Wednesday, June 8, 2016

June 1978 Part One: Bruce Banner is No Longer The Hulk! Well, Yes, He Is! Well, No, Not Really! Well...

The Amazing Spider-Man 181
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Gil Kane and Frank Giacoia

On the anniversary of his Uncle Ben's death, Peter Parker visits the Flushing, Queens cemetery as Spider-Man, remembering the events that led to the tragedy, from the nearly idyllic home life with Ben and Aunt May to the notorious radioactive spider bite that turned wallflower into wall-crawler. Then he thinks of the burglar he failed to stop, who turned out to be the one who killed his uncle, when Aunt May shows up at the cemetery. More flashbacks start with Spidey's attempts to make money, then to J. Jonah Jameson's attempts to squash our hero, then snippets of buddy Flash Thompson, ex-flame Betty Brant, and the most tragic figure in Spider-Man history: Gwen Stacy. More tragic memories invoke Curt Connors, Frederick Foswell, Colonel John Jameson, Michael Morbius, and Harry Osborn, as well as a veritable Rogue's Gallery of Spidey enemies who don't exactly deserve sympathy, with special mention of The Punisher and Mary Jane Watson. Aunt May leaves the scene, and Peter/Spidey leaves Uncle Ben a gift at the graveside, vowing to do better. As our hero swings off, a worker comes by and spots the gift -- the microscope Uncle Ben got for Peter all those years ago -- picking it up to bring it home for his son's birthday, saying "Guess it pays to work the graveyard shift! Sometimes you can profit by other folks' memories!"--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: A klassic Kane kover kicks off what can only be called a "recap" issue. In fact, on our inventive splash page, with credits on the tombstones, we're told "Dedicated to our older fans who lived these events with us—and to our new fans discovering the Spider-Man legend for the first time!" And that's basically what we get with this fill-in. Nothing new for faithful Spidey readers, except maybe that our hero considers Mirage to be a formidable villain based on remembering the ones who aren't deserving of sympathy. But for new fans back in 1978, they got a nice re-telling of the whole story, complete with flash card-like looks at the major figures in Peter/Spidey's life. And it's drawn by the mighty Sal B with a soft, almost whispery touch, echoing the subject matter. Of course, the saddest part of the whole issue is the very end. No, not when Spidey pours his heart out with eloquence, or when the worker picks up the microscope for his bullied son, but the Next Issue promise of the Rocket Racer. Well, at least we had his unwelcome return delayed for an issue.

Favorite sound effect doesn't really apply here, since there's only one in the whole issue, a "HONK! HONK!" when a car bears down on the puzzled Peter Parker in peril, picking his way through the streets after being bitten by the spider. Unless you count the groans of the faithful fandom after seeing the words "Rocket Racer."

Matthew Bradley: Pretty damned good for an album issue; interestingly, it was created by the former MTU and current Spectacular Spider-Man team, rather than by regular purveyors of ASM.  This marks the line of demarcation between the Wein and Wolfman regimes, with Marv as editor and Len listed along with lame-duck EIC Archie as “consultants.”  Bill uses the visit to Uncle Ben’s grave as an effective through line (it’s curious that they say they “strove for the spirit, if not the letter of Amazing Fantasy #15” when they so slavishly follow Lee & Ditko’s “inspiration”), and if it’s a given that the Buscemosito art is solid, Sal’s cool layouts kick it up a notch, e.g., the mask-montage on 6-7, split-Spidey on 15, and Ock-centric rogues’ gallery on 23.

Mark Barsotti: Sheesh, another re-telling of Spidey's origin?

Yet it's understandable, given the latest round of editorial musical chairs that readers didn't know at the time, i.e. Len Wein had just bolted to DC (the Letter Col has Len commenting on Will-o-the-Wisp, like he's still on duty), unexpectedly shoving Marv Wolfman onto the big stage at Spidey Central for a recap tap dance. At least subbing Sal Buscema comes up with an interesting Spidey-signal wheel of flashbacks (pgs. 6&7) to give things a little visual pizzazz. 

Beyond that, class, Marv & co. have trouble keeping their own rush job continuity straight. Spidey shows up at night on the splash to visit Uncle Ben's grave, but when Aunt May also shows up on p.11, it sure looks like daytime. The alternative, positing May as a cemetery-after-dark type of gal, is equally dubious. 

The tiny, series-wide flashbacks are generally accurate, save for putting Gwen on the scene of Capt. Stacy's death for dramatic effect, but Our Pal recreates the famous Ditko image of Spidey pushing Peter and Betty Brant apart on the opposite page, so we'll call that a wash. The rogue's gallery on p.23 somehow omits the Jackal, probably the book's most significant new villain of the decade, while unwittingly reminding readers (old timers anyway) that all the heavyweight heavies are at least a decade old. Among the relative newbies, Tarantula and Will-o'-the-Wisp are good characters, add Hammerhead if you wanna stretch it, but Mirage and Stegron? Please.    

As to the story's slight plot gimmick, one can appreciate the sentiment behind the gesture, but Peter giving his beloved microscope to some poor kid who loves science, passing on Uncle Ben's gift, makes more sense than leaving it to rust in a boneyard.  

But Marv no doubt had little time, lots of recapping to do, so a thief with an old-timey lantern (no flashlights in Flushing?) will make do. And he's got the science-loving kid, so all's well that ends about as well as it could, given the circumstances.

But I'd feel better about the in-coming regime if Marv's first upcoming offering after catching his breath didn't tout the Rocket Racer.

The Mirage is starting to look pretty good...

Avengers 172
"Holocaust in New York Harbor!"
Story by Jim Shooter
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Hawkeye returns to Avengers Mansion after a long vacation, only to find the HQ sans superheroes. Shortly afterwards, government agent Peter Henry Gyrich arrives to find the door wide open and grumbles about government security and the heads that will roll. With the Ultron mess cleaned up, the remaining Avengers head back to the Mansion with a mystery on their hands: Captain America and the Bride of Ultron have disappeared without a trace! When they arrive, Hawkeye informs them that he'd tied up a four-eyed interloper and stashed him in the library. With his gag removed, Gyrich informs the super group that their security clearance has ben lifted and they can no longer enjoy the liberties they once took for granted. Two incidents happen simultaneously: Wanda informs her comrades that Crystal has reported Quicksilver missing and Jarvis rushes in with the news that Tyrak is attacking New York harbor. Iron Man has Thor and Beast hang out "in case another disaster pops up" and orders the rest to head down to the water and take care of the fish man. IM heads to the lab to try to figure out the mystery of the vanishing heroes. After some grandstanding and general mayhem, Tyrak is put down by a blazing bolt of dehydrating heat delivered by the Scarlet Witch. With no government aid, the team has no other choice than to toss the fish back into the water. Just before they're about to leave, the Vision disappears. Back at the Mansion, evil eyes watch over Iron Man's progress. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Yet again, we're tossed a one-and-done within a bigger story. Tyrak is no more than just a waste of paper, an excuse to show yet another Avenger go bye-bye. Gyrich pulling the team's hall pass is magically synced with the arrival on the big screen of Captain America: Civil War, the plot of which follows the same thread. Whoever's been "collecting" the Great Heroes of the World must have been fairly hard-up though. Let's see, we've got Captain America, The Vision, Mrs. Ultron, Quicksilver... so far so good... and Two-Gun Kid. Obviously passed on Dr. Strange's mystical nonsense for the man who knows how to use a heater, right? It's like one of those "which one doesn't belong" puzzles. I know I should be missing Perez's gorgeous art but, hey! ho!, what have we here? Gorgeous art!

Joe Tura: As the mystery of the disappearing Avengers continues, with one of their most formidable members blinking out, we get no movement on the Guardians/Michael plot. And while that's OK here, in an issue that has a nice fight scene with Tyrak and some good character moments, not to mention that no-good ginger Gyrich getting trussed up, it's also missed a little since with the Sal/Klaus art this issue almost feels like a fill-in. I know it's not, but it just has that aura to it. Lots of moving parts, too, including a Black Panther cameo, Hank Pym once again filling the reader in on details, Iron Man continually reminding us he's Tony Stark, Ms. Marvel flirting with Wondy (who's charmingly oblivious to, well, everything), Vision once again getting railed then finishing off the bad guy, and did I mention Gyrich getting trussed up? Still quite readable if not a bit off from the excellent run we were on.

