Wednesday, May 11, 2016

April 1978 Part One: Howard the Duck Meets George Lucas for the First Time... Well, Sorta.

The Amazing Spider-Man 179
"The Goblin's Always Greener...!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ross Andru and Mike Esposito

The Goblin carts Spider-Man across the skies in a super-strength Hefty bag, while the wall-crawler bemoans he's not by Aunt May's side. Suddenly, Silvermane's goons fire bazookas at the duo, damaging Goblin's glider and causing him to drop his prize and putt away, while our hero breaks out of the baggie only to smash into a full "waste disposal unit," which us laymen and mob goons call a dumpster. The goons cart Spidey away in a sedan, but he soon wakes, snaps the cuffs, takes out the goons and the car's steering wheel, then zips off to see Aunt May. A perturbed Mary Jane tells Peter they're prepping May for surgery, since they couldn't wait for him to show up and fill out the consent forms. Meanwhile, Goblin goes back to his warehouse lair to get more supplies and a new glider before going back out after Silvermane, knocking over his hooded captive for good measure. Peter, MJ and Joe Robertson stand vigil in the hospital when Peter gets good news about his Aunt and Robbie gets a call from J. Jonah, who asks that Peter get his shutterbug talents to Radio City Music Hall, where a riot is going on—the Goblin has attacked Silvermane during a Rockettes show and Disney movie! The battle rages on in the theater between Goblin and the goons, until Spider-Man interrupts. But during the madcap melee, Goblin ends up flying near the ceiling with Silvermane, and with Spidey joining the fray, the glider slips and webbing snaps! But cut to Gobby's captive, who used the damaged glider to cut his bonds and free himself—it's Harry Osborn, and he's right pissed! -Joe Tura

Joe Tura: The "green" title puns continue, as does our Goblin saga that I'm remembering is kinda Amazing's last hurrah until Todd McFarlane. Well, that's how I remember it, but let's just see how the rest of the semester plays out, shall we, class? Anyway, Ross is in top form here, with some different layouts that really shine, especially pages 2 and 7, with differing panel sizes both vertical and horizontal, truly keeping the reader rapt with trying to pay attention. And, of course, watch Spidey kick butt.

The big reveal with Harry is not a shock to those who read this issue nigh 40 years ago, but it still does get any Spidey fan excited. After all, what will the mad Osborn do? And how much fun will it be? Obviously, we know who the Goblin is, but there's still a tease in the coming attractions box just in case we all forgot. Nice action, some Aunt May pathos, some MJ daggers being shot at Peter, a dash of Spidey having fun with the mob goons, a bit of Silvermane silliness, and the Goblin never truly seems to win, which is maybe the best part of this issue. I mean, how can you not be happy when he doesn't get his way. Whoever he is. Heh. Heh.

Favorite sound effect in an issue with none that are truly original and different would be page 3's "WHOOM!" when Spidey hits the dumpster "like a sack of soggy garbage."

Chris Blake: Wow – got to hand it to Len – I had completely forgotten about the Goblin switcheroo, and better yet, I didn’t see it coming this time either.  I had to wonder about those scenes, in this issue and last, featuring the Goblin back at his warehouse hideout, tormenting his hooded captive.  I figured the point was to present some of the Goblin’s perpetually enraged looniness, and to buy some time between encounters with the web-slinger.  I didn’t realize Len also was giving us a poke, as he grinned to himself in the secure knowledge that he was one-up on us.  But, there really wasn’t ever a reason to suspect Barton Hamilton MD would go Goblin, was there?  I will patiently await Len’s scintillating explanation in our pulse-pounding next issue.  

Chris: The Ross Andru NYC Travelogue takes us to historic Radio City this time.  Great action in this sequence (p 23-30), especially as Ross nimbly handles all three combatants trying to take out the other two (with Spidey the only one not trying to off anyone); no momentary alliances this time, as we had in the Doc Ock vs Hammerhead story a while back.  Getting back to the Goblin lair, I clearly remember (and always enjoyed) the nonchalant air Ross establishes for Gobby as he opens his locker and takes a new, intact glider from his inventory, unhitching it from its hook on the wall (p 11 last pnl) and then walking with it under his arm (p 14 1st pnl) as if it were a surfboard or some other recreational item, and not his means of terrorizing people from above.

Matthew Bradley: This already enjoyable meat-and-potatoes issue looked even better when coincidentally juxtaposed with my recent viewing of the dreadful Amazing Spider-Man 2, which so twisted the classic Marvel mythos as to render it inexplicable why they bothered.  I will say that Len certainly wouldn’t have wanted to, uh, spin out the protracted “Who’s the Goblin?” routine any longer, and asking at the end, “If Harry Osborn was the captive, then who…?,” after Gobbie has referred to their psychiatric sessions, just insults our intelligence.  But that’s a minor quibble, the nice (if copy-heavy) Androsito cover accurately reflecting the story they depict with typical élan inside while the avuncular, pipe-smoking Joe Robertson receives welcome face time.

Mark: This one comes close to being a classic, revved up with gangland warfare and a new-twist Spidey escape (punching his way out of a giant baggie when Gobby drops him after a bazooka attack qualifies). There's a race to Aunt May's hospital, followed by a tart-tongued scolding by MJ. Ross and Mike deliver their best work in ages, as Andru's goofy but oh-so sinister Goblin was always one of his best characters. And speaking of the pumpkin bomb king...

It's not Harry Osborn!

My suspicions about the Goblin's identity led me to peek ahead (see my last Spidey lesson plan for the mea culpa), but I gotta think that last panel reveal was quite a shocker, way back when. Something was slightly off with Harry's shrink from the jump, but Len slow-walked that plotline through several other arcs for maximum impact. Since I've slagged Wein for his deficiencies on ASM a time or ten, it's only right to laud his deft touch here. Really, the entire issue is a page-turning rush, so what stops your humble prof from giving this one five full web cartridges?

It's Len's reverse acrophobia, his over-reliance of Webs and other characters falling from great heights, a trope he's not only leaned on heavily during his run, but has employed three out the last four issues.

Enough already. Come up with danger in a basement, will ya?

The Avengers 170
"'...Though Hell Should Bar the Way!'"
Story by George Perez and Jim Shooter
Art by George Perez and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Jim Shooter
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Captain America is doing his workout so don't disturb him. But then, wouldn't you know it, he gets disturbed; first, by the Beast, who is rebuffed after every good-natured rib, then by Iron Man, who tells Beast to take a hike as well. Alone with Cap, Iron Man bares his soul: he feels awfully bad about his confrontation with Cap and would like to be pals again. Cap agrees and insists that IM is the boss and his orders shall be followed. Two moving men ("I moved Neil Sedaka's pianer once, y'know!") arrive at the Mansion to deliver the glass-encased Bride of Ultron, recently evicted from the home of the Pyms. Something happens and the Bride awakens. Meanwhile, Charlie-27 must do all he can to keep young Vance Astrovik (no, seriously, a future spaceman was born with the last name of Astrovik!) safe lest his death screw with the time-stream. Back at Avengers HQ, the Bride lays waste to Mansion and Avengers alike, eventually finding her way outside. The Mighty Thor arrives and is about to deal the android a healthy blow when the shield of Captain America interferes. Thor is taken aback but Iron Man explains: they'll track "Tin Lizzie" to Ultron himself. -Peter Enfantino

Matthew: If I were a super-hero, and a teammate replied to my innocently bantering salutation with “go away and leave me alone,” I think I’d take umbrage, but that’s Life With James.  Then I read the fawning LOC in which John Reiss ejaculates, “The Trouble Shooter has attained a height in quality no other Avengers writer has ever achieved,” and must suppress the urge to hurl; yeah, screw Lee, Thomas, and Englehart, who wrote a hundred and fifty issues that made this my long-term favorite Marvel book…until now.  But don’t be downcast, because we have the comedy stylings of movers Mack and Meyer, since it seems Dr. and Mrs. Pym (whose own Shooter-sodomizing is already underway) couldn’t hire anyone better than the Two Stooges.

