Wednesday, June 15, 2016

June 1978 Part Two: Close Encounters of the Third Kind Gets the Marvel Treatment

Kull the Destroyer 27 
“The World Within”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ernie Chan and Rudy Nebres

After being transported to another dimension by the wizards Korr-Lo-Zann, Norra and Gar-Nak, Kull and Ridondo scale a mountain towards the ancient castle on the top, hopeful to discover the cyclopean demon that stole the crown of Torranna. Suddenly, a huge sail-back reptile begins to clamber up after them. But Kull hurls a large boulder that strikes the dinosaur on the head — it retreats in pain. On the other side of the mountain, Laralei comes across the shaggy, one-eyed monster, the crown perched on the single horn on the top of its head. Calling himself Gasshga, the giant brute slings the “little flower” over his shoulder and tromps off towards the castle, raising the drawbridge behind them. Meanwhile, the former Valusian king and the minstrel reach the top of the peak and approach the castle, but find themselves barred entry by the closed gate. They notice another of the sail-backs crawling into a cave below and set off to follow, hoping to find another passageway into the structure. Inside, Gasshga is entertaining his captive until he hears the reptile approaching from below — he leaves the woman and kills the creature with his huge axe after a brief battle. The hairy horror returns to his throne room and begins to tell Laralei a tale, gulping wine throughout. After Gasshga falls into a deep sleep, the woman steals his sword-sized dagger and sneaks off. After coming across the carcass of the sail-back, Kull and Ridondo continue upwards, eventually finding their way into the castle. They soon discover the slumbering Gasshga: just before Kull can plunge his sword into the demon’s chest and take the crown, Laralei returns, shouting for him to stop. The noise rouses the cyclops, who rises from his throne, ax in hand. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: With only two issues left, I find it nigh impossible that Don "Pussyfootin’” Glut will be able to wrap up the main storyline of the series: Kull raising an army to regain the crown of Valusia from Thulsa Doom. Hasn’t that been the point of this whole exhausting exercise? That quest dates back to when this series was first cancelled in August 1974, the three-issue run of the Kull and the Barbarians black-and-white magazine in 1975 and the resurrection of  Kull the Destroyer in August of 1976. Even if Kull can wrest the crown from Gassbag, uh Gasshga, next issue, I doubt he’ll have the time to march the Torrannaian army on Valusia. Speaking of Gasshga, he doesn’t seem like a bad hairy cyclops: it doesn’t look like he means any harm to Laralei and he kills off the dinosaur in a rather happy-go-lucky style. Glut doesn’t reveal what he told Laralei but it must have been a fairly sympathetic tale since she comes to his defense when Kull decides to cold-bloodedly kill the sleeping galoot. Even Ridondo gives pause at Kull’s rather ruthless decision: the remorseless Atlantean replies “And why not? We slaughter animals for food, don’t we? Our giant is but another beast — through we’ll slay him for something far more valuable than cuts of meat!” Ricardo Villamonte replaces the regular Rudy Nebres on the inks and the results are basically the same: not too shabby. The sail-backs comes across particularly well. I guessed last issue that Norra dumped Gar-Nak because she planned on macking on Kull when he hopefully returned with the crown and was named ruler of Torranna. Glut proves me right with a few panels of her admiring her half-naked form in a mirror and deciding that it’s fit for a king. Based on Chan and Villamonte’s shockingly explicit rendition on page 22, I tend to agree with her.

 Master of Kung Fu 65
"Black Knights"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Jim Craig, Ricardo Villamonte, and John Tartaglione
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Joe Genovese
Cover by Ernie Chan

Pavane joins Skull-Crusher in the fight against Shang-Chi.  They aren’t able to mount a united front against S-C in the cramped space of the storeroom; S-C throws a burlap bag into Pavane, knocking the wind out of her, and Skull-Crusher chooses to break a hole in the wall and run away.  S-C carries the unconscious Juliette, and drags Pavane, back to Juliette’s hideaway.  In Hong Kong, Reston and Ms Greville are accompanying the police back to the station, to answer questions about the explosion at the Jade Peacock, when Reston notices they’ve driven past the station.  Smelling a rat, Reston gives Ms Greville a signal; they dive free of the car, and are on the run toward the Hong Kong office of MI-6.  Juliette wakes, and explains to Shang-Chi a series of double-crosses.  She had been working for a smuggler named Kogar, and stole a shipment intended for her former lover, Shen “Cat” Kuei; Juliette was not aware that the X-marked crate – which Kogar had instructed her to leave for Shen’s brother – would explode, thereby framing her for the brother’s murder.  S-C wonders about the hijacked crates, which are sought by Shen for the Red Chinese, and by Kogar for his own purposes; what could be so important?  S-C returns to the storeroom to check the crates, when he hears the sound of splintering wood; he races back to the house to find Pavane had awoken, broken free of her bounds, and escaped.  Skull-Crusher meets Shen in the jungle and confesses his latest failure; Shen beats Skull, and swears to kill him if he cannot succeed in killing Shang-Chi.  S-C searches the house, when Pavane strikes from a roof ledge; the fight carries them into the surrounding jungle, prompting Pavane to summon her panther, Mara.  S-C subdues the jungle cat with a well-placed blow to the head, then grabs Pavane’s lash when she renews her attack; S-C whips his end of the lash, and snaps Pavane (still holding the lash handle) thru a window and into the house.  S-C, thinking he has “grown tired of this fight,” follows Pavane in and knocks her out.  He checks on Juliette, who suddenly panics, stating she and S-C have to leave immediately.  Next to arrive is Kogar, accompanied by his crew, including an undercover Black Jack Tarr; Tarr blows his cover when he calls out to Shang-Chi.  “Ah, this makes matters most interesting,” muses Kogar; “ if Tarr is here … then Nayland Smith must also want the crates … But, why?” -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Quite the McGuffin, isn’t it!  Last issue, so much of our attention was occupied with various pieces coming together, and with the circumstances around the explosion at the Jade Peacock, that I don’t think many readers had given much thought to the shipment itself, and its potential value.  Now, I’m not sure we’ll be able to attend to anything else, until the burning question is answered – but, not until next issue, espionage fans!  
I will admit my synopsis simplified the story somewhat; I had to omit a number of small details – such as Leiko also arriving in Hong Kong, in search of Shang-Chi (which is said and done in three panels), plus some bits of business in Kogar’s crime camp.  The setting changes so frequently, and so rapidly (with Moench at times carrying-over the end of one scene into the next, with a caption handily providing a link to the next scene), I had to pare events down a bit.  At one point, I was reminded of Moench’s approach to Ka-Zar late in its run, as the storyline became progressively more convoluted and disjointed.  But Moench has never gone that far astray in a multi-part MoKF adventure, and it’s not going to happen now either, right Doug?  ..Doug?
The Craig art, with Villamonte joining Tartaglione on the inks, is not getting any stronger.  Craig manages to fit all the story-elements and battle-action into the issue, but the fighting feels perfunctory, and never gets all that exciting.  Villamonte’s style is similar to Tartaglione’s, which allows for continuity, but doesn’t improve the appearance of the art, which at times still looks mostly smudgy without providing much atmosphere.

Mark Barsotti: Given that the last installment of the Hong Kong saga (in MOKF #63; remember, class, last month was a fill-in) came close to overlooked "masterpiece" status, largely on the strength of Jim Craig's vivid, self-inked art, a drop-off was almost inevitable. Fortuntely, the descent isn't ass-over-teakettle. Craig's still behind the pencil, but the tag-team inks by Ricardo Villamonte and John Tartaglione lack the labor-intensive care Craig lavished on his own work. There are still lots of nice graphics, undercut by rushed work like the complete lack of backgrounds on the first two pages, and awful panels like Juliette on the bottom of p.11. (right), looking like a pug-nosed mannequin, as rendered by a myopic Don Heck.  

But Moench keeps the intrigue and action percolating along at such a hot enough temp that we don't raise much of an eyebrow over Miss Greville, fresh from the secretarial pool and a hospital bed, delivering an elbow to a fake cop's Adam's apple with split-second precision. With more conviction, Shen Kuei schools Skullcrusher (and, in a nice character touch that's almost a textbook example of situational ethics, Shen "the Cat's" sense of honor won't let him kill Shang personally, but he can order another to do so), Leiko reaches Hong Kong, and S-C beats up Pavane's panther.

And, yes, Doug, we want to know what's in that damned stolen crate!    

Ms. Marvel 18
"The St. Valentine's Day/Avengers Massacre!
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Jim Mooney and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum

As Ms. Marvel’s nightmare begins to come true, the clothes-shopping Scarlet Witch and Wasp see her attacked by Centurion and race to her aid while calling for backup, and she switches to Carol unnoticed among the panicked restaurant patrons, dropping off his screen.  The cavalry arrives in the form of Vision, Yellowjacket, and Wonder Man, who keep Centurion busy as Carol regroups, changes back, and plans a sneak attack, but he anticipates it.  When Ms. Marvel tries to lose him inside the TPC Tower, Centurion brings down the rest of the partly demolished skyscraper, yet as Wonder Man (whose belt-jets mysteriously seem to come and go) saves her—as Carol—she confirms her theory that he has been tracking her Kree battle uniform.

In her Pentagon office, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Development is told by her “Lord” to call off Centurion, but she believes that Ms. Marvel’s continued existence puts their plan in jeopardy and, after grudgingly acceding, she reverts to her true, blue-skinned form.  Meanwhile, on the throneworld of the Kree Empire, Bun-Dall (sic)—“the Supremor’s former valet,” named imperial minister after he overloaded himself in Captain Marvel #46—tells Phae-Dor he believes “the Supreme Intelligence is alive [and] siphoning power from the planetary grid…”  The head of the Science Council dismisses his fears, confident that “the Supremor is still in stasis,” but after they leave his audience chamber, a laughing face appears on the screen...

During a lull, the Vision has just observed that “Centurion wears S.H.I.E.L.D. colors” when Ms. Marvel returns, having used our intermission to improvise a rather fetching cloth costume, and in her own “fastball special” literally throws a now-flightless Wonder Man into him.  The Vision is struck down with a meson bolt while disrupting Centurion, buying MM time to get to a Con Ed power plant (one not vaporized by the Torpedo) and set a trap:  a magnetic field to scramble his computer’s magnetic bubble memory core, rendering him “just another bruiser in fancy long-johns.”  It does, bouncing Centurion around like a pinball, but having tossed his blaster aloft, where it explodes in a chain reaction, she unmasks Ballard yet has no idea who sent him, or why. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: For a gal who won’t even join the group for almost a year, Ms. Marvel’s spending a lot of time with the Avengers, and by returning her courtesy call in their own book, the Assemblers try to boost her soon-to-be-cancelled title via an “Action!  Action!  Action!  Special Guest-Star Issue!” (per the cover).  I don’t feel like we ever got a good look at Centurion, which may be just as well, since Villamonte’s inks impress me no more here than they did in last month’s MTU.  For some of us, of course, the subplots are more interesting than the “Action!”3 as, for example, we get our first look at Raven Darkhölme—presumably a fan of Motörhead—in all her glory as the woman who will one day be known as Mystique (for anyone who hasn’t connected the dots yet).

