Wednesday, May 4, 2016

March 1978 Part Two: Matt Murdock Defends... The Thing!

The Incredible Hulk 221
"Show Me the Way to Go Home"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Rich Buckler and Joe Rubinstein

Robert Bruce Banner wakes up aboard the good ship Lady Diane, skippered by Walt Newell, after being rescued at sea. Newell is curious about the mini-sub Bruce was found drifting in (taken from Cap'n Barracuda's lair last issue), but Bruce can't (or won't) fill in details, explaining he just doesn't remember. When the Diane arrives in New York's harbor, Bruce quickly hops off, in order to avoid any run-ins with the harbor police. On the way back to April's apartment, Bruce has a frightening cab ride but discovers he can control his transformation. Back at the apartment though, things aren't quite so rosy. Jim Wilson has told April that Bruce is the big green guy and she's none too happy. A heart-to-heart seems to do the trick but the happier atmosphere doesn't last as Walt Newell appears at the door, demanding that Bruce turn himself in. Refusing, Banner launches himself at Walt, only to discover that the man is, in reality, Stingray (last seen in Sub-Mariner #45)! Stingray attempts to zap Bruce with an electric shock but Jim gets in the way and bears the brunt. Having had enough, Bruce finally changes into The Incredible Hulk and pounds Stingray into the ground. Just as he's about to deliver the killing blow, Jim Wilson appears, a little sizzled but otherwise unharmed, and pleads with his friend to let the sixth-tier hero go. In a rage, Hulk drops Stingray and leaps away, leaving his friends to ponder what the future might hold. -Peter Enfantino

So, is he a green Gargantua...
Peter Enfantino: An awwwwwfully weak issue this one. Being the #1 Alfredo Alcala Fan in the entire world (and I'll duel anyone at dawn for the title), I am naturally pleased to see The Master's name gracing any title but this is not his best stuff (heroes were never AA's strong suit nor were, as you'll see from my comments further on down, homogenized jungle funnies). Bruce looks nothing like the Banner we've seen before and Hulk looks like a Gargantua. The script goes literally nowhere. We cover ground we've covered an infinite number of times. The longest-running sub-plot in the history of comic books, the mystery of the stranger at Gamma Base, gets all of a half-dozen panels and we know nothing more than we did when the thread started all those moons ago. The only moment that brought a smile to my face was when Bruce, flying through the streets of Manhattan in a Disneyland-crazy taxi cab (in the days before movies had to have a foreign cab driver to elicit laughs), passes Saks and, through the store window, we see Betty Ross Banner Talbot Whatever running up her unlimited credit Am Ex. When Dad Thunderbolt gets the bill, he'll turn into the Harpy!

...or Sly Stallone...
Chris Blake: Roger Stern will provide a number of entertaining – and at times, reasonably challenging – Hulk stories in the months to come, but his first outing as plotter/scripter is fairly routine: Banner finds himself in a safe environment; Banner is forced to leave his haven; Banner is provoked; Hulk take over, Hulk smash.   The variation from formula is, of course, the moment when we – as dutiful readers – are certain the change gonna come, as Banner’s grip on the cab door begins to crumple the sheet metal (bottom of p 11), and then, somehow, it doesn’t happen; it’s a nice acknowledgement of the direction of Stern’s predecessor, Len Wein, who had introduced a relative period of normalcy to Banner’s life lo some 12-14 issues ago.

This is not an issue I had read repeatedly as an impressionable youngster, but despite the lack of exposure, the rare Sal + Alfredo art has left a lasting impression.  Our title character looks right (especially in moments like p 30 pnl 2, as the Hulk is about to find rage enough to spare for foe and friend), but Stingray comes off particularly well, not only in his dramatic civvies-shredding entrance (p 22), but in several instances when his wing is shown flowing around him, whether he’s the one taking punishment (p 23 1st pnl) or dishing it out (p 26 1st pnl).   
...or just a little lopsided?
Matthew Bradley: Okay, let’s get this out of the way right up front, so that I don’t have to do the pistols-at-dawn routine with Mssrs. Flynnfantino: no major complaints about their beloved Alcala’s inking (although the Hulk’s head seems a little lopsided in page 27, panel 3, left), and suddenly April looks better than she has before.  I’ve long had a mild soft spot for Stingray, partly because of his zoological namesake, which I always thought would be a natural for the ultimate underwater monster movie, not that Hollywood ever cared what I thought.  But it probably wasn’t on the basis of this issue, for which Sterno—now flying, or perhaps I should say swimming, solo—dredges ol’ Walter Newell up from relative obscurity to very little effect, tired MARMIS and all.

The Invaders 26
"Day of Infamy, Day of Shame"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Robbins and Frank Springer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

A desperate Bucky flies Toro to the first hospital he spots from the air, Pacifica General, where a helpful nurse questions the gloomy prognosis of Dr. Olsen, envious of Sabuki, and directs him to the relocation center at Sandy Flat.  His “Invaders badge” gains him ingress to the camp, yet his status cuts no ice with the bigoted C.O., D.K. Simms, who blusters, “I’m not gonna let some lousy Jap doctor operate on a real American!” (and, ironically, a mutant).  So Bucky blows his top, evading the guards long enough to find Sabuki; outside London—if not simultaneously, per Roy—the adult Invaders learn that a restored Roger, the erstwhile Dyna-Mite, has taken over Brian’s Destroyer i.d., and Lord Falsworth arranges transport to California.

Afforded a modicum of privacy by his grateful internee patients, Sabuki agrees to help, despite his daughter Gwenny Lou asking why he should, when suddenly an ERB-style drilling device erupts through the floor, disgorging uniformed men—with accents from all three Axis nations—intent on kidnapping the surgeon.  Bucky resists, trying to get Sabuki outside until the guards arrive, but their leader, whom Bucky recognizes as Agent Axis from his teammates’ description, holds Gwenny Lou at gunpoint.  Although disarmed by the spirited girl’s sudden kick, Agent Axis has the strength of three men, and after he has stunned Bucky by slamming him into a wall, Sabuki complies to save the youths, and all three are borne away, leaving Toro’s fate uncertain… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Of the three vintage villains excavated by Roy for the one-and-only annual, Agent Axis was clearly the worthiest of further exploration, so it’s good to see him brought back, even if he gets very little, uh, non-face time in this issue.  There are those—and I don’t necessarily exclude myself from said group—who would assert that the Two Franks are not especially flattering even in depicting our heroes, but as noted, they reserve a special ugliness for their bad guys, among whom I think we must count Captain Simms (left).  Since I rank the internment of innocent Japanese-Americans alongside McCarthyism among our most shameful 20th-century chapters, I agree with Bucky:  “not all America’s enemies have to come from across an ocean!”

Our learned Professor Gilbert cites the camps as an example of FDR’s overreach, putting me in the bizarre position of having to agree that one of my favorite Democrats was, in this case, too conservative!  It’s rare for Roy, who loves and lived through this period, to make a historical misstep, and there is always artistic license (not to mention foreshadowing) to consider, yet after constantly being defined as “Captain America’s partner,” Bucks says, “I can see I’m gonna have a real identity crisis when I grow up.”  That raised my antennae, and sure enough, according to Merriam-Webster, the first known use of the phrase was not until 12 years after the story’s 1942 setting, but I’ll let that pass, satisfied with this orderly succession of Destroyers and Union Jacks.

Mark Barsotti:  Back on duty after a long stretch of r&r, I'm happy to report the creative duo of Roy Thomas and Frank "Rubberman" Robbins show no signs of battle fatigue; indeed, they and the Invaders are in fine fettle.  

And it's no surprise to find them in a pickle, with Toro near-death, "...a Nazi bullet lodged near his heart," as Bucky flies his wounded pal around in Namor's flagship, searching for  Dr. Sabuki, the only surgeon who can save Toro if Bucky can free Sabuki from the grip of homegrown racism and internment in a "relocation camp." Meanwhile, the expanded Invaders now feature (briefly) the Mighty Destroyer, with the power to blind the Nazis with his ghastly striped pants, the deadliest weapon ever unleashed by Carnaby Street!  
And just as Bucky is about to jail-break Sabuki, Agent Axis (he's three, three, three fascists in one!) bores up from the bowels of the earth - courtesy of a giant drill on loan from the Red Skull* - and captures them all! This inspired, adrenalinized lunacy makes me wish my class load hadn't required me to be AWOL from the Invaders, as we're left to wonder if all of Roy's wiles can save Toro now. *(see Captain America Comics #3, May 1941)

The Invincible Iron Man 108
"Growing Pains!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Karen Kish
Cover by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott

In a risky bid to cure Jasper, Jean, Eddie, Guardsman, the Wraith, and Whitney of the golden touch—whose inventor, Abe, is now dead—Yellowjacket couples Jack directly to his untested bio-ray restorer’s power source, the notorious Enervator, to boost and control its energy-flow.  As tensions rise and tempers flare, IM quits the lab for a soul-searching tour of an S.I. devastated by the war with Midas, where a workman unwittingly tosses aside a cylinder that releases the Growing Man (last seen in Avengers #69).  Confused by his lack of orders from the now-nonexistent Kang, the android battles IM, who uses a built-in fail-safe mechanism to fell the giant, while draining his power to provide the “final energy surge” that effects a successful cure. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Despite my nostalgic affection for Tuska’s IM, I wasn’t bereft when the talented Pollard replaced George, yet to have the conclusion of Mantlo’s beloved Midas saga relegated to the graphite-spewing of guest artist Infantino—which appears, if anything, to be exacerbated rather than ameliorated by Wiacek’s inks—is a bitter pill indeed.  The Growing Man seems an odd fly to put in the ointment, but at least we’ve solved our little numeration mystery, since it’s now clear that IM was referring to the six people who remained gold after both he and Jack had returned to normal.  And while I don’t care for the inter-Avenger strife, of which we have more than enough chez Shooter, I do appreciate the recognition of Hank’s skills (“I’m the best bio-chemist alive!”).

