Wednesday, January 27, 2016

August 1977 Part Two: Iron Man Battles The Frankenstein Monster!

Val Mayerik/Dave Cockrum

The Invincible Iron Man 101

"Then Came the Monster!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson

Having sent O’Brien back in the Quinjet, Iron Man is returning home under his own steam when he stumbles on a Red Chinese airbase, and is allowed to commandeer a ride by an officer who realizes that “a jet is a small price to pay for his service in having rid us of the Mandarin.”  Setting its auto-pilot, he dozes off while Jasper follows Krissy and Key as they depart S.I. with a mysterious dummy briefcase; over the Yugoslav-Greek border, IM is rudely awoken when the plane is mistaken for the possible attack to which O’Brien had alerted NATO, and despite escaping the burning jet, he is knocked out by SAMs.  Crashing into a forest in the Swiss Alps, he is borne off by dwarfish beings, led by none other than the Frankenstein Monster.

Fearing “The Other,” who also wears a metal mask, the grotesque “children” want to destroy Iron Man, but the Monster, hoping that he might be an ally, carries him to Castle Frankenstein for the verdict of their “Mother,” the Daughter of Creation.  Astonished at the nature of his captors when he revives, Iron Man (who endures a savage pummeling from the Monster in page 22, panel 2) nonetheless tries not to hurt them, and learns that the Other holds their mistress “to insure [sicgood behavior on your part…”  Announcing that “I think I’d like to meet this ‘Other,’” he gets his wish when he is felled—a bombardment of ionic force and metallic energy-discs overloading his armor—by the Dreadknight, who rides a bizarre, coal-black winged horse... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: After the complex storyline that just finished, with the Krissy/Key/Jasper subplot still unfolding, Mantlo wisely starts this two-parter slowly with the trials and tribulations of IM’s homecoming; nice scene with Major Wu.  Bill is apparently picking up threads he had to leave dangling in the last issue of the Monster’s own book (#18), which Conway didn’t address in Marvel Team-Up #36-37, but while the “gnomes” seem to follow a little too hard on the heels of those leprechauns from Cassidy Keep, Tuskosito gives the Monster a welcome gravitas.  They also do well with the wordless sequence of Iron Man’s crash-landing on page 14, and deliberately or not, the silhouette in page 16, panel 4 reminded me of Bergman’s famous “Dance of Death” from The Seventh Seal.

Chris Blake: A pretty bizarre pairing, isn’t it?  It’s been years since the Monster’s own mag was folded up and put back in the closet – was Archie hoping that the Monster’s return could spark new interest in the character, or something?  It’s really hard to figure.  My best bet is that this story idea had been shelved when Monster of Frankenstein was cancelled, and is placed here to give Bill a chance to figure out the title’s next direction following the completion of the Guardsman/Mandarin storyline.  I have no basis for this theory – call it simple supposition.  

Pages 14-16 provide most of our visual highlights.  First, good decision to allow IM to plummet to the earth, without intrusive captions to tell us how fast he is falling, the certainty of death once he hits the ground, etc (p 14); next, the Monster’s impressive appearance, as he stares from the page at the reader (p 15 – although, I wonder what those four doves are supposed to be doing there); lastly, the Monster thoughtfully inspects the armored stranger’s metal hand, then carries him off into the twilight (p 16).

Al Milgrom

The Invincible Iron Man Annual 4

"The Doomsday Connection!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Don Perlin
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza

"Death Lair!"

Story by Roger Stern
Art by Jeff Aclin and Don Newton
Colors by Nel Yomtov
Letters by Howard Bender

Supposedly killed by the Yellow Claw in #75, MODOK is reported alive by S.H.I.E.L.D., and “an enormous outpouring of unmistakeable [sicmental energy” leads Iron Man to a giant—but empty—support cradle in Nevada.  He quickly deduces that the robots and tank he destroys were just to delay him, and that MODOK has left the base, whose sole purpose was to relay enough stolen energy to black out the West Coast.  Seeking aid from the locally based Champions, whose members include two former teammates, IM has a dust-up with Ghost Rider before they agree to split up and check out three California sites where S.H.I.E.L.D. has detected A.I.M. activity…at one of which MODOK is likely testing his presumed super-weapon.

In Redwood National Forest, Hercules is about to voice unspoken emotions to the Black Widow when they and Angel are captured by blue-suited A.I.M. agents, while under San Francisco Bay, GR, Iceman, and Darkstar are set upon by mutated sea-life.  In the Mojave Desert, IM fights the biologically restructured Stryke in a Franciscan mission, but flies off on realizing that the trap is another delaying action, and summons the other teams—one shamming, the other escaping with an injured Laynia—to Nevada.  MODOK had made himself invisible while still drawing energy for his Doomsday Chair, and brings the mountain down on our heroes, yet IM also takes power from the cradle that shields them, vaporizing the mountain and causing fatal damage to the chair.

-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With Mantlo currently writing the monthly book—several recent issues of which Perlin inked—and Champions, Tuska well represented on both titles, and IM having served with Tasha and Herc in the Avengers, there’s a nice cohesion here; curiously, the Bullpen Page is the only source I’ve seen attributing the plot to Shooter.  It reputedly takes place between Iron Man #94 and 95, which would seem consistent with MODOK’s chronologically later appearances starting in Ms. Marvel #5…although, as Professor Chris has pointed out, there is that small matter of his “death” du jour at the end of the annual, which I don’t think is ever satisfactorily explained.  That also casts doubt on the veracity of the closing note, directing readers to Champions #16, but we’ll see.

As long as this is, it might have benefited from, and made better use of, the five pages devoted to the back-up story featuring Shang-Chi’s masked foster brother, Midnight, disfigured as a baby when soldiers destroyed his African village.  Written by Roger Stern, with art by Jeff Aclin and Don Newton, the snippet is set in Singapore in 1971, prior to M’Nai’s debut ’n’ death in Special Marvel Edition—later Master of Kung Fu—#16.  On behalf of his adoptive father, Fu Manchu, he tries to recruit Half-Face (an obscure Iron Man villain who, coincidentally or not, appeared in Tales of Suspense #94, wherein MODOK also fought Captain America), but the scientific genius, little dreaming how much they have in common, declines, leaving M’Nai with much to ponder…

Matthew: Notwithstanding its frustratingly abrupt climax, this is a pretty solid tale, and one that combines a bunch of elements I like:  Shellhead, Champs, MODOK, A.I.M.  Strangely ubiquitous as their book approaches cancellation, the Champions are well used here, with Bill not only capturing the subtleties of intra-group tensions (it’s never stated how the sub-teams are chosen, yet interesting that Darkstar joins those with the strongest feelings for and against her) but also introducing a new wrinkle with the possibility of a Herc/Tash romance.  Although Tuska is nobody’s favorite, he draws a nice MODOK, and the establishing shots of the aquarium of horrors on page 19 are effective; as usual, action is his strongest suit, and Shellhead gets plenty to smash along the way.

Chris: Bill does a solid job of melding his two writer-duty titles; this could just as easily be a Champions story, with Iron Man guest-starring.  My impression is that Archie is trying to bolster support for his only bi-monthly team mag, as this venue offers the Champs some additional exposure.  But back to the story – plenty of action, swiftly-paced, with a narrowly-avoided MARMIS; the situation could’ve devolved to one of those “If you won’t listen to me, I’ll have to fight you!” kinda moments, if not for Natasha’s quick intervention, and the team’s willingness to acknowledge her leadership.  

The notion that all the Champions are playing possum, as they expect to be carted in defeat to Modok himself, is a bit of a stretch; admittedly, it makes for a surprising development in the story.  But the thing I really can’t explain is how a flying Modok could possibly only travel a few feet from the flattened mountain; Herc stabilizes their space under the rubble, Iron Man soups up his suit, and then blasts his way clear to the surface, and yet there’s Modok, close enough to be struck by scattered debris.  Modok: next time, be sure to save your radio presets before you take off, so you don’t waste precious time hovering in mid-air, and fiddling with the settings, when you really should be making your escape.  (The other question will be for Claremont to explain how Modok re-appears in New York in an upcoming issue of Ms Marvel – not sure if that’s adequately addressed . . .).

Tuska and Perlin can spend as much time as they want on this title (oh, this is their last time working together?  Well, never mind then).  Highlights: eight big panels of robot-trashing, with metal and gears and things flying (p 3, p 6); Herc and Natasha share a Quiet Moment amongst the redwoods (p 16, 1st pnl); the growing, stretching net for Angel (p 18, 3rd pnl); Iron Man, awash in boundless power (p 37), and standing alone, as the smoke clears (p 38, last pnl).

The M’Nai story is pretty random, isn’t it?  I can’t help wondering where it had been intended to appear; why schedule a story about a deceased non-hero, anyway?  The fact that Stern wrote the script tells me that it probably hadn’t been sitting around too long, since he’s still a relative newcomer to the bashful bullpen.  The ending tells you that, should M’Nai ever return somehow (after all, they’re doing remarkable things with reconstructive surgery these days), he might be on the side of the Good Guys.  

Dave Cockrum/Al Milgrom
Iron Fist 14
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawecki

While patrolling New York City at night, Iron Fist is ambushed by a shadowy assailant who has a similar dragon tattoo — albeit without the wings. The man manages to get the young martial artist in a bear hug and drains some of his strength before slipping away. Back at his mansion, a weakened Danny Rand receives a message from Colleen: she needs his help in Calgary, where she is working as the bodyguard of Jeryn Hogarth. He’s been investigating some financial mischief in the Rand-Meachum corporation and has received threats. And since Misty Knight is undercover in the Caribbean, she needs him as her backup. When they arrive at the lawyer’s chalet high in the frigid Rocky Mountains, they discover that the powerful mercenary Sabretooth and his gunmen have captured Hogarth and his skilled staff of female assistants. But Rand and Wing make their escape on a Sno-Cat, two of Sabretooth’s men hot on their snowy trail. While Wing is wounded when a bullet grazes her temple, they manage to subdue the assassins and don their insulated suits as disguises. The Living Weapon and Wing make their way back to Hogarth’s hideaway — a strange helicopter that looks somewhat familiar to Rand is just arriving. Colleen races off to free the women as Iron Fist faces off against Sabretooth. As Wing and Hogarth’s femme fatales burst out of the chalet with guns blazing, the fearsome furry runs off. Iron Fist quickly follows, only to be temporarily blinded by the unexpected sunrise that reflects off the glittering snow. Sabretooth presses the advantage on his sightless victim, slashing his chest and back with razor-sharp claws. But remembering his blindfolded training under the tutelage of Lei Kung the Thunderer, Fist manages to defeat his opponent. Bruised and bloodied, he returns to Colleen’s side: the gunmen have been dispatched and the odd helicopter destroyed. 
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well I did it again. Claremont constructed his story with a liberal use of flashbacks: I put everything in chronological order. Sue me. Sadly, there is only one more issue left of this excellent series, but Claremont seems to be starting even more subplots instead of wrapping them up — I guess the cancellation was a bit of a surprise to the creative team. First we have the unknown assailant at the beginning and Sabretooth is somehow mixed up with Rand-Meachum, working for whoever is stealing from the company. Guess there’s something up with the high-tech helicopter as well. It seems that Rand has seen one before, but I can’t remember that happening. Let’s face it: if you think I’m gonna dislike a comic featuring Sabretooth, you know nothing of Tuco. My first cat, beloved and sorely missed, shared the villain’s name. Her moniker, however, was taken from the mighty mascot of the world’s worst but still greatest hockey team, the Buffalo Sabres. Reminding me of In Like Flint
 for some reason, the story is a bit lightweight as a whole: the flashbacks actually give it more density. And was anyone worried that even a blind Iron Fist would be in mortal danger? But really, how can you complain? Another outstanding comic by Claremont, Byrne and crew. Only one more to go. Yet Ghost Rider will continue to limp along with a rear flat tire. The horror.

Matthew: Having knowneven immortalized, by rewriting and performing Beatles lyricsProfessor Tom’s beloved cat, Sabretooth, I can imagine with what mixed emotions he read this.  We Monday-morning QBs know that its eponymous heavy, hyphenated here, also epitomizes the “Claremontiverse,” forming a retroactive link with X-Men, a connection that dominates the next and, per the lettercol (which promises a two-part MTU follow-up), final issue.  Oft-unappreciated Green gives me no reason to reconsider with his simpatico finishes, and any ground lost with Boomerang is fast regained in its brilliant splash page; tantalizing K’un-Lun mystery; precise blends of drama, tension, action, and characterization; and consistently ravishing Byrne artwork.

Chris: Claremont doesn’t provide much justification to bring Danny and Colleen together (Colleen says only that she needs “backup,” even though Hogarth has a whole crew of bodyguards), but it provides an opportunity for them to discuss Danny’s recent rift with Misty.  Their instances of working together prove often to be, shall we say, eventful – this time fits that bill – so it’s good to have them on the same caper again.

