Wednesday, March 9, 2016

November 1977 Part Two: The Son of Dracula Rises to Take On His Pop!

Howard the Duck 18
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson

Bev has agreed to marry Dr Bong, under the condition that he spares Howard’s life.  Howard will live, but Bong still intends to transform him, to advance Howard to a new form of life, to perform Bong’s bidding.  Bev tries to interfere with the apparatus that is electrifying the strange fluids bathing Howard, and as the controls begin to sputter and smoke, Bong declares the experiment is terminated.  Bong follows Bev out of the room (Bev is trying to find a way to escape), which gives Fifi an opening to bust Howard out of the evolvo-chamber; she carries him back to her room to rest.  Later, Howard awakes to find that – waauugh! – he has in fact been transformed; he’s not one of Bong’s monstrosities, no, but it could be bad enough: Howard now has become a hairless ape!  Bong has transported himself and Bev to the deck of a Russian fishing trawler, and requests that the captain perform the wedding ceremony.  Howard and Fifi take advantage of Bong’s absence as they steal a bell-shaped flying bonger, which whisks them away from Bong’s mountain fortress, and all the way back to sooty New York.  They’re home free – that is, until an Air Force fighter blasts their potentially city-threatening craft out of the sky.  Howard slinks away from the crash, which appears to have taken the life of well-intentioned Fifi.  He pauses on a bench, and endures a pep-talk from his duck-self for only a moment, before an NYPD patrolman orders Howard to “move along – no snoozing allowed on park benches.”  So Howard tucks on his hat, and waddles away on “newly-elongated legs, his spirit sagging ‘neath the burden of his nearly-trebled weight.” -Chris Blake
Chris Blake: Howard's had his share of setbacks since he crash-landed in our humbling dimension.  He's survived an exploding house; he's slept on the floor in a starving artist's studio (that's right -- the artist could afford a bed, not Howard); he's battled to the death on a highwire with a Canadian patriot in a beaver suit; he's been possessed by the dark spirit of a Satan-spawn; he's eaten a candy bar for dinner; he's been committed for inpatient psychiatric treatment; he's endured slanderous muckraking; he's hitch-hiked in the rain; he's been assaulted by a Kidney Lady, a goat-man wrestler, and an oversized gingerbread cookie; he's finished third in a two-man presidential campaign.  He's lived in Cleveland.  None of this could've prepared Howard for the ultimate indignity: a restructuring of his genetic code, so he now is indistinguishable from the useless land-mammals he's forced to live amongst.  Gene & Klaus offer a Howard-worthy human figure, undersized and somewhat rumpled; but what's missing is that narrowed brow, that fiery look in his eye (the eye typically picking up a glint from a cigar-ember).  Howard has survived all his previous trials, and emerged victorious in many of them (admittedly, not the election); this time, though, could be too much -- the fight seems to have gone out of him. 
I don't want to suggest the issue is a total downer.  If anything, Steve G has found a way to restore the balance between Howard-angst and the absurd.  Dr Bong's logic-free zone is perfectly suited to keep the silly-wheels turning.  We already know about his bizarre “neez”-speaking mutated animal-helpers.  This time, we see more of Bong's apparent ability to transport himself -- and his entire fortress -- anywhere he pleases, simply by clanging his bell-head and making it so.  Bong’s also apparently developed some bell-shaped, UFO-mistakable flyers, which while not missile-proof, can cover a great distance in a short time.  Steve G doesn't bother to explain any of this; of course, a bit of ludicrous exposition would be fun, but as it is, the weirdness of the whole situation is wackily welcome.
Matthew Bradley: These HTD plotlines often seem to go on longer than I remembered, which is by no means a bad thing, simply indicating that I’m frequently surprised, and usually in a good way.  This issue presents Gentleman Gene with a unique imaginative challenge—albeit presumably with some input from Gerber—i.e., to say to himself, “If Howard were human, what would he look like?”  I think the answer he comes up with is a good one, a sort of Everyman vibe befitting a drake who, in his own world and left to his own devices, would probably have been fairly unexceptional.  As for Steve, maybe it’s me, but I feel as though his writing has a little extra snap, perhaps inspired by Colanson 
(“Bong’s redoubt now reposes atop a jagged peak…”).

Mark Barsotti: "Metamorphosis" finds our acerbic waterfowl transformed into Howard the Human, courtesy of Dr. Bong's Evolvo-Chamber and Bev's trying-to-help fiddling with knobs. Crestfallen, Ms. Switzler leaves Howard stewing in the Evolvo-pot and later appears ready to tie the knot with Bong - ceremony to be performed by the captain of a Russian freighter; good caviar at the reception - but she hasn't said, "I do" just yet...

It's left to Fifi, Bong's French maid, she of the Sophia Loren bod and Daisy Duck©  face, to both free Howard from the Evolvo-stewpot and help him face his unwanted transformation into a hairless ape (although he still only has four fingers).

And how is such devotion - not to mention delightful cleavage and the bluest googly eyes - rewarded? Steve Gerber, that evil bastard, kills her off in a Central Park UFO crash, with barely a fare thee well, that's how.

I'd wonder how he sleeps at night know. He's dead, too.  

The Incredible Hulk 217
"The Circus of Lost Souls!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by Jim Starlin

Having fallen from the sky after his battle with the Bi-Beast (last issue), The Incredible Hulk washes ashore, none too happy. Wandering through a neighboring forest, the big guy stumbles onto a circus wagon and is attacked by four circus "freaks." Once the dust settles, a truce is called among the five oddities and they become quick friends. The group brings Hulk back to their camp where they introduce him to the very beautiful Meriam. The green goliath is befuddled when the troupe tell him that Meriam is a freak just like them, but he soon agrees to help them get their wagon back on the road. While traveling, Meriam collapses; her friends tell our hero that this is just another of the girl's fainting spells. Suddenly, the wagon begins to shake and when the Hulk exits he discovers the origin of the trembling: the Ringmaster and his Circus of Evil! Evidently, Hulk's new friends were part of the villainous circus troupe but they wanted to turn over a new leaf and so amscrayed.  The Ringmaster quickly hypnotizes the jade giant and puts the five of them behind bars at his circus and Meriam in his private wagon. Hulk snaps out of his daze and busts out of his cage when one of the freaks tells him that Meriam is in danger. With the help of his new friends, the Hulkster dashes the Ringmaster's plans to exploit Meriam's secret powers. Though Hulk saves the day, he's saddened because the girl tells him she must go back to her own world deep in the sea. Meriam's a mermaid! -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Not a bad filler story, not many vitamins but not too much fat. It's a little too reminiscent to me of the type of stories Steve Gerber used to write for Man-Thing (or Len Wein for Swamp Thing) -- lovable but dangerous titular monster/hero hooks up with strange folk, befriends them, and then must face the inevitable sad ending. The Ringmaster's plan is a little vague; did he simply want Meriam for his sideshow or was he planning on ruling the world with whatever powers she had? And whatever powers she had might have come in handy since the Circus of Really Evil Villains falls quickly before the might of the fat lady, the skinny guy, dogboy, and the midget. Poor Hulk seems to be constantly pulling himself out of the river or the sea. Sal and Ernie must have gotten tired of drawing soggy emerald giants on so many "splash" pages (pun intended). Gotta say, I'm digging the solo act this issue. No boring support cast. I'm sure that'll change quickly as Betty Ross/Banner/Talbot/ Whatever has to be running out of shoe shops by now and heading into danger of some sort.

Matthew: Back in the old SVTU days (sob), I marveled—ha ha—that Englehart could even write a good Circus of Crime yarn, and now am pleasantly surprised to see that Wein has done the same.  Of course, it helps that except for the obligatory Ringmaster-hypnotizes-the-hero and “Hey rube!” beats, Len has apparently made a studied effort to do something different by introducing the “freaks,” with a presumed nod to Tod Browning’s 1932 classic, and Meriam, all of whom Sal and Ernie visualize to great, even moving, effect.  I like the circularity of beginning and ending with the sea, and the fact that the denouement
 is bittersweet rather than purely tragic, since the Hulk loses another newfound friend but, this time, saves her by doing so.

Chris: After a series of heavy-duty action issues, Len wisely slows the pace and activity level, as he presents the latest in a (frequently rewarding) series of Hulk-as-human stories.  The frequently useless Circus of Crime actually serves a purpose, as they (indirectly) provide the Hulk an opportunity to meet, assist, and connect with a new group of friends (however briefly – this is the Hulk we’re talking about, after all).  Points also to Len for spending most of the time with lesser-known (and previously unseen) members of the Circus, who might be likelier to split with the Ringmaster in the interest of protecting Meriam.  Story highlights include the Hulk’s resistance to the Ringmaster’s second attempt to hypnotize him – as the Hulk is too preoccupied with rage to be mesmerized! – and the Hulk’s tender care of Meriam, as he selflessly returns her to the sea.

