Wednesday, June 29, 2016

July 1978 Part Two: Fresh Off Their Captain America: Civil War Appearances, Spider-Man and The Falcon are a Team-Up Marvel!

 The Invaders 30
"Five Against the Flying Death!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Frank Springer
Colors by Jim Novak
Letters by George Roussos
Cover by Alan Kupperberg and Joe Sinnott

Mindful of the fact that Dr. Barrow may still be alive aboard Der Fliegentod (sic), Namor tries to evade rather than attack it, then puts his flagship on auto-pilot to stop a sliced-off tower from toppling into the street.  Meanwhile, the Torch bursts the “Flying Death’s” shells in mid-air as the others take the fight to the Teutonic Knight, leaping aboard and proving that its “unbreakable glass” is no match for Cap’s shield.  He and the Brits are mopping up the “Ratzis” when Komtur predictably goes the hostage route with Barrow, directing their attention to the tele-screen on which his true targets appear:  British Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill and the Allied commander of North Africa, Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, there for a secret meeting.

Der Fliegentod is to provide a diversionary attack while Baron Strucker’s Blitzkrieg Squad (“See Sgt. Fury #14.  –Roy”) captures or kills them, but Cap staggers the Knight and Barrow is pulled to safety.  When the ship begins shaking, he says he had warned Komtur that “Radium-X was unpredictable and could lose its power at any moment,” so Spitfire bails out to lead a Hail Mary:  racing in circles, she creates a column of air heated by the Torch—now finished fusing the tower together—whose updraft slows the ship’s descent enough for Namor to set it down.  Komtur is unmasked as religious fanatic Franz Gerhardt, and Namor’s instruments lead them to the source of the tele-screen images, where they catch Strucker’s motley crew in the nick of time. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: Although the proofer in me wishes they would stop periodically adding a rogue “s” to Barrow’s name, this is otherwise a marked improvement over last issue, putting the Glupperberg creative team on a more solid footing.  The recap is handled particularly well:  the swastika-emblazoned figure of Komtur, who actually looks somewhat menacing for a change, fills the whole of page 2, clutching the stolen plans and Radium-X, surrounded by images of the three pre-Invaders’ failed attempts to prevent his thefts.  I still want to know more about how the “self-styled last of the old German military religious order…rationalized his allegiance [to Hitler] by becoming what he believed to be a holy warrior,” but at least “guest writer” Don gets the story proper underway…

Not sure why Frank (who will be on furlough for the next two issues) is credited as inker and embellisher, especially when he seems, if anything, to have allowed Alan’s pencils a little more room to breathe, but I’m not complaining.  I might take issue, ha ha, with Jacqueline’s suddenly revealed ability to ease her fall from the flying fort by kicking her legs to create an “air cushion,” just one example of the pseudo-science requiring greater suspension of disbelief than usual.  My biggest beef, though, is the overly hasty wrap-up that—in addition to slighting the potentially interesting background of Komtur and his order—turns Strucker, “wing commander of Hitler’s Death’s-Head Squadron” and the future Supreme Hydra, into a mere briefly glimpsed buffoon.

Chris Blake: I had to wait until Frank Robbins' discharge from service until I could return to this mag.  I'm still not thrilled with Frank Springer's finishes, but I seem to have a higher tolerance when they’re paired with Kupperberg's (admittedly average) pencils.  Kupperberg's layouts aren't exciting, but let's say Robbins + Springer (as much as their style might reflect the look of Timely titles from the war era) makes for a little too much unpredictability in the art. 

I remember Der Fliegentod as being a more formidable weapon; also, it looks smaller once Cap, Spitfire, and Union Jack are standing on its lid.  Maybe I'm confusing this with the swiveling swastika we had in the MTIO Annual a while back?  Well, in any case, the team doesn't have a whole lot of trouble with this device; they break the windshield, bop the Knight, and then drift it down to the ground.  It helps, once it loses altitude, that the Fliegentod takes a loooong time to fall, which provides the Torch and Spitfire an opportunity to set up their hot-air cushion.  The whole issue comes across as more of a training exercise than a dangerous mission; at least we see some well-executed teamwork.

Mark: The most interesting thing about this one is the Joe Sinnott cover. Some databases credit it to Alan Kupperberg, but it looks like pure Joltin' Joe to me, and his is the only signature. 

As for the rest, it's largely rah-rah by rote, as the "adult Invaders" (as they're credited inside) again save Winston Churchill. And after  last issue's kafuffle over the Fliegentod, the furshlugginer flying disc ends up crashing of its own accord! An admittedly novel solution, but not one requiring heroics, super or otherwise. Ditto the downfall of the Teutonic Knight (looking far more menacing than he proves to be in the nifty Kupperberg splash on p.2), who after besting each of the Big Three - in flashbacks last ish - goes night-night after one blow by Union Jack. 

"Fire-Bug" and "Sub" provide some instant urban renewal by holding up/spot-welding a damaged church tower, but I think Johnny Storm and Ben Grimm own the patent on that maneuver. Baron Strucker and his blitzkrieg boys get a quick cameo before being marched off to the nearest POW cage. There's nothing horrible wrong here, except Don Glut is to Roy Thomas as Herr Teuton is to the Red Skull.

War, in this case, is only heck.

 The Invincible Iron Man 112
"Moon Wars!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Pollard and Alfredo Alcala
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Keith Pollard and Bob Wiacek

 Iron Man leads the Wundagorian resistance, boarding the command ship just as Arcturus imprisons YJ-18 in a proton-shell for questioning his authority, then makes good on his threat to send That Other Punisher to Earth, with Shellhead plunging through the transporter in pursuit, leaving Jack to help the New Men.  Emerging via the egg, he signals the Soviets to stay on guard, and soon they are beset by a host of Rigellians and New Men who follow, with Jack sorting out the good guys from the bad while IM, low on power, magnetically affixes himself to his metallic foe.  As Jasper tracks the incoming bogeys, Whitney (overheard by a sinister “desk jockey”) cues Tony’s LMD to activate the top-secret Mayday Code, launching the Super-Missile.

Surviving the weapon he advised the government not to build, IM plummets to Earth as we look in on the Hogans at their Rocky Mountain ranch, and in the Detroit impact crater finds a bio-chip of “metalized living tissue” that broke off the Punisher.  After deploying his rocket-skates, he tries a desperate gamble based on his sensor-scan, bypassing his safety devices and boosting his power to full just long enough to fell the internally damaged Punisher before he can regenerate the missing chip.  Meanwhile, Jack is trying to dissuade the New Men from helping Arcturus in exchange for Wundagore when the Recorder—having tracked him via the egg’s signal beam—arrives to arrest the rogue Rigellian, lead the others to their new homeworld, and destroy the egg. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It being Marvel’s month for speedy denouements, the resolution of this ambitious arc feels rather rushed, but I certainly can’t fault Bill for its satisfying closure.  A special bonus page of “Printed Circuits” is devoted to a LOC-cartoon in which Fred G. Hembeck praises Mantlo, aptly urging him to “use Shellheads’ [sic] roller skates more!!”  I don’t normally think of my colleagues’ beloved Alcala in connection with a strip such as this, but find him well matched with Motown native Pollard (whose sometime penciling partner is name-checked in the “Arvell’s Bar” sight gag in page 21, panel 3), especially on the furious Jack in page 3, panel 1; languorous Laynia in page 6, panel 2; shadowy-faced Punisher in page 19, panel 5; and uniformly strong battle scenes.

Chris: It’s not often you see a Machina ex Machina, but that’s sorta what we have here, as the Recorder literally drops from the sky and straightens out everything on the very last page.  In fairness to Mantlo, he already had established that Arcturus had purposefully separated from the main fleet in order to set his own course for conquest; so, at least there are grounds for Arcturus to be placed in irons.  Also, it’s clever of Mantlo to realize that the Colonizers’ use of the transport egg could provide the Recorder with the means to trace the location of Arcturus’ splinter group.  It’s still not entirely clear to me why the Union of Super-Powered Soviets (the U.S.P.S. -? uh, maybe not) are part of the proceedings; aside from some sparring with Iron Man back in #110, there hasn’t been much for them to do.  And we’re still paying them union scale, Mantlo, socialist ideology or not.  

