Wednesday, February 17, 2016

October 1977 Part One: Molten Man + Molecule Man = Merry Marvel Madness!

George Perez & Dave Cockrum
 Fantastic Four 187
"Trouble Times Two!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen

Our happy heroes fly back to Manhattan from Witch Mountain, having rescued Franklin and Agatha Harkness. After piloting the Pogo, Ben's ready to relax with some Celebrity Wrestling, but instead finds the unconscious Impy, tossed head first through the color TV. Fearing the assailants might still be lurking about the Bax, the Torch takes flight for an exterior windows check. Ben lumbers off on his own search and soon encounters "Klaw - the murderous master of sound!" After an obligatory exchange of insults, rumble ensues. They're even on points until the Molecule Man butts in - not even tagging off - and turns Benjamin J. into glass!

Meanwhile, no-longer-rubbery, woe-is-me Reed has an epiphany when the ever-perceptive Agatha suggests that one of the smartest men on Earth start using his brain.

With the out-cold and now breakable Ben floating nearby, Klaw and Mol Man enthuse over Reed's latest Psi-Amplifier (a previous version had the Thing and Hulk swapping brains, back in Giant-Sized Super-Stars #1), and after the dastardly duo take down, in turn, Johnny, Sue, and Reed, we learn why.

In an efficient 1.5 pages, Len recounts Klaw's return from alien exile (Ka-Zar #20) and splash down in the Everglades, where he watched Man-Thing ooze by and soon discard a "glowing crimson wand," containing Molly's imprisoned persona, (Iron Man Annual #3), since downloaded into a punch drunk boxer. Reed's Psi-Amp will make this body-snatching permanent, and "at that moment, the Molecule Man shall be unbeatable!"

Maybe so, but they didn't account for Impy, who's finally given something to do and earns his keep, going sonic monstero a monstero with Klaw, to efficacious effect. Mol Man - happy that his pard's losing battle allowed him time to finish rigging the Psi-Amp - flips the switch, but Reed snips the wires and cuts the current, thus separating Molly from the anonymous pugilist. And that seems to wrap things up except...

...Reed grabs the magic wand, instantly host once again to disembodied MM, whose unexpected mental assault overwhelms Stretch. Rising in his new host body, Molly crows that once again he "reigns supreme!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: Upperclassmen may be aware that the FF was my fave comic as a kid (with Spidey a thin web-strand behind), and even with that epic Kirby-Lee era now well in the rearview, each new issue somehow brings a boyish tingle of anticipation, even though it's mostly sputtered out quickly of late.

Thus, I'm happy to trumpet "Trouble Times Two!" as the best installment since Roy bugged out. Even George and Joe up their game here, which given their lofty, Wilt-the-Stilt standards, is saying something. There's no jaw-dropping, King-like wonders but Sue's strong and gorgeous, Ben dense and cobbly, its all yum-yum eye candy from start to finish.

That's expected. The upgrade here is Len's strong effort. It's a rat-ta-tat actioner, seasoned with a pinch of dysfunctional FF turmoil (Reed moping over his "nursemaid" status, sans stretching powers), that teams-up old time FF villains with rare brevity and panache, puts Impy to fun and effective use for the first time in ages, and boasts a cliffhanger twist that manages to seem both surprising and inevitable.

It so good, in fact, that one fears it may be a one-off.
Still, kudos to Len for this one.  

And I'm already getting a next ish tingle.

Matthew Bradley: Okay, they got me—when I saw green legs and Reed’s shocked reaction on the cover, knowing that Impy had been left alone and disgruntled in the Baxter Building, I thought he’d been duped or otherwise maneuvered into being Klaw’s new partner.  And that last-page reveal of Mr. Molecule Man-tastic not only was a shocker, but also epitomized the gorgeous Pérez/Sinnott art gracing this issue.  Overall, Wein’s script is a bit of an improvement over the New Salem wind-up, making his FF tenure, at this early stage, consistent with what he’s been doing in his other tentpole titles over the last couple of years:  decidedly uneven but generally solid, rarely brilliant but rarely terrible, and thus less distinctive than the work of others. Chris Blake: Reed's had a rough time of things lately, hasn't he? Bad enough to lose his stretching powers, and to have his son briefly abducted by a witches' coven, but he was also stranded in the Neg Zone for awhile (without even the comfort of a form-fitting uniform!), where he was forced to capture and eat bat-like creatures, and make small talk with Annihilus.  And now, possessed by the Molecule Man -?  Whatta revoltin' development. 

Len has wisely held Impy in check, typically limiting his exposure to a page or two most of the time.  Len's restraint pays off, so that when Impy arrives to turn the tide, we all can have some fun with our resident Poppupian’s special brand of lunacy.  It's a great contrast as Impy finds enjoyment in the conflict (naturally), while Klaw and Molecule Man remain deadly serious

To turn back a few pages, Impy's first appearance (p 3) is quite amusing.  I realize it probably isn't meant to be funny, as we see furniture tossed around and Impy slumped against a broken TV (Ben comments on how it's one of his better sets).   If we view the scene from Ben’s perspective (the illustration allows us to peruse the room, just past his right shoulder), it'd be easy to conclude that the disarray might've been due to Impy having some sort of tirade, for some reason -- he might've been angered once the show he was watching had come to an end -- and thrashing around the room (possibly screaming "It's not fair! It's NOT FAIR!") until he managed to lose his footing and knock himself out by striking the glass of the CR tube. That would be my first impression, if I were to come home and find the room trashed; Ben’s likely to employ Impy-chaos theory to explain the mess, and my thought of that ridiculous scene could only be funny. 

Art highlights: Pérez astutely reminds us that Reed’s arm extenders were wrecked last issue, since his sleeves still are shredded (p 2, pnl 4); the villains triumphant, over a crystal Thing (p 11 – it doesn’t make sense at the end that Ben would automatically revert to his usual form, once the Molecule Man is defeated, right?  No, I didn’t think so, either); Impy whomps out (p 23, pnl 3), and his simple pleasure once he’s built a new toy for himself, a soni-claw (p 26, last pnl).  The last page is pretty eye-catching as well, as we run to circle the date on the calendar that is exactly thirty days from right now -!

Ross Andru & John Romita
The Amazing Spider-Man 173
"If You Can't Stand the Heat...!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza

Confronted by a pair of security guards, Spider-Man is grazed by a shot in the shoulder and gets away from the private cops and a pair of hero doctors. At Fenster Pharmaceutical on the other side of town, Molten Man, whose powers are more out of control than ever, gets a lab tech to inject him with the antidote, and it works…for about one minute! Cut to Liz Allen/Allan/Alain/Alan-A-Dale, whom Harry bails out of prison, but the police come to get her, as Mark Raxton (aka Molty) is threatening to destroy the Fenster Labs unless he speaks to Liz. At his pad, Peter bemoans his painful shoulder, which Curt Connors patched up, then reads his mail, including a notice from ESU that he won't graduate due to failing grades, then gets a call from Robbie about taking photos of Molten Man (all this in one page!). At the Labs, Liz goes in to talk with her stepbrother Mark/Molty, and Peter slips off to change into Spidey and get in through the AC vents, webbing his hands for protection from Molten Man's incredible heat. A tank of liquid oxygen explodes, knocking out Liz momentarily and further hurting Spidey's shoulder. As the building starts to crumble, an increasingly hot-under-the-collar Molty, who merely does not want to die alone at this point, sees Spidey save Liz, then the building blows up under him, leaving stepsister Liz running away from fiancée Harry, racked with guilt. --Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Alas, poor Molten Man! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite anger, of most radiant heat. Raxton/Molty cuts quite the tragic figure this time around, ending in another "death" that seems sorta final this time. But then again… It's easy to figure out Ross draws him the best. There's something about his angular figures, paired with those endless swirls of radiating skin that are simply classic. Liz might be even more tragic, finally getting some normalcy to her life with Harry (well, he's not exactly normal though) and it looks like her stepbrother will bring it all tumbling down. Spidey is nearly a second banana in his own title, which is OK because all stars take a backseat now and again to help the story. This shoulder thing might be tricky, especially after it gets a huge boulder thrown into it. Ouch! All in all, good stuff, with Mooney adding deeper inks and Len providing a soap opera's worth of emotion with the script.

Favorite sound effect this time, in a book that has some unusually loud Spidey-in-agony sounds, is the unique "VWHOOM!" on page 31, when the Lab explodes with a defiant, pleading Molty on top, and a stunned Harry tries to comfort his love, only to see her run off. Some powerful stuff, that, and we're left to see if their relationship will flame out.

Mark: As I was AWOL last month, class, let me get on the record long enough to ask, who lost a bet and/or ingested too much of what substance to green-light Rocket Racer? The missile-firing skateboarder, thankfully, disappeared after the opening few pages and there are two ways to look at that: Len's good sense in truncating a bad idea, and/or his dereliction in not excising RR completely.

Here Molty's efforts to save himself and his apparent demise basically re-runs his last appearance, but Len's dancing fast enough to make it work. Raxton being consumed by his own mutating moltenness still strikes a tragic chord, amplified, as before, by the involvement of his step sister, Liz Allan.

While Ross Andru's melty MM doesn't approach Steve Ditko's, it still works in its own right. Lots of squiggles. There's odd, fun bits like Spidey battling doctors in a hospital corridor, and Harry's starting to look a little Gobliny around the gills, as Liz and Peter, busy webbing away, leave him alone and distraught on a dark New York street, on the closing page.

Matthew: Have we hit a new low when a major character’s name is misspelled on the cover?  A woebegone air pervades this issue, compelling me to nitpick, although I have no major problems with the art; Jim’s presence is felt, but he seems well suited to Ross, whom he inked way back in #126.  Peter thinks, “He coerced her into committing the crime—but how can anyone get him to admit it?,” and Raxton’s very next words are, “Liz?  Y-you’ve come?  Then you forgive me for forcing you to rob your own hospital?”  My, that was lucky.  Last time they met, his touch burned Spidey, who can feel the heat from the next room here, yet doesn’t think to spin those “fire-proof web-gloves” until after the obligatory “Owwww!!”  Come on, now, Len…

Chris: Liz’s determination to help Mark, despite the trouble he caused her, certainly is admirable, and speaks well for her character; the flipside, of course, is that she’s become so overinvested in the Molten Man’s welfare that she somehow feels responsible for his apparent demise (as seen on p 31).  In a tinier title, scripted by a skimpier scribe, Liz and Harry would’ve shared a simple sigh of relief and gone off for a milkshake; give me the Marvel age of character complexity any day.

