Wednesday, July 13, 2016

August 1978 Part Two: Jane Foster is Thor? Come on, That Would Never Happen!

Kull the Destroyer 28 
“The Creature and the Crown!”
Story by Don Glut
Art by Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Ernie Chan

After being awakened by Kull and Ridondo, the hairy cyclops Gasshga threatens them with his huge battleaxe, worrying that they are there to steal his “little flower,” Laralei. But the Atlantean warrior — realizing that the huge monster is drunk on wine — warns the beast that he is soberly outmatched. Laralei urges Kull to let Gasshga be, shouting that the basically harmless brute is the last of his kind. The former Valusian king refuses and leaps on the creature’s back, plucking the crown of Torranna off his center horn. Dragging Laralei, Kull and Ridondo race for the exit of Gasshga’s castle. When the inebriated cyclops  lumbers after them, the barbarian trips it up with one of the drawbridge’s chains: it falls to a burning death in the molten moat below. Suddenly the trio is magically transported back to Torranna, the jubilant populace cheering the return of the crown and their new king, Kull. After the merriment, Kull and Laralei retire to his private chamber: the woman chastises him for killing the forlorn Gasshga and storms off. But she hesitates and returns, only to see Kull in a lustful embrace with the seductive Norra. Laralei angrily mounts a horse and races out of Torranna — Captain Hak-Ur gives chase, but he falls and withers to dust when he exits the city’s gates. Back in the throne room, Kull’s coronation begins. But just before Korr-Lo-Zann can place the crown on his head, Norra rushes forward and plucks the wizard’s fake right hand off his arm, revealing him to be one of the mummified wizards whom Kull disfigured days ago. Before Kull can run Korr-Lo-Zann through with his sword, Thulsa Doom — the master sorcerer who stole the throne of Valusia — materializes behind him and turns Norra to dust. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Well, I guess I owe Mr. Don Glut an apology. Last time, I commented that with only two issues left, it seemed highly doubtful that Don would be able to wrap up the Thulsa Doom storyline, the whole point to this series. So I guess he’s trying to prove me wrong — though I take comfort in the fact that there is now only one issue left. [Insert Wheeeeee!] However, the long-awaited return of the skull-faced sorcerer is completely bungled, so I feel that Glut actually owes me an apology. I wrote my synopsis in an effort to save Doom’s appearance until the end — which Glut and company did not. Now I’m not sure how much of an impact the Gluttonous One would have had on the cover, but there we see the skeletal smacker of Thulsa Doom himself, name in lights underneath. The element of surprise is ruined right out of the gate. Even worse, on page 6, Glut includes three panels that show Ardyon — Doom’s mortal guise — watching the fight with Gasshga in his crystal, uh, box. Doom even shows his true and boney visage in the final panel of that sequence. So, the big reveal of Thulsa Doom in the last panel is neither big nor a reveal. Listen, I guess I can excuse the cover: you gotta assume that including the hero’s major villain might spike sales. But the inclusion of the three panels of Ardyon/Doom does not make a lick of sense. Just a rotten case of storytelling. As I am wont to do with Kull the Destroyer, I left out a few plot points. After she throws herself at the horny Kull, Norra tells a tale about how Torranna had been cursed by their goddess, Syndra. Kull also comments that when Korr-Lo-Zann showed him the vision of Gasshga stealing the crown, the cyclops looked three decades younger but the wizard hadn’t aged a day. Let me guess: the Torrannians are immortal but turn to dust if they leave the city. Ho hum. Ernie Chan does some heavy lifting this issue, drawing and inking both the cover and the inside pages. He does a fine job, a sub-par John Buscema look. As with most series, I rarely check out “The Thurian Chronicles” letters page, but I did this time to see if there was any news of the next issue’s cancellation. There is not, but two of the three letters hope that Kull the Destroyer will have a long and happy life. The replies do nothing to dash these tragic dreams. Well, tragic to Letitia Watts of Bethesda, MD, and Kevin Gibley of Paoli, PA, at least.

 Master of Kung Fu 67
"Dark Encounters"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Mike Zeck and Fred Kida
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters byJohn Costanza
Cover by Paul Gulacy

In an effort to draw the fight safely away from Juliette, Shang-Chi jumps aboard the approaching pirate craft.  He grapples briefly with them, then spots something he can use; he leaps back onto Juliette’s boat and has her hit the throttle.  Once a few feet away, S-C launches the grenade he’d found back to the pirate craft, thereby taking out their pursuers.  At Juliette’s upriver house, Shen “Cat” Kuei informs Pavane (and the cowed Skull-Crusher) that they are leaving, with their one crate, to find Kogar’s HQ, where Cat expects to find the remainder of the shipment.  Leiko Wu already is there; she had discovered Kogar’s base after swimming in, under the waterfall.  Shortly after, Reston and Melissa spot Leiko’s small craft on the river; Reston dismisses the possibility that the entrance might be under the water (“You’ve been reading too many books,” he cracks to Melissa), but spots a cave above, with guards.  Inside the HQ, Black Jack Tarr eavesdrops as Kogar examines the microdot stashed in a brick of hashish (Kogar also has only one crate); there are very few details available in this microdot, but it’s enough to confirm to Kogar (and Tarr) that the plans – once assembled from all the crates – will reveal the design for a person-killing, infrastructure-reserving neutron bomb.  Shang-Chi and Juliette return to the house (shortly after Shen Kuei and company had departed), and take advantage of the brief quiet to explore their feelings for each other.  S-C then decides he too has to go to Kogar’s HQ, since “not even the strongest of magics [can] banish the reality of killing and fighting.”  Reston, Melissa, and Leiko meet up inside the pirate HQ, and come under fire by guards; Tarr watches as his allies take a strategic retreat, deeper into the cave.  Shang-Chi engages ill-trained fighters outside, and realizes he is too distracted to defeat them expediently.  He is brought before Kogar, and declares that he is no longer “Juliette’s protector”; he has come, he states, “to join you, Kogar – for our mutual profit.”  -Chris Blake

Chris Blake: Our esteemed colleague Prof Gilbert might observe a fair amount of “running around” in this chapter, but I can affirm not all of it is purposeless activity.  If anything, I have to give Doug Moench credit for finding a way – over the course of the past 2-3 issues – to finally place all of our principal characters together at Kogar’s house of fun.  Shen Kuei isn’t here yet, but you know he’s on his way, don’t you?  Doug maintains coherence by shifting scenes frequently; after 3-5 panels, we’re on the move to another segment of the plot, to see how it’s progressing toward the story as a whole.  Often enough, we’re changing venue at least once, sometimes twice, per page.  
It can’t possibly be easy to do (I envision several yellow-paper legal pads, with plenty of arrows drawn all over them), so credit also goes to Mike Zeck, who has to fit it all into seventeen pages, without making it cramped, and without sacrificing the all-important action.  Fred Kida does a decent job with the finished art throughout; the only problem is Kida doesn’t leave any evidence of Zeck’s style.  Zeck will be our regularly-scheduled penciller for eleven of the next twelve issues, so we’ll have plenty of time to acquaint ourselves with his signature take on this series.
Speaking of style (segue!), how about that Gulacy cover?  His standing with this title is so high that he’s free to create a generic cover like this – by that, I mean there’s nothing in the cover’s details to tie into the story at hand – but it still looks great, and I’m sure it still contributed to sales.  
Mark Barsotti: Paul Gulacy's poster-worthy cover is both a delightful surprise and a reminder of how much he's missed. On the interior art, it's Mike Zeck's turn at the drawing board, with uneven but decent results. Fred Kida's inks don't help.

For his part, Doug largely keeps up the breathless pace, even though a lot of the action  - furious fists, stealthy infiltrations and blazing gun play, including Shang flinging a hand grenade! - doesn't advance the plot beyond what we already knew and so is kinda like running in place. No matter. We still work up a sweat.

The juiciest exception is S-C's make-out session with Juliette, undertaken on the erroneous assumption that Leiko dumped him. She didn't, she's now on-scene, and surely there'll be broken hearts along with busted ribs during next month's denouement. Must espionage and romance always go bust?

"Dark Encounter" doesn't grade out as well as the last installment, but as long as it doesn't screw the pooch (and it didn't), who cares? In multi-part tales like the "Hong Kong" saga, all that matters is if you stick the landing.

We'll score it together, kids, next month!

 Ms. Marvel 19
"Mirror, Mirror"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob McLeod
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Romita, Jr. and Joe Rubinstein

As Ethan bids Elizabeth and Dr. Minerva goodbye, telling Mac-Ronn about the circus freak show he recently saw (an allusion to X-Men #111) on their way out for a day’s work, the Wilford house in Sullivan County, Texas—last seen in Captain Marvel #55—is destroyed by an apparent lightning bolt.  But the quartet’s concern for Ronan, who was inside, appears to be misplaced, his ominous mien when he strides forth from the flames suggesting that the Accuser’s full faculties have been restored.  In New York, Carol has a seventh-sense trance in which the Supreme Intelligence reaches from his viewscreen on Kree-Lar (sic) to grab Ms. Marvel, saying, “The time has come for you to serve the imperial Kree,” just before Ronan comes to capture her.

His punch propels her right through the elevator shaft, cutting the cables and forcing her to save J. Jonah Jameson, who unleashes an anti-super-hero tirade, and Dr. Marla Madison. Ms. Marvel disarms Ronan (calling his Universal Weapon a “zap-hammer” and “Universal Frammistat”), but is hard hit by his electrical charge and frigi-beam until the sudden arrival of Captain Marvel, who sensed Ronan’s memory-restoration with his cosmic awareness, and found the inhabitants of the farm unharmed.  Ronan claims to be trying to avert a catastrophe, and after he asserts that Ms. Marvel has knowledge of the Omni-Wave, Mar-Vell recognizes her as Carol, but it was just a ploy to lower his guard, and Ronan blasts Mar-Vell, who awakens aboard an imperial starship.

The Supremor gloats that Carol combines Mar-Vell's genetic heritage “and the latent psionic talents common to all Terrans,” power he sought from Mar-Vell and “Rik-Jonzz” (in CM #46) and plans to steal with the Millennia Bloom, molding her into “the mother to a race of new-Kree that no force in the universe can withstand.”  The process stirs memories of her Air Force enlistment to flee a stifling father, relationship with Michael Rossi, and Cape Canaveral assignment, yet when it is finished, Mar-Vell senses that it has failed to expunge her human half.  They defeat Ronan and part as friends, after Carol has warned the Supremor not to try again, leaving Mac-Ronn and Minerva to pilot Ronan’s starship home and report the Supremor’s reawakening to the Council… -Matthew Bradley

Matthew Bradley: OH MY GOD.  The lettercols prepared us for the likelihood of devolving to bimonthly status, as the book now has (with cancellation looming), but did Infantino’s scribblings, largely impervious to McLeod’s efforts, have to rear their ugly head again on the ONE issue to feature my beloved Mar-Vell?  Ah, Bronze-Age glory, we hardly knew ye…and speaking of ugly heads, the Supremor takes an especially devastating hit from Carmine in page 14, panel 4 (above).   As significant as the big Kree-union is Claremont’s retconnish attempt—which strikes me as sufficiently momentous that I quote it verbatim below —to straighten out once and for all the details of her origin in general, and in particular the role of the Psyche-Magnitron’s explosion back in CM #18.

“She remembers lying semi-conscious beneath [it], wishing she had the power to stand with Mar-Vell as an equal.  And the Kree miracle machine had turned her wish into reality, drawing energy from [his] Nega-Bands and using it to literally rebuild Carol cell-by-cell…combining in her the best elements of Kree and human.  But the process—a complete genetic reconstruction—would take time.  So…the machine created a costume that would electronically mimic many of [her] nascent powers and summoned her back to the cave, weeks later, to find it.  Unfortunately, [it] had done its work too well…[and] given Carol not only the power of a Kree, but the mind of one as well.  The resultant conflict had split her personality…”

Chris: Claremont has allowed most of our connections with Ms Marvel’s former supporting cast to peter out, which allows him to focus on a single-issue story that establishes her as a free Kree; we also have, for the first time anywhere, a definitive account of Ms M’s origin.  As a bonus, we clear up some loose ends from Mar-Vell’s mag.  Nice job by Claremont to depict Ronan as his usual arrogant, inflexible self.  It turns out to be quite a lot of story packed into one issue, but in a way, I’m glad Claremont was able to tell it all succinctly here.  The possibility of Ms M being successfully transported to the Kree homeworld struck me as so completely unlikely that, in a way, I feel better to have it as a one-and-done.