Iron Man crash-lands on a planetoid in consecutive issues; he’d been blown out of orbit around Wundagore II last issue, you’ll recall.  So clearly, this no longer is the same armor that had been cracked and splintered by Ultimo – that’s a good sign.  Mantlo reminds us there still are energy-reserve-driven limits to what the mighty suit can do, as IM cleverly uses the power-pods to draw himself to the Punisher and hitch an inter-planetary ride (p 10), so he won’t run out of juice and die in space; I always dig the rocket-skates, as IM buys himself some room from Punishing blows (p 20).  The climax of the fight, as IM blows past his fail-safes and desperately tries to finish off the already-compromised Punisher is satisfyingly action-packed (p 19-22).  Unfortunately, the city of Detroit was eternally crippled in the process, and still lacks revenues to patch up the fracas-fueled damage.  
Alcala is a very unusual choice as finisher, isn’t he?  Many of the lines are strong and clear, with solid shadowing, but the results don’t have the fine detail I recall from many of his efforts with John Buscema’s work on various Conan stories.  Perhaps Alcala didn’t feel that degree of detail was necessary; after all, this is a fairly broad space mini-opera.  In any case, the results are quite good, and I wish these two had been paired again on this title. Highlights (in addition to a few moments I’ve mentioned already) include: the epitome-of-evil look of Arcturus, as he poses his threat to little ol’ Earth (p 2, pnl 3); the sequence as the dispassionate Punisher and determined Iron Man race thru the egg and toward earth, with the surprised Soviets (including a lovely Laynia looking on , p 6); the high velocity impact of IM and the Big P leaves the limbs of both crossed over each other (p 21, pnl 2).  
I mentioned the rocket skates earlier; well apparently, Fred G. Hembeck of Yaphank NY is a fan too.  We’ve had many letters from Fred to enjoy over the years; every so often, the armadillo would thank Fred for including an illustration, and express regrets that there hadn’t been a way to print it alongside the letter.  Until now, that it – as far as I know, page 27 is the first time we see a Hembeck illustration – full page! – appear in a Marvel title.  His light-hearted, super-fan style is a welcome addition.

 John Carter, Warlord of Mars 14
"Tonight is the Night Helium Dies!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by George Perez and Rudy Nebres

 Zhuvan D’Ark’s skeletal warriors lay waste to Helium while Kantos Kan and Grogg battle overwhelming odds, and burst into the hospital just as a doctor is about to tell Dejah and Sola of the radical treatment he plans to try on the still-unconscious Tars Tarkas.  Sending Sola for help, Dejah tries to hold off the skeletons and then is confronted by D’Ark; meanwhile, hearing a voice from the rubble, Grogg and the “Little One” discover that his death trap failed when the wall in which he had embedded Carter withstood the destruction, and protected him from the debris.  “The flesh dissolved from the Heliumites’ bones, and formed over the skeletal remains of D’Ark’s sinister army,” revealing the true enormity of his evil plan...

The same fate befalls Carter as he reaches the hospital and is transfixed by D’Ark, who switches their bodies (his moldering one collapsing into a heap of bones), orders Dejah to be locked away unharmed, and seeks to resurrect his own woman.  When the coast is clear, Kantos and Grogg spot a ninth-ray projector next to Tars, gamble that it was intended to revive him, and win an ally as D’Ark unearths the remains of Adanna, who sacrificed herself to the dark gods on his behalf.  Kantos ruins the element of surprise by charging in as the transference begins, starting a mighty fray, but when he hurls his sword at “Carter,” refusing to see his friends’ bodies profaned, D’Ark turns to ash, and with his power gone, Dejah and Carter return to their original forms, unharmed. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Because the Burroughs books are outside of Marvel continuity, they’re the only ones I don’t read in synch with the rest of the curriculum, so I’ve only just realized that this trilogy, Nova and—shudder—Spider-Woman were simultaneous Wolfmantino productions with different inkers, in this case the persistent Nebres.  So, what do we learn herein?  Well, I guess the first lesson is, do be afraid of the D’Ark, not to mention the dark gods.  Any mention of the latter always makes me feel as though we’ve wandered from ERB into HPL/REH territory, as with T’Rallaa in #4 (can’t remember if that tendriled alien monster was assigned a specific gender, although I hoped that if it were female it didn’t marry one named Mr. L’Allaa), but again, I’d say Marv pulls it off.

The other lesson is a refresher course in Credit Where It’s Due, and Carmine’s double-pager on 2 and 3 of the rotting, apparently buck-naked Zhuvan presiding over the destruction of Helium is pretty wild, with Francoise M[ouly]’s garish colors only making it an even more lurid spectacle.  There’s something at once macabre yet delightfully absurd about seeing Dejah and Adanna side by side in page 21, panel 1, each skeleton bearing half of Dejah’s splendidly solid flesh, and who can say which is which?  The mêlée below it, with the warriors three hacking their way through a sea of skeletons, is also impressive; there, the colors are muted in such a way that Tars almost blends right in, subtly reinforcing how outnumbered he is.  Nebres-Nose Alert:  page 13, panel 5 (below).

Chris: So here’s Wolfman, with a brush in one hand, a freshly painted floor before him, and a corner directly behind his back; the door out of the room is way, way over there.  What’s he to do?  Quick – have a supporting character kill the defenseless, seemingly unstoppable adversary, and all the evil he wrought will be summarily undone.  The magic tricks begin on page 14, as a ninth ray projector happens to have been left sitting next to the apparently incurable Tars Tarkas, but it works without a hitch; after a week on his back, Tars is up and around and ready to slay the army of the undead.  A far, far more glaring problem presents itself at the aforementioned moment on p 23, when Zhuvan D’Ark’s evil switch is turned to “off;” when Kantos Kan throws his sword into Zhuvan’s chest, how does he know that Zhuvan has assumed Carter’s form?  Kantos didn’t witness the transformation; how does he know he’s not killing Carter?  And how could he possibly know that striking down this Carter form will restore the real Carter to his former body, which is now nothing more than a pile of bones?  It’s quite a risk, isn’t it; I for one would think twice before lobbing a scimitar at a man’s chest cavity.  

It’s too bad Wolfman doesn’t find a satisfying way to resolve the story, since the first two chapters provided a very entertaining setup.  The Infantino/Nebres art continues to hold up, though, as we continue to enjoy exciting and creepy visuals, such as: the two-page spread as Zhuvan exults at the sight of his army overrunning the city gates (p 2-3); the long-dead hand of Adanna reaching up from the ground – sure, we’ve seen this before, but I think they did it well, aided in part by unworldly colors by Francoise M. (p 20, 1st pnl); skin appears to grow on Adanna’s bones, as Dejah wastes away (p 21, 1st pnl), but Adanna just as quickly melts back to dust (p 27, 1st pnl); skeleton-bustin’ at its very best! (p 28).  

Matthew:  Chris, I agree 100% about the Klimactic Kantos Kontrivance, but I think you're being a bit unfair about the ninth-ray projector, which hardly just happened to have been left there.  The doctors had posited that aiming it at Tars might be a radical cure, but were prevented from testing their theory when the poop hit the fan, so Kantos and Grogg just ended up proving them correct.

 Master of Kung Fu 66
"Two Rivers"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig, Mike Zeck, John Tartaglione, Bob McLeod, and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Bob Layton

Kogar surveys the people assembled at Juliette’s house, and tries to determine alliances at work among them.  Pavane is unconscious; so, Juliette must not be working with Shen Kuei.  But who is her young protector, the one “Black Jack Blue” (a new member of Kogar’s crew) had called “Chinaman”?  Black Jack works quickly, and claims he and Shang-Chi had worked as mercenaries on a previous job.  So, Kogar challenges Black Jack: he would not be concerned if Kogar were to slay the silent youth?  S-C provides his own answer, as the battle is joined.  Juliette’s pirates bust in; the ensuing confusion allows S-C and Juliette to escape to her boat, and motor off, with the precious cargo stolen from Shen Kuei.  At a fork in the river, they decoy Kogar by throwing a crate to their right, then race down the left fork.  S-C and Juliette find a quiet spot down river; Juliette tempts S-C, but he hesitates, his thoughts only of Leiko.  In Hong Kong, Leiko discusses Shen Kuei, Juliette, and Kogar with the MI-6 officer; bureaucratic complications with the Red Chinese have prevented MI-6 from actively seeking out Kogar’s HQ.  Once the agent mentions that Pavane also is involved, Leiko volunteers herself to search alone; she’s provided with a small craft, and heads up the river.  Reston and Ms Greville arrive at MI-6 moments after Leiko has left; they are surprised to learn she also is in Hong Kong.  At dawn, at the quiet spot they had chosen to hide and rest, S-C gives in to curiosity and pries open one of the stolen crates, to find it filled with bricks of hashish; “All of this,” he despairs, “for drugs -?”  At that moment, one group of Kogar’s smugglers arrives, having crept down river with their motor off – they have successfully gained the element of surprise, as S-C recognizes that he and Juliette have no ready means of escape. 
-Chris Blake

