Wednesday, December 9, 2015

May 1977 Part Two: Harold H. Harold Writes His Best-Seller!

The Invaders 16
"The Short, Happy Life of Major Victory!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

After Bucky nearly blows their secret i.d.’s in his enthusiasm while they watch newsreel footage the Invaders brought back from a French raid, he and Steve leave a cinema and are suiting up to lend a hand in a blackout when they see a G.I. and his English girl put upon by hooded Nazis.  “Julia” is forced to reveal herself as Agent Three when they intervene, and the Nazis escape with their quarry, whose life Cap and Bucky do not wish to endanger.  Colonel (formerly General) Fitz-Hugh doubts that a mere P.F.C. was the target of the planned abduction reported by the Underground, but Toro jumps at the name of Biljo White, and a smilin’ “young American aide” is sent to obtain the new issues of Stars and Stripes and Major Victory Comics.

Writer-artist White has given Major Victory an origin, complete with a “Super-Soldier Formula,” that is suspiciously close to Cap’s, and also has cartoons in the armed services newspaper, so the Invaders theorize that the Nazis may believe Biljo has inside information.  The Army “can’t stop operations here to rescue one man,” but the Invaders can, and soon Namor’s flagship is heading for Hitler’s “armored fortress,” Berchtesgaden, to which top Nazi scientists have recently been sent.  The ship is downed by a silent projectile that turns out to be Master Man, who is now able to fly and strong enough to defeat the team single-handed; awakening in restraints similar to the ones used by “The Face” in #13 (energy-sapping vapors, water tanks, chains), they face…Hitler! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: On the one hand, my oft-lukewarm assessment of guest artist Mooney’s penciling does not blind me to the fact that he’s a step up from Robbins; on the other, “embellisher in residence” Springer maximizes consistency with prior entries, for better or worse. Although the cover (another red background!) is somewhat misleading, since he’s not seen identifiably until page 27, any story featuring the return of the Invaders’ inaugural foe is okay with me, and I presume next time we’ll find out what he’s been up to since his butt-kicking in MTIO #20. The stuff with Biljo and the immediately recognizable “Private Lee” is fun, but this issue—which, for my fellow continuity freaks, follows the upcoming annual, albeit with no direct connection—feels like mostly set-up.

Chris Blake: It was inevitable that the Red Skull would appear in these pages, but the big wiener himself, adolf hitler (purposefully lowercased)?  It feels like a bit of a gamble to me; after all, it’s not like the team could kill him, or capture him – unless of course, he turns out to be an LMD, and we all know they don’t have LMDs at this time in history.  At least we think we know that, until Roy references an issue of FF circa 1965 that has a two-panel moment that shows an LMD unwittingly triggering Dr Doom’s time travel device – and, I don’t think even someone like Mr Rascally is willing to stretch disbelief that far.  So in order for uncle addie to survive and continue to wreak more havoc, that could mean we’ll see a cunning escape worthy of that other master-racist, good ol' Papa Fu.  Either way, I’m interested to see how the chips will fall.

Matthew: Be advised that he pops up more briefly in the annual as well.

Chris: There’s a very small moment that I’m selecting as a highlight, namely Namor’s observation that his imprisoning vapors weaken him, but he prefers them to “the concrete block which was my last prison.”  Think about what he’s saying here: “Ehh, this isn’t my toughest confinement – I’m actually fairly comfortable here,” and “Your last prison couldn’t hold me.”  Talk about sangfroid!
The Mooney art is sort of an escape into sanity, as we get a break from Robbins’ funhouse mirrors.  The other consideration for many of us, though, is that we might’ve developed a tolerance for Springer’s finishes over Robbins' pencils, so the effect of Mooney+Springer is a change from what we’re used to.

The Invincible Iron Man 98
"Sunfire Strikes Again!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Don Perlin
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karin Kish
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

Stripped of its thermocouple and solar collectors, Iron Man’s new armor is filled with “life-preserving micro-circuits and electronic storage cells,” now that his heart is yet again unreliable, but also has room for some new innovations.  While it undergoes a computer-guided “final tempering,” Krissy is asked to keep stalling Senator Hawk’s committee, with Tony being tried in the press for ignoring a subpoena, and reacts oddly when Sitwell, who finds her familiar, introduces himself.  As the visiting Prof. Goro Watanabe and his daughter, Fujiko, tour the plant, O’Brien—now in Avengers custody—awakens from his sedated sleep, and Tony is making one final effort to explain when Sunfire attacks, believing the reports of crooked dealings with Japan.

Tony discovers that his hidden, unmodified spare outfits have been stolen and, telling O’Brien that he has “sent Iron Man…on a mission,” dons the Guardsman armor to buy time, knowing it poses no threat to his stable mind, but lacks his own “heart-strengthening circuitry.”  Watching Stark battle Sunfire to protect his employees, Michael at last sees the light, breaks his bonds and, ignoring the disbelieving Jasper, puts on the now-ready new armor to race to Stark’s aid.  Taken by Sunfire to be a mercenary, Tony is near death when “Iron Man” arrives; using the diversion, he slips into a secret room, where a shadowed figure shows him an old suit missed by the thief, and as a ringed hand teleports O’Brien away, another Iron Man renews the fight against Sunfire. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: From Godzilla to sushi to Kurosawa, I’ve always had an affinity for Japan, so I’m saddened that the Land of the Rising Sun is the source of not one but two irritants, the lesser being the brief presence of the Watanabes, an unwelcome reminder of the dire #30.  The greater is, of course, that notorious pill Sunfire; the best we can hope for when he rears his ugly head is an annoying MARMIS, and the worst is him being just a nationalistic prick, as he is here.  The Tuska/Perlin art is also a little shaky (funny how Don’s inks in #96, erroneously attributed to Abel, looked so much better to me!), yet both the stuff with Krissy—surely obvious to longtime readers, which I was not at the time—and the armor-swapping frenzy are entertaining as Mantlo gears up to #100.

Chris: There’s a lot to like about this issue, as Bill & George continue their solid run: Tony adds finishing touches to new armor, with better defenses (much needed after failures against Ultimo, Blizzard, etc); Sunfire’s intense craziness is always a welcome change-of-pace; Mantlo pulls in plenty of Iron Man’s history, as Goodwin’s footnotes reference no fewer than five previous issues of this title; O’Brien’s witness to Tony’s apparently selfless efforts in defense of his employees allows us (finally!) to move on from O’Brien’s single-minded quest for revenge of his brother’s death; we cheer for Tony, as he struggles gamely on, despite the ongoing cardiac concerns; the armor-swapping allows for plenty of confusion, which should make for some fun as the various players try to straighten things out next issue; and lastly, we have time to wonder, and to speculate, about the identity of the shadowy woman who directed Tony to the old set of armor he’d been seeking (p 30).  How about all that!