Infantino’s art still is not bothering me terribly much, primarily because he is paired with another sure-handed inker.   There are plenty of panels where Infantino’s distinctive style is effectively overshadowed by McLeod’s inks; although, anytime you see an explosion that appears as a bright spot with debris moving in straight lines in every direction (such as p 7, 1st panel), then we’re right back to the world of Carmine.  I’m looking forward to Dave Cockrum’s return to a regular penciling gig, starting next issue.  

Pete: And how about that Joe Rueubenstyne cover? :>

 Marvel Premiere 43
Paladin in
"In Manhattan, They Play for Keeps"
Story by Don McGregor
Art by Tom Sutton
Colors by "Many Hands"
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Marsha Connors
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Joe Rubinstein

In her Lower East Side apartment, Marsha Connors is attacked by the evil Phantasm—and professional gunman Paladin is there to swoop in and save her, having been hired by Marsha to protect her. The Death's Head-donned villain uses his burning touch to try and get Paladin to fall from the ledge, but Marsha smashes the fiery fiend with a lamp, then he berates her for always berating him. Paladin recovers and ends up chasing Phantasm off, but according to Marsha, he won't want to kill her anymore after tomorrow. Atop the 59th Street Bridge, Phantasm reminds the reader he was once a worker at a government plutonium plant, was exposed to radiation, and gained powers through experiments with isotopes and neon gases—and now he's after Marsha, whom he treated like a queen, but she didn't return the feelings. The next night, Phantasm triggers an explosion that causes a blackout, and has his goons knock Paladin out. Coming to in darkness, the mercenary finds Marsha has been strangled by the glowing hands of Phantasm, then strides into the darkness into a Chinese New Year celebration. Soon enough, he and the dastardly dead man are going at it mask to cape, and when Phantasm's G.I. Joe-like kung fu grip has Paladin on the ropes, a "towering festival dragon" falls on top of the radiated rascal! With the angry assassin about to shoot him, Phantasm admits he only drugged Marsha, until he could unleash his plan. So Paladin goes back to Marsha, with introspective words and a victorious moment of zen. --Joe Tura

Joe: This Marvel Premiere is quite hit-or-miss, somewhere in between. First off, Tom Sutton might not be the best artist for this tale, mainly because everything looks way too murky and over-colored. There are some nicely drawn big panels, but did they get Sutton because of Phantasm's creepy look? All the night scenes in odd light? Because he's one of the few artists who could do something with the confusing McGregor script? Speaking of which, how many times has a comic book character actually spoken the title of an issue in the issue? That would be few and far between I think, but sure enough on page 14, Paladin says "Marsha, haven't you learned yet? In Manhattan…nearly everyone plays for keeps." Then he repeats it in Marsha's "death panel." Well, move over, Raymond Chandler! Those are some hard-boiled words right there! Maybe I'm being too harsh, because I liked the ending, although should Paladin have sent Phantasm to Dreamland? Either way, after reading "Dedicated to John Verpoorten because the world is dimmer without him" at the end, I feel pretty crummy bashing McGregor's script. But maybe that's his game…

Chris: Don McGregor sets a brisk pace, as he introduces, engages in battle, explains, vanquishes, and humanizes (somewhat) a villain named Phantasm, all in one neat little issue.  I am distracted by a few details: 1) Paladin bemoans whether “sociologists” might attribute Phantasm’s actions to influence of violent TV and movies, then wonders how these experts might explain away the evils of Hitler and Attila, while Paladin is hanging by his fingernails, thirty floors above the street (p 4); 2) in Daredevil, we’ve seen Paladin with some sort of blaster, but his weapon this time seems more like a pistol – either way, it’s not clear; and 3) Phantasm is able to turn ethereal, then re-materialize behind Paladin (p 26), but once he’s trapped under the New Year’s dragon (p 28 – two pages later), he apparently no longer has this ability.  

As I said, these are distractions from an otherwise enjoyable story; the one element missing, considering this is an issue of Marvel Premiere, is more background and characterization for our title character.  Presented here, there’s little to distinguish Paladin from other vigilante/mercenaries.  We haven’t even seen as many nifty features of his suit as we had in Daredevil #154, which could contribute to appreciation of Paladin as a free-standing non-Punisher figure.
At first, I thought McGregor’s decision to leave Marsha alive – not strangled, but deeply sedated – was a bit of a cop-out, but I guess I can appreciate that he wanted to provide Phantasm with a Moment of Redemption; in a way, it also points to Marsha’s value as a person, which Paladin also seems to recognize, but there simply hasn’t been time for me in these few pages to have felt the same way about the character.
Tom Sutton turns in another dynamite self-inked issue; after having seen him primarily as inker of various titles, I’ve concluded I prefer Sutton on double-duty as inker for his own pencils.  Granted, his art might not be suitable for all stories, but a mid-winter neo-noir in a blacked-out city is one of them.  High marks for the illustration on p 3, which presents a series of actions: Paladin turns and fires at a sniper, then fires at Phantasm and also to his left to shoot another henchman, finally diving forward to tackle Phantasm; the way the images are bunched together suggests their rapidity.  Clever moment as we see Paladin’s fingers, still on the room ledge, until he’s able to pull himself up (p 6); later, Paladin picks up a downed gunman, and stuffs him into a trash can (p 14, pnl 2)!  Atmospheric visual as Paladin walks down the blackened street (p 21, 1st pnl); the chaos around the climactic arrival of the dragon (p 27) is another highlight.  I could’ve picked more, but we all have things to do.  
Matthew:  Okay, having been created by Shooter and Infantino (in Daredevil #150), who presumably watched too much Have Gun—Will Travel in days of yore, Paladin may deserve our pity more than anything else.  But if we take it as a given that the purpose of a Premiere gig is to make me want to read a regular series starring this grape-colored goon—what was the idea, set a purple man to fight the Purple Man?—then the result is, as my darling daughter would say, an epic fail.  And as much as I disliked him in DD’s book, it’s even more annoying, in a small-portions-of-terrible-food sort of way, that his portrayal in this misconceived escapade doesn’t even appear consistent with what little characterization he was given there, which was very little.

That Paladin was such an insouciant horndog that he paused in mid-battle to hit on girls staying at the YWCA, but perhaps befitting the curious choice of sober-minded McGregor as writer, this one just seems like a Gloomy Gus…and not much more than that, because once again we learn almost nothing about him to generate interest.  Sutton’s self-inked art isn’t bad, being a tad more disciplined than his efforts on the concurrent Dr. Strange, but then again, this is a much more conventional story.  I’d certainly be curious to know more about that costume shop whose owner sold Dennis one “modelled [sic] after that of…‘Mr. Fear’” (perhaps a lame attempt to tie it even closer to Daredevil?), presumably having run out of everything except the obscure D-list villains.

 Marvel Team-Up 72
Spider-Man and Iron Man in
"Crack of the Whip!"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by John Byrne and Bob Layton

Breaking up a fur-warehouse robbery, Spidey is hit with drugged mercy bullets that leave him open to a costume-shredding attack by Whiplash, and barely able to plant a Spider-Tracer on the fleeing thieves’ boss before passing out just as the cops arrive.  Awakening after their doctors saved his life, he finds that Captain DeWolff has protected his i.d. and called in Iron Man, due to the Maggia connection; meanwhile, “at a stately mansion on the New Jersey Palisades,” Whiplash is upbraided by his masked and caped section leader, whom he openly defies, for failing to finish off Spidey.  Their confrontation is interrupted by our heroes, Spidey having donned fresh duds and given IM the proper frequency to tune in on his Spider-Tracer (?).

With an undisclosed “personal interest in this case,” Jean ignores Spidey’s orders to hang back, Jersey being outside her jurisdiction, while the others attack from both sides, IM quickly foiling a murder-maze surrounding him with Whiplashes.  No stranger to the Maggia himself, Spidey is beset by arachnids and a serpent, but quickly deduces—as the suddenly appearing Jean has—that her brother Brian, the Wraith, is responsible.  Spidey is hurled through a wall into the maze, and amid the five-way mêlée, Jean confronts Brian with the knowledge that “the mind-power [has] unbalanced you…like the doctors said it might”; snapped back to reality, he makes the foe see his whip turn into a snake, and as the state police mop up, Jean urges him to renounce his power. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: It’s funny to think of longtime MTU scribe Mantlo, off the book barely a year, as “guest-writer”; I don’t know if he actually returned to write this one or just left it in cold storage to fill a possible hole, but either way, it’s a bit of a mess.  Mind you, for Bill to reassemble four of the dramatis personae from his Wraith tetralogy (#48-51) and give us a little check-in on Brian isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard.  Having Shellhead rematched with venerable Maggia hood Whiplash—an incognito Stark employee way back in Iron Man #62, which would have been interesting to explore—while wondering what the implications are for his relationship with the former Big M is potentially even better...but the shotgun marriage between the two ideas is a divorce waiting to happen.

The biggest problem is Brian himself:  when last seen in Mantlo’s recent Midas Saga—where he accidentally learned IM’s secret identity, which would also have been interesting to explore—he appeared to be perfectly well-balanced, so this business of him suddenly becoming a crime boss comes completely out of left field.  I’m convinced that the subjective shot of the groggy Spidey hearing Jean’s dialogue as “Spdrmn—cn u hr me?” is an homage to an old issue, likely of this very series, but can’t readily track it down.  Self-inked “guest-artist” (again with the hyphens!) Mooney turns in his usual solid but unspectacular job, at his best depicting Spidey in such scenes as the nifty splash page; the car-flip in page 4, panel 1; and the serpent-attack in page 20, panel 3.

Joe: 11-year old Prof. Joe may have liked this issue of MTU, but I have to admit, this one was kinda ho-hum for the 49 year-old faculty member. It has that "been there, and don't like it" feel, even giving us Iron Man again against the Wraith, as if no one else can help Spidey with the mind-control maven, conveniently adding a shell-head villain in Whiplash. Who, by the way, really doesn't do much other than be conceited and have powerful whips, yippee. The Mooney art isn't awful, but feels very average for most of the mag. Mantlo nearly seems as if he's writing Spidey clichés also, and I'm not sure he does right by my gal Jean DeWolff. The whole thing makes the Byrne/Layton cover more of a tease than it was in 1978!

 Marvel Two-In-One 42
The Thing and Captain America in
"Entropy, Entropy..."
Story by Ralph Macchio
Art by Sal Buscema, Alfredo Alcala, and Sam Grainger
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by George Perez and Terry Austin

Bursting into the “impregnable” Project Pegasus, “a mammoth energy research facility in upstate New York,” Ben faces Captain America, asked by Nick Fury to look into some security problems, and the friends tussle briefly until Cap learns that he is motivated solely by concern for Wundarr.  As Cap shows him around, explaining that the alien man-child is to help unlock the “latent thought-wave properties” of the Cosmic Cube as a potential energy source, Ben bumps into cosmic-energy consultant Dr. Tom Lightner (Blacksun from #21), whose cellular decay was reversed by Don Blake.  Seeing his fed-up former ward break his restraints, Ben embraces the lad, assuring him “It’s gonna be awright,” and the experiment is set in motion.

But there is, per W.C. Fields, “an Ethiopian in the fuel supply,” who causes a power feedback; as Cap leaps to the catwalk, the saboteur belts him with unexpected strength and cryptically says, “I—of all people—should have known you could reach me up here!”  While Ben frees Wundarr, the man grabs the Cube, teleports to the Everglades, and unmasks as Victorius among the decay-worshipping Entropists (last seen in Giant-Size Man-Thing #1), gathered around the skeleton of former cult leader Yagzan.  In short order, Ben and Cap grab a VTOL aircraft equipped with an S.I. tracer that can lead them to the Cube, but when they arrive to find Victorius and the ominous Entropic Man waiting for them, Ben is obliged to observe, “Wotta revoltin’ development this is.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: What an incredible turnaround:  with the current annual and last month’s Idi-ocy at last ending the stranglehold on our beleaguered book by the Wolfman/Wilson/Marcos troika—although each returns at various points—this marks my first encounter with Macchio, who nails Ben’s character right out of the gate, and will make a major contribution over the years.  Its merits manifest themselves in ways that look both back and forward, the latter epitomized by introducing Project Pegasus, a fertile setting where just about anyone (e.g., Lightner) may show up.  The confluence of Ben, Cap, Wundarr, and Our Pal Sal recalls #4, in the glorious Gerber era, and the unlikely Alcala/Grainger pair provides seamlessly spectacular inks, highlighted by that two-pager on 2-3.

