Wednesday, July 6, 2016

August 1978 Part One: Godzilla Battles the Meta-Monsters!

 The Amazing Spider-Man 183
"...And Where the Wheel Stops, Nobody Knows!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ross Andru and Bob McLeod
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Ross Andru and Ernie Chan

Spidey makes it to class on time (an event!), changes into Peter, and ponders leaving college soon, and getting married—if Mary Jane says yes, that is. Cut to Brooklyn, where Jackson Weele visits The Tinkerer, who has something in mind for the embezzling Weele, who only wants revenge against Rocket Racer. Cut to the hospital, where we see a recuperating May Parker, and her roommate, who is the mother of Rocket Racer! Peter gets chewed out by his Aunt's doctor, then his spider-sense goes crazy as he reaches for the door! Opening the door as Spider-Man, he's surprised when nothing is wrong, although Rocket Racer, aka Robert, is wondering how Spidey knew he was there. After he gets tossed out and two cops run in, he changes into Racer and, um, races back into the room, where Spidey has webbed the two cops to the ceiling (!!!). The battle ends up going outside, and when Spidey catches up to the skateboarding sucka, the Racer fires some rockets that Spidey stops with a Volkswagen (!!!), which has him reeling.

Then, suddenly Rocket Racer is attacked by….wait for it….are you ready…The Big Wheel! Yes, it's Jackson Weele, riding a literal big wheel with lots of doohickeys and gizmos that he prattles on about as he chases Racer through the streets of Manhattan, crushing cars and causing calamity in his colossal contraption as he careens toward cool vengeance. Spidey recovers, swings over to catch up to Racer on a rooftop, where Wheel heads toward them, misses, and lands in the river! Spidey jumps in after him, but no dice—Big Wheel is gone, Racer is webbed up, and Spidey realizes Aunt May might still be in trouble! Back at the hospital in minutes, Peter finds May has been moved to the critical ward, having had a seizure while Spider-Man was in her room. Then Mary Jane shows up, giving Peter the engagement ring back, since "There's a world of groovy guys out there, and this doll's gotta be free to find 'em,";  she asks Peter if they can still be friends. Shuffling back to his apartment, with Mrs. Muggins staring at him through the window, Peter opens his door to the mysterious visitor from last issue—it's…(to be continued)--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: Well, that was different. Meaning McLeod's inks give the Andru art a completely different look, almost a sepia tone in feel. And it's not necessarily bad, just different, and Andru's pencils are toned down considerably, with fatter faces and squarer shoulders instead of the usual sharp elbows and knees (except for the great page 21 panels 3-4 as Spidey swings to follow Wheel and Racer—very nicely done!), and in places, for instance the Tinkerer's look, a bit more cartoonish than the excellent Esposito inks. There are some other odd things in this issue, like how does Spidey get the cops onto the ceiling of Aunt May's room on page 11? And what are the odds that Rocket Racer's Mom would be in the same room as May? It's like a Three's Company episode!

OK, let's get to the elephant in the issue: The Big Wheel. Now, I remember thinking he wasn't half bad when I was 11. As a teenager, I realized he was a bit lame. After meeting Professor Tom and hearing his honest near-hatred for Jackson Weele, I knew he was right. And after reading this issue for the first time in over 25 years, I'm thinking there was actually a smidge of potential there with the giant wheel, which smashes the heck out of everything, but it's thankfully over fast, because any more and Spidey would drop way down the reading list. Amazingly, The Big Wheel returned in the 1990s (no, I'm not kidding! I couldn't believe it when I read it!), in Spider-Man Unlimited #12, a supposedly humorous story, co-starring Stilt Man (that's a dead giveaway), where Weele says he managed to survive and has reformed thanks to Vil-Anon, like an AA for villains. He also pops up in the Civil War event, and  issues of The Invincible Iron Man, Ghost Rider: Heaven's On Fire, and The Superior Spider-Man. It's freakin' incredible…but there are probably worse characters to keep dredging up. Lord knows Marvel has been guilty of it.

Favorite sound effect is the mighty "SPLOOCH!" on page 27 as The Big Wheel hits the drink and promptly vanishes, although Spidey says "So much muck and mire down here I can't see a blasted thing. The Wheel's lost in all this sewage." But raise your hand if you thought—or hoped—Wheel would be back. You in the back—put that hand down!

Mark Barsotti: This one boasts a vibrant, live-wire cover, capturing the schizoid essence of the story inside: fast-paced and full of lunacy. First, there are eight million people in the naked city, but Robbie the Rocket Racer's mom ends up in a hospital bed right next to Aunt May? That's Marvel CRAP (Coincidence Ridiculously Advancing the Plot) most foul. We expected better of you, Marv.

Then we get a cool scene where Webs picks up a VW bug to use as a shield against the Racer's rockets.

And then the Big Wheel rolls up, prompting head-scratchers like how did the Tinkerer design and manufacturer a car crushing, self-propelled Ferris wheel in a few hours? How'd he get the two story tall monstrosity out of the basement workshop under his Fix-It shop? More importantly, how'd Marvel not get sued by toymaker Marx? "Hey, Fred, did you okay a giant motorized Big Wheel with machine guns? No? Better call Morty then...the lawyer, not the butcher."

Of course, all superhero comics have wide latitude regarding suspension of disbelief, in which we're happily complicit as long as we're getting a ripping good yarn. And - against all better judgment - I found myself sucked up in the nonsense as the gravity-defying Big W rolls up the side of a building, then goes caroming off the roof to sink in the river below with a satisfying Splooch! Prof Joe, there's your sound effect of the month.

Matthew: Including the kickoff of that execrable “Defender for a day” fiasco, Marvel takes not one but two giant steps downward on its Bronze-Age decline this month, as Wolfmandru compounds the return of the Rocket Racer with the addition of the even-more-ludicrous Big Wheel, two of the most justifiably ridiculed super-villains in faculty history.  And wasn’t it decided that Peter’s Spider-Sense is set off by actual danger, so that it wouldn’t react to Robert’s non-threatening presence in the hospital?  I have mixed feelings about the first of McLeod’s desultory inking credits on this book; I’ve seen enough of Ross’s work to know that his style is being obscured yet like the results well enough that I really can’t complain about ’em.

Chris Blake: Jackson Weele is in such a rush to get back at Rocket Racer that he hasn’t taken the time to learn how to stop this crazy thing – ah, the irony.  Kids today – gotta have things right away; not willing to work for nothing!  Considering the villains lined up for this issue, I was all set to question whether Marv thought he might be writing Spidey Super Stories; in fairness, Marv keeps the action moving along and we all have a chance to have some fun with it, without feeling too embarrassed.  

Speaking of being red-faced, clever moment on p 7 as Peter reacts to his Spidey-sense and switches to costume before bursting in to Aunt May’s hospital room (p 7); of course Spidey doesn’t recognize Rocket Racer as a civilian.  Editor Wolfman could’ve suggested to writer Marv that Spidey’s reaction is due in part to having previously battled a villain who threatened May Parker in her hospital bed – back in AS-M #146, vs the Scorpion; it’s not a major deal, but a brief explanation might’ve helped Peter’s actions seem less impetuous.  Longtime Spidey-philes are bound to question the sense kicking in this way, when Rocket Racer poses no imminent threat; there will be far more questions about this, than about the mind-boggling coincidence that put Peter’s aunt and Rocket’s mom in the same room.
May’s doctor is quite a jerk, although his ceaseless criticism of Peter allows Marv to indulge in the sort of self-pity and heroics-questioning (“All I do is try to help, but no one appreciates me!”) that Marv seems to think we expect as characterization for each and every one of our longjohn-character adventures.  
Bob McLeod brings a very different look to Ross Andru’s pencils; I realize we’ve all become accustomed to Mike Esposito’s finishes, but I like the texture and fluidity McLeod provides, even if the resulting art doesn’t preserve much of the look and feel of Andru’s pencils (a quality I typically value in an inker).  If you don’t like McLeod, don’t worry – this is the only time he’s paired with Andru.

Mark: Aunt May gets "upgraded" to the critical ward, thanks to the CRAP-inspired slugfest at the end of her sick bed. Our hero webs two cops to the ceiling (hope he slid a pillow beneath 'em!) And, oh yeah, MJ turns down Pete's impromptu marriage proposal, speeding through what should have been a significant, emotionally-wrought subplot so fast it seems like a gimmick to write Mary Jane out of the book. We'll see.

Ending on a high note - and with no disrespect toward estimable embellisher Mike Esposito - Bob McLeod's inks unexpectedly jazz things up nicely, his use of zip-a-tone giving Spidey a more three-dimensional feel and a touch of noir that's been sorely missing since the Ditko days.

