Wednesday, March 16, 2016

December 1977 Part One: Dreaded Deadline Doom Doth Descend! Raggedy Reprints Rule Roost!

Introduction by Professor Matthew Bradley

In July of 2015, as I dug ever deeper into the Bronze era, I realized I had to expand the definition of my personal Golden Age from 1975-76 to 1975-77.  Notable primarily for its debuts, 1975 ushered in many of my favorites, all but one of which (the all-new, all-different You-Know-Who) were typically short-lived:  Super-Villain Team-UpInvadersInhumansChampionsIron Fist, and the revived Warlock strip.  Perhaps the high point, 1976 saw many of them in full flower, despite some sad losses (Deathlok, WarlockJungle Action, the blink-and-you’ll-miss it Black Goliath), and encompassed additional noteworthy newcomers (Howard the DuckNovaPeter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man), plus selective high points for more successful books.

But by 1977, much of the “gold” was the glow of dying embers, and the advent of Ms. Marvel could not offset the relentless attrition of such underdog favorites as Inhumans, the Guardians of the Galaxy strip in Marvel PresentsIron Fist, and SVTU, with Champions following hard on their heels in January 1978.  Many of the new books launched exemplified what I consider a slow and steady downward slide; I don’t count the Edgar Rice Burroughs titles, Tarzan and John Carter, Warlord of Mars, among those, yet as they were non-canonical, I also don’t consider them part of the Marvel warp and woof du jour.  After almost four decades, however, I retain a degree of reflexive distaste for What If?Star WarsGodzillaHuman Fly, and the Kirby Black Panther.

So it may be imagined with what apprehension I anticipate our last two years, notwithstanding some bright spots.  Chief among them is, of course, the gradual ascendance of X-Men superstar Claremont, who in 1977 expanded his portfolio with Ms. MarvelMarvel Team-Up, and Power Man; he stayed on the latter just long enough to shoehorn in the orphaned Iron Fist and then ankled, taking any semblance of quality with him.  With Englehart a memory and Gerber limited primarily to Howard the Duck, we are left at year’s end to rely on such writing stalwarts as Wein (Amazing Spider-Man, FF, Hulk, Thor), Thomas (Cap, Invaders), Mantlo (Iron Man, Spectacular Spider-Man), and Wolfman (MTIO, Nova) to illuminate our way through the dying of the light…

I see that my heavy course load has made me neglect the tenure as EIC of Archie Goodwin, forced to clean up after his predecessor in more ways than one.  A remedial but, I think, telling passage from Marvel Comics: The Untold Story notes that, “In one of his first tasks…[he] helped Stan Lee negotiate Gerry Conway’s outgoing freelance arrangement.  Conway would now write and edit a substantial number of comics from home:  the pointedly wholesome new projects Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man and Ms. Marvel, plus The Avengers and Captain Marvel (both vacated by an angry Steve Englehart), Ghost Rider (vacated by an angry Tony Isabella), Iron Man (vacated by Goodwin), and The Defenders,” according to author Sean Howe.

After all of that, he was gone within six months, but once again, the damage was done; Marvel’s relationship with Gerber—“the last renegade standing” after the exits of Starlin, Englehart, and McGregor—was soured when he was “removed from The Defenders specifically so that Conway could meet his quota,” and by backstage shenanigans involving the KISS project.  He was, however, able to leverage said chaos into the unprecedented symbolic victory of a royalty on sales of the Super Special.  They exceeded a half-million copies, and might be considered payback for the absence of residuals or merchandising he arguably deserved for Howard the Duck, which had become a syndicated newspaper strip as well, further taxing Steve’s ability to meet his deadlines.

Roy’s advocacy of a partnership with Lucasfilm epitomized another big-picture trend, per Howe a “recent shift in the company’s strategy that worked in Thomas’s favor:  what seemed to most interest Lee and Jim Galton lately was shoring up copyrights and brand names (hence the creations of Spider-Woman and Ms. Marvel) and creating relationships with Hollywood.  In the span of months, Marvel licensed the rights for Hanna-Barbera cartoons, science-fiction films (Logan’s Run2001), Godzilla, Edgar Rice Burroughs characters…and even a real-life costumed stuntman from Montreal (The Human Fly).”  Needless to say, the gamble was a wise one, and the sales of Star Wars—for which Archie, ironically, wrote almost all of #11-50—averted a disaster.

And now... December 1977!

The Amazing Spider-Man 175
"Big Apple Battleground!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Jim Mooney
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia

Hitman gets away with J. Jonah Jameson, but Spider-Man manages to plant a spider-tracer on the copter, then he and Punisher get away from a group of security guards and swing off. After a quick aside to the Bugle and some Marla Madison-Joe Robertson-Glory Grant bonding, Punisher tells the story of how he knows the Hitman to Spidey in the War Wagon: back in Vietnam, Frank Castle was caught in an explosion, but Lt. Burt Kenyon saved him from approaching Viet Cong soldiers, but was discharged soon after as mentally unfit—and now Castle knows Kenyon is The Hitman. Quick aside to Bart Hamilton's office, where his comments about Liz tick off Harry Osborn enough for Harry to leap at his psychiatrist, knock out the lights, and one of the men stands up and declares "It is over! The only one who could possibly oppose me is finally beaten! Now, at last, the time has come for The Green Goblin to live again!!" Oh, that can't be good… 

Punisher and Spidey track the copter to a farmhouse, where two of Hitman's goons are fixing it, and they make quick work of them, getting Hitman's plans too. The head of the People's Liberation Front and Hitman take Jameson to the Statue of Liberty, where they plan to destroy the statue—and JJJ with it! The Hitman's copter approaches, with Punisher (armed with "mercy bullets") and Spidey on it, and they make their way to the torch, where Hitman tries to leave, but ends up killing the PLF head when he tries to stop him. Spidey stops him from getting away, smashing the copter, and is sent over the edge by a Hitman bullet! Punisher makes it to the top, laying down his gun after a short discussion between the two ex-soldiers (to not put "innocent" JJJ in harm's way), then Spidey pops back up to grab Jameson, Punisher shoots Hitman, and both hero and villain are holding on for dear life from the spikes of Liberty's crown! Punisher can only save one, so goes for Spidey and JJJ, leaving Hitman to slip off, falling to the concrete courtyard "like some discarded rag doll," paying off his debt to Punisher by sparing a life, even if it's not his own.--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A zippy issue that throws in a lot of interesting tidbits. We have the "life for a life" dilemma of Punisher and Hitman that ends tragically, yet fittingly. We have the softening of Dr. Marla Madison, actually showing a personality with two of the nicest of our supporting cast. And of course, there's the re-emergence of The Green Goblin after the battle between Harry and Hamilton, which will have to wait until next month (and the four afterwards—just to prepare you, class!). The rest is fast-paced action, nasty bad guys, the usual above average Andru art, another cool Spidey-Punisher team-up, mercy bullets, a couple of actual deaths, and maybe a grateful JJJ? Nah, he'll never be grateful to Spidey, not even for helping him sell papers.

Fave sound effect in a story where most of them are from machine guns, revolvers, and grenades (both gas and explosive) is the quartet on page 3 when Spidey and Punisher take out the guards on the rooftop with a "BROK! CHUD! POW! WHUDD!" Quick work from an unlikely pair actually working together, but still at odds over their overall methods, although there's a nice touch from Punisher when he says "Better incapacitate them, Webhead—but gently as possible!"

Matthew Bradley: Beginnings and endings. The enduring Weindru team brings this two-parter to an excellent close, while the issue itself gets off to an excellent start.  Excepting all of the word balloons, I love that cover, with its moody, blue-green color scheme, especially when most of the green is provided by the world’s second-most beautiful woman (after Mrs. Professor Matthew, naturlich), Lady Liberty!  And I dig that splash page:  the title evokes the Mack Bolan novels that arguably inspired the Punisher, and although I doubt the New York sky was ever quite that color, I’m down with artistic license, so it works for me.  The Hitman’s origin gives him depth and the Punisher humanity, and the defiant Jonah proves that he’s not all weasel.

Chris Blake: Solid issue!  Action a-plenty, with bits of humor and characterization in the fabric.  Let me address this first, though: the Punisher must be quite the story-teller.  As they’re driving, and he’s telling Spidey about how he met Lt Burt Kenyon in Viet Nam, they’re making turns on city streets, but by the time he’s finished talking, they’re by a farmhouse somewhere -?!  Len doesn’t think they still have sheep grazing at Bowling Green, south of Wall Street, does he?  No, I’m kidding, of course, but Len is counting on quite a large helping of artistic license to get us to the countryside. span style="background-color: red; color: white; font-family: inherit;">

Back to things that work well: interplay between our heroes as they take down the guards, with the Punisher (ever in character) complaining that Spidey’s humor “in the face of danger never ceases to infuriate me ..!” (p 3, 1st panel); Harry finally cracks under the pressure of excessive Manhattan-analyst’s bills (although Len didn’t need to tell us the Green Goblin will live again, did he?) (p 11); a bit of tension as the PLF try to talk their way ashore (p 16); some very solid work on Lady Liberty by Ross + Joe, starting from p 23; in a nice twist, the Hitman casts his vote, as personal survival trumps over-identification with a paying customer (p 23, last pnl); the mini-copter crashes onto the statue’s crown, while Liberty looks calmly ahead (p 26, last pnl); the Punisher’s painful moment of decision (p 30), and the ever-grim view of the broken form, fallen to the stone floor far below (p 31, pnl 4).  In the latter stages of the story, Jonah asks himself whether he might’ve misjudged Spidey all these years; I wonder whether Len does anything with that ..?

