Wednesday, April 13, 2016

February 1978 Part One: The Fantastic Four Resign! Say It Isn't So... Again!

The Avengers 168
"First Blood"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

As the Earth's Mightiest Heroes and their guests aboard the Avengers' quinjet, The Guardians of the Galaxy, leave the SHIELD space station and head for Earth, all is far from well. The rift between Cap and Shellhead seems to be growing and Jarvis is not answering the phone at the Avengers Mansion. Finally arriving, the teams exit the jet to the shriek of the mansion alarm. Quickly, the Avengers split up and search the house for the intruder. The search leads to the meeting room where our heroes find one visitor, Henry Peter Gyrich, special agent of the National Security Council. Gyrich explains that he easily entered the Avengers headquarters through a really big hole in the wall (from Count Nefaria's attack way back in #165) and had access to all the team's computers, data that could have gained a legitimate enemy access to government computers. Gyrich is not pleased. This sets off yet another argument between Captain America and Iron Man and Cap ends up storming out. On a train somewhere in the Colorado Rockies, Hawkeye and Two-Gun Kid are entertaining passengers with superhero and western hero skills when, suddenly, Two-Gun disappears into thin air. Meanwhile, a woman named Aleta knocks on the door of a posh estate and the door is answered by Michael and Carina. We soon discover that Aleta actually shares a body with Starhawk and Michael is Korvac, who is here on Earth to kill Vance Astro before he can grow up to lead the GotG. A battle ensues and Starhawk's pain, even in some other astral plane, is felt by quite a few superfolk on "our plane." Though he puts up quite the battle, Starhawk is defeated and his body completely reformed by Korvac. The baddie sends Starhawk to Avengers Mansion to allay the Guardians' fears and gain the trust of the Avengers. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Oh boy, be careful what you wish for. Last issue, I moaned about Jim Shooter's tired plots and dreary in-team fighting subplots. Well, the nonsense between Cap and Shellhead continues (we haven't seen superheroes fight amongst themselves since, oh I don't know, this month's Fantastic Four) but the second half of the story, which is given over to the confrontation between Starhawk and Korvac confused the hell out of me. Maybe it's because I've never been much of a "cosmic hero" guy and that's definitely the realm we're in but I couldn't make heads or tails of the proceedings and thank Odin I've got back-up like Professors Matthew and Chris to tell me what's going on. I will say that, even though I've had it up to here with the Cap/Iron Man stand-off, it's great timing, what with all the trailers dropping for Captain America: Civil War, the plot of which revolves around that very dynamic.

Chris Blake: I’d be willing to bet Shooter had a long lunch with Starlin – and took plenty of notes.  If Guardians of the Galaxy ever had been as eye-popping, and mind-blowing, as this issue, then it’d probably still be in publication today (no, I take that back; there would’ve been some sort of re-boot of the title by now, with an all-teen cast, or something …).  

The contrast between the Avengers’ confidence in their plan to safeguard young Vance, and Korvac’s insurmountable power, is staggering.  I mean, the guy just took apart Starhawk – Starhawk! – and then reassembled him, “molecule by molecule.”  Let’s see Attuma, or Ultron, or a supercharged Nefaria try to do that, right?  The Avengers might think they’ve tangled with some tough hombres in the past, but in this case, they quite clearly have no idea what they’re in for; and Starhawk, he who would likeliest be “one who knows” about Korvac and the reach of his power, has been taken completely out of the equation.  The notion of Korvac sitting quietly in his dimly-lit library – planning – is quite chilling.  What chance hath our heroes, I ask of thee, against yon villain of such fearsome might -?  
Speaking of Korvac’s plans, what could be left for him to work out?  I suppose he wants to ensure “the greatest powers of the universe [continue to] remain unaware of [his] being"; worthy precaution.  Nice touch to show that extra-sensory types ranging from Spider-Man to Dr Strange to the Silver Surfer and Captain Marvel all are picking up on Korvac’s machinations, the “great upheaval in the fabric of reality,” but cannot pinpoint the disturbance,” as if “somehow it were being veiled from [their] perceptions.”  In most cases, we see reality-meddling having its impact only in one title, at the exclusion of others, so I like the way Jim & George show this will be one instance that’s bound to have far-reaching impact.
Pérez delivers on his contribution to this Starlin-worthy tale.  Start from Starhawk’s first contact with Korvac (p 16), continue as Starhawk rattles Korvac’s reality (p 17; “somewhere in the depths of the cosmos within his mind, a planet shatters”); the mirror-imaging of Starhawk/Aleta vs Korvac/Michael (p 22); a mad-god look at Korvac (p 26, pnl 2); and, Korvac’s dissolution of Starhawk, as waves of energy emanate from Korvac (his hands now having grown claws), p 27.  Points also to Phil Rache, as the power-infused Korvac appears an unreal violet and gold, a color-scheme that will continue thru this storyline.
Matthew Bradley:  And down we go…as the trends that were already annoying me amid Shooter’s systematic rape of my long-term favorite book are not merely continued but exacerbated.  Esprit de corps is just a memory, as he intensifies the squabbling that bothers me most because it is so out of character (which I say with some confidence after having read, I believe, every single prior issue); he remains a greater threat to his protagonists than any super-foe, in this case by inflicting Gyrich upon them, not to mention us; and, worst of all, he takes a villain who was resolutely D-list on his two prior appearances, and jacks him up beyond belief into a godlike heavy who metastasizes across the Universe in an ominous pre-Secret Wars way.  Nifty artwork.

Joe Tura: Another great issue that flows smoothly and rapidly through a false intruder, some smacks on super-heroic wrists, more teammate bickering, and a non-Avenger getting the spotlight in the Starhawk-Michael psychic & physical battle. The art is a sheer delight, with the usual incredible details, and the story holds the interest in every panel. Alas, the only poor part of this issue is the drawing of Peter and MJ on the bottom of page 17. They look more like their stunt doubles. And having her yell "Hey! Look!" as Starhawk (who Peter mistakes for Thor for some reason) flies off is a bit out of character. Hey, Picasso wasn't perfect either!

Conan the Barbarian 83 
“The Dance of the Skull
Part Two”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