Chris: Klaus Janson haters will find a lot to love with this issue, since it amply demonstrates the weaknesses in his technique: many panels look murky and indistinct; some faces are left under-finished, with only a few heavy lines that don’t serve to adequately fill out their features; there’s no opportunity to play to Janson’s strengths of adding atmosphere, since nearly all of the action takes place in well-lit rooms at the Mansion, or in the clear daylight of the harbor.  I suppose someone (either in Art, or Editorial) thought back to Sal + Klaus’ pairing in the Defenders, and thought the same combo could work here; well, the results, I’m sorry to say, are short of the standard they had set on that other team mag.  We certainly can’t blame it on Sal, since he adequately sells all the big spots in the story, such as: the Avengers’ aerial assault on Tyrak (p 11); Ms Marvel’s daring solo attack, and crash landing (p 14); Tyrak smashes the super-dense Vision into a nearby cutter (p 16); the Witch casts a deep-focus hex (p 22), and the revived Vision, hovering above, dries Tyrak out (p 23).  Like I said, Sal’s hardly to blame.

The soggy look to the art is much harder to shake off since – a scant 30 days ago – we were soaking in the sumptuous look of Pérez & Marcos; little did we know it would be their last pairing in these pages.  I very clearly remember picking up this issue, drawn in by the sun-drenched cover and the purposeful pose of our Avengin’ archer; naturally, I expected seventeen new pages of pacesetting action.  I wonder if I looked again, to see whether the word “guest” was listed next to either of our artists, but no way.   Pérez is a hard enough act to follow; it would have been far easier to accept this transition if Marcos at least had been retained (especially since we already have seen him capably ink Sal for this title), rather than have to adjust to a completely different art team.  
Brief tip-of-the-helmet to Marvel continuity.  On p 10, it seems odd to hold back Thor and the Beast, especially since you’d think the team would want Thor on hand against Tyrak, the “undersea goon” who almost trashed the team once before (according to Wonder Man’s all-too-accurate recollection).  By p 31, though, the reasoning behind this decision becomes clear, as Hank & Jan (limited to secretarial duties this issue) announce Thor is battling the Living Monolith (as we already know, from having read MTU #70), and that the Beast has run off (which we learned in X-Men #111).  Nice job to tie these two other stories to this one.  I wonder what the conversation must have been like, when Claremont asked Shooter (the Big Boss, you know) whether he could borrow one of his team members – and a popular blue-furred one, at that – for a few issues.  “All right,” Shooter says, “as long as it’s not Yellowjacket!  I’ve got plans of my own for him …”
Matthew: “Should we responsibly dispose of what’s left of one of our most powerful foes, who has reconstituted himself countless times to menace humanity anew?”  “Nah, the nuns can handle him.”  Catholic-school grads might buy that, but I do not, especially since Ultron had a robotic mole among them.  I like the Pérez/Austin cover and…that’s about all.  It’s a given that if Jim brings back Hawkeye—normally cause for celebration in this quarter—he’ll make him a total putz.  Klaus supplies finished art over Sal’s breakdowns, but I was the one having the breakdown as I slogged through this murky mess.  Gyrich grates; Shooter’s sexism smarts (“that ought to take her down a peg!”); logic fails (wouldn’t a kayoed Vizh return to normal density?).

Captain America and the Falcon 222
"Monumental Menace!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema, John Tartaglione, and Mike Esposito
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Ernie Chan

The Search for Steve Rogers' past continues. He's barely dressed in his costume when a remotely controlled VW Beetle comes crashing through the window, chasing him until he flies through the window himself. As Cap hangs by his hands from a neighbor's windowsill, the car crashes to the ground. The elderly woman who lives there reluctantly allows Cap to use the the phone. He calls Avengers Mansion, but learns Veda has gone to Washington D.C. When he calls Nick Fury, the SHIELD director tells him the Falcon and his "temperamental freelancers" have left without warning. After Cap leaves, the old lady peels off a face mask to reveal herself to be Veda. She checks in with Kligger and tells him of their failure to kill Cap. Back in his ruined apartment, Cap changes into his civvies and takes off to Washington to look into his military records. He learns his middle name is Grant and that he was born in Sayville, Maryland, rather than in New York City as he thought. He also learns his parents and older brother are long dead. A younger son, presumably Steve, was referred to in whispers and the clerk assisting Steve declines to discuss it. Later, back in costume, Cap visits the Lincoln Memorial when, to his horror, it comes to life and attacks him. He initially resists, striking a monument that meant so much to him, but he overcomes his own emotional blocks and smashes the statue to rubble. Before he can spend much time regretting his actions, he is attacked by a freaky mutant who has designs on Cap's very life! -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: A lot of filler in this issue, as the attack of the VW takes up a lot of space. The little bits of info we and Cap learn are interesting enough, but the story kind of goes off the rails when the Lincoln statute comes to life. There is some intrigue with Veda behind the mask, but hearing Jarvis refer to him as "Master Cap" is just a tad ridiculous. The art is fine, the usual Sal Buscema stuff; competent but nothing special. He's all over the books in this era. Honestly, I'm struggling to find things to say here. It's not a bad issue, it's just kind of there...

Matthew:  “I’m not familiar with Steve Rogers’ tastes…”  That one line sums up my objections to this misbegotten arc.  With whose tastes is he familiar, “Snap” Rogers?  Even if I allow (mind you, I’m not saying I do) that his pre-Cap memories are lost and/or contradictory, somebody’s been walking around in and out of that star-spangled suit for the past 122 issues.  I did a double take when I first read, “At least my civvies came thru [sic] the Beetle’s attack unscathed”—scene missing?  Oh, the car.  Did Gerber have something in mind with that middle name, when Steven Grant is one of Moon Knight’s pseudonyms?  We can console ourselves with the beyond-reproach Buscema/Tartag/Esposito art, as usual, but you know where I stand on that.

Chris: Steve G reminds us how well-suited he is to the present storyline.  Many writers might've elected to work this as a straightforward procedural, which would've been fine; in Steve G's hands, though, the unusual aspects can be played up, as the Search-for-Self is spiced-up by the whacky attack of the remotely-controlled VW Beetle (how did it get thru the window of an upstairs apartment, anyway?  Was it slung in by a helicopter, or something -?!) and the sinister assault by Lincoln's statue, which doesn't seem controlled, but almost to have been animated by some inexplicable means.  Veda's disguise as an elderly neighbor adds another confusing bit of madness, as it helps emphasize how far Cap must be from discovering the truth. 

The quieter, saner sequence at the local paper is well done, as Steve learns he had a brother, and that his parents continued to search for missing Steve until their own untimely deaths.  Cap is fittingly doubtful as he hears of all these past events; none sounds right or familiar to him, as PFC Steven Grant Rogers continues to find more questions than answers.  Steve G has my attention; I'm intrigued to see how well all of this might tie together by its end. 
Sal B continues to provide effective art. The VW attack is very high-energy, as Cap is on the move in every frame (p  1-3).  It is a bit curious, though, how neat the apartment appears once Cap has shaved and showered and is ready to search for information (p 14, 1st pnl); it makes sense that a disciplined guy like Cap would've straightened up before doing anything else, so I suppose the cleaning scene might be on the editing room floor (in any case, the gaping holes in the walls are bound to cost him his security deposit).  The battle with Lincoln's statue has a decidedly different vibe; good decision to stage this at night, as the downright creepy images of the massive statue raising itself from its stone seat (p 23) are magnified by the shadowy setting. 

