Wednesday, May 18, 2016

April 1978 Part Two: Ladies and Gentlemen... Introducing Spider-Woman!

Spider-Woman 1
"... A Future Uncertain!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Joe Sinnott

Jessica Drew considers her situation.  She had grown up at Wundergore, the scientific playground of her father and his partner.  Together, they bred sentient beings – New Men – from animals, by accelerating their genetic material, basically causing them to evolve into advanced forms.  The two scientists had funded their research thru the sale of uranium found beneath land they had purchased to serve as home for their lab; little did they know that radiation from the underground uranium would be poisonous to young Jessica.  The combination of spider serum developed by John Drew and his partner’s genetic acceleration saved Jessica’s life, but altered her into an adult human whose DNA, and abilities, had been derived in part from a spider.  Jessica’s father had left, her mother had died, and the partner re-christened himself as the High Evolutionary, eventually leaving Wundagore to found his own planet, Counter-Earth; Jessica, then known as “Arachne,” fell into work with Hydra.  Now, free of her home and her previous assignment, she wanders the streets of London in search of purpose.  She has difficulty finding work due to her lack of past experience, or history; she breaks in to a grocer’s shop at night, but despite her lack of means, she resolves not to steal to support herself.  On her way out of the store, she’s stopped by a man who identifies himself as Scotland Yard (it turns out that he's Jerry Hunt, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.); in her struggle to escape, Jerry tears Jessica’s mask free, and states he recognizes her.  He  later spots Jessica on the street and gives chase.  Cornered in an alley, Jessica decides to fight back, but can’t bring herself to harm this man; she knocks him out and leaves him behind.  Back at her flat, Jessica dyes her hair, so as not to be recognized by her pursuer; she also alters her mask, and considers how American super-heroes are able to maintain a secret identity.  Out on the rooftops, Spider-Woman hears gunshots near Parliament, and as she investigates, she finds two hoods she had fought against in previous weeks (Chauncy and Trevor, last seen in MTIO), firing laser shots at Jerry Hunt, who has been after her.  Hunt is hit, and Spider-Woman takes down the two criminals with venom blasts.  She rushes the wounded man to the hospital, in the hope that her altered blood will save him from the damage of the radiation from the laser burst.  Hunt states to his colleagues that he is now even more determined to locate the mysterious Spider-Woman.  -Chris Blake
Chris Blake: Any time you have an origin story that features job-hunting, it’s not a good sign.  Writer/editor Wolfman turns in a tepid premiere issue (far short of “spectacular,” as promised on the cover), as he devotes a considerable amount of time to re-telling Spider-Woman’s origin.  The one-page S-W origin Archie Goodwin had offered in Marvel Spotlight #32 suggests the High Evolutionary had crafted Arachne from a spider, but Marv’s 4+ page version – which introduces the name “Jessica Drew,” and provides a human basis for the character – is a bit easier to accept.  Wolfman then goes to great lengths to allow Jessica to wonder who she is, and what she is to do, etc, all of which comes at the expense of any action, or any thorough demonstration of her powers, until close to the end of the comic.  
It’s an easy call to contrast this with the recent premiere of Ms Marvel, as Gerry Conway introduced plenty of action up front, and worked-in origin details over time.  I’m not saying Wolfman had to follow the same formula, but he certainly should’ve realized that, in order to snag readers to return for SW #2, there would need to be more of a balance of excitement + characterization, with more weight toward the action side.  Once again, we can’t count on Marv-the-editor to take Marv-the-writer aside and work out some of these fine points.  
In an epistle to fans, Wolfman describes his longstanding admiration for Carmine Infantino; I’m fully in agreement with his observation that Carmine manages an “incredible rendering of gorgeous women,” which alone provides some justification for Infantino’s long-standing association with this title.  Another selling point – ironically enough – is the embellishment of Tony DeZuniga, who provides atmosphere, but also effectively obscures most of the loopiness that makes most of Infantino’s art so hard for me to look at.  
Matthew Bradley: Per the cover, “the super-heroine sensation they said couldn’t be done”…or was that shouldn’t?  I was all set to quip that if we needed any further evidence of having entered the decline of the Bronze Age, this was it, yet apprehensively revisiting this did not quite make me want to do a “self-Fulci” and gouge my own eyes out.  I think it’s partly what I might call the Robbins Effect—or is it Stockholm syndrome?—observed on Invaders, i.e., that while I still loathe Infantino’s work, the fact that he’s the only penciler this book will have for its first 19 issues (giving us another Wolfmantino production in parallel with Nova) makes it feel, well, less wrong, and this is a clear-cut case in which DeZuniga’s decisive inking can only improve things.

Matthew: I’m also prepared to cut writer/editor Marv a little more slack than expected.  Make no mistake, Chauncy and Trevor were near the top of my list of Characters and Subplots I Never Needed to See Again, and despite the ironic outcome of their printing-plate caper, we’ve still never gotten a satisfactory explanation for that Elemental-in-the-Box, but the good news is that he’s retconned creator/consulting editor Archie’s origin story from Marvel Spotlight #32 far less than I recalled.  It seems the High Evolutionary and his genetic accelerator were involved, but his raw material, as it were, was human rather than arachnid; I’m not sure the discrepancies were ever explained, but I certainly wouldn’t rule out the possibility that bad ol’ Otto Vermis deliberately misled Jes...

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 11
"The Story of... Dejah Thoris"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Dave Cockrum and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Rudy Nebres

After “the affair of the air-pirates,” Carter remembers his early days on Mars, when Sola was but his guardian and teacher, as the incubation ceremony is disrupted by an armada of aircraft driven off by superior fire, excepting one that crashes among the Tharks, who remove a single prisoner before destroying it.  He is astonished to see that it is a gorgeous, red-skinned but otherwise humanoid woman; equally surprised, she “made a sign I did not understand,” yet Carter, unfamiliar with Barsoomian customs, unwittingly refuses a friendly recognition.  Brought before the Jed, Lorquas Ptomel, she identifies herself as Dejah Thoris, part of a scientific research party sent to rechart air currents by her grandfather, the Jeddak of Helium.

Smitten, Carter slays the Thark who strikes Dejah as she pleads for peace among the Barsoomian races, and Sola reveals that he now takes the warrior’s place as the eleventh most powerful in the tribe.  Dejah is relieved to learn that Carter is from Earth, rather than having returned from the Valley Dor—in which case he would be horribly killed—but the spiteful Sarkoja thwarts their deepening relationship at every opportunity; when he innocently refers to her as “my princess,” she laughs but may not tell him why, yet flounces off at his next faux pas, alluding to having fought for her.  Zad challenges Carter, cheered on by Sarkoja, and as Dejah strikes her, vowing that Carter must live, he realizes the duel is a pretext, allowing Sarkoja to retaliate with a dagger.

Carter kills Zad but is grievously wounded, and when he recovers, Sola explains that she caught the blade meant for Dejah, who grieves for him and believes him dead, yet refuses to see him upon learning the truth.  During the long trek home from the ceremony, he pledges his heart to her, asking that she not answer until safely in Helium but allow him to plan her escape, confiding only in Sola, with whom they flee across the desert, the Tharks in pursuit.  Sending Dejah and Sola on toward Helium, he stays behind to fight them off and survives that battle to befriend the Tharks, finally leading a combined force of red and green men to rescue the captive Dejah from Zodanga; three weeks later, her father, Mors Kajak, performs the ceremony that makes them one. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I don’t know which is worse:  having Nebres replace Cockrum as the book’s inker, as he did in #2, burying the Gil Kane pencils that Dave handled so exquisitely beneath his Filipino filigree, or having Nebres embellish Cockrum as the book’s inker, as he does here, running roughshod over Dave’s own pencils so that they look exactly the same, which I guess makes it a draw.  Far more than #1, despite not being billed as an adaptation, this hews strictly to Burroughs to recap Dejah’s history (although the “origin” cover tag seems utterly misplaced, as if she’d been bitten by a radioactive princess or something).  Marv connects the dots between Carter’s arrival and “The Air-Pirates of Mars,” and the two issues encompass the majority of the first Barsoom book.

Responding to a LOC in #15, praising this tale’s fidelity and Cockrum’s art, the armadillo notes, “Marv was holding back that particular story just for Dave C. to draw.  And this is as good a time as any to thank Dave—who sits right behind the wall from Marv at Marvel—for all his expertise on the Martian mythology and his constant help whenever the Marvelous One comes screaming down the halls saying, ‘My God, they left off one leg on a Thoat.’  It’s always been Dave’s duty to add the additional legs, arms, noses and even nostrils—if Gil left any out.”  That’s a nod to the snarky LOC in which Cat Yronwode hails Rudy for “having the courage, daring and know-how to blot out Gil Kane’s crazy nostrils”; well, you creeps don’t have Kane to kick around anymore.

Chris: John Carter pulls up a chair and settles in, alongside a long progression of fierce warriors who have struggled mightily when faced with the challenge of overcoming a woman’s wiles.  The cultural differences don’t help, as Carter (at the time this story takes place) has spent his time in the Tharks’ camp, and knows nothing of the customs of Helium.  Wolfman does a credible job building the connection between Carter and Dejah Thoris, as a series of fits and starts is required before the course of their true love has its chance to run smooth.  Dejah has questions about Carter, and she needs time to work thru them, particularly after Carter’s two gaffes, first as – in their first meeting (briefly described in JCWoM #1 – check it if you don’t believe me) – he fails to validate her “look of hope and renewed courage,” then later, when he offends her by suggesting that, by having fought for her, he already had “won” her.  Nice moment when Carter, following his duel with Zad, seeks out Dejah, and is instructed by loyal Sola to recognize that Dejah does, in fact, have feelings for him, but might be reluctant to express those feelings due to his offense; another obstacle to cross, perhaps, but there is hope.  

I don’t want to be too critical of Wolfman, since he does produce a taut, well-executed story about these two people discovering a connection to each other.  Still, one reservation; on p 30, Carter sends Dejah and Sola ahead so he can stay behind and hold off the Tharks’ pursuit, “then there would be a glorious battle!”  Yes, I’d think so too, but – scene missing! – all we get is “I survived that encounter,” etc.  Again, I don’t want to be too critical, but I’d like to see just how Carter managed to walk away from that one.  
I remember reading some time ago that Dave Cockrum’s decision to leave X-Men was driven, in part, by his desire to work on this title.  Well, after an inking assignment in our inaugural issue, this is the only time we see Cockrum’s art in these pages.  His layouts are often overshadowed by Rudy Nebres’ embellishment (as expected), but there are a number of instances when the pencils stand out, mostly in their spot-on depictions of Dejah: the bejeweled Dejah’s arrival, as in a single page, we see (from Carter’s POV) her head bowed and wrists chained, Carter’s stunned reaction, and Dejah’s resignation when Carter does not know how to respond to her entreaty (p 7); Carter’s nights haunted by the undeniable face of Dejah (p 10, 1st pnl); the princess’ regal bearing (p 10, last pnl); Dejah’s quietly pleased expression as she speaks with him (p 15 pnl 4, p 16 pnl 3).

