Wednesday, April 20, 2016

February 1978 Part Two: Introducing Alpha Flight!

The Invincible Iron Man 107
"And, in the End..."
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Pollard and Fred Kida
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Rubinstein

Enraged with grief at the sight of his friends and lover fallen, perhaps dead, Iron Man destroys the suits of his stolen armor, controlled by and “speaking” with the voice of Midas, but then makes the mistake of cradling Whitney’s body and, thus distracted, falls victim to the “golden touch,” as do the others.  The villain plans to display his “trophies” in niches above the south gate of what is now Midas International, where “no one will suspect that they are anything but life-like statues,” and in a final twist of the knife, he reveals that Abe’s betrayal was all for naught:  his family is dead.  Midas got the photos in 1945 from a Gestapo officer seeking forged papers to reach Argentina, and even then, he knew the brilliant engineer might one day be useful.

As Marianne recalls her romance with Tony, vowing to kill him for making her leave the asylum (as she believes), Jack returns to normal, the zero-fluid that created him having counteracted the golden touch.  Flying after Midas, he knocks over IM, cracking open the golden armor in which Tony is trapped, his chest-plate inactive; cannibalizing a complete suit from the wreckage of the Mechanoids, IM reaches the control center just after Jack is knocked out by mini-missiles.  Abe is struck down while attacking the exo-skeleton-equipped Midas with a metal bar, and a vengeful Tony reveals his identity, planning to kill Midas, but a telepathic blast meant for IM reduces him to a mindless husk, and Marianne lapses into total madness as he forgives his dying friend, Abe... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: This is such a cool issue that I’ll gladly overlook minor gaffes like the curious flexibility of the “paralyzed” Iron Man, or Bill’s inability to count.  The splash page calls this “The final chapter of a six-part saga,” when it’s the fifth, and Shellhead refers to “six people you turned to gold,” which by my count, even if he’s excluding himself, should be seven, a point obscured by the fact that we never clearly see auric figures of Eddie or the Wraith; perhaps next issue will shed some light on that. [It does. -Self-Editor] Meanwhile, although it will be immediately interrupted, since the lettercol tells us that Infantino “is gonna give Keith a chance to get a bit ahead by penciling two pulse-pounding fill-ins,” the addition of Pollard’s art—inked here by the workmanlike Kida—is welcome indeed.

Curiously, the cartoony Midas—whom Iron Man overtly calls “Sydney Greenstreet”—still looks like he’s been drawn by Tuska, but everybody else passes muster pretty well, with Marianne managing to appear both beautiful and ominous in page 16, panel 1 (left). The double-spread on pages 14-15 (which, per Archie’s footnote, recaps events from #41-52, perhaps understandably eliding her confusing role in the War of the Super-Villains), surrounding Shellhead’s dramatic pose with a montage of her past, is certainly a tour de force.  Plenty of loose ends to tie up next time, yet this wraps up a lot of things quite nicely, and you can’t even call Marianne’s intervention a deus ex machina, because we have seen her slowly but relentlessly approaching S.I. for several issues.

Chris Blake: Taken as a whole, the Midas saga has been a high-water mark for Bronze era Iron Man; the stirring climax affirms its place in this title’s history.  Tony gives in to the dark side, and allows his hatred to flow thru him, as he attempts to strike down Midas.  We're far removed from the Tony Stark who was shocked by Midas' (literally) hostile takeover, and who had tried to convince himself he might be content to hang out with Whitney and ride horses for the rest of his days. (So, Midas could add "Antagonizes foes, to drive them toward homicidal rage" to his resume; but, in the interview, should he identify that as a weakness, or a strength? I guess it depends on the potential position.) It makes you wonder how this fight might've ended, if not for the Marianne-ex-machina.  In fairness, Marianne's arrival has been well-foreshadowed; if anything, we've had a few issues now to observe her determined progress toward Tony.  Marianne’s quiet, charged moments contrast with the furious pace of the battle-action; Mantlo makes it clear we should expect something to happen once she sets her feet on Stark International grounds, but we can't anticipate how the woman humming a nursery rhyme to herself might be involved in the vitriol-soaked violence of the climax. 

Pretty ingenious moment as Tony cannibalizes the fragmented armor to fabricate a working IM suit (p 17); there's a part of me that wonders whether Bill might've staged the two scenes of IM fighting the inferior IM-bots, and then the mechanized armor-suits (in IM #106), simply to allow for spare parts lying around for Tony to put to use.  

Keith Pollard, in the first of a handful of appearances as this title's penciller, makes an impressive debut.  The first three pages catch us right away: on p 1, we see IM crouching near the ground as the Iron-bots close in for another wave (so, the battle isn't going well); on p 2, IM uses his jet boots to mash one robot (novel idea!), and on p 3, he flies fist-first thru two others (super-tough!).  The two-page spread of Tony's history with Marianne (p 14-15) is welcome, since I (being a wee lad at the time) knew nothing of their past relationship prior to this.  In IM's battle with Midas, there are moments that are so intense (IM smashes Midas thru a wall, p 23; IM blasts Midas at point-blank range, p 26) that I can't help wondering whether Bill's bloodthirsty dialog (“You fat, stinking swine!”) might’ve been influenced by the dynamic visuals Pollard offered as he worked from Mantlo's outline (if so, then the Marvel method at work!).  This issue also marks a rare Bronze-era appearance by capable veteran Fred Kida, who maintains the standard of recent efforts by Perlin and Esposito as he adds similar shading to the armor. 

Matthew: As noted, Pollard previously penciled #73-4 in collaboration with Arvell Jones.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 9
"The Air-Pirates of Mars, Chapter 9:
Armageddon... At Last!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres

Dejah, “the only one who knows where the Council of Five is hidden” (might wanna share that info just in case, honey), guides the retaliatory fleet of 1,000+ fighting ships.  The place of emotions in war is debated by not only the royal couple but also Kantos, who seeks to avenge Lyssia, and his former odwar (military commander), Grogg, whose intellect was reduced by a grievous blow suffered in the Zodangan battle while saving Kantos’s life.  The only green man among the red, Tars wonders whether the Thark ruler should return to his people, while as Ptomak warns him of the raiding party’s approach, the Great One orders the first defense against the Helium fliers, artificial craters camouflaging “deadly radium cannons.”

Tars ramming the largest crater with his abandoned flier buys some time as the primary defenses are activated, levitating the fortress and surrounding the “ebony island” with an invisible electro-magnetic field.  Realizing that their foes must periodically drop it to return fire, Carter times his attack accordingly and gets through, seeking to plant time-bombs at the hydraulic suspension system’s underground controls while Dejah, Tars, Kantos, and Grogg run interference.  The plan succeeds at some cost, as Tars is forced to kill Karak, a comrade who turned to the Council when his mentor “abandoned” the Tharks, and Kantos—reacting by instinct—inadvertently slays a woman trying to save her husband; despite the destruction of the fortress, the Great One remains. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: All finished with our sand-skiing, voodoo dolls, and stone snakes?  Okay, great.  Carter’s balking at having Dejah by his side seems inconsistent with their kill-and-kiss frenzy in #7, and Wolfman is increasingly adding “that’s a story for another day” asides to Carter’s narration, diminishing the immediacy of this one.  Yet Marv’s reflective moments add some depth and moral dimension to this “Giant Battle Issue!” (per the in-your-face cover by interior artists Kane and Nebres), and Gil’s Rudified pencils still pack considerable punch, most notably in all of the space-opera-style scenes of the attacking Helium fleet and the Council’s defenses, which make for a really cool contrast with the blade-heavy mayhem of the much more personal face-to-face combat vignettes.

Chris: The promise of “Giant Battle Issue!” pulls fans in the door (hey wait – I didn’t see any giants battling …).  Since Marv has his readers’ attention, he then can balance out the action with some emotion-driven moments that provide characterization.  Kantos Kan reflects on his guilt related to the injuries that robbed Grogg of his leadership abilities; later, his guilt involves his unwitting killing of a woman, in his headlong pursuit of vengeance for Lyssia’s death (as he kills the wife of another, just as his woman had been killed).  Tars Tarkas struggles with his sense of responsibility to his own people, and later regrets that he’s driven to kill a former mentee, Karak.  John remains stoic throughout, as he directs Dejah not to carry intense emotion into battle; still, he can’t help shedding tears for pilots and warriors shot down during the thousand-mile approach to the stronghold of the Council of Five.

One question: John plants a bomb with a thirty-five minute fuse (p 16), then determines he should set a charge for the hydraulic system that keeps the city afloat; he fights his way to the entrance of the chamber where the “drumming … machinery” indicates he’s found the device he seeks (p 22).  When next we see John, though, he says only that there are fifteen minutes left until the “damned fortress explodes.”  So, he planted the bomb off-camera?  Too bad; I kinda wanted to see the immense city-floating device. 
The Kane/Nebres art is fine, the action is plentiful and enjoyable; but I don’t love it, because (as stated in previous blogs) most of Kane’s style is lost under Nebres’ finishes.  Points to Janice Cohen for her choices of red, orange, and deep violet as the colors for the sky, to ground the story consistently in a different non-Earth reality. 