It’s another issue when Spidey’s trials help to keep it interesting.  I nearly always grin when Spidey goes for the web shooters, and get nothing but a “PFFT!” – it never comes at a good time, does it Spidey?  Len piles a bit more onto our hero this time, though, as a flesh wound to the shoulder isn’t simply shrugged off (so to speak …).  Len reminds us throughout the issue how Spidey’s having increasing difficulty with the pain in the joint, which naturally helps to add a little more tension to the battle.  On p 27, I was curious to see how Spidey expected to jump off the burning building and shoot a web with his bad arm – and then swing with that arm – while carrying Liz with his good arm; instead, he sort of switches her to his back and slides down to a secure spot, where he can lower her on a web with his uninjured arm (p 30).  Well done, wall-crawler!  

Mooney fills in for Espo on the inks this time, and the results are fine.  I especially enjoy the depictions of the Molten Man, as he appears to be dripping greasy fire; p6 last pnl is the best example.  Pass the asbestos gloves!

I’m pleased to report that some nut wrote in, stating he is “The GREEN GOBLIN,” and that he is about to spring free from “the recesses of Harry Osborn’s mind” and threaten MJ.  The Goblin, apparently, lives on Pumpkin Place in Snuff Gwen City NJ.  Oh wait – do you think the Goblin himself really wrote and mailed that letter -?!  Yikes !!

George Perez & John Tartaglione
The Avengers 164
"To Fall by Treachery!"
Story by Jim Shooter and John Byrne
Art by John Byrne and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl

A rare quiet day at the Avengers Mansion allows Tony Stark to study Wonder Man in an effort to discover how the hero "rose from the dead." Stark and his assistant deduce that WM's cells "are like miniature fusion reactors more than living tissue." Though he constantly tries to get a well-educated word in edge-wise, Beast is pretty much ignored and he leaves to pout. On the street, however, his well-known visage and form attract well-wishers and groupies and his spirits are lifted a bit... at least for now. Meanwhile, across town, Erik Josten (aka "The Other Power Man") is working a construction site when he is approached by Count Nefaria, who has an offer the grunt can't refuse: help Nefaria with a little errand and, in turn, the Count will maximize Josten's power. The errand turns out to be a heist and Josten isn't alone; the same promise had gone out to two other sixth-tier villains: Whirlwind and the Living Laser. Before the loot can be hauled away, several members of the Avengers arrive and a Battle Royale ensues. When the evil trio at last realize they're over-matched, the Laser sets the street aflame and the baddies turn tail and run. The next day, while the Avengers are having a meeting at the Mansion, the three super-villains spring a surprise attack but, halfway through the battle, their super-villainous powers vanish and the Avengers easily defeat them. While our team discuss the baffling turn of events, the street around them opens up and out pops Count Nefaria. -Peter Enfantino

Chris: I’ve been saving this one; not because it's such a stand-out on its own, but because it’s the first chapter of one of the greatest knocking-down, dragging-out battles in Bronze-era Avengers history.  The scrap here with the could-be Lethal Legion (since they only call themselves that name on the cover, not within the pages of the story itself) is merely a warm-up to the building-toppling action (literally!) to come.

Now, since this is Bronze-era Avengers at its best, the appeal isn’t limited to mindless violence.  We also get: insight into Simon Williams’ return as he likely was “dormant” (well put, Tony Stark!) during the time he was thought to be dead; an ego-boost for the am-I-blue Beast; a well-meaning attempt at heroics by the Whizzer (at least he didn’t KO any Avengers this time!); paralyzing self-doubt for Wonder Man (characterization!); wife-defending heroics by the souped-up Yellowjacket; and lastly, a big screw by Nefaria, as his accomplices (not partners! No, sir -!) wind down and fall apart, making a surprising turn in the battle, prior to the earth-shaking reveal of a high-test Nefaria.  Plenty of good stuff!

Speaking of which, if we can’t get Pérez to continue on the pencils (what’s that?  You mean, the Pacesetter can’t manage pencils for both the Avengers and the Fantastic Four each and every month -?), whom else should we call – well, how about John Byrne?  Yes, how about John Byrne!  Gone for good are the days of Heck inks over Brown pencils, and Colletta inks with Tuska pencils.  Byrne sits right down and turns out a highlight-stuffed first effort on this title, highlighted by: the Beast reaching in thru the window, to grab a hat and coat (p 3, 1st pnl); our first glimpse of Nefaria, as we spy a monocled eye in the rear-view mirror, and an “N” ring on his finger (p 6, 1st pnl); Cap’s commanding pose (p 11, 2nd pnl); a whirlwinded Panther (p 14); a new twist on a car crash, as Power Man muscles one thru the conference room window (p 22); Wonder Man takes a shot to the solar plexus (p 23, last pnl); Power Man loses his grip (p 30, 1st pnl); and … a personal favorite, Wanda’s pose in the very last panel, as she rests in the rubble on her right hip, and holds her hand before her face, with her back to us, reminds me that – even though I never considered becoming an art major in college – I really should’ve registered for some Live Modeling classes.  Sublime, is she not?  Oh my.

Last point: the letters page for Av #168 credits the inclusion of the “little old man from Vladivostock” to John Byrne; so, that should mean Byrne also should be properly credited for a storyline to play out in the near future, starting with Av #185, right?

Matthew: Per Professor Tom, “Sigh™.”  Shooter must have it in for characters named Hank; I loathe his marginalization of top scientist McCoy and uncharacteristic Thing-style “I’m just a beast” moping.  I don’t buy that after all of the times Cap has fought Power Man since #21—including alongside the Laser in the original Lethal Legion—he wouldn’t recognize Josten’s voice, especially since the color scheme (if not the ugly design, tellingly obscured on the frenetic cover) of his new outfit is so close to the old one.  As much as I love Byrne in general and his X-Men in particular, proving he can handle a team book and then some, I’ve never considered the Assemblers a terribly good match.  And is page 14, panel 2 physically possible...?

Joe: Another excellent issue! Guest penciler Byrne and regular inker Marcos make a fine team, with little details that amp up the fun, including: the "PEREZ" in the background on page 14; an ancient looking Bob Frank (page 10, panel 4) when Wanda rightly tells him to get back on the couch; Cap realizing the team is floundering lately (page 15), the shadows hiding Power Man's head on page 27 (last panel—my favorite one in the book); and basically anything Beast does or says. I think we see the evolution of Beast the Avenger here, and Cap is the one who helps simply by nearly accepting him. He does have another moment of getting pummeled, which is not fun, but has a bunch of one-liners and a nice moment of hanging on to Whirlwind when Panther failed. Well, then Power Man bamboozles him, so there you have it. Still, he's my favorite Avenger right now, and this is continues to be my favorite title of 1977.

John Buscema & Ernie Chan
Conan the Barbarian 79 
“The Lost Valley of Iskander!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Ernie Chan
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza

After the death of his power mad brother Hor-Neb, the peaceful Mer-Ath is now the sole ruler of the Stygian city of Harakht. The placid priest shows Conan a large jewel called the Eye of Set — a duplicate resides in a remote southern hill village called Attalus. To keep the peace, the jewels must be exchanged whenever a new king is crowned in either region. Mer-Ath then offers the barbarian a deal: if he makes the exchange, he and Bêlit will be given safe passage to Luxor, Stygia’s capitol. The new High Priest, Hun-Ya-Di, enters the throne room and demands that he name the courier to carry out the quest. The new king refuses and Conan begins his journey to Attalus. Making his way through high mountains, the Cimmerian is soon ambushed by Hun-Ya-Di and his followers: the priest wants the Stone to establish himself as Harakht’s co-ruler. The warrior slaughters a few of the Stygians at close combat and then fells another with an arrow from a dropped bow. When the man falls, he causes an avalanche that seemingly kills the priest and the rest of his soldiers. As Conan climbs over crumbled boulders and crushed bodies, he discovers a lovely, blond haired woman trapped by a large rock fragment. After he frees her, the thankful maiden says that her name is Bardylis and that she was hunting on the cliffs — Conan, in turn, informs her that he is on a mission for Mer-Ath, the new ruler of Harakht. She guides the Cimmerian to her home in a sprawling valley below, the city of Attalus, carved out of the very stone it sits upon. Bardylis introduces Conan to Ptolemy, the king, telling him that her companion is an emissary of Harakht. The tall, powerful blond monarch proclaims that if the barbarian is lying, he will die a horrible death. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Geez Louise, for the second issue in a row, we have another Dreaded Deadline Doom switcheroo. On The Hyborian Page, Roy Thomas informs the loyal reader that John Buscema is still behind schedule, blaming the artist’s struggles on Tarzan and the English publication Captain Britain. So Roy plucked a 40-page story off the shelf that he originally created with Howard Chaykin for The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian magazine. This replacement will now run until Conan the Barbarian #81 — meaning we'll now have an extra three issue delay of Conan and Bêlit’s quest to rescue her father from Luxor. Grrrrr. To fit “The Lost Valley of Iskander” into the current storyline, Ernie Chan drew a few new pages at the beginning, adding the bit about Mer-Ath offering free passage for the exchange of the Eyes of Set. In my synopsis, I skipped a bit where Bardylis tells Conan that Attalus was founded by a great conqueror named Iskander: he entered the valley through a strange blue mist eons ago, built the city and then marched eastward, leaving some soldiers and women behind. Roy’s captions reveals that Iskander was actually Alexander the Great who somehow journeyed back in time. Umm, OK. There’s not much meat on this initial installment of the three-parter: more than half of the story is given to the battle with Hun-Ya-Di’s men and the avalanche. The art is serviceable, but it’s nearly impossible to recognize Chaykin’s usually discernible style. “The Lost Valley of Iskander” is based on the Robert E. Howard story of the same name, which starred El Borak, the Texan gunfighter from El Paso. It was never published during Howard’s brief life, first seeing the light of day in a 1974 FAX Collector’s Editions hardcover.