Conan the Barbarian 87 
“Demons at the Summit”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Tony DeZuniga
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
(Originally appeared in The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #3)

“The Hyborian Age”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Glenn Simek
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

Here we go again: the Luxor adventure gets sidetracked for the umpteenth time, here by a reprint of “Demons at the Summit” from 
The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian #3 (December 1974). For what was supposedly one of Marvel’s tent pole series, Conan the Barbarian has been treating its readers quite shabbily for the past ten months. Let’s recap:
• Issue #78: Reprint from Savage Sword
• Issues #79–#81: Repurpose of material from unused Savage Sword story
• Issues #82–#83: fill-ins
• Issues #84–#86: new Luxor material
• Issue #87: Reprint from Savage Sword

Since “Demons” is only 12 pages, Roy did have to whip up something new — well not really. “The Hyborian Age” is 6-page recap of the long-running series of the same name that appeared in the Savage Sword magazine, with Ernie Chan stepping in for the original’s Walt Simonson. I demand a refund. -Tom Flynn

Chris: No time is a good time for a deadline-doom-driven reprint/fill-in.  But especially now, with Conan reunited moments ago (storyline-wise) with Bêlit!  Aw, man.  Well, it’s a fun reprint from Savage Sword; I own hardly any of the B/W mags, so it’s fine for me to see one of the stories reprinted in color.  

Speaking of recycling materials, why do you suppose they got Ernie Chan to re-illustrate the Hyborian Age chronicle, when (as the introduction points out), we already have several segments of this history, with art by Walt Simonson?  I would’ve been perfectly happy with six pages of Simonson’s Hyborian Age, colored in these pages by the inestimable George Roussos (no offense to Chan, who’s put in some admirable work for a host of Marvel titles in addition to this one – I happen to be a huge Simonson fan, that’s all).  It wouldn’t matter if the issue only had enough space for 1-2 chapters of the history; something tells me there might be another opportunity someday to call upon more of this material as part of another fill-in/reprint.  

 The Defenders 60
"The Revenge of Vera Gemini!
Xenogenesis Day of the Demons Part 3"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Ed Hannigan and Dan Green
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Ed Hannigan and Alan Weiss

The members of the Defenders, in the Sanctum Sanctorum of Dr. Strange, stand over his still body, trying to best figure how to unite it with his missing astral form. Wong suggests that if the two could be brought in close proximity, that they might more easily rejoin, and Valkyrie recalls Stephen mentioning Mexico, so...

They travel (magically) to the jungle headquarters of the Harvester of Eyes cult, where, under the leadership of Vera Gemini, its human members complete the last of the sacrilegious  ceremonies that usher in Xenogenesis, the return of demons to our world. When the Air Force shoots down Nighthawk's plane (its commander being under demon influence), the Defenders (with Dollar Bill in tow, gleefully filming the whole thing) are led to their mark. Already at the scene is ex-culter Devil-Slayer, fighting against the Agent of Fortune. The demon invasion begins, and DS Eric has his hands full. The Defenders have arrived, and when Hulk leaps after a passing creature (with Hellcat in tow), they're led to Eric's side in battle. The others' search for Dr. Strange is helped by his arrival, but his spirit is metamorphosed with a multi-headed beast. Somehow, Val hears Stephen's mental plea to "kill" him. Her instinct tells her to proceed and, in doing so, she frees him. Hulk and Hellcat do okay, but it is Hellcat's attaining the Agent of Fortune's shadow-cloak that will prove to be the tide-turning event. Stephen knows that, with his astral guidance, Nighthawk is the one who will be able to survive the demon dimension and bring back the Eye of Agamotto. He does, and the demons are returned from whence they came. Hellcat springs the shadow-cloak on Vera Gemini; for all her power, it is an unexpected assault she can't resist.  -Jim Barwise

Chris: I can admit this isn’t a great issue, but it’s a personal favorite, its cover worn at the edges – still intact, and not too badly creased – despite countless readings in those bygone days.  Stories like this one helped set the Defenders standard for me, as it’s packed with action, and set against a supernatural theme.  I recognize now that the ending comes far too quickly, and neatly; the return of the Eye of Agamotto, all by itself, reverses the influx of demons to our reality, as Vera Gemini is dispatched – somewhere – via Hellcat’s newfound shadow-cloak.  

But still, my enjoyment of these other moments remains untarnished: the demons’ ruthless attack on their human summoners (p 3); Hulk’s irritated observation that “Bird-Nose can sit and look serious – but that doesn’t make him smart – or boss!” (p 7), followed by his perfectly timed take-out of the two jet fighters (p 10); Devil-Slayer’s page-long clash with the Agent of Fortune (p 11), followed by his horrified realization that Xenogenesis already has begun (p 11); Kyle’s vexation as the Hulk, and Hellcat, ignore him and take off before a battle plan can be formulated (p 16); the arrival of Doc’s unworldly demon-form (p 17); Val resists her hesitation and pierces the demon form, freeing Doc (p 26); Nighthawk calls on his last reserves of energy to secure the Eye (p 30), as his jet-pack auto-pilots him back the way he came (p 31).  

Chris: Hannigan’s art is inspired at many points in the issue, especially in his depiction of the invading demons, who are plenty nasty and ugly.  Green’s inks don’t fall short as they usually do, as he fills in the shadows, and leaves only a few finishes on the thin-looking side.  I’d love to have seen what Palmer (murky) – or, dare I say it, Janson (grimy) – might’ve brought to these pencils; or how about Leialoha?  I’m sure his embellishments would’ve made all of us happy.  
Matthew: I’d normally welcome an extra story page, but here it just seems like piling on by this book’s Leopold and Loeb, Kraft and Hannigan, from the latter’s grotty, Weiss-inked cover to its inside-baseball dedication to “the Long Island Oysters,” whoever the hell they are (not that I care).  While the finished art gives every indication that Green simply threw up his hands—and what’s the point of that blurry photo-interpolation on page 11?—I presume the fault lies primarily with Ed’s dense layouts, mostly a muddle exacerbated by a Moenchian torrent of purple prose.  DAK lives down to, or even exceeds, my expectations with his garbled plotline; annoying, one-note Hellcat; cardboard Hulk; and indefensible, ha ha, involvement of Dollar Bill.

 Doctor Strange 29
"He Who Stalks!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Tom Sutton and Ernie Chan
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by Frank Brunner

It seems any chance of intimacy for Stephen is due to be interrupted, first by an important call, and later, by an early morning visit from Nighthawk. He explains that recent thefts at one of his labs (doing research on a type of star-drive) led to the death of its Head of Research,  Dr. Thatcher, apparently of a fear-induced heart attack after he had said "demons" were responsible for the thefts. Stephen and Nighthawk leave a mildly chagrined Clea to go investigate any supernatural forces that might be involved. Strange does detect some recent sinister activity, and when he probes into the brain of Thatcher's assistant, Bradley, he finds he, too, has been threatened by these "ghosts."  Later that night they follow Bradley to see what happens, and indeed he feels forced to hand over deadly machinery to this "ghost." Stephen sees through the disguise; it is in fact the being known as Death-Stalker. His identity is unknown; his powers are considerable, and it takes Stephen some time to triumph. When Death-Stalker thinks Strange's astral form is his ghost and the mage is dead, it gives Stephen time to fire DS's disrupter back at him, banishing him to... somewhere? Stephen and Nighthawk are left with more questions than answers. -Jim Barwise

Matthew: Juxtaposed in my reading stack, this and Defenders #60—which it aptly follows chronologically—both feature Doc and Kyle, providing a perfect study in contrasts.  Borrowing Death-Stalker from Daredevil seems an odd choice (BTW, I don’t know if Stern’s acrobatic attempts at inter-title continuity actually track, but give him an “A” for effort), yet given his literally and figuratively shadowy nature, it worked for me.  I’m sorry this is Chan’s last issue, because he and Sutton live up to Brunner’s phantasmagorical cover with their stunning splash page and its va-va-voom Clea; Barnabas Collins-esque Doc in page 11, panel 5; low-angle shot in page 15, panel 10; swirling full-page reveal on 17; and discorporation in page 31, panel 2.