Tuska continues to bring his very-best efforts to this character, and this title.  There’s plenty of action throughout, highlighted in these moments: Sunfire’s panel-bursting entrance (far above); Tony, garbed as Guardsman, soars to the fray (above); Tony winces and grabs his chest while simultaneously firing a repulsor (p 17, pnl 2); Tony dodges and vaults as Sunfire’s blasts grow closer (p 23, pnls 2 and 3); O’Brien as Iron Man shimmers and winks out, courtesy of the Mandarin’s teleportation beam (below).  Good stuff all around, again well-realized by Perlin.  

Logan's Run 5
Story by David Kraft and Ed Hannigam
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karin Kish
Cover by George Perez and Frank Giacoia

Francis holds his D.S. gun against the head of a terrified Jessica. They stand on the balcony as Logan and the Old Man look up in horror. Francis, beaten, exhausted and near the point of madness, shouts his intentions to kill his old friend and the girl. Logan implores Francis to listen to reason, to convince him their lives were a lie. Even when seeing his life-clock is clear, Francis doesn’t believe it. Jessica uses his confusion as a window to freedom and knocks the gun from his grasp. In response, the Sandman strikes Jessica. Logan snaps, promising to kill his former friend. Francis’ answer is to leap from the balcony into their final, furious battle. It is a long and bloody fight. Francis grabs the tattered remains of the American flag and uses the pole against Logan. Logan pleads for Francis to stop, to not let them come to this, but Francis presses on. Logan gains the upper hand and the pole, striking Francis with it. Francis reaches for a nerve gas cylinder and, unable to stop him, Logan beats Francis with the pole until, bloody, it shatters. Rage gone, Logan holds his dying friend, expressing his grief over how it ended. Francis, before life finally leaves him, notes how Logan really did renew. Then he is gone.

As they bury him, Logan and Jessica decide to return to the City, unable to live with the knowledge that so many others will die for nothing. The Old Man, upon hearing there is a city of young people to be seen, offers to go with them. The trio travel all the way back, but once there, the Old Man must wait. The only way in is through the aqueduct and he is just too frail to make the long swim. Logan and Jessica dive in and make their way into the section just under Carousel. They try to convince the citizens entering not to go in, that they don’t have to die at thirty. No one believes them and they are quickly captured by Sandmen and taken to headquarters.

Logan is strapped into the computer terminal and very painfully debriefed. Computer extracts his knowledge from his mind and cannot accept that Sanctuary does not exist, that the runners are dead, that it is all a sham. Unable to process it, the computer self destructs, setting off a chain reaction that brings down the entire city. Buildings explode and collapse as the domes themselves shatter. While outside, the Old Man waits, alarmed at the explosions. However, his fears are calmed as people begin to emerge. Wave after wave of young folk pour out. They don’t know what to make of him, but one girl does approach and, in a fit of spontaneous affection, warmly embraces the Old Man. Logan and Jessica can now finally pause and truly consider an uncertain future while Logan sheds a tear for the past and the memory of his oldest friend. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: And so we come to the conclusion of the film adaptation and what a run it was. Like the previous issue, this is a straightforward account of this portion of the movie. There are no additional deleted scenes. However, as before, the motivations and thoughts are fleshed out. The fight between Logan and Francis is longer and more brutal. They exchange dialog where the movie provide little more than “Francis, stop! Listen!” We get more into Logan’s regret in having to kill his friend and Francis’ own feelings having come to this point. Logan’s grief is palpable and is carried through to the end of the story, which the film doesn’t do. Once Francis dies in the movie, he is mostly forgotten and the freedom of the people is treated with straight up joy. Here, it takes on a different shade.

The interrogation by the computer is also more brutal and painful. It appears to tear the information out of Logan’s mind and as the city collapses, Logan even takes the time to express regret over how people are being injured and killed on their way to freedom. It is a nicely played moment where Logan actually considers the consequences of his actions. Once outside, the hopeful air remains consistent with the film, but here Logan is sad. Sad for his wasted life, the losses in freeing the people and at the death of his closest friend, who died never really knowing the truth. They look ahead into the unknown in a way that seems more mature and serious than the standard Hollywood Happy Ending.

Scott: Once again, the art is amazing. The script is also well done, yet still manages to cheapen a little bit with the comic book style dialog spelling out rage and death threats. Otherwise, it’s all beautifully handled. While the series intended to go on, and would for a scant two more issues, the entire creative team would change the following month. Kraft, Perez and Janson would all leave and go on to other projects and their loss would immediately be felt. This was an amazing five issue run, the best film adaptation until the multi-part Empire Strikes Back in 1980. The additional scenes, fleshing out of Logan and Jessica and the nearly flawless art were worthy of the company’s top titles. One of my favorite movies and my favorite adaptation. It was a run I am truly sorry to see end. It kind of makes me wish, considering it would be cancelled so quickly, they had just left it here.

Chris: I always find it a bit dubious whenever the Power of Resistance can influence a far-reaching outcome, e.g. Logan’s insistence that the computer is lying about the City’s foundational belief system, which (rather quickly) causes feedback that collapses the entire system.  That might be a particularly false note, but otherwise, this remains a deeply satisfying adaptation, which has held up well over the years.  

It’s especially significant that Logan is forced (or rather, forces himself) to kill Francis; there is no cop-out that allows Logan to watch helplessly as Francis falls into the Congress mess hall food processor, or something.  No, Logan literally has to kill his oldest, closest friend with his own hands, as he symbolically destroys the well-founded, but ultimately groundless, system of life-clocks, Renewal, Carousel, and everything.  The Old Man adds some insight to this moment; he hasn’t seen other people in so long, and yet, here they are again – settling their differences thru violence (a sobering thought, that).  

This is another of those flea-market comics, which means it had been read and was worn when I first bought it, but I wasn’t concerned about that; collecting had more to with acquiring back-issues that I would’ve had a hard time finding anywhere else, so that I could read them, not sell them to anyone else.  So I did – I read this issue over and over, and there are details that I recognize from every page.  The multi-panel death sequence for Francis, complemented by Janson’s dramatic colors, is an obvious highlight (p 10).  I also enjoy the travel montage, as they leave the dead city, and arrive in sight of the city soon-to-die (p 14); points also for the high-energy that goes into the death throes of City society (p 27).  