Kull the Destroyer 26 
“Into Death’s Dimension”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Carolyn Lay
Cover by Ernie Chan and Rudy Nebres

In return for the throne, Kull has agreed to travel to another dimension to rescue the crown of Torranna, stolen by a demon that also killed the former king. The comely magician Norra enters the royal chamber with Laralei in tow: Kull’s traveling companion is now dressed in the finest apparel and sweetly perfumed. Norra leaves the couple who kiss — even though the amnesiac Laralei vowed never to love another warrior. Suddenly, Ridondo, fully recovered from his wounds, stumbles into the room through a secret corridor behind an ornate tapestry. Eager to explore his new kingdom, the Atlantean and his friends wander through the hidden passageway that winds through the palace. They pause when they overhear voices coming from behind a wall: Norra is telling Gar-Nak that their love affair is over. When they return to the throne room, the trio is attacked by Captain Hak-Ur and his royal guards — the men do not know that Kull is actually now their commander. Testing his new soldiers, the muscular monarch trades parries with the guards until the sorcerer Korr-Lo-Zann storms in and ends the confusion. After apologies are made, Korr-Lo-Zann, Norra and Gar-Nak begin the swirling incantation that transports Kull and Ridondo to the other dimension, a strange, alien world of exotic fauna and ferocious dinosaurs. In the distance, they see a massive castle carved out of a very mountain: Kull decides that is where they will find the crown. Back in Torranna, Laralei begs the sorcerers to send her after her love — they agree and she materializes directly in front of the monstrous, cyclopean beast that stole the crown. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: At the end of last issue, Kull agreed to journey to the other dimension to return the crown of Torranna. Instead of starting this one at that point, Don Glut waits until page 22 (22!) to send Kull and Ridondo on their way. That’s what you call pussyfootin’ around my friends. Now I’m sure that Glut didn’t realize that there were only three issues left at this point, but that’s still an inexcusable waste of paper. As is typical for the series, nothing much happens in this inert issue. The spat between Norra and Gar-Nak? Who cares. I assume that the woman is ready to move on because her king is now a muscular hunk of A #1 prime beef. The useless fight with Hak-Ur and his men? Snore. One of the soldiers actuals exclaims about Kull, “Is his eyesight so poor, or what?! For, though he cuts us down like so much wheat — he has yet to actually slay one of us!” And forget how annoying it is for someone to speak such a lengthy line of dialogue during a swordfight. That type of stuff is best left for a caption. Plus, it’s getting tiring that Laralei keeps mooning over Kull. She’s supposed to have sworn off swordsmen remember? I guess we are supposed to ohh and ahh over the dinosaurs, but Kull and Ridondo simply skirt them and head for the castle. Now Rudy Nebres takes plenty abuse from some members of the faculty but you’ll never hear anything negative about the inker from this professor. I enjoy his strong, black lines and unmistakable style. He adds a lot of details to the characters' musculature and faces. Sure, he might overpower some artists, but Ernie Chan is a much better inker than penciler so he needs all the help he can get. Besides, the art hasn’t been the problem over the past few issues: that can be laid directly in the lap of Dandy Don Glut. Three issues to go, three issues to go.

Matthew: Rarely opposed to Rudy when he’s wielding the pencil himself or, as I’ll happily take your word for it that he’s doing here, enhancing the work of a Chan et al.  I only object to his obscuring the beloved style of, say, a Kane.  He’s a fine artist in his own right.

Master of Kung Fu 63
"Hiding Cats"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Karin Kish
Cover by Gil Kane and Terry Austin

Juliette reports to Shang-Chi that her former lover, Shen “Cat” Kuei, now is working for the Red Chinese.  She had masqueraded as a smuggler, and hijacked one of Cat’s shipments, in order to learn exactly what he is up to; she did not realize one crate had been loaded with the explosives that killed Cat’s brother at the Jade Peacock.  Meanwhile, Shen Kuei expresses his displeasure with Skull-Crusher, but enlists him to try again to kill Shang-Chi.  Elsewhere in Hong Kong, two of S-C’s former associates are arriving: Clive Reston has brought Melissa Greville with him to check on S-C’s progress, only to find the Peacock closed – soon after, they both are under arrest by the Hong Kong PD; and, as a favor to Sir Denis, Black Jack Tarr is using a “cover guise” to infiltrate a smuggling operation run by “an extremely unsavory chap” known as Kogar.  Tarr is knocked out by the smugglers he had contacted on the docks, but is brought by them directly to Kogar’s hidden stronghold.  Tarr overpowers his captives, thereby proving himself to Kogar, who observes Tarr’s efforts are “not bad for a Britisher"; Tarr is hired for Kogar’s krew.  Juliette and S-C arrive by boat at the house where she has been hiding out; S-C is surprised to be met there by Skull-Crusher, and the battle ensues.  The two batter each other to a standstill, and as both struggle to their feet, an unconscious Juliette plunges from the floor above and lands on a pile of sacks.  Looking down is the whip-wielding Pavane; Shang-Chi realizes Pavane is Cat’s new lover, and that Juliette’s songs may have been stilled forever.  -Chris Blake

Chris: Jim Craig’s self-inked art is the real take-away, as the vibrant, confident look of the splash page – featuring Skull-Crusher and Shang-Chi grappling at the foot of a waterfall, with a serpentine cat-shadow visible in the water below their feet – carries over, into the remainder of the issue.  Craig really shines as Sh-Ch and Sk-Cr mix it up on p 27-30; some panels are a bit crowded, but you can’t deny the fierce energy.  The figures and faces are clear and strong throughout, with just the right bit of shading.  We even get an intricate, imaginative two-page spread of Kovar’s base (as Albert Broccoli takes notes).  Craig’s results here tell me two things: unfortunately, I may have been right all along as I had pegged the deficits in the art on John Tartaglione’s inkwell; and, it could be we’re seeing some maturation of Craig’s style as a comics-artist.  Either way, it’s one of our better-looking issues in the post-Gulacy era.  
Otherwise, the story is fine, but it’s apparent Moench is setting up story-elements that will play out over the next few issues.  We’re familiar with his approach by now, as Moench likes to take time to place various characters in position; I for one am willing to trust him to use the building-blocks from this issue to build up to more excitement in our next chapter.  

Mark: Cracking the cover, we find Jim Craig delivering the first splash page worthy of being called "cinematic" since Paul Gulacy hit the bricks. More surprisingly, since Craig has seldom shown flashes of excellence before, is the high quality, self-inked work he delivers throughout, be it the light and shadow seduction scene between the Cat and his new paramour on pgs #14-15, the smuggler's-cove-meets-Tomorrowland double splash on #16-17, or more dynamic kung fu fighting between Shang-Chi and Skull-Crusher. And as with that double mace wielding assassin, Craig comes up with another striking baddie, the over-grown Kogar, who, with his eye patch and mechanical enhancements is like Oddjob meets Nick Fury, with a dollop of Deathlok or, at minimum, a Tony Stark fetish. And for all the flash, Craig also packs in a lot of story, using tiny panels on many pages, yet packing them with detail.

Mark: It's a bravura effort, and Doug Moench gives Craig plenty to work with, as our cast continues to migrate east - Black Jack infiltrates the smugglers and Leiko (whose name they manage to spell wrong), ah, leaves her apartment - if at varying speeds. As with his best work on the title, Moench works the personal into the plot, as Juliette's (dropped like a sack of potatoes at S-C's feet on the last page by Pavane) letter to Shang was prompted by the Cat's catting around, and Clive, in what's likely a really bad idea - drags new squeeze Ms. Greville, previously desk-bound and just out of the hospital after being shot, along with him to Hong Kong. 

Stamp your passports: first class.

Ms. Marvel 16
"The Deep Deadly Silence!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Frank Springer
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

Racing to rescue Nita, Ms. Marvel seeks aid at Avengers’ (sic) Mansion, but in her haste she is predictably mistaken by the Beast for a “Cap’n Marvel groupie,” retaliating with “You misanthropic Muppet” before the Scarlet Witch breaks up the MARMIS.  With their lab and her Kree knowledge, she creates a sensor module, to trace the “unique crystalline structure” of a piece of Nita’s jewelry, and a “variation of the standard metabolic converter serum” that lets her breathe underwater temporarily.  After calling to tell Arabella she’ll take the apartment, and declining back-up—lacking time to make another dose of serum—she flies over the harbor, but (as in #14) senses being watched, by a mysterious woman on whom we’ll keep a close eye...

“She can’t be aware of me…yet…though each day, she becomes more dangerous.  When I return to Washington, I’ll have to take care of her.  Permanently!,” says her unseen observer; in the meantime, MM pops her pill—whose effectiveness depth and exertion will shorten—dives in and finds her quarry in a WW II destroyer, the U.S.S. Sumter.  Tiger Shark gets in the first blow, but while Nita tries to even the odds by choking him with her chains, she’s no match for him, and MM is beset by torpedoes as well as a giant squid that she drives off with flares.  She wins a Pyrrhic victory, the pill wearing off just as she prevails, yet revives to find that the resourceful Nita has escaped, slung her into an air-pocket, bound Tiger Shark, and summoned Atlantean aid. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Like part one, this never actually soars, yet even if the story literally plumbs the depths, it does not do so metaphorically, and in fact it’s pretty solid, for which I’ll settle after the Hecate/Boston slump.  Claremont is uncharacteristically careless concerning Nita’s history—the Scarlet Witch hardly needed to be told who she was after the Avengers’ battle on Hydrobase in Super-Villain Team-Up #9, which should have made Wanda quicker to accept Ms. Marvel’s story—but I do love her portrayal as powerful, level-headed, and quick-thinking.  And while I normally regard Springer as the kiss of death, he does relatively well with Mooney’s pencils here, especially on that lovely ECU of Ms. Marvel apparently succumbing to rapture of the deep in page 30, panel 1.

Chris: Claremont provides another “process” sequence (I’m not sure what else to call it) on p 7, as we see Ms Marvel apply some Kree know-how to figure out how to trace Nita, and also to allow her to breathe oxygen underwater; it’s a fairly brief passage, as it all takes place in one large time-lapse panel.  The significance is in Claremont’s acknowledgement of the intelligence of his audience; in lesser hands, Ms M would fly out over the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean, and by chance somehow catch a glimpse of something that would lead her to Nita, and her suit would provide heretofore-unknown gills, or something.  Instead, Claremont offers an acceptable way for Ms M to accomplish both goals.  The time-limit on the underwater breathing creates suspense, of course.  The ending is a bit abrupt, and weak, though, as we’re suddenly informed of an air-pocket at the bottom of the sea  [well, it’s inside the wreck, which worked for me, but your mileage may vary -Prof. Matthew], and an Atlantean cruiser for Nita to locate and direct back to Tiger-Shark’s lair; too convenient.

Mark R. of St Louis MO bemoans the lack of a consistent art-team for this title; while this situation might not be hurting the book, he says, “I don’t think it’s helping much either.”  I can see his point; after all, over the past eight issues, we’ve had four different pencillers and seven inkers, never the same team twice.   Springer’s finishes are the very definition of inconsistency, as we get a few good looks at our title character, a very effective view of the sunken destroyer (p 14), and a deadly-looking squid (p 23), but too many panels where the art is too loose.  I appreciate the way Jim & Frank show Ms M’s hair drifting, at times obscuring part of her face, during the time she is under water.   

Marvel Premiere 41
Seeker 3000! in
"The Dying Sun!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Tom Sutton
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by Denise Wohl, Rick Parker, and Irving Watanabe
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Sinnott
Starcraft Seeker-3000 breaks from its space station on a dangerous mission, with captain Jordan Shaw wary of the assignment. Flashback to 262 days in the past when Shaw confronted Jason, Prime Suspect of the Six, who has a mysterious Life II project and claims the sun will go nova in 263 days, then imprisons the blonde captain. Nine months later, Shaw devises a plan from prison and enlists his crew to fight Jason and the military. The key to Jason's warp-drive is telepath Phaedra, being held captive on Mars-Arm. Shaw and the Seeker 3000 rescue her and get away from their pursuers, making it to Saturn Complex, where they plan to attack Jason's base. The Clone-Cylinders are jettisoned by Shaw (whatever that means) and try to get Phaedra to the Warp-Dome to do…something… Jason's fighter explodes when Seeker 3000 finds a weak spot in the shields, just as Jason says Shaw's wife is still alive! Phaedra gets them to safety by warping, and Jason's consciousness is transferred into the computer, a trick that the crew must overcome as they embark on their next adventure.—Joe Tura

Joe Tura: What the hell was that? I think Seeker 3000 translates to "Prof. Joe is seeking 3000 ways to get out of ever remembering he read Seeker 3000." Yikes….From page 3's "262 days in the past" on page 3 to page 7 panel 5 when we get the caption "And 262 days later," I knew we were in big trouble. I almost didn't want to go on, but it's my oath as a faculty member.

