Wednesday, January 20, 2016

August 1977 Part One: Godzilla, King of the Marvels!

Godzilla 1
"The Coming!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Herb Trimpe

"From Toho Productions' famed movie series" comes the "First Fantastic Issue" of Godzilla, King of the Monsters! We open with Godzilla rising from the depths of an Alaskan ice floe, destroying a supply ship and lighthouse, as well as entire sections of the Alaskan Pipeline! SHIELD comes to the rescue, with Dum Dum Dugan ordering the attack, but neither the "Angel" Squad or Disc-Planes can "put a dent" in the "overgrown Gila monster." A quick re-telling of Godzilla's nuclear origin, then pondering by Nick Fury's guests (Dr. Yuriko Takiguchi; his assistant, Tamara Hashioka; and his grandson, Robert), then we see SHIELD's laser cannon attack fail as well. Going berserk with retaliation rage, the colossal creature destroys and leaves, but Takiguchi has a secret weapon to help defeat Godzilla before he can destroy the entire country!
--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Say it with me: "GOJIRAAAAAAAAAA!" OK, now forget all that, since this has very little in common with the Godzilla movie series, which is fine. Let me preface the introduction to this class by saying I’m probably the perfect professor to pontificate about this title, as I am the proud (yes, proud I say!) owner of every single Godzilla film in one form or another, whether it be VHS, Laserdisc (yeah!!!), DVD, or Blu-Ray, plus a gorgeous Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah movie poster, a bunch of plush toys, a new Godzilla bank imported from Japan, and more. Luckily, my daughter has inherited my love for the Big G, too, but this comic book is, well, sort of on par with the first Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla movie. Meaning it has its moments, but for the most part is just OK at best. Some nice action where Godzilla gets to strut his stuff, and some suspense with Dr. Takiguchi—like who is he really?—but mostly I'd give it a "read and sell" rating.

In our letters page, "Godzilla-Grams," editor Archie Goodwin explains how Marvel tried for nearly five years to bring "the great green one" to comics, using a variation of the monster from the first classic film, and setting him in adventures that may feature other Marvel characters (such as this ish's Dum Dum Dugan and SHIELD), but we do know it won't feature other Toho monsters due to rights issues. I doubt Marvel would have shelled out any more than necessary for Mothra, Ghidorah, etc. They certainly got a good team to work on the creative aspect, from monster-maven Moench to dino-fave Trimpe. I didn't actually own many issues of Godzilla, but did have #1, so many of the two years to follow will be new to me. Should be a mediocre ride!

Matthew Bradley: August epitomizes another frantic Marvel period of simultaneous expansion and contraction:  just as this inevitably disappointing kaiju comic joins such newcomers as Star Wars and the ERB titles, other—and, in my view, worthier—strips featuring the Inhumans (ironically also written by Moench) and the Guardians of the Galaxy are breathing their last.  Much as I loved those loopy Toho movies in my youth, I knew even back then that you could never achieve the same effect, if you’ll pardon the pun, on the printed page, and the fact that Marvel’s licensing agreement apparently did not extend to the rest of their stable only made me regard this as even more of a doomed enterprise.  And, natch, as the Marvel Maniac that I was, I stupidly bought it...

Re-reading this now, I feel that even absent Rodan, Mothra, Ghid[o]rah, et alia, trying to graft a character with more than two decades of his own mythos onto the existing Marvel Universe is a bigger error than shoehorning in Eternals.  As noted, the Curriculum Committee voted to spare the poor, overworked faculty from suffering through Shogun Warriors, the lesser companion piece inflicted by Doug and Herb while they were in their Japanese-franchise phase, which debuted in February 1979 and overlapped Godzilla by only six months.  But Gojira (to use his true name) being one of Professor Joe’s obsessions, it was perhaps unthinkable to rob him of the dubious honor of preserving his observations for posterity—or what passes for it on the Internet.

The Avengers 162
"The Bride of Ultron!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Pablo Marcos

The Mighty Thor arrives back at Avengers mansion to find Vision, Beast, Scarlet Witch, and Captain America dead and the remainder of the group in disarray. Black Panther fills the Thunder God in on just what happened (last issue) when Ultron attacked the group and kidnapped Hank Pym. Back in his lair (at one of Tony Stark's facilities in Long Island), Ultron is preparing to transfer Janet's life essence into a metal woman, his bride-to-be. Helping the villain is the slightly-more-than-frazzled Henry Pym, blind to what's going on around him and convinced the task he's been given will save Janet's life. Thor, Wonder Man, the Panther, and Iron Man attempt to track Ultron to his hideout and are given a huge clue by spelling-bee ants (but who sent them?). Swearing they'll have revenge for their fallen compatriots, the quartet arrive at the facility and battle the mad machine. During the melee, Ultron lets slip that the "dead" Avengers are merely in a coma and still can be saved if the team gets the hell out of his crib and lets him finish Jan's makeover. After a fierce tussle, Iron Man gets the upper hand by swearing he'll kill Ultron's mate if the monster doesn't release the code required to send Jan's juices back into her own body. The evil tin can blinks first, gives the code to IM, and rockets off. The rest of the group are left to wonder if Iron Man would have acted on his threat and come to the conclusion that it was the Jan-droid that summoned Hank's ant friends. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Fabulous art but I'm not sold on the story. A lot happens but nothing really happens, does it? No one was fooled by the "dead Avenger" trick but Ultron's offhand remark ("Dead? You fools, they're not dead. They've been coma-tized!") is pretty doggone silly; why would he stop the action long enough to make his sworn enemies breathe a sigh of relief? Ultron's plan to hijack Jan's inner self is borderline incestuous since he considers Hank to be his pop. Like Professor Matthew (below), I found the panels of Raw Jan to be titillating but I'll be paying close attention to future issues when we see the Wasp in her tight outfit, since I recall a fairly bosomy Jan and the one we get here in her birthday suit is anything but.

Matthew: Re: the incest angle, Dean Pete, the fact that the bride will later be named Jocasta perhaps says it all. Although Ultron elaborates on his association with the Grim Reaper—and the similarity between their respective encephalo beam and coma-ray—a small but important point was obscured in the transition from Conway to Shooter.  It was Ultron’s “reaching hand” that revived Wonder Man (remember, he was brought to Black Talon already “alive”) and animated the Black Knight’s “ghost of stone” (which disabled the security system, enabling the Reaper’s ingress), in case anyone was losing sleep over that.  Aside from my inevitable despair over the Pym Factor, this is a pretty good issue, kicked up a stratospheric notch by Perez, with Marcos on another good day, and despite her naughty bits being so very discreetly covered, Jan gets nekkid!

Chris Blake: Typically, when the cover blurb spouts “This One Has It All!”, the pitch promises wall-to-wall action, with  few breaths drawn to stop and savor the story-elements.  The action in this issue is ferocious and exciting, yes indeed, but there’s so much more at work here.  Among the various contributing story elements, we have: T’Challa’s unflagging efforts to perceive Ultron’s plan, and to formulate strategies to undermine him, even if that means attacking Hank if that might derail Ultron indirectly; Simon’s notice of Thor’s bravery when faced with a seemingly insurmountable obstacle, and Simon’s concerns that he might die “again,” which carries over to in-battle hesitation; Ultron’s delight as he witnesses the quickening of his bride, and the difficulty for him to remain in character when Hank has to remind him to “get back to work!”; Jan’s connection with the bride, as her life-force begins to infuse the magnificent, but cold, form with bio-energy (toward the end, the bride apologizes to Jan for assuming her life-essence); and, Iron Man’s desperate gamble to restore Jan and roust Ultron.  Does Iron Man choose dishonor over defeat?  His debate with T’Challa is interrupted, so Iron Man is left with his own questions about what his next move might’ve been.  We even have a welcome moment of comic relief; I love Two-Gun’s no-look shot to take out the “noisy contraption.”  There’s barely a wasted moment in the entire narrative, which indicates strong writing, regardless of the medium.  Pérez does his part, as the quickly-paced action and the story’s numerous details fit into small, narrow panels on nearly every page.  

Speaking of the art – since this is by far one of my all-time favorite issues of this title (in case you hadn’t already figured that out), it must be loaded with visual highlights, right?  Here they are: Ultron’s emergence from the shadows, as Hank comes around (p 3, top row); the spilt-screen effect before the transformation begins, as we see half of Jan and the corresponding portion of the bride on opposite sides of the same page (p 6); the bride shows her first signs of life, as a series of close-ups finishes with her metallic fingers reaching (p 11); Jan’s conversation with – herself, really, as she begins to become Ultron’s bride (p 14); Thor soars toward the battle (p 16, last pnl); Iron Man blasts Ultron off his feet (p 23, 1st pnl); Ultron gets a full-peg from Mjolnir (p 26, last pnl); Iron Man, in shadow, plagued by concerns of what he might’ve done, if Ultron hadn’t backed off following his threat to the bride (p 30, last pnl).  

If I have to find fault with anything, it might be the fact that Iron Man’s choke-hold of the bride, with his open gauntlet aimed repulsor-side toward the bride’s head, should be more of a Moment (p 30, 1st pnl), with a bigger, more striking image.  But, as I pointed out earlier, the entire issue is a study in economy, as Pérez makes it all work by filling nearly every page with small panels; it seems unfair to fault him here, when his close-fitting approach is unavoidable for a story as densely-packed as this.  