Chris: The story’s big wheels keep on turnin’, as Shang-Chi and Juliette roll on the river.  Nearly everything we’ve heard and seen so far suggests the Hong Kong office of MI-6 could be right: Kogar appears to be a ruthless smuggler with a big-time operation, possibly with well-positioned friends.  But, he’s simply a crook, isn’t he, set apart from the rabble by a weapons-grade left arm, an eye patch, and a cape.  Until now, that is, as Shen Kuei informs Pavane that there are microdots hidden in each brick of hashish, and that all five thousand bricks are required to recover the “code for the plans.”  Well then, we now have all sorts of questions to carry us over to the next issue: what code? what plans? to build what, exactly?  Well, I guess those are all the questions we have right now; still, those are pretty big questions!  Bottom line: we can tell Doug will not be content to limit this story to the “back rivers” of southeast China – I smell further developments that could have Far-Reaching Implications for our heroes!
I narrowed my eyes and took a deep breath as I read the dreaded credit “M. Hands, Inker” on page one.  These fire-drill issues usually don’t turn out well, as a wide range of embellishment styles are required to flesh out hastily-completed layouts.  In this case, the art manages to hold together well, as Jim Craig (making his final MoKF appearance) provides pencils for the first twelve pages, while Pablo Marcos (no stranger to this title) inks no fewer than the final eight pages.  Mike Zeck (about to settle in as a regular) pencils the final five pages, while John Tartaglione (another mainstay) inks the first few.  No one – not even the Grand Comics Database – seems to know for certain who inked story
pages 4-9; no real harm done, though, since p 11 (8th story page) has the only noticeably weak visuals in the entire issue.  I guess that tells us one thing: if you really have no choice but to throw story pages in several directions – if that’s the only chance you have of getting the issue to the printer’s on time (ding dong, the bells’re gonna chiiime) – then your best bet should be to limit the “many” hands to a few “familiar” hands, to keep the damage to a minimum.  
Mark: "Two Rivers" propels Doug Moench's best story arc since Shang-Chi whacked Father Fu (MoKF #50) with increasing velocity. Moench's trademark elements of crazy criminals, adult soap opera, and international Bondian intrigue tumble and churn like the mighty Mississip at flood stage.

To wit: Shang battles one-eyed, one-handed Kogar, who's betrayed his partner Shen Kuei, the Cat, who's working for the Red Chinese, also wants S-C dead, and is allied with panty-wearing, whip-wielding Pavane, who's fought our hero twice before and is the Cat's current paramour, replacing saloon singer Juliette, who's trying to keep contraband stolen from the Cat out of Kogar's clutches. It was Juliette's letter to Shang, remember, that prompted his trip to Hong Kong, but he now resists Juliette's romantic entreaties, because he still pines for Leiko, even though he thinks she blew him off but she really didn't and has subsequently followed him to Hong Kong, where she's currently discovering Kogar's hollow-mountain hideout, on assignment for MI6, a fact just reported to Clive Reston and Miss Greville, who are on a combo date-mission, while trying to keep one step ahead of phony Hong Kong police, and we haven't even gotten to Black Jack Tarr, who's infiltrated  Kogar's crew as Black Jack Blue, and thus can't come to S-C's aid without blowing his cover. And lest we forget, the contraband crates contain bricks of hashish and, more importantly, five thousand microdots, which, when assembled, comprise an as-yet unknown evil plan of no doubt world-shaking consequence!

Excuse me while I take a huff off the oxygen tank...

The amazing thing is that - while I'm sure I've forgotten a twist or ten - Doug, by keeping tight focus on the scene at hand, not only keeps the reader from getting lost without a scorecard, but keeps the drama and suspense mounting with an adroit dexterity bordering on the wondrous.

On the graphic front, we find Mike Zeck inking Jim Craig. The results of this unexpected pairing are sure-footed and effective, if not up to the dazzling, self-inked masterwork Craig delivered a few months back. That's the downside of peak performance; anything less than the high water mark seems a bit disappointing.

But after a page or two, that's forgotten as the story's momentum sweeps the reader up on a thrilling rollercoaster ride.  You might need a puff of that hash to calm down (but don't tell Dean P I said so).

 Marvel Two-In-One 41
The Thing and Brother Voodoo in
"Voodoo and Valor!"
Story by Roger Slifer and David Anthony Kraft
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos

Stopping by “Luke’s” apartment the next day, Ben encounters Brother Voodoo, who had come from New Orleans to investigate the kidnappings and, amid the disarray, found the notorious telegram.  The level-headed Drumm’s quick demo of his powers forestalls a MARMIS so they can compare notes and join forces, discovering that the Panther’s name is also on the list (“I wish I’d’a looked at it last night”—ya think?).  They seek to reach the last person, unaware that at Mrs. Marley’s private Long Island airstrip, all ten are being herded aboard her plane by the zuvempire and its master, revealed as ex-minister of finance Dr. Kinji Obatu, who was sentenced to death by Ugandan Prime Minster Idi Amin for his “misdeeds” as Dr. Spectrum.

Interrupting an FBI questioning of her son Tommy, they deduce her location, but while Drumm’s magic teleports them to the airstrip, it cannot work with moving objects or across oceans, and the taxiing plane departs.  Flashbacks reveal that Obatu fled to a neighboring country and partnered with the houngan W’Sulli, who had enslaved a vampire terrorizing his village; he now returns to Kampala with the ten as an offering, their spirits trapped with the zuvempire’s in a govi (sacred urn).  Our heroes fly in, are quickly shot down, and arrive as Obatu threatens to hurl T’Challa off a parapet, but Drumm compels Ben to shatter the govi—unwisely left on the lawn—freeing the vampire, which topples Obatu in bat form after slaying W’Sulli, and the Panther, thus able to save himself.
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Although I’ve never received a telegram, I’ve seen plenty of them in the movies, and I’m pretty certain none of them ever looked like that forlorn scrawl in page 3, panel 2.  While we’re on the subject, would they really have listed our Lear Jet (sic) owner—however recognizable—simply as “Mrs. Marley,” sans first name, and was the Bullpen so truly devoid of imagination that “Peter Park” was the best they could come up with for the filler name at the top?  No, I’m not going to sit here and say I’d lose any sleep over it if Idi Amin took offense, but am I the only one who thinks it strange that they would use such a prominent public figure, even a mass murderer (and a live one, unlike Hitler), as a main villain, with lines like Ben’s “Idi an’ his Idiots” to boot?

This time the dreaded Dude dialogues Slifer’s “spiffy scenario” (note both the obligatory “DAK-KOOM!” sound effect in page 20, panel 7 and the “Slifer Field” sight gag in page 3, panel 4), probably because he wrote W’Sulli’s only other appearance—which I don’t regret missing—in Marvel Preview #12.  He’s no improvement over DeFalco; presumably the now-prismless Obatu was used solely as a link to Amin.  Wilson and Marcos offer a muddled mess of a cover as well as their typically problematic face work inside, which along with Ben’s rudeness in referring to Drumm as “Brother Bozo” feels like an unfortunate carryover from the Wein era, while Ben’s steering the plane with one hand while holding the wing together with the other is a jaw-dropper.

Chris: Is Jericho Drumm in this comic?  Let’s see … he poofs Ben to the airstrip on Long Island, and he momentarily takes possession of Ben long enough to cause him to smash the govi … anything else?  No, I guess that’s about all.  T’Challa has nearly as much to do as Jericho.  Considering the time and space Kraft devotes to exposition (nearly three pages, 11-14), you’d think there would’ve been reason for the story to carry over to a third issue.  But no; once the govi is broken, all spirits are repositioned in their proper bodies.  Ben, Jericho, and T’Challa don’t even have to do anything with the bad guys, as the story’s metal shutter comes down pretty fast; the zombie vampire (I can call it a zombie, even if Marvel can’t) dispatches both the houngan and the formerly-disgraced minister, then conveniently flies away.  We don’t even have a chance for some double-dealing by the acknowledged unpredictable and bloodthirsty Amin, who sees the situation go south and quickly drives away.  So, I guess that’s it. 