Although I think he overreacts slightly, fnord12 is hardly off-base with his SuperMegaMonkey rant regarding this issue:  “I can’t even tell what [IM and YJ] are arguing about.  They are just yelling at each other.  And oh my god Iron Man will not stop talking.  Shut up shut up shut up!”  He also rightly takes Bill to task for the fact that while new Avengers such as the Beast are expected to bone up on their old villains, Iron Man—who was hors de combat when they battled the android—seems oblivious to the effect his blows and blasts will have on the self-explanatory Growing Man.  And there is a bizarre volte-face as IM muses that “Marianne Rogers [sic]—is forever cured of her madness,” when we were told last issue that she had gone completely mad.  

Chris: The squabbling with Yellowjacket is both overcooked, and half-baked.   Tony knew two things when he called Hank for his help: 1) it would be difficult to reverse the Midas effect; and 2) Hank would make every effort to do it safely.   So, Tony’s hysterical insistence that Hank “get this straight” because Whitney is the woman he loves, etc, doesn’t ring true; I was nearly as frustrated with Tony’s prattling as Hank was himself.   A greater source of tedium is Tony’s self-flagellation, as he holds himself accountable for the gold-encasement of Whitney and the others.   Well, I thought Tony had regained his sense of purpose, and of duty, around #106, when he recognized Stark International wasn’t going to re-take itself back from Midas.   Tony’s decision to “mope around,” as Hank accurately terms it, ill befits an Avenger, fresh from a hard-fought win over Midas; if he’s going to be in the lab, he should be helping Jack and Hank set up the restoration, instead of fretting.   Mantlo’s been writing this character for about a year now, and has done well by him, so I’m surprised and disappointed by all the whining.

If Tony’s going to indulge in a bit of introspection, let me recommend a different course of self-study.  Toward the end of the battle with Midas (in IM #107, natch), Tony states unequivocally his intention to kill Midas – the aim is not to win, regain ownership of the plant (and the corporation), and thereby restore order, but to blast and pound Midas until he is dead.  As much as Tony’s Dane-princely reticence to join the fight had been out of character, his indulgence in homicidal rage is as well.  This concern might’ve been a far more fruitful matter for Tony to consider, so I’m sorry Mantlo didn’t consider this either.
The Infantino art isn’t as bothersome as I remember; he brings fluidity to the armor that makes it seem less firm-and-ferrous, especially when contrasted with the substantial-looking suits we’ve seen for so long from Tuska (and that we’d glimpsed last issue, in Pollard’s single effort).  Once again, I’ll say a heavier-handed inker makes a difference with Infantino, as darker finishes prevent the pencils from looking too squiggly.  I appreciate our brief tour of the partially-wrecked plant (p 10), and the shadowy look of Tony and his surroundings, well-suited to his dark mood (p 11, p 14 1st panel).

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 10
"The Air-Pirates of Mars
Chapter 10: Confrontation!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gil Kane and The Tribe
Colors by Troy Traumus
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Gil Kane

Tars Tarkas tells Sola of the moral dilemma presented by his encounter with Karak as Carter, believing the Council’s threat ended, is taken from his sleeping chambers by a white ape whose “master demands audience.”  While telling Sola of his decision to leave Helium and return to Thark, Tars sees a flier mysteriously depart, bringing Carter before the Great One.  Explaining that he can communicate with and control Barsoom’s lower species, such as the apes at the atmosphere factory (in #2), the banth in Stara Kan’s dungeon pit (in #3), and the stampeding war-thoats (in #6, incorrectly footnoted as #7), he explains his origin as a bud on the Tree of Life that first blossomed over the Valley Dor more than 23 million years ago.

Inside the dormant tree’s last pod, oddly clustered together from others representing the various races, he grew to maturity, telepathically aware of Barsoom’s glory, then hatched in time to see it decline, hoping to restore it as “the one true Barsoomian.”  His physical and verbal contest with Carter leaves both combatants bleeding from countless wounds, and having stunned Carter with a mighty punch, the Great One tries to beat a hasty retreat, only to have Carter leap aboard his flier while he begins hallucinating that he is back in the Valley Dor.  Carter leaps to safety as the Great One crashes into the impenetrable wall of the atmosphere factory, cushioned by the deep sand, and after Tars Tarkas bids Dejah Thoris “Kaor!,” Carter begins his journey back to Helium. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: If last issue’s epic battle and explosions were the bang, then this is the whimper with which “The Air-Pirates of Mars” ends; it’s not an outright disappointment, but I think you’d have to call it an anticlimax, with the villain’s origin frustratingly repetitive, the action smothered in philosophical debate, and the hero’s victory secured by…well, delirium brought on by blood-loss would be my best guess. Kane’s being inked by the entire Tribe minimizes the pretty-boy effect of the recent Rudification, so the biggest threat to Gil is, ironically, Wolfman as he threatens to crowd out the artwork with captions and dialogue that just seem to hammer the same points repeatedly.  Marv, you’ve demonstrated a lot of talent over the course of this arc, but it could have ended far better.

Addendum:  If one adheres strictly to the strip’s nominal setting during a lacuna late in A Princess of Mars, then there’s a slight continuity problem here, because Carter only learned the history of the Tree of Life in the second book, The Gods of Mars.  But hey, artistic license…

Chris: The suggestion that the Great One is an amalgam of Barsoomian life-forms is intriguing, and it’s illuminating to learn how GO has been the power behind several attacks on Carter over the past several issues.   Still, I must admit – after a lengthy war involving thousands of troops, it’s a bit disappointing to see the final conflict come down to single combat.   Although, I will concede that the battle itself – play ing out over hours and days – is entertaining.   Carter really should have no chance against this creature, so the ending – as the creature’s hallucinations unwittingly do him in – is satisfying.

Anytime you have a “many hands” or “diverse hands” inks-credit, the results are going to be uneven.  True also in this case, as some pages come off well (1-3, 10-14, 23), and others are indistinct.  I almost wish the Crusty Bunkers were available, if only so I could pick out traces of Neal Adams’ work with Kane’s layouts. Hmm.  

 Master of Kung Fu 62
"Red Seas"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig and John Tartaglione
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Karen Kish
Cover by Jim Craig and Tony DeZuniga

When Shang-Chi had last been to Hong Kong, he had found Juliette, singing her lonely songs at the Jade Peacock.  He returns now, having travelled from London after receiving her letter, which told him “spirits who once bewitched the night have faded.”  Juliette is not at the Peacock, though; the new singer, Mei Ling, tells S-C that Juliette had left before Mei Ling started performing there.  Meanwhile, behind the club, a truck is loaded with boxes; a cloaked figure offers one box, identified with a black X, as a gift to the club crew.  S-C learns nothing else of Juliette, as he’s drawn to an explosion outside.  He finds three men killed by the blast; S-C is unable to grab hold as the truck races away.  He does succeed in following as he hitches onto the back of a passing car.  The car parts ways with the truck near the docks; S-C drops off and follows the truck on foot.  He finds the truck parked, its boxes being loaded onto a motorized sampan, under the direction of the hooded one.  S-C is detected, and the crew leader orders the boat launched; S-C leaps from the dock, reaches the boat, and pulls himself aboard.  The cloaked figure orders S-C tossed out, but doesn’t want him shot; S-C takes note of this curious order.  Once he has routed the crew, S-C downs the leader with one punch before the hooded figure can strike with a club; and now, the cloak pulled back, S-C sees it is Juliette who has been running this operation.  In another part of the city, Skull-Crusher’s has the unwelcome duty to inform Shen “Cat” Kuei that the shipment has been stolen, and the manager of the Jade Peacock was killed in the process.  Shen assigns blame to Skull-Crusher as he had failed to stop the “Britisher, Shang-Chi” in London; as a result, Shen’s brother is dead. -Chris Blake

