Wednesday, January 6, 2016

July 1977 Part One: AKA The Purple Man!

 Daredevil 147
"Breaking Point!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Denise Wohl and Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Daredevil walks from the TV studio, and is quickly mobbed by fans who witnessed his televised exploits against Bullseye.  DD is in pain from the wound in his right shoulder, and also begins to feel hemmed-in by the gathering crowd -- as overlapping input from all their voices threatens to overload his hypersenses -- and finally decides to leap up and vault away from his fans, much to their dissatisfaction.  DD rests on a rooftop, still slightly dizzy from blood-loss and Bullseye’s beating, and considers how easy it would be to stay put; but, he resolves instead to keep moving, especially since BE had revealed useful information implicating Glenn in recent attacks on him and Foggy, and possibly in the kidnapping of Debbie Harris.  DD (after a quick stop for repair by a police surgeon) surprises Maxwell Glenn in his office; Glenn puts up little resistance, and takes responsibility for his wrongdoings, from slum-lording to money-laundering, even orders for murder and kidnapping.  DD calls the police, and directs Glenn to stay put and wait for them to arrive.  Once he's gone, a panel opens in the wall, to reveal – Killgrave, the Purple Man.  Glenn has been Killgrave's helpless pawn, committing crimes as ordered, unable to resist K's influence.  DD proceeds to the location provided by Glenn, and rescues Debbie.  Soon she is on her way out of the police station, in the company of Foggy and Heather, as Glenn is being brought in; Heather is very upset to see her father reduced to this state.  DD, observing above, determines he cannot help Heather; if she were aware of his shoulder injury, she might connect Matt with DD.  Glenn tells Heather he doesn’t remember his involvement with the crimes.  DD notes that Glenn's pulse is steady, which leads him to suspect that Glenn isn’t lying – he has no memory of ordering the various wrongdoings.  Suspicious, DD returns to Glenn's office, as he reflects that Heather had said Glenn had been spending most of his time there.  DD’s sensitive touch reveals the concealed panel; DD breaks into the next room, and finds Killgrave there, with a roomful of a dozen executives, all under his control.  Killgrave tries to hypnotize DD, but isn’t successful (thanks, in large part, to DD’s lack of sight); he orders his controlled group to attack.  DD smashes out the lights with his billyclub, which evens the odds; fighting in the dark poses no disadvantage to him.  DD is about to pursue the purple K, who is taking flight, now that his plans have been exposed.  DD is slowed by one man who hits him with a chair; once he reaches the street, Killgrave is gone without a trace. -Chris Blake
Chris Blake: There are a number of reasons why I enjoy Shooter’s writing on this title.  First, he finds ways to make use of DD’s hypersenses, and doesn’t rely simply on radar sense to get things done; the use of touch to find the hidden wall-panel is a good example.  Second, this is not the DD of Wolfman, who perpetually questions his role as a superhero, and dives into a fight with a Spidey Wisecrack Book (Braille version) in his hand; no, this is a thinking man’s hero, who takes the time to reason out the issues he’s facing.  When DD first confronts Glenn, he reads his heartbeat as steady, and is perplexed to find Glenn to be such a “cool customer.”  Later, in a different context, DD uses the same information – Glenn’s even pulse – to clue himself to the possibility that he might’ve been forced to commit the crimes without his knowledge, which leads DD back to Glenn’s office to search for clues, and results in the reveal of Killgrave as the power behind the evil deeds.  

Another factor to enjoy involves use of the billyclub as an offensive weapon.  For too long now, the club’s purpose (mostly) has been to allow DD to shoot a cable and fearlessly swing himself around town.  It makes sense that DD would, and should, take advantage of his radar sense to spot opportunities to fling the club around; this time, he employs the club to cut power to a laser-trap that might’ve kept him from rescuing Debbie, and to break the overhead lights when he finds himself in the room with the mind-controlled business types.  

Chris: Of course, a capable artist can bring the club-business to life (such as on p 11), so thankfully Gil Kane is here, at least for a few issues, aptly paired with Janson.  The art is fluid, well-textured, and suitably moody, especially in moments like Killgrave’s far-out bid to hypnotize our hero (p 22), and DD’s blacked-out fight (p 26).  In a quieter vein, there are a few panels of DD searching Glenn’s office, with Janson’s tannish tone to DD’s face reminding us that the lights are low, if not off completely (p 17).  I keep coming back to the brilliant splash page, which sets the stage for DD’s claustrophobic moment on p 2; the POV is that of an enamored fan, who is looking past the riot police facing the viewer, so that the fan can see DD, his bold crimson-red popping on the page, and reach a hand (visible at the bottom of the panel) toward his desired idol.  

Matthew Bradley: Shooter told Kuljit Mithra, “Janson inked [and colored] the Kane and Infantino issues and gave them a wonderful look.  Klaus is a genius….I remember telling him many times that some crazy color experiment he wanted to try wouldn’t work—but he’d talk me into it, sometimes by holding his breath ’til blueness set in, and we’d try it.  He was almost always right.”  While not sharing his enthusiasm for Klaus, I’ll give Jim credit where it’s due for finally moving the interminable Maxwell Glenn subplot toward resolution.  I thought I had him when DD failed to sense the nearby Killgrave’s heartbeat as he confronted Glenn on pages 6-7, but he beat me with that soundproofing, and some of Gil’s artistry still manages to penetrate the murk…

2001: A Space Odyssey 8
"The Capture of X-51"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

The X-51 is part of a line of androids that have not gone as planned, jumping their programming and going berserk. Scientist Dr. Broadhurst decides it is best to scrap the entire line by activating the destruct mechanisms in each android. However, Broadhurst’s assistant Haines warns him that Dr. Stack has grown attached to his. They debate the merits of bringing one of the androids into the life and home of a human, that treating the X-51 as a son might have strange ramifications. And so it has; in his home, Dr. Stack has made a human face for the X-51 and named him Aaron. He removes the ticking time bomb and, giving Aaron a flight suit, tells him to fly off. After he does so, the bomb explodes, killing Stack. Aaron, using anti-gravity, travels to a nearby city where he is hunted by the authorities. When he is finally apprehended, Aaron is taken to Col. Kragg, who strips him of his human face. Kragg leaves the dark room to confer with Broadhurst and Haines. Now alone, Aaron can’t understand why he is so hated and hunted. At that moment, the monolith appears. Using all of his power, Aaron shatters his bonds and walks toward the monolith…  -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: While it has practically zero connection with the concepts of 2001 other than the final cameo appearance of the monolith, this is actually a fairly decent super-hero origin story. And, it will lead to the creation of what will later be known as Machine Man. The characters are barely fleshed out, with almost nothing for the reader to latch onto, but the story of Dr. Stack sacrificing himself for Aaron is touching in a bland sort of way. Under a different writer, this may have been a really great intro. As it stands, it’s simply not as bad as the rest of the series.

Chris: Ah yes – another comic I bought as a flea-market back-issue, and read and re-read enough times that I remember nearly all of it – especially Kirby’s ever-dynamic visuals – even though I probably hadn’t opened the cover in about thirty-five years.  Comics can have that effect on people – don'tcha think -?  

I’m trying to play with the lyrics for “Secret Agent Man,” as they take away Aaron Stack’s name, and leave him with only his number; well, maybe I’ll get back to that, if I have time. 

