Wednesday, March 23, 2016

December 1977 Part Two: John Byrne Begins His Legendary Run on The X-Men!

Kull the Destroyer 24 
“Screams in the Dark”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Dino Castrillo
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Warren Greenwood
Cover by Ernie Chan and Alfredo Alcala

His wrist in the grip of the demon shadow, Kull feels his life force draining away. In a last ditch effort, he swings his legs upward: the dark creature lets go of his arm and grabs his ankles instead. The Atlantean then shimmies out of his boots and finally falls free to the ground. He grabs his battle-ax and scrambles up the strange rock formation that cast the shadow: with a mighty blow he smashes the stone and the black demon disappears. Mounting his horse, the royal barbarian races off towards the hut of the hunchback Nor-Atz to rescue Laralei. When he arrives, he is relieved to find that she has recovered from the hunchback’s deadly potion — Laralei has also managed to kill her captor. Following Nor-Atz’s earlier directions, they ride off to find the castle that the giant condor flew to with Ridondo the minstrel. Noiselessly climbing the outer walls, Kull and his comely companion subdue a trio of guards and burst into the palace. Inside, a magician is entertaining a group of festive nobility. The warrior demands to see the ruler of the city: the wizard, named Korr-Lo-Zann, answers that no one rules this land. Kull then furiously insists to know the location of Ridondo — the magician claims ignorance. But suddenly, the minstrel’s terrified cries ring out. Following the sound, Kull and Laralie end up in the dungeon to witness a huge snake menacing their friend. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Another dull, poorly illustrated issue. Kull’s leg-flipping escape from the shadow demon is almost comical due to the awkward poses — all the barefooted running around doesn’t help either. Since her introduction, the amnesiac Laralei has vowed never to love a warrior but all of a sudden she’s become a pacifist as well. She is horrified after being forced to kill the lustful hunchback and abandons her sword in his hut. So when they confront the guards, she is reduced to bonking one on the head with a vase. After never hearing of inker Dino Castrillo, this is the second time I’ve encountered him this month: he embellishes Steve Gan’s pencils in the Solomon Kane story in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #25. He doesn’t have many Marvel credits, mostly issues of the Classic Comics line of literary adaptations. I’ll bite my tongue over any criticism of Ernie Chan here: he’s earned too much of my admiration for his inks on John Buscema’s work in Conan the Barbarian. I realize that it is way too early, but I’ll start the chant now: only six issues left.

Master of Kung Fu 59
"The Phoenix Gambit"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and John Tartaglione
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Shang-Chi awakes to find himself sprawled on a London street, after walking off the sidewalk and into the path of a moving car; Leiko wasn’t able to stop him in time.  He’d had a sort of vision, about being in Africa, except the landscape had been covered in snow; S-C then climbed down into a pyramid, filled with technologically advanced machinery, operated by primitive tribesmen.  The last image was of his deceased opponent, Razor-Fist, arriving in the pyramid-chamber, to sacrifice tribesmen worshipping him!  The situation isn’t clarified as the now-waking S-C sees Razor-Fist shoving his way thru the crowd, toward him; a brief fight ends with R-F felled by a kick to his chin.  “Rest--,” S-C says, as he remembers Reston, somehow, pricking him with a drugged dart, before the vision began; Leiko misunderstands, instead agreeing that S-C needs to rest.  As she leaves him on her couch, a new vision begins, as S-C sees himself with Sir Denis and Black Jack in a frozen-over London.  The next moment, the three of them are at the North Pole, where they discover another pyramid, rapidly revealed as ice melts around it.  The interior has a dais at its center, which appears filled with stars; “a window to the heart of the blasted universe!” as Tarr calls it.  Sir Denis pulls a lever (S-C reacts immediately, expecting this to be a mistake), and a figure shimmers into being on the dais.  He announces himself as Amar-Tu, the bringer of salvation, the bearer of “the answer to all misery, all pain, all suffering, all life.”  The three men are blissfully enraptured as Amar-Tu enfolds them in peace and hope, until he heats up and begins to laugh, and S-C and his companions are consumed in fire!  S-C awakes again, this time confronted by Pavane, the whip-wielding enforcer for Velcro and Mordillo.  She lashes at S-C, so he feels he has no choice but to fight back; a well-aimed shot to her head frees it from her shoulders, as Pavane is revealed to be an automaton.  Leiko returns, and the two of them are attacked by one of Mordillo’s robots, which turns out to be – Reston, in a suit of armor?!  Reston confirms it truly is him; he believes he had been drugged, and then was compelled to drug S-C, prior to S-C’s series of visions.  Reston believes their common foe to be the liege of Latveria – Dr Doom! -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: There’s a moment in Luis Buňuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie when the characters – and the audience – can no longer be sure whether the characters are dreaming or are awake, as one dream sequence seems to dissolve into another.  The effect is very similar here, as Shang-Chi is buffeted by a series of inexplicable occurrences, and cryptic messages.  A person in frozen Africa tells him “the pyramids will not work;” a tribesman/technician states he is “reconstructing the gateway – reinventing the advent” for this “turning of a new time;” Sir Denis matter-of-factly observes that glaciers are migrating away from the poles, and should eventually “meet at the former equator;” Amar-Tu reports “the earth has been restored to its original state.”  Mixed in with this non-illuminating information are the battles with two former opponents, both thought to be dead, and both revealed as robots.  S-C, who relies on his observational skills to prepare for any conflict, has to be reeling; he says little on the last two pages, and when he does speak, it’s with a halting cadence.  
In all, it makes for a crazy, crazy issue; say what you will about Doug Moench, but the man has a fertile imagination.  The reveal of Dr Doom – in the very last panel, engaged in a chess match with the Prime Mover (all of the pieces represent characters, hero and villain, from previous issues) – is about the wildest moment of the entire series.  What could Doom possibly want with Shang-Chi – what’s the connection?  And how did the Prime Mover (last seen in Giant-Size Defenders # 3) get here?!  Well done, Doug; you’ve got my attention.  I’m going to have to remember to re-read this issue before MoKF #60, in anticipation of a full appreciation of all these pieces fitting neatly together.   

Chris: So, we can assume Leiko’s objection to Shang-Chi – who, to her chagrin, had professed her to be his “woman” in our previous chapter – now has been resolved?  Doug doesn’t say; stay tuned, I guess -?
Mike Zeck’s second turn on MoKF is stronger than his first outing.  Zeck doesn’t have the same difficulty Jim Craig has had with our title character’s look; under Zeck’s pencils, Shang-Chi consistently appears focused, with moments of determination, apprehension (appropriate, under the bewildering circumstances), and shades of youthfulness (he is only around age 20, after all) that we haven’t seen with previous artists.  The three-panel reversal, as Amar-Tu roasts our once peace-enshrouded heroes (p 22, bottom row) is a highlight.  The pyramids are intriguing, with an intricate exterior design and gem cap.  Doom looks great too, massive and imposing, as he ponders the chessboard (p 31).  The only weak spot I can single out is the dais that delivers Amar-Tu; Black Jack is thoroughly impressed, but it doesn’t look like anything more than a circular platform with some stars on it (p 17); if it were taller, and if Zeck had presented it from a lower perspective (so we could see more of the stars encircling it), it might have made more of an impression.  

Mark Barsotti: Now this is more like it. 

Following the overlong and undercooked War-Yore saga, Doug gets his groove back, sending Shang on an involuntary drug trip, starring hallucinations like future Ice Age London and the MI-6 Trio (S-C, Sir Denis, Black Jack) entering a North Pole pyramid to find a cosmic being of Light and Love who turns demon and kills them.

All this is brought to vivid life by Mike Zeck, getting his second, much-improved, at bat on the book. Like Jim Craig, Zeck at times invokes Paul Gulacy, but it seems to fit comfortably with his emerging style, whereas Craig had to huff and puff for a few panels of P.G. simulacra amid his more cartoony hand. 

In addition to the bad trips listed above, we get S-C's Greatest Baddies like this was an anniversary issue - Razor-Fist! Robo-Laser-Eyes! Pavane with her panties and whip!- and thanks to the drugs, just like Shang we're not  sure what's real and what isn't. Throw in the Reston red herring and this one's firing on all cylinders, and that's before the Oh no you didn't last panel reveal, lifted directly from the end of Jim Steranko's long Yellow Claw arc in Strange Tales #167, with Doctor Doom playing chess with the Prime-Mover.

It's a rare shock-ending that actually shocks, and it works whether you get the reference or not. But where Steranko ended with Doom losing at chess, this game's just getting started.

Great opening gambit. I'm psyched enough for the next installment - for the first time in months - that I might let Forbush make up a letter grade by staking out the spinner rack down at Rexall.

from Strange Tales #167

Ms. Marvel 12
"The Warrior -- and the Witch-Queen!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Jim Starlin, John Romita, Alan Weiss, and Joe Rubinstein

As Ms. Marvel attacks Hecate, elementals Magnum, Hellfire, and Hydron join forces to envelop her in sand, heat it into Trinitite, and cool the pillar with an ocean wave, but she shatters the “unbreakable” crystal before Hecate sets a Kree Warhawk on her, whose reactor she overloads by causing a heat build-up. At the tracking station, Marv and Len (yes, really) see the fight at Blackman’s Cove, yet static prevents them from radioing for help, leaving only their laser link with Sal on the Athena One.  Fleeing into the trees where they’d hidden their captives, the elementals plot to betray Hecate, who “outlived her usefulness the moment she returned us to Earth,” and threaten Zephyr in order to force the location of the Ruby Skarab (sic) out of Asp.

Hecate materializes another image from Ms. Marvel’s memories, but as a main battle tank heads toward her, Asp is blasted while trying to warn Hecate, who had rescued the elementals from the “dimensional aleph” (whatever the hell that is).  The energy beam with which Hecate destroys an islet hurled at her by Magnum begins to trigger the catastrophe Carol foresaw aboard the Athena One as the two women are forced into an alliance.  In the station, Ms. Marvel neutralizes Hellfire in a vacuum chamber, yet is forced to ignore Sal’s plight, and as Hecate distracts Magnum—who has already turned on and imprisoned Hydron—with an image of N’Kantu, the Living Mummy, Ms. Marvel defeats him, grabs the Skarab, changes into Carol, and vows to avenge Salia’s death.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Admittedly, having Sinnott ink a Buscema—any Buscema—tilts the odds, but it’s still a dark day indeed when a Claremont book winds up on the wrong side of the Bradley Principle, with the writing outclassed by the art.  Chris being Chris, I’d been confident, or at least hopeful, that he’d find his way again after floundering around last time, yet as this misconceived storyline lurches relentlessly into even a third issue, my expectations are decidedly low.  Since at the moment Marvel remains mum on the subject, I was forced to do some research and confirm that the Ruby Sc/karab seen here, a relic from the unlamented Supernatural Thrillers, is indeed the same one powering up the original (i.e., World War II-era) Scarlet Scarab, seen in the current Invaders arc.