I’ve already expressed my preference for Sal as artist for this title; as well-suited as Herb Trimpe is for this character, Sal provides an emotional range Herb cannot match.  And then, when you add Ernie Chan’s finishes, the art really couldn’t be better.  Highlights: Hulk’s curious look thru the underbrush (p 2, pnl 6); Hulk’s charmed expression as he meets Meriam (p 7, pnl 3 – note the contrast between her hand, and his!); Hulk’s tree-splitting karate chop (p 10, pnl 2); more uncharacteristically kindly looks for greenskin (p 14); rage replaces cluelessness, as awareness blooms (p 19); the Ringmaster flags under pressure (p 27, in a series of five panels along the bottom of the page); Meriam vanishes in the mighty surf, as the Hulk gazes upon her one last time (p 31, pnl 4). 
Oh hey – not to take anything away from Sal+Ernie, but how about that Starlin cover -?

The Incredible Hulk Annual 6
"Beware the Beehive!"
Story by Len Wein and David Kraft
Art by Herb Trimpe, Frank Giacoia, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Dan Adkins

While The Incredible Hulk is hanging with the Master of the Mystic Arts, a gizmo calling itself the Seeker pops into Dr. Strange's pad. The robot tells the Doc he's needed elsewhere for a very important appointment with its masters. A bit of a tussle ensues when the Hulk worries for the Doc's safety. Strange tells Hulk he'll be fine and hustles through a portal which takes him to a laboratory on a deserted island. When he comes through the doorway, he's introduced to three scientists who inform him he's just entered "the beehive," a research center which, years before, developed the being known as "Him" (from Fantastic Four #66-67). The trio are working on a new and improved version of "Him" but they need the Doc to enter the cocoon's interior mentally to see if there's anything naughty going on. Sensing these guys aren't on the up-and-up, Strange sends a mental message to the Hulk, requesting back-up and the green goliath takes flight. Unfortunately, the Gods are not smiling on our jade buddy this day and all sorts of mayhem ensues. The Incredible One must face off against submarines, torpedoes, Russian spacecraft, tanks, nuclear bombs, and Hulk-adoring natives on his quest for the Doc.  Meanwhile, the egg hatches and out pops Paragon, a superhuman being who dresses like an Egyptian and has a nasty temper. The scientists finally show their true colors when they order their new slave to kill Doctor Strange. Luckily, the Hulk finally manages to make it to the Doc's side just before his mystical friend is clobbered but Paragon has an ace up his sleeve: he informs all present that his powers are growing substantially. While in the cocoon, Paragon had been tapping into the scientists' computers and learned the true story of his predecessor. He sets into motion the destruction of the Beehive and then re-enters the cocoon (where he'll remain until he can find "direction"). Strange and the Hulk get off the island just before it goes SKA-CHOOM! At the bottom of the ocean, Paragon's cocoon lies, waiting for another day. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: When I was a young Marvel Zombie forty years ago, Annuals always signified something special. Yeah, they cost more money but they usually contained something earth-shattering, some story line that just couldn't be contained within the pages of the monthly title. For instance, the marriage of Reed and Sue in FF Annual #3. Obviously, they didn't always contain great stuff, as Hulk Annual #6 attests. This is one big turkey from splash to epilogue. The story is wonky... it's all a set-up for a big nothing. Paragon breaks loose, kicks up a little dust, and then jumps right back into his one-room flat, braying away that some day he'll rise (wasn't he just arisen?). The Hulk, meanwhile, is caught in an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm, bouncing like a pinball from one innocent destruction to the next. Trimpe is spotted here and there but I'm not sure who's responsible for the ugliness of those first few pages (Dan Adkins almost looks like he gets a shot at Strange on page 6, panel 1) but then, when Herbie does show up, we're given some head-scratchers like the panel where it seems Doc has grown some very large hands (right). Not one of the better Hulk tales, I'm afraid.

Matthew: Dean dude, it's a forced-perspective shot! (That's obvious to me, Prof. Matthew, but it still looks funky!- PastePotDAK’s byline never inspires confidence in me, but for a tale pairing these sometime non-teammates to be scripted and co-plotted by, respectively, current and former Defenders scribes is at least logical, particularly since Len writes Hulk’s regular title.  Yet with Warlock’s barely cold in its grave, introducing another of “Him” seems questionable, especially when the main points of their origins are identical (yes, he/she/it will be back).  Alas, Doc is the tail wagging the big green dog, who is reduced to a series of meaningless vignettes in his own damned annual; the Giacosito inks are unable to lift the art above standard-issue Trimpe; and am I the only one who mentally added “Damn it, Jim” to “I’m a doctor, not a computer expert”…?

Chris: This issue reminds me of the period in Marvel history when annuals were presented as “a collection of the greatest battles from the previous year!” – in other words, reprints!  Well, I know Trimpe drew new pages for us, but the feel for much of the issue is a re-hash of familiar old Hulk scraps, as he is attacked by tanks, submarines with torpedoes, missiles, and other exploding things.  The visit to the adoring island populace is not only a surprise, but a welcome change of pace; it’s a shame the Hulk felt compelled to find the Magician, otherwise he might have finally found his long sought-for peace, right?  

Despite his opportunities to write Doctor Strange’s character in the pages of the Defenders, Dave doesn’t really make best use of Doc’s abilities here; Doc does little but fire flashy sparkly bits at the Paragon, and stick his feet to the floor.  Instead, wouldn’t it have made sense to send Doc’s astral form on a journey to the center of Paragon’s mind, and somehow influence him to resist the manipulations of his creators?  Doc also could’ve encouraged Paragon to return to his cocoon and continue metamorphosizing, instead of his return being the result of a “post-hypnotic command” Paragon had planted earlier.  Well, it’s another example of the Defenders-Doc not being the same as the Doc we all know from his own mag, right?

The Invaders 22
"The Fire That Died"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Before the bomber they evidently ditched in the English Channel can even sink, the Invaders et al. are rescued by H.M.S. Forester, with Roger—unlike the Falsworths—making no attempt to protect his i.d.  Toro is in critical condition, a bullet lodged near his heart, so they are taken to the airport on one of the Channel Islands to await transport while the Torch explains why he and Namor were the slowest to recover from the Nazi drugs.  He relates the familiar tale of how Toro, a circus-sideshow fire-eater, burst into flame as the Torch flew by, and became his sidekick after learning that he could fly and control his flame; when the Torch notes that “Namor is a hybrid—part man, part amphibian,” Spitfire asks, “But Toro is entirely human—isn’t he?”

She recalls how he was orphaned in a train wreck and adopted by a couple on a nearby circus train, who made him part of their fire-eating act after they discovered he was holding, uninjured, a piece of molten steel from the blaze, and had always been immune to fire.  Once the group has boarded the hospital plane, and Col. Dietrich has been segregated, the Torch reveals “Toro’s 
real  origin,” which begins with a visit to Prof. Horton, who tells his lonely android creation of Fred Raymond, an expert on flame-proofing who had left his employ in failing health, due to exposure to asbestos, and married Nora Jones, dying from her experiments with radium.  They concealed their condition from their son, Toro, until a new criminal, the Asbestos Lady, sought Fred’s help.

“Her natural foe,” the Torch anticipated her interest in Fred, drove her off, and planned to keep an eye on the couple and Toro, whom Nora called a mutant, but the Asbestos Lady did so, too, and when Fred took Nora—who had only a few weeks left—on a final trip, she caused the fatal wreck.

Knowing that he would have heard the same news reports she did about the “fire-eating boy,” and raced to reach the circus first, the Asbestos Lady set a trap, with the Torch dumped into a tanker-truck full of water, yet he burst free by raising his body temperature to the boiling point, leaving the Asbestos Lady trapped in molten asphalt and vowing vengeance.  As the plane nears England, the Torch explains that his own heat has always been the cause of Toro’s flame… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I was pretty dubious about “the lovely, lethal Asbestos Lady,” and surprised to learn that she dated back, unacknowledged, to Human Torch Comics #27 (Summer 1947).  On the other hand, Frank-ophobes—see what I did there, as the meme-meisters would say?—may experience relief that Robbins has been spelled by a serviceable Mooney in the latter’s second and final outing, following #16, although namesake  Springer will be with us for another year.  Actually, in fairness, the “A-Lady,” as her minions call her, is no worse than many another generic masked and non-super-powered villain, despite being rather nonchalant about exposing her admittedly lovely face, while for a change, my biggest complaint about this issue is not the art but the script.

Ultimately, I was confused by all of the jumping around among the “contemporary” period-set framing sequence, the “official version” of Toro’s story (“Human Torch #1 [
sic ], 1940, reprinted in Fantasy Masterpieces #11, 1967.  —RT”; it was actually #2, although #1 was entitled Red Raven!), and his cover-touted, “Never Before Revealed…Untold Origin,” for which I don’t know who was breathlessly waiting.  His status as the mutant son of a parent irradiated in the workplace struck me as all too reminiscent of Hank McCoy’s (X-Men #49, 1968, reprinted in Amazing Adventures #17, 1973.  —MB).  I won’t take the time to look it up, but I’m not sure this is consistent with what was asserted in What If? #4 about the Torch’s estrangement from Horton.
Chris: I always knew Toro wasn’t a fellow android, but I didn’t remember that he was a mutant.  Roy asks us to play along with him as he takes some significant liberties in this cobbled-together story.  The Torch tells us Prof Horton had worked with Fred Raymond, Toro’s dad, “not long before I was synthetically created,” which happened no later than the late 30s, right?  But in 1942, Toro’s got to be around 14 yrs old, which means a 1928 birth-year, which means Raymond worked with Horton in the mid-20s, when the Torch had to be little more than a glimmer in Horton’s eye.  That’s not too big of a problem; I’m more put-out by the idea that the Torch might’ve been hanging around the Raymonds' home, on the off chance that the Asbestos Lady (?) might show up one night – but sure enough, she tells Raymond that “there is still much I wish to learn about the criminal possibilities of asbestos.”  It’s a strange way to arrange for the Torch and Toro to be in the same place at the same time.