Of course we also have the excruciating exchange between former friends and Tales of Suspense co-stars Cap and Shellhead on page 6, in which their “apologies” ring as hollow as those of a desperate drunk in a downward spiral.  Accented only when signing the nice Austin-embellished cover, Pérez contributes his usual excellent artwork, which is done minimal favors by the increasingly insufferable Marcos’s inks, but why George would want a co-plotter credit instead of puttin’ the blame on James—again doubling as colorist—is beyond me.  What the hell does “the night is cold and crystal black” mean, anyway, except as a pun for a cameo by Crystal’s husband, Pietro?  And, naturlich, my beloved Vision gets the shaft again (“EEEEYARRGH”)…

Chris: Tony Stark didn’t get to be the CEO of a major international conglomerate by allowing dissension to fester among the ranks of his top employees.  The rift with Cap had run its course, and its resolution is welcome.  Cap had expected Iron Man to continue the feud, so he’s surprised by Iron Man’s admission of recent shortcomings; no hard feelings, now it’s back to business.  

And look at all the business we have transpiring in this nifty little issue: Hawkeye’s on his way back; Quicksilver’s gone somewhere; Thor’s back from somewhere (even he doesn’t seem to know where, or when); the Wasp has her latest costume (one of Jan’s finest, with the assortment of decorative W’s, and the unusual deep-gold color); an update with young Vance and guardian Guardians; moving men, straight outta central casting; and a living Bride of Ultron, too -?  Wow!  On a smaller note, how about Charlie’s observation that “It’s a wonder anyone reaches maturity in this idiotic backward era!” (p 15).
The action involving the (as yet unnamed) Bride is pretty good, as it involves all the on-hand members.  Nice moment as Hank and Jan feel they can’t cut loose against the Bride, in part due to her voice sounding like a metallic Jan.  I wonder how many fans got the tune Beast is singing as he knocks the Bride over (p 26); did you -?  Well, it’s “Tiptoe Thru the Tulips,” popularized by whack-job novelty act Tiny Tim just a few years earlier.  
With so many happenings packed into this issue, there isn’t a whole lotta room for art highlights, but since this is Pérez, you know we have some: Beast walks off with a 500lb weight, carried aloft by his left arm (p 3, pnl 5); the contrast between the gleaming, peaceful-looking Bride, and the everyday moving man (p 11); Charlie dragging the truck, as he loses his hat, a wheel breaks free, and a cloud of dust kicks up (p 14, last pnl); Starhawk’s spooky look, even out of uniform (p 15, pnl 6 – if he had to answer the front door, would he explain to his visitor that he is “from France” -?); the Vision’s shocked recognition that Ultron composed the Bride with defenses against him, a second before he’s affected by those defenses (p 22); Cap’s mid-air plunge and shield-sling (p 30).

Joe: Am I the only one enjoying re-reading Shooter's work on this title? I mean, it isn't perfect, but damn if it isn't fun and dramatic and packed with little moments that bring a smile to the face. Of course, Perez makes it that much more memorable, as Beast picks up the 500 lb. weights without pushing a hair out of place; Cap works out a Stark creation in front of the one who built it—and almost finds out that fact; Quicksilver returns, then promptly vanishes; moving man Meyer mentioning "Neil Sedaka's pianer"; Jocasta single-mindedly running through the Avengers; and the end to the Cap-Iron Man "feud." Throw in Thor's continued craziness, Hawkeye's Western wackiness, Charlie-27's chivalry, some nice battle scenes, and art that borders on perfection—a good recipe for readability!

Conan the Barbarian 85 
“Of Swordsmen and Sorcerers!”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

After escaping from Harakht on the giant hawks they stole, Zula asks Conan about his relationship with B
êlit. The barbarian explains how they were headed to the Stygian capital of Luxor to rescue her father, the former king of the Shemite city Asgalun, thought long-dead. Zula, in turn, tells his new comrade-in-arms of his bloody background. As a boy, he was the son of the chieftain of the Zamballahs, a peaceful tribe that was slaughtered by blood-thirsty Kushite slavers. The lone survivor, the boy spent years in servitude until he was finally sold to the powerful Shu-Ohoru, a sorcerer living in Kheshatta, the Stygian city of magicians. As he grew into manhood, Zula was viewed with disdain by Shu-Ohoru, who considered him an ignorant savage. But as he developed his muscular body over the years, Zula also quietly studied the sorcerer’s conjurings, learning many of his arcane spells. When Shu-Ohoru discovered this “treachery,” he forced the slave to fight to the death with fellow captives: the heartbroken Zula was forced to slay them all. Afterwards, the wizard sold Zula to the slave trader who eventually brought him to Harakht — he freed Conan from his prison cell soon after. After the tale is told, the Cimmerian informs Zula that he is breaking their bargain and will instead fly to Luxor to join Bêlit instead of helping the black man with his unfinished business in Kheshatta. Dismounting their feathery rides, the two warriors draw swords and engage in a lengthy fight. But they are too evenly matched and a new deal is struck: they will first assault Luxor and then head to Kheshatta. When the Cimmerian and Zamballahian return to the huge raptors, they discover that both birds are dead — the huge weight of their mutated bodies could not take the strain of such a lengthy flight. Undeterred, the warriors begin the long walk to the Stygian capital. Miles away, in a catacomb underneath the palace of King Ctesphon II in Luxor, Bêlit and Neftha have regained their human forms after the slavegirl transformed them into snakes with the Spell of Set. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: This one is Flashback Central. Which makes a lot of sense. After all the reprints and Savage Sword switcheroos, faithful readers could probably use a significant recap of the Luxor storyline — it stretches waaay back to issue #72, more than a full year ago for Crom’s sake. Conan’s recap runs over four pages while Zula’s takes eight. Called “The Black Barbarian” on the cover, this new character is obviously far from that, as he has royal blood flowing through his veins and a variety of stolen spells in his head. He obviously trained himself well during his years as a slave, something his bulging muscles and skill with a sword clearly prove. The fruitless fight with Conan only takes up two pages and that’s about what it was worth: you knew that they would lay down their arms before anyone was actually injured or killed. And Zula’s obviously smart enough to realize that Conan’s quest is much more time sensitive then his, with Bêlit’s life hanging in the balance. And Neftha is much more than she appears: it’s not every day that a slavegirl knows the secret behind transforming people into snakes so that they can slither through sewer drains and other tight spaces. Big John and Ernie continue to deliver the top-notch artwork that we’ve come to expect: it’s really tough to find something to criticize when it comes to this supreme team. Now let’s get the big barbarian to Luxor already — and, hopefully, face to face with Thoth-Amon!

Chris: It seems like, at this point in pre-history, it’s really unheard of for anyone to have a life story that goes like this: “Well, I was born in Nemedia, and my dad got a job in Shem, so I grew up there.  Later on, I went to school in Koth, so I’ve been living here since then; that’s about it.  Yeah, I know – I still have sort of a Shemish accent.”  No, for every one of these back-stories, there’s ample fuel for resentment and the desire for long-awaited revenge.  Rough times in the Hyborian Age.