Chris: There’s a weird continuity break on p 22, as first (pnl 3) we see Danny, still clad in the weather-proof pants and boots he’d appropriated from the mercenaries.  But, once Danny is outside (p 23), we see him in his usual green pants and yellow slippers.  It’s not a big deal, but most of the time, Byrne would provide a moment of transition; for instance, he might’ve shown Danny holding the pants in his right hand after having removed them, in the first panel of p 23.  Art highlights: close-up of Sabretooth’s eye, as he catches something amiss with the guy wearing Garrett’s uniform (p 16, pnl 4); p 23, as Danny’s snowblindedness is set up by his view of the rising sun, followed (too late) as he tries to shield his eyes, and finally as he’s depicted against a pure-white background, awash in the brightness; the montage on p 27, as Danny recalls how to employ all his senses in a battle; bleeding scratches apparent on Danny’s back as the fight is concluded (p 30, p 31).

This is our second single-issue story, after a string of multi-parters.  Was Claremont possibly preparing for the possible fall of the axe, and trying not to leave Danny stranded in a continuing story?  Well, we are dolefully informed on the letters page that IF #15 will be the final bow.  The case of IF’s cancellation is unusual, though, as Claremont promises an upcoming Iron Fist appearance in MTU (which, no doubt, will settle the continuing Davos storyline), and then, he says, “who knows?”

Gil Kane

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 3

"The Air Pirates of Mars, Chapter 3:
Requiem for a Warlord!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe

The tables turned, Carter is now the captive of Stara Kan—confirmed as such—who can induce pain when the prince tries to break his chains, and tells Dejah that he was a dwar (captain) in the Zodangan army when the city was pillaged.  Shoulder pierced by Carter’s sword, he was disgraced by losing without being honorably slain, sentenced to life imprisonment during the war-crimes trial; vowing vengeance, Kan escaped into the desert, was found by the Great One, and is now a member of the Council of Five, assigned to terrorism.  With his Earthian strength, Carter at last shatters a link, proclaiming “I still live!” before he is confronted with a banth, the ten-legged Martian “lion” whose neck he snaps with his own chains.

From the dungeon, Carter is brought before Kan, but as he vows to kill his captor for striking Dejah, Kan again mentally inflicts agony with the obedience collar, demanding that Carter call him master.  Taking a literally hands-on approach, Kan pummels Carter with his mechanical arm and brags that between its crushing power and that of the collar, “you will belong to the Council of Five!”  The defiant Jasoomian (Earthman) is heedless of his own impossible pain, even rising to knock down the gloating Kan with his fist, but with the prospect of Dejah becoming a “playmate to the sadistic Warhoon,” or “stripped to the bone by the wild banth,” Carter knows he has no choice but to submit—for now—to save her, finally uttering the hated word, “master.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Nebres has once again bludgeoned Kane’s pencils into submission almost as total as Carter’s, yet the layouts occasionally show tantalizing hints of Gil-grandeur, or a trademark up-the-nose shot, and we close with a one-page portfolio “drawn by the wildly talented Alex Nino [whose name, interestingly, is unaccented on his own site] for an as yet unprinted Barsoomian tale.”  This isn’t a failing per se, but aside from Kan’s origin, this entry could be summed up in a single, succinct sentence:  “Kan forces the captive Carter’s compliance by threatening Dejah.”  It seems strange that they felt the need to credit ERB with “Inspiration,” since his name is plastered all over the cover and splash page, but why not; all that’s missing is Carter bellowing a Shatnerian “Kan!!!!”

John Buscema/ Dave Cockrum
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 3
"The Altar of the Flaming God!"
Adapted by Roy Thomas
from the novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen

Leaving Tarzan’s plantation, Werper dismisses his guides on a pretext, sends word to Achmet Zek to capture Jane, and follows Tarzan, who leads fifty Waziri to Opar.  A perilous ascent brings them to a secret passage cut through granite into Opar’s forgotten treasure vaults, but after Tarzan has sent the Waziri ahead, each with two gold ingots, he and the unseen Werper are trapped by an earthquake that dislodges a rock, striking Tarzan’s head and inducing amnesia.  Finding a stairway to the surface, Werper is grabbed by the ape-like Oparian priests and placed on the Altar of the Flaming God for sacrifice by the high priestess; Tarzan arrives just in time to save him, but does not remember La, and a tense standoff ensues as he steals her sacrificial knife. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Here beginning a four-issue stint, Filipino Savage Sword of Conan mainstay de Zuniga (sic) reminds us how much even the best penciler’s work can be enriched by a dedicated inker, sharpening the already exquisite figures and embellishing (adding?) backgrounds.  For his part, Roy sticks with Burroughs pretty much right down the line in this entry, and his decisions to compress and/or simplify TATJOO’s digressions—e.g., the lengthy descriptions of Werper and Tarzan wandering through pitch-black tunnels—are eminently logical.  Although Opar was a colony of Atlantis, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the respective estates to allow any ERB/REH tie-ins; the novel's hot-pants high priestess certainly made an indelible impression on a 12-year-old future professor.

Gilbert Colon: Professor Matthew stated, “Although Opar was a colony of Atlantis, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for the respective estates to allow any ERB/REH tie-ins,” raising an intriguing topic.  

Leading Howard scholar Rusty Burke, culling from REH’s personal correspondence for “A Short Biography of Robert E. Howard,” writes that “[f]or the Kull stories, Howard, for the first time, created a ‘Pre-Cataclysmic’ age of the earth, an age long before the dawn of recorded history.  Atlantis and Lemuria had not yet vanished into the seas, but they were inhabited not by the advanced, utopian civilizations claimed by the occultists, but by savages.  It was the Thurian continent that boasted grand civilizations, as well as mysterious pre-human races.”  In other words, this is not the Atlantis of Plato’s Timaeus or Critias, or of Burroughs for that matter.  

Yet Howard’s vision does maintain some similarities with the Atlantis backstory of his contemporary Burroughs (who was writing earlier than the younger REH but outlived him).  ERB’s Atlantean outpost in Africa, Opar, endures long after the sinking of its mother country, but is now “inhabited by half-human fiends.”  In REH’s short story “The Moon of Skulls,” one of prehistoric Atlantis’ settlements survives on the Dark Continent until at least the Elizabethan Age.  In that story, “the last son of Atlantis” tells the Puritan adventurer Solomon Kane: 

“Our cities banded the world; we sent our colonies to all lands to subdue all savages, men of all colors, and enslave them.  They toiled for us in the mines and at the galley’s oars.  All over the world the people of Atlantis reigned supreme.”  

That was before “[n]ew lands rose from the deep and Atlantis and Mu were swallowed up by the gulf ... The empire of Atlantis vanished and was forgotten, passing into the everlasting gulf of time and oblivion.  Likewise the colony cities in barbaric lands, cut off from their mother kingdom, perished.  The savage barbarians rose and burned and destroyed until in all the world only the colony city of Negari remained as a symbol of the lost empire.”  

Howard, writing in his “Hyborian Age” essay (1936), writes that besides the Picts and Lemurians, “[t]he barbarians of that age [Kull’s] were...the Atlanteans, who dwelt on a small continent between the Pictish Islands and the main, or Thurian Continent.”  Before “Atlantis and Lemuria [and s]ections of the Thurian Continent vanished under the waves,” Howard’s “Atlanteans founded a kingdom on the mainland [that] escaped the common ruin.”  Eventually this remnant was “swarmed [by] myriads of beasts and savages—ape­men and apes,” and “the outnumbered Atlanteans were hurled back into a state of savagery [and] the squalling chaos of jungle­bestiality from which ages ago their ancestors so laboriously crawled.”  

These “apish Atlanteans” sound much like Opar’s “ape-like men,” described in the novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar (1916) thusly: “When Atlantis...sank into the sea long ages since, she took with her all but a handful of her colonists working the vast gold mines of Central Africa.  From these and their degraded slaves and a later intermixture of the blood of the anthropoids sprung the gnarled men of Opar.”  Other words for them in the story are “demi-men” and “half-human attackers--.”  

In “Moon of Skulls,” it is said that the Atlanteans “depended upon the slaves [and t]hey mixed with each other more and more...  Rulers sat on the throne of Negari who possessed little of the blood of Atlantis, and these allowed more and more wild tribesmen to enter the city...  These savages are not like the other natives of the region.  A latent insanity lurks in the brains of every one.  They have tasted so deeply and so long of slaughter and victory that they are as human leopards, forever thirsting for blood.  On their myriad wretched slaves they have sated all lusts and desires until they have become foul and terrible beasts, forever seeking some new sensation, forever quenching their fearful thirsts in blood.”  

It is entirely possible that Howard drew from Burroughs – it is the opinion of many REH scholars ranging from Don Herron to L. Sprague de Camp that Burroughs was one of Howard’s many influences.  It is equally possible REH and ERB were drawing from common sources for some of their fantastical anthropology and Atlantean mythos.  

There is a consolatory ending of sorts for the vestiges of REH’s doomed Atlantis.  “[T]he apish Atlanteans are beginning the long climb upward[,] hav[ing] completed the cycle of existence [and] hav[ing] long forgotten their former existence as men.”  Eventually it is “the Cimmerians, ferocious savages, untamed by the invaders [who are] advancing rapidly ... [T]hey are the descendants of the Atlanteans, now progressing more steadily than their old enemies the Picts, who dwell in the wilderness west of Aquilonia.”  The rest is history – Conan the Cimmerian’s history, Conan of Aquilonia’s history.  

Maybe Philip José Farmer’s Khokarsa novels Hadon of Ancient Opar, Flight to Opar, and The Song of Kwasin, set in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Opar of 10,000 B.C., bridge these two Atlantean pulp myths.  If so, they may be the closest one gets to any “ERB/REH tie-ins.”  

This issue is titled “The Altar of the Flaming God!,” and in “the Temple of the Flaming God!” it is Albert Werper who is laid on the stone slab and ready to be made “the human sacrifice-- in some obscene bloody ritual old as time!”  In “Moon of Skulls,” Howard writes: “For the remnants of Atlantis secretly kept alive the old worships of Valka and Hotah, Honen and Golgor, long forgotten and not to be understood by these savage people whose ancestors died screaming on their altars.”  Roy Thomas must be making these same connections because the pagan High Priestess La “chant[s] an ancient incantation...” not in Burroughs’ novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar that begins, “KLO YARADA VALKA!”  More about that in – “ESCAPE FROM OPAR!”  

Ernie Chan/Rudy Nebres

Kull the Destroyer 22 

“Talons of the Devil-Birds”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Yong Montano
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Condoy

Kull and Ridondo ride upon three ancient sorcerers chanting around a shapely warrior woman tied to a post. One raises a grizzled hand: his ring begins to glow and a giant devil-condor suddenly materializes. When it swoops down on the fearful woman, Kull leaps on the big bird’s back and drives his battle ax again and again until it dies. As the hooded wizards slink away, they wonder if the former Valusian king is the one they have been seeking. The grateful woman embraces Kull in thanks, revealing that she has no memories and cannot even remember her name. But the raven-tressed swordswoman can recall that she once loved a warrior like him but lost the man to a life of violence — so she could never be the woman of one such as Kull. After the new traveling companions bed down for the night, Ridondo is awakened the next morning by Kull and the woman, now calling herself Laralei after the legendary sea siren, who are frolicking in the pond below — not only is he jealous, the minstrel is dumbfounded since he never heard the monarch laugh before. Suddenly, the three sorcerers appear again,  and the one with the ring emblazoned by the icon of the devil-condor begins to summon another hellish bird. Kull rushes forward and lops off his hand with a sword: but it is too late and the feathered fiend materializes. The royal barbarian manages to protect Laralei but Ridondo is borne aloft by the bird’s huge talons. Gripping the severed hand of the sorcerer, Kull vows to rescue his friend. -Tom Flynn

Tom: While quite a few issues of Kull the Destroyer have been pretty bad, I’m not sure I’d throw this one in that pile. But it just kinda … lies there. I assume we’re supposed to be intrigued by the amnesiac “Laralei,” but she comes off poorly. Two seconds after being rescued by Kull she informs him that they can never be lovers since he’s a warrior. Whoa, slow down there lassie. Plus, if she’s so down on violence, why is she riding around with a sword strapped to her waist? And much is made of when she summons her horse with only a word: Glut doesn’t reveal what she says for some reason. She’s pretty goofy looking as well, with a steel bra made of classic Cadillac bumper chrome and teeny weeny bikini bottom. It’s hardly sexy. Perhaps it’s the fault of Chan and Montano. The art’s not bad, just clumsy. There are a lot of awkward poses — not Frank Robbins awkward but pretty close. And the first devil-condor is dispatched fairly easily so I wasn’t exactly shaking in my boots when another was conjured. The sorcerers are working for some unseen master. Not sure if it’s Thulsa Doom. Oh, and Glut wastes two pages with the umpteenth rehash of Kull’s origin. Enough, we’ve heard it many times before and it’s really not that groundbreaking.