Let's hope Marv gets the same idea.   

The Amazing Spider-Man Annual 12
Cover by John Byrne

(a partial reprinting of The Amazing Spider-Man #119a complete reprinting of ASM #120 and a total fleecing of nine year-olds everywhere)

The cover completely gives away the reason for this year's Spidey Annual: "The classic confrontation between Marvel's two TV SENSATIONS retold!" Add a John Byrne cover, and the sales were probably off the charts! Then, all good Spidey fans moaned when they saw inside was just a reprint of Amazing Spider-Man #119 and 120. Although it is good to see Romita, Kane and Conway back (not to mention Artie Simek!), these two issues are edited to heck, kinda like watching De Palma's Scarface on "regular" TV ("How'd you get that scar?" "Eating pineapple!" Oh, I'm losing my parking spot for that one…). They only go over the pages that relate to Spidey vs. Hulk, so no Doc Ock/Aunt May, plus they even dare to take out the splash page of ish 120, so we don't see Hulk throw the boulder that propels Spidey out of the water. Should have saved that 60 cents, methinks. –Joe Tura

Matthew:  Although for someone like my not-quite-15-year-old self, who narrowly missed those issues before becoming a steady—okay, obsessive—Marvel buyer (I actually had #118!), it was better to have them in truncated form than none…not that naïve moi realized they were truncated at the time.

 The Avengers 174
"Captives of the Collector!"
Story by Jim Shooter and Bill Mantlo
Art by Dave Wenzel and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Shelly Leferman
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Wasp, Iron Man, Hawkeye, and Thor attempt to free their fellow Avengers from the grip of the Collector but the old guy seems to have an answer for every facet of the team's attack. At last, the unlikeliest Avenger gets the drop on the fifth-tier baddie with an electrically-charged arrow. The imprisoned heroes are freed and the group gather 'round the Collector to hear his story: he'd been collecting superheroes to save them from the coming domination of Earth by Michael Korvac. Coincidentally, Korvac is questioning his girlfriend who, it turns out is the Collector's daughter, sent to spy on Michael. Enraged, Korvac sends a blast of energy out that fries the Collector just before he can spill the beans, on the upcoming Armageddon, to the Earth's Mightiest Heroes.  -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: I am so confused. So, was this mega-issue arc all a bit of a MARMIS? Was the Collector acting on behalf of Earth even though he only revealed this secret in the final pages? More than anything, this issue reminds me of the free-for-all days of the mid-60s (think, issues in the #30-40 range); the art even reminds me of Don Heck in spots. It's not awful but it's not anything more than an average clunky funny book story with a whole lot of explosions and confusing sub-plots.

Joe: I always had fairly fond memories of The Korvac Saga as a long, epic comic book tale that was a good read. But there was something always off about it, even in my silly memories. And now I remember why. Dave Wenzel. Following in the footsteps of George Perez must not have been easy for anyone in the late 70s, or any era. Wenzel of course, fails, but certainly gives it the old college try, with Marcos on inks here to give it slight continuity. But it's just so much worse than Perez or even Sal B. that it's nearly distracting. Lots of teeth-gritting, odd arm angles, posing, and blank eyes, all of which bring this run down a big notch, and that notch will continue to get slightly deeper until the end. Mantlo's story doesn't get much of a pass here either, in a battle against the somehow formidable Collector, where there is more "description dialogue" than usual, as well as tons of bravado, including Hawkeye. And a semi-shocking ending that basically reveals this issue to be a fill-in that's a tie-in, with an "oh my, how could he do that to his love's father" moment that gives you another reason to root against the big bad, as if you needed it.

Matthew: Listen, you can arbitrarily proclaim your damned Korvac to be “even more dangerous” than Thanos, just like I can arbitrarily proclaim myself the Emperor of Hoboken, but it doesn’t automatically make your character more than a blonde guy in a smoking jacket who looks like he has acute indigestion; that distinction must be earned by his creators, the way Starlin did.  This is not the only example of Marvel cheapening one of its greatest villains, e.g., Captain Marvel #57, in which McKenzie shamelessly rode on Jim’s coattails with his out-of-left-field appendage to last summer’s epic annuals.  By far the worst is the current Defenders, where Kraft degrades him to a mere punchline (“Not even Thanos could down this bitter beverage!”).

Even a qualified Mantlo-fan like myself would not presume to call his drive-by scripting of Shooter’s plot anything more than lipstick on a pig, and incredibly, he uses the same moth-eaten “I’ve gathered you all here to tell you that the killer is…KABLAM!” bit in the latest Iron Man.  As for the artwork, well, let’s just say that I’m insufficiently familiar with Wenzel’s pencils to assess his contribution too well, but based on past experience, I have to assume that Marcos doesn’t do him many favors.  If this exercise has a saving grace, it’s the starring role for one of my underdog favorite Assemblers, Hawkeye, who gets to save the day for a change while rightly reminding us that his importance “depends on whether you’re judging by raw power or skill…”

Chris: I had forgotten the intricacies of the plot, revealed this issue.  Ordinarily, the Collector comes across as a self-serving nut, in his attempts to snap up perfectly useful heroes and stick them in plexiglass cages – a bit of a nuisance, really.  This time, we see a somewhat nobler aspect of his hobby, as he explains he wants to preserve a complete set of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes™, to “survive the time soon to come!”  Clever step by Shooter to place the Collector’s daughter at Korvac’s side; intriguing, also, as the Collector (right before he’s ker-zapped from afar, that is) suggests Korvac’s power-grab could cause a cataclysmic “war among the great powers of the cosmos.”  We already know Korvac has far-reaching ambitions, and the power to bring his plans to fruition, ably demonstrated by his blast of the Collector, leaving the inconsequential Avengers standing there amid his ashes.  But, if Korvac’s moves could trigger even more widespread, destructive consequences … well, yikes!

Dave Wenzel, in his only regular penciling gig of Marvel’s Bronze era, has the unwelcome task of assuming the creative responsibilities left aside by George Pérez (I think it’s safe to assume too-busy Sal Buscema’s two issues were fill-ins, until a new full-time penciller could be assigned).  Jim Craig walked this path with MoKF, as he took over from Paul Gulacy; big shoes, right?  Wenzel has some fun with the action in the early goings, but most importantly, he doesn’t blow the Big Moment when the Collector bites it (p 28); points also to the build-up on p 27, as Korvac sights his opponent, charges his power, and fires it to the night sky. Fortunately, Avengers vet Pablo Marcos is on hand; I’m sure he did his part to ensure that as many details, especially facial features, were realized as closely as possible to the standard expected by fans.  

 Captain America 224
"Saturday Night Furor!"
Story by Peter Gillis
Art by Mike Zeck, Mike Esposito, and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Mike Zeck and Bob McLeod

Cap is fished out of the Hudson River in the Spuyten Duyvil area of the Bronx by a jogging couple and brought to their home. Recovering, he unmasks in their bathroom and sees he looks nothing like Steve Rogers: his face is totally different and his hair is black. With no memory of the last 24 hours, Cap returns to Avengers Mansion and finds some answers. At a party, earlier in the evening, Cap was approached by an old war buddy named Al Avison. In truth, he is an undercover agent who has been partnered with Cap to go undercover to stop potential hijackers from grabbing the Madbomb. They were discovered by the two people leading the plot: the Tarantula and Senor Suerte. They tortured and killed Cap’s partner and poisoned Cap and tossed him in the river for dead. Cap hunts down the villains and pays them back for his partner, capturing both and regaining the Madbomb.
-Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: This fill-in issue isn’t half bad, actually, and brings the Kirby run into the main continuity. I actually smiled when Cap mentioned The Madbomb War and contacted Argyle Fist. Of all of the Kirby concepts of that run, Madbomb was one of his best. Returning to it gives those issues some legitimacy. Mike Zeck pencils the book for the first time and he will later inherit the title in the 80s for a pretty solid run. He does good work, but the inking obscures a lot of his style. It’s not bad, though, and the pacing is brisk. The story is slender, but that’s actually sort of a nice relief after the labyrinthine plotting of the “Search for Steve Rogers” arc this issue is interrupting. The only thing I found wrong with it was that Cap never once suspected the couple who found him. However, it’s of little consequence. Nicely done issue that was, no doubt, slotted in when the next issue fell behind.