Joe: Zow! The second part of our Ultron saga is nearly as good as the first, packed with action, drama, suspense, pensiveness, and a moral dilemma that saves the day. Shooter hits on all cylinders if you ask me, spurred on by the best art of the month. The team dynamic is captured perfectly, even between Thor and Wonder Man. Love the quieter moments here, also, including Iron Man and Panther's searching and even Big Bad Robot explaining things to Hank Pym. Ultron is ultimately defeated by his own "creation," or is it his own arrogance, which seems to be how he is beaten nearly every time. Either way, yet another stellar issue that reinforces my opinion of Avengers being the best book of the summer of 1977.

Conan the Barbarian 77 
“When Giants Walk the Earth”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

After being tossed into the Pit of Shadows by the guards of Harakht’s warrior-king, Hor-Neb, Conan discovers the sacred star-rock and its 10-foot tall guardian, Gol-Thir. The giant tosses the surprised Cimmerian across the room and raises the strange stone to bash the intruder’s head. Above, in the temple, the slavegirl Neftha pleads for Conan’s life with Hor-Neb’s brother, the priest-king Mer-Ath. Soon they embrace and kiss. In the throne room, Hor-Neb once again offers Bêlit the chance to become queen if she commands her Black Corsairs to join the Harakht army and war against the other Stygian city-states: when the She-Devil refuses, she is dragged away. Back in the pit, the barbarian manages to turn the tables and raises the stone above Gol-Thir’s head — but he tosses it away and spares the titan. The grateful giant shows Conan another chamber filled with large eggs: they will hatch the Hawk-Riders’ huge raptors. The Cimmerian deduces that the star-stone causes living things to grow to tremendous size. He bids the giant goodbye and shimmies back up the pit. The throne room is empty so he strides down a dark corridor in search of Bêlit. Instead, he soon finds himself in a grand arena, the brother kings, Neftha and other Harakhtians watching from above. Hor-Neb offers him the choice of two doors: behind one is death, the other his mate. Neftha whispers to Mer-Ath, asking him which one is correct. He states that Hor-Neb had told him it is the left and she discreetly motions to Conan. But when he opens it, a saber-toothed leopard is waiting: Hor-Neb had lied to his own brother. Neftha leaps to her feet, grabs a guard’s sword and pushes him into the arena below. When the vicious cat leaps on the dazed man, Conan opens the other door and finds a bound Bêlit. Suddenly, an unseen iron panel slides upward and Gol-Thir lumbers into the arena. But instead of attacking the Cimmerian, he lifts Conan above the arena wall and into the stands — but the effort is too much for Gol-Thir’s overgrown heart and it gives out. The barbarian knocks Hor-Neb into the arena and the warrior-king is killed by the spotted sabre-tooth. Conan is reunited with Bêlit and the peaceful Mer-Ath is now hailed as the sole king of Harakht. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: You know, when you have to slog through dreck like Ghost Rider or the Bloodstone back-up in The Rampaging Hulk magazine, it’s comforting to know that I have a Conan comic waiting each month — well, I guess it’s every other week in MU time. Here is yet another solid issue, nothing spectacular, but certainly more adult and thought-provoking than most other Marvel series of the time. Gol-Thir is a truly tragic figure, his body slowly breaking down because of his unnatural size: he’s literally being killed by his own weight. Apparently, he was living a proud and happy life before he came into contact with the star-stone. After it turned him into a freak, his wife abandoned him and most others were fearful, so he actually welcomed the solitude of the pit. And since Bêlit reminded him of his former spouse, Gol-Thir's betrayal of Hor-Neb was even easier. Big John is a bit fast and loose with Gol-Thir’s size throughout the issue: the cover proclaims that he is 10-feet tall, but in some panels, his legs are as tall as Conan entire body — and the Cimmerian’s no shrinking violet. I was a bit surprised by Neftha’s heroism: I have been assuming that she’s just more sexy Buscema and Chan eye candy. I distinctly remember buying this issue, probably because of that great cover. But as I’ve said, I never stuck with Conan the Barbarian since it seemed I always arrived in the middle of a multi-part arc. What a pleasure it is to finally read this superior series uninterrupted from the very beginning. And yeah, don’t think I’m not sporting a chubby over the teaser for next issue on the last page: “On to Luxur — and Thoth-Amon!” Wheeeeee!

Chris: A number of very satisfying reversals: Conan refrains from his usual instinct, and elects not to crush the head of Gol-Thir; Conan gets the wrong information about the safe door to escape the arena, not because Mer-Ath doesn’t trust Neftha, but because Hor-Neb expects his brother to be an unreliable keeper of this valuable information; and, Gol-Thir forgets his past loyalty to Hor-Neb, as he provides aid to Conan at a critical moment, which results in Hor-Neb’s destruction (although, the notion that Gol-Thir’s deceased wife resembles Bêlit – mentioned only in the very-last panel – feels a bit tacked-on).  

The art continues to excel – how could it be otherwise?  Highlights (you’ll have to take my word for the locations of these images, since this issue has no page numbers!): Conan’s face pinned under Gol-Thir’s massive palm, seen from G-T’s POV (p 10, 1st pnl); Conan, surprised by the bright lights of the arena (p 16, 1st pnl); the guard falls to the floor of the arena, as the leopard spots him and closes in (p 23, 1st pnl); Hor-Neb’s rage at G-T’s hesitation (p 26, 3rd pnl), and his shock as Conan, now armed, arrives at the edge of the viewing stand (p 27, 1st pnl).  

Captain America and the Falcon 212
"The Face of a Hero!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby

In the living stronghold of Arnim Zola, Cap and Donna Maria confront the hideous fate planned: Zola’s intention to place Cap’s face on the preserved, reborn body of Adolf Hitler. While Cap waits for the right moment to strike, Donna Maria takes her own initiative. She grabs a beaker of volatile chemicals and tosses it toward Zola and the Headless Hitler. When it strikes, it bursts into flames. As the fire consumes the body, and possibly Zola, Cap and the lady grab up as many beakers as they can and wend their way toward an avenue of escape. At the same moment, Sharon is with the Red Skull in his aircraft on their way to Zola’s castle. Cap and Donna Maria fight off Zola’s creepy mutants with the chemicals while the living eugenic freak that is the castle itself begins to feel the pain of the flames. Two other freaks leap out at them, the larger monster goes for Cap, tearing away at his face. Donna Maria is saved when Sharon arrives, shooting the beaker which explodes against the monster. Sharon rushes for Cap, whose eyes and face were severely injured. The now blind Cap is at the mercy of the Red Skull, who strikes him. Before the battle can go on, the castle, now in searing agony, tears itself asunder. A column collapses between Cap and his nemesis, separating them. The Skull makes his escape as a squad of SHIELD agents arrives, thanks to Sharon’s homing beacon. They all escape before the castle collapses around them. Will Cap ever see again? -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: The presence of the Red Skull makes this one a little more tolerable than most other issues in this run. Zola, too, is a good foe, so there’s very little of the craziness evident in the other issues. It’s still there, but it feels more like a rip-snorting action yarn of old than a weird sci-fi saga. Cap makes the mistake of playfully saying “I love you, baby” to Donna Maria after she uncovers the cache of chemicals they’ll use in their escape. She’s too dense to realize it was just an expression and starts going all goo-eyes in a crisis. Sharon arrives and is actually useful, and the Skull is the Skull. Kirby actually writes him well and there a really good, old school feeling when he’s on the scene. Not so great is Cap’s uber chipper attitude when his eyes are practically scratched out: “as soon as the scratches heal, I’ll be sound as a dollar!” Honestly, Kirby plays up the old fashioned aspect a bit too much.  

Matthew: Not that I’m the world’s biggest Falcon-fan, but even as a kid, I was noting in my diary that the guy who shares the masthead with Cap is absent for entire issues at a time (although that might be considered a good career move), such as this one.  I don’t care how figuratively he meant it, Cap’s “I love you, baby!” to Donna Maria seems out of character—not to mention ill-advised, considering its effect on her—and I don’t buy that after all of this time, he wouldn’t recognize Sharon’s voice, especially since he claims he’d “know [the Red Skull’s] malevolent voice in a howling storm!”  For the most part this is, in Professor Gilbert’s immortal phrase, “a lot of running around,” replete with Kirby Kraziness and Kaboom for the groundlings.

Captain America Annual 4
"The Great Mutant Massacre!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby, John Verpoorten, and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

Cap answers a personal ad placed by one Joe Keegan about a strange mutant needing a home. However, Magneto also arrives to take the mutant into his own custody. The first mutant is a tiny man Keegan named Mister One, so small it fits in Keegan’s watch face on his wrist. When Magneto swipes him, he is attacked by the second mutant, the giant Mister Two, who crushes Magneto’s helmet and tosses him outside. Cap takes the mutants to SHIELD to have them analyzed. Back at his own hideaway, Magnet’s new team of evil mutants plot to take Mister One back. They launch their campaign while Cap is out jogging with Mister Two. After wrecking the facility, the mutants grab Mister One. Cap realizes they are not separate entities at all, but one being living in two bodies, hopping from one to the other. However, the mutant cannot survive for long if one body is destroyed. Magneto, meanwhile, has his need for Mister One, who is just small enough to inhabit a tiny spacecraft the Master of Magnetism found previously. Mister Two leads Cap to Magneto’s stronghold and into a pitched battle. Mister Two is killed and Mister One, knowing his time is nearing an end, finds the spaceship’s destruct mechanism. Magneto and Cap plunge down an escape hole as the ship goes up in smoke. The other mutants are killed, but Magneto makes his escape, leaving Cap to ponder what devilish plans are in store… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Finally, Captain America returns to the Marvel Universe. Magneto is the first character from outside the Captain America continuity to figure prominently in a Kirby story. Professer X and the X-Men are even mentioned and the book feels just a little less alien and removed than usual. Having said that, none of the mutants in Maggie’s gang are any of the usual suspects. All are forgettable and obliterated at the climax of the story. Mister’s One and Two are an interesting concept, but that’s about it. This is a boringly average tale, made even more dull because of the length of the annual. Magneto’s plan is vaguely nonsensical with no real stakes. The all-out action is okay, but it all feels quite pointless.

