Wednesday, April 6, 2016

January 1978 Part Two: At Last! Roy Thomas and Marvel Take Star Wars Beyond George Lucas!

Star Wars 7
"New Planets, New Perils!"
Story by Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin
Art by Howard Chaykin and Frank Springer
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Tony DeZuniga

The Death Star has been destroyed, Darth Vader has vanished into deep space, and Han Solo has collected his reward from the grateful Princess. As much as he would like to stay and help them find a new base of operations, Han knows he needs to pay off Jabba the Hutt and remove the bounty placed on his head. With regrets, Han and Chewbacca bid their friends farewell and take off toward Tatooine. Before they can reach their destination, the Millennium Falcon is ambushed by space pirates led by Crimson Jack and his first mate, the young girl Jolli. The rebel reward is quickly confiscated. Jack and Solo have history, and while Jolli wants to blast Solo into atoms, Jack figures Solo will have to come back their way eventually and with more loot. He lets them go. Now broke once more, Han can’t go to Jabba empty handed, and now that Han can’t pay him off, he knows the bounty for them will be so high, they will attract bounty hunters “from here to Aquilae.” So they alter their heading to one of the rim worlds to lie low for awhile. They arrive at Aduba-3, landing in a small commerce hub. It isn’t long before Han and the wookiee fall into a scuffle. They spot an insect-alien priest being threatened by the spaceport inhabitants for trying to give a cyborg a decent burial. Han and Chewie join the fracas and make short work of the attackers. The alien offers Han money to carry out the burial in a place called Spacer’s Hill. Needing the scratch, Han agrees and he and Chewie try to carry out their job while being harassed and attacked by the locals. After fending them all off, Han, Chewie and the priest are able to accomplish their task. Hen and Chewie go to quench their thirst at the local cantina, where they are eager to make friends. They hook up with some bar ladies, but Han is stopped by an alien with a proposition. One that Han should take if he enjoys breathing… -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: The movie is over, the characters' initial conflict has been resolved. Now what? Not knowing where Lucas was going with a sequel, Roy Thomas and Howard Chaykin (with the approval of Lucasfilm) had to tread water for three years. I would have liked to see more follow up to the film story, but the decision was made to follow Han and Chewie for a time. At least the logical thing is addressed first: Han needs to pay off his debt to Jabba. Of course, not all goes well and we meet Crimson Jack and Jolli, two characters who will return and figure prominently in an entertaining story arc later. The rest of this issue is really crushingly routine. After Han’s reward money is stolen by Jack, he decides to lie low and earn a living under Jabba’s radar. Why not just go back to the rebel base and work with them? Hell, Leia might even give him more money to pay his debt. Granted, I realize Han wouldn’t necessarily go back and beg for more cash, especially since he recognizes his own carelessness was what got him into Jack’s clutches to begin with. However, it would have been nice to hear him consider it. The dialog is pretty corny throughout and little of it sounds like what Han Solo would say: “That was thirsty work!” “I’d give my star-spurs to stay.” Star-spurs? Yer kiddin’. The art is below par, very sloppy and hard on the eyes. Crimson Jack’s outfit is, well, interesting, for lack of a better word. Not the most auspicious start to the post-Death Star story.

Chris Blake: Curious confluence of events, as Roy Thomas anticipates George Lucas’ later decision to delay Han Solo’s payment of debt to Jabba the Hutt (I betcha Roy didn’t foresee the whole carbonite-freezing thing, though).  It’s strange to realize, as these characters have become so familiar, that we still don’t know what “Jabba the Hutt” really is, or what he might look like; now, it’s an image we can’t un-see.  
Sound decision to give everyone a break from Luke & Leia, and instead focus our attention on fellow story-core members Han & Chewie.  In fact, Roy mentions on the letters page that he had met with George Lucas and Mark Hamill, “and all agreed on certain directions the mag will take from this point forward”; I can’t imagine this meeting would have been as likely to happen after 1977.  As for the story itself, there isn’t a whole lot to it once we’re past the pirates’ thievery of the reward money, and our heroes have found a place to hide out.  Han finds a way to right a wrong, and make some cash at the same time – that’s his kinda deal.  Fortunately, as of next issue, we’ll have some new supporting cast on hand to move us into the next storyline.

Chris: I was struck by the use of the term “borg”; I don’t expect Gene Roddenberry was a reader of Star Wars comics, so could the production staff of Next Generation have come up with this exact same variation on “cyborg” on their own -?  
I’m not excited about the art.  The Chaykin layouts are probably okay, but it’s an effort to overlook the Springer finishes.  Chewbacca looks ridiculous most of the time – is he a gorilla? a sasquatch?  a giant stuffed toy?  You decide.  The aliens don’t come off much better, as they appear to be wearing fright masks.  It’s too bad Leialoha wasn’t enlisted to continue as inker once the film adaptation was completed.  

Matthew Bradley: Yes, I know, it’s the Boot Hill sequence from The Magnificent Seven, and quite frankly, that doesn’t bother me; steal from the best, as they say, and equating Han and Chewie with Wild West gunslingers is hardly a stretch of Reed Richards proportions, especially with that “Wanted” poster on the cover, which has no analog inside.  Per the lettercol, “in order to gain a breathing space while…Lucas himself is deciding where the movie sequel (and novelizations thereof) will head, [Roy and co-plotter Howie] are concentrating a bit more on [their] adventures” than those of Luke, Leia, and the droids.  The Chaykin/Springer bylines make you pray that a negative times a negative equals a positive, but those prayers are largely unanswered.

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 8
"The Air -Pirates of Mars Part 8:
Flesh May Wither... ... And Stone May Crumble!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres

After their recent ordeals, Carter and Dejah relax by snow-skiing on an outing with Kantos Kan; his inamorata, Lyssia; Grogg; and Tars Tarkas, who says that his time with Carter has “corrupted” his aversion to emotion.  Pressed by Kantos to explain her preoccupation, Lyssia reveals that her pendant is a charmed soul-stone that foretells the future, and as she dangles it on its chain, it etches a skull in the sand.  The ensuing debate about the supernatural inspires Carter to relate an African safari he led for millionaire Murray Stance, who was immolated by a witch doctor after their capture, but when Carter’s kick knocked dust from his fist onto the houngan, he, too, burst into flame, his “magic” exposed as a secret powder.

In an iron-lined underground chamber, the Great One—a patchwork of all five races—terminates the green men who stood by as Stara Kan died.  A romantic evening ends abruptly when Carter must foil an attack on Kantos by the hooded ones, but his fruitless interrogation is interrupted by giant snakes whose gaze turns people to stone, made of rock vivified by the buried arm for which he should have been searching.  Finally locating it amid the battle, Carter dodges the serpentine eye-beams that turn the arm to crumbling stone, its destruction returning the snakes to the dust whence they sprang, but as Tars Tarkas sadly informs him, he was too late to save Lyssia, who raced to save her beloved and was herself petrified, the death she foresaw having been her own... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The splash page of the reunited lovers schussing down the slope is a supreme WTF moment that sadly sets the tone for the entire issue, and although the dreaded return of Rudy reduces Carter to a tousled Ken in search of his Barbie (epitomized by page 27, panel 4, reprinted below), Marv is unquestionably the prime mover.  The African digression seems to have wandered in from their ERB sister title, capped off by Comedian Carter’s “he screamed in expectant horror a moment before he, too, uhhh…went to blazes, as they say!”  His self-reprimand (“Instead of searching for the arm…I allowed myself a day of relaxation And now I would pay for my self-indulgence—in a way I would never forget”) echoes my own incredulity, although it’s Lyssia who truly picks up the tab.

On a positive note, I’ve just stumbled upon an amazing site, the self-explanatory Art of Barsoom, and while I don’t have time just now to check out the dozens of talented artists represented (yes, they include Kane’s covers for #1-10 and 15), I am including a link for Gino D’Achille.  A little context:  when I was in my youthful ERB phase, his oeuvre was divvied up between Ballantine, with the Tarzan and Mars series, and Ace, with everything else, often graced by Frank Frazetta art.  The Tarzan covers were done by various artists in a mishmosh of styles, with results every bit as inconsistent as you’d expect, but the gorgeous Mars covers were all done by Gino, and had almost as much as Burroughs to do with the hold that series—my favorite of his—retains on me.

Chris: Early on, as we have quiet time around the campfire, I’m thinking “Oh well, it’s an ‘interlude’ after all the excitement of last issue.  Too bad – I’m just getting into the series.”  But then, I remember the dramatic image from the cover, and for once I’m glad our Marvel covers never come with spoiler alerts; so I hunker down and enjoy the lovers’ time, and Carter’s tale of the houngan he encountered (and defeated) in the wilds of Africa, with the promise of greater excitement yet to come.  The stone serpents are worth the short wait, as Kane & Nebres present them as both sinewy and slate-encased; Tars and Grogg’s futile attempts to attack them with swords adds some humor to the moment.  Another highlight is John astride the back of one serpent, firing toward a second, which is zapping the body of the one he’s riding (above); the serpents dissolving into the dust of a dying planet is also well-done (below). 

