathe and speak in the air) while Ben flings another away from Namor, but as he returns to the surface to take one of Reed’s air pills, Namor is overwhelmed by scores more, and Ben succumbs to the sleeping venom on their claws.  He awakens in a coliseum found and occupied by their foes—fish evolved into duplicates by the irradiated blood of the original Piranha when they devoured him—where, for the life of Alicia, they must battle, as have humans taken before them.  Yet their combat is a ruse, calculated to let Ben weaken the walls and tear down the stadium, and after Namor saves Alicia from the toppling columns that crush the Piranha, the allies part as friends, with the widowed Namor envying Ben. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I hammered Marv and his creation, the Piranha, pretty hard in reviewing Sub-Mariner #71, and with the damned fool having actually brought him back, don’t expect me to be any more lenient.  Ben just happens to be flying over that spot in the Atlantic when Namor is attacked; he ludicrously delays taking his breathing pill, conveniently separating our stars at a vital moment; one caption (“a wet, scaley [sic] hand clamps vise-like across her mouth”) contradicts the art, while another (“he is not mortal”) is just wrong; “for five months now we have stolen humans from passing ocean vessels”—news to us; and where did that amphitheatre come from?  Tartag joins the inkers flummoxed by Wilson, despite glimpses of quality like Subby in page 3, panel 1.

Luke Cage, Power Man 44
"Murder is the Man Called Mace"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Ed Hannigan
Art by Lee Elias and Tom Palmer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Dan Adkins

Led astray by the gorgeous Burgundy, Luke Cage, Power Man for Hire is now in the clutches of the evil Mace, who attempts to bring Cage over to his side. Cage wants no part of Mace's plot to overthrow the government so the bad guy has no other choice than to make Luke one of the casualties of the upcoming war. Cage manages to escape and hightails it to Burgundy's apartment, looking for info on Mace's master plan. The pretty young vixen fools the Hero for Hire into thinking she's on his side while activating a hidden camera that feeds into Mace's headquarters. While stalling the big man, Burgundy tells him how she got involved with the mercenary. Her husband, Jamie, served in 'Nam under Mace and was fatally wounded. Mace had told Burgundy he had tried to save her husband's life but it was too late and he was subsequently kicked out of the military because of the incident. Mace and his crew bust in and once again knock Cage unconscious and haul him off to their hidden lair. After something Cage had said, Burgundy heads to the Army Administration Building for some info and discovers Mace had been lying all these years -- he had been responsible for Jamie's death! She busts into Mace's HQ just in time to hear the full plot: the nutty soldier plans on detonating a Cobalt bomb, a device designed to kill everyone in a city but leave the buildings untouched. Strapped to the bomb is our favorite Power Man! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: "Murder is the Man Called Mace" chugs along with all the excitement and political intrigue found in a Tom Clancy novel but with pretty pictures to go along with the story. Mace could be the most certifiable villain since The Green Goblin, showing no concern for the millions he's about to wipe out. His tirades about the government are pretty radical for a 1977 funny book as is the panel where Jamie meets his death. The art is done in such an illusory fashion that you're tricked into seeing the soldier's body blasted into three pieces. In the best tradition of Dudley-Do-Right and Batman '66, the nut foregoes murdering Luke Cage and, instead, straps him to the bomb. I haven't peeked at the next issue and seen whether Luke makes it or not but, if I was one of his military advisors, I'd have urged the Man Called Mace to just get it over with and make sure this bad penny didn't come back again.

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man 7
"Cry Mayhem -- Cry Morbius!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom

Spider-Man smashes into crime lord Morgan's West Side social club, spinning the gangster's chair like a top and taking out all his goons. Spidey retrieves his clothes from a nearby vent (avoiding the deep freeze from two issues ago), but he smells like the deli the vent was housed in! As Flash spies Sha Shan in the restaurant window, vampire Morbius shows up out of nowhere, transported by "dimension-spanning bands" given to him by an unseen voice that’s controlling him. Searching for prey, Morbius is instead drawn to the Daily Bugle, where he snares Glory Grant (waiting out the rainstorm) in hopes of drawing Spider-Man to him. And it works, with Peter arriving just in time to pick up his friend for some grocery shopping and seeing Morbius carry her off to a water tower. Swinging in as Spidey, he's nearly defeated by the vamp, but instead the pale one flies back towards Glory. Web-shooters ruined by a collision with a truck, the wall-crawler is fast enough to get back before Morbius can quench his thirst, saving Glory when they're knocked off the building. Then, Morbius has a change of heart, which is halted by the voice taking control and exerting his full power, so "The Empathoid commands!"--Joe Tura

Matthew:  A small correction:  Morbius obtained the "interdimensional transporters," with which he banished himself at the end of Marvel Two-in-One #15, from the Living Eraser's Dimension Z.

Joe: This one's pretty closer to "Spidey light" than "Spectacular", as the issue zips along with a couple super quick asides to the supporting cast, but just doesn't get the blood boiling enough to make Morbius a nice bowl of hot soup to help quench his thirst. The fight is cool, and there are some genuine excellent shots of Morbius drawn by Sal and Jim, capturing his ever-present tortured soul quite nicely. As intriguing as the Flash-Sha Shan item seems, the Aunt May "Grey Panther" thing is a bit forced and silly. And not knowing who the heck The Empathoid is, since this is my first time reading this one, I don't exactly have my hopes up. Pulling the strings on Morbius for some unknown reason is nothing to sneeze at, of course. However, if he's alien, or other-dimensional, why such a wacky moniker?

Favorite sound effect is hands down the original "PDOM!" which I don't remember ever seeing before, when Morbius smashes Spidey but good on page 17. Is it short for PEDOMETER, hinting Spidey should just "walk away?" Are there vowels missing? Should the words have been bigger? Not sure about the answers to that, I just like it!

Matthew: Reading this makes me sorry Goodwin only has one issue to go, because I’ve always liked Morbius and think he’s very well used here; also great to see Glory get some face time.  The bit with the truck, beginning on page 22, is effective on several levels:  it adds realism to a milieu where characters so often mix it up in the streets of Manhattan with nothing like that happening to them, and the resultant damage to Spidey’s web-shooters increases the suspense later on.  Mooney’s inks are largely respectful of Sal’s pencils, and together they achieve an impressive synergy with their depiction of Morbius (who also looks terrific on that zingy Cockrum/Milgrom cover), especially in the chill-inspiring page 10, panel 1.

Chris: Archie introduces double-trouble for Spidey: 1) the crash against the side of the truck disables both web shooters; and 2) Spidey is pleased with the warm, dry hiding place for his clothes, until he realizes the vent has polluted them with smells of cured meats.  Spidey’s always had his share of equipment malfunctions, so it was only a matter of time before something like this might happen.  The skunky clothes, though, seem like the sort of problem that typically only besets our own Peter Parker SS-M; but, it’s part of what we’re looking for in a Spidey story, isn’t it?  Nice job by Archie, who delivers a fast-paced story with action and intrigue.  If last month’s reprint reminded us of Morbius’ creepy past, then this issue – as Morbius plainly is being manipulated by some other force – should put him right back in the “sympathetic” column.  