Trust Chris to reach back to his sole issue of Mar-Vell’s mag—which he merely scripted, almost two years ago, from somebody else’s plot, mind you—to set up the meeting of our full- and part-time Kree, which the lettercol promises us will include “the long-awaited origin of…Carol Danvers.”  Marvel is inconsistent on the spelling of Bun-Dal[l]’s name, but don’t sweat it, since I don’t believe he’s ever seen again.  There’s also been long-standing confusion about Kree-Lar, identified here as the throneworld, and on the Marvel Database as “the largest city-state on the planet Hala.  It encompasses most of the planet” (which may be a retcon, but makes more sense, since the Supremor’s audience chamber had always been depicted as located on Hala in the past).

Chris: I’m going to take a cue from our esteemed colleague Prof Joe, and consider this issue thru a prism of “good/bad.”  We have a few Avengers unexpectedly guest-starring (good), but why just these four?  Don’t know.  No MARMIS to cause Ms Marvel to battle the Vision (good), but no acknowledgement of their previous opposition; are they simply pretending it never happened (I’m trying to – that’s bad)?  Their opponent, Centurion, is formidable and well-armed, which makes for a mostly action-packed issue (that’s good); there’s an odd pause in the battle, though, as the Avengers are standing around on a rooftop, while Centurion hovers above (p 22), with Vision arguing they have to wait for Thor or Iron Man to come help (bad – they’re called Earth’s Mightiest Heroes for a reason, Mr Claremont).  Ms Marvel reappears with some new clothes (good choice), but huh -?  Where’d you find the coat, hat, and unitard – somewhere on the rooftop, I suppose?  There might’ve been an opportunity for Ms M to pool her talents along with her soon-to-be teammates, but instead the Avengers have a seat and deal out the cards, while Ms M alone draws the Centurion into what he should recognize as a terribly obvious trap.  It’s a rare misfire, a completely squandered opportunity by Claremont; with these guest-heroes, this should have been a real gem.

I have nothing good at all to say about the art; it’s all bad.  I can’t blame Mooney too much, because we’ve seen he’s capable of solid pencils for this title.  The need to compress a lot of action requires Mooney to go with many tight panels, though, which also makes the battle seem smaller, especially when figures like Vision and Wonder Man come off as a bit dinky.  The real villain, though, is Villamonte, who leaves every page looking partly-finished and scratchy, with hardly a moment for me to credit him for effectively complementing Mooney’s pencils.  The poor result, with sloppy action and flat facial expressions, is the worst thing I’ve seen since Heck inked Brown on the Avengers – those wounds run deep; it’s the least-looking issue of the series to date, at a time when readers should be primed to pick it up, not shake their heads and give the rack another spin.  
I’ll close on a good note: we still don’t know why Raven is out to get Ms Marvel, do we?  The mystery deepens.  Also, the Supreme Intelligence coming around is bad news for the Kree, especially super-powered Kree; and that’s good news for readers like us, isn’t it -?

Marvel Premiere 42
Tigra, the Feline Fury in
"Nightmare's Evolution"
Story by John Warner and Ed Hannigan
Art by Mike Vosburg and Ernie Chan
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum

In New Orleans, the Cat People have been seeking Dr. Tumolo since they found Dr. Richard Dannemiller’s body, yet as Tigra finally sees Joanne, she is a ghostly image who warns Greer about a Renegade (“tell the othersTabur has the ray!”), and then vanishes.  Flashbacks reveal that amid the Mardi Gras festivities, Dannemiller was delivering a potentially destructive device to Joanne for Dr. Leon, but was met by a feral figure who violated the ancient taboo against Cat People killing each other.  The next day, in their “Gulf Coast redoubt,” Tigra reports to Faelar and the others, learning that secrets have been kept from her, e.g., their ability, at the cost of one’s life, “to protect a living image to a loved one” when the group is endangered.

They deduce that Joanne was captured by Tabur, a New Man who’d fled the war in Wundagore before it departed Earth, and was given refuge by the Cat People in a failed attempt to reclaim the cowardly turncoat.  A news report of rampaging prehistoric beasts confirms that Tabur has modified Leon’s ray—a surprise, intended to return Greer to human form—to make its function that of evolutionary reversal, and sloppy science abounds as he threatens to devolve humans into simians.  The Cat People at last reveal themselves to humanity to protect them from the beasts, and are transformed into sabertooth tigers, but the joke is on Tabur, because they retain their affinity for Tigra, who in turning the ray on Tabur reverts him to his original form of a housecat. 
-Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Following in the pawprints of her failed solo series, extended FF guest shot, and recent MTU gig, this suggests that Marvel really wanted to keep Tigra in play, yet if anything it seems to have had the opposite effect.  Aside from a Kraven flashback in Amazing Spider-Man #209, which doesn’t count (and is already outside this blog’s purview), she apparently wasn’t seen again for more than three years, until joining the Avengers in #211.  The fact that I had no specific memories of this, just a vague impression of mediocrity, didn’t bode well, and I cringed when I saw that scripter and Defenders-defiler Hannigan had plotted it with Bloodstone-meister Warner, but having re-read it with the proper frame of reference, I feel its biggest sin is vaulting ambition.

Warnigan (It’s not just for artists anymore!) revives and resolves elements from Marvel Chillers, e.g., the long-suffering Joanne, who’s allowed to go out with a noble self-sacrifice, and Leon’s proposed cure, which was originally said to let Greer regain her humanity at will, but here sounds more permanent.  Throwing in a link to Wundagore means there’s a lot packed into a single issue, perhaps at the expense of clarity regarding Dannemiller, whose misadventure might have helped the pacing if it were shorter.  If you like the Vosburg/Chan team—which achieves some striking effects with their unusual layouts, like the drunk-silhouette caption in page 6, panel 1 and Mardi Gras-murder montage on page 14—you can see it in John Carter #26, if not sooner.

Joe Tura: Tigra looks cute here, as opposed to voluptuous in her last appearance in MTU. Maybe it's the hair, maybe it's the not John Byrne art, maybe it's the shots of her crouching and looking slightly left. Although the shots of Tigra from behind are, well, pretty meow-morable. And the one middle panel top of page 16 she gets some killer abs. The story is fairly unremarkable and confusing and like four different stories that all pretty much go nowhere. Many questions are raised, few are answered, and more are presented and left flapping in the wind like Tigra's marvelous mane. Seriously, what happened halfway through this comic book? Things took a left turn at Albuquerque and ended up in the High Evolutionary gutter. Best exchange is end of page 22 when Faelar tells Tigra they have a device capable of turning her "back into human form". But our heroine says "Anyway—who ever said I wanted to be turned human again." And Faelar answers "Oh."

Chris: I don’t know why I have to keep saying this.  Guys – John and Ed – you have one issue to tell your story.  The story should showcase the unique abilities of the title character, in this case, Tigra. Since, you know, this is a comic with “Premiere” in its name – if you can inspire enough Marvel fans, then this character might be fortunate enough to have her own title someday.  Instead, we have a fair amount of atmospheric poking around the packed partying streets of New Orleans, with not a whole lot happening until the hapless Dr Dannemiller coughs his last furball, at the end of the eighth page of the story.  Hear that, guys?  We’re almost halfway thru – you plan on showing us what Tigra can do, aside from meeting with the ghost of her mentor?  No, instead, we get a page of Greer’s origin (yes, appropriate for a Premiere story), followed by a page about the villain, Tabur (uh guys – clock’s ticking here …).  Tabur seems to think, that by de-evolving mammals to make a prehistoric animal army, he can rule the world; well, cat-guy, I’m pretty sure Doctor Doom already passed on this idea.

Tigra has enough time (three pages left!) to jump onto, and be pushed off of, a wooly mammoth; then, she pats some saber-tooth tigers on their heads.  She has the presence of mind to turn the villain’s weapon against him (rarely a bad play), and we’re done.  So, it’s not a bad story, and we have a chance to learn a little about the rarely-seen Cat People in our midst.  My only wish is that someone – an editor, perhaps – might’ve reviewed the plot outline, blue-pencilled out a lot of the unneeded early set-up business, and written on the top of the first page: “Put more TIGRA stuff into the story.”  
Vosburg & Chan can’t seem to determine exactly how Tigra’s face should look, which is a problem, especially after Byrne & Hunt did such a masterful job of realizing the character (high cheekbones, narrow chin, almond-eyes, short fangs, lengthy tightly-curled hair, claw-like finger tips, long-legged and killer-lean – uh, can you tell I was paying attention -?) in MTU #67, a scant few months ago (in fairness, I realize this story might’ve been in the can for awhile before finally seeing print, so our guys might not’ve been working off the Byrne/Hunt model).  I will credit our team with an innovation, as we now see Tigra’s top is secured by a “V” that attaches to the bottom at the small of her back (p 15), as opposed to the standard bikini top we’ve seen up to now.  

Marvel Team-Up 70
Spider-Man and Thor in
"Whom Gods Destroy!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Annette Kawecki
Cover by John Byrne and Tom Palmer

Claiming to personify Horus and Osiris, the Monolith tears the webbing from his eyes and hurls Spidey to an imminent death, from which he is saved (above an “X-Men Monthly in May” billboard) by a passing Thor, who upon being briefed takes up the battle in his stead.  Spidey alerts him that freeing Havok will defeat the Monolith, who gloats after Thor has thrown his hammer that if the casing is smashed, its booby-trap will kill Alex, making his power the Monolith’s forever.  Snagging Mjolnir with his webbing, Spidey diverts it, but is dragged through the air until caught once again by Thor, who resumes the battle in New York Harbor and smashes a tugboat—whose crew has abandoned ship—when the villain hurls the Molly D at him.

After interrupting a couple on their second honeymoon to view the ensuing localized hurricane with coin-operated binoculars, Spidey returns to the embassy, where Havok is being loaded into a truck, and having defeated the Monolith’s minions, he uses his spider-sense tingles to tell him which of three wires he can safely break to release Alex and remove the ankh.  Deprived of his “living battery,” the Monolith abruptly vanishes in mid-battle, presumed to have returned to normal size and been blown away by the storm but survived.  Alex is desperate to return to Muir Isle to check on Lorna, and although “the government hath forbidden [the Avengers] the use of our machines,” Thor vows that with the help of Tony Stark, “the lad will be home ere nightfall.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: John reportedly raved about Tony’s inks; if typically disappointed that his style didn’t show through more, I’ll admit that in and of themselves, the Byrniga results dazzle, from the spectacle of the tugboat-smashing hammer-blow that spans pages 16-17 to the subtlety of the booby-trap scene, with its distinctive Byrne-hands, on page 27.  Chris erases any doubts from part one as Spidey—often at his most interesting when admitting he’s outgunned—leaves the heavy lifting to real and self-appointed gods (superb chemistry with Thor, BTW) while saving the day with his big, beautiful brain.  After more than 15 years, few writers can come up with any new wrinkles regarding his powers, yet the bomb-disarming is brilliantly creative without contradicting canon.