Kull the Destroyer 25 
“A Lizard’s Throne”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Petra Goldberg Letters by Carolyn Lay Cover by Ernie Chan and Rudy Nebres

In the unknown city, Kull and Laralei burst into the dungeon to find a massive snake coiled in front of a chained Ridondo, a pair of robed and hooded sorcerers chanting behind him. The Atlantean leaps on the gigantic reptile’s head and begins plunging his sword into its scaly skin as the amnesiac woman tries to free the minstrel. She notices that Ridondo screams in agony every time that Kull’s blade hits home. Yelling for him to stop his attack, she kicks over a smoking brazier that strikes the snake: it transforms into mist and enters the minstrel’s seemingly dead body. After escaping and removing their robes, the two wizards — lovers Gar-Nak and Norra  — make their way back to the kingless throne room and summon a pair of burning eyes that hang in the air. The other citizens proclaim it as The Master and wonder if the time of resurrection has come. The man and woman then conjure a vision of a reptile that escapes from a rock-like maze to feast upon a lamb shank — but the meat is poisonous and the creature dies. Back in the dungeon, the magician Korr-Lo-Zann arrives and takes the lifeless Ridondo from Kull’s hands. After he performs some incantations and sprinkles some strange powders, the life returns to the minstrel. Letting Ridondo recover, Kull, Laralei and Korr-Lo-Zann arrive in the throne room — the lizard vision disappears when they enter. Norra takes Laralei away for a bath and new clothes as Korr-Lo-Zann tells Kull that the city they are in is Torranna in the country of Grondar. Years ago, a monstrous, cyclopean demon entered the city from another dimension. After killing the former king and stealing his crown, the demon was finally dispatched back to its realm by the combined might of the three wizards. Korr-Lo-Zann offers Kull a deal: he can become the new ruler of Torranna if he can bring back the stolen crown. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: With the arrival of Rudy Nebres, the art on this series finally gets on track. He brings strong lines, dark shadows and fine detail to Ernie Chan’s pencils. The huge snake is particularly well done, embellished with abundant scales and dozens of razor sharp teeth. The story is another thing entirely. I would assume that Don Glut will tie everything together, but this issue is filled with a ton of head scratchers. The wizards Norra and Gar-Nak seemed to have heroic backgrounds, so not sure what the deal is with the torture of Ridondo — or why they are even bothering with the poor sap. Why did Laralei know that the brazier would put the kibosh on the snake? And don’t ask me about the vision with the reptile and the poison meat. It seems to go nowhere. The burning eyes of the master have popped up over the past few issues: haven’t mentioned them up until now but they have to have some importance. Is it supposed to be Thulsa Doom? And the whole backstory of the cyclops monster stealing the crown is just goofy. Korr-Lo-Zann seems to be trustworthy so far, but he seems to hand the keys to Torranna over to Kull too easily. So I suspect he’s up to something. I left out two pages after the wizard offers Kull the crown: the fallen monarch dreams of amassing Torranna’s army and ousting Thulsa Doom from the throne of Valusia. A throwaway, but at least we finally have a mention of Kull’s raison d'etre. It has been absent from these pages for far too long.

Master of Kung Fu 61
"Glass Orchids"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and John Tartaglione
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Pete Iro
Cover by Jim Craig and Frank Chiaramonte

Leiko Wu sits alone in her apartment, attempting to distract herself with a stained-glass craft project.  She listens to music, as she contemplates her parting words to her lover, “declaring her independence, telling the man she loves that she’s nobody’s woman.”  At Black Jack’s hotel room, Shang Chi (who also happens to be listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumors) recognizes he’s unable to improve his dark mood, and resolves to go out and “face the real night.”  Reston drops in to visit Ms Greville in hospital; Sir Denis had informed Reston she was due for release today.  S-C follows a sound of glass breaking, and is attacked by a man swinging steel balls at the ends of chains attached to his wrist.  He calls himself Skull Crusher, and he declares he already has been paid to kill S-C before he leaves London (“Leave?” thinks S-C; “But I have no plans to – ").  Leiko breaks the glass heart she had fashioned, as she too sets off into the night streets.  She presents herself at Reston’s door, to declare herself “ready”; too late, she finds Reston is on his way out, accompanied by Melissa Greville (“Should have known,” she says, “stupid of me …”).  S-C closes in on Skull Crusher, and demands to know “WHY!!”  Skull Crusher blithely explains it’s strictly “for money.  It is not personal --.”  This serves only to incense S-C, as he reflects that Skull Crusher seeks to “send a man’s spirit into eternal darkness – and he claims the act is not personal?!”  S-C continues to balance his opportunities between delivering his punches and kicks, while staying as clear as possible of the swinging steel, until they both hear a car pull up; at that moment, Skull Crusher abruptly turns and disappears.  The driver is Reston; he delivers a letter addressed to S-C, found by Ms Greville in Sir Denis’ mail.  The note is from Juliette, lover of Shen “Cat” Kuei; now, Shang-Chi realizes why he must leave London, and travel back – to Hong Kong.  -Chris Blake

Chris: The issue isn’t nearly as much of a soap opera as it might seem from my synopsis.  If anything, it’s a welcome change after Shang-Chi’s recent oddball clash with War-Yore, and his mind-bending exposure to Latverian mind-tricks.  Doug sets us up for an intriguing twist, as Leiko seeks out Reston, not Shang-Chi, after ruefully reviewing her earlier dismissive statements (as seen in MoKF #58).  S-C also appears to be moving on from Leiko, as prepares to leave for China, after having considered whether he “really knew her, understood her … as I thought I did.”  We’ll see what Juliette – and Cat – might have in store for him.  
Shang-Chi’s forceful “WHY!!” is telling.  S-C has been less in-control of his emotions in recent issues, even in mid-battle; he’s far removed from his earlier, stoic approach to conflict.  Part of this could be due to frustration, stemming from his perception of the inherent pointlessness of many of the battles he’s forced to fight.  Another part, of course, could be his inability to bottle-up successfully the emotions his association with Leiko has uncorked.  Can’t train for everything, I suppose.
The Craig/Tartaglione art is better now than in previous pairings; the results are much more clear and sure.  Leiko looks herself again (I’m eternally grateful …), especially on p 6 pnl 2, and p 26.  The action also works well, in the extended clash with Skull Crusher; p 15-17 are the most effective, as we see moves flow together, with some degree of speed and intensity. 

Mark: Even your instructors have prejudices, kids, hard as that is to believe. While Doug Moench at his best is a fine writer, it was Paul Gulacy's mainlining-Steranko, movie poster art that hooked me on MOKF, back in the day. I didn't give a rip about Kung Fu - that was my brother, with his beveled nunchucks made of Chinese ironwood and a gleaming shuriken dangling from the rearview of his '69 Chevelle  - so while I generally agree with Professor Matthew's theorem of preferring great story over great art (better, of course, to have both, which Moench and Gulacy's handful of multi-issue epics reliably delivered), my Shang-Chi pleasure centers were hard-wired long ago. They tweak to groovy graphics above all, so I'm happy to report this one's a satisfying fix.

Jim Craig's back behind the pencil, and having slagged his most recent effort, let me now praise his best, most consistent work on the title. There's cleverly composed panels like Leiko's seductive, back-to-us pose, with mirror image flashbacks and Cat (the cat) looming in the foreground on p.3. Energetic fight scenes, interestingly staged. Unexpected Miss Greville cheesecake, and Craig's Leiko has never been this smokin'. He's been on the sidelines the last couple issues and with more time at the drawing board it's apparent that Craig has (had) talent, so one suspects it was the double-time, sausage factory pace of the industry that led him to other endeavors. He earns props for this one.

Doug kicks in with cool villain Skullcrusher, a Chop Fuey Crusher Creel, swinging steel balls attached to chains. Unresolved soap suds and sexual tension, and the MI6 crew is mostly reconciled. Good stuff, all 'round.

Shang heading for China and saloon singer Juliet bodes well, but consistency's been noticeably lacking on the book of late. So what's on deck, trash or treasure?

Recent history suggests the former, but let's hope Moench and company overcome the bigotry of low expectations. 

Ms. Marvel 14
"Fear Stalks Floor 40"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Carmine Infantino and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

Amid “a freak Indian summer storm,” Ms. Marvel shadows Joe Danvers as he searches the accident-prone Monarch Plaza site, but no sooner has she saved him from wind-torn girders than he is on the phone to “the owner/contracter [sic], Maxwell Plumm,” who insists it is within building codes.  Switching to Carol, she is unable to convince her sexist father to let her help find proof to blow the whistle on Plumm, but she has already asked Tracy and Frank to pore over the Bugle’s files.  As they assemble their findings—which indicate that he is heavily in debt to mobster Dominic Varone—Gianelli surprises, drives off, is pistol-whipped by, and recognizes the man rifling Carol’s office as Ballard, who’d burgled and destroyed her apartment back in #9.