 Nova 20
"At Last -- The Inner Circle!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Dave Hunt
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Rosen
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Tom Palmer

Nova gets in some "super-exercise before breakfast," then trades quips with brother Bobby and gets encouragement from Mom before heading to school for the big make-up test. Bobby reveals his "Factor X," which is a robotic Sherlock Holmes, which he plans on using to track Rich and find out whatever secret he's hiding from the Rider family. Rich passes his test with a 71 and will be promoted, so the gang heads to Uncle Fudge's to celebrate, where they find Donna Lee crying in the next booth, since she hasn't seen the missing Mike for days. Back to the Rider home, and Charles is pissed at the Inner Circle for causing so many issues in his life, so he drives off towards NYC, and enters their secret lair, where the purple-hooded criminals are only annoyed and the boss demands to see Charles. Acting on a tip, Nova roughs up a couple of "low-lifes" looking for the Inner Circle's hideout, sending him to odd hood Shuffles, who lives on a ship and gives Nova a piece of paper with his info, telling him "lots a you costumed guys owe Shuffles favors...lots a guys." Nova finds the lair, dispatching baddies quickly, until he unmasks the supposed leader—and it's Charles Rider! Then Bobby comes in through a door with Factor X, accusing Nova of killing his father!--Joe Tura

Joe: The first caption of this issue is "Just this one time now, let's start at the beginning of our tale…" Could Marv be turning over a new leaf? Well, on page 2, Rich tells two awful jokes trying to make fun of Bobby, including "Like in Donny and Marie Osmosis?" Ugh. Then we get to page 20, trying to get info, Nova roughs up a couple of punks, throwing Francis face first into walls twice—and nary a scratch on the hoodlum! Seriously, that first toss would have killed the thug! Then Nova pays a visit to generic hood Shuffles, who I assume is famous for his card tricks, although if you think about it, naming an African-American criminal Shuffles is a bit too Luke Cage for this book. And when we get to the last page, we realize the cover tries very hard to give away the ending, although Charles is drawn with a purple jacket instead of the hoodie. See, there's no way we could have guessed what was going to happen!

The artwork is typical Infantino, except for bottom panel of page 27 (far below) when Nova tosses the Inner Circle desk (ironically not a full circle) with his balance completely off, as if he broke his back picking the furniture up. It does help much of the big battle takes place in the dark, so no need to draw any backgrounds. Dave Hunt's inks give the pencils less of a caught-in-the-wind feel than Palmer's, but it's still not knock-your-socks-off. Like the rest of our tale. The main highlight, for me, was the reveal of the borderline charming Factor X, who is jokey and hokey, yet ingenious enough to give Bobby a moment in the sun. But then again, how the heck is he able to find the secret Inner Circle hideout that easily? And how does he just walk into a door? Seems a bit too convenient, even for Marv, although we have to wait a couple of months to get our answers.

The Blue Blazes counter only goes to one this issue, and it's the most fitting one yet, 20 issues in, occurring when Nova discovers the Inner Circle goon he just took out, who he thinks is also the leader of the band, is actually his Dad. Then Bobby comes in, leaving us with the Blue-Blazes-of-all-cliffhangers. Hurray?

Matthew: Another day, another last-page “shocker” blown on the cover.  When Rich says, “I forgot all about Mike—ever since I saw him robbing that lab under the Yellow Claw’s orders,” is it really him talking, or is it Marv?  The involvement of Mike’s scientist brother (hitherto unknown, if I’m not mistaken) was one of that misbegotten storyline’s many WTF aspects, and although I’d be lying if I said I missed it, dropping it like a hot rock just seems like compounding the sloppiness on ye writer/editor’s part.  Did we need to know the details of mailman Hank’s personal life?  Plus, what Brazilian pen pal?  Not like we actually care!  My admiration for Hunt is a matter of record, but here, Dave joins the lengthy list of those defeated by Carmine Infantino.

Red Sonja 10 
“Red Lace Part One”
Story by Roy Thomas and Clara Noto
Art, Colors and Letters by Frank Thorne
Cover by Frank Thorne

In a mission to scout the fortifications of Skranos, Red Sonja, Suumaro and a few of his rebel soldiers sail down the river that borders the city to the North. Suddenly, hellish winged gargoyles — creations of Apah Alah, Suumaro’s mother — swoop down from the skies. While the Hyrkanian and the banished royal manage to slay the monsters, all their companions are killed in the attack. After the carnage is over, their boat is inexplicably drawn to shore. The warriors leap off and soon come across a towering and foreboding castle carved from the trunk of a tremendous and ancient tree. Suumaro warns that his mother built the structure for herself and Quillos, Skranos’ ruler, and the prince’s father. Another of the gargoyles drops down and tackles the young man — before Sonja can kill the beast, a scruffy man named Marmo emerges from the bush and pleads her to have mercy. He claims that this monster, Vasso, is his friend and harmless unlike his bestial brothers. The traveler says that Vasso saved him from other gargoyles but his companion was captured and taken to the wooden palace. He asks for their help to mount a rescue: while Suumaro warns Sonja that his mother’s temple is evil, the She-Devil ignores his protests. Inside, the trio comes across blind maidens spinning exquisite white lace and piles of tiny, gem-like eggs — over the prince’s protests, Sonja  pockets one. After opening an ornate carved door, they encounter a magnificent centaur. The half man/half horse is a glassblower, the little eggs his creations. Marmo, revealing himself as an actual thief and liar, charges in and leaps on the creature’s back, stabbing it multiple times. When the centaur collapses, the egg in Sonja’s pocket hatches and a tiny peacock emerges. Other eggs open and the room fills with the miniature birds. Cursing that the eggs have no value, Marmo slips away. While fatally wounded, the centaur rises and wipes some blood on Sonja’s eyes: she immediately goes blind as Suumaro finally kills the man-horse. As the prince guides the sightless Sonja out of the palace, the peacock from her pocket begins to grow to a mammoth size. It grabs the man with its beak and the woman by a talon and bursts through the ceiling, flapping skyward. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: With only two issues left before Funky Frank Thorne departs, Roy and Clara — mistakenly spelled as Clair on the splash page by Frank — launch a two-parter to send off Red Sonja’s signature artist. As usual, tons of wonderful weirdness on display. Vasso and his kind recall those super creepy monsters from one of the greatest TV movies of all time, 1972’s Gargoyles. That flick gave me a major case of the heebie jeebies as a kid. Have no clue why Vasso is the only good one in the bunch — Marmo is another confusing character. Not sure why he was even needed. The centaur is a magnificent Thorne creation: a serenely beautiful beast so it was a tad tough to take when the slovenly thief leaps on its back and gets all stabby. Frank does a good job with the peacocks as well but, at the end, the giant one comes across like the hysterical flying puppet from the immortal 1957 flick The Giant Claw. Drop everything and rush to YouTube if you haven’t seen that brain damaging train wreck. The meaning behind the title “Red Lace” has not been revealed yet, unless it refers to the blind seamstresses: but they are spinning white lace not red. Perhaps some blood will be mixed into the thread in part two? I have to assume that the delirious and druggy nature of this series will go out the window when Big John Buscema arrives in #12, so I await next issue with an air of melancholy.

Chris: Sonja’s and Suumaro’s journey proves to be full of surprises, few of them of the good variety; Roy and Clair keep us guessing what they might encounter next.  It all plays out like a bizarre dream, as the two travelers battle winged hellspawn, then sail to a stone castle arising from a giant wood base, and discover there a centaur who blows glass eggs, which hatch as tiny peacocks!  It’s also a bit surprising that S & S agree to help Marmo explore the castle, but as Sonja observes, she finds herself strangely drawn to the massive stone edifice.  Sonja rightfully threatens to “lop [his] ugly skull” from Marmo’s shoulders after he cold-bloodedly kills the centaur; it seems his life only is spared by a series of distractions, most notably the hatchling that grows into Ghidra, and carries Sonja & Suumaro away to … somewhere.  I suppose the stealthy invasion of the city of Skranos might have to wait for another night.

 The Spider-Woman 4
"Hell is the Hangman!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Bob Wiacek

A petty crook is planting a bag of diamonds on an unsuspecting, unconscious man; the hood’s been instructed to “douse the jerk in cheap booze” and push him off a cliff.  The crook’s efforts are interrupted as a noose snags him; the Hangman, holding the cord and looking down, declares the criminal has committed his “last act of villainy!”  The Hangman drops him to the pavement, and demands answers.  The man reports someone named Grimm has been killing jewelry dealers and stealing their merchandise; his orders were to frame someone else, to throw the police off Grimm’s trail.  The Hangman resolves to seek out Grimm, and administer justice; he proceeds to hang the crook before he leaves.  Earlier that evening, Spider-Woman had spotted Brother Grimm hanging on a car roof; she had swooped down to attempt to stop him, but failed as Grimm zapped her with an electrical blast from his palm.  On her return home, she meets her landlady, Priscilla Dolly, and Mrs Dolly’s contentious sons, William and Jake.  Once Jessica learns her father, Jonathan Drew, had briefly boarded at Mrs Dolly’s, and that he had worked with William at Pyro-Technic, she begins to press for information; William hastily excuses himself.  Jessica switches back to Spider-Woman garb and glides across town to Pyro-Technic HQ, following William at a discreet distance.  Once inside, she is trapped in a room with a wind-tunnel; before she can be sucked into its blades, S-W detaches a metal strip from the wall and jams the fan.  She breaks free from the tunnel-room, and finds William; before she can question him, Brother Grimm kicks her in the back.  S-W fends BG off with a venom blast, but not before he tosses a vial of flammable fluid.  S-W leaps past the fire and tackles BG, but he refuses to answer any questions.   Before S-W can try another tack with BG, she is snared by a rope, and pulled free of the building by the Hangman!  Moments later, the heat from the flames sets off the generators; the building explodes, with Brother Grimm apparently caught in the blast.  The Hangman declares that he will safeguard S-W by locking her away in his dungeon. -Chris Blake