Professor Blake and I have lauded the specificity that Claremont and Byrne apply to geography, but while far less knowledgeable on the subject than either Chris, I have a special place in my heart for the Chrysler Building, lovingly delineated in page 22, panel 1.  Therein lay the office of my Dad’s dentist, the raison d’être for endless father-son New York trips, and many’s the pre-VHS hour I spent in the waiting room poring over the current New Yorker seeking a Bogart, Marx Brothers, or W.C. Fields revival for us to hit.  The pent-up anger and frustration released by Havok in page 27, panel 7 (“PHARAOH!”) amply justifies Spidey’s—and our—“wow,” and the Monolith remains a personal favorite, his raw power and charisma beautifully captured here.

Despite high-calorie quotients of action and drama, this issue doesn’t stint on fun, extending even to the lettercol, which reproduces an article from The Wichita Eagle about how readers successfully demanded Spidey’s return to the comics pages, complete with a daily strip whose dialogue was rewritten for the occasion.  His whiplashing Nantucket sleighride on Mjolnir is a hoot, as are the Monolith’s insults (“insolent arachnid,” “benighted simpleton”)—it’s not often you hear Thor referred to as “little man”—and one wonders if tourists George and Martha were intended to invoke Washington or Albee.  I love how after “Yon Monolith names himself a son of the gods of Ancient Egypt,” Thor does a Lloyd Bentsen:  dude, I know those guys, and you ain’t it.

Joe: As far as I can remember, this is the only comic book I ever owned that claims on the cover "The Marvel Bullpen proudly presents this month's OUTSTANDING ACHIEVEMENT in comics art!" And, well, except for maybe X-Men #111, it probably is! There are so many art highlights (to steal Prof. Chris' phrase) from the pen of Mr. Byrne (amazingly ably assisted by DeZuniga) that I can't even begin to tell you my favorites. Probably page 14, though, with Spidey going for a hammer ride. And Claremont's script is boffo, with some juicy Thor-isms, humble Spidey banter, and mucho bravado from the Living Monolith. It all comes together in one of those issues you almost wish wouldn't end. And it all ends way too quickly, like the Monolith needed to be shrunk down to regular human size and received a good ass-kickin' from the Thunder God, or at least from the super angry Havok. But that's a super minor quibble in what will prove to be the next-to-last Claremont-Byrne team-up on this title.

Chris: Claremont & Byrne wrap-up the single finest 12-issue run in this title’s history.  Claremont will continue to be a fairly regular contributor to MTU, with another fourteen credits (plot, script, or both) over the next nineteen issues (including a four-parter, starting a year from now, that I’m dying to re-read); Byrne we’ll see only twice more in these pages (well, plus a back-up feature in MTU #100).  The final page tells us that “a brand new creative team” will be here, beginning next month, which would’ve been a great idea, but unfortunately it’s not the case; this is the last time MTU will feature the same writer/penciller pairing for an uninterrupted multi-month stretch.  A greater concern is that – after Claremont & Byrne had solidified this as a must-read title – MTU’s quality will vary widely from month-to-month, depending on who happens to be at the helm at the time.  

I would not choose to have DeZuniga finish Byrne’s pencils, since his inks obscure the way Byrne conveys emotions via his characters’ faces.  As we’ve seen in his work for Thor, DeZuniga’s style tends to dominate, rather than complement, the style of his penciller, so the results we see here (such as Havok on p 31) appear as less-compelling DeZuniga faces, not so much Byrne in evidence.  That being said, the art is better than I remember; it helps that all of the action takes place at night, which works to DZ’s strength with shadows.  Also, in his depiction of the action, Byrne’s pencils are firm enough to be visible thru the embellishment.  (There’s a bit of BS on the letters page of MTU #76, as the shamelessly-stretching armadillo would have us believe Byrne himself stated he’d “rarely seen himself inked better"; I’m willing to bet a pound of back-bacon and a case of pucks that Byrne never uttered such a sentiment in this context.)
This is yet another frequently-read, well-remembered issue from days gone by, so I will try to be judicious in my choice of highlights (even though I’m tempted to choose something from every page): the webbing near-miss of the stone cornice, followed by the traffic visible below Spidey’s head, as the pavement races up to meet him (p 3, 1st two panels); everything on p 7, from the Monolith’s visible outrage at being struck, to his backhand dismissal of the Norse god, and finally Thor’s undignified entanglement with mannequins; Spidey’s webbing and right arm remain strong, but the brick chimney gives way (p 11); an eye-popping spread on 16-17, including Thor leaping from the roof to catch Mjolnir on its return, the Monolith’s hands reaching from under the water for the boat, Thor’s swinging strike as he turns the boat to splinters, and Thor’s commencement of the maelstrom; the furious battling of p 26 is cleverly followed by a quiet moment, as Spidey shrewdly employs his Spidey-sense to identify the safe wire to pluck in order to free Alex (p 27).  Ok, I’ll stop now.  

Marvel Two-In-One 40
The Thing and the Black Panther in
"Conjure Night!"
Story by Roger Slifer and Tom DeFalco
Art by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos

Chez Murdock, Ben cooks a thank-you pie as Matt, using his hyper-sensitive fingertips on the dice, secretly teaches the Kid ( Eugene Everett) a lesson about not taking advantage with one’s powers; when Ben laments that the Vision and—natch—DD had to leave, Yellowjacket says he doesn’t think Vizh, back on monitor duty, can eat pizza.  Out on good behavior, the Kid must return to school, so Ben plays truant officer and bumps into an old friend, teacher “Luke Charles,” nearly blowing T’Challa’s cover in the process.  The, uh, high-spirited students of P.S. 260 pour glue into the dozing Thing’s trunks during Black History 201, requiring a pit stop before the Panther investigates a rash of kidnappings in the black community.

A Bugle editorial notes that all of the victims were on a list published years ago of the city’s ten most successful blacks, and although unable to lay hands on it, the acting microfilm supervisor recalls six names—four of whom have vanished—promising to send Luke the rest by telegram.  Our heroes split up the leads; Ben arrives just after “a horrible creature” (per his wife) has taken industrialist Edward B. Nelson, and T’Challa as Calvin Lloyd Wadsworth is attacked during an impromptu concert for the Carnegie Hall janitorial staff.  Delayed by the A train, Ben reinforces him against the vampire, which is impaled with the cellist’s bow, but it is also a zuvembie, rising at its master’s behest once alone and reappearing to capture T’Challa as he receives the telegram. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Evoking a seething volcano, that pizza epitomizes my dislike for the Wilson/Marcos style, yet their cover is nice, and to a degree I’ll buy the vigorous lettercol defense’s assertion of a “marked improvement in the last several issues as [Ron] has developed his artwork.”  Stopgap Slifer is reduced to plotting, and the fact that DeFalco—who would later have a long run on this book and succeed Shooter as EIC—is credited with “patter” in his Marvel debut raises justified fears.  Just because you know your story is a two-parter does not give you carte blanche to pad out the first half relentlessly, and while I can’t recall precisely how it plays out, even given the relatively primitive ’78 technology, the “I’ll get you the rest of the list later” bit is the hoariest contrivance. 

Power Man and Iron Fist  51
"A Night on the Town"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Mike Zeck and Ernie Chan
Colors by Mary Ellen Beveridge
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Rick Parker
Cover by Ernie Chan

While Luke is giving Danny a tour of Harlem, they stumble onto a fracas occurring at Leroy's and become involved. Leroy is being held by a triplet of goons but, weirder, he tells Cage to get lost, everything is fine. The Power Man for Hire ain't pickin' up what the old man is puttin' down and engages the roughs in a little one-on-one. Bad mistake. These guys aren't your garden variety hoods; they be bad. It takes the iron fist of Iron Fist to lay these jokers out and, when the dust settles, we all discover that the baddies are automatons! The cops show up and arrest Danny and Luke for incitin' a ruckus but, once they get into the squad car, the boys discover good ol' Lt. Scarfe, who gives the Heroes for Hire the 411: there's a rash of robots doing someone's bad bidness all over town and he needs the Heroes to look into it. PM&IF agree and head out to beat the pavement and maybe a few informants. Meanwhile in the rundown Liberty Towers (formerly a low-rent housing project now home to lowlife scum), a robust, well-dressed mobster sits atop his throne and get the news about Danny and Luke from his right-hand man, Shreeve. We quickly learn that the mobster is actually yet another robot, controlled by the luscious Nightshade, Back at the info gathering, Iron Fist and Luke Cage compare notes with Misty Knight and realize they're getting nowhere so Misty goes it alone and has a private talk with Shreeve. Danny heads to the Rand-Meachum Bldg. to see Joy Meachum, only to discover the place swarming with gunmen. He changes suits and heads in, but is stopped short by the sight of mob boss Morgan and his men, one of whom is holding a gun to Joy's head.  -Peter Enfantino
["What he said." -MRB]

Peter Enfantino: Just as it seems Chris is getting a handle on this one, we wave bye-bye. Not since Marv left the building have I been so pleased with an issue of PM(&IF). There's not a lot of wasted space, the dialogue crackles, and the story pulls you in. I like Nightshade but, I gotta say, her supposed exit from the world was a humdinger (back in Captain America and the Falcon #164); her resurrection in a later ish of Cap dimmed the glow. It took me a couple of readings before the light bulb went on over my head (I'm not that bright) and I realized the corpulent dude sitting beside Nightshade in her first scene was Morgan! Yeah, I know, you'll give me that "Oh, sure, Enfantino, you're saying they all look alike!"... well, I guess, maybe all of Mike Zeck's fat gangsters do look alike. That's the only complaint I've got for the Zeck/Chan art here though; it's dyn-o-mite! And, extra points to Chris for the nod to Rod Stewart's greatest album (take that, David Anthony Kraft, you pretentious twit!). 

Chris: Racketeering robots!  This issue retains some of the preposterous flavor that Dean Pete had enjoyed back when Luke Cage still was a solo act.  It also presents an element I enjoy, the street-level focus; Beppe S. of East Lansing MI describes this type of story as “grounded in the reality of the street.”  No need for earth-saving or reality-restoring business here.  Granted, the robots aren’t reality-based; but, we do have an abandoned housing project as a crime-lord’s HQ, and we have Luke, Danny, and Misty pounding the pavement for information.  Claremont winds the story up, and sets it in motion in a number of potentially fruitful directions, so I hope his scripter-successor is up to the task.