Chris: It’s quite a mixed bag.  The notion that Cap and Magneto might respond to the same personal ad in the daily paper is curious; but, I guess Magneto might want to take a few minutes each morning to peruse the news, have some coffee, maybe a donut (or does he prefer croissants -?) before starting his busy day of homo-superior world-domination.  Kirby builds on the familiar idea of a symbiotic relationship, as he suggests instead that one persona is shared by two bodies; this intriguing prospect is offset by the comically tiny proportions of Mister One (I’m reminded of “Mr Smalls,” who lived in a matchbox and was inadvertently set aflame by Ken Buddha, as played by Terry Jones), and the complete lack of a back story for these two – all we’re told is that they were found on the side of the road.  Magneto’s fascination with the tiny spacecraft is strange too – what exactly does he expect to find in there? – but I’m glad Kirby found a way for Mister One to foil Mag’s hopes to unlock the ship’s secrets.  

This particular crop of evil mutants is fun in a broad way, and they contribute to high-energy action at various points in the story, but there’s really nothing special about any of them; I don’t remember seeing them any other time, so perhaps they disappear into Kirby’s pocket Marvel universe.   My favorite art moment is on page 9, as Mister Two crushes Magneto’s trademark helmet (hey, watch it buddy – those things are custom-made!) and tosses him thru the wall; it’s not often Magneto is treated so shabbily!

Matthew: This is again unrelated to the monthly mag, making it easier to ignore.  Just contrast Magneto, a Silver-Age Kirby ko-kreation, with his new Evil Mooks, differentiated mainly by color and so lazily conceived that their names are their powers; he just happens to stumble on a tiny mutant when he inexplicably has a tiny Twilight Zone spaceship he somehow knows holds the secrets of the universe.  It’s a farrago of oddball exclamations (“Shades of Lucifer!”), grating typos (“The flame’s haven’t spread too far!”), unlikely abilities (sufficient breath to say, “Can’t breathe!  I—I can’t breathe!”; post-mortem at a glance on Number Two), logical leaps, (“The blast symbol is the same in any language…”), and lots more.

Doctor Strange 24
"A Change Cometh!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Al Milgrom and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawicki
Cover by Al Milgrom

Dr. Strange prepares to enter the universe of the Creators, the mysterious hooded wizards who seek to change the very nature of ours, creating a new order with them as its masters. Stephen is one who possess the will and power to possibly oppose them, thus his demise is essential for the success of their plans. As he attempts to breach the doorway to their realm, he is flooded with dreams of a girl in Greenwich Village, who seeks his whereabouts. She enters his home, where Wong and Clea are unable to stop themselves from telling her his whereabouts. Back to Stephen's situation, the door opens of its own accord, after his attempts to breach it have failed. Enter Visimajoris, the Soul-Divider, who weakens his foes by splitting them into many parts, each too weak to resist him, and ripe for their destruction. Stephen, split into 1024 versions of himself, is about to meet this fate when the multi-orbed monster is itself killed by an unexpected ally. It is the mysterious girl from his dreams, who sought to use the dreams to inform him of the scope of this danger. She is Apalla the Sun Queen; she is also a star. Her ilk are in reality highly intelligent, aware, and powerful--and they don't take kindly to the Creators messing about with the order of things. The addition of her powers to Stephen's is something the Creators did not expect, and they are overwhelmed rather quickly. In his haste and newly uncharacteristic anger, Stephen destroys the Creators' instrument of change, the Cosmic Wheel. To his horror however, Apalla informs him the Cosmic Wheel needed reversing, not destroying. Too late, Stephen realizes his folly may have cost him the very thing he sought to save. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Jim Starlin weaves us a tale that lives up to this mag's usual high standards. Al Milgrom and Ruby Nebres sketch us some lovely cosmic landscapes that could be right out of Astronomy Picture of the (Marvel) Day. The "savagery and carelessness" that infected Stephen in the Quadriverse prove his own undoing, and the resulting failure of what seemed a sudden victory, are painful. Apalla herself is quite interesting. The concept of stars as intelligent and with power and conscience is compelling.  This comic, more than most, likes to back itself into the "how the hell do we get out of this one" corner!

Chris: Starlin brings some of the developing story-elements together.  It helps to know that Doc’s trip to the Quadriverse was intended as a delaying tactic; enjoyable as it was, Dr S #23 didn’t get us any closer to the grand scheme of the Creators.  Whatever they’re up to still is not entirely clear; it seems they’re replacing the existing universe with one of their own, to appropriate the power of stars for themselves, right?  I could be wrong.  

Starlin’s handling of Doc is entertaining, in that some of his actions are so out of character.  Doc recognizes that he’s acting rashly, and against his nature; he wonders whether he should take time to consider his behaviors, decides “No,” and impulsively blasts the portal door, which earns him a back-blast.  Doc also doesn’t wait around for Apalla’s instructions, and destroys the cosmic wheel of change, thereby sealing the Creators’ deal.  Ooops – my bad, saith Doc.  

I wasn’t sure about the Milgrom/Nebres art team.  The first few pages resemble Milgrom’s self-inked art from around this period, which spikes the “murky” needle too often for my taste.  My first glance at Visimajoris (p 15) gave me a Helleyes-spasm, but once I gave him a chance, I saw more of a Starlin influence at work – he’s imposing and bizarre, not simply a big green sponge with eyes drawn on him (I would’ve like the Visi-passage, with its Strange-multiples, to have gone on longer, but them’s the breaks).  Strange’s assault on the Creators, abetted by Apalla, also has a Starlinian feel to it, as Doc rains down fiery bolts from above his sprawled opponents (p 26); the battle continues with ample ferocity (p 27, 30).  Once Doc has destroyed the wheel, the scattered mini-planets, clattering on the ground around him, are a nice touch.  Last thing: the cover is first-rate for any Doc-artist, but it’s well above Milgrom’s standard; I wonder if he had (uncredited) help with it -?

Matthew: I tried to be optimistic, reasoning that while I regard Starlin’s Captain Marvel and Warlock as Marvel pinnacles, the artwork alone wouldn’t have blown me away if he weren’t such a good writer as well, and that if we had to have Nebres inking somebody else rather than drawing his own stuff, it should be somebody like Milgrom, whose pencils wouldn’t be so much of a loss.  Then I actually read the issue.  It’s not terrible, despite that weird, pointy-nosed Nebres look (e.g., Clea in page 7, panel 7), and I’ll grant you the full-pager on 26 is fairly impressive, but ever since Stainless left the book, I keep wondering if it’s a deficiency on my part that leaves me finishing each issue with a sense that I’m unclear on what happened and don’t care too much.

The Eternals 14
"Ikaris and the Cosmic Powered Hulk"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer

The mysterious Uni-Mind that is the combined life-force of all the Eternals affects things on Earth by the cosmic power brimming within it. One such circumstance is a  robot-like Hulk duplicate that a class at the Maryland Institute of Technology has built as a team mascot (and for fun no doubt). When Dr. Timothy Ryan catches two of the students experimenting with the fake Greenskin, he orders them to disassemble it the next morning. Too late... as after hours the passing cosmic forces bring it to life. The Uni-Mind now returned to its component parts, the need  for a party is declared by Sersi. Makarri provides a craft to take them to New York. What they encounter is a trail of destruction that leads them to it's source: the pseudo-Hulk. Makarri comes close to harm, but is ok. A furious Ikaris jumps in, yet even his strength seems at best a stalemate for this foe. He concedes there's only one option--the Demon-Fire within him, which he releases as twin beams of destruction from his eyes, but will it be enough? -Jim Barwise

Jim: This reminds me of many a comic that promises a little more than it delivers. It's also one that is a lot of fun. My initial disappointment that we're not seeing the real Hulk is kind of compensated for by the question, how could these kids have made something so close to the real thing? Of course, it's the cosmic power factor that gives "Hulk" the real muscle. I'm curious what Ikaris's Demon-Fire blast is going to do. The most burning question, which is downplayed here, is what did the Uni-Mind accomplish? Zuras merely declares it at an end, but we've yet to see any decision or direction that it accomplished.

Matthew:  Question:  What’s more annoying than a pandering guest-shot by an allegedly sales-boosting Marvel superstar?  Answer:  A pandering guest-shot by a facsimile of an allegedly sales-boosting Marvel superstar…especially when, in a story conspicuously entitled “Ikaris and the Cosmic Powered [properly hyphenated on the cover, but not the title page—typically sloppy] Hulk,” Ikaris and the CPH don’t actually appear “onscreen” together until the last panel of page 26.  And why a robot?  The rationale for his independent activation is so arbitrary that they might just as well have had the Uni-Mind temporarily affect the real Hulk.  But I’m being unfair.  After all, doesn’t every college football team want an electronic Hulk as a mascot for its all-star game?