Mark Barsotti: Ya gotta love the Punisher's confidence. As the Hitman and hostage J. Jonah take off from the Bugle rooftop in a two-man whirlybird, our white-booted vigilante opens up on them with his sub-machine gun, 'til a well-placed web spoils his aim. 

"Fool, I wouldn't have hit Jameson!" the Punisher cries. "I was aiming for the engine." Which - check the splash again, Big P, - is directly behind J.J's head.

Confidence, kid. You gotta have it to wear these boots.

But Len continues on a mini-roll here. J.J.J. always makes a good hostage; ditto the Statue of Lib as dramatic eye candy and dangle-over-the-edge death-trap. Punisher shares the Hitman's backstory with Spidey, but since the name Frank Castle is never mentioned, I assume his identity was still a mystery across all titles, as it was in ASM

Ross Andru has a nifty, seemingly throw-away panel of - of all things - the back of the Daily Bugle building, by moonlight on p.6  It's one of those little slices of urban landscape that Andru used sparingly but effectively throughout his long tenure. And it leads into Joe Robertson and Glory Grant, entertaining Jonah's new pal, scientist Marla Madison. 

"J.J's got a girlfriend! "J.J's got a girlfriend!"

No surprises at the end, but Wein and Andru bring enough energy and flair to the proceedings to put it all over. My one complaint? Harry going all Gobliny again over a minor insult, even if I did predict it. And seems like it's too soon, but it's actually been more than three years between Goblin outbreaks. Besides, Len's never got to play with gliders and pumpkin bombs before, so let's see what he's got up his sleeve. 

Beside, duh, another pumpkin bomb.

The Avengers 166
"Day of the Godslayer"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by John Byrne and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Ernie Chan

The Mighty Thor engages in a battle to the death with the newly super-powered Count Nefaria. Things are not looking up for the Thunder God until Yellowjacket finds a way to wake The Vision from his coma. Vis and Thor tag-team to attempt a TKO. Added help arrives in the form of Professor Sturdy (thought to have been murdered by Nefaria two issues ago), who informs his science project that his days are numbered; the powers Sturdy gave Nefaria are taking their toll and aging the Count one year per hour. The news comes as a bit of a shock to the villain and he loses all control of his emotions, destroying everything around him and hoping to take as many innocent civilians with him when he goes. Employing Avengers battle move #47-B, the Vision flies high up in the sky, changes his density to "hard as a diamond" and drops down on Nefaria, knocking him unconscious. A big break for our heroes, as Yellowjacket announces that Sturdy's proclamation was a bluff to put the Count off his game. The battle won, it's time for Thor's fellow Avengers to question the Asgardian's loyalty. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: I'm continually amazed by the Byrne/Marcos work. Having been raised on Warren horror comics, I'm very familiar with Pablo's stuff but Byrne is, for the most part, an unknown commodity to these eyes. In particular, his Thor is Mighty and Shellhead has never looked better. Too bad John and Pablo are saddled with such a weak script. Shooter seems to be going through the Marvel formula book and ticking boxes. In-team fighting (agonizingly strained in the finale)? Check. Villain who pummels heroes with tall buildings? Check. Exclamations from our heroes that they've never fought so powerful a foe? Check. Last second winning battle move that could have easily been done at the beginning of the fight? Check.

I love when Thor tells Nefaria he hasn't fought a foe so powerful since Destroyer... a battle that happens to be going on in this month's Mighty Thor! Professor Sturdy interrupts the well-choreographed melee with a flashback to two issues ago. Not a well-timed break, Jim. And one of my favorite nuances in these funny book adventures is the evil foreign scientist who speaks half-English and hof-somezing ("Ve are increasing their powers -- temporarily! The charge of energy ve are feeding them vill last an hour or so -- but at der zame time my machines are analyzink their cell structures--") as if he had made it through one year of English class before discovering the formula for super-power and thought, "To hell with it -- they understood Baron Zemo, they'll understand me!" That or Sturdy learned English from Big Bambu. Good luck reading those experiment notes after he's gone. And one last thought: ya gotta be impressed by Wonder Man's trousers. Though his shirt couldn't stand up to the beating last issue (he's still wandering around the periphery of the fight in his Fabio gear), his britches are not giving way. Points off for the lame expository from Yellowjacket about Nefaria's aging/immortality. Yeesh.

Matthew: Extra credit to our august Dean for invoking one of my seminal influences, Big Bambu.

Chris: My wife doesn’t quite get why I enjoy watching movies I’ve seen before.  In some cases, there’s appeal in the involved storytelling, so I find the viewing experience can be subtly different each time.  In other instances, the fun and excitement in an old favorite is so well-done, I simply want to soak it in again.  I mean, I already know how the battle with Nefaria is going to end – in my head, I can see the Vision as he pauses a mile above Manhattan, and prepares to increase his mass and strike from on high.  The moment has lost almost none of its power from repeated viewings.

Sometimes, when I remember the big moments so clearly, it inspires me to stop and absorb other details that contribute to the slam-bang finish.  In its way, it’s doubly significant that Nefaria is not vulnerable to the Vision’s ephemeral state; not only has the Vision rarely experienced this setback before (and never before has someone struck him while he was “intangible”), but you can see how it plants a seed for the Vision to go to the opposite extreme, and assault Nefaria with more mass than he could possibly handle.  Also, the return of the other Avengers to the fray plays its part; as they slow Nefaria down – Nefaria is staggered by the combined attack of Wonder Man, the Wasp, Iron Man, Scarlet Witch, and Thor – it makes it easier for the Vision to peg him.  If Nefaria still had been leaping into buildings, it’s not like the Vision could’ve counted on being able to strike him this way; it’s not like it’d be easy to re-direct his plunge, if Nefaria still were a moving target, you know -?

Some other great moments from the conclusion of this wildly entertaining three-parter: Nefaria rallies his confidence, after surviving two blows from Thor (p 2-3); Nefaria interrupts another hammer-blow, with his open hand! Inconceivable! (p 7, last pnl); “Careful, Vizh! He’s dangerous!” “As am I.” (p 10, last pnl); another seeming impossibility, when Vision cannot phase thru Nefaria (p 11); Cap’s efforts to struggle to his feet, and his selfless decision to lend Wonder Man his shield (which seems to have the added benefit of giving Simon a confidence-boost); Vision punches Nefaria from the sky, to prevent further building-bashing (p 23); Simon tries to protect Wanda, as the Vision emerges from the battle’s last pile of rubble, observing matter-of-factly that Nefaria will be “unconscious for … some time!” (p 30).  
The last page involves all kinds of questions: Can Iron Man effectively run this team, despite his lengthy absences (as we have canny continuity with Shellhead’s own mag)?  Would someone like Cap stoop to a palace coup?  What’s causing Thor to keep zapping in at desperate moments (and even he seems not to know)?  (Hey wait – who was that creepy little bugger we saw on p 14, who thinks he’s going to sneak into Avengers Mansion?)  And (on the very last panels of p 31), who’s the little old man with the marionettes, who’s sailing to the US from Vladivostok, carrying a locket with pictures of Wanda and Pietro -?  Great issue all around, right up to these very last scenes.  

Matthew:  I do not buy this skyscraper-throwing bit.  Wouldn’t the side of the building just crumble, instead of remaining intact like some sort of multi-story caber?  The Vision is “more robotic than I’ve ever seen him!”  Effing Shooter.  Never met a favorite of mine he wouldn’t screw up.  Gyrich continues to worm his way in.  Effing Shooter.  So, Count Nerf is made more “strongly and solidly built” by…Professor Sturdy?  He of the periodic music-hall accent?  And he’s going to be done in (or not) by aging, the very thing the Whizzer coincidentally warned him about last issue?  Wanda blasts Thor’s “overblown godhood”—thanks, longtime teammate!  And the “little old man from Vladivostok” is, what, her second of at least three fathers?  Nice art.

Joe: A rousing and rollicking conclusion to the Nefaria trilogy and Byrne's guest spot, featuring foreshadowing on the cover that you don't see coming unless you remember what happened to Vision in the Ultron fight. The cockamamie Count gets his wish when Thor shows up out of nowhere, then nearly pleads when he gets his boastful butt kicked. But to keep the story going, he recovers enough to turn the tide, before he's taken down by the entire team, working as a team instead of getting in one another's way and making mistakes that have been happening over the past 10-15 issues. Or so Cap says to Iron Man before he's cut off by Yellowjacket in a "oh yeah" moment that's possibly the only one that doesn't ring true in the whole three issue stint. And who's the old dude with the pics of Wanda and Pietro who's headed to America? Can this team ever catch a break? Nah, what fun would that be?