Paul Gulacy
Master of Kung Fu 55
"The Ages of Death!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Jim Mooney
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza

Two assassins steal into the Savoy suite of Black Jack Tarr.  Shang-Chi has been bunking there for the past two days; he overpowers his would-be attackers, and wrests from them the identity of their contractor: Han Sung, a former teacher of S-C’s when he was a youth in training.  Han Sung revealed to S-C how Fu Manchu has relied on elixir vitae to extend his long life; Han imagined such immortality for himself, and vowed one day to steal Fu’s elixir.  S-C determines that Han must have succeeded in stealing the solution; now, Han has been in flight from a vengeful Fu.  Han had expected S-C still to be loyal to his father, and had sent his own assassins to prevent S-C from coming after him.  The assassins reveal that they were to meet Han at the Limehouse to collect their payment.  S-C fights off other men who claim loyalty to Han, and then discovers Han himself in a back room at the bar.  Han has become a withered old man; Fu had learned of Han’s treacherous plan, and subjected him to biological experiments in preparation for the resurrection of Shaka Kharn (which means, muses S-C, that Fu had planned for “almost a decade” to revive his ancestor).  Han reveals that he had hidden the elixir he had stolen; while Fu was at his heels, Han realized there would be no point in taking the elixir if he were only to be killed soon after.  Han resolves to take the elixir now, at least to fix his age where it is now, and age no further.  S-C attempts to reason with Han, stating there is a “hidden side” to the quest for immortality, and that Fu’s “one truly noble act in life … has been in refusing to share it.”  Han cannot accept that S-C is not still loyal to Fu; he is able to escape to collect the elixir, while S-C is held up in further fighting.  S-C catches up to Han at Waterloo Bridge, and tries once more to reason with him: if the elixir he has stolen is Fu’s personal serum, it could mean death for Han (S-C reflects on having overheard Fu state that he has developed a tolerance for the elixir, and therefore requires a more potent dosage!).  Han insists on his right to preserve the bit of life he has left, takes the serum, and quickly perishes.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Dedicated readers of MoKF might’ve been a bit confused by the circumstances of the story, since last time, we were confronted by the prospect that Sir Denis might’ve (possibly) ordered a hit on his four errant agents.  On page 2, Black Jack is on his way out, stating that he is meeting Sir Denis for breakfast; uh, you might want to ask Sir Denis to switch plates and glasses with you, big guy, and see whether he hesitates – don’t you know that your old boss is trying to kill you?!  Unless, of course, this is another fill-in issue, which seems likely, since the “Next Issue!” box at the bottom tells us that “War-Your, Part II!” is in the offing.  So, that means that over the most recent five issues, we’ve had an epilogue, a reprint, one issue of a new storyline, and now two fill-ins.  

I wouldn’t blame fans for getting a bit restless, as they wait to see how this new story might develop; still, it helps that this title has built-up so much good will.  This issue includes many elements we expect from a good Shang-Chi story: intrigue, betrayal, action, and an occasional appeal to reason.  Since S-C had lived so much of his life in the tender care of Fu Manchu, those eighteen years provide a rich assortment of influential people and experiences; even if Fu might be dead (ya wanna bet -?), there still is every reason for his influence to continue to be felt by S-C to the present day.

Chris: Three interesting aspects of the splash page: 1) Archie Goodwin is credited as editor, but also co-plotter – since Steve Englehart left the series, there have been very few people other than Doug who have received storytelling credit; 2) the mood-setting splash page motif continues, as we see a man’s face, drawing thru time, to reach its end as a skull; and 3) we have the debut in these pages of Prof Tom fave Mike Zeck – I didn’t realize his first art-credit was this early.  Zeck moves the action along with tightly-wound panels (sort of a requirement if you’re working on this title, isn’t it?), and Mooney offers a decent effort on the inks, but Zeck will bring much more to the art in his future efforts.  

Mark Barsotti: Another dramatic Paul Gulacy cover is the star attraction here. The interior art, by newcomer Mike Zeck, is fairly pedestrian, but since Zeck is destined to go on to an acclaimed run on the series, we'll assume that (1), Jim Mooney's inks don't help here, and (2) Zeck's work will evolve quickly, just as his acclaimed predecessor did.

There's nothing wrong, really, with "The Ages of Death," a seemingly self-contained tale ("seemingly" because of a "Part II" promised on the last page teaser) that opens with S-C foiling an assassination attempt, ordered by boyhood friend Han Sung (who I don't believe we've seen before), who mistakenly believes Shang's trying to kill him, in service of drifting-in-space-and-presumed-dead Father Fu.
Han Sung had set his larcenous sights on Fu's "Elixir Vitae," a.k.a. an immortality portion, since he and S-C were teens. Knowing Sung's intentions, Fu had prematurely aged him as punishment. Now H-S is free, in London, and preparing to chug-a-lug the potent potable, despite Shang's "Danger, Will Robinson!" warnings.

After a fairly ho-hum chase & fight through nighttime London, Han Sung drinks up from atop Waterloo Bridge, promptly croaks and goes ker-splash in the icy Thames below. A typical tale of avarice leading to a bad end, spiced with a dose of Chop Fuey along the way.
Not bad, but certainly not approaching the high bar set by the title's more memorable installments.

Jim Mooney/Joe Sinnott

Ms. Marvel 8

"The Last Sunset...?"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza

Paying off a debt to Carol, Larry Rogers calls in S.H.I.E.L.D. teams to check out Alden’s, but they leave empty-handed with irate employee Elliot threatening legal action and Carol unable to reveal that her informant is Ms. Marvel.  An A.I.M. agent gloats that “our deflectors blocked S.H.I.E.L.D.’s portable sensors, and Agent Elliot’s performance got rid of them—before they could bring up more sophisticated equipment.”  Not knowing she is targeted by A.I.M., the incensed Carol refuses a ride from Gianelli and keeps a rendezvous with Theresa Burke, former top photojournalist and recovering alcoholic, but after hiring Tracy as associate editor, Carol is overcome by seventh-sense images of a beach, a radar station, and an explosion...

When thugs Ziggy and Jacko shatter the trance, Carol nearly kills them, controlled by her Kree persona; walking on Montauk Point with Michael the next day, she sees the station, investigates, finds the guards out cold, and changes to Ms. Marvel. Stumbling upon Grotesk, she realizes that the research lab hidden there is testing a military laser cannon, which he is firing into the crystal to create a warp energy implosion to destroy the Earth.  He tears loose a pipe of liquid hydrogen, blowing them onto the beach, and tries to drown her, leaving her for dead to control the matrix interface, but she survived with Kree biofeedback training and judo-throws an enraged Grotesk into the laserforcing a premature implosion that leaves her alone in a circle of heat-fused sand. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: While this issue didn’t grab me quite as strongly as the prior two did, I’m damned if I can put my finger on any specific problem, unless you count the vicarious pain of Carol’s humiliation in the opening sequence.  Certainly nothing to complain about in the art department, with Sinnott doing his usual superb job on both the striking Pollard cover (from which the annoying “This female fights back!”-type bursts have lately and mercifully been removed) and the Madman’s competent pencils.  Nice to see some closure regarding Grotesk, including Carol/Ms. Marvel’s regret at his apparent death; always good to get some more information regarding her Kree background; and Tracy appears to have interesting if you ask what’s not to like, I honestly dunno.

Chris: Claremont continues to refine the Carol/Ms Marvel dichotomy.  First, Ms M’s persona dominates during the bar fight (p 10-11), and then, more significantly, Carol’s reflections of her earlier premonition lead directly to a deliberate transformation (p 15), rather than having the change forced on her following a fainting spell, as typically occurred up to now.  

The prospect of Carol dating her therapist is creepy (and unethical, on Mike’s part).  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but perhaps we need more supporting characters for this title, so at least Mike and Carol can maintain a professional relationship, without walks on the beach and steak dinners at a beach house … and such.  

So now we’re done with Grotesk, after a one-issue break, so that we can resume battling next issue with Modok, after not seeing him for one issue.  Alternating odd-and-even issue-numbered villains -?

Matthew: What's extra-weird is that Mike was Carol's boyfriend first, and then started treating her, although I doubt that's any less ethical.

Gil Kane/Joe Sinnott
Marvel Premiere 37
The 3-D Man in
"Code Name: The Cold Warrior!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Don Glut
Art by Jim Craig and Dave Hunt
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
The Skrull posing as DJ Doc Rock activates a strange metal device that has a sister inside singer Vince Rivers' guitar. Rivers, thinking it's a portable radio, turns it on, and the sound from the crazed fans outside blows out the wall, where a couple of hoods pick him up in the star's car. The Skrull spots 3-D Man racing across the rooftops, towards Rivers' car, which he inadvertently causes to crash and explode, but he finds the "augmatron" device and heads back to Hal's glasses, zapped by the Skrull's energy glove as he reunites with his brother, which makes him feel "different." The Skrull shifts into the form of Vice President Nixon (!) and visits a Prof. Sinkovitz, working on a secret freezing suit that Skrull-Nixon helps him complete, turning him into The Cold Warrior and sending him after 3-D Man! As it starts to rain, the device goes off in Hal's hands, so he changes into 3-D Man, only now he has Hal's mind, not Chuck's! Following the signal to Santa Monica Pier, the triple threat hero finds Cold Warrior waiting to put him on ice. Thanks to some quick thinking—like using a plank as a bat to smash a giant ice ball—as well as determination against supreme cold beams, 3-D Man manages to push Cold Warrior into the water, ruining the freeze suit, then swims away in triple time, thwarting the Skrull's evil plans.--Joe Tura

Joe: A decent end to the 3-D Man trilogy is highlighted by a fight that moves at a glacial pace yet has a cool payoff as the Skrull's attempts to defeat the hero are dashed when the triple strength comes in handy. Story-wise, there's slight character development when the energy bolt causes Hal's consciousness to control 3-D Man instead of Chuck's, but there doesn't appear to be much difference during the battle with Cold Warrior. Maybe that's the triple power working? Not sure it matters much, to be honest, as the script goes off in wacky directions such as crazed fans helping Vince Rogers escape, and the Skrull becoming Richard Nixon which is quite bizarre even if it acts as a plot catalyst. The art is average, as expected, with way too much teeth-clenching. All in all, the 3-D Man saga (three issues, of course) left this reader wanting to drink three more beers. I believe 3-D Man next appears in Incredible Hulk #251 in September 1980, having retired as a hero, and I'm not sure many people noticed.

Matthew: And they said we wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around any more, but I’m sure that especially for a writer of Roy’s generation, with Tricky Dick’s Presidential resignation less than three years in the rear-view mirror, it was just too tempting to make the then Veep into a heavy of sorts. Existing alongside Iceman, Jack Frost, and Blizzard, the Cold Warrior isn’t the most original character ever conceived, but his name and his misdirected anti-communist attitude toward our hero are eminently topical.  Otherwise, the continued reduction in recaps and heavy-handed period references (although I Was a Teenage Werewolf would not have been first-run in 1958) helps this three-part debut end on a satisfactory note, with Hunt bringing up Craig’s game.

Al Milgrom

Marvel Presents 12

The Guardians of the Galaxy in
"The Shipyard of Deep Space!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Al Milgrom and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe

As Ogord mourns the loss of the children (and a universe), the Guardians fight their way back to the commandeered Kammar with the critically weakened Starhawk, and take their leave of Arcturus-IV, having “routed the home guard, broken the high commander—and decimated the fleet!”  Charlie sends out a distress call, and is astonished at the source of the reply:  Drydock, the immense Federation starship-yard where he spent most of his basic training, “reported lost during the war!”  Its automatic docking cycle still functioning, the Guardians are welcomed to the “derelict” by a crew that conducts Marty and Yondu to sick bay with Starhawk, and the others to auto-valet chambers where Charlie and Nikki, if not Vance, obtain new threads.

