Wednesday, May 25, 2016

May 1978 Part One: So, If Harry Osborn Isn't the Green Goblin... Who Is?

The Avengers 171
"...Where Angels Fear to Tread"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Tracking the Bride of Ultron, Earth's mightiest heroes get stalled in a throng of groupies and looky-loos. Eventually, the Avengers are able to escape the crowd and receive an intriguing clue from a skid row bum: the Bride left with a penguin. Being that this is a Marvel comic book, we know it's not that Penguin but, rather, a nun named Sister Eucalypta who's rushing Ultron's mate to the big guy pronto. Meanwhile, in a dressing room of an exclusive NYC department store, Carol Danvers receives a "seventh sense" warning of imminent danger, dons her Ms. Marvel gear, and heads off to find the Avengers. Iron Man has finally gotten a fix on the Bride's whereabouts and Ms. Marvel joins them in the quest that takes them to a convent. There they find Ultron, vowing to kill the team and rule the world. The Avengers battle the super-robot valiantly but, in the end, it's the Scarlet Witch, aided by the Bride (who still has traces of the Wasp's humanity in her innards), who shut Ultron down and make the world safe again. Mysteriously, the Bride disappears but, more importantly, so does Captain America. -Peter Enfantino

Exploitation? Yep. Unnecessary? Well...

Peter Enfantino: Artistically, this one's a winner. The plot and dialogue... that's another story altogether. Bits seem inspired, while other bits seem rushed and wasted (the epic is rushing to a climax that is anything but climactic and exciting). For a menace as supposedly super-powered as Ultron, he's dispatched fairly easy, wouldn't you say? The whole "New York fashion" segment is silly and only pays off with a bit of Carol Danvers titillation (Ms. Marvel in her panties!). I've not read any Ms. Marvels but Carol Danvers seems, from her appearance here, to be a bit of a biotch. And, ferchrissakes, please tell me that Wonder Man's whiny, self-loathing thought balloons will cease at some point. We've seen the last of George Perez and that's a doggone dirty shame as he's the highlight of slogging through each issue of The Avengers.

Joe Tura: Is there a better cover this month in all of Marvel's releases? Nah, no way. And the insides are quite good, also, from the tip-top artwork to the story full of mysteries like Avengers vanishing. There are a lot of nice moments here, from Wonder Man's hesitation and doubt to Wanda getting to show off her powers to Thor's trepidation about entering the convent. Best line of the book also goes to the Thunder God when he tells Beast "Thy wenching is ill-timed, Hank McCoy!" But there's a couple of missteps here also. What's with the comments on women's figures? That pervert store clerk looking for new models makes note of Wanda's buxomness and Carol Danvers' shapely figure. Not that we mind seeing Carol in her underwear, but still, it's a bit unnecessary. And what's with the evil assistant store clerk looking to take the older woman's job? Do we really need to care? The dispatching of Ultron is clever, yet seems too fast, as if they wanted to wrap up and move on to the next story. And of course, Ultron don't go down easy.

Chris Blake: We share the team’s anticipation and apprehension as they follow the Bride’s path to a certain confrontation with Ultron.  Jan observes how the team had been unable to defeat him alone; with Ultron paired with his Bride, “what chance do we have?” (p 11); yeah, thanks Jan.  Wonder Man is a bit jumpy, as he suspects Yellowjacket’s arrival to be an attack (p 10); but, Ms Marvel coolly observes the angle of approach is all wrong for attack (as she applies her Kree military knowledge), and later the two discuss the quality of courage (p 11).  For once, I’m glad we have Ms Marvel’s inexplicable seventh-sense images to consider, since her unstated dread of the “nightmare” the Avengers are advancing toward adds to the tension.  (Interesting play by Shooter to work Ms Marvel into the story; was this an effort to introduce her to a wider fan base, and thereby boost sales of her flagging mag, or were there already plans afoot to include her as a team member -?)  It’s not all grim, as the scenes of the team interacting with the crowd lighten the mood.  The bit when the Beast bounds forward to offer an explanation in Latin to Sister Eucalypta still cracks me up; the enthusiastic look on his face is priceless (p 14).  

The anticipation builds to when the team finally confronts Ultron; fittingly, YJ is at the forefront.  Monster that he is, Ultron declares his intent to kill everyone present; nifty reversal as the encephalo-beam has no effect.  Next reversal as Wonder Man pushes back his fears, springs from the background, and lays into Ultron (“What?! How could anyone move so quickly?”), which prompts a cheer from me for Simon.  Subtle bit of foreshadowing, as Ultron declares that only his molecular rearranger can affect his adamantium casing; little does he know this single bit of information will, in fact, prove the means of his defeat.   Right before that, in the best reversal of all, the residual Jan-spark prompts the just-christened Jocasta to blast Ultron!  Yeah, this one continues to be among my all-time favorites.
Last go-round with Pérez on the Avengers for MU curriculum; I will try to keep it together as I identify our final highlights.  We have another of these nifty panels with several simultaneous conversations: Wanda looks on as (unenlightened) Jan welcomes another “girl” to the group, in the person of Ms Marvel, while the Beast encourages Iron Man and Captain America to “get going!” after the Bride’s tracking signal (p 10).  I remember – and still retain – my admiration for the panel at the bottom of the same page, as Pérez shows a formation of flying Avengers, with Yellowjacket piloting the “spare parts” craft, and the Beast (furry, blue) and Cap (cowled, red-gloved) clearly visible in the seating area, the Wasp and Scarlet Witch presumably in the other two spots.  In one great little panel, Pérez infuses a few metallic fingers with meaning, as Ultron reacts to Wanda’s suspicions, and Wanda seemingly looks directly at Ultron thru his monitor (p 15, 1st pnl) – if Ultron fears any Avenger, it is she.  The room of shifting mirrors is a masterful bit of technique, and pretty cool too (p 22) – Wanda’s uncertainty is offset soon after by new determination as she aims a hex at the empty heart of Ultron (p 30, pnl 5); is that fear we see on Ultron’s face, as he feels himself coming apart (pnl 8)?  There are 10 panels on p 30 alone, as the action races along; George, come back to us … . 
Matthew Bradley:  It goes without saying that you can count on Strife-Meister Shooter to put Beast in full putz-mode (“Watch her!  She’s tricky!”), despite Claremont having portrayed him and Ms. Marvel as having parted with equanimity after their initial MARMIS in Ms. Marvel #16.  Hank notwithstanding, her presence is welcomed by some of us, even if her “seventh-sense images,” which she must get all the time, seemed a somewhat flimsy pretext to bring her together with the Assemblers.  At the hands of Marcos, the Scarlet Witch comes off the best—most notably in page 30, panel 5—yet with the characteristically superior Austin inks, Pérez depicts the scene even better on the cover; it’s reminiscent of a similar, but presumably unrelated, scene involving Ms. Marvel in MTU #62.

Black Panther 9
"Black Musketeers"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby 

T'Challa collapses in the desert after carrying mob boss Nick Scarpa for miles. The pair is rescued by the cast of a science fiction film shooting in the desert (one that looks oddly familiar) and taken back to the set. The Black Panther is told he's to wait for authorities to show so that he can explain his relationship with Scarpa but our hero has no time for nonsense. He initiates an explosive distraction on the movie set and steals a jeep but, very soon, is stopped by a military plane. Meanwhile, the four misfits of the ruling family have visited the local costume shop and geared up as "The Black Musketeers." Belying their physical shortcomings, the quartet manage to lasso Jakarra (who's been transformed into a Bermudas-clad red monster by radiation) and take him back to the palace for study. After some argument between scientists and ruling family, Jakarra is allowed to live and locked in a cell. However, the creature rises and blasts his way out of his prison, the Vibranium mound his destination. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: The King feels the need to tap into the Star Wars craze, but why not? Everyone was doing it back then, right? Can't figure out what I enjoyed more, the birth of the Inept Four (aka The Black Musketeers!) or the fat jokes that swirl around its pleasantly plump female member:

Itobo: We are proud to say that the task was accomplished with high risk and minimal injury.
Zuni: Joshua Itobo refers to my backside,,, it's really too well padded to suffer badly in a fall.