Chris: Chris delivers such an action-packed story that he loses track of himself.  After Ms M defeats the Kree warhawk, Hecate sends a “main battle tank" after her, which – is never seen again, because right away, the Asp gets blasted by the Elementals, and Hecate has to use her powers to destroy a million-ton rock-chunk.  Should we guess the tank would vanish back whence it came, if Hecate isn’t directing it?  I don’t mind doing that – for Claremont, I will.

There also are plenty of twists, as the Elementals turn on Hecate, and Ms M joins her side.  Two of the best moments are saved for last, as Hecate spooks Magnum with a vision of N’Kantu (and I wouldn’t have had the slightest appreciation for this bit, if I hadn’t since read all his adventures in Supernatural Thrillers), and Ms M – now, as Carol – becomes possessed by the power of the nasty Skarab.  Thru all the story’s machinations, Claremont clues us in to Ms M’s struggle with herself, as Carol tries to compel Ms M to go after the Athena One shuttle and save Salia.  Difficult to hold all this together, but it all works fairly well.
The artist wheel turns, and this time, we get Sal +Joe, which is probably the best team we can expect at this point; no way we should expect Big John to be back, when he has so many other obligations.  I like the opening splash, as Ms M scatters all her opponents with one blow.  The full-page on p 15 is nice, but I don’t get the full effect of the destruction of the mega-ton rock; if the perspective instead were from below and behind Ms M and Hecate, we would have seen the rock exploding directly above them, which would’ve given it more impact.  
The Starlin cover, of course, is very solid.  Say Jim, I don’t suppose, now that the Warlock/Thanos story is concluded, whether you might be interested in – well okay, you don’t have to be – no, okay, that’s fine – all I’m asking is for you to think about it; you and Claremont would be quite the creative team.  

Marvel Premiere 39
The Torpedo in
"Ride a Wild Rocket!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Bob Brown and Al Milgrom
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Al Milgrom

Torpedo catches up with the “rocketeer gang,” who make no secret of their mandate to bring down the Torpedo and grab his jet-powered suit. Torp takes out some of the gang as he plows thru the corner of a building and covers them with masonry.  One of the fliers fires a blaster to knock out one of Torp’s boot jets, which requires him to try to land using only hand-jets.  Torp changes back to mild-mannered Brock Jones, former football star and present-day insurance exec, and drives home to his all-American family in Westport, CT.  He complains to his wife Lorry that his work-a-day life is unfulfilling, stating “I’ve got carbon paper stains on my hands, honey …”  Lorry offers to return to modeling, but old-school Brock doesn’t want his little woman working.  Brock thinks to himself that the Torpedo suit is the only thing that keeps him “going strong these days,” but is concerned that “it takes a super-suit” to prove to himself that he’s still got it.  The next day, Brock escapes the office to go flying as the Torpedo, and encounters the rocketeers again; the encounter results in Torp crashing thru a shop window as the chief hood takes off.  He follows the trail to the Con Ed plant on East 14th Street, where he grabs a goon and demands to know why they’re after him; he’s told their boss covets Torp’s jet-suit, a more powerful version of the gang’s own gear.  The battle with the gang destabilizes the plant’s nuclear material, which sends the reactor to critical risk of meltdown; the chief hood resolves to save his own skin, so he KO’s Torp and abandons him and the jet-suit on the floor of the plant’s vacated control room.  -Chris Blake

Chris: You know there isn’t a nuclear power plant in Manhattan, right?  You know why there isn’t one, don’t you?  Okay, so that’s clear.  The chief of the rocket-gang (who has the unlikely name of “Wescott”) finally is able to subdue Torpedo and fulfill his mission, but instead, leaves Torp there to die in the imminently-glowing would-be nuclear plant.  As long as he’s already knocked out, why not carry him out, and not be in dutch with your employers, right?  You’ve got a few flunkies there to help you.  So, there’s that too. 
On the plus side: there’s plenty of action, and Marv comes up with a few wrinkles on the suit (the turbo-jets on his ankles can be folded-in when not in use; the boot-jets, if struck to the floor, can cause a shock-wave).  The Brown-Milgrom art is satisfactory.  There are plenty of small points contributing to the downside, though: Brock has a den full of football trophies, is married to a model, has two adoring kids, and makes more money that he knows what to do with, so his moping and lack of purpose is hard to take; there are two interludes that feature some empty rhetoric with Wescott’s shadowy employers, but we’re given too little information about their nation-toppling plan to be intrigued about it; and, the inevitable bantering with crooks, in the same irritating style Marv had brought to his time on Daredevil – worst of all, the snappy patter is almost identical to the words Marv put in DD’s mouth (when Brock was a football player, did he really trade these same teasing barbs with defensive linemen -?), so I don’t even have different banter to grind my teeth over.
Matthew: The fact that Bob Brown had been dead of leukemia for approximately eight months by the time this went on sale suggests how long it sat on the shelf, presumably awaiting a suitable slot in Premiere or the now equally defunct Marvel Spotlight.  Since he and co-creator Marv had collaborated on the Torpedo’s prior appearances (Daredevil #126-7, both cited here, and 134), it’s only fitting that they should shepherd him, even posthumously, into his primarily Milgrom-inked two-part solo debut.  It’s also nice that the character outlived Battlin’ Bob by several years, adopted by Bill Mantlo as an ally of everybody’s favorite spaceknight, featured in the majority of issues from Rom #21 until the Torpedo’s own untimely death (in #50).

And yet, despite my fondness for the Torpedo, there’s a forlorn quality hanging over the entire issue that extends to something indefinably off-putting about Annette’s lettering in this instance; the art is uneven, the plot is muddled, and Marv has mined the novice-super-hero vein exhaustively by now in Nova.  I didn’t look this up with the specific intention of piling on—more out of curiosity, since I owned one myself (which I believe I received unbidden)—but it seems that Pet Rocks were already passé when Brock gave them to his kids in wealthy Westport, adjacent to my hometown of Easton.  And I didn’t know Con Ed had a nuclear plant on 14th Street, yet according to Native New Yawker Mrs. Professor Matthew, neither did anybody else!

Joe: "Because YOU demanded it! Marvel's GREATEST new hero—in his 1st feature length ACTION-PACKED SAGA!" Um, who says? Based on the cover alone, Torpedo is neither great, in demand, or worthy of a saga. According to the Bullpen Bulletin, Torpedo's "guest stints last year in Daredevil drew an unprecedented pile of requests to try him in his own solo series." Well, not from me! While it's certainly not the worst book I've ever read, it's also nowhere near the best. I'd rate it slightly below average at best. Brown and Milgrom turn in some decent art pages, most notably the fight scenes, but don't exactly elevate the story. Torpedo is an OK hero, certainly nothing to write home about, and the suit does most of the work. The family melodrama is typical Marv, if you've been keeping up with Nova. Come to think of it, that's why this issue seems so familiar. Not to worry, there's another Torpedo tale coming next issue.

Marvel Team-Up 64
Spider-Man and the Daughters of the Dragon in
"If Death Be My Destiny!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by Dave Cockrum

Sent to Colleen Wing’s Inwood apartment by Rand family lawyer Jeryn Hogarth, Alice asserts that IF should recover soon (“I’m a doctor, not a witch”—damn it, Jim!), yet the loss of his chi has left him near death.  As Danny awakens during, and returns, Misty’s declaration of love, Spidey briefs Col—her p.i. partner in Nightwing Restorations—and realizes that Steel Serpent will seek to ensure the transferral is never reversed by killing him.  Watching from a nearby rooftop, Davos recalls how, more than 20 years ago, he had lost a contest with “Wendell Rand-K’ai, first-born [sic] son of Tuan, who was then Yü-Ti, the August Personage in Jade,” for the right to face the dragon, Shou-Lao the Undying, and earn the power of the iron fist.

Embittered, Davos brought shame by unjustly accusing Yü-Ti of nepotism and challenged Shou-Lao secretly, yet received a facial scar and could not bear the pain of holding on long enough to acquire the iron fist; he was banished, and Wendell left K’un-Lun as well, his brother (elsewhere identified as Nu-An, and Wendell as adoptive) becoming Yü-Ti upon Tuan’s death.  Taking the fight to Davos, Spidey not merely discounts but actively hampers the Daughters of the Dragon’s aid, using Misty’s bionic arm and Colt Python and Col’s samurai sword.  A depleted IF arrives, Colleen arguing that he must be allowed to face Steel Serpent alone, and his reappearance drives Davos into such a frenzy that the uncontrolled iron fist incinerates him while returning to Danny. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A generally excellent conclusion to the orphaned Steel Serpent storyline—albeit a questionably permanent one, in his case—although I found Spidey’s paternalistic attitude toward the Daughters somewhat grating.  For those not in the know, the running gag about him wondering why Misty seemed familiar is a winking reference to the unidentified woman whom he and the Torch (“some dude in a flyin’ bathtub”) saved from muggers in #1; this is almost certainly a retcon, as I seriously doubt that’s what Tony Isabella had in mind when he created Misty in Marvel Premiere #21.  As noted on his “Bloggy Thing,” “I readily admit that the heavy lifting on this character was done by Chris Claremont [who debuted on #23] and those who followed him.”

After all of the information doled out in dribs and drabs for years, I for one was thrilled to get a clearer look at three generations of K’un-Lun (Tuan/Lei Kung, Wendell/Nu-An/Davos, Danny), although as the Thunderer so sagely says of himself and IF, “both our stories are far from ended,” and the mystic city’s history would be continually augmented—or should I say Nu-Anced?  Ouch!  Love the overdue Danny/Misty rapprochement, natch, and it makes total sense that the power of the iron fist could consume someone if not properly controlled.  It may well be imagined with what a hearty “You go, girls!” this fan of Kill Bill and Misty’s physical template, Pam Grier, welcomed the Daughters, while the Byrne/Hunt art is as fluid and formidable as ever.

Chris: It’s another fine issue – well, how could it not be? – but it’s easily my least-favorite of the Claremont/Byrne issues to date.  There are significant stretches when Spidey really doesn’t feel like he is organically part of the story; at these times, Spidey seems more like a device to pose questions that Colleen and Misty can answer, in order to clue-in readers who weren’t into Iron Fist.  Spidey gets a few pages to strut his Spidey-skills against Davos (his bop down the inside walls of the courtyard, on p 15, is a highlight), but he doesn’t have a chance to work in concert with anyone else – you know, as you might in a “team-up” – and actually manages to get in the way on p 17.  Spidey’s fight with Davos is so much an undercard event that he’s required to be outside the ring once we get the inevitable rematch of Danny vs Davos; there’s no other way for Danny to regain his power, right?  

As a fan of Iron Fist, I will say that I’m grateful to Claremont for having taken advantage of the opportunity to close the door on some of the K’un-Lun intrigue, which allows Danny to start on fresh footing once he moves over to the pages of Power Man/Iron Fist.  Spidey and MTU fans who weren’t familiar with these goings-on, though, surely must’ve been mystified.  
Joe: A satisfying conclusion to a memorable two-parter. The outfits are vintage 70s, the story is classic Iron Fist, and the art is masterfully fluid. Spidey is again almost like a second banana, but at least they keep giving him things to do. There's the moment when he sticks to the ceiling instead of taking off his boots; the attempt to take down Steel Serpent to no avail; the funny aside to JJJ; and the end to the mystery of where he knew Misty Knight. After all, let's not forget this is Spidey's book. It all ends a bit too quick, but maybe that's the point.

