Wednesday, December 2, 2015

May 1977 Part One: Howard Wanted the Best and Howard Got the Best -- KISS!

Howard the Duck 12
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 wakes in a jail cell, and is hauled to traffic court before Judge Hiram Balogna, to face a charge of disturbing the peace.   Already present are Winda, and a carefully made-up older woman, carrying a cane – Howard does a double-take, as he asks himself: could this be the Kidney Lady -?  The woman, a Mrs S. Blotte, offers to the court her woeful tale: not long ago, she was an innocent farm girl, until a metaphysical book salesman came to her house.  The man, Elmer Blotte by name, sold the girl a book, and applied the proceeds to bus tickets for them both; Elmer whisked the young girl away, to bedazzle her with the bright lights, glamour, and romance of Cleveland.  It blew by in a whirl, until Elmer was drafted, never to be seen again.  He left her with the unpaid hotel bill, and a copy of the book he was hawking, entitled: The Human Kidney: Seat of the Soul.  As the judge helps the (seemingly) harmless old woman to the courtroom door, Howard wigs out, hollering how Mrs Blotte had started the whole bus-fracas.  Judge Balogna dismisses Howard’s defamatory statements, and in light of his recent outbursts, sentences him (and Winda, who still expects an exorcism) to ninety-days’ confinement in the Sauerbraten County Mental Facility.  Upon arrival, Howard changes into a too-large hospital gown (what, no duck sizes -?), and is escorted by an oversized orderly named Cecil to a nice, dark, quiet, windowless, softly-padded room.  Howard can’t tolerate being left alone with his thoughts, and the persistent voice in his head; after he’s pounded on the door, Cecil offers pills to Howard, which he flatly refuses – that is, until Howard is subjected to another ten seconds alone in the room, prompting a desperate “WAAAAAUGH,” and a surrender to pharmacology.  A calm, dull Howard briefly meets with Winda as he waits his turn to meet with Dr Morton Avery, their psychiatrist; in his haze, Howard hardly recognizes her.  Howard’s brief, and somewhat unproductive session (Howard is able to say little more than, “Hah ..?”) is interrupted by a bloodcurdling shriek from the hallway – Howard follows the doctor out of the office, where they discover four spandex-clad, heavily made-up figures, who seemingly are emerging from the head of Winda -! -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: When Howard was first coming unglued, I had chalked it up to exhaustion, no doubt due to his coming-down from the wild ride of the presidential election process.  Now, as I think back over Howard's experience in the land of hairless apes, I can point to a more profound stressor that could have contributed, more than anything else, to Howard's quack-up.  He's been witness to a wide range of pointless, empty, human pursuits: financial might (in the person of Pro-Rata); childish fantasies of super-heroics (as Bev-worshipping Arthur became Turnip-Man); senseless violence, both as entertainment and in street-thuggery (as the Master of Quak-Fu overcame the homicidal bullying of Macho); manipulation of the masses thru cult-religion (Rev Joon Moon Yuc).  And then, consider his efforts to help Paul Same (whose experience might resonate most closely to Howard's), as Howard took note of the pressures to perform and produce that caused Paul to shut down.  Howard could be said to be experiencing nausea, as Sartre had formulated the concept; Howard’s sense of disconnection from the hairless-ape reality and its twisted, soul-sapping mores, and his inability to escape from societal pressures, could be contributing to Howard’s doubts of his very existence, and a retreat into madness.  
The last page features an appearance by ‘70s novelty act Kiss; their inexplicable cameo has made this a ridiculously costly back-issue, either because fans of the band wanted it, or because mainstream comics fans were intrigued to see how a Vegas act would fit in a comic book; well, if any group was ever tailor-made for the comics, this would be the one. Gene & Steve clearly had fun bringing them to the page.

Yes, I really did reference Jean-Paul Sartre in my comments for a HtD comic.  Now who’s the one who needs to be committed, and to have a long, quiet rest from big bad depersonalizing reality..?
Matthew Bradley: I’m sure I’ve re-read most of these comics at least once since they were published, but especially having entered my sixth decade, I forget a lot.  So even though—as noted elsewhere—we’re told on this month’s Bullpen Page that Steve is spearheading “a giant-size comic featuring the adventures of that wildest of all rock groups,…[which] has been in the talking stages for some time now…but [is] finally and officially underway,” it was still a supreme WTF moment for me when Gerber gave KISS a cameo on that last page.  Said page beautifully reminds us that Gene (Colan, not Simmons) is tremendously talented, eminently suited to Howard, and well matched with Leialoha, whose penultimate issue this unfortunately is.

Mark Barsotti: "By zeroing in on Howard's mind, we run the risk of 'boring' some readers," Steve Gerber admits on the letter page, meaning those "...who prefer to see our wondrous waterfowl parodying super-heroes...and performing feats of derring-do."

Well, we're definitely not bored enjoying comedic bits like the Kidney Lady, tarted-up with her "Mamie Eisenhower look," pretending to be a frail dowager in court, but the real risk isn't a lack of Space Veggie villains or the cuckoo's nest setting of Howard's "struggle to tame his own mind," but that our iconoclastic rebel doesn't seem to be struggling much at all. 

It's not derring-do that's missing, but Howard's caustic comments and satiric assaults. And speaking of Cuckoo's Nest, Randall P. McMurphy style nuthouse polemics are a tailor-made template for our duck-billed Howard Beale, but instead we got more random thought balloons - "Stalinist. Hokum. Newt." - as our hero is reduced to meekly submitting to Big Nurse Cecil's take-your-meds authority.

Sure, sure, Gerbs is beating our hero down so that he can rise again - one assumes that's the game plan anyway; with Gerber ya never know - but making Howard a daffy Duck shouldn't mean making him docile.

Gene Colan whips the graphics up into a tart, tasty froth, as always, and with freakin' KISS arising in smoky, astral form from the prone, possessed form of wisping Winda, odds are good that docility won't be a concern when Gene starts puking blood.

The Avengers 159
"Siege By Stealth and Storm!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Sal Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by "Doc Martin"
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Having defeated Earth's Mightiest Heroes (!) pretty handily, Frank Hall, aka Graviton, has got himself one very enlarged head and is even now deciding the world's fate. The military finally notices the large city that Graviton has torn from the ground once it moves into the skies over Manhattan and dispatches jets to destroy it. Having been off on solo adventures, The Black Panther and The Mighty Thor were not among the fallen Avengers and so join forces and head for the floating town. Thor has his troubles with Graviton but the diversion allows the Panther to set the other Avengers free and, thanks to a bit of illusion on Jarvis' part, the team beats the baddie down and also eliminates the danger of the trillion ton dirt clod. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: A rousing climax to a story that had a bit of a shaky start. I must admit to being a wee bit skeptical about the Black Panther's chances of saving the day when all his super-powered buds had been handled pretty easily last issue but Jim Shooter does a nice job (probably the first time I've ever admitted to Shooter doing a good job so take note...) of working in a believable scenario. Something I didn't mention in the synopsis was the faked suicide of Frank Hall's love, Judy, and Jarvis' rescue of said dame. The scene where Graviton realizes the woman he loves would rather be dead than hang out with a psycho is a strong and powerful one but is muted considerably by the last page reveal that she's alive and well at Avengers Mansion and, ostensibly, munching on Avenger's (sic) Oatmeal Cookie's (sic).

Chris: Longtime readers might’ve been confused by the cover, which features a longtime member who has been missing from these pages for almost a year (Thor), and another who has been gone longer than that (Panther).  Shooter bends the rules a bit, as he has both appear without explanation; while we could accept that T’Challa might’ve been watching ABC-TV Eyewitness news over at the Wakandan embassy when he heard of Graviton’s threat, the presence of Thor is harder to figure, since we all know that he’s searching the trackless void of space for signs of the missing Odin – isn’t he -?  

It would be hard to tell this story without Thor, though, since Graviton proves to be a formidable opponent; not sure how his gravity powers enable him to fire force bolts, but that’s okay.  Two nice twists toward the end, as Graviton is undone not by the Avengers’ might, but by Judy’s apparent suicide (foreshadowed only by her turning from him mid-battle, p 15 1st panel), which leads to him overtaxing his power, so that he loses control and it turns against him. 