Chris: As I was re-reading, it occurred to me that I liked Machine Man in his time.  I not only collected these issues, but also bought Aaron Stack’s solo title, and picked up some of MM’s guest appearances in other mags.  How come?  It’s not like the notion of a thinking computer is a novel concept in speculative fiction (paging Dr Dick – Dr Philip Dick!), although MM is probably more in-tune with himself emotionally than most robots/androids/etc.  I think the appeal was due to MM being a new Marvel character, not one who already had a decade or two of adventure-history; I didn’t have to play catch-up with Machine Man.  Instead, MM – much like Nova, Ms Marvel, and dare I say Spider-Woman – were right there as brand-new commodities for me to discover, along with other Maniacs.
Let me get back to Kirby’s art, and point out a few favorite moments: the spooky look of Aaron’s synthetic eyes in his otherwise human-appearing face (p 11, 1st panel); MM running for cover from the fighter planes (p 22, pnl 3); the now-faceless, and vacant-looking, “Mister Machine” busts loose (p 31).

 The Avengers 161
"Beware the Ant-Man!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Jim Shooter
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Pablo Marcos

Why is Ant-Man attacking The Avengers and why is it that his brain seems stuck in the early 1960s (he accuses Cap of being a "Red, white and blue phoney" because "everybody knows Captain America is dead!")? The pea-sized hero even summons his army of ants to pester the team until, luckily, Jan shows up (in her new, sexy uni) to fill in the blanks for the Avengers. Hank Pym seems to have had a mental breakdown. Iron Man assures Jan that Hank will get the best of care and sends Jan and the Beast back to the Pym residence to fetch some things to jog Hank's memory. While the Earth's Mightiest Heroes are attempting to bring Ant-Man out of his state, Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid are trolling for cowgirls at a dude ranch and scoring mighty fine! Never mind that! The team are startled to witness the Beast staggering into the mansion, followed close behind by last summer's film sensation, Ultron! The group battles valiantly but the demon is just too powerful and, eventually, Ultron gets what he came for: Hank Pym.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Thrilling action, gorgeous visuals, great script, but I've got one important question: why does Jan have a glamour shot of Reed Richards hanging on her wall? And is it signed like that fabulous pic Mister Fantastic sent to Sue Storm when they were courting ("All the best, Stretch!")? I'm most interested to see where the Hawkeye/Two-Gun Kid (and take what you will from that moniker, you dirty minds)/Bambi/Thumper foursome is going. Knowing the bad luck these guys have on a consistent basis, the blondes are animatronic.

Chris: The team’s in-house afternoon project to restore Hank’s memory takes a sudden turn, when WHAM – it’s ULTRON (dear God … no …).  The situation’s pretty dire for our heroes, as Ultron seems to think his encephalo ray has killed the Beast, Wonder Man, Cap, and Wanda.  Based on how the team looks in the very last panel, he might well be right.  500 bonus points to Jim + George (and I guess Archie gets points, too) for not blowing the surprise on the cover, as tempting as it might’ve been to broadcast that Ultron was in town for this very issue.

Points off to Shooter, though, since (a few years from now) he will use episodes like this to present the argument that Pym always was imbalanced.  Not only is that depiction inaccurate (there’s even a letter from Dave K. of Clayton MO who registers the first complaints regarding this misrepresentation of Pym’s character), but it gets downright defamatory when Shooter dumps the full weight of disgrace on him (again, years from now).  Thankfully, these deplorable stories take place outside of the University purview.  (I’ll stop now.)
One question that should be addressed right now is: where does this story fit, relative to MTU #59-60?  As Hank and Jan fly away from the Mansion in Avengers #160 (page 2), Hank states to Jan that he needs to increase the YJ suit’s powers; in MTU #59 (also published this month, you might recall), Hank states that the work is completed.   In this issue, however, Jan reports that, as they departed last issue, Hank went silent, flew away from Jan, and then proceeded to wreck his lab.  So, I’m confused.  

Matthew: Join the club, oh fellow Pym-defender.

Chris: Time for art highlights?  Well, where to begin: the splash page is sort of the opposite of last issue’s – instead of an observer watching a group of Avengers depart, Ant-Man sees several unknown team-members walking in; Ant-Man uses “growth momentum” to “deck” both Panther and Beast (p 6, last pnl); Ultron sneaking up on Jan (p 15, drawing nearer in each of the last four pnls); the Beast’s tattered entrance (p 22, pnl 3); Ultron’s full-on zap of the Vision (p 23); Wanda’s (well-founded, as we shall see) threat to Ultron, as Pym blankly observes the proceedings (p 27).  
Up next is – the Bride of Ultron?!  Well, that can’t be good – but, it might be EXCELLENT. 
Matthew: This seems to be the month of the hyphenate: doubling as colorist are not only Shooter here, but also Daredevil inker Janson and Defenders “author” Kraft.  Easily my biggest beef with Shooter-as-writer is the systematic degradation of Hank Pym, one of my favorite Marvel characters, that he begins here. Yet ironies abound:  other aspects of the story are excellent, e.g., the return of Ultron, another favorite; it is visualized by absolutely stunning Pérez/Marcos artwork both inside and out, Wondy’s so-so new costume notwithstanding; and I would actually submit as a series highlight, both visually and verbally, Wanda’s challenge to Ultron: “Idiot!  I am the most dangerous threat you ever faced!” (undone by Cap, of all people).

Joe Tura: An issue as colorful as that horrible Wonder Man outfit, packed with so much good stuff! Ant-Man using his strength to great advantage. Beast apologizing for "clowning." Iron Man evoking the "Subliminal Recall-Inducer" as if every good super-hero team has one…well, certainly the FF has more than one. Beast watching Avengers tapes to brush up on the old enemy list, ironically starting at the beginning, which is where Hank thinks he is. Nobody home to answer the distress call to help Hank remember…but why Quicksilver? Were they that close back in the day? That picture of Reed Richards at the Pym house, straight from Tiger Beat! Hawkeye & Two-Gun picking up a couple of cowgirls is a funny little interlude. Beast's disheveled appearance, and probably wondering why he gets his butt kicked every week on this team. And of course, Ultron! Just about everything Wonder Man does here is great—my favorite is his reaction when Iron Man gives him an order and he says "Uh…right." Wanda kicking some robot butt. Ultron turning the lights off, and Jarvis' shock when he turns them back on. I would have to say this was most likely my favorite book of the month as a youngster, between the crackling action-packed Shooter script and the stunning Perez/Marcos artwork that could stand on its own for a hundred more years. This one is easily a contender for Top 10 of the decade. OK, gotta go…I think I'm going to read it again!

The Amazing Spider-Man 170
"Madness is All in the Mind!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

Doctor Faustus, who managed to escape death in the pages of Cap #192 thanks to a handy parachute, uses his evil hypnotic cigarette smoke to make Spider-Man think some of his deadliest enemies are attacking him through the walls, then makes it look like he saves our hero! Quick cut to Liz shopping for wedding dresses with MJ, then back to Faustus, using Spidey's powers to break into a secret lab (with help from the Laser-Cannon from last ish), including his Spider-Sense to not trigger floor tiles, agility to dodge lasers, and strength to rip off the control box. Another cut to a mysterious guy buying the Parker home in Forest Hills, swearing he would return to the house to learn its secret! Again, back to the super-sized psychologist, who wants to place a "psychogenic additive" into the government's new flu vaccine housed in a secret chamber, but Spidey is coincidentally standing under a vent so the hypnotic smoke stops working! He takes out Faustus' goons, but the corpulent clinician slips away—until Spidey reconnects the torn wires from the control box, and it's laser city, defeating the diabolical doctor and saving the flu vaccine.--Joe Tura

Joe: I love that the cover has Spidey's "deadliest enemies", but Man-Wolf? Really? Was Kingpin one too many big guys? Mysterio one too many illusionists? Kangaroo one too many...well, I guess Kangaroo might not have been such a good plan, so let's be grateful they left him off. The inside illusion adds Morbius and the Shocker, so maybe Len and Ross just wanted to feature villains they've done before? Well, except the Rhino. But enough of this, let's focus on the meat and potatoes, which is Faustus using his trickery to make Spidey do his bidding. The breaking and entering scene is well done, as we see our beloved web-head show off his formidable skills, narrating out loud to the Shamu shrink and his cronies, which makes perfect sense for any readers who don't know Spidey's powers. Yeah, right!