Very solid work also, as you might expect, from Sal + Jim, who (abetted by colorist Don Warfield) provide a gloomy, rainy evening, which suits a Morbius story quite well; very effective looks at Morbius’ hideous face on p 10 pnl 1, p 11 pnl 4, and p 31 pnl 2.  I also fondly recall the opening sequence, as Spidey whacks a guy with a web-slug (p 2, pnl 1) and sends bad penny Morgan all a-spinnin’ (p 3).

Super-Villain Team-Up 12
Dr. Doom and The Red Skull in
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Hall and Don Perlin
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom

The Doomship roars into space, where the hypno-ray swings into position, and the Shroud tries to stop it from firing as Doom races to the moon to face the Skull; on Earth, Namor refuses to help, believing the ray to be ineffective against his people, and caring only for Doom’s pledge to revive them.  Attaining orbit, Cap retrieves the Shroud, who somehow crippled the ray after activating it prematurely, while Doom—his ship crashed by hunter-missiles and his jet-belt shattered by stun-mines—guts the underside of the Skull’s rocket-sled with an ionic blade.  His armor pierced with a similar weapon, Doom freezes the outrushing air with one glove and commandeers the Skull’s ship, leaving him pinned by a rock-slide, his helmet cracked. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Right from its gorgeously colored Cockrum/Milgrom cover, equally stunning as it is faithful in depicting the long-awaited grudge match between Marvel’s arguably two greatest super-villains, this is the goods.  Here and in the current Iron Man, “Boisterous Bill Mantlo” is totally on fire (he must have a knack for armored characters), so much so that I’ll even forgive the frequency with which the supposedly sightless Shroud is obviously seeing things; after all, even Englehart, his creator, never made his blindness believable.  The story races like a Thoroughbred, making the inking credit to “Whirlin’ (?) Don Perlin” singularly apt, and “Battlin’ Bob Hall” runs neck and neck, his jagged-panel layouts on pages 1, 3, 11, 15, and 27 even enhancing the excitement...

I’m not normally a fan of divided splash pages, but this one helps set the issue’s breathless tone, and the moment when the Shroud begins his EVA in page 3, panel 3 is simply spectacular.  Once again, Cap brings out the best in Bob, especially in page 2, panel 2, while Bill has fun with the Skull, who kicks back for a smoke in his metallic recliner while Franz puts on his boots, and calls for Chopin’s Funeral March (which, of course, I’ve fired up on YouTube while writing these words) as he disposes of doubting lackey Wilhelm.  His operative in page 7, panel 5 is a dead ringer for Sydney Greenstreet; meanwhile, last seen being carried off here, the “badly hurt” Rudolfo dies from his wounds, as reported by his younger brother Zorba in Fantastic Four #198.
Chris: Pretty serious action throughout – overall, a very satisfying issue, as we’ve finally concluded storylines that have been playing out over recent months (bi-months?).  The Hall/Perlin has a few odd moments (they have trouble at times with Doom’s mask), but that doesn’t diminish the effect of the furious battle on the moon’s surface, which is probably one of the highlights for this series.  Nice twist as Doom commands the Skull’s minions to obey him, as the Skull is left behind (“traitorous, ungrateful scum!”), trapped and helpless on the moon’s surface – with his oxygen escaping from a cracked helmet, no less.  Mantlo doesn’t tell us exactly how the Shroud was able to disable the orbital hypno-ray device (saying only that the Shroud’s “mystic senses” reveal the wiring under the metal hull), or what happened when he did it, but I suppose that’ll be addressed in our next chapter.  

Last thought: I find it somewhat uncanny (so to speak) that the Cockrum cover mirrors the interior art so closely, right down to the details of the Skull’s rocket sled; in many instances, we have to make do with wild disparity between covers and stories, so it was a bit strange to find both parts fit so well this time.  

The Mighty Thor 260
"The Vicious and the Valiant"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott

The newly renamed starcraft, Phoenix of Freedom, is the site of a curious experiment: the Rigelian Recorder attempting to absorb the full knowledge of the ship's computers. It almost overloads the Recorder's circuitry, save that Thor destroys the connection before it is too late. Nonetheless, the knowledge gained helps get them directions to the so-called Doomsday Star. In the meantime, Thor's companions have refitted some of the weapons and other technology from the Phoenix to the Starjammer, on which they then depart. In Asgard, Balder travels in disguise through a hidden passageway that leads from the city to the outside, where he infiltrates the silent army camping outside the gates. What he finds is a camp of silent, essentially lifeless armoured figures, who somehow sense his presence as different. When a group of them turns in unison to attack, he discovers they are merely animated suits of armour, courtesy of the Enchantress. When the siren appears, it is her companion the Executioner who takes up the battle with Balder, both villains making reference to the "master" they serve. The Brave One's unlikely companion Karnilla the Norn Queen joins the fray, finding  the Enchantress and herself to be very evenly matched. It is, oddly, a mere animated stone that knocks the latter unconscious, and turns the tide in the former's favour. That is, until Thor (?) appears to apparently take the side of evil against them! The real Thor has his hands full, as the Starjammer first  finds a space graveyard, strewn with the wreckage of many vessels, then is attacked by one of the floating stone sentries that drifts among them. They overcome it with the aid of their new weaponry, and soon find what they had been looking for, the blue shadow-casting Doomsday Star, and a massive wall that surrounds one of its planets--the likely holding place of the missing Odin. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I'm pleased to find my memories of the first of my continuously-bought issues of Thor were well-founded. The great thing about a quest series is the potential it can build as to the mystery of its outcome, and here the stakes are built higher.

The space graveyard with the stone sentries is visually memorable, as is the cliffhanger of the "wall around the world." Tony DeZuniga is proving to be a good choice as artist. The occasional displays of passion by the Recorder are always touching, here it is for knowledge rather than the lives of his friends, but he is a loyal companion either way. Balder's mission is portrayed with a memorable number of chills. We're not without humor here too; the "turbo" Starjammer really rocks, and I laughed a little at the foxy Enchantress, temporarily out of action by a hit to the head. Now to the mission at hand.

Chris: Walt “RacckkaTHAAAM” Simonson is an inspired choice to replace Buscema; in fact, our letters page tells us Simonson himself had expressed interest in serving as this title’s artist.  Simonson is equally adept at close-quarters battling (dig the shocked expression on the Executioner’s face when Balder shatters his axe, p 14), sorcereal pyrotechnics (Karnilla vs the Enchantress, p 23-26), and large-scale eye-poppers, in the grand Kirby tradition, both in the galactic graveyard (p 16-17), and of course the wall around the world (p 31).