I’ve made no secret of my dislike for some of the artists who have soiled pages of various titles during the Bronze era.  It’s not that these guys don’t have some degree of talent; they might lack imagination, or the desire to present an image that duly inspires the imagination of the reader.  The higher-grade sort of art is on display on the top of page 15, as John B. & Ernie C. take us to the sanctum (I don’t know what else to call a wizard’s quarters …) of Shu-Onoru.  It’s not the most elaborate, jaw-dropping illustration you’ll ever see, but notice all the details that establish the setting: it’s a large stone-floor room, with a long stone staircase, burning candles, an opened tome, skulls on a metal pike, and most noticeably, a skeleton of some unnamed inhuman creature, with powerful forearms, tri-claws where its hands should be, and a heavy, fanged jaw.  As we experience this sight together with Zula, we have a sense of how intimidated he might be.  Not every Marvel illustrator would’ve been inspired to depict a setting this way, but this effort not only makes John B. great, it also reminds us how far apart he is from so many of his Marvel contemporaries.  

Captain America and the Falcon 220
"The Ameridroid Lives!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Carol Lay and Annette Kawecki

"...On a Wing and a Prayer!"

Story by Scott Edelman
Art by Bob Budiansky and Al Gordon
Colors Uncredited
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Captain America remains the captive of Lyle Dekker, strapped to a chair and zapped with electo-volts, Dekker tells his story. After plummeting into the water (detailed last ish, natch), Dekker was brought aboard a submarine commanded by the Red Skull. The Skull, typically unhappy with failure, tortures Dekker to the threshold of death before jettisoning him though a torpedo tube. Dekker is quickly found by a Newfoundland fishing trawler and is brought aboard. Upon his recovery, Dekker uses his intelligence, and his secret Swiss bank accounts, to gather followers and begin to build an army. Dekker created a base nearby and a laboratory and shortly thereafter, Cap and Bucky were trying to defuse the bomb plane sent to the skies by Baron Zemo (detailed way back in Avengers #4). The plane blew, killing Bucky but sending Cap into the English Channel. Dekker’s men found and captured him; Dekker took Cap to his lab and explained his intention to put Cap’s power in his own body. Cap naturally disagreed with this plan and lashed out. He took a plane filled with Dekker’s experimental nerve gas and flew off. Dekker’s men fired a laser ray at the plane, exploding the gas and sending the plane into the sea. The gas not only put Cap into suspended animation, but wiped his memory clean of these events; memories only brought to the surface by Dekker’s shock chair. For three long decades, Dekker waited for his revenge on Captain America and now that Cap is here, Dekker is too old to take his power. However, he intends to put Cap’s abilities into the giant Ameridroid and transfer his own consciousness into the oversized aberration. He succeeds and, as a giant, Captain America takes command of the New Order.

In the back-up story, Redwing is captured and held as a hostage by a new villain who wants to score with the chicks. He feels if Hawkeye can build a rep this way, another archer could do the same. Well, this schmuck, Mortimer Freebish, can’t do anything right and the Falcon beats him pretty easily. He isn’t even carted off to jail. Instead, Falc just plops him down next to a homeless dude and hilarity ensues.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: I appreciate the attempt to flesh out Cap’s backstory and personally, I don’t think any of this stuff really sucks. Cap being captured in the time between the exploding plane and being found by the Avengers is interesting as a concept, but doesn’t really do anything other than give this Dekker dude some kind of connection to the hero. Strangely, once found by Dekker, Cap displays no remorse over Bucky’s death. It’s like it never happened. Yet, as soon as Cap is revived by the Avengers, his first thoughts are of his late partner. The Ameridroid is ludicrous, as is Dekker’s plan, but the story moves quickly enough. Whether that’s because of the pacing or the fact that it’s kind of short is another matter.

The Falcon’s solo story is pretty pedestrian. I think that comes across in my synopsis. I would have preferred more ads than wasting pages on this stuff, but whatever.

Matthew: Okay, we’ve had the quasi-Album Issue (#215), we’ve had the curiously Cap-free reprint (#216), and now, our arc is interrupted once again by the dreaded back-up, already having squandered almost two pages on yet another replay of that damned drone-plane chestnut.  But the material of which we’re being short-changed is so mediocre (as expected, its convoluted continuity-fix suggests a cure worse than the disease), with even the lettering looking sketchy, that I’m reminded of the old joke, “The food is terrible—and such small portions!”  Worst.  Jarvis.  Impression.  Ever:  page 19, panel 1.  Oh, that must be Percy Jarvis, sent by the agency while Edwin was in Maui.  You guys know Kligger is the Torpedo’s Senator Stivak, no?

The less said the better about the back-up and its aggressively awful villain (who, if he was supposed to be funny, conspicuously is not), so as usual, I’ll turn the floor over to author Edelman himself:  “Here’s proof that the friends you make in college can carry over to the real world—Bob Budiansky, who pencilled my five-page back-up story in this issue of Captain America about the Falcon and Redwing, was a classmate of mine at the State University of New York at Buffalo.”  [Insert Buffalo-boosting from Professor Tom.]  Inked here by soon-to-be Spider-Woman mainstay Al Gordon, Budiansky is best known by me for Ghost Rider, and apparently reached his apogee as a writer on Transformers, which constitutes a double ’nuff said.

The Defenders 58
"Xenogenesis Day of the Demons Part 1:
Agents of Fortune"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Ed Hannigan, Klaus Janson, and Dan Green
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Klaus Janson

As Dr. Strange enjoys a rare bit of sleep at home, his man-servant Wong senses something is amiss. He is right...and Stephen wakes up just in time to face the evil costumed foe who enters his living room. Calling himself an agent of fortune, the villain's cape has a life of its own. This, plus his ability to slip through dimensions, enables him to press his attack, knocking Stephen unconscious and stealing the Eye of Agamotto!  Valkyrie (accompanied by Dr. Banner) sits with her friend Ledge at the hospital, where he recovers from Lunatik's earlier attack. Dollar Bill, another college friend of theirs, joins them, and suggests that Val and Bruce accompany him to the Felix Club for a night out. Ledge being in good hands, they agree. When they get there, Val senses correctly that a heated conversation between a man and woman  is more than it seems. Her instincts are proven correct when the man's illusion of normalcy is broken, revealing another costumed figure. He is Eric Payne, also known as Devil-Slayer. Her name is Vera Gemini, and she is trying to persuade him to rejoin the evil cult that trained him Payne has tired of the cult and now sets out to destroy it. Val thinks Vera is an innocent under attack, and jumps to her defense. She is a worthy opponent for Devil-Slayer,  but gradually realizes Vera may be the real black sheep. With all the excitement, the Hulk returns, tossing Payne across the room.  Eric has dimension-traversing powers too, and brings Val and Hulk into the universe of his shadow-cloak. Elsewhere in Mexico, two archeologists find a hidden castle deep in the jungle, only to disappear. The sole witness, a cloaked, evil figure, returns to the castle, to be joined by the agent of fortune who stole the Eye of Agamotto. As he watches a bizarre ritual, Dr. Strange can sense from afar their evil purpose by mystically watching some of their activities. He realizes the cult's members are of a demon race that once ruled the Earth, and their possession of the Eye of Agamotto will allow their return...

-Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Great to have Dr. Strange back in the pages of The Defenders. With this issue I felt, at times, like I was reading one of his magazines. The fight scenes are impressive too, both with the unexpected attack of the "agent of fortune" (he's got to have a name), and the Hulk taking out a little frustration on Eric Payne, after Val provides the initial defense. We've got a good mystery brewing if the demon cult really are what they seem. The "calm before the storm" as Wong aptly calls it, gives us an uncharacteristically quiet moment for Stephen, but not for long.