The c.o.—revealed to be a fellow Jovian, Hollis-12—recounts that when the Badoon attacked, they had used an experimental warp-drive to blast Drydock out of the solar system, but it burned out, stranding them in the middle of nowhere.  Alas, he is also a hologram, who gasses Nikki and Vance as Charlie narrowly survives a fall into a utility shaft; Hollis explains that after a radiation overload killed the crew, the computer, “designed to serve man,” created replacements about to dissect and clone Nikki and Vance, having put the others in cold storage.  Eluding the defense systems with an EVA, Charlie trashes the hologram circuits, learns that Starhawk is on the mend, and observes that Drydock’s “endless possibilities…could even build us a whole new starship!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: That my beloved Guardians’ criminally short-lived first strip ends on such a singularly high note is all the more remarkable when you consider that this came in the form of what is effectively a tidy, even moving, done-in-one, rather than at the climax of (or, worse, partway through) some interstellar saga.  It came without Gerber.  It came without Sal.  It came without packages, boxes or—sorry, wrong story.  Stern’s script is excellent, and I’ll give Milgrom credit where it’s due, while noting the aptness of Wiacek’s inking the interiors of both cosmic books’ last issues this month.  The cover is impeccably accurate, down to Charlie’s new costume (which I like; Nikki’s tutu, not so much) and the doc-bot, while the two-pager of Drydock on 6 and 7 is quite stunning.

There’s no sign-off lettercol, which allows for an extra story page, but between the “last stand” cover blurb and final page directing us to the Guardians’ next appearance in the upcoming Thor Annual, we’re left with no doubt that this is “The end—for now!”  While I would’ve welcomed more of Martinex and/or Yondu, it’s nice that Sterno focuses on the just-as-neglected Charlie, and I love his tearful conflict as the hologram assumes his father’s persona (“I was in the militia, too—remember?  All my records are on file.  The whole family can be together again!”).  The plot is eminently Trek-worthy, including an obvious nod to the crippling of HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey…plus an apparent one to a certain Damon Knight-based Twilight Zone episode.

Chris: If it weren’t for the fact that we cover Marvel on a month-by-month basis, I wouldn’t have realized both this title and another team book, The Inhumans, folded in the same month.  Between the two titles, this one had less of a chance to reach its potential; so much time had gone into the establishment of Starhawk’s character that there wasn’t time to build on that and develop a new team-centric storyline.  

This is yet another flea-market purchase, complete with the original owner’s name scrawled on the cover, right above the title (in case he ever wants it back).  Since I read and re-read this issue multiple times without having read MP:GotG #11, the significance of the deaths of Starhawk’s children really didn’t resonate until, years later, when I finally was able to read the entire series.  It’s unfortunate that Sterno elects not to provide a single line of dialog from Starhawk – not even a thought balloon! – to clue us to how this loss is affecting him.  The choice to blow off his critical injuries doesn’t help; Vance simply announces on the last page that Starhawk “will be back on his feet in no time!”  Well, that was easy.  

The Milgrom/Wiacek art is persistently inconsistent, as panels wobble from solid to flimsy throughout.  I will appoint a few highlights (all of these are burned-in images from repeated readings): Charlie’s drop down the chute (p 16, ist pnl); Charlie evades the lasers, then rips up the bulkhead (both on p 17); Charlie digs his fingers into metal again as he affixes his helmet, then bounds along the station’s surface, and bashes the dissecto-bot (all p 27).

If there’s any good news to come from this title’s quiet end, it’s that the Guardians are about to drop into a major storyline, as promised at the bottom of page 31; in Thor Annual #6, we’ll be re-introduced to Korvac, and then – watch out.  

Dave Cockrum/Al Milgrom
Marvel Team-Up 60
Spider-Man and The Wasp in
"A Matter of Love... and Death!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen

As Capt. DeWolff (and, per the MCDb, an unidentified Lt. Scarfe) moves the SWAT team into position, Jan dismisses Jean’s sympathy and rashly attacks Equinox, with Spidey saving her from death.  Back on the bridge, after Margay’s device fails to neutralize his powers by stabilizing the thermic transitions, they take her to the Baxter Building, since the lab at Avenger’s (sic) Mansion is being rebuilt.  En route, Spidey learns that she is the Dr. Sorenson in charge of natural science at Bard College, and that her physicist husband, David, specialized in thermo-dynamics, but became an embittered drunk in his obscurity, and died when his jury-rigged hardware exploded, the blast transforming 17-year-old Terry as he tried to save his father.

Invoking end-of-the-world (“For me, in a way, it is.”) Code Omega status, Jan is granted access to the lab by the absent FF’s computers, yet Equinox causes a blackout, and the back-up units do not recognize Jan, locking her out as the others race to modify the stabilizer.  Running a gauntlet of defenses, Jan is astonished at her own speed and strength, deactivating the system as Spidey rigs up a harness that should work if placed in direct contact with Equinox, who arrives just then.  After an ornately carved wand falls from a stasis safe in mid-battle, Yellowjacket appears, urging Jan to stun Equinox with her sting so he can use the stabilizer; he explains that he rode the blast at insect size but blacked out, and had secretly given Jan a serum triggered by an adrenalin surge. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Despite providing Noxie’s origin, this never fully connects the dots by telling us what happened after the explosion in #23, but that and Hank’s rather far-fetched explanation are among my few reservations regarding a stunning sophomore effort by Marvel’s Lennon and McCartney.  And if you want a clue regarding next issue’s villain, Byrne has drawn that pesky wand—which all five readers of Tigra’s late, unlamented strip surely recognized as the Soul Catcher—before in Marvel Chillers
 #6; on a related note, signage in page 6, panel 5 begs folks, too late, to “Read the Guardians of the Galaxy while you can!”  A nice character moment (one of many, natch, with Chris at the keys) as Jan, blind to any agony but her own, asks Spidey, “Who’ve you ever lost?!”

The computer stuff is well thought-out and adds an interesting wrinkle, while Hunt’s work on this title continues to dazzle as, like any good inker, he brings out the absolute best in John’s pencils.  Highlights include the tense Margay and restrained Spidey in page 3, panels 4 and 7; the effective mini-montages in page 7, panel 2 and page 10, panel 5; the blackout sequence on page 14; and the shadowy Y.J. in page 27, panel 1.  For the more detail-oriented among you, Hank’s serum “modified the effects of the original ‘Wasp’ formula as a birthday present, harnessing the energy involved in her shrinking…so that the smaller she gets, the more powerful she gets—and I redesigned her stings to tap her heightened body-energy.”  No questions?  Class dismissed.

Chris: As I re-read these flea-market finds of mine (this being among the last of them), I notice that I recognize images from the art (especially when it’s first-rate), and I remember certain lines and plot-points, but I rarely recall the outcome.  So, with an issue like this one, I follow along, and check off assorted “okay!” moments as I encounter something familiar; by the end, though, it could result in an “oh wow,” or an “oh really …,” depending on how well the elements tie together, without necessarily having the benefit of nostalgia.  MTU #60 happens to be a very satisfying re-read, as we get a fair assortment of action, lab-work, and determination (plus the first-rate art I mentioned earlier).

First off, I draw your attention to the adult-themed details on page 7.  Dr Sorenson describes years of marital strife, professional frustration, domestic violence, alcohol dependence, and finally separation and untimely death.  How many of these themes were fodder for back-story among the competition’s characters -?  I can say that Marvel’s (sometimes) unflinching inclusion of these weighty matters in their funny books was a clear selling point for me.  I didn’t feel talked-down-to, as if I could appreciate (on some level) these aspects of real life; this was a significant part of Marvel’s appeal over the others.  

Chris: You know I’ve got art highlights; many of my choices are dictated by clear recollections from long-ago repeated readings.  Here goes: Equinox winging the metal block at Jan (p 2); Equinox strikes a classic super-villain pose (p 6, pnl 3); the Equinox origin on p 10, especially as his face changes from frightened child to angry young adult; Byrne’s clever devices, which gain access to the Baxter Building (p 11); the eerie prescience of the midtown blackout, as NYC would have a nasty looting-rife blackout that very summer (p 14, last pnl); Jan’s astonishment as she pulls the grille free (p 17, pnl 5); Equinox slags the heavy metal staff Spidey thinks to clout him with, then pins Spidey’s arms in ice and delivers some punches of his own (p 26).  

Chris: Lastly, inker-in-the-background Dave Hunt must’ve written the billboard that calls: “Read the Guardians of the Galaxy,” which has what could be a hand-written flyer posted next to it, which implores “While You Can!” (p 6, bottom of last pnl).  Well, how right you are, Dave – Marvel Presents offers the last Bronze-era Guardians story this month.  

Joe: The second part of the Spider-Man and The Pyms story is another fine performance from the creative team of Claremont/Byrne/Hunt, propelling Team-Up into must-read status for anyone perusing the spinner rack. Equinox shows off some major powers, but is ultimately defeated because Mother knows best…and he's a bit of an arrogant hothead. While also cool as ice. (Yeah, that was an easy one, sorry…) Wasp also debuts improved strength and stingers, which is probably not the birthday present she was expecting, but I guess that's what works when you're an Avenger. Getting by the Baxter Building defenses was fun, as was the reemergence of Yellowjacket, but my favorite moment of this excellent issue was a small one on page 3, when Wasp says to Spidey "What do you know about agony, mister?! Who've you ever lost?!" And in a thin panel that almost looks squeezed in at the last minute, he thinks "Gwen…" then answers softly "Someone very close." But of course, Equinox returns before Wasp can share her grief with Spidey, and the roller-coaster ride continues.

Rich Buckler/Al Milgrom

Marvel Two-In-One 30

The Thing and Spider-Woman in
"Battle Atop Big Ben!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe

As Kort tries to help Deathlok and Alicia returns to the hotel to freshen up for a visit to the Tower of London, Ben is on his way back from buying cigars when he hears an explosion at Westminster Abbey.  Their diversion enables Trevor and Chauncy to pry up a specific gravestone, and although caught red-handed, they flee when Spider-Woman attacks Ben, but finds herself inexplicably unable to kill him.  He is brought to Scotland Yard for a video-call from Fury, who has deduced that she is back under Hydra’s control after escaping it in Spotlight #32, and asks Ben to find her—in one piece; meanwhile, the stolen silver plate is combined with a map from Dickens’ house and a scepter from the National Gallery into a new map, for treasure.

Just as the lovers reach the tower, Spider-Woman returns, yet her new target is Alicia, and as she flies off with her captive, Trevor and Chauncy arrive and gas Ben, who is convinced they are in cahoots.  Leaving behind the Crown Jewels—whose protective cases were opened for Alicia’s benefit—they take a plate that will provide the final clue, and escape a revived Ben’s wrath only by convincing him they know nothing of Spider-Woman.  Having delivered Alicia to Hydra, she heads for Big Ben, which its rocky eponym reaches via a commandeered hydrofoil tour boat, but as he ascends to the top and is staggered by a venom blast, the clock face is shattered by Trevor and Chauncy’s latest blast, propelling the unconscious Ben and Spider-Woman into the Thames. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Here’s a good example of why I can’t decide whom to shoot through the head:  Wilson, Marcos, or both.  Sometimes I think “Easter Island Ron” simply defies every inker who tries to tackle his work; other times I think “Hit or Miss Pablo” is able to defeat even the best penciler, in this case literally, since (per the lettercol accidentally plugging this issue instead of the next) Big John is “helping out the deadline-stricken Ron...”  Of course, it’s to the good that his rendition of Alicia bears no resemblance to Ron’s jailbait version, but alas, Marv still has the couple stuck in Self-Pitying Monster/Helpless Victim mode, exacerbated by the clumsy “Why are you telling me this again?” exposition between the thieves, and the “Battle atop Big Ben!” lasts but one single page.

Chris: Marv keeps the action moving swiftly, as two possibly-unrelated storylines – the daring thievery of Chauncy and Trevor, plus Hydra’s ongoing beef with Ben – converge and overlap.  Marv maintains the pace by keeping the tired-old “I don’t know why Alicia would love me – I’m just a hideous pile of orange rocks” bit to a minimum (a few panels on page 2), then we’re mercifully spared further wool-gathering and can get on to the action.  Marv also plays up the intrigue, as we’re left with several questions: what exactly are the two thieves seeking, that could be worth more than England’s crown jewels; how does Hydra maintain control over Spider-Woman; and what devious plan does Hydra have in place for poor Alicia?  

One question: how is it that Spider-Woman flies off with Alicia on p 22 (1st panel), but still is flying away (directly above Ben and the Tower) on p 26, panel 3?  Did S-W have to pause to refuel her glider-wings, or something -?  On that front, I’m reasonably certain that Marvel will continue to take liberties with S-W’s ability to fly; if she’s gliding, she shouldn’t be able to bear any extra weight.  Also, on p 31, S-W informs Ben that her venom-blasts expose a victim to poison that seeps into their bloodstream; this notion later will be abandoned in favor of a bio-electric shock-blast that tends to stun its target, but has no lingering effect.  