Chris: As for the Asbestos Lady herself, she comes off as one of those ideas you have really, really late at night, and maybe write up a few notes about, but then the next day when you find the scribblings, you can take some solace from the handwriting barely looking like your own.  She’s clearly nothing more than a device to add some action to the story; although, she’s willing to go so far as to wipe out an entire trainload of people in order to – to do what, exactly?  Did she think she’d succeed in killing everyone but the Raymonds, perhaps -?   The loose, practically sloppy artwork fits the half-baked (so to speak) story; we know not to expect much from Frank Springer, but it’s reasonable to count on far better results from Roy.   

The Invincible Iron Man 104
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Frank Giacoia

Awakening in Stark House from a nightmare in which Iron Man is turned to gold and smashed by Midas, Whitney reminds him that he’s not alone, but vowing that “I can’t live  only for love,” he flies off to win back what’s his as Jasper—who also still loves the wanted woman—confronts her.  Although unable to hear them, he had watched unobserved while IM, left only with his family fortune, returned to the South Hampton (sic) mansion for the first time since college, and confirmed what she already knew by showing her portraits of his  parents, Howard Anthony (unseen since #28, per the MCDb) and Maria, who died while he was at school.

Midas, meanwhile, has fired all staff, begun automating S.I., and modified the stolen armor to serve him. When the police find Key on a Long Island beach, inexplicably killed by a fall, O’Brien decides it’s time for the Guardsman to return “as a force for good.” Arriving back at Stark House, IM is attacked by a vengeful Jasper, who knocks him into the pool with a live generator cable, and then keeps him at bay with a “mini-arsenal” gun of his own design; he holds back, due to their long friendship, but when the ex-Maggioso makes Jasper see that it’s IM she truly loves, he walks off lamenting that he’s “let down Mr. Stark…Col. Fury—myself!”  Elsewhere, the Jack of Hearts sees something that draws his attention en route back to S.I., and in Connecticut, Marianne mind-blasts a kind driver who offers her a lift to New York, “seeing” Tony in her distorted mind. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “Triad” is a perfectly acceptable title for a chapter in the Midas saga focusing on its romantic triangle, even if the fact that Madame Masque is now nominally Iron Man’s lover—without his Tony Stark i.d. being common knowledge
—almost makes it a quadrangle, and presents potential problems down the road.  Yet for obvious reasons, I think of this as “Jasper’s Story,” despite the cheesy Erich Segal vibe (coincidentally, his Love Story  sequel,  Oliver’s Story, was published the same year).  I always thought Sitwell added a lot to the cast, and while my idealistic side regrets that he’s now in opposition to IM, as one spurned in love might well be, I’m also impressed at such serious character development, set up by how totally he felt he had bottomed out last issue.

That’s a nice segue to the Esposito-inked art, which is more uneven than usual  (with Michael looking strangely sketchy in page 16, panel 4, and Midas more risible than formidable), but Jasper strikes me as one character consistently well served by Tuska.  Oddly, the lettercol refers in passing to “George’s departure” as if it were a fait accompli; when he has two more issues to go, and welcomes his not-terribly-permanent replacement, “Klobberin’ Keith Pollard, former penciler of the  Inhumans [sob], as well as current scribbler of our black-and-white  Rampaging Hulk  mag,” without mentioning his ferrous debut back in #73-4.  Meanwhile, Bill’s long-form storytelling permits a slow addition of the Hart, Klein, O’Brien, and Rodgers tiles to this mosaic.

Chris: The bits with jealous Jasper don’t take up the entire issue – it only feels that way.  It’s too bad, because on other pages, we see Midas consolidating his gains, and a few scanty panels of Michael O’Brien and Jack Hart as they resolve to help Iron Man.  But Tony doesn’t seem to have a clear idea about his plans, though; right now, he’s so confused, he’s trying to kiss Whitney while they both have their facemasks on (p 11, pnl 4).  Later (chronologically, that is), when he flies off on p 6, stating that he has to “win back what’s mine,” I thought he might’ve been going somewhere, so he could do something, but all he seems to do is think about his love for Whitney, and how he could abandon S.I. to Midas (wait – do what, for whom -?), until he arrives back at the house to find Jasper holding Whitney at gunpoint.  

Whitney then offers the “What about what I want” speech, which (if memory serves) also came from Natasha after sparring between Hawkeye and Daredevil, and from Leiko between Reston and Shang-Chi.  I’m not saying Whitney’s point isn’t valid – because, it is – but, she could’ve brought up the matter of her preference sooner, so that all this needless violence (plus damage to the family home!) could’ve been avoided.  
On the letters page, the armadillo breezily comments about “George’s departure,” but there’s no other information about this being George Tuska’s final issue.  There is some consensus among our esteemed faculty that Tuska has done his best work on this title, and it’s been over fairly many years, too, so you’d think there could’ve been more of a substantive acknowledgement of Tuska’s sturdy contribution.  Tuska+Espo turn in one of their better collaborations this time; the shadowy boudoir scenes (p 3) are particularly well done.  (Okay, I had to satisfy my curiosity, so I peeked ahead – Tuska is back for the next two issues.  The armadillo’s notice of Tuska’s sign-off is, it seems, a bit premature.)

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 6
"The Air-Pirates of Mars Chapter 6:
Hell in Helium!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Mesina
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen, Irving Watanabe, and Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres

Carter reviews recent events while heading for home to enlist Helium in Dejah’s aid, little dreaming of the reception that awaits him; meanwhile, Mors Kajak, Kantos Kan, Krandal, and the searchers rescue Tars Tarkas, who relates their misadventure at the atmosphere factory, vowing to find Carter and clear his name. He arrives just as the Council’s hooded agents are spreading fresh anti-Carter hysteria, no sooner having landed his flier than he is attacked by an angry mob, forced to defend himself with his Jasoomian strength while trying not to injure his misguided people. Seeking refuge until night falls and he can sneak away, he hides in the stables of the war-thoats—which Thrako and his hooded fellow report to their leader.

The Great One having “his own way of dealing with…animals,” the thoats are driven into a wild frenzy, breaking out of the stable and stampeding through the streets with lethal results; jumping astride one of them, Carter finds them inexplicably impervious to his telepathic commands, and is horrified as they head for the incubation chambers where Martian eggs remain for five years. Realizing that the hooded ones are controlling them somehow, and that an entire generation of children is threatened—the eggs already hatching prematurely from the vibrations—he leaps to their defense, actually hefting and hurling a thoat into the horde. Yet after mitigating the damage to a dozen eggs crushed, he is predictably blamed, overwhelmed by the mob, and left for dead…-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: With our villain-so-far abruptly dead midway through “The Air-Pirates of Mars,” there’s a strong feeling—for both Carter and the reader—of “Where do we go from here?,” but Marv makes damn sure we know where we’ve been, kicking off the second half with a two-page recap of the first. For better or worse (you know where I stand), the shift from Nebres to fellow Tribesman and guest inker Mesina is virtually undetectable…rather like the subtleties of Kane’s work, also encroached upon by a Moenchian torrent of narration, some of it repeating what we already see. Yet all is not lost: the raw energy of Gil’s pencils remains, Marv provides a heaping helping of ERB lore with the incubation chambers, and the “running of the thoats” is an interesting concept.

Helium is gripped by madness!  Wiser heads seem to recognize that Carter would never be involved in any plot to harm Dejah; so, who are these Hooded Ones who so ably incite the crowds – and of greater concern, also seem capable of triggering a thoat-stampede?  Marv has me intrigued.  I have one reservation, as Marv’s decision to have Carter recount these events in flashback via captions (as he has since our first issue) sometimes bogs down the story.  Since there still is so much action, I can’t complain about it too much.  

The Kane/Mesina art is adequate, but I’ve seen work by Mesina elsewhere as finisher for John Buscema, so I’m a bit disappointed that the art isn’t as clear and strong as I expected it to be.  

