Wednesday, December 16, 2015

June 1977 Part One: Does Anyone Want to Remember Scorpio?

The Avengers 160
"The Trial!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Roger Slifer and David Anthony Kraft
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

After defeating Graviton, five of the Earth's Mightiest Heroes scatter to attend to their own activities, leaving Beast, Vision, Scarlet Witch, the Black Panther, and Wonder Man on their own at the Mansion. Beast heads for the lab to clean up after last issue's kerfuffle but it's a mere three seconds later that he's hurled back to his comrades. The hurler turns out to be The Grim Reaper, who's madder than a New Jersey Housewife that his brother, Wonder Man, is among the living again and Reaper wasn't sent an invite to the party. Grim doubts that Wondey is actually the real deal and Simon can't seem to talk sense into the villain. Grim battles and defeats all five and then assembles the Assemblers 'round a table for a trial, with Black Panther as the "counsel" to the other four. He hears evidence and statements from the Avengers, supporting their claim that Wonder Man is the genuine article. When the Reaper threatens to eliminate the Vision, Wonder Man goes ballistic and attacks his brother, destroying Grim's reaper and shutting him down. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: This one's all over the map for me. I love George's art; it's such a perfect fit for this title and if I had been paying attention all those years ago, The Avengers would have stayed on my to-buy list simply for the wonderful visuals (I dropped it from my Zombie list around the #150 mark). The script's another story. I won't dump on Shooter the way I (and most of my comrades) dumped on the infinitely less talented Tony Orlando Isabella; I can keep the office politics (you know, all the backstabbing and egotistical nonsense we've heard about over the last thirty-plus years from the Shooter haters) separate from the man's skills with a Smith-Corona. This script is a little messy though. On one hand, it's exciting, but then the whole trial thing (which doesn't really develop past the set-up phase) is silly; the flashbacks come across as both lazy (filling up lots of little panels with stuff we already know) and ingenious (tying together lots of stuff we already know). One sequence stands out amongst the rest of the story and that would be Wonder Man's defeat of the Reaper. The look on GR's face when his prosthetic is obliterated is priceless; the poor guy goes from top of the villain heap to 15th-tier in about three seconds flat.

Joe Tura: Ah, that's more like it….And I don't mean the return of Perez, since that would insult My Pal Sal…although it is great to see George back. I think I really mean a much better villain than Graviton, and more drama with our main cast instead of foolish Frank Hall and his crush on the "nice blonde." And drama we get! I loved this issue as a pre-teen for the whole recap, so I was instantly caught up on what the heck the story was with Vision and Wonder Man (I had sporadic issues of Avengers before 1975). And it's just as good now, with a nice Shooter script and fabulous artwork. There are some genuine great moments here, like Beast's bravado and Panther snaring him out of the air (page 10), Vision going intangible when Beast flies into him (page 3), the Grim Reaper hinting at someone else pulling the strings before being smashed by brother Simon (page 26), and the 9-panel page 23 that's packed with revelations and suspense. One thing bugs me, though. How does Panther still have an Avengers chair? Did Grim Reaper put the logo on it before the "trial" to complete the scene, or did Jarvis, being the good butler he is, do so when Panther returned to help fight Graviton? Or is that Hellcat's chair and they didn't update it yet? I guess fixing the chair logos would be nearly a full-time job, if Jarvis had the time in between cleaning up after the mess these people leave behind.

Chris Blake: The Grim Reaper serves as a useful device here, as he brings the unresolved Vision/Wonder Man questions into the open.  The Reaper insists on a point that has been an undercurrent throughout: there cannot be a Vision and a Wonder Man; one of them doesn’t belong, somehow.   In their speeches of self-defense, these characters insist that they are two separate beings – the Vision wasn’t constructed to replace Simon Williams, so the return of Simon doesn’t mean that Vision is ruled out.  In addition, Simon himself has become something else, during his death-like experience; you could argue that neither character is the Simon Williams who had appeared in Av #9.

A couple of nice characterization moments: Simon’s quiet longing for Wanda (p3, pnl 2); T’Challa’s needling of the Reaper, which not only conveys his contempt for Eric’s show-trial, but probably also keeps GR off-balance, should there be an opportunity to strike back; the Beast’s identification with Simon (a fellow outsider with the team), as the two continue to develop a lasting bro-ship.  

Chris: I've been saving this one; I kept it aside as the very last issue I read for this month.  Av #160 is the first installment of my single favorite run of this title; the nine issues leading up to this one are all very good, but from here on, it gets even better.  There even are two fill-ins during this period -- one scheduled, one apparently necessitated by DDD -- and still, I stand by these '77-'78 stories.  The reasons are self-evident; for starters, you've got this issue's intense gem, followed by a two-part Ultron story (spread over four separate issues), which overlaps the beginning of the Korvac saga (which of course includes the arrival of the Guardians of the Galaxy -- or if you prefer, the real and true Guardians of the Galaxy), and in the middle of this run, a heavyweight throwdown featuring -- well, wait, hold on now, I guess I shouldn't give it all away, should I?  I don't want to ruin the surprise. 
But, I will tell you this: most of the issues in the next 12-month run are pencilled by George Pérez (well, 7 of 12 does constitute a majority) – the man was born to draw this title – with John Byrne's debut on Avengers appearing as a scheduled three-parter.  This is another of those etched-in-memory, every-page-a-highlight issues, but I will try to limit myself to these few images: Eric’s dramatic entrance (and Wanda’s dismay at the sight), p 6; all of p 11, with special attention to pnl 3, as we see T’Challa’s gloved hand at Eric’s feet, an enraged Vision cradling Wanda, and Simon continuing to hold back, flat-footed and uncertain; blazing sibling rivalry (p 26-30), capped by Eric’s stunned expression as he realizes he’s undone (p 30, pnl 5).
Matthew Bradley: Those who think me a knee-jerk Shooterphobe will be glad to know that this month, in my opinion, both the Assemblers and Spidey rebound from disappointing two-parters.  Granted, the return of Pérez—with intermittent accent in the credits—so heavily touted by Jim in the lettercol is by far the bigger factor, and although I’ve abandoned any kind of expectation at the Marcos byline, George and Pablo both seem to be at the top of their games here.  I can’t recall if the recap of the Reaper stories that predated my tenure was welcome or just confusing back in the day, but we’re building toward the revelation of his backer (“You would tremble if you knew…”) and, I hope, resolving the long-standing Simon/Vision debate, which is all to the good.

Conan the Barbarian 75
“The Hawk-Riders of Harakht!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

Conan, Bêlit and the slavegirl 
Neftha watch the Stygian warships burn in the harbor of Khemi from a hidden vantage point. After a few moments, the She-Devil forces her way into a tradesman’s shop and demands disguises 
— as well as a ride in his merchant ship up the River Styx to the capital of Luxur. When the ship approaches Harakht, the city of the Hawk-God, the boat is besieged by archers borne aloft by huge hawks. The merchant is the first to fall — many of his slaves jump for safety into the river, only to be devoured by giant crocodiles. Soon, Bêlit is carried off. Conan manages to grab onto a low-flying hawk’s talon and makes his way up the big bird’s back. He relieves the archer of his knife and knocks the man off his mount. But the hawk— unused to the Cimmerian’s impressive size and weight — begins a dizzying dive. Unable to control the feathered giant, the barbarian is forced to break the bird’s neck: it crashes into the marsh below throwing Conan free. Dazed, the warrior is soon attacked by one of the crocodiles — but he regains his senses and slays the beast with his only weapon, the Hawk-Rider’s dagger. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: A terrific issue. On top of all his talents, Big John was a master of drawing animals, so the giant hawks and crocodiles look fantastic. In fact, the entire issue is marvelously illustrated, including the boffo cover by interior inker Ernie Chan. I particularly enjoyed the very last panel: the dead crocodile beneath him, Conan rises from the marsh and turns to face Harakht, determined to rescue Bêlit with only a single knife at his disposal. There’s no indication of what happened to Neftha after the Hawk-Riders attacked. While Harakht is a Stygian city, the merchant claims that it “goes its own way,” another clue that King Ctesphon’s power is rather shaky. Speaking of the merchant, I was a bit surprised that he gave into Bêlit’s demands so easily, especially since she offered no compensation. You would figure he would raise the alarm or sneak off at any opportunity. This issue barely moves the arrow on the rescue of Bêlit’s father — in fact, it essentially side-tracks the quest — but it gives you all you could ask from Conan the Barbarian: superb art and writing, excellent action, super-sized beasties and barely-clad beauties. Bravo!

Chris: Terrific issue.  Forgive me, Roy, but for a second there, I thought we were going to have a Ka-Zar moment, as Conan boarded the giant hawk and prepared to wrest control from its human handler.  After all, once a heroic figure has the reins of a great beast, he’s able to ride it and have it conduct him onward to victory, right?  Well, it’s a fine moment as Roy describes the hawk’s fierce resistance to the unfamiliar hands and weight on its neck, and recognizes the opportunity to cut loose to “blue-beckoning freedom.”  