The Buscema/Marcos art is solid throughout – there would be few better art teams for this title, in the absence of Pérez; I especially enjoy the way the sky-island moves, and then hovers, threateningly, over the city (p 7), and how the gravitational force is strong enough to compress the island into a neat, incredibly dense ball (p 30).  I’m impressed that the Avengers were able to catch it, but not sure how they were able to throw the multi-million ton sphere.  Well, it’s not like they could leave it there blocking traffic, right?
Matthew: I consider page 14 a low point in this title’s 159-issue history:  I was already distraught at how frequently and easily these so-called “mightiest heroes” have been defeated of late, but to see them like a bunch of butterflies pinned to the wall by this nothing neophyte heavy (an “aura of intensified gravity” that can deflect bullets?  How does that work?) is too much.  I like the idea of T’Challa and Thor coming to the aid of their sometime teammates, in spite of the continuity problems with their own books, but what’s with page 10, panel 5?  Does Jarvis keep a full set of those little gold Avengers-Oscars in a drawer someplace, just displaying whoever’s on active duty, and has he really written them off so rapidly after all of their many travails?  Yikes...

In for a penny, in for a pound, so let’s tackle another outrage, this one in page 17, panel 5, and I’m not even talking about that deus ex machina “field disruptor” oh-so-conveniently borrowed from Stark’s lab in their H.Q., but rather the structure itself.  Traditionally and correctly, it has been referred to as “Avengers Mansion,” and although I may raise a few eyebrows by resorting to a sports allusion, the obvious analog is something like Giants Stadium.  The recent, wholly inexplicable trend of calling it “Avengers’ Mansion” (grammatically acceptable only if preceded by “the”), as it is elsewhere in this issue, is already a pet peeve, but here, the ultimate indignity is inflicted:  “Avenger’s Mansion.”  I won’t even comment on offenses against the laws of physics.

Joe Tura: So much for Graviton! And like many Marvel baddies before and after, he's dispatched by his own ego. But he almost wins due to the egos of the Avengers, notably Thor and Iron Man. Ironically, the Avenger with the smallest ego of all saves the day—Jarvis! Although, there's something to those stuffy Brits that gives them a built-in ego, so maybe he just hides it well amongst the heroes he looks after. Meanwhile, the solid Sal & Pablo artwork delights, as the Shooter script flows, and we get the welcome return of the Black Panther, completely out of nowhere as Iron Man can confirm, "Who--? You! But…How--?" That nearly ruins his big escape from Graviton's stone prison, which I always thought was nicely thought out. Overall, we continue the run of Avengers excellence with this one, and we know "Gravvie" will probably return, as most good villains do. Wait, does that mean he's a good villain? What am I thinking?

The Amazing Spider-Man 168
"Murder on the Wind!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ed Hannigan and John Romita

At the Rockefeller Center Ice Rink, the three-way battle begins when the JJJ Spider-Slayer's chest-light passes through Will-O-The-Wisp and breaks the hypnotic spell on Spider-Man, who smashes the Slayer toward WOTW, who suddenly feels pain in his head and disappears. The fight picks up between Spidey and the Slayer, with our hero winning when the robot smashes into, and is trapped under, the statue of Prometheus—leaving JJJ to bemoan how much money this will cost him! Swinging back to his apartment, Peter discovers the pictures of Clone-Peter in the envelope JJJ had in his desk, as uptown we meet the mastermind behind WOTW—coke-bottled criminal Dr. Jonas Harrow, who wants the ethereal enigma to destroy Spider-Man—or else more agony awaits!

Peter concocts something with the incriminating pix, then enjoys an interesting visit from Mary Jane (wink wink nudge nudge!), before swinging back to the Bugle as Spidey and returning the envelope to the publisher's desk. Then, above Times Square, WOTW attacks! The tormented soul wonders if he should go through with this mission of killing Spidey, who he finds to be noble, but with Harrow watching from the crowd, he must! As he takes the battle to where no innocent bystanders can be harmed, we learn Wisp's powers came from an accident that destroyed the "natural magnetic adhesion" of his body's molecules, and he has to hold himself together through the force of his will. Using his abilities to zap Spidey with some electrical energy from a neon sign, he suddenly halts, since he's not a murderer, and leaps off the sign towards Harrow, but instead, since his concentration lapsed, his molecules scatter in the wind.-Joe Tura

Joe: OK, how is it "Introducing" the Will-O-The-Wisp as the cover states, when he was technically introduced last issue? It's small things like that which keep this issue from being excellent, and knock it down to very good. But there is much to like, class! The constant breaking of panels by Ross & Mike is dynamic and interesting. The action scenes are cool, including a crazy spinning front kick by Spidey on page 2 that would make my Joshu at Tiger Schulmann's jealous! And WOTW, not the most memorable of characters, turns out to be a formidable adversary, and one with a heart, seemingly sacrificing himself to save his soul.

But on the other hand, if there was a drinking game where you have to do a shot every time Spidey says "Wispy," there's no way to make it to the last page without passing out. Way too many Wispys. Harrow is a sneaky one, and it would have been nice to see him get what's coming to him, but I guess Len can't wrap everything up so neatly. As expected, JJJ's Spider-Slayer plan goes awry, costing him a ton of money in clean-up, and possibly more if Peter's plan with the perilous pictures goes well—but we're left hanging on that one for another time. And let's not forget this month's Hostess ad, a real lackluster effort with Captain America fighting "The Sore Sir's Apprentices" over some cup cakes. Yikes.

Favorite sound effect is not the "AAARRRR" as Wispy falls to his atom-scattering demise, but the near chuckle-inducing "SPRANNNNG!" as the Spider-Slayer smashes into the famous Rockefeller Center statue, bringing out a positively priceless expression from JJJ on the last panel of page 10 (far below).

Matthew:  It appears that even with the EIC transition-dust presumably settled by now, the days of the crazy credits are not over:  this issue inexplicably lists Irv Forbush as “Referee.”  Unsurprisingly, I don’t care for the conclusion of this two-parter any more than I did the top half; to my list of dislikes (e.g., this particular Spider-Slayer, the Will-o’-the-Wisp) you can add Jonas Harrow, who looks like a refugee from some underground comic, and what’s with those glasses?  Methinks it should be he, not WOTW, who’s hypnotizing people.  In all fairness, this may be more of a personal preference than a value judgment, but while I do think the shot of the chagrined JJJ in page 10, panel 5 is all kinds of wrong, the photo subplot is at least intriguing.

Addendum: Okay, I bow to "ethereal enigma."

Chris: It's a testament to the Marvel mentality that Will-o’-the-Wisp isn't a simple, one-dimensional baddie; it's clear to us that he's reluctant to dance to Harrow's tune.  Spidey’s appeal to Will’s humanity comes off as a self-preservation measure, as he tries to convince Will to break off the flow of electricity that’s got Spidey all a-jangle; unfortunately, though, Spidey’s argument seems only to give Will the incentive to try to attack Harrow directly, which results in him being molecularly dissipated. I hate it when that happens. 

Chris: Jonah knows he'll be responsible for restoring the statue to its rightful place, and he knows he's going to have to pay for it -- that seems to be all he's concerned about.  His latest Spider-squasher is flattened, he's damaged a city landmark, and possibly left himself open to criminal charges and civil lawsuits; but, all he's thinking about is: how much is this going to cost me -?  Typical.
The art is a little on the scratchy side, as if Esposito had to rush his finishes, or something.  Okay, so maybe the fine points are left a little short this time; it's not typically a problem with this team on this title.  No, the aspect of the art worth noting is Ross's latest display of a NYC locale; this time it’s Times Square, specifically the iconic ads that towered above the streets in the 1970s, hawking cigarettes, booze, soda, home electronics, etc.  I especially appreciate Andru’s choice to include a lesser-known, ground-level feature of the Square, when Spidey vaults onto Father Duffy’s statue (p 26, pnl 3).  Ross's depiction allows the reader to wonder at the possibility of the Spidey vs Will battle actually taking place in a recognizable setting, which brings an air of semi-reality to the proceedings, and contributes to my enjoyment of the showdown.  
One more observation about the art: do you suppose Andru purposefully presented Harrow to resemble an R. Crumb character, with his scruffy face, bottle-glasses, and especially the wigged-out eyes?  I mean, as an art guy, Andru had to have been familiar with Crumb's nutty-looking humans, right?  So, is this a little homage to that style, or is it Andru riffing on that look, and subversively inserting an "underground" character into one of the most mainstream of titles -?  I wonder . . . 

