Wednesday, February 3, 2016

September 1977 Part One: MARMIS Alert: The Invincible Iron Man Vs. The Champions!

George Perez & Pablo Marcos
The Avengers 163
"The Demi-God Must Die!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Tuska and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl

For reasons known only to himself, the Invincible Iron Man attacks and severely damages the "Champscraft" carrying three of the Champions, Black Widow, Hercules, and Iceman. Understandably, the trio are perplexed and quite angry that an Avenger would attack three fellow superheroes, so they fall into full battle mode. As the fight rages on, we see through Shellhead's recollections that the villainous Typhon is holding Beast captive and will slay him unless the Avenger delivers Hercules to the Olympian outcast. Inevitably, the melee reaches Avengers Mansion, where IM manages to deliver a high voltage charge to Hercules and lay him out. The charge knocks Shellhead unconscious as well, though, and the Beast is left to fill the Widow and Iceman in on what's going on. The trio manage to fight Typhon to a stand-off but, once Herc and IM awaken from their slumber, Pluto (who's been holding Typhon's strings) decides his bagman is outmatched and pulls him back to Hades. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: When I see the name George Tuska on the menu, I automatically get nervous. Aside from Dons Perlin and Heck, GT is just about the most boring artist of the Marvel Silver Age (at least Frank Robbins is static enough to be... interesting) in my humble opinion and the fact that this appearance is shoe-horned between issues featuring art by George Perez and John Byrne only magnifies my boredom. Tuska isn't helped by the script, essentially a rewrite of every other 17-page MARMIS ever dumped on an unsuspecting audience. Can't wait 'til next issue when we find out the secret of Wonder Man's... well, evidently it's a secret!

Joe Tura: A brief respite from our regularly scheduled Avengers-ness, in that Tuska is at the drawing board instead of Pérez. Not quite the same George, that's for sure. Would have been great if GP did the insides and not just the cover, but for sure GT draws a pretty good Herc. Typhon is a nasty sort, one I remembered from Marvel Premiere #26, but darned if he doesn't vanish super quick when the Demi-God shows up—wasn't he the one Typhon was there to see? Does he really blame Pluto for the sudden white flag? We do get some continuity with mentions of Tony helping restore Hank Pym's memory, and Beast getting more disenchanted with his role on the team. The X-Men throwback is nice, as is the artwork during the final throwdown with Typhon. Pretty decent issue overall, packed with action, but it's quite a letdown from the heights this title has hit over the past few months. Gee, I'm really going out on a limb, aren't I...

Chris Blake: Anytime you have a one-shot story in a team title that features an abbreviated group contingent, with a guest scripter and/or penciller, you can bet your train has pulled in to Fill-In City.  This story seems to be designed so that it could be slotted in as an Iron ManChampions, or Avengers story.  The circumstances are beyond MARMIS; we might term this a CCUToDtCC, which might look like a Walt Simonson sound effect, but which stands for: Coerced Conflict Under Threat of Death to Captured Comrade.  I admit it’s a bit cumbersome, so I’m open to suggestions for improvement.  

This sort of situation comes up often enough that you’d expect our heroes to convene one afternoon and devise a series of hand signals or key phrases (“safe words,” if you will) to alert the target of the attack that the fight is only being driven UToDtCC.  “Hercules!” Iron Man calls, as he rotates his left hand over his head; “The tortoise is in ascendance!” “Eh?  What madness … ah yes! Verily, tis said ‘Its shell doth smell abhorrently!’” Hercules grins, having recalled the proper response phrase.  The two then could play WWF as they make their way, in concert to Avengers Mansion.

There’s plenty of action, and the Tuska/Marcos art is more interesting than I remember; good choice to have less-mighty characters like Black Widow, Iceman, and the Beast all contribute to keeping Typhon off-balance long enough for Hercules and Iron Man to regain their wits, and conclude the conflict. 

Matthew Bradley: I don’t mind Tuska filling in (although I would not classify the issue itself, otherwise from the usual creative team and in both intra- and inter-title continuity, as a fill-in), since he also drew IM’s recent intro to the Champs, as well as Herc’s prior tussle with Typhon.  And I don’t mind putting two rump teams together, since Ultron sent several Avengers to the hospital, and five seems like a reasonable complement of super-heroes.  Yet man, Archie is slacking off here:  Typhon was last seen not in #50, but much more recently in Premiere #26; he says, “Thine insolence courage credit,” whatever the hell that means; and the next-issue blurb promises “the secret of Wonder Man’s [um, shouldn’t there be another word in there somewhere, guys?] and the Lethal Legion!!”

Gil Kane & Joe Sinnott

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 11
"Spawn of the Spider"
Story by Archie Goodwin and Bill Mantlo
Art by Don Perlin and Jim Mooney
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino

"Chaos at the Coffee Bean!"

Story by Scott Edelman
Art by John Romita, Jr. & Al Milgrom
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Joe Rosen

Swinging through the city, Spider-Man spots Aunt May getting arrested during a Grey Panther demonstration, then zips to Criminal Court as Peter Parker, telling Mary Jane and Anna Watson he heard about it on the radio. A two hundred dollar bail check wipes Peter out, and JJJ won't give him an advance, so MJ convinces him to go with her to a gig as an extra in a big-budget horror flick, Spawn of the Spider. But when the gruesome Man-Spider comes out, the suit is too much for the actor, and he falls! Peter ducks under a truck, changes into Spidey, and saves the actor hanging from a fire escape. Angry director Barney Muller (really?) fires vain special effects man Klemmer, then hires Spidey to play the monsters—paid in cash, of course. Later, a mystery man gives three "master criminals," a "strongman, acrobat and tumbler," creepy "extra-skeleton" spider-suits, calling them his "Spider-Squad" and sending them after the wall-crawler. At Battery Park, the costumed cretins invade the set, slashing Spidey and poisoning him, ruining a day's shooting. That night, a recovered Spidey heads to Klemmer's hotel room, and the three spider-stooges are waiting for him! Spidey fights them off, but they flee in a cab (followed by our hero) up to Yonkers, where they set a web trap for him in a barn silo! But with intelligence, speed and strength, Spider-Man konks the costumed kooks, only to find Klemmer drugged in the hay. The mystery man blows up the silo—it's Anton DeLionatus, the movie's producer, looking for insurance money, but Spidey got everyone out in time, knocks out the baddie with a "KAWRAM!" and the next day, gets even better news when Aunt May is released and the bail money is refunded. Yay!
--Joe Tura

Joe: If Spawn of the Spider is a big budget movie for the mid 70s, they need to hire a better designer than Don Perlin. Don can certainly draw monsters well, and his suit designs aren't horrendous (although certainly strange) but some of the head shots look a bit bizarre, maybe because Mooney is not the right finisher. There's no way to expect Werewolf By Night Perlin, of course, but thankfully this is an annual that people could easily skip if need be. I didn't, but then again, why would I have? The story isn't awful either, but again, it's skippable.

The back-up story, "Chaos at the Coffee Bean!" by Scott Edelman, sees "Debut Penciler" Johnny Romita, Jr's efforts inked by Al Milgrom to the point that it looks like 8th grade term paper quality at times. Far cry from the JRJ that would knock out so much stylized bloody action in the KICK-ASS comics, but hey, it's a start! Basically, Peter and MJ go back to the Coffee Bean after a number of years, with guitarist Paul Cassidy playing as usual, when a gunman enters, taking Cassidy, who tries to play hero, and everyone's valuables with him. As Spidey pursues, he learns the crook and the crooner are in cahoots, so stops the car, saves the day, and goes back to the Bean to find MJ mad at him for leaving her alone. Oh, woe is Peter…And woe is the reader, even though it's cool to see The Coffee Bean again. Maybe Edelman should stick to The Scarecrow.

There's no doubt about this issue's favorite sound effect! It has to be page 8's ridiculous "BLIFISGURGLE!," which is what the Man-Spider screams when he shows up on the set of the movie. I mean, is that the dumbest thing ever? Even dumber than this story? OK, it's a toss-up. Unless you count the silly "SNAP! KRAKLE! POP!" on page 35 when Spidey um, snaps, crackles and pops out of the web trap.

Matthew: Having written umpteen issues of MTU and just succeeded Goodwin on PPTSS, Mantlo might seem the perfect choice to script editor Archie’s plot, but all he does is earn himself unindicted co-conspirator status.  In a moment of stunning self-knowledge, Bill has Spidey call the heavies “an off-the-wall trio of mediocrities,” and mediocrity is indeed the byword for this, down to its doubly uninspired Perlin/Mooney art team.  I don’t expect every annual to be a masterpiece like this year’s Avengers/MTIO double-header, but there oughtta be something a little special about it, and the primary criterion should not just be “longer”; more is not necessarily more when we’re talking about 65% additional mediocrity...