Master of Kung Fu 52
"A Night at the 1001 Nights"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Irving Watanabe and John Costanza
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Al Milgrom

Shang-Chi searches the streets of Morocco for signs of the nefarious presence of his father, Fu Manchu.  Above his head, Brooklyn cabbie Rufus T. Hackstabber abruptly plunges thru a hotel window; S-C spares Rufus from a rude introduction to the pavement below.  Rufus seeks the Blue Carrot, an establishment operated by his distant cousin, Quigley J. Warmflash.  Rufus drives his rented hack thru the bar's front wall (not the first time this sort of thing has happened), and bowls over two gunmen. Quigley explains that the thugs were after an “exotic artifact” formerly in his possession; his daughter, Dinah (who also is the bar's belly-dancer in residence, a fact not lost on Rufus) since has sold it as part of a batch of sixty-nine items, which now might be found at the 1001 Nights Curio Shop.  S-C declines a ride, choosing instead to walk; arriving first, he is confronted by a group of assassins, under the direction of his old foe, Tiger-Claw.  Before the Tiger-Claw crew can attack, Rufus arrives in his unique style, as he proceeds to drive thru the wall at 1001 Nights.  Tiger-Claw bats Rufus aside, as the battle begins.  Quigley stays clear of the brawl, as he secures the sought-for item, a porcelain elephant, first.  S-C turns from his victory over Tiger-Claw, to see that a brief grapple between Rufus and Quigley has succeeded in toppling the elephant to the floor; the broken artifact reveals that it contains – nothing.  S-C realizes that an elephant like this one had been filled with Fu's elixir vitae, one of the keys to Fu's longevity; it appears that Tiger-Claw had sought it for himself.  S-C reflects on the ceaseless foolishness of Rufus and his family, as he walks out with a wry smile. -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s pretty obvious that this is a fill-in issue.  There are two captions wedged into the top of the splash page, which suggest that Shang-Chi (or, as Rufus mistakenly calls him, “Chang-Shee”) has left British Intelligence, but he still carries with him his memories of his time in the service of Sir Denis Nayland Smith, and that this one-off adventure in Morocco is one of those memories.  It’s a perfectly adequate story, with an agreeable quantity of action.  The Rufus character is the same dead-ringer for Groucho Marx who had originally appeared in Giant-Size MoKF #4; subsequent letters pages told us the character’s initial outing was well-received by the reading public, so Doug must have been sure in the knowledge that he would fit in another story someday.  It’s fine to have a lighter-mood issue from time to time, especially on a title like this one that ordinarily takes itself so seriously.  
I have a problem here that I also noticed with Rufus’ previous appearance.  I can tell that Doug has put an appreciable amount of time and effort into mimicking Groucho’s unique wordplay, but as most of the verbal gags go by, they rarely raise more than a grin; without Groucho’s rapid-fire delivery and exaggerated expressions to provide punctuation, the humor simply doesn’t play as well.  Well, I do like this deadpan offering: “This may be Casa-Blanca, Quigley, but it sure ain’t the White House.”  Rim shot!

Pollard had provided the art for the previous appearance of Rufus and Tiger-Claw – yes, oddly enough, both characters had been featured in G-S MoKF #4.  Pollard’s self-inked art is more certain now, as he handles both the battle-action and the countless auto-collisions well; I’ll nominate Shang-Chi’s clutch of an opponent behind the head, followed by a throw forward into another assassin (above), and the first exterior-wall-vs-cab crash (left) for my highlights.  Did I mention that Pollard presents Quigley as if he were W. C. Fields?  It’s cleverly done, yes, but wouldn’t Chico have made more sense -?  

Mark: After the six month save-the-world-by-shooting-father-Fu arc, last's month's coda included Larner's funeral and Shang-Chi leading a mass exodus from MI-6. That's a lot of heavy drama, so it's understandable that writer Moench's ready for a comedic romp, some duck soup and a dose of Marxism.

Not Karl, Groucho, in the four color, you-can-bet-your-life-but-ya-can't-copywrite-it form of Rufus T. Hackstabber (last seen in Giant-Size MOKF #3), complete with paint-on mustache and an arsenal of bad puns, toxic enough to be banned by the UN as weapons of mass distraction. A sampler to follow, once da kinder have been shooed to safety...

"Gip 'em one for the Giver!"

"Why, whatever is a nice face like you doing in a whirl like this?"

" curry dogs with muttstard! Run with your legs  between your wails (Doug fancied this one enough to use to twice; overkill that could make even ISIS wince)!"

If the above ain't enough to make you to want to immolate yourself with your own Zeppo (ouch!), then this is the mag for you! Rufus is joined by his "cousin twice-removed by mirth," Quigley J. Warmflash, a.k.a, W.C. Fields, asking the ever-topical question, "You didn't bring any brats or dogs, did you?" 

The funky Flashman (bonus point for students who get that reference) not only delivers Fieldsian bloviations like, "Nor do I tamper with the mellifous harmoniousness of the iridescent cosmos by cheating an honest man," he amps up the ick factor by leeringly noting his curvaceous, blonde daughter "handled the transaction of the sixty-nine hot items..."

Suck on that, Comic Code! And if artist Keith Pollard doesn't do much for P.J. Shang, he renders yesteryear's yucksters in all their greasepaint glory. 

Whether you find this a waste of pulp paper or a delightful homage to comedic legends depends on both your fondness for the originals, and their insertion into an otherwise serious Kung Fu/espionage title, even as a pie in the face pallet cleanser from the long-running heavyocity.  

Personally, class, your Groucho-loving Prof found it a hoot (both for the really oddball premise and decent-enough execution of same), but individual results will vary, so there'll be no test, no Chic(o)-list for this one. Everyone who knows who Margaret Dumont is gets an A.

Those who don't have to both shoot an elephant in their pajamas then explain how it got there...   

Ms. Marvel 5
"Bridge of No Return"
Story by Archie Goodwin, Jim Shooter, and Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Joe Sinnott

Carol relates that while walking to work, she was overcome by a seventh-sense premonition featuring a “supertruck” and Ms. Marvel battling the Vision on an upstate bridge spanning Stormwind Canyon, with 20 million lives in the balance.  Dismissing Mike’s unhelpful suggestion that she give up her alter ego, she reviews her past while heading to Long Island for a story on how S.I. treats its female employees, and with Stark in absentia, Carol is shown around by Abe Klein.  During the tour, she sees the virtually impregnable truck, “designed to carry deadly chemical or radioactive cargo,” and learns that although the cargo for its inaugural run that day is top secret, it’s sufficiently important that, you guessed it, the Vision is riding shotgun.

Following the Hudson north, Ms. Marvel spots the truck in the Adirondacks and rigs a barricade, correctly reasoning that the Vision will not heed an unknown hero, so as they barrel through it—observed by MODOK—he assumes her intentions are hostile and disrupts her.  Recovering, she realizes that if released in the canyon, the cargo would blow across a densely populated area, and after reason fails again, she knocks out the Vision with a field generator jury-rigged from power cables under the bridge.  Stopping the truck by ripping off a wheel, she finds a bomb built into the access hatch, hurling it away before it explodes, and the driver is exposed as the inside man; the Vision returns to save her from his eye-beams, leaving them to wonder who sent the robot…

-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’ve been thinking of Claremont as the new Stainless, proving that there’s life after my “Two Steves” (now that Gerber’s portfolio is shrinking to a single series) while taking nothing away from Mantlo, whose career batting average simply isn’t as high, despite some awesome stuff he’s now doing.  Yet you could as easily call Chris the new Roy, the way he digs deep into Marvel lore for old villains and the like, as this issue amply demonstrates.  Carol reminds Abe, “you have only
one female plant manager, Vicki Snow in Cincinnati—at a minor S.I. facility,” whose Bronze-Age career comprises Iron Man #62 (September 1973), while next we are promised the return of Grotesk, created by a certain Mr. Thomas…and last seen in X-Men #42 (March 1968)!