Mark: Len delivers his second consecutive winner, hopefully sparking a hot streak a year and half plus into his mostly stink-a-roo run on Marvel's signature title.

Spidey pins J.J.'s umpteenth Spider-Slayer under the statue of Prometheus in the Rockefeller Center skating rink by P. 7, then freaks out over the clone-burning pix, pilfered from Flattop's desk. After a make-out with MJ interlude, our hero returns the (one assumes) doctored photos to our loveable publisher's desk at the Bugle. Wispy, under the thumb of Coke bottle-beglassed Jonas Harrow (creator of Hammerhead) proves more than a Quicksilver clone, his backstory left a mystery as he nobly gives up his life by refusing to take Webs.

Ross Andru delivers plenty of detailed NYC atmosphere and - bonus points - there's nary a scuba-suited, tommy-gun-wielding gunsel in sight.

So to sum up, class: fast-paced, believable action, a hangdog, momentarily-chastised J.J., a dollop of romance and a redemptive death, with our hero left clueless that he's still being targeted by a myopic mad scientist. 

Even Steve Ditko might enjoy this one.  

The Black Panther 3
"Race Against Time"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

T'Challa, Abner Little, and Princess Zanda have hopped aboard a rocket ship bound for King Solomon's Burial Chamber, where they hope to find the twin to the Brass Frog. The ship runs into a little turbulence and the crew are forced to crash land. Their alien prisoner, Hatch-22, is freed and wreaks havoc in the Chamber. The heroes know they have to find the second Frog to send Hatch back whence he came. Opening one of the doors, they confront an Ogar, a huge, powerful metal monster designed to guard the Chamber. Only some quick thinking on Abner's part and an errant beam of energy from Hatch-22 save the day. Thanks to yet another errant "disintegrating beam" launched from the alien's head, the Panther and his crew stumble into Solomon's treasure chamber and, at last, the other Brass Frog! Joining the pair of antiquities together, they send Hatch-22 back to his own time. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Jana C. Hollingsworth of Bellingham, Washington wins "Best Letter of the Month" with her (?) insightful thoughts on the Panther's new direction. Calling out Jack Kirby for what Jana senses is The King's dislike of Don McGregor's "Panther vs. the Klan" storyline, Jana points out that:

Like a living, breathing human being, a comics super hero must grow, develop, and change in a manner consistent with his original creation - but change he must. As originally presented in Fantastic Four #52 and 53, the Panther was not the crazy cosmic character you've depicted. He was the chieftan of an African nation which combined its traditional heritage with western super-science.

I couldn't have said it any better and won't try but I'll just say that this here series is pointing out an important factor in re: The Black Panther. Perhaps T'Challa is best served in a team book like The Avengers or Fantastic Four rather than forced to carry a title on his own. Jack seems to sense that though, since the Panther is relegated to co-star status in this new series. The pay-off, Hatch-22's return to his own world, is woefully anticlimactic but the build-up is exciting and, as usual, dynamically presented.

Matthew: “He is using the faculty of anti-gravity,” says Mr. Little of Hatch 22; maybe we should pit him against Graviton from the current Avengers, where I was overjoyed to see the real Panther instead of this Jack-simile.  But if you really want an arcane inter-title juxtaposition, try this on for size:  I’d been remarking upon Claremont’s evident fascination with the “Great Whatsit” from Kiss Me Deadly (1955), first in the late, lamented Black Goliath, and then in the short-lived Ms. Marvel.  When I saw the smoldering boots in page 26, panel 2, all that remained of the Ogar, I immediately flashed forward to the motorcycle cop incinerated by the contents of the car trunk in Repo Man (1984)—a film as surely influenced by Robert Aldrich’s as Chris was.

Captain Marvel 50
"To Begin Anew!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin
Colors by Petra Goldberg and Roger Slifer
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Al Milgrom

Iron Man is testing the life-support module for a planned Jupiter launch when a figure wearing a green variant of his own armor destroys the probe and identifies itself as the Super-Adaptoid, who oozed free after an explosion (in IM #91) cracked the cylinder that had held his remains since his acid-bath (#51).  Retaining his adaptive powers even in liquid form, he assumed the identity of a Stark employee, reabsorbing Iron Man’s power in passing, and seeks to kill all of the Avengers, covering his retreat by endangering Stark’s staff.  Meanwhile, Ethan and Elizabeth offer a home to the stranded Mac-Ronn and the now-mindless Ronan as another, more menacing Kree doctor, Minerva, nears Earth and observes Mar-Vell, apostrophizing, “beware!”

Mar-Vell flies to New York for a sold-out concert, where Rick learns that he and Dandy are each popular enough for Mordecai to dissolve the team, and receives a surprise backstage visit from Jarvis, who invites him back to Avengers Mansion.  They arrive shortly after the Adaptoid, who is not only trouncing the Vision, Scarlet Witch, Beast, and Captain America but also absorbing their powers.  Failing to break through the sealed front door, Rick trades places with Mar-Vell, who realizes that despite Wanda’s warnings, allowing the android to adapt his power is the key to his defeat:  he is sufficiently disoriented by experiencing cosmic awareness that Mar-Vell can slam together his “facsimile Nega-Bands,” sending him to the Negative Zone—in place of Rick. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: According to Herr Edelman’s self-congratulatory blog, “Readers expect that they’re going to get something special in the 50th issue of a comic, and even though I only started writing Captain Marvel with issue #49, I knew I had to deliver that something.  Having the Avengers guest star would probably have been big enough, but I decided to do something bigger—I changed the paradigm by unlinking Rick Jones and Captain Marvel, who for many years had been unable to appear in this dimension at the same time.  I used the Super-Adaptoid to do it, in a twist that still seems satisfying to me.”  I’m sure it does, Scotty, but your conveniently selective memory persists: unlinked by Englehart and Milgrom in #39, they were only relinked by Conway in #47.

While I’m accentuating the negative, you’d think that former Assistant Editor Edelman, or at the very least current Editor in Chief Goodwin, might’ve known that Stark Industries has been Stark International for, oh, I don’t know, years.  And I’m not sure which is more pretentious, the lyrics Scott (admittedly not the first to do so) attributes to Rick in page 15, panel 2, or the fact that he feels it necessary to include a copyright notice—’cause everybody’s gonna try to steal those.  He also has an interesting definition of “guest star,” since Marv doesn’t even appear until page 10 of his own book, but to give credit where it’s due, his twist ending actually is satisfying, and even the Milgrom/Austin artwork generally rises to the occasion, especially on that “symbolic splash.”

Chris: It’s easily the most satisfying issue of CM we’ve seen in awhile.  “But wait—" you say; “Mar-vell’s hardly even in the issue!”  Yes, it’s a fair point, but I understand how Edelman wanted CapMarv held back until he could deliver the decisive blow.  The decision to involve the rarely-employed cosmic awareness is sound, especially as it provides an illustration for another use of this power.  But, the idea of dispatching the Super-Adaptoid is inspired, since it: 1) makes for an exciting conclusion to our story, especially after the S-A had seemed to be building up to a critical mass of invincibility; and 2) allows for a re-separation of Marv and Rick.  Twenty bonus points – no, fifty, fifty points! – to Edelman for finding a way to do this.  