After Sabia vows that her spell will make Conan unable to resist the call of Damballah, the Cimmerian heads back to the Stygian fortress. On the way he encounters Neth-At: the Stygian leader has been searching for him since the Kushite captive has escaped and he feared for the barbarian’s life. Jungle drums begin to beat in Conan’s head — Neth-At does not hear the seductive rhythms. The Cimmerian rides off, drawn to their source, as the Stygian follows, determined to help keep his people safe from the bloodthirsty wizard Toroa. They soon come across the village of the black men — it is deserted. Dismounting, they slog through the swamp, the drums still pounding the barbarian’s wearying brain. Neth-At spots something in the murky waters, claiming it was a man swimming below but Conan is dubious. Moments later, the Stygian sees Sabia standing on the shore: he fires an arrow and the witch disappears. Suddenly, Neth-At is dragged under the surface — his head breaks the water moments later, hideously scarred, only to disappear once again. Moving on, the barbarian eventually finds the Stygian’s lifeless body washed up on the shore, his neck torn by beastlike talons. Still drawn by the irresistible drumming, Conan eventually spies a clearing filled with Kushites, the huge and muscular Toroa dancing around a fire in the center, the moaning escapee lying prone at his feet. The sorcerer calls for the Bride of Damballah and Sabia emerges from the bush. She begins a seductive dance but soon begins to stumble and falls dead, Neth-At’s arrow protruding from her heart — the Cimmerian is released from her spell and the drumming in his head ceases. The Kushites flee in fear as Toroa drags the former captive to his hut. When he exits, Conan is waiting and a swordfight begins: the dark wizard’s spells are stronger than his fighting skills and the barbarian soon cuts him down. However, Toroa has left behind deadly minions, as the warrior is dragged under water by a hideous half-man, half-alligator monstrosity — others lie in wait below the surface. Conan manages to behead the grasping ghoul and kicks towards the surface towards freedom. Exhausted, he stumbles into Toroa’s hut to see the escaped Kushite nearly transformed into an alligator-man. Conan sets the hut ablaze and begins the journey back to Harakht once again. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: After five issues in a row, we can finally say goodbye to our Dreaded Deadline Doom detour as the final page announces that next month will feature a “Return to the Hawk-City,” which means Harakht and, hopefully, the continuation of the march towards Luxor. This two-parter was fairly forgettable. Not much really happens this issue besides a lot of trudging through the swamp. Plus, the big payoff — the alligator-men — is over in two short pages. Toroa cuts an impressive figure with his tight cornrows and devilish ears, but he’s also dispatched rather easily. I also thought that the whole call of Damballah angle was fairly unnecessary: we all know that Conan was going to hunt down Toroa whether he was drawn by the drums or not. But I assume it was lifted by Roy from the source work, Robert E. Howard’s “Black Canaan,” which must have been some type of voodoo tale. The Chaykin and Ernie Chan art isn’t bad, just static and uninspiring. What was unique in this storyline is that Conan actually finds a Stygian comrade-in-arms: Neth-At was skilled and  trustworthy and didn’t deserve his fate, unlike most of his lousy countrymen.

Chris: We describe Conan and his related titles as belonging to the “sword and sorcery” genre, but we know the sorcerous elements of any story typically are there to complement the swordplay-driven action; it’s rare to have a creepy tale like this, where witchcraft is at the forefront of the action throughout.  I can’t help thinking Conan would prefer to be brandishing his steel on horseback, out on a wind-swept plain, instead of blindly following the siren call of a witch-woman thru the jungle; Conan finds himself in many situations that are outside of his control (oftentimes, it’s merely a temporary concern for him), but it’s rare to see him drawn by another, and yet not quite aware of it. 

Howie + Ernie capably set the mood, ably assisted by George, in moments like these: the man-gators loom up from under the water, as Conan recognizes they are not men, “not any longer” (p 17, 2nd pnl); Toroa’s apprehensive look, as he senses something wrong in Sabia’s dance (p 18, 3rd pnl); Sabia’s limp collapse to the ground (p 18, last pnl); a webbed hand reaches from behind Conan (p 26, 1st pnl); a shadowy view of the doomed man, already undergoing the transformation (p 30, last pnl).  

Captain America and the Falcon 218
"One Day in Newfoundland!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Cap and the mysterious Veda (who is working for the criminal organization called The Corporation) talk as they walk along the mean streets of New York when they are suddenly attacked by a team of assassins who want the girl alive but Cap dead. Cap wins the short but furious battle, instructing the police to bring them to SHIELD. Cap takes Veda to Avengers Mansion to continue their discussion over dinner, where she reveals Agent R, the woman who brought Steve Rogers to Dr. Erskine in 1941, was her mother. Just as Cap receives this new clue to his past, Iron Man walks in, thinking the lovely woman snogging our hero is Sharon. The awkward scene switches to SHIELD HQ where Sharon asks the Falcon, who is training the new Super Agents, if Steve mentioned his desire to end their relationship. Falc tries to convince her Steve still loves her, but Sharon isn’t so sure…

Back at the Mansion, leaving the mysterious girl in the dining room, Cap accompanies Iron Man to the submarine pen where Shellhead was going before he walked in on the pair. Cap reviews the tape in the original sub the team was in when they found his frozen body and finally notices a discrepancy in his story upon his revival all those years ago. Somehow, Cap fell into the English Channel and drifted to Newfoundland. No longer able to shrug this off, Cap journeys alone to Newfoundland to dig up what he can. Once there, he sees men much like the group who attacked him in NYC. He follows them to the docks and into their hidden lair when he is discovered. Of course a battle ensues, from which Cap comes out the victor. However, the shadowy man behind the scenes finally comes forth: Lyle Dekker, a Nazi villain from long ago, now going by the title of General Dekker, tells Cap he expected him to finally return. Cap, who does not remember ever being here, demands an explanation. Dekker is only too happy to oblige, bringing Cap into the lab to reveal a 3 and a half meter tall duplicate of Captain America! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Donald Glut steps in to do the scripting and does a fantastic job. The mystery of Steve Rogers’ past deepens, never sagging in interest or pace. Cap isn’t totally fooled by Veda’s charade, nor is he 100% convinced she’s not on the level. It’s nice to see him thinking on his feet. I have no idea who this Lyle Dekker chap is, if indeed we ever truly met him before, but since Cap doesn’t remember him either, it’s actually a nice additional layer of mystery. The book has bounced back nicely from the drudgery of the previous year or so. Here’s hoping the revelations are less controversial and longer lasting than the “Snap” Wilson debacle which was never truly resolved to real satisfaction.

Scott: The art is excellent; strong, energetic, yet more realistic and less cartoony than under Kirby and (shudder) Robbins. Glut’s dialog is just as strong with few, if any, eye-rollers. Sharon is handling the relationship turns with maturity and grace, wanting to give Cap the benefit of the doubt and not flying off into a crazy rage (also typical of Jack’s recent tenure). Yet, she’s not certain. She wants to believe the Falcon, but she saw what she saw. It’s a refreshing change. Also refreshing is the strict adherence to continuity and Avengers issue #4. Everything clicks this issue.

Matthew: With an arc that threatens to muddy those “waters off Newfoundland” even further just to fix an obscure inconsistency, nominal “guest writer” Glut replaces editor Roy for this and the next three months, while Big John hands it back to baby brother Sal, who kicks off an almost-unbroken 20-issue run with real inkers Esposito and Tartag.  The frenetic cover promises “the peerless power of Iron Man”; uh, is that the power of his mighty blush?  Despite the timely Bullpen Page reminder that “all of the adventures taking place in all of our various titles are not happening at the same time,” it’s jarring to contrast their customary collegiality here (“remember, you’ve got friends!”) and their coming to blows in the damn Shooter Alt-Universe.

Chris: It’s a useful chapter, as Cap recognizes his questions are not likely to be met with answers, but with further questions.  Even if we find out what Dekker has been up to in Newfoundland all these years, we still are probably going to be wondering who Veda is, and what her agenda might be.  Fans of this character, and this title, must have been relieved to see this new storyline continue to delve into matters of legitimate interest, and concern, to Steve Rogers.  Sal Buscema continues to deliver his reliable art, with the action on p 26-27 providing many of the issue’s highlights; points for the shield-plant (p 26, pnl 3), and the quick-fade for the decked flunky, who loses a tooth before he loses consciousness (p 27).  

The Defenders 56
"Val's New York Adventure!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson
Colors by David Anthony Kraft
Letters by Pete Iro
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson

At Empire State University in Manhattan, a pleasant walk between Val(kyrie) and her friend Ledge has been interrupted by the masked man calling himself Lunatik. This crazy has been terrorizing people all over campus and eluding all efforts to catch him. He seems to have a perverse interest in Val, and although apparently human, he is fast and vicious enough to resist Val's efforts to stop him, even savagely, perhaps fatally, striking at Ledge. 