You won't find dialogue like that in a 2016 funny book. Can't really put my finger on why but I enjoyed this issue despite its slow pace and scratch-my-head dialogue ("When the eye fades, use the arm... when the arm weakens, use the heart... when the heart slows --- use all three!"). That could be solely based on the Tales to Astonish-ish vibe to the Jakarra subplot. His jailbreak and ominous walk toward the Vibranium mound is worth the journey. Let's hope The King delivers on the destination.

Matthew:  I don’t know if it’s possible to backslide further than this issue, which is bad on the genetic level, with those embarrassing Black Mouseketeers being only the most obvious debit.  Raise your hand if you buy a T’Challa who is “feeding on guilt and self-pity,” unless he somehow saw what Kirby was doing to him.  Odysseus got home quicker than this guy, and jumping on the Star Wars bandwagon by having him meet a crew filming an epic “based on the work of a famous science-fiction writer” in the Sudan—which, less than two years after a bloody coup attempt, was probably a far less suitable location than Tunisia—doesn’t help; why the hell he didn’t expedite things by identifying himself to the authorities as an Avenger, I can’t imagine.

Captain Marvel 56
"Survival Quest!"
Story by Doug Moench and Jim Shooter
Art by Pat Broderick and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Gil Kane and Bob Wiacek

Temporarily revitalized, but not wanting to kill “Lawson” before obtaining  a cure, Deathgrip discards the shriveled Kree—whose Nega-Bands “siphon the sun’s photon energy” to restore him—and heads for the observatory, vowing to start killing hostages if not cured within 48 hours.  Flying to the Everglades, Mar-Vell uses his cosmic awareness to locate the Organization’s ruined H.Q. under the swampland, where (as a shadowy figure watches) he finds the wrecked Eon Gun, then proceeds to Long Island, interrupting Tony Stark’s golf game in search of aid.  He hopes the ray can nullify Deathgrip’s touch, but a quick check-in with Hank Pym garners no “recent developments in cybernetics” that can help, so the two are on their own.

Positing that “Deathgrip is the living equivalent of the Eon Ray itself” (duh), Tony is able only to reconstruct it, yet hoping that its ability to reverse the process—as it did to him in #10—can at least save any living victims, Mar-Vell returns to Colorado just in time to rejuvenate Jacqueline.  When Deathgrip realizes that he has not found a cure, the gloves are literally off as he prepares to kill the Kree, whose Cosmic Grasp of the Obvious inspires him to don those insulating objects so the foe can be touched with impunity…“and touched hard!!”  As he ushers out the hostages, Deathgrip turns the ray on himself, since even absent a cure, “anything will be…better”; sure enough, he and the gun are respectively reduced to “primordial protoplasm [and] molten slag.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Moench provides his standard surfeit of “philosophical musing,” as Marv opines that “everything leads to necessary strife,” but since he merely scripts Shooter’s plot, and McKenzie subs next time, we’re still in transitional mode as they resolve Edelman’s story.  Per Mark Drummond’s comment on SuperMegaMonkey (where fnord12 accurately observes of Deathgrip’s helmet that “it’s like he’s wearing a TIE Fighter on his head”), Scott “later admitted that Archie Goodwin fired him after #55 while arguing over the quality of Edelman’s writing, resulting in the fill-ins.”  I remain underwhelmed by the Broderick/Wiacek art—although the Deathgrip-takedown in page 27, panel 3 is admittedly impressive—but will reserve judgment as the inking situation stabilizes.

Chris: The middle section includes another well thought-out instance of a writer showing the efforts our heroes need to expend to resolve the daunting problems they’re required to face.   Once again, I’ll contrast this “process” sequence with the instances we’ve seen in mags like Fantastic Four when Reed Richards is able – in a matter of minutes, typically – to whip up a solution-based gizmo, simply by sticking together a few loose parts he happens to have on his workbench.  We’re also spared a cheap come-on, as the cover might’ve (falsely) hawked the presence of Iron Man in this issue, when – as Mar-Vell correctly observes – it’s only Tony Stark’s technical expertise that he requires.  The ending is a bit pat, though, as Deathgrip manages to destroy himself and the eon gun; if only more villains would have the same consideration, both to rub themselves out and take the means of their creation with them!

Pat Broderick’s pencils continue to suit Mar-Vell particularly well, with Marv’s purposeful expression as he takes flight an obvious highlight (p 6).  Points also for Broderick’s plasma-like depiction of the photon burst, once Marv has used his cosmic awareness to read the location of the buried Organization HQ (p 7).  I’m not as enamored with Wiacek’s finishes this time; they’re not bad, they simply are a bit looser than I would like, which leaves the art slightly sketchy-looking.  

Conan the Barbarian 86 
“The Devourer of the Dead!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

Conan and Zula arrive at the Stygian capital of Luxor, a sprawling city surrounded by a 100-foot stone wall, two mammoth python idols coiled on each side of the main gate. To the west are four pyramids, one larger than the others but still half built, with a flat plateau instead of a tip. Using a grappling hook and rope, the warriors scale the sheer wall, Conan to the top first 
— there he kills a guard, donning his distinctive Stygian headgear. They steal into the City of Serpents, Zula posing as the Cimmerian’s slave. 

Seeking information, the barbarian enters a tavern and begins chatting up the dusky barmaid, Ayeeda — who judges that he is outlander mercenary working for the Stygian army by his lighter skin color. Suddenly, the room bursts into nervous chatter as a funeral procession passes by outside. Ayeeda informs her muscular patron that the dead must be royalty to earn so many slave pallbearers, priests and royal soldiers. She adds that they are heading to the Temple of Set, the mound-like pyramid outside the city. Even though the alluring woman offers Conan a few minutes of pleasure in a back room, he exits the bar and rejoins Zula who has been waiting outside. There they kill and steal the garb of three acolyte priests, the same men who insulted the presumably ignorant black man moments earlier. Blending into the procession, they follow to a barge on the shore of the River Styx. When the boat is loaded, it floats down a tributary into the temple. Inside the ancient structure, Conan and the Zamballahian are soon discovered: after killing a few of the soldiers they leap into a black pool in an antechamber, risking drowning instead of capture. Nearly running out of air, they break the surface of a forward lock, emerging next to the funeral barge — the slaves have all been sacrificed, lying dead around the sarcophagus. They board, and the boat floats on into another chamber, the lair of the Devourer of the Dead, a mass of squirming tentacles and two deformed, snake-like heads. Eater of those undeserving of an afterlife, the horrifying creature begins to feast on the dead slaves. Conan rips the burning brazier from the front of the boat and sets it aflame, but not before Zula shoves the large coffin into the water — he noticed an air hole and deduced that the corpse inside must actually be alive. The Cimmerian shoves the burning boat at the Devourer — the tentacled terror swallows it whole. As the barbarian and his companion push the craft into another chamber, the massive monster squirms in flaming agony, bringing the stone ceiling down upon itself. Conan opens the sarcophagus to find Bêlit inside. The She-Devil informs her rescuers that King Ctesphon II had her placed in the coffin after she was captured along with Neftha — and that the slavegirl is actually the king’s sister.
-Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Finally, after 13 issues, Luxor is reached. The arrival earns a well-deserved two-page spread of the capital. While the city sits on a river, it’s surrounded by desert so Big John and Ernie don’t offer much detail to the outlying area besides the pyramids: so while the illustration is impressive, it’s not transcendent. The acolyte priests are downright racist, calling Zula a “jungle coney,” whatever that means, and asking Conan to “have your trained monkey do some tricks for us.” Not surprisingly, Conan lets his friend kill the obnoxious bastards single handedly. Before he begins the bloody task, Zula has a nice line of dialogue, saying that the Stygian’s “shorter blades compensate for the longer odds.” Nice one Roy. The Zamballahian is rounding into a terrific supporting character: not only can he match Conan’s muscle, he’s significantly smarter. Let’s face it, Conan would have shoved Bêlit to her death if Zula didn’t figure out the whole air hole thing. The Devourer of the Dead is a hair-raising creation, as Lovecraftian as they come. It doesn’t make much of an appearance, only lasting a page and a half until it basically kills itself. I’ve suspected that Neftha was more than a simple slavegirl from nearly the beginning, but the twist of her being the king’s sister was totally unexpected. Bêlit also offers that she is much feared by her brother. I find it odd that when the king is mentioned, Joe Rosen consistently uses “King Ctesphon II.” Wouldn’t the person who said his name actually say “King Ctesphon the Second?” The art is great as usual but Phil Rachelson’s colors for Zula are odd and uneven. Obviously he’s a black man but he sometimes appears purple, dark blue or ashy grey. I hope that the barmaid Ayeeda makes a return: she is totally hot-to-trot and offers to screw the Cimmerian after only a few minutes. But he is Conan after all. “I get laid a lot in this movie!” I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that she betrays our hero down the line since he basically walked out on her. We’re cooking with gas at this point so eagerly anticipating where Roy, John and Ernie take us next issue.