Matthew: Touting the current annuals, the September Bullpen Page notes, “In addition to what we feel is some extra-special material designed for the main body of the books (such as Howard meeting the Man-Thing [which he did not], and Thor teaming with the Guardians of the Galaxy), we’d like to call your attention to the short back-up features…These were designed to give our overworked regulars a few pages of breathing space, and, more importantly, to give some talented new writers, pencilers, and inkers a chance to display their work…Some of [them] you may be slightly familiar with; many, however, will be strangers, exhibiting their work for the first time; some may become comics stars of tomorrow….let us know what you think [of them].”

Inevitably, on his blog, Edelman claims credit for the “debut penciler” here:  “Of all the comic books I’ve written, it’s [this one] of which I’m most proud….John Romita, Jr. may be a star now, but back in the ’70s he was seen by many as just John Romita, Sr.’s son, and no one would give him a shot for fear it would be seen as nepotism.  But I felt that if there’s one thing worse than nepotism, it’s anti-nepotism—not giving work to someone who deserves it out of a fear being accused of abetting nepotism.  And so I made sure that John, Jr. (who ended up being inked by Al Milgrom) got the chance to draw the six-page [story]—which has since, thanks to Jr.’s eventual superstardom, been reprinted numerous times.  I always knew you had it in you, John!”

Ross Andru & Frank Giacoia

The Amazing Spider-Man 172
"The Fiend from the Fire!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza

"Skate-boarding screwball" Rocket Racer and his souped-up skateboard and outfit zip down the streets of Manhattan with Spider-Man in hot pursuit, until our hero webs the wonder wheels and ties up the wanna-be for the police. Meantime, Harry and Liz part romantically, then Liz is greeted in her place by a mystery man. As Harry and Peter meet in a dingy diner for a bite, Liz walks by in a huff and jets away in a cab. Peter talks his ex-roomie off the ledge, then heads to the Bugle, where JJJ is annoyed at the world, then happy to get pix of the Rocket Racer (who wouldn't be?! Ugh…), then ecstatic when Marla Madison pays him a visit. Peter gets a call there—it's Liz calling from the police station. She's been arrested for attempted robbery, having no "other choice." A quick change into Spidey suit, and the investigation is on, discovering footprints burnt into Liz' carpet, which sets off a light bulb in our hero's head, so he heads to the lab where Liz was caught, only to discover The Molten Man is back! After a short but heated battle over a suitcase with chemicals in it, Spidey is left trapped under a bookcase with the cops on his back. --Joe Tura

Joe: Three things happen on the splash page that tell me we are in for trouble this month, class. First off, no Mike Esposito on the finishes, instead we have Giacoia, who is fine, but not as solid as the regular inker. Second, Spidey's head is a yellow/orange instead of red. Printer error, or as my daughter Cassie just said: "Did someone pee on Spider-Man's head?" And third…well, Rocket Racer. 'Nuff said. This month signals the beginning of the downturn of Amazing Spider-Man for me. Yes, it's still my favorite superhero, so I'll never say it stinks, but, let's face it—it's Rocket Racer. And it's a good thing he spends the first couple of pages narrating his suit and board's powers, or else we would never know (or care) what he can do except say "Outta my way, sucker!." Luckily, he's gone by page 6, for now.

As for our mystery villain, it's given away on page 7 (and in the title) once he goes to Liz's place. Yep, ol' Molty is back. Not sure he'll ever go away at this point. And just when things were going quite well for Liz and Harry. The melting mess has more lives than Kenny from South Park, but at least he's always looking for a cure. The fiery fight is a bit short, but there's promise of more next ish, which is OK as long as there's no Rocket Racer. Nice art for the most part, and a decent script that has too many "old time Stan" references, but not bad overall. Just not as good as recent months.

Favorite sound effect is a 2-in-1 on page 6, when Rocket Racer smashes into a truck (yay!) with a "NOOOOOOOOO" and a solid "THWUD!" If only that were the last of him…Sigh...

Chris: Sound – and somewhat sneaky – decision by Len to limit the Rocket Racer segment to the first four pages of the comic.  Why sneaky, you ask?  Well, simply because nothing in the first half gives away the upcoming reveal of the Molten Man on p 26.  In between, we get some fine supporting-character bits: Jonah’s interest in Dr Marla Madison, and Robbie’s observation that she might offer a positive influence for him; Harry’s coffee conversation with Pete; a bit of intrigue with Liz.  We don’t have a useful lead on the unknown assailant’s identity until Spidey spots the burned footprints in Liz’s carpeting, on p 22.

I expect that Spidey-philes will not be pleased by Giacoia’s inks, replacing inker-mainstay Esposito this issue.  I’ll admit that the art looks a bit flat at times, but overall it’s fine; we don’t lose too much of the effect of Andru’s pencils.  The bounce in Jonah’s step, as he hustles to prepare to meet with Marla, is a highlight (p 15, top panel).   

Matthew: Not since the Mindworm has there been as unanimous a punchline among the faculty, yet they wisely hustle the Rocket Racer offstage pretty fast, and among the very few benefits of reading that suck-ass annual is that it makes him seem almost charming in comparison.  As a kid, I probably wasn’t bothered by little things like the fact that halfway through, Peter/Spidey inexplicably adopts RR’s speech-patterns and starts calling everyone “ace,” or the persistent misspelling of Liz’s name (remember the Allan/Connors/Osborn “No E” Rule, class).  But the worst was the feeling that I’d effectively read this story before, and with a little quick digging, there it was:  Larcenous Len lifted much of this plot from Conway’s #132-3.

Jack Kirby

Black Panther 5
"Quest for the Sacred Water-Skin!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Mike Royer

Princess Zanda shows T'Challa the lifeless husk of an apparently centuries-old man, but what truly astounds the Black Panther is that this husk was, only minutes before, a Samurai warrior he had battled and defeated. Zanda explains to the Panther that the warrior deteriorated quickly because he had left his hidden city and the substance that kept him alive, the same substance that Zanda needs to keep her own vitality. She pleads with the Panther to travel to the hidden Samurai city and bring back the sacred Samurai water-skin that holds the incredible potion. At first T'Challa refuses until Zanda shows him a chilling sight: a nuclear missile aimed at Wakanda! With a heavy heart, the Panther agrees to the trip and is accompanied by the minuscule Mr. Little. Unbeknownst to the pair, they are under constant scrutiny once they land in the city. As they sit around a campfire that night, they are attacked by a giant Yeti. Through trickery, T'Challa and Little are able to knock the creature unconscious but, as they are catching their breath, a new menace arrives in the form of a Ronin. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Just how much of this epic The King had mapped out from the get-go is anyone's guess. It sure feels like Jack was making it all up as he went along, bouncing from one WTF? adversary to the next, but at least he's keeping the reader (at least this reader) entertained. Most entertaining segment is when Abner Little (Winner, 1976 Best Supporting Character in a Lead Role) displays the wee Samurai outfit he's appropriated from Zamba's collection with a bold, "Don't you know a Samurai warrior when you see one?" and is rebutted with a sound scolding by the Princess: "I know a thief when I see one! Return that armor at once!" The Yeti is a pure Kirby 1960s Tales to Astonish monstrosity but without the personality Jack gave to those earlier creations. On the "Panther Postscripts" page, reader Harris M. Miller II says that "Black Panther has had the best Kirby artwork since you returned to Marvel. The story is good, but I would like to see the Jungle Action plotlines tied up." Wouldn't we all? But it's reader Bruce Scott who cuts quickly to the chase: "I like your art... I find some of your plots tolerable, even occasionally interesting. And I don't mind that you keep ripping off Kubrick, Clarke, and the like. What I do mind is what you've done to T'Challa, Prince of the Wakandas. I'm not sure which technique you used while operating on him - psychosurgery, electroshock therapy, lobotomy, or thorazine treatments -but whatever it was, it wiped out the Panther's character completely." Ouch! Pretty vicious, Bruce.

Matthew: Hmmm.  The monarch of a small yet technologically advanced fictional kingdom is forced into an unholy alliance when his people are threatened with annihilation.  Has Kirby beereading Super-Villain Team-Up on the side?  I wish I could honestly say I find this half as enjoyable, despite the entertainment value provided by Mr. Little, but even setting aside how utterly out of touch T’Challa’s co-creator is with who the character has become in recent years (“When all else fails—throw rocks!”), the series simply seems to meander around with no cohesion or clear direction.  Yet this book—or at least Jack’s involvement with it—will outlast both SVTU and his own problematic, arguably more interesting, Eternals by about a year.

