Wednesday, January 13, 2016

July 1977 Part Two: Star Wars -- The Merchandising Awakens!

Star Wars 1
"Star Wars"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Howard Chaykin and Tom Palmer

A Long Time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away…

Above the remote desert planet Tatooine, an Imperial Star Destroyer attacks and boards a Rebel Blockade runner. Two droids, R2-D2 and C-3PO meander their way through the battle looking for safety. On the surface, a young farmboy named Luke Skywalker sees flashes of the orbital battle and, in his landspeeder, rushes to tell someone. Back aboard the captured ship, the black armored Darth Vader, dark Lord of the Sith, questions an officer on the whereabouts of certain stolen plans. He is unable to get much information from the man before Vader snaps his neck, ordering his Stormtroopers to search the vessel and gather up the passengers for questioning.  Threepio finds Artoo with a mysterious and beautiful young woman who then runs off. The droids manage to find an escape pod and leave the ship for the relative safety of the planet below. The woman, meanwhile, is discovered by the troops and stunned and taken before Lord Vader. She is Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan and she resists Vader’s questioning. He accuses her of being a rebel traitor and takes her into custody. Vader then orders the ship destroyed and word sent back to Senator Organa relating that the ship was destroyed by a meteorite storm with all hands lost. He then orders a search for the escape pod.

On Tatooine, Luke runs into town to tell what he’s seen and meets his old childhood friend Biggs, who is supposed to be taking a first mate position on a frigate, but will soon leave to join the rebellion. Luke tries to talk him out of it, but would actually like to join him. However, he is stuck helping his uncle Owen for the time being, at least until the next season. He bids goodbye to his old friend. Neither could possibly know the fight is on their doorstep. The droids have crash- landed, but were taken by a group of scavenging Jawas.

In another part of the galaxy, a giant space station, the Death Star, looms and hosts a gathering of governors. Grand Moff Tarkin and his assistant Vader enter, telling them the emperor has dissolved the senate. Vader scoffs at the overconfidence in the giant weapon, saying its power is nothing in comparison to that of the Force.

The droids are finally sold to a small moisture farm run by Owen Lars and his nephew Luke Skywalker. Luke cleans them up and learns they are from the battle he witnessed earlier and are the property of a man named Obi-Wan Kenobi. While cleaning Artoo, Luke stumbles on part of a holographic message from Princess Leia. Artoo refuses to acknowledge a message exists and has Threepio suggest the removal of his restraining bolt might help. It has the opposite effect and the message is gone. Luke is called to dinner and tries to convince Owen to let him go to the space academy earlier than they discussed, but Owen needs him too badly. Luke also asks if this “Obi-Wan” the droids mentioned could be Old Ben, a mysterious hermit out in the dune sea. Owen says Obi-Wan died around the same time as Luke’s father, which piques the boy’s interest, but Owen shuts him down. Luke leaves and returns to the droids only to discover Artoo has run off.

The next morning, Luke and Threepio search the desert for Artoo but are attacked by Sand People!
-Scott McIntyre
Scott McIntyre: The greatest Space Saga of them all kicked off in 1977, totally erasing Logan’s Run from the collective consciousness. However, the comic book adaptation hit the spinner racks a month before the film premiered. Like Logan, the adaptation would run a good number of issues; six to Logan’s five. Unlike Logan, the art is really quite poor. Howard Chaykin’s pencils are sketchy at best, with little detail or attention to accuracy. Nobody really looks like they should, with the exception of the droids. Luke’s appearance alternates from young to middle-aged. Roy Thomas’ script adheres closely to the film novelization and includes a number of scenes not in the final cut of the film, primarily those with Luke’s friends who treat him badly, and his one true friend Biggs Darklighter.

Darth Vader is less aristocratic and more nasty in this incarnation and there is a raw energy that permeates the issue. It’s really kind of interesting reading this with the understanding that nobody in the world had any idea what was going to happen in regards to the film’s release and the public reaction. At this point in time, it was just another science fiction film about to be released.  Nothing about the comic itself is particularly special, nor does it hint at the greatness to come.

At this point in my life, I was ten and heavily into television sci-fi. Space:1999 was ending its run, having failed to supplant Star Trek at the top of the television science fiction heap. Trek was (and is) my favorite series, so when Star Wars did finally make its debut, I didn’t pay it as much mind as my friends who didn’t watch much sci-fi or fantasy. Me, I was used to good and fun S/F, so Star Wars didn’t leave me gobsmacked like so many of my peers. The same people who would pick on me for liking Trek, Lost in Space and 1999 were going bat-guano crazy over Star Wars. I didn’t actually see the film until much later in the summer. The only thing that really did impress me at the time was the amazing John Williams score. I still have my original double LP album. It wasn’t until The Empire Strikes Back floored me that I truly enjoyed the Star Wars saga. And as good as it often was, the comic was a totally different and very strange beast. It’s off to a rough start, but it would have a nice long run.

Logan who..?    

Matthew Bradley: Funny that I’d be starting work on this coverage just as the latest sequel is about to hit theaters.  The first issue went on sale April 12 (per Marvel’s house ads), more than a month before the original film’s  May 25 U.S. release date, which might have been a shrewd move in some respects, but backfired in my case.  I took one look at this on the metaphoric newsstand—most likely a 7-11 in Fairfield—and, perhaps turned off as I generally am by Chaykin’s artwork, promptly put it back, saying, “What the hell is this crap?  Luke Skywalker?  Never heard of ’im.”  It’s also amusing to note the item on this month’s Bullpen Page, which cites George Lucas, Alec “Guiness” (sic), Peter Cushing, and Mark Hamill, but not that other guy; what’s his name, Ford?

My diary entry for July 15 reads, in its entirety, “WOW!!!  Saw Star Wars—unlike anything I’ve ever seen!  *****  [Five stars, my highest rating.]  WOW!”  But by then I’d already skipped the first three issues, requiring me to buy them when hastily collected later that year in the treasury-sized Marvel Special Edition Featuring Star Wars #1 (whose omnibus credits obscure the fact that, per the Bullpen Page, “After the premiere issue, Surfer Steve Leialoha will be joining the team as inker”).  Writer/editor Roy’s adaptation of the screenplay displays his customary fidelity, although as with Logan’s Run, I think there’s some material that didn’t make it into the finished film; it’s been a while, but I believe Luke’s early conversations with Biggs fall into that category.

The Invaders 18
"Enter: The Mighty Destroyer"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

As Cap plunges hundreds of feet, his acrobatic skills slow his fall enough to save his life, though the impact knocks out both him and the mysterious uniformed figure who catches him.  Dispatching three soldiers to retrieve Cap’s body and shield for study, Hitler announces his latest brainstorm:  the marriage of Master Man and a less-than-enthused Warrior Woman (“She must pretend the choice is hers,” he tells the erstwhile Willie Lohmer, mann to mann).  Coming to just in time, Cap and his savior get acquainted while taking out the trio, then repair to a bunker beneath Berchtesgaden, where the Destroyer relates being imprisoned in Hamburg with a dying biochemist, Professor Eric Schmitt, who pleaded that his secret formula not fall into Nazi hands.

The Destroyer confirms that Schmitt had stumbled onto a variant of You-Know-What, which he quaffed to escape “and became the greatest Nazi-fighter operating inside the Fatherland itself,” but denies the F.B.I. theory that he was American reporter Keen Marlow, unmasking for Cap (if not us) as proof.  Meanwhile, the Falsworths parachute into Berlin with the amnesiac Dyna-Mite, unable to recall why “Jacquie” addresses him as Roger, and hook up with an old friend, Oskar.  Cap and the Destroyer scale the castle walls just in time to rescue Biljo, who has outlived his usefulness, but learn from a doctor under S.S. guard that they are too late to stop the captive Invaders from being taken to Berlin, and Cap vows that if they have been harmed, he will personally kill Hitler. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: When is a revival not a revival?  The cover blares that this is “Re-Introducing:  After 3 Decades!  The Mighty Destroyer!”  Well, yes and no.  “M.D.,” as Cap calls him, was an early Golden-Age creation of Stan’s (“See Mystic Comics #1, 1941—if you’re rich!,” per Roy’s footnote, although the MCDb and Wikipedia both say #6), so we can’t blame the Two Franks for his fairly hideous costume…although we might ask them why both that stormtrooper in page 6, panel 3 and the Destroyer in page 26, panel 5 appear to be performing Russian folk dances.  But his origin has been retconned, to say nothing of the complex machinations he will go through in future issues, and while this one obviously has seniority, doesn’t Marvel have a few too many Destroyers now?

Roy handles the recap nicely, interpolating what we didn’t see last issue into what we did, thus making it more interesting for those who read it.  The fact that we’re up to our third set of special restraints (hydro-clamps siphon excess moisture from Namor, and the Torches get barely enough oxygen to breathe) in six issues just underlines how often the Invaders are captured, yet the “new” player and the ongoing mystery surrounding the Falsworths help to offset the familiarity.  As Professor Chris has observed, depicting Der Führer is a tricky business, but Robbins and Springer place him in poses I recognize from historical images, and it’s probably no surprise that they portray him in a distinctly murine fashion, his teeth especially prominent in page 7, panel 5.