A couple quick insights into our supporting cast are interesting, between MJ's embarrassment about the shopgirl catching her holding the wedding dress up, and the who-the-heck-is-that nasty man buying Aunt May's house. Mostly it's all about Spidey, as we don't even get a glimpse of Peter Parker, which is unusual. A good script and the usual above average art, with some excellent action layouts, including pages 14, 15, 23 and 26. Good to see Faustus get all wrapped up, literally, because he's not very nice. Everyone needs to get a flu shot! But the less said about this month's Iron Man Hostess ad, the better…

This month's favorite sound effect is the electrifying "SKRAKT!" when Spidey rips the panel off the wall on page 15 to stop the lasers during the break-in and not having the time to "fashion a web-key" to do so. Not sure why, I just like it.

Chris: I agree with Faustus’ minions, that it was a bit eerie how Spidey’s personality remained much the same, even though he was under Faustus’ manipulation; clever turn by Len, to vary from the usual brainless-automaton response to mind control.  I think that Spidey’s occasionally-referenced recuperative powers, in addition to the pure-air vent, might’ve helped him throw off the influence of the manipulo-vapors.

Matthew: A villain I’ve always loathed, whose pince-nez must be affixed with Krazy Glue®, Faustus looks a lot better here, courtesy of Ross and the veteran Giacosito inking team, than when I first saw him, drawn by Frank Robbins, in Captain America #192 (correctly recalled by Professor Joe last time as his prior appearance), although that’s faint praise indeed.  And, counter-intuitive though it may be, I’m glad the Andru/Giacoia cover is somewhat misleading.  True enough, it represents page 6 almost verbatim, but also gives the misimpression that the main focus of this story is merely to rehash such Mysterio yarns as #13 and #24, in both of which Spidey seeks psychiatric help, or #141, whose own far superior Romita cover it echoes.

Mark: Of course! Faustus pulls the old gimmick, hypno-narcotic cigarette smoke (how did the Surgeon General miss that one?), to bewitch Webs, before purified air in a "clean room" brings Spidey to his senses.

The set-up - Doc Faus needing proportionate Spider powers to access and then tamper with vaccine for the dreaded "Antelope Flu" is pure moonshine; Faustus is a Kingpin understudy with natty facial hair, a round-mound of menace, capable of emitting noxious gas in close, roly-poly proximity. Yet Len pert-near pulls it off, with a brainy, Pete Parker solution and a "friendly neighborhood Spider-Man" graffito left for the cops.

Further spice: MJ helps Liz Allan shop for wedding dresses (honeymoon with Harry; every girl's dream!) And a sinister, Fedora-wearing felon rents the empty Parker manse in Forest Hills, promising the house he'll stay  "...till the secret you possess in mine!"

Given Len's low bar on the book, this one's pretty good. But why does some of the art look like Frank Robbins?

The Black Panther 4
"Friends or Foes"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The trio of T'Challa, Abner Little, and Princess Zanda has been battling various booby traps and guardians of the vault since they came to return the two brass frogs to their resting place. The Princess gets a bad case of the "gimme"s and tries to steal a time travel device but the Panther will have none of that and he tosses the relic against a wall. Bad idea. The resulting explosion rocks the very foundations of the vault and the unlikely team must beat a hasty exit before the walls come tumbling down. Hopping into one of the odd pieces stored in the mine, a turbo-charged rocket sled, they are able to make their getaway and then some. Out over the ocean, though, the machine starts to vibrate and, acting on a hunch, T'Challa orders his companions to abandon ship. They make it into Abner's hover-copter just before the vehicle runs out of gas and the entire island that housed Solomon's mine explodes. From there, the explorers head to Zanda's home, the Royal Palace of Narobia, where the Princess shows her true colors and imprisons Abner and T'Challa, forcing the Panther to do battle with her bodyguard, the deadly Sacred Samurai. Panther defeats Samurai, only to discover the battle was nothing but a test to prove T'Challa could handle himself. The curtain parts and out step Zanda, Count Zorba, and Silas Mourner, who have an offer for the Panther: perform a task for the sinister quartet and reap millions for the Panther's charities. But what is the task they propose? -Peter Enfantino

Peter: I'm sure I've mentioned it before but I've never been much of a Black Panther fan. There's just not much to him; he's basically a black Tony Stark/Bruce Wayne with a heart of gold. Having said that, I do have a feel for the character and, sadly, I think by 1977, that was a feel that the Panther's co-creator (or, some would say, sole creator) didn't have any more. While in The Avengers, T'Challa never seemed to be the type of superhero that would drop one-liners but here (when he's not mouthing dialogue that made me groan) he's trading quips with the bad guys. If all else fails, just look at the pretty pitchers. The King hadn't lost a step in that department.

Matthew: Giacoia and Cap having parted ways, my three of Jack’s books (i.e., all but 2001, the senior Mrs. Bradley not having raised any stupid children) are now all Kirby/Royer, all the time.  Between that and their dearth of interaction with the otherwise diverse Marvel Universe, one might be forgiven for sensing a certain, shall we say, sameness that hampers differentiation among his Bronze-Age oeuvre.  Still plenty of temporally displaced threats and stuff that gets blow’d up real good, yet he has slightly tamped down the weird-science quotient; loved seeing T’Challa dangle Mr. Little like an errant puppy on page 7…and isn’t it fortunate that the first button he pushed on their Flame Chariot didn’t make them take flight in mid-tunnel?

Captain Marvel 51
"'Til Death Do Us Part!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin
Colors by Irene Vartanoff 
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Al Milgrom

Rick parts in friendship with Mar-Vell, declining an offer to stay with the Avengers, and erupting after he learns Mordecai planned to exploit their association.  Flying by, Mar-Vell startles JJJ into bumping his head, and is pondering his future (reading want ads such as “Inker—you pay us.  Inquire Marvel Comics Group” and “Continuity Associates—flunky wanted”) when he senses being scanned by, and destroys, Mercurio’s beta-wave thought processor.  The 4-D Man claims to seek “the secret of an instantaneous communicator between galaxies…to save my people from a horrid fate,” but Mar-Vell refuses, knowing that “the Omni-Wave Projector…can be transformed into the most dangerous weapon in the cosmos!”

After battling Mar-Vell with his powers of extreme temperatures, Mercurio says the device can re-energize the pieces of the god-jewel powering his dimension (how is unclear), but no sooner has Mar-Vell entered the cosmic doorway opened by his dimensional oscillator than he realizes it’s a trap.  Rick is plucked from a reunion with K.C. Ritter (aka Sam Casey), Bill Bishop, and Mike “Mousy” Armstrong by Dr. Minerva, who wants Mar-Vell for her nefarious plans, but flies off with Rick as a back-up in case he doesn’t return.  Yet Mar-Vell easily defeats the 4-D army and its leader, who—tired of “this slug-like life of peace”—sought to plunder the Earth, to which the Kree returns, confident that his presence will forestall future fourth-dimensional adventurism. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Edleman should have just called his blog “Give Me Enough Rope…” and had done with it.  He writes of this ish, “A lot of the fun of fooling around in the Marvel playground is getting to bring back characters that [sic] haven’t been seen in years, and in my third issue of Captain Marvel I brought back a few characters who…well…now that I look at it, maybe they shouldn’t have been brought back at all. I’m not talking about the 4-D Man, who’d last been seen in an issue of Thor [#216] four years previously, because he made a decent adversary, but rather the Teen Brigade, friends of Rick Jones who hadn’t been seen since the earliest issues of Hulk and The Avengers.  Did we really need to see them again?  What can I say?  It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Questions:  When your hero and villain are both clad in red and blue, what are the two colors you probably don’t also want to use for the background and burst on the cover (where Milgrom makes Mar-Vell his usual jut-jawed galoot)?  And when an artist’s work epitomizes the mundane, which title do you probably not want to add to the two cosmic books he’s already mishandling?  How about Dr. Strange?  Mercurio was never a great villain, and although I’d normally cheer a mention of the Omni-Wave Projector as a throwback to better days, it seems cheapened by its inexplicable inclusion in the 4-D Man’s half-baked scheme.  Scott persists in implying that Rick and Marv were shackled for years until he heroically freed them.  Steve who?

