Wednesday, July 20, 2016

September 1978 Part One: The Origin of Captain America Rebooted Yet Again?

 The Amazing Spider-Man 184
"White Dragon! Red Death!"
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Ross Andru and Frank Giacoia
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by Jim Novak and John Costanza
Cover by Ross Andru and Bob McLeod

…..Betty Brant! (Finishing the sentence from our last ASM class.) Turns out she left Ned in Paris, feeling alone since he was always working, and with Peter and Mary Jane broken up, Betty thinks "maybe it's fate working things out for us." Cut to J. Jonah Jameson and Dr. Marla Madison [first appearance in a while for the good doctor], visiting John Jameson at an uptown cryonics center, where an angry JJJ is told John can't be helped. Peter goes to graduation practice (they have that?), with Betty in tow, and he notices a sulking Philip Chang, but Peter is nearly karate-chopped when he tries to talk to him. An odd Philip walks out, and Peter ditches Betty nicely to follow as Spider-Man, thinking about the Betty issue the whole time, until he spies some punks busting up an antiques shop after the owner won’t pay protection. Spidey swings down, takes out the punks, but the elderly owner, Won Fong, doesn't call the police after the hero leaves, because "in Chinatown, you do not bring in outsiders. No matter what the reason may be."

Peter meets a flirty Betty for dinner at Lin Chow, and they discover Philip Chang is the waiter! Peter catches up and calms Philip down, learning he has come to the U.S. because his life was in danger back in Hong Kong. Just as Philip reveals he's said too much, The White Dragon enters [dressed accordingly like any B villain], demanding Chang give him an answer, so he shoots gas from his dragon mask and takes the young waiter away. Peter tells Betty he has to take "pix of that screwball" for the Bugle so she is out of harm's way and he can change into Spidey. Following the tracer he tossed on White Dragon, he finds them in a mannequin warehouse, where the bad guys ask Chang which of the Dragon Gangs he will join. Spider-Man drops in, deflates a bunch of Dragons, fights off the main baddie for a little while before he's clawed and drugged! Now White Dragon tries one last time to get Philip Chang to join the Dragons, but since he is "forbidden to," WD drops Spidey into a vat of hot oil used to lubricate the machinery…then sets it on fire!--Joe Tura

Joe Tura: So, Betty Brant has returned to throw another monkey wrench into Peter's already confused social life. Just as a new low-grade villain enters the scene, throwing Chinatown into a tizzy along with the tortured, mysterious life of a young waiter who is often drawn like he's thirty years older (pg 31 panel 3 is one example). But it's not all bad. Certainly a baby step up from the "Rocket Racer/Big Wheel" saga. The art (some odd facial expressions notwithstanding) is the usual above average Andru; great panel layouts on nearly every page, which keeps the story moving at a fine pace. Wolfman invents yet another young tortured teen in Philip Chang, but thankfully no superhero suit in sight for him. Instead we get the mystery of White Dragon; like where did he buy that super mask, and why does he look like he's wearing bleached Sub-Mariner tights? Our hero ends up in quite the sticky predicament, one he probably shouldn't be able to get out of, but next time we'll find out just how he did!

Favorite sound effect is not the "FWUMMPH" when White Dragon sets the oil vat on fire, but the trio on page 27, when Spidey swings down and takes out three of the Dragon's men with a "WOK! SPOK WHAKO." That's also the rejected names for the Rice Krispies mascots—hiii-yoooooo!

Chris Blake: At first, I thought Philip Chang was a bit psychotic – does he really think the Dragons could be stalking him at the ESU graduation rehearsal?  But I guess I can see how he’d be a bit jumpy; these Chinatown gangs are pretty insistent in their membership drives, aren’t they?

Peter handles the Betty situation well, under Marv’s direction.  Pete’s a bit lost and confused after MJ let him down (and cut him loose -?  We’re still unsure.), and now Betty’s back.  To his credit, Pete backs off the “She was the first girl I ever loved …” prospect, as he consistently returns to the inescapable point of “But she’s married!”  Well played, Marv; you could’ve easily allowed this to slip into adolescent heartache-drama; instead, you’ve remained true to Peter’s character, as he takes the high road, and keeps his thoughts centered on avoiding any serious involvement (as much as he might want to …) with Betty.  
The art is fine.  Not much to get too excited about; maybe it’s the lack of NYC picture postcards.  Points to Andru for the dynamic angle as Spidey’s web-swinging takes him to Chinatown (p 11, 1st pnl).  I also like Pete’s self-conscious moment as he tries to seem off-handed, while he’s hiding his embarrassment behind the menu in the Chinese place (p 16, pnl 5).

Matthew Bradley: As usual, I have few complaints about Giacoia’s work here, but as a sentimentalist, I’m pleased to know that Espo will be back next time for Ross’s adieu.  Judging solely by the top half, this final Wolfmandru two-parter is nothing special, and I’m not optimistic about our getting a satisfactory explanation of how John Jameson wound up inside that cryogenic chamber, especially since there’s already confusion about the continuity among Marvel Team-Up #36-7, his abortive Creatures on the Loose series, and its belated wrap-up in Marvel Premiere.  Of course, I also think it would be nice if the writer, editor, and letterer (three jobs comprising two people) could get together and settle on a single spelling of Phil[l]ip Chang’s name; silly me.

Addendum:  Just a reminder, for those who think me overly picky about such things, that I’d be severely dressed down if so many sloppy errors—and in a national publication, yet—crept into the copy for which I am professionally responsible…and I’m sure Marv made more money than I do, perhaps even without inflation!
Mark Barsotti: In a major upgrade over the recent toy store nonsense (Skateboards! Big Wheels!), Marv Wolfman gets most everything right this time. And he does it, like every in-coming Spidey scribe, by eventually getting back to the Original Recipe, with Pete's life and supporting cast as the main ingredients. The Betty-for-MJ Shuffle, whether it takes or not (I'm betting it won't), is the definition of Stan's now ten year old dictum, calling for only the illusion of change. Out with the old girlfriend, in with the older girlfriend. Yet, fussy dissections of the Marvel playbook aside, damn if it doesn't still work.

We're as happy to see Betty as Pete is, Dippity-do hairstyle notwithstanding. And we're glad he later puts her in a cab with a plausible story, instead of just disappearing on her to hit the webs. J. Jonah becomes apoplectic upon learning part-time Man-Wolf son John will have to remain on cryonic ice (which probably means we'll be seeing him in a few months), and bonus: the obligatory Aunt May hospital visit is relegated to a word balloon. 

Mark: Spidey's tussle with the White Dragon grows out of Peter's relationship with exchange student Philip Chang, newly minted though it may be. This extra level of detail, of character connectivity, generally makes for richer stories than a Random Baddie Attack, and that's another thing Marv gets right.

And flaming dragon breath even redeems White Dragon, who could've just been a schmuck in a psychedelic chicken-suit. 

Some of the Andru/Giacoia art seems rushed and incomplete. Some is lovely, although Betty looks particularly vacuous throughout. And we get a panel with woozy webs (p.14), which upperclassman know I'm a sucker for. So I'm good.

High marks for this page-turner...and yet I worry that Wolfman has cliffhangered himself into a corner here. I mean, we see our web-spinner submerged in - that perennial evergreen, class  - a burning vat of oil. Not suspended over it, mind you, but down in the crackling Crisco. 

So, first, ouch, that's gotta hurt. And so, I suspect, will the groans that rumble across Spideydom after next month's unlikely deep fryer escape.

The gauntlet's been thrown down, Marv.

Prove me wrong.

The Avengers 175
"The End... and the Beginning!"
Story by Jim Shooter and David Michelinie
Art by Dave Wenzel and Pablo Marcos
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Dave Cockrum and Terry Austin

Iron Man manages to figure out a way of getting the Avengers out of the space station and back into the Mansion (and also helps Two-Gun Kid get back to the wild, wild west thanks to a handy time machine), where the group congregate and discuss their options for finding the hidden assassin who vaporized the Collector (last issue). Nerves are frayed and Avengers are known for poking and fussing when they're frazzled; this time is no different as various members hurl insults and dares at each other. At last, Iron Man (with a little help from Jarvis) decides to give the Guardians of the Galaxy a call and Starhawk promises to fly over and give the super-team a hand in finding the enemy (little knowing that both teams are actually looking for the same man: Michael Korvac!). Meanwhile, Korvac reveals his entire backstory to the gorgeous Carina Walters (who has made a stunning recovery from the shock she received when beau Michael fried her dad's chicken last issue) just before the couple get down and dirty in a cosmic coupling. -Peter Enfantino

Peter Enfantino: The Korvac Saga continues... to lose me. All this cosmic nonsense; all this infantile bickering; all the convenient discoveries. Amazing that Stark could figure out an alien machine in, what, ten minutes, and then feel so confident about its use that he packs Two-Gun in and sends him on his way. Was I the only one who thought, "So how will Stark even know if T-G made it back to the late 19th Century or was melded together with the fly that had accidentally made its way..." The in-group fighting seems exceptionally forced this issue, with Quicksilver and Hawkeye, in particular, grating on my nerves. Thank Odin this ramblin' freight train pulls into the Conclusion Depot in two

Joe: Always liked that nifty Cockrum/Austin cover, but the good art only lasts until you turn the page. OK, maybe the ad for The Bad News Bears Go To Japan is pretty good, certainly better than the movie (although I have fond memories of the movie tie-in novel, but I digress…). But the splash page of all the Avengers surrounding the Collector's ashes is a bit strange, since nearly all of the heroes are standing with their legs way too far apart, as if they are either poised to jump, getting ready for a sumo match, or looking for their Squatty Pottys. The next panel, top of page 2 is worse, with Wenzel drawing everyone frowning or straining to poop (until they find their Squatty Potty), Iron Man's armored mouth seems to change shape, and Wonder Man has no right hand. Yikes. And it goes on from there, except for maybe a few decent panels, like Captain Marvel saving Wanda, and the Michael/Korvac flashbacks, which are actually not horrible. The script is uneven at best, really killing the good memories I had of this arc, with Quicksilver coming across worst of all, as if being away from wife Crystal is making him a total crankypants. Two-Gun's farewell gets two short panels, and the look on his face is terrifying for some bizarre reason. And the biggest suspense in the whole issue is when Wonder Man picks up the giant weight, saved by Iron Man, who happens to be passing by. And why does Wonder Man call Ms. Marvel "babe?" Ugh.