Chris Blake: So we finally get a look at Jacqueline, Falsworth, and Roger, although I have no idea how the secret of Roger’s past could be so important that it requires them to sneak into Berlin; Roy promises to tell us more next issue.  One advantage is that these three should be in the city in time for the parade of captured Invaders that hitler has promised; they’ll have time to get a good spot along the parade route.  Oh wait, so you think they might be able to assist in their escape?  Say, now that’s a good idea . . .  We’ve seen little of a non-confined Namor, Torches, and Bucky in the past few issues (and those too-clever nazi scientists have to keep coming up with new ways to pen them in), so any circumstance that springs them free and allows them to return to regular duty would be a welcome development.  

The Invincible Iron Man 100
"Ten Rings to Rule the World!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza and Ray Holloway
Cover by Jim Starlin

After seeing Iron Man defeat the death squad, revealed as booby-trapped “bio-genetic life-simulations,” O’Brien heads home while IM enters the castle and at last confronts his nemesis.  During their battle, the Mandarin immobilizes him with sub-freezing gas, confirms the master plan IM had deduced, and reveals how he’d “cheated death!”:  mortally wounded by the Yellow Claw’s exploding robot (in #70), he transferred his mind-force into his rings, taking over the body of the Claw’s minion, Loc Do, who stole them from his corpse before burning it.  But he is so preoccupied with his ranting that he does not notice IM slowly reaching for his heat-induction knob, enabling Iron Man to melt the ice with his thermal circuits and resume his attack.

Watching O’Brien return, Krissy frets, “I can’t leave without arousing suspicion, yet…I must!  And if he follows me, Jasper Sitwell may die!”  Meanwhile, even after Iron Man has pulled his rings off with an impromptu tractor beam and deactivated them with his palm-magnet, a gloating Mandarin reveals a viewscreen that shows Rich opening the stolen briefcase, yet it was wired to self-destruct with acid, Stark and Hawk having set a trap to expose the traitor.  The Mandarin is able to fry Rich by remote control before IM destroys the panel that controls his missiles; telling him to remember, “There was a time Iron Man could have killed you—and didn’t!  And that he refrained out of strength—not weakness!,” Shellhead flies off, having sworn an oath not to kill. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’m sure others will recall comparable covers where the issue number dominated the art, but offhand I can’t, and while I generally prefer more representative images, this one by Starlin (who, lest we forget, first opened his Titan toybox in #55) sold me with its color scheme, concept, and depiction of our hero.  The creators “humbly dedicate our 100th issue to Stan Lee and Don Heck—who started it all!,” which seems apt for my colleagues who hold Heck and IM in equally low esteem.  The lettercol gives credit to Lively Len for the concept of the Mandarin’s rebirth, and to Brooklyn’s Edward A. Norton for its title, “Printed Circuits,” replacing “Sock It to Shellhead”; “Let’s Rap with Cap” has now likewise given way to “Letters to the Living Legend.”

So, now that we’ve got the housekeeping out of the way, what about this milestone issue itself?  Well, it’s very good, although ironically, I didn’t find it quite as exciting as #99.  Much as I’ve enjoyed the machinations through which Bill (and, to be fair, Gerry) has put Shellhead in recent months, it’s nice to get a little closure—although it’s been argued that IM prevails a little too easily—and there’s still no shortage of intrigue yet to come.  The Tuskosito art is somewhat less polished than what George and Don have been laying down, but the Mandarin montage on page 15 (above) is very effective, and although the explanation for Mandy Mk. II is a little hokey, I’ve seen worse; the mercy-through-strength ending was probably preferable to a second “death” that soon.

Chris: It’s a briskly-paced anniversary issue; maybe even too quick, as the Mandarin’s plan is exposed and foiled all within a few densely-packed pages.  I’m not complaining; I wouldn’t have been in favor of a multi-issue slug-fest with Mandy.  It’s fitting that Iron Man can match him for gadgetry, and a nifty twist that he’s able to magnetically zip Mandy’s rings from his fingers.  

Bill ties up some of the threads from recent issues; although, I’m not quite buying that Stark’s lost briefcase was planted so that the Mandarin’s planted operative was the only one who could find it, especially since Sen Hawk didn’t know that Jonathan Rich was the traitor.  It’s been a satisfying run of issues, but I’m glad it’s concluded, if only so we can move on to some other stuff.  (Although, now you tell me that Frankenstein is part of that “other stuff,” I might have to reconsider, and require another 2-3 issues of Mandarin-plotting.)

Tuska’s art is perfectly okay, although again Esposito’s inks are a bit too loose for my liking.  IM’s mid-air double-fisted robo-destruction is a highlight (p 3, 1st panel).

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 2
"The Air-Pirates of Mars, Chapter 2:
From the Shadows... Stara-Kan!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Dave Cockrum

In Zodanga, Carter captures a presumed spy, who refuses to talk and is immune to telepathy; implied to be Stara Kan, the red man is taken to Helium, where Sola welcomes back her father, Tars Tarkas, and the royal couple.  After the council fails to elicit answers in the Temple of Reward, Carter is told he may question the captive the next day, but at night he escapes with a weapon hidden in a mechanical arm that he buries in a precise spot under the castle walls.  Inspecting the atmosphere factory, Carter and Tars Tarkas find the door open and the plant full of white apes, but as he battles to avenge his apparently slain friend and rescue Dejah, who disobeyed his order to stay behind, Carter is knocked out, at the mercy of Stara Kan. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: While I won’t call it a precipitous decline, the first all-Wolfman issue—i.e., sans any Burroughs-based flashbacks—is a marked comedown.  First, with all due respect to Nebres as an artist in his own right, he does a disservice here, and I see with despair that he will outlast even Marv on this title; one of the joys of the first issue was that Cockrum let Kane be Kane, whereas Rudy almost completely expunges Gil’s style in favor of That Filipino Look.  Also, although the plotline is of interest so far, it seems to suffer from some sloppiness on the part of Marv:  #1 ended with Tars Tarkas warning Carter about what Krakas’s masters have got in mind, yet here, everybody seems to be trying to determine just that, and worse, it’s never explicitly clear that the man is Stara Kan.

Ms. Marvel 7
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

While Grotesk escapes with the Cavourite crystal, and the falling tower sets off a series of explosions that destroy the lab buildings, Ms. Marvel is saved when the floor beneath her disintegrates, passing out as she plunges into a pit.  She awakens sans costume and held in stasis arcs by MODOK, who—deposed after the War of the Super-Villains—is back in control of AIM’s blue-uniformed West-Coast operations (see Iron Man #75 and Annual #4, respectively).  Seeking the secrets of her costume’s alien electronic webbing, he has Agent M17 don it for a test, unaware that the web was burned out in battle with Grotesk, rendering the costume useless.  Frustrated at the costume’s failure, MODOK turns the power of his Mind-Ripper on Ms. Marvel.

Seemingly resistant at first, Ms. Marvel falls under the influence of its brainwashing beams, but as MODOK orders her to dispose of M17, she recalls fighting both prejudiced blue-skinned Kni-Kon at the Kree Starfleet Academy and Salia Petrie in a training gym, and the knowledge that she is two people enables her to break her conditioning.  Retrieving her costume, she realizes that the second blast of radiation from the Psyche-Magnitron somehow transferred most of its powers to her body.  When MODOK’s brain-beam burns a hole in the wall of a tunnel, she beats a hasty retreat, encountering his yellow-clad rivals from AIM’s New York H.Q., who were unaware of his hide-out, and—changing to Carol to escape from Alden’s Department Store—vows payback. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I really dig that Buckler/Sinnott cover (and not just for its pulchritude quotient); the artistic license is excusable, because prospective buyers wouldn’t understand the costume switch sans context.  I’m impressed with how Claremont has cultivated the seeds of the AIM plotline that Conway planted at the outset, with MODOK always being a plus in my book, and even set up some promising intra-AIM conflict between the blue and yellow factions.  On top of that, we get major developments regarding Ms. Marvel’s powers, a first look at her actual Kree background, a Mooney/Sinnott tour de force in the “split screen” composition on page 10—complete with hilariously studly MODOK—and the promise of a rematch with the not-to-be-forgotten Grotesk.

Chris: This is more like it.  Claremont provides ample action, but more importantly, some useful development of Ms Marvel and her relationship with Carol.  It hasn’t been completely resolved, but there’s a sense of progress, and that’s good – most notably when Ms M realizes that Modok’s mind-rip wasn’t completely successful because there are, in fact, two distinct personas at work here.  Also, a sound decision to have the Ms M powers rooted within her body, rather than limited to the wiring of her costume; very good.  One question, though: how does Ms M wind up with one of Mar-Vell’s memories (the fight with blue-skinned cadets, p 15-16)?  I guess that’s a story for another day, hmm?

Speaking of other stories, Modok informs us that he has taken control of AIM’s west coast operations – as seen in Iron Man Annual #4 – but doesn’t explain how he survived the explosion that appeared to consume him in the IM annual’s closing moments; oh well.

Mooney + Sinnott do well this time also, especially the moments during and immediately after the mind-rip; high grades to the full-page struggle within the mind of Ms M, as she beats the stuffing out of Modok, and then gives in to him (p 10); the view of Modok as a muscular man, with a normal-sized head (but still thoroughly ugly face) is more than a little creepy.  I also like how Carol’s head is seen hovering behind Ms M, as she struggles against Modok’s heinous orders (p 14-15).  