Captain America 216
"The Human Torch Meets... 'Captain America'"
(reprinted from Strange Tales #114, November 1963)

So, lemme get this straight:  after things ground to a halt with an “album issue”-style recap last time, you’re gonna go with a reprint?  A reprint presented with the feeble fig-leaf of a single, uncredited (albeit handsome) Thomas/Cockrum/Giacoia framing page?  And a reprint that—wait for it—doesn’t actually feature Cap, since per Strange Tales #114 (which, like Mrs. Professor Matthew, was cover-dated November 1963), “This story was really a test!  To see if you too would like Captain America to return!”  Perhaps it was we who were being tested, because I’m sure those of us who bought this back in ’77 were, indeed, ready for Cap to return.  At least, unlike many a Marvel reprint, it’s uncut, but the STONES ON THESE GUYS! -Matthew Bradley

Conan the Barbarian 81 
“The Eye of the Serpent”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

After defeating the giant Ptolemy in hand-to-hand combat, Conan is crowned king of Attalus and immediately faces his first crisis: a legion of Stygians, led by the one-eyed wizard Hun-Ya-Di, has entered the lost valley of Iskander. The Cimmerian rallies his new troops and they lay in wait amongst the rocks surrounding the stone city as the invaders loot and burn the outlying houses, raping any woman they come across. Even though he is hopelessly out of range, Hun-Ya-Di launches an arrow and kills the man next to the barbarian, convincing Conan that the wizard is imbued with dark powers. When the Stygians finally attack the palace, the Attalusian archers unleash a volley and many are killed. The Cimmerian orders his men forward and a bloody battle ensues. Conan eventually corners Hun-Ya-Di: the traitorous sorcerer demands the Eye of Set so that he can return to Harakht and become co-ruler with the peaceful Mer-Ath. Even though Hun-Ya-Di once again displays a surprising strength and ability, Conan eventually kills his determined opponent. Suddenly, the Cimmerian notices blood dripping from beneath his loin cloth — he had stashed the Eye there and it is now bleeding. He pockets the bloody jewel as the remaining Stygians flee, their willingness to fight dashed with the death of their leader. Recovered from the Cimmerian’s beating, Ptolemy strides from the city, the head of the duplicitous Ablah swinging in his hand. The barbarian gives him back the crown as well as the Eye of Set: in return, Ptolemy presents Conan with Attalus’ duplicate of the Eye to deliver to Mer-Ath.-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: The final installment of this three-issue Dreaded Deadline Doom fill-in — originally intended for the black-and-white Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian — ends with a whimper. It’s basically one long battle, with the clash against the Stygians and the sword fight with Hun-Ya-Di taking up 10 pages. Not that I have anything against bloodshed, but it’s all rather mindless. And the uninspired art by Chaykin and Chan doesn’t offer the eye candy needed to offset the simple storyline. However, since it was originally intended for  a Comics Code-free magazine, there is more gore than usual for a color comic, from the skewering of the sorcerer to the decapitated head of Ablah. And all the raping of course. Much is made of how Hun-Ya-Di is tougher than he looks. Conan chalks it up to sorcery but it’s really not that well explained. And why does the Eye of Set bleed at the end? Because the sorcerer was missing one of his peepers? It was never mentioned that Hun-Ya-Di had that kind of connection with the jewel so it just rings as an unnecessary twist thrown in at the end. But this is now behind us and, hopefully, things will right themselves in the next issue and the march towards Luxor — and Thoth-Amon? — will resume in earnest.

Chris: The final chapter provides a strong finish to the “Sacred Eye of Set” three-issue interlude.  Story highlights include: Conan’s able command of the Attalan forces (p 2, p 7); Conan lets fly “the wild weird cry of the Cimmerian hills where he was born” as he fires into the fray (p 11) – wow – what must that sound like -?; Conan’s sinking feeling that, if Hun-Ya-Di were to secure the sacred Eye for himself, he’d place it in the dead socket where his right eye used to be, and somehow channel the Eye’s “unspeakably evil power, “ which adds weight to their single combat (p 16); Conan fights back fatigue from his earlier match with Ptolemy, which contributes further import to the fight (p 17); following the death of Hun-Ya-Di, the Eye eerily drips blood (p 26); treacherous Ablah’s dead head, laid at Conan’s feet (p 30).  Does Conan resist Bardylis’ amorous advances (p 31)?  He’ll never tell, but I’ve got a pretty good idea …

Conan the Barbarian Annual 3
“At the Mountain of the Moon-God”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Pablo Marcos
(Reprinted from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #3, December 1974)

“Beast from the Abyss”
Story by Steve Englehart
Art by Howard Chaykin and The Crusty Bunkers
(Reprinted from The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #2, October 1974)

I guess the big “First Time In Color” banner on the cover should have been an obvious tip off, but it took me a few pages until I realized that the lead Conan story, “At the Mountain of the Moon-God,” was a reprint, a colored version of what appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #3 (D.ecember 1974). Same thing for the back-up, the King Kull tale “Beast from the Abyss,” which originally ran black-and-white style in  The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #2 (October 1974). It’s even worse that “At the Mountain of the Moon-God” was the conclusion of a two-parter that began in Savage Sword #2: there’s a few added expository paragraphs included on the new splash page to get readers up to speed. Seriously? Listen, I understand that Roy and company probably had a lot on their plate considering that Savage Sword is monthly at this point, but if they had to resort to a reprint, couldn’t they have found a stand-alone story? Marvel’s publishing history with the Conan annuals is quite spotty so far. The first issue was also filled with reprints while #2 was the Conan version of a Robert E. Howard Kull classic: while appreciated, still not exactly shiny new.  
-Tom Flynn

Matthew:  And, if I'm not mistaken, this is the only 1977 annual that doesn't feature new material. Disappointing.

The Defenders 54
"A Study in Survival! 
The Power Principle Part Two"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Mike Golden, Keith Giffen, and Bob McLeod
Colors by David Anthony Kraft
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson

"Fury Times Five!"
Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Juan Ortiz and Bruce Patterson
Colors by Ken Klaczak
Letters by Howard Bender
Cover by George Perez and Ernie Chan

The Hulk, Nighthawk and Hellcat have accompanied Namor on an underwater trip: to find and prevent a danger that threatens Atlantis (and actually the rest of the world too). Soviet scientist  turned semi-omnipotent Presence, Sergei, and former Defender the Red Guardian are the source of the trouble, the former having unleashed a massive atomic bomb. Its shock waves have rent Subby's ship asunder, and through desperation, strength and sheer luck, Hulk and Namor drag their teammates to the surface in time to save them. They find land nearby, but it is a short respite; Sergei and the Red Guardian grace them with their Presence. Now for the face-off. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A shorter issue due to a five-page ditty with Nick Fury, wherein he faces off against a crew of LMDs (you know, Life Model Decoys)! The Defenders somehow survive to face another day. A couple of subplots --Valkyrie's college days where she meets wannabe-filmmaker $Bill (that's right, and he's about as valuable), and Jack Norriss and his Agent-of-SHIELD dreams -- add a bit of flavor. The Defenders version of the Hulk is one of the funniest around, even when he's almost drowning. The Netflix plans for a Defenders series has a different cast. Daredevil, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and new character Jessica Jones sound like a different kettle of fish; maybe it's a title that might be difficult to sell as a feature film given the transient, reluctant nature of the team.

Matthew:  As usual, my patience with this Kraft Krap is thin, and once again, the truncated format distorts the storyline’s structure.  To see the Disassemblers literally treading water for most of this segment is a better metaphor than the Dude could contrive, and at the risk of stating the obvious, the duration of their submersion, if not the pressure, would likely prove fatal to at least some of our non-team’s non-Atlantean non-members.  As if insufficiently marginalized last issue, Nighthawk is now reduced primarily to unconsciousness, while the insufferable Dollar Bill is in the ascendant; not much to say about the McLeod-inked Giffolden art (which I was largely unable to differentiate), except to observe that I found the layout on pages 2-3 difficult to follow.

Per Edelman's blog, “Nick Fury may be starring in almost every Marvel movie these days, but the Nick Fury that’s most important to me starred in the five-page back-up feature I wrote that was drawn by Juan Ortiz and Bruce Patterson.  (OK, you got me, I admit it—it can’t compare to whatever Jim Steranko did on an off day.  But it’s mine, and I love it.  So there!)”  Yes, it’s always about you, Scotty.  The ingenuity of Nick’s solution is somewhat undercut by the contrivance of having two of his doppelgängers largely unclothed at the outset, and his reaction (in effect, “So, the LMD’s [sic] are running amok?  Hunh.  Oh, well…”) seems a bit blasé.  Isn’t this an important revelation to relegate to a back-up that, once again, doesn’t feature a Defender?

Chris: Blech – another half-issue.  Yes, I realize it’s not an 8½ -page story, since there are twelve whole pages of new content; but, with so little happening, it feels like half a story.  Basically, at the conclusion of Defenders #53, we saw the team washed out of Namor’s craft as it was rent asunder by the force of the atomic explosion.  This time, they’re still being swept out of the craft, and that goes on for about 4-5 pages.  The one-page interruption with Dollar Bill (and why did Dave the Dude have to come up with a nobody like Bill, anyway?) feels like padding; at least Michael Golden has a little fun with the home movie.  