I had forgotten Mike Zeck had worked on this title.  He’s already had a few go-rounds with Master of Kung Fu, so we can expect him to handle the close-quarters fighting.   Here’s another little touch, though: after an unproductive day, learning little except that the people in the neighborhood are unwilling to talk, our heroes take a break at a local diner.  Patrons at two other tables take notice; one looks like he’s getting ready to leave, while another points toward the investigators with his thumb (p 22).  Luke, Danny, and Misty take no notice, but we the readers catch this subtle moment of tension; Zeck suggests how little help our heroes should expect (especially if the patrons might be afraid to be in the same place as they are), and how much trouble they might be heading into.  Ernie Chan fills out the pencils well, as the illustrations have substance and shading without looking murky; you know, just like a typical Chan embellishment.  And how about the in-your-face action of his cover art!
Matthew: Admittedly, Byrne would be a tough act for anyone to follow, but Zeck—whose prior Savage Sword and MOKF work I have not seen—is a giant step down; it would probably be even worse without Chan (now ubiquitous as a cover artist, which is all to the good) applying the inks.  In fact, things go south fast in general as the short-lived dream team is off the book, with Claremont phoning in the first part of this trilogy and then transitioning to the dreaded Hannigan.  Much as I welcome the infusion of Morgan and Nightshade, the convoluted plot is confusing; the umpteenth Star Wars plug is shameless; Harmony hardly seems like the vacuous twit seen at Jeryn’s party last issue; and is Shreeve different from Bushmaster’s Shreve?

The Spider-Woman 3
"The Peril of -- Brother Grimm"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Michele Wolfman
Letters by Joe Genovese
Cover by Dave Cockrum

A stage play in Los Angeles is interrupted by a bizarrely costumed, skull-faced man calling himself Brother Grimm.  He collects the audience members’ valuables under threat of death; abruptly, he changes his mind, stating he has “a better, more profitable idea,” and leaves the cash and jewelry behind.  Grimm breaks into the home of congressman James T. Wyatt, shows him incriminating photos, and demands Wyatt accompany him. Grimm effortlessly breaks into Wyatt’s bank and its vault, grabs $50,000, and leaves Wyatt trapped in the vault.  The next morning, Jessica Drew’s mysterious mentor, Magnus, leads her to a modest house, and arranges to rent rooms from the owner, Mrs Priscilla Dolly.  Jessica, still unfamiliar with the customs of ordinary people, does not understand why Magnus identifies her as his “niece"; Magnus explains that, if he were simply to present themselves as “friends or companions,” it might cause Mrs Dolly “to raise a suspicious eyebrow.”  Next, Magnus leads Jessica to the gravesite of her father, John Drew; Jessica is angered that Magnus had not informed her two months earlier of his death, but Magnus redirects Jessica’s attention toward the discovery of Drew’s killer’s identity.  As Spider-Woman, Jessica sneaks into the LAPD HQ and locates her father’s file, which includes the name of the investigating detective, J. R. Bullit; in the next room, she overhears a conversation between Rep. Wyatt and detectives, as Wyatt describes Brother Grimm and his strange capabilities.  John Drew’s police file mentions Drew’s final employer, Pyro-Technics, and suggests a connection with Wyatt.  Spider-Woman pays an unannounced visit the next day to Wyatt in his office, but before she can shake him down for information, Brother Grimm breaks in, angrily stating the money he had stolen from Wyatt is counterfeit!  S-W clashes with BG, finally subduing him with a venom blast.  The police arrive, prompting S-W to split; Wyatt realizes the police are unlikely to believe BG’s account of his counterfeiting, but he’s concerned that the mysterious S-W knows his secret.  As S-W proceeds to the corporate offices of Pyro-Technics, she’s met again by BG – even though he should be in police custody!  BG warns S-W to steer clear of his dealings, and floats away on a cloud.  Confused, S-W returns to her home, and is even more troubled by a news report that states BG had escaped police custody at 6:30pm; how could that be, S-W wonders aloud, when she had “fought him at 5 o’clock!” -Chris Blake
Chris: Wolfman provides a fair amount of action; he seems more interested this time in presenting a range of intriguing avenues for our heroine.  Jessica continues to live with many unanswered questions, but at least we’ve moved away from a singular focus on matters pertaining to her identity and such.  Magnus’ suggestion that he and Jessica transfer housekeeping to Los Angeles makes sense, as we learn John Drew had lived his last days there; now, as Jessica seeks knowledge of his fate, she can expect to learn about herself in the process.  Brother Grimm presents his own array of questions, as he seems to have a range of powers – or are they merely illusions?  We haven’t had any standout issues yet, but this title, very gradually, seems to be finding its way.
There’s a curious moment in the middle of the issue, as Marv tells us Spider-Woman is visiting Wyatt at the Capitol building; Brother Grimm joins her on the next page.  Well Marv, you realize the Capitol is in DC, right?  Are you saying S-W and BG both went to the trouble of flying across the country to confront him?  Could they possibly have been on the same flight – adjoining seats, perhaps -?  It might’ve made more sense for editor-Marv to suggest to writer-Marv that Wyatt perhaps have an office in his home district of Los Angeles.  I’m going to assume that’s what both Marvs meant to say, and I will forget all about it.  

Matthew: But states have Capitol buildings too.
Chris: The Infantino/DeZuniga art continues to show improvement, as there’s a minimum of both Carmine’s loopiness and Tony’s heavy hand on face-inks; it’s still not great stuff.  If I have to pick a highlight (and I sort of feel duty-bound to do so), I’ll pick S-W’s lithe form as she pauses, pressed against the wall, to overhear the detectives’ conversation with Wyatt in the next room (p 15, 1st pnl, left).  
Matthew: I remember some of where Marv’s plot is heading, which has the dual effect of making me anticipate future issues even less, and making some of the subsequent revelations even more obvious in retrospect.  For now, I’ll simply ask, do the facts that our villain—who bears way too much similarity to Kraft’s insufferable Lunatik in Defenders for my taste—seems capable of being in more than one place at a time, and that his name is Brother Grimm, suggest anything to you?  DeZuniga seems a little less able to offset the Infantino Effect this time, and I even find the lettering of old-timer Joe Genovese (who, per the Comic Book Database, penciled Patsy Walker #30 in September 1950!) unattractive, so to me, there’s very little to commend this.

Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 19
"Again, the Enforcers!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Ernie Chan

The Enforcers' Fancy Dan and Montana play havoc with a practice dummy of Spider-Man until a new Ox enters and rips it apart; we learn the nasty Lightmaster has reassembled the trio to get vengeance on Spidey. Peter Parker returns to the Daily Bugle, but disappoints J. Jonah Jameson by not having pictures of the Champions Building and "Spider-Man's rampage through Los Angeles." An introspective Peter catches a double decker bus, just as the Enforcers take over the Coffee Bean—and among the java crew are Flash (who tells us Razorback/Buford got a hero's welcome back home - yay for him), Sha Shan, and Hector Ayala (aka White Tiger) with gal pal Holly Gillis. The cops tell a passing-by Peter what happened, and he acrobatically changes into Spidey and breaks through the skylight! All the hostages are able to get out, except for Hector, who stays behind to check out the action and maybe become White Tiger if needed. Spider-Man is able to dispatch the "three stooges" (his words) rather easily, taking advantage of Fancy Dan and Montana's impatience and Ox's glass jaw, leaving Hector to tell the cops all is well "compliments of El Señor Spider-Man." But Lightmaster, watching on TV, thinks he's figured out that Hector is actually Spider-Man! -Joe Tura

Joe: A zippy little issue with classic Sal & Mike artwork that brings back an entertaining, if not exactly formidable, member of Spidey's vast rogues' gallery, The Enforcers. Last seen in a strong two-part MTU, which was scripted by Mantlo and of course featured another of his creations, the Sons of the Tiger, they return with a new Ox, but he turns out to be just as intelligent (not) as the old one, with the same weak jaw. Although his lifting of the Coffee Bean counter was pretty impressive. The despicable Lightmaster is pulling the light strings the whole time, mostly standing around watching TV. But does he power the apartment himself, saving on the electric bill? That would be a power any NYC resident would covet! My favorite line in a very decent script is on page 16, after Peter leaps into a tree to change into Spidey, where he says, "The leaves will hide my street clothes!"  Um…Peter, there are no leaves in that tree, especially where you're stowing your duds! Maybe you better stop skipping classes!

Matthew: Thanks -- meant to mention that classic editorial boner.

Joe: Favorite sound effect is the boxing of the Ox, who lifts the complete counter of the Coffee Bean to smash Spidey with, but the wall-crawler bops him on the chin, causing the lumm-Ox to drop the counter on himself with a mighty "KRUMP" as he squeaks out a "GNNGG!" Spidey ends things with a friendly neighborhood zinger: "Well, you've certainly made a name for yourself, Ox: dumb!"

Matthew: Next month’s announcement was perhaps bumped from this Bullpen Page to mark John Verpoorten’s sudden death, but Shooter is billed as EIC here, “consulting editor” on Star Wars and Thor, and “editor” on at least nine others (as Goodwin still is on Dr. Strange, Godzilla, Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and X-Men).  Too bad he’s not doing his job, because this is, per Duke Leto Atreides, “really damn sloppy”:  they can’t decide between chicita and chiquita; “coffee shop” and “malt shop” are not synonymous; poor Hector has suddenly transformed from Latino to black in page 16, panel 6.  And what’s the point of a line like “This isn’t happening on TV or in some comic book!”—just to remind us that it is?

Star Wars 13
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin

Luke and the droids are in an escape pod and stranded on an unnamed water planet in the Drexel system. Luke is aghast as he watches a man riding a sea beast, commanding a larger one to push their space craft away. Another group on hydra-craft arrive to try to grab the salvage from the rider and there is a battle of the sea beasts. The spacecraft is lost to them, but they notice Luke’s pod bobbing on the surface and bring it in. After taking Luke and the droids aboard, they intend to toss him in with the fish, but he holds them back with his lightsaber, convincing them he is a Jedi Knight. Luke has them bring him to their HQ to talk to their chief, Governor Quarg. Meanwhile, Han stalls for time aboard Crimson Jack’s stolen Star Destroyer.  Running a bluff concocted by Princess Leia, he hopes to fool them into thinking there is a Rebel Treasury on a backwater planet, in an attempt to find the lost Luke. When they arrive at the coordinates, they realize “backwater” is accurate; it’s the same water planet where Luke is stranded. Crimson Jack, however, is not fooled and demands Han explain…with a blaster aimed at his head. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Decades before Kevin Costner bored the cinema-going audience with Waterworld, Marvel got there sooner with this epic. It’s visually striking and I can see why George Lucas decided to use a water planet in Attack of the Clones. Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin do wonders with the landscape (or waterscape) and every character not based on the lead actors of Star Wars. The machinery looks amazing, special kudos for the full page panel of the moss covered ship on page 15. The lines are clean and perfect. Only the faces of Han and Luke are off, looking at best only vaguely like the actors who portrayed them. The story Archie Goodwin tells is fun if simple. This was the first Star Wars issue I ever bought, so perhaps that colors my opinion of it. Whatever. I’ve suffered through worse.