Marvel Team-Up 59
Spider-Man, Yellowjacket, and the Wasp in
"Some Say Spidey Will Die By Fire... Some Say By Ice!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Al Milgrom

Swinging home across the East River from Sunday dinner at Aunt May’s, Spidey is hit by fire- and ice-blasts; having just announced the decupling of his powers, Hank Pym is enjoying a romantic interlude with Jan when he sees Spidey fall from the Queensborough Bridge and flies to help.  Awakening in their Riverview Terrace duplex penthouse, Spidey recalls a villain who fits the bill:  Equinox, the Thermodynamic Man, presumed dead after tangling with the Torch and Iceman in #23.  Very much alive, he blasts through the wall to resume his grudge match, and as the battle moves from the mostly demolished penthouse to York Avenue, a black woman hears the news and recognizes the description of “Noxie,” whom she refers to as “Terry.”

Our heroes follow him to the upper roadway of the bridge (giving Hank no chance to explain when Jan scolds him for “jazzing up” his powers—incorporating his molecular disruptor beam into his costume—but not hers), where Equinox says he is no longer fighting the thermic changes making him stronger.  His mother, Margay Sorenson, finally arrives with a gun-like device that she hopes can cure his involuntary condition as Spidey gets Jan, who was stunned by exploding cars, to safety.  Yet Equinox, having been narrowly prevented by Spidey from committing matricide, forces Yellowjacket back against a fuel truck and detonates it in a blast that apparently kills Hank, leaving the Wasp vowing to live up to her status as an Avenger by killing Equinox.... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With the tragically short-lived Iron Fist two months from cancellation, and their justly legendary X-Men collaboration still in the future, Claremont and Byrne begin an intermittent but rock-solid run here that will last for the better part of 20 issues, although Chris stays on for almost another year.  He explains in the lettercol that the dedication to Roy, “with respect and admiration,” is in gratitude for giving Chris his first break four years ago on Daredevil #102.  The returning Hunt, who did so well by John in #55, completes a formidable, uh, team, the felicitous results including the va-va-voom Wasp in page 3, panel 3; the homey domesticity of Spidey in their living room in page 7, panel 2; the ECU in page 17, panel 6; and the inferno, plus stunned reactions, on page 30.

Oh, if only Hank could have been left in Claremont’s capable hands, rather than to Shooter’s depredations; the contrast between his portrayal here, as the lovably absent-minded—or at least preoccupied—professor whose Bunsen burner Jan lights, and the downward slide simultaneously beginning in Avengers, is almost too much to take in retrospect.  The Pyms’ rapport, both between them and with Spidey, shows off Chris’s enviable skill with nuanced characterization, and it’s nice to see such collegiality among heroes.  It may be a small thing (ha ha), but I love the specificity that he always brings to his locales, while his Roy-worthy command of Marveliana encompasses the fact that Noxie had skirmished with Spidey before the fire-and-ice main event.

The Bullpen Page notes, “A few months ago, Stan made mention of the new hero we’d created especially for our British comics division [and] said that we’d try to find a way to give all you regular stateside readers a look at him as well, perhaps by reprinting some of his adventures.  Well, merry Marvel, being the very soul of generosity, has decided to do something even better than that….Claremont—who helped originate the Captain Britain character…came up with the novel notion of using [him in MTU]…That tickled our fancy no end.  So now, just as soon as the Charismatic One and…Jocular John Byrne can write and draw the issue, you will be witness to the first full-fledged appearance in the colonies of the super-hero sensation of the British Isles.”

Joe Tura: A rousing first part of a Spidey-Pym team-up that I remembered well. Not only for the excellent Byrne artwork and layouts, although Hunt may not be his best inker, but also the enjoyable Claremont script that shows he can write the web-head well, even with trademark wisecracks in place. Hank and Janet make a good team with Spidey, proving three isn't a crowd, and I like that Hank leaps to the rescue of our hero when he sees trouble. Janet is a formidable personality and comes across well without being histrionic or cliché, so Claremont writes Avengers well also. Nicely done except for one thing—the villain. Equinox makes a more than worthy foe for our heroes, which worries me, because he's B-list if there ever was one. There's the mystery with his Mom to whet our appetites, but there's something about the fire and ice felon that just doesn't get me jazzed up. But I am looking forward to part 2 nonetheless.

Chris: I realize that Bill + Sal did some fine work on this title over the past two years or so, but this issue begins a run of the single finest twelve issues in this title’s history.  The stories and art are superb throughout, but as an added bonus, this would’ve been the first look at Claremont/Byrne for mainstream Marvel fans who might not’ve gotten into Iron Fist (for reasons unknown to all of us …).

I wonder how the conversation between Claremont and Goodwin might’ve gone, once Chris told Archie that he had an idea for a team-up between Spidey and a longtime Avenger.  It’s possible that, since we’ve recently seen Iron Man, Captain America, Vision, and Scarlet Witch all appear in these pages, Claremont had a chance to showcase two of the less-popular team-members.   And how about this: in Avengers #160, there’s a single-panel exchange between Hank and Jan, as he states his intention to improve his costume’s powers; and now, the very next month, Hank tells us, eureka – he’s done it!  Whoever said this isn’t the Marvel age of compelling continuity?  

Claremont does a masterful job with Jan; first, he gives us her typical presentation: devoted to her brilliant husband, and hoping to encourage him to lighten up and enjoy himself; next, mid-battle, she disparages the limits on her powers (and takes Hank to task for it –pg 17, last pnl) but pluckily carries on; finally, as she’s confronted by the certainty of her husband’s death (I mean, what other conclusion could you possibly draw -?), she calls up some rarely-seen fire, as she commits to a blood-chilling pronouncement of Equinox’s destruction.  Jan’s position alone makes this a powerful moment, but in addition, we as readers have to be intrigued by the near-impossibility Claremont has assigned himself; I mean, Hank couldn’t be dead, right, but how could he possibly have survived the explosion of the gasoline tanker-truck -?    

There’s plenty to enjoy about the art.  Both explosions are pretty impressive; Byrne isn’t content to leave a few lines in a radiating pattern and call it an explosion.  Let’s focus on the first one, on p 11: jagged lines of force coming from the blast site, check; splintered chunks of mortar, check; smoke and super-heated dust, good; but then we also have fiery chunks of debris racing across the room, that’s cool!  I also want to point out that the dresser toppling over in the foreground (with some items falling out of a drawer, and a potted plant dropping off) is visible on p 3, 1st pnl; in other words, Byrne’s maintaining consistency with his depiction of the space, and I appreciate his attention to details.  

A few other art moments to appreciate, large and small: Peter’s one-panel nightmare, as a grinning, demonic Johnny Storm and Bobby Drake hover on opposite sides of a plummeting Gwen Stacy, at the moment her neck was broken – some images never leave you, do they; the sequence with the high-velocity car door, which ends as Equinox slags it (p 22); Yellowjacket’s right cross (p 26, last pnl); Jan’s transformation, which is so nearly-instantaneous that one form is replaced by the other (p 14, pnl 4); lastly, no offense to my wife, but if my wife looked like this (p 3, pnl 3), I wouldn’t even have a lab.  I would work from home.  

Credit is due to Dave Hunt, who is one of the best – but least-credited – inkers to work with Byrne during the Bronze era; the finishes are solid and fluid throughout, without any of the weaknesses and/or inconsistencies we get with some other inkers.  Let’s not forget he is our colorist as well, so he’s enhancing the effect of the bright flash from the bridge (p 6, 1st pnl), the lighter shading to Yellowjacket’s costume, as he’s on the ground while Equinox’s firebolt burns above him and to the tanker (p 27, last pnl), and of the monumental explosion itself (p 30); Jan’s face is nearly white, not only because of the firelight from the blast, but also to convey her shock.  

Lastly, nice moment on the letters page as Claremont thanks Roy for giving him his start at Marvel – now, that’s class.  And, I suppose we all should be thanking Roy too, shouldn’t we?  

Marvel Two-In-One 29
The Thing and Shang-Chi, Master of Kung Fu in
"Two Against Hydra"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Sam Grainger
Colors Uncredited
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

After discussing their unique relationship while hitting some London tourist attractions, Ben and Alicia go to keep their appointment with Dr. Kort, but find his home off Kensington Park empty and disordered.  Hydra has kidnapped Kort, who refused to work with them, and forces his compliance by threatening to kill his daughter, Angelica, held prisoner in her home.  Brooding over the frequent deceptions of his father, Fu Manchu, and others, Shang-Chi hears a scream coming from Kort’s home, bursts in, sees a girl apparently being menaced by a monster, draws the wrong conclusion, and—determined not to be lied to again—ignores Ben’s level-headed discourse, fighting him until Shang realizes he has deceived himself.

Alicia’s explanation that she slipped on a liquid determined to be blood cinches concern for Kort, whose name Shang recalls from MI-6 files, and he reluctantly agrees to ask his former employer, Nayland Smith, “if anyone’s been interested in Kort…”  Smith’s information leads them to a bistro along Victoria Embankment, below which Kort has developed an untested serum, which is left behind in the chaos as Ben and Shang rescue Kort, then go to free Angelica and her boyfriend.  Back at their H.Q., the Hydra agents lament the loss of Kort until they find the vial containing “the completed chemical composition to recreate an army of invulnerable warriors…such as this one—hundreds with the unmatchable power of—Spider-Woman!,” who is in their clutches.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Naturally, I wondered if Shang-Chi would fare better than Iron Fist did in Marv’s dismal debut, and the answer is, not much, when Ben compounds his repeated pejorative use of “dainty” by addressing his co-star as “smiley,” “curly,” “shortcake,” “talky,” “runt,” “shorty,” and “skinny.”  The MARMIS is especially unforgivable when Ben so clearly posed no threat to Alicia, whose response after slipping on a mysterious liquid is…to taste it!  Once again, Grainger’s best efforts are mostly defeated by Wilson, with rare exceptions such as the Hydra agent in page 7, panel 1; the way Alicia is depicted on the splash page, Ben should be arrested for statutory rape—and can someone tell me why Shang’s shirt disappears between pages 11 and 14, never to be seen again?