The Incredible Hulk 219
"No Man is an Island!"
Story by Len Wein and Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Ernie Chan

Needing to get back to the States, Robert Bruce Banner takes a job aboard a freighter but, as is usually the case, trouble manages to find him. This time in the guise of Captain Barracuda, a sea pirate who sinks the ship looking for some special treasure he was sure was onboard. Of course, all the excitement brings about a change in meek, mild Dr. Banner but his alter ego isn't much help when he's knocked overboard by an errant boom. Hulk makes it ashore on a nearby island, where he meets and befriends a bearded man who's convinced he's Robinson Crusoe and the Incredible one is his man Friday come back to visit after many a year. Crusoe shows Hulk a fabulous gizmo that he has stashed away in a lavish fort he's created. Again, the peace and quiet is disturbed by Barracuda, who assures our jolly green friend that if he opens up on the Captain and his men again, he'll reduce Crusoe to bullet-riddled driftwood. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Does the Incredible Hulk ever stop to eat? It's been a long time since we had the pleasure of the company of Captain Barracuda (Sub-Mariner #11, to be exact), a sixth-tier villain if I'm being generous. Where do you suppose Barracuda got his spandex uni and why would he wear such an emasculating outfit (gotta love the matching submarine)? With only a few exceptions (pg. 14, pnl 7, where Barracuda looks as though his torso is doing the twist), the Chan/Buscema art is top-notch. Hulk taking out two ape-beasts (far below) is a highlight as is the well-choreographed attack on the freighter. Why is it that, when the shit hits the fan, Bruce always says something stupid along the lines of "Have to keep calm. I can't lose my wits now and change into the big green guy!" Uh, have you noticed you're about to be killed by pirates? Of course, you want to lose control, you idiot!

Matthew: Befitting a transitional issue, this is a mixed bag:  the Wein/Stern hand-off remains encouraging, and Ernie once again stops short of inking Sal with too heavy a hand, but the “guest cast” is problematic.  When I call Cap’n Barracuda forgettable, I mean it literally; I’d chalked up the familiarity of his footnote-free appearance (which, as Mark Drummond noticed and I did not, includes looking through the periscope with his eyepatch) to the fact that he feels like a Commander Kraken knock-off, rather than to Sub-Mariner #10-11.  Conversely, “Crusoe” gets a “You remember Robin from Marvel Classics #19, right?  —Len” citation…as though it was actually the same guy, which it perhaps goes without saying he turns out not to be.

Chris: Ah, but it’s another fine issue, me hardies!  Brilliant transition as Len an’ Rog describe how “calm and relaxed” Banner feels during his working sea-voyage, and then in the next panel, Sal an’ Ernie show us the freighter, seen thru cross-hairs (p 7)!  So much for peace and quiet!  The co-writers bring a bit of sadistic glee to the knowledge they’re about to drive a huge dent into Banner’s day.  Clever moment also as Hulk gets smacked overboard by an errant boom (p 15).  But – how did Robinson Crusoe get here (this couldn’t be DeFoe’s character – he’d be hundreds of years old by now, right?)?  The confusion over Hulk’s identity is amusing; how could Crusoe possibly look at a thousand-pound green giant and think he’d be Friday?  The logic might go like this: I’m one of only two men on this island; Friday is one of them, and I’m not Friday; ergo, this green man is Friday!  Sir Bedevere the Wise (as played by Terry Jones) would agree.

The art is more Ernie than Sal, but that’s all right, since Ernie’s a solid-enough artist is his own right, as the cover effectively demonstrates (it’s always kinda cool when the title’s inker can step up and provide the occasional cover, isn’t it?).  If there’s a downside to Sal’s art limited to layouts, we don’t quite see Sal’s depiction of the Hulk’s range of facial expressions.  Well, highlights include: Hulk-as-MacArthur, striding ashore at his newfound island paradise, his face in shadow, an image that tells us it’s high noon, but also reflects the Hulk’s still-simmering rage at the indignity of the long time spent in Hulk-hated water (p 17, 1st panel); grappling with beast-men (p 27), which concludes as the Hulk grabs two beasts by the head and flings them across the island! (p 30, first two panels); the Hulk cradles a goat he has spared from the beast-men attack (p 30, pnl 3).  

The Invaders 24
"The Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner 
Fighting Side-by-Side!

This truncated reprint from Marvel Mystery Comics #17 (March 1941), credited here to respective creators Carl Burgos and Bill Everett, marks the first team-up of what Roy calls “once implacable foes,” the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner.  It uncannily anticipates the actual Axis attack on America’s western extremity a few months later...if said attack had been attempted by a “parade of Nazi and Japanese tanks and men” through a cavernous tunnel, dug beneath the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska and lined with pipes containing poison gas.  No word on whether they could see Russia from the future Palin home, or what role the Soviets played in this pre-Barbarossa plot, but as you’ll imagine, it’s good, clean, loopy Golden-Age fun. -Matthew Bradley

The Invincible Iron Man 106
"Then There Came a War!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by George Tuska and Mike Esposito
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

Much as he wants to enjoy the opportunity for peace afforded by the takeover, Iron Man reluctantly acknowledges that Midas must be stopped, flying off to S.I. without a word; the Guardsman and Jack of Hearts race to his aid by air as the Wraith, Eddie, and Whitney join Jean in her roadster, leaving Jasper alone after castigating him for his effective but contemptible methods.  As the flying heroes smash through Midas’s defenses, the ground-based ones are hard-pressed to evade their laser-bursts, until help arrives from an unlikely source.  In his flying car, Jasper takes out the laser-cannon crew with his stun-bursts, punches a hole clean through the main gate with his blasters and draws the enemy fire as the Wraith mentally throws off their aim.

Just when the tide seems to be turning against him, Midas launches what appear to be the spare suits of armor, stolen by Key and engineered by a blackmailed Abe to serve him, until Iron Man realizes they are only copies, easily smashed by him but still potentially deadly to his allies.  As the Guardsman and Jack of Hearts go down in defeat, IM sees those on the ground, including Whitney, felled by the concussion after another suit is rigged to explode when fired upon by Jasper, leaving the vengeful Shellhead alone.  “Exhausted by fighting copies,” Midas gloats, “you will now fall as your real armor delivers the coup de grace,” each as powerful as the suit he now wears, yet while Abe weeps, Marianne Rodgers, unnoticed in the chaos, enters the scene. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Mantlo lets the expository dialogue of “six stunned heroes” (minus a mum Wraith) in the splash-page tableau provide most of his recap, and we’re off to the races.  I’m amazed they didn’t bill this as an “all-action issue,” and undoubtedly look at it through more critical eyes at 52, but am sure the Shiny-Objects Factor was off the charts at 14,  and even now, I have to admit that the Tuskosito team goes out with a bang.  They’re been collaborating on this book intermittently since #22 (February 1970), and my oft-expressed admiration for George’s action scenes is amply justified as IM, the Guardsman, and Jack cut loose, first against Midas’s minions and weaponry in the spectacular double-spread on pages 10-11, and then opposing the ersatz armor on page 22.

I also find IM’s moral dilemma compelling:  all too often, super-heroes race into action without a second thought, but here, he has to make a conscious choice to sacrifice his happiness with Whitney for the sake of the greater good.  I happen to be writing this at a time of some transient interpersonal drama that is making the larger themes resonate even more strongly with me, yet honor, duty, and loyalty are evergreen, and I commend Bill for infusing them into what could have been just another slug-fest.  So forgive me if I get a little choked up at Jack’s “We’re with you—all the way!  Even if it’s to hell and back!” or Jasper’s “I’ve been lost for a long time …mostly to myself!  But I’m back now!  —And, if you’ll have me, I’d like to rejoin the team!”

The equivalent of a cinematic deep-focus shot, page 6, panel 6 (far below) offers an effective juxtaposition:  in the left foreground, in extreme close-up, Jasper’s gloved hand holds his pistol beside his leg as we feel his guilt-ridden resignation, while in the background, Whitney—the woman both men love—is visible in Jean’s passenger seat as the others hasten to help Iron Man.  Bill orchestrates all of this pretty adroitly as we prepare for what should be an exciting conclusion, and I suppose it’s a shame that Tuska couldn’t have seen the epic through to the end.  Once again, I find I like the tagline on the busy Cockrum/Austin cover (“Last Stand at Stark International!”) a little better than this installment’s formal title (“Then There Came a War!”), but really, either one would do.

Chris: The esteemed faculty and our ever-attentive student body have heard me comment on whether or not artists can effectively deliver the Big Moment.  Well, George Tuska – this being his final Bronze-era appearance as penciller for IM – captures the big moments, big time.  If you don’t believe me, then a remedial assignment would be to review the spirited two-page spread of p 10-11, as Iron Man leads the assault on Midas International, aided by Jack and Michael.  If that doesn’t convince you, then pay close attention to IM as he wrecks the robot copies of himself on another full-pager, p 22.  You also might appreciate a few small points, such as the robots who continue fighting despite significant damage, with bent skin and wiring showing (p 27, last pnl).  This story has been building toward this sort of release, so bonus points to George (as assisted by Mike E) for not flubbing the delivery.  