Chris: Crazy used to proudly proclaim they were “The Magazine that Dares to be Dumb,” or sentiments to that effect.  Well, The Defenders can continue to state its case as the Comic that Wants to be Weird and Wigged-Out.  And kudos to Dave, Ed, Archie, and everyone else who felt it was right and true for this title to build on the tradition established by Steve Gerber, as the non-team will tangle once again with Forces from Beyond.  The Defenders won’t be tangling with Galactus, Dr Doom, or Ultron anytime soon (and with any luck, we’ll never see them face Kang the Ineffectual Blowhard, either), but that’s fine; the realm of the inter-dimensional and supernatural is right where they belong.  

Eric Simon “Devil-Slayer” Payne makes his first appearance in these pages.  He’s an intriguing character; the shadow cloak is a useful item, but it might be employed to do a few too many things: it stores weapons, it teleports, it dices, it slices, it can core an apple.  My concern is that Dave the Dude might be winging Payne’s powers as the story goes along, so hopefully we’ll have some clarification in our next issue.  Payne’s civil conversation with Vera Gemini at a Manhattan club is well done; the threat of violence to come is compellingly undercut as Dave switches back and forth between their table, and the table of our unsuspecting pleasure-seeking Defenders.  
Ordinarily, I don’t care for too much humor in comics that don’t feature a stogie-chomping cantankerous duck, but Dave works in some very clever moments, given extra value for their human quality: the restaurant owner, yelling on the phone to the police about the super-heroes trashing his establishment (p 16); the cops arrive, as the proprieter wryly asks whether they took the subway to get there (p 23); the flustered police, bemoaning the unlikelihood of writing a report that would be believed, as Devil-Slayer and Valkyrie blink out of the club (p 26).
Ed Hannigan, also making his debut in these pages, does well by the art (if only he had stuck to illustrating this title, and not writing it; that’s a concern for another day).  Dan Green submits an above-average effort (the results on pages 15, 22, and 30 are noteworthy), but I find a noticeable drop-off in the fullness of the images after Klaus Janson’s inks-cameo wraps after only three pages.  I particularly enjoy the shadows on Wong as he reaches to close the master’s tome (p 2, 1st pnl), the shadows on Doc’s eyes as he slumbers (p 3 pnl 2), and Wong’s uncharacteristic surprise as Doc snaps to attention (p 3, pnl 4).

Matthew: Much as a DAK-detractor like myself expected—okay, maybe even wanted—to dislike this, I found I couldn’t.  And that’s without sufficient knowledge of dedicatees Eric Bloom and Blue Öyster Cult to provide a frame of reference for all of the allusions, which per a peek at Wikipedia include Strange’s tome Workshop of the Telescopes, the issue titles “Agents of Fortune” and “Tyranny and Mutation,” and the characters of Vera Gemini and the Reapers.  I suspect the Janson/Green inks are tilted in Dan’s favor, which is naturally fine by me, while I believe Hannigan will do far more damage to this title as a writer; a jaw-dropping footnote in page 23, panel 3 asserts that four Marvel issues spread out over a whole year occurred that night.

Doctor Strange 28
"Fate... Like a Wheel"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Tom Sutton and Ernie Chan
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Frank Brunner

The power of the Ancient One enables Clea and Wong to witness the struggle between Stephen and the In-Betweener, though both are unable to help. Not truly a villain,  the In-Betweener is almost a living sense of universal balance, but he seeks a balance of madness in which Earth cannot peacefully exist. Strange wants to alter the spin of the Cosmic Wheel and restore a sane balance, but his foe, who is immune to most of Stephen's magic, won't let him. He shows Strange how his power could trap Stephen in any reality. When one of those possibilities is appearing briefly in his own home, it allows the Ancient One, Clea and Wong to focus their conscious thought and send their energy to give Stephen a brief respite. The madness of this world no longer affecting him, Stephen turns the very powers that created the  In-Betweener, Order and Chaos, against him, allowing victory. Dr. Strange then strains to alter the pitch of the wheel just enough to restore balance to our universe. He is then tossed through dimensions until he is returned home.  The Ancient One departs to be one with the universe once again. -Jim Barwise

Jim: The visuals in this tale struck me as vivid, even by this comic's rather high standards. Tom Sutton gives us a real sense of the In-Betweener's power this way. Interestingly I don't know that Stephen could have defeated the In-Betweener without gaining the calmness and presence of mind to turn his foe's own mistakes against him. Fitting that the Ancient One returns to the glory he previously had. But what of the In-Betweener?

Chris: A letter from Roger Stern credits Jim Starlin for having taken the time to meet and discuss his plans for the In-Betweener vs Dr Strange rumble (shouldn’t Starlin then be credited as co-plotter, or something?).  Still, I continue to be impressed at how well Stern pulls this whole story together; in a mere two issues, Stern has demonstrated an understanding for this unique character and his oft-challenging title.  

Tom Sutton is the real star of the show this time, though.  I like the way the I-B sticks Doc between planes of reality (p 10), but page 11 really gets me, as the I-B puts Doc thru the wringer – and buries him at sea, traps him in rocks, blasts him into deep space, etc; it’s a full-scale big-time diss for Doc, as the I-B passes Doc off as small-sorcerous-potatoes.  The two-page spread (p 16-17) signals a drastic shift in the fight, as Doc sails past the I-B, toward his goal of the Cosmic Wheel.  Doc then literally cuts the I-B down to size (p 22), before he puts the I-B thru his own series of humbling changes (p 23).  Really nice touch also as Doc returns to our reality, thoroughly relieved and exhausted, unable to keep his feet as his companions rush over (p 30, 2nd pnl).  High marks again to Ernie Chan for tying up the visuals in a cohesively gratifying whole.  

Matthew:  At this point, I’m not sure when—or even if—the “Creators Chronicles” officially began, and after all of the upheaval this mag has undergone since Stainless hit the bricks, I’d be relieved to see them wound up even if I didn’t like the “mind-boggling conclusion”…but I do.  I like it even better with Sterno having confirmed its pedigree, revealing (in a LOC to his own title!) that, “when I was first assigned the Strange book, Jim [Starlin] was nice enough to sit down and explain to yours truly just what the devil he had in mind for the good Doctor.  As his ideas formed the basic groundwork for what eventually became DS #27-28, I cannot thank him enough.”  He also thanks Jim for pitching in to lay out Marvel Presents #10.

It seems wholly appropriate that Brunner returns here (triumphantly) as cover artist for a few issues, because while I don’t think SuttChan is actually aping his style, their fine work did rather remind me of it, as of course did the ankh.  Highlights include the atmospheric splash page; Starlin’s In-Betweener throughout; the reality-bending page 10, panel 5; the montages on pages 11 and 23; the boundary-busting layouts in general; and the double-pager on 16-17, both an awesome visual in its own right and a ringing reaffirmation of our mystic master.  Which pretty well sums up my feeling about this issue in general, and even if I am sad to see the Ancient One returning to his, uh, oneness, I am left with the satisfying sensations of resolution and restoration.