Chris: We’ve discussed (at some length, I admit) Kirby’s curious choice to place his Captain America stories in some parallel reality, existing somewhere down the hall from the otherwise-continuous Marvel Universe.  So, it’s an interesting decision by Peter Gillis to have this issue hinge on a connection to a definitive Kirby storyline, namely the Madbomb; you’d have to wonder whether other writers might’ve been inspired to draw other Kirby-tales into the mainstream (although, I kinda doubt it).  It strikes me as a bit of luck that this fill-in sees print in the midst of Cap’s identity-search, since much of the early part of the story involves Cap seemingly being replaced by a person with a different appearance; but, as the Beast helps point out, the shield – and its slinger’s skill set – could not possibly be duplicated (p 6).  Gillis has to rely on some very peculiar devices – such as, Cap not knowing he had stuck a form-fitting disguise-face over his own (it might take more than Iron Man’s handy tools to get free of it, I figure) – but overall, Gillis does a solid job of keeping us guessing, right alongside confused Cap.  

Mike Zeck makes a credible case to become Cap’s regular penciller, lo many years from now (well, maybe three years or so – beyond the MU mandate, in any case).  Cap is proportioned right, as he appears solid and well-muscled, without looking freakish (since we haven’t arrived at the super-sized early 1990s yet).  Zeck does well by the action, particularly Cap’s two-goon takeout (p 21, last pnl); the double-image on p 27, as Cap is whirling thru a bunch of henchmen in the background, while simultaneously bearing down on us in the foreground, is suitably heroic (for lack of a better term).  The image I most appreciate, though, is the full-page montage on p 10, as we follow Cap’s long night of detective work (with a taunting cameo from Dr Faustus!).  

Matthew:  For some reason—e.g., color scheme, unusual concept—I really like that Zeck/McLeod cover, but certainly got a rude surprise when I reopened it and saw the byline of “guest-writer” (why the hyphen all of a sudden?) Gillis.  As the Bronze Age wanes, many names start appearing in the credits that never made a strong impression on me one way or the other, but I do recall loathing that one; aptly, he debuts with a convoluted mess that compels me to ask why our civic-minded joggers didn’t take the “barely alive” Cap to a freakin’ hospital, and why the Beast apparently needs to wear pajama bottoms.  Inked here by vets Esposito and Tartag, “guest-penciler” Zeck will be back in #258 for his almost-unbroken run of 30-odd issues.

Conan the Barbarian 89 
“The Sword and the Serpent”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Letters by Joe Rosen
Colors Uncredited
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

After killing both King Ctesphon II and his royal wizard Hath-Horeb, Conan, Bêlit and Zula fight their way through guards to the secret passage that leads to the catacombs beneath the palace. Racing aimlessly down dark tunnels, the warriors spot more Stygian soldiers in pursuit: however, a menacing figure emerges from the shadows and commands the startled men to return to the surface. Back in the throne room, Ctesphon III — the former slavegirl Neftha — is chastising her dead brother’s advisors when the heavy, bolted door to the chamber bursts open and the dreaded Thoth-Amon stalks into the room. The new queen promises the supreme Stygian sorcerer the powerful position of royal advisor if he can manage to kill Conan and his companions. Lost in the confusing maze of tunnels underneath Luxor, the Cimmerian stands guard as the She-Devil and the last of the Zamballahs rest for a few hours. Unnoticed, a glassy-eyed Bêlit suddenly rises from her slumber and wanders off. Moments later, the hypnotized swordswoman comes face-to-face with a horrifying, giant snake with a woman’s head, its hair a swirl of venomous vipers. Just before the medusa-like monster can strike, Zula comes to the rescue, chasing off the creature with a desperate slash to the neck. After Bêlit regains her senses, the trio continues on, hoping to find the way out of the labyrinth. Suddenly, a section of the ceiling collapses and Conan falls into a passageway below. When the She-Devil arrives, she unexpectedly attacks her lover — after the barbarian is forced to run her through, she transforms into a grotesque man with the head of a snake. Zula then leaps on the Cimmerian’s back: he is also killed, and revealed to be a monstrous snake-man duplicate as well. When the real Bêlit and Zula arrive, Conan forces them to repeat the incantation “Ka Hama Kaa Lajerama,” words taught to him by Red Sonja and used in ancient times by King Kull to defeat the duplicitous serpent people. When they pass the test, the three continue onward, surprisingly coming across Bêlit’s crew from the Tigress. But the suspicious Cimmerian repeats the incantation and the men are once again revealed as reptilian fakes — the creatures flee when their ruse is discovered. Finally, Conan, his mate and Zula stumble across an exit from the catacombs. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Thoth-Amon! Thoth-Amon! Thoth-Amon! Wheeeeee! The Dr. Doom of the Hyborian Age, the sorcerer supreme finally makes his first flesh-and-blood appearance in the pages of Conan the Barbarian. And he comes in with a bang, bursting the thick wooden door to Ctesphon III’s throne room. I assume he was the one that chased off the Stygians in the catacombs beforehand but all you could see was a hand at that point. Roy Thomas echoes a few previous issues in his script for this one. Ctesphon III reveals that Conan once mentioned that he had a dream of Thoth-Amon (issue 72) but the wizard denies any knowledge of incident: “What have I to do with some ignorant barbarian who lords it over black corsairs?” The medusa-monster is straight out of issue #7 (July 1971), a comic where we first laid eyes on Thoth-Amon, albeit in vision form. Big John draws the wicked creature exactly how Barry Smith did in that issue, a tip of the pencil to the artist he replaced — after a few Gil Kane fill ins — waaaay back in #25 (April 1973). Finally, the “Ka Hama Kaa Lajerama” incantation was referenced in issue #24 though it was actually first used in Kull the Conqueror #2. Whew! That’s a lot of cross-referencing, something the Rascally One did not do too often in this series. While it’s obvious that he summoned the medusa-snake, I can’t figure out the connection between Thoth-Amon and the serpent-men: Robert E. Howard only used them once, in the short story “The Shadow Kingdom,” the basis for the aforementioned Kull #2. Were they just hanging around in the caves below Luxor or did the Stygian sorcerer conjure them up somehow? No clue. We have not only Thoth-Amon, but also two different types of monsters, always a treat. Sad to see, this looks like the last time we’ll see the Stygian sorcerer for the foreseeable future. The warriors three will be heading back to Bêlit’s home, the Shemite city of Asgalun, to take revenge on her uncle, King Nim-Karrak, the creep responsible for the death of her father in Luxor. Zula will be an eager participant in the mission: he reveals that Nim-Karrak’s wizard, Ptor-Nubis, is the man who sold him into slavery. For some reason, there is no name included for the colorist credit on the splash page and I couldn’t find any other info online. 

Chris: How can Roy & John possibly pack so much action and excitement into (practically) each and every issue of Conan?  Have they found a way to fold a few extra pages in here, somehow?  I feel like I’m beginning to repeat myself, but I can honestly say there’s been a substantial share of entertainment in nearly every chapter of this series (even when interrupted by the recent fill-ins).  Most of the highlights this time involve swordplay (starting from the fierce splash page) and fantastical creatures, both the gorgon-headed giant serpent (p 11), and the bizarre snake-headed shape-shifting warriors (as revealed on p 27).  If I were Bêlit, I’d be a bit concerned at the lack of hesitation as Conan dispatches the serpent-double (also p 27); they might have to agree on an in-battle safe word, if only to prevent a fatal mix-up.  Zula also might be a bit concerned, if he’d witnessed Conan swing the snake-Zula into a rock, and then break his back (p 28); ouch.  Nice touch also as Conan goes against his nature and resorts to a sorcerer’s trick to expose the other snake-men (p 29).  I ask you: what more could we possibly ask for from our escapist illustrated pulp lit?  

 The Defenders 62
"Membership Madness! Dollar Bill's
Documentary Disaster Part 1"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Bob Sharon
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob Layton

At the now-established headquarters of the Defenders, the Long Island riding academy, the super group enjoys a respite from more serious things with a game of Frisbee. Dollar Bill comes out to tell them that they're going to be on TV, courtesy of his "documentary." Nighthawk is furious that the wannabe filmmaker has taken advantage of his opportunity to film them in action, including their recent fight against Vera Gemini and the demons that almost brought about Xenogenesis. The others aren't pleased either, but are curious enough to watch the special, so let go of their anger. Kyle grudgingly agrees to see it with them. It's a good piece of film work, except that Bill decides to invite any superhero who wants to join to "come on over!" The next morning, banging at the door wakes them up; Nighthawk answers to find... a whole classroom of super what-cha-ma-call-em's lined up for membership! That does it for Nighty, he kicks Dolllar Bill out the door. The would-be members are confused by the rather chill welcome. Val and Hulk serve (the worst ever) coffee to try and make amends. Nighthawk ends up flying around after the Falcon; Captain Ultra and Jack of Hearts argue over who has dibs on Valkyrie; and a bunch of the new arrivals decide to ambush the Hulk, who they see as potential trouble. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: Despite the always interesting art of the younger Buscema, Sal, this is one of those issues that reads like an overpopulated anniversary issue. It's got a lot of the 70s supers that Marvel had on display and, in a way, those are the types that  would probably fit on this type of team. Still, it's a little too much for me, and apparently for Nighthawk, who loses it when the cavalry arrives, already wanting Bill's scalp for ruining their anonymity. We get another brief look at the wasted city that the self-exiled Soviet Sergei flies over -- more on that promised for next month. Actually the best part is the game of Frisbee! 