The art is par for the course with this title, with Ben looking a bit clumsy at times.  On a separate note, we see again (in the second appearance by this character) that Spider-Woman’s costume is significantly different from Marvel’s other adventurous arachnid – this isn’t “Ms Spider-Man” we’re seeing here, right?  Buscema’s hand is not terribly evident; this must’ve been a layout assignment for him, as he fills in for Wilson, with Marcos embellishing more than straight inking.  I do like the panel where Chauncy’s eyes are visible from under the lampshade (p 16, last pnl).  

Ron Wilson/Ernie Chan

Luke Cage, Power Man 46

"Countdown to Catastrophe!"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Roger Slifer
Art by Lee Elias
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl

Still searching for the cobalt bomb hidden by the recently deceased Mace, Luke Cage realizes he's running out of time! A thorough search of the city turns up nothing but distractions: a kindly old mugging victim and a lunatic sniper. Power Man saves the old woman from a brutal beating by muggers but then feels duty-bound to get her home safely. The sharpshooter is ostensibly picking targets at random but, as it turns out, he's a jilted husband looking to even things up with his newly upper crust snob of a wife. Meanwhile, some boys playing football in the park come across a strange, metallic dome. Knowing Cage won't find the device in time without help, Burgundy "borrows" one of Mace's helicopters and begins combing the city, magically eying the boys and their new discovery. She then swoops down to pick up Luke (who has just quashed the sniper's plan to put a big hole in his wife's forehead) and heads back to the park. On the way, our Hero for Hire notices that old lady's apartment building is on fire and senses somethin's up. He leaps down, saves the old woman a second time (she'd had a heart attack while warming up some milk), and then pops back into the helicopter for the ride to destiny. When he gets to the field, Cage tries to defuse the bomb but it begins ticking, a sign that he's sped up the process. Luckily for him, two cops show up and point out the really big DEACTIVATING MECHANISM on the side of the weapon and, with one finger, they save the city. The next day, at police headquarters, the head of the bomb squad informs Luke that the device was nothing but a phony and that Luke's day was wasted. "A waste?" Cage muses as he remembers all the good will he spread. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Equal parts brilliance and baloney, "Countdown to Catastrophe" (which could have been subtitled "Some Days You Just Can't Get to the Bomb!") ends Marv Wolfman's glorious run on Luke Cage, Power Man For Hire and all I have to say is, "Chris, you got some big shoes to fill!" With his spot-on urban dialect (and even if it wasn't, it sure sounded real) and bugf**k villains, Marv forced me to take a look at a title I completely ignored as a youth and when we publish our poll next year of the "Best of This and That," my Most Under-Rated Series will most certainly be this one. Now, how about this issue? I thought running Luke through the wringer all day only to have him told the bomb was a dud was perfect, as was the sub-plot involving the jilted sniper and his wife. When the nut's wife explains to Cage that her husband is mentally ill and won't accept her new lifestyle, Cage almost feels sorry for the man but " ain't no excuse for killin'... no excuse at all." As for the baloney -- it's all funny book stuff: Burgundy spotting the boys and the gizmo from high up in the whirly-bird with her super-vision and that wonderful DEACTIVATING MECHANISM on the side of the bomb. Oh, Marv, I am going to miss you. Lee Elias wavers between good stuff and shaky ground; the good stuff (as in the scene with the patrolmen reprinted above) reminds us that Elias pumped out some quality work for Harvey in the 1950s but, at times, Elias produced work that resembles that of Frank Robbins. Well, Frank on a good day, at least.

George Perez/Frank Giacoia
 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 9
"...Like a Tiger in the Night!
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza

Spider-Man swings to Empire State University, only to discover President Dwyer is shutting down Night School for monetary reasons, despite the protesting mob outside. Prof. Vasquez from Ethnic Studies claims racism, bringing up the "multi-million dollar bid for the Erskine Manuscripts." As the demonstration breaks up, Peter has a short confrontation with a Hispanic student we later find out is Hector Ayala, who follows Peter and a "pack of pistoleros" into the library at night... after he transforms into The White Tiger, that is! But when Peter gets to the library, White Tiger is there, stealing the manuscripts and bounding out a window! Out in the hall, the green-clad crooks are waylaid by White Tiger, who tosses Peter aside and escapes into the darkness.

Spidey "visits" the Daily Globe to get the lowdown on the Tiger, seeing snapshots (from the Dean's fave, Deadly Hands of Kung Fu) of battles with the Prowler, Jack of Hearts, Iron Fist & Shang-Chi, plus Harlem detective Nathaniel Alexander Byrd, aka Black-Byrd. Spidey swings uptown to meet Byrd, and the two hop in a gypsy cab; Byrd tells the cabbie to "goose the juice" to Empire State U as he spills the beans about White Tiger to the wall-crawler. (But faithful students can just go back and re-read Deadly Hands #20-32…if they dare!) Byrd says Hector decided to try night school to make something of himself, then leaves Spidey at the college, where "El Hombre Araña" stumbles upon "El Tigre Blanco" accosting Prof. Vasquez, who has the manuscripts in his office!--Joe Tura

Joe: Bill Mantlo takes over as writer, and of course he starts his run by bringing in his White Tiger, heralded on the cover with "First time ever in a color comic—Marvel's most controversial creation!" Really? Did I miss something? Just because he was the first Hispanic superhero, that made him controversial? Fooey on that, I say. Maybe it's because he's angry and political? I guess that's more likely, although the Punisher is the same. Maybe we'll have the students do a term paper on this topic…

Overall, there's a lot to like here, including more excellent Sal B action-packed art, and a decent story. This issue leaves me with a lot of questions, though, mostly about little details. Does Peter just happen to have a set of clothes on the building across from night school? Where's the famous web-bundle of duds? And does Peter read the Daily Globe, where he claims to know the White Tiger from, just to keep up with the competition, or does he not want to actually read the Bugle? Does Mantlo really have a student on page 2 say "Hey! It's Prof. Vasquez from Ethnic Studies!" Man, that's like Little Rascals-lazy. And why have one of the "pistoleros" yell "Blue Blazes"? That's like Nova-lazy. And we know the MARMIS at the end will be cleared up. Well, if we skip ahead that is…

Favorite sound effect in a story with some doozies is page 15's "KATRAM!" as Peter is katrammed into a wall by White Tiger. Well, one of the White Tigers. Wait, is there one or two? Stay tuned for next issue for the answer to that one!

Matthew:  Succeeding Goodwin, Mantlo begins his first of two stints on the book, a rarely broken 34-issue run, although interestingly, the current MTU’s lettercol reveals that this was intended as a two-part fill-in.  Bill seems determined to establish a beachhead for Deadly Hands of Kung Fu characters, since it not only marks the four-color debut of the White Tiger—whom he and George Pérez created in #19—but also includes a two-page recap featuring the Sons (and Daughter) of the Tiger, the Prowler, Jack of Hearts, Shang Chi (sic), and Iron Fist.  The glut of exposition regarding both the Tiger and ESU’s financial woes retards forward motion, but as usual, Buscemosito’s art goes down like a cold drink on a hot day.

Chris: Mantlo’s depiction of ESU president Dwyer starts out with him forced to make difficult decisions due to trying economic times; I think we all can sympathize with that.  Before long, though, Mantlo tells us Dwyer thinks minority students aren’t going to work for their education (as Dwyer believes he did), and probably won’t amount to anything, anyway.  So much for nuance, and complex characterization – oh well. 

The White Tiger’s a fairly interesting character, but there’s not much to his hero-profile (ie powers, abilities, etc) that sets him apart from other crime-fighters.  This might be the character’s full-color premiere, but as I recall, this debut doesn’t lead to him ever becoming a mainstream Marvel guy (at least, not during the Bronze era).  He and his alter-ego will appear in this title fairly often; in fact, I’d be willing to bet that the majority of White Tiger’s credits are from the pages of PPSS-M.

Keith Giffen/Frank Giacoia
Super-Villain Team-Up 13
Dr. Doom and Sub-Mariner in
"When Walks the Warlord!"
Story by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen
Art by Keith Giffen and Don Perlin
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson

Bound by oath to cure Namor’s subjects—which he is confident he can do after countering his inability to retain moisture—Doom is accompanying him to Atlantis, in a craft that turns the undersea pressure into a propellant force, when Namor is attacked by an army of outcasts, Lemurians, soldiers of Byrrah and Attuma, even surface-men, led by Warlord Krang.  Knowing that if Krang makes good on his threat to kill the Atlanteans, he cannot fulfill his oath, Doom seals his armor and enters the suspended animation chamber as their battle rages, firing four projectiles that release a violet mist over the sleeping thousands.  He succeeds where Reed Richards and Dr. Henry Croft failed, and bids the revived Atlanteans to help their monarch.

Meanwhile, sensing the tide of battle turning against him, Krang blows the trumpet-horn of the ancient Atlanteans, yet Namor, who sounded it long ago, knows that he may have doomed them all by summoning an uncontrollable, “blasphemous horror from the bottomless depths!”  He gains the strength to escape its grip when he sees his people alive, and creates a maelstrom that propels it into the abyss as Doom duels Krang, seemingly to the death (“Eeeyagghhh!”), but “the blade dealt only a neuro-shock,” leaving Krang alive.  Namor celebrates the fulfillment of Lord Neptune’s prophecy (“The realm shall fall, only to rise again at the forefront of nations”), while Doom departs, reflecting that his power is derived from strength, and Namor’s from his people… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As with Marvel Presents, this penultimate issue—at least as a bimonthly series—could serve as a fitting conclusion, even if the tone of its ending is the polar opposite of Starhawk’s tragedy.  Mantlo resolves not only Namor’s oft-nominal alliance with Doom, which has formed the spine of this dual-successor strip since its giant-size debut, but also the ongoing plight of his people, which has been dragging on for almost four years since the death-throes of his own book.  Doom proves himself a man of honor once again, and however often his promises to aid Namor seemed like a dodge, his scientific prowess remains unequalled; his fake-out of Krang is also satisfying, because facing Namor may be worse than death, and besides, who wants to waste a good villain?

Perlin is put to good use on Giffen’s pencils, which pleasantly show Kirby’s influence more than ever, most notably with those chunky Silver-style four-panel pages on 2, 3, and 10 (contrasted with the tighter, more Pérez-like nine-panel Doom/Krang duel on page 26), and of course the BEM on page 16 is pure Jack.  Doom looks great, and his perceptive analysis of the differences between the two monarchs makes for an effective coda after the inspiring sight of Subby restored to his throne.  Next issue’s new direction—which, per the lettercol, “will also herald the return of Bob Hall’s powerful pencils”—won’t last, but since it marks a crossover with my other, shall we say, doomed Mantlo underdog favorite du jourChampions, you can bet I’ll savor it while I can.

Chris: In this, their last pairing in these pages, Namor and Doom finally are willingly working towards the same purpose.  For longtime Marvel readers, it’s a bonus that the conclusion of the Namor/Doom association coincides with the re-awakening (finally!) of the Atlantean people.  Solid characterization as Namor (draped in his waterproof ermine) literally turns his back on Doom, without a single hint of thanks.  If this title had been designed as a limited series, the two characters’ unsentimental separation would’ve made for a fitting final image.  

Giffen’s dynamic-as-ever artwork clinches this issue as a favorite of this series.  The one-sided battle scenes are terrific (especially p 10), as Namor demolishes combatants and equipment; at various points, Giffen shows loose pieces of shattered armor floating by in the deep water.  Other highlights include: Warlord Krang’s reveal (p 6, shown carrying the trumpet-horn, even though it won’t factor in the story for a few more pages); Doom, as he savors the view of the Chamber of Sleep, moments before he fires the capsules to wake the animation-suspended Atlanteans (p 11, 1st pnl); the massive encroaching shadow (p 15, last pnl) and then the fabulous undersea beastie itself, as it scatters combatants, and dwarfs the mind-boggled, overmatched Krang (p 16).  Perlin, once again, proves his worth as an inker, with strong, clear lines in his finishes.