Halfway across the world, as they say, Namor, Nighthawk and Hellcat are confronted by Russian authorities, who take their presence as an invasion. Bruce Banner's reputation as an expert on radiation appeals to the Russians; he convinces them to allow him to try to cure his friends from certain death. In essence, everyone's cooperation is assured by their mutual desire for silence: the U.S. wouldn't want to be accused of using its superheroes for espionage; Russia wouldn't want it known that experiments with such magnitude of nuclear power were taking place. Banner has to stay calm lest he revert to the Hulk, who would scarcely be able to save his friends. The Russian scientists give what help is needed, and despite a few close calls (Subby almost suffocates without water,  Hellcat slips dangerously close to death) he pulls them through. The Red Guardian herself has been totally isolated, having absorbed so much nuclear energy as to be a whole different kettle of fish. She remains in Russia (her native country) anyway. In New York, Lunatik evades Val for a time, but she finally gets her man, stopping short of killing him. The madman uses those precious seconds to escape, leaving the chapter unfinished. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Some interesting stuff going on here for sure; the Defenders continue their reluctant super-team ways. Banner's edgy calmness, for fear of transforming, adds a lot of tension to an already tricky situation. Three powerful folks relying on a human scientist to bring them back (and when he does, Hellcat, aka Patsy Walker, looks pretty good). We don't see anything of the Red Guardian; even if she is Russian, it seems odd for them to leave without knowing what's going to happen to her. Another thing that struck me was the sheer coldness of Lunatik's murders, hitting home literally with his attack on Ledge. There's no lack of killing in comics, every once in a while it just seems a little more...meaningless. We've got D.C. legend Carmine Infantino handling the pencils. I wouldn't say it's his best work, but some good moments for sure. 

Chris: Lunatik is one of the most inane villains in Marvel history.  No, I’m not commenting on his mental stability; I’m complaining of his irritating dullness.  Also, I question: how is he able to cripple people with one blow of his staff, and withstand repeated blows to the head from Val (p 30-31)?  That is, when Val finally is able to catch him.  Prior to that, Kraft sets up a routine where Lunatik razzes Val (often involving pointless pop culture references), Val swipes at him and misses, and Lunatik runs away, endangering innocents as he goes; Kraft repeats this pattern a few times, making it feel like filler.  

I would have much preferred to spend time with Dr Banner’s efforts to cure his teammates; instead, we get pseudo-science about a cell regenerator, and we’re told repeatedly that if Banner loses his cool, the Defenders will die!  There’s a missed opportunity for some legitimate drama, if we’d been privy to the process Banner employs to keep his heart rate in place.  Also, this might’ve made for some nifty continuity with recent issues of the Hulk, as Banner has sought to maintain greater control over his pounding of heart and greening of skin.
Now, if only this had been another of those half-issues we’d seen in #53 and #54; in that case, we might’ve had a clearer focus on Banner’s story, and five fewer pages involving Val vs Lunatik.  No wait – here’s a better idea: Banner’s stress-inducing miracle cure for intense radiation poisoning could’ve been a five-page epilogue in Defenders #55, and we could’ve dispensed with Lunatik entirely.  
Matthew:  A consummately crappy cover reveals the threat to Patsy’s life from a rogue D.J. (“the rampant radio activity [sic] killing Hell-Cat [sic]!”), setting the tone for a typically stupid Kraft story with more hideous Jantino artwork, although the inexplicably multi-hued “Hell-Cat” actually looks cool in page 23, panel 2.  It’s obvious that Lunatik is supposed to be exasperating Val; whether the Dude intended him to alienate readers as well, I cannot say, but he certainly succeeded in my case, as did the inanity of Ledge thinking they could “settle this like sensible adults” with two murder victims under his nose.  As I feared, the pseudo-science behind the Defenders’ cure is pitiable, and other ramifications of the nuclear blast are conveniently ignored.

Doctor Strange 27
"I... the In-Betweener!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Tom Sutton and Ernie Chan
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Stephen faces the In-betweener, the being behind the Cosmic Wheel of Change (along with the ones calling themselves The Creators).  Strange had destroyed it, unwittingly fulfilling the plans he thought to stop. The Creators became actual stars, throwing our universe into a state of chaos. The In-Betweener knows of Stephen's intent to restore order,  and informs him that while he will not help him, he'll guide Strange to where the wheel still exists, in his dimension. It is a place of madness. The Wheel has a guardian,  one of the Creators, who turns out to be Strange's old foe Stygyro, having chosen the guardian role in case Stephen did show up; voila vengeance!  Prior to his dimensional departure, Stephen had returned the weakened Ancient One to his Sanctum Santorum on Earth, where Clea and Wong wait; all three are unable to help Strange in this battle. The fight between Strange and Stygyro is as much spiritual as physical,  the forces unleashed ones of true insanity. Now literally a star, Stygyro traps Stephen's body in a sphere of flame. Strange's astral self is free to fight, until the mad sorcerer consumes it inside the star he has become. Body or soul to die first? Neither! Mustering every bit of magic he can, Stephen reunites his two selves, and in the process alters Stygyro enough that he becomes first a supernova, then a black hole. He sends the collapsing star into the hub of the Cosmic Wheel, clearing its surface completely. It seems all that is left to do is alter the wheel's spin, but not so fast...the In-Betweener forbids it. It may cost Strange his very life to get to the Wheel, but it's a price he is willing to pay. -Jim Barwise

Matthew:  It seems worth mentioning the In-Betweener's intentions.  He had originally fostered the creation of the Magus to be a counter-force for life, opposing the consummate champion of death, Thanos.  But when Warlock took steps to prevent the existence of the Magus by absorbing his own soul from his dying future self (I guess you hadda be there), the In-Betweener was forced to go to Plan B, involving the Creators...somehow.

Jim: If each new menace Dr. Strange faces would seem designed to bewilder us mere mortals, then here we go again. The In-Betweener is a fascinating being/non-being. And seeing Stygyro in the form of a mad star is a sheer delight. The visuals (by Tom Sutton) give life to the magic spells they represent beautifully. For example Stephen being broken into so many pieces of glass, or his  orbiting the Stygyro-star, not to mention the double page at the beginning. It's a bit weird seeing the Ancient One as a shadow of his former self, if only for the time being, and we get to feel Stephen's isolation as neither his mentor, nor Wong and Clea, can help him. 

Matthew:  In a complete creative turnover, Starlinebres is replaced by Stern, Sutton, and Chan, each making his debut on the title; they’ll stick around for a while, ranging from Ernie’s three issues to Sterno’s intermittent eight years.  And whattaya know, the new kids not only are alright—partly because Jim didn’t leave behind immeasurably big Captain Marvel/Warlock shoes here—but also come out swinging with a double-spread on pages 2-3 that is impressive by any standard.  There seems to be an acceptable level of still-unanswered questions for this stage of the game, and while I wasn’t exactly pining for more of Stygyro, his return appears to be part of the general effort to impose some sort of order on the chaotic recent storylines, so I’m in, men.

Chris: It couldn’t have been a welcome task to inherit this ongoing storyline, but Sterno (in his first appearance as scripter for this title – with many more to come) carries it off well.  We even have some real-live Carl Sagan-style cosmic physics involved, as Doc triggers the would-be celestial godling Stygyro to go supernova.  Extra credit to Stern, who not only assigns a sensical role to the In-Betweener (after all, who could know for sure what Starlin might’ve had in mind for this character) as the power behind the Creators, but also clears up some loose ends that carry back to Dr S #19 as Doc is provided a chance to put Stygyro away (or, to blow him up and reduce him to a black hole – end result is the same).