Matthew: Wow, this time they’ve even managed to top last issue’s barrage of hard-sell house ads:  eight solid pages, touting a total of 32 different Marvel mags, which must surely be the majority of the line at that point.  I might even find those preferable to the Austino slop served up in between, where the waterlogged skimmer crewman in page 7, panel 3 is so indistinguishable from Luke as to cause rampant confusion in the mind of at least one reader.  And am I the only one who finds the moss-encrusted galleons on page 15, however impressively rendered they may be (since Carmine’s always at his best when drawing something other than people), are singularly inappropriate for the milieu set by “the greatest space-fantasy film of all”?

Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 13
"The Changeling"
Story Adaptation by Roy Thomas
Based on the story, "A Jungle Joke"
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Art by John Buscema and Rudy Mesina
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by John Buscema and Tony DeZuniga

 After reflecting upon the fact that the apes do not share his sense of humor, Tarzan sees Mbonga’s warriors baiting a trap for Numa, the lion, with a young he-goat, and conceives an elaborate trick.  Removing the kid from the cage, he replaces it with Rabba Kega, who had the misfortune to lag behind the others, so that when they set out the next day to check the trap and seek the missing witch-doctor, they find his remains inside the cage with Numa.  As they prepare to torture Numa to death that night, Tarzan dons his stolen lion-skin and appears in the center of the village, convincing them Numa has escaped, then rises to reveal himself as the “white devil-god”; once they rally and give chase, Tarzan—having slipped out of sight—releases the real lion. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: “A Jungle Joke,” the penultimate story in Jungle Tales of Tarzan, actually follows the one from next issue, but its thematic connection to “The Lion” makes its placement here eminently logical.  I’m surprised that 60 years after the book’s publication, Tarzan’s feud with the Gomangani was considered sufficiently P.C. for comics, even if Roy did omit lines like “The baiting of the blacks was Tarzan’s chief divertisement.” I know Mbonga’s cannibal tribe treats animals no better, so they’re hardly sympathetic, and Burroughs acknowledges Tarzan’s own cruelty, but reading both versions, I found leaving Rabba Kega trussed up as lion-bait especially sadistic; conversely, the mind-game with which Tarzan convinces the Gomangani of his shape-shifting power is inspired.

The Mighty Thor 272
"The Day the Thunder Failed!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by John Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema

As Thor flies over New York City, he spots some young kids being bullied by a bigger kid, and upon breaking up the conflict, he is given the chance to reflect to them a tale of his own shortcomings as a youth. It was a time when he and his half-brother Loki had wandered off on an adventure and found themselves lost in a forest of gargantuan proportions. As night came closer they found a cave to sleep in; Thor stood guard while Loki slept. Every so often during the night the ground shook, but no harm came of it.  Daylight found them beside the body of a waking giant; his glove had been their cave, the "earthquakes " his snores. He speaks to them, though with little interest and barely more patience. He introduces himself as Skrymir, and tells them they are in the Kingdom of Utgard, its Hall being his destination. With that the giant is off, and the Asgardians figure he likely knows the path out of the forest better than they do, so they follow him. Eventually they catch him, ready to sleep again, and he answers their demands for food, offering them his bag. When even Thor is unable to open it, he smites  Skrymir with Mjolnir in frustration, but to the Thunder God's shock, the giant thinks the blow merely a passing leaf! He departs once again, and they follow, losing ground but following the giant footsteps until they find the castle. It is massive of course, but they cross the drawbridge and squeeze under the closed doors. Inside they find a different giant, sitting on a throne.  Thor and  Loki tell him their story, after which the giant offers up this: five tasks; if they fail, dungeons await - success means freedom.  But these are not easy challenges, and the Asgardians fail at each. Loki cannot eat more food than a wispy character named Logi, nor race faster than Hugi, an elfish young man. Thor likewise cannot drink empty a massive horn, or lift a mysterious cat off the ground, or break free of the grip of a woman identified as the Utgard king's mother. Impressed by their spirit, the King reveals it was magic that they fought in the challenges, not what it appeared to be. Logi was fire that could consume everything; the old mother was old age personified; the horn had its end in the ocean; and so on. Utgard himself tells them it was a series of tests, to see if it was possible for the giants to invade and defeat Asgard, a test where Loki and Thor convinced him it would not be... He disappears, along with his castle, leaving the two Asgardians having learned a lesson in humility. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: While I may miss Len Wein after his departure from Thor,  I can hardly be upset to have Roy Thomas on board,  especially when teamed with John Buscema. This is one of those issues  (revisiting Thor's youth ) that at first you expect to be a disappointment, somewhat akin to a reprint. What you get instead is a highly entertaining, well-told adventure, a reminder of the freshness of a mythological character  (or characters ) in the comic book setting. It is based, on the concept at least, of an original Norse myth. The Utgard giant we meet offers some humour as well as danger ("a bird-dropping" reference to Thor's mighty hammer strike for instance), and Thor shows some restraint through much of the adventure, not wanting to strike out without provocation. Perhaps more of a young man Thor rather than a boy. The appearance of Harris Hobbs at the end, wanting to film a movie in Asgard, is entirely unexpected and delightful.

Chris: If you’d asked me to put money on it, I would have confidently bet you Roy already had been the regular scripter for Thor at some previous point.  Roy’s full-page epistle suggests this is a move he’d wanted to make for some time, but never was able to work out until this opportunity.  As busy as Roy had kept himself over the years, I’m really surprised – knowing now just how expansive his work load had been – that John B. is able to sign on too, when you consider he already has commitments to Conan, Tarzan, and especially the longer-format stories in Savage Sword; where did he ever find the time?  

It’s a fine tale, with a feel as if a legend is being recounted; it’s a welcome change, as Thor’s recent earth-bound adventures had their moments, but paled in comparison with the recently-concluded Odin quest.  Two of the challenges are quite amusing, as the sons of Odin look on aghast while the gaunt Logi appears to devour the entire feast, “even the wooden plates and oaken table!," while Thor strains to move a mere kitty-cat from the floor.  Skrymir has some pretty powerful magic going on, if he could maintain all these illusions; I’d say Thor and Loki got off easy, since Skrymir ultimately meant them no harm.  
Big John remains one of a handful of pencillers I would want to see on this title.  Palmer provides plenty of texture and shading; I’m sure the results are at times too heavy for some tastes, but I like it fine – I certainly am ready to move on from DeZuniga’s finishes on this title.  Highlights include: the regal look of Thor on the soaring splash page; the fantastical forest floor (p 3); the heavy material and intricate folds of Skrymir’s glove, resting on the ground (p 7, pnl 4); the night scene as Thor and Loki catch up with the giant, again asleep (p 10, p 3); the crazy twists as the true tests faced by Thor and Loki are revealed (p 26-27). 
Matthew: After his flirtation on the Egyptian stories of #239-40, Roy is back for the long haul with an almost-unbroken run of more than two years, yet while it may be a more satisfying post-Len changing-of-the-guard story than Spidey’s “Flashback,” this gets a resounding “Meh” from me.  It plays like a jumped-up version of those “Tales of Asgard” that I was never too wild about in the first place, and its lesson is pretty pat.  As for the art, they can tout “A trio of titans—re-teamed!” all they want (as they do on the splash page), but having seen fit to ignore my warning about keeping Palmer away from the Buscema Brothers, there’s nobody else to blame if I grouse about it in the future, and while Big John’s cover is nice…could it possibly be any more generic?

 What If? 9
"What If... The Avengers
Had Been Formed During the 1950's?"
Story by Don Glut and Roy Thomas
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Bill Black
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

At Avengers Mansion, Iron Man gathers Captain America, Beast, Thor, and Vision to ponder the question "What if…The Avengers had been formed during the 1950s?" With the help of his version of the Squadron Supreme dimensional transporter, we go back to San Francisco in the 1950s, where FBI agent Jimmy Woo is attacked by the Black Dragons motorcycle gang and saved by vacationer-on-the-spot 3-D Man. Then out of nowhere, or his ship the Silver Bullet, comes Marvel Boy, who uses his "power of telepathy" to reveal The Yellow Claw is behind the attack. Claw is watching via an "ancient quartz crystal," with the evil Voltzmann and super-busty niece Suwan (Jimmy's love), where he also observes Marvel Boy flying to Africa. MB teams up with Jann of the Jungle to recruit the mysterious Gorilla-Man to return to the U.S.. Back in San Fran, Jimmy and 3-D Man meet with Namora, cousin of Prince Namor, at the waterfront, where they pull the Human Robot out of the drink, just as Venus, the goddess of love, appears to answer Jimmy's invite. Good thing, because her love power stops the Human Robot from killing the humans, then Marvel Boy and Gorilla-Man show up and the Uranian realizes Human Robot needs a regulator.

A quick aside to the present Avengers, and the Watcher fills us in quickly on the origins of the five '50s heroes, who are gathered by Jimmy to help guard President Eisenhower from the Yellow Claw, and they come up with a name for their group: The Avengers! In Washington, Claw unleashes a host of villains—Skull-Face, Electro the Russian assassin, the Cold Warrior (!), and The Great Video—to attack the President on the golf course and kidnap him. The Avengers, bickering amongst one another until Venus' love power and Marvel Boy's light jewel halt them, get a message from Jimmy and it's "Go, Avengers, go!" Claw wants to rule the nation and is holding Eisenhower for ransom, but Jimmy slips Suwan a communicator right before he's zapped by Electro and taken prisoner. Suwan contacts the Avengers, who break into the hideout and a battle with the evil super-villains results, with the heroes taking down all of them with good old-fashioned teamwork. Jimmy goes to find Claw, but 3-D Man swoops in to save him from the trap, with Human Robot taking the brunt of the bomb blast. The Avengers make a fabulous team on their first mission, but Eisenhower asks them to disband and will cover up their existence to save Earth from the wackiness of space travel, robots, talking gorillas, a goddess walking the planet, and Suwan's amazing flotation devices. The present Avengers compare themselves to the '50s team and the Watcher ponders some more, and our story ends... for now. -Joe Tura

Joe: Of course, the cover is Kirby/Sinnott because why not, and it's sorta exciting. And it certainly mirrors the inside pages, which are straight out of Roy Thomas' comic book chest in his Mom's basement. There are so many characters from the 50s that show up in this book, I was starting to wonder when the Fonz was going to demand a meeting in his bathroom office at Arnold's! This book is a combination of frenetic fun and hokey nostalgia, with a script that name drops more than  People magazine and keeps the story simple yet fast-paced. The art is as uneven as some of the shots of Venus and Suwan's breasts, which often look like giant Barbie boobs. Gorilla-Man sometimes has a body wave, other times an actual gorilla look, while Marvel Boy changes age every page he's on. And why does Jimmy look like he has a butt on his hand on the bottom of page 27?