Chris: Hey, is this the issue where Dollar Bill makes a movie about the Defenders, and chaos ensues?  Yeah, I skipped this one. 

Matthew: How do I hate thee?  Let me count the ways…while a) sidestepping the continuity cauchemar that, e.g., depicts Ms. Marvel in a costume she doesn’t even have yet and b) acknowledging that Our Pal is the ideal artist to depict so many Marvel characters.  Why does neither editor know how to spell “Lunatic” or “Palladin” or “Ryder” or “Havoc”?  What is L.A.-based Black Goliath doing here?  Why is the Falcon derelict in his duty with the Super-Agents?  Captain Ultra and Tagak—dude, seriously?  Raise your hand if you actually believe Captain Marvel would lower himself to this.  Hercules was not the “chief of the Champions”; the Black Widow was.  Why seek to capture established non-team member the Hulk?  Death to Dollar Bill!

 Doctor Strange 30
"A Gathering of Fear!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Tom Sutton
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Frank Brunner

On an especially stormy night, Stephen Strange makes his way to the police station, having been called in for some "psychic advice." It turns out two city sewer workers, Krammer and Morton had been the victim of occult-like activity, the latter having been dragged down by a tentacled creature, the former killing himself in a gas explosion. Stephen promises to look into it, and goes to see Clea, who just came and went in frustration at being left out of everything. Strange agrees to involve her more. As quick as that ,Stephen is grabbed by said creature and pulled into the sewer, Clea following in pursuit of this single-orbed monstrosity. Strange realizes it feeds on their fear, so only when he urges Clea to dispel hers (not easily done) do they get the upper hand, and it dies with no sustenance to feed on.  However, unbeknownst to them, this "fear" was linked to one in another dimension, known as the Dweller in Darkness. It is essentially its disciple's master, far more powerful and equally evil. Krammer and Morton return, not dead but having been transformed into minions of a sort. Now free, they resume their human form without real memory of what happened. Stephen and Clea have to figure out what else is out there, but they are at the disadvantage of not knowing the Dweller exists.

-Jim Barwise

Jim: If this was the first issue of Doctor Strange you read, you wouldn't be disappointed. Not the best perhaps, but an example of its consistently high quality. Clea looks rather sophisticated and demands her due as an equal (not magically perhaps), making these two one of the more interesting and realistic couple treatments in Marvel right now. Tom Sutton's art is nicely dark yet dazzling -- perfect for the sewer theme. And Morton and Krammer add some nice humour to the show. I don't mind the connection to Thor either, with a nod to issues #229-30.

Matthew: Boy, do I miss Ernie Chan.  Look, I like this issue, make no mistake, and have enjoyed Sutton’s work on the title so far, but although his pencils here are eerily effective up to a point (especially on the Dweller in Darkness), I think his self-inking leaves them somewhat hazy and indistinct, a reservation that I’d say applies to Stern’s generally good story as well, while the Clea/Doc “Why are you sidelining me?” debate feels to me like a do-over.  I dimly remembered Blumkenn—promoted to lieutenant in what seems to be his final appearance—enough to welcome his return, but really needed the footnote to remind me what mag we’d last seen him in, three years ago Marvel time; of course we also get the Honeymooners homage if you’re into that.

Chris: Atmospheric.  Tom Sutton has presented a few masterful issues over the past few issues, ably assisted by Ernie Chan, but he really outdoes himself here.  Roger Stern provides a fine script (including a few lighter moments with our Honeymooners stand-ins, “Morton” and “Krammer”); good choice to include Clea in the action, so maybe she’ll stop complaining (admittedly, with some justification) for a few minutes.  But the art sells the story, as Sutton’s enjoyment in this task is infectious; every page – nearly every panel on every page – calls us to linger.  I will try very hard to limit myself to a reasonable number of highlights: the wind-and-rain swept city streets (p 1-2); the view from beneath the water, as we see winding tendrils, reaching (p 3, pnl 4); an eye pokes out from a water faucet, and peers around (p 4, bottom row); Clea splashes ahead, as two ebon figures form on the sewer wall, behind her (p 11, last pnl); Stephen’s petrified, blank-eyed look, as his body is trapped in an ectoplasmic something (p 13, last pnl); the Dweller in Darkness awakens in an otherworldly dimension (p 19); Doc & Clea unite – pictured as two halves of one whole (p 20, pnl 5) – as their astral forms dismiss the sewer creature (p 21); last stand by the ebon figures (with a real Ditko look), bits crumbling from them as they reach their stalk-like limbs toward Stephen (p 23).  Okay, I didn’t restrain my enthusiasm too well; I didn’t need much of an excuse to pore over the glorious, heavily-textured art, one more time.  

 Fantastic Four 197
"The Riotous Return of the Red Ghost!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Barry Grossman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by George Perez and Joe Sinnott

With his teammates being held captive by Doc Doom, Reed again rides a rocket into space. His mysterious employer/captor has not only considerately returned Reed's Mr. Fantastic "costume," but financed the rocket, built with Richards' help, for the express purpose of restoring his powers!

Why an enemy seeks the return of Stretch-O is anyone's guess. While we're pondering that, Marv Wolfman answers a question that reaches all the way back to FF #1, namely with the myriad Marvel characters who've gone to space, how come only the FF (and one other) got powers to go with the pretty view. Turns out it was more than just the famous cosmic rays, but also "...heightened sun spot activity (and) a flaring of the Van Allen Belt" that powered-up the intrepid explorers. It's pure pulp fiction gobbledygook, but we appreciate the effort, Marv.

With the original conditions thus faithfully re-created, the Rubber Band Man is back! But Reed somehow "forgot the ship's pre-set" to turn away from the bombardment and barely manages to turn off the "cosmic ray collector" before lapsing into unconsciousness. He thus misses the pop-in of the newly-reintegrated Red Ghost, the other c-ray zapee who got powers, way back in FF #13 (and was last seen getting de-integrated in Iron Man #83). As the long-haired old Commie rants...

...our gaze shifts to a Latverian castle, where Sue, Ben, and Johnny wake up to find they're held captive by various power-dampening gizmos. Doom greets them while tickling the keys of a grand piano. Wagner, of course, and when the Valkyries ride off, a mellow Victor says its sculpting time and his guards trot out the "...brilliant artist," Alicia Masters! 

She's working on a larger than life statue of VVD in regal bloom, with crown, scepter, and sword, to be "donated to the United Nations" (I kid thee not, class) after "Operation: Coronation," when, per Latverian law, the Doc must abdicate, - shock follows shock!! - turning the throne over to his son, a.k.a, Reed's mysterious boss! That kind of big surprise ends most comics, but we're only halfway through. 

Reed and the Red Ghost battle it out in space after getting hit by cosmic rays; appropriate, if a bit on the nose. We learn Red's been drifting around "as an intangible mist" since Tony Stark blasted him to seeming-smithereens. Red saw Reed's ship, discerned its purpose and seeped aboard to be rematerialized by the same c-ray/sun spot/Van Allen Belt (slacks by Van Heusen!) confluence that re-rubberized Reed. And, more, the latest dose has increased their powers! 

Mr. F bashes the Ghost with an oversized fist with chain-mail-like spikes, a cool effect I don't think I've seen before (although it would be surprising if Kirby never thought of it). The battle ebbs and flows, with the damaged ship the real loser and now starting a flaming descent from orbit. Red uses his new powers to make the floor under Reed intangible, then re-solidifies it, trapping Stretch between decks.

Back at the castle, Doom learns the spaceship's in distress and he and the captive Fabs can only gawk helplessly at the flaming ship on the viewscreen. But Richards isn't done yet. Slowly, excruciatingly, he extracts himself from between the floor panels to lay a haymaker on Red, who quickly rebounds, locks Reed in the decompression chamber then drifts - you guessed it - ghostlike through the hull of the doomed rocket.