Sigh….Tom Sutton tries, but there's no illustrating the nonsensical script thrown out there by good old Doug. And there are way too many panels of people (especially Shaw) holding their arms up like "Raise your hand, raise your hand if you're Sure!" I couldn't figure out what was going on here on my best day. Nor did I care. So much vague sci-fi mumbo-jumbo, with infinite stars and strange powers and starships and fast moving hyperspace craziness. And who cares? Really, this was so unremarkable I'm not sure I'm even writing this right now. I say again: Yikes. I'd almost rather read a third episode of The Torpedo. Yeah, that's how bad this issue was. And I can almost find a silver lining in any Marvel comic. Heck, I'd rather have Ka-Zar come back!

For whatever reason, Seeker 3000 came back in 1998 as a four issue limited series, written by Dan Abnett and Ian Edginton and drawn by Andrew Currie, a creative team featuring no one I've ever heard of. Apparently clone Jericho Shaw takes over for his father and they fight evil and save mankind and whatnot. Yippee.

Matthew: A sobering reminder for our self-sacrificing Professor Joe of the old Marvel maxim that, “With great power [e.g., access to the faculty lounge] there must also come…great responsibility!”  Approximately 0.073 readers will be interested to learn that Edginton later adapted Richard Matheson’s Hell House for the four-part IDW graphic novel illustrated by Simon Fraser.

Chris: In the wake of a few years’ worth of Star Trek syndicated reruns, and the breakout success of Star Wars, this story seems like a timely gamble from the House of Ideas, so it’s surprising that our space-exploring crew fly off into eternity and are seen nevermore (well, at least not again in the Bronze age; I see Marvel ran a Seeker 3000 four-part mini-series a mere twenty years later, in 1998). 

It’s a pretty solid one-shot story, as Doug lays groundwork for a whole series.  We don’t learn a great deal about the crew, but we see Phaedra the telepath has upside, since apparently even she doesn’t know the full extent of her powers.  Nice twist as Shaw’s tormenter, Jason, emerges as the consciousness of the ship’s computer; that arrangement alone might’ve made for some intriguing conflicts in future chapters.  
Tom Sutton is an interesting choice, since he brings so much imagination not only to the story’s hardware, but to the story-telling panel-alignment as well.  I wonder, though, whether the Cockrum-Sinnott cover gave casual SF readers the misleading impression that this would be more of a straightforward space-jaunt, without Doug’s political maneuverings and betrayals, and without Tom’s visual flights of fancy; that alone might’ve been a turn-off for enough fans that Marvel took the hint and put the Seeker on the shelf.  

Marvel Team-Up
Spider-Man and The Man-Thing in
"The Measure of a Man!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein

Peter takes M.J. to the circus, where he sees a captive Man-Thing months after his reported Atlanta rampage (in Man-Thing #19-22) and—sympathetic to him due to their encounter in Giant-Size Spider-Man #5—challenges owner Amos Jardine’s right to exhibit him, but they get the bum’s rush.  That night, returning as Spidey, he is spotted by a security guard, who turns out to be a fan and reveals that while the circus was leaving its winter quarters in Citrusville, Manny was spotted staggering out of the swamp aflame, and dumped in the octopus tank until Jardine could build a habitat to exhibit him.  In a superb display of spider-strength, he shoulders the cage to liberate Manny, pausing en route to web up Jardine and his heavies as the security guard quits.

Nina, a friend of Curt Conners (sic), is flying them to Florida when something disables the plane, with a web-ball saving the humans from the crash and the swamp revitalizing the ailing Manny; sensing that he is still in pain, Spidey follows him as Nina and her partner, whose mayday was picked up by the Air Force, await rescue.  He sees what appears to be an isolated shack, with an old man and a backwoods babe tied up on the porch, believing that Manny has enlisted his aid to rescue them from the deathlike figure of D’Spayre.  As a synthesis of science and magic, Manny instead sees the technically deceased Dakimh the Enchanter and his disciple, Jennifer Kale, captives in a mile-high obsidian tower that projects pure evil, overwhelming the bog-beast’s empathic senses.

Ignoring D’Spayre’s warning, Spidey attacks, and his soul-shredding terror is so abhorrent that Manny must intercede, with the same results as before:  he, too, is stricken with fear, and since whatever knows fear burns at his touch, he is consumed from within.  As he seeks the succor of the swamp, Dakimh explains that D’Spayre threatens the universe, using his tower to twist their souls to evil.  Spidey attacks again, and is almost finished by a second touch, until seeing Manny repeat the cycle over and over to help them makes him snap; forced to confront an ugly part of himself, he beats D’Spayre almost to death but is stopped by Dakimh, who links his power with Jennifer’s to destroy the tower—banishing D’Spayre, albeit temporarily—before they fade away. -Matthew Bradley

Don't try this at home!
Matthew: I consider this gorgeous, somewhat symbolic Byrnstein cover completely emblematic of Chris and John’s rightly revered run, as it puckishly refrains even from showing our hero’s face, although his body language, as he rears back on his cute little web-skiff, is so eloquent in its own right that we probably don’t even need the little “surprised” halo around his head.  It’s ironic that in the same month when Steve Gerber—who didn’t create the Man-Thing, but might as well have—treated the muck-monster so cavalierly in Howard the Duck, Claremont handles him with such consummate grace.  And while they’re not all that legible, it appears that there are tiny tributes to Gerber and Ploog written, respectively, on the porch and the barrel in page 23, panel 5.

There’s something to be said for leaving your audience wanting more, which in my case is certainly true of D’Spayre (who will be back more than once, most often in Dr. Strange), yet while at first glance this felt too short, I’m not sure spinning it out—ha ha—into one of those yummy Claremont/Byrne two-parters is the answer.  I think the problem is actually the pacing, normally one of Chris’s strong points; we could have made do with less time spent on Nina, and especially on those circus scenes.  If I flinched when I saw that Wiacek was the first of John’s post-Hunt serial inkers (his only other MTU credit will be on #100), it’s guilt by association more than anything else after the harrowing experience of Iron Man #108, but Bob does all right.

Chris: Claremont provides another clinic in comics-authorial economy, as he shows us Manny’s capture, discovery, rescue, and rightful return to the swamp, all by the seventh page of the story.  A lesser writer might’ve insisted on more time with Jardine and his circus crew, including a two-page brawl between Spidey and the circus watchmen, which might’ve pushed Spidey and Man-Thing’s zap by D’Spayre toward the end of the comic, instead of the middle; as it is, we get a crisply-done one-shot story, instead of a two-parter with padding.  Nicely done as always, Sir Chris.  

There are a number of nice touches I’d missed on multiple past readings.  Two of Manny’s past creative-folk are acknowledged, as Jardine’s truck has a front plate that reads “Mayerik Co.” (p 6, pnl 3), and the shack has “Gerber Was Here ‘77” scrawled on the porch (p 22 last pnl) [Funny—we both spotted the “Gerber,” but he missed the “Ploog” and I missed the “Mayerik.”  --Prof. Matthew].  The moment that had me laughing out loud this time, though, is on p 3 pnl 6, as Pete feels the need to relate to Manny his efforts to mollify a miffed MJ, who was treated to a steak dinner and a movie after they were tossed out of the circus; “And then,” Pete continues, “at my place, one thing led to another and … well, you know.”  Well, at the tender age when I first read and re-read this – no, I did not know; I had no idea.  Subtly done – more bonus points for Claremont’s point-pile.  (Lastly, we can trust Man-Thing to be discreet.)
Bob Wiacek is not my first choice as inker, but we see how well-suited he is to this swamp-based story; I suppose we might credit editor Archie for purposely bringing Byrne together with Wiacek.  Why not Dave Hunt, you ask, when he’s done such a fine job inking Byrne over the previous nine issues of MTU?  In this case, we’re better off with someone who can provide a heavier, darker look, with shadows; Wiacek brings just that.  For example, note the way Wiacek introduces shading to Spidey as he stands by Man-Thing (page 2, pnl 3; page 3, pnl 6).  
Dare I say: not since Ploog & Chiaramonte have we seen a mucky, bulky, mossy, shambling Man-Thing quite like this one.  Highlights include: the attention-getting splash page (hey, I’d recoil in surprise too, wouldn’t you?); Spidey breaks the habitat loose from the floor, and traps Jardine & Co in a wide-beam web (p 7); the ingenious web-ball, and Man-Thing reconstituting himself from the swamp waters (p 11); D’Spayre’s mind-splitting Tower of Evil, stretching to infinity, from the rarely-seen perspective of Man-Thing himself (p 15); another Man-Thing POV, as he sees D’Spayre as the craggy inhuman demon he truly is, while Spidey is paralyzed by shock (p 16, last pnl); D’Spayre’s Spidey-delivered beat-down, to which Byrne adds intensity by drawing us in closer to the conflict (p 27, last three panels).  I also like the clever Spidey-brella (p 31), and the “now what?” pose Byrne assigns him in the final panel, with Man-Thing silently looking on. 
This is one of two covers we see this month from John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein.  They won’t be paired on a regular title for another two years, a nine-issue run of Captain America.  Why not sooner, on one of Byrne’s other penciled titles?  I have no idea. 

Joe: So, if Spidey has been "paddling through [the] quagmire for three hours" in a little web skiff, wouldn't he have to stop and make a new one every hour? Does he reserve special webbing for more than an hour long that only makes makeshift boats? Well, that's maybe the only false note in another excellent MTU. Well, maybe there's one other—the couple of headshots that look as if the heads were glued on to the bodies. See MJ on page 3 panel 3, and Jennifer Kale on page 14. But I nitpick… Mostly it's a heck of a tale packed with supernatural shenanigans, action, burning Man-Thing (which must not smell very nice), crying Spidey, and a nasty villain who gives our hero a chance to let his anger loose.

Matthew: Bravo, Professor Joe; that skiff-gaffe never even occurred to me.

Marvel Two-In-One 38
The Thing and Daredevil in
"Thing Behind Prison Bars"
Story by Marv Wolfman and Roger Slifer
Art by Ron Wilson and Jim Mooney
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza and Denise Wohl
Cover by Ron Wilson

In his cell, Ben is enraged by his front-page Bugle photo yet persists in believing he’s a menace, while Judge Lucas denies Matt’s request to postpone the trial, with the publicity reducing the chance for an unbiased jury.  Having sensed that Stone’s heartbeat was unnaturally rapid, DD visits his wrecked store in search of clues, and discovers a hot-car ring in the garage behind it, most of whom flee.  He is questioning Ronald about the boss’s whereabouts when Stone himself arrives, defeats DD with his inhuman strength (“He could be a stand-in for Sylvester Stallone”)—despite a face full of paint that should have blinded him—and places the bound hero in a car he pushes off a pier, from which the revived DD barely escapes with his life.