Not to throw cold water on this welcome development, but I have a question: what’s to stop the Adaptoid from using his wrist bands for a quick ka-tang back from the Neg Zone ..?  Well, the answer can be found on the letters page of CM #52, as the enterprising armadillo informs us that there is only one set of nega-bands in our universe, currently worn by Mar-Vell alone; once the Adaptoid zips into the Neg-Zone, his faux-bands disappear.  Well, I can accept that.
Random thoughts: sign me up anytime for a guest appearance by the Avengers; Edelman does well by the team, especially the Beast (“Hey, watch it!...That’s my skin you’re fillin’ your fist with!”).  Best art we’ve seen yet from the Milgrom/Austin team, with most of the appeal deriving from Austin’s finishes (the climactic scene on p 31 is an obvious choice for a highlight, so let me also include the Beast’s shield-grab – with his feet – on p 16, pnl 2).  And, I wonder why the Avengers never received Iron Man’s urgent radio message (p 10, pnl 2) -?

The Champions 13

"The Doom That Went On Forever!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Bob Layton
Colors by Bruce Patterson and George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom

Seeing the bomb growing out of Champs H.Q., Black Goliath scales the wall to investigate, only to be drawn inside as the others brace for battle with the beast men of Kamo Tharn (sic), and the chagrined Hercules realizes that his runestaff—the object of the exercise—is already on Earth, stolen with Sif on her beloved’s behalf in Thor #235.  As they struggle, Laynia makes a vital discovery:  the vestigial portal intended to reopen for their return is shrinking, the Stranger evidently unable to maintain it while fighting the bomb, so she plunges through, hoping to hold it with her Darkfield.  An uncomprehending Bobby follows and, finding himself in the vacuum of space, risks fatal dehydration to create a protective sphere out of his body’s moisture.

Inside the bomb, BG unwisely tries to smash it, triggering defense mechanisms that create robots his size, and faring little better than the Champs do against winged demon and flaming rock-monster.  As they emerge from the portal, Laynia is too preoccupied with explanations to heed the lovesick Bobby’s pain, and the Stranger listens while the bomb resumes its growth, dispatching the robots it senses are no longer needed.  Opening another rift, the Stranger enables her to retrieve the staff from a hospital broom-closet, adding his power to hers as they make the bomb expand forever; realizing their minds have been manipulated, Angel thrashes their tormentor, and as the Stranger departs, the Champs rematerialize on Earth, rejoining Laynia, Bobby, Reggie, and Black Goliath. 

-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Am I the only one who remembers—or, more likely, cares—that when introduced, he was Kamo Tharnn, not Tharn, which as far as I’m concerned makes that his real name, at least until he’s rebranded post-Bronze as the Possessor?  Herc’s head-smack (page 3, panel 1) is priceless as he realizes that this trip was not, as they said in WW II, “really necessary,” and he’s been delivered straight into the hands of the vengeful Kamo, best known today for his hunting garb.  The clever layout of pages 16-17, as Byrne frames the battle scenes with two identical vertical shots of the Champs standing transfixed before their foe, clues us in before they are to the fact that they have been fighting—and losing—against phantoms, and all of their travails have been in their minds...

This is a worthy successor to its sublime predecessor, full of grace notes (“Two spheres, one snow-white, the other jet-black, move silently through space”) and intrigue (GR vocalizes his prejudice against Laynia, but is cut off before he can respond when Tash says, “I was a defector, too, Johnny!”).  Action, drama, and characterization are uniformly excellent, with the Stranger once again a standout, and the Byrne/Layton artwork is simply magnificent, looking better each time I flip through this.  As ever, John’s use of variable panel size is effective; the adversaries, both mechanized and mythical, look properly menacing; the black backgrounds give the scenes inside the bomb a suitably extra-dimensional taste; torn leathers expose the skeletal Ghost Rider.

Chris: The moment I finished this issue, I was all set to flip back to the beginning and start over; the sensation reminded me of when my son was little, and he would call for something "A-gain! A-gain!" if he really, really liked it. Dare I say that this issue is good enough that it echoes the qualities we've come to admire from the revived X-Men
: 1) action that barely lets up for a moment; 2) art that leaps off the page; and 3) neat characterization and team-dynamic moments.  Mantlo & Byrne have only been here for a few issues, so we've already come to expect the action + art; but this time, the connections (or lack thereof) between characters helped push this issue a little further to the top of the list.  

We may have grown accustomed to Bobby's adolescent-hangover attachment to gorgeous women, but the pain from Laynia's perceived slight seems to have hit him harder than usual (in her defense, I think Laynia had some other matters on her mind at that moment).  In addition, Johnny expresses concern for Natasha, when she appears to have been badly hurt.  The team really seems to be gelling, doesn't it?  That said, I have to knock Mantlo for giving Herc the thought -- at the very, very end -- that he might not fit in.  C'mon, Bill, you've finally got this team pulling together -- this isn't the time to have anyone looking for the door. 
Byrne really outdoes himself, page after page.  The bimonthly schedule seems to suit him, as he can focus his efforts between this title and Iron Fist.  Layton's inks are an ideal complement, as he brings clear lines and just-enough texture to the pencils; Layton is among a handful of inkers (Joe Rubinstein being another, with Bob McLeod in the conversation) whose inks come closest to matching the effect of Byrne's self-inked art.  It's very hard to pick one highlight, but obviously, the double-page spread that shows our heroes stock-still (literally, standing on the sidelines) while they simultaneously all appear to be in the midst of a deadly battle (p 16 above and 17 left), is very effective, as it allows for a moment of mystery; granted, even an average reader would be able to figure this out, but I always enjoy the satisfaction of working out a key aspect of the story ahead of said story’s participants.  On a very small note, the procurement of the mighty Runestaff (as Darkstar reaches thru a hole in reality to grab the staff, neatly stacked in a broom closet, p 27, 1st pnl), is very cleverly done.  You'd need a whole crew of armadillos to keep track of all these relics, right?  Good thing the staff hadn't already gone for $1 in a hospital-wide white-elephant sale, or something. 

Conan the Barbarian 74 

“The Battle at the Black Walls!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane

Aboard the Tigress, Conan has a nightmare about Thoth-Amon. The supreme Stygian sorcerer warns him that unless the Cimmerian abandons his quest to rescue Bêlit’s father Atrahasis, the former king of Shem, the ship will burn at sea. Then other disembodied heads urge him to heed the warning for the sake of men unborn — even more visions tell the barbarian to abandon Bêlit. The next morning, the Tigress encounters a Stygian galley. The Black Corsairs kill all on board except their leader Bekhet: but the dusky-skinned man refuses to be captured and falls on Conan’s sword. A beautiful slavegirl named Neftha appears, and says that Bekhet was a former noble in the court of the Stygian king, Ctesphon: he was fleeing with a fortune of gold after being accused of plotting to kill the ruler. Neftha removes a Set-charm from Bekhet’s neck, welcoming Bêlit’s crew to take the rest of her former master’s treasure. The woman also claims to be well versed with the royal palace at Luxur, the Stygian capital. Conan and the She-Devil realize that she will be helpful and decide to take her along on their quest to save Atrahasis. Nights later, the Tigress arrives at Khemi, Stygia’s major port and the home of their powerful navy. As the crew approaches the city on three longboats, Neftha reveals that no one will be on guard since today is a holy festival devoted to the devil-serpent Set. But the port does have a protector: a tremendous sea serpent emerges from the depths and sinks one of the boats. It then turns to Bêlit’s craft. Conan dives into the water and emerges on the creature's back. He clambers up the raging reptile’s neck and plunges his sword into its left eye. In agony, the monster swims away. The remaining Corsairs continue on and light the Stygian ships aflame. The crew rows back to the Tigress and sets sail — leaving Conan, Bêlit and Neftha on shore. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Thoth-Amon! Yay! Sure, he was only a vision but Roy definitely writes it as if the Stygian sorcerer willed himself into Conan’s nightmare. And Big John and Ernie nail his spooky visage, all ram horns and flaming eyes. I probably would have skipped detailing the last two parts of the dream but I figure that the term “men unborn” will come into play at one point. Seems too specific to be a throwaway. And yes, the super-hot Neftha nails the needle on Bêlit’s jealousy meter. It’s now two issues in a row with a monster: Buscema basically lifts the look of the Loch Ness monster for this behemoth. While Conan scares if off pretty easily, the serpent does create major havoc, killing a few Corsairs and wrecking a longboat. I might have missed the reason why it was necessary to burn the Stygian boats. Conan states that “Khemi blocks our passage to Luxur,” but couldn’t they have just sailed on by? Especially since everyone was inside praying to Set. But perhaps sinking the warships would mean that they won’t cause problems down the line. By the way, the “Black Walls” from this issue’s title refer to both the walls surrounding Khemi and the Stygian ships anchored before them. I’m hooked by this whole story line and anxious to see why the Cimmerian, his mate and the latest eye candy were left behind at the end.