Chris: I’m always in favor of a one-shot story following a lengthy, multi-issue tale; Stern & Sutton deliver an enjoyable, fast-moving story.  Doc doesn’t get many non-sorcereal guest stars, so it’s a good decision to pair him with Nighthawk, outside of their usual Defenders milieu; it makes sense Nighthawk would seek him out for a case like this.  Nice touch as Doc “turns the tables” and succeeds in out-spooking Death-Stalker; very clever moment as Nighthawk observes D-S seemingly throwing things and ranting at the empty air.  Clearly, D-S might be accustomed to dealing with costumed hero-types, but nothing has prepared him for the astral-forming, rapid-fire spell-action of our good Doctor.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen the All-Seeing Eye employed as a defensive device before, but it makes for an exciting finish as the Eye closes in and succeeds in destroying D-S’s pilfered proton converter.  

Sutton & Chan continues to be a winning combination.  For many of the scenes at the Sanctum, we notice elaborate furnishings and draperies; Doc’s dedication to his task is admirable, as he leaves behind a slinky-looking Clea (p 1-3).  Page 17 is particularly well-done, as Sutton presents five figures (including Thatcher’s ghost), all moving in different directions (except Bradley, who is carried straight up by Nighthawk).  Nice depiction of motion also on p 26 last pnl, as Doc’s astral form sweeps around D-S and appears to hover in front of him; the tilted angle of the frame emphasizes the effect.  

Fantastic Four 195
"Beware the Rampaging Retrievers!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

"Wait, what? Namor owns a movie studio?"

I get this from students every year and had to shoot up an anti-spoiler vaxx to keep from spilling the beans during our last class. Yes, kids, in the immortal FF #9 the Fab Four went broke (Reed blew their wad in the stock market!) then went Hollywood to scratch up the rent by starring in a biopic. They do make a movie, but all because aquatic hound dawg/new movie mogul Subby had the hots for Sue's bod. Like a puffer-fish, this guy. Imperial Studios, Imperius Rex; even Forbush gets it, right? And that's infinitely more subtle than the original, S.M. Studios. 

But the most implausible part of that story? A Fantastic Four movie was a smash hit.

We'll cut in-coming writer Marv Wolfman some slack, but it's hard to stretch it over a pretty big continuity gaffe. Last ish, Sue sees (although the reader doesn't) a suit-wearing Namor and cries, "You!" This ish, she enters S.M.'s tycoon-sized office and says, "'s you - Namor!"

Yeah, got it the first time, but tut-tutting over that may distract you from the wonky word balloons on the same p.6 that make it seem like an aquarium fish is talking, rather than the brooding Fish-Man*. But it all looks nice, with Pablo Marcos penciling and inking over Keith Pollard's layouts. Yet Joe Sinnott's absence is palpable, and on the rare occasion he's A.W.O.L., you realize the odd state of affairs: the first and only time in funnybook history that the most important contributor to a top-selling comic for more than a decade was an inker.** But we're drifting from synopsis to commentary, so let's just note the art here is good-to-very-good, just not canonical, and whether that's heresy or a refreshing change depends on personal taste. Mileage will vary.

Reed can't reach Sue by phone. Perhaps his shadowy employer at Fishy Enormo Corp. Ltd also controls outgoing phone lines, when he's not rhapsodizing that Reed's "...curiosity is what makes him the only man capable of perfecting my little device...which will hand over to me the control of planet Earth!"

Take the maniacal cackling as given.

Meanwhile, Namor tells Sue he split Atlantis because his subjects now think he's a god, and he can't escape their see me, feel me, touch me, heal me exhortations. 

The Torch visits Ben at a secret NASA base after flying through flak 'cause he didn't call first. The Thing goes "Whakko!" on the artillery piece before he and Johnny wander off "...ta watch the cactuses grow!" and, yeah, it's as dumb as it sounds.

Back in Tinsletown, Sue's costume drama film shoot is interrupted by the crash-through-the-walls arrival of the Retrievers of Atlantis, a squad of scaly robo-androids, who look kinda like Iron Man with a really bad case of psoriasis. They're there to drag S.M. back to his throne by any means necessary, including trying to incinerate Ms. Richards; obviously they ain't hip to Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, down under the deep blue sea. After several pages of well-wrought action by Marcos-Pollard, Sue and Subby rock & sock the Retrievers into smoking circuit boards, and only then Namor decides, ya know what? Guess I'll head back to my throne after all.

Then what was all the fighting about?

And, more importantly, does this sink Sue's chances to replace Lorraine Gary in Jaws 2?
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Well-deserved snark aside, I will cut Marv that slack, since Len's D.C. defection no doubt left Wolfie scrambling to get up to speed. Did he come up with Retrievers or adopt them from Wein? Either way, they're the most generic type of menace, and Marv does far better in nailing the complicated, continuing bond between Sue and Namor.

As for the other Fabs, Reed's work for Fishy Corp. is obviously the slow-simmering plot line to keep an eye on. The less said about the page and a third of the Johnny & Ben nonsense, the better.

Of more interest, at least in a sweeping "History of Marvel" sense, is the company's "don't let the door hit yer ass on the way out" disregard of Len Wein. His first story was in Daredevil #71, back in 1970, he'd been a mainstay since '74, and was editing and writing four of the major titles at the time of his departure. The letters page in FF #198 mentions "Lively Len Wein's last fling on the Fantastic Four," but there was no Bullpen Bulletins announcement of Len leaving Marvel. Steve Ditko (admittedly a much more significant figure) got a celebratory BB shout-out when he left in '66 (although they did edit his name out of fan letters for the next couple years), a time when company policy dictated not even mentioning the name of their distinguished competition. 

With the on-going editorial chaos that had existed since Roy Thomas stepped down as head honcho, its likely that Len's departure was simply lost in the shuffle, rather than a deliberate slight. But one assumes it still must have rankled.

He did create Wolverine, bub!     

*Hip Atlantians have ironically embraced the "Fish-Man" moniker and it's no longer considered an insult. Sorry, Donald. Stick to Ted Cruz's dad on the Grassy Knoll.

**Counting the eleven years Sinnott inked the book after Jack Kirby left, 1970-1981. 

Chris: When was the last time we saw such a Sue-centric story?  Well, how about never before?  Marv begins his run by slowly laying out threads that could re-tie the team together; Sue and Reed miss each other, but each can’t seem to reach the other, while Johnny and Ben now have arrived in the same place.  I like the way Marv depicts Sue in Namor’s company; rather than present her as a conflicted fickle female, wondering whether she still might have feeling for him (and so on …), Sue instead establishes and maintains a boundary, as she thanks Namor for his efforts to re-unite her with Reed (back in the terribly convoluted FF #149) and reinforces the idea that she – and Reed – will always be supportive friends.  

Marv doesn’t do as well by Sue, though, in the heat of the battle, as she questions herself, and desperately wonders how Reed would handle the fight – if only he were here!  Well Marv, if you’ve been reading the letters pages over the past few years, you’d realize most fans don’t want a shrinking Invisible Girl, but rather one who doesn’t have to lean on her ever-resourceful husband.  You also might’ve read how Roy Thomas and Len Wein had presented the character, as Sue has been gaining confidence, and mastery, in her ability to use her powers as a full-fledged group-contributor.  
On to the art.  I know we all miss Joe Sinnott, but Pablo Marcos does a very solid job with Pollard’s pencils; Namor comes off particularly well.  We see his regal bearing, and his fury (like on p 30, pnl 4), with plenty of muscle-bound might (such as p 27, pnl 3).  In addition, Keith & Pablo also provide Namor in a quieter, more thoughtful mode, which is not our typical view of the quick-tempered prince (outside of his former eponymous mag, that is); I particularly like the last frame on p 7, with his head bowed slightly forward, his right index finger tapping on the desk.  Last image: Namor’s angrily-curled fingers, as he vents his distaste for his subjects’ worship of him (p 11, pnl 2).