Matthew: And she doesn’t even call him on it, which surprised me, especially after she recently took a fellow female super-hero (probably Jan, but I’m not gonna go back and check) to task for referring to themselves as “girls.”  Go figure.

As a curmudgeonly grammarian, one who wages a tireless unseen war against my colleagues’ dangling modifiers and subject/verb disagreement before each post sees the light of day, I started cringing before I even got past the cover’s “From Whence Came…the Enemy?” tagline.  Okay, sure, lovely Cockrum/Austin art, which is more than I can say for the innards and their aggressively average Wenzel/Marcos drawrings, but it’s eminently suitable because, once again, the enemy—excuse me, The Enemy (how insufferably arrogant is that?)—is my biggest beef.  Of course, we’ve been blathering about the Korvac Saga, yet without torturing myself by backtracking, I think this is the first time Shooter and minion Michelinie actually identify Mikey.

I have to wonder if that was actually expected to evoke an “Ooh!,” because we’re talking about a guy with two—count ’em, two—prior appearances, accompanied by motley crews of henchmen to do his dirty work, in the first of which (Giant-Size Defenders #3) he was but a tile in a larger mosaic.  I’d mind The Enemy less if he were an original creation, yet it’s as though the Plantman had suddenly been given those godlike powers, unearned in both the moral and dramatic senses.  Can we draw any comparison between the omnipotence so high-handedly given to, and used by, this clown and our newly anointed EIC, and am I the only one who has been grossed out for decades by the description of how “he softly slips between the delicate folds of Carina’s soul...”?

The other problems are comparatively minor, and I suppose one could argue that tying up two long-dangling threads is an asset, yet while returning Two-Gun to his own era seems prudent, the explanation of Thor’s comings, goings, and forgetting just constitutes solving a problem that you artificially created in the first place, so how much credit can you take for that?  For the most part, this only takes Jim’s already annoying trends (e.g., belittling Earth’s allegedly mightiest heroes) and, like Korvac, aggrandizes them to operatic dimensions.  Even offstage, eternal irritant Gyrich remains the sand in our oyster, and as if we didn’t have more than enough inter-Assembler strife, we suffer the resurgence of Pietro’s anti-android bigotry, but as a mutant, he should know better.

Chris: Shooter and Michelinie run the risk of a multi-chapter, action-free Englehartian epic; this is the second time in three issues that there’s been no baddie-battling, as Michael sits comfortably (a la Mr Neutron) by his pool and drinks coffee while our mighty team is all a-dither.  It’s not a boring issue by any definition; fortunately, there is legitimate tension-fueled conflict among team members, offset by Iron Man’s intention to keep everyone’s focus on an achievable goal: find the (unknown, unnamed) enemy!  Speaking of which: IM suggests he, Moondragon, Ms Marvel, and Captain Marvel combine their abilities so they can locate their foe; what happened to this plan?  Instead, we see Ms M and Wonder Man playing with weights in the gym; earlier in the issue, Captain Marvel states (as he picks Wanda out of the air) he can detect a dust-mote in the desert, but is heard from no more.  

Well, if there had been a sequence involving a joint effort of advanced psychic powers, cosmic awareness, “seventh sense,” and transistorized detection systems, it would have served as an interesting counterpoint to the Michael origin story.  The timing seems right; even though we know Michael is powerful (based primarily on his intervention to render Starhawk completely unable to detect him, in #168), we’ve observed Michael keeping to himself for awhile.  But, until his ash-reduction of the Collector last issue, there hasn’t much reason to be concerned about the threat he supposedly poses.  So now, as we see Korvac absorb power and knowledge from Galactus’ super-mother ship, we have a clear idea of what our hopelessly overmatched heroes are up against.  The origin serves a useful purpose (especially as it also recaps Michael’s actions up to now, for those fans who tuned in late), but also includes a decidedly adult-themed bit of intimacy, as Michael and Carina experience a “sharing of body and mind only those who transcend the petty bonds of mortality can know …”  Tantric.  

 Black Panther 11
"Kiber the Cruel"
Story by Jack Kirby
Art by Jack Kirby and Mike Royer
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Mike Royer
Cover by Jack Kirby and Joe Sinnott

T'Challa is experiencing vivid, frightening dreams and he's become convinced that the nightmares are actually visions of events to come. Could it be an after-effect of Vibranium contamination? Elsewhere in Wakanda, Khanata is abducted by two very strange characters (the same armored beasts envisioned by T'Challa) and brought before a powerful being known as Kiber, a man who can make his body appear and diappear at will. Khanata is dropped into a cell along with several other prisoners and, soon, one of the men is taken to Kiber, who locks him into a machine. A switch is flipped and the poor man is transformed into pure energy, which Kiber hungrily absorbs. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: The first ten issues of Kirby's The Black Panther were decidedly roller coaster-esque, with fun highs and dismal lows, but nothing could have prepared a Marvel Zombie for the sudden plunge into total darkness of this installment. The King was never known for his literate dialogue but the protracted exchange between Kiber and Khanata must represent some kind of nadir in funny book writing (and, yeah, that's saying something):

Khanata: Well, you must understand how a man feels when he's minding his own business in one place -- and suddenly finds himself abducted to another!
Kiber: Explanations will change nothing! You were taken for a purpose! That purpose alone is of importance!
Khanata: Not to me, man! I don't know how I got here! It happened too fast! But you're going to get me back -- or die!
Kiber: Shoot then! Go ahead!
Khanata: Wakandans don't bluff!
Kiber: That's evidently true! But as you see, bullets can't harm me!
Khanata: H-how did you switch positions like that? Who are you?
Kiber: I'm Kiber, of course... You're the first I've told. I wonder why?
Khanata: Because it breaks you up, that's why!

And will the extra senses that Jack has given the Panther remain past the cancellation date or will they be magically swept under the Marvel rug? Only time will tell.

Matthew:  This isn’t too bad for a Bronze-Age Kirby yarn, low though that may set the bar, and Royer deserves a nod for his tireless embellishing and lettering efforts, which if nothing else preserve Jack’s inimitable style.  Despite being among his many dubious interpolations, the royal family members are far less annoying when they don’t look like misplaced Mouseketeers, and might even have had some potential if this weren’t his penultimate issue.  The dream stuff is interesting, for once resulting in a cover that depicts events therein with pinpoint accuracy, yet while the jury may still be out on Kiber himself, “The Uglies”—as T’Challa calls them with breathtaking originality—are visually compelling, and the fate of “the kid” macabrely unsettling.

 Captain America 225
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Sal Buscema, Mike Esposito, and John Tartaglione
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Irving Watanabe
Cover by Frank Robbins and Terry Austin

Cap stands over the twisted wreckage that was once the Washington to New York metro liner, destroyed by the Animus. Lost in thought, Cap doesn’t notice the approach of Nick Fury, who followed the news reports to Cap’s location. He offers to help with Cap’s amnesia, but Cap knows the only man who can truly help him is Mason Harding, the creator of the Madbomb. Cap is willing to gamble that the man who was acting under duress is a decent enough man to help sort it all out. Before they reach the prison, Dum Dum Dugan shows them all a file photo of the mysterious Veda’s mother: she is the agent who first escorted young Steve Rogers to Project Rebirth in 1941. In the picture, however, her face is hideously disfigured. Meanwhile, Kligger has summoned Veda to tell her that her past is being probed and that she is a liability. She scoffs, saying they should be closer allies. Kligger disagrees and has her vaporized. Shortly thereafter, Cap meets with Harding, who agrees to help. With the aid of a mind probe he was developing before his incarceration, Harding begins to bring up Steve Rogers’ past; how he disappointed his father by not embracing sports or politics like his older brother Mike. Steve would rather be an artist. With the family rift growing, Mike joins the Army and Steve goes to NYC for college. When Pearl Harbor is attacked, Steve calls home and his mother confirms Mike was killed in the attack. His father won’t speak with him. Now wishing to stop the evil from spreading, Steve tries to join the Army and is rejected only to be picked for Project Rebirth. The emotional strain is so great, it neutralizes the Super Soldier serum in his body, leaving a scrawny Steve Rogers in the chair. -Scott McIntyre

Scott McIntyre: I’d love to say the revelations were all interesting and worth the many months readers invested in this arc, but really, who cares? Who cares if Steve and his Dad didn’t get along? That he originally was a pacifist? Either way, it got Steve Rogers to Dr. Erskine and the Super Soldier Serum. The narration at the end, after seeing skinny Steve swimming in his costume, is laughable: “Cap’s life will never be the same!” Sure it will. Probably in fewer than five issues. Sadly, this issue’s cover doesn’t match the greatness of the previous and the art is typical Buscema for this period. I was expecting more of a payoff, I guess.

Matthew: I chuckled at the juxtaposition of the tagline touting “a Captain America you’ve never seen before!” with cover art by Robbins, who—even inked by Austin—has given us what many feel is a Captain America we’ve seen far too many times; naturally, Sal’s interior layouts and the finished Esposito/Tartag art are their usual irreproachable selves.  Bespeaking the fact that he is on his way out the door, Gerber is credited merely as “typist,” yet sadly, the splash page’s promise (“Concluding—the search for Steve Rogers!”) is a cheat since, aside from Veda’s Thunderball-style reduction to ashes, we get no closure.  Instead, this misconceived storyline morphs once again as, per the curious next-issue blurb, “The saga of Captain America—begins!”