Chris: The great and powerful Thoth-Amon certainly knows how to get a point across, when he’s of a mind to do so, doesn’t he?  Will Conan listen?  Eh, probably not.  He’s known to be a bit willful himself, y’see.  If the burning ships in the harbor of Khemi aren’t a heavy bit of foreshadowing (p 30, last pnl), then I don’t know what is.  

The art continues to excel.  I’ve missed Roussos on colors, now that every writer’s wife and girlfriend has been grabbing all the colorist gigs lately.  I like the green he brings to the lost souls (p 7), in direct contrast to the bright reds and pinks of T-A’s big scene (p 2-3).  Of course, I also dig the smaller touches, like the dark purple he uses to set the mood of Conan’s approach to the city in the dim night (p 22, pnl 4), and the explosive red as the serpent shatters the longboat (p 26, pnl 3).  Keep in touch, George!

Captain America and the Falcon 209

"Arnim Zola -- The Bio-Fanatic!!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, Frank Giacoia, and John Verpoorten
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Captain America and Donna Maria Santiago are face to face with the strange Arnim Zola, a genetic scientist who discovered the secrets of genetic engineering. Once a small man with large ideas, he created a bevy of life forms and finally a body for himself, one stronger and longer lasting than the one he was born with. With an antenna box  between his shoulders and a face projected from his chest, Dr. Zola looks as insane as he sounds. One of his creations, named Doughboy, envelops the trio and takes to the air, transporting them to Zola’s hideaway. Meanwhile, SHIELD’s regional director visits a bed-ridden Sharon Carter and her “nurse” Leila. He comes with orders to reactivate her status as an agent and help crack the mystery of File 116. As Sharon looks over the pictures of the mutant freaks spotted in the jungles of South America, she agrees to join up as soon as she has a new hair-do. At the same time, the Falcon searches for Cap and the creatures, finding a giant bird’s nest and the shadow of the gigantic creature. As he takes off, he finds himself in the midst of dozens of giant boulders that have been tossed his way. Finally, Zola has told his tale on the trip inside Doughboy, but Cap decides to fight his way out. Doughboy creates “Primus,” a man-shaped creature sprung from the walls who is able to beat Cap. Then he grabs Donna Maria and claims her as his own! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Only Zola is of any real interest here and it’s a testament to Kirby’s talent that he was able to whip up such a strange and memorable character, one who is still being used today. In other news, Sharon is still annoying, but no more than Kirby’s apparent attitude toward women. Sharon agrees to rejoin SHIELD, but only after she gets her hair done. I can’t tell if it's a joke or not, but either way, it’s not funny. Donna Maria is just excess baggage, I can’t see what point she has in the proceedings, and as always, we see strangers at SHIELD. However, Kirby does name drop Reed Richards, which is a nice surprise. Finally, another tie to the Marvel Universe. Some of the readers in the letter column have begun to vent their frustration about this title. There are still some readers who enjoy Kirby’s work here, but I can’t imagine the majority loved this run.

Matthew:  Talk about truth in advertising:  Kirby writes, “What began as a tropic misadventure has suddenly sprouted a fantastic spin-off!”  I might’ve used the term “nosedive,” featuring the Falcon as An Urban Sinbad in the Roc’s Nest, while this biomechanical crap with the hideous Doughboy plays like nothing so much as watered-down Giger; was this really what Kirby had in mind when he brought Cap to Central America, or is he just wildly improvising?  Meanwhile, back in the so-called real world, the regional director’s confab with our heroines had already induced several cringes in me when Sharon said, “I’m going to do what S.H.I.E.L.D. expects of me—!  But not before I’ve had a new hair-do!” and I knew we’d truly bottomed out.

Cap’s 1968 “graduation” from Tales of Suspense co-star to eponymous book is reflected in the reprint realm this month as Marvel Double Feature, shuttered in March, is replaced by the four-color Marvel Super Action, not to be confused with the eponymous 1976 B&W one-shot.  It must not have broken any sales records, because after 13 issues—interrupted, oddly enough, by 1950s Marvel Boy reprints in #4—it was shelved in April 1979; they simultaneously cancelled Marvel Triple Action, only to make a cosmetic change seven months later by seamlessly resuming those Avengers reprints in MSA.  Still going strong, Marvel Super-Heroes (Hulk), …Tales (Spidey), and …’s Greatest Comics (FF) were also giving us youngsters our regular dose of Marvel Silver.

Daredevil 145
"Danger Rides the Bitter Wind!"
Story by Gerry Conway and Jim Shooter
Art by George Tuska and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen and Gaspar Saladino
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom and Dave Cockrum

Daredevil’s search for the Owl is hampered by sound-muffling deep snow; DD had hoped to use his super-sensitive hearing to pick out the Owl’s heartbeat or voice.  DD has no way of knowing that the Owl already is undertaking his next move, in his efforts to restore the use of his legs and flying ability.  The Owl flies to the Upstate Medical Center in Poughkeepsie NY, where he locates a certain Dr Petrovic; the Owl threatens to destroy the hospital with a hidden bomb unless Petrovic performs an operation on the Owl.  Next morning, as Matt thinks he might relax for awhile, he’s roused instead by a news report of the Owl’s seizure of the medical center.  Matt dons DD duds, and employs the roofs of a bus, a cab, and a train (tricky stunt here, as DD has to read approaching vibrations in order to know when to leap aboard the passing northbound train) for his quick trip upstate.  DD finds the post-op Owl to be more nimble, and stronger than before.  A flying leap towards DD propels the two of them thru a window; the Owl escapes gunfire from police and returns swiftly to New York.  Before he can pursue, Dr Petrovic informs DD that he was forced to equip the Owl with a powerful exo-skeleton (to compensate for his nerve-damaged legs) and a “flying device,” attached surgically to his spine (which should permanently remove the Owl’s need for dangerous chemicals to provide his power of flight).  DD locates the Owl on a rooftop, arriving in time to foil an apparent slaying by the Owl of a gangland rival.  The Owl takes to the air, toward his waiting copter, with DD grabbing hold.  Once airborne, the Owl suddenly realizes that Petrovic has sabotaged the apparatus; DD snags the Owl’s chopper-struts with his billy-club cable, but the Owl already has fallen too far for DD to reach him, and he disappears thru the ice, into the freezing river far below.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Big Jim Shooter might've been preoccupied with his courseload for his EIC degree, because there are a few things here that don't quite make sense.  First of all, Owl's spinal surgery is so completely non-invasive that he apparently doesn't need to remove his cloak (as evidenced by his appearance on p 22); plus, even with a local anesthetic, he's looking pretty spry.  Next, when DD spots Owl toward the end, it's a scene-missing moment, as DD moves seamlessly from Poughkeepsie directly to a helicopter (apparently provided by a local radio station -sorry, how’s that again -?) hovering over Manhattan; no segue between panels, despite the pretty drastic shift.  And lastly, the Owl's end is pretty sudden – one minute, he and DD are having a fine mid-air grapple, and then,  he's plunging into the river, and we're all through for the night.  It feels very much as if Jim ran out of typing paper, or suddenly realized he was late for a meeting, or something. 
On the plus side (in the interest of fairness), we have an update on Matt's private life: things appear to be going well with Heather (so that's good, right?), while we have what appears to be a new complication in the person of Rockworth, who apparently believes he can buy Matt's legal assistance with his thorny case, even though counselor Murdock insists that he's not for sale (and we haven't heard the last of this, now have we?).  Returning to the downside, we have a sad moment as Foggy (in a single panel) morosely reflects on his ever-missing Debbie – hey gang, I thought we were going to rally the troops and find Foggy's gal – seriously, Jim, how much longer do you want to let this thread continue to dangle? 
And now, I will say something positive about Tuska's art: it's pretty good.  Mooney's inks capably smooth out some of the rough edges, although the finished product can be a bit loose and murky at times.  It makes me wonder whether I might've had a higher opinion of Tuska if he hadn't been paired with scratcher Colletta and thinner-handed (but capable) Abel and Esposito so often; perhaps a consistently heavier approach to finishes for Tuska might've been beneficial.
Matthew:  Excepting reprints, it looks like this Shooter-scripted plot is effectively the last I’ll see of Merry Gerry in the blog, or in my collection; he apparently gets a comparable credit on Defenders #57, but pending that lesson plan, there’s evidence to suggest that they cannibalized unused material.  Departing staff members often become unpersons, so Conway’s absence is little remarked in the lettercols of his erstwhile titles, and while this month’s Bullpen Page notes Gerber’s addition to the list of Consulting Editors Roy, Len, and Marv (all former EICs) on the masthead at the bottom, it neglects to mention that he’s filling a hole left by Gerry.  Now editing as well as writing Howard the Duck, Steve will also serve as writer/editor of the KISS adventure.