An interesting (I hope) aside:  by this point, I was already so obsessed with horror and SF films that beginning with Dracula Has Risen from the Grave on December 12, 1976, I was creating a 3x5 index card for each one I saw—handwritten at first, then laboriously typed—with the credits on the front and a synopsis on the back, a habit I maintained in an increasingly desultory fashion, having eventually graduated to the computer, until around the turn of the millennium.  Yet in my diary entry for Sunday, May 15, I noted, “I went to Fairfield and got EternalsMs. MarvelNovaThor.  No mail today [and thus no subscription issues], damnit.  Missed The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms to buy comics.  A matter of priorities.”  And the future MU faculty member was born...

Chris: If anyone can determine a direction for this title, please forward that information to Jack Kirby c/o Marvel Comics Group, New York NY 10022.  So, Zuras announces that the uni-mind has completed its task; wasn’t the point to establish contact with the Celestials, or determine some way to communicate with them?  Well, we hear nothing on that score, because Ikaris has to battle a pseudo-Hulk.  Now, I can see how the flow of cosmic energy might’ve served to animate the Hulk-construct, but are we to accept that this exposure also has made it more powerful?  We’re told that the greenskin parade-float is made of “plastic and wires,” but now, it can take – and dish out – some pretty serious punishment.  Or, is it that the two night-owl undergrads made their Hulk better than they knew?  You tell me.  

In the letters page for Eternals #18, Jerome T. of Albany NY asks, “Why is it necessary to invent a new ‘Hulk’ to battle Ikaris?  What purpose does it serve?  Reading Eternals #14 was like preparing for steak and getting soybean substitute.”  And, Al S. of Nashville TN complains of “great disappointment” and feeling “cheated” by the “bad mistake” of the ersatz-Hulk.  Hear, hear.

Mark: Kirby brings all the Hulk's irradiated, Id-unleashed savagery to the proceedings, if not the actual Hulk himself. That could be seen as Solomonic baby-splitting: Jack building a bridge between his "do-your-own-thing" contract and mostly-ignored Marvel continuity (If SHIELD agents weren't clue enough then an appearance by the Hulk, even a rage-droid football mascot version invented by college nerds and accidentally up-powered by the Uni-Mind, means that, yesThe Eternals unfolds in the 616). 

Yet I'd like to think it was more Jack re-stalking his claim to old Greenskin. Saying - perhaps unconsciously - dig the real Hulk on a rampage, kids - cleverly cast as a fake, even made mute  - exactly as I dreamed him up. 

Either way, even if this one doesn't do much to extend the title's background cosmology as we count down to cancellation, it's a Hulk-sized haymaker of ferocious fun.    

Fantastic Four 185
"Here There Be Witches!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

We open with lab-coated Reed explaining to Sue that the metal egg from which the Eliminator emerged (last ish) was mined from a secluded area in the Colorado Rockies. "If we ever hope to find our boy [the kidnapped Franklin]," he announces, "that's the next place we have to look!"

After Reed straps on the metal arm "auto extensions" (whipped up way back in FF #39) to compensate for his lost stretching ability, the Fabs head west in the Pogo Plane.

Impy gets his now standard one page interlude, returning from a revival house showing of The St. Valentine's Day Massacre in a pin-strip suit & toting a Tommy gun. Upon discovering he's home alone, the increasingly Irrelevant Man settles in with the boob tube, to suss out the mystery of "...which one is Starsky and which one is Hutch."

Arriving in my native Colorado, the Fabs find a small mountain town that appears on no map. After landing the P Plane, Johnny assembles a fold-up car that looks like an Edsel Ford nightmare, by way of the Jetsons. After switching into their civvies - including Ben in trench coat, shades, and mummy face-wrap, circa FF #3, our heroes cruise into New Salem. If that name ain't enough of a hint, considering they're seeking missing witch Agatha Harkness along with tiny Richards, the impressively bearded Mayor is named Scratch.

Yet the Fabs falls for the "nobody here but us homespun hicks" routine and head out of town. But wait! Agatha saw them and throws up a flame wall that causes Reed to throw Johnny's abomination-mobile into reverse. Their ruse foiled, the New Salem sorcerers revert to their real, robe-clad selves. Several uninspired pages of socks and spells later, our heroes are defeated, and at the mercy of (next month) "Salem's Seven!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Great cover, tilted at a dramatic angle. And while witchery ain't exactly in the FF's wheelhouse - a baddie who looks like Mr. French from Family Affair doesn't help - all the beats here, old uniforms and old gimmicks (e.g., robo-arms and Ben mummy-wrapped), high-stakes (Franklin and Agatha), and high-powered foes (even if they dress like Doom 'bots) should work better than they do. 

Ditto the Perez/Sinnott art, which is gorgeous but never excites. The whole thing feels somehow like a simulacrum of really good FF.

Except that it isn't. 

Here There Be Snoozes.

Matthew: Although the Agatha/Franklin plotline was obviously a fait accompli, this feels like the real start of Wein’s run, and as such I’d call it a middling issue, despite impeccable Pérez/Sinnott artwork.  Even if the auto-extensors are a temporary fix, pages 1-6 gave me a real sense of Len trying to get back to basics, reaffirming the family status of the core characters, and we can only hope that Impy’s impatience with their absence suggests a recognition that his sell-by date has passed.  Yet things fall apart a bit when they reach New Salem:  any attempt at being inconspicuous in such a small and isolated town would appear to be a wasted effort, and how can Reed meekly accept, despite his findings, that the “egg simply could not have come from here?”

Chris: That ol’ scratch – never know when he might turn up.  Good decision by Len to choose to embroil the team in a supernatural scuffle; it makes for a welcome new direction after months of inter-dimensional and inter-planetary adventuring in the months prior.  Tip of the hat also to the witches of New Salem, for concealing their true identities so well that the team never catches on; of course, their neat cover-job necessitates Agatha’s forcing of the issue in order to require the team to turn back.  

I think my only reservation is that, once the witches are revealed, the setting doesn’t become as spooky as I’d like; that’s due in part to the colors, as Glynis Wein applies lighter blues, yellows, and greens to the sky, when weightier shades might’ve contributed more to the mood.  That’s right – this title has become so consistently solid that the only thing I can find to complain about is the shading in the sky for a few pages.  Well-done use of panels on p 30, as Pérez shows us Scratch, eyes blazing (his skin an unusual light brown – so thanks for that, Glyn), wielding his staff as the team is thrown into chaos.

On the letters page, Ronnie B. of Shelby NC innocently inquires about the meaning of a t-shirt George had drawn on a young person in FF #166, which appears to have the words “star” and “wars” on it.  The armadillo affirms that Ronnie’s eyesight hasn’t failed him, and that Roy is working on an adaptation of a movie by this name – that’s right, it’s called “Star Wars” – which will be coming to theaters soon; the movie was directed by George Lucas, whom we might remember from American Graffiti.  Can you imagine, within a few weeks of the publication of this comic, that anyone would refer to George Lucas as “that guy who made American Graffiti, remember?”  It’s refreshing to think back on this pre-hype period, which didn’t involve trailers, dedicated websites, and other promos on display for months prior to the release of a new movie.  

Ghost Rider 25
“Menace is a Man Called Malice”
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Don Heck and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Steve Leialoha

Ghost Rider tears through the streets of Los Angeles, racing to a raging fire that has engulfed the Hollywood Wax Museum. He powers up the side of the building on his Skull Cycle and crashes through the roof to the floor below. The hellish hero grabs the woman trapped inside and takes her to safety. As he drives away from the scene, the Rider notices a modified A.C. Cobra speeding down the street. Transforming back into Johnny Blaze, he heads to Delazny Studios. There Coot Collier and the rest of the Stuntmaster’s staff are watching TV. A masked menace named Malice is standing on top of a power station, the police and news crews gathered below. After shouting a prepared speech about how it’s time to show the world his powers, Malice causes havoc with a laser pistol, eventually blowing up the plant. Afterwards, Blaze hops on his bike to head home: he spots the souped-up Cobra once again and follows it to a bank. There, Malice emerges from the sports car and uses a magnetic pistol to pull the vault through the wall, sending it flying away to his estate in the woods. Blaze turns back into his skeletal alter ego and drives after the escaping thief. After an extended chase, the satanic cyclist causes Malice to crash and then blasts the villain with his soul-searing hellfire. Ghost Rider leaves the tormented man slumped in the street for the police to find. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Can this series get worse? The answer is a sigh™ and a yes. Let’s put it this way: my synopsis could have simply been “Ghost Rider encounters a media-obsessed criminal and blasts him with hellfire. The end.” Did anyone working on this issue have an interest at all or care about the unsuspecting kids plunking down their quarter and nickel? Well, Gil Kane and Steve Leialoha certainly did because their cover is outstanding at least. Totally generic, yet still outstanding. And I guess Malice’s costume is not terrible through the rest of the art is. Heck didn’t even bother to research what a Cobra looked like. But the character has no background or personality at all. We are to assume that he’s wealthy: when robbing the bank, he says that his dopey “magnetic vault-puller” cost him more than what the robbery is worth. He just seems like a guy who wants his name in the headlines and his face on the news. Ho hum. And no mention where or how he got his powerful pistols. There seems to be a few Marvel characters named Malice, but looks like the one and only appearance of this version. And why does the Rider simply leave him in the street at the end and drive away with, as Shooter writes, “much to ponder.” Ponder what? How much his leather riding gear stinks since that’s all he ever wears? Why this series was never cancelled? Why I’m still typing?