Master of Kung Fu 60
"End Game"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and John Tartaglione
Colors by Sam Kato
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen Kish
Cover by Ernie Chan

Reston and Shang-Chi are flying to Latveria.  They intend to confront Dr Doom, who they believe to be behind recent attacks on them both, which have resulted in drug-induced hallucinations and erratic behaviors.  S-C rests on the plane, still not fully cleared of Doom’s drugs; he sees himself in a valley of melting snow, with his father – Fu Manchu.  Fu explains that the glaciers have passed, and now China can reassert its place at the center of the world’s “art, science, [and] civilized culture.”  As he talks, a hatchling has emerged from a dinosaur egg, and grown into a dragon, which proceeds to breathe fire to consume S-C.  S-C starts awake from this latest drug-dream, and finds he and Reston already are landing in a field within view of Doom’s Latverian castle.  They are met by Shaka Kharn, who slashes Reston across the midsection; S-C subdues the attacker, only to find it is a robot – and that, somehow, the person he thought was Reston is a robot as well.  S-C is met at the castle by an armor-clad knight; S-C pulls him from his mount, and now sees the knight is Shock-Wave.  S-C isn’t sure how to proceed at first, since Shock-Wave is still alive; this could be the real person.  Once S-C realizes S-W’s electro-shocks are not as intense, he doesn’t hold back, and pummels his opponent (while he simultaneously ignores a flicker of doubt that asks whether the shocks might feel less intense because of the still-lingering effect of the drug -?); this S-W, though, also proves to be a robot.  S-C fights his way in, past the castle guards, and next is confronted by the Shadow-Stalker (who also is still alive, as far as S-C is aware).  “No – too much! It drives me beyond all reason!” S-C thinks to himself, as he batters the Shadow-Stalker.  At that moment, a wall-panel slides open to reveal Dr Doom and the Prime Mover.  Doom crows that he has goaded S-C into taking a human life, as he thought Shadow-Stalker also was nothing more than an automaton.  Doom acknowledges he had hoped to match wits with Fu Manchu, but since Fu appears to have been killed by S-C, then S-C has become the object of Doom’s exercise.  Doom rolls back another panel to reveal more robot-doubles of S-C’s former foes; S-C dismantles the ‘bots with savage blows.  A Razor-Fist copy lands on the prone body of Shadow-Stalker; its bladed forearms shred the back and legs of the Stalker, to reveal that he too had been a robot.  The game “still has not ended!” S-C realizes, as he attacks Doom directly; he flings Doom into a computer panel, which explodes, exposing this Doom as a robot, and the Prime Mover as – Reston -?!  Reston, possibly drug-influenced again, launches himself at S-C; the two fall from the castle tower window, to London below, as the tower launches up, powered by a rocket.  So, S-C thinks as he and Reston drop toward the Thames, “We never left England!”  In hospital, Leiko explains that the castle had been on the grounds of an estate owned by the Latverian government; the remains of the Shock-Wave robot still were there when MI-6 arrived.  A nurse walks in (whom S-C seems to recognize from his first vision, when he saw himself on a frozen African plain), and delivers a package.  S-C finds a chess set, featuring all the players from his inexplicable experience; at the board’s center is a figure of Doom, with his foot on the chest of a Shang-Chi figure; the Doom figure is laughing aloud.
-Chris Blake

Chris:  Forget it, Chi – it’s Latveriatown.  Ordinarily, I read these comics and approach commentaries with an eye toward the logic-breakdowns and continuity-lapses that can take me out of a story.  In this two-parter, though, Doug wants us to go far-afield with him, and leave the typical story structure miles behind.  I’m with him; if you can’t suspend disbelief and let this wild ride carry you along, then maybe a life of comics-reading isn’t for you.  The moment when we find Shang-Chi and Reston falling out of the castle window, with London below (wait – we’re in London now -?!), was so out-and-out crazy, I had to laugh along (p 27).  
The Zeck/Tartag art is fine, if a bit inconsistent.  Highlights include the brilliant emergence of a fire-breathing dragon (p 3); a heavily-shadowed look to S-C’s face, which I’m assuming is there to make him appear angrier (p 11); S-C’s entrance to the castle, as guards stalk him from the shadows (p 14, pnl 4); S-C’s blood-eyed look, as he determines this game has gone far, far enough (p 23, pnl 4).
Mark Barsotti: "Inside the knight's armor, Shockwave, a robot...what?  What does all this mean? Why is it happening?"

The words are Shang-Chi's, but the sentiment matches my own as we descend from a full-throated "Excelsior!" last month for Doug Moench's clever and compelling opening gambit to an incoherent Robo-schlockfest that has me reaching for the Excedrin.

Doom's motives are shaky (he never got to match wits with Fu, so settles for his son) but, hey, a megalomaniacal ruler with a little down time, so why not? But I've no clue why Doc D thinks he won at the end. Neither does Moench.

And the nurse on the final page is - even Forbush saw this one coming - a robot, too! If Dougie thinks that's some kind of intricate, mind-melting payoff then he's the one with the crossed wires.

Ms. Marvel 13
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Peter Iro
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Joe Sinnott

Returning home to a suburb north of Boston, Carol introduces her mother, Marie, to “part-time psychiatrist, full-time friend” Mike.  As the topic turns to her hectic life, she recalls how, a few weeks earlier, the “Battle of Saracen Cay” came to an abrupt end when the “enigmatic, other-dimensional scientist/explorer,” Hecate, made her see the truth:  that she and Ms. Marvel were and always had been one person, her mind having split into two personalities to cope with her transformation into a Kree warrior.  Meanwhile, her father, Joe, a straw boss on a trouble-plagued construction site after losing his contracting business in the recession, saves the life of a crew member in an accident he confirms was due to “shoddy materials an’ cut corners.”

That night, at the Portsmouth shipyard, Carol introduces naval reservist Mike to Tom Boardman, Apollo 18 mission commander, at an Indian Summer ball held on the decks of the U.S.S. Constitution to celebrate a courtesy visit by the U.S.S. Halsey.  Two alien figures, Golden-Blade and Sapper, materialize aboard the nuclear carrier, the latter feeding on the reactors’ raw energy, and a huge explosion draws Ms. Marvel into action; she has no memory of Golden-Blade despite his claim to have fought the Kree.  She breaks his arm, revealing him to be a robot, but as she prepares to face the energy-vampire, which has absorbed the inferno caused when she batted him into the aircraft on deck, they abruptly fly off, rather than jeopardize their mysterious “mission.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Obviously, few complaints about the artwork, yet the Mooney/Sinnott reunion is bittersweet, this being Joltin’ Joe’s swan song, although after next issue’s fill-in, the Madman will be with us a bit longer.  But I think it says something about the disappointing Hecate arc that Claremont falls back on one of his favorite—and Professor Tom’s least favorite—narrative devices, i.e., beginning an issue in medias res, and only belatedly resolving the previous issue’s cliffhanger in a flashback.  The latter (complete with an early use, perhaps the first, of what would apparently become a signature formulation, “The battle had been no-holds-barred, no quarter asked, none given”) is especially perfunctory, as Carol’s vengeful fury suddenly dissipates into “never mind.”

In fact, it’s the selfsame feel-good, “sisters are doin’ it for themselves” scene, with its larger ramifications, that I find least satisfying, due to the overly convenient integration of the dual-personality plot gimmick Chris inherited from Merry Gerry.  Carol still talks like a Kree the moment she goes into battle, and I don’t buy that mere exposure to radiation from the Psyche-Magnetron (sic) could create an entire second persona, complete with memories of Hala, though I gather (from inadvertently peeking ahead) that they explore aspects of her origin further in later issues.  Alas, the new Boston-set storyline isn’t much of an improvement so far; Chris must have a thing about putting Ms. M aboard famous ships, first the QE2 (in MTU) and now Old Ironsides.

Chris: Claremont mentions on page 1 that readers might be confused by this chipper bit of family time at the start, when we expect it to pick up from the previous issue's cliffhanger.  Well, you're right that I'm surprised -- I literally closed the cover and checked the upper left corner to assure myself that I hadn't picked up the wrong issue by mistake.  It's a rare mistake by Claremont, who typically gets so many storytelling moments right.  Why is it so important to move Carol along to see her parents?  As a result, the resolution of her altercation with Hecate is told by Carol as recollection, which removes all immediacy from it.  Claremont should've seen that Carol's decision not to attack Hecate – and her realization that her persona and Ms M's finally now are one-and-the-same – would carry much more weight if we experience these moments together with Carol, instead of being told about them after the fact.  In addition, Carol's concern for her friend Salia, which had been such an important consideration in Ms M #12, instead winds up being glossed-over; we have a brief mention of her loss on p 15 (I had to look for it – it’s in a caption in the 6th panel), but it seems like a tacked-in afterthought.

Marvel Team-Up 65
Spider-Man and Captain Britain in
"Introducing Captain Britain"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

Having overslept, Peter arrives late to an appointment with Dean Beatty, and is reminded that as a scholarship recipient, he had agreed to house an exchange student; he reluctantly welcomes Brian Braddock from England’s Thames University when he learns that ESU will contribute $50 per week for his room and board.  Meanwhile, at London’s Heathrow Airport, Miss Locke welcomes Messrs. Roak and Moran—who represent the Commission, “the top European hierarchy of the Maggia”—to the private 747 owned by her employer, the assassin Arcade.  Eavesdropping with a shotgun mike from outside, a mysterious woman overhears them hire Arcade to kill Brian, one of several people their computers suggest might be Captain Britain.

When a sleepless Brian sees Spidey making a hasty exit through a window, and no sign of Peter, the inevitable fight ensues at a Macchio (!) construction site while Spidey deduces his identity.  He webs “Cappy” up and hauls out the old “Parker snaps the pics and we split the dough” line, persuading CB to relate his origin:  crashing his cycle while fleeing the minions of the Reaver (aka Joshua Stragg), who sought to kidnap the Darkmoor Nuclear Research Centre staff, he was saved by Merlin and his daughter Roma, who asked him to become England’s champion, and as a scholar, Brian chose an amulet, not a sword, as his talisman.  Our heroes flee the police, little knowing that Jean DeWolff wishes to warn them, and are scooped up by Arcade’s garbage truck. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although I consider this a bit of a letdown, that must be taken in context, since I regard 9 of the last 12 issues (#53-5 and 59-64) as high points for not just MTU, but Bronze-Age Marvel in general.  And yes, it represents another effort by the incredible Claremont/Byrne/Hunt team…yet the arbitrary assignment of two incognito super-heroes as temporary roommates is a coincidence that is made no more believable simply by having Spidey acknowledge it; the MARMIS seems unusually tiresome; and while I know Chris co-created Captain Britain, his origin comes off as rather dull here.  Well, let’s hope that with the requisite preliminaries over, the main event with Arcade—who, as I recall, is put to better use in X-Men—will prove to be a little more engaging...