Chris: The two-page illustration of the city of Luxor alone is worth the price of admission, isn’t it?  The presence of people is limited to tiny specks and swirls of dust visible by the serpent-guarded gate; we have a clear impression of the massive scale of the place.  How many slave-hours might’ve been required to erect those massive stone serpents?  The mind boggles.  Phil Rache’s choice of pale blues and grays suggest we are seeing the city by moonlight.  Nicely done all around.

Conan has not had a comrade-in-arms (as opposed to a “mate”) for some time, so the camaraderie Roy has established with Zula in their brief association is welcome.  Points also to Rache for selecting a more appropriate hue for Zula, who now appears a dark grey instead of a dark blue (!).  Priceless moment as Conan stands by and waits while Zula dispatches the acolytes (p 16), which also serves to indicate Conan’s appreciation for his new ally’s skill – Zula doesn’t ask for help from Conan in that moment, and Conan never thinks to offer it.  
A few other highlights: Conan stirs up the rocks, and already is far below Zula, in his haste to reach the city wall (p 6, 1st pnl); the crowded bar scene, packed with local color, with Rache sure to emphasize Conan’s skin tone is brighter, and different from everyone around him (p 11); Ayeeda’s parting wink (p 15, 2nd pnl); the outburst of confusion as Zula and Conan are exposed as imposters (p 22); a truly horrific, other-worldly Devourer, all fangs and tentacles (p 26).

Captain America and the Falcon 221
Story by Don Glut, Steve Gerber, and David Anthony Kraft
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe

"The Coming of Captain Avenger!"

Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Steve Leialoha and Al Gordon
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Gil Kane and Tony DeZuniga

Still in Newfoundland, Captain America is held captive as Lyle Dekker transfers his own consciousness into the 12 foot tall Ameridroid. It breaks free to take control of the outside world. Cap escapes his bonds and gives chase and attacks. Dekker knocks Cap into unconsciousness, but seeing the normal-sized Avenger makes Dekker realize the idiocy of his plan and how much he is different from everyone. Now he's an outsized freak and with this admittance, he loses his grip on reality. He takes his frustrations out on his own lifeless corpse. Cap regains his senses and rushes in to find a defeated Dekker no longer willing to fight or conquer. He wishes only to die in self pity. Cap turns this around, making Dekker see how he has triumphed over his own greed and dreams of conquest. Dekker decides he needs solitude to think about the future and walks off. Cap returns home, no closer to learning the secrets of his past.... -Scott McIntyre

In the five page back-up story, Rick Jones becomes an amalgam of all the Avengers when he's accidentally electrocuted. After a minor kerfuffle with Baron Zemo, Rick "Captain Avenger" Jones realizes he's only day-dreaming and that he'll never become a superhero. -Peter Enfantino

Scott McIntyre: That was certainly a disappointing and abrupt climax to a fairly ridiculous arc. Dekker comes to the realization that many readers did as soon as we saw the giant Cap Clone.  This story was strongly reminiscent of an episode of the 1970's Star Trek animated series, "The Infinite Vulcan," written by Walter Koenig. A giant clone of Spock was created and his consciousness was transferred into the larger body. It was laughable then; it's just as goofy here. Steve Gerber seemed to lose all interest in this story, judging by the speed of the wrap up and the laziness of the narrative. All this did was distract us from the nifty "Who Is Steve Rogers" mystery posed issues earlier. Do we ever see Captain Clone again? I'd look it up on the Wikipedia or the Marvel Comics Database, but I'm too lazy.

Matthew: With “co-scenarist” Kraft’s byline sounding an alarm bell, this woeful wrap-up is about what the whole misconceived Ameridroid demi-saga deserved.  Diabolical ex-Nazi Dekker suddenly has a change of heart, and wanders off into the woods to find himself in his economy-sized artificial bod?  Come on, guys.  Much as I enjoyed Gerber’s creation of the Viper back in #157, his only prior Cap effort, this epitomizes how completely the book has gone off the rails.  I fail to see the appeal of digging into the character’s pre-Cap past, although how much of the plans announced in the lettercol Gerber accomplishes in his drive-by stint, I don’t know.  Naturally the Buscemosito artwork is of the purest Teflon, utterly impervious to criticism.

Another truncated issue padded out with a five-page Edelman back-up?  Sigh…  Like Len, Scott apparently decamps for DC after this, so let’s give him his say—courtesy of his blog—one last time before he goes:  “We were encouraged, when writing brief stories to fit in the back of Marvel comics, to find cracks and crevices between storylines that could be filled in.  Which is how ‘The Comic [sic] of Captain Avenger,’ meant to take place between The Avengers #14 and #15, came about.  So I was writing in 1978 about an event which supposedly took place back in 1965 [sic].  The five-page story, which starred Rick Jones and all of the mid-’60s Avengers fighting against Baron Zemo, was drawn by Steve Leialoha (penciller) and Al Gordon (inker).”

What provoked such a policy, I can’t imagine, since as appealing to fanboys as the approach might seem at first glance, one realizes upon reflection that however low the bar has already been set for such stories, their disposability is even more of a given if they’re inserted into—and thus by definition cannot disrupt or affect—existing continuity.  Compounding the error, this one veers even more sharply into What If?-style irrelevancy because, as we learn in the penultimate panel, “it never…really…happened.”  Yeah, gonna miss you, Scotty.  Artwise, it’s not bad, the earliest effort as a penciler that I’ve seen from Leialoha (coincidentally, he and Gordon will have substantive but separate stints on Spider-Woman), with a Super-Adaptoid-style costume for Rick.

Chris: The ever-unpredictable Steve Gerber strikes again, as the Ameridroid does not proceed to conquer Newfoundland; rather, it limps off the field and to the showers, with the taste of ashes in its giant mouth.  Well fans, I hope you weren’t expecting a big-time clash between Cap and his giant-sized Nazi copy; it’s not going to happen.

Thor Spoke Like Power Man?
Cap and the Ameridroid wish each other farewell, as the dumbfounded Canadian townspeople look on, too modest and unassuming to raise a question about why the issue is ending so soon.  I was wondering that myself, though, as I noticed we had only reached the mid-point (as evidenced by the paper-weight in my page-turning right hand); and, it’s not like we can ask Cap what else to expect in the issue, since he’s sleepy tired – we should let him rest.  
But wait – what’s this?  A five-page mini fill-in, with an Avengers theme!  I had fully, completely, utterly forgotten about this little trifle, tucked away after the main story’s anti-climax.  If we have to have Rick as the main character of a story, then let it be this way: in a five-pager.  In fairness, I’m always a bit impressed when a writer can devise a scenario that can be established and resolved in a mere five pages.  The art is quite nice too; we see Leialoha is capable of far more than finishes for the Starlins and Colans of the Marvel realm, and we can wonder why he never is assigned a regular gig as a penciller. Steve’s crazy-quilt take on the Avengers’ uniforms is fairly clever (p 26), but the real highlight is the image on p 27, as in we see – in a single panel – a close-up of Zemo firing the nullifier, and the Avengers caught in its ray.  But above all, the single best thing about screening this short film here, is that it makes it unavailable for Al Milgrom to drop in to the fill-in fraught Marvel Fanfare a few years from now.  