Chris: You could tell from my synopsis that the hooded leader of the cargo-hijackers is Juliette, right?  It seemed fairly obvious right from the start; I was tempted to turn back to the first page and see whether Robert Ludlum had been credited as co-plotter.  Doug might not ever generate any suspense regarding Juliette’s presence as the shipment is hijacked, but we can ask plenty of questions about her motives: is this part of some scheme to hit back at Shen Kuei?  Has Juliette always been surreptitiously working to undermine Shen, or is this a new development?  Did she expect her actions would lead to the death of Shen’s brother, or was that simply a bonus?  Either way, none of this is going to improve Shen’s opinion of Shang-Chi.  You know, I’m beginning to think Shen genuinely dislikes S-C, for some reason … maybe it’s a matter of them being “too much alike.”  Shang, what do you think -?
Briefly, I want to mention that Leiko shows up at Reston’s flat again, this time to complain weepily how she might have driven S-C away, and that she needs him.  Well, Leiko shouldn’t be surprised to learn Reston is probably the last person in the entirety of London to offer her a sympathetic ear; although, Reston does (correctly) observe that Leiko ordinarily dismisses this sort of behavior as weakness.  Hey, I know – maybe Leiko was drugged by Dr Doom too, but it simply took longer to take effect -?
From my first glimpse of the finely-detailed action shot of the splash page, I thought, “Ah yes, Craig and Tartaglione have continued to work out the rough edges, and now their art is ready to look its best.”  Well, yes and no; the first half of the issue looks quite good (especially the action-speeding small-panels approach as S-C sprints to catch up with the truck, p 14), but as we get to the battling on the dock in the last few pages (p 22-30), the pencils and finishes get too loose, and lose their capacity to inspire.  
Mark:  I thought my art fears - that Jim Craig's quality would drop in direct proportion to his increased workload - would be realized when I saw the middlin' splash page. Thankfully, Craig quickly rallies and, despite a spotty panel or two, delivers another robust effort.

Doug seems back on his A game as well, as Shang's return to Hong Kong to find Juliette (after her cryptic letter, last ish) doesn't lead him to the lounge singer, but trouble instead, in the form of a murderous bombing outside the Jade Peacock and a bumper-clinging pursuit of the bomber.
Back in the UK, Leiko disabuses Clive of the notion she's still warm for his form. It's P.J. Shang she loves, and with Clive and Miss Greville now Hong Kong-bound, can luscious Leiko be far behind?
Tracking the cloaked 'n' masked bomber to the harbor, S-C leaps aboard the motorized sampan, where the mysterious Mr. Boom-Boom inexplicably orders the crew, "Don't kill him...just get him off the boat!" Our hero dispatches the crew, then bonks Boom-Boom, who we learn isn't a mister. 
Seems he's found Juliette after all.  

Ms. Marvel 15

"The Shark is a Very Deadly Beast!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Bruce Patterson
Cover by John Buscema, John Romita, and Joe Sinnott

Ms. Marvel swoops down for an impromptu lunch at Sal’s Pizza with shrink-cum-“friend” Barnett, who touches on the Kree elements of her personae and, after she leaves, burnishes his creep credentials, ominously thinking, “sooner or later, like it or not, you’re going to need my help.  I’m a patient man…I can wait.”  That afternoon, in the mid-Atlantic, a shadowed but familiar figure escapes his cell on Hydrobase and, after ascertaining that Namor’s whereabouts are unknown, hits on the idea of going after his cousin Namorita instead.  Amid the alleged comic relief created by klutzy editorial assistant Tabby (complete with an apparent Marie Severin cameo in page 7, panels 3-5), Jean DeWolff visits Woman to increase pressure on Frank.

He reveals to Carol and Tracy that as a grunt in ’68, he first met Geoffrey Ballard, then “a C.I.A. big-shot running spook operations in the Central Highlands,” reporting directly to the White House, and Frank vows to investigate why he is targeting Carol.  She is renting a ground-floor studio in the Village from his friend Arabella Jones when Wundarr plummets down nearby, but after the mighty man-child instinctively lashes out at her, Ms. Marvel punches him back into the apartment whence he came and learns from his guardian, Annie Christopher, that Nita has been kidnapped.  Recognized from Carol’s old NASA briefing as Tiger Shark, the villain battles Ms. Marvel, then escapes to the river with his captive as she shields two children from a thrown car... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Okay, this is more like it:  we’re back on our home turf in New York, with a real villain, in fact one of my favorites, wisely allotted two issues.  And although the Mooniga art is imperfect (with colorist “Phil R.” having apparently gone out for a smoke break in page 6, panels 4-5), it looks like Buscinnott—who, coincidentally, provided that absolutely socko cover, reportedly with Romita “modifications”—after last month’s eye-mangling Infantino scribbles.  Points also to Claremont for bringing back Wundarr, Nita, and Annie, who were used as effective supporting-cast members during Steve Gerber’s inaugural run on Marvel Two-in-One, but largely vanished thereafter, save for Nita’s appearance in my beloved Super-Villain Team-Up/Avengers crossover.

Chris: I’m not the only one of our esteemed faculty who shamelessly heaps bushels of praise on Chris Claremont for his fine comics scribing.   So, I hope he won’t be offended if I’m not thrilled by this offering.   There’s a bit of business involved as Carol and Gianelli discuss the recent burglary at Carol’s office; doesn’t have to run for three pages though, does it?   There’s an uncharacteristic amount of wasted time – filler, even – as Carol admonishes Tabby for her bumbling; it could’ve been done in two panels, but instead it runs for nearly two pages.   If Capt DeWolff (does the woman ever sleep? ) is only going to have a 15-second interview with Gianelli, then the office-time could’ve been a lot shorter.

Chris: Claremont manages to use his time more effectively – neatly setting the next stage of the story – as Carol’s house-hunting leads directly to her encounter with Tiger Shark (hyphenated?  not hyphenated?  No hyphen this time).  Carol meets Wundarr first, which prompts me to ask, “What’s he doing here?!” – I honestly had forgotten Wundarr’s time as a recurring guest in MTIO was resolved as Nita offered to take him into her care.  As for Nita, is there a reason why she doesn’t try to escape while TS is battering Ms M with a police cruiser?  I’ve always known her to be fairly capable, but this time, we don’t see her at all from p 17 until p 30; she doesn’t seem too alert, but if lack of consciousness is what has precluded her escape, ordinarily I’d expect Claremont to point out that important little detail.  
Claremont doesn’t let us forget Carol/Ms M still is trying to reconcile her duality; clever moment on p 2, as Ms M has a bite of Sal’s pizza, and states a part of her is comparing it with “all the other pizzas” she’s ever had, while another part is enjoying “the first taste [she’s] ever had,” and finds it falls a bit short of d’halian kirif (which reminds me – there’s a new Kree deli that just opened in town; I’ve gotta stop in for some d’halian kirif).
I like the Mooney/DeZuniga art slightly more than I might’ve expected; as with many artists, either DeZuniga is getting better, or I’m simply getting used to him.  Tiger Shark’s reveal is a highlight (p 22; although, I wonder why there’s such a careful effort to keep him in shadow prior to that, when he’s so prominently displayed on the cover …); the visuals for the battle are a bit indistinct, which could be due to the art being slightly rushed, or it might be intended to convey the conflict’s fast pace.  You decide.  

Marvel Team-Up 67
Spider-Man and Tigra in
"Tigra, Tigra, Burning Bright!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Dave Hunt
Colors by Dave Hunt
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Byrne and Joe Sinnott

 A stir-crazy Peter quits his studies for a midtown swing, only to stumble across his old foe Kraven, who belts him in a terrific reveal (page 3, panel 4) and, after a brief skirmish, knocks him out with darts whose neural poison evokes visions of Death.  Awakening in chains in an apparently African setting, he faces a kill-or-be-killed battle with Kraven’s “pet,” whom he recognizes from the Bugle files as recent FF ally Tigra and, following a brutal 4-page fight, frees by removing her control collar.  As Kraven retreats, she relates how he lured her into a trap, subdued her with gas, and attached his mnemonic scrambler; emerging in New Jersey, our heroes barely survive a stampede of jungle beasts before Spidey puts Kraven down for the count. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: A promising blend here:  you have the natural pairing of Spidey and live-wire Tigra, a venerable villain both have faced before, and a creative team with separate credits on her solo strip.  I wish I felt more sanguine about the much-to-be-missed Dave’s last issue, but he and John don’t seem to mesh as well as usual on Tigra, whose hair, by the way, looks like electrified seaweed on the otherwise appealingly colored Byrne/Sinnott cover.  It’s also a shame that placing her in thrall to Kraven for so much of the story minimizes the, um, exposure of her distinctive personality and the opportunity for chemistry with Spidey, yet once they’re both on the same side, Chris having avoided an actual MARMIS, they mesh as well as expected; the ending is, alas, a little bit abrupt.

Chris: It’d be unreasonable to expect a better single-issue story from MTU .  Claremont/Byrne/Hunt have turned in a series of solid two-parters, but they exceed their standard as they ably compress two issues-worth of story into one tightly-knit episode.   You could see how, in lesser hands, this story could’ve gone this way: In Chicago, Tigra gets a lead on Kraven.   She follows his trail, and by the end of p 3, they meet, and scuffle until Kraven gasses her, around the end of page 7.   Page 10 opens as Peter leaves ESU campus, goes home, tries to study, can’t concentrate, and by page 14, he’s out for a head-clearing swing.   Spidey meets up with Kraven on page 15, they chase each other around for awhile, and finally on p 27, Kraven gets close enough to hit Spidey with the knockout darts.   Spidey wakes on p 30 to find himself in chains, and Kraven spends the next 1 ½ pages explaining how he captured Tigra, and how she and Spidey will fight to the death; to be continued in MTU #68, right?   Instead, our storytellers keep the action moving crisply along, with a brief exposition required from Tigra once Spidey has freed her, and we wrap the whole adventure in one thoroughly-satisfying issue.   Masterfully done!