Master of Kung Fu 58
"The Final Faces"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza and Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Frank Giacoia

An MI-6 agent holds an unconscious Leiko, and threatens to kill her if either Shang-Chi or War-Yore makes a move; S-C holds his breath, waiting.  Sir Denis arrives, stunned to find two of his former agents in this castle, and – as a director of MI-6 – demands an explanation; he is told only that the rogue agents’ orders “originated from a position higher” than Sir Denis’.  Black Jack Tarr chooses this moment to intervene, as he crashes in, guns blazing.  In the sudden confusion, War-Yore grabs Leiko and races away with her; Reston calls to S-C that he’ll cover him, so that he can follow after Leiko.  S-C already has lost his quarry; patiently, he checks thru one room after another, and discovers nothing but War-Yore’s artifacts from past armed conflicts thru the centuries.  War-Yore prepares for S-C’s arrival, as he dons parts of the costumes he’s employed to impersonate various fighting-men of history; the resulting amalgam, in War-Yore’s (disturbed) mind, is his “immortal, invincible … true identity!”  Leiko seeks to refute this conception, as she points out W-Y is a “patchwork warrior” who doesn’t understand who he really is.  W-Y is warming to Leiko’s attempt to reach him, when S-C abruptly renews his attack; he speaks of his need to defeat W-Y, even if it means his opponent’s death, in order to defend “the life of my woman.”  W-Y changes his fighting style frequently, which succeeds in keeping S-C off-balance; W-Y is about to take hold of a crossbow – he has a clear shot at S-C – when Reston rushes in, and fires a shot that stops W-Y dead.  The battle is concluded, and the MI-6 assassins have been rounded up.  Sir Denis protests his innocence – he never could have been involved in a plot to kill his four former agents.  Black Jack expresses his belief in his old friend, and leads him away.  Leiko then turns on S-C and Reston, admonishing then for attacking and killing W-Y, especially when she thought she’d found a way to communicate with him.  More significantly, Leiko declares she is no one’s “woman,” not Reston’s, not Shang-Chi’s, as she strides purposefully away.  -Chris Blake
Chris: Was this really a four-parter?  I don’t see how.  Doug rarely developed much excitement in this storyline, and War-Yore hardy achieved any credibility.  The notion that a splinter group within MI-6 could be at work – and a high-powered, orders-dispatching splinter at that – against our heroes is an intriguing concept.  If he had it to do over, Doug might’ve been better served to introduce W-Y for only an issue or two, and then turn the focus to the team’s efforts to sniff out the faction that has targeted them.  Shang-Chi’s setback with Leiko also has potential; now that he’s able to express his feelings, he oversteps and winds up insulting her -?  Aw jeez – tough break, man; you can’t figure ‘em out – nobody can.  
The Jim Craig/John Tartaglione team started with some promise with their debut in MoKF #54; I’d indicated at the time I would wait to see if the art might improve.  Well, as of this issue, it hasn’t.  There’s plenty of action, but the visuals aren’t terribly inspired; Shang-Chi’s hand-to-hand with War-Yore, which should be a highlight, instead is fairly perfunctory.  There’s not much to see on pages 22-23 (again, this should be the centerpiece of the fight), except for S-C nimbly dodging a mace at the top of p 22.  Even though the combatants and Leiko are in a stone-walled room somewhere in a massive old castle, the lighting is fairly bright and clear throughout – no mood, no atmosphere.  Another problem throughout the issue – once again – is that our well-known characters’ faces are left indistinct and unrealized; only Sir Denis seems to resemble himself most of the time (don’t even ask me what Leiko looks like).  I’m ready to see eventual successor (and Prof Tom fave) Mike Zeck’s turn on the pencils in our next issue.  
Mark: War-Yore was a quirky, offbeat antagonist (I hesitate to call Eric Slaughter a "villain," given that he was experimented on and brainwashed by a rogue MI-6 faction), but not, ultimately, compelling enough to warrant a four-parter, particularly when Doug Moench doesn't bother to unmask that faction or their agenda. It's so hazy that when Reston kills one of the rogues, on p. 10 (and isn't shooting an unarmed suspect in the back - as Clive does here - murder? Guess the whole "license to kill" thing covers any legal nit-picking), we don't know the victim/plotter's name or role, nor do we care.

War-Yore is similarly gunned down by Clive at the end, with cause this time: W-Y aiming a crossbow at S-C. Leiko's angered by Eric Slaughter's death. She was close to perhaps breaking through his programming before Shang initiated the final battle, and Leiko stalks away from both him and trigger-happy Clive and out of the last panel. 

As predicted, Sir Denis wasn't in on the plot, but he's greatly shaken by events and reduced, at least temporarily, to a shell of the formerly nail-tough old spymaster. 

And Jim Craig's art is a major rebound from last month's crapfest. No longer sweating over trying to ape Gulacy, Craig downshifts to a more "comic-bookie" gear, with more consistent if more pedestrian results.   

But four months of War-Yore, with no satisfying, sock-o ending? That's the way the fortune cookie crumbles sometimes, I guess.  

When it's growing stale.

Ms. Marvel 11
"Day of the Dark Angel!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Sal Buscema and Frank Giacoia

After foiling a bank robbery—“the first excitement Ms. Marvel’s had in weeks”—she races to the Bugle Building, lands on the roof and makes the switch, only to find herself in her nightgown, forgetting that Carol was in bed.  So she must force the change, fly back to the hotel where she’s been staying since her penthouse was gutted to grab a dress, and make the maid, Esmeralda, question her sanity by emerging from the “empty” bathroom.  Arriving late for a staff meeting, she spends the morning putting out various fires until Tracy reminds her of her planned trip to Cape Canaveral to cover NASA’s shuttle launch, handing her an overnight bag and her typewriter…leaving them both wondering “who really runs this shop.”

On Saracen Cay, a tiny Caribbean isle 2,000 miles to the southeast, Zephyr, Miles Olddan, and Richard “Asp” Harper are attacked by unseen figures.

Carol is received coldly at the Cape by those whom her book “burned,” if grudgingly for having “helped retrieve  the stolen Cavourite crystal,” yet after wishing Petrie luck on her first flight—transporting supplies and the crystal, too dangerous to test on Earth—she has a vision of Sal calling Saracen Cay as a “ground-based energy field” affects the crystal, destroying the shuttle.  The launch goes smoothly, but Ms. Marvel, having caught a “psychic cry for help” from there during the trance, flies to the island, and after fighting elementals made of earth, fire, and water, she faces Hecate, who seeks to retrieve a ruby scarab... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Now, you know that I love both this book and Claremont’s penchant for incorporating arcane Marveliana, but man, Chris, did you really want to dig up, as it were, a bunch of characters and concepts that were created by one faculty pariah, Tony Isabella, and most recently used by another, John Warner, in the failed Living Mummy strip from Supernatural Thrillers?   And I read this immediately after suffering though the latest Marvel Two-in-One, in which the villains were…elementals.  Plus, as much as I love Kiss Me Deadly, if I see one more astonished person engulfed by a blinding light while opening a box—as we did here in page 16, panel 4, and in Champions #12, and in Claremont’s own Ms. Marvel #4, and in MTIO #32—I just might scream.

After his debut, found ex post facto in my trusty Marvel Firsts , I’ve never read any of that Living Mummy stuff, nor wanted to despite the faculty’s erudite analysis, so I was largely unfamiliar with the material and don’t think Chris is assimilating it too well.  I don’t recall Carol’s visions having dialogue before, which seemed overly convenient, and MM seemed oddly insouciant as she “borrowed” a parabolic dish antenna to fry the elementals and told the tracking station, “I’ll return this—undamaged—when I’m done with it.”  As with Invaders, this month’s good news comes surprisingly in the form of the artwork rather than the script, with Sal carried over but Palmer upgraded to Giacoia, an upswing that continues straight to the top with Joltin’ Joe in #12.

Chris: When I saw the woman with the headdress running toward us, thru the dense brush (p 11), I thought, “Hey, haven’t we met somewhere before -?”  And then, Olddan and the Asp (now, thankfully going by the name “Richard Harper”) – and yeah, the Elementals!  Wow – who says this isn’t the age of Marvel recycling and re-use!  Well, I hope these villains – now, apparently led by this heavy-duty looking Hecate – will be put to better use than they had been in the-would be world-shaking war of a few years ago; in Claremont’s capable hands, this hoped-for outcome is possible.  

Claremont continues to develop the Carol/Ms M duality, as the two personas have become mindful of the thoughts and priorities of the other.  Carol can be frustrated that Ms M got her out of her hotel room before she could be decently dressed; but then, with no ready remedy, Carol purposefully changes back to Ms M in order to get to work as quickly as she can.  Ms M reflects that she isn’t able to exist on her own, in that she wouldn’t be able to “masquerade” as Carol and permanently take over (p 6).  Later on, Ms M feels almost apologetic for triggering the change during the shuttle launch, as she recognizes that lives other than Carol’s friend’s are in danger; she also makes use of Carol’s memories as she surveys the island with the tracking station (p 22).
This is the same Sal + Frank team that recently turned in a few uninspiring issues of Nova; the results are quite a bit more entertaining here.  The battle with the sand-knights is a highlight, especially when Ms M gets to cut loose (above).  

Marvel Team-Up 63
Spider-Man and Iron Fist in
"Night of the Dragon"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Frank Giacoia

Working out in a frantic effort to restore the edge that has been blunted of late, Iron Fist is interrupted by Peter, scheduled for a Bugle photo-spread on the Rand house, but after reading the parchment scroll stuck in his door—a formal challenge signed only “Steel Serpent”—Danny abruptly postpones the session.  As a suspicious Spidey follows his taxi, Misty Knight is “still on her undercover assignment for D.A. Tower,” posing as Maya Korday to get near mobster Bushmaster, when she hears of a planned hit on IF by a killer with similar powers.  Eliciting the Inwood Park location of the imminent hit by force, she hurls Bushmaster into his henchmen and flees his yacht, anchored on the Hudson’s west bank beneath the Jersey Palisades.