Matthew: “Oh, Reed…I need you to reassure me…”  “Lord, if only Reed were here with me—he’d know exactly what to do.”  Sue being evidently unable to carry a solo story, Subby is dragooned into providing the requisite testosterone quotient, producing the stupefying spectacle of them fighting four androids we’ve never heard of before, in order to resist an unwelcome deification Namor never faced before, only to have him say, in effect, “never mind” after defeating them.  All that I’m going to say about the art is that I’ve really learned to loathe Pablo, but Marv’s dialogue is so stupid that I’m compelled to quote it verbatim (albeit selectively), annoying hyphens—evidently intended to emphasize the mechanical tone—and all.

Retriever:  “Namor!  Your-people-need-you!  You-must-return-to-Atlantis—now!  Or-we-will-be-forced-to-take-you-there-ourselves—in-any-manner-possible!”

Sue:  “What do they want?”  [Um, didn’t they just announce that?]

Namor:  “I believe they are after me!”  [No, really?  What was your first clue?]

Ghost Rider 30
“The Mage and the Monster”
Story by Roger McKenzie and Don Perlin
Art by Don Perlin and Jim Mooney
Colors by Mary Beveridge
Letters by Joe Genovese
Cover by Ernie Chan
As a glowing protective barrier around the Sanctum Sanctorum attracts a crowd of police and bystanders, Ghost Rider and Doctor Strange battle within, the Spirit of Vengeance driven into a blind fury by the evil machinations of the dread Dormammu. After deflecting a burst of hellfire, the Master of the Mystic Arts conjures a flaming pit beneath the Rider. As the satanic cyclist falls inside, he manages to grasp the sorcerer’s ankle, dragging him down as well. Across town, Clea senses the disturbance and flies to the Sanctorum, penetrating the barrier since it was “not meant for her.” As the Rider throws a devastating punch at the Doctor’s face, Clea creates a magical shield that deflects most of the impact. Dormammu suddenly appears, cackling that now he can kill both Strange and his lover. Meanwhile outside, two police officers are investigating a strange sound in a dead-end alley. Around a corner, they encounter the shadowy cowboy on horseback who has been tracking Johnny Blaze — they flee in panic at the site of his face. Back in the Sanctum Sanctorum, Strange releases his astral form and enters the Rider’s mind. There he discovers the truth about Blaze and how he was duped by Satan. When Dormammu enters Blaze’s consciousness as well, the mystic sends the stuntman’s spirit to a safe haven just as the Dreaded One blasts him in the back with an eldritch burst. When Blaze awakens back in the Sanctorum, he finds that his mind has somehow entered the body of Doctor Strange, the Ghost Rider frozen before him. -Tom Flynn

Tom: It takes about a minute to read this dreary issue — which of course is a good thing since this series is exceedingly ponderous. That’s mainly because Don Perlin relies on the use of large panels, including a full-pager and another with just two. While I appreciate the quick runtime this provides, Perlin is not an artist that can pull off a big picture unlike, say, Jim Starlin or Barry Smith. His full page illustration on page 10 is clumsy and amateurish, as far from awe inspiring as one could get. Never a fan of the Madman, but Jim Mooney’s inks actually help, as he provides structure to Perlin’s faces, making most of the characters consistently recognizable. Now if you would flip through this issue before you sat down to read it, you might think it is jam packed with action. But don’t be fooled: not much of interest happens. It basically fumbles around until the big “mind switch” reveal at the end. Think I remember that Perlin pitched in on the writing of Werewolf By Night
, and he does the same with this issue — would be interested in how much he actually contributed. Well, not really. The mysterious cowboy returns from last issue, still clutching the Wanted Dead or Alive poster of Blaze, the Alive crossed out of course. I was completely dumbfounded that McKenzie/Perlin had the two cops pulling the “feets don’t fail me know” routine when they encounter this creep. Really? That’s how our Boys in Blue would react? “G-get back! We’re not paid enough to tangle with anything like this! W-we’d better get help!” “But who’s gonna believe us?” I wish that I could run away from Ghost Rider and never look back myself. 

Matthew: When I expressed my reservations last time about spinning this out longer than a done-in-one, I never dreamed they’d have the cojones to make it a trilogy…assuming it even ends next issue!  (Note to Roger:  it better.)  And while I’m not gonna sit here and claim that the oversized panels on pages 10-11 don’t look impressive—or as impressive as the pairing of two artists as relentlessly ordinary as co-plotter Perlin and Mooney can make them—they also run out the clock a bit, as if in admission of the need for padding.  It’s far from terrible, but again, it fails to live up to its nice cover—this time by outgoing Doc inker Chan, who probably would’ve knocked the rest out of the park—and I’m not that optimistic about the body-switching routine…

Chris: It’s Ghost Rider – starring Doctor Strange!  It’s a terrific battle, and the internal logic holds, as the GR persona appears to have achieved dominance over Johnny Blaze.  But what’s going on within that tortured being?  We get a glimpse as Doc locates Johnny’s soul, and he expresses dismay that he’s “losing control of Ghost Rider …” – well, I think we’re past that, Mr Blaze.  But what of the rampaging, rage-filled Ghost Rider?  He states his intent to harm the good doctor for his perceived offenses, and he’s somehow able to resist Strange’s casting of him to damnation; that’s got to be one of the highlights, as GR climbs back from the one-way pit to hell (p 14).  But we don’t see or hear much from GR himself after that, as the battle within his mind keeps him from directing energies toward Doc-struction.  There should’ve been some suggestion of GR’s desire and effort to regain control of the situation, instead of being left holding his head and writhing.  The ending is cleverly done, as Johnny’s spirit, instead of being cast to a place of safety, now faces his (still enraged, no longer distracted) demonic self.  In a way, I’m glad three issues are devoted to this storyline; I’m intrigued to see how it’s resolved.  

I’ve developed an appreciation for Don Perlin, due mostly to his work in the latter days of Werewolf by Night.  He’s not the greatest craftsman – his figures can be stiff and awkward (effects most inkers could mitigate) – but he does have a fertile imagination.  Highlights include: the big-splash of Doc opening up the ground to swallow a charging GR (p 10); GR holding a helpless Doc, as (an unfortunately cheery-looking) Dormammu looks on (p 16, last pnl); Doc’s one-sided battle with Johnny, as seen within the hollow eye sockets of GR (p 26, 1st pnl).  Mooney’s finishes are adequate, but don’t add any much-needed atmosphere.  I turn back to Ernie Chan’s dynamic, fiery cover, and I ask myself why someone like him hadn’t been called on to embellish Perlin’s layouts; but, with all the work Chan’s putting in every month, I’m probably asking for too much, right?  I know, I know.  

Godzilla 11
"Arena for Three!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Ernie Chan

Red Ronin flies in on Godzilla and Yetrigar at the Grand Canyon, momentarily stopping the fight, but the giant beast jumps at the robot! Godzilla accidentally blasts Ronin, but young Rob is able to get Yetrigar in a full Nelson—but when he's distracted by a party of rafters, Yetrigar smashes him into the Canyon walls, causing a rockslide that injures the adventurous humans. Dum Dum and Gabe leave the grounded Behemoth and hop a small shuttle towards the battle of the behemoths. Two of the rafters are hurt badly, but the fight blocks their way out. Inside Red Ronin, Rob wants to save Godzilla, but not kill Yetrigar, so he halts the Big G's tail swipe with a laser blast that causes another rockslide that blocks the way out for the rafters, who try and climb their way out as Godzilla and Ronin start battling, hurting each other. Sensing an opening, the massive man-monster attacks, slamming into Ronin and punching Godzilla when he tries to help. As Dum Dum and Gabe rescue the resilient rafters, Ronin ends the fight by crushing Yetrigar under a huge avalanche, flying away with ambivalent feelings as Godzilla gives him a nod and trudges off. --Joe Tura

Joe: Another decent issue that's packed with big panels of giant creature vs. giant creature vs. giant robot, and you see why Trimpe was picked as the main artist for this book. He still draws Godzilla more like an angry dino, but for massive monsters grappling in the Grand Canyon, you can't beat Herb's pencils. The story is a different issue. The fight scenes are a little lacking but reminiscent of a Big G mid-70s film where one of the creatures would disappear from the action for a while for no reason. Young Rob's internal battle and struggle with having to kill Yetrigar to stop him is a bit cloying, as it's hard to believe he's grown up so fast in just two or three issues. Well, he is smart enough to run a giant robot. And Godzilla, also as in the mid-70s films, seems like a supporting player in his own show. Heck, we even get extended looks at humans with the rafters in peril. But unlike the mid-70s films, their story is nearly watchable instead of downright awful. Thankfully, none of them turn out to be aliens or annoying 10-year-olds with schoolboy shorts and beanie caps!