This also confirms my fears that the recent efforts by Thomas, Glut, and now Gerber to “correct” certain inconsistencies in Cap’s history have only resulted in new problems, because if anybody but me cares, the version du jour completely contradicts what Roy himself established in Giant-Size Invaders #1.  Here, we’re told that Steve volunteered for the experiment partly in reaction to his brother’s death at Pearl Harbor; there—in a story that opens on December 22, 1941—we’re told that Operation Rebirth took place one year earlier.  Amusingly, the forced perspective on the otherwise delectable page 15 (above) makes it look like the towering Ameridroid has returned, but that double-take was nothing compared to the one brought on by the last page’s deflated-balloon Cap.

Addendum:  Bearing in mind that last issue was a fill-in by another writer, it’s curious that both invoke Kirby’s Madbomb epic.

Chris: We’ve spent months following Cap as he’s tapped into fragments of his memories; but now, as if he abruptly had grown fatigued with the whole process, Steve G. throws Cap – and we the readers – into a great big Tell.  Suddenly, everything is revealed, in fine detail, about some routine difficulty in Steve’s youth.  Big brother Mike’s death, Steve’s inability to connect with his parents in their shared loss, and Steve’s sudden-onset outrage at totalitarian expansionism, all are painful, intensely emotional memories, but I don’t see how any of this could constitute the sort of complex trauma to cause someone to repress his lifetime of experiences preceding December 7th 1941.  

Well anyway, with Steve’s past now completely laid out cleanly for us, I thought we still had a mystery to unravel involving the big abandoned home Steve visited in CA #222.  Young Steven draws a picture of a somewhat large house, with columns in front, and tells his mom , “It’s our house, Mommy!” (p 17 pnl 3); Mom replies “So I see!”  Based on the next panel, I had thought Mom was walking over from the front of an average ranch house, but as I look closer, I realize Sal B. has simply shown the far-left edge of the house, a one-story den or extra bedroom or something.  Mystery solved.  
Okay, so I guess we’re all moving on to a very un-Cap problem to solve, which will require Hank Pym or Reed Richards to recreate the long-lost super soldier serum, and restore Cap to greatness?  Stay tuned.  

 Captain Marvel 58
"A Destroyer -- Denied!"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Pat Broderick and Bob McLeod
Colors by Francoise Mouly
Letters by Denise Wohl
Cover by Joe Rubinstein

With no reference to last issue or his interim guest-shot in Ms. Marvel #19 (which ended with them parting in Colorado), Mar-Vell returns to the observatory, apparently in the immediate aftermath of Deathgrip’s defeat, only to bid farewell to Jacqueline and her staff.  Realizing that he is fated to attract danger, he has decided to “avoid a fixed environment, and explore,” declining to seek Rick’s advice on how “to actually become a Terran...”  Meanwhile, Drax the Destroyer has been searching the cosmos for Thanos since learning he still lived, but does not sense him when he stumbles upon what we know to be his ship, only to investigate and, to his horror, discover the Titan turned to stone; wrongly blaming Mar-Vell, he vows vengeance.

Creating a new outfit with his Nega-Bands, as Rick did in #42 (although clashing them together seems both inconsistent and unwise), Mar-Vell has just begun his journey of self-discovery in Denver when Drax flushes him out with wanton destruction, deaf to his account of Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2.  The battle creates a “ball of cosmic power” between them that implodes, and they are near death when “the hologrammic personification of Isaac” summons them to Titan, which Mentor and Eros were rebuilding when Thanos’s followers attacked.  Still planning to kill Mar-Vell afterward, Drax agrees to help, and having revitalized themselves, the pair departs for Saturn, heading into a trap:  Isaac is following a “failsafe scheme preprogrammed” by Thanos…  -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: McLeod’s only solo inking credit on this title, after he’d been part of the deadline-crunch crew in #41, marks a final personnel shift before the solidification of the creative team that will shepherd CM through the end of his own book…and beyond.  Like President Trump revoking Obamacare by executive fiat on his first day in office, Moench undoes the new normal Edelman established just three issues ago as Marv gives notice; that’s not gonna look good on his résumé.  Can’t say I’m sorry, because the idea of his sharing water-cooler chitchat with his colleagues about the latest episode of M*A*S*H is ludicrous, but then Plan B—apparently turning him into some sort of Kree itinerant à la David Banner or Dr. Richard Kimble—falls by the wayside (for the nonce).

Which brings us to the emerald-skinned elephant in the room, one of the coolest characters ever created, so it’s perhaps understandable that any writer on this book would say, “Hey, when in doubt, drag in Drax.”  After all, even Englehart did it in #43, to which this story bears more than a passing resemblance, and if it has a flaw, it’s the familiarity of that “I’m gonna beat the crap out of you because you deprived me of my raison d’être” stuff (although the visual low point is unquestionably Broderick’s jaw-dropping, Rick Jones-worthy new wardrobe for Marv in page 11, panel 5, left).  But I soon doffed my hat to Doug when I saw how deftly he’d gotten around the matter of giving Drax’s life new meaning without actually resurrecting Thanos—well done there.

An equally wise decision to let Rick live his own life as Marv ponders possible contributions to his adoptive planet and asks, “Who [sic] should Captain Marvel become in his quiet moments?”  The Drax-attack ensures that there won’t be many of those anytime soon, and although I suspect I’ll never be a big Broderick fan, I’ll allow that—aided by McLeod—he does well by the Destroyer, e.g., his unusual and varying “camera angles” in the sequence on pages 6-7, the scowling specter of Thanos looming in the background.  He clearly doesn’t recognize Sanctuary II (we never did find out what happened to him after Warlock #15), but despite his berserker rage, simply zapping a hole in the hull of what might be an occupied space station seems a rather questionable choice.

Chris: The basic premise is curious on two fronts: first of all, it basically negates the five-page story tacked to the back of Logan’s Run #6, wherein erstwhile CapMarv-scribe Scott Edelman suggests a (somehow) revived Thanos already has been travelling across the cosmos, wreaking havoc, always one step ahead of the determined but frustrated Destroyer.   

There is a far greater concern, though.  “You – Mar-Vell!” calls Drax the Destroyer; “You took my mission from me!  You destroyed Thanos!” as Drax, in his fury, seeks instead to destroy Mar-Vell – in Captain Marvel #43.  Now, on page 10 of Captain Marvel #58, Drax discovers the petrified form of Thanos, and promises to destroy Thanos’ destroyer … again!  I realize we’re talking about two separate seeming-demises for Thanos here (the first one chronicled in CM #33, the second in MTIO Annual #2), but this feels like a rehash.  There isn’t even a reference to their previous dance to this same tune, which makes me think our creative and editorial teams simply wanted Round II of Marv vs Drax, and hoped we’d conveniently overlook Round I, despite the fact that it didn’t serve any purpose for Drax to attack Marv the first time.  At least Marv has the presence of mind to point out (on p 17) that Warlock, not he, was the key to Thanos’ most recent defeat, but clearly Drax isn’t listening.   
I checked in with SuperMegaMonkey to see what they had to say about this; a diligent effort by one fan seeks to place the story from LR #6 into the greater continuity, and now I recognize how it might be possible for Drax and Thanos to have played cat-and-mouse during the period between Thanos’ defeats.  I’m in favor of any effort to allow that little five-page chapter to retain its validity.
The other thing to be pleased about it the Broderick/McLeod art.  Highlights include: Drax’s haunting by the massive, ghostly image of his bane, Thanos (p 6, pnl 4); a full-page of Marv as he twists away from a Drax-blast (p 22); the battle reaches its peak, with both sides pouring on the power (p 23).  And look, the negabands allow Marv to change to Robert Redford (p 11, pnl 5); nice feature.  

Matthew:  I find the inestimable fnord12’s above-mentioned attempt to address that Drax back-up story eminently satisfactory, and worth quoting in full:  “The [Marvel Chronology Project] places this right after Drax the Destroyer’s first appearance in Iron Man #55 (Feb. ’73).  But considering the involvement of Scott Edelman, the concurrent writer of Captain Marvel’s book, I have to think this was meant to take place relatively near to publication date (allowing for the fact that this was probably something of an inventory piece / Mike Zeck try-out).  And it works pretty well if you assume that Drax appears here some time after Fawn puts the location of Thanos in Drax’s head in Captain Marvel #44, but before Thanos is killed in Avengers Annual #7 [sic]. So I have Drax tracking down Thanos, confronting him here, and then losing him and taking out his frustration on Gamora in Warlock #15.”  That has the added benefit of giving his unexplained encounter with Gamora some context.

 Conan the Barbarian 90 
“The Diadem of the Giant-Kings”
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by John Buscema and Ernie Chan
Colors by George Roussos
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by John Buscema and Ernie Chan

After finally escaping from the catacombs under Luxor, Conan, Bêlit and Zula commandeer a merchant ship and its crew of Stygian slaves. While sailing down the River Styx, they pass by the Hawk-City of Harakht on their way to rendezvous with the Tigress and its crew of Black Corsairs off the coast of Khemi. Back in Luxor, newly crowned King Ctesphon III — the former slavegirl Neftha — is commiserating with her royal sorcerer, Thoth-Amon. The woman orders the wicked wizard to warn Nim-Karrak, puppet ruler of the Shemite city of Asgalun, that Bêlit and her companions are on the way to take revenge for the death of her father. After he mystically communicates the message to Nim-Karrak’s advisor, the minor wizard Ptor-Nubis, the two begin to conspire on how they can destroy the renegade Stygian city of Harakht. 

Meanwhile, Conan orders the crew to beach the boat — they are too close to Khemi and must complete the trip on foot. In the middle of the night, a tremendous earthquake strikes: the ground gives way and one of the Stygians falls into a hidden cavern below. Since he was carrying the food sack, they all climb down a rope to retrieve the injured man. Wandering off, Bêlit soon discovers a stone altar — next to it the skeletal remains of a 15-foot tall titan, the right side of its skull crushed and the leg bone missing below the knee. Conan and Zula force open the altar to reveal the fabled Diadem of the Giant-Kings within, a leather crown encrusted with jewels. The Cimmerian and his mate explore the cave for further treasure: they find none, only a huge chamber filled with thousands of sleeping bats hanging from the ceiling. 