Let’s also not neglect the unforgettable Pérez/Austin cover, with its dramatic images depicted on three sides of the Cosmic Cube, clutched in a gloved hand against a starry backdrop.  The Cube is always good value, and although I hesitated when Cap said “S.H.I.E.L.D. retrieved it after the defeat of Thanos,” since it was so memorably shattered at the end of Captain Marvel #33, I think I can suspend my disbelief to accept that such a powerful force could reform itself.  I especially love Ralph’s handling of Ben, with a line like “Man, I ain’t seen so much nutty hardware since Stretch had a garage sale!” blowing Marv’s “Kiss my gazortch!” and its ilk out of the water, while Wundarr’s reunion with “Unca Benjy” predictably produced a certain, uh, mistiness here...

Chris: Two introductions this month.  Longtime letter-scribbler Ralph Macchio offers his first script for MTIO; Ralph, either on his own or in partnership (most of the time) with Mark Gruenwald, will post eighteen writer-credits for MTIO between #53 and #73.  Many of Macchio’s credits (or co-credits) are among the most entertaining stories in this title’s history (believe it or not, even better than Marv Wolfman’s …).  An appreciable quantity of those stories will involve Project Pegasus, which also makes its MTIO debut this month, and will serve as a sort-of home base for this title; we’ll be seeing more of Project Pegasus starting with issue #53. 

But let me get back to the issue at hand.  Not a strong start by Macchio, as we open with a big-splash non-MARMIS; I say non-MARMIS, because there’s no misunderstanding per se, but we do have the “No time to talk – we’ll fight instead!” conceit, which often serves as spark for MARMIS-tinder.  Cap is grounded enough not to rise to Ben’s bait, and a handy wall-activated force field prevents further hostilities; so, I guess I should credit the scripter-newcomer for handling Captain America properly.  The presence at Pegasus of a plane equipped with “high-energy tracers” is convenient (p 23); what reason would you have for keeping such a plane there?  Macchio could’ve worked this small detail out a little smoother.  I know, I know – it’s a new gig.  So to get back to the plus side, credit Macchio for the return of the evergladin’ Entropists, who’ve been moldering away (just the way they like it) since G-S M-T #1; it’s a truly bizarre choice for an adversary.
I’m not interested in Grainger inks for Buscema; they’re fine, but we’ve seen this sort of art enough times before.  I can’t help wondering what Dean-fave Alcala might’ve done if he’d had the entire issue to embellish, rather than just the first four pages.  I also wonder: why only four pages of inks by Alcala?  Called away by Conan, perhaps?  Well, either way, it’s fine – I’m relieved at least to have a break from Ron Wilson, he of the people from lantern-headed land.  

 Marvel Two-In-One Annual 3
The Thing and Nova in
"When Strike the Monitors!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Sal Buscema, Frank Giacoia, and Dave Hunt
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Joe Rosen, Gaspar Saladino, and Annette Kawecki
Cover by Ron Wilson and Pablo Marcos

 Flying around Manhattan, exultant that his father is out on bail and he has mended fences with his friends, Nova accidentally knocks a workman and some steel beams from a construction site.  No sooner has he averted disaster with a handy awning than a gigantic alien steps out of a suddenly burning sky, forcing Nova to save a blind woman from an out-of-control car, and is followed by a tripod saucer, whence a huge drill plunges into the street.  His attack shrugged off, Nova learns the Avengers aren’t home, trashes Reed’s security devices at the Baxter Building and recruits Ben (establishing his bona fides with press clippings); another  alien invades Paris as, in the mother ship above, a woman awakens from suspended animation…

Transporting herself to New York, where our heroes are faring badly, Milandra explains that the three Monitors test worlds, judging their fitness to survive, yet none has ever passed, and in ten hours they will depart, having buried WMDs to be triggered from space.  Unable to explain her escape, she urges Ben and Nova to free her captive sisters, whose energies power their machines, and takes them above to liberate Kallara, but the Monitor follows.  In the ensuing battle, he sends the Human Rocket to an undisclosed location in space, where the teen faces a literal nova with a dwindling air supply; realizing the Monitor has alerted the others, the reunited sisters beat a hasty retreat as Ben is ejected from the ship, summoning the Fantasti-Car with his belt-buckle controls.

Chapter 3 opens with Ben pondering Nova’s fate as he reaches Tokyo, where all three Monitors converge and the sisters—swatted aside while trying to free Askaré—pull Ben away to explain that having achieved perfection on their homeworld, the race began to stagnate, so King Suzerain sent them on an “endless crusade for galactic perfection.”  Meanwhile, Nova escapes by riding the electrons emitted by his namesake, entering a reality-bending space warp that returns him to Earth just as his oxygen runs out, and we get a three-panel check-in with his concerned friends Bernie, Caps, and Ginger.  “I remembered you saying where the other Monitors had landed,” he notes when he rejoins his allies, and he and Ben set out to distract them to enable a rescue effort.

Freed by her sisters, Askaré is immediately blown apart by a Monitor (“to stop the females, they must destroy one”) and revealed as a robot; Milandra explains that they evolved into receptacles for the billions of souls who died.  In the final battle, Nova pushes one of the wrathful Monitors into the dormant volcano Fujiyama, which the sisters—including a swiftly rebuilt Askaré—cause to erupt, and Ben is pursued into the subway system by another that evaporates when struck by an oncoming train.  The third Monitor reveals that it was he who had awoken Milandra, having tired of their 60,000-year mission, and in exchange for his life agrees to return to Homeworld to convince his people to end their ways, whereupon the sisters erase all of the damage and depart. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: I suppose it was inevitable that sooner or later, a light bulb would go off above the head of Nova creator and MTIO repeat offender Wolfman, and he would come up with the idea of combining those two things in what he hoped would be the Marvel equivalent of a peanut butter cup, but if you’ll pardon the pun, it must have been a very dim bulb indeed.  Chemistry between our stars is negligible, and the villains are as dull visually as they are to read about; as miscolored yellow instead of green on Ron Wilson’s too-busy cover, they look more like misplaced Colonizers of Rigel.  And I literally lost count of how many trademark “Blazes!” (blue or otherwise) were uttered by Nova, who for the record appears here in between issues #19 and 20 of his own book.

I’ve opined before that an annual’s distinguishing characteristic should not simply be length, and was going to argue that this one felt padded until it dawned on me that each half has a different inker and is the length of a regular issue, while Mark Drummond helpfully noted in a comment on SuperMegaMonkey that FOOM #20 had originally announced it as an MTIO/Nova crossover.  Admittedly, it’s nice to see the Human Rocket reunited with Our Pal Sal, who drew half of his run, and here provides layouts; Giacoia and Hunt are both fine inkers, and the difference is slight, although Dave does a little better with Ben in chapters 3-4 than Frank does in chapters 1-2.  I found the backstory of the sisters confusing, but was too bored to waste time dwelling on it.

 Power Man and Iron Fist 52
"A Nod is as Good as a Wink to a Dead Superhero...!"
Story by Chris Claremont and Ed Hannigan
Art by Mike Zeck and Ricardo Villamonte
Colors by Nelson Yomtov
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Ron Wilson and Ernie Chan

Iron Fist attempts to save Joy Meachum from the clutches of mob boss Morgan but finds it a little tough when Joy would like to see IF six feet under for his role in the death of her father. Danny manages to KO all of Morgan's men in an exciting rooftop fight but, while cornering Morgan, is a bit perturbed when Joy once again begins her carping; this time offering Morgan ten million to ice the Fist. Morgan politely declines after mulling over what the hero for hire did to his henchmen and hoofs it. Danny offers Joy a weapon and the chance to exact the revenge she's been craving for two years but, finally, she breaks down and admits she can't do it. Meanwhile, Luke Cage has his hands full when he discovers that Misty Knight is investigating the Cybernauts all by her lonesome. Luke tracks her to Simon Shreeve and the hood leads Power Man right into a trap. Luke allows himself to be pummeled by an octet of the super robots in order for him to be dragged to the source. The root of the robot evil is revealed to be yet another big-time kingpin by the name of R. U. Rossum, a portly gentleman aided by the seductive Nightshade (as witnessed first in our last adventure). When Luke reveals that he was playing possum, Nightshade sicks two new beauties on the beleaguered hero: nine foot tall versions of the Cybernauts! After Cage goes down for the count, he and Misty are loaded into a car and driven off a New Jersey cliff. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: Since our boys never meet up in this issue, the adventure reminds me of those old Tales to Astonish two-fers starring the Torch and Ant-Man. The art's sketchy but since I usually like Mike Zeck's art, I'll blame it on youth or a bad inker. And then there's the clumsy recap of Danny/Fist vs. Joy smack dab in the middle; both these characters know their history so why would they take the time to go over it again (finishing each other's sentences in almost a comical way)? Top it all off with yet another pretentious "nod" to a popular album in the title just to show how hep these writer cats are (of course, by this time the record was seven years old so how hep are they?). This is really boring stuff. Guys, please tell me this gets better.

Chris: It’s unusual to have an entire issue of PM/IF without a single scene of the two leads in the same place.  But with the action swimming by so quickly, there isn’t even half a moment for Luke and Danny to compare notes.  Good call by Claremont to bury the Rand vs Meachum hatchet; well played by Danny, too, as he proves the opportunity for vengeance can be a very empty experience.  Zeck’s layouts are pretty good, but it’s hard to be sure with Villamonte’s murky finishes; even John Tartaglione, who’s been inking Zeck at times on MoKF, would have been a better choice here. 

Matthew: I find it telling that both Dean Pete and I mistook RoboChunky for Morgan, yet once his actual name of “R.U. Rossum” was revealed here, I realized that Chris and/or Ed was throwing a big, meaty bone to those of us in the nerd contingent.  For the rest of you, Czech writer Karel Čapek’s 1920 play R.U.R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots) introduced the word “robot” to the English language…and I doubt the sound effect in page 28, panel 1 of “Cha-pek,” which I believe is how Čapek is pronounced, is any coincidence.  Even aside from that, I found this a marked improvement over last issue; Villamonte hadn’t impressed me thus far, but I don’t remember Joy Meachum—whose epiphany is a major step for IF fans—looking that foxy.