Then, we get one panel of Namor striking back at the red-clawed undersea creature pictured in the dynamic Pérez/Chan cover; I don’t know what to call it, since we only see the one claw in the one panel (p 14), so nothing much happens there, either.  Finally, the radioactively-altered Sergei and Tania buzz on over, and confront the Defenders (p 18); we should have reached this point by the third or fourth page, but instead, we’re out of time again, until next time.  
There are a few things I like: during her transformation, a “distant inner voice” whispers reproachfully to Tania of her “once-strong will,” but as Sergei’s atoms combine with hers, “the voice is silenced” (p 6); Dave does well by the Hulk, as Hulk hates water, wants to help Fish-Man, swims off to find air-breather teammates to help (very thoughtful of him), and tells off Bird-Nose when he tries to be boss of Hulk.  The art overall is quite good, featuring Giffen in his final Defenders bow (with the reveal of the Presence and his Consort on p 18 a highlight), and Golden (who appears to have four pages of work this time, up from three in our previous issue), with finishes by McLeod; McLeod’s work is solid-enough to make me wish he’d been called on to ink issues like #48 (Dan Green) and #49 (Mike Royer).
Can anyone tell me why the inventory-filler is a Nick Fury story?  Hey guys, that wasn’t the real Nick Fury you saw for those issues involving Scorpio and the Zodiac; that was just an LMD, who – oh, never mind.

Doctor Strange 26
"The Return of the Ancient One!"
Story by Jim Starlin 
Art by Jim Starlin and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Janice Cohen and Phil Rachelson
Letters by Annette Kawicki
Cover by Jim Starlin

Stephen Strange has defeated and imprisoned the beast in his chambers, and manages to probe the vile mind of his foe. He finds some most astonishing news: in the changes the Creators made to the Universe, even the mighty Ancient One has to abandon his corporeal form and become human again, where he has hidden in a slummy part of the city (alcohol oddly providing a slowing effect  to the Creators' subversive changes). Stephen finds him, and four creatures with magics courtesy of the Creators, find them in turn. Strange's experience allows him, with the Ancient One's help, to overcome their foes. The Ancient One is still weak, but he takes Stephen to a dimension where a being, or concept as such ("He who stands in the shadow"), resides--the one backing the Creators, the In-Betweener.

-Jim Barwise

Jim: There's humour here: oh yeah, alcohol slows down the Creators effects, how handy! I like the In-Betweener's intro, a "separator of actualities" and a "barrier between dichotomies." Starlin /Nebres make a colourful creative team.

Chris: Doc had better keep up on his lease for the Eye of Agamotto; if he ever misses a payment and has it repossessed, he’ll be in deep dormammu.  Yes, once again the Doc’s able manipulation of the all-seeing Eye (after all, the Eye don’t run itself, you know) provides the key to the stickiest of mystical bus-station locker doors; in this case, the previously-unsuspected power behind the Creators!  I suppose I should assign high marks to Starlin for his admirable restraint, since he chose not to introduce one of his Great Galactic Forces any earlier than now.  Well, the In-Betweener should prove formidable, but at least he should be inclined to reason, right?  It’s not like single-minded Thanos is about to stride onto the stage of Doctor Strange, right Jim?  Uh … Jim – Thanos isn’t coming, right -?

Starlin has kept the storyline both intriguing and entertaining; I’m doubly glad to see his layouts again, since Starlin’s visuals are always such an integral part to his stories.  Classic Doc-moment on p 22 1st panel, as he views a four-sided attack as a reason for “new hope!” since their undisciplined approach will permit him “an opening to counterattack!”  The art tells the story most of the rest of the way, as Doc blasts the skeleton-creature, then crimson-binds a “Macbethian femme fatale” (wow – nice one, scripter Jim!).  Clever moment as the next assailant is trapped in a rectangular box, which causes the hawk-creature to fall headfirst to the ground (p 23); tell me which other Doc-artist is going to end a fight in this unique manner.  Nebres doesn’t quite finish Starlin’s Ditko-dimension as well as I’d like (p 30), but the reveal of the In-Betweener (p 31) looks just as grand as it ought to.  

Matthew: Despite a lettercol clearly indicating that he will continue, the abrupt end of Starlin’s disappointingly brief tenure on this title, which would have seemed tailor-made for his cosmic proclivities if he’d had time to make it truly his own, is otherwise noteworthy for several reasons.  One is the fact that it’s the only entry for which he provides both layouts and story, although the finished art is inevitably stamped by Nebres with his own oft-overbearing style.  Another is the interpolation of one of Jim’s own creations, the In-Betweener—a holdover from the Magus Saga in Warlock #9-11—into a plotline that incoming writer Roger Stern (who sticks with the book, albeit intermittently, a little longer than I, through #75 vs. 71) will have to resolve.

It’s a bittersweet truth that the strip has shown steady improvement as Starlin tried to bring order out of the chaos created during the Wolfman Interregnum, and this is perhaps his best issue yet.  We’re left with a sense of forward motion, rather than of floundering, and you’ll never hear any complaints from me about bringing back the Ancient Wino—er, One, which is naturally done with Jim’s distinctively offbeat flair, disembodied eye, “Macbethian femme fatale” and all, including the decidedly Ditkoesque landscapes of the final sequence.  So perhaps it’s best to look at these few fleeting issues as a Starlin footnote, and a necessary corrective between the lengthy Stainless and Sterno regimes.  Nebres-Nose Alert:  Page 2, panel 1 (mirrored in page 3, panel 2).

Starlin does Ditko, and very well indeed. 

It's a small, concentrated dose, building over the last few pages until Doc Strange and the Ancient One step through the portal and then we're in the back half of Strange Tales, circa 1964. And it's glorious - a page and a half of the reclusive objectivist's hallucinatory Dali-Escher mash-up madness, the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, by way of Jerry Robertson and Mort Meskin.

Oh, the rest of the story rocks as well. But I'm way, way late with this lesson plan, and Dean Peter stands scowling, four hundred dollar Bruno Magli loafer impatiently tapping, at my office door, so I'll end with this - for all the (entirely appropriate) genuflecting toward Ditko's Doc, Starlin is updating the mythos as he sees fit. 

The returned from the dead Ancient One is the prime example. Ditko's feeble AO looked like Aunt May with chin whiskers; Starlin's has a six pack, a ripped and 'roid-raging Grandpa, who'll kick your sorry ass if you even look like you're thinking about cutting across his lawn.

The Eternals 18
"To Kill a Space God"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Frank Giacoia

The leader of the polar Eternals (Ikaris' kin) Druig, bids his wizard servant Sigmar play a recording of the Celestials' second visit to Earth. At that time they fought amongst themselves, and one was "destroyed" by being converted to pure energy. Druig means to recreate such a weapon, and while the exact knowledge of its operation is unknown, he forces a cautioning Sigmar to endure painful flames to force information from him---that Druig's father Valkin had entrusted that information to Iikaris. Unbeknownst to Ikaris (who has voluntarily strapped a camera to himself), a trap is sent in his direction, as the unsuspecting Eternal gathers some amazing close-up footage of one of the massive Celestials. Zuras, Sersi, Makkari and the others await his return at the Washington, D.C. television station where the footage is being shown. Bored, Sersi transforms some atoms to create a genuine hoe-down, complete with music and dance. They may wait a while, as a Dimension Cloud captures Ikaris, and transmits his atoms to the laboratory in Druig's castle. Ikaris awakens, but bound and powerless. Sigmar has created a laboratory animal, a "nerve beast" that attaches itself to Ikaris, causing extreme pain. While the Eternal doesn't break, the information Druig seeks is left as a mark on his forehead. It is a symbol for the Pyramid of the Winds; apparently the weapon's location. -Jim Barwise

Jim: As we get close to the final issue of The Eternals, I must say the series has gone, well, differently than it appeared it might have. Still always entertaining, but it's as if Jack Kirby wasn't quite sure where to take it. The Celestial threat has become almost like a part of everyday life, although the continued growth of the relations between humans and eternals is interesting. Sersi is always there to lighten the mood and, all in all, the characters have some reasonable development (like Sigmar voicing that he's only doing this under duress). I wonder if the results of the Uni-Mind will play a part in what's going to happen, or what the Celestials will decide?

Matthew: So, as we reach the penultimate issue—not hinted at in a lettercol that further demonstrates the Bullpen’s apparent obsession with The Gong Show—very little has changed, except perhaps my tolerance level for Jack’s discursive plotting.  We’re still striking an uneasy balance between the Kolossal Kirbyer spectacle, like the truly stunning two-pager on 2-3 that literally made me do a double take, and writer-editor Jack’s questionable literacy (e.g., “the wind-swept upper stratas [sic]”; “This tiny cloud and its fiery core has [sic] suddenly grown…”).  I don’t pretend to be an expert on this title, but while we’ve seen ill-fated attempts against the Celestials by Deviants, it seems out of character for an Eternal to tackle a Space God.

Hey, look!  There are Eternals heads in the upper-left corner of the cover.  That’s nice.  

Why would Druig be willing to harm a fellow Eternal – and a relative, no less – and why is he so interested in the possibility of destroying a Celestial?  Jack doesn’t clue us in to Druig’s motivation for awhile; then, we learn he hopes to deflate the Celestials’ perceived arrogance, and thereby make a name for himself.  I thought Eternals had progressed beyond such petty human conditions like ambition.  Well, a self-serving Eternal is almost as intriguing a possibility as is a Celestial-zapper; either one of these ideas is far better than anything else Jack’s thrown at us in the past few issues. 

Pages 2-3 are also the best eye-popper art we’ve seen in awhile, an effective example of the “cyclopean grandeur” effect Prof Mark has told us about.  