Marvel Two-In-One Annual 2
The Thing and Spider-Man in
"Death Watch!"
Story by Jim Starlin
Art by Jim Starlin and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Jim Starlin

Peter Parker “dreams” a call for aid from Moondragon depicting Avengers Annual #7 and its aftermath as Thanos returned to Sanctuary II, rallied his thralls to defeat the Avengers aboard, and used his “massive weapon batteries” to incapacitate Thor, Iron Man, and Mar-Vell en route back from Sanctuary III.  After seeing Thanos imprison them all in stasis beams and take the Soul Gem from Adam’s brow—hoping to appease Death by blowing out Sol—Peter awakens, somehow knowing that it’s all true, and Spidey must help.  He does not know that “on the edge of infinity,” Lord Chaos and Master Order are deploying their reserves in a game with Death, Spidey “and the man he is destined to ally himself with,  Benjamin Grimm.”

Needing a spacecraft, Spidey startles Ben while he’s reading Salem’s [sicLot, enduring a torrent of verbal abuse before forcing him to shut up and listen, and although skeptical, Ben gives him a lift in a shuttle Reed had asked him to test-pilot.  Pulled into Sanctuary II by a tractor beam, they are devastating their alien foes when Thanos gains the advantage by cutting off their gravity, but as Order reminds Chaos, their job is to release the true champion, Warlock, joyfully reunited in the Gem with Gamora, Pip, et alia.  As our heroes awaken, Thanos explains that another stellar projector is being readied, with which he will use the Soul Gem to make our sun go nova, and seeing Ben get laid out, Spidey—as the Beast once put it—chooses wisdom over valor and splits.

Overcoming his “blind panic” after skirmishes with guards elsewhere in the ark, he reasons that only Thor stands a chance in a direct confrontation, and frees the captives with the only thing he can find to short-circuit the machine:  himself.  Thor and Ben grapple with Thanos as the others battle his thralls and Spidey is drawn—apparently by Chaos and Order—to the globe containing the Gem, which he smashes to bring forth the “ultimate avenger,” who transforms Thanos into granite.  Mopping up his leaderless thralls, the Avengers and their allies bury Adam, Gamora, and Pip (on Counter-Earth, although that is not spelled out here), while back inside the Gem, their spirits “just have to get used to living here in paradise without any strife, problems or pain.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew; My standard procedure, when I own an issue in both its original form and a Masterworks or special edition, is to compare them side by side first, to make sure the contents are identical, and then savor the re-read in the theoretically superior format.  Obviously, I prefer that 99% of the time, which is the point, but there’s an interesting exception in page 15, panel 4:  Sanctuary has a sort of stippled effect, eliminated in the otherwise gorgeous 1983 special edition, that gives it a feeling of greater substance, rather like the difference between stop-motion animation and CGI.  In any event, judging by the comments on this and other, arguably lesser sites, there’s a pretty clear consensus in favor of the second half of this cosmic epic, with which I would not disagree.

As noted, Warlock and Thanos had the decency to stay dead until long after I was out of the picture, Adam’s attempted resurrection in MTIO #63 notwithstanding.  Since one of the few examples of Starlin’s subsequent work in my collection is his groundbreaking Death of Captain Marvel graphic novel, it’s a little eerie in retrospect to read Mar-Vell’s eulogy for Adam here:  “I only pray that when my time is at hand, I’ll be able to pass as honorably as he.”  That was, of course, published at a time when his own book was descending steadily into Edelman-Hell, and it’s one of my few real regrets about this two-parter that with the focus on Adam (deservedly) and the annuals’ regular stars (inevitably), he gets reduced to little more than a supporting player.

I’m surprised this is officially an MTIO and not an MTU annual (there being none for MTU this year), since it feels much more Spidey’s story than Ben’s.  In fact, my favorite line is probably “Ha!  I like your friend, Ben Grimm.  He’s a schemer,” because it works on so many levels:  it’s great characterization for Thanos, it epitomizes how Spidey—strong as he is—sometimes relies on brains rather than brawn, and it foreshadows him as the catalyst for victory.  Highlights of the Starlinstein art include the tormented Peter on the splash page; Thanos with the Gem (page 8, panel 4); the cool-looking Chaos and Order; the ECUs of the awakening Assemblers’ eyes (page 31, panels 1-3); and contrasting Adam, happy (page 22, panel 5) and vengeful (page 39, panel 4).

Chris: Starlin tells nearly the entire story thru dialog and action, with captions employed only twice after the recap, cleverly presented as a dream-sequence implanted by Moondragon.  Should we infer the being released from the soul gem is Warlock, further empowered by the many other souls who now share his being, and that this combined power was required in order to petrify Thanos?  Like I said, Starlin doesn’t direct us how to interpret this moment, but that’s the reading that makes the most sense to me.

“I’ve got a feeling that we all lost something today that we may never again see.” “Yeah, maybe … but I’d rather think that whatever it was that ended here tonight sort of started a new and better beginning somewhere else.”  So, the first quote is from Spidey; the response line is from – Ben Grimm?!  A pretty wildly out-of-character philosophical moment from this character, eh Jim -?
Story highlights (since art & text are woven with a single thread): Ben reading 'Salem’s Lot, alone and at night (p 10); breezy interplay during the first stages of the fight (p 16-17); anti-gravity! (p 18); Warlock’s newfound contentedness (p 22); Thanos’ amused observation that Spidey is “a schemer” (p 24); Spidey rightfully realizes that “there’s nothing in the Spider-Man manual about fighting star busting demi-gods!” (p 26); the Avengers perk up, much to the chagrin of Thanos (p 31); Thor + Thing vs Thanos (p 37); Thanos, unprecedentedly shocked as Warlock blazes forth from the gem – “It cannot be you -!” (p 43); Mar-Vell’s eulogy, as he hopes someday to “pass as honorably” as Adam Warlock … (p 45).
Mark: One of the best perks about teaching at this august institution - besides the lovely ivy-draped campus, even lovelier co-eds, the generous salary and unlimited franking privileges, thanks to the Dean's golfing buddy, the Postmaster General - is discovering unread gems that we managed to miss back in teenage wasteland. 

Gems like this late-period Jim Starlin epic. We know, from the Starlin quotes Professor Matthew provided in his incisive recap of the opening installment in Avengers King-Sized Annual #7, that then-editor Archie Goodwin offered Jim the Avengers book to "finish up that Warlock stuff," and the resulting saga spilled over into Two-in-One.

But there's a fairly clear line of demarcation between the two books. 

Warlock's supporting characters, Pip and Gomora, appeared in the Avengers, had their unhappy fates settled (they both die), and were swept off the board. And while the two-parts, read consecutively, are pretty seamless, there's much more MTIO here than there was The Avengers in part one. That was my impression after finishing "Death Wish," so I checked and a page count proves the thesis.

In part one there are ten pages, almost a third of the book, with no Avenger, and several more pages where they appear for only a panel or two. The number of pages that don't feature Spidey, the Thing or an Assembler here? Zero.  

That's not a criticism. Just the opposite in fact, but it does make clear how much Warlock dominated part one and that most of Adam's story was already told, save for his brief, climatic return from Soul Gem heaven to go all Grey Gargoyle on Thanos.

If this doesn't answer Prof Matthew's question about what Starlin had planned for Warlock before he left Marvel - even Jim seems unsure, but says in the same interview that the rest of Gamora's encounter with the Destroyer "...was supposed to be Warlock #16, which never happened..." - we can be certain it wasn't this. Rather than a master plan, it was all done ad hoc, as Jim admits, "Well, I was having to shoehorn the existential, angst-ridden cosmic epic into..." the annuals. 

Think about that. Starlin was offered the chance to wrap-up Warlock, so "all" he needed to do was integrate his concepts into the forum available, two separate, unrelated titles. What's another eight characters and dozens of interlocking details? It's a tribute to Starlin's prestigious talents that he could pull the requisite pieces out of the Marvel U toy box and integrate them, almost seamlessly, into a storyline that had been amputated two years before. 

As expected, the art is masterful throughout. In regards to our titular titans, Spidey's aerobatics are oft Ditkoesque, and his Thing - in the main - has the proper heft and density of Kirby Kobbles. It's rare for any artist to evoke (without shamelessly aping) the definitive version of either of those characters, let alone both, and on top of that juggling half a dozen Avengers and Jim's own cosmic cast. That he nimbly handles dialogue and characterization as well, and all in service of a grand, overarching tale of justice and redemption makes Starlin's achievement all the more impressive.

Almost forty years on, this gem still dazzles. 

Marvel Two-In-One 34
The Thing and Nighthawk in
"A Monster Walks Among Us!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by John Buscema

Arriving at the London H.Q. of Richmond Enterprises, Kyle is told of a bizarre stone found in the Himalayas, but Drs. Welby and Casey disagree over the advisability of reanimating what lies within; meanwhile, no sooner has Deathlok emerged from his capsule than he is whisked away by Fury and Dugan.  Kyle requests Ben and Kort’s presence as neutron rays shatter the stone by bringing it near absolute zero, releasing a sentient tentacled purple alien, which flees after felling them with sleep-inducing smoke that is his customary form of greeting.  Unable to communicate, but expecting his arrival to have been foretold, he is unaware that his friends’ ship malfunctioned, and they “died, in a nuclear explosion in Siberia, in the year 1908.”

When he unwittingly frightens young Margaret Soames, her father, Mark, hears her scream while hunting with a friend and immediately leaps to the wrong conclusion, vowing to track down the alien after taking her to the hospital, where the unsupervised child starts an electrical fire.  Ben and Nighthawk see the inferno, so the beast—eager to prove its mission peaceful—and Kyle race to save the children trapped inside, while Ben fills a church bell with water from a nearby stream to quench the flames.  But the alien is gunned down in the midst of his rescue efforts, leaving Kyle to berate Mark:  “He risked his life to save your daughter.  And all he was awarded with—was your abuse—and finally death!  Yeah, there’s a monster here—but…who’s the monster?” -Matthew Bradley

"My brain's been battered. My friends...
they come around... flatter flatter flatter..."
Matthew: I’m puzzled by the absence of a big burst on the cover reassuring us that “Spider-Woman Does NOT Appear in This Issue!”  Oh, wait, we’re supposed to be getting jazzed for her own mag.  Right.  I’ll file that slightly ahead of Team America.  I tells ya, it’s exhausting enumerating the problems with these.  In spite of our arachno-liberation, we’re still stuck in that weird Wilson/Marcos version of London, where everybody kind of looks like Rondo Hatton, yet suddenly, Alicia is neither seen nor, as I recall, even invoked; did Modred wipe the memories of their ordeal so totally that Ben didn’t notice this?  And after uttering a speech that consists in its entirety of “…hear…hear…,” poor Deathlok is deemed “normal” and abruptly hustled offstage?