Oblivious to the huge bat above her, Carol muses that Plumm put in such a low bid on the project (his one hope of repaying Varone) that only by cutting corners can he make a profit; suddenly, Ms. Marvel is overcome by a vision of Joe being silenced by the reportedly dead Steeplejack, yet in the present, not the future.  Racing to the site, she dodges his white-hot rivets long enough to knock out the protesting Joe so she can hide him safely under a tarp, and identifies Steeplejack as Plumm before he sends her plummeting in a freight elevator.  After Jake Mallard’s death, Plumm stole the design for his acetylene gun, but then he sees MM hovering nearby—can she do that?—having halted the elevator, and she gets both men out just before the battle-torn building topples. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Between Claremont’s uncharacteristic recent slump (perhaps he’s simply overextended?) and a lamentable Infantino fill-in that is beyond Leialoha’s power to salvage, our Carol has really fallen on hard times, although there’s every reason to expect a significant upswing next issue.  Now, I understand, and even celebrate, Chris’s proclivity for unearthing obscure Marveliana, but really, pitting a Kree warrior against an antisocial construction worker dreamed up by Len Wein as an opponent for Luke Cage, and an impostor at that?  Stranger still, she thinks to herself, “this Steeplejack matches the original police description to the letter,” when even a cursory comparison with Power Man #18 (April 1974) reveals that his outfit was completely redesigned.

I might have shrugged and said, “Ach, not a lot of villains in the construction milieu if you wanna do a story focusing on her dad,” had he been imposed upon Claremont like so much else, but since Chris created Joe, there goes that excuse.  Speaking of the parents he introduced last month, he partly redeems himself by having Marie immediately recognize Carol in costume, a pet peeve of mine in super-hero books for decades; I’m quite confident that if Mrs. Professor Matthew ever showed up in a little Lone Ranger mask like that one, I’d penetrate her disguise in about a nanosecond.  As the lady herself would say, there’s a lot going on here, e.g., Gianelli’s curious failure to finger Ballard, plus a cameo by transplanted local boy Vlad in page 15, panel 4.

Chris: As soon as I noticed an “ebon bat” pausing over an unsuspecting Carol Danvers on a foggy Boston street, I thought, “No way …”  But sure enough, it’s the scurrilous Count Vlad himself, in an inspired cameo bit (p 14-15).  Nice work on the art, as Leialoha capably pulls together Infantino’s above-average layouts; it’s another illustration (so to speak) of how a slightly heavier-handed inker can turn out acceptable results on Infantino’s pencils.  Otherwise, the whole corrupt-guy-whose-irresponsibility-threatens-welfare-of-wellmeaning-others plot has been trotted out before, but it’s fairly obvious Claremont is using it merely as a framework for Carol to explore some Daddy-issues; that’s fine.

Marvel Premiere 40
The Torpedo in
"--Battle with the Big Man!"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo
Art by Bob Brown, Al Milgrom, Joe Rubinstein, Bob Wiacek, and Alan Weiss
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Al Milgrom

The Torpedo absorbs the power of the runaway nuclear reaction into his suit; as the energy builds to critical, the Torpedo releases it, which succeeds in vaporizing the power station.  Torp flies away from information-seeking police; once home, he recounts the circumstances that resulted in his possession of the Torpedo suit, and realizes the “Big Man” who’s been after him could be a foreign agent, planted in American society years before.  To confirm his suspicions, Torp breaks into the 33rd floor office of a Senator Spivak; he busts open the wall safe, and finds incriminating documents to prove the story as it had been told to him by the Torpedo suit’s inventor.  Torpedo doesn’t realize the Senator’s office is under surveillance; the rocketeer squad returns, gets the jump on Torpy, and takes him down.  The Senator admits he can’t find a way to remove the suit from Torp; so, he rigs Torp to a device that shoots high-voltage electricity thru him, until Torp’s wrist-jets (somehow) “short-circuit [the] power lode” of the torture device.  Torp plows thru the rocketeers, and slams the Senator into a control panel, unwittingly activating the “destruct circuit.”  Torp flies off before the Senator’s suburban HQ self-destructs, and lands home with his wife and kids, only to find that his wife Lorry is pregnant with their third child!  -Chris Blake
Chris: Would you want to read this comic?  It actually might be even weaker than I’ve presented here.  The pages had to have been sitting around for awhile; Bob Brown had died almost a year earlier in January 1977 (as discussed in our post for Marvel Premiere #39), and Torpedo mentions the Bicentennial as he’s fighting the rocketeers.  It feels less like a debut for an emerging character, and more like Premiere scheduled a two-part fill-in.  If it’s any consolation, I don’t know what to do with this story, either.  There’s a fair amount of action, but it’s not terribly exciting.  It doesn’t help that the Torpedo’s solutions to his two biggest life-threatening problems don’t make a great deal of sense; the suit can channel and store immense quantities of nuclear-fueled energy?  His wrist jets can short out a device that’s strapped to him?  How -?
It also doesn’t help that the issue fails to establish anything distinctive about the title character; he doesn’t like his day job, he loves his family, and he’s committed to win (as he draws on his pro football experience, you know).  That’s about it.  At least he didn’t punch a skyscraper and cause it to collapse this time; so, he’s learning (oh wait – that was the previous Torpedo.  Never mind.).
Not only are there not a great many readers for this story; the creative talent required to complete this issue also seems to have been difficult to come by.  Wolfman’s plot is scripted by Mantlo, and Milgrom’s layouts are finished by no fewer than three different hands aside from his own.  Bob Wiacek’s pages are practically indistinguishable from Milgrom’s heavy, dulling finishes; Joe Rubinstein’s pages are noticeably better – it’s obvious at first glance, as his lines provide substance, while still appearing much clearer.  Alan Weiss appears only to have inked the last page.  I’m not saying that enlisting Rubinstein to ink the whole thing would’ve made it a readable comic, but it certainly would’ve encouraged me to flip thru it once more to seek out art highlights.  As it is, this comic goes back into the box, for good.  

Matthew: Guest-starring Mr. Spock in the role of Brock Jones:  “The…pain!  The PAIN!!”  Looks like the conclusion is more of a group effort, with Mantlo scripting Wolfman’s plot, and Brown’s posthumously published pencils inked by “Milgrom & Friends” (the only one of whom identified on the Marvel and Comic Book Databases is Alan Weiss), but why on Earth would they emphasize the expiration date by including Brock’s Bicentennial reference in page 17, panel 1…in an issue cover-dated more than a year later?  Now, there was some confusion last time over the reputed existence of a nuclear power plant smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, but I’m glad to say that has been cleared up:  there is, in fact, no such thing—because the Torpedo made it go away!

Joe: I owe Prof. Chris lunch in the University cafeteria for the next week, for daring to take over the lead on these two issues of The Torpedo. Extra jello, too! Man, this was some mediocre pair of comic books, which is really all I have to say. Except that I feel bad this was Bob Brown's last Marvel published work. Worst of all, it sets the tone for the next couple of Marvel Premieres. Maybe I can bribe Prof. Chris with a bonus carton of milk every day!

Marvel Team-Up 66
Spider-Man and Captain Britain in
"Murder World"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Byrne and Frank Giacoia

Confident that his Maggia clients will pay even more for Captain Britain himself than for a mere possibility, Arcade places our heroes inside globes on a giant pinball machine that is part of his theme-park-style Murderworld—the issue itself is inconsistent on whether this is one word or two— duplicating whatever he does on his regular-sized machine.  They bust their balls (sorry, couldn’t resist), only to have a huge, spiked Doomball maneuver them onto trap doors plunging them into funhouse settings, where “Cappy” must save his lady friend Courtney Ross from suffocation, and fights his distorted mirror images.  Spidey beheads a Kid Cyborg robot gunslinger, then tears through the tunnel wall of a war-torn “backdrop painting come to life” into a maintenance shaft, where he tries to sabotage the game.

Her air fast running out, Courtney is a “prize” inside a giant treasure-scoop game, which starts to flood as Arcade angrily dismisses reports of trouble from associates Chambers and Miss Locke.  Spidey is right outside the control center when Arcade detours him toward Cappy, but no sooner are he and Courtney saved than gas begins pouring in, so Spidey rips another impromptu exit in the wall (“What an incredible smell I’ve discovered”) while the damage he did to the central core finally triggers a systems overload.  Explosions destroy Murderworld as the trio emerges, stinky but safe, from the sewers; Jean tells them that “some lone wolf…did a Punisher-type number on ‘the Commission’—shot ’em to pieces,” and Arcade, disowned by the Maggia, vows to rebuild. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Graced by Orz’s deliciously distinctive lettering—his first of only three MTU credits—this feels like a misplaced issue of the newly minted Claremont/Byrne X-Men, especially in retrospect, although as usual, Hunt holds his own while doubling as colorist in his sadly penultimate effort.  The two-part format is especially felicitous; cramming it into a done-in-one would have been disastrous, but with the preliminaries of introducing “Cappy” to us Yanks out of the way, we can get down to business.  And what business:  Murderworld unleashes nifty panoramas (pages 2-3), poses (pinball Spidey in page 6, panel 5; shafted Spidey in page 17, panel 1), layouts (the mirror image on page 11), concepts (Spidey “ripping a hole in open air” in page 16, panel 3), and more.