The Buscema/Chan art is off the charts during this sequence, starting from Conan’s preparation to grab the low-flying bird, as he vaults onto the barge’s roof to get into position (p 16), all the way to the dying bird’s plummet, with Conan twisted around and barely hanging on (p 26), and finally the stealthy approach of the river dragon, which is stalking so purposefully that you can only see it in the upper-right corner of the panel (p 27, last panel).  The very last panel, as Conan looks into the dying sunlight toward the imposing, shadowy city (sunset courtesy of masterful colorist G. Roussos), armed only with a short, blood-dripped knife, is Epic.  

Captain America and the Falcon 210
"Showdown Day!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Captain America and Donna Maria are attacked by Arnim Zola’s creation Primus. However, Primus has begun to take on positive and thoughtful aspects of human nature and fails to defeat Cap. Over Primus’ objections, Zola has Doughboy take them captive and bring them back to Zola’s castle. Once in their cell, Cap and Donna Maria see the shadows begin to move toward them. Meanwhile, the Falcon is investigating his end of File 116, dodging thrown boulders, until he finally sees the giant mutant bird behind the attack. At the same time, Sharon (sporting a new hairdo – because it’s important apparently) gets her assignment in the File 116 case: go to the home of Cyrus Fenton and see if he is bankrolling the creation of these mutants. Zola, no longer willing to listen to Primus and to show him whence he came, sends him back to Doughboy until it pleases him to have the fake man released. Zola then decides to call his “benefactor” and give him a report. This benefactor is none other than the Red Skull, who is pleased to hear Zola has captured Captain America. However, before the conversation can continue, the Red Skull’s monitor alarm goes off. He is being visited by SHIELD. He dons a mask and goes to the door, greeting Sharon as Cyrus Fenton! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: The big reveal in this issue is spoiled on the cover. Good thinking, Marvel. Perhaps that was the most effective way they could come up with to get people interested in this stalling, messy yarn. It seems as if the Falcon has been trolling around the same area, dodging boulders for weeks, while Cap and Donna Maria have traveled the globe and Sharon Carter has gotten a new hairdo. Something the regional SHIELD commander finds necessary to comment upon. Holy 60s, Batman, can Kirby be more outdated in his treatment of Sharon? Did all he have for reference were the old Femme Force issues? And is it bad that I actually miss those days now?

The Red Skull learns Zola has his oldest, deadliest enemy captive and he shows almost no emotion. Worse, he signs off, telling Zola he’ll speak with him “tomorrow.” Seriously, wouldn’t that warrant some further comment a little sooner? Donna Maria serves no purpose, having played such a small part in the Swine arc (which went nowhere after a huge build up). The Red Skull will at least bring much needed familiarity to this cold, distanced title. The fans on the lettercol seem split on whether or not they like it, but I can’t imagine this was setting well with fandom at large.

Matthew:  Effective with this issue, Giacoia is succeeded by Royer (again doubling as letterer) for the remainder of Jack’s run, yet whoever inks Kirby, the results look like Kirby; it’s a sad contrast to the current  Dr. Strange and next month’s John Carter, where whoever Nebres inks, the results look like…Nebres.  Well, if Jack’s going to break down and actually include someone from the established Marvel Universe, you couldn’t do better than the Red Skull, and dig that krazy Kirby kover, featuring the Skull as Medusa!  Okay, we’ve seen him posing as Cranky Rich Guy as recently as Invaders #5, but let’s face it, nobody draws the Skull like Jack, epitomized by page 27, panel 5 (right)—meanwhile, believe it or not, Sharon gets it out of first!

Daredevil 146
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Gil Kane and Jim Mooney
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

Daredevil is prowling around Manhattan in the daytime, when he detects Bullseye walking the sidewalk below.  DD changes to Matt Murdock, and follows Bullseye (not in costume, but in ordinary “civilian” clothes) into a gun shop, where he foils Bullseye’s attempt to subdue the proprietor.  When the police arrive to sort things out, Matt is frustrated when the officers don’t recognize his opponent. Matt, in his guise as a blind attorney, can’t flush out Bullseye – it’s not like he can ask the officers “Haven’t you seen his face on wanted posters?” since, of course, Matt himself shouldn’t be able to identify this other man.  Once he’s back on the street and ready to renew his search for Bullseye, Matt is struck in the head from behind by a golf ball, thrown with pin-point accuracy.  Matt makes his way to the Storefront, where Foggy and Heather both fret over Matt’s woozy appearance.  Foggy describes how Bullseye has taken over a local TV studio, and now is threatening to kill some of the staff unless DD presents himself there; Matt uses his unwell presentation as an excuse to leave the office.  Bullseye continues to bait DD over the airwaves, and is ready to brawl once DD arrives.  DD proceeds carefully; the knock on the head prevents him from using his radar sense, so he must rely on input from other senses to determine where Bullseye might be, and the immediate threat he might pose.  Bullseye batters DD with a series of projectiles, and DD still is stunned when he relies on the sound of BE’s voice to guide him as he connects with a volley of his own.  As he has lost his advantage, Bullseye loses his cool, and decides to kill DD rather than continue to fight an opponent who has proven so indomitable.  He pulls a gun and fires; DD is unable to read the path of the bullet, and catches the slug in his shoulder.  DD keeps coming, and finally pins Bullseye down, and extracts the answer he has sought, of the identity of the man who had contracted BE to kill Matt and Foggy: the man’s name is “Glenn.” -Chris Blake

Chris: Matt really puts himself out there when he tracks Bullseye to the gun shop; there really is no way for him to explain how he knew Bullseye was about to extract a golf ball from his pocket, nor how he was able to snare BE’s wrist with his cane, to prevent BE from hurling the projectile (the same golf ball that later connects with the back of Matt’s head).  It would be extremely dangerous to give an intelligent, driven psychopath like BE a reason to think more intently about you, wouldn’t it, Matt?  Matt’s risky actions help to demonstrate how seriously he takes Bullseye’s threat, and how committed he is to getting BE off the streets.
Shooter sets a brisk pace, with all the action taking place in a few hours.  There is considerable attention to DD’s reliance on his radar sense, and a clear illustration of how difficult it is for DD to hold up his end in a fight if he’s forced to rely on other senses, primarily sound; DD’s need to focus, in order to listen attentively, mercifully cuts down on the in-fight banter.  We’re left with a dogged, unstoppable hero, whose determination (even after taking a bullet) cuts thru BE’s belief in his command of the situation.  Not sure what Matthew Murdock JD is going to do about that bullet in his shoulder; ah, but that’s a story for another day, isn’t it now?
Gil Kane is a fine choice to illustrate this title.  As I reviewed the art, it struck me that Bob Brown might’ve been trying to achieve the effect Kane delivers here, of Daredevil as both lithe and powerful.  I had thought the inks here were by Janson; instead, Mooney – who has consistently provided some very fine inks for this title in the last year or so – presents some of the texture that I appreciate from Janson, as it contributes to a darker mood that is wholly appropriate for this character.
Matthew: Having divvied up the pencils on #141 with the late Bob Brown, Gil goes it alone for a few issues, and while I’m not sure that he, DD, and Mooney are the perfect blend, it’s quite a respectable effort, from his nicely conceived, Cockrum-inked cover to the Kwintessential Kane montage in page 7, panel 5.  Although Shooter requires a heavier-than-usual suspension of disbelief, as Hornhead faces one of his deadliest foes initially sans radar sense, he does a fair job of taking Bullseye on another step to super-villain fame, as well as furthering the Maxwell Glenn subplot with his sting-in-the-tail ending.  “I loved working with Gil Kane, one of the all-time greats,” Jim told Kuljit Mithra, and fans of action certainly have nothing to complain about here.

The Defenders 48
"Who Remembers Scorpio? 
Part One: Sinister Savior!"
Story by David Kraft and Don McGregor
Art by Keith Giffen and Dan Green
Colors by David Kraft
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Marie Severin

Nick Fury listens patiently as Scorpio laments the state of American society, and how he has fought to overcome its standards of mediocrity; Nick then departs to collect Jack Norriss at Avengers Mansion.  Norriss and Nick leave without incident (and without hesitation on the part of Valkyrie and Hellcat – wrapping up after their dust-up last ish with Wonder Man – who see Jack go), until Jack realizes that Nick is not taking him to a SHIELD base, but rather out to New Jersey.  Val and Hellcat arrive at the riding academy, where Kyle informs them that they have been duped: Fury has delivered Jack to Scorpio, who now requires a ransom of $500,000.  At his NJ HQ, Scorpio reveals to Jack his crowning achievement: the Zodiac chamber, which will soon reveal a new genetically-designed life-form for each month of the year, to be led by Scorpio.  At that moment, Moon Knight sneaks in thru a skylight (having followed Fury from Manhattan), hits a false floor, and slides into a metal cylinder.  Scorpio mocks MK’s efforts to rescue Jack, and describes how the cylinder will seal over, and fill with water to drown him; Scorpio walks away, and ignores Jack’s pleas to release MK.  Kyle wakes early, and observes his peacefully sleeping teammates; he proceeds to his bank and withdraws Jack’s ransom, then switches to Nighthawk garb to deliver it to Scorpio (meanwhile, Jack and Scorpio have woken to find no sign of MK in the drowning chamber …).  Nighthawk throws the money at Scorpio, and realizes too late that he’s been set up; Scorpio grabs hold of Nighthawk, and reveals he’s deduced his identity as Kyle Richmond, before he uses the Zodiac key to transport them both away. -Chris Blake