Chris: When Bardylis shows up, my first thought is, “She’s some sort of plant, right?”  Our man Conan’s been set up by so many different people over the past few years that Roy’s finally got me flinching at shadows.  I’m partly suspicious of Bardylis because she’s out “hunting,” while wearing, well, wearing not all that much, really.  Not complaining, mind you; I’m simply trying to figure how I might travel thru both space and time so that I could spend a week in Attalus.

Howie Chaykin does a nice job matching the typical look of a Conan story.  He clearly had to tone down his usual style, which at this point could be both weighty and impressionistic; either that, or he kept his work to layouts, and left it for Ernie Chan to finish, so the appearance would be consistent.  This begs a question: when you have a guest artist on an established title, is it better that he continue the title’s look along recognizable lines, or for him to present his own style, and allow for a departure in the art’s presentation?  

Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia

Captain America and the Falcon 214
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Mike Royer

In his hospital room, the still blinded Steve Rogers faces the Night Flyer, who has come to assassinate The Defector. Beside him is the Falcon, who warns Steve to stay out while Falc and a team of SHIELD men subdue the intruder. However, the Flyer lets loose a high voltage shock force that blows them all back. Steve is able to grab the Flyer, who fires his gun close to Steve’s face, stunning him. The Night Flyer leaves, killing guards on his way out. After regaining his senses, the Falcon goes after him, but the Night Flyer is too strong, too brutal. Steve, aching to do something, finds his uniform and slips into it. Having memorized the facility, he makes his way through the corridors, noticing the soft footfalls of a man on his own. It’s a guard who is a spy for the Flyer, rendezvousing with him to take him to the Defector. The Flyer sticks the Falcon into a locked storage room while Captain America hurls his shield, clipping the trooper, leaving the Flyer to deal with. Cap and the Night Flyer grapple as the Falcon tries to break free. In a control room in another part of the complex, SHIELD men see a ship in orbit on their monitor and conclude it belongs to the Flyer, supplying him with power. They shoot it down with missiles. This sends an enormous feedback to the Night Flyer, burning him to a crisp. Just as this happens, Cap’s eyes return to normal. He and the Falcon reflect on a job well done. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: An action-packed, but mostly empty issue concluding the story and returning Cap’s eyesight. Of course, it’s all very fast and rather poorly written, with his sight just happening to come back in the last page so the next writer/artist team doesn’t have to deal with it. Worse, his sight comes back the laziest way imaginable; a wild gunshot close to his eyes must have “jogged the proper nerve into action!” Oooookay. Jack’s command of dialog is still as out there as always. After a few pages of fighting the bad guy, the Falcon comes out with “I don’t like that Night Flyer!” I kid you not.

And so ends Jack Kirby’s 1970’s run on Captain America. It was an ambitiously plotted bunch of stories and I give the King lots of credit for trying to tackle some serious issues. However, it really was just a giant misfire. Certainly more fun to read casually than it was to have to recap and comment on every few weeks, so in that respect, I’m glad it’s over. Kirby, for all his legendary contributions, was just too out of date to fit in anymore. His art and dialog were terribly anachronistic in the 70s. His time had come and gone. Back in the 60s, when he was at the top of the heap, and every artist was instructed to emulate him, Kirby was the poster child of what made Marvel great. Less than ten years later, he was passé. Other younger artists had arrived and brought a realism he never could manage. It’s a sad end to such an amazing career. Even though he would go on working, as far as I was concerned, this issue was his last hurrah for Marvel.

Matthew: And that’s a wrap, Jack.  True, he’ll linger on with various self-initiated mags (at least one of them vetoed by a merciful Curriculum Committee) through 1978, but between this swan song and last month’s euthanization of 2001, the bloom is clearly off the rose, freeing poor Cap to rejoin our regularly scheduled universe.  Am I the only one who rolls his eyes when characters declaim several sentences to inform us that they can’t breathe, as on page 3?  After sidelining the Falcon—or “Blackbird,” as the Night Flyer insouciantly calls him—for so long, Kirby is to be kommended for koming up with a klever konceit to give him the spotlight, yet otherwise goes out with the usual spectacle and outré lines like “That breaks the cookie jar!”

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia
The Defenders 52
"Defender of the Realm!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Keith Giffen and Chic Stone
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl

Namor, the Avenging Son of Atlantis, draws a crowd as he strides along Park Avenue.  The Hulk, viewing the increasing congestion from a nearby rooftop, recognizes the Sub-Mariner, and decides to drop to street level to offer his help.  Namor contemptuously pushes the Hulk aside, and the chagrined Hulk lashes back; the full-scale heavyweight brawl is on.  Elsewhere, at a secret facility somewhere deep in Soviet Russia, Tania Belinsky is introduced to the director of Project:Sergei, who also is known as “The Presence.”  This man reveals several facts to Tania: he suffers from an incurable physical disease; he promises to be Tania’s mate; he intends to transform her, thru “cobalt radiation baths,” so that she might be “reborn” beside him; and, the transformation of them both will result in an explosion that will “tear half of Europe apart!”  Elsewhere in Manhattan, Valkyrie meets one of Dollar Bill’s instructors, a Professor Turk, who expresses admiration for Val’s strength of character.  Meanwhile, once Nighthawk and Hellcat have arrived and succeeded in calming the combatants, Namor requests help from his sometime non-teammates; a radioactive leak is threatening damage to “a vital area of fertile sea bed,” and all present agree that the Hulk might be best-suited to check out the possible source of the threat. -Chris Blake

Chris: I can understand why, at the conclusion of an extended storyline, you would offer fans an epilogue, a quieter moment for our heroes to stop and catch their breath.  Well, we did have that sort of installment in Defenders #51, so I’m not sure why this slight issue was necessary.  We’ve seen our share of Namor vs Hulk battling, and if anything, this clash is even more unnecessary than most of those previous encounters.  Namor asks at one point, “Will you not put a stop to this senseless struggle …?”, but the one to whom to pose this question is Dave the Dude himself.  My only guess is that he hadn’t thoroughly worked-out the Tania/Sergei story yet, and needed one more issue to buy himself time. 

I also will express dismay at the continuance of the Dollar Bill sub-plot, now including Professor Turk, who will soon enough (spoiler alert) be revealed as … wait for it … Lunatik.  I wish I could pin the blame on another writer for these characters and their associated storyline, but again, sorry to say, the blame is all on Dave. 

I can blame Chic Stone for the lackluster art; he’s a poor choice to pair with the intricate, dynamic pencils of Giffen.  There’s plenty of energy involved in the Namor/Hulk fight (best captured in a Namor-charged slam to Hulk’s chest, p 15), but I find it distracting that all the characters’ faces look so indistinct.  This effect is especially glaring with Namor and the Hulk, whose iconic faces vary in appearance throughout the issue.  This is Giffen’s final full-length appearance on this title, so I regret that he wasn’t able to close out his run on a higher note.  

Matthew:  Okay, you’re the Sub-Mariner.  You’re strolling up Park Avenue.  You’re eager to avoid trouble or delay.  You’re one of the few beings the Hulk considers a friend, at least this week, so when he hops down to offer a helping hand, what do you do?  Well, if you have the misfortune to be written by Dave Kraft, you do the one thing absolutely guaranteed to bring you an economy-sized batch of trouble and delay, blowing him off so rudely as to ensure a fight, and one that lasts a whole issue, until the Hulk apologizes, when it’s you, you stupid ass, who should be apologizing.  No photo of the late David Bowie (as Val & Co view The Man Who Fell to Earth) is going to make up for that.  Meanwhile, more dependent than most upon the right inker, Giffen is done few favors by dicey-at-best Stone.

Jim Starlin
Doctor Strange 25
"Doctor Stranger Yet!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Al Milgrom and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Alan Kupperberg

Of late, Dr. Strange has been busy. With the help of the living star (they all are) named Apalla, he very nearly defeated the beings called the Creators, who seek to change the fabric of the Universe to shape it to their own ends. But in destroying the Cosmic Wheel with which his foes sought to achieve this goal (rather than reversing its direction), he released the very forces that made this change happen. The Universe forced a balance; as the Creators became stars, the stars became unconscious humans whom Stephen was able to transport to the Quadriverse in orbit around a planet that will keep them safe until he can find a solution. A bizarre kind of madness is rampant now everywhere, including on Earth, where Dr. Strange has returned with Wong and Clea. The Creators plan to defeat and replace those who appose them  by granting powers to second-rate creatures who, luckily, often cannot fully control their mystical forces. One such being was Dr. Stranger Yet, a boar-headed creature costumed identically to the mystic mage. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Anytime I read an issue of Doctor Strange, after reading another title (in this case The Eternals) I'm always impressed by the sophistication of this comic. An awesome recap fills us in on what's transpired. The sheer bizarreness of Strange's world is full of surprises. Each new menace is different enough from what has gone before to seem unsolvable, but therein lies the charm. 

Matthew:  Much better, guys, from little things (reverting to the original “Vapors [not Vipers] of Valtorr”) through Wong’s heroism to Clea’s vital intervention not once, but twice, and even Milgros rises to the occasion, especially with the full-page reveal on 26.  Starlin has spun many a complex tale in his day, and shown his skill at recaps, elsewhere enhanced by his micro-illustrations; I’m a tough critic of recaps in general, feeling that they too often waste valuable space, but here, it was a positive godsend, giving me far more of a handle on the convoluted storyline that poor Jim inherited from Marv.  The entire lettercol is given over to future Eclipse Comics EIC Cat Yronwode, who waxes eloquent on Doc’s history, with trenchant observations.