Joe: Now, that was fun! The introduction of Arcade goes even further with the setup of "Murder World," showing he's not only brilliantly evil, but extremely petulant and borderline bratty at the same time. The villain who will never grow up, in a way, but with a bit more money than Peter Pan—as well as a mean streak Hook would envy. He certainly gives our two heroes a run for their money—for his own money, maybe—but of course they persevere thanks to Spider-Man. Of course, Spidey can do no wrong! OK, Captain Britain helped a wee bit. Another stellar Claremont-Byrne production in which even the letters and colors are fabulous. Well done, chaps!

Chris: I realize many of my esteemed colleagues feel the best years of the Bronze era already have gone; some titles, admittedly, are past their high-water marks, and there are a few others that will wash out within the year.  MTU, though, still rides the crest of a wave; this issue stands as one of the defining moments that contributed directly to me becoming a dedicated Marvel collector.  I read and re-read this one dozens of times (exaggerating only slightly), but it’s been so many years since the last time that I didn’t necessarily know what to expect, only to recognize the details as they unfolded on the page.

Arcade is a bit of a novelty act, so it’s fortunate he’s not overused.  You kinda have to know when to plug him in a story, don’t you; I mean, it wouldn’t take Thor, or Iron Man – or the Hulk – terribly long to bust out of the un-funhouse, would it?  Another consideration is that very few artists could create a credible look for Murderworld; in lesser hands, it might easily look cheesy and dumb.  As it is, the Byrne/Hunt team produces results to rival anything we’re seeing in X-Men right now.
I need little encouragement to get carried away with the art highlights, but I will try to be judicious: Spidey breaks out of his plastic ball (cue the theme music!), then helps CB smash his own (p 7); the funhouse mirrors come to life, and attack Cap (p 14); by the way, I love the small detail of Arcade’s microphone, which he can bend toward his face when he wants to offer a taunting message (p 14, pnl 3); Spidey rips a hole in the air, as explosions fire off all around him – this has got to be among the most inventive images I’ve seen from Byrne, and that’s saying something, isn’t it (p 16); “Cappy” seen from under the rising water, as he keeps his eyes forward and is focused on trying to rescue Courtney (p 22, last pnl); the amusing, almost childish image of Spidey holding his nose, as we get a reference to the trash-compactor scene from Star Wars (p 27, p 4); Spidey pounds the manhole cover straight up, and then is staring straight into the harsh lights of the patrol car (p 30).
Hey, what happened to Captain Britain’s Star Sceptre -?  That’s kind of a big part of his live act, isn’t it -?

Marvel Two-In-One 36
The Thing and Mr. Fantastic in
"A Stretch in Time..."
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ernie Chan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ernie Chan

Although herbivorous, the brontos still present a danger, and in fleeing them, the five go from the proverbial frying pan into the fire as they plunge over a waterfall, with quick action by Ben and Skull saving the others.  Locating the Lockheed, they return to the R-37 with the batteries and parts they need, but with only enough fuel for one attempt, Ben prays that its special detector can lead them back through the Triangle by picking up the cobalt radiation on the other side of the “time hole.”  It does, and emerging over Miami they head back to the Cape, but to Ben’s shock (“Kiss my swimsuit!”), the Jaguar Priest has followed with his “pets,” while a second surprise awaits:  Reed, who came after hearing that his jet had vanished over the Atlantic.

His powers weakening (this taking place before “the now-classic” FF #178), Reed fights the pain to help out as the Priest grabs Ann for a hostage, hoping to obtain modern weapons, “return to the past and conquer it all!”  Ben topples the Priest from his mount into the water, whence he is fished out into police custody, while Ben and Ann are saved from a fatal plunge over dry land by instant-trampoline Reed.  In the wrap-up, Corey expresses confidence that Jim will turn himself in to plead self-defense; Jeff offers to be a character witness; Ann says she’ll wait for him “as long as necessary”; and Reed plans to contact Ka-Zar upon their return to the Baxter Building about relocating the “bunch a’pigeons as big as Godzilla [plug?]” to a home in the Savage Land. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: While this WolfChan two-parter remains a relative improvement over the rest of Marv’s run to date, the conclusion feels like one baby step back, with Ernie’s art looking rushed and uneven—and what in the name of all that’s holy has happened to Ben in page 17, panel 2?  His head appears to be deflating like a rocky basketball, instantly and gruesomely reminding me of Zandor Vorkov’s messy disintegration at the end of Dracula vs. Frankenstein.  Bringing in one of my favorite characters, and then undermining his entire guest-shot by focusing on his infirmity, does not endear this to me, nor does the footnote providing its tortured chronological rationale and directing complaints to the “Marvel Higher Board of Errors, Judgments and Penalties Division.”

Once again, your mileage may vary when it comes to how satisfactorily you feel Marv ends the saga he began, assuming you even give a flying, uh, dinosaur.  While we’re on the subject, it might be nice if our self-editing writer could decide if they are pterodactyls or pteranodons, as they are referred to interchangeably in this issue…and, for that matter, if the Jaguar Priest is an Aztec, as stated last time, or a Mayan, as he calls himself here, since I rather doubt those would be considered synonymous.  For better or worse, however, he does get his “time-lost” quartet back home and—absent actually clearing Scully of murder charges—brings their story to a more decisive conclusion than that of many orphaned Marvel characters (*cough* Deathlok *cough*).

Power Man 49
"Seagate is a Lonely Place to Die!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly and Ken Klaczak
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Ron Wilson and Frank Giacoia

After nearly killing them (last issue), Luke Cage finally settles down long enough to spill the beans to Iron Fist and Misty Knight. He's had to enter into a deal with the devil known as Bushmaster, who wants Cage to bring him Misty in exchange for the lives of the imprisoned Claire and Noah. Bush tells Power Man that, in addition to the freedom of his loved ones, the Hero for Hire will receive concrete evidence that he was framed years ago. He can be a free man at last! Fisty and Misty agree to help Luke get his friends back and, together, they travel out to Bush's fortress, the former Seagate Prison. The trio storm the island but Bushmaster appears, stronger than an ox, thanks to the medical know-how of Noah Burstein. While Cage and Bush duke it out, they manage to damage a vat containing the same super power juice that gave the men their powers. Both are doused with it just before the building explodes. Luke emerges unhurt but there is no sign of Bushmaster. Misty reveals she's found the evidence that will help Power Man prove he was framed and, for a few moments at least, there is a bit of hope in the life of Luke Cage.

-Peter Enfantino

Matthew: At the other end of the spectrum from Claremont’s latest Ms.-fire is this fine piece of work.  The denouement apparently heralds a major turning point in Luke’s life, and although we’re denied the grudge match that might be the centerpiece of a 50th issue by a lack of history with Bushmaster, this is mitigated by the return to Seagate and the fact that he is, in effect, Cage 2.0.  More important for those of us saddled with Luke as the price of our loyalty to Danny, Bushmaster cements the connection to, and makes it decidedly personal for the cast of, Iron Fist, while Byrne (notching his penultimate issue already, alas) and Green predictably rise to the occasion, especially with the fog-bound establishing shot of “Little A” in page 10, panel 4.

Chris: Score another win for Claremont & Byrne.  My copy of this issue was already worn when I bought it second-hand, but I put more mileage on it with repeated readings.  There are plenty of Big Moments that go well, so I’ll start with those: Cage’s explosive entry to Seagate, as he literally smashes a steel door off its hinges, and sends a guard flying (p 15); Danny wisely gets the drop on Shades and Comanche by sha-kowing his way thru the stone wall (p 17); Cage and high-test Bushmaster mix it up, with Cage clonged by an I-beam for his troubles (p 23-27).  

Of course, in the capable hands of Claremont & Byrne, there is a rich array of quieter moments and smaller details that add up to yet another first-rate comics-reading experience: Cage’s reluctance to reveal his complicated past to Danny, Misty, and Colleen; Misty’s PI approach to the situation, as she uses the old-reliable fingerprints-on-the cup trick to run Cage’s sheet; Danny and Misty hang-glide their way into Seagate (very 007); Cage’s musings on Misty having reported him killed in the condemned-brownstone collapse, which explains why the crew has had a few days to prepare their assault, without Cage’s absence endangering Claire and Noah; Danny’s withdrawal from Cage’s man-to-man battle with Bushmaster, for which I now have an approved appreciation, having re-read Danny’s mostly-solo battles in MTU #63-64 within the past few weeks.  Great stuff. 