Chris: Simonson might be well-suited for Thor, but DeZuniga isn’t the best match for Simonson.  I have the same reservations as I had with DeZ’s inks for John Buscema: DeZ’s hand is a bit too heavy, the results at times too murky and indistinct.  Think about the dynamic, self-inked illustrations Simonson has provided for the Hyborian history pages of Savage Sword of Conan; I admit there might not be too many embellishers capable of achieving similar results.  But, based on his clear, complementary work with both Buscema brothers, I wonder whether Ernie Chan might not have been a better try here.  
In a lengthy missive, Bruce C. of Bowdoin ME asks whether Len expects we’ve forgotten that Thor & Co are supposed to be on a quest for Odin.  Well, somehow, the Starjammer’s crew appears to have happened upon the Doomsday Star (it’s not as if there ever was any plan, or map to follow, was there?), so we’ll see what Len’s willing to tell us about how Odin wound up there.  
Matthew: I see now why I don’t have distinct memories of Simonson’s first TOD on this title, because the art is so thoroughly DeZunigized that if the credits didn’t “proudly present” the new penciler, I probably wouldn’t have noticed any difference back in the day, or perhaps even now. Not that it looks bad—quite the contrary, in fact—it just looks like A Whole Lotta DeZuniga Goin’ On.  By and large, Len’s doing good work as well, and I especially like the Asgardian tag-team stuff with its “little touch of Balder in the night,” but I agree with Bruce Canwell’s LOC calling this one of the book’s more desultory “quests,” which is saying something, and I think the Starjammer loses a lot of its elegance when it’s bristling with all that high-tech alien weaponry…

The Tomb of Dracula 57
"The Forever Man!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tom Palmer

Through the centuries, The Forever Man dies and is born again, with the only stumbling block being the prediction an Indian seer gave him: The Forever Man will live until he is killed by "The Dead Man." In the present day, The Forever Man is in the body of Gideon Smith and a car accident lands him in the hospital. Not so coincidentally, Dracula has a run-in with a man with a cross and he loses consciousness. The Prince of Darkness is taken to a hospital where he lies, face bandaged, in bed next to Gideon Smith. When Dracula's face is unmasked by doctors, Gideon has a vision of the seer and his warning. The vampire awakens and lays siege to the hospital, coming back to dine on Gideon but, before he can have a bite, he's distracted by his arch-enemies, the vampire hunters, who are in the next room visiting the recuperating Quincy Harker. His face-to-face with Dracula sends Gideon Smith into a coma-like state. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: This is the most satisfying issues of ToD I’ve read in some time.  Marv recaptures many of the elements that made this title so compelling, not so long ago: Drac as predator, who carelessly disregards his selfish wasting of precious human life (p 11); Drac’s overconfidence, as he expects always to gain the upper hand over his prey, even though he sometimes (literally) is burned by them (p 17); and, Harker’s hunters, who’ve been stuck at the end of the bench for most of the past 10-12 issues, waiting for Coach Marv to wave them in.  

The overriding story of Gideon, and his unknowing series of reincarnations, allows for some additional supernatural flavor.  The hand of fate (which sometimes rests kindly on Drac’s shoulder, and other times smacks him in the back of his head) weighs heavily on the story, as a series of Chance Events puts Gideon in the same hospital room as the Dead Man who is destined to end his series of life-after-life.  It’s a little unclear to me how a burn to the face could land Drac in the hospital (it seems that he’s endured the same sort of indignity before, without being incapacitated by it), but apparently Marv thought it was sufficiently important to bring Vlad and Gideon together, even if it meant he had to fabricate an injury to Drac.  Very clever how the doctors can’t get a pulse, or see results of an x-ray; I wonder what the blood test results would’ve told them.   Also, a very satisfying ending, as Drac – despite our expectations, based on the story’s set-up – doesn’t actually kill Gideon, but he does (inadvertently) effectively end the useful period of his life, as the shock to Gideon from his encounter with Drac reduces him to catatonia.  
Mark: An entertaining if unexceptional one-n-done creeper, with Marv returning to the theme of Drac as a scourge across the ages, even - this time - if only as a premonition, a shaman's smoky vision, conjuring the fate of the titular "Forever Man," way back in 1792. 

Since Quincy's on the cover, firing a burst of his ever-ineffectual wheelchair darts, let me note that, as is their norm, Marv & Gene (& Tom) work in the long-running cast, if only for a page. That's long enough for Harker to have more heart palpitations and overload the coincidence meter and bust the dang thing - calculate the odds of our many-named Forever Man winding up in a hospital bed next to our toothy protagonist and we're already in winning Power Ball territory, but you'd need a degree in advanced calculus to probability-map the chance that Harker and crew would be there as well. 

But so what? It's a comic, class, and were the Marvel U run by statisticians, Spidey could swing around NYC for multiple issues without ever encountering the Baddie-of-the-Month, and how much fun would that be?  

Mark: New mom Domini and crypt-keeper Lupeski likewise get two-thirds of a page to keep those sub-plots percolating. Gene and Tom conjured their expected Dark Magic, and the shaman's prophecy proves slightly off the mark as Wolfman twists the knife, providing an even more horrific fate for FM than death. Drac doesn't drain him, but snaps his sanity instead, leaving the unfortunate Forever Man in a state of perpetual, goggle-eyed terror.

Mr. Poe would approve.       

What If? 3
"What If... The Avengers Had Never Been?"
Story by Jim Shooter and Gil Kane
Art by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

The Watcher quickly recaps the events of Avengers #2, where Hulk and Sub-Mariner were defeated by Iron Man, Giant-Man, Wasp, and Thor at Gibraltar, leading to the foundation of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, then presents an alternate Earth where the teammates did not pursue the departing Hulk, then bickered enough to disband the team, Thor returning to Asgard and the Pyms to the lab. But Iron Man tracks down Hulk through Rick Jones, and takes a beating when he tries to tackle the green giant alone. Back at his own lab, Iron Man receives a challenge from Sub-Mariner and Hulk, and to help, he creates "transistorized armor" for Giant-Man, Wasp and Rick to give them the power needed to beat the deadly duo. But initial tests do not go well, and the trio leaves, partly due to Stark's impatience. So he pumps up the juice on his own armor to the limits, leaving one bank isolated in case of emergency, and heads off to confront Hulk and Subby. With enhanced power, Shell-Head holds his own, electrifying Hulk in a small pond to take him out, but Sub-Mariner smashes the slightly depleted armored one but good. Then the trio of Giant-Man, Wasp and Rick turns up in their own armor! Wasp shoots stingers into Subby's noggin, Rick shows off powers that turn his armor immaterial, and Giant-Man takes on Hulk in an epic battle that leaves the big man defeated and dying! Iron Man crawls over and somehow transfers his reserve power to Giant-Man's armor, which gives him renewed vigor to fight Hulk! A rejuvenated Subby grabs Rick and punches him towards some rocks—but when Hulk sees this, he leaps into action and saves his friend! Going after Namor in a rage, the two titans battle to a standstill underwater and go their separate ways, leaving the trio of armored Avengers to mourn the death of Tony Stark.--Joe Tura

Joe: If I had to think back from memory of the Top 10 What If? stories, this one would probably be there. That's not to say it's great, but certainly memorable, starting with the excellent Gil Kane artwork. I know Prof. Bradley dislikes Janson's heavy ink style, but it never bothered me. Sure it's a bit much at times, but it's supposed to be an alternate reality, so that makes it OK. (Yeah, that's a stretch…) In fact, you know it's a different reality when they do away with the clunky original armor—see what they did there! Then we have the armored suits for the other "Avengers" which are equal parts ridiculous and cool, and come in lots of crazy colors for the kiddies! Could we get them as Halloween costumes at the local Five and Ten store back in '77? And there is much redemption on hand, from Iron Man saving Giant-Man to Hulk saving Rick to the Avengers possibly being formed at the end. Although without Tony Stark around to fix any armor problems, their future seems less than electric.