Chris: We have an issue-length setup for the fight-for-survival in Arcade’s funhouse next issue, with an acceptable MARMIS for good measure.  There’s really no way to avoid the exposition, since most Marvelites would only have heard of Captain Britain as he’s been mentioned in bullpen bulletins and lettercols.  The character himself had never appeared in a stateside publication before now, so most of us would have no idea of his powers, his origin, etc, all of which we ordinarily can dispense with when a regular-Joe Marvel mainstay drops in to team up.  

The MARMIS is acceptable thanks to Byrne’s efforts, as he throws in a few neat twists: Spidey rides a blow to the head, grabs Cap, sets his feet, and then swings Cap into the wall below (p 14); and, Spidey web-snags the Star Sceptre and ravels Cap up in webbing (p 16-17).  Nice touch also as the garbage truck (an all-too-familiar sight in late-night Manhattan) sneaks up on our heroes and snaps them down (p 31).

Joe Tura: The arrival of Claremont and Byrne on MTU has brought more two-parters than before, and it's something to relish. We don't want these stories to end, and the two parts are well worth the 70 cents, even back in 1977-78. Here we get the welcome introduction of Captain Britain, imported from Marvel UK, complete with a retelling of his explosive origin. Spidey/Peter makes an odd pairing with Brian/CB, but they'd better forget their brawl and cultural disagreements and start working together quick after being captured by the smarmy Arcade. By the way, love Arcade's garbage truck! I bet it would be a snap to pick up trash with that "SFLANNG"-ing doohickey he has. And any time we see Jean DeWolff is OK by me.

Marvel Two-In-One 35
The Thing and Skull the Slayer in
"Enter: Skull the Slayer and Exit: The Thing!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ernie Chan
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Art by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

En route back from London, Ben visits Cape Canaveral to help his old flight instructor, Wally, by flying an R-37 supersonic Bird of Prey into the Bermuda Triangle in search of an Air Force jet that vanished with a cobalt bomb aboard.  In no time, the experimental plane is grabbed by a pterodactyl, and as Ben segues from shock (“Kiss my gazortch!”) to angst (“whattaya do when you can’t do nothin’?”), he finds himself in “Prehistoric Land.”  Meanwhile, Jim Scully (aka Skull the Slayer), Dr. Raymond Corey, Ann Farrow Reynolds, and Jeff Turner have been bound to pillars by the Aztec Jaguar Priest as sacrifices to the Children of the Night; accusing them of blaspheming Viracocha, he has already killed the “time-lost” Captain Cochran.

He seeks the secret of the belt that gives Skully super-strength, but is interrupted by the arrival of his “pet” with the R-37, from which Ben emerges to rout his Indian minions and smash the altar, freeing the captives.  Together they put the enemy to flight, with Skull popping the pterodactyl’s jaw from inside, and then address the question of getting home; their only hope is to try to fly back through the Triangle, yet the R-37 is too badly damaged.  Jeff hits on the idea of using parts from the crashed Lockheed Hercules that brought the quartet there to effect repairs, but they run afoul of an angry Tyrannosaurus Rex on their way to the disabled jet, and after they are forced to jump from a cliff into the water to avoid it, they find themselves surrounded by brontosauruses… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It seems fitting that a recent MTU two-parter tied up some threads left dangling by the criminally underappreciated Claremont/Byrne Iron Fist, while this one picks up the pieces from…Skull the Slayer?  At least the character reverts to his creator, although only our resident Skully scholar can say [or not, alas!] how successfully Marv wraps things up, and the same Bullpen Page hailing his “ingenious plotting and writing” promises vacation-enabled relief from the Wilson/Marcos Blues in the form of self-inked guest artist Chan.  I’d be more impressed regarding the former if the Wolfmanza writer/editor/letterer team weren’t so inexcusably sloppy, e.g., “who’s idea wuz it,” “your’s truly,” “batterys are fused together,” “I layed it out cold”…man, you guys make me sic!

Which isn’t to say that progress of a kind has not been made, especially in the art department:  Ernie’s Thing often looks a little off-model, but he’s still a welcome change from our Easter Island purgatory, and when the Jaguar Priest talked about Ann’s flesh being stripped from its bones, all I could think was, “What a waste!” (especially in that libido-stimulating white outfit).  In the Faint Praise Department, the in-your-face stupidity of Marv’s prior issues has been upgraded to mere tedium, perhaps exacerbated for those of us who weren’t Skull fans—if there is such a thing.  I fear the decade’s decline will force me into over-reliance on Professor Gilbert’s famous phrase, but it feels like a lot of running around, and Ben’s patter seems unusually forced.

Ernie’s dinosaurs are admittedly cool, even if I’d opine that Frau Wolfman’s pastel palette in page 3, panel 2 robs them of some of their impact.  Curiously, Ben recalls battling a displaced “twenty-ton terror…a couple months back on that other Earth” in FF #161, ignoring his more recent, and far more pertinent, visit to the prehistoric-fauna-filled Savage Land in #16-17 of this very mag.  No surprise that Marv wrote the cobalt-bomb arc in Power Man #44-6 (only #45 is cited), where “They thought it turned up in Chicago, but that wuz just a shuck,” yet it seems an overly convoluted device to set this story in motion; he also insouciantly reports that Cochran, “last seen in Skull #8…died after that classic issue was published.  Sorry you missed it.”  Okay...

Nova 17
"Tidal Wave!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tom Palmer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Tom Palmer

Nova finally comes to his senses with a plan as Yellow Claw's missile is close to hitting the Pentagon—he uses his ability to "ride on the electrons in the air," struggling against pain to force the missile into the Potomac. Nova and Nick Fury go their separate ways and Richard is late for school again, gets chewed out by Caps and Ginger, then goes to the police station to see his Dad, getting slapped by his Mom when he mouths off, which leads him to a lonely pier, where Fury shows up out of the blue. The SHIELD Director shows Nova the ESP Control Chamber, where the giant machine messes with Nova's mind.

Yellow Claw plans to "unleash a massive tidal wave" with the help of Sam Burley (Mike's kidnapped brother) and the Wakandan doctor—one that's 3,000 feet high and will wipe out New York City! Followed by a peaceful utopia, of course. But Nova and Fury disguise themselves as Claw agents, having used the ESPER machine to probe the two agents' minds and learn the location of the secret hideout. They try to break out the prisoners, and have to deal with traps until Nova busts out and goes after Claw. But he's activated the tidal wave, and uses his Dragon-Sled and psychic powers to go after Nova! He again escapes, getting outside to try and stop the wave, but Fury shows up with a SHIELD gizmo to fight off the wild water. Nova battles Claw and his goons under water, managing to win and confront the arrogant Asian inside the ship—where the evil one is hiding a Psychogun behind his back!--Joe Tura

Joe: First of all, the Infantino cover looks blurry, presumably to match the insides. Second of all, I don't remember hearing Nova "rides electrons" and is able to save him and Fury using this ability. No, seriously. Did anyone else remember this? And how does a failing student like Richard/Nova know he's about to land in the Potomac? He hasn't passed a test since he gained his powers! And how about those not-suspicious-at-all trench coats and hats worn by Fury and Nova, which fool everyone every step of the way. Man, bad guys is stoopid! I mean, even if that's their disguise, how could you not think this pair was up to something rotten?

Here's the issue with Infantino's art—everyone looks like they're leaning forward or running somewhere. I mean, that worked fantastic for The Flash, but for Nova? Not so much. Some of his panels are good, but the body movements just get to you after a while, as do his background characters, who look like mannequins most of the time. And he draws the Claw with open mouth and different sharpness of teeth in every panel, and always with odd hand gestures. Except for "jazz hands"—that would have been a hoot and a holler!

Blue Blazes counter: page 2's colorless "Blazes" when Nova's almost-too-late plan works; then "Blast" instead of "Blazes" on page 7 after his Mom gives him a "you smartmouth brat" smack—Marv, you're slipping! Of course, another "Blazes" when the Claw's throne turns into the Dragon-Sled and another "Blast" when he gets shot with a Stun Gun under water. That seems kinda boring, to be honest. How am I supposed to invent insults?

Matthew: Oh, come on, guys, you could at least tease us a little by having the cover—whose garish background presumably reinforces that our villain is the YELLOW Claw—done by real artists.  We’re occasionally lucky enough to get an inker who mitigates the worst of Infantino’s excesses (e.g., page 3, panel 2, a virtual instant replay of last issue’s near-disaster, with the attendant dialogue fittingly feeling recycled as well), but I’ve yet to see anybody exacerbate them as consistently as Palmer.  Now an absolute pill, Rich looks like a steroidal leprechaun in page 6, panel 1; Marv vacillates between mining the played-out novice-Nova vein and depicting the one who states here, “I’ve confidence in my abilities—and I know exactly how to use them.”

Addendum:  The electron-riding thing actually sounded vaguely familiar, but if anyone thinks I’m going to go back and take the time to comb through my collection to document it, I can offer them a nice bridge at competitive rates.

Chris: I can say, without exaggeration, that I enjoy at least 80-85% of the material Marvel published in this period.  There are certain titles, though, I tend to relegate to the top of the pile for each month, simply so I can get thru them and move on to the better stuff.  Nova, with its distracting supporting cast and derivative storylines, has earned its way to the cannon-fodder, birdcage-liner spot, topmost of the pile.  It’s not a bad comic, necessarily, but it’s not any good either.  Marv Wolfman, in nearly a year-and-a-half of publication, has done nothing to change my opinion.