Al Milgrom & Terry Austin
Captain Marvel 52
"Captain Marvel... Wanted!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Al Milgrom, Terry Austin, Jack Abel, and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza 

Returning to Earth via the rift caused by Mercurio’s oscillator, Mar-Vell resumes pondering his future while Rick tries and fails to escape from Minerva’s science-cruiser; she informs him that Mar-Vell’s interception is imminent, but he is suspicious of her claim that Marv “need not die to serve my purpose!”  His Teen Brigade pals report his kidnapping to a desk sergeant who scoffs until he hears a convenient report of a UFO hovering over Times Square and puts out an APB.  Curious as to why the Kree would send a second such ship so soon after Mac-Ron and Tara’s, Mar-Vell effects ingress, shatters the bio-tube in which she attempts to seal him, and destroys her control panel, but the bio-geneticist has a miniaturized set implanted inside her.

Threatening Rick with metal tentacles, she seeks to unite her gene patterns with Mar-Vell’s and create superior offspring to renew the Kree’s evolutionary ascent, ready to liquefy Rick—whom the atomic linkage may have altered—and extract a chromosome concentrate if Mar-Vell did not return.  When she refuses an order from Phae-Dor, the head of the Supreme Science Council, to abandon her plan, he beams aboard via “an immense energy manifestation,” and tries to capture Mar-Vell.  Realizing that his power source is the ship itself, Mar-Vell begins to destroy it, but before disappearing, Phae-Dor warns of a “War between the Three Galaxies [that] cannot be won—without you!”; emerging from the wreck with Rick, Marv is arrested for kidnapping him... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Before I count down the final ten issues, it’s probably prudent to admit defeat and acknowledge that as much as I love the character, the post-Starlin CM was never that good; even Englehart, his erstwhile collaborator, couldn’t really nail it, despite flashes of quality.  It’s probably self-evident that Edelman will barely move the needle, although he does grapple with the legitimate question of what Marv should do with himself when not spending most of his time in the Negative Zone.  Austin will have ample opportunity to show his worth later on, but there’s only so much an inker can do, and with Milgrom’s rubbery Phae-Dor reminding me of nothing so much as one of R. Crumb’s Keep on Truckin’ drawings in page 16, panel 1, even basic dignity often eludes the title.

This installment doesn’t reflect very well on Kree scientists.  While undeniably attractive in an azure sort of way, Minerva (why name her after a Roman goddess, and of the arts at that?) looks like she’s going out for the council’s field hockey team, while her Cuisinart Plan B for Rick gives the phrase “genetic cocktail” new meaning, and her boss—seen in Inhumans #3-4—goes  for the MARMIS, doing his darnedest to wipe the floor with Marv before explaining as he fades out that, oh, by the way, we desperately need your help.  Was it a self-aware Al who added the Hands of Silly Putty martial-arts movie sight gag on the splash page?  Because that would harmonize with such images as the desk sergeant in page 6, panel 4, or Bishop in page 7, panel 1.

Chris: Shrewd plan by Mar-Vell, to sucker the energy-manifestation of Phae-Dor into triggering an explosion by smashing a generator; and then, nice play by Edelman to abruptly back off from this expected outcome, which requires Marv to scramble up a cosmically-aware Plan B.  I can’t imagine how much fun it must be to smash up a Kree science-cruiser; probably not the best idea, though, to cripple it while it’s hovering over a heavily-populated area.  

Hey, anyone seen Dr Minerva?  She’s allotted nearly an entire page to explain how she and Marv can work together (or perhaps, “work it” together) to improve the genetic profile of the Kree, and then she’s batted aside and completely upstaged by Phae-Dor.  Marv carries Rick from the ship’s wreckage, but no sign of Dr Minerva.  This day did not turn out the way she had planned. 

Another nutty moment from Terry Austin, as his hand appears to be the one that adds a title to the marquee visible on the splash page; there is a “Kung Fu Triple Feature” of Bruce Lee movies, one of which (according to the banner hanging from the marquee) is titled Hands of Silly Putty. There’s a significant change in the art on p 27 and p 30, as both appear to have been self-inked by Milgrom.  

Al Milgrom

The Champions 15
"Death Drone!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by John Byrne and Mike Esposito
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Bruce Patterson

As a giant hive forms atop Champs H.Q., the headstrong Hercules smashes the computer to block bees pouring through the central A.C. duct, their heat weakening Bobby’s ice-shield enough for Swarm to smash it and steal the briefcase with a glove treated to neutralize the repellent.  His robo-drones carrying off Bobby and Laynia, he seals himself in the lab while Tash orders Angel and GR to aid the authorities with the bees ravaging L.A., and joins Herc in trying to breach the instantly re-forming hive wall.  Inside, Swarm relates how toxicologist, apiculturist and expatriate Nazi Fritz von Meyer found a strange hive at the site of a meteorite bombardment in the South American jungle, radiation having mutated the bees and increased their intelligence.

His experiments reawoke their killer instincts but failed to control them, and when they attacked through his protective garb, he became an “aggregate man” by seizing their queen, later sealed in amber by the INTERPOL agent; sensing a trapped mind, Laynia frees it with the darkforce.  The wall stops reconstituting itself when Hercules smashes the drones, and he and the Widow find Bobby carrying Laynia, who has been stunned by “an outpouring of gratitude…”  Growing as she continues to mutate, the queen attacks Hercules, but just in time to save Natasha from death at the hands—er, stingers of the bees Swarm has launched at her, he hurls the queen out to sea, and the bees follow, ending the threat to L.A. and leaving Swarm merely bones in a purple cloak. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Swarm is a pretty cool villain, yet Mantlo’s story has some holes:  it’s unclear, for example, how the INTERPOL agent was able to separate Swarm from the queen in the first place, or why there was such empathy between her and Laynia, unless it’s simply that the latter felt “trapped” by the Soviet system.  The generally fine Byrne/Esposito art is uneven, not just in the usual sense, but ranging from the almost-too-Byrnian Laynia in page 16, panel 5, who looks virtually inhuman, to Natasha in page 22, panel 2, who looks good, but like the work of a totally different artist.  This close to cancellation, it may be what Archie Bunker called a “mute point” to lament the internal friction (“I don’t need to be told what to do!”) reinforcing the team’s can’t-win-for-losing status.

Chris: Best lines, in an exchange between Hercules and the Widow as he bashes the giant robot bees: “Would that all the ills of this insane planet could be solved thus!” “Not likely, my friend – not even in your lifetime!”

It’s another pure-fun issue; although, I will register two minor reservations: the action is a bit disjointed, as we have a significant pause in the middle, after Swarm snatches Darkstar (to aid in the release of the queen bee from the amber) and Iceman (for an unknown reason) and inexplicably runs further into the Champions HQ, there to relate his origin tale; and, the omission of Ghost Rider from the action seems ill-advised.  

Mantlo establishes that there is a symbiotic connection between Swarm the once-man, the present swarm of bees, and the queen bee; so, wouldn’t it have been something if Blaze had zapped the queen with hellfire, and thereby shaken Swarm thru his connection with her?  That might’ve provided further motivation for Herc to fling the queen out to Catalina Island.  Letter-writers have registered their objections to Ghost Rider, stating that he doesn’t seem to fit in the group (and, their point might be valid); an instance like this, though, with GR providing a key to Swarm’s defeat, could’ve offered GR a pivotal opportunity to demonstrate his value to the team.  

The Byrne/Esposito art looked fine last issue, but the appearance this time is disappointingly inconsistent, with the results seeming to vary from page to page.  While about half of the pages are on-par, there are a few that are a bit weak (p 3, p 10, p 23), and one that could almost have been the work of a different team (p 22).  Fortunately, the payoff is beautifully done, as Swarm’s body is stripped away, leaving bare bones (shameless plug!).  

Back to the letters for a second.  Captain X and the Defenderites write from Cincinnati OH to suggest that the title-logo be changed, to incorporate the stylized “C” that appears on the Champs’ HQ.  Sound idea.  Sadly, no well-intentioned fine-tuning will save this title, which has only two installments  remaining.  I still can’t understand why the Champions didn’t make it; couldn’t issues #11-15 have been sufficient to rally fan support, and all-important sales?  Or had too much good will been squandered by the uninspiring early chapters, so that not enough fans tuned in to these much-improved later issues?