Chris: I was wondering when Hangman’s secret cellar was going to enter into this.  We remember the H-man all too well from his appearances in Werewolf by Night (well, I should say that Prof Joe and I remember him – the rest of you skipped those classes).  Brother Grimm, though, we’re still trying to figure out.  Here’s the little we know: he seems to enjoy his life of crime; he indulges in an odd manner of speech (“I told you, you little ninny – I got the sparklers!  So, nyah – nyah!”); he has an odd assortment of weapons and powers; he seems to enjoy talking to himself (p 6-7).  I’d like to say we’ll learn all we need to know about this character next issue, but since Wolfman seems to be taking his time about it, I really can’t say “all will be revealed” with any certainty.  Oh, did you think BG died in the building explosion?  Well then, see the registrar about remedial classes.  
Jessica’s plan for discovery of the truth of her father’s death (or was it – murder -?!) is not moving boldly forward, either.  In SW #3, we saw Jessica give up and go home after her late-afternoon encounter with BG caused her to miss quittin’ time at Pyro-Technic; this time, Jessica lets the entire day go by, and finally decides to go to the building only because she’s tailing William there.  And now the building is gone, so William remains her only link to her father’s employment at P-T; I suspect William will be taking his dinners in his bedroom, and cutting out by the back door.  The one tiny bit of progress here is Jessica’s realization that Magnus’ choice of Mrs Dolly’s home could not have been a coincidence; so, how did Magnus know about the Dolly family’s connection to her father?  And, how much else might he know about Jonathan, that he hasn’t told her yet -?
The art is by Infantino & DeZuniga.  Please refer to your notes from our previous Spider-Woman class.  I hope you all enjoyed the Cockrum/Wiacek cover, despite the word balloons.  
Matthew: What is it with these guys?  Marv “look[s] in on our erstwhile congressman,” who’s usually referred to as “Congressman Wyatt,” suggesting that he’s a current, not a former, rep.  So, based on recent evidence, the collective Bullpen is obviously too stupid to know what “erstwhile” actually means, which makes me wonder what they thought it meant, and a little Internoodling suggests that it’s mistaken for “esteemed.”  Duh.  Perhaps they think readers are on the same level if introducing “Jake” and “William” is expected to leave anybody in any doubt about the “secret” of Brother Grimm.  Good thing they told us that was supposed to be Bill Foster on page 14, since in Infaniga’s hands, a familiar face for nigh 12 years is unrecognizable...

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 20
"Where Were You When the Lights Went Out?"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ernie Chan

During a rainstorm, Spider-Man eavesdrops on the interrogation of The Enforcers at the "Metropolitan Police Station" (wherever the heck that is), watching as The Ox breaks through the "maxi-glass" designed by Tony Stark, but Lt. D'Angelo pushes a button that gasses the trio into submission, another Stark addition. Spidey swings back to his apartment, and the bathroom ceiling gives in, waking congenial landlady Mrs. Muggins. She blames Peter for leaving the skylight open, telling him he has to do the repair work, leaving her tenant to dry his Spidey suit on the radiator before class. At an abandoned lightbulb factory in Long Island City, Lightmaster (not a big shock when we learn who or "watt" is behind all this) plots his revenge against Spider-Man, who he thinks is Hector Ayala. On campus, the radiant rogue traps Hector, knocking his amulets off and zipping away in an electrifying display, but not before Peter is able to slap a Spider-Tracer on Hector.

Spidey tracks his tracer to the super-clichéd lightbulb factory, and witnesses Lightmaster posturing over the ill Hector, which happens when he is separated from the amulets, ready to reveal to the world over "all local prime-time television broadcast stations" the "secret identity of the spectacular Spider-Man!" But the real Spidey manages to slip Hector his amulets, so it's actually revealed that Hector is The White Tiger, which shocks and supremely annoys gal pal Holly, watching on TV with Flash and Sha Shan. Meanwhile, Spidey attacks Lightmaster, who uses his powers to make light shapes to attack the wall-crawler, but when our hero tries to draw the brightened baddie outside, he ends up going inside the giant light bulb on the outside of the factory! Lightmaster has Spidey trapped like a bug and turns up the juice to zap him good…but White Tiger leaps into action (finally!) and New York City goes into a blackout, which in turn destroys Lightmaster since, as Spidey surmises, without light surrounding him, the dim bulb couldn’t hold his molecular structure together!
--Joe Tura

Joe: All in all, a solid issue, until the finale. We learn the not-so-secret identity of the man/light unit pulling the strings, although the Enforcers stuck to their guns and didn't give up the boss. We get some drama when Peter's bathroom crumbles from water damage and he's told to fix it so his rent won't go up. There's more drama when Hector is light-napped on campus and threatened to be revealed as Spider-Man. Then, even more suspense when Holly walks out, peeved that Hector is a super hero and led her to believe he was in danger, accompanied by the caption, "So much for the consistency of Holly Jackson!" There's a decent Spidey-Lightmaster battle too, that ends when Spidey swings into the big bulb, then suddenly, it's over! You almost feel cheated by not seeing Lightmaster get fried, or by not having Spider-Man, or even the White Tiger, actually defeat him. Is that because Lightmaster is that much more powerful since he's a being of pure light nowadays? Or did the budget run over and Sal & Mike couldn't afford to draw any more? That's just about the only misstep this month, unless you count White Tiger taking his sweet time to "enter the fray." Nice little moments include Peter putting his Spidey suit in the shower to hide it from Mrs. Muggins; Peter fighting a cold from wearing the damp suit under his clothes; Spidey slipping the tracer on Hector; the "out-of-towners" being shocked at seeing Spidey swinging across the 59th Street Bridge; Spidey lowering the amulets to Hector; and the trap inside the giant light bulb, which ironically was not a good idea for Spidey to swing into it!

Favorite sound effect is the three panel long "KRRRR..RAAKKK..KRUMP1" as the bathroom ceiling plaster in Peter's pad starts to powder, waking up the always-a-barrel-of-laughs Mrs. Muggins ("Saints preserve us!!"), leaving Peter to think fast for an excuse. A good moment in Peter's civilian life that helps make the Spidey books grounded in "reality."

Matthew: I’ve always considered Lightmaster a rather dull villain, and re-reading this so-so issue did nothing to change my opinion; even Ernie’s virtually monochromatic cover, while admittedly unusual, isn’t all that interesting.  Adding nothing to his, uh, luster is how quickly he is taken down in a climax making that of the current Invaders look leisurely by comparison—one moment he has Spidey seconds away from death, and the next he has (alas, only apparently) “destroyed himself” so abruptly that expository dialogue is required to tell us what we’re looking at.  But the pièce de résistance is the caption in page 23, panel 6:  “So much for the consistency of Holly Jackson!”…or of Marvel, since her name is Holly Gillis!

 Star Wars 13
"Day of the Dragon Lords!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino, Terry Austin, and Bob Wiacek
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Rick Parker
Cover by John Byrne and Terry Austin

Luke and the droids, still stranded on the water planet in the Drexel System, are told by Governor Quarg that, unless Artoo can repair one of the skiffs and demonstrate those repairs by blasting a nearby mound, their lives won’t be worth a damn. Once the repairs are done, Luke goes to fire on the mound when he is attacked by the stowaway machinesmith who is determined not to let Luke take his job. Luke jams on the skiff’s breaks and sends the machinesmith flying. Then he destroys the mound. Not only does that buy Luke and the droids precious time, Luke is given the job of Quarg’s machinesmith, filling the job void since the man who attacked Luke is now dead, hanged by the sail mast of Quarg’s vessel. Quarg explains how they all got there: Quarg’s father led a group of space wreckers who would cause the destruction of space craft to salvage their parts. After the crew mutinied, they wound up on this planet, sending the mutiny leaders to drift on the oceans rather than killing them outright. They survived to become the Dragon Lords. Suddenly, Quarg’s trackers pick up a reading of Crimson Jack’s giant star destroyer entering orbit. They try to bring it down. Han, Leia and Chewie use the attack as cover to escape in the Falcon. However, the same beam brings down the smuggling cruiser and they land roughly on the water planet. At the same time, the Dragon Lords attack. Skiffs attack the Falcon, but Luke fights off the attackers and saves the Falcon. Chewbacca, however, is reacting on instinct. He was attacked and Han is missing, so he, in turn, attacks Luke and the droids
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A slow-moving, talky issue. There’s a huge info dump explaining Quarg and his situation. As before, nobody really looks like anyone, but Terry Austin’s very clean inks make this look better than it should. He nails the details, especially the machinery. Threepio’s personality is kind of off. He was always a nag, but they’re not getting it quite right. But that’s par for this title. Not as much fun as when I was a wee lad.