The Spider-Woman 5
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Carmine Infantino and Tony DeZuniga
Colors by Michelle Wolfman
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Ernie Chan

A bitter wind, bearing winter chill to southern California, disturbs brittle bare branches surrounding a remote shack.  Waking within is Spider-Woman, who quickly realizes she was brought here by a crazed vigilante calling himself the Hangman.  He had purportedly saved S-W from Brother Grimm, but then tied her up and carried her to this desolate place – for her protection, of course, from the abuses of our society, which fails to safeguard defenseless creatures like S-W.  S-W snaps free of her bonds, looks around, and sees glistening spider-webs on the ceiling above.  The shine of the webs coalesces into the face of a hag – Jessica Drew herself, as an old crone; the image shatters, but the shards pass harmlessly by, and thru, S-W.  Other objects begin to launch themselves toward her, and S-W finds herself adrift in darkness, until she comes to rest in a giant web.  S-W sees a proportionally giant spider crawl toward, and over her; she then is confronted by a distorted image of her father, Jonathan Drew, who accuses Jessica of having killed her mother.  She flees this image, only to face a monstrous figure that appears to be her mentor, Magnus.  Jessica now begins to dread she isn’t facing elaborate illusions, but that she might have lost her grip on sanity; she holds on to the prospect of being trapped somehow in an elaborate game.  After fighting off empty suits of armor, and swimming free of a sudden flood in the house, S-W shouts to her unseen tormentor, demanding he reveal himself.  She finds the unconscious form of Magnus; he appears unharmed, and is trying to think what possibly could be affecting him, when she hears a voice proclaim this to be a “magical spell!  The kind only I can wield!”  And appearing thru the vapors is the form of Morgan Le Fay, who orders her doomslayer warriors to destroy S-W, while she dispatches the mysterious Magnus … herself. -Chris Blake

Chris: On the letters page, the armadillo acknowledges the “Spider-Woman” name is similar to that of everyone’s favorite wallcrawler.  But, he adds, Marv intends to establish Jessica as her own character, and ensure she doesn’t become a Spidey-clone (so to speak – no Gwen Stacy clones here, either).  S-W will be “moving into a world of mystery and the macabre, where crime and suspense move the action.”  Marv certainly establishes that vibe with this issue, which has much more a feel of – dare I say it – an issue of Tomb of Dracula than an average Spidey comic.
The Infantino/DeZuniga continues to be acceptable; it helps that nearly all the action transpires in a dark, shadowy house.  In fairness, Infantino brings some imagination to the layouts, particularly the hideous Magnus-thing on p 19-20.  DeZuniga seems to fit more comfortably as well, most notably as the faces are less etchy-looking – for instance, the Hangman’s face on p 3, 4 is far less overly-craggy this time.  Page 21, as Jessica follows torchlight down stairs to the chamber of armor, is probably the most effectively atmospheric moment.  
The cover is a bit of a puzzler; either Dave Cockrum misunderstood what the issue was to be about, or there had been some changes between plotting and scripting stages.  Either way, it’s an odd illustration, as S-W stalks an unidentified man stuck to a web; she speaks to him of nightmares, but obviously this isn’t her nightmare, it would have to this poor web-stuck guy’s, right?  I’m surprised Cockrum didn’t go with an image of Jessica under threat by the giant spider, or the monstrous Magnus.  
Matthew:  After a nice, if supremely misleading, Cockrum/Chan cover, this is it for the Infaniga team, and Tony ensures he’ll be missed with work on the Hangman, in particular, that earns Carmine’s art my highest compliment: it doesn’t look like Carmine’s art.  I was surprised they hadn’t filled in us non-readers of Werewolf by Night (where he was created by Marv, natch, in #11) on the hooded one’s history, but I see from the last page that The Jack Russell Terrier himself is guest-starring next issue, where all will presumably be revealed.  I also did a double take at Jessica’s reference to Jerry as “the policeman,” until I realized—without having time to verify it—that she probably does not know yet, as we do, that he is, in fact, a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent.

 Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man 21
"Still Crazy After All These Years"
Story by Bill Mantlo
Art by Jim Mooney and Mike Esposito
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Keith Pollard and Terry Austin

The Scorpion awakes in the sewers, where he's been hiding since Ms. Marvel #2, full of hatred for J. Jonah Jameson and self-pity for "a costume that doesn't come off." Spider-Man swings to the roof of his apartment building, a bit weary and distracted, and drops his extra web cartridges. Mary Jane is waiting for him at the door, and the two are quite romantic, as well as realistic (MJ) and accepting (Peter). At ESU, Peter spots Hector, whose new-found celebrity as a superhero has Holly annoyed, plus Flash and Sha Shan, who are doing quite nicely, then Peter pours himself into daily life. Scorpion smashes into Dr. Farley Stillwell's lab for some healing and strength via the old zapping machine. Peter is at the Bugle looking for work when the green goon starts flipping concrete through the window at JJJ, so Parker quickly changes to Spidey, but discovers he's out of web fluid—and his spares are gone! The newly powered-up Scorpion throws a car at the office window, but Spidey is quick enough to use elbow grease to stop it (and of course, Jameson is supremely ungrateful). The battle ensues, with plenty of tail-whipping, villain-flipping, and head-bashing, until finally Spidey gets peeved enough that he starts wailing on the big bad bug, unmasking him with the words "Just proving a point, Scorpion—that sometimes both monsters…and madness…are all in the mind!" Also proving all those months in pain were a waste for the simpering Scorpion.--Joe Tura

Joe: Ah, more Jim Mooney, earning his seat in the Bullpen with another issue on his resume. The art is a little more solid here than on MTU, but still a little less than stellar. Mooney also draws MJ with way too much eye makeup, which makes her look ten years younger and a lot less gorgeous than she normally is. Speaking of MJ, that's a lot of smooching for a couple that's somehow still together after a marriage proposal was declined, but hey, Peter deserves a break, so we'll let it go. Scorpion goes through a lot of emotions here, from angry to depressed to crazy to nasty to downright pathetic. All in all, it's another quick one-and-done, but so much time is devoted to Scorpion that ya can't help feeling he's been given short shrift when we get to the end.

The script is decent, giving snippets to our supporting cast, but to me the best (and corniest) dialogue is the middle of page 27, when Spidey flips Scorpion, then a cut to JJJ, who says "Come on Scorpion! Beat that wall-crawling pest!" Robbie: "And if he beats Spider-Man…he'll kill you!" JJJ: "Huh? That's right! Come on, Webhead! Sock it to him!" Whomp whomp….

Fave sound effect is right before the dialogue just mentioned, when Scorpion lands awkwardly with a "TCHRAM!," which I have no idea how to pronounce. Is the "T" silent? Is it a European word? Is it a relative of T'Challa's?

Matthew: Like the credits:  “Spider-Writer,” “Arachnid-Artists,” “Eight-Legged Editing.”  In my view, this mag has been floundering of late, and I can think of no better compensatory factor than one of my favorite villains, the Scorpion, shown to good advantage on that powerful Pollard/Austin cover; in fact, my biggest beef is that he is defeated too quickly—and how the heck did Stillwell’s machine repair the holes in his costume?  But if the War of the Gargan is slighted, at least it’s so that Mantlo can justify the book’s existence by spending more time with Peter (on whom Mooney and Esposito do a nice job), whose romantic rapprochement with M.J. also puts this onto a more equal footing with Amazing.

Chris: Mantlo does a solid job of working in some of Peter’s personal life – tying in neatly with events in Amazing Spider-Man, the long-sought continuity between titles! – and still ensures there’s time for a few quick rounds in the final pages.  It’s a compact little one-and-done for the Scorpion, which is fine; a 1-2 issue story for Scorps is plenty.  Nice twist at the end, as Spidey dismisses the rumor (discussed in previous issues, and a few letters pages, if memory serves) that Gargan’s suit is Zemo-stuck to his skin.  

I’ll never be a huge fan of Mooney; his take on Spidey has always been too slight for my liking.  But, I’ve certainly gained an appreciation for the steady capability of his pencils.  Esposito does an above-par job on the finishes too, as the splash page, p 13, and p 20-21 (as Scorps prepares to fling the car at the building) will attest.  The Pollard/Austin (another art team you’ll never see on the inside of one of our favorite titles …) cover is pretty great, as we see Spidey with his left arm cocked back, ready to spring towards his wall-crushing adversary.  As an irregular buyer of PPSS-M, I’m reasonably certain the cover’s dynamic action and bright-as-daylight colors influenced my decision to buy the comic.

 Star Wars 14
"The Sound of Armageddon!"
Story by Archie Goodwin
Art by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Carmine Infantino and Terry Austin

Luke has his hands full fighting off the enraged Chewbacca in the cells of the city-ship on the water planet. Artoo shoots some fire-suppressant foam at the Wookiee, cutting off his air and rendering him unconscious. Meanwhile, the fight between Quarg’s men and the Dragon-Lords continues. Quarg, who is using his power beam to drag Crimson Jack’s ship down from orbit, wants to add the Millennium Falcon’s power to his gun, which will not only suck in Jack’s freighter, but defeat all the Dragon-Lords as well. Han, presumed dead by Luke, Chewie and the captured Leia, was found by the Dragon-Lords, who are actually peaceful people. However, they are rapidly losing this fight thanks to Quarg’s beam, which is driving the larger dragons mad while killing the smaller beasts.  They have learned of Quarg’s plan to adapt the Falcon to boost the beam and Han is horrified to learn his ship is the Dragon Lords' main target. Luke is on board making Quarg’s demanded adjustments under the threat of harm to Leia when Han comes aboard, having beaten the Dragon Lords to their target. Luke is able to convince Han not to take any action yet as Luke has restored the Falcon’s firepower. They aim to destroy Quarg’s beam which is on the main mast; they see Leia there. Having escaped Quarg’s custody, she ran in the only direction she could, but now (with the governor on her heels) she has no place to run. Luke, having climbed the adjacent mast, swings over to grab Leia, and kicks Quarg into the water to his death just as Han blows the mast to atoms, ending the war. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: Lots of action and high adventure foolishness. It’s a fun wrap up to a visually arresting arc, but this still feels nothing like a Star Wars story. However, I can’t deny that the fun factor was there. Dragons on water planets? Why not? In 2002, George Lucas would give us a huge water planet with sea creatures. It’s the crummy sea pirates who take this down a notch for me. Governor Quarg has to look like Charles Laughton and act like a Hollywood version of Captain Bligh? The art is interesting, but – again – Infantino can’t grasp the likenesses. When Han takes off his diving mask on page 20, Luke has to say Solo's name so we can recognize him. The huge chin makes him resemble Quagmire from Family Guy. However, Leia’s boobs never looked so good. Giggity!

Matthew:  I see we’re being a little less coy now about Jolli’s sexual orientation:  “Things such as being attracted to a man for the first time…a man like Han Solo,” who I guess fulfills the male wish-fulfillment fantasy of the James Bond/Pussy Galore dynamic from Goldfinger and “cures” her of those “unnatural” desires.  Not sure what you’ve got on your mind there, Archie.  And, by golly, wasn’t it convenient that the link-up with the Millennium Falcon’s engines, into which Quarg forced Luke and the droids, had the unexpected side-effect of unjamming her guns, but not before we were “treated” to a MARMIS fight between Luke and Han, just as we were “treated” mere pages earlier to a MARMIS fight between Luke and Chewie?  Holy hyperspace…

 Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle 15
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by John Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Klaus Janson
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Rubinstein

Tarzan tries to protect M’Salla from the slavers who tortured him into leading them to his village, but the old man is killed and Tarzan knocked out, saved only by Tantor’s timely intervention.  Reneging on their vow to spare her father if Princess Ayesha surrenders, the main party of Arabs takes the tribe to the Valley of Lost Souls, where Abdul Alhazred uses his “dark power” and Fumes of Death to compel obedience in his mine.  Following the spoor of his foes, the ape-man encounters gold-seeking Glenn Barrett and his employees—Frazier, ivory poacher Simon Santiago, and Socialist Pierre—who profess to be trying to rescue Ayesha; while scouting ahead, Tarzan finds M’Salla’s killers and slays them in battle, thus avenging the old man’s death. -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: As early as #8, in response to a request for titles featuring ERB’s Pellucidar and Venus series, the lettercol states, “Roy and John plan to make their next adaptation…one of [his] rare cross-over stories,…Tarzan at the Earth’s Core…”  But by #14, we are told that, “while various legal problems have combined to make it impossible to adapt [the novel]…next issue’s neo-scripter Dave (the Dude) Kraft will instead be doing an all-new adventure of the ape-man in Pellucidar, the world inside the earth.”  Although TATEC is in fact his only overt crossover book, Burroughs obsessively linked his major and minor series (shades of the Marvel Universe!); The Moon Maid, for instance, opens on “Mars Day” in 1967, celebrating the first message from Helium, Barsoom.

In fact, we won’t see so much as the core of an apple, let alone the Earth’s, in part one of “Blood Money and Human Bondage” (which sounds like a Hammett/Maugham mash-up), an original by Kraft, who is far from a favorite of mine but admittedly did a respectable job on the actual ERB adaptation in #12.  While we’re connecting pop-culture dots—and I’m sure Professor Gilbert will have plenty to say about this—DAK’s “Mad Arab” was the author of the Necronomicon in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, and he will go on to encounter Wolverine in Marvel Comics Presents #152-5 in 1994.  Alas, what Klaus does to Big John’s pencils is far more terrifying than anything HPL could possibly have dreamt up, e.g., Tarzan’s beady little eyes in page 3, panel 1.