So, which letter on "Godzilla-Grams" is dumber? The looooong one from "A Lost Marvel Madman c/o Commander Quotey" where Godzilla himself is interviewed and "translated"? or the one that suggests Godzilla fight Ultimo? Yikes.

Matthew: It’s finally dawned on me that this book is Moench’s Man-Thing: because Doug can’t really characterize his title character, said nominal protag sometimes becomes little more than the catalyst/observer/innocent bystander/victim/whatever for the tale he trots out, be it the Vegas fiasco in #9 or the current man-vs.-nature “triumph of the human spirit” two-parter.  And, of course, the Grand Canyon now joins the Space Needle, Golden Gate Bridge, and Boulder Dam among the famous American landmarks Godzilla has threatened or trashed.  The Behemoth is a total albatross, which seems to get knocked out of the sky every other issue, and I’m not sure what’s up with its pilot; both name and likeness evoke Howard Hughes, but that goes nowhere…

Howard the Duck 25
"Getting Smooth!"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson

 Paul Same is setting-up Howard with some new threads.  Now that his ship has come in (literally – he and Winda arrived recently via the S.S. Damned), Paul feels the need to share his newfound largess; he earned $2500 on the ship by sketching portraits of wealthy passengers.  Howard’s anxious about Paul’s cabbage-flashing, stating it’s as if he’s shining “a great green beacon … to every mugger in a ten-block radius!”  Paul dismisses Howard’s concerns about carrying and spending money, as he encourages Howard “to jettison that poverty mentality.”  Their next stop is a restaurant, the Fifth Season, to meet with Paul’s likely patron – his first portrait subject, Iris Raritan; Winda explains to Howard that Iris is the “heiwess to the Wawitan Wecweation Wecwamation Congwomewate miwwions!”  The maitre d’ objects to Paul bringing a “pet” to the restaurant, to which Howard retorts he is “the brains of this outfit"; Paul explains Iris is expecting them, and they are escorted to a private room in the back without further complication.  Iris introduces Paul & Co to Mr Thraller, whose circus will provide entertainment for a party at her Long Island home Friday evening, to which all of Paul’s group are invited, “naturally.”  A $27.55 cab ride brings Paul, Winda, and Howard to Iris’ stately home.  Iris takes equal pleasure in introducing Paul, and Howard, to the party; Howard encourages Winda not to feel embarrassed – instead, she should “bask in [the] horror and consternation” of Iris’ swanky guests.  The circus begins its performance; after the circus members display some of their skills, the ringmaster – sorry, I mean the Ringmaster – encourages the guests to cast their gaze to the spinning disc above the brim of his hat, and “journey with me to the very edge of the universe!”  The guests wake, eight hours later, to find they’ve been robbed of all their valuables; a few grand in cash (including everything Paul had left …), and hundreds of thousands in jewels.  Also missing is Howard; as he comes around, the Ringmaster tells him, “So, Duck, you’ve run away to join the circus!” -Chris Blake
Chris: A satire-comic is probably the most appropriate venue for the Circus of Crime, always little more than a parody of true villainy.  Steve G. sets this up nicely, as he doesn’t identify “Mr Thraller” as the Ringmaster when we first meet him at the Fifth Season.  Iris seems drawn to the circus simply due to the shock-value they provide for her party; some are thrown by the appearance of the performers (“I knew it – Iris has lost her last marble!”), while others are less impressed (sigh – “I’m too jaded to care, darling.”).  The best moment, though, is when Steve as writer tells us “the Circus of Crime*sets about its thievery…” while Steve the editor pipes in with “*in case you hadn’t recognized them –S.G.,” which completely cracked me up.  
There is a bit of Switzler-business I’d omitted from the synopsis, but still bears mentioning: as they are preparing for Iris’ party, Howard receives a phone call from the apartment’s previous resident, Lee Switzler, who has a business proposition for Howard, if he can get back to Cleveland right away; meanwhile, somewhere in the Himalayas, Bev demands some attention from her previously-fascinated, now lab-sequestered unsought-for husband Dr Bong, so we now should assume these two have normalized relations …
The Colan/Janson art is fun; they get a fair amount of distance from the surprised reactions of people who haven’t seen a clothed, talking duck before (especially the party-freezing moment on p 22, pnl 2).  The entrance of the Circus is a highlight, especially when you notice the drink-dropping reactions of some of the guests (p 26).  The devious look of the thieving Clown will appeal to anyone who finds clowns creepy (p 30, pnl 2).
Matthew: We’ve established that Gerber is an acquired taste, and one I acquired 40 years ago, so I doubt it will raise any eyebrows now if I say that I loved this issue.  With all due respect to co-creator Mayerik, Colan—yes, even inked by Janson—fits Howard like his three-fingered white gloves, from his unspoken “Waaugh!” on their outstanding cover to his hilarious hypnotic haze in page 30, panel 6 (and that’s not to slight the atmospheric Fifth Season patrons in page 11, panel 5 or horrified guests in page 22, panel 2).  If you’re going to interpolate super-villains into this, uh, unsuper-antihero strip, who better than the Circus of Crime, who’ve been enjoying a kind of renaissance at the respective hands of Englehart and Wein in SVTU and Hulk?

Mark: Oh, jeez, not another comic that opens with the hero shopping in the Macy's Boys Dept...

Howard gets a new suit jacket (it's awhile yet before Disney forces him into pants) then a box of Havana Supremes, courtesy of Paul Same, who's won a new art patron on the long cruise back from Bong Island. Said patron Iris Raritan is a rich eccentric, who scandalizes other Long Island swells by throwing posh parties with déclassé entertainments. Too bad she only takes the New York Times, 'cause Iris would've been hip to the Circus of Crime if she read the Bugle

Mark: While Gene the Dean serves up the Clown, Princess Python, et al., with all due sweaty, face-painted glory, their act peaked around '65, with waning returns since, and giving the Ringmaster a new whistle to go with his hypno-hat doesn't freshen things up. We don't care if the socialites get plucked, although Paul, sadly if predictably, also loses the fat wad he's been flashing. And then Gerbs pitches a nifty curve, with R.M. deciding Howie is prime circus material - harkening all the way back to Hulk #3 - and spirits our cranky foul away for a new life under the Big Top.

But the big jaw-dropper here is Bev, a.k.a. Mrs. Bong, who gets bored with her mutated lizard Lassie, no matter how cute the creature's "Neez, neezing," and demands her marital horizontal-bop rights. Dr. Bong gets boinked. And never mind that they're married, sanctioned by the Church or at least the captain of a Russian freighter, now I'm scandalized. 

Whatever happened to a girl waiting for the duck her heart truly desires? Who'd stand against such a thrown-together-across-two-worlds romance, except those interspecies bigots at the Comics Code Authority...