I realize I use the phrase “inspired choice” fairly often regarding artist assignments, but the expression certainly is warranted regarding Tom Sutton, whose flair for the fantastic is well-suited anytime for this title; in fact, on the letters page, our faithful armadillo agrees “there’s nothing Tom likes more than a good weird story.”  When you add Ernie Chan’s clear, solid finishes to the mix, I could only wish this team had been retained for the next year; but, I’ll settle for this issue as the first of three collaborations.  Highlights include: Doc’s passage to the In-Betweener’s home dimension (if I understood that correctly), where the Wheel of Change still exists, and appears as a limitless vortex, rather than the oversized casino game we’d seen in previous issues (p 11); the interior of Doc’s tome-lined, artifact-filled sanctum, where Dr Stranger Yet appears in stasis, suspended above the floor by a few inches (p 15); Doc reduced to thin panels of 2-D (p 16); Stygyro’s shocked response to Doc’s ingenuity (p 26).  
In the letters page for Dr S #29, Ed V. of Roanoke VA and Commander Q. of Minneapolis MN both express their concerns about Stern having to assume Starlin’s storyline, and sing praises to his results, Ed V. stating “Jim’s brainchild is being cared for in fine fashion.”  Commander Q. compares Sutton’s work to Ditko, Dali, and – Michelangelo!  

Fantastic Four 191
"Four No More!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by George Perez and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

The eye-grabbing Daily Bugle headline on the cover proclaims "F.F. Resign!" and the Fabs marching away from the discarded paper underscores the point; they're already yesterday's news.

Dressed in civvies, Johnny and Ben commiserate while hunting silver linings. Ben can spend quality time with Alicia. Johnny's been invited to an auto race "out west," and plans to invite the fire-phobic Frankie Raye to join him. Meanwhile, a dapper, suit-wearing Reed signs paperwork authorizing a SHIELD team to cart away all his inventions and gizmos. Agatha and Franklin arrive, but less welcome is landlord Collins, chomping at the bit to rent out the top five floors of the Baxter Building. Sue has a silly but tender moment with Willie Lumpkin, their long-time mailman. They start to trickle out but Reed lingers, despite repeated hints by the SHIELD foreman for Richards to hit the bricks. An uncomfortable media scrum outside the Bax ends with the Thing lashing a reporter to the building marquee with his own microphone cord. Two quick panels of Thundra watching the news coverage, still scheming on Mr. Grimm, while upstairs...

A dropped crate and a loose-lipped mention of vibranium reveal the SHIELD crew as impostors, working for the Plunderer! They take down no-longer-rubbery Reed, but not before he fires the FF signal flare into the sky, to efficacious effect.

Ben smashes through the top of his cab (a needless bit of destruction, 'cause it looks cooler than using the door). Johnny drops a bouquet of flowers outside Frankie's door. Sue leaves Agatha and Franklin by the side of the road and speeds back to the city. Alas, the Plunderer (plucked from the D-list for this caper) has prepared for the Fabs and is on the verge of taking them down until Reed hits an "emergency fail-safe" that disables all the equipment employed by the fake Fury movers, and one "Clobberin' Time!" climax later, the battle's over.

But so, Reed still insists, is the FF. 

Ben deposits their annoying landlord in a planter in the lobby and then Reed himself, his heart shrinking a half-size that day, hangs the "For Rent" sign on the front door of the Baxter Building.
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: We're now picking up the story where Len left off in ish #188, with last month's Marv Wolfman-penned Ben & Alicia's diary drama neatly tucked into side pocket continuity. With Perez and Sinnott back, its hard to separate how fulfilling the story is and how much we're satiated by the rich, creamy eye candy.

Like Marv's offering, this is the standard post FF break-up issue that, beyond the immediate Sock-Pow, confirms the divorce. As noted above, the Plunderer, summoned from hanging around his agent's office in Hoboken and pressed into service, remains a cipher, as bland as his tighty-whitey unitard. The Torch is given a nice beat, blowing focused flame to burn through Reed's ropes, allowing ex-Stretch to Big Brain the team to victory, and work out his dukes as well.

A decent tale, lovely to look at, if one that barely nudges events forward. Len's clearing the decks, obviously setting us up for something, perhaps relatively long-term, with the celebratory 200th issue just starting to peek over the horizon.

Okay, Len, the status quo's been shaken up. So what else ya got?

Scott: The Perez/Sinnott art is a wonder to behold. The Thing never looked better, a huge improvement from last issue. Really amazing work, this is my favorite period of the FF of the 70’s. The whole “Reed without his powers” arc is very strong and when it ties up in issue 200, the result will be glorious. Still, I find it odd the team really believes this is a final breakup. How often have they disbanded in the past? Still, this is the first time the leader of the FF was rendered powerless and they all believed it would be permanent. With that in mind, it’s well handled. There are some great callbacks to the classic Lee/Kirby days here: Willie Lumpkin and his ear wiggling; O’Hoolihan the doorman; and Sue being offered a role in a Hollywood movie (remember True Believers, when Namor offered her the same waaaay back when?). Of course, she never showed an interest or even an ability toward acting, but why quibble. This is a heck of a nostalgia trip. Come on, how cool was it to see Ben burst from the cab? On the not-so-awesome side was “Agent Parnival” – in the heat of battle – changing into his elaborate costume in what couldn’t have been more than a few seconds. A minor quibble in what is otherwise a really great issue. 

Chris: In lesser hands, this issue might’ve played out this way: after the equipment is loaded and all the good-byes have been offered, and then the villain is exposed and the action begins, Reed would’ve been bounced into some electronics and doused with some super-secret chemical, which of course would’ve instantaneously revived his powers, and presto! the FF would be back, and Better Than Ever.  Len doesn’t go this route; instead, all the packing and farewells hold up – the battle with the Plunderer (and give him credit; he couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to snag alla Reed’s gizmos) merely is a brief break before the inevitable.  True fans would have to be genuinely concerned that this separation might be permanent this time, right?  But they really are going to get back together – aren’t they, Len -?

As I read thru the first half of the issue, I had to think, “Man, with Pérez available to provide so little work in an average year, couldn’t they have assigned another guest penciller?  I mean, so far there’s been a fair share of standing around, which you could sign up any artist to do, right?”  Well, my concerns are put to rest right on time, on p 17 as Ben impetuously cracks thru the roof of the taxi (last pnl) upon sighting the Fantasti-flare; I had to stop and savor that moment before continuing on.  Other highlights include the team’s arrival thru the wall (p 23, last pnl – and I’m not even taking exception to the fact that all three could not have arrived at the top of the building at the same moment), Johnny’s rope-burning trick (p 27), and Ben’s bozo-scattering blow (p 30).  Extra points also for the decision not to ruin the surprise by putting the Plunderer on the cover; anyway, fans of this title would’ve seen “F.F. Resign” and required nothing more for a selling point.  
On the letters page, Sharon McC. of Bloomington IN observes that recent stories have offered more opportunities for Sue’s powers to shine, but Sharon also asks not to forget that “Sue is still most effective when she plays the role of a helpless victim or hostage.”  OK, we can ha – wait, what ?! 
Matthew: Although I find the break-up stuff tiresome (it’s like Cap becoming the Nomad, which you knew would never stick), it was wise to feature that rather than the villain on the cover, because if it were played up that it pits the lame-duck FF against the Plunderer—yes, you read that right, THE PLUNDERER—this issue would be laughed off the stands.  Don’t know if it’s because I subconsciously recalled his real name, but something smelled fishy to me about Agent Parnival from the start; funny that this is the first we’ve heard about Reed’s kill-switch.  And I get that it’s supposed to be a gag, yet for me, Wiggling-Ears Willie’s suggestion that he could replace Reed fell as flat as Reed himself would be if he ran afoul of a steam-roller...