 The Mighty Thor 274
"The Eye -- and the Arrow!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tom Palmer
Colors by Bob Sharen
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Tom Palmer

As Loki boasts about the inevitability of Ragnarok, Harris Hobbs and crew continue to film perhaps their last event. Odin arrives back in Asgard, riding his eight-hooved horse Sleipnir. He brings his warriors up to date on where he has been. His ravens, Hugin and Munin, had told him of rumors that Ragnarok was coming, so Odin set out to find out from Mimir, the not-so-kind Well of Wisdom, if this was indeed the case. The fiery being demanded a sacrifice from Odin, that he cast one of his eyes into the fire in exchange for the information. The All-Father agreed, but all the Well would tell him was that he could see Volla the Prophetess in the realm of Hela, the death goddess. Odin made the journey, and Volla confirmed that the end of the gods was coming, and would  be signaled by the death of Balder the Brave. Hela herself appeared, eagerly awaiting the arrival of the  gods to come. En route home, Odin found the blind Asgardian Hoder, who had wandered far away from home, and brought him back to Asgard. At this time Sif returns to Asgard with its many goddesses, long absent from the realm. Among them is Odin's love, Frigga. She and Odin depart to talk privately, and Balder defiantly dares anyone to try and harm him; in Asgard he has been sworn from death by all living things, a vow brought about by Frigga herself. Harris Hobbs sees this as a setup that Loki has planted, but when Balder dismisses his worries as needless concerns, the filmmaker runs to find Thor, who has accompanied his parents. The "game" has been busy, taking on the sport and failing. Balder is unharmed--that is until Loki gives Hoder an arrow to shoot. Alas the brave one dies in Thor's arms, heralding that the beginning of Ragnarok is upon them! -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The focus Roy Thomas is bringing to Thor is in evidence here, as he brings more of the mythological touches to the contemporary Marvel title. He finds a way to have Odin lose an eye, which has been meant to be all along. Likewise, the All-Father rides his eight-legged horse, Sleipnir. It perhaps hasn't been obvious thus far (due to the prominent presence of Sif, Amora the Enchantress, the Valkyrie, Hildegarde, Hela and others) but there haven't been that many Asgardian goddesses present over the years. Roy Thomas explains they have been long absent from the realm and have been fetched by Sif to return for the final battle. And of course, the death of Balder, at the hand of the blind god Hoder, written to foretell the coming of Ragnorak, is portrayed very effectively here. The upcoming Thor 3: Ragnarok has missed a huge opportunity in not taking this chance to introduce Balder into the Marvel film-verse (still my biggest pet peeve of the Thor films). Still, this is a comic, and we get the amusing interference of Harris Hobbs, Joey and "Red," the humans along for the ride (filming their own version of Thor 3). It's fitting to have John Buscema --the title's most iconic artist next to Jack Kirby--here to pencil these significant events.

Chris: Roy expertly strikes a balance between the story’s lighter and heavier elements.  Loki’s dire pronouncements are offset by Odin’s triumphant return, just as Odin’s tale of his descent to Hela’s realm, including the spirit of Volla’s prophecy of Balder’s death, are then put aside as the Asgardian goddesses – Frigga and Sif foremost among them – are welcomed back by the sounding of the Gjallarhorn.  In this way, Roy has set us up for Balder’s feats of strength, as his fabled invulnerability is a simple matter for sport – until, that is, blind Hoder, at Loki’s urging, tips the Ragnarok dominos.  I don’t recall how Loki knew Hoder’s actions would have this result; my son tells me it has to do with mistletoe.  Points to Roy for not telegraphing the moment; Loki innocently hands Hoder the bow, without giveaway thought balloons to report to us how this “special bow” will prove Balder’s downfall.  Points also for not artificially inflating Thor’s role in the story; he’s in no position to either trigger or tamp down Ragnarok, so it’s appropriate that Thor carry out only the parts appropriate for him: infuriated by Loki, respectful to his father, charged by the prospect of preventing harm to his dear friend (admittedly damaging a portion of the palace in the process).

I’m sure not everyone cares for Palmer’s finishes to Buscema’s pencils.  They can be a bit heavy at times, bordering on murky; but I’m all for the darker look at times, like Odin’s journeys thru Valhalla to Hel (p 10-13).  There are some great looks for a few of our individual characters, such as: Loki, reveling in the coming doom (splash page); faceless Volla, gesturing with a Hand of Fate (p 11, pnl 2); fearful Frigga, fretting her fate (p 27, 1st pnl); and a fightin’ mad Thor, Mjolnir in full swing (p 23, pnl 3).
Matthew: This time, after I got past the seemingly obligatory cover that blew the big “surprise” on the last page, I actually detected a few flashes of Buscema’s work through the Palmer smears, and let me tell you, that was pretty exciting; it’s the opposite of lipstick on a pig, more like plastering excrement on Charlize Theron.  The already annoying and far-fetched news-crew-in-Asgard thing is only compounded by the smitten Red, who I gather has some later significance that my memory has mercifully blocked.  And having read most or all of his prior appearances, I think of Balder as a very level-headed guy, not given to literally self-destructive “I triple dog dare you!” tomfoolery, although Hobbs is probably right to finger Loki as the culprit on that one.

What If? 10
"What If Jane Foster Had Found --
The Hammer of Thor?"
Story by Don Glut
Art by Rick Hoberg and Dave Hunt
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Carol Lay
Cover by John Buscema

In a parallel world, the Watcher shows us a reality where Jane Foster accompanied Don Blake on his Norwegian vacation, and when they spot the strange rock-like aliens from Saturn, it's Jane who goes down to get Don's cane, and enters a cave where she finds a stick to use as a lever to get the boulder out of her way—when she strikes the boulder in anger, the stick transforms her into "Thordis," complete with shapely Thor costume and Mjolnir, not to mention a powerful knowledge of Norse mythology. Thordis saves Blake, fights off the aliens, and changes back to Jane before the soldiers arrive. In Asgard, Loki summons a leaf to cause Heimdall to shed a tear and escapes his tree prison, going after the hammer of Thor and instead, when he causes some people to go "negative," finds Thordis (well, after Jane takes out her trusty "hairbrush shaped from a piece of Norwegian wood") and boy is everyone confused. Loki hypnotizes her with another neat trick, but Thordis throws Loki back to Asgard, where he reveals to Odin that "the power of Thor" is now known on Midgard! Odin summons Thor back home, but Thordis shows up, and boy is Odin annoyed! It seems it was supposed to be Don Blake all along, but now that it's a female instead, she has to fight off the sleazy advances of the Gods and Warriors Three, until fed-up Odin banishes her from Asgard! Back on Earth, Thordis fights many old Thor battles (from Journey Into Mystery and early Thor issues), gets stared at by the male Avengers (especially Giant-Man, quite the gawker), and is spied on by Odin, who must sleep the Odinsleep. Sif takes it upon herself to travel down to Earth, make like a damsel in distress, cure Don Blake's lame leg, and turn back into Sif, where she and Don fall instantly in love with no sign of Cupid anywhere. Mischievous Loki has tagged along though, and hurts Sif with his magic staff before Thordis shoos him away. Blake saves Sif via surgery, but they all have to travel back to Asgard when the gigantically ugly Mangog attacks the realm! Before the garishly clad ghoul can pull the Odinsword, Thordis makes a ruckus that awakes Odin, who makes Mangog fade away with his power scepter, banishes Loki, gives Mjolnir to the brave Don Blake so he becomes the true Thor, and transforms the now-powerless Jane into a goddess. As Sif and Thor are forever in love, Odin proposes to Jane, making her his Queen, as Asgard celebrates. --Joe Tura

Joe: We begin with the hyperbole alert of the month on the cover: "The wildest, most wondrous "What-If" [sic] YET! And wait'll you lay eyes on our startling SHOCK ENDING!" Now, while it's a bit surprising, I don’t think it's quite "startling." In fact, by Odin's expression, it seems quite creepy, like he's an old lecher. There are many panels where the close ups are too zoomed in, actually. And the Watcher looks more like Baby Huey than ever. Sif is drawn in va-va-voom mode, but Jane is plain, and Thordis looks like she has Madonna's bra, which seems unfair—but maybe explains why Don chose brunette over blonde. Well, OK, Sif did heal him too, so there's some Florence Nightingale stuff going on there. Glut's script zips along so fast there's no time to enjoy a flagon of mead, and ends up with Blake turning into Thor anyway, which is no big shock. And the funny thing is, this story ends up sorta happening in present-day Marvel comics, one of the handful of What If?  stories that actually occurred in continuity. But I would hate to have poor Prof. Matthew's head pop off his shoulders, so I'll drop it.

Matthew: Meh.

Joe: Our "Why Not?" letters page finds editor Roy letting the readers know which WHAT IF suggestions were the "winners," including many we will see over the years, and many we should have, but never came to light, including "WHAT IF…Magneto, not Professor X, had gathered the five young mutants together and turned them into super-villains?" What makes it more depressing? "Likewise, Chris Claremont and John Byrne are laboring with love on the Magneto/X-Men adventure"….Oh man, that would have been awesome! And that's the same way I felt back in 1978!

Matthew: Jane Foster as Thor?  Nah, that’ll never work…  Aside from Glut’s apparent precognitive powers, Hunt may be the real super-hero here.  Hoberg didn’t exactly blow me away in #7, yet Dave pulls his game up immeasurably, and as with Joy Meachum this month, I think our hammer-wielding nurse has never looked so good.  My biggest beef with this issue is the having-their-cake-and-eating-it-too syndrome that has bothered me since #1.  They introduce as their premise a major game-changer, yet all of those painstakingly footnoted references to innumerable issues of JIM/Thor completely ignore the inevitable butterfly effect, and assume that events in this alternate universe will still slavishly parallel ours.  “Norwegian wood”—ha ha.

Chris: This speculative story isn’t nearly as compelling as it has potential to be.  Jane Foster assumes the power of Thor, and then basically lives the same life Thor had lived, as chronicled in the first 60-70 issues of his title, fighting the same battles with the same villains, but in a woman’s form?  I’m more than a little distracted by the fact that “Thordis” basically carries on as Jane Foster in a costume – there’s no difference in character once she strikes the stick.  Since Thor is immortal, it’s reasonable to assume he’s spent time on Midgard in human guise prior to the humility-as-Don- Blake exercise; the fact that he’d never taken the form of a woman before would have to have been perplexing for Thor too, I’d assume.  Are we to understand Don Blake retains repressed memories of Thor, while Jane is not privy to the same recollections?  Well, I for one would’ve liked to have seen a way around that; it would’ve been more than a little humorous for Thor to have to arrive at an understanding of himself as female; a perfectly acceptable topic to explore in the ‘70s, don’t you think?  

I appreciate the fact that Odin casts out Thordis, since this step is consistent with the continuity of the original stories – Odin simply doesn’t like, or respect, Jane Foster (is it because they subscribe to different religions -?).  So, while the ending certainly is unexpected – Jane finally does something to earn the esteem of the all-father; but, for him to propose to her – is that all you’ve got to justify the “Shock Ending” you’ve hawked on the cover, guys?  Like I said, it amounts to little more than a missed opportunity, with some potentially rich possibilities left unrealized.  