Reed's increased powers allow him to squeeze through a tiny crack in the steel door to reach, we discover after the rocket crashes into the Atlantic, "...a small steel canister" that is "...safely ejected from the mothership." And he managed to dash off an SOS during reentry and so is plucked from the sea by a SHIELD helicopter and greeted by Nick Fury himself.

Reed thanks his old friend then insists, "...this is my fight." All he wants is the Pogo-plane (SHIELD's storing the FF's equipment, post-break-up), and then a fiery Mr. Fantastic vows he'll be "ending the menace of Doctor Doom...forever!" -Mark Barsotti

Mark Barsotti: After a shaky start when the book landed in his lap a couple months back, Marv ups his game here and delivers the goods. But first, let's pick those nits!

After assuring Doom Jr. that he'd "...triple-checked everything" before blastoff, Reed somehow "forgot the ship's preset" just three pages later, blacking out as a result. This unforced error is compounded by being completely unnecessary. Reed's out of character oops isn't needed to advance the plot; it would have made more sense for the Ghost to deliver his back-from-the-dead-and-now-I'll-slay-you spiel to a foe who could actually hear him.

The fighter plane-sized rocket musta got some c-ray powers itself, 'cause the interior's more like a jumbo jet during the fight. Reed stuck between floors was cool, but when did the rocket become a split-level? Why is it carrying big barrels (p.20) or have a decompression chamber like a submarine? I realize cramped quarters might have resulted in Reed and Red thumb-wrestling, but come on.

And Doom's coming abdication is even harder to swallow (but let's choke it down now so we can enjoy the run-up to the big anniversary blowout). After decades on the throne, surely there can't be any Latverian laws on the books that Victor didn't write or rescind. But to get on to the good stuff...

Victor Von Jr. as Reed's mysterious-but-somehow-familiar boss is an inspired move, although it's more likely Len Wein's than Marv's, considering the character was introed several months ago. Either way, it's an earned "ah-ha! moment because it makes perfect sense after the reveal, but no one was predicting Daddy Doom. No, no, it's not the scars, Victor. We just don't think of you that way.

And Doom importing Alicia (it's unclear if she was hired or abducted, but he's promised to release her & the Fabs once the statue's completed) to immortalize him in marble is another great idea. She's a renowned sculptress and also blind, meaning she can feel his features - and thus recreate his face, pre-accident - without gazing upon his current hideousness. Marv the magician manages the rare feat of pulling two rabbits from the hat that both surprise the reader and make perfect sense, all in the space of seventeen pages. Plus, there's the new mystery of why the Doc wants Reed's powers restored (let's hope it's not some foolishness about honor demanding Doom beat the FF at full strength).

And - putting aside the rocket's impossibly roomy interior - Marv gets unexpectedly effective mileage out of an old hack like the Red Ghost. Add a fighting mad, re-plasticized Reed, his blood up for Doom, top it with the welcome return of Joe Sinnott's high-gloss sheen, and you've got the best FF saga in recent memory.   

Scott: My God, the art is to die for here. Sinnott and Pollard are just magical. Until John Byrne steps in, these guys are my favorite team of this period. However, I’m not so thrilled to see the Red Ghost again. Never my favorite villain, this guy always looked a little ridiculous. And now he’s ludicrously jacked up like a high school footballer on steroids. However, the revelation of Doom’s son is cool, and it gives rise to one of my favorite lines of dialog when Ben sees him: “Kiss my zits! That creep’s a pappy!” Well done, Ben! And, well, Reed’s powers are back and his clobbering of the Ghost is very satisfying. A fun issue all around and Marv Wolfman and Keith Pollard do Doom just right. The 
build-up to issue 200 is breakneck from this point on. Good stuff.

Matthew: The magic touch of Joltin’ Joe (absent from his signature title since #193) automatically kicks this meat-and-potatoes entry up one mofo notch, reminding me—unlike the dreaded Pablo—of why I admired Keith’s work in the first place.  And I’m sure as hell not gonna complain about any issue that restores Reed, one of my favorite characters, to full power, as so lovingly delineated on that luscious Perez/Sinnott cover.  Having the once and future Stretcho re-expose himself to cosmic rays obviously makes Marv’s “Riotous Return of the Red Ghost!” idea eminently appropriate, but his “Kiss my [fill in the blank]!” lines for Ben, already overdone in MTIO, are becoming insufferable, and I find Reed’s inability to recognize “Vic Jr.” tough to buy.

Chris: Marv puts some thought into restoration of Reed’s powers, as Reed’s musings tell us: 1) the circumstances that originally created the FF were unique, which explains why no US or Soviet astronauts ever returned to earth with newfound power to bend spoons, read minds, or pull a quarter from an audience member’s ear; 2) these circumstances could have been recreated, but the costs required exceeded Reed’s patent-funded means; 3) there is such as thing as too much cosmic energy, as Reed stretches (awright!) to reach the cutoff switch, to prevent more rays from entering the glass-globe capsule.  A lesser writer might’ve skated by with a “somehow” explanation, as a chance exposure to cosmic rays miraculously provides the sought-for result; so yes, bonus points to Marv for being thorough.  The question remains: why would Doom want to restore Reed’s powers?  And why would he offer to free the rest of the team once Alicia has completed her sculpture?  Curious …

The Pollard/Sinnott art continues to maintain this title’s high standard.  Highlights include: another nasty Doom-face (p 3, 1st pnl); the ingenious, heavy-duty mechanism that contains Ben’s strength, and prevents him from being able to secure leverage, as his feet are suspended above the floor (p 10); if you peer into the backgrounds, there are all sorts of furnishings and decorations in the moldings of Doom’s room (p 10-11); Reed absorbs meteor-smashing pellets, and snaps them back at the Red Ghost (p 19); Reed lays out the Ghost with a running, stretching, left cross to the head (p 23, last pnl).

Ghost Rider 31
“Demon’s Rage!”
Story by Roger McKenzie and Don Perlin
Art by Don Perlin and Bob Layton
Colors by Mary Beveridge
Letters by Joe Genovese
Cover by Ernie Chan

Trapped inside Doctor Strange’s body, Johnny Blaze does battle with his alter ego, the Ghost Rider — now more demonic than ever without the stuntman’s control. Inside the Rider’s mind, the astral forms of Strange and Dormammu struggle for control over the Spirit of Vengeance. After Blaze delivers a devastating blow to the Rider’s flaming skull, the Master of the Mystic Arts manages to cast a spell that banishes the Dreaded One back to his dark dimension. Strange returns to his body as Blaze reenters his, which regains human form. Suddenly, a shadowy figure on horseback calling himself the Bounty Hunter appears in the Sanctum Sanctorum and threatens Johnny’s life. Blaze transforms, creates a Skull Cycle and screams out into the city street, the Hunter in fast pursuit, his stallion breathing fire through flaring nostrils. While Clea urges him to help, Strange refuses: he must stay behind to repair the vital mystic defenses against Dormammu — Blaze must fend for himself. When the Bounty Hunter chases the Ghost Rider into a dead end alley, the satanic cyclist races up the sheer wall of a building. But the Hunter unleashes a burst of hellfire from his hand: the Skull Cycle explodes and the Rider falls unconscious to the garbage strewn ground below. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Juvenile piffle — and clumsily composed. Yes I know that this is a bi-monthly series, but do we need a lengthy recap of the last issue every time out? Here, Roger McKenzie basically wastes three pages on a flashback of issue #30. Then, the anti-climactic battle with Dormammu abruptly ends on page 14: the Bounty Hunter literally shows up in the very next panel and our hero just hightails it out of there. Why? The Rider has never encountered the Hunter before so he has no idea how powerful the bad guy is — so why is his first reaction flight not fight? Seems out of character and, frankly, cowardly. Strange does say of the Hunter “Incredible! Rarely have I sensed such overwhelming evil!” Really? The good doctor has battled some fairly serious heavyweights in his series and he’s that impressed by this stiff? And did anyone buy that Strange would just shrug his shoulders and turn his back on his new ally? “Meh, he’ll be fine, don’t worry about it Clea. The Walls of Wakalakaoonie need shoring up.” Feels completely false to me. McKenzie has spent considerable time building up to the Bounty Hunter’s attack: he’s made brief appearance in the past two issues — let’s hope it pays off. Doubtful of course. It’s tough to say anything nice about Ghost Rider, but I actually can for this issue: Bob Layton does a bang-up job on the inks. The Rider’s skull looks particularly impressive as Layton adds a lot of details and shading. This is the best that Don Perlin’s pencils have looked so far. Yes, faint praise but you takes what you can gets.

Matthew: A really solid critique, my friend -- you nailed it.