In the park, IF is astonished to learn that the shadowy assailant who twice bested him by draining his chi (life force) is not his old teacher, Lei Kung, but the Thunderer’s son—hence the familiar fighting style—driven from K’un-Lun by Danny’s father and Yü-Ti before his birth, now seeking both revenge and the iron fist he considers his right.   Finding Danny’s clothes, Spidey jumps in to aid Iron Fist, whom he recalls meeting in #31 thanks to the tape-recording he made, and is quickly slapped down.  In a blinding flash, the scar-faced Steel Serpent gets IF in a bear hug and steals the power of Shou-Lao the Undying, but while Misty’s timely arrival with a formidable blaster stops him from killing IF, he contemptuously departs, leaving the dying hero cradled in her arms. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Like Mantlo’s sublime #55, this forms the Byrne-drawn connective tissue between the fifteenth and final issue of its guest-star’s own book, and his eventual reunion with its writer and artist, both being Jim Starlin in the case of Adam Warlock.  Lest you think I meant the term “connective tissue” dismissively, we’re talking about something that might have held together, say, the component parts of Raquel Welch fifty years ago, and less dismissive than that, this professor simply does not get.  Also, the chronological and creative unity is far greater here:  we go straight from Iron Fist #15 (September) to MTU  #63 (November) to MTU #64 (December) to Power Man [soon to be …and Iron Fist] #48 (December), each a “Claremont/Byrne production.”

As I said to Mrs. Professor Matthew, while wiping the drool off my chin after re-reading this in the splendiferous IF Masterworks edition given to me by Professor Tom, it’s always a pleasure to watch genius at work.  Per the lettercol (which, as Tom has noted, the Masterworks omit), it “is in many ways a conclusion of almost all the storylines Chris and John have been working on these past months in Iron Fist,” which is why Spidey feels almost like the guest-star in his own book, but his role is determined by the needs of the story, as it should be, rather than by crass commercialism.  I can’t say enough about Hunt’s consistently superb contribution to this title, and John could give his colleagues some lessons in the effective use of full-pagers like 1 and 26.

It has to have been many years since I last read this, yet while I know Danny will be okay, that heart-wrenching last-panel Pietà with Misty (“Her keening whisper is a terrible thing to hear”) comes back to me as if it were yesterday.  It’s worth noting that having willfully blown the cover she took such great pains to establish in order to race to Danny’s aid—despite their bitter parting, and surely knowing it would result in a death-sentence on her—she’s equally heedless of blurting out his not-so-secret identity, little dreaming that Spidey has learned it anyway.   I have to wonder if My Love  ever ran anything remotely as romantic as that, especially following hard on the heels of the Wasp’s grief over her “slain” husband, Yellowjacket, just a few short issues ago.

Chris: We've seen a great many titles cancelled in the past few Bronze years.  Few characters with discontinued mags have landed as softly as Iron Fist, though.  Marvel does its best to keep this character going, by pairing him with their most popular character; fans who might not've picked up IF's solo title at least would be introduced to him here.  This exposure also couldn't hurt sales for the upcoming Power Man/Iron Fist, right?  (no, it couldn’t – in fact, the shameless armadillo is sure to sneak in a plug for PM #48, right there on the letters page!)

Speaking of making best use of available resources, significant portions of this issue – pages 1-2, 7, 10, 14-16, 26, and 30 – feel like they’ve been lifted straight from storyboards or layouts for the never-appearing Iron Fist #16. Once IF was cancelled, you could see how Claremont & Byrne might've taken their foundation for that story, and then altered it slightly to incorporate Spidey.  No sense allowing perfectly good artwork to go to waste.  And speaking of that!  As usual, Byrne scores both on big moments and small details.  I particularly appreciate the way Danny and Davos bow respectfully to each other before the fighting commences (p 15, 1st pnl).  I’ll also point out a moment, effectively realized, in consecutive panels on p 22: Spidey has an ugly landing against a tree trunk, and Danny’s fierce, teeth-clenching, forehead-knotting reaction.
Lastly, it’s quite the unusual choice for our venue: Inwood Park.  I can't think of any other Bronze era story set in this particular spot.  It's sort of remote, almost at the northernmost tip of Manhattan; I'd be willing to bet many city-dwellers have never seen this place.  Not surprisingly, Byrne gets the feel of it right; as you get further in, you find parts that are heavily wooded.  Sadly, Claremont also is correct about the bottles and cans left around; for my part, I apologize for those times when I didn't adequately pick up after myself. 

Joe: This feels more like Iron Fist #16 rather than an issue of Team-Up…and there's nothing wrong with that at all! One of my favorite MTU stories ever, this and next issue that is, created beautifully by Claremont & Byrne. To me, this is where this title hits its stride, with every panel crackling off the page. Is this why they teamed up the two on X-Men? If so, that makes their MTU run even better! The fight scenes are fantastic, in both art and description. Spidey sort of recognizing Misty is a great little moment, heightened by the fact he knows it's not the time to think about it. Misty's escape and outfit are both exciting. Steel Serpent's arrogance is matched by his martial arts prowess. Iron Fist's expression right after Spidey is thrown into the tree is priceless controlled anger. And let's not forget the shock and suspense in the final five pages. One of the best books of the year for sure.

Marvel Two-In-One 33
The Thing and Modred the Mystic in
"From Stonehenge... With Death!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

Ben is eager to end their ill-fated vacation, but Alicia reminds him of a promise to take her to Stonehenge, and despite not knowing why she is drawn to another “bunch a’ lumpy rocks,” he naturally caves; meanwhile, a glowing claw reaches from the chest that drew in Chauncy and Trevor.

Spider-Woman follows and then intervenes as Ben and Alicia suddenly find themselves alone facing four giant elementals, the self-explanatory Aero, Fire, Hydro, and Mud, ordered by Merlin to capture “the one we seek.”  All are transported underground, where Alicia is enthralled along with the missing tourists, and Mud explains that their quarry, a student wizard who refused apprenticeship, was put into a deep slumber by the mystic book of Darkhold.

Said student, Modred the Mystic, appears to aid our heroes, and after spotting Chauncy among the tourists (taken to drain their energy), Ben seeks a way to the surface to get Alicia to safety.

Modred destroys the elementals and then tells an astonished Spider-Woman, sent to help free the captives revived by Hydro’s flood, that she is not an “evolved spider,” as she had believed, but “as human  as all thou has saved this eve.”  Returning the tourists to their homes, stripped of any memory of their ordeal, Modred grants a request to do the same for Alicia and Ben—the latter unsure he can live with the memory of seeing her turned into a monster—before telling Spider-Woman, “thou hast a past life to learn about.  And soon, a new life to live”…coming to a 7-11 near YOU! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Okay, raise your hand if you saw The Wrecking Crew  (1969) at a young and impressionable age, as I did.  Nobody?  Well, then, you probably don’t have indelibly imprinted on your mind, as I do, the utterly crestfallen chagrin with which Matt Helm (Dean Martin) uttered the words “she’s here” at the arrival of the comely but klutzy Freya Carlson (the beautiful but doomed Sharon Tate), doubtless spoiling some romantic conquest.  Yet if you note the reappearance of Spider-Woman on page 6, and insert “still” into that quote…you can use your imagination.  And if you wanted to read something more worthy of your time than this issue or, for that matter, any of the 33 pre-Claremont issues of her ensuing title, you could consult my Helm page-to-screen analysis.

Evidently I must retract my “Waah-waah!,” because Marv did not end the Chauncy/Trevor subplot in the shaggy-dog fashion he’d appeared to, or indeed at all.  I do not , however, owe him an apology, because he not only made it even more incomprehensible (Why on Earth would an elemental be inside a box of printing plates?), but also compounded the error by using it as part of his back-door [rude pun optional] prologue to Spider-Woman #1, which if it weren’t for Devil Dinosaur I would call the least-awaited debut of 1978.  Since it seems he also had a hand in creating Modred, whose two-issue stint in Marvel Chillers was reportedly two too many, he has a lot to answer for, and if I haven’t said much about the art it’s because, well, it’s Ron and Pablo.

Now, check this out:  on page 16, the imaginatively named Fire tells Modred, “Merlin said you would resist,” to which Mud (man, Marv is really on a roll here) adds, “And he told us to slay you when you did!  He would rather see you dead than mocking him with your continued defiance!”  Yet on page 26, in a report that is, alas, all too greatly exaggerated, Hydro tells Fire, “You killed Modred, brother.  Merlin will be mad!”  Jeez, you just can’t find good help these days.  I love how Marv compares Ben and Alicia to Romeo & Juliet & Antony & Cleopatra—and look what happened to those guys!  The fact that the title, “From Stonehenge…with Death!,” is so terrible would bother me less if it weren’t a riff on one of the best James Bond books/films.