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 15
"The Final Rage!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Joe Rosen
Art by Keith Pollard and Frank Giacoia

Man-Beast traps Spider-Man, Flash and Razorback underground—but not before he tells his entire life story to a woozy Spidey, as well as how he is using Korba for his evil plans to, um, spread evil. As the ceiling starts coming down, Spidey grabs a steel girder to shore it up, getting help from a recovered Flash and RB until a whole section of the field collapses! Upstairs, the crowd that was whipped into a frenzy is held back by RB, with Man-Beast pulling the strings from a nearby room. Spidey scours the corridors under the Coliseum, battling a small horde with help from Flash. But the jock is annoyed that Sha Shan is being fired upon by Brother Power, so he goes to help. Spidey bursts into Man-Beast's chamber, and with some distraction from Bobby Sue—who is upset the "mentor" was supposed to lead them into the light—is able to super-smash the rabble-rousing rascal into the Hate Amplifier, setting off an explosion that leaves all the Legion of Light followers lost, Bobby Sue reunited with brother Razorback/Buford briefly (but wanting to keep searching for "something real"), Flash and Sha Shan arm in arm, and good prevailing over evil.--Joe Tura

Joe: A rousing finale to the Brother Power/Sister Sun/Hate-Monger/Man-Beast/Razorback/Bobby Sue/Flash Thompson saga is chock full of explosions, destruction, hate mongering, out-of-control crowds, derring-do, and ultimately pathos. The heavy Ernie Chan inks give Sal's pencils a moodier feel, especially in the backgrounds where something is blowing up. But all in all, it's a good thing. Although with all the heavy destruction, it's no wonder the Yonkers Coliseum was never heard from again!

Fave sound effect is the fun and loud "WHU…THROOM!" on page 14 as a huge section of the field collapses, yet Spidey is able to save himself, Flash, and Razorback with some girder support and elbow grease. Although "SKA-POW" as Spidey mauls Man-Beast is pretty good—and damn justified!

Chris: Marvel boasts of several titles each month offering an “All-Action Issue!,"but not all of them deliver as well as this “All-Out Thrills!” feature.  There are plenty of concerns that require time and attention from a host of characters, not just Spidey, but Bill (working from Archie’s plot) ably fits it all in.  

Sal + Ernie do their part, as page after page features panels that are action-packed, without seeming cluttered.  Best of all, they get the Big Moment, as the nasty face of Man-Beast makes its spooky holographic appearance on p 17.  The projection still is in view on p 26, behind Korba, as a number of things are happening simultaneously in pnl 1: Korba continues to be on the offensive against Sha Shan; Buford is fighting off his attackers; and Flash finally arrives topside to save Sha Shan.  Points also to p 27, first as we see the force of Man-Beast’s blast shredding Spidey’s costume; then Man-Beast realizes – too late! – that Bobby Sue has snuck up on him; and finally, Spidey delivers the ever-satisfying punch-that-lands-the-bad-guy-into-heavy-electronics.  Solid issue all around. 
Matthew:  Oh, my God, isn’t this arc over yet?  As the misbegotten storyline shambles into its fourth and, mercifully, final issue, I see that to scripter Mantlo’s relief, he can deflect some of the blame onto plotter Goodwin, who should’ve been paying more attention to his editorial duties.  Is it Yonkers Stadium or the Yonkers Coliseum, neither of which seems to be a real thing?  Is it Sha-Shan or, correctly, Sha Shan?  Depends which page you look at.  You’d think the return of Warlock’s nemesis would have me cheering, but as much as I enjoy the Buscema/Chan team’s Hulk, I’m unimpressed by their Man-Beast, while the effort to emulate the classic ASM #33, which the cover clearly signals, is an overreach.

Star Wars 8
"Eight for Aduba-3"
Story by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tony DeZuniga

One the backwater world of  Aduba-3, Han and Chewie are approached in a cantina by three farmers looking for someone to protect their settlement from a marauder named Serji-X Arrogantus, also known as The Arrogant One, and his Sky Riders. Before the discussion can continue, Han is attacked by an alien suitor to a woman he casually spoke with earlier. The fight only lasts as long as it takes for Chewbacca to get involved. Han agrees to take the job and begins interviewing recruits to form a team to do the work. Out of the dozens of candidates, Han settles on Hedji, a “spiner” alien who shoots dart-like quills from his body; Amaiza, a woman from Han’s past who was formerly from the Black Hole Gang; Don-Wan Kihotay, an old man who carries a light saber and claims to be a Jedi Knight; Jaxxon, a seven foot tall, green bipedal rabbit with an attitude; and young Jimm, a boy who calls himself the Starkiller Kid and reminds Han of Luke Skywalker, and his droid companion, FE-9Q, or Effie. Han readies this motley assortment for the mission ahead, and the next morning they are met under a flag of truce by Serji-X himself. He offers to pay Han more than the farmers offered if he and Chewie leave peacefully. Han refuses, knowing when next they meet, he and Serji-X will be in mortal combat. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This obvious take on The Magnificent Seven isn’t actually bad, but it feels nothing like a Star Wars story.  We see precious few of the other candidates, but they must have been pretty awful for Han to have chosen those six. Fine, Hedji has the quills, and Jaxxon is a really tough scrapper. I suppose he knows Amaiza’s worth in a fight, but Don-Wan Kihotay (seriously) and Jimm? One is just a crazy old man and the other a kid who wants to get off his boring, barren homeworld. Are these really the best people for the job? Why Han has to interview them all shirtless is a minor mystery.

The art is much better this issue, thanks mostly to Tom Palmer, who embellished. Sometimes the characters even resemble the movie cast. There is a brief scene of Luke leaving Yavin-4 to find a new rebel base that really captures Mark Hamill’s features. Han is hot and cold, sometimes getting close to Harrison Ford, other times not. Chewbacca, however, never looked better. In a minor continuity flub, the three men seen as farmers this issue were little Asian-looking dudes in robes the previous issue. The dialog still runs toward “cheesy space opera” corny, and Han just talks and talk and talks. Guy won’t shut up.

Matthew: When I saw Roy and Howie “welcoming aboard Tom Palmer as embellisher in residence,” my second impulse—i.e., to give him a limited benefit of the doubt, and assume he couldn’t make things any worse—was called into question by a good look at that splash page, on which Han looks like nothing so much as a Mad caricature by Jack Davis, but there are admittedly moments when he actually brings up Chaykin’s game.  I’d forgotten, while invoking The Magnificent Seven last time, that they actually went all in with the Extraterrestrial Eight bit, which may be unwise.  A reportedly rare LOC blasting #1-4 and a rebuttal “detailing some of the difficulties inherent in adapting the movie…into comics form” occupy some 80% of the lettercol.

Chris: I can’t help looking at this from two angles, the perspective of long ago and that of today.  Back then, I’m sure I was delighted by the prospect of any other Star Wars-related content; the idea of our heroes continuing on with new adventures (“Beyond the Movie!” as the cover promises us) was fine with me.  As I re-read this story today, though, I have to wonder how Roy decided to focus on Han and his rag-tag defenders of a tiny farm village on the far edge of the Empire.  Another concern is that it’s a second issue of not-a-whole-lot-happening; outside of the bar fight, most of the issue seems occupied with meeting and recruiting the defense team.  Contrast that with the movie itself, which is chock-filled with various things happening at numerous locales, until it all boils down to the heart of the Empire’s power.  

If I weren’t such a nut for the movie and its characters, I’m sure I would’ve allowed myself some impatience with this seemingly insignificant setting, and the slow pace of events.  If anything, Luke’s quest for a new Rebel base holds more promise; as he points out, Vader knows the Rebels are still at Yavin-4.  Wouldn’t the potential defense of Yavin-4 against a Vader-led counterattack run closer to the type of story we saw in the original Star Wars -?  You could sign me up for that movie right 
now -!
I mentioned re: SW #7 that Springer’s finishes weren’t doing it for me (well, they rarely do …); Palmer is a far-better choice.  It helps that Chaykin continues to do well with way-out, creepy alien-types, and that his handle on both Solo and (more significantly) Chewbacca has improved.  I honestly can’t tell to what extent Palmer might’ve been helping Chaykin out, but either way, the results are far better this time.  I’ve always wondered about Jaxx, though, who looks too much like he might’ve just stepped out of a Warner Bros cartoon.  Well, ya can’t have everything. 

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 9
"The God of Tarzan"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

Reading his father’s books, young Tarzan wonders about the meaning of “God,” and while questioning elderly Mumba is overheard by Numgo, who theorizes that God is the moon, but Goro hides his face behind a cloud as Tarzan addresses him from a treetop.  When Numgo suggests asking the Gomangani, the buffalo-headed witch-doctor in Mbonga’s village seems a likely candidate until Tarzan unmasks Rabba Kega as a charlatan, and spares Mbonga when the wrinkled and terrified chief attempts to spear him.  After Tarzan and Teeka both risk the coils of Histah, the snake, to save Gazan, he concludes that a higher power is responsible for his mercy to Mbonga, Teeka’s mother-love, and his selfless bravery, so “everything good comes from God!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Loud rejoicing from the offices of Dean Peter, and Professor Tom whose beloved Alcala begins a double-header as Buscema’s inker; from readers, maybe not so much, as the TATJOO adaptation is interrupted one last time by a Jungle Tales of Tarzan fill-in, this one not even professing (as did #7) to be a digressive memory.  The fourth story, “The God of Tarzan” is, as usual, faithfully rendered, and ERB’s treatment of the theme is actually quite clever, even if Tarzan’s theological quest does risk taking a concept that already strained credulity—his self-taught literacy—to the snapping point.  Alcala embellishes Big John with a heavier hand than some of his predecessors, and his characteristically stylized touch is much in evidence here, yet the results are far from displeasing.