John Buscema
Conan the Barbarian 78 
“Curse of the Undead-Man”
(Reprinted from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #1, August 1974)
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen

Big John Buscema’s unrelenting workload — including this month’s interminable Marvel Comics Super Special #1 with Kiss — brings on a case of Dreaded Deadline Doom and Roy is forced to reprint the lead story from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #1, originally published in August 1974. As The Hyborian Page states, at least it’s in color for the first time and Buscema delivers a killer new color. Kinda blows since we were promised some Thoth-Amon action last issue. Heck, I’ve waited this long for a blood-and-guts appearance by the supreme Stygian sorcerer, another month won’t kill me. -Tom Flynn

Chris: I frequently express dismay at the sight of a fill-in – or worse, a reprint – because, often enough, the interruption comes when a story has reached a certain point in its development, and I’m breathlessly awaiting the next chapter.  Conan #78 doesn’t strike me as one of those moments, though.  Granted, Conan and Bêlit still have a long journey and unanswered questions ahead of them.  But, last issue’s conclusion effectively brought to a close a chapter of the longer ongoing story; it would’ve been far worse if the fill-in had come in place of CtB #77, which would’ve left Conan at the bottom of a pit, facing a giant with a glowing meteor, and would’ve required us to settle for a fill-in when we were dying to know the resolution of the cliffhanger.

The other reason why a fill-in isn’t world-ending is that the various Conan titles provide a deep reservoir of quality material to re-run (as opposed to, well, nearly every other Marvel title).  It’s a bonus to see one of these stories in color (Roussos colors, no less).  Plus, as a Marvel collector whose local newsstand didn’t stock Marvel magazines, there would’ve been no other opportunity for me ever to own a story like this. 

I realize Prof Tom has already ably presented his comments for this story, so I’ll briefly observe that I enjoy the interplay, and the moments of humor, between Conan and Sonja.  There’s a grisly-funny moment on the last page, as Sonja observes that Costranno could return again from the dead, and exact his revenge against Berthilda – except that the word “revenge” is cut off – by a blood-curdling scream from inside the house!  Ah, that crazy Hyborian-age humor.  

One last thing: I wish I could prove that page 26 (reprinted left) – a full-pager of Conan and Sonja springing into action – had been specially-prepared for this issue, since the style of the Buscema/Marcos art seems different than the other pages.  But, I checked, and the original story in Savage Sword is 18 pages, and this issue is the conventional four-color 17, so it’s not like they needed to add a page.  If anything, there aren’t any jarring transitions in the story, so I can’t tell what might’ve been edited out.

George Perez & Pablo Marcos

The Defenders 51
"A Round with the Ringer!"
Story by David Kraft
Art by Keith Giffen and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson

Nick Fury has arrived to assess the wreckage of his dead brother Jake’s – aka Scorpio – failed dream of a new life with his self-styled Zodiac.  Fury reasons that Jake had killed himself once he realized the battle had turned against him; Fury’s exact copy, the LMD that had been Scorpio’s assistant and only confidante for the past seven years, says only: “don’t matter … he’ll still be – dead.”  Hellcat has her injuries tended to, and Hulk seethes, feeling ignored as Nighthawk speaks with Moon Knight. Moon Knight reveals how he survived Scorpio’s death trap (from Defenders #48), and departs.  Weeks pass.  Kyle convinces Val to register for classes at Empire State University, so she can broaden herself and meet new people.  After a skull-crushing and spirit-withering day of bureaucratic wrangles, Val tries to relax when she is hit-on by a film fanatic named Dollar Bill; she also meets Bill’s friend Ledge, and accompanies them to the movies.  Jack Norriss drives out to the riding academy, where Patsy informs him of Val’s involvement with school.  Patsy also takes Jack aside, and encourages him to move on from his preoccupation with Val; Jack describes how Barbara Norriss has become a “total stranger” since her transformation to Valkyrie, and how his loss of her has cost Jack a part of himself.  Kyle arrives at Richmond Enterprises, and switches to Nighthawk to battle a fast-talking small-time crook called the Ringer.  The Ringer rationalizes his theft from Richmond, claiming Richmond’s money had come from stealing natural resources, and ripping off employees and consumers.  The Ringer runs Nighthawk around and twists him up in rings, until he exhausts his supply of weapons, so Kyle finally puts the wraps on him.  The Hulk eats a hot dog – well, several hot dogs.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Any time a story builds to a conclusion like Defenders #50, I appreciate having time for an aftermath.  Last time, I meant to mention that Gemini is one of very few members of the Zodiac to survive; he’s visible on the bottom of p 2, prying into the medic’s work as he patches up Patsy.  I’m reasonably certain that Sagittarius (in the Dollar Bill movie chaos of #62-64) is the only other android Zodiac to appear again in the Bronze era; I wouldn’t have been surprised to see the Defenders adopt Gemini for a while, especially after he’d helped save Hellcat last issue.  And what would SHIELD do with a recovered Fury LMD?  We see the Fury-copy led away, with a tear in his eye for dead Scorpio, but I don’t recall any further mention of him.  The story then goes in several directions (as evidenced by my synopsis), which tends to work better in Defenders than in other team books; the engaging personalities of the non-members keep these occasional action-lite issues entertaining.  

The Ringer, in his (small) handful of Bronze era appearances, comes to be known as the Rinky-Dink Ringer.  It’s a fitting appellation, as the R-DR epitomizes the small-timer: the rings are a clever idea, and Nighthawk has his share of trouble with them (especially once he’s nearly crushed by a few, which disable his jet-pack).  In the end, his skills and powers are limited, as a well-placed slug by Hulk – or Val, or Hellcat on the right day – should take him out.  The real value of the fight is the Ringer’s repartee, as he not only tries to justify his actions, but also puts Kyle down, accusing him of wanting to “indulge in sanctioned violence and bask in hero worship.”

Chris: The arrival of Dollar Bill is not the best of news.  Bill is one of those supporting characters whose presence should be kept to a minimum; he can be amusing, but he easily becomes insufferable—again, best employed in smaller does.   I didn’t mention in the synopsis that the last page gives us a glimpse of Lunatik, also best utilized for an issue or two; instead, for some reason, he will set down roots and become extremely difficult to shake.  

I’ve enjoyed the Giffen/Janson art team, and I’m sorry to report this is their final Defenders pairing.  The Ringer costume is the most notable visual moment (p 15).  It’s comical in its way, especially since the villain has rings all over the costume, including around his feet, and one large ring running the length of his head, wrapping over his nose and chin.  The nose-ring (as it were) certainly would interfere with the Ringer’s vision, but since Kyle practically breaks his hand on it, I suppose it serves its intended purpose.  
Matthew: “The Ringer.”  Those two words alone warn battle-scarred Bronze vets of the aroma wafting from this slice of Kraft cheese, but three more follow:  “Dollar Bill” and “Lunatik.”  Keith’s name is misspelled...again, albeit in a different way (“Giffin”), and by the time we’ve limped our way to the last page, they’ve done a similar disservice to Nic Roeg.  Janson notwithstanding, The Artist Formerly Known As Giffen rises to the occasion more than once, e.g., the double-spread on 2-3 that forms half of the Hulk’s pointless cameo, and few Steranko-successors besides Our Pal Sal have handled Fury as well as on this splash page, yet the Ringerwhoever designed himlooks like a Hydra goon with an orange diaper on his head.

Addendum:  Just days after I submitted this, we lost David Bowie, who starred in the Roeg film mentioned on the last page, The Man Who Fell to Earth; a sad coincidence, and one that cut Mrs. Professor Matthew to the quick.

Jack Kirby, John Romita, & John Verpoorten

The Eternals 15
"Disaster Area"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jack Kirby and Archie Goodwin

Facing a cosmic power-infused replica of the Hulk, Ikaris tries something he rarely unleashes: disintegrating beams. Alas, the behemoth is too fast, and leaps like a frog from building to building. Sersi turns his molecules to stone, grounding the duplicate, but quickly it adapts and regains its original state. Ikaris knocked aside, Sersi becomes Fay Wray to Greenskin's King Kong, as he scoops her away, hurling a building top spire like a missile at Makarri's pursuing craft. Below, a media-led crowd tries to get some answers from Ikaris before he leaps back into action. Sersi has gained a delay at least by transforming objects into creatures in Hulk's path. Professor Ryan and the two boys who created the green replica in the first place are on the news explaining the situation. Meanwhile, it seems Ikaris, Sersi and Makarri are all that stand between the beast and more destruction...until Zuras appears. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I'm struck by how, in this tale, everyone is so well-informed. No one mistakes the cosmic Hulk for the real thing, they accept Eternals among them as a seemingly normal activity, and the boys who created the menace in the first place get a clear chance to explain their innocence. References to Dr. Doom, Thor and the Inhumans are tossed in to give the Eternals a clear place in the "regular" Marvel universe; kind of funny when the (central character) Hulk is not the real deal. Sersi's transformations that slow down the foe are more interesting than actual battle, which is really all that happens in this one. Thank God(s) that Zuras comes along to tip the scales--we hope.