Of course, there are some misfires that bring the book down to Earth a little. The convenience of leaving one bank isolated—and the FORESHADOWING ALERT it sets off, may or may not lead somewhere, it's hard to tell really. The Three Stooges-like first armor testing. The obvious nod to the Vision with Rick's armor. The narration by the Watcher that sounds more like Roy Thomas, although I guess it makes sense since he's actually telling the story. At least they put quotation marks around everything!

Matthew: Shooter’s credit for the euphonious appellation “airhead heiress” is wiped out by its anachronism since—per Merriam-Webster—the first known use of “airhead” was 1971, after this story’s c. 1963 setting.  Kane co-plotted as well as penciling both the cover and the interiors, but as the respective inking jobs by Sinnott (excellent) and Janson (awful) bear no resemblance to each other, it’s tough to assess his specific contributions in any area.  I appreciated the fact that, unlike last issue’s chaotic kitchen-sink alternate Hulk history, this one was primarily focused on a single episode, i.e., Avengers #3, but I didn’t care for either the whole “Iron Avengers” schtick or the characterization of Greenskin, even if it was true to his intelligence level in Stan’s original.

Mark: By far the darkest WI offering - of an admittedly small sample size - ends with Tony Stark's ticker giving out, after he's pulped into iron filings by the Hulk and Subby, and after bequeathing his armor, in various sizes, to Hank, Jan, and Rick Jones...the Iron Avengers?

The Gil Kane, Klaus Janson-inked art is excellent throughout. Groove, for example, to IM crackling with power on p. 18, or the Hulk getting zapped on 25. No, we don't escape a certain amount of nostril porn, but Janson's rich detail plays up Gil's considerable strengths while ameliorating his more annoying quirks. As to my normally spot-on colleague, Professor Matthew, constantly slagging the award-winning inker, one can only speculate that Klaus once emptied Matthew's pockets at the poker table or some such...

Matthew: Damn! Busted!

Mark: Subby and Greenskin are far more homicidally-inclined than their current incarnations, but that reflects the characters' mindsets, circa '63, although I didn't buy Rick first eschewing Tony's offered armor because it "just isn't my gig." Said verbiage is another anachronism, along with "airhead," that wouldn't have been uttered in 1963. Other than that, Jim Shooter - who I never read and know only by his antagonistic, fire-all-the-writer-editors rep as EIC - hits most of the targets here. 

Chris: I tend to enjoy this type of WI? story, as it’s built around a particular moment in Marvel history.  It helps, also, once Shooter establishes his point of divergence, he’s willing to let it play out without introducing a whole series of further departures; if anything, the Watcher reminds us that many of the key moments still take place – the Hulk/Namor alliance, the clash at Gibraltar, the inconclusive conclusion as all parties depart – this time, with significant variations.  
I’d forgotten about the custom-made armor appearing this issue, which is a neat idea – despite Jan’s reservations about whether it matches her eye shadow or complements her figure.  Moments like these help demonstrate how well Shooter mimics the early-‘60s dialogue for the characters, as Hank’s responses to Jan tend to be of the “Quiet Jan – this is serious” variety, and the Hulk sounds more like an irritable dockworker than an enraged preschooler.  Rick Jones never changes.  
There’s considerably more action this time than in most WI? stories; it seems the emphasis for Shooter & Kane is to stay close to the all-out action groove of the original Avengers story, rather than take the story too far from its origins.  I wasn’t impressed with the Kane/Janson art at first – the finishes are a bit indistinct in the early pages – but it comes together very well as the story gets into the thick of the battle.

The X-Men 105
"Phoenix Unleashed!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Bob Layton
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum

The X-Men have raced back across the Atlantic to protect Professor X; they arrive at their Westchester HQ to find Eric the Red already there. The attack on Eric is interrupted by the abrupt arrival of Firelord, who quickly puts the X-team to rout.  Eric congratulates himself on the ruse that convinced Firelord that Prof X intends to use the team in a plan of world conquest.  Miles above the planet's surface, Lilandra transports herself away from her beleaguered scout ship, seconds prior to impact from a torpedo fired by a pursuing craft; the princess materializes in the Greenwich Village apartment of Jean Grey and Misty Knight, where Jean's parents and Prof X are visiting for the afternoon.  Xavier immediately recognizes Lilandra from his disturbing dreams of the past few months; she collapses from recent strain, as Jean helps her out of her pressure suit and onto the couch.  At that moment, Firelord smashes thru the outer wall, stating he’s come for Lilandra and Charles Xavier; Jean unleashes her Phoenix power, and blasts Firelord back.  As Jean pursues, she suddenly realizes she's capable of flight; Eric the Red, observing from below, wonders whether he might have underestimated her capabilities.  Eric proceeds to the apartment, where Lilandra calls him "Shakari;" Eric professes to be he, the same Shakari whom Lilandra had exiled to Earth, and who now intends to return the princess to her homeworld.   The X-team arrives, once again trying to defend their mentor, but Eric effortlessly blows their hoverjet out of the sky.  Eric has had time to construct a star-gate; he grabs Lilandra and disappears, presumably back to her world.  Phoenix zaps Firelord hard enough to propel him twelve miles away; as Jean returns, Xavier laments that, if she had stayed by the apartment, her augmented powers might have prevented Eric from absconding with Lilandra.  Phoenix relates her understanding of Lilandra’s purpose, which has been to prevent her brother from unleashing a force that could prove fatal to the entire universe!  Jean, undaunted, reactivates the portal, and the X-ers dive thru, in pursuit of Lilandra and Eric.  Xavier fears that the team might have carried themselves away to their deaths.  A moment later, Firelord returns, angrily promising revenge against Phoenix. -Chris Blake

Chris: The presence of Firelord is a bit strange to me.  It isn't just because I associate him with other characters and titles (primarily FF and Thor, of course); it has much more to do with the unusual circumstances that brought Eric the Red and Firelord together.  Based on EtR's recollections, he had detected FL's presence, and then enlisted Havok & Polaris (who somehow have been under Eric's control all this time) to stage a scene to suggest they had overpowered Eric somehow.  H&P then attacked FL, who proceeded to defeat Eric’s apparent assailants.  If you think this whole scenario sounds a bit convoluted, then you're right – it is.  The bottom line is that Eric has traded a willing, more powerful ally for his other two mind-controlled, but still reasonably powerful, charges.  
Okay, so maybe Chris felt that Phoenix, with her considerable power now revealed, required a more formidable challenger than H&P.  My response (had I been consulted at the time -- suffice to say that I had not been) would have been: 1) the circumstances of FL's meeting with EtR, and recruitment to E's cause, are sketchy, and very shaky; 2) H&P, as I mentioned a moment ago, are no slouches -- a battle against the two of them would've been worth seeing; 3) anyway, we've barely seen H&P since they slouched off to the west -- as a fan, I'd like to know what's happening with these two former team-members -- I still don't understand how Eric has maintained control over them; and 4) a battle pitting Jean against Scott's brother and brother's gal would pack a great deal more emotional impact than Jean vs a cosmic yojimbo. 