It doesn’t help that Carmine Infantino appears, at times, to be trying to draw poorly; there’s no other way I can describe it.  Could you imagine depicting such an unimpressive US Capitol as the one we see on p 1-2?  Carmine seems to have won a bet that he could draw the Houses of Congress in less than two minutes.  Or, maybe he set himself up with his drafting table on the D train during morning rush hour?  I will admit the ESP Control Chamber is impressive (p 10), and a scheming Yellow Claw looks properly menacing (p 11, augmented by Palmer finish).  But then, we’re supposed to have a three-thousand foot tidal wave; that would be over a half-mile high, right?  How high is the one we see on p 23 – Nova calls it a “gargantua,” but relative to his size (pnl 2-3), we can see it’s what, maybe 25 feet tall?  By the time it approaches New York, though, Carmine completely oversells it, to where it might be five miles high, and appears completely ridiculous (p 30), especially with the dinky little posterboard buildings seen below.

Red Sonja 7 
“Throne of Blood”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne
Cover by Frank Thorne

Riding through the peaks of Argos, Red Sonja comes across a chasm, a worn rope bridge perilously connecting the sides. Driven by thirst and hunger, she takes a chance and leads her mount across — but the bridge collapses under the weight. The horse falls to its death but Sonja manages to grab a wood slat near the far edge. Surprisingly, a tree root seems to reach out for her and she hauls herself up. Waiting for the woman warrior is a tremendous woolly mammoth ridden by a richly garbed man. He dismounts and says that his name is Oryx of Skranos, son of General Quillos. He offers her a ride to his city but adds that first she must earn it. They parry and soon Oryx is on his back, Sonja’s sword at his throat. He pleads for his life, promising that he will give the Hyrkanian all she needs back in Skranos. They mount the mammoth, called Dom, and make their way to the city, a walled, fortress-like structure with a pen for the hairy elephants in the center. As Oryx guides Dom to the holding area, a horse bolts and spooks the other mammoths within. They charge through the pen’s gates and rampage through the streets. But Sonja, rallying some Skranos soldiers, manages to force the behemoths back to their pen with torches. Afterwards, the She-Devil and the men celebrate in a tavern. Oryx claims to have heard of Sonja through a minstrel who sang that she once killed a Hyrkanian king — the man takes his leave and tells a guard that the woman is an outlaw with a bounty on her head. As the swordswoman leaves the tavern, Oryx’s brother, the banished Suumaro, emerges from the shadows and warns her not to trust his sibling — he retreats inside. Suddenly, archers appear on the walls: Red Sonja is captured and taken to the gallows to be hanged. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: After all the wackiness of the past few issues, we have what appears to be a straightforward and transitional issue. You can’t actually call this one action packed and things ends with the cliffhanger of an executioner placing his noose around Sonja’s neck. Basically the centerpiece is the mammoth stampede that lasts three pages: the capture of our heroine is also oddly extended as she basically dares the archers to kill her for three more. Don’t ask me about the tree root that saves her from the collapsed bridge: Thorne draws it actually moving but it’s dropped and forgotten immediately afterwards. A caption states that the story about the dead Hyrkanian king is found in Marvel Feature #1, but it is actually from The Savage Sword of Conan #1. Tsk tsk. I can’t recall that there has been a mention of a price on Red Sonja’s head up to this point but it would figure that there is one. Skranos has an interesting construction, basically a huge outer wall with two smaller ones within. We don’t get an appearance by General Quillos, Oryx’s father, but we must assume that he will turn up next time. Not sure why Suumaro is in the city since he comes right out and says he is banished — he mentions something about being the leader of  his people, something that I again assume will be expanded on in issue #8. So not much of a story, but, as always, Frank Thorne’s art is the reason to plunk down your 35¢. Each panel is a delight — the last page is particularly stunning.

Chris: Oryx seems to recognize, that if he were to kill Sonja, he’d only make her mad.  Nice moment as Sonja stares down Oryx’ bowmen, and basically challenges them to try to fire on her.  Go ahead, archers – you feel lucky?  Well, do ya -?  The only problem – for Sonja, I mean – is that Oryx then hands off Sonja’s execution to someone who clearly is capable of the job.  “Look at the bones!” cries Tim the Enchanter, as we meet a hangman who lacks the incompetence of the similarly-named but deluded figure from Werewolf by Night; this guy, who has skulls stacked on the wall behind him, clearly means business.  Good luck, Red!  

Entertaining moment in the early going, as Sonja has unexpected aid from a root, of all things (p 3-6); does it respond to enchantment, or is some other force behind it?  I’m intrigued to see whether this might factor in the events of our next chapter.  

Matthew: I presume the cover tagline, "The Blade and the Behemoths," refers collectively to all of Sonja's, uh, accoutrements? 

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 14
"Killing Me Softly... With His Hate!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema, John Tartaglione, and Mike Esposito
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karen D.
Cover by Sal Buscema

The trapped Spider-Man uses a shot of webbing to hit Razorback's belt buckle, which brings forward the Big Pig rig, smashing through the wall so the trio (the two heroes and Flash Thompson) can get away from the Hate-Monger's bomb. Meanwhile, at The Yonkers Coliseum [Not sure that exists to be honest], H-M has Brother Power handle the press before their big rally, then gives him an evil pep talk. The heroes arrive at the rally, where Peter gets in with his press pass, then slips off to knock out a couple of "bozos" and sneak Buford (Razorback's real name) and Flash in. The Legion of Light's rally begins, and the crowd is radiant with love, as our heroes find H-M backstage with a mob of minions. The hateful heavy breaks out of Spidey's webbing ("But my webbing held the Hulk longer than that…!") and stuns him with a mind-blast, which forces him to attack Razorback! Then a twin mind-blast gets both of them! Flash nabs a LOL Inner Circle member's robe and gets closer to the stage, where he takes Buford's sister Bobbie Sue to "the mentor," ending up near the Spidey-Razorback battle, which is being won by a Monger-controlled Spidey, until Flash intervenes! Monger easily flips him over, which tears off his mask, revealing his true identity—he's The Man-Beast!--Joe Tura

Joe: So Hate-Monger, a dude as evil and rabble rousing as his name, is really The Man-Beast, who last appeared in The Incredible Hulk #178 nearly four years prior, which explains the "you've just been given a Mighty Marvel Clue" caption on page 17 when H-M says "And where the Hulk could not best me, insect—neither shall you!" Now, the reveal of Man-Beast is completely out of nowhere, and certainly makes this issue more interesting. But in a way, there's a bit too much going on already, and another layer is like putting whipped cream on top of whipped cream. It all adds up to a fast-paced, explosive (literally in the beginning) tale featuring that cherry on top Sal & Mike art, helped out by J. Tartag, aka John Tartaglione. By the way, big hairy bonus points to H-M for calling Razorback a "lummox"!

Favorite sound effect in a book that has a lot of quality, distinctive choices is page 7's "SVABWOOM!" when the Legion of Light building explodes right after our heroes escape in the Big Pig. Just try and pronounce it, though!

Matthew: While I know Mighty Mike is sometimes referred to as such by my colleagues, this is the first time I remember seeing him actually credited as “Espo”; well, ink by any other name would smell as sweet.  Storywise, the best you can probably say about this is that it’s less CB-heavy than part one, yet if Buford can create technology so sophisticated that Big Pig not merely comes when he whistles, but does so without killing them as it smashes through the wall, then he probably doesn’t need to fool around driving trucks.  As for the big reveal of the villain as the Hate-Monger, followed by the big reveal of HM as the Man-Beast, I’m just waiting for him to whip off his wolf-mask and be Patrick McGoohan.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 8
"The Man and the Mangani"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Based on the novel Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Rudy Mesina
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala

Of those who followed Tarzan’s battle-cry, Wabak recalls him from Kerchak’s tribe, so Tarzan recruits Chulk, whom he bests in combat, and Taglat, who has an ulterior motive, to search for the “white she,” his chosen mate.  Falling upon three departing raiders, they don their robes to pose as Tarmangani and penetrate the camp; meanwhile, in exchange for his freedom, Werper offers to lead Abdul Mourak to the Oparian gold hidden by the Waziri.  Slipping away from the others, Taglat wants Tarzan’s prize for himself, and when the robed and hooded figure carries Jane out of the camp in the darkness, she naturally assumes he is Tarzan until her “savior” reveals himself, but as Jane faints from terror, the genuine article guesses the truth and pursues… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Evidently Abdul Mourak has spent the last two months in a tanning bed, mysteriously having changed from white to black, as an Abyssinian presumably should have been all along, but only colorist Roussos knows for sure.  The shift to Mesina has not been so drastic, although the faces frequently look less obviously like Buscema’s work than they did before.  TATJOO follows the usual Burroughs m.o. of dividing his cast into groups and generating suspense by cross-cutting among them, befitting an oeuvre that was so often serialized (as this one was in All-Star Cavalier Weekly in 1916); to his credit, Roy’s so-called “freely adapted” version includes not only the obligatory action scenes, but also a fun sequence showing how easily distracted the Mangani are.