Fantastic Four 193
"Day of the Death-Demon!"
Story by Len Wein, Keith Pollard, and Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Francoise Mouly and Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

Colab committee here, with Len Wein & Keith Pollard plotting, Bill Mantlo scripting, and Pollard's art inked by iron-man Joe Sinnott. If the credit box ain't disorienting enough, class, I know some of you are scratching your noggins over Darkoth, whom I called a "cipher" during his last appearance in FF #144. The titular "Death-Demon" is a bit more fleshed-out this time, revealed as the ex-Desmond Pitt, a former test-pilot buddy of Ben's, who saved the future Thing from a - wait for it - grim, plane crash death. Beyond that, Pitt's backstory's a muddle; something about learning Doc Doom's spies had infiltrated NASA, so he infiltrated them, but we're left clueless (for now) how he got from counterspy to purple demon, to currently being in-thrall to Diablo (ugh), and, frankly, none of the questions leaves us panting for answers.

The plot has the Thing tabbed to fly the Solar Shuttle (looks exactly like the Space Shuttle, save it can tap "...power from the sun and transmit it earthward."), solo. D-koth crashes the pre-flight party - not even knowing Ben was slated for the pilot seat - warning that "Death rides the space shuttle!" while punching it out with his old pal. Benjy has to hold up a tipped-over space ship as Darkoth escapes in a fusillade of security guard gunfire and returns to his new master Diablo and his magic bean Dristan capsules.

Elsewhere, at a page or less each, Sue's in Hollywood, pursing the acting bug at Imperial Studios. Impy pops in and dons tux and tails. Johnny's still working on cars, out west with Wyatt. Reed - good company man at his new gig in dress shirt and tie beneath his lab coat - learns that the Fishy Enormo Corporation that's paying him a grand a day has ties to the government. And we learn, from a shadowy figure behind a desk, that it's not our government. 


The shuttle gets zapped. The Things starts cooking inside his space suit, but smashes the view screen when Diablo appears, which somehow knocks out the zap-beam. Ben has to crash land the shuttle and...

...a weeping Alicia, drawn with blank white pupils throughout (so we don't forget she's blind), screams Ben's name as the shuttle explodes in a fireball! -Mark Barsotti

Mark: Let's be generous and consider this a slow opening act, at least as slow as possible when the Thing goes boom at the end. We know he's not dead, of course, but the lack of an engaging build-up does little to ramp up either the stakes or any suspense. 

Admittedly, using Darkoth, a relatively new character with plenty of blank space to fill in, isn't a bad idea, but in what back street apothecary did they drum up Diablo and how soon can they ship him back?      

The Des Pitt identity makes Darkoth less a cipher, but only marginally more interesting. The cryptic, frenemy warnings to Ben making him seems doltish, when he could have simply explained things to his old friend. As for Dr. Doom going John le Carré inside NASA, then turning the keys of his covert op over to Diablo, Len and co. are gonna have to pump a lot of gas to keep that Hindenburg aloft. 

Joltin' Joe works his magic and Pollard's art looks great. I'm fine, in theory, with focusing on the Thing, but the brief glimpses of the other Fabs in civilian life are all more interesting than Ben crashing another rocket, particularly in a story that has all the wow factor of a wet sparkler.

Matthew:  I really enjoyed the top half of this second post-breakup solo story, despite the fact that it makes Ben look like the world’s biggest moron, since there’s no indication of his putting two and two together and figuring out Desmond Pitt is Darkoth, even knowing that they had Doom in common.  Of course, any lack of clarity may be at least partly due to the multiple writers:  penciler Pollard and the waning Wein plotted it, with Mantlo as guest scripter.  If there’s anybody who can take the sting out of losing the Pacesetter, you know damn well it’s Joltin’ Joe, not that I have any complaints about Klobbering Keith; I love how the wide shot in page 7, panel 1 emphasizes Ben’s lavish accommodations, and that final page is a show-stopper.

Chris: My wife asks why I sometimes make time to re-view a favorite old movie; what would be the point, she might inquire, if I already know the ending?  Well, as I'm sure you all know, sometimes it has more to do with re-living the trip than arriving at the destination.  Re-reading these old comics is much the same experience, especially now that we're getting into the thick of 1978, the beginning of my peak collecting period.  This issue is one I've owned for decades, and re-read many times in its day, but I probably haven't turned back the front cover in over thirty years.  

Chris: Key moment when Ben gets a call from Desmond Pitt, whom he believes to be dead; Ben slams down the phone in frustrated outrage, but later reports the voice on the phone had been Pitt’s.  When they encounter Darkoth (aka the Death Demon) at the base earlier in the day, Ben agrees with Alicia that the demon’s voice is frightening, “as cold as the grave!”  When we see him alone, Darkoth protests his attempt to contact Ben tore his “very soul apart”; was altering his voice part of the painful effort?  Hopefully next issue, we’ll get some clarification on the many sounds of Darkoth. 
I realize Keith Pollard probably doesn't generate much excitement in the faculty lounge, but for my money, his value is similar to what Rich Buckler had provided for this title during his post-Buscema tenure (I made a similar point when Pollard debuted as penciller for the Inhumans).  There's little chance that Pollard could match the work of his immediate predecessor, George Pérez (for those of you who’ve missed a few classes -- you know who you are); while Pollard does include a few detail-heavy panels (such as one of Darkoth in the bunker, surrounded by heavy-duty machinery, p 15), most of the time he's simply laying-out some energetic visuals, with the expectation that Joe Sinnott would wave his wand, and tighten it up, to look the way a respectable-looking issue of the FF ought to.  The shuttle-crash is quite well done, as Pollard delivers a Big Moment; I especially appreciate the way pieces are breaking off as it impacts the desert floor (p 30), prior to the explosive full-page Really Steep Cliffhanger (p 31!).

Ghost Rider 29
“Deadly Pawn!”
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Don Perlin and The N.Y. Tribe
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino, Peter Iro and Jean Simek
Cover by Rich Buckler and Frank Giacoia
Surrounded by onlookers, Ghost Rider prepares to jump Dead Horse Ravine. When he hits the ramp, a strange, dark cloud appears before him: his leap takes him inside the mass and he transforms back to Johnny Blaze, falling unconscious. When he comes to, Blaze is suspended by chains in front of Doctor Strange in the basement of the Sanctum Sanctorum. The Master of the Mystic Arts proclaims that Johnny is guilty and will pay. A confused Blaze transforms back into the Rider, melts the chains with hellfire and forms his Skull Cycle, chasing Strange outside to the streets of Greenwich Village — which are now grossly distorted and teeming with demons. But it is all a ruse, taking place in a dark dimension created by the dread Dormammu who is using the Spirit of Vengeance as a pawn to finally destroy his mortal enemy. Meanwhile, in reality, a shadowy cowboy on horseback chases a man down a dead-end alley. The hunter shoots his prey with a shotgun — he instantly crumbles into a skeleton. The cowboy removes a wanted dead or alive poster from his saddlebag: the word alive is crossed out and the target is Johnny Blaze. The Rider and the faux Doctor continue their running skirmish, Dormammu making the hellspawned hero stronger and stronger with his own immense power. When the Rider is at his peak strength and anger, Dormammu transports him to the real Sanctum Sanctorum where he vows to kill the unsuspecting and actual Doctor Strange. -Tom Flynn

Tom: Sad to say, Roger McKenzie is not really distinguishing himself with his first two Ghost Rider issues. Is there anything more hackneyed than having the main character fight a false Marvel hero? Geez louise, punching bag Tony Isabella used that moldy old gimmick back in #18 with fakes of The Thing, Spider-Man and The Champions. This issue also seems to come out of nowhere. Was Ghost Rider already in a different dimension at the very beginning before he jumped into the black cloud? Not really sure. It’s also odd that McKenzie completely ignored the amnesiac Roxanne Simpson and masher/lothario Brahma Bill cliffhanger from last issue. And why does Dormammu even need to use the Ghost Rider as a pawn? Since the dreaded one is enhancing the Rider’s strength with his own powers, why does he need a middle man? The art is all over the place. I’m quite familiar with the fabulous Filipino inking collective called The Tribe but don’t have a clue who is in the New York version. A quick search only came up with the name Ed Menje but never heard of the guy. But they are not the problem. Perlin completely flubs his use of perspective throughout the issue. On page 3, for instance, Blaze is hanging from chains in the foreground as Doctor Strange mocks him in the background — but Strange is drawn much larger. Is the Master eight feet tall? The exact same thing happens in a panel on page seven. It’s totally amateurish. While simple, the splash page is pretty good though. And Buckler/Giacoia deliver one of the best Ghost Rider covers to date. Looks like the good Doctor is in the next two issues as well, so we are on an extended arc.