Chris: “So Jack, I see the Hulk is in your next issue of the Eternals.”  “Well, not exactly Jim – it’s a hulk, but not the Hulk.”  “Oh, okay – wait, what -?”

The smash-em-up high above Manhattan is fine in itself – it’s about time we had some action involving Ikaris, after a significant lack of same.  The problem is that Jack set the bar so high from the start; he offered us Celestials – space-gods from beyond the stars!  And instead, we’ve reached the point where we have a battle with a pseudo-Hulk.  No grand design at work here, is there?

Matthew: While the series has had its ups and downs, the current plotline leaves me with no regrets that the book’s days are numbered; this issue is a mess, but I’ll limit myself to two points.  What are we to make of these lines?  “These comic fans think that all of Marvel’s characters are running amuck!” and “A computerized replica of a popular Marvel character was built here by these two young men—”  With prior issues (tacitly) and lettercols (overtly) locating the strip in the mainstream Marvel Universe, are we now to believe that the Hulk et al. are merely, or at any rate primarily, comic-book characters and not “real?”  And what’s with the scarring or burning or dirt or whatever the hell it is that appears and disappears on Ikaris’s face, completely at random?

Mark: It would be a gross overstatement to say "the rot's set in," as there's four color fun and thrills aplenty in "Disaster Area" - with Jack Kirby's Hulk going ape sh*t, how could it be otherwise? - but with only a handful of issues left, I fear the title's considerable peaks are behind us, only valleys ahead.

But the fun first. Save for a handful of breath-catching panels sprinkled throughout, this one's a rock'em sock'em old school King Kirby slugfest from start to finish. No interior splash techno-porn pin-ups of humongous alien "gods" standing around, looking godlike. 

Uh-uh. Instead we get the Hulk on an unbridled orgy of destruction, mad like he found Thunderbolt Ross raiding his stash of purple pants. Even the Eternals can't stop the smash! but it sure evokes an eight year old comic kid's delight to watch them try.

And taken purely on that pre-adolescent agresso-fantasy level, the book's a complete success. But...

It's not really the Hulk, just a revved-up machine. Kirby dispensing with characterization,  avoids giving Greenskin any voice (be it the smart-aleck, unhinged bully of the Lee-Kirby original, or the more childlike, wounded monster version) at all. Stripped of all personality and pathos, the robo-Hulk is reduced to a mere engine of destruction, a special effect, if a spectacular one.

Missing also is one of the title's quirky strengths, the introduction of new characters almost every issue, a jumbled bounty of ideas and concepts as Jack weaved his way, seemingly willy-nilly, among various locales and plot threads. 

This one's just Get the (fake) Hulk! And when all the  KRAKK! ZZWOOSH! WOOMMM! KABLAAM! is said and done, the battle does little to advance any of the larger story lines.

And that doesn't make me happy...even if my inner eight year old wants to make some popcorn and read it again.

George Perez & Joe Sinnott

Fantastic Four 186
"Enter: Salem's Seven!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza

The Fabs awake in a dungeon in New Salem, Colorado, greeted by Agatha Harkness, who's toting Franklin Richards. We learn Agatha abducted the boy in the hope his "special powers" (not knowing they were no longer extant) could save her from the hidden witch coven that now holds them in captivity. Head warlock and Sebastian Cabot-lookalike Nicholas Scratch arrives to announce Agatha has been found guilty of revealing their existence to the outside world and will be executed "...immediately!"

Ben and Johnny object, so Scratch transports Franklin elsewhere, a hostage to keep our heroes cowed. Impy's half-page appearance - shoehorned in as has become the norm - has him waxing rhapsodic over Humphrey Bogart before he's rendered unconscious by an unseen assailant. 

Back in New Salem, Agatha is led to a giant altar " answer for your crime." She calls the proceedings "...a blatant mockery of justice." Scratch points out that, "...mockery or not, you will be just as dead."

The Fabs break out, thanks to Sue's force field knocking out the guard, then confront the titular Salem's Seven, a twenty-something bunch who look like refugees from Plato's Retreat and morph into Inhuman-like fighters. Hydron has a water cannon arm; Thornn can fire explosive power-spines; Reptilla is a snake-woman, and so on. Our heroes are on the verge of defeat, when Wein serves up the goofiest deus ex machina I've seen in ages. Strong and shaggy Brutacus crushes Reed's artificial Stretch-O arms and presto chango, the Seven revert to human form; it seems "the spell that transformed us could work solely against the natural powers of the Fantastic Four! By utilizing artificial means against us, you have returned us to what we were!"

Uh, okay, Len. If you say so.

The Fabs arrive to save Agatha, seconds before her execution, and when Scratch kills one of Salem's own in a fit of pique, witchy opinion turns against him. Scratch is banished to Never-Neverland, and only as the FF head east in the Pogo Plane, Franklin safely returned to them, do we learn that Scratch was - cue dramatic out-ro theme music - Agatha's wayward son! -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Given last month's lame-o set-up, this is a decent conclusion, helped along by top shelf art by Perez and Sinnott. The Salem Seven were an entertaining diversion, allowing Len and George to riff on the Inhumans, even if their pulled-from-the-rectal-region defeat was a real groaner.

And what about the Eliminator, from two months ago? How in the name of Agnes Moorehead did a hidden society of witches get their hands on a cyborg killing machine? With Wein completely ignoring the clashing genre questions, we're left to muse that maybe Scratch had a subscription to Deathlok...

Nor does Len address the familial dysfunction that turned sonny boy Scratch against momma Agatha in such an extreme, homicidal fashion. So, final summation, class: this one entertains, but raises a host of questions it doesn't bother to answer, and has all the depth of a thimble. 

Matthew: Meh. This feels like a throwback to the old Buscema days on FF and Thor, when the art was to die for and the writing average at best.  Visually, at least, as depicted by the peerless Pérez/Sinnott team, Salem’s Seven is a quantum leap ahead of its contemporaries, the new Zodiac in Defenders #50 and the new Brotherhood of Evil Mutants in Captain America Annual #4, but conceptually, they’re almost as lame. Worse, Wein’s story is a mass of unanswered questions, most notably the reasons for Nicholas Scratch’s (hey, that name shouldn’t have tipped anybody off at all, right?) betrayal in general, and in particular why he suddenly went after Agatha now that she’s been out and about since #94 (January 1970), and told nobody.

Chris: After being humbled by the New Salem assembly in FF #185, the team has a fairly easy time engineering their escape from Witch Central.  It helps that the populace is willing to listen to reason, and that Scratch manages to commit the classic error of rashly Killing His Own Kind, which reveals his True Badness.  I had forgotten the little twist at the end, when we learn that Scratch is – Agatha’s son?!  And he was ready to have her executed?!  Pretty big step to take, just because your mom wouldn’t let you fly the broomstick after midnight, Nicholas – let’s not be too hasty.

I shouldn’t discount the contribution by the freshly-minted Salem’s Seven, who give the team a good fight.  Nice twist by Len to have their transformation spell cancelled out once Reed’s artificial arm-extenders are revealed; if Ben still had his exoskeleton, all he would’ve had to do would be to partly unzip the front, and the fight never would’ve begun.  It’s a refreshingly unexpected move by Len, to find a way for the FF to end the fight without having to clobber their foes (although, Len suggests that this does happen, outside of our line of sight).  We only get a little taste of the witch-team this time; the names and powers aren’t terribly original, but Pérez employs his usual brilliance with character and costume design to provide a cool-looking team, at least.  Salem’s Seven doesn’t get a whole lot of play during the Bronze era, which seems like a missed opportunity; Pérez will give us another look at them in a future FF Annual (which, I fear, will fall outside of MU’s mandated review period).

I have to take exception with a LOC by Michael A of Ridgewood NY, who complains that Sue is depicted in these pages as little more than a “female stereotype” who frequently requires rescue by capable males.  Well, we’ve seen precious little of that in recent months, haven’t we?  Sue seems to be handling her end of the fight just fine most of the time, and is constantly finding new uses for her powers, such as the force-field yank of the guard into the bars (p 11); on the same page, (future Marvel scribe) Kurt B of Lexington MA backs up my point – thanks, Kurt!