Chris: Anytime I read one of these team-up-in-one stories, it’s my hope – nay, my expectation – that both parties will wind up working together toward a common goal.  That’s really not possible here, though, as Ben is badly outclassed by the oversized elementals; without Modred’s unexpected appearance, I’d say his orange-hided goose would’ve been well-done.  

There’s also no reason at all for Spider-Woman to be here; if she wanted to see Stonehenge, well, there was room in the car, y’know?  No, all we get is her acknowledgement that she “followed” Ben & Alicia, but there’s not the slightest indication why she felt this was necessary.  Her presence here simply allows her to be paired with Modred, who will be a factor in Spider-Woman’s search-for-self in her upcoming solo title (as mentioned in a special green box, off to the side of the last panel – in the absence of the letters page, I guess there was no other way to include this plug!).     

Nova 15
"The Fury Before the Storm!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tom Palmer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Nova and new bud Crime-Buster take down the Krimmons Gang, with C-B showing off his Net Cartridge, "Whammer," and Hypnotic Beam. Another masked burglar breaks into a lab, sets off an alarm, and Nova bursts in to unmask him—it's Mike Burley, who manages to slip away. Later that night, Richard and Bobby are curious where their Dad got the mortgage money, which we learn was from The Inner Circle, who tell him he must do one favor—or die! Trying to study Math, Richard instead jets off to unwind, and gets a radio call that leads him to LaGuardia Airport…where he's attacked by Iron Man! Spider-Man, the Hulk and Captain America also join the fray against the Living Rocket, but when the young hero realizes Spidey and Cap were flying, he starts smashing the robots of the Marvel legends in the middle of Shea Stadium. Turns out Nick Fury was behind the robots, or LMDs, testing Nova (who he knows is actually Richard Rider) to see if he can handle a mission for SHIELD— find out what a mysterious villain is up to — and Nova volunteers enthusiastically. --Joe Tura

Joe: Thus begins Carmine Infantino's run on Nova, and it's a complete 180 degrees from the Buscema excellence. Not that it's bad, but the page layouts are different, the action feels more stylized, and the characters are elongated and lean a lot. The story is the same old bunk, with Crime-Buster getting Batman-esque gadgets for some reason, Richard's Dad in deep doo-doo, and Nick Fury proving nothing gets by SHIELD. Nova knows who the mystery villain is, but we won't find out until next ish, because Marv loves to string things out in these pages. Lucky us.

Blue Blazes counter: Of course on page 10 when Nova rips off the crook's mask to reveal Mike Burley, and the same page features a colorless "blazes." Plus a "like blazes" on page 23, and a "blazes" on page 27 when the explosion sends Nova flying out of Shea.

Matthew: From here on, the book is essentially a Wolfmantino production, and there’s a certain logic to putting Carmine on an overtly retro, 1960s-style title, since he was such a seminal figure in the Silver-Age super-hero revival, even if I may dislike his work myself; alas, unlike Janson in this month’s Daredevil, Palmer seems to bring out its worst.  I think even as a kid I was savvy enough to be leery of issues promising so many guest stars, who usually turn out to be dreams or robots or illusions or figments of the imagination or, as they are here, LMDs.  Judging by this and the Fantastic Four Annual (where the Torch slips in at least one stray “Blazes!”), Marv must be obsessed with The Gong Show, while the Crime-Buster comes across as a big overbearing ass.

Red Sonja 6

 “The Singing Tower”
Story by Roy Thomas, Wendy Pini  and Clara Noto
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne
Cover by Frank Thorne

After escaping Bor-Ti-Ki, Red Sonja races off to the distant Singing Tower, intent on rescuing her companion Mikal. She quickly arrives at the long, shaft-like structure — complete with bulbous tip — to find that there is no apparent entrance. The Hyrkanian pauses to smell the exotic flowers at the building’s base: at first she feels thrilling ecstasy but soon falls unconscious. Two blind, bug-like men emerge from a hidden sliding panel and take the woman inside. But the She-Devil quickly comes to and attacks her kidnappers. Instead of fighting back, the curious creatures spin protective cocoons around themselves. A surprised Sonja takes stock of her situation and quickly notices a giant, winged woman hanging from the ceiling, trapped by her own tangled hair. When the female titan begs for help, the warrior clambers up some lattice work and tries to hack her free — however, the hair grows back stronger than before. Suddenly, tiny bee-men attack and sting Sonja into submission. They then pour thick nectar into her mouth: her red tresses begin to grow, wrapping around the lattice and she becomes trapped as well. Dragging along a chained Mikal, the Tower’s grotesque master, the Keeper of the Bees, enters the chamber. When Mikal sees the trapped Sonja he rushes forward but the Keeper pummels him with his stinger-like club. The bloated cretin orders his bee-men to keep feeding the Hyrkanian royal nectar — when Sonja has achieved queenly strength, Mikal will be executed. But the She-Devil plays possum and does not swallow the nectar: when the bee-men fly away, she spits the thick liquid out and cuts herself free. The giantess begs the warrior to kill her — she is too weak to recover and her death will break the Keeper’s spell. Reluctantly, Sonja drives her dagger into her fellow captive’s heart. Enraged, the ogre orders his bee-men to swarm but they fly mindlessly instead. The She-Devil leaps down to the floor and hurls one of the cocooned bug-men at her fat foe: it explodes on contact, releasing disgusting slugs that tear the flesh from his bones. Sonja and Mikal marvel at the gold-filled sarcophagi that clutter the tower’s floor. Mikal picks out two identical rings that he claims hold great power: he gives one to Red Sonja and walks off to regain his rightful rule of Zotoz. As she watches him leave, Sonja tosses her ring away. -Tom Flynn

Every Barbarienne's dream
Tom Flynn: OK, let’s get it out of the way first: yes, the Singing Tower looks like a giant penis. And with Sonja’s hot-blooded swooning after smelling the flowers, this is perhaps the most sexually explicit issue of the series so far. It just might be the very best as well. Frank Thorne’s phantasmagorical art needs strange subjects and that’s just what the three credited writers deliver. One of them is Wendy Pini, who has graduated from supporting character in the pages of Ghost Rider and as the Red Sonja cosplayer often profiled in the pages of The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian. She, as I’ve said, would go on to create Elfquest with her husband Richard, another minor figure featured in Ghost Rider. The bug-men are incredibly creepy and they pay off perfectly at the end. The hanging woman looks like a refugee from One Thousand and One Nights: she’s horribly bloated from all the nectar but still exotically beautiful. The bee-men are nasty little buggers: Thorne fills panels with hundreds of them. And the corpulent Keeper has everything going for him: hunchback, pointed ears, a mouth full of fangs. Of course, Thorne takes all of the strangeness and runs with it — no one can match his beautifully grotesque style. There’s more weirdness in this single issue than in three of Conan the Barbarian. And 37 of Kull the Destroyer. Fearless Frank has only five left until Big John Buscema takes over: I’ll relish each one.

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 12
"Brother Power, Sister Sun!"
Story by Archie Goodwin and Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Al Milgrom and Terry Austin

Peter and Flash are playing tennis in Central Park, with Flash hitting smash after smash since he's distracted by the fact that Sha Shan has married. After accidentally ruining the ball and his racket, Peter's spider-sense alerts him to a group of youngsters headed to the Bandshell, many holding signs featuring bursts of light. Peter goes off to "grab his camera" while Flash curiously checks out the religious gathering of the Legion of Light, led by Brother Power and Sister Sun—whom Flash recognizes as Sha Shan! The Brother and Sister grasp hands to create light power that strikes Flash, but Spidey swings in to save him, and after a brief hand-to-hand scuffle with Brother Power, takes Flash and leaves, and Power doesn't want to press charges on Spidey for interrupting a legal gathering. (Geez, what sticklers!) Peter has the woozy Flash crash at his place while he visits Prof. Hutton at the ESU Sociology Dept., who gives Peter background on the Legion—basically, Saigon native Achmed Korba was "spoken to" by a strange light from a meteorite, then came to the U.S. with wife Sha Shan to open a restaurant and start a cult, I mean "movement," that has been growing and growing. Back at his pad, Peter reads a note from Flash, who went to confront Sha Shan about "this insanity," but Korba enters the room and throws Flash aside. Spidey saves him with a web net, but is blasted out of the window by Brother Power and Sister Sun's light power, and he lands in a nearby alley, where a shadowy figure approaches.--Joe Tura

Joe: So we finally learn why Sha Shan is with the bald nasty guy, who turns out to be a smuggler-turned-religious cult leader, and he has powers! But they can only be used in tandem with someone innocent, which of course is why he has Sha Shan as his wife. Makes perfect sense, but it gets Flash and Spidey in big trouble all issue. The book itself is a little uneven, with very good art and a script that gets slightly wordy in parts. Prof. Hutton in particular talks a whole bunch, giving us the lowdown on the bad guy. One of my favorite moments is when Flash, not exactly Shakespeare, knows enough in his note to Peter on page 26 not only to write in cursive, but also to underline certain words for emphasis. And who's that mystery guy creeping up on Spidey at the end? Could it be the Razorback promised in the "Next Issue" box? No skipping ahead, class!