The Incredible Hulk 224
"Follow the Leader!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Ernie Chan

While Bruce Banner is chained, The Leader bores him with details on how he survived their last encounter. His Electro-Matter Fizzo-Deelybob transported him out of the spaceship belonging to Kurrgo (alien planet master, not the 1970s Beatles tribute band), after the two evil dudes fell to The Thing and The Hulk (for a much more complicated and boring account of the activities, go look for Marvel Feature #11) and sent him back to his lab, where his humanoid staff tended to him. After he'd recovered, he took human form and was teleported to the New Mexico desert and taken to the Gamma Base in the guise of an amnesiac wanderer. While Bruce keeps Big Green Dome talking, Doc Samson loosens his bonds and charges The Leader, only to be brought to his knees by the baddie's super-brain. The Leader shuffles off when he hears that Clay Quartermain has entered airspace above the base and this leaves Samson, Banner, and Thunderbuss to plot a defense. Doc and the General agree that Bruce should make himself change back into the Hulk but Bruce is initially wary of going that route. Eventually they wear him down and he agrees, but only on his terms. While interviewing the tamed Quartermain, The Leader is shocked to see his old nemesis, the green goliath, burst through the wall, murder in his eyes. Knowing he can't stand up to the Hulk in a fair fight, The Leader busts the Murder Module out of mothballs (where it's been since Hulk #123) and attacks his hated enemy, only to discover that the big green oaf is not who he seems to be but a Gamma Base-manufactured Hulk Robot, being controlled mentally by Bruce Banner. When the Leader zaps the faux-behemoth, the "energy feedback" travels through the "mobility guidance system" and Bruce is zapped as well.
-Peter Enfantino

Peter: As dopey as the whole shebang is (and it is dopey), give Roger a bit of credit for coming up with a way to resurrect the big guy without actually throwing in the towel on this silly "Hulk is Dead" plot (even though we all know Stern will do it eventually). Yeah, subtract a point because it's not the most novel of an approach (how many times was The Thing attacked by some old foe he thought was dead only to discover it was a robot created by Reed Richards because Stretch thought the FF was getting soft?) but I was surprised, I must admit. I wonder just how much input Roger Stern had while molding the "stranger from the desert" sub-plot or if the whole magilla lies squarely on Len Wein's shoulders. Obviously, the reveal is immensely disappointing after the suspenseful build-up .

Chris: At first, based on the Hulk’s initial presentation, it’s reasonable to expect Banner’s attempt to infuse himself anew with gamma radiation (and that is what we think he did, don’t we?) has gone wrong, and reduced the Hulk to having even less intellect available to him.  This would mean a reduced likelihood to appeal to the Hulk, and reason with him (to the extent this is possible with Greenskin …) if circumstances were to change; as it is, the things that had needed smashing now can be safely left unsmashed.  Nice twist by Stern, who calls on a mostly forgotten (or in my case, previously unknown) element from this title’s distant past.

The Buscema/Rubinstein art continues to excel.  There’s a lot to like in the early pages, as we read the tension on the faces of our unwilling participants in the Leader’s game.  Once the battle starts, though, look out!  Well, the Hulk might not be paying attention, as he absently steps over the temporarily paralyzed Quartermain (p 17).  Dig the fierce expression and powerful blow as the Hulk gives a tank a ka-SPLANG (p 22, last pnl)!  Everything builds toward the debris-yielding appearance of the Murder Module (another artifact from issues past) and the hair-raising million-volt zap of the Hulkamaton (p 26-30).  Great work all around, as this title continues to excel.  

Scott: The second issue in this really solid trilogy is even more fun than the first part - which was a great deal of fun for me. Yeah, we've seen Hulkbots a dozen times before, but this was well executed. The return of the Murder Module was a really nice touch. The leader's rage at being duped by a "mere robot" is excellent and drives the conclusion of this issue and will make what happens next issue necessary. The art by Sal Buscema and Joe Rubinstein is really fantastic. Of course, I always laughed at how cut Banner's body is. The guy is supposed to be pretty skinny, but he's always drawn like a weight lifter. General Ross is pretty damned friendly these days, calling Banner "son" and showing a lot of concern. The supporting cast of Doc Samson and Clay Quartermain are also nice to see. This is really a fun blast from my childhood as we're finally deep into the batch of books I used to get at the local drug stores and 7-Elevens. 

Matthew: That splash page of the exultant Leader is about as classic Sal as you can get, and aside from a few Jansonish murky moments, I’d say Rubinstein largely does right by Our Pal.  For those who enjoy such things, Sterno digs deep, going way past the Leader’s proto-MTIO “death” in Marvel Features (sic) #11 to excavate the Murder Module and RoboHulk, each from about a hundred issues ago.  But bizarrely, this one manages to feel fresh and stale at the same time, representing the confluence of two well-traveled tributaries:  “I’ll be damned if I become the Hulk again, no matter what the cost,” and “How can we have the Hulk without really having the Hulk,” e.g., Hulk with Banner’s brain, Cosmic [hyphen optional] Powered Hulk, et al.

The Invaders 29
"Attack of the Teutonic Knight!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Frank Springer
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Alan Kupperberg, John Romita, and Ernie Chan

Piloting his flagship over Britain, Namor notes that minus the Kid Commandos, “perhaps the Invaders will now be a more efficient team.  Combat is not child’s play!”  But he joins his American allies in astonishment when Union Jack reveals that the raison d’être for their hasty departure was “a Nazi menace called the Teutonic Knight,” and we learn that in late 1941, before the formation of the Invaders, all three faced him separately.  Cap and Bucky were unable to stop his theft of the blueprints for a heavily armed and armored flying arsenal from an East-Coast warehouse, obliged to choose between following Komtur (“the title of the commander of the Teutonic Knights during the late Middle Ages,” per Roy) and saving the soldiers from a fire.

Similarly, while taking Dr. Barrows and his plans for a revolutionary engine from a British train, Komtur forced his bodyguards, the Torches, to repair a bombed-out bridge before a train passed over it.  And, off the African coast, Komtur threatened newswoman Betty Dean—covering the transport of the sole sample of Radium-X, the only element that could power the engine—and the tanker crew, foiling Namor’s pursuit with special smoke that dried his pores.  Inevitably, the quintet arrives to find England under attack by the Teutonic Knight’s Fliegentod (translated as “Flying Death” in Roy & Don’s caption, although a subsequent lettercol apparently reveals that it really means “Fly’s Death”), a swastika-emblazoned “death machine” utilizing all of his booty. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Even more than on Captain America, Glut’s “guest writer” credit turns out to be retroactively nominal, in light of another complex Roy-to-Don transition spelled out in some detail in the lettercol, so with the history-minded Robbins now history himself, the Glupperberg creative team that debuts here actually handles the lion’s share of the remaining issues.  Springer’s lingering presence is a double-edged sword, providing continuity with the “Two Franks” era but, in my opinion, preventing Alan from reaching his full potential, as he does on his nifty Chan-inked cover.  My biggest beef, though, is with the story, less because the “Two-Tone Knight” (as Toro dubs him) is dull and—in all senses—poorly delineated than because of its excessive familiarity.

First, although not a retcon per se, this “Almost-Origin of the Invaders!” (per the cover) comes pretty hard on the heels of “The Untold Origin of Toro!” in #22, suggesting a tendency to rewrite history.  Second, the fact that Cap, Namor, and the Torch each encountered the Knight before becoming Invaders is a virtual variation on the annual that not only pitted them against foes they had faced individually, but also showed us their side of Avengers #71, which in “real” time teamed them up before this strip was ever envisioned.  Finally, if the idea of three isolated thefts of high-tech components combined into a flying symbol of the Third Reich—dramatically revealed in a cliffhanger—rings a bell, I direct readers to Roy’s Marvel Two-in-One Annual #1…

Mark: Little did I realize when I mounted a (semi) spirited defense of Frank Robbins' art during our last class that issue #28 would be Robbins' final work on The Invaders. Masterful timing, as it turns out, and a prime bit of synchronicity. With Frank gone from the only Marvel book he was suited for, and thus my need to defend him, perhaps I'll no longer be targeted by random gobs of food in the faculty cafeteria. Although with Professor Flynn in a tizzy over his ex-parking spot... 

And in an ironic turn, in-coming penciler Alan Kupperberg is another artist I'm not generally enamored with, but he, too, is a good fit for the title. While certainly more in the "Marvel mold" than Robbins, Alan's sometimes askew take of human anatomy and cartoony style captures the proper retro '40's vibe.