Daredevil 152
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Carmine Infantino and Klaus Janson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

On a grimly rainy day, Matt and Foggy attend Maxwell Glenn’s funeral; Heather Glenn does not appear.  As they walk from the gravesite, reporters badger Foggy with questions about his estranged fiancée, Debbie.  Foggy brushes them off, finally punching a photographer who gets in his face.  Matt offers his help, which Foggy rebuffs, as he sarcastically observes how much of a “big help” Matt has been in recent weeks.  Foggy drives away, as Matt resolves, still, to help him.  Switching to Daredevil, Matt breaks thru the window of the room where Debbie has sequestered herself (ever since DD rescued her from kidnappers, back in DD #147); he fights off Debbie’s armed bodyguard, and swings with her to Central Park.  He desperately makes his case, entreating her to cease allowing herself to be a prisoner of her own fear.  He doesn’t seem to be getting thru, and quickly withdraws as he perceives Foggy’s approaching footsteps; DD had counted on Foggy following his familiar path home thru the park.  Once Debbie catches sight of her lover, they embrace, and all appears to be well.  DD contemplates the seemingly insurmountable problems he has with Heather, when he hears a shout, and “Stay back!”  DD bounds to the rescue, and arrives in time to disarm a pursuer – who turns out to be Paladin!  Paladin states he is following a lead to Killgrave, the Purple Man, and cannot tolerate DD’s interference; he pulls a park bench free from the ground and throws it, catching DD in the left arm, and continues after his quarry.  DD tries to avoid Paladin’s blaster, but catches a stun-burst in his chest.  Before he departs, Paladin discloses he already knows of Killgrave’s whereabouts, but has to stop the escaping henchman before they can reach Killgrave and inform him of Paladin’s knowledge.  DD passes out, disbelieving what he’d thought he heard: Paladin knows where to find Killgrave -?  DD awakes hours later, and drags himself home, to hear the phone ringing; it’s Heather, in a panic, stating she needs help, and must speak with Matt right away.  He promises to get to her apartment right away, but as he arrives outside her window, he is not aware of the two figures, hiding in the darkened apartment as they prepare for DD’s arrival … -Chris Blake

Chris: Roger McKenzie seems intent on resolving a few of these long-dangling plot elements.  Debbie and Foggy have been apart for, like for-ever; DD has blamed himself for not directing a greater effort toward locating her sooner, so this time, he forces the issue (literally dragging her from her self-imposed isolation) to ensure that Foggy and Debbie can be in the same place and rekindle their romance.  Killgrave has been so elusive, there has not been the slightest hint of his whereabouts for countless issues; now, it seems McKenzie wants to finally arrange for a showdown between DD and the man who has caused him so much misery.  Heather was most-harmed by Killgrave’s machinations, but she places blame on Matt; now, is she truly asking for help from Matt, or is she calling him to her place as part of some kind of payback set-up?  

A sneak preview of what the art will look like
come #158?

Chris: McKenzie’s desire to wrap-up existing storylines likely is due to an interest in developing stories of his own.  There’s only time available for one page worth, though, as Death-Stalker drifts into a lab at Stark International’s west coast division and steals a component he requires for an unidentified device.  “The end grows nearer,” Death-Stalker promises himself, “then shall I make Daredevil pay!”  Well, that can’t be good.
The Infantino/Janson art is serviceable; Janson helps DD continue to look like himself.  The artists have some fun at DD’s expense, as he slips off a ledge, begins to fall, then uses his club-cable and nifty twisting to right himself (p 6-7).  Nice moment of DD leading with his feet to disarm Paladin, especially his teeth-gritted expression (p 23, last pnl).  Extra points for final-page drama, as we see nothing of the armed assailants but their silhouettes, the barrels of their firearms both aimed toward the crimson-clad figure approaching the window.

Matthew: “Paladin Is Back—with a Vengeance!”  Strike one.  Jantino artwork.  Strike two.  Without even getting past that atmospherically effective splash page, we’re already starting out at a huge disadvantage.  Maxwell Glenn is now six feet under, yet it seems the meandering Killgrave plotline will never die, dragged down even further by the return of nobody’s favorite “high-priced super soldier-of-fortune,” so it appears that Mr. McKenzie will not be extricating himself anytime soon from the dank hole dug by Shooter.  Paladin somehow brings out the worst in Carmine—a dubious achievement, to say the least—while Foggy looks almost subhuman in page 10, panel 4; the meaningless drivel of DD’s monologue on pages 6-7 is another big demerit.

The Defenders 59
"Xenogenesis Day of the Demons Part 2
Tyranny and Mutation"
Story by David Anthony Kraft and Ed Hannigan
Art by Ed Hannigan and Dan Green
Colors by David Anthony Kraft
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Tony DeZuniga

The man (Eric Simon Payne) known as Devil-Slayer has transported Valkyrie and Hulk to the dimension of his shadow-cloak. Val and Eric soon realize that her attack on him in defense of the woman, Vera Gemini, was a mistake. She is actually one of the cult bringing Xenogenesis (the rebirth of the demon race on Earth) to fruition. Once they understand each other, they travel to the home of Dr. Strange, the one person who may help them defeat the demon race. Meanwhile, at the hidden lair of the cult in a Mexican rainforest, Vera Gemini conducts a morbid ceremony that brings forth Belathauzer, the evil demon who will lead Xenogenesis. Vera, half-mortal, half-demon, has set the stage for the invasion. The demons will take the form of humans to infiltrate our race and perpetrate violence. Hellcat watches Nighthawk test out his new and improved equipment, then joins in as he tests himself against the "murder machine," designed to simulate any attack a foe might throw at him. When it gets a little out of hand, the Hulk and Val are there to lend them a hand. Devil-Slayer assists Stephen to send his astral form to retrieve the Eye of Agamotto  from the demon realm. He senses the Eye's presence nearby, but cannot reach it, as Vera opens the portal to Earth. Eric has lost contact with the Doctor, and heads to Mexico to forge an attack at the cult's headquarters. When the other Defenders knock on the door of the Sanctum Sanctorum, Dollar Bill breaks some awful news...Stephen Strange is dead! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: It feels more like we're in a Dr. Strange issue than a Defenders - then again, we almost are. The cult's nasty doings provide some effective horror here; Vera Gemini's dual heritage is compelling. There are lots of plot lines going on, some in the background: Red Guardian waits in Russia, her nuclear power as potent as ever (a help or hindrance for our Defenders?); Hellcat and Nighthawk enjoy flirtatious adventures; and Devil-Slayer awaits a face-off in Mexico. Lots of possible angles for next month.

Chris: The Hulk provides some of the issue’s highlights, first as he registers his dislike for the “changing place” where he finds himself confronted by an “ort-beast,” a “stupid monster [who] tries to eat Hulk – but Hulk will show monster that Hulk is not food!  You tell ‘im, Hulk!  Next, once we’ve had the inevitable complication with Kyle’s suit-testing device, the Hulk – materializing in the center of the machine, destroying it – states, “Bah!  Once again, Hulk must stop puny Bird-Nose from killing himself!” and while he hopes Kyle isn’t hurt, it would serve him right “for playing with stupid machines!”  