Chris: Sound decision by Edelman to snap together the Mercurio story as a one-and-done, without requiring a whole other issue for Marvy to figure out a way to get home from Merc’s dimension, etc; no, thankfully, Marv is able to locate and operate Merc’s dimension-spanner, and we’re out.  Nice use also of cosmic awareness (two issues in a row!), as Marv arrives at Mercurio’s HQ and immediately knows that It’s On.  I’ll be a bit concerned, though, if Edelman decides to send Marv on a search-for-self, as indicated on p 3 last pnl; the visual of Marv walking the streets, incognito in a Clouseau raincoat reminds me of Namor’s amnesiac period.  I’m used to Marv being straightforward and certain, so I’m not going to be interested in a whole lot of 70’s soul-searching with this character.

Terry Austin proves again that he’s thoroughly whacked.  Did anyone read the details for the posted help-wanted listings on p 7, all written in Austin’s thin clear capital letters?  They not only include “Flycatcher Wanted – H. Hughes,” and “Miner” (yes, plenty of coal to be found under Times Square), but also a few biting-the-hand moments, such as “Continuity Associates – Flunky Wanted,” “Cartoonist – $10 Per Week,” and my favorite, “Inker. You Pay Us. Inquire: Marvel Comics Group.”  If that’s not enough, try the concert poster in Mordecai’s office, which reads “ELVIS SCHWARTZ” – he’s a great talent, I tell ya, a real professional!

 Captain America and the Falcon 211
"Nazi 'X'"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby

Cap and Donna Maria are attacked by one of Arnim Zola’s genetic freaks. The creature fights Cap until Zola tires of the game and shuts the creature down. He answers Cap’s queries about the strange helmet his attacker seems to be wearing. It is not a helmet; in actuality, it is just a housing for a transplanted brain. Disgusted, Donna Maria jumps on Zola’s back and forces him to the ground. Cap takes the villain’s remote control and shuts down the freak. Cap and Donna Maria make a run for it. However, Zola is not deterred so easily. He makes his way to his laboratory and connects machinery to his “ESP box” where his head should be. In this manner, he can control every aspect of the castle, using it to attack Cap and Donna Maria from all sides, until they are swallowed up by a suddenly-appearing hole in the floor.

At that moment, Agent Carter is at the home of Cyrus Fenton, questioning him about File 116. After the old man takes offence, Sharon playfully rubs his face to placate him. However, she discovers it is not skin, but a latex face mask and the visage beneath is that of the Red Skull! He gloats over how Captain America is in his hands, knowing she will never bring him to justice. For if she does, the Skull will put Cap to death. However, he agrees to bring her to him if she consents to going without notifying SHIELD.

Back at the castle, Cap and Donna Maria find themselves battling another giant freak until Zola stops it. They are now in his lab where he explains that the brain of the freak he used against them earlier was taken at the very end of the war from a particularly special individual. Cap is aghast to learn that Zola and his benefactor’s plan is to put the brain in Captain America’s own skull! -Scott McIntyre

Scott: For this run, not a bad issue. Arnim Zola is endlessly fascinating and his genetic freaks are appropriately disturbing. I’m still not convinced Captain America and weird Kirby sci-fi are really a comfortable fit, but the story moves briskly and without as many dud moments as usual. That’s not to say Kirby’s dialog is getting any better, just that it’s not nearly as abysmal as usual. While Sharon isn’t as annoying as she had been in the last few months she’s still a weird “chick” stereotype. I mean, if Dum Dum Dugan pissed off Cyrus Fenton, would he massage his face? A cheesy way to get around to unmasking the Skull, but what’s done is done. Nobody draws the Red Skull like Jack did. One of the things missing from this book has been strong villains. The Skull and Zola, who would team up over 20 years later to fantastic effect, are a great couple of baddies. So, all in all, a step up from the usual.

Matthew: So, are we thinking Jack caught a late-night broadcast of They Saved Hitler’s Brain?  I’m sure that’s not the only treatment of the theme, although the Skull’s dastardly plan to place Der Führer’s gray matter inside the cranium of the Sentinel of Liberty even outdoes his Silver-Age scheme of switching bodies with Cap (c. #115), and with Herr Schickl[e]gruber also featured in the current Invaders arc, it appears to be—dare I say it?—wintertime for Hitler.  Unfortunately, that new ’do doesn’t seem to have made Kirby’s Sharon any less loopy; wonder how many S.H.I.E.L.D. agents can be quoted as saying, in the midst of a mission, “Oh, drat!  I—I’ve hurt your feelings, haven’t I…Forgive my pushiness, you old dear.”

The Champions 14
"The Creature Called... Swarm!"
Story by John Byrne and Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Hercules is inexplicably attacked by the Champs H.Q.’s defensive devices, as the computer’s distorted video-construct image designates him an intruder, so Bobby must stop admiring his spiffy new outfit to save some pedestrians from the debris and lend Herc a hand.  At a Santa Monica Bay embarkation dock, Tasha, Laynia, and Johnny bid goodbye to Ivan, who is ostensibly returning to Russia to tie up loose ends with Yuri; he has a hidden agenda involving Nick Fury, and is greeted by gunmen in his cabin.  Arriving as Ivan departs is a meek-looking man carrying a briefcase intended for the authorities, but his plan to “stop von Meyer’s mad schemes” is jeopardized by giant mechanical bees, bursting forth from nearby crates on the dock.

As the magnificent-looking Widow grapples with both the bees and Johnny’s sexism, Iceman is attacked by Rampage’s computer-controlled exo-skeleton until he tricks it into smashing their generator, and discovers that once again, Foster’s plans were built with faulty materials.  Johnny (who envies Laynia’s immediate acceptance by the Champs) et al. fail to stop the no-longer-human von Meyer—now Swarm—from killing the INTERPOL agent, but a repellent on the case drives him off.  Just as Bobby finishes explaining to a heated Widow why they “ignored” her priority alert, an exhausted Angel crashes through the window to warn his teammates, “they’re coming!  Millions of them!,” the apparent storm clouds darkening the skies revealed to be bees... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: If I rank this slightly below its illustrious immediate predecessors, which set the bar pretty high, it’s partly because the first half of the two-parter (reflecting America’s then-current obsession with killer bees) feels a little heavy on the set-up, and partly because inker Esposito seems less suited to Byrne than Layton was.  But there’s much to love, e.g., John’s consistently effective GR, the explanation for Blaze’s resentment of Laynia, Bobby’s long-overdue costume, the cool robo-bees, and that dramatic cliffhanger.  Although I forget the payoff, I appreciate how Mantlo is crafting the Champs’ ongoing misfortunes into something more—and more sinister—than a mere run of bad luck, while finding a clever way to bring back Rampage without really doing so.