The Mighty Thor 267
"Once More, to Midgard!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott

Odin, Thor and company return to a joyous Asgard. Balder is overseeing the reconstruction of the Golden Realm, when one of the cables hoisting the massive Pillar Of Sovereignty back into place gives way. Luckily, Mjolnir has the power both to erect it, and hammer it back into place. The next day Loki is on trial for his many crimes, recent and past. The evil one's belligerence prompts Odin to banish Loki to Earth, as just another derelict with no memory of his identity. Thor bids his friend the Recorder farewell, and feels the restless call to Midgard, his second home of which he has seen little of late. He wants to go alone, and catch up on his life as Dr. Don Blake. What he finds is what should never surprise us, but always does: absence and neglect mean change. The building housing his office is gone, a parking lot in its place. He goes to see his college mentor, Jacob Wallaby, at Trinity General Hospital. Jacob suggests something that appeals to Don, volunteering at a free medical clinic funded by Stark International. At that moment, an interruption comes in the form of an armed, armoured man, calling himself Damocles, and his two henchmen. They are stealing a container of synthetic cobalt lent to the hospital by Tony Stark for cancer research. He escapes out a window to his hovering craft that then flies away. Needless to say, Thor soon follows. Damocles fires a missile at the United Nations building, which Thor destroys in time, but it has given his foe time to escape. Damocles intends to use the stolen material to build a cobalt cannon, a weapon he plans to use to bring New York to its knees. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: After the somewhat epic adventures of late, the cover showing Thor's return to Earth would seem to be somewhat mundane, but it turns out this is hardly the case. No special thanks to Damocles, at least not yet. He could be confused with many other power hungry villains, not the least of which is his facial resemblance to Loki. But there's some interesting character stuff going on here. Thor is going through some reflection, feeling sorrow for his brother despite how much Loki deserves his fate, and wanting to resurrect his role (or duty?) as Don Blake. One minor note: Thor barely acknowledges Sif's new attire; I'd say if it were me I'd be digging her sexy look. It's been tossed around over the years: how important is Sif to Thor's heart (or Jane Foster for that matter, except in the old days)? Their relationship is "strong," but frequently secondary to many things. The multi-talented Balder fits the role of Asgardian foreman as well as he does warrior. If, in the end, the Thor films don't include this beloved character they are really missing the boat. Some nice art panels are on display, notably the raising of Odin's Pillar of Sovereignty, and Thor reflecting on Bifrost.

Chris: Nice transitional issue, as Len expediently deals with some old business, to make room for the new: Loki’s sentence is swift and final, but still leaves the door open for his eventual return; the Recorder packs his steamer trunk and shuffles back to Rigel; Odin sagely devises a means to occupy the ever-faithful Warriors Three, as he allows Thor an enfettered return to his home-away-from-Asgard; Sif also is understanding of Thor’s departure, without asking whether he’ll be home before midnight; Karnilla takes her unsympathetic leave of non-committal Balder.  The action with Damocles is pretty good, but I’ll admit I’m going to miss the Asgardian crew; Len will have to come up with some pretty strong Midgard-based material if he hopes to maintain the standard he’s established on this title.  

Walt Simonson earns 50 Kirby-points for the large-scale two-page spread on p 2-3; very impressive.  Bonus points also for Thor’s lingering look back along the Rainbow Bridge (p 15; and what’s that massive fireball, in view some distance below the bridge?  I don’t remember that being there before), and for including the art deco spire of the Chrysler Building (p 31, 1st pnl).  

Matthew: Okay, this Damocles clown is a big nothing, and—spoiler alert!—we’ll be mercifully rid of him at the conclusion of this two-parter.  Yet after all of Len’s intergalactic, uhm, flying around, I’m actually somewhat relieved to see Thor back on Midgard for a bit (with a promising new direction for Don Blake’s career), even if the sequence depicted on the pleasantly colorful Sinnott cover occupies but a page, and the penultimate one at that.  Similarly, either the Simoniga art team is really coming into its own, or I’m just getting acclimated to it, because I really dug several scenes, e.g., the shot of Bifrost in page 15, panel 1, and most especially that spectacular two-pager on 2-3, which manages to give an amazing feeling of depth.

The Tomb of Dracula 62
"What Lurks Beneath Satan's Hill?"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Janus reaffirms to his mother, Domini, that he fully intends to destroy his father, Count Dracula. Nothing can stop that as he asserts he has been placed on Earth for that one task. The two quarrel and Janus departs, hoping to find his father. Not long after, he does find Dracula in the midst of feasting. Son interrupts father's dinner and that does not sit well with the Lord of the Vampires. Dracula attacks Janus but quickly realizes his son is much more powerful. The vampire flees. Meanwhile, across town, a tentacled something is killing women and stripping them of their body hair. An ambulance bearing three of these female victims is attacked by Dracula, searching for blood. When he attempts to drain one of the women, he discovers they've been exsanguinated already. To get to the bottom of the new competition, the Count follows the undead women back to a gloomy castle atop Satan's Hill. A voice bids him welcome and he enters, taken aback at what he finds inside: the entire house has been done up in early Caligula, complete with hot-and-cold running female servants and portly toga-clad Romans. Hearing a scream upstairs, Dracula bursts through a door to find the beautiful Topaz (last seen in Werewolf by Night #43), who begs him to save her from what lies beneath Satan's Hill.

-Peter Enfantino

Mark: Love Gene's melodramatic splash, with Domini squirting tears because "...the man I love -- must battle my son...!" And after a tense moment with Janus pledging to love mom and kill dad, he flies out the window after transforming into a golden eagle. 

Noble bird, we think, the very antithesis of a loathsome bat. But look closer, beyond the 1776 little drummer boy iconography. The eagle is the merciless hunter, a killer, red in fang and claw, while most bats - mammals, not birds, by the way - are largely benign; even vampire bats rarely kill their prey. They just need a snack.

But I digress.

Things move along nicely until a weird scene break on page 15, cutting from Domini to a speeding ambulance, capped by narration that had me flummoxed: "For most of Boston the night is one of peace. The new television season is only weeks old, and channel switching still takes place. Mark Harris swims deep in the purple waters of The Man From Atlantis. He speaks to Elizabeth back at the Institute." Cut immediately to paramedics Barry and Jack and their cargo of hairless corpses, so who the hell are Mark and Elizabeth? Why do we care? Did Marv have a mini stroke?

Google says Mark & Liz were characters on the Atlantis TV show, which Marvel was about to adapt into a short-lived series. Yikes. It's not the crassness of the blatant promo that offends as much as its shoe-horned, out of context delivery. Maybe I'm turning into an old crank, but I'd have preferred the mini-stroke.

Chris: Dear Marv – I’m not going to ask forgiveness for having doubted you; the fact is that, you earned my doubt, with all those uneven issues between #53-59, and a few shaky stories leading to that run as well.  Could it be that imminent threat of cancellation has renewed your attention to this title?  Well, regardless of the inspiration, the results are there on the page; for the first time in ages, Tomb has begun to feel right again, as this issue builds on the tone set in ToD #61.  

There’s a mysterious, powerful force drawing together Count Vlad, the being that calls itself Janus, Frank Drake (either that, or he simply had to get away from Rachel, and is feigning hypnosis …), and a fourth person, who is – Topaz?  Is that really Topaz, or is she an illusion, along with the Roman debauchery that appears to be taking place within the decrepit mansion on Satan Hill?  What is the evil force, and what does it want?  Tell me Marv – now that you’re back on track, you’ve got me on board too, and so I have to know what’s going to happen next –!!
Gene & Tom have raised their game by noticeable notches as well.  The shot of Drac, in a mostly-undead-human, partially-bat form, with its talons bared, is pretty creepy (p 7, last pnl).  Beyond that, though, take a look at p 22 (above), as the four dead women walk along an empty cobblestone street in pale moonlight (pnl 1), then approach the enshrouded house, and its threatening, unnatural dark-purple background (pnl 2; points also to Michelle W. for the color scheme), and then appear to be absorbed in the black doorway, under the shadow of a giant bat above (pnl 3).  I won’t look at the shocked and haunted face of the dead woman in the back of the ambulance again (p 15, last pnl), unless I really want to go without a minute of sleep tonight.  BRRRrrrrrr.
Mark: I hope you all did the reading, class, 'cause I'm gonna skip over a couple intriguing developments (hairless corpses; Werewolf By Night's Topaz) to get to Marv's big head scratcher here. Into the long-simmering Drac and Janus Oedipal heaven vs. hell cage-match, Wolfie now interjects a Lovecraftian, slimy-tentacled monster. On the cover, said tentacles look like octopus arms, but by the last panel it seems that a giant red worm is somehow manipulating both Dracula and Janus. 

Given Marv's track record on the title, he's certainly earned the benefit of the doubt, but...
Giant red worms?

Also This Month

< Best of Spidey Super Stories #1
Crazy #33
Dynomutt #2
Human Fly #5
Marvel's Greatest Comics #75
Marvel Classic Comics #25
Marvel Super-Heroes #69
Marvel Super Action #5
Marvel Tales #89
Marvel Triple Action #39
Rawhide Kid #143
Sgt Fury #144
Spidey Super Stories #30
Yogi Bear #2


Marvel Preview 12
Cover by Earl Norem

"Profits are Plunging!"

Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Bob Brown and Frank Springer

"Slinking Through the Psycho-Ward"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Kaluta

"Death of the Living Dead!"

Story by David Kraft
Art by Bob Brown and Pablo Marcos

"Picture of Andrea"

Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sonny Trinidad

"DRACULA! ZOMBIES! GILGAMESH!" cries the nifty Earl Norem cover of The Haunt Of Horror, not to mention "And Featuring: LILITH! Daughter of Dracula!" Don't read this one in the dark, kiddies! The two-page John Buscema-Ernie-Chan frontispiece of Dracula is also quite nice. The whole idea of "reviving the Haunt of Horror magazine" sprung from the mind of editor Roger Silfer, who wanted it to be different than the old mag. As he says in the Editorial, "It wouldn't just be a showpiece of the scariest one-shot stories that our writers could conceive, but would also feature the variety of monster characters which starred in our late-lamented Dracula Lives!, Vampire Tales, Monsters Unleashed, and Tales of the Zombie titles." Cue groans from the faculty!