Matthew: All things being equal, the advent of Dr. Strange seems automatically auspicious—an impression that nice Buckler cover does nothing to dispel—and after GR has met such lesser practitioners as Hellstrom and Druid, I had a pleasant “you’ve tried the rest, now try the best” feeling.  But dragooning a heavy hitter like Dormammu into the service of a story written by a newbie and indifferently drawn (with presumably hasty inks by the “N.Y. Tribe,” yet) for a consistently mediocre mag seems presumptuous.  And as much as I love two-parters, it’s a bit much to take all of part one just to bring our stars together, especially when we know by page 7 that it’s not really Doc, whose uncharacteristic behavior is obvious to us, if not to Johnny.

Chris: Now, here’s a MARMIS we all can believe in!  Dormammu’s strategy is pretty admirable (in its diabolical way): incite Ghost Rider past the point of Johnny’s self-control, so that the hellspawn persona assumes dominance, and brings a no-holds fight to the unsuspecting mystic-master.  We’re spared the usual no-time-to-explain-I’ll-have-to-fight-‘em conceit, since these two don’t even know each other – Ghost Rider doesn’t know Doctor Strange from Doctor Druid, and Doc doesn’t know Ghost Rider from Space Ghost – so as of this moment, there’s no apparent way for cooler heads to prevail and for the conflict to be smoothly resolved.  It seems there’s no way for Dormammu to lose: either a fighting-mad GR is powerful enough to kill an unprepared Doc Strange, or the Doc is forced to destroy a duped GR, in which case there would be blood of an innocent man-turned-hellion on his hands.  Nice set-up; I’m intrigued to see where McKenzie goes with this.  It certainly beats the hell (so to speak) out of another Orb story.

As for the art, please consult my notes regarding last month’s John Carter, Warlord of Mars, which also featured art-finishes by the NY Tribe.  There’s really no way to achieve a consistent look for the issue, as some pages look reasonably solid (p 14-16, the atmospheric p 17, p 31), and others are a bit too loose for my liking.  On the plus side, GR has the full-flamin’s fury going most of the time, especially in places like p 6 pnl 3, and p 27 pnl 2.  Sadly, though, Dormammu comes off as more dinky than dread, especially in his muppet-moment on p 22; couldn’t someone have asked Gene Colan and Tom Palmer to stop by the bullpen, simply to fill-in the Dormammu snapshots -?

Matthew:  For the record, Professor Tom is correct that “The Tribe” (credited on John Carter #10 and more than a dozen other Marvel mags) and the “N.Y. Tribe” alluded to here are apparently different entities; for more on the latter, see the next post.

Godzilla 9
"The Fate of Las Vegas"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by Herb Trimpe

After his battle with Red Ronin, Godzilla smashes the Boulder Dam enough that it breaks, washing the giant monster into the Nevada desert, where he starts a trek towards Las Vegas. There, gambler Winslow Beddit, down to literally his last dime, tries one last chance at a slot machine to get the money for his mother's operation, and as the Big G approaches, he strikes it big—which he decides to put all on Red 13 on the roulette table. Meanwhile, Dum Dum Dugan chews out young Robert for taking the Red Ronin robot and the rest of the dam collapses! Just as Red 13 hits and "all time proverbial loser" Beddit finally wins, the rush of water throws Godzilla into the casino, costing the sad sack everything. But he does manage to find one dime, which he uses to call wife Marsha, who says she's leaving him because he's gone to Vegas again, and his mother died three years ago—but he reverses the charges and starts walking off the demolished Strip and maybe to Reno. Godzilla also starts walking away from his carnage, headed with a slowed Helicarrier in pursuit. -Joe Tura

Joe: OK, Godzilla shaking his fist and smacking Boulder Dam struck me as funny. Well, except for the poor slob in the tractor-trailer that plummeted down. And there's a pattern of humor in this issue. On page 16, the Big G picks up a car and takes a bite of his impromptu snack choice. The whole side story with Winslow Beddit is so pathetic and borderline strange that it's nearly played for comedy. And don't get me started on Godzilla's Slip and Slide adventure, complete with open mouth yelling. The rest is typical, with G destroying another American city, Dum Dum being as cantankerous as ever, Gabe sticking up for everyone, and the artwork a mixed bag of solid, wacky, and humorous.

Matthew: Kida again seems to be applying too little discipline to Trimpe’s pencils, while the predictable, watered-down (har) Twilight Zone-style morality play is the kind of story that makes me classify Moench’s Marvel oeuvre—or, to be fair, what I’ve read of it, which excludes his widely admired MOKF—as a net loss, despite my affection for his Inhumans.  Attributing quasi-human qualities to Godzilla is usually a bad idea, and an even worse one is setting up some sort of ill-conceived parallel with Winslow Beddit (geddit?), a character whose twists become progressively annoying.  Wait!  He’s not just a pathetic gambling addict, he’s trying to save his mom!  Wait!  She’s already dead!  Et one-armed cetera, plus another landmark trashed; ho hum.

Howard the Duck 23
"Star Waaugh"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Val Mayerik
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Alan Weiss