Back by the skeleton, one of the slaves stuns Zula with a rock — another grabs the Diadem. But before they can escape up the rope, flesh begins to form on the giant and it lurches to life, clumsily sitting up. The Stygians scream and Conan and Bêlit come rushing back to see the crippled creature lifting the motionless body of Zula. In a ruse, the barbarian shouts that the Zamballah’s black skin is poisonous. The half-blind brute tosses him away and turns toward the injured Stygian who is quickly devoured — as are all but one of his fellow slaves. When Zula recovers, Conan orders him to climb the rope and watch for the dawn as he and the She-Devil evade the deformed brute’s vicious swipes. As the sun begins to rise above, the bats are shaken from their slumber: they flood the cave and overwhelm the monster as Conan, Bêlit and the last Stygian make their escape up the rope — forced to leave the priceless Diadem behind. -Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn: Excellent issue. First of all, Big John and Ernie have banged out some tremendous covers for Conan the Barbarian, but this might be my favorite yet. Magnificently moody and absolutely hair-raising. It’s hard to resist the urge to shout “Watch out! Look behind you!” Magnifico! And let’s give Roy Thomas some props as well — which I have done many times before of course. Back in issue #84, Mer-Ath, the new and peaceful king of Harakht, had Bêlit locked in the dungeon because he had a vision of her killing King Ctesphon II, an act that led to the destruction of the Hawk-City. And now, six issues later, something that I thought was a simple way to move the story along is actually coming true: the She-Devil has killed the king and now his successor is planning the downfall of Harakht. Good for you Roy, connecting all the dots. Wonderful long-range plotting. Plus, the Rascally One did a great job with the bat attack payoff. 

Conan kept asking Zula if the sun was rising while ordering Bêlit to keep dodging the lame giant’s attacks. Guess I’m slow, because I didn’t realize that the Cimmerian was just stalling until the flying bloodsuckers woke up and scattered. Good for you again Roy. While the main storyline — our heroes returning to Asgalun to take revenge on Bêlit’s uncle, Nim-Karrak — is still the driving force of this issue, we take a little detour into a cavern to meet a Giant-King. A killer Buscema creation, one-eyed and stump-legged but still a nightmare. He wasn’t very light on his foot though. Ba dum dum. The creature speaks in a dialect that looks Egyptian and Joe Rosen does a terrific job with the arcane lettering. I did pause when Conan saved Zula from becoming a snack by yelling that he is poisonous: the barbarian spoke in broken Stygian and the giant had a hazy memory of the language. Do you think a comic could get away with even suggesting that black skin could possibly mean poison today? I dunno, touches a nerve. Ah, maybe I’m too sensitive. Conan obviously wasn’t serious. He is obviously bi-lingual though, another check mark for his eHarmony profile. Not that he has a problem getting laid. Plus, sorry that I jumped the gun last time when I wrote that we won’t be seeing my favorite fakir Thoth-Amon anytime soon. Let’s hope he keeps pulling strings in the background. Love those horns.

Chris: Once again, we see the only match for Roy’s inventiveness is Conan’s resourcefulness; there isn’t a situation too thorny for Conan to find his way out.  Interesting observations on greed: first, Bêlit sagely observes a curse is a sure-fire way to ensure that a treasure’s hiding-place is protected, which encourages her to call for a search of the tomb of the giant-king; soon after, once the priceless diadem is revealed, one of the Stygians turns from the clear path to freedom to grab the artifact, rationalizing that while it might be wise to refrain from searching for the item, it is foolish to leave it behind.  If there had been a half a moment to spare in this swiftly-moving story, there might’ve been time to speculate whether the diadem carried some enchantment, designed to encourage a hapless stranger to take the piece in his hand, and thereby re-animate the fallen king, and seal the person’s own doom; but no, there isn’t a half-tick of the clock available to wonder about this possibility.  

I hope you don’t think I’m giving the Buscema/Chan/Roussos art a free pass; if I don’t have anything to criticize, it’s because the art continues to maintain its standard of superlativity.  It might be time to wonder whether some enchantment is involved here as well, to explain how the art continues to work as well as it does, issue after issue.  Highlights include: the swirling energies of Thoth-Amon’s mystic mirror (p 6, 1st pnl); the perspective established as we see a wide plain behind our travelers, with rocky cliffs across the valley, and fading sunlight above (p 6, last pnl); the rough texture of the lower chamber of the cave, seen in a deep blue light (p 11); the contrast of Bêlit’s lithe form with the unreal oversized skull and rib cage before her (p 14, pnl 4); the horrific feeding of the revived giant-king (p 23). 

 Daredevil 154
Story by Roger McKenzie
Art by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha
Colors by Steve Leialoha
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by Gene Colan and Steve Leialoha

Daredevil wakes to find himself on the ground; he might not know it yet, but he’s in an exercise yard at Ryker’s Island prison.  The voice he hears belongs to Killgrave, the Purple Man; Daredevil had sought him fruitlessly for weeks, and now finds himself Killgrave’s captive.  Killgrave has mesmerized the prisoners and guards to serve as an audience; of greater concern is that Matt’s girlfriend, Heather Glenn, also is under Killgrave’s thrall, here to witness Daredevil’s demise.  A gate opens to reveal the Jester, Mr Hyde, the Cobra, and the Gladiator, all gunning for DD; he is here because Hyde had overpowered him – what chance could DD have against all four of these villains?  Another concern is DD’s loss of his billy club, smashed (last issue) by the Cobra.  DD relies on his radar sense, plus some nifty acrobatics, to grab Jester’s yo-yo and toss him toward Hyde, who conveniently knocks out the flying Jester.  DD then dodges Cobra’s venom darts, which burst near Gladiator, temporarily taking him out of the fight.  DD has no remedy for Hyde, though, as he’s grabbed in a ribs-crushing bear hug.  DD thinks of Heather, bears down, and kicks free; before Hyde can regain the offensive, he’s blasted from behind, and above.  DD turns his radar sense to the top of the wall, and discerns the silhouette of – Paladin!  Paladin has traced Killgrave to Ryker’s, expecting to collect a significant bounty for his capture.  DD tries to keep Paladin out of it, not only because of DD’s keen desire for vengeance, but also his concern that Killgrave might cast his spell over the mercenary; Killgrave does succeed, but only for a few seconds, as Paladin re-directs his blaster from DD to Killgrave.  Paladin then seals himself in protective armor, and resumes the fight; one punch KO’s the Cobra, while DD ducks under Gladiator and jams his wrists together, thereby shredding his swirling blades.  Killgrave threatens to have Heather shoot herself if DD doesn’t back off; Paladin hesitates, so DD grabs the blaster and (relying heavily on radar sense) fires the pistol out of Heather’s hand.  Killgrave tries to escape up one of the guard towers, and as DD pursues, Killgrave turns a spotlight into DD’s face – but DD can’t be blinded by the intense glare.  Killgrave is dumbfounded – screaming that he “won’t be beaten by a blind man!," he lunges toward DD, who evades his grasp; Killgrave plunges over the wall to the rocks in the East River below.  DD admits to himself that he didn’t try to catch Killgrave; he’s not sorry, either. -Chris Blake

Chris: This has to be one of my all-time favorite (non-team) issues from the Marvel Age of Comics.  The action not only is relentless, but it’s carefully choreographed, as McKenzie and Colan find reasonable means to add and remove people in the fight; there wouldn’t be a realistic way for DD to engage all four of these villains at once, so the odds have to be kept as close to even as possible for the battle to work.  Hyde, who last issue had proven himself to be the most powerful of these adversaries, has to be taken out by someone other than DD, which is where Paladin comes in.  McKenzie had reminded us as recently as #152 that Paladin has a dog in this fight, so his arrival is not completely unexpected (although, I fully admit, his timing is quite opportune).  Perhaps the most important factor, though, is that McKenzie doesn’t bog down any part of the story with a long-winded recap of everything that transpired in the previous seven issues, or a detailed explanation of how Killgrave has managed to avoid detection by DD; Killgrave wants DD dead, that’s all – and, it’s on.  
The story couldn’t hit its heights without Gentleman Gene, proving again he is the essential Daredevil artist.  Colan balances the art beautifully, as there are dramatic establishing shots (such as the two-page spread, p 6-7, as the villains approach), and intense close-ups (the scheming Killgrave, kissing the hand of the absent Heather, p 10 1st pnl; an uncharacteristically simpering Jester, p 11 pnl 2; DD being crushed by Hyde, as Hyde bears down, p 15 last pnl); and plentiful use of DD’s radar sense (DD tracks the Jester’s whirling yo-yo, p 10 last pnl).  The action includes so much movement, as DD is in motion, or tensing to spring, throughout; p 10-11 provide some of the best examples, as DD vaults over the Cobra (p 10 pnl 2), then lunges back out of the way of the Jester’s yo-yo (p 10 pnl 3), yanks down on the string to topple Jester (p 11 1st pnl), then pivots his weight forward to throw Jester toward Hyde (p 11 pnl 3).  Colan also uses the prison spotlights to add atmosphere, as combatants are frequently in the lights’ glare, with heavy shadows visible below them.  I could go on, and on.  

Mark: Seeing Gene Colan's name pop up in the credits lurked me back to Horn-Head after a long absence, and the Dean doesn't disappoint. Returning to the title he long visually defined (missing only three issues between DD #20-#100), Colan - inked here by the undervalued Steve Leialoha - is at his balletic best in this pole-to-pole actioner. Neither Howard the Duck or Tomb of Dracula trade in long underwear heroics, but the double splash (pgs.6&7) of DD, all lean, coiled muscle, facing off against a rogues gallery, put to paid any fears that Gene's forgotten how to toss a billy club.