Venus pulls everyone's strings with "love power" when she can obviously smite them all with a thought, being a god and all that. Marvel Boy is ultimately a do-gooder who doesn't seem to get a lot to do. 3-D Man is, well, the same as in his other appearances, constantly reminding us about his tri-endurance powers—thankfully, we have the tri-endurance to put up with it. Human Robot is just that, and turns out, like Vision, to be the big hero. The sound effects are all throwbacks, too, including the oddest one on page 3, when Jimmy Woo dives behind some garbage cans with a literal "KLATTER!" Sigh…Well, it could have been worse, that's for sure. At least 38 years later I can follow what's going on more than when this first came out and I was 11. Or not…

Matthew: “…like I’ve got the strength of three men?!”  “Unless my triple-sharp vision’s playing tricks on me…”  “Even with tri-strength, I can barely lift him!”  “If not for my tri-strength, that punch might’ve killed me!”  “If not for my…tri-endurance I’d be dead by now!”  “Too bad your hearing isn’t triple-sensitive like mine…”  Boy, I bet he’s a lot of fun at parties.  Merriam-Webster defines “erstwhile” as “former, previous,” so why does the Watcher refer to “these erstwhile Avengers” when the (admittedly short-lived) group has just been formed, and why does conceptualizer/editor Roy, in his “Special Notes and Notices,” call the “long-awaited” 20th-century Conan issue, which John hasn’t even finished, “that erstwhile epic”?

I went into this with a foolish optimism, because the Kirby kover’s kinda kool and the premise, less tied to “real”-world events, seemed more promising than the usual “What If Peter Parker Had Gotten Mustard Instead of Mayo on His Sandwich on Page 9 of Spider-Man #37?,” but the new Glupperberg Invaders team is impressing me far less here.  Under the Black inks, ha ha, the faces look like Silly Putty, especially Ike’s; the Human Robot may be the most boring character ever; the coy "maybe it happened and maybe it didn't" framing sequence just wastes time (don’t even get me started on that alleged one-to-one correspondence between the '50s and '70s Avengers); and with so few pages left, the strife among 60% of its members ensures the group will never gel.  So, they voted on “Go, Avengers, Go!” as a battle cry.  Was “Spoon!” the runner-up?

The two-page spread of potted origins on 16-17, followed by the rapid-fire four-villain checklist on page 22, contributes to a wearisome surfeit of footnotes—at least one of which is signed, with breathtaking originality, “Guess Who”—while the insistence on supplementing those nine existing characters with the modern-day Assemblers AND Jann of the Jungle AND Namora AND the Yellow Claw & Co. brings the phrase “kitchen sink” to mind.  Ditto the glut, har, of pop-culture references, e.g., Lucy, Brando, the U.S.S. Nautilus, Esther Williams, Captain Video, Tobor, Robby, Monroe, Bardot, Mighty Joe Young, Edsel, Bonzo, the Bowery Boys.  What’s with Venus’s cheesecake pose in page 25, panel 2 (not that I’m grousing); is this a photo shoot?

Chris: I didn’t own this issue when it first came out.  It’s just as well, since I’m certain I wouldn’t have gotten its appeal at the time.  In a very similar manner to Roy Thomas’ approach to Invaders and Marv Wolfman’s M.O. with Nova, this speculative story seeks to recapture the style of a bygone era, fondly remembered (I’m sure) by all the creative staff.  Not for me, though; I’m sure I would’ve disliked the broad art and found the characters one-note.  Today, though, different story – I can only imagine what the comics-buying experience might’ve been like, but I can completely understand how straightforward stories, with Good Guys vs Bad Guys, would’ve been the norm at the time.  Until the Marvel revolution came along and screwed up the whole formula, right?  

Another aspect I can appreciate today is the decision to include a character like Jimmy Woo FBI, who I only know from reprints of his exploits against the villainous Yellow Claw (as featured in the back pages of Giant-Size Master of Kung Fu, right true believers?); nice touch to keep the same character in the role he’d occupied when the events of this “Avengers” story would’ve transpired.
Our heroes’ powers are a bit weak, but again, I understand now that audiences didn’t necessarily always require their heroes to have the most outlandish abilities; a little clean American living and a fancy (but not too showy!) suit, with a mask – natch! – and a new crime fighter is born!  One question, though; Venus’ power is the power of … love?  Wouldn’t this capability have made more sense for audiences in a year like, say, 1967, perhaps -?
Mark: PROS: A dynamic Kirby/Sinnott cover (although here the King's creeping gigantism includes Cap's mouth)

CONS: Everything else.

First, there's the Avengers bait 'n' switch. Unwary buyers no doubt expected Cap, Thor, and Shellhead to do the Happy Days timewarp, not just watch sad sack second-raters like Venus, Jimmy Woo, and Gorilla-Man, et al, who just make us wonder how Marty Goodman's outfit survived the '50's in the first place. Oh, by trend-hopping and flooding the newsstands, that's how.

Add in the Alan Kupperberg/Bill Black art, which what it occasionally giveth in retro, fanzine quality charm, it taketh with bathroom stall caricatures of a gap-toothed Nicky Khrushchev and Ike, who variously looks like Zippy the Pinhead, Uncle Fester, and Droopy the Dog, in turn.

This almost certainly had to be Roy's idea, considering the deep knowledge of shallow Timely/Atlas characters herein, plus Thomas' own '50's throwback, 3-D Man. And if Roy had written it instead of passing the notion along on a cocktail napkin to his bud Don, the results might have been a ripping yarn, instead of What Echh.

He didn't. 

It is.

The X-Men 111
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

The X-Men are missing. The Beast arrives at the mansion to find it deserted, mail piling up, Cerebro shut down. However, after activating the mutant detecting computer, he finds them at Mr. Mike’s One-Ring Traveling Show. He is shocked to see the carnival barker being none other than Banshee, standing in front of posters of the new X-Men. Even though he has trouble recognizing them, the Beast is sure he sees Wolverine, Storm and Nightcrawler shackled or performing mindlessly to drooling crowds.  Under the big top he catches the act of Miz Destiny, who is really Jean Grey. He visits her in her trailer and is unable to make her remember who she is. In walks “Slim” – actually Scott Summers – who tries to roust Beast, but he starts to make an escape. “Slim” calls out the rest of the carnies to catch him. Beast is finally felled by the iron fist of Colossus and taken to the mastermind of this plot: Mesmero, who intends to enthrall the Beast. Meanwhile, Wolverine comes to his senses and breaks out of his chains. He finds Jean and slaps her repeatedly to bring her around. She explodes in anger, becoming Phoenix and blasting Wolverine to the ground. This snaps her out of it and, after ensuring Wolverine is fine, she frees the rest of the X-Men. They fight off Mesmero’s men and finally confront the villain who, when faced, suddenly falls to the ground, unconscious. Suddenly, they hear a familiar voice in the shadows. Cyclops is gripped in fear knowing they’re not yet ready to face the man before them: Magneto!

 -Scott McIntyre

Scott: There is just so much goodness in this issue, which is really just kind of a preamble to the story to come. Mesmero was a pretty “meh” villain from the older days, but the milieu is really interesting and I love some of the little continuity touches, like Scott being called “Slim,” as he was in the first issue way back when. Wolverine dredging up Jean’s personality by slapping her was an interesting choice that gives us the smallest glimpse of the terror she is not only capable of, but would bring to the team in the next year or so.  All of this really is just fun and games since Mesmero is a red-herring. The real threat is, of course, Magneto and his arrival is perfect. The art is, as usual for Byrne and Austin, orgasmic. Perfect lines, amazing detail and just so beautiful to look at. The storytelling of Claremont/Byrne shows their soon-to-be-usual pattern: socking splash, a flashback a few pages later to explain how they got there, and a lot of narration and inner-monologues detailing things left out of the art. Sometimes this is effective, other times is seems lazy. However, the run is never less than fun and is actually often among the best comics in Marvel history. Yeah, I went there.

Matthew: Thanks for mentioning that, Scott; I, too, loved the "Slim" throwback for us old-timers.  For me, despite Byrne’s brilliance, the full-page final reveal of Magneto doesn’t pack quite the punch of the one in #103, yet that’s probably the worst I can say about this, and the lead-in is excellent—not sure I can adequately convey the idea, but Claremont has a unique feel for the team as a team, exemplified by Scott’s “Lord, no!  We’re still nowhere near ready.”  John effectively depicts the X-Men in their unaccustomed milieu; also nicely inked by Austin, Cockrum’s last cover before a five-issue hiatus is masterfully conceived and executed, capturing the story’s spirit and unusual nature, and since Mesmero feels like little more than an emerald Mastermind knock-off, they were wise not to feature him.  Wolverine’s “Oh, geez” is CLASSIC.

Chris: The cold opening works perfectly, as we share the Beast’s confusion over the present state of the X-team.  Claremont & Byrne brilliantly set up the story, as they tie-in events from the beginning of MTU #69 to put Hank in motion to discover the team’s disappearance; Byrne requires only a handful of panels (including a clever visual of the pile of newspapers behind the front door – never a good sign) to recount the events that brought Hank to the travelling carnival.  Hank reminds us even he doesn’t know exactly who the new X-Men are or what they look like, which helps to explain why none of the carnival-goers recognize the man-beast, demon, and goddesses from the evening news.  

It’s hard to imagine – and more than a little scary – that Mesmero could’ve kept the team in thrall for the span of a few weeks; another nice job by Claremont to suggest Mesmero had elected to emphasize different aspects of “Slim’s” and Jean’s personalities.  The whole breaking-out-of-hypnosis thing can be a bit tricky; in many instances, we have to content ourselves with the sitcom-style convention, which requires us to accept a bonk on the head might be sufficient.  Instead, Claremont tells us Wolverine’s witness of the Beast-beating resonates with his fiercer instincts; Logan recognizes himself as Wolverine, not the listless drugged-gorilla role he’s been forced to play.  I’m fairly certain this is the first time we see Wolverine issue his “pop my claws” threat, as he holds his fist under a carny’s chin (p 17, last pnl).  Smart play also by Wolverine to seek Jean next, as he recognizes she will be able to wake all the other team members; intriguing observation as he notes that “deep down, we’re a lot alike – even if she don’t know it yet” (p 23, pnl 2).  Hmmm … where you taking us, Mr Claremont -?  

One more excellent play, as Magneto literally emerges from the shadows, first surprising Mesmero (p 26, last pnl), and then the team as a whole, in a suitable-for-framing final page (as Scott gasps, thinking “Lord, NO!  We’re still nowhere near ready.”).  Every page has its share of art highlights – how could they not – but I’ll try to limit myself to these few: the posters depicting the X-ers as the carny acts (p 2-3); Colossus in silhouette, as he sneaks up, fist raised, behind Hank (p 14, pnl 5); Wolverine’s muscle-straining effort to break free (p 17); the shadowed look around Jean’s eyes as she recognizes her rageful response to Wolverine’s wake-up slaps (p 23, pnl 5); Kurt’s quick ‘ports as he lays out three carny-thugs (p 27, pnl 2).  The Beast looks great throughout; I couldn’t isolate one highlight.
In a letter of comment, Anna G. of Santa Cruz CA reports “I keep telling myself everything Marvel does can’t be Claremont & Byrne, but it’s hard not to get spoiled;” well, you got that right, effendi.  But how about Terry Austin?  There are two glosses I can attribute to our embellisher: “Leialoha the Duck,” in the background to Nightcrawler’s right (p 3, bottom-left panel), and a tiny framed picture that appears to read “Hlk,” next to the doorway of Jean’s caravan (p 7, last pnl – right next to Hank’s left claw).  