Chris: I get as far as page 11, then I flip back over the previous pages, and wish that Marv had elected to open the story at this later juncture, if only to spare us three pages of Ben complaining (for the hundredth time) about being an orange monster, and Alicia assuring him (yet again) that he is not; it’s enough, Marv.  Then we get a truly useless MARMIS, and I wish these pages never had existed, and that we could’ve opened instead on page 17 which – as you know – is already halfway thru the comic.  

It doesn’t help that Shang-Chi’s rationale for attacking Ben – he thinks Ben is lying to him – makes no sense at all; regular readers of MoKF (of which we are legion) would know right away that S-C would never initiate a fight unless he felt he was under some imminent threat, and we’re all aware that the ever-lovin’ idol-o’-millions can be a real pussycat.  So, I guess I’m saying that I wish Marv had used the space in this issue far, far more economically; as it is, there’s hardly any time left for the as-promised brawl with Hydra, which is over in less than three pages.  

Matthew: Well said, sir. Appreciate the input of a MoKF reader.

Nova 11
"Nova No More!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia

Nova is depleted by Powerhouse, who is in turn zapped by the Sphinx, who banishes his treacherous sidekick Kur to the "deepest, filthiest corner of Hell." (Yay!) The powerful one is brought down a peg by seer Sayge, but presses on to tap into the minds of Powerhouse and Nova—and discovers Nova holds the secret he has been after for years! Unable to crack the Nova energy, Sphinx turns the hero back into Richard Rider permanently (with advice from Sayge), in order to eventually "possess one of the four secrets of the universe" (and he sends a memory-wiped Powerhouse to London). Back to high school, Richard is told by the guidance counselor he failed his midterms but there's still hope to turn things around; he's bullied by jerk Mike Burley; has lunch with Ginger and his buddies; and starts seeing flashes of the accident that turned him into Nova.

Back at home, Richard is told to use his brother as a tutor, then the brooding boy is taken on a tour of the local TV station by his pals, where he remembers everything and transforms back into Nova! Sphinx pops in almost immediately, planning the destruction of Nova in order to learn his secret. After an incredibly one-sided brawl, complete with electrocution and debris dropping, a should-have-stopped-the-fight Nova stumbles to his feet time and time again, refusing to give up, and earning much respect from Sphinx, who zaps out, vowing to return one day to get the secret. --Joe Tura

Joe: Well, reading the title I would have been excited, as this was probably the last issue, right? "Nova No More?" No? Not the last one? Dang…. Anyway, we start off with the usual Marv-perbole on the splash page: "This issue has been voted—the best eleventh issue of Nova—EVER!" Yeesh. Enough with stuff like this, please. Is it supposed to be a Stan throwback? Doesn't work for me, not with this average-at-best comic. And this issue is a total throwback from start to finish. Not just the normal three to four recurrences of "Blue blazes!" but also the long scenes of teenage life and high school, which we haven't seen for a couple of issues. The posturing, nasty, all-powerful villain. The hero who thrives against all odds to ultimately persevere—but in a small twist, the big bad goes away in admiration of the hero coming back to beat him. Overall, decent artwork (especially the fight scenes) and so-so script makes this slightly above par for a Nova book, but still would have been in the bottom of the "read pile" for this pre-teen. Except…next issue there's a Spidey team-up, so I guess this book can go at least one more month!

Chris: Hold on – I thought the Sphinx had turned Nova back to Rich, because Sayge told him that “what makes him Nova” prevents him from disclosing the knowledge sought by the Sphinx – although, Rich didn’t even have the knowledge until he inherited the Nova power.  So what good does it do to change him back to Rich, with no knowledge of having been Nova – he still has the power, right?  And if changing him to Nova, and suppressing this knowledge allows for an unguarded moment to glean the information, then why send him back to high school?  If there’s any true logic at work here, I’m simply not following it; perhaps a flow chart or some other diagram might help, Marv.

The Sal+Frank art isn’t as good this time either, as the finishes turn out looser than usual.  Although, the action is quite good over the last few pages, as Nova puts up his spirited resistance to the Sphinx – which somehow is so impressive that the Sphinx interrupts his five-thousand year quest, and lets Nova go for awhile.  That’s fine, just as long as I don’t have to hear anything else about Rich failing his mid-terms.   

Matthew:  Considering the dim view my colleagues have of this title, the prevailing emotion in the faculty lounge regarding this issue is probably more relief that the original Sphinx storyline (which has been meander—uh, maturing for almost a year) is over than actual satisfaction at the way it was wrapped up.  Although I generally champion the book, I won’t completely disagree, despite the comfort food of the handsome Buscemacoia artwork.  It’s obvious that Nova could never defeat the Sphinx by brute force, so having his victory both depend on and epitomize Rich Rider’s newfound, or at least newly recognized, manhood is a nice touch, yet I never found the mechanism whereby the Sphinx hoped to prevail by inducing partial amnesia all that satisfying.

Omega the Unknown 9
"Fightin' Fools!"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Susan Fox
Cover by Gil Kane and Mike Esposito

James-Michael lay, seemingly dying, on Amber's sofa while Omega the Unknown (who's, so far, 0-5 in heavyweight bouts) lies pinned under tons of rubble. Once the hero gets out of his jam, James-Michael makes a miraculous recovery. Meanwhile, Richard Rory discovers his old cellmate, Greg Salinger, has taken up the zapper once held by the Foolkiller. Slightly touched, Greg begins a wholesale slaughter of those he deems unworthy of life. Tired of the endless whining and bitching from John Q. Public, Omega decides to give an anonymous life a shot. He borrows 300 bucks from Pop to buy himself a "tasteful navy blue 100% Worsted Edwardian" suit he'd been admiring in a local tailor. Best laid plans and all that... when he witnesses Blockbuster smashing his way out of a nearby jeweler store. The owner promises a one thousand dollar reward to the man who catches the thief and suddenly, Omega decides he wants to make a good living with his power. Unfortunately, Omega gets pummeled again and left for dead while Blockbuster (who's only turned to thievery to keep his son from doing the same) makes a getaway with the loot. The Unknown gives chase and, just as BB is about to kill Gramps, the Foolkiller steps in and zaps BB into a million atoms. He lets Omega the Astonished know that he'll be watching him very closely. -Peter Enfantino

No, seriously, this is how the Hispanics talked in the 1970s

Peter: As crappy as this series is, I can see that it might have been going to interesting places. Well, according to Sean Howe in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, that is: "Gerber and Skrenes had planned ahead the next two years of Omega the Unknown, in which the extraterrestrial hero experienced various human weaknesses - addictions to alcohol, gambling, and women - and which would reveal his link to James-Michael Starling." I don't think the reveal about the James-Michael/Omega symbiosis would have been so startling for those of us who endured Rick Jones and Captain Marbles but the addiction angle seems fresh. You can see a bit of that frailty leaking through in this issue when Omega the Unpaid decides it's high time he was reimbursed for all the bruising. The Blockbuster/Omega battles are an exercise in tedium so, it's fortunate that Foolkiller happens along when he does, although it creates a bit of a conundrum: why spend three issues building up sympathy for a villain (a bad guy with understandable motives - what a quandary!) who's going to be dispatched in the blink of an eye? Who wants to bet his son becomes Blockbuster II in a 1980s issue of Marvel Two-In-One? You gotta love the stereotypical Hispanic building super who talks like "thees" and won't tolerate crazy people in his "beelding!" Even better is the PG-13 t'n'a displayed by Mary Jane Watson stand-in, Amber, who does a great job of roughing up super Guillermo and keeping that towel up at the same time.

Matthew: The return of “Steve Gerber, Writer of Howard the Duck!” (per the cover burst that so conspicuously omits partner Skrenes) is obviously too little, too late to save this book from its imminent cancellation, which in my view is far more justified than some of the other bloodletting to come.  Similarly, Blockbuster’s death at the hands of the Foolkiller du jour can’t come soon enough, the former Man-Brute having quickly outlasted any minimal sympathy he elicited in #7, particularly in light of his willingness to kill Gramps, whose understandable views on vigilantism only increase the story’s moral complexity.  Mooney still underwhelms, but props to Rockefeller Center for getting the Prometheus sculpture back up so fast after ASM #168.