Chris: Remember when we were dreading the inevitable arrival of the Killer Bees, who were going to wipe out all of us?  They were flying in huge swarms from South America (whose people, apparently, had not been decimated by the Bees).  ‘70s, man.  

The best response to this wild rumor was the classic SNL sketch, with the cast dressed in those ridiculous rounded-abdomen outfits (with the pipe-cleaner antennae, which bobbed comically while the cast were speaking their lines, remember?).  Next-best option would be to send the Champions out to vanquish the pestilential foe.  The split-team approach seems to work, with Iceman + Hercules and Ghost Rider + Black Widow both serving as unusual pairings.  Interesting idea to leave Angel out, until the very end; I mean, I know the air’s hard to breathe in L.A., but at least it wasn’t choked with bees before -!
Byrne’s bees are awesome-looking, of course – they could be alien beings as easily as they are jumbo-sized bee-creatures.  The bee-battling (p 14, p 17) is a highlight, and Swarm looks suitably creepy (p 22).  I ordinarily wouldn’t expect much from Esposito as finisher for Byrne (especially when Layton’s inks have been so solid of late), but the results here are consistently quite good.  

Conan the Barbarian 76 
“Swordless in Stygia”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Ernie Chan

The Hawk-Riders soar back to Harakht, the captured Bêlit in tow: Conan races after the big birds and their mounts, donning the beaked helmet of the Rider he killed. When the Riders arrive at the Stygian city, the She-Devil is reunited with another captive, the slavegirl Neftha, and brought before the king, Hor-Neb. After congratulating his men on their first river raid, the ruler proclaims that he will add Bêlit to his harem. But Mer-Ath, the high priest of Harakht, Hor-Neb’s co-monarch and brother, strides into the throneroom and suggests that the sensuous Shemite would make a better temple woman instead — Hor-Neb wins the argument and Mer-Ath leaves with Neftha. In the temple, the priest tells the slavegirl that many moons ago, his brother discovered tremendous eggs and a strange rock from a falling star. After hatching, the eggs produced the huge hawks that were tamed and trained for battle. Outside, Conan bangs on the city gates: the guards, seeing his familiar headdress, let the barbarian into the city. But his ruse doesn’t last long and the Cimmerian is soon under siege by a host of Stygian soldiers. After killing an archer with a dagger, his only weapon, Conan topples a towering stone hawk-idol on his attackers, crushing many. But Hor-Neb appears, a sword at Bêlit’s throat — the barbarian surrenders. Chained, Conan and Bêlit are taken to the palace. Hor-Neb, realizing that they are the pirates who burned Khemi, demands that the She-Devil add her Black Corsairs to his army or her mate will be hurled into the Pit of Shadows. Saving Bêlit from making the decision, the Cimmerian leaps into the pit. At the bottom, he discovers the odd star-rock — as well as its mighty guardian, the giant warrior Gol-Thir. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Besides the undeniably breakneck, six-page running skirmish with the guards, this is a relatively action-free issue. Roy weaves a tale of political intrigue, setting up what I assume will be the eventual conflict between Hor-Neb and Mer-Ath. The priest is worried that his more war-like brother will throw off Harakht’s delicate balance: the city basically flies under the radar but the Hawk-Rider’s raids might draw the attention of the Stygian capital, Luxor. Mer-Ath also had a previous vision that a woman wearing furs — as Bêlit does — will bring the undoing of the city. I thought that the slavegirl Neftha was basically throwaway eye-candy last issue, but since she returns perhaps the Rascally One has more up his sleeve regarding the character. I particularly enjoyed a bit of dialogue from the battle with the guards. Conan, armed with only a dagger, finds himself on top of a wall, in the crosshairs of an archer. He proclaims “Crom! Well, this knife isn’t doing me much good up here — best sheathe it where it will!” before throwing it into the chest of the bowman. Nice cover by Kane and Chan but it doesn’t exactly jibe with the “Swordless in Stygia” title. Another solid issue all around. 

Chris: Bêlit’s persistent defiance is consistently entertaining: “Let go of me, dog;” threatened by archers, she calls “Fire them, then, and be damned to you!”; Hor-Neb chastises Bêlit for failing to avert her eyes, which gets him “Why should I bow – to one who shares his narrow throne with a priest?”; and then, there’s this gem: “If there are any carcasses to be hauled, Hor-Neb, they’ll belong to your low-born lackeys! Or to you, if I can get my boot near your yapping mouth!”

Conan must have the strongest legs, ankles, and feet in Marveldom; he drops down from a high wall (p 23), and later plunges in a deep well (p 31), with nary a cracked metatarsal.  Maybe it’s the boots.

The Defenders 49
"Rampage: Who Remembers Scorpio? Part Two"
Story by David Kraft
Art by Keith Giffen and Mike Royer
Colors by David Kraft
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Irv Watanabe, and Mike Royer
Cover by Al Milgrom

 After his escape from Scorpio’s death trap, Moon Knight glides across town to Doctor Strange’s sanctum, in search of the Defenders.  Clea notifies Valkyrie and Hellcat, who ride Aragorn back to Manhattan to confer with MK about the kidnapped Jack Norriss; as yet, none of the Defenders are aware that Nighthawk also has been abducted by Scorpio.  At his Belleville NJ warehouse/laboratory, Scorpio tells Jack and Kyle about his failure to defeat his brother, Nick Fury, and his eventual good luck that brought the Zodiac Key back into his possession.  Clea locates the Hulk in Central Park, so the others set off (via taxi) to recruit him to help rescue Jack.  The Hulk is enjoying the picnic lunch he has found (the attendees of the corporate outing already have run away at the sight of him …), and expresses his opposition to leaving the park in order to fight, even if the fight is in support of his friends.  Val forces the issue and provokes him, so that the Hulk (his good mood now ruined) angrily pursues Val, Hellcat, and Moon Knight as they race from the park, and toward Belleville.  Since Moon Knight’s escape, Scorpio expects him to lead the Defenders back to his lair; Scorpio decides to activate his new Zodiac, even though their development is not yet completed.  Scorpio blames Nick for not detecting MK’s escape, and reveals to Jack that this Nick is not Scorpio’s brother, but in fact is a Life-Model Decoy (LMD) he had stolen from SHIELD years before.  Scorpio had hoped to vacate the warehouse together with his new Zodiac, but realizes now that conflict with the non-team is inevitable.  The Hulk follows the others all the way across the Hudson, to Belleville; the final provocation is by Moon Knight, who stands on the roof of the warehouse and waves to the Hulk.  A mighty leap lands the Hulk on the roof, where he plunges thru a warehouse skylight.  Jack breaks the news to Scorpio: it’s not Moon Knight who’s arrived, but an enraged Hulk, who catches sight of Scorpio – backed by his freshly-minted Zodiac – and resolves to destroy them all! -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Dave the Dude might’ve had two factors in mind while plotting this story: 1) Df #48 required a fair amount of exposition, as we gazed into the tortured, despondent Scorpio-psyche, and also got a sneak peak at the (impressive) mechanism of his master plan, without knowing exactly what it might portend for our heroes; and 2) we hadn't seen the Hulkster in awhile, had we?  So Dave takes care of both matters here, as he reminds us of Scorpio's past exploits, which resulted in him dropping out of sight for a few years to lick wounds and dream of a better future -- under his direction, of course.  Dave also pits the Defenders on a high-energy Hulk-fueled property-damage chase across town, under the Hudson (well, the Hulk chooses to leap over the water, rather than get stuck in the Lincoln Tunnel -- can't say that I blame him), and into north Jersey. 
Val's decision to kick-start Hulk is risky, since she's playing with his already-tenuous sense of the Defenders as his allies; you wouldn't want to test this too often, Val, or you might find yourself permanently without your most powerful member.  Val could be counting on Hulk's ire toward his friends to be lost once the battle itself gets going.  Still, not a cage you want to rattle too often. 
Royer's inks make Giffen's art look even Kirbier than it already had; in fairness, Royer probably comes closest to matching Giffen’s self-inked Giffen look (on display next issue), especially when compared to recent work by Janson, and the Green inks we had for Df #48. Highlights: Hulk, poised to enjoy the picnic in a civilized manner, with (comparatively) tiny fork in hand, and plate neatly set before him (p 11, pnl 5); Hulk’s heavy-browed back-off expressions (p 14, pnl 2&3); the thick of the melee, plus a Jack-of-Hearts billboard (p 16-17); Hulk drumming his fingers, awaiting his irritating “friends” (p 23, pnl 5).  I’m a bit distracted by Dave (providing colors as well as script, for some reason) as he shades some buildings dark blue, but it’s only really noticeable on the splash page (as the odd colors draw my eye away from Moon Knight, in the foreground as he flies towards us), so I won’t harp on it.  Giffen’s bonus map of the Hulk’s path of destruction (on the bottom-right corner of the letters page) is priceless.  
Matthew: I’m the first to admit that unlike, say, Professor Chris, I am insufficiently sophisticated to appreciate the contributions of the colorist, which I usually notice only if there’s some egregious error, but mindful of the Dude’s two hats here, I gave them special attention in this entry.  That was, alas, to its detriment, because I found them so muted as to give Giffen’s art (not especially enhanced by fellow hyphenate Royer’s inking) a distressingly drab look.  Worse, I was no more enamored of his floundering script; “Hulk not play well with others” is the hoariest of clichés, and essentially spinning it out into an entire issue seems to me ill-advised, especially after the energy expended to establish a rapport amongst the non-teammates over time.