The cover might as well be emblazoned “Ms. MARMIS,” so we’ve been duly warned, and it’s just a question of how it will play out; the “I’ve had a vision [as it were] but don’t know how to interpret it” chestnut is a venerable one, seen in everything from gialli to Don’t Look Now.  Barnett gets a pass on the blackmail thing, for now, but is still an arrogant ass, and when he blithely told Carol to “give up being Ms. Marvel,” all I could think of was that scene in X-Men 2 where Iceman’s dumb-ass mother asks, “Have you ever tried…not being a mutant? Working with Claremont—albeit not at his peak—and Sinnott makes Mooney sort of like bologna between two delicious slices of fresh-baked bread, as Joltin’ Joe drags the Madman ever upward.

Chris: I didn’t realize the Vision was working security details on the side; what, are he and Wanda saving up to buy a house, or something? Do the Avengers know he’s working side jobs? What’s next, the Beast picks up hours as a bouncer on weekends? Wonder Man gets a limo-driver’s license? Well, in any case, it seems like a pretty flimsy excuse to get a high-profile guest star into these pages. “You claim to be on ‘my side,’ yet all you’ve done is attack!” the Vision exclaims, and he’s absolutely right; the no-time-to-explain-MARMIS is not something I’m going to excuse too often from a writer of Claremont’s caliber (side note: it turns out that Claremont is only slightly to blame; the letters page for Ms M #8 reports that Archie Goodwin and Jim Shooter plotted the issue, and were not properly credited. The editorial blurb also describes the plotting session taking place “literally in an afternoon,” which might help to explain why it doesn’t add up terribly well). Matthew:  Thanks, Chris.  Another side-benefit to your working much further ahead than I am!  No wonder he was "not at his peak"... 

Marvel Team-Up 57
Spider-Man and the Black Widow in
"When Slays the Silver Samurai!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum

On patrol, Spidey thwarts a group of uniformed men robbing an antique store on Madison, but is soon knocked out by the energy sword of their boss, the Silver Samurai.  Shortly before, the Black Widow—summoned to S.H.I.E.L.D.’s East-Side barber shop—had found the H.Q. below deserted, and when a nearby energy flare draws her attention, she rams the Samurai with the Champscraft, saving Spidey’s life.  He recovers as the old foes square off at a building site, then must save a man falling from an upper floor and brace the building with 35 I-beams after the Samurai cuts through the main utility core; barely able to move, he rejoins the Widow as they defeat the villain and share perplexity over the object of the theft, a clay statuette. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Okay, Black Goliath may have been cancelled, but Claremont is now writing Iron FistMTUMs. Marvel, and X-Men.  Alas, the provisional “Sell my clothes, I’m goin’ to Heaven!” that I wrote before re-reading this is mitigated by the flaws in the script; Champions follow-up or no, the S.H.I.E.L.D. stuff is apparently irrelevant, and I’m sorry, but I just don’t buy that a single stroke from even a souped-up sword could threaten an entire skyscraper.  Sal and Dave stick around to smooth the transition from Bill to Chris, making the visuals—including that yummy Cockrum cover, even if I don’t know what’s up with the Samurai’s skin tones there, and especially his page-7 reveal—this issue’s strongest suit, Natasha looking as good as she ever has.

Chris: Okay, I have a few questions.  First, what was Angus Padgorney (you know, the red-haired, bearded fella) doing at the building site, and why was he so high up on the building structure that his fall could’ve had Humpty-Dumpty consequences?  Was he some sort of engineer, or architect, or something?  What happened to him after the battle was concluded?  Very strange, unexplained device by Claremont; there’s probably an explanatory scene that wound up on the cutting room floor – well, look for it as a Special Feature on the MTU DVD.    

We may have a better chance of finding out (in our next issue, that is) what the clay statuette is all about.  Sal gives us a few hints that there might be more to come – he makes a point of showing us a box fall from the high floor, when Angus also is a-plummeting (p 17, pnl 5); should we assume that this is the same (unshattered by impact) box that the Samurai accidently slices open (p 27, pnl 6)?  I guess we’ll see, won’t we?  

Loose ends: I like how we have a second look in two months at the secret-entrance via barber shop to SHIELD’s under-city HQ (previous appearance just last month, in MTIO #26).  Who says this ain’t the Marvel Age of Continuity?  I also like how Claremont refers to the Samurai’s involvement with Steve Gerber’s Mandrill storyline from a few years back in Daredevil, but best of all is Spidey’s crack about the Samurai being a “bargain basement Belushi.” -!  Beautifully done, Mr Claremont!  Lastly, I especially enjoy the sure, clear lines of Dave Hunt’s inks, which work so well with Sal’s depiction of Spidey; the Widow is looking pretty well herself, if I do say so.

Matthew: A small correction:  the locale shown in MTIO #26 is not the venerable barber shop, which dates back to Strange Tales #136, but S.H.I.E.L.D.’s “pizza-parlor contact quarters” on the corner of 26th Street.

Joe Tura: I wonder if there was a lexicon of Spidey-speak that all Marvel writers had to follow, that Claremont could pick up his subtleties right away. Like "Cripes," or "Bargain basement Belushi." Or was he just that good back in the late 70s? Nah, must have been an outline for all to follow, or they all just read Stan's old scripts in their spare time. Although maybe there are times when Spidey gets a bit long-winded in his own head (page 17 for example). Speaking of talking to themselves, it's always funny to witness characters, such as Widow, describing everything out loud dramatically. Wouldn’t thought balloons be more accurate? All in all, another fast-moving, enjoyable team-up that combines Widow's aggression with Spidey's determination, a long battle intercut with some spontaneous construction work that certainly speaks to the web-slinger's character. And of course, we're left with a mystery because what good MTU book doesn't do such a thing!

Marvel Two-In-One 27
The Thing and Deathlok in
"Day of the Demolisher!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Len Wein
Letters by John Costanza and Beth Bleckley
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

Deathlok attacks Ben and Fury, but Mentallo and the Fixer are at first uncertain how firmly he is under control, so Mentallo probes our heroes’ minds for their deepest fears, and covers the escape with an illusion of a dinosaur.  M&F use jet disks to bring Deathlok to their hideout, where Mentallo recalls how he saw Spider-Man return from the future (in MTU #46), and plucked the knowledge of the cyborg from his mind before it faded from his memory.  They plan to strike on January 20, 1977, at the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter, to which the FF have been invited; as Fury hovers above, suspecting their target, Deathlok is dispatched with a specially designed rifle, but gets no reply from the computer that shares his consciousness.