Chris: Nifty epistle from long-time letter-writer Cat Yronwode, who postulates (among many other things) that “Dr Strange’s strength lies in his visuals – that’s what sets him apart from all other heroes.  Fancy words and mind-shattering plot-complexities are nothing if the spells themselves don’t crackle with vibrant form and color.”  Well, as much as a balance between story + art makes for a quality comic, I can see Cat’s point about the importance of a fantastical appearance to the proceedings in these pages; without it, we the readers might have difficulty allowing our imaginations to carry us to the far-off places (and times, and dimensions) that are ever-present in Doc‘s experience.  

So, what might Cat have to say about the Milgrom/Marcos art we have this time, as the Doc-art wheel turns round and round?  The results, at best, are mixed.  I look at page 16, and I see anthropomorphic animals wearing ordinary working-people clothes, creatures swimming in a plot of the street, a horse carrying a car (for some reason) as it seems to drip tar, and buildings dripping custard (or is it peanut butter?).  It’s fine, but all I can think is: what might Starlin himself have done with this image?  I could see a host of Warlock-worthy aliens, and architecture that doesn’t bother with laws of gravity.  Al + Pablo do hit it right in the issue’s other Big Moment (p 26), as Dr Stranger Yet is, in fact, stranger than any Strange I’ve ever seen; a warthog (or is it a razorback) with four extra tusks?  Not bad, guys.  

Starlin’s done well to stick Strange (plus Clea and Wong) deep into this pickle barrel; we’ve spent the past several issues watching Doc struggle, back on his heels.  Good decision to have Doc isolate the scaly gremlin that had been influencing his actions (p 11); I hope Starlin will build on that, and with our next issue, begin to steer Doc back to where he might regain control of the situation.  

Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia
The Eternals 16
"Big City Crypt"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer

The appearance of Zuras offers a way to defeat the cosmic Hulk; he seizes the behemoth's shoulders and allows the cosmic energy to flee from its body. The fireworks pouring out of him as his power drains terrify the beast, and he jumps away madly. He is still a danger, so the Prime Eternal entrusts Ikaris and Makarri to find and stop the weaker Hulk. Already the false Greenskin has jumped into a city manhole, where fears of a gas explosion are soon realized when contact with the departing cosmic power is made. The life, as it was, of the pseudo-Hulk is ended, but as Ikaris and Makarri find in their pursuit, a greater danger has been released. When Zuras uses his power to put out the fire, the open pit to the depths below arouses his suspicions, which his descent confirms. An ancient tomb has been opened by the blast, one that housed a being created centuries ago by the Deviants to overcome the Eternals. It was so powerful that they buried it in fear for their own safety. Dromedan it was named, with the terrifying power to control the minds of any and all who opposed him. Zuras decides to face this foe alone; an important hope being that he finds the Neutralizer Helmet that Dromedan has removed. It is the one thing that contains the brutal power of his mind control, and when the two meet, Zuras hopes it will help him defeat his nemesis. -Jim Barwise

Jim: I confess to being pleased that the defeat of the cosmic Hulk happened fairly quickly. Had it been the real deal, who may have been less powerful (?), I would have been as concerned for his fate as the others. I kind of enjoy, too, the almost simplicity of Kirby's names, as if they're spelt for kids and adults alike to follow. A rather good lead in to Dromedan; if he can force Ikaris and Makarri to fight against each other, it doesn't look like Zuras is in for a walk in the park either.

Chris: Mike C. from Rockford IL writes in and observes that “The star of the book is the concept; the unraveling plots and subplots are the methods of communicating that concept; the characters are tools capable of working together so perfectly that no single figure detracts from the messages being conveyed.”  So, my question is: am I missing something here?  As far as I can tell, our heroes spent the last 2 ½ issues fighting a fake Hulk.  Zuras went on TV to proclaim a new era of cooperation between Eternals and humans, then left to snuff out a fire (a “trick” he’s been practicing for a thousand years, we’re told).  Does this action play into an overriding story-arc, that somehow has overreached my head -?

Matthew: OMG, another October issue with a main character’s name misspelled on the cover (“Ikarus”), although I’ll consider cancelling out that demerit in exchange for the title page, where the word “Crypt” is randomly but amusingly written in the classic EC Tales from the... font.  The lettercol, devoted to the formation of the Uni-Mind in #12, reminds us just how far this Cosmic [hyphen optional] Powered Hulk nonsense has taken us from the main storyline, compelling me mischievously to ask, “Uni-Mind?  What Uni-Mind?”  Kirby’s tin ear for dialogue seems to be unusually in force this time; my nominee for this month’s Tin Cup Award would probably be, “I’m certain that he can thus be subjected to a point of sufficient restraint.”

Mark: After devoting most of the last couple installments to faux-Hulk fury {which, while entertaining enough in its own right, added little or nothing to the book's evolving Big Picture mythos, leading one to speculate that Kirby, while certainly not "phoning it in," could sniff which way the Bullpen winds were blowing. He was about to be summarily booted off Captain America, and if The Eternals was in similar jeopardy - and it was - then why sweat over world-building when he could conjure up CRASH! BAM! BOOM! Kirb-O-Vision excitement in his sleep}, "Big City Crypt" gets us at least half-way back on track.

The robo-Hulkster, his cosmic energy draining away after a laying on of hands by Zuras, still takes up the first third of the book before disappearing into the service tunnels beneath the city. Jack pulls off a neat bit of misdirection; when Ikaris is pulled violently into those same tunnels, P. 15, we assume robo-Greenie is his assailant (unless you've memorized the cover), but, no, it's "Dromedan, the Brain-Snatcher!"

Elsewhere, we get a couple pages of Margo and Sersi, center stage in the media frenzy of an NYC still aflame. The wind-sprint action leaves little room for the richer characterization and layered sub-plots - and there's nary a Space God in sight, or even alluded to - of the first dozen or so installments, but at least it's mostly the main cast center stage not an accidentally up-powered android.

That Dromedan resembles nothing so much as an over-sized mummy suggests Jack may be reaching, willy-nilly, into the genre grab-bag at this point, but a mind-controlling mummy, that's the old master putting different backspin on an old pitch.   

Jack Kirby & Frank Giacoia
The Eternals Annual 1
"The Time Killers"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer

Zuras, the mightiest of Eternals, shows his daughter Thena what is happening on the streets of the cities of Earth. Creatures and warriors alike, who seem to be from another time, are ravaging the streets, destroying everything in their path. In true testament to his wisdom, Zuras knows these are just that, beings drawn to this time by the culprit Deviant Zakka the Tool-Master. Thena provides a solution; she and the two Deviants she has rescued from their former life, Karkas and the Reject, will handle it. He agrees, and they set out to find their target, assisted by Thena's psycho-band she wears like a watch. Zakka is holed up in a large city hotel, where the avenging trio goes disguised hypnotically as humans. Shortly, Jack the Ripper appears, and just as the Reject is about to deal him a final blow, the killer vanishes. Ergo, the out-of-timers can only last in our time for a short duration before they run out of time. Similarly, Karkas saves a young toddler and his babysitter from Attila the Hun and his companion. In the excitement, his illusion of humanity has faltered, and everyone flees the scene in fear. To take advantage of Karkas's humiliation, Zakka appears and tries to convince Karkas to join him. When the giant refuses, he tastes the blasts from Zakka's weapon before vanishing. Thena and company resume the search, and find Zakka in his apartment hideout dead, killed by his own foolishness. He had brought forth the most physically powerful of the Deviants, Tutinax, who, as his name suggests, is a giant like Karkas. Thena has a plan other than trying to defeat in combat a foe even Reject and Karkas would be hard pressed to handle. She appeals to the pride of all, and suggests a death match in an abandoned part of the city. None will refuse, but what she actually has in mind is to delay the battle--and perhaps her friends' deaths--by stretching things out until Tutinax fades from our time. While a disappointment to Reject, Thena points out that the three of them gained the valuable lesson of comradeship. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The cover of this, the only Eternals Annual, suggests an issue much like many annuals, an over-populated mass battle adventure. To my pleasant surprise, it is a well-plotted and paced race against (out of) time to save our planet from our history's considerable cast of ill-doers, Jack the Ripper and Attila the Hun among them. The former's humbling at the hands of the Reject is a nice bit of vigilante work. What we actually get is one of the best chances for character development in this mag so far, ironically of our two loveable Deviants-turned-heroes (reluctantly), and Thena's curious desire to bring them to a better life. Zakka and Tutinax are two more of Kirby's phonetically fun names. The trio disguised as humans (well, Karkas at least) is a fun cliche, just as much as Karkas's reveal to the humans for what he truly looks like is a genuinely sad moment. Zakka is undone by his own greed, not so sad a moment. The bond between the trio of "heroes" feels genuine, not forced. Perhaps this is all due to the greater number of pages, I don't know. But I found it ended almost too soon.  

Is this the shortest-lived title to have an annual?  Offhand, I can’t think of any challengers, at least in the Bronze Age.  The Marvel Comics Database places this between #12 and 13 of the monthly book, but that’s problematic, to say the least.  Since #12 ends with Thena already assimilated into the Uni-Mind, after bringing Karkas and the Reject to Olympia in that same issue (incorrectly footnoted here as #11), it more likely happens during #12 instead.  Yet there are no other specific “dependencies,” as fnord12 would say, and the loose structure of the book’s storyline allows for lots of byways, so it’s probably best just to lie back, think of England, and give in to the Kirbyer extravaganza, especially Karkas with his protective coloring.

Chris: I’m not sure where the events of this one-and-only annual fit in the Eternals storyline.  Is it possible that this story is outside the Eternals continuity, which is already removed from the greater Marvel continuity?  Well, either way, Jack would’ve done well with more stories like this one, with no mention of Celestial space-gods, uni-minds and other highfalutin’ stuff.  It might’ve been perfectly acceptable for the Eternals and their allies to occupy their time as Deviant-hunters, in their struggle to safeguard unsuspecting humans from their meddlesome, often harmful interference in our world.