Chris: Dave Hunt demonstrates the value of an inker who doubles as his own colorist, in his two-handed finishes for Byrne; both of the full-page illustrations provide fitting examples.  On the first page, notice the shadows that provide definition to Spidey’s musculature, offset by the trace of yellow that indicates how the moonlight shines on him.  Note also how the Tigra-figure is heavily shadowed, visible in a gloomy night sky filled with black clouds and dim purple light.  Really sets the stage, doesn’t it?  The other full-pager is p 16, as Spidey wakes to find himself in Kraven’s clutches.  Spidey faces the fire, so his back is nearly entirely in shadow.  We see some yellow firelight reflected off Kraven’s leg, but he is partly shadowed as he leans back; Tigra, intrigued by Spidey, is all-bright as she leans slightly forward, clear of shadows.  OK, one more instance: the strange, but effective, choice of a green hue as a mind-freed Tigra stares down her prey, Kraven (p 27, pnl 4).
There are other noteworthy illustrations that owe more to Bryne’s pencils than the inks and/or colors, specifically: the tiny figure visible behind Spidey on page 2, as Kraven is stalking him; Spidey’s drug-induced death-hallucination (p 7, last two panels); Tigra lunges onto Spidey, and he rolls them free of the fire (p 15), followed by a look at Spidey from Tigra’s POV (p 15, last pnl); Spidey winds up for a web-fastball (p 30, 1st pnl); Spidey shakes out his fingers after connecting with Kraven’s Elvis-worthy belt-buckle (p 31, last pnl).

Joe Tura: Kraven proves to be a pretty smart hunter here. Well, for most of the issue. The traps he sets for Tigra, the dummy and his famous chest gas, as well as baiting Spidey into a punch and soon after, the deadly darts, are ingenious. Training the stampede of former safari animals was cool, also. Ultimately, he's defeated by a web ball and a super-Spidey punch, which doesn't seem so smart. Tigra is drawn quite well by Byrne & Hunt, maybe too well, as her hair (mane?) looks spectacularly fresh and vibrant. The rest of her looks quite vibrant also, if ya know what I mean… Spidey's costume takes yet another beating, so there will be a run on red and blue thread at the nearby drugstore in Spidey's 'hood. Overall, not bad, with Spidey and Tigra making an OK pair, although the Kraven defeat is a bit rushed at the end.

Marvel Two-In-One 37
The Thing and Matt Murdock in
"Game Point!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ron Wilson and Joe Sinnott

Implausibly living in a flophouse since the FF’s breakup, and unable to concentrate on The Shining, Ben is unwittingly targeted and subjected to a periodic stinging that makes his limbs fly out of control, destroying his bed, a lamppost, a sidewalk, and a bus.  He is accused of going berserk by Alex Stone, who demands his arrest; booked at the 53rd Precinct; charged with “willful destruction of public property and…creating a disturbance”; and identified in a lineup.  Matt Murdock arrives to defend him, yet despite the parade of character witnesses who vouch for Ben at the preliminary hearing, Stone claims the shockwaves wrecked his store, reciting a litany of prior public property destroyed in Fantastic Four #25-26, 123, 111, and 165.

With Reed no longer available to pay for any damages, prosecutor Kranshaw contends that Ben is too dangerous to walk the streets, while even the Thing has begun to believe that, “without the F.F. backin’ me up, straightenin’ me out—I’m a big, fat orange zero!”  Just as the grand jury moves that he be placed on trial immediately, the stinging causes him to wreck the courtroom, and after Alicia has burst into the closed hearing, he bids her goodbye, with Judge O’Brien vowing to see him proven guilty.  But Matt sensed an ultra-sonic hum just before Ben went wild, suggesting that someone is trying to frame him—a theory that, unknown to him, is validated when Stone gloats to himself, “It’s worked…just as he said it would”—and vows to investigate. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Whatever novelty Wolfman provides by making Murdock our guest-star (no points for guessing who’s on deck next month) is more than offset by the utter stupidity of the story, even by the low standards of Marv’s MTIO.  And, as usual, Wilson and Marcos bring precious little to the table—Stone looks like the love child of Wyatt Wingfoot and Omega the Unknown—so the results are, if you’ll pardon the pun, a grim spectacle, although it’s interesting that this and the recent annual set Ben up as a Stephen King fan.  Why he never thinks to mention those suspicious involuntary movements is beyond me, but the police lineup is ludicrous, and his “I’m a monster—put me away” wallow exceeds even his constant self-pitying whine during the London visit with Alicia.

Nova 18
"The Final Showdown!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and The Tribe
Colors by Irene Vartanoff
Letters by Joe Rosen

Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and The Tribe
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Joe Sinnott

Nova confronts Yellow Claw, who zaps the Human Rocket with his "psychogun," causing visions of monsters, swirling whirlpools, and trippy plunges through the "maze-like corridors of his own mind." But somehow, he is able to use the emotions and thoughts he's been trying to suppress to free himself from Claw's spell, smashing the villain, as well as von Voltzmann—who plummets out of the airship to his supposed death! Meanwhile, Nick Fury and his SHIELD agents keep firing "hydronic rays" at the massive tidal wave, slowing it down before it can destroy Manhattan—until Fury is swept away! But he quickly dives into the water below, and the wave subsides. Back to Nova, who's battling Yellow Claw one-on-one, somehow fighting off more mental blasts with haymakers, until Claw tells him "you're burning up," and the teen hero jumps out through the ship's control panel into the water to "extinguish" the flames, and watches Claw's ship explode! Assuming the villains are both gone, he's picked up by Fury and the two fly off triumphant.

Our second story, "Beginnings," is a Rider Family recap, starting with Charles being freed on no bail until the trial, with Richard apologizing for his actions. Next, Ginger drops by during dinner and Rich takes her to Uncle Fudge's Ice Cream Parlour for vanilla sodas, explanations, and make-up goo-goo eyes, right before Bernie and Caps come by full of jokes. We end on Bobby Rider, self-proclaimed "boy genius," and a secret "Factor X" which he hopes will reveal "the startling secret of Rich Rider!" -Joe Tura

Joe: Well, here's our first bimonthly issue of Nova, and maybe once a year would have been more appetizing. OK, it's not all bad—there is a decent dust-up with Nova and Claw with the two trading blows both physical and mental, and Fury gets a little moment in the sun, or the water. But it's still Nova, so there's nothing exactly new. Marv and Carmine try to do Steranko with the Claw-induced maze craze, but it falls short. And the Rider Family story is better off on its own instead of being worked into the main tale, but ultimately tries to cram 25 pages of story into 6. Still, we're left with many questions, like did Yellow Claw survive the airship explosion? What the heck is Bobby up to? Will Ginger and Rich ever get a moment alone without the other guys showing up? Does anyone not named Marv even care?

Blue Blazes counter: page 15 when Nova thinks he is "blazing" hot thanks to Claw's mental powers, so he dives into the water to put out the "blaze." And that's it. Boy, what a letdown!

Matthew: In the ultimate—and richly deserved—rebuke, short of actual cancellation, this once-promising book has been demoted to bimonthly status, and the fact that Carmine’s doodles had to be inked by the notorious Tribe suggests that they had trouble making even a 60-day deadline.  It’s true that the supporting cast has always been among the greatest strengths of the title’s avowed model, Amazing Spider-Man, and that Marv (who will, ironically, take over ASM in a few months) has long needed to resolve Rich’s familial and personal problems.  But somehow, to segregate them into a seven-page, action-free “Beginnings!” story-within-a-story doesn’t seem like the most elegant solution, especially with such pious platitudes:  “the way it is meant to be.”

Chris: The fight with the Yellow Claw doesn’t amount to much; although, I guess I should give Marv credit for finding a way for YC to foil himself twice, first as his hypnosis of Nova jogs him out of his narcissism, then as his decision to dupe Nova into thinking he’s burning up, instead causes the human rocket to plow thru the control panel and blow up the ship (I guess that panel was the one with the self-destruct mechanism, right?   Sure thing.).   Meanwhile, Fury and his men don’t find a way to tone-down the massive 300-ft wave; the method they had employed all along simply starts to work at the very last moment, for some reason.   Well, so much for that.

The story’s all wrapped up, in a way, considering how little happened, but I notice I still have some weight on the right-hand side of the comic.  Why would that be – are we starting out a breathtaking new storyline?  No, it’s a seven-page denoument, featuring all our charming supporting cast; you can read it if you like, but I probably won’t – I might skim thru it during the next pitching change.  