Chris: After a succession of writers have played with the “spook act,” which Ghost Rider has used to throw his opponents off-stride, Shooter begins to take the possibility more seriously that GR might be a separate persona, one that Johnny might have difficulty keeping under control.  Johnny is himself most of the time, but there is a moment that causes him to ask how he might lapse into his “hellspawn act … so easily?” (p 26).  The ending, as Ghost Rider exacts his vengeance, also comes off as punishment in excess of what Johnny might’ve felt necessary.  It will be interesting to see how this continues to develop.  

Great cover – iconic, if you will – from Kane/Leialoha.  Interior art – not so much.  The finishes we had for Heck in the previous two issues, by Newton and Green respectively, might not have been great, but they at least seemed better suited to Heck, and to the title character, than DeZuniga is here.  

Matthew:  I give this one a resounding “jeh” (midway between “feh” and “meh” for those late to class), but while I’m normally cool on generic covers, this Kane/Leialoha one is effective and, more important, spares us the garish costume of Malice, which rivals that of Shatterstar or Wonder Man 2.0.  He’s so underdeveloped that I would normally want to know more about him, yet in this case, I don’t care, and since Shooter is no longer scripting Conway’s plots, he gets all of the blame.  The soap-opera triangle remains tedious (“Johnny…why do you have to look at her that way?”); the two sometime EICs still don’t have the Rocky/Roxie/Roxy bit straight; and it looks as though DeZuniga has inked only intermittent panels of Heck’s swan song on the book.

Howard the Duck 15
"The Island of Dr. Bong!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Ah yes – the sublime relaxation that only a Mediterranean cruise could offer.  Howard and Bev are basking in the clear sunshine and salt-seasoned breezes, until an errant shuffleboard puck (snapped across the deck by an over-enthusiastic Winda) spirals Howard off the deck and into the drink.  Howard struggles as he bobs on the waves – despite the fact that he truly is a waterfowl, he cannot swim.  As Howard awaits a life-preserver, the ship is attacked by a giant serpent (who wears a top hat, no less); the ship and all its passengers seem certain for doom, until Howard notices a sign affixed to the leviathan‘s hide, which reads: “To Give Serpent Pleasure Press Here.”  So, he does just that, and the serpent swims contentedly away.   Once he’s dried off and dressed for dinner, Howard tries to unwind and enjoy his evening, until the waiter presents the first course: duck a l’orange.  Howard bolts from the dining room to retch in private, which means that he’s the only passenger on deck when the huge boulder falls from the sky, missing Howard by a few tender inches.  The captain and crew arrive to inspect the damage, when a storm of stones begins, which crushes the bridge and its navigation and communication equipment; the ship is thrown into chaos.  The ship wanders within sight of a “bell-shaped atoll” which, apparently, isn’t on the sea charts.  Howard & Co are troubled by deafening bonging from the island.  Then, the boulder closest to them cracks, splits open, and reveals a “concrete swan” which, despite its weight and “unflappable wings,” takes off, with Howard and Bev in tow.  The stony swan deposits its passengers in a pit of quicksand.  The resumption of the bonging heralds the arrival of giant lizardy beings, who offer help; Howard hesitates, until an oversized talking duck extends a flipper to him, which Howard accepts.  The creatures amble off, and are replaced on the scene by a bell-headed man who calls himself – Dr Bong! -Chris Blake

Chris: At a few instances, Howard reflects on the series of inexplicable events he’s experienced in the crazy land of hairless apes.  After the life-preserver has bonked him in the head and he’s had a moment to secure himself in its ring, Howard asks himself why – despite insults, hits, and dunks – he still “hangs in there.”  As the satisfied sea-serpent swims away, Howard muses “So … it must be life’s little surprises that keep me going.”  But, as we reach the end of the story, Howard expresses fatigue with all the baffling twists, as he admits to Bev that “after awhile, it’s all you can do to fake the expected gasps an’ moans of surprise.”  The good news is that, the voices he’d been hearing in his head have cleared since they set sail, so at least (for now) we can rest assured that he’s not losing it.  

Chris: The Colan/Janson art has a lot to offer.  Let’s start with how great Bev looks (p 1).  The serpent is pretty amazing, especially when we see how tiny Howard is by comparison, and how it dwarfs the ship, as it reaches its jaws across the deck (p 6); great moment when we see it, uh, smiling after Howard helps it out (p 7, last pnl).  I like the lighter shading Janson uses to convey the sense of a moonlit deck, when Howard goes out for air (p 15).  The stone-shower, as they descend on the ship, is impressive; our perspective is close to Howard’s, as we look up and see the rocks plunging down, thru the moonlight (p 17).  The Bong-island creatures are creepy at first glance (p 30, pnl 2), but then they turn out to be helpful – so, what’s going on here?  Steve G will tell us all about Howard’s latest fire-from-frying-pan experience next time.  

Matthew: Way to blow the cliffhanger on the cover yet again, guys—and, while we’re on the subject, who but Gerber would get away with, or even try to get away with, naming a character Dr. Bong, even if he could claim it was legitimized by the fact that the guy’s head is a giant bell?  This is why I, for one, will miss Steve when he’s gone, but I’m the first to admit that he’s not for all tastes.  Meanwhile, he slips in a semi-subtle plug for next month’s KISS Super Special in page 11, panel 4; maintains continuity with Howard’s one-and-only annual (which this follows chronologically, although it also appears next month); and continues to be done justice, as I will manfully admit, by the Colanson team, especially with that aerial avalanche on page 17.

Mark: Steve swerves out of recent lanes here, as this is neither a Super-Hero send-up - there's a complete lack of spandex until the last page - nor, thankfully, a return to the catatonic navel-gazing of Cuckoo's Nest duck. Instead, Gene Colan serves up a natty, nautically-attired Howard on the splash, strolling, with bikini-clad Bev, the decks of the S.S. Damned, bound for absurd, surreal seas.

No sooner is Howard bonked off the ship's railing by a stray shuffleboard puck, then the ship is set upon by a top-hat wearing sea serpent, the jazz combo in the lounge playing KISS anthems, and a meteor shower with a grudge. When a concrete swan emerges from one of the space rocks - because, why not? - Bev and Howard fly it to a quicksand pit on the Isle of Dr. Bong, who really shouldn't have been spoiled on the cover, except he's likely to catch the eye of older, collage age readers, prompting an impulse buy they'll later enjoy with their own bubbly salute to the titular Dr. B.

The Inhumans 12
"A Berserker Called Hulk!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Al Milgrom

Ascertaining that the FF aren’t home, Medusa rejoins her disguised cousins, and as Black Bolt flies to the U.N. Building, they follow by taxi, having left Falzon and Lockjaw in an apartment rented with Karnak’s winnings from a YMCA karate tournament.  Meanwhile, the NYPD holds the dormant Pursuer in a “special vacuum cell,” and Pietro warns Crystal that the rebuilding of Attilan, led by Thraxon (the opportunist sensed in #7 by Iridia, who now seems to trust him), is but a cover for his attempted takeover.  Impatient with the traffic, Gorgon unwisely clears the way with his hooves, so they abandon their disguises and proceed on foot to the U.N., where Black Bolt stands atop a lamppost across from the coffee shop in which Bruce Banner sits.

When the police ignore the arriving Medusa’s explanation and attempt to arrest the Inhumans, the injustice enrages Banner, who turns into the Hulk and leaps to aid his friends, but fearing that innocents may be injured and hoping to win over the NYPD, the Inhumans endeavor to stop him.  Finding the weak point over his heart, Karnak lacks the strength to fell the Hulk, yet this enables Black Bolt to punch him through a brick wall, and as he emerges, Lockjaw suddenly appears and teleports them all away.  The Pursuer revives, retrieves his scepter, and escapes, occupying New York’s Finest while, on the roof of the U.N., Black Bolt’s reversed-polarity electron field attracts lightning bolts to the Hulk, stunning him long enough for explanations, and they part as friends.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although the book is cancelled with its storyline still unresolved, this is one of those cases where the creative team received enough notice to close up shop in an orderly fashion.  As the lettercol explains, “Marvel has been undergoing a bit of an expansion program lately—new projects, new titles, new concepts—and to keep our schedule balanced, so we don’t mess up our deadlines (well, not any more than usual), we’re putting a few titles up on the shelf for the time being.  And so, Inhumans leaves us, but the Inhumans themselves definitely do not!”  They close by announcing both the resolution of the War between/of/with [the] Three Galaxies arc in Captain Marvel #53, just three months off, and the Inhumans’ appearance in Fantastic Four Annual #12.

I tried to research the “Alternative Design” signs in page 3, panel 1 and page 31, panel 6 (where the AD logo is followed by, respectively, “The Better Way—John V. Rella” and “AMJ • RW • AB”), but found only a SuperMegaMonkey comment by Mark Drummond, who said they “could refer to an art studio that Bob Wiacek was part of.  RW=Bob Wiacek, AB=probably Aubrey Bradford, who inked the cover to #9; AMJ=?”  Wiacek certainly does better by Pollard’s pencils than Mooney did last time, yet while Moench’s script is also a step up, I’m not entirely satisfied; the Hulk left Attilan in peace in his first annual, and despite the contretemps in #175, pitting him against some of his few friends to justify a lame-duck guest appearance seems like a cheap shot...