In other masthead-altering news, “Energetic Ed Hannigan” has joined Rogers Slifer and Stern on its list of Assistant Editors, supplanting “Sparkling Scott Edleman,” who “has opted for the free and easy freelancing life…He’ll continue as scripter for Captain Marvel [don’t get me started on that] as well as some special short features that will be appearing in our awesome Annuals [ditto].  And we couldn’t let Scott depart without revealing that he is the one who has handled the titanic task of coming up with a new alliterative headline for this column using a different letter of the alphabet each month…”  The current offering, “Yabberings and Yeddings from Yeoman Yarnspinners to You!,” was undoubtedly a challenge, so I’ll cut him some slack on that.

Oh, yeah, and Hornhead fights the Owl.  (What if he were a Horned Owl?  Wouldn’t that be hilarious?  Then they could “lock horns,” and—no?  Okay.)  Today’s Department of Redundancy Department Citation goes to the caption in page 22, panel 1:  “Sometime later back at the Upstate Medical Center,” which is placed one inch above the big sign reading, “Upstate Medical Center.”  My initial reaction upon seeing Tuska’s name in the credits was an unpleasant flashback to that awful annual, but he’s actually pretty well matched with Mooney, and except for that scary ’70s hair on Ernest W. Rockworth (don’t hurry back, Ernie…although it actually seems that for all his ominous bluster, he is never seen again), everyone looks pretty presentable.

The Defenders 47

"Night Moves!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft, Roger Slifer, and John Warner
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

Val and Patsy fly back to Manhattan, ostensibly so Patsy can notify the Avengers to cancel the alert regarding the Red Rajah; "Why doesn't she just call?" Kyle asks.  The Hulk feels a bit offended, so he bounds off, and Kyle takes advantage of the quiet time to settle down to a soothing bath.  Meanwhile, across the river in New Jersey, Jack Norriss is being abducted by SHIELD agents, after Nick Fury had zapped Norriss (as seen last issue); the shady dealings are interrupted by Moon Knight, who swoops in and scatters the supposed SHIELDers.  Fury isn’t saying why he wants Norriss; once Moon Knight has scotched his plans, Fury drops a smoke canister, and the secret agents vanish in the mist. As she arrives in New York, we see that Val has had an agenda of her own, as she meets with Clea to restore the uniform she had designed for her; whenever Val draws Dragonfang from its invisible sheath, the old black-and-silver one she'd had all along is what appears, not the new gold one by Clea.  Clea recognizes the problem, and corrects it, simultaneously adjusting the costume's color scheme to white with gold knee-boots and a royal-blue cape; both women are satisfied with the results.  Patsy uses her ID card to gain access to Avengers Mansion, and finds an unknown green-and-red clad person within.  She assumes she has discovered an intruder, and since she will not listen as Wonder Man tries to explain, the MARMIS is on.  Patsy finally realizes her mistake – too late – when Wonder Man shields her from heavy equipment she had pulled free from the wall, although not before the multi-ton apparatus buries them both.  Moon Knight transports Jack (via Specter-copter) to the sanctum of Doctor Strange to request help against the mysterious SHIELD threat.  Jack explains that SHIELD seems to think he has information about a presidential candidate who had disappeared “right before the election.”  Val suggests that they refer these questions to the Avengers, since they have ties with SHIELD; she has to pick up Hellcat at Avengers HQ anyway.  Val & Co arrive at Avengers Mansion; they overhear the activity within, and Val concludes that Patsy might need her help, as she bursts thru the front door.  Val sees Patsy injured, and proceeds not to listen to Wonder Man (as Patsy had done earlier), and the MARMIS is resumed.  Hellcat regains her senses, and employs Avengers computer files to prove to Wonder Man that she has a legitimate Avengers connection.  Hellcat’s interruption of the fight is, in turn, interrupted by an emergency message from Fury, who requests help locating Norriss.  The assembled Defenders consider their next move, as Norriss anxiously inquires whether the team is seriously considering handing him 
over -! -Chris Blake

Chris: Every team book periodically has its "A Quiet Afternoon" type issue; for some reason, the Defenders get more mileage from this type of story than other teams do.  As I've said before, given the Hulk's nature, it makes sense that, periodically, he'd want to separate himself from the madness that comes with this group – especially this group.  Kyle is left alone with his newspaper, uninterrupted for the remainder of the issue, while Val's fashion-moment with Clea reminds us that we all could use some idle time with friends. 

The inclusion of Moon Knight in the proceedings is welcome; I see now that this is the character's first appearance in a mainstream Marvel title.  I realize MK had received positive responses from fans who caught his escapades in WbN and Spotlight, but there certainly would not have been any reason to expect him to appear in these pages.  It truly makes best use of the "non-team" format, though, as a non-member shows up and contributes his own unique skills to the action for a few issues. 

Speaking of guest-stars, the involvement of Wonder Man is harder to understand.  The MARMIS is thoroughly unnecessary (even by MARMIS standards), and seems to offer nothing but some empty, purposeless action.  If I can refer to the non-team concept again for a moment, I wouldn't have minded if Wonder Man had continued to be involved in the story for another issue or two; it wouldn't have been the first time the Defenders had borrowed a card-carrying Avenger for a few days, following previous instances with Hawkeye and Yellowjacket. 

And lastly, I should mention that John Warner – whose work has been met with shrugging shoulders and shaking heads by most of this faculty – turns in a decent script of the Slifer+Kraft plot; the letters page reports how Warner was called in to buy time for Kraft as he prepared the storylines for issues #48-50.  Warner ably depicts the various characters, and keeps the action moving smoothly and swiftly along – I mean, just look at all the stuff I had to tell you about in the synopsis!  So, in fairness, I will say “nice work” to the heretofore unheralded Warner.  

Matthew: Demerits to letterer Costanza and editor Goodwin for glaring typos:  “Griffen,” “Doonesberry,” “Latvarian.”  Along with the nonsense over Val’s ever-changing costume, and the dreaded presence of guest-scripter Warner, the gaffes befit an issue that, despite some better-than-usual G[r]iffen/Janson artwork, is a bit of a mess...or, more accurately, a MAR-Mess.  Yes, “heroes have a misunderstanding and beat each other’s brains out” is a venerable trope, but some insult our intelligence more than others, like this plot by Slifer (whose “demanding duties as an assistant editor”—the rank to which cover artist Hannigan has just risen—resulted in “a hiatus from scripting,” sayeth the lettercol, hence Bloodstone-meister Warner’s involvement) and Kraft.