In the last moment before she is dragged below by Bzzk’ Joh, into the gateway to all worlds, sorceress-in-training Jennifer Kale casts a mystic bolt that strikes behind the surprised Howard and Korrek (Man-Thing doesn’t seem to notice).  The spell manages to quicken a statue and a garbage pail; the former statue now refers to itself as NAAC-P30, and calls the bin 2-2-2-2, or “Tutu.”  The two animated objects are “druid-droids,” or “the magical equivalent of a robot”; NAAC-P30 states that Jennifer has cast them as guides across the dimension, since as P30 observes, “there’s more than one way to skin a dimensional gulf.”  He leads the others to a dilapidated craft, the Epoch Weasel, which hasn’t flown in 20,000 years.  Still, at the touch of the “Bat Out of Hell” button, the craft starts, and blasts thru the outer wall of its “doorless hangar.”  Before long, the adventurers are attacked by an inter-dimensional eighteen-wheeler from Bzzk’ Joh’s Imperium Emporium, which buffets the Weasel with piles of trashy consumer goods.  “Strictly impulse items!” Howard calls out; “Don’t sweat it – just get us outta here before – “ but Howard is cut off, as the truck launches its greatest weapon: a customer service representative, “the ultimate fusion o’ sonic and psychological warfare!” as Howard astutely observes.  The team escapes, the Weasel barely holding together, as it limps into a port.  They try to locate a new transport in a local bar, which – horror upon horrors – is filled with vapid, empty-smiling Californians.  Howard encourages Korrek to try to bargain, but when that fails, Korrek attacks a pilot (named “Big Mack,” whose head is a round, flat hamburger) who had frustrated him, literally taking the pilot apart.  The Californians are upset, not because Big Mack was a friend, but because Korrek’s action – any action – violates the status quo.  P30 encourages Howard to use the Farce, thru his rifle; Howard pulls the trigger, and a banner stating “Down with Peacocks!” appears.  The Californians, confronted by the absurdity of Howard’s message, perish under the weight of their own pretensions.  The crew commandeer a new ship, and arrive at the star-dwarfing Death Store.  They crash into the nerve center of Bzzk’ Joh, who defends himself by ordering Emporium employees to attack, armed with perfume and sporting goods.  Howard and Man-Thing progress closer, until they are stopped dead in their tracks by Donnie Dearth and his sister Tortuga, whose “ultimate … prepacked sweetness” buries them both in saccharine.  Man-Thing, offended by both Howard’s outrage and the “oppressive niceness” of the brother and sister team, breaks free of the artificial sweetener, and burns the two powerful smilers.  Howard brings Bzzk’ Joh to his knees with another Farce-shot, this one reading “You Have No Sense of Humor.”  The adventurers fly away, looking back only to see how Tutu’s activation of every item in the Toy department causes the Death Store to go out of business – permanently.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Steve G. brings a fair amount of amusing ideas, but I’m a bit let-down in three areas: 1) Dakimh had told Howard he would employ the Farce to combat Bzzk’ Joh with humor, but there’s really only one instance when Howard has an opportunity to do this – the Farce really should’ve played a larger role; 2) not enough Man-Thing!  Clearly, Dakimh recognized how Man-Thing’s unique abilities might be utilized, but the walking mush-monster is along for the ride most of the time, playing an active role only at the very end (Mayerik includes a nifty visual gag at Manny’s expense on p 27, as we see hurled exercise equipment literally sloshing right thru a non-plussed Man-Thing); and 3) the whole story is a bit rushed – I wouldn’t have minded if Steve had drawn this out a little more, and built up to the final confrontation with Bzzk’ Joh.  It’s hard to believe Steve could write an entire Star Wars parody without including a scene in a nasty giant trash compactor!  

Matthew:   I’m sure that by now (c. January 1978), Star Wars Mania had resulted in innumerable lampoons, but it still “quacks” me up that Marvel would put the official comic book and this parody, however apparently affectionate, side by side on the same metaphoric spinner rack.  We’ve already seen that pastiche is Gerber’s forte, so this is clearly playing to his strengths, with NAAC-P30 positively Mad-worthy, but while allowing that “Mayerick [sic]” co-created Howard, I find his overall art less satisfying than that of Brunner or Colan, especially on Korrek.  My biggest beef is that even though Man-Thing sometimes seemed like a spectator in his own strip, here he’s completely marginalized, included merely to provide a deus ex muck-ina.

Mark: Sure, there's a few good laughs here, the best probably being the "Star Waaugh" title itself, and Steve Gerber has long used the title to - among its other ambitions - satirize genres from sword and sorcery to kung fu fighting, with our angry Everyduck plunked down in the middle. 

But Star Wars isn't a genre but a specific two hours of storytelling, and that makes all the difference here, class, once we're done yucking it up over soft targets like Man-Thing burning the faces off Donnie and Marie. Instead of subverting various tropes and clichés in service of telling a Howard story, Gerbs inserts our fab fowl into what's recognizably - regardless of absurd-o trappings - someone else's story. The end result is equivalent to a Mad parody. 

The good news is I like Mad parodies and so can chuckle approvingly over goofs like "Atlantis R.V. Sales" offering jalopy space craft or the evil Imporium attacking with customer service reps shouting, "No No No No!" And a space bar full of leisure-suited Californians is surely more terrifying than anything Lucas came up with.

So Steve had his fun, and one supposes we did too, even if, at bottom, this one has all the nutritive content of a greasy tub of popcorn.

The Incredible Hulk 222
"Feeding Billy"
Story by Jim Starlin and Len Wein
Art by Jim Starlin and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Ernie Chan

While the Incredible Hulk battles an entire army, two children stand witness to the brute's mighty strength and size, remarking that this big green guy will definitely fit the bill. When Hulk is gassed and falls unconscious, the two turn to their little brother, Billy, to help cart the green goliath off before the soldiers descend. Hours later, Bruce Banner awakens on a cot in a cave and the two little moppets, Donny and Marie, fill the scientist in on the origin of their brother, Billy. Years before, at a family picnic, toddler Billy had crawled away from his parents and gulped down a liquid leaking from a radioactive can. After a lengthy stay at the hospital, Billy returns home big and hungry. Accent on the hungry. As in hungry for flesh; first dining on farm animals and then, ostensibly, his parents. When a sheriff comes a'callin', Billy and his siblings head up into the hills for a new life. After recounting their story, Donny and Marie excuse themselves, as it's bed time, and remark that Bruce was the nicest one they'd ever met. When Big Brother Billy shows up, Bruce realizes that the two youngsters have an important place in their brother's life: that of dinner finders. Bruce quickly turns into his alter ego and he and Billy have a brawl until their violence literally brings the walls down. Hulk emerges from the wreckage to find Donny and Marie waiting for brother Billy. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Save for the Marvel logo on the cover and the cameos of the big green guy, this story could just as easily have been one of Len's scripts for House of Mystery (with the presence of The Master, AA, the cherry on top -- though AA doesn't really mesh with Starlin that well). So, does it work? In a very creepy and sleazy way, yep; hell, Bizarro Billy beats the hell out of Cap'n Barracuda, Bi-Beast, and the Circus of Crime any day. And, answer me this, are we to assume that little Donny and Marie are sharing supper with Billy these days? I didn't see any McDonald's sacks lying around that cave. Len and Jim missed the boat though, christening the monster Billy instead of Jay, Merrill, Alan, Wayne, or even Jimmy.

Chris: Our faithful armadillo has promised a Starlin-illustrated Hulk tale for months; I’m sure fans of Starlin, and of Greenskin, were not necessarily expecting a story like this.  (Some fans might’ve thought the Hulk would battle Thanos!  But, that won’t happen until 2015 – please be patient.)  The Hulk has battled his share of oversized opponents, but this one not only is atomic-waste altered, but cannibalistic to boot; it makes for an unusually creepy Hulk installment.  The skewed viewpoint of Donny and Marie only adds to the oddity and unsettlement; I remember being thoroughly unnerved by this issue, particularly during the middle segment when Billy’s (seemingly clueless) siblings matter-of-factly describe Billy’s mayhem spree.

The art also is not what a reader might expect, but in a different sense.  Any fan who might’ve expected Alcala’s unique details in his finishes – as seen in his work with John Buscema – might be disappointed, as the inks might be solid, but aren’t as transcendent as we’ve seen in some of his other works.  I’m willing to bet Alcala’s attention was drawn more toward helping establish the mood of the piece, as Billy is kept in shadows until close to the end.  The radical change in Bruce’s expression, and physique, as he progresses quickly to Hulkdom is well done (p 22), but otherwise, the range of looks to the Hulk’s face might be a bit too broad.  Case in point: we see an enraged Hulk, and a hurt and frustrated Hulk on p 23 (1st and last panels), but the look on his face as some rocks fall from the cave-ceiling onto his head (p 30 pnl 3) is too comical for my liking.  