Chris: I’m sure that there rarely is ever an opportune time to cancel a series, but Doug had to have been especially disappointed, since he’d completed the Inhumans’ transition back to earth, and had set up the team for its long-awaited Kree confrontation.  If he’d known ahead of time he’d be down to his last chapter, Doug might’ve decided instead to move on to other matters – that, in its way, would’ve been unfortunate, since this turns out to be one of the more purely entertaining issues in the series.  

Naturally, there’s really no way to have a Hulk guest-shot without fighting with him – that’s a given.  Doug introduces a twist, as the Hulk starts out on the same side as the Inhumans in his defense of them.  The Inhumans then have to turn against the Hulk for fear that he might mangle some puny humans; and you can’t even rely on the defense that the Hulk doesn’t know his own strength, can you?.  You also can’t count on a peaceful resolution to a Hulk-fight, but Doug finds a way, as Hulk concludes that “enemies would not make Hulk feel better.”  

This is the only appearance of Pollard/Wiacek art on this title, and while I’m not a big fan of Wiacek at this point in his career (as evidenced by my unenthusiastic comments for his work with Guardians of the Galaxy), it’s fair to say that there are enough promising moments in this issue to indicate that, given time to work together, this could’ve been a solid team.  High marks to Pollard for his inventive handling of Medusa (always a challenging prospect), not only as she scales – and parachutes from – the Baxter Building (p 1-2), but also as she “snags” a passing chimney to arrest her Hulk-propelled flight.   Wiacek’s finishes provide texture, although the clarity is not consistent (still, as I’ve said, that might’ve come in time); the shading he brings to the Hulk as he faces down Karnak (p 22 pnl 4) is a highlight.

Two leftover observations: 1) good decision by Doug to show that non-team Inhumans who remained behind now are rebuilding Attilan; and 2) why are there two plugs (sneakily inserted in the background billboards, p 3 and p 31) for “Alternative Design”?  I can understand giving a friend’s business a subtle boost, but twice -? 

John Buscema/John Romita/Frank Giacoia
 Nova 12
"Who Is -- the Man Called Photon?"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen

Zooming to his inventor uncle Ralph's house in Wantagh [sic] Point for math tutoring, Nova/Richard Rider is puzzled that his uncle is late, but we learn why when businessman Jason Dean runs into Police HQ, claiming while he was waiting to bid on Rider's latest invention when a masked man with a strange gun melted the wall and tossed Dean aside. Richard also goes into the station to use the phone, learns his uncle is in trouble, and is driven to the house by Dean and Captain Steele. There, they spot Happy Daze and in the library, Peter Parker, who was there studying physics with anagram-loving Uncle Ralph when Photon (the aforementioned villain) struck, knocking out Peter, whom Richard suspects had something to do with it.

Richard changes into Nova to do some exploring around, while Peter slips off to change into Spider-Man, finding a suspicious man lurking on the grounds, but he's attacked by Nova, who at first doesn't believe Spidey's claims he had nothing to do with it, then the two heroes take lab assistant Michael Lincoln back to the house. Lincoln hated Ralph Rider, but even though he's glad Rider's dead, he insists it wasn't him. After more interviews, Captain Steele is given some important news from butler Manners, and only Peter and Nova are left in the room when Photon comes blazing in! With this strength-enhancing bio-costume and special gun, Photon kicks butt and takes names before getting away. Back to Captain Steele, who explains he has four suspects: Rider's "embittered assistant" Lincoln, strong-arm businessman Franklin Risk, AIM crony Harry Daze, and Jason Dean, who works for the Maggia. Suddenly, someone trips the light, and takes off with Risk, Dean and Daze, leaving Steele to tell us Manners was killed before he could spill the beans! –Joe Tura

Joe: See, now this is a Nova issue I can get behind! Of course, I nabbed this one from Grand Candy when it came out, and it's actually the first part of one of my favorite comic stories ever. Not that it's groundbreaking, or going to win any Eisners, but just for the supposed cleverness of the end and of course another book featuring Spidey. It's "Your chance to guess along in a special Mighty Marvel Mystery!" is the claim in the credits, and that suckered me in, too. The story is full of twists and turns and misdirections to throw off the reader. Pretty well done by Marv, complete with a "Blue Blazes" or two for good measure. Paired with the usual solid work from Sal & Frank, it whets the appetite for more, even as it exists mostly to team up Marv's two favorite teen heroes, as well as get more sales from Nova. And as expected, a couple of things don't work, such as a butler named "Manners." Don't all butlers have manners?

Matthew: The hype machine that has compared Nova to Spider-Man since Day One goes into overdrive, presumptuously referring to them as “Marvel’s Two Greatest Heroes”; not sure where that leaves, for example, the protagonists of the so-called “World’s Greatest Comic Magazine!”  Since I love crossovers and am pro-Bullethead, this should have been catnip for me, yet I think even my not-quite-14-year-old self found the faux Agatha Christie setup impossibly far-fetched and hokey.  For example, I liked the JLA-style roster of suspects on the splash pages, but did almost every new character have to have a name that is also a word (steel[e], risk, daze), and how obviously was Uncle Ralph, of whom we’ve never heard before, the merest cannon fodder?

Chris: Nice job by Atticus Finch to drive Rich over to his uncle’s house.  That Finch is just an all-around decent guy, isn’t he?

Marvel tries its best to haul Nova into the big time.  Not only do we have this two-part cross-over with AS-M, but we have a cover blurb, declaring “Marvel’s Two Greatest Heroes” are featured in this story.  Well, slow down a minute, there – Nova has a long, long way to go before he gets to Marvel’s Top Twenty, let alone tied for first place with Spidey.  
The story feels padded-out; I checked ahead more than once to see how many pages were left to go.  The art is very slight, as several pages feature few background details from Sal.  Speaking of small details, how does Nova turn the light on with a switch, when a mystery man has unplugged the lamp from the wall?  Overall, the greatest mystery here is why Photon enters every room by burning thru a wall – does his crazy mask interfere with his ability to see doors, or something -?  

The Amazing Spider-Man 171
"Photon is Another Name for...?"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia

Captain James Steele tells Spider-Man and Nova to stay out of the police investigation of Ralph Rider's death, then recounts the events from Nova #12 and the players involved in a taped report. Only lab assistant Michael Lincoln stayed behind, while the others (Maggia agent Jason Dean, ruthless businessman Franklin Risk, and AIM flunkie Harry Daze) vanished when the lights went out. Nova/Richard Rider jets out of his uncle's Montauk home to check out a departing train, but noticed a Hydrofoil headed for the lighthouse, so he and Spidey (hitching a ride on the Rocket) zoom away, much to Steele's chagrin. Quick cut to Harry and Liz in Chinatown (yes, we still have a supporting cast to check in on), where Harry says Dr. Hamilton thinks the therapy sessions may stop soon, but as they drive off, a mystery man watches from an alley, vowing to "make her pay". (???)

In the lighthouse, the criminal trio of suspects shares their stories—Risk pulled the light plug so they could get away, and the hydrofoil shows up with a squad of AIM soldiers, with the aim (see what I did there!) to capture Rider's device. But Spidey and Nova show up to spoil the fun, and they start kicking some AIM butt, until Photon shows up and uses his special gun to take both heroes out. Shortly after, AIM agents chain both of them to a large anchor and drop it overboard. With Nova protected by his helmet/costume, a weakening Spidey strains against the chains, and somehow manages to pop the links before his lungs give out! The duo head to the beach to dry off and try and figure out the mystery before heading back to the Rider mansion, where AIM and the cops enter a firefight and the heroes enter the house just in time for Photon to grab Richard Rider's dad Charles, who came to check on his murdered brother! Working together, Spidey and Nova save Charles and knock out Photon, then Spider-Man figures out who he is—first off, the molten slag beneath the library wall that Photon's gun always left was melted outward, not in, so the murderer had to be already in the room with Dr. Ralph Rider. Capt. Steele completes the mystery with "the most obvious clue of them all"—the word game-obsessed Rider left the clue himself, with the calendar pages he was touching, which were "July thru December—the last six months of the year", the first letter of each spell out J-A-S-O-N-D…meaning Photon is Jason Dean! It's elementary, my dear Spidey!
--Joe Tura

Joe: The second part of our two-part murder mystery with Nova #12 starts with a similar splash page, with Sal's headshots/mugshots in place. And the rest continues the rocket-paced, suspense-driven, action-packed comic that's an enjoyable read from start to finish. Well, except for the "Next Issue" panel where the words "Rocket Racer" show up, but that's for next time, class. Creatively speaking, Ross draws a very nice Nova, including the trail left by his flying through the skies. And Len is nice enough to have the Human Rocket say "Blue Blazes" four times (FOUR!) so Marv doesn't have a chance to rant. The reader can, however. Plus, Nova name drops Starsky and Hutch, while Spidey does the same for Hope and Crosby, meaning we might one day get more team-ups of these two, which I'm sure the letters pages will be saying people are clamoring for. The mystery is solved rather cleverly, with clues abound that at first you say, "huh?" then when you re-read it think "oh yeah, I knew it all along!" Then again, at ten years old, this prof merely thought the cross-over was quite cool, and has never forgotten the calendar conclusion.

Favorite sound effect is actually a pair, as Spidey and Nova manage to break the chains that bind them (fans of Journey's "Separate Ways", rejoice!) with a "SPING!" and a "SPANG!" and a ha-cha-cha-cha! (That's for the Marx Bros. fans—sorry for the monkey business…)

Chris: Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if Spidey were to team-up with other Marvel figures every month?  In fact, you could probably devote an entire separate mag to those pairings!  And you – oh … wait – there is?  Well, okay then.