Herb Trimpe

Godzilla 2
"Thunder in the Darkness!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, and George Tuska
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza

Seattle is under attack by an angry, wounded Godzilla, and worried about fire as they're in the middle of a drought. SHIELD's Gabe Jones spots the beast, and the Godzilla Squad reports back to the Helicarrier, where Dum Dum Dugan gets a history lesson from Dr. Takiguchi, who calls the Big G "the most dangerous living creature on the face of the earth," yet assistant Tamara calls him an "elemental force" that "cannot fairly be judged evil," and grandson Robert dubs him a "hero." As night arrives, so does SHIELD, to distract Godzilla from destroying the Space Needle. They plunge the city into darkness so they can further distract the monster with a series of beacon-flares, drawing him to the edge of a cliff, where he hesitates. The Helicarrier erupts with high intensity lights to blind Godzilla, then Dum Dum orders The Blockbusters to hit G from behind and send him into the sea below, where he swims off. Gabe Jones feels remorse over what they did, even though they saved Seattle, while young Robert thinks he is "Godzilla's only hope." --Joe Tura

Joe: Our "2nd Searing Issue!" is more of the same from last month. Godzilla on the rampage, funky Trimpe art that features awesome closeups of giant limbs as well as a bizarre zombie Godzilla (page 14, panel 1) and long shots that make him look more like a generic dinosaur than any of the movies ever did. Then SHIELD comes in to save the day with more wacky inventions like The Blockbusters, a group of trucks that shoot giant blocks at The King to send him sprawling into the welcoming ocean. It's a big cartoon of a comic book from start to finish. Insane dialogue and reactions to our giant hero. Crazy perspective shots. And an arrogant teen who will probably annoy us more with each appearance—if he's anything like in the movies. Not sure if Marvel is trying to capture the feel of the movies, but the appearance of actual Marvel characters makes it more like a madcap mash-up. And since next ish promises The Champions, there's more mayhem afoot!

Matthew: Okay, I’ll admit it:  aside from the American setting and the presence of S.H.I.E.L.D. characters from the Marvel Universe, this felt more like an actual Godzilla movie than I remembered, from the kid who defends/understands him while the grown-ups do not to the high-tech military/scientific hardware arrayed against him, often fruitlessly.  That still doesn’t mean I love it—and Lord knows, I couldn’t differentiate the Giacoia and Tuska inks, since the whole thing looked like unfiltered Trimpe to me—but it does challenge my recollection that the comics utterly failed to provide any sort of equivalent to the films.  We’ll see how fast I change my tune next issue when the promised guest-shot by the Champions adds the super-hero factor…

Gene Colan & Tom Palmer
Howard the Duck 16
"Zen and the Art of Comic Book Writing, et al."
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan, Marie Severin, Dave Cockrum, Tom Palmer, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Dick Giordano, Michael Netzer, and Terry Austin
Colors by "Doc Martin"
Letters by Irving Watanabe and Terry Austin

Steve Gerber misses the deadline to submit a synopsis to Gene Colan so that he can begin drafting the art.  Rather than run a reprint, Steve offers a lengthy text piece, complemented by large-format art pages, that describes his recent move from the demands of New York to the dry, empty space of Las Vegas, his expectations of himself as a writer, his dissatisfaction for the regulated American society, and finally offers an apologia as a closer. -Chris Blake

Chris: I knew this was coming sometime, but I honestly couldn’t remember when the text-issue would appear until I picked up this one, and glimpsed the cover, which proclaims: “Deadline Doom!” and “Howard at the Mercy of his Most Powerful Foe – The Incredible Creator!”  My first thought was: well, I guess an issue with text and illustrations would probably be faster to assemble than a regular issue, since you’ve gotta mail the synopsis to the artist, who’s gotta rough-out the pencils, and send it back to the writer to work out the dialog, and then send it to the inker, and then the art director and editor for corrections, before the letterer fills in the dialog, etc.  

My second thought was: the text pieces in this issue run extremely long – was this really a better use of time than to draft a synopsis for a legitimate Howard issue -?  Here’s an instance when Steve’s free-form approach to plotting comes back to bite him; it seems likely he truly didn’t know what might happen to Howard and Bev once he landed them on the island of Dr Bong.  Without a plan in mind, other production-demands preclude him from devoting requisite time to plot Howard’s next series of moves; and, Steve gets caught short.  

I wish I could say it’s a fun read, but we’ve been down this self-important road with Steve before, and frankly, it gets tedious this time.  Steve burns up two pages about a man who’s frustrated by filling out forms, and dissatisfied with his wife, so he runs out and manages to blow himself up when he tries to destroy an IRS office.  Steve then follows this with a two-page critique of his “story.”  Following the apologia on p 31 (presented as a letter Steve has written – to himself), Steve suggests we “pretend this issue never happened – you had a bad dream, that’s all.”  Well Steve, regarding this issue, that’s by far the best idea you’ve had yet.

The art appears as two-page spreads featuring work by Alan Weiss, Ed Hannigan & Bob Wiaceck, Dave Cockrum, Tom Palmer, Al Milgrom, John Buscema, Dick Giordano, plus a one-pager by Mike Nasser & Terry Austin.  Cockrum’s by far is the most entertaining, as he presents Steve and Howard poised on a giant tongue pointing in two directions, toward “Doom” and “Despair.”  Visible in the distance are: a great white shark; a Martian craft from the 1953 War of the Worlds; Man-Thing; Dr Doom, with a straw hat and cane; Omega the Unknown, prone, with a single flower standing up from his chest; a giant octopus; a Space:1999 craft; and a cathode-ray tube that shows Mr Whipple, squeezing the Charmin.  Second prize goes to Tom Palmer, who presents the “Obligatory Comic Book Fight Scene,” in this case waged by an ostrich and a Las Vegas chorus girl against “the Mind-Numbing Menace of a Killer Lampshade,” which I wouldn’t rule out as a possible future opponent for Howard.  Visible on the far-right side of the illustration is a boy carrying the Howard the Duck Treasury – ah, shameless plug.

Mark: Before we begin, class, one bit of housekeeping: to the student who didn't complete the reading, no, your plaintive lament that Howard #16 has "too many words" cuts no ice here. But since that sentiment - had our anonymous slacker chosen to express it in the paper he didn't write - might have found a somewhat sympathetic ear, rather than an F for the week, our sad sack Salieri has another 24 hours to finish their assignment. More than fair, wouldn't you say, Mr. Forbush?

Prof confession: this is my first read-through of Steve Gerber's (in)famous Deadline Doom Fill-in Manifesto, and while I wouldn't call it an "album issue" as the cover does, I'm confident in asserting  - since I've haven't done actual research. Is Forbushism catching? - it's the first time a mainstream comic boasted an issue-long prose piece from the writer about how he couldn't write the issue. And there's a gallery of splendid double splash pages from a host of artists to fulfill the comic quotient; Gerber's natterings more than provide the book.

By turns confessional, defensive, top-flight and turgid, Steve's don't hit me assertion that, "it's better than a reprint," reveals him crouched in a nebbishy, Woody Allen-like defensive stance, and it's up to us, the observers, to tout the bravery of this revelatory mental strip-tease. 

The opening pages, positing Howard out on the road with Gerber as he travels to his new digs in Vegas, works best,  and it's followed strongly by the two page "obligatory comic book fight scene" between an ostrich, a Vegas showgirl, and a "KILLER lampshade." That alone, perhaps, is worth the admission price.

Then, with space still to fill, we get Ramsludge Hawthorne and his wife Remarka, and sink into a boring, bong water swamp that has one sympathizing with Forbush as we crawl, word by word, desperately toward the finish.

So, a groundbreaking experiment and textbook example of '70's in public artistic self-flagellation, tarted up with a few yucks? Check and check.

Is it a whole lot of fun?

Consult Mr. Forbush.

Matthew: The discerning critic, just turned 14:  “Got HTD #16, it’s boring.  It’s a f*ck*ng essay, not a comic!” (June 27).  It is indeed the ne plus ultra of Gerber’s trademark text pages, although my alleged maturity has made me more receptive to it, and while I’m sure it will have its 21st-century detractors as well, I would echo Steve and ask (especially knowing how intolerant of the D3 some faculty members are), “If we take it as a given that the planned continuation of the Dr. Bong storyline ain’t happening, isn’t this—bizarre though it may be—preferable to a reprint?”  The artwork is fun, filled with in-jokes, but I’ll let the proper authorities enumerate the “Cast of Thousands” and just sign off with a hearty “Good luck, Professor Chris!”