Chris: Overall, the fight (against, and then alongside Dr Strange) makes for one of the most enjoyable 2 ½ issues of Ghost Rider I’ve seen in awhile (I realize I’m probably on my own in this respect).  One problem is that the battle with Dormammu is resolved a little too easily; Dormammu seems to think he’s in control of the fight against Strange, when all it takes is for Johnny (inhabiting Doc’s non-astral body) to bash Ghost Rider at the right time, and for Doc to snag Dormmy before he has a chance to regain his footing, and Dormu’s done.  I would’ve preferred more of a setup, even an observation or two from Doc to indentify a weakness to explain how Johnny’s physical assault would be the difference-maker.  

Next, the appearance of the Bounty Hunter (as advertised on the cover) really is out of nowhere.  I don’t see how Doc would’ve tolerated this evil presence at his Sanctum, without acting immediately to repulse the Hunter.  If McKenzie didn’t want to involve Strange in the fight with the BH, then he should’ve had him skulk in the background for a panel or two until Ghost Rider (now reverted to Johnny Blaze) rode away in relief.  I don’t care how high an opinion the BH might have of himself, but if I were an undead rider, I wouldn’t take a chance of tangling with GR and Doc simultaneously.  Also, isn’t it ironic that Johnny is cursing the Ghost Rider – reveling in punching his skull-head, no less – and then is calling on the powers of that despised figure a moment later?  
The Perlin/Layton team is unusual; we can still read Perlin’s layouts, but Layton adds rarely-seen fluidity to the figures in a Perlin-pencilled issue.  Of course, Layton already knows a thing a two about handling the look of Ghost Rider (from his tenure as Byrne-finisher on Champions), as evidenced by moments like: a threatening glare to Strange (p 6, pnl 4); a wary look, after an unexpected slug in the gut (p 11, pnl 3); and, a moment of defiance (p 19, pnl 3).

Matthew: Busy as a cover artist here and elsewhere this month, Layton notches his sole inking job on the book, giving us a nifty skull-face in, for example, page 2, panel 3; curiously, although his Marvel credits go back almost two years, he is welcomed as a newcomer on the Bullpen Page, as are short-timer Bob Lubbers and writer David Michelinie (“rhymes with ‘pickle-my-knee’…sort of”).  Scripter McKenzie once again co-plots with artist Perlin, yet the fact that it’s not even hinted at on the cover suggests that even they feel the Doc/GR thing has exceeded its shelf life.  Unfortunately, the Bounty Hunter, with his ham-handed and supremely annoying “Western twang” dialect—“Thar’s no way yew can handle thet!”—is no improvement.  (As noted, I have a particular loathing for “thet.”)

 Godzilla 13
"The Mega-Monsters From Beyond! Part II: Triax"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Fred Kida
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Herb Trimpe

Stumpy mega-monster Triax attacks Godzilla, who is aided by Red Ronin, who is able to hear the thoughts of the planet Mega's warlords. Intercepting a Triax attack on nearby Salt Lake City, Ronin tosses him at the two new monsters sent by the Megans—Rhiann with the Venus flytrap head and propeller tail (?) and the horned Krollar, with super-burrowing power and a big mouth full of sharp teeth. Rhiann attacks Godzilla, who uses radioactive breath on the flying fiend, while Krollar and Red Ronin battle. Meanwhile, a Megan warship heads towards Earth, with the Betans trying to stop them before the Energex-Ray can be released. Back on the surface, the National Guard starts firing on the creatures just as Triax comes back for a 3-on-2 and SHIELD arrives to take over the scene. Dum Dum quickly gets the Guard to stop firing, them Jimmy Woo arrives via copter to let him know there's something strange going on on the moon. Godzilla throws Triax into the lake, then the Betans fire upon the Megan ship. But the Megans manage to get into range to talk Rhiann into using his "anterior bio-blade" to cut off Red Ronin's head! But before the Megan craft implodes, they send the Energex-Ray towards the Mega Monsters, waking them up with more power than ever!--Joe Tura

Joe: I wonder if Toho was pissed or relieved that the Mega-Monsters all look like a cross between those low-grade Gamera villains and an 8-year old's Play-Doh creations. Meaning, why not ape Toho creatures closer, but then again they probably wanted things far from their films. Trimpe once again draws the monsters as best as possible, but they're just bland and monochromatic. The story is one big decent 5-way battle that's interrupted a lot so there's basically no flow or choreography, even though it lasts the whole issue. Red Ronin getting his head cut off was a surprise for sure, and I actually felt a little bad. The alien races are also bland and odd looking, but to Moench's credit he doesn't have them team up against Godzilla, instead pitting the Big G against the Megans' "champions." Next issue we get our "spectacular conclusion," and with Godzilla alone against three more-mega-than-before-monsters, our hero may be in a tad of trouble.

Matthew: Yeah, okay, I’m not a moron; I get that by pitting Godzilla against aliens and their monsters, Moench is going for a vibe similar to that of such Toho kaiju klassics as what we of a certain age first knew as Monster Zero.  I just feel that even with Kida’s sometimes helpful hand (e.g., that nice shot of the National Guard officer in page 14, panel 5), what he and Trimpe are laying down is largely laughable, epitomized more by Gabe’s demeaning “sho’nuff” look in page 20, panel 2.  Sure, if all you care about is mindless spectacle, then there would be little to match the sight of four giant monsters and one Shogun Warrior—uh, giant robot—mixing it up amid the Salt Lake City skyline in page 19, panel 3...but Doug’s dialogue is especially dire this month.

The Incredible Hulk 226
"Big Monster on Campus!"
Story by Roger Stern
Art by Sal Buscema and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Ernie Chan

After defeating the Leader (last issue), the Incredible Hulk turns his attentions to Doc Samson, destroying half of Gamma Base in the process before leaping off in anger. He lands at Bruce Banner's old alma mater, Desert State University, where he proceeds to take up where he left off back at the base. Old memories come back to haunt the big guy and the confusion only adds to Hulk's anger. One of Banner's teachers, Dr. Weller, tries to calm the beast down but there's no calm in this guy. With the rage literally surging from his body, the green goliath tears apart a statue of Socrates. Looking at the crumbled bits of Soc seems to take some of the fight out of the Hulk and Banner re-emerges. Doc Samson approaches and tells Bruce he may have a solution to the problem. Yes, another solution.

-Peter Enfantino

Peter: Chaotic, noisy, and dumb. Nope, I'm not describing the titular hero but, rather, this issue's script. Roger's just going through the motions, cashing a check, and mumbling "next." How many times have we seen the Hulk tear apart an army base? How many times has Bruce heard, "Well, I know the last solution didn't work but I've got another idea to rid you of the Hulk forever (even though we'd already did that a couple issue ago!)?" How long do we have to put up with the groan-worthy slapstick of 'potkin and Jim (who always seem to be in the right place at the right time)? This is really bottom-of-the-barrel drivel. And that cover sucks too.

Scott: Sorry, Pete, I consider this one another great issue from my kid-hood (Hey Flynn, you got your parking space back!- The Dean). Granted, nostalgia has a lot to do with it. I was in grade school trading comics with abandon and was a huge Hulk fan thanks to the TV Series. This issue was one of my favorites. It has great Hulk fighting action and a solid, mature story that even as a kid I appreciated. My friend Peter Roesler and I sat in my backyard one afternoon and read this issue out loud with voices for the characters, alternating the pages. I used the same voice they used for the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon which was rerunning a lot then. I hadn’t read the issues leading up to this one, so coming in mid-story was confusing, but I still really enjoyed it. This was my first brush with Socrates and “Know Thyself” has stuck with me ever since. As much as I love Joe Sinnott, his inks don’t work quite as well here. The depth and detail of the previous issues is lost. Sadly, the Ernie Chan days are over, and Klaus Janson comes by next issue, so the work is uneven from month to month, but none of this hampered my enjoyment. We’ll learn more about Banner’s younger days next time, a fertile time that writers like Peter David would exploit to maximum effect in the 90’s.

Oh, this crap just gets funnier and funnier!
Matthew:  This issue has several things going for it, most obviously the can’t-miss pairing of a Buscema—any Buscema—with Sinnott, whose byline has become too rare for my tastes, making his presence both here and on the FF this month especially welcome.  As a result, the two-pager on 2 and 3 of the Hulk belting Samson, who is made to look even more substantial than usual by the forced perspective, really has the proper impact, if you’ll pardon the pun.  And, on a personal note, Sterno gets automatic bonus points from me for harkening back to an issue of the sublime Thomas/Kane/Adkins Captain Marvel (even if nobody draws the harried Dr. Weller quite like ol’ Sugar-Lips did), so let’s just go with the flow on all of the psychoanalysis business.