Mark: It's been about five months (I'm not going to dig through the library, but extra credit's available to diligent students who care to document the exact number) since the Celestials, those gargantuan, silent but sinister "Space Gods" whose return to Earth is the creative peg upon which the entire series hangs, have even been mentioned, let alone seen. Now, with the penultimate issue, it's as if Kirby finally remembers the Big Premise of his own comic.

As someone who's contributed to the Jack Kirby Museum - that's how big of a fan I am (although I never received the promised poster for my hundred bucks. Marvel Mania redux?) - I don't mean to be harsh but knowing that the title's about to end, the five issues that meandered into fake Hulk rampages and Deviant mummies seem like an opportunity lost. 

This month we get the promised killing of a Space God (if by ancient video replay), bingo-bango, right on page two. We get new characters like Ikaris' evil cousin Druig, who's trying to find an ancient Celestial weapon and will torture his cuz with a mind-melding, octopus-like blob of Silly-Putty to obtain it. We get Sersi transforming a US govmint briefing into a hoe-down, and when she then asks Makarri to dance, we agree with his assessment that, "At this moment, it would be ridiculous not to." And there's abuncha Space Gods. 

It seems as if, after a stretch of creative throat-clearing, we're about to get back to our regularly scheduled dose of Von Daniken writ large, but said schedule is about to be dropped in the circular file.

Here's hoping Jack sends us off with a bang.

Fantastic Four 189
"The Torch That Was!"
(reprinted from Fantastic Four Annual #4, November 1966)

Well, class, contemplating a bloviating billionaire who's hit Vince McMahon with a chair during Wrestlemania, now ascending toward the office of Lincoln, I can't get too lathered up about Ye Ole Bullpen rooking the fans with a reprint, back in '77.

After all, Marvel didn't get my 35¢, not back then, nor during my back issue buying frenzy of a decade ago. Which proves, I surmise, slathering on the Insta-Tan, that I'm a great businessman.  

Its always good to see Jack and Stan's Fab Four back in print, and how prescient of them to have "The Torch That Was!" (which originally appeared in FF Annual #4, 1966) clock in at nineteen pages, the exact number appearing in Marvel's 1977 offerings*. And while the story doesn't live up to the first three annuals, all rightly regarded as classics, it's still strong, highlighted by the Torch v. Torch pyrotechnics. The android-building Mad Thinker was the perfect choice to revive the android HT, and the Johnny and Wyatt search for the Inhumans sub-plot was perfectly integrated from the monthly title, right down to Lockjaw transporting our characters from place to place.  

And we get two poignant deaths at the end: the Thinker's computer Quasimodo develops sentience, but is abandoned by its creator and its circuits slowly sputter out, and Professor Horton's original Torch dies defending his namesake. 

Good stuff, but what Merry Marchers back in '66 couldn't imagine was the likely real motive behind the Torch's return. While exact details are sketchy, Carl Burgos, the artist-writer who created the original HT in 1939 (for start-up comic packager Funnies, Inc., which promptly sold it, along with Bill Everett's Sub-Mariner, to Martin Goodman, providing the core content for Marvel Comics #1), was considering a lawsuit to try reclaiming his creation when Marvel's original twenty-eight year copyright ran out, and had already made a bid to scoop-up the name Captain Marvel,  which then was in the public domain, launching a soon-to-fail CM title with ex-Timely-artist-now-bottom-feeding-publisher Myron Fass, which was on the stands around the same time as FF Annual #4. The first firebug was now a current (if currently "dead") character in the MU, and, as such, would weaken any legal challenge Burgos might mount. 

Carl certainly knew that. In Marvel Comics the Untold Story**author Sean Howe quotes Burgos' daughter Susan on the day her dad trashed his own Golden Age comics, in the summer of '66, "I never saw this collection until the day he threw it all away...a whole pile of stuff in the yard...He came in and demanded that I give him my comics...I grew up believing that he came up with this fabulous idea, and that Stan Lee took it from him." 

Marvel's accountant rejoices as he counts the
revenue generated from not only the legitimate
reprints this month but the titles that should
have given us better.
Burgos was a decade too early for any fuss over "creator's rights." So don't whine about your 35¢, kids.

You ain't the only ones who got rooked.

*Our esteemed Dean informs me that, no, the standard page count in 1977 was either seventeen or eighteen pages. And that means Marvel went the extra mile (and expense!) to reprint "The Torch That Was!" in all its unexpurgated glory! So quit whining about yer 35¢.

**While Howe's book is an invaluable resource and a great read, he caps this story with some confounding gaffes, writing that FF Annual #4 was "Cover-dated October 1968, it appeared exactly twenty-eight years after Marvel Comics #1 - in other words, exactly as the initial twenty-eight year copyright was expiring." In fact, the Annual is cover-dated November 1966, a two year, easily fact-checked error, and to compound it, since Marvel Comics #1 was published in 1939, the twenty-eight year copyright was due to expire in 1967. In his enthusiasm to shoe-horn the story into a perfectly chronological box, Howe whiffs on two key date in one sentence. -Mark Barsotti

Ghost Rider 27
“At the Mercy of the Manticore!”
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Don Perlin and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia

After Doctor Druid exposes his Ghost Rider persona as a true demon in front of his Delazny Studio coworkers, Johnny Blaze cruises out of Los Angeles, determined never to return. Driving through the Mojave Desert, Blaze is challenged to a race by a fellow motorcyclist named Brahma Bill. The stuntman manages to beat Bill’s more powerful, bored-out chopper by leaping over a canyon instead of taking a bridge. The two part as friends. Down the desolate highway, Johnny’s bike malfunctions and he pulls into a roadside general store seeking help: the elderly proprietor directs him to a dude ranch down in the canyon. On arrival, he sees Clint “Hawkeye” Barton and Matt “Two-Gun Kid” Hawk entertaining a gaggle of female admirers with some trick shooting. They show the stuntman to the machine shop and offer him a place to bunk down. That night, after repairing his bike, Blaze transforms into the Ghost Rider and clears his head with a Skull Cycle ride through the desert — but he hears shots and races back to the ranch. There, the Manticore, an armored combination of a lion and a scorpion, is galloping off with Hawkeye. In his flight, the manbeast causes a shack to collapse and Matt is trapped, unable to help his arrow-slinging friend. The Spirit of Vengeance arrives and lifts the Two-Gun Kid free: the sharpshooter recognizes the hellspawned hero from an earlier encounter. The Rider races off to rescue Barton. In the desert, the Manticore reveals to his captive that he works for the Brand Corporation, the creators of Hellcat’s costume: they want the suit back and will use Hawkeye as ransom. In turn, the Manticore says they will give him his new legs, which confuses Clint. Ghost Rider screams unto the scene and attacks the armored assassin. They battle back and forth, evenly matched. Suddenly, riding Blaze’s regular bike, the Two-Gun Kid arrives — he quickly finds himself in the deadly grip of the Manticore’s razor-sharp claws. The metallic monster demands that the Rider clears out or he will tear the cowboy’s head off. Playing a bluff, the menacing motorcyclist pretends not to care about Hawk’s life and advances. But before the creature can respond, Hawkeye strikes his power induction grid with an electronic disruptor arrow and the villain is shocked unconscious. They strip the man of his armor to find that he is missing his legs — his hindquarters are completely mechanical. Ghost Rider tries to convince Hawkeye and the Two-Gun Kid that he was bluffing but the two friends eye him suspiciously. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well, not a terrible issue thanks in part to a bit of flavor added by the guest stars — far from top-shelf characters but this series can use all the help it can get. Considering they have already met in The Champions #11 (February 1977), it’s odd that it takes until page 22 for Blaze to recognize either Barton or Hawk. I can understand that they didn’t remember Johnny since they only encountered him as Ghost Rider, but it’s a weird choice by Shooter. The reliable Dan Green gives some juice to Perlin’s poor pencils. At the beginning it was hard to tell Barton and Hawk apart since they were both dressed in western gear and Perlin’s faces all look the same: luckily Clint decided to take a trip down memory lane and put on his Hawkeye costume before being kidnapped. There’s a lot of tiresome moping by Blaze. He beats himself up for three pages at the beginning for both the L.A. incident and how Roxy dumped him for Roger Cross — of course he totally deserved that after he started sniffing after Karen Page. Then, at the general store, Johnny is crestfallen after frightening two Indian boys who recognize him from a weather beaten poster of his old thrill show. He whines to himself even more during his nighttime cruise in the desert. And at the end, after Barton and Hawk watch him warily, Blaze thinks about the “hellish nightmare” that has a grip on his soul that he “can never, never escape.” Always keen on introducing new villains, Shooter offers the debut of the Manticore, a pretty bizarre metallic mash-up who made a few more appearances but never really hit the bigtime. He’s certainly more imaginative than stiffs like the Water Wizard and Malice. It looks like Brahma Bill will be back next issue along with the return of the Orb. Be still my beating heart.

Matthew: Boy, I bet Professor Tom wishes he’d ordered one of those $1.98 Ghost Riders advertised on page 12 of this and several other December issues, complete with stunt-cycle (how big could it have been already, even including the 39¢ postage & handling?) and interchangeable Johnny Blaze head.  Once again, Perlin’s pencils so perfectly epitomize mediocrity that Green can do little more than punch the time clock and head home for a beer.  I see Shooter can’t slink out the door without leaving a giant turd on the stoop in the form of the Manticore, whose next appearance will be mercifully, and tellingly, outside this blog’s purview; of course, being Jim, he also insists on breaking as much crockery as possible vis-à-vis the strip’s status quo, such as it is.