Red Sonja 8 
“Vengeance of the Golden Circle”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto

Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne

Cover by Frank Thorne

Just seconds before the gallows fall, the banished Suumaro swings down and cuts Red Sonja free of the noose. They race across the rooftops of the fortress city Skranos and make their escape on a pair of stolen horses. Suumaro guides Sonja to his home, a sprawling enclave of expensively decorated tents — his followers welcome him like a conquering king. Walking past tame monkeys and cheetahs, the muscular young man welcomes the She-Devil into the most royal of the tents, an ornate throne of ebony and gold in its center. Suddenly, a huge cobra coils up from behind the impressive chair: Suumaro begs the Hyrkanian to stand down but she refuses to sheath her sword. The snake circles her and flames erupt from its back, trapping Sonja in a fiery snare. Finally, the woman warrior relents and tosses her blade to the ground. The reptile transforms into the living tree that reached out and saved her from the precipice outside of Skranos the day before. After the tree disappears, Suumaro guesses that it was his mother, a powerful sorcerer. The man continues the tour, guiding his beautiful companion to a tent filled with chained harem girls, guarded by the massive General Jimodo. Enraged, Red Sonja frees the slaves with a powerful chop of her sword, breaking one of the tent city’s laws. Suumaro sentences Sonja to a fight to the death with an equal, the giant Jimodo. The brute forces the woman outside with his crackling whip just as the carcass of a woolly mammoth is being dragged down the middle of the street. The She-Devil leaps on the beast’s rotting hide — Jimodo foolishly follows. The mammoth’s putrid flesh gives way under his prodigious weight and the general falls through. The She-Devil leaps forward and drives her sword through the trapped man again and again. Suumaro rewards Red Sonja with Jimodo’s rank and position. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Now this must be a first in the history of Marvel Comics: the hero lures the villain onto the corpse of a large animal and the bad guy falls through the rotting flesh. And not to mention the whole stabbing with a sword business. It’s like something from the damaged mind of Famous-for-Five-Minutes Tom Green. Not that I have a major problem with Mr. Green: Freddy Got Fingered always seems to make the cut whenever I pare down my DVD collection. There’s a rotting corpse in that mental movie as well, a deer, that Tom cuts open and wears like a onesie. Wheeeeee! Anyways, this is just another in a fine line of crazy Red Sonja comic books. The bit with the giant cobra runs three whole pages and it barely makes sense but, as always, you just go with the far-out flow. It’s still not clear what Suumaro is supposed to be. As the brother of last issue’s Oryx, the son of Skranos’ unseen king, I guess he’s a rightful ruler of the crown. But why? His tent city is much more impressive and luxurious then the cold stone of Skranos. Plus, he doesn’t seem to have an interest in Sonja’s ample curves and his mother is a sorcerer. Something’s up with this guy and I’m not sure what. The splash page is tremendous. Last issue is quickly recapped in two captions that hover over Frank Thorne’s low-angled cinematic orgy of blood lust, sex and frenzy, his fabulously lettered title circled in the lower left corner.  A noose around her neck, Sonja remains defiant to the end, swearing a few panels later “Hear me dogs! I am Red Sonja of Hyrkania — and I fear no man! While I still breathe, you jackals had best keep a fine distance from me — or I’ll take a few of you with me to meets the gods!” Hot damn, I love this series.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 16
"The Beetle and the Badge!"
Story by Elliot Maggin
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Marie Severin and Sal Buscema

Spider-Man spies a motorcycle cop chasing a car, but is thrown off said automobile, leaving the policeman to make a jump onto the roof, holding on for dear life, aided by some well-placed webbing. Peter sells the pic of the hero cop to the Bugle, where JJJ asks for some pictures of Officer Macone at home. But all is not roses at the Macone apartment, as wife Mary Ann is tired of Joe taking so many chances. Meanwhile, a disguised cop gives the Beetle some info that what he wants is in a Midtown precinct, so the insidious insect sets in motion dozens of distractions, which send every cop but one (Macone) into the streets. Peter changes into Spider-Man and thwarts an armed bus robbery, as the Beetle slinks into the station house, finding a briefcase with pens, pencils and envelopes—just what he was seeking! But Spidey crashes in through the window (because every good evidence room has a window to the outside), and the two begin a vicious, claustrophobic battle. Macone is also in the room, and grabs a stash of evidence heroin, which he adds water to, creating a paste to try and clog Beetle's suction cups—and gets waylaid for his troubles! Taking the hint, Spidey uses his extra web fluid cartridges to give the big bad bug a case of "terminal sticky fingers," ending the fight with one big punch. The injured Macone is celebrated as a hero at a special police department ceremony, having discovered the briefcase Beetle was after has a false bottom concealing a million bucks. Mary Ann is still upset, not staying around for the applause—and Peter rightly decides not to take her picture. After all, "there are problems even heroes cannot solve." -Joe Tura

Joe: The art overshadows the script this month. Sal B. does some Andru-esque panel breaking and horizontal paneling during the Spidey-Beetle brouhaha that adds a dynamic you don't normally see from the Sal & Mike team supreme. And the crazy risks of Officer Macone are also drawn well, although on some pages, the backgrounds seem sorta bland, which would be my only big quibble art-wise. The story doesn't have much guts to it, more of an "average Joe" tale that gives one of New York's Finest a moment in the sun. And that's OK. Spidey is there to help, of course, squashing the Beetle nicely with some good old-fashioned know-how, started by our heroic cop.

In "Spectacular Spider-Mail," we learn some news about our two Spidey books. First, Marv Wolfman is soon taking over Amazing, which means more Nova cameos, no doubt. And Spectacular plotting will be handed from Archie Goodwin to scripter Bill Mantlo. In the meantime, this issue we get a script by Elliot Maggin (aka Elliot S! Maggin—don't get me started on the gimmicky exclamation point), one of only two superhero credits for the future pseudo-politician (he lost both races he entered), the other being Incredible Hulk in Dec. 78. Otherwise, he's more well known for his work for DC on Green Lantern/Green Arrow and Superman, as well as The Batman Family and the legendary comic book adaptation of Welcome Back, Kotter. (How did I miss that one????) Does he do a good job with Spectacular Spider-Man? Well…it's not horrible. Kind of a throwback with Spidey's wisecracks ("Hope my fans didn't see that—both of them would be appalled" Ba-Bump-Kisssshh!) and the small potatoes scheme that's only about money and not some grandiose idea.

Joe: "BR-KAASH!" is the sound effect of the month, featured on page 17 when Spidey starts the brawl by smashing through a window. Now, I have no idea what "BR-KAASH!" actually sounds like, and I'm not about to go and test it out for myself. But heck, it's a neat one! In fact, the entire bout between the wall-crawler and the dung-roller is chock-full of excellent (and seemingly loud) sounds.

Matthew:  A rare Marvel credit for DC workhorse Elliot Maggin (Incredible Hulk #230 is the only other one in my collection), this could—gasp!—give fill-ins a good name.  It’s got a nice title; a nifty cover by Our Pal Sal; a well-chosen villain, with whom Spidey has a long history; rock-solid Buscemosito artwork, if that’s not redundant; great character stuff with JJJ, especially getting Macone’s name wrong; and an ending that eschews, if you’ll pardon the pun, a cop-out.  The lettercol hints at an unfolding development about which I’ll have more to say in the near future, i.e., Len’s phasing out as a Marvel mainstay, and vows that his ASM successor, Marv, will achieve unprecedented continuity with Bill on the two books.

Tarzan, the Lord of the Jungle 10
"The Deadly Peril of Jane Clayton"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Based on the novel, 
Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

Trailing the Abyssinians to the ruins of his forgotten home, Tarzan watches them unearth the gold, only to be driven off by the Arabs, and the fleeing Werper is followed by him and Achmet Zek.  Fearing Tarzan’s “ghost,” the raiders leave the gold, soon found by the Waziri, and Tarzan sees Achmet Zek obtain the pouch, then discard it when he finds it is full of ordinary pebbles; taken from Werper’s hiding place while Mugambi escaped the Abyssinians, the jewels were in turn stolen by Chulk.  Jane takes to the trees after Taglat is killed by a lion, and Tarzan regains his memory when Werper—who killed Achmet Zek—addresses him as Lord Greystoke, but he is knocked out contesting Werper’s arrest for murder by soldiers of the Congo Free State. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: In the home stretch, Roy seems to be struggling to pull this all together, yet—despite eliminating a frankly far-fetched subplot involving an intermittently remorseful Werper; a Jane who believes him to be the innocent “M. Frecoult”; and Achmet Zek’s right-hand man, Mohammed Beyd—he is following ERB’s lead.  Even while reading TATJOO, I chafed at the unnecessary complexity of the bait-and-switch with the jewels, not to mention the addition of a Congolese contingent to the Abyssinians, apes, Arabs, Oparians, and Waziri already overpopulating the narrative.  With his somewhat more stylized embellishment, Alcala gives the artwork a soupçon of the flavor that he doubtless brought to his better-known work in the SF and fantasy field, but it’s still top-notch.