After a page-long monologue in which Deathlok laments once again being a pawn, the FF are warned by Fury of his fears, and Reed places a fateful call for help.  Deathlok hits upon a way to thwart the control:  he has not been ordered to hide, so he deliberately shows himself, hoping the FF will stop him, but gets off a shot at Carter before battling Ben, and once the others have captured M&F, Sue places Deathlok in her force field.  The Fixer boasts that nobody else can remove the special pod he placed on Deathlok, while “Carter” reveals himself as the Impossible Man, whom Reed summoned when he realized that M&F were trying not to assassinate the new President but “to fire a special micro-circuited control unit into him” and put him in their power. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As a kid, I was probably thrilled to see Deathlok again, but in retrospect he just seems here like a Matthew: self-pitying mope who isn’t even operating under his own steam, and my overwhelming reaction is depression at this giant step in his gradual degradation.  Speaking of things to be depressed about provides a handy segue to the Wilson/Marcos artwork, and with that cigarette or whatever it is dangling from his lip (it sure doesn’t look like his trademark stogie), the flat-faced Fury resembles nothing so much as a Mort Drucker caricature in page 6, panel 4 (right).  Three issues into Wolfman’s run, this thing—if you’ll pardon the pun—still isn’t catching fire, and I’m starting to wonder if my remembered affection for the book is misplaced after the Gerber and Mantlo eras...

Chris: Plenty of action this issue, with a well thought-out plan to recruit Deathlok for the seeming-assassination (since we’re told that the intent is not to “get Carter,” but instead to implant a control device); bonus points to Marv for weaving in Spidey’s meeting with Deathlok in MTU #46 – Marvel continuity strikes again!  Although, on the down side: Mentallo and the Fixer are defeated far too easily (the Torch sets up a “heat shield” that blocks Mentallo’s influence -?!).  And, a question: what’s supposed to happen to Deathlok, once Sue releases him from her force shield?  I mean, she’ll have to sleep sometime, right -? (note: the GCDb does not indicate where we should expect to find Deathlok’s next appearance; what’s to become of our favorite dystopian-future killer cyborg ..?)

Matthew:  This mag remains Deathlok's home away from home for the foreseeable, uh, future; he, or what's left of him, appears intermittently through #34, and then again in #53-58.

Chris: Quick thinking by Deathlok to put himself in harm’s way, so that he might be prevented from firing shots at the podium; overall, Marv’s presentation is reasonably true to the character, although methinks he doth protest too long (and a bit redundantly) once he’s alone on the rooftop, contemplating his fate (p 15).  Speaking of which, I was more than slightly distracted by Marv’s mistaken placement of the inauguration at the White House rose garden; don’t you remember the iconic images of Kennedy’s speech, on the Capitol steps, Marv -?  Also, obviously, there isn’t any structure in DC that allows you to look down and train a gunsight on the White House lawn; unless, of course, you could smuggle a rifle into the elevator to the top of the Washington Monument, that is.
The art is reasonably good – Deathlok looks as he should, despite the fact that none of his usual art-handlers (Buckler, Janson & Co) are here – as once again I will credit Marcos with ably pulling the whole thing together.  There are some moments, though, that no inker can fix, no matter how capable he might be, such as Wilson’s depiction of Fury as an Easter Island monolith (p 6, pnl 4).
Matthew: Hah!  Proud to see my Wilson "Easter Island" metaphor from #25 echoed.  Thanks.

Nova 9
"Fear in the Funhouse!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Megaman runs off with Caps, as Nova heads inside the burning house to rescue his parents and brother, puts out the fire with underground water pipes and flies to the hospital to change into Richard, telling his parents "Nova flew me here." (Which isn't lying!) Cut to Megaman in his Coney Island hideout, telling Caps he went back to save him in the sewers, and explaining he's here to be close to his apartment, hoping his nephew will go put in a good word with his estranged wife Clara. (Seems plausible!) Back at the Rider home, Charles gets a phone call that upsets him—he's been fired! Richard takes him aside to talk him down, then an hour later, speeds off as Nova and saves a cat. Caps goes to Aunt Clara's apartment, and the blonde floozy and her smarmy boyfriend don't believe his story about Uncle Nathan—and when the boyfriends smacks Caps, Megaman enters swinging! Nova gets a call about it in his helmet, and smashes in to battle the faceless frenemy, who zaps the human rocket down into the funhouse under the apartment. A frenetic battle ensues, halted when the entity that "created" Megaman shows up, having tracked her beloved across the time streams! Begging Clara to declare her love for him, Megaman/Nathan instead is taken by the entity "one million years from now" to live happily ever after. Maybe. --Joe Tura

Joe: If you just look at the artwork, this is a pretty solid comic. You almost root for Megaman, who seems to look after his nephew, and his wife is an angry one who has no redeeming qualities other than her figure. And the fight between Nova and Megaman (by the way, kind of a dumb name when you have no face) is short but cool, and they take advantage of the Coney Island funhouse features. Well, a little bit at least. But then you read the script, which is packed with words to the level of Doug Moench. And there are some groaners here. Page 3, after Nova's Flash trick of creating a vacuum to snuff the flames fails he says "So I guess you can't believe everything you read in comic mags!" Nice shot at DC there, Marv. Gloria Rider's optimism after the fire on page 11 is a bit unrealistic methinks: "Well, there's a good side to the fire—at least we'll get some new curtains. The old ones were getting a bit tacky." Just like this dialogue! And anything the boyfriend says (which thankfully isn't much) is straight out of Soap Opera Villain 101. And Nova's inner dialogue continues to be a combination of Spidey wanna-be and over-descriptions and name-dropping.

However, I did like some of the script, like how Nova's helmet becomes like tissue paper when he takes it off (pg 6), which seems odd but is sorta cool. And how it's family first the entire comic, especially with the Riders, and even Caps and his uncle, which makes you dislike Clara even more since she "rejects" Nathan/Megaman. Nova saving the cat on page 14 is super-hokey, yet also so darn cute and actually such a nice little moment that you don't mind how forced it really is. Yeah, I know I'm contradicting myself, but hey, I have to like something here. Overall, we get an average issue of Nova, which is about as average as it gets in the Marvel Universe.

"Nova Newsline" continues the ridiculous overhype for this title in an answer to a letter from Michael Biegel of Upper Saddle River, NJ. Bigel praises Marvel for creating the "unique villain of the species," names the Sphinx, and the reply starts "Mike, it seems the Sphinx has set off a current that's reverberating all throughout Marveldom Assembled. Not since the creation of Doctor Doom himself has a new villain received such an instant reception." Are you kidding me? Sphinx is not the worst bad guy I've ever seen, but honestly, there are no words for that load of bunk the editors are trying to sell us. And it only gets worse later on, when they claim "NOVA is the biggest hit since SPIDER-MAN." I call B.S.!