Please, no jokes about the name,” asks Dr. Marcus Welby, yet why would Marv have named him and his colleague, Dr. Casey (not Ben), except as a joke?  Also don’t know how seriously I’d have taken their report, conspicuously labeled “Reserch.”  Kyle tells Kort, “My scientists say you’re the best man for the job ahead,” because nobody is more qualified than an expert in cybernetics and bio-genetics when you’re gonna bust an utterly unknown life-form out of a rock.  I’d empathize more with Mark’s concern for Margaret’s safety (expressed to Hal, who appears to be auditioning for the Lone Ranger in page 15, panel 1) if he didn’t irresponsibly leave her alone at too young an age…amply demonstrated when she burns down the whole goddamned hospital!

Since Wolfman bashes us over the head—displaying all the subtlety of a brick through a plate-glass window—with his final message, I’m guessing I didn’t imagine the echo of Frankenstein (1931) when the well-intentioned BEM comes upon the girl playing innocently by the stream, and of course the fire scene plays out like Mighty Joe Alien.  To call E.T.’s backstory, intentions, “gifts,” etc. unclear would be way too charitable, and the muddled mess that is this “Shocker of the Year!” (per the cover) might be considered shocking for other reasons.  Between this ongoing train-wreck, the hash he made of Dr. Strange, and my slowly growing disenchantment with Nova, I’m starting to suspect that Marv is not so “marvelous,” Tomb of Dracula notwithstanding.

Nova 16
"Death is -- the Yellow Claw"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tom Palmer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Frank Giacoia

Richard Rider is having a rough time with his Spanish final, mostly due to the weight of the world being on his shoulders, so he bolts, knowing he most likely flunked. Ginger tries to console him, but he pushes her away, with Caps knowing it's probably over between his two friends as Ginger goes off with lothario Mack. Back at home, Rich learns from Bobby that their Dad has been arrested, but when a distracted Rich gets a phone call from Nick Fury, he jets off, pushing his brother aside and meeting Fury on a SHIELD copter. Meanwhile, 200 fathoms underwater, evil doctor Fritz Von Voltzmann and the mystery villain launch a fleet of soldiers against the two heroes, who at first hold their own, until Nova saves a family from a Roosevelt Island tram that explodes and sends our hero into the East River. He quickly recovers, but suddenly the mystery villain appears in giant form via "inducer"—it's the super-malevolent Yellow Claw! He fires his "cerebral deprogrammer" at Nova and Fury, knocking them out and bringing them to his undersea lair, strapping them to "life-pods" attached to a "neutron warhead." Claw seeks to destroy the U.S.' "Eye-Spy Satellite," and launches the warhead into space towards it. But another mystery robotic hand alters the computer program so that it misses the satellite he had "planned for months to control"—and now it's headed toward Washington, D.C.! --Joe Tura

Joe: "OUR GREATEST ISSUE—EVER!" screams the cover. OK, has there ever been a comic book as insecure as Nova? Always seeking approval, and proclaiming some type of greatness or excellence, guiding the reader more than Stan talking about Pizazz. And it's hard to figure out why. It's a book that certainly tries for a home run, and sometimes hits a solid ground-rule double. But mostly it's weak grounders to second base, or foul popups near the dugout. Yet, they go on and on about how great they are. Sigh…Enough of my pontificating, sorry.

So the "mystery villain" is blown on the nicely drawn cover, revealed to be the always nasty, always-with-an-agenda Yellow Claw, the "master of men." (Boo! Hiss!) He does get a nice hologram entrance on page 22, wrapped in mummy-esque metal of some sort, and with a kick-ass mustache borrowed from a Shaw Brothers film. He's the best drawn character by Infantino and Palmer, except for maybe Nick Fury. Their Nova is good also, but Richard Rider seems about a foot shorter and ten years younger than Our Pal Sal's rendition. Marv's script seems to go off the rails once we get to the Claw's "undersea lair," becoming more Bond-ish than Nova. It's all not bad, but no, it's not their "GREATEST ISSUE—EVER!" Sorry, Marv. (I seem to say that every month.)

Blue Blazes counter: Of course on page 22 when the giant Yellow Claw appears over Manhattan. "Blazes" in the next panel when Nova and Fury are blasted by "some kinda rays." And that's it, incredibly. Well, at least Nova name-drops Farrah Fawcett-Majors on page 16.

Matthew:  Right from the splash page, and with unindicted co-conspirator Palmer adding insult to injury, this Infantino artwork is like getting slapped in the face with rotting fish (is there any way page 3, panel 4 didn’t result in serious physical damage?).  True to the Bradley Principle, I’d be better able to tolerate that if Wolfman’s writing far surpassed it, but observing that the Yellow Claw—however welcome I might find him in another context—is a wildly inappropriate villain only skims the surface.  Would ol’ Faux Manchu really use a palooka like Marko as a minion?  Why on Earth would Fury entrust the fate of the world to an untested teen ally?  And, having had ample time to phone the Rider home, why does Nick show up apparently with no other back-up?

Chris: Yeah, like I want to buy a comic which features a splash page of a kid taking a test; that one’s going right back in the rack.  The first five pages are pretty painful, as we spin wheels with Rich fretting about grades and his dad (sound familiar?), as he’s unable to talk to Ginger, who correctly observes of Rider: “You are positively starting to annoy me.”  Well, join the club, Ginger; we’ve all been here for a few months now.  Hey, here’s an idea: why not open with the splash on page 11 (that’s right – the action doesn’t begin until the 7th page of the story) and then have a few panels of Nova ruminating about his problems at home, so that we can pack-in some thrills and excitement -?  I read this issue as fast as I possibly could, and I’m not going to write anything else about it, except to say that I’m grateful for Palmer’s inks, since at times the inks’ heavy look helps to obscure Infantino’s sloppy pencils.

Power Man 48
"Fist of Iron -- Heart of Stone!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Luke Cage, Power Man for Hire busts down the front door belonging to Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist) and finds a frightened and confused Colleen Wing instead. It becomes clear very soon that it's Misty Knight whom Cage is searching for but the sexy Ms. Knight is having dinner with Rand at her apartment. The uncharacteristically savage Luke beats on Colleen for quite a bit (and Ms. Wing gets in her licks as well) before the girl can call Misty to enlist help. Colleen is hurt after Cage destroys a bookshelf and he does his best to mend her. While we experience a hiatus in the action, we learn a little bit about what's got Power Man in a tizzy. Someone has his "friends" and they want Misty Knight in return. The lovely Misty finally arrives and tries to take Cage down with a handgun. Bad choice as bullets cannot enter Luke's hard-as-steel skin. Quickly, Misty Knight joins her buddy, Colleen, in dream land. That's when the reinforcements show up. Iron Fist pops Luke Cage so fiercely that Cage ends up in another zip code. There's no keeping an angry Hero for Hire down though and he soon re-enters the melee. The two duke it out for quite a while until Iron Fist, sensibly, asks his new foe what they're fighting for. After pondering the question, Cage begins to fill Danny in.-Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: A shaky start to what would become, eventually, a new team and title. Byrne's work over on The Avengers is knocking me out (and we already know he has a flare for Iron Fist) but I'm not sold on his interpretation of Power Man. Some panels show our hero as anorexic and others highlight a chest way out of proportion with the rest of his body. Claremont's "story" is nothing more than one huge, gargantuan, gi-normous MARMIS, one that smells as bad as the ground beef you forgot in the back seat of the car yesterday. The fact that Cage would spend half the story viciously pummeling two women and then, after trading punches with Danny Rand, suddenly halt the battle to explain himself is inane. Maybe I'm overreacting. Maybe this is a case of my not wanting this "ghetto" title (one no one, including myself, really read or cared about) to be brought up to "professional" status, ruining the fun I was having, but I certainly hope this gets better.

Chris: It’s not a MARMIS, no – it’s another desperately dangerous instance of CCUToDtaCC, ie: Combat Compelled Under Threat of Death to a Captured Comrade (I’m fairly certain I got it right – could someone double-check for me -?  Yes, thank you).  Anyway, there’s no misunderstanding at all: Cage knows exactly what he’s doing, and there’s no grey area to Danny either: “This is my house you’ve wrecked, my friends you’ve beaten and tried to kidnap.”  An ordinary MARMIS is sorted out as both parties pick up snippets of information from each other, to tip them off that they should be fighting on the same side; in this non-MARMIS case, Danny recognizes something’s wrong with Cage (and no, it’s not that he’s getting jerked around by the Puppet Master, or something), and questions him directly about his actions.  It doesn’t work at first, and Danny takes a calculated risk as he lets Cage grab him around the neck (that’ll leave a mark); I like how Danny retains the presence of mind to consider a last shot to shatter Cage’s eardrums, as he’s rapidly running out of oxygen.

Cage’s rough treatment of – well, everyone, strikes me as out of character.  I realize he’s in a tight spot (details tantalizingly withheld by Claremont, for now), but he really seems to be trying to inflict harm on the people he’s facing.  He doesn’t take a half-second to consider that these medium-sized humans could be pretty seriously hurt, if not killed, until he topples the bookcase (heavy item, that) onto Colleen; his relief that she’s not killed doesn’t carry over, though, as he proceeds to flip Misty across the room, and later tries to strangle Danny.  It’s hard to believe that, before long, all four of these people will become pretty close; you’d need a pretty short memory to find a way to be on good terms with a guy who broke into your house, broke your arm, and tossed you into a room.  I guess we can classify this case of letting-bygones-be as an adaptive behavior, right?  No grudges or resentment – very healthy.  
I wouldn’t mind being Danny’s contractor; that would be some job, to put his brownstone back together.  Presumably, this would be the same crew that re-assembled Jean & Misty’s apartment after Danny’s fight with the X-Men (which itself took place not long after the paint had dried, following the X-team’s run-in with Firelord at the same address).  
Cage’s unscheduled, shkow!-propelled cross-street flight is an obvious highlight (p 17, 22), especially as Byrne includes the shocked reaction of Shades and Comanche.  How about the moment immediately before Cage is launched, though, as Danny emerges from the shadows (below); is this a Batman homage by Byrne, or what -?

Matthew: All right, don’t get too excited, class.  Byrne (whose last issue is, ironically, the first on which the dream team’s ill-fated Iron Fist shares formal billing) bails after #50, and Claremont (whose first issue, #47, I don’t have) after #53.  From then on, it’s pretty much straight down the crapper, at least for the 68 subsequent issues I grimly purchased, solely out of allegiance to my beloved K’un-Lun Kid.  And I guess I must grudgingly acknowledge that from a commercial standpoint, at least, Marvel’s odd-couple, salt-and-pepper, “let’s pair our unlikeliest heroes” sales gimmick worked, because the damned thing rolled relentlessly on until #125…yes, if you did the math, just four issues after I was, as usual, driven off by the Beyonder.