Chris: The story’s a bit convoluted – how’d that contingent of Congo Free State soldiers get here (p 30)?   The pursuit and standoff involving Albert Werper and Achmet Zek has its share of tension, with Tarzan observing the two rogues from the underbrush.   But the art is worth the price of admission, isn’t it?   I can honestly admit that I don’t have much interest in our title character; I’m here for Buscema/Alcala.   On page 10, I’m looking at the texture Alcala adds to Buscema’s trees, and I observe the creatures in motion (horses running, horses falling, Tarzan leaping in the shadows), and I ask myself, “What would these two have brought to the pages of Thor ?”   It’s not just the action; our characters come off well too.   Check Tarzan’s thoughtful moment, as memories begin to creep in (p 26 pnl 6, colors by G. Roussos), the look of panic on Werper’s face (p 27 pnl 4), and Tarzan’s dawning realization (pnl 5, again ably assisted by Roussos).
Peter: I don't usually intrude on kingdoms not of my making but, as the resident "#1 Alcala Fan," I wanted to register my disappointment with the Master's work on Tarzan. Well, not with the Master per se, but the handling of the Master. Why Roy (or Jim, or whoever was making the decisions by this time) would use an artist whose work needs to be spread out over space rather than ala this boring Classics Illustrated-style "six teensy weensy little boxes per page and that's that" format is beyond me. As I said over and over and over while Jack Seabrook and I were discussing Alfredo's work on DC's horror titles (on the bare bones blog), no one does jungle scenes better than Alcala but you have to let him show the freakin' jungle! I know he's only the inker on this title but his style is all over Buscema's work. It's just a shame we got the truncated AA Tarzan. Off my soapbox.

The Mighty Thor 269
"A Walk on the Wild Side!"
Story by Len Wein
Art by Walt Simonson and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Walt Simonson and Joe Sinnott

Thor enjoys a rare moment of quiet, reading a local newspaper, even signing a few autographs before taking flight and finding a safe spot to transform into Dr. Don Blake, pondering his Earth future. Elsewhere, events that will soon affect him take place. Wilbur Day has been sprung from prison, but by whom, and why? The second question is soon answered, as his mysterious benefactors offer him a new and improved version of the suit that got him thrown into jail in the first place: that of his alter-ego the Stilt-Man. The "whom" seems to be dual voices from a computer, with a muscular and monstrous figure in the shadows backing them up. They have a mission for Day: steal an armoured box from a helicopter. He does just that, and it is the plummeting craft that draws Thor to return to the scene and save it (and the two pilots) from crashing into the crowd below. The Stilt-Man has a number of tricks up his metal sleeve, and they hold Thor off for a time, but said computer voices (in other words, whoever's behind this) realize a more powerful foe is needed. Just as the Thunder God gets Wilbur under control, the shadowed monstrous figure reveals himself with a blast, literally. That is, as in Blastaar the Living Bomb-Burst! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Here we go with a mixed bag of foes. The Stilt-Man will always be a Daredevil foe to me (Simonson's work even looks like Gene Colan's pencils at times), although he's made the rounds. Interestingly, he goes from reluctance to being a part of the scheme, to utter heartlessness (leaving the helicopter pilots to die), to regret, when his benefactors take control of his suit and want to use it to kill. Blastaar, of course, comes from the Fantastic Four, but has moved around as well. Had you seen him before, his identity would be easy enough to spot, though, Wein and Simonson do a good job of keeping him low-key until the end. Some interesting tidbits as Thor mingles with the crowds, and as the Warriors Three get the hint of a new mission from Odin back in Asgard. As for the voices dictating the action, that's interesting too. It's one thing to get Wilbur to do some dirty work, but Blastaar isn't one to follow orders; it follows our foes must be pretty powerful. Until next time...

Chris: Egads – the Stilt-Man?   Is it Assistant Editors’ Month already -?   It’d be reasonable to expect this to be a ridiculous mismatch, so bonus points to Len for finding a way for Stilty’s shadowy benefactors (at first, I thought they might’ve been the same mysterious powers – They – who brought back Crusher Creel to tangle with the Hulk in #209 of his mag) to drastically upgrade his rig.   As it is, the souped-up Stilt-Man can hang for a few rounds with Thor; it’s amusing, also, to see Stilts hasn’t had time to acquaint himself with the suit’s new powers, as he discovers a few of its capacities (such as the spines that prevent him from dropping in a hole, on p 27).   If I were the blond-maned Norse god of thunder, I might’ve gone with the lightning-blast earlier in the fight; it’s a good thing I’m not a comics writer, isn’t it, otherwise I’d be left with about 5-6 pages to fill before Blastaar crashes the party in the seconds before the final page.

The art this time allows more of Simonson’s signature look to shine thru.  Highlights include: our first look, from above, at the towering Stilt-suit (p 6) and Wilbur’s delight in his new powers (p 7, pnl 2); a Superman-type moment as Thor arrests the plummet of the unpiloted helicopter (p 14-15); Thor, battered by Stilt-missiles (p 22, with bright explosion-flash provided by G. Wein); the mysterious power’s impressive edifice (p 23, especially the final panel); Thor pegs the Stilt with a THWANG!, which causes him nearly to bend double (p 27, last pnl).

Matthew: While Tony’s rough-hewn style typically dominates the Simoniga interior art, an effective cover reminds us how great Joltin’ Joe makes Walt’s (or anybody’s) work look, as he did in #265.  It also reminds us that as with Spidey and Supes, any Thor/Stilt-Man match is going to have to involve a handicap if it’s going to last more than two panels; in this case, it’s Wilbur’s new adamantium togs, and again, I have no recollection of who’s behind him and his obvious “surprise” partner, although I hope they don’t turn out to be Len’s “They.”  He provides some nice touches, like the Lee/Kirby-flavored newsstand scene, and now that we’re no longer being fed that all-Asgardian diet, I found I enjoyed the byplay with the Warriors Three and Odin more.

The Tomb of Dracula 63
"The Road to Hell!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

Topaz tells Dracula she has no idea how she came to be in this spooky room with him. One moment she was being attacked by a tentacled beastie and the next she's in a creaky mansion, dressed in a toga. They soon have company, as both Janus and Frank Drake are also drawn to the mansion, which we find out contains the doorway to Hell itself. A voice breaks the silence, informing the quartet that they must be done away with and, lickety split, they're all standing in the center of a Roman coliseum, thousands in the audience. The tentacled creature appears, explaining that Janus must fight his father, Dracula, or Topaz will die. Seeing no choice (but explaining to his pop that he really wanted to ice him at a later date), Janus attacks the lord of the vampires and, seemingly, defeats him. The tentacled monster explains that his master will not be pleased as it was Drac who was scheduled to perform the TKO. The Count rises and shoves a wooden stake into the creature, killing it with a sickly squish. The mansion begins to collapse; Janus and Frank flee but Drac and Topaz remain behind. The ghostly voice orders the duo to open the door before them and enter. Before them stands a demon claiming to be Satan. -Peter Enfantino

Mark: We're pretty well back on the terror track here, save for one caveat, which I'll get to presently. The icky, incongruous Octoblob, which slithered into our tale last month, is merely a cats-paw, née tentacle, of Satan himself, and why not? He probably appreciates Lovecraft more than most.

Topaz's role remains murky but intriguing. There's no mention at all of the dead and hairless female corpses who haunted Professor Chris' dreams, last ish. Frank Drake's in and out of a hypnotic daze, with rescue-minded Rachel Van H in hot pursuit. She and Domini sorta share a moment near the end before things go fire and brimstone Ka-Boom!

Chris: I realize Satan is the master of lies and deceit and all that, and he probably wouldn’t hesitate to find a way to confuse his enemies, in expectation of tricking them into a critical mistake.   I sincerely hope I’m not being set up, since I’m thoroughly confused right now.   The opening is very intriguing, as Drac and Topaz both question why they’ve been drawn to this place that appears to harbor an evil presence; then, Marv adds to the moment as Frank is led to the house as if hypnotized, and Rachel is unable to open the door once it closes behind him.

Clever reversal as Janus and Drac attack the tentacle thing together; but, what happens after that?  For some reason, they are forced to fight each other, Janus declares Drac to be dead, and the arena bursts into flames, proving to be an illusion.  Drac stakes the squishy tentacle creature (Drac knows well how a properly-delivered stake can be deadly effective, doesn’t he?), and the house begins to burn down, until a deluge puts out the fire.  So, now what?  What purpose was Frank supposed to serve here?  If Satan could pull Drac and Topaz to his domain at any time, them why the elaborate show with the arena?  I’d like to say Marv has banked a significant quantity of good will, and so I’d be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but considering how shaky this title has become – it’s rare to see consecutive strong issues, as we used to – I’m going to have to wait and see if Marv finds a way to pull this together.

Mark: Ah, but what of the main event, Dracula versus Janus, father and son locked in a titanic struggle, darkness battling light? Alas, there's no decision but too much unexpectedly muddled staging by Marv. Satan provokes the fight, but a reluctant Janus remains the superior power. Indeed, he seems to kill dear old Drac on p.22, but the Count's alive again on 23, so it may have been some kind of ruse, with Janus only stunning him on purpose, because Marv's certainly convinced us he could destroy Dracula.