Luke Cage, Power Man 45
"The Day Chicago Died"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Lee Elias
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Jim Starlin

Strapped to a cobalt bomb that's about to blow Chicago sky-high, Luke Cage decides that maybe his IRS problems weren't all that bad after all. Luck is with the Power Man though when water begins to seep into the sewer chamber where Mace has entrapped the Hero for Hire. The weight of the water forces a cave-in and Cage's bonds are loosened. He makes his way to freedom and heads to the local precinct to warn the city of its impending doom. Meanwhile, Burgundy has finally seen the light and is, similarly, heading to the authorities. When the cops don't buy her rap, the soul sister heads to the army, who pick up what she's putting down. Cage and Burgundy reunite when the army brass wants more details from our Hero for Hire. Cage and Burgundy head for Mace's pad, where a knock-down-drag-out ensues between the two macho dudes. Mace falls down an open elevator shaft and Cage turns his attention to defusing the bomb. Unfortunately, the only one who had the secret code to shut down the device is, apparently, lying dead in a nearby elevator shaft. Chicago has three hours until it looks like Detroit. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Mace was a decent villain for an issue but this arc has dragged on too long and the character seems like nothing more than a mouthpiece for Marv's anti-government sentiments. I miss the really goofy Cage rogues' gallery. The art is hit and miss but much better now that Tom Palmer has left the building (well, except for that really bad panel [below] where Luke's muscles look more like a bad case of shingles). This is Marv's last script for PM (he'll plot for Roger Slifer next issue and then it's... well, that would be telling) and, despite the let down at the tail end, it's been a great run.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 8
"... And Only One Shall Survive!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Paul Gulacy and John Romita

The Empathoid commands Morbius to attack Spider-Man and Glory—but  the wall-crawler catches on and gets Glory to safety. Cut to downtown, where Flash is breaking into the restaurant to confront Sha-Shan, but it turns out the "bald-headed-creep" that's been hiding her is…her husband! A dejected Flash walks away, sending us back to Spidey, who decks Morbius with one punch and is then taken over by the Empathoid, who relays his origin—he is a creature who was dormant for centuries until Morbius came to his world via "dimension-spanning palm-bands," and the emotion-hungry being inhabited Morbius and ended up here. Spidey goes home to fix his web-shooters, as Morbius feeds on a criminal. Peter rests up until nighttime, then swings to the eventual showdown with Morbius at a football stadium, where the emotions of the crowd, after the home team scores, overwhelm the Empathoid and he leaves Spidey's body. Morbius and Spidey then part on a Manhattan rooftop, with Spidey planning to leave the Empathoid for the Fantastic Four. --Joe Tura

Joe: The nifty Paul Gulacy cover gives us a glimpse of sinewy, creepy meth addict rocker Morbius and a classic Spidey pose, as well as some authentic NYC pigeons. The insides are nearly as authentic when it comes to character reactions. Flash is desperate to get to Sha-Shan, then shot down in flames like Alfalfa singing "Just friends…lovers no more" extremely off-key. Spidey uses his noodle throughout, especially after being "empathoid-ed." And Morbius is, well, brooding and hungry and angry and misunderstood and impulsive. At least he had the sense to feed on a dirty robber instead of an undeserving normal citizen. Overall, it's not the worst, but nowhere near the best Spidey tale, with a nearly feature-less villain who seemingly has immortal powers and instead is defeated by a football crowd. (Three cheers for the home team!) The Spidey-Morbius dustup is well done, certainly the art highlight in a less-than stellar Sal outing. Maybe he's a little overworked? And about that title—who is the one survivor when there are three combatants? Did they mean the struggle between Morbius and Empathoid only? You can see it's a bit confusing, unless it's a harbinger of Common Core Math.

Favorite sound effect (or certainly the goofiest) in a book full of nice choices is the trio of crowd cheers on the bottom of page 26: "KILL THE REF!"; "GO THRU 'EM!"; "SMEAR THE LINEBACKER!" Now, I've been to many football games, watched many in bars, and never have I heard any fan or drunk say any of those things. Had Archie ever been to a football game in his life or just watched old Andy Hardy movies on TV?

Also of note: our new letters page name is "Spectacular Spider-Mail" which actually isn't half bad. It was submitted by Greg Mottola of Dix Hills, NY, a Marvel zombie who grew up to become a filmmaker (the funny Superbad, the very slightly overrated Adventureland, the I-didn't-see-it alien comedy Paul) and TV director (Undeclared, Arrested Development).

Matthew: While not contravening my usual preference for the first halves of two-parters, this still allows EIC Goodwin to end his brief auctorial stint here on a relatively high note.  It’s nice to know what became of Morbius after his self-banishment in MTIO #15, and although the Empathoid doesn’t exactly set my world on fire, I did like Spidey’s clever method of overloading his empathic circuits, especially since the frenzied emotions that surround what we call “foolish sporting events” have always been a mystery to me.  Buscemosito turns in a customarily solid job, with such highlights as Spidey’s powerhouse left (complete with Hammer allusion) in page 3, panel 1, plus a generally excellent rendition of Morbius throughout.

Chris: Peter’s pretty nonchalant about being possessed by an extra-dimensional affect-parasite.  Archie keeps Pete’s plan in his back pocket, which is the right decision, so at least we readers can be surprised at the same time as the Empathoid (our surprise is a good one; but, the Empahoid? Not so much).  The fight with Morbius amounts to very little; nothing more than a clout-exchange.  Oh, did you bite on the hype that “Only One Shall Survive”?  Well, if you did, then the application forms for remedial courses are available at the Registrar’s office.   

Not crazy about the art; I realize that Sal+Mike have been an artistic item on MTU for some time, but the results here are a bit thin.  Would you believe me if I told you that I miss Jim Mooney, who brought some interesting shadings and texture last issue, both of which are missing here?

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 2
"The Road to Opar!"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
From the Novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

At the bungalow on Tarzan’s vast estate, “Frecoult” meets Jane and Muviro, chief of the loyal Waziri tribe, while remembering his pact to rid Achmet Zek of Tarzan, allowing them unrestricted trade in ivory and slaves.  Chafing at the veneer of civilization he endures for Jane, Tarzan takes a walk with Nkima, the monkey, as she satisfies Werper’s curiosity about his host, whose parents, the previous Lord and Lady Greystoke, were marooned in Africa by mutineers.  Lady Alice suffered a breakdown, and soon after she gave birth to John Clayton in the one-room cabin her husband had built, the couple was killed by great apes, but Kala, having lost her own offspring, adopted John and named him Tarzan, or “white-skin” in the language of the Mangani.

In the cabin, Tarzan found his father’s hunting knife and taught himself to read and write, but after defeating tribal leader Kerchak, realizing that he was different from both the apes and the Gomangani (black men) he had seen, he sought other Tarmangani (white men).  He saved Jane—also marooned by mutineers with her father, Professor Archimedes Porter—from a tribal outcast, Terkoz, and they fell in love; she broke her engagement to John’s cousin, William, who had laid claim to the title, and Porter, a minister, married them at the cabin.  Back from his walk, Tarzan tells Jane that in England, he learned probable malfeasance has left them penniless, so he must return to the lost city of Opar in search of gold…while the eavesdropping Werper schemes anew. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This is the last time Big John will ink his own work, which has a sparse quality that I normally dislike, with many panels lacking any background, but it seems strangely suited to the material, and his handling of these characters is inarguably superb.  Similarly, last issue’s insubstantial feel was no illusion, as we are told that the title’s format of 15 story pages is geared toward the foreign market, and while domestic readers get an unspecified extra page this time, the other padding aptly recalls Jungle Action, e.g., the “Language of the Great Apes” feature starting here.  It seems especially unfortunate for a “Special Origin Issue!” in which—after Roy respectfully retains Werper’s rap sheet from ERB—we get his potted version of Tarzan of the Apes (TOTA).

For all its brevity, Roy’s seven-page précis of the novel—or novels, since the last-panel wedding actually concludes The Return of Tarzan—is typically faithful, although I can imagine with what relief he excised black stereotypes such as Mbonga’s sadistic cannibal tribe, on which Tarzan avenges Kala’s death, or Jane’s English-mangling maid, Esmeralda (mentioned only in passing).  He spares us the painful “comic relief” between Porter and his secretary, Samuel T. Philander, by omitting the latter entirely, and simplifies the Claytons’ intrafamily drama.  Is the coincidence of two mutinies, years apart, stranding two cousins in the same spot on the entire African continent, less likely than Tarzan the Autodidact, who learns to read and write English from picture books?

Gilbert Colon: Professor Matthew complains that the 15-page format feels “insubstantial,” which was the same problem with Marvel’s Gullivar Jones series.  But at least the Tarzans are denser, and Marvel is taking its time adapting Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar.  (“[F]reely adapting ERB’s epic adventures!”; just how “freely” is for Professor Matthew, who is re-reading the novels for comparison, to say.)

Last issue had the Lord of the Jungle engaged in bloody battle with the lion Numa, and this issue features three such man versus nature battles (or “ape-man” versus nature).  (Tarzan is, after all, the man who only “endures...eating burnt flesh when he would prefer it raw and unspoiled.”)  First, in flashback, he skins the lioness Sabor to wear her hide, then slays “the fearsome simian” Kerchak to truly become “King of the Apes.”  After that he rescues Jane from the clutches of the “fierce ape” named “Terkoz,” “the primordial ape battl[ing] with the primeval man for possession of a woman--.”  

The fact that Terkoz wants to make a mate of Jane – “the primeval woman” – gives the sequence a King Kong-like quality, though this less sympathetic simian is well deserving of the “long knife” of Tarzan which finally “drank deep a dozen times of Terkoz’s life’s-blood--.”  Having just seen Gulka the Gorilla-Slayer and “a living gorilla” clash in the Marvel Premiere #34 adaptation of the Solomon Kane tale “Red Shadows,” perhaps Marvel readership could not get enough law-of-the-jungle gymnastics.  

Let it not be said that Tarzan the primitive ape-man, despite his exile and isolation, does not know how to treat a lady or woo a woman.  Throughout Tarzan’s fight with Terkoz, “two wolves [who] sought each other’s throat!,” Jane watches on “with mingled horror and fascination--,” a sure signal of love at first sight and a sign they are destined for holy matrimony.  “[B]eneath the shade of his great forest primeval,” Jane’s father, an ordained minister, eventually marries his daughter to Tarzan the “red-blooded man.”  To the victors go the spoils.  