Chris: Fans of smash-and-bash comics fun probably wouldn’t be too excited by this issue; there’s a page worth of activity as MK is imprisoned, and then less than two pages at the end as Nighthawk clashes with Scorpio, but that’s it for battle-action.  Readers who could recognize various story elements coming together, though, would appreciate the role played by this issue as Kraft deliberately sets up further developments.  How does Scorpio plan to use the creatures that are developing within the chamber?  What are his plans for Nighthawk?  How did Moon Knight escape?  And, what’s the story with Nick Fury?  Why is he assisting Scorpio this way – what’s in it for him?  Kraft drops a few clues about Nick – he doesn’t have feelings that can be hurt, he’s been Scorpio’s only companion for years, etc – but holds back on the truth, for now.  There’s plenty of intrigue, and every reason to be highly anticipatory for our next chapter.  
Kraft also takes time to delve into Scorpio’s character.  Scorpio isn’t your typical raving megalomaniac; if anything, he’s bitter and frustrated by his lack of achievement in this life, and his sense that society at large doesn’t appreciate his unique self.  He’s invested everything in this new Zodiac project’s potential payoff for him; Scorpio is desperate for it to succeed.  I remember being struck by Kraft’s decision to set Scorpio’s age – the character tells us he is fifty-two.  Not only did that seem old to me (at the time); most of my teachers probably were no older than their 40s.  What his age tells me now, is that Scorpio has had a considerably long period to feel badly, and to be dissatisfied with life.  But, just when I might’ve been inclined to understand his perspective, Kraft has Scorpio trap Moon Knight and leave him to die, which effectively purges any inclination I might’ve had to sympathize with Scorpio.  Nicely done.
Brief comment on Giffen’s art: wondrous Kirby-tribute in his depiction of the Zodiac chamber, with its sleeping forms barely visible under the bright lights and crackling energy (p 16-17).  I meant to mention last time that I’ve always liked Giffen’s take on Moon Knight; this time, Giffen shows him with his hood back, leaving the full-head cowl visible (p 23), with a useful bit of foreshadowing as MK hurriedly opens the beer can (last pnl).  
Green’s inks are thoroughly uninspired, and capture almost none of the energy of Giffen’s pencils, with the results mostly flat and dull.  At least the reveal of the Zodiac chamber is sufficiently impressive.  Green had turned in capable work – quality work, at times – as recently as a year or so ago; I don’t know what happened, but for most of the rest of the Bronze Age, Green’s finishes will tend to be murky and indistinct, and will leave many possibly solid-looking issues to appear well short of their potential.
It seems Pennysworth‘s mismanagement of Kyle’s finances extended to leaving hundreds of thousands – millions, perhaps – to molder in a savings account (!).  Jack Norriss certainly is a costly property to keep around; well short of earning his keep.  Say, Scorpio, would you consider a cashier’s check, in exchange – ?  Oh, small bills – it’s like that, huh.  Well look pal, there’s no way we’re going to get – oh wait – wouldja look at that – I wouldn’t have guessed, but it seems like you can fit $500,000 – small bills, no less – in an everyday briefcase (p 27, pnl 9).  Jack’s gonna have a l-o-o-t-t-t-t-a dishes to wash when he gets back to the riding academy.
Matthew: Temporarily bursting free from the thick cocoon of Janson’s inks, thanks in this case to a Dan Green drive-by, Giffen’s pencils show a pretty pronounced Kirby influence, yet are by no means displeasing.  In an amusing coincidence, not long after writing that observation, I read my diary entry for April 12, where I said of #49 (which had arrived in the mail that day), “It’s funny—the latest artwork looks a lot like Jack Kirby sometimes, but it isn’t.”  Now flying solo, or at least sans Slifer, the Dude manages to, uh, “kraft” a comic-book story that is thoroughly entertaining despite being mostly talk, aptly with “a last-minute script assist [from] Dauntless Don McGregor,” notorious for his prolixity; sad to see Wondy make such a quick exit.

Doctor Strange 23
"Into the Quadriverse!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Jim Starlin and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

At the entrance to the mysterious Quadriverse, from which he has rescued Clea, Stephen Strange seeks answers.  A feminine figure appears and speaks to him through emotion, calling herself the Quadriverse"s guardian. Stephen allows himself to enter the intimidating dimension through her mind.  He finds himself in a bizarre place where normal rules seem not to apply. The woman he saw is pursued by a cyclopean demon. Strange senses she is in danger and uses all he can muster to stop the creature... or did something else stop it? Next he follows the "guardian" to another place where, beside a castle, she claims not to know anything beyond her existence. Then a knight appears and attacks, threatening death. He grabs the girl and takes flight, Stephen in pursuit. He fights past some giant "balls of worms," then into an underground where trolls (made of roots) rule. They want the girl, then him,  but again he is victorious. She leads him to a floating island in space, which finally seems to be a peaceful place. There they find another man, a former guardian, who explains the four parts of the Quadriverse: Menace, Calmness, Hell and Home. They ask Stephen to be the next guardian, but he declines, seeking the Creators. They warn Stephen as he departs, witnessing a floating baby. A new guardian? -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: There's lots to commend about this issue, not the least of which are the remarkable visuals by Jim Starlin and Rudy Nebres. The sheer weirdness of the Quadriverse rivals most of what we've seen from Dr. Strange thus far. The cover is a little misleading as Wormworld proves to be less of a menace than many other foes, including the delightful cyclops. The beautiful guardian is quite lost in her role, but nonetheless proclaiming love for Stephen. The home they finally reach is a temporary respite from the Creators, whom Strange will soon find.

Matthew:  After this transitional entry—Wolfman’s last, although he and Nebres relocate their partnership over to John Carter, Warlord of Mars without skipping a beat—Starlin shifts gears for a three-issue stint as writer.  He’s briefly succeeded as penciler by Milgrom and, sad to say, he might as well be, thanks to the oppressive Rudification that leaves Doc and the Guardian looking like Supermarionation puppets in page 14, panel 7.  But Jim’s layouts (including his trademark disembodied mouth in page 2, panel 1) remain impressive as always and, along with that memorable Colan/Palmer cover, provide a visual trade-off for a story in which Marv once again leaves me scratching my head about what the hell I’ve just read, or why I should even care.

By the way, is there a Doc invocation Marv doesn’t include on his way out the door?  We get:

  • “By the eternal Vishanti!”
  • “By the hoary hosts of Hoggoth!”
  • “Demons of Denak!” (twice)
  • “Vipers [originally Vapors] of Valtorr!”
  • “By the unspeakable Umar!” (twice)
  • “Images of Ikonn!”
Talk about one-stop shopping…

Chris: If Marv & Jim want to convey the sense of confusion that typifies the experience of the Quadriverse, then they certainly have succeeded.  The older guardian explains that the girl has served in this role for two hundred years; well, if she’s a guardian, shouldn’t she be able to protect herself, and not require rescuing?  Why is she not aware of her position of responsibility until she returns to the “home island”?  If she’s supposed to be monitoring the entrance to a particular quadrant, it might help if she had some knowledge of that.  Is she supposed to be guarding the quadrant against giant Cyclopses, and empty suits of knight’s armor, and carnivorous roots?  Perhaps I’m asking too many questions – as Doc surmises, all this could have been put on by the Creators, as a test, or merely for their amusement.  

The pencils are by Jim Starlin, aren’t they?  You might not tell by first glance, since Rudy Nebres is one of those inkers who likes the art to appear as if he’d done the whole thing; pencils tend to be subsumed under his embellishment.  (Starlin trades in his drafting pencil for a typewriter next ish, handing layouts over to Milgrom; I might be a bit more appreciative of Nebres’ takeover approach once we get to Dr S #24.)  Fortunately, you can’t keep a good Starlin down; we recognize his imaginative signature style in moments like: the first view of the sloe-eyed Cyclops, as he reaches for the guardian-girl hurtling toward him (p 6); the Cyclops turning to look as a vortex of crimson bands appears, ready to yank him to a place far, far away (p 10); Doc finds the girl in the peaceful castle garden (p 14); the girl is grabbed from below the ground (p 17); Doc descends to the land of the root-people (p 23).  And if all those visuals aren’t enough, we also can rely on Starlin’s use of narrow boxes to speed up action (like at the top of p 7); the box-layout varies from page to page, whether for pacing or for increased befuddlement.  Lest I forget: go back, and let your mind drift along with the splash page for about 30 mins.  

