Wednesday, February 10, 2016

September 1977 Part Two: KISS Want to Rock and Roll All Nite and Read Funny Books Every Day!

Rich Buckler & Ernie Chan
The Incredible Hulk 215
"Home is Where the Hurt Is"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen

Dragging himself onto the docks from the icy water after supposedly being blasted to atoms (last issue), the Incredible Hulk interrupts a mob hit and realizes he just can't get a moment's peace. After dispatching the gangsters, the big green guy transforms into the skinny scientist and bumps into Jim Wilson (coincidence!), who's been searching for his big buddy, and the odd couple head back to Banner's rented room.

Meanwhile, back aboard the SHIELD Helicarrier we've seen sporadically the last few issues, the true menace of the inhabitant of the capsule found at the bottom of the ocean is revealed: it's the Bi-Beast (no, not one of The Mitchell Brothers' acts but the giant kinda two-headed thing we last saw being blown to atoms in The Incredible Hulk #169)! Well, actually, as the titan relates, it's the Bi-Beast's brother... sort of. B-B explains to Thunderlips Ross and SHIELD agent Clay Quartermain that he's commandeering the Helicarrier in preparation for destroying the human race. The General has a better idea though and he sends his men to beam Bruce Banner aboard the ship. Banner gets excited (as he's wont to do) and suddenly the ship is playing host to a very angry emerald gentleman. Ross has a brainstorm, calls the Hulk a few unflattering names, and then runs towards the part of the carrier holding the Bi-Beast. Dropping down a convenient trapdoor, the General leaves the two goliaths to catch up on old times. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: If the top half of the Bi-Beast got hungry and chowed down on, say, a Whopper with cheese, would it enter the brain of the bottom bunk brother? I love when, halfway through the story, Quartermain tells Thunderpuss to stall the Bi-Beast while his men work on kidnapping Banner and Ross says something along the lines of, "Well, okay, you wanna gobble up our world but tell me a little something about yourself first. Where did you grow up?" and B-B proceeds to drone on as if he were narrating a National Geographic documentary: "In a time long past now, a race of wondrous bird-people dwelt upon a fabulous island..." Ross rolls his eyes at about the half-hour mark and thinks "Oh, just absorb my energy juices now!" The art team of Buscema/Chan must have been glancing at the stray Hulk back issues that had been lying around the break room as their style is edging more and more toward the classic Trimpe look. And that's a good thing. Len, please kill off the annoying SHIELD scientist known as "The Gaffer" before he utters one more "General bubbie..." or "Clay boychik..." All of the afore-mentioned should not be construed as criticism (well, it might have been constructive criticism at the time of publication but now it's just observation) as the bulk of our adventure is a heaping helping of fun from the long-awaited reveal of the mysterious Helicarrier guest right down to General Ross' hundred yard dash. All this and not one mention of Major Talbot or his estranged wife, the latter of whom, doubtless, is spending money faster than the companies can send credit cards.

Matthew Bradley: Finally, some evidence that Len is pulling out of his recent slump, and it might be worth asking if, after three straight years of gamma-drama, he’s due for a change.  Positing the Helicarrier as a stand-in for the vengeful Bi-Beast’s Avian “island in the sky” is inspired, and once I saw where the story was headed, my only concern was that they’d cheat us by wrapping it up in a single issue.  Although the cover (on which, for some reason, Buckler is credited with his [Ron] Validar pseudonym) and splash page—both inked by Chan—contravene my preference for single images, the artwork per se is quite good, with Ernie once again just on the right side of heavy-handedness, and Our Pal Sal’s full-pager of BB on page 7 is quite stunning.

Chris Blake: This issue has a number of things going for it: 1) we’ve had a series of one-and-done fights lately, so the timing is right for a continued story; 2) Len goes to the trouble of devising a back-story for the Bi-Beast – who, as it turns out, is the back-up Bi-Beast, or the B B-B – when in most cases, the only explanation for a villain’s unlikely return is the statement, “And yet somehow, I survived!”; 3) we have a very brief check-in with the supporting characters, so they don’t have a chance to derail the story; and 4) Len provides a few delaying tactics to keep the Hulk from catching Thunderbolt Ross – it would’ve been asking a lot for us to accept that Ross somehow could ever outrun ol’ Greenskin (especially an enraged Greenskin).

Best moments: the Hulk rips open the side of the Helicarrier, and asks, “HUH?  What have they done with the ground?” (p 23); and, the Hulk snagging, turning, and pitching the hit-men’s car into the river (p 3).  I’ve always wanted to do something like that, so thanks Hulk, for a bit of wish-fulfillment.

Gil Kane & Frank Giacoia
The Invaders 20
"The Battle of Berlin"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Don Dickens
Letters by Tom Orzechowski


Story and Art by Bill Everett

Refusing to interrupt the wedding, Hitler insists that his soldiers can handle Union Jack, soon revealed as Brian, the apparently destroyed Destroyer, who “felt this was the costume to wear—to rescue my sister and my father’s former allies!”  Slowest to recover from the Nazi drugs are Namor and Toro, and when the latter is hit by machine-gun bullets, his flame too weak to melt them, the enraged Torch incinerates the shooter.  Falling rubble from the battle buries the minister before he can complete the ceremony, forcing Hitler to pronounce the couple (Master) Man and wife, but as they enter the fray and Bucky pulls Toro to safety, we see the pilot of Hitler’s escape plane flash a “V” for victory and Dyna-Mite concealed in Cap’s captured shield... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Rhetorical question:  presuming the page counts added up the same, is it preferable to have one all-new and one all-reprint issue, or two half-and-half issues, like this and #21?  For those who have lots of subscriptions, just as I did back in the day, and thus could be receiving every issue automatically, it might be nice to have at least some new content in each one, but those making their buying decisions on an issue-by-issue basis would probably rather be able to skip the reprints entirely, provided they adopt the proper caveat emptor approach.  While it might seem a little soon for the Dto be striking this title again, Roy’s lettercol “Apologia pro Vita Invaders” assures us that the “Reaper-int” (my lame pun, not his) in #10 “was a carefully-planned effort…”

Matthew: Just to muddy the waters, as it were, even further, their claim to be re-presenting Bill Everett’s eponymous Sub-Mariner origin story “exactly as it appeared in Marvel Comics #1” (October, 1939)…ain’t necessarily so.  Roy explains that “because of murky processes used to simulate an underwater feel in Marvel Comics #1 and 2, it’s virtually impossible to reprint the stories from those books.”  But eight of those 12 pages—happily, the exact number needed to bring this issue’s truncated tale up to regulation length—had appeared prior to its expansion in that seminal Timely milestone, in “a weekly giveaway comic-book published in black-and-white,” Motion Picture Funnies Weekly #1 (April 1939), meaning that this ish is technically reprinting a reprint!

Matthew: After brutally killing two of its divers, Namor crashes the salvage ship S.S. Recovery onto a reef, then brings the bodies to Atlantis, where he discovers that they are human and is praised by his mother, Fen, for “a good beginning in our war of revenge.”  She relates how, in 1920, she was sent “to work [her] feminine wiles to our racial advantage,” but fell in love with and married Namor’s father, Commander Leonard McKenzie of the Oracle, before all but a few of the Atlanteans were destroyed by “scientific investigations” above their South Polar home.  The nine new pages display a typical passion for accuracy; Roy notes of Hitler’s plane, “Fightin’ Frank [again inked by Springer] tells me this is a Heinkel He.177 high-altitude bomber…and I tend to believe him.”

Chris: Well, sometimes you gotta take the good with the bad.  On the plus side, we still have Spitfire in the mix, and a greater plus (double plus good!) in the cover-advertised arrival of the new Union Jack, a direct descendant of the original UJ.  The last we saw Brian, he had been killed by a Nazi grenade, so it’s good to see the reports of his apparent demise might’ve been exaggerated (did he assume the Union Jack costume because the Destroyer one was, uh, destroyed -?).  Another plus is the team’s return to action, after most of them had been in irons for the last few issues.   

But – just as the action is picking up momentum – we’re told that the issue’s been split into halves, with the conclusion to come next issue.  Well obviously, that’s bad news in two ways: not only do we have a potentially solid issue that suddenly is broken up, but we’ll have two reprints (or half-reprints, I suppose), since next issue should also require some old content to fill up the pages.  
I've read Namor's original story – a few times, I'm sure.  So it’s fine to read it again, in the original form (or, an eight-page version of the original fourteen-page story, if I understand the explanation from the letters page correctly).  The uncredited author (Everett?) creates some intrigue, as we share unanswered questions with the doomed divers, until Namor is revealed.  It looks like a long-bladed knife is part of Namor’s arsenal at this time; I find it a bit strange to see Namor carrying any sort of weapon.

Alex Schomburg
The Invaders Annual 1
"Okay, Axis -- Here We Come!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Joe Rosen

Sometimes an unusual issue (in this case literally unique as the team’s only annual) calls for an unusual approach, so for reasons that should soon be obvious, I’ll forego the usual strictly compartmentalized synopsis and commentary in favor of a more organic structure.  Our story, or rather the story behind the story, begins with the “Nostalgic Note” in which writer/editor Roy relates, “I’d always wanted to do what I now refer to as an ‘anthology-style’ annual—one in which the resident super-heroes join forces at the beginning and end, but get to display their special powers in separate chapters in the middle.”  He cites Golden-Age precedents set by the All-Winners Squad...also plugging their recent appearance in What If? #4; well played.

“Then the question was, who would draw the stories,” to which the answer results in this being, as SuperMegaMonkey puts it with characteristic élan, “a jam issue,” and therein lies the tale; it was, however, a no-brainer to have regular artists Robbins & Springer draw those first and last chapters.  Our story proper begins in the aftermath of the Falsworths’ mysterious departure in #15, as the Torch leads the others to Big Ben, whose clock-face swings out, allowing ingress to the “regular rendezvous point” with their new liaison officers, American Colonel Farrow and British Major Rawlings.  The adult Invaders are sent Stateside to face three former foes, all now employed by the Axis, the youngsters remaining “to retain, shall we say, an Invaders presence.”

Chapter 2 features the Hyena, whose prior encounter with our incendiary android was published, presumably retroactively, in Human Torch Comics #30 (May 1948); incredibly, both were drawn by Timely cover mainstay Alex Schomburg, after Torch creator Carl Burgos agreed to tackle this but was unable to at the last minute.  “I had been trying to locate Alex…when lo and behold, he himself dropped a line to the Marvel offices in New York and said he’d like to try a cover sometime!  Since I’d been foaming at the mouth for months to get him to do [this] cover…I worked out a sketch at once with John Romita, Jr., and history was made—Alex’s first cover for Marvel in thirty years!  Moreover, he was interested in trying his hand at a story,” recounts Roy.

Hitherto “a modern-day highwayman with a laugh gimmick,” the Hyena strikes in upstate New York, where a survivor relates his amusement at the fatal accident he arranged for a delivery of military supplies, and a ruse enables the Torch to catch him red-handed on his next job.  But the Hyena is a jump ahead, and tricks the Torch into dousing his flame in a vat of water, the impact knocking him out.  Aware of how the Torch’s synthetic blood turned Jacqueline into Spitfire, the Führer has ordered the Hyena to get a sample, yet having done that, and eager to shed the rest of it, the mirthful murderer is just as dumbfounded as the Torch himself when the artificial Invader vanishes, while leaving a “strangely frustrated Hyena…hurling his curses to an empty barn…!”

Since Kap ko-kreator Kirby was busily reuniting with Stan on their forthcoming Silver Surfer book, Chapter 3 fell to Don Rico, who had written a few Silver-Age scripts for Marvel, and was eager to tackle the very hero Roy offered him.  “For, mostly anonymously in the later 1940’s when artists and writers were forbidden to sign their names to their work (dark days which are, hopefully, forever behind us), Don was a regular artist on Cap.”  Agent Axis, who makes his formal Marvel debut here, has an equally interesting backstory:  legend has it that when he was depicted as one of the forms from Cap’s past to be assumed by the Adaptoid in Tales of Suspense #82 (October 1966), they forgot that he was actually a Golden-Age DC, not a Marvel, character!