In his commentary, Professor Matthew remarks about “Tarzan the Autodidact...learn[ing] to read and write English from picture books.”  It may only be a theoretical method of self-education, but in both the miniseries Shaka Zulu (1986) and the Steven Spielberg film Amistad (1997), African characters completely unfamiliar with English come to learn about Christianity (though not language) through illustrated missionary Bibles.  It is not unlike how Tarzan’s parents’ “books taught him that others of his kind wore animal skins to cover their nakedness- - so Tarzan decided he must have the skin of Sabor, the lioness.”  A picture’s worth a thousand words.  

Perhaps through Marvel’s pictures, readers will learn “Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Language of the Great Apes” (pg. 19), a new one-page feature starting this issue.  How much of this philology can be definitively traced to ERB, and how much is Marvel-ous invention or extrapolation, is another matter for Professor Matthew to weigh in on at some point.  

The Mighty Thor 261
"The Wall Around the World!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

The Asgardian Starjammer with Thor and company have found the Doomsday Star. It is, however, surrounded by a massive photon-firing wall in the middle, meteor storms in the north, and a celestial maelstrom down south. Thor harnesses power from the perpetual storms but can barely breach the wall's surface. Their foe has other plans, and whisks them behind the wall like magic. In Asgard, the "other" Thor chastises Balder and Karnilla for defeating mere phantoms of the Enchantress and the Executioer, something the Norn Queen finds highly suspicious. Meanwhile the Doomsday Star is seen finally by our heroes; this part at least, a crumbling city of once-mighty spires. Soon they are attacked by two "techno-trackers," essentially robots guided by the mysterious beings behind this, and Odin's kidnapping. Said beings call on a "cosmotronic cannon" to bring about the collapse of the city's buildings. The resulting catastrophe appears to have killed Hogun, Volstagg and the Rigelian Recorder (actually spared this fate), much to Thor's anger. The Thunder God is struck down, to awaken in shackles alongside Sif and Fandrall. They meet their hosts, two sibling aliens of a frail build, emerging from armoured suits. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: This eventual arrival at the Doomsday Star is one that doesn't disappoint. Not having stretched the quest on too long, Len Wein comes up with a Death Star-preceding world where the "wall" is both that and a chaotic battleship. The visuals are frequently quite stunning; a compliment from one who was never especially enamoured with Walt Simonson. The minimal sideline of Balder and Karnilla in Asgard with the doppleganger Thor is bizarre enough to rival the main storyline for mystery. And the two aliens are hardly what we'd expect from the scale of ones who would wield such power. For me at least, one of the best sagas of the '70's Thor.

Chris: In a LOC, Mike C. of Hockford IL expresses his approval for Thor’s return to space-themed adventure, since “space allows Thor to encounter bigger, more appropriately dangerous threats;” you mean, like a wall around a world, Mike?  An impenetrable wall – resistant even to a pounding by enchanted Mjolnir – protected above by a “perpetual meteor storm,” and below by “swirling forces of cosmic proportions” (whatever that is!); is this the sort of story for which you had stated your hope?  

I might have read this issue only once before; I probably picked it up as a back issue in the early ‘90s, when I was looking for Simonson’s Thor issues that I had missed when originally published.  We don’t accomplish a danged thing in terms of locating Odin, but the action is pretty terrific throughout; great fun all around.  

In a strange twist, I had speculated in my comment for Thor #260 that Ernie Chan might be a good fit for Simonson on this title; and now, here he is!  I can honestly say I had no recollection that he inked any of these issues from #260-271 (i.e. Simonson, phase I); although, I now recall that we’ll see his inks again with Simonson in Thor Annual #7.  Chan’s inks are sure and clear, as usual, and he does a nice job of letting Simonson’s pencils show thru, whether in big spots like the two-page spread (p 2-3), or a smaller (but by no means quieter) moment like KRAKA-BOOM (p 10, last pnl) and WHOOM! WHOOM! (p 16, last pnl).  If I have any reservation about Chan’s finishes, it’s in the softer look to our Asgardians’ faces, which sometimes appear a bit too weak.  The look we want for Thor can be seen on p 6, lst pnl; in spots like p 30 1st pnl, the thunder god could easily pass for a surfer.  Not a major problem; overall, the action comes thru beautifully in the visuals, and I hope (fingers crossed) we see Chan’s inks again while Simonson is here.  

Matthew: Admittedly, this one-off by inker Ernie allows Walt’s pencils to assert themselves a bit more, yet I find myself curiously unmoved by what is obviously supposed to be breathtaking spectacle, most notably the double-spread on pages 2-3; not sure if I can verbalize it but there’s a kind of sterility to it that fails to attain the grandeur of a Buscema or a Silver-Age Kirby.  Wein’s whole “wall around the world”/Doomsday Star storyline leaves me fairly cold as well, seeming more than a little random, and those twerpy little guys inside their big battle armor promise to be rather annoying.  Don’t know why they even bothered to conceal the mastermind’s face when his green-and-yellow costume instantly identifies him, so overall, this one simply didn’t do it for me.

The Tomb of Dracula 58
"Undead by Daylight!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

A friend from Blade's past desperately needs the vampire hunter's help when his wife is attacked by a vampire. The woman becomes a blood-sucker during day and herself at night, which tips Rachel Van Helsing off: the vampire has linked himself "both psychically and symbiotically" with his victim; in effect, the creature is living two lives and draining double his usual quota of blood. With the help of Quincy Harker, Blade is able to track the vampire to its lair, free his friend's wife, and destroy the menace.
-Peter Enfantino

Mark Barsotti: This may be a first, an issue of Tomb of Dracula in which our titular terror is all but absent, flashing by briefly for one panel, p.17, as Blade recaps recent adventures for his old comrade, Musenda. In a clever twist of tropes, Musenda's wife is normal at night but becomes a blood-sucker by day, thanks to being in thrall to the fanger Blade and his buddy - with a bat-tracking techno assist by Harker's crew - ferret out and turn to Dust-Buster fodder for a rare happy ending.

Artists Colan and Palmer are in their expected graveyard groove, and Blade's a strong enough character to usurp Vlad's spotlight without the eye-rolling engendered by, say, a similar turn by Harold H. Harold. But with Marv Wolfman sidelining our hemoglobin-hungry star for the second consecutive issue, you have to wonder if Wolfie is (was) at sea over what's next for our newly minted family-guy Count, with loving wife (who nonetheless keeps mum about murder plots), and decidedly odd bouncing baby boy.

Chris: I’m sure that most ToD fans wouldn’t object in the slightest if there were a Blade-spotlight issue once a year.  Blade’s a refreshing change from Harker & Co, since Harker relies on planning, while Blade is a man of action – even if, at times, his actions require plans to change as he goes (as evidenced here by Blade’s unintended stabbing of Lorraine, p 23).  

We also see a bit more of Blade’s woman, Safron, who comes off as put-upon by Blade’s bloodsucker-busting.  Blade mentions that he’s had no gainful employment, since he’s been up to his elbows in vampire carcasses for ages now; so, does that mean that Safron supports him?  If that’s the case, and if his running out (at inopportune times) to hunt night-stalkers is a problem, then why is she still paying the bills?  As long as Marv intended to provide us with a glimpse into Blade’s private life (although, we still don’t know his given name), he could’ve shed a beam or two of light on (admittedly minor) character details like these.

Logan's Run 7
"Catherdral Prime!"
Story by John Warner
Art by Tom Sutton and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Al Milgrom

Logan is floating along the anti-gravity beam, deeper into the computer core where he discovers one terminal destroyed while all the others are still in pristine condition. Just as he discovers evidence of another dome beyond Cathedral, the automated laser defense system fires. Logan dodges and moves away and back toward the city. Above, the displaced citizens turn to the Sandmen for their protection and guidance when the Cubs (led by Billy) attack. The Cubs, high on Muscle, quickly overcome the Sandmen and any of the citizens who try to join the fray. Billy takes a Sandman hostage and forces him to lead the way to the food stores. Once there, to everyone’s horror, there is no food. Computer provided everything before, but now, there’s no Computer. Billy flies into a rage, but when he and the other Cubs see the old man, they stop, dumbstruck at the sight of old age. The Sandmen use this to their advantage and attack. Billy takes Jessica as hostage and they run off.

Logan returns and is told of Jessica’s capture. He demands they mount a rescue, but Priest-7 rejects Logan, referring to him as “citizen” while announcing the Sandmen will rescue Jessica without his help. Logan decides to take matters into his own hands and enters Sandman HQ. There he gets a new uniform and his old DS gun, one that was retired from service years earlier due to it being too violent a way of dispatching runners. In a back room, Priest is contacted by a disembodied voice, promising to give him power to rule the city in exchange for killing Logan, who he says is a threat to them all.