We’re already familiar with Thena, and we’ve been introduced to the Reject, so Jack thoughtfully devotes time to Karkas, who is judicious and cautious as the Reject is fierce and savage.  Good thought to image-alter Karkas, instead of the usual approach of cloaking a big figure in an overcoat and broad-brimmed hat; not going to work with this blocky Deviant-construct, is it?  I also like some of Jack’s smaller touches: Karkas rests his thorny paw on Reject’s shoulder, as he tries to advise restraint (p 3, pnl 3); we’re reminded of Karkas’ unusual size, as we see his human-appearing hand completely covering the forearm of little Georgie’s babysitter (p 18, pnl 4); Karkas appears genuinely distressed as he recognizes his true appearance has caused the hotel guests to panic (p 23).  As long as I’ve moved on to art highlights, I’ll single out Karkas’ wall-rending dispatch of the Huns (p 22), and give Jack ten bonus points for holding back the full reveal of Tutinax until the fully-charged page 36. 

Mark: This double-size dose of Jack Kirby's last round-up at Marvel space god opus is eyebrow raising for a conspicuous dearth of space gods (for speculation on the reasons why, class, see my comments on Eternals #16, elsewhere in this week's curriculum), but as compensation the King focuses on three of the book's most interesting characters: fiery warrior Thena, daughter of Zuras (Zeus), who's elevated from being just another bad ass Eternal by her choice of reclamation project companions, the handsome (thus ugly to his Deviant kin) Reject, an emotionally-stunted stone killer, forged in the gladiator pits, and fellow battle-bait warrior and big red monster Karkas, he of the sensitive, poetic soul.

This unlikely trio is tasked to take down "Zakka, the Tool-Master," who Kirby probably meant to call the "Time-Master," since Z's magic "camera" (think early '60's jumbo-sized TV news cameras, with Kirby filigree) plucks infamous baddies from the past to terrorize New York (whereas "Tool Master" conjures images of Tim Allen). The idea riffs on the extant theme of Deviant attacks on humans, but Jack the Ripper and Attila could just as easily run amok in Daredevil or the Avengers; there's nothing Eternals-specific about them. Similarly, there's nary a word about the causal factor that sparked the current conflict between Eternals, humans, and Deviants, namely the Space God return of the silent, judgy Celestials.

And that - and I say this as the Kirby cheerleader on staff at this august institution - punches a gaping hole in the book's big premise. I don't care if Jack expected Eternals to get axed or not; it was still being published when he created this, and to completely ignore the burning bush, animating idea of the series, not just here but in the monthly, is a startling disconnect. An almost breathtaking abandonment of Jack the World-Builder's core concept.

All those Celestial techno-porn splashes?


Given that, er, king-sized caveat, our mismatched warriors three carry the story and win the day, overcoming near-Gerberesque levels of dysfunction, and when Jack finally whips up a new Deviant, Tutinax is a snaggle-toothed, bat-like beauty (thus ugly).

So split the baby. "The Time Killers" is a high voltage page-turner, boasting some of the book's best characters. But what it isn't, Kirby getting back to the Big Picture or even attempting to do so, leaves a void that feels like...


George Perez & Rudy Nebres
Ghost Rider 26
“A Doom Named Dr. Druid!”
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Don Perlin and Sam Grainger
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Denise Wohl

A jealous Ghost Rider follows Roxanne Simpson to the home of Delazny special effects technician Roger Cross. After he sees them kissing, the Rider flies into a demonic rage, barely controlling his urge to kill Cross. However, he calms down after a few moments and changes back into Johnny Blaze. When Blaze arrives at Delazny Studios, he is confronted by a weirdo named Doctor Druid. The mystic claims that he can sense evil within the stuntman. When Johnny attempts to walk off, the Doctor commands electrical cables to restrict his arms and legs. Losing his temper, Blaze changes into the Ghost Rider in front of all his co-workers: in horror they realize that his transformation is real and he is some type of actual monster. The Rider frees himself and races off on a flaming Skull Cycle — Druid stalks after him. The satanic superhero finds refuge in a cemetery, raging that his life is ruined and he can never return to Delazny Studios. Suddenly, Doctor Druid appears in full costume and casts a spell that causes tree branches to wrap around the Rider. But Blaze burns himself free and begins to pummel his tormentor. When the Druid falls unconscious, the Spirit of Vengeance rips a tombstone out of the ground and raises it above the wizard’s head — however, he gains his composure and tosses the granite marker away. Coming too, the mystic pulls out an amulet — the arcane Token of Tiboro — and the Rider uncontrollably turns back into Johnny Blaze. The surprisingly strong Doctor lays Johnny low with a series of powerful punches: he then probes the youngster’s mind, horrified to discover that Blaze is actually a good man who fought against satanic domination. Crestfallen that he harmed an innocent, Doctor Druid strides off. Johnny comes to, packs his bags and drives away from Los Angeles.  -Tom Flynn

Tom: When I first spotted Doctor Druid, I assumed that he was another in the progressively long line of crappy characters that Jim Shooter helped create for this series, from the Water Wizard to Malice. But no, the Doctor — originally called Doctor Droom — was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby waaay back in Amazing Adventures #1 (June 1961). That’s even before the November 1961 debut of the Fantastic Four! I also didn’t remember that he had already appeared in the pages of The Incredible Hulk: that was when his last name was changed from Droom to Druid in order to sound less like Doctor Doom. It appears that he was still kicking around as late as 2012. Can I assume that his powers are more nature based than the astral abilities of Doctor Strange? Shooter really begins to dial up the tormented aspect of Johnny Blaze, as he struggles against the demonic instincts of his alter ego. And we’ll see if Blaze really leaves Los Angeles for good. But the big milestone here is the first appearance of the drab Don Perlin. After the rug was pulled out from under Werewolf by Night, Perlin was dumped on another of Marvel’s supernatural titles and began a very lengthy Ghost Rider run that would eventually peter out in 1981: he would illustrate 32 issues in that time frame. Now listen, his art is a step up from the crap that the other Don — Heck — had been spraying these pages with over the past few issues but not by much. He’s just too cartoonish and amateurish for me. But I better get used to him. This is actually one of the better issues of past months. Yes, faint praise.

Chris: I really appreciate the direction Shooter has elected to take with this title, and this character.  Ghost Rider is no longer some “spook act,” is it?  No, it’s finally become an emissary of merciless judgment, while remaining firmly rooted to Johnny.  We also – finally – are shut of stunt-cycling, and love triangles; who needs it?  Johnny rides away from La-La and doesn’t look back, as he fully expects to battle the wrongdoing he’ll encounter, while he also continues to struggle against his own, ever-strengthening, progressively more independent, dark side.  

This issue also marks the debut of dauntless Don Perlin as penciller on this title, doesn’t it?  I realize that Don’s not for everyone, but he does bring a lot of imagination to these supernaturally-themed titles, and that will make for a good fit here.  A few highlights: the view from the top of the incline, as the flame-cycle races to the top (p 2, last pnl); a nasty, infuriated flaming skull (p 6, 1st pnl); GR drives off into the shadowy forest, as hellfire trails behind (p 6, pnl 3); Johnny’s rage-filled expression, as the transformation begins (p 15, 1st pnl); GR is brought up short by the “arcane token of Tiboro” (p 26, pnl 4).  

Some fans prefer to see Perlin ink himself, but I don’t agree; Perlin’s self-inked work can come across as stiff and flat at times.  Grainger’s finishes here help demonstrate how the right inker can provide some depth to Perlin’s images, and also smooth out possible rough edges.  It’s unfortunate that Perlin and an inker like Grainger weren’t paired as a regular art team for this title.  

Matthew:  I was, as Dad used to say, “just whelmed” by Dr. Druid (né Droom) during his recent Incredible Hulk guest shot, and his quick return in Shooter’s penultimate issue—which must not have set the world on fire, since he won’t be back again until after the University’s doors have closed—did little, if anything, to change my mind.  When he barged in with his uninformed, ill-advised attempt to “investigate” Johnny, all I could do was wonder what real occult practitioners like Stephen Strange or Daimon Hellstrom were doing that day; meanwhile, Perlin evidently gave Grainger so little to work with that the whole thing is cartoony and awful.  After six issues, can I ask what the hell “Now, at Last—the NEW Ghost Rider” actually means?

Addendum: Tiboro was a Sixth-Dimensional sorcerer first faced by Dr. Strange in Strange Tales #129 (February 1965).

Gene Colan & Tom Palmer
Howard the Duck 17
"Doctor Bong!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawecki

Howard and Bev offer to decline Dr Bong’s invitation, but he insists; Dr Bong strikes his bell-head (did I mention that he has a round, metal clapper where his left hand should be -?), and the resulting clang (well, in the interest of accuracy, I should say it “bongs” each time) causes Howard to drop, unconscious.  Bong escorts Bev to his castle; Bev is impressed by the stonework (“I mean, jeez,” Bev gasps, “most people can’t even afford a mobile home anymore!”), but is floored by his massive, computerized command center.  Bong admits it’s all for show – the hardware is “ornamentation – utterly non-functional!”  Howard wakes to find he has been conveyed to a room that offers the basic comforts and charm of a Holiday Inn.  He discovers a book, which appears to be Bev’s diary; before he can explore this further, his door opens, to reveal a French waitress, with legs up to here, and – a duck’s bill?!  At sea, the passengers and crew of the S.S. Damned are buried under a pile of boulders on the deck; that is, until the tons of rock shimmer, and disappear, leaving no damage or injury in their wake.  Winda concludes that it had to have been “an iwwusion!” and she implores the captain to search for her missing friends.  At that moment, Dr Bong appears on the deck, and sends vibrations throughout the ship with one strike to his bell; the captain takes the hint, and resolves to leave.  Paul states that he and Winda should seek Howard and Bev themselves, until the Island of Dr Bong goes the way of the boulders – it’s vanished.  Somewhere, Dr Bong explains to Bev how he discovered the power available to him thru journalism; when he was a student named Lester Verde, he employed the school paper to discredit a professor, and also to inform a classmate’s parents that they should pull their son from school.  It happens this fellow student, David, had been dating Bev; once Lester gazed upon Bev in a live-modeling class, he wanted no one between himself and her.  The problem was that Bev wanted nothing to do with bespectacled, bearded, overweight Lester.  In Howard’s room, his waitress – named Fifi, of course – informs him that Dr Bong wants to convert him too; Howard is earmarked for “reconstruction.”  Howard bolts from the room, finds his way to Bong’s chamber and crashes in, only to be quickly subdued by Bong’s anthropomorphic creatures.  Bong orders Howard to be taken directly to the “evolvo-chamber;” Bev can only sit by Dr Bong, and watch, as Howard is dragged away.   -Chris Blake