Cap heroically covers for Stan & Jack (“I polished off Agent Axis so fast, even the comic-books [sic] didn’t get the story”), but gets the scoop from his FBI contact inside Lady Liberty herself:  a thunderbolt struck a plane carrying the top German, Italian, and Japanese spies, fusing them into one disfigured, masked madman.  Merely a puppet, the hypnotized Fed collapses to reveal Agent Axis, who is trying to procure Cap’s shield for Hitler, and has stolen his original one from 1941.  Overmatched, Agent Axis flees in a gyroplane equipped with an electro-magnet, which captures Cap’s new shield when he tosses it from Miss Liberty’s crown, so when Cap, too, fades away, joining the equally astounded Torch in “some kind of limbo,” he carries only his original shield.

“Due to wartime priorities, Namor’s one-and-only encounter with the Shark as a smuggler was not chronicled until” Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner Comics #23 (Summer 1947); with their mutual creator now deceased, Roy unsuccessfully sought frequent wartime Subby artist Carl Pfeuffer, and then turned to postwar counterpart Lee Elias.  He “had recently started drawing Power Man and other features for Marvel—and, as a fan of his artwork since 1946-47 when he was doing that and other strips, I’d always wanted to work with him anyway.  Lee was understandably (like the other artists) a bit confused by the intricate and almost indulgent nature of my plot—but he came thru [sic] like a champ, even in the face of a bout with illness,” and was inked by Springer.

Coincidentally, this month, Elias begins a stint as the penciler of the allegedly fact-based Human Fly, which fell victim—albeit with zero regret among the Curriculum Committee—to Marvel’s unmanageably expanding output…but I digress.  Proving Bucky prophetic (“it’s kinda funny how one spy popped up for each of ’em…”), the Shark seeks Namor’s trunks, “made of such waterproof and pressure-resisting materials” as could equip Nazi frogmen, substituting a black pair, “because that is how certain comic-book artists currently depict you.”  Having been dried off to weaken him, Subby tricks a brutish lackey into dousing him with a bucket of water, yet as he snaps his chains and fights back, he also pulls a fast fade, joining his fellow Invaders in limbo.

Then, as if all of that weren’t complicated enough, Roy decided to make the Robbins/Springer final chapter the Invaders’ side of “Endgame,” his classic story from Avengers #71 (December 1969), long before their own mag was conceived.  There, “what I asked artist Sal Buscema to do, to differentiate them from their modern-day equivalents, was to give Cap his original shield [used only once, in Captain America Comics #1 (March 1941), hence the need to explain that apparent anachronism]—Namor his old black trunks—and Torch, well, Torch was okay as he was….I spent a frenzied evening at the typewriter [to get around the various chronological and suchlike inconsistencies]—many more frantic nights coordinating artists—and a story was born.”

When our heroes rematerialize outside the Louvre, they are faced by Yellowjacket, the Vision, and the Black Panther, whom they take to be Nazis, while the Avengers understandably think they’re facing the 1941 models.  Uttering their battle cry (first voiced in that historic issue), they are downed by the disruption of the Vision—unknowingly facing his past self—long enough to learn that they and the Avengers have been but pawns in a cosmic chess game between Kang and the Grandmaster, and having technically won, the Assemblers are drawn back to the 40th century. To make up for having used them unwittingly, the Grandmaster returns them to their 1942 foes, now gathered on the Shark’s speedboat, where they reclaim their effects and vanquish the spies... -Matthew Bradley

Chris: Roy has his usual rollicking good time, not only with the past-blasting Invaders, but also a snippet of old Avengers lore.  When the Invaders appear in the frame together with a handful of Avengers, my first thought was that this somehow tied-in with the Kree-Skrull War; I remember now that the Invaders arrived at the time because Rick Jones had summoned them, or conjured them, or something – I honestly don’t recall this Kang vs Grandmaster contest, which took place about two years prior to the K-SW.  

Agent Axis is pretty spooky – and how about that origin story, hmm?  I’m fairly sure Roy never wrote Agent Axis into any other Invaders stories, which is a little surprising, since he seems to have potential – not just a big Nazi bruiser, but a sneaky little saboteur.  The Hyena and the Shark are truly goofy-looking, and it’s not because the artists aren’t any good – if anything, I will give the artists credit for depicting them as they would have appeared in war-era comics.  Frank Robbins’ reality-defying moment this time appears on p 44 (above), as Cap requires about 5-6 panels to descend from the sky onto the Shark’s skiff; I guess Cap might be using the wings on his head to hover in panels 1 and 3, right -?  

The Schomburg chapter obviously is the best-looking of the three by the guests-artists; once Roy feasted his eye on the boffo cover – easily, one of the most dynamic in Invaders history – I’m surprised he didn’t contact Schomburg right away and commission more work from this past-master.  Can you imagine if Schomburg had re-emerged to become the regular cover artist for the Invaders, thirty years after having crafted similarly-themed covers for Timely?  That would’ve been wild.   

Dave Cockrum

Iron Fist 15
“Enter, The X-Men”
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Bruce Patterson
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Dave Cockrum 

While thwarting a hijacking of a Rand-Meachum armored truck, Iron Fist is once again ambushed by the mysterious martial artist with the wingless dragon tattoo — and, once again, the assailant drains the hero of much of his strength with a crackling bear hug. Afterwards, the woozy Fist sneaks into the Greenwich Village apartment that Misty Knight shares with Jean Grey, forgetting that the private eye is in the Caribbean, undercover as the girlfriend of John Bushmaster, leader of the European mob. Across the street, Rand’s stealthy entrance is seen by the Wolverine who is spying on Grey, jealous of her relationship with Scott Summers aka Cyclops. Just as Iron Fist notices that Misty’s apartment is set up for a party, the enraged X-Man, thinking Rand is a burglar, bursts through the front door. After trading blows and claws, Iron Fist manages to flip Wolverine through a window. But luckily, his teammates Nightcrawler and Colossus are approaching the building — the ’Crawler transports and catches Logan. The three X-Men attack their supposed enemy and major damage is done to the apartment and the building in general. Soon, Storm and Banshee also make the scene and Iron Fist is finally subdued. Suddenly, Jean Grey and Scott Summers walk through the trashed front door. A furious Grey explains that Rand is not a burglar, only her roommate’s best friend. After tempers subside — and some cleaning up — Jean’s party begins. Later in the evening, Jean’s landlord arrives and threatens her with eviction. But Danny quickly realizes that the building is owned by Rand-Meachum: the young heir promises to straighten everything out. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well there we have it disciples of K’un-Lun, the last issue of one of Marvel’s most unheralded series of the 1970s. So, bit of a disappointment that the final Fist is basically one long MARMIS. It’s also rather jokey, nearly coming across like a farce. Heck, Storm gets a big bowl of potato salad right in the kisser. And Iron Fist’s fight with the X-Men feels like it should be accompanied by sound effects such as “Boing!” “Whoops!” and “Splurtch!” Oh sorry, “Splurtch!” was actually used when Ororo’s makeup and dress were ruined. Plus, when Jean tells Logan that he has to repair all the damage, the kooky crank crushes his beer can and the brew spurts into his face. “Waaa Waaa!” Of course, Jean’s party is complete with wacky Marvel staff members: Bonnie Wilford, Paty Cockrum, Dave Cockrum, Chris Claremont and John Byrne. I heard that only one Canadian got laid that night. Better luck next time John. “Zing!” 

Sorry to be such a Captain Bringdown, but something is off with the art as well. All the fabulous Byrne forms are there, but some of the finer details, especially eyes, seem to have been erased and redrawn by a ten-year-old. Check out Wolverine’s peculiar peepers when he bursts through the front door of Misty’s apartment. Speaking of Wolverine, I cannot recall ever seeing him wearing that awful outfit. Guess I didn’t buy as many comics as I thought. We do have the first appearance of John Bushmaster but plenty of loose ends are left hanging. Yes, Claremont and Byrne would go on to wrap up the mysterious assailant storyline in the pages of Marvel Team-Up 63 and 64. But did readers back in the day know that? I don’t have the letters page so not sure if it was mentioned. After that, Iron Fist would appear in Luke Cage Power Man #48. Two issues later, that series would be re-titled Power Man & Iron Fist. Claremont, Byrne and Green all worked on that three issue stretch. So it guess that’s about it from my end. Oh Danny boy, I’ve have been with you since the beginning, Marvel Premiere #15, and the end, Iron Fist #15. So what have I learned? The number 15 is weird? Colleen Wing wasn’t supposed to be Chinese? No, I have not.

Matthew: We’re entering a kind of “Claremontic Convergence,” which begins as Chris not only uses the last issue of this ill-fated mag to feature his best-known characters, but also furthers their development (e.g., Logan’s crush on Jean and possible connection with Sabretooth; Kurt’s decision to abandon the image inducer).  Interestingly, it is set after he and Byrne reunite on X-Men #108, three months hence, even anticipating the costume-change Wolverine makes in that arc.  During that time, he will also use Marvel Team-Up both to feature another member of his stable, Ms. Marvel, and to tie up many of IF’s loose ends, as well as briefly taking over Power Man, preparatory to converting it into Danny’s new permanent home, Power Man and Iron Fist.

As for the issue itself, once you’ve resigned yourself to the fact that’s it’s a big, fat, unapologetic MARMIS, it’s not surprisingly pretty damned good, with Green again proving a worthy asset.  The Davos storyline, whose “resolution has been moved over to” MTU, continues to intrigue, while Misty’s undercover—and, apparently, under-the-covers—assignment with, uh, Bushmaster begins to, um, lay the groundwork for PM&IF, “quite possibly the strangest, most interesting team-up book to hit the stands in living memory,” which it might have become had it stayed a “Claremont/Byrne production.”  Madame Cockrum and Bonnie Wilford make typical Bullpen cameos in page 31, panel 1…and who can forget Ororo’s epic battle with a bowl of potato salad?

Chris: And lo, it came to pass, in order for X-Men to live, that Iron Fist had to die.  In fairness, it sounds like once this title was slated for cancellation, Byrne recognized he’d be able to transition to X-Men as the regular penciller, in place of Dave Cockrum; not a bad trade at all.  Interesting choice by Claremont & Byrne to premiere their latest collaboration as they simultaneously put the wraps on this title.  As the letters page makes clear, though, the character of Iron Fist is in for an unprecedented soft landing, as his story will continue in upcoming issues of MTU before taking up permanent residence in Power Man – sorry, I meant Power Man/Iron Fist. 

The battle with the X-Men is a good one; for once, I’m not troubled by the usual MARMIS-trappings.  No surprise (as Scott observes) that Wolverine (identified here for the first time as “Logan,” am I right?) sets off the whole conflict; I’m reasonably sure his infatuation for Jean is about to run its course, which is good news for all of us.  All the new team members get to strut their stuff, with Storm’s chagrined release of her powers (after getting a face-full of potato salad -!) a highlight.  It’s hard to be mad at the landlord; after all, the building was probably only recently repaired after Firelord’s widespread destruction of the top floor.

Matthew: Wolverine was first referred to as "Logan" (by a leprechaun, no less!) in X-Men #103. 