John Buscema/Joe Sinnott
The Mighty Thor 262
"Even an Immortal Can Die!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen

The two aliens K'ril and N'gil, collectively known as the Soul-Survivors, have captured Thor, Sif and Fandral. Holding them fast by shackles even Thor cannot break, the duo sees fit to tell the Asgardians their story. Once the Doomsday Star was known as Templeworld, and it was the most gleaming and magnificent of a number of planets together called the Confederation. Their world's power was supplied by a being they called the One Above All, in exchange for their unending worship of him. One day the Confederation was attacked by an armada of vessels that included races from Badoon to Skrull. Most of the planets perished, but the One Above All constructed an impenatrable wall around Templeworld that protected them, and destroyed the invaders as they attacked. The effort had exhausted their god however, and he soon perished. Thus began a long line of beings who provided them with energy to power their planet. The latest (and one of the greatest) of these providers is none other than the object of the Asgardian quest, mighty Odin himself. When the Soul-Survivors bring Thor and friends to see their monarch, he soon perishes from the energy drain. Thor is devastated and furious beyond words. Afraid of the Thunder God's wrath, K'ril, with his brother's help, enters the energy they had stored from Odin into what they call the Spirit-Mold. In short, it is a giant shell animated by the two aliens, and powered by Odin's energy. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The climax (over this and the two issues either side) of the Odin-quest continues. Curious that Templeworld's first god was called the One Above All, a name Jack Kirby later used for the mightiest of the Celestials in Eternals. Some interesting  side action is in play, such as the mysterious other "Thor" who decides to wallop Balder from behind, and whose true identity I think we're all beginning to suspect. Volstagg has a rare moment of genuine courage as he rescues his brother-at-arms Hogun. The origin of the Doomsday Star, that of a once mighty race now cast to ruin due to catastrophe isn't the first or last of its type. Some interesting things make it a little different however. The choice to use beings (not all by choice apparently) to power their civilization rather than destroy other worlds for their riches is one; the "wall around the world" idea another. K'ril and N'gil's seemingly pathetic frailty is a notable contrast to the power they seem to possess, or rather harness, as displayed by the embodiment of the Odin-Force at tale's end.

Chris: Thor finally discovers Odin, serving as a living battery for the denizens of the Doomsday Star.  Len might’ve considered making the situation worse, as Odin could’ve been not only a captive, but also possessed by the Soul Survivors, and resistant to rescue by Thor and his mighty crew.  Thankfully, Len seems to recognize that Thor’s been thru quite enough already just to get to this point, so it’s a relief to see Odin welcome his loyal son’s arrival.  In addition, the idea that the (seemingly) dying Odin’s life-energies could be used against Thor is cleverly ironic.  And do we know that Odin has, in fact, died?  The ever-resourceful all-father seems to have a plan afoot (p 15, last pnl), as he muses to himself that “there doth yet remain a way to our salvation!” 

I enjoy the art best when I can spot Simonson’s hand thru the DeZuniga fog; I miss Ernie Chan already, but if Ernie were here, then he wouldn’t be inking John B on Conan – I know, I know.  Here are a few of those moments: armor blasted to shrapnel (p 6, pnl 3); Hogun, laying on the mallet (p 11, pnl 3); the power-draining Odin-throne (p 14); the perilous climb of the Warriors Three – minus one, plus Recorder (p 17, 1st pnl); Hogun swats a carrion bird toward the reader (p 22, 1st pnl); Thor does likewise to battle-suited Doomsdayers (p 27); and of course the K’rill as the embodiment of the “Odin-force” (p 31).

Matthew:  What a perfect time to discuss Volstagg, six days before Mrs. Professor Matthew and I plan to see the definitive screen treatment of his Shakespearean model, Falstaff, during a pilgrimage to that cinematic Mecca, Manhattan’s Film Forum, for the restored version of Orson Welles’s Chimes at Midnight.  Ever the optimist, I have long held it as an article of faith that the “valiant Volstagg,” while being a consummate blowhard, is not merely a consummate blowhard, but has actual valor; methinks thou dost not become one of the Warriors Three without it.  Wein, bless him, validates my position on pages 22 and 23, while the art by DeZUNIGA (& simonson) is along expected lines, and letterer Rosen earns some overtime pay with all those variable styles.

Gil Kane/Frank Giacoia

What If? 4

The Invaders in
"What If the Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War II?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen

Recapping the events of Avengers #4 and #56, Captain America and Bucky burst into Baron Zemo's hanger, only to be knocked out by an android and strapped to a drone plane that Zemo activates right after a version of Cap's shield releases their bonds. Bucky hops onto the plane, but before he can stop it…well, you know the rest. The Watcher lets us know the Invaders may have gone their separate ways, but Human Torch and Toro found Adolf Hitler and burned him to death; Namor fights off Japanese subs in the Pacific; and Spitfire & Union Jack halt an assassination of Churchill. The heroes are all gathered at Big Ben in London to hear the news of Cap and Bucky's heroic deaths, and are asked to fly to the White House in the USA. There, new President Truman asks the heroes to remain as the Invaders and declares that "Captain America must live on!"—which leads to Cap and Bucky entering the room! But they're really masked crusader Spirit of '76 and batboy Fred Davis, and are joined by Miss America and The Whizzer, to continue the war in the Pacific.

The new team fights valiantly throughout the next year, and up until the atomic bomb explosions, before Japan surrenders. Afterwards, Truman has the super group change their name to The All-Winners Squad, and they keep the peace against villainy (including Isbisa, the "first true Atomic-Age villain") until one day in 1946, when they take a vacation, with Torch and Toro going to visit creator Prof. Horton in Boston. The duo arrives, and the Horton who greets them is an android, created by Adam-II, "Professor Horton's second attempt at creating a synthetic man!" Adam and his android army set a watery trap for Torch and Toro, along with the real Prof. Horton. But Torch gets a spark of an idea: he fires up his dry arms and torso to set off the fire alarm, which alerts The Patriot, who saves the heroes. Soon after, the rest of the team arrive in the city, eager to save the Congressional candidate Adam II will replace with an android, but The Patriot is confused when "Cap" doesn't recognize him. Cap and Bucky arrive at a speech by war hero Jack Kennedy, and he's the target! Cap heads for the Old North Church to signal the others, but an android henchman crushes him from behind! As Cap collapses, his flare goes off, the team swoop in to fight off the robot horde, and when Adam II tries to strike Kennedy, Cap is there to shield him! Adam II drives off, but hits an oil slick, crashes and explodes. A teary Cap reveals he's really The Patriot—having found a spare costume in Sub-Mariner's ship (???). He wanted to finish the job to honor the dead second Captain America, echoing the future pair of Kennedy brothers whose lives would be taken. –Joe Tura

Joe: Thomas and Robbins are billed as "Co-Conjurers of Cosmic Cacophony" in what basically could have been an Invaders Annual had the series gone on for another couple of decades. Or a decade's worth of issues. And like most What If? issues, there are multiple tragedies and never-was moments. Robbins is so well known to Invaders fans that there's probably no other artist who would have made sense here, complete with creepy melting-face androids and heroes who have dieted to the point of anorexia. Roy is, of course, pulling the strings at every turn. Interestingly enough, according to the Marvel Database, "This What If? story is unique in that it occurs in mainstream reality. It is accepted as canon that Jim Hammond killed Adolph [sic] Hitler in 1945 and that William Nasland and later Jeff Mace served tenures as Captain America. Fred Davis is also noted as our reality's second Bucky."

But what is the reason for this issue existing? And is it really a "What If" story or more of a fill-in? Well, my digital copy (the actual comic long sold off—yeah, that old sob story is back) doesn't have the Roy text page alluded to in some footnotes, but Prof. Matthew fave Bronze Age Babies explains for us: "On a text page inside, Roy Thomas explains that he'd always wanted to write about how there was a Captain America from 1945 to 1963—just not the original, Steve Rogers. He'd tossed that idea off to new Cap writer Steve Englehart in the early 70s, and of course Englehart penned the classic story of 1950s, Commie-hating psycho Cap versus our own Cap. But Roy really wanted to look at what happened right at the end of WWII and just after. There was no place to put it though - since it depicted the end of the war, it couldn't be in Invaders. And Roy wasn't writing Cap. So - why not What If?"

Well, there you have it. I loved this one as a young, much more impressionable lad, especially being such a big Invaders nut. I guess I've always had a thing for these "alternate reality" stories, even when DC started their "Elseworld" stories in the late 80s. Not that I don’t appreciate the regular continuities, but my the-road-not-taken mind is always thinking what could be different, even in my comic book heroes. That's why I'm such a sucker for these What If? comics, no matter if they don't stand up after 40 years. This one does, however. But I do apologize for the super-long synopsis of each one so far (I doubt it will change). It's just that there's so much going on, and so many little things that contribute to the differences and the plot, that I'm trying to capture the whole of the book for you students. And revisit some old friends at the same time. (Cue the maudlin music!)

Matthew: In retrospect, I should have offered to tackle this myself, because its subject matter and Thomas/Robbins/Springer creative team mark it as a kind of “lost issue” of Invaders (in his lettercol essay, Roy notes that it contains references to events in the current #19 as well as next month’s out-of-sequence annual).  Unusual for this series, it is accepted Marvel Universe canon rather than an imaginary—uh, excuse me, alternate-universe story.  Roy is at his dot-connecting, hole-filling zenith here:  not only were there two other Caps before Englehart’s other Other Cap, but his Crusader and Liberty Legion analogs, the Spirit of ’76 and Patriot, both get a shot; Fred Davis returns; the Torch torches Hitler; and we learn whatever happened to Phineas T. Horton…

Chris: It’s double-your-pleasure time for Roy, as he combines two pet projects into one issue.  Most of the story reads like an oversized Invaders story, as the “What If?” question requires a fairly simple answer: the Invaders would go on fighting various enemies of Our Great Nation.  Readers of the regular Invaders mag have been asking about Spitfire, and it’s a bit strange to consider that they’d have to look to this title to catch her in action.  There also would be room to include Miss America and the Whizzer on a semi-regular basis; Roy might’ve been kicking this idea around for an issue of Invaders, then decided to work it in here.  

Often enough, the payoff to one of these speculative tales involves a Dire Consequence or an Unexpected Development to transpire in the alternate reality.  Instead, we have the inspiring idea that other heroes would rise to continue the legend of Captain America; we’ve encountered this notion before in Cap’s own mag, that “Captain America” is as much a concept as it is a character, but Roy takes this possibility one step further as he demonstrates how Cap’s continuation could be put into practice.  Again, it’s a solid idea, but not necessarily so reality-altering that it necessitates placement as a “What If?” story.  

Mark: Roy returns to the title he launched (using the letter page to explain, among other things, that expected scribes Wolfman & Wein begged off, plates full), and it's no surprise we get the Invaders, Thomas' admitted fave title he ever wrote at Marvel.

"What If the Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War Two?" works in fine fashion, mixing in original Torch inventor Professor Horton and a would-be pol, subbed into that slot in place of his older brother, killed in the recent war, named "Jack" Kennedy. Harry Truman himself not only drafts Miss America and the Whizzer into the ranks of the Invaders, but rechristened them, post VJ-Day, the All-Winners Squad. Which rings true, since only a politician - or maybe an over-worked and not yet smiling Stan Lee, circa '46 - would come up with such generic blandness. Frank Robbins brings his era-appropriate Stretch Armstrong energy to the graphics and it's all entertaining enough except...

Roy's retro passions aren't necessarily those of Marveldom Assembled, then (1977) or now. And while I really enjoy the Invaders (and rue having to drop them from my class load), they have - as Roy acknowledges on that letter page - no collective history, the All-Winners Squad even less, and thus the fans have no collective memory to be mucked about with.

So this one gets an A for execution, a C- (at best) for emotional impact.   

Matthew:  For the record, and if I'm not mistaken, the "real" (i.e., Golden-Age) All-Winners Squad had a "collective history" that, while slender, exceeds that of the Invaders; I don't believe the latter team, a retconned '70s creation, had any "documented" contemporaneous adventures outside the Squad.

Gene Colan/Tom Palmer
 Tomb of Dracula 59
"The Last Traitor!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Marv Wolfman and Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza

Anton Lupeski kicks his "Kill Dracula and Rule the World" campaign up a notch by enlisting the vampire hunters. Our gang isn't completely convinced this is the way to go but a troubled Quincy Harker concedes that this may be the best chance they have of ridding the world of the Lord of Vampires, whether they trust Anton or not. The plan is to surprise Dracula and stake him at a feast being held for Janus, the vampire's infant son. When the time comes, the vampire hunters bust in amidst the celebration and start blasting the Count with silver bullets. One of Lupeski's bullets passes through Drac as he's transforming into mist and strikes Janus, killing him. Enraged, the Count tears Lupeski limb from limb. When he turns his attention to the hunters, Domini intercedes and demands that there be no more killing this night. Dracula obeys but then flies off into the night in a huff. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: There's a scene where Drac ventures out to "feast" and he chooses a Boston College teacher, who is being sexually harassed by one of her students. The vampire scares away the predator and then sups on the grateful woman. What was the point of this sequence? Why would Drac take the chance of invading a school to dine in front of witnesses? Wouldn't it be wiser to snatch someone off the street? That scenario has become a cliche in this series and it's refreshing that Marv wanted to change things up and added a bit of back story to what is essentially a throw away scene. I liked the story overall and the accidental murder of Janus is handled well but what I come away with from the climax is that these vampire killers have been in the same room as Dracula approximately 43 times and nothing ever gets done. There's always a reason to put off the staking. I never knew that a vampire can avoid death by turning into mist (and voiding silver projectiles). I'll have to note that in my journal.