Gene Colan & Tom Palmer

Howard the Duck Annual 1
"Thief of Bagmom"
Story by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen

Howard has been squatting at Paul’s studio apartment, together with Bev and Winda, for the past eight weeks; the place is beginning to get seedy.  The hairless apes return from shopping and present a new carpet, to brighten up Howard’s sleeping-space on the floor.  Howard is distracted, since Winda has dumped his coffee on him, so he doesn’t have much to say about the carpet.  As he prepares a fresh cup, Winda calls out that Howard shouldn’t be so “wigid,” and with that, the carpet takes off, carrying Winda and Bev out the window and into the sky.  As Howard and Paul watch them go, two burly, scimitar-bearing men appear, stating they are from Bagmom, and that Howard and Paul should return the carpet to its rightful place.  A brief battle concludes once the two men go out the window, in pursuit of the carpet, and plunge five stories to their deaths.  Howard finds an oil lamp in the shopping bags; he and Paul wish for a way to reach Bagmom, the lamp puffs out the word “Gotcha,” and immediately they get a call from a local radio station, to inform them that they’ve just won two free airline tickets – to Bagmom!  Of course, no one told Howard and Paul they’d have to parachute in – the caliphate of Bagmom does not have an airport.  The two travelers meet a thief, who takes them to the underground subway system (with cars pulled by mules) that criminals have used to travel around the city; their next plan is to dig an entrance to allow them access to the palace itself.  Howard then overhears a conversation between Roxxon executives and Prince Hassim, who intends to sell oil rights to Roxxon, with or without approval by his father, the caliph (at this point, I should mention that Hassim hocked his magic carpet while a college student in Cleveland, which is kinda how this whole thing got started).  Howard takes note when they mention there are two newly-arrived American women in the palace harem; he storms forward, and gets himself captured, as Hassim expects his father might be amused by the novelty of a talking duck.  The Caliph is presented with gifts by the Roxxon execs (all of which run on electricity, but there is no electric power in the caliphate); in addition, there is Howard (who does impress the caliph), and a jeweled donkey, prepared by the court wizard, whose name is: Wigid.  The cadre of thieves bursts into the palace, and declares Hassim has sold out his father for petrodollars; Hassim is nowhere to be found, having escaped via sequestered biplane – and taken Bev and Winda with him!  Wigid reveals that the jeweled donkey can fly, so Howard sets off to the rescue; both women daringly climb from the plane to the airborne donkey, then the donkey’s built-in offensive weapons bring down Hassim’s plane – in Israel.  A grateful caliph arranges a Mediterranean cruise, as the four travelers begin their long journey home to Cleveland. -Chris Blake

Chris: This title has featured plenty of duck-gone-funny issues, but this is one of the best.  Mayerik is an inspired choice; he might have introduced the character, but this is his first-ever full-length (annual-length, even!) Howard-handling.  Mayerik provides sight-gags ( Howard slipping around the apartment after stepping on an empty soup can, p 2; Bev and Winda narrowly missing a muezzin as they fly into Bagmom, p 17), a set-piece, such as the frenzied dancing styles of Bev & Winda (neither of whom know the lyrics of "Lullaby of Broadway," so Winda makes some up), and a fair share of purely ridiculous touches, like the flying-donkey's "missile launcher," which turns out to be a small metal figure, emerging from the front of the donkey as if it were a character in a European town's mechanical clock-tower, who takes down Hassim's plane by throwing knives to slash apart his propeller.  Steve G gets in the act, of course – one of the Arab carpet-seekers admits to Howard that their threats are "unbearably hackneyed" (p 10); the thief mistakes Howard for a “duck-suited dwarf” (p 25); the magic words to open a secret passage sound much like a famous burger jingle (also p 25); reflecting on Hassim’s treachery, Howard laments “they don’t  make princes like they usedta” (p 30); and, the caliph relates the wonder of Howard to the impressive sight of giant Perdue chickens and Butterball turkeys (p 36). 

Matthew: For us continuity freaks, this follows Howard’s dispossession in #14, also reuniting his creators, with a self-inked Mayerik interestingly billed above writer/editor Gerber, and Skrenes credited as “co-scenarist.”  It may seem strange to characterize an HTD tale as lightweight, in what has always been to some degree a humor strip, or straightforward, when it is usually among Marvel’s most outré offerings, but comparing this double-length done-in-one to the arcs bracketing it chronologically may clarify what I mean.  Steve has created a pastiche of yet another form, in this case an Arabian Nights-style story, complete with a Big Mac incantation in page 25, panel 6 and Roxxon Oil as an unexpected link with the mainstream Marvel Universe.

Mark: Original Howard artist Val Mayerik returns from the days when our web-footed wonder was throw away comic relief in Man-Thing. His work has since been eclipsed by Frank Brunner and Gene Colan, but, inking himself here, Val demonstrates he would have done the duck proud, had he landed the main gig.

While "Thief of Bagmom's" King-Sized length is appreciated, this comic romp is light weight Gerber, absent any biting satire, social comment, or "dark night of the soul" angst. No sweat. Steve's proved himself a master of deep and meaty, so if he wants to perhaps defy expectations with a comedic offering, that's fine by me.

And who among today's ISIS-fearing audience isn't up for a nostalgic tale of a Middle East with flying carpets and camel-riding bandits, whose biggest crimes are a little white slavery and cutting deals with oil companies?

Jack Kirby & Mike Royer

2001: A Space Odyssey 10
"Hotline to Hades!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Jack Kirby and Archie Goodwin

Mister Machine is in the sheriff’s office with Olivia and Jerry Fields, telling the constable the tale of Machine vs Hotline and Kringe. Sheriff Halsey barely believes the story, but knows he has something freaky in front of him. Their duty accomplished, Machine accepts the Fields' invitation to stay in their home for the time being. Meanwhile, Hotline and Kringe speak to the head of their organization: the Mind Monitor, a massive creature resembling Satan. He wants Mister Machine at all costs so he can learn how to control all living things! Later, Machine meets Olivia and Jerry’s father, Judge Franklin Fields. As they get to know one another, Hotline’s men arrive, one with a bomb strapped to his chest, and take Machine away. The man with the explosive remains behind to ensure Machine’s cooperation. Hotline has Machine disassembled and examined, saving the head for the Mind Monitor. Soon, the Monitor begins his probe and Machine realizes this thing is actually trying to take his soul. But he knows this can’t be Satan. Using what is left of his free will, Machine summons his parts from the lab and reassembles and goes on the attack. He blasts his way through to another chamber and discovers the Mind Monitor is just a computer-created hologram. He reprograms the computer and has the bomb at the Fields’ home disintegrated. He then programs the computer to self destruct and he leaves just as the complex goes up. Mister Machine contemplates his future, knowing the real plotter behind it all is someone other than Hotline. And that schemer needs to find him…. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Well, that’s the end of that series. This is the one issue that has no connection in the slightest with the book or film that kicked it off. The monolith is nowhere to be found or even mentioned. This is just a super-hero tale, one with actual name-dropping connections to the mainstream Marvel Universe. While people like the Fantastic Four and Nick Fury are mentioned as being Marvel Comics characters, the company has been part of their own fictional universe since the early day. So, we might as well accept this as part of the main continuity.

Looking back, it’s easy to see that Kirby was really trying more to create an anthology rather than an actual expansion of the ideas of the film. Fair enough, but they were such poorly written and freakishly drawn tales, it was nearly impossible to get into what he was trying to bring across. This was a difficult run at best. However, even poor Kirby art is still interesting to look at and at times this was visually stimulating. It was always energetic. However, the simplistic plotting couldn’t support the ambitious scripting. He was out of his depth. Ten issues. Felt like a thousand. Thank God that’s over.

Chris: The moment when Mister Machine springs cameras from his limbs, so that his absent head can direct the body to re-form itself, is a pretty ingenious idea, and a clear indicator that Jack would be willing to go to great lengths to make this an entertaining character.  It also helps to explain why MM is so low-key about being dismantled, which you’d expect would be a fairly traumatic experience for any mechanoid.   

So little else in the story, though, makes any sense.  An unknown person builds a supercomputer that can generate a Satan-headed image to command unquestioning obedience of its followers?   And this computer expects to remove a thinking machine’s free will, thru a barrage of high-voltage electricity?  If the computer is really so smart, why couldn’t it sit down with itself for a few hours, and work out the question of free will without having to resort to pyrotechnics?  Well, I guess because an introspective computer doesn’t necessarily translate to an exciting seventeen pages of comics-story, does it?  

This comic continues to have plenty of nostalgic appeal.  I have to say I’ve enjoyed re-reading the X-51/Mister Machine stories more than I’ve enjoyed the Eternals, but I can freely admit that, objectively speaking, this storyline suffers from some of the same directionless approach that has made the Eternals so uninspiring.  At least the boundless energy of the art is enjoyable for its own sake.  