Chris: The Byrne/Green art overall is quite good, although Green doesn’t finish faces consistently, which leaves the appearance of this issue short of the standard set by previous inkers.   Wolverine in particular appears to be wearing a rubber fright-mask throughout the issue; examples like p 11 pnl 4, and p 14 pnl 2, show you what I mean.  His wilderness-savage costume, with its ornamental teeth and tiny skulls, seems well-suited to Wolverine; I don’t recall seeing it any other time, though (note: it turns out that Wolverine lifted the costume from an Imperial Guardsman named Fang; next month, tune-in to X-Men #107 for details).  Other art highlights, for our last IF go-round: Danny is beset by his mysterious, shadowy attacker (p 3, pnl 1); Misty emerges contentedly from the sea (p 7, pnl 2); Danny’s surprise when he can’t summon the iron fist (p 15, first two panels); Danny running, with lightning-flashes behind him (p 23, pnl 3); Danny’s shocked reaction, as Wolverine runs his claws into Danny’s cowl (p 27, pnl 4); Ororo, abashed as she explains her outburst to Scott (p 30, last pnl).

George Perez & Pablo Marcos
The Invincible Iron Man 102
"Dreadknight and the Daughter of Creation!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska, Mike Esposito, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Bruce Patterson

Despite the Monster nobly taking the brunt of the attack to protect his would-be ally, the Dreadknight fells them both, ordering the Children to drag them to the dungeons so that he may probe the secrets of Iron Man’s armor.  After Jasper uses his flying car to pursue Krissy and Key in a high-speed chase observed by Jack Hart, IM awakens in shackles that recharge his armor, then turn its power back against him, and meets the “Mistress”:  Baroness Victoria von Frankenstein, Victor’s great-granddaughter.  She relates the Dreadknight’s past as Bram Velsing (seriously?), a brilliant but ambitious Latverian engineer who made the mistake of crossing Dr. Doom, punished with the metal mask permanently grafted to his handsome face by the bio-fuser.

He fled and was nursed back to health by Victoria, who showed him her failure:  the Hellhorse (the original, villainous Black Knight’s long-vanished horse, Iron Man realizes—found, as was Velsing, by the Children), which she tried to restore to normalcy, succeeding only in mutating it further.  The vengeful Velsing created a high-tech lance, and now seeks Victoria’s secrets (!) to create an army of mutants, yet when he threatens her, the enraged Monster breaks free, damaging IM’s shackles in the process, and soon it’s game on.  Held perilously by his lance above a stone staircase, the Dreadknight blasts the balcony where she is standing, but as IM flies to her rescue, the Monster propels his foe to a non-fatal fall, leaving Monster and Mistress with another charge. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In a rare ferrous credit, Marcos aptly inks frequent Avengers collaborator Pérez on the cover, as well as teaming with Esposito on the interiors, and it must be said that the Marcosito team does well by Gorgeous George; I mean, how much does Mantlo-creation and soon-to-be regular Jack Hart not look like a typical Tuskaricature in page 7, panel 7 (right)?  I salute Bill for both giving the poor Monster some welcome closure, two full years after the demise of his own book, and—in a positively Roy-worthy move—digging as far back as Tales of Suspense #73 (January 1966) to ponder the fate of Nathan Garrett’s winged horse, Elendil…or so the MCDb tells us he is called.  Beginning next ish, a phrase to stir the loins of any true Bronze-Age Iron Man fan:  Midasize it!

Chris: Mantlo’s put in some good work since he took over this title, but this issue isn’t one of his better efforts.  Much like this month’s issue of the Champions, Bill decides to roll out a multi-page villain-origin story right in the middle; at least, in the case of this comic, the origin doesn’t come at the expense of action, since our heroes all happen to be detained at that point.  Once the time comes, the battle with the Dreadknight turns out to be fairly average; I agree with the Monster, that it might’ve been more interesting if he’d had more of a role in the conflict.  Bill then wanders into a few clichés at the end, as we have another talk about who’s a monster, and who’s human, etc.  

It’s interesting that Marcos shares inking credits with Esposito, since it looks to me like Pablo only covers two pages, p 11 and p 14.  Were they that close to a deadline, that they needed one other guy to pick up only two pages?  The Tuska/Marcos results are better than those with Espo; I guess I’m saying I wish they’d decided earlier in the process to go with Pablo for the whole thing. 
The cover’s pretty good, although IM’s positioning is a little awkward.  I expect no one will be surprised to learn that I admire Pérez’s depiction of shellhead; not only does Pérez emphasize IM’s musculature (a al Starlin), but he always includes little glints that show the light playing off the armor’s highly-polished surface.  

Gil Kane & Pablo Marcos

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 4
"The Air-Pirates of Mars, Chapter 4:
Raiding Party!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen

Carter is forced to join an airborne raid on the mining outpost of Maran, not merely to protect Dejah—whose location is known only to Stara Kan—but also to mitigate the death and destruction wrought by the pirates.  As he undertakes his assigned mission to steal the Jewel of Issus from a temple, Kan professes to be under his orders, and in successive raids, Carter is placed at the forefront of battle, looting each city’s “most sacrosanct valuables,” fostering the belief that Barsoom’s reputed savior has turned traitor.  The rumors are doubted by Dejah’s grandfather, Tardos Mors, Jeddak (emperor) of Helium; her father, Jed Mors Kajak; and Carter’s friend, Kantos Kan...yet the people increasingly believe he has kidnapped their princess.

At night, Carter reflects that the dying Mars is kept alive only by the atmosphere factories, now controlled by the Council of Five, and recalls his centuries of immortality; the morning after, the warship passes over Tars Tarkas, believed dead by Carter and crawling across the desert.  In the next raid, Carter is ordered to kidnap the princess of Zeere, but the trading outpost’s hypnotized citizens march to a strange tower, summoned to feed a huge, alien dragon.  Carter is unaffected, and T’Rallaa hopes to absorb his energy to return to the stars, but Kan is among the “lemmings” he sets upon Carter, who must save Kan in order to save Dejah, so Carter kills T’Rallaa with his sword and Kan, remembering nothing, departs with Carter as the citizens hack up the alien body. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Now we’re talking:  in chapter 4, “The Air-Pirates of Mars” lives up to its title, a lively story that combines action, sociopolitical intrigue, and ample Barsoomiana, with Marv even throwing in a Howardian tendriled alien monster for good measure.  My only complaint is, you guessed it, the artwork, and although I hate to keep harping on it, you must understand that as a lifelong fan of Kane, I find it almost physically painful to look at this pretty-boy Carter and the rest, overwhelmingly aware of how thoroughly Nebres has sublimated Gil’s unique style.  In other words, like Professor Gilbert—who would surely chuckle at the cover blurb calling Carter “The First and Greatest Hero of Them All!”—perusing his Marvel Premiere, I seek the mark of Kane.

John Buscema
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 4
"A Beast Again"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
From the novel, Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar 
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Joe Rosen

The priests fall back in fear of the ritual knife, allowing the amnesiac and bestial Tarzan to spurn La’s offer of love—made in the language of the Mangani—and lead Werper out of Opar, stopping to fill a leather pouch with “precious baubles” of whose value he is ignorant.  While Basuli leads his party home with the gold, believing Tarzan lost in the cave-in, the Arab raiders overwhelm and torch the Greystoke bungalow, slaughtering its Waziri defenders, but once they have made off with Jane, who held her own in the vastly uneven battle, Mugambi crawls from the inferno, barely alive.  When Tarzan collapses after fighting a pair of leopards to the death, the ungrateful Werper steals the knife and jewels, and prepares to slay his benefactor... 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The creative troika remains consistent, yet the credits—as in #2—now call this “freely [emphasis mine] adapted from” TATJOO; not sure if the ongoing variation is intentional or just a vagary, but by my standards, Roy remains quite faithful.  He takes descriptions, dialogue, even chapter titles from Burroughs virtually verbatim, and again, his minor alterations are suitable, in this case simplifying the flight from Opar and Werper’s theft of the jewels from Tarzan.  Kudos for Roy’s footnotes to the ERB canon (e.g., Tarzan meeting La in The Return of…, sparing Mugambi’s life in The Beasts of…), while Buscema and DeZuniga, as he is now billed, continue to excel, and although I can’t verify their zoological accuracy, Big John’s jungle fauna look consistently great.

Ron Wilson & Mike Esposito
Master of Kung Fu 56
"Of Heroes Past and Battles Present"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and John Tartaglione
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Denise Wohl, and Irving Watanabe

There are no clues to be found in Leiko’s apartment of her present location, so Tarr, Reston, and Shang-Chi adjourn to Tarr’s Savoy suite to plan their next move.  They also wonder whether the attacker S-C had faced, attired as Attila the Hun, could be the same man who fought Reston, clad as Robin Hood; they are up against either a group, or an individual who is changing costumes and assuming these various personas; S-C begins to become impatient with all the fruitless discussion.  This last question is cleared up for us, as we see Leiko, imprisoned in a dungeon; her jailer (who had identified himself last issue as “War-Yore”) declares himself to be Saint George, but then isn’t sure whether he might be the Viking Hrolf Kraki, or Eric Slaughter, and finally concludes he is the “Slayer in Darkness,” a ninja from the court of Emperor Shirakawa.  The ninja creeps into the Savoy, shinnies up the elevator shaft, then destroys the door to Tarr’s rooms with an explosive shuriken.  S-C engages the ninja directly, subdues him, and demands to know Leiko’s whereabouts; the ninja isn’t saying.  As the men tie him up, Tarr states he doesn’t recognize the unmasked ninja, which rules out a “revenge motive” behind the attacks.  Tarr finds a shuriken-shard, and wonders aloud how the ninja would have access to this sophisticated weaponry; he also reports that the only person who knows Tarr’s present location is – Sir Denis.  In the meantime, the ninja has slipped his bonds and vanished without a trace.  The former agents resolve to break into MI-6 HQ and determine who might be involved in the attacks, possibly as a double-agent; Tarr does not believe Sir Denis is involved.  As they drive thru London streets by moonlight, Tarr’s Rolls is strafed by laser fire; the agents look above, and see that the triplane of the Red Baron is coming in for another pass -! -Chris Blake

Chris: It’s another solid issue, as Moench/Craig/Tartaglione settle into this once-interrupted storyline after a fill-in for MoKF #53.  Moench’s choice to reveal the reality behind War-Yore removes the intrigue we might’ve enjoyed as we tried to determine who could be behind the attacks.  The advantage we gain is our recognition that the former agents are opposed not only by a crazed individual, but also by an involved, potentially deadly plot, which helps to raise the stakes.  
Moench holds back the curtain, so that we can see the profoundly disorganized mind of War-Yore at work; some of these details didn’t fit smoothly into the well-honed synopsis, so I’ll mention them here.  After he escapes Tarr’s hotel room, War-Yore arrives at an elaborately appointed address, where he orders around a group of agents.  The agents complain among themselves about the difficulty of managing the unpredictable War-Yore; it also appears some of them are not fully aware of the purpose of their assignment, as one agent wonders whether War-Yore might’ve been administered drugs, so now his attendants are on hand to “observe the effects.”   One unnamed agent determines to “get to the bottom of this,” and searches thru the building until he discovers Leiko in chains.  The agent notifies a superior, who appears to be involved in the plot; the superior and an accomplice discuss that War-Yore is keeping Leiko alive, contrary to orders.  So, there still will be some intriguing details to work out.  

Craig + Tartaglione provide a solid effort, as Craig again seeks to emulate aspects of Gulacy’s creative approach, first with the scene-setting splash page, then with able depiction of the action (p 15-17), and finally a close-up on S-C’s eyes as his focus bores in on his desire for Leiko to be restored safely to him.  Tartaglione provides texture and atmosphere, although I sometimes find his facial-shadings to be a mite heavier than necessary.  
There’s an amusing letter from (future Marvel writer) J. Marc DeM. of Brooklyn, who reports having gotten into MoKF during a cross-country road-trip, during which time he sometimes found a “six-month run of the same title languishing on a rack” (wow – can you imagine the luck -?).  Marc dubs Moench as among the “Top Three Wordsmiths currently toiling in the Whambamslam! long-underwear world,” which I think is high praise, indeed.  