Chris: The issue isn’t all serious business.  There’s a brilliant moment on p 11, when Lilandra’s alien pursuers discover that the planet Earth has encountered Galactus, and successfully repulsed him, not once, but four times; the cruiser’s captain immediately brings the ship around, badly surprised to learn that our seemingly “primitive” planet might have power “to rival that of the empire itself!”  Very clever, and a subtle bit of Marvel continuity.  
Last month (publishing-wise), I offered high praise for Bob Layton's finishes as they appeared with John Byrne's pencils on Champions #13.  So now, I will echo the same compliments for his work with Dave Cockrum.  Until now, Sam Grainger has consistently provided the best inks for Cockrum; and, while Grainger's approach might most closely approximate Cockrum's self-inked style (as does Layton for Byrne), Layton provides a slightly different texture for Cockrum, without compromising the dynamic energy that we count on from Dave.  Dave + Bob produce some particularly effective visuals for Jean; most notably, this is the first appearance of the fiery Phoenix pulsing out over Jena’s shoulders.  We get some great facial expressions too, from angered (p  16, pnl 5), to fiercely determined (p 17, pnl 3), to calmly purposeful (p 30, pnl 3). 
Matthew: So much to love, so little to lament, although one-off inker Layton hits some sour notes (e.g., Jean looks barely human in page 14, panel 6, and Mom not much better in page 30, panel 1), yet while it isn’t a problem, I’m not sure we needed the Chris & Dave cameo.  That said, Cockrum’s modified double-spread on pages 2-3 has become a beloved X-tradition; few writers can equal Claremont at instilling the feeling that Big Things Are Happening; and Orz’s lettering drizzles a little Béarnaise on our filet.  The Star Trek influence—first implicit, then overt—is fun, and the litany of alien races/beings we poor humans have already encountered, even including Kirby’s Celestials, reminds us how mighty a canvas the Marvel Universe truly is.

“To boldly go where no Shi’ar has gone before…”

Claremont & Cockrum Comics? 

Also This Month

Crazy #26
FOOM #18
Kid Colt Outlaw #218
Marvel Classic Comics #18
Marvel Tales #80
< Marvel Treasury Edition #15
Spidey Super Stories #23


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 19

Cover Art by Kenneth Morris

“Vengeance in Vendhya”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“The Buscema Barbarians”
Art by John Buscema           
“The Man Who Was Conan”
Text by Fred Blosser         

“The Castle of the Devil”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Sonny Trinidad

“Swords and Scrolls”

This is the first time I’ve come across the work of cover painter Kenneth Morris. According to the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page, Roy met the Baltimore artist at the Red Sonja Con. Couldn’t find any other Marvel credit for Morris, which is not a surprise — the art is very amateurish. Conan’s face is particularly odd: he looks fairly cockeyed.

Anyways, Thomas, Buscema and Alcala wrap up their four-issue adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “The People of the Black Circle,” adding 32 final pages with “Vengeance in Vendhya.”

Conan, Kerim Shah and his four remaining men finally reach the castle of the Black Seers of Yimsha. The Cimmerian hacks through the front door: they enter, leaving one of Kerim’s Irakzai henchmen to stand guard. The man spots one of the seers on a high balcony and fires an arrow at the wizard. The seer plucks the shaft out of the air and tosses it back down — it transforms into a snake that bites and kills the Irakzai. Conan tries to rush out to help but an invisible barrier blocks the way.The ever-shrinking group forges on, soon finding themselves in a great, jade hall. In the middle, an ornamental statue of four serpents holds aloft a crystal globe: inside are the four golden pomegranates that Khemsa mentioned before he died. Suddenly, four silent seers enter the room. One raises a tentacled hand and the Cimmerian and his companions are immobilized. The sorcerer summons them forward one by one, decapitating each until only Conan and Kerim Shah remain alive. But the barbarian grips the Stygian waistbelt given to him by Khemsa and the spell is broken. He smashes the crystal globe and the pomegranates within. The seers fall dead to the gleaming floor.

However, the Master of the Black Seers appears. He turns towards Kerim Shah and the man’s chest explodes, killing him instantly. A thick mist rises and surrounds Conan — through the fog he spots a huge snake slithering away. He gives chase and quickly finds the ravenous reptile threatening the devi Yasmina. After a fierce struggle, the Cimmerian manages to mortally wound the creature. It makes off, leaving behind bloody traces. Conan and Yasmina make their way out of the castle and eventually find the barbarian’s horse.

Yasmina demands that he take her back to her kingdom of Vendhya, promising him a fortune in gold as a reward. Conan refuses. Since the barbarian knows that he can’t rejoin his Afghuli warriors they think he is a traitor he tells the devi that they will instead join the Kozaki free companions: there he will make her his queen. Soon, they come across a large valley. Below, the Turian army, secretly summoned by Kerim Shah, is attacking the Cimmerian’s former tribesmen, the hopelessly outmanned Afghulis. Conan, compelled to help his former companions, dismounts and prepares to head into the fray—just then, Vendhya forces, searching for the devi, appear on the horizon. Yasmina promises the Cimmerian that she will ride out to meet them and command the troops to help the Afghulis.

Even though he is not convinced that the devi will keep her word, Conan climbs down and hurls himself into the battle. Soon, the Vendhya soldiers do arrive and the Turians are defeated. As the dust settles, a tremendous vulture swoops down and attacks Yasmina. The barbarian drives his sword through the sinister scavenger’s neck. It tumbles down the cliff walls — halfway through the fall, the bird transforms into the dead body of the Master of the Black Seers. Their hair-raising adventure finally over, Conan bids goodbye as the devi rides off with her soldiers.

My favorite creative team wraps up their epic, 112-page adaptation of “The People of the Black Circle”— which is probably about the length of Howard's original, which ran in the September, October and November 1934 issues of Weird Tales. You would have to figure that the Master would return at the end after his abrupt departure in the middle of this installment — you need to see that these sorcerer types are really dead. But, then again, you don’t see his splat after he falls off the mountain at the end. There’s some shocking gore on display here. The decapitations are very graphic: Kerim Shah’s exploding chest even more so. The battle with the Master-snake is highly bloody as well. I rather enjoyed this ride but find myself looking forward to next month’s self-contained story. A four-issue stretch of a bulky, black-and-white magazine is certainly a long haul.