 Fantastic Four 184
"Aftermath: The Eliminator!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

In the Christmas spirit, Thundra's outfit is green on the splash before resuming its rightful red on p. 2., as Len Wein picks up the auctorial reins, right where we left off last ish. Ben pounds on the now-sealed Negative Zone portal, eager to get his mitts on Counter Earth Reed, who - no longer eve-L, post-head conk concussion - sealed said portal when he grabbed Annihilus' Cosmic Control Rod from our Reed and leapt into the Neg on a one way mission to return the CCR (paging John Fogerty!) to the Big Bug.

But CER is long gone. Our Reed, no longer the Rubber Band Man, gets the post-battle faints, and the Thing tenderly carries his old college roomie off to bed. Given the "seconds later" continuity with which kicks off his debut, it's odd how Len gaffes things up, half-way down p.2, when Tigra tells Johnny that CE Reed "sacrificed himself to save us all."

Ah, no. Having been de-Bruted by Big Red (a Mad Thinker android, souped-up by the stolen CCR), Mr. Faux-tastic played no part in the final showdown, saved no one, and sacrificed himself needlessly, since all he had to do was ask for one of Fan-tastic's NZ impossibly long bungee cords before heading off on his errand. 

Then there's the goofiness of Ben sweeping a couple tons of B. Building rubble under, not the rug, but the ripped-up metal floor, which he then jumps on to pound flat. Which could only have sent said rubble crashing down to the floor below. Such hijinks worked in '62. In '77, not so much.

Things, thankfully, run pretty smoothly after that. Tigra and Thundra - gorgeously depicted by returning George Perez -, having left Ben to his maid duty, have a minor, mutual Thing-crush tiff, then stalk off in different directions and out of our story.

A romantically mooning Johnny flies past Frankie Raye's apartment, then gets zapped out of the sky by an unknown (save for the cover) assailant.    

Impy shows up long enough to get sent to the movies. Reed wakes up, then his real nightmare begins as Sue explains that (A), Franklin was kidnapped by Agatha Harkness, and (B), both vanished in front of Sue and Alicia at Whisper Hill. Don't really buy Sue sitting patiently on the Frankie-napping news while her hubby slumbers, but she was still just the Invisible Girl back then, after all; Reed even banned MS. magazine from the Bax.

Once Reed's up-an'-at-'em, the concerned parents and Ben streak toward Agatha's in the F-Car. The still-unseen Eliminator zeros in on our heroes - Perez providing the baddie's cross-hair target vision - and F-Car goes boom! Sue's force field saves the falling trio. Once inside the old witch's digs, they find Johnny, literally hung on the wall by the back of his uni. Ben frees him and the Eliminator crashes through the wall to attack, all eighteen or so feet of him. George provides a busily-detailed combat suit for the over-grown cyborg (a scarred, if mostly-hidden face clues us he's not an automaton; and unlike Professor Matthew [below], I don't find Eli a bore, just underdeveloped) complete with a wicked pick-hammer right hand. The Big E's not quite Kirbyesque, but 'twill serve.

There's a few pages of energetic, effectively-rendered combat. Once the Fabs appear beaten, Eli activates his self-destruct mechanism - his mission was to "..eliminate all evidence that Agatha Harkness ever dwelt among your primitive race" - a process that includes anchoring his feet irreversibly to the floor. All seems lost but...

The FF's defeat was mere ruse, thanks to Sue's force field and invisibility, and the Fabs hightail it out the door, where Sue's force field again shields them from the "KWA-VA-VOOM!" detonation that reduces Whisper Hill to splinters.

Of course, Frankie and old hAg-atha are still MIA, but sit tight, ye first family faithful. For next month - so promises the final promo-blurb - "...There Be Witches!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Maybe I should cut Wein a break for Tigra's inaccurate quote (above), given the myriad, mousetrap twists and turns of the Counter Reed arc, but nope. On-boarding a new title, one assumes he read,  if not all of the preceding adventure, at least the last few pages. It's an unforced error.

Perez's return is an upgrade over Our Pal, and the graphics are gorgeous throughout. Impy's past his Sell By date, and one hopes he soon pops out of the picture. The Eliminator is a nice one 'n' done menace, although what witches (his presumed masters) are doing with deadly cyborgs, I've no idea. We hope Len does.

I'm not sweating the fate of little Franklin, who I trust will be fine. The one intriguing mystery is this: if Agatha Harkness isn't a member of the "primitive" human race, then what is she?  

Stay tuned.

Matthew: With this issue, the number of Len’s tentpole titles aptly increases from three (Spidey, Hulk, Thor) to four, and will remain so for about a year, until a falling-out sends him back to DC.  I note with interest that the absence of a lettercol is an opportunity not for additional advertising but for an extra story page, lovingly delineated by “Returning Prodigal Penciller” Pérez and “Same Old Embellisher” Sinnott.  The Eliminator does nothing for me, but I think “Brand-New Writer/Editor” Wein’s longer run—after a brief burst in ’75—is otherwise off to a good start; he seems to have a pretty good command of the main characters and their voices, while also juggling the unusually sizable current cast of supporting players that he has inherited.

Chris: There's a part of me that wants to harp on the unlikelihood of an opportunity for Reed (in the thick of battle, no less) to formulate a plan, and impart it to the team (p 26, pnl 3).  But then, the tiny fair-minded sliver of my brain pipes up, and observes that these guys have been working as a well-oiled unit for years now, right?  They're pros -- the pros' pros, even.  So, if Reed has a sure-fire idea, I could see how he'd be able to outline it in a few seconds, maybe 8-9 seconds tops.  They might even have time for a quick run-thru, to see if there might be an unforeseen hitch (although Reed's typically pretty thorough in his strategizing, isn't he), within a 10-12 second window.  They're that good. 