Mark Barsotti: Jim Craig's back behind the pencil but - sorry to report - not only has his Paul Gulacy pantomime gotten worse, but there's no encouraging signs of an emerging personal style. Guess there's a reason his comic career doesn't even rate a Wiki-listing. 

And, yeah, now I remember War-Yore and the "Part II" teaser at the end of last month's tale makes sense, but they could have explained it was a random fill-in on that letters page instead of this one. 
So we have Leiko held hostage by a personality & power- morphing baddie - said powers apparently include materializing Fokker tri-planes at will - now revealed as a raving loon, seemingly schizophrenic, if not controlled by a yet unseen evil mastermind. That all sounds great, but the end product is a shrugging pretty good.

Why is harder to pin down. Craig's art is still effective if not inspired, and Doug Moench's mix of rich characterization, soapy sub-plots, and Bond meets Bruce Lee action remains potent. All that's missing - and one hopes it flares next month - is that intangible X-factor that makes a story special.

This one - despite the apparent huffing and puffing of the creators - just kinda lies there on the page.

Dave Cockrum & Joe Sinnott

Ms. Marvel 9
"Call Me Death-Bird!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Keith Pollard, Joe Sinnott, and Sam Grainger
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino & John Costanza

 Attacked on MODOK’s behalf by a flying woman, Ms. Marvel recalls how, minutes earlier, Carol had interrupted a date with a man named Paul to investigate a seventh-sense flash of her apartment being burgled, only to be clawed by Deathbird’s talons.  Evading those and her expanding spears, Ms. Marvel is puzzled by Deathbird’s reference to the Aerie, yet as she propels Ms. Marvel to her apparent death with energy javelins, Deathbird reveals that this will repay part of her debt to MODOK for saving her life long ago.  Ms. Marvel is saved by her Kree physiology, but abandons pursuit to save two children from a fire that also threatens Carol’s apartment, which she extinguishes by toppling a ten-thousand-gallon rooftop water tower onto it.

Between them, the fire and water have destroyed Carol’s penthouse, where amid the debris she finds both the remains of an old photo with her former lover, Col. Michael Rossi, USAF, and an unexploded incendiary bomb.  As Carol turns over to NYPD Capt. Jean DeWolff a fireproof box containing “documents requiring police protection,” the sinister Ballard reports to “Alpha” that his break-in failed either to locate or to destroy the documents, and vows to retrieve them for the Council.  After a hectic day at Woman, saddled by JJJ with assistant Tabitha Townshend—whose father is a friend of his—Carol takes the bull by the horns, going undercover to infiltrate Alden’s, and has just been captured when the A.I.M. headquarters is invaded by MODOK and Deathbird.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With Sinnott on board to ink pages 1, 3, 6, and 11 (per the MCDb), Grainger doing a good job of maintaining a consistent style on the rest, and a one-off by penciler Pollard in between stints by the Madman and Our Pal Sal, the art should neither jar nor displease.  Claremont typically recycles Ballard, last seen in Black Goliath #4, but even for Chris, having Carol’s old flame turn out to be Rossi, reportedly killed in X-Men #96—in December 1975, more than a year before Ms. Marvel #1—feels like a bit of a stretch.  Suddenly and without explanation, Ms. Marvel’s outfit has covered up the bare midriff that probably fueled feminist ire, although for the moment, she still bears the ill-advised scarf that has already gotten her into trouble on more than one occasion.

Chris: Since Claremont is such a superlative writer, he’s able to work in character-details without forcing them.  Granted, the last-second rescue of the kids from the burning building is nothing new, but I like how he finishes the moment: Ms M gets the boy in a big hug, and tells him he has “nothing to be scared of anymore (p 14);” then, she reflects on this capacity as likely one of “Carol’s skills,” which reminds us there still are two distinct personalities at work here.  Next moment is while Carol is surveying her burned-out apartment, and finds a scorched photo, which takes her back to a relationship from a more carefree time in her life (p 16); not only is the photo mostly lost, but the time itself is completely gone, replaced by Carol’s increasingly-uncertain present.  Then, Claremont gives us an interesting few lines as Carol plays “Suzy super-spy” in the department store (p 27); Carol recognizes she is in the store because Ms Marvel somehow compels her to be there, and that Carol’s “control” over Ms M is largely by Ms M’s allowance. 

I like Pollard’s art here, particularly his depiction of Death-Bird in flight; notice the way she angles her wings as she swoops toward Ms M (p 3, pnl 2).  Pollard and Sinnott will have plentiful opportunities to work together in the coming years, primarily on Fantastic Four; I would’ve preferred that Sinnott had been available to ink the entire issue, so that his clear, certain finishes could’ve supported Pollard for more than just the first few pages.  
Sharp-eyed readers will note that Ms M’s costume is different this time; the open panels over her navel and lower back now have been filled in, without mention by our title character (ie, we don’t know yet how the change in costume came to be).  In any case, it’s an improvement.

Al Milgrom & Joe Sinnott
Marvel Team-Up 61
Spider-Man and The Human Torch in
"Not All Thy Powers Can Save Thee!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza

About to tidy up from the battle with Equinox, Spidey is inexplicably attacked, apparently by the FF, and punched through the window of Reed’s lab, understandably enraged when the returning Torch makes a mid-air save until he has a chance to explain.  Aghast, Johnny realizes that Super-Skrull has escaped from the Soul-Catcher—“borrowed” from police headquarters and entrusted to Reed by Tigra—which had tumbled from the stasis safe during the fight.  Word reaches the NYPD’s Midtown-North Precinct of his renewed attack, bringing Capt. DeWolff and Lt. Scarfe (“Kris Keating’s hotshot SWAT goons [are] unavailable”), who have entrusted Equinox to Bellevue, and see the combatants near Penn Central’s West-Side trainyards.

Even with blasters designed by Reed, the cops can barely distract Skrully while Spidey recruits Johnny to help build a trap inspired by (aptly) The Thing, and Carol Danvers watches from the deck of an ocean liner on the Hudson, unable to switch to Ms. Marvel without blowing her cover.  Johnny tries to keep his foe—powered by an energy beam from an asteroid orbiting the Skrull Throneworld—off of Spidey’s back while he puts the finishing touches on his power grid, and barely survives a Thing-punch to the head.  Despite being hopelessly outgunned, Spidey annoys the Skrull by stealing the jury-rigged sensor that has helped him locate his prize, but as he flies obligingly into the trap and Spidey throws the switch, all it does is enrage the Skrull even further. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’m sure that readers fond of feeling one step ahead of the characters enjoyed guessing the source of the faux-FF attack on Spidey, who—unlike the stunned Torch (“Oh my God.”)—was hitherto unacquainted with Super-Skrull; it’s always fun to see how both he and the writer handle it when Spidey faces a threat clearly above his weight class, as Mantlo did so well with the Stranger in #55.  His “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” attitude is inspiring, as is the consistently superb Hunt-inked art, which among other things shows Carol and the beret-free Jean at their very best.  Interestingly, both Claremont and Byrne have had prior brushes with flashback-feline Tigra in her short-lived Marvel Chillers solo strip, because Chris wrote #4 and John penciled #6.

This is just a big ol’ slab of wonderful, served up by two consummate storytellers who perhaps constitute the ultimate “Marvel team-up.”  One of Claremont’s greatest gifts is characterization, and he’s in rare form here as he cultivates his durable NYPD supporting cast, enhances their collegial relationship with our heroes and, most important, superbly handles the whole frenemy thing between Spidey and the Torch, who habitually spar but have each other’s backs when the chips are down.  Excellent use is made of Skrully, who should indeed be one of Marvel’s most formidable villains, and Byrne is just as adept at depicting him thus, e.g., the bludgeoned Spidey in page 3, panel 4; the full-page reveal on 14; and the explosive escape from the trap on page 31.

Joe: Why, when I look at it quickly, does the cover remind me of a Not Brand Echh issue? The insides, however, are vintage MTU. Byrne is in fine form, some odd neck angles aside, and a zippy story from Claremont keeps the pages turning in anticipation. Yeah, it's yet another Spidey-Torch team-up, but this one seems different. Maybe it's the creative team; maybe it's the classic villain who hasn't popped up in a while; maybe it's the effortless relationship between the two heroes; maybe it's the constant close calls that both escape. Either way, it's a fun ride, with more promised next issue with a Ms. Marvel appearance that's set up nicely, plus a super-strong Super Skrull who has Spidey slightly out of his depth. But then again, is our hero ever really outmatched?

Matthew:  Jeez, Joe, it hasn't even been a year since Skrully's soul was caught in Marvel Chillers #7! 

Chris: We have a near-miss at a MARMIS – thankfully – as the Torch and Spidey quickly recognize they have no grounds to fight.  The Super-Skrull takes everything both combatants have to offer, and keeps coming, which should make for an intriguing second chapter.  Claremont is wise not to put either hero’s life at risk, or to close with a crowing Skrull, declaring that he killed one of his opponents; you don’t want to play a card like the finish of MTU #59 so often that you wear it out.  

The only thing better than Byrne’s depiction of the lithe form of Tigra (p 10, pnl 4) is the promise that, coming up, we’ll have an entire issue devoted to her; or should I say, herrrrrrrr.  Other highlights include: the Skrull himself (p 14, accompanied by sangfroid comments by Spidey and the Torch); fiery battling, accompanied by a view into deep space, toward the Skrull throneworld (p 26), and Spidey facing down the rocky, fiery Skrull, who seems to want – and to fully expect to take – a piece of the wall-crawler.  

Ron Wilson & Frank Giacoia
Marvel Two-In-One 31
The Thing and Spider-Woman in
"My Sweetheart -- My Killer!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Sam Grainger
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe

Taking out an attacking “Hydra-foil,” Ben pulls Spider-Woman from the Thames; her mind cleared by the blast, she relates being recaptured and used by Hydra again, but cannot remember Alicia’s location.  While they plan to recover the treasure awaiting them in Parliament, Chauncy tells Trevor how, as Nazi agent Heinrich Buerer, he’d hidden it inside the House of Commons just before it was leveled in an air raid on May 10, 1941, creating the map so he could one day find it again.  Using Kort’s serum, which duplicated the chemical structure that created Spider-Woman, Hydra attempts to turn Alicia into the first of “an army of invincible warriors,” also seeking revenge on Ben (who wallows in frustrated grief over her disappearance).

While he and Spider-Woman leave the waylay base Ben and Shang-Chi wrecked, which fails to jog her memory of Hydra’s central location, they are attacked by Alicia, now a huge, poison-stingered spider-monster programmed to kill Ben, her blindness compensated for by a forehead-mounted camera and receiver with which she is controlled.  As Ben tries to subdue her without hurting her, Chauncy and Trevor enter Parliament, fell a guard with knockout bullets, and uncover the box containing the treasure.  Recovering from her venom, Spider-Woman realizes that since Kort’s serum wasn’t perfected, “Alicia’s body chemistry is unstable—if she expends her energy in the wrong way, she could very well die,” but it’s Ben, stuck in her web, who is facing death... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I’d forgotten, or didn’t realize at the time, what a parade of Marv-Mediocrity this whole arc is (Mark Drummond noted on SuperMegaMonkey that, “In a late 1978 interview, [he] described the Spider-Woman…issues as ‘poor’ and ‘hideous’”).  I suppose that as a kid, it’s easy to get distracted by the proverbial shiny objects of colorful guest stars, mindless action, and women turned into arachno-monsters.  How big a surprise anyone found the “Mystery Menace” after the cover image and dialogue, plus last issue’s clear statement that Hydra wanted a subject on which to test the Spider-Woman serum, I don’t know, but the Wilson/Grainger reveal on page 16 is admittedly pretty cool, which almost makes up for the completely implausible treasure-map crap.