Also This Month

Crazy 38
Devil Dinosaur 3
Flintstones 5
Fantastic World of Hanna Barbera 3
Human Fly 10
Machine Man 3 >
Man from Atlantis 5
Marvel Classics Comics 30
Marvel Super Action 8
Marvel Tales 92
Marvel Triple Action 42
Scooby-Doo 5

With "Ten-For, the Mean Machine" (Machine Man #3), Kirby dispenses with Aaron Stack’s search for self as he focuses on the mysterious Being from Beyond and a possible effort to rescue him.  The self-activating reverse-displacement device – and the being’s view that any of his potential rescuers would be “expendable” – should be a dead giveaway that this being should not be trusted, but Stack’s and Spalding’s inherent decency seems to win out over any legitimate concerns.  I’m going to attribute Stack’s misread to inexperience, but I’d have to think Spalding should’ve known better (college boy …); that might’ve made for an interesting debate between these two, as the remote being could’ve continued to insist there “isn’t time for this!”  But in a Kirby comic, the action’s zipping along so breathlessly, there’s hardly time for an exchange of opinions.

The artwork, once again, more than compensates for any weak story points.  The two-page spread on 2-3 is quite the eye-grabber.  I also enjoy the visual of the office furniture flying into the void (p 11, final pnl); uh, hey, I hope you guys didn’t need any of those things.  The Autocron steps right out of the pages of a New Gods comic, and looks sufficiently massive and menacing; nice touch as Aaron extends his left arm to catch the transfixed Spalding (p 23, last pnl).  Not a smart play by Aaron, though, as he points out the dimensional-spanning device, which the Autocron promptly destroys (p 26); well, live and learn.  -Chris Blake


The Rampaging Hulk 9
Cover Art by Earl Norem

“To Avenge the Earth”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Sal Buscema and Rudy Mesina

“The Wrath of Raga-Shah!”
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Tony DeZuniga

Doug Moench finally wraps up the goofy Krylorian Saga, the plotline that ran through the entire nine issue run of The Rampaging Hulk. Keeping the bi-monthly schedule, the magazine will be renamed The Hulk! in August of 1978 and printed in full color. As I’ve mentioned, the whole 1960s setting will be abandoned and the stories will be more in line with the themes offered by The Incredible Hulk, the TV series currently airing on CBS. You know the drill: Bruce — or is it David? — Banner walks into a small town, meets a young widow and her son, attempts to protect them from the evil corporation trying to steal her farmhouse, gets angry and turns green, throws a few guys through a barn door in slow motion and walks away alone to his next uninspiring adventure. But more on that next time. Here, we pick up directly after last issue as…

The real Iron Man faces off against his Krylorian duplicate as Hulk, Thor, Wasp and Ant-Man look on, wondering which is the real armored hero. When Bereet rushes forward to warn the proto-Avengers that an alien attack is inevitable, Thor replies that she might be the one behind the scheme. Angry that someone criticized his friend, Greenskins launches himself at the Thunder God and chaos ensues. Suddenly, New York is plunged into a blackout, signaling the start of the invasion — in the confusion, the fake Iron Man jets off to join his fellow Krylorians in the secret base under the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens. Hulk and the rest leap or fly off after him. Bereet puts on her Banshee Mask and Rick Jones jumps on board to join the chase.

At the still-under-construction Fair, Hulk arrives first and begins pounding the faux shellhead. But when the rest of the heroes arrive they take the fight to Jade Jaws, still thinking he might be one of the aliens. Once again, the fake Iron Man slips away, opening a hidden staircase to the base below. When Hulk smashes the ground to knock Thor and the real Iron Man off their feet, the ground crumbles underneath him and he plummets down into the Krylorians' command center. There, the ferrous faker transforms into a duplicate gamma goliath and the two Hulks begin to battle. After trading mighty blows, the real Hulk smashes his double through the ceiling and back to the surface. Ant-Man summons an army of ants that swarm over the alien imposter and begin to secret paste-like formic acid. When the Hulk doppelganger is completely covered, a blast from Iron Man's chest-beam crystallizes the acid and it forms into an amber-like crystal that traps the brute. The soon-to-be Avengers leap down into the Krylorian base and attack the invaders, eventually convincing the real Hulk to join their cause.

Above, Bereet and Rick arrive in the Banshee Mask ship and land next to the encased Hulk: thinking he’s the real deal, Bereet shakes him free with a vibration beam. Freed, the Krylorian transformer turns into his real form and blasts the pair with his laser, annoyed that the weapon was only set to stun. Before he can change the setting to kill, the alien hears the commotion from below and rushes off to join his comrades-in-arms.

Meanwhile, the Hulk and his new friends are routing the  Krylorians as Ant-Man takes it upon himself to shrink down even more, enter the alien’s main computer and disable the device that would plunge the rest of the world into a blackout. Their invasion plan foiled, the remaining Krylorians rush to their saucers and escape back to their home world of Krylor. Hulk leaps up to the surface, gathers up the unconscious Bereet and Rick and bounds away. When Bereet comes to, she wonders if she should feel relief or sadness that her chance to return home slipped away.

Well there you have it, the rampage is over — soon to be replaced by “human interest” tear jerkers. “To Avenge the Earth” runs 32 pages, so Doug Moench’s entire Krylorian saga took up 291 pages. Throughout, the alien invaders were much too bumbling to really make anyone nervous. In this issue for example, the Krylorian leader fires off Joe Palookaesque lines like “By the Black Hole of Bloherx, that does it! This Hulk is really getting on my nerves” and “This is the crowning indignity! My crewmen are getting trounced — and I personally get stung by a talking bug!” Dialogue like that doesn’t really ring true for someone who is supposed to be the mastermind of a technologically superior race. Moench spends an inordinate amount of pages on two sequences in the magazine. The bit where Ant-Man commands his insect pals to cover the fake Hulk with goo takes up three pages. The duplicate basically stands still looking like a big dope the whole time. And Ant-Man’s little adventure inside the alien computer runs over six pages: it is interrupted by panels of other action, but the little man’s jumping over wires and dodging tumbler relays is far from nerve wracking.

Our Pal Sal Buscema does double duty this month, illustrating both this black-and-white magazine and the Hulk’s regular color comic. Rudy Mesina’s inks are pretty good: he has a nice touch with dark backgrounds. A totally forgettable time-filler but it’s hard not to be amused considering all the Bronze Age greats running to and fro.

Believe I touched on this in my coverage of the first issue, but Bereet returns in The Incredible Hulk #269. In that issue, the shapely alien reveals that all of the stories that were featured in The Rampaging Hulk were just entertainments she dreamt up for her people. So has this series been a complete waste of time? I won’t answer that.

The Rampaging Hulk 9 also includes a Shanna the She-Devil story “The Wrath of Raga-Shah!” written by my mortal enemy Steve Gerber with art by Tony DeZuniga. Now my digital copy doesn't include this backup so you will be spared my usual Gerber jibes. And I’ll be spared another dire Shanna adventure. Was forced to choke down enough of those in the old Savage Tales magazine.

The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 30
Cover Art by Frank Brunner

“The Scarlet Citadel”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by Frank Brunner
“A Gazetteer of the Hyborian Age”
Text by Lee Falconer

“The Brunner Bran Mak Morn”
Art by Frank Brunner

“Swords and Scrolls”

After last issue’s “girl power” misstep, Roy rebounds nicely with an adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s “The Scarlet Citadel,” originally published in the January 1933 issue of Weird Tales 
— only the second Conan story to appear in the magazine. In “Scarlet,” an older Conan has ascended to the throne of Aquilonia. Now Savage Sword is always in the hands of top artists, but Frank Brunner delivers some of the finest images to appear so far. This is epic stuff, just terrific. As I’ve said before, I didn’t buy any of Marvel’s Conan comics or magazines as a kid, but this issue seems so familiar I must have had it back in the day: I clearly remember specific panels. My guess is that my dad bought it to help me pass the time when I spent a month and a half in traction after breaking my right femur playing soccer. During practice no less.

Conan, monarch of Aquilonia, leads 5,000 knights into Ophir, charging to the rescue of his ally King Amalrus who is under attack by the forces of Strabonus, ruler of Koth. But it is a double cross: Amalrus and Strabonus have joined forces in a plot to conquer Aquilonia. After a tremendous battle, the ferocious Cimmerian stands alone, his knights — and thousands of his enemies — lying dead around him. When Strabonus orders his archers to rain death upon the barbarian, his wizard Tsotha-Lanti orders them to stand down. The sinister sorcerer wades through the hesitant crowd and walks up to Conan: with a surprisingly nimble move, Tsotha-Lanti paralyzes the mighty monarch with a poisoned barb on his ring. The Cimmerian is bound and trundled onto a chariot — it rumbles off to the Kothian capital of Khorshemish with a caravan of the wounded as Strabonus’ general Arbanus leads the conspirator’s remaining army to capture the Aquilonian city of Shamar.

In Khorshemish, Conan is brought to Tsotha-Lanti’s Scarlet Citadel, the massive, spired temple that dominates the center of the city. There, Amalrus and Strabonus offer him 5,000 golden lunas to abdicate the throne. After he defiantly refuses, the Cimmerian is thrown into the sorcerer’s infamous dungeon under the watchful eye of the bestial eunuch Shukeli. After he is chained to a wall, the barbarian is left alone — but only for a moment. An 80 foot long snake soon appears, searing venom dripping from its tremendous fangs. But the dungeon gate suddenly bangs open and the reptile slithers off. A black man approaches, vowing revenge for the death of his brother at Conan’s hands. But the serpent returns and quickly coils around the would-be assassin, dragging him into the darkness. Conan uses his feet to snag the keys that the man dropped, unlocks his chains, picks up the Kushite’s sword and rushes to the gate: but Shukeli slams it shut just before he can escape. Enraged, the Cimmerian drives the sword through the metalwork and into the torturer’s bloated stomach, killing him instantly. The barbarian returns to the dungeon and begins searching for another way out below.

Stumbling through the dark with a torch, Conan comes across a variety of Tsotha-Lanti’s hideous mutations, from a drooling mass of eyes and tentacles to a devilish, living flame. He soon encounters a gaunt bald man in the grip of a tree-like root, its flowery tendrils eerily caressing and kissing his face. The Cimmerian cuts the peculiar plant down freeing the man. After quickly recovering from his ordeal, he introduces himself as the legendary sorcerer Pelias: drugged ten years ago by his rival Tsotha-Lanti, he has been in the ghastly grip of the succubus root ever since. After the huge snake appears once again and literally turns tail when it spots Pelias, the wizard guides Conan back to the dungeon’s gate. The dead Shukeli is still leaning against the iron lattice, his entrails pouring from his wound and gathering at his feet. The wizard performs an incantation and the corpse animates, opening the door before collapsing once again.  