Adapted from a Robert E. Howard fragment that first saw the light of day in the book Red Shadows (Donald M. Grant, 1968), “The Castle of the Devil” is another story about everyone’s favorite Puritan adventurer, Solomon Kane. In Germany’s Black Forest, Kane comes across a naked woman hanging from a tree: he is relieved to see that she is still alive after cutting her down. The girl tells the Puritan that she was the victim of the Devil, now in the human form of Baron Von Staler. Solomon gives her his horse so that she can ride back to her village— he will deal with the Baron himself. Along the way to Von Staler’s castle, Kane encounters a fellow Englishman, John Silent. The jovial Silent agrees to accompany the dark-clad avenger on his quest. At the castle, Kane and Silent pose as mercenary soldiers. After proving their worth by killing six guards, they are brought to see the Baron, a man with cloven hooves for feet. That night, they scale the outside of the castle and, through a window, see Von Staler about to sacrifice a virgin maiden on an altar shaped like a huge demon. The German maniac claims that after this bloody ritual, the fifth he has performed, his legs will return to normal. Kane and Silent jump through the glass and the Puritan sets the altar aflame with a fiery brazier. Howling in rage, Von Staler’s entire body transforms into a demon — he roars that it will now take 100 virgins to become human again. The Englishmen make their escape with the young girl as the Baron’s guards burst into the room: when they see the hellish creature, they kill the unholy monster, not realizing that it is actually their master.

This one packs a lot of ideas into just 12 pages. It’s the second Marvel work for Don Glut this month: he also wrote Kull the Destroyer #21. Not sure if you can call this one fun — Solomon Kane is a very dour character — but it’s a decent little time killer. This is the first Marvel credit that I’ve come across for Alan Kupperberg: he would go on to illustrate a ton of Marvel series and work on the Howard the Duck newspaper strip with Marv Wolfman. Sonny Trinidad adds some nice detailing but many of the characters seem a bit awkward. As always, enjoy Professor Gilbert’s expanded study of this story.

A pair of solid backups this month. First, we have “The Buscema Barbarians,” four full-page pinups by Big John of Conan, Kull, Red Sonja and Solomon Kane. Kane is far from a barbarian but who’s complaining? Fred Blosser’s “The Man Who Was Conan” is a review of The Last Celt: A Bio-Bibliography of Robert Ervin Howard, the new book by Howard’s literary agent, Glenn Lord. Sounds like the bibliography is the meat of the book but a section titled “Autobiography” tells the author’s tale in his own words with excerpts from letters and other writings. Supposedly it took Lord three years to finish the work and at a hefty $30 back in 1977, the cover price would have been 18 billion dollars today. Well, maybe not.

There’s some interesting info on the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page. Supposedly, when Thomas and Buscema adapted a Howard story, Thomas sent John a copy of the paperback edition, marked with comments: where to cut, what changes to make, when to insert a closeup, and whatnot. So they rarely talked face-to-face— a short phone call was enough to make magic. -Tom Flynn

A year from now, Glut and Kupperberg will also begin frequently collaborating on Invaders.

In “The Castle of the Devil,” Solomon Kane wanders through the Black Forest and “meets another rootless Englishman, John Silent...!”  He does this after finding a damsel dangling from a noose who he at first thinks is in need of “a proper Christian burial - -,” but cuts her down before she can die in his arms as once did a young girl (in “Red Shadows”).  (Some of this is recapped in a “[f]reely adapted” excerpt of Fred Blosser’s “The Trail of Solomon Kane: An Informal Biography” essay on page 46, first published in Kull and the Barbarians #3, and here accompanied by a Dave Wenzel and Duffy Vohland illustration of the Puritan swordsman.)  

It is the second time the village girl has escaped death, the first being when the “most powerful lord in the Black Forest,” Baron Von Staler, rejected her as an imperfect sacrifice to Satan by virtue of her lack of virginity.  Like the French maiden violated and murdered by the highwayman Le Loup, “The victim was but a child.”  Together with John Silent, Kane allows Baron Von Staler’s “men-at-arms!” to capture them, but only so they can hire themselves out as mercenaries and get close enough to the Baron to slay him.  The Baron is reputed to be Satan himself, but is in fact a cloven-hoofed diabolist whose pact obligates sacrifices to his master in exchange for a human form.-Tom Flynn 

“Castle of the Devil” is an unfinished Solomon Kane short story posthumously published in the 1968 Donald M. Grant collection Red Shadows.  Horror author Ramsey Campbell completed it for the 1978 Bantam collection Solomon Kane: Skulls in the Stars, and most recently, in 2009, Scott Allie and Mario Guevara adapted and finished it as a five-part mini-series for Dark Horse.  

In the original story, it is a young boy whom Kane comes across and cuts down from the gibbet.  In this adaptation it is a false virgin maid, probably only an excuse to display her stark naked.  During another virgin sacrifice, the Baron swears an oath to the devil on page 54 that reads more like clumsy exposition.  The set-up for the story is taken directly from REH’s fragment, up to when Kane and the garrulous Silent join forces – Silent judges Kane “either an inspired maniac, a fool, or the most courageous man in the world!  Lead on!!,” to which Kane responds, “Your speech is wild and GodlessBut I begin to like you.”  Here ends Howard’s original.  

From there the rest is imagined by Don Glut, and the best part of his continuation is the ongoing and true-to-Howard camaraderie forged between the unlikely pair.  In the thick of the fight against the Baron’s hirelings, Silent tells Kane, “We make a good team,” and at the very end Kane bids him “Farewell, my companion-in-arms--and God speed you on your way!”  

Partway through their adventure, Silent shares with Kane his plans to head “to Genoa to go on board a ship which sails against the Turkish corsairs!”  During their daring rescue of the virgin at the Castle of the Devil, Silent hesitates momentarily, “distracted by the captive maiden’s beauty…”  At the story’s end it seems he has abandoned his plans to “battle with…heathen pirates” and is ready to settle down with her, and so he and Kane part ways.  

However Blosser in his essay chronicles that after this tale, “Silent and Kane then turned westward once more and rode to Genoa, whence they sailed out to fight Turkish pirates on the Mediterranean.”  REH’s stories relate no further adventures of John Silent, but Blosser does not supply a title for the follow-up escapade he recounts.  (Upon meeting Kane, Silent did extend the invitation, and in the heat of battle says to “the grim adventurer,” “What a pair the two of us would make against the Turks - -.”)  

While “growing on” one reader writing to Savage Sword of Conan #20, “Howie Chaykin’s…ol’ Sol reminds me of a 1920’s beach-boy in those striped sleeves,” referring to Savage Sword of Conan #18 and Marvel Premiere #33 and #34.  “I think his old Puritan garb gave him an older, more foreboding look.  Any chance of its returning?”  His wish is Marvel’s command.  Apparently Marvel did “dig Howie’s Kane,” but “we too don’t like the striped sleeves,” even while “let[ting] the talented Mr. Chaykin have his way, just to see how it turned out.”  Alan Kupperberg’s Kane in this issue (#19) is described, along with future Kanes, by Swords and Scrolls editorial as “revert[ing] to a somewhat simpler style, which we hope combines the best of Howie’s Kane with a slightly more dour look.”  