Ghost Rider 28
“Evil is the Orb!”
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Don Perlin, Tom Sutton, Owen McCarron and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ernie Chan
The Ghost Rider powers through the desert until, overcome by exhaustion, he loses control of the Skull Cycle and crashes on the highway — he falls unconscious, transforming into Johnny Blaze. When he comes too, the stuntman is picked up by a wild-eyed motorist driving a customized van called the Grass Hut. Miles away, Roxanne Simpson is cruising the countryside, searching for her former boyfriend. She stops at a diner and runs into Brahma Bill who says he met Johnny a few days ago. But Roxy races off in a huff after Bill hits on her. After a few more hitchhikes, Blaze arrives at Swifty’s, a motorcycle shop and buys a new ride. As he drives off on the shiny iron horse, he’s spotted by Roxy — but before she can make her presence known, she is grabbed by the Orb who wipes her memories clean. That night, Johnny comes across a group of blank-eyed motorcyclists. They suddenly attack, striking him with heavy chains and boots. The Orb appears and removes his helmet to reveal his horribly disfigured face. Vowing revenge, the deranged villain chains Blaze to the back of his bike and drags him down the road, violently battering the stuntman’s face and body. But Brahma Bill comes to the rescue, shooting through the chain and freeing Johnny — he continues firing, scattering the mesmerized motorcycle gang. As the Orb tries to make his escape, Blaze finally finds the strength to change into the Ghost Rider. He gives chase and after a brief running battle, takes down his foe with a tremendous blast of hellfire. With the aid of his hypnotized helpers, the helmetless Orb gets away. Blaze and Bill part as friends once again. Brahma drives back to town and spots the dazed Simpson: without her memory, she submits to his charms. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Unbelievably, it took two separate art teams to finish off yet another mediocre issue: Don Perlin and Owen McCarron handled the first half while Tom Sutton and Pablo Marcos finished things off. The Sutton and Marcos stuff is a marked improvement but still surprisingly poor considering the talents involved. Perhaps Perlin dropped the ball — orb? — and Tom and Pablo were called in at the last second. This series must offer the worst artwork of any Marvel title at the time. You would think that the appearance of a hero’s archenemy would deliver a powerful jolt of excitement, but considering we’re talking about the Orb, we barely get a pulse. The opening left me stumped. Since Blaze made the effort to ride through the desert on the Skull Cycle as Ghost Rider — which much be an exhaustive process considering the woozy crash — I assumed that his regular bike was damaged during the encounter with the Manticore last time out. But I went back and checked: that certainly didn’t seem to be the case. So not sure why Johnny had to buy a new ride. Maybe I missed something: not that I really care. The fight with the Orb is a much lengthier and back and forth affair than I gave it credit for but don’t think anyone really needs the full blow-by-blow. As with most Ghost Rider battles, it ends in hellfire. I like Brahma Bill, a cool cat with guns a’ blazin’. But he certainly is a creep when it comes to Roxy. And the Grass Hut?!? Guess Roger McKenzie is trying to prove that he is Mr. Counterculture with his debut effort on the series. Not 100% sure, but this might be Roger’s first Marvel job — he will stick around until issue 34. McKenzie gets a little, uh, theatrical at times: after the Rider knocks off the Orb and his dumb ping pong headgear lies burnt on the ground, he writes “But unnoticed in the rubble, a forgotten helmet, ravished by hellish flames smoulders ominously … unpredictably … long after the evil Orb is lost to the night. A helmet that will — ah, but that’s a tale best told another time.” Beats me what that means, but I guess I’ll still be here when that time rolls around. Lucky me.

Matthew: Well, if you’re going to take over this stinker, which McKenzie does here (succeeding Shooter, as he will on Daredevil for a longer run starting next month), you could do a lot worse than bring back the Orb, probably the closest thing GR has to an arch-enemy.  Now, I’m no Professor Chris, yet I think that even I can correctly pinpoint the line of demarcation from the Perlin/McCarron to the Sutton/Marcos artwork as being between pages 15 and 16; despite the deficiencies in Pablo’s work that I have long lamented in MTIO, the second half is somewhat stronger.  Roger really can’t seem to make up his mind about Brahma Bill, who sometimes seems to be a true ally, but what he does to the amnesiac Roxy (sic) is wrong on so many levels...

Chris: Perlin’s art continues to be pretty good, aided this time by McCarron; the hypnotized biker-group on p 4 is eerily spooky.  It’s a fairly noticeable switch to Sutton + Marcos on p 17, though, as the action picks up, and all the characters’ movements become more fluid.  Curious choice by Sutton, though, to frequently show Ghost Rider approaching the Orb from some distance away; you’d think Sutton would’ve gone for a nasty close-up of GR tangling with his tormentor.  The last panel of p 23, right before they both plunge off a steep drop, might’ve been one of those moments to bring the battle right up into our faces; instead, GR’s climbing onto the Orb’s back, about twenty feet away from us.  Ernie Chan does a nice job on the cover with GR’s menacing, flaming skull; too bad he didn’t have a chance to provide finishes for either Perlin or Sutton on this title (far too many demands on Ernie’s time, right?).  

I don’t want to be too critical of McKenzie’s first outing as GR scribe (is this also Roger Mac’s first published color comic for Marvel in the Bronze era?), so I will try to emphasize the positive.  Nice job as McKenzie twice shows Johnny becoming exhausted as he tries to retain his GR form (p 1 and p 30); I don’t recall seeing that before, but it makes sense, so I hope Rog will incorporate this wrinkle in a future story.  GR’s thoughts continue to be Johnny’s during the heat of the fight (see p 27), so maybe Roger hasn’t completely bought into GR as a persona of his own, and prefers him to be Johnny’s “spook act”?  Well, that would be a mistake. 

Matthew:  D'oh!  That first panel on page 16 sure looked like Marcos to me.  And yes, per the Comic Book Database, this is McKenzie's Marvel debut after scattered Warren credits.

Godzilla 7
"Birth of a Warrior"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Glenn Simek
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Ernie Chan

The newly-escaped Godzilla is on a rampage—and headed towards a group of nuclear warheads—and SHIELD has no answer. In Detroit, Dr. Takiguchi's giant robot is on a smaller rampage, after annoying Rob was knocked out while attached to the cybernetic controls. Agent Jimmy Woo swings aboard and halts the deadly march, but when everyone hears about Godzilla, they're convinced the robot is the best way to halt him. The Behemoth is not much of a match for the Big G, nor are the Pulsar Torpedoes they fire upon him. Jimmy is unable to move the robot, since Rob's brain is "attuned to the electric impulse frequency" of the construct. So of course the boy sneaks aboard and heads to California to "stop Godzilla—before the Americans kill him." After testing the suit's power, Rob flies it to confront Godzilla, where the creature decides he has been hurt—and is ready for battle! -- Joe Tura

Joe: "INTRODUCING—The Mechanized Monster Fighter" named Red Ronin, yells our cover above the din, yet another cover with Godzilla firing radioactive flames, as most of this series' covers feature. And what of our new "hero?" Well, he's OK to be honest, but the fact that the kid is controlling him is not a good sign. We are supposed to believe this numbskull becomes brave so easily? Well, at least they play into his arrogance. The most hilarious exchange in the whole comic is on the bottom of page 15, when Godzilla smashes the Behemoth, sending Dum Dum and Howards reeling. 

Dum Dum: "Not that close, ya flamin' idjit!" Howards: "Uh…sorry, sir, didn’t realize Godzilla had such a reach!" Yikes.