The Eternals 12
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Thena, daughter of Zuras, returns to her home in Olympia with two others in tow: the Deviants Karkas and one known as the Reject. Her fellow Eternals are shocked she would bring such "monsters" amongst them, but she makes no apologies for offering them sanctuary. The Reject is called "Sweet Prince" by the ladies among them. Karkas collapses from his injuries just as he's revealing his philosophical nature. Thena bids the Reject look after his more monstrous fellow until medical help arrives, telling them both they will learn a new way of life that offers caring, respect and love. She orders them to remain until the purpose of the Uni-Mind is fulfilled. Thena departs, and joins the flying flock of Eternals that are absorbed by the blue flame that Zuras has become. Among those who join the experience are the very frightened humans Margo and Samuel. As the Uni-Mind rises from the brilliant flame (whose brightness is seen for many miles around), it rises into space. Its purpose, rarely drawn upon, is to deal with catastrophe and find a solution. In this case it is the Celestials' fifty-year judgement of Earth, although its purpose may be a more academic one. Others are affected differently. Ajak the Eternal and Margo's father Damien, are locked within a giant dome in the Andes mountains, there to witness the great Celestial Arishem silently watch over the proceedings, and to study the endless supply of Inca stone tablets stored therein. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The art in this issue, from its cover to its full-page splashes, is among the best so far in this series. That's not the most interesting thing going on here, however. More is revealed about the character of the Deviants, Reject and Karkas. The giant monster is, at heart, a gentle philosopher, not the beast he appears, while the hardened "Sweet Prince" is shown to have, at the least, the interest in learning of less aggressive things life may offer. I found the spectacle of the Uni-Mind to be impressive despite itself, including the humans inducted (voluntarily?) into it. Nothing seems to impress the Celestials much, although Arishem does glance skyward. Ajak and Damien have a long journey ahead of them, so I enjoyed the former's way of breaking the boredom, bringing to life a savage warrior from the Incan tablets for some battle sport!

Matthew: This title remains on an upswing, although the cover is a mixed bag of the highest order:  the Ajax intrusion at the bottom not only detracts from the cool main image, presumably out of fear that a dearth of recognizable figures would hurt sales, but also is wildly misleading, even by comic-book standards.  The return of Thena with our two itinerant Deviants is welcome indeed, and Karkas remains a character worthy of further exploration, yet speaking of visitors, I remain surprised that there are neither technical nor traditional barriers to including humans in the Uni-Mind ritual; I guess if you’re Zuras you can do whatever the hell you want.  The Kirbyer spectacle doesn’t disappoint, and the possibility of a Uni-Mind/Arishem confrontation tantalizes.

Chris: Okay, so most of our attention in the past 1 ½ issues has been directed toward the formation of the Uni-Mind, which is suitably impressive, and unquestionably unique, and I understand its purpose is to connect with the Fourth Host somehow; but now, that attempt to communicate is going to have to wait until the next issue.  I realize that Arishem has allotted himself fifty years to complete his whole-earth assessment, but that doesn’t mean that the comics-version of his story has to take as long for its developments to play out.  

Mark: The King continues to dazzle on his signature late '70's title, and the big shock isn't the Kirb-o-Vision Gigantor graphics, which are expected, but the nuance and nimble touch Jack the Storyteller brings to this particular Gods and Man space opera, which is decidedly less so.

Dandy gimmicks like the bas-relief Sumo wrestler emerging from the wall to battle Ajak and all the Eternals (plus Margo and Professor Holden) merging into the Uni-Mind to confront the Celestials are mixed in with smaller-scale, more human (even when involving non-humans) touches like Doctor Damian fretting over Margo, female Eternals going gaga over the handsome Reject, and the monstrous-looking Karkas further revealing his poetic, philosopher's soul.

Kirby biographer Charles Hatfield feels the title takes a sharp downturn after the "fake Hulk" issue just ahead, coinciding with Jack's increasing acrimony with late-'70's Marvel (feelings that, by all accounts, ran both ways). Hatfield's opinion aside - your humble instructors will offer our own opinions - the series has only seven issues remaining. But while the Kirbyized, continuity-ignoring versions of Cap and the Panther couldn't have been anything but polarizing, and the unfocused 2001 was monotony with monoliths, The Eternals - thus far - has grown into an exhilarating, richly-textured tour de force.

Another jewel in the King's crown.  

Fantastic Four 183
"Battleground: the Baxter Building!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

Judging by the splash page credits, you'd think Bill Mantlo was left the sole task of wrestling Roy Thomas' sprawling, octo-armed story, if not into submission, at least to an end. The letters page, however, reveals "Battleground: The Baxter Building" involved another multiple-writer plot scrum, detailed by Professor Matthew below. 

RAISE THE CURTAIN ON Impy, Tigra, and Thundra seeing Sue thrown through a top floor window, from a couple blocks away. Thundra hurls Impy towards the Bax. He morphs into a flying Manta-Ray, while pouting that he did "so want to see what Mrs. Richards would transform herself into upon hitting the pavement," before remembering humans are "stuck with the boring shapes they're born with." He snags Sue before she becomes pavement pizza. 

THE BRUTE (Counter-Earth's Reed, in Hulked-out, mass-o'-muscles purple form, who's also been turned evil because...  Class, I admit it; the long-winded recaps this story requires, month upon month, have finally beaten me down. Just buy the Cliff Notes and change a word or two when taking the test) broods, first over killing Sue, then over discovering that he didn't.

FLOATING ON A BACKSTORY ASTEROID in the Negative Zone, the male contingent of our team learns from Annihilus that Big Red - a.k.a. the Mad Thinker's Super-Android - was the everyday "killer android" who attacked our heroes, way back in FF #71, before being exiled in the NZ. The Big Bug revived it, but the ambitious android stole Annie's Cosmic Control Rod, prompting a growth spurt and ginger facial hair. Annihilus is about to give up until Reed comes up with a plan that includes returning the C.C. Rodder (that's for all you Mitch Ryder fans) to the Big Bug. 

BACK IN THE BIG APPLE, the Thinker gloats for precisely 4.3 seconds over his coming victory, which will include scooping up "...all of Richards' super science." You'd think the pudgy, mop-topped villain would factor the 100% failure rate of his past schemes into his equation, but, nope, MT is nothing if not an optimist. 

LOCKED OUT OF THEIR PRIVATE B. BUILDING elevator, Sue leads the T-girls up 30 flights of stairs ("Good for the figure," notes Tigra), where they're attacked by Reed's defensive weapons. 

THE BRUTE IS ATTACKED by Big Red, who smashes through the N-Zone portal.

REED, JOHNNY, AND BEN streak toward home in an Annihilus-provided ship, only to be attacked by the metal-chomping "Bestial Borers!"

THE ESTROGEN SQUAD OVERCOMES the defenses and arrives to see Red blasting the Brute with cosmic rays, turning him back to C.E. Reed. The ladies take up the battle. 

THE BORERS PIG OUT on Annie's ship. But with Ben outfitted with a handy jet-pack and the Torch toting Reed, the Testosterone Trio flee the battle and head for home. Arriving "in the proverbial nick of time," the no-longer-stretchie Reed attacks Big Red in defense of Sue, prompting his Counter-Earth counter-part to wonder, "What possessed me that I could attack such a man?" The question signals that the cosmic ray blast has turned CE Reed "good" again.

THE THINKER SLINKS into the Baxter, realizes Big Red is no longer under his control, and slinks out again, unseen.

OUR HEROES FINALLY PUMMEL Big Red into unconsciousness. Reed reminds Ben of his promise to return the Cosmic Control Rod to Annihilus. Upon hearing this, Counter-Earth Reed snatches the Rod and selflessly darts into the Neg Zone to play delivery boy, sealing the portal behind him. -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Considering the "everything and the kitchen sink" aspects here - both the departed Roy Thomas' convoluted, Russian nesting doll plot and the gaggle of writers recruited to connect all the dots - this patchwork finale is about the best we could expect.

The biggest gaffes are art related: Annihilus is shown with his stolen Cosmic Control Rod on P. 6, and Big Red is lacking same, until it finally makes an appearance on P. 30. A lack of communication between writer and artist isn't unexpected, but those mistakes stand out here.

The Thinker adds nothing, save providing Big Red with his backstory. Counter-Earth Reed turning "good" again right on schedule was a bit of a groaner, although it's sure to please Prof Matthew. [Yeah, baby!-MRB] And CE Reed grabbing the CC Rod and "sacrificing" himself in the Neg Zone is a blatant callback to FF #51, if, admittedly, a satisfying one.

Elsewhere, there was no time or space for any characterization or nuance, but Bill Mantlo earned his pay shepherding this one across the finish line in coherent fashion.    

Matthew: And you thought last ish had a lot of writers?  Per the lettercol, the plot that Mantlo scripts was synthesized by Slifer after the latter’s epic brainstorming session with Wein, Shooter (both, like Bill, holdovers from #182; only editor Archie opted out), Stern, and Macchio.  Aptly, this group effort bears one of those divided covers I hate, although I grant you that it is beautifully drawn by Pérez, who is not represented within, and Sinnott, who is, again lending his incomparable touch to Sal’s sturdy pencils.  As perhaps the faculty’s biggest Counter-Earth fan, I was delighted to see its Reed returned to his sane self, and especially his noble, if impermanent, self-sacrifice on behalf of his counterpart from Earth-616, i.e., home to you and me, dear readers.