The X-Men 112
"Magneto Triumphant!"
Story by Chris Claremont
Art by John Byrne and Terry Austin
Colors by Mary Titus
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Bruce Patterson
Cover by George Perez and Bob Layton

The X-Men face their most powerful enemy, Magneto, who has swept Mesmero aside, unconscious. He went to the mansion to find them, but only found the house empty save for the Beast, He followed the Avenger to the carnival where Mesmero had brainwashed them all into being exhibits. Now, in a carnival wagon, Magneto ejects Mesmero and takes the rest to his secret fortress beneath an active volcano in Antarctica. Once there, they attack the villain, but not as a team. They instead act rashly, taking him on one by one. Cyclops is frustrated at his team’s ineffectiveness as each X-Man suffers defeat. Finally, standing among their unconscious forms, Magneto is indeed triumphant. However, he does not kill them. He makes them suffer the same fate he did when he was reduced to infant form months earlier. He has hooked each one up to an inhibitor that scrambles the messages from their brains, making it impossible for them to move or speak. They are fully aware of who and what they are, but are no more responsive than a six month old baby would be. While they sit in this hell, a robot named Nanny with a syrupy voice watches over them… -Scott McIntyre

Scott: While this is little more than a battle issue, it is wonderfully done, expertly plotted and executed. The X-Men get their collective asses handed to them by their most dreaded foe. As written, Magneto is a true genius. He can create robots, underground fortresses and elaborate plots. Up against the scattered, disorganized attacks by the “nowhere near ready” X-Men, Magneto’s victory is decisive. The fate he has in store for his enemies is brilliantly sadistic, akin to being buried alive. Wolverine is still a “madman” but is on the cusp of his evolution. Most interesting is Jean Grey, who is drinking in her new Phoenix powers, little realizing how powerful she really is. The only issue I had with this story was the surprise of the wagon being ten miles up before anyone noticed. Was Magneto’s power so incredible that nobody noticed the difference between being on the ground and flying? Otherwise, this is smashing. The Byrne/Austin art is orgasmic. Now, finally, the X-Men are monthly!!!

Mark: Finding the prospect of another oversized serving of What If? as unappetizing as a headcheese and limburger foot-long, I was nonetheless prepared to dig in when struck by the heretical notion of leaving first Fem-Thor, Jane Foster, to fend for herself in Don Glut's cumbersome clutches, and maybe - let's really go rogue here - finding something fun to take with me down to the ole fishing hole.

Most of the '60s titles have largely grown stale, ho-hum and repetitive, new fiddly bits around the edges notwithstanding. Most of the new books are either adaptations or new female versions of old male heroes. X-Men is the obvious choice (and one I've been meaning to dip into for months) as Marvel's only "new" superhero hit in ages; critically well-remembered, even "legendary" as the incubator for the multiplying (some would say metastasizing) mutant hordes to come.

I bought Giant-Size X-Men #1 in 1975. Bought the rebooted title until around #100, even as my youthful funnybook enthusiasm was petering out. Good stuff, as I recall, but I haven't looked at the title (excepting the Roy Thomas/Neal Adams run) since... 

Not a lot of suspense in "Magneto Triumphant," because he certainly is, up-powered to an almost god-like level, whisking his X-Captives through orbit in a circus wagon! And the fun quotient is almost as stratospheric, born aloft by the giddy rush of jumping blind into a comic that's hitting on all cylinders. We're so high, barely an eyebrow is raised over volcanoes in Antarctic, and of course Mag's massive (five square miles!) headquarters is a mile beneath the ice and can only be reached by plunging through bubbling lava. The reaction isn't come on, but cool! Such is the power of first-rate, Shaman-round-the-fire storytelling to bypass critical thinking by zapping our primordial pleasure centers.

And lizard brain like!

Chris: Scott’s lament about the team’s failure to attack Magneto as a team – “no coordination, no strategy – no brains!” (p 21) – raises an interesting point: what is Phoenix, arguably the most powerful member of the team, doing while all her friends are struck down (as before, Magneto devises different means to subdue each team member)?  Phoenix isn’t seen in a single panel from the breakup of the caravan on p 13, until p 23, when she launches her multi-prong attack on Magneto (prompting an awed “Good Lord.”).  Ordinarily, Claremont would provide some justification for a character to be removed from the action for a stretch like this, so I find it curious that he didn’t think of some device to explain Jean’s absence.  I guess it goes to show how high Claremont has set his writer’s bar, as I expect him to properly account for every single detail.  Granted, it makes for a dramatic moment when Phoenix joins the fray; and, based on what we’ve seen from Phoenix lately, we expect her to mop the floor with Magneto, right?  So, nice reversal by Claremont to have Jean suddenly (and, inopportunely) realize she doesn’t have unlimited reserves upon which to draw (p 27, 1st pnl).  

The ending is truly chilling.  Magneto is not one to tie the damsel to the tracks and walk away, is he?  No, not when he can paralyze his foes, and trap them for an eternity.  It’s quite the cold dish, and Mags makes no bones about the X-Men’s lack of direct involvement in his infantilization; Xavier is close to the team, and this punishment will hurt Xavier, so it shall be done as Magneto doth decree.  Best of all, Magneto’s X-cage has no obvious means of escape; and even if the team should bust free, they’re still buried a mile beneath the bottom of the world.  Far removed from the bus route.  I don’t recall how the team springs themselves; something tells me the escape will be as intriguing as the trap.  
Art highlights: Colossus tears open the caravan to reveal – open air? (p 3, 1st pnl); Magneto draws a finger across a table, the dust testament to the house left empty (p 4, pnl 3); the magnificent descent into the heart of a volcano, with Magneto in complete control (p 12-13); that is, until Scott zaps Mags into the wall (p 14, pnl 2); a view at an angle from above and behind Banshee, as he fires a sonic blast at Magneto, smashing the equipment behind him (p 21, 1st pnl); lastly, the eight images of the tortured team members’ faces is something I remember from when I first picked up this issue (p29).
Matthew: As regular readers know, I’m tough to please on “all-out action issues”—whether they are touted as such or not—but for Claremont/Byrne/Austin, I’ll make an exception as their monthly status gets off to a promising start.  Chris does another marvelous job of exploring Scott’s leadership, with lines like “I’ve got to start things off myself and work everyone else in as we go along” practically inducing goosebumps, and nails Magneto beautifully (notice how he pushes Logan’s buttons, calling him “madman”).  As usual, his work blends flawlessly with John and Terry’s, e.g., the X-Huddle on pages 1-2; shadowy Magneto on pages 4-6; journey’s end on pages 12-13; angry Jean on page 23; and masterfully conceived last page.  “Jorge Pérez”—ha ha.  (Since nobody else mentioned it, that’s the name of one of the two bemused fighter pilots following the circus wagon through the sky; the other is Tirador, apparently Spanish for “shooter.”)

Credit Where It’s Due:  This spot-on Bronze Age Babies review reminds me to mention our admiration for the Beast’s line, “Gee, Maggie, I thought you an’ me wuz best buddies,” a sly allusion to the Super-Villain Team-Up (sob)/Champions (sob) crossover, cited in page 4, panel 2.

Mark: The John Byrne/Terry Austin art lives up to its rep. Their crisp, dynamic action flows so well that at times it seems almost spontaneous, scribbled to life in the fervent moment. Byrne and Austin's square-jawed heroics and fantastic settings are in the Classicist Marvel Mode, buffed to a late '70s high-sheen, yet the capes & claws combat has a feral intensity - as Magneto dispatches the desperate X-Men, one by one - that somehow seems subversive.  

Ditto Chris Claremont's storytelling. The villain ascendant set-up is as old as the genre. Marvel stretched the idea over entire issues by introducing multi-part stories in the mid '60s. We've seen it hundreds of times since, yet Chris Claremont brings a fresh vitality to the form. There's an almost operatic grandiosity to Magneto's globe-girding subterranean volcano bases - power and megalomania unbound, worthy of a Thanos or Doc Doom-with-the-Surfer's-powers. 

So it's not that the creative triumvirate is doing anything particularly new, but rather they're taking a tried and true recipe and serving it up extremely well.

Or maybe I'm just thrilled it's not What Ecch.  

Also This Month

Crazy #40
Devil Dinosaur #5
Flintstones #6
The Human Fly #12
Kid Colt Outlaw #225
< Machine Man #5
Man From Atlantis #7 (Final Issue)
Marvel Classics Comics #32
Marvel Super Heroes #73
Marvel Super Action #9
Marvel Tales #94
Marvel Triple Action #43
Scooby Doo #6

Machine Man cops out!  Once the gendarmes show up, Ten-For plays coy and goes quietly, secure in the knowledge that the Autocron fleet already has received coordinates for Earth, and will arrive tomorrow.  There’s no need to exert himself further; either Machine Man will see the wisdom of joining the Autocrons' conquering cause, or he’ll be reduced to scrap.  Kirby introduces a bit of social commentary, as Aaron finds his way to a costume party; the fellow guests treat Machine Man’s technological marvels as part of a novelty act, and laugh as Aaron informs them an alien fleet is streaking their way.  Jack also challenges us to consider Aaron’s place in the world, as his frustration following a series of attacks and rejections causes Aaron to pull off his facemask and affirm that the coming battle is a task best left to men; and, as we regard his true metallic face, can we still think of Aaron as a man, or do we have no choice but to see him as a machine? -Chris Blake


The Savage Sword of Conan the Barbarian 32
Cover Art by Val Mayerik

“The Ghouls of Yanaidar”
Script by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Tony deZuniga
“Swords and Scrolls”

The Rascally One, Big John and Tony the Tiger wrap up their adaptation of Robert E. Howard and L. Sprague de Camp’s “The Flame Knife” with part two, the 56-page “The Ghouls of Yanaidar.” Last month, I commented that part one was a wordy affair with minimal action. Well, the pace gets ratcheted up considerably for the break-neck conclusion.
In the throne room of Virata — the Magus of the lost city of Yanaidar and leader of the dreaded assassins known as the Hidden Ones — Conan is confronted by Olgerd Vladislav, the vengeful man from whom the Cimmerian stole the leadership of the Zuagirs. Olgerd draws his scimitar, but the barbarian lunges forward and lays him low with a vicious punch to the face. As Vladislav’s Kothian followers charge, Conan manages to slay many of the warriors, eventually making his escape down an unguarded corridor and leaping through a window to the pleasure garden below.

After scrambling up the outer wall of the city, the barbarian encounters another guard on the ledge: he runs the Vendhyanian through but they both tumble over the other side. Conan shifts his weight and lands on the man’s corpse, softening the impact — however, he loses his sword in the process. Archers soon arrive on the top of the wall and unleash a volley of arrows. The Cimmerian lifts and drapes the dead man over his back for protection and finds shelter behind one of the wall’s buttresses. Olgerd Vladislav appears above and laughs, boasting that Conan would be safer inside Yanaidar than outside in the deep, maze-like gullies that surround the city.

After relieving the Vendhyanian of his long dagger, the barbarian begins to look for a way out of the high gullies — he finds none but does discover crushed skeletal remains and rotting fruit and vegetables littered throughout the ground. Conan returns to the wall and searches for an entry back into the city. When he does discover what looks like a door carved into the stone, it is impossible to open so he returns to explore the rocky maze. Suddenly, a huge snow-ape appears and attacks. The Cimmerian quickly slashes with his blade, nearly severing the brutal beast’s hand. Howling in pain, the hairy horror pins Conan against the city wall: but at such close quarters, the barbarian’s dagger easily finds flesh and, ultimately, the white ape’s heart. 

After tending to his many wounds, the barbarian remembers the spoiled food he came across and realizes that the Yanaidarians must be supplementing the snow-ape’s diet of human flesh. He bides his time waiting by the stone door he discovered earlier. After a few hours, it creaks open and a hand quickly sets out a copper plate of vegetables. Conan pounces and decapitates the man. Entering and bolting the door behind him, the Cimmerian begins to stalk the corridors of Yanaidar, searching for Nanaia. He soon encounters another guard and — blade to his throat — demands to know the location of the woman. The Hyrkanian stammers that he is only in charge of keeping watch over the Zuagirs who let Conan into the city yesterday: they are scheduled to be executed tomorrow. Binding the man and taking his weapons, the barbarian frees his former companions after they agree to follow him and help kill the Magus and rescue Nanaia. Their leader, Antar, suggests that the girl might be in Virata’s chambers: he has tortured other rebellious woman there and it is best accessed through the pleasure garden. Along the way, Conan and the Zuagirs slay even more guards until all are armed with longswords. 

In the garden, Conan climbs up the outer wall of Virata’s vine covered tower. Slipping on to the balcony, he spies Nanaia tied naked on the floor of the royal chamber, as the Magus demands to know how she escaped her cell — his Kushite guards are preparing hot coals in the background. The Cimmerian bursts in and quickly cuts down the two black men. Even though Virata nearly bewitches him, Conan manages to kill the Magus as well. He frees Nanaia and they both lower themselves into the garden and join the waiting Zuagirs. As an alarm rings throughout Yanaidar, they barricade themselves within another tower as Olgerd Vladislav and dozens of others surround the structure below.