Guess we'll never know, because the Count turns his wrath on Octoblob, "You thought you could slay Dracula?" Ah, no, it was sonny-boy, which brings us back to the caveat I mentioned earlier. The long-gestating Drac-Janus conflict is a stone classic, rooted in the characters and story, but echoing with Big Picture existential questions of philosophy/theology that have been with us since our apish ancestors first stared questioningly up at the stars. Great stuff, no doubt, but I'm starting to think Marv has no idea how to resolve it.

Still, that question falls away when Drac turns the genre-trope tables, killing O-blob with a wooden stake, as served up with vicious glee by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer. Their squat, almost gnomish last-panel Satan is a sinister Bad Buddha, sitting cross-legged, licked by flames and exuding corruption.

We're geeked for next ish and have almost completely forgotten we were rooked out of a championship fight.

Hey, wait a minute...   

Star Wars 9
"Showdown on a Wasteland World!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Howard Chaykin and Tom Palmer
Colors by Tom Palmer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Tony DeZuniga

Han muses how he got this group of misfits together to protect the farming community when a swarm of flying scavengers approach, threatening to destroy the farmers’ crops. The group fights them off and Han saves Merri, an endangered farmer’s daughter, in the process. As Han begins to ready them for Serji-X’s eventual attack, Luke Skywalker is traveling the stars looking for a new base for the rebels. Luke is on the commlink with Leia when he sees something shocking and stops transmitting. Leia, now worried, goes to find Luke on her own. Back on Aduba-3, Han continues his preparations. Merri’s grandfather tries to haunt them away, saying he has mystical means of saving the settlement, but Han doesn’t listen. Finally, Serji-X attacks and the battle is fierce. In the midst of combat, they all make minor heroes of themselves, but some hits are taken. Don Wan Kihotay, wearing his armor and brandishing his saber, is struck down and stunned. While all this is going on, Merri’s grandfather, a Shaman, is uttering unfathomable screams at a hillside when suddenly a huge monster bursts forth…and it’s not happy!   -Scott McIntyre

...and starring Stan Lee as Snidely Whiplash!

Scott McIntyre: This truly goofy series continues to push plots forward while still seemingly not really going anywhere. Unexciting battles against not very interesting villains and all this makes me wonder what this has to do with Star Wars. Then again, Marvel was just keeping the series alive using the characters as they felt right. There’s a lot of time between films, almost too much just to tread water with the whole group staying together. However, this isn’t quite the way to do it, with the six foot tall green bunnies and whatnot. Luke’s mystery set-up is typical but a nice teaser. The art is okay and sometimes the likenesses are halfway decent. Luke turns out the best. It’s not awful, really, but Han Solo protecting a farming colony is not why I turn to Star Wars

Matthew:  I’ve gotta give credit where it’s due:  it’s just occurred to me that this arc did the whole Magnificent-Seven-in-space routine almost three years before the September 1980 release of Battle Beyond the Stars, so you’ve gotta wonder if John Sayles was a Marvel fan; it would be an amusing inversion if the comic book based on a movie then inspired another movie.  I’ll also allow that Palmer—doubling as colorist—is still having a partially positive effect on Chaykin’s pencils.  Contrasting their generally good Chewie with the ludicrous Dick Dastardly villain (page 22, panel 1), Mrs. Professor Matthew noted that it’s easier to do animals than people, which also seems confirmed by their wildly uneven Han Solo and the fairly cool last-page dinosaur monster.

Chris: Roy & Howie give us an issue that – more so than the previous two chapters – delivers more of the story-elements that made the original movie so enjoyable: plenty of action; characters we care about, now imperiled (as Leia loses her connection to Luke, and sets off after him); and, just as importantly, the splashy Big Moment.  
In the first movie, it’s the planet-rending power of the Death Star, followed by our heroes’ realization that Obi-Wan is right – “That’s no moon…” – as a mechanized planetoid looms into view.   In The Empire Strikes Back , it’s the sight of Imperial Walkers bearing down on Hoth’s rebel settlement.   In The Return of the Jedi , it’s the furious battle-might of Ewoks – no, excuse me, it’s the sight of the new, partially-assembled Death Star II (the station is subtitled, “Vader Gonna Getcha“).   The appearance on page 31 of the gigantic, ferocious “mystical solution” to the attacks on the village doesn’t rival the revelations I’ve mentioned from the movies, but it is in keeping with Lucas’ ability to suddenly raise the stakes, and allow a character – in this case, Han – to look, and declare, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Also This Month

Crazy #35
Dynomutt #3
< FOOM #21
Human Fly #7
Kid Colt Outlaw #223
Man From Atlantis #2
Marvel Super-Heroes #70
Marvel Super Action #6
Marvel Tales #89
Marvel Triple Action #40
Rawhide Kid #144
Sgt Fury #145
Spidey Super Stories #32
Yogi Bear #3


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 27

Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“The Children of Jhebbal Sag”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema & Tony DeZuniga
“Conan the Syndicated”
Text by Roy Thomas

“Shadow of the White Wolf”
Text by Fred Blosser

“The Readers’ Robert E. Howard”
“Swords and Scrolls”

Even though Savage Sword
 is running monthly at this point, some sort of delay caused Marvel to miss February in the publication schedule. So faithful readers had to wait 60 days for the conclusion of Roy, John and Tony’s adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “Beyond the Black River” (Weird Tales, May and June, 1935). At 45 pages, it’s certainly long but there’s not much of a plot: lucky for you, my synopsis will be fairly brief. Of course there is page after page of poetic wordsmithing and powerful illustrations to enjoy, so there’s plenty of delicious meat on the bone.

After escaping the Pict compound, Conan and the young Aquilonian wanderer Balthus rush through the forest in the direction of Fort Tuscelan: they must warn Valannus, the Governor of Conajohara, that the sorcerer Zogar Sag has united 16 clans, amassing an army of 3,000 fighting savages. Along the way, they avoid or slay a variety of the deadly creatures that the Pict wizard controls — including a leopard and a black panther. But they also come across an ally of their own, a fierce dog named Slasher, now feral after killing the three Picts who murdered his master. The canine forms an instant bond with Balthus.

Arriving at the fort, they find that they are too late: it is being hopelessly overrun by swarming Picts. But Conan is determined to warn the settlers along the Black River to abandon their homes and retreat to the nearest city, Velitrium. Soon after, they come across a set of deeply rutted wagon tracks headed for the salt licks. The Cimmerian determines that the men in the surrounding farms have gone for supplies, leaving their families unprotected. He sends Balthus and Slasher ahead to roust the woman and children as he follows the trail.

The pair arrives at the first ramshackle house and begins the evacuation. After the second, the Aquilonian begins to hear Pict war cries close by. He sends the frightened settlers ahead to warn the others — he and his canine companion will stay behind to fight the savages. But when a larger than anticipated force of Picts screams out of the bushes, Balthus and Slasher are killed after a heroic stand.

Meanwhile, Conan has reached the licks and warns the men: they rush off to help their families, the Cimmerian guarding their rear. Suddenly, the barbarian hears Balthus calling out for him and he goes to investigate. In a clearing, he sees a green witch-fire moving towards him — it had summoned the bronzed warrior in his friend’s voice. The burning form reveals that he is the brother of Zogar Sag and that they share an infernal bond: if one is cut, the other bleeds. After finishing its taunts, the vision becomes flesh, a red-eyed, gaunt demon. While the creature’s razor-sharp talons leave numerous gashes on Conan’s skin, the barbarian finally manages to behead the fearsome beast.

Days later in a tavern, Conan shares a tankard of ale with the last surviving soldier of Fort Tuscelan. The bandaged man says that, at the end of the massacre, Zogar Sag rushed towards him with a blood splattered axe, but red marks suddenly appeared on the wizard’s body and he pitched forward dead, falling into a fire — his army then fled in fear. The Cimmerian drinks deeply, proclaiming that those who live by magic often die by it as well. He then vows to kill ten Picts to pay for Balthus’ death — the heroic dog has earned seven.

As I said, not too many of the usual twists and turns with this one, just a straightforward plot that puts the pedal to the Akbitanan metal. There are quite a few pages of Conan and Balthus running through the forest, desperately trying to outmaneuver the Picts to the fort. The dialogue here is sparkling but didn’t need to be covered. Much of the talk is of the Jhebbal Sac from this tale’s title, a legendary sorcerer who could speak with animals. I kept waiting for this to impact the story in a major way but it never really did — so I left that out as well. The deaths of Balthus and Slasher took me completely by surprise. Thankfully, Big John and DeZuniga didn’t actually illustrate the tragic event, instead showing them basically overrun by the bloodthirsty Picts. The demonic brother of Zogar Sag is one of Buscema’s very best nightmares, all pointy ears and chin, with long, slender fingers topped by cat-like claws. Conan’s fearful fight with the beast covers four pages and it’s a corker. However, not sure how much of a power it was to have that close a bond to its brother: it was a two-for-one killing. I enjoyed how things were wrapped up with the one page epilogue set in the tavern. After all the fast and frenzied action, it was the perfect conclusion — and a somber tribute to the boy and his dog. Sniff. As with last issue, there was an Old West feel to the story — a wooden fort, rampaging savages, terrorized settlers — so this one was a very nice change of pace.