Chris: For ever and ever, the Hulk has relied on two unassailable truths: 1) Hulk is the Strongest One There is, and 2) Hulk is Hulk.  But, what happens when one of those tenets – Hulk is Hulk – is open to question?  Samson (on p 4, 1st pnl) confirms our observations from last issue: the Hulk has shown a higher degree of intelligence since his encounter with the Leader; how is this happening?  Is it simply a passing effect, or can we expect this trend to continue?  If the latter proves to be true, of course, this could mean that Banner’s intelligence – and, presumably, his personality – would dominate; ergo, this could result in Hulk no longer being Hulk.  And if there is no rage-driven Hulk, he clearly would no longer be the Strongest, right?  It’s an interesting green-skinned identity crisis, one that I’m sure I didn’t appreciate at the time (“more action” might have been my preference with this character); it certainly proves Stern as the right choice to assume the reins from Wein, and to continue to explore new avenues for this character.

The Buscema/Sinnott art is very clear and strong, with plenty of good looks at Hulkster himself.  Highlights include: Hulk’s surprise and outrage as Ross tries to allow Banner to regain control of the Hulk thru the encephalo-helmet (p 7); outrage and confusion as puny Banner’s memories intrude (p 19); more confusion in a bizarre semi-flashback, as we see the Hulk in Banner’s college sweater, re-sized to fit him (p 20); unfettered rage (p 21, pnl 3); the Hulk fades away, as self-doubt drains away anger. 

 The Invaders 31
"Heil Frankenstein!"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Chic Stone and Bill Black
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
Cover by Joe Sinnott

Speed-dusting the manor during a lull, Jacqueline knocks over a box containing a huge Gestapo officer’s hat, prompting Cap to explain how the Torch acquired the souvenir early that year, before the Falsworths joined the team.  He and Toro went missing while investigating “possible Nazi activity in the Swiss Alps,” and when the others arrive, they are confronted by an angry mob that first mistakes them for fiends.  “Horror beyond all comprehension” began with grave-robbings, followed by “two flaming demons” who flew to the long-shunned castle of Dr. Basil Frankenstein, whence emerged the “hideous monster that slaughtered several villagers,” so Namor holds the vigilantes in check as Cap and Bucky infiltrate the castle, battling the Nazis.

A uniformed, apparently reluctant patchwork Monster (no, not that one) subdues and imprisons them with the Torches at the behest of his creator, a descendant of Victor, and Japanese Dr. Kitagowa, now the crippled Basil’s hands.  They plan to create an army like the one field-tested in the village, with Kitty transplanting her beloved Basil’s brain into Cap’s body, but as the lights begin flashing again—draining the Torch’s android energy to enlarge the Monster—Namor must head off the mob.  He frees the Torch, who releases the others as the villagers overwhelm the troops; knocked into machinery that shorts out his brain-control implant, the Monster carries his Axis masters off a cliff, the Torch vowing that the castle must remain standing as his monument. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Golden-Age vet Chic, who seems to have done very little comics work in ’78, is more deserving of his “guest” credit than Don is at this point, although he’ll return in #39 to help Glupperberg round out the book’s run.  Inker Black didn’t impress me on What If? #9, and in fact #12 of that mag appears to be his last gig for Marvel (oddly, the CBDB lists him, rather than the credited Springer, for our next issue); his efforts here are decidedly uneven, while giving Subby an aptly angular Timely look.  Yet another escapade related in flashback, this has a dash of EC flavor, such as the venerable “choke!” reaction to the grave-robbing in page 4, panel 1, but despite the footnote to Monster of Frankenstein #1, I don’t know if it’s consistent with that title’s continuity.

Some faculty members might be sold on the “Heil Frankenstein!” title alone, and it’s worth recalling that the second wave of Universal horror films was in full swing when this takes place, probably around the time The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942) was released, so it’s right on the button in terms of popular culture, if not necessarily the Marvel Universe.  Despite my aversion to panels on splash pages, I always got a kick out of that shot of Spitfire with the enormous hat covering her eyes, while there’s some nice face work on Cap in page 2, panel 1 and the Monster throughout, especially the tearful page 28, panel 5.  It’s a fun pastiche, graced by Orz’s lettering, plus the Torch’s somber coda:  “In many ways, that poor creature…was more ‘human’ than I!”

Chris: Once Cap and Bucky arrive at the castle of Basil von Frankenstein, I figured the Monster they encounter would have to be a new construction of Basil’s, and not the one we had come to know in his own magnificent-to-mediocre Marvel mag.  Two reasons why I thought this: 1) the Monster we knew had regained the power of speech, and 2) that Monster was not prone to unprovoked violence.  

Don Glut gamely tries to introduce some shadings to the Torch’s character, as the situation causes him to think of himself as a non-human android, and therefore something like the Monster (?).  Editor Roy Thomas should have sat Don down, and given him credit for devoting some thought to characterization, but ultimately blue-lined these passages, since this is supposed to be a Nostalgic Fun comic.  

Mark: The most satisfying pleasures here are art-related, starting with Joe Sinnott's dramatic cover of Franken-Nazi, getting his "Invaders - bad!" groove on against our heroes. Once inside, it was a nice surprise for us old-timers to see artist Chic Stone's name in the credits. Since we're light years beyond Marvel's early Sixties explosion, class, a quick primer: Stone's a Golden Age vet who was hired at sixteen by Will Eisner & Jerry Iger's comic shop and worked for Timely, Fawcett, Charlton, among others, across a variety of genres. 

He returned to Marvel in 1964, first inking Jack Kirby's Thor in Journey into Mystery #102 (March '64), and although Chic only stuck around for a year, his prestigious output matched the King's. Besides Thor, Stan Lee paired him with Kirby on Fantastic FourX-MenAvengers, Cap in Tales of Suspense, and the dynamic duo also provided covers for most every title, save Ditko's Spider-Man. Stone also somehow found time to embellish Dick Ayers, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, and Carl Burgos. That was an amazingly fertile year, when crossovers interconnected the burgeoning Marvel U, Lee's storytelling advanced by leaps and bounds (has a cliché ever been more appropriate for a genre?), and Stone's warm, detailed inks brought an upgraded and consistent look to almost every Marvel title in the spinner rack.

After all that, I'm somewhat shamefaced to admit this is the first time I've seen Chic's pencils, and they're... perfectly fine. His Namor is the standout, with Stone almost channeling Bill Everett.

As for Don Glut's story...

Spitfire gets to wear a giant Gestapo officer's hat. The Invaders meet Frankenstein monster, unwittingly in thrall to a wheelchair-bound Ratzi descendant of Victor F. with the hots for "Japan's finest surgeon," Dr. Kitagowa, who moonlights as an early Wonderbra model. Our lovebirds plan to transplant Basil's brain into Cap's body so they can really consummate the ole Tripartite Pact. 

The villagers are so dumb Glut can't keep track of their torch-wielding shenanigans. The monster gets his brain back and, teary-eyed, carries our Ratzi Romeo and Juliet over the castle's ramparts to their deaths. Silly? Sure, but then you remember the title is a throwback homage to Rascally Roy's early '40s youth, and that silly's right in the strike zone.

So give this one: three storm-the-castle torches (or six Toros).     

 The Invincible Iron Man 113
"The Horn of the Unicorn!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Keith Pollard, Herb Trimpe, and Joe Rubinstein
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Bob McLeod

At a press conference to unveil the rebuilt, post-Midas S.I.—complete with a monorail, solar power plant, and Buckminster Fuller “Dymaxion” car he built in college—Tony bids goodbye to Jack, off to settle his father’s estate, and Jasper, recalled by S.H.I.E.L.D.  He is accompanied to his private offices by Whitney, who vows she will never again “play the waiting widow,” and Iron Man, whose armor retracts into his body before the LMD deactivates itself in a hidden niche, observed by a mole (last issue’s “desk jockey”) with a mission to kill Stark.  At the docking area, the Unicorn emerges from Long Island Sound and, commanded by a voice in his head, proceeds to the solar converter to destroy it, his attack drawing Iron Man there as intended.