I’ll admit that Dr Rider’s clue – spelling out “Jason D” with calendar pages – is somewhat clever.  We still are left with the question of why the Maggia would’ve chosen to snuff Dr Rider; if they wanted his new invention, wouldn’t you expect them to pressure Rider into handing over the device?  There are age-old techniques like extortion and blackmail available to crime syndicates after all, short of murder.  And why bother with the super-villain trappings, complete with melter-pistol?  That part’s a bit more difficult to understand.  

The Andru/Espo art comes thru in its reliably solid way.  Andru provides a subtle clue of his own to Photon’s identity, as we see Dean breaking in a different direction from the other two suspects, shortly after Spidey and Nova arrive on the hovercraft (p 15, last panel).  

Favorite line (to go with Prof Joe’s favorite sound effect): “You couldn’t find the road to Zanzibar without Bob Hope or Bing Crosby to help you!”  That’s tellin’ ‘im, Spidey!  

Matthew: Despite being produced by two totally different creative teams (last month’s Bullpen Page even asserted, somewhat improbably, that Marv had left his old pal Len to wind up the story without giving him the solution), this crossover feels very consistent, with the respective Buscemacoia and Rossito arts jobs harmonizing nicely.  That’s one of the nicer things you can say about a story whose ending hinges on a dying man carefully arranging calendar pages to spell out the name of his killer; I don’t care how much he loved word-play, I just can’t see it.  Throwing AIM into the mix can never hurt in my book, but let’s hope that between this and his “Whodunit!” in #155, Len has gotten all of the John Dickson Carr stuff out of his system.

Mark: This one's a lightweight trifle, but ultimately entertaining, and given Len's abysmal batting average, I'll consider that another Christmas gift (even if you students won't be getting this lesson plan until the middle of January).

There's a splash page warning not to go any further until reading the opening installment in Nova #12, but having braved the perils of plot dislocation, let me assure the class you'll pick up the plot quickly, and unharmed. And no one but neurotic completists - and maybe Forbush - will give a wit about the Scooby Doo murder mystery or Photon's identity (see "lightweight," above). We don't know the suspects (cleverly named Daze, Dean, Lincoln, and Risk. Wow. Wein spent all of ten seconds dreaming those up), nor is there a hint of personality or compelling, anti-social passion among them.

But we get starry-eyed Harry and Liz being spied upon by one of those shady, alley-dwelling lurkers the title's used effectively the last few years. And the team-up between Webs and Nova (who was pitched as a well-scrubbed teen hero, anti-angsty Silver Age throwback and antidote to Seventies cynicism) works, even if their wisecracks are almost interchangeable. Len's fetish for garishly-clad goon squads is made more palatable with AIM's beekeepers filling the slot, if only as a nod to Marvel history, and the anchor dunking provides satisfying, big-lunged heroics.

An honest critic would be compelled to point out that the "twist" ending - the murdered doc's torn calendar pages spelling out the killer first name - is a groaner that only brings to mind the W.H.O.dunit killer computer fiasco. But since the holidays are a time of "goodwill toward men," I won't say a word.


2001: A Space Odyssey 9
"Mister Machine"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

X-51, his face removed, sits alone in a cell. When he engineers his own escape, a battle with Kragg’s men ensues. Dr. Broadhurst insists X-51 is allowed to leave unharmed. His face is returned, along with his original clothing, and he declares he be called “Mister Machine.” And so, he is allowed to go on his way. While Kragg initially pegged Broadhurst as a traitor putting mankind in jeopardy, Broadhurst reveals a tracker was added to Mr. Machine’s new face. Realizing he will attract attention, Mr. Machine ceases flying and lands in a wooded area. He sees the monolith but decides not to seek out his destiny, but to let destiny find HIM. As the monolith vanishes, Mr. Machine is approached by a young boy named Jerry. He concludes that Machine is a “Marvel Super-Hero” and asks if he could help his aunt Olivia change their flat tire. Machine does so and asks for a lift to the next town in return. As they ride, they are attacked by goons in the employ of a masked man named Hotline and his driver Kringe. After Machine defeats them, Hotline is satisfied that he has found a genuine X-model machine man. -Scott McIntyre:

Scott: I really have to wonder what any of this has to do with 2001? Aside from a cameo by the monolith, this could be an Amazing Adventures style “pilot” feature to introduce a new super-hero. For the first time, this book is now solidly in the Marvel Universe as Jerry name drops the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom. Mr. Machine will eventually become Machine Man and briefly receive his own book for his troubles, but he’s too bland an entity here to strike a chord. Only one more issue left. Was anyone truly reading it as this point?

Chris: I’ve owned this comic for as long as I’ve had the other early appearances of Machine Man, but this issue doesn’t evoke as many vivid memories as did our previous issue.  I think it’s because there isn’t much story development this time; basically, MM fights for his freedom, and has it awarded to him (but, not without strings attached), which takes up over half of the story.  The two battles are useful, though, as Jack clues us in to some of MM’s far-out capabilities, most notably the handy finger-blasters.  The voice-recording and re-editing function also is clever.  

I will admit that I am intrigued to know who Hotline is, why he felt the need to field-test the X-51, and what his plans might be for this unique specimen.  Cool idea to cast Peter Lorre in the role of “Kringe.”  I also would dearly like to know where Hotline found that bitchen car, with its mask-of-evil front end, complete with “X   X” license plates (p 26, 1st pnl).  Something tells me it’s only available in black.  

The Incredible Hulk 214
"The Jack of Hearts is Wild!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

After defeating the Quintronic Man (last issue), The Incredible Hulk and his sidekick, J.J. Walker Jim Wilson, bound to a nearby empty alley, where Hulk becomes puny Banner again. The two embrace, exchange pleasantries, and then head to Bruce's pad where they arrive just in time to squelch what seems to be a robbery in Bruce's apartment. Instead, they discover the intruder is none other than the Great Kropotkin, former tenant of this here dive, come to collect his belongings. The Incredibly Changing Woman, aka April Sommers, puts in an appearance long enough to insult everyone present but her cameo is cut short when all the excitement gets to Bruce and Jim has to escort Kropotkin and Sommers out the door. Banner jumps out the window and becomes his green alter ego, who gallivants off into the city. Meanwhile, in a nearby SHIELD heli-carrier, a mysterious figure has risen from the pod the organization found at the bottom of the ocean and is getting a feel for the ship. Not long after, the Hulk is attacked by Jack of Hearts, who's looking to increase his street cred and score one for the scales of justice (the guy is as clueless as any other puny human) by taking out the big guy. Bad move. Their battle spills onto the docks, where a fire crew is battling a blaze aboard a freighter. As the ship becomes completely engulfed, the crew tows it out to sea and, inevitably, the two battling heroes find themselves aboard. Jack wonders if he hasn't been a tad too hasty in his judgment and tries to call a truce but an explosion destroys the freighter and Jack is blown clear. As he rises from the water, he assumes the Hulk didn't make it and wonders if it might have been his own fault. 

-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Once we get past all the crappy supporting characters nonsense, the story really starts to cook (literally, when you take into account the climax) with well-choreographed battle scenes and nice art. Sure, there's a Code Red MARMIS (the absolutely mostest eye-rolling level known to Marvel Zombies) but the payoff is worth it. I kept expecting some Marvel menace to be on board that burning freighter but, no, Len surprises and delights by not tying in yet another coincidence. Sometimes a burning freighter is just a burning freighter. And even though he's being coy and showing us a little at a time, Len has my complete interest when it comes to the visitor who's popped out of the pod (only given one page this issue). I've got some theories but we'll wait to see if I'm right or not. Well, even if I'm wrong, you'll never know so let's just suppose I'm right, all right?  About that Code Red MARMIS though: I spit beer all over my mint-condition Incredible Hulk #214 digital file (which I keep in a slab hanging on the wall) when Jack literally spins a 180 on his Hulk attack only after realizing he's about to get his multi-colored ass kicked: "M-maybe what the man-brute says is true! Maybe he'd never have fought me -- or anyone else -- if he hadn't been attacked first!" And, years before political correctness, Len manages to get away with not only a questionable racial stereotype ("What about this junior-grade J.J. Walker here?") but a fat joke as well. Who says funny books in the 1970s were tame?

Matthew: Since I’m strictly a four-color man, this and last issue’s teaser were my first exposure to the Jack of Hearts.  I remember liking him when Bill Mantlo (who created him with Keith Giffen in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu #22) repurposed him as a member of Iron Man’s supporting cast shortly afterward, but aside from his cool name and visual appeal—effectively captured here by Buscema and Chan—I don’t think Wein handles him particularly well in this trite MARMIS.  Points to April for, shall we say, calling a spade a spade by identifying Jim as a “junior-grade J.J. Walker,” but so far, actually showing us Kropotkin has added nothing to the strip, and having an already-angry Hulk revert to Banner on page 2 just throws fuel onto that fire.

Chris: I’ve always been a fan of Jack of Hearts, due to his association with Iron Man (coming soon, courtesy of character-creator Bill Mantlo, to shellhead’s own mag).  Jack’s determination to see justice served does not necessarily translate to achieving the proper outcome; Len does a solid job with the young hero, as Jack learns that – well, that he’s got a lot to learn.  Jack’s clash with Greenskin has its share of entertaining moments (anytime you’ve got a burning freighter in the harbor, you’ve got potential for some spectacular visuals), but without Jack’s recognition of his own faults – not only does he provoke the fight, but Jack also critically overestimates his power relative to that of the Hulk – the encounter wouldn’t carry any meaning, or much value.  