Matthew: Per a LOC from one Michael Biegel, “When writing letters continually to each issue of a title, there tend to be issues that ofttimes motivate no overwhelming excitement and joyous celebration.”  Speaking from your pre-Internet/blog perspective, you have no idea, my friend!  In enlightening and laudatory reply to Paul Salerno’s plea, “Try to keep Frank inking Sal,” the armadillo writes, “the Fearless One (a brand new grandfather, by the way—congrats, Frank) does more than merely ink Sal’s pencils.  You see, Sal does layouts; not complete and finished pencils.  Frank finishes the art and inks it as well.  And as far as Marv and Sal are concerned, Frank can stay on [Nova] forever, ’cause they think he’s one of the very best artists anywhere.”

I’ve often observed how Marvel increased my vocabulary as a lad, but I haven’t mentioned how much it’s taught me about geography.  Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #2, for example, takes us to Manhattan’s “Grammacy” Park, while here, we visit the Rider domicile in “Hemsted,” Long Island.  Two rhetorical questions:  why specify a particular location when you can’t even spell it, and what was Editor Marv smoking while Writer Marv (or perhaps Letterer John) came up with that doozy?  Finally, I know this is a comic book, but despite how cool I think Megaman looks as depicted by Buscemacoia, I just can’t suspend my disbelief regarding his faceless appearance:  I mean, how on Earth does he see?  Speak?  Breathe, for heaven’s sake?

Chris: This title had shown some encouraging improvement until Wolfman derailed the whole thing with this two-part Megaman story; it doesn’t help that the story in the first half of this issue is disjointed, and slow to develop.  The last image on the last page is an illustration in a box, showing the Condor, Diamondhead, and Powerhouse squaring off against the Sphinx, a story now promised for Nova #10.  Well, we could’ve stuck with that story and continued with it from the first pages of Nova #8, right?  If only Marv’s editor had taken him aside, and explained to him how – oh wait – what’s that?  Marv doesn’t have an editor?  Well then, who is – oh, you mean Marv is both writer and editor for this title?  Well, who the hell signed off on that idea -?

Omega the Unknown 8
"A Blast from the Past"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Lee Elias and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Just as Omega the Unrested is recovering from his no-holds-barred battle with Blockbuster (last issue), he's sucker punched by Nitro, the Exploding Man! In a simple case of mistaken identity, Nitro thought Omega was his arch-enemy Captain Marvel ("New York is lousy with super-heroes!") and casts the Unknown to the side in a super-villain's version of an apology. Not one to be embarrassed, Omega heads off after Nitro but is put on the ground before the Exploder vanishes in thin air. Meanwhile, at a bus station across town, Amber, Ruth, and James-Michael are awaiting the arrival of Ruth's boyfriend, Richard Rory. Richard takes to James-Michael immediately and promises to teach him the facts of life, stick ball, and how to open a street hydrant. Unknown to Rory, a shadowy figure watches his every move (hint: this guy doesn't suffer fools). Omega finally manages to catch up with Nitro (probably following the trail of carnage), who's smashing up expensive doodads at Stark International, hoping Iron Man will show up and lead the baddie to Captain Marvel. Unfortunately for He Who Shall Explode, all he's going to get is a relative Unknown named Omega. The two duke it out until Omega has a brainstorm: pop a metal cylinder over Nitro and let him explode himself to smithereens. That's just what happens. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Perhaps echoing the hopes of the dozen faithful readers of Omega the Unknown, James-Michael knows "that eventually the answers will come. He hopes they come soon." Alas, we all know now that they won't come at all within the next two remaining issues, but I've a feeling even if we got answers we wouldn't like them. Richard Rory placing his hand on J-M's shoulder and telling him they're going to have a "man-to-man talk" brought to mind Leslie Nielsen's immortal line to little Joey about gladiator movies. It's pretty sleazy.

Matthew:  Unique among the book’s brief run, this is the only entry to be written by Stern, currently succeeding Gerber on Marvel Presents, or drawn by somebody besides Mooney, in this case recent Power Man artist Elias.  Yet since Jim inks Lee’s pencils, imposing his own style upon them in the process, you won’t exactly experience a jarring inconsistency.  The weirdest thing about it, though—and I know that’s setting the bar pretty high with this title—is that it brings back not one but two of Steve’s Man-Thing creations, the Foolkiller (albeit his second incarnation) and alter ego/D.J./ex-con Richard Rory…just before Gerber himself and co-conspirator/main squeeze/muse Skrenes return from their Jim Shooter-imposed two-issue hiatus.

Luke Cage, Power Man 43
"The Death of Luke Cage!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Lee Elias and Alex Nino
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

Luke Cage and Thunderbolt manage to veer the Goldbug air-ship off course and just miss killing hundreds of innocent bystanders at the Fifth Avenue Library. When the cops show up, the dynamic duo go their separate ways, vowing to hang together at a future date. Cage arrives at his office for some r 'n' r but IRS man Oliver Sneagle is there to ruin the day, vowing to get to the bottom of Luke's non-payment of taxes. Knowing that the IRS will dig up all the info on his phony name and checkered past, he makes plans to skip town. He says his goodbyes to Claire and Noah and boards a train to Chicago. As is the norm for the luck of the Power Man for Hire, there's another soul on board who'd just as soon not be found: the man called Mace! When Mace discovers Cage is on the train, he naturally assumes the big man is there for him and gives him a "SPAD!" upside the skull. Luke tries to explain that this is just a simple case of MARMIS but Mace is having none of that and the two get down to some serious ass-kicking. The fight spills out and onto the top of the train, where Mace gets the better of Luke and tosses him off the speeding locomotive. Cage hoofs it, thumb extended and, after several miles, he's picked up by a smokin' hot chick with the handle of Burgundy, who tells Luke she'll give him a smooth ride. When Cage notices the babe is packing, he gets her to 'fess that she's on a job and asks if the big guy would like to help her. He agrees and she takes him to see her boss, a guy Luke Cage knows all too well: Mace! -Peter Enfantino

Peter: "The Death of Luke Cage" is told in three acts: Action, Back Story, Action. No surprise if you've read my comments on this series before that the highlight is not the fisticuffs but the dialogue Luke has with his friends, speech that "sounds" very real. The action is okay but we've seen it all before. Luke aboard a crashing air-ship and fighting on a speeding train (be it above or below ground) has been done several times already but it helps check the action box adequately. I'm still not warming up to the Elias/Nino team but Nino exits next issue and we'll see how Lee fares first with Tom Palmer and then inking himself.