Addendum: Why "Night MOves," and not the seemingly logical "Knight Moves?"

The Eternals 11
"The Russians are Coming"
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

Zuras, ruler of Olympia, sends forth a rare call, for all Eternals to return to their home. They are to join forces to form the Uni-Mind, a mental union of great power, to find an answer for the visiting Celestials. Humans Margo and Sam Holden are present to witness this great event. Among those called are the family of Ikaris; they have been masquerading as Russians in an attempt to bring reason to those who have more war-like tendencies. Nezzar, a two-thousand foot tall Celestial, wanders the Siberian plains. The Eternals leave Russia in a helicopter, then use their powers to vanish and reappear in Olympia. Some playful rough-housing takes place with some equally hot-headed fellows as they arrive. The absence of the Eternal "Russians" allows the Soviet soldiers to launch a nuclear missile at Nezzar, which the space god merely returns to destroy his attackers--except it's an illusion to frighten the soldiers to death, literally. The missile was never launched! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: An entertaining issue that effectively relays its intent. The benevolent nature of Nezzar shows he will not tolerate the violence sent against his species. His "two-thousand foot tall" description conjures images of him walking amongst the skyscrapers of our world as we'd be looking out the windows watching a giant go by. The Uni-Mind looks to be very interesting; Zuras doesn't specify that its intent is to attack the Celestials. There's some beautiful artwork, the Eternals flying into Olympia, or Nezzar as viewed on the Russian view screen for example. We get to meet Valkin and the others of Ikaris's kin (a nice touch that they are disguised as Russians).

Matthew: Kirby shifts gears like a NASCAR driver on this book, and this time he’s restricted his foci to the run-up to the Uni-Mind and the Russians’ response to Nezzar; there isn’t a Deviant in sight, and I was shocked to learn that after last issue, Kro virtually disappears from the series, which I think is a great loss.  Naturally, Zuras’s “Call” gives Jack an excuse to populate the pages with a veritable flying rainbow of hitherto unseen Eternals, while the kerfuffle between the Polar contingent and the strangely monochromatic Delphan Brothers shows us more intra-racial strife than we’re accustomed to.  I like the resolution of the Russian plotline—we knew the attack would end badly, but the mechanics of it were clever and dramatic.

Chris: I appreciate the détente-era-inspired presentation of a reasonably-minded Soviet higher-up, in the person of Vulcanin; but, I enjoy the idea even more once Jack reveals Vulcanin to be among the Eternals who have devoted their (endless) lives to the preservation of the delicate balance of peace between superpowers.  It tells us that the Eternals can’t work magic, and don’t practice mind-control, but they can employ their hyper-developed skills in the service of humans – in this case, by providing a voice of reason – whether we want their help or not.  It’s an interesting extension of our understanding of the Eternals’ presence among humans; up to now, Kirby has presented them mostly as characters like Sersi, who have only sought amusement and distraction on our plane.  

Speaking of entertainment, does Jack want us to believe that the legendary Toshiro Mifune is in fact an Eternal named Kingo Sunen?  If so, that would mean he’s still alive, and could still be making movies, right?  Get his agent on the phone, pronto.  
I’ve looked all over the internet, but I can’t find a Uni-Mind anywhere, and I really want one.  I’m going to keep looking.  

Mark: Kirby weaves a concise one 'n' done excogitation on how humans - here, high-muck-a-mucks of the Russian Politburo - deal with the unknown (the answer, duh, is to lash out in violence) within the larger Space Gods saga, still unfolding. And the King does it with a nimble touch, quite beyond his blunt-fingered characters and the knee jerk Jack-bashers' ability to appreciate. Kirby's real sin, back "in the day," wasn't his rawer art or "lousy" writing, but that what he wrote was old-fashioned, square, bereft of requisite late-Seventies cynical angst.

And it's also true that, whatever their other virtues, most of Kirby's other books didn't work. But the Eternals certainly does. It's the best of the bunch by a wide margin, and - as this is my first read-through of the series - a bracing discovery.    

Fantastic Four 182
"Enter: The Mad Thinker!"
Story by Bill Mantlo, Len Wein, Jim Shooter, and Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

After last month's deadline doom diversion, Bill Mantlo scripts - in the wake of Roy Thomas' departure - a jerry-rigged, tripartite plot by Len Wein, Jim Shooter, and Archie Goodwin. If the over-stuffed credit box doesn't leave ya breathless, you may also enjoy the pithy title: "As If the F.F. Didn't Have Enough to Worry About...Enter: The Mad Thinker!" 

Fourteen Words (counting F.F. as one), a colon and ellipses is the literary equivalent of running wind-sprints. Fortunately, it's all downhill from there, a breezy sprint through the penultimate episode of the Faux-tastic saga of Reed Richard from Counter-Earth, turned bad by a head-conk, a.k.a. the Brute. 

Ben (along w/Torchie, Tigra, Thundra, and Impy) arrives at the Baxter, toting the unconscious bank-robbing robot (half its former size after its harbor-dunking, obviously not the wash 'n' wear model). After shooing TT&I out the door, Bad Reed sends Ben and Johnny into the Negative Zone, claiming the shrunken robot may have come from there. At her Whisper Hill home, Agatha Harkness proves incapable of defending little Franklin from shadowy abductors, who make off with witch and wittle Richards. Sue and Alicia arrive in time to see, "They're stealing my son!" Ben and Johnny float up to Annihilus's palatial asteroid digs in time to join Real Reed and the Big Bug in battle against their giant green assailant, soon revealed as one of the Mad Thinker's androids. After a too-quick escape, Johnny and Ben grill Reed, but reeling in the snapped-cables, no longer connecting them to the B Building portal, convinces them of Stretch-O's bona fides.

After a few panels of the Thinker gloating, Sue confronts Bad Reed, who promptly Brutes-out and tosses her off the top floor of the Baxter. -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Giving this is a by-committee continuation of a really convoluted arc, this one's as good or better than we had any right to expect. All the scenes are punchy and to the point, keeping all of departed Roy's plot balls in the air, with the added virtue of being brief enough to keep us from focusing on any of the convenient shortcuts (Tigra already suspects Bad Reed, but follows his wild goose chase orders; the N Zone's a big place, but Johnny and Ben drift unerringly to Annihilus's palace, and just how long are those cables back to the Baxter anyway?) And Joe Sinnott's inks prove slick enough to keep the art looking consistent, even with Our Pal Sal slinging meat and potatoes.     
Matthew:  Looking at the credits, I thought, man, this one better be good, requiring the plotting skills of no fewer than three past (Len), present (Archie), or future (Jim) EICs, not to mention Energizer Bunny Bill to script it—and that was while I was distracted by the apparent printing error rendering the FF green and magenta on pages 1, 16, and 17!  Speaking of colors, there must have been a sale on red ink this month, because this is the fourth consecutive issue I’ve read that uses it as the cover background, which besides being monotonous is not one of my favorites.  That said, the visuals are otherwise impeccable, a given with Sinnott inking a Buscema, and the “fantastic foursome” of writers surprisingly ties all their disparate threads into a coherent climax.

Chris: I recall that this real-Reed-stranded-in-negzone story carries on for awhile; so, despite the fact that I am legitimately enjoying this storyline, I’ll be ready for it to conclude next issue (since the box on the bottom of p 31 promises “Lo, There Shall Come an Ending!”).  The reliance on a reprint (for FF #180), thereby stringing out the publishing-time required to run this story, undoubtedly is contributing to the sense of it running long.  True to form for the wondrous FF, we already have seeds planted for our next storyline(s), as we know the Mad Thinker will make some trouble for our team, plus we’ll have to locate – and rescue – Agatha (the most supernatural babysitter of all) and Little Powerhouse Franklin.