Mark: After two entertaining diversions, Marv and Gene return to the long-simmering "Son of Dracula" arc with renewed vigor, delivering a macabre masterpiece. The identity of "The Last Traitor" is no surprise, as odious Satanic cult leader Lupeski has been plotting against Vlad from the jump TOD #45, in which we learned the Count had acquired a deserted church then used Harold H.'s ghoul-lit contacts to find the Satanists). 

Ever the manipulator, Lupeski not only recruits Harker's crew as extra triggermen for his presumptive coup, he supplies their guns and silver bullets. The fearless vamp hunters know they're being used, but the common cause of Drac's demise trumps their distaste with throwing in with a scummy Satanist. 

Dracula having to feed is the one brief diversion from the pell-mell plot. I hold it up, class, as an example of Wolfman's unmatched gift for instant, intense characterization, here concerning Emily Arthurs, night school instructor at Boston College, about to be sexually assaulted after class before Drac comes to her - alas, temporary, pre-vein opening - rescue. Finishing his meal, Dracula instructs the expiring Ms. Arthurs to return to class a week later, and bestow her own bloody kiss upon her would-be rapist. It's a compelling slice of life (and death), served up in less than two pages. Masterful.

Lupeski's kill-plot is to culminate at a feast honoring Drac's and Domini's new son, Janus, whose brief life is taken by the cult leader's errant bullet. Dracula's bone-by-splintered-bone vengeance is all the more horrific by being (visually) left to the reader's appalled - and, face it, somewhat if squeamishly  satisfied - imagination. 

That would have been a riveting enough ending, but Marv digs deeper. Domini, emboldened by the painting of Christ the Count found impossible to remove from his dark, desecrated church, forbids Drac from slaughtering Quincy and co. in his homicidal, dead-son fury. 

Then Domini asks him to embrace both her and - a tougher go - the gentle Galilean. Dracula refuses of course, but with none of his usual God-mocking, blasphemous bravado. Instead he cries - while taking bat-wing to flee wife and dead son - "Lord help me...I can't!"

That's the first time the haughty, undead aristocrat has not just bemoaned his fate, but, more tellingly, expressed a yearning for another path, forever denied him. 

And that's one of most chilling moments I've ever read in a comic, tingling down the spine not because Dracula is a blood-sucking monster, but because he is all too human, unable to escape his fate.

Just like the rest of us. 

Chris: It’s become impossible to know what to expect from an issue of ToD anymore.  Each of the past four issues has had a different focus, with little-to-no-attention toward Harker’s hunting crew.  Now, Harker & Co step back to the forefront, and put a serious hurt on Drac – although, the silver bullets don’t kill him, for some reason.  

Marv handles the set-up well, as members of the group express their reservations about working with Lupeski; rightfully so, they suspect a hidden motive.  It’s no surprise that Lupeski doesn’t survive the attack on Drac; although, Marv’s suggestion of the gruesome nature of his death, as Drac practically tears him apart, is this title’s most chilling moment in some time.  The best, though, is saved for the very end, as we finally learn Domini’s secret: she believes that Dracula can be saved, by the grace of God.  Then, a twist: Dracula reacts not with contempt, but with anguish as he states that – due to his having become the creature he is – he cannot follow the path Domini offers toward redemption; “Lord help me,” Drac calls as he flies away, “I can’t!”

The art this time is a cut above, as compared to recent issues; in other words, it’s much closer to the standard Gene & Tom had established years ago.  Highlights: spinster professor Emily Arthurs cringes as Drac swoops over her (p 10, pnl 4); Drac’s eerie entrance to the feast, as he seems to materialize after flying in (p 14, pnl 2); Drac hands twisting into claws at the sight of Frank Drake (p 15, bottom of pnl 2); Frank takes aim, from Drac’s POV (p 16, last pnl); Drac’s ghoulish transformation (which gave me a chilly smile – p 26, last pnl); Domini’s offer, again from Drac’s POV (p 31, pnl 4).  

Dave Cockrum

The X-Men 106

"Dark Shroud of the Past!"
Story by Chris Claremont and Bill Mantlo
Art by Dave Cockrum, Bob Brown, and Tom Sutton
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Joe Rosen

Xavier watched as – moments before – the X-Men disappeared thru a star-gate, in pursuit of the captured Princess Lilandra; since her abduction by Eric the Red, Xavier feels he’s lost a part of himself.  As Misty tries to offer help, Xavier’s mind drifts back to when the troubling dreams and visions of Lilandra had begun, and Moira MacTaggart had responded to his request for help.  Around this time, there had been an incident in the Danger Room, when the original X-Men had appeared to have returned, and threatened to destroy the new team.  Throughout the furious battle, Scott had felt something amiss about their opponents, despite their skills and appearances matching those of his former teammates; Wolverine had similar reservations, as if the people he had been fighting, somehow, were not truly there.  Scott finally accused the apparent Angel of being an “image;” at that moment, Xavier had arrived in the training room, and stopped the battle by simply popping the illusions of ex-team members out of existence.  An evil version of Xavier then appeared, and threatened to destroy the team himself, until Xavier dismissed his evil persona.  Xavier reflected at the time that his ability to control the “Mr Hyde” part of himself, which might seek to use his formidable powers for his own gain, had broken free once his dreams of Lilandra interfered with his personal mental controls.  -Chris Blake

Chris: It's a gut-shot for X-fans, as they expect (after having to wait sixty days already!) the continuation of the Lilandra/Eric the Red story.  There had been a few (very significant!) developments in the previous issue, as we finally learned Lilandra's identity, and also were informed that Eric is likely an agent of Lilandra's pursuers.  This issue opens with Firelord threatening Phoenix (who had blasted him all the way to Jersey in X-M #105) and Xavier informing him that she has gone, together with the rest of the team, thru the star-gate to worlds unknown.  We turn the page and observe as Xavier feels weakened (Firelord looks on, patiently), and then, by the top of p 3, we've wandered in to a full-scale fill-in issue; there's basically a one-panel transition at the bottom of p 2, then the ongoing story is completely left behind.  If I had been reading this in 1977, I could imagine how I might've flipped ahead, frantically in search of new content, praying that the fill-in would only require a few pages, and not the entirety of the remainder of the issue.  It’s much worse, somehow, that the first page promises to continue the story's momentum, and instead the third page screeches the whole production to a halt. 

On the letters page, Claremont includes a thoughtful note, as he informs us that the artwork is the last we will see from Bob Brown, who had died earlier in the year following a “long and debilitating” illness (i.e. leukemia, which ended Brown’s life in January 1977 at age 61). Claremont reveals that this story might not have seen the light of day without the need for a fill-in, but that's small consolation, as the story – although battle-packed – is so slight; it doesn't help that we had read a far more compelling new-team vs old-team story as recently as X-M #100.  Claremont treats Brown with great kindness, as he suggests Brown could've been a suitable hand to provide pencils for this title on a regular basis; but, the truth is that the art here pales by comparison to anything we've seen from Cockrum from the very start of his run with the new team. 

Matthew: “Shortly after the completion of last month’s Bullpen Bulletin,” concludes this month’s, “we received the saddening news that artist Bob Brown had died of leukemia.  Bob is probably best known to Marvel readers for his penciling work on Daredevil, as well as on Avengers and Marvel Two-in-One.  During the last few years, Bob had also done much to promote better communication and exchange of ideas between American and European cartoonists.  He was a gifted professional artist and a quiet, warm human being.  He’ll be sorely missed.”  In his longer, more personal lettercol obit, Claremont explains that in a sad serendipity, the ANADX-Men’s first brush with the D3 left an opening for a hitherto-unseen effort by Brown.

“Bob penciled it two years ago, off Bill Mantlo’s plot,” as one of Marvel’s standard fill-ins held in inventory for just such occasions.  Absent solid evidence either way, and despite my selective admiration for Bill, I’m going to take Chris’s wording literally and assume that he not only wrote the Cockrum-drawn framing sequence, which cleverly puts this into continuity—presented as a flashback to events occurring shortly after #96—but also scripted Bill’s plot, since the result is so quintessentially Claremontian, and ties in so closely with the other issues.  He and then-editor Marv also concluded that Bob, inked here by Sutton, would be a perfect replacement for Dave if he ever left the book, and while I won’t go that far, I’ll admit that he does a pretty creditable job.

Rick Hoberg/Tom Palmer
Star Wars 2
"Six Against the Galaxy"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Steve Leialoha and Carl Gafford
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

Luke Skywalker is unconscious, with Sandpeople standing above him, ready to kill the young farmer. Before that can continue, they are scared off by a strange howling coming from an approaching robed figure. Now alone with Luke and Artoo, the figure is revealed to be Ben Kenobi. When Luke comes to, he asks if there’s a connection to this “Obi-Wan” Artoo is referring to. To Luke’s surprise, Ben admits it was a name he used when he was much younger. They find a damaged Threepio and take him back to Ben’s home to repair him. There they see the entire message Artoo is carrying; Princess Leia pleads with Kenobi to bring the plans of the Death Star, hidden in Artoo, to her father, Viceroy Bail Antilles on Alderaan. They discuss Luke’s father, a great pilot and Jedi knight who was betrayed and murdered by Ben’s former pupil…Darth Vader. Ben gives Luke his father’s light saber and offers to teach Luke the ways of “The Force” on their way to Alderaan. Luke declines, saying he promised to stay and help his uncle, especially since the Empire is “so far away.” He and Ben take the droids and begin the journey back to Luke’s farm.

On the Death Star, Vader tortures Leia to get the location of the rebel base out of her. She refuses to talk, but Moff Tarkin is able to get the information by threatening to destroy Alderaan. Not wishing to see her home planet obliterated, she finally gives him the location. Smiling, Tarkin orders the destruction of Alderaan to go ahead, as the planet Dantooine is too remote to be effective a target. Leia watches in horror as her home, her family and her former life is completely wiped out of existence by the awesome power of the Death Star.

Back on Tatooine, Luke and Ben discover the Jawa transport from where the droids were bought. It was attacked, the Jawas killed. Ben deduces this as being the work of Imperial Stormtroopers. Luke realizes they could have traced the droids back home and, in a panic, races to his homestead. He finds it burning and destroyed with the charred remains of Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru. Luke decides to go with Ben to Alderaan and to train to be a Jedi. They travel to Mos Eisley spaceport and meet Han Solo, Captain of the Millennium Falcon and his first mate Chewbacca, a giant Wookiee. There they barter for transport to Alderaan. Han, desperate to pay off his marker to the gangster Jabba, takes them on the promise of seventeen thousand credits; two now and the rest when they reach their destination. After Luke and Ben leave, Han is approached by another bounty hunter, Greedo, who informs Han of the price on his head. Before Greedo can fire, Han gets the drop on him and obliterates his rival. He then convinces Jabba to let him go in order to get his money, plus a little extra. Jabba agrees, warning Han that if he fails, the price on his head would be astronomical.

Later, as Luke, Ben and the droids board the Falcon, Stormtroopers arrive. Han takes off quickly, but they meet laser fire from Star Destroyers in orbit. Before they can take a fatal hit, the Falcon disappears into hyperspace. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This is where the story becomes interesting and faster paced. Having spent all of the previous issue getting to know Luke and his home life, now we get to meet Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi. Ben gives us a crash course in Luke’s family history and a smattering of The Force. Nearly 40 years later, all of this is pretty much old hat and well known, but back then, it was just so new and fascinating. There are very few differences between the film and the adaptation, and it’s really very faithful to the script. However, once we get to Mos Eisley and meet Han Solo, we get treated to an earlier edit of the film. The Greedo dialog is shorter (and he never shoots – take that Special Edition!), leaving out a lot of what is covered in the Jabba scene (not referred to as “the Hutt” at this point). What makes this work better than the restored scene in the film is that lack of repetition. In the movie, everything Han says to Jabba he already said to Greedo, making one of those two scenes superfluous. Unlike the later incarnation of Jabba or the legendary “fat Aussie guy” originally filmed, this Jabba is based on a background alien seen in the cantina. He looks kind of like a Dr, Seuss character.

The art is much better this issue, the inking much more concise and less sloppy. Characters are recognizable and the whole issue is pleasant to read. There are a few minor changes; Leia’s father is Viceroy Bail Antilles rather than Senator Organa; after Han kills Greedo, he tosses the barkeep a single coin to make up for “the mess.” Ben’s light saber strike is much more dramatic here and more effective, honestly. From here on, the story, as in the film, kicks into high gear. As it stands, it’s been an uneven pair of issues, but this was a huge jump in quality. The cover is laughably over the top, but then Marvel never truly “got” Star Wars. The comic lasted as long as it did because of the hunger for material, especially between films. Next up: Inside the Death Star!    