Red Sonja 3 
“The Games of Gita”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne
Cover by Frank Thorne

Red Sonja comes across an abused Zotoz slave struggling to pull the ornate rickshaw of a fat nobleman from Athos. When she demands that the slave be given water, the obese man refuses: she shames him by knocking him out of the cart and kicking him to the ground. A hooded wanderer named Mikal appears and congratulates Sonja on her actions. Mikal informs the Hyrkanian hellcat that Athos and Zotoz are neighboring cities: the former is immensely rich while the latter shockingly poor. He also mentions that the Games of Gita are now being held, matching competitors from each city. As laborers, the Zotozians are physically superior to the well-fed Athosians, so the servants usually defeat their masters in games of athleticism. However, Sortilej, the gorgeous Queen of Athos, has fixed the games: when a Zotoz competitor wins an event, he is killed. Angered by the injustice, Sonja decides to join the Games on the side of the Zotozians. When she enters the arena with her fellow athletes, Sortilej releases a group of murderous and muscular Athosians, specially trained for years underneath the castle. After Sonja defeats them one by one in athletic events, the enraged queen decides to enter the contest herself. She proves herself to be the equal of the red-haired hellion, but Sonja finally defeats her in a wrestling match. Suddenly, in a last desperate move, Sortilej reveals that she is a sorcerer and transforms herself into a giant spider. But Sonja kills the horrifying creature with a javelin. The crowd of both Athosians and Zotozians cheer the vivacious victor, urging her to take Sortilej’s crown. But Red Sonja, joined by the wanderer Mikal, merely mounts her horse and rides away. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Good stuff. After last issue’s densely-packed tale, this excellent issue keeps things nice and simple, yet still very effective and involving. While the usual haves-and-have-nots moralizing is nothing new, it’s wrapped in a brutal package. The Athosians are obscenely extravagant, even pouring expensive perfumes on the city streets to sweeten the paths of walkers weighed down by jewels and gold. On the flip side, the Zotoz dwellings are crumbling straw and mud— but all their manual labor pays off in the games. Well, up until the point that they are killed. The dark beauty Sortilej couldn’t be less dressed and her struggle with Sonja in the arena must have been a thrill for teenaged catfight fans. They are both champions when it comes to bosom size at least. Sorry if I keep harping on the great Frank Thorne art, but he’s really on his game here. Still impressed that he continues to letter and color as well. Of the series I cover, only Conan the Barbarian and Iron Fist surpass the quality found in each issue of Red Sonja.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 6
"The Power to Purge!"
Story by Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Artie Simek and Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

As he swings around town, Spider-Man's web-shooters jam, but he's able to grab a ledge and pull himself up to safety. Feeling slightly woozy, thinking he messed up making the fluid, he recounts the last time he had such a close call—Marvel Team-Up #3, when he and the Human Torch battled Morbius, The Living Vampire and a newly vampiric college student, as the former scientist dropped in to find Prof. Jorgenson, and a cure for what condition his condition was is in. And it all ends poorly for all involved, even Torch, who gets a mud bath, feverish Spidey and poor old Morbius, who flees with no cure. After our hero replaces his web cartridges, he swings back to Peter Parker's pad, but then we see Morbius in a strange land, wary of a shadowy figure threatening to send him back because he can. In fact, he says "I can do that…and much, much more."—Joe Tura

Joe: "Re-presenting a wall-crawler classic!,"shouts the cover, and the unsuspecting 10-year-old is puzzled enough that he lets this one sit on the spinner rack. Or did he pick it up, look inside and say "hey, that's dreaded deadline doom!" Or was it merely missed. No, that won't be on the test, but see Prof. Bradley's notes below to study for the final, class. Our wraparound is short and salty, with Spidey somehow falling because he made a bad batch of web fluid, then the last panel sets up next issue, and it looks super rushed, like Sal and Mike had a cab to catch, with mystery abounding beyond why the background looks like my daughter drew it. Always nice to see Artie Simek's work again, even in a "reprint."

Favorite sound effect is the only "original" one, on page 2, when Spidey manages to save himself with a handy "THAK!". Which not coincidentally was also the sound this comic book made when the fanboys slapped it down in disgust over reading the replay of a comic from five years prior.

Matthew: Is this a reprint?  Well, yes and no.  It’s more like that Incredible Hulk TV episode built around footage purloined from Richard Matheson’s Duel, neither fish nor fowl, definitely fishy and possibly foul.  Between the standard reduction in page count (21 vs. 17) and the addition of a new last page (uncredited but, per the CBDB, done by the recent Goodwin/Buscemosito team) as a bridge to next issue’s Morbius tale, Marvel Team-Up #3 is shorn of pages 1-3, setting up the Bolt Brothers subplot, and 6-7, depicting Spidey’s collapse and Martine’s arrival at the Baxter Building.  More insidiously, pages 4-5 are rewritten to create faux continuity with current issues of Amazing, leaving just ⅔ of the pages in their original form.

Chris: It’s hard to believe that, after only five issues, this title would already require a fill-in – and a reprint, at that.  Gerry, Ross & Co make the best of things as they use this material as a prelude to next month’s Morbius mayhem.  It’s a little strange to see Morbius in his full-villain mode, with his guilty conscience battling against a blatant disregard for life; over the course of his 12-issue run in Fear, Morbius became a sorta-hero, with improved (but admittedly, not perfect) control over his sanguinary urges.  It seems that the creative team has plans for him for next issue; I doubt Morbius will be in for a good time.

I didn’t realize that a conk on the head could kill a vampire (p 30, 1st panel); does Quincy Harker know about this?  Could someone give him a call -?
I have a difficult time believing that the cover is all-Milgrom, pencils and inks.  It doesn’t jibe with the look he’s presented in his self-inked art for Captain Marvel and Guardians of the Galaxy.  If you told me that the cover includes some Romita-directed touching-up, I would not dismiss this intel.

The Mighty Thor 259
"Escape Into Oblivion!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

The Grey Gargoyle enters the slave quarters where Thor, his companions and the many alien slaves are held captive. He has come to ask their... help? It seems the stone man desires to return to Earth, and his tenure as the commander of the Bird of Prey is more of a result of circumstance. When the Gargoyle had become chained to the rocket missile he had sought to send into orbit (part of a plan to set up a satellite that would aid in his petrifying efforts), he became the victim of his own plan. Turning the chain to rock, he broke free and drifted through space until he was captured by the crew of the Bird of Prey. He challenged its captain, Sklarr, to a duel that the alien couldn't refuse, and used his stone powers to win a battle where he otherwise would have had no chance. Essentially, he had frightened the alien crew to accepting him as their new commander, but in truth, he is as much a captive as Thor. Thor and company agree to help if freeing the slaves is part of the deal. Fee-lon, the vessel's First Mate, has overheard these plans (he has never cared for the Stone one), and warns the other crew members. So when the Gargoyle orders Fee-Lon to call the Asgardians to the bridge, Fee-Lon is ready for a battle. His heavily armed fellows seem to have an advantage, but the heart of the enslaved ones turns the tide in the direction of justice. As fate would have it, Fee-Lon follows the Grey Gargoyle into the shuttlecraft bay, where the two of them are accidentally launched into space. Their struggle turns the controls to stone, and the shuttle explodes, sealing their fate. Thor leaves the former slaves the new ones in charge of the Bird of Prey. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Paul Duval, aka the GG, becomes a little more interesting as a sympathetic character when he seeks Thor's help, but being on the side of good isn't really his style; thus his rather untimely (for now) end. The enslaved aliens turning things toward victory is a heartening turn of events; I wonder how they'll deal with their former captives now? Anticipating more menacing things to come, Balder feels the threat of the Enchantress and the Executioner, as they demand surrender or destruction. Karnilla sees it as a chance for Balder to ascend the Golden Realm's throne, a fate he surely doesn't desire. If I recall, things get pretty interesting next month.