Page 46 references “Castle of the Undead” (from Dracula Lives! #3) with the line “the vampire Dracula, whom I once permitted to live!”  Then on page 49 John Silent says, “I’ve just returned from passing Castle Frankenstein near Darmstadt- -,” setting the stage for “The Dragon at Castle Frankenstein” coming in Savage Sword of Conan #22.  (The story even ends by saying that Kane’s “righteous sword is needed elsewhere...- -at a castle called Frankenstein!”)  They might as well have mentioned the Christopher Lee film Castle of the Walking Dead (aka The Torture Chamber of Dr. Sadism) with its Count Regula, virgin sacrifices, forest hangings, etc. 

This Glut-Kupperberg adaptation has been reprinted as part of Dark Horse’s The Saga of Solomon Kane.  And the original, untouched manuscript, in fragment form, can be found in Del Rey’s The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane.  
—Professor Gilbert

The Rampaging Hulk 3

Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Monster and the Metal Master”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala

“And There Shall Come Death”
Story by John Warner
Art by Sal Buscema and Rudy Nebres

Bruce Banner, Rick Jones and Bereet— disguised as a lovely human female — are enjoying some peace and quiet in a small hotel in the south of France. Rick becomes agitated when the owner abuses a small orphan boy named Spirou. Miles away, the alien known as the Metal Master, in cahoots with the Krylorian invaders, is searching for the Hulk using his giant robot, the Ferronaut.

The next day, Banner sees the innkeeper slap Spirou after the boy refuses to stop talking about a giant monster he saw in the woods. Angered, the doctor transforms into the Hulk. Jade Jaws trashes the inn and then chases the abusive man into the forest. The Metal Master, alerted by the sound of the destruction, sends the Ferronaut after the not-so-jolly green giant. The two begin a brutal battle, the Metal Master quickly fixing the dents pounded into his robot’s form by Greenskin’s mighty punches.

Rick and Bereet arrive: the otherworldly woman reaches into her metallic Spatial Distorter handbag and pulls out a variety of techno-art creations — a Cardiac-Retarder and a Ventral-Ventillator — to attack the Metal Master. But since they are constructed of metal, the bald baddie easily destroys them one by one. The Master then concentrates his power on Bereet’s Spatial Distorter: to his surprise, it increases in size, enveloping everyone inside of the bizarre fourth dimension that exists within the bag.

Inside the strange reality, Bereet’s other techno-art objects run amok and attack her, the Hulk and Rick — however, the Metal Master can bend them to his will. Suddenly, Jones is bitten by Bereet’s pet, a soccer-ball sized, razor-toothed being named Sturky that is actually a matter convertor able to scramble molecules. But even the formerly lovable Sturky is beyond control.

Back in France, Spirou discovers the Spatial Distorter and clutches the bag, hoping that it can help his new green friend, the only one who protected him from the violent innkeeper. Somehow, the boy’s prayers influence Sturky and it begins to obey Bereet. The ball-like being transforms all of the out-of-control techno-art creations into wood and stone, nullifying the Metal Master’s control. In a last ditch effort, the Master channels all of his psychic abilities into the Ferronaut. However, the Hulk, driven to the very limit of his rage, destroys the robot with a tremendous punch. The subsequent explosion blasts everyone back to France. The Metal Master realizes that he has lost his powers as little Spirou hugs his new friend, the rampaging Hulk.

Not having read any of the original The Incredible Hulk comics, this is my first contact with the Metal Master. He first appeared in issue #6 from March 1963 — which makes him seven months older than Marvel’s supreme metal master, Magneto, who made his debut in The X-Men #1, September 1963. That’s about the only thing he has over the malevolent mutant. It’s not explained why he hitched his wagon to the bumbling Krylorians. Perhaps it was enough that they are both from alien races. As you can imagine, Spirou is an annoying little distraction. How his whining had an effect on Sturky is basically shrugged off by Doug Moench. Guess I haven’t been clear that Bereet’s Spatial Distorter disorder is much smaller than the goofy techno-art creations she pulls out of it: it’s like removing a piano from a backpack. A Cardiac-Retarder? Guess Moench was trying to have fun with the idiotic names of these devices but not sure that lets him off the hook. And Sturky — another dumb name — looks ridiculous. Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala deliver their usual pop-art images that are quite easy on the eyes. I guess we’re not supposed to take this series seriously. Not sure if that’s the right direction Moench and company should have taken.

Now Bloodstone is another animal all together. John Warner is deadly serious— but, of course, there’s no direction that could have saved this convoluted mess. “And There Shall Come Death” starts with Bloodstone sneaking into Stark Industries headquarters on Long Island, looking for Tony Stark’s help in revealing the mystery behind all the missing scientists. But instead of Stark, he encounters Iron Man. They do battle but eventually the Avenger realizes that the mercenary is not looking for trouble. They compare notes and Bloodstone reveals that his aide, Brad Carter, was also recently abducted. Meanwhile, Carter comes to and sees that his kidnapper is Centurius, the armored villain he once encountered with Nick Fury (Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #2, July 1968). With the mental energies of the kidnapped scientists— and a fragment of the Bloodgem —Centurius plans on ruling the world. Ulluxy’l Kwan Tae Syn abruptly materializes and claims to be the rightful possessor of the gem. However, Centurius reveals that they are both part of The Conspiracy. Suddenly, Iron Man and Bloodstone arrive, alerted to the location of Centurius’ hideout by S.H.I.E.L.D. Shellhead tangles with the huge flying manta-ray while Bloodstone faces the giant Goram. Centurius apparently kills Ulluxy’l with a lasergun powered by the mystic fragment just as S.H.I.E.L.D. jets start landing. The manta-ray and Goram are both defeated but Centurius escapes.

Yes, this is as brain rattling as it sounds. Never heard of Centurius before, but I guess you have to give a minor tip of the hat to Warner for using such an obscure character. If you didn’t see Sal Buscema’s name in the small credits on page 42, you might think that this was drawn and inked by Rudy Nebres: he overwhelms Our Pal’s pencils. Not that the art is bad, it’s actually pretty good. Sal and Rudy combined to make a fairly impressive Iron Man. I wonder what Buscema thought when he sat down to illustrate Warner’s script. Considering he came into this nutty story midstream, he must have been as confused as I am. “What the heck is this dreck?” I feel your pain Sal.-Tom Flynn

Marvel Preview 11
Cover by Ken Barr

"The Hollow Crown"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Good morning, class. Remember when I told you there would eventually be a test on Marvel Preview #4? Well, get your pencils ready! Nah, just kidding. But this issue is a sequel to that one, as we get "ALL NEW!" adventures of Starlord, the Earthman-turned-spaceman, long before he rocked out to a super cool '70s mix as the devil-may-care leader of Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy on the big screen. First off, we get a nice Ken Barr cover, paired with an interesting Jim Starlin frontispiece. Then the credits…Claremont & Byrne! Plus Austin and Orzechowski! Well, shut my mouth! How did I not remember this one? The future X-Men team supreme in classic black and white! Huzzah! And I haven't even turned the page past the long-winded but excitable John Warner editorial! There, in "Second Launch," Warner explains a little about the creative process, why he's thrilled about Starlord's new tale, why they dropped Steve Englehart's "astrology angle," and how they "set the story some bit of time after Starlord's first appearance so that we could make some alterations on Peter Quill's character," making him a bit less "twisted" and more mellow with the new awareness of his existence. Anyway, here's the story:

Part 1: Windhölme

The peaceful sea-faring planet Windhölme has been taken over by marauding raiders, with only the children of the Scania refugees spared, and put into slave-pens by the Anubian villains. One such child is teen Kip Holm, whose parents were slain by the invaders, and is beaten to a pulp by guards when he dares to fight back, but suddenly disappears, saved by fellow slave Sandy. Then, the slave ship is attacked by a starship piloted by Starlord, who flies aboard the ship looking for evidence and freeing the slaves, who basically wipe out the rest of the guards themselves. Aboard Starlord's Ship, they learn Kip is a "Windrunner" with psychic powers, so he is able to find the slaver's base, on the world known as Cinnibar.