The Manticore is a watered-down rip-off of an earlier dehumanized, patchwork-legend, Brand-related villain, the Griffin, and it’s a pity the soon-to-be EIC didn’t do his homework.  The Cat costume was created not for Brand, but for eccentric millionaire Mal Donalbain, who planned to staff a chain of health clubs (!) with Amazons; inexplicably found sitting atop a crate in a Brand Corporation warehouse in Avengers #144, it was inherited by Patsy, only then being, uh, rebranded as the Hellcat.  The story is so haphazardly handled that even an appearance by my beloved Hawkeye offers little cause for celebration, and the faux-cornpone stuff with Brahma Bill and Sam is no better (you know we’re in trouble when a writer uses “thet” instead of “that”).

Chris: Issues like this one will become the norm for this title for a while: Johnny finds a place for himself, Johnny requires the power of Ghost Rider to get out of a scrape, Johnny recognizes he has to move on.  Does the impending disappearance of the Champions make it easier for Shooter to send Johnny out from Los Angeles, and on the lonely road?  Kinda tricky to keep Johnny rooted to town in one mag, but then vagabonding around in another.

Well anyway, this time, the hard-place is offered by the Manticore, who tells us something about a “scheme” from Brand Industries (not yet known as “Brand Corporation”) that requires a “dead Avenger” in order to recover the Hellcat suit.  How’s that again -?  Wouldn’t it be a bit more straightforward to – I don’t know – maybe locate Hellcat, and start that way?  What’s accomplished by killing Hawkeye -?  I appreciate that Avengers-scribe Shooter indicates Manticore doesn’t realize Hellcat isn’t even a “part-time Avenger,” since we all know she’s become a full-time Defender; in fairness, there hardly is anyone in the Marvel universe who could tell you Patsy’s present affiliation.  I don’t know whether Shooter brings any clarification to the Brand plan; it could be a one-off we’ll never hear about again.  These things happen.
I stand by what I’d said last time about Perlin and inkers.  I’ve made no secret of my non-appreciation for Green’s inks, but I recognize this time how his finishes smooth out some of Perlin’s hard edges.  Ghost Rider is very late to the fight, but p 26-27 are well done, especially the views of his flamey face, such as the last two panels of p 27.  

Godzilla 5
"The Isle of Lost Monsters"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rache
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Klaus Janson

SHIELD attacks Godzilla on top of Demonicus' dormant volcano but the Big G is unfazed, so Dr. D releases the force field grid—and the rest of his creations! Giant moth Lepirax attacks Dum Dum's Dragonfly coaster while Gabe Jones crashes into Demonicus' lair and the Demon soldiers on the ground are defeated by SHIELD forces and the uprising slaves. Demonicus, like all arrogant villains, tells his story to the captive Gabe: he was a geneticist contaminated by a radiation spill and intrigued by the falling of a meteor, which he pursued and performed mutation experiments that created his monster squad and demon soldiers, eventually planning to take over the world with a "transport craft composed entirely of meteorite ore." However, Godzilla has a different idea, dispatching giant insect Centipor with some radioactive breath, and giant lizard Ghilaron with some good old fashioned brute force. Gabe breaks free when Demonicus goes daffy and gets the best of their "tussle," while SHIELD destroys the nearly-done meteorite craft. Lepirax slams the Dragonfly into the side of the volcano, then hungrily tries to pry Dum Dum from it. After a quick "sting," Godzilla delivers the final blow, turning away from Dum Dum and heading to the ocean—but unlike the optimistic Gabe, not convincing Dugan that the creature helped them—as Demonicus is taken away by SHIELD, yet "already scheming a future of vengeance." --Joe Tura

Joe: Sutton gives the Demonicus monsters a sort of oozy charm, different than what Trimpe's take would have been, probably more straightforward. But they're basically stand-ins for Toho kaiju, of course. Lepirax is the ugly sister of Mothra; Ghilaron a poor man's Angilus/Gorosaurus mashup; and Centipor a rotten Mothra larvae/Manda hybrid that gets beaten nice and quick. But my main problem with this issue is Demonicus constantly calling Gabe "Black Man." Yeesh, what is with that? It's nearly distracting. On the other hand, props to the evil eccentric for saying "I was once just a normal man—whose name I'd be a fool to reveal." And on page 23, he has the best line of dialogue: "'Tussle', Black Man? A curious term to describe your futile struggle against the future conqueror of the world!" Brag much, Doctor?

The good thing about this month is that the Big G gets to do some major butt-kicking, taking out Demonicus' monsters with flair. The bad news is the slightly silly "Well, I checked out the scene, so now I'll swim off" ending. Which all good Godzilla film fans know is not exactly false, but maybe when it's a well-known character like Dum Dum it just doesn't ring entirely true to me. But it does make for an OK comic book moment overall, so it certainly isn't the dumbest thing ever. Trimpe is back next month, so the Sutton guest spot will be known as monster-packed and full of glowering eyes and stares from Godzilla and Dum Dum, plus a whole lot of dialogue from Moench, which is about as expected as it gets.

Matthew:  After last month’s promising start, those who—like me—are not the world’s biggest Trimpe fans might settle in and look forward to the conclusion of this Sutton two-parter (the only anomaly in the Doug & Herb core creative team over the course of this book’s grueling 24-issue run)…until they saw that Janson had crawled out of the woodwork to ink it.  Before you attribute that to reflexive Klaus-trophobia, I submit that his film noir style is hideously inappropriate for the Aurora-model palette of the kaijū eiga.  The late Batragon’s brethren are generic Toho knockoffs, while with regard to the interactions among our human cast, I thought I had picked up an issue of The Adventures of Weirdo & Black Man by mistake; no names, please!

Chris: Well, there’s plenty of action – we’re not cheated there.  Doug decides to present battling on multiple fronts, which probably keeps the fighting interesting, but it also comes at a cost to Godzilla as the focus of the issue’s attention; instead, Dugan emerges as the closest thing to a protagonist – admittedly, it helps he has a speaking part.  

I bought this issue on vacation; it probably was the only available Marvel among the limited selection of periodicals in the little gift shop, or whatever it was.  I like the Sutton art, although he doesn’t quite convey the immense scale we equate with Godzilla, at least not until pages 26 and after.  The conclusion of the battle with Mothra – excuse me, I meant Lepirax – is a highlight, especially as Godzilla mashes the moth’s burning form under his heavily-taloned foot (p 30).  And Godzilla is, we’re told, grinning (p 30, last pnl)?  In that case, I wouldn’t want to see him when he’s fiercely enraged.

Howard the Duck 19
"Howard the Human"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Howard wanders the streets of New York, with no money in his pocket and nowhere to go, still trying to adjust to the drastic physical change that has morphed him into homo sapienity.  A flicker of luck as Howard spies a fiver in a sewer grate; he snaps it up before anyone else notices, and he moves on.  He stops by the Port Authority bus terminal, and tries to wash off some of the city grime in the men’s room.  He’s accosted by an oversized derelict, calling himself Mad Dog, who badgers Howard for coffee and a donut.  Howard gives in, but when the two are barred entry to the coffee shop, Mad Dog barges in and starts turning over patrons’ tables.  Howard thinks he should try to break up the fracas, but his subsumed duck-essence whispers (loudly) that he should cut his losses and cheese it before the cops show up.  Back on Eighth Avenue, Howard is followed by a young woman, Amy, who had been in the coffee shop, talking with her boyfriend Elton when the melee broke out.  Howard thinks she wants him to return to break up the fight, but that’s not her angle; Elton has come to believe that Amy is (somehow) his mind.  She doesn’t want to be “anyone else reasoning faculties – it’s tough enough thinking for myself!”  As they walk, Howard offers a range of banal topics while Amy clings to his arm, until they reach her apartment.  Howard makes coffee, and argues with his duck-self whether Amy is crazy (duck’s position) or has “spunk” (human’s conjecture).  Howard tries to talk with Amy about Elton, but is continually distracted by his interrupting duck-persona, who is concerned that his human-self is identifying too closely with these inexplicably-behaving hairless apes.  Meanwhile, in a remote castle high in the Himalayas, Bev rejoices at the news of Howard’s escape.  Dr Bong is outraged, as he punishes his bride for her “display of disloyalty” with a skull-rattling BONNNG.  He uses a viewfinder to scan newspapers from around the world, until the cover of the Bugle reports a “UFO Crash in Central Park,” with “A Duck-Like Creature Found Inside of Craft” (which readers will recognize as the genetically-altered Fifi).  The morning finds Elton pacing outside of Amy’s building.  Finally, he breaks thru her door, to find Amy, with – a duck, asleep on her couch -?!  Howard drowsily adjourns to the shower (as Elton and Amy try to work things out), and only then becomes aware that he’s regained his familiar form – he’s restored to full duck-hood (Howard speculates that the “excitement” and “adrenalin” from the night before might’ve triggered the change)!  And since things now are going oh-so-well, Howard’s senses are boggled by a bashing bong, and who should appear there with him in the bathroom – Dr Bong himself! -Chris Blake