Fave sound effect is the unique "SHSKROOM!" when Spidey is sent flying out the window by Brother Power and Sister Sun, with bricks and glass flying, and lands in a heap into a bunch of trash. But a close second, if only for the sheer absurdity, is page 3's "SPKRAK!" when Peter spins around fast and smashes the bejeezus out of the tennis ball.

Matthew: As with this year’s Amazing Spider-Man Annual Mantlo scripts editor  Goodwin’s plot, although to say that this is a marked improvement (nary a “Blifisgurgle!” in sight) is the faintest possible praise.  It doesn’t help that every time I see that cover, all I can think of is Donovan’s sappy title song from Brother Sun, Sister Moon  (1972), Franco Zeffirelli’s, shall we say, “flawed” flower-power biopic of poor Professor Gilbert’s main man, Saint Francis of Assisi.  There is, however, a certain relief in moving the long-simmering “Sha-Shan [sic]” subplot to the front burner, and I hope it goes without saying at this point—so of course I’ll say it—that a customarily solid  Buscemosito art job adds quite a lot.

Star Wars 5
"Lo, the Moons of Yavin!"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Rick Hoberg and Dave Cockrum

Having escaped the Death Star, and losing Ben Kenobi in the process, the Millennium Falcon comes under attack by TIE fighters. Luke and Han man the ship’s laser cannons and fight them off. Princess Leia believes it to be too easy an escape and she is correct. Moff Tarkin has allowed them to believe they made good their break in order to track them to the Rebel base. After they land on one of the moons of Yavin. Artoo’s data tapes are finally accessed; they are detailed plans of the Death Star and a collection of pilots, including Luke, are tasked with making strafing runs against the giant battle station and firing a proton torpedo into an exhaust shaft. One lucky shot will cause a chain reaction that should destroy the dreaded weapon. While most of the pilots think this is impossible, Luke feels it can be done. As the pilots scramble their fighters, Luke tries to convince Han to join them. The smuggler, however, feels the mission is suicidal and would rather take his reward and pay off his debt with Jabba. Luke is sullen, but Han wishes the Force to be with him. However, Luke’s sadness is short lived when he runs into his old friend Biggs. Together, they are “two shooting stars who will never be stopped.” Finally, the fighters are launched and the final attack begins!

 - Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Another issue that is largely faithful to the finished film, with just a fairly notable exception; Luke meeting Biggs at the rebel base. This scene was restored in the Special Edition of the film and all releases since, which made the movie a little lopsided. Where this scene bookends the story in the adaptation, the film never restored Biggs to the beginning. Therefore, the reunion lacks the power it contains in the comic. Also here, but not in any cut of the film, is “Blue Leader” telling Luke how he met his father, admiring his piloting skills. This would, of course, fly in the face of later revelations in the film series. However, at this point, there was no Anakin Skywalker, nor was Vader Luke’s father (yeah, SPOILER ALERT?). Otherwise, aside from some minor dialog changes, this adheres closely to the original film, but actually gives more time and space to the TIE fighter battle against the Falcon. More ties to the Force and Luke’s skill with the laser turrets are shown and it’s a very satisfying read. The art is solid and the likenesses are fairly good. However, the one panel of Luke’s face on page three looks more like Elijah Wood in Frodo mode. Good stuff.

Matthew: Leialoha is an excellent inker—and much missed by this bird-watcher on Howard the Duck, perhaps to accommodate the present assignment—but, unlike so many of Marvel’s characters, not superhuman, so there’s only so much he can do to ameliorate Chaykin
’s rough-hewn pencils.  Once again, excepting some of the stuff with Luke’s ill-fated friend Biggs Darklighter, aka “Red Three,” this is pretty much as I remembered the story, and thus remains rather like “reading” the movie; I only regret that while doing so, I’m not in a position to fire up that superb John Williams score à la our esteemed Professor Scott.  Yet in retrospect, I find all of the kissing between Luke and Leia (whom Lucas, at least, knew to be siblings) a little disturbing.

 The Mighty Thor 265
"When Falls the God of Thunder...!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott

Loki has a safety net. Knowing Thor might well wrest him of Asgard's usurped throne, he's found someone to have on his side, someone too powerful to be stopped: the Destroyer! Recently a herald of Galactus, the Destroyer was freed from his bonds by Loki's mind probe, Galactus busy struggling against the Fantastic Four. True to its name, the Destroyer is well nigh indestructible, as Thor finds as they battle. As the carnage increases, the arrival of Sif and the Norn Queen provides some hope for a turnaround. That is until the watching Loki lets it be seen whose spirit is powering the beast. It is Balder the Brave, dear friend to all! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The Destroyer always promises good things, and here is no exception. The cover is a lovely piece of work. Loki's planning in bringing in the ultimate instrument of destruction is nifty, except wouldn't Galactus come after him for taking his herald away? The battle takes the majority of  space but the Destroyer is unusually interesting, and as Thor gets close to his limits, we get the shock that it's Balder who is powering it. I don't know if it was an obvious conclusion, or I had the memory in the back of my mind, but I rather suspected as much.

Matthew: Galactus is currently out of the picture, having "died" in FF #175.The Destroyer is a rabbit you don’t want to pull out of your Asgardian chapeau too often, for fear of familiarity breeding contempt, and the same is true of the “I wonder who’s animating him now?” game, which in this case was surely as obvious to alert readers as the identity of that yellow-and-green-clad guy in the white burnoose a couple of issues back.  But the big metallic galoot is one of my favorites, and I think the intervals of the prior appearances enumerated in the footnote in page 26, panel 1 show that Len has timed it nicely.  Speaking of favorites, “guest embellisher” Sinnott is known to be mine, and while I’m insufficiently familiar with Simonson to assess how much of his style comes through, his big, bold layouts are splendid.

Chris: AAAhhrrr – Loki, you – you – I don’t even know what to say; you scoundrel, you!  You evil trickster – aye, and dirty schemer, says I!  In your quest to topple Asgard, and secure the throne, and defeat your goody-two-shoeing older brother, will you stop at nothing -?!  Well, probably not I guess, right?  I mean, it is kind of your thing; in a way, it wouldn’t be quite fair to hold your deviousness against you, would it?  

In sooth, ‘tis quite the nifty twist for Loki to power the Destroyer thru Balder’s life-force; not only would Thor restrain himself against a Balder-Destroyer (I guess Loki’s holding back that little tidbit – that dirty bugger …), but Karnilla’s power now is eliminated from the fight.  At first, I thought maybe Loki has secured Odin’s resting body, and is – hey, wait a minute – have we lost Odin, again?  After all that time and trouble to track him down, do you mean to tell me that you lost him?  Oh, you can-NOT be serious.  
Simonson + Sinnott is an interesting pairing.  Joltin’ Joe’s super-clean style isn’t going to enhance any of Walt’s signature details; the end result isn’t going to look much like Simonson art.  But, it certainly does look like a Thor comic, doesn’t it; it’s sort of an ideal combination of Simonson’s dynamic panels, furious action, and other curious touches (such as Karnilla’s lizard-mount on p 14, and the assorted monumental statuary throughout the issue) with Sinnott’s consistent handling of the features of all our familiar characters.  It does clearly say “Guest Embellisher” on p1 though, doesn’t it.  Oh well – given the choice, I’d prefer to stick with this team than go back to Tony DeZuniga for our next issue.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 6
"A Priestess... Yet a Woman"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Based on the novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

“Condemned to torture and death,” Tarzan displays equal indifference to La’s threats and entreaties during a night in her hut; placed on the makeshift altar where the high priest Cadj waits to burn him, he hears Tantor trumpeting and summons his friend, then realizes that in “the madness of the mating season” (aptly), the elephant will kill anything in sight. La frees him that he might save her, and after Tantor has routed the priests and departed, Tarzan admonishes them to return to Opar in peace. Trailing Achmet Zek, Abdul Mourak’s Abyssinian soldiers seize Werper—and, separately, Mugambi, who espies the jewels—while Tarzan instinctively seeks to prevent the escaped Jane’s recapture, only to be shot down with his Mangani allies by the Arabs. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Art: Superb, bla bla bla. Story: If Roy remains as faithful to Burroughs, La will disappear from the narrative at this point, which is a pity, as she is one of ERB’s greatest creations, torn between her totally unrequited passion—most memorably displayed in that erotically charged scene of her moaning over the bound and supine Tarzan—and her duty to slay the “defiler.” Centuries of inbreeding (and interbreeding, however improbably, with apes) led to a genetic split between the physically perfect La and the half-human Oparian men who serve as her priests; their law, and the Oparians’ very survival, obliges her to mate with one of these “warped man-things” if Tarzan will not step up to the plate, so La’s preference for the godlike Lord Greystoke is understandable.

Note: See the announcement about this Sunday's Special at the end of this post!