It is pretty awesome (although I do hate that cover more ways than I care to mention), with the unleashing of the iron fist an obvious highlight, from Danny’s “Mr. Cage—turn around” to the full-page “SHKOW!” to the villains’ “Shut my mouth!” reaction; we’ve been advised of the partnership, but it perhaps inevitably begins with a MARMIS.  I was surprised to see Luke called a “buck,” which seemed racist, yet since both Misty and Colleen said it—bravo to Chris for giving Nightwing so much face time—maybe I’m wrong, and perhaps it’s SOP for this book.  Also surprised to see a reference to IF #15 but not the more recent MTU #63-4, all three of which must take place after the current X-Men installment, so it’s a busy month in the Claremontiverse.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 13
"...The Coming of Razorback!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Lying in an alley, Spider-Man is attacked by Razorback, a huge, super-strong green and yellow-clad lunk from Arkansas who has a hog on his head. Spidey knocks him into Brother Power's restaurant, but is fried by the big lug's electrified mane, then flummoxed to find out the lummox (Spidey's word) just wanted to pick a fight to "prove himself" to the hero. He recovers enough to race upstairs to find Flash, but before he can go after Brother Power, aka Korba, Razorback grabs him, revealing he put a tracer on Power's car, since he's after him also, to handle some "family business." The trio hops in Razorback's "Big Pig" semi-rig (that of course he built himself) to go after Brother Power. Power arrives at a swanky estate in Croton-on-the [sic]-Hudson, where the evil mentor behind his actual powers awaits—it's The Hate-Monger! H-M blasts the ungrateful Power, then shows him the "outsiders" are on their way towards the estate—but he has a plan!

On the road, we learn Razorback is after Brother Power because he took his sister and brainwashed her into the Legion of Light. Meantime, Flash retells Sha Shan's sob story, and Spidey is skeptical of how Power got his power. The web-head slinks up on Hate-Monger, learning about their rally at the Yonkers Coliseum, but before he can get back to Razorback and Flash, he's zapped by the telephone cable he's teetering on and smashes through a roof, where Brother Power and Sister Sun are waiting to zap him with a "FA-ZAM!" Outside, Razorback and Flash try to fight off the Legion, until sister Bobby Sue shows up and lights up the big redneck. We close on Hate-Monger angrily telling the trio of heroes—who are chained to a wall and left to die with ticking dynamite ready to explode any second—"Your deaths will provide me with an audience of immense proportions—an audience ready to receive my message of…hate!" What a nice guy! --Joe Tura

Joe: Razorback reminds me of the much-lambasted Gibbon, only in reverse. Meaning he tries to impress Spidey, but fights him first then makes friends, unlike the ill-fated Gibbon who tried to be buds then ended up monkeying around with Kraven. And no, this is not a good thing. First off, he has a hog on his head. Second, he has a big dumb rig he drives around in, named "Big Pig." Third, he has a hog on his head.

But it's actually not as horrible as it sounds, thanks to solid art from Sal and Mike, one of the best teams in the biz. It seems a little more polished than last issue, albeit not exactly perfect. It's like putting on a comfy pair of slippers after a long day, and knowing it feels just right. The story isn't horrible either, once you get past the poorly-clothed brute with a hog on his head and the return of Hate-Monger from back in the stone age of Marvel. It's got some twinges of politics, religion and all-out hatred. That's so 70s!

Favorite sound effect is page 3's "WOMAK!" when Spidey swings around on the pole and, um, "womaks" Razorback. Now, is that a reference to singer-songwriter Bobby Womack ("Across 110th Street," "Hairy Hippie") or are Sal and Mike goofing around? What makes the noise "WOMAK?" Well, hitting a guy with a hog on his head in the gut with a swinging double leg kick, I guess!

Matthew: If I didn’t love the 1970s (half of my cinematic Golden Age), I wouldn’t spend way too many waking hours on unpaid labor for ye olde blogge, but some fads are best forgotten, and despite using “10-4” on a regular basis, I’d rank the CB radio craze among them.  It’s answerable for cultural low points like Convoy (1978), one of Sam Peckinpah’s worst films—which, for an oeuvre as antipodal as his, is saying a lot—and, of course, this; is it even physically possible to read it, with its self-styled super-hero’s Texarkana twang and Big Pig rig, “religious nut-group” and jaw-dropping inclusion of the Hate-Monger, and not wince?  The only saving graces are Buscemosito’s art job and Sha Shan’s restored name.

Addendum:  Since the accompanying image displays them so well, I'd been meaning to ask, isn't it convenient that the Hate-Monger's supply of restraints included some in special Razorback-size to accommodate our beefy neo-hero? 

Star Wars 6
"The Final Chapter?"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin, Rick Hoberg, 
Bill Wray, and Dave Stevens
Colors by Paty
Letters by Carol Lay and Mike Royer
Cover by Rick Hoberg and Tom Palmer

The Rebel attack against the Death Star has begun. Luke is number five in Blue Squadron, his childhood friend Biggs is Three. They advance en masse, striking telling blows, creating enough of a threat for Darth Vader to lead his own elite TIE Fighter group to combat them ship to ship. Blue Leader takes two men with him into the trench leading to the vulnerable exhaust port, Vader close on his tail. Blue Leader’s men are picked off and he fires his proton torpedo, which doesn’t strike home. It’s his last action before Vader destroys his ship. Finally, it’s down to Luke, Biggs and Wedge in Blue Two. They enter the trench. Vader and his fighters follow. Biggs is in his sights and Vader obliterates the ship carrying Luke’s oldest friend. There’s no time to grieve as the target looms closer. Wedge develops a malfunction and has to fly off leaving Luke alone. Yet, he’s not as abandoned as he thinks. He hears the voice of Ben Kenobi, reminding him to use the Force, to stretch out with his feelings. Vader in his fighter feels the strength of the Force in his unknown opposite number. He locks on to Luke’s X-Wing and is seconds from firing when one of Vader’s wingmen is destroyed by a blaster shot from above. It’s the Millennium Falcon! Vader’s second wingman is distracted by the arrival of the Correllian smuggler and chips Vader’s wing. Vader is thrown off course and away from the Death Star while the other fighter hits the wall and disintegrates. Luke, now all clear of opposition, switches off his targeting computer and relies on instinct. He finally lets off a volley. His aim is true! Luke, Han and Chewie hit their thrusters and escape the Death Star seconds before it explodes into a small sun. On Yavin, the heroes are given a welcome befitting their accomplishments. Han admits that sometimes there is more to him than money, while Luke feels a swelling sense of pride from somewhere beyond. The heroes are rewarded handsomely in a large ceremony. Peace, for the moment, has been restored to the galaxy. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: What more  can be said about an adaptation of what many people consider the greatest space fantasy film ever made? The script sticks closely to the film and the art is very clean and without major issues. Actually, of the six issues, this installment boasts the best art. Embellishers Rick Hoberg and Bill Wray can probably take credit for that, since that combo is unique to this issue. The likenesses are strong and there is no sign of the sketchy scratch marks that plagued the first couple of issues.

So what’s next for the Star Warriors? Nothing like the films, to be certain. What follows is the dicey period in the Star Wars comic run; the period between the first and second films. Much of it has to be seen to be believed. At this point, however, everyone was poised for more adventures. The question is, would they be more successful than Logan’s Run, which died two issues after the film adaptation ended?

Matthew:  So, Death Star destroyed, heroes honored, and that’s a wrap for the Star Wars comic…oh, it’s not?  Well, maybe it should’ve been, but just to be safe, I’ll assume the next 51 issues that I stupidly bought all suck, and if they’re any better, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.  Per the lettercol, at a Hollywood lunch with Roy and Mark Hamill, Lucas had suggested “other directions [that] were nearly identical to what our writer/artist team wanted to do anyway,” having already plotted #7.  Too bad this is a one-off for embellishers Rick Hoberg and Bill Wray—relative newcomers who would work much more extensively for DC in the years ahead—because they seem even better than Leialoha is at smoothing out Chaykin’s rough spots.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 7
"Tarzan Rescues the Moon"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Rudy Mesina
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

Felled by Achmet Zek’s guns, Tarzan dreams of his youthful curiosity about Goro, the moon, and watching men from Mbonga’s village inside a thorn boma, surrounded by the eyes of Numa and Sabor.  Bulabantu throws sticks from the protective fire to deter the lions, and Taug tells the tribe about the “fire” (moonlight), “eyes” (stars), and “firebrand” (meteor) Tarzan later sees above.  When Bulabantu is surrounded by apes, Tarzan advocates sparing the brave under-chief, but the rest—afraid Tarzan will bring Numa to eat Goro—turn on him, and only Tantor’s timely intervention spares the men and Taug; Tarzan is summoned back from self-imposed exile to “save” Goro from being devoured by firing his arrows at “Numa of the skies” (i.e., an eclipse). -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This ostensible “interlude” in the adaptation of TATJOO is really just the framing sequence for a fill-in story that, like those in the recent annual, is based on one of the Jungle Tales of Tarzan.  With this shift in time period to the ape-man’s youth, the moment seems right for a concomitant switch from DeZuniga to intermittent inker Mesina, half of whose Marvel credits (the only ones in my collection) are on the ERB titles.  Befitting these stories’ chronological placement during Tarzan of the Apes, “Tarzan Rescues the Moon” closes the book with Tarzan one “long stride” closer to the kingship of Kerchak’s tribe, who now “looked up to him as a superior being,” and provides a rare example of his showing anything but contempt for a member of the Gomangani.

The Mighty Thor 266
"...So Falls the Realm Eternal!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott

As the Balder-infused Destroyer continues its battle with Thor, everyone else just watches, for fear any interference might harm the spirit of the brave one within. Except Loki, who gleefully awaits his brother's defeat. Finally, Karnilla takes a different kind of action, going directly to Loki to attack at the source. Hogun, Fandral and Volstagg, meanwhile, follow villains Magrat, Snaykar and Kroda through catacombs beneath Asgard. The latter plan to either wake or slay Odin to save their skins should Loki fail. The former reveal themselves once the hiding place (formerly where the Enchantress and Executioner brought the All-Father) has been reached. Karnilla, at a standstill with Loki, snatches Balder's body and vanishes, bringing him close to the battle the better to work her magic and return Balder's spirit to his body. Loki follows and prevents this, then does the same himself when the Destroyer turns to attack him. In the struggle that follows, Thor stops Loki from trying to reach the mighty creature, and the Thunder God's spirit unexpectedly enters it. Loki, seconds from his demise, is saved by Odin. The Warriors Three had carried the All-Father back to Asgard, where he awoke naturally from his sleep; he returns his son to his rightful body and puts the Destroyer back at rest. All hail Asgard! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A pretty good finish to another exciting Destroyer saga. Yet again, when Odin awakens, it is to a conflict of near cosmic consequences. Nice that the Warriors Three are actually the ones to bring about the rescue. The Destroyer maintains his invincibility, the defeat of which seemed "not quite right" in the first Thor film (although the armoured behemoth was presented very well). Len Wein manages to bring his stories to satisfying conclusions without pulling out an "impossible card," and Walt Simonson's art, previously not a favourite of mine, is growing on me.