And it was my good fortune, class, to parachute into a long-ignored book on strength of artist and arrive just in time for the battle royale. I don't know Matt's current squeeze Heather or Paladin, or need to. The osmosis gist does just fine, and Roger McKenzie delivers a sharp, minimalist script, one that's almost all dialogue and thought-balloons. After the splash page, there's less than ten auctorial comments or connective bits the rest of way as McKenzie wisely focuses on dialoguing Colan's energetic combatants.

That may sound simple enough, but plenty of writers would have gummed up the works with verbal diarrhea (gross mixed metaphor of the week!). Sometimes what you don't write are the best parts. Even the old saw ending, with the Purple Man falling to his "death," works just fine. And Matt gets the girl.

Wanna come back for more Gene, but maybe we should quit while we're ahead...    

Chris: Steve Leialoha is one of the three best inkers Colan had during this period at Marvel (Tom Palmer comes first, with Klaus Janson third); we’ve already seen outstanding work from Colan & Leialoha in several early issues of Howard the Duck, so it’s no surprise their talents blend well here also.  Leialoha provides finishes that are heavy without being murky; the details and characters’ faces all look right.  Most significantly (in my book), Leialoha complements Colan’s style without imposing a different look to the pencils.  Leialoha also handles the colors well; interesting choice to go with paler shades as we see DD focus on his radar sense (such as p 10 pnl 4), which I suppose brings attention to the fact that DD is “somewhere else” when he’s zeroed in to this hyper-sense.   I wish I could tell you this issue marks the beginning of a long association for these artists with this title, but no – this is the only time Colan & Leialoha are paired on Daredevil.  Too bad -?  Yes, it’s a shame there weren’t more issues as satisfyingly solid as this one.  

Matthew: Killgrave appears to blow DD’s secret i.d once and for all on the splash page, but I presume that “Ohh…what happened?  Can’t remember…” on the last page is supposed to cover it; regardless, if the Purple Man is gonna pit Hornhead against four of his old foes—nicely portrayed in the double-spread on 6-7—Gentleman Gene is the guy you want to draw it.  This issue and its effective cover do nothing to dim the admiration for the Coloha team that I gained from Howard the Duck #4-13, with Steve doubling as colorist here, but his only other credit on the book is #238, almost a decade hence.  Paladin remains a problem, in more ways than one; are we now expected to believe that his outfit is a suit of self-contained armor similar to Iron Man’s?

 The Defenders 63
"Deadlier by the Dozen!"
Story by David Anthony Kraft
Art by Sal Buscema and Jim Mooney
Colors by Roger Slifer
Letters by John Costanza
Cover by Joe Sinnott

The confusion caused by Dollar Bill's TV special on the Defenders continues. As one group of the new wannabe heroes tries to contain the Hulk, Iron Man arrives and tells the core group that a horde of super villains has also taken on the Defenders nameplate--for ill purpose! Hercules uses his inimitable way to bring order to the masses, and explains the situation. They divide into three teams, each led by Nighthawk, Valkyrie, and Hercules.The Hulk has had enough of being victimized by these new add-ons, and so bounds off in disgust. Once in the city they encounter everything from a kid taking his dad's car (calling himself a Defender!) for a joy ride, to a more serious "gang" of villains stockpiling stolen bags of loot. Hercules leads his team against the latter, until the police show up and arrest the lot of them! Meanwhile in Russia... Sergei, now called the Presence, investigates the remains of the town of Kyshtym, laid to waste by his own nuclear experiments. The result of his former work for the Soviet government caused this, and further, a deadly new strain of amoeba, which now seeks atomic power as food. It grabs Sergei, wanting to drain him of all his nuclear energy. -Jim Barwise

Jim Barwise: The crazy theatre of superhero fighting superhero continues, but ends rather easily when Iron Man's news prompts Hercules to pull a whomping willow trick. The overpopulation of heroes may still be a bit much, but it takes a fun turn when they head to town to seek any anti-Defenders. The kid stealing his dad's car is a humorous touch, and the upcoming amoeba monster looks, well, gross!

Matthew: Even setting aside my pathological hatred of Dollar Bill, which may date back as far as his debut, this continues to be an unholy mess, all too queasily anticipating the “What if we threw everybody into one book?” horrors of Egotist-in-Chief Shooter’s Secret Wars.  More is not always more, and with Kraft kramming karacters into his klown kar of a komic, all poor Sal and Jim can do is gamely try to fit everybody into the panel and hope for the best.  That obviously leaves virtually no room for characterization, let alone logic, but the worst of it is that what we do get shows little if any regard for our unfortunate guest stars’ established personae, own titles (as applicable), or—in far too many cases—rationales for being there in the first place.

 Fantastic Four 198
Story by Marv Wolfman
Art by Keith Pollard and Joe Sinnott
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak and Rick Parker
Cover by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott

Fighting mad at the end of last ish, Reed is now "...anxious and somewhat fearful" as he jets toward Latveria in the Pogo Plane. Flying in under the radar, he lands and approaches Dr. Doom's castle by swinging off a mountain peak, becoming a human parachute, then a bouncing ball. Doom's robotic guards attack. Reed's electronic jammer doesn't work, and pulling the control panel off one of the robos causes it to explode. Reed's knocked unconscious and flung into a lake, but is pulled out by unknown rescuers before he drowns.

In his castle, Doom taunts his prisoners while showing off his art collection ("Would you believe their previous owners allowed the mindless masses to stare at them?"). He tells them Reed's dead while gazing down at a marching band practicing for the upcoming coronation, when Doom Jr. will assume the Latverian throne so his dad can ascend to higher office, i.e., ruling the world. The Thing, despite electronic shackles, tries to attack "Can Head" and gets zapped. Johnny rails impotently. Doom tells Sonny Boy to summon Alicia to work on his statue.

Reed comes to in a cave and learns he was saved by the Latverian underground. Their leader Zorba, with scarred face and a hi-tech optical gizmo replacing his right eye, tells Reed the underground wants to replace Doom "...with the rightful heir to our late King Rudolfo." Thus Reed learns that Doom Jr. is about to take power and is "...struck speechless."

As Alicia chips away at the Doc's statue (to be gifted to the U.N.), our captive heroes are loaded into a giant machine, filling three of its four transparent globes. Doom Jr., stripped to his skivvies and with electrodes attached to his body, climbs aboard another apparatus in the Transference Room. Doom fiddles with his machines, preparing to transfer the three Fabs' powers to his son, while boohooing that Reed's presumptive death "...soured the sweetness of my triumph."

At that moment, the still very much alive Stretch is taxing his increased powers (from his cosmic ray shower, last month) by lassoing the top of a mountain so the guerillas can shimmy up his arm. One of Doom's "eye-spy" drones flies by as they reach the summit, but Mr. F covers the rebels like a blue blanket, which somehow "...looked like any part of this mountain." He rubber bands his way inside, takes out the control room crew, and lowers the drawbridge. But a metal door closes behind the rebels after they enter the castle and the corridor starts to fill with gas. Reed grabs Zorba and stretches to safety before another sliding door traps them. Zorba worries about his men then turns his wrath on just-arrived Doom-stooge Dr. Hauptmann, who Reed saves from a beatdown and secures his cooperation.

Back in the lab, Doom plays "...a dark, moody dirge" on his "sonic keyboard." Hauptmann interrupts and gets gas-blasted by Doom, who knows it was Reed in disguise. Mr. F thus joins his pards in the transference machine, and Doom is exultant in the final panel, as the FF's powers stream into VVD II.
-Mark Barsotti

Mark: Not surprisingly - and thus only a minor disappointment - part three in the build-up to the big FF vs. Doom anniversary blowout takes a dip in both quality and intensity, while remaining largely on track.

With Reed rendered powerless for so long, it makes sense for Marv to spotlight him here (plus, he's the only Fab on the loose, until his climactic capture), for good and ill. We thrill to his intelligence and resolve, while wincing, however involuntarily, at the inane goofiness of his Silly Putty powers, here on extravagant display. Wolfman decided to make Reed extra-stretchy after his recent rocket ride (although one suspects this may fall by the wayside, like Cap's temporary super-strength, a couple years back), but panels like Reed swinging from a mountain peak that looks at least a half-mile away (p.2, left) or springing out of Dr. Hauptmann's clothes (p.30) are inadvertent reminders why his progenitor Plastic Man was played for yucks.

With his pards helpless prisoners, Reed teams-up with the shopworn Latverian rebels. Anthony Quinn, err, Zorba claims the "...underground has eyes everywhere" then admits they have less than fifty members just a couple panels later. It's Doom who has eyes everywhere, like observation drones (!), and it's hard to fathom a tyrannical tech-genius megalomaniac like the Doc not swatting down a handful of Tommy gun-toting malcontents who look like they stepped out of an issue of Sgt. Fury. But Zorba's mechanical eye is cool, and I've got a hunch - which has no predictive value, class - there's more to Zorba and Hauptmann that's yet to be unveiled. Let's hope so, otherwise we're wasting a lot of time on a guy with a glass eye.

Other than Ben's abortive charge at Doom, the captive Fabs can do little but sputter threats and worry about Reed. As is oft the case with these multi-part extravaganzas, we spend a goodly amount of time here running in place. Reed's capture - two months from the finale - was a given, but Doom's plan to turn Sonny Boy into the Super Skrull gives the proceedings a welcome jolt of adrenaline. Or at least a caffeine buzz. 

Joe Sinnott and Keith Pollard dress things up nicely, but why does the Latverian parade band (p.10) look outfitted for the Rose Bowl? 

So, this one's a serviceable slice of connective tissue, and if that sounds harsh, it isn't meant to be. This isn't Stan & Jack, circa '65-'66 or a Starlin epic, and, absent those, almost all of Marvel's long story arcs have these huff 'n' puff episodes, signifying little. Marv has all the pieces in place for a ripping yarn. Let's give him his head and hope he sticks the landing.   

Scott: This is way too talky. What should have been a fast-paced adventure is filled to the brim with captions and dialog. There is some good in here, but it’s a tough hike to get through. Zorba gets a nice intro and he becomes important in a later story in the John Byrne run. Otherwise, it 's a sagging disappointment between last issue and next. Even the art is a little below par. The guards are all thugs, incomplete without a cigar hanging from their lips. Whatever happened to the Doombots? A missed opportunity.