Chris: There’s virtually no story-development in this chapter; I’m left with the distinct impression that writer/editor Wolfman is stalling for time, unsure of where to go with the story.  Here’s all that happens in the issue: Alicia is revealed as a Hydra-monster; Ben holds back, not wanting to hurt Alicia; Spider-Woman (who hardly has an opportunity to employ her powers throughout the issue) reminds herself that the spider-serum had not been perfected, which poses a threat to Alicia; and, Trevor and Chauncy break into the new Parliament building to find … something, that has value (an unreleased Funkadelic album?  No, just kidding), for some reason.  It doesn’t help that Wilson’s pencil-adequacy (at best) is even more apparent, with Grainger providing finishes rather than Marcos (“the Fixer”). 

Rich Buckler & Joe Sinnott

Nova 13
"Watch Out World, the Sandman is Back!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Annette Kawecki

Sandman smashes into a bank where Richard Rider happens to be standing in line, bemoaning his paltry savings account. As mysterious hero Crime-Buster busts (ouch) in through another window, lassoing a Sandman flunky, Nova (after Richard does a quick change somewhere) locks Sandman in the air-tight vault. C-B jets off and Sandman slips through an air vent, watched by a mysterious duo. Nova flies back to school, where his clothes are waiting, wrinkles and all, into a Psychology session where bully Mike tries to gain sympathy (loyal readers ain't buying it, right?). Sandman goes back to his hotel room, where psychologist Heinrich Von Flessle is waiting, and "helps" the coarse criminal by hooking him up to an "encephalogrammer" (really, Marv?) and taking some memories, as well as putting him under control, as ordered by the other mystery villain, who has a shirtless hostage in chains. As night falls, a bored Nova zips around for action, getting the attention (for a second) of an equally bored Thing, then saving a man tossed from a limo, and a Wakandan doctor held hostage in the same—then Sandman strikes! He clobbers Nova, then sand-crushes him, grabbing the doctor per Von Flessle's orders. Nova is held in a nasty trap, while Sandman is fed memories of school bully Mike Burley, and told to kidnap him, and "destroy anyone who dares get in your way!"--Joe Tura

Joe: "This is it! Our sensational 2nd year!" cries the cover. Oh joy, cries this professor! The cover is interesting, but a little messy, so we have that going for us. Or not. Full disclosure, I’m reading this after a crazy NFL weekend where my beloved Patriots are once again going to the AFC Championship game (and yes, I'm kissing up to the Dean), so I have no interest in reading this. Not that I would if it was the middle of May either. And lord knows where we'll be when this post is published. Hopefully with a depressed Prof. Mark (sorry…). But anyway…Marv once again tries to make Nova the new Spider-Man by not only having him show financial issues in the beginning bank scene, but also by bringing back one of Spidey's most iconic enemies. Still doesn't work, sorry. Although they certainly give it the college try. It helps that Sal's art is quite good, with trusty Sinnott polishing quite nicely. And the story isn't awful, but there are too many "mystery" characters. Who the heck is Crime-Buster? Who the heck is Dr. Von Flessle? And the shadowy guy that they won't show? Really, Marv? Can you confound the reader more? This comic is as much of a big tease as high school sexpot Ginger. Oh, come on, you know she's leading Richard on big time.

Blue Blazes counter: page 2, panel 1 when Sandman leisurely enters the bank; plus "Blazes" without a color designation on page 10 when Nova/Richard finds the duds he stashed in his desk drawer are wrinkled badly. Um…duh! Try webbing them in a ball on top of a roof or something, that keeps the wrinkles out better than Febreze!

Chris: For once, Nova’s lack of self-confidence seems completely warranted, as his non-plan plan-of-attack against the Sandman results in a solid sandy stompin’.  The Buscema/Sinnott art is markedly improved over the Buscema/Giacoia work we’ve seen in recent issues; the battlin’ with Marko is well done.  

The low point in the issue is easy to identify, in two parts: Mike’s sappy poor-me moment, in an in-class encounter group, no less; and, Wolfman’s decision to make another supporting character a target for a super-villain.  Does this mean that – at the conclusion of next issue – Mike will turn to Rich and say, “You know what, Rider?  You’re all right.  Hey – see you in class, okay?” to which Rich will respond, “Sure thing, Mike.  See you then – friend.”  That’s really the likeliest way this title could become worse, and it seems Marv’s ready to make it happen.   
Speaking thru LOCs, Marveldom Assembled is beginning to express its doubts about Nova, Teen Wonder-Sensation.  Mike D. from Edmonton dismisses Nova as a “mediocre comic-book hero,” and observes that Marv is “laying on Nova’s inexperience as a super-hero a bit too thick. … Don’t make him into some self-pitying twit.” Dennis M. from Amarillo TX expresses his disbelief that “Nova is taking the Marvel dominion by storm as youse guys state.”  He suggests that this title be combined with another that features a youngster alter-ego, and call it Nova-Omega.  It’s a hit! saith the marketing staff.   

Matthew: The jumble of images on the cover (once again bearing Buckler’s “Validar,” uh, pencil name) befits an issue that, while offering plenty to like, might have too much going on.  The Sandman’s a good villain, seemingly well matched with Nova while continuing the Spidey parallel, yet the stuff with the Sinister German Guy, who came across like a low-rent Faustus, felt needlessly complex, even after I accidentally peeked ahead; coming completely out of left field, the Crime-Buster appears to be a likable but bland Anti-Punisher; and now Marv’s throwing some guy from Wakanda into the mix?  Of course, whenever Sinnott inks a Buscema—as he did that cover—it’s cause for celebration, so there are no complaints regarding the artwork.

George Perez & Frank Giacoia
Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 10
"Tiger in a Web!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Irving Watanabe

Spider-Man leaps into the ESU office where White Tiger is attacking Prof. Vasquez, and is shocked when WT shows incredible speed and strength during a battle that takes them outside and onto campus, as the protesting students are still angry at school Prez Dwyer, and Vasquez has the invaluable Erskine manuscripts. Meanwhile, as "Blackbyrd" smashes through a skylight spying on The Black Hand gang and makes a daring move, Spidey and White Tiger continue a frenetic battle and Vasquez admits to the campus he was masquerading as White Tiger and tried to steal the manuscripts. Spidey and WT's fight causes a schoolyard wall to come down, but the wall-crawler saves the day—and a bunch of kids—which makes WT realize Spidey is OK, and in turn, our hero realizes WT was framed. Vasquez tells Dwyer his "people needed a symbol" to believe in and save the Night School, and as Blackbyrd shows up with the real crooks, he vows to do everything to keep the school open. Spidey and White Tiger shake on it as our story ends. --Joe Tura

Joe: I'm a little torn on this one. On one hand, the action is quite well done. The script, while a little too White Tiger heavy, which makes sense since Mantlo looooooves his creation, is pretty good. The art is right on point, from the shadowy splash page to the maudlin last frame with Spidey and WT shaking hands. But the end is so rushed, and so cliché, and so borderline "Hey, White Tiger is the best!" that I just can't rank it in the top of this month's books. It feels like Mantlo is auditioning his hombre for a comic of his own more than a Spider-Man story. Which is fine, except people will always love Spidey, while WT is a flash in the pan to say the least. And I'm not even sure he's that flashy. More supporting cast hijinks, please. Less lesser-known heroes.

Fave sound effect is page 15's "WRAM" as White Tiger rams (ouch) a punch into Spidey's face after the web-head's arrogance that his webbing has "held everyone from Doc Ock to the Rhino." Geez, Bill, give your hero a little more power, won't ya! In real life, Spidey would cream him!

Matthew: Just as Marcos does in the current Iron Man, Giacoia both inks the cover by Pérez (El Tigre Blanco’s co-creator, lest we forget) and joins Esposito on the Mantlo-scripted interior art; in this case, the penciler is Sal, whose work is beautifully fine-tuned by the Giacosito team.  Speaking of teams, this two-parter would not have felt out of place in Bill’s erstwhile MTU gig, while it’s taken my tired old brain until now to find it hilarious that they’ve been trumpeting the four-color debut of a literally monochromatic character.  Sadly, the MARMIS is unusually forced, especially spun out over two issues, and only exacerbated by the coincidence of two competing attempts to steal the Erskine Manuscripts.

Chris: It’s an awful lot of time and space to devote to a MARMIS.  There’s no good reason why this story couldn’t have been told in a tightly-plotted single issue.  Well, that probably wouldn’t have happened, since apparently there was so much back-story to work into PPSSM #9.   In any case, all that’s left is a lot of empty action, and a few Scooby-Doo surprises.  

John Buscema & Joe Sinnott

The Mighty Thor 263
"Holocaust and Homecoming"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza

The Soul-Survivor known as K'rll has, via the Spirit-Mold, animated the Odin-Force into a monstrous humanoid form to destroy the Asgardians. K'rll is consumed by his newfound power, while his companion N'gll is beginning to have some doubts about the cost of their way of life. Even Thor is realizing he cannot long stand against the power that was once that of his slain father. Retribution comes from a most unexpected source: voluminous Volstagg, over to whom Odin had transferred as much of his power as he could. Volstagg fires back at the giant monster, which finally collapses and fades into nothing, having spent itself in fighting essentially its same energies. Shock waves destroy what is left of the former Templeworld's machinery. K'rll cannot see past his anger (despite his companion's words of wisdom), and vows destruction to the Asgardians, an empty threat at this point. Thor is about to deal him the same fate as Odin, when Mjolnir's return to Thor's hands can mean only one thing: Volstagg's efforts to use his power have succeeded in reviving their monarch. N'gll goes to take care of his friend, as the Asgardians head for home. An exhausted Odin has fallen into the Odin-Sleep, and they put him in a bed they make for him. The arrival home is not as expected. The exhausted crew find not Balder, but Loki in the throne of Asgard, having taken advantage of the opportunity fate has given him. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: I'd say a very satisfactory ending to one of Thor's best adventures in a number of years. The embodiment of the Odin-Force isn't defeated by some convenient power Thor cooks up, but by the very cleverness of Odin's own plan. Volstagg is a perfect choice to save the day--finally he gets a chance to make true on his boasts of warrior prowess, and he does so in style. There are a few moments where the Odin-Force creature could be channeling Mangog, but they are fleeting; that's definitely not the point here. There's not really a sense of hopelessness, even Odin's apparent death seem unreal. A sad ending for the Soul-Survivors, especially K'rll, but perhaps N'gll's change of heart may offer some hope for the future. I don't think we got a hint that there were (how many?) many other "brothers" of the duo hanging around as well.

Again, the quick transition into the next problem isn't my favorite way to finish things off, but the final page is pretty effective, especially with (Uma) the Enchantress and Executioner present. The utter absence of Balder and Karnilla is eerie.

Matthew:  If you’re looking for penetrating insight at 1:30 A.M. on the day this lesson plan is due, I’m afraid you’re doomed to disappointment…not that I necessarily provide any at the best of times!  Although his newfound physical powers are explained away as a manifestation of the Odin-Force, Volstagg is given a commendable amount of face-time; even if we take it as a given that Len chose him as the repository of the dying All-Father’s remaining strength simply because he was the least likely candidate, he is once again handled very well here.  Regardless of who’s the tail and who’s the dog, and despite some occasionally dodgy faces, Simonson and DeZuniga admittedly do good work, especially the flame-headed embodiment of the Odin-Force.

Chris: It's been a long, strange trip for the All-Father.  I imagine Odin will be pleased to sleep in his own bed; a long soak and fresh robes would be welcome too, I'm sure.  Nice job to instill Volstagg with temporary, Odin-fueled power, so that the vast-girthed one can deliver the means to victory.  Although, his boasting now could prove to be truly insufferable – I hope you know what you're getting us into, Len. 

For now, though, I will award bonus points to Len for his restraint – we haven't seen Loki in these pages for thirty-some issues, and I'm sure there’s ample temptation to pull him out of the Box of Villains more often than that.  The trickster's presence explains a lot, especially with all the changes Balder has been thru in recent issues.  Nifty full-page reveal at the end, with the Enchantress and the Executioner attending to the unfavored son.  I really should pick another art highlight; as much as I want to go with the obvious choice – Volstagg’s battle with creepy K’ril – I’ll go with a smaller moment: Thor employs Mjolnir to hammer together a suitable ark to bear his father home (p 26).