Finding the Cubs, Logan challenges Billy to a fight for Jessica’s freedom. The battle initially goes in Billy’s favor, but Logan’s training pays off and he wins. Just as he reunites with Jessica, the Sandmen raid the area. Logan and Jessica flee deeper into Cathedral with a smiling Priest knowing they won’t get far, especially since Logan has dropped his weapon… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: Apparently, the cancellation of this title was something of a surprise. It is not mentioned anywhere in the issue, neither on the cover nor in the letter column. As far as all were concerned, this story was just gathering steam. Sadly, we would never learn what Logan discovered and how the citizens would manage to cope with their new lives. A potent premise would remain untapped. The two issues after the film adaptation were not particularly strong, to be honest. The writing and art teams had changed and not really for the better. John Warner does what he can, but Tom Sutton was not the best artist. Terry Austin’s clean inks last issue were replaced by the returning Klaus Janson. However, unlike the first five issues, where his normally heavy hand was somewhat lighter than usual, here he returns to his murky smears. The inking is quite below par yet overwhelms Sutton’s weak pencil work. All in all, a sad end to what was a really great comic. Of course, it’s impossible to know if this would have been a particularly good title away from the film, but for most of Logan’s Run, it was a fun, gripping ride. Now, another sci-fi saga would take the spotlight.

Red Sonja 4 
“The Lake of the Unknown”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne 
Cover by Frank Thorne

Red Sonja and Mikal stride out of Athos and come across a bubbling lake. Suddenly, hooded figures emerge, grotesque combinations of chickens, reptiles, monkeys and other animals. Two lions meet the creatures at the shore and lead them to the city’s gates. They enter Athos and file into a large auditorium called the Theatre of Monsters — fascinated, the She-Devil and her companion follow. Inside, the raucous Athosian audience cheers as the strange beings fill the stage, now wearing odd theatrical costumes. They begin to perform violent acts, slashing at one another with swords, as the drunk and bloated crowd cries for more. One of the deformed actors calls for Sonja to join them on stage: mesmerized by the monsters and curious how they came to be, she agrees only to be attacked by a frog-faced freak. Suddenly, the simian-like Cyphax orders his brethren to stand down. Agreeing to satisfy the Hyrkanian’s curiosity, he takes her and Mikal to their home under the lake, a gleaming crystal city called Chimu. Cyphax reveals that he and his people are actually aliens from a dying planet: they escaped and their ship crash-landed on Earth. Unable to breathe the atmosphere, they inhabited the bodies of various forest and water animals. Using their now superior intelligence, the hosts built Chimu. Over time, the animals bred with one another, producing the cross-species horrors that now exist — many of which feed on blood. Overcome by hunger, Cyphax’s brother Thatim mortally wounds his sibling. Driven into a frenzy, the other misshapen monsters begin to attack. Sonja tosses the ape-alien over her shoulders and she and Mikal race back to the strange staircase that leads back to the surface. Dying, Cyphax gives Red Sonja the golden ring that parts the waters above and pleads with the woman to rescue their leader who is now imprisoned in the Singing Tower — he expires and Sonja and Mikal make their escape. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Yes, you read that correctly. This issue is about aliens that came to our planet during the Hyborian age, took over the bodies of animals, built a jeweled city under a lake and then had sex with one another until they all became mix-matched monsters. As strange as it all sounds, it somehow works. Frank Throne must get the credit as his ultra-stylized art transforms the oddball story into what feels like a drug-fueled dream. He lets his imagination run wild when illustrating the alien animals, creating creepy chicken-frogs, macabre monkey-goats, loathsome lizard-birds, and other bizarre beings. Cyphax is obviously a sympathetic character but it’s hard to feel sorry for the others of his race since they are so violent and blood-thirsty. I have no idea what’s up with the two lions at the beginning or why the Athosians would let such dangerous creatures into the city to perform their peculiar plays. And I’m not sure why Roy and Clara Noto introduced Mikal into Red Sonja’s world. He doesn’t add much and I don’t get the feeling that he’s hanging around to score some She-Devil love so not sure what he is up to. This is one wacky issue and it looks like the storyline will continue. 

Master of Kung Fu 54
"The Story of War-Yore"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and John Tartaglione
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Jim Starlin

Shang-Chi and his comrades are adjusting to life post-British Intelligence.  Reston is on his way to Tarr’s hotel, when an explosion knocks him back from his front door.  A man clad in green, who calls himself Robin of Locksley, swings in and promises Reston’s death; with incendiary arrows and an electrified sword, he nearly delivers on his pledge.  Reston chases the assailant away from his apartment, but loses him in Hyde Park.  Reston meets Tarr, and proposes that a former enemy, possibly involved with an unsolved case, could have all of them in his sights.  Shang-Chi and Leiko are arriving at the hospital to visit the wounded Miss Greville, when they happen to pass Sir Denis on his way out; he pointedly ignores Leiko’s call to him.  As they turn back to the hospital door, S-C and Leiko see a dagger as it hits the wood; its handle then emits smoky gas.  S-C and Leiko quickly turn away, and find themselves face-to-face with a man claiming to be Attila the Hun.  S-C engages the supposed Mongol chieftain, only to find that his mace is covered with glass studs, which emit acid!  Leiko ducks a blow from the mace, but is knocked out by gas released from another broken stud.  Meanwhile, in a safe house, polite (but somewhat anxious) men in well-tailored suits discuss a man named Eric Slaughter, a student of warriors and the “art of strife,” who had been subjected to conditioning to train him to become “the perfect optimum-danger operative.”  The end result, though, is an unbalanced agent who adopts historical personages, and augments these figures with advanced weaponry, now going by the code name “War-Yore.”  The suit-men express concerns that he could be a loose cannon, and might take actions that could blow up in the faces of his handlers.  The rejoinder is that an unstable person like Slaughter could easily be disavowed; therefore, there should be little chance that his assignment – to eliminate four former British agents – could be traced back to the agency.  S-C’s battle with Attila ends after S-C pulls a citizen out of harm’s way; they both fall in the Thames, and once S-C is out of the water, both Attila – and Leiko – are gone.  -Chris Blake

Chris:  No such thing as a retirement plan in the old MI6, eh?  Well, if anything, Doug proves he knows a thing or two about the genre, where the "He knows too much" policy has brought many a fine old partnership to a sad end; the grand old game plays by its own rules, after all.  The one aspect that's a little hard to accept, though, is that Sir Denis might employ someone like War-Yore to see the job through.  I wouldn't be the least surprised to hear that SD is a history buff, but I'm not willing to accept that his preference would be to hire historically-themed operatives (assuming, of course, that SD is involved – he does not appear in the room where W-Y’s mission is being discussed).  The other issue with W-Y is that, frankly, he's more than a bit of a comedown from Shaka Kharn, a nearly-invincible ancestral warrior, revived in an elaborate ceremony; W-Y, by comparison, is little more than a punny-named collection of costumes. 

We've already talked about how Jim Craig, even on his best day, isn't going to make anyone forget about Paul Gulacy.  The effort certainly is there, particularly in moments like p 10, p 27, and p 30, as we see creative use of panels in the storytelling.  The problem this time is due in part to veteran John Tartaglione's inks; without Pablo Marcos available to cinch things up snugly, we're left with results that are further short of the look we'd seen in Craig's previous outing (MoKF #51).  Luminous Leiko in particular is a shadow of her former self; not only are we missing Gulacy's jaw-dropping presentation of the character, but her appearance this time is notably different, as if a dark-haired California girl had been cast instead in the role.  Well, it's their first pairing on this title, so we'll see if the results smooth out in issues to come. 

Mark: "A startling new direction..." promises the cover, but when Clive Reston survives a close range bomb on p.3 with nary a scratch we know that - if nothing else - the baddies still get their ordnance from Acme's Harmless Munitions. Shang-Chi listens to Fleetwood Mac then gets frisky with Leiko. Yeah, that's new, but pajama boy ain't getting nowhere near the turntable.

Sir Denis snubs SC and Leiko outside hospital, where our couple was visiting the wounded (and unseen) Miss Greville. Clive and Black Jack team-up to bend the elbow. Any "new direction" comes courtesy the bad guys; 'twas the self-described "Robin of Locksley" (a.k.a. Robin Hood) who Wiley-Coyoted Clive back on p.3., then lost the pursuing Reston in a gaggle of mimes for an unexpected LOL moment. Shang is later attacked by an ersatz Attila, another version of the historically-inclined Eric Slaughter, who "schizo-phrenically" adopts the guises of "days of yore" warriors, as awkwardly explained late in the tale by generic, bureaucratic baddies in suits.      

Artist Jim Craig returns (inked by John Tartag), doing his best to ape Gulacy, with results varying from excellent to awful.

So, class, to sum up: I'm neither startled, nor fully on-board with this slightly better than average offering. But nor am I ready to jump ship from a title that's well-past any nostalgic hold on me from yesteryear.  

Also This Month

Crazy #27
Marvel's Greatest Comics #71
Marvel Classics Comics #19
Marvel Super-Heroes #65
Marvel Super Action #2
Marvel Tales #81
Marvel Triple Action #36
< Rawhide Kid #140
Sgt Fury #141
Spidey Super Stories #24


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 20
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Slithering Shadow”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Sing a Song of Sonjas”
“Solomon Kane’s Homecoming”
Verse by Robert E. Howard
Art by Virgilio Redondo and Rudy Nebres 
“Swords and Scrolls”

We are in full monthly mode at this point, which will last until January 1978. You would figure that Roy Thomas would give the over-worked John Buscema a break and start using shorter Conan stories and beef up the rest of the magazine with related pieces by other artists. But that’s not the case here. “The Slithering Shadow,” a Robert E. Howard Conan tale that originally appeared in the September 1933 issue of Weird Tales magazine, clocks in at an impressive 46 pages. It’s presented here as something from a feverish nightmare.