Matthew:  I’ve just now noticed that the ad on page 12 features a “Hans [sic] Solo” action figure, presumably embodying the star of Krieg der Sterne; for that to appear in the official Star Wars comic is pretty freakin’ hilarious.  I also laughed when Archie referred to the “unnamed planet in the Drexel system” as “this waterworld” since, if you changed the precious commodity from metal to dirt, this would bear more than a passing resemblance to a certain 1995 box-office flop of which I was one of the few champions.  But a Byrne/Austin cover on a book drawn by Carmine Infantino?  Man, that’s just sadistic.  In page 20, panels 1-2 (above), Chewie looks like he’s running from the dog-catcher, and Hans—um, Han—seems to be reflected in a funhouse mirror.

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 14
"The Battle for the She-Ape!"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Based on "The Battle for Teeka"
from Jungle Tales of Tarzan
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

 Predictably, the apes relax their vigilance, allowing Toog—an outcast following a failed challenge to the leader of his own tribe—to seek a prize in Teeka, whom he kidnaps after shaking Gazan from his arboreal refuge.  Entrusting the still-living balu to Mumga (aka Mumba; the spelling varies in both ERB and Marvel), Tarzan and Taug give chase, almost losing the trail in a fierce deluge.  The captive Teeka cries out, warning them of an impending attack by Toog’s tribe, then saves the day when the “shiny things” she finds in Tarzan’s fallen pouch and hurls into the fray turn out to be cartridges the curious young ape-man had just discovered under the bed in his parents’ cabin, which detonate upon striking a boulder and scatter the opposing forces. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The last direct adaptation marks the swan song of Roy, whose “Editorial Epilogue” reports that, “as with Star Wars, I soon found that it was an idea I enjoyed more in the contemplation than in the execution” (Professor Gilbert may be able to elaborate on reported friction with the ERB estate), and that the more successful Robert E. Howard franchise “takes care of the need in me to write high adventure of a totally non-super-heroic nature.”  As usual, it reads like an illustrated version of “The Battle for Teeka,” the tenth of the Jungle Tales of Tarzan.  Alas, with equal inevitability, the arrival of Janson—who will linger like an unwanted guest for six issues—spells trouble for John, although this features less Tarzan and more apes, who can better withstand him.

Chris: Klaus Janson might not be the ideal inker for John Buscema on all of his titles, but I think Klaus is an inspired choice to provide finishes for Tarzan.  He enhances the dark mood of the shadowy, ever-threatening jungle; that should come easily to him.  The trickier part is to complete Big John’s efforts to portray the emotional states of the Mangani, which Klaus does more effectively than you might expect. I’ve criticized Klaus in the past when he’s left us with indistinct, slightly unfinished faces (a few mushy moments in last month’s Avengers, for example), but he certainly helps Buscema portray the wariness, cunning, distress, and ferocity (to name a few states of mind) that we read on the apes’ faces.  

 The Mighty Thor 273
"Somewhere -- Over the Rainbow Bridge!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Tom Palmer

Thor is a little shocked--his old reporter-turned-news anchorman acquaintance, Harris Hobbs, not only remembers his visit to Asgard many years ago, he wants to return there with a camera crew to film the life of the gods! His memory began to return in dreams, recalling the Absorbing Man and meeting the other gods in Asgard. He had then gone to a doctor to hypnotize him and voila, the memories were complete. Thor considers it, but needs to ask his father Odin. Besides, he is anxious to see his beloved Sif again, so he bids Hobbs farewell, with no promises. A solemn, powerful and intimidating man then appears suddenly to the former reporter, wanting to know more. Harris admits there is more: a second repeating dream, wherein Thor asks the giant Hymir to take him far out on the ocean to fish for something he won't disclose. It turns out Thor wants to catch the Midgard Serpent, which he does--until Hymir cuts the line to save both their lives. Thor departs angrily, leaving Hymir at sea. Back to reality, and the anchorman's benefactor reveals himself to be Loki, who will grant Hobbs' wish for his own reasons. Thor prepares to return to Asgard, taking with him the computer that had been the entity Faust, to dispose of there. Upon his return, he finds that both the Lady Sif and All-Father Odin have left Asgard on different missions, but with no word on where or why. Heimdall, Balder, and the Warriors Three remain in charge. When the Faust computer then breaks open, revealing Hobbs and a couple of his crew members, everyone's confusion is soon put to rest, with much more dire news. Loki appears, and tells them that the dreams of the Earthman are simply the man being used to channel the prophecies of Volla that tell of Ragnarok, the end of the lives of the gods. Loki assures them that this is no false alarm...the end is coming! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: A couple of things strike me right away about this issue, both about writer Roy Thomas. First he wastes no time returning Thor to his native Asgard rather than Earth. And second, he dives right in to tackling Ragnarok, an epic topic, but one you can't easily get out of (recall the masterful saga in issues #154-57)! There's some nice attention to details, like referring to Thor's words to Hobbs about recalling his visit to Asgard in dreams, or the name for the Midgard Serpent, Jormungand (however you pronounce it). John Buscema is a delight to the eyes, even though his habit of often portraying Thor as left-handed instead of right used to bother me as a kid. I guess gods can be ambidextrous too!

Chris: Didn’t Len just banish Loki to confused banishment on Earth, only a handful of issues ago?  Well, I guess Roy couldn’t resist.  At least he isn’t bringing Loki aboard simply to tie Thor’s bootlaces together and run away; I mean, whoa, could this really be Ragnarok, that is RAGNAROK, this time?  At first, I was going to credit Loki with some previously-unforeseen magical might, but it’s plainly stated that his Midgard Serpent was nothing more than a convenient distraction, well within his deceptive capacity.  

It’s still not entirely clear to me how Loki’s (evil, so so evil …) powers have been restored; he states the Prophesies of Volla are driving present actions – including the night-visions of ambitious mortal Harris Hobbs – but does the “spirit of mad Volla” also infuse Loki with renewed power?  I guess we’ll find out.  Another topic for further exploration is the nature of the grim missions undertaken separately by Odin and Sif; even Heimdall doesn’t want to speculate about their purpose.  Okay Roy – as always, you’ve got my undivided attention!
Buscema & Palmer seem like they’ve been working on this title for years, don’t they?  Art highlights include: Hobbs’ night terrors (p 3, pnl 4); Loki’s hooded eyes (p 7, 1st panel – we recognize him, even without the horned helmet, right?); the legend of Thor vs Jormungand, especially Thor grasping the taut line, as Hymir’s boat is tossed in the rough waters (p 10, pnl 4); Thor’s reunion with his comrades (p 26, last pnl); and of course, p 29, as Loki revels in the prospect of his contribution to The End of Everything.
Matthew:  Effing Palmer.  I imagine it takes some effort to make Big John Buscema’s art look unattractive, so please, don’t go to any trouble on my account.  Y’know, I’m often surprised at the things Marvel expects will, um, surprise us, even when they’re not given away on the cover; we knew Loki was banished to Midgard, so did anybody really gasp when that raincoated figure on the rooftop—who expressed belief in Asgard—was revealed as Loki?  That damned FAUST is like the gift that keeps on giving, since for Thor to schlepp it all the way to Asgard is so absurd that in hindsight, the whole notion just seems like a patent contrivance to get Harris Hobbs there over Thor’s objections, and would it really have a secret compartment that could hold three men?

Tomb of Dracula 65
"Where No Vampire Has Gone Before!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Denise V. Wohl
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

It's been 500 years since Count Dracula was transformed into a vampire and he's having a hard time dealing with his new-found mortality. He needs money, food, a place to hide out and some manners. After saving a female junkie from a murder attempt, Dracula is taken to a police precinct. Since he's now mortal, the ex-vampire can walk amongst us and, to his chagrin, have his picture taken. Though he's lauded as a hero by the cops, all he wants is to be left alone. He hightails it from the police station, cops right behind him, and realizes he's just as good blending into the shadows of day as he is at night. Meanwhile, in the subplot department, the vampire hunters suddenly face a moral dilemma: now that Dracula is human, do they cease their search and, if they find him and kill him, is it murder? Across town, a big man in western attire is champing at the bit to get his silver bullets into the Count, whether Drac be vampire or mortal. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Intriguing, yes, but the "fish out of water" scenario isn't explored to its fullest just yet (perhaps in the two issues before this story thread winds down). No, I don't want to see Dracula telling a liquor store clerk, "I drink... wine!" or watch him join the Defenders. I'd just like to see something happen. Why, if he's back to being a human, does Drac retain at least a portion of his super strength? The sequence with the drug-addicted girl ("I'm Nobody... yeah, if anyone asks, you saw Nobody. Got it?") is interminable; the dialogue like nails on a chalkboard. Gentleman Gene's art is a bit suspect this issue as well. Drac undergoes a facial transformation several times, looking quite like Clark Gable in a couple panels. Would the loss of his fangs change his features that much? And, back to "Nobody," that heroin she's pumping must have some kind of magic powers as the girl goes from haggard old hag to hot young thing in the course of one page. The only positive aspect to "Where No Vampire Has Gone Before!" is the discussion between vampire hunters concerning their new dilemma. They've got years of hatred stored up for this monster and then fate robs them of their life mission. With the countdown at ToD Minus Five, I sure hope this "legendary" title gets heaps better quickly.