Chris: This is another FF issue that is almost entirely committed to memory.  I know I’d bought it as a back issue, and I probably wore it down from Fine to Very Good thru repeated readings.  The weird thing is that, for most of the years I’ve owned this issue, it was the only chapter I had in the Brute/Annihilus/Thinker’s-android storyline; this is one of the very few times I’ve ever read it at its rightful place, after reading all the previous segments leading to this one.  I have a better appreciation now for all the work that had to have gone into a nifty tying-up of the many story elements in-play as this story reaches its conclusion.

Nice job by the multi-headed plotters (as mentioned in the lettercol), and scripter Mantlo, to return some humanity to counter-Reed; I recognize how the Brute’s shock, once he realizes he hadn’t meant to kill Sue (p 3), allows for foreshadowing of his eventual restoration to sanity, and his selfless gesture at the end.  Letter-writers have applauded recent efforts to treat Sue as a full-fledged and capable team member, so I expect these fans will be pleased with Sue’s take-charge approach to foiling the HQ’s defenses, which include some novel use of force fields (p 14, p 17).
I had to look closely at the cover to try to figure whose work it is.  At first, when I saw “P/S,” I thought it might mean “Pollard/Sinnott” – Sinnott sometimes would sign a cover with two initials and a slash, as we’ve seen sometimes with “K/S” on a Kirby cover.  But no – those luscious superheroines in the upper right are the work of Pérez, whose pencils return for seven of the next nine issues, starting with #184.  And then it occurred to me: those trademark Pérez covers, which are a significant part of the look of late-70s Bronze Marvel, are not yet de rigeur – this is George’s first FF cover, and he also premieres his first Avengers cover this month.  He hasn’t even introduced his trademark block-capitol letter signature yet; I think that might debut next month.

Ghost Rider 24
“I, the Enforcer…!” 
Story by Jim Shooter 
Art by Don Heck and Dan Green 
Colors by Ken Klaczak 
Letters by Denise Wohl 
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum 

Charles L.  Delazny stands over the unconscious body of Johnny Blaze on the lawn of his estate. When the Enforcer approaches, the studiohead berates the crimelord for getting him involved. The Enforcer threatens Delazny’s family and then destroys the man’s garage with his disintegrator ring — the weapon was recovered from the bottom of San Diego harbor by the Water Wizard. The Enforcer’s goon Big Jim Galton ties Blaze to Delazny’s son’s motorcycle and drives it off a nearby cliff. But the stuntman was playing possum and transforms into the Ghost Rider halfway down the deadly drop: while the bike explodes on contact, the Rider walks away, his boney body showing through the rips of his tattered suit. Back at Johnny’s apartment, Roxanne Simpson knocks fearfully on the door, thinking she is being stalked by a shadowy figure. But it is only Roger Cross from Delazny Studio’s special effect department — the two go out for a cup of coffee. Back at the Enforcer’s underground base in the Hollywood Hills, the costumed gangster reveals that Delazny once borrowed heavily from racketeers he now controls: he will use the studio to launder his illegal monies. A vengeful Ghost Rider soon appears and pummels the Enforcer. The cowardly Water Wizard creates liquid giants to attack the hellspawned hero. But when the Rider knocks the Wizard unconscious, the watery monsters melt into puddles. Recovered, the Enforcer begins to fire his deadly ray at the skull-faced cyclist. The Ghost Rider creates a flaming creature with his hellfire, distracting the Enforcer — the Rider lays him low with skeletal fists. Blaze unmasks the villain: he doesn’t recognize the man but is surprised by his young age. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Is this stoopid storyline finally over? I don’t know if Jim Shooter felt the need to quickly wrap up the stink bomb left behind by Gerry Conway, but you get the sense that he worked quickly to put this train wreck to bed. I’m not sure if the unmasked Enforcer is supposed to be Coot Collier’s mysterious son: the art is so bad I can’t tell if it was the same character introduced in Ghost Rider #22. The Water Wizard is just about the most cowardly villain I’ve ever encountered: he basically runs for cover when the Ghost Rider shows up at the end, only deciding to create his liquid giants after a water pipe is ruptured by the Enforcer’s ring. “Oh yeah, water, that’s my power!” And it just seems odd that after all these issues, the Ghost Rider basically defeats both opponents with his fists. Not very supernatural. The name of the Enforcer’s goon is an obvious homage to Marvel’s president at the time, Jim Galton. Hmmm. Maybe Shooter’s brown-nosing helped him during his rise to Editor-in-Chief? I’ve constantly complained about the juvenile nature of this series and the Ghost Writers letters page confirms it: third grade teacher Mr. Monk writes in and states that his class voted Ghost Rider as their favorite Marvel character. Probably not a lot of brain surgeons emerged from that group.

It’s a pretty popular move among Ghost-writers to have GR plunge off a cliff, isn’t it?  This time, though, the event provides our issue’s most exciting moment, as we’re reminded that the willful (ie, no longer lunar-dictated) change to GR requires concentration, which might be difficult to maintain as rocks and surf rush up toward you.  I like Shooter’s handling of the character, as the GR persona continues to assert itself, and develop into more than a “spook act;” when GR speaks aloud about the Enforcer paying “dearly” for trying to kill him, it’s no longer the simple tactic of Johnny playing for an audience.

I’m not going to complain about the Heck/Green art (two artists whose respective work I tend to disdain, as you all know by now), because there are many moments that I like (!), particularly the depiction of our title character.  GR’s emergence from the cycle-plummet is very effective, especially the rarely-seen bones visible beneath the torn leathers (p 10); also noteworthy is GR’s appearance, battered and partly enflamed, at the Enforcer’s secret lair (p 16).  It’s crucial to get the skull-shots right, and to their credit, Don+Dan manage that pretty consistently, especially p 16 pnl 3, p 26 pnl 3, and p 31 pnl 7.
Matthew: Like the current Daredevil, this bears a dramatic Kane/Cockrum cover, which makes GR look pretty good, yet alas, that’s one of the few really positive things I can say about an issue epitomizing the book’s arguable slide into its long-term status as a study in mediocrity.  Call me a nitpicker, but I question the characterization of the Water Wizard as an “assassin” when as far as we know, his criminal career to date comprises one successful robbery and one failed (and miserably at that) attack on Johnny.  Any goodwill generated in me by Heck’s Silver-Age Avengers work has long since dissipated, and aside from the always-cool effect of seeing GR’s skeleton through his torn-up leathers, even the sometimes-helpful Green cannot ennoble this one.

Howard the Duck 13
"Rock, Roll Over, and Writhe!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Howard stares at the four strange beings, seemingly generated by Winda's fevered brain.  One of the costumed characters steps forward, and whispers to Howard that he should meet reality head-on, and “kiss it, smack it in the face!”  A moment later, the figures have vanished in the mist, as if they never were – although a quick-thinking intern was able to snag a quick photo, which seems to prove that something had happened.  Nurse Barbara meets with the Director, and informs him that Dr Avery has arranged for an expert to evaluate Winda.  The Director states in vexation that he will determine who should look more closely at Winda's case; but, Nurse Barbara discovers that Dr Avery's choice already has reached the facility: Daimon Hellstrom.  Back in seclusion, Howard recalls for Winda a few moments of his younger years, which he had spent drifting from thing-to-thing, trying out several types of work, but never really settling on anything that felt right to him; Howard claims that, even in childhood, he wanted to be “a derelict – I liked the hours.”  Daimon meets with Winda, and states she is not under any demonic influence.  The manifestation from her mind was probably a one-time expression of a “latent psychic talent;” Winda is relieved to hear she might be released.  Howard tries to ask if he, too, could be cleared to leave, when oversized orderly Cecil shows up and carts Winda away; Howard tries to defend his new friend, and finds himself dismissively flicked into the padded wall for his troubles.  In the meantime, the Director has met with his choice for the expert to evaluate Winda: Rev Joon Moon Yuc! The Rev confirms that, while he might have seemed to have been blown up in an exploding house (as seen in HtD #6), in fact, the Rev landed safely in Delaware (not seen in HtD; we’ll take his word for it).  Winda is winched up, down in the dungeon (sorry, the sub-dungeon), as Rev Yuc tries to draw out the demon – which, as you’ll recall, Daimon had already ruled out.  Daimon storms in, with a somewhat medication-addled Howard along behind him; Daimon challenges the Rev, but as he raises his fingers above in the sign of the trident, Yuc blasts him with the “white wind,” to strip the “tempter’s flame” from him.  Not only has the transformation to his Son of Satan persona been interrupted, but it immediately becomes clear that Yuc has redirected Daimon's dark self to the nearest host, as Howard now has become – the Duck of Satan -! -Chris Blake
Chris: I think we might be about finished with Steve G’s social commentary – for now, that it – as he re-lights the front burners, and turns up the heat under the absurd stew that he’d been cooking for most of Howard’s pre-quack-up run.  It isn’t entirely clear what had provided Howard with his moments of clarity in this issue, although his shared reflections with Winda of the past pressures and setbacks he’d endured seems to have had some cathartic effect (paging Dr Freud – Dr Freud -!); since Howard hasn’t had Bev’s shoulder to grouse on, that welcome moment of connection with Winda might’ve done him a world of good.  Now, if only Dr Avery could get Howard’s meds right, so he wouldn’t be feeling so dopey; oh, and we’ll probably have to figure out some way for him to be un-possessed by Daimon’s dark side.  Let’s add that to Howard’s treatment plan, shall we?  Good thing there’s already an exorcist in the house, but how exactly can Daimon combat a part of himself, when it’s contained in another being?  This should be interesting.
Gene & Steve’s art continues to be a key contributor to the fun of the proceedings.  The members of the clown-rock band are sufficiently goofy-looking, while still resembling their “true” selves; the mysterious director is kept in gloomy shadows (more on him next issue, I hope), as is the de-stimulating isolation room; but, the sight that must be seen to be believed is Howard, not only in the guise of the Son of Satan, but clearly in thrall of Satan’s dark power – now, that’s another image I’d like printed on a coffee mug to take to work, please (pretty please!).
While I think of it: Steve, good idea to include Daimon in the proceedings; he could use a bit of lightening up, and this is just the title for that.  But, no Omega, ok?  Do you promise, Steve . . ?
Matthew: Once I recovered from the disorienting realization that “Swan Song…of the Living Dead Duck!” was not a one-shot, like its Man-Thing model, I began hugely enjoying Gerber’s arc, and this issue—Leialoha’s own swan song on the title—is no exception.  Although I was never a KISS fan, their prudently brief appearance adds a visual zing, especially in page 2, panel 2, and the return of the Reverend Yuc offers many dramatic possibilities.  Perhaps the best aspect of this entry, at least for me, is seeing Steve reunited with Daimon (whom he handled so much better than successor Warner), not in a playful “Howard sees Omega in his delirium” sort of way, but as part of the actual storyline, with its zany fanged-beak “Duck of Satan” cliffhanger.