Matthew: The Marvel Special Edition reprint allows you to compare Chaykin’s art with and without Leialoha’s inking literally side by side, and I’ve gotta tell you, with is better, not simply because Howie needs all the help he can get, but because Steve is such a fine inker in his own right.  They must have been given some visual references by Lucasfilm, because Tarkin in #1 is clearly the great Peter Cushing, and Obi-Wan almost as closely resembles Guinness here, while Han is unmistakably Harrison Ford.  It’s strange at this late date to think of people encountering the mythology for the first time, either in the film (which, according to my diary, I went back and saw for the second time a mere four days later) or in Thomas’s adaptation  P.S.:  Han shoots first.

Also This Month

Crazy 28

Kid Colt Outlaw 219
< Marvel Tales 82
Spidey Super Stories 25


The Rampaging Hulk 4
Cover Art by Jim Starlin and Daina

“The Other Side of Night”
Plot and Pencils by Jim Starlin
Script by John Warner
Inks and Finishes by Alex Nino
Letters by Annette Kawecki

“Gallery of Villains”
Text by David Kraft
Illustrations by Keith Giffen
Tones by Michele Brand
Letters by Jim Novak

“Return from Oblivion”
Story by John Warner
Art by Val Mayerik and Sonny Trinidad
Letters by Jim Novak
After three issues of pop-art goofiness by Doug Moench, Walt Simonson and Alfredo Alcala, we get a huge curveball from the far reaches of the cosmos: Jim Starlin. Right from the iconic cover, Starlin’s oddball talent makes this feel like a whole different magazine. 

We are still in 1963, as Bruce Banner, Rick Jones and the alien Bereet are exploring an abandoned Krylorian weapons testing base. Suddenly, the doctor is transported to a ravaged planet galaxies away by a benevolent wizard named Chen K’an. Banner quickly transforms into his enraged alter ego but K’an weaves a calming spell that gives the Hulk an extra dose of intelligence. The mage explains that he used to be the ruler of this once flourishing paradise. But, when he was once in a deep meditation, the evil eldritch witch Lyissa banished his astral form to another dimension. Eons later, K’an managed to return to his home only to find it stripped of beauty and life by Lyissa and her demonic minions. The only hope is to steal back the Star of Catalax from the witch’s citadel of terror — and since his powers have been weakened, K’an needs the help of the Hulk’s immense strength. Along the way, the wizard and his brutish companion are attacked by waves of Lyissa’s nightmarish army: trolls, demons and the behemoth Gyrahn. But Jade Jaws manages to defeat them all. Finally, the determined duo reach their destination. Lyissa reveals herself from a high tower, cackling that Chen K’an no longer has the power to defeat her. She fires a deadly eldritch bolt but the wise wizard turns it back at her, surprisingly destroying the hateful hag. K’an reveals to the Hulk that the reports of his weakness were greatly exaggerated and that their quest to Tyroc was merely a ruse to gauge Lyissa’s strength. Chen K’an returns the incredible hero to Earth and then uses the Star of Catalax to destroy his planet: while its body is dead, its soul can now fly free. 

At 30 pages, “The Other Side of Night” delivers the cosmic goods that Starlin fans demand, just in the form of the Hulk instead of Captain Marvel or Warlock. In fact, you could have written any of those characters into the proceedings and none would have been the wiser. We do have to put up with some of the usual drivel from the typewriter of John Warner, but that’s easy to ignore. Admittedly, the plot is fairly lightweight, almost shaggy dogish. But Jim’s perfect pencils deliver the heft. I wouldn’t have imagined that Alex Nino would be a good match, but it actually makes sense. Nino always excelled at the fantastic, and he really complements Starlin’s strange sensibilities. There are loads of big, energetic panels and a dazzling two-page spread that is worth the price of admission alone. I haven’t read this series before, but I must imagine that “The Other Side of Night” was the high point when all was said and done.

And, of course, the Ulysses Bloodstone back-ups must be the lows. In “Return from Oblivion,” Bloodstone and Brad Carter fly away from Centurius’ exploding island in a S.H.I.E.L.D jet — Iron Man blasts off as well after radioing his goodbyes. Meanwhile, in Geneva, a group of Interpol agents launch an investigation into the immortal mercenary. Then, after landing on Bloodstone Island, Carter is surprised when Bloodstone offers Samantha Eden a job as his public relations coordinator. In New York City, a group of men gather over the hospital bed of the comatose Killer Shrike. One claims that, legally, they cannot unmask the Shrike but when he comes to, they must convince him that they know everything. Back on Bloodstone Island, Ulysses enters his meditation chamber: after nightmarish visions, he emerges and proclaims that he now knows the secret of The Conspiracy. When Samantha Eden returns to her apartment in Marseille, she finds a bowler-hatted figure named Domino waiting in the shadows.

Blood-y Awful!
What’s that now? John Warner tries a new twist and turn on nearly every other page but it’s still fails to engage any interest on my part. The whole “meditation chamber” drools over five pages of this 19-page chapter. I guess we are supposed to be impressed by all the psychedelic images but it made no nonsense. Interpol? Domino? Public relations coordinator?!? And don’t ask me about the guys in New York City. Not sure if they are cops or part of The Conspiracy. And why can’t the Killer Shrike be unmasked? He’s in a hospital and in a coma. I assume that doctors must have worked on him at one point. They wouldn’t have removed his mask? “Ahhh, don’t worry about examining his face. I’m sure it’s fine.” And sad to say, things start off with a reprint of the fabulous Marshall Rogers pin-up from issue #2. Considering Rogers did such little work for Marvel in the 70s, why waste him on this crapola?

Lastly, we have “Gallery of Villains,” five pin-ups of bad guys from The Incredible Hulk #1 to #6: the Gargoyle, the Toad Men, the Circus of Crime, Tyrannus and the Metal Master. We’ve already seen Gargoyle and Metal Master in the pages of this magazine. The art by Keith Giffen and Michele Brand (tones?) is stone cold Kirby, a cheap ploy but I guess fitting. David Kraft writes bio blurbs for each villain and they are confusingly comical. For example, the Gargoyle is “an emotional simpleton, despite his sizable scientific knowledge, he also held down a second job at a local Asian eatery as, you guessed it, a head waiter!” Somehow that feels racist to me. -Tom Flynn

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 21
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Horror from the Red Tower”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Sonny Trinidad
“What the She-Devil?”
Text by Mario A. Cavallini

While it’s far from a stinker, this is easily my least favorite issue of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian so far. Why? Well, Conan is basically a guest star in his own magazine. The 50-page “The Horror from the Red Tower” plays out in two parts. The first features a bland and blond Aquilonian warrior named Amalric — the Cimmerian’s powerful presence is only really felt in the second half. The source work was left unfinished by Robert E. Howard: L. Sprague de Camp finalized the story and it was first published in the 1966 collection Conan the Adventurer as “Drums of Tombalku.” Not sure if Amalric appeared in either version but that name did pop up in Howard’s “The Hour of the Dragon,” which ran over five issues of Weird Tales, from December 1935 to April 1936. There, Amalric was a Nemedian general, so a much different character. This is a long — as well as rambling and talky — affair, so I’ll try to streamline.

The story opens with Amalric and two dark-skinned Ghanatain thieves drinking from a pool in a desert oasis. Their leader, a big bald man named Tilutan rides up, a beautiful blond maiden slung over his saddle: he found her stumbling through the smoldering sands. When the Ghanatas start to argue over who should rape her first, Amalric kills all three after a fierce and exhausting battle. The grateful woman, Lissa, tells the Aquilonian that she ran away from her home, a mysterious desert city called Gazal, weary of the eternal monotony. Amalric in turn tells how he used to be a mercenary in an Argossian legion that was routed by a superior Stygian force: he managed to escape along with a mighty Cimmerian named Conan. After days of riding through the desert, they encountered a group of Tombalku bandits. While the barbarian was captured, Amalric once again escaped. Afterwards, he reluctantly fell in with the Ghanatas.

Pitifully low on supplies, Amalric suggests that they ride to Gazal for food and drink. At the crumbling city, he finds the citizens wandering aimlessly around the overgrown streets, speaking of events from 900 years ago as if they happened only yesterday. Amalric notices one building not in ruins, an ominous red tower in Gazal’s center. A horrified Lissa cries that it cannot be spoken of. That night, after bedding down in one of the dilapidated buildings, Amalric and Lissa make love and fall asleep. When a scream awakens the man, the girl is gone. He realizes that whatever has taken her is in the tower and races up the curling steps to the top. When there, he encounters a gaunt ghoul dragging the headless body of a woman. Thinking it’s Lissa and driven by a blind rage, the warrior attacks the tall terror, driving his sword through its chest — but the monster still advances. The Aquilonian then begins to bash the creature’s head with the stone furniture littering the room. Finally, it falls and dies. Suddenly, Lissa calls out from below: the corpse was actually another woman, one of the mesmerized Gazalians whom the monster has been feeding on for centuries.

Dashing outside, the lovers mount their horses and gallop out of the cursed city. When he glances behind, Amalric spots seven, skull-faced horsemen exit Gazal in pursuit. Just before the ghostly riders can run them down, Conan and a group of Tombalku soldiers appear: the pursuers mysteriously disappear. Glad to see his former companion, the jovial Cimmerian boasts that he is now the general of the Tombalku army. After he was captured, the barbarian was brought before the two kings who rule the legendary warriors: the lean, brown-skinned Zehbeh and the fat, black-skinned Sakumbe. Zehbeh demanded that Conan be killed. But the jovial Sakumbe, who knew of the Cimmerian during his days as a corsair on the Black Coast, welcomed him to the tribe with open arms. Later, Sakumbe has his general poisoned so the barbarian could take his place.

After riding across the desert, Conan and his companions arrive at Tombalku. The Cimmerian tells the kings how Amalric killed the ghoul in the red tower. That night, Askia, Sakumbe’s magician, betrays his master and conjurers a spell for his rival, Zehbeh. Askia then bursts into Sakumbe’s tent and proclaims that Zehbeh’s supporters are rebelling, enraged that Amalric has “murdered” Ollam-Onga, one of their gods and the creature in the tower. Conan, the black king and his trained guards rush outside and engage the raucous rebels: the fat Sakumbe is soon slain. Meanwhile, Amalric and Lissa are on a nearby rooftop, talking of their future when a hideous, bat-like dinosaur swoops down from the sky and attacks — it is the monster summoned by Askia’s spell. From his vantage in the middle of the melee, Conan notices the winged creature. Refusing to see another friend fall that night, he abandons the fray and rushes off to save the Aquilonian and his mate: the Cimmerian kills the prehistoric predator with a blade through the mouth.

Back on Tombalku’s streets, the dead Sakumbe’s forces have emerged victorious, Zehbeh the victim of numerous sharp spears. Askia then confronts Conan, proclaiming that he hatched the whole revolt to bring down both Sakumbe and Zehbeh and crown himself king. But before he can unleash another deadly spell on the Cimmerian, Amalric strikes the wizard down with his sword. Conan, Amalric and Lissa ride out of the city before they are swept up in the tumult and head towards a caravan far off in the distance.

Yup, told you this one was long! It also seems very disjointed as the Gazal sequences don’t really seem to mesh with the later action in Tombalku. We go from what is basically a horror story to one of political intrigue and betrayal. Amalric is fairly nondescript: as someone once said of Oakland, California, there’s not much there there. He’s just some blond guy. And don’t ask me about the seven, skull-faced riders who suddenly appear: have no idea what they were all about and why they disappeared so quickly. I miss the inks of the great Alfredo Alcala but Sonny Trinidad does a solid job enhancing the pencils of Big John. Trinidad is talented but still a few cuts below Ernie Chan. Fifty pages are a bit of a waste on a middling story like “The Horror from the Red Tower.”

The text piece, “What the She-Devil?” is a treat however. Originally appearing in Venue, the magazine of New Jersey’s Glassboro State College, and written by Mario A. Cavallini, it’s a fun fluff piece on the first Sonja Con, which took place in November of 1976. It’s filled with photos of scantily clad woman dressed up as the Hyrkanian heroine for a costume contest, including one Wendy Pini. Pini had already appeared as a character in Ghost Rider and would go on to create Elfquest with her husband, Richard. But the best part is all the vintage images of Marvel staffers, including Frank Thorne, who looked just as I hoped: a roadie for the Grateful Dead. Long greasy white hair, big bushy beard and fat bandana wrapped around his head. We also get shots of a nerdy Roy Thomas, Dick Giordano, Pablo Marcos and others I didn’t recognize. If you had attended, you could have picked up a copy of Fantastic Four #1 for $190. For some reason, the first issue of Sub-Mariner would have set you back $750. Oh, and Wendy won the costume contest by the way. I would have voted for Linda Behrle.-Tom Flynn

Why does Roy always stand out as the
"What's Wrong with this Picture?"