Chris: I’m not sure Lilith is going to be all that interested in helping Drac, you know?  It’s not like they’ve kept in touch over the years.  “Oh hi Dad; yeah sure, I haven’t talked to you in, like, centuries, but now you drop in because you need something?  Sure, fine – I get it.”  
Wolfman’s been handling this character long enough to know all the conventional factors that define someone as an undead vampire: doesn’t show in photos; casts no shadow; poor tolerance for religious icons – especially the almighty crucifix; adverse reaction to daylight; never hungers or thirsts – except for blood, etc.  So Drac is subjected to all these indignities, as Marv digs the pins into his Count Vlad voodoo doll.  But what about the gunshot wound?  It seems to me that, if Drac has been shot (and we see that he has, on p 11), it should register as more than a novel experience for him.  
First of all, it should hurt – a lot – and it should bleed; holes in the epidermis rarely seal up on their own.  Secondly, the police surely would have directed Drac for medical assistance, and not have him cool his heels in the precinct office, if they’d been aware he’d been pierced by a bullet.  So, the trick for Drac is to ensure the PD are not aware of his injury, so they won’t be disposed to ask too many questions, nearly all of which he would not be able to answer adequately.  It wouldn’t have taken long to address this; all Wolfman had to do was give Drac a moment to devise a clever dodge, so the PD would not know about the wound, and be required to do something about it.  Drac’s effort to hide his unfamiliar discomfort, as he tries to figure a way out of the precinct, could have provided a high point of tension for the story.  

The irony is quite rich, isn’t it, as Drac witnesses the attack on Harriet the Dope Fiend, and observes how the gun-toting Wild Jack and his ilk “prey on the weak, the young … the innocent.  They take beauty and defile it …”  Hey Drac – remind you of anyone?  I don’t know, maybe someone in the room right here -?
Mark: Hail to the Masters*: Gene Colan and Tom Palmer, who've been so good for so long on TOD that's it's easy to take them for granted, add a new wrinkle to their considerable chops here. Their human Dracula somehow manages to look exactly like the coffin-loving Count and completely different. The warm flesh tone coloring contributes, but mostly it's a subtle shift of facial features and expressions, uncertainty in the eyes, a puzzled pursing of lips. Vlad is more human, more vulnerably alive; it's a masterful characterization that, sadly, Marv's off-kilter script can't match.

Vlad, after his encounter with Rachel (why did she simply let him go instead of capturing him at crossbow point?), makes his way timidly through an alley before recovering his natural bravado to defend the junkie streetwalker. He's also shot in the encounter, but Marv quickly forgets this, since Drac receives no medical attention either on-scene or at the police station and later nimbly eludes pursuing cops (why they're chasing a man they just cleared and called a hero is anybody's guess but Marv's) and should be, one might think, bleeding all the while from an untended bullet wound. But no, Drac's inexplicably okey-dokey, with absent-minded Marv not even offering up a fig-leaf like the Count still has fast-clotting blood, or some other hokum. We do get a moment of humor when he realizes he's hungry, but doesn't have any money to buy a street vendor pretzel. Deciding he needs to be "re-vamped" to escape his precarious position, Drac soon hijacks a plane and heads to New York, where he hopes his estranged daughter Lilith can be persuaded to put the chomp on him.

In the past Drac has had moments when he's mourned his lost humanity, indeed they're among the most emotionally resonant in the series, yet here he just despises the sun and "this ridiculous existence" among the living. While the Count's long term survival (to say nothing of his nefarious ambitions) no doubt demands a return to undead status, that Marv can't spare a single, wistful moment for Dracula to revel in again being a man is shockingly tone-deaf, a misstep more clumsy than forgetting a bullet wound.

Wolfman's batting average on TOD has been incredibly high over the years, and one can only assume that his increased workload (taking over Spidey and FF) led to this slipshod tale. Yet, with only a handful of issues left before poor sales put the Count down for good, let's hope this toothless effort doesn't signal a title limping weakly to the grave.   

*A coveted No-Prize to the first student who identifies the Gene Colan-drawn tale this references.  

Matthew: Won't spill the beans, but I certainly recognized it!

Marvel Team-Up 71
Spider-Man and The Falcon in
Story by Bill Kunkel
Art by David Wenzel and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Ernie Chan

Responding to his urgent phone call, the Falcon finds Captain America sprawled on a Harlem sidewalk, comatose and clutching a flower; S.H.I.E.L.D.’s Dr. Jonas Cobb explains that he will die from the unknown bloom without an anti-toxin, and directs the Falcon to research scientist Leroy Katz, whose government labs have been plagued by thefts.  Breaking up one such theft is Spidey, who is so startled to see that the object of the exercise is “Top Secret Priority -A- Fertilizer” that the distraction enables the thieves to wing him and flee.  He’s even more confused when Falc, finding him alone in the aftermath, demands an anti-toxin of which he has no knowledge, but while brawling, they discover a thief left behind, who provides directions.

Infiltrating a high-tech greenhouse complex on Long Island Sound, Spidey impersonates one of the uniformed goons and finds their boss is—gasp!—the Plantman, using the “stolen government nutrient” and financing from A.I.M. to create strangler vines, projectile-firing black orchids, and Pretty Poison, which he “field-tested” on Cap.  Claiming that a minion has accidentally touched it, Spidey dupes Plantman into grabbing the anti-toxin, whereupon he reveals himself and springs a trap with Falc, who glided in from an under-the-radar S.H.I.E.L.D. chopper.  His wings protect him from the darts as Spidey extricates himself from the vine, and after Redwing grabs the plant-gun, Falc knocks the villain out, forestalling his mental control of the plants, and Cap is revived. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Ostensibly on leave to get the monthly X-Men up and running, the Claremont/Byrne team will, in fact, be seen on this mag only three more times, so you’d best prepare yourself for more entries like this one, which just reminds us how spoiled we’ve been since the pre-Mantlo era.  Granted, Chris and John in general, and last issue in particular, are impossibly tough acts to follow, yet the Turkey might be a more appropriate avian guest-star than the Falcon.  He and Spidey have never been a good match—who wouldn’t want to forget the tarnished tale of their spat with Midas (no, the other one) in #30?—but here he drags the MARMIS down to unprecedented levels, behaving like a gigantic, tumescent tool on two legs as he turns on his sometime ally for no earthly reason.

The oft-impressive Green is unable to make the art by Wenzel (whose only other penciling work in my collection is on Avengers #174-77) any better than indifferent, which is far more than I can say for the story, mercifully one of only three Marvel credits by DC also-ran Bill Klunker—uh, Kunkel.  I suppose Falcon-fans might have some cause for rejoicing, since this appears just at the time he’s been marginalized in and finally dropped from Cap’s own book, yet his poor showing here does not make me question the wisdom of that decision.  Nor does even a Day of the Triffids allusion on the last page offset the fact that Nick Fury, whose bacon Spidey saved in my beloved #13 and elsewhere, drivels, “Even you public menaces can occasionally help out us good guys.”

Joe: Thus begins, I believe, the torture of Dave Wenzel that was inflicted on Marvel Zombies. That doesn’t mean Mr. Wenzel is not an accomplished artist, or at least he will be after 1978 in the children's book world, but his Marvel work that I'm familiar with leaves a lot to be desired, as I am quickly rediscovering. Luckily, Dan Green is on the inks here, so it's not the most horrendous art, but just wait until next month's Avengers. Wenzel certainly does not draw Spider-Man well at all, between too-long hands and poor squatting, and his expressions are a bit too heavy on the teeth-gritting, but at least the book seems to improve slightly as we go on to the neatly wrapped-up conclusion. The script is decent, but Plantman is not exactly Grade A villainy. I will give credit to Bill Kunkel (who I also don't remember at all, but he's known as the "grandfather of video game journalism," so I see) for a great Spidey quip on the last page: "Hey guys—what's the rush? I hear they're showing Day of the Triffids in the main ballroom!" Then it's nearly ruined by that off angle of Cap's arm in the middle panel, almost as if it's coming out of his gut, or the poison gave him Mr. Fantastic's powers.