Mark: The KISS appearance is brief, well-rendered by Dean Gene, and, most significantly as these things go, planted the seeds for the ham-fisted rockers' own glossy one shot mag - printed with their own blood!

Daimon Hellstrom pops up again, making SOS the hardest working exorcist with a cancelled book. More unlikely was the welcome return of Reverend Yuc and his young, brain...if not washed at least vigorously dusted, smiley-faced shock troops, the Yuccies. The Rev., shockingly, is in cahoots with the Big Nurse administration of Ye Ole Snake-Pit, where Howard and Windy are both "vewy, vewy afwaid...!" 

A few flashback panels of our hero on Duckworld, the best being Howard as folk singer, wearing a ginormous pimp hat. And our duck's mental collapse, reducing his caustic wise-guy wit to disconnected brain-farts, finally has him hitting rock bottom. Readers in last month's letters page identified as wanting " see our wondrous waterfowl parodying super-heroes" are about to get their wish, with a big whiff of brimstone as Steve Gerber serve up duckling Son of Satan, complete with pentagram and pitchfork!   

The Incredible Hulk 212
"Crushed by... the Constrictor!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chan

You think you've got problems, having to mow the lawn every other day, clean up after that lousy mutt of yours, and listen to your wife's lousy music in the car on the way to the in-laws? The cast of The Incredible Hulk are having a reeeeeeally bad day. Jim Wilson's got problems. What kind of problems? I'll tell ya. Someone wants to kill him and he can't figure out why. His troubles intensify when the bad guy out to get him turns out to be twelfth-tier villain, the Constrictor! Bruce Banner has his own hands full; his landlady, the suddenly less sexy and flirty April Sommers, wants to know his back story and she wants it quick, or she'll boot Bruce out into the street. Some mid-1970s woman's lib lunacy has suddenly gripped the previously mousey (well, aside from the time she turned into a giant harpy, that is) Betty Ross and she's hit the streets, cutting herself off from her father and husband (only keeping in touch by sending them the monstrous pedicure and massage invoices) en route to a full body make-over in an attempt to grab the vacant acting gig on Charlie's Angels. Jim finally catches up with Bruce but the impetuous little sidekick is nabbed before he can let Banner know what's been going down. Driving the getaway car is the Constrictor and the nut tries to run Banner down, not knowing that excitement isn't really the way to go with the skittish scientist. The Hulk emerges and smashes the auto, saving Jim and setting up the (very short) showdown with the Constrictor. When the baddie attempts to impale our hero with his "wrist-whips," the gizmos pierce a lamp post and Conny is electrocuted. Jim and Hulk walk away, pondering the frailties of life.
- Peter Enfantino

Matthew: Dullsville.  This is the kind of issue that puts to the test my determination to review whatever is in my collection (except for the occasional Human Fly or Shogun Warriors that the Curriculum Committee has mercifully voted down), but to the disappointment of some, I will soldier on.  Ernie once again does well by Sal—although why does Nick look so wrong in page 15, panel 6?—especially on Greenskin himself in page 23, panel 3, and page 30, panel 5.  But it’s in the service of a story filled with inauspicious elements, e.g., Jim Wilson Plight #57, an April-confrontation that goes nowhere, “a whole new Betty Ross” and, above all, our dull heavy, who will return an inexplicably large number of times, most often appearing in Captain America.

Peter: Boy, you called it, Prof. Matthew. This is bottom-of-the-barrel drivel. What do we get here? We get Jim Wilson tracked by an assassin; now, granted, not all of the cards have been shown yet, but why would this mystery man behind the curtain (an "employer on the West Coast") send the Constrictor after a nobody like Jim? And why would Conny hire some thug to do the job for him? And how the heck would it be so hard to kill a runt like Jim? We get the emergence of the newer, sexier, independent Betty Ross Talbot (I'm assuming lyrics from "I Am Woman" were more than the budget allowed), who's obviously been brought up by Thunderlips Ross to believe that, when the chips are down, spend lots of money and all your troubles will fall behind you. She dumps a bundle on new clothes, grabs a room at the city's "poshest" hotel, takes a sensual shower, and then manages to grow her hair longer to boot! Could Betty Ross, Intelligent Escort #1 ("The Most Unique New Title in This, the Marvel Age of Feminism!") be far behind? What ever happened to the sexy, flirtatious April Sommers, a vixen who was always macking on Bruce? She seems to have been replaced by some matronly Body Snatchers-esque faux April this issue. Hopefully, next issue she'll be back to hurling "gorgeous" at Banner rather than suspicion. Oh, and then there's the titular character, who manages to pop up on page 23 for a totally one-sided battle. Favorite line this issue is uttered by the Constrictor in the tension-packed finale: "Curse you, monster! Never before have I been thwarted thus!" You can't get great dialogue like that in just any title.

Matthew: Perhaps Sharon Carter's insistence on a new 'do was infectious?

Chris: Sound decision by Bruce, not to divulge any information to inquisitive April.  I can’t imagine there are too many landlords who’d be pleased to know that they have an unemployed tenant who – provided the proper stimulation – literally could bring the house down.  There’s a part of Bruce that’s drawn to the possibility of a connection with April, but Bruce has learned thru stone-hard experience not to trust anyone too easily with his (literally) earth-shaking truth. 

Two pages devoted to Betty Ross’ makeover is about 1½ pages too many.  Next issue, do we catch up with Glenn and see how his golf game is progressing?  Maybe now that Jim finally has arrived, we could take some time next issue and find out why people are after him – huh, Len? Could we do that, please?  
I nearly forgot – SHIELD just hauled up a huge container emitting gamma radiation.  Do you suppose that might pose a threat to our garrulous green goliath, perhaps ..?

 The Inhumans 11
"Return to Earth!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Keith Pollard and Al Milgrom

Returning to Earth in a commandeered Kree space shuttlecraft, the Inhumans are taken for alien invaders, tangling with Coast Guard cutters and a USMC ’copter before Lockjaw teleports them away. Irate over losing their space station, the Kree dispatch “a malleable energy-mass template…[that] will ultimately transform the first Earth matter it contacts”: a cockroach, which morphs into the Pursuer and attacks the Inhumans as they hurriedly emerge from Madison Square Garden, Gorgon having brought the roof down in his hoof-tapping enthusiasm after they stumbled into a concert by Percussion. They fare badly against his scepter-blaster until Falzon, seeking a weapon, fortuitously finds and deploys a large canister of industrial-strength pesticide. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It appears the confidence inspired in me last time was misplaced, because this penultimate issue is quite a comedown from its predecessor, and Pollard’s art, which looked so good with his own inks there, is undercut by Mooney’s here. The drama inherent in the reason for the Inhumans’ return to Earth is dissipated by these silly encounters, while the cockroach bit could have been a clever gimmick…if Archie Goodwin hadn’t already done it five years ago with the Inheritor in Incredible Hulk #149 (March 1972), and it’s exacerbated by the coincidence of Falzon just happening to stumble on some pesticide to use unwittingly against it. Speaking of whom, even colorist Cohen makes a major mistake, putting Falzon’s uniform onto Triton in page 27, panel 6 (far below).

Chris: Doug decides to take a lighter tone with the team this time, and that’s fine.  The Pursuer is enough of a legitimate threat that we can ignore his cockroach DNA, at least til Falzon unwittingly finds a way to take him down.  So, what’s the plan for the Inhumans now?  Is Lockjaw simply going to continue to transport them from one part of the city to another, to stay one step ahead of the cavalry and the constabulary?  Not much time left to figure that out, Doug; sorry to say.  