The sole survivors of Prince Almuric’s rebel army, slaughtered by the combined forces of Stygian and Kushite legions, Conan and the slavegirl Natala find themselves in a sweltering desert, waterless and near death. However, the Cimmerian is relieved to finally spot a shining jade city in the distance.

No one answers when the barbarian bangs on the front gates so they enter through a smaller, unlocked door. They soon come across the body of a seemingly lifeless man — when they pass by, he surprisingly springs to life and lunges at Conan. The weary warrior runs his wild-eyed attacker through with his broadsword. The two wanderers continue on and enter a well-appointed home, filled with luxurious furniture and rich decorations as well as a dinner table overflowing with meats and wine. Conan and Natala fill their bellies, the odd surroundings making the woman increasingly nervous.

When the Cimmerian hears a faint rustling he investigates, finding another unmoving man lying on a dais in an adjourning room. Suddenly, a huge shadow spreads over the prone form and it disappears. From behind, a blank-eyed man enters the room. Entranced by Natala’s beauty, he reaches out and strokes her blonde hair. Conan pushes him away and the stranger snaps out of his stupor. He flees, screaming about something called Thog.

Moments later, a dusky Stygian enchantress named Thalis appears. She lounges seductively on satin cushions and tells Conan and his comely companion that they are in the city of Xuthal — it is actually one huge palace. It was built on top of an oasis of black lotus flowers that the denizens use to induce fantastic and erotic dreams, spending most of their lives in deep sleep. The dark and seductive woman also informs Conan that a demon named Thog lives below the curious city, emerging to feed on the citizens from time to time. When done with her story, Thalis demands that Conan kill Natala and become her lover and, ultimately, the king of Xuthal. When the Cimmerian refuses, the Stygian manages to escape with a struggling Natala through a hidden stone door.

As Conan pounds on the other side of the wall, Thalis chains Natala, cackling that she will soon become a bride of Thog. But when the hideous monster appears — a sickening mix of chameleon, slug and hellish deformities — it devours the Stygian first before running its slimy tentacles over Natala’s shivering skin. Meanwhile, the barbarian is attacked by a horde of Xuthalians, wide awake and armed with swords. Conan wades into the crazed citizens, lopping hands and heads. But when their numbers become too much, he retreats to another room only to fall through a trap door.

The barbarian lands mere feet away from Thog and the terrified Natala. Conan launches himself at the shambling monstrosity, the hellspawn’s poisonous blood burning his face and body after every furious blade stroke. While gravely wounded, the Cimmerian manages to force the demon into a stone pit — it disappears into the black abyss below. Completely exhausted, Conan frees Natala and they stumble away. Soon, they come across a fountain and the slavegirl washes his battered body. Natala finds a jar of golden liquid: her savior is totally rejuvenated after drinking the strange elixir. Conan and Natala find their way out of the city, leaving Xuthal’s dark dreams behind.

While such luminaries as Fritz Leiber consider “The Slithering Shadow” one of Howard’s worst stories, Roy, Big John and Alfredo transform it into a dramatic and druggy fantasy. There’s lots of ominous exposition — mainly on Thalis’ part — and Thog is a horrifying vision. I can’t remember seeing Conan injured so badly: after the battle with the beast, one eye is completely closed, his mouth is frighteningly swollen and his body covered by pulsating welts. The art is as superb as I’ve come to expect from the Buscema/Alcala team. A bit disappointed that Sonny Trinidad will handle the next two issues but, thankfully, Alfredo will return with #23 in October. After last issue’s drab Kenneth Morris effort, the late, great Earl Norem delivers an outstanding cover that perfectly reflects the pages within.

There are also two rather brief support pieces. “Sing a Song of Sonjas” offers a few photos from the 1976 San Diego Comicom, showcasing two lovely ladies who dressed up as Red Sonja. There’s a fun shot of a confused-looking Howard Chaykin looking up at one of the barely-dressed beauties — you can almost see the cloud of pot floating around his head. “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” is a 7-page illustrated poem about the Puritan swordsman, written by Howard himself and illustrated by Virgilio Redondo and Rudy Nebres. It basically recounts a few of his adventures. Poetry gives me a bit of a headache so hopefully Professor Gilbert will flesh things out a bit more in his inimitable style.
-Tom Flynn

Like Poe and Lovecraft and probably plenty of others, Robert E. Howard thought himself as much a poet as a writer of weird fiction, perhaps more so.  That considered, it is hardly a coincidence that the prose of poets has a literary quality meriting its own term, “prose poetry.”  

“Cimmeria,” a posthumously-published REH poem taking its title from Conan’s homeland, ambiguously or roundaboutly suggests Howard’s most famous barbarian character, with Barry Windsor-Smith’s artwork deepening this connection.  Marvel’s adaptation first appeared in Savage Tales #2, then was reprinted in Savage Sword of Conan #24, retaining “Barry Smith’s beautiful rendering” but “newly embellished by the artistry of Tim Conrad.”  “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming,” however – “REH’s immortal poem of the last known days of the Puritan swashbuckler,” first published in Fanciful Tales of Time and Space (Fall 1936) – explicitly cites Kane as the poem’s subject matter in title and text.  

Like an old gunslinger who blows into town to hang up his Stetson and six-shooter – or slouch hat and “Spanish blade” in this case – Solomon Kane takes his seat in a saloon, ready to settle down in his native Devon after long years of wandering.  

But nothing can silence in him the siren song of the sea and adventure, not even the grave of his presumed inamorata, Bessie.  M. J. Elliot, writing in the introduction of the Wordsworth Editions issue of The Right Hand of Doom & Other Tales of Solomon Kane, speculates “that his departure from England caused grief to a loved one named Bess, and he later feels regret for his actions.”  Whether Bess be wife or betrothed is unknown.  
No sooner than he has taken his seat, he is seized by the old wanderlust.  “The howling of the ocean pack came whistling down the gale, / And Solomon Kane threw up his head like a hound that snuffs a trail.”  He only just about finishes his draught when he rises from his tavern bench and is gone like “a-down...wind.”  

In the essay “The Trail of Solomon Kane: An Informal Biography” (Kull and the Barbarians #3), Fred Blosser relates that “Kane was born in Devonshire on the rugged west coast of England—the home also of other Elizabethan soldiers-of-fortune such as Sir Francis Drake and Sir Richard Grenville with whom Solomon would associate in later years.”  He guesses that Kane “may have been born around 1530.”  

Blosser’s biography chronologically places this poem in A.D. 1610, calling Kane “a very old man,” but there are two problems with that dating.  For one, 1610 seems to assume, as many apparently have, that when Howard says Bess “[i]n the quiet churchyard…has slept these seven years,” he means Queen Elizabeth I who died in 1603.  The erroneousness of this presupposition has been pointed out many times over, not the least by Kane himself who states, in “Hawk of Basti,” that “good Queen Bess” and her Tudor sister “Bloody Mary” together “harried my people [i.e., the Puritans] like beasts of prey [and] lied to and betrayed the folk of my faith.”  It is therefore beyond doubtful Kane would ever be the lover of the Virgin Queen, or shed tears for her.  

Another reason 1610 would not make sense in this case is that as illustrated here, Kane is far from 80 years of age, even though a variant manuscript of “Solomon Kane’s Homecoming” (published in Del Rey’s The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, along with the Fanciful Tales draft) has the Puritan specifically ask at the tavern, “Was it so long ago...sat Richard Grenville there?”  (The historical Grenville, who makes an appearance in REH’s poem “The Return of Sir Richard Grenville,” was hanged in 1591.)  

Thomas finds evocative images to fit Howard’s verse, and while Kane’s garb is period perfect, his visage bears none of the grimness of REH’s descriptive passages.  In its place is a hero face too conventionally drawn – Snoopy as a pilgrim from A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving would have been more memorable.  

Savage Sword of Conan #24’s “Sword and Scrolls” letters department describes “the art [as] far too heavily influenced by Rudy Nebres, but didn’t seem too bad altogether.”  There is no faulting, though, the dynamic storyboarding – the procession of remembered exploits and the elemental pull of future ones – that captures the restless sweep of the poem.  “Homecoming,” along with just about every Solomon Kane adaptation and story from Marvel, has recently been republished by Dark Horse.  

As Blosser concludes, Kane “‘put the people by and went into the night,’ headed for further adventure, his end never to be recorded.”  The gunslinger has ridden – or sailed – into the sunset once and for all, his crusade against evil never-ending.  
—Professor Gilbert


  1. Star Wars. The comic that saved Marvel. If you consider how good a lot of the series were it is a bit baffling that sales were that bad. Later I became a big fan of Chaykin, but at this time I would never have bought a comic because of him.

    As an inker Nebres truly buried the work of the pencillers. you can see this with a lot of pencilers. Palmer, Chan, Alcalla, Janson. But he did Kane no favours.

  2. The prodigal Prof here, popping in to ask where the Landmark issue banner is for Star Wars? :) For anyone interested in the history of Marvel's Star Wars comics, you'll want to read Charley Lippincott's write-ups on the topic here:

  3. Lemme guess: one of those Sonjas turns out to be Wendy Pini, later of Elfquest fame?
    I ran across this while enjoying The Outer Limits for the first time with my father-in-law. I do hope Blogspot will process my request eventually to see your pre-2016 entries, as I wonder what you thought of Steve Gerber's Defenders & Man-Thing runs.
    Ciao, Professore!
    C Lue

    1. You should be able to access previous posts through the Blog Archive sidebar on the right - all the way to this blog's humble beginnings back in 2011. :)