Chris: Overall, the issue is better than I remember; I had thought nearly the entirety of the second half is taken up with Kyle and his costume improvements, but that’s not the case; it’s only a few pages.  Rightfully, the bulk of the issue’s attention is devoted to preparations for Xenogenesis.  One chilling moment as Dave & Ed suggest the demons are already here, assuming the forms of Idi Amin, Charles Manson, and David Berkowitz among others; nice twist as Dr Strange reports Vera Gemini intends to cross her demon lords and grab the world for herself.  These demon-people aren’t foolin’ around!
There are not many art highlights, but I do want to acknowledge Hannigan’s work on p 2, as we see Val and Eric drifting around each other, but also seemingly existing in different places at once, thereby contributing to the unreal sense of the shadow-cloak dimension.  Points also for the panel of Doc as he pushes his astral form thru the “super-dense matter of an arcane dimension,” contrasted with the still moment in the next panel of Doc, levitating, while Devil-Slayer’s cloak forms a sorcerer’s circle (p 27).
Matthew: Another day, another Blue Öyster Cult dedication, this time to “Transmaniacon MC,” which a little Internoodling soon revealed was the first cut on their eponymous 1972 debut album, although at a glance the lyrics seem to me impenetrable and irrelevant.  Perhaps ensuring trouble, both Kraft and Hannigan are credited with “words” (and, respectively, “colors” and “pictures”); no major complaints regarding Green’s finished art, although I must inevitably call out the “Ricmond [sic] Enterprises” sign in page 17, panel 5.  By far my biggest beef is that having set up the literally world-threatening menace faced by poor punching-bag Doc, Dave ’n’ Ed then divert us into an utterly inconsequential, mildly annoying six-page Kyle/Patsy interlude.

 Fantastic Four 194
"Vengeance is Mine!"
Story by Len Wein, Keith Pollard, and Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Pollard and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by George Perez

We open with a teary-eyed Alicia and a NASA rescue crew at the site of the crashed Solar Shuttle as a fireman opines, "The Thing must be dead!" But half-way down p.2, a groggy Ben, having been thrown clear, remembers the license plate on the truck that hit him "...spelled out: D-I-A-B-L-O!" then rises from the desert sand and stalks off, ready for some payback. 

"And, in a long-abandoned A-bomb test bunker..." Diablo exults in the Thing's presumptive demise. Darkoth - who we learned last month used to be Ben's test pilot buddy Des Pitt before his "Death Demon" makeover by Doc Doom (FF #143) - is less celebratory, screaming "Noooooo!" (that sixth "o" really sells it) and cursing the ancient mage. Their unholy alliance was to be aimed at Doom, not "...killing he who was once my closest friend!"

That prompts Dab to launch into the info-dump backstory we were denied last ish: after the alchemist blew up at the end of FF #118, one of his "...potion pellet(s) transmuted me into a gaseous state!" But it took his atoms months to reassemble, finally coalescing outside the aforementioned A-bomb bunker, where Darkoth, flaming like the Human Torch, soon fell at Dab's feet, after Doom's space satellite blew-up at the end of FF #144; never let it be said this ain't the Marvel Age of crazy, convenient coincidences!  

A chemical bath restored D-koth, who, while delirious, revealed his hatred of Doc Doom. Thus their alliance, but the ex-Des still needs Diablo's potions to keep him alive. Still ranting, Dab discovers the power they hijacked from the Solar Shuttle is overloading, and he sends Des-koth to check out a malfunctioning collector. He arrives to find the equipment destroyed and a waiting haymaker from the fully-recovered Thing!
Meanwhile. Alicia (now wearing military khakis for some reason, i.e. artist Keith Pollard forgot she was in civvies before) and a NASA patrol reach an Indian reservation, when there's a report of an object falling from the sky around the time of the shuttle crash. They find scraps of Ben's space suit and his footprints heading toward - you guessed it, class - the old A-bomb testing grounds. 
The Thing and Des-koth continue to duke it out. The ex-Mr. Pitt is pulling his punches, but Dab's potions prevent him from speaking his name; all he can manage is a strangled, "I am Des...Desm...Arrr!" 

As Dab's potion starts to fade, Ben takes control of the fight and Darkoth finally reveals his true identity. Cutting away after that poignant reveal, scripter Bill Mantlo (from the Wein/Pollard plot) reminds us this is the FF, not MTIO, with four whole panels of Sue and Impy in Hollywood, the last of which has Sue gasping as to who actually runs Imperial Studios. 
And then it's back to "...the fearsome finale of our little epic" as Ben smashes into the bomb bunker. Dab slows him down with vines sprouting from the floor (those glove pellets sure are handy) then blasts him with the solar cannon. The Thing writhes in pain as Diablo, chatty and catty in verge-of-victory mode, finishes filling us in: while still at NASA, test pilot Des learned of Doc Doom's Solar Shuttle spy ring and infiltrated same as a double-agent, as test pilots do. Doomie got wise and turned him into a faux death demon, to suit Latverian superstitions. 
After all that's explained, Des-koth arrives to cut off the Solar Ultimate Tanner. He's ready to die defying Diablo, and the old trickster has a pellet in his glove - natch - to expedite the process. But Desmond Pitt will not die easily. For his old friend and his honor, rises to launch himself at Dab, sending them both crashing into the solar cannon. 
With the expected blow-up good results.     
Caught in the fiery wreckage (not to mention "lethal doses of solar radiation"), Des-k kicks away Ben's rescue attempt, but implores his old friend to find his son and set him straight about his old man. The Thing escapes with his life and is reunited with Alicia, who rolls with the NASA boys. They promise Des a hero's posthumous honor after Ben fills them in that "...being a monster don't necessarily make ya less of a man."
And he should know.
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: In a rare reverse MCD (that's Marvel Climaxius Disappointus for you late semester transfer students, a story that starts out Elliot Ness gangbusters before belly-flopping the landing), it turns out there was a decent, heart-tug tale buried under last month's landfill, now fighting to get out.

And Des Pitt/Darkoth, finally revealed in full (after some tortured, ham-fisted mechanics, like, he can reveal his true identity over the phone, but not in person? And while we're at it, if Ben recognized his ole pal's voice over the phone, why not in the flesh?), is a chip off his orange-cobbled pal, a tragic hero transformed into monstrous form, and - since he's not a star - gifted with a noble, redemptive death. 

Granted, the impact of Des's demise is lessened by the fact that, as perhaps Ben's oldest friend save for Reed, we've never heard of him before last ish (or that in #143, his pre-Darkoth identity was merely one of Doom's minions, and you know the Doc would have rubbed the fact that he'd transformed Ben's buddy in the Fabs' faces), to say nothing about the hokum of a test pilot running off to spy on Doom in Latveria, while becoming a tech-whiz on the side (he rebuilt/adapted the old A-bomb site computers to take over the Shuttle's solar-collectors). Write all that off as necessary - if clumsy - genre gymnastics, because a friend's ultimate sacrifice still manages to cut through the signal-to-noise ratio with gut punch emotion. 

Either that, or I'm turning into an old softie in my dotage.

Bonus points: Des Pitt was an African-American, but the story just showed us that, with none of the We Shall Overcome self-congratulatory back patting that would have been de rigueur a few years before.

And that, class, is progress.

Chris: The story’s pretty straightforward.  Ben gets to take advantage of the ol-reliable “thrown-clear” survival explanation, then battles Darkoth, who tells Ben the truth about himself, and who meets Redemption as he saves Ben again and (seemingly) ensures Diablo of his destruction.  No, the issue’s worth is in the art; this is another nostalgia-packed one, as page after page feature a well-remembered image brought to us by Pollard & Hunt, doing their best impression of Buckler & Sinnott (no easy task!).  Highlights include: Darkoth’s takeoff, followed by Ben emerging from the shadows in the cave (p 10); Darkoth strains to wrap Ben in heavy cables (p 16), and then gets a clobberin’ (p 17, 1st panel – look closely, and you see that his left shoulder has dislodged the surveillance camera); Impy popping into a green-giant guise (p 22 pnl 2); Darkoth corners Diablo, claws bared (p 26, last pnl), and then dives onto Diablo, as Diablo tries to hold him back with a reflexively outstretched left hand (p 27, pnls 4 and 5).  Pretty great cover, eh?  I’m pretty sure this is the first self-inked cover we’ve seen from Pérez.  