Also of note is our letterer, Glenn Simek. I assume he's son of Artie, one of my favorites, but he only lettered four comics for Marvel, one of which is this one. His work is fairly old school, and certainly not up to par with his dad.

Matthew: Through no fault of his own, I will always associate poor Fred Kida with one of my dreaded ex-girlfriends.  Despite his occasional Stateside Marvel credits dating back several years (he was apparently a mainstay on Captain Britain across the Pond), and the short stints he begins here and on Iron Man this month, he really only came on my radar in the early 1980s, when he was drawing the Spider-Man newspaper strip that was among our shared interests.  Revisiting this now, and after suffering through the sub-manga stylings of the self-inked Trimpe-san last issue, I for one welcome the professional touch provided by Kida, which probably makes Herb’s artwork—not to mention Moench’s goofy Red Ronin storyline—look as good as it’s gonna get…

Howard the Duck 21
"If You Knew Soofi...!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover Uncredited

Howard and his new employer hide under a woman’s mumu to avoid capture by the enraged “sleaze-beleaguered” mob from the neighborhood, furious over Howard’s washing-out of Sudd.  Howard and his boss ride uptown to home, the boss promptly packing to move back to Ohio; he fears repercussions from SOOFI, the organization pledged to Save Our Offspring From Indecency.  Howard asks the man’s name (“We never did exchange amenities,” the boss observes), and learns it is: Beverly Switzler (“waauugh”).  This Beverly – well, call him Lee – is uncle to Howard’s former Beverly.  Howard declines to travel to Cleveland, so Lee offers Howard the use of his apartment, since the rent already is paid.  Overnight, there is a series of explosions in the city, as people (wearing masks appearing to be smiling oranges) set off plastic explosives in their brooms, bringing to an end the Adult Filth Book Store, the Ciné Libido movie theater, and a concert featuring the Mildred Horowitz band (who perform a song about a mother serving the family dog for dinner).  Howard hears it on the TV news, and bemoans the editorial-reader’s unwillingness to take a stand, either to demand or dismiss an improved degree of decency in entertainment, either favoring or decrying censorship in the popular arts.  Howard opens the apartment door, and is met by the orange-headed leader of SOOFI, who sprays Howard with Formula 410, which safely cleans porcelain, enamel, glass “and all consciousness from the brain!” (Howard hears this last part as he pitches forward onto the floor).  Howard wakes to feel himself oddly confined; as his eyes adjust, he finds himself clad in an appalling attire of check-patterned jacket, square-toed shoes, and – and a bow tie.  Howard expresses his outrage by this insult to his dignity, as the SOOFI leader returns, and announces that Howard is slated to run a “sweep-up squad” in Peoria.  The outfit is only part of Howard’s transition to blind subservience to the SOOFI cause; the next stage will be to run Howard thru the Blanditron, to ensure he’s properly blanderized.  Howard asks why none of the leader’s “full complement of fanatics” is going to Peoria, and is informed all SOOFI “commandoes” are dead;  they weren’t “inclined to question a need for a continuity of leadership,” which helps to explain why this orange-head is the only one still here.  Howard is unceremoniously stuffed into the Blanditron (which very much resembles a clothes washer), and is run thru the full cycle, to cause his mind to be “creased forever.”  The leader optimistically opens the gizmo and gets a gloved-handed slug, shattering the orange mask to reveal a woman whom Howard recognizes (unseen by us, reading at home); Howard declares himself to be “the same duck I always was – ‘cept maybe nastier!”  He sheds the restrictive clothes as he walks out, still dripping, into the dawn light. -Chris Blake

Chris: Very timely skewering by Steve G, as the anti-homosexuality Save the Children movement was making headlines in 1977; the fanatics’ orange heads can be attributed to movement spokesperson Anita Bryant, who already had been appearing in ads for Florida Citrus.  Steve broadens the SOOFI cause to one of “decency,” instead of singling out the orange-headed kamikazes as anti-gay.  As we reached the end of the issue, I was secretly hoping Howard wouldn’t wind up brainwashed, and shipped off to central Illinois; after taking knocks from neo-nazi psychiatrists, religious cultists, and bell-headed megalomaniacs, Howard was overdue for a win, punctuated with a defiant punch in the face to his oppressor.  
Plenty of amusing moments.  Mr Beverly opines: “To survive in this world, you either gotta be insane, or know someone who is!”  Orange-face has a few good ones, as she declares “We are the death-commandos of love!” and refers to Howard as a “craven canard.”  The topper, though, has to be when we learn Howard has spent the entire day working for his lost Bev’s uncle, and that he has the same name as she does.  Truly crazy.
I came to this issue with profound reservations, since Infantino is one of very few Bronze era artists whose pencils I consistently dislike (one curious exception, I’ll get to later this year).  The results are better than I expected, due to Carmine’s fun with the silly-looking, completely un-menacing SOOFIs (not easy to do, when you have explosive-packed brooms); the leader herself sports a ridiculous ermine cape and a tiny crown.  Howard also looks right, not loose and stringy like so many Infantino-characters; I’m awarding bonus points to regular inker Janson for filling in the layouts well enough that the would-be arena-rending explosion on p 16 (which is nothing but a few lines, with puffs of smoke) remains one of very few glaringly-unfixable Infantino-moments.  
Matthew: They weren’t kidding about Carmine’s kudzu-like ubiquity, which will hit a new high in May:  this month, he not only winds up his two-part Defenders debacle but also subs here, continuing the Jantino alliance, and on Ms. Marvel, returning to both books for one-offs later in the year; I can wait.  Although most of the art—except the eye-catching explosion on page 16—is as awful as I’d expect, Howard himself somehow dodges the bullet and looks fine to me.  Since (per Wikipedia) 18th-century Moroccan saint Ahmad ibn Ajiba stated that one objective of Sufism is to “purify one’s inner self from filth,” I can’t help wondering if the Marvel offices would have sustained a Charlie Hebdo-style attack if this issue had been published today.

Mark: Unexpected artist Carmine Infantino does a great job conjuring up our hero in all his googly-eyed, 
ahem, glory: sleepy, amazed, pensive, pissed-off, and that's just half a page!* Carmine doesn't attempt to mimic Gentleman Gene, but certainly follows Colan's template for Howard's look, and even one-ups Gene in the Humiliation Dept., decking the duck out in a "sartorial abomination" of red houndstooth sportscoat and garish green Riddler pants. Howard's pain is our pleasure; just make sure to don sunglasses first!

In the Incredible Coincidence Dept., Howard's diner-owning boss is not only Beverly Switzler's uncle, but he's also named Beverly. Well, we're in Gerberland, so why not? More disturbing (since my instructor's contract calls for a certain amount of tut-tutting each week) is Gerber's seeming moral struggle over which is worse: explicit erotica or blowing people up in terrorist attacks. To paraphrase Lenny Bruce, the average American child sees 10,000 murders on TV by the age of sixteen, but naked human bodies are a threat to the Republic? Who knew the Gerb was such a prude, under all those other twitchy bundles of neuroses. 
The Soofi Uprising is ultimately put to rest, as even the dreaded Maytag Brainwasher 5000 proves no match for Howard's iconoclastic spirit. Younger students may be baffled by the last page non-reveal of the Top Goofy Soofi. She's Anita Bryant, kids, one-time orange juice pitchwoman, who later become a gay-bashing minister and darling of the Paleolithic Right.
Think Sarah Palin, without the deep philosophical insight and dazzling wit. And her (Anita, not soon-to-be TV judge Sarah), Steve couldn't be bothered to blow up?
Thanks for nothing...  