Chris:  Dr Bong has a wonderfully preposterous look.  He sports a muscular build, and a flowing cape; he bears a sinister, slitted-eyed mien, but his head -- yes, it's shaped like a bell.  Of course, it might be a helmet; I sincerely hope it's a helmet.  But, in order to befuddle and overwhelm his opponents, Dr Bong has to clap himself in the head with the giant, well, clapper attached to the end of his left arm; as the saying goes, that's got to hurt (but Bong doesn't hesitate to ring his chime, so he must have something figured out).  Bong compounds the silliness, as he acknowledges his nerve center is nothing but an empty show, then proceeds to show Bev his true seat of power, which is nothing but a small desk, with a folding chair and a typewriter.  So now, once we get into writer-territory – an all-too familiar realm for readers of Steve G – the character’s ridiculous nature begins to fade, as Steve introduces the villain's unhappy childhood, and frustrated student-years.  More troubling are the outcomes of Bong's published assaults, as his professor winds up divorced, and Bev's former boyfriend is killed in an accident when he is driving back to his former college to visit Bev.  It's much more difficult to laugh when a character’s actions cause this sort of real-life harm; with Steve's capability for imagination, and for the absurd, I'd like to think he could've come up with less destructive outcomes from Lester's self-serving interference. The professor, for example, might've lost his privilege to chaperone the spring dance; Bev's beau, David, might've suffered a catastrophic reduction in his allowance.  These examples aren't terribly funny, I admit, but someone with Steve's ability might've made them so.  The point is, Bong’s dark turn, as he emerges as a source of legitimate harm, doesn't suit the mood I associate with most of Steve’s situations for Howard.

Matthew:  Gerber admitted to Tom Field, the author of Secrets in the Shadows: The Art & Life of Gene Colan, that Dr. Bong was “very, very loosely based” on Bob Greene (Verde being Spanish for “green”).  The controversial Chicago Tribune columnist had published Billion Dollar Babies (1975), a diary recounting his experiences playing Santa Claus while touring with Alice Cooper, parodied by Lester's similar rock-show embodiment of the Easter Bunny, during which an onstage mishap cost him the hand he replaced with his clapper. He had also written unflatteringly about Marvel’s then-recent KISS Super Special—if perhaps not as unflatteringly as our own Professor Tom—before it was published, which presumably explains Gerber’s statement that “I owed him one at the time!”  Whether that knowledge adds to or detracts from your enjoyment of this issue is, of course, strictly up to you...

Mark: Back to our regularly scheduled insanity, post-Gerb's gonzo-lite confessional last month, as island overlord and  bon vivant Doctor Bong is revealed as Lester Verde, ex-tubby teen and would-be yellow journalist, who crushed on Bev back in college, only - natch - to have his advances rebuffed. We don't get the full story of Lester's transformation from bunny suit-clad rock show extra to Bell-headed Dr. Moreau devotee, but Fifi, a human-duck hybrid in fishnets that's presented to Howard as a breeding partner is...let's say interesting enough, as depicted by Dean Gene, to have sparked a certain amount of inter-species confusion among an adolescent male readership.

Weird, wacky, with a WTF ratio calibrated with laboratory precision, this one finds Steve and Gene hitting on all more-than-slightly askew cylinders.

It's just ducky.

Ernie Chan
The Incredible Hulk 216
"Countdown to Catastrophe!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza

General "Thunderbolt" Ross, Clay Quartermain, and "The Gaffer" watch helplessly as the Bi-Beast levels The Incredible Hulk when "The Gaffer" gets a wonderful idea: why not use the same trap door trick they used last issue? That done, Hulk is whisked to safety and stands before Ross, an enemy he's always wanted to have his way with. Just before the green goliath crushes Ross to a starred and striped pulp, "The Gaffer" convinces our hero that Ross needs his help. "Hey, I've always wanted to help my worst enemy," seems to be the thought process as Hulk puts Ross down and becomes a willing servant. And the boys are going to need the big guy's help if they're to stop the Bi-Beast from activating the Omni-Launch Sequence, a weapon that will launch missiles at "every major foreign capital in the world!" Just before the launch is initiated, Hulk is able to climb the tower of machinery and destroy the OLS, but the subsequent side effect is that the Helicarrier they're flying in loses power and falls earthward. "The Gaffer" gets to fixing the big hunk of metal while Hulk takes his battle with Bi-Beast outside the craft. The genius boychick manages to reactivate the ship but the ensuing lurch sends B-B and Greenskin plummeting into the clouds. "Thunderbolt" is left to contemplate the fragility of life. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Is it just me or does the art on this book look different every issue? It's not bad; it's just not consistent. Hulk's conversion from mad killer to best bud is, shall we say, a bit convoluted and abrupt. How would being told he could help his most hated enemy suddenly cause the big guy to see the forest through the trees? And is it written somewhere in the Marvel Hulk Writers' Bible, "When in doubt, send the Hulk plummeting towards Earth?" I won't spend an entire weekend counting but this must be the ... well, it's been done a heck of a lot. There's a one-page detour from the action wherein Doc Samson questions the true identity of the mystery man found wandering in the desert several issues ago. After Samson leaves the room, the guy gets up and moves "like a ghostly apparition" across Gamma Base and enters a "Top Secret Keep Out" door. The sequence reminds me of why I loved Marvel Comics so much as a youngster: there's always something brewing. Nine out of ten times the reveal will disappoint (the mystery man may just be an IRS agent who was assigned to investigate Bruce Banner's 1976 tax return but was accidentally pelted with Gamma rays and will become "The Auditor" next issue), but the occasional clues were always fun. 

Matthew: Why is the Hulk, per the cover, “unleashed”?  What was he before?  Does anybody actually care by now what that anonymous amnesiac Adonis is up to?  Is the Helicarrier really “city-sized”?  Why can’t they decide if it should be hyphenated, as it consistently is here, or not, as it is—and should be, per the MCDb—in the same month’s Godzilla?  Why does it have “nuclear weapons aimed at every major foreign capital in the world,” presumably including the friendly ones?  Does every Bi-Beast story end with the Hulk falling from the sky?  Consider their relative sizes with that of actual folk, and then consider the “experimental battle-vest Tony Stark left with us for testing!”  Did he happen to leave one in XXXXXXXL size?  Oddly, I liked this!

Chris: Len creates a convoluted situation, as Hulk & Co are required to race halfway across the helicarrier (a bit of “running around,” as Professor Gilbert might describe it) in order to interrupt the missile launch.  At least Len maintains internal logic; the interference with the functioning of the central computer rightfully affects other functions of the helicarrier, which creates a new set of problems for our heroes.  It’s a good thing the Hulk has limited use of executive function; otherwise, it might be easier for him to be petty and hold a grudge – without that, he can see the bigger picture and agree to help Ross, even though Ross has sent troops, tanks, and missiles against the Hulk about 1500 times.  The Sal+Ernie art continues to be good, although the results this time are a bit too loose for my liking. 

George Perez & Mike Esposito
The Invincible Iron Man 103
"Run for the Money!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawicki

On the Long Island Expressway, Harry delays Jasper’s airborne pursuit with a smoke screen and drives through an illusion of forest lining the road, where a tractor beam lifts him and Krissy to a golden platform in the sky, covered with Grecian temples.  Having reached Paris from the Swiss Alps, Iron Man invokes an arrangement with the Avengers to board an Air France 747 from Orly to New York, enduring the attentions of the public while Key’s boss is revealed as the presumed-dead Midas, so enraged when he sees the last suit of armor stolen from S.I. is a fake that he pushes Harry from the platform with his flying chair.  But the revelations are not over, for Krissy, uh, unmasks as Madame Masque, who has been protecting Tony’s interests.

Bearing Frost no ill will for betraying him in the Aegean, Midas explains that he now owns S.I., where all parties converge, Iron Man angry over the theft of his armor, Jasper having found the dying Key, and Midas landing his platform “like a giant spider.”  Firing S.I.’s security forces, he tells Whitney he obtained a controlling interest by “buying off Stark’s stockholders one by one, stealing his patentsunderbidding him, sabotaging his factories,” and moved in for the kill in his and Iron Man’s absence.  En route to an appointment with Stark, a trustee of his dad’s estate, Jack Hart sees IM attacked by Midas’s army, concludes that he’s gone berserk, and intervenes as the Jack of Hearts—but IM’s sabre-saw cuts through the armor that contains his explosive force.

Dazed by the resultant blast, Jack falls from the sky, saved by Iron Man as they realize they’re on the same side, make a hard landing on the platform, and discover the true foe is Midas, who has taken everything from Stark, even “Krissy.”  Fired by the new owner, Iron Man is warned that Midas has the law on his side—and urged to find his former “employer”—by Jack, who departs to regroup while Shellhead wordlessly heeds Whitney’s poignant proposal:  “It is just we two now, Iron Man!  I…can we not…help each other?”  As the dejected Jasper watches IM fly off, unable from a distance to identify whom he is carrying, a “cured” Marianne Rodgers is released from Milford Sanitorium, her hallucinations having ended and Tony no longer paying the bills… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: While cracking this open, as one of my colleagues would a cold beer, I said to myself, “Okay, Bradley Boy, you’ve been touting Mantlo’s six-part Midas Saga—during which Tuskaphobes even get to bid Gorgeous George a final farewell—to anyone who will listen…but will it live up to your memories?”  Answer:  Whoa, Nellie!  How are ya not gonna love a story called “Thunder over Long Island”?  Oh, wait, that’s not the actual title, just the tagline for the Perezposito cover; never mind.  Subtle but effective decision there to monochromatize the background, thus lessening the likelihood that our combatants will get lost in the shuffle.  And dig that symbolic splash of Shellhead looming over the car chase, which extends vertically as well as horizontally!