Gene Colan
The Tomb of Dracula 60
"The Wrath of Dracula!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Mare Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen

Still enraged over the death of his son, Janus, Count Dracula destroys everything that stands in his way. Between fits of rage, the vampire pauses to reflect on his centuries-old life and the people who changed it for the better and for the worse. When he swoops down to sup on an unlucky woman, her young son makes the Count stop and change paths. Suddenly, he wants to die and he calls to the heavens to slay him. When he receives no answer, he flies away to be at his wife's side. Meanwhile, Domini kneels at her son's grave, insisting she has seen the future and Janus will rise again; begging her son not to destroy his own father. -Peter Enfantino

Mark: Before unearthing this month's nightmare, class, let's address Marv Wolfman's extraordinary "Inside the Bullpen" letter page confessional, in which he clues the readers that TOD may be reduced to a bi-monthly schedule. One would expect Wolfie to then beseech Drac disciples to buy more copies, but no, he insists sales are fine and furthermore, and this is the jaw-dropper, Marv's the one campaigning the Marvel muck-a-mucks, "Those Who Operate the Computers," for the change, all in an effort to keep Gene Colan in harness with him on the book. The Dean's moody, masterful art can't be rushed, two books per month is his max capacity. One's the hip-crowd hit Howard the Duck, and with the Duck's newspaper strip launching, gearing down TOD's schedule is the only way Gene can continue. 

And Wolfman further confesses that if Colan has to leave the book, so will he.

All this is unprecedented, not only Marv spilling internal business dish in - what for then was - real time, but that Those 
Who Operate... a low profit, bottom line biz like funnybooks would allow lowly creators to have such input into sausage-making machinery that affected the bottom line. Martin Goodman, you can be sure, would never have stood for such foolishness. Another example of the seismic changes taking place in the 1970's.

Chris: So, based on Marv’s missive, it’s reasonable to expect he drafted this issue with an eye toward Tomb possibly about to close its doors, which of course would necessitate an end for the Lord of the Undead.   To Marv’s credit, he tells us he prefers to stop writing ToD if it were to be reduced to little more than “a vampire comic.” Marv’s also telling us that – in the absence of Gentleman Gene – ToD would lose too much for him to be able to continue.  It’s kind of sad, though, to think that ToD might’ve been discontinued because Gene wanted to forgo further work on this title, and focus his efforts instead on a daily newspaper strip for Howard the Duck.  In a way, it might demonstrate that Gene might’ve thought he was ready for a change; after five years of steady, often brilliant work, it’s hard to blame him, right?

Mark: On to our tale and "The Wrath of Dracula!" is just as riveting as Marv over-sharing with readers. In torment after the death of his son last ish, the Count drives Domini away "before I turn on you," then trashes his dark church, but still remains powerless before the mocking painting of Jesus.
After flashing back on how he mistreated his first wife and being tormented by a vision of hateful daughter Lilith, Vlad's struck by the realization that tending home and hearth has never been a strength, right down to being hunted by the last of his line, "weak, contemptible" Frank Drake. 

Mark: And Drac wishes to die, calls for the "gods high in the heavens" to slay him as he stands, tormented and raging atop a bell tower, dark and rain-swept as only Gene can conjure it. And the gods consider it - "The sky shatters. Gold fingers search out the dark form...caress the prince of evil - then take a pass, to mock me," Drac thinks, "...again and again and again."
But soon the Count, again, is  glad to be alive, flapping off toward wife Domini, more precious to him now with Janus dead, even as she visits her son's grave. Which I'm guessing - given Domini's resurrective tone and what us readers - if not the Count - know about Janus' perhaps heavenly linage, the tot's not likely to be occupying much longer.  

Chris: I don't remember reading much about Drac's first wife before; when he was referring to his prior wife, I was surprised at his cruelty to this woman – I thought he had meant Maria, and I don't think I realized that this arranged marriage had precluded him from being with Maria.  Does Drac believe his abominable treatment of his unloved first wife was then fatefully revenged by his loss of Maria?  
We've become so accustomed to Count Vlad reveling in his life-denying role, that it's an arresting instance when we hear Drac curse his fate.  Keen moment of tension as Drac confronts the boy he sees on the gloomy street, whom he calls "Janus" (p 23) -- in his rage, I really thought he was going to smite the kid. But, Dracula almost never kills children, does he?  Well, I guess even irreconcilably evil creatures need a code of conduct.

Frank Thorne
Red Sonja 5 
“Master of the Bells!”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto

Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne

Honoring the vow to their late friend Cyphax, Red Sonja and Mikal ride through the treacherous Argossean hills searching for the former leader of the bestial Lake People, now held captive in the Singing Tower. Soon they notice a fearsome looking Zingaran caravan moving across a valley floor. So intent on not being spotted, the Hyrkanian and her handsome companion do not hear the group of child-sized Truands — forest-dwelling bandits — approaching from the rear. When the tiny thieves attack, they are quickly scattered by Sonja’s surprisingly savage sword. The woman grabs one of the fleeing Truands and demands if he knows the location of the Singing Tower: he cries that they follow the riders below. Sonja and Mikal head out but are quickly captured by the dusky Zingarans. The commander, Kir-El, claims that Mikal is a scoundrel and Sonja’s friend is taken away. Kir-El leads the She-Devil to their fortress, Bor-Ti-Ki, the City of the Bells, a fabulous structure filled with tremendous and ornately sculptured bells. He leads her into a large chamber, huge stone dragon icons lining the walls. When Sonja notices that one of the statues is grasping a sword, she leaps on the icon and scrambles to the weapon. Now armed, she braces herself against the wall and pushes the stone beast forward with her lithe legs — it topples and scatters the Zingarans. Suddenly, Orubu, the robed and pockmarked ruler of Bor-Ti-Ki, appears and summons a hideous two-headed dragon. Red Sonja leaps on the unholy reptile’s back, driving her sword again and again: the creature finally succumbs and dies. Orubu slowly approaches and reveals three things: that he has been dreaming of Sonja’s arrival; that Mikal is actually the heir to the throne of Argos; and that he is the Lake People leader they have been searching for. Orubu also explains that he used the power of the Singing Tower to change his animalistic form and gain rule over those who held him captive. The king leads the woman warrior up a steep flight of stairs to a high platform, more giant bells hanging above — from there, the Singing Tower can be seen in the distance. Orubu claims that when the bells begin to chime, he and Sonja will leap off the platform and fly above the roofs of Bor-Ti-Ki. But the She-Devil resists and the king is struck by a swinging bell’s edge — the madman plummets to his death. In the confusion, Red Sonja procures a horse and races off towards the Tower. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The druggy vibe continues as this one advances the oddball Lake People plotline. The story is really rather simple, but there is a lot of information to absorb. The reveal that Orubu was actually the former leader of the alien animal-people was entirely unexpected — as was his accidental death. However, I did wonder why Sonja continued on to the Singing Tower at the end since she had found the person she was looking for on the behalf of the dead Cyphax. And we’ll see where the news of Mikal’s royal heritage will lead. While it was a marvelous creation, the two-headed dragon didn’t amount to much: it appeared and was killed in only eight panels. At this point, Red Sonja is one of the most unusual series published by Marvel, perhaps only rivaled in weirdness by the stuff Jack Kirby was cranking out. And it all comes down to the hippy dippy style of Frank Thorne. His art gets looser and more psychedelic with each issue. There are few simply shaped panels: some have rounded edges, other thick black borders, but all have interesting forms. And his totally stylized illustrations seem to ooze over every page, dripping with sexuality and magic. If there was ever a better series starring a female hero, I certainly haven’t come across it.

Gil Kane & Tom Palmer
Star Wars 3
"Death Star!"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Tom Orzechowski

Princess Leia is taken before Moff Tarkin, where she is given a choice: reveal the location of the hidden rebel base or watch as her home planet of Alderaan is destroyed by the awesome power of the Death Star. Realizing this is no bluff, she acquiesces. However, the planet Dantooine is too remote to be an effective target to use as an example, so he orders Alderaan destroyed. Leia watches helplessly as her home is obliterated. At that moment, on the Millennium Falcon, Ben Kenobi feels the destruction of the planet through The Force. Recovering quickly, he has Luke continue his light saber training exercises. With concentration, he is able to feel the remote target and defend himself blindfolded with his saber. Han Solo scoffs, believing the Force to be nothing more than a hokey religion. The discussion is made moot when the Falcon enters the Alderaan system. What they find is nothing more than a debris field. They are surprised to see a short range Imperial TIE fighter fire a shot at them. Han gives chase and they follow the ship. Their surprise turns to incredulity when they are led to the immense Death Star. A tractor beam tows them into the launch bay. They hide in storage compartments, but need to get off the ship before an inspection crew arrives. They lure two Storm Troopers inside, get the jump on them and steal their uniforms. Now disguised, Luke and Han take Chewie, Ben and the droids into a small control center. Ben leaves to deactivate the tractor beam while the droids discover the Princess is a prisoner in the cell block. Luke convinces Han to rescue her, promising him a rich reward. They put loose shackles on Chewie and bring him into the Detention Center. Once there, Chewie breaks his bonds and attacks the guards. Luke finds the proper cell and frees the princess just as more troops arrive. They are pinned down under fire as Luke frantically calls Threepio to see if the droid can provide them a way out, but there is no response….
 -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Part three sticks closely to the film and the art continues to improve. The story moves at a nice pace as the action picks up. With the release of The Force Awakens breaking box office records and making Disney’s acquisition of Lucasfilm the deal of the century, it reminds me of just how huge a phenomenon Star Wars was in 1977. It took the entire world by surprise. Even Kenner was blindsided and ran out of toys before Christmas, actually selling empty boxes which promised toys still in production. I remember seeing the ads and cards for action figures yet to come. Getting those cards was almost as exciting to kids as getting the figures themselves. The comic book adaptation was reprinted a few times. There were multiple Treasury Editions as well, A pair that split the saga in half, each volume including three issues of the run. Another gathered the entire six parts under one cover. I found mine in McCrory’s, but it is long since gone.

This seems like as good a time as any to mention the fabulous and groundbreaking John Williams score, which I can’t help hearing as I read this issue. Orchestral film scores were not in vogue at the time as filmmakers began to rely on pop music more and more often. Of course, there were exceptions, but many composers found the work hard to come by. One, however, not only continued to work, but changed the direction of film scoring. John Williams, after spending his early career toiling on such TV series as Checkmate and Lost in Space, as well as a number of feature film comedies, finally became attached to high profile and big budget disaster films, such as The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, and The Towering Inferno. However, it was his Oscar winning score to Jaws that propelled him to the forefront and got people thinking about the music. On the recommendation of his friend Steven Spielberg, George Lucas hired Williams for Star Wars and the composer created a popular hit. For the first time, an orchestral album broke records and zoomed to the top of the charts. Star Wars became the biggest-selling soundtrack album up to that time. Listening to The London Symphony Orchestra became as cool and commonplace as listening to Led Zeppelin or the Bee Gees. The accolades were well earned and the music cemented my own love of film scores. The Star Trek TV series, Logan’s Run and then Star Wars became the soundtrack of my youth. It was part of the mix that propelled the passion I began to feel for this genre of music. In time, I would read the Treasury Edition while spinning the double LP set. My life and John Williams’ career (and music for films in general) would never be the same.  