Sue’s made a surprising discovery (the identity of her unexpected visitor is blown for us, since we’re informed on the last page that Sub-Mariner returns next ish).  But, whither Johnny?  Whither Reed -?  Fantastic Four, anyone?  Well, in fairness, there wouldn’t have been room for a lot of asides in this action-heavy issue, without bogging down said action; hopefully next time we’ll have updates on our other former teammates.  
Final thought: this truly is the end for Len (listed only as plotter or co-plotter for his last three issues), which is too bad; he did a nice job re-establishing the connections between these characters, as he dispensed with needless squabbling within the ranks.  Len’s emphasis has been on high-adventure, and it’s been fun.
Matthew: Once again, Mantlo scripts from a plot by penciler Pollard and lame-duck Len; the resulting broth is relatively palatable, particularly given the number of cooks involved, although you’ll notice that the next-issue blurb spoils the surprise set up in page 22, panel 4.  The inks represent one of only two FF credits for Hunt, but as with #178, there’s no notable diminution of quality, despite the absence of Sinnott—whom I consider the team’s “Fifth Beatle”—and a couple of Groucho-mustache moments for Diablo (e.g., page 6, panel 5).  The action is ably depicted, and Alicia looks more like an actual woman than we have often seen her at the mercy of Ron Wilson in MTIO, especially her wistful, windblown look in page 11, panel 3.

Godzilla 10
"Godzilla vs. Yetrigar"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe

Godzilla heads east, with the Behemoth helicarrier and Dum Dum Dugan trailing the "blasted overgrown salamander," but as they approach the spot of an underground nuclear test three months before, we are treated to the flashback of the nuke test, which caused the splitting of a fault that stretched to Alberta, Canada and awakened a mythical man-beast frozen for "time unknown"—and the radiation caused it to grow ever larger as it walks the land! Cut to the San Diego naval base, and as Jimmy apologizes for kissing Tamara (an issue or two ago), impetuous young Rob slips away to link up again with Red Ronin, start him up and jet off towards Las Vegas and Godzilla. Suddenly, the helicarrier is attacked by the giant man-beast, who hits it with a boulder then lopes off in search of larger prey. He finds it on the edge of the Grand Canyon, when the man-beast shows up, toppling both giants into the waters of the Colorado River. They battle furiously, leaving a group of adventurous citizens to flee for their lives, from Godzilla's radioactive breath and tail swipes to the man-beast's boulder smashes and angry aping out. Then, out of nowhere, Red Ronin appears, giving the sasquatch the name of Yetrigar, after the giant Yeti from his homeland—but will he have to fight both giants? -Joe Tura    

Joe: Shades of Werewolf By Night, the splash page is interesting yet isn't the start of this month's story. The whole issue is a big set-up for the Calamity in the Canyon that is our Godzilla-Yetrigar showdown. And it actually doesn't disappoint. Trimpe gives us sturdy fight scenes highlighted by pages 22 and 31, full panel, perspective-laden action shots packed with mood and mayhem. Moench turns in one of his better scripts for this title, keeping the caption madness to a minimum (for him), and the dialogue is fairly solid, even from annoying young Rob and Dum-Dum, who's been getting some stinkers month after month. Well done by the creative team. But will it last?

Matthew: Much better, guys, despite the intrinsic silliness of Yetrigar—speaking of whom, it’s interesting that Brian Nelson’s LOC cites King Kong vs. Godzilla, because visually, at least, that’s probably the closest cognate to this issue.  Kida has mercifully returned to taking a somewhat stronger hand with Trimpe’s pencils, so despite regrettable lapses like anime-wannabe Rob in page 15, panel 5, the human characters have a little more definition; particularly praiseworthy are Dum Dum in page 2, panel 2, and even Rob himself in page 7, panel 6.  Obviously, neither they nor Moench can do much with “The Biggest Big Foot [sic] of Them All!” (as if in admission of which pages 27-30 are given over completely to monstrous mayhem).

 Howard the Duck 24
"Where Do You Go -- What Do You Do --
The Night After You Save the Universe?"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gene Colan and Alan Weiss

Unable to sleep, and finding remedy in neither the stale, meager food in the apartment, nor the late movie, Howard dons his hat and coat and walks out into the late-night city street.  Less than an hour earlier, he’d returned to this dimension after he and Korrek, Jennifer, and Man-Thing had defeated Bzzk ‘Joh (as seen last issue), and Howard now finds himself troubled by an “unidentified flying anxiety,”  possibly due to “the occupational stresses of universe-savin’”  (P.S.: he also is deliberately trying to block thoughts of Bev’s forced marriage to Dr Bong).  On his early-morning wanderings, Howard encounters a drunk who won’t let go of his leg; he thinks Howard is his lost girlfriend, Marie, and Howard finally has to resort to poking his hand with a cigar-ember to get the drunk to leggo.  Next, he overturns a baglady and completely upsets her “treasures,” which she equates to the behavior of her son Eben; she proceeds to spit on Howard’s head, so he turns on his webbed foot and stalks off.  He answers a ringing pay phone, and finds it’s a random obscene phone call, then meets a couple who have incorporated stalking as a way to juice up their sex life.  Last stop is a recently-robbed all-night donut shop; Howard frees the proprietor, and is rewarded with coffee on the house.  Howard is briefly annoyed when the donut slinger expresses surprise that ducks can think; but, he keeps the conversation civil, as he observes how he’s experienced a “kinda time-gap between a given event and my feelings about it.”  Howard then excuses himself as the shop owner notices the first rays of sunlight; the S.S. Damned is due to dock at dawn on Pier 43!  Howard meets Paul and Winda at the pier, and falls asleep as soon as she has her arm around him (“Aw-w-w, woebegone wittle cweatuwe …” saith Winda).  As she carries Howard, Paul and Winda discuss how surprised he should be once he learns how their “fortunes have changed …” -Chris Blake

Chris: The Deadline Doom can take many forms.  In this case, the story feels very much as if Steve G. had looked at the calendar, realized he had a plot outline due the following day (or, perhaps later the same morning …), and simply sat at the typewriter and clacked away until he had a few pages, possibly hoping that returning artist Gene Colan could make something of it, or that they could fix it in post, or something.  In any case, it’s a thin little story, featuring more of Gerber’s self-examination played out with Howard as mouthpiece; well, at least it’s not another text-piece issue, with pages and pages of Gerber’s typing.  I’m reminded of my comment for our previous issue, when I’d observed the ending seemed a bit rushed; well, here’s an idea – it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to carry-over the climax to the first half of this issue, have Howard return safely home, and then require only 2-3 pages of Howard-angst before meeting the cruise ship.  That wouldn’t have been bad at all.  
There really aren’t very many yoks, either.  One I’ll mention involves the bag lady, who informs Howard she had taught English Lit; as Howard stalks away and vows to forget her, the lady calls after him, “I’m symbolically significant to your story!  I’m integral to the thematic structure!”  Weird and clever, and worth a grin.
Most of the best laughs, strangely enough, are on the letters page.  Steve, in re the Howard newspaper strip, extols fans to “ask not what the Duck can do for you … Tell your local editor what he can do for the Duck.”  Steve also promises that events beginning next issue are sure to “enchant and enrage just about everybody.”  
Colan’s return is a welcome development.  Palmer should be a fitting choice to provide shadows for a story set almost entirely at night; fortunately, this doesn’t look like an issue of Tomb of Dracula – no need for the content to be that dark – but it doesn’t come together as well as I had expected, especially when you consider how long these two artists have worked together.  Whatever happened to Steve Leialoha -?
Matthew: Were I an aficionado of Seinfeld, I might be inclined to call this “an issue about nothing,” and as a die-hard Gerber fan (an endangered species among the faculty), I’ll applaud his typically offbeat opus.  While dispensing laurels, I will not only welcome the return of Gentleman Gene, who pencils most of the remainder, but also acknowledge the excellence of this one-off HTD effort by the venerated Colan/Palmer team, despite my dislike of Tom’s work in many another context.  The lettercol portrays Steve as trying to regroup, “having scattered the cast so far and so wide, but it’s all more or less under control again”; with its imaginative title, I think this does a good job of taking stock in preparation for fresh weirdness…

Mark: After wrapping up the under-cooked Star Wars opus (appealing mainly as a Mad magazine riff), Gerbs wisely scales things down here, way wander-the-streets-with-insomnia down. Stripped of derring-do and, more importantly, Bev's companionship against a world he never made, Howard is reduced to a hard luck bundle of neuroses, with bad dreams and worse luck, and that's how we like him, damn it! Sure, Howie's back-handed heroics certainly have their place - this is a funnybook, after all - but it's his role as a curmudgeonly everyman under siege that gives Howard his timeless appeal. He manages - for the most part - to keep his bearings even while buffeted by the ill winds of the late '70's: cynicism, sleaze, corruption, and madness, whirling by in fragmented, disco-ball reflections. Howard not only manages to stand against the wind but - for the most part - to howl back into the storm. 