Harry is said to have “a Bogart self image [sic] and a James Bond imagination,” neatly pairing my favorite actor and one of my favorite characters, yet I’m not sorry to see the last of Key, who has frankly outlived his dramatic usefulness, and gets a spectacular death scene to boot.  Vive l’Homme de Fer!  Bullpen Cameo Alert:  Jo Duffy in page 7, panel 5.  I love this footnote:  “Remember [Midas] from the classic Iron Man #’s 17-19?  —Arch”…who, of course, wrote them!  “By Gad!” reaffirms his resemblance to the immortal Gutman in The Maltese Falcon.  “I—I’m too late!  I left my  post—betrayed my trust—and everything’s gone to pieces!  I—I’ve failed!”  Quintessential Jasper.  We even end in God’s Country (Connecticut, for you freshmen)!

Pull back a bit to big-picture perspective.  This issue does three things simultaneously and, in my view, successfully:  it encapsulates and elucidates various subplots that have been brewing since the brief Conway Administration, and now move firmly into the foreground; it sets the stage and establishes some of the dramatis personae for the coming months, although many a colorful character has yet to be thrown into the mix, and their interrelations will be fluid; and it blends all of that with sufficient action to satisfy the groundlings.  Inevitably, the Tuskosito artwork will not be to all tastes, nor would I try to convert anybody at this late date, but the “flying fortress” is goofy fun, and his gift for action is epitomized by that robust battle-montage in page 23, panel 1.

Not that I am utterly without reservations, and ironically, as much as I love what Mantlo does with his creation in the months ahead, the Jack of Hearts is by far the biggest.  Bill’s lettercol spiel tells us that in his debut, “Jack and the [White] Tiger nearly demolished much of the South Bronx before they realized that the whole thing was a misunderstanding,” and here, by Jack’s own admission, “If I heard that right—then I’m a hot-headed young idiot!  Just like before, when I battled the Hulk [in #214]—I may have jumped in on the wrong side!”  Which means that he’s been responsible for, or at least involved in, a MARMIS in every single one of his three appearances to date.  Not the best way to inspire confidence in this fledgling super-hero, is it, eh?

Chris: Places please, everyone – take your places!  Curtain’s going up on Act I of the Midas saga, all the principal players now have taken the stage.  Sharp-eyed shellheaders already have written to report a Madame Masque sighting, but the arrival of Midas hadn’t been telegraphed at all, had it?  The late unlamented Harry Key effectively ran interference and kept us from picking up his gold-tinged scent.  

Nice twist by Mantlo to have Midas announce he’s legally acquired a controlling interest in Stark International; a very 1980s move, Midas – clearly ahead of his time!  The action feels a bit obligatory, but at least the brief dust-up with Jack of Hearts resolves with the two of them understanding their position as allies going forward (as you knew it would, right?).  No, the drama at center stage involves IM and Midas, as Tony scrambles to process the information he’s hearing from his ambitious foe.  IM’s initial reaction is surprise and anger, but rather than a response of blustery defiance (you know, like “You’ll never get away with this, fat man!”), Mantlo wisely leaves IM short of breath and tongue-tied when Midas refers to Stark as IM’s “employer” who has lost the company; in his shock, IM comes dangerously close to revealing his secret identity!  As if he didn’t have enough trouble!

Tuska/Esposito get a Big Moment right, as they give us the Midas Flying Fortress, with billowing mists and swirling energy all around it (p 3).  As a topper – literally – on the upper level, we can make out the neo-Hellenic structures Midas likes to surround himself with; like he doesn’t already have an inflated opinion of himself.  

Gil Kane & Pablo Marcos
John Carter, Warlord of Mars 5
"... And One Shall Die!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe

 Kantos Kan speaks out in Carter’s defense, sparking a tavern brawl until Mors Kajak, Jed of Helium, comes seeking men to rescue Dejah while their service is recapturing the atmosphere factory.  He does not believe Carter kidnapped his daughter, but says that whoever did so will pay with his life, so Kantos Kan and his hulking friend, Grogg, join up to see Carter’s name cleared.  Meanwhile, Carter is forced to lead his sixth raid, this time on the outland city of G’Ranna, and steal the famed Issus Stone, yet when he tries to turn the idol over, he is told Kan is not aboard the warship; believing Kan is with the Council of Five, and perhaps Dejah, Carter breaks into his cabin, finds a compass point in a hidden logbook, and steals a flier.

At the compass point is an immense volcano, inside which Carter finds giant black spires and barely escapes the web of a huge spider.  Instinctively drawn to the main tower, he telepathically locates Kan meeting with “trash” both green—including Truka—and red, and after overhearing that he has planted one of his electronic arms in Helium, Carter smashes his way in, demanding Dejah’s whereabouts.  When Kan uses the obedience collar, Carter challenges him in front of his men to a fair fight, his Jasoomian strength compensating for Kan’s other mechanical arm; Kan resorts to the collar anyway, so Carter crushes the arm, and as they struggle over a radium pistol, Kan is mortally wounded, but dies gloating he has won:  only he knows where Dejah is hidden... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Don’t know if Marv had Son of Frankenstein (1939) in mind when he wrote, “You destroyed my real arm—and now you crush another!,” but all I could think of was Inspector Krogh (Lionel Atwill), memorably parodied by Mel Brooks in Young Frankenstein (1974), having his wooden arm torn off by the Monster (Boris Karloff), just as his real one was in his youth.  A Wolfman creation, as is Kan, Grogg is a standard-issue big, loyal lug, but fun.  Nebres notwithstanding, Gil gets in some good licks:  Carter bounding up onto the G’Rannan temple in page 10, panel 4; the black towers in page 16, panel 1; the awesome Martian spider’s web in page 17, panel 2; and the quintessential Kane composition in page 26, panel 3, the foes framed by the faces of Kan’s men.

Gil Kane & Rudy Nebres
John Carter, Warlord of Mars Annual 1
"When Walk the Ancient Dead!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen

Seeking solitude, Carter sets his flier’s directional compass for Horz; located 5,000 miles northwest of Helium, “the long-deserted capital of ancient Barsoomian culture” was built on the edge of a plateau, its newer portions terraced down into a great gulf, following the receding sea on whose shores it stood.  Arriving, he is surprised to see an apparent red man barely holding his own against a group of Warhoons, yet after he intercedes and kills the last of the green men at the behest of the lone warrior—whose skin, he sees, is as white as his own—Carter is outraged to learn that he is to be slain.  Pan Dan Chee promises to plead his case before the Jeddak, Ho Ran Kim, and on the way shows him a statue of Princess S-Lara.

Ho Ran Kim explains that his people are the sole remnants of the Orovars, who took refuge in Horz after the oceans began to dry up, ending a millennium of peace, bringing famine and war, and forcing them to protect the secret of their continued existence by killing all outsiders.  When the grateful Pan Dan Chee argues that Carter cannot reveal their secret if he remains in Horz, the Jeddak agrees to sleep on it, but decrees that he must share Carter’s fate, and both must be taken to the Pits of the Ancestors in the meantime.  Although refusing to escape, Pan Dan Chee tells of another exit from the tunnels, and shows Carter the case containing S-Lara, her beauty preserved by master embalmer Lee Um Lo, whose work was so perfect some did not know they were dead.

Wielding a stalagmite, Carter saves Pan Dan Chee’s life again when they are attacked by ulsios (Martian rats), yet after he arms himself with a sword taken from the body of the great Orovar Jeddak Hor Kai Lan, S-Lara’s father, a hollow laugh betrays the presence of someone else within the tunnels.  Unable to locate its source, they duel reluctantly—one unwilling to break the law, the other refusing to return to death—until they realize neither can bring himself to kill a friend, and another eerie cackle brings them to a chamber occupied by a gibbering old man.  Pan Dan Chee covets a miniature statue of S-Lar, whom he loves, and Lum Tar O offers them water, but it is drugged, and they are placed into coffins for embalming before a supreme effort frees Carter.

No sooner has Carter trounced Lum Tar O—a student of Lee Um Lo’s—than the chests open to release Hor Kai Lan, Kam Kan Tor, et al., who disbelieve Carter’s statement that they have slept a half-million years, while S-Lar accepts the lovesick Pan Dan Chee as her servant and invites him to her chambers.  Leading the way to the exit, Hor Kai Lan gapes at the dried-up seabed, but as he accuses Carter of sorcery, illusions of a restored past come and go, and S-Lar gives herself to Pan Dan Chee, only to run away when called back to her time.  Hor Kai Lan cries out to the goddess Issus, “Take us back to our world,” whereupon a mighty wave sweeps over them from the desert and disappears, leaving Carter alone with the bones of the ancients and Pan Dan Chee. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Marv shifts gears completely, from Kane to a Buscema one-off with his current Hulk inker, Chan; from new material to an adaptation; and from the setting of the monthly “Air-Pirates of Mars” storyline—during A Princess of Mars, as you’ll recall—to the opposite end of the canon, his plot “loosely based on” a story from the last Barsoom book that Burroughs completed in his lifetime (the posthumous John Carter of Mars was released in 1964).  The first of four linked novelettes in Llana of Gathol (1948), all originally published in Amazing Stories in 1941, “The Ancient Dead” appeared in the March issue as “The City of Mummies.”  By now, Carter is a grandfather, Llana’s parents being Carter and Dejah Thoris’s daughter, Tara of Helium, and Gahan of Gathol.

Ironically, one honking change Marv makes in his otherwise commendably close adaptation is to expunge Llana entirely, supplanting her with S-Lara in what is much more than a mere cosmetic renaming.  Slavish fidelity aside, it’s a logical move, because while Pan Dan Chee wins her heart over the course of the book, this stand-alone annual from a series primarily set nine volumes earlier deprives her of all context.  Moreover, Llana is introduced in a set of coincidences that should’ve made even ERB blush:  Pan Dan Chee falls instantly in love with her image, carved on one of the pieces in Carter’s miniature Jetan (Martian chess) set, and after she just happens to emerge from one of the chests, the main plot grinds to a halt as Llana explains how she got there.