Matthew: Reed’s face identifies this busy but eminently enjoyable cover as the work of my all-time favorite art team, John Buscema and Joe Sinnott, almost as conclusively as the “B/S” initials below him, and the placement of Doom’s monitor—surely no coincidence—gives a nice impression that he is stretching (yay!) to reach his imprisoned teammates.  Unsurprisingly, the interior Pollard/Sinnott artwork is not too far behind, with Sue looking especially gorgeous in page 7, panel 6 (above), and an impressive Doom throughout.  Marv continues laying the groundwork for #200, and for those who care about such things, it is finally confirmed in this issue, courtesy of Zorba, that the wound inflicted on poor Prince Rudolfo in Super-Villain Team-Up #10 was fatal.

Chris: Marv keeps the pace moving smoothly, as we follow Reed’s progress into Latveria – into battle and defeat, followed by rescue, meeting with armed opposition, palace invasion, and final capture by Doom.  The only drawback is the lack of time for other members of our foursome to do much; outside of the Thing’s contractually-obligated resistance to his bonds, we barely have a word from Johnny or Sue.  I don’t blame them if they’ve become reliant on Reed to turn on the Big Brain, and find a way out of a predicament – Reed’s a smart cookie, after all – but we aren’t privy to their secret thoughts, if they have them, about a potential means of escape.  When next we see them, the three Fours have been transferred to their powers-transfer globes, without barely a quarrel or incident.  

The news of Doom’s son comes as a surprise to all, which tells you his birth a couple of decades ago was a carefully-guarded secret, or that Doom’s up to something … .  Doom’s plan, to hire Reed to help design a device to steal his newly-restored powers, is devious and cruel.  Doom has such unshakeable control over every aspect of his scheme, it’s a wonder the FF are ever able to stop him.  If Doom and Drac ever were to get together – no, I’m not saying anything else about it.  
Pollard & Sinnott continue to deliver art that reminds me fondly of the Buckler & Sinnott days.  Highlights include: Reed’s twists and turns in his battle with the sentry bots, as Marv includes a few lines of Reed’s observations and analysis (p 3, 6); the ingenious power-transfer device, and a particularly nasty view of Doom as he relives a painful memory (p 16); Reed threatens a flunky (p 23, pnl 2), then stretch-sneaks on two more and sets them a-spinning (p 23).

 Godzilla, King of the Monsters 14
"Mega-Monsters Part III:
The Super-Beasts"
Story by Doug Moench
Art by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green
Colors by Don Warfield
Letters by Gaspar Saladino and Shelly Leferman
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Dan Green

The Mega-Monsters are revitalized by the Megans' ray, and Dum Dum tries to blast one of them, while the other two attack Godzilla. The Megans order Krollar to distract the Big G by digging into the earth, while Triax attacks, and Gabe Jones and Dum Dum Dugan decide to help a brother out. At the Betan base on the Moon, the alien race starts dropping like flies with the atmosphere escaping, so they lower it back into the Moon to get a few more moments. The two SHIELD leaders work together to distract the Mega-Monsters, leaving Godzilla to battle Krollar ("the horned one") by himself, and he wipes him out quickly, while nearly everyone, including ailing young Rob (after Red Ronin was dispatched at the end of last ish), hears an echo voice of the Megans. Godzilla goes after Triax ("one-eye") and shoots a radioactive flame through him, leaving only Rhiahn ("clam face"), who almost eats Dum Dum, but Gabe is able to save him, until he flies into Godzilla's "mitt"—but is gently placed down on the ground! Godzilla and Rhiahn battle, but our hero wins when he picks the Mega-Monster up and forces its own "anterior bio-blade" to cut its head off! The last Betan survives long enough to know Godzilla triumphed, saving the homeworld of Beta, which also causes the Megans to re-think their strategy of war. Then, a victorious Godzilla strides off, with Dum Dum finally realizing maybe Godzilla isn't so bad after all.--Joe Tura

Joe: A nifty cover is ruined by a couple small things. One, the monster Krollar is super ugly, and two, Godzilla's arms look as skinny as mine, and a bit too human. But overall, a fairly decent chapter in Marvel's Godzilla tale. There's a new inker, Dan Green, who will be with us in all but one of the remaining issues. And of course, there's yet another new letterer. I haven't stopped to think about how many letterers this title has had, but I just realized it's nearly a new one every issue. Here, we get the work of Shelley Lefferman, who has quite a thick bold type hand, like it's done with a crayon, and way too much of it also, which can become distracting. That said, the battles are quick but nicely drawn by Trimpe; there's not too much of annoying young Rob; Dum Dum and Gabe get their moments in the spotlight; and Godzilla gets to kick ass and take names, even though the names of the Mega-Monsters are extremely stupid. Finally, once again, Dum Dum gets the best line, when he and Gabe are moving in to help Godzilla: "Awright, I'll take the one-eyed clam head—an' you take the one with the double-orbs wavin' around his face."

Matthew:  It’s interesting that several of us have compared these Mega-Monsters to goofy Gamera villains (if that’s not too redundant), because Professor Gilbert and I have long observed that the 1960s Daiei kaiju eiga seem more bloodthirsty than their Toho counterparts.  The scene on pages 26-27, in which Godzilla decapitates Rhiahn with his own “anterior bio-blades,” would not seem at all out of place in such an entry, doubtless dubbed and butchered on The 4:30 Movie.  You certainly can’t accuse Moench of failing to provide character development, since over the course of the series so far, Dum Dum has done a total 180 on his attitude toward his “new pal,” while with the war between the Betans and Megans over, all appears to be right with the world.

Howard the Duck 27
"Circus Maximus"
Story by Steve Gerber
Art by Gene Colan and Klaus Janson
Colors by Phil Rachelson
Letters by Gaspar Saladino
Cover by Gene Colan and Tom Palmer

The accused: Howard the Duck!  The charge: terminal negativism!  The plea: not guilty by reason of insanity!  The judge: Bev Switzler (Howard’s former … uh … roommate?)!  The testimony: when presented by the prosecutor with a glass containing water, Howard sees it as – half empty!  The verdict (as proclaimed by a panel of Howard look-a-likes): Guilty As Hell!  Prior to sentencing, Howard approaches the bench to state his case: “I’m not negative – I’m ANGRY!”  Howard’s been unable to connect emotionally to the chaos he’s experienced since he found himself on our dismal plane, but it’s now clear to him: from here on, it’s “No more Mr Nice Duck!”  Howard finds himself thrashing around in a waiting room, in a hospital, in Skudge PA, with Beverly (call him Lee) Switzler and Iris (filthy-rich girl) Raritan; they’ve been waiting for word of improvement in Paul’s (gunshot) and Winda’s (assault by a vagrant) conditions.  Howard realizes he’s been crossed-up by uncertainty ever since he lost Bev (uh, yes, Uncle Bev’s niece – right, the female Bev).  Now, he decides to channel his anger to a useful pursuit, and challenges Iris to help him locate the Circus of Crime; the tracer in Iris’ car leads them to … Cleveland (where else -?).  Howard borrows Iris’ AmEx to buy a camera, and they’re off to the Circus.  At the pivotal moment, Howard directs Iris to avert her eyes, so they can avoid ensnarement by the Ringmaster’s hypno-hat.  Howard surreptitiously snaps shots of the Circus’ collection of capital from the entranced audience.  Once Howard confronts the Circus backstage (backtent?) and threatens to expose their chicanery, he is under attack by the acts.  Iris and Howard lay out their chops and smacks, until only the Ringmaster is left standing; Howard pushes past the hat’s siren song, and delivers a gloved fist to Ringmaster’s snout.  Howard hands the camera to Iris and asks her to take the evidence to the police.  He’s not returning with her to Skudge; Howard is staying in Cleveland, to “nurse [his] memories – or maybe just try an’ abort ‘em.” -Chris Blake

Chris: The surreal setting of the opening would give us cause to expect that Howard once again has lost his quackers, and booked passage to the land of looney.  Not the case, though, as he emerges from the nightmare with new commitment to take action, and not continue to be the victim.  Well, that’s fine, and certainly understandable in light of Howard’s outrageous fortune of late.  As Howard gets down to business, though, there’s not much room for absurdity.  In fact, as he views the Circus from the audience, he reflects on how their acts serve as a metaphor for his recent experiences (you know, the same sort of reflections we all have at the circus …).  Most of the humor comes from the Circus itself, Cannonball in particular; as he launches himself toward Howard, he laments, “I toldja before, duck – we deserve some sympathy, too!” as he conveniently overlooks the minor matter of kidnapping poor Howard.  
Fortunately, there are some goofy moments in the art, which help to add some otherwise-absent levity.  The nightmare prosecutor, for some reason, has a globe for a head (p 2); Howard gets fired-up in Bev’s court, with smoke literally pouring from his ears (p 7; all that’s missing is the train whistle!); Howard rides Cannonball’s back and covers his eyes as Cannonball has a face-mash (gotta hurt) into a wooden tent-pole (p 26); the vanquished Circus is left looking like a pile of unsorted laundry (p 31).
Oh yeah, one last thing: Dr Bong is moving forward with his plans of world conquest.  He informs Bev (you know, Howard’s former … oh, you know which one I mean), once that’s done, he intends to kill the one creature who has thwarted his plans – Howard the Duck will die by Bong’s hand!  Ok – bye for now!