Or "Waaugh!" 

In any case, he's acting as our stand-in. In this slice of Manhattan nocturne, bereft of Bev - and presented in glorious states of distress by the returning Gene Colan - he's set upon by street toughs, spit on by an old lady, and inadvertently interrupts a couple playing kinky pick-up games before finding refuge of a sort when he frees the counterman at an all night donut shop, post-robbery, and is rewarded with a sympathetic ear and a bottomless cup of coffee. Such are his meager rewards on the mean streets of naked city.

That's a beak-fulla bleak, but he manages to meet Winda and Paul, arriving by cruise ship at dawn, and falls asleep, exhausted, but in the arms of friends. Rest and recharge, our fowl little friend. The Circus of Crime is on deck, and facing them will call for derring, if not necessarily do.

The Incredible Hulk 223
"The Curing of Dr. Banner!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Rich Buckler and Ernie Chan

Suddenly, Robert Bruce Banner is convinced he's been cured of Hulk-itis. Exciting and tense situations don't seem to bring the big green guy out so he deems his next stop to be Gamma Base (where excitement was born), where he'll deliver the news directly to Thunderlips Ross. He hires an old friend, Spad McCraken (his given name, honestly!) to fly him to the base but when they arrive, they discover that the guards are acting a bit funny. Turns out the mystery guest who locked himself into the base's security clearance lab last issue was The Leader in disguise! Banner and Spad face The Leader, who admits he'd planned on meeting up with the Hulk but ruling the world without the big green guy getting in the way will be that much sweeter. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: We weren't so dumb in the days when we were kids, and buying this stuff, that we'd actually believe that Bruce was cured and, from then on, we'd thrill monthly to the exploits of The Incredible Dr. Banner. So reading it now, with an additional 40 years of Hulk issues between, it's an even harder sell. And, of course, we were treated almost monthly to this sort of storyline (in fact, there was one going on in the pages of Fantastic Four the same month). Spoiler alert (in smaller, invisible screen font just in case you want to be surprised):                                              No, seriously, that's what happens!

Aside from that aspect of the story, we're given a monster of a letdown with the years-old "stranger from the desert" mystery finally unraveling and  revealing the scintillating news that the wanderer was... The Leader? Roger Stern, whose lap this thread was dumped in, has all my sympathy and lots of leeway in which to make such an unexciting reveal... exciting...  next issue. Buscenstein (as Prof. Matthew might have dubbed our artists this issue) do a fine job of illustrating a whole lot of talking heads (a thankless task, I know, when the big guy provides most of the pizzazz in this title) and machinery.

Matthew:  I love how the ads that supplant selected May lettercols, and trumpet the morphing of the B&W Rampaging Hulk mag into the full-color The Hulk!, appropriate the “Validar”/Chan cover art from this veritable “Special Out-of-Left Field Issue.”  Whence comes Bruce’s spontaneous cure, since it seems the Leader didn’t do it?  Out of left field.  And Ross’s Auschwitz comment?  Ditto.  The same goes for the wholly surprising—because why the hell would you do it?—return of Spad McCraken (with whose brother Phil I used to be quite close).  And don’t even get me started on the resurgent Kropotkin.  Meanwhile, recent recruit Rubinstein fulfills the promise he showed on those Starlin annuals with his first of three Bronze-Age issues.

Chris: I can't think of anyone who was more pleased to be puny.  Well, just as our favorite physicist has found good fortune, we the readers have too, as Roger Stern settles in for a solid run as the regular scripter, after a fill-in (#218) and the conclusion of the previous storyline (#221); nice job by the newbie to land one of Marvel's franchise titles.  Greenskin has been in good hands, authorially speaking, as names like Thomas, Englehart, and Wein have provided a fair share of thrills and adventure – with a few deep thoughts worked in – over the years, so Archie must've recognized Stern's potential to carry the angry green torch.  

Stern wisely follows-up Wein's effort to build stories around Banner, rather than rely on issue after issue of Hulk-smashing.  As a result, we don't get a whole lot of action -- Banner getting slugged after Hulk's entrance disturbs a peaceful pic-in-ick doesn't count for much -- but it's plain to see that Stern has big plans for purple-pants.  Turn the villain wheel, and we find it's time to uncork the Leader and see what he's up to now.  Should be interesting.  
Another bit of good news is the arrival of Josef Rubinstein, who will ply his trade here for a handful of issues.  Sal B. has been backed by some solid inking from Staton and Chan, but dare I say Rubinstein is even better, as his work is among the finest to be seen within Marvel pages during this period.  He's one of those rare talents capable of complementing the penciller's style, rather than imposing his own look on the layouts.  Rubinstein already has given us some noteworthy work with Starlin, and we'll see more in his pairings with Michael Golden, John Byrne, Frank Miller, and George Pérez (but for only a single itty-bitty issue!).

Scott: This three issue story was my favorite arc of the period. A really fun trilogy showing Banner truly, if conveniently, cured of his decade and a half curse. There's no effort put into explaining why he would suddenly burn off all his gamma radiation,  but it's a great moment when it happens. The return of Spad McCraken and the folks in Chicago was nice. I don't know how much longer they'll factor into the Hulk's storyline. Probably not too much longer. We finally get a reveal of the mysterious stranger who wandered onto the Gamma Base. I agree with The Dean, it was a very boring revelation, but it led to a fun arc, so I don't care. The art is great and the Buckler/Chan cover is to die for. These were the comics of my youth, a series I still have, and it colors my opinion, but what the hell? That's why I get paid the mega pesos.

The Amazing Spider-Man 180
"Who Was That Goblin I Saw You With?"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

In the three-way fight at Radio City Music Hall, Green Goblin throws a "sonic-toad" that causes Spider-Man to black out, and Gobby grabs him, letting mad-coiffed mobster Silvermane crash to the seats below. Joe Robertson spies Gobby making off with Spidey, and J. Jonah Jameson is amazingly torn when he hears the news, between anger at having already printed the Night Owl Edition and annoyance that he couldn't be so lucky at the "screwy web-slinger" being out of his life. Meanwhile, newly escaped Harry suits up as the Goblin to stop the "maniac" he helped put on the streets—a maniac who tries to throw Spidey into the infamous incinerating plant, but our hero awakes! The wall-crawler manages to toss away Goblin's bag of tricks, and the increasingly angry antagonist seemingly gains the upper hand, smashing Spidey repeatedly. Instead, the hero knocks Gobby for a loop, telling Harry it's over—but when he unmasks him, it turns out it's shady shrink Bart Hamilton!