Our first story, "Profits Are Plunging," stars Lilith, Dracula's Daughter (remember the cover?), and she's literally plunging through the air as the tale begins, then flashes back to the pregnant Angel O'Hara, and her lover Martin Gold, who's just accepted a job from Robert McGuire to write Public Relations brochures—and he feels he's sold out to the man! Lilith nears the street, but changes into a bat and heads back to the 40th floor, here she flashes back three days to Martin's first day on the job—Walter Kallen hires him to be the "hippie" spokesman for a device that will "end industrial pollution." But, as he tells Angel, there's a missing file that he goes looking for, causing Angel to transform into Lilith and go to Kallen's office, where she's thrown out the window! Back to the present, and she bites a chunk out of Roger's neck to find out where they took Martin. She meets up with them on the Brooklyn Bridge, forcing the car off the bridge, killing Kellen and his goons, while saving Martin and apologizing for hurting him.

Gerber crafts an interesting tale, tinged with the usual political statements, hippie pontificating, faithful woman who's actually a vampire…OK, maybe that last one's not the usual. But all in all, an OK little ditty, except that Bob Brown (finished by Frank Springer) draws Martin with a gaping maw in every panel except the last one where he's sleeping. Is he a yelling hippie, or is that a metaphor for his "railing at the man"?

Next up are wordy Doug Moench and Mike Kaluta—in an early Marvel credit for him—and their short tale "Slinking Through The Psycho Ward." Dan Yercich is cleaning up at his job as custodian of the psycho ward at Ravenswood Hospital, interacting with the patients he knows all too well, as well as new patients. All the while, he's thinking of his mother, and when it's time to go home, he doesn't go empty-handed. Another guard finds Yercich slashed to pieces and his uniform stolen—and the culprit, our narrator, is finally going home to his mother after eight years locked away…with a hatchet in his hands…

Yep, it's as wordy as expected, with moody art that's mainly moody because of the black-and-white format, filled with creepy lunatics in between the endless captions. Luckily it's a brief, Chiller-type tale, or Tales From The Crypt maybe. Next…

"Slinking Through the MU Lunch Room"

Third up is "Death of the Living Dead" by David Kraft and a second Bob Brown job, this time with Pablo Marcos. A zombie stalks the jungle, as W'Sulli, chief of a nearby village, suffers a seizure but does not want help from a youngster. Suddenly, the zombie breaks through the gates and kills a dozen villagers, leading W'Sulli to summon The Eternal Warrior, Gilgamesh! The Warrior stalks the walking corpse and goes to find his master, Mi'Chi'Li, which leads to a battle with the mindless zombie amid flames. But when Gilgamesh strikes the power-mad Mi'Chi'Li with a spear, the zombie falls into the fire, no longer controlled by the dark voodoo. At dawn, Gilgamesh comes back to the village with the body of the zombie, who was chief W'Sulli's son.

We are treated to another story with a zing at the end, although here the fight scenes are cool, rife with violent deaths and intense pondering. The old chief is a mess, and takes all the guilt for the tribe's deaths on his shoulder. Rightly so, since it's his son doing the killing. Gilgamesh is a formidable hero, and does his job well.

"Death of the ... hang on, the what?

Shameless cheesecake of the week
Finally, Dracula enters the scene in "Picture of Andrea," with Caption King Moench at the helm again, teamed with Filipino artist Sonny Trinidad. It's the best tale of an uneven magazine, although a bit too much borrowed from the movie Laura, but cross-pollinated with Curse of Dracula. The art is dynamic where it needs to be, detailed when necessary, and there are so many words, the pages that don't have many are true standouts, mainly Dracula's attack on Andrea, which goes on for a while, but we don't want it to end!

Obsessed detective Lt. Chapel stands in a swanky apartment, talking to the portrait of a beautiful young woman, Andrea, as he investigates her murder. Returning to the scene of the investigation, he starts putting together the pieces of evidence—the wet towel on the floor, the fire she built, the mystery of the assailant entering without breaking in, which leads him to the boyfriend as the prime suspect. But as he tries to figure it all out, we get scenes of the actual murder—it was Dracula, the Prince of Darkness! The vampire entered through an open window, mesmerized Andrea, and bit her, causing the odd spillage of blood that vexes our detective. Suddenly the boyfriend, James Nagle, enters the door, annoyed that Chapel was talking to Andrea's portrait as a lover and drinking her liquor…then Andrea enters the apartment! She tells the men she's been with a friend for four days, then asks a skeptical Chapel to leave. But when he hears a man screaming, he runs back, only to find vampire Andrea has bitten James! Under attack, Chapel makes a makeshift cross out of swizzle sticks to hold her off, then breaks off a chair leg and stakes Andrea, who calls for Dracula with her last breath. He then stakes Nagle before he can turn and goes to toss the bodies in the fireplace when Dracula smashes in! Chapel tosses Andrea into the flames and grabs the chair leg—which he uses on himself when he realizes he has no chance against Drac! Three nights later, Chapel stands in front of the portrait again, now a vampire himself, but unable to be with the woman he fell in love with…and we end with a cackling Dracula. Whew... -Joe Tura

Matthew: Should we draw any conclusions about the freshness of this issue's content, based on the fact that Battlin' Bob has now been dead for many moons?

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 26
Cover Art by Jim Starlin

“Beyond the Black River”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema & Tony DeZuniga
“The Other Queen of the Black Coast”
Text by Fred Blosser
“Retribution in Blood”
Story by Don Glut
Art by David Wenzel & Marilitz
“Swords and Scrolls”

First off, a tip of my Hyborian hat if you could tell that’s a Jim Starlin cover without looking at the credits. The 36-page lead story, “Beyond the Black River,” is based on the Conan story of the same name, originally published in two Weird Tales installments, May and June in 1935. Roy, John and Tony also present their version in two parts so things will conclude in issue #27. In Howard’s story, Conan is about 40 years old — that doesn’t seem to be the case here, since he looks the same as usual. Or at least his age is never mentioned. There’s also an heroic dog named Slasher — I hope he turns up in part two of Roy’s adaptation.

After selling his services, Conan works as a scout for Valannus, the Governor of Conajohara, who is headquartered in Fort Tuscelan near the shores of the remote Black River. The wooden fort and its ill-prepared soldiers are there to protect the peaceful farmers who have settled in the area — they are under the constant threat of slaughter by the barbaric Picts who live on the other side of the river. On patrol, the Cimmerian saves a young Aquilonian wanderer named Balthus from a Pict ambush. Making their way back to the relative safety of the fort, they come across a headless corpse killed by one of the many forest devils that roam the region. It is the body of the merchant Tiberias, one of the five men who captured and jailed the Pictish wizard Zogar Sag. After escaping, the sorcerer vowed revenge — Tiberias was the last of that doomed group, all beheaded by the dark creatures Zogar Sag controls.

Dragging the merchant’s body behind in a litter, Conan and Balthus arrive at Fort Tuscelan. Valannus, panicked by the recent bloodshed, asks the barbarian to track down and finally kill the sorcerous Pict. The Cimmerian agrees, but instead of taking some of the fort’s rag tag soldiers to accompany him, he gathers a group of the fierce foresters who inhabit the woods — the young Aquilonian will join the quest as well. That night, the dozen men silently paddle two canoes down the Black River. Near their final destination, the barbarian motions his determined crew to head to the shore: he leaves Balthus and one of the foresters to guard the boats as the rest head into the thick woods. After a few moments, Balthus is knocked unconscious and the other man killed by Picts who have been stalking the boats the entire time. 

Balthus awakes tied to a pole in a Pict camp, next to a wounded forester in the same sticky situation. On the ground besides them is a grotesque pile of heads, all from Conan’s war party — the Aquilonian cannot tell if the Cimmerian’s is among them. Suddenly, Zogar Sag appears, shouting and spinning wildly. The gate to the compound is opened and the wizard summons one of his deadly familiars, a ravenous sabretooth tiger. The prehistoric cat leaps forward and plunges its foot-long fangs into the forester — it drags the screaming man away, back to the forest. Then, Zogar Sag summons the Ghost Snake, a venomous, 50-foot long constrictor that slithers towards Balthus. But at the last minute, a spear thrown from the shadows pierces the snake’s neck. In its death throes, the gigantic reptile crushes dozens of Picts, splashing others with burning venom. Conan, the spear thrower, leaps forward and unties Balthus. With Pictish arrows raining around them, they make their escape.

I read this one before I did my research, so I was tickled to discover that many of Howard’s later Conan stories were heavily influenced by the American West. Because that’s exactly what I took away from this adaptation. It basically comes across like a John Ford movie: frontier settlers threaten by native savages; a rambling wooden fort; abductions, torture and whatnot. It’s a strange situation to find Conan in. Being a scout can’t offer much pay even more so considering that Fort Tuscelan is so remote and understaffed. And it seems odd that he would risk his neck to protect a bunch of farmers. Unless I’m forgetting something, it’s only the second of Roy’s Conan stories that features Howard’s famous Picts: the first was in Savage Tales #4 from May 1974. Sure, they’ve appeared in the multi-issue Savage Sword back-up feature “The Hyborian Age” — and we have the heroic Brule in the Kull series — but you would have figured that the barbarian would have bumped into them on a regular basis in his various Marvel series. Some grisly stuff on display, including the pile of decapitated heads. Coming up short after Alfredo Alcala and Ernie Chan, Tony DeZuniga is probably my third favorite Big John collaborator — at least on the Hyborian stuff. Tony’s embellishments are somehow simultaneously dark and airy. A solid entry but I hope that the second part ramps up the action. And gives us the dog.