Matthew: This now joins many a Marvel title on the bimonthly endangered-species list, preparatory to next year’s epic culling (too late, alas, to have a major effect on the faculty’s course load), and that’s a damned shame because, yet again, it’s one of the week’s unqualified bright spots, offering HTD a rare chance for quasi-super-heroics as we wind up the Ringmaster trilogy.  Obviously also unusual to see Bev depicted negatively—in a dream sequence whose all-Howard jury reminded me of the Prisoner finale—although even the “real-world” scenes left her current sympathies somewhat ambiguous.  I love the character of her uncle and namesake, while an already reliable Colanson team outdoes itself, e.g., the steamed-up Howard in page 7, panel 4.
Mark: Nice retro Gene Colan cover, with a blurb touting the "Feathered Fury..." seizing the day and a squinty-eyed Howard delivering a roundhouse left to "Ringo's" mug. And while "Eat My Glove!" doesn't have that "It's Clobberin' Time!" ring, the good news is that Gerber's got his punch back, after serving up anemic rope-a-dope of late. 

More good news: Bev's back, if only as Howard's judge in the extended dream sequence that opens our story. This of course is right in Gerb's wheelhouse as he explores the current state of Howard's psyche and finds our fowl ready to again fight back against life's chaos. No more Mr. Nice Duck, our boy is literally steam-comin'-out-his-ears angry!

Here, here! 

It makes sense that Steve occasionally goes in the other direction, serving up a passive Howard, buffeted into a somnolent stupor by the angst and malaise of the late '70s. But the reason the character resonated enough to become a minor pop cultural sensation beyond the pimple brigade wasn't the gonzo absurdity of a dyspeptic, cigar-chomping duck, brilliant as the notion was, it was because the readers, coming of age as the furies of the '60s finally sputtered out with the Fall of Saigon, also felt trapped in a world we never made. But, unlike the vast majority of readers, scrappy little Howard battles on as our cathartic stand-in against the myriad ills of the modern world, dressed up in funnybook drag as Kidney Ladies, censorious assassins, or, here, nudnik villains from a more innocent age, out to separate Ma Joad and the other rubes from their folding money.

The Duck makes common cause with socialite thrill-seeker Iris Raritan to take down the Circus of Crime, resisting even the Ringmaster's hypno-hat in his righteous anger. Some might carp that this one's light on satire and is, in its plot essentials, standard long underwear fare. They'd be right, but that misses the point.  

What matters most is that Howard, our irascible champion, is back in the ring, dukes up.   

 The Incredible Hulk 227
"The Monster's Analyst"
Story by Roger Stern and Peter Gillis
Art by Sal Buscema and Klaus Janson
Colors by Glynis Wein
Letters by John Costanza and Rick Parker
Cover by Herb Trimpe and Joe Rubinstein

Lying atop a specially-constructed iron sofa, The Incredible Hulk is patient to Doc Samson's psychiatrist. With the help of a "REM-Integrator," Samson hopes to invade Hulk's dreams and see what makes him tick and what makes him so ticked-off. Samson gets plenty of answers to the questions as he's witness to several of the green goliath's inner demons, including Bruce Banner's early days and the day he became the monster. The experiment goes awry after the original Avengers and a handful of Hulk's dead friends show up in the dreams; this touches off a battle between the Incredible guy and his meek alter-ego. The resulting melee leaves the machinery in a twisted heap and the Hulk stuck as the Hulk for at least a week. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Like the other titles I've covered this week, this one is losing me quickly. There's no magic, only a mad flailing. To be fair, there's only so many stories you can conjure up about a big powerful green guy who transforms into a weak scientist now and then. Obviously, the finite number of original, enjoyable tales have been told (I know that's not true, by the way, because I enjoyed the heck out of Bruce Jones' acclaimed stab at the green guy in the early 00s but, evidently, there was no one in the bullpen who could come up with anything fresh for one of their flagship titles in 1978) and Marvel was just pumping out a product by this time with "The Monster's Analyst" being nothing more than one of those fill-in album issues we're moaning about weekly, it seems.  The art, which was the saving grace of The Incredible Hulk for so long, is a mucky, ugly mess here and an unfinished, sketchy blah there.

Scott: Unlike Dean Peter, I love this issue. Like the last few issues, I chalk some of that up to nostalgia. I remember seeing this one on the newsstand at my local CVS. I was struck by the image of a calm Bruce Banner transforming into the Hulk over the course of four panels. I didn’t buy it that time and when I came back it was gone. It took me years to find the issue and finally add it to the collection and when I did, I truly enjoyed it. It's an interesting look into the mind of Banner and the Hulk and learning they are two separate entities. Not to mention that page 17 has one of my favorite full-on panels ever. I’d love to have this as a poster. This one is a winner in my book.

Chris: I can safely say my twelve year-old self would not have appreciated this sort of story; give me “Hulk smash” anytime.  You have heard me say Hulk #209 was one of my favorite, most frequently re-read Hulk tales; #227 is a far cry from a rock-em sock-em Absorbing Man battle.  Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to appreciate a comic-as-character-study like this one.  

Based on Samson’s closing comments, I assume this had been the first time the Hulk and Banner were proposed to be two separate beings.  If that’s the case, then why does Hulk bring Samson to Banner’s childhood home and adolescent chem lab?  Why would these past annoyances of Banner’s (a finger-burn and an in-class screw-up are hardly deep, damaging trauma for most people) matter at all to the Hulk?  And if we’re to understand the Hulk is his own entity, then how could these memories be accessible to him?  Stern would’ve been better served if he’d kept the Hulk’s memories his own, and stayed away from Banner’s past completely.  The moment when Hulk’s departed friends fade away, with him futilely reaching for their ghosts (p 30, 1st pnl) is a highlight, punctuated by his plaintive cry, “Hulk hates dying! Hulk hates you! Hulk hates everything!”  
Sal + Klaus deliver some first-rate looks at the Hulk (p 1; p 7, pnl 2 – thoughtful; p 17; p 27, last pnl – tortured by old wounds), but the art would’ve been far better with consistent finishes by Janson.  There are too many instances when faces are left with little-to-no detail, as if they belonged to inert puppets; page 3 is a glaring example.   There are many blank looks for the Avengers, Thor especially (p 22-23); this might have had a nightmarish quality – for the team to appear present, but somewhat absent – if it weren’t for the many other unfinished expressions elsewhere in the issue.  
Matthew: I should probably do this more often, rather than assuming everyone else gets the pop-culture references, but the title is a riff on the satirical film The President’s Analyst (1967).  And I guess I should confess at the outset a lack of enthusiasm for this emerging trend of mining the pasts of Bruce Banner, Steve Rogers, et al. for plot elements, perhaps making Stern’s “with an assist from Peter Gillis” credit no surprise.  Speaking of credit, I’ve already given it to Klaus where it’s due on Howard the Duck, yet while my standard distaste for him as Sal’s inker applies to most of this issue (e.g., the sketchy Samson in page 3, panels 3-4, and beady-eyed Jim in page 31, panel 2), he gives Jim unexpected—perhaps undeserved—gravitas in page 2, panel 4.

The Incredible Hulk Annual 7
"The Evil That Is Cast..."
Story by John Byrne and Roger Stern
Art by John Byrne and Bob Layton
Colors by Janice Cohen
Letters by Jim Novak
Cover by John Byrne and Bob Layton

At his luxurious home in the Rockies, Warren Worthington is sunning himself by the pool when he gets a call from old X-Men buddy, Bobby Drake, who'd like to drop by the mansion with a new girl of his. Shortly after Drake arrives, a strange man appears poolside, threatening the two X-Men with laser blasts. The duo transform into their X-egos, Angel and Iceman, and attempt to fight back against this powerful foe. The stranger soon drops his disguise and reveals that he is the Sentinel Supreme known as Master Mold, whose only mission is to rid the world of mutants. The boys are in trouble. Very quickly, Bobby is overcome and Angel suddenly remembers that the Hulk is resting at the nearby Gamma Base and the green goliath may be the only thing that can stand against Master Mold. He flies to the base and explains the situation to Doc Samson just as the Sentinel arrives. The subsequent battle disturbs the napping Hulk and he joins the fray. Master Mold captures Angel and heads for a space station orbiting Earth, with Hulk in tow. Master Mold encases the three heroes in plasteel tubes, but nothing can hold the Hulk when he's angry and he busts free. With his two new friends in tow, Jade Jaws stalks the halls of the space station until he finds the Sentinel and, after a bit of back and forth, tears the robot limb from limb. As the space station self-destucts, the three superheroes head back to earth. -Peter Enfantino

Peter: Though it's nothing more than a jumbo-sized fill-in, "The Evil That Is Cast..." proves one thing... that Roger Stern can write an entertaining Hulk story when he wants to; something he had yet to prove with his regular title chores. Maybe it was the addition of then-energetic John Byrne as co-plotter and artist, or maybe it's the two guest-stars, but I was turning pages faster than I could read them. Since I'm always the curmudgeon, there are a couple of red flags that need to be brought up. First, I thought it odd when the suddenly gaunt ThunderLips Ross exclaims, "... first winged men, then, robots, and now... now what?" as if he hadn't been present during the first sixteen years of the Hulk's publication history. Then there's the mystery of Master Mold's real identity. The Sentinel claims he's Steven Lang (from X-Men #100) but Warren poo-poos that idea, explaining that the real Lang is lying in a coma in a government hospital. Hmmm... will we get the actual 411 down the road somewhere? Professor Matthew? I'm counting on you to bring me up to speed! At any rate, this was a keeper.

Matthew:  Despite later beefs with Byrne as a writer-artist, I think he does fine co-plotting this with Stern, whose script laudably acknowledges his own monthly continuity.  No surprise that it incorporates mutants (i.e., those John drew in my late, lamented Champions) and Sentinels, even leaving a little mystery about Master Mold’s relationship with Lang; too bad “Moldy” didn’t step on that bitch Terri, who has no use for her "date," Bobby, as soon as she sees Warren.  Instead of padding the relatively simple story, they use the double-sized format to good advantage—a subject on which I am very sensitive—and give John’s impressive pencils some breathing room, yet as for the inks…well, I don’t think Layton is an ideal match, but I couldn’t even approach Byrne’s own tirade, quoted on SuperMegaMonkey:

“I actually feel physically ill when I look at Bob’s stuff….It’s like everything is greasy and slimy.  You know those things you can buy that hang from your rear view mirror that are made out of rubber and you touch them and they feel greasy….And all his men are queer.  They have these bouffant hairdos and heavy eye make-up and an upper lip with a little shadow in the corner which to me says lipstick….I will never forgive him for what he did to the Hulk’s face…A lot of the other stuff I liked, but…the Angel, God!  I remember my father looking at the stats of the finished inks and there’s a shot of the Angel standing there with his hands on his hips… and my father said, ‘Well this guy’s queer.’  No, he didn’t look queer in the pencils Dad,” Byrne related.