Chris: Well.  I’m reasonably certain an 11 year-old me would not quite have realized how Howard’s adrenalin levels might’ve been goosed up (so to speak).  Subtly done by Steve G, especially since we don’t see Howard and Amy in the same bed; he’s asleep on the couch.  Nowadays, I recognize how a bit of excitement can give me a sense that I’ve regained my normal self, much as Howard does here.  
So, was Steve G trying out an Odin-like exercise in humility for his Thor, by forcing Howard to live as one with the people he sometimes finds so inscrutable?  The moments when Howard argues with himself, as he feels his person-persona is beginning to identify too closely with humans, are among the highlights: “My Gawd,” he laments, “yer goin’ native!”  The presence of the ephemeral duck-self also reassures us the Duck will be back, as a duck, before long.  
Even though we only see him for a few pages, we continue to get quite a lot of entertainment value from Dr Bong – Howard’s Green Goblin.  Now that Howard’s staring down the clonging Doctor in a woman’s bathroom, it’s safe to say we’re building toward a conclusion, ya know?  Already looking forward to Howard #20.  
Matthew:  Ma chere Fifi, we hardly knew ye…  I hadn’t considered her death in the Central Park crash of the Flying Bonger fully confirmed until now.  So, Howard’s sojourn as a hairless ape ends as suddenly as it began, yet Dr. Bong’s melody lingers on.  It was a memorable ride, and Amy Pope is an interesting character; I’d been in drydock long enough when I read this that her leotard-clad gyrations on pages 17-23 hit me hard.  Interestingly, they overtly address the long-discussed relationship between our cast and certain Bullpenners:  “Arthur Winslow [the Turnip-Man from #2, for those without total recall] is Don McGregor.  Beverly Switzler is Mary Skrenes.  And everybody else in the strip, including the villains, is Steve” (per the lettercol here).

Mark: The cover is one of the best all-time riffs on "Spider-Man No More!" from ASM #50. One great artist (Gene Colan) invoking another (John Romita), sure, but just as importantly they get the cherry bomb background and dramatic shading right, thus producing that rarity, a homage almost as good as the original. 

Once inside, Gerber and Colan do their considerable best with hairless ape Howie, but the most entertaining bits involve H the H interacting with his feathered, ethereal alter-ego, including a satisfying frying pan head-bonk. 

Back at Castle Bong, the newlyweds are fighting. Bev does the "Yipee!" dance upon learning Howard escaped, while her bell-headed hubby stalks off to plot our hero's demise. Mad Dog harkens back to some of Gerber's kookier Man-Thing characters, and he's soon supplanted by Amy and Elton, a neurotic couple in the throes of a break-up, trailing a haze of relationship psychobabble and self-activation, and capable of unexpected violence. They're like Manhattan-era Woody Allen characters, spiced with a dash of Charles Bronson.
As a one issue premise, yeah, it was fun to see Howard in the flesh. Bur we're glad he's back in feathers for Dr. Bong's last page arrival.

The Incredible Hulk 218
"The Rhino Doesn't Stop Here Anymore"
Story by Len Wein and Roger Stern
Art by Keith Pollard, George Tuska, and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

While out wandering and pondering, Doc Samson witnesses a train trestle, high above a gorge, weakening, and an express train approaching. Using his quick wits and super powers, Samson is able to save the train before the trestle crumbles to pebbles. The Doc decides to ride on further with the locomotive since he's got a bad feeling about the event and, further on, his assumption is proven correct when the Rhino derails the train. Turns out there's something on the train the baddie is looking for and, booty stashed, he exits stage left. Doc Samson attempts to halt his forward progress but the injured passengers take precedence. However, later on, Samson tracks the Rhino to a deserted town where the enemies engage in a heated tussle. Samson emerges victor when Rhino falls down a deep well. The Doc leaves the town, thinking he could get used to this superhero business. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Though it feels more like an issue of Marvel Premiere than The Incredible Hulk, "The Rhino..." hits all the right buttons for me. Lots of brainless action, dynamic art (I'm having a hard time finding any Tuska in there), and one of my favorite villains. What else do you need? I might have enjoyed a Doc Samson solo title based on the evidence put forth here. Interesting that The Rhino never offers up the name of the "boss" who broke him out of jail.

Walking Marvel encyclopedia (and one of the best funny book writers of the last thirty years) Kurt Busiek writes in to complain that Len isn't matching super-villains with super-heroes very well, citing The Constrictor from Hulk #212. Len, as usual, takes umbrage and then (inexplicably digging himself a huge hole) cites all the big league villains he's created: Nebulon, the Time-twisters, Basilisk, Stegron, and Glorian. Uh, yeah Len, you've gone above and beyond the call of duty.

Matthew: Always liked the Basilisk for some reason. As self-appointed chair of the MU English department, I’m probably the only one who got that title, a riff on an obscure Tennessee Williams play (a revival of which I’ve actually seen), The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.  This is the first of three transitional issues in which, after more than three straight years of Hulking out, Wein gradually passes the torch by collaborating with successor/co-scripter Stern.  I won’t say I “demanded it,” per the cover, but I am glad to see “Doc Samson in solo super-action at last,” especially with old favorite the Rhino on hand, while the Tuskapollardchan mélange produces results that are unique and, in my view, quite felicitous; nice work all ’round, and I didn’t feel a painful Greenskin-void.

The Invaders 23
"The Scarab of the Nile"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Gil Kane

The British doctor tells the American Invaders that with the bullet lodged so close to Toro’s heart, only one man—Sam Sabuki of California—might operate without killing him, yet taking him across the Atlantic would probably have the same effect.  Namor explains that his replacement flagship, due at any time, could fly swiftly and smoothly enough; just then, Spitfire arrives to summon them to an urgent rendezvous, so it is agreed that with his experience piloting the flagship, Bucky will take Toro back to the U.S.  At Big Ben, they find Union Jack awaiting them with Farrow and Rawlings, who explain that as Rommel is crossing the Egyptian border from Libya, the fanatical, pro-independence Sons of the Scarab are sabotaging the Allied efforts.

Their Avro Lancaster (“A long-range British bomber.  –Frank & Roy”) almost crashed by an explosion on the runway as they land, the Invaders capture one of the fleeing Sons after the ensuing skirmish, only to have him shot from hiding to ensure his silence.  Liaison officer Maj. Harrison introduces them to archeologist Dr. Abdul Faoul, with whom they are to search for the Sons’ hiding place amid the pyramids, minimizing the damage by having the Torch melt small tunnels that Namor can refill.  This they do while Cap and the British Invaders make an appearance at the front to raise morale, yet in an uncharted chamber, they find a pre-Egyptian artifact, the Ruby Scarab; Faoul—revealed as the Sons’ leader—dons the talisman and becomes the Scarlet Scarab. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Oh, Professor Chris isn’t gonna like this:  per the lettercol, “Because of various scheduling problems…#24 will be a re-presentation of the first real team-up of the Sub-Mariner and the original Torch, from the March 1941 issue [#17] of Marvel Mystery Comics, never before reprinted since that long-ago day.  (Our only regret is that we had to trim the story by a half dozen pages to fit it into today’s format.)  Then, with #25, we’ll be back in action with the Invaders vs. the Scarab.  If that confuses you, just look at it as if The Invaders is going bimonthly for an issue—with a classic Namor/Torch story from 1941 sandwiched in between as a special!”  With all the reprints plaguing this title, why not just make it bimonthly and save us some money?

But aside from a coloring error on the splash page that gives the Torch the world’s worst case of dishpan hands, this issue is pretty solid, with the Invaders living up to their name on a new front, one less exhaustively explored in popular culture than Fortress Europa.  Ever notice how scientists and scholars in this book always seem to turn into super-beings (e.g., Professor “Gold”/Blue Bullet, brother Jacob/Golem)?  Dr. Faoul is no exception as he becomes the Scarlet Scarab—no word on whether this Ruby Scarab is the one featured concurrently in Ms. Marvel—but his career will be brief:  after this storyline concludes, Abdul will be glimpsed in flashback in Captain America #253, and then the persona will be adopted by his son, Mehemet, in Thor #326.

The Invincible Iron Man 105
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

We open on another dream sequence, this time Tony’s, in which his 7-year-old self confronts a dying Iron Man, whose parents refuse to help, noting that “you let your money—your genius separate you from people!  You created your own loneliness, son—your own pain!  Yet, there are those who love you, Tony!  Open up to them!  Let them help you—before it’s too late!”  Aptly, while wondering how to do just that, the Jack of Hearts sees a ghostly image of IM created by the Wraith (aka Brian DeWolff) to lead him to a confab with Brian’s police-captain sister, Jean; Iron Man’s friend, ex-prize-fighter Eddie March; and the Guardsman.  “[W]e all owe Iron Man somethin’—an’ we figure t’be payin’ him back by helpin’ him,” as O’Brian (sic) says.

Jean’s old pal, Nick Fury, arrives with Sitwell to explain Washington’s concern over the buy-out of its biggest defense contractor, Iron Man’s inexplicable inaction, and Stark’s “disappearance.” Rumors that some of his stockholders were blackmailed by an S.I. employee may give grounds for legal action, but Jasper fears Midas may transfer vital defense secrets out of the country in the meantime, unless they gamble on an illegal break-in to identify the blackmailer.  The quintet is to try to make IM fight back, while Nick—with unwitting irony—puts Sitwell in charge of helping him and Stark; enjoying the privileges of his inherited Southampton estate with Whitney, Tony ignores a call on the red phone he presumes is just Jarvis “checking up,” little dreaming it’s Abe.