Also This Month

Crazy #39

Devil Dinosaur #4
Dynomutt #5
Human Fly #11
Machine Man #4 >
Man From Atlantis #6
Marvel's Greatest Comics #78
Marvel Classics Comics #31
Marvel Super-Heroes #72
Marvel Tales #93
Rawhide Kid #148
Sgt Fury #147
Spidey Super Stories #35
Yogi Bear #5

With Machine Man #4, Kirby gives us a break from the Machine Man-hunt, as he turns back to Aaron Stack’s search for his place in the world of humans.  Overall, the storyline benefits as Kirby refrains from overloading Machine Man with the sort of distracting sub-plots and thin supporting characters that prevented the Eternals from  realizing a clear sense of purpose.  There’s a sequence I remember well, as Aaron debates his person-hood with a ghostly image of his adopted father (p 11-14).  As he despairs of his acceptance by humanity at large, Aaron pulls off his facemask and throws it away; Dr Stack (well, Aaron’s memory of him) assures Aaron of the reality of his love for him, and encourages him to reattach his face, which Aaron does with a handy finger-laser.  Aaron also recognizes an opportunity to prove his worth to the robot-fearing populace, if he can protect them from the extra-terrestrial menace of the (unfortunately named) Ten-For.  

Even with some solid moments in the story, Kirby’s art continues to be the title’s strongest selling point.  There’s a nifty sequence as 10-4 rips a brick wall from the ground and flings it at two garbagemen (p 7); plus, we have a full-pager that features a close-up of the pitiless Autocron, and the awed reactions of citizens (p 10), which gives readers a sense of the difficulty Machine Man faces once he gets himself downtown and tries to put the otherworldly ogre in his place. -Chris Blake


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 31
Cover Art by Howard Chaykin

“The Flame Knife”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony deZuniga

“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian Age”
Text by Lee Falconer

“Swords and Scrolls”

Big John Buscema — inked by frequent collaborator Tony deZuniga — rejoins with Roy Thomas for the two part “The Flame Knife.” It’s based on the unfinished Robert E. Howard tale of the same name that featured El Borak, the Texas gunfighter. In 1955, L. Sprague de Camp completed the story, replacing the Texan with Conan and setting the adventure in the Hyborian Age. Part One, at least, is a very wordy affair, with minimal action.

After countless bloody battles, Conan and his 300 Kozaks have enjoyed riches and privilege under the royal patronage of Kobad Shah, king of Anshan. But when Shah commands the Cimmerian to find and kill Balash the Rebel, the warrior, a longtime friend of the outlaw, flatly refuses. Enraged, the king puts a price on Conan’s head.

Leaving the castle, the Cimmerian is attacked by one of Shah’s assassins: a vicious blow lays the hired killer low. Conan returns to his hideout, his lieutenant Tubal waiting. The Cimmerian tells his comrade that the Kozaks need to leave Anshan immediately and warn Balash. But before they can, there is a knock on the door — it is a beauteous woman named Nanaia. She’s one of Kobad Shah’s concubines and wants Conan to take her away with him.

In the morning, Conan and his Kozaks ride from Anshan to the desolate Ilbars Mountains, the hiding place of Balash and his rebels, little knowing that Kobad Shah has sent 500 riders in pursuit. Back in Anshan, the king barely survives an assassination by a man wielding a curved flame knife, the symbol of the dreaded Hidden Ones, an ancient cult of assassins with members from many lands: Hyrkania, Stygia, Shem, Kush, Vendhya, and other scattered countries.

Arriving at Balash’s camp, Conan warns the outcast that Shah intends to have him killed. The rebel shrugs: what will happen will happen. Balash then takes the Cimmerian to the corpse of a man they found lying at the base of a cliff. Before he died, the man spoke a language only found in Drujistan, the land of demons. When shown the body, the barbarian notices the mark of the flame knife on his tunic: he was a member of the Hidden Ones. Intrigued, Conan asks Balash for a guide to the spot where they found the dead man — Tubal, another Kozak named Hattusas and Nanaia join them, the woman afraid of being left alone with the rebels.

When they arrive at the rugged mountain path to Drujistan, Balash’s guide panics and flees, leaving the Cimmerian and his companions to forge ahead. When they camp for the night, the party is attacked by shadowy killers: Hattusas is murdered and Nanaia kidnapped. Following droplets of blood from one of the wounded attackers, the Cimmerian and his lieutenant mount a rescue of the woman. The bloody trail leads them to a rock door carved into the side of a cliff. After killing an unsuspecting guard — his teeth filed to sharp points — they soon discover the entrance to a huge sprawling city named Yanaidar carved into the center of one of the Ilbars' highest peaks. Realizing that the city has the potential to be an impregnable base for his empire, Conan tells Tubal to ride back to Balash’s camp and return with the rest of the Kozak warriors as soon as possible.

Continuing on, the Cimmerian comes across a group of guards playing dice, all Zuagirs, men Conan used to lead in his desert dwelling days. They recognize their former leader but remain skeptical when he informs them that he was summoned by their master. After he surenders his weapons, the guards take Conan to the center of the city where they are approached by a group of Hyrkanians. Out ranking the Zuagirs, the Hyrkanians take command of Conan and bring him before Virata, the Magus of Yanaidar and leader of the Hidden Ones. Dismissing his fellow Hyrkanians, the aged ruler confronts the Cimmerian: since he didn’t call for him, why is Conan here? The barbarian admits that he lied and is actually seeking shelter from Kobad Shah. The Magus summons a dusky Stygian mage named Khaza who confirms that Conan disobeyed Shah and that there are 500 Anshan soldiers on his trail. The Magus, satisfied that at least part of the barbarian’s story is true, offers Conan quarters for the night — adding that he cannot be initiated into the Hidden Ones until someone named the Tiger approves when he returns in the morning.

In his quarters, Conan is offered food and drink. Smelling the scent of the debilitating Purple-Lotus in the wine, he sticks with the leg of lamb. Suddenly, a maiden named Parusati steals into the room — she was sent to search the Cimmerian after the drug took its hold. Conan asks the frightened girl if she knew if Nanaia was in Yanaidar. She replies with a yes: Nanaia was supposed to be a new pleasure girl but she killed a man and is now sentenced to death the next day. After he promises to help her escape the Hidden Ones, Parusati guides Conan through a secret passage to Nanaia’s prison cell: he kills the guard and frees the woman. After Nanaia dresses in the guard’s cloths, the barbarian tells her to remain hidden in the secret passageway and for Parusati to return to her room. He returns to his quarters and falls quickly asleep.

Hours later, Conan is awakened by Khaza and taken to Virata’s royal chamber. The mysterious Tiger is there as well — it is Olgerd Vladislav, the vengeful man from whom the Cimmerian stole the leadership of the Zuagirs.

At a beefy 50 pages, there’s little swordplay in Part One of “The Flame Knife”: the brief struggle with the assassin at the beginning, the one-page fight with the nighttime attackers and the killing of the guards in the mountain and Nanaia’s cell. As you can imagine, there’s lots of exposition and exploration instead. So if you are looking for wall-to-wall Hyborian action, this issue might not be for you. I enjoyed it thoroughly though. As always, you have to admire Conan’s huge balls. Sure, he’s supposedly sneaking into Yanaidar to rescue Nanaia but switches gears up a bit when he realizes that the city would make the perfect stronghold for his future endeavors. And the back and forth between the Cimmerian and Virata is pure gold. When the Magus asks how Conan found the path to the hidden city he replies “I followed the vultures.” But Virata, knowing the barbarian’s reputation, answers “The vultures follow you, not you the vultures.” The last page reveal of Olgerd Vladislav is not as jaw dropping as the Rascally One probably intended. I didn’t remember the rather minor character until Roy’s caption at the bottom of the page states that he last appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #5. But I always enjoy a bit of continuity so a tip of the hat all the same. While obviously not as lush as the work of Alfredo Alcala, deZuniga’s inks are crisp and clean, nicely embellishing Buscema’s brawny base.

For the second issue in a row, we have another installment of  “A Gazetteer of the Hyborian World of Conan: Including Also the World of Kull and an Ethnogeographical Dictionary of Principal Peoples of the Era.” This time however, Gazetteer is spelled correctly unlike last time’s Gazeteer. The latest four-page installment runs from Bahari to Frozen River. And I really enjoyed Howard Chaykin’s cover. Has nothing to do with the story inside, but it’s a shame that he couldn’t deliver this type of quality when he handled the pencils on Conan the Barbarian 79–81. -Tom Flynn