Addendum:  I love the visual of the Hulk uncomfortably crammed into the “plasteel tube” earmarked for the Blob, obviously no featherweight himself.

Scott: Oh my word, this is a fantastic annual (another acquisition from my youth); I was in love with Byrne’s art long before I knew who he was. I was so impressed, I remember buying annual 8 the next year and being disappointed the art was totally different. It’s a rare annual that fits right between two issues of the Hulk’s main title. The story is quite good as well. This was my first time meeting the Sentinels back then. They made an impression and the giant Master Mold in particular. Honestly, Byrne can do no wrong with me and this issue was just fabulous then and now. And, yeah, Pete, Ross is looking a little on the skinny side. Send him a pizza, stat.  

Chris: The Hulk’s had his share of heavy stories lately, as he’s had to deal with temporary disappearance (as Banner lost the capacity to change to jade giantitude) and personality changes, with oversized cannibal-battling and Leader-imprisonment as well.  This time, Stern & Byrne (nice ring to that pairing, you know?) offer plenty of fun; they start out well, their story becoming more enjoyable as it goes along.  Before I say anything else, high grades for sparing us a MARMIS, as instead the Hulk is allowed to work amiably together with Angel and Iceman throughout the issue. 

Interesting choice by Sterno to use a Hulk story as an epilogue of sorts to the classic X-Men #100.  Plus, what’s better than to see the Hulk smash a Sentinel?  Hopefully, Warren and Bobby will get word to Prof X, who might want to consider installing a direct line from the School for Gifted Youngsters to Gamma Base, in case there are any leftover giant purple robots who didn’t follow orders to fly themselves into the sun.  
Roger provides plenty of other star turns for our lead player.  “What is Hulk doing in this stupid tube?” he shouts in response to this “What now?!” moment, before smashing free.  Angel and Iceman observe they are miles above the earth’s surface, which prompts Hulk to state, “Hunh! Hulk has fallen further than that! Hulk can get down easily!”  Nice touch also, as Bobby throws a snowball at the Hulk, which he misinterprets as Bobby trying to trick him into the escape pod; instead, the Hulk kicks the pod free, as Bobby knew he would, right?  
The Byrne/Layton team would’ve been a fine fit for nearly any Marvel mag.  There are plenty of highlights, but I’ll limit myself to three: p 34, as the Hulk barrels into Master Mold’s back (prompting a surprised reaction), then plows his fists into the robot; Iceman’s efforts to keep the temperature down as the pod re-enters the atmosphere (p 44, pnl 3); Candy Southern (yow).  

The Invaders 32
"Thunder in the East!"
Story by Roy Thomas
Art by Alan Kupperberg and Frank Springer
Colors by Carl Gafford
Letters by Joe Rosen
Cover by Alan Kupperberg, Jack Kirby, and Joe Sinnott

Assigned to “the Allies’ new jointly-developed super-tank,” the Invaders see all three Achilles prototypes—one earmarked for the Russians—burst from the depot of “America’s newest British base,” crewed by saboteurs bent on stealing or destroying them.  The overzealous Namor and Union Jack do much of the work for them, respectively sinking a nearby U-boat with one and blowing up another with a well-placed flare, but General Moore stops them from turning the third to slag, ordering them to deliver it to Josef Stalin personally.  As Namor’s flagship flies above the North Sea, approaching the Arctic Circle, Union Jack laments that, “due no doubt to differences in the original Super-Soldier Formula,” he is “the weak link in the Invaders chain.”

In Berlin, after a performance of Götterdämmerung, Hitler opines that “Wagner wrote his divine music as echoes from another world, which he heard—and lesser men did not” (Roy, a fellow fan, cites Adolf’s “Table Talks”).  At the Chancellory, he meets with Dr. Olsen and his assistant, Hans—his face bandaged from a laboratory fire—whom he brought from Norway after learning of Brain Drain’s “false Donar” in #1-2.  Olsen’s analysis of Wagner’s operas has enabled him to turn his dimensional gateway’s viewing-screen on Asgard, “the world of Teutonic gods,” where they see Donar, the god of thunder known to his Norse ancestors as Thor, and draw him into the 20th century, each person present hearing Thor’s “ancient, pagan tongue…in his own language.”

When Thor is told that he has been brought “to serve a just cause,” an angry sweep of Mjolnir smashes the transporter, but the crafty Führer shows him footage of Russia, claiming that it has “declared war upon the descendants of those who once worshipped you,” enlisting the Invaders to bring about Ragnarok, aka Götterdämmerung.  Meanwhile, with Namor’s hydro-guns not yet thawed out, Cap and Union Jack leap from the flagship to stop a Nazi plane strafing a Russian train, apparently aware that Stalin is aboard, and the Invaders touch down.  But before Namor, “who alone of them speaks a smattering of Russian,” can address the Soviet dictator, another plane disgorges a figure who bails out without a parachute, and vows to slay “the Eastern tyrant.” -Matthew Bradley

Matthew: Befitting our setting, Springer’s inks often seem to be at war with Kupperberg’s pencils, even in the same panel, like the fourth one on page 7, with Jackie ready for her close-up while Cap looks like a Robbins refugee (not surprising, considering how long The Two Franks worked together).  There’s a nice symmetry here, with Roy now scripting Thor’s own book, although obviously this particular tale offers no crossover possibilities, despite the fact that he is depicting the run-up to Ragnarok there, as well.  He also plants a little seed, as Thor waits while Hitler pauses “to gaze down…at a strange, gleaming sceptre within a case of bulletproof glass.  Its dark secret, however, must wait to be revealed another day,” especially since I’ve quite forgotten what it is!

Speaking of the future, Roy foreshadows how fast the Cold War followed on this one’s heels as Brian says, “Strange how our ideas change!  Before this damned war broke out, we Westerners feared the Communist Russians almost more than the Nazi Germans.  I wonder how things will stand…when the shooting ends.”  Thor’s emergence on page 16 is impressive, and for better or worse, Alan makes Hitler far less of a caricature than Robbins did, depicting Stalin with equal sobriety.  He and Springer mesh the best overall on page 2 (left), where the assembled Invaders have a nicely textured appearance in panel 1; Namor is imposing in panel 2; and the sweating saboteur (rendered all in a cowardly yellow by colorist Carl Gafford) has a veritable EC quality in panel 5.

Mark: Wow. Namor sinks a sub by throwing a tank at it. And we're only on page four. 

With Roy back at the old Underwood, there's more inspired madness to come, but first Thomas must be taken to the woodshed for the nonsense about the three tanks. America's vast WW II war machine rolled off assembly lines in prodigious numbers, yet here the Fortress of Democracy cranks out a total of three Achilles tanks, one of which has been promised, by hook or crook, to Uncle Joe, so the Russkies can make their own. Ah, design specs are a lot lighter, particularly compared to having Subby's Imperial airship make like a C-130, lugging a thirty ton tank over the Arctic Circle. No knock against Atlantian technology, but come on, it's a glorified fighter plane.

And before Forbush can ask if I'm okay with Thor being whisked up by Hitler's Norwegian TV inventor, who's pirating Asgardian cable, while simultaneously giving Thomas a ration over war production and lift capacity, the answer is yes.  

But even worse, when the 'Vaders get to Russia and randomly intercept the Nazi fighter plane strafing Stalin's train, the tank has mysteriously vanished, but perhaps it has stealth capacity as well. So let's move on to the good stuff...

Chris: The scary thing is that hitler really was into mystical matters, and might actually have believed he could tap into power of ancient gods, or something; I wonder how much Roy knew about this when he penned our story.  Well, now that Thor is here, Roy has two problems to unravel: 1) can this conflict be resolved in a way that removes Cap’s and Thor’s knowledge of each other, when they meet again over twenty years from this issue’s present day?; and 2) how could the Invaders possibly hope to defeat Thor?  Namor is the only team member who could prove to be his equal; the others might want to pull up a chair and enjoy the fireworks.  In any case, it’s a clever device, and I’m looking forward to seeing how Roy chooses to resolve it.

Mark: I didn't cover Invaders #1-2, but the recap suggests a Thor-like "God of Thunder" riff, which Roy now reboots with the real thing. Works for me.

When Hitler first glimpses our Thor battling misshapen trolls ('Dolph's hateful agitprop vision of Slavs as untermensch made flesh), via magic Norse TV, I actually felt a little rush of excitement for him as he spied, in grainy black & white, the war-winning Aryan Superman of his twisted dreams. 


I credit Roy with the guts for imagining Hitler with mystic talent, peering into the Germanic soul for Wagnerian, Thor-summoning insights. It acknowledges the 20th Century's Greatest Villain as more than just a ranting maniac. It doesn't completely make up for the tank, yet I appreciate the three dimensional characterization. But still, an empathetic moment with 'Dolph...creepy.

On the cover, we're treated to an unexpected slab-'o-Kirby. Still dynamic and exciting, even when Jack's phonin' it in. Inside, Kupperberg's Thor looks in a lotta places like swipes from Don Heck. Which I like. Ditto the p.10 panel of the 'Vaders slouching away from the grumpy general like dressed-down schoolboys. Hitler and Stalin marginally resemble their real life counterparts, but it helps if you squint. His Subby continues to shine. The rest is serviceable, not as goofy as the departed Frank Robbins, or as vital. 

So what's up with Hans, the Norwegian TV assistant, whose face is wrapped like the Invisible Man? And, more importantly, how will our heroes stand against the now-indoctrinated Thunder God's blitzkrieg?

Answers are only a month away, so keep your powder dry.

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