Roy's also on leave (supposedly temporarily, but who knows), with his pal Don Glut scripting this yarn of the elusive Teutonic Knight, who's bested each of the Big Three while pilfering both components and scientists to create a flying saucer/weapons platform. 

No major gripes here (of the minor variety: where's the "almost-origin of the Invaders" promised on the dramatic cover? And Namor must be psychic, 'cause he flies his Imperial Flagship to England without Union Jack - who hustled the team aboard, double-time - never bothering to reveal their destination!), and considering the new creative team, the transition is well-nigh seamless. So strap in for our next installment: "Five Against the Fliegentod!"

Now that really trips off the tongue, but hey, don't ya know there's a war on? 

Iron Man 111
"The Man, the Metal, and the Mayhem!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Pollard and Fred Kida
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Genovese
Cover by Keith Pollard and Terry Austin

When a blast hits a fuel-storage cell, the explosion hurls Iron Man from the ship into the middle of the fray, but although saved by his self-sealing armor and gyro-stabilizer, he is mistaken by the New Men for a destruct-drone and forced to defend himself.  The burst that kills Sir Ossilot and Sir Lepard convinces him that the Colonizers are bent on genocide, so he elects to side with the Wundagorians, only to be blasted by both camps simultaneously, plummeting into a primeval swamp.  Observer YJ-18, who’d shielded Jack from a blast, explains during a respite that “a cosmic storm separated our fleet from the main body,” cutting off all contact, and in desperation they thought of breaking their vow never to colonize Earth, then found “New Rigel.”

Yet cosmic radiation borne on their exploratory craft re-evolved the New Men (returned to their animal forms by the dying, deified High Evolutionary in Tales to Astonish #96), who reclaimed their abandoned cities and resisted, since the Rigellians refuse to “live with…beasts.”  At S.I., Whitney learns from Laynia that the egg has resumed glowing, while IM survives a bug-monster attack before allying himself with the New Men, surreptitiously stealing a recharge from their floater en route to the city of New Earth.  The gloating Arcturus reveals that, tired of standing “in the shadow of the Grand Commissioner,” he arranged for the loss of contact, and unless Jack helps him take Wundagore II, he will forswear their oath to Thor and conquer the Earth instead... -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “In war there are no neutrals—!” quoth the Colonizer who nobly takes a Wundagorian bullet—er, blast—meant for Jack, thus neatly summing up the theme of this installment, in which Mantlo’s objective is to get IM and Jack on opposite sides.  That would be easier if they were moral equals, but the Rigellians’ racist refusal to cohabit Wundagore II gives the New Men the high ground, and I like how Bill gets around that without making Jack either a credulous boob or hell-bent on avenging (ha ha) Shellhead.  Instead, he relies on that beloved standby, the Evil Alien Conqueror, as so beautifully visualized by Pollarda in their dramatic last panel, among the few art highlights; again, I feel that Fred is not showing Keith’s pencils to their fullest advantage.

Not surprisingly, I find his busy if generally appealing Austin-inked cover superior in every way but one, i.e., the depiction of the Wundagorian Kamacura (with a wink to Kaiju-Meister Joe); inside, it is both recognizable and overtly identified as a giant, mutated praying mantis, while there, it just looks like…who the hell knows what?  The close-up of Sir Lyan in page 26, panel 6 is especially nice—but has the plaid-blazered, bowtied Jasper been transported by a time machine from Tales of Suspense c. 1968 into page 16, panel 5?  I felt the jury was still out on Arcturus last time, and of course the self-sacrifice cited above gave further hope for reasonable Rigellians, all of which just increases the effectiveness of that “Bwuhahahahahaha!” cliffhanger.

Chris: Mantlo takes his time, as he allows Iron Man and Jack of Hearts to get a sense of what this conflict is about before they determine which side to back; early returns favor the Colonizers, especially as one takes a laser blast that might’ve hit Jack.  After awhile, though, Mantlo checks his Social Justice badge and belt buckle, and decides there has to be a Bad Guy, who seeks to exploit others.  He cleverly starts with the origin story of the Colonizers, and weaves in the background of the New Men of Wundagore II, which ends with a Rigellian scoffing at the notion of sharing the spacious, roomy planet with “beasts”; so now, Jack conveniently views the Colonizers as racist.  Mantlo proceeds to sweep away any gray area as Arcturus declares that if he can’t conquer Wundagore II, he’ll take Earth instead.  So, while a balanced story featuring pros and cons of the positions of both the Colonizers and the New Men might’ve been more interesting, even potentially challenging, it also might’ve proven too difficult to write; I realize these are funny books, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for a nuanced story.   

There’s plenty of action, as Mantlo & Pollard make up for the lack of developments in our previous chapter.  The combination of Pollard & Kida doesn’t look any better this time than it did last time; it’s fine, just not as solid as I expected it to be after their first pairing in IM #107.  A few highlights: IM crashing thru something, in the fog of space-war (p 7, pnl 3); IM getting double-zapped, then plunging planet-ward (p 10); Arcturus, with an apparent flair for the dramatic (I hear he had the lead in a well-reviewed Rigellian production of Tamburlaine…), smashes a clay model of our humble planet (p 31).

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 13
"March of the Dead!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Perez and Rudy Nebres

Carter lurches forward, so that Tarkas’s swing passes over him to shatter the bones holding him, but after disarming Tarkas and battling scores of skeletal warriors, he knocks the Thark unconscious.  Carter finds and frees Sola, who relates how she had been imprisoned in a well for weeks after the castle grew around her out of the ground, and they bring Tarkas to Helium, yet their finest doctors are baffled by his comatose condition.  Unknown to Carter, the corpse-like figure who enthralled Tarkas, Zhuvan D’Ark, is leading his forces toward Helium, and when Kantos Kan joins an impatient Carter on an exploratory mission to the City of Skulls, they observe an “army of the dead and twice-damned” marching across the desert.

Consumed with hatred, Carter unwisely aims his flier among them, but instead of shattering, they cling to its bow, forcing him to skim the sand to scrape them off, until the two friends crash and face an army.  Vastly outnumbered, they are soon knocked out, bound, and dragged behind the enemy, yet Carter revives to free himself and Kantos as they reach Helium and the battle is joined.  Carter confronts Zhuvan D’Ark, who immobilizes him mentally while he relates how he “made a bond with the dark gods” millennia ago and was condemned for mass murder; buried in a desert pit, he rotted with age but survived, sustained by the pact that granted him his powers yet imprisoned until Sola came near enough to control, and now plans to destroy Helium in revenge. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As I’ve said before, if Nebres must ink somebody else, it should be a penciler whose work won’t be too much of a loss, but while I might put Infantino high on that list, in fairness, he does better when not drawing faces or figures, as with that skeletal army on page 16 recalling Jason and the Argonauts.  This middle third is a curious mélange, with some weird editorializing by Marv (“At times, I wonder if the medical profession purposely fosters our feelings of helpless acquiescence in order to make their positions that much more tenable”), plus some plotting that makes Carter look like an imbecile:  why make a virtually suicidal plunge into the Bone Brigade, rather than flying back to Helium, to warn it of the impending threat?  Nebres-Nose Alert:  page 22, panel 5 (right).

Chris: It’s a testament to the unparalleled imagination and skill of Ray Harryhausen that, anytime we see a humans vs animated skeletons swordfight, we immediately refer it back to Jason and the Argonauts.  By that, I mean Infantino & Nebres offer the latest homage to this classic moment in adventure storytelling.  The flier vs skeleton regiment engagement on page 16 is a new wrinkle; I also like how Carter’s fist breaks apart a skull (p 17, last pnl).  

The appeal isn’t simply in the skeleton-battling, though, as our art team continues the spooky vibe of our previous issue.  Notice Carter standing amidst a pile of separated skeletons (gloomy bluish-purple background by Michelle Wolfman); also, check out the howling skulls offset by skulls seeming to melt into the background, both on the big-slash panel on page 6, then again at a quieter moment on page 7, pnl 4. 

No comments:

Post a Comment