Although the Unicorn appears almost fully recovered from the state in which he was last seen, comatose and dying (in #68-9), IM reminds him that “the hyper-activator that amplified your powers is killing you,” and he is obviously being used by whoever has modified his power horn.  IM detects a signal from across the Sound, where the shadowy figure pulling the strings tells the Unicorn that if he kills Shellhead, he will be freed of both control and his fatal condition.  When the Unicorn uses his horn to pull a solar truck magnetically toward him, IM turns the tables with his vario-beam, activating the computer-controlled Dymaxion car, and the Unicorn’s force field implodes in the ensuing collision…but as “The Other” gloats, “This game is not yet played out!” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: On his way out the door, Pollard provides only layouts for the impressive diagram of “the new Stark International” on pages 2-3, and “guest-penciler” Trimpe handles the rest, while Rubinstein tries to tie it all together in the first of his two inking credits on the book.  The results are mixed, with the mystery man in page 11, panel 2 a typical Herb-goon, and the Unicorn looking like his face is melting in page 27, panel 2 (below), but Tony is ready for his close-ups (page 7, panel 1; page 10, panel 6, left), and the battle scene has verve.  Although avoiding spoilers, I will say that the silhouette of Uni’s master is pretty unmistakable; with just two issues to go himself, Mantlo is still planting a lot of seeds here, simultaneously tying up some loose ends by sending Jack and Jasper offstage.

Chris: This feels like a fill-in, even though Mantlo continues as our regular scripter.  Maybe I’m thinking “fill-in” because of Trimpe’s guest pencils, or perhaps it’s because I’m aware of this title’s transition, coming over the next few issues, as Mantlo prepares to take his leave (too soon!).  The fight with the Unicorn doesn’t amount to much.  IM might not be able to pierce his opponent’s force field, but his armor now is strong enough to withstand Unicorn’s assault; and, despite the off-stage coaching from the unknown presence, the Unicorn never seems to “shatter” or “disintegrate” anything.  So, sort of a stalemate.  Clever move by Shellhead to have the Unicorn buffeted by fast-moving vehicles from two directions.

I’m fairly certain this marks the final Iron Man appearance by Keith Pollard, whose tenure here amounted to only a handful of issues.  I always wonder why artists go to the trouble of creating these definitive maps; typically, this sort of work is devoted to a team’s HQ rather than their workplace, but obviously the SI complex is a little different than the Daily Bugle offices.  No, the reason I question the effort is because, as you know, no one’s ever going to refer to this diagram; any future authors and illustrators will use the SI space in whatever way they feel works for the story, and won’t pay the least bit of attention to this two-page spread.  So, why bother?  
It’s peculiar that Joe Rubinstein winds up inking Trimpe for most of the issue; Rubinstein had been paired with Pollard for an impressive cover to IM #107, so this might’ve been the only opportunity for them to work together on a full issue.  I’ve never felt Trimpe was the right penciller for this character, and this issue does nothing to change my opinion, as even Rubinstein’s clear and fluid style can’t breathe life into the pencils.  No, the art highlight is the cover, which features the first-ever appearance on this title by soon-to-be regular penciller John Romita Jr (great genes!).  

John Carter, Warlord of Mars 15
"The History Holocaust!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Walt Simonson and Rudy Nebres
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza

"Tales of Barsoom"

Story by Marv Wolfman 
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Michelle Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Gil Kane and Rudy Nebres

Bored between adventures, Carter wagers with Tars over his jumping skills, then reluctantly accepts an invitation to a science exhibition, persuaded by Dejah that it would be rude to decline, yet little dreaming that Tallus wants him dead for “destroying” Barsoomian traditions.  Enveloped by an emerald mist, he suddenly finds he is King Theodoric of the Visigoths, battling Attila the Hun in Orleans, then just as abruptly becomes “Antigonus the One-Eyed, counselor to Alexander the Great.”  While saving the captive daughter of their foe, Darius, from the unwelcome attentions of a Greek warrior, Hermendes, he recognizes her as Dejah and is wrenched from the illusion created by Tallus, who soon lies unconscious at his feet. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: The limpet-like Nebres now gets to obliterate Simonson’s pencils on the 13-page first installment of Wolfman’s swan song (“Next issue:  A new writer!  A new artist!”), the prior lettercol having informed us that he was leaving to devote more time to Spidey and the FF.  The disposability of this story is increased by its lack of clarity:  despite how often we’ve been reminded that Carter is an ageless warrior who has lived for unknown centuries, these don’t seem to be actual “past incarnations” of his, as it were, yet if the “lack of historical knowledge” he claims for himself is real, then where did the details come from that Tallus used as raw material for “the dream-world I created from your mind,” eh, Marv?  Nebres-Nose Alert:  page 6, panel 1 and page 20, panel 4.

Wolfman winds it up with a 5-page “Tales of Barsoom” segment, as Carter relates to Dejah the creation story told to him by Dator (prince) Xodar of the Black Pirates in the Valley Dor in the second book, The Gods of Mars.  But only the grain of sand around which it is accreted actually comes from Burroughs, albeit with narration condensed almost verbatim.  Occupying little more than a page in either prose or comic-book version, it tells how, 23 million years ago, the Tree of Life brought forth Barsoom’s four original species—the plant men, a 16-legged worm, the white apes, and the primeval black men of Xodar’s race—yet while the First Born’s “pure strain…has remained untainted…admixture with other creatures” led to green, white, red, and yellow races.

It’s an odd choice, given how central the Tree of Life was to the Great One’s origin in #10, to which this might be considered either overlap or better suited as an introduction.  It is bracketed by passages, presumably pure Marv (I noticed no analog to them in Gods, at any rate), telling how our solar system was born after a comet “collided with a binary star in its nova [self-plug?] stage,” the planets formed by chunks of magma caught by the gravity of the surviving star, and how the five humanoid races gathered into warring tribes that finally “went their individual ways and life truly began to blossom on Barsoom.”  These, in turn, are bracketed by two pages of romantic banter betwixt Dejah and Carter, appealingly drawn by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia.

In the novel, Burroughs peels back the layers of Barsoomian religious hypocrisy, revealing that the voluntary pilgrimage taken down the River Iss to “paradise” by red and green men is a sham perpetuated by the white-skinned therns, who help themselves to valuables and slaves; the rest have their blood drunk by the plant men and their flesh eaten by the white apes.  Yet the joke is on the so-called Holy Therns—led by Matai Shang—whose own pilgrimage to the Temple of Issus is equally fraudulent, and they are preyed upon in turn by the First Born (who, like them, “eat the flesh of the lower orders”).  Issus herself is no goddess, but a hideous old crone who selects a few to serve her for a year, consigning the remainder to slavery or gladiatorial contests.

Because Matai Shang is a villain in the Disney train-wreck John Carter, and the first three books form a tight-knit trilogy—complete with cliffhangers—I decided to re-read The Warlord of Mars and reluctantly revisit the film.  Its Cuisinart-style script jettisons most of Gods and all of Warlord, a protracted chase from south to north pole as Carter seeks to rescue his wife and future daughter-in-law (eponym of the fourth novel, Thuvia, Maid of Mars).  Instead, we are subjected to a mishmash in which the therns are amped up into immortal, planet-hopping shape-shifters and Carter is a widower; it’s apt that he is a prospector, since seeking flecks of material actually taken from Burroughs, whose sepulchral RPMs may be imagined, is rather like panning for gold.

Chris: Despite the presence of two of our regular creative team (ie Wolfman and Nebres), this issue still feels like a fill-in.  Partly, it’s due to this being a single-issue story; the only other time we’ve had a self-contained issue was #11, and you could argue that Dejah Thoris-centered story had been an epilogue to the 10-part “Air Pirates of Mars” chronicle.  This one isn’t only a single-issue story – it’s abbreviated, a mere twelve pages; it’s a little surprising Marv felt he was only able to build a partial story from this idea.  Also, why wrap it all up in a rush – from the moment Carter recognizes the ruse, he’s busting out of Tallus’ contraption, and victorious, all in the space of a few panels (p 21).

It’s kind of a waste to sign-up Simonson as penciller, if you’re going to let Nebres completely obscure his signature style.  Sure, there’s plenty of action, but can you see any evidence of the artist who created those dynamic “Hyborian Age” features for Savage Sword?  I certainly can’t.  Okay, I’m still going to credit the art for three panels, even though Simonson’s hand  is nowhere to be seen: the ferocity of Attila, and his mount (p 10, pnl 4); the legendary continuing battle of those who had been killed at the battle of Orleans (p 13, p 4); a glimpse of the ancient, massive Sphinx, as seen by Macedonian soldiers around its base (p 14, 1st pnl) – Simonson knows his history, as the nose still is intact.
The Andru/Giacoia art for the brief backup feature is truly noteworthy, as they produce nothing we’ve ever seen in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man; I especially like the details in Carter’s high-ceilinged study (p 23).  Michelle Wolfman’s colors are well done, particularly the distinctive skin-tones of the many races, and the look at a once-verdant Barsoom (p 26, last pnl).  

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