Walking with an exo-skeleton, and controlling IM’s empty suits of armor, Midas has compelled Klein to betray Stark (stealing plans to preempt patents, providing access to stockholders’ private files), and now seeks Tony’s location.  Crumbling photos suggest he may know the whereabouts of Abe’s wife, Rachel, and daughter, Sarah—not seen since Poland’s invasion on September 23, 1939—but “how I got them is my secret, sir!”  Outside Stark House, the mind-reading Wraith learns IM’s identity, and that the Guardsman also knows it, before the quintet bursts in; Jasper threatens Whitney with prison unless IM leads them in a raid on S.I., where they believe Midas is holding Tony, while the approaching Marianne Rogers (sic) zaps the passengers on a LIRR train. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The lettercol confirms, “Next ish is George’s last penciling job (at least for awhile) for Marvel”; he and inker Esposito do a serviceable job with this entry’s tremendous cast of characters, most notably the close-up of Nick—a character about whom I am famously picky—in page 14, panel 4.  Mantlo creations like the Jack of Hearts clearly dominate Fury’s Ferrous Five, the DeWolff clan having sprung from the iron-heavy Marvel Team-Up #48-51, and the action inevitably slows down a little to accommodate the formation of Shellhead’s support group.  I like the idea of the FFF, but they are also, indirectly, the source of my biggest reservation here, the “we must battle Iron Man in order to help him” device, which is a little bit too close to a MARMIS for my tastes.

When Abe compares his plight to his wartime persecution, Midas calls it “a similarity of style which I have gone great lengths to duplicate,” and reveals that the “golden touch” seen last issue in Whitney’s dream is “a permanent paralysis of the nervous system accompanied by a most unpleasant skin discoloration…”  Bill’s use of Jasper remains interesting:  he seems genuinely committed to helping Stark, yet his jealousy leads him to erroneous conclusions about Whitney, e.g., that she is manipulating Tony, or that the Maggia may be involved.  I also like the ongoing exploration of Tony’s past and parents, the latter not only seen in his dream but also “heard” when the all-too-unnervingly intrusive Wraith makes their portraits accuse him of being a quitter.

Chris: At first glance, Tony’s horseback riding and dream sequence might come off respectively as a bit of filler, and as an artsy distraction.  Dedicated readers also might be getting restless, after two entire issues with no moves – and no concrete planning – against Midas.  But I see what Bill is doing here: he provides insight into Tony’s distance from his parents (and his refusal to follow his father’s plans for him), as instead he pursued his undying interest in science, and technological development, and the plant itself – ie the things S.I. could build, not the money those items would provide.  So now, Tony is separated from the very thing that gives him purpose, with the role of Iron Man a sort-of extension of his identification with S.I.  Tony has lost all this in a manner he never anticipated, and more suddenly than he ever could’ve expected; he’s in shock, and of course it’s going to require some time to sort out, and determine what the next step, if any, should be.

SHIELD doesn’t come off too well here.  Fury expresses concerns about Stark’s welfare, but it’s obvious the overriding concern is with the possible loss of invaluable defense secrets.  Jasper does little to redeem himself following his display last issue, especially when he deems it necessary to hold a gun to Whitney’s head to ensure Iron Man keeps moving; I’m afraid Jasper might get a bitter little thrill as well from threatening Whitney.  This moment is mirrored by Iron Man’s recent threat to blast a helpless Jocasta at the climax of Avengers #162, the difference being that we all could be reasonably sure Iron Man wouldn’t harm Ultron’s bride (uh, we were right to think that, weren’t we, Shellhead -?).  In this case, though, Jasper’s become so angry that I’d be more than a little concerned about letting him pack a loaded firearm.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 7
"The Air-Pirates of Mars
Chapter 7: Dejah Thoris Lives!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Tom Sutton
Colors by Marv Wolfman and Michele Wolfman
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres

The doctor tells Sola that Carter’s fate is in the hands of the death goddess, Issus, and as he rants about Dejah in his delirium, suffering severe blood loss, the imprisoned object of his obsession is mistreated by the envious Krela and defended by Gargan, who once served with her father but was thrown out of Helium’s army.  Recruited by the Council of Five, he explains that the society comprises all five races (the black and yellow men being “not merely legends”) and is “dedicated to returning Barsoom to its former glory.”  They plan to level Helium, destroy the atmosphere factory—saving a chosen few with air breathers to share the dying planet’s dwindling resources—and activate a smaller atmosphere factory at Marentina.

After revealing that Kan’s arm was placed in Helium, a suspicious Gargan tries to force himself upon Dejah, so she stabs him with his own dagger and uses his radium pistol on Krayy and Greep.  Spotted by Krela, Dejah forces her to switch clothing so that she is unwittingly shot by other guards, then hides in the back of a flier as the fleet departs, subduing its crew to help defend the atmosphere factory.  Overjoyed that she lives, Mors Kajak (briefly misidentified as Tardos Mors) and the others are threatened by the thinning air, leaving Dejah—her stolen flier equipped with oxygen masks—to fight alone…until Carter, learning of the situation, leaps from his sick bed to join her, and together they slay the Warhoons planting bombs in the factory before sharing a kiss. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Another day, another guest inker…yet while unable to burnish Gil’s work to quite the luster that Cockrum achieved in #1, all-American boy Sutton inarguably lets Kane be Kane, unlike certain Tribesmen.  And the artwork is not the only reason I say this is probably the best issue since that as-yet-unequaled debut, as Marv finally turns the spotlight over to a certain “princess of Mars,” ironically by sidelining our gravely wounded eponymous hero.  Having languished until recently in not just damsel-in-distress but offstage D-in-D mode, she now truly lives up to her sobriquet of “the incomparable Dejah Thoris” (which Wolfman wisely borrows from Burroughs), and boy, is she worth the wait, as lethal as she is lovely, and a woman warrior every bit her hubby’s equal.
The Marentina reference is consummate inside baseball, since we—and Carter—only learn of it in the aptly titled third novel, The Warlord of Mars (serialized in All-Story Magazine, December 1913-March 1914; oddly, the title’s initial article was omitted from the cover of my Ballantine edition).  A principality of Okar, whose Prince Talu becomes Jeddak of all the yellow men after Carter kills his evil uncle, this crystal-domed “arctic paradise” is maintained by a solar-powered hothouse design.  “The Marentina atmosphere plant will maintain life indefinitely  in the cities of the north pole after all life upon the balance of dying Mars is extinct through the failure of the air supply, should the great central plant again cease functioning as it did” at the climax of Princess.

Chris: The slowly-developing sequence with Dejah, as she patiently collects intelligence from the late-suspecting Gargan, is a highlight, with a very satisfying reversal as Dejah defends her honor.  The battle for the atmosphere factory is a bit jumbled; how does Dejah wind up alone to spar against the saboteurs inside the factory?  Pretty fierce fighting at the end, as John and Dejah stage their own Conan and Bêlit show.  The Kane/Sutton art can be a bit loose, but I like the way Sutton allows Kane’s look to shine thru, as opposed to the way Nebres’ finishes tend to dominate the art’s overall appearance.

Matthew:   Unlike the flier Dejah commandeered from the Council's fleet, the Heliumite ships were unequipped with oxygen masks, so she was the only one who could breathe well enough in the thinning air to keep fighting.


  1. I'd regard the mid-70s, roughly '73-'77, as my "golden age" for favorite comics too, although at least X-Men, Daredevil, Iron Man and eventually Thor, with Simonson writing & drawing, would reach greater heights than ever before. But the quirky flavor of mid-70s Marvel slowly died out in the late '70s and attempts to bring it back in later years didn't quite work for me. And with with characters created for copyright purposes Marvel was adopting practices that had galled me about DC. Ah, well, nevertheless I remained a Marvel Zombie into the early '80s before moving from a small town in central California with no comics shops to the San Jose area, where in short order I found several comics shops and started expanding my tastes and gradually dropping many titles I'd been collecting regularly for nearly a decade.
    As for this week's batch, I retain my love for Starlin & Gerber and name Dr. Strange and Howard the Duck my faves. As written by Gerber, I enjoyed tagging along with Howard even at his most mundane exploits; maybe this was the beginning of my eventual boredom with comics filled with senseless action and piss-poor characterization. I was very disappointed that Starlin's run with the Master of the Mystic Arts was so short. As to the Defenders, this is the period when what had been one of my favorite titles was becoming a chore to read and no longer much fun or even particularly interesting, except that I hated what was being done to the new Red Guardian; also irksome to know that Gerber was kicked off the title to make way for Conway's brief run. She had been an intriguing character but was now being ruined. And so it goes.
    Nice analysis of Shooter's oftimes formulaic stories, Professor Peter E. Shooter did craft some very good stories, but too often his characterizations & dialogue didn't ring true to me (and I thought were especially bad in the Secret Wars). Still, a good story with some great Byrne art.

  2. Hey Mark - nice catch on the Howard homage, looking back to Spidey #50. It's not a comic I've ever owned, and even though I recognize the cover art from past viewings, I'm not so familiar with it that I would've thought to mention it. Solid work on your part to ensure MU wouldn't miss the connection to the previous cherry-bomb cover.

  3. Appreciate that, Chris. And the Dean's gonna let me keep my parking least 'til the end of the month!