The Defenders 50
"Scorpio Must Die! Who Remembers Scorpio?
Part Three"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Keith Giffen, Mike Royer, John Tartaglione, and Dave Cockrum
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Al Milgrom

The Hulk faces down Scorpio, and the newly-revealed Zodiac of his own design.  Scorpio notices that three are missing ("Where" he asks, "is Virgo . . ?"); the Hulk doesn't wait to find out, as he plows into his opponents.  Scorpio uses his key to turn to water, and washes away.  Hellcat, Valkyrie, and Moon Knight descend from the opening in the roof (provided by the Hulk, last issue) to join the fight; elsewhere, Nighthawk feels his strength increasing as the evening sets in, and rends free of his bonds. Ares rams the Hulk into the heavily-metallic Passaic River, as Val engages Leo, and Hellcat tangles with Gemini; the Hulk returns, calling for Ares' head.  The Defenders assemble, and face their opposition as one.  Scorpio finds Capricorn and Pisces both dying, and Virgo dead; Scorpio mourns the prospect of their life together, now irretrievably lost.  Meanwhile, Hulk smashes Cancer, Nighthawk and MK dash Ares into the ground, while Gemini turns on Leo to spare Hellcat, and Libra -- satisfied the battle has found its proper balance -- departs alone.  Jack and MK try to prevent Scorpio's escape, only to find him dead; they believe the Fury LMD had shot him. They are unaware that Scorpio, deep in despair over his failure, has killed himself. -Chris Blake

Chris: I still own the copy of Defenders #50 that I had bought from a classmate, probably in the sixth grade; this is one of a handful of schoolyard back-issues (ie not flea-market items).  It had been well-handled, and heavily-read, before I acquired it, and it looks its age.  But the heavy wear is no deterrent to reading it, over and over and over, as I had for many years.  I can honestly say that this storyline – and this concluding issue in particular – was one of the factors that piqued my interest in comics, and helped to narrow my focus exclusively toward Marvel.  

I was especially intrigued by the portrayal of Scorpio, who at first glance in Defenders #46 appears to be a typical villain who would pose an ordinary set of difficulties for our heroes.  The person of Scorpio that emerges over these five issues is both more and less than that.  He thinks that he dreams big, as he expresses the notion of constructing a new world that meets with his approval; his true aim, though, is probably closer to a self-contained world, right there in his Passaic stronghold, with his eleven disciples.  He speaks about his expectation of sharing “beers and long talks” with Pisces and the others, as they would “try to set the world sane;” Scorpio’s hardly left the facility in seven years, right?  The Fury LMD typically is sent out on the beer runs.  So that’s where Scorpio would be, with his new friends and his unknown, long-sought love, Virgo, to while away the hours.  

But Scorpio can’t achieve even this modest dream, can he – instead, his efforts result in one of the single greatest failures in the history of costumed villainy.  Not only are his dreams crushed, but his own creations – the android Zodiac – work against one another to contribute to Scorpio’s downfall.  In the face of failure, Scorpio does not shake his fist and swear his revenge – he’s broken by it.  He’s consumed by futility and heartbreak, as he concludes (in conversation with the Fury LMD – Scorpio has no person to talk to) that life has dealt him a terminal blow.  Scorpio’s final moment, which ends in his suicide, is irrevocable – Kraft allows us no last-second escape, for Scorpio to plot his next android-led revolution.  It’s a bold statement for a comics writer, and it went a long way to drawing me in; defeat is real, and some failures feel permanent, and inescapable.  

 To turn to a lighter vein, I also have to credit Giffen’s self-inked art as a deciding factor in this comic’s endurance as one of my all-time favorites; an android-fight has an extra element of fun, since you literally can smash them to pieces – no holding back.  Giffen portrays the full-scale battle in exactly the way a comics-artist should, as he successfully: keeps the action moving; involves all the team members; and provides a narrative flow to the battle, as fortunes change for individual combatants in the course of the fight.  Oh, and of course there should always be plenty of debris.  

Examples: we see the other Defenders arrive above, and prepare to aid the Hulk (p 3, last pnl); four separate entanglements in one panel (p 7, 1st pnl); let’s take all of p 15; and then, all of p 26 and 27.  Other highlights: Hellcat recoils as Gemini splits and springs toward her (p 6, pnl 4); Hulk pounds Taurus thru the ceiling, narrowly missing Scorpio on the floor above, but trashing the fridge (p 11, top 2 pnls); Schlitz cans raining on the Hulk (p 11, pnl 4); Scorpio’s discovery of the fatal off-stage fight between Pisces and Capricorn – the close-up of Virgo’s torn hand convinces Scorpio that something indeed has gone terribly, awfully wrong (p 14); Ares’ unintended take-out of Aquarius (p 26, pnl 3); tears escape the intent eyes of Scorpio (p 31, pnl 3).  Lastly, I would like the senses-shattering center spread (reprinted below, as the team is seen from the Zodiac POV) re-printed on a t-shirt, please.  

In the lettercol for Defenders #54, future Marvel scribe Peter B. Gillis of Elmsford NY praises the issue as “a clamorous, noisy book, feverish and crowded – but damn, it was a good show!”

Matthew: From the cheesy “Long Island Hang-Out” diagram to the careless caption on page 16 that includes the literally fly-by-night Moon Knight among the Defenders, but not Valkyrie (who has been with the non-team longer than anyone there except the Hulk), this boring slugfest is a sorry spectacle, especially for a “Fantastic 50th Issue!”  I like the original Zodiac, yet these clowns—whose android status makes Scorpio’s love for Virgo pretty damned creepy—look like something the Bronze-Age Kirby would blow out of his nose on a bad day.  And while the credits encouraged me to think that we were back to unfiltered Giffen, the fine print on the last page reveals “arts assists” by Royer, Tartaglione, and Cockrum, so who knows what’s what?

The Invaders 19
"War Comes to the Wilhelmstrasse"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita and Joe Sinnott

Preparatory to being shot at dawn, the captive Invaders are paraded down Berlin’s Wilhelmstrasse, while an agonized Cap heeds the Destroyer’s advice “not to sacrifice [himself] uselessly in a grandstand effort,” but only until Nazi soldier Hans, provoked by Bucky’s kick, is about to risk Hitler’s wrath by shooting him.  The Destroyer joins in, hoping one of them can free the others, but their effort proves futile when a luger is held to Bucky’s head, forcing Cap to surrender as well, and Hans apparently kills the Destroyer with a grenade.  Also observing, Lord Falsworth tries yet again to jog Dyna-Mite’s memory by relating how Roger Aubrey and his best friend, Spitfire’s brother Brian, fell out with their father over Chamberlain’s appeasement in ’38.

Oskar learns from the underground that Brian was held in the Institute of Nazi Science, where Roger recognizes the scientist who shrank him, and recounts that when war broke out, the Nazis detained the young men to preserve their propaganda victory.  Imprisoned for striking the local Gestapo chief, Brian became the Destroyer, while the as-yet-unnamed Colonel Dietrich felt that Roger’s diminutive stature made him a perfect candidate for Project Crusader.  Distracted by the revelations, the Falsworth contingent is trapped and gassed, but as Hitler gloats over the wedding of Master Man and Warrior Woman, and Spitfire is stood against the wall with her drugged-up teammates, the executioners are blasted with a grenade by “a ghost from the past”—Union Jack! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: However you feel about having Hitler on the cover, it’s sumptuously drawn by Jazzy Johnny and Joltin’ Joe—even as captives, the Invaders have never looked better, nor has the contrast with the interior art by the Two Franks been more striking.  It’s more of an observation than a complaint when I point out that this issue is dominated by expository flashbacks and getting even more of our heroes captured, while the last page proves that the game of musical Falsworth identities still isn’t over; per the next-ish blurb touting “The One You’ve Been Waiting For!!,” we’re obviously warming up for the main event.  But on the subject of waiting, don’t hold your breath for the “second try-out appearance” by the Liberty Legion that the lettercol promises for Premiere #38...

Chris: Roy’s established a standard of straight-ahead fun with this title, so it’s interesting to see him incorporate some shading this time.  He not only depicts German citizens expressing their disapproval of Nazi excesses, and then laughing at an infantryman, but also (in the interest of fairness) reminds us that there were pro-appeasement factions among allied countries, who believed in peace at all costs.  There’s still plenty of action, of course, as Roy works a great deal of story into one space.  Overall, it’s probably the most satisfying chapter of Invaders we’ve seen in a while – I can’t recall the last time we had an issue that held together this well.

I’m even prepared to offer some kind thoughts for Frank Robbins.  We have a bona fide Errol Flynn moment, as Cap swings down from the rooftop, grabbing hold of a Nazi flag to arrest his fall (p 6); Cap covers his face as he realizes that the grenade blast almost certainly killed the Destroyer (p 10); the grim display as Cap is paraded along the Wilhelmstrasse, banners flapping behind him, and his captured shield borne proudly aloft (p 11).  Falsworth’s recollections of his son Brian’s fall from grace play out at times like a film montage from the period, especially p 15 pnl 3.  And of course, how about the dramatic arrival of Union Jack, in the very last panel?  After that, I’d certainly be haunting my local spinner rack, hopeful for the arrival of our very next issue.  

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