All seems lost as Vladislav commands his men to push forward giant siege machines. But suddenly, Conan’s lieutenant Tubal finally returns leading the Cimmerian’s Kozak army as well as Balash the Rebel and his legion of Kushafi nomads. The barbarian and the Zuagirs leap down to join the fracas — eventually Conan corners and slices the throat of Olgerd. Moments later, the barbarian turns to see Gotarza and his 500 royal guards, sent to hunt him down by Kobad Shah, king of Anshan. Conan’s men — surprisingly joined by many of the Yanaidarians — gather to face this new menace. 

But before the battle can begin in earnest, another, even more deadly force arrives: the grotesque ghouls that are the rightful owners of Yanaidar emerge from the ground. The slavering demons begin to tear apart any man within reach — and when one is killed, three more spring up in its place. Conan is nearly overrun until he manages to break free and run for the city gates, followed by other frenzied survivors. At the edge of Yanaidar the creatures stop and return to devour anyone left inside.

When the mayhem dies down, Gotarza approaches Conan: while bound by duty to kill him, he challenges the barbarian to single combat to limit any more bloodshed. As Conan mulls the offer, Kobad Shah’s royal messenger rushes breathlessly on the scene. The king is dead, finally falling victim to the poisoned blade of the Hidden One assassin. Shah’s brother, Arshak, now wears the crown and has pardoned the innocent Cimmerian — he also asks for help to repel the invading forces of Yezdigerd of Turan. Accepting the pardon but refusing the plea, Conan lifts Nanaia in his arms and turns to the surviving Zuagirs and Yanaidarians asking if anyone will join him in the plunder of the Turanian steppe.

Boy, this one started off fast and kept racing along to the very end. The conclusion was borderline ridiculous as wave after wave after wave of new combatants joined the fray. I was so caught up with the breathless action that I had completely forgotten that, last issue, Conan had sent Tubal back to gather his Kozaks and that Kobad Shah had unleashed his royal army in pursuit. But the ghouls were completely out of leftfield. Well not really: there was talk of mysterious drumming heard in Yanaidar throughout the story. I’m not really complaining, but the creatures look very similar to the demons that Buscema created for “The Pool of the Black One” in Savage Sword issues 22 and 23. OK, to be honest, similar is not a strong enough word. But heck, Big John always had a lot on his plate and if he’s going to rip off anyone it might as well be himself. He must have been extremely busy during the tail end of 1978 since we have a revolving crew of artists in upcoming issues, from Gene Colan to, gulp, Carmine Infantino. Carmine was inked by my man Alfredo Alcala so perhaps it won’t be all bad. Now if you’re into that type of thing, Nanaia is completely topless — nipples and all — when she is about to be tortured in Virata’s chambers. 

Since “The Ghouls of Yanaidar” is so lengthy, there wasn’t room for a bonus story or text piece, so that’s it for now. See ya next time. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Comics Super Special 4: 
The Beatles Story
Cover Art by George Perez and Tom Palmer

“The Beatles Story”
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by George Perez and Klaus Janson
Colors by Petra Goldberg
Letters by Tom Orzechowski
“Looking Back on the Beatles”
Text by David Anthony Kraft


“The Reel Beatles”
Text by Mark Esposito



Marvel’s Super Special magazine plugs in the amps once again for another rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza. But unlike the craptacular first issue — where Kiss saved us all by spilling their own blood — this one plays it straight, presenting “the ultimate unauthorized Beatles book.” At least that’s what the cover says.

Now you can go to Wikipedia or thousands of other sources to get the nuts-and-bolts behind the meteoric rise of John, Paul, George and Ringo, so I won’t bother to recap the magazine. David Anthony Kraft plays it fairly straight, using actual quotes from the band members in word balloons whenever possible. Not a big fan of the Krafty One, but he seems to hit all the right notes, capturing the character of each of the Fab Four and the spirit of the 60s and early 70s in general. And he obviously did his research. Kraft does have the cloying habit of calling the villains in the story — the moneymen of course — blue meanies. Fairly clever the first time, tiresome the tenth. One of the blue meanies is of course financial manager Allan Klein. Now I actually have a soft spot for Mr. Klein: he would go on to produce a handful of spaghetti westerns, perhaps my favorite film genre. His best flick was definitely 1971’s Blindman, starring doughy American actor Tony Anthony and, you guessed it, Ringo Starr as a greasy Mexican bandit. Klein would also team up with Anthony for the “Stranger” tetralogy. Most are bland A Fistful of Dollars rip-offs but the third — The Silent Stranger — is actually pretty good. As the spaghetti western cycle was winding down, Italian filmmakers tried a variety of tricks to breathe new life into the dying industry, including matching up gunslingers with martial artists. Silent was the first of that usually dire gimmick, but since the movie was actually filmed in Japan, it has a weirdly authentic vibe. Sadly, it became the victim of studio infighting: while finished in 1969, it wasn’t released until 1974.

Now I’m not what you call a Beatlemaniac — like the band just fine, but not sure they are even in my Top 10. But even I already knew most of the incidents that Kraft and company recreated. However, I am either completely oblivious or just downright dumb, because I never realized that when the group changed its name from the Silver Beetles to the Beatles, the odd spelling played on the word “beat.” Drugs are mentioned, but none of the Beatles are shown smoking doobies or dropping acid — instead, it’s touched on in scenes of court cases and news headlines. And while it is common knowledge that Brian Epstein was a homosexual, it’s never brought up. Kraft skirts the issue by having John worry that the manager always seems “depressed.” Plus, if you have knives to sharpen, Yoko doesn’t really have much of an impact on the 39-page “The Beatles Story,” only popping up in a few panels.

Considering that we have the supreme talents of both George Perez and Klaus Janson, the art is surprisingly blah. Yeah sure, Klaus can get a bit “muddy” at times but everything is missing those glorious Perez backgrounds. It’s basically static panel after static panel of people standing around and talking or singing into microphones. A big letdown. Must give credit to Petra Goldberg though: the magazine is practically bursting with bright and vibrant colors. Not surprisingly, Tom Orzechowski does his usual bang up job. He perfectly reproduces the font styles on movie titles and album covers such as A Hard Day’s Night
 and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Imagine that was a risky bit of business since the magazine is unauthorized.

The text pieces are nothing very special as well. Kraft’s “Looking Back on the Beatles” offers little, as he spends five pages ruminating how tough all the public scrutiny and hysteria must have been on the four lads from Liverpool. No duh. Guess that’s why they stopped touring after only a few years and broke up so early. Kraft claims that many of the color and black-and-white photos used in the editorial pieces have never been seen before so I guess that’s a bit of a bonus for completists.

The “Discography” has me completely stumped. It’s basically a two-page spread of thumbnail album covers from 1964 to 1978 arranged, uh, well I’m not sure how they are arranged. Things begin chronologically from left to right, but the third row starts with “The Beatles Live at the Star-Club” (1977), with “The White Album” (1968) next, followed by “Magical Mystery Tour” (1967). It gets bollixed even more as it goes on to list “Let It Be” (1970), “Abbey Road” (1969) and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” (1967) in that order. A horrible paste-up job that no one bothered to check or had time to fix. 

“The Reel Beatles” is a fairly interesting 8-page article that recaps the group’s films and short promotional videos. The “Filmography” is set up like the “Discography” — little boxes with brief copy on each entry. It repeats everything already covered in “The Reel Beatles” and adds TV appearances on programs like The Ed Sullivan Show and The David Frost Show. Beyond me why these two pieces couldn’t have been combined. 

Finally, “Backstage” is the usual Super Special fluff piece that includes photographs and short bios of all the Marvel staffers who worked on the magazine. While the photos are all headshots, Kraft decided to go shirtless for some reason. Forgot that Kraft and Perez had a history, working together on the Man-Wolf stories in Creatures on the Loose in 1975. What a stupid title. “Watch out, there are creatures on the loose!” Though I guess the joke is on me: I covered Creatures on the Loose #10actually the first of the series after a name change from Tower of Shadows, because it featured the inaugural Marvel appearance of King Kull. What a stupid title. “Watch out, this tower has shadows!”

Well that’s about it. The Super Special will return next month with another highly anticipated Kiss adventure. Uh, wheeeeee? -Tom Flynn

It’s ambitious of Marvel to undertake this adaptation of the Beatles story.  By 1978, the band’s influence on popular culture was not as immediate as it had been, but Marvel’s belief that this large-format (i.e. bigger-ticket) edition might prove financially viable helps to demonstrate the Beatles’ enduring popularity, eight years after the release of their last album.  
Kraft’s decision to relate the band’s entire history, starting from John and Paul’s first meeting (at a church function in 1957, not ’56 – a small matter), is questionable, because there simply is far too much material to cover.  Kraft has to compress all significant events, which requires him to clip along in a mad rush from one to the next (admittedly, in a manner that might’ve reflected the Fabs’ experience at the time), as every page features several happenings, each related in 1-2 panels.  Something has to give, and in this case, it’s the distinct personalities of John, Paul, George, & Ringo – a huge factor in the band’s initial impact and lasting success.  You’d expect their individual natures could have been realized thru classic Marvel characterization, but there simply isn’t time.  It might’ve made more sense to focus on a specific era of the band’s history, such as Beatlemania itself, which could be chronicled over 2-3 years’ time (i.e. 1962-1964), possibly ending around the time of the first Ed Sullivan appearance.  Then, at least there’d be a way to provide more details, and to flesh out the foursome as people.

As for the art, many of the panels feature static shots of talking heads, or people holding instruments; the visuals typically appear to be reproductions of period stills.  I fully support the desire to reunite the art team from the noteworthy Logan’s Run adaptation, but frankly, there’s no good reason for either Pérez or Janson to be here, since the content plays to neither of their strengths.  It’s not like the Beatles were locked in battle against Jerry and the Pacemakers for control of Merseyside; and, it’s not like the band was using their hyper-senses to track an eagle-eyed Manchester United assassin thru the rain-swept alleyways of midnight Liverpool.  I realize Pérez/Janson is something of a commodity in 1978, but if this same issue were to have been attempted in 1968, would you’ve had Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott illustrate it -?  Based on the requirements for 90% of the panels, a team like Jim Mooney & Mike Esposito would have done just as well.  Perez only would be required for the full-page illustrations based around groovy Pepper-fueled psychedelia, carnivalesque Magical Mystery Tour, and winsome Yellow Submarine (no page numbers – you can’t miss these illustrations, if you flip thru to look for ‘em). -Chris Blake

The Hulk! 10
Cover Art by Val Mayerik

“Thunder of Dawn”
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Ron Wilson and Ricardo Villamonte

“The Year of the Hulk”
Text by David Anthony Kraft

“Bill Bixby Tells What It’s Like to Play TV’s Bruce Banner!”

“Gallery of Villains”
Text by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Ron Wilson and Joe Rubinstein

“The Runaway and the Rescuer!”
Text by David Anthony Kraft and D. Jon Zimmerman

“Readers Rampage!”

The moment I’ve dreaded since The Rampaging Hulk #1 (January 1977) is here. Out with the goofy revisionist histories set in the early 1960s and in with the drab morality tales straight out of the CBS series, The Incredible Hulk. Now I must admit that I never missed an episode of the show as a kid. And, as some may know, I still get teary eyed every time I heard the plaintive piano of The Lonely Man end theme. But I don’t care about any of that at this point. I’ve resigned myself to a bi-monthly dose of dull and cloying stories about plucky widows and cute ragamuffins that end with the Hulk smashing an evil corporation. And nothing in this first issue proves me wrong. Well, there’s no widow or ragamuffin, but I’ll stand by my statement.

Before we get started, can anyone explain why Marvel decided to continue the numbering from The Rampaging Hulk
? Shouldn’t this be issue #1 instead of #10 ? We have a new title, completely different direction and full color. Doesn’t a big “Power-Packed Premiere Issue” burst on the cover guarantee a spike in sales? Sorry, one more thing: the magazine sticks with Bruce Banner instead of the show’s name change to David. 