The other major change is obviously the ending, and I’m a little surprised Marv didn’t at least give Pan Dan Chee a new name as well, since he winds up as a skeleton rather than as Carter’s presumptive grandson-in-law.  Neither the recurring illusions, which have no analog in ERB, nor the fact that he is denuded despite not being one of the “ancient dead,” is explained; in the story, the Orovars simply disintegrate as soon as they have seen and realized the truth.  This is the first time anybody but Kane has drawn Marvel’s Carter, and he looks sensational, as do Our Pal Sal’s Warhoons, and ancient Horz, and…well, pretty much everything; he would’ve been an excellent successor for Gil, and is constrained only by the verbiage, much of it admittedly from Burroughs.

Chris: Based on Lum Tar O’s handling of Carter and Pan Dan Chee, and the reactions of the slumbering legends of Horz once they come-to, it’s reasonable to think that O’s been “embalming” people this way while they’ve still been alive; that’s creepy.  The story takes quite awhile to gain traction, due in part to writer/editor Marv’s lengthy captions for the first few pages; fortunately, the action picks up, then we encounter the issue’s thorny conflict, so it all works out.  There isn’t exactly a build to the climax, though; right when Carter has fully invested himself in the illusion – as he fights off a full contingent of Barsoomian sailors – the mast he’s grasping reverts on its own to a stone pillar.  There isn’t anything Carter or Hor Kai Lan has done to clear the mirage; it seems to happen on its own.  Carter has seen the images blink out twice before, as the sea has reverted to sand, so it’s not clear to me why Hor Kai Lan should believe his eyes this time.  This incomplete moment doesn’t detract from what is, overall, a very satisfying story.  

Another selling point is the Sal + Ernie art.  Their collaborations on the Hulk for the past few months have been very solid; the results this time, though, are a full notch higher.  In his Bronze-era time with Marvel, Sal’s pencils have been finished by nearly every inker who ever walked through the office doors, from Colletta to Mooney to Esposito to Sinnott to Giacoia to Janson, with a dozen others (Staton, Gan, Palmer, Green – I could go on and on!) in the mix as well.  Ernie Chan brings out Sal’s best here, though, in a way that few of these other artists could hope to match; Chan consistently realizes the facial expressions well, provides texture and mood, and also polishes some fine details as well.  Highlights include: the halcyon days of Horz, and the fall of its realm (p 15); the gruesome ulsios (p 18-19, Sal proving he was an NYC subway-rider in the ‘70s); the preserved Hor Kai Lan, and his gilt-handled sword (p 23); hallucinogenic effects (p 30-31); Hor Kai Lan pushes back his coffin lid (p 35).  

Herb Trimpe & Marie Severin
Godzilla 3
"A Tale of Two Saviors"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Denise Wohl, and Irving Watanabe

Godzilla pops up in San Francisco, menacing the Golden Gate Bridge, and most of The Champions (Hercules, Black Widow, Angel, Iceman) hop on the Champscraft (yikes) towards SF Bay, as the SHIELD Helicarrier approaches as well. Hercules manages to topple the giant beast in an amazing show of strength, then we head to Detroit, where Tony Stark meets Dr. Takiguchi and the increasingly mysterious Robert. Meanwhile, Godzilla drops into the bay, then comes up, destroying the Golden Gate and ducking the Electro-Nets SHIELD has ready for him. Hercules throws a piece of the bridge at the Big G, but instead hits the Helicarrier, which crashes into the Bay, and Godzilla lopes off in victory. –Joe Tura

Joe: So, how is it that The Champions make it to the bridge in 20 minutes, and in that time Godzilla just hung out waiting for them? Why wouldn't he break the bridge before that, instead of being annoyed by the puny armed forces attacking him? Well, either way he ends up on top, as Hercules gets the best of him, then Herc's arrogance (those arrogant demi-gods!) allows some bumbling by the superheroes and SHIELD. Well, good for Godzilla! He's only trying to get back home, or just not to be bothered, the poor thing. All in all, a decent issue that weaves in the Marvel Universe nicely, even though it's only to sell comics. Script is fine, art is not bad, and you can't tell the difference between the inks which is a lucky break.

Matthew: In successive months, some or all of the Champions have guest-starred in Iron Man Annual #4, Avengers #163, and now here; not bad for a hard-luck team with only two issues, plus the current Super-Villain Team-Up crossover, to go before Marvel pulls the plug, but if they were hoping for a last-minute uptick in sales to save the book, that obviously didn’t happen.  This is especially ironic in light of the fact that, according to Tony Isabella’s Bloggy Thing, the Champions creator “came maddeningly close to writing Godzilla comics for Marvel.  Tragically, Marvel wasn’t able to come to terms with Toho Studios during my time with the company,” although I suspect my virulently Tonyphobic colleagues won’t consider that to be terribly tragic. (Oh, but we do find it tragic, Matthew, that we aren't able to comment on a Godzilla comic scripted by Tony "I 'Created' a Funny Book Team Made of Characters Dreamed Up by Other People and Yet I Still Claim I'm the Creator" Isabella -The Rest of Us)

Well, he woulda done better than this hunk o’Moench-junk, cementing in my mind the folly of doing a Godzilla comic, and worse setting it in the Marvel Universe, and even worse pitting him against super-heroes.  It’s inevitably a Champs-centric story because, hello, Godzilla has no personality (sorry, Joe), but their annoying turf war with Dugan, which belies S.H.I.E.L.D.’s generally collegial relations with “the longjohns,” is particularly ludicrous considering the Widow actually worked for them…and hey, what about that deserted base she found in Team-Up #57?  Herc toppling the Big G ranks down there with his towing Manhattan in MTU #28, yet despite my usual reservations about DeZunigization, Trimpe—hélas—positively benefits from it.

Oh, you want me to throw some more fuel on the fire?  How about the ongoing disrespect for Natasha’s leadership (“Angel and I have worked together before, y’know”)?  Bet you wouldn’t have mouthed off to Xavier like that.  Whence springs Gabe’s empathy?  Is Godzilla an oppressed minority (“It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green”)?  “This team can work—if you’ll give it a chance!”  If only…  So now the Golden Gate joins the Hulk-maimed Lady Liberty and Shellhead-toppled Washington Monument.  Will we destroy a national landmark in every issue?  Jones suggests they “get the Helicarrier into the hangar,” once they find a tow truck that can pull it out of Frisco Bay.  “…a wistful uncle tweaking his cute nephew’s button nose.”  I may hurl…

Finally, I offer—without comment—the following anecdote from the ever-informative Mark Drummond:  “These early issues of Godzilla caused the first blowup between Doug Moench and then-assistant editor (proofreader, really) Jim Shooter.  Jim tried to lecture Doug about Dum Dum’s poor grammar, but Doug called Jim on his lack of real power immediately and informed him Dum Dum had always spoken like that.  Jim then supposedly revealed ignorance of the character’s history, and Doug proceeded to rip him a new one over him being unable to recognize a Lee & Kirby creation, and for being dictatorial in general.  This butting of heads between the two continued until Doug quit Marvel in 1982,” as he wrote on SuperMegaMonkey.

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia
The Invaders 21
"The Battle of Berlin! Part Two!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by John Costanza

Hidden in Cap’s shield, Roger recalls how the Destroyer had escaped the grenade by reaching a manhole, freed the captives, revealed his identity (thus restoring Roger’s memory), donned the uniform his father had brought on impulse, and helped the others infiltrate Hitler’s bomber, piloted by Lord Falsworth and Oskar.  As Dyna-Mite subdues Dietrich and Der Führer bails out, Master Man interrupts the battle to leap after the plane—his frau’s legs insufficiently strong for her to follow—that he deduces has been commandeered, only to be repelled by a shell.  The flying Invaders airlift the rest to the plane and they flee, with Spitfire admonishing Dietrich to cure Roger and the Torch vowing, “If Toro dies, I’ll return to Berlin—and destroy Hitler…” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Obviously, breaking it in half (hence my minimalist commentary last time) only exacerbates the problem, but this really feels insubstantial.  Roy’s “finale” is interrupted once again, this time for a flashback that’s not terribly enlightening; there’s a lame joke about Hitler yelling “Geronimo!”; the end of the Invaders’ bout with the unhappy couple is rushed and inconclusive; and the Torch only echoes Cap’s “If they’ve hurt that boy…” boast a mere three issues ago, even if that and his incineration of the stormtrooper in part one both foreshadow the canonical events related in What If? #4.  The Two Franks give us U.J. channeling a frog in page 3, panel 4 and another example of Little Orphan Annie eyes as the bomb bay doors open in Master Man’s face in page 11, panel 3.

Roy touts Bill Everett’s untitled 10-page Sub-Mariner cliffhanger from Marvel Mystery Comics #10 (August 1940) as “one of his greatest early exploits”; by what standard, I can’t imagine, but they did increase this issue’s editorial content to 19 pages to accommodate it.  Wings recovering from a battle with the Torch, Namor returns home via aerial-submarine, only to be punished with indefinite suspension from active service for failing in his mission; meanwhile, deciding that he’s “gone far enough,” Luther Robinson undertakes a punitive mission (with his girlfriend!) aboard the Colleen.  A battle with the Atlantean navy ensues, while in his two-man submarine, Robinson blasts Namor’s undersea plane, almost killing the captive Lynne, and both sides swear reprisals...

Chris: Roy tells us that the Destroyer evaded the seemingly fatal grenade-attack by prying up a manhole, and diving into the sewer -?!  Man, people sure moved fast in those days.  The lengthy recap cuts into the space we’d need to have a truly satisfying battle; as it is, there are only three pages (p 7-11) in the entire issue devoted to Invaders vs super-Nazis, which is not nearly enough, Roy.  Just because you got away with a half-issue last time shouldn’t mean you can coast along with another nine pages of original material; the opportunity was available (once you gained a month’s production time) to flesh out the battle so that it would’ve filled every page of this one.  Master Man biting it when he flies into an aerial bomb (p 11) is the clear highlight, as is the boffo Kane cover.  

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