Matthew:  I’m surprised that EIC Archie allowed two swipes at the Osmonds in the same month (here and in HTD), although various mentions—in lettercols and/or Bullpen Pages, I forget which—make me think this may have been waiting in the wings for some time.  At 14, I found the nastiness of Jim’s plot somewhat off-putting; I guess I never outgrew that, but I will admit that taken on its own terms, scripter/editor Len’s swan song is a pretty effective little yarn, and I’m sure the Starlcala art, topped off with a nice Chan cover, will raise some lusty cheers in the faculty lounge.  I suppose it’s bootless of me to observe that noshing on radioactive waste would probably have killed rather than mutated Baby Billy, artistic license, yadda yadda yadda...

The Invaders 27
"Agent Axis, Master of Murder!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

Agent Axis reveals that his mechanical mole was “designed by leading scientists” of Germany, Italy, and Japan—with crewmen Wilhelm, Enrico, and Ishido to match—and upon learning why Bucky also sought Sabuki, he changes course to the hospital, emerging in Toro’s room to the shock of his biggest fan, Davy Mitchell.  A black kid delivering flowers, he becomes a handy hostage to cover their escape with Toro, whose perilous condition miraculously sustains being manhandled onto the mole.  Sabuki had earlier refused to operate “to cure [Agent Axis] somehow of his strange malady,” but again caves to save the children; not simultaneously (Roy reminds us), the senior Invaders reach Sandy Flat, and are duly appalled by what they find there.

Reclaiming his flagship, which has “sat there for several days,” Namor confirms that Bucky had donned a tracking device, and they “streak low above the desert floor” to pinpoint his signal.  In his “underground citadel,” Agent Axis allows Sabuki to operate on Toro first, successfully, yet hedges his own bets by placing Gwenny Lou and Davy beside him in a device that replicates every move Sabuki makes, and will repeat them on the youngsters if he is harmed, or electrocute them on demand (funny how he had that all ready to go).  Toro recovers with mutant speed, but as he and Bucky battle the minions, stray shots hit the machine, the feedback granting Gwenny Lou and Davy golden-sunburst and human-top abilities, respectively, as the adult Invaders enter. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Yeah, I know covers are often supposed to be symbolic, yet this one is not only misleading, but also downright ugly; let’s call it an off day for Gil.  Roy gets to play the race card with both the interned Asians (“While we’ve been off fighting the Fascists, has our own country taken a page from our enemies?” asks its namesake) and the African-American orphan (“I’ve always got by, by movin’ fast—makin’ myself useful to white folks”).  The Two Franks give Agent Axis a nice pulp-fiction look—e.g., his impatient striding, swirling cape and all, in page 17, panel 5—although his gimmicky trilingual expressions wore out their dubious welcome pretty quickly, and after the Crusaders et al., I think Roy’s really exhausted his quotient of boring new super-heroes.

Mark: If last month's installment was a breathless, page-flipping blitzkrieg, like Patton's Third Army racing across France, "Agent Axis - Master of Murder!" is a bit of a grind, like the Allies slogging it out against the Gothic Line in Italy.

The Big Three (Cap, Namor, the Torch) are again relegated to bullpen status, tut-tutting Captain Simms' racism and the evil of American internment camps, just in case we didn't get it last time. Dr. Sabuki saves Toro (natch), and Agent Axis wanting the doc to separate his co-mingled three fascists  is a nice touch which lends AA a tattered scrap of humanity, but the mechanics are as convoluted as the delegate selection process at a bare knuckle political convention (I'm looking at you, Cleveland). Yet while the slaughterhouse is ugly, sausage is tasty, and here Roy serves up Sabuki's daughter Gwenny Lou and Afro-American delivery boy Davy Mitchell being super-duperized as the result of all bloody scutwork.  

That leaves the good guys with an ever expanding, over-stuffed cast, so expect at least one noble-sacrifice death next month, hopefully in service as a more rip-roaring tale.     

The Invincible Iron Man 109
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Carmine Infantino and Fred Kida
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

The jubilation amid Iron Man’s restored friends is interrupted by the arrival of Stark, who angrily demands to know what’s going on; he’s not the only one asking that question, with Tony—who says he’s been consulting at “the SALT talks [sic]”—and IM in the same place.  Once the others have dispersed, and IM has agreed to take Jack on as an apprentice, he confirms to Whitney what we’ve already guessed:  “Tony” is a Life Model Decoy, which he hesitated to employ after a similar model once usurped his identity (in #17-18).  Meanwhile, as Jack supplies the power source for Stark’s scanalyzer, he not only gleans that the fallen Growing Man came from the moon but also realizes that he has instantaneously processed the millions of bits of data.

“Stark” sends IM and Jack to investigate, and Whitney remains, ostensibly lacking S.H.I.E.L.D. approval, but really to babysit the LMD.  With Jack replacing its data analyzers, and IM piloting with a link to his armor’s computers, the Quinjet is fired upon and crash-lands in the Blue Area, where Darkstar, the Crimson Dynamo, and a new Russian super-hero, Vanguard (whose hammer and sickle turn a foe’s power back on him), similarly shot down and believing them responsible, attack.  Laynia tells a vengeful IM that she never defected, and the state-owned Dynamo armor is worn by Dimitri Bukharin; they seek the source of mysterious signals, a giant egg, but IM and Jack, sensing the “sonic scream” preceding an attack, enter it via a glowing portal that opens up. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: This one got a major “Holy crap!” out of me, because as soon as I saw that ellipsoid, I recalled the ending of Bill’s sublime Marvel Team-Up #55, published more than a year ago:  “unnoticed, a gleaming silver egg lies undisturbed…”  You can’t say the boy doesn’t think big or plan ahead, and that’s not the only way in which this issue feels like Mantlo’s Greatest Hits, because he’s picked up the Darkstar threads he was forced to leave dangling when Champions was cancelled, complementing the post-Champs two-parter he starts in this month’s Spectacular Spider-Man.  Okay, so the Claremontiverse it ain’t, but I think it’s pretty impressive, and it helps compensate for having to endure another dose of guest-artist Infantino, also slightly mitigated by Kida’s inks.

Speaking of Claremont, his X-pals Byrne and Austin contributed that snazzy cover, but whether to conceal or console us for the crappy interior art, with Dabney Coleman in the role of Stark, I don’t know.  I also can’t recall Eddie’s condition prior to this arc, yet as IM assures his allies that “all debts are erased,” and Eddie hastily adds that Tony “developed the electro-therapy that enabled me to walk again!,” it sure smells like a continuity clean-up.  Bill is obviously launching (ha ha) another ambitious arc here, although if Shellhead wants to protect his secret i.d., he probably shouldn’t blurt out that the Crimson Dynamo “once slew a woman named Janice Cord!  A woman I loved!,” when she’d dated Tony, and, in fact, died never knowing he was IM.

Chris: Clever idea to have the Stark LMD arrive on-site; it certainly keeps people guessing, including Michael O’Brien, who’s one of the few people who knows Iron Man’s secret ID!  The Midas saga went on a good long time, but with Whitney on board to keep an eye on the LMD, we finally have an opportunity to open a new direction in the Iron Man narrative.  Here’s one question about the Blue Area, though: I can accept it might have a breathable nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere, but how does it allow for earth-level gravity?  It’s not like the Area has its own mass, right -?

Good decision also to keep Jack of Hearts around for awhile; he’s already proving his value, although I don’t think he’s too fond of the “human battery” assignment.  Points also to Mantlo for keeping Darkstar in circulation, following the plug-pulling over at the Champions; she capably remains in the middle, loyal both to her countrymen, and to a former comrade-in-arms.  
Fred Kida does a nice job of providing clarity to Infantino’s pencils, but I’ll be very pleased to have Keith Pollard back next issue.  The Byrne/Austin cover is by far the issue’s art highlight.

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