Tomb of Dracula 61
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

As Dracula ponders his next move (to return to Domini or not), his enemies, the vampire slayers, discuss the latest events and how they may take advantage of the recent upheavals the prince of darkness has faced. When the Count returns to his lair, Domini is nowhere to be found but he suddenly realizes just what she's up to. At that moment, the grieving mother stands before her son's grave, willing him to rise and rise he does! As the dead baby levitates above his grave, his spirit melds with his future self (the spandex-clad "alien" who fought Drac way back in issue 52 -Pontificatin' Pete) and Janus, Son of Dracula lives again. His father is none too pleased though since he believes the boy can never find peace on Earth, trapped inside the body of the unliving. As father and son face each other, Domini begs Janus to show mercy on his father but the glowing being informs her that he was sent to put his pop in the ground. -Peter Enfantino

Mark: "Resurrection!" delivers on what's been heavily foreshadowed with flying mallet subtlety - Drac's infant son morphing into the heavenly avenger that the Count offed almost a year ago  - and that's the one problem here. We've known (even Forbush knew) this was coming for so long, that all suspense or surprise - save for the exact plot mechanics - has drained away, thus robbing the story of some of its power.  

Given that caveat, the story's still pretty terrific, as our five hundred year old blood-sucking monster becomes Vlad the Pensive, pondering whether to return to his semi-estranged wife, worried that the grief he's already caused her will only multiply. A monster, perhaps, but he's also a(n)(undead) man in love. 

And Domini loves herself some Count, big time, but she loves her son as much or more and is, eh, dead-set upon Janus' return from the grave, even if that bodes ill for hubby dearest.  

Domini's a great character, her emotions and motives becoming ever more tangled and conflicted throughout this extended storyline. She unexpectedly fell for Dracula, refused to join in plots against him, but didn't reveal them either. And ultimately, loving her husband isn't as important as her destiny as mother to "the child who stands between heaven and hell!"  

As so Vlad must witness Janus lose his innocence by being snatched back from the grave, even by the forces of light. It's another child - despite Domini's plea that Janus love his father - that now seeks to destroy him. 

Add Gene Colan's masterful and macabre pencils and this one still gets a high Rotten-Garlic rating, even with the lack of suspense. And that won't be the case next month, because while we all expected baby Janus to become the red-eyed Avenging Angel, what happens next... is a grave mystery. 

Chris: Wow – it’s easily the best issue we’ve seen in a long time.  I’d lost my excitement for this title some time ago; Wolfman meandered his way thru most of the previous 7-8 issues, as he dragged out the Blade + Hannibal vs Deacon Frost conflict, and failed again and again to advance the Domini/Lupeski/Janus storyline.  This issue recaptures a lot of the mystery that was a staple in Tomb of Dracula, as Domini wields arcane forces to turn her dead son into … something else, something more.  Drac protesteth too much that he fears Janus’ return from death will turn him into some sort of an abomination, much like Drac himself has become.  But, the truth really could be something else; Drac might recognize that his reborn son, if somehow purged of his vampiric side, could become the greatest threat to Drac’s continuance of his living death.  

Of course, Marv’s biggest mistake as this issue’s editor is to allow his writer-self to devote two pages to (what I dearly hope will truly be) the sendoff of useless, irritating Harold.  Two panels would’ve been plenty, Marv.  As it is, Harold’s arrival on p 11 – right when Drac is beating his wings to race to the cemetery, in a desperate attempt to prevent his son’s rebirth – feels like a commercial break, effectively spoiling the momentum that had been splendidly built up over the previous three pages.  If Marv welshes on Harold’s departure, I don’t care; if he appears again, I’m going to go “hmmmmmm” over any Harold spots, and simply flip ahead to the resumption of the story, much the way I’ve zapped thru time-sucking commercials for the past decade or two.  I’ve had enough.

The Colan/Palmer art (and Palmer-colored, too!) has a chance to shine, in a way that’s been missing thru the recent run of disjointed stories.  Highlights: Domini taps into the energies that will fulfill the plan to return her son to her (p 7); Drac turns batty (p 10, last pnl); the determined, ugly bat in flight (p 15); Domini’s enraptured look (p 16, last pnl); the “golden one” appears, bathed in light and power (p 17, 1st pnl); Drac is blasted back by fire (p 26).

There’s a pretty crazy letter, purportedly from Count Vlad himself, which refers to a series of conversations between Peter Sanderson – as he sings praises for ToD – and Drac, with the Count not as thrilled by the product of Marv’s efforts.  It’s clever and insightful enough to be the work of Sanderson himself, but since I’m not accustomed to seeing him have this much fun with a letter, I can’t say for sure that he’s the author.

Also This Month

Crazy #31

Human Fly #3
Marvel's Greatest Comics #74
Marvel Classics Comics #23
Marvel Super Heroes #67
Marvel Super Action #4
Marvel Tales #85
Rawhide Kid #142
Sgt Fury #143
Spidey Super Stories #28
Yogi Bear #1 >


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 24
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Tower of the Elephant”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

“Swackles, Thuds and Blunders”
Text by Don & Maggie Thompson

“Fionn McCumhal Day in East-Mere”
Text by Michael C. Mahaney

Poetry by Robert E. Howard
Art by Barry Smith and Tim Conrad

“Swords and Scrolls”

If you locked a group of Robert E. Howard fans in a room and asked them to duke it out over what is the very best Conan story of them all, it would probably be a bloody affair. “Red Nails?” “Queen of the Black Coast?” “The Hour of the Dragon?” Nah, I’d be swinging my sword for “The Tower of the Elephant.” To me it has all the aspects that make a truly classic Cimmerian tale: daring thievery, bloody swordplay, man-eating lions, a gigantic spider, a mad sorcerer, and, of course, the tragic figure of Yag-Kosha, the alien being with the head of an elephant and the wings of an eagle. And it has a touching moment of rare compassion from our barbaric hero.

Now Roy Thomas must agree with me, since The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #24 features his second adaptation of that Howard jewel, the first appearing waaaay back in Conan the Barbarian #4 (April 1971). Now since you can read my synopsis for the color comic here, I won’t bother to repeat myself — better yet, read Professor Gilbert’s epic Sunday Special about that very same issue if you missed it the first time. But praise must be paid: the latest adaptation stands as one of the major achievements of the magazine’s entire run.

The art is nothing short of magnificent, one of the top two or three collaborations between Big John and his peerless collaborator, Alfredo Alcala. The tale has quite a few settings and the artists capture the mood of each perfectly: the raucous, wood-grained interior of the Zamorian tavern; the dark, grassy fields of the Tower’s garden, jungle cats lurking within; the polished sheen of the Tower’s sinister interior; the oppressive gloom of Yag-Kosha’s prison chamber; and the ethereal nightmare of the swirling dimension that bears witness to the alien’s revenge on the wizard Yara. And with much more legroom, Roy really turns up the poetic Howard prose. It’s a joy to the brain as well as the eyes. But, there is something to be said for how The Rascally One and the brilliant Barry Smith managed to nail all of Howard’s high points in Conan the Barbarian #4 with about a third of the page count to work with.

Almost as important is the 5-page “Cimmeria,” Robert E. Howard’s arresting poem about Conan’s birthplace. It’s presented in comic form with panels illustrated by the aforementioned Mr. Smith with inks by his most celebrated disciple, Tim Conrad. Needless to say, the art is simply mouthwatering. Works by the long-departed Smith seem to pop up on occasion in the pages of this magazine. I can’t imagine that this was simply lying around, so perhaps it was new at the time? But I find that doubtful, since the Brit seemed to have burned his bridges.

We also have two text pieces. “Swackles, Thuds and Blunders” is a long time coming, since it’s a profile of Amra, the fanzine that has been flying the flag for Conan and Robert E. Howard for two decades at this point. It’s five pages and a worthy read. But if you know me, you’ll understand my excitement for “Fionn McCumhal Day in East-Mere” simply because of its subtitle: “Or How Conan Might Spend a Sunday in Buffalo, New York.” Sure, it’s the butt of endless snow jokes, but I have a huge soft spot for the warm-hearted Western New York city. It’s where I found myself — for better or for worse. I still try to make a pilgrimage every year. Sadly, the article is the third Savage Sword feature on the Society for Creative Anachronism, the medieval reenactors. Even worse, it’s written in the “style” of the period:

“Day dawned passing fair in East-Mere with lazy pennons of cloud strewn across the sky. The meadhall was vacant save for the presence of Robyn MacHarailt, who had sheltered there the night before in order to ward off invaders — and get a headstart on his holiday imbibing.”

Groan. I just skipped the words and focused on the photos. Sadly, I didn’t spot any of the French Connection in the backgrounds. Go Sabres! -Tom Flynn

Professors Barsotti (l) and Colon (r)

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1 comment:

  1. My favorites of this batch are HTD & MTU. At its best, Gerber's Howard was always a mixture of heavy angst and social satire with big batches of absurdity. Of course, that was pretty much Gerber's style all along, he just did it best with Howard. Anyone who thinks the comic was ever supposed to be aimed at little kids simply was not paying attention. As for Marvel Team-Up, the Claremont-Byrne run was simply the best of the entire existence of the title and I'd rate this wrap-up of Iron Fist as a contender for one of the best stories in MTU. I also liked the Sal Buscema/Ernie Chan art combo on Hulk. The Ringmaster and his criminal carnies were never top-draw villains, but this is certainly one of the better stories featuring them (but I'd rate their upcoming appearance in HTD my favorite Circus of Crime story).