Chris: If you’re going to the trouble of a year-long Odin-quest, you kinda have to have Odin himself there for the big finish, right?  Len defies our expectations, though, as Odin’s big-an’-mighty force is not called upon to right the wrongs of Loki, but instead to prevent Thor himself from murdering his meddlesome sorta-brother.  Odin’s crowning play comes at the conclusion of a nice series of interesting developments, as Karnilla seeks to rescue Balder from the Destroyer-bod, and Loki’s unthinking smackdown of the Norn queen turns his own until-now-useful Destroyer against him.  

Thor certainly can take some punishment; of all his mighty opponents, I wouldn’t necessarily think of the Big D as one of the few Thor might find nigh-on impossible to defeat.  We’re not even told he’s holding back to avoid harm to Balder; in fact, Thor asks himself why Karnilla and Sif are not coming to his aid, despite the, um, destruction his foe can bring to the realm (p 2).
Art highlights: a particularly reptilian look for our villain (p 2, pnl 3) – I’m practically waiting to see Loki’s tongue flick; Karnilla’s blast of Loki fractures the nearby stonework (p 6, pnl 5); Fandral’s dashing entrance, as the scurrilous knaves cower in surprise and fear (p 10); Volstagg’s valorous expectoration (p 11); an exhausted, but still-determined Thor (p 22, pnl 2); Odin’s gleamy entrance, and the Thor-Destroyer’s hesitation to strike (p 27); Loki, barely visible in the corner, as he prepares to slink away (p 30, last pnl).  
Matthew: As an ardent fan of both closure and favorable outcomes, I was delighted to get an actual conclusion here, especially since as often as not, the “end” of one of the long, lumpy quest/saga thingies in this strip (and I’m not singling out Len, despite his “envelope” gaffe in page 16, panel 2) leads straight into the next with barely a breath in between.  The concomitant sanguinity also suppressed my natural tendency to fret over who did what to whose pencils, enabling me to take Simoniga’s combined efforts on their own merits and say, “Nice work, guys,” most notably on Loki, whose appearance varies more than that of many a Marvel character.  I always appreciate seeing Volstagg make a contribution…even if only with his girth.

What If? 6
"What If the Fantastic Four Had Different Powers?"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Jim Craig, Rick Hoberg, and Sam Grainger
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza and Joe Rosen
Cover by Rick Hoberg

After taking down some hoodlums, the Fantastic Four, namely Johnny Storm, wonders aloud what life would be like if they had "different powers altogether." Well, the Watcher has the answer, of course, and after a four-page recap of the famous origin (See Marvel University #1, I guess…), he shows us an alternate reality. After the cosmic ray bombardment and the crash landing, Ben Grimm sprouts dragon wings, Johnny turns into a metal man, Susan Storm has stretching powers (not exactly a "stretch" that idea), and Reed Richards is blown up when the ship explodes—but his brain survives! The new heroes call themselves The Fantastic Four: Dragonfly, Mandroid, Ultra-Woman (after thinking Rubber Girl at first—yikes), and Big Brain. Early on in their careers, the quartet halts a group of monsters from stealing Blackbeard's priceless treasure—monsters controlled by Doctor Doom, who is able to figure out Reed Richards, his hated college nemesis, is Big Brain.

Back in the Baxter Building, Reed travels through the use of pneumatic tubes (who built them, union workers?), noticing his friends interacting with the public, when there's an intruder alert—it's Doom! He promises he can make Richards "whole again," giving him a body so he can win back Sue, but Doom double crosses Reed and brain-naps him, planning to use Big Brain to power his time machine! The other three heroes travel to Latveria, right into some Doom-traps, but Sue uses her stretching agility, Ben his flight prowess, and Johnny his magnetic power (?) to escape the traps. Big Brain assaults Doom with mental force, then the rest burst in to battle the armored antagonist. Doom quickly gains the upper hand, destroying one of Johnny's, zapping Ben and knocking Sue around so much that Brain Reed throws a dangerous mental blast that halts Doom—but not enough to stop him from hitting the self destruct button! But Big Brain threw such a mental blast, he sent his mind into Doom's body! Now as Mr. Fantastic, he takes his place bodily next to his compatriots, as the "NEW Fantastic Four".--Joe Tura

Joe: The reason for some of the snarky comments in the synopsis is to move the commentary along more quickly. And this book, while far from a complete joke, deserves a little snarkiness. After all, Reed Richards is a disembodied brain; Ben Grimm has purple wings; Johnny Storm is a freakin' dopey robot; and Sue Storm has the powers our reality's Reed has—because Roy ran out of new power ideas? The art from Prof. Matthew fave (not) Craig and Hoberg (not anyone's fave, ever) is average at best except for the action scenes, which are not horrible. And Sue as the giant top—that's so dumb its brilliant. Roy once again gets to play fast and loose with some of his favorite characters, this time going a little off the rails. The tube travel scenes are part ingenious and part Saturday Night Live, and the end happens so fast, and there's no real explanation for why Reed was able to project his brain into Doom's body, that Roy gets a big demerit for wrapping up too fast and making The Watcher get downright philosophical at the very end. Another What If?  I remembered loving as a kid, that doesn't quite completely hold up 39 or so years later. Oh, well.

Chris: At first, I was distracted by the fact that the “different super-powers” advertised aren’t all that far-removed from the ones we associate with this team; I mean, come on Roy, all you did with Sue was give her Reed’s power – I’m surprised Ben doesn’t have a flame-power, as long as we’re only rotating these abilities.  But the powers aren’t really the point, are they?  From early on, historian Roy re-establishes the possibility of Sue and Ben becoming an item, which fuels Reed’s need to re-corporate himself.  With that, we remember that the interplay among these four characters has always been as much a part of the title’s appeal as have been the far-out adventures.  

Reed’s substitution of himself for Doom is a nice twist; but just because Reed now has Doom’s body on a long-term loan, it doesn’t mean he still needs the fright mask and the cape, right? It would’ve been interesting to see Jim Craig alter the doom armor, instead of merely putting a “4” on its chest.  Rick Hoberg’s inks demonstrate that Craig’s pencils can yield better results than we’ve seen in recent issues of MoKF; it’s too bad this art team never had a chance to work together on Craig’s semi-regular MoKF assignment.   

Mark: "It's punch-pullin' time!" cries the Thing for the first -and I'm guessing only - time, as he K.O.s a crook without literally knocking his block off. It's a nice laugh line, courtesy Roy Thomas, but it comes on page six and that's way too long for the Fabs to take down a few gunsels. Then the Watcher recaps the FF's origin again for another four pages before we even get to alt-reality. That's one-third of the story, and it'll be interesting to see if the book's creators can streamline the lengthy, throat-clearing setups in the months to come. 

Once underway, the story chugs along fine, as one would expect of a writer of Roy's caliber. And for a one-off FF saga, who better to challenge them than Dr. Doom (although I'm amazed a well-versed archivist like Thomas first misidentifies Doom's debut appearance as FF #4)?

Mark: As to alt-abilities, Ben sprouting reptilian wings (leave the soft & downy to X-Men pretty boy Angel) and Johnny becoming a "metallic living robot" both work fine, if bringing nothing new to those powers. But Sue just becomes "Stretch-o" instead of Reed, while her unfortunate hubby gets the old "disembodied brain" gimmick. Admittedly, it's kinda cool watching "Big Brain" zoom around the Baxter Building through pneumatic tubes, but that's hardly enough to save the Ed Wood-like bit, which isn't even necessary for the Richards/Doom mind-swap ending, which involved Reed's consciousness defeating Victor's. Reed's physical brain actually gets blown to bits.

The art, by Jim Craig and Rich Hoberg is awful on the first few pages, but rapidly improves, achieving a high-end mediocrity, and their Victor Von is pretty damn Doomy. So overall this one gets a shrug and a B-. 

We end, ironically, with what's a far more promising premise - Reed leading the FF with Doc Doom's body. Had Roy spent the first ten pages, largely wasted here, winding up that toy, this might have been something special.

In fact, I'm now downgrading this to a C-. An extra grade letter off for squandered potential.

The X-Men 108
"Armageddon Now!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Tom Orzechowski and Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum

On a distant, nameless world, the X-Men and the Starjammers face a massive crystal that threatens to channel a force with potential to disrupt the fundamental fabric of reality, as it delivers “The End of All That Is.”  The teams try a frontal assault, but are rebuffed by a diminutive guardian, Jahf, who shrugs off a meteor-smash (Phoenix had pulled the massive stone down on top of him), and launches Wolverine into orbit (Corsair sends his craft, “Waldo,” to retrieve the extra-planetary X-Man).  Cyclops orders a retreat under Storm’s cyclone, but Banshee recognizes an opportunity; he swoops in and directs a tight-beam scream that destroys Jahf.  As the team prepares to contest a massive new guardian, Raza finds a way to reach Emperor D’Ken and fling him directly into the crystal.  In a blinding flare of light, the allied teams find themselves in a dead environment that somehow is within the crystal.  The crystal’s defense now is to flood its invaders’ minds with memories, fears, and other paralyzing thoughts.  Jean is confronted by an image of death, but moves past it; she recognizes her rebirth as Phoenix has purged her fear of death.  Jean’s Phoenix-self enters a sphere at the center of the crystal, and is aware of a living lattice-work of anti-energy; the very fabric of a neutron galaxy.  Phoenix can visualize how, if the lattice should die, the freed n-galaxy would draw our reality’s mass into an “insatiable gravity well,” consuming everything.  Phoenix tries to repair the lattice, but recognizes she lacks the strength; Ororo takes her hand, as does Corsair, as Jean re-enters the sphere.  As Phoenix, she calls on the patterns of her life, and the lives of all her teammates and loved ones, to restore the lattice; the new pattern seems to position Xavier at its peak, Peter Rasputin at its base, with Phoenix binding it all together.  The team passes once more thru the stargate, back to Jean’s Greenwich Village home; they find Firelord still there, watching over the gate on this side.  Immediately following them is Lilandra; though she has rightful claim to her throne, she had led a rebellion against the empire, so she will remain in exile on earth – with Xavier – until the high council can settle matters.  So – the X-Men now are home, and at peace. -Chris Blake
Chris: Dean Pete might deem this issue deserving of Landmark status (yes indeedee- PastePot), if only because it marks the first appearance in these pages of the X-Men Dream Team (lacking only Glynis Wein, who’ll be here soon enough).  Byrne has the good grace to include a note on the letters page, acknowledging his admiration for Dave Cockrum’s work on this title, and asking fans to “give the new kid a chance” as they adjust to his style (there’s also a dedication to Cockrum at the end, in “respect and admiration,” which is followed by one line: “I’m not dead – Dave Cockrum”).  You don’t need me to tell you how highly-regarded the Byrne/Austin team has been for the uniformly high quality of their work.  I’m still impressed, though, at how well these two mesh right from the start; at first glance, you’d think they’d been at this for years, not that this was their initial pairing on this title.
After all this build-up, many writers could easily have trapped themselves in a tepid finish; Claremont, of course, delivers.  At one point, I thought, “Well, there’s no way to defeat this thing,” as a nagging certainty told me only Phoenix’s power could get them out of this spot.  Well, yes and no; first, it isn’t Phoenix who defeats Jahf – it’s Banshee.  And Phoenix doesn’t enter the crystal without Raza’s involvement.  Cyclops inadvertently provides Phoenix a means to enter the crystal’s central sphere (an errant optic beam cracks the crystal’s surface), while the life-forces of Storm and Corsair help Phoenix develop the framework to preserve the failing lattice.  Nice work to involve so many of the team (plus Starjammers), in so many different ways, when a lesser writer might’ve required nothing more than a twitch of Jean’s nose to restore order.  
Now, you know I’m not signing off this commentary without art highlights, so here are just a few: the jam-packed splash page, which features nearly all of our principal players; a concise four-panel recap, which includes an homage to Cockrum’s entrance by the Starjammers from last issue (p 2, bottom row); tiny Jahf winds up for a Warner-Bros.-worthy POW (p 6, pnl 4); Ororo’s apprehensive look, as she realizes she’s inside the crystal (p 15), followed by Jean’s expressions of wonder (p 15, pnl 2 and 4); in Kurt’s nightmare-vision, Wolverine and Colossus prepare to drive a stake thru his heart, while Cyclops holds him down (p 16); Ororo’s caring look for Jean, as she offers her life-force (p 26, pnl 4); Phoenix fireworks (p 27).  And I’ll close with two little things on p 3: Carter has a communication device from “Stark Int.,” while Dr Corbeau has an instrument on his control panel called “ROG 2000,” as Byrne tips his hand to one of his previous creations.  
Matthew: To put it mildly, this will be the more successful of the month’s two new Claremont/Byrne collaborations, lasting until #143 and overshadowing anything else during the remainder of the Bronze Age (to say nothing of Marvel University) just as surely as Chris’s eventual 16-year stint on the book blows any other run you’d care to name out of the water.  For many, the addition of Austin turns that fertile creative twosome—still going strong on Marvel Team-Up despite the ignominious cancellation of Iron Fist—from comicdom’s Lennon and McCartney into a kind of holy trinity.  With that baggage, it will be tough to revisit these early issues and take them on their own merits but, pardon the pun, I’ll sure give it the old college try.