Matthew: In a typical juxtaposition, I’m reading and reviewing this the night before Mrs. Professor Matthew and I are finally scheduled to see The Force Awakens, almost a month after it opened.  And speaking of juxtapositions, how’s this?  “You have five physical senses, Daniel—a warrior must learn to use them all!  I have taken away your eyes, child.  Does that make you helpless?”  --Lei Kung the Thunderer, Iron Fist #14.  “Your eyes can deceive you.  Don’t trust them….Stretch out with your feelings, Luke—in the dark!”  --Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars #3.  If I have little to say about these issues, it’s because the Thomas/Chaykin/Leialoha adaptation is so faithful that reading it is like looking at the film on paper, so my comments seem superfluous. (Or more than usual!)

Also This Month

Crazy 27
Human Fly 1 >
Marvel's Greatest Comics 72
Marvel Classics Comics 21
Marvel Super Heroes 66
Marvel Super Action 3
Marvel Tales 83
Marvel Triple Action 37
Rawhide Kid 141
Sgt Fury 142
Spidey Super Stories 26


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 22
Cover Art by Val Mayerik

“The Pool of the Black One”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Sonny Trinidad
“The Sea Hawks”
Text by Robert Yaple
Art by Rick Hoberg

“The Chaykin Barbarians”
Art by Howard Chaykin

“The Voice of the Bloodstained God”
Text by Fred Blosser

“The Dragon at Castle Frankenstein”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Sonny Trinidad

“Swords and Scrolls”

Once again, Roy refuses to be limited by even the hefty page count of a 68-page magazine, launching a two-part adaptation of one of Robert E. Howard’s earliest Conan stories, “The Pool of the Black One,” originally published by Weird Tales in 1933. The Rascally One includes a bit of Howard poetry on the eye-popping splash page. It is my privilege to type the most magical words that will ever appear on Marvel University:

Into the west, unknown of man,
Ships have sailed since the world began.
Read, if you dare, what Skelos wrote,
With dead hands fumbling his silken coat;
And follow the ships thru wind-blown wrack …
Follow the ships that come not back.

After a failed rendezvous near the Barachan Isles, Conan finds himself adrift at sea in a leaky dinghy. When The Wastrel, a Zingaran buccaneer ship, sails by, he swims for it and hoists himself on board, startling the captain’s concubine, the beauteous Sancha, the daughter of the Duke of Kordava and kidnapped long ago. At first, the captain, Zaporavo the Hawk, is outraged by the Cimmerian’s insolence, but the barbarian manages to talk his way on to the crew. After Zaporavo returns to his charts, Conan walks to the deck below to meet his new mates and is immediately drawn into a game of “bait the stranger” — his challenger is quickly dispatched with a broken neck. Now welcomed, Conan proves himself to be the mightiest and most high-spirited member of the freebooters over the next few weeks: his bronzed brawn also becomes a bit of a distraction to Sancha. But while he goes about his daily duties, the Cimmerian is constantly plotting on how he can kill Zaporavo and take over The Wastrel.

One day, the ship arrives at a mysterious tropical island. The Hawk, Conan and the rest of the men row ashore: the captain orders Sancha to stay on board. As the crew begins to pluck strange golden fruit from the trees, Zaporavo slips away alone — unnoticed by the rest of the pirates, the Cimmerian silently follows the captain. Back on the ship, Sancha’s curiosity takes hold and she dives into the water and swims to the beach. There, she finds the crew sound asleep, half-eaten fruit still in their hands. Meanwhile, Conan confronts Zaporavo in a grassy knoll: after a short sword fight, the Zingaran is killed. While pondering his next move, the barbarian notices a tall, gaunt figure moving through the woods, another small man flung over its shoulders. He follows after the weird spectacle, trailing the giant to a strange, green city of towering spires and walled courtyards. Making his way across the top of the walls like a jungle cat, the Cimmerian peers into one of the circular spaces. To his amazement, he sees twenty or so of the tall, gray and demonic looking creatures surrounding a terrified crew member. One of them grasps the man by the ankle and dunks him into a black pool in the center of the courtyard. As the rest of his creepy companions begin to shamble away, the giant then places a small object on a shelf that runs around the curved walls that surround the pool — it then joins the others as they exit the otherworldly city. 

Conan leaps down into the now empty courtyard, astonished to see dozens of small figurines on the shelf, all in the shape of men, including an exact, miniature replica of the crewman just submerged. Suddenly, one of the dark giants returns, dragging the terrified Sancha. The Cimmerian charges and runs the creature through with his sword — it falls dead gurgling blood. When he hears an odd noise, Conan lifts himself back on top of the wall: from his high vantage point, he sees the rest of the nightmarish monsters returning, carrying the half-conscious crew of The Wastrel.

Not sure why it was necessary to break “The Pool of the Black One” into two parts: this one is 28 pages and next issue’s installment only 19 so the entire story could have certainly been contained here. But I guess there wouldn’t have been room for any of the text pieces or the Solomon Kane story — which is really not worth the space. Conan is particular devious, cold-bloodedly plotting the murder of Zaporavo so that he can take control of The Wastrel. The giants look a bit like Manute Bol, only with huge talons, sharp teeth and pointed ears. Sancha is another of Big John’s sensual beauties: even though of royal lineage, she’s certainly tough, surviving the brutal, seafaring life after being kidnapped by Zaporavo. I’m not going to call this one lightweight, but not much really happens besides the two sword fights. The art is superior as usual. While I always prefer Alfredo Alcala, Sonny Trinidad does a fine job: the forest scenes are particularly lush and finely detailed. There is no clue given to Conan’s failed “rendezvous” at the beginning: that’s the exact word the Cimmerian uses but what exactly happened is never revealed.

The Puritan avenger Solomon Kane is back in the 13-page “The Dragon at Castle Frankenstein,” an original story by Don Glut. Drawn by tales of a rampaging dragon, Kane arrives in the German town of Darmstadt, quickly coming across a trio of soldiers trying to kidnap a lovely tavern girl named Cathryn. After pummeling the men, the Englishman finds out that they are working for Baron Hans von Frankenstein. With the maiden in tow, the vengeful Kane arrives at Frankenstein’s fortress. After embarrassing the man in a quick sword fight, the Puritan learns that the Baron has been sacrificing young women to the dragon in an attempt to pacify the vicious monster. Forcing Frankenstein to come with him, Kane storms off to the huge reptile’s cave to put an end to its reign of terror. The monster appears and Solomon begins to slash it with his blade — however, the Baron flees and runs by Cathryn, dropping his sword. The woman picks up the weapon and rushes in to help Kane. While the Puritan manages to slay the dragon, Cathryn is killed by the poisonous spike on its tail. Solomon walks out of the cave holding the dead woman, telling Frankenstein that he will now suffer for his cowardliness until his final judgment day.

Even Solomon Kane’s biggest champion — Professor Gilbert — must admit that this story is a by-the-numbers affair. Glut’s use of the name Frankenstein is a cheap ploy that amounts to nothing. There’s some background involving the Baron’s brother but I skipped all that since it was inconsequential. The art is fine though Trinidad seems to have some difficulty fitting his characters into the panels. The dragon is a bit goofy looking as well, resembling Gorgo. This is easily the least of the Kane features to appear so far.

Issue #22 also includes a trio of text pieces. Robert Yaple’s “The Sea Hawks” is a 6-page look at maritime trade and piracy during the high Hyborian age. It’s quite detailed and informative. Rick Hoberg provides some decent illustrations: this is the first time I’ve encountered Hoberg in my MU studies. The artist mainly illustrated for DC but did some jobs for Marvel from time to time, including the King Kull story in the very next issue of Savage Sword. “The Chaykin Barbarians” is just that: two pinups of Conan and one each of Red Sonja and Solomon Kane. Things wrap up with “The Voice of the Bloodstained God,” a two page review of a spoken word album by L. Sprague de Camp: the author acts out two Conan tales, “The Bloodstained God” and “The Curse of the Monolith.” -Tom Flynn

When last seen in “Rattle of Bones,” Kane was still wandering through Germany.  Arriving in Nieder-Beerbach, not far from Darmstadt and Magnet Mountain, he quickly comes to the aid of Cathryn, “some bar wench!” who works at the Black Raven Inn, being manhandled by dishonorable knights.  

“The Dragon at Castle Frankenstein” only “featur[es] the hero by Robert E. Howard”; it is not an adaptation.  The Table of Contents calls it a “tale of terror!,” but really it is a tale of action with Kane playing out the medieval legend of St. George the dragon-slayer.  

Before that, however, scripter Don Glut explicitly links the Baron’s “valiant brother--” knight Georg von Frankenstein, the Dragon-slayer!” – with the St. George legend, here no “mythical English folk hero—but...the most noble Frankenstein of all!!”  Like in the St. George hagiographical romance, “the villagers hoped to appease the monster’s hunger by sacrificing the valley’s fairest maiden.”  The German Georg and his “serpentine” foe slay each other, but it is left to the Englishman Kane to finish the task of destroying a newly risen dragon and dispatching the hatchery from which it was born.  

Georg, it is revealed, was martyred trying to save that “fairest maiden,” his “secret love,” “Annemarie, our ‘Rose of the Valley’ -- the forester’s daughter.”  Kane, “the staunchest of Christians!,” cannot help “feel[ing] the presence of the God he worships as he stands reverently” before her image “on the chapel wall” and “Georg’s tomb” inside.  The barmaid Cathryn, in contrast, possesses none of the purity of Georg’s chastely-named Annemarie, but ironically, Kane – the avenger who “rightly execute[s] the will of God!” – does not judge, saving his condemnation for a Baron he deems “worse than the basest villain!” for being “a whimpering coward.”  

This is the second time, back-to-back, that REH’s “fulfiller of God’s judgment” comes upon an undressed damsel whose flesh he must resist with Puritanical resolve, though he rebuffs her in a most gentlemanly manner so as not to wound her feelings.  It is also the second time he must rescue one from human sacrifice.  Kane, after having an innocent maid die in his arms in “Red Shadows,” has by this time vindicated himself twice by saving Cathryn and the virgin offering from “The Castle of the Devil,” both in the nick of time.  

When Cathryn throws herself at him, offering him gratitude in the form of a sensual kiss and perhaps more, Kane steadfastly refuses, having sworn off “pleasures of the flesh!”  Though this is consistent for Kane, it leaves the misimpression that he is monkish when he is in fact only a Calvinist.  (Many have convincingly conjectured that the ascetic Kane is a deeply grieving widower.)  

As if to atone for displaying Cathryn in various stages of immodesty and defang feminists waiting to pounce, Glut hands her a blade that she almost gets to brandish.  She ultimately passes it on to the “lone swordsman,” laying down her life to do so in an act of selfless sacrifice and courage that should qualify her as every bit a heroine as Red Sonja.  Even though she did not swing the steel herself, she is not only a participant in the deliverance of her village, but instrumental.  In the fiction of today’s climate, that might not be enough.  Nowadays it would be almost mandatory to have the woman, in this case a tavern server all her life, land the mortal blow against all realism, even though the soldier Kane is veteran of at least one war and countless battles who possesses a lifetime of rapier experience.  

“Herr Frankenstein!” calls Kane an “armed scarecrow,” but as drawn, Sonny Trinidad’s Puritan swashbuckler, though lean, is still muscular enough to wield “his terrible, swift blade that slashes in the name of his God...”  In fact in the “Swords and Scrolls” column of issue #23, one letter reads, “Kupperberg and Trinidad deliver a Kane once more too heavy-set, with a face too broad, brow too low, and lips too thick to fit Howard’s description or Kane’s character.”  This may be a tad too picayune as this Kane is still an improvement over some of the less rugged representations of the past.  Also in Trinidad’s favor – the battle panels are consistently energetic, never once seeming like a sequence of still-life poses.  