Chris: It’s a clash of cultures, as Tarzan struggles to grasp the Judeo-Christian concept of God; also as he tries to determine whether the villagers of Mbonga (who are not much closer to understanding the Western “God” than he is) are connected with, or somehow embody, this God.  At first, I thought the struggle with Histah was little more than standard Ka-Zar style jungle action (so to speak), until I realized Roy wants to provide Tarzan with several different scenarios to consider before he arrives at his abstract concept of the workings of God; in nature, and in mercy.  

I bought a few of these Tarzan comics expressly because of the Buscema artwork; of my handful, two are inked by the incomparable Alcala.  The visit to Mbonga's village includes most of the art highlights: Tarzan’s pensive, ape-like pose as he prepares to approach the village (p7, 1st pnl); the apprehensive look of the ceremonially-painted men (p 10, pnl 3); the witch-doctor pauses, standing still as he tries to determine “how best he might take advantage of the timely interruption” (p 10, pnl 5); Tarzan’s arrival, as he appears to employ his left forearm to propel his surge into the clearing (p 11, 1st pnl); Tarzan accosts the unmasked witch-doctor, with an able color-assist by the ever-capable George Roussos (p 16, 1st pnl). 

The Mighty Thor 268
"Death, Thy Name is Brother!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga

A passing police car screeches to a stop in the pouring rain beside a walking Don Blake. Knowing of "his friendship" with Thor, the officers ask the good Doc if he can contact the Thunder God, whose presence is requested by the Police Commissioner. No problem there, and moments later...A humble man named Bennett Barlow had asked the police for this meeting; reason being, he is the brother  of one Eric Barlow, aka, Damocles! He relates the story of their upbringing: Eric's frustration and lack of direction, his success in college and yet failure to succeed subsequently, his quiet jealousy as Bennett found a place for himself. They had lost contact until Bennett recognized the picture of Damocles in the paper as Eric. With no real clue as to his brother's current whereabouts, Bennett shows Thor where he and his brother used to room together. The hunch pays off, as Damocles appears, riding his Cosmic Cannon. One blast reduces their old house to rubble, the next knocks Thor unconscious. Before he departs, Eric tells Bennett it was his knowledge of physics that helped create Damocles and the power he wields today. Bennett realizes as Thor mentions the cobalt Eric used was synthetic, that it will therefore be unstable, and it is only a matter of time before it explodes! It doesn't take long to find Damocles again, unleashing more blasts. Of course he doesn't listen to either his brother or Thor. Bennett loves his brother, but won't watch idly as he destroys innocent lives. He shoots Eric, plain and simple. Damocles is dead. Thor uses his hammer to create a vortex, sending the Cosmic Cannon into space, where its silent destruction causes no harm. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A simple tale like this can't really be epic, nor does it pretend or need to be. Len Wein has enough skill to make the characters sympathetic. You can feel Bennett's tremendous loss as he is forced to shoot his brother, in part because Eric never believed in or felt the same way about him. One curious moment of weakness is never explored further. Damocles feels almost afraid that a hint of dissatisfaction among his henchmen will result in future mutiny, yet they seem to follow him blindly after this. We get a glimpse in a jailbreak scene of trouble brewing for the next couple of issues. The panel on page two of Thor landing is pretty close to one in an old Kirby issue; I can't think which one at the moment. 

Chris: It’s a fairly average issue.  It doesn’t help that the story takes a bit too long to get started, what with the journey to the police commissioner’s office, Damocles’ back-story, etc; we don’t see Damocles’ nasty device until p 10.  The notion of the unstable fuel is familiar; if I remember right, on more than one occasion the Cobalt Man has been at similar risk for an unplanned fiery finish.  I do like that Damocles doesn’t seem to have a plan, and that the cobalt-cannon might only be For Badness; once his avaricious henchman suggests they get paid, Damocles seems to warm to the idea, seemingly in the absence of any other suggestions (p 22).  

The art doesn’t quite zing for me this time either, although the cobalt cannon is impressive (p 10; but why is it pink?), and it certainly blows up the Brooklyn brownstone real good (you guys shoulda held onto that – it’ll be worth a fortune someday, believe me).   Thor’s arrival at the jewel heist also is appropriately power-packed (p 23).  
Could it be I miss Asgard already?  
Matthew: Ho hum.  Since Loki’s been banished to Midgard, that title seems like a bit of a red herring, but regardless, knowing his boring backstory still doesn’t make Damocles compelling; in fact, I had trouble keeping my eyes open, which I don’t think was attributable entirely to the fact that I was reading this on the train on my way home from work.  With Tony’s trademark raccoon eyes running rampant, especially on ol’ Eric, the Simoniga artwork is acceptable yet rarely given the chance to shine, and even the Kirbyesque Kontraption in page 10, panel 1 feels somewhat perfunctory…rather like Len’s story.  I honestly can’t remember who our mystery guest on page 14 is or who spirits him away, so they’re among the few points of genuine interest.

What If? 7
"What If Someone Else Had Become
The Amazing Spider-Man?"
Story by Don Glut and Roy Thomas
Art by Rick Hoberg and Sam Grainger
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott

Watching (see what I did there?) Spider-Man save a young man during a busy night, The Watcher shows us three "parallel Earths in the universe" where someone else became Spider-Man. First up is Flash Thompson, who pushes his way past Peter Parker and is bitten by the radioactive spider (which Peter keeps to "study at home").  He saves the two gals he's with from an oncoming car, then goes up against Crusher Hogan—accidentally killing him in the ring! On the run from the police, Flash starts to discover his powers, deftly breaks into a costume shop and becomes Captain Spider! He defeats the Chameleon and the Tinkerer, but the Vulture manages to take Captain Spider up in the air and kick him off. The fall kills the fledgling hero, who's found by Peter, who can't believe Flash was the hero he admired.

Our next alternate take is Betty Brant of all people, accompanying boss J. Jonah Jameson to the science lab where wallflower Peter Parker politely steps aside—and Betty is bitten by the famous spider! The two end up going for coffee where Betty breaks the table, leading Peter to put her to some tests of her new "spider powers." Betty becomes the superheroine The Amazing Spider-Girl, armed with web-shooters and a skimpy yet ugly outfit, while Peter is her personal photographer. One day, while posing for pics, Spider-Girl is unable to stop a burglar because she's out of web fluid. The crook turns out to be the burglar who kills Peter's Uncle Ben, and the guilt over not stopping him causes Betty to retire as a costumed hero.

Our last scenario has John Jameson bitten by the spider (which Peter takes home to study), and he uses his newfound powers for good, becoming Spider Jameson, a name almost as silly as his costume. Of course, he's the darling of the Daily Bugle, and JJJ hires Peter to take some pics of his "super-son in action"—on the same day there's a space capsule out of control! Spider Jameson takes off with his jet pack, catches up the the capsule, and uses his "spider-tenacity" to hold on and guide it back to Earth. Suddenly, he runs out of fuel, managing to turn it over, saving the man inside (who we never see), but is crushed by the capsule and dies a hero, complete with golden statue built by a newly sympathetic towards costumed heroes JJJ.

In all three of these possible new Spidey origins, Peter takes the radioactive spider, creates and drinks a serum that turns him into Spider-Man! "You see, then, that it was destiny's plan for Peter Parker to become the amazing Spider-Man!," says the stop-me-if-you’ve-heard-this-one Watcher. --Joe Tura

Joe: What If…there was an alternate Spidey tale that I actually thought was fairly mediocre at best? What If…it was a lot worse than I remember when reading the comic as an 11 year old? What If…all three tales were rushed, tragic, and ultimately pretty dopey? The worst offense here is a lot of the art is clumsy. In the opening Spidey looks like that orange plastic Spider-Man from the early 70s. (I think I had an orange one and a green one, actually!) Many of the expressions are odd and some of the body language goofy. Just check out the Betty montage full-pager on page 23. Peter looks like George Burns on the bottom! And the less said about any of the costumes, the better. Although Flash's wasn't so rotten—he just gets the shaft by getting killed by the Vulture of all people. At least there's a "happy" ending in that Peter Parker becomes Spider-Man in all three alternate realities. Hooray for destiny!

Matthew: Not sure if Roy’s “concept” credit is supposed to be specific to this issue, but in any case, as tiresome as I find the whole thing, it does have a few points of interest.  As far as I know, having skipped #6, it’s the first time they’ve presented multiple scenarios in one story, and although Glut pushes it by having so many of the same things happen to our new Spider-People, the concept that destiny would make all roads lead ineluctably back to Peter is intriguing.  It’s also fun for us old-timers who’ve read Amazing Fantasy #15 a zillion times to see how slavishly Hoberg and Grainger recreate individual Ditko panels; alas, the new costumes are indescribably hideous, and the under-arm webbing makes Spider-Girl look like she needs to shave her armpits!