I enjoyed Pollard’s self-inked art last issue, but I’m not thrilled with Mooney’s inks over Pollard’s pencils this time.  It’s fine, it’s just not as strong and certain as the look we saw last issue.  Page 17, as Gorgon launches a car into the sky over 7th Avenue, and Black Bolt moves swiftly to rescue the (rightfully shocked) driver, is a clear highlight.  

Iron Fist 13
“Target: Iron Fist!”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Adkins
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Susan Fox
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Danny Rand receives a telegram from his friend Alan Cavenaugh, telling Iron Fist to meet the Irishman at Pier 15 at midnight — Misty Knight accompanies him. As they wait, Misty tells Fist that District Attorney Tower wants her to go undercover to take down a crimelord: no one has survived the assignment so far. Suddenly, the Australian contract killer Boomerang attacks while IRA agents keep Knight pinned down with machinegun fire. Using jet boots to keep his distance, the Aussie assassin pummels the Living Weapon with a variety of armed boomerangs — Iron Fist is eventually blown overboard and into the frigid winter waters. Meanwhile, at the Long Island mansion of Ward Meachum, his niece Joy’s bodyguard, Davos, bursts through the front door. After dispatching Meachum’s bodyguards, he warns the man to resign from Meachum, Inc. His debt to Joy paid in full, Davos vows to kill Iron Fist. Back at the pier, Rand emerges from the brutally cold bay, battered and exhausted. Knight, while relieved that her friend is alive, become furious that he risked his life for a former IRA bomber, further enraged that she lost her left arm to a similar terrorist. She storms off, vowing to take the DA’s case. Iron Fist, with the help of some clues provided by Lieutenant Scarfe, tracks Boomerang, the Irish hitmen and the soon-to-be-executed Alan to a derelict ferry. Once again, he does battle with the downunder deviant. After Rand gets the upperhand, the killer removes the rocketrang from his brow and hurls the device: it increases in size twenty-fold and a magnetic field traps Iron Fist to the smooth surface. Spinning wildly into the sky, the martial arts master manages to twist his body, stabilizing the explosive weapon and changing its course back to the ferry — he then uses an Iron Fist punch to free himself and splash into the ocean below. The rocketrang collides into the ferry and both explode in a tremendous fireball. Iron Fist pulls an unconscious Cavenaugh out of the water to safety. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Just like the Wrecking Crew from the previous two issues, I have a soft spot for Boomerang. And yes, it’s because I first came across them all drawn by John Byrne in the pages of Iron Fist. I think that his costume is super sharp with a nice color combination of blue and purple. I forgot that he was from Australia until I did my background check for this issue. Chris Claremont doesn’t give him a bloomin’ onion accent but he does use the word cobber once. Had to look that up: it’s slang for mate. The character is still active to this day and has seemed to stick to his Villain For Hire mandate. I guess he makes his own weapons — which is pretty impressive for someone who is basically a baseball pitcher gone bad. The rocketrang is quite an invention as it basically breaks the laws of physics. I’m not sure that Iron Fist completely, um, ironed out his plan of turning the thing back towards the ferry: couldn’t Cavenaugh have been killed by the tremendous “Shkow!” explosion? Not that it seemed that the Irishman would have minded all that much, murmuring “Aye … an’ maybe now my nightmare will end” as the flying bomb descends. Obviously the Boomerang survived as well but not sure about the IRA goons. A real killer splash page as Fist vaults over a ship’s rails. He doesn’t exactly wear a costume that’s suited for cold weather, but K’un-Lun seemed a rather cold place, so perhaps he’s used to it. Rock solid all around.

Matthew:  This is dapper Dan’s last issue, not that there are many left, yet with his namesake Green on deck, I’m not hitting the panic button just now. A hallmark of masters like Claremont and Byrne is that they can not only dredge up ancient villains but also make them work, although this turns out to be only partly true of Boomerang, and to say that his new outfit is spiffier than the one he was wearing when last seen inTales to Astonish
#88 (February 1967) is setting the bar pretty low. His Aussie accent is off the charts—my apologies if they really do say stuff like, “Not bad, cobber! You’re a fair dinkum  acrobat”—and don’t get me started on the physics of that miraculously expanding Rocketrang; was its “magnetic field” attracted to Danny’s iron fist?

There’s a Modesty Blaise sight gag in page 6, panel 1, which is considerably easier to read in the luscious Masterworks edition that my working-far-ahead pal Professor Tom recently bequeathed me, as well as a curious incident involving the lettercol. A LOC from one Nick Smith somewhat foolishly demands a No-Prize for spotting the obvious typo in a footnote from #11 reading, “as shown in Iron Fist #16.” What’s weird is the armadillo’s answer: “we could say it was just wishful thinking on Claremont’s part—with the Charismatic One thinking that if it says in the comic that there’ll be an Iron Fist #16, then maybe there actually will be one (all writers being essentially paranoid).” But since the book was struck down in its prime with #15, one wonders...

Chris: Danny’s been pretty busy lately, so it’s within reason he should have a one-and-done adventure.  It helps that Claremont has already established the cast and trappings for this title, so Danny’s opposition to Misty doesn’t require any further setting-up than we see here.  Readers already should be familiar with the notion that Danny and Misty are Going Places, so the conclusion to their brief argument carries an impact, without further processing, at least for now; Byrne captures the moment masterfully, as we see Danny backed by a solid rectangular shape, suddenly splintering and falling away (p 17).  And of course, all the rest of Byrne’s art is great, especially Danny’s wearied emergence from the river (p 15), Misty’s hurt-then-defiant expressions (p 17), and even the flaming bits of debris as they settle back to the water (p 31, pnl 1).

We haven’t been troubled by those bothersome Meachums in a while, with that china-shop-bull Davos prowling around; I’m looking forward to seeing what Ward and Davo (and probably Joy, too) have in store for the K’un Lun kid – coming soon.

The Amazing Spider-Man 169
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Romita and Frank Giacoia

Just hanging around, admiring a hole in his boot, Spider-Man spies and thwarts a bunch of hooligans trying to steal a police paddy wagon. Cut to the Empire State U lab of Marla Madison, where J. Jonah Jameson leaves the Spider-Slayer repair session to grab the infamous envelope of pictures. After a one-page aside to Harry leaving sweet-on-the-outside-but-surely-up-to-no-good Dr. Hamilton's office, the publisher visits his #1 photographer's Chelsea pad. After trying to pry his mask off ("Hey, y-you're…not…wearing…a…mask."), JJJ whips out the damning evidence, but Peter is prepared for the perilous pics by placing a pair of dupes, and showing his own cards—pictures that could have been double exposure to create the ones of Peter as Spider-Man! Jameson is convinced, apologizes (!!!), and leaves in a huff when Peter brings up a raise.

After fixing his boot, a jubilant Spidey bounces around town, wondering who sent the original pics, until he rests just long enough (and coincidentally) to have his spider-sense spot some shadowy figures entering a condemned building. Nabbing one of the goons, Spidey semi-tortures him for info, wraps him up for the cops, and enters the building to find four more costumed goons testing out a Laser-Cannon their boss bought from the Tinkerer (of course). After a short but violent battle, the wall-crawler gets the better of the goons, only to meet their boss—The Kingpin! No, wait, it's another "mountainous shape" with a cigarette holder: Doctor Faustus!--Joe Tura

Joe: Boy, that look on Jameson's face on the cover—talk about the cat who ate the canary! And there are more priceless expressions abounding on pages 10-15, what we presume to be the titular "Confrontation," from Peter's painful shock when JJJ pulls his hair (pg 11, panel 1) to Jonah's "gotcha" look (panel 5) to Peter's faux "thinking" face (pg 14, panel 3) to his joyous "whew" moment when he realizes his photo scam worked (pg 15, last panel)—or did it? The older me believes JJJ gave up a bit too quick. Either he's still plotting something or he's super gullible, or he really is genuine. Nah. And Peter is maybe too cocky, as his photo-play worked so well, he believes Jameson believes without batting an eyelash. My favorite part of the whole scene is JJJ's observation that "this place is almost exactly as I imagined it…decorated in early disgusting!" That's not going to get him invited back!

All in all, that's the main focus of our tale, but we're also given another nibble of no-good Dr. Hamilton, some "a day in the life" Spidey action, and finally a big (no pun intended…OK pun intended) reveal of diabolical Doctor Faustus (last seen in Cap #192 I believe), who always gave me the creeps. Good stuff from Len, Ross and Mike, if not exactly making us feel as tingly as our hero's spider-sense.

In case you were wondering (or even if you weren't) who those kids were standing next to Stan Lee on page 16, panel 4, "The Spider's Web" tells us they're Clancy and Michele, winners of the "super-special SPIDER-MAN DANCE CONTEST on TV's Sunday morning sensation, WONDERAMA." Now, I used to watch "Wonderama" (with the great Bob McAllister), but didn't remember any Spidey dance contest that kids my age could have entered if their parents would have allowed it. I would have killed, Jerry…killed!