Next up is Fred Blosser’s text piece “The Other Queen of the Black Coast.” He covers Conan’s very first funny book appearance, issue #15 of the 1965 Mexican comic La Reina de la Costa Negra aka Queen of the Black Coast. At five pages, Fred is much more comprehensive, but I covered the same material in my inaugural MU assignment, Conan the Barbarian #1. You can read it here if you care. The article is illustrated by a few of the primitive panels from La Reina de la Costa Negra, including one that Blosser calls “perhaps the most grisly pieces of comic art ever drawn.” It involves some kind of Bigfoot tearing the arm off of one of Conan’s men. Methinks Fred has a very weak stomach.
Things wrap up with the 12-page Solomon Kane story “Retribution in Blood.” This picks up after “Castle of the Undead” from the black-and-white magazine Dracula Lives #3, October 1973 — click here to read Dean Pete and Professor Gilbert’s recap. 

Regretting his choice to let Dracula “live,” Kane journeys to Transylvania to finally put an end to the Count’s bloody reign of terror. When he arrives, the Puritan comes across a funeral procession. He follows it into a chapel and is shocked to see a woman named Morgit acting as minister. After the ceremony, she reveals that her father is the town’s actual priest, but he was killed by Dracula, as were her mother and sister Julka. More determined than ever to slay the vampire, Solomon borrows Morgit’s wagon and heads to the monster’s castle, a special wooden rapier hanging by his side. 

When he reaches the strange stronghold, Kane discovers that Morgit has stowed away in the wagon — she screams when she see the rotting corpse of her father crucified in front of the drawbridge. Noticing a jewel-encrusted cross in the body’s tattered clothes, the Puritan removes it, sharpens one end with his knife and gives it to the woman for protection — he then clambers up the castle’s wall and makes his way inside. There Dracula awaits as Julka — transformed into the undead — approaches her shocked sister outside. The Count easily defends himself from Kane’s attacks, finally plucking the wooden rapier from his hands and tossing it into a roaring fireplace. But before he can deliver the fatal bite, the vampire notices Julka threatening Morgit at the castle’s gate: he tosses his undead bride away, claiming the woman for himself.

Fangs glistening, Julka turns towards Kane, but the solemn adventurer kills her with a torch — he then removes what is left of his smoldering sword from the fireplace. He rushes outside and throws it at Dracula: the vampire ducks and the flaming rapier impales the body of Morgit’s father. The corpse burst into flames, forming a blazing cross. As the Count recoils in pain, Morgit tosses the sharpened, jeweled cross to Solomon: he drives it through Dracula’s heart.

As Professor Gilbert mentioned in his review of “Castle of the Undead,” it’s not that bizarre for Solomon Kane to face a vampire — he often encountered monsters in Howard’s stories. But the actual Dracula is a bit of a stretch. Of course, Glut included a “Dum! Dum! Dum!” twist at the end as a group of gypsies come across the vampire’s corpse, the jeweled cross protruding from its chest. First time I’ve encountered the artwork of David Wenzel. He also provided the outstanding frontispiece for this issue: the art here is not of that fine quality but it’s still pretty good. Looks like Wenzel would go on to pencil some of the “The Korvac Saga” issues of The Avengers. This seems to be the only Marvel credit for the mysteriously one-named inker, Marilitz. As with most of Glut’s Kane stories, “Retribution in Blood” is fairly entertaining but immediately forgettable. -Tom Flynn

Having passed through the Carpathian mountains, a conscience-burdened Solomon Kane arrives in the “wilds of Transylvania” to confront Count Dracula whom he grudgingly spared in “Castle of the Undead” (Dracula Lives! #3).  At a funeral for a pastor’s wife, Kane is shocked at the “blasphemy” of seeing “a woman profanely enacting the role of a man of the cloth!...”  His Puritan fears are slightly allayed when he learns it is remaining daughter Morgit mourning at the casket, her father (the village pastor) and sister abducted by the “prince of vampires!” himself.  

Kane is outraged that “Dracula’s arrogance has grown!” to where “he has dared to steal the daughter of a man of God --”  As “--one who knows how to combat the hellish undead!,” Kane vows upon a cross that he will avenge Morgit’s father and sister Julka and, hopefully, save them from the Count’s clutches should they be alive.  

Kane plunges deeper into the darkness that is Transylvania by horse and carriage, through the Borgo Pass to “CASTLE DRACULA!”  He has chosen a wagon, rather than travelling by foot, because it is large enough to transport the corpses of Morgit’s family to sanctified ground and Christian burial should the worst prove true.  The coach has given Morgit opportunity to stow away, not the least of her reasons because the “Lord of all Vampires--,” hoping to make both “minister’s daughters [his] eternal brides!,” has already been skulking outside her window back home.  

Unlike in Dracula Lives! #3, this time the ronin-like Kane is prepared with a bokken-like “wooden blade” and a sharpened silver cross (which he gives to Morgit), both doubling as stakes.  Dracula and Kane square off, but Morgit almost falls prey to her own “she-vampire” sister.  Her father fares slightly better – he is a victim of Vlad’s old “expert...method of, er...punishment!” (a better fate than the undead lord’s new ways).  

Dracula dates his last encounter with Kane as “months past!,” and the recap on page 48 confirms this chronology by setting the stage with: “Now, so many months later...”  But there have been more than half-a-dozen Solomon Kane adventures since, at least one to Africa and back, so that scant passage of time seems too low.  (Unless “Castle of the Undead” was told out of order, as so many of Howard’s own stories often were.)  

It is not clear precisely who was clamoring for a sequel to “Castle of the Undead.”  No letters or editorial page from subsequent issues could be unearthed to corroborate this issue’s Table of Contents exclamation, “At last – by popular demand!”  But here it is nonetheless.  

It also never made sense that Kane would feel honor-bound to a servant of the deceiver – the father of lies, the devil – whose vampire identity was unknown to him at the time.  The prologue, redrawn by David Wenzel and Marilitz, recaps the original melee from Dracula Lives! #3 and the debt Dracula holds over Kane’s head.  Why does he owe Dracula “a boon”?  Because Dracula saved Kane from his children of the night, a pack of “night-ravening” wolves that Kane, bane of men and monsters, could have probably finished off without aid.  Therefore Kane “cannot slay one who has saved his life…  Nay, not even one of the hated undead.”  

As stated last time, a letter-writer in issue #23 praised David Wenzel and Marilitz’s art to the rafters, and considering the many scenes of Dracula and Kane posing and pairing off like a couple of dandies dancing around each other in Dracula Lives! #3, these illustrations are a definite improvement.  

On page 55 of this issue, during Dracula’s “duel of blades--” with Kane, the two narrate their own action, complete with exposition, in word bubbles that should have been captions.  (Does Dracula need to tell Kane he has “the ability to alter my form to intangible mist” when we see he has just turned to mist?)  

Later Kane broods upon the Count’s suggestion during this swordfight that both are “as opposite sides of the same ducat,” a tired theme recycled from Dracula Lives! #3 that looks good on paper but is the kind of unconvincing accusation desperate villains throw around.  But before the brooding comes a final conflagration that includes torched hair, a “fiery sword!,” a “fistful of garlic,” a “buffeting gale,” wind-fanned flames conjured by “the master of the elements!,” prayer (Kane’s “most potent defense of all!”), “Yaaahhh!!  A blazing...surrogate crucifix,” a sharpened cross, and an ironic comeuppance for a man once named Vlad the Impaler.  

Kane calls himself “the instrument through which another [the minister] enacted his vengeance upon Count Dracula--one who may now sleep in peace!”  The pastor was impaled, not bitten like Julka, thus going to his eternal repose.  Not so the living dead Julka slain by Kane who sends her “damned soul [to] forever burn in hell!!”  This does not seem to agree with established vampire lore and literature as laid out by Dracula author Bram Stoker.  Several times it is said in that classic novel that Lucy Westenra will be in Heaven, most definitively by Van Helsing who, after she has been run through and beheaded, authoritatively offers this sure comfort: “No longer she is the devil’s Un-Dead.  She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him!”  A careless error on the part of scripter Don Glut.  

Anyone who protests, “You can’t dispatch Dracula in A.D. 1574!  Harker visits him in 1897 and the Count is on the prowl in all those later Universal and Hammer horror movies!,” need only turn to “EPILOGUE:” to hear the answer to their own question – what about all those Universal and Hammer horror films where Dracula was repeatedly staked and burned and decapitated only to rise again for an encore?  Keep your eye on the Gypsies that Kane passes early on in this issue’s story and then remember who serves “the Dark Lord--” in Stoker’s novel.  

To be fair to these monster match mash-ups (some better than others), with a character as rich as REH’s Kane, it must be irresistible to Marvel’s stable to put him through the paces and have him encounter everything from a Baron Frankenstein to a Wolf Man.  Can the Mummy be far behind?  
-Gilbert Colon


  1. I am not a fan of Nebres, neither for Marvel or Warren, but here he buries Kane. Awful. That the editors accepted this is a mystery.

    MoKF didn't made any sense. Still it is a fun issue and a nice breather from the usual cloak and dagger melodram. Zeck's art is developing. Both issues have a distinct The Avengers vibe, somehow you just wait for Miss Peel arriving.

    I re-read Mantlo's IM a short while ago and thought it still pretty good. The Tuska art is nice and dynamic, and the large group of characters never feels crowded. It is a shame that Jack of Hearts never caught on after his supporting role on IM.

    I love Norem's cover for Marvel Preview. It is better then the story. Always thought Lilith a character which didn't work. Who suffered from a ever more convoluted back story – if you managed to get all appearances – and not in a good way. Marvel's horror was so heavy handed. As if they wanted to imitate Warren but never got it right.

  2. Dean P,


    Great word. When was the last time you got to trot it out?