Chris: A story like this reminds me that– at this point in comics-publication history – super-heroes had an inseparable connection with their secret identities.  Don Glut acknowledges other people might acquire spider-powers, for a time, but – in a clever manner – assures us that, in the end, there could only ever be one Spider-Man.  Of course, this mindset will begin to change over the next ten years, as Ant-Man, Iron Man, and even a relative newcomer like Vindicator all will be embodied by new people, while Captain Marvel will become a non-Kree female with very different powers.  Ted Sallis will continue to be Man-Thing.  (Yes, I know that Clint Barton was Goliath for a year or two, before reverting to his original Hawkeye role; that’s more the exception than the rule, isn’t it?)  DC will follow suit in the 1980s, and go further, as they’ll turn out a new Flash, a new Robin, and a whole corps of Green Lanterns; that’s another story.

Two head-scratcher moments in the story to address briefly.  I don’t know what to make of p 2, when Spidey saves a kid from a fall out of a midtown skyscraper window, who supposedly had been waving to his “buddies” on the street below; sorry Don, but does this kid live in an office building?  Are his friends – somehow visible to him twenty stories below – corporate lawyers and investment bankers?  Moving on.  The John Jameson rescue mission (p 39, p 42) is gol-durn crazy.  He uses his super-strength to arrest the plummet of a space capsule, which is moving at thousands of miles per hour?  And not only is his body not vaporized by the impact (p 42, pnl 3), but he’s able to offer some parting words?  It must have been his super-strength that enabled the capsule to land smoothly, without leaving a crater, I suppose -?
I like Rick Hoberg, and I credit him for raising his pencil-tip to Steve Ditko, especially in the presentation of bespectacled, sweater-vested Peter Parker.  I wish, though, he’d had some help with the alternate Spidey costumes, which are pretty shaky.  First, Flash’s is under-imagined, as it’s nearly identical to the classic suit, except open spaces on the mask and equipped with a cape.  Next, I’ll admit Jonah’s costume for John Jameson looks like something Jonah might dream up, as it incorporates some space-suit elements (“My son, the astronaut super-hero!” beams Jonah).  Lastly, Betty’s suit is atrocious.  It’s Spidey’s gloves, boots, and mask, with a sort of web-teddy on her torso; Dave Cockrum – or John Romita himself – should’ve been consulted.  

Mark: Kitschy kinda Silver Age cover, with tub-thumping blurbs: "You'll Gasp At The Fate Of..." and "See What Happens To...", but Spidey is spindly and sinister in the middle of a web, getting his Thwip! on and flashing devil horns at a Black Sabbath concert. Great stuff by the oddball pairing of Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott.  

Enjoy it, because once inside Rick Hoberg's amateurish  effort provides little suggestion of the top flight artist he'd become. And it seemed Don Glut's story (from a Roy Thomas "concept") would be perfectly paired with the Charlton-level graphics - like Thunderbird wine and 7-Eleven burritos - but the trio of alt-Spideys grew on me as we progressed. 

The Watcher's prolix pronouncements aren't as windy this month; Flash cuts in on Peter's irradiated spider by page 6 and is dead at the Vulture's hand a mere ten pages later. Next under our arachnid's fangs is Betty Brant, soon molded into Spider Girl by P.P., who makes her web-shooters & takes her pix for the Bugle. She also gets the worst uniform, close to the original save for all that exposed young flesh. You want to get ahead in this racket, girlie? Then web-up that cleavage and show off those gams.

Hewing closest to the source material, Betty even takes down Uncle Ben's killer in the old Acme warehouse (here Hoberg nicely recreates Ditko's burglar takedown from Amazing Fantasy #15, right down to the infamous pupil-dots on Spidey's mask), but then all that estrogen gets the better of her. She "just can't handle" the great responsibility, setting up the famous  Spidey-suit in the trash can moment before our gaze turns to John Jameson and his date with Bitey the Spider. 

John-boy gets the most distinctively different uni (but always with the blue and red?), complete with jetpack, and by far the worst name.

Spider Jameson.

Makes ya want to let a brown recluse crawl up your arm but, in compensation, J.J. gets to ham it up as the ultimate stage mother. Spider J must rescue an errant space capsule (see ASM #1), but his jetpack runs out of fuel, and writer Glut actually employs the great idea every boy gets around third grade, namely figuring out how to survive a long fall or plane crash. Right before you hit the ground, jump up!

Okay, class, so John actually uses his body as a bumper for a crashing space ship. Big diff! And instead of being instant Astro-Splat, he even gets a death scene with papa Jonah that's unexpectedly (if ashamedly) effective, as Hoberg and colorist George Roussos bathe the fallen in golden light.

The real kicker's on the last couple pages, as Big Baldie clues us that, on each of the worlds, Peter Parker synthesized Bitey's venom, chugged down Spider serum and took up the web, as was his destinty everywhere

Corny? Yep, and why not? Maybe I'm a just sucker for wed-head hagiography, but from a title whose tone generally ranges from grim to downbeat, I'll take a rah-rah finish that managed to send me off with a smile. 

The X-Men 109
"Home are the Heroes!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

The X-Men have been returned to Earth, right at their own doorstep, no less. Each member of the team settles in; Sean greets Moira with passion, Ororo restores her vast garden by the use of her weather powers, Jean talks with her parents to assure them that as Phoenix, she is no threat and is still the same daughter they always had. None of them are aware that a mystery person is tracking them. Sean, Peter, Ororo and Moira plan to spend the day on a woodland picnic, Wolverine hitches a ride to go out and hone his senses by tracking deer. Ororo is aghast as she assumes he means to hunt the animal. However, Wolverine intends only to get close enough to touch it. Once they are in the forest, an attack force descends and a costumed man named Weapon Alpha appears in front of Logan. He’s been sent by the Canadian government to bring “Weapon X” back home. The men have history, both having served the government together. Wolverine, calling Weapon Alpha by his true name of James MacDonald Hudson, resists. The battle is long and vicious, eventually spilling over into where the others are relaxing. Before long, Alpha finds himself overwhelmed. He never intended to fight the X-Men. Realizing he knows too little about his adversaries to fight them effectively, Hudson leaves without taking Wolverine. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: The next issue’s fill in notwithstanding, John Byrne settles in as the regular artist and the result is a visually perfect book. Byrne’s style is filled with detail and nuance.   He is quite simply my favorite artist in comics. Not only is he a skilled illustrator, he’s an excellent storyteller. While he doesn’t “write” the book, the collaboration between Byrne and Claremont was very close. Byrne had a lot of say in where the stories were headed. When he eventually leaves the book (after this blog ends), the style changes drastically.

Under the Claremont/Byrne run, Wolverine gets a great deal of fleshing out. What was once just a borderline psycho, Wolverine is now showing clear signs of depth and progression. While still and always unpredictable and on the crazy side, Wolverine is not showing a softer side. He’s allowing himself to feel something for the X-Men. Byrne, apparently wanting the character to be more well-rounded, helped steer the character toward greatness. Over time, a lot of it, his backstory would become more detailed.

This is a nice interlude style issue, with a lot of personal interaction. Jean reveals her powers to her parents, Scott feels a little distance, but gets an eye-opening pep talk from Nightcrawler and takes it to heart. These characters have started to become real under Claremont’s typewriter. He, along with a host of artists, would create a huge, long running saga. Soon, the X-Men would be the book to watch, but at this point, it was just a very well written serial.

Matthew:  Well, the troika got off to a good start right out of the gate, but now it’s time for the inevitable sophomore slump.  After all, in only their second issue, you wouldn’t expect them to, oh, I don’t know…introduce a character who would wind up spearheading an entire new franchise, right?  D’oh!  It’s a good thing Alpha Flight #12 is well outside this blog’s purview, because I’ll state right now that I’ve always loved Vindicator, as Weapon Alpha will next be called (although the “Major Maple Leaf” moniker tossed off by Banshee is memorable and, it seems, will be used by unwise post-Bronze writers for actual characters); I love his literally groundbreaking reveal in page 16, panel 4; and I love that truly stunning Cockrum/Austin cover.

Raise your hand if you think the convergence of Mac’s debut, an increased focus on the only Canadian X-Man, and the advent of the strip’s Alberta-raised artist is a coincidence.  Page 15, panel 3 is a microcosm of things to come:  Claremont’s dialogue gives Logan hitherto unseen depth, while perfectly nailing his “voice,” and that unmistakable “Byrne mouth” epitomizes the look with which John, Terry, and Chris will make him a superstar.  I’ll overlook his Kostume Kerfuffle (since he was still wearing those “alien threads” in Iron Fist #15) as I note the consolidation of this surprisingly salutary soap-opera style…and when’s the last time you heard someone say something “rots”—as Kurt does in page 14, panel 3—which is perfectly of its time?