Jack Kirby & John Verpoorten

Captain America and the Falcon 213
"The Night Flyer!"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Dan Green
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen

Steve Rogers jolts awake from a nightmare about the Red Skull. Steve's eyes are still injured and blind from his previous battle. Sam Wilson fills him in on the latest comings and goings. At that moment, a fully bandaged patient is wheeled into Steve’s hospital room. He is called “The Defector,” but the rest of the info on him is on a need to know basis. Later that evening, a hit man enters and tries to assassinate The Defector but Steve, even blind, is able to stop the attempt and kick the man through the window to his death. Later, we meet the man behind the assassination attempt: a mysterious bald gangster named Kligger. He reluctantly approves the hiring of the Night Flyer to do the job right. This off-balance, costumed man, who obeys a secretive voice, strives for total perfection. He believes he will always succeed because he is perfect while average man is not. He has plotted his job to the last detail and, as he approaches the hospital,  is met by The Falcon who is easily defeated. The Night Flyer fires five shots into the Defector and realizes it is merely a dummy decoy. He is taken into custody, boasting that he will soon find and assassinate his target. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The nightmare prologue is actually excellent. It’s very old school, bringing back fun memories of the 60’s Tales of Suspense stories of Cap vs the Skull. Sadly, it doesn’t last long, since the follow up story isn’t nearly as cool. Kligger is given barely an introduction, and could be anyone from the Kingpin to Ant-Man’s nemesis Egghead. He is neither, but that’s how blandly he’s presented. The Night Flyer is a little more interesting. A robotic assassin who is clearly brainwashed in cult-like fashion. It’s nice to see the Falcon in action again, but he’s barely effective and he doesn’t sound at all like the character we’re familiar with. Logically, the set up makes no sense. Would Nick Fury really put some guy in the same room as Cap? And would he then keep the background of this guy a secret from the man he’s sharing a room with? A man who has A1 security clearance? It’s the usual goofiness. Kirby's run ends shortly, and not a moment too soon.

Matthew: This month, Captain America and the Falcon features a special surprise guest:  the Falcon!  Or, as Krazy Kirby Kap kalls him, “You flaky-feathered Falcon,” right before we learn about the Really Spectacular Battle he and S.H.I.E.L.D. had with that techno-roc…which we didn’t get to see.  Ironically, if I’m not mistaken, the penultimate issue of Jack’s largely insular run on this title—inked by Dan Green, not like you’d know it—also marks the four-color debut of the villainous Corporation that was responsible for the creation of the Jack of Hearts and various other mayhem in Deadly Hands of Kung Fu, and will go on to figure prominently in both this book and Roger Stern’s Incredible Hulk for the remainder of the decade.

Ron Wilson & Frank Giacoia

Daredevil 148
Story by Gil Kane and Jim Shooter
Art by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Denise Wohl and Gaspar Saladino

Daredevil tries to think of how he might exonerate Maxwell Glenn, who had been compelled by Killgrave both to commit crimes (for Killgrave’s gain) and then claim responsibility for the crimes.  Glenn and his associates from the business world aren’t aware that Killgrave had hypnotized them in order to achieve his purposes.  DD is concerned that he might not be able to testify on Glenn’s behalf, without having to reveal his secret identity.  Matt Murdock asks Foggy Nelson to serve as Glenn’s defense attorney; Foggy, who blames Glenn for the traumatic kidnapping of his ex-fiancée, Debbie, angrily rebuffs his old friend.  Matt sees no alternative but to locate Killgrave and bring him to justice.  DD hits the streets, and hopes to identify Killgrave by his distinctive heartbeat, or radar-image silhouette; he wouldn’t be able to pick out his distinctive purple-tinged skin, though.  DD roughs up various underworld characters, but is unable to gain any useful information on Killgrave’s whereabouts, until one stoolie blabs (under duress, as DD dangles him from the edge of a roof) that “somebody big” is gathering men at a westside pier.  DD observes from above as a crowd has assembled in a warehouse; the organizer turns out to be not Killgrave, but – Death-Stalker!  DD scatters Death-Stalker’s would-be minions; D-S swears revenge for DD having foiled his plans, but rather than clutch DD in his death-grip, D-S blinks away.  DD feels little satisfaction at having interrupted D-S’s scheming, since he’s still no closer to discovering Killgrave’s whereabouts.  Meanwhile, at the Storefront legal office, Heather Glenn leaves a note for Foggy to read to Matt, stating that despite her feelings being hurt and her life “falling apart,” Matt – who has been consumed in efforts to clear her father’s name – seems not to care.  Heather closes the note by stating she is quitting the office; she walks away in tears.  -Chris Blake

The gorgeous page 14
Chris: If a Daredevil fan had picked up this issue in the hope of an action-packed story, then he/she could easily be just as frustrated as DD with his lack of progress in the Killgrave quest.  It’s an interesting variation on the formula, though – instead of DD crashing thru a skylight to roust Killgrave’s followers, he finds himself confronted by the unexpected threat of Death-Stalker.  It’s a useful opportunity to increase dramatic tension, as delays and interruptions slow DD’s search in the dark, leaving him no closer to his goal.  To Shooter’s credit, he tells us nothing – there’s no giveaway page of Killgrave, safely sequestered in his hotel suite/appropriated brownstone/abandoned subway tunnel, crowing over his successful evasion of his foe.  So, dedicated readers, I guess we have no choice but to stick with it, and see how DD works this out, right?  

Another noteworthy aspect to this issue is the atmospheric middle section, as DD scours the city.  Janson demonstrates the value of an inker who can double as colorist: on p 14 pnl 4, DD swings by a hotel, which casts a thin streak of yellow on his side closest to the lit window; on p 14 pnl 5, we see a grainy street below, with DD appearing in a mix of light and shadow as he tries to pick up a useful signal from the street.  Janson also bookends the story with pale reds and yellows of dawn, first on the splash page and again on p 31.

A few Kane highlights before I go: a graceful dismount as DD arrives on a rooftop (p 14, pnl 2); a serious clout (p 16, last pnl); a pensive moment, nicely complemented by another Janson mix of light and shadow (p 17, pnl 2); a  sufficiently spooky-looking Death-Stalker, especially when lit by a single light from above (p 23).  

Last thing: there’s no mention on the letters page, or in the indicia on p 1, but this title has quietly dropped down to bi-monthly; the next issue will have a November 1977 pub date.  Daredevil will remain bi-monthly for the next twenty-five issues or so, until 1980, when Frank Miller’s involvement brings it back to the forefront.  

Matthew: Should I tactfully point out that midway through Shooter’s run, this book now slips into an almost four-year stretch of being relegated to bimonthly status?  No?  Okay.  As with What If? #3, Kane co-plots with Jim and is inked by Janson, who in this case once again doubles as colorist.  By now, if the issue number ends in “8,” you can count on Death “Hyphen Optional” Stalker appearing, if not as extensively as the cover suggests, and although I don’t know how many moves ahead they were thinking, page 27, panel 3 gives us another clue to the eventual revelation of his origin.  The legal stuff is a little convoluted (I’m somehow waiting for Matt to put DD on the stand), but Gil holds up his end on the visuals with typically nifty layouts.


  1. One thing that puzzled me in this week's ASM. How does Spider-Man deduce from the carpet burns that he's dealing with Molten Man? In MM's two previous appearances (ASM 28 and 35?) there's nothing to indicate that his skin is hot to the touch. He was molten but cool. Like mercury.

  2. dangermash,

    First, thanks for stopping by the ivy-covered halls of Marvel U. To answer your question: you must have missed Molty's Gerry Conway-penned appearance in ASM 132-133, in which his metal coating went haywire - exactly as repeated in this tale - causing him to heat up, burning rugs and anything he comes in contact with.

    Prof Mark

  3. Ouch! Serves me right for not going back to check what was in issues 132-133 that Matthew was referring to. I'm so going to fail my MU finals.

    Turns out I was thinking about issue 132 here rather than 172. In 132, Spider-Man sees footprints burned into marble and concluded that it's Molten Man and this time he really hasn't ever seen MM with hot skin.

  4. Prof Matthew - regarding Daredevil's newfound bi-monthly status, please note that the previous eight issues featured four different scripters, five different pencillers, and four different inkers, with a different creative team each month. Also, three of those are fill-ins, with little-to-no connection to ongoing storylines. I'd argue that the lack of consistency with this title had more to do with sales slipping, than these two most recent Shooter/Kane stories, which are more substantial than anything we've seen on DD in close to a year.