Speaking of T-E-A-M, it's good to have the old group back together. The foursome has been scattered across various locales (including other dimensions/zones) for some time now; good decision by Len to begin his tenure with a story that requires all four founding members to work as one.  Len elects not to play the sniping-bickering card, and (with Pérez) chooses instead to show how well the team cares for and understands each other, as we see in these moments: Ben carries Reed to his room for bed-rest (to the chagrin of Thundra); Sue hesitates from telling Ben about Franklin's abduction, fearing how he could react impetuously; Reed doesn't fault Sue for withholding this information until the previous crisis had been resolved, rather than treat her like a careless ninny; Ben cradles Johnny after he's found semi-conscious at Whisper Hill; Johnny vows to destroy the Eliminator, after having witnessed the apparent demise of his loved ones (although, you actually were following Reed's plan, and you knew deep-down they were okay, right Johnny?  Simply playing-up the moment for the Eliminator's benefit, I suppose). 

This is the start of Pérez's final Bronze-era stint on this title, and he makes best use of his time, in highlights like these: classic debris-strewn space (p 3, last pnl); Ben lugging a 10’ high pile of twisted metal (p 10, 1st pnl), and Ben's novel, if noisy, clean-up plan -- I wonder what Reed's going to say when he notices that all the broken machinery from the neg zone observation room has gone missing (p 14); the first view of Whisper Hill, shown on a bizarre slant, as if it's about to pitch over and collapse on the approaching team (p15, pnl 5); the two-page page-top destruction of the Fantasticar (which, I believe, means that we're down to the pogoplane, and the city bus), p 16-17.  

Howard the Duck 14
"A Duck Possessed!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Howard has been possessed by the Satan-spawned spirit of Daimon Hellstrom.  Howard grabs Winda, and blasts the two of them thru the roof of the Sauerbraten County Mental Facility, and out into the late-winter Ohio night.  Winda complains of impending air-sickness, so Howard klomps her down on the ground, and then angrily sets off again, leaving Winda behind.  He arcs thru the sky, propelled by Daimon's trident; his goal -- the city of Cleveland.  Howard crashes thru a skylight, and directly into the apartment of his old neighbor, artist Paul Same; Howard's travelling companion Beverly Switzler is there, visiting Paul.  The devil-duck accosts Bev, and badgers her, as he accuses her of favoring the suave young doctor who had first treated Howard for symptoms of exhaustion; he vooms off again into the night, carrying Bev this time.  Howard sets her down, forms a ring of hellfire around them, and demands that Bev describe her feelings for him, and her sense of their relationship.  Howard is so enraged (and evil!) that he hardly pauses to allow Bev an opportunity to answer; his harassment finally is interrupted when Daimon runs into him with his rental car, sending the duck skyward.  Daimon tussles with duck, until Daimon can grab hold of the trident, and channel its power to transform him into the Son of Satan, as he recalls the dark spirit back into himself.  Howard sprawls on the ground, his soul – already debilitated prior to being possessed – now dissipated into a fine mist.  As Daimon collects the tiny fragments of Howard's spirit-form, bit by bit, he’s aware of Howard’s spirit having come to rest in various other lives, allowing Howard to live “a thousand lives at once,” as he is “at one with Cleveland.”  Howard wakes, restored, and as Daimon points him toward the sunrise, Howard scoffs at a “typical cornball capper to a story like this ..!”  Later, back at the mental facility, Nurse Barbara meets with Director Reich, who agrees with Rev Yuc “der time has come to mobilize!” The Director (as we see now) wears the grey uniform and hat of a German officer, circa Second World War; we also notice that the doctor has an unreasonably angry disposition, and a small black moustache directly below his nose . . . ! ! ! -Chris Blake

Chris:  It looks like Howard is getting himself back on track; I can't say that his psychiatric treatment had much to do with his improvement.  The last few pages show Gerber having it both ways, as the high-falutin’ moment of Howard’s nearly-cosmically-aware connection with Cleveland comes off as borderline self-parody.  Howard’s anti-kitsch dismissal of the life-affirming sunrise as “cornball” confirms – at least in this case – Gerber doesn’t expect us to take him too seriously; after all, if he doesn’t, why should we?  

Howard and Bev back together (under whatever terms – clearly, Bev doesn’t know what to call it) is the best arrangement for everyone; maybe now, Howard will feel like he can stand up and face the world.  Question is: where will this leave Winda -? 
Colan clearly has a blast presenting the evil duck: Howard is grimly determined as he approaches hated Cleveland (p 10), and perversely delighted as he draws to his goal (p 11, pnl 3); he then makes a fangs-bared entrance, and stands on the table, accusingly pointing at Bev (p 14); thru it all, he has tiny horns visible over both eyes – brilliant!  This is our first look at Janson on this title, after a long stretch of Leialoha’s perfectly-complementary inks.  Not surprisingly, Janson brings a darker vibe, which is suitable when you’re looking at a possessed waterfowl; the evil glint in his eye still is visible as he smacks Winda (p 6, last pnl).  

There is a particularly enjoyable LOC from John K. of Winnipeg, Manitoba, who argues that Howard should not become a battling-supervillains-themed comic, since we expect Howard to confront the basic absurdities that we all have to endure; we should be gratified to see Howard go into the fray against “Irrationalman.”
Matthew: A delight from first (my God, what an awesome Colan cover!) to last (man, it really is Hitler Month, isn’t it?).  Despite my gut reaction, i.e., that seeing Janson’s byline after losing Leialoha merely added insult to injury, I’ll be “scwupuwouswy”—as Winda would say—fair and allow that given Gene’s innately shadowy style, this is probably where Klaus can do the least damage.  Having written most of Daimon’s formative stories in Marvel Spotlight, Steve is clearly qualified to interpolate him into even an atypically outré HTD tale; the double-spread on 26-27 is a tour de force, with the heft of a typical Gerberian text page and the Dean’s dazzling visuals, and the reunion with Bev, however painfully achieved, welcome indeed.

Mark: Demon Duck assaults females! Winda suffers a backhand slap, Bev, a head bonk with hell's very trident! That dead guy
Gerber, what a misogynist! Social media explodes in support of women, of ducks, with the "devil's first born" only getting a handful of likes.

Ah, but it's innocent, unplugged 1977, when if you wanted to protest social injustice, you had to go watch a bunch of disco records get blown up at sporting event. And dangerous thought criminals like Gerber and Gene Colan were left alone to run riot...   

 The Incredible Hulk 213
"You Just Don't Quarrel with the Quintronic Man!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chan

The poor beast known to his fans as The Incredible Hulk just can't seem to get a (literal) break. No sooner is he done fighting one menace than another takes its place. The latest enemy belongs to Stark International and is known as The Quintronic Man, a giant robot operated by five men seated in bubbles at the contraption's thighs, shoulders, and brain. Aided by Somna-Gas, the Quintronic Man is able to capture Hulk and transport him back to... well, who knows where they're going? Jim Wilson, the most useless sidekick this side of Rick Jones, is taken into custody and decides, while on the way (to somewhere), to cause an accident and free the Hulk. Our green hero continues his battle with Quint but this time, the Hulk is ready for sleep gas and gives the operators a taste of their own medicine. Hulk scoops up Jim and galavants away. Meanwhile, the Jack of Hearts contemplates taking on the Hulk to raise his street cred and a mysterious capsule that SHIELD found in the ocean opens with a hiss. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Another really bad one in so many ways. The art is awful here; Tom Palmer is a great inker on Tomb of Dracula but he does insidious things to Sal's pencils on Hulk. Check out that splash page and tell me that Our Green Guy in Greenwich won't be suffering the pain of arthritis in his feet at some point soon. Riddle me this: how many men does it take to operate a Stark International gizmo and why so many? Wouldn't one guy be more logical? As for the sub-plots: some are interesting, some are dead beats just waiting to be dropped. Who is the stranger hauled out of the desert by Doc Samson and how many issues do we have to wait until it's revealed that he's the latest Marvel superhero sensation (they've already got a "Stranger" so how about a "Loner?")? What is the mysterious capsule found in the ocean and how long do we have to wait to find out it's the latest Marvel super-villain sensation ("Capsule Man?")? At what point will Jim Wilson do something of merit? Why does April Sommers look and "sound" so differently every issue? A mere page for each one of these supporting characters seems either woefully inadequate or (in the case of Jim and April) a waste of paper. Something tells me we're in for at least half an issue of MARMIS in #214.