Again, this isn’t a bad story, but it’s another one that requires several separate elements to develop at the same time, which allows for only a little progress for each segment per issue.  At least everyone’s hip to the Brute-Reed now, plus we have gathered ¾ of the team in one place – albeit, they’re in the Negative Zone.  But, we have a positive development, since the non-aggression pact with Annihilus is continuing to hold (although, knowing Annihilus, he could elect to invade Poland at any moment).  
Nice moment when Johnny and Ben get that sinking feeling, which tells them they’ve been had, and now are just as stranded as Reed.  Well, that’s okay – Sue can bring them back!  Uh, that is, provided she can regain her senses and whip up a quick force-bubble before she runs out of Baxter Building floors to fly past.  I double-checked, and free-fall Sue has two hands and two feet, as opposed to the infamous incident when Reed was in a similar pickle, and (if memory serves) Buckler gave him an extra foot.
Speaking of the art, Sal + Joe do as well as you’d expect.  First of all, the Neg Zone looks fittingly smashing (p 11-17), and smashed-up, with all those loose asteroids drifting around.  Next, most of my other highlights involve Sue: her helpless, fearful moment as Franklin and Agatha vanish from her sight (p 10, pnl 6); her angry and hurt reaction once she realizes her suspicions about “Reed” were true (p 23, pnl 5); and the way her hair puffs out as she rapidly ducks the Brutishly-hurled projectile (p 27, pnl 5).

The Incredible Hulk 211
"The Monster and the Mystic!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Ernie Chan

After their defeat at the hands of Mongu, The Incredible Hulk and Doctor Druid are taken to a dungeon and chained to a wall. Druid hypnotizes the green goliath and brings about the magical change back into Robert Bruce Banner. The scientist frees the wizard but their freedom is short-lived as Mongu enters just as the heroes are about to escape. The giant brings Druid and Banner before the Maha Yogi, who explains that he intends to toss the Hulk into an arena with Mongu and let them fight to the death. When Bruce refuses to Hulk out, the Maha insists he'll toss the puny Banner in and find out how long he'll last. Turns out Bruce lasts about ten seconds before he loses his shirt and his pants tear apart. As the Hulk is beating Mongu to a pulp, the Maha shows what a poor loser he is and invests some of his power into the giant gladiator. As the tables turn, Doctor Druid shows two can play at that game. While Yogi is concentrating on the battle, Druid manages to wrest away the Jewel of Jeopardy, the gem that keeps the Maha powerful and youthful. Without his bauble, the Maha grows old and withers away, leaving Mongu to tend to the aging husk. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: I found this issue to be infinitely more enjoyable than the last, with the usual soap opera nonsense kept to a minimum (for the record, Betty Ross has skipped town on a jet plane to find herself and one-time Hulk sidekick Jim Wilson is about to walk into some unknown danger for the umpteenth time) but there's still a sense of deja vu to the whole thing. The panel showing Bruce slipping out of the truss that was formerly wrapped around his alter ego seems to play fast with scale; either Bruce has shrunk to a diminutive thirty-six inches or Hulk is about twenty feet tall. Extra points to Len for letting the battle peter out when Maha Yogi loses his mojo and allowing the two villains to simply limp away from the scene.

Chris: Now I understand why Druid wanted to bring Hulk to Maha Yogi’s plane: Druid knew that Yogi couldn’t resist pitting his champion against the Hulk, and that Hulk would be too powerful, so that Yogi would have to channel power from his gem to Mongu.  At this point, Druid would be able to knock the jewel away from Yogi’s grip, so that Hulk would crush it, thereby negating Yogi’s power and removing him as a threat.  That’s pretty good work by Druid, to anticipate all these developments – he must be quite the chess player (sorry Len – that’s the best I can do to try to explain what the Hulk’s role could possibly have been in aid of Druid’s battle with Maha Yogi).

No offense, Mongu (by the way: Mongu like candy – it had to be said), but I didn’t recognize you from your previous appearance in Fear/Man-Thing #14; no offense, right, big guy -?  Nice work by Len to re-employ a character rather than concoct a whole new one.  Mongu’s loyalty to Maha Yogi allows for a different twist on the finish; I fully expected the abruptly-aged Maha to dissolve into dust (that’s the typical outcome with these centuries-old, unexpectedly unpowered conjurers, isn’t it?), but instead, once we see that Maha is still alive (admittedly, just barely…), Mongu states that he will care for Maha, as he quietly carries him away.  
Interesting moment as Druid overcomes Hulk’s resistance to change back to puny Banner – compelling dynamic, as both characters have become resistant to change to the other – with Sal zeroing in on the eyes (p 10).  There have been countless previous instances when Hulk has escaped inescapable bonds, but the moment this time – as we see Banner climbing out of massive metallic bands – is an art highlight (p 11, 1st pnl).  
Matthew: Len, Len, Len.  You already tried to suspend our disbelief (“kick it in the groin” might be slightly more accurate) with last issue’s “I’m not changing into the Hulk for anything—not even to save the world!” Bruce-bluster, and now you’re doing it again?  I love Maha Yogi Bear’s response, which is basically, “Well, we’ll just see about that.  Bwuhahaha!”  Ernie’s inks are nice and sharp, just skirting the edge of obscuring Sal’s style in that inimitable Filipino way, although the layout on pages 14-15 is a little daunting.  There’s a lot of exposition to fit in, I know—and I find the Maha/Mongu loyalty strangely affecting, perhaps the best thing in this entry—but all those tiny panels packed with rampant verbiage and cramped little images...

2001: A Space Odyssey 6
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby

On Harvey Norton’s exploratory craft, he and his crew are getting a message from the newly arrived alien spaceship but they can't understand the strange language uttered by the aliens. However, their intentions are clear to Norton: they want the strange girl he plucked from space in a life pod. Harvey Norton calls her the Princess and tries to convince the others, however they only scoff at his “comic book mentality.” The aliens launch an attack and Norton knows what to do; he takes the Princess and escapes, hoping to draw fire away from his friends. The men who laughed at him now consider Harvey Norton a true hero.

Norton and the Princess jet away in her life craft with the enemy hot on their heels. The Princess activates the ship’s star drive and they cross the galaxy through hyperspace in a matter of minutes. Arriving at her home world, they take more hits from the larger ship’s weapons and careen into the atmosphere. After crash landing, they make their way to a structure that houses a matter-transfer device. The Princess goes through, escaping to freedom, but the enemy destroys the sending station before Harvey can follow. In retaliation for losing their quarry, the aliens level the structure and leave Norton for dead. However, the monolith appears behind him and begins his transformation. In his mind, he lives out his life as Captain Cosmic; a happy existence of a revered hero. He ages rapidly and becomes a star child.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott: This issue is weirdly good and bad simultaneously. It’s actually an interesting and exciting story, if a little on the hackneyed side. A man who lived mostly a life of dreams and escape finally has a chance to really live the life he always wanted. Then he's ruthlessly sent to his death by merciless attackers. What holds it back is Kirby’s insane dialog and overwritten narration. Jack has no way with words and everything made obvious by the illustrations is spelled out in the dialog or captions. The art is, as the norm now, nothing special and actually quite weird. And then it all ends as every story in this series has: with the advent of a star child. The sad part is, this could have been a great series with more planning and vision. Instead, each month retreads the same ideas and whatever new concepts are either moldy barbarian tales or cheesy self-reflexive story beats. Having people wish they were comic book characters in a comic book seems a little too meta for me.


  1. "Sharon agrees to rejoin SHIELD, but only after she gets her hair done. I can’t tell if it's a joke or not, but either way, it’s not funny"

    Groan. Is there a Rock Hudson to Sharon's Doris Day? This is the 50s. A perfect example of the problems of the writer/editor.Another editor should have deleted this.

    Over the years I read a lot of Marvel comics.But I have a hard time remembering storys by guys like Edelman, Kraft or Slifer.Were they really that bland or were people like Thomas, Conway, Gerber and the rest of this generation that consistently good?

    I have to confess that I have a soft spot for 2001. It was nonsense and didn't made sense, but if you ignore the words it looks good and larger than life.One wonders what a writer like Gerber paired with Kirby would have made of this.

    1. Gerber would have made himself the Monolith.

  2. And the Monolith would have moped and agonized over being so hard, cold, and unfeeling...