Matthew: “Okay,” says I, holding history in my hands, “even such a celebrated crew needs a shakedown cruise to find its sea legs, and…”  Ah, no.  I admire Cockrum as much as Byrne does, per his lettercol encomium—where he mentions having “co-created a very popular little robot,” with an homage in page 3, panel 2—but there is no comparison between halves of this two-parter.  To mix metaphors, they hit a homer with their first at bat, the still-occasional Orz lettering frosting the cake.  Highlights:  nods to John’s Avengers/MTU; Clash of the Runts (page 6); D’Ken’s “you semblance of a man!” (my new favorite insult); luminous Jean (page 15, panel 2); Banshee/Colossus throwaways (page 17, panel 6); selfless Ororo (page 26, panel 4); Summers family values; a genuine happy ending.

Matthew: According to Sean Howe, “Cockrum loved working on the book…but once he joined the Marvel staff as a cover designer, even the bimonthly pace…was a struggle to maintain [and so] Byrne began licking his chops:  ‘I made it known at Marvel,’ he said, ‘that men would die if Cockrum ever left it and it didn’t come to me.’…[He] circled around an irritated Cockrum, who’d gotten wind of his intentions.  ‘John was the heir apparent to that book and he was panting to take it over,’ Cockrum said.  ‘But every time he came to the Marvel offices, he pissed everybody off.  I stayed on a little longer just to aggravate him.’  Even after he left the book, Cockrum continued drawing X-Men covers, just to annoy Byrne,” Howe related in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

Also This Month

Crazy #32
FOOM #20 >
Flintstones #2
Human Fly #4
Kid Colt Outlaw #221
Marvel Classics Comics #24
Marvel Super-Heroes #68
Marvel Tales #86
Scooby Doo #2
Spidey Super Stories #29


The Rampaging Hulk 6
Cover Art by Ken Barr

“… And All the Sea, with Monsters”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Tony DeZuniga

“Conspiracy Ascendant”
Story by John Warner
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Sonny Trinidad

In our lead story, the Hulk, with Rick Jones holding onto his back for dear life, leaps after Namor the Sub-Mariner who has flown off with Bereet. Off the coast of France, one of the Krylorian sea serpents bursts through the surface of the Atlantic and drags the green goliath under the water — at the last minute, Hulk tosses Rick to safety on a small island. Jade Jaws and the prehistoric predator do battle, the gamma-radiated giant too furious to realize that he is running out of oxygen. 

On the receiving end of a tremendous pummeling, the ocean monster retreats and heads back to its pen to join the other massive mutations — but one last punch causes the creature to collide with the Krylorian spaceship. Donning underwater breathing apparatus, the aliens escape their crippled craft moments before it explodes. The powerful shockwaves strike the oxygen-deprived Greenskin: he transforms back into Bruce Banner and is washed ashore on the same island as Rick.

In Atlantis, Namor has Bereet captive in a cage, a breathing dome on her head. The Prince demands to know the location of the Krylorians who attacked his kingdom with the serpent. She protests that, as a renegade, she has no idea where her people are. Even though he is developing feelings for Bereet, the Sub-Mariner storms off, vowing that the alien woman will remain caged until she does. Bereet removes the Banshee Mask from her hidden Spatial Distorter and holds it through the bars: it grows to full size and she telepathically guides it towards Rick and Bruce.

On the island, some of the alien respiration equipment washes on shore just as the Banshee Mask ship arrives — Rick and Bruce gather the apparatus and board the ship. Elsewhere in the Atlantic, another Krylorian ship arrives at the wreckage of its fellow craft. After retrieved records reveal that the serpent attacked an underwater city instead of a rock formation, the vengeful invaders cruise off to destroy Atlantis once and for all — they tow the serpent pen behind them. 

The Banshee Mask arrives in Atlantis and Bruce and Rick don the Krylorian respirators. Thinking that they are under siege once again, Namor orders his few remaining soldiers to fire a huge cannon at the craft. The Mask ship takes heavy strikes — Bereet collapses under the strain and Banner changes into the Hulk. As the Banshee craft shrinks to normal size, the jolly green giant floats down to Atlantis’ main square, coming face to face with Namor. The Sub-Mariner agrees to free Bereet, but only after the rites of combat. Hulk and Namor don traditional armor and a tremendous battle ensues. They fight to a virtual standstill until the alien invaders arrive and unleash their army of genetically engineered monsters. At Bereet’s pleadings, the green goliath and the watery warrior join forces and eventually defeat the serpents — the Krylorians retreat in panic. Hulk, Rick and Bereet enter the Banshee Mask and fly off as Namor’s new friends and allies.

This issue is basically one long smashfest. Out of the 36 pages, 24 are taken up with fight sequences: Hulk vs the single sea serpent, Hulk vs Namor and Hulk and Namor vs an army of sea serpents. Since I'm not about to describe every blow, my synopsis leaves out a ton of mindless fisticuffs. There’s a hint of a romance between Bereet and Namor over a shared sense of grief: his due to the fact that the Atlantean people abandoned him over his love for the surface woman Sue Storm and hers over the destruction of most of her techno-art creations during the battle with Metal Master in issue #3. I'll always lament the loss of Alfredo Alcala from any series, but Tony DeZuniga does just fine. His clear and detailed strokes are perfect for the black-and-white format — but yes, he does display Professor Bradley's dreaded “raccoon eyes.” They don’t bother me much. Pollard continues to deliver boffo action scenes so the art is excellent overall. For some reason I seem to remember owning this issue: the silly images of the Hulk in the breathing apparatus seem so familiar. But it’s a fairly forgettable — but still enjoyable — installment, so not sure why that is the case. 

Now let’s hitch up our pants and tackle the latest Ulysses Bloodstone train wreck, “Conspiracy Ascendant.” Still have no idea what The Conspiracy is but hasn’t it been ascending since issue #1? After surviving the booby-trapped “Death Suite,” Bloodstone tracks Conspiracy members to the control room in the hotel. The men join hands and attack Bloodstone with powerful empathic forces. But the mercenary fights back with a blast from his bloodgem — Ulysses’ fists finish the job. 

Bloodstone, Brad and Sam hop in a cab and head to Harlem. They enter a bar that is actually one of the immortal’s mini-bases, run by a huge black man named Billy Brand. Bloodstone produces a cartridge he found in The Conspiracy’s hotel suite and pops it into a computer. A message appears on the screen: “Yesod is in Cancer.” Ulysses leaves everyone behind to decipher the message and heads to give a speech at the United Nations. There, he demands that the organization recognize the sovereignty of Bloodstone Island. Suddenly, a huge winged demon calling itself Sharzan emerges from the East River and vows to kill Bloodstone. Ulysses rushes to the scene and engages the nightmarish monster. After an explosive fight, Sharzan transports them both to a subterranean dimension. There, a satanic figure named Kaballa, Master of the Ages, welcomes him on the behalf of The Conspiracy and claims that the hero will obey him or die.

Pure poppycock. Honestly, I was completely lost during Bloodstone’s fight with Sharzan. He uses a bunch of gizmos during the battle but none are clearly explained. And “Yesod is in Cancer?” Huh? I have to give props to every artist on this backup series: how they could manage even to illustrate John Warner’s cockamamie nonsense is beyond me. I’m not looking forward to when this series flips the script with issue #10 and starts resembling the TV show, but at least this soul-sucking dreck will be gone from my life. We will get a respite next issue: instead of Bloodstone, the backup will be a Man-Thing story by Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin. Now that could be a treat. -Tom Flynn

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 25
Cover Art by Steve Gan & Dino Castrillo

“Jewels of Gwahlur”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Dick Giordano
“The Cold Hands of Death”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Steve Gan & Dino Castrillo
“Swords and Scrolls”

The Rascally One’s long-time comrade-in-arms John Buscema takes a break from Savage Sword this month as Dick Giordano steps in to provide pencils and inks for the lead story, “Jewels of Gwahlur.” 
It’s based on the Robert E. Howard Conan story of the same name, first published in the March 1935 issue of Weird Tales. I’ve read that Howard had originally titled the tale “The Servants of Bît-Yakin” — either works just fine and dandy.

Rising to the rank of General, Conan has spent the past few months fighting for the northern kingdom of Keshan in their war against Punt. But the barbarian is not really interested in battle. Instead, he is trying to find information about the priceless diamonds called the Teeth of Gwahlur, thought to be buried in Alkmeenon, Keshan’s long abandoned former capital. One day, his old Stygian foe Thutmekri and the man’s Shemitish partner Zargheba arrive and offer Keshan’s king a deal: their forces will help with an invasion of Punt in return for a few of the fabulous Teeth. The high priest Gorula intervenes and states that he will consult with Yelaya, the Oracle of Alkmeenon, before any deal is struck. When Gorula talks with his fellow priests, Conan overhears the location of the lost city — he races off to beat the holy men to their destination.