Matthew:  So, it looks like this is Buscema’s last issue until #272, DeZunigized raccoon eyes and all, but I was delighted to see that while heading out the door to tackle Tarzan, Big John so faithfully—if memory serves me correctly, an increasingly dubious assumption—recreated the climax of MRB-fave Marvel Team-Up #13.  I so strongly associate Walt Simonson with his mid-’80s heyday as the book’s writer/artist, which outlasted my Marvel tenure (#362 was my last issue), that I was genuinely surprised to be reminded that he begins a year-long stint as penciler next month.  Don’t know if anyone else experienced this, but in my copy, pages 23 and 26 were switched, which made the climax a tad more hectic, like that too-busy cover, than it already was!

Chris: So, the Grey Gargoyle is done in by his own power – how very ironic.  Well, maybe now we can get back to the search for Odin; I recall that there was some clue for the crew to pursue (wow – say that phrase five times fast), but I’m counting on a flashback sequence in our next issue to remind us what it might have been.  Don’t get me wrong; the swordplay with the pirate-animals (or are they animal-pirates -?) is all good fun – even the Recorder gets into the Volstagg-jibes this issue.  But it sounds like the Asgardian homefront could use a few of its champions right about now, which means we have to get back to finding the Big Guy.  I wonder whether Balder have second thoughts about having passed up the Starjamming Odin-search team; if he’d gone along, then the problems related to the present threat to Asgard all could be stuck on the Vizier, I figure.  Instead, once Thor & Co return, they’ll have no choice but to decide that it’ll be a balmy day in Niflheim before they leave Balder with the executive washroom key again.  

The Tomb of Dracula 56

"The Vampire Conspiracy"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Journalist and would-be novelist Harold H. Harold works all night long to finish his epic, a very fanciful fictionalization of his exploits with the vampire hunters, entitled The Vampire Conspiracy. In it, Harold details all the brave sacrifices and the gorgeous women he's had while keeping the world safe from vampires. As he drops the manuscript in the letter box for pick-up, he's brought back to Earth when Aurora turns him down for a date. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: This is obviously one of those jobs that was done and then shelved for a time when the DDD loomed. Since last issue's action flows right into next issue's, this standalone is tantamount to the old eight-track tapes that would stop in the middle of a song, give you silence, and then continue the song on the next track. As it is, Harold H. Harold is the most disposable of all the ToD characters so building an entire issue around his Don Knotts-ian fantasies is a waste of paper. One of those rare issues that completists could do without. More interesting is the letters page which reveals the winner of the "Name Drac Junior" contest. Well, that name would be revealed if there was a winner. In a rare "screw you, fans" moment, Marv 'fesses that he didn't like any of the submissions but begrudgingly awards a runner-up prize to Paul Kriksciun of Collinsville, CT for the name "Gideon." Hands up if you think Marv had a name all picked out months before and this silly contest was only conducted for  publicity.

Chris: I’m beginning to grow a bit impatient with Wolfman.  First, he takes his sweet time with the Blade+Hannibal King storyline, as it takes months for him to present – finally – their showdown with Deacon Frost.  Now, once he’s brought the whole Son-Spawn of Dracula story to a pointy head, Marv shelves the whole thing for a month so that we can see Harold’s pulp masterwork.  Well – why?  Harold’s already proven himself to be a limited character, worth nothing but often-unwelcome comic relief.  As Marv centers an entire issue on Harold’s little fantasy, the one-notedness of the character becomes even more apparent.  Harold has devoted the novel to his own puffing-up – but that’s the only gag, which affords us scant opportunity for humor, and since humor is all Harold ever has to offer, there’s little else to enjoy once that solo joke is established.  

This might have been more enjoyable if Marv knew how to write badly; I mean, seriously, this should be a terribly funny thing to read, as purple as purple could be, overwrought with ponderous prose that would cause even a Moench or a McGregor to cringe (but an Isabella to take careful notes).  The bottom line is that Harold’s book might’ve worked better as a short segment – say, six pages or so – in an annual, or some other longer-format setting (yes, I realize that there is no ToD annual), as a humorous meager trifle, instead of a full-issue derailment of the main storyline.
Mark: It's purely coincidental, but just like Doug Moench going Groucho in this month's normally heavy/high bodycount Master of Kung Fu, Marv taps a humorous vein here, courtesy of super-schlub Harold H. Harold. That fact alone, I know, has some of my Harold-hating colleagues baying at the moon in anguish, but I implore them - for their possible actual enjoyment of "The Vampire Conspiracy," if not their very sanity - to look past their by-rote schlab-shaming prejudice, to the actual details Marv and Gene serve up here.

Harold is neither the self-mocking anti-heroic, nor performing improbable stunts, like rope-walking between buildings, that Marv's asked us to swallow in the past. Rather, it's H3's wish fulfillment fantasy, banged out as paperback horror potboiler on his old-fangled manual typewriter. 

So gone is the low-rent Woody Allen shtick, replaced by a suave, pipe-smoking Harold, leading Harker's crew in his bathrobe: Hugh Howard Hefner, Fearless Vampire Hunter! 

The feats that follow include not just dispatching Drac and the Devil as Big Cat incarnate, but winning Aurora's unconditional love, only to be last page rebuked by the real thing. Until then, the pulpy fun is served up with plenty of blood and brio. 

And I like Harold's cat. 

Also This Month

Crazy #25

Marvel's Greatest Comics #70
Marvel Classics Comics #17
Marvel Super-Heroes #64
Marvel Super Action #1
Marvel Tales #79
Marvel Triple Action #35
Rawhide Kid #139
Sgt Fury #140
Weird Wonder Tales #22 >

After a seven year run, Marvel's monster reprint line is finally put to rest with the last issue of the lone surviving title, Weird Wonder Tales. RIP My Childhood - Peter Enfantino

No comments:

Post a Comment