*a slight exaggeration    

The Incredible Hulk 220
"Fury at 5000 Fathoms!"
Story by Len Wein and Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ernie Chan

With his friend, Robinson Crusoe, threatened by the scurvy dog known as Cap'n Barracuda (Arrrrr!), the Incredible Hulk has no choice but to pound sand. The ensuing sandstorm creates a diversion but Barracuda gets one up on our gigantic hero with a laser blast. Hulk drops unconscious and Barracuda and his men take Crusoe to a docked submarine. They travel to an underwater cavern but, unbeknownst to the occupants, they've had a "stowaway." Hulk, waking up in time to see the sub departing, grabbed hold and held on for dear life. In the cavern, Barracuda relates to Crusoe a story he heard, that of a professor named Purvis, who was instrumental in crafting a gizmo that stimulated cell growth. Unfortunately, for the band of big brains, the machine went wacko and blasted them with gamma rays, transforming them into apes. Only one man survives the cataclysm: Purvis. But with great power comes dementia sometimes and Purvis has a major meltdown, imaging himself as Robinson Crusoe. To test the machine, Barracuda blasts Crusoe/Purvis and the poor simpleton is reduced to an ape like his colleagues. Crusoe is locked in a dungeon but Hulk busts him out. Barracuda blasts the green goliath yet again with the machine and, this time, the ray transforms Hulk back into Bruce Banner. Crusoe the Ape Man attacks Barracuda and damages the laser, setting off a chain reaction that turns all of the Captain's men into simians. Knowing he could never have a fulfilling life as a hairy chimp, Crusoe loads Banner into a mini-sub and launches it as the island detonates. -Peter Enfantino

We never tire of looking at this costume

Peter: Little advice. Pour yourself a heaping helping of red wine, drink it, and then read this issue. It helps dull the senses and then you really don't mind how inconsequential the story is. It's not a bad script; it just doesn't have much substance. Nothing advances any kind of thread. And, is it just me, or are these covers starting to look photoshopped? Hulk with one big bulging muscular arm raised in a fist is getting to be the norm around here. Hell, what am I complaining about? It sure isn't Omega the Unknown! But it's not the Len Wein who wrote the first batch of Swamp Things either. Another glass of Zinfandel!

Chris: In a letter of comment, Bruce J. of Glendale CA takes Len to task for his reliance in these pages on similar circumstances and dialog.  In fairness, this issue helps to demonstrate a different way for the Hulk to resolve a conflict.  It might be easy to expect the Hulk to smash his way thru Cap'n Barracuda’s undersea base, in an effort to save his new friend “Crew-so"; instead, the Hulk hangs back and – observes.  Perhaps he is concerned about the possibility of triggering Crusoe’s captors to harm him, or maybe he’s fearful of the cell-modifying ray that had knocked him out earlier in the issue; if so, it’s a good call, since this same ray later reverts Hulk to puny Banner.  The Hulk later finds Crusoe/Purvis’ cell, and tries to reassure and reason with the now-devolved former scientist; the one-sided dialog (across the last three panels of p 23) is a highlight.  But that’s all the Hulk has to do: free Purvis, and remind him of their earlier association; the tiny remaining bit of Purvis’ mind takes care of the rest, as he mauls Barracuda (grim moment there), disables his crew, and sends Banner safely on his way.  See that?  No “Hulk is the Strongest One There Is!” moment required.  

Matthew: With Stern now scripting editor Wein’s plot, the transition is effectively complete to Sterno’s two-year stint, although Len will be back to share a byline on the Starlin issue, #222.  I find it odd that they took the trouble to establish hermit-crab Cap’n Barracuda as having stumbled upon and occupied Captain Omen’s conveniently vacated undersea digs, and then didn’t drop the other shoe by having Greenskin surface and say, “Hulk knows this place—Hulk has been here before!”  Setting aside the eye-roller of his just happening to encounter a gamma-ray-powered machine, it’s a pretty good yarn, and Ernie is again to be commended for his exquisitely calibrated inks, complementing Sal’s inimitable style with a nice heft and texture.

The Invaders 25
"The Power and the Panzers"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

Unable to reach Namor on his belt-radio, and little dreaming that the “incredible power source” disrupting the signal is the Scarab pummeling him and the Torch, Cap resignedly follows the Falsworths in a seemingly suicidal attack on Rommel’s Panzer columns.  Heedless of the Torch’s warning that Egypt will be worse off under the Nazis he wants to aid than under the British, the Scarab defeats his foes and buries them with stones.  Meanwhile, the British follow the Invaders into battle, their counterattack fooling the Germans into believing air support is on the way, yet the blazing figure soon soaring overhead is not the Torch but the Scarab, who flies behind enemy lines, presenting himself to a general who plans to “use him while we need him...”

As the Nazis regroup, the trio races to the pyramids, where Namor emerges from the rubble and, once they free the Torch, reveals what he learned from the hieroglyphics in the tomb (“a tongue not unlike my own native speech,” per #23).  Enabling its bearer to duplicate the powers of those who oppose him, the talisman “shall help the man who finds it likewise to find himself…and the true path of the twin lands,” i.e., Egypt.  The Germans renew the attack, the Scarab neutralizing the Invaders’ powers, yet as the Panzers plan to level a village to press their advantage, he sees he has been used; with Namor revived by a dip in a well, they are driven off, but the Scarab vows it was an alliance of convenience, and in California, Bucky learns that Sabuki has been interned. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Amid the surfeit of reprints that has plagued the book, this is the kind of red-ration-stamp-meat and potatoes issue that endeared it to some of us.  With so many recent examples elsewhere on the wrong side of the Bradley Principle, it’s nice to see one where the writing—clear, compelling, simple but not simplistic—outshines the sketchy artwork by the Two Franks, which seems especially over the top when depicting bad guys like the redneck on the last page.  The Scarlet Scarab turns out to be a nationalistic frenemy in the not-so-grand tradition of Roy’s own Sunfire, and I’m glad I confirmed that this is the same Ruby Sc/karab featured in Ms. Marvel #11-13, because they’ve now concluded both those storylines without a single peep to that effect.

The Amazing Spider-Man 177
"Goblin in the Middle"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ross Andru and Joe Sinnott

Spider-Man saves Flash after the Green Goblin tosses him out the apartment window, then himself after Gobby kicks him in the back, by swinging through the car doors of a green sedan—in turn, annoying the driver as he and Flash try to figure out what happened to Harry. Back at his warehouse, Goblin taunts his hooded prisoner, revealing his ambition to become "CRIME-BOSS of all New York" while thanking him for their psychiatric sessions together, and heading out to find where the secret mob meeting is being held. Peter visits Aunt May, who appears to be recovering nicely, then strolls through the Warehouse District to think over what's going on with Harry becoming the Goblin again and recounting his history with the archenemy. Suddenly, his Spider-Sense starts tingling: "Holy Joe! I've stumbled onto a gangland execution!" Fighting half-costumed in the dark, he dispatches the shooters quickly, then spies an invite to "The Top of the World to play King of the Mountain," which is obviously the mob meeting.