Favorite sound effect this month is page 30's "WHUD!" as one of Faustus' goons punches Spidey in the gut a bunch of times, only to have his hands broken when, as our hero states, "Just a matter of tightening your spider-strong stomach muscles so you can't feel a thing!" Well, wasn't that easy!

Matthew: I read the lettercols first, so it was fun to go from the LOC in which 20-year-old Frank Miller (yes, that one) lauds Ross’s “largely unnoticed” efforts to that groovy splash page, with its delightfully disorienting angle—reinforced by the skewed title—of Spidey clinging to the wall. Speaking of visuals, an unusual issue prompts an unusual cover, and this one, eschewing the standard super-villain until its last-page reveal of the dreaded Dr. Faustus, gets a humdinger from Jazzy Johnny, with its leering but not Spider-Slayer-enabled JJJ. Len’s having Peter reverse-engineer those faux-tos was a brilliant touch; we’ve seen stories, if too rarely, in which his scientific smarts save the day...but how often have his photographic abilities?

Jonah’s the kinda guy my father would’ve described as “a piece a’ work.”  Jonah’s ego strength is so unshakable that he now has convinced himself that Spider-Man (somehow) has to be masquerading as Peter Parker; any other explanation is inconceivable to him (that’s right, it’s in-con-SEEVE-able).  Peter’s been expecting all along that Jonah would accuse him of being Spider-Man; he certainly wasn’t prepared for Jonah to believe that Spider-Man might be hiding under a Peter Parker disguise.  Andru’s illustration from Jonah’s POV, as he’s trying to yank the world’s-finest Mission: Impossible plastic/rubber mask from Peter’s head, by pulling it from the top (p 11, pnl 1), contributes beautifully to the absurdity of the situation.  Peter’s honestly amazed reaction (ordinarily, it is we, the audience, who are amazed, right?) probably helps to defuse Jonah’s fervor, and accept Peter’s mostly-well-rehearsed explanation.  The fact that Peter hasn’t anticipated Jonah’s question about how the alleged photo-forger might’ve gotten his hands on Peter’s photos, which then requires Peter to scramble for an answer (“Uh . . . well, Harry and I were roommates . . .”), is a big part of the appeal of this title, as this moment reminds us that Peter is a credible, human character, and not your typically infallible Master of Everything.  

Mark: The pleasures here are slight. Some Photo-Shop fun with Jonah after the dyspeptic publisher goes hair-pulling girl fight on poor Pete, trying to rip off a mask he's not wearing.

The Smiling One and new toupee get a one panel cameo. And that's about it, as Len's bad habits have become addictions. The poor sap can't keep away from garishly clad goon squads, here in purple unis, topped with orange, Magneto-like helmets. That fashion disaster brought to you by minor-new-wrinkle crossover villain, Doctor Faustus.

Let's hope the bad brain doc injects a little insanity into the proceedings, next time. For this one, three words will do.


2001: A Space Odyssey 7

"The New Seed"

Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Astronaut Gordon Pruett walks along the cool, green landscapes of his native Colorado. He is at peace, not knowing or caring who he really is and that he is aging rapidly. He is also blissfully unaware his homeland is just a construct, given to him by the monolith, which begins his transformation from human to Star Child. Once the change has taken place, the child begins its incredible journey through the cosmos. He sees giant, advanced civilizations and horrible war-torn worlds. One such world grabs his attention. A planet near its end is under siege by its own inhabitants. Ruthless criminals who rape and pillage their way through the ruins. They attack a young woman and before they can commit their vile deeds upon her, the woman’s salvation comes in the form of a young man trying to save his world. Yet, there is no hope for them. While he is able to save her for a time, that time is fleeting and just as they have found each other, they are cut down by the same pack of criminals they fought against. However, the Child cannot see their spirits pass into nothing. He absorbs their essence and takes it to another far-off world, one in the early stages of existence. While the building blocks of life are not yet in place, the Child deposits the life energies into the ocean. Perhaps, many millennia hence, life will indeed flourish here. The Child moves on…. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: And that’s all there is to this issue. By now, I am well aware of the falseness of Kirby’s hyperbole. This was no crazy, mind-bending adventure. Instead, it is a toothless, run of the mill story that shows us nothing new or makes us question anything other than, “why did I spend all this time reading this?” No real characters exist to give the incidents any weight or meaning. It’s just a collection of intriguing drawings with too many empty words littering the panels. Next…

Chris: I collected a few back-issues of 2001 primarily so that I could catch up on the early adventures of Machine Man.  Yes, I really did – no, I’m not kidding.  I happened to have picked up this non-Machine Man story along the way.  It’s . . . different.  I appreciate the way Kirby explains the role of the Monolith as an “agent of change,” and obviously the New Seed provides a similar service here; since I had no issues of 2001 older than this one, I wasn’t aware that Kirby replayed this plotline nearly every time.  

I have dim recollections of this particular issue, which simply tells me that I didn’t re-read it as often as some of my other older comics; it’s not exactly a whiz-bang of a story, and Kirby ladles on some deep concepts, so I’m not surprised I’d spent more time re-reading  my old Fantastic Four comics, and others like that.  My clearest memories are of the sequence with the man rescuing the imperiled woman, and then getting shot, followed by the woman also buying it, as death rules the descended-into-chaos planet by “right of holocaust.”  Pretty grim stuff there, Mr Kirby. 

The Invaders 17
"The Making of Warrior Woman, 1942!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Equipped with a Brain Drain-designed “special belt-apparatus” that translates speech, Hitler gloats over the Invaders’ capture by Master Man (freed by spies from confinement by the Liberty Legion), and confirms that the P.F.C. was abducted because he is thought to have knowledge of the Super-Soldier Formula. William Joseph “Biljo” White gives only name, rank, and serial number to Madame Rätsel (Mystery), who betrayed him, but under hypnosis reveals that he got drunk with a childhood friend, Dr. Anderson, and learned that the ingredients included potassium. Combining that with the fragments of Brain Drain’s formula, she is about to test it on herself when caught red-handed by Hauptman (Captain) Schneider, whom she hurls into the machinery.

The ensuing explosion makes Rätsel—who took the blast that would’ve killed Biljo—bigger and stronger, and also sets swaying the “strength-sapping globe ” that imprisons Namor, enabling him to swing it into the tanks holding the Torches, who melt Cap and Bucky’s chains. Der Führer is in the process of surrendering to the Torches when their flames are doused with a hose by the black-leather-clad, whip-wielding Krieger-Frau (Warrior Woman), who then hurls Cap from the top of “Hitler’s eastern fortress” to his apparent death. Even Subby is no match for the man-hater when she is teamed up with “that incompetent bungler Master Man ,” and the episode ends with Hitler planning the public execution in Berlin of the remaining, recaptured Invaders quartet. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Our fetishist’s-wet-dream cover girl must set some sort of record, because with all of the aliases, translations, and misspellings from this issue and the last, she is variously called Julia, Agent Drei, Agent Three, Madame Rätzel, Madame Mystery, Madame Rätsel,Frau RätselKrieger-Frau, and Warrior Woman. Roy’s a little lazy with his plotting, giving the Nazis a universal translator in ’42—the title being a play on Theodore White’s The Making of the President, 1960 et al.—and the bit with the formula is muddy. Later doses of Brain Drain’s re-creation decupled (x 10) Master Man’s strength, but it’s still considered imperfect; the one ingredient Biljo recalls just happens to be the Nazis’ missing “final element”; and is it a formula, an apparatus, or what?

The mere mention of Berchtesgaden induces a frisson, due to a unique personal note. Soon after my parents were married in 1952, my Dad was stationed as an Army doctor in Germany, where my oldest brother was born, and they had occasion to visit Berchtesgaden, although whether the actual Kehlsteinhaus—the “Eagle’s Nest” retreat presented to Hitler on his 50th birthday, with which I suspect Mooney took considerable liberties last issue—or just the town below, my Mom can’t recall (print the legend, says I). There, Dad, uh, appropriated a swastika-embossed wine cloth, on which I have actually laid eyes, although its current whereabouts are unknown, just as it is now uncertain whether the wine stain on it was indigenous or applied Stateside subsequently…

Chris: It took me a while to understand why the Nazis are so intent to acquire the super-soldier formula – after all, doesn’t their formula allow Master Man to fly?  I didn’t realize that the Master Man formula had been lost along with its developer, Brain Drain.  I really thought the gang was going to rescue Pvt Biljo White and jet back to London (although, I guess they might have to borrow a horse-cart, won’t they, since Namor’s flagship was brought down by Master Man last ish), but obviously Roy feels that more fun can be mined in the present storyline.  Amusing bit from Roy as adolf tells us that he has a translator built into his belt (no further explanation), but the highlight for me was when Cap called him “Herr Schicklegruber”!  I feel like I should know what that is; even though I don’t, Cap still seems to have gotten in a nifty zinger there.  

Matthew:  Schickl[e]gruber was the original surname of Hitler's father, Alois (an illegitimate child), and the name was often used to insult Adolf.

1 comment:

  1. Avengers #160 was colored during a literal blizzard. Roger took DAK 16 blocks the wrong way from his new apartment before revealing he had genuinely no idea where they were going.
    Slifer was also co-headwriter and creator of many elements of the 80s cartoon, Jem!