Chris: Chris & John prove they don’t require a broad canvas to present a great issue.  We have check-ins and updates regarding all our characters (including word on the ever-neglected Havok & Polaris, who as Archie tells us, were tended to between issues #107 and #108!), but this issue to me marks the start of Wolverine’s big move to stardom.  The team’s been so busy over the past few years (in publication time, I mean) that there hasn’t been an opportunity to consider the circumstances leading to Logan’s departure from Canada, and his apparent reluctance to return.  Wolverine’s tracking exercise, as he hones his skills alone in the forest, also contributes to the character’s mystique (p 16).  

Just as we the readers don’t know a great deal about Wolverine, it’s amusing to find Hudson doesn’t have much current intel on him, either.  Great moment as Wolverine crashes the picnic, followed by Weapon Alpha, only to find a host of other super-powered beings in Logan’s company, requiring Hudson to try to defend himself without knowing what he’s up against (“Oh great,” he thinks; “two of them can fly!”).  Peter’s mid-punch transformation to Colossus (p 26) and Banshee’s furious attack (p 30 pnl 4, as Weapon Alpha recoils in surprise) are two highlights.  
Let’s have some other art highlights, shall we: Kurt lurking around behind Scott’s chair (p 11); Weapon Alpha, barely visible on his escort plane (p 15, last pnl); Wolverine’s claws-bared attack (p 17); Weapon Alpha’s shot caroming off Colossus’ chest, causing his torso and face to flash with white light (p 27, last pnl); Sean’s desperation as he plunges after Moira, only her right hand visible as the rest of her already is under water (p 30, 1st pnl).
Last thoughts: as Hudson leaves, he promises he’ll be back with Alpha Flight, which tells you Chris & John already know, at this early date, that there will be such a team; and, as he charges thru the front door, Wolverine claws at his “alien threads,” dying to get out of them – so why, and when, was he wearing the alien costume at Jean & Misty’s apartment in Iron Fist #15, hmmm -?

Also This Month

Crazy #34

Flintstones #3
Human Fly #6
Kid Colt Outlaw #222
< Man From Atlantis #1
Marvel Classics Comics #26
Marvel Tales #88
Scooby-Doo #3
Spidey Super Stories #31


The Rampaging Hulk 7
Cover Art by Jim Starlin

“Night of the Wraith”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Keith Pollard and Jim Mooney

“Among the Great Divide”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Jim Starlin and Bob Wiacek

Judo Jim Starlin has his fingerprints all over this magazine, providing the cover painting, the frontispiece — a terrific illustration of both the Hulk and the Man-Thing inked by Ernie Chan — and the pencils for the back-up story, which also features everyone’s favorite muck monster. So we take an up-tick in overall quality this month, even more so considering that we don’t have a Bloodstone installment to wade through.

In “Night of the Wraith,” the Hulk — tired of all the recent smashing during the battles with the Krylorian invaders — takes his frustration out on Rick and Bereet. The alien woman, still upset over the loss of most of her techno-art creations during the battle with Metal Master, lashes out violently: her anger causes the lifeless forms in her Spatial Distorter bag to merge into a skull-headed wraith with one huge eye. The grotesque ghost, furious at Bereet since it thinks she is responsible for the deaths of the creations that made it whole, attacks her — but the green goliath intervenes. However, his powerful punches simply swing harmlessly through the mist-like monster. 
Rick and Bereet attempt to escape in the Banshee Mask but the wraith latches on to the fuselage and begins pounding on the ship. While the creature is in contact with the craft, his being becomes whole so Hulk manages to beat it away — it flies off into the distance. Jade Jaws leaps after and chases the sinister spirit to a port city on the Adriatic Sea. There, the wraith inhabits an ancient stone colossus and it lurches to life. After a brief battle, the gamma-radiated goliath manages to smash the icon to pieces — the ghost reforms and screams away. Exhausted, the Hulk collapses and transforms into Bruce Banner: he is soon picked up by his friends in the Banshee Mask.

The ghoul then lands in the camp of a travelling circus: it enters the bodies of a lion, bear and elephant and they begin to run amuck. Above, Bereet and Banner work on a way to destroy the wraith. While a nervous Rick flies the weird rocket with his mind, the scientist begins to assemble the remains of the techno-art into a strange rifle as Bereet creates an empath-gem filled with her feelings for her creations: the gun will fire a beam of pure love. As the Banshee craft flies over the burning circus compound, the wraith attacks the ship once again: Rick’s mental control is broken and the jet collapses into mask form. Bruce, Bereet and Jones plummet to the ground relatively unhurt — however, the empath-rifle falls into a fire. The ghost enters the alien woman’s body and she is corrupted by evil. After the Hulk pummels the rampaging animals, Jones goads him into plucking the weapon from the flames and firing on Bereet. After a huge explosion, they awake unharmed to see that the dead techno-art creations have transformed into bizarre but beautiful flowers.

OK, I find Bereet and her whole Spatial Distorter hang-bag filled with techno-art creations entirely goofy, so this 31-page adventure was a bumpy ride. I omitted the sequence, but at one point, she utilizes one of her last remaining creations to uncover the origin of the wraith: called the Star-Eye, the object was basically an alien TV camera that looked like Mrs. Potato Head crossed with a cyclops. As ridiculous as it sounds. The wraith was pretty cool though — however, it did remind me of the infamous Helleyes from Moench’s days writing Adventures Into Fear with the Man Called Morbius the Living VampireDoug did play a little fast and loose with the fact that it did not have a corporeal form unless it was touching a solid object. And a love gun? Don’t ask me how Banner was able to assemble alien technology into the weapon. With all the metaphysical mumbo jumbo, you would think that Steve Gerber wrote this one as well as the Man-Thing backup. And I felt terribly for the possessed lion, bear and elephant: as innocents they didn’t deserve the beatings each took at the hands of the Hulk. Rick Jones also takes a mighty slap from Jade Jaws in the beginning — how he walked away without any broken bones is beyond me. The art is serviceable: for better or worse, Jim Mooney is the type of inker who overwhelms his penciller, so things look more Mooney than Keith Pollard.

At this point, Steve Gerber and Jim Starlin credits in Marvel’s color comics were quite rare, so the 22-page “Among the Great Divide” — called “Beyond the Great Divide” on the table of contents — would have been considered quite a treat for fans of their work at the time. I’m a bit lukewarm on Gerber after covering his final few Man-Thing issues for MU, though I’ve always placed Starlin’s art near the top of the heap. However, Starlin seems a bit undone by the odd inks of Bob Wiacek — perhaps Jim only provided rough layouts and Wiacek did most of the heavy lifting. Anyways, the story isn’t really my cup of tea — lots of noise signifying not much — and Gerber insists on using one of his trademark text pages. Ugh.

In the swamp outside of Citrusville, Man-Thing comes across the corpse of Mickey Hooper — the man is now not much more than carrion. However, the rotting body still has an aura of terror that repels the muck monster. He trudges on, but is soon pounced on by a savage she-demon who rips through his mossy hide with claws and fangs. But when her vicious attacks prove useless, the wild woman begins to feel fear and, ultimately, the burn of the Man-Thing’s touch: she bursts into flames. Finally, he spots a campsite, a scantily clad 15-year old girl dancing wildly near the fire. Ghostly figures stand and watch the teenager, speaking of her violent episodes. Unbeknownst to the slime creature, the images are physical manifestations of the dancer’s damaged psyche. The girl, named Andrea, screams for them to stop and they disappear. Andrea’s mother emerges from the van and they argue: the girl wants to live by herself, the older woman saying that she is much too young and far from capable. 

The Man-Thing trudges off, overwhelmed by all the emotions. However, he is drawn back to the camp to find the mother badly beaten and her daughter driving away in the van. Andrea ends up at the Blue Moon Saloon, a notorious singles bar. Inside, Circe — the representation of Andrea’s passion — rejects the advances of a black man. Snake, her male side, appears in Circe’s place and punches the masher. He is then replaced by Patti, the inner child, who runs crying to the door — only to be become Miranda, the logical one, who enters the van and tries to convince Andrea to commit herself to a hospital. Suddenly, the rejected black man, plus a group of his friends, appears and blames the girl for the disappearance of his rival Mickey Hooper. Just before she is raped, all of Andrea’s manifestations appear, including the she-demon, and they ravage the men. However, the Man-Thing soon appears and, one-by-one, the terrified personalities retreat back into Andrea’s mind. The unbalanced teenager stumbles away to Citrusville General Hospital. The Man-Thing returns to the swamp.

Now I remember why Gerber’s Man-Thing series gave me a headache in my eye. It’s All So Important! And I’m sorry, a page filled mostly with text is about as pretentious as you can get, especially if it adds up to nothing. I think I’m probably in the MU minority, but I never got Gerber and, it seems, never will. And, as usual with Steve, the muck monster is basically a guest star in his own story, with Andrea and her generic manifestations taking center stage. Now I wouldn’t mind all the metaphysical pomposity if I could marvel at the superb Starlin art, but, as I’ve mentioned, things seem a bit off. The backgrounds are all fairly plain and the characters awkward and not very well defined. Perhaps we can blame Wiacek, but I seem to remember enjoying his work back in the day. But, at the very least, it’s lightyears ahead of the usual Bloodstone backup. Which will be back next issue. Happy happy joy joy. -Tom Flynn

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