Chris: “Bah!” states our hero, “metal man is no threat to Hulk!”  And I’m thinking: you’re right, Hulk; the thing is, we have to make our way thru about another 12-13 pages of this comic before you’ll be able to prove your point, so please conserve your strength until we reach the “Hulk is the Strongest One There Is!” moment.  Instead, Len comes up with a different way for the Hulk to defeat his quadri-cranial opponent, as he employs a bit of strategy, and a sure throwing arm, to turn the no-fair gas back on the robot’s command crew.  In addition to a plain-old smashing, I also thought that the conflicts within the crew (which, we’re told, involves an insubordinate member who was meant to be replaced) could’ve resulted in the robot’s fall, but it seems that Len decided not to pursue this option.  

The art is its usual fine self, with Palmer ably stepping in as “guest-embellisher.”  The Quintronic Man is suitably impressive, if a bit odd-looking, with his five man-pods, and his stern face; why would it need a face, and a fresh-from-Toho-Pictures face at that, if it had been designed for space exploration?  The Hulk looks suitably savage most of the time, with p 10 pnl 3 (below)  the single-finest example.  I also like how the riot cops have the unwelcome task of loading the Hulk’s bulk into the reinforced paddy wagon (p 23), as it provides a sense of the Hulk’s impressive scale, in comparison with the normal-sized officers.  I suppose that must be Len, with the really bad haircut and the cheesy moustache (p 23, last pnl), right?
Matthew: After reading this, I could best be described as “aggrieved.”  I won’t dignify it by actually doing the math, but it looks to me like the Moronic—uh, Quintronic Man’s scale is way off, especially in the back of that S.I. truck.  The forgettable crew can blather ad nauseam about “all those months they spent training us to act as a single unit,” but just imagine trying to walk, let alone fight, with each limb under separate control, and you’ll get some idea how ludicrous this is.  The amnesiac and gamma-capsule subplots both continue to go nowhere; April just happens to walk away one second before Bruce’s name is broadcast; and as for the art, well, I’ve warned them about keeping “guest embellisher” Palmer away from the Buscema Bros.

The Eternals 13
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and John Verpoorten

Great Tode, ruler of the Deviants, has ordered that three of his people embark on a suicide mission: piloting a gigantic bomb to the ship of the Celestials in orbit above Earth. They seek to destroy the space giants, and the resulting blast will destroy human life as well. At the same time, American astronauts Matt Durgan and Terry Parker are zeroing in on the Celestial ship to shoot something different--photos. In Olympia, the aptly-named Sprite is the only Eternal left not absorbed into the Uni-Mind. He sees what the Deviants are doing and comes up with a desperate plan. After all, if the Celestials are angered, their wrath will be dealt upon all. He remembers an Eternal who has been ignored for ages: the Forgotten One, banished to solitude for interfering in human affairs over centuries. Sprite defies the edict of the absent Zuras and seeks him out. He convinces the mysterious warrior to attempt a dangerous mission. Sprite uses his power to transform atoms, forming a spacesuit to protect the Forgotten One. He likewise restructures his dwelling into a spacecraft. As fate would have it, all three ships arrive at essentially the same time to the mothership, where the One Above All, leader of the Fourth Host, comes up with a simple solution. He transfers the occupants of each craft around. The Deviants end up in the American craft, crashing to their death in the ocean. The humans end up in the Eternals ship, landing it safely (using thought power) back home. The Forgotten One gets the worst but most important role: on the Deviant ship he must deactivate the bomb before it detonates. He does so, but the energies released have also harmed him. Deemed worthy, he is brought aboard the Celestials ship by the One Above All. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I found this issue to be rather mundane after the majesty of the Uni-Mind last month. However, it won my respect in the end by its heroic nature, much like the mission of the Forgotten One. I found it rather humorous that it was Sprite who sets in action the events that save the day, although I doubt the Celestials would have been harmed by the Deviant weapon. I think it was more of a lesson-teaching going on. The closing scene of the Forgotten One, dwarfed by the One Above All is somewhat humbling. I wonder if the sheer arrogance and foolishness of Great Tode and his fellows will eventually convince Kro to abandon his race and come to the other side, so to speak? Will the Forgotten One get to see the Celestial's craft if he survives? Same bat-time, same bat- channel...

Matthew:  Life’s little ironies:  much as I love the characters of Cap and the Panther, I prefer this among Jack’s series, partly because he’s not trampling on their treatment by other, perhaps better writers, undimmed though his visuals are.  I think I’m echoing a recent LOC I neglected to cite, but disagree with the one here in which mainstay Larry Twiss opines that “this book could be made a lot better if Jack somehow unified the characters and solidified the direction…[He] has been spinning in every direction at once”; normally that would annoy me, yet I find it oddly successful in this context.  Love the cover, with its floating heads and warmly pleasant color scheme, and the elegant simplicity of the Celestials’ crew-switching solution to the dire situation.

Chris: Larry T of King of Prussia PA writes in, and states “As it is now, we don’t know where the next issue will take place.  Let’s see some direction in the book.”  Well, hold on there, Larry – after all, we’ve seen our characters working on their Uni-Mind project for a few issues now, and – oh wait – how’s that?  No Uni-Mind at all in this issue, you say?  Well, why not -?  

Instead, we’ve got three different groups (none of whom have ever appeared before in this mag) making their way to the unimaginably massive Fourth Host craft.  The Deviants are fairly evil (I’ve seen worse villains), but they apparently aren’t terribly bright, either – did Tode honestly believe that the Deviant craft would be able to approach the orbital ship?  It’s not at all clear why all three crews had to be rotated – couldn’t the Hercules-figure simply have been switched for the three Deviant pilots?  Well, I guess then, they would’ve had a ship they could land by the power of their thoughts, and the Celestial prefers instead to saddle them with a craft they aren’t able to handle, and which will certainly crash.  I guess that all makes sense.
Well, at least for the next issue, we’ll get back to the Uni-Mind, right?  But – the coming-attractions box tells us that Ikaris will fight the Hulk.  Oh well; it’s your book, Jack – clearly, you’re free to do whatever you want with it.  
Mark: Always one to go big, Kirby serves up three sets of "Astronauts": US sky-jockeys to surveil the Celestials' Big Muddah ship; Deviants on a suicide/destruct-o mission as revenge on the Space Gods, with the happy by-product of wiping out a good chunk of humanity; and a sole Eternal, the exiled Forgotten One, there to prevent Armageddon, via the ole ship crew shuffle.

Much like the Russian A-bomb ish, this largely self-contained tale (Kro gets a cameo as an ignored Deviant voice of restraint) forgoes the smaller interpersonal touches that have recently elevated the series for pure adrenal adventure, with gluttonous slabs of techno-throb machine porn. Gripping, wide-screen stuff, as far as it goes, but as the series winds down I hope Jack doesn't forget the human drama among all the various species. 

Without it, we could be left limping toward the finish line with gaudy but vacuous spectacle.   

1 comment:

  1. Prof Mark -- I always find plenty to enjoy in your jazzy-nutty comments, but I narrowly avoided a spit-take when you equated disco demolition with social protest. Stay crazy - Prof Chris