With the Scarlet Citadel empty — Tsotha-Lanti, Amalrus, Strabonus and their forces have joined the siege of Shamar — Pelias and Conan relax in the evil sorcerer’s chambers, relieving their thirst with his fine wine. Pelias gazes into his rival’s crystal ball and summons visions of the brutal attack on Shamar. Even worse, the barbarian is shown the Aquilonian capital of Tarantia: the citizens have panicked after his supposed death and Prince Arpello of Pellia, a pawn of Amalrus and Strabonus, now sits on the throne. Enraged, the Cimmerian curses that if he had wings he would fly like lightning to Tarantia. Smiling, Pelias leads him to the top of the Citadel’s main tower and summons a screaming pteranodon from the night sky. Conan mounts the fierce flying dinosaur and they soar towards Aquilonia — the wizard vows to meet his new friend on the plain by Shamar. 

Conan and the winged lizard make quick time to Tarantia. There the warrior throws Arpello to his death from the royal palace’s balcony — to the hearty cheers of the crowd below. Quickly gathering an army of loyal Poitanian knights, Pellian turncoats, and men of the countryside, Conan rides in rescue of Shamar. The invading Ophirian and Kothian forces are taken by surprise and routed: Amalrus falls to a Poitanian arrow to the throat and the Cimmerian cleaves Strabonus’ head in half. Conan notices Tsotha-Lanti fleeing for the border in the distance and gives chase. But the sorcerer’s horse is supernaturally fast and he begins to pull away. However, a huge eagle, the creation of Pelias, swoops down and knocks him off his mount. Conan arrives, and, after dodging a few eldritch blasts, decapitates his foe. The eagle returns and plucks the head out of the air and flies away, Tsotha-Lanti’s headless body stumbling after the soaring bird as the Cimmerian looks on in disgust.

A 46-page gem. I prefer Conan tales when he is a younger, wandering mercenary rather than a king, but this one is a corker. I only have a few minor quibbles with the story. Not sure why Howard would have a character named Pelias and one of the villains is from a region called Pellia. Too similar to be in the same story. And why is Conan’s ragtag army at the end able to defeat the combined Ophirian and Kothian forces when his mightiest knights were wiped out in the beginning? But maybe the invaders were plain old tuckered out by the constant pillaging and raping. But again, minor stuff. 

Never read any of his Doctor Strange issues so only really know Frank Brunner by his reputation and the Howard the Duck backups in Giant-Sized Man-Thing, but this must be his masterpiece. The art is just fabulous: I honestly didn’t know that Brunner had this kind of talent. Now Conan has faced off against plenty of giant snakes, but this one is easily the most impressive, each scale meticulously detailed and shaded. And the pteranodon is killer. The entire sequence in Tsotha-Lanti’s dungeon made my skin crawl: Conan was a bit freaked out by all of the creepy mutations and you could feel his fear. The kissing plant was simultaneously beautiful and horrifying: it looks like something Rob Bottin created for John Carpenter’s The Thing. The battles scenes are perfect, busy and brutal. Plus, Brunner provides a healthy dose of gore. I clearly remember the shocking sight of the undead Shukeli shambling around with his entrails piling up around his feet. Reminds me of my favorite scene from Joe D’Amato’s 1980 horror flick Antropophagus: after the monstrous cannibal has his stomach sliced open at the end, the wacky freak can’t help himself and starts devouring his own intestines. A high point in the history of Italian cinema. Take that Fellini! And while there’s only one small panel devoted to Conan’s killing of Strabonus, it’s a Holy Crap moment. The view is from over Strabonus shoulder: the Cimmerian’s blade splits his helmet down the middle to the neck. Yikes! Now letterers are usually not credited in these magazines, but it’s easy to spot the work of the great Tom Orzechowski. So that’s a nice cherry on top.

Frank’s awesome art is also on display in “The Brunner Bran Mak Morn,” a collection of seven one-page pin-ups of Robert E. Howard’s Pictish warrior-king. I certainly remember the completely bared breasts on the funky, full-sized sprite that beguiles Morn on the second illustration (below). 

This issue wraps up with the first installment of Lee Falconer’s “A Gazeteer of the Hyborian Age.” Well, the full title is actually “A Gazeteer of the Hyborian World of Conan: Including Also the World of Kull and an Ethnogeographical Dictionary of Principal Peoples of the Era.” Yes, “Gazetteer” was spelled incorrectly so I needed to be careful with the spell check. Reprinted from the book published by Starmont House, this is basically an A to Z encyclopedia of the kingdoms, towns, and tribes of the Hyborian age. At 6-pages, this initial piece only covers the As — Abombi to Azweri — so the Gazetteer will be with us for quite some time, finally concluding with Part 9 in issue #42.

Marvel Comics Super Special 3: 
Close Encounters of the Third Kind
Cover Art by Bob Larkin

“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”
Story by Archie Goodwin
Pencils by Walt Simonson
Inks by Klaus Janson
Colors by Marie Severin
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
“Final Encounter”
Text by Archie Goodwin

When I added the Marvel Comics Super Special magazines to my course load, Dean Pete kindly threw me a bone: “Why don’t you just do the superhero issues and skip all the movie stuff?” But, having an anal retentive streak 75.2 miles wide, I stood up, slammed my fist on his desk and bellowed “When you side with a magazine, you stay with it! And if you can’t do that, you’re like some animal, you’re finished!” After storming out of the confused Dean’s office, one thought began to haunt me — had I just made a big fat mistake? Let’s face it, the series includes an adaptation of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band starring the Bee Gees and George Burns. 

Walking across MU’s idyllic campus, I asked myself , “Does anyone really need a blow-by-blow recap of Meteor
?” Nah, anyone in this class would most likely have seen the movies in question. So I would skip the synopsis and just focus on the differences between the adaptation and the source material. And I’d thrown in some comments about the editorial pieces and the art. That should work. I hope.

So here we are with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg’s 1977 follow-up to his breakout smash Jaws. Once again, Spielberg did not disappoint the money men: even though the original budget ballooned from $2.5 to $19.4 million, the film grossed over $337 million worldwide.

In his editorial “Final Encounter: Some Last Words, Thoughts, and Background Information on Doing This Comics Adaptation of Close Encounters
,” Archie Goodwin comments that the movie was made under a cloud of secrecy since Spielberg was worried about quickie imitations. So Goodwin did not have much to work with when he started writing the adaptation well before the film was released: an early shooting script and a few promotional clips. Plus, they were not allowed to show the aliens or do likenesses of the actors.

Luckily, even with the limitations, Archie and company delivered a faithful adaptation, with a few minor exceptions. The magazine expands on the relationship Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss but looking more like Dan Lauria, the dad from The Wonder Years
) had with his wife Veronica (Teri Garr) and their two boys and girl. It seemed strained even before Roy’s obsessive mashed potato sculpting took hold. Veronica is much more of a shrew and the kids are terribly obnoxious, especially the oldest, Brad. After the UFOs are first spotted tearing down highways and avoiding police cruisers, Goodwin includes a press conference that Roy and Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon) attend that was not in the movie. And a few scenes from the flick are greatly condensed, including the rather comic sequence when Roy and Jillian are driving to Devil’s Tower, spot the supposedly dead cattle lying on the side of the road and put on their gas masks. Archie and Walt Simonson bang that out in three quick panels.

I’ve always been a fan of Walt Simonson, even though I thought it took him a few years to really find his sea legs. Walt is no stranger to Marvel’s magazine line, illustrating the long-running “The Hyborian Age” series for The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian
 and penciling the first three issues of The Rampaging Hulk.  While way too many panels are background-free, Walt does a fine job here especially with the alien craft: he really captures the awe and excitement I felt when they tore across the big screen back in the day. And the two-page reveal of the huge mothership is a stunner — though I couldn’t find the little R2-D2 model that special effects man Dennis Muren glued on the real thing. Klaus Janson has taken some lumps from a certain faculty member, but I’ve always enjoyed his work. He brings a lot to the table on this job, and the finished results actually resemble what we would come to expect from his upcoming collaboration with Frank Miller on Daredevil. And since many of the pivotal scenes take place at night, his heavy and dark brushstrokes are perfectly suited.

So that’s about it. But before we call it a day, I found an interesting tidbit while doing some research on the film. Steve McQueen was Spielberg’s first choice to play Roy Neary: the laconic actor was interested but ultimately turned it down because he couldn’t cry on cue. Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Gene Hackman and Jack Nicholson were also considered until Dreyfuss campaigned his way into the role. Hackman would have been great.

Oops, one more thing. Even though I mentioned it, sadly the adaptation of Meteor was published in February 1980 so I won’t be covering that mess. When I saw that disaster in the theater with my friend Mitch, the only other person in attendance was a homeless man who assaulted the screen with an endless stream of obscenities. The only way to see Meteor in my opinion. -Tom Flynn

It’s a pretty great story.  In its way, it’s almost an answer to Star Wars; in Spielberg’s hands, the prospect of meeting with aliens doesn’t result in conflict, but rather a partially-understood connection.  At the time of my first viewing, I’m sure I was slow to appreciate how several aspects of the story aren’t fully explained – for instance, why in the world would a collection of individuals like Neary become so preoccupied with building or sketching or painting their own versions of Devil’s Tower?  Since then, I’ve learned to accept that some stories work better when some details are left to the imagination of the audience.  

Simonson is a natural to illustrate the adaptation.  He realizes all the Big Moments, from Neary’s truck-shake (p 11 – Simonson captures a nuance I’ve always enjoyed, when all the loose items in the cab are drawn to the ceiling, then abruptly released once the craft moves on), to the arrival of the fast-moving, brightly-lit ships along the highway (p 14), to the always-creepy segment when Jillian’s house gets lit up, and little Barry disappears, which creates suspense as we begin to doubt the aliens’ intentions (p 24); lastly, we have Neary’s marriage-ending in-home Devil’s Tower, the product of one of the most entertaining manic-moments in movie history (p 31), and the two-page eye-popping arrival of the “mothership” itself (p 40-41).

So yes, a well-done adaptation, perfectly suited to the large full-color format.  If I can draw one reservation, it might be the lack of anticipation as Lacombe’s crew begins to issue the five-note sequence, and awaits a response.  As we get this close to finally seeing whether the aliens might arrive, and discovering what they might do once they reach our planet’s surface, I remember the moment in the movie being very suspenseful, with all the well-meaning earthfolk poised in their outdoor command center, watching the skies; Archie pushes thru this in only a few panels, though, as he misses an opportunity to draw out our expectation a bit longer.  -Chris Blake

Glad you mentioned Lacombe, since he was played in the film by the GREAT François Truffaut.

-Matthew Bradley

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