Back at the hospital, May starts having massive chest pains! MJ rushes off to call Peter, but he's not home to answer the phone. (More on that next ish…) Instead, he's in full Spidey mode, swinging towards The Top of the World restaurant atop the World Trade Center. Cut to said eating establishment, where the sniveling Silvermane is holding court over a cadre of crime-bosses, hoping to consolidate all of the underworld into a criminal conglomerate…when the Goblin comes crashing in on his glider, demanding control of the crime combine! When the crooks try to counteract his ultimatum, Gobby shows off incredible speed in casting them aside, before finally settling things down and telling them he can "eliminate the web-slinger" who has caused them all so much trouble—and our hero is listening in a nearby air shaft, nervous that Goblin will reveal his secret identity!
--Joe Tura

Joe: There is so much going on this month, that it's hard to slow down to stop and take it all in! A zippy script complete with Goblin taunting, Flash pathos, Spidey pondering, and some Aunt May-hem (ahem…). The art is spot on, with Esposito back to embellish Andru's crackling pencils. And a small cliffhanger actually leaves us wanting more. There are so many little things that stand out! Amazing that they actually show (without the gore) a "gangland execution," with Spidey too slow to stop it. I mean, people don't get needlessly shot and killed in a Spider-Man book! Great shot of the Twin Towers on page 22, the first smaller panel inside a full-page Spidey-swingin' shot that's vintage Ross. And I just realized, Silvermane has a mane of silver hair, which is kind of silly as a name. Are the other mob cronies at the table named Curly Specs, Dome Greensuit, and Mustache Stogie?

Favorite sound effect in a book with some violent ones, courtesy of the Goblin, is actually page 3's "KRUMP! KRUMP!" when Spidey breaks his fall by swinging through a nearby car. Hilarity ensues when the wall-crawler walks up to return the doors and the poor schlub (aptly named Murray Futterman because that's even more hilarious) is livid, calling our hero a "muddle-headed maniac," whatever that is. Then when he drives off, he hits another car, leaving Spidey to say "Boy, this really just isn't his day, is it?" Whomp whomp….

And a big shout-out is owed to "The Spider's Web" letter writer Danny Clark of scenic Commack, NY, who pens: "The Rocket-Racer was the most ridiculous character you guys have ever created. Really, Len, why didn’t you just use the Molten Man, instead of throwing in a guy who rides a super-powered skate board? What if hoola hoops were in fad? I can just imagine—the Hoola Twister or Ring Head! Sheeeessh!!!" Danny, if you only knew what's to come in a few issues. The Sheeesssh meter will be off the charts!

Matthew: Guest-starring Mr. Spock in the role of May Parker:  “the pain—the PAIN—!!”  I must say, I really dig that Andru/Sinnott cover, which evokes one of my all-time favorites, #72, by brazenly omitting Spidey altogether, and having him represented solely by the always-welcome Spider-Signal.  Inside, “Partners for Life” Andru and Esposito are also in there punching with that eye-catching “Yellow Goblin” montage on page 11, not to mention another nice full-pager of Gobby—who virtually steals the show this time out—on 27.  The Murray Futterman sequence was goofy but admittedly fun, and although Silvermane looked a little off-model to me, this “Who’s going to control the New York rackets?” stuff is truly Spidey’s métier.

Mark: One of the balancing acts your humble instructors face (at least I do) in reading story arcs that are new to us while simultaneously being nearly forty years old is the question of whether to skip ahead or not, particularly when there's mysteries involved. In most cases I've resisted the urge, both for the enjoyment of discovering stories sequentially and, more importantly, foreknowledge can't help coloring our lesson plans. 

Mark: Dissecting long-beloved childhood classics calls for a different academic approach, it seems, than evaluating stories we've never read before. Some of my colleagues focus almost exclusively on the former, a perfectly valid approach with which I sympathize. Indeed, I'd dare wager that the opportunity to revisit and pontificate upon stories that rocked our world as kids has been our esteemed Dean's top recruiting tool in assembling such an esteemed faculty (present Prof excepted).

That's my long-winded way of saying I cheated this time, kids. I peeked, and thus deserve my present dilemma, which is how to write about the current issue of Spidey without spoilers. So...

Saving Flash is as easy-peasy as predicted. Thwip, Thwip,  and done. The "humorous" interlude with Webs de-dooring a civilian's car goes over like Donald Trump at a Cinco De Mayo parade. Ross and Mike serve up a ghoulishly Goblinicious interior splash (p. 11). Peter does a rare bad guy take down, sans mask. Aunt May may have had the Big One ("My chest - the pain - the pain..!!") Nah, it's no spoiler to predict she'll outlive us all. And Silvermane? The last time I saw the crime boss (ASM #75) he'd Benjamin Buttoned into an infinitesimal speck of his Pap's baby batter, so whadda I know?

As for the Goblin? He wants to take over NYC's underworld, just like he did before Steve Ditko mainlined too much Ayn Rand.

And with that, class, I must zip my lip, otherwise I'm liable to blab about... {REDACTED WITH EXTREME PREJUDICE}. 

Chris: It’s been said before, but Amazing Spider-Man continues to be one of the most consistently enjoyable Marvel titles; I don’t know how Len does it, month after month.  The humorous moments can be so unpredictable, and often serve to complement  the drama as it’s playing out.  Case in point: the Goblin has just tossed Flash out the window, then slams Spidey out too after Spidey had swung Flash to safety.  Spidey plants a web and is swinging himself around, when Ross Andru shows a car approaching from the other direction, about one second before Spidey proceeds to slam through it, feet first (p 2-3).  Spidey’s reverie about Gwen’s death at Norman’s hands is replaced by a ridiculous exchange with the outraged driver; nice touch how Spidey quietly places the kicked-in doors in the back seat of the ruined car, as he prepares to make his exit (p 6, 1st panel).  Len changes the mood back again as Spidey shares Flash’s concerns for Harry; Peter is silently grateful that Flash still is unaware of Harry’s (possible!) role as the Goblin, just as Peter is hopeful there will be a way to cure Harry (if necessary!).  Plenty to think about, and to enjoy, and we’re still only thru the story’s first four pages!

I had forgotten the segment when Peter dives into the gangland hit, only partially-changed to his Spidey suit; pretty daring move by our Mr Parker (p 15-16).  Ross + Mike contribute to the moment as they provide shadows for Peter’s face; overall, though, as I re-view the scene, they (and, perhaps Glynis Wein) could’ve done more to dim the lighting on the setting.  
This is (surprisingly) the first Spidey comic I ever owned; over the years, I’ve gone back in filled-in most of the previous 2-3 yrs of this title (as back issues, they’re still expensive!).  So, Len + Ross’ one-page recap of the Goblin’s history (p 14) really couldn’t have come at a more opportune time.  Thanks, fellas!

On Christmas 1978, there was something under the tree I'd never seen there before -- the gift of Marvel comics!  I'm certain these four were among the selections: Star Wars #8, Marvel Team-Up #66, Amazing Spider-Man #177, and Iron Man #107 (I had thought for many years there also had been issue of Fantastic Four and Thor in the mix, but I've since had to correct that recollection).  For years, I kept a 2" x 3" slip of paper inside the front cover of each one, reading "GIFT," to identify their origin, but also to set them apart.  I read and re-read all four of these countless times, and two of them -- the MTU and IM -- are issues that still stand today as favorites.  

How did they wind up in the Christmas mix?  One December morning, as he stopped to pick up the Daily News at the nearby newsstand, my father riffled thru the titles, and picked these out -- it could've been as simple as that.  Star Wars is an easy choice (based on my super-fandom at the time), but I've always wondered what inspired him to pick the other three; again, with two becoming enduring favorites, it points to a recognition of quality when he saw it (even though he probably hadn't held a comic in his hands for about thirty years!).  I never thought to ask him how he chose these four; he's been gone for over seventeen years now -- the opportunity had been there, but has been lost for nearly as long.  The important thing at the time was Dad's recognition of my recent move from a Marvel dabbler, to more of a dedicated collector; in his way, it was like an endorsement to branch out and continue to explore the Marvel Universe.  Well, it worked, didn’t it?  Thanks, Dad. 
-Chris Blake

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