While aware that there are hidden caves entering Alkmeenon, the Cimmerian scales the rocky cliffs that surround the ruins. Along the perilous path, Conan comes across the mummified body of 
Bît-Yakin, former ruler of Alkmeenon, in small niche in the rock face. Entering the overgrown city, he quickly finds the oracle’s chambers and discovers the perfectly preserved but stone cold Yelaya lying on an ivory dais. Leaving the woman’s body, he begins to search for the diamonds, but to no avail. Returning to the oracle, he is stunned to see that she is now alive. But the Cimmerian quickly realizes that it is not Yelaya, but Muriela, Zargheba’s Corinthian dancing girl. 

The frightened Muriela reveals that Thutmekri and Zargheba learned of a secret entrance into Alkmeenon through Gwarunga, one of Gorula’s priests. They snuck the girl inside and, when the priests arrive, she was to pose as the oracle and command them to give the jewels to the Stygian and Shemite and kill Conan. Threatening the lithe beauty, the Cimmerian orders her instead to tell Gorula to give the diamond to him and drive Thutmekri and Zargheba out of Keshan. Muriel also says that Zargheba is waiting outside the temple: when the barbarian goes to look for the Shemite, he finds only the man’s head, gruesomely hanging from a tree branch.

Gorula soon arrives with his followers and Muriela, disguised as Yelaya, does as Conan ordered. The priests depart to retrieve the diamonds from another of Alkmeenon’s crumbling structures. When Conan returns to the oracle’s chambers, he finds Gwarunga threatening the girl, furious that she did not follow Zargheba’s plan. But the warrior knocks the robed turncoat unconscious. Muriela suddenly shouts out: the Cimmerian rushes to see what is wrong but finds that the woman has disappeared and the real stone-cold Yelaya is now back on the dais. Searching for Muriela, the barbarian comes across a huge painting that tells the tale of Alkmeenon. For eons, Bît-Yakin was the sole human inhabitant of the city — his followers were something else entirely, grotesque subterranean monsters that fed on corpses. The sorcerer found the body of Yelaya and made her an oracle. He then survived on the offers of food to the fake oracle provided by Keshanian priests. But when Bît-Yakin finally died, his terrifying servants proved more immortal.

Continuing on, Conan finally finds Muriela bound by gold chains underneath a massive and monstrous stone icon. He easily cuts through the pliant metal. The shaken girl tells him that she was abducted by gray haired devils. They continue on and come across a huge cavern — below, Gorula and his men are praying before a stone altar. The high priest opens the shrine and retrieves a small chest: it is packed with the glittering Teeth of Gwahlur. Suddenly, Bît-Yakin’s ape-like ogres emerge from the shadows: their sharp fangs and claws make short work of the priests. After the massacre, the Cimmerian climbs down, grabs the chest and sneaks back up. However, one of the monsters notices and attacks. While Conan manages to kill the creature, others are drawn by the ruckus and he must make a painful choice: escape with Muriela or leave the treasure behind. The Cimmerian picks the pleasures of a warm woman instead of the allure of cold diamonds. 

At a whopping 43 pages, this was a lengthy affair. I tried to condense where I could even though my synopsis is still rather long. There are plenty of pages that show Conan stalking the creepy corridors of Alkmeenon. Most of these are dialogue free: Roy’s marvelously Howardian captions help move the action along. I left out a few of the shenanigans that also happened: it’s not totally clear if these were caused by the creatures or were simply old booby traps that Conan accidentally tripped. Having illustrated a few Red Sonja stories — and inked a handful of Conan the Barbarian issues — Dick Giordano has a Hyborian heritage and is a good choice here. Giordano always reminds me of Neal Adams, obviously a good thing. His rendition of the sexy Muriela is quite spectacular. When they first meet, Conan strips her of the diaphanous skirt she is wearing to reveal a telltale birthmark on her upper thigh. So she’s basically nude below the waist for a few pages. It’s quite, ahh, stirring. Now Conan has encountered Thutmekri before, way back in “Moon of Zembabwei” from Conan the Barbarian #28, July 1973. What’s strange is that the character didn’t appear in the original story that inspired that one. However, he is featured in Howard’s version of “Jewels of Gwahlur.” Maybe Roy liked the name Thutmekri when he read “Jewels” and decided to use it in “Moon.” Who knows? But it once again shows how much Roy is steeped in Howard’s savage universe.

While there are no text pieces in this issue, we do have the 13-page Solomon Kane story, “The Cold Hands of Death.” It’s an all-new tale by Don Glut, who is rounding into the character’s main storyteller, in Savage Sword at least. Steve Gan, our old Brak the Barbarian friend, handles the pencils. Gan, along with this story’s inker, Dino Castrillo, get cover credits on the table of contents, though that is clearly signed by one Brian Moore. Never heard of that guy before, but the art is pretty amateurish — and Moore seems to think that Conan will be fighting some type of supernatural Creature of the Black Lagoon on the inside pages. On the “Swords and Scrolls” letters page, it is revealed that the aforementioned Neal Adams was supposed to paint the cover in support of his pal Dick Giordano. But, as he has done before, Adams let Roy — and us all — down. Oh well.

En route to Transylvania to put an end to Count Dracula’s bloody reign of terror, Solomon Kane comes across a ruined Roman city in the Carpathian Mountains. After breaking an ancient mirror, he discovers a statue of a beautiful woman. Offended by her sexuality, he smashes the alluring icon. That night in his hotel room, the woman appears and begins to seduce the Puritan. Before he fully submits to her life-draining advances, Kane manages to fire his pistol — she disappears. The next day, Solomon returns to the ruins. The succubus suddenly appears and once again tempts the wanderer. Just before his life force is totally drained, Kane spots her reflection in a shard of glass from the mirror: she is actually an impish demon. Reenergized by the Holy Spirit, the Puritan manages to decapitate the creature with his sword.

Another fairly unremarkable Solomon Kane story by Glut. The art is not bad, but certainly inconsistent. But, as drawn by Gan and Castrillo, it’s easy to see why even the chaste Puritan would be seduced by the succubus. Hubba hubba. Lots of painful soul searching by our hero in this one, as he is shamed by his lustful actions. But again, not sure I can blame the poor stiff. 
-Tom Flynn

While passing through Renaissance Romania, Kane comes upon a “site of pagan worship--” from the ancient days of Rome’s occupation.  With the fury of a Samson or a Joshua, he destroys the graven image of a temptress goddess who has bewitched him, unleashing the evil spirit inhabiting the “eldritch...statue--” 

This original story from Don Glut has no basis in Robert E. Howard, but at least past Roy Thomas non-adaptations mostly tried keeping Kane firmly in character.  When Kane is confronted with overwhelming lust, the captions describe him as battling “against the baser animal cravings that make most other men the godless curs they are,” but that haughtiness is misrepresentative of how Kane sees himself – he is strict with himself, yet does not look down his nose at others who do not share his relationship to the Almighty.  After Marvel threw innocent maidens and barmaid wenches at the Puritan adventurer (in “Red Shadows,” “The Castle of the Devil,” and “The Dragon at Castle Frankenstein”), it felt as though they were just itching to knock Kane off his pedestal, and indeed here they partially succeed.  

“The Cold Hands of Death” is a two-act story, with both acts identical.  In the first, Kane succumbs to a succubus who tries “draw[ing] off all [his] life force!,” and in the second a sapped Kane seeks her out to reclaim his “stolen strength and vitality--” – “his energy” that was “drained away” – forcing him to resist her once again.  (There are times in Glut’s tale that make “weak...drained” Kane sound like Dr. Strangelove’s General Jack D. Ripper – “Women sense my power, and they seek the life essence.  I do not avoid women, Mandrake, but I do deny them my essence.”)  A series of panels depict the seductions, each one feeling cumulatively, numbingly, and redundantly the same as the last.  

The demon’s real image (“no beauty desirable body, nor goddess’ face”), once revealed, looks not just bestial, but suspiciously male (“the true form of the hellish ‘beauty’”), though nothing is made of this in the story.  From this point on, Glut mostly avoids pronouns, leaving it subtly open-ended whether it was a siren-nymph, a male entity impersonating a female, or simply a “thing” or an “it.”  The incident would be enough to give any man a jolt of rage or revulsion, especially a 16th-century Puritan.  It harks back to Creatures on the Loose #22 in which a wizard’s slave girl seduces the barbarian Thongor and, midway through their kiss, transforms into Zangabal’s “blasphemous devil!,” a “woman-thing” far more masculine in monster form.  

Kane swings “his blade of righteousness- -” and “behead[s] the she-demon,” sending it “back to hell...!” and thereby regaining his lost vigor and honor and restoring his repentant soul to God’s grace.  But long before that Kane, purging the ruins of the heathen temple on the story’s first page, destroys a mirror “--with a clean slash...and a silent prayer.”  He sees “reflected in one jagged fragment of polished glass” a goddess idol that in fact “imprisoned [the] spirit” of the succubus.  This too is vaguely reminiscent of Thongor smashing “--the Mirror of Zaffar!” in Creatures on the Loose #22, the “black glass” trapping the “demon prince...Aqquoonkagua” and returning the “prince of hell!” to fiery “pits of eternity!”  

In Savage Sword of Conan #22, Baron Frankenstein calls Kane an “armed scarecrow,” and on page 57 of this story, Steve Gan and Dino Castrillo’s Kane, with wiry hair resembling straw stuffing coming out of his hat, does in fact look like one at times.  But a letter-writer in issue #23, who only cares for David Wenzel and Duffy Vohland’s Kane, complains how Gan, in issue #13, “drew Kane like a Conan in Puritan garb, bursting with heavy musculature.”  Editorial “promise[d] that the very next Kane story...(not necessarily the next to appear) will go to the Wenzel-and-Vohland team – if they have the...desire.”  Next issue, #26, features a Wenzel-illustrated Kane, though Wenzel is paired with Marilitz, so it is unknown if the original promise went only half-fulfilled.  

All in all it feels like the only function of “The Cold Hands of Death” is to set up the Dracula story, “Retribution in Blood,” coming up in Savage Sword of Conan #26 – “Kane has ridden long, hard across Rumania’s rugged Carpathian Mountains,” this issue’s story opens up in the “PROLOGUE:,” “his destination...Transylvania--.”  In the Black Raven Inn, Kane vows to its patrons that he has come “to meet the fiend well-prepared!,” promising to “permanently lay to rest the king vampire, Count Dracula!”  This must be a reference to “Castle of the Undead” (from Dracula Lives! #3) in which Kane uncharacteristically spared the count, presumably leading to the current “vampire epidemic” spreading through the countryside.  In the last panels, Kane “continues on his vengeful journey,” seeing “Ahead ...the jagged peaks of the Transylvanian Alps and the broken battlements of an ancient castle--.”  

--The domain of the Lord of Vampires, Count Dracula!”  FIN.  

-Gilbert Colon

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