Filled in by Matt, Ben busts out to seek Stone, and a streetwise black kid from last issue’s lineup takes advantage of the hole “Rocky” left in the wall; Ronald directs Ben to a high-tech complex concealed in the sewers, and is “still babbling directions” when DD follows.  They are overrun by robots, one of whose identical “fast, rhythmic heartbeat” explains Stone as an android, and their master reveals himself as the Mad Thinker, whose computers have erroneously concluded that DD is psychic, and can compensate for the unpredictable “x-factor” causing his past defeats (most recently in Fantastic Four #183).  He traps Ben inside a metal dome and floods it with poison gas, vowing to kill him if a captive DD refuses to help—with a power he doesn’t possess! -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Amazing what a little new blood can do.  Mooney may be affectionately known as the Madman, but what he does here with Ron’s pencils is sufficiently superior to the usual Wilson/Marcos mess as to suggest that Jim is crazy like a fox (e.g., page 3, panel 7, above), while in the hands of short-time scripter Slifer, this middle chapter offers hope that despite the annoying four-issue presence of Eugene “The Kid” Everett, the inauspicious trilogy foisted upon Roger by outgoing editor/co-plotter Wolfman might actually be salvaged.  So too does the news that one of my all-time favorites, the Vision—with whom, we may recall, the Thinker has a history of sorts—will guest-star in the conclusion, although of course the danger of mishandling always exists.  Okay cover...

Power-Man and Iron Fist 50
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne, Dave Cockrum, and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum

As Luke Cage, ex-escaped con on the run, celebrates his new-found freedom with his friends, he relates the details of his origin to Danny Rand (aka Iron Fist). As he ends his story, Claire approaches to let Luke know she's done with her life as target practice for Cage's enemies. From here on out, this sister flies alone. Just then, the two fanatical vigilantes, Stiletto and Discus crash through the window, vowing Luke Cage will pay for his crimes despite the recent revelation that Luke is innocent. A major battle erupts and Danny changes into his Iron Fist threads to help out. After Misty Knight's ex-partner, Lt. Scarfe, shows up to arrest the two nuts, Stiletto fires one of his deadly darts at the cop. Believing her partner dead, Misty flips out and threatens to blow the fifth-tier villain's head off but Luke intercedes and, when Scarfe rises unharmed (he had his badge inside his coat pocket!), a happy ending ensues. The cherry on top of the big fat happy cake arrives when Luke accepts an offer from Misty and Colleen to join their private eye firm, Nightwing Restorations. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Call me nuts but I dug this series more when it was Marvel's black sheep (no pun intended); a sell-nothing title always one reader away from cancellation manned by Marv Wolfman and a revolving roster of illustrators. That's more than likely the reason Marv could swing at every pitch and get a run; cuz no one was watching and no one expected greatness. This Luke Cage is not only free but seems to have taken the same elocution course Rocky Balboa took between II and III. Gone is the clever jive and patter; you can't imagine this Luke having an exchange with the evil coffee machine or a guy who dresses like a fish. The bottom-rung foes are still here but they're not used to the same effect as they were during Marv's reign. Stiletto and Discus merely make a dent in the story and there's one too many false reports of death at the conclusion. But, hey, I'm told by several staff members that Claremont is the bomb. I'll keep my "stinkin' mother-huggin'" mind open for now.

Chris: It's not exactly Green Lantern/Green Arrow, is it?  We know already there are faculty members who are unenamored, let us say, by this unlikely pairing.  I've never had a problem with it; this title has an unfair advantage with me, though, since it's the first issue of either character's mag that I ever owned. Claremont thoughtfully includes origin story-elements for both lead players (with more emphasis on Cage, rightfully so); from the start, I gained some understanding of where they’re coming from.  Claremont also provides moments of justification for the budding partnership, as he shows Cage's concern for Danny as he's out on the snowy roof, followed by Cage taking one for the team as he (painfully!!) spares Misty from a Murder One rap; after catching the bullet in his hand, I'd have to say he and Misty are square after the time Luke tossed her around during his raid of Danny’s brownstone (in PM #48).  Now, as for Colleen's broken arm, well, that might take a bit more time to smooth out...

Getting back to GL/GA, it strikes me that an effective team ought to have varied membership, as opposed to the DC duos, which – GL/GA excepted – tended to feature copies of the same character all working together (and later on, GL Corps sorta goes this way, as all the characters have the same power, but very different personalities and backgrounds, etc).  In this case, Luke now has a chance to earn a decent living as a free man, while Danny (who’ll never have to work a day in his life) formalizes the association he’s had with Misty & Colleen, which has contributed to his sense of purpose since he concluded his quest for vengeance against the Meachums.  
Another vote in favor of PM/IF: I much prefer these characters to be joined together, rather than left alone to fade into the background.  Iron Fist already has folded; as for Power Man, how strong do you figure sales have been now that it’s gone bi-monthly?  Instead, both characters can continue in this new second-tier niche; PM/IF stories tend to be about small-time crimes and villains, with hardly any high-stakes world-saving and such.  I for one consistently enjoyed the series, in part because it was a break from the higher-octane stories in my other favorite titles; I appreciate this title on its own modest terms.
As for the art, well, this is as good as it’s going to get; wherever he goes, Byrne is a tough act to follow.  The top-notch action provides countless highlights I recall from repeated re-viewings, such as: Discus & Stiletto’s showy entrance (p 11, foreshadowed by the tiny figures we see in the sky on p 10, last pnl); Danny lands one (p 15, 1st pnl); Colleen brings the hurt (p 17, last pnl); Luke’s extra-classy way of mollifying the miffed momma (p 22, pnl 3); Danny’s vision of Meachum’s face, hovering behind Stiletto’s, on the room-edge (p 23, last pnl); a moment of truth as Stiletto freezes Cage in mid-punch (p 27, last pnl).  Green’s inks waver in-and-out of clarity, but Byrne’s pencils are strong enough to withstand his inconsistency.  
And how about that Cockrum cover!  I’d line up to see that movie on its opening weekend, wouldn’t you -!  

Matthew: Hello, PM&IF, goodbye, Byrne.  Although it pains me to display a lack of enthusiasm for his last work with Claremont on Danny’s book du jour, I can’t work up any for Stiletto and Discus, or fully understand why they’re targeting Luke despite his complete exoneration; perhaps I needed to read their prior appearances to appreciate them better, but this does nothing to contradict my impression, based on my erudite colleagues’ coverage, that Luke's rogues’ gallery isn’t the greatest.  Said exoneration is, of course, a major step (albeit balanced by Claire’s exit until #78, outside this blog’s purview), so we’ll give Chris points for that, and with Iron Fist vet Green applying the inks, the art elicits few complaints—especially on Danny, natch.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 17
"Whatever Happened to the Iceman?"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Dave Hunt
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by John Byrne and Joe Rubinstein

Peter Parker is in LA to cover the demise of The Champions, and while he is waiting in the plaza, two window panes snap out and fall towards the ground! Angel flies down and nabs one, but jet-lagged Peter is forced to jump away at the last second to evade the other, luckily not being seen by Angel or the cops. His camera is smashed, so Angel invites him inside, giving him a snazzy new camera and telling him the Champions are already broken up, with everyone going their separate ways, but Angel is mysterious when asked about Iceman. Peter takes his pics, but later comes back as Spider-Man to investigate the fallen windows, which look like they were pried out on purpose. He spies Angel talking to Clarke, a bandaged man in a wheelchair who has the powerful Rampage under his control and orders him to smash the angry Angel, who is saved by Spidey before he hits the wall and "certain death." (A bit of an exaggeration, Bill!) Spidey calls out the silent Rampage, with Angel trying to stop him, and he's forced to knock out the winged mutant temporarily. Angel comes to in time to short out Clarke's force field (because every good wheelchaired villain has a force field built in to his chair), which hurts Rampage to the point that he sheds his armor to reveal Iceman, a deadly pawn whom Clarke threatened to kill if Angel didn't meet his demands. But he's still following Clarke's last orders—to kill the two heroes! -Joe Tura

Matthew: Might be worth enumerating the respective fates of the non-mutant ex-Champs:  GR “biked off somewhere” (as unlucky readers of his own book, in which he left L.A. altogether, can confirm); Darkstar—who, as we learned in Iron Man, never actually defected to the U.S.—returned home to Mother Russia, with no further discussion for now of her being anything other than human; and Hercules and the Black Widow suddenly, inexplicably decamped for New York.  Perhaps also worth explaining, for the benefit of those who didn’t read Champions—which is presumably most people—that Clarke was Rampage, a competitor of Tony Stark’s who invented his own exoskeleton, and whose career as a super-villain was cut short when he was duped into blowing himself up, nearly dying.  That not only explains his current state, but also gives context for the “Who’s in the Rampage suit?” mystery, especially since in a previous issue, the Champions battled the empty, computer-controlled suit.

Joe: I distinctly remember this one for a couple of reasons. The awesome Byrne cover. The solid Sal B art. Peter's escape from the falling glass pane. The shocking ending with Iceman under the Rampage outfit. But that's entirely the problem with re-reading some of these Marvel comics nearly 40 years after the fact—you can find so much wrong with the books you loved that it's slightly depressing. And that's the case with this month's issue.

Why does Mantlo bother with the half page of Spider-Man zipping to the airport? Yes, it shows "typical Peter," oversleeping and almost missing his flight, but is it necessary? Not really. Can't he have just started on the second half with grumpy Peter covering the Champions' end? And how is it both the cops and Angel are distracted by the shattered glass, so they don't see Peter leap away on page 7? A bit too coincidental, even though Spidey fans are also breathing a sigh of relief that our hero did not get found out. Page 22 rings false for a bunch of reasons. First of all, Clarke says Spidey's webbing "even now dissolves and falls away" from Angel, which is nigh impossible since it supposedly lasts an hour. Is it affected by the West Coast time zone? Jet lag for webbing? Then Spidey's reason for being in CA is "Maybe I heard the Champs were recruiting—and I hopped a plane—."  Um… "maybe?" Then Spidey has the gall to call out Rampage, which is quite out of character. Does anyone remember Spider-Man trying to pick a fight? Is he over-tired? Just a very lazy page by Mantlo here.

Favorite sound effect is a toss-up. I like the mighty "KWHOM!" on page 26 when Rampage sends Spidey and Angel flying, but the shot at Clarke on page 30 as Angel throws a steel rod into the nasty bugger's force field results in not only some cheering from the crowd, but also a jolting "ZZZRAK1!" One of the few bright spots in our story.

Matthew: I love the idea of the Bugle sending Peter to document the break-up of the original hard-luck super-team, and it makes more sense that such a resolution would be found here in another Mantlo mag rather than in Avengers, as was originally announced.  Speaking of which, having just enthused over the Buscema/Hunt pairing in #169, I’m a little lukewarm on the artwork here; it doesn’t help that there’s a weird effect—probably a printing error—making the colors look washed out on pages 22, 27, and 31.  Similarly, welcome as I find all of the where-are-they-now stuff (which for Darkstar forms the connecting link to the current Iron Man), I hope Bill can pull together that somewhat clunky Iceman/Rampage routine.

Chris: As we have our previous MTU team re-assembled, I can’t help but wonder whether this two-parter originally had been scheduled for MTU, and then wound up slotted over here; would make sense, wouldn’t it?  Mantlo’s depiction of the Champions breaking up, within seconds of their defeat of the Sentinels in Champions #17, is a little hard to believe; Ghost Rider’s departure already had been hinted-at, and Darkstar’s is reasonable, but why do the Widow and Herc suddenly pull up stakes and leave town?  It would’ve made sense to present that as occurring later, possibly the following day, and without Warren’s tantruming.  Mantlo does better by the identity of Rampage; I can honestly say I didn’t guess right away that Bobby Drake is inhabiting the Rampage suit.  I’ll be intrigued to hear how Clarke got him in there – and, at least now Warren and Pete don’t have to worry about having to get Drake out of the suit.  Another curious moment is at the very end, as Warren states Bobby is “far deadlier commanding his own powers than he was as Rampage;” how so?  When was Iceman ever “deadly” -?

I want to state for the record that I bought this comic strictly on the promise of its Byrne cover.  Joe Rubinstein is here, and is inking covers; why would he not be finishing interior pencils as well?  I’ve made no secret of my admiration for Dave Hunt, but this isn’t his strongest effort; the quality of the art does pick up as the issue goes on, but that’s following a few early pages (such as 6-7) where the faces appear a bit flat.  

Star Wars 10
"Behemoth from the World Below"
Story by Roy Thomas, Howard Chaykin, and Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg, Howard Chaykin, and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by Francoise Mouly
Cover by Rick Hoberg and Tony DeZuniga

The fight against Serji-X Arrogantus and his Cloud Riders isn’t going as planned for the mis-matched Star Warriors, when the colony shaman summons a giant monster to take part in the battle, a monster that can fire lethal laser beams from its forehead. Serji-X and his men attack the beast while Arrogantus spots the shaman controlling it and dives his sky speeder right for him. However, the villain does not realize the monster is coming toward them and both the outlaw chief and the shaman are crushed by the creature’s gigantic foot. However, even though Serji-X is no longer an issue, the death of the shaman makes the monster uncontrollable.  Han realizes that the monster will rampage through the settlement and since he was hired to protect it, he convinces his unwilling team to attack the monster. After a few close calls, Don-Wan Kihotay takes his lightsaber and goes off to face the demon himself, considering it a Jedi test of sorts. He holds his own, but defeat is looming when Hedji the Spiner realizes they should be helping him, not watching the old man fight to his death. Hedji joins Don-Wan and fires his quills, but the monster retaliates and obliterates the Spiner with a single laser bolt. Han realizes the light saber is the key, drawing the monster’s bolts like a lightning rod. With Chewie’s help, Han grabs the saber and jams it into the monster’s chest, killing it. The threats to the farming colony now taken care of, the heroes are paid and the Starkiller Kid stays behind at the settlement now that he is finally seen for his true worth. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This is the least Star Warsy issue yet, however it has all the ingredients of a proper Star Wars story: Han; a kid who looks like Luke; an old (alleged) Jedi Knight; and a huge monster. But, it doesn’t quite ring true. Maybe it’s the big green talking bunny rabbit. Or perhaps it’s the lousy dialog. Nah, George Lucas never had an ear for speech either. It just doesn’t come together well. Serji-X is disposed of in perfunctory fashion, leaving the bulk of the page count devoted to the fight against the monster with the laser forehead. Hedji is killed in such a way that it’s easy to miss. Just a zap and nobody sheds a tear or even mentions his death. Actually, it’s referenced next issue in the recap, but without that, I would have just thought they forgot to draw him. Fun enough, I guess, but next issue the long, epic storytelling this mag was known for begins and the art takes an…interesting turn.

Chris: I seem to recall not being wowed by this story.  While I did re-read it several times when I’d first added this issue to my collection, and I remember elements of the art from every page, I’m certain I reached a point when I left these Star Wars comics in the box, and focused my attentions elsewhere.  I had mentioned in my comments for SW #9 that Roy & Howie had brought some of the excitement from the movie to that issue; well, maybe so, but they fail to build on it here, as the issue is spent hiding behind rocks with Han & Chewie, as they watch the aged would-be knight tilt at the windmill/monster.  I’m not sure if it would’ve made much of a difference if Roy had been all-in on this issue, instead of handing-off the plot to Don Glut for scripting; the fact is, there simply isn’t enough for our title characters to do.  The ending doesn’t make any sense, either, as Han’s swipe of the lightsaber at the monster somehow makes it shimmer and disappear.  While I’m at it, we also get zero progress on Leia’s search for Luke, as she’s accomplished nothing from last issue to this one except break orbit of Yavin-4.

One lukewarm story should not have been sufficient to preclude me, a dedicated Star Wars zombie from the beginning, from following the continuing adventures of our plucky heroes.  No, I stayed away from nearly every future chapter of the Star Wars comic for one reason: Carmine Infantino, whose loose lines and vague figures will prove particularly ill-suited to the content of this title.  You’ll see what I mean next issue.  
Matthew: I don’t know what to make of the art credits for the conclusion of our little Space Samurai tetralogy, for let’s remember that Sturges et alia borrowed the story as well.  Chaykin is listed as “artist” and Palmer as “co-artist/embellisher,” yet the layouts are a one-off attributed to Kupperberg (who in June will join scriptwriter Glut as the second and final Invaders creative team); what the hell does that mean?  In any case, this also marks the finale for co-plotters Chaykin and Thomas, since they have decided to move on to other projects—e.g., Thor, in editor Roy’s case—as the book devolves upon soon-to-be-ex-EIC Archie Goodwin and the dreaded Carmine Infantino, almost until I finally come to my senses and drop the damned thing after #57.

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 11
"Tarzan Triumphs!"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Based on the novel
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema, Tony DeZuniga, Neal Adams, and Joe Rubinstein
Color by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Neal Adams

Noticing Chulk in the trees above them, Tarzan tries an ingenious gambit to effect an escape:  he barks commands to the ape, pretending to converse with Werper in a language that he slyly tells the Belgian officer is Greek.  Spotted descending from her arboreal refuge, Jane falls into the hands of Abdul Mourak, who typically plans to hold her for ransom; that night, the Mangani free the prisoners, and by an incredible (if thoroughly Burroughsian) coincidence, the mortally wounded Chulk collapses atop Werper, who again conceals the jewels on his person.  As he feigns leading her husband to Jane’s last known location, a scream summons Tarzan, yet having agreed to stay there, the fugitive “passes…out of the sight of his fellow man—forever.”

Tarzan finds chaos in the camp of Abdul Mourak, to which the smell of horses has drawn some marauding lions, and after saving Jane by first bludgeoning Numa with a rifle and then impaling him on its broken stock, he takes her away, leaving the Abyssinians to their fate.  Past the ruins of Achmet Zek’s camp, razed by the vengeful Waziri, they return home, content at losing both gold and jewels as long as they have each other, but are delighted to find Mugambi alive and the gold recovered.  In an epilogue, months later, the Greystokes have rebuilt their home and embark on a hunting trip, during which they find the pouch on Werper’s skeleton; having switched the jewels for gravel at the Abyssinian camp, Mugambi laughs until he sees it contains the real thing. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Curiously, the MCDb attributes the inking of only two issues—this and the concurrent Human Fly #8—to the “New York [as opposed to Ghost Rider's “N.Y.”] Tribe,” no doubt kissing cousins to the Crusty Bunkers; here, they also enumerate Tony DeZuniga and Neal Adams, presumably as members of said Tribe.  Be that as it may, and allowing for its inevitable inconsistency, the artwork generally maintains this book’s high standards, achieving an excellent mood with its jungle shadows and notching a de rigueur full-page money shot.  After doing more than his fair share of compression last time out, Roy is back in high-fidelity mode for the conclusion of his almost year-long, albeit sporadic, adaptation of TATJOO, right down to ERB’s last line:  “let his sins lie with his bones.”

Chris: It’s hard to mistake the enjoyment Roy & John bring to their handling of this character’s tale.  Take, for example, the sequence when Tarzan calls the apes to free him from the Congolese soldiers (p 7-10): the contingent of “hairy devils” plunges from the trees; the soldiers are awakened, and terrorized by their perception that the jungle belongs to Tarzan, who is “more than just a man!”; the officer succeeds via the sharp report of a gunshot to scatter some of the apes into the moonlight; undaunted, Tarzan raises his voice, in a commanding call to the mangani to heed his word (energetic close-up from Big John), and free him from the soldiers’ camp.  In its way, the sequence suggests first, then affirms, Tarzan’s unique place in this environment.

There’s really nothing groundbreaking about the composition of the story itself: good guy finds a clever way to free himself from an obstacle; good guy trusts bad guy, just because good guys give bad guys the benefit of the doubt; bad guy meets his comeuppance, due to his own greed and/or stupidity.  Storylines continue to play out in very similar ways in our popular media; the facet we’ve lost, though, is the setting, as the mystique of the Dark Continent has been compromised in the face of the depthless poverty and dysfunction that has dominated news accounts for that region since Burroughs’ time.  

The Mighty Thor 270
"Minute of Madness -- Dark Day of Doom!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga

After having defeated the Stilt-Man, Thor is assaulted by Blastaar, the being from the Negative Zone. Should he defeat Thor, Blastaar is faced with a promise of unconditional rule of his homeland. The being pulling the villain's strings is as yet unknown. Blastaar presses his attack, and Thor is in considerable danger, having been separated from his hammer. In sixty seconds he will revert to Don Blake, an appetizer for the Bomb-Burst. As fate would have it, that instant he becomes mortal again, Thor is unseen, having been tossed into an alley seconds before the transformation takes place. When Blastaar follows, he finds only a lame physician, who wisely saves his skin by pretending Thor had fled past him. The alien decides to forget Thor for the time being and leaves. Blake goes back to get his walking stick, which has been taken by some street ruffians. When he asks for it back, their leader refuses to return it except as a blow to the head. Don ducks, and grabs his walking stick. The result is the return of Thor, and the panicked fleeing of the gang. Meanwhile, Blastaar has taken the metal chest containing the stolen radioactive material to his mechanical boss, who reveals he was once a victim of his ally's attack. Thor manages to track the location of their headquarters (the remains of a highly advanced, fully-automated factory called F.A.U.S.T., victim of a mysterious radiation explosion and whose creator is serving time in jail for murdering his former partner) with Tony Stark's help, and shows up. Blastaar heads outside to meet him. As they battle, F.A.U.S.T. uses the new radioactive energy to complete its transformation into a rocket ship that blasts off  and heads into Earth's orbit. Sensing his master's betrayal shocks Blastaar, and he runs to the portal leading to the Negative Zone. He makes it through before Thor can stop him, but finds no promised rule, and instead is transformed into positive atoms that float to the centre of the Neutral Zone... and imminent destruction.  -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Although Blastaar seems a bit out of place in the pages of Thor, he's still a reasonably powerful foe who gives Thor two decent fights. Now, the obvious question is: why doesn't Mjolnir return to Thor's hand in the early going? Well, I guess it gives us the suspense of knowing Blake would be dinner if he didn't manage to escape! Sheer luck pulls him through to fight another day. Tony Stark gives us the hint that Iron Man will indeed be here next month for the battle against said F.A.U.S.T. (what a pain that name is!). Another question: why is Blastaar willing to serve this entity? Fear? The promise of power? And why does he believe his master will keep his word should he defeat Thor? We'll know so enough!

Matthew: Wow.  As if pitting the Stilt-Man against Thor and pairing him with Blastaar weren’t weird enough, Wein ends his long Asgardian tenure next issue by dredging up FAUST from well-deserved obscurity in his own Marvel Team-Up #18 to serve as the string-puller, and while that may or may not constitute going out with a bang, it sure is different!  Speaking of bangs, Blastaar is, if you’ll pardon the pun, such a forceful personality that it seems a shame to have him constantly forced into minion-mode, as he is both here and in Inhumans #1-2, where, as some may recall, the Kree/Maximus Axis of Evil freed him from that adamantium prison for their own nefarious purposes.  But hold on, Len—since when does merely touching his cane turn Dr. Don into Thor?

Chris: Blastaar is the sort of power-packer who makes a fitting foe for our Asgardian god of thunder.  This is another comic that I read dozens of times within the year I had purchased it from the newsstand; I can’t remember how long it’s been since the last time I read it, though.  One thing I’m sure of is that issues like this went a long way to sell me as a Simonson fan, evidenced by: an infuriated, drenched Blastaar (p 3, pnl 4); Thor’s light-infused transformation, as he stands statuesque (p 10, pnl 4); Blastaar’s shoulder-tackle of Thor (p 22, pnl 4); Thor’s hammer dispatches Blastaar with a BROK! (p 23, pnl 2), then deflects a bomb-burst with a sha-KOOM! (p 4).  

Simonson also helps sell the moment as Blastaar blindly plunges into FAUST’s portal and into the Negative Zone (p 27-30), thereby defeating himself.  As Blastaar seems certain to perish, I wonder whether writers like Len create situations like this as a sort of challenge to other Marvel writers, as if to say: “Hey fellas, if you ever want to use Blastaar in another story, let’s see you bring him back safely from this!”  After all, Len had to solve the puzzle after Blastaar had been trapped in an adamantium-sphere at the bottom of the ocean; so now, let’s see who can bring him back from the explosive center of the Negative Zone!

Matthew: As noted, Inhumans scribe Moench had already handled Blastaar’s liberation from the deep.

What If? 8
"What If the World Knew Daredevil Was Blind?"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Jim Mooney
Colors by Mary Ellen Beveridge
Letters by Karin Kish

"What If the Spider Had Been Bitten by a Radioactive Human?

Story and Art by Scott Shaw
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Carol Lay
Cover by Gil Kane and Klaus Janson

The Watcher revisits Daredevil #2, wherein the hero defeated a gaggle of goons working for Electro, who then moved on to the FF, and Matt Murdock turned down Karen Page's offer of a special eye surgeon to help cure his blindness. At the Baxter Building, DD showed up to stop Electro, throwing the room into darkness and getting zapped when he stopped to pick up a dumbbell bolted to the floor. But on a parallel Earth…just as Daredevil reaches the dumbbell, Spider-Man busts through a window after spotting Electro, so DD is ready for the jolt. But after Electro is defeated, he realizes his lightning bolts should have at least blinded the man, so he asks Daredevil what color his costume is, and he can't answer! Spidey is beside himself, and the two trade origin stories as he criticizes the yellow and red costume (which DD trades in for the all red one). The Daily Bugle publishes the news that DD is blind, which catches the attention of The Owl, who plots to get Matt Murdock, blind attorney, to be his lawyer. When Owl battles DD in the law offices, the amplified hooting noises throw off the hero's super senses, but he's able to save Karen, who easily figures out Matt is actually Daredevil—annoying poor lovelorn Foggy Nelson.

With more urging from Karen, Matt agrees to go see the eye specialist Dr. Von Eyck, who is in Lichtenbad, as it played out in Daredevil #9. Duke Klaus Kruger is also on the plane and survives an assassination attempt, but is quite the tyrant. After the operation, Von Eyck is taken away for daring to whisper against Kruger, so Matt changes into DD to see what the evil ruler's story is, ending up in a brawl that has the doctor figuring out DD's identity, and Kruger setting off an atomic pile! Von Eyck tries to stop it, but DD is able to help shut off the atomic pile—which wipes out his super senses! The operation is a success, though, and Matt heads home with Karen able to see for the first time since he was a boy. Soon after, the Owl returns to get revenge on Judge Lewis, who sent him up the river, with Murdock as the "defense" attorney. He calls a witness—Daredevil, who is unaffected by the hooting contraption this time, brawling with Owl's minions, saving the judge, and stopping Owl from escaping on his giant robot bird, which crashes and explodes—unable to save Owl since his vanished super senses couldn't pick up the ticking bomb. Matt retires as Daredevil and is elected D.A., once again upsetting poor Foggy, while the former horn-head lives happily every after.

Our humorous short backup story is called "What if the Spider had Been Bitten by a Radioactive Human?" Teen-age spider Webster Weaver, living with Aunt Mayfly and Uncle Bug, attending school at Aboutknee High (ugh…), and freelancing at the Daily Beagle for J. Jonah Jackass (hardee har har), takes a trip to the Big City Science Exhibit, where he's bitten by a radiated scientist, gaining the power of a "human bean." The Man-Spider, as Webster calls himself, becomes a TV star, but lets a crook get away, one who had killed his Uncle Bug. The Man-Spider devotes his life to fighting crime, including "super-stinkers" like The Green Gobbler, Culture Vulture, "Octo" Doctorpuss, The Cat O' Nine Tails, and Porkius, The Living Ham-pire. Trying to stop an evil blackmailer, Man-Spider discovers it’s Raze, the "bug killer" who was also the crook that got away, and he escapes an explosion that kills the evil spray can and avenges Uncle Bug -Joe Tura    

Matthew:  Am I the only one who thought that backup story looked like Hembeck?  

Joe: The first thing that strikes me about this What If? story is that it's not as bad as I expected it to be, as a lot of these have been all these years later. It's not Miller-level Daredevil, but it's not awful. The art is passable, the script references all the early DD stories, and the obligatory Spidey cameos are OK. The second, and more distressing thing is that Matt is a complete douche to Foggy Nelson throughout just about the whole story. He and Karen even go so far as to ditch out of the offices when his super hearing picks up Foggy arriving on page 18. Maybe it's Karen that guides his selfishness, blinded (ha ha) by her love for Matt and talking him into the operation that changes everyone's lives. Either way, Foggy gets the shaft.

The wacky comedy story is a complete satire of the Spider-Man story, reversing it to an actual spider and adding more puns than there are webs on the Man-Spider's costume. J. Jonah Jackass is inspired if not an easy mark, and the script and art by Scott Shaw are both average and slightly entertaining. Not really a Not Brand Echh attempt at laughs, but a What If? parody, complete with Roy as the Watcher, which I'm sure cracked up at least Mr. Thomas himself.

Matthew: The overall premise, which came up constantly in the “real” world, was good, but again they tried to have their cake and eat it, too, with this DD’s life paralleling ours so closely despite the revelation, and the mechanism that achieved it seemed clumsy.  DD and Spidey go way back, so their camaraderie was welcome, although I found their fight with Electro difficult to follow.  I have favorable memories of Kupperberg’s upcoming Invaders stint with Glut, and he is well paired with Mooney here; to my mind, they beautifully evoke the Orlando/Wood feel of the early issues, while having read #3 (the Owl’s debut) a thousand times in its 1969 Marvel Super-Heroes reprint, I believe Matt’s dialogue in page 15, panel 3, at least, is quoted verbatim.

Chris: Our accommodating armadillo apprises us of a faction of letter-writers who have requested a break from the trend of downbeat endings in the early editions of What If?  To me, the unfortunate outcomes of these speculative tales tend to be the most satisfying; if anything, they help to underscore how well the given character is doing in the mainstream Marvel Universe, where he hasn’t lost his powers, isn’t dead, etc.  

So in this outing, I credit Don Glut and Roy Thomas for their step-by-step recounting of Daredevil’s early career, but it’s strange how, either way  – regardless of whether Daredevil has his sight, or whether Matt Murdock decides to hang up his crimson longjohns – he’s going to be A-Ok.  That’s fine; I don’t begrudge the character a satisfying life, with his bigshot job, comfortable brownstone, and adoring wife.  But the story itself has no sting, no insurmountable obstacle, whether the end-result is salutary or sorrowful.  It doesn’t help, on the last page of the Daredevil story, as the Watcher tantalizingly asks us, what if Daredevil had continued “being Daredevil, without extra senses?”  I expected from that point we would move on to the horn-headed zinger-moment, but it was not to be.  If we really had to have a happy ending, it seems there still would’ve been an opportunity to present the unfortunate ending first, then Uatu could’ve turned the page to the crowd-pleasing sunshine-and-rainbows in a different dimension; that would’ve been fine.
The Kupperberg/Mooney art is exactly as acceptable as you might expect it to be; it helps that Mooney has inked numerous issues of Daredevil, so our title character looks fine.  Kupperberg makes some strange choices on the layouts for the Watcher, though, as his arms appear either too long or overly muscle-bound, or both; I found the tiny-headed image with the immense, upraised left arm on p 2 (last panel) to be particularly (unintentionally) comical.  

Mark: WHAT IF you could retroactively cancel a thirty-eight year old comic based on one wretched issue?

We'll never know, barring getting bitten by a radioactive physicist that then allows me to morph spacetime, but in my bile-high mood over wasting a half-hour of life on offal that would make Ed Wood blush, it's doubtful I'd practice Watcher-like restraint. 

How do I hate thee? Start with "artist" Alan Kupperberg's Thalidomide baby Watcher and Don Glut choosing as a jumping off point for this shit* show the lame-o Daredevil #2 idea of Electro as two-bit car thief, and that's only page one!

Work in the bizarre notion that the Thing's five thousand pound barbell in the Baxter Building needs to be "bolted to the floor," as if Willy Lumpkin's gonna walk off with it.

Posit that, even in the revolving door, catch 'n' release penal system of the early Silver Age Marvel U, Electro would be allowed to hold "a special press conference from state prison" to announce DD is blind. 

Make us hoot in derision over the Owl's anti-radar sense machine that "...emits all manner of conflicting odors."

Ditto the Owl allowing Matt to exit his kangaroo court to "find a witness" on the bird-brained baddie's own tiny island fortress, all so he won't be able to guess DD's identity when he re-enters in uniform " less than a minute." That Stan the Man originated this palpable nonsense is no excuse for Glut now rooting it out of the garbage, when early foes like the Purple Man and Mr. Fear, almost Shakespearian in comparison, were readily available. Even editor Roy Thomas is tainted by the stench of this one. 

How bad is it?  

Imagine five pounds of rotten shrimp and Limburger cheese, swaddled in dirty diapers and steaming on a hot radiator in a small closet...

What's that, Forbush?

No, it's not time for lunch.

*Normally I have our Esteemed Dean symbol-censor any expletives, in deference to freshmen of tender sensibilities (and their tuition-paying parents), but in this case only the ole unexpurgated Anglo-Saxon will serve.

The X-Men 110
"The 'X'-Sanction!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Dave Cockrum and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Andy Yanchus
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

A rare period of downtime for the mutants as the X-Men spend the afternoon playing softball. It gets a bit heated as Colossus rounds the bases to face Wolverine, who pops his claws. Wolverine is mildly humiliated, but is calmed down a bit by Jean. Moira MacTaggert returns to the mansion to meet the telephone repair man. When he arrives, she is momentarily stunned by his apparent plastic surgery, but lets him in. The man, named Mitchell Tanner, shoots her with a drugged bullet, while a separate consciousness in his head gives him instructions. The game over, Wolverine asks Jean to shoot some pool, but Cyclops insists on a Danger Room session instead. They prep as Jean and Professor X talk when suddenly they are taken down by Tanner. When the rest of the team finally enters the Danger Room, Cyclops receives a hard telepathic bolt from Jean. Too late. The door slams shut and Tanner is in control of the Danger Room. However, each member handles their own challenges well. Finally, Tanner, calling himself Warhawk, challenges Wolverine, who accepts. It’s nearly a draw when Colossus steps up and decks Warhawk. After he is taken away, Professor X is concerned that Warhawk’s thoughts were shielded, which may indicate a larger threat. However, Wolverine speaks for them all when he says they’ll be ready to take on any comers. -Scott McIntyre

Scott: This fill-in issue is the last break in the Claremont/Byrne run until Byrne leaves the book in about two years (not including the annual). While Claremont tries to make the story fit into the continuity, the personalities are still too embryonic compared to the turn the book almost immediately took when Byrne came on. Wolverine in particular is closer to his “wild killer” mode than the more fleshed out three-dimensional character who only wanted to get close enough to a deer just to touch it. He pops his claws during a softball game, for crying out loud, and mentally threatens to kill Colossus the next time they tangle. Also, he’s got this thing for Jean, which was dying down by this time, but is now back to the fore. And why is there a bout with the Dreaded Deadline Doom so soon after the last fill-in? This wasn’t a monthly title at this point. How slow did Byrne draw? The art is passable, and the story fast moving, but it amounts to very little. There are no answers to the questions Professor X poses at the end and we won’t see Warhawk again before this blog runs its course.

Matthew:  I’m guessing Professor Scott did not have access to the lettercol, which sheds considerable light on the genesis of what they call an “intentional” fill-in.  It’s a “fill-in” only in the sense that DeZuniga was commissioned to fill in for then-penciler Cockrum (thanked here for an unspecified “welcome art assist”) and buy him some time, but it is by no means one of those pre-emptive inventory stories that sat on the shelf until it was needed to plug a Dreaded Deadline Doom-created hole in the schedule.  It was written by Claremont to be in continuity, and scheduled to be the team’s first adventure after returning to Earth, hence the numerous references to their recent extra-dimensional escapades.  It was bumped from #109 to #110 to give readers the chance to acclimate to Byrne after the rapid-fire Brown/Cockrum/Byrne turnover of #106-108.  Busy month for DeZuniga, who in addition to inking Spider-Woman and Thor served alongside Alcala—per the Comic Book Database—as one of the unnamed N.Y. Tribesmen on Ghost RiderClaremont must love that Warhawk, whom he introduced in Marvel Premiere #23, because he keeps bringin’ him back, although presumably his “Master” here is not the more mundane one he was reporting to in Black Goliath #2-3; as usual I appreciate Tony as an artist in his own right, and the story is solid.

Chris: So, what do you do when even the Danger Room panic button has been overridden?  Scott’s solution makes sense, so much so I’m surprised Warhawk isn’t waiting on the far side of the door (as Scott expects him to be, thereby including Wolverine in the outgoing ‘port with Nightcrawler).  

Warhawk states to Wolverine that his mission is reconnaissance, and he is not to “kill any of you” if he “could possibly avoid it;” well, he cuts it as close as he can, doesn’t he, especially with lasers randomly firing at “full power,” and Storm and Nightcrawler plunging from a thirty-foot height in an airtight sack.  And what happens to the oversized metallic “colosso,” once it’s smeared Colossus in paste (which Peter tells us has stuck to him “like glue"; well, naturally); how does Peter get clear of the paste, and lead the charge thru the Danger Room door?  The action makes the issue, though, even if the story isn’t as solid or compelling as Claremont’s usual efforts; now, if we were to discover the identity of Warhawk’s mightily-powered handler, well, that would be worth something.

DeZuniga’s art has its moments, and while overall it’s better than I remember (clearly, I’ve been required to spend a fair amount of time looking at his art for other titles, haven’t I?), still I’m relieved this is his only appearance as X-illustrator; he certainly turns in a better-looking issue than Bob Brown’s ill-suited turn in XM #106.  Highlights include: Jean’s misty fade-out after she’s hit with a dart (p 11, pnl 3); Scott’s frantic attempt to open the door (p 15, last two panels); Wolverine’s attack on Warhawk (p 26, as Wolvie continues to get his moments in the spotlight).  Dave Cockrum is credited with an art assist, but aside from a few faces on page 1, I don’t see anything else that appears to be his style.  
I’m waiting for Claremont to move Logan on from his preoccupation with Jean.  Jean’s concerns about her Phoenix-powers, which she can’t seem to discuss with anyone, are the one significant characterization element in the story, so I hope Claremont will continue to attend to that (something tells me he will).  So, now that Jean has asked to officially resume full-time status with the team, do we see her face added to the cover, in the box on the upper-left corner?  How ‘bout it, guys?  Guys ..?

Also This Month

Crazy #36
< Devil Dinosaur #1
Flintstones #4
Human Fly #8
Machine Man #1 >
Man From Atlantis #3
Marvel Comics Classics #28
Scooby Doo #4

I hadn’t added back issues of 2001: A Space Odyssey to my collection yet, so this Collectors’ Item First Issue was my introduction to Jack’s latest character; this title was the only one of Kirby’s Bronze-era projects that I followed consistently.  Machine Man – civilian name of Aaron Stack – is an interesting character.  He isn’t the usual automaton who spends his days wondering about his identity; instead, Stack knows himself fairly well, and simply wants to go about his business in the world of humans.  The approach to the story is far less ambitious this time, as compared to the Eternals, and that surely is a sound decision.  
I will level a slight criticism, regarding Jack’s tendency to go a bit nuts with the gadgetry, as each issue (if memory serves) seems to offer a function that appears only once, then retreats into the metal frame, never to be seen again; this issue, Machine Man has treads that allow him to roll away from attacking troopers (p 31).  

Kirby’s dynamic art goes a long way to help sell this title.  I clearly recall the hiker-rescue sequence, with its long vertical panels emphasizing the great distance to the ground below (p 3).  I enjoy the nonchalant way Aaron lifts and removes the giant fallen oak (p 11, 14).  The battle on the grassy plain is action-packed, with the moment of the shattering sonic rifle a well-remembered highlight (p 30, last pnl). -Chris Blake


The Rampaging Hulk 8
Cover by Ken Barr

“The Hulk's Really Got a Hold On Me”
Text by David Anthony Kraft

“A Gathering of Doom”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Alfredo Alcala

“Gallery of Villains”
Text by David Anthony Kraft
Art by George Perez, Terry Austin, Pablo Marcos and Joe Sinnott

“Earth Shall Have a New Master!”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Alan Kupperberg, Rod Santiago and Rudy Mesina

Doug Moench has already rewritten history by offering new takes on the Hulk’s first meetings with both the X-Men and Namor — so why stop there? Here he reimagines the Jolly Green Giant’s initial encounter with Iron Man, Thor, Wasp and Ant-Man. In “reality,” these heroes first joined forces to battle Loki in The Avengers #1 (September 1963). This magazine has it that the fivesome accidentally came together to fight the highly advanced but oddly bumbling Krylorian invaders. Yes, it’s a total goof, but a fairly enjoyable one. Just turn off your brain and wade in.

After a decent frontispiece featuring the Hulk battling Thor by Terry Austin — not sure I’ve seen him pencil anything at this point — we jump into “A Gathering of Doom.” Greenskins, Rick Jones and Bereet are in a mountainous region outside of Rome when a trio of alien saucers flies by overhead. After following the ships to their secret base inside a mountain, Rick hears two of the Krylorians talking about a “Grand Convocation” that will soon take place in New York City. The Hulk, tired of hiding in the shadows, attacks, and literally brings down the mountain, destroying the base. The trio enters Bereet’s Banshee Mask and blast off towards the Big Apple — the Hulk soon transforms back into Bruce Banner.

The city is currently experiencing a rash of UFO sightings and for good reason: the Krylorians' master base is located under the construction site for the upcoming World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows. A key point of the aliens' master plan for conquering the Earth is seizing Stark Munitions — but the sprawling compound is under the protection of the invincible Iron Man. The leader hatches a plan: one of their shape-shifters will assume shellhead’s form and draw the real thing out in the open.

Meanwhile, Banner, Rick and Bereet land in Central Park. Jones leaves to alarm the Fantastic Four about the Krylorians — he’ll hook up with the doctor and the disguised woman later at the Metropolitan Museum. As the friends depart, the faux Iron Man begins a destructive rampage, blasting the 59th Street Bridge with his not-so-groovy chest heat-beam. When Rick discovers that the Fantastics are not home at the Baxter Building, he rushes to the museum, overhearing a report of the bridge attack over a patrol car’s radio along the way. After he tells Banner and Bereet the news, they run off to the scene of the mayhem. However, two other museum visitors hear Rick’s shocking report: Henry Pym and Janet Van Dyne aka Ant-Man and the Wasp. The couple suit up, shrink down and fly after them, Pym borne aloft by a winged ant. 

When Banner and company arrive under the crumbling bridge, he Hulks out and a raging battle with the armored imposter begins — an oil tanker in the harbor explodes during the fracas. Suddenly, drawn by the explosion, the mighty Thor arrives, soon followed by the real Iron Man.

At 32 pages, “A Gathering of Doom” is a pretty mindless start to this two-parter. Like most of the Hulk stories in this magazine, there’s a na├»ve air about it: I assume that Doug Moench was trying to capture the mood of what was a simpler time. In my opinion, Doug makes a mistake with his handling of the fake Iron Man’s thought balloons. They are too human-like as he has odd thoughts like “Fortunate my repulsor ray works so well. Perhaps I can become a hero — defeating both the Hulk and the real Iron Man” and “No! My armor’s no match for his strength! He’ll crush me!” It’s almost like we should be rooting for the imposter since he shows doubt and fear throughout instead of ruthlessness and evil. As usual, this one is packed with smashing. It takes Hulk four pages to destroy the Krylorian base at the beginning as his anger turns from the aliens to the mountain itself. The fight with the Shellhead doppelganger runs across eight pages: this causes much more destruction than the initial attack on the 59th Street Bridge. Following Walt Simonson, Jim Starlin and Keith Pollard, Handsome Herb Trimpe steps in and, let’s face it, he’s a natural for the magazine. I have always had a soft spot for Herb from his lengthy run on the color Hulk comic. But it’s tough to spot his style under the luxurious inks of my man Alfredo Alcala. Obviously, that’s not a complaint.

After a one issue break, Ulysses Bloodstone returns in the back-up story, “Earth Shall Have a New Master!” This one mercifully wraps up the seven-part storyline. As if the whole affair wasn’t odd enough, the final chapter is not even written by John Warner, the hack who handled the first six installments, but my nemesis Steve Gerber. Why? Don’t know and don’t care. Gerber, to his credit, jettisons many of Warner’s useless plot points — Killer Shrike, Modular Man, European correspondent Philip Lerou — and just brings things to a deserving end. But it is Gerber, so he does deliver plenty of Warner’s obtuse metaphysical meanderings. I’ll try to gloss over that junk as much as I can.

The monster Sharzan delivers Bloodstone to Kaballa, the demonic leader of The Conspiracy. Kaballa mockingly informs the immortal mercenary that he has been the pawn of the bloodgem shard on his chest for the last 10,000 years: the sentient stone was simply looking for a mobile host to observe mankind’s evolution. Meanwhile, Samantha Eden is researching the “Yesod is in Cancer” clue at the New York Public Library when she is approached by the mysterious Mr. Domino — he informs her that Bloodstone is dead. At the same time, Brad Carter arrives at Bloodstone Island to find it destroyed — a strange alien appears and disintegrates the former actor with a laser pistol. 

Back at Kaballa’s underground lair, the villain then introduces his captive to the rest of The Conspiracy: Centurius; Atlan, a mystic dolphin; Bubbles O’Day, a stripper; and famous cardiologist Juden Bardham who will remove the gem from Ulysses’ chest. After the operation is completed and Bloodstone lies dead on the operating table, the conspirators transport themselves to the Altar of the Blood-Gem to reunite the five fragments. 

Suddenly, the corpse of Bloodstone is reanimated by the gem’s residual energy: he dives into the black pool in the center of the cavern and emerges in Central Park. Alerted by screams, the living dead man rushes to the scene of the ruckus. There he encounters the blood-gem, now transformed into a crystal behemoth, the souls of the conspirators torturously trapped within. Bloodstone’s third eye activates and he is drawn inside the towering titan — there he destroys the Hellfire Helix, the force behind the blood-gem. The creature explodes into a million fragments and Bloodstone’s corpse falls to the street below, now a smoldering skeleton.

Thank Jebus that’s over. Gerber’s 20-page conclusion is just as wackadoodle and uninteresting as anything that Warner pooped out before. It looks like Ulysses Bloodstone is well and truly dead — again, thank Jebus — but his background will be expanded in flashback form in a Captain America storyline in 1989. Guess someone thought they could get blood from a stone. Ouch! But let me get in one more swipe at Gerber before I move on: he has Kaballa introduce Bubbles O’Day (Bubbles O’Day?!?!?!) as an ecdysiast. Seriously? Would any one reading this mag know that means a stripper? And a stripper? Give me a friggin’ break.

The Rampaging Hulk #8 also includes “The Hulk's Really Got a Hold On Me,” an editorial by David Anthony Kraft. There’s nothing much here: Kraft just talks of his fondness for the Hulk, claiming to have bought all of the six issues of his original series. But “Gallery of Villains” is a nice little treat, especially for fans of George Perez — and who isn’t? Not really sure why it’s called “Villains,” since there are some good guys in the mix: “Gallery of Characters That Appeared in Tales to Astonish” would have been more accurate. Perez provides neat one-page pin-ups, teamed with various inkers: Giant-Man inked by himself; the Secret Empire and the Stranger, both inked by Terry Austin; the Abomination (Pablo Marcos); and the Silver Surfer (Joe Sinnott).

We get another boffo cover by Ken Barr, who has done half of them so far. But why is it so generic? I have to assume he didn’t know what the contents of the magazine were because you’d figure he’d feature the ersatz Avengers. That would have probably helped sales. Next issue is the last set in the 1960s: after that we get a name change, go full-color and start aping the TV series. Groan. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Preview 13
Cover by Jim Starlin

"The UFO Connection Part 1"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Herb Trimpe and Klaus Janson

"The UFO Connection Part 2"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Herb Trimpe and Pablo Marcos
When your Marvel Magazine credits are "Conceived, Written & Edited by David Anthony Kraft," you know there could be trouble. When you start reading, and every page is packed with word after word after word on a Moench level, you're sure there's trouble. When there are different inkers for the two parts drawn by the same penciller, you're in double trouble. When the story is time-hopping, flash-backing, alien-hating, endless, borderline incomprehensible craziness like "The UFO Connection," you know you signed up for the wrong class. 

Young Sissie and her Daddy escape a "murder machine" on the streets of New York City and she flashes back to Tuesday afternoon, "when everything bad happened." Scientist Daddy was working on a "Pyramid Power" experiment in their Paramus, New Jersey home when a flying gadget at the door zapped and killed Sissie's mom, causing the two survivors to flee, and now they're on the run. In a Times Square hotel, Daddy has one of his "nervous breakdown" episodes, which takes his mind to Egypt and the Great Pyramid of Cheops, where a flying saucer shoots the pyramid, but has no effect! At the airport, a murder machine attacks Daddy in the bathroom but self-destructs before he can grab evidence. On the plane, he wonders how to protect Sissie, then has another "memory" this one of flying as a German WW1 pilot who spots an alien aircraft. They land in Bourdeax and, on a bus, Daddy spaces out again to Germany, where he escapes the Nazis and discovers an alien ship!

Part 2 has Daddy snap back to reality, then he and Sissie board a cruise ship that's torpedoed by the aliens, and they're stranded in the water until Daddy smartly constructs their "portable pyramid," which shields them from the alien invaders. Inside the shape, they see a vision of an alien ship that zaps a jumbo jet. They get it to land at the town of El Alamein, learning the jet liner disappeared, then building their pyramid in the hotel room. They see another vision, this one of the aliens on board their ship, and how they are after the meddling scientist—to stop him from unlocking the full power of the pyramid! Daddy and Sissie take a jeep ride in the desert, meeting and escaping the "alien strike force" and making it to the Great Pyramid, where Daddy talks about the landmark's potential power and apologizes for not giving his daughter a "normal life." Yet another vision unearths the aliens' plan—capture "primitives" to perform tests on and transfer their human lifeforce into their babies. Sensing danger, Daddy goes outside the portable pyramid, but the aliens are already there, and they zap him into ashes! Sissie is left alone, guarded by the small pyramid's power, but wondering what will happen to her, as we fade…out…

So the gimmick is to have Sissie be the narrator? Is that how Kraft is setting his story apart? His editorial explanation is bizarre and unreadable, which is at least consistent with the rest of this way-too-long tale. I suspect Kraft wanted to show how mankind is connected to the alien race, even though they're always being hunted by the evil invaders. But why doesn't anyone else panic the way Daddy and Sissie do? Is it all in Daddy's head? Is that why he sees visions all the time? Maybe the tales of flashbacks are to throw us off, proving he really did have a nervous breakdown. But storyteller Sissie seems convinced—yet she's a youngster and maybe brainwashed by her Dad. What are we to believe? Well, let's believe the Trimpe art is decent in the first half, with Janson at the inks, but more blocky and typically Trimpe with Marcos the embellisher. Me, I only believe that it's way too late to be reading this nonsense. Sure, the aliens are nasty, untrustworthy and harvesting humans. But is it a dream? Do we care? I think there's a good film class you can all take instead of reading this poppycock. -Joe Tura

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 28
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“The Blood of the Gods”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema & Alfredo Alcala
“Red Sonja Banned in Boston”
Text and Photos by Alison Scott

At a record breaking 60 pages, “The Blood of the Gods,” according to the short foreword on the splash page, is “A tale of Conan in the days he wandered the sands of north Zamboula.” In other words, this one comes chronologically after The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian
 #9. Roy Thomas adapts Robert E. Howard’s El Borak short story from the July 1935 issue of Top-Notch. Even though it’s the longest single Conan story that Marvel has published so far, it’s fairy simple and straightforward. A third of the tale involves Conan and a character named Vallon defending themselves against a siege of Umwallah tribesmen: I’ll skip most of the blows-by-blows of that sequence so I should be brief.

The Aquilonian bandit Vallon and his henchmen capture and torture a former Zuagir tribesman named Dirdar: they demand to know the location of the pious hermit Alwazir, owner of the priceless rubies called the Blood of the Gods. After Dirdar reveals that Alwazir is on a pilgrimage in the haunted Caves of Khouram, a knife is hurled through a window, killing him. When Vallon and his men chase after the assassin they realize that he is old Salim, another former Zuagir. The Aquilonian wounds him with a thrown dagger but the elderly man still manages to escape. Vallon and his companions mount up and ride off towards Khouram.

The gravely wounded Salim drags himself to the home of Achmet Mitkhal: Conan, former chief of the Zuagirs, is there in hiding. Before Salim dies, he tells the Cimmerian of Vallon’s intent to hunt down Alwazir, the barbarian’s old friend. Conan departs immediately — he knows that the Aquilonian will take the longer and safer route to Khouram known as the Ancient Trail. To save time, the warrior will cross the dry land of the Urwallahs, the long-time enemies of the Zuagirs.

Days into the perilous journey, Conan’s water bag is nearly empty: he realizes that he will have to risk stopping at the Well of Amir Khan, usually well defended by the Urwallahs. And indeed it is: he soon finds himself pinned down by three archers, his horse killed. When an arrow pierces the burnoose covering his head and shoulders, the Cimmerian plays possum, pretending to be dead. When the tribesmen approach, the barbarian pounces at the last moment, killing all three — however, before the last dies, it kills their mounts, leaving Conan to finish his trek on foot.

Finally, Conan arrives at the imposing Cave of Khouram, carved into the sheer wall of a huge hill-range. Scaling the cliff, the Cimmerian calls out for Alwazir but is greeted only by silence. Searching the cave system, Conan finds that the hermit’s supplies are in disarray — has Vallon somehow beaten him to the caves? But suddenly, a huge man leaps from the shadows, wild haired with nails like talons. After a fierce struggle, the barbarian manages to subdue his attacker, tying him to a stone pillar. Conan is shocked to see that it is actually Alwazir: his old friend has somehow been transformed into a barely human monster.

Alerted by falling rocks, Conan races outside the cave to discover that Vallon has arrived. Enraged, the Cimmerian challenges the man to a swordfight to avenge Salim. But the Aquilonian drops his sword, knowing that the barbarian is too honorable to kill an unarmed man. He also tells Conan that he and his men were ambushed by 50 rampaging Urwallahs, led by their war chief Shalah the Merciless, bent on revenge for the slaughter at the Well of Amir Khan. His men were killed — and the Urwallahs are only an hour behind.

Conan and Vallon prepare for the siege, stockpiling arrows. When the Urwallahs charge and attack, the Cimmerian and the surprisingly proficient Aquilonian pick them off one by one — but the tribesmen are too many and they will be eventually overrun. When darkness falls, the tribesmen rush the cliffs in one final assault. Shalah uses the tunnels underneath the mountain to launch a separate strike from the rear. But when the war chief enters the cave, the howling Alwazir, who had managed to free himself from the ropes, kills him. The tribesmen, terrified by the shaggy monster, flee in panic. 

Exhausted, Conan and Vallon bed down for the night — when they awake, they see Alwazir standing by the entrance to the cave. While the Cimmerian tells him to stand down, the Aquilonian hurls a dagger: the hilt strikes the deformed and deranged hermit on the temple and he falls unconscious. Furious, Conan draws his broadsword and attacks — after a prolonged battle, Vallon lies dead. The barbarian checks on Alwazir to find his friend more calm and coherent. The hermit tells that he discovered a glowing pool while first exploring the caverns. After drinking the strange water, he was driven mad and somehow grew — but it finally seems to be out of his system. As for the Blood of the Gods jewels, he had thrown them into the Vilayet sea a year ago: they had caused nothing but suffering and evil.

I hope my abbreviated synopsis didn’t sell “The Blood of the Gods” short, because it is fabulous. It might have a somewhat leisurely pace but the scenes of the siege are thrilling as wave after wave of Urwallahian warriors assault our hero and his not-to-be-trusted companion. Vallon is far from a one-note character: care was taken by Roy to flesh out his personality and Big John and Alfredo make him quite distinctive. I almost thought that he would part ways with Conan at the end. But he showed his true colors — which I guess should have been expected. Most of the tale is set in an arid desert so Alfredo’s luscious inks didn’t have much to embellish. But when Conan reaches the caves, the art really shines. Each rock and crevice is finely detailed. This is not the usually disposable comic: it’s something to sit with and savor, like a fine book.

Since “The Blood of the Gods” is so long, there is only one bonus piece, the single-page “Red Sonja Banned in Boston.” It seems at the Boston Globe Book Festival in 1977, Wendy Show showed up sporting a Red Sonja costume — the scantily clad She-Devil was told to put some clothes on or else. When she chose the “or else,” she was escorted from the proceedings. Now if we could only get the Patriots and Red Sox banned, the world would be a better place. -Tom Flynn

Barsotti wanted that primo spot  you've been parking in the last few years, Flynn; you know, the one near the Burrito Bob's lunch wagon? Thanks to that crack about my Pats, he's gonna finally get it. Nothing worse than jealous sports fans. -The Dean


  1. If I find Professor Barsotti in my spot I'm going to deflate his tires.

  2. I loved PM&IF. I only came a few issues later on board, with issue 56, but thought the work of the new writer genuinely funny. And the art was so good. It was a buddy movie before buddy movies like Lethal Weapon become so popular.

    I am not a fan of Thomas' work after he left Marvel and thought his second run on Conan weak. But here he was consistently good. There is no really bad issue of SSoC in these years.

  3. Prof Flynn,

    Thanks for the warning. I'll post Forbush to guard my tires, since his grades can hardly get worse!

  4. I started reading Power Man a few issues prior to its transition to co-starring Iron Fist and while it was never one of my top favorites, it was usually pretty enjoyable. And while I was never all that keen on Infantino's art, I mostly liked SpiderWoman too. I appreciated that the character was not tied in at all with Spider-Man and that her stories were very different from typical Spider-Man stories. As to Ms. Marvel, I counted it a big strike against that series that her original costume was a knock-off of the Kree Captain's and much preferred the one Cockrum came up for her later on, although I also like the current costume, now as the new Captain Marvel, and which does resemble Mar-Vell's but with a few touches that make it her own and not in the ridiculously sexist way of the '70s version and make it appear much more of a military uniform.