Glut admirably keeps Kane in character for his non-REH original, but it seems hardly worth his effort to make the Baron part of the Frankenstein dynasty.  In “Castle of the Undead,” Kane met Dracula – high time he met the Baron of Castle Frankenstein?  Not the Victor Frankenstein of Mary Shelley, or the Henry Frankenstein of James Whale – or Dr. Ludwig Frankenstein, Baron Wolf von Frankenstein, or Dr. Frederick Frankenstein, for that matter – but “Baron Hans Von Frankenstein--.”  Of course this being the 16th century, he can only encounter an ancestor to all the future Frankensteins we know from Shelley’s classic novel and Hollywood, not the genuine article.  (Unless, that is, Marvel were to contemplate a time travel scenario the likes of which was depicted in the 1990 Roger Corman adaptation of Brian Aldiss’ novel Frankenstein Unbound.)  

Overall it is a minor tale, the kneading in of a dragon not quite as successful as weaving in a werewolf (“The Silver Beast Beyond Torkertown”) or haunted hand (“The Right Hand of Doom”).  It is even less accomplished at merging itself with Mary Shelley’s “Modern Prometheus” myth.  There is no Frankenstein creation, no shambling monster to run amuck, no tortured creature of sorrows to rail against his maker.  Here there is only a “nobleman” who happens to bear the Frankenstein family name, and his brave brother.  His name could be Baron Von Staler, Baron Otto von Kleist, or Baron Zemo and it would not matter one iota.  At least the monster battle is Conan-esque.  
-Gilbert Colon

Marvel Comics Super Special 1: Kiss
Cover Art by Alan Weiss and Gray Morrow

“Kiss Comics”
Story by Steve Gerber
Pencils by Alan Weiss, John Buscema, Rich Buckler and Sal Buscema
Inks by Allen Milgrom
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by John Costanza and Irv Watanabe
“Kiss and Tell”
Text by Steve Gerber

“A Brief Biography of Dr. Doom”
Text based on “The Fantastic Origin of Dr. Doom” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

“Blood on the Plates”
Text by Stark Raven

“Where No Band Has Tread Before”
Text by Michael Cross

Once again, Marvel dips its toe into the magazine market with the first Super Special. However, this particular little piggy is in full-color, a new twist for the line. Some sources claim that the publisher originally intended to launch a music magazine to take on the likes of Creem and Hit Parader. But knowing Marvel, it probably would have come across like a snarky Teen Beat. However, along the line, it was instead decided to create a one-off, large-format comic that featured perhaps the late ’70s' most popular and controversial acts, Kiss. Which made sense since the band was sometimes referred to as “rock and roll superheroes.” The result would be the most expensive Marvel project up to that point. And the public would pay for it: at $1.50, it was two quarters more than the far superior The Savage Sword of Conan the BarbarianThe Rampaging Hulk.

Full disclosure: since I have been knee-high to Big John Buscema, I have thoroughly disliked Kiss. Now, it’s not because they clomp around on stage in sci-fi kabuki makeup, skin-tight leather jumpers, assorted sparkly codpieces and ridiculous platform boots. Heck, I absolutely love the Ramones and they wore their own type of outfit — and none of them were brothers. Plus, I also dig Devo. Big time. So a “theme” band is not the problem. And don’t give me that old chestnut that they rip off their army of fans with an endless array of merchandise. Why? Motörhead is my all-time favorite group and you can actually whip out a dildo bearing their logo the next time you get busy. If you don’t die of embarrassment first. No, it’s because I can’t understand how they became so popular with so few good songs. Yeah, yeah, stuff like “Shout It Out Loud” and “Rock and Roll All Night” are undeniably catchy, but most of their albums are total crap. And they have quite a few albums. To me, Kiss has always been about the gimmick and not the music. You can manage to hide a lack of talent behind some flashy costumes, a few firebombs and a huge lighted logo. Let’s face it: “Beth” is their highest charting single. It doesn’t get much worse than that maudlin piece of crap. Watch the video. It’s horrendous.

Before we get to the actual 40-page, three-part feature, clunkingly called “Kiss Comics” — why not “Kiss Komics”? — let’s get the text pieces out of the way. Super Special writer and producer Steve Gerber provides the opening act, “Kiss and Tell.” In this two-page editorial, he talks about his favorite subject: Steve Gerber. After letting us know that “comic book writers are terribly busy people,” Steve goes on to say that he hadn’t heard a note of Kiss music before Stan Lee approached him with this project. Really? He was only 29 at this point and, as he writes, “used to teach a college course in rock and communication.” I find that hard to believe: I basically live under a cone of protection and have still bumped into Jason Bieber. The rest of the piece goes on in backpatting detail about how the magazine came together. But as Gerber himself said, “This is getting pretty heavy. Time to change channels again.” So let’s turn the page for “A Brief Biography of Dr. Doom.” As the credits state, this one-pager was based on “The Fantastic Origin of Dr. Doom” by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. Not sure where that was first published — perhaps the Bring on the Bad Guys trade paperback? And isn’t it usually “Doctor” not “Dr.”? By the way, the part about how Victor Von Doom was born a gypsy plays a gripping role in “Kiss Komics.” Well that’s not entirely true: it’s hardly gripping.

The next four-page text piece, “Blood on the Plates,” spotlights the big promotional gimmick — that word again — used in advertising the magazine: it was published in ACTUAL KISS BLOOD. Yes, Gene Simmons, Paul Stanley, Ace Frehley and Peter Criss visited a doctor and each had a tiny test tube of blood drawn. Then, after this “ritual sacrifice,” photographed in full makeup of course, their “dark red liquid” was eye-dropped into the massive vats of ink used to print the magazine — which is often listed for as high as $450 on today’s online auction sites. This article is endlessly quotable, but I’ll limit myself to this choice chunk: 

You see, KISS in typical demonic fashion, elected to celebrate the publication of this magazine … by bleeding for their fans.

A word or two now on the nature of horror.

Transylvanian castles, mysterious uncharted islands, and cobwebs direct from central casting all have their place. But for the generation that’s lived through Vietnam, Watergate, and interminable reruns of ‘The Munsters,’ they’re simply no longer frightening. This is the age of Frankenberry and Count Chocula. Children sleep with terrycloth sharks instead of teddy bears. The old classics may retain their charm, but they’re not as scary as Times Square at three a.m., or the nuclear power plant down the block.

Yes kids, Kiss will save the day. Someone named Stark Raven wrote this glorious mess. Call me crazy, but Stark’s nonsensical style sure reminds me of Paul Stanley. At six pages, “Where No Band Has Tread Before” is positioned as a history of the band with a complete discography. And you know what? It delivers the goods. Whether I like them or not. Writer Michael Gross — probably not the dad from Family Ties but what do I know — offers rich details about the early days of Kiss and plenty of quotes from all band members. A variety of neat photographs are also included, most of them from live concerts. There was a professional and fan-friendly effort put into this article. Which is appreciated, again, whether I like it or not. Plus, we get a full-page ad for Air Latveria. The airline’s slogan is “We get you there! Getting back is up to you.” I really hope that Steve Gerber wrote this uncredited bonus so that I can at least say one thing nice: this was my favorite page of the very first issue of Marvel Comics Super Special. 

But let’s get to the brass studs. “Kiss Comics” starts off with two disaffected punks, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, walking up Manhattan’s Seventh Avenue towards the Playland arcade, to hook up with pals Ace Frehley and Peter Criss for an afternoon of pinball. Along the way, the friends debate whether they should abandon their rock and roll dreams for a 9-to-5 life. Soon, they come across a burly, blind and bald hippy being hassled by a group of street thugs: the man tosses the youths a strange cube and shouts for them to find their true destinies. With the gang in hot pursuit, Gene and Paul run into the arcade and hide in a photo booth — the confused Frehley and Criss soon join them in the cramped quarters. Transfixed by the cube, Ace opens it to find three carved figures and a black star inside. Suddenly, the foursome is transformed into leathered-clad warriors: Gene the fire-breathing Demon, Paul the mystical Starchild, Peter the acrobatic Cat and Ace the dimensional-hopping Space-Ace. They all burst out of the exploding booth and mop up the floor with their pursuers. After the dust settles, Space-Ace makes a thumbs-up and all four are transported to South Ferry. 

As the friends discuss their new powers, a flying craft disguised as the moon descends to the pier. Lovely gypsy maidens exit the ship, soon to be followed by the dreaded Doctor Doom, monarch of Latveria. Doom claims that the youths were transformed by the Cube of Khyscz, an object of gypsy sorcery and his rightful possession, inherited after his mother’s death. He also claims that the hippy’s name is Dizzy the Hun — the blind man is also a mystic. Plus, since Doom can no longer own the Cube, he will now possess Gene, Paul, Peter and Ace. The maidens open fire with machine guns until a flame blast from Demon reveals them to be robots: the friends rout the mechanical menaces and the armored tyrant makes his escape in his moonship. As a crowd gathers, Ace raises two thumbs and the four friends are transported into an interdimensional void.

Gene and Paul soon find themselves in what appears to be heaven, complete with a god-like being and his amorous angels. But it quickly becomes obvious that it is actually the satanic Mephisto, the Lord of the Depths, and his army of demons. After a brief battle, Mephisto realizes that the costumed heroes will not bend to his evil will and he zaps them away. Meanwhile, Peter and Ace materialize in a disco aboard a domed city floating in space. The dancers are all human-like animals and Criss cozies up to a particularly attractive cat-woman. When the fashionable feline’s huge boyfriend — the lion-like Big Leo — takes offense, a fight breaks out. After emerging victorious, the Cat and Space-Ace transport away. 

Next, all the New Yorkers find themselves in Latveria, joined by Dizzy the Hun. After encountering robot monks and a pair of huge, sucking lips, they are approached by Doctor Doom himself. Doom begins to pummel them all until Dizzy pleads with the monarch for mercy. The Latverian ruler pauses: the Hun was actually the mystic who tutored his mother and spoke the eulogy over her grave. Moved by his memories, the Doctor banishes the hippy and his new charges but warns that they have not heard the last of him. Gene, Paul, Peter, Ace and Dizzy pop back to South Ferry. Peter suggests that they give themselves a codeword for their new identities: Kiss after the Cube of Khyscz.

Ofah. This absolutely stunk. Steve Gerber shoots for a cosmic epic but things are completely convoluted and clumsy. And the joking one-liners get tiresome fairly quickly. The powers of each Kiss member are not clearly defined. It looks like the Starchild has some sort of psychic ability but I’m not really sure. Space-Ace seems to have no control of his transportation ability. And the Cat just leaps around? The Demon is the most well thought out character: he’s super strong, breathes fire and can fly. Like Starchild’s unreliable ability, the story itself jumps around with no apparent direction: the sequences with Mephisto and the space disco do nothing to move the plot forward. I totally skipped mentioning the three pages that featured Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Defenders: they stand around and debate whether or not to help Kiss in their trials and tribulations. Dr. Strange ultimately decides not, and that the upstarts should figure things out on their own. Obviously, these pointless cameos are just a way to pander to the Marvel audience. It seems that the lesson of this fruitless exercise is that Kiss must learn that with great power comes great responsibility or some sort of warmed-over baloney. I guess we are supposed to be dazzled by Gerber’s metaphysical meanderings but I seem to be immune to his charms. Not that he gets much help in the art department. Alan Weiss does most of the heavy lifting and he’s not very impressive. You also have the Buscemas and Buckler pitching in but their work seems rushed and uninvolved — not that you can blame them. I couldn’t imagine that Super Special #1 pleased either comics or Kiss fans.

Marvel decided to resurrect the full-color Super Special in March of 1978 with a Conan edition. We needed another magazine about the Cimmerian? We already had Savage Sword. After that, the sporadic publishing schedule — which will outlast MU’s December 1979 drop dead date — will mostly feature adaptations of movies like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Jaws 2. However, the Beatles will take center stage in issue #4 (August ’78) and Kiss will return in issue #5 (December ’78). I think I remember that the band’s second appearance is a bit better than this trainwreck — which obviously isn’t saying much. -Tom Flynn

Matthew: The Doom origin story was published in FF Annual #2 (1964).


  1. One thing that struck me about the KISS book is that it takes place in a world where the band KISS do not exist...couldn't be all bad, then.