Part 2: Cinnibar

Arriving at the hellish floating cities of Cinnibar, our trio of heroes enters the anti-gravity palace of the powerful Kyras Shakati, with a widget of Ship leading the way. When a Melyan Construct guard smashes the widget, Starlord feels empathetic pain, then battles the quickly-recovering machines until they are able to slip through a trap door…and onto Kip's family ship back at Windhölme, where a deadly kraken attacks! Starlord goes underwater to attack the beast, and Kip sees his parents killed once again…until Starlord realizes it's just an illusion, and blasts the "telempathic crystal" causing the mirage!  Sandy takes out Shakati's sidekick, and as the big bad starts to feed Starlord some "valuable information," Sandy throws a knife, keeping the sneaky slave-trader from blasting our hero. Kip declares his love for Sandy, but their romantic moment is interrupted by a blast from Arion (from chapter 1), who seeks vengeance for Sandy killing his brother. Starlord uses his elemental gun to get them past more mechanical troopers, but the palace has been booby-trapped! Ship is able to speed to their rescue, saving them from a "multi-megaton fusion explosion."

Part 3: Sparta

Closing in on planet Sparta, our heroes are ambushed by a hunter-killer group of ships that injure Ship enough that the trio escapes on a lifeboat down to the surface. A scout finds them, and Starlord knocks him out and takes him aboard the recovering Ship to get info through a "Hypno-Probe," where he learns Kip and Sandy were captured by Prince Gareth. Starlord goes to the Emperor's Imperial Chalet disguised as the scout and armed with a sword. He surprises Arion, who is about to torture Kip and Sandy, and Kip is able to kill the evil twin—then Gareth and his deadly henchman Rruothk'ar, a Sith Lord, appear! Starlord gives Kip something to take to the Emperor and begins to battle the lizard Sith Lord with ferocity, knowing he's the alien that killed his mother! Starlord runs the creature through with the sword, then is left to duel Gareth, who gains the upper hand until he sees Starlord's face! Quill turns the tide on the stunned Prince, deciding to spare his life—but the backstabber throws a poisoned blade at Starlord, who tossed his sword into Gareth's gut, sending him over the ledge. Ship saves Starlord from a pair of guards, then Kip and Sandy bring the Emperor Jason to Peter—and it's his father!

Part 4: The Hollow Crown

Having defeated the conspiracy against the Emperor, Starlord learns the story of how, many years ago, Jason's ship crash landed on Earth, where he met Meredith Quill, a kind woman who nursed him back to health, and the two fell in love. A year later, Jason had repaired his ship and was ready to leave, knowing Meredith was pregnant and hoping to bring her and the child to his own world. Gareth and Shakati plotted to kill the boy, only instead the Sith Lord slew Meredith. Now Jason is glad finally to have his heir by his side, but Starlord says "Don't you see? I'm a seeker—I don’t know, after a cosmic holy grail. A…dream that's forever unattainable." Then, he leaves to continue spanning the stars, leaving Kip and Sandy behind to help Jason. Aboard Ship, his companion takes the form of a woman and the two fly off together to "go carve ourselves a legend."

So much to like here, but on first read it's muted by the length and slightly confusing story. Yet, re-reading, it's easy to see that Claremont throws in a ton of cool ideas and strange characters, and lots of surprises, claiming the Starlord world as his own, yet carrying on the path put down by Englehart. Byrne and Austin breathe a lot of life into the black-and-white format, and there's so much going on in some panels you almost think they're in color. So great to see Orzechowski at the lettering, it's like stepping into a pair of comfy slippers after all these years. Love the Ship widget, and the empathetic feeling Starlord shares with it. There's a freakin' kraken of all things, just for Prof. Gilbert. Love the twists in the story, introducing Peter's father and solving the mystery of his Mother's death—and the chilling yet satisfying vengeance!

As if we could stand any more after this excellent tale, there is a Claremont "Afterword" where the author thanks and dedicates the story to Robert A. Heinlein. Then a Byrne article about aliens that I couldn't make heads or tails or claws out of. Finally, a letters page that features fawning over Man-God. Oh, why couldn't I have stopped when Ship and Starlord held "hands?"  I will say this was a book I always wanted to get my hands on when I went wacky and started spending my money on comics that I "missed" in the seven plus years when I stopped collecting, right after Spidey #200. And that was because I tried to scoop up everything Byrne worked on, which was ill-advised, especially how pricey this one was. So this was my first read, and well worth the time. Certainly the best issue of Preview so far. –Joe Tura

Claremont offers a departure from Englehart’s original design for the character.  Claremont doesn’t substitute a generic warrior-hero; instead, this Peter Quill sees himself as an adventurer and explorer, ably assisted by his symbiotically-linked Ship.  That characterization easily could be lost in all the action – Quill calls on his training, and can handle himself capably in a fight if he has to – if Claremont doesn’t have Starlord hesitate once he’s grabbed Gareth‘s weapon, and has the prince at swordpoint.  Starlord also tells us, “my need to know outweighs my desire to kill.  I may never find the answers, but I’ll never stop searching for them either.”  I’ll be interested to see whether Claremont develops this philosophy further in his next two outings as writer for this character – coming soon in the pages of Marvel Preview!
I’m reasonably sure I’d never seen, or even heard of, this first-ever collaboration by the X-Men Dream Team, if it weren’t for this story’s re-issue in late 1981 (Feb 1982 pub date) in a Baxter-paper special edition, with colors added by Glynis Wein (the only creative member of the X-team not included in the original printing).  It so happened that I was in a stationery store across town (i.e., not my usual comics-supplying newspaper store), and I happened to find this on the bottom rack.  
Steven Grant provides an article for the special edition, “The Saga of Star-Lord,” which speculates that this story might’ve generated a more enthusiastic response if it’d appeared “one year later, on or around the release of Star Wars, … it probably would have gone over like gangbusters.”  Well, uh, Steven, I hate to break it to you, but since this story originally was published with an October 1977 date, then it would, in fact, have been perfectly positioned to ride the wake of Star Wars fervor.  Why didn’t it?  I think it has to do with the story running in a B&W magazine, with limited distribution; granted, I might be biased since I only know this story in its colorized form, but if this had appeared as a three-part installment, in full color, in a format like Marvel Premiere (with a 30-cent cover price, instead of $1), I’m fairly certain I would’ve snapped it off the shelves.  -Chris Blake