Turns out Hamilton learned many of Harry's secrets while he was under "hypnotic regression," from Spidey's true identity to the secret Goblin hideouts, and began experimenting with the equipment, feeling a "sense of power" he had never felt! Vowing to destroy Spider-Man, Hamilton directed Harry to follow Spidey and take the clone pics that were sent to JJJ, then… a pumpkin bomb explodes behind them—Harry has come to take his revenge against Hamilton! The Goblins battle with finger sparks and fisticuffs, landing inside one of the disposal buildings. A nearly triumphant Harry stands over Hamilton, but rips the Goblin suit off in disgust! Hamilton kicks him away and reveals "the most potent bomb of them all," threatening to blow it up unless Harry apologizes (huh?)—but he topples over the conveyor belt he's standing on and explodes! Spidey hides Harry from the debris and takes the costume off, then takes his pal to his Far Rockaway apartment—where Liz is waiting, along with hope for a brighter future, as our hero hopes for a happy ending of his own one day. Cue the peppy pop song! -Joe Tura

Joe: Well, our excellent Andru/Espo cover gives away a little, promising "The CLIMAX of the most SENSATIONAL Spidey saga of all!," which is a bit of hyperbole considering Spidey's vast history. But two Goblins would have anyone turning the page, if only to find out what the heck is happening! And there's plenty going on inside. Silvermane gets bamboozled. Gobby pulls out all the stops—Sonic-Toads, Electro Bats, Moon Knives—before Spidey unmasks him, letting us see he's really crazy Bart Hamilton, who ends up getting his just deserts, after Harry seeks redemption by donning the costume that pushed him over the edge in the first place. Whew! Excellent Ross & Mike artwork, including some nifty panel layouts like page 15 and 27. Nice script from Len featuring some bitterness from the two Goblins, and Spidey is almost a supporting character. All in all, fast-paced fun from start to finish—and speaking of that finish, it's great to see Spidey get a so-called "happy ending" thanks to his friend Harry getting some happiness when Liz returns. But for the reader, there is no happy ending, for our Next Issue banner tells us The Rocket Racer is back next month! Noooooooooooo!!!!

Fave sound effect is no doubt the calamitous comeuppance of bonkers Bart Hamilton, who goes over the conveyer belt and is "thrown away with the rest of the trash," with a mighty "BWA-DA-DOOM!" A sad end to a sad, arrogant character who no one is sad to see meet his bwa-da-doom.

Chris: When you consider the traditions of comic-book writing, you can be reasonably sure of only one way for this story to play out: Harry assumes Goblin garb, and joins the fight with the Hamilton-Goblin against Spidey.  Once Spidey defeats Hamilton, Harry either escapes or is captured; either way, he’s irredeemably returned to Goblin-mode, and Pete leaves with regrets for his old friend’s fate.  Instead, Len tries a few unexpected turns, as Harry’s Goblin-play is situational; he is drawn to the role as a means to defeat Hamilton, and fights him alone, neither targeting Spidey nor expecting his assistance.  Even before the battle’s conclusion, Harry already has shredded the Goblin costume; it’s not even a matter of his madness having passed, since Harry never seems to have been possessed by the Goblin-spirit this time.  I’m no fan of happy endings (Vertigo is my vein), but I certainly can accept it under the circumstances, especially considering everything Len’s put Pete and Harry thru over the past 24 hours (or 5 issues, to me and you!).

Speaking of the Goblin-spirit; it’s a creepy notion, explained to us on p 16-17, that Hamilton might’ve been pulled in by Harry’s recounting of Goblin-lore, and that he eventually couldn’t resist adopting the powerful, crazed role.  Hey, remember the recent lettercol that included a note from the Goblin himself, stating he would free himself from the recesses of Harry’s mind (as seen in ASM #173)?  I’m beginning to wonder whether the Goblin is an embodiment of an evil force, like “Bob” from Twin Peaks, who is capable of drawing people to him, and taking possession of them -?  Okay – I’m going back to bed.  
But wait, I have to give Andru his due.  Another issue with numerous highlights, burned in my retinas thru repeated readings: Spidey jukes away from the electro-bat, then jabs with a web and snags the Goblin’s trick-bag (p 11); Harry haughtily hurls his weapons-bag away (p 18); the Goblins clash in mid-air and begin to fall, as Spidey runs to a roof-edge to see what’s going to happen next (p 22); Harry’s disgust as he tears himself free of the nasty green suit (p 26); pretty nice explosion, as the most powerful pen-bomb in the world blows out the side of the conveyer-belt tower (p 27).  
Matthew: Len’s exit is less gradual than some; having bid the Hulk adieu, the ex-EIC notches his final credits on both the FF and Thor this month, and is only a “consultant” on ASM #181.  “As the writer and editor of…four of Marvel’s biggest titles, [he] should have felt on top of the world.  But he was quibbling with John Verpoorten, going into a rage over such minor details as, say, which letterers were being hired.  He was challenging [other writers] on the way they used characters borrowed from his titles.  ‘I had become obsessively involved with the books,’ Wein recalled.  ‘I was watching my books with such a hawk-like eye that I had no sense of perspective on this stuff anymore,’” as Sean Howe notes in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story.

“He arranged to write Detective Comics for DC.  It wasn’t expressly forbidden in his contract; still, when Archie Goodwin and Stan Lee found out, they told him he’d have to [do so] under a pseudonym.  DC begrudgingly agreed.  But after a long weekend of thought, Wein decided ‘it was a lot simpler to make a clean break of it, and start all over, than to sit there working for both companies and have nobody like me.  My emotional make-up is just fragile enough that I couldn’t cope with that for very long.  So I came back…the following day and told Archie that I was going to leave.’  Stan Lee didn’t take the news well.  He told Wein that he would never again work for Marvel.”  He did receive editorial credit on Pocket’s Marvel novels through 1979.

Particularly in light of his recent vestigial involvement with the FF, this wrap-up to the lengthy third-Goblin arc might be regarded as Len’s swan song, and all things considered, it’s not a bad way to go out.  Having Harry’s shrink succeed him was an ingenious idea, but it’s probably best that El Barto was killed off after serving his purpose, to avoid too many loose ends, and Harry’s rapprochement with Liz Allen (sic) provides pleasing closure.  Speaking of which, I don’t know what could say “Seeya!” any better than that lovely Spidey-in-the-sunrise last page, and with only two issues left themselves, the venerable Androsito team provides the memorable cover as well; naturally, despite being seriously injured, Silvermane has decades of villainy ahead of him.

Mark: While this certainly isn't, as the cover blurb would have it, "The Most Sensational Spidey Saga Of All," I'm happy to admit this latest Goblin saga - new to me - has come closest to scratching my adolescent arachnid itch since Mr. Parker gave clone-Gwen the kiss-off, some time in 1975.

That's no small accomplishment - channeling forty year old enthusiasm/nostalgia through a "new" story - so, students, be aware that I'm grading more liberally here than is my wont. I won't, for example, harp on the point that there's more to being the Green Goblin than a little Jack LaLanne/Dynamic Tension and a whole lot of crazy (Harry, this time, lacks even the latter); that neither Harry nor Doc Hamilton were exposed to the explosive Gobby juice that both up-powered Norman Osborn and made him Looney Tunes. 

Instead, let's praise callbacks like Ham-Goblin returning Spidey to the clone-burning smoke stacks of yore, and nice bits like Webs letting Ham-Gob whale on him (p. 15) before delivering a K.O. punch. And Harry has a true heal thyself breakthrough, both recognizing then rejecting the evil lure of Goblinhood (although it would have worked even better if Pete didn't peel " the rest of Harry's Goblin outfit" before H.O. regained consciousness, thus suggesting another hoary bout of amnesia and robbing Harry of his emotional epiphany. But I promised not to harp, didn't I?).

And while it may seem goofy to some, I saw Doc Hamilton demanding Harry apologize (p.26) as a nice character touch, a bit of the one-time therapist peeking through the madness before the Doc blew up good

Add Liz returning to Harry and a giant Spidey-in-the-sunset final splash (even if Ross & Mike mar their otherwise excellent effort with what looks like a screen-grab from the Spider-Man '67 TV show), and I'm infused with a warm, webby glow that would make Professor Joe proud.

If only I'd bothered to find a fave sound effect...