“Thunder of Dawn” begins with the Hulk in a lush Pacific Northwest forest — which Rampaging holdover Doug Moench calls the Upper West Coast for some reason. The Big Green Fella is in the middle of a pity party, bellowing about where he fits in amongst such natural beauty. After wastefully wrecking a magnificent redwood, he collapses and turns into a teary Bruce Banner. The next morning, Banner stumbles out of the woods and is nearly run over by a woman motorcyclist named Dawn Michaels. The cheerful chick invites the supposed homeless hobo to her cabin for some hotcakes and a change of clothes.

After breakfast, Dawn suggests that Bruce come along to her job at Wolman Mines — they are always looking for new laborers to help dig out ore for the government’s nuclear industry. At the mine, foreman Mr. Bennings is being berated over the phone by his boss, Gideon Wolman, who is furious over the rampant reports of kickbacks and other shenanigans at the workplace in the Daily Bugle. When Dawn and Banner arrive at Bennings’ office, he hires the new man on the spot, even though suspicious that Bruce might be an undercover reporter. 

As Banner begins his backbreaking new job of pushing ore-filled rail carts to the surprisingly on-site processing plant, he immediately notices something wrong. The former scientist heads to Gideon Wolman’s office and tells the man that his melting method is creating a considerable amount of radioactive waste. The indignant executive screams at Bruce to mind his own business and stop asking questions. That night in her cabin, Dawn reveals to Banner that she is a reporter for the Bugle and is investigating the mine — she is convinced that Wolman is selling the waste to foreign terrorists so that they can create nuclear bombs.  

The next day at the site, Bruce sees a snooping Dawn being followed by an armed guard: he hulks out and destroys a dump truck and other heavy machinery before stomping off. After the dust settles, an angry Wolman reminds Bennings that the “big drop” is only eight hours away and orders him to find Banner and Dawn, convinced that they are behind all the recent disturbances. The foreman locates the pair and he knocks them both unconscious with a shovel: he drags Bruce to an abandoned mine shaft and barricades him inside with dynamite. Meanwhile,  Ms. Michaels awakes and sees a helicopter being loaded with the radioactive materials — after confronting Wolman, she is shot dead.

Banner comes to and panics when he realizes that he is trapped in the shaft and losing oxygen. Once again, he morphs into Jade Jaws and smashes his way free. When he comes across Dawn’s body, the enraged emerald goliath leaps after the helicopter, following it to an off shore oilrig — the rendezvous with the terrorists. Landing on the platform, he slams the copter into an oil tank: the entire structure explodes into the flames. The Hulk jumps away, tears in his eyes for “the Dawn.” 
Cue The Lonely Man. Sniff.

What can I really say about this one? Probably the same thing I will say about them all: melodramatic and small scaled. I guess that the destruction of the oilrig is an explosive moment, but these stories basically feature a lot of hand wringing with one or two moments of violence. The Hulk — since he never really met Dawn Michaels — doesn’t think of her as a person but more of a concept: she represents the beauty that frustrated him at the beginning of the story. Bleech. And since when is New York’s Daily Bugle a national paper, available to people completely across the country? Not sure I heard that before but I could be wrong. Ron Wilson has always been a master of mediocrity, and that’s what he delivers here. Ricardo Villamonte’s inks seem to help somewhat, but that doesn’t stop the Hulk’s appearance from changing completely on nearly each panel. Val Mayerik’s wraparound cover is a corker though.

Now let’s get to the text pieces. In “The Year of the Hulk,” David Anthony Kraft repeats quite a few of the themes he touched on in an earlier Rampaging Hulk editorial: even though Greenskin’s original series only lasted six issues, his impact is bigger than ever, considering the new TV series, a complete line of popular merchandise and blah, blah, blah. I did appreciate the photograph of a vintage Hulk bank. You can get one on eBay for $25. A Mego Hulk van could set you back $500 however. At 5 pages, the “Bill Bixby Tells What It’s Like to Play TV’s Bruce Banner” interview goes on way too long — kinda like the title itself. We get a complete history of Bixby’s career and his thoughts on the differences between the series and the comic: the show presents “real drama.” Good for them. Like Doug Moench, “Gallery of Villains” is a holdover from Rampaging. This one features pin-ups by Ron Wilson and Joe Rubinstein of Hercules, the Chameleon, the Executioner, the Leader, and, a new one for me, the robot Banner created in Tales to Astonish #60.  The art is not bad but Kraft’s jokey captions are insufferable.

Lastly, we have what every scholar of Marvel’s magazines dreads: a short story. I actually read D. Jon Zimmerman and Kraft’s 5-page “The Runaway and the Rescuer,” but I won’t subject the class to a detailed account. It reads like the usual show episode: Hulk lands in a railway station in a small town, meets a little girl who has run away from home, leaps off to find her some food and jumps back just in time to save her from a runaway locomotive — with police in pursuit the whole time.

Gazing pleadingly into his emerald eyes, Jody said “You can stay with me, Hulk — at home. We have an extra room! I’ll talk to Mommy and Daddy, and tell them they have to take you with me. You’ll have a home, Hulk!”
The incredible Hulk stared longingly into the tearful eyes of the trembling waif, then coldly at the blazing lights and the forces behind them, all arrayed against him. It would never change.
“Home … ” said the Hulk, wistfully.

Ponderous baby, ponderous. I’m already pining for Bereet and her ridiculous Spatial Distorter. However, thank Jebus we don’t have to endure anymore Bloodstone stories. Next issue, Moon Knight back-ups begin. I’m actually looking forward to those. We’ll have to wait until #13 until the sensational Bill Sienkiewicz begins to make his mark on the character though. -Tom Flynn

Marvel Preview Presents 14
Cover Art by Jim Starlin

Story by Chris Claremont
Art by Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek

"Three Kinds of Fannish Encounters"
Text by Don and Maggie Thompson
Art by Janet Elizabeth Aulisio

"Starworld Cyndriana"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Bob Wakelin

Story by Richard E. Marschall
Art by Alfredo Alcala

Only three issues after his fantastic 2nd adventure, Star-Lord is back, once again written by Chris Claremont, but this time Carmine Infantino and Bob Wiacek are at the easel. Damn…The moody Jim Starlin cover is not bad, but will this be "Star-Lord's greatest epic" with Leanin' Carmine on the roster? Well, the incredibly confusing Prologue, titled "Order: An Introduction by Rick Marschall" has me a little worried already. A bit too much profundity for seemingly no reason. Next, the TOC claims editor Marschall "plants his feet squarely in the firmament and gives us his own unique cosmic overview" in his editorial, but mainly just mentions the three stories contained in the mag and gives his impressions. OK, now I'm even more confused. Let's move on.

Star-Lord, aka Peter Quill, and Ship enter the atmosphere of Ferrol, and are attacked by a "squadron of starfighters." Ship hits the brakes and takes out a bunch of the smaller ships, but three dreadnoughts come out of nowhere, causing Ship to crash-land on the planet below. Star-Lord is nearly dead, and is accosted by a Lorq reptilian rascal, who is suddenly drained of all moisture by a "dune devil," who turns his attention to Quill, but Ship rescues him with a blast, brings him on board, but is unable to save him due to excessive damage—so Ship transfers her consciousness into the newly created form of a stunningly gorgeous female human! When Quill comes to, he learns "Caryth Halyan," an "explorer" saved him, and Ship is unable to answer. The dreadnoughts are tearing up the planet's surface, so Star-Lord and Caryth go to investigate, with Quill continuing to heal and Caryth continuing to flirt as she also uses her limited sensors to provide information about just about everything. A dust storm drives them inside a mountain, where Caryth kisses Peter, but realizes it's wrong since she's not truly "alive." She runs off and finds a cave, and both of them drop down into it after another tremor, and the air explodes with light in the crystal cave! 

A huge horde of lobster bug beasts attacks the pair, and Peter uses his element gun and fires into a mound to create a flash flood, causing a commotion of sorts and another light burst. The horde approaches again, as the reptiles in the dreadnoughts continue to search for "the trinity," and Quill fires more water into the mound. The lobster bugs die off, but more replace them with a "song of joy" that causes the mound to glow and pulse—Peter communicates with it, learning it's the Trinity, and it will give birth to a whole new generation of bugs. The Trinity was locked in statis, but with more water it can survive…suddenly the dreadnoughts strike and collapse the crystal cavern! Caryth runs off and re-enters Ship, coming back to save Star-Lord, who is blasted by an enemy vessel, and takes out one reptile starfighter before being blasted by the other two and Caryth is thrown from the mortally wounded Ship. An incredibly angry Star-Lord ruins the warp drive of one dreadnought, causing it to crash into the other flagship. The Lorq get a talking-to from Star-Lord and vamoose, but Peter is left to console Caryth as she dies, but not before she touches his belt and "the metal glows for an instant." The hellpit starts glowing, and the Trinity emerges, soothing Peter before it's gone, leaving the hero alone… until his belt begins to glow and Ship reforms! She tells Peter she was Caryth as they fly away to the next adventure.

First of all, this art starts out not looking like Infantino at all. Just look at the newly created Ship as a female "human" and that proves that. Hubba hubba is never a phrase you would use to describe an Infantino female character. So do we thank inker Wiacek? Do we thank scripter Claremont? Do we thank the black-and-white format? Well, when characters are running (pg 21 panel 1) or looking towards something (pg 19 panel 4-6) we see the Carmine we know. Then towards the end, when the reptile ships attack the planet, and Star-Lord and Caryth are caught up in the creation of the trinity, everything gets busy and frenetic, including Caryth's disappearing wardrobe. More of Carmine's angular lines show up as we move towards the odd ending, as if Wiacek was (like the reader) thinking "will this ever end?" And the sad part is, although the story is endless, it gets better, even though the Trinity thing ends up being a bit of a head-scratcher. The Caryth-Peter relationship is well done, because Claremont is a fine writer, and damned if "she" isn't super hot and super smart. Amazing that Peter didn't fall instantly in love with her, but it becomes obvious he's always been in love with Ship;  the happy ending suits him, and gives his borderline sad-sack personality something to smile about.

Next up is "Three Kinds Of Fannish Encounters," an extremely skippable article by Don and Maggie Thompson. No offense to the Thompsons. It does have some info for writers, although why the heck would wanna-be writers look for information in the pages of Marvel Preview?

Our next tale is a short David Kraft – Bob Wakelin story, "Starworld Cyndriana," where astronaut Hagen sends an older couple off his ship on a barren planet, kills both of them, and takes a ring from the woman, discarding his fake Hagen ID. He goes to ditch some valuables in the jungle and meets a voluptuous naked woman, Cyndriana, who knows his real name, Garnet Clive. She seduces him almost instantly, and the jungle seems to try and grab Clive, so he bolts! Almost to the ship, he's grabbed by the skeleton of the woman he shot and killed, seemingly kept there by the planet—and the skeleton reclaims the ring. OK, this one is mercifully short, and has a super Outer Limits vibe. The mysterious woman is gorgeously drawn by Wakelin, who I know absolutely nothing about. A quick check tells me this was his first of three Marvel credits, and later he became a super popular 80s video game artist. Aside from the woman, the art is just OK, as is the story.

Next we get a prose story, "Detour," by intrepid editor Rick Marschall, with illustrations by faculty fave Alfredo Alcala. The art is minimal but serviceable, definitely not the knockout Alcala Prof. Tom and Dean Pete are used to. The short story is a cross between Duel, The Wild One, and a Twilight Zone episode, following a woman driver after she stops at a coffee shop and is followed by a seedy biker who keeps blinking his lights and yelling at her. The woman continues to evade her stalker, until she crashes her car, then the biker pulls her out, not trying to killer her, but saving her from the flying saucer above. And that's it for this month, a true mixed bag of sci-fi shenanigans. –Joe Tura


  1. One tends to forget how dull a lot of Marvel's output had become in 78 artwise. Books like X-Men or Conan were way ahead from stuff like Ms Marvel or MTU. Small wonder artists like Miller or Layton made such an impression when compared to guys like Infantino.

    On the other hand it is sad to see how much more progressive the b/w magazines were then our times. Thankfully SSoC was reprinted by Dark Horse and not by Marvel who would have re-drawn the few bits of harmless nudity like Nanaia.

    A few years earlier and Gerber would have had to write things like this wretched Hulk version :) The formula just begs for Man-Thing.

  2. Hi guys,
    Thank you so much for this wonderful article really!
    If someone want to know more about Marvel Collection I think this is the right place for you!