There’s isn’t a backup story included here, but we are offered a trio of bonus features. “Conan the Syndicated” is a spotlight on the character’s new newspaper strip, created by, you guessed it, Roy Thomas and John Buscema. At this point, Marvel had three syndicated strips running, with this one joining Spider-Man and Howard the Duck. I only remember the webslinger’s out of the trio. A Conan strip would seem to be fairly violent for the funny pages, though that bitch Mary Worth certainly knew her way around a crossbow. Fred Blosser’s “Shadow of the White Wolf” is a review of the “new” El Borak collection of the same name. El Borak, aka Francis X. Gordon, was Howard’s El Paso gunfighter who somehow ended up in Afghanistan. Released by FAC, the book collects three novelettes, including “The Country of the Knife,” which Roy transformed into “The Abode of the Damned” for The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #11. Finally, “The Readers’ Robert E. Howard” — called, more accurately, “A Fandom Portfolio of Conan” on the table of contents — is just that, a collection of four pinups submitted by fans. All are actually pretty good. One of the upstarts is Jeff Easley, a name familiar to anyone who has ever played Dungeons & Dragons. Big props to Bob Larkin for one of the greatest Savage Sword covers ever, though the sabretooth actually appeared in part one last issue. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Comics Super Special 2: 
The Savage Sword of Conan

Cover Art by Earl Norem

“Revenge of the Barbarian”
Story by Roy Thomas
Pencils by John Buscema
Inks by Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Joe Rosen
“The People Behind Conan”
Text by David A. Kraft

“Conan of the Silver Screen”
Text by James Delson

After the resounding success of the premiere Super Special kiss off, Marvel strikes back with another full-color magazine, this time featuring a more familiar character, Robert E. Howard’s Conan the Barbarian. Huh. A bit of a head scratcher since the Cimmerian already has a magazine. Sure, that one is in black-and-white, but people can always go with the 35¢ color comic if they want some hues in their heroics. It also doesn’t seem to fit in with the future publishing program of the Super Specials, mostly movie adaptations and more rock-n-roll stuff — though Conan will return in issue #9 in February of 1979. Perhaps they were trying to ride the publicity surrounding the announcement of the Conan movie? There is an article on the film adaptation, but, in hindsight, it’s a bit hit-and-miss: the movie wouldn’t appear until four years later.

Considering we have the dream team of Roy, Big John and Alfredo, the only thing different between the usual black-and-white Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian and this Savage Sword of Conan is the color. I’m sad to say that it really doesn’t add much — and couldn’t they have come up with a more original title? Now I imagine that the brightness on my digital file probably doesn’t match the sharpness of a copy fresh from the printer, but everything seems a bit washed out. In fact, that’s exactly what it looks like the ageless Marie Severin used: watercolor washes. Compare the interior to Earl Norem’s painted cover — you’ll see a huge difference in vibrancy. Anyways, let’s get to the story, a 50-page adaptation of Howard’s “Black Vulmea’s Vengeance,” originally published in Golden Fleece Historical Adventure in 1938, two years after the author’s self-inflicted death. It featured Terrence “Black” Vulmea, a 17th-century pirate who learned his craft from Native Americans.
After a night of drunken revelry, Conan stands woozily on the deck of his ship, the Cockatoo, his crew slumbering around him — including Petruchio, the watchman. Suddenly, the Zingaran man-o-war West Wolf appears on the bow: the Cockatoo is boarded, Conan’s incapacitated men are slaughtered and the chained Cimmerian is brought before the buccaneer’s captain, Dom Castillius. The defiant barbarian recognizes that Castillius is actually Basqus the Butcher, slaughterer of woman and children during the Hispan revolution. The captain denies the charge, threatening to hang his captive. But Conan swears that he knows the location of the fabled jewels called the Talons of Dagon: he will trade their location for freedom. Basqus agrees and the West Wolf sets sail for a nameless island on the Black Coast pointed out by the Cimmerian on the ship’s map.

Ten days later, the Wolf arrives on the unknown island: the Butcher, 15 crew members and Conan — now bound by a rope around his wrists — row ashore. After sweltering hours of hacking through the dense jungle, the party comes under attack by a hail of arrows. As Basqus’ men return fire, Conan bursts his bonds and makes his escape into the bush during the confusion. The barbarian shouts back that he was lying: the Talons of Dagon don’t exist. Suddenly, brown-skinned savages burst from the woods and overwhelm the crew of the West Wolf — only their captain survives and he flees in fear. Racing blindly forward, Basqus stumbles upon a crumbling stone city: strangely, the pursuing savages abruptly stop at its entrance and retreat. The captain walks further into the ancient structure and spends a fitful night tortured by the memories of the wife and daughter he abandoned years ago for a life of pillage.

When Basqus awakes, he finds Conan standing over him. The Cimmerian challenges the Zingarian to a swordfight but the Butcher blubbers, still despondent over his lost family. The barbarian takes pity on the man and together they carefully journey to the cliffs above the ruins. There, they spy the savages, now meeting with the mighty black warriors with whom they share the island. The brown men refuse to enter the old city to capture the intruders: they claim it is inhabited by a devil. The blacks, led by the impressive Bigomba, have no such fears and head out to kill the white men. Conan and Basqus make their way back inside the city only to come face to face with the aforementioned devil: a 100-foot python. Conan slashes at the huge snake’s neck and it slithers away in pain.

Desperately searching for an escape from the ruins, the two men come across an ancient temple. In the center is a grotesque stone idol, a necklace of jewels around its bloated neck. Conan cuts it in half and gives one to the surprised Basqus — the barbarian tells him to use it to provide for his family. Suddenly, Bigomba and another warrior arrive: after a bloody battle, both are killed. Alerted by the sounds of the conflict, more of the blacks charge forward. But, the tremendous snake is also drawn by the noise: its massive coils crush and strangle the warriors as Conan and the Butcher finally find an exit from the city. The Cimmerian strides off to further adventures unknown, leaving a repentant Basqus to return to the West Wolf.

Since it’s such a thing of beauty to look at — even with the wishy-washy colors — I’m not going to complain, but I would have hoped that something called a Super Special would be head and shoulders above what we have come to expect from a regular Conan magazine. There is really not much to this lengthy affair: nine pages alone are spent on Basqus stumbling around the abandoned city. Sorry, he’s not that much of an interesting character to spend so much time on. And yet another giant snake? And it seems to wipe out Bigomba’s men much too easily: it’s like they stood in a line and didn’t move. Roy should have replaced Howard’s monster. It’s an island so how about a giant crab or even some kind of Lovecraftian monstrosity. Also, I guess we can blame Howard, but Bigomba is a dopey name, more suited for the pages of Tarzan. I’ve gone on enough about my love of the Buscema/Alcala team, but I’ll mention that it looks like Alfredo toned down his usual fine details. Perhaps he thought they might overpower the color and kept things a bit simpler?

The Special also includes two text pieces. “The People Behind Conan” is nothing we haven’t seen before: one-page bios of Howard, Thomas, Buscema, Alfredo and Marie Severin. OK, I have never read a bio of Severin before. Now the two-page “Conan of the Silver Screen” is a fun historical oddball. As mentioned, the Conan movie was still four years away at this point so much of what the article covers did not come to fruition. Producer Edward Pressman is the main focus: however, after not being able to raise funding for the project, he eventually sold the rights to Dino De Laurentiis in 1979. At this point, Roy Thomas was pegged as the screenwriter and that too did not come to pass. However, the piece did nail it when proclaiming that bodybuilder Arnold Schwartzenegger [sic] would play the main character. But calling Stay Hungry, the 1976 Bob Rafelson movie he appeared in, “brilliant” is a stretch. The paragraphs that cover potential directors are a treat: the man who won the job, Walter Sobchak, oops I mean John Milius, is included along with Richard Fleischer, Richard Lester, John Boorman, Ralph Bakshi, Michael Ritchie and Franklin J. Schaffner. I wonder what the talented Boorman could have done with the material. But Bakshi? Blech. Two interesting pieces of art are also included: a rough sketch for the film’s logo and a black-and-white illustration of a Zamorian city by the legendary Brothers Hildebrandt. -Tom Flynn


  1. Professor FlynnMay 4, 2016 at 6:26 AM

    Professor Pete:
    I'll meet you on the corner of Cross Bay Boulevard and Pitkin Avenue tomorrow at 6. Bring your muskets.

  2. Stan Lee? Dick Dastardly? With that moustache, I'd always assumed the villain in the Star Wars comic was an obvious nod....Sergi-X Arrogantus, meet Sergio Aragones.

  3. But Bakshi did team up with Thomas for Fire and Ice (1983), and Thomas got his shot at Conan with Conan the Destroyer (1984).

    1. Professor FlynnMay 6, 2016 at 6:18 AM

      Thanks! Keep on smashing!

  4. B Smith, I feel mighty foolish now